AwakeningSoul: Need sanctuary? Want sustenance? Hoping for inspiration?

Awakening Soul banner Fran McKendree

“God, put me in the midst of what you are doing,
run me over with your presence,
and allow me to bless what you are doing.”

Part of Fran McKendree’s morning prayers

A new year is right around the corner: For millions of Americans, it’s the start of the annual cycle in schools and congregations. Jewish families already are planning for Rosh Hashanah 5776 on September 13. Christian Advent comes later this fall. This week, we are reporting the latest news from a longtime ReadTheSpirit friend: Fran McKendree.

Fran and collaborator Ann Holtz, once again, are presenting a stirring lineup of artists, musicians and teachers for a four-day retreat in their nationally known AwakeningSoul series. The dates are November 5 to 8. This year the headliners are Old Testament scholar and teacher Walter Brueggemann and global storyteller Valerie Tutson. Capacity is 250 people, which Ann and Fran reached last year—but they say there’s still time to sign up in early September, this year!

Also—think about friends who might be interested in this gathering and do a good deed: Tell them about this news via social media. 

Fran McKendree (1)

Fran McKendree (Click the image to visit his web site.)

But, first, do you remember Fran’s work? Here are earlier stories featuring this inspiring musician …

You get the idea. Each year, Fran crisscrosses America as a highly sought-after music and worship leader at spiritual retreats—frequently for the Episcopal church and often for ecumenical and interfaith gatherings. Several years ago, he and Ann Holtz decided that—in addition to the 100s of events in which they have participated—they would become creative hosts themselves and bring people together at AwakeningSoul once a year.

That’s how religious networks form: The fuel is hospitality and creative collaboration—and the energy is spread when people reciprocate as Fran and Ann have done by becoming hosts of their own series. They travel to our home communities—and they invite us to their community as well. That’s the idea behind AwakeningSoul.

3 IDEALS: SANCTUARY, SUSTENANCE, INSPIRATION

In his own words, here’s how Fran McKendree describes the trio of ideals held up at each AwakeningSoul gathering:

  • Sanctuary—respite, a safe harbor where we know our anchor will hold fast in the rising, ebbing tides;
  • Sustenance—a banquet of wisdom, truth-telling, mindfulness and new awareness;
  • Inspiration—knowing we are not alone on our journeys, emboldened, invigorated, grateful and encouraged as we head back into our worlds.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

One of the first questions, when we hear about a new event is: So, what will it be like, if I do decide to attend? So, ReadTheSpirit asked Fran and Ann to describe AwakeningSoul.

FRAN: Think of this as a banquet where people come to receive food and be in community. When you walk into our meeting space, it’s really striking. We have these beautiful, 4-by-8-foot, folk-art banners made for each of the themes we’ll be exploring. You’ll see people coming in around you who mostly are middle age and up.

ANN: We are within the Christian household but invite all to come. Worship is woven throughout our four days together. We are intentional about our choice of language, song, and symbol with the hope that our worship is inclusive and accessible. In addition to participatory community worship we offer guided meditation.

Half of the people are coming from traditional institutions, but they want something fresh and nourishing. A third of the people who come are clergy, but most of them come incognito. Last year, we had a bishop who came and didn’t make it obvious that she was a bishop; she would share that with people if it was relevant, but she simply wanted to be a part of this community. This is a great place to come for clergy and lay leaders who want to renew their spirits, and want to feel free to say whatever they are thinking—without worrying that someone in their more traditional congregation might be threatened by hearing that.

FRAN: Being in this community of seekers feels like walking into a beautiful field blossoming with art and music and spiritual energy. These folks are hungry. They want to live fuller, more vibrant lives that are responsive to where God is calling them. That’s who you’ll encounter if you show up with us.

WHY BRUEGGEMANN?

ReadTheSpirit readers are likely to know the name of this famous Bible scholar—but perhaps not much else. Wikipedia says he “is widely considered one of the most influential Old Testament scholars of the last several decades.” Fans of Bill Moyers’ TV specials will recall Brueggemann from the lengthy PBS series on Genesis. Regular participants in Bible-study classes are likely to have at least one of his nearly 60 books on a shelf along with other reference materials. He is most famous for applying challenging themes from the ancient Hebrew scriptures to contemporary problems in our world.

Fran says he invited Brueggemann because he is such a stirring teacher—and he understands that people coming to a retreat want to fully interact with the main speakers. “That really impressed me about him. He likes to be accessible. He comes to every meal. He talks with different people each time. He understands what we’re trying to do and he wants to be part of the community.”

Fran has worked with him before. “A couple of years ago, I was asked to do a clergy retreat in Los Angeles and Walter was a speaker,” Fran says. “I knew he was a Bible scholar and I expected to hear these dry talks that might put people to sleep. Not Walter! By the end, he had these hundreds of clergy on their feet, standing because his presentation was so passionate. He has this ability to retell these ancient stories in a way that place you right there in world of the prophets—and then he plunks you back down in today’s world and makes you think about how the prophets’ messages should move us today.

“When he speaks, I see people scribbling notes—and, when he’s done, I see people getting together to discuss and debate what they just heard. He’s great!”

Care to hear Fran McKendree?

Here are two music videos that Fran suggests convey a feeling of the music you’ll experience. Here is Blessing at Midday …

And here is Painting in the Sky …

Care to connect further?

