Becoming Brave Book Study
ACU Summer/Fall 2021
Reconciliation is not true reconciliation without justice! Brenda Salter McNeil has come to this conviction as she has led the church in pursuing reconciliation efforts over the past three decades. McNeil calls the church to repair the old reconciliation paradigm by moving beyond individual racism to address systemic injustice, both historical and present. It’s time for the church to go beyond individual reconciliation and “heart change” and to boldly mature in its response to racial division.
Looking through the lens of the biblical narrative of Esther, McNeil challenges Christian reconcilers to recognize the particular pain in our world so they can work together to repair what is broken while maintaining a deep hope in God’s ongoing work for justice. This book provides education and prophetic inspiration for every person who wants to take reconciliation seriously.
Becoming Brave offers a distinctly Christian framework for addressing systemic injustice. It challenges Christians to be everyday activists who become brave enough to break the silence and work with others to dismantle systems of injustice and inequality.
This year, ACU faculty and staff are invited to read this powerful book and engage in small group book studies. I have broken this study up into three edifying sessions; however each facilitator can stretch or truncate as needed.
Before jumping in feel free to watch, together, the Becoming Brave book trailer here! As you can see, McNeil has endeavored, in her latest book, to be completely candid about her journey in racial reconciliation; fear is no longer holding her back from telling the truth. I also encourage you to read the book of Esther, as McNeil draws a parallel between Esther’s story and ours.
I am looking forward to hearing how we as a campus process this book. It should be challenging and life-giving. –Stephanie Hamm, MSW, PhD
Participants will make their way through this study through a process of getting ready to dive into the text and possibly getting stepped on a bit, gathering McNeil’s insights and ideas, and ultimately by grasping what might be needed to move forward in growth. The text will be broken up in the following manner.
Session 1: Preface & Chapters 1-3 (pgs 17-61)
- Chapter 1: The Law of Timing
- Chapter 2: The Making of an Activist
- Chapter 3: What Called You Forth?
Session 2: Chapters 4-8 (pgs 63-124)
- Chapter 4: What Politics Becomes Personal
- Chapter 5: Palace Living
- Chapter 6: The Prophetic Power of Lament
- Chapter 7: What’s Going On?
- Chapter 8: Healing the Disconnection
Session 3: Chapters 9-12 & Conclusion (pgs 125-195)
- Chapter 9: Breaking Our Silence
- Chapter 10: Intercessors for Justice
- Chapter 11: Speaking Truth to Power
- Chapter 12: The Reconciling Power of Women
- Conclusion: Seizing Our Moment of Destiny
- How are you coming to this discussion and this book? What feelings pop up (excitement, apprehension, wonder…)?
- In the preface, McNeil begins to share her ideas about justice. What do justice and social justice mean to you? What should be a Christian’s relationship with justice? Why?
- In chapter 2, McNeil defines whiteness as “the elevation and valuation of those who are white above all other racial groups, and the systems and structures that support this elevation.” In what ways has whiteness impacted Christianity? How has whiteness co-opted our understanding of the Bible as Christians, regardless of our race?
- Esther was “called forth.” And there is a parallel between the way Queen Vashti paved the way for Esther and the way civil rights leaders do the same for us today. Respond to that notion. Discuss what McNeil called a “Vashti movement.”
- Possible additional questions:
- McNeil also discusses the ways the white-dominant culture has unconsciously used her. Respond to the first paragraph on page 23. Share the ways it hits you.
- From chapter 1, discuss McNeil’s ideas about leadership being related to timing, circumstances, immediate need. Respond to her assertion from page 33 that all Christians are called to activism. How does “yes you!” hit you?
- As McNeil introduces Esther into the text, what impact does this midrash have on your understanding of Esther? [Midrash: an early Jewish interpretation of or commentary on a Biblical text, clarifying or expounding a point of law or developing or illustrating a moral principle. –https://www.dictionary.com/browse/midrash]
- In chapter 3, McNeil notes that white Christians and Christians of color do not have equal amounts of work to do in the process of racial reconciliation. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
- Do you see yourself as an activist? If so, how so? If not, why not?
- What is your relationship to the concept of “whiteness”?
- What has or could effectively call you forth?
- Process Esther. How are you beginning to identify with her story differently than you have before? What new insights are you hoping to gain?
- Discuss the burden of generosity that McNeil explains POCs have been carrying for the greater good. What might be an example?
- Lament “is a protest against the brokenness of the world. It causes us to come face-to-face with hurting people and places that desperately need the healing presence of God. Lament forces us to come close enough to see the horror of what is really going on around us…” Take a moment to share with each other a word or phrase of lament concerning injustice in America.
- Esther’s proximity to the truth changed her. McNeil referred to Bryan Stevenson’s comment from The Equal Justice Initiative that getting close to injustice will break us, and that brokenness makes us human. How might the resulting brokenness look in our lives?
- Possible additional questions:
- From chapter 4, why did Mordecai feel the need to racially socialize Esther? In what ways is this related to the double consciousness discussed by DuBois?
- McNeil states that the isolation and insulation caused by palace living creates fear and ignorance, as we are more likely to believe baseless rhetoric. Discuss ways you have seen or experienced this in your life, family, friends, and associates.
- How does seeing and hearing a story of injustice from the person experiencing the injustice change your view of the person? The injustice itself? Your own life?
- What might you do to get ready in the event that your personal context collides with a social context, causing you to have to “spring into action”?
- About what racial history do you need to learn? Where do you begin to look for that rich history?
- How do Micah 6:8 and Isaiah 1:17 hit you, and what is your prayer moving forward?
- Concerning racial reconciliation, what feelings do you need to address in yourself that help or hinder you?
- Chapter nine discusses Esther’s call to stand in solidarity with her people and the risk involved. In thinking about our own challenges of solidarity, respond to George Yancy’s discussion of the “Dangerous Professor.”
- Esther sought “the face of the holy and righteous sovereign God” and therefore “models for us an activism rooted in prayer.” Discuss the prophetic imagination and the ways it empowers the work of reconciliation.
- McNeil stated: “Reconciliation happens by repairing broken systems and engaging power, not just by focusing on relationships and feelings.” Identify those systems. And then, in what ways can focus on relationships and feelings hinder the work of reconciliation?
- Possible additional questions:
- Respond to McNeil’s assertion that all Christians are called to action. Please share what population of people with which you have been called to stand.
- Do you believe in the concept of tikkun olam? To what extent is it our responsibility to fix the world? Identify the risks involved.
- McNeil stated earlier in the book that prejudice + power is what enables racist oppression. Identify the power structures that need to hear the truth in order for reconciliation to take place?
- Have you ever fasted for justice? Share the result, and any impact fasting had on you personally.
- Amplify the women warriors–the ezers— in your life, who are healing, loving, supporting, and showing up!
- In what ways can you reclaim your identity as a person of color?
- What does it mean to you to confront whiteness in your life?
- Where is God calling you to start tangibly repairing broken systems?
- With whom in your church/community of faith might you join in reconciliation work?