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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Categories: Children and FamiliesChristianJewishMuslimNatural WorldPeacemaking

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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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With Groups

New song lets us pray for hope, action after Charleston church tragedy

Carolyn Winfrey Gillett

Click the photo to learn more about Carolyn Winfrey Gillett’s music.

Recently, we’re hearing a lot about the spiritual power of music! Our Cover Story last week was about a Franciscan friar and a Jewish cantor who created a lovely new musical setting for Pope Francis’s prayer on behalf of creation. And, this summer, global peacemaker Daniel Buttry is posting inspiring music videos in his Interfaith Peacemakers website. We thank the readers who contacted us, this week, asking us to report on the new hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette in the wake of the Charleston church shootings. Here is our report on what we found …

By DAVID CRUMM, ReadTheSpirit Editor

A SONG can be a powerful form of prayer—as hymn writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is showing us once again in the wake of the tragic shootings in Charleston. Already, her new hymn, They Met to Read the Bible, is echoing coast-to-coast set to at least two traditional melodies.

Why should such a tragedy inspire a hymn? First, let’s be clear that it’s not about fame or fortune. Carolyn Gillette already is well known for her musical work and she is freely giving her words to anyone who wants to sing and spread this song. (We’ve got the entire text and a music-video below.)

ReadTheSpirit asked Carolyn to answer the “why” question and on Sunday afternoon she told us:

“Hymns are prayers to God that are sung usually by a congregation. When something so tragic happens, we need to offer that up to God. We need to pray about it. When we set the words of prayers to music, then whole groups of people can pray together. After such a tragedy, we need to pray for comfort—for the people who are involved, for all those who are suffering because of this tragedy and for our nation. People all across our nation—and all around the world—now have been touched by this racism and violence. We are grieving. This is a time to pray.

“Prayer challenges us to hear from God and to change our lives. When we sing a prayer together, it’s a way of committing ourselves to ending the violence and the racism we are experiencing and are grieving all around the world.”

Carolyn Gillette is well known for her contemporary hymns. (Visit her website for information about many  more themes she has explored.) So, shortly after the Charleston shootings, colleagues nationwide began contacting her for new words to sing in prayer.

“First,” she recalls, “they asked if I would quickly modify one of the other hymn-prayers I have written so they could use that right away. But, after reading their emails and thinking about what we’ve all experienced, I decided about 10 p.m. that night to start writing a new hymn. I finished this hymn around 3:30 in the morning. We had to get it out quickly.

“The next morning, my husband Bruce began sending it out to pastors, churches and other friends who have used my hymns before.”

A CHANGE OF TUNE

Carolyn and Bruce are familiar with the wide diversity of American hymns. Together, they serve Limestone Presbyterian Church in Delaware. But, as her musical website points out, she also is proud of her family’s deep roots in the United Methodist Church. In ministry, they connect with ecumenical and interfaith circles.

Beneath the Cross of Jesus number 297 in United Methodist hymnalFor Carolyn’s new words, they chose a traditional melody to the hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus used in African-American and many mainline Protestant denominations. Often sung slowly in an expression of lament, the tune seemed perfect to the Gillettes as they spread Carolyn’s words through online networks.

Soon, of course, her words traveled far beyond Protestant congregations.

At Seattle’s St. Patrick Catholic Church, just south of the University of Washington, Music Director Laura Ash was grieving with the Charleston congregation even though she lives thousands of miles from that church. She printed out Gillette’s new hymn after hearing about it through an ecumenical musical network. That Sunday, she had carried the words into church with her. As she sat in private prayer during Mass—she felt a spirit moving her to perform the new song.

The liturgy already was unfolding, but she momentarily consulted with the pastor. As the head of the parish’s music program, the priest gave her leeway during communion to sing the song as a special offering.

“Lots of our members are of Irish descent and I love traditional Irish melodies,” Laura said this past weekend about that moment in the Mass. The melody she chose is called Kingsfold; the United Methodist song book, for example, has three different hymns set to that tune.

“Our people know the melody; I know it, so that’s what I used,” Laura said. “As I began singing, I felt moved to use the Sean-nós style. Even if they don’t know that term, your readers would know that old Irish style if they heard it—slow and with vocal flourishes on some words to convey the lament.”

Why did such an unexpected song come forth in that Mass so far from Charleston?

“Personally,” Laura said, “I am just so weary of gun violence. That’s on one level, but the deeper problem we have in our country, and we’re not really facing it, is the racism that still is all around us. In our country, we seem to be resting on our laurels as if: We’re done. Racism isn’t a problem anymore. And it has just raised its head in such a horrible way.

“For me, singing has always been the way to pray. Singing lets us go deeper. Singing opens up our hearts. As I sang, I was expressing my grief for the loss of these people, my concern for their families, my concern for our nation.

“And as I sang, I could see so many faces marked with tears—so many faces telling me that they were praying with me in that song. We’re all so tired and hurt by what has happened and we need to come together to find healing and to find new strength to confront this sickness. We need healing and hope. All of that was in the song.”