Fran McKendree Awakening Soul contact us page 2Fran and Ann make connection easy. Click on the photo at the top of today’s story to visit their website, or you can jump immediately to the Contact Us page for AwakeningSoul right here. Perhaps you want to learn more about Fran McKendree’s music—then go directly to his website.

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Charles Honey: An inspiring tour from home plate to higher realms

Front cover Faith on First Charles Honey (2)

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. (Cover photo by J.T. Hamilton)

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

You can tell this book by its cover, says journalist, educator and musician Charles Honey.

“That’s a photo taken just down the road from my home in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” he explained in an interview this week. “First, you see the two boys playing ball. I’ve always treasured baseball; I’ve found a lot of joy and comfort in the game; and all across this country people find connection and spiritual meaning with each other through baseball. I’ve presented programs about this idea and people really seem eager to talk about that.

“You can see these boys are playing in a park. That beautiful setting reminds us of the importance of the larger natural world. Then, we see the two towers on the horizon: Sacred Heart, a church so close that I can hear the bells ringing in the morning. I like this photo because the towers against the blue sky remind us of the higher power presiding over all the beauty. And that’s the subtitle of the book: God, Nature and Sacrifice Bunts. These stories are about how spirituality works in our lives on an everyday basis.”

For decades, Charles Honey was one of the nation’s leading newspaper-based religion writers, filing stories via The Grand Rapids Press in western Michigan. Occasionally, you might have seen one of his stories that was picked up by a wire service appearing in a newspaper close to your home. As newspapers nationwide downsized and laid off specialty writers, Honey finally retired his column with the Press this spring after two decades. You can learn more about his life in general and his award-winning work at his website, SoulMailing.

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Click the photo to visit Charles Honey’s website and learn about the spirituality-of-baseball program he presents.

Are you a baseball fan? Then you already understand what Charles is talking about when he says that baseball is a spiritual experience. Or, are you skeptical or perhaps don’t care about our National Pastime? Then, read this summary by Charles about the program he presents on this topic.

Our spiritual tap root in baseball often reaches down into our deepest memories from childhood and resonates, Charles argues, because of the “abiding beauty” of the game. “Besides being a wonderful game in itself, baseball has a way of connecting people across time, societal groups and generations,” he writes.

Hank Greenberg baseball cardIn the new book, you’ll find one whole section devoted to short, fun, inspiring baseball stories—old and new. In our interview, I told Charles that my favorite story reminded readers of the ugly, ant-Semitic abuse that was shouldered so heroically by Tigers great Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Greenberg.

“Over the years, as I’ve written about the spiritual side of baseball or I’ve talked to groups about this idea—I’ve heard from so many people who want to share their own memories, often of going to games with their fathers or grandfathers,” Charles told me. “We all remember the details so vividly—the smell and feel and taste of the ballpark. These are memories that hold very special places in their hearts.”

Hank Greenberg is a memory shared through several generations of Charles’s family—from his own father to Charles’s grown children today.

“Hank Greenberg was one of my father’s childhood heroes,” Charles said. “My Dad grew up in Detroit and he grew up idolizing Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer and all those players who were so famous in the 1930s and won the world series in 1935. I can still remember my Dad talking about how far Hank Greenberg could hit the ball. He was a legend to me!

“Then I read John Rosengren’s biography of Greenberg and that’s what caused me to write about Greenberg again,” Charles said. “I always had heard that he had suffered some terrible anti-Semitic slurs as a player—but I was appalled to find out how bad he had it, and Jewish families had it in Detroit in that era with KKK groups active in the city and Henry Ford publishing anti-Jewish propaganda nationally.

“To me the story of Hank Greenberg connects a lot of themes in this book—the importance of family and stories we share across generations, the importance of connecting people across religious, racial and ethnic lines for the good of the country—and the power of baseball to help people make those connections. Hank Greenberg faced some terrible anti-Semitism, but baseball is a central place in America’s heritage where bridges are crossed. We all know the story of Jackie Robinson, thanks to the movie 42. Over and over again, baseball plays a special role in bringing Americans together—even if sometimes they don’t want to come together, at first.”

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE GAME:
WE HEAR AMERICA SINGING

Love baseball? Then, you’ve already decided to order a copy of this book—and you’ll be richly rewarded. Hate baseball? Then, wait! There’s much more. First, you should know that a majority of the stories in this book are about people discovering something transcendent about life. Charles tells stories of the famous (the Dalai Lama and former President Ford are here) but he’s often at his best writing about people who you’ll meet for the first time in these pages.

After the subject of baseball, the second biggest group of stories in this book center on American popular music. Charles Honey has always been a multi-talented media professional. Visit his Facebook page and you’ll spot him playing his electric guitar. In addition to performing as a musician, he also loves to “talk music.”

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The Byrds took the world 8 Miles High in 1965.

Want a sample? Check out his column 1965: the best year in rock radio—ever. If you were alive in the ’60s, you’ll either love this column—or perhaps arguing with Charles over which bands and songs he mentions. Either way, it’s a fun read.

In his new book, Faith on First, you’ll find true stories about Charles’s encounters—in many different ways—with musicians including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Al Green, John Coltrane and more.

“Music and baseball are both abiding loves of mine,” Charles says. “I’m a musician myself and that’s also been such an important part of my life.”

