Journey through Lent with inspiring guide James Martin SJ

COVER_Seven Last Words by Father James Martin

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

Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine

As Lent begins this week, millions of Americans will turn their weekly Bible reading toward the end of Jesus’s life as these Christians spend 40 days preparing themselves spiritually for the celebration of Easter.

For many centuries, the Lenten season has been an annual quest for repentance and reconciliation, which includes such disciplines as prayer and fasting—although, today, rigorous fasting is mainly in Eastern Orthodox branches of the faith. But this kind of annual spiritual purification and renewal is a tradition far larger than the 2 billion people around the world who call themselves Christian. It’s a human desire that cuts across religious lines. Each year, Jews reflect and seek reconciliation before and during their High Holy Days; Muslims set their spiritual lives in order during the fasting month of Ramadan; other world religions have similar reflective periods. The homecoming tradition of the Chinese New Year, accompanied by reflection and renewal with deep spiritual roots, is considered the world’s largest annual human migration.

“As humans, we have an innate desire to learn more about God, to reflect on the meaning and purpose of our lives—and to discover how we can live out that journey in community. As humans we share this—we have this yearning to know God and to feel that we are a part of a community. These are natural, human desires,” says Jim Martin SJ, the best-selling Jesuit author and journalist.

After publishing many very popular, longer-format inspirational books, Martin is publishing a short, small volume for Lent 2016: Seven Last Words—An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus.

We have fresh evidence from the Pew Research Center that Martin’s assumptions are correct. Based on a massive series of interviews with 35,000 Americans, Pew now reports: In recent years, Americans are becoming more active in prayer, Bible reading and small religious groups. What’s more, Pew reports that Americans are wrestling on a deeper level with basic spiritual questions. More people now say that they regularly have experienced a deep sense of wonder and awe about the universe. And, 55 percent of Americans say they are thinking about the meaning and purpose of life.

Martin chuckles for a moment. “I have to say: I hope the other 45 percent of Americans stop and think about the meaning and purpose of life—at least at some point!”

Then, he concludes, “This is good news from Pew. And the findings don’t surprise me because I know we have a natural desire to know and explore more about God. We have this curiosity about the meaning and purpose of life. Have you heard this saying? ‘That which you seek—is seeking you.’ That’s how God draws us closer as we draw closer to God.”

Why did Pew find this upswing across the board in these spiritual experiences? Martin says, “Perhaps it’s getting easier for people to talk about these things. Thirty years ago, the word ‘spirituality’ was more confusing for a lot of people—but now we’ve embraced that word. You can say you’re a spiritual person and people respect that now.”

AUTHOR PHOTO_Father James Martin_credit NutopiaSo, this book Seven Last Words comes at a perfect moment in American culture. The text is based on a series of sermons that Martin preached on Good Friday, during Holy Week in 2015, at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral at the invitation of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. As we move through these pages as readers, we can almost hear Martin talking to us about Jesus’s deep concern for each of us.

The clear message throughout this new book is a reminder that Jesus, while he lived on earth, was human. That experience, which was agonizing in the final days of Jesus’s life, makes the divine Jesus in Christianity a true source of “friendship” for each of us.

“Many Christians forget that Jesus, in our tradition, is fully human and fully divine,” Martin says. “We say those are the two natures of Jesus and we also say that’s a mystery we can never completely understand—fully human and fully divine. But, a lot of Christians tend to move toward the divine idea and they forget about the human part of Jesus. So, when we think of what happened on Good Friday to Jesus, on the cross for hours that day, we often lessen people’s understanding of the real suffering he went through.

“In this book, I’m reminding readers that Jesus was a human being and he suffered during Good Friday. And more than that, Jesus had a whole range of human experiences throughout his life. He saw people die. He was tired after a long day’s work. He was frustrated with the disciples. I imagine he may have sprained an ankle, banged himself with a hammer while he was working as a carpenter, probably had the flu.

“Why is this so important to remember? Because understanding that Jesus was fully human and experienced all of these things helps to lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus. As Christians, we’re praying to someone who understands what we’re experiencing–because he experienced these things himself.”

