Our Holiday Gift Guide

ReadTheSpirit Books Christmas Shopping GuideWhatever your faith, this is the season of gift giving. You might be looking for a Thanksgiving gift to give your host, or perhaps a Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa present—or maybe a year-end/New Year’s gift for a colleague at work. Our team at ReadTheSpirit can heartily recommend anything in our Bookstore.
Today, please consider these gems …

VISUAL PARABLES

We are proud to have the highly respected faith-and-film writer Edward McNulty contributing weekly to our online magazine in the department called Visual Parables. For several decades, McNulty has served as a leading expert in sparking discussions that draw faith-related themes from popular movies. In 2013, McNulty decided to move his vast database of more than 1,000 film reviews into the ReadTheSpirit family of websites. The only thing McNulty sells—the only source of ongoing support for his work—is the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine McNulty has been publishing for many years. This Journal goes beyond the free reviews published online—and, in each issue, adds complete discussion guides to recent films plus other Journal-only “extras.” Lots of clergy, teachers, small-group leaders and film buffs enjoy the Journal.

NOW THROUGH DECEMBER 31, an annual subscription to Visual Parables is on SALE. Order now (before New Year’s Day 2015) and you’ll get $10 off the normal annual subscription rate of $39.95. (Plus, it’s a wonderful way to support the ongoing work of one of America’s highly respected film critics.)

PEACEMAKERS

As a publisher, ReadTheSpirit Books is known for “building healthy communities” and encouraging peacemaking. Two of our most popular books in this effort are Blessed Are the Peacemakers, by global peace trainer Daniel Buttry. Over many years of circling the planet in his work, Buttry has met and worked with many world-famous peacemakers. In this book, he profiles dozens of men, women and children who have risked their lives on the side of peace. Then, University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker’s landmark research on American values has made headlines coast to coast this year. Offering hope while everyone else portrays a deeply divided U.S., Baker’s research concludes that Americans are united by 10 core values. All 10 values are presented—along with intriguing discussion questions—in Baker’s book United America. Got a friend, relative or co-worker who you think will never see eye to eye with you? Baker’s book makes a perfect gift! (You may also enjoy reading Baker’s long-running weekly series, OurValuesand check out Daniel Buttry’s section of our website with many sample chapters from his books, called Interfaith Peacemakers.)

HELPING OTHERS

Millions of men, women and children need help right here in our American communities. Faith Fowler’s This Far By Faith is a wise and funny and inspiring series of true stories about Faith’s well-known ministry in Detroit with poor, disabled and homeless men and women. The book’s many endorsers include Mitch Albom, who writes: “This memoir, like the author herself, is funny, poignant, moving, beautifully staged and oozing with a commitment to a simple yet profound idea: that other people are worth the trouble.”

In addition, 65 million Americans are caregivers for someone they love. One in three American households includes a caregiver. You surely have a caregiver in your circle and this might be something you get for yourself. If you haven’t already ordered a copy of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt’s A Guide for Caregiving—do so right now. The person who receives this gift will be sure to thank you!

LET’S PUT AN END TO BULLYING

An important part of a “healthy community” is the assurance that everyone is welcome to live without fear. So, ReadTheSpirit has been publishing a series of books on themes of anti-bullying and inclusion. Bullying Is No Laughing Matter is a perfect choice if you’ve got a friend or family member wrestling with the challenge of bullying. They might be …

  • A parent or grandparent with school-age children
  • A teacher in public schools or religious schools or Sunday school
  • Teens or ‘tweens who are concerned about the 24/7 onslaught of bullying in social media

You’ll see that a number of people on your shopping list would enjoy our colorful, large-format comic book, Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. If this theme is especially important to you, then you might consider the more complete guidebook to understanding this growing problem: The New Bullying. (You may also enjoy the colorful Bullying Is No Laughing Matter department in our website, which publishes new comic-related “activity guides” each week.)

In addition, ReadTheSpirit has published two books in 2014 about the importance of hospitality toward LGBT men and women in congregations nationwide: A Letter to My Congregation and, new this fall, Changing Our Mind. (You may want to read our latest story about the nationwide interest in Dr. David P. Gushee’s book, Changing Our Mind.)

