Master translator Willis Barnstone unveils ‘Poets of the Bible’

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

The vast majority of Americans tell pollsters they own a copy of the Bible—and read it. In fact, studies show that millions of Americans own multiple translations of the Bible. This overwhelming interest in the world’s all-time bestseller is a sign of the vitality of millions of small prayer and Bible-study groups coast to coast. And, while some traditionalist congregations prefer their members use a single translation, most Bible readers prefer an array of English renderings of the ancient Hebrew and Greek.

Enter the master translator Willis Barnstone, now 89 (and we may all pray for his good health to continue his work for many more years). Granted, he’s not a household name among American readers like J.K. Rowling or John Grisham, but the world’s literary treasures are grander and richer because of Barnstone’s work over many decades.

How long is Barnstone’s career? His biography includes a note that, as a child in the 1930s, he met Babe Ruth and wound up in the stadium watching Ruth and Lou Gehrig play in the World Series. A man of immense creative interests and scholarly abilities with language, Barnstone has produced a huge range of published work from biblical texts (and other ancient texts from the biblical era) as well as translations of poetry by Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda’s only play.

If you collect a range of Bibles, the one Barnstone book you are most likely to have on your shelf is the massive, 1,500-page Norton edition of The Restored New TestamentMuch of the innovation in that earlier work was rendering sacred texts in poetry that earlier were presented as prose—and then adding some additional books to the collection that usually are described as “gnostic.”

As you open this new volume—Poets of the Bible: From Solomon’s Song of Songs to John’s Revelation (also published by Norton)—Barnstone once again is presenting poetry and also includes books he believes should be read along with the Christian New Testament to understand a deeper context of Jesus’ life and the early Church. So, in this new book, he includes poetic renderings from the gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene and Judas.

Willis Barnstone. Photo by Sarah Handler; used with permission.

Genesis alone is worth the price of the book. The NIV, the most popular evangelical translation, these days, translates the opening scene of Genesis with the phrase “the Spirit of God … hovering over the waters.” In an effort to more closely reflect the original Hebrew, the mainline-Protestant NRSV translation uses the phrase “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” This is close to the standard Jewish translation, these days, the JPS version: “a wind from God sweeping over the water.” While different in word and imagery—there is a similarity between all three translations: that is, they all translate the creation story in past tense.

The first thing you will notice in Barnstone’s translation is his choice of the present tense: “In the beginning God creates heaven and earth …” That’s how his Bible opens. And, this is no small matter! This startling change in verb tense is in keeping with those more progressive religious leaders who talk about God’s Creation as an ongoing process. Creation isn’t something that happened in ancient times and was forever fixed in stone. Creation continues, more progressive preachers and teachers argue.

Then, still in the opening lines of Genesis—when we reach the Spirit/wind phrasing—Barnstone gives us another flourish: “And a wind from God roars over the face of the waters.” Wow! “Roars!” Whole Bible study sessions and sermons could be developed from Barnstone’s addition of that one word in his attempt to capture the energy of the original Hebrew.

Readers may wonder at the nature of this poetry. Is this abstract, arcane stuff? Poetry sometimes is defined by its mysteries. However, in this case, Barnstone’s re-organization of the text into shorter, poetic lines turns some familiar stories into downright page turners. This book will be a revelation to anyone still having trouble slogging through the story of Abraham and Isaac—or the long tale of Joseph and his sojourn in Egypt—in those double-column King James Version editions of the Bible. In this book, your eye leaps from one short, poetic line to the next.

Of course there are phrases and choices in this new English narration that regular readers of the Bible—let alone Bible scholars steeped in the original Hebrew and Greek—would debate with Barnstone. That’s a natural benefit of any new translation—the ability to puzzle over these English renderings. And, these days, with the popularity of liberal paraphrases of scripture like The Message—even the evangelical world accepts the idea of comparing how the ancient language is turned into English for today’s readers. It’s a treasured part of Bible study, these days, in communities coast to coast. So, certainly, you will quibble over some sections of Barnstone’s book—it’s one of the pleasures of diving into such a work.

Anyone who loves these scriptures and reads the Bible regularly will enjoy this new collection (which, by the way, is priced considerably cheaper than his earlier Norton volume on Amazon). This would make a terrific autumn or year-end gift for someone on your shopping list. (Note: It’s not too soon to shop for intriguing new reading to prepare for the Jewish high holidays in September, even if Christmas is still months away.)

 

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Faith & Health: Prophetic calls remind us of God’s concern for the wellness of all

By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit magazine

For a decade, ReadTheSpirit has been publishing columns and books—featuring a wide range of authors—exploring the deep connections between faith and health. As July begins, that connection is sparking headlines nationwide. Religious groups—including leaders from Catholic, Protestant and other faith communities—are voicing dramatic calls to action to their members about the future of health care in the U.S.

Duke School of Medicine’s Dr. Harold Koenig, a leading scholar in trying to bring these two worlds closer together, pointed out in a widely cited overview of the subject that, today, people assume there is a “near total separation of religion, medicine, and health care.”