As we talked, I reminded Charles of a recent cover story in ReadTheSpirit about the power of music to unite entire communities and, in some cases, music’s ability to inspire people to make new commitments to peace and compassion. I also reminded him of the truth repeated by songwriter Brother Al Mascia: “You can’t argue with a good song.” Music brings people together and lifts their spirits in powerful ways.

“For me, music is the shortest, most-direct pathway to the divine—or my sense of the divine,” Charles said. “Listening to music or playing music can bring me into a transcendent place of joy and a feeling of oneness with the universe faster than anything else. I think it’s a wonderful way of crossing ethnic, racial, religious and philosophical barriers.

“I also teach a course on the spirituality of the Beatles. When I do, participants talk about where they were at the time they heard this music, who they were with, how they felt about the world. People like you and me grew up with the Beatles and we should count ourselves blessed to have grown up in that era.

“I remember one class at Calvin College when I asked people to tell me stories about their favorite Beatles songs. And, a woman in her 80s named I Want to Hold Your Hand.

“I asked her, ‘Why that song?’

“She said, ‘I used to love holding my husband’s hand so much. We would take walks in the evening and we would hold hands.’ And then, she spoke of holding his hand on his deathbed and tears were falling in the room as she told this story. That was just a simple little pop song, but it has so many layers of resonance in her life.”

FINALLY, A WORD FROM A FRIEND

Reading this book feels like a warm and exciting experience of making new friends. As a good newspaper columnist, Charles understands how to write as a friend—and he presents these true stories in that tone. You’re meeting dozens of new people in these pages. So, it’s fitting to close this story with a reflection on the new book written by Charles’s longtime colleague Pat Shellenbarger, who currently writes for Bridge magazine in Michigan.

Pat writes …

Yes, this is journalism, but Charley practices a higher, literary form that makes his columns so compelling that they draw you in, whether you think you’re interested or not. Always there is substance to what he writes. He is a reporter and a storyteller.

Charley does not preach but gives readers something to think about. He is drawn to the ordinary among us who have something extraordinary to say. In these pages, you’ll find pieces that read like conversations between friends. A terminally ill man who spent 30 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit talks of faith and forgiveness. A father teaches his son to throw a curveball and to accept the curves life sometimes throws. A stranger on a beach looks out at his daughters splashing in the surf and remarks, “So beautiful.”

That is the essence of what Charley writes. Beauty, spirituality and peace can be found in the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud and other religious texts. Take a moment to look around, he teaches us, and you’ll find them everywhere.

Care to read more?

Mark your calendar! One week from today, Charles Honey returns to the pages of ReadTheSpirit magazine with a five-part OurValues series exploring the values expressed in Beatles songs. That’s one of Charles’s specialties both in his writing and in classes he teaches.

 

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Laughter in the Middle East? It’s true!

Bob Alper and Ahmed Ahmed Laugh in Peace comedy show

Comedians Bob Alper and Ahmed Ahmed will headline shows this week called Laugh in Peace! and subtitled: One Arab. One Jew. Two Very Funny Guys.

By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit Editor

Strange but true!

American comedians Rabbi Bob Alper and Ahmed Ahmed are taking their American interfaith Laugh in Peace! comedy revue to Israel/Palestine this week.

The New York Post’s Richard Johnson broke the news last week, writing:

Everything else has been tried to make life compatible for Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. Why not comedy? In a historic first, Bob Alper, a rabbi and stand-up comedian who has shared many a stage in America with such Arab and Muslim comedians as Ahmed Ahmed and Mo Amer, will join them for four nights of comedy, Aug. 10 to 13, in Ramallah in the West Bank. Then, in another first, Alper and Ahmed will perform three shows together in Israel: in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Who knows? Maybe peace will be forthcoming.

The Jerusalem Post chimed in with a story: A rabbi and an Arab walk into a comedy club …

JNS.ORG, the global Jewish news service, headlined its story: ‘Laughter heals’ is message of unlikely Jewish-Muslim comedy act in which Maayan Jaffe wrote:

They believe they’ve played a role in breaking down barriers between Muslims and Jews. On college campuses, where Jewish-Muslim tension and anti-Semitism run rampant over the issue of Israel, Ahmed and Alper perform for mixed audiences. Jewish males wearing yarmulkes and females in hijabs sit side-by-side, smiling and laughing.

“When people laugh together, it is hard to hate each other,” says Alper, recounting how at the University of Arkansas it occurred to him that they were guests of the “Razorbacks”—a Muslim and a Jew performing at a school whose mascot is a pig.

They keep their shows apolitical, though they do touch on their personal religious experiences in the 90-minute performances, which generally are divided between solo acts of 30-35 minutes and then a joint opening and closing. The closing includes stories from their travels. …

Ahmed and Alper have certainly contemplated their own plan for peace. “In terms of the terrible rift between our people, we’ve come up with one idea, one way that might be able to help heal the divide. That would be if all of us together—Jews and Arabs, Arabs and Jews—if all of us together could simply learn,” says Alper.

cover Bob Alper Thanks I Needed That bookYou might ask: Learn what? To help you explore more of Alper’s stories ReadTheSpirit Books publishes Alper’s two popular collections—not jokes but true and often inspiring stories about people Alper has met over many years.

