Saturday, October 17, 2009

Messengers: Portraits of African American Ministers, Evangelists, Gospel Singers, and Other Messengers of the Word by David Ritz and Nicola Goode

Author David Ritz and photographer Nicola Goode have compiled a beautiful and inspiring coffee table book that would work well as a daily devotional. The book contains twenty-five vignettes of African Americans who have devoted their lives to serving the Lord in various ministries. These “messengers” speak frankly of struggles they have had in their lives and difficult challenges they have had to overcome. They describe their faith journeys; they explain why they believe in Jesus and why they chose to devote their lives to God. Their honesty and sincerity are both humbling and encouraging to the reader.

Author David Ritz has assembled a diverse collection of individuals to feature. The “messengers” included in his book come from a variety of faith traditions—African Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, the Church of God in Christ, among others. Those featured include scholars and professionals, as well as those with only a rudimentary education. They include people who teach in higher education, lead congregations, are gifted in music, as well as those who minister to the poor and the grieving. They include men, as well as women (several of whom initially struggled against God’s call to them to serve in church leadership). Ritz also features individuals who have personally struggled with their own sexual orientation, and the condemnation of homosexuality and bisexuality by many Christians.

Accompanying the vignettes are Nicola Goode’s simple black and white photographs of the featured “messengers.” Ms. Goode’s photography not only helps put a face with a name and narrative, it also adds an elegant, artistic accompaniment to each vignette.

I found David Ritz’s own Introduction to the book to be quite compelling. He describes his faith journey beginning as a Jewish boy who first embraced Jesus at a Mahalia Jackson concert, through an adulthood plagued by demons and addictions. He explains that he became a Christian as he wrote Messengers, and describes how his faith sustained him through a cancer diagnosis shortly after his baptism.

Messengers is a relatively short, but beautifully compiled book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it highly.

Proverbs 2:20 (Today's New International Version)

“Thus you will walk in the ways of the just
and keep to the paths of the righteous.”

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