Diana Butler Bass: ‘We cannot stand by …’

wpid-0404_Diana_Butler_Bass_author.jpgDiana Butler Bass—religion scholar, historian and author—is known in 2016 for her new efforts to encourage Christians to rethink their connection to the environment. However, in mid-October 2016, she has joined with 700 other women who are Christian leaders to condemn not only the toxic disparagement of women in this year’s presidential campaign—but also male religious leaders who dismiss violent speech about women as a minor lapse.

In the Huffington Post, she posted this call to action: 

“We cannot stand by and allow the Jerry Falwells and James Dobsons of the world claim to speak for God regarding Trump and sexism … When this election is over—and Hillary Clinton is the nation’s first female president—I hope that we will finally get beyond the idea of ‘Christian women leaders’ being some special subset of Christian community.

“Women are the majority of Christians around the world—we are the heartbeat of living faith. The media spends too much time covering male leaders—and then a small subset of authoritarian conservative men—as if they are the voice of the church. They are not.

“Women are. All the women. The women who preach, the women who write theology, the women who pray, the women who serve, those who hold the hand of the dying. Those who care for children, those who feed the hungry, those who embrace the poor and visit prisoners. Those who weep and mourn for the pain they’ve suffered. Those who find the God’s love is more beautiful and trustworthy than those who abused them. That’s the church—a church that knows no facile forgiveness or partisan spin. But the church that understands grace, peacemaking, and mercy. And that church is rarely heard in public because it is too busy living its faith. Women are the high priests of that church.”

Care to read more?

A ‘GROUNDED’ RENEWAL—Diana Butler Bass calls her new Grounded, “the first book of the second half of my life.” Read our in-depth interview with her about that book.

STUDY GUIDE—We welcomed Christian educator Debbie Houghton to help us write a five-week study guide to Grounded. Here is Part 1 of that guide, which you are free to use for individual inspiration or for small-group discussion.

COVERING THE CALL TO ACTION—The Huffington Post has been covering the nationwide call to action by 700 Christian women. While this response came out of Christianity, this effort is broadly applicable to the thousands of women who are the heart and backbone of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other religious communities as well. Here is a link to the original manifesto with all of the signatures attached in PDF form. Then, on October 13, 2016, Huffington Post reported this news story about the effort. The next day, Huffington Post asked key women within the campaign, including Diana Buter Bass, to respond more fully.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized

MSU team challenges toxic stereotypes of American immigrants

MSU School of Journalism team on 100 Questions and Answers on Immigrants to the US

MSU team members who worked on this new book, from left: Jacob Arnold, Juliana Montoya Padilla, Sierra Marie Baker, Maris Claire Ryckman, Reagan Dailey-Chwalibog, Zixuan Wang, David Reiss and Jiayuan Wang. Photo by Tao Deng.



Michigan State University School of Journalism

100 Questions on Immigrants front cover

Click on the cover to learn more about the book and to find a convenient link to Amazon.

No group has been more central to this presidential election than immigrants. The rich, the poor; black, white, or brown; veterans or seniors—no group has been under the microscope more than immigrants. And this political microscope has the kind of mirrors you would find in a funhouse. Everything comes out distorted and wavy.

100 Questions and Answers About Immigrants to the U.S. was written to straighten out the distortions and replace rumor with research.

This book is the 11th in a series of cultural competence guides published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism. (Care to see all of our books in one place? Here’s an Amazon link.)

This new book was produced by students and faculty in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and intended to inform the national debate about immigration.

The process began with students interviewing first- and second-generation immigrants about what people often ask or assume about them. Answers were then drawn from published research and vetted by immigration experts.

Some dimensions are scarcely heard in national debates. One is that the Pew Research Center has found that more people are returning to Mexico than coming from Mexico to the United States. Another is that many people who are in the United States arrived legally and overstayed. People might not know that many non-citizen immigrants are serving in the U.S. military, and that the government encourages others to come because they have valuable skills or large investments to make in the U.S. economy.

The political debate has largely missed all this.

As lead editor on the guide, MSU Advertising and Public Relations Professor & Associate Dean for International Programs Dawn Thorndike Pysarchik worked with international advertising students to track down the questions and answers.

Sonia Nazario

Sonia Nazario

Their writing and the infographics are the heart of 100 Questions and Answers About Immigrants to the U.S. Stories are the soul. The intent was to be more than a stew of statistics and to put faces on the story. Two of those faces are prize-winning journalist and author Sonia Nazario and Bing Goei, businessman, and director of Michigan’s Office of New Americans.

The guide, published in print and digital copies, includes videos from the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center. When we saw how immigrants were telling their stories in short videos, we asked Immigrant Stories Project Director Elizabeth Venditto for permission to use some. The project is funded by the University of Minnesota, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Digital Public Library of America, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In one video, Wise Ali describes being born in Somalia and then surviving war, poverty, mass killings and more than 20 years in refugee camps before making it to the United States.

In another, Irma Márquez Trapero describes how faith helped her family come from Mexico to the United States on temporary visas and stay for work and a better life.

