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4 Things You Need to Know about Kay Lindahl

Kay Lindahl cover The Sacred Art of Listening

Click the cover to visit the book’s page at SkyLight Paths.

LISTEN …

If you take 1 thing away from this profile of Kay Lindahl, today, it should be this: She’s the woman behind The Sacred Art of Listening. As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, a well-thumbed copy of Kay’s book has been a part of my own collection of essential reading for more than a decade.

At this point in her life, Kay is a highly respected interfaith and cross-cultural teacher and a tireless professional in knitting together diverse networks of women and men. She regularly crisscrosses the country in her work, although she is primarily based in Long Beach, California. (That’s just south of Los Angeles, where she also serves on the board for the “Four Chaplains” memorial on the Queen Mary.)

Given that brief summary of her life, you might wonder: Why isn’t her book about the sacred art of teaching … or speaking … or organizing? She embodies all of those skills, after all. The answer is that she discovered years ago—thinking about her many experiences with groups: “The art of listening was the main skill that was missing for most participants.” Let me repeat that: She found that most people who are drawn to diverse dialogue groups have a real problem with—listening. Is that conclusion making you smile and nod? Recognize that truth? Kay did, early on, and created this marvelous interactive book on The Sacred Art of Listening, subtitled: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice. You can move through the book’s meditations at your own pace, skip around among the 40, go back and reread them—and use them in your own group.

However, unlike many of the authors we profile in our cover stories, Kay Lindahl is not a household name nationwide. Among her accomplished goals as a listener, teacher, organizer, writer and an activist promoting diversity, she has not pursued celebrity.

So, today, rather than a typical author Q and A, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine, I’m going to share with you …

Four Things
You Need to Know about Kay Lindahl

Kay Lindahl author of Sacred Art of Listening1. You can meet her.

She’s presenting one of the workshops in the August 10-13 North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) 2014 conference in Detroit. Last year, this influential gathering was held in Toronto and, this year, it will be hosted at Wayne State University in the historic heart of Detroit. If you care about the future of interfaith relationships on this continent—and around the world—you’ll plan to attend this NAIN event in August. Here is the NAIN-Connect page where you can register right now. The final schedule of events has not yet been published, but this conference will be jam packed with: workshops, inspiring and challenging talks, plenary sessions to discuss future projects, some off-site tours exploring the history of religious diversity in the global crossroads that Detroit represents. Most importantly, NAIN is a gathering of remarkable men and women like Kay Kindahl—and including a number of ReadTheSpirit’s authors as well. If you decide to attend NAIN, please email us at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com and let us know you’re coming.

2. She is a master of creative collaboration.

As publishers ourselves, our ReadTheSpirit staff is working in 2014 to dramatically expand the way we collaboratively create books. We are impressed that Kay helped to gather a circle of friends to create an award-winning book that we also highly recommend, Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power. Here is a shortened version of the story behind that book …

Kay Lindahl cover Women Spirituality and Transformative Leadership

Click the cover to visit the book’s page at SkyLight Paths.

FROM THE BOOK: This book was born out of a deep curiosity about the current pattern of women’s spiritual leadership in North America and profound excitement about the possibilities that lie before us as women of faith and spirit. … The four editors of this book met at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, in December 2009. This Parliament was buzzing with feminine energy. People everywhere were talking about Earth-based spirituality, the Sacred Feminine, feminine principles, the full inclusion of women, women’s leadership and the critical global issues facing women and their children. Sprinkled liberally among the more than 6,000 attendees were little pink buttons with the question, “What happens when women lead?” …

Our global experiences at the Parliament inspired us to learn more about women’s spiritual leadership in our part of the world—North America. … The four of us created a new organization in 2010—Women of Spirit and Faith—with a commitment to core principles that model a different way of working: shared leadership, collaborative practices, circle processes, deep listening, mindfulness and compassionate action. The organization exists to invite the many brilliant threads of feminine spiritual leadership into relationship and to support emerging patterns of transformation. …

The next step was holding a retreat later that year for 25 women spiritual leaders from the United States and Canada. Leaders representing diversity of age, geography, ethnicity, spiritual orientation, and communities of passion came together for three days of dialogue and inquiry focused on the potential for collaboration among the many organizations and networks represented. … This conversation expanded in April 2011 with a larger gathering. … More than 150 women from across the United States and Canada came together in San Francisco to experience many diverse expressions of spiritual leadership.

This process drew together the writers—and the emerging ideas—that formed the book, Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership, finally written by more than two dozen different women and published by SkyLight Paths.

Friendship and Faith book cover

Click the cover to visit the book’s page in the ReadTheSpirit Bookstore.

Here at ReadTheSpirit, we receive proposals for new books nearly every week—almost always by single writers planning to create books by themselves. That’s the traditional role of an author—a lone writer in a room somewhere. At ReadTheSpirit, we published our first collaborative book in early 2010, called Friendship and Faith, which featured dozens of women co-authoring a book. We’ve been encouraging collaboration ever since. Soon, ReadTheSpirit will publish our first comic book, Bullying Is No Laughing Matter, which is a convergence of dozens of cartoonists and comic artists. We believe that such innovative, cooperative books hold great promise as effective tools for building stronger, healthier communities.

So, we celebrate Kay Lindahl’s skills in this area—and we invite you to learn more from her by coming to NAIN in August and by buying a copy of her book, now.

3. She’s a certified listening professional.

Kay is certified by the International Listening Association, which is the leading professional group for promoting the study, development and teaching of listening. Kay also has a personal website, where you can explore her work. It’s an unusual little website with slowly moving words about listening that scroll across her home page—plus a series of links to read more about what she describes as “my work”—the “Listening Center.” In an interview, Kay talked about this program:

KAY: The Listening Center is the name of my work. It’s not a physical place. It’s the name of my professional work. In 1991, I started doing a meditation practice. I quickly became acquainted with centering prayer and that has been my practice every since. That has given me a deeper, richer relationship with God. I was trained by Basil Pennington and knew him well.

My denomination is the Episcopal Church, but I consider myself a very progressive Christian. About the same time I was exploring meditation and centering prayer, I also founded a local interfaith group. We got together so we could talk and find out more about each other and, right away, we found that we needed dialogue—and we especially needed to find out what works in listening to others. We wanted to avoid either debating or trying to convert.

My husband and I had moved to a new community and we realized that there was no Episcopal church nearby. We ended up being spark plugs to have a church founded in our community and the first gatherings of that church were in our home. I became very engaged in this fledgling church and the bishop at that time, Bob Anderson, came to visit us. We became friends and we would meet often. This was in the mid 1990s and we would meet and talk about centering prayer and dialogue and the start of this new church. He asked me to do a weekend retreat with clergy on prayer.