A LITTLE HUMOR, PLEASE

Laughter—especially warm-hearted humor—is always welcome at the holidays. ReadTheSpirit has two downright funny writers whose stories cover all of life’s challenges. Rabbi Robert Alper is nationally famous as both an accomplished standup comic and a practicing rabbi (he still conducts high holiday services each year). Of course, good humor transcends cultural categories. Alper’s book Thanks I Needed That is a wise and wonderful collection of real-life stories that Alper spins with grace and wit. In addition, Rodney Curtis is sometimes better known by the title of his first memoir, The Spiritual Wandererand his two subsequent books are gaining in popularity, as well. They are humorous looks at how Rodney overcame the twin ills of our age: unemployment and a diagnosis of cancer. The books are called A ‘Cute’ Leukemia and Getting Laid (Off). (You may also enjoy reading Rodney’s popular online series.)

GODSIGNS

One of our most wide-ranging columnists is Suzy Farbman whose GodSigns book and weekly columns explore “Synchronicity, Turning Points and Beyond …” Her memoir GodSigns is the true story of how she overcame a dire diagnosis of cancer. But this is far from a typical “cancer memoir.” Her book is funny, inspiring and courageous as it explores many different directions in her pathway back to health. The book is a perfect gift for anyone worried about a difficult challenge looming ahead in life. The recipient of this gift will come back to give you a warm hug after enjoying Suzy’s adventures. There’s real hope between the covers of this book!

CULTURAL COMPETENCY?

100-QA-Native-American-Large-Book-391x579As our communities and even our own families are becoming more diverse, people want to become more culturally competent—especially educators, health-care professionals, public safety officers—and pretty much anyone whose profession takes them into business and the public square. ReadTheSpirit Books specializes in this important theme with a wide range of books you’ll find in our bookstore. Want to learn more about Judaism? Try Debra Darvick’s This Jewish Life. Want to learn about Islam? Try The Beauty of Ramadan. Our signature series in this genre are the 100 Questions and Answers About … books produced by the MSU School of Journalism. Start right here to learn about the MSU team and many of their books.

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

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Season of Gratitude: An inclusive celebration of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Season of Gratitude in Belfast MaineBy DUNCAN NEWCOMER

Thanksgiving? A feminist plot foisted on President Lincoln by the prominent editor Sarah Hale to augment Washington’s Birthday and the Fourth of July as national holidays for American unity?

Thanksgiving? An Anglo-Protestant tradition from the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony as the dominant national narrative?

Thanksgiving? A Judeo-Christian community event based on the liturgies of harvest blessing and Holy Communion?

Thanksgiving? An American Christian holiday, along with Christmas and Easter, defining our religious heritage and identity?

Thanksgiving? A somewhat meaningful pause for Extreme Travel between the growing outlay of money for a macabre Halloween and the extravaganza of Christmas shopping?

Here in Belfast, Maine, nearly 7,000 of us cling to the mid-coastal Penobscot Bay. As we pause to ponder the November holiday, we probably define ourselves a little bit by all of the above.

But the local minister’s association decided this year not to have a typical ecumenical worship-and-music service for Thanksgiving. Each church, we thought, could have its own meaningful gathering, but the wider community is being invited, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to a Season of Gratitude afternoon potluck supper at the local high school gym.

We might draw 60; we might welcome 200. We’re trying this for the first time in Belfast. We were inspired by the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit initiative from last year. And, we decided to reach out to people who we feel are a part of our community—but we never really see, much less share a common meal.

Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s call for national unity, not necessarily in churches, we are talking with churches who aren’t usually involved in ecumenical dialogue, community service organizations and half-way houses, Buddhist meditation groups, ethnic minority fisherman, and just plain secular people.

Humility, gratitude, shared life, stories, food and presence. That’s our goal.

Lincoln would often make a meal of a single potato or an apple. We will feast more, and the local Co Op and grocery store have made generous contributions. Lincoln also said that even in hard times, like the Civil War, the Most High God does wondrous things, and we also need to be penitential of our national perversities. That’s what he tried to do on that first annual Thanksgiving 151 years ago.

We’ll let you know how it goes.

CARE TO READ MORE?

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Categories: Church GrowthHolidaysPeacemaking

Review: ‘Cold War Road Show’ will make you feel safer now

REVIEW BY DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine

PBS American Experience Cold War Road Show DVD documentaryHere’s something to feel truly thankful for this year! Watch The Cold War Roadshow on PBS’s American Experience this week and you will feel safer about our world in just 1 hour.

Global warming? Ebola? The ruthless armies of ISIS? Sure, they’re all critical global concerns we must address as concerned humans. But half a century ago, American life was transformed by the first visit of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. As a population, “we” lined the streets to see his entourage pass through our nation. What is most remarkable about this? We stood along his motorcade route in stunned silence.

As the documentary about this world-changing 1959 visit explains: Americans were so terrified by the power of this man to touch off a global nuclear war that we didn’t know how to respond.

