A Review of
How to Heal Our Divides
Brian Allain and Adam Thomas, Eds.
Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
Although we intensely feel the divisions and polarization of American society today, these sorts of fragmentations are nothing new. Racism as we know it in the American experience is over 400 years old. Patriarchy and sexism are thousands of years old, and perhaps even as old as the human species. Old-fashioned American individualism and the accelerating culture of industrialism (and post-industrialism) have also contributed greatly to the fragmentation we feel today. All of these forces of fragmentation, and many others, amplify one another with the cumulative effect that we are increasingly unable to talk and work together across our divides, inhibiting our capacity to imagine ways forward toward healing and justice.
As we reel from the effects of over a year of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and the chaos that emerged from four years of the inflammatory Trump presidency, we lament our divisions and pray that God might heal our divides and lead us out of this wasteland. As we lament, books like How to Heal Our Divides (edited by Brian Allain and Adam Thomas) offer us a tiny taste of hope. How to Heal Our Divides is a diverse collection of stories and meditations from many faith leaders whose work is leading the way toward healing and justice. The breadth and diversity of its contributors is one of the book’s greatest assets. Regardless of their situation or context, readers will likely find one or more reflections that resonate with their experience. (And when this happens, I hope readers will be inspired to learn more about the authors of these particular reflections and their work.) The essays are brief, all ten pages or less, and each can easily be read in one sitting. I was particularly moved by Diana Butler Bass’s reminder in her introductory essay that division is not just a phenomenon that exists outside ourselves, but one that exists in the very being of every person. “When I finally admit,” she writes, “that division isn’t just external but a way of thinking and acting that I’ve learned, it hurts” (14). Catherine Meeks’s essay on dismantling racism is also superb. Many readers will recognize the names of other contributors including Mako Fujimura, Parker Palmer, Amy Julia Becker, Brian McLaren, and more.
Given the book’s title and the long history of fragmentation alluded to above, I would love to have seen a little more depth (some longer essays, perhaps even intentionally interacting with one another) in addition to the book’s wonderful breadth.
The widespread fragmentation that we feel so acutely in the twenty-first century may take decades or even centuries to be healed. In the meantime, we who yearn for this healing must begin to move in that direction. How to Heal Our Divides offers us stories and wisdom that orient us toward healing and foster the sort of hope that we will need for this journey.