Sunday, June 25, 2017

Meals for Mars-Book Review

Ben Sciacca is executive director of Restoration Academy, a K-12 Christian school in Birmingham, AL.  The school of close to 300 students, seeks to provide a high-quality and Christ-centered education to inner-city youth in the Birmingham area. Ben has been invested in city ministry for twenty years. What he's authored for us in Meals for Mars is a chance to gain a new perspective on racial differences by helping us feel the tension and taste the discomfort of two very different worlds being forced to connect.

White and very middle class, Jim Dawkins, drives his black Lexus into Edgewood a few nights before Thanksgiving to deliver groceries to Wilma Thompson.  Regular church volunteers for this job are unavailable; Jim needs to go, even though his wife anxiously argues for him to back out of the commitment.

Malik, Wilma's grandson, is eighteen and struggles to make sense of his life.  His dad is absent and his mom has left to live with her boyfriend.  He resents the fact that his grandmother has to raise him and his siblings on the meager salary she gets from cleaning the church. The same night Jim Dawkins arrives in his neighborhood, Malik is headed for the corner store on an errand for his grandmother, with a gun tucked into the back of his waistband.

Jim's worst fears are realized when he encounters Malik, gun raised, and on the run from a crime scene, forcing his way into Jim's car. Jim is instructed to drive out of the city and miles from home. What Malik and Jim share in the next twenty-four hours, while alone together, will give them a new understanding of their racial differences and foregone conclusions about one another.

My own thoughts and beliefs were challenged as I read Jim's fears and peered into the unjust world that Malik inhabits.  I pray the new insights Sciacca offers me in this story will lead me into conversations towards racial reconciliation, and at the least, help me identify my prejudice, so I can better love as Christ loves.

In the afterword the author states, " of the most destructive ways to enter into a conversation about race is to ignore that we have different opinions and experiences...[our church community] sacrificed crucial conversations for the sake of apparent harmony.  That is not love, nor does it produce true community...We must deal with truth in order to get to reconciliation....We must also be allowed to mess up without the threat of being labeled racists or race baiters...We must throw away bitterness and entitlement because we are indebted to the Maker of all creation, and we must be ready to forgive as Christ forgave us."

Meals for Mars is a story with a purpose. It is easy to read, suspenseful and realistic, and not completely resolved when you get to the end.   I hoped for a new beginning for the characters in the story, and as I imagined them coming to a happy ending, I ask myself what it would take for all of us to create those happy outcomes in the world around us.

This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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