Khrushchev intended this visit to serve as a full-scale public relations campaign to win over American public opinion. He grinned almost constantly. He showed off his own family and warmly hugged any American children who came within arm’s reach. But his short temper often trumped his charm offensive.

When the mayor of Los Angeles insulted him at a public banquet, Khrushchev exploded. He roared back that Soviet factories were pumping out missiles like sausages and, if Americans wanted to go toe to toe with the USSR, they’d find themselves in a war to end all wars! The film footage from that day shows the mayor’s face going from a confident grin to a jaw-dropping expression of fear at what he had touched off.

One of the best things about this fascinating documentary is the decision by filmmakers Robert Stone and Tim B. Toidze to include interviews with two adults who were children on the front row of this first visit by a Soviet leader to American soil. Susan Eisenhower is Ike’s daughter and now is a highly respected consultant on international commerce. Sergei Khrushchev is the son of the former Soviet leader and an author and consultant as well. These two “kids” provide revealing commentary on what was taking place in that often shocking tour.

One insight? Khrushchev’s son admits that his father had a very short fuse when confronted with insults. At the infamous Los Angeles banquet, when he began boasting about turning out missiles like sausages, the Soviet leader was flat out lying. It was just angry bluster, the son tells us. In fact, the Soviets had produced very few missiles at that point. Of course, that angry exchange left Americans quaking in our boots—and led to increased spying and a dramatic escalation of Cold War confrontations into the early 1960s.

Any American who was a child in that era remembers the “duck and cover” drills we all learned in public schools. This documentary shows a brief clip of the way we did it: Boys and girls all dropping to the floor of our classrooms, crouching under our desks and covering our heads with our hands. Today, the idea seems like the darkest of comedy.

But then, when it comes to global issues right now, Pew reports “Americans don’t care.” Nearly 4 out of 5 Americans told Pew pollsters this year that they want our leaders to focus on domestic issues and stop worrying about global concerns. However, national security remains an almost universal concern and 3 out of 4 Americans told Pew that “preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction” should be a top national priority. However we may balance those two attitudes—Pew reporting does show that Americans are no longer worried about a worldwide nuclear war ending life as we know it. And that certainly wasn’t the case when Khrushchev flew back to Moscow in 1959!

Watching this hour-long snapshot of America’s nuclear anxiety half a century ago is certain to make you feel more thankful this month!

WANT TO SEE THE FILM?

(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: Great With GroupsMovies and TVPeacemaking

The David Gushee Interview on ‘Changing Our Mind’

David P Gushee Changing Our Mind front cover

CLICK THE COVER to visit our Bookstore, learn more about the book and order a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other retailers.

NEWS already is spreading that America’s leading evangelical Christian ethicist, Dr. David P. Gushee, has reversed his traditional opposition to LGBT relationships in a landmark book called, Changing Our Mind. One online news report about his new book racked up 42,000 mentions on Facebook by readers who understand the significance of this new stance by Dr. Gushee.

After 20 books—including the award-winning volume that now is a standard reference book for evangelical leaders, Kingdom Ethics—Dr. Gushee is completely rewriting his ethical and biblical approach to gay and lesbian men and women. The news has been welcomed by families, teachers and religious leaders who realize that traditional evangelical teaching has hurt countless men, women and teens. Predictably, the news also has sparked opposition from traditionalists.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed David P. Gushee about his book. But before we bring you that author interview, here is a convenient outline of other resources you’ll want to consider:

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ETHICIST DR. DAVID P. GUSHEE
ON ‘CHANGING OUR MIND’

CRUMM: Let’s start with the most obvious question: Why now? You are a devout Christian, a serious scholar and you’ve already written enough books to fill a shelf in the library. Now, mid-career, you’ve chosen to reverse yourself on one of the most important issues dividing thousands of churches and millions of families. This is a rare reversal for a scholar of your stature.

In his Foreword to your book, best-selling Christian writer Brian D. McLaren calls this a historic moment and compares your new stance to some others that made headlines. Brian writes: “Older readers will remember when Billy Graham shocked American evangelicals—first, by refusing to segregate his evangelistic crusades, and then, by working with Roman Catholics. Younger readers will remember when Pope Francis shocked Catholics by washing the feet of a Muslim woman, or by refusing to condemn gay Catholics.”

So, David, the first question is: Why now?

Gushee author photo

David P. Gushee

GUSHEE: More with this book than with any other book I’ve written, I have a sense of being carried along by a power that goes beyond me. It’s like these ideas have been germinating underground for a long time.

