Ellen and Jane Knuth talk about ‘Love Will Steer Me True’

Cover of Love Will Steer Me True by Jane and Ellen Knuth

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

Relationships are like the flower bulbs we plant each autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere with the promise that they are living things and eventually will grow into a beautiful part of our daily journey. That’s the hope when we as parents meet our children again as adults. Whatever we thought these relationships were as we first nurtured them as children—they might someday surprise us in wondrous ways.

That’s the magic of Love Will Steer Me True, which Jane and Ellen Knuth have subtitled, “A Mother and Daughter’s Conversations on Life, Love and God.”

They’re talented writers and literally cut to the chase: The book opens with Ellen, as a young adult, on the verge of leaving her Mom behind in an airport in Michigan to start a new life in Japan as an English teacher. Jane bugs her daughter, as parents do, needling her anxiously until the two part.

Years later, the two women would look back over what happened in those years of separation, drawing from letters and journals and other records, and reconstruct chapter by chapter how they survived everything from a nuclear disaster in Japan to Jane’s sudden celebrity as a Catholic author back home. Perhaps more importantly, the book is about how they overcame Jane’s anxiety that Ellen wasn’t becoming a proper young Christian—until the two finally manage to meet again and regard each other for the first time as mature adults. Are you a parent? You’ll put down this book with a hopeful sigh.

And if that description doesn’t make you want to order a copy of this book, right now, then perhaps you haven’t stopped to think hard enough about the way that relationships in your own life have developed—and can develop—over the years. That’s really the second narrative in this book for each of us as readers—a host of personal echoes you are likely to hear in your own memory as you experience the words, the conversations and the experiences in the Knuth’s journey.

Here’s another reason to buy this book and support their work: The majority of people who read books with real-life spiritual themes are women, yet major publishers insist on pushing a majority of male writers our way. Some of those books are terrific. But, often, those books repeat our all-too-common pattern of a man standing up in a pulpit telling everyone how we should live our lives. It’s refreshing to discover such talented women writing such an engaging spiritual memoir—and, as readers, we should support these discoveries.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed both Jane and her daughter Ellen Knuth. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH JANE AND ELLEN KNUTH
ON ‘LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE’

Jane and Ellen Knuth with their book Love Will Steer Me True

Jane and her daughter Ellen Knuth with their new book.

DAVID: You two are so talented! Jane, you’re a math teacher and a community volunteer, and Ellen, you worked as a teacher in Japan for years. But you’ve also developed very compelling voices as writers. I’m not alone in saying that. Jane, your first book, Thrift Store Saints, was published while Ellen was in Japan and won praise nationwide. A lot of our readers would love to be able to write like you two. What’s your secret?

ELLEN: My mother always has been a storyteller. We were raised in the grand Irish tradition of telling stories around the dinner table. She had been writing magazine articles and other things like that for years before her first big book. I was in Japan when it was published, but when I got my copy of her book, I realized that these were the kinds of stories I might have heard around the dinner table. My mother just writes like she talks to people.

JANE: That first book did change my life and Ellen was on the other side of the world when it happened. The interesting thing is that both of us were teaching eighth graders when a lot of the events described in this book took place. One way we bonded was over our work as teachers.

As you’ll see in the book, we were not communicating very well in the beginning. I was talking on one level and she was talking on another level. This is the story of how our conversations became real again, how we could talk openly, authentically and come to a healing of hearts and relationships over several years. Finally, I asked Ellen if she would be willing to write a book with me and the experience really was fun.

‘I’ll PRAY FOR YOU’
(FOR BETTER OR WORSE)

DAVID: Here’s a good example and, I’ve said this to people myself: “I’ll pray for you.” As a Mom, Jane, I know you meant this to be reassuring. But as a daughter, Ellen, when you were younger and you were getting ready to head to Japan, this often sounded more like a threat than reassurance.

JANE: Before Ellen went away to Japan, we were able to talk on some levels. But if I mentioned God or I would say, “I will pray for you,” she would tense up.

She told me: “You don’t think I can handle this. You don’t think I’m an adult.” And I didn’t realize she was taking it that way. My religious language was placing a barrier between us that I didn’t even realize was contributing to a distance between us.

ELLEN: That’s true. When I was younger and Mom said, “I’m praying for you,” I equated that with worry. I realize that I tend to pray about things that are stressing me out—and when Mom would say that to me, it actually led to more stress in my life.

I would actually draw away from what she was saying. But then, when I moved to Japan, I came into my own adult life and I began to realize that prayer is another way of saying, “I love you.” Prayer is more than just worry and anxiety. As I began to understand prayer as an expression of support, I became more open to welcoming that. And that ties into the title of our book, Love Will Steer Me True. It’s thanks to love in many forms that we finally take our feet as adults and find our path.

One of my favorite Bible teachings is the one that deals with the difference between praying on street corners and praying in private. I’ve always defined religion as very private and personal in my own life. That’s where my prayer and meditation takes place. People who spend more time alone praying or meditating ultimately understand themselves better—and it allows us to look outside of ourselves in new ways. You can more readily identify with others and you can begin to see more ways to help and assist others. You’re more empathetic.

JANE: Christianity teaches us that we should spend private time with God and absorb that strength and wisdom and then that can flow through you.