In calling for the kind of “re-alliance” of faith and health that we are seeing emerge in 2017, Koenig described it not as an innovation but as a wise acknowledgment that the two realms have historically shared deep values. As Koenig describes it: “A quick tour of history reveals that the Christian church built and staffed the first hospitals during the Middle Ages, the entire nursing profession emerged from religious orders, and most physicians during early American colonial times were also ministers. In the mid-20th century, church-related hospitals in the United States cared for more than a quarter of all hospitalized patients, and Catholic hospitals alone saw nearly 16 million patients per year. A re-alliance between the religious community and the health care system would build on a long, long history.”

RELIGIOUS VOICES IN THE NEWS

The Republican Party’s efforts to repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with a less-expensive healthcare system—as of the start of July 2017—includes plans to drastically slash benefits and spending on healthcare for needy Americans.

One of the most prophetic voices in headline news this past week was Jim Wallis, who published one of his messages on HuffPost under the headline: How People of Faith Can Make a Difference in the Health Care Debates.

Among the largest and most influential groups preaching against the current Senate plan are the nation’s Catholic bishops, considering that nearly 1  in 4 Americans is Catholic. America Magazine covered the bishops’ prophetic appeals in a story: U.S. bishops say Senate health care bill will ‘wreak havoc’ on families. Want a different Catholic perspective? Here’s a second America story about why the proposed plan is “simply unacceptable” for Catholics. Or, turning to the progressive news magazine ThinkProgress, the headline is: Catholic bishops condemn Senate’s ‘simply unacceptable’ Trumpcare bill.

Of course, leaders from the entire spectrum of religious life are involved. Search news stories in your part of the U.S. for more—or ask local religious leaders for community events in coming weeks. One example of smaller, regional events: Penn-Live news covered a predominantly United Methodist protest in one town.

Muslim leaders have their own ongoing struggles for fairness, these days, with the Trump administration. While many regional Muslim leaders are involved in the public outcry over the healthcare proposal, the largest non-Christian condemnation is coming from the Jewish community nationwide.

Just a few examples of recent headlines about Jewish responses: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports Jewish Groups Urge Senate to Oppose GOP Health Billthe Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism reports on National Jewish Organization Letter on Senate Health Care Billand there is similar coverage in The Times of Israel as well as The Jewish Journal.

CARE TO READ MORE?

Dr. Harold Koenig is responsible for a steady stream of journal articles and books. One of his landmark books is the definitive Oxford University Press Handbook of Religion and Health. That exhaustive volume of nearly 1,200 pages is expensive, beyond the price range of most of our readers, so we also recommend Spirituality in Patient CareKoenig’s latest series of books involves faith perspectives on mental health, including Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist.

Our own publishing house offers many great choices. Follow the links to learn more:

Whatever else you do, this week, share this news with friends. Our collective health as a national community hangs in the balance.

 

 

 

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Good news! Religion, children spark growth in publishing

CLICK THIS IMAGE to visit our ReadTheSpirit bookstore and see dozens of books we have published.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit 

Publishing news in the first half of 2017 has been encouraging with regular headlines in the trade journal Publishers Weekly proclaiming milestones such as: “Publishers Post Good Start to 2017—Sales at four large houses are up in the first quarter” and “Fast-Growing Independent Publishers.”

Especially encouraging to our colleaguesthe professional team behind our online magazine ReadTheSpirit and our Front Edge Publishing book operation—is the June 15, 2017, news from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) analyzing trends for 2016. Because publishers are notoriously reluctant to share much data about book sales, compiling such reports takes a long time and requires careful analysis to fill in gaps.

What the AAP reported on June 15 was a picture of an industry dominated by five giant publishing conglomerates with strong sales in ink-on-paper books compared with ongoing digital book sales. Millions of Americans continue to read e-books, a very important portion of the publishing market, but hardbacks and paperbacks continue to dominate sales.

This is a historic settling of a turbulent market, reassuring publishers and millions of readers that their paper books aren’t going to disappear. The several years after the introduction of the Kindle in 2007 now is retrospectively referred to by some industry analysts as the era of the Digital Scare—a time when professionals thought digital preferences might make paper books obsolete.

In 2017, ink-on-paper remains the preferred choice for the majority of book readers. While the AAP closely guards the more detailed analysis of publishing trends, the trade group did publicly report that, once again, “Print books saw growth and, for the second consecutive year, publisher revenues from eBook sales declined.”

“There’s been a lot of buzz about print books resurgence and this year’s data tells us that readers are enjoying all formats that are available to them, and that includes eBooks and audiobooks. Just like print, eBooks are here to stay and we believe their growth is now stabilized,” said Tina Jordan, AAP’s Vice President, Trade Publishing. “Even when we see shifts in categories and formats, it’s clear that books remain a staple in our lives.”

GROWTH IN FAITH & KIDS

In this new industry-wide report, overall sales in most major categories—fiction, non-fiction, educational, professional, etc.—saw a 2.3 percent decline year to year, compared with 2015. Growth lay in two thematic categories: Religion and also in the category called Children & Young Adult.

The AAP report found the same trend toward ink-on-paper in sales within these two popular categories. For example, “within Children & Young Adult books, hardback revenue was up 10.7 percent; paperback revenue was up 0.9 percent; board book revenue was up 7.7 percent; and eBook revenue declined 32.6 percent.”

