At Lightning Source conference, independent publishers chart a flexible future for the global growth of books

John Ingram talks to one session during the Indie Days publishers’ conference in Nashville.

“I think we’re still at the beginning of what’s possible.”
John Ingram, Chairman of Ingram Content Group

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Books are alive and well—and readership is growing—560 years after Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable type produced a Bible and transformed the world. That alone should be good news to regular readers of our online magazine. Since our founding in 2007, we have published weekly stories about new books and films that help to inspire and connect our world. Last week, our team attended a national publishers’ conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

“In just over half a millennium, printing, publishing and technology driving the industry has changed quite a bit. Innovation is ceaseless and so is the public’s desire for content,” the representatives of 57 publishing houses were told as the 2018 Lightning Source Indie Days conference began this past week.

Background: Lightning Source is the publishing-services division of the giant book wholesaler Ingram. Lightning Source uses cutting-edge equipment to produce millions of just-in-time books each year for all publishers, both large and small. The term “Indie” refers to independent publishers, like our own Front Edge Publishing, as distinct from the Big Five (Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan).

Here are three highlights of this year’s conference that are likely to interest our Front Edge readers:

PUBLISHING NEWS 1:
ENGLISH IS A GLOBAL PASSPORT

We’ve always known that English circles the world. Each week, we can see that readers from regions including Asia, Europe and Africa are visiting our online magazine. We get a report that shows little flags from all the nations where Internet connections have been made with columns in ReadTheSpirit.

Speakers at this conference stressed that the reach of English continues to grow, comprising about 1.5 billion English speakers around the world today. One expert laid out demographic projections that show, within a couple of decades, India will be the home of more English speakers than the U.S.

A report encouraging publishers to think globally in their marketing of English-language books said: “English is either the official language, or a recognized official language in almost 60 sovereign states. It is the third most common native language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish. It is the most widely learned second language, an official language of the UN, EU and of many other world and regional international organizations.”

What’s the take-away for our ReadTheSpirit readers? You can travel far with English. Are you hoping to speak to the world through your writing—perhaps through your online columns or emails or newsletters? Yes, as American writers, we should consider adding Spanish options, in particular, but English still circles planet Earth very effectively.

We already are acknowledging these trends in our own publishing house. Want to see an example of a book designed to be helpful to the millions of people around the world who are learning English today? Check out Kathleen Gripman’s American History Made Easy, which is especially popular in regions of Asia where men and women are learning English as a Second Language.

Ingram’s Phil Ollila talks about the future of audio books, among other cutting-edge topics, at the Indie Days publishers’ conference.

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PUBLISHING NEWS 2: 
AUDIO DREAMS

Every publisher and media expert we met at the conference talked about the steep challenges of creating audio books. Sales of audio books continue to grow each year (we have more information on that in a Front Edge Publishing column this week)—to the point that another media “disruption” is predicted, similar to the introduction of the Kindle in 2007.

So, what are the big dreams for the future of audio books?

One dream is that audio books eventually will come with a standard set of helpful new tools. For example, in the future, audio books will be as searchable as digital texts. Want to zip right to the section of a book about your favorite character or topic? You’ll be able to do that through an easy audio interface.

One speaker predicted that, within a few years, we will all be able to call out to our Alexa or Google or Siri virtual assistant: “Play me an audio excerpt about the Civil War Battle of Shiloh.” Or: “… about Judy Garland when she appeared in Wizard of Oz.” Or: “… about how to make a German Chocolate Cake.” The speaker went on to predict that, when vast numbers of books are produced in audio and search options are fine tuned, we will be able to ask virtual assistants to play very specific excerpts: “… play the third paragraph of Moby Dick …” or “… play any book that mentions my grandfather Col. George C. Cook in the Korean War …”

“This is going to get so sophisticated that readers will be able to search all the millions of books stored in the cloud for things as specific as: ‘Tell me what happened on Omaha Beach on D-Day at 4 p.m.’,” said Phil Ollila, Chief Content Officer for Ingram. “And you will be able to hear sections of books read to you. Then, it’s going to get even more adaptive. You’ll be able to add, ‘And read that to me with an English accent—or read me that in the voice of a cocktail lounge singer.’ ”

Just envision that world, when an idea might pop up during your morning walk and a quick holler at Siri on your iPhone will suddenly start reading a very specific passage from a book—just the section you want to hear.

For example, imagine the possibilities when you pass a particular monument, or river, or distinctive building. “… play any book about the history of shipping on the Ohio River.”

Does it sound like science fiction? Well, so was the smart phone, or Siri, just a few years ago.

