Bullying Is No Laughing Matter: Creating a ‘Fence of Friends’

Dennis the Menace in Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

CLICK THIS IMAGE to visit our free ‘Dennis the Menace’ activity guide.

WHAT are you doing for Bullying Prevention Month?

We are providing parents and teachers creative ideas for interacting with children about this problem plaguing many kids nationwide.

IS THIS A REAL PROBLEM? Yes. These days, it’s tough for adults to help kids get a handle on bullying because the attacks seem to surround children 24/7 through social media they can’t escape. This isn’t the same problem adults remember as uncomfortable playground encounters years ago. In our book by Michigan State University journalism students, The New Bullying, research shows that bullying is indeed a more persistent and dangerous problem than even a decade ago.

What are these “creative ideas” we’re providing? Teachers at Miller Elementary School in Michigan are asking their hundreds of students to take a page from our Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book—and draw pictures to discuss and display all around the school. Specifically, they’re using the free Dennis the Menace activity guide in our new section with the same name as our book: www.BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter.com

HOW ONE SCHOOL’S STUDENTS ARE CREATING A ‘FENCE’

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I met with some of the staff at Miller Elementary School recently to discuss how this particular activity guide could be used school-wide. They already had printed out our Dennis the Menace activity page. On that page, a large comic shows Dennis and a friend standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a way that causes a would-be bully to walk away in a frustrated huff. The activity page then prompts readers with a thought: “The best defense is a Fence of Friends.”

Then an invitation: What does your Fence of Friends look like? Try drawing a picture of you with your Fence of Friends. Try not to forget anyone!

Then a reminder: “While Dennis the Menace is known to be a troublemaker, he’s never crossed the line into bullying.”

One of the teachers said: “We could have our children each draw their own ‘Fence of Friends’.”

We all agreed: Good idea! But, what about the more isolated children in the classroom who can’t think of friends to sketch to fill the “fence row” on their 8-by-11 piece of paper?

The answer … “The adults helping with this activity can watch for this happening in the group,” I said. “Some kids will whip off a sketch with many friends. Others will sit staring at their own figure on the paper. Here’s the best part: You can ask the speedy-sketching, outgoing children to consider walking around the room to look for children who have space on their paper for a friend. The kids themselves can demonstrate this concept of forming a ‘Fence of Friends’ by drawing themselves into another child’s ‘fence.’ “

“I like that!” another teacher said. “Drawing yourself into someone else’s Fence of Friends to show that you’re going to be an ‘up-stander,’ someone who stands up as a friend for others. That’s a good idea.”

This week, Miller school kids are working on this idea. Teachers are having children make their drawings, which may wind up forming a school-wide Fence of Friends. And they are planning two assemblies this week to talk with younger and then older kids about the problem of bullying. They plan to show off their ever-growing fence as a school-wide commitment made by the children themselves.

GET INVOLVED WITH FRIENDS!

And, that’s just one study guide in our growing website. The book contains three dozen different comics, each one useful as a “discussion starter” for teachers and parents who want to interact with kids about this tough problem of bullying. While looking at a cartoon in the book, it’s easy to ask questions like: “Have you seen that happen?” “What should happen next in this comic?” “Want to draw your own?”

Bookmark www.BullyingIsNoLaughingMatter.com and come back every week for another new activity guide.

In addition to Dennis the Menace, we’ve also published guides to these comics: Blondie, Broom Hilda, Pickles, For Better or For Worse, Rip Haywire, Luann, Jump Start, Stone Soup and It’s Magick.

A new guide appears each Monday, so stay tuned! And tell friends! Use the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons with this column to spread the news.

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Categories: Children and FamiliesPeacemaking

The Kent Nerburn interview on ‘Letters to my Son’

Kent Nerburn book cover Letters to My Son New World Library

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

BEFORE Kent Nerburn became the beloved author of Neither Wolf nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder

BEFORE that best-selling book went into production as an upcoming feature film …

Before all of that—Kent first was a promising young sculptor whose best pieces wound up in collections from the U.S. and Canada to Japan. Through his sculpture and his early writing, Kent expressed his passion for personal spiritual renewal. If we hope to lead satisfying lives, we must grapple with the values and spiritual insights that shape our world, he argued in Letters to My Son: A Father’s Wisdom on Manhood, Life, and Love. The themes in that book, published 20 years ago, later would echo in his research, travel and writing about Native Americans.

Now, New World Library is re-releasing this early book in an updated and expanded form—and today ReadTheSpirit is highly recommending this new edition.

Kent says, “Letters to My Son still has a special place in my heart, and I’m glad that New World wanted to republish and expand it.”

He admits, though: At first, the idea of expanding the book was a problem. A lot of readers had responded enthusiastically to the book over the years. What could he add to that? “I agreed to do this, then I had to figure out what I could add. The book was written so long ago at a different point in my life,” he says. “I had to think about this for a long time.”

What he added in just a couple of chapters is a deeper perspective about life’s most challenging transitions—moving from one home to another, aging and losing loved ones.

For Kent’s legion of fans who may be reading this interview: No, this is not a new volume in Kent’s best-selling Native American trilogy, which includes (after Wolf nor Dog): The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows and the 2013 book The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo: A Child, an Elder, and the Light from an Ancient Sky.

However, this newly revised book does, indeed, talk to readers from the same source of passion that shaped Kent’s very popular Native American trilogy. In fact, one way to describe the theme of Letters to My Son is to say: It mirrors the so-called “Seven Generations” pledge in the Iroquois “Law” that peacefully bound tribes together in the early 1700s. Later, that Iroquois text influenced the drafting of our U.S. Constitution. The Iroquois Law says in part:

In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. … Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground–the unborn of the future Nation.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Kent Nerburn about the new edition of Letters to My Son. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KENT NERBURN

DAVID: In this interview, I’m going to start by reading four short passages from your book. Then, I’ll ask you to talk about each passage. Here’s the first passage from early in your book. Recently, my own father died after a very long life and I’ve often thought about the idea you express here: We cannot predict from our countless interactions in life exactly which moments will influence us the most. You write …

Who can know which touches have meaning? A word here, a glance there, a time together, a time apart—which will be the moments that will rise up in memory and shape the child who looks without judgment on all that you do and say?

Kent Nerburn. (Photo used with permission of the author.)

Kent Nerburn. (Photo used with permission of the author.)

KENT: Those words you just read represent core philosophy in my life. If we put ourselves out there in the world, then we are of  the world—and what happens to us is out of our control. We can set the course but we can’t guarantee who we’re going to meet or what’s going to happen as a result of those meetings.