The books are called Thanks. I Needed That. and Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than ThisYes, there are some stories in these collections that inspire through dramatic and even solemn moments—but you’ll also occasionally discover honest laughter, as well, since Alper naturally sees the humor in any situation where levity can be found.

JOKES: OLD & NEW; HOMESPUN & FOREIGN

cover Life_Doesn_t_Get_Better_Than_This-book Bob AlperWhen we caught up with Alper this week via telephone from his home in a small Vermont town, he talked about editing the material he typically uses in his standup routine to add some localized references.

“Over there, I’ll be performing mostly the act that I perform here,” Alper said. “But I am changing a few things as I very carefully go over my material.”

East Jerusalem cafe prepares kanafeh

Preparing a tray of kanafeh in an East Jerusalem cafe.

The rabbi-comedian has visited in many Arab and Muslim communities and homes and is familiar with kanafeh, a cheesy-syrupy pastry that is popular around the western rim of the Mediterranean, a culinary custom that produces closely related pastries in Greece, Turkey and Egypt. Palestinian homes and cafes in regions including Ramallah and East Jerusalem often display a huge round tray of gold-to-orange-colored kanafeh perhaps with a bright green sprinkling of ground pistachios.

The pride associated with preparing a spectacular kanafeh is akin to feelings among American bakers of homemade pies. Cafes that feature kanafeh—and proud mothers who prepare the delicacy for family dinners—may have friendly rivalries about who turns out the best tray for guests.

“In one of my opening jokes, I usually begin, ‘I live in rural Vermont …’ But I don’t know if people who have English as their second or third language would get the word ‘rural’ immediately,” Alper said. “So, I’m going to say, ‘I live in Vermont on a dirt road …’ because those words are clear to people who know even a little bit of English. They get that dirt roads are essentially in rural areas away from big cities.

“And, I’m going to say, ‘Vermont is a beautiful state with mountains—and valleys—and absolutely gorgeous every where you go—but there is a problem: 10,000 square miles and not one kanafeh!”

Will that guarantee a big laugh? Alper is a veteran who has crisscrossed the U.S. for decades playing in comedy venues large and small—and he admits to a little anxiety this time.

“I’d say I’m very slightly concerned about traveling to Ramallah, but everything I’m hearing recently tells me that it’s a happening city, these days. You don’t hear much about it over here, but there’s a lively restaurant and arts scene there,” Alper said.

“Then, when I get up to perform, any comedian standing up in front of a very different crowd will tell you there’s a little anxiety—until you get a good minute or so into your act and you get the first good laugh. Then, it’s a pleasure.”

Just as Alper is adding a twist or two for his Arab audiences, he is considering adding a few stories from his earlier trips to Israel:

“I’m going to say: My wife and I first went to Israel when I was a student primarily so I could learn spoken Hebrew. I had some biblical Hebrew under my belt but it was difficult, especially during our first weeks. I can still see the look of the cab driver’s face when we pulled into our neighborhood and I said to him in my Hebrew: ‘Behold! Here I descend!’

Then, after a few weeks, we received bills owed by our apartment’s previous tenant. I called our landlord and wanted to say to him, Anach’nu mi’ka-bleem chesh’bo’note (We are receiving bills.)

He replied, Mah?! (What?)

And I repeated what I’d said.

And he said: Mah zeh?? (What’s that!?!)

It was then that I realized that instead of saying, Anach’nu mi’ka-bleem I was saying Anach’nu mi’cha-bleem which means: We are terrorists.”

Despite the few tweaks, Alper says that overall the comedy routines will be the same wherever they go. He told The Jerusalem Post, ““I don’t think it will be different to be honest. Both audiences laugh at the same stuff. They both understand English and American humor.”

The verdict on this unique comedy revue lies in the heads, hearts—and bellies—of the men and women who come to these shows.

“This is a golden opportunity for Ahmed and me to humanize the ‘other’ in the eyes of people who see us perform,” Alper said. “My hope is that when a Palestinian audience sees a rabbi who can make them laugh and appears to be affable, it might help challenge their perception of Jews—and when Israeli audiences see a funny, warm, affable Arab comedian it might help change their perceptions of Arabs.

“It’s just a little step—but hopefully it is a first step and there may be more.”

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

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Meet Reasa Currier of the HSUS—a different kind of interfaith activist

By DAVID CRUMM, ReadTheSpirit Editor

What’s the mission of an interfaith activist?

Often, the vocation involves bridging religious barriers in our communities, combating bigotry, defending human rights, and courageously promoting peace in global hotspots (see InterfaithPeacemakers.com for more).

This week, we’re introducing a different kind of interfaith activist who is crisscrossing the nation on behalf of animals: the Humane Society of the United States’ Reasa Currier. Her title is long: Strategic Initiatives Manager for Faith Outreach, a division of the HSUS.

FAITH & PUBLIC POLICY UNITE

Reasa Currier speaking to a grup (1)

Reasa Currier of Humane Society of the United States speaks to a group.

Reasa Currier’s mission is clear: She connects with religious leaders and activists who are motivated by their faith to join in widespread efforts on behalf of animals.

She’s relatively new to the job, yet her potential impact also is clear: In June 2015, Tennessee enacted tougher penalties for animal fighting, a campaign in which the Southern Baptist Convention played a key role thanks to Reasa’s work on behalf of HSUS with Russell Moore, president of the influential Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“It’s not just a step away from the cruelty and savagery of animal fighting; it is a move away from the exploitation of the poor through expanded gambling,” said Moore, who attended the June 11 signing of the legislation in Tennessee.

