The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (Elijah Anderson) AND Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Bryan Stevenson) BOTH 20% OFF

I heard the news a bit late, about the
lack of an indictment of the policeNY_DN.jpg officer who, against NYPD protocols,
used a choke-hold on and killed a non-threatening guy selling loose cigarettes in New York. As you surely know, the incident was caught on video tape and it was
exceptionally baffling to wonder why this officer was not held
accountable.  Was race involved in
how the man was handled? Was race involved in how the case was handled? It is a
large claim to make without evidence that it was due to race that this was so
mishandled, but it isn’t implausible to suggest so. 

On the heels of the decision in Ferguson, it has catapulted once again some very important issues onto the front burner of our national discourse.  

Ironically, I missed the breaking story earlier this week as we were away from the news media while we were
selling books at a gathering which was exploring the nature of subtle (and not
so subtle) racism in America, and how to create what our speaker called a “cosmopolitan

What a week!

I can’t tell you how my
heart aches — as yours does, too, I’m sure — as I’ve listened to our speaker,
Dr. Elijah
, a renowned black sociologist,
and read his most recent book, and heard the news about the Eric Garner trial, and
followed all manner of conversations on line about Ferguson and now NYC and the general state of race relations.  On PBS over the weekend, Beth and I watched a tribute to Bruce Springsteen, and I cried as I listened
to Jackson Browne’s moving rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s song about another
case of ethnically-charged police violence American Skin (41

Lord have mercy.

And just this morning I suggested in a class I’m teaching about incarnation, Advent, and missions, that this season is less a countdown to the Big Day,Advent poster from High Calling.jpg but a season to inhabit, not unlike Lent, to allow God to work on our longings, desires, laments. As I tried to write in my essay at The High Calling blog, Advent allows us to intensify our longings for the restoration of all things as we anticipate not so much a celebration of the first coming of Christ, but of the second coming of Christ.  

Come Lord Jesus. 


Our speaker at our event was Dr. Elijah
Anderson, who has taught sociologyelijah anderson.jpg for three decades at the prestigious University
of Pennsylvania and, more recently, at Yale, and he walked us through some of
his academic work and then illuminated racial dynamics in American cities. He
told stories of how even middle class blacks who are often comfortable in
mixed-race or largely white social settings carry great stress because of the
inevitable “nigger moments” that they face.  Because of the history of racial injury in our country, even
slight episodes of disrespect are freighted with great and sometimes
debilitating emotion.  Of course we
talked about Ferguson, and the clergy that had gathered for this event talked
candidly among themselves about their own experiences of racial injustice.  It was sobering, but helpful.

Icosmo canopy.jpg want to tell you about how very
important (and how very, very interesting) Dr. Anderson’s book,
The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (Norton; $17.95) really is. But first, a bit of a report about our book-selling efforts at the event in New Jersey.

We were selling books as we do each
year at a clergy retreat for priests and church leaders of the Pennsylvania Diocese
(the greater Philadelphia area) of the Episcopal Church.  This is not my own tradition — what
again is a warden or canon or deanery and which Rite are we using, and whose feast day is it
today? — and I guess it shows. (And I thought my evangelical friends had a lot of in-house jargon!  Ha!)  But these exceptionally thoughtful pastors working in the
context of high church, liberal mainline Protestantism are good to Beth and me
and we have a lot of fun. They let
me tell them about books I love, and they often buy some of the ones I describe
in my presentations up front. (Thanks,
friends, for your rousing enthusiasm for my rousing books presentations! Nunc dimittis.)

From our “Book of the Year” (Steve
Garber’s Visions of Vocation: Commonlife together in christ.jpgvisions of vocation.jpggood shepherd bailey.jpg Grace for the Common Good) to the new Biblical studies work by the
eminent New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey, Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New
to a lovely new book on spiritual formation by Ruth Haley Barton
(Life Together in Christ: Experiencing
Transformation in Community
) they were receptive and generous in their book

These priests ask good questions about
serious resources, and tease me just enough to show we’re welcomed. (And I tease them just enough to let
them know I feel at home with them.) I told them about St. John Before Breakfast by my pal Brian Walsh. They loved that he
does a morningSt. John Before jpgwe make the road McL.jpg Eucharistic service at the University of Toronto which he calls “Wine
Before Breakfast” and bought all the copies we had. Not too surprisingly, they
bought a bunch of Cathleen Falsani’s edited collection of “rants and readings
of the odd parts of the Bible” called Disquiet
We pushed We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation,
Reorientation, and Activation
, the latest Brian McLaren book designed for
small groups to read the Bible through in a year; I am quite fond of it, and
recommended it slow church.jpgto them. Of course I told them about our good time recently with
Chris Smith, with one of the authors of Slow
Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus
and sold a number
of that.