Our publishing house uses a unique publishing software system that produces books in both ink-on-paper and eBook formats at the same time.

CLICK this cover to visit our bookstore.

The news about these two popular categories is especially heartening to the team at ReadTheSpirit and Front Edge Publishing, because the books we have published over the past decade feature lots of titles about faith, religious diversity and daily spiritual inspiration.

We also have published innovative books about “Early Learning” and issues of deep concern to parents and children, like bullying. For example, our Early Learning series includes Access to School and Solutions for Success in which parents, teachers and children talk about innovative preschool programs in Detroit that empower immigrant families to become community leaders. Books combatting the growing problem of bullying include The New Bullying and the interactive comic-book that has been used with children in schools: Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.

Our inspirational publishing ranges from books that relate faith to daily life, such as Lynne Meredith Golodner’s The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, to books with practical wisdom about religious diversity, such as the Humane Society of the United States overview of religious perspectives on care for animals Every Living Thing.

Faith Fowler’s book launch drew a huge crowd to Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. Click on the image to visit our bookstore.

Some of our most popular religious books are uplifting memoirs, such as Faith Fowler’s funny and inspirational memoir This Far by FaithIn that book, the nationally known pastor and community-organizer, the Rev. Faith Fowler, tells true stories about the remarkable people who are restoring communities in Detroit—despite sometimes horrific challenges.

Once again, our publishing staff is inspired to read in the pages of the June 19, 2017, issue of Publishers Weekly (PW), a lengthy roundup of this genre by longtime PW expert on religious publishing Lynn Garrett. Headlined Remembering the Spirit—Memoirs tell of finding faith and overcoming adversity, Lynn writes:

“Humans are fascinated by other humans, and that means that the stories people tell of their own lives are enduringly popular. Memoirs in the religion and spirituality category tell stories of faith found, changed, or regained, and of the struggle, suffering, and loss overcome through faith. Along with classic subjects such as illness or the death of a loved one, many new and forthcoming memoirs focus on difficult contemporary problems, such as sexual identity, addiction, racism, incarceration and politics in the Middle East.”

As a team, we take heart in this news.

As our readers, we hope you are similarly inspired. You can play a major role in supporting this trend by taking time to visit our bookstore and finding something you will enjoy reading—and will consider sharing with friends.

 

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‘Regie’s Rainbow Adventure’—Comicbook-culture hero shows the world his true super power

Michigan Senator Morris W Hood III talks with the superhero Regie about his Rainbow Adventure.

By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit EDITOR

We traveled.

We tasted.

We talked.

It was all in a day’s work for the broccoli-shaped superhero Regie, who left a crowd in Detroit savoring the flavors of colorful fruits and vegetables—and pondering the rich role that food plays in our lives. Regie—both in a 6-foot-tall costumed version and in the form of a 1-foot-tall plush puppet—had top billing as the star of the show. But, a Michigan state senator who appeared with Regie, and told his own story of a life-long struggle with diabetes, clearly won the hearts of the crowd.

Thanking Regie for his expanding campaign to encourage healthy eating, state Sen. Morris W. Hood III, the minority leader in Michigan’s senate, told the crowd about keeping a Regie puppet handy in his Lansing office.

“It gets everybody talking, like: What is this puppet? It’s a great way to introduce other senators—and others who are in Lansing—to this important program,” Hood said.

Parents and children explore colorful stories about Regie’s adventures along with similarly colored samples of fruits and vegetables. The displays simulate the classroom experiences children enjoy week after week.

In fact, that’s the green superhero’s true power, Hood said.

“Regie gets people talking about the foods we eat,” he said. “Regie starts the conversation about healthy living. One of the biggest preventive measures we can have is Regie’s Rainbow Adventure in our communities.”

Hood feels so strongly about the public health value of the Regie program, which was created by the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM), that he wrote the preface for NKFM’s new book, called: Regie’s Rainbow Adventure—National Kidney Foundation of Michigan’s nutrition education program for disease prevention in the early childcare setting (available in paperback and Kindle versions).

In his preface, Hood writes: “Each child’s life is the beginning of our future. In our world today, we could find ourselves distracted by the many obstacles we face and we could forget about the health and education of our children. But, we cannot let that happen. Early childhood education and health go hand in hand in raising children to reach their full potential. We know that their success is truly our success as they become our next generation of leaders. If we give our children a strong and healthy head start now, they will help us build a better world.”

Linda Smith-Wheelock, COO of NKFM, appeared with Hood and other speakers at the event to celebrate the expansion of the Regie program from serving about 12,000 children currently—to about 24,000 over the coming year. “As the prevalence of obesity in children increases, so does the rate of type 2 diabetes, which is a leading cause of kidney failure. One in three children who were born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime,” Smith-Wheelock writes in the new book.

Hood told the crowd about the life-long challenges of living with diabetes, including his own kidney-transplant surgery last year. That’s why he’s thrilled to pull out his Regie puppet and playfully challenge people to become allies of this program.

“We have to introduce healthy lifestyles at a very young age,” Hood told the audience. “I don’t want children to have to go through what I’ve gone through for 42 years.”

Monica Easterling talking at the Regie launch event.

