Monday, March 28, 2016

Book Review: Under Our Skin

"I'm encouraged because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a sin problem." 
- Ben Watson, Under our Skin 

I was in California when I got the e-mail.  It was an e-mail that opened my eyes to just how severe the race issue was at Bucknell University.  Three students expelled.  Expelled because of deeply offensive speech directed towards blacks.  I had been taught in school that racism was mostly dead.  I grew up in a mostly white town, educated in a mostly white public school, and went to a mostly white private liberal arts college.

Racism wasn't mostly dead, I just never experienced it.  Racism wasn't dead, it just lurked in the shadows of social media.

By God's grace, His Word and His Spirit direct us to combat this foe.  It's why I'm thrilled to share my thoughts on the book Under Our Skin by Ben Watson (a current NFL Tight End), because it was truly helpful as I tried to think through how to walk and minister to a culture that seems to be growing in animosity when it comes to racial discussion.  

Here are three things I appreciated:

His Vulnerability - Ben shared very openly about his mistreatment as a young black man.  He shared about his upbringing, family history, his mistakes, and his triumphs.  When speaking of things done to him, he spoke honestly yet with the tone of forgiveness.  When speaking on racism at large, he shared his feelings but did not give full vent to them.  His tone was representative of James 3:17, "The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere."  Which leads to...

His Fairness - Ben was not going after shock value.  He did not put the blame solely on one group.  He was even and measured.  Because of this, I wanted to listen more.  He shared his hatred of the sin of racism, but he also shared his hatred of sin that he used to love.  One in particular that was really helpful for me was he shared how while he loves hip hop as a style, since that is something that was common in his culture, he also didn't like how it often became an excuse for crude, derogatory lyrics.  He was both for respecting culture as well as pointing out its flaws.  He wasn't pro-black or pro-white, he was pro-Jesus.

His Understanding - Ben didn't fall into the trap of simplifying the issue.  He spoke to the issue as a complex one.  This is very valuable, since many of us hear or see things in 140 characters or less.  He didn't try to solve the problem, rather he helped expose the many problems in some very complex issues.  It's a good reminder that as we try to bring unity to the body of Christ, it will take time, effort, and understanding.

I would recommend this book to any Christian who is trying to understand how to think through these difficult issues.  One of my primary applications from it is to not assume that everyone has gone through the same experiences as I have.  That often limits my ability to listen and empathize well.

My only critique (and I think it's minor) is he is heavy on personal sharing, and light on biblical foundation.  I think he could have really benefited from sharing from God's Word why these things are issues, and could put up even better guard rails than he all ready put up.  Ephesians 2 especially could have been a helpful text.  However, he hammers home two very important truths.

1. Racism is the fruit of sin

2. The gospel gives us hope, because Jesus died to kill sin.

Those truths alone help start the dialogue.  Will you read this book and join in?

(Another helpful review by Tim Challies can be found here)