As we got to planning this, it became clear that there were three things: Listening to God, which is centering prayer, listening to others, which is the dialogue process, and then as we planned this we realize that we also wanted to talk about listening to Self. I was generating exercises and ways of presenting these three areas. The retreat was very effective. Bob and I did it one more together. It was effective again. As my mentor, Bob urged me to keep doing this. So the Listening Center came up as a way to do this work since 1997.

4. She believes this is a transformative moment.

If you haven’t already been enticed to learn more about Kay Lindahl, consider this: She believes firmly that this is a moment of historic, transformative change around the world. In our interview, she said:

KAY: So much is happening right now—and very quickly in many many places! I see a lot of people interested in finding new ways to approach all the challenges we face in our world today. There’s a lot of chaos in the world. You can’t be blind to that. But I see a groundswell of action and activity and thinking that’s going on. I see more and more of it. This is bubbling up now. This is a transformative moment and I am very hopeful about whatever is coming next for humankind.

I am seeing a great deal of movement and interest across North America, but I am also talking worldwide. I have great hope for the work being done around the world by the United Religions Initiative (URI). Through URI, I am hearing about people doing amazing work in the Middle East and Asia and other parts of the world as well. Some of the work is just mind-blowing—fueling my hope that we are onto a major transformation of consciousness on our planet. I know it. I can feel it emerging.

Care to learn more about URI? The link above goes to URI’s homepage online. There also is a Wikipedia overview article about URI’s work.

Care to read more about global peacemaking?

ReadTheSpirit hosts the website Interfaith Peacemakers, coordinated by global peacemaker Daniel Buttry and featuring a rotating series of inspiring profiles of men and women who dare to cross boundaries in pursuit of peace. See what’s new on the Interfaith Peacemakers front page today.

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

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With GroupsPeacemaking

Rethinking Facebook: Hospitality in your living room

Facebook decline and growthEVERYWHERE we go, the ReadTheSpirit team is asked: “What are you doing about Facebook?” That’s a natural question. As innovative publishers, we are reshaping the way media is building positive communities—so men and women nationwide are interested in our advice in light of dramatic changes within Facebook.

Today, three of our experts respond.

How dramatically
is Facebook
changing?

This is an enormous shift! Since Friday (April 11), headlines in nearly all of the leading business publications are proclaiming, as Bloomberg Businessweek asks in a headline: Is this “The End of Free Facebook Marketing?” The biggest change is that, unless companies and other groups start paying Facebook to distribute their recommended links—those popular social media channels will be shut down to a minimal distribution. As few as 1 percent of your followers will actually receive what you are broadcasting in the “old” way so many Facebook pages have been operating.

Want even more bad news? (“Bad,” that is, if you are pushing “old” Facebook broadcast-style marketing.) News reports also are highlighting a second major change at Facebook. In an effort to weed out spammy manipulators of social media, Facebook now will search for and will punish those Facebook pages that explicitly tell followers and friends to go “like” and share their postings. In other words, if you try to work around the new limitations on distribution by aggressively and pointedly telling your audience to go spread your message—Facebook will even further reduce your reach. With the cap already heading toward 1 percent, this second reduction amounts to silencing activity on your Facebook page. In TechCrunch online magazine, Josh Costine’s current headline is “Facebook’s Feed Now Punishes Pages That Ask for Likes.” If you’re doing “old-school” Facebook promotion—ouch!!

And even more limits! On Friday, WIRED magazine’s latest headline is: “This is the End of Facebook as We Know It.” Ryan Tate—author, business analyst and one of WIRED’s senior writers—reports on yet another Facebook change. Depending on how widely you use Facebook on a daily basis, this may (or may not) be bad news for you: Facebook is shutting down the chat feature on its mobile app. Instead, you’ll be prompted to get another Facebook app just for messaging. Writes Tate: “Facebook, the company that makes billions from connecting people to each other, is about to make it harder to have a conversation. … In mature markets like the U.S., Facebook’s user base has essentially stopped growing.” In the future, Facebook will become more of a family of related apps, each with a specialized function.

RETHINKING FACEBOOK:
HOSPITALITY IN YOUR LIVING ROOM

Today at ReadTheSpirit, we are sharing this advice from three of our leading followers of social media …

MARTIN DAVIS

Martin Davis Sacred Language Communications

Click on this snapshot of Martin Davis’s website to visit Sacred Language Communications.

Martin Davis, based in the Washington D.C. area, consults with businesses, nonprofits and congregations through his company and website: Sacred Language Communications. He also is a contributing writer at ReadTheSpirit. Two of his most popular columns focus on revamping church websites and church newsletters.

You’re probably saying, “Wait a minute! We’re still learning how to use Facebook, because you’ve been telling us that everyone needs to get on Facebook. You’re confusing me!” To be clear: We are not reversing our long-standing advice. Facebook still rules all forms of social media.

Now, we’re advising, first: Don’t worry. Much of the high anxiety in headlines this week is coming from media marketers who have built their bottom line on coaching clients to drive Facebook marketing campaigns in ways that worked very well in recent years. If you are a member of a congregation or another community group, primarily using Facebook for its intended purpose—friendly contact with others—then you’ll be fine in the midst of these huge shifts in the business world.

If you are reading this column, today, as the sole person charged with using Facebook as a bullhorn to blast information to your congregation or community group—then you definitely need to rethink what you are doing. This approach to evangelism is a pathway to … well, toward a rapid decline in your effectiveness.

Social media is truly social connection. Meaning you have to spend time cultivating people, talking with them, and nurturing them. This is what Facebook at its best does—and will continue to do. It allows you to engage your members and those in your community by sharing photos and video clips, offering up thoughts and articles for discussion or spiritual growth. Continue to easily share that information with others—and really get to know one another more personally.

The good news? That’s what congregations and community groups do best!

DAVID CRUMM

About ReadTheSpirit magazine and books

Click on this snapshot of our ReadTheSpirit “About” page to learn much more about our background and the scope of our work so far.

David Crumm is the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine and books. To learn more about David and our work so far, visit our “About” page.

I agree entirely with Marty’s analysis. These huge changes in Facebook can actually benefit congregations and community groups—if you are focused on real hospitality, the ancient value that runs through all of the Abrahamic faiths and nearly all other global religious traditions as well. As Marty says, stop thinking of Facbook as a bullhorn.