The majority of this short book is organized by the traditional “Seven Last Words of Jesus,” which actually are seven different things that Jesus is recorded in the four Gospels as having said while on the cross. The sayings are sprinkled through the books of Luke, John and Matthew, but Christians have organized them through the centuries to begin with Jesus’s expression of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The seven sayings also include Jesus’s affirmation that there is a heavenly afterlife, concern for Jesus’s mother and even an expression of his own suffering: “I thirst.”

While the subject may seem somber and even horrific—the book reads as though Father Martin were sitting in your living room with a cup of tea talking about Jesus’s compassionate concern for each of us. Readers will walk away from each chapter feeling hopeful—and, often, feeling a renewed commitment to help others in our world.

“The chapter on Jesus saying, ‘I thirst,’ is a good example. That tells us that Jesus experienced human, physical needs. And I hope from that jumping-off point, people will think about the physical needs of people all around the world. I point out in that chapter that many people in the developing world are suffering from a lack of clean water to this day,” Martin says.

And that was before the Flint, Michigan, water crisis became international news. In this Lenten season, many Churches across Michigan are contributing money and resources to help neighborhoods in Flint where children have been poisoned by lead from poorly treated river water.

“When I wrote that chapter, I was referring to the global need for clean water—but, this year, I’m sure that will make many readers think of places like Flint, Michigan, when they hear Jesus’s words again: ‘I thirst.’ Of course churches are concerned about this—it’s part of the great tradition of understanding that people are the body of Christ alive in the world today.”

Reflecting on that chapter, there are larger questions readers should ponder, Martin points out. “As I read about what happened in Flint, there clearly was a callousness and indifference to the suffering there by the people in power in Michigan. And, when we learn of cases where the wealthy and powerful set aside the needs of an entire segment of the population because they are poor, we are witnessing the same kind of social evil that contributed to Jesus’s crucifixion.”

But Martin’s book is not a political campaign. Other than raising the spiritual issues from Jesus’s final utterances—and encouraging readers to follow the questions that naturally arise—Martin’s book keeps coming back to the central point: Yes, Christians believe Jesus is divine—but, because he also was human, Jesus’s compassion is deeper than we may expect.

“My fondest hope is that this book helps people to know that Jesus understands us,” Martin says. “And he understands us not only because he’s fully divine–but also because he experienced all the things we go through as human beings. I hope this provides a fresh invitation to friendship with jesus. Those seven last words as uttered on good Friday are privileged access to that truth.”

Care to read more?

Our ReadTheSpirit bookstore also offers many inspiring choices for Lenten reading.

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Introduce children you love to President Abraham Lincoln

President Lincoln From Log Cabin to White House by Demi (1)

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

Lincoln scholar, author and broadcaster

How important can a children’s book about a president be? Ask Abraham Lincoln.

Short of asking the sixteenth president, history speaks for Lincoln and tells us that Parson Weems’ famous biography of George Washington molded young Abe’s idea of America and what a person can become.

Our presidents help us to show and tell our children who we are. Children, even four to eight year olds, surely are aware these days that another president is about to be chosen.

This new book, President Lincoln: From Log Cabin to White House by the award-winning author of over 130 books, named Demi, is a beauty. It is worthy of the almost sacred mission: to tell the children who Lincoln was.

a-page-from-President-Lincoln book by Demi and Wisdom TalesThe illustrations attract and are bold. The words, including framed short quotes of Lincoln, are clear and memorable. Remember this may well be a youngster’s very first knowledge of Lincoln.

The quality of red color that the publisher, Wisdom Tales, achieved will make this book an emotional favorite for the young who will hold it in their hands. For ages 4 through 8 it is a read-to-me and then a let-me-read-and-look book.

Look they will, as will you.

I was struck not only by the reds but with how many images of open hands are pictured. Lincoln himself opens and closes the book, draped in a huge American flag. With the White House off in the middle distance he is waving open-handed toward the future, looking down the road, looking as he always did out towards yonder. A child would want and hope to be one of those who he is straining to see. He seems to want to find them and to wave them into the American story.

His raised arm says, “I’m still here, come see for yourself!”

