Benjamin Pratt shares: The Holy Fool, A Parable

Grafitti by the illusive artist Banksy adorns a building August 29, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana. New works by the artist, whose paintings are also sold in galleries, have been popping up throughout New Orleans coinciding with the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.


‘An Anxious America.’ That was the front-page headline on Sunday’s New York Times, reporting on the relentless stream of violent tragedies this summer. Readers who are older may recall the agonizing summers of the late 1960s. Even as we mourn and worry, millions of us turn to the deep resources of faith. This week, we welcome back author and pastoral counselor Benjamin Pratt for a parable about a timeless religious image that many of our readers may recall. We have coupled this reflection by Benjamin with the ironic graffiti of Banksy.


A Parable



I was the one who pushed the old rocking chair onto the sidewalk in front of our family bakery. I meant it as a sign of hospitality in these scary, hostile times. Maybe I knew it was good business, too. Other smart business people put rocking chairs out front, don’t they? To be honest, I’m not even quite sure what possessed me to move that beat-up old rocker onto the street.

We’re always looking through the big front windows, keeping on our toes, looking for customers as they approach. And, let’s be honest—we’re watching the street, you know the street people and the kids especially. We never know what might happen.

You’ve read all the stories of shootings, killings, murders. We’ve read them. They’re all around us, aren’t they?

So, that morning, whatever possessed me—here’s what happened. I wiped the flour from my hands, walked back into the storage room where we like to take our breaks and grabbed that old wooden rocking chair that someone tried to spray-paint white but never quite finished. I pushed the chair through the bakery and out onto the sidewalk. It works for other businesses—if no one steals it.

So, we all watched.

We worked. We watched. And, to be honest, we kept our eyes peeled for trouble.


Banksy rocking chairOdd!

No one even noticed the arrival. Later we talked about it. “I must’ve been in the storeroom.” “I was checking the ovens.” “Stocking the cookies.” “On my phone.”

And, this was odd, too! We just couldn’t figure it out, looking through the window: Man or woman? Black or white or Latino or Asian? Disturbingly unclear.

The guys started talking. “We don’t want to get started with loiterers!” “Hey, no homeless! No squatters! Remember last year with the stuff they built out back?” And the big question that just kept coming: “Who is that out there in the rocking chair!?!”

We’ve got customers to think about. This was one big distraction. OK, I’ll admit, it was turning into a headache we didn’t need. We kept our eyes peeled for trouble.


Finally, I paused, locked the cash register, glanced at the bat we keep beneath the counter, and just walked out there. I didn’t expect to see: Weeping! This … this person was sitting there crying. And when someone else walked by, I could hear the person in the chair say softly: “I’m sorry, so very sorry.”

Oh, boy! Oh, boy! What do I do now?

But nothing bad happened. Others passed. A teenager in a hoody—a kid I’ve kept my eye on—walked past and actually turned back at the words from the chair. I never expected to see that expression on the kid’s face! He was as stunned as I was.

All morning, as people passed, those words kept coming: “Sorry.” “So sorry.” “So very sorry.” Finally, I took some fresh bread and a cup of water outside to this … person.

And I got a quiet, comforting: “Thank you.”

Tears still flowed from tender eyes. As I turned to go back inside, the words followed, “I’m sorry, so very sorry.”

OK, I didn’t expect how much that would get to me. But it did.


And this is really odd! No one caught the departure. We looked around and—gone! The chair was empty.

Nor did we see the arrival, again, early the next morning.

Here’s when we noticed! One of the guys called out, “Look at that!” We all turned to stare through the window. The kid in the hoody was sitting in this person’s lap.

Got that? The kid in the hoody was sitting in this person’s lap. They were rocking together.

And, there were others who followed—letting this person rock them in the chair.

The shocker? Tony, the cop who keeps an eye on our stretch of the street. He let himself be rocked! We saw it with our own eyes. And, then, Tony got up and helped this person up out of the old rocker. Tony sat down himself and did the rocking!

A line formed! We didn’t know what to do, except watch through the glass. People stopped in their tracks to check it out—and they let themselves be rocked.

Young. Old.

