Nine Holiday Gifts Guaranteed to Boost Your Spirits


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Help Us Spread the Spirit of Peace this Season
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SPIRIT is the courage and determination that helps people to survive in difficult times and to keep their way of life and their beliefs.” That’s a dictionary definition of the term—and is just what most of us need as we approach the year-end holidays this year.

Remember: Hanukkah begins on December 22, Christmas on the 25th, Kwanzaa on December 26, then some people even give New Year’s gifts. Books are a great choice for the New Year, because studies show that January is becoming a very popular month for starting new books!

What better gift to give someone this holiday season, than the gift of SPIRIT. All of these books promote peace by helping to bridge the gaps that separate Americans these days. Here are some suggestions from some of our favorite authors.

Click the cover to visit Amazon.

Click the cover to visit Amazon.

NOTE: With this article, we are providing the Amazon links because that’s the first choice for most customers, these days. However, all of our books are also available through Barnes & Noble, which is handy if you are part of the BN discount program—as well as many other online bookstores, including our own Front Edge store. We encourage you to order via whatever online retailer you prefer.

30 Days with Abraham Lincoln

At a time when Americans are more divided than ever, Abraham Lincoln still calls us back together. That’s why Lincoln remains the soul of America, appealing to everyone from the staunchest conservative Republican to progressive Democrats. That’s how a radio station in Maine built a loyal audience for a short weekly feature by Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer called Quiet Fire.

Now, you can join in this call to spiritually reunite our nation by becoming part of the first wave of readers of: 30 Days With Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire. This inspirational book collects 30 of Newcomer’s best radio stories in recent years along with links to listen to the original broadcasts.

Care to learn more? We also have launched a new resource page, packed with:

  • Free media you can download to spread the word, including a press release and a one-page flyer suitable to hang on a wall to encourage small-group discussion. There’s even a 1-minute YouTube video you can share.
  • Praise for this new book from men and women nationwide.
Click the cover to visit Amazon.

Click the cover to visit Amazon.

Finding God in Unexpected Places: Wisdom for Everyone from the Jewish Tradition

WARNING! The stories in this book might change your life. Responses we’ve heard nationwide include surprise, good cheer, occasional laughter and lots of reflections about the many ways God calls us to be compassionate people. How’s that for a gift with impact?

Author, Rabbi Jack Riemer is a master storyteller and teacher—one of the most frequently quoted rabbis in the U.S. That’s because of the fascinating ways he brings the relevance of timeless Jewish wisdom in our modern world.

What do a professional baseball player, Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry box, a hurricane, a garbage dump and a blue blazer hanging in your closet have to do with each other? They’re all turning points in Riemer’s stories in Finding God in Unexpected Places that lead us toward universal questions we all confront at some point in life.

Reflecting on Riemer’s wisdom about life, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes that the rabbi “is obviously a person with much understanding of the human situation.”

The late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, “Jack Riemer’s words are songs of hope and faith. Listen to them, as I do.”

Short Stuff From A Tall Guy

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Do you have someone on your gift list who needs a boost of spirit for the new year? This book is the perfect gift.

Popular author and counselor Benjamin Pratt helps men and women rediscover hope and purpose in their lives through his writing, teaching and public appearances.

Short Stuff From A Tall Guy is a collection of dozens of columns that readers keep talking about as he travels and meets with groups of men and women. Pratt guides readers to fresh insights through compassion, humor, and honesty about the dilemmas, doubts and challenges that we all face every day.

All of his short, true-life stories lead readers toward the promise of home and renewed energy for trying to make the world a better place. He encourages readers to develop an empathetic heart.

And a special note: A number of the best stories in this book take readers through the seasons of the year—so you could order this book as a gift and specially highlight a story in the book for the season at hand.

In the Foreword to this book, Buddhist teacher Geri Larkin writes that she loves the book because it is “filled with compassion, service and respect for everyone. At a time when crime stories are the highest-ranked television shows and topping best-seller lists, here is a book that offers an entirely different experience.”

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Can You Just Get Them Through Until Christmas?

The book’s subtitle hints at the inspiration you’ll find in these pages: The Turnaround Story of One Lay Minister and Two Small, Rural Churches.

When author Margie Briggs was asked to provide pastoral leadership for two tiny rural congregations, the men and women who continued to love those churches had hit rock bottom. Tragedy and controversy had claimed two previous pastors. Regional church leaders were so desperate that they begged Margie, a lay person, to work with the broken-hearted people in order to get them through the holidays. They asked her: Can You Just Get Them Through until Christmas?

Instead, Margie’s creativity and compassion inspired these men and women to reach out in new ways and sustainably grow their two churches into vibrant communities.

More than half of the churches in America are small with attendance of less than 100. In fact, the median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings, according to the National Congregations Study. Many other books, today, describe ministries at vast megachurches. This is a book for the vast majority of Americans who say they care about their far smaller congregations and pray, every week, that they might be able to grow. Margie and her parishioners did just that. Their story will make you laugh; a few of these honest scenes may make you cry; but, ultimately, you’ll be inspired by what is possible when men and women work together.

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Friendship & Faith: Second Edition—The Wisdom of Women Creating Alliances for Peace

How about giving someone—or even yourself—the gift of friendship?

