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on July 25, 2007
I tracked down Jesus and the Disinherited after reading Richard Lischer's fine study of Martin Luther King Jr, Preacher King. Howard Thurman, I had learned, was an influence on Martin Luther King Jr. A scholarly Christian reflecting on the African-American experience, he preached non-violence long before it was fashionable. As the back cover states, this is "an influential book whose message helped shape the civil rights movement and changed our nation's history for ever."
Thurman compares the situation of African-Americans to that of the Jews in the time of Jesus. He analyzes the psychological effects of oppression on individuals. He describes the strategies oppressed people adopt for survival based on fear, deception and hate. Fear teaches our body to avoid confrontation with a member of the dominant community, we use double talk so as not to attract negative attention, and our only possible response becomes hatred which keeps us from moral disintegration.
Jesus' call to love enemies was revolutionary. Genuine love must be a mutual recognition of the dominant and oppressed communities as human beings. Genuine love at an individual level (I hate all Asians, but this person I know to be a human being) may lead to an exceptionalism which does not remove the deep hatred of the others collectively.
Thurman concludes, "What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs against the wall? ... They must recognize fear, deception, hatred, each for what it is. Once having done this, they must learn how to destroy these or to render themselves immune to their domination." (p. 108)
The power of this book derives from Thurman's own experience of oppression and his analysis of Jesus' own experience of minority. It is not betrayal to love our enemies; it is a victory when the dominant and oppressed communities respect each other as equals.
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on January 10, 1998
This book was my first introduction to Howard Thurman but it won't be my last. This gentle yet passionate look at Jesus offers insight into God's and our own relationship with the poor as well as some profound pathways to understanding racism. The cover note on the back reads..."an important and influential book whose message helped shape the civil rights movement and changed our nation's history forever." All I know is that this book has changed my own personal history and I will read it again and again.
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on April 6, 2000
Its is purported that Martin Luther King carried this book with him at all times, and upon reading these pages one can see immdiately that this book isn't just a tome of Christianity, but rather a blueprint for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. But in a larger sense this book is a guide for transcending the heartache and humiliation of modern life and renewing one's vision of a spirited public and personal life.
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on March 20, 2012
Howard Thurman is well known as one of the 20th century's great mystics, thinkers, and spiritual leaders. "Jesus and the Disinherited" may be his best known book, and it's certainly his most influential. Martin Luther King, Jr. carried a copy with him in his travels and it grounded him as much as any book. It's certainly worth the accolades.

It's a small book, and its organization is basic. Thurman begins by describing people under oppression as the people "With their backs to the wall." Most of what Christians have written about the role of the teachings of Christ in conversations about oppressed people comes from the perspective of those with power who have an obligation to help those who do not have power. Thurman affirms this approach, and compares it to the perspective of Paul, who, though a Jew and regularly persecuted for the Gospel, always had the power to assert his Roman citizenship. His was a chosen powerlessness, and he occasionally chose to use his societal power.

Jesus, God Incarnate, chose to take his place among those "with their backs to the wall." Thurman believes that Jesus' life and teachings can only be understood from this vantage point. He argues that those who have never been powerless cannot fully understand what it means to have society's structures and systems turned not to their benefit and protection but to their subjugation and humiliation.

Thurman describes how the life and teachings of Jesus relate to the great enemies of the soul--fear, deception, and hate. He is a master not only of the faith but also of psychology and society. The final chapter is about love, and how love between those in power and those with their backs against the wall can only be the result of relationships built on mutuality. He thinks the church is the best place for such relationships to form, and laments that congregations are so segregated and do not allow such relationships to form.

Love is a miracle, and all of society makes the enemies of the soul and the possibility of the love Jesus describes incredibly difficult. One of the great wonders of the Jesus story is that he is a person with his back against the wall who was able to demonstrate the possibility of living in an oppressive situation without giving in to fear, deception, or hate. Jesus was able to love, even his enemies. This fact alone gives tremendous hope that those with their backs against the wall may actually live in such a way. Thurman certainly did.

Howard Thurman wrote in the midst of the Civil Rights struggle, and he talks about his conversations with a grandmother who had spent her childhood in slavery. People like me, who take our freedom and privilege for granted, should read the book, if for no other reason, to get a sense of the interior struggles others face.

