My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church by Amy Kenny

Social Issues

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

5 Stars

Yellow book cover shows a wheelchair overflowing with a multicolored variety of flowersMy Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church by Amy Kenny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: Amy Kenny, a disabled Christian, reflects on her experiences inside the church to expose unintentional ableism and to cast a new vision for Christian communities to engage disability justice. She shows that until we cultivate church spaces where people with disabilities can fully belong, flourish, and lead, we are not valuing the diverse members of the body of Christ.

My thoughts: What an amazing step along this social journey I’ve been on. If I wrote down every point I wanted to highlight from this book along with my related reflections, my review would be longer than the book itself.

With a mix of (snarky!) humor and grace, the author lays out so much for a critical perspective shift. For instance, when I see her use “disable” as a verb at times, it becomes clearer: inaccessible spaces disable people who have different bodies, whereas accessible spaces ensure that everyone is able to be included. And to hopefully move beyond inclusion to belonging.

The book addresses practical issues concerning disabled people’s civil rights—some issues I knew about and some I didn’t. And how the author gradually explains the prophetic witness of disability, demystifying the truth of disabled people as God’s image-bearers, is nothing short of beautiful.

Plus, the book includes plenty of actionable steps for readers/the church (meaning, people in the church) to take.

One significant step for me as an author: watching how I use disability language in my writing. Granted, in recent years (and especially as my stories’ ranges of characters grow in diversity), I’ve started to feel weird about seeing words like “lame” commonly used as jokes and negative metaphors. Now I have a much clearer picture of why I’ve felt weird—and I can work on my language choices to write in ways that engage, rather than harm, a diversity of readers.

A diversity of invaluable image-bearers.

I highly recommend this book on disability justice in the church.

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The Disability Experience: Working Toward Belonging by Hannalora Leavitt

Social Issues

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

4 Stars

Teal illustrated book cover shows a diverse group of teenagers with disabilitiesThe Disability Experience: Working Toward Belonging by Hannalora Leavitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll say right off that I did and didn’t find exactly what I was expecting from The Disability Experience: Working Toward Belonging by author Hannalora Leavitt (with illustrations by Belle Wuthrich). After reading the blurb for this nonfiction book aimed toward young adults, I thought it would have multiple people telling their stories, perhaps through interviews, with supporting information woven in.

As it turns out, the boxes throughout the book that tell a little about different people’s experiences are this book’s supporting feature. The majority of the book is a layout of information from the author, almost like a short textbook.

Nevertheless, I also did find what I was expecting: content to help expand my perspective.

For instance, while I’ve heard about barriers people with disabilities face when it comes to education and employment, I hadn’t heard as much about barriers to healthcare. What do you do when the doors inside the doctor’s office are too narrow to fit your wheelchair? Or the nurses in the emergency room don’t know how to take blood or draw urine from someone in a wheelchair? Or a doctor with allergies turns you away from his office because of your service dog?

I got a look at positive points that were new to me too. Like, I’ve seen wheelchair basketball and para ice hockey before, but here I learned a little about how visually impaired athletes play hockey, golf, softball, and tennis. I also found out about accessibility advancements through smart technology I hadn’t heard of.

Now, I think it’s important to note that this author, who’s legally blind, focuses on the North American disability experience, and she assumes from the start that the reader doesn’t have a disability. I don’t think the book quite addresses all the questions raised in the introduction. As for the writing style, I found the flow of ideas to be awkward to follow at times when there could have been smoother transitions.

Even so, while it’s by no means exhaustive, this book does a nice job overall of giving an introductory look into what people with disabilities face and what readers can do after finishing the book.

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Diversity in Christian Fiction: How Can Readers Help?

An ethnically diverse line of friends, holding up pictures of books in different colors

I know the topics of racial inequality and privilege make a lot of people uncomfortable. Some even have a mindset that says, “That kind of privilege doesn’t exist,” or “It’s just an exaggerated idea that folks spew around these days when they argue about politics.”

I’m not here to spew or to argue. I don’t have to. For me, an African American woman, and for an untold number of other people, real-life experience makes the issue of privilege (or the lack of it) pretty clear. And as a longtime reader and fan of Christian Fiction, I don’t have to look far to see just one everyday example of the issue.

A disappointed brown-skinned woman holding a book with a white romantic couple pictured on the front

I go to the bookstore, find the Christian Fiction section, and look at the books that are shelved there. I go to the websites of traditional Christian Fiction publishers I’ve been reading books from for decades, check out their bestsellers and new and upcoming releases, and I look at the faces of the models or illustrated characters on the book covers, especially on novels about modern times. I also check out the author bios and photos there.

No, it’s not fun to say it, but time after time, few to none of those faces I see are people of color.

It certainly isn’t that people of color don’t read Christian Fiction, or that there aren’t any writers of color who write Christian Fiction. Yet, as much as I love keeping up with books from ChristFic publishers, it becomes increasingly disheartening when, year after year, authors and fictional heroes and heroines of color are often missing from the new waves of books rolling in.

