Chapter 6: Reading Guide

Chapter 6: Streets

1/ What strikes you most in Chapter 6, and why? What stays with you?

2/ Discuss the significance of the author’s method in this chapter, juxtaposing the music of Stevie Wonder with the writings of Thomas Merton, and concluding with scriptural and personal narrative. Is it effective? Is it valid to mine the realm of popular music for theological or spiritual insight?

3/ As a child the music of Stevie Wonder was an important window for Pramuk into another culture far removed from his own. Have there been comparable works of music or art for you?

4/ Listen to the song “Big Brother” posted to the Music and Art page, and review the author’s blog post on the song. What is your reaction to the song? Its meaning? Would you agree with Pramuk that Wonder’s music, and this song in particular, offers a lucid critique of the “racially unconscious white listener” (p. 89).

5/ The author reflects on two urban “epiphanies” in the life of Merton: in Louisville at the corner of 4th and Walnut (p. 91) and his return to Harlem in 1964 (p. 92). What is your reaction to these two passages? To what extent do they resonate with your own experiences of life in the city?

6/ What are some “alienated spaces” in your own town or city? Inhabited spaces? What do you notice about the way your city is arranged? What do these elements reveal, or conceal, about the city’s inhabitants or vision of itself as a human community?

7/ “Living is more than submission. It is creation,” the creation of a common identity, a “common consciousness.” How does “The Street is for Celebration” potentially shift the terms of our typical ways of thinking and talking about race? About racial and economic differences, or power differentials in our communities?

8/ Pramuk notes an important distinction, if not contrast, between the language of “Black Power” and the language of Christianity, “a narrative of power through love and redemptive suffering” (p. 96). Is this an accurate read of the tension between these two languages? Where do you stand in this tension, or on the continuum between these two “revolutionary” languages?

9/ The image of “purgatory” as a place of “purification” is invoked several times throughout the chapter, culminating on p. 97 in reference to children and the “divine-human Child” in all of us. What is the author trying to say with this image? What feelings does the idea or image evoke in you?  

10/ The chapter concludes by “revisiting the logic of solidarity,” invoking the gospel story of the rich young man. Reflect on these pages together. What stands out? Does Pramuk’s description of the younger generation (p. 100-01) ring true? What do you think of his emphasis on the value of “structured, communal immersion experiences” as offering “positive interruptions” in the lives of young people (see also n. 37, p. 191) for additional resources)?  

11/ Who is the “rich young man” today? How would Jesus respond to such a person?  Where do you see yourself in the story?

12/ Which of the endnotes most interest you, and why?

13/ Review and discuss endnote n. 4, p. 188. How do you interpret Merton’s observation that “protest is a biological necessity”? Would you agree? To the contrary, wouldn’t biological self-preservation require us to lay low, keep our head down, and not get involved in the unjust suffering of others?

14/ If possible make arrangements to watch the documentary Uncommon Vision: The Life and Times of John Howard Griffin (n. 15) and reflect on Griffin’s story in light of this chapter. Discuss the possible significance of Griffin’s blindness following his war injury. Is there a relationship between physical blindness –whether in Griffin or Stevie Wonder – and racial consciousness, or the capacity for social empathy?

15/ Discuss n. 32 in light of your own neighborhood or city, and its churches, schools, hospitals, public spaces, or other institutions. To what extent do you experience demographic diversity, integration, or segregation, in the public spaces where you and/or your family “live and move and have your being”?

Be sure to check out “Music and Art” for Chapter 6, with links to many rich resources for further meditation, reflection and discussion.

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