Another word about the art. You may remember the flannel boards from Sunday School. They were made up of independent images just kind of stuck there in the midst of supporting objects. Many of the illustrations here are like the old flannel board, both inviting and imaginative. On one page Little Lincoln is out among the deer and the birds at his mother’s grave stone, or, on another, he is unpacking a barrel with books brought by his step mother, Sarah, or he is seen steering a raft down the river. These are iconic images. Your imagination, your child’s imagination, will fill in the picture. As totems in a collage they tell the story with atmosphere, not information, like music might. They will float from your mind’s eye to your heart.

The book is also a resource. Well-planned, and accurate about the high points of his legendary life, it also includes at the end a map of the country in1861, a page with the Gettysburg Address, a chronology of his life, a page of “Fascinating Facts,” things you might not know about Lincoln such as a “Family Man with Animals,” and a wonderful collection of “Famous Quotes” about “Education, Work, Slavery,” and more.

This book includes several things that tell us why we need another book on Lincoln. There are two pages that tell the story of slavery and they feature African American images. Most unique is the representation of the Massachusetts 54th regiment and their historic (and tragic) charge of Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Demi tells us that almost 200,000 African American men fought for the Union cause. She also gives us a page for the newly re-emphasized role that Lincoln played by giving us Thanksgiving as a national holiday, as well as telling us about the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Children can have their movies lined up for them after reading this book. The film “Glory” is about the 54th Massachusetts regiment, and “Lincoln” is about the 13th Amendment.

Unfortunately the value of the Gettysburg Address is lost here in the main text. While it is reprinted fully in the treasure chest at the end of the book, that is not likely to grab a child’s attention. When the Address is mentioned Demi fails to say anything about the idea of equality, or memory for those who suffered, the rebirth of the nation, or the cause of government of, by, and for the people. Her puzzling sentence is that this famous speech at Gettysburg, “restated the need of the war and the importance of keeping the country together.” I would not say that was the value of that speech, nor will a child connect to those values from her vague mention of the event. This is a real shame because in many other places Demi so wisely features Lincoln as a speaker and gives us a memory-framed quote such as one from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. From the First Inaugural she frames his saying that we must not be enemies.

Children can forever associate those pictures with the words framed. Demi missed a chance to make a memory for a child with the Gettysburg Address or from the Second Inaugural where there is a picture of the Capitol but no words such as “With malice toward none and charity for all…” Another wonderful child-friendly line could have been framed where Lincoln calls us to care for them “who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” Demi merely mentions that there were cheering crowds and military bands. Those family-based words are found later in the back of the book with the interesting fact that they appear at the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington, D.C.. Children of veterans will like to know that. But to me these are mysterious lapses in an otherwise splendidly stitched quilt of historical words and pictures.

It is worth comparing this rich and beautiful book with the 1940 Caldecott Medal winner Abraham Lincoln by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire. Their book is meant for the older young person. But as artists and writers they set a stand for beauty and clarity that Demi’s book rises toward. The d’Aulaires images also have the iconic array of visual symbols for the child’s mind to forever remember. Their sources were Norwegian Folk Art and I believe Demi’s book follows in that tradition. They also were so intent on color and beauty that they used stone lithography, sometimes making etches five times for five colors on stones weighing 50 to 100 pounds. They also went out camping in the natural settings of Lincoln’s childhood. Lincoln became for them, as I am sure for Demi and the people at Wisdom Tales, like a “warm and kind and generous relative who had moved right into our studio with us.”

This is the spirit of Lincoln that continues to swell among us and to be inspirational for us. In the d’Aullaier’s time it was Hitler, they said, who was destroying everything they, and we, held as valuable, “what we had been taught to stand up for as right.” So, too, in our time, there is the danger of evil forces flooding out the memory and the value of Lincoln. That, as well as our coming choice of a new President, makes the value of this book particularly and poignantly relevant. Demi’s book ends with a hope about our future. She does not end with the just the death of Lincoln, but rather with an image of the Lincoln Memorial, and how it arose to stand for courage and for freedom.

Lincoln once said that, “My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.” Now my granddaughter is just three. So I am looking forward to next year when maybe I can become her new best friend and give her this wonderful book by Demi and Wisdom Tales.

Want to learn more?