Monica Easterling, who manages nutrition programs for the New St. Paul Tabernacle Head Start program in Detroit, has been involved with the Regie program for the past six years. She contributed to the new book and spoke at the Detroit event. “Senator Hood is right. When you want to change behavior you have to look to the group where we can have the most influence—and that’s in early childhood. Childhood obesity is a major problem in America today. … The whole Regie curriculum encourages an active, healthy lifestyle.”

The lessons are memorable as each colorful Regie picture book is read aloud—and teachers encourage children to taste equally colorful bites of fruits and vegetables along with their superhero. “Children love these stories—so much so that a lot of children memorize the stories. They want to hear them again and again,” Easterling said.

As Regie convinces children to taste the colorful new foods with their teachers in the classroom, that excitement inspires healthy conversations at home, said Debra Foreman, who works with Easterling and oversees the Head Start classrooms.

“When we bring Regie into our classrooms, we are not just touching 47 children—we are touching their 47 households with new ideas about eating different fruits and vegetables,” Foreman said. “When you teach the children, you teach the parents through the children who go home and start telling the story of Regie—and start asking questions about what they can eat—and what they can grow.”

Those conversations lead to action, she said. “I’m hearing about parents who are creating gardens at home, now.”

The celebration of Regie’s Rainbow Adventure was held Friday June 2, 2017, in Detroit. As this program expands, NKFM encourages parents, educators and community leaders nationwide to read the new book and contact the NKFM staff about ideas for expanding Regie’s reach.

Senator Hood switches to talking with the much shorter plush puppet of Regie.

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‘Changing Our Mind’ and finding the courage to stand with vulnerable minorities

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine

Click this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

In the summer of 2017, daily headlines remind us that vulnerable minorities are at risk around the world—including within the United States where militant and sometimes violent new right-wing groups are rising from the grassroots.

A June 1, 2017, report in The New York Times on the “Scope of Hate” explored the collective impact of nearly 2,000 incidents of hate and bias in the U.S. in recent months. The next day, the Times reported again on the rise of roving groups of angry right-wing protesters that “recruit battalions of mainly young white men for one-off confrontations.” While much of this fury swirls around President Trump’s actions toward Muslim and Latino minorities, millions of LGBTQ allies are on alert as well.

“It is very painful to watch competing sub-cultures clashing over whether America will continue as an inclusive, diverse society—or we will retreat into someone’s narrow vision of what America should become,” says Dr. David P. Gushee, the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.

“Each day there is new evidence of this tearing at America’s soul. My own mood is torn between optimism and pessimism. I am very concerned about this large movement that wants to retreat to a narrow vision of America. What gives me hope is that there also is a very solid constituency in our country for an expansive, inclusive society that happily welcomes diversity of all types: racial, sexual, gender and religious diversity.”

Since 2014, when Gushee’s pro-inclusion message in the first edition of Changing Our Mind exploded in American media, he has suffered countless online and professional attacks from from former evangelical colleagues. Once known as “America’s foremost evangelical ethicist” and the author of standard evangelical reference works on Christian morality—Gushee now describes himself as exiled from a religious group he once proudly claimed as his own.

“I have had a bit of post-evangelical syndrome, and have laid low for a while,” Gushee wrote recently for the Religion News Service. But he is not alone, Gushee explained. He is among millions of others “who have made their exits, or had their exits made for them, and now wander in a kind of exile.”

Click on the cover to visit Amazon.

That’s why, this summer, Gushee is publishing what he sees as a related set of books: The third and definitive edition of Changing Our Mind, including a small-group study guide plus his pointed responses to critics—as well as a spiritual memoir, Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism.

Despite the attacks, Gushee also has received substantial support from his scholarly colleagues nationwide. He has been elected to the presidencies of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics—although those elections also sparked fresh fury from hard-core evangelical and fundamentalist partisans.

That’s why Gushee sees these two books—the substantial new resources added to the third and final edition of Changing Our Mind plus the memoir Still Christian—as so closely related. Together, they tell the dramatic story of how he first embraced a deep Christian faith—and how that faith led him to drop what he now realizes was a bombshell in 2014.

“In the memoir, I tell about first becoming an ‘evangelical’ before I even knew that term,” Gushee says. “I converted as a Southern Baptist while I was still a teenager. I didn’t really embrace that ‘evangelical’ label for myself until 1990 when I worked with Ron Snider at Evangelicals for Social Action. From that time until the first publication of Changing Our Mind, I proudly flew the evangelical flag and was sought after to be part of every relevant evangelical circle. You name a school with an evangelical label and, in those 25 years, I was there.

“Then, when Changing Our Mind was published, the evangelical world froze me out. Rob Bell and others have talked about the trauma of going through that experience. Sometimes it takes the form of vicious attacks online and in other circles—and sometimes it’s just a matter of your name and work being erased, scrubbed. Invitations are pulled. And, yes, it does sting when you are called a ‘heretic.’ ”

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A Google Trends chart shows the largest spike of nationwide interest in Gushee’s work in late 2014, followed by a roller coaster of ups and downs since that time. His name continues to resurface in national news reports and magazines, setting off new rounds of public debate.

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WHY ‘WE MUST FIND THE COURAGE’

Although Gushee’s story is marked by pain and sorrow over broken relationships and regret at how the evangelical community has thrown up barriers to inclusion—he remains crystal clear about his commitment to the path he has chosen.