DAVID: Prayer in families is very common. Our colleague, journalist David Briggs, recently reported in his column about research into religion that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans who are involved in their churches also regularly pray for their families. And among all American parents with teens, 8 out of 10 pray for their teens at least a few times a week.

JANE: That report doesn’t surprise me. I know that it’s easy, these days, to get the impression from TV that people aren’t praying anymore. But when I think about it: Every parent I know prays for their kids. I think most people are hopeful about their families and they pray about that. It’s nice to see a report like this one that confirms that lots of people are still praying.

ELLEN: And I’ve come to see that prayer as an act of love is very helpful. That’s different than prayer just as an act of worry. And it’s not good to get into an argument and threaten a person by saying: “Well, I’m going to pray for you!” That’s using prayer as an enforcement tool.

Actually, it can get into a situation in which people are praying counter to each other. In our family, we often pray: “May this come out as it should come out.” That acknowledges that often we cannot even fathom the best outcome in the situations in which we find ourselves.

INTO THE DISASTER AREA

Japanese government locator map of the region

The Japanese government posted this locator map of the region. As time passed, the government posted further detailed maps of villages where people should not live and others in this region where people could remain despite the disaster.

DAVID: Let’s talk about a situation in which you found yourself, Ellen. You were working in Japan during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. First of all, the town in which you lived and worked as a teacher was not in this part of Japan, but ironically your family background led you to want to help people remaining in that region. You volunteered to join one of the teams going into the disaster area to help out.

You bravely made a commitment that you would volunteer in that region, but then you admit in the book that you grew nervous as the trip approached. In one of the chapters you wrote for this book, Ellen, you say: “Now that a volunteer organization had agreed to take us on, the work boots have been purchased, and the departure date has been set, I’m pretty nervous. It has only now occurred to me that I have no experience, and by extension, no useful skills that can be applied to a disaster zone. What am I going to do? Emote over rubble? … For the first time ever, I regret not taking a single welding class. I’m also worried I won’t be able to handle being in an area of devastation. I’ve never had to face such a situation before.”

Then, after your chapter, Ellen, I had to chuckle at the chapter written by Jane, who was safe and sound back in Michigan. Jane says, “I am lighting a ton of candles this week.”

Then back to Ellen in the book: As it turns out, you quickly find useful work that you can do in that area. You and your teammates take on tasks like hauling fresh, safe water to people inside the zone. Can you tell us a little more about this—first Ellen?

ELLEN: The area in which we worked was not at the epicenter of the whole disaster. But we were in a devastated area and it was very tense to go through this whole experience. It’s hard when you’re inside a disaster area to be clear about the information coming in all around you. I had to chart my own course through this.

JANE: I was back here thinking: Oh my! You train your kids to be concerned about others and to help others and then your kid contacts you from Japan and says, “Mom, I’m going to volunteer to go into the nuclear zone and help out.”

Of course I had always wanted her to become a volunteer—but I was envisioning something like a nice safe soup kitchen! This was something so different than what I ever expected!

DAVID: In that volunteer effort, the real challenge turned out to be getting along with the other volunteers. I won’t spoil the book for readers, but the whole journey turns out to be tougher than Ellen imagined.

JANE: We were proud of her and amazed to learn about all she went through in that process. It was neat to see her come to a realization of why trying to work with a community of people can be so difficult. It’s not that people are bad; it’s just that relationships can be difficult and especially so under difficult circumstances. She began to understand something about why her father and I are still so involved in the church and in Christian community. It’s sometimes difficult, but we’re committed to it.

ELLEN: That experience was a turning point in my life in being able to make my own decisions, to chart my own course. It also was a big step in the process of my parents coming to respect my decisions as an adult.

JANE: Ellen never was what you’d call a rebel and we always loved each other, but there was a distance between us. This book is about the journey we were on together until we came to understand each other again as adults.

For me as a parent, it used to be that I would think about Ellen and that meant: I’m anxious! I’m worried about what is happening in my daughter’s life.

And now? I’m not worried when I think about my daughter. I’m curious.

ELLEN: In the end, one of the most important lessons we learned is that we all need to spend more time carefully listening to each other, rather than getting hung up on the differences we think we have. I hope this book will be read by people my mother’s age and people my age, too.

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

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Categories: Author InterviewsChildren and FamiliesGreat With Groups

Wake up! ‘How far the unknown transcends …’

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Wake Up!

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author, columnist and teacher

José de Ribera Jacob's Dream

DETAIL from “Jacob’s Dream,” a painting by 17th-Century Spanish painter José de Ribera.

I have had surgery three times in my life. In my first two experiences, I was a reluctant child and the anesthesia had already sent me to sleep prior to entering the operating room.

In my most recent experience I was taken into the surgery fully awake, wholly reassured and comforted by the caring nurses. I looked around in awe at this inner sanctum of medical toys as the efficient nurses attended to the tasks of preparation.

As if taken by the hand, I was gently led to sleep, scarcely knowing if I wished to stay in awe of the objects of this unknown world or go into the darkness.

Darkness came quickly and without awareness. I surrendered, the mystery of trust mingling with sleep.

Then, suddenly, I was in an unexpected place, a familiar but long ago place. Chattering voices and gentle laughs formed the image of children standing in front of an ice cream truck, eagerly trying to place an order for their own frosty delight.

Groggy. Confused. I heard a warm voice proclaiming, “You did so well.”

I raised my hand and garbled, “At what?”

