Ashlee Eiland, a pastor and Bible teacher at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., discusses her experiences with deep political and racial division, her struggle to find a sense of belonging, and a new way forward—as described in her book, Human(Kind): How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together (WaterBrook, out now).
What does it mean to “reclaim human worth”?
Much of what I witness in public discourse isn’t just falling in the camp of disagreement. When I tune into the news or read articles or overhear coffee shop conversations, I hear demeaning rhetoric. It’s one thing to vehemently disagree with someone. It’s another thing to completely use that disagreement or dissenting opinion to tear at the fabric of one’s inherent worth. I believe we’ve lost some reverence for each others’ worth at the altars of our differences. And worth isn’t something we can sacrifice if we’re going to thrive as human beings. Worth is something we must reclaim—in our own stories and in others’—if we’re going to pursue a renewed unity and togetherness.
Can you explain the concept of radical kindness?
The common idea of kindness can often be misconstrued and reduced to mere niceness. If you hold the door open for someone or let someone in as they pull out of a parking lot—these are nice things to do, but they don’t require too much of us. Radical kindness is sacrificial in nature. It requires that we give something of ourselves in order to hold space to recognize worth in someone else. We don’t have to give up parts of our individual experiences—those are important to hold in light of how we relate to each other—but it requires us to give space for listening well, for going out of our way to be proximate vs. distanced, to consider what’s most important beyond well-formed facts and opinions, to do the hard work of asking better questions and being more curious.
The book delves into your struggle to relate to both white and black people while staying true to your identity as a Christian. Why was it important for you to make your African-American identity a central theme in this book?
I can’t extract my blackness and hold it separately from everything else that makes me who I am. No matter how much money I earn or where I went to school or what car I drive, I’m a black woman who lives and moves in America, and this has and will continue to inform how certain people relate to me and how certain circumstances result in either flourishing or oppression. A watered-down racial identity is still an identity that must be navigated, celebrated, and held in tension to the person who lives with it. I wanted readers to see this celebration and tension worked out in real time, to stress the point that I do not have the luxury of being color-blind to my own race.
What’s the most important thing you want readers, including social justice advocates, to take away from the book?
I hope they’re encouraged to find spaces and people with whom they can be kind to themselves—while they remain fully resolved to keep going! And at the end of the day, I hope that any resistance to the approach of Human(Kind) is held with a recognition that there are so many ways to inspire real, lasting change in human hearts, systems, and relationships. There’s room for all of them and I honor the various streams of work that are helping us move toward human wholeness and flourishing.
Christine Thomasos is a writer in the Bronx, N.Y.