Nazario wrote the book Enrique’s Journey, a Honduran boy’s odyssey to be reunited with his mother in the United States. In her foreword for the 100 Questions guide she writes, “In my travels in the U.S. and in central America, I have met many of these children. I urge readers of this book to meet one of these children in your community. If you do, you will see someone with strengths and flaws, someone looking for safety, freedom and opportunity.

“Someone not so different from themselves.”

Goei, who immigrated from Indonesia by way of the Netherlands, writes, “Many of us are enjoying a quality of life that we would not have been able to provide for our children and grandchildren if we did not live in this great country called America. With these blessings, we now must accept the responsibility to share our stories and to be the voice for those who have no voice within our communities.”

Their words and the video stories of immigrants tell more than statistics can. “100 Questions and Answers About Immigrants to the U.S.” helps make such conversations easier. We hope it is just the beginning of your journey to hear stories from the people around you.

Bias Busters series editor Joe Grimm teaches in the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

Care to read more?

MAKE A DIFFERENCE! October 2016 is Bullying Prevention Month! Learn about helpful books (including The New Bullying by the MSU team) and useful web links to combat bullying in your community.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized

Lynne Golodner: Healing the World with Story


For this year’s Jewish New Year and high holidays, we invited Jewish writers to contribute columns about ways to make a positive difference in the world. Our ongoing motto at ReadTheSpirit is: Good media builds healthy communities. No one embodies this in a better way than columnist, media expert and author Lynne Meredith Golodner. This is her story.

‘One Earth Writing’


I grew up in a suburb of Detroit where most of the kids looked like me.

During the Jewish holidays, teachers didn’t assign work because so many students in my school were absent. There might have been five or six African-American kids in my high school, and no one wore a hijab in public.

My city is magnificent and unique but it is certainly segregated. And if today’s newscasts are any indication, then it’s not just my city.

I remember spending a Good Friday in Dublin, Ireland, in a Catholic church and feeling that the musical, candlelit service was strikingly familiar to my Reform Jewish services back home. I remember on my second plane ride to Israel, sitting beside a Palestinian man from Denver headed home to visit his relatives. We had deep, powerful conversations and came away feeling that we could be friends.

As a writer, I’ve spent decades seeking out stories about the ways in which people are similar, the beliefs we share, the customs we have in common. And so as I began to look for something I could do to make the world a better, more peaceful place, I realized it was staring me in the face.


Lynne Meredith Golodner (left) with students in a workshop.

One Earth Writing is a new nonprofit that brings together youth from different communities for writing workshops where they explore identity, belief and community. If we can plant seeds early on that people are people, help young people see that despite different skin color, clothing or religious beliefs, they look into another person’s eyes, see the familiar sparkle when excitement takes hold, they will grow up knowing that humanity is a universal truth.

And maybe, one day, that will lead us to a world populated with stories of harmony and peace rather than a desire to eliminate all people who are different than us.

As the mother of four—two of whom are teens—I know this is a difficult age. They are grappling with who they are and what they believe and that’s why this is the perfect time to engage in such meaningful explorations.

My kids don’t see difference. They see people.

But somewhere in the future, if we don’t act quickly, they, too, will join the throngs of people who perpetuate stereotypes, who fear whole communities or religions because they are unfamiliar. It must stop. And we can make it stop by replacing the unknown with the known.

When we sit at a table and share our fears and desires, our hopes and dreams, we connect. That’s what the youth who write with us do. Paired with same-age, same-stage peers different from them, they ask questions, finish each other’s stories, listen to the poems and paragraphs that are produced. They learn about themselves in the context of the other.

We talk about the words used to define ourselves, and decide whether those words work. Bossy can become leader. Big mouth can become outspoken. We make the conscious choice to use words the build an identity we can live with, rather than crumble under.

Sometimes, we write about those universal truths that we all know—the role of food in making meaning, anger at a parent, fear of not being liked. Emotions connect us, bolster us, give us the confidence to go forward.

Many people struggle with who they are all their lives. One Earth Writing seeks to change that. Once we know the sweet taste of yes, that’s me, that’s who I want to be, we can begin to leave our mark on this world.

This fall, we will welcome our first class of ambassadors. These are kids who apply for a six-month program to write monthly and co-facilitate some of our workshops with other teens. I’m willing to bet we’ll see some of those kids leading our world in the not-too-distant future, and doing so with respect and understanding for the differences that make our world so beautiful.

I don’t believe that I alone can fill the world with peace. But I do know we have to start somewhere, start small, so that each ripple of transformation leads to another and another and eventually, we are so far-reaching, we can’t help but have an impact.

We live in a big world that has been made small by technology and social media. I believe these conversations, these writing workshops, these simple exercises of choosing to discard words that don’t work for us and actively pursue those that strengthen, is the first step in ending the trend of hatred.

I can’t help but take my talents and my passions and share them with others. I have to believe we each have a purpose in this life and my purpose is to show everyone how similar we all really are.

It’s the least I can do—the least any of us can do.

Lynne Meredith Golodner is author of eight books, including The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, and she is the founder and executive director of One Earth Writing, www.OneEarthWriting.org. Learn more about Lynne at www.LynneGolodner.com.


