Racial tensions at the forefront of Ben Sciacca’s new novel Meals From Mars

By Rubin E. Grant

Special to The Times

"Meals from Mars" centers on a fateful late night encounter at a gas station in an urban neighborhood that brings together a white man from the suburbs and a young black man from the hood.
“Meals from Mars” centers on a fateful late night encounter at a gas station in an urban neighborhood that brings together a white man from the suburbs and a young black man from the hood.

Ben Sciacca never imagined he would write a book about racial relations in America. At least that’s what he thought a decade ago.

When he finally took on the challenge seven years ago, he wrote about four chapters and abruptly stopped. “I sat it down for a long time,” Sciacca said.

The 2012 shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and the subsequent not guilty verdict given to George Zimmerman in his trial for the shooting spurred Sciacca to resume writing his novel.

“I saw the outrage and how fragmented a society we are when it comes to race,” Sciacca said.

Now, five years since the Martin shooting, Sciacca’s novel is complete. Meals from Mars: A Parable of Prejudice and Providence, was released Feb. 1 by NavPress, a division of Tyndale House Publishers. It’s available in paperback on Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble.

The story centers on a fateful late night encounter at a gas station in an urban neighborhood that brings together a white man from the suburbs and a young black man from the hood. Stuck with each other for the night, they deal with their core prejudices, the walls that keep them from each other, and the discovery of their God-given humanity in one another.

The unusual title comes from the delivery of groceries from the church, Mars Chapel, the white man named Jim attends. Jim is a fictional character, who is similar to some men Sciacca knows from the suburbs in Birmingham.

Sciacca discussed the novel last week before an event about its release at Mountain Brook Community Church’s UCF House on Highway 280.

“I was trying to create a medium essentially to give people an opportunity to speak about a lot of the racial issues facing our nation,” Sciacca said. “A lot of people are taking to social media and tweeting about these issues, but no one is really listening to what’s being said.

“I hope this book stresses the need to listen instead of just emoting and being quick to respond to what’s happening in our nation.”

Sciacca is the executive director of Restoration Academy, a private urban Christian school in Fairfield with mostly African-American students. Although Malik, the young black man in the book, is a fictional character, Sciacca said he could easily be one of the students from Restoration.

“Malik’s anger and frustration concerning the climate he finds himself in is representative of some our students,” Sciacca said. “I think Malik is my favorite character in the book. I don’t agree with everything Malik says, but I think it’s time for whites to listen more. The primary motivation of his heart is ‘do you want a relationship with me?’

“I couldn’t have written this 10 years ago, so in some ways it’s cathartic for me in a creative way.”

Sciacca doesn’t try to resolve the issues associated with racial tensions in the book, but wanted to start an honest conversation about racial relationships.

“It’s not overtly Christian,” he said during a question and answer session from an audience of about 25 at the launch party. “It’s not a scripture-filled book or a story of two people who become friends in the end. I didn’t want a panacea. I want people to wrestle with the issues the book raises.

“The overall response I’ve gotten from people who have read it has been productive. Some have said it was hard to put it down and others said it made them feel uncomfortable, so mission accomplished.”

This is Sciacca’s second book. His first book, Kai’Ro: The Journey of An Urban Pilgrim, was released in 2013 under the pseudonym Judah Ben. It chronicles the epic spiritual journey of a young man named Kai’Ro.

Sciacca said there is a distinct difference in the two books in scope and audience.

“Kai’Ro was more didactic, a teaching book,” he said. “Meals From Mars is a critical look at racial tensions. Kai’Ro’s target audience was primarily high school and junior high students while Meals from Mars is more of an adult book.”

Even so, at the end of the Meals From Mars are 20 questions that Sciacca hopes will fuel the discussion about racial tensions in America.

Sciacca also will be present on Feb. 18 at Barnes & Noble at The Summit in Birmingham when Restoration Academy students participate in a Black History Month event from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sciacca will discuss Meals From Mars at 6 p.m., read excerpts from the book and sign copies of it.

Sciacca also will take part in a panel discussion on March 12 at Mountain Brook Community Church’s Faith Culture Forum: The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.

For more information about the book, visit www.mealsfrommars.com

For more information about the Tampa forum visit www.underourskinforum.com