Lessons of Yom Kippur and Hurricanes: ‘It is not in the heavens …’ but in our hands!

“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven … No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”
Deuteronomy 30:11-14, read each year at Yom Kippur

By BENJAMIN PRATT
with DAVID CRUMM

“Let’s form a chain!”

That’s a call to action celebrated this month by millions of people around the world who have read the story and viewed video of strangers saving the life of an elderly man in Houston. He was stranded helplessly in his vehicle as the rising flood from Hurricane Harvey threatened to sweep him away and extinguish his life. Strangers watching this man’s plight from a distance could have simply recoiled in horror. Anyone in the area already was stunned by the deadly power of the roiling waters that were just about to overwhelm this poor old man.

But, instead of fleeing, someone raised a simple rallying cry: “Let’s form a chain!”

Strangers began to stretch out their hands and form a human chain, inching into the chest-high water to force open the vehicle’s door and rescue the man. Soon, instead of mourning cries in that man’s family, there were shouts of joy at the old man’s reunion with his son.

The litany of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season already is terrifying.

We have met the monstrous Harvey,
And the force Irma’s fury,
And Jose, too.
Yes, Katia was less than we feared,
And Lee as well—
But Maria looms large
And “our” Hurricane Season will run through
The holiday we call American Thanksgiving.
How much devastation is yet to come?

No, that is not exactly a prayer, although it reads like one of the ancient cries from Psalms, voicing the suffering of the people.

When natural disasters happen, it is not uncommon for people to wonder, sometimes in deep anger: “Where is God?” We’ve all been angry at God, at some point in our lives, haven’t we? We’ve wanted to wrestle God down to the mat. Maybe you’ve been there.

The problem is that it’s difficult to take on the Invisible!

Your Arms Too Short To Box With God, is the title of a popular and lively Broadway show, but the phrase comes from a poem by James Weldon Johnson. It comes to mind when wrestling with the question, “Where is God in tragic times?” Maybe our arms are too short to box with God—but we might discover that they are not too short to link with others when serving those in need.

Whatever our beliefs about God, they usually reveal far more about us than about God. God is not changed by our various conceptions. God’s timeless and indivisible oneness is a basic part of the Shema repeated daily by Jews, including at Yom Kippur.

So what can we pray as Yom Kippur approaches (and thousands of Christian and Muslim clergy continue to plan their weekly services) in the midst of this horrific 2017 Hurricane Season?

A Hurricane (and Yom Kippur) Prayer:
‘Let’s form a chain!’

Our litany of Atlantic storms, above, may be regarded as the start of a Psalm for this Hurricane Season in America.

Then, beyond that agonized cry, where do we focus our collective prayers?

This week, millions of Jewish men and women around the world will mark the fast of Yom Kippur. Each year, news reports about this holiday in newspapers, magazines and websites describe this observance as “solemn.” Annual holiday stories usually mention the severity of the fast (nothing passes the lips for 25 hours). And, news reports focus on the almost universal observance of this “holiest day in the Jewish calendar.” Stories often show images of the empty streets of normally busy Israeli cities.

This year, as non-Jews, let’s remember another powerful theme of Yom Kippur that Christians around the world certainly share with our Jewish brothers and sisters. That’s the ancient call from Moses when he assembled all the people to remind them of their covenant with God—not as individuals but as a people. To this day, these deeply stirring sections of Moses’ message from Deuteronomy 29 and 30 are read aloud to the community assembled for Yom Kippur.

During the day-long cycle of Yom Kippur services, the people also voice an ancient prayer of confession. As in all the world’s great religious traditions, some form of confession is a daily expectation in Judaism—nearly always voiced as “my” confession as “I” repent.

That’s different on Yom Kippur. As the day unfolds, the people hear the timeless commandments from Leviticus, a code that includes not only the famous “10” commandments, but also the biblical admonishment of what that code means. The Yom Kippur readings from Leviticus include:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord your God. … When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

The powerful, cumulative effect of these readings is punctuated by the repeated Viddui, or prayer of confession, voiced for Yom Kippur, not as “I,” but as “we.” The people have gathered and collectively “we” are called to admit our failings and vow to work toward greater unity.