That’s when I remembered my grandmother—Russian Orthodox. Little icons and candles all over her apartment. Loved to talk about the saints. She had a favorite; I forget the name. “He was nothing to the world, a fool,” she would say, “but wise to the ways of God. A Holy Fool.”

That’s when it hit me: God’s out there. On my sidewalk. God’s out there.

Somewhere in all that rocking—in that beat-up chair we got from grandma’s apartment upstairs after she passed. Yeah, it was foolishness. Holy foolishness.

I just kept remembering. I remembered being rocked.

Being rocked. In that chair.

Hey, maybe I was dreaming. But my guys at the bakery never cracked jokes that day. They did their work. There was silence—all eyes on the window. I didn’t dare ask them, but maybe they were remembering something, too.

Call me a fool, but that’s my story.

Yeah, call me a fool.

I don’t mind at all.


Banksy Girl-and-Balloon-London-2002 (1)


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Get ‘Grounded’ this summer, Part 3: Roots and Home

Deborah Houghton family photo 1 Debbie and friends baptized in the 1960

Debbie Houghton and friends on the day they were baptized in the 1960s at the Collins Methodist Church in Collins, Iowa.


This summer, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Christian educator Debbie Houghton invite readers to get a copy of Diana Butler Bass’s new “Grounded: Finding God in the World” and read along with us. For five weeks, David and Debbie will offer five reflections on Bass’s book with questions to consider. Here’s a link back to Part 1—and to Part 2. This week, Debbie offers Part 3, looking at the sections of Diana’s book on Dirt, Water and Sky …


Deborah Houghton family photo 2 Lyman Collins

Lyman Collins

I have a murky knowledge of my genealogy: two aunts, one on my father’s side and one on my mother’s side were our family’s data bank on the ancestors. They have both passed, and I wish I had listened more closely to their stories of the family.

All I really know is both my mother’s and father’s families hail from the United Kingdom, and both came to Iowa in search of land and opportunity. My father’s side of the family were staunch Methodists, while my mother’s side were Quakers—my grandfather was raised in a Quaker church and graduated from a Quaker high school.

The two sepia photos with this column are my maternal great-grandparents: Lyman and Alice Collins. They look like hard working, silent Quaker farmers, but were, as my mother often recalled, loving and joyful people.

Deborah Houghton family photo 3 Alice Collins

Alice Collins

Diana Butler Bass notes the attraction of genealogy and moments of joy and awe we have when we see traits of long-ago relatives in ourselves or in our children. It is of some comfort to know that the genes do live on and present themselves in another generation, in a smile or an ability to solve a puzzle, or in a love of baseball.

Diana says, “If we do not know where we came from or where we are in a story, it is difficult to imagine that we can grasp the meaning and purpose of our own lives.” I better understood my attraction to teaching when I discovered my grandmother was a teacher, and her mother was a teacher. I am carrying on a family tradition and skill—this is where I fit into the world.

We read the genealogies in the Bible with a sense of duty and not discovery–but Diana suggests that the genealogies are where God can be found. As she comments, “Genealogies reveal the quest of ancient people to find a place in the universe and claim divine favor.”

The names in the genealogies represent stories that can make a difference in how we live out our own lives. My Quaker great-grandparents, Lyman and Alice, were farmers with a love of family and community and they passed that on to my grandparents, Ralph and Florence, who then passed it on to my mother, Janet. That was the spiritual DNA she gave to me—it is the glue between my baptism in the Methodist church, and my passion for the study of the Bible and membership in a community that lives and works together to teach us how to be followers of Christ.

God is in my genealogy.

Home arises out of roots; as this quote from Grounded indicates: “Home is a place where God somehow meets us–where we belong.” My home has been in Ann Arbor many years now, and I belong here–professionally, politically, and spiritually.

I have had homes in places where belonging was harder to feel. One that stands out for me was in Sweden. When our children were small, we moved to Sweden for a few years, due to my husband’s job. We had an adventure living in that beautiful country and the experience drew the four of us together as a family unit, but it was a challenge in belonging. I learned how it felt to not know the culture, mores or even the language of the country in which you lived. I also missed my spiritual home. All I could find for “church” was a group of expat women who were much more conservative in their theology than I was in mine. But although we did not agree about marriage equality or salvation, that group’s hospitality and kindness to me taught me that I could find God—and home—in the most unexpected places.