This book by the women of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit) serves up dozens of true stories about making friends, which may be the most important thing you can do to make the world a better place, and transform your own life in the process.

Making a new friend often is tricky, as you’ll discover in these dozens of real-life stories by women from a wide variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds. But, crossing lines of religion, race and culture is worth the effort, often forming some of life’s deepest friendships, these women have found.

In Friendship and Faith, you’ll discover how we really can change the world one friend at a time. So purchase a copy, give it to a women who you think could be a great friend, but maybe it’s not obvious to you both. She’ll get the hint.

Quaker singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer writes, “We are pressed daily by messages of fear, conflict and the idea that we are hopelessly divided by our differences. The stories contained in Friendship and Faith remind us of the richness and beauty contained in our diverse spiritual traditions, while affirming our shared human condition.”

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Light Shines In the Darkness: My Healing Journey Through Sexual Abuse and Depression

Sadly, every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted—which makes Lucille F. Sider’s book, Light Shines in the Darkness, a poignant gift for many men and women who share this heartbreaking experience.

Clinical psychologist and clergywoman Lucille F. Sider added her voice to the chorus of women in the #WhyIDidntReport and #MeToo movements by authoring this inspiring and helpful memoir. This is Lucille’s story of resilience and hope as a survivor of sexual abuse. She explains the challenges of finding her way out of a fear-based spirituality into one that is full of grace, hope and forgiveness.

The unique richness of her book is that she wrote it to spark healing discussions. As she describes her experiences in these pages, she also steps back and offers helpful analysis as both a psychologist and a clergywoman.

At the end of the book, she includes a complete study guide with questions for reflection for individuals, small groups and classes. Light Shines in the Darkness is a gift for the survivor or small group leader on your holiday gift list.

Bullying Is No Laughing Matter—an anthology of famous comics

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Millions of Americans follow the adventures of Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Luann, Dick Tracy, Gil Thorp and other top comic strip characters. We love to laugh at their adventures—and their misadventures. But, as the title of this powerful comic anthology declares: Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.

This full-color paperback represents a historic “team up” of America’s cartoon favorites. They’re united in encouraging kids to support each other when someone begins picking on them. National research shows that new forms of bullying follow kids wherever they go—inescapably plaguing them through social media on computers and smartphones.

Some of the comic artists contributing to this book have even added personal notes sharing their own experiences with bullies-or offering brief words of encouragement to kids. This book is a unique resource encouraging kids to build supportive relationships by starting with familiar characters they may have grown up with or will enjoy meeting in these pages.

Bullying Is No Laughing Matter unites 36 nationally distributed comic strips, many of them specifically addressing the issue of bullying for the first time in this publication. Readers will enjoy colorful visits from such regulars on the funny pages as Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Dennis the Menace, Dick Tracy, Funky Winkerbean, Gil Thorp, Luann, Stone Soup, Mary Worth, and many more.

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Every Living Thing

The book’s subtitle explains why this is such a perfect gift for the animal lovers on your shopping list: How Pope Francis, Evangelicals and Other Christian Leaders Are Inspiring All of Us to Care for Animals.

That loved one on your gift-giving list who lives with a furry friend will thank you—no matter what religious tradition that person finds most inspiring. And, of course, the book extends beyond our beloved dogs and cats to encourage concern for Every Living Thing.

The world’s 2 billion Christians are hearing loud and clear teachings about animals these days. Pope Francis’s encyclical on creation care is joined by a chorus of American evangelical leaders writing about care for animals. The Humane Society of the United States has collected the latest teachings from Christian leaders to inspire individuals and spark fresh discussion in congregations. This book includes the new “Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals” and teachings from a dozen denominations.

Why should we turn to religious leaders for compassionate advice about the animals we love? Because the origins of the animal-care movement came from our religious traditions, writes best-selling historian Eric Metaxas. “The roots of animal activism come from people of faith—there are biblical reasons for this.”

United America

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Finally, if daily headlines about angry political and cultural disputes are distressing you and your loved ones—here’s some amazing good news.

It’s in the subtitle to United America: The surprising truth about American values, American identity and the 10 beliefs that a large majority of Americans hold dear.

University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is reporting a surprising truth about Americans: We are united by 10 Core Values. This truth is empowering because it enables us to rise above and see beyond political polarization, Washington gridlock, the imagery of Red/Blue states, and the rhetoric of culture wars and class warfare.

In these pages, Dr. Baker shows how Americans agree on a surprising number of principles, based on years of nonpartisan, scientifically balanced polling and research.

Second, this book is exceptional in its format, designed for individual reading and flexible use in classes, small groups and other settings where men and women enjoy civil discussion about the urgent issues of our day. Educators and business leaders will find this book very useful, partly because it is so easy to adapt for your setting.

The idea that we share certain basic values is valuable and empowering-it’s an insight that can bridge political chasms rather than deepen them.

There is so much more great reading …

Our staff and friends urge you to check out our entire bookstore.

 

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Peter Wallace: Rediscovering the Emotions of Jesus in ‘Heart and Soul’

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the other half of this week’s Cover Story, you will want to see Duncan Newcomer’s reflection on Peter Wallace’s new book.