The anti-animal-fighting campaign is aimed at more than owners and promoters of animal fights. Reasa reminds faith leaders that this business represents a dangerous lure for poor Americans, often drawing them into ever-deeper cycles of gambling and also bringing their children into the bloody world of animal fighting.

Fighting rings are dangerous environments for vulnerable men and women, Moore and other religious leaders argue. In a public letter endorsing the Tennessee law earlier this spring, Moore warned that a “relationship between animal fighting, gambling and organized crime continues to grow.”

Are you surprised that kids are involved? One Tennessee newspaper featured a photo of a small boy proudly showing off his fighting bird.

Reasa says, “We’ve been involved in opposing dog fighting and cock fighting rings all across the country and we often find that children are present. We’ve found playpens set up near the fighting for small children. We’ve even seen children exchanging money as they gamble on the fights. That’s why we’re focusing on keeping children away—and we also support making it illegal for anyone to attend an animal fight. All too often, police raid a fight and nearly everyone walks away with no consequences.”

Many religious leaders find such a cause is in perfect alignment with their values. (Here is Baptist Press coverage of the Tennessee effort.)

WHY FAITH GROUPS CARE

Animal welfare and creation care may not be high priorities in your congregation—but they could be, Reasa argues. She can show teaching documents that span centuries and, in some cases, millennia.

Buddha receiving honey from a monkey (1)

Sacred relationships with animals run deep in the Dharmic religions, especially Buddhism. Buddhists are not supposed to harm any sentient being. Moreover, the Eastern idea of reincarnation means that an animal you encounter might represent a friend or relative you knew in another life or might know in the future. Plus, animals play a major role in sacred stories. In this painting from a monastery in Laos, a monkey brings the Buddha a stick containing a portion of honeycomb.

“Many Americans are aware of the ancient tradition of  compassion toward living things in the Dharmic faiths,” which include Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions, Reasa says. “But, all of the world’s faiths have some teaching on animal stewardship—so I’m not trying to convince people to accept something new. It’s right there in their religious traditions. A lot of my work is connecting with faith leaders to lift up the teachings that they already have in their communities.”

The majority of Americans are Christians, although they may not often explore their teachings on animal welfare. The Christian connection draws on ancient roots of compassionate stewardship of land and animals in Judaism—a message of care for life that also extends into the other “Abrahamic” faith: Islam.

Many iconic Christian leaders—from St. Francis to the founder of United Methodism John Wesley—were famous for advocating animal welfare. ReadTheSpirit magazine has one of Wesley’s sermons on the topic. During his lifetime, some of Wesley’s harshest critics poked fun at his soft heart for animals and joked that they could spot a Methodist farmer’s barnyard by the kinder ways he treated his animals.

“Christians have a great and ancient history in understanding there is a sacred relationship between the farmer and the land, the land and the community and that includes the welfare of animals,” Reasa says. “There are so many scriptures that speak to this relationship.”

Given this deep consensus, Reasa says, “The easy part of my work is getting endorsements from faith leaders for issues the Humane Society is supporting. Sometimes it only takes a call or an email to tell them about an issue we’re working on—and they’ll want to be part of it. The hard part of my job is building community among the individuals we reach. We need to establish ongoing connections around animal stewardship.”

While Reasa’s work is in the U.S., she points out to religious leaders that efforts on behalf of animals and the environment can build relationships in the burgeoning Southern Hemisphere, where Catholics, Protestants and Muslims all have been experiencing growth. Uniting North and South is a message championed this year by Pope Francis.

REFUSING TO SLIDE INTO DESPAIR

methodist-theological-farm-photo-by-reasa-currier

Click on this photo of the seminary farm to visit the United Methodist website where Reasa published her article. (Photo by Reasa Currier.)

As she travels, Reasa writes and speaks about signs of hope she sees nationwide.

“The news about climate change and the challenges of creation care can quickly turn to conversation about hurricanes and poverty and tragedies—and that can lead to a kind of helplessness,” she says. “The problems can seem to be of such magnitude that it’s just hopeless to try to make a difference as an individual.”

HSUS is well aware of that danger. That’s why the organization promotes lots of individual initiatives like The Humane Backyard, which people can work on wherever they live. Here’s how HSUS describes the idea:

In addition to providing food, water, and cover, a Humane Backyard gives wildlife a safe haven from harmful pesticides and chemicals, free-roaming pets, inhumane practices (such as wildlife trapping), and other dangers in our human-dominated world. Whether you have an apartment balcony, suburban yard, corporate property, place of worship, or community park, you can turn it into a habitat for wildlife, people, and pets.

For her part, Reasa lifts up small but significant examples she spots, while on the road. Recently, she published a column about a seminary that has established a community garden that is changing the way people think about the food they eat.

“I was impressed with their garden,” Reasa says. “They aren’t sinking into helplessness. They are doing something—planting a garden, harvesting vegetables and making a commitment that all their food is sourced in a sustainable and humane manner. They get their meat and dairy from local farms that have high animal-welfare standards. And the vegetables they grow are letting them cut back on the amount of food they’re buying that has to be transported thousands of miles.”

Want to get involved?