Think of Facebook as your living room. When friends stop by, what do you? Offer a drink of some kind—and often food. You sit and chat, catch up on the news of the day—usually about what your kids are doing, the fun you had a local event the other night, what you’re planning this coming weekend. You talk. You listen. You show off your latest photos. At its best, that’s both classic hospitality (which is another term for the best forms of evangelism, or sharing good news). Facebook remains the most powerful network in America for doing that!

Be a good host—just as you would in your living room. For example, pay attention to the optimal times when your friends want to sit down with you and share the latest news. Did you know that recent studies of social media show that between 1 and 4 p.m., each day, is the optimal time for Facebook sharing nationwide? That’s different than the optimal time range for Pinterest (8 to 11 p.m.), Twitter (1 to 3 p.m.) and Instagram (5 to 6 p.m.). Warning: These times may not be optimal for your friends, though. Ask around. When are your friends online? Be a good and timely host and conversation partner.

Rather than assigning one person in your congregation or community group to “do Facebook,” look at all the ways your organization can be offering material to help with the person-to-person hospitality. One of the biggest ways you can help: Make sure that someone attending each of your significant events is snapping photos and uploading to your website a wide-ranging album of their pictures. Get friends in the habit of looking through your latest albums for photos they are eager to share on Facebook.

Encouraging real hospitality—a major goal in so many groups today—is a pathway to lively sharing on Facebook.

PAUL HILE

Paul Hile is a writer, editor and project manager with ReadTheSpirit magazine and books. He also is charged with keeping a close eye on changes in social media and advising our authors on the best use of these online tools.

These changes at Facebook are not ideal for most organizations who have been using pages to promote links back to their website or to their events and products. But, it is important to note: The biggest changes only affect “pages.”  Most of our authors aren’t in jeopardy of exceeding their “friend limit” on their personal Facebook accounts, so I am advising them to make better use of their personal Facebook activity.

This is all the more reason to encourage writers to use Facebook and engage with friends in a natural, regular way. The more people talk and interact with us on a daily basis online, the more we’re in front of people. It’s important to remember that there’s more than one way to get attention on Facebook. One, of course, is to post content. The other is to have people talk about you. The more that happens, the better.

As Martin and David have pointed out: This is social media.

In my research, I am convinced that successful social media strategies depend on human, person-to-person interaction. When our public presence on Facebook is “just another page,” then we’ve lost the human relationships that are the real arteries of social media. When followers of “just another page” don’t have any sort of personal interaction—attachment and investment in whatever is being shared—the results of that sharing fall off sharply.

People want to to interact, explore and invest in real relationships. If we pay attention to that core value, then Facebook continues to be a vast and friendly public square for lots of healthy sharing.

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

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Categories: Church Growth

The Mitch Horowitz interview on ‘One Simple Idea’ (Positive Thinking)

One Simple Idea by Mitch Horowitz cover

Click the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

“The power of positive thinking” surrounds us so completely that most of us don’t recognize this idea as an American innovation in spirituality and psychology—or what Mitch Horowitz calls a “genuine and still-unfolding Reformation of the modern search for meaning.”

The message is everywhere we look from Disney’s “Wish upon a star,” to Reagan’s “Nothing is impossible,” Obama’s “Yes, we can,” Nike’s “Just do it.” This idea is the rocket fuel that has launched a host of celebrity brands: Oprah, Dr. Phil, Joel Osteen and many more.

So, it’s startling to realize: This idea that our thoughts can produce a better life is actually a concept developed by a crazy-quilt of men and women over the past two centuries. About 180 years ago, a man named Phineas Quimby—a talented watchmaker in Belfast, Maine—jumped from engineering time pieces to spreading European ideas that the mind can control the body’s inner mechanisms. Never heard of Phineas Quimby until this moment? In his book, Mitch argues that this absolutely fascinating man—all but forgotten today—was as influential as other major religious founders: the John Wesleys and John Smiths and Mary Baker Eddys of American religious life.

As Mitch puts it in his book, this idea of “positive thinking” was the product of “a determinedly modern” group of American men and women. “These experimenters, sometimes working together and other times in private, resolved to determine whether some mental force—divine, psychological or otherwise—exerts an invisible pull on a person’s daily life. Was there, they wondered, a ‘mind-power’ that could be harnessed to manifest outcomes?”

Welcome to Mitch Horowitz’s grand 278-page tour of this odd assortment of pioneers, prophets—and profiteers as well—who gave us one of the central pillars of American culture today: the power of positive thinking.

Who is Mitch Horowitz? He’s the head of the Tarcher-Penguin publishing house, where he produces some of the most important books on America’s and Europe’s great spiritual teachers. (Last year, we interviewed one of Tarcher’s top authors, religious historian Gary Lachman, when Tarcher published his new biography of interfaith pioneer Madame Blavatsky.) We also highly recommend Mitch’s own earlier book (currently published by Bantam), Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation.

Want to see Mitch’s video? He produced a 5-minute introduction to his new book. Well worth watching!

Today, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Mitch about his latest book (published by Crown), One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH MITCH HOROWITZ ON
‘ONE SIMPLE IDEA’

Mitch Horowitz author of One Simple Idea

Mitch Horowitz as he worked on his video promoting ‘One Simple Idea.’ Photo by Shannon Taggart, used by permission.

DAVID: In One Simple Idea, you invite readers to explore the largely untold history of the idea that screams at us from the magazine racks, every day, as we check out at the grocery store. You’re talking about the foundational idea behind celebrity coaches such as Oprah, Joel Osteen, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, right?

MITCH: Absolutely. They all are a part of this movement that I explore in the book. This idea of “the power of positive thinking” has touched every aspect of therapeutic and religious life in this country. It forms the operating instructions for every expression of self help and everything in medicine that seeks to probe a mind-body connection or the newer research that seeks to explore the placebo responses in life and health. This movement has reshaped our advertising and our political language. You can’t understand the story of how America formed itself over the past two centuries if you don’t understand the growth of this idea.

Just think for a moment about how slogans from this movement have reshaped American politics. We’ve seen the triumph of this idea in politics over the last several decades. Ronald Reagan used this so frequently: “Nothing is impossible.” People may not realize this, but if you look back: Dwight Eisenhower didn’t sound this way. Richard Nixon didn’t sound this way. Lyndon Johnson didn’t talk about the war on poverty in this way. The tenets of positive thinking changed the way presidents were expected to talk and Reagan demonstrated this so persuasively that Obama’s slogan, “Yes we can,” picked it up from him and took it further and touched people all across the nation. Remember that George H.W. Bush complained that he couldn’t get a handle on “the vision thing”—and it cost him a second term.