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine

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

In the endless debates over what the Bible requires about this or that issue—traditionalist evangelicals like to point toward chapter and verse where the words on the page appear to them to be clear, divine instructions.

Often, the best rebuke to such proof texting is to say: Whatever those words meant in the ancient world, Jesus came to teach us that the core of the gospel is loving God by acting compassionately toward those in need—and working against injustice and oppression.

Of course, it’s a perennial debate: Is Christianity defined only by words on a page—or by the personality of Jesus Christ, who most Christians believe is still alive and guiding people today. These two approaches to the faith can lead to very different priorities in the world. However, Christianity has never chosen one approach over the other. In fact, the faith was founded many centuries ago on a mysterious blend of Jesus as both human and divine. How can that be? For centuries, Christians have declared this to be the mystery of the Incarnation, which Christians soon will celebrate at Christmas.

The official formulation of the Incarnation describes Jesus as both “fully human and fully divine.”

That’s certainly an invitation to go beyond the words on a page of the Bible to explore the meaning of Jesus’ actions and feelings. And, that’s why author and broadcaster Peter Wallace’s slim new book, Heart and Soul: The Emotions of Jesus, is a perfect choice for small-group discussions in the New Year.

Jesus’s Emotions Open Doorways

Talking about Jesus’ emotions makes some Christians uncomfortable—and with good reason. Studying the realm of Jesus’ emotions opens the door to actually modeling his behavior in the world. It’s an idea that has empowered saints, ministers and huge institutions from schools to hospitals.

The key question: Is Jesus a divine character in a sacred book, reduced to words on a page—or is Jesus alive today and urging us to interact with the world as Jesus once did? That’s really the theme at the heart of Wallace’s unusual new book.

As author Duncan Newcomer writes, this week, in an accompanying column: Wallace’s new book holds a life-changing message: “It is the heart of God and the humanity of Jesus that indicates the potential of God within us. Of the teacher and the parent it is often said, ‘I don’t remember really anything that they said, but I never forgot how they made me feel.’ These are words that go beyond emotion to lifelong consequence, ill or well. And so it is that a book revealing the emotions of Jesus has it radical appeal.”

To put it bluntly: This is dangerous territory where our lives can be transformed by not simply proof-texting our way into Christian piety—but embracing the vast emotional range of Jesus in response to the needs of the world.

How Peter Wallace Rediscovered Robert Law

Peter Wallace in the Day1 studio.

Peter Wallace is internationally known for his many books—check out his Amazon author page—and for his national network of mainline, Protestant-Christian broadcasts, called Day1. Peter also is a long-time part of the ReadTheSpirit network of writers and editors who have become friends over the years. For example, many of our magazine cover stories are reposted on the Day1 website so Peter’s online audience and our audience become part of a larger online community.

Peter also has been featured in annual ReadTheSpirit cover stories for more than a decade. Just a few of his past visits to our magazine:

Peter’s 2013 book is called The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn from Jesus about Love, Fear, Grief, Joy and Living Authentically. While researching material for that book, Peter first discovered Law’s almost-forgotten work on the same theme.

This week in our interview, I said to Peter: “So, your research on Passionate Jesus led you to search far and wide for other major works on this subject—and you found that precious little had been published on Jesus’s emotions, right?”

“There are a couple of very fine scholarly books. If readers want something more challenging, then I can recommend Matthew Elliott’s Faithful Feelings and Stephen Voorwinde’s Jesus’ Emotions in the Gospels,” Peter said. “But, you’re right, the reason I was so intrigued by Law’s book is that there was very little about Jesus’ emotions written for general readers.”

“I think one reason so many Christian writers have avoided this subject is that it’s a powerfully transformative way to encounter Jesus,” I said. “This is dangerous territory. And, I think it’s startling to find such a prophetic work—published a century ago—was written by a Scottish Presbyterian.”

Dr. Robert Law

“Right! Just look at that stunning photo of him that I included in the book,” Peter said. “He looks so dour. We don’t know much about his life or why he wrote these particular sermons that form the book. I first ran across his book in an online archive and had to get a copy from the archive, because it’s been out of print for many years.

“So, other than reading what he wrote, we don’t have a lot of biographical material about Law to draw conclusions about his life. I’m just thankful that something came together in his life to produce this book that I think still vibrates with life and helps bring Jesus alive for us today. It’s as relevant as when he wrote it.”

What we do know is that Law was brought from Scotland to serve on the faculty of Knox College in Toronto, a theological school that still exists. At the same time, he preached at a local Presbyterian church. The sermons that form this book presumably were part of a series that was popular enough with his congregation that they were bound as a book.

“Ever since I finished my own book, The Passion of Jesus, I’ve always wanted to see Law’s book become available again,” Peter said. “Nancy Bryant and Church Publishing agreed to let me do this new edition, so I went through the original text and updated his style, here and there. With the editing, his message could have been written today.”

Updating the Book and Adapting for Small Groups

“How much did you change in your editing process?” I asked.