Duncan Newcomer is hosting a radio spot on in Maine called “Quiet Fire: The Spiritual Life of Abraham Lincoln” and teaching the “Idea of America” for Colonial Williamsburg at Senior College in Belfast. He is the author of a book on Lincoln’s spiritual life as well as a spiritual autobiography, “Desperately Seeking Mary.” He has a practice  for Spiritual Direction and continues to preach as well as to write.
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Celebrate Black History Month by confronting racism with … information

100 Questions and Answers about African AmericansBy JOE GRIMM
Michigan State University School of Journalism

The absence of diversity in #OscarsSoWhite is a symptom. A new guide, out for Black History Month, looks at the wider, longer story.

It is 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.

As Oscars, street demonstrations, campus protests and studies show, we have a long way to go on race relations. Many people just have a hard time understanding where others are coming from.

Part of the problem could be that we just don’t know each other very well.

The Public Religion Research Institute asked people about their closest networks in 2013. About 75 percent of White Americans said all their closest confidants were White. About 65 percent of Black respondents said all their confidants were African American. Among Hispanics, the number was 46 percent.

In the Michigan State University School of Journalism, classes of students have been trying to take make cross-cultural conversations less awkward. Here is the class that produced this new book …

African Americans staff photo web rez

Students start this process by asking people what questions they get about themselves, or wish others knew the answers to. Then, the guides answer those common questions. The students hope that these guides answer baseline questions people are curious about, but might be reluctant to ask because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or offend others.

100 Questions and Answers About African Americans answers potentially awkward questions:

• Should I say Black or African American?
• Why is slavery still an issue for some people?
• Why is it that White people can’t say the n-word, but some Black people do?
• What is the Black National Anthem?
• Do Black people get sunburns?

The guide answers some common misperceptions:
• Is it true there are more Black men in prison than in college?
• Are African Americans the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action?
• Does most federal food assistance go to African Americans?
• Did Abraham Lincoln end slavery?

And the guide explains achievement in rising educational and health levels, high voter turnout and accomplishments in science, technology and the arts.

This guide, the ninth in the MSU series, includes videos to answer questions about Black hair and African American fraternities. This is the first guide to use a motion graphic to explain the complicated story of wealth disparities. You can watch it here:

This guide, available in print or digital editions, was one of the most challenging to make in this long series our students have been producing at Michigan State. It was difficult because race issues run deep and because, like many campuses, Michigan State had demonstrations about racial inequity while the students were creating the guide. That was the backdrop for their work. As the professor, I think this made the guide sharper and I was impressed with the way the students treated each other.

Come on … take action …

Order your copy of this new book today.

Joe Grimm is editor of the series and visiting editor in residence in the MSU school of Journalism.

The authors of this guide are Michigan State University students Michelle Armstead, Brian Batayeh, Kelsey Block, Victoria Bowles, Paige Boyd, Stacy Cornwell, Kiana Elkins, Lilliana Forti, Brittany Holmes, Rachel Linnemann, Stephanie Hernandez McGavin, Veronica Muñoz, Cayden Royce, Danielle Schwartz, Caitlin Taylor and Rashad Timmons.

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Diana Butler Bass on ‘Grounded: Finding God in the World’

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Diana Butler Bass cover of Grounded Finding God in the World

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

Nobody thinks about water.

Until there’s no more.

Or, until—as is the case in the poor neighborhoods of Flint, Michigan—the tap water is poisoned. In that kind of crisis, we suddenly think a lot about water, because the only fresh water comes in plastic containers toted home by Moms and Dads—just as water is painstakingly fetched in countless indigenous communities around the world.

But one of the deep spiritual truths that undergirds all of us is our connection with water. “Throughout human history, the quest for God has often been connected with a quest for fresh water,” Diana Butler Bass writes in her new book, Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution.

It’s a truth in all world faiths, Bass tells us, and especially for Jews and Christians:

The Bible begins with the deep, when God’s spirit sweeps over the waters. From wind and the seas comes all of creation. For Christians, the Bible also ends with water: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” The final scene in the book of Revelation is the river of God, the water that heals and washes away all sorrow. … Water in the beginning, water at the end. God is the Alpha and Omega of the wells, rivers and seas.