We just figured you’d like to know what
these folks bought, and the kinds of things we’d promote at an event like
that.  It was a good time, even
though we had to pull an all-nighter to set everything up. It isn’t every group that buys J. I Packer alongside Joan Chittister,
Marcus Borg and Jamie Smith.

We are glad for friends there that
worship well, serve their parishes, and are working to be sure their people
grapple with the Bible, and the implicationsbible challenge cover.jpg of the Bible. One of their
priests, Marek Zabriski, is nationally known for his effort to get parishes to
read the Bible through in a year. His edited guide to reading the Bible
through, accompanied by devotional-like readings, The Bible Challenge: Read the Bible in a Year (which is published
by Forward Movement and which we carry, of course) is a year’s worth of daily devotional
readings, written by authors as prominent as Walter Brueggemann and Barbara
Brown Taylor, which illumine the Biblical reading of the day.  There are guides to what to read (and
why) and reflection questions for personal or small group use. His effort — as documented in another
book called Doing the Bible Better and
the Transformation of the Episcopal Church
— is remarkable, and the book is
a great tool for anyone wanting a moderate, balanced perspective on reading and
inhabiting the Biblical story in a coherent, contemporary way. 

So, yes, we were with mainline
Protestant clergy who were buying books about theology, the Bible, parish revitalization,
spirituality, missional service, liturgy, and more.  It was a great time in the lovely book room.

And our speaker, the aforementioned Dr.
Elijah Anderson, was gracious and kindly. His grandmother was a mid-wife (and
knowingly named him after a Biblical prophet) and his parents worked on a
plantation in the south, picking cotton in the years of Jim Crow and lynching
and horrors big and small, until they moved North in the great migration.  Dr.
Anderson himself came of agecode of the street.jpg as cities were burning after the killing of
Martin King, and his own interest in people watching and trying to figure out
how and why things were happening in the “iconic ghetto” grew into a life
calling in urban sociology.  His
early books include the scholarly ethnographies, A Place on the Corner, Street Wise, and the remarkable study of
inner city Philadelphians, The Code of
the Street.
His work is considered classic ethnography — serious sociology
which is also, in the words of People magazine,
“a people watcher’s delight.”

I have been reading his latest book and
have been blown away by how very interesting, and useful it is. I so hope
people come to study it – it offers really enlightening and nearly necessary
information in these days of complicated conversations about racism, white privilege,
police brutalities, and what is or isn’t plausible about racial aggressions in
modern North America.  It is called
The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and
Civility in Everyday Life
 and we highly, highly recommend

Pcosmo canopy.jpgages could be shared just reproducing the many, many rave
reviews this important book has accrued, such as Ellis Cose (who wrote The End of Anger) who called it, simply,
“An amazing achievement” or William Julius Wilson, the eminent urban
sociologist from Harvard, who said it is “Vintage Elijah Anderson – original,
creative, engaging, and thought provoking… a must-read.”

It isn’t every book about racial
disunity and the glimmers of hope found in truly cosmopolitan settings that
earns rave blurbs from authors as diverse as Cornel West and George Wills.  Have West and Wills ever agreed on

It may be true, what Randall Collins,
president of the American Sociological Association, says, the Cosmopolitan Canopy is “the most
important book on race relations in many years.”

Two things you should know about this

Firstly, it isn’t a rant against racism
– not at all like, say, the new Cornel West title which is called Black Prophetic Rage, a book of
interviews and up-to-date criticism of the current status quo in race relations
and public theology. Agree with him or not, Brother West is always worth
reading, and we commend it to you.