Where is God in the home?

Deborah Houghton wall hanging from IonaI think this final photo shows some of the answer for me. I bought this wall hanging on the island of Iona, in Scotland. Iona is special; often it is referred to as a “thin” place, where God is very near to us. I hung this by my door to remind me that every home can be a thin place, if we pay attention. Home is a place to welcome the weary, feed the hungry, and learn the habits of kindness.

I think this quote from Grounded best illustrates God-with-us at home: “The world first enters into our hearts at home, where we learn to live with others and experience the power of mercy.”

Home is our first experience of finding God—it should be where we belong.


Diana Butler Bass cover of Grounded Finding God in the World

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

How do you resemble your ancestors? Think about family traits that have been passed on throughout your family.

What makes up your spiritual DNA?

What is sacred in your home? Think about practices or belongings that are special to you.

Have you ever felt home was not a place of belonging for you? Why?

Diana comments that hospitality and gratitude are spiritual habits – how do you practice these in your home?

Debbie Houghton is a former English teacher, now reborn as a director of adult education for the First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor. She is always looking for new ideas about faith and spirituality to share with her church family!


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The Richard Beck interview on the need to recognize the Devil: “Reviving Old Scratch”


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

ReadTheSpirit Editor

Who preaches about the evils of the Devil these days? Perhaps fire-and-brimstone Fundamentalists? You’ll recognize that stereotype from TV and movies, even if you’ve never actually witnessed such a Bible-thumper in action.

So, is the Devil an endangered spiritual species? A lot of adults in the U.S.—about 60 percent in various polls—still say that they believe there is a Hell and they believe the Devil is real. But, the Devil’s identity definitely is shifting—fading into a fuzzy cloud of vaguely spiritual ideas for most Americans.

But not everyone has dismissed what Richard Beck describes as “Old Scratch” in his new book, Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted. Beck is not alone in talking seriously about Lucifer. The list of popular voices warning about the evil works of the Devil currently includes:

  • C.S. LEWIS—He’s been dead for more than half a century, but his books still are extremely popular with Christian readers. In his books, Lewis often refers to the Devil and wrote one of his most popular fantasies, The Screwtape Letters, about Devils at work in our everyday lives.
  • CHURCHES CONNECTED TO AFRICA—Many mainline congregations across the U.S. have celebrated the work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee and have hosted showings of the powerful documentary about her struggle for justice in Liberia: Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
  • SOCIAL JUSTICE ACTIVISTS—As Beck points out in his book, politically radical theologian William Stringfellow argued that we can’t hope to defeat entrenched evil in our world without recognizing the reality of Evil incarnate—which he often called Powers and Principalities, a phrase from the New Testament. Like Lewis, Stringfellow died decades ago, but his work still influences various Protestant leaders as well as the Catholic activist John Dear.
  • AND, SPEAKING OF CATHOLICS—Pope Francis has sparked headlines around the world in newspapers and magazines for talking more about the Devil than any of his recent predecessors.


Pope Francis speaking to a crowdEarlier this year, Francis proclaimed in one of his Sunday public messages:

“If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. … The devil is always crouching at our door, in front of our heart, and wants to come in. Woe to us if we let him enter; then he would close our doors to anyone else. Instead, we are called to open the door of our hearts to the Word of God, to Jesus, and so to become his children.”

In an interview this week about his new book, Beck said: “In the U.S. and in much of Western Christianity, the Devil has been marginalized. But in Africa, South America, Asia—and in marginalized communities around the world where charismatic Christianity is thriving—talking about the Devil is very common.

“People may be startled by how much Pope Francis talks about the Devil, but that’s because he is pastorally connected with the poor in Latin America and around the world. Through their eyes, he sees the spiritual struggles they are facing everyday and he talks about this in the terms they use themselves.”

Francis isn’t condescending, Beck says. He understands that privileged Western Christians may have forgotten how families living on the world’s margins are waging daily, life-and-death struggles often with deeply entrenched Evils.

