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Anchored in the Current: Discovering Howard Thurman as Educator, Activist, Guide, and Prophet

Gregory C. Ellison II, editor
Westminster John Knox Press, 222 pages

There are times when a book emerges “for such a time as this.” Anchored in the Current is one of these – a Festchrift in honor of Howard Thurman and a timely resource for us all. This volume of essays urges us to consider his continuing legacy in meaningful ways.

Gregory Ellison summarizes, “The book is not just about Howard Thurman. … [It] illuminates how the life, work, and wisdom of Howard Thurman has served as an anchor for me and the sixteen accomplished educators, ministers, artists, and activists who have contributed writings.” The breadth of the contributors is illustrative.

Their varied locations remind us of the multiple voices Thurman employed. He served as Dean of Chapel at Howard University, and as the first Black Dean of Chapel at Boston University. In between, he and Alfred Fisk created the first interracial church in America: the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. His words flowed far beyond the institutions he served. His writing served as a clarion call to many in the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King Jr.

Most important is the reframing the contributors do: inviting us to see Thurman’s work as an anchor, as he continues to educate us, shape our activism, guide us, and serve as prophet.

It is as a vocational anchor that his mystical clarity strengthens contributor Barbara Brown Taylor: “Doctrinal beliefs are an important part of theology, but they are not the heart of it… My own heart beat faster when I read this.” Thurman leads into a place of interfaith, international, and inter-racial appreciation, wanting “to find out whether experiences of spiritual unity among people could be more compelling than the experiences which divide them.”

For Walter Earl Fluker, Thurman serves as an anchor for educators. He shares Thurman’s role as guiding resource in teaching about presence, integrity, love, freedom, responsibility, and imagination.

As an anchor for activists, Thurman was “more than a mentor to civil rights leaders and author of Jesus and the Disinherited,” writes Starsky D. Wilson. When he studied Thurman in a class of Black seminarians, “God prepared for me a space and place of formation. Central to that formation was breaking down the silos of false, Western binary thinking between personal piety and social transformation,” says Wilson.

Appropriately, it is his role as spiritual anchor that concludes this work. In keeping with Thurman’s poem “The Growing Edge,” Luke A. Powery identifies “the ministry of congregational worship as a critical site of the growing edge … Thurman moves us beyond worship as entertainment to its core character of being a matter of life and death, which everyone is dealing with in their own lives but also in the nation and the world.”

For those not familiar with Thurman’s work, it would serve to have a more thorough introduction. While snippets were helpful – for example, noting that his grandmother, a former slave, helped raise him – a brief review of his life story and its historical context would have better anchored the reader. Longer selections from his writing would also amplify the impact of his own voice.

Nevertheless, this creative expression could not have been better timed. The wisdom of leaders like Thurman is essential for us to find our way — reminding us that we are not the first to navigate uncharted waters such as these.

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