“Oh, I’d say the final text is maybe 95 percent Robert Law. I didn’t change much,” Peter said. “A century ago, for example, it was common to use masculine pronouns and I edited those references so they are more welcoming for today’s readers. Then, I also annotated the book with notes at the explaining some of his references. Back when Law was preaching, he simply assumed that everyone sitting in the pews understood his references to writers like Stevenson, Shaw, Wesley, Wordsworth and Browning. Today, people won’t pick up those references—so I added the notes at the end. Now, you can flip to the back of the book and learn more about the sources he used.

“Then the other addition I made was questions for readers to think about individually—or to use in a group discussion,” Peter said.

“What you’ve added really amounts to a discussion guide—bound right into the book,” I said. “So, it’s easy to use in a class or small group.”

Why Jesus’s Emotions Matter

This new book—like Peter’s earlier book about The Passionate Jesus—draws on deeply personal sources.

“I was raised in a very loving, warm Methodist pastor’s home—yet the image that I got of Jesus was not quite human,” Peter recalled in our interview. “That Jesus I saw in church when I was growing up seemed to float above the grit and grime of humanity. He didn’t seem to get angry—oh, except for that one time in the temple when he turned over some tables. As a result, I really couldn’t envision him as a loving person—or having a sense of humor.

“Movies didn’t help much. Most people have seen some of those old Hollywood movies about Jesus. He usually was played by these white actors who portrayed him as very unemotional. Then, as I began to do more reading myself, I realized that there were a lot more hints and glimpses of Jesus’s emotions than I was getting in church or I was seeing in popular culture.

“At the same time, I began to realize that exploring Jesus’ emotions really helped people to engage with him in an authentic way. Seeing a connection between our emotions and aspirations—and Jesus’ emotional life—we are encouraged and inspired in new ways. That’s why I wrote that first book, and now I’ve brought Law’s book back into print.”

In his introduction to the new book, Peter writes:

The insights you’ll find here are just as fresh and relevant to our lives today as they were when first written. Dr. Law reveals that understanding and appreciating how Jesus experienced and embodied his own emotions can transform how we live in this world for the good. We can become firebrands for social justice by putting our holy anger to good cause. We can be lovers on behalf of those left outside the community’s circle of care. Comforters of those who grieve. Encouragers of those in fear. Active sharers of the way of Jesus. God knows our world needs more such followers of the way of Jesus right now.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the other half of this week’s Cover Story, you will want to see Duncan Newcomer’s reflection on Peter Wallace’s new book.

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Duncan Newcomer: Reclaiming the humanity of Jesus with Peter Wallace

EDITOR’S NOTE: We say that a book is a community between two covers—inviting readers to join the author in a national conversation.

Occasionally that conversation also unfolds between two authors and two books, which is happening this autumn with Day1 radio producer Peter Wallace and Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer.

Peter wrote the foreword to Duncan’s new book, 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln: Quiet Fire. Since the book was published this autumn, Peter also has published his foreword to the Lincoln book on the website for his national radio network, Day 1.

When Peter’s new book Heart and Soul: The Emotions of Jesus was published, Duncan discovered a strong connection with his own interest in helping readers to rediscover the compassionate vision of Lincoln. So, Duncan wrote the following reflection as part of our ReadTheSpirit cover story, this week. (To read the other half of this week’s Cover Story, here is David Crumm’s interview with Peter Wallace about Heart and Soul.)

In reading this column by Duncan, we invite everyone to order these two books and join in this very timely national conversation. How do you do that? Start by reading. Then, when you care to respond, visit either the Day 1 website or the Lincoln resource page. You’ll discover lots of ways you can enter these compassionate communities.

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Reclaiming the humanity of Jesus with Peter Wallace

By DUNCAN NEWCOMER

Click the covers to visit the books’ Amazon pages.

“Jesus wept.”

This is not the catharsis of the spectacle of a Greek tragedy, nor even a therapeutic release. It is the yearning of the heart for something that seems not to come to be. For Mary it was her fear that Jesus was too late to help her brother Lazarus so that he might have lived. For Jesus it was that the whole City of Jerusalem might have come to a new kingdom of God.

“Jesus wept.” This is not nostalgia for what has been. It is Jesus’s excruciating yearning confronting his awareness of a defeated hope.

For our lives, it is not the teachings of Jesus, not even the idea of atonement and other dogma named after Christ. It is the heart of God and the humanity of Jesus that indicates the potential of God within us.

Of the teacher and the parent it is often said, “I don’t remember really anything that they said, but I never forgot how they made me feel.” These are words that go beyond emotion to lifelong consequence, ill or well.

And so it is that a book revealing the emotions of Jesus has it radical appeal. One thinks of the way feelings and thought have been united, not divided. Jesus did not say, “I think therefore I am.”

But there is also a noted moment in the young lives of the American 19th century heroes William James and Oliver Wendell Holms, Jr. at their philosophy club meeting at Harvard. Holmes hotly said to James, “To think is no less than to feel.”

So how do we integrate emotions and thinking? How do we really find what Boethius called the Consolation of Philosophy, or what Shakespeare invented in his phrase: “think feelingly”?

If these are your concerns, then this slim but incisive new book of religious and spiritual reflections, edited by Peter Wallace, will move you to the implications of those concerns. In other words, an exegesis of feeling placed in the terms of the revelations of Jesus can bring your mind and your heart to a place you have always desired, a holy place that you did not know was holy until you wrestled with your emotions as well as with your thoughts.