Now, I feel compelled to do more to address this issue in a public way. I feel that this is the issue of the early 21st century in the way that race was the issue of the 1960s and, in my evangelical world, the way that women’s roles became the issue of the 1980s. By God’s grace, I have evolved into a leader in American Christianity and I feel like I have not met my responsibility up until now to lead on the LGBT issue. Now, I’m ready. It took me a while to get here.

CHRISTIANS ON A JOURNEY

CRUMM: That sense you describe of “being carried along by a power that goes beyond me.” Some of the early endorsers of your book are making this same point. One of the most inspiring, I think, is the strong endorsement by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America from 1994-2011. He calls  your new book “courageous, clear, balanced and … grounded in biblical faith.” And then he writes that your book “will be a challenge to some, an inspiration to others, but a gift to all who find themselves at some point on this journey.”

What he’s saying—and many other Christian leaders are saying, too—is that this is a moment of historic change.

GUSHEE: For a long time as evangelicals we made it impossible for LGBT people to exist around us in an honest way. We allowed no recognized space to be an LGBT Christian. Of course, we know that there are millions of LGBT people in America, but in the spaces we controlled? There seemed to be zero. Of course that means LGBT people were hiding. We were forcing them to remain invisible. That’s a form of marginalization that’s as acute as it gets. We have been saying: In our world, you can’t exist. You can’t exist as a devout Christian. We have been trying to create and enforce environments where it’s impossible for you, as an LGBT man or woman, to exist.

We made people suffer through what we said and taught and, by enforcing this kind of environment where people had to hide, we made people suffer even more.

AN EMERGING JUSTICE ISSUE

CRUMM: One thing that’s important to understand about your response is: You’re not saying, “Well, the culture is changing and we should change, too, to remain relevant.” What’s driving your new work is really an awareness of the suffering that traditionalist Christian preaching and teaching has caused among countless families—not only LGBT men and women but their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

In the opening pages of your new book, Jane Clementi writes about the importance of your book to families who have gay loved ones. Jane and her husband now have co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation after their son Tyler was lost to suicide in the wake of that infamous case of cyber-bullying at Rutgers University. Jane concludes her note to readers this way: “Praise God for patiently guiding each of us to this place of new understanding as God moves the Church into the 21st century.” Unless your heart is made of stone, you’ve got to be moved by the Clementi family story.

So, your critics may accuse you of just surrendering to popular culture—but anyone who reads your book will realize that’s not the case. This is a theme that runs throughout your career as a scholar: In each time and place, we must look for those who are suffering and reach out to help.

GUSHEE: You’re right. Popular culture is not my prime motivation.

The prime motivation in all of my work is to help Christians discern what it means to follow Christ faithfully. Just because culture may be moving in one direction does not mean that we should just go along. My doctoral dissertation was on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust where millions in Germany simply went along with the dominant culture.

This is difficult to discern. Sometimes the culture is leading the way in a good direction; and sometimes culture is moving in a direction where the church should dig in its heels. My book addresses that issue directly: Is this change I am describing a surrender to sexual libertinism in our culture? Or is this an emerging justice issue for Christians who want to faithfully follow Christ? I don’t have any doubts about it anymore. This is an emerging justice issue for Christians who want to be faithful to where Christ is leading us.

I would say at the cultural level, while the conservative branches of the church are losing substantial numbers of people and substantial cultural ground on this issue, the responses I’m hearing from the cultural Right demonstrate they’re digging in their heels in a very strong way. Some on the cultural Right are going to be digging in their heels until the very end.

DISCERNMENT TAKES TIME

CRUMM: As a journalist, I’ve devoted my career to covering religion around the world. I’m fascinated by religious leaders who break with tradition on justice issues. Recently, we published an interview with biographer Charles Marsh about how Dietrich Bonhoeffer became one of the first Christian leaders in Germany to publicly oppose the Nazis—way before other Christian heroes followed his example.

I always wonder: How did these heroic Christian leaders decide to step out into the forefront and take such courageous positions? What fueled their decisions? Another example: I’m fascinated by the life of John Wesley who took decades to figure out that slavery was wrong, that it was a Christian justice issue—but finally Wesley became a leading abolitionist and published a stirring anti-slavery pamphlet in 1774.

GUSHEE: It took me basically 20 years to reach this point: 20 years and 20 books before I reached this point of discernment on this issue.

I think that no human being has the bandwidth to reconsider everything at the same time. John Wesley didn’t. Discernment takes time.

