Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK Day: Same Kind of Different as Me

I was going to post on a different topic, but in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, let me mention a book I read yesterday, Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. One of my colleagues read this and recommended it, and my local library had a copy, so I picked it up. It's the true story of the unlikely friendship between a homeless African American man and a wealthy white art dealer, told in both of their first-person voices. While the book is a little uneven and random at times, there are a few interesting nuggets worth lifting out.

Denver, during his youth in the mid-20th century South, stops to help a white woman who has a flat tire, and three white guys come and beat him up and nearly kill him, Emmett Till-style, because of it. Even though we've heard many of these stories at this point in history, each new story is a sobering reminder of how many untold incidents like this were never reported.

Ron the art dealer meets Denver while volunteering at a local urban mission, and eventually they come to a point where Denver asks Ron what he wants from him, and Ron says, "I just want to be your friend." Denver responds by saying that when white folks go fishing, they usually catch the fish and then throw it back, while black folks catch the fish, take it home, show all their friends, and eat it and are sustained by it. Denver tells Ron that he's not interested in a "catch-and-release" friendship. But if he wants a real friendship, he'll be friends forever.

Ron has an affair with an artist during business trips. He eventually confesses to his wife, Debbie, who after much anger and tears, tells Ron, "I want to call her." She calls the other woman, tells her that she forgives her, and that she hopes she (the artist) finds someone who will honor her and have a good life with her. And Debbie says something to the effect that she's recommitting herself to Ron and their marriage so that he will have no reason to go back to the artist. Ron is so chastened by all this that he never strays again.

During a meal, Ron tosses his keychain on the table between him and Denver, and Denver asks what the keys are for. Ron owns multiple houses, luxury cars, etc. And Denver asks, "So do you own them or do they own you?" (That made me think through the keys on my keychain and the various commitments each represents.)

At any rate, this isn't the most significant book ever written on racial reconciliation (in my way of thinking about books, it's a skimmer and a check-out-from-the-library book, not a purchase-at-full-price, read-every-word-and-keep-forever kind of book). And many folks could criticize the book as being too simplistic - it's mostly about personal relationship in racial rec, and not as much about systemic issues (why doesn't the art dealer convince all his multibillionaire clients to use their wealth more justly?). But it's still a good narrative reminder of the racial history and challenges in the United States, and the long-term commitments needed to make progress, whether in systemic justice or personal friendships. (And let me plug another book, featured as a book of the day at Urbana - The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change, by Urbana speaker Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson.)


Emmie said...

Well the book seems pretty interesting .... i would love have a copy of it from my library... i do liked your blog as well... i would surely drop by again....!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Al,

About the book, Same Kind of Different As Me, you didn't "get it." The book is a golden nugget- buy at full price kind of book. A definite pass on to your friends and then put it in your library kind of book. It's about people vulnerably sharing from their innermost being-real life and real feelings. This life is uneven and appears to be random at times through our earthly eyes. Same Kind of Different as Me is an awesome, heart touching, well worth your time read. said...

Buy the book. Read the book. You'll see that it is not intended to be about socialism, liberalism, or leftism. (Thank heavens.) It's about how Jesus changes lives when we allow him to. It's about learning to walk in love. It's about how God changes yielded hearts.

rayrai said...

Dear Al,

I found myself very bothered by this book. Its presumption that someone who befriended a homeless man (but still stole a piece of artwork from a community, and I'm sorry, if it has to be snuck out in the middle of the night in secrecy, "it's my job" is not an excuse, and its "legality" doesn't make it Christian) has demonstrated having "found God" was very troubling, particularly as it is framed in language and situations that make it difficult to criticize - how can you question a man with a self-deprecating sense of humor who has lost a godly wife to cancer? Never mind that he never changed his ostentatious lifestyle that he acknowledged made her uncomfortable, even after she showed remarkable grace in her ability to forgive his adultery – nope, his changes were a ranch more outside the public eye, more time with the family, and grudging agreement to volunteer one night a week at a homeless shelter.

Not that I am advocating that he should have given up his job and his lifestyle, I am just astounded that nobody else seems to find the lack of any evidence of incorporating his newfound “godliness” into his daily life troublesome. Nor do I think he is a bad person: simply that, as far as discovering Christ goes, this is a very superficial (and, I sometimes felt, a purposefully misleading) book.

I agree that there are “nuggets” within the book. It definitely has some very insightful parts. But all in all, I found it very manipulative, and it was a relief to be able to find at least ONE person who did not feel obliged to praise it indiscriminately. Thank you.

- rachel