“This is a real problem Francis understands,” Beck said. “The skepticism of the West about taking the Devil seriously can leave us unable to be pastorally relevant to the marginalized around the world. That’s one reason I wrote this book. If you truly care about people living on the margins, then you’re going to need to learn how to talk about the Devil again with some authenticity and integrity.”

In fact, that’s the basic message of Beck’s book. In just shy of 200 pages, he takes us on a whirlwind tour of contemporary, Western Christianity’s tendency to either push the Devil off stage entirely—or to turn Old Scratch into a vague notion about occasional poor choices we make in our lives. When we ignore the real and serious nature of Evil in the world, Beck argues, we are cutting ourselves off from a vast and growing sea of Christians for whom the Devil is a daily threat.


Richard Beck author of Reviving Old Scratch

Richard Beck, author of “Reviving Old Scratch.”

This next paragraph requires a “Spoiler Alert”: No, in this book, you’ll never quite pin down Beck’s own conclusion about whether the Devil is a real-deal Spirit lurking somewhere in the cosmos. He waffles on the metaphysics of Old Scratch. This book isn’t Dante’s Divine Comedy with a neat geography of Hell we can pin up on the wall.

“In this book, it’s true, I put the Devil in brackets when it comes to questions about the literal existence of a spiritual creature called the Devil,” Beck said in our interview. “But there are good reasons for not dwelling on that question. It can become a dark distraction from the more important issues I’m exploring with readers.”

Beck offers several good arguments to support that choice.

One “dark distraction” is spending a lot of time “regaling readers with  tales of mysterious demonic possession. I don’t do that in this book. Those dark and scary stories can encourage people to become overly preoccupied with unhealthy ideas about spiritual warfare. Remember what happened back in the 1980s and 1990s with all of that obsession with spiritual warfare? That kind of fascination with Satan isn’t helpful.”

Beck also points out that painting horrific pictures of a super-hero boogeyman who jumps around possessing people—like the Exorcist novel and movies—also can lead to demonizing people who Christians identify as “enemies.” In his book, he uses the late anti-gay crusader Fred Phelps as an example of spiritual warfare gone tragically awry.

And, there’s a third danger of too much belief in a literal Devil. “You can wind up claiming, ‘The Devil made me do it!’ And that can become an easy way to avoid moral responsibility.”

Or, in other words, Beck said, “If we get too caught up in saying the Devil exists as a monster in the world, then it becomes easy to say that the evil that we witness in the world is being done by monsters—and we have no responsibility ourselves because, of course, we’re never the monster in that scenario.”

So, is Beck simply waffling on defining what “reality” means when he talks about Satan?

“No, ultimately, I think it’s a false dichotomy for someone to argue that either Satan exists as a literal being who we can locate somewhere in the universe—and arguing that, if we don’t believe in a tangible being, then there is no evil in the world at all. That’s a false choice,” Beck said in our interview.


“I’m saying in this book that it’s healthy for us to recognize that evil is real in the world,” Beck said.

“When I lecture to students about social psychology, I say: You need to be suspicious of your own virtue. What can happen in our lives is that we start to assume that we are the virtuous and good people in the world. Then, suddenly, you wake up and discover that you’re married but you’ve started an affair. Or, without stopping to think about it, you’re deeply involved in professional malpractice that’s going to wind up hurting a lot of people. It’s healthy to be suspicious of our own virtue. If we see ourselves as vulnerable to evil, we’re more vigilant in the choices we make.”

Toward the end of the book, Beck offers some personal examples of confronting Evil, or the Devil, or Idolatry—temptations that can shift a person’s “allegiance to any of these powers over my allegiance to the kingdom of God.” Ultimately, the problem manifests itself in “making it hard for me to love people.”

He writes:

“For example, after 9/11 my patriotic buttons got pushed, making it hard to love some people. As a San Antonio Spurs fan, when Ray Allen of the Miami Heat hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, I had a hard time loving some people. Ray Allen in particular. When a kid hurts my son with a dirty hit in a football game I have a hard time loving some people. At my university when other departments get funds or resources that my department should rightfully have I have a hard time loving some people. When my candidate loses a Presidential election I have a hard time loving some people. When someone spreads a vision of Christianity that is very different from my own I have a hard time loving some people.”