We know that some of our encounters will change our lives. But, we don’t know which encounters will change us—or will change others’ lives. And we can’t predict how those encounters will change us.

Now, when I meet someone and we begin talking, I’m constantly aware that what I say—and what we do together in this encounter—might be a moment on which our lives will turn.

That’s why our encounters with others have such spiritual power and why we should treat them with great care.

DAVID: Here’s the next passage—a little further into the book. You’re talking about choosing the kind of work we do as an essential part of shaping a satisfying life. You write:

What you need to do is think of work as “vocation.” This word may seem stilted in its tone, but it has a wisdom within it. It comes from the Latin word for calling, which comes from the word for voice. In those meanings it touches on what work really should be. It should be something that calls to you as something you want to do, and it should be something that gives voice to who you are and what you want to say to the world.

So a true vocation calls to you to perform it and it allows your life to speak. … A vocation is something you feel compelled to do, or at least something that fills you with a sense of meaning. It is something you choose because of what it allows you to say with your life, not because of the money it pays you or the way it will make you appear to others. It is, above all else, something that lets you love.

KENT: Again, core philosophy in my life. Another way of thinking about this is to ask the question: What have I found that, once I begin doing it, I can’t stop? Or: When I wake up in the morning, what am I eager to do for another day? If you have found something like that, then you should try to build a life around it.

I didn’t start my adult life knowing that I wanted to be a writer. As you know, I started out as a sculptor, but as I worked and met people—I kept hearing stories that moved me. I discovered that I loved to travel. Anything that involved collecting stories and traveling was something that I was eager to do. Eventually, I found a form of doing those things for a living—by becoming a writer. And, yes, this did turn out to be an easier task for me than it might be for other people. But the process is the same: Find something that you’re eager to do when you wake up in the morning, connect it with other things that call to you in the same way—then see if you can build a life around that kind of work.

If you do find something you love doing, then your vocation does become a voice for your life. It’s how you spend your days. It’s how you put your feet on the earth. It defines your time on the planet.

TURN TOWARD THE PAST AND SAY, ‘THANK YOU’

DAVID: The next passage comes from later in your book and appears in a chapter called “Leaving.” This chapter really moved me, because I had been going through the slow death and then the funeral preparations for my own father, so I was thinking a lot about the departures in my own life as I read this passage:

I now look at every act of leaving—whether from a home, a relationship, a job, or any other situation where we have invested our time and heart—as having love at its core. It may be love for what we had, love for what we have lost, love for what might have been, or simply love for the familiarity of what we are leaving. …

The place, the person, the world you are leaving helped form you, for good or for ill. It made you who you are and moved you further along the adventure that is your own unique life.

The secret to a good leaving is to know how to turn toward your past and say, “Thank you.”

Being thankful for something is not the same as giving your approval for what it was or what it did to you. But holding anger toward it gives it power to shape your future and define your life.

Who among us has not been treated cruelly by another? Who among us has not had our heart broken? Who among us does not wish that we could have back at least one choice that we have made? These experiences are part of life, but they damage us only if we let them.

KENT: I’m glad you chose that passage to read. It’s from one of the two new chapters that I wrote when they asked me to update this book. I thought: What can I write about now that has a voice in keeping with the original book that was written so many years ago? And I concluded that I should write about this principle: Our life—whatever is given to us in life—is a gift. That may sound like a simple thing to say, but think about it for a moment. So many people look at their lives as a limitation, as a series of regrets, as a series of people we blame for doing this or that to us. And I do not doubt that there is real pain in our lives. But most importantly, we must realize that life itself is a gift.

Every day, every encounter is an opportunity to re-examine our lives and the lives of others. It’s true that for some people life may be a very dark gift. These encounters may carry emotions that we don’t want to deal with because they’re just too painful. But if we see life as a gift and each encounter as a potential moment of re-examination in our lives, then we are on a path to a much deeper appreciation of life.

You mentioned your Dad and I’ve written in this book and in others about my own relationship with my Dad and about various experiences I’ve had with leaving and with loss. When they asked me to write something new to add to this book, I thought: Everyone will experience leaving and loss. We need to talk more about this, so I wrote this chapter and I hope readers will find it helpful.

LIFE’S THIRD STAGE:
‘SIMPLE TRUTHS’ & ‘COMMON KINDNESS’

DAVID: The last of the four passages describes what I’ve heard other writers call a third stage in life. Richard Rohr and Brian McLaren have written about this process of aging and this idea of a later stage in life when we shift the way we approach our work and the world. Toward the end of your book, you write:

I am more patient now. Like the crops in the field, I know that there are times to act and times to wait. The seeds I have planted will blossom only when they will, and nothing I can do will rush them.

I am clearer. My youthful desires and dreams have settled into simple truths, and common kindness often seems enough.

I bear burdens more gladly. The joyous weight of family and fatherhood have softened my heart, and I more willingly embrace the obstacles and limitations of life.

But most of all, I am gentler with myself and others, because I know something of grace—how much our lives are the product of a touch, a glance, a letter never sent or received.

KENT: You made good selections. There is a thread here that runs through all of these passages and ties us back to the initial idea in that first passage. Who knows what the touch is, or the moment is, when our life will turn? That awareness can shape our lives so that we embrace the people and the things that we encounter. I’ve tried to live my life that way and it has led me toward quietism and balance.

Now, I can still get as mad as anyone at that crazy dangerous driver who we all will encounter on the road. Things happen that make us mad. People do bad things to us. But I have come to appreciate the Native American idea of balance.

When some crazy driver cuts us off on the road and nearly causes us to crash, we get angry, we may choose some colorful language to shout at that guy, and we may want to get even with him. But, that’s not the way Native people try to think about bad things that happen. They are more interested in restoring balance.

That’s a different way of responding to bad things that happen to us. Native people have a way of approaching this that isn’t all about righteousness or revenge or trying to even the score. They talk about wanting to put life back in balance.

That’s something we understand as Midwesterners. My wife and I have moved west to Oregon now to be closer to our grandchildren, but I think of myself as a Midwesterner after all of our years in Minnesota. Midwesterners understand this process because we experience the cycles of the seasons year after year. We understand cycles and seasons and the idea of life’s balance.

I’m not a fatalist. And I’m certainly not saying: We can’t do anything about injustice in life, so don’t even try. What I am saying is: Our feet are in the clay and we have limitations in what we can do in life. So, accept our limitations and wake up each morning and appreciate the gift of this life with all of its cycles, its seasons and its balance.