In our interview, I asked, “Was it hard to find the courage to make this choice?”

There really was no choice, he said. His faith was leading him in this direction, step by step.

“We must find the courage,” he said. “People’s lives are at stake—and I admit now that, when I first published this book, I had no idea of the full extent to which that is true. The process of writing and publishing, first the weekly blog posts and then the entire book, revealed some of this to me. Then, as the book spread across the country and I began to travel and talk about it, I was inundated with correspondence.”

One of Gushee’s friends researched this tidal wave of public attention using Google Trends (see above). “In all my years of teaching and traveling and publishing so many books—there had never been as much public attention to what I was saying as there was in November 2014.”

Much of that attention took the form of furious attacks, “but there also were so many new contacts with LGBTQ people, many of whom remain in touch and remain friends, now. And, when I say that I was unaware of the extent of the damage that we as evangelicals had done to LGBTQ people and their families, I say that with repentance. I began to realize that traditional Christianity had created tremendous distress. We had been breaking up families—and causing people to want to end their lives, especially young people. The distress we had been causing was alarming. There was so much at stake here for so many people!”

Gushee’s critics dismiss that kind of comment as an attempt to cast their arguments cruel and unfeeling. “I hear that response from my critics all the time, but that is no excuse to continue telling people that something they cannot change about themselves is fundamentally disordered and wicked. I say this in the new edition of Changing Our Mind: I stand by what I wrote because, as a Christian leader, scholar and teacher, I have an obligation to work toward a Christian community that doesn’t cause people to want to kill themselves. Instead of the turmoil, suffering and death that the traditional Christian condemnation is causing—I am offering life in my basic presentation of the Christian faith. I believe Jesus came to bring life, not death. I have staked my reputation and my life on that conviction and I am standing with Jesus.”

SIGNS OF HOPE IN AMERICAN LIFE

One sign of hope for inclusion lies in the millions of dollars and years of staff training across American business, industry and nonprofits as well as educational and health-care institutions.

“These major segments of American life have embraced not just tolerance but diversity in an effort to create workplaces and schools and an entire society that is not just tolerant of diversity, but actually embraces diversity,” Gushee said. Even President Trump, who has emerged from the corporate world, has declined to demonize LGBTQ Americans in the way he targets Muslims, Latinos and immigrants in general. “And that’s a blessing that he seems to have spared LGBTQ people.”

But that widespread consensus among major institutions “is fueling a backlash among people who don’t like that consensus,” Gushee says. “They feel oppressed by it. They feel pushed around. They resent it. That’s a source of anger that we should not overlook.”

Since the 1960s, Gushee says, “every bit of America’s ‘white, male, European, Christian culture’ has been challenged. From the 1960s, until recently, the overall trend was toward America becoming more multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious. And, more than that, the cultural consensus was that this is a good thing—reflecting the best values of our country. While that trend has been moving in a hopeful direction, right now we’re seeing a collective visible and physical response from people who probably have always bristled at these changes and have tried to resist this movement.”

FREEDOM TO CREATE NEW COMMUNITIES

Right-wing activists aren’t the only ones creating new communities coast to coast. Gushee said he takes encouragement from movements like the new Blue Ocean Faith, where members embrace a deep Christian faith with a complete commitment to inclusion.

In fact, this willingness to continually reform and re-imagine the rules and style of church life has defined Christianity for the past 500 years. (See our earlier story about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.) The term “evangelical” has been used in many ways, down through the centuries, including as a proudly embraced label in churches that today are considered mainline Protestant.

“The most important period for people who call themselves evangelicals today was in the late 1940s when the term was claimed by fundamentalists—the biblical literalists who emerged about a century ago,” Gushee says. “In starting to call themselves evangelicals, they tried to make themselves seem more modern and less militant. But the truth is that most card-carrying evangelicals who address the LGBTQ issue still reason the way fundamentalists did. Those of us who want to rethink the issue, now, realize that the evangelical term probably never fit us—and certainly doesn’t fit us anymore.”

Now, Gushee points out, there are many Christian leaders—including people like Ken Wilson, a co-founder of Blue Ocean Faith—”who are no longer trying to prove our evangelical orthodoxy to the self-appointed bishops and cardinals of today’s evangelical movement. See what Ken and his colleagues are writing and teaching. Or, read a book like Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible, about the need to get past the straightjacket of biblical literalism. You will find there are many of us out here claiming the freedom to rethink our faith from the ground up.”

In the end, as Gushee concludes in his memoir, these new voices have a common theme. “Ken Wilson describes it this way: It’s not sola scriptura—or the Bible alone as the guide for our lives—it’s sola Jesus. We follow Jesus. And Jesus said, ‘I will leave you with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth and will remind you of all I have taught you.’ (paraphrase of John 14:26)

“Jesus did not say the Holy Spirit will lead you to read every line of Scripture and will make you argue about literal readings of every word and every verse. That’s the hyper-rigid trap into which the evangelical bishops and cardinals have fallen. For me, we cannot start the LGBTQ discussion by debating a handful of verses in the Bible that mention homosexuality. No, you start by considering the way Jesus treated other people.