Our arms may be too short to box with God, but they are long enough to link with other courageous, loving people in service to the world. With apologies to more eloquent Jewish sages, we might say that the Yom Kippur message about reuniting the people is simply this: Maybe our hearts are too shriveled or our bodies are too weak and willful—but our arms are not too short to reach out to each other in our families and in our communities and around this entire broken world.

In that ancient appeal, our Jewish friends join a global religious chorus of compassionate concern for our neighbors—and all the “others” surrounding us in this world.

To simplify that collective prayer even further, we might voice it as:

“Let’s form a chain!”

“Let’s form a chain!”

“Let’s form a chain!”

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Care to read more?

You may enjoy seeing several books written by Benjamin Pratt.

Among our Jewish authors, who you might enjoy exploring during this season, are: Rabbi Bob Alper, Rabbi Joseph Krakoff with Dr. Michelle SiderDebra Darvick, Lynne Meredith Golodner, Brenda Rosenberg, Suzy Farbman, Robert Pasick, and many of the Women of WISDOM.

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How come we can’t talk to each other anymore?

The cells at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. Contemporary photos from South Africa by Benjamin Pratt.

 

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author and Columnist

Photo from Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017, shared via Wikimedia Commons by Anthony Crider.

Is your heart still broken over the evil that came to Charlottesville, Virginia, one month ago?

As I ponder that horrific eruption of hate, the question that troubles my heart is as old as a folk song from the ’60s: Why can’t we talk to each other anymore?

If you share my daily wrestling over the chasms dividing Americans in this season of confrontation, then may I invite you along with me—through this column—on a journey I recently took with my wife Judith to South Africa. Through the lens of Apartheid’s terrible legacy, I came home with a new viewpoint on our own nation’s history of racism—and the challenges we face to this day.

Join me, please.

Our South African pilgrimage began at Block 4 prison at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, which once housed Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Albertina Sisulu and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as political prisoners held for months in solitary confinement. Adjacent to the prison and military fort is the home of the Constitutional Court that currently endorses the rights of all citizens. Standing in one of the solitary cells, I thought about the incarcerations of John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr. and so many other political prisoners in the USA.

The iconic image of Hector Pieterson after he was shot by police. 

The next step in our journey was the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, located in Orlando West, Soweto. This site commemorates the role played by the school children who took part in the Soweto protests of 1976. Hector was shot by police during a peaceful June 16, 1976, Soweto demonstration against the mandatory use of Afrikaans in the black schools. That policy was intended to further isolate blacks from others in their community and all non-whites from the rest of the world. Students were marching toward Orlando Stadium when police opened fire. Hector, 12, was one of the first killed. Sam Nzima took the iconic picture of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with Hector’s sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside.

Antoinette was 16 the day her brother died. We were fortunate that Antoinette joined us at the memorial site and spoke eloquently about that day in her life and the painful experience. She brought us to tears by describing the senseless brutality of the Apartheid system.

Judith with Antoinette Sithole.

Her words brought Emmett Till, 14, to the forefront of my memories. In 1955, Emmett traveled from his Chicago home to visit family in Mississippi, where he was kidnapped by three gun-toting whites, beaten and lynched. His body was maimed nearly beyond recognition, but Emmett’s mother insisted that her son would be displayed in an open casket. “Let the world see what they did to my boy. Let them see what I’ve seen.” Like the photo of Hector, photos of Emmett Till’s body ignited a firestorm.

Our pilgrimage continued at the Apartheid Museum, which vividly recounts the origins and travail of Apartheid. Standing next to a Casspir, the giant armored vehicles used by the police, was intimidating, as was standing in the solitary confinement cells or viewing the videos of political executions and violence in the streets. The museum also follows the life of Nelson Mandela from his youth, his education, political organizing, 27 years in prison, to his release and election as President.