The woman with the welcoming voice gently took my hand and leaned down to give me a tender hug.

I blubbered: “Are you an angel?”

She laughed and continued to caress my hand. Slowly, I began to see, to understand, to remember. I started to smile, then to laugh and feel giddy. A deep gratitude filled my soul!

Even in this now commonplace experience, awakening from anesthesia, I imagined I had  experienced the miracle of grace that holds the mysterious promise of a time beyond my final sleep.

When our toys of life are taken away and we face the eternal sleep we are entering a realm that Longfellow once tried to describe as a powerful and progressive matter of “Nature.” With a glimpse of that journey in the surgery—gratitude shivers my aching bones.

Awakening is a grace-filled miracle.

NATURE

By HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.

.

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Categories: Great With Groups

Wake Up! Massimo Vignelli helped us see our world in new ways

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Wake Up!

Review by DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine

Design Is One Lella and Massimo Vignelli DVD cover

Click the DVD cover to visit the film’s Amazon page.

As 2014 ended, the New York Times devoted an entire page to remembering Massimo Vignelli, the designer who was born in 1931 and died in May. You may not know his name, but you’ve seen his work a million times in countless forms.

In a dozen photos and a brief profile of Vignelli, The Times explains how this one Italian-American immigrant and his wife Lella shaped contemporary America, calling Massimo “a modern-design missionary. His signature simplicity cut away the clutter found in much commercial design.”

That’s why the release of Design is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli by documentary filmmakers Kathy Brew and Roberto Guera is such an eye-opening experience. Close your eyes for a moment and envision the “look” of American Airlines, Ford, IBM, Xerox, Gillette, JCPenney, Bloomingdales and Saks. Chances are your mind’s eye holds snapshots of Vignelli logos, products, signs, shopping bags and more. You’ve already got image after image of the Vignellis’ work stored away; seeing this film will unlock new insights into how those images connect.

Why are we reviewing this documentary in ReadTheSpirit—an online magazine widely read by people who care about spirituality and cultural diversity? Because this film is a terrific discussion-starter for small groups. You’ll find a host of associations with themes of faith and the goal of building healthy, diverse communities. In the film, the Vignellis say that their proudest accomplishment is the design of St. Peter’s Church in New York City, where they both planned to be interred and, of course, Massimo arrived in 2014.

As we tour this church in the film, Massimo points to the St. Peter’s columbarium and says, “That’s our permanent residence. It makes me so happy to know that we will be here forever.” If you discuss this film with friends, you’ll have an evening of spirited conversation on the St. Peter’s sequence, alone.

And, as the filmmakers show us in the course of the documentary, the Vignellis were interfaith pioneers, also designing a number of gorgeous pieces for Jewish families, especially focusing on silver candle-holders in various forms.

Stepping back from the specifically religious content of the film, the Vignellis spare modernist approach to design had the overall mission of encouraging healthy communities by bringing greater clarity to the treasures that can unite us as a body of diverse people. One of Massimo Vignelli’s most enduring projects was a redesign of the “look” of our National Parks.

Even the National Parks Conservation Association says that the graphical “look” of National Parks publications and maps was “an idiosyncratic hodgepodge” before Vignelli arrived in 1977 with the goal of popping Americans’ eyes open to the wonders awaiting us in our parks. Because of federal-government bureaucracy before that time, National Parks publications were printed in black and white in a crazy quilt of designs. Vignelli (with support from National Parks publications chief Vincent Gleason) designed maps and brochures and paperback books that featured gorgeous color photographs, simplified maps and a standardized design that welcomed visitors to any of the hundreds of nationally administered parks.

In the film, we hear Lella and Massimo repeatedly explain that their lives were dedicated to helping millions of Americans understand our country in clear and inviting ways. From home furnishings to subway maps, from chairs to books, from jewelry to magazines, from watches to calendars—this couple’s hands made our world more hospitable. As they accomplished their goal through a remarkably long career, they made America a more welcoming place for the growing diversity of our people.

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Categories: Great With GroupsMovies and TV

Rob Bell and Kristen Bell bring ‘The ZimZum of Love’

Rob Bell in OPRAH magazineROB BELL has reinvented himself yet again, thanks to his new friend Oprah Winfrey. Rob began the year as the subject of a long story in OPRAH magazine, featuring a big photo astride his surfboard looking more like an action-movie star than a pastor. Then, Rob appeared in various Oprah TV shows and public events. He is closing the year by publishing his first book with his wife Kristen Bell, who is emerging as an eloquent, wise and often downright funny co-author.

The OPRAH photo isn’t a fanciful illustration. Rob actually is an avid surfer now and that photo serves as an apt metaphor: Once again, Rob has landed squarely on his feet, surfing deep waters of cultural change.

For those readers who have forgotten the early history of Rob Bell: As a young man, he was restless and even performed, for a while, with a punk-rock band. He studied at the famous evangelical college, Wheaton. He left Wheaton with a classmate (Kristen) at his side and with a desire to bring fresh energy into the Christian pulpit.

After a sojourn at another big church, Rob eventually founded the Mars Hill megachurch in Grand Rapids that, for a time, held the record for weekend attendance among Michigan congregations.

His creativity didn’t stop there. Rob wanted to pioneer new formats for bringing his Christian message to millions of un-churched Americans, so he launched the best-selling video series, Nooma. For several years, “Noomas” became the trendiest multi-media shown in mainline churches nationwide.