“Critics can shout, ‘Heretic!’ at me all day long, but I have moved on. I am not in the same religious community they’re in. Like so many others today, I’m following Jesus and walking away. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m still deeply Christian and love Jesus with all my heart. Yes, there’s some sadness in these two books—but, in the end, these books are a deep affirmation of faith in Jesus.”

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‘Never Long Enough’ helps families honor loved ones’ lives

An illustration from Never Long Enough by Krakoff and Sider.

By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit magazine editor

Click on the cover to visit the paperback page on Amazon. There’s also a hardback available.

This year, the CDC reports that more than 2.6 million men, women and children will die in the U.S.—leaving tens of millions of family members grieving the loss. Year after year, this is a sad truth about life in America that most of us tend to overlook.

Then, often with no warning, the death of a loved one strikes us like a thunderclap! Suddenly, we are in the circle of grief, as well, pondering with friends and family the loss we share.

Fortunately for the countless mourning families, each year, thoughtful community leaders stand ready to assist. More than that, they always are looking for fresh ways to help. Among the most creative of these compassionate professionals are the writer and the artist behind Never Long Enough, a unique new illustrated book that prompts families to share life’s most important memories.

Right now, word of mouth about the new book is spreading coast to coast.

An elementary-school teacher in Illinois heard about the book a week ago and told me, “I’ve got a child in my class whose grandmother is dying and it’s such a difficult time for her that I can see effects in our class of what’s going on at home with her family. I’ve been looking for something that might help—so I’d like to try offering this book. I love the idea that the book sets aside space to write something yourself. I’m a teacher, so that’s something I really want to encourage: Talk and remember stories—and then express yourself. What a great idea.”

Clergy, health-care providers, funeral directors, educators, social workers all are among the first readers of this brand new book. (Want a copy? You can order it in a reasonably priced paperback format. Or, if you’re intending the book as a keepsake for someone, there’s also a hardcover.)

Illustration of a hug from Never Long Enough.

“Wow, this is different. We can flip through the pages with someone—until we reach a page where the picture or the words just click. That’s a great idea,” said a social worker who first heard about the book late last week. As she talked, she flipped through the book’s pages herself, stopping at the image of a hug. “And I love it that there are images in this book for everyone. It’s not just for one cultural group. Everyone seems to be welcome here.”

That response was echoed by the Rev. Kenneth Flowers, a prominent Detroit pastor known for his decades of work on civil rights and cross-cultural issues.

“This beautiful work transcends race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation as everyone in the human family must one day face the death of a loved one,” Flowers said after seeing an early copy of the book. “When that happens, we inevitably ask God, ‘Why now?’ Even when my grandmother died at 94 and my father at 38, I equally felt that I didn’t have them long enough. Yet, the comforting words contained in this cutting-edge book touched my heart—50 years after my father’s death and 18 years after my grandmother’s death.”

That’s the unique chemistry of this book:

  • Thought-provoking artwork in a wide range of styles so everyone can find inspirational images to ponder
  • Coupled with reassuring words that echo our natural reflections at a time of death
  • All bound into a book with extra space set aside to add personal memories either with a pen or pencils—or by pasting favorite photos or clippings.

SHARING STORIES IN NEW WAYS

Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff

In creating Never Long Enough, Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff and artist Dr. Michelle Y. Sider brought together their professional expertise with families.

Krakoff drew on lessons learned in many years of counseling adults and children wrestling with death, grief and remembrance. Sider’s years working as an artist, arts educator and psychologist influenced her approach in creating evocative images that demonstrate how art can help to unlock emotions and heal the heart. Together, they crafted an interactive keepsake book for families and friends, complete with pages to add personal reflections thereby transforming the book into an individualized tribute to a loved one.

Artist Michelle Sider

Never Long Enough is designed to be read along with someone nearing the end of life—or, it can be read by mourners after a death. Whenever this book is opened, it becomes an active invitation for conversation, lifting up memories and preserving the legacy of someone’s life.

“For many years, I’ve been working with families to guide them through honest conversations about the legacy and the values that remain even as someone we love dies,” Krakoff said. “This text has already comforted so many families through this difficult, emotionally charged time.”

Krakoff developed the thought-provoking text while in Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. As he shared that text with families, he realized that powerful imagery would heighten the healing process of reflection.

Sider agreed. “I’ve seen how art can help people express themselves, bring out their feelings and tell stories,” she said. “By weaving the words and art together, I hope the reader will move slowly through the pages and reflect deeply on the words. Reading and responding to this book as an individual or with loved ones becomes a very compelling and helpful experience.”

‘STILL A LOT OF HEALING TO DO’

Death isn’t the end. All the world’s great religions include some promise that our years on the earth aren’t the limit of our lives—a legacy remains. Some faiths include a vivid description of heaven where saints and angels live eternally, other faiths teach about reincarnation—and still other traditions promise that, even if there is no specific spiritual afterlife, our memories, values and legacy can resonate through future generations.

This book doesn’t teach doctrine. Rather, the pages invite readers to remember a person’s living legacy that is universally celebrated in all faiths.

The key is that this book centers on conversations family and friends need to have around the end of a loved one’s life—a process encouraged by clergy, chaplains and counselors of all traditions.