Emotions are a difficult vocabulary for the masculine side of life and it is particularly valuable that these seven essays, sermons really, were written a century ago by Scottish Presbyterian New Testament scholar teaching at Knox College in Toronto, Canada.

For too many years, we collectively have labored under false assumptions about how much we can or should embrace either emotion or reason. It is often difficult even today for a man to credit his feeling—as it was in Law’s era to assume that a woman’s thinking was suspect. These wrongs are addressed by the remarkable, really beautiful perceptions of Jesus and his emotions in this book.

This book is not hard to read—but it is profound.

It is not just thoughtful—it is itself emotional.

Nothing could be more relevant to us in this time of climate catastrophes, refugees, epidemics, violence and economic injustices. What in God’s name are we to do with our emotions? Whether one thinks of the prayers and tears of Jacques Derrida or the tears of Mary and Jesus, we are now in the place of the sorrows of the heart and the rebirth of our soul.

 

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Video: Duncan Newcomer talks about ’30 Days with Abraham Lincoln’

Kristin Frangoulis interviews Duncan Newcomer on Good Morning Belfast.

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Robert Wicks’ new ‘Tao of Ordinariness’ is timely wisdom in the ‘Narcissistic Age’ of Trump

Dr. Robert J. Wicks, psychologist and author, speaks to service members, civilians and dependents about bouncing back from trauma during Resiliency Day in hangar 92 at RAF Molesworth airbase, United Kingdom. The former U.S. Marine Corps captain has spent 35 years delivering his message of coping and resiliency to audiences that include military personnel, first responders, health care providers and educators. (U.S. Air Force photos by Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins/Released)

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“Once you accept your limits, a key aspect of ordinariness, the opportunity for growth and depth will seem almost limitless.”
Robert Wicks in The Tao of Ordinariness: Humility and Simplicity in a Narcissistic Age

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

In two decades of interviewing the internationally renowned psychologist Dr. Robert Wicks—whose vocation is always aimed at helping the world’s most vulnerable to recover from trauma—I cannot recall a more timely book. This new book is as close to “ripped from the headlines”—a phrase popularized by Law & Order fans—as anything Wicks has written in his dozens of earlier books and countless articles.

Dr. Robert J. Wicks signs books for the men and women gathered at the base in the UK for Resiliency Day.

He lays out the core of this book in a single line: “Once you accept your limits, a key aspect of ordinariness, the opportunity for growth and depth will seem almost limitless.” Then, he sums up the current crisis we all are facing with a four-page analysis of President Trump’s greatest failing: a narcissism that prevents him from admitting any limitation and drives him to ferociously attack any perceived opponent.

“I was surprised,” I said to Wicks in our interview about this book. “This time, you very directly address our American crisis—pointedly naming and describing the core problem of Trump’s approach to leadership. Of course, all of your books are timely in the sense that you are addressing aspects of trauma—and healing responses—that are relevant to professionals and first responders around the world. But in this new book, I was struck by that laser light you aimed at Trump.”

“Well, this is not the first time I have addressed this,” he qualified in his responses. “But, you are right: I do name him and talk about him directly here in a new way. Why did I choose to do that? In the case of Donald Trump, the destruction being done is so overwhelming that, in fact, I felt not simply the freedom—but also the need to call it out.”

But wait! Before Trump supporters think they need to counter attack—get a copy of the book and read it! You may be surprised.

Remember: This is Dr. Robert Wicks, the master of helpful analysis, who is writing about Trump. That means: He writes in a compassionate way, setting the challenges of the presidency in context. Wicks even finds and highlights an example when Trump was humbly honest about a tragedy within his family.

Lincoln and Trump in Contrast: ‘Our Better Angels’

As always, Wicks’ goal here is not to take up a partisan crusade. His goal is to call all of us to our better angels, as Abraham Lincoln would put it.

In our interview, we began to discuss another new book, 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire. There’s a dramatic contrast between the two presidents, Wicks said. Trump struggles with narcissism—a truth that even most Trump supporters would acknowledge. In contrast, Lincoln embodies the main message of Wicks’ new book: Humbly and honestly acknowledging our limitations will open up limitless possibilities.

“Lincoln is a great example of what I’m writing about,” Wicks said. “Because Lincoln suffered so much personally, one of the things he recognized is that he couldn’t go it alone. He embodied the old African proverb: If you want to go fast—go alone; if you want to go far—go together. As Doris Kearns Goodwin tells us in Team of Rivals, Lincoln recognized that he had to bring people from the other side into his orbit. He knew that he had to work with this company of strangers.

“This important insight of Lincoln really grew out of his own disorder and pain, which had softened his soul and provided him this vision of what needed to be done—both personally and interpersonally—if government was going to be effective. Lincoln really is a model of what I’m writing about in my book.”

Understanding Wicks’ focus: It’s all about you and me

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

Although Wicks is referencing presidents here—that’s not the focus of his book. This book, like so many other Wicks books, is a letter addressed to—us.

You and me.

Wicks continued, “I would say that, while my other books have been timely, they were not written as such a direct reaction to the moment. That’s why I would describe this book as counter cultural. I am trying to counter this overwhelming culture of narcissism that seems to be surrounding us, right now.”

