Williams/Mirikitani are Rev. Cecil Williams of San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Methodist Church and Janice Mirikitani, founding president of the Glide Foundation, as well as the authors of Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Radical Change at a Community Called Glide. This book serves as a memoir for both authors and the church, as well as a call to arms for anyone who reads it about the church’s values, which form the chapter titles (“Unconditional Love,” “Community,” “Compassion,” etc.). So, you ask, what am I doing reviewing it?
Let me preface by sharing a little bit about my synagogue. Being a Reform congregation, we consider ourselves socially progressive; our head rabbi is a woman, one of our most popular congregants is gay and we don’t really care if male converts get circumcised or not. (I’ve been asked, by someone with no stake in the matter, if you’ll pardon the expression.) But compared to Glide, which lies in San Francisco’s vice-heavy Tenderloin district, we seem downright hidebound. The difference is not of core beliefs, but of how our respective houses of worship practice them.
Anyone who shuns organized religion on grounds of discrimination and anachronism will be stunned at the depictions of Glide’s neighborhood outreach, activism and social services. All of Williams’s services are derived from his understanding of Christianity, of course, and he won’t avoid using the word God. But his church’s disregard for whether not someone is a homosexual, a substance abuser, a prostitute, even a straight-up racist is astonishing, especially when you consider how much of the story takes place in the 70s.
Glide’s congregants are frequent practitioners of nonviolent civil disobedience, but to their great credit, they aren’t content to wave around a few signs in most cases. One of the best moments in the book is Williams’s refusal to put a stop to a Mardi Gras ball honoring gay attendees. Even when he’s telling the vice squad they’re having the ball, period, he never gets hostile. One may come away with the idea that the mere avoidance of hostility will solve anything, although I suppose you’d have to go to Glide with a negative attitude to see for yourself.
Other moments – Williams’s descriptions of growing up in the segregationist U.S., Mirikitani’s survival of internment and child sexual abuse – are refreshingly raw, reminding the reader that despite the success they’ve enjoyed with Glide, both authors know what it’s like to be one of the congregants looking for a community and being extremely fortunate to happen upon this one. Despite a mild anti-Republican undercurrent in a few instances, you will not get the impression that the authors will bar even the most hardened social conservative.
Overall, I deem it shelf-worthy, although I’ll probably give my copy to someone who likes being inspired more than I do.