Book Review: Living in the Tension

I have to admit, I’m one of “those modern ministers who knows something about psychology” (to quote Ed Friedman). I found it insightful when Richard Rohr said “religion is for those who believe in hell; spirituality is for those who have been there.” I obviously read Jewish and Roman Catholic writers, talk theology with Evangelicals and pray with mainline Protestants. In that broad spirit, I offer you my thoughts on a resource which went on sale at the White Privilege conference this week.

Have you ever found yourself asking, but how does racism (or white supremacy) affect white people’s mental and spiritual health? Once we are courageous enough to face the extent of white privilege, what can help us heal our shame, guilt, and grief? How do we heal from our own racial trauma? A new resource addresses these tensions. IMG_3071In Living in the Tension: the Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice, Shelly Tochluk weaves together her insights from spiritual practice, psychological study and a long investment in racial justice. Her book is thick with practical strategies and theories. It’s worth reading over time and pondering. Shelly is wise, gentle and clearly invested in profound change in our souls and society.

Shelly’s book holds together a series of insightful tensions. How do white people seek our own healing without either disengaging from racial justice, or expecting people of color to comfort us. How can we cultivate empathy toward ourselves and others and work towards systemic change? In other words, is it truly possible to hold together a need for personal wholeness with the urgent and unchanging need to work towards racial justice?


I appreciated the fact that Shelly’s commitment to change is organic – the way we approach racial justice and our spiritual practices and psychological health grow over time and are interconnected in an organic whole. I personally appreciated the thoughtfulness she brought to my own need for prayer, reflection and relationship as well as urgent work towards changing organizations and society. I found others resonated with her insights about increasing our empathy for racial pain by moving from being a bystander to becoming a witness.

Her book and praxis is post-Christian. If that bothers you, don’t read it. But if you are open to learning from wisdom and trusting “the Spirit of truth” to “guide you into all the truth” (Jesus in John 16) you will find encouragement, wisdom and practical strategies on the journey towards shalom.

Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice by Shelly Tochluk (Roselle, NJ: Crandall, Dottie & Douglass Books, Inc., 2016). You can now order it directly from the publisher.