Our world is full of fear, deception, and hate. The kind of love Jesus demonstrates and Thurman describes is rare, indeed. This book is a training manual for those who would live in this world with souls untouched by its cruelty.
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on August 24, 1999
This book is a classic which deserves to be named that. It is one great look at the heart of a decent and kind man, who personally, I believe, saw the heart and mind of God, and wrote accordingly. In this book, we will not find the harsh and intolerant God of the conservative establishment, but the real and kind God of the New Testament. Here we find a Jesus who wants to talk to us, hug us and be our best friend. Yet, this Jesus also wants to defend the poor and at-risk. This is a radical look at a radical man and, to me, savior, Jesus Christ.
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on January 9, 2007
Want to know the experience of an African American in America in the thirties and forties, the man who "discovered" Ghandi, went to India, and brought back his message, the man who then taught his students at Boston University School of Theology this message.

One of his students was Martin Luther King.

This short book should be bought, read, and shared.
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Regarding Howard Thurman's Jesus and the Disinherited, paperback.

I suggest that the value of this work is less as a timeless document, as one reviewer suggests, and more as a great sermon for its time. Being great, that means it can speak to us as well, but it has a few scholarly and theological points which may have tarnished over the years. This is the situation:

WW II is over, and the hints of efforts to desegregate were starting. This essay was not written as biblical scholarship or theology or sociology or psychology. Some claims from all those points of view are suggested. He wishes to influence behavior and attitudes, so that his audience can deal with their condition effectively, in a more Christian manner. He makes statements which may be historically or psychologically or scripturally inaccurate. However, most of his psychological theses are sound.

The "homily" is written from the point of view of a preacher, addressing all the black people of mid-20th century America. I suspect few lay black Americans read it. Its primary role was in informing the sermons and strategies of the civil rights leaders arising in the following 15 years. His message is strengthened by the humility with which he describes the discussion which prompted his writing.

It was in part written in response to a learned Hindu observation that Christianity had many sins laid at its feet. The irony is that the response is directed not to the Hindu as much as it is to Thurman's Christian contemporaries, as a remediation of the kind of reactions which would break out in American riots 20 years later and be fueled by the black power movement.

Thurman never denies the racism and injustice. He makes no excuse for it. But it is also a sign of his times (1949) that he does not advocate the events which became the seeds of the integration movement 10 years later. He is describing how to make the very best of a bad situation. To his credit, he does it with no reference to sin or resurrection or the coming Parousia. I don't think he deals with it, he does relate his thoughts to domestic violence, which is not his primary subject. This shares the genre of Bonheoffer's The Cost of Discipleship, as a manual of practical Christian advice. Thurman is intent on restoring Jesus to the center of Christian life and thinking.

His references to American and personal history are made to illustrate points about the psychology of the oppressor and the oppressed. They especially illuminate the sham of "separate but equal" attitude.

What I liked best is that although he did not address it, he was not naive about the kind of violence we hear about in domestic abuse situations.
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on February 9, 2013
My initial response to reading this book was to resist. Upon reflection, the only reason I could find to resist was the possibility that I would have to change my thinking. Once I was ready for change, I embarked upon reading Mr. Thurman's work with an open mind. This is a honest perspective of what power and dominion can destroy the morals of the privileged and break the spirit of the disinherited. It is also a testimony of what the teachings of Jesus can do to restore dignity and hope of those disinherited. I highly recommend it to the privileged to help us recognize and change the faulty and inhumane concepts that have embedded themselves in our minds, hearts, religions, and cultures.
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on June 15, 2009
There are certain sections of this book which inform the reader that it was written during an earlier era. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that Dr. Thurman's message is outdated. The reminder that hate sometimes masquerades as "patriotism" is just as necessary today as it ever was. And the fact that Christianity is one of the most segregated institutions on earth is almost as true today as it was sixty years ago when this book was first published.

The challenges for the followers of Christ remain; and the teachings of Jesus, synthesized herein by Dr. Thurman, still offer the best solutions for overcoming the sins that still infect our lives.
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on April 29, 2013
...you almost need to be a Biblical scholar, pastor or preacher to thoroughly appreciate this text. The principles and values he expouses are timeless. As a scholar himself, the booko is written to stimulate the scholar's thinking and engage one's deeper thoughts. I'm a Senior Pastor...this text earned its place in my library.
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