The Sharpeville massacre also was vividly portrayed in the museum. On March 21, 1960, in the South African township of Sharpeville in Transvaal, a crowd of 5000 to 7000 protesters converged at the police station. Police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people—289 casualties in total, including 29 children. Standing in the midst of this exhibit, I thought back to the three protest marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. The first march took place on March 7, 1965—Bloody Sunday—when marchers were brutally attacked with billy clubs and tear gas. That violence and the murder of the Rev. James Reeb after the second march, led to a national outcry and many acts of civil disobedience.

At the end of our emotionally wrenching pilgrimage, Judith and I asked Clarence and Ada Walls to talk with us about life in the USA and our new knowledge of South Africa. Our conversation took place over lunch the next day. We began by sharing our life stories—the best way to introduce each other. Ada and Judith shared their experiences in education. Ada as an elementary school teacher, administrator and resource specialist; Judith as a social worker in a high school. Clarence worked as a musician, professor, and college dean of Fine & Performing Arts. In the 1960’s, I was the founding pastor of a racially integrated congregation that is more integrated now at its 50-year mark. I spent the last thirty years of my career as a pastoral counselor.

Clarence framed our conversation about the similarities of living under Jim Crow or Apartheid by sharing his reflections on a very personal question: “When did I know I was black?”

“Growing up as a child playing on the streets of Washington, DC with other black and white kids, I didn’t think much about my color,” Clarence said. “We played together everyday. When I began school, I knew I was black. I went to a separate school from my white friends. My white friends asked me why I didn’t join them at the local school. I had to respond that I couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed in their school because of my color. Their school had newer and better buildings, books, playgrounds. Ours did not. Ada and I had limited choices of colleges. After we were married, when we tried to buy a house, we learned that mortgages were restricted to homes in specific locations because of color. Freedom was restricted.”

As I listened to Clarence I thought about the closing of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. In that passage, he proclaims:

“I was not born with a hunger to be free. I was born free—free in every way that I could know. Free to run in the fields near my mother’s hut, free to swim in the clear stream that ran through my village, free to roast mealies under the stars and ride the broad backs of slow-moving bulls. … It was only when I began to learn that my boyhood freedom was an illusion, when I discovered as a young man that my freedom had already been taken away from me, that I began to hunger for it. … I slowly saw that not only was I not free, but my brothers and sisters were not free. I saw that it was not just my freedom that was curtailed, but the freedom of everyone who looked like I did.”

The conversation Judith and I had with Clarence and Ada was rich, meaningful and expansive. Our experience convinced all of us: We simply have to find a way to talk to each other—perhaps for the first time. Conversations like this are essential for all of us who want to live full, responsive, loving lives.

I’ve been attempting to confront my own racism for a long time. I’m welcoming conversations—as we did with Clarence and Ada.

I’m reading—and urge you, as you read this column, to make some intentional choices about what you’re reading. This spring, my most important discovery was the compelling, soul-searching novel by Jodi Picoult, Small Great Things.

I’m making pilgrimages with Judith. We recently visited the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Then, Judith and I made our pilgrimage to South African landmarks in the struggle against Apartheid. Our South African journey—and our engagement with Clarence and Ada—will have a lasting impact on my life.

Ian and Sylvia in the 1960s.

And, I’m singing—well, at least, let’s say I’m enjoying songs that bring me hope in this time of great anxiety. Through this long hot summer of turbulence in America, one song has been rattling around in mind: a song from the ’60s.

The celebrated Canadian folk singers Ian and Sylvia Tyson wrote a deeply personal Song for Canada that they performed in the U.S. at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. If you love classic folk music, you’ll recall that was the infamous year that Bob Dylan was booed off the stage for appearing with electric guitars. Ian and Sylvia said their song was an appeal for calm in their homeland in the face of an emerging Quebec separatist movement. The irony is that they performed it at a music festival most notable for division. The sharp response to Dylan’s new music had “electrified one half the audience and electrocuted the other,” a Newport observer said.

Still, their plaintive call keeps running through my mind:

How come we can’t talk to each other any more?
Why can’t you see I’m changing too?
We’ve got by far too long to end it feeling wronged
And I still share too much with you
Just one great river always flowing to the sea
One single river rolling in eternity
Two nations in the land that lies along its shore
But just one river rolling free.

