Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beyond the Possible : A Mom & Me Review

Get it at Indiebound, Amazon, or your local
bookseller.  And start planning your trip
to SF and Glide today!
This fast paced dual memoir from the founders of the current incarnation of Glide Memorial Methodist Church will challenge most people's understanding of what a church can or should be.  Cecil Williams is a gifted preacher and his wife Janice Mirikitani is an internationally lauded poet, so the writing feels nearly effortless, revealing both the triumphs and the personal imperfections of our protagonists.  The bigger win is, was, and one hopes will always be the people of San Francisco's once-infamous Tenderloin district, who have been the recipients of the couple's extraordinary efforts for decades now.

Having attended a few Sunday "Celebrations" in the mid-90's, and having experienced what everybody seems to - namely an unparalleled sense of joy and acceptance - I was blithely unaware of the wildly radical brand of liberation theology practiced at Glide from the 60's through the early 90's.  Not for the faint of heart, that's certain, but challenging in a manner that remains necessary today.

Some will likely be offended by a fair bit of the history presented here, but I hope that more will be inspired to consider what manner of unconditional love they would be willing to embrace, what matters of justice or compassion they would champion.   If you can open your heart to this surprising history, you might just find yourself pondering some of the most urgent questions of our age and wondering whether you should or even could open your heart - and mind - just a little bit wider after all.

Looking for a sense of what a Sunday "Celebration" at Glide feels like?  Check out the brief (2 minute) trailer on the book's website: Perhaps it's because I've attended some myself, but I think the sense of intense joy, social justice mission, and acceptance is palpable, even in the brief clips in the trailer. 

Unconventional. Unconditional. Decidedly different. Deliberately different. That’s Glide Memorial in San Francisco. And the Reverend Cecil Williams and his wife, Poet Laureate Janice Mirikitani, made it happen. They might say that the community made it happen but without their vision, persistence, love, acceptance, compassion, creativity it could not have taken place.
From its beginnings, Glide welcomed all. No one was rejected. As Dave Eggers says in the introduction: “The pews filled up with a seemingly impossible cross-section of the city—black, white, Asian, Latino, old, young, gay, straight, wealthy, poor, healthy, and less so. Handicapped parishioners sat in the aisles. There were tourists from all over the world. Always at Glide’s Sunday services there are Europeans, South Americans, people from everywhere who have heard about what happens there.”
But it wasn’t always so. Cecil Williams came to Glide in 1963, a 30-ish pastor from San Angelo, TX, educated at Southern Methodist University, motivated by the injustices he’d felt to make social justice happen in this poorest of the poor Tenderloin section of San Francisco. In 1964, Janice Mirikitani came to Glide for a typing job while a graduate student at San Francisco State College. She was not much impressed by the minister.
They learned together about poverty and how it grinds people down. Cecil says (pp. 187-88) “To do battle with it (poverty) requires equal persistence, not in winning the war but in loving the people under its power….We persist in accepting them and loving them without condition because their humanity is our humanity.”
As Janice says (p. 202): “True leadership, we learned through the years, was about providing opportunities for those who might not consider themselves capable or educated but nevertheless had the passion, street smarts, and commitment to change—to emerge and develop as leaders. People made their own decisions  about how much change they wanted; leaders emerged at their own pace and with their own vision and understanding of power.”
I could go on with the story of Glide but instead I’ll just add that this book is a picture of the times, a history of poverty, race, prejudice against anyone who is ‘other’ in the US. In the New England university town where I lived through much of this period, it was the same for the poor and the outcast, just on a smaller scale. Cecil and Janice give us ideas about how change can begin—with the people.
I recommend this as US history, as social justice history, as inspiration and reflection and especially for those who want to make a difference in the world.
The Bottom Line: Thumbs way up from both of us, for readers ready to embrace mature themes and challenging content.  How often does a non-fiction work challenge your own ethics, compassion, and open-mindedness?  And how often does one inspire you to do more for the people around you, to look the downtrodden and the outcasts in the eyes with open acceptance, to open your heart wider, and to embrace the most marginalized of our fellow beings?
  As often for "Mom and Me", we're grateful to all at TLC Book Tours for offering us the opportunity to enjoy books that challenge and inspire us.

MFB from Mom and me,

Mom & Who? 
Mom's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of our imperfectly tended gardens (OK, mine's oh so much more imperfect than hers), lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), Jacques Pepin, travel, show tunes, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books.
Once a month or so, we offer up a tandem review about a new book we both suspect you'll enjoy.  We hope you'll find our "dialogue" valuable reading in and of itself, and that we'll inspire you to try your own inter-generational read-along, be it with our picks or with your own.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love that this book challenged and inspired the both of you. Thanks for such a wonderful review for the tour!

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