Learn about the Faith Outreach division of HSUS.

th Cover Dr Seuss What Pet Should I GetThis week, ReadTheSpirit is publishing several columns packed with ideas you can use with friends. If you found this story about Reasa Currier interesting, then you’ll also want to read our story about the importance of Pope Francis’s campaign on creation care—and you’re sure to enjoy the OurValues series exploring the historic release of a new Dr. Seuss book: What Pet Should I Get?

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

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Why Pope Francis matters: How creation care might unite the world

IF YOU care about our planet and the species who share our home with us—and if your faith compels you to work with others on “creation care”—then share this article with friends, today. Facebook it. Email it. Tweet it. Print it out and carry it into your class or small group.

THE CHALLENGE:
MANY ADULTS DON’T CARE

Pope Francis on the cover of National Geographic magazine 2015 (1)If you care about these issues, this may surprise you. But researchers are showing us, year after year, that most American adults don’t think creation care is a high priority.

The OurValues project, founded by University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker, regularly reports on this challenge. In recent years, the lukewarm American attitude toward the Earth’s ecology is consistent. Here’s a spring 2013 OurValues report on the shrinking American concern over climate change. Researchers study this attitude using a wide range of terms and questions. Here’s a spring 2015 OurValues report that half of American adults rate the quality of our environment as excellent—which is jarringly out of sync with millions of children (in the U.S. and around the world) who believe they won’t inherit a healthy Earth when they grow up.

NEWS FROM PEW:
A STRIKING SNAPSHOT OF OUR WORLD

This new Pew Research Center map of global concerns says it all: If we care about connecting in meaningful ways with the vast emerging nations of the Southern Hemisphere and Asian giants India and China, Americans need to rethink our ambivalence about creation care. (Much of Africa is not colored blue on this map, because Pew’s global effort was only able to conduct research in a handful of African countries.)

Climat Change Seen as Top Global Threat from Pew Research Center (1)

CLICK this PEW graphic to visit Pew’s website and read the entire report.

Pew conducted interviews with more than 45,000 people in 40 countries this spring and then mapped the “very concerned” issue named by a majority in each country. Pew’s report says, in part:

More than half in every Latin American nation surveyed report substantial concerns about climate change. In Peru and Brazil, where years of declining deforestation rates have slowly started to climb, fully three-quarters express anxiety about climate change. Sub-Saharan Africans also voice substantial concerns about climate change. Climate change is particularly worrying in Burkina Faso (79%), Uganda (74%) and Ghana (71%), while South Africans (47%) and Tanzanians (49%) are the least concerned. Both regions are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as is Asia. Indians (73%) and Filipinos (72%) are particularly worried, but climate change captures the top spot in half of the Asian countries surveyed.

In the U.S., while Pew found relatively low concern about climate change overall, Pew researchers also pointed out that this is a political hot-button issue for Americans. Analyzing survey responses along political lines, Pew found:

About six-in-ten Democrats (62%) are very concerned about climate change, while just 20% of Republicans say the same.

WHY POPE FRANCIS MATTERS

Pope Francis Mass in Ecuador July 2015 (1)

Vast numbers of men, women and children gathered for the pope. This papal Mass in Ecuador was photographed by Agencia de Noticias Andes and released for public use.

Pope Francis bridges religious, geographic and political boundaries. The Catholic church is a huge part of American life: One in 5 Americans is Catholic; the country’s growing Hispanic minority is largely Catholic; and close to a third of men and women serving in the U.S. Congress say they’re Catholic, Pew reports. If Catholics once were considered a Democratic minority—that’s no longer the case, researchers say.

Will Americans listen to the pope on climate change and creation care? Since the 1960s, sociological research in Catholic communities shows American Catholics quite comfortable disagreeing with the pontiff and still considering themselves “good Catholics.” Historians say American Catholics learned their outspoken independence beginning in the 1960s as they roundly rejected the Vatican’s ban on artificial birth control—and, over time, came to accept such disagreements with the pope as a normal part of life.

Nevertheless, and despite some of his controversial statements, Pope Francis has become the greatest feel-good religious leader the world has known in years. Catholics around the world are proud of their pontiff. In the current issue of National Geographic, journalist and Francis biographer Robert Draper writes:

To the outside world Pope Francis seemed to have exploded out of the skies like a meteor shower.

Draper points out that this pope was elected in the wake of worldwide trauma over several deep wounds in the Catholic Church—from the abuse of children to an oppressive waive of reprisals against more progressive Catholic leaders by Vatican watchdogs. Catholics love Francis, Draper argues, because they are yearning for a figure to unite them once again.

A classic Francis line appears in big type in National Geographic:

God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts, and guiding us in unexpected ways.

Then, ask yourself this question: What world leader from the Northern Hemisphere has captured the hearts of millions across the Southern Hemisphere? The answer: Simply look at recent coverage of Francis’s triumphant July 2015 tour of South America.

Some U.S. and UK news media recently are reporting a dip in the pope’s overall approval ratings among Americans—a polling effect largely shaped by Gallup’s finding in 2014 that Francis enjoyed a whopping 76 percent favorability rating that year. Now, Gallup reports the pontiff’s reputation is back where it started after his election—at about 6 in 10 Americans rating him favorably. Cleary, though, some Catholics and especially political conservatives are eyeing him warily, these days, Gallup found.