“This is so important,” Krakoff said. “It is a universal truth. We need to guide individuals and their families to have honest conversations about the end of life. Even when we reach the point that we can no longer heal the physical body, there is still a lot of healing to do, emotionally and psychologically. Whatever your religious tradition might be, that’s a truth we share.”

As a rabbi, Krakoff has worked with families in this way for a long time. Currently, he is the Senior Director at the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, so he serves and teaches across a much wider territory. Over the years, he often showed families the poem that inspired the text in this book. Then, inspired by Krakoff’s helpful text, Sider envisioned the accompanying artwork. Using various techniques from charcoal to paint, she created stirring images that powerfully illuminate the text.

“I’ve always looked for ways to use art to help others—it’s a way of getting to our emotions through images that connect with our lives,” Sider said. “As we go through the end of a life, we often find a disconnect with the intellectual process as these deep feelings emerge. Using our senses through art, movement and music helps us to tap into what’s happening to us and to our families in a different way.”

“As we developed this book,” Krakoff added, “I liked the way that readers can linger on any page that connects with their experience. As you move through the book at whatever pace you choose, we’re trying to evoke memories of those amazing, special, incredible times you’ve shared with people. We ask you to remember laughing, kissing, hugging. Yes, we know we will bring tears, but we also want to bring smiles and happiness.”

‘DON’T WAIT TO TALK’

There’s also a practical benefit in this process, especially if families go through the book with their loved one before death, Krakoff explained. “As a rabbi, so many times I hear from families who feel it’s an obligation to share memories at a funeral. In Judaism, there’s also a traditional time of sharing stories and memories in the home, a period of days called shiva. Different religious traditions have different ways of doing this, but it’s a universal desire to share the most important memories with others.

“But, how do we identify and lift up those memories? After someone dies, we’re sometimes challenged to remember what we want to share. If we do recall important memories, we may forget them later. We hope that the whole process of using this book—reading it together, talking, sharing, making some notes—will make this a much richer experience for the family, and one we can preserve.”

Sider said, “Another way to describe this is to say: Our book reminds people they’re not alone. In a sense, giving someone this book, then spending time with it, is like giving someone a really big hug.”

“I like that description,” Krakoff said. “And, I really do hope people take our invitation to go through this book with someone while they’re still alive. In my work with the hospice network, I do this a lot. I sit and talk with people nearing the end of life. And I can tell you, it’s so important.

“Then, after a death as I’m preparing a eulogy, people share more memories with me—especially things they wish they’d said about the person. I always wonder: How many of these things did they actually say while the person was still alive? Did they give that person an opportunity to talk about these wonderful things that we’re sharing after death. In this book, we’re giving people permission and encouragement to have those conversations whenever they’re ready. And, I hope people don’t wait to talk.”

 

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Barbara Mahany on ‘Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving’

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit Editor

We are publishing this interview with Barbara Mahany before Mother’s Day 2017 in the hope that our readers will order her book right now. When the book arrives, first, read it yourself and jot a personal note in the front of the book—then give it to a mother you love.

It’s that kind of rare book—as thought-provoking and inspiring for the “kids” (especially adult kids) who read it as well as for the “mothers” who will turn these pages. The short chapters are perfect for daily reflection. And, watch out! This book may move you to action. Occasionally, after reading a short chapter, you may feel moved to write a letter—either to a mom you know, or if you’re a mom yourself, to an adult “kid” you love.

This is a memoir spanning many years of maternal experiences by Barbara Mahany, perhaps best known from her earlier life as a beloved Chicago Tribune columnist. Even if you don’t live in the Chicago area, you may have enjoyed her columns via wire services or the Internet. Her columns are perceptive viewpoints on daily life that you’re likely to find someone tacking to a bulletin board at the office—or to a refrigerator door.

So, that’s our main message in publishing this interview with Barbara today: Get the book now and you’re sure to have a marvelous experience sharing these stories in the weeks ahead!

‘HOW DEEPLY YOU ARE LOVED’

Barbara had an advantage in preparing this 200-page volume. Remember our recent cover-story interview with author Maggie Rowe, who “workshopped” her book by reading aloud sections of her manuscript on stage before crowds in Hollywood?

Well, Barbara had a similar experience with at least a couple of the chapters in Motherprayer. She did not sit down at a blank computer screen and type up these reflections in a matter of weeks, or even months. This book includes pieces that span a decade of writing, including a couple of revised versions of columns she published via the Tribune, before she retired in 2012.

“A few of the essays in the new book were published in earlier drafts in the Tribune and they always got a huge response from readers—so I know that readers appreciate it when I write about these things,” Barbara said in our interview. That’s the same way Maggie Rowe felt confident about how readers would respond to her memoir. Audiences already have confirmed the value of the prose.

Barbara has another big advantage in connecting with readers through her new memoir: These little stories from daily life are artfully written so that they come across as bigger than her own life, and in fact many of them are even bigger than motherhood itself. They are about parents’ deep connection with the next generation. As we all inevitably age and reflect on the all-too-fleeting span of our lives—as Barbara has herself over many years of living and writing—we pin our deepest spiritual hopes on the potential of love. Are we loved? Have we loved others?

A search for loving connection lies at the core of our deepest spiritual yearnings.

