This book was sort of a sleeper surprise. I had been waiting for Thomas Nelson to release some new books for their Book Review Blogger program. For several weeks, they’d only had available books I wasn’t all that interested in. I logged in on Monday this past week to find a notice that I had been emailed “Same Kind of Different As Me”. I didn’t see it in my email, but I did have a “Happy New Year” email from Thomas Nelson stating that they sent the book to me in digital format. I emailed them back to let them know I didn’t have it yet, and they resent the book.
I don’t know if I’d ever heard of this book before. I think I might have at one point, but it didn’t register to me. I want to say up front that I think we take this whole “don’t judge” thing way out of context. Jesus did say “Judge not that ye be not judged”, but goes on to state the what you measure out will be measured back to you. I’ve been through the entire Bible several times, and can’t find any command not to make judgments. There is an entire book of the Bible named Judges. That’s how we make it through life. When I interview a contractor for work on my house, I have to be able to make a judgment about the contractor and his business practices. I have to be able to tell if he’ll complete the work for a reasonable price. Likewise, I think the cliché “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” is slightly inaccurate. I think in all cases, the admonition should be not to judge, but to not condemn. People who say “Don’t judge me” would be more accurate to say “don’t condemn me”. I judge books by their covers all the time, but I shouldn’t have condemned this one by it’s cover without a thorough investigation. I actually opened the .pdf file and started reading while knowing nothing about the book at all.
I open the book and begin reading what we could describe as “plantation English” about having not talked to white women except for Miss Debbie. OK. As I read along, I saw that Denver had grown up as a sharecropper, a 20th century version of slavery. He’d had a noose thrown around his neck for trying to help a white woman change a flat tire by some idiot clansmen teenagers. I grew up on military bases and honestly hadn’t been confronted with outright racism until I was about 11 and we moved to San Antonio, Tx. I had a lot of friends growing up who were black, and Chinese, and Philipino, and Mexican, and I have little patience for blind, idiotic racism. I’m sorry for using strong language, but that’s what it is, it’s blind and idiotic. It’s some kind of intellectual and possibly spiritual blindness that infects entire groups. I shouldn’t say much more on the subject, but I have trouble thinking about it without my skin getting hot, especially my neck and ears. I’m anything but a people person. There are a lot of people that I just don’t like, but I can assure you that it has nothing to do with the color of their skin. Normally it has more to do with their behavior and actions than anything. In any case, for some reason Denver’s recounting of those Louisiana clan teens throwing a noose around his neck for helping a woman change a tire made me angry that such idiots exist in our world, and made me want to read more.
Denver had his own tiny sharecropper shack, but one day jumped a train for Fort Worth, Texas, where he lived as a homeless man, a move that he actually considered as a step up in the world from being a sharecropper. He moved around occasionally, and even spent time in Angola prison. Ouch. I’ve seen Angola only in documentaries. From what I understand, it’s the closest analogy to hell that was have.
Chapter 2 is an overview by Ron Hall, an upper middle class art dealer. He gives an overview of his life, and how homeless kept coming into his art gallery and robbed him once as he hinted toward how his life would collide with one of the homeless.
By the end of chapter 2, I didn’t want to stop. The book had me hooked. It’s a miracle that I got to bed that night. I was so captivated that it took the full force of my willpower and the grace of God to keep me from neglecting my family until I could get back to it. I’ve had some books that I really get into, but few that capture me like this. I’m currently reading Tim Ferriss’ “The Four Hour Work Week”, which is equally as interesting but not quite as captivating.
Same Kind of Different as me tells the stories of these two men, one homeless, the other elite, and how their lives collided and they ended up best described as brothers. I have no idea how I can describe the book without giving it away. These two men went through so much, even together. While Denver was living on the streets and spending a decade in jail all the while becoming more hardened, Ron’s business was taking off but his marriage was falling flat. It took an affair on his part and forgiveness on his wife’s part to lead him to helping his wife in a homeless shelter in Fort Worth. Homeless are naturally suspicious of rich white people who show up from time to time, but their longstanding commitment and caring eventually won most of them over. It took a lot more work to win over Denver, who slowly became a friend with Ron. Ron had expected to be a benefactor to Denver, but the tables were turned and Denver blessed him much more.
I should add that this is a Christian book (Thomas Nelson is a Christian publisher), but there is no preaching in it, at least, not the annoying evangelism kind. This book is about life. Life is messy and complicated and painful. Bad things happen. The poor are oppressed, sometimes deliberately in the case of sharecroppers like Denver. But sometimes God brings people together in strange ways and for strange reasons. Saints die, and it hurts everybody. In this book, one of the people central to the story dies a very long and painful death of cancer. It hurt everybody, but somehow in the middle of it God worked and the torch of her ministry was carried on.
In addition to being a story of oppression, despair, pain, and distrust, it’s also a story of redemption and healing and above all God’s glory. Same Kind of Different as Me had me in tears in several parts.
The book alternates between tellings by Ron and Denver. In some cases, they switch voices every chapter, but in others, Ron will tell the story for several chapters and then Denver will pick up for one or two so that the story is told from both perspectives.
Same Kind of Different as me is paperback and retails for $14.99. It’s 224 pages. There is also a companion website to promote the book. My last book review was Max Lucado’s “For the Tough Times”. In it, I described a tiered system of Christian books from beginner to intermediate to advanced. I said I would classify Lucado’s book in the beginner category. I would put this book in advanced, not because it’s written toward doctoral students because it isn’t, but because these men have described what should amount to advanced degrees in life and faith and hope. These men both faced a lot of pain and adversity and would be crazy not to have questioned God about it, as they both did. I would too, and I have. But these men were able to see God work in real life, not in theory.
I said in my last review that I don’t like inspirational books. I think the reason I don’t like them is because they’re often what we’d call theory in engineering or business. I have no doubt that the men and women who write them have faced troubled times, but the books often aren’t written in or from those troubled times. This book was. If you’re fearful about the economy or the direction the world and your life are going and you want an inspirational book, I would say to get this one. I have the utmost respect for Max Lucado, but I was a lot more inspired by this book than his latest inspirational book.
If you enjoyed this review, read some of my other book reviews here.