“I agree,” I said. “This new book seems to be a compassionate letter to readers about how to face all these disturbing—and sometimes tempting—examples we see.”

Wicks said, “What you’re saying makes me think of the story in the book about a woman who came to one of my talks, then walked up to me afterward and surprised me by saying, ‘Your presentation isn’t what I expected. Somehow I thought you would talk down to us. Instead you spoke about yourself, shared stories and ideas. You walked with us.’

“What I’m doing in this new book is inviting people to stop chasing these narcissistic examples and images we see all around us. Everywhere we turn, we see people chasing approval or reputation or wealth or fame. We all need to lean back and take a breath and begin to remember honestly our own limitations—and also our signature strengths and gifts.”

“That’s how you’re defining ‘ordinariness,’ ” I said. “It’s this honest mix of limitations and gifts.”

He continued, “And, then we need to add: One of the greatest gifts we can share with others is a sense of peace—but you can’t share what you don’t have.”

Tackling Trump to Recognize Our Own Temptations

Here is how Wicks turns this message back on himself: If we are going to be honest with each other, then he is going to be honest with us, as well. That’s Wicks’ signature style that runs through many of his books.

Why even stop to think about Trump’s example of raging narcissism? As a corrective. As a way to avoid the temptation to respond to rage with more rage. Wicks writes: “It helps me come to my senses when wrapped in my own personal experiences and exhibitions of egoism. In such instances, I am also helped to recall the temptations to typecast people like Trump or others in ways that prevent me from seeing their gifts.”

He doesn’t want us to escape the book’s most crucial message: This crisis is really about how we will respond when confronted with narcissism.

He is telling readers: In the end, all can control in this crisis is how will respond myself.

Why this matters as we approach the holidays

In his core message, Wicks is handing us a timely dose of his wise counseling just as millions of Americans are preparing for family gatherings at the year-end holidays. He is warning: Before you march into encounters with people you think you need to confront in an aggressive way—first, soften your own heart and remember that compassion is the key to community. Honestly assess your own limitations and gifts.

Because this is a Robert J. Wicks book, of course, the counselor eventually draws a line under the lessons he has shared with us—and then offers practical ideas for responding. Flip to page 110 or 125 or 197 and you will find Wicks-style lists: Bullet points of steps we can take and questions we can ask ourselves to begin the process of reclaiming our own humility and simplicity.

“This idea of ‘ordinariness’ is my way of describing this need to counter this culture that is mesmerized by image-making, spin and a desire for power and advantage to fuel our own egoism,” he said.

I said, “Like the photo on the front cover of the book—someone sitting on cliff looking out at a beautiful landscape—your message is really a call to stop for a moment and clear our heads.”

“That’s what I’m saying: Stop. Rest for a moment,” Wicks said. “Let’s look at what it means to travel lightly, in terms of not carrying the burdens of society today. Let’s become intrigued again by what is really good about ourselves and our institutions.”

And that is the closing message of his book, as well. On the final page, he writes: “The time for rediscovery of the virtue of ordinariness by all of us is now. Paradoxically, this virtue can help us to be so much more than we are now, if we begin to value and explore it anew as individuals and as a society.”

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The Hope of Unity on Our National Day of Thanksgiving, 2019

By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist

In December 1864, the famous illustrator Thomas Nast met with President Lincoln and created this elaborate illustration for Harpers Weekly (see below for a larger version). The image was supposed to convey to all Americans that Lincoln was ready and willing to welcome Confederates—even to Christmas dinner at the White House—if they would surrender and rejoin the U.S.

Like many Americans, I am perplexed and frustrated by just how deep the divisions in our nation run.

It has become increasingly difficult to even talk with those whose politics reside across the aisle from where we stand.

Perhaps in the greater Washington, DC, area where I live the tension is greater than in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, I fear this is not the case. Rather than offer evidence, which abounds this autumn, I’ll ask you to look at your own life and assess how deep the divide really is.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and you can now move on to another article here at ReadTheSpirit.

For those whose eyes fall on this paragraph, the question is obvious: How do we move from division to a more-unified state of living?

I believe that the answers are before us—and I wish to highlight one as we head into the nation’s season of Thanksgiving.

The Past is Prelude

As bad as our national divisions are today, they were far worse in October of 1863. Duncan Newcomer writes in his newly released 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln about what the founder of Thanksgiving, Abraham Lincoln, found to unify a bleeding nation.

It’s important to keep in mind that in October 1863 the outcome of the war was far from decided. Yes, the killing fields of Antietam (23,100 killed), Gettysburg (51,000 killed), and Chickamauga (34,600 killed) were behind the nation. But the ruthless battles of the Wilderness (29,000 killed), Cold Harbor (15,500 killed), Spotsylvania Courthouse (30,000 killed), and Sherman’s March to the Sea (No Known Tally of Soldiers Killed) lay ahead. (For a timeline of major Civil War battles, see this “American Experience” page.)

These are more than numbers to me. I live in Fredericksburg Virginia. Within a ten mile radius of my home are the visitors’ centers for the battles of the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Spotsylvania Courthouse. Total casualties of these four battles combined? More than 108,000 men. The combined population of Spotsylvania County, Orange County, and Fredericksburg City where these battles were fought at the outset of the Civil War? About 32,000.

