Can I get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice: A Book Review

Are you looking for a challenging, provocative, and inspiring read for your Lenten journey this year? I highly recommend the newly published work, Can I Get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, And Agitators for Faith and Justice (2019), edited by Charles Marsh, Shea Tuttle, and Daniel P. Rhodes. It’s true, there is nothing about Lent in the title of this book. However, if the days of Lent are meant to heed Jesus’ proclamation of metanoia, to repent, because the Kingdom of God is at hand, then this book provides thirteen portraits of how this has been done in the concrete.

Can I Get A Witness? Is a collection of clearly written and beautifully insightful vignettes crafted by contemporary ministers, theologians and activists. Each of the thirteen portraits paints a picture of folks, some better known than others, who have witnessed to “metanoia” with their lives. Metanoia, the greek word behind the English translation of “repent,” carries the connotation of “changing one’s mind.” In proclaiming “metanoia,” Jesus is imploring his followers to shift the way they see the world, and to trade in conventional wisdom for authentic understanding which ushers in the Reign of God. Can I Get  A Witness portrays thirteen lives completely altered by this different way of thinking.

The biographical essays in this volume go far beyond outlining personal life events. They depict rich spiritual biographies that shape life commitments, and at the same time, they show how committing to justice starkly reconfigures one’s spirituality. Challenges, unexpected turns, and uncertainty abound as each page is turned. In Daniel P. Rhodes’ portrayal of the journey of Cesar Chavez, the reader gets a sense of the sheer risk Chavez and his family faced in his decision to prioritize farmwork justice over financial and social security. Grace Y. Kao walks the reader through the many ways Yuri Kochiyama participated in political justice movements, as result of spiritual convictions, which led up to becoming entrenched in work against unjust imprisonment. Glisson and Tucker uncover the influence Lucy Randolph Mason had in attempting to break through walls of white supremacy in her work to mobilize an interracial worker movement in the 1930s. All of these lives portray dangerous living brought on by the spiritual call to struggle for justice. As a reader walking beside the figures as their lives unfold, you will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable in considering what it truly takes to respond to “metanoia.” I did.

It is a very “acceptable time” to read this book and befriend these thirteen figures for Lent 2019. As the editors exclaim, “the testimonies of dissidents take on new urgency,” in light of the challenges we face today, socially and politically (3). Their insight should not be disregarded. We Christians in the U.S. are in desperate need of inspiring examples of conviction that yields action. This book provides the opportunity to meditate on the lives and voices of people who turned away from unjust social practices and changed their minds by rejecting conventional wisdom. It is a testament to thirteen women and men whose lives anticipated and accelerated the Reign of God through persistent struggle for social, political and economic justice.

I wonder how this book will change your mind and alter your life, if you choose to read it this coming Lenten season?