Then, Rob began moving with his pulpit! In addition to preaching at Mars Hill, he began touring the world doing long, stand-up performances about Christianity in comedy clubs and theaters.

Eventually, America’s self-appointed evangelical gatekeepers had enough of his inclusive preaching. Various yellow flags were thrown as Rob wrote and preached and toured, including a major controversy over Rob’s suggestion that people who are not Christian may wind up in heaven along with born-again Christians. Evangelicals called, “Foul!” and sought to drum him out of the evangelical camp.

Rob Bell book cover The ZimZum of Love

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

The Bells moved from their home in the conservative-Christian heart of northwest Michigan to southern California where their circle of friends dramatically expanded. With that trans-continental move, they also signaled their decision to step away from the controversy over whether Rob truly is “an evangelical.”

Today? When Rob and Kristen are asked about the evangelical bubble in which they once lived? “We’re really out of that world now,” Rob says. They’re still devoutly Christian; they’ve just left the trenches of what amounts to an evangelical civil war.

What Oprah has given to Rob Bell is confirmation that millions of Americans really do want to hear about the life-affirming joy represented in Christianity’s core teachings. When Rob appears in Oprah’s programs, he is identified as a Christian pastor. He preaches that hope and joy is possible in our lives, today, if we allow faith to lead us into a larger, more compassionate awareness of our world.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Rob and Kristen Bell about their new book on marriage, The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ROB AND KRISTEN BELL
ON ‘ZIMZUM  OF LOVE’

DAVID: As usual, you’re very timely with the subject of this new book. According to Pew, Americans’ attitudes toward marriage are deeply ambivalent, these days. Pew says that the percentage of American adults who’ve never been married has hit an all-time high of 20 percent. Beyond that, half of American adults now say that marriage isn’t necessary to have a happy life.

Even worse from the viewpoint of religious leaders, most Americans don’t look to clergy for advice on marriage. Most Catholics don’t like their church’s policies on divorce and remarriage. Many couples are annoyed that both Protestant and Catholic clergy tend to require marriage counseling before setting a date. The New York Times reports that it’s trendy simply to have a friend perform your wedding with a quickee Internet diploma as a “pastor.” All in all, the church’s relationship to the institution of marriage is pretty troubled right now.

Rob Bell and Kristen Bell on The ZimZum of LoveROB: “The church” is vast and complex. That phrase can mean lots of different things and some churches are better than others in helping people with marriage.

We do have lots of people today who grew up in a culture where there were lots of things called “marriage” that were not beautiful, giving relationships of love. Lots of people grew up in homes where their parents wore rings and seemed to do all the right stuff associated with a marriage—but there was no spirit to the relationship, no flow, no ZimZum to the marriage. If that’s your experience, then marriage isn’t a big deal.

But relationships are a big deal in our lives. Lots of people are looking for guidance in trying to share their lives with someone. And most people understand that they are spiritual beings and there is something spiritual about marriage. That’s what we’re writing about.

KRISTEN: There are so many people who’ve seen what they don’t want in marriage—but that can be a good thing, too. It can lead you to ask: What do I want?

When I was in high school, I read Bill and Lynne Hybels’ book about marriage, Fit to be Tied, and that was very powerful for me because they talk honestly about their struggles. I began to think a lot at that point about what I wanted in marriage and that was good timing for me in those dating years.

Rob and I like to tell the story about the six weeks of pre-marriage counseling we had before we got married. We went to see someone who was about an hour’s drive away. Each time as we made that drive, we would try to come up with all the topics he would ask us about—and then we’d try to talk through everything because we wanted to be the best couple ever. What was interesting about that experience was—it set the tone for our relationship. We decided, right then, that we would be intentional about our marriage.

ZIMZUM OR TZIMTZUM?

DAVID: One thing I like about this new book is that it draws on a very old idea that you’ve borrowed from medieval Jewish mysticism: tzimtzum, or as you spell it zimzum. This is an idea associated with the great mystical teacher Ha’ARI or Isaac Luria, who is one of the major figures associated with Safed in northern Israel. On two trips to Israel, I’ve been able to spend time in Safed and I’m enjoying your very contemporary approach to reviving marriage drawing upon something so steeped in Safed’s mystic traditions.

For the readers of this interview, can you explain a little bit about what you call zimzum?

ROB: For a number of years, I studied and read about the ancient Jewish masters and I stumbled across this concept. I love strange words that unlock a new depth of meaning. And, of course, I realize there is much more to this idea than what we touch upon in our book. It’s a giant idea and many traditions and teachings now stem from this.

DAVID: In the book, you describe it as “a Hebrew word used in the rabbinic tradition to talk about the creation of the world.” You explain that the term describes how God—at the very beginning of the Creation—realized that God needed “to create space that wasn’t God” so that other things could fill the universe and thrive. Sometimes this is called God’s decision to “contract” to make room for creation to thrive independently.

ROB: When I talked to Kristen about this idea, we both had this reaction: God creating space for the creation of the universe sounds like marriage–the way we create space for another person to thrive with us. We create space in our lives for someone we love and they do the same in making space for us.

DAVID: You could have subtitled this book: “A Metaphysics of Marriage.”

