Xavier’s Pramuk releases new book

By: Tatum Hunter

Dr. Christopher Pramuk is the author of “Hope Sings, So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line,” which uses music, art, spirituality and theology to examine race relations in society and in the church. Pramuk is currently teaching The Black Catholic Experience, a class focused on the gifts and struggles of black Catholics throughout history and in modernity.

Xavier Newswire: Why did you choose to develop a class on this subject? Why is the black Catholic experience meaningful to you?

Dr. Christopher Pramuk: Well, there are personal reasons and there are theological reasons. Personally, my life has been enriched a great deal by crossing the color line. Spending time in largely black congregations has been one of my most rewarding spiritual experiences. Theologically, I think that in the last 40 years, the most compelling Christian theology has come from the black Catholic tradition.

XN: Why did you choose to use art in your examination of the black Catholic experience? What’s important about looking at a tradition through that lens?

CP: I think I made that choice because art has been such an important part of my experience. Growing up, it was music that lit me up inside. Through music, I encountered cultures different from my own. I was fascinated by Scott Joplin, Stevie Wonder, Negro Spirituals; it was a whole new world for me. Art is an invitation into a deeper appreciation. Art engages the whole person in a way that an intellectual argument can’t. It creates empathy.

XN: What angers you about the way our society approaches race relations?

CP: Well, there’s a lot to be pissed off about. There’s a systematic blindness, a willful refusal to see what’s wrong. Take the Zimmerman trial, for instance. As a society, we latch on to one incident and fail to reflect on the broader culture. The real racism in our society is hidden, because it’s found in the hidden, the marginalized. One example would be the inequality in our public school system. Kids are segregated, and some end up with many resources while others get next to nothing. Another example would be the mass incarceration of young black men. It’s hard not to call it institutionalized racism.

XN: Do you think that the Catholic Church in America has done a good job responding to these problems?

CP: Yes and no. The Church has been a powerful advocate for the poor at street level. That can be seen here in Cincinnati. And even at the institutional level, bishops have issued a few documents on systematic racism and white privilege. Nonetheless, liturgically and culturally, the church still operates as if it is a white, European institution. We have not succeeded in embodying the multicultural face of God.

XN: How do you hope that your class will affect the way students think about race relations?

CP: I hope that the synthesis of music, art, spirituality and theology opens the topic of race in a way that allows everyone to find a door. I want to create a safe, respectful place for students to approach this topic. Talking about race relations is painful, but it can also create so much beauty and joy. When we’re searching for that beauty and joy, faith gives us a resource that science and sociology can’t. So I guess my hope is that my students can find that, but right now it’s too soon to tell.

XN: How has writing “Hope Sings, So Beautiful” and teaching The Black Catholic Experience changed you?

CP: I think that engaging the race question is always like holding a mirror up to your face. This project has forced me to acknowledge my own ignorance and give thanks that there have been people in my life who have opened my eyes.

This project has been many years in the making, and it’s close to my heart because it’s in my own voice, the voice of an artist and a theologian. It brings together the things that I love.