‘NEITHER WOLF NOR DOG’ THE MOVIE

DAVID: Your fans are eager to know more about the movie. IMDB says the movie is slated for 2015 and we know that Christopher Sweeney plays you in the movie. We also know that the director paid attention to finding Native Americans to play key roles in your story. Richard Ray Whitman, who has appeared in a number of Native American independent films, plays your friend Grover, who readers of Neither Wolf nor Dog know so well. Can you say just a word about that movie?

KENT: I hope that my story has new life in this film. The characters in the book were developed from real people I knew. I took these real people and transmuted them into the characters in the book. Now, I hope that the actors and the director will transmute the characters in my book into this film.

There are a few small changes. If people are very familiar with the book, they will notice a few of these things. In my book, Grover has a crew cut and he doesn’t in the movie. Things like that. But I appreciate the authenticity that has been brought to this film. The man who plays Dan is a legitimate Lakota elder who carries around in his life all of the pain as well as the deep core values of the Lakota.

So, overall, I’m fascinated by how the original story and the film are interweaving and producing something new for the audience.

A HUGE AND LOYAL FAN BASE

DAVID: The last thing I want to ask about is your relationship with your huge and loyal fan base. I’ve interviewed hundreds of authors in recent years and I’ve found very few with the kind of enormous, affectionate readership that you have attracted.

Here’s just one example: A year ago, you published The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo and I just checked the Amazon reviews for that book. You’ve got 126 reviews, which is a lot, but more significant is the fact that 121 of those reviews give your book 4 or 5 stars. Five reviewers did give your book 3 stars. But you haven’t had any reviews with 1 or 2 stars.

How do you interact with your readers beyond the books themselves?

KENT: One of the early encounters that shaped my life was back when I was a graduate student at Stanford. And I began to feel that I didn’t fit in the mix of what was going on at Stanford in the early ’70s. I already had started doing some writing and I was reading, too. I was quite taken by a book from Norman Mailer. So, here I was this earnest young man and I wrote to Norman Mailer.

He wrote back. His letter was short and personal. I still have his note. It meant a lot to me that he took the time to write back. Because of that response I received from Norman Mailer, I decided: I am going to answer letters that I receive. And, I still do.

Today, I have to keep the exchanges short. Sometimes readers want to engage for extended periods and I’ll have to say: I’ll respond once or maybe twice, but I can’t respond more than that. But, because I have spent all that time writing to people over many years, I’ve established a very strong connection with my readers. I care about my readers. I care about their lives. I can’t write extensively to them, but I do enjoy the interaction.

That’s one reason I have a good relationship with readers. A second reason is that my books are first-person narratives and my readers identify with me. They’ve taken journeys with me through my books.

In my books, I invariably write about myself as the traveler, the learner, the one who is sharing stories from someone else. I go out into the world and encounter people who might be my teacher for a time.

So, if they’re reading my books in the right way, my readers don’t see me as the teacher. I guide them in going out and finding teachers. Readers look at me as a model of ways that they can travel and look for teachers, too. My relationship with my readers is a real joy to me and I hope that they will find something helpful to them in this new book, too.

CARE TO READ MORE?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

Good News from Detroit: We’ve never seen a book launch like this!

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

DETROIT, MI—Think book publishing is fading in the face of new media? Think the City of Detroit is “bad news”? Need some good news today?

We’ve never seen a book launch like this in the city of Detroit! Nearly 1,000 men and women from across Michigan bought tickets to Detroit’s Orchestra Hall on Saturday (September 27) to celebrate the launch of the city’s first ecumenical publishing house in 200 years, headed by one of the city’s most accomplished pastors: the Rev. Faith Fowler.

In a lengthy Detroit Free Press column, Mitch Albom writes: “Faith Fowler, 55, is not your typical pastor. She is funnier. And more blunt. And, Lord, does she get things done. … She is the most important currency of our city, a loving, egoless, inspiring leader who doesn’t see color, doesn’t see class, who looks at our poorest, most neglected citizens and sees only hope and opportunity.” At the Orchestra Hall event, Mitch showed up in person to further praise Faith’s work.

And Mitch was not alone! The launch was a symphony of community connections, orchestrated by Faith.

THE REAL REASON THIS LAUNCH WAS UNIQUE?

William Jones of FocusHOPE and Laurie Haller of Birmingham First United Methodist read at the Cass launch event

A SIGN OF UNITY: Focus:HOPE’s William Jones reads with Birmingham pastor the Rev. Laurie Haller.

It’s accurate to call this launch “unique.” The crowd was enormous. The landmark setting was inspiring. Detroit hasn’t seen a publishing house like this in two centuries.

But the real reason this launch was unique? It was not all about Faith Fowler. In fact, she appeared on stage only briefly. It’s a rule in American publishing that book launches are a showcase for the author—but not this one!

Faith made sure that this launch was all about the community. And that is Faith’s most important talent. The Orchestra Hall stage was filled by musical groups from her congregation, singing such stirring selections that people in the crowd leaped to their feet, hands waved and “Amen! Amen!” echoed through the auditorium.

Everyone at Orchestra Hall felt the electricity when a beloved sports legend, retired University of Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, took the stage.

Anyone who cares about the city of Detroit was moved when the Rev. Laurie Haller, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Birmingham, took the stage to read one of Faith’s stories with William Jones, the head of Detroit’s famous Focus:HOPE. In the crowd, minds silently flashed the connections: Suburb and City. White and Black. Female and Male. Church and Nonprofit.

Together, Haller and Jones read a moving story from Faith’s book. But they did more than read to the crowd. The sparked possibilities. Their appearance alone was good news to many.

TOURING MICHIGAN:
SEE FOR YOURSELF!

ReadTheSpirit reaches readers around the world—but if you are in Michigan this week you can catch this infectious spirit. Come and see! Faith and friends are touring Michigan all this week.

Detroit Orchestra Hall ready for Faith Fowler launch of Cass Community PublishingOn Sunday, September 28, Fowler and the Cass musical group, the Ambassadors, begin a week-long, statewide tour. All events begin at 7 p.m. except the Gaylord event, which begins at 6 p.m. Admission to these tour events is—free! Books and Cass Green Industry products will be available for purchase. Profits from book sales benefit the work of Cass Community Social Services.

Come on!
Get involved!

Wherever you live in the world, you can catch the fire of this amazing “good news” campaign.

The crowd at Orchestra Hall was as diverse as Michigan, but United Methodists were were especially well represented—because Faith herself is a United Methodist pastor. Just as this was a historic day for those who love the city of Detroit, this was a proud milestone for Michigan United Methodists.

“It was such a great day!” said the Rev. Marsha Woolley, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Northville, MI. “I brought with me some women who are native Detroiters and who, these days, are feeling really good about what is happening in Detroit. Experiencing this launch was just so inspiring—about the city of Detroit and about ministry in Detroit and about all those of us who want to work with the city’s very diverse people.”