In the context and pace of global change today, it may seem as though we’re reconsidering everything every day. But, as a Christian, you inherit paterns of belief and ways the Bible has been traditionally interpreted on dozens and dozens of issues—money, environment, war, human relations, on and on—and something has to arrive in our lives to crack open a settled pattern of interpretation. Usually that takes the form of a transformative experience with people who are negatively affected by that traditional pattern of interpretation. If we encounter the humanity affected and suffering because of a particular pattern of teaching—then our lives begin to crack open and there is space to reconsider.

If you’re a Protestant, then the Bible is your main authority in life. And, if you’re an evangelical, you want to be sure you have a solid biblical base to your thinking. So, I needed to revisit the Bible passages that have been the main cluster of passages raised when this issue is discussed in evangelical circles.

When I began that careful study, I realized that I should have been clued into the flaws in the traditional analysis long ago. None of the passages cited in the traditional arguments about gay and lesbian relationships is a central passage on which we as Christians normally base our lives. Think about what we consider central as Christians: passages like John 3:16 and the parables of Jesus and Jesus’s own teachings. So, I should have realized that there were flaws in that traditional biblical analysis when it rests on passages like the one in Leviticus. Where else in contemporary life do Christians quote Leviticus as a guide for daily living? Yes, there are a couple of passages in the New Testament that are often cited as well, but they’re not the core passages of the Bible on which we rely every day.

The more I studied this, the more I realized: What a disaster! We have allowed a traditionalist reading of a small cluster of relatively marginal passages in the Bible to trump the heartbeat of Christian morality, which is based on the teachings of Jesus. I feel the scales have fallen from my eyes on this. I’m saying we need to treat LGBT people like Jesus commanded us to treat everybody we meet.

A HUMBLE APOLOGY

CRUMM: I was moved by your book, especially the final chapter. You close this book with a humble apology “to those who have been hurt by my prior teaching and writing on the LGBT issue.”

And that passage made me look back earlier in your career to the years of research you conducted into courageous Holocaust rescuers—men and women who now are called “righteous gentiles.” These people risked their lives, and many actually died, because they were convinced that they should reach out and help the suffering during the Shoah.

I  pulled off my shelf your book, based on those years of research, titled, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation. And, toward the end of that book you write: “Most rescuers … believe that their actions were in fact both morally obligatory and not especially commendable. Their obligation to help Jews seemed perfectly clear to them, and from their perspective a person deserves no praise for fulfilling an obvious obligation.”

Now, years after first publishing that book, you’re publishing Changing Our Mind and you close this new book on a similar note. You’re not asking people to praise you as a great hero. You’re humbling yourself at the end of this book. You’re publishing this book because it’s the right thing to do.

To echo a famous evangelical line: Here you stand; you can do no other.

GUSHEE: I’m really glad you discovered that quote in Righteous Gentiles. You’re right, I was deeply shaped by that research. I spent three years day and night reading about rescuers and researching in Holocaust archives—immersing myself in all of these hidden stories. That was my dissertation and the deepest I thought I’d ever go on researching any topic. Studying these rescuers set my course. I have been attempting to live up to what I learned from them ever since.

I’ve often talked about trying to follow a “rescuer Christianity” rather than a “bystander Christianity” or—even worse—a “perpetrator Christianity.” So, yes, I totally resonate with that quote you just read.

What I’m trying to do is to let Christians know: Here’s an idea. Treat gay and lesbian people just like you’d treat anyone else. Welcome them. Show them hospitality. That’s what we as Christians are supposed to do for everyone. This isn’t rocket science.

And, I don’t deserve praise for having taken 20 years to figure this out. Now that I have, I plan to stand in solidarity with the people we have made to suffer for so long—for the rest of my career. It is the least that I can do.

(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 InterviewsChildren and FamiliesChurch GrowthGreat With Groups

Why David P. Gushee represents hope for the Church

By KEN WILSON
author of A Letter To My Congregation

A Letter to My Congregation cover with Ken Wilson

Click the image to learn more about Ken Wilson and his book, which includes an opening written by David P. Gushee.

David Gushee is arguably the preeminent Evangelical ethicist of our time. Until this book, that is, which is more than a book. It is an event and it is one that will propel Gushee outside the camp of approved Evangelical scholars.

But this is where Jesus did his best work. It is the place where the gospel first happened for all people. Gushee’s book will draw many Evangelicals to find Jesus outside the camp with his vulnerable gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender followers, those who have suffered in exile for a very long time.