“If I had to sum up what this book represents,” Barbara said in our interview, “it’s my attempt to pull together in one record a message to my boys: How deeply you are loved!”

And, as precise and moving as these little daily scenes are in the book, Barbara follows the best of journalistic style by offering each true story in a universal way.

“I realize that not every story in the book will connect with every reader. But the book is quite a pastiche! Here’s a moment. Then, a few pages later, here’s another moment. Maybe this one is the perfect entry point for you. Oh, no? Not a part of your experience? Well, then, turn the page and: Consider this next one,” Barbara said. “My point here is not to put myself and my children in the spotlight. That may sound like a strange thing to say, since this is a book about our experiences. But this book took me more than 10 years to write and it really is my way of offering to readers many ways we can connect and think about our experiences as parents.

“Parents understand that our lives are full of nonstop ephemeral moments. One amazing thing happens after another—and you’re sure, in each moment, that you’ll never forget what happens. But we do. We all forget things. Then, in reading through this book, I hope parents will be triggered to remember and think in new ways about so many experiences we’ve shared.”

‘AHEM!’ YOU’LL WANT TO READ ALOUD

If you get a copy of this book, you’ll want to clear your throat. At some point, you’re going to want to read aloud to a friend or relative. In fact, if you’re among the millions of Americans who participate in a weekly small group (ranging from congregations to libraries to coffee shops to living rooms), then you’ll most likely festoon this volume with bookmarks to remember passages you could share with your group.

Want an example? Page 5 begins like this:

Prayer, on my good days, is how I breathe. It’s listening, as much as whispering. It takes the wobble out of my knees and puts the wallop into my heart’s beat. It’s woven into the hours, from cock’s crow until the moment my eyelids finally flutter closed for the day. It unspools without measure or meter. It might be a geyser. Or merely a murmur.

Another example, also on the theme of morning prayer comes on page 30:

When your morning prayer on a particular day—a day that demands much, too much, from its players—seems most aptly punctuated by the stirring of spoon through a muddle of oats. When the first thing you reach for, come dawn, is the grain that amounts to a mother’s amulet. And as you stand there tossing in handfuls of shriveled-up gems—fruits the colors of amethyst, ruby, garnet, or onyx—you imagine yourself some sort of sorceress, arming your brood for the slaying of dragons to come.

And—as she does periodically throughout this book—Barbara finishes this meditation on stirring a pot of oats with her recipe for what she calls “Worth-the-Wait Porridge.”

These early pieces feature scenes interacting with her children while they were young. But, late in the book, she includes meditations written as a parent of grown-up kids. One that appeared in the Tribune is called “Welcome Home, College Freshman. XOXO”

I’ve long savored the romance of November, when the light turns molasses, the air crisp and planes fill the sky, the crisscrossing of hearts headed home. But never before had I felt it so deeply. This year, one of those jets is carrying home my firstborn. Now, all these months later, I can only imagine the boy who’s more of a man now. Calls home just once a week, Sundays, after 5 p.m. “Circa 1975,” I call it, just like when I was a freshman in college and had to wait for the rates to go down to report to the grown-ups back home.

A few pages later, she shares her favorite autumn recipe: “Welcome-Home Brisket.”

‘MY NET IS MADE OF WORDS’

In our interview, I asked Barbara why her books are so—well, so read-aloudable. “Do you think it’s part of the backgrounds we share in journalism? I know the best journalism often is written so that it can be voiced.”

But Barbara, as she often does in the book, surprised me with her answer. She said, “I liken it to being a butterfly catcher—and my net is made of words.”

“That’s true,” I said chuckling at the elegance of that line (which appears in her book, too, by the way). “But your net also is made of food, right? Readers can cook along with you as they enjoy these stories.”

“I’m a whole body writer—and I believe that prayer involves the whole body as well,” she said. “And in my relationship to my boys, my prayer naturally is connected with food—just as I describe the morning ritual of making porridge.

“There are times when the deepest way we can feed the people we love is by setting something in front of them that speaks to them on all levels of life,” she continued. “I pay attention and know that my son’s favorite is macaroni and cheese. So, on a particularly difficult day, I know I can’t go with him into whatever he may be facing, but I certainly can put a bowl of macaroni and cheese in front of him, when he returns home. It’s a form of prayerfulness that’s beyond words. It’s a way of filling a deep place in someone’s life. I believe it matters.”

In fact, she added, “I understand the kitchen counter and the dining room table as altars of the home. Putting out food is a form of holy communion at the deepest level. Now, I’m no Martha Stewart! And I certainly have pulled crazy stuff out of the freezer to make an easy supper. But I know that, at its best, food can tap into the liturgical DNA that speaks to all of us on all levels.”

And, finally, this book also is sprinkled with prayers that readers may very likely find themselves jotting down for their own use—perhaps at mealtimes. Simple prayers, often. As simple and nourishing as the oatmeal.

Here’s a wonderful little prayer to start the day.

Dear God, I thank you. Now let us tiptoe softly into this day.

.

Care to read more?

GET THE BOOKMotherprayer is available on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle.

‘SLOWING TIME’—You might also want to learn about Mahany’s book Slowing Time by enjoying this 2015 ReadTheSpirit interview with her about that earlier project.

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