Comments: (3)
Categories: Uncategorized

Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Martin Luther 1526

A photo of this 1526 painting of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder (from the National Museum in Stockholm, Sweden) is available for public use on Wikimedia Commons.

with MARIA-PAZ LOPEZ in Germany

On October 31, 2016, the world begins a year-long series of events, exhibitions and inter-religious dialogues on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Millions of men and women around the globe will be touched by this anniversary in some way.

Here are some tips from two veteran religion writers about understanding this historic milestone.

1.) Acknowledge the vast scope of this historic change. The world is looking back to October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther published his 95 Theses—but historians caution that this titanic shift in Western culture unfolded over a roughly 200-year period from the mid 1400s to the mid 1600s. The Reformation rested on a whole host of transformative changes in Europe, starting with the invention of moveable type in the mid 1400s. The Reformation was the first international revolution fueled by the social media of that day: pamphleteering.

Here’s how Yale historian Carlos Eire summarizes the era in his new 900-page history, Reformations:

To say that Luther changed his world single-handedly or that 1517 was the absolute beginning of a new epoch would be wrong, but to say that nothing was ever the same after Luther’s act of defiance is to settle for understatement. What he set in motion in 1517 not only changed the world as it was then; it still continues to shape our world today and to define who we are in the West.

2.) There are many related stories to explore. Beyond the historical details from Luther’s era, there are many directions you can take this story. Consider just a few ideas that move the story beyond Protestant religious themes:

  • Compare the use of social media in revolutions today with the impact of moveable type and pamphleteering in the 15th century.
  • Cover the five-century-long rise of literacy as a result of developments in this era.
  • Take a fresh look at the so-called Protestant Work Ethic.
  • Beyond the split and the formation of Protestant denominations, the Reformation also changed the Catholic church in many ways. Look into the long-lasting effects of the so-called Counter-Reformation.
  • Consider the tragic outcomes as well. Luther’s diatribes against Jews and tragic conflicts between rich and poor also were results of the Reformation. In some parts of the world, Catholic and Protestant communities remain in conflict to this day.
  • The artistic story also is fascinating and complex. Some artists thrived on the Reformation—while some branches of the Reformation sought to destroy or remove fine arts from houses of worship and create new kinds of religious spaces.

Maria-Paz Lopez adds:

“In Germany, this story is seen as much more than a religious story. Germans are looking at the outcomes of the Reformation in a comprehensive way. There are a lot of cultural exhibitions planned. New books are being published. Germany is hoping to see a rise in tourism. The influence of Martin Luther continues to shape culture and history throughout northern Europe—and around the world.”

3.) Luther almost certainly did not “nail his 95 Theses on a door” on October 31, 1517. That’s how the story traditionally has been told. Historians now agree that he “published” or “sent out” the theses on that date. If he did nail a copy to a door, it likely occurred weeks later. Here is Wikipedia’s summary of these issues.

Maria-Paz Lopez says:

“Wittenberg is where Martin Luther published his theses. Many people still tell the story that he nailed the theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, but that’s not true. I’ve seen many news publications add sidebars to their stories clarifying and explaining the story of the nailing. It is a powerful story and has been shared by many people over the years, but historically it’s a myth. The nailing scene has become more of an iconic image of the Reformation.”

4.) This is a major news story far beyond Germany. Nonprofits, cultural institutions, tourism officials and government agencies in Germany are expecting worldwide attention for special events and programs in the coming year. But many other European countries have significant Lutheran populations. If you want to compare and contrast the religious diversity in nations around the world, the International Association of Religion Journalists recommends using free resources from the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA).

Remember that turbulent change surrounded the Reformation over a long period of time in nations across Europe and eventually around the world. In the heat of the core historical period, major events took place in Switzerland, England and many other nations.

5.) Germany shouldn’t be described as simply “a Lutheran nation.” Historically, that’s not the case. In the wake of conflict touched off by the Reformation, people living in what was then known as the Holy Roman Empire—which included present Germany and nearby territories—were compelled to adopt the religion adopted by their respective prince (in Latin: “cuius regio, eius religio”). That’s why some people became Protestant and some others remained loyal to Rome.

Today, both ARDA’s data and the Pew Global Religious Landscape report that nearly 70 percent of Germans say they have a religious affiliation. The vast majority give a Christian affiliation, but that population is split evenly between Catholics and Protestants. Those Protestants refer to themselves as “Evangelicals,” a federation of religious groups, including Lutherans, called the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland or EKD.

Germany’s population is 82.2 million, today. The country’s religious populations are estimated at: 23.8 million Catholics, 22.3 million Protestants, 4.5 million Muslims and 118,000 Jews.

Maria-Paz Lopez adds:

“It’s important for the international community to realize that the religious population of Germany is more or less half Catholic and half Protestant. Historically, this is because not all of the princes in what is now considered Germany chose to challenge the Catholic Church’s power. Half of what is now Germany didn’t join the Reformation. There has been a tradition, for example, that when it comes time to appoint a new German ambassador to the Vatican, this alternates between a Catholic appointee and, then the next time, a Protestant appointee. Journalists outside of Europe also should remember that throughout Europe, people are not as religious as they are in other parts of the world. In Germany, many people would describe themselves as sociologically Protestant or sociologically Catholic. Also, after more than 40 years of Communist rule, a majority of East Germans are not religious.”