Thanksgiving: What Is Required; What is Omitted

In the midst of such tragedy, what could possibly unite the people?

For Lincoln it was the idea of being American.

Newcomer explains that for our 16th President, America was a “mindset,” not a place. He “invites us to acknowledge that Americans did not create this free nation on our own; in Lincoln’s mind, a divine assistance make it possible.” And it is a call to this mindset that Lincoln is inviting all peoples, North and South, in his declaration establishing a national day of Thanksgiving.

However, Newcomer also notes that Lincoln’s declaration is as important for what it omits as for what it says. “He never mentions Pilgrims or Indians. He makes no reference to Christ or churches. … In fact, Lincoln only asks people to adopt a meditative, grateful state of mind in their praise—no matter where they are or who they are.”

It is this that I keep in mind as Republican and Democrat and independent family members gather the fourth Thursday of each November in our home or in the home of my parents. And it is this that I try and keep in mind when political conversations with those I profoundly disagree turn difficult.

What Unites Is More Important than What Divides

I never felt this mindset more profoundly than I did Thanksgiving 2018, when my family gathered at my home for the holiday. Like the nation as a whole, my family has liberals and conservatives, Trump lovers and Never Trumpers. We are a family of profound, clear-eyed faith, and faith sojourners less sure of what faith is than that there is more to life than what any one of us can see and understand.

That day, not being one to openly, or even privately, pray, I asked my father to bless our family meal. And in that moment, we collectively thanked god for bringing us together, and asked him to bless my son Austin who just a month later would be in Parris Island, South Carolina, undergoing basic training to become a United States Marine.

At that moment, what separated us was far less important than what united us.

Our love for Austin, our prayers for his future and his safety, and our overwhelming love of one another and the nation we share.

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Care to learn more about our illustration?

CLICK THIS VERSION of the 1864 Nast illustration to see a much larger version. The historical site HarpWeekly has a detailed explanation of this elaborate collage of images.

 

 

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Greg Garrett Invites Us on a Pilgrimage through the Bible and Other Great Books

AT LEFT: Greg’s six conversations with retired Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. OPEN AT CENTER: Greg’s and Sabrina Fountain’s The Courage to See—Daily Inspiration from Great Literature. AT RIGHT: Morning coffee.

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DAILY DOORWAYS INTO SPIRITUAL REALMS

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

Got a book lover on your holiday shopping list? Inspirational writer Greg Garrett and the team at the Presbyterian publishing house is delivering the perfect gift: The Courage to See—Daily Inspiration from Great Literature.

Is your loved one fascinated by great literature? Garrett and the team at the Episcopal publishing house has the ideal add-on gift: In Conversation—Rowan Williams and Greg Garrett

The first book helps you start your day with a bite-sized quote from a great book, coupled with an uplifting passage from the Bible and a prayer. Who is likely to welcome such a book? Pew Research reports that one third of Americans say they try to read the Bible at least once a week and more than half of Americans try to pray every day. They don’t all succeed at these intentions. Overall, that’s evidence of millions of Americans who are looking for a daily prompt—an inspirational opportunity waiting with that morning cup of coffee or tea.

That’s what Greg and his co-author Sabrina Fountain are offering in the first book.

Then, in his second book, Garrett dives deeper. Based on his career as a noted scholar in faith and culture, Garrett gives us a book-length dialogue with Rowan Williams, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury. Like Garrett, Williams is a noted literary scholar. Both men have written dozens of books over the years that have been widely read in congregations around the world.

If you do buy both books as a gift for your beloved reader—there’s an added benefit. Thousands of small-group leaders in congregations nationwide are looking for materials, right now, that they can use in discussions in early 2020. Give these books—or get them yourself—and you can look forward to the possibility of a rich conversation with friends about faith-and-reading this winter.

In other words: Yes, both books prompt individual spiritual reflection—and they both are opportunities to richer relationships with friends and family.

For the year-long book, The Courage to See, Garrett collaborated with Sabrina Fountain to add gender and age diversity in the selections chosen for these daily readings. Sabrina is younger than Greg and enjoys lots of writers who were not already on his reading list.

“The idea is that, between us, we’re giving you this really broad selection of writers in a day-by-day book,” Greg said in an interview about these books. “Every day you get a sample of thoughtful writing from people like Madeleine L’Engle or Maya Angelou or Shakespeare or Harry Potter or Robert Frost. There is the excitement about what you might find, each morning—who you might discover that day. Any particular day might turn out to be a new literary doorway through which you’ll feel called to step with that day’s writer. If you do go through this book with us, you’re going to find yourself discovering a lot of writers and great books that you’ve probably overlooked. I know that was true as I collaborated with Sabrina. She pointed me toward writers I had overlooked. Both of us are life-long readers and we continually surprised each other with passages we wanted to include.

“Now, let us surprise you. There are 365 doorways awaiting readers in this book.”

A ‘Courage to See’ Doorway on Day 1: Willa Cather

Greg Garrett

The day-by-day book, The Courage to See, begins with the quintessential American writer Willa Cather, a pioneering journalist and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Her novels once were best sellers and defined the story of American expansion across the Great Plains and the American West.