 

Take action

Share this column with friends on social media. Or, email a link. You’re even free to print out this column and pass it around, perhaps for small-group discussion.

And, as I’ve said in this column: Welcome conversations. Read. Make pilgrimages. Sing.

You could start by checking out the ReadTheSpirit Bookstore.

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Help spread the good news on ‘American History Made Easy’

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

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

Back to school. Back to basics. And the most important bedrock for all of us this school year is remembering what it means to be American.

Already in 2017: We are heartbroken at the deadly turmoil in our streets over the very meaning of our collective history; we are fearful once again at the potential of nuclear war made possible by the lingering scars of our 20th century history; and we all are digging deep in response to catastrophic natural disasters in a compassionate, nationwide outreach that we like to think reflects our true American spirit. Our history shapes our hopes and fears every day in this turbulent year. But it is also becoming obvious in 2017 that we have lost our collective clarity about our past.

Add to all of that our raging national debate about immigrants, refugees and other newcomers from countries around the world. We are a nation of immigrants, yet millions seem to be forgetting that their own ancestors began to make America their home by learning the basics of our history.

Enter Kathleen Gripman and her brilliant idea for an American history that everyone can read—even newcomers to this country who are just starting to learn English. It’s called American History Made Easy and is available in both print and e-editions.

KATHLEEN GRIPMAN’S INNOVATIVE IDEA

“For many years, my professional specialty has been helping people who are new to this country to learn English. I work with international students, professionals who are coming to work with American companies—a whole range of adults who are moving here to make a contribution to our country. And, while I’m a professional providing a service of English as a Second Language, I care about these men and women and I was so frustrated to discover that one subject was a stumbling block: American history,” says Kathleen Gripman, an ESL expert who runs programs in communities west of Detroit.

“Most of these men and women wind up taking tests of some kind for everything from entering college and the U.S. citizenship process to earning various kinds of certification. And, a lot of that testing includes questions about American history,” Gripman explains.

But that testing posed a big problem!

“The old approach to teaching ESL students about our history was to give these men and women long lists of facts to memorize,” Gripman says. “The available textbooks about American history are up around an 8th grade reading level, or higher. Even with solid ESL classes helping them, these people new to our country might have reached a 4th grade reading level by the time they are trying to learn about our history. The result? Teachers would tell them to memorize a bunch of dates and names and facts if they hoped to pass the tests they were facing.

“That doesn’t teach people anything meaningful about our history. Memorizing random facts to pass a test gives them no context, no understanding of how America developed through the centuries.”

Gripman knows what she’s talking about. As a veteran ESL educator, she began with the typical work-arounds for introducing adult ESL students to American history. Because standard history textbooks are at a higher reading level, teachers would pass out simplified fact sheets. Gripman refused to do that. Instead, to provide more meaningful context, she began “to toggle together material from multiple books to give students some helpful context.”

That innovative strategy led to a huge project: Gripman researched the range of American history questions included on the varied tests that ESL learners aspire to pass. That helped her to build a detailed outline of the many chapters—from the colonial era to this new millennium—that students would need to understand. Then, she began to write her own history book, gleaning information from dozens of existing texts and other resources. Finally to lock in the details these new readers would be discovering in her book, she decided to add black-and-white illustrations.

That notion of illustrated text is as old as Gutenberg and as popular as the red-hot trend toward graphic novels today. Along the way, educators had learned a lot about the best illustrations to help retain information. “And, looking at the research on this, I found that simple black-and-white drawings would have the greatest impact, if we included them throughout the book,” Gripman said.

BENEFITS IN OUR COMMUNITIES

The result is American History Made Easy. The book can be used either in a classroom or for self-study. Between the covers, Gripman narrates the essential chapters of American history, written at an intermediate reading level.

Most importantly, Gripman decided not to distill America’s story into a series of dry facts to be memorized. “It’s so important to tell the story in a narrative style. That’s how we get the context, how we develop a real understanding of what happened,” Gripman said. “So, this book is easy to read and flows right along. I developed it for ESL students, but the book also could be enjoyed by anyone who wants an overview of the essentials of our history.”