In the end, Beck said in our interview—that’s why it’s important to recognize that we really do face temptation on a daily basis in small and large ways. Like Stringfellow or Pope Francis, Beck said, we should not dismiss the notion that Evil is real.

“So, if I’ve done my job in this book,” Beck said, “I hope people feel energized about the call to say, ‘Get thee behind me Satan!’ I hope they feel excited about following Jesus. I hope people realize that engaging fully in the life that Jesus calls us to is really a life of struggle—but ultimately we can see it’s a joyous struggle.”


Care to read more?

VISIT AMAZONYou can order Beck’s new book in print or for your Kindle.

VISIT BECK’S EXTENSIVE WEBSITE—He calls it Experimental Theology. If you scan down the right-hand margin of the website, you will find that Beck has organized his archive of columns on many themes, including:

  • The Theology of Johnny Cash
  • The William Stringfellow Project
  • On the Principalities and Powers
  • Moral Psychology
  • George Macdonald
  • Game Theory and the Kingdom of God
  • And, Theology of William James


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Get ‘Grounded’ this summer, Part 2: Dirt, Water and Sky

This summer, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Christian educator Debbie Houghton invite readers to get a copy of Diana Butler Bass’s new Grounded: Finding God in the World and read along with us. For five weeks, David and Debbie will offer five reflections on Bass’s book with questions to consider. Here’s a link back to Part 1. This week, Debbie offers Part 2, looking at the sections of Diana’s book on Dirt, Water and Sky …


Debbie Houghton's stepfather on his farm in IowaDirt, water and sky were mainstays of my childhood.

I grew up on farms in Iowa. My stepdad had a unique relationship with farming; he was a pressman for a magazine called Successful Farming (founded in 1902 and now at He would pore over the articles about farming and dream of the day he owned his own farm. After 25 years as a pressman, he started buying up land in southwest Iowa, up to 600 acres. He loved that land and was a faithful steward—he initiated no-till and terracing long before they were recommended land conservation practices.

Although he would never describe it this way, his connection to the land was spiritual.

As Diana Butler Bass points out in her chapter, called Dirt, we do not recognize the connection between God and dirt. God tells Adam and Eve, from dirt we are made and to dirt we will return. The Israelites were promised land by God as part of the covenant they made with the Holy One. So we should not be surprised when Diana tells us that dirt (and water and sky) are part of God’s body, the universe, “a complex and diverse interdependent organism, animated by God’s breath, the spirit of creation.”

Diana Butler Bass cover of Grounded Finding God in the World

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

She tells us to recognize that plain, ordinary dirt is a sacred resource—and one that we may lose if we are not attentive to its care. Some churches, like mine, are recognizing that soil is a sacrament by using church property to plant congregational gardens to grow fresh produce for local food banks, or to teach people how be to better stewards of the earth, or just for the therapy of growing green things. As Diana writes, “Faith has increasingly taken me toward the soil, not away from it.” We can find God in the Garden.

Healthy soil alone does not make a farm successful–water is also a necessity. We were always shushed as children during the weather reports, for they were the harbingers of the all-important rain forecasts. I moved to Michigan when I was a young adult and I have always been awed by the amount of fresh water that surrounds my adopted state and abounds in its rivers and lakes.

Water is a spiritual source of life for me. All the water metaphors in the Bible speak to me–living water, healing water, water and the Spirit. And I do take it for granted.

Again, Diana compels us to think about how we treat water–she points out the great trash pile discovered in the ocean when searchers were hunting for the missing Malaysian airplane. She also tells us how access to clean water is now a source of political tension–if you have followed the water crises in Flint, MI, this is completely clear to you.

She speaks of the riparian zones, the places where the water meets the riverbank; they are muddy, unstable areas between the land and the river. But what a metaphor for life! You can sink in the muck, step back onto firm land, or step into the river and “go with the flow” in the river of God–moving with the rest of the river community to the sea, stopping to give water to those who need it, i.e. practice social justice with water conservation and water access.

Finally, the sky is also a part of my genetic make up. When I moved to Michigan, I made friends with a woman from the mountains of Kentucky. She and I were talking about our childhood homes, and she said to me, “I can’t live without mountains around me; they protect me.”

