Last year for Lent, I wrote about something I called “Old Habits Die Hard,” a challenge for you and me to examine our complicity in systems of oppression in America today, and to ask how those old habits can die in our lives. In essence, it was a Lenten project in decolonizing.
I did not grow up with Lent. In the Southern Baptist tradition, we knew Christmas and Easter, but little in between. As an adult, Lent has become one of my favorite church seasons because it is a time that we remember we are formed from dust. We remember that Jesus was a wilderness person, and we remember that in wildernesses, we find ourselves, and we find God.
The wilderness story of Jesus is often told from one perspective: It was really hard and he was tempted by Satan, but he survived it.
Let’s remember that the wilderness is difficult, but it’s also revelatory, full of epiphany and vision and curiosity. If we are born from the dirt and we return to the dirt, wilderness must be sacred, and we must remember to see it that way.
So this Lent, continuing the work of making sure “old habits die hard,” we are continuing the work of decolonizing in our communities, our families, even our church spaces.
What might it look like for you to decolonize this Lent?
Maybe you look outside the church.
Maybe you decide to read the Bible differently.
Maybe you ask hard questions about what you’ve been taught to believe, and maybe it will lead you to deconstructing some of your faith.
Maybe decolonizing will lead each of us to recognize that we are complicit in colonization on a daily basis, and we have the opportunity to cut it out of our lives for the sake of a better way.
Lent leads us, through our dust-to-dustness, toward a better way.
So, to help us on the journey, I’m sharing 10 books that can help us decolonize in a number of ways.
I am intentionally sharing a list of books both by Christians and non-Christians, and from Christians all along the spectrum of theological beliefs, because Christianity must be shaped by the world around it for it to truly decolonize.
The history of colonization within the church — a history of empire — must be broken, and for that to happen, the church must de-center its own whiteness in order to listen to voices that are speaking important truths, voices from the margins, yes, voices from the wilderness.
And then, the white church must join in the work of decolonizing, not because it’s suddenly become popular, but because it’s the right thing to do.
So this Lent, I urge you to:
- Create a book club.
- Gather with a few friends over coffee and talk through ideas of decolonization.
- Challenge yourself at home and in the workplace to fight toxic stereotypes.
- Re-educate yourself about the history of the United States and the church’s role in empire.
- Grieve, and don’t be afraid of what the wilderness might show you.
Books are always a great place to begin the journey.
Decolonize the way you think about church history by examining the church’s complicity in racism through this powerful book.
We are all having conversations about the origins of the United States and about how the church came to be so mixed up with empire. Jemar Tisby walks us through American history and shows us how urgent it is that we are honest about who we are and who we should be in the future as we fight for a better church that roots out white supremacy and racism within its own institutions.
2. Becoming Coztōtōtl by Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros
Decolonize, through poetry, the ways in which you examine ideas of family, kinship, and the sacredness of the land.
Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros is a poet and speaker who is full of grace and fire. She is a fierce advocate for our Indigenous ancestors, and her words speak the beauty of knowing what it means to honor family stories and the stories that the land carries. Carolina is a decolonizer, and as we read her words, we will know what it means to find the sacred spaces of God in our own stories.
3. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
Decolonize the way you understand race, belonging and blackness in our embedded systems of white supremacy.
Austin Channing Brown writes and speaks with beautiful conviction for our time. In this book, she walks us through her childhood, through her true discovery of her own rich identity as a black woman, and through a difficult conversation with America’s treatment of black women. Austin is a liberator, and as you read her words, you’ll understand that to make the church a better version of itself, we need to be reminded of sacred blackness, spoken by a voice that will show us all the way home.
Decolonize your views of Jesus and the ideas of “the Christ” that have been created by western religion to control and oppress.
This new book from Richard Rohr is an important conversation as we ask how we got to a point in the American church in which strict individualism and obsession with salvation in Jesus came to be the most important parts of the faith. Richard is drawing from a deep well of remembering that “God loves things by becoming them,” and inviting us into that conversation, not to center ourselves as Christians, but to ask how it is that Christ is truly in everyone and in everything that we encounter daily.
5. Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Decolonize the way you view sexuality, gender roles, and the toxicity of the purity movement within the church.
Nadia is one of the most caring pastors of our time, and her words lead us through a really difficult and necessary conversation in this book. As a survivor of the purity movement, I know first-hand how important it is to deconstruct and decolonize this particular church institution, and in doing so, break down systems of toxic patriarchy. The time is now, so that future generations know that they are truly loved, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Join Nadia on a journey of brave belovedness.
6. Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization edited by Steve Heinrichs
Decolonize the way you read the Bible.
I have been looking for a book like this for a long time. From the first essay, I knew that the fire in this book would be for everyone who wishes to decolonize what they’ve learned of the Bible in the white church. For those of us deconstructing our faith, it comes with the realization that the Bible has been used to oppress and condemn for centuries. In this book, we are liberated from that message by hearing stories of decolonization as they come along the text in life-giving ways.
7. Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness by Cindy Wang Brandt
Decolonize your parenting and examine how the church has cultivated an environment based on toxic patriarchy.
Parenting is hard, and as we ask how our toxic institutions have shaped the way we parent, we are asking how we can become better parents, so that future generations don’t carry the stains of toxic patriarchy into their adult lives. “‘By becoming aware of the complex ways we participate in systems of inequality or hierarchy,’” she says, “‘we begin to resist systemic injustice ourselves, empower our children, and change our communities.’”
Decolonize your understanding of LGBTQ experiences through snapshots of church belief in America.
Jeff Chu is an incredible writer and reporter for our time, and speaks with honesty and vulnerability about his identity in the American church. While published in 2013, this is a book that examines so many intersections of identity and difficult conversations within our institutions that are relevant for us in 2019. Go on a journey with Jeff, and see where he might lead you.
9. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Decolonize the way you understand the earth, your responsibilities to the earth, and what she has to teach us through our creature-kin.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a scientist and Indigenous woman from the Potawatomi nation who uses imagery that engages all the senses in this book. How might we transform the way we treat the world and one another within the church if we learn to understand Indigenous ways of knowing, including seeing all creatures as our kin? How might the divine personhood of a flower change the way we treat one another? In this book, Kimmerer is a gentle and fierce guide, and if we follow her, she will show us what it means to be a humble learner in a sacredly created world.
10. Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others by Barbara Brown Taylor (pre-order)
Decolonize the way you see Christianity work in the world in relationship to others.
Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book is out March 12, and takes us on a journey of listening and learning from other traditions in the world. Barbara is a voice that has consistently been important in my life, and has guided me in my own faith deconstruction. It is imperative as Christians in the 21 st century that we learn to value the world and all the traditions in it, that we learn to be better listeners in the process. I believe Barbara will help us get there.
Just as Lent is a 40-day journey through wilderness, decolonizing is a lifelong journey that we all must choose to embark on if we want to be part of creating a more just world.
May we begin here, today, with the gift of words and ideas, that can help us remember what it means to be human, to belong to this earth, to ourselves, to one another, and to God.
Note: All books featured on this list were independently selected by Sojourners’ editors and writers. Sojourners has partnered with Bookshop.org, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. When you order through the Bookshop links on sojo.net, Sojourners earns a small commission, and a matching commission is paid to independent bookstores.