The Cosmopolitan Canopy is nuanced, and at times delightful.  One reviewer said that Anderson may be the nation’s leading “people
watcher” – and who doesn’t enjoy that? 
He is, here, attempting to offer a major reinterpretation of the racial
dynamics in America, by introducing terms such as the “cosmopolitan canopy” by
which he means islands of civility and cultural convergences existing amid the
ghettos, suburbs and ethnic enclaves in which segregation is the norm.  Of course, he identifies “the racial
fault lines that on occasion rend the ‘canopy’ and describes the ways in which
it recovers.”   His stories of racial injury,
discrimination, harm, are painful – in part because they are so commonplace and
believable.  (As the Springsteen
songs puts it, “It ain’t no secret…”) Yet, white folks too often haven’t talked
with their black friends enough about this, or haven’t immersed themselves in
the literature.  So reading this
sociological account could be very, very useful.

Dr. Anderson – even though he has
accumulated his experiences of demeaning discrimination over his lifetime –
seems relaxed, here.  Again, he is
a people-watcher and he is telling the stories; again, it is urban ethnography
and not very polemical.  He loves
the city, and he loves trying to understand the social boundaries, constructs,
institutions and social locations that help create a flourishing public space.
As a skilled ethnographer, he is exceptionally perceptive.  And he relishes his task as storyteller
and interpreter.

urban ethnography.jpg
Here’s the second thing you should
know: not only does Anderson enjoy cities and telling the stories of their
inhabitants and their patterns of behavior, he particularly loves Philadelphia.
Cosmopolitan Canopy
is a
study of race relations in the city of Brotherly love, and a tribute to the
unique public spaces in that city of neighborhoods.  Even if, like me, you do not know Philly all that well, you
will love these chapters on different places in the metropolitan area that seem
to invite greater civility and racial harmony.  Not unlike, say, James Howard Kunstler who tells of very
specific suburban messes, bad city planning and ugly architecture, you don’t
have to really know or care much about the particular place he is describing:
you get the picture. But the book is set in Philadelphia.

Doc Anderson takes readers through a
walking tour of Center City, and that first chapter is sheer delight, learning
how urban spaces do or don’t facilitate multi-ethnic diversity and
civility.  But then the real fun
begins, as he then moves to the Reading Terminal (a true “cosmopolitan canopy”
he says.) The Gallery Mall is a “ghetto downtown” and his look at Rittenhouse
Square offers a study of the practice of civility.

You see, Anderson is not just lamenting
the ghettos and the “white spaces” that dominate much American life, he is
pointing towards what works, how to create more democratic and safe spaces that
are civil and full of what he calls comity.

Anderson’s survey of those he calls “ethnos”
and “cosmos” is very, very illuminating. That is, there are those who chose to see themselves largely as part of
a particularized racial enclave (this can be whites, blacks, or others, of
course) and whose worldview is formed mostly by surrounding themselves mostly
by people who are just like them.  And there are those who have a more cosmopolitan vision, who
are truly multi-racial in their orientation, comfortable with diversity.  Of course there are those who have to
switch sensibilities – urban blacks who live in black neighborhoods, are formed
in black churches, and attend mostly black schools but who go to work in mostly
white career tracks or white institutions.  Some resent and find this very difficult while others seem
to relish this.

Don’t you just wonder about all of this?

Anderson explains for us the emotional
toil and drama of being “black middle class in public” and this part was
especially interesting for me.  If
most BookNotes readers are white, but who have black friends, it may be
surprising to you how your black friends may relate in the predominantly white
spaces, and how they may act in their own homes and neighborhoods.  All of this was very stimulating, if
hard, at times – I thought I knew a lot about this stuff, and I feel, now, as
if I’ve got so much more to learn!cosmo canopy.jpg

Even as Anderson documents features of a healthy civic
society, and these places that are “cosmopolitan canopies” – thanks,
Philadelphia! – he follows with a powerful chapter called “The Color Line and
the Canopy.” (You may know that “the color line” phrase comes from W.E.B. Du Bois.)
 There is stuff about “provisional
status” that you must read, and an excellent bit about how many black employees
experience the mostly-white workplace. The Cosmopolitan
ends with some powerful stories that invite all readers to ask
if they are committed to civility and willing to resist those who are racist or
rude or uncivil. 

He writes,

Under the cosmopolitan canopy, city
dwellers learn new ways of interacting with people they do not know who are
visibly different from their own group. They become more comfortable with
diversity and discover new ways that people comfortable with diversity and
discover new ways that people express themselves in public. These experiences
may lead people to question and modify their negative presuppositions about
others. Even if they do not want to know those others intimately they practice
getting along with everyone. The canopy offers a taste of how inclusive and
civil social relationships could become. That people find such pleasure in
diversity is a positive sign of the possibilities of urban life in the twenty-first

I could say more about this fabulous book of social observation, and
why BookNotes readers, especially, may find it useful. I am very eager to promote it, and glad
to have had the chance to listen in to these conversations facilitated by Dr. Elijah
Anderson and his good books.