That is when I realized I can’t live without sky around me. I grew up in the Iowan landscape, open to the sky with broad, rolling hills and fields. I need to see the sky to feel at home. The sky is also the place, as Diana says, where God was traditionally located–up in the heavens. And as she says, unlike the ground and water, sky is beyond our comprehension.

She asks us to “consider” the sky and the atmosphere. The sky is not only the great dome, but it provides the horizon, where earth and sky meet. It is the atmosphere, which provides the air we breathe, the ruach, the spirit of God.

However, just as we believe that dirt and water are too ordinary to worry about, we also take the air we breathe for granted. Overloads of carbon dioxide in the air are killing our climate, which in turn will slowly kill us. We need to listen to these “winds of worry” that Diana outlines for us. But, as she says, “there is evident the whisper of God. Change is in the air.” We can hear the breath of God if we listen.

What do I take away from these first three chapters of Grounded? Throughout this section, Diana sets up and describes her “horizontal” faith, as a way to think about where God is, as opposed to a “vertical” faith, which is one that places God in heaven and us on earth, with a gap between the two.

I can’t believe that God is so far removed from our lives; I am encouraged that God-with-us could be on the horizon–in Iowa, in Michigan, and in Kenya, where I have traveled four times with my church family to work in a school we helped to found. Every time my Kenyan brothers and sisters remind me the elements of dirt, water, and sky are to be revered as gifts of God, for, as people of God and the earth, we all share the same horizon.

I took a photo in Kenya, of the sunrise, and it reminds me of this quote from Grounded:

“… I consider God beyond the horizon, just beyond the place where the sky meets the ground. Just beyond what we can see, there is more.”

I can believe in this God at the horizon, meeting me where I live.

Debbie Houghton photo from Kenya

Consider These Questions

With special thanks to Amy Kennedy …

What does the phrase “getting your hands dirty” mean to you? Could it be considered holy?

How can water (or being near water) heal us?

What experience have you had with water that makes you think it could be part of God’s body?

Think about where you were raised–were any of the three elements, dirt, water or sky an integral part of your life?

What do you think about your own faith journey? Has it been vertical or horizontal? Why?

Debbie Houghton is a former English teacher, now reborn as a director of adult education for the First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor. She is always looking for new ideas about faith and spirituality to share with her church family!


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Congratulations to MSU School of Journalism students!

MSU School of Journalism team on the Veterans guide book

MSU School of Journalism students who worked on the veterans book.


MSU students Tiara Jones Madeline Carino and Lia Kamana work on the veterans book

MSU students Tiara Jones Madeline Carino and Lia Kamana working on the veterans book.

All of the editors and writers who are part of our publishing house have a special commitment to help students learn the best practices in journalism—writing with accuracy, fairness and balance about our ever-changing world. So, we are thrilled that the team at the Michigan State University School of Journalism has just won a 2016 Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications in the Student category.

Cover of the MSU 100 Q&A Veterans Large Book

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

The MSU journalism team won for 100 Questions and Answers about Veterans. If you want a copy right now, click over to Amazon to order this very helpful book. The book currently has 8 Amazon reviews, averaging 4.8 out of 5 stars.



Why is this honor so important? The Association for Women in Communications (AWC) has deep roots in supporting the interests of students, diversity in media and U.S. veterans as well.

The organization traces its roots to a 1909 student group within the University of Washington’s pioneering journalism program that highlighted the work of women as reporters and editors. For more than a century, members of the organization have understood that improving the quality of journalism begins by working closely with students—and promoting the empowerment of minorities.

Back then, of course, women were a tiny minority in America’s newsrooms. The AWC credits First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for helping its members to break barriers among senior correspondents. According to the George Washington University biographical project on Eleanor Roosevelt:

She decided to hold press conferences—covered by women reporters only—to keep information before women voters and to urge that women speak their minds on politics, policy, and their individual hopes and dreams. ER believed this so strongly that she titled the first book she published while First Lady “It’s Up To The Women.”

As a result of her women-only policy at press conferences, more news organizations were forced to give women White House assignments.

What about veterans? The AWC proudly lists involvement in a number of efforts that focused on men and women in military service during World War I, World War II and later in the Korean War. During the first war, several women served as foreign correspondents.