AN AMERICAN INNOVATION:
‘POSITIVE THINKING’

DAVID:  Your book points out, of course, that there are many mind-power threads in global culture. Some forms of this theme show up in Asian culture and, more than two centuries ago, a very specific form of the idea was spread in Europe by Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), Americans didn’t invent the idea of a mind-body connection. However, as you show us in your book, Americans took the notion that mind and body are connected, codified it with a new set of assumptions and enshrined it in our culture to an extent the world had never seen before.

MITCH: Yes, of course. There is an international component to this. There are mind-body ideas in other world cultures. And there also was a vast therapeutic movement that arose in the 19th century, involving a lot of European innovations in understanding the mind. This all rested on the idea of a practical shift in human perception and the belief that you can objectively alter your experience of life going forward.

In his era, Mesmer was very good at arriving at an early very rough estimation of the unconscious mind. He didn’t possess a vocabulary that today we would consider “correct.” For example, he talked about “animal magnetism” and he had other ideas we dismiss today. But Mesmer did do enough in his work so that others could leap into this field and build something more concrete.

What Americans built from this is distinctive and Americans have done a very good job of dispersing our positivity gospel to the rest of the world. But there are other related movements in other parts of the world.

DAVID: One example of a European thinker, in your book, is Victor Frankl, who we recently profiled.

MITCH: Frankl is an example of a 20th-century European philosopher who wrote in a related area. Frankl was forced to live through some of the most catastrophic conditions imaginable. He emerged from the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust with the idea that humans, even in the most depleted of conditions, can find some sense of meaning. One could argue that it’s unfair of me to identify Frankl as connected to the “positive thinking” movement, but we can see him as a distant branch of this movement. It shows how far this positive-thinking project ran.

DAVID: Let’s go back to the beginning, for a moment. Some of our sharp readers may do the historical math in what we’ve already said in today’s interview and they will realize that Mesmer died long before Phineas Quimby jumped from designing watches to designing mind-body connections. So, here’s the link with Mesmer: Quimby attended a program by a traveling “mesmerist”—this was a couple of decades after Mesmer himself was dead—and this brilliant Maine watchmaker was so convinced by what he heard that he pretty much dropped his previous life to leap full force into a new line of work.

I’ll wager that most of our readers have never heard of Quimby until today’s interview—and perhaps they’ll go ahead and buy your book to discover his story. Tell us just a bit more about him.

MITCH: Quimby was the classic American religious experimenter and in some respects was the grandfather of mental healing—the forerunner of positive thinking. He was a clockmaker born in New Hampshire, although he spent most of his life in Maine. He found himself suffering from tuberculosis and he had nowhere to turn, like most Americans in that era, in seeking reasonable medical care. What passed for medicine actually made things worse. Throughout much of the 19th century, health care was dominated by an almost medieval approach to medicine. Physicians still thought it was a good idea to create open wounds to drain liquids from the body. Physicians would try to flush disease out of the body by giving people various toxic substances. At first, Quimby was given a treatment of calomel, a mercury-based toxin, and he wound up suffering from mercury poisoning. The poor man was losing teeth.

Quimby was faced with a crisis of suffering that was made worse at the hands of the professionals who were supposed to be helping him. Then, one day, he took a raucous carriage ride through the countryside and he found that the excitement of this ride improved his spirits and he also found some relief from his symptoms for a while. He began to wonder about this effect. He wrote, “Man’s happiness is in his belief.” He became quite interested in mesmerism and the connections between the mind and body. He began using prayers that today we would call affirmations and visualizations as a healing regimen. He began in the early 1840s treating people with disorders that had resisted medical treatments or had grown worse as a result of medicine. He became the nation’s first mental healer and he continued until his death in 1866.

FROM HISTORY TO TODAY:
‘POSITIVE THINKING’ RESHAPES
POLITICS AND SCIENCE

DAVID: This book is far more than a history lesson. You connect the dots throughout your book with modern figures—for example, Norman Vincent Peale whose Guideposts magazine and website remain a mainstay in American culture two decades after his death.

MITCH: Peale wrote the book that would bring this message into just about every household in America: The Power of Positive Thinking.

DAVID: The book sold millions of copies and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 186 weeks in the 1950s! To this day, his magazine, founded just after World War II, reaches millions of readers and the magazine runs some very popular websites, as well. Your book gives us a balanced portrait of Peale, both his spiritual genius and also his tragic limitations. For example, you include Peale’s anti-Catholic bias against John Kennedy. You chart the highs and lows of Peale’s life in that section of the book.

You’ve included a lot in these pages. You look at Reagan’s use of this idea. And you also give us a sampling of recent scientific research, too.

MITCH: At leading institutions like Harvard, research is going on right now—we’re seeing new reports from this work all the time—exploring mind-body connections. But there is this disconnect in the way we understand where these ideas arose, so that’s why I thought this book was so timely. In medical research today, very few people feel any debt in their scientific work to the positive-thinking movement. In its best expressions, this movement did produce early rough estimates of some ideas that science is validating today about the mind and the body.

DAVID: I appreciate your historical balance. You’re not trying to advocate for positive thinking—and you’re not trying to dismiss it. Whether your readers like or dislike positive thinking—you make the case that it’s a movement we all should understand. To borrow your own words: “The whole notion that the mind is causative is the most radical religious and psychological idea of our times.”

We’ve talked already about some of the positive outcomes of the movement. What are some of the mistakes?

MITCH: I think the biggest mistake of the movement is that a lot of men and women in this movement have tried to simplify the power of the mind into something like a big mental law. Many of them have given us their own version of that law. But there is no verification of one great, unified, mental super law. Does that mean that all the insights of the positive thinking movement are wrong? No. I would say it this way: The mind is one “cause” among many.

I think the truth is: We live under many laws. Many forces are at work in the world. We suffer. Things happen that we can’t control. Does the mind have real power in our lives? Research is showing us: Yes, it does. But it’s not the only power. For all of its limitations, though, the positive thinking movement has always been on the edge of redefining humanity’s view of itself. There is real value in understanding this movement.

DAVID: One last thing I want to point out to readers in this interview: If this subject is intriguing, then your book also serves up one of the most impressive “Notes on Sources” sections that I’ve seen in a long time. You give readers a 43-page section that serves as a road-map to learn more about the whole wide range of topics you raise in your book. That Notes section is a great reason to buy this book.

MITCH: I appreciate your noticing that. I wrote those Notes to be read. They’re not a technical afterthought. They’re not tedious, I hope. This is where the reader can go beyond this book. I want people to be able to reach this section of the book and feel as though I’m showing them beneath the floorboards, taking them up in the attic and guiding them toward places they can go to read much more, if they are interested in what they’re discovering.