ROB: Yeah. And I love that word, too: metaphysics. But if we used that word, a lot of people would keep asking: What are you talking about?! We’re already introducing the unusual term “zimzum.” We’re talking about the space that two people create between them in a marriage. And this space between us has an energetic flow to it. When you first meet someone, you have your own center of gravity—your own dreams and goals. Then, as you fall in love, there is this shift in your life. Your center of gravity expands and you find yourself making space for this other person.

KRISTEN: If you stop and think about the depth of what is happening between you and your spouse, it helps you to appreciate it, to treasure it and to act for each other’s well-being in a new way.

MAKING SACRIFICES IN MARRIAGE

DAVID: Kristen, that touches on another idea in your book that may seem strangely old fashioned in our self-centered culture. You write about the power of making sacrifices in marriage.

KRISTEN: You’ll find that, when you give something to the person you love and it costs you something, it actually brings you great joy. Some people may be experiencing marriage as a constant power struggle, always trying to get out of it what you want. But, we’ve found in our marriage that, when you’re willing to let things go and you have this mutual love—you find that things come back to you.

ROB: What we are describing is someone in a marriage choosing to place the other person’s well-being ahead of your own. When that happens, it can move and inspire us. We’re still telling stories about what firefighters did on 9/11 because their sacrificial actions filled us with hope.

What we’re not talking about in this book is the old suggestion that we have to suffer in marriage. In fact, we’re turning that idea on its head. We’re saying that it can be an exhilarating move toward the other person—if you choose to put their well-being first. If you listen to people talk about their marriages, you realize that the really great marriages involve two people committing themselves to each other. We’re talking about making a conscious decision that you want to do something for the other person.

We want people to pick up the idea that there are a thousand little moves back and forth between us in our relationships, every single day. We want people to be asking: What am I doing today that will help the other person? Can I pick up something on the way home? Can I take the kids for a while so you can do that thing you really want to do? It’s a constant process—a thousand little moves.

ENDLESS MYSTERY OF MARRIAGE

DAVID: Ultimately, you write that a way to test the health of your marriage is to consider: Do you still appreciate that there is a fascinating mystery in the person to whom you’ve committed yourself? Have you turned your partner into an opaque, two-dimensional figure—or can you still appreciate the deeper mystery in your partner? My father recently died in his late 80s and, even in his final year of disability, I was amazed at how eager my parents were to spend each day together. Even in that final year, I could see them discovering new things about each other.

I think that’s one of the best lessons in your book: Rediscover the mystery in your partner.

KRISTEN: One thing that’s happened to me recently is that, with the writing and publication of this book, I’ve joined Rob’s world. Now, I’m part of all of these experiences that he’s been having for some time, but that are new to me.

DAVID: For example …

KRISTEN: Feeling the nerves before an event starts. Or the way you think about an event when it’s over. There are numerous times in recent weeks when I’ve looked at him and said: You’ve felt like this? I have a whole new appreciation for what he has experienced.

ROB: So much of how you understand marriage flows from your understanding of what it means to be human. For a lot of people there isn’t much curiosity about life or about other people. So, if you don’t have much interest in other people, then you can stop trying to learning about the other person in your marriage. You’ll find that people in thriving marriages live with the assumption that this other person in your life is endlessly interesting.

OPRAH AND ‘HELP DESK’

Rob Bell appearing on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network Help Desk show

CLICK on this image to watch two short clips of Rob Bell appearing in Oprah Winfrey’s “Help Desk” TV series.

DAVID: Rob, tell us about your work with Oprah. This year, you appeared as part of her The Life You Want Weekends. You’re among her “Life Trailblazers.” How is this changing your professional role?

ROB: I’m doing what I’ve always done. I’m a pastor. And, I help people see that everything is spiritual. I do my best to let people know: Your life matters. I’m in a new setting and I love it and I get to talk to a lot of people I’ve never talked to before.

KRISTEN: They always introduce him as Pastor Rob Bell. When he speaks, he gets down to real issues. It’s very convicting and pastoral. He states the truth and he invites people to make a shift in their hearts. And then at the end he does a benediction. I agree that it’s definitely the same trajectory he’s always been on. Rob has always had a passion for communicating. And his intention has always been to help people connect with God, to remove barriers people might have. He just keeps giving and it’s really fun to see him on that bigger stage, now.

DAVID: So, let me ask you the question I’ve asked you in our many interviews over the years: Should you still be described as “evangelical”? For a while, some of your critics wanted to debate you and eventually wanted to kick you out of the evangelical camp for some of your more inclusive teaching.

ROB: I don’t follow all of that anymore. We’re really out of that world now. I would say, if “evangelical” means hope in this buoyant announcement that we all, together, can do something about the problems in this world because there has been a Resurrection—then, yes, absolutely. But if “evangelical” means a particular sub-culture that has no larger cultural relevance anymore—because it’s focused on fear—then, no, that has no interest for me anymore. If you use “evangelical” in its original meaning—proclaiming good news—then, yes.

DAVID: OK, so a good example of taking good news into the public square is your appearance on Oprah’s Help Desk series. Clips from that episode are all over the Internet. You’re good at it. We’re going to show our readers a couple of examples from that show.

Then, let me close our conversation today by asking: What do you hope readers will do with your new book?

ROB: We hope that people will see they have tremendous power to change their relationships. In a marriage, you have way more power to affect the space between you than you may think. We hope it’s empowering and illuminating. And secondly we don’t want anyone just to settle. If you’re going to spend your life with someone—don’t settle. Marriage should be great.