There are other benefits in spreading the news of this book. One important example: School districts with a significant number of ESL students in middle and high school could get a real boost by adding this text to help struggling students.

“These ESL students tend to do very well in many subjects. Their parents can help them with math and science at home, whatever the family’s overall ability with English might be at that point. But when it comes to American history? Parents have no background at all. They can’t help their kids. So these students tend to do poorly on those portions of standardized testing,” Gripman said. “That’s another very practical benefit of this book. If a school has a significant number of ESL students who are dragging down scores on this portion of testing, getting them this kind of book can help bring up those scores. I could see this making a real impact in some school districts.”

And, as we say each week at ReadTheSpirit: Please, help spread the word.

Want to do a good deed this week?
Share this story about American History Made Easy with friends on social media. Order a copy of the book. Recommend it to a teacher, community leader, recent immigrant or social worker you know. Give it to a friend who isn’t much of a “reader” because of challenges with literacy. In 2017, ReadTheSpirit is determined to offer specific suggestions of small acts we each can take to help knit our nation back together again. This is one of those calls to action!

 

 

 

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Plan ahead for debut of Martin Luther mini-series on PBS

‘Martin Luther’ Resources

‘We haven’t seen times like these in 500 years.”

That was the first sentence posted in this online magazine, ReadTheSpirit.com, 10 years ago this month. Our first column talked about Martin Luther’s media revolution and the parallels with these turbulent times in which we live. (You can go back and read that first column here.) So, from the first day of this online magazine, the transformative spirit of the Reformation has been a central inspiration in all of our work, including many thousands of columns shared with readers all around the world. We believe in using the latest advances in media technology to publish inspiring stories for readers everywhere.

One motto we follow: “Good media builds good community.” You may also want to read our original 10 Principles, which we follow to this day. If you are not familiar with our online magazine, it’s worth taking a look at those principles. There were many aspects of Luther’s life that we condemn, including his role in violently repressing a peasant’s uprising and his anti-Semitic rants. Our focus on Luther and the entire Reformation—which was far broader than Luther himself—zeroes in on the way that era placed inspirational media in the hands of ordinary people. In embracing media’s role in inclusion, diversity and fairness, today, that’s the element of the Reformation that we celebrate.

Now that we are nearing the “official” 500th anniversary of Luther’s role in that world-changing revolution, we highly recommend the two-hour PBS docudrama about Luther debuting on September 12, 2017. (Read Ed McNulty’s in-depth review of the series in Visual Parables.)

Watch the PBS preview for ‘Martin Luther’ here

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Care to read more?

In ReadTheSpirit, we have frequently explored these themes over the past decade. For example, in 2015, Editor David Crumm wrote a popular column based on a trip to Disney World that, once again, echoed these themes.

If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this column—or you simply want to explore the PBS series further: Here is the official public-TV website for the Martin Luther miniseries.

In 2016, as this anniversary year was approaching, we published a column reported in part by Berlin-based journalist Maria-Paz Lopez about the many programs, tours and opportunities unfolding for this special anniversary.

Finally, we also want to recommend the extensive resources posted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the anniversary.

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What’s Detroit building now? A community of tiny homes that could change poverty in America

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

“They may be tiny, but they have lofty goals—putting roofs over the heads of people who never dreamed they could own a home.”

Those are the words of PBS News Hour’s Jeffrey Brown, reporting this week from Detroit in the PBS network’s ongoing series about poverty and opportunity in America called Chasing the Dream.

Brown’s video reporting, which you can view below, is introduced to viewers this way: “Tiny houses are all the rage. … Today, there’s a twist. Tiny houses are being seen as giving homeless and low-income people a chance at home ownership.”

Are you skeptical of the PBS team’s claim that this Detroit community is catching the imagination of Americans nationwide? Well, consider that Facebook’s NowThis video series posted a much shorter report on these tiny homes in June—and that Facebook video already has racked up 34 million views! (Today, we’re featuring the newer, longer and more in-depth PBS story, which you can see below, but here is a link if you want to see that shorter Facebook video.)