Want more?

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

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With Groups

Mitch Horowitz on the American positive thinking movement

intrigued by Mitch Horowitz’s latest book (published by Crown), One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life? Then, take just 5 minutes and let him explain his thesis to you.

Here is just a little of what he says in this video: “Positive thinking surrounds us. It’s the language that we use in everyday life and it’s the language people use when they’re trying to persuade us of something. And it all comes from one simple idea that bubbled up in American mystical subcultures in the mid 19th century. It was this: Thoughts are causative! When Ronald Reagan, for example, used to say in his speeches, “Nothing is impossible!” that was not the kind of thinking was always used in this country. That was language that came out of the positive thinking movement. When we talk about the importance of having a positive attitude—that way of thinking is new. The notion that you have to be able to foster a diplomatic atmosphere with other people—it seems like it’s always been with us. It hasn’t.”

Click the video screen below for this really intriguing introduction to Mitch’s book. (Don’t see a video screen in your version of this story? Try clicking the headline of this post to re-load it. Or, you also can watch this video directly on YouTube.)

Have you found our interview with Mitch? If you are landing on this video page, first, you’ll also enjoy ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s interview with Mitch this week.

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With Groups

The Saloma Furlong interview on ‘Bonnet Strings’

CLICK on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

CLICK on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

Millions of Americans, once again, are thinking of driving through “Amish country” this year. We’re smiling at the nostalgic sights we’ll see, already tasting the traditional foods—and many are reading Amish novels (romances and mysteries, too) or tuning in made-for-TV Amish movies.

This is a perfect time to get a copy of Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds, the latest memoir by Saloma Furlong who was featured on two very popular documentaries about the Amish on PBS: American Experience: The Amish and American Experience: Amish—Shunned.

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, in preparing for this week’s Cover Story with Saloma Furlong—I had to wait in line to read Bonnet Strings. The book vanished the moment it arrived at my home office. My wife had grabbed it! She had enjoyed seeing Saloma on PBS, had read Saloma’s first book Why I Left the Amish: A Memoir, and was eager to read this more romantic second volume about the twists and turns as Saloma fell in love with a young toymaker.

Want further confirmation that you’ll enjoy this book? Mennonite author Shirley Showalter (who we featured in an earlier author interview) writes about Bonnet Strings: “This story includes all the elements of a good romance—attraction, danger, secrets, beautiful scenery, obstacles, culture clashes and old-fashioned chivalry. You will cheer for Saloma and the sense of self God placed in her heart.”

Also: Don’t miss the moving dedication page at the front of this book. This time, both David and Saloma wrote chapters (Saloma wrote most of them, but David contributed a handful of key chapters from his perspective). So, the book opens with two real-life love letters—a single sentence from Saloma to David: “It is because of your understanding and quiet perseverance that our love not only survived but also thrived.” And from David to Saloma: “Your truth shines a light on the path to eternal love.” Now, come on: Who can resist a real-life story like this?

Saloma Furlong recipe for Mems white bread and for Sticky BunsAND, THE BEST PART!

If you have seen Saloma in the PBS films, then you know that she’s a marvelous baker. You’ve seen her preparing those delicious “Sticky Buns” that look so good—you’re hungry when the film ends. Well, Saloma closes her new book with some classic family recipes: Today, she has given us permission to republish her Sticky Buns recipe (which includes her recipe for Mem‘s White Bread). In her book, the full recipe section includes her Pie Crust Made Simple, Olin Clara’s Peach Pie, My Favorite Apple Pie—and a link to find even more recipes. You’ll also be passing around her favorite foods for years to come!

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH SALOMA FURLONG
ON ‘BONNET STRINGS’

DAVID: Amish or not, many people will be drawn into your story by the first paragraph of your new memoir. You write:

It was a mismatch from the start—being born with a nature that just did not fit into my Amish culture. For as long as I can remember, questions had bubbled up from within. I tried to emulate other girls who were quiet and submissive. I’d practice folding my arms in the demure way of Amish girls, looking down in front of me instead of looking directly at others and not talking. That never lasted more than five minutes before I’d forget and become myself again.”

A lot of people today feel they don’t fit in. They want to “become themselves,” to borrow your phrase. As millions of Americans know from seeing your story in two different, feature-length PBS documentaries: You finally left the Amish community. But, I’m wondering: Today, do you consider yourself Amish? Or “formerly Amish”?

Photo of Saloma Furlong by Kerstin Martin. Used with the author's permission.

Photo of Saloma Furlong by Kerstin Martin. Used with the author’s permission.

SALOMA: I’m not sure I can be definitive in answering that. I am more of “a formerly Amish writer.” I don’t think of myself as “an Amish writer” because I’m not a practicing Amish. But, I’m still very Amish in my being.

I find myself serving as an accidental interpreter of the culture from which I emerged. There are so many misunderstandings about the Amish! I constantly find myself trying to clear those up. I get so many questions from my readers and from audiences when I go out and speak about this. I feel like I am constantly trying to right misrepresentations.

Often, I’ve felt like a lone voice in the wilderness until these two films came out. Callie Wiser was the producer of the first film that was shown on PBS and the director-producer-writer of the second film. She’s an amazing filmmaker because she’s such a careful observer and she understands things that many others miss. Thanks to Callie, those two films clear up a lot of misunderstandings, I think.

DAVID: Your first book’s title makes it clear that you left the Amish and, when people read that book, they realize that you grew up in a household with some tragically unresolved issues involving two men in your family. Eventually, we learn, some outside assistance helped with that situation—but you already had decided to leave. You left partly because of those men and primarily because your personality was in conflict with Amish ways.

Now, in the latest PBS film, viewers nationwide saw you helping another young woman struggle with her decision on whether to finally leave the Amish—or return to her traditional family. I suspect a lot of our readers are wondering: So, do you like and admire the Amish? Or, are you more of a critic of the Amish?

SALOMA: I am both. I like a lot of things about the Amish and I often find myself defending them, if I hear people wanting to demonize them. However, when people are trying to romanticize them, I point out some of the reality that doesn’t fit with the stereotypes. You could say: I complicate people’s idea of the Amish.

The Amish are people—they are human and they have their faults—but they also have some very important things to offer to the world, things like being more mindful about the technology we so easily adopt. They place a very high value on community.

DAVID: But you would change a few things about Amish culture if you could, right?