6.) Major Catholic and Lutheran leaders in Europe are not in conflict now. In fact, they’re marking the anniversary together.

For many years, The Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have been planning jointly for this anniversary. Pope Francis is flying to Sweden (where the Lutheran church counts 75 percent of the population as adherents) to launch the anniversary year. Here is the Vatican’s earlier summary of the trip. Here is a short update on Francis’s travel plans.

These plans rest on a major document jointly published by the two organizations in 2013, called From Conflict to Communion. You’ll find the long text on the Vatican website and also in PDF form on the Lutheran World Federation website. That text is packed with quotable lines putting the past half-century of Catholic-Lutheran relations in context, including:

“In 2017, Catholic and Lutheran Christians will most fittingly look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center. …

“In 2017, Lutheran and Catholic Christians will commemorate together the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Lutherans and Catholics today enjoy a growth in mutual understanding, cooperation, and respect. ..

“The year 2017 will see the first centennial commemoration of the Reformation to take place during the ecumenical age. It will also mark 50 years of Lutheran–Roman Catholic dialogue. As part of the ecumenical movement, praying together, worshipping together, and serving their communities together have enriched Catholics and Lutherans. They also face political, social, and economic challenges together. The spirituality evident in inter-confessional marriages has brought forth new insights and questions. Lutherans and Catholics have been able to reinterpret their theological traditions and practices, recognizing the influences they have had on each other. Therefore, they long to commemorate 2017 together. …

“What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change. …

“Lutherans and Catholics have many reasons to retell their history in new ways. They have been brought closer together through family relations, through their service to the larger world mission, and through their common resistance to tyrannies in many places. These deepened contacts have changed mutual perceptions, bringing new urgency for ecumenical dialogue and further research.”


Care to read more?

Maria-Paz Lopez recommends these online resources:

David Crumm is a veteran religion writer and publisher who works with the communications team of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ). María-Paz López is a founding board member of the IARJ and serves as Berlin correspondent for La Vanguardia, based in Barcelona.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized

Stories from Rabbi Alper: Thinking of Judging Someone?

judge-gavel-in-courtroomRabbi Bob Alper is both a practicing rabbi and a full-time standup comic, who tours nationwide. Many of our readers are fans of his performances—and his inspiring storytelling in two books: Thanks. I Needed That. and also Life Doesn’t Get Any Better This. For the High Holidays, this year, he sent us this reflection—including a series of brief stories—on a very timely theme at this annual observance.

Thinking of Judging Someone?


A few years ago an amazing thing happened. I boarded a USAirways plane, and there in the doorway, greeting the passengers, was a flight attendant…wearing a yarmulke.

Naturally, I introduced myself, and we chatted for a while as the rest of the passengers made their way into the plane and down the aisle.

About a half hour later, when the plane had leveled off, the flight attendant started moving through he cabin, holding his basket of potato chips, pretzels, and health bars. “Snack?” he called out as he moved from one side of the aisle to the other. “Snack? How about a snack? Would you like a snack this afternoon?” But when he reached me, he paused for just a split second, and said, “Nosh?”

I enjoy flying. It’s not the ride so much as the people. I work at home, alone, much of the time, and yet I enjoy schmoozing. Flying provides me with an opportunity, most of the time.

And it’s while flying, and while traversing those great melting pots of humanity, airports, that I realize how we constantly judge one another, how we constantly, and, I guess, naturally, draw instant conclusions about the people we see and the people we meet.

It’s amazing how often we’re wrong, how often our natural rush to judgment makes us miss the accomplishments, the beauty, the uniqueness in those around us.

It happens to me all the time. I’m not complaining. I understand what’s going on, and while occasionally I’m a ”victim,” much much more often, I’m a guilty party.

For example, on a plane last week out of Savannah. The flight attendant, a pleasant, cheery woman, rolled her cart down the aisle, eventually stopping next to me. “What would you like to drink this morning?” she asked. And I responded in my traditional way: “I’d like either a tall, low-fat, decaf latte. Or tomato juice.”

She laughed, as did my seatmate. While she poured the juice, she observed to me, “Well, you’re a comedian.” To which I responded, “Actually, I am.”

It was at that point that she gave me a quick, not unpleasant but, nevertheless condescending smile. And she was on to the next row of seats.

I had been judged. An older guy who thinks he’s pretty funny. But I knew, that not for a nano second did she think I was actually a stand-up comic.

On that same flight, seated across the aisle, was a young man, perhaps in his late 20s, scruffy beard, wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of a Cayman Islands bar, short pants and thongs on his feet. He wore mega size headphones, and spent the entire flight nodding his head in rhythm to whatever he was listening to.

I play a silent, private guessing game, and in his case, I decided he must be a fairly lost soul, maybe a full-time follower of a rock band. But after landing, as we passengers all stood uncomfortably close together in the aisle, waiting for the line to begin moving, I saw him reach into the storage bin and grab his backpack. Moments before, I had read the title on the spine of a looseleaf notebook peeking out of the top of the backpack: Savannah Hyatt Hotel. Intensive Seminar on Adolescent Medicine. Boy, was I wrong.