KRISTEN: We hope that people will rediscover the mystery in their marriages—so that their marriages will bring them great joy.

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

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Categories: Author InterviewsChildren and FamiliesGreat With Groups

Review: ‘Cold War Road Show’ will make you feel safer now

REVIEW BY DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine

PBS American Experience Cold War Road Show DVD documentaryHere’s something to feel truly thankful for this year! Watch The Cold War Roadshow on PBS’s American Experience this week and you will feel safer about our world in just 1 hour.

Global warming? Ebola? The ruthless armies of ISIS? Sure, they’re all critical global concerns we must address as concerned humans. But half a century ago, American life was transformed by the first visit of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. As a population, “we” lined the streets to see his entourage pass through our nation. What is most remarkable about this? We stood along his motorcade route in stunned silence.

As the documentary about this world-changing 1959 visit explains: Americans were so terrified by the power of this man to touch off a global nuclear war that we didn’t know how to respond.

Khrushchev intended this visit to serve as a full-scale public relations campaign to win over American public opinion. He grinned almost constantly. He showed off his own family and warmly hugged any American children who came within arm’s reach. But his short temper often trumped his charm offensive.

When the mayor of Los Angeles insulted him at a public banquet, Khrushchev exploded. He roared back that Soviet factories were pumping out missiles like sausages and, if Americans wanted to go toe to toe with the USSR, they’d find themselves in a war to end all wars! The film footage from that day shows the mayor’s face going from a confident grin to a jaw-dropping expression of fear at what he had touched off.

One of the best things about this fascinating documentary is the decision by filmmakers Robert Stone and Tim B. Toidze to include interviews with two adults who were children on the front row of this first visit by a Soviet leader to American soil. Susan Eisenhower is Ike’s daughter and now is a highly respected consultant on international commerce. Sergei Khrushchev is the son of the former Soviet leader and an author and consultant as well. These two “kids” provide revealing commentary on what was taking place in that often shocking tour.

One insight? Khrushchev’s son admits that his father had a very short fuse when confronted with insults. At the infamous Los Angeles banquet, when he began boasting about turning out missiles like sausages, the Soviet leader was flat out lying. It was just angry bluster, the son tells us. In fact, the Soviets had produced very few missiles at that point. Of course, that angry exchange left Americans quaking in our boots—and led to increased spying and a dramatic escalation of Cold War confrontations into the early 1960s.

Any American who was a child in that era remembers the “duck and cover” drills we all learned in public schools. This documentary shows a brief clip of the way we did it: Boys and girls all dropping to the floor of our classrooms, crouching under our desks and covering our heads with our hands. Today, the idea seems like the darkest of comedy.

But then, when it comes to global issues right now, Pew reports “Americans don’t care.” Nearly 4 out of 5 Americans told Pew pollsters this year that they want our leaders to focus on domestic issues and stop worrying about global concerns. However, national security remains an almost universal concern and 3 out of 4 Americans told Pew that “preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction” should be a top national priority. However we may balance those two attitudes—Pew reporting does show that Americans are no longer worried about a worldwide nuclear war ending life as we know it. And that certainly wasn’t the case when Khrushchev flew back to Moscow in 1959!

Watching this hour-long snapshot of America’s nuclear anxiety half a century ago is certain to make you feel more thankful this month!

WANT TO SEE THE FILM?

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

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The David Gushee Interview on ‘Changing Our Mind’

David P Gushee Changing Our Mind front cover

CLICK THE COVER to visit our Bookstore, learn more about the book and order a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other retailers.

NEWS already is spreading that America’s leading evangelical Christian ethicist, Dr. David P. Gushee, has reversed his traditional opposition to LGBT relationships in a landmark book called, Changing Our Mind. One online news report about his new book racked up 42,000 mentions on Facebook by readers who understand the significance of this new stance by Dr. Gushee.

After 20 books—including the award-winning volume that now is a standard reference book for evangelical leaders, Kingdom Ethics—Dr. Gushee is completely rewriting his ethical and biblical approach to gay and lesbian men and women. The news has been welcomed by families, teachers and religious leaders who realize that traditional evangelical teaching has hurt countless men, women and teens. Predictably, the news also has sparked opposition from traditionalists.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed David P. Gushee about his book. But before we bring you that author interview, here is a convenient outline of other resources you’ll want to consider:

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ETHICIST DR. DAVID P. GUSHEE
ON ‘CHANGING OUR MIND’

CRUMM: Let’s start with the most obvious question: Why now? You are a devout Christian, a serious scholar and you’ve already written enough books to fill a shelf in the library. Now, mid-career, you’ve chosen to reverse yourself on one of the most important issues dividing thousands of churches and millions of families. This is a rare reversal for a scholar of your stature.

In his Foreword to your book, best-selling Christian writer Brian D. McLaren calls this a historic moment and compares your new stance to some others that made headlines. Brian writes: “Older readers will remember when Billy Graham shocked American evangelicals—first, by refusing to segregate his evangelistic crusades, and then, by working with Roman Catholics. Younger readers will remember when Pope Francis shocked Catholics by washing the feet of a Muslim woman, or by refusing to condemn gay Catholics.”

So, David, the first question is: Why now?

Gushee author photo

David P. Gushee

GUSHEE: More with this book than with any other book I’ve written, I have a sense of being carried along by a power that goes beyond me. It’s like these ideas have been germinating underground for a long time.