SALOMA: If I could change one thing about the Amish, it would be to allow the education of children beyond the 8th grade. When Amish young people graduate at 13 or 14 years old, they’re just too young to make it on their own in today’s world. Even if they got just a couple more years of schooling, then they’d have a prayer to make it on their own. But the Amish don’t want to talk about it. They say: God will take care of us.

A REAL-LIFE AMISH LOVE STORY

DAVID: Well, let’s turn to the strong appeal of this second memoir: It’s got good food and real romance. At this point, publishers understand that those millions of American tourists who love to drive through “Amish country” every summer also are grabbing Amish romances and mysteries to read, when they get back home. In book publishing, it’s often said: “Put a bonnet on it, and it’ll sell.”

While a lot of books have bonnets on the cover, these days—most are fiction. Your book? It’s the real deal. It all happened.

SALOMA: We hear a lot of feedback from readers of this new memoir that they would like to see this made into a movie. David and I would love to see that, although we haven’t heard from any filmmakers, yet.

DAVID: As Shirley Showalter says in recommending your book, this is a compelling love story because it involves dramatic clashes and obstacles along the way. In real life, love isn’t easy—and your love story certainly was a roller coaster.

First, you left the Amish and fell in love with this toymaker—the young man who is now your husband David. But that love took a painful turn! You wound up almost breaking David’s heart by going back to the Amish and leaving him behind. He was so loyal that he kept pursuing you, despite some huge barriers you threw in front of him.

There’s a scene in this new book, on a day when David actually showed up and tried to reconnect with you. You had decided to go out in a canoe for the day with a sister and some friends. As you’re going out onto this reservoir in the canoe, he shows up and hands you a piece of paper that he thinks will be very meaningful to you. I won’t reveal to our readers what was on the paper. But, instead, you drop the paper into the water. Now, that’s a scene from a movie. I can see that fragile white paper sinking into the dark waters of the reservoir.

SALOMA: When we started talking about movie scenes, I knew you were going to bring up that moment in the book! And, of course, I can still see that in my memory. Memories, like that day when I dropped David’s paper into the water and tried to reject him again—those memories become so vivid because they’re the experiences that shape who we are as people.

DAVID: I hope that many readers buy your book, enjoy your story, make some wonderful baked goods from the recipes in the back of your book—and we wind up seeing your story on the big screen. Do you have a third book in this series of memoirs in the works?

SALOMA: Well, it all depends on how successful these first two books are. Right now, my husband is bringing in the bread and butter to keep our household going. In this book, the publisher has included a few chapters written by David, but I’d like to write more with him. The problem is that his work is so time consuming that, right now, he doesn’t have time to write.

DAVID: Meanwhile, keep baking! We’re going to share your recipe for bread and sticky buns. They’re so good!

Care to read more?

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

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Categories: Author InterviewsChildren and Families

The Philip Yancey interview: ‘The Question that Never Goes Away’

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

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

Where is God when … the next hurricane hits, the next wildfire rages, the next nuclear accident spews radiation, or the next civil war strikes down men, women and children?

As each tragedy erupts, people of faith rush to reassure the world that God remains a source of hope. But, sometimes, their well-intentioned messages do more harm than good. A deeper, haunting question remains unresolved: Why? Why did this disaster happen in the first place? Why were some spared and others destroyed?

Now, best-selling author and journalist Philip Yancey, whose books are read around the world, tackles that question. And he doesn’t chart an easy course for himself. He writes about that core question—Why?—in light of the Japanese nuclear disaster, the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. He calls the book simply, The Question That Never Goes Away: Why?

If you are familiar with Philip Yancey’s Sterling credentials as a major evangelical voice in America, you may be surprised by the hard-earned honesty of this book. This is not a volume of pat answers. It’s not soft soap. In fact, the book opens with a heart-rending scene: the death of Philip’s own father in a tragic case of well-meaning Christians actually causing the death.

Throughout his career, Philip Yancey has written and spoken many times about the questions: Why do such horrible things happen? Where is God when they do? That has generated a constant stream of letters from readers about this theme until Philip finally decided that he should pull the most stirring letters from his files and revisit them. On this issue alone, he found that he had saved more than 1,000 letters!

What caused Philip to address this haunting cluster of questions right now? He tells us that it was prompted by three life-changing experiences in 2012. As a journalist, he describes them in detail in this new volume that is such a page-turner, you’re likely to read it in a single sitting. He summarizes the trio of experiences this way:

“In 2012, I spoke to groups … three times, in the most daunting circumstances. … In March, I stood before congregations in the Tohoku region of Japan on the first anniversary of the tsunami that slammed into land with the velocity of a passenger jet, snapping railroad tracks like chopsticks and scattering ships, buses, houses, and even airplanes across the ravaged landscape. In its wake, with 19,000 dead and whole villages swept out to sea, a busy secular nation that normally has no time for theological questions thought of little else.

“In October, I spoke on the question in Sarajevo, a city that had no heat, fuel or electricity and little food or water for four years while sustaining the longest siege in modern warfare. Eleven thousand residents died from the daily barrage of sniper fire and from the shells and mortars that fell from the sky like hail. …

“As 2012 drew to a close, I accepted perhaps the hardest assignment of all … in the sheer intensity of horror and intimate grief. The weekend after Christmas, I addressed the community of Newtown, Connecticut, a town reeling from the senseless slaughter of 20 first-graders and 6 of their teachers and staff.”

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talked with Philip Yancey. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH PHILIP YANCEY ON
‘THE QUESTION THAT NEVER GOES AWAY:
WHY?’

DAVID: In this book about vast tragedies, you begin by telling readers about 1 death: When you were an infant, your father was disabled by polio. He needed to use a breathing machine, what then was called an “iron lung.” But your family belonged to a Fundamentalist church that convinced him to quit using the machine, so that prayer could heal him. Instead, your father died. It was an agonizing experience that shaped your own life.

Philip Yancey author of The Question That Never Goes AwayPHILIP: This was foundational for me, in an indirect way. I have no conscious memory of it because I was just a year old when it happened, but the overflow of this experience did affect me every day of my childhood. What I learned from that experience was not that different from other things I learned from the rather rigid church in which I grew up. The people in that church had very good intentions. The people who removed my father from his “iron lung” had good intentions. They thought they knew God’s will, but in that case they were flat-out wrong. He died.

That’s true of a lot of things in church history, isn’t it? I learned early on that you couldn’t swallow everything the church tells you. You’ve got to figure it out yourself; you’ve got to investigate. This idea flowered as a teenager. I learned that some of the things the church was telling me were wrong, in particular the racism of the church. And, for a while in my life, I threw the whole idea of faith off. I look back on that experience as healthy. It would have been unhealthy if I had just kept believing and accepting everything the church was telling me at that point. This stimulated my journalistic instincts before I knew what to call those instincts.