The experience was so spontaneous that no record was made of her Sean-nós rendition during Mass. But parishioners urged her to create a video of this version so others could keep sharing the song with that melody. A few days later, Laura agreed to sing it again, but this time in a more basic version of the melody. Most church musicians would not attempt the Sean-nós version, she reasoned; offering the video in this more straight-forward rendering might encourage other singers to keep the song going.

“I appreciate so much what Carolyn Gillette did with this hymn,” Laura said. “I’m glad we can play a small part in keeping the song going out to more communities.”

CAROLYN GILLETTE HOPES YOU’LL SING ALONG

Yes, that’s right. You’re free to use this hymn. Many of our readers pay close attention to the rights of writers, which we appreciate. But, on Sunday when she called our offices, Carolyn actually insisted that—along with her personal comments—we make sure to share the entire text. You’re free to reproduce and keep singing this hymn.

They Met to Read the Bible

Intended to be used with the melody “St. Christopher” aka “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” But now also used with “Kingsford,” a melody found in many popular hymnals.

They met to read the Bible,
they gathered for a prayer,
They worshiped God and shared with friends
and welcomed strangers there.
They went to church to speak of love,
To celebrate God’s grace.
O Lord, we tremble when we hear
What happened in that place.

O God of love and justice,
we thank you for the nine.
They served in their communities
and made the world more kind.
They preached and sang and coached and taught,
And cared for children, too.
They blessed your church and blessed your world
With gifts they used for you.

We grieve a wounded culture
Where fear and terror thrive,
Where some hate others for their race
And guns are glorified.
We grieve for sons and daughters lost,
For grandmas who are gone.
O God, we cry with broken hearts:
This can’t continue on!

God, may we keep on sowing
The seeds of justice here,
Till guns are silent, people sing,
And hope replaces fear.
May seeds of understanding grow
And flourish all our days.
May justice, love and mercy be
The banner that we raise.

Tune: Frederick Charles Maker, 1881 (“Beneath the Cross of Jesus”)
Text: Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com

SINGING? TELL US ABOUT IT!

Readers just like you shape our coverage at ReadTheSpirit online magazine. Our two most recent cover stories are directly inspired by reader emails. You can reach us anytime at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com

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Catholic and Jewish musicians invite all of us to pray with Pope Francis

Brother Al Mascia and Cantor Steve Klaper at Song and Spirit Berkeley MI

GOOD MUSIC BUILDS GOOD COMMUNITY: Brother Al Mascia and Cantor Steve Klaper collaborate at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkeley, Michigan.

Pope Francis encyclical on the environmentFRANCIS is the first pope to devote an entire encyclical—the highest form of papal teaching—to the protection of our natural world. This is such a milestone that some are calling Francis’s new campaign “a seismic shift in mainstream Christian thought about the human-nature relationship.”

The pope is inspiring men and women around the world—including an interfaith song-writing duo who set Francis’s prayer to music. Today, we are sharing their music video (below) so you can pass it along to friends, your congregation—and anyone else who might be inspired to carry this message further.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?

Share today’s video! Francis asks us all to pray—and he is giving the world two prayers: One written with Catholics and other Christians in mind; one written for a more universal audience. Here’s the story behind this new music video …

The Song and Spirit Institute is nationally known as an interfaith community making peace through music, the fine arts (especially the creation of beautiful mosaics led by artist and co-founder Mary Gilhuly)—and service to the poor in many forms. The center in Berkeley, northwest of Detroit, also teaches volunteer to care for the earth in many ways.

The creation of new inspirational music is the vocation of the center’s other co-founders: Brother Al Mascia, a Franciscan Friar, and Cantor Steve Klaper, a Jewish musician and storyteller. They bill themselves as: “A Franciscan minstrel and a Jewish troubadour bringing peace to the world one song at a time.”

Arthur Waskow Torah of the Earth Jewish LightsKlaper says their latest collaboration began with a message from an East Coast friend: “We first heard about Francis’s prayers from Rabbi Arthur Waskow,” head of the Philadelphia Shalom Center and author of the two-volume Torah of the Earth, by Jewish Lights. “Rabbi Waskow sent out word that people should not miss the two prayers at the very end of the pope’s new book. He realized that many people wouldn’t slog through 180-or-so pages and might miss the prayers at the very end.

“But, the moment I looked at the prayers, I said: ‘There’s a song here! I’m not sure yet how it’s a song—but it’s a song!’ And I turned to Brother Al to work on turning the language of the prayer into lyrics.”

Brother Al understood the power of such a song. “The moment this encyclical was released, there was a lot of political controversy about it,” he says. “Some of that debate was filled with adulation for the letter and some was quite vitriolic—but that political debate missed the point of what Francis really is saying. We realized that the conversation really needed some poetry, creativity and music. And that’s what we can contribute here at Song and Spirit.”