Now, I feel compelled to do more to address this issue in a public way. I feel that this is the issue of the early 21st century in the way that race was the issue of the 1960s and, in my evangelical world, the way that women’s roles became the issue of the 1980s. By God’s grace, I have evolved into a leader in American Christianity and I feel like I have not met my responsibility up until now to lead on the LGBT issue. Now, I’m ready. It took me a while to get here.

CHRISTIANS ON A JOURNEY

CRUMM: That sense you describe of “being carried along by a power that goes beyond me.” Some of the early endorsers of your book are making this same point. One of the most inspiring, I think, is the strong endorsement by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America from 1994-2011. He calls  your new book “courageous, clear, balanced and … grounded in biblical faith.” And then he writes that your book “will be a challenge to some, an inspiration to others, but a gift to all who find themselves at some point on this journey.”

What he’s saying—and many other Christian leaders are saying, too—is that this is a moment of historic change.

GUSHEE: For a long time as evangelicals we made it impossible for LGBT people to exist around us in an honest way. We allowed no recognized space to be an LGBT Christian. Of course, we know that there are millions of LGBT people in America, but in the spaces we controlled? There seemed to be zero. Of course that means LGBT people were hiding. We were forcing them to remain invisible. That’s a form of marginalization that’s as acute as it gets. We have been saying: In our world, you can’t exist. You can’t exist as a devout Christian. We have been trying to create and enforce environments where it’s impossible for you, as an LGBT man or woman, to exist.

We made people suffer through what we said and taught and, by enforcing this kind of environment where people had to hide, we made people suffer even more.

AN EMERGING JUSTICE ISSUE

CRUMM: One thing that’s important to understand about your response is: You’re not saying, “Well, the culture is changing and we should change, too, to remain relevant.” What’s driving your new work is really an awareness of the suffering that traditionalist Christian preaching and teaching has caused among countless families—not only LGBT men and women but their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

In the opening pages of your new book, Jane Clementi writes about the importance of your book to families who have gay loved ones. Jane and her husband now have co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation after their son Tyler was lost to suicide in the wake of that infamous case of cyber-bullying at Rutgers University. Jane concludes her note to readers this way: “Praise God for patiently guiding each of us to this place of new understanding as God moves the Church into the 21st century.” Unless your heart is made of stone, you’ve got to be moved by the Clementi family story.

So, your critics may accuse you of just surrendering to popular culture—but anyone who reads your book will realize that’s not the case. This is a theme that runs throughout your career as a scholar: In each time and place, we must look for those who are suffering and reach out to help.

GUSHEE: You’re right. Popular culture is not my prime motivation.

The prime motivation in all of my work is to help Christians discern what it means to follow Christ faithfully. Just because culture may be moving in one direction does not mean that we should just go along. My doctoral dissertation was on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust where millions in Germany simply went along with the dominant culture.

This is difficult to discern. Sometimes the culture is leading the way in a good direction; and sometimes culture is moving in a direction where the church should dig in its heels. My book addresses that issue directly: Is this change I am describing a surrender to sexual libertinism in our culture? Or is this an emerging justice issue for Christians who want to faithfully follow Christ? I don’t have any doubts about it anymore. This is an emerging justice issue for Christians who want to be faithful to where Christ is leading us.

I would say at the cultural level, while the conservative branches of the church are losing substantial numbers of people and substantial cultural ground on this issue, the responses I’m hearing from the cultural Right demonstrate they’re digging in their heels in a very strong way. Some on the cultural Right are going to be digging in their heels until the very end.

DISCERNMENT TAKES TIME

CRUMM: As a journalist, I’ve devoted my career to covering religion around the world. I’m fascinated by religious leaders who break with tradition on justice issues. Recently, we published an interview with biographer Charles Marsh about how Dietrich Bonhoeffer became one of the first Christian leaders in Germany to publicly oppose the Nazis—way before other Christian heroes followed his example.

I always wonder: How did these heroic Christian leaders decide to step out into the forefront and take such courageous positions? What fueled their decisions? Another example: I’m fascinated by the life of John Wesley who took decades to figure out that slavery was wrong, that it was a Christian justice issue—but finally Wesley became a leading abolitionist and published a stirring anti-slavery pamphlet in 1774.

GUSHEE: It took me basically 20 years to reach this point: 20 years and 20 books before I reached this point of discernment on this issue.

I think that no human being has the bandwidth to reconsider everything at the same time. John Wesley didn’t. Discernment takes time.

In the context and pace of global change today, it may seem as though we’re reconsidering everything every day. But, as a Christian, you inherit paterns of belief and ways the Bible has been traditionally interpreted on dozens and dozens of issues—money, environment, war, human relations, on and on—and something has to arrive in our lives to crack open a settled pattern of interpretation. Usually that takes the form of a transformative experience with people who are negatively affected by that traditional pattern of interpretation. If we encounter the humanity affected and suffering because of a particular pattern of teaching—then our lives begin to crack open and there is space to reconsider.

If you’re a Protestant, then the Bible is your main authority in life. And, if you’re an evangelical, you want to be sure you have a solid biblical base to your thinking. So, I needed to revisit the Bible passages that have been the main cluster of passages raised when this issue is discussed in evangelical circles.