Are you surprised by that passage from her new book? If you are familiar with Bass’s long and distinguished career as a historian, then you know that she has been a specialist in the history of Christianity and has adapted those insights into consulting with congregations. Compared with her past volumes, this book unfolds in a powerful new blend of prose and personal reflection. She moves seamlessly from scholarly observation—to active participation in finding spiritual awakenings in everyday life.

And Bass freely admits: She didn’t even think about water until a long-time friend coached her to spend a day along the banks of the Potomac River near her home.

She didn’t want to do it! She told her friend: “That’s not interesting. The Potomac is so polluted. Ugly, really.”

Her friend insisted: “You should write there some mornings. Take a journal and work at a bench along the river. It might change your perspective.”


And therein lies at least one major spark of the “Spiritual Revolution” she’s talking about in the sub-title of her new book—a book so different from her past work that she calls it “the first book of the second half of my life.”

Intrigued? Go ahead and click on the book cover to order a copy from Amazon. This book is full of spiritual themes that Bass will be talking about nationwide this year. (Here’s a recent sermon she preached at the National Cathedral.)

Consider this: This new year, 2016, already is shaping up as a year when Americans will be talking about the nature of water coast to coast. Just yesterday, the poisoned water in Flint Michigan was the main front-page story in the Sunday New York Times. There’s already extensive Wikipedia coverage of that crisis, complete with more than 100 citations. And this is just one of many water crises emerging in America—droughts, cut-offs of water service in many poor neighborhoods, toxic leakages into our sources of fresh water, on and on.

So, the “Water” section in this new book is prophetic—speaking urgent truths about the emerging state of our world. Throughout this new book, you’ll be intrigued by what Bass tells us about discovering a new, stronger, “grounded” spirituality in equally prophetic chapters with titles such as Dirt, Water, Sky, Roots, Home, Neighborhood and Commons.

What’s more—you’re likely to find yourself doing some of the things she does in this book—like her pilgrimage to the riverside.


She opens the book with two quotes:

The whole universe is God’s dwelling. Earth, a very small, uniquely blessed corner of that universe, gifted with unique natural blessings, is humanity’s home, and humans are never so much at home as when God dwells with them. —U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing the Earth 1991

Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each … and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth. —Pope Francis, Laudato Si 2015

That first page will surprise long-time readers who know Bass, a member of the Episcopal church, as speaking and writing primarily to a Protestant audience throughout her career.

Diana Butler Bass (Photo by Richard Bass)

Diana Butler Bass (Photo by Richard Bass)

“I chose those two passages to open the book, because I wanted my readers to know that this book is a departure,” she says now in an interview about the book. “Most of my work so far has been about church history and congregations and, here,  I’m writing theology for people who might describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. So, Francis and the Catholic bishops wind up on the front page because I wanted to signal that, while I am writing about theology in a new way, this is part of a larger discussion throughout Christianity.

“Together we are pressing people toward a new vision of God. If we really believe, as Christians, that God has come to earth and dwelt among us, then that sacralizes the world in a profound and beautiful way. We have to be attentive to that, just as these bishops and the pope are saying. As readers open this book, they may think these pages are radical—but this message comes from deep within the heart of the Christian tradition. I’m summoning the voice of the church to help support this invitation to readers.”

And, Diana admits: “Pope Francis already has become a hero of mine. This book was all written and ready to go to press before Laudato Si was published in May 2015. But we held off finalizing the book until after I could download Francis’s encyclical and read it. As I read what he had written, I sat there weeping because he was saying pretty much the same thing I’m saying in this book—except in his encyclical we hear it from a very traditional Catholic position.”

What does that mean? How does Francis’s perspective differ from hers in Grounded? “The main difference I would point to is that I’m less afraid of making God as intimate as I do in these pages, because I come from a Protestant tradition. Like John Wesley describes it, I’m happy to have a God who is within my heart. And, in his writing, Francis still tries to preserve a bit of the distant God from the Catholic tradition. But I don’t want to over-emphasize that difference. I closed his encyclical and said to myself: ‘Wow! How great is this! The pope is confirming what I’m saying about living inside a sacred environment.’ So we share far more than divides us.”


