Book Review: Through the Eyes of Titans

Date Published

July 10, 2024

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Published by Calvin Seminary

Dr. Danjuma Gibson, with the help of Cascade Books, brought a new book to press this year. For Gibson, it was a labor of love—poring over firsthand accounts of historical figures in the civil rights movement and uncovering their humanity between the lines. What he found was a variety of ways to persevere against anti-love.

Through The Eyes Of Titans: Finding Courage To Redeem The Soul of A Nation; Images of Pastoral Care and Leadership, Self-Care, and Radical Love in Public Spaces examines the self-care practices of four leaders: Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Benjamin Elijah Mays, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Through introspection and self-work, they became better equipped for their life’s work.

Gibson asserts that a person’s life’s work is not necessarily what you are paid to do for a living. It is the work you cannot help but do, whether or not you receive a salary. The indelible fingerprint you leave behind tells others that you were there, leaving your mark even far into the future.

Lest we think this kind of work is only reserved for the famed or favored by history, Gibson reminds us that idealizing historical figures puts them on a pedestal we cannot reach. Instead of learning from them and taking up our responsibility to society, we block our ability to learn from them because we view them as superhuman. In short, “romanticizing history,” the book warns, “undermines our capacity to be moral agents in the present time.”

Gibson argues that we need more than secondary sources to understand our history. “In our collective psychological need for heroes and martyrs, that is to say, people who happily embrace suffering and even death without reservation or hesitation, the titans have been idealized to the point where we have undermined our capacity to learn from them,” he writes. “Instead, their lives remain etched on the pages of books.”

Using firsthand accounts from Wells, Hamer, Mays, and King, Gibson saw their struggles with sin, their need for self-care, and their journeys fraught with disappointment and pain. As Gibson dove into the primary sources of letters, journals, and other writings (so deeply that he could recognize these cultural heroes by their penmanship), he practiced the art of demythologizing their lives and contexts.

Though some may wonder if the book’s title idealizes its subjects, Gibson addresses this notion head-on: “At first glance, it would seem that to refer to Wells, Hamer, Mays, and King as titans threatens the very premise of this project. I do not invoke the terminology of titan to suggest that they were superhuman or that emulating their work is beyond the average person’s reach. Instead, titan refers to their willingness to engage in the self-work, self-reflexivity, and interior reflection that were required in order for them to accomplish the body of work they are so well known for.”

This profoundly human and psychoanalytic examination of historical greats, Gibson says, is a spiritual exercise. It brings us a modern-day take on Hebrews 12 as we look at heroes of the faith in more recent history, knowing that these figures, too, are role models who show us what love looks like in the world.

What love does not look like in the world, Gibson said, not only includes racial injustice, hatred, and oppression but is the very antithesis of love. And where love stands, this unchecked human animus that Gibson deems “anti-love” cannot exist.

Through the stories of four Titans, Gibson has given us an intimate look into the courage of four hearts, the fragility of their humanity, and the habits that allowed them to carry on in their callings. By not repressing their feelings but processing them with ink and paper, these titans have given us the gift of wrestling with our own feelings—and pressing on in our life’s work.


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