The High Holidays are appropriately referred to as Days of Judgment. Some of us (and I am not one of them) believe in a Divine Judge, who marks our actions minute by minute, and, as we heard in the Unatana Tokef prayer, decrees our destiny for the coming months. “Who shall live, and who shall die, who shall be happy and who shall be sad, who shall be healthy and who shall fall ill…”

But whether or not one believes in a divine judge overlooking our lives, another interpretation of Judgment days that is appropriate for everyone, no matter where their theological beliefs or non-beliefs may lead them, to see these days as a time on which we evaluate ourselves, our actions, our thoughts, our priorities during the previous 12 months.

The way, for example, that we judge others. We do this a lot. We look at other people—our relatives, our friends, our neighbors, and especially strangers. Strangers like the people sitting across the aisle on a plane. And we come to conclusions about their lives, about who they are, about what their value is to us, to humanity.

Most of the time, I’d bet, we’re wrong. And that’s sad.

Because knowing more about people, might just help us to better appreciate them, to love them more. Even the strangers. But we…you and I…we’re so quick to judge, and then dismiss people about whom we know so little.

Let me tell you about three people. One is a close friend, one a woman I met briefly, years ago, and one whose name I don’t even know.

The first delivers cars several times a week. Cars for the auto auction in Bordentown, New Jersey. He brings the autos to their new owners. Usually not too far, maybe a few hours away. Often a luxury car. Fun to drive. He enjoys the work. In essence, the man is a part-time auto jockey.

The second is an elderly woman whose name appeared in a temple bulletin. I receive a bunch of them each month, and while I don’t read them from cover to cover, something about a page from the bulletin of Temple Sinai, Burlington, Vermont, caught my eye. It was a speech given by a Bar Mitzvah boy a few months earlier. The usual report on his Torah portion, his Bar Mitzvah project, the importance of the event for his family. And then the standard words of appreciation: thanks to his teachers and rabbi, his parents and siblings, and finally, he wrote, “Also, I would like to thank my grandfather Arthur and my grandmother Madeline for driving me to and from Hebrew School and Torah lessons and being supportive.”

His grandmother Madeline. She’s a driver too, whose task was to ferry her grandson to Hebrew lessons. Nice.

And finally, there was the man whose name I don’t know. I found his story in the New York Times Metropolitan Diary section. He was described by a bus driver as “an older guy, who just couldn’t seem to master the insertion of his senior transit card into the machine next to the driver.

Three elderly people, basically. A car jockey, a Hebrew school chauffeur, and a fellow who just couldn’t master a pretty routine task.

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story. The rest of all three stories.

The man who delivers cars a few days a week, my very close friend, is a highly accomplished musician, a former music publishing executive who in mid-life was ordained as a minister, served three congregations with distinction, and finally retired last year. Delivering auction house cars is an enjoyable way to pass the time, and the income purchases season tickets for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera.

And about that 74-year-old granny who schlepped her grandson? She has a pretty interesting resume too. Turns out she was a journalist who was elected to the Vermont state legislature. She went on to become lieutenant governor, then governor of Vermont, and later was a member of the Clinton administration, ambassador to Switzerland, and professor at Middlebury College. Madeline Kunin. Not too shabby for a woman who personally takes her grandson for his Bar Mitzvah lessons.

And the third story is perhaps the most fascinating, a potent reminder that our observations of other people, and how what we conclude about them, based on so little knowledge, is so often far, far off base.

A man named Gene Epstein submitted this story to the Metropolitan Diary section of the New York Times:


I boarded the 57th Street crosstown bus at York Avenue and, as usual, inserted my senior citizen transit card incorrectly. The driver very kindly took it out of the fare box slot and reversed it before handing it back to me to reinsert. I sat down wondering why I could not master this simple procedure. True, I didn’t use city buses regularly, but still…

My seat overlooked the bus entrance, where I could observe boarders doing it right the first time without assistance. The large black bar went on the right, the cutoff corner on the upper left. I told the driver (we’d been talking) that I’d just completed the short course on card insertion.

He laughed. “Listen to this,” he said. “I’ve been on this route so long that I’ve gotten to know all the early morning regulars. One of them, an older guy, just couldn’t get the card thing right. I always had to help him; not that I minded, but he took some kidding. So one day after he got on, people were applauding and congratulating him, and I couldn’t figure out why.”

“Because he’d finally put the card in the right way?” I asked.

“Nope. It was just announced the night before that he’d won the Nobel Prize. Someone told me it was for some kind of scientific work at Sloan- Kettering or the Rockefeller Institute. How about that? The Nobel Prize.”

A car jockey, a grandmother driving her 12-year-old to synagogue, an elderly man on a bus.

You never know. You just never know.

Which is why we need to try to treat everybody, friend and stranger alike, with dignity. With respect. As if they were the most accomplished, saintly people in the world. As if they were the most fascinating people in the world.