One strong indication that Americans are ready for this kind of message comes from the massive new Pew Center report on trends in religious life. (Here’s a link to download the entire 266-page Pew report based on 35,000 interviews with Americans in all 50 states.) The main headline on that Pew report, U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious, points to a continuing rise in the number of Americans who give no specific religious affiliation—but the real news lies deeper in the report. In fact, the study shows that millions of Americans are deepening their spiritual and religious practices.

Among those key findings, Pew reports:

Roughly six-in-ten adults now say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week, up 7 percentage points since 2007. And 46% of adults say they feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe on a weekly basis, also up sharply since 2007. … The new study also asked respondents how often they think about the meaning and purpose of life. Slightly more than half of Americans (55%)–including 59% of Christians, 53% of members of non-Christian faiths and 45% of religious “nones”—say they think about the meaning and purpose of life at least once a week.

“It doesn’t surprise me that more Americans are telling pollsters that they don’t have a specific religious affiliation,” Diana says. “Many people don’t like the old labels to describe their faith lives. It is stunning how fast this has been moving since 2000—more and more people are leaving behind these conventional labels. This is hard for people who care about their traditional congregations to hear—but there are very high and stable numbers of people who say they have a strong faith life. And we still get 90 percent of the population who say they believe in God in some form.”

The challenge, Diana says, is recognizing that “organized religion is presenting faith in a way that is not satisfying to many people. And that’s where this set of numbers about a ‘deep sense of wonder’ and a ‘deep sense of spiritual peace’ and ‘thinking about the meaning and purpose of life’ is head spinning to me.

“These are measurements of what we might call spirituality and those numbers are on the rise. So that’s why this new book is written as an invitation to go out into the world and rediscover what we might prefer to call spirituality. I’m wondering what words will emerge to describe this. I’m wondering if one day we’ll be talking about this period as something like ‘the rise of the mystics.'”


But Grounded takes this opportunity—the dramatic change in American religious life—to offer some very practical ideas for exploring faith in new ways. “Millions of Americans still are very involved in their congregations,” Diana says. “Pew tells us they’re reading the Bible more and praying more—and they enjoy their small groups. But, each week, people also are wanting to make room for religious and spiritual practices that are really meaningful to them.

“And there’s a lot people can do. If you do have a high sense of awe in the world around you, then you’re more likely to be involved in acts of compassion and ethical work. And that takes us back to what we were talking about earlier—the challenges we all face around water and land and all of these concerns of what I would call human geography.”

There is very good news in these pages. “Yes, you’re right, this book is ‘urgent,’ but it is beautiful and useful as well,” Diana says. “We’re not at our best when we feel threatened. I want people to know that, if we pay attention to those things, I think that’s where spiritual peace and wellbeing on a global scale will emerge.”

Taking readers full circle, here are the final two paragraphs of this new book:

The spiritual revolution, finding God in the world, is an invitation to new birth, most especially for religion. There is no better place to start than in  your synagogue, mosque, temple, or church.

And that new birth is happening. You can hear it as the earth groans for salvation, as poets and philosophers tell its stories, as scientists search the soil and the cosmos for life, as the oppressed, poor and marginalized push for dignity and economic justice. It is time for the church to wake up. There is nothing worse than sleeping through a revolution.

Care to learn more?

We also have two recent videos of Diana and a link to her own website to check her touring schedule.

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Watch Diana Butler Bass at the National Cathedral

Care to learn more about Diana’s work?

IN ADDITION to our Cover Story with Diana Butler Bass about her new book, Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution, we recommend visiting her home website: where one of the options is a view of her touring schedule. She may be coming to a town near you this year!

On January 10, 2016, she preached and led a forum at the Washington National Cathedral. That resulted in two videos you might enjoy.

First is her sermon …


Then, here is a video of the forum she led that morning …

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An urgent plea from Jim Wallis on ‘America’s Original Sin’

Cover of Jim Wallis Americas Original Sin 2016 500 wide

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

Editor of magazine

JIM WALLIS’s new book is so timely that he has been wishing, for months, that he could update its pages as each new headline about racism breaks in national news.