DAVID: People who know about your books and your work around the world may think of you as an evangelist. You’re very popular as an inspiring speaker. But your true vocation is journalism and you’ve always insisted that this role as a journalist is crucial to properly understanding your work.

PHILIP: The reason I identify as a journalist is because a journalist doesn’t begin as an expert in any one field. A journalist is a generalist, not an expert. Let’s say I’m assigned to write an article about nuclear physics. I don’t know anything about that subject but there are resources available. I can go to libraries. I can go to the Los Alamos lab. I can talk to physicists. I can eventually write an article that explains physics to people, at least a general introduction. That’s going to be quite different than asking a research physicist to write an article about his work. A lot of the books that are sold as religious books are written by the physicists of the church, the scholars, the experts.

In my work, I begin talking to people about their life experiences. That’s how I report on subjects like prayer or the problem of pain. I approach those questions from the journalist’s perspective. That’s true of everything I write. I started as a magazine writer and editor and made my living as a journalist. This new book goes beyond the usual journalistic perspective, because it comes out of three concrete experiences in three real places: Japan, Sarajevo and Newtown. But I do follow journalistic style here in the way I open each section with a description of what happened, then I write about how people lived through these experiences, then I write about my own experiences looking into what happened in these places.

I am not just asking and answering my own questions. I want readers to try to understand what it felt like to have been living in Japan when suddenly your entire village was washed away, or what it felt like to be a parent in Newtown on the day of the shootings and afterward. I want readers to experience the stories of these people, because their real stories give passion, depth and reality to the questions we all are raising after such tragedies.

THE PROBLEM WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

DAVID: You admit in the opening of your book that, all too often, people of faith wind up making things worse in their rush to reassure people after a disaster.

PHILIP: That is very true. And I do use the phrase “well intentioned.” One example: So many of the clichés you hear at funerals, or explanations given to children after a disaster, actually wind up making people feel worse instead of better. A common comment I heard, as a journalist talking to people who had survived terrible tragedies was: “The church made it worse.” Well-intentioned people show up hoping to help and share all sorts of theories about what had just happened. Many of those easy explanations were confusing and, in the end, made things worse.

VICTOR FRANKL AND THE SEARCH FOR MEANING

DAVID: In your book, readers will meet a lot of very wise people. As a good journalist, you draw together lots of such wisdom in your reporting. One figure you include in your book, who we just profiled in our online magazine, is Victor Frankl, the Auschwitz survivor who wrote about the importance of finding meaning in life even in the most deadly circumstances. Tell us why you included him.

PHILIP: What struck me most, the first time I read Victor Frankl, was the idea that despair is suffering without meaning. The Nazis actually carried out experiments in having prisoners work without meaning. They might have someone move rocks across a field all day long. The next day, they’d move the rocks back. Over and over again. This would break the will of the laborers and, eventually, the meaninglessness would break them down completely. Frankl argued that the human mind can survive extremely severe experiences if we can find some meaning in what we are going through.

Now, you can carry this argument too far. It’s easy to misunderstand. Some people might read Frankl and think it’s just a simple formula: find meaning and you’ll survive. Well, that’s not true. A lot of people who did find meaning in Auschwitz died anyway. Most people who passed through Auschwitz died. The same is true in other great tragedies people face today. It’s not a simple formula that guarantees survival.

But it is true that if you can just find meaning in the suffering, you can endure in a different way and you can do this probably more effectively than someone who doesn’t find meaning. I believe that principle is the same principle that Jesus uses when he encountered people who were suffering. In John 9, for example, Jesus encounters a man born blind and the disciples immediately ask: Who sinned? This man? His parents? That scene shows you the absurdity of such questions. Jesus dismisses the questions. He didn’t offer neat, formulaic theories about why something happened. Jesus was focused on: Yes, something bad has happened here, but can something good come out of this? And the answer is always: Yes.

GOD IN RED CAPE AND BLUE TIGHTS?

DAVID: So, a healthy “search for meaning,” to borrow Frankl’s phrase, often focuses on the way forward, the next steps, the individual and community response. You know from your own life, from your father’s death in particular, that God is not Superman. Here’s the lesson that I came away with most clearly from your book: If we doubt God’s reality in the face of tragedy, then we’re looking toward God with the wrong vision, the wrong set of expectations. God’s not hovering up there in a red cape and blue tights, ready to fly into our lives at a moment’s notice and rescue us. God is most present in the community that responds even in the face of evil and trauma.

PHILIP: That’s very true in the way you’re describing it. But this can be misunderstood. As you say that, people may think you’re saying: God is unable to solve problems, so God has to go with Plan B.

The way I say it is: God is Plan A from the beginning. God is not a muscle-flexing figure. God wants us to do in our admittedly inept ways, often, what God could do with a snap of a finger. Remember that God did not come to us as Superman 2,000 years ago but as a helpless baby in a very oppressed and problematic context. Jesus had many chances to snap his fingers—and didn’t. That’s what the temptation scenes in the wilderness are all about. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to snap his fingers and do great miracles, yet he didn’t. And, in the end, he tells his followers: Now, it’s up to you to do the work here.

Every parent celebrates when their child takes a first step. Just this morning, I received a little movie clip from a woman whose grandchild had taken her first step. One response to such a video would be to email back and say: “What’s the big deal? There are billions of people in the world and most of them can walk.” But, if you’re a grandparent, it is indeed a big deal. In that way, God takes pleasure in seeing the world respond to rebuild after a tsunami or in seeing the community of Newtown come together to heal. This is not a case of an inferior Plan B—it’s what God had in mind all along.

DAVID: As I was reading your book, I kept thinking of Queen Elizabeth II’s famous words of wisdom after a great tragedy. She said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

PHILIP: Absolutely. I had not heard that quote from Queen Elizabeth before, but I have spoken with so many people who tell me that grief is the place where love and pain converge.

DAVID: That’s a memorable line in your new book: Grief is the place where love and pain converge.

PHILIP: Yes, and I quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who warns us not to think that we can fill that space. He wrote, “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation. It remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it, but on the contrary, God keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”

This is such an important truth. When someone is lost, it’s important not to say: “You won’t feel the grief after a while.” Or: “You’ll get back to normal soon.” That loss may never go away. The parents who lost their children in Newtown can choose to fill their gaps in healthy or in unhealthy ways. They can become obsessed with questions or with bad advice they have been given.

I am saying: Grief itself can be a healthy thing. It’s a symbol of our love.

 Care to read more?