Take a look at the full PBS news report here— (If you don’t see a viewable video screen here, then try this direct link to PBS News Hour.)

 

A Utopian Community? Learn more …

There’s a lot to learn about this visionary concept. You’ve probably heard about the popularity of “tiny houses” already. In fact, there are TV series about this trend, including Tiny House Hunters. But this Detroit concept—originated by Faith Fowler, the founder of Cass Community Services—is something new.

Click the cover to visit the Cass website and learn about ordering your own copy of this new, full-color book.

Yes, this involves little homes. But, no, this isn’t “like Habitat for Humanity.” No, this isn’t like any other group of tiny houses you’ve seen in other regions of our country. Before Faith and her team of Detroit-based allies broke ground, she crisscrossed the country looking for the best ideas in other communities. “And people were very open about helping us,” she said.

Then, Faith used the basic idea of micro-homes to lay out a visionary, multi-year plan for creating an entire neighborhood in one of Detroit’s most blighted areas.

The entire story—and gorgeous color images—are in her newest book, Tiny Homes in a Big CityThe book has not yet rolled off the printing press and already more than 800 copies have been pre-ordered—an amazing sign of reader interest. You can visit the Cass website now and pre-order your own copy.

Why are we using the phrase “utopian community” in this story? Because the search for new ways to build and organize close-knit communities is an American idea stretching back more than two centuries. Remember the Shakers? Amana? New Harmony? That’s the ambitious vision driving Faith Fowler and her team. (Want to refresh your memory on America’s long history of utopian communities? Here’s a convenient Wikipedia index to dozens of other examples throughout our history.)

 

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Angry? Tell your story of hope!

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

“Where can I count on finding hopeful news—every week? the answer is: ReadTheSpirit,” said author and peace activist Brenda Rosenberg in a meeting with our staff on Friday. “What you publish is so important! Don’t forget that!”

Over more than 10 years, ReadTheSpirit has published thousands of columns about religious and cultural diversity—and innovative approaches to peacemaking. Our online columns and published books come from a dozen different faith perspectives, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and many other global traditions.

So, as world events cascaded over the weekend, as Editor, I decided to share a powerful sermon I heard on Sunday morning (August 13, 2017) at Clarkston United Methodist Church north of Detroit. While the context here is specifically Christian—we offer this as an example of swift and inspiring response from religious leaders.

A BISHOP’S CALL TO PRAYER

This response began on Saturday with a Michigan-wide online letter from Bishop David Bard. As this coming week unfolds, many other statements from religious leaders are likely to cascade into the news—but Michigan’s Bard was swift enough to allow clergy preparing for Sunday worship to consider reading his message aloud.

That’s what happened during the Sunday morning sermon by Clarkston’s the Rev. Rick Dake. Here is the text that Bard released on Saturday, which then was read by Dake (and presumably other clergy) on Sunday:

Dear Friends,
This week, I invited Michigan United Methodists to join in prayer for our United Methodist Church during its season of discernment. The prayer I offered included a prayer for the world. God loves extravagantly in Jesus Christ.
The brokenness and woundedness of this world has become painfully evident during the week. Rising tensions between the United States and North Korea raise new concerns about war. Last night and today in Charlottesville, Virginia, virulent racism raised its ugly head as white supremacists marched in that city resulting in tragic violence and death.
Again, I invite us all to prayer, and in our praying to deepen our commitment to love, to justice and to building community for the common good. I think of the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I think of the words of the poet W. H. Auden, “All I have is a voice… We must love one another or die.”
Peace and Grace,
David A. Bard

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A PASTOR’S CALL TO TELL OUR STORIES

In Clarkston, a large congregation in a suburban area north of Detroit, pastor Dake took that bishop’s letter and made it the centerpiece of a full-throated, prophetic call to action. But not to violent action. Rather, Dake’s entire message on Sunday morning was about countering the rampant stories of right-wing groups that demonize vulnerable minorities and incite violence.

Everyone can respond to this sermon. Yes, Dake framed his appeal in Christian terms. If you read this column, today, and you are one of our many readers from other faith groups—consider how this might sound within your own tradition.