“Because of my publisher’s schedule, to have the book come out in January, my draft of the book was finished and in the publisher’s hands before the Charleston church shootings in June,” Wallis says in our interview as he prepares to travel in 2016, talking about the urgent issues he raises in America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America. “After Charleston happened, it became a preface that I was able to add to the book.”

So, in the autumn of 2015, a four-page preface by Wallis was added to the manuscript. It says in part: “I had finished writing this book when the Charleston killings occurred. This horrific event in American history—our current history—will likely set the tone and the framework for a new national conversation on racism. This massacre must be turned into a redemptive moment.”

Now, stop and think as you read this story about Wallis’s new book: When was the last time you heard friends or colleagues mention Charleston? What signs can you see that the shock of that tragedy did turn into a new national conversation? Instead, new waves of violence threaten to eclipse our collective reflections on Charleston. As a people, our attention has strayed.

And that, quite simply, is why you should click over to Amazon and order a copy of this book. To summarize the book’s 250 pages in a sentence: Wallis is pleading with us as Americans—each and every one of us—to actually start that national conversation on the roots of racism, its many manifestations today and possible ways we might peacefully cross the bridge to “a new America.”

Flipping to the book’s last page, Wallis writes (with his own emphasis on certain phrases):

It is time to take the dramatic events we have experienced around immigration, voting rights, and the need for criminal justice reform and turn those moments into a movement. In his last book, Martin Luther King wrote, “We are faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” The time has come to cross the bridge to a new America.

Sojourners Jim Wallis author of Americas Original Sin (1)Wallis says that Charleston tragically confirmed his long-standing contention that racism is deeply engrained in the foundations of this nation. Slavery built an enormous portion of America’s infrastructure. Racism shaped everything from the patterns of our communities, today, to the opportunities for work to support our families. Crusades around “law and order” have led to a national policy that is biased toward imprisoning people of color.

As publication of his new book nears, Wallis says: “The only way to honor the victims of Charleston is to deal with racism as America’s original sin and to see how that lingering sin still expresses itself in the criminal justice system, the educational system, urban planning, the whole system of white privilege.”

Anyone familiar with Wallis’s work knows this book is deeply personal. He understands how quickly our attention strays. In fact, he started writing this book shortly after the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. (As you’re reading this, do you find yourself pausing to think: Who was Travyon Martin? Again, Wallis’s point is made.)


In our interview, Wallis says that he hopes Americans will remember and retell these stories—until they become like the parables of Jesus that people around the world recall 2,000 years after the original storyteller walked the earth.

“We need a new conversation—that’s what I’ve heard from people across this country, again and again. That’s clear. And what stories will we tell?” Wallis says. “We need to tell and retell new parables. Trayvon’s story is a parable. Michael Brown is a parable. These are parables—stories that teach us lessons. This new book talks about what lessons we can learn from parables like these.

“One story I tell in the book is part of my own story growing up in Detroit and going to work for Detroit Edison, where I met this young man named Butch. We talked and talked and became friends. This was 50 years ago. And I realized that I was doing this job to save money for college. Butch was supporting his family. And I remember meeting his mother when he asked me to dinner at his house. I realized that she was a loving mother—like my mother—a mom who cared about her kids.”

Wallis recalls many differences between his family and Butch’s family. “I still remember that when I was young, my mother told us that if we ever got lost, we should look for a policeman. She’d say, ‘He’s your friend and he’ll bring you safely home.’ But in Butch’s family? His Mom taught him: ‘If you’re ever lost and can’t find your way home—if you see a policeman, duck under a stairwell or hide behind a building until he’s gone and then you’ll be safe to make your way home.'”

Wallis says, “These are not new stories. They’re old stories.”

The new book doesn’t set up Butch and his mother as experts—or claim that what a young Jim learned from his friend Butch was based on exhaustive research. Rather, Walllis wants us to go and do the same. Start conversations. Visit with people. Tell these stories and draw the lessons from these new parables. That’s what must take place, Wallis urges, to turn our reactions to headlines into a much deeper movement of people who are connected with one another, and care about each other, in communities nationwide.


Before you dismiss what Wallis is preaching in this book as, perhaps, the same old call for dialogue—stop and ponder one more truth he is talking about as he barnstorms through the nation in 2016 talking about these issues. The inevitable truth is that the old white majority in America is going to vanish as a majority—eroding the power that comes with majority status.