“Inspiring! Uplifting! That’s what I felt,” said Maggie Hakala, a member of First United Methodist Church in Plymouth, who also went to the launch with a group of friends. “The readings from the book were so great. We all got our books as we left and I’m really looking forward to reading it, now. And I have to say: We appreciated the visit from Mitch Albom, too!”

Learn more about Faith’s book and buy a copy right now.

(SPECIAL THANKS: Becky Hile and John Hile took the photographs published with our coverage of this book launch.)

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Categories: ChristianChurch GrowthGreat With GroupsPeacemaking

Marcia Falk interview on ‘The Days Between’

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

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

Whatever your faith and whatever the season, Marcia Falk has blessings, poems and spiritual guidance to help you through a time of reflection and renewal. Her new book is called, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season.

As the subtitle indicates, this is a series of reflections, readings, blessings and prayers appropriate to each day from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. But this book also is full of timeless spiritual wisdom, eloquently signaled in these concise lines. Consider this eight-line reading that Falk calls “Turning the Heart.”

Slow spin of earth
against sky—

imperceptible yet
making the days.

One stone tossed
into the current,

and the river, ever-
so-slightly, rising.

.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Marcia Falk. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH MARCIA FALK ABOUT ‘THE DAYS BETWEEN’

DAVID: Your website, MarciaFalk.com, describes you as “Poet, Painter, Judaic Scholar.” We will include a photo of your book’s front cover, which features your watercolor-and-pencil work, called “Gilead Apples.” Your career is so varied. How do you describe your overall body of work to audiences, when you tour and talk about your new book?

Marcia Falk, photo used with author's permission.

Marcia Falk, photo used with author’s permission.

MARCIA: I would say that I am a creative artist, a poet and a translator with a strong scholarly background in the work I do. I’ve brought together the literary world and the world of scholarship in my work interpreting and recreating Jewish liturgy from a non-hierarchical perspective. I don’t just sit down and write liturgy. Everything I do is based in the tradition.

DAVID: Evidence of your very thoughtful process is that your books take many years to complete. Probably your most famous book—at least one that has been on my own reference shelf for many years—is your rendering of The Song of Songs.

MARCIA: That has been in print for almost four decades and it has migrated through a number of publishers over the years. It is available today from Brandeis University Press. I began that work when I was a graduate student in English and comparative literature at Stanford, independent studies in three different areas at once: I was in a poetry translation workshop and I was doing an independent study in American poets and then—and this is the most important thing—I had decided to go back and study the original Hebrew Song of Songs, which of course I had known since childhood in my Jewish background.

I remembered The Song of Songs as very musical and lyrical and I already loved the book but I had never studied it. It is an extremely different book linguistically. I worked with a Bible scholar, sitting together and reading this book. I researched every word and phrase and never thought about translating it. I was just absorbing the book. And then one night my translation workshop had an evening when we were sharing our work. When my turn came, I said, “I don’t have anything to show. I’ve spent all my time studying this wonderful book and it’s completely taken over my life.” I began to talk about The Song of Songs and how they couldn’t understand this aspect of it from the King James Version or they would miss this aspect in the Revised Standard Version. I was talking to them about what’s in the original Hebrew.

That’s when I realized that I really should translate this book that had become such a big part of my life. And, that took me years. I went to Israel. I wanted to study at the feet of the great Bible scholars there. I wanted their approval that I was on the right track. Eventually my translation became my doctoral dissertation, the translation accompanied by a commentary.

DAVID: That’s a terrific story because it conveys to our readers the great care and the long years you spend on your work. Let’s point out that I’m certainly not alone in praising The Song of Songs. A very long list of great literary lights have praised that book, including Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote about your book, “I thought until now that the Song of Songs could not be translated better than the King James Version. Marcia Falk really managed to do an exceptional poetic job. She has great power in her language.”

So, then, leaping forward to the mid 1990s, you produced the big Book of Blessings.

MARCIA: I actually began writing that book in 1983. It was a 13-year project; The Book of Blessings finally came out in 1996. That book is a recreation of prayer for Shabbat, the Sabbath, and for weekdays. My impetus for doing that book was a deep frustration with the patriarchal focus of traditional prayer that was so unsatisfying to the point of being painful for many Jewish women and, it turns out, many Jewish men as well. When it was published, that book created a pretty big stir in the Jewish world.

Then, in 1996, I thought I would dive right into the next volume, which would be for the high holiday season, because that is the time of year when more Jews enter the synagogue than at any other time of year. But The Days Between, which just was published, took another 18 years.

DAVID: I’ve been a journalist covering religion and cross-cultural issues for 40 years now and I am fascinated by this thoughtful, long journey represented in your work. There is a great deal that evolves and matures in us as we go through the years. I talked about this issue, this spring, with the writer Barbara Brown Taylor and asked her why five years had passed between books.

Barbara laughed at that and said: “I envy the writers who can turn out a book every year, but I teach full time, my husband and I live on a working farm, I travel a lot to speak. And, honestly, I think it’s worth taking time to actually live the kind of life that will produce something worth writing about.”

MARCIA: There are many reasons it took me so many years: raising a child, needing to make a living as a professor and many other things. But the main reason was that this needed to evolve in my mind and heart. I needed to really grapple with what this very difficult liturgy was all about. The themes of the high holidays are extremely profound and they are at the core of all of human endeavor.

It took this many years to complete, really, because I needed to live long enough in the world—and needed all of the experiences that come with birth and grief and growth and renewal and all the things that make up a human life through those years. I needed to grow through all of that. My living was seeping into my poetry all that time.

DAVID: I hope that readers of this interview understand that, while your book is Jewish and ideal for Jewish readers, this book also can be appreciated as an inspiring and spiritually challenging reader for non-Jews as well. As I was preparing for our interview, Marcia, I was also balancing hours of visiting my father in hospice care. He’s at the very end of his long life, now, and I found many passages in your book just electrifying.

Let me read one prose passage from the opening of the book that really helped me in my own reflections right now. You write: “Positioned between dawn and dusk, dusk and dawn, we live between past and future because we cannot live in them; we cannot act in them or change their outcomes. In this sense, past and future don’t exist for us: only the time between them—the present time—exists.” And then you continue a few lines later: “How do we live with the knowledge not just of our own mortality but of the truth that we cannot hold on to anything? How do we keep from succumbing to despair?”

I underlined those lines and turned down the corner of that page. That summarizes, so eloquently, the spiritual challenge we all face at times of major life transitions. It certainly was very helpful to me in the midst of hospice care with my Dad. I read those lines aloud to him.