When I began that careful study, I realized that I should have been clued into the flaws in the traditional analysis long ago. None of the passages cited in the traditional arguments about gay and lesbian relationships is a central passage on which we as Christians normally base our lives. Think about what we consider central as Christians: passages like John 3:16 and the parables of Jesus and Jesus’s own teachings. So, I should have realized that there were flaws in that traditional biblical analysis when it rests on passages like the one in Leviticus. Where else in contemporary life do Christians quote Leviticus as a guide for daily living? Yes, there are a couple of passages in the New Testament that are often cited as well, but they’re not the core passages of the Bible on which we rely every day.

The more I studied this, the more I realized: What a disaster! We have allowed a traditionalist reading of a small cluster of relatively marginal passages in the Bible to trump the heartbeat of Christian morality, which is based on the teachings of Jesus. I feel the scales have fallen from my eyes on this. I’m saying we need to treat LGBT people like Jesus commanded us to treat everybody we meet.

A HUMBLE APOLOGY

CRUMM: I was moved by your book, especially the final chapter. You close this book with a humble apology “to those who have been hurt by my prior teaching and writing on the LGBT issue.”

And that passage made me look back earlier in your career to the years of research you conducted into courageous Holocaust rescuers—men and women who now are called “righteous gentiles.” These people risked their lives, and many actually died, because they were convinced that they should reach out and help the suffering during the Shoah.

I  pulled off my shelf your book, based on those years of research, titled, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation. And, toward the end of that book you write: “Most rescuers … believe that their actions were in fact both morally obligatory and not especially commendable. Their obligation to help Jews seemed perfectly clear to them, and from their perspective a person deserves no praise for fulfilling an obvious obligation.”

Now, years after first publishing that book, you’re publishing Changing Our Mind and you close this new book on a similar note. You’re not asking people to praise you as a great hero. You’re humbling yourself at the end of this book. You’re publishing this book because it’s the right thing to do.

To echo a famous evangelical line: Here you stand; you can do no other.

GUSHEE: I’m really glad you discovered that quote in Righteous Gentiles. You’re right, I was deeply shaped by that research. I spent three years day and night reading about rescuers and researching in Holocaust archives—immersing myself in all of these hidden stories. That was my dissertation and the deepest I thought I’d ever go on researching any topic. Studying these rescuers set my course. I have been attempting to live up to what I learned from them ever since.

I’ve often talked about trying to follow a “rescuer Christianity” rather than a “bystander Christianity” or—even worse—a “perpetrator Christianity.” So, yes, I totally resonate with that quote you just read.

What I’m trying to do is to let Christians know: Here’s an idea. Treat gay and lesbian people just like you’d treat anyone else. Welcome them. Show them hospitality. That’s what we as Christians are supposed to do for everyone. This isn’t rocket science.

And, I don’t deserve praise for having taken 20 years to figure this out. Now that I have, I plan to stand in solidarity with the people we have made to suffer for so long—for the rest of my career. It is the least that I can do.

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

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Categories: Author InterviewsChildren and FamiliesChurch GrowthGreat With Groups

Why David P. Gushee represents hope for the Church

By KEN WILSON
author of A Letter To My Congregation

A Letter to My Congregation cover with Ken Wilson

Click the image to learn more about Ken Wilson and his book, which includes an opening written by David P. Gushee.

David Gushee is arguably the preeminent Evangelical ethicist of our time. Until this book, that is, which is more than a book. It is an event and it is one that will propel Gushee outside the camp of approved Evangelical scholars.

But this is where Jesus did his best work. It is the place where the gospel first happened for all people. Gushee’s book will draw many Evangelicals to find Jesus outside the camp with his vulnerable gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender followers, those who have suffered in exile for a very long time.

The thing you will notice in Changing Our Mind, beyond the faithful scholarship, is Gushee’s voice. Words do matter and the thoughts they convey. But the good shepherd is known primarily by his voice. Gushee’s voice is by turns warm, pastoral, prophetic, irenic, careful, authoritative, humble, sorrowful, repentant and even occasionally funny.

Gushee’s new book is a great read.

But his mission is deadly serious. Gushee is out to save the lives of people living with the stigma of sexual minority status. And he is out to save the soul of the Evangelical church, so that it can be good news for all people again.

I met David at a retreat sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals in 2006. Five years later, I was on a writing retreat—gathering my troubled and troubling thoughts on a way to fully include people in same-sex relationships in the church. I had just finished reading Gushee’s Kingdom Ethics and found the few pages on homosexuality wanting. Those pages didn’t live up to the approach to ethics that Gushee and his co-author presented in the book. With trepidation (Who was I to criticize Gushee in his own field?) I told him so. And to my surprise, he responded with what I now know to be characteristic humility.

He said, “I’m rethinking that section too.”

That’s when I knew that evangelicals are able to—and will—change their minds on this issue for the sake of the gospel. That’s when I felt hope for the evangelical church—that guided by our passion for the gospel, we could find a better way. Today I am aware of several evangelical churches in the dicey, messy, difficult process of changing their minds on this issue.

When I telephoned Gushee that day, I couldn’t imagine such a thing. When I hung up the phone, I could.

So read this book—but only if you are willing to venture outside the camp of modern-day evangelicalism for the sake of the gospel. There you will enjoy sweet fellowship with Jesus that is available nowhere else. And you will discover again the thrill inherent in the goodness, the sheer, stupefying goodness of the gospel for all people.

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