During the WWII era, the AWC reports that women in journalism …

joined in the war effort by becoming WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Service. Several other members served as overseas correspondents. Margaret Bourke-White, Life magazine photo-journalist, became the first female correspondent accredited to the Army Air Force. Chapters in the US kept busy aiding the war effort by organizing themselves into emergency units under the Director of Civilian Defense. Others established news bureaus at USO clubs to send stories on servicemen to hometown papers.

After the war, they also helped hospitalized veterans who hoped to write their stories and needed professional assistance. That effort extended into the era of the Korean conflict. The AWC reports that, during that era:

Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune was the Tokyo bureau chief and was the only female reporter to witness the North Korean invasion. May Craig, who had witnessed the Normandy landings and flown in the Berlin airlift, was also in Korea, traveling by jets launched from carriers. Also at this time, Margaret Bourke-White’s photos of Korean guerrilla fighters appeared in Life magazine.

Congratulations MSU School of Journalism students!

Care to get a copy of their book? Jump to Amazon now.

Eleanor Roosevelt with female reporters in the Treaty Room in 1933 after a press conference for female journalists

Eleanor Roosevelt with female reporters in the Treaty Room in 1933 after a press conference for female journalists. From the Library of Congress.




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Congratulations Bishop Laurie Haller (and her new Iowa family)!

Laurie Haller is elected bishop with her husband at right

The Rev. Laurie Haller, co-pastor of Birmingham First UMC, is joined by her husband and co-pastor the Rev. Gary Haller, as she accepts her election to bishop at the Peoria, Illinois, conference. This is a North Central Jurisdiction Communications (NCJC) photograph. Click on this photo to read a the NCJC report.


PEORIA, IL—United Methodist senior editor Kay DeMoss reports that the Rev. Laurie Haller, until now a pastor in Michigan and the author of the inspirational memoir Recess, was elected a bishop. On Saturday, July 16, 2016, she was assigned by the United Methodist Church to serve the people of Iowa.

Her election was marked by—a black eye. Literally. And DeMoss reports that Laurie handled the mishap in her characteristic style. Laurie turned it into a spiritual lesson. That’s the kind of utterly honest tone she strikes in Recess, which shares many real-life stories and lessons she has drawn from them.

At the regional gathering of church leaders, called the United Methodist North Central Jurisdictional Conference, DeMoss reports:

“I am the first bishop ever to be elected with a visible black eye,” she said addressing the body after election. “I got it from a stray piece of airplane luggage and decided not to cover it up. It reminds me that I offer myself in utter transparency, honesty and vulnerability.” She continued, “It reminds me of all who live under oppression and those with wounds so deep that no one knows they exist.” …

“I think Laurie brings an amazing depth of spirituality,” said Alex Plum, another of Detroit’s lay delegates. “It is not enough for us to rely on politics or look at the divisions, if we are going to have true unity that only comes in Jesus Christ. Laurie’s commitment to Christ is the promise she brings to this church.”

The new bishop is the latest in a series of women elected from the West Michigan Conference, beginning with the historic consecration of Bishop Marjorie Matthews in 1980. Matthews was the first woman to enter the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader was then elected in 1992 while serving as Superintendent of the Grand Rapids District. In addition, Bishop Linda Lee, of the Detroit Conference, was elected bishop in 2000 with endorsement by the West Michigan Conference.


Launch of Recess by Laurie Haller in Birmingham Michigan

Click on this image of the book cover to read our 2015 story about the launch of Laurie’s memoir “Recess.”

Care to read more?

Here is Kay DeMoss’s full story on the election of Laurie Haller at the Peoria conference.

And, here’s a second DeMoss story from the conference.

Learn more about Laurie’s inspiring memoir, Recess: Rediscovering Play and Purpose

Or, you might want to go to Amazon right now and get your own copy of the book in print or for your Kindle.

Finally, if you are intrigued by this unusual book and its author—then you’ll want to learn more about the Rev. Faith Fowler and Cass Community Publishing, which brought Laurie’s book to the world.



Want video?


Finally, here is a three-minute video clip of Laurie as she was introduced to the conference after her election was announced.