The thing you will notice in Changing Our Mind, beyond the faithful scholarship, is Gushee’s voice. Words do matter and the thoughts they convey. But the good shepherd is known primarily by his voice. Gushee’s voice is by turns warm, pastoral, prophetic, irenic, careful, authoritative, humble, sorrowful, repentant and even occasionally funny.

Gushee’s new book is a great read.

But his mission is deadly serious. Gushee is out to save the lives of people living with the stigma of sexual minority status. And he is out to save the soul of the Evangelical church, so that it can be good news for all people again.

I met David at a retreat sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals in 2006. Five years later, I was on a writing retreat—gathering my troubled and troubling thoughts on a way to fully include people in same-sex relationships in the church. I had just finished reading Gushee’s Kingdom Ethics and found the few pages on homosexuality wanting. Those pages didn’t live up to the approach to ethics that Gushee and his co-author presented in the book. With trepidation (Who was I to criticize Gushee in his own field?) I told him so. And to my surprise, he responded with what I now know to be characteristic humility.

He said, “I’m rethinking that section too.”

That’s when I knew that evangelicals are able to—and will—change their minds on this issue for the sake of the gospel. That’s when I felt hope for the evangelical church—that guided by our passion for the gospel, we could find a better way. Today I am aware of several evangelical churches in the dicey, messy, difficult process of changing their minds on this issue.

When I telephoned Gushee that day, I couldn’t imagine such a thing. When I hung up the phone, I could.

So read this book—but only if you are willing to venture outside the camp of modern-day evangelicalism for the sake of the gospel. There you will enjoy sweet fellowship with Jesus that is available nowhere else. And you will discover again the thrill inherent in the goodness, the sheer, stupefying goodness of the gospel for all people.

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Categories: Children and FamiliesChurch GrowthGreat With Groups

Miller Elementary School builds a ‘Fence of Friends’

Teacher Krista Jewett and Principal Aimee Bell at Miller school lead an anti-bullying assembly

USING VISUAL AIDS TO PREVENT BULLYING: At a Miller Elementary School assembly, teacher Krista Jewett (left in gray sweater) and principal Aimee Bell (at right) work with groups of children to discuss the best responses when bullying arises.

Hundreds of children agree:
Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

By DAVID CRUMM, Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“I was lonely, when I first came to Miller as a teacher. I didn’t know anyone! I was new here. I didn’t have any friends,” music teacher Mary Manier told hundreds of children in two assemblies at Miller Elementary School in Canton, Michigan. Behind her was a huge screen displaying the simple outline of a picket fence. Inside that outline were sketches of smiling people holding hands.

Miller teacher Mary Manier shows how to form a Fence of Friends

‘FENCE OF FRIENDS’ BEFORE & AFTER: In this photo, Miller Elementary music teacher Mary Manier talks about arriving at the school and meeting her first new friend. In the photo below, Mary Manier’s story ends with a long ‘Fence of Friends.’ (Photographs by Becky Hile for www.ReadTheSpirit.com)

“But do you know what happened on my first day? Someone greeted me and that made me feel a lot better,” Mary Manier said, inviting that first friendly teacher to walk to the front of the assembly, stand beside her and link arms to show their friendship. Then, Manier recalled a series of simple, kind actions by other teachers—and invited them to stand side by side. Soon, teachers had formed a long “Fence of Friends.”

Then, Manier turned to the hundreds of children sitting in rows on the gymnasium floor. “You all have people who care about you, too. You all have friends. Who is in your Fence of Friends?”

The school is racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, posing an ongoing cross-cultural challenge to the school staff. This year, the entire school—children, teachers, office staff and even janitors—are helping the children to understand how to build safe relationships at Miller. A school-wide survey of students alerted the staff that some children were anxious about the possibility of bullying. No major incidents have surfaced, but Principal Aimee Bell and her colleagues want to be proactive.

In early October, Bell, Manier and 4th grade teacher Krista Jewett invited me, as the head of ReadTheSpirit Books, to brainstorm ideas for engaging children in the effort. ReadTheSpirit publishes two helpful books: Michigan State University’s The New Bullying (for parents and teachers) and also Bullying Is No Laughing Matter (for adults to use with kids).

Miller teacher Mary Manier completes her Fence of FriendsThe Miller team especially liked the “Fence of Friends” activity, based on the Dennis the Menace comic strip. That activity guide is one of many that we provide in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website.

Last week, Miller held two assemblies, separating the students by age. The assembly for older students was longer and involved more talks by teachers, student skits produced by Krista Jewett’s students and brief videos on the big screen. The assembly for younger kids was geared for a shorter attention span. The high point for both groups was Mary Manier—with help from the school’s faculty—demonstrating the Fence of Friends.