Dake directly addressed threats of nuclear war traded between North Korea and President Trump—and also the right-wing violence in Charlottesville, VA, that led directly to one woman’s death, many serious injuries and a tragic helicopter accident that killed two more people.

“It is unthinkable today to gather in the name of Jesus Christ without condemning the principles of the Alt Right!” Dake declared as he began laying out his basic theme. “We must condemn these stories that seek to condemn others and that terrorize people. … Instead, we must proclaim stories that provide hope.” It is time, he said, “To stand up and declare which stories are right and which stories are wrong.”

Then, he read aloud the entire Bishop Bard letter from Saturday. Dake pointed out that Bard is encouraging each person of faith to lift a “voice.”

Why stand up and tell “our own stories” at this moment? Because, Dake told people, we are at a perilous moment in world history. He talked about the rage within the man behind the wheel of the car that plunged into the Virginia crowd. Dake continued, “And, this week, we are on the edge of nuclear madness. How do we make sense of these stories? What stories will save our world from such madness?”

He invited the congregation to take a moment and make notes about the first hopeful, personal stories that were coming to mind. He urged them to take these notes home and think, all this week, about what stories to share with others—relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers and anyone who happens to engage in conversation.

“Why does this matter?” Dake asked. “Because there are others out there telling other stories! In every town and village and small community there are stories being told that are dangerous.” He said he wonders what dark stories the Ohio man had been hearing that would prompt him to “drive his car, thinking he was righteous, into a group of protesters.”

Preaching as a Christian, he continued: “People need to know your story! And, many of them are not likely to be coming into the church to hear your story here. You need to be ready to share your story wherever it may help. … And, here’s the story that will stop Charlottesville and I believe this is the story that keeps us from nuclear holocaust: It is to put Jesus in our midst. It’s not to debate Jesus. It’s not to get Jesus to adopt your position or my position. It’s to put Christ in the middle.”

That story is a story of peace and compassion. “Tell that story,” he told the congregation.

“Why do I know that works? Why do I have hope in that story?” he asked. “Because there were those who told that story to me. Preachers and youth workers and neighbors and parents and friends who told me that story in word and in action. And that story makes all the difference. If you and I cannot be the ones to tell that story, who will?”

He grew more passionate as he preached. “I beg of you! The world begs of you to claim your story of faith! Focus on Christ. Focus on what is possible through Christ. There are those who need to know, to hear and for someone to explain this to them. If not you, if not me—then who?”

He began to sing an old hymn a capella, lines starting with “I love to tell the story of unseen things above. Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.”

Praying for Compassion

Following the sermon, the Rev. Megan Walther offered a prayer that men and women might consider lifting up in the week ahead:

“God of grace—our world needs healing. We look at the news and the world seems to be full of hatred and violence and anger.

  • In Charlottesville, VA, where a woman was killed and many were injured.
  • In Nairobi, Kenya, were protesters were killed while protesting election results.
  • We lift up Venezuela, where people have been killed in ongoing conflicts.
  • We pray for North Korea where a leader is threatening the world.
  • And, we pray for Flint where there was just another gun death this week and where families continue to suffer the effects of toxic water.

“Lord we need your grace. Lord we need your healing. There is so much that is out of our control, whether it is the state of the world or it is closer to home, including worries for loved ones.

“Help us to be agents of your peace. Let us be faithful in even the smallest of acts, knowing that compassion and sacrificial love have immense power even in the face of hatred and violence. We reject the evil that is complacency and apathy in the face of need. … Do not let us wallow in despair. Do not let us nurture a sense of hopelessness. Do not let our hearts become hardened. …

“We are part of that work of your new creation. We confess that you are our savior, not any world leader. We promise to serve you, advocating for the vulnerable, and not settling for anything less than compassion and justice, and treating everyone we encounter with god-given dignity.

“We put our whole trust in your grace. Please heal all that is broken, among us, within us and in your world.”

So what is your story of hope?

We invite readers to email ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com if you care to respond directly to us at the magazine’s home office. More importantly, take the appeals of Bard, Dake and Walther to heart and tell your story of peace and compassion to someone you encounter this week.