Don’t take it from Jim Wallis—take it from ongoing studies by the Pew Research Center. Here are just a few headlines over the past year:

“The demographics are, indeed, inevitable,” says Wallis. “That’s the big truth that’s behind all of the reaction to immigration reform, to Barack Obama, to the refugee crisis. Underneath these reactions is the truth that older white Americans are not at all ready for this demographic change. It’s inevitable that we are seeing this resistance. This is the core of Donald Trump’s constituency.

“In Congress now, we’ve got this caucus of white members in the House from districts—many of which have been gerrymandered into being mostly white. They’ve really become the veto caucus. They know they ultimately won’t win, but they’re holding off, blocking and obstructing the implications of this demographic change.

“That whole movement is designed to block the way, to forestall the effects of this demographic change, so the demographic change won’t necessarily lead to the healthy, diverse America that we all long for.”

And, so, Wallis says as he closes our interview: “It’s time. We need people to help us navigate this change. We could see a future in this country of just increasing confrontation between minorities and white culture. We could see a lot of violence.

“Or, we could see a lot of people stepping up to help with the conversation, to help with the change. America is going to cross this demographic bridge. The question is: Who is going to help us navigate—so we are able to make this crossing together?”


(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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In 2016, don’t stand alone … join a chorus for peace!

Musician in Congo Playing for Change

A musician in Congo contributes his part to the latest Playing for Change chorus.

The idea is so simple: Don’t stand alone this year. Join a chorus.

Locations featured in Playing for Change Pumba Laka

This map marks locations of musicians shown in this latest Playing for Change video—a performance of the African folk song Pemba Laka.

It’s in line with our motto at magazine and in our publishing house: “Good media builds good community.” We’re all about making positive connections—at its most basic, that’s what “media” is: connection.

As this New Year begins, we’re all thinking about fresh resolutions. That makes it a great time to look around the world for new friendships. Earlier, in our Interfaith Peacemakers section, we profiled Playing for Change, a worldwide network of musicians who simply ask you to sing along—share the music—and spread the message of peace. Since 2002, sound engineer Mark Johnson has connected thousands of creative men, women and children all around the planet—by inviting them to sing along with popular songs.

For New Year 2016, this network contributed bits and pieces of music to a rousing rendition of a traditional African folk tune: Pemba Laka (see the video below). If you visit the Playing for Change website, there are lots of ways to participate—one way is as easy as enjoying the music and sharing the story of this planet-encircling chorus.


This line—“Think globally, act locally!”—dates back at least to the 1960s and some scholars argue it goes all the way back to the dawn of modern urban planning 100 years ago. You may feel the line is becoming a cliche but it’s a good way to think about your New Year’s search for ways to contribute to world peace. Playing for Change invites people to step onto a global stage—if you’re a musician and are able to contribute to those performances. But the real action—even in Playing for Change—is the person-by-person sharing of the music along with the inspiring story behind these tunes.

So, as 2016 begins—look around your neighborhood. Scour your whole region for ways to become a peacemaker.

Near our home base in Michigan, the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (the IFLC) boldly declared 2016 a Year of Faith and Peace. The IFLC is encouraging people to use #YearofFaithandPeace in social media this year to mark Facebook updates, blog posts and Tweets that might inspire peaceful action. Simple enough, right? Maybe that’s an effort you want to make this year—remembering and adding that hash tag.

Detroit Free Press religion writer Niraj Warikoo reported December 22 on the IFLC’s year-long campaign:

“Amid growing fears about hate and extremism, a leading interfaith group in metro Detroit announced Tuesday extensive plans to increase cooperation among diverse groups, declaring 2016 as A Year of Faith and Peace. A range of religious leaders gathered at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn to support the events by the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, which will include exchanges and educational events throughout the year at houses of worship across southeast Michigan. … As fears have increased in recent weeks, organizers say the events planned for 2016 take on an added urgency and importance.”

Want to learn more about that Michigan effort? Visit the IFLC’s website and click on the link to A Statement of Solidarity.

Come on! Find a way to join the chorus!

Click on the video below to hear the newly released Pemba Laka chorus from Playing for Change.



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