In this clip, she briefly mentions her black eye, talks about the focus of her faith and ministry, recalls those who inspired her—and reaches out to members of the church. (The video clip was produced for NCJC by Dakotas UMC.)





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Share Your House of Worship

First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor 120 S State St Ann Arbor MichiganGet involved! Make your spiritual community visible to the world.

Why is this important? Working with the International Association of Religion Journalists, our staff at ReadTheSpirit magazine agrees: There simply aren’t enough good photographs available for those of us in media to show the world’s incredible religious diversity. Yes, there are thousands of free-to-use images of religious landmarks around the world. Yes, hundreds of men and women have uploaded photos of their houses of worship, representing their spiritual communities large and small.

Take a look at the main Religion category in the vast Wikimedia Commons database, which is related to Wikipedia and is one of the world’s most important resources in freely sharing images around the world. Those links from the main category lead to thousands of photos—but there should be hundreds of thousands.

Try this: Can you find your house of worship in Wikimedia Commons? If not, you could upload one or more photos and make your community more notable to the rest of the world.

Tips for Posting Photos in Wikimedia Commons

BEGIN by spending some time exploring Wikimedia Commons and its companion database, the far-better-known Wikipedia. The two are closely related and Wikipedia pulls most of its photos from the Wikimedia database.

Start poking around on Wikimedia’s front page. Or click on the link to the Religion category. Look at individual pages. Pay attention to the information shared with each photo. And, explore the different categories Wikimedia uses to sort out the millions of photos in the total database—everything from insects and flowers to historical photos and images of distant planets. When you start uploading your own photos, you will be asked to identify categories under which your photo will be found.

If you’re planning to upload a photo of your house of worship, check out the category Churches (or go deeper to the sub-category Churches by Location). Or, perhaps you’re looking for Mosques or Synagogues.

Want to see a personal example? ReadTheSpirit magazine Editor David Crumm uploaded this photograph of his home church in Ann Arbor Michigan. There’s a smaller version of the photo at the top of this column. The Wikimedia Commons site offers the higher-resolution original along with supplemental information.


Wikimedia Commons photo sharing tutorialWhen you’re ready—start right here with the Wikimedia Tutorial. If English is not your first language, Wikimedia makes it easy to click on two dozen other languages for the tutorial.

The second page in the Tutorial explains the rules for “Contributing” so that you can successfully share your photo and not encounter any questions or problems. The most important point is: The photo you are sharing must be your photo. Later in the process of uploading, you will have to affirm that it’s a photo you took and own. Your posting on Wikimedia Commons eventually will declare that it’s your photo. So, you cannot share someone else’s photo—like a photo someone else took of your house of worship. You have to take your own.

Today, taking good photos is fairly easy. Most current smartphones take high-quality photographs if you transfer those photos at the original resolution. Remember that your smartphone, by default, is designed to “help” you transfer your photos by knocking down the resolution to a smaller size that’s easier to send through WiFi. Instead of accepting that “help,” be sure to transfer your photo at the original size. Consider emailing it to yourself and then saving the photo on your home computer. It’s easier to use Wikimedia Commons from a laptop or a desktop computer, although it is possible—if you’re a veteran—to use the interface on a smartphone.

The most important rule is: Take your own photos. Share only your own photos.

Creating an account & the Upload Wizard

The third page in the tutorial is packed with information. It may look intimidating but, if you take it step by step, this process is much easier than it was back when Wikimedia Commons was first launching. Today, you’ve probably completed more difficult sign-up processes to start playing a new game on your phone.

After you create a free account, then you’ll use the upload wizard. Make sure you have your caption information in mind before you start the upload. Look at the information provided for other similar photos.

You’ll also need to identify the categories under which your photo will be indexed. If you decide to add or change the categories later, you can log into Wikimedia again and edit your posting.

Got questions? We’re not claiming to be Wiki experts, but we are veterans and can briefly offer some further tips if you encounter problems along the way. Ask us at

And, tell us about your photo!

If you read this orientation and post one or more photos, email us at and tell us about it. Send us the URL to your photo(s) so we can take a look. To encourage more people to get involved, we plan to occasionally highlight some of the photos our readers have uploaded.


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