The Pennsylvania  (Episcopal) Diocese is itself diverse –
there is a white pastor of a church made up of Africans and those from the
Caribbean where there are understandable regional tensions; there are clergy of
every ethnic background who serve various kinds of parishioners from blue
collar whitesmary oliver line - uses of sorrow.jpg to African American professionals (etcetera, etcetera – we live
in such a colorfully diverse world, don’t we?)  Some who serve are GLBT or in other ways seen as minorities. Women priests continue to struggle in some places with ugly discrimination and
some live with great sadness and frustration for ways in which they’ve been
mistreated. These clergy friends are candid with one another about their own
sense of race relations within their collegial associations and in their own
relationships, and within their churches. Was the gathering itself “white space”
or “cosmopolitan”?  Again, you see,
just having people of different hues or backgrounds in the same room doesn’t
make it civil or safe, let alone cosmopolitan.

I admire any organization that desires to embody God’s will,
and which attempts to be attentive to the implications of the gospel; these
last days reminded me of the daunting task ahead if we are to be faithful and
fruitful responding to the call of the gospel to be agents of reconciliation. Dr.
Anderson and his talks about the social/racial dramas played out, day by day, especially among middle
class blacks, college students, professionals, and others living in places like
Philadelphia, helped focus our conversation in fresh ways. I suspect it could
be helpful to you, too, wherever you live and work, no matter what your race or
ethnicity or status.

In our book display we had dozens of
other books on racial reconciliation, ethnic diversity, growing a multi-ethnic
church. We have a lot of these
kinds of resources for nearly any kind of church; give us a call if you’d like
us to suggest some resources.

(By the way, if you write or call, knowing
something of the racial make-up, the history and fruitfulness of previous
conversations about this you may have had, and the theological tradition in
which you stand would be helpful as we help you by suggesting a few good

For a very good overview of the changing
face of North American ethnicities,living in color woodley.jpgmany colors.jpg I really recommend, by the way, Many
Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church
by Soong-Chan Rah (Moody
Press; $14.99) and it was fun selling it to my Episcopalian friends. If you’ve
followed BookNotes for long, you may know we are fond of Randy Woodley’s lovely
and challenging call to racial diversity in the Body of Christ, Living
in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity
(IVP; $18.00.) More
Than Equals:more than equals.jpg Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel
by Spencer
Perkins and Chris Rice (IVP; $20.00) tells the story of one white guy
and one black guy who became friends, partners in ministry, and the struggles
they had at learning to work well together and move people towards “the beloved
community.” It remains a life-changing book for many.



Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau; $28.00.)

In recent days I have had some difficult conversations with friends who doJM.jpg not
seem to trust the uprising against the apparent sense of
abuse felt by many people of color, especially when thinking about criminal
justice, the police, and so forth. I do not know how you’ve talked about
Ferguson, and if you are seeking a moderate, fair-minded, just approach – which
is to say, not knee-jerk reactionary one way or the other, but seeking
evidence, prudence, justice.  But
if you have had these conversations, I am sure you have met people (maybe you
yourself are one of them) who are suspicious of the claims that race is, without
a doubt, a factor in many of the situations of police violence and what seem to
be unjust verdicts and mishandling of evidence by the courts.

b-stevenson-0410_021_scrs.jpgAnd so, I beg you to purchase (as soon
as you can!) and read this
amazingly moving book, a book I’ve been saying is one of the most important
books I have read in my entire life, the stunningly outrageous, very
interesting, page-turning, and finally inspiring work by Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy:
A Story of Justice and Redemption.
 I will
say a bit more about this when we announce our “Best Books of 2014” at the end
of the year, as this will be named. (You could check out his powerful TED talk, or his great NPR interview, too, or visit his Equal Justice Initiatives webpage at  

For now, please read (or re-read) this review that I had
published (in an slightly edited version) in Capitol Commentary, a weekly on-line publication of the Center for Public Justice, for whom I write a monthly book
review column. I hope it inspires you to read the remarkable book.