MARCIA: To me, that’s the best reward as an author—to hear that kind of response from a reader. I should also mention that it’s been very interesting to me that, wherever I speak about this book, hospice workers in particular come up to me and I see how engaged they are. I feel very gratified that the book is of use to those in hospice. I think that hospice workers are doing something extremely important in our world world.

DAVID: I think it speaks, even more broadly, about how these timeless truths and insights—these blessings and prayers—can touch many lives whatever one’s faith might be. So, let me close our interview by asking: What do you hope general readers will take away from reading your book?

MARCIA: For my Jewish readers, I hope I’m bringing a new entry into Judaism. I also hope it will reveal something for non-Jewish readers as well. I hope it touches people and enriches their paths through life. We’re all human beings and we’re all in this together.

In this book, I am dealing with big themes that speak to and for all of us. Of course, I’m doing this in Jewish language and metaphor—but ultimately for any religion or tradition to meaningful, it has to be dealing with the universals of human life. No religion works unless it is really talking to the whole community of humanity.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleGreat With GroupsHolidaysJewish

Immersed in the spirit of tashlikh as a family

As part of our coverage of the Jewish High Holidays, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes author Lynne Meredith Golodner, writing about her own contemporary experience with tashlikh.

Throwing Away Mistakes:
It’s that time of year

By LYNNE MEREDITH GOLODNER

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe will walk through the cascading hills of Cranbrook’s grounds, between and among the tree-shaded trails. The kids will climb into the arms of a steady old tree, balance in the fork of branches, jump down without fear. We will debate whether to take the path that leads to a carefully scripted line of boulders, where they can dance and skip from rock to rock, or take the other path, the back way, and end up at a grand finale of stones.

At some point in the middle of this autumn hike, my four children, husband and I will pause beside the water. Most years, it’s the drumming river next to the Japanese gardens, but last year we sat on a platform beside the still and silent pond. Either way, we’ll open the bag of old bread and crumble pieces into crumbs to disseminate over the water’s surface, letting the current take last year’s choices and regrets away forever, making room for this year’s clean slate.

This is the tradition I’ve built with my family in the spirit of tashlikh, the Jewish practice on Rosh Hashanah, or sometime between the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 10 days later. Tashlikh is the ritual of throwing away our sins so that we may start anew, start fresh, in the dawning of a new year.

It’s a cleansing, so to speak, of the soul.

When I became a single mother of three young children in 2008, I began my journey toward personalizing my spiritual pursuits. I grew up as a secular Reform Jew, doing my duty–services twice a year, where my sister and I camped out in the synagogue bathroom and commented on other people’s outfits. Bored by the observances, we muscled through until the time when we were set free into the parking lot and onward to home, to imbibe chicken soup and matzoh balls and revel in the day off from school.

In young adulthood, I chose Orthodoxy, my form of rebellion. I spent a decade in the ritualistic rigidity of very traditional Judaism, learning the roots of my heritage, observing as much as I could stomach. I sat in long services on two days of Rosh Hashanah, trying not to fidget from the not-knowing, the lack-of-understanding. My rabbi had compassion; he encouraged me to attend a learner’s service, admitting that the high holy day observances are heavy, too much for someone not raised in the culture of immersion.

I dreaded the 25-hour fast day of Yom Kippur, though I did it, muscling through in the way that I did as a child in my liberal synagogue. Either way, I didn’t find my place in my religion until I set myself free from an unhappy marriage at the age of 37. It was then that I felt brave enough, confident enough, strong enough, to create my own rituals, and involve my children in tangible observance of our long tradition.

The first time I took the kids to Cranbrook for tashlikh, I made a conscious choice not to use the word “sin,” which is the common construction for this practice. The bread crumbs symbolize our sins, which we cast off for the moving waters to carry away from us. And then we are free, free from sin, a clean canvas with which to start a new year, in hopefully better spirits and character than the one just ended.

I didn’t want to teach my children that our religion is a punishing one. I wanted them to embrace themselves in success and in failure, and the word sin has such a harsh connotation. So I used the word “choice,” asking the then 2-, 4- and 6-year-old sweet ones what choices they would like to make in the coming year.

“I will be nicer to my brother,” said one of my children.

“I will listen to Mommy more,” said another.

“I will read more books,” said the third one.

And I joined them, admitting my own human-ness in front of these precious souls.

“I will try not to yell,” I said. It was hard being a single mother; I was easily excitable in those early years trying to figure it out for myself. I threw that regret into the waters and watched the bread crumb dissolve into nothingness.

After the bread supply was depleted and I had just a plastic bag left to carry home, we continued on our journey. The Pewabic tiled fountain under leafy pine and maple. The cairn beside the swampy pond. Overgrown shrubbery nearly obscuring the narrow path toward the majestic old house with its fountains and gardens.

We dipped into the Greek amphitheater and the children ran up and down the rows of seats, called with echoing voices from the open stage. We were free in the forest, reveling in our connection and in the freedom to be reborn after making mistakes, grateful for second chances.

My children are older now and I am thankfully calmer. We still do our tashlikh routine, a favorite of mine at least, with each passing year. We go to synagogue to mark the significance of the holiday season with community, but it isn’t until we get out in the open air and sunshine that we feel energized to start anew.

I have two middle-schoolers who roll their eyes at me even as they snuggle in close. I have a third-grader and a fifth-grader, too. All are wrapped in their version of good and bad, their understanding of the way our world rejuvenates itself.

I still use the word “choice,” preferring its participatory connotation over the finger-wagging “sin.” As we stroll along the pine-scented trails, I listen more than I talk, letting them take the stage, letting them share their revelations of what it is to live a good life, what it is to release regret into the warm hug of the generous world.

Lynne Meredith Golodner is author of eight books including The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads. She owns a public relations company called Your People LLC, guiding spiritually-focused businesses and nonprofits in storytelling and relationships to build their reach, and blogs daily at www.lynnegolodner.com. She lives with her husband and four children in Huntington Woods, Michigan.

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Categories: Jewish

Phyllis Tickle interview: How The Spirit is transforming religious life

Cover The Age of the Spirit by Phyllis Tickle

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

“God told me to do it!”

These days, that claim is made by everyone from pro athletes and contestants on America’s Got Talent—to saints like the heroic doctors volunteering to help combat Ebola. But, where did people get such a startling idea—that God’s Spirit could direct their individual lives?

Now, journalist and scholar Phyllis Tickle has written a fascinating history of how Christians have come to understand the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. Her new book (written with Jon M. Sweeney) is called The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church.