A few years ago, I was filling my car’s tank at a quiet little gas station. As I pumped, I watched as an irritated man stood on the outside of the bullet proof glass, yelling at the Middle eastern-looking cashier with slow, labored words, repeated over again in a very frustrated tone. Finally, the “conversation” ended, and the angry customer returned to his car. As he passed me, he looked towards the cashier and said, “You’d think those lousy immigrants would learn how to speak right.” I pretended to nod in agreement, and added, mimicking his disgusted tone, “Yeah, and he’s probably bi-lingual, too.”

You never know. You just never know. Everybody has a story. And most people are deserving of our respect, our admiration, if only we could know their biographies.

I think of this whenever I encounter the housekeeper in a hotel pushing her overloaded cart through the hallway, or the toll collector greeting me for a few seconds as I hand him my coins, or the woman who checks my paperwork as I exit the rental car facility. You just never know.

There are lots of superficial ways we judge people. We judge them by the cars they drive, the age they seem to be, by their looks, their hobbies, not to mention the color of their skin or the religion they may profess.

What we can learn, if we think about how we make all these judgments, is that the instant conclusions we reach rarely have to do with the people we’re judging, but tell us volumes about ourselves: our values, our prejudices, our pain, our histories. We can learn a lot about ourselves if only we’ll take time in the stillness of these days of awe to think. And to evaluate. And then to continue to evolve into the kind of people we’d really like ourselves to be.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized

Healing communities: Harnessing tension through Hate2Hope


Participants in the Rosedale program.

EDITOR’S NOTEAfter a decade in publication, ReadTheSpirit magazine is proud of our dozens of contributing writers and authors who have shared thousands of columns (and more than 50 books) that inspire readers and contribute to healthier communities. This year, as we approach the Jewish New Year 5777, we invited our Jewish writers to send updates about the work they are doing. One of the most dramatic projects is Brenda Rosenberg‘s Hate2Hope, a program that grew out of the book she co-authored with Samia Bahsoun: Harnessing the Power of Tension.



Detective Brad McKenzie helps a student experience a drunk-driving simulator.

Here’s a scene you’re not seeing on your newspaper’s front page: A group of teenagers, black and white, spend time inside a suburban police station—and they leave, asking to spend more time with the police officers.

Over the past year, I have been surprised by the places I have traveled with the book I published in 2015 with Samia Bahsoun, which took the seemingly vast gulf between us as Jew and Arab and transformed that tension into a new kind of working relationship. Far from the Middle East, I found that our process for bridging almost impossible divides was sorely needed in communities right here in the U.S. So many cities and towns are trying to establish new relationships between police and both young people and people of color.


McKenzie helps another student use a distracted-driving simulator.

One unlikely place I wound up this year was inside that police station with teens who had experienced little or no connection with police officers—other than seeing the ongoing tensions in hotspots across the U.S. in TV news or social media. Instead of tension, we found strong relationships could form.

Here are a few of the reactions you could be feeling right now.

Are you intrigued? Well, one way to learn more about what we’re doing in this pilot program is through my own professional website—or through the new Tectonic Leadership Center website. Share this story on social media. Talk to friends and community leaders wherever you live in the world. We’re eager to hear from you and to connect in positive ways.

Are you frustrated or frightened? We understand. Society is changing rapidly. Every day, we see tragedies that take place in communities, not much different from our own, and we are often left with questions that go unanswered. Our goal is to use the tension around us to be sure that we know how to work together with law enforcement in a way that is peaceful and productive.

‘It’s not my job!’

A third reaction to our work is to say: Thanks, but that’s not my job! So, I want to tell you how I got involved in this important work with law enforcement officials, teens, educators and community leaders.

I was attending a memorial service for a dear friend, peacemaker and interfaith champion here in Michigan: Dan Krichbaum. With Dan’s help years earlier, I brought another national program to life, called Reuniting the Children of Abraham, and Dan also invited me into the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.

Years before that, I had a long career in national retail, design and marketing. My skills included a veteran’s sense of cultural trends and effective ways to respond—mainly through retailing during that part of my career. Then, after the attacks on 9/11/2001, I discovered that my job had transformed. I reassessed my skills from business and realized that I had a talent for bringing people together, despite their differences—sometimes painful differences.

For more than a decade, I traveled and worked and learned a lot about interfaith and cross-cultural relationships both in the U.S. and in the Middle East.

But, in late 2015, what did I know about law enforcement? Surely, that wasn’t my job! If that’s the way you’re thinking—the truth is: It was my job. Bringing people together is my job. Healing communities is my job. And it’s your job, too, isn’t it?

How I made this leap is how I approach all my work—through connections with people in the community. After that memorial service, another colleague—Steve Spreitzer, the current head of the Michigan Roundtable—invited me to attend a meeting of a group called ALTPACT (Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust). ALTPACT was looking for programs to combat hate and tension within troubled communities.

That was my connection—combatting hate and transforming tension into healthy working relationships is the whole theme of the book I had just published and the related workshops I was leading. The new watchword became even more focused: Hate2Hope.

I wound up at a meeting of law enforcement officials and community leaders in New Baltimore, Michigan. And I started where I always start when encountering a new group of people. I simply told them what I was hearing from them—and from people in similar communities: Too many ordinary people feel unheard, disrespected or harassed by police. There is too much bias still painfully affecting relationships with minority families. Police feel that stereotypes about their profession complicates the situation. All sides have experienced losses. All sides have fears.