A long-time fan of Cat Stevens, Brother Al recalls what Stevens told reporters when Stevens (as Yusuf Islam) returned to producing music in 2006:

“The language of song is simply the best way to communicate. … I never wanted to get involved in politics because that essentially separates people, whereas music has the power to unify, and is so much easier for me than to give a lecture. You can argue with a philosopher, but you can’t argue with a good song.”

Enjoy this new song—and share it

 

Tell friends that it’s from The Song and Spirit Institute—and ask them to tell their friends, too!

Care to read more?

THE POPE’S LETTERRead our “best quotes” condensation of the 184-page letter by Pope Francis. Scroll down through our “best quotes” and you’ll find the full text of both prayers Pope Francis is giving the world—one written for Christians; one for a more universal audience.

WHY ANIMAL-LOVERS ARE PLEASED—The Humane Society of the United States’s Christine Gutleben writes this open letter to all of us who care for animals.

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Iona meets Interfaith Peacemakers in John Philip Newell’s ‘Rebirthing of God’

Dramatic peaks vistas and drop offs in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland photo by Nigel Brown Wikimedia

A dramatic landscape: Peaks, vistas and dangerous drop offs in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland.

The Rebirthing of God by John Philip Newell SkyLight Paths Publishing

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

WE at ReadTheSpirit magazine sometimes overlook great new books, until colleagues reach out to us and urge us to recommend them. Such is the case with John Philip Newell’s new The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, which was released some months ago.

Of course we can heartily recommend this book! ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Publisher John Hile have made multiple pilgrimages to the centuries-old Christian community on the island of Iona, which defines John Philip’s life and is a cornerstone of the stories in this slim new volume. And, we have recommended his other books in recent years, including A New Harmony as well as Praying with the Earth.

This new book inspires us especially, because John Philip includes inspirational profiles of men and women who we also celebrate in Interfaith Peacemakers, including Aung San Suu Kyi, Thomas Merton, Mahatma Gandhi and Simone Weil. (If you’ve enjoyed our stories about these heroic saints, then you’ll definitely want to read John Philip’s stories about them in this new book, as well.)

DUNCAN NEWCOMER’S PERSPECTIVE

Long-time contributing writer, scholar and author Duncan Newcomer prompted today’s column, recommending The Rebirthing of God. Last week, Duncan wrote to our home office that he had just used an illustration from the new book in a sermon he preached. Duncan wrote:

I read John Philip’s book and was so astonished that I read it a second time. Then, I outlined the book, because I know I’m going to be discussing it as I travel and speak to groups around the country.

Recently, I told John Philip: “While I will always most highly favor your 2003 book, Shakespeare and the Human Mystery, this new one may be your best in that it has such an intense and clear focus, incredibly condensed and urgent. It’s a unique and remarkable collection of sources and resources all dramatically presented in their essence. What seems most remarkable is that you have collected a cohort of strong, originally and courageously involved people to quote—and you give us cameo images of their lives.”

As I read the book, I thought: Imagine a round-table discussion of all the people we meet in these pages!

JOHN PHILIP NEWELL’S PERSPECTIVE

Then, here’s a page from John Philip’s new book to give you a feeling for his style in these inspirational stories. Many passages are, indeed, about the lives of interfaith heroes. But, again and again, John Philip brings these ideas home to his native Scotland and frequently tells us about experiences on Iona itself. After describing the compassion that defines the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, he writes:

Many years ago when my wife and I were hiking in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland we had just reached one of the highest peaks, Sgoran Dubh, when a thick cloud descended on s. It covered the mountain. The mist was so thick that we could barely see our outstretched hands. Climbing in the Cairngorms can be dangerous. Every year hikers die in such circumstances, slipping off precipitous cliffs. Sgoran Dubh can be particularly treacherous because a few yards from its summit there is a sheer drop of over 2,000 feet to the next glen.

God using a compass in creation

In this 13th-century illumination, a Divine compass is used to measure and connect points in the creation of the universe.

We knew where we were and we had a compass and a map. So we took a reading and, one step at a time, followed our readings of the map and compass down the mountain. There were moments when we could barely believe the compass was right. At times our senses were telling us something entirely different. But we knew that we had to place our faith in the compass. In the end we emerged safely from the cloud down the mountainside.

Notice the similarity between the word “compass” and the word “compassion.” They share an etymological root.

The earliest use of the word compass does not, of course, refer to the modern hiking compass as we know it, the one I had in hand as we descended the mountain. The word is first used to refer to the mathematical compass, that simple two-pronged device that many of us remember  using in grade school to measure the distance between two points and to draw arcs and circles.

A compass, then, is used to determine the relationship between two points. The related word compassion is about honoring the relationship between two people or between one group and another, and remembering those who suffer. It is about making the connection between the heart of my being and the heart of yours, and following that connection—just as we followed the compass in descending the mist-covered mountain—even when we are filled with doubts as to whether we are moving in the right direction.

 Order a copy of John Philip Newell’s new book from SkyLight Paths.

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