“In the next week or so, you’re all going to get a chance to draw your own Fence of Friends,” Aimee Bell told the students.

The staff has duplicated hundreds of fence outlines on 8-by-11 paper, awaiting these student drawings. Teachers know that some students immediately will fill their fences with sketches of friends. Other children will sit quietly with a nearly empty fence. That’s when teachers will encourage students to look at the drawings that are emerging around the classroom—and students will be invited to “draw themselves in” to those fences that are still quite empty. In doing so, children commit themselves to being good friends for others throughout the school year.

During the assembly, Aimee Bell and Krista Jewett often turned the microphone to the children to get their responses. They asked: “Why is this so important?”

A boy named James said, “If somebody wants to bully you—you have someone to guard you.”

A girl named Julia said, “You know someone will stand by your side—they’re part of your fence.”

Through their short talks, student skits and short videos, the Miller staff stressed the nationally accepted definition of bullying (that definition is included in the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter book), then they demonstrated several strategies kids can use for quickly responding, and also they emphasized the need to alert adults if bullying persists.

Aimee Bell closed the assemblies by encouraging the students: “We’re going to talk a lot about how to respond to bullying this year. Now, we all know what bullying is—and we all know what to do when we see it.”

As children make their own Fence of Friends drawings in coming weeks, Miller teachers plan to post those drawings side-by-side to form a very long Fence of Friends around the walls of the school.

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Categories: Children and FamiliesGreat With Groups

Welcoming scholar and journalist Ken Chitwood to ‘Faith Goes Pop’

Click this snapshot of Ken's department to actually visit Faith Goes Pop.

help us welcome our newest ReadTheSpirit columnist Ken Chitwood! You can do that immediately by engaging in Ken’s creative invitation to share your own “Faith Pop.”

WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT? Ken Chitwood is a multi-talented journalist, scholar and “public theologian.” Ken’s work is global. In recent years, he lived and worked in South Africa and New Zealand; his online columns have appeared in news sites from the Houston Chronicle to Religion News Service; and, at the moment, he is working toward a doctorate at the University of Florida and has moved to Gainesville with his wife Elizabeth.

CHECK OUT HIS NEW HOMEThis week, Ken Chitwood takes the helm at the ReadTheSpirit department called Faith Goes Pop. That’s where Ken posted his “Faith Pop” invitation to all of our readers.

Ken explains his approach to this new work in another column headlined, “Faith Goes Pop?” That column opens with a photo of music superstar Taylor Swift and says in part: “The Faith Goes Pop portal will continue to take a bold foray into the unknown and untamable intersections between, and manifestations of, religion and popular culture. … As we can readily see, the possibilities are endless.”

Please, make time this week to visit Faith Goes Pop for a glimpse of these creative possibilities! Yes, you can play a direct, creative role—and help us all with our mission of “building healthier communities” while you’re at it. How can you resist? You can have fun—and perform a good deed—at the same time.

David Crumm interviewed Ken Chitwood about his debut in Faith Goes Pop.
Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KEN CHITWOOD
ON ‘FAITH GOES POP’

DAVID: Ken, I’ve devoted decades of my life to journalism that explores the impact of religion in our world and I have to say: In this very difficult field of writing—you’re so creative! A breath of fresh air. I’m going to start this interview by showing readers how you took part in a real-life #EmojiResearch project and created an emoji-studded Tweet that explains the work that you do. Here it is:

Ken Chitwood's Emojiresearch tweet

Tell us about this. I must have spent 10 minutes pondering this elegant little Tweet. (And, by the way, our readers can follow your Twitter posts here.)

KEN: I saw an article about academics trying to express their research work using emojis. (Here’s a Chronicle of Higher Education version of that article.) My wife and I use emojis all the time when we message each other. So, when I saw that article, I thought: Why not try to express the research I’m doing using emojis? I saw some of the examples by scientists and mathematicians and historians but no one had tried an emoji description of research in religion.

It’s been fun to see how people interpret what I did.

DAVID: That’s part of the fun. The pictures make it open to interpretation.

KEN: Yes. For example, I chose an emoji that encompasses religion in general—two hands clasped together. But some people interpret that as “prayer,” and asked me if I meant to say that I study just prayer. It opens up some interesting conversations.

DAVID: This week, as you debut at the helm of the multi-media Faith Goes Pop column, you’ve got a similarly creative challenge for all of our readers. You want people to “Show me your ‘Faith Pop!’” Tell us more about that.