And, as most worthwhile projects unfold, that night did not resolve major issues. Our path to peace was not clear, but we had a direction. Clear communication, harnessing the power of tension in the room, seemed to help. People went home saying that tension just might be a turning point, not a deal breaker.

Our work had only begun.

From this conversation, Chief James Berlin of Roseville and I initiated a 10-week pilot series in partnership with Roseville Police and Roseville Community Schools in January of this year. Detective Brad McKenzie, our liaison to the Roseville police, played a key role in shaping our students’ experiences in the following weeks.


Amari Taylor presenting her “What is Justice?“ art project. Students were asked to express in any art form their expression of Justice to share with peers, educators, law enforcement and parents. Art projects included rap songs, video, poems, essays and posters.

In this program, students experienced tours of police facilities, where they participated in drunken-driving simulators, texting-and-driving simulators, and even firearms-training simulators. Students also had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with members of the law enforcement team and the administrative team at their school district to create protocols and procedures for responding to interactions with police officers and violent situations in their communities.

Throughout Hate2Hope—or, as we usually refer to it, simply H2H—students continuously had the opportunity work alongside FBI agents and other law enforcement officials to engage in discussions surrounding local, nation and international issues that plague their local communities.

What was the outcome? Surprisingly, nearly 90 percent of students’ evaluations asked for more one on one time with the police and FBI.

We were—we are making a difference.


Left to right: Bushra Alawie MSW, office of public affairs FBI Detroit, who participated in part of the Roseville program; Brenda Rosenberg; and Nicole McGee, Victims Specialist FBI Detroit.


Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized

Glenn Wagner: God is alive and well and calling all of us



Click on the cover to learn more about the book.

ReadTheSpirit Editor

A startling Pew Research Center report arrives just as thousands of congregations nationwide are gearing up for the busy autumn season.

No, it isn’t surprising to read Pew’s latest confirmation that a significant minority of Americans are opting out on organized religion (nearly 1 in 4 of us). What is startling to religion-watchers is Pew’s finding about the far-and-away, No. 1 reason that Americans choose to join a congregation. (And, yes, both “location” and a “welcoming atmosphere” are still relatively high on Pew’s list of factors contributing to church-goers’ choices.)

The shocker is the pinnacle of that list. More than 8 in 10 Americans told Pew that their No. 1 reason for joining a house of worship is: the quality of the preaching. How many bad jokes do you know about boring sermons or the irrelevance of preaching today? And, yes, there may be some truth in those jokes. But, the remarkable fact is: Americans overwhelmingly say they really need inspirational messages, these days.

Shoring up Pew’s finding is the latest report from the Association of American Publishers that find sales of inspirational books, as a genre, keep rising year after year. There’s a powerful and widespread desire for inspiration out there.



Glenn M. Wagner

That truth about Americans’ need for a sincere, welcoming faith means that veteran pastor, preacher and new author Glenn M. Wagner is well poised this year in offering his book, God Incidents: Real-Life Stories to Strengthen and Restore Your Faith.

And, wait! There’s more news! The other body of Pew data that Wagner has been closely watching concerns the nearly 1 in 4 Americans who now say they have no religious affiliation—even though 78 percent of these “Nones” were raised in families that belonged to a congregation. This means that the vast majority of “nones” chose to leave organized religion. Many Nones say they are “spiritual” today; many Nones are essentially secular. What unites the Nones is their conscious decision to opt out on joining a congregation.

Why did they leave? One message comes through loud and clear in the Pew findings: There’s a widespread belief that churches are mean-spirited organizations that are divisive to friends and families. Nones say that congregations are especially divisive, because they are tearing people apart over issues like acceptance of LGBT family members. In blunt terms: For millions of Americans, congregations aren’t centers of goodness—they’re toxic.

At such a moment—with a significant minority of the population rejecting bad religion and an overwhelming desire for some inspirational preaching—Glenn Wagner has drawn from a lifetime of pastoral teaching in God Incidents.



Giving a talk about this new book to a small group.

“Wherever I travel, I’m hearing what Pew’s interviewers have been hearing,” Wagner says in an interview. “Yes, many people still love their congregations. Religious life is alive and well in many communities. But, at the same time, many people are hurt, disillusioned, frustrated and they have big questions that aren’t being answered by religious communities, today. In fact, many people feel that their questions aren’t even welcome inside our churches. So, they turn away. And, that is something we can change. Our congregations should honor people’s questions, should allow them to be raised, and should welcome people on our journey as we all search for answers.

“In fact, I wrote this book with those readers in mind—the people outside the church looking in,” Wagner continues. “Since this book was recently released, I’m already hearing that people within the church are welcoming these stories. But there’s a potential here to reach beyond the walls of congregations. I personally am calling on readers to help cultivate communities where people don’t have to check their brains at the door. I’m talking about congregations where we encourage questions as a part of our spiritual life.

“I believe in God’s math—everybody counts.”