A brown-skinned man with his eyes closed, holding the bridge of his nose as if he has a headacheI realize that, for a lot of fellow ChristFic fans, it may not be something that crosses your minds that much, if at all. Many times, though, that’s a part of privilege: when you don’t realize a disadvantage exists for others, or you hardly think about it, because you’ve only ever experienced the advantage. It may not even seem like an advantage to you if your subconscious assumes, “This is just the way it is,” and it feels so normal.

Well, I trust I’m not the only person who believes this: Christian Fiction is in great need of a new normal in the area of diversity. After all, diverse Christian Fiction is something for (and for the benefit of) all ChristFic readers, not just one color or another.

Now, in no way do I mean to discount traditional Christian Fiction publishers’ awareness of the issue or any steps they’ve taken to address it. Nor do I mean to discount the strides that Christian Fiction has already made in this area, especially through small press and independent publishing.

I mean, hey. I’m an independent author myself. And yes, I write multicultural ChristFic.

Nevertheless, I’m still interested in the releases and relevance of traditional Christian Fiction publishing. In large part, traditional Christian publishers are still seen as the main representatives of Christian books. The world is watching, history is taking note, and traditional publishers have a larger platform and access to certain doors that many independent publishers don’t yet have.

Moreover, I don’t believe readers, authors, and publishers should be okay with any area of Christian Fiction being behind the times where diversity is concerned, no matter the means of publication. Likewise, it wouldn’t be to our benefit to settle for only partial-diversity, in a sense—when more diverse characters may start showing up in books from a Christian publisher, but the publisher’s authors still aren’t that diverse. Or a publisher begins to publish more authors of color, but only when the stories are about white or racially ambiguous main characters.

A brown-skinned man writing in a notebook

No, I don’t believe that authors in general can or should only “write their own color.” I myself, as a Black female author, don’t only write about Black people. (Or only about female people, for that matter.) Even so, I wouldn’t want us to go as far as partial-diversity and leave it at that.

Granted, diversity in Christian Fiction is a longstanding, complex issue with layers of challenges to overcome. But I think there are some practical ways that readers can play a part in bringing more diversity to ChristFic.

  1. We can start letting our favorite Christian Fiction publishers know that we’d like to see them publish more diverse authors and diverse books in the ChristFic genres we read.

Many of us follow and talk with our favorite publishers on social media. Or we comment on their blogs, or sign up for their newsletters, or join their blogger/reviewer programs, or participate in their surveys. Publishers are seeking our engagement and feedback, and we can use social media and other opportunities to let them know what kinds of books we’d like to see.

Publishing is a risky, challenging, expensive business. Even Christian publishers who see their work as a ministry need to concern themselves with the market and their profits if they want to stay in business. Publishers need to feel sure that there’s a reading audience willing and ready to hear from diverse Christian voices, to see more faces of color on Christian Fiction book covers.

  1. Be open to trying Christian Fiction by authors of color with main characters of color, even if the books come from small press publishers or independent/self-published authors.

A smiling Caucasian woman holding up a book by an African American author

That doesn’t mean you have to buy diverse ChristFic books just because they’re diverse. 😀 Treat them as you’d treat other books while you’re shopping, or finding books to request your local library to purchase. Read the book blurbs. If it’s your habit to check out some reader reviews, do that. If you’re not sure about the authors, read their bios, Google their websites, look them up on social media and see what they’re about. Read samples of their work on their blogs, and check out the available samples of their books at online retailers to get a little feel for the authors’ works before you buy.

Again, publishers need to know there’s an audience for diverse ChristFic books and authors. And in many cases, newer authors need to prove themselves by independent means first (author blogs or newsletters, self-published book sales, etc.) before traditional publishers will take them on.

  1. Be willing to give more than one or two diverse Christian Fiction books a chance.

I think I’d be pretty safe in saying that most or all of us ChristFic lovers haven’t liked every single ChristFic book we’ve ever tried. But that hasn’t stopped us from moving ahead to try more ChristFic books. Just like any other authors out there, Christian authors of color have different interests, genres, writing styles, messages, levels of content, and more. If you branch out and try a diverse ChristFic book, and for whatever reason, it isn’t for you, don’t think that all other diverse ChristFic books will be just like it. Search around some more, find diverse books you enjoy, and spread the word about them.

Oh, I don’t claim to be an expert or to have all the answers on the issue of diversity in Christian Fiction. And I know some of us are already doing the best we can to bring needed change. But if more ChristFic readers of all colors take some practical steps toward that change, I believe we can get there—that we can reach a new, extraordinary normal.

Not sure where or how to start searching for different ChristFic books? Click here to find some ideas.

Go to blog post about finding different books

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The Colors of My Characters

Multicultural collage of eleven characters from fiction works by Nadine C. Keels

Yeah. I know it looks a little strange, sometimes.

Looks a little strange to people when a brown-skinned author (me! Nadine) pulls out a book she’s written and the person or people on the front cover are a color other than brown-skinned.

People have asked me before about the ethnicities and skin tones of my fictional characters. To that I must say that I, an African American (culturally Black) woman, have come across a good variety of people in the few decades I’ve been around on earth. Because human beings come in a variety of colors, and I aim to write about a variety of human beings, the people I write about will continue to come in a variety of colors.

It’s a part of my acknowledgment of the beauty of humanity.

Just so you know. 🙂

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