Hearing so many people make this claim (“God told me to …”) may begin to sound like mere wistful thinking. But, we shouldn’t dismiss this, Phyllis writes in her new book. In fact, she argues, we are living in an era of profound change in the way religious motivations are shaping America’s dominant Christian population. (Wondering if the U.S. is still “predominantly Christian”? Pew’s global study says yes—4 out of 5 Americans still identify as “Christian.”)

But, we are witnessing something new in this majority religious group, Phyllis writes. Throughout most of Christian history, this is not how Christians talked—unless they were among the very few men and women who, today, we regard as “mystics.”

Phyllis is not alone in drawing this kind of conclusion. It parallels years of research by the University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker, creator of the OurValues project and author of the new book United America. His ongoing research shows that Americans, as a group, are unique in the world for being both intensely religious and proudly outspoken about our individual opinions.

Phyllis argues that the widespread belief in God directly guiding one’s life reflects a century-long growth of American interest in what Christians refer to as the Holy Spirit. Now, many Spirit-motivated Americans are drawing their own conclusions about centuries-old church rules and doctrines. Some are digging in their heels and rigidly clinging to traditional beliefs—but many are breaking down historic barriers: gender barriers, racial barriers, ethnic barriers as well as barriers against gay and lesbian men and women.

“This is a time of great change,” Phyllis says. “If we really understand what’s happening right now, then our jaws should drop open in amazement!”

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Phyllis Tickle. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH
PHYLLIS TICKLE ON ‘THE AGE OF SPIRIT’

DAVID: Let’s begin this interview at the end of your book. In about 150 pages, you take us on a 2,000-year tour of Christian thinking about the Holy Spirit. Then, you conclude:

“As this new form of Christianity and this new way of being Church and Kingdom mature, they, like their predecessors in earlier upheavals, soon must come to address the question of authority—to address the question of how now shall we live and by whose definitions of right and wrong, correct and incorrect, holy and heretical. When they and/or we fully engage that dreaded question, it will be in terms of the Spirit and of holy discernment. The center of our new authority will lie, as it did in earlier presentations, not with politico-ecclesial hierarchies, nor even in sola scriptura and inerrancy as it is popular defined. Rather, it will lie within the realm of the Spirit and an awe-filled, discerning intercourse with it.”

In other words: Bishops and other Christian gatekeepers beware! You’re not in control anymore. Millions of individuals feel they’re hearing directly from God. Phyllis, is that a fair summary of what you’re saying?

PHYLLIS TICKLE, photographed by Teresa Hooper. Used with the author's permission.

PHYLLIS TICKLE, photographed by Teresa Hooper. Used with the author’s permission.

‘People who scoffed …
are at the heart of this!’

PHYLLIS: Yes, you’ve got it right. And, if you really think about those lines at the end of my book, then you realize why those are some of the scariest lines I’ve ever written.

Think about this. Not too long ago in our history, our upstanding Christian families in any community would have regarded these claims of the Spirit directing people as foolish. When this first started happening, this was associated with the “holy rollers” who set up tents on the edge of town. This way of talking was regarded by the upstanding folks as contemptible: They called it stupid and definitely regarded it as lower class. It’s true. Our highly regarded Christian families once dismissed these people as laughable.

Now, the landscape has shifted to the point where it is good upstanding folks—many of them middle class and some of them even wealthy now—who are engaging with God on a daily basis through Spirit. Today, we call this Renewalist or Pentecostal or Charismatic—people have various terms they prefer. But this is really a major shift in our American culture. The kinds of people who once dismissed this are now at the heart of it!

What happened in our country is that the Spirit landed on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 for the first time in a significant way since Pentecost 2,000 years ago—and that Spirit has continued to spread like wildfire throughout Christianity. I believe there’s no way to compare this dramatic shift to anything less than the wildfire that spread in the centuries right after Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. In those early centuries, lots of good Jews and good pagans, too, suddenly accepted this radical new belief that God could take on human form and dwell among us. That was the shocking shift in belief that fueled the first two centuries of Christian growth. This change was so dramatic that we wound up counting time differently. We reset the calendar. Now, I think we’re seeing a shift in Christianity that’s as dramatic as that first wildfire.

DAVID: The Azusa Street revival lasted for a number of years. We’re still in the midst of the Azusa centennial and I discussed this at some length with Dr. Tanya Luhrmann when I interviewed her about her book, When God Talks Back.

PHYLLIS: Yes, Tanya nailed this in her work. She got it right. The Azusa Street Revival sounded this trumpet. Now, millions of Americans are downloading the truth right from God. And, that’s a dramatic change.

AZUSA STREET: ‘The real shock …’

DAVID: And, talk about the potential for breaking down barriers! Reporters who covered what was happening on Azusa Street, a century ago, were stunned to find black and white men and women worshiping together.

PHYLLIS: The real shock was: Azusa Street started with a black preacher! Yes, at the heart of this was the way they were breaking down all kinds of barriers. And it took place in a building that was a converted stable! I love that fact. I think there’s poetic humor in God twice acting dramatically in a stable. And you’re right: Those LA Times reporters found that their mouths dropped open. They couldn’t deny the incredible energy they were witnessing: people speaking in tongues, people claiming to have been healed. What was happening there was so exciting that people simply could not deny what they were seeing.

I mean, women were receiving the Spirit right along with the men. Suddenly you had women preaching. Incredible! And it wasn’t just black and white. You had Asian-American and Latino-American men and women involved over time. Class barriers and economic barriers were thrown out the window. A lot of the preconceptions that had shaped Christianity to date—they just went “Bye Bye!” for these people.

DAVID: As I reached your conclusions in the final chapter of your book, I found your argument running parallel with Dr. Wayne Baker’s work on the World Values Survey. When Wayne looked at the data coming from that global research—giving him the ability to compare Americans with 80 other countries—then he was able to show that our American religious culture is unique in the world. First, we stack up with countries like Pakistan and Iran in the intensity of our religious belief—but we’re unique because we also stack up with Scandinavia in our rock-solid belief that each person’s viewpoint should be freely expressed.

‘A double-edged sword’?

PHYLLIS: That’s the pattern that I believe goes right along with the Charismatic or Pentecostal brand of Christianity. There’s this deep belief that says: “God told me to do it! I’m going to do it!” I may not be able to read. I may not have a dollar to my name. I may not even have a home. But I feel empowered from the inside out. I’ve downloaded truth directly from God. I don’t need any mediator. I don’t need any bishop or any church council.

I’ve talked to people who will go to their graves defending this way of seeing the world. And, if it goes to extremes, this becomes a double-edged sword. It’s inspiring and it can motivate heroes who do incredibly courageous things—but it also can be very dangerous.

Now we’re seeing the ordinary Johnny and June on the street feeling as though they’ve got direct connection with the godhead—and the Spirit can motivate them in powerful ways.

A Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson cover on the third way

Click the cover to read more about the book.

DAVID: In addition to seeing parallels in Wayne’s work, I think these conclusions you’re drawing explain the important message behind Ken Wilson’s campaign to open up evangelical churches to welcome gay and lesbian men and women. The argument he poses in his new book, A Letter to My Congregation, is that no official-sounding Christian gatekeepers can keep Spirit-inspired men and women from welcoming gay Christians into full participation in the church.

In Ken’s view, it’s almost irrelevant to ask for some church council to make an official ruling on this. Churches should simply throw open the doors and be hospitable, recognizing that Christianity is in the midst of change on this issue. It’s all about the authority of individual people, now. And, as I read Ken’s book, that’s the heart of what he calls “The Third Way.” The New Testament letter to the Romans says that Christian leaders should not divide the church over disagreements that amount to “disputable matters.” And LGBT inclusion is one of those matters where the Spirit is in the midst of changing minds, Ken argues. Official gatekeepers just need to get out of the way of that change and default to the deeper Christian value of hospitality and welcoming of everyone.

Am I reading his book correctly? You wrote Introduction to his book. What do you think?

MICAH 6 TRUMPS ALL

PHYLLIS: Yes, that’s what he’s saying. Theologically, I think Ken is making a very strong argument. He’s saying that the wisdom in the 6th chapter of Micah trumps everything on this issue. Micah says: What is it that God requires of us? To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. Ken says that’s the basis on which Jesus acted. And, yes, that’s right in line with this movement of the Spirit that I’m writing about in my book.

DAVID: So, how do you hope your new book will be used? What do you hope readers will walk away thinking after reading it?

PHYLLIS: Well, of course, I hope that a lot of different kind of readers realize that they’re a part of this story: Catholics and Protestants. A strong argument could be made that this whole movement of the Spirit connects with so many Christian leaders down through our history. I see it connecting with the life and work of John Wesley and a lot of others.

So, I hope readers can come away making a lot of connections from this book. I hope that people will read this and have a sense of awe. This is a time of great change. If we really understand what’s happening right now, then our jaws should drop open in amazement! What do I want readers to take away?

Just that, I think: A sense of humble amazement.

Care to read more?

  • GET THE BOOKS—We highly recommend Phyllis Tickle’s new book (click on the cover with this interview) as well as Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation and Wayne Baker’s United America. All three books explain powerful trends in American life and culture.
  • VISIT PHYLLIS’S WEBSITE—Her website, www.PhyllisTickle.com, is packed with information about Phyllis’s long career, her books and her ongoing work.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleGreat With Groups

The Naomi Schaefer Riley interview on growing your congregation

Cover Got Religion by Naomi Schaefer Riley for Templeton

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

Anxious Christians, watching young adults slip away from congregations by the millions, have built an entire industry around “church growth.” So, this new book by journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley is both eagerly awaited news—and a startling surprise.

What’s the big surprise in Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back? Riley’s extensive research, backed by the Templeton Press, shows that the advice hawked by a lot of would-be church-growth experts simply isn’t worth the money. And, congregations of any size—whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim—have an opportunity to welcome back young adults by focusing to the basics of religious community: hospitality, compassion and sincere relationships.

Frequently, self-proclaimed experts walk into congregations and promote investment in technology to bring young adults back to worship. Her book concludes: “Perhaps the most striking element that is absent from the accounts of successful religious institutions in this book is—technology. When I asked the academics, religious leaders and journalists who cover religion which institutions were doing the best job and how, my respondents barely mentioned Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Tumbler, let alone the institutional websites that congregations often spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours creating.”

And when Riley went out and talked to young adults nationwide? Yes, she reports, they did “expect a basic level of technological literacy from their churches and synagogues. … Of course they would like to see an updated Facebook page from their religious instutions with information about where services will be or what time events will take place—but I could not find one example of a technological innovation that brought someone into one of these religious institutions or an instance in which it convinced them to stay.”

In fact, young adults are even willing to forgive the technological limitations of their houses of worship. They’re seeking, first and foremost, something that congregations once understood was their core value—forming communities.

Today, ReadTheSpirit magazine is highly recommending Naomi’s book for individual reading and for small-group discussion. Click on the book cover and order a copy today. Invite friends to discuss this book with you.

Here is Riley’s message—after an impressive body of national research—in a few concise lines: “Religious leaders who are successfully connecting with young adults realize that sleek advertising is not going to bring people into the pews. The barriers to entry are not matters for a public relations firm to tackle. Young adults want community. They want a neighborhood. They want a critical mass of people their age. But they want to see older people and younger people in their religious institutions, too. They want a way to serve, and many of them want a way to serve sacrificially for longer periods of time. They want the racial and ethnic diversity of their country reflected in their religious community. … They want to feel welcome whether they are single or married. And while they may appear to be experiencing an extended adolescence, when they are given responsibility, they often are inclined to take it.”

Is this refreshing news—or what!?! For religious leaders bemoaning the mass exodus of young adults? Riley’s message is: The opportunity to welcome them back is right there in your hands and in your own timeless mission as congregations.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed the author. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY
ON ‘GOT RELIGION?’

Naomi Schaefer Riley used with the author's permission.

Naomi Schaefer Riley used with the author’s permission.

DAVID: I imagine that many of our readers will be surprised by the conclusions in your book, but I see your work mirroring the No. 1 “Key Takeaway” from Pew’s study of the millennial generation: “Millennials have fewer attachments to traditional political and religious institutions, but they connect to personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups through social and digital media.” Most people reading Pew’s No. 1 point may focus on the final phrase in Pew’s conclusion “through social and digital media.” And Pew is correct in explaining how millions of millennials achieve community through social media. But your book looks past that final phrase to focus squarely on Pew’s main point: Young adults want to connect socially with a community.

NAOMI: Absolutely. My research for this book included going out and finding success stories to the extent they exist. When I went around the country and visited a variety of religious institutions–Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant–I asked the young adults I found there to describe what drew them in. I was surprised that nobody gave me answers involving technology. It wasn’t mentioned as something drawing them in.

What people described was a personal sense of human connection with the community. In New Orleans, when I visited Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I found that the people there focused on where they are—the neighborhood they are in. The pastor there prides himself in saying to visitors: Is there a church that’s closer to your home that you’d rather belong to? You don’t hear that from most religious leaders. He says that because he wants to warn people ahead of time that this church is very focused on the neighborhood. He walks everywhere. The members of the church really like the fact that they run into each other on a daily basis. They like seeing each other in coffee shops and bars and stores.