“I will never forget reading Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop as I worked as a journalist in Santa Fe one autumn many years ago,” I told Greg. “That experience in my life, reading Cather’s story in the Southwest where it was set, was something that forever shaped my own interest in reporting on American life with all of its multi-cultural textures.”

“Oh, I love that book,” he said. “There’s such a sense of place in her writing. Like you, that book has been formational in my life. That kind of landscape in which she set that book—it’s an important part of who I am. Then, her language of how the divine is working in the world, which is such an essential part of Death Comes for the Archbishop, is one reason I teach that book in my classes at Baylor.” Garrett is Professor of English at Baylor University.

“That first quote you have on January 1 from Cather is the perfect choice to start this book,” I said. “It’s from her novel O Pioneers! where she writes: ‘There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.’ ”

“Right and, then, we add a couple of lines from Ecclesiastes to that and the prayer is ‘Help us to hear the stories of your children afresh’,” Greg said.

“It’s the same call we find in the heart of Frederick Buechner’s many books. I’ve got this short passage from Telling Secrets on a slip of paper right here in my office, because it’s so important to me in understanding a journalist’s vocation. In Telling Secrets, Buechner writes: ‘My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally.'”

“Buechner’s also in this new 365-day book,” Greg said.

“I know. I spotted him right away. He pops up on Day No. 25 out of the 365,” I said. “And that’s a great passage from another of his books that I love.”

And so our conversation rolled for nearly an hour. Obviously, our lives as educators, writers and journalists differ from most readers’ vocations—but you get the idea of what we both mean in describing this book as 365 doorways through which you and friends can step into a host of new worlds.

 

Who Could You Invite to a Spiritually Surprising Conversation?

Where can such conversations lead?

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

Well, the other book—In Conversationis literally a transcript of an extended series of six conversations between Garrett and his long-time friend retired Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Can you imagine being part of a small group with folks like this who have a whole world of creative ideas on the tips of their tongues? Well, before you decide that’s never going to happen in your community, consider inviting an eclectic list of men and women to a small group—various ages, professions and life experiences. Who knows where your conversations might take you?

In the opening pages of In Conversation, Greg and Rowan chat about their families—as any warm visit between friends would begin. Then, very soon they are comparing notes on Greg’s lifelong appreciation of the music of U2, their shared love of Marilynne Robinson’s 2004 Gilead and the provocative writing of Anne Lamott.

Soon, they’ve woven into their dialogue some favorite passages from Doris Lessing, Ernest Hemingway, Walker Percy and William Shakespeare. Before they’re finished in these six conversations—even Dr. Who makes a cameo appearance!

“We wind up talking about a lot more than literature in that long dialogue,” Greg said as I discussed that book with him. “Yes, there are a lot of literary and cultural inspirations that we discuss. But, as we connect those dots, we’re also talking about spiritual essentials like daily prayer. How do we approach the discipline of prayer? What can we learn from each other?”

“Certainly,” I agreed. “You touch on a lot of very timely topics. But I also think both of these books we’re discussing today follow the same invitation you’ve been offering readers for many years.”

I continued, “After reading many of your books through the years, I would describe you as a welcoming companion and storyteller, inviting us to start a pilgrimage with you. That’s a different role as a public Christian voice, let’s say than C.S. Lewis, who was known during his lifetime for doing things like going on the radio as a Christian apologist.”

“Does that contrast make sense?” I asked Greg.

“Yes, it does,” he said. “I’m not a Christian apologist. I don’t get up on a stage with an atheist in front of a huge audience and debate Christianity. That’s not my role. Instead, I come to readers saying: This is the story that makes sense of the world for me—this is the truth for me.

“That’s my role as I wake up each morning and try to make sense out of the heartbreak in the world around us—and the possibilities I see in our faith. I keep saying and teaching and writing that this is the story I choose to live inside. I tell that story in many ways—and invite readers to come along in this adventure.”

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Care to read more?

GET THE BOOKS. Follow the links above to Amazon.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ‘CONVERSATION’ BOOK? In the spring, Publishers Weekly magazine provided a more detailed Question and Answer column about Greg’s book with Rowan.

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

JUMP ‘A LONG, LONG WAY’ AHEAD! Oxford University Press already has Greg’s next book available for pre-order: A Long, Long Way—Hollywood’s Unfinished Journey from Racism to Reconciliation. Readers who are familiar with Greg’s approach to faith and culture will be eager to get this book, which stretches back to the infamous Birth of a Nation and looks at the struggle to portray race and diversity in Hollywood to this day. In promoting the book Oxford lists three of the book’s strengths as:

  • Approaches the history of racism on screen as an opportunity for racial reconciliation
  • Written by a leading scholar of religion and culture
  • Considers the role that cinematic narrative and religious tradition can play in healing racial dynamics

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LEARN MORE ABOUT GREG. If you visit his Amazon author page, you can see most of his other books displayed—along with his own mini-bio and some additional photos he shares with readers. You also can click “follow” and receive updates on future books by Greg. For more background, there’s also Greg’s Wikipedia page, which tells even more about his life and work—and adds more links to explore his creative world.

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