  • MORE FROM PHILIP YANCEY: Visit Philip’s own website where he offers columns and news about his ongoing work.
  • INTERFAITH PEACEMAKERS: Our Victor Frankl profile is part of a much larger effort—called Interfaith Peacemakers—celebrating the lives of men and women around the world whose faith leads them to risk crossing boundaries and making peace, often with others they never expected would help to form a new community.
  • OUR READ THE SPIRIT BOOKSTORE: We’ve published dozens of books on related themes. Please visit our online Bookstore.
  • WAITING FOR THE MOVIE VERSION? Our website now includes the work of long-time faith-and-film writer Edward McNulty—called Visual Parables—in which Ed shares more than 1,000 thoughtful columns on films that make us think about our faith in fresh ways.

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

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Categories: Author InterviewsBibleGreat With GroupsPeacemaking

Ann Morisy Interview: Hope always … springs up.

Theologian Ann Morisy and the train station at Streatham on London's south side. Photos courtesy of Ann Morisy and Wikimedia Commons.

Theologian Ann Morisy and the train station at Streatham on London’s south side. Photos courtesy of Ann Morisy and Wikimedia Commons.

“HOPE has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.”
Studs Terkel

That’s the final line in theologian Ann Morisy’s manifesto for discouraged congregations, Bothered and Bewildered: Enacting Hope in Troubled Times. Her books are loaded with research drawn from sociology, political science, economics and theology. From that solid foundation, she raises her call to arms: The revival of Christianity—and the accompanying revival of communities—begins with small circles of men and women unleashing the power of their faith, their compassion and their creativity.

If you have never heard of Ann Morisy’s name until today, you should know that she stands in a long line of prophetic British writers whose appeals to conscience have crossed the Atlantic and built huge followings in America. That line certainly includes Charles Dickens (ReadTheSpirit is starting a Dickens reading group this week) and includes C.S. Lewis (see our earlier cover story on Lewis’ enormous legacy). That prophetic line also includes writers, teachers and musicians who have sprung from Scotland’s Iona Community (as examples, see these profiles of John Philip Newell and John Bell).

Care to read more on UK-US connections? All this week, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is writing about our up-and-down trans-Atlantic relations in his daily OurValues.org columns.

Care to see and hear Ann Morisy? She occasionally comes to the U.S. and will appear March 21-23 at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor adjacent to the campus of the University of Michigan. Sorry—yes, we know that most of our readers don’t live in Michigan, where ReadTheSpirit’s core staff is based, but we couldn’t resist heralding Ann’s visit with this interview.

DICKENS, LEWIS, IONA and MORISY

There are echoes of Dickens, Lewis and the Iona writers in Morisy’s work. She preaches that congregations should not wallow in their anxieties about the future. Congregations are not poor, besieged outposts waiting for some do-gooder to come save them. In fact, every congregation is made up of men and women, and the truth is that each person can contribute in an “economy of abundance,” one of Morisy’s favorite phrases.

Ann Morisy cover of Continuum book Borrowing from the FutureIn other words, even if your options in life are extremely limited—perhaps you are wheelchair bound in an assisted living community—you still have a lot you can share with the rest of the world. Your contribution to abundance may amount to your compassionate smiles and encouraging words to others. There is no excuse for refusing to share, she argues. And, in fact, the vast majority of men and women are not so extremely limited—and can give far more on a daily basis.

The problem, Morisy argues, is that our societies—especially in the UK and the US—are tragically out of whack. Most Americans, today, know about the yawning wealth gap between the “rich 1 percent” and the rest of us. But Morisy’s preaching and writing doesn’t let the 99 off the hook. She asks audiences: Are you a Baby Boomer? Then, to those in that generation, she says: You’re contributing to the imbalance. Aging Baby Boomers—and she is one of them, she admits—are demanding that the majority of the world’s resources flow toward them. In other words, even if you’re among the “99 percent,” you’re not free of a moral responsibility to share.

“I write as a Baby Boomer, and on reflection it does indeed seem as if I have had an uninterrupted stream of benefits throughout my life,” Morisy writes in her book, Borrowing from the Future: A Faith-Based Approach to Intergenerational Equity. “But maybe I and my fellows are in for a shock. Our confident expectation of financial security rolling steadily into deep old age is threatened. The collapse of banks and the ensuing unsustainable mountain of debt that nations face mean that the future is going to be tough—even for the blessed generation of Baby Boomers. All the components are lining up for an intense bushfire as Baby Boomers and younger generations have come to terms with their—oops, I mean our—hampered desire to acquire and consume.”

OUR UNUSUAL INTERVIEW

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I have conducted many of our Cover Story author interviews via long-distance connections with other countries, including the UK. However, Ann is based in Streatham on London’s south side, working out of a home office that runs on an intentionally modest budget. Her own telephone connection is via the Internet and has such limited capacity that our 90-minute interview was interrupted dozens of times. Eventually, Ann turned off all the lights and other electrical devices in her office in the hope that it might improve her connection. It didn’t. So, in the end, it was impossible to publish a typical ReadTheSpirit Question-and-Answer transcript.

Ann Morisy cover of Continuum book Bothered and BewilderedHere are some of the things Ann did say, between Internet disconnects.

She is proud to be part of the laity in the Church of England; although she is a theologian, she is not ordained as a priest. She says: “To distinguish myself from academic theologians, I call myself a community theologian because I like theology that grows from the ground up.”

Ann is 61 and teaches a lot, these days, about the need for older men and women to keep learning—and contributing to the larger community. “As Baby Boomers are getting older, we are a pioneering generation entering this very long old age that people are experiencing today.” She works across the UK training communities in multi-generational dialogue. “We try to encourage churches not just to respond with pastoral care in relation to older people—but to encourage older people to think and reflect—and do their damnedest—not to be a pain in later life. … If we fall prey to being a pain in later life, we can really wreck the lives of those around us—for decades.”

That kind of in-your-face preaching and teaching is guaranteed to spark some anxious responses, and Morisy says she has not been eager to establish a personal website or other online column. Shifting to slang, she chuckles and says, “I like me privacy. I like to keep me head down.”

Fortunately, although she values her privacy, Ann isn’t shy and chooses when to emerge with her best shots—sometimes in book form and often in public workshops and talks, usually across the UK. This week, she brings her prophetic ministry to Michigan. We encourage our readers to find out more about this remarkable teacher. No, we won’t see most of you in Michigan—but you can sample Ann’s books and you can seek her out in the future.

This report is by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. You are free to repost and quote from this column.

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

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Categories: Author InterviewsChristianPeacemaking