KEN: The main idea is that I don’t want to see my own voice all alone in this adventure. I want people to have fun and explore with me. I’m saying: Come on! I’m calling this a “bold foray” and I hope people will join with me. I want people to use Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or Facebook—whatever they prefer—and show us where they see faith going “pop” in the world around them.

Whatever they post, I want them to use the hashtag: #FaithGoesPop

KEN CHITWOOD: IT’S FUN … AND SO IMPORTANT, TOO!

Ken Chitwood author photo Faith Goes Pop

KEN CHITWOOD

DAVID: This work you’re doing is fun. But it’s so important, too. You like to quote Stephen Prothero on this: “Teaching about religion is bound to be controversial, but so is ignoring it.”

Not only is this a key to any hope for world peace, it’s also an eye-opening way to learn about ourselves and our families, co-workers and neighbors. You write: “When religion and culture meet, this intersection … tends to be where our convictions are discovered or displayed.”

KEN: I’m an educator. I teach and write about religion. One thing you quickly notice when you do this kind of work is—things can get controversial. People may be elated by what you’re writing or teaching, if they’re supportive of what you’re doing, but you also can experience humanity at its worst if people perceive what you’re doing as challenging their beliefs. This kind of writing and teaching does challenge concepts, but I believe we can do this in a bold and exciting way, and even in a way that includes a bit of good humor. Our goal is to learn about each other. We become stronger as a community when we appreciate our diversity.

So, FaithGoesPop is predominantly about places in popular culture where we see a mixing and matching going on with religion. The way we react to that experience can reveal a lot about our own beliefs. In the classroom, I start teaching by bringing in headlines—or some new thing I’ve found in popular culture that connects with religion in some way—because that really gets people talking.

In these conversations, people are much more likely to share from their hearts. Yes, this can be contentious at times, but most often this is wonderful. It’s fun. We all learn about each other and we grow from the experience.

‘A Safe Place’

DAVID: We have some extensive experience in this field, thanks to the sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker who created The OurValues Project. Over the past seven years, Dr. Baker has shown that civil dialogues are possible, even when the topic is a hot-button issue torn from the week’s headlines. The keys to maintaining a civil dialogue are: inviting readers to participate with us, moderating the responses so that readers are not allowed to personally attack each other—and, in general, maintaining a safe place to creatively discuss different points of view.

I’m confident we’ll have a creative and exciting experience with Faith Goes Pop. But let me push you a little further on this question. You’re actually a Christian clergyman: Among your many accomplishments, you graduated from a Lutheran seminary and you’re an ordained minister. But, I’ve read a lot of your columns in other publications and you always maintain the journalist’s values of accuracy and balance. You may push readers with your news analysis—or occasionally with humor—but you’re writing from a balanced point of view.

Is that a difficult point of view to maintain?

KEN: I’ve always been very interested in diverse religious communities, since I was a boy growing up in Los Angeles. I was surrounded by diversity and I have always sought understanding among people. I was never someone who wanted to just label a group—and then avoid it. I always wanted to learn the stories, share the stories and have fun experiencing the diverse traditions of the people who live around us. Today, anyone can learn about other cultures and faiths, if you care to do that. I want to encourage more people to learn about diversity.

I am Christian. I am Lutheran and did go to seminary and that education is invaluable in grounding me in my own faith tradition. Now, at the University of Florida, I am studying religion in a trans-national, global way. In my own journey, for example, I’ve become very interested in Islam, which I think is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. And I always am looking for diverse ways that these global traditions are experienced today. For example, you might find me writing about a Latino Muslim community in New Mexico, which is the kind of story that people don’t expect.

I have encountered people who ask: Why are you as a Christian studying other religions? Or they might ask me, after a particular column about Islam: Why are you writing so positively about Muslims? But I do this work because, as Stephen Prothero says, we must increase our religious literacy. I see that as part of God’s work in the world.

‘Theologian without borders’

DAVID: You call yourself “a theologian without borders.”

KEN: That’s true. I’m always looking for those places where the global becomes local—and the local becomes global. I’m not the creator of the term “glocal,” but I like that word. It’s an important idea in today’s world. We need to remember that we all have so much to learn.

I’m willing to go anywhere and learn from anyone to understand more fully how faith is playing a role in our world. I’m always looking for unusual connections. I want to know what it means to be a Christian in Kenya, or a Muslim in Mexico, or a Hindu in South Africa. I want to know how faith is shaping our world—as well as the place where we’re each living today.

I really do hope that readers will accept my invitation and agree to help me explore.

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

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