Clearly, Wagner is a champion of the church. In Michigan, he is one of the statewide United Methodist leaders working to unite the two “conferences” that historically have covered the state into a single, new conference that is better adapted to ministry in this new century. But beyond that strong support for traditional religious life, Wagner says he always has one hand extended to people who have abandoned the church, often because of wounds over diversity.

“We will only be the church we should be when we recognize our shared humanity and can tolerate differences,” he says.


While an analysis of national trends is compelling news for religious leaders, the inspiring connections that Wagner wants to make come down to very personal experiences. His book is full of such moving stories—often involving glimpses inside his own family.

One of those stories involves Wagner literally breaking a leg as a part of a spiritual quest.

For more than 40 years, Wagner has traveled back and forth to the Middle East, beginning with the school year 1973-74 when he attended the American University of Beirut and the Near East School of Theology in Lebanon. In fact, he played basketball for the Beirut university and was part of a Lebanese national championship team that year.

Later, in the 1990s, serving as pastor of a church in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, he was involved in an interfaith network that made national headlines for the scale and quality of the diverse programs hosted by various congregations.

His ever-growing interfaith outreach dovetailed with his deep love of communities in the Middle East and especially in Israel, where one of his visits in the 1990s led him up onto a mountaintop with a Bible scholar. “The main reason more Americans should go is to discover how the actual geography opens up the Bible in a whole new way,” Wagner says in the interview. “In fact, that’s why I was up on that mountaintop that day.

“I remember a group of us were listening to a fabulous lecture about Psalm 23 with connections to the lands we could see all around us. Then, the professor pointed out so many fascinating places surrounding us that we should look at more closely before we left. Below us, we could see St. George’s Monastery, more than 1,000 years old. And, I decided to take some photographs of that.


Glenn Wagner with a broken leg at Wadi Qelt near Jerusalem in 2001.

“I thought we were on solid ground, but I suddenly felt the stone on that mountain shifting beneath my feet. I slid. My leg shot up in the air! I came down hard and that surface may look soft like sand, but it’s certainly not as forgiving as sand. This is rock and crumbling rock—and the fall snapped my leg in two places.

“Fortunately, we had a doctor in our group and he was able to give me some help immediately. Then, a medical crew came out from Jerusalem. To this day, I am grateful to an Orthodox Jewish group from Chicago that donated an ambulance to the crew of Jewish rescue workers that came out to get me. One day later at the Hadassah Medical Center, surgeons operated and put a rod in my leg to repair the breaks.”

What happened next is a scene Wagner describes in his new book. Most Americans are unaware of the diversity within Israel itself and Wagner’s eight-bed hospital ward included Jewish and Palestinian patients.

“I learned a lot about building a healthy community in that ward. I was there less than a week, but as the newcomer to that ward, it was amazing how quickly we all got to know each other,” he recalled. “We needed to know what each of us could do, and couldn’t do, given what skills we had before we arrived and what limitations we had from our surgeries.

“For example, one of the Jewish patients was multilingual and could help us all talk with each other. Some could get up and walk to get something that someone else needed. One Palestinian was from a family that ran a restaurant and they brought in this marvelous food. I can still remember the sweet desserts they brought us. And, because this was a teaching hospital, the doctors made rounds and talked about each of our cases in the ward. So, we all knew a lot about each other’s problems. This whole week of sharing so much just fascinated me!

“After that experience, I thought: Wouldn’t it be great if the world could learn from a hospital ward like that. The truth is—we’re all injured or broken in some way. We all have talents. Together, we could help to heal each other and even heal the deep rifts that divide so many of our communities in the world today.”


Ultimately, Wagner says, the Pew data on the importance of good preaching makes a lot of sense. “Excellent preaching is something you just have to have in a vital church, but there’s something more we need to say about that. Your words alone can be powerful, but what’s most important in a healthy community is for people to speak with absolute honesty and integrity. That’s what I try to do in this new book.

“What you’re trying to say—and the message people can see in your life—they must be in alignment. We need congruence in our messages about life and faith.

“People don’t want heavy-handed preaching. People want honest help in looking at their lives through new lenses that can help them to see God already working around them. My wish for this new book is that it will help readers begin to think about all that has happened in their lives and remember some experiences that made them stop and think, like I did in that hospital ward: ‘Wow! Look at this!’

“It’s with that new vision that we can discover God at work in our world, even when we weren’t even aware of God. I hope readers are surprised not only by the book, but by what they can discover about their own lives.”

Care to read more?

FROM PEW—Here is the main Pew report on “Choosing a New Church.” Here is the latest report on why “nones” are leaving. In addition, Glenn Wagner and this column about his new book also have drawn from Pew’s extensive reporting on “nones” over the past year, so you may want to search around within the Pew website for additional reports.

GET THE BOOK—You’ll be glad you ordered a copy of God Incidents.

CONNECT WITH GLENN—Wagner has an active schedule of speaking engagements, programs and retreats. Connect with the author and learn more at: glennmwagner.com.

Glenn M. Wagner and daughter Bethany in Israel in 2009.

The broken leg didn’t deter him from his pilgrimages. Wagner was back in Israel in 2009, standing here in Nazareth with his daughter Bethany.

Comments: (2)
Categories: Uncategorized