But, before anyone dismisses Francis’s ability to reach across boundaries with his current 59 percent favorability rating among Americans—consider that only one of the 2016 presidential contenders, Hillary Clinton, can muster even a 50 percent favorability in Gallup polling and the entire rest of the political field is below 40 percent.

And, ultimately, Francis’s popularity among Americans isn’t the defining power of his pontificate. It’s his effect as a global unifier. The humble Argentinian who shuns the opulent accoutrements of his successors—like moving into a more modest apartment and discontinuing the custom of hand-made, red, papal shoes in favor of more practical orthopedic shoes—is winning hearts where the world is still growing.

Pope Francis greeted by a crowd in Ecuador in July 2015 (1)

CARE TO READ MORE?

th Cover Dr Seuss What Pet Should I GetIf you care about these issues, you may also want to read this week’s OurValues series about the excitement across America at the release of Dr. Seuss’s “new” book What Pet Should I Get?

Meet an interfaith activist working for animal welfare. Pope Francis is not alone in calling people of faith to protect the species that call Earth our home. In this profile, meet Reasa Currier, who works for the Humane Society of the United States in connecting religious leaders whose traditions call them to care for animals.

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

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Veterans and POWs never asked to be labeled heroes—or anything

Veterans memorial (1)

By JOE GRIMM

The recent tempest over whether former prisoners of wars deserve to be called heroes neglects two important constituencies: POWs and veterans.

The fact is, they never asked for the label.

In writing 100 Questions and Answers About Veterans: A Guide for Civilians, we found that many veterans are uncomfortable with labels. They should no more be labeled than any other population group of 20 million people.

In his foreword to the guide, U.S. Army veteran J.R. Martinez wrote, “Some people have called me a hero for being in the military. Others have called me a monster for being in the military. I wish people would take the time to listen to me. Maybe eventually they’d just call me J.R.”

There are a number of other labels that chafe when applied to this large group of men and women. Many  have to do with the stereotype that veterans are  damaged individuals or victims. This label does not fit, either.

In the guide, published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism, we try to encourage civilians to have conversations with veterans. We do this by answering some of the basic questions people have about veterans. We hope that, with this as background knowledge, people will be less afraid of hurting the people they talk with or being embarrassed.

The guide says, “Labels such as ‘hero’ and ‘warrior’ frequently are used to describe a veteran’s service. Veterans themselves are not often looking for these labels, nor do they feel labels accurately portray their service. Some veterans served in support roles that did not require heroism. Other veterans who might have done remarkable things say their actions were just part of the job or their only choice. As members of a unit that went into combat together, some are uncomfortable with being singled out for acclaim. Others have regrets about things they did not or could not do.”

Conversations can take us far.

Rather than debate whether veterans deserve the hero label—or any label at all—politicians and journalists would serve us all better by listening to them and letting them speak for themselves. Portray them as the individuals they are and don’t engage in a self-serving argument about how to portray them in a word or dimension that they did not ask for. There is more to them than that.

 

At Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, Joe Grimm heads up the “Bias Busters” program that publishes a wide range of books dispelling myths and combatting bigotry against minority groups.

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Missy Buchanan helps us talk across the generations

Cover Missy Buchanan Voices of Aging

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

Missy Buchanan is the first person to point out that—despite her seven popular books and her national advocacy on behalf of aging Americans—she’s not an expert in traditional terms.

“I don’t have a doctorate. I’m not a university researcher. I’m not a medical doctor. I’m not an ordained pastor. I’m just—well, I’m just me,” she says. “But, you know what? Often that’s how God works: God calls unlikely people to go out and do the work that needs to be done.”

However, as her readers nationwide and viewers of Good Morning America know, Missy’s talents begin with careful listening—the main discipline she tries to teach to her ever-growing audience nationwide. When her own parents were in their final years of life, she listened attentively to them. She listened to their friends. And, as she began writing about the spiritual lives of Americans aged 80 and older, she found that older men and women were eager to give her an earful.

Good Morning America Robin Roberts talks with coauthor Missy Buchanan about Lucimarian 2003

Missy Buchanan on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts at the time of the book launch.

That’s how she wound up twice appearing on Good Morning America, after co-authoring the memoir of GMA host Robin Roberts’ mother Lucimarian Roberts.

A CALL IN THE NIGHT

One night, Missy was at home with her husband Barry in Rockwall, Texas, when the phone rang. “And there was this woman with the sweetest little voice, asking, ‘Is this Missy Buchanan?’”

Missy said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“And, is this the same Missy Buchanan who wrote the book Living with Purpose?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Missy repeated.

Then, Lucimarian Roberts said, “You don’t know me but I think you know my daughter, Robin Roberts of Good Morning America.”

That night, a two-year friendship began that extended through an emotional launch of Lucimarian’s co-written book, My Story, My SongMissy’s appearances on Good Morning America—and then, all-too-soon after the book’s debut, Lucimarian’s death.

Missy Buchanan with Lucimarian Roberts daughter of Robin Roberts of Good Morning America

Missy Buchanan and Lucimarian Roberts as their book was launched.

“As we began this book, she still was living in Mississippi close to Biloxi where she had moved with her husband, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen,” Missy says. “I would travel back and forth to Mississippi and would sit with Lucimarian in her living room. She would talk; I would listen.”