DAVID: Now, you also make it clear that digital technology is a way of life with young adults and congregations ignore that at their peril. Millions of adults want their congregations to connect in ways that make common sense in their lives today. For example, they want an easy-to-find website with the location and the upcoming schedule. The Redeemer church website provides all of that information on its opening web page. However, you also conclude that Twitter or Facebook “campaigns” aren’t going to bring young adults through the doors.

THE DAILY QUESTIONS:
WHERE ARE YOU?‘ AND, ‘WANT TO GO …?

NAOMI: This focus on Twitter and Facebook among some of the people who are advising congregations is a misunderstanding of how young people think about technology. These are just tools—just a means of meeting other people. Most people are using these tools to say things to other people, like: “Hey, I’m at the Starbucks now. Where are you?” Or: “I’m headed to the bar later. How about you?” Or: “Want to go to the park?”

These tools aren’t magic. What we need to look at more closely is the spontaneous way that young adults use these tools to create human interaction. If you’re a congregational leader and you think that young adults will flock to you because of the coolness of your new technology—you’re missing the point.

DAVID: One of the fascinating examples in your book is called CharlotteONE, and the program’s website also makes it clear that these organizers understand what people really want on a website: the upcoming schedule. As we publish this interview “Upcoming Dates” is the top headline item on CharlotteONE’s website. This Charlotte program is an example of a bunch of local congregations all coming together to produce a “local” event aimed at orienting young adults to local houses of worship.

The program’s website boils the conclusions of your book down to a simple line: “CharlotteONE helps 20-to-30-somethings get connected, make a difference, and find their purpose.” At the moment, they explain: “We are a collaborative effort of nearly 50 local churches to provide young professionals with greater opportunities for establishing significant roots in Charlotte.” This is right in line with the central findings of your book.

NAOMI: One of the big obstacles that religious leaders and communities face in attracting young people is: Where do we find the resources? You have people in the pew now and you have an obligation to serve them. So, how much time and money should you spend on bringing in people who are not there–and who aren’t showing much interest about coming?

So, a group of religious leaders got together in Charlotte and found that they all were throwing up their arms in weariness over trying to create their own individual programs for young adults. Together, they came up with the idea: What would happen if we all contributed to this one big flashy gathering for young adults each week? Sometimes it’s a lecture. Sometimes it’s music.

DAVID: Since your book is about attracting young adults to Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations, we should explain that this particular example is very diverse but the CharlotteONE example is a Christian program. Sponsors include Catholic and mainline and evangelical congregations.

NAOMI: Yes, whatever the program might be in a particular week, this is always a Christian gathering with a Christian theme. But the real focus for the sponsors are these tables they set up representing all of the different churches in the Charlotte area. There are maps to help visitors see the locations. And, as everyone gathers, you’re supposed to walk around and talk to people about what you’re looking for in a church community. Some people might want to find a Catholic church; others might want to find a more evangelical congregation.

Because of its focus, CharlotteONE has an almost 100 percent turnover every few years. It serves as a funnel for young adults to think more about belonging to a church, attending on Sundays and putting down their roots in a local community. One characteristic of the Charlotte area overall is a transitional feel among the young professionals who live and work there. People are moving in, getting new jobs and then, like a lot of young adult life now, people expect to be drifting from job to job, roommate to roommate, friend to friend. CharloteONE is intended to help people put down some roots in the middle of that process.

DAVID: I could see this working in a big, healthy Jewish or Muslim community like the ones in metro-Detroit as well. There might be weekly regional gatherings for young adults co-sponsored by a number of congregations. This could work, of course, with Christian groups just as it does in Charlotte, but I think this is a part of your book that could apply to other faith groups as well.

WHAT DO ‘THEY‘ WANT?
INVITATIONS TO SERVICE

DAVID: Let me ask about another key finding in your report: Congregations nationwide are missing a big opportunity if they don’t reach out to young adults with opportunities for service, either within their own communities or within other needy communities. This is fascinating: You conclude that many young adults today are looking for ways to provide much more significant service—even longer-term sacrificial service. I hope that religious leaders pay close attention to that part of your book.

I know, just from young adults I’ve known in recent years, this certainly is true. They’re not so sure that America has a secure “career path” waiting for them, so they are eager to consider alternative ways to work and provide service. I know a lot of young adults who have considered the Peace Corps, for example. This is very much in line with the big Pew study of “Millennials” that calls this generation: “Confident. Connected. Open to change.” As I read that Pew study, it’s a portrait of a generation open to invitations for service. Your research draws an even more pointed conclusion about this, right?

NAOMI: This is the first generation that has grown up and gone through school with this sense of community service as part of their curriculum. For many people in their 20s, community service actually was a part of their curriculum in high school and college. They don’t need to go the religious route to find opportunities for service, but this possibility of service is an opportunity for religious groups.

DAVID: One amazing point we should stress about your book: You say almost nothing about the religious teachings that should come from houses of worship. You do say a lot about the need for religious leaders to be honest and welcoming and reflective of the diversity in our country. But you really don’t write about theological themes. That’s one reason, I think, that this book can be so successful across faith lines.

NAOMI: That’s right. This book is not about changing your theological outlook. This book is about seeing your church, synagogue or mosque as an institution that needs to figure out how to get the next generation involved. And if you look through the chapters from different religious perspectives, then some things I write about will be more applicable to you than others.

But the most important message here is the importance of face-to-face contact focusing on your neighborhood. Young adults today have one of the lowest rates of car ownership in our history. Young adults want to walk places. Young adults want to know about their neighborhood. Second, young adults need to be treated as adults. Twenty somethings are perfectly capable of being in charge of any number of so-called “adult” issues in your congregation. That’s a point I can’t stress enough. It’s true that these young adults don’t have the traditional markers of adulthood. Many are waiting years to get married. Many may live with their own parents. They may not look like traditional adults to older leaders in religious communities. But they are very capable adults and we need to invite them to lead and to serve.

This really is about talking to young adults and saying: You really are valuable members of our community.

Gayle_Campbell_teaching_kids_in_HondurasCare to read more from …
our own Millennial columnist?

Contributing columnist Gayle Campbell has written several series of OurValues columns about the values that motivate her Millennial generation. If you click here, you’ll find 15 of her columns, grouped into three series, including: “Doing Good,” “5 World-Changing Truths” and “5 Millennial Truths.” In many ways, Gayle’s columns mirror the conclusions drawn in Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book. If you are planning a small-group discussion of Naomi’s book, you may want to include some of Gayle’s columns, as well, which include discussion questions.

Care to see the idea?

Author and columnist Benjamin Pratt shares a vivid greeting card about building strong relationships that he often sends to young couples.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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