Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in bookish,

Book Review: Traveling on Grace Street - A Memoir by Jeff Blake

Traveling on Grace Street is billed as a memoir of Alabama native Jeff Blake (also known as bardcat), an enlightened product of the "old south" far ahead of his time on such matters as civil rights, acceptance of LGBT persons and religious enlightenment. But in keeping with the unselfish nature of the author's personality, it is less the story of his life, and more so a collection of essays on the many facets and the many faces of "grace", told against the backdrop of Blake's many interesting experiences traveling and meeting some of the world's greatest poets, theologians, civil rights activists and religious teachers.

For Blake, grace is not just a prayer said before a meal. It is a collection of wonderful and wondrous gifts given to all of us, regardless of merit or station in life. Grace can be found in many people and many places, and Jeff Blake provides a series of semi-autobiographical essays on the many aspects of grace and the many ways he has found grace. These include through his children and grand-children (offering some especially sweet sections of this book), in his life-long struggle to advance the cause of civil rights, through books, places and people, including "broken angels", and in other personal journeys of understanding. He also explores grace found as part of the process of aging and dying.

The author writes of some of his fascinating encounters and conversations with a number of principled "giants" who have had their own encounters with grace. These include civil rights legend Congressman John L. Lewis (who writes his own recommendation of Blake's work), Bishop Gene Robinson, and poet Wendell Berry, winner of the National Humanities medal. The author also recounts visits to the scenes of many epic moments in the civil rights struggle, and places like Walden Pond.

A continuing theme in this book is the parable of the prodigal son, and how we all have traits of all characters in the story: the erring son, the obedient but jealous brother and the forgiving father. But there is nothing "churchy" or "preachy" about this book, and the author is quick to reprimand those members of the clergy and others who have used religion as a platform for anti-gay rhetoric and as justification for other forms of prejudice. He notes that a healthy and honest agnosticism is far preferable to judgmental fundamentalism.

Jeff Blake provides a thoughtful, considerate and diverse examination of the many ways his life has been touched by grace, and in doing so, gives the reader insight into the many ways we too have been experienced the presence of grace in our lives. It is a worthwhile and enjoyable book that can be universally appreciated.
Tags: author: b, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: biography, subject: memoir

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