A Review of
Stumbling on Open Ground
Love, God, Cancer, and Rock 'n' Roll
(Ken Mansfield; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012.)
Ken Mansfield's latest book, Stumbling on Open Ground: Love, God, Cancer, and Rock 'n' Roll, might not be what one would expect from someone who has worked with a veritable Who's Who of recording artists, including the Beatles, James Taylor, Waylon Jennings, Lou Rawls, Glen Campbell and the Beach Boys. Nonetheless, the music industry icon -- who served as an executive for the Bealtes, became instrumental in launching country music's "Outlaw" movement in the 1970s and won a Grammy Award for his production work on the Gaither Vocal Band's much celebrated and groundbreaking Homecoming project in the early 1990s -- opens up about how two life-altering and life-threatening bouts with cancer have kept him humble and deeply rooted in his Christian faith.
Though Mansfield poignantly recalls the moment he learned of John Lennon's death, and name-dropping is interspersed throughout the book whenever relevant in making a point or sharing a memory, his memoir is hardly a tell-all about the hazy days of drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll. Rather, it is an intimate glimpse into his journey of faith that has followed. And what an illuminating journey it has been! "As a Christian, I am left with fewer options than I had as an unbeliever when facing a new crisis," Mansfield writes. "I now have only two: trust God or don't trust God."
Reflecting on cancer's "emptiness, depth, stark reality and immense proportions," Mansfield is forthcoming about the burning questions the disease prompts sufferers -- even people of faith -- to inevitably ask. "The passage of time and the distance of purpose," he says, "had cast me into an uncertain place, a million memories away from the cities, concerts, crowds, and careening choruses that filled and fueled my heart and hopes for more than a third of a century." Recounting his milestones and darkest moments, Mansfield candidly explores the haunting fears, lingering doubts and self-defeating mentalities with which he and so many others have grappled.
As the reader nears the final chapter, any preconceived notions that Mansfield is bound to divulge that his cancer has miraculously vanquished are quickly put to rest. Today, Mansfield continues to live with cancer and observe the gathering clouds of uncertainty prior to each check-up and eventual prognosis. Still, he harkens back to Jeremiah 12:5 ("If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in Jordan's jungles?"), choosing to rely on God to help him persevere. "Before, I used to stumble on open ground and fall all the way down. Now I fall short because his loving arms, tender mercies, and unconditional love always catch me before I hit the ground."
Neither pretending to have all the answers nor possessing immeasurable faith, Ken Mansfield, in Stumbling on Open Ground, gives a compelling account of how sustaining grace and unwavering hope have empowered him to confront life's fragility and endure its unexpected adversities. Whether dealing with cancer or some other life-changing circumstance, everyone can relate to Mansfield and his experiences in some way. Stimulating much self-reflection and motivating readers to view the circumstances of their lives with a renewed sense of optimism and purpose, this book will surely stir the hearts of both the devout and those who are teetering on the edge of faith.
And, lastly, there are those pictures of blacks who have achieved the once impossible. These include that of a jubilant and glamorous Oprah Winfrey whose entertainment enterprise has garnered her international acclaim and a billion dollar fortune. Also featured is a photo taken at a meeting of the National Security Council in the Cabinet Room of the White House in which two of the most politically powerful African Americans in history-Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice-are seated with the president. Pundits and political columnists have speculated for quite some time whether the nation's first black president or vice president might be Powell or Rice. Only time will tell.
Freedom is by no means a coffee table book designed to be aesthetically appealing or entertaining, but rather it is a compelling visual tool that will enable readers to explore the past and better understand how far we've come and how much further we need to go before racial equality-and harmony-is truly attained.
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