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Listen to ‘Grief Chat”s Mitch Carmody with the creators of ‘Never Long Enough’

At ReadTheSpirit, we are getting more and more inquiries about the unique picture-book, Never Long Enough. So, first, here’s the Amazon link to the book in paperback and in hardcover. And, here is a link to the authors’ own book-related website.

We have published several stories about this creative concept: It’s a large-format picture book—featuring an inclusive array of family images by artist Michelle Sider—encouraging families to come together and talk about the life of a beloved person. Adults and children in a family might use the book as a loved one nears the end of life—or, the family might use the book after a death. Care to learn more? Here is a link to one of our earlier stories, headlined: ‘Never Long Enough’ Helps Families Honor Loved Ones.

Now, the nationally known host of Grief Chat, Mitch Carmody, and his cohost Maureen McNeary have created the following video—based on their recent, live radio interview with author Rabbi Joseph Kraoff and Sider, the psychologist and artist who created the book’s illustrations.

Here is that video (the actual interview begins after the show’s 2-minute intro):

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WHAT YOU WILL HEAR AND SEE

Why spend the time with this video? Because Carmody and his co-host emphasize the new book’s many strengths. They emphasize why this is such a remarkable book. And, toward the end of this interview, Krakoff and Sider preview the next chapter in their Never Long Enough journey.

Who is Carmody? His radio studio is located in Minnesota, but he has a national audience for his programs on grief. Like the team behind this new book, Carmody also is an artist and writer, sometimes better known online by his trademark: Mr. Heartlight. As a grief educator, Carmody’s many distinctions include serving on the board of directors for The Compassionate Friends, the largest grief support organization in the world. He knows first-hand these heartbreaking experiences: After losing his twin sister in an accident in 1985 and then his son to cancer in 1987, Mitch has dedicated his life to serving the bereaved in any way he can.

In the interview: Krakoff explains why this book covers so many themes and is designed to be read at any pace a family may prefer—perhaps just a few pages at a time. The rabbi says, “Grief is something that isn’t on any calendar or timeline. Grief is unique for everyone.”

Carmody tells him the book “totally hit the mark.”

Krakoff explains that, as a result, the book contains very few words and, instead, encourages readers to start their own open-ended conversation and storytelling. This concept draws from the Jewish tradition of Shiva. Krakoff says, “In Shiva, we go into people’s homes to give them comfort, but the way we give that comfort is not by saying a lot of things to them. We are supposed to close our mouths and listen to what they want to talk about.”

“That’s brilliant advice,” says Carmody’s co-host Maureen McNeary.

Michelle Sider talks about her dozens of illustrations. She says, “We want readers to linger on whatever page matters to them. … And, we wanted this book to be as inclusive as possible. Did you lose a parent? A spouse? A child? There are so many different experiences of grief.”

Carmody praises the combination of Krakoff’s brief text and Sider’s artwork, which moves from black and white in the opening pages to brilliant color toward the end of the book. Carmody says, “A lot of people describe their grief as living in shades of gray. I like how you did incorporate that in your book. … The same is true with the simple language you have in this book. A text-heavy grief book can be tough to read through, but here the language is so simple. Wow! … This book really is working inside of you. And, then, you will remember this book long after you go through it.”

By the time the full color emerges in these pages, the impact is breathtaking, says McNeary. The book’s colorful front cover is an example of those final pages and McNeary says, in the interview: “My gosh! That cover is beautiful Michelle!”

Carmody also points out the value of the book’s additional blank pages: “You can even journal in this book as well.”

That’s when the interview turns to the next phase of the Never Long Enough project in which Sider and Krakoff will publish an interactive coloring book, based on the original volume.

“A coloring book/workbook is a natural extension of this experience,” Sider says.

Carmody agrees and says she’s eager to see that. “That’s wonderful! Then, you will be able to weave coloring and other expressions into your reflections.”

Care to read more?

Once again, here’s the Amazon link to the book in paperback and in hardcover. And, here is a link to the authors’ own book-related website. Visit https://neverlongenough.net/

 

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