There was an urgency driving this project. “The week before the book launch in 2012, she had been in the hospital,” Missy recalls. “But that spring, we had such a memorable gathering of about 350 of her friends and family. She was able to sign books all one day and the next day, too. All of the people who came had wonderful things to say about her. Then, she died in August, that year.”

The sharing of stories is such a powerful experience, Missy says, “that Lucimarian Roberts really became a cheerleader for me. She had chosen me to help her tell her story because she found my first book Living with Purpose, so helpful in her own life. And, of course, when we began this new book, I showed up at her home for that first conversation with so many questions I had prepared. I didn’t need to ask a one of them—the stories just flowed and it became the book.”

Missy kept listening. “The most important thing was helping her to tell her story. And it was such a pleasure to do this. She was so encouraging to me. I remember she’d end every conversation with these words: ‘I love you. You keep writing and speaking. We need to hear this. We need it.’ Every time. And that’s what I keep doing.”

INVITING US TO TALK ACROSS GENERATIONS

Voices of Aging author Missy Buchanan author photo

Click this photo of the author to visit her website.

Now, in her seventh book, Missy invites adults young and old into dialogue, based on thousands of conversations she has experienced through the years. Voices of Aging is subtitled Adult Children and Aging Parents Talk with GodIn the book, Missy presents both sides of 20 conversations on topics including: “The Car” (and whether it’s still smart to drive), “Doctors and Hospitals,” “Money,” “Holidays” and “Boundaries.”

Recognize your own family in that list? If her book can help your family through even one of these 20 topics—you’ll be glad you discovered Missy’s book today.

This is an inspirational book, including recommended Bible verses and short prayers that families might use if faith is a daily part of your relationships. But—as important as talking with God is to most of Missy’s readers—the real power of this new book is that it gets both generations talking with each other!

And, believe it or not, this book is not a downer! There’s a chapter on “Laughter” that will be a welcome relief to readers, for example. Missy’s tone through all of her books (check out her 2013 book Joy Boosters) is relentless optimism. As Missy describes this, it’s the central value of hope that runs like an artery through her life of faith.

“What I’m trying to do is reconnect these millions of Americans who have been all but forgotten by their churches,” she explains. “That’s what got me started on this work.”

A CHURCH GROWTH ISSUE

As you will learn this week in an OurValues series from University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker: It’s time to stop thinking about “aging” as an issue affecting someone else. Right now we are meeting aging America—and “they” are us!

Nearly every congregation in America is eager to welcome more men, women and their families. Yet, most church-growth programs focus almost entirely on young adults—while congregations are abandoning countless older members because they can no longer drive, or need help perhaps with wheelchairs. In addition to exiling all of those men and women—congregations often are pushing away their adult children and who can’t find Sunday-morning options to cover their caregiving duties.

That’s the truth Missy discovered a decade ago, when she began her nationwide mission by simply writing devotional readings for her own parents, adding them page by page to a home-made notebook and eventually making copies for an ever-growing circle of friends.

“This was born out of my own experiences with my parents,” she says. “When I began, I had no intention of becoming a national advocate on these issues. But I discovered that there were all of these people out there who had invested so much of their lives in their communities and their churches—then, once they had trouble attending regularly—their churches forgot them.”

At first, Missy thought of buying some inspirational books for older people, then using them to help lead devotional experiences among her parents’ friends. “But what happened at the bookstores really surprised me! I asked, ‘Do you have any inspirational books for seniors?’ And, they would lead me to the graduation section!”

She laughs. “So I would have to redefine what I wanted. And I would hear, ‘Well, there are all sorts of books written about senior citizens–but something inspirational?’ ”

She found shelves groaning with books about the problems of aging, how to avoid the effects of aging, financial planning—”but nothing inspirational written in language that speaks to their hearts, especially the hearts of men and women who are 80 and older.”

A former teacher armed with a masters in education, Missy began writing and sharing her own inspirational readings. Her first short prayer-poems were voiced from the collective experiences of older adults she met through her parents.

“I wrote them in the first person as if the person reading them was talking to God,” Missy says. “That’s the book that Lucimarian Roberts found and often liked to read from.”

Younger adults might think that older men and women would be experts at prayer, but that isn’t the case as they live through the often disorienting experiences of advanced age. “I regularly talk to older people who tell me, ‘As I’m getting older, I can’t pray the way I used to pray.’ ”

And Missy always asks, “Tell me what you mean.”

She listens. “Often they tell me, ‘I can’t formulate the words. I can’t make the words come to say what’s on my heart now.’ So, that’s what I try to do through all of my books—help their voices rise.”

She says, “You may think these books aren’t for you right now. But you may not realize that you can become the companion for someone on this journey by making time to talk, to share—and to listen.”

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

Care to read more?

VISIT MISSY—Click on her photo, above, to visit her web page, but you’ll hear most frequently from the author by following her on Twitter or connecting with her on Facebook.

Logo of We Are Caregivers online magazineEXPLORE OUR RESOURCES—ReadTheSpirit publishes a wide range of resources on aging, coping and caregiving. We publish the online magazine known as We Are Caregivers; and our ReadTheSpirit bookstore features a number of books of special interest to caregivers and senior citizens. This week, Dr. Wayne Baker’s OurValues project also is publishing a special series on Aging America, looking both at the emerging facts—and hopeful trends.

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