Becoming Brave in Your Own Backyard

In Becoming Brave, author Brenda Salter McNeil weaves together her own story of growing activism with the biblical story of Esther and the urgent need for racial justice and reconciliation in America. Her intent is to “activate reconcilers to repair broken systems that are rooted in the evil of racism and resist the kingdom of God” (183-184). Her call to action is clear and compelling.

But do we really need to leave behind “the relational, diversity-oriented approach to reconciliation” (page 50) and move on to  “seizing our moment of destiny” (181)? Is this the kind of activism that we need in Canada, or is this a made-in-the-USA model that doesn’t quite fit our own context and challenges? I raise these questions not to be critical of this excellent book, but in keeping with the author’s own insistence:

Reconciliation is contextual. It will look different in various places, depending on the context, with particular work for different people and communities to do. So where do we even begin? How do we start? I believe the best place to start is in your own backyard. (page 188)

In Scripture, Queen Esther’s backyard was the imperial palace and the Persian Empire of the fifth century BCE. Brenda Salter McNeil’s backyard includes her years of teaching and church ministry, the terrible shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. My backyard and your backyard may look very different, but whatever our context, “all of us can engage in God’s work of reconciliation” (page 189).

Here are five ways to become brave in your own backyard drawn from this powerful book.

Recognize your potential

Some of us may doubt our capacity to be used by God because of the painful experiences that have taken place in our lives. But I want to let you know that it doesn’t matter where you start in life, what side of the tracks you come from, or how different your family may be. The fact that you may have had a difficult beginning does not disqualify you from being a leader. Your potential is not determined by the home that you came from. The fact that there’s been some drama in your life doesn’t limit your capacity to be used by God. (page 44)

Walk with dignity and respect

Through Vashti we see that sometimes the people who say they love us don’t know how to value or respect us. That’s why we must not compromise our dignity, self-esteem, and self-worth in an attempt to please others, to maintain a relationship, or to keep the peace. (page 58)

Step out of isolation and ignorance

It’s easy to isolate and insulate ourselves. We do it without even trying. We listen to just one news source. We read the same paper every day. We hang out with the same people. We stay busy all day, every day. . . . But is it the best way?

Insulating ourselves and living in isolation leads to ignorance. We don’t know what we don’t know! Isolation and insulation are what make it possible for someone to go about their day, living on their cul-de-sac, not realizing that there is someone sleeping on the street just two blocks down.

Recover the power of lament

There are some things that are worth crying about. Certain things ought to upset us and make us weep. When we hear about children being abused, lives being destroyed, or people being slaughtered in the streets, we ought to cry. We are not supposed to be indifferent to the suffering of others. (page 97)

Be grounded in prayer

Prayer is our secret weapon, and it can move mountains. . . . There are many scholars who question whether Esther is really a spiritual book because it does not explicitly mention God. It’s true that God’s name is not directly included in the book, but it’s also true that when Esther decides she will take a stand for her people, the very first thing she chooses to do is pray. (page 142)

Becoming Brave issues a clear call to pursue racial justice. What will that look like in your backyard, in mine? For more on this brave book and to download an excerpt, see Baker Publishing Group.

Disclosure: Thank you to Graf-Martin and their Resourcing Leaders program for providing me with a complimentary copy of Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now (Brazos Press, 2020). The choice to review and any opinions expressed are my own and freely given.


For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better:

Author: April Yamasaki

I currently serve as resident author with a liturgical worship community, write online and in print publications, and often speak in churches and other settings. Publications include On the Way with Jesus, Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Websites: and

2 thoughts

  1. It’s an excellent book, Carmen, but like many books focused on the U.S. experience, it needs some reflection to re-contextualize for our particular backyard. One other thing about this book is that as part of her call to pursue racial justice and reconciliation, Brenda Salter McNeil shares some of her story as a leader, how she has been challenged and grown in ministry. I really appreciated that part of her book, and I think you would too.

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