For those who care to learn about the need for greater public
justice, and how legal practices, lower court rulings and higher court
appeals, and complex cultural attitudes about poverty and race in the United
States too often subvert “liberty and justice for all” there is simply no more
compelling way to be introduced to the painful realities of our land than to
take up the study of racially-charged mass incarceration and the inequities of
how poor people are treated by the criminal justice system. We can learn much
from the experiences of those courageous lawyers who toil over legal details at
low wages as they serve in legal aid clinics to help the under-represented get
a fair hearing in court. 

It is in such a world that even stalwart conservatives like the late
Charles Colson have spoken out against the death penalty: in our terribly
broken legal systems, even what some might see as a legitimate task of the
statestevenson.jpg cannot be adjudicated justly.  And it is into just such a situation
that Bryan Stevenson has served in the deep American south, fighting unjust
incarceration, and what are often poorly handled legal cases involving poor,
usually black, often uneducated citizens who have been degraded and sometimes
abused in U.S. prisons. His Equal Justice Initiative is an extraordinary
organization, and those that have heard him speak — at gatherings such as
Jubilee or Q or The Justice Conference — have long awaited this fuller telling
of his heroic tale. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
is one of the most powerful, painful, informative and inspiring books that I
have ever read. It has been worth the wait for Stevenson to find time
(amidst a grueling schedule of life-and-death advocacy) to pen this must-read

In this volume, we come to learn the excruciating details of several
key cases on which Stevenson worked.  We learn about the most egregious
miscarriages of justice, the most brutalizing treatment of people in prison,
and it is revealed how – in Alabama, particularly – bad laws and ugly practices
have continued on with little reform or safeguards that have been instituted in
most other states.  In some cases Alabama is one of the few places in the
country where certain choices (like putting young teens in with adult
prisoners, where rape and abuse is common) are still permitted. This book
documents outrage after outrage, and you will be troubled. This is an expose
that needs to be read; written in Stevenson’s first-person narrative, it is
nothing short of riveting.

JM.jpgSome of the racial inequity regarding mass incarceration and extreme
punishment has been documented in Michelle Alexander’s rightly famous The
New Jim Crow
so it will come as no surprise to read her glowing
endorsement: “Bryan Stevenson is one my personal heroes, perhaps the most
inspiring and influential crusader for justice alive today, and Just Mercy is
extraordinary.” Desmond Tutu says that Stevenson is “America’s young
Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction.” 
Southern Baptist bestseller, lawyer John Grisham says, “Not since Atticus Finch
has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American
South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan
Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the
poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with
no hope.”

Throughout some of these stories, ironically, Stevenson is working —
against compromised prosecutors, judges complicit in gross negligence and
sometimes overt, disturbing racism — in the very town made popular by the
filming of To Kill a Mockingbird. When Time magazine last month
asked Mr. Stevenson about the obvious comparison with Atticus Finch, he was
quick to note that Finch lost the famous fictional case. He realizes deep
in his bones that lives of real people are at stake; he dare not resign himself
to lose. He dare not rest in the popularity of his TED talks or NPR
interviews.  He simply must win more of these cases, prevent children from
prison abuse, staying the gruesome execution of the innocent, offering presence
and hope to the families of criminals and victims alike.

You will be hooked on this stunning story within the first few
pages, and by the end of the first dozen pages, you will be feeling things you
may not have felt in a long while, on the edge of your seat, wanting to know
how this young man from a poor village in rural Maryland, who attended a small
Christian college in Philadelphia, who was so unsure of himself at Harvard Law
School, ended up staring down crass injustice with little assistance and no
money in the dangerous South. You will be reminded of the awful last
chapter of Dubois’ Soul of Black Folk (“Of the Coming of John”) and you
will know that intimidation and even the fear of lynching remains a reality for
many of our fellow citizens here in America. Your heart will break when you
watch as Bryan visits in very poor homes with family whose loved ones have been
abused by the legal system, who say to him, “These people have broken our

How can it be that “these people” remain supportive of intransigent,
structural injustice, upheld by prosecutors, judges, prison officials (some who
appear gruff and abusive, some who appear kind and ashamed of the outcomes of
their work)? Why do not more cry out from within the legal system?
 What can citizens do?  What might Christian lawyers and legal
scholars do? This is the epic stuff of great literature, a grand story that
will engage you, inspire you. As Rev. Tutu writes, “It is as gripping to
read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than
the soul of a great nation.”

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