PW: Why did you write Grace Matters?
Rice: I had to get this story out before I could move on with my life. The story centers on my friendship with an African-American named Spencer Perkins, who is the last person I would have expected to become my friend and partner in the work of reconciliation. We spent 17 years together in an inner-city, African-American neighborhood in the eye of the storm: Jackson, Mississippi. Spencer died suddenly of a heart attack in 1998, and it threw my life into turmoil. I couldn't move on with my life until I got this story out, recounting these extraordinary years I spent with Spencer in a living laboratory of racial reconciliation.
PW: What was the work you were doing together in Jackson?
CR: We were a group of whites and blacks who dared to believe that we could live together in peace. We moved into an inner city neighborhood together. We lived on the same urban streets together. We worshiped together and worked together side by side. We started a health center, a youth ministry, and a clothing store. From that common life together, Spencer and I started a national work of racial reconciliation. After a racial crisis that almost split the church in 1983, Spencer started a Bible study at his house. A group of about 20 of us met together every week, and studied Scripture communally as blacks and whites. After reading the Sermon on the Mount together, we created a community called Antioch. We bought a 100-year-old farmhouse on a six-acre piece of land. We renovated it, moved in, shared living space, had one checking account and put all of our salaries together. As many as 19 people lived under one roof.
PW: Are you still living there?
CR: No, my wife and our three children and I are now living in Durham, N.C., where I'm a student at Duke Divinity School. After Spencer's death, we all sensed that it was time to disband our Antioch community, believing that if God can start beautiful things, God can also call them to come to an end. We were able to dismantle our community without dismantling our friendships. After 17 years of a very intense activism, I sensed that I was called to deepen myself theologically and intellectually, and to learn how to love God in stillness as much as I have learned to love God in busyness.
PW: Your previous book was with a Christian publisher. Why did you choose Jossey-Bass for this book?
CR: From the beginning, I did not want to write a book that would only be read by evangelical Christians. I believe that it's a story for a much broader group of readers, and I didn't think that there were many publishers who could get the book to both the churched and the unchurched. I really had the sense that Jossey-Bass could do that. And more importantly, they believed in the book even more than I did, and had a passion for it. They had a big vision for it from the very beginning.
PW: You had to remove four swear words from the manuscript in order for the book to be carried in some Christian bookstores. How do you feel about that?
CR: I did not want to write this book if I couldn't tell the story truthfully. Grace doesn't matter unless sin also matters. I wanted to have real people saying real things. There are certain times in life when you do not say "darn," when someone gets mad at you and they do not say "shoot." But in the end, I also wanted people to read the book, and if I had to make some changes that I didn't feel compromised the truth or the rawness of the book, then I could do that. It's still a very honest, even brutal, book in terms of how I expose myself and my own weaknesses.