PUBLISHING NEWS 3: 
CAN I PERSONALIZE THAT?

Customer Experience Manager Taylor Hale encouraged publishers to fine tune their messages to customers.

Since our founding in 2007, our publishing house has always offered a flexible option to customize a “short run” of books. That’s a popular option with customers ordering a quantity of books for a conference, special event or a community-wide read. For a long time, that was a fairly exclusive option, based on the special in-house software we use to produce books. That lets us modify books more easily than most publishers.

Now, however, publishers nationwide are clamoring for customization. Several new programs were demonstrated at the conference, two of which are likely to interest general readers.

First, publishers now have new options to personalize individual books by inserting a single, unique page in the front of each book. While placing the order, the publisher can add text and photos to that page. So, for an additional cost, a group ordering books for a class or special event can have each book shipped with a different participant’s name on the first page—or other customized messages. Imagine ordering a copy of our children’s book Sadie Sees Trouble and having it arrive with the first page saying: “This book is a gift from Grandma Cooper to Marcie on her third birthday.” That message might also be accompanied by a photo of Grandma holding Marcie in her lap. Imagine the value of that keepsake!

This kind of customization can be done on all books through publishers who use the Lightning Source system—as we do at our Front Edge Publishing house. Take a look at our catalog and imagine the kinds of personalized gifts and group-reads you could plan.

Second, publishers will be doing more with book-wide customization, mainly starting with children’s books. An entire book—from its cover through its interior pages—can be digitally “mapped” to insert a particular child’s name (or other information) in a whole array of precise locations.

If you love books now—especially children’s books—just imagine how much children will enjoy personalized books in the years ahead.

Care to Read More?

Want to learn more about the latest trends in the publishing industry? Over at our Front Edge Publishing website, we have a column this week with 6 news items from the publishers’ conference of particular interest to writers and media professionals.

Part of the Ingram facility where Indie Days conference sessions were held for representatives from 57 publishing houses. A half dozen large spaces were open to participants throughout the conference—to encourage publishers to form small groups for conversations. Our team from Michigan enjoyed the spontaneous interaction with other publishers as much as the formal presentations.

 

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Marilyn McEntyre on why ‘Make a List’ is really a spiritual practice

List-making almost always leads to surprises.
Marilyn McEntyre, author of Make a List

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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

We love lists!

Since this online magazine was founded in 2007, we have published more than 10,000 columns—and hundreds of those columns sprinkled through this vast magazine are lists. Any savvy journalist knows that presenting a story as a list is guaranteed to heighten reader interest. What’s “in” the list? What’s “out”?

Some Baby Boomers like to think they invented the idea of lists with best-selling milestones such as The Whole Earth Catalog and The Book of Lists—but they were simply building upon timeless wisdom! Lists form the foundations of world culture. The only reason anyone remembers the ancient Babylonian King Hammurabi after nearly 7,000 years is that he codified and quite literally posted a giant list of laws. Simply mention the name Moses among friends—and what do we recall first and foremost? That Top 10 List he carried down a mountain. And, this idea was not limited to the Middle East. Study the Analects of Confucius or the I Ching and you’ll quickly recognize—lists.

We are an online magazine that specializes in covering religious and cultural diversity, especially in the forms of new books and films. So, we can’t help but love lists.

The moment Marilyn McEntyre’s guide to list-making appeared in our home office, we knew that we wanted to recommend it to readers.

A DO IT YOURSELF GUIDE TO LIST MAKING

Make a List is a Do-It-Yourself guide to list making. But that description might make the text sound rather dry. In fact, this is an inspiring workbook that offers fresh invitations to readers with every turn of Marilyn’s pages. This is a book from which you can spin off countless ideas of your own for lists, prayers, columns, sermons, lesson plans, discussion starters.

Warning to readers: Have paper and pen ready when you open this book, because you will immediately want to start making lists of the lists you’ll want to make!

LISTS AS MINDFULNESS

Marilyn McEntyre

There also is an Eastern approach to mindfulness that animates Marilyn’s approach to lists. That’s true of her earlier books, as well, such as her 2016 book, Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice. In that book, Marilyn listed some common and yet powerfully evocative words and Richard Rohr described the overall effect as bringing “lively attention to the way single words can open multiple doors of memory, imagination and reflection.”

In our interview about her new book, Marilyn said, “I think one of my favorite words these days is ‘noticing.’ List making is a way to teach ourselves to take note of what’s around us and what’s in us.”

Marilyn took issue with my description of this as an Eastern practice. “You could call it a spiritual discipline,” she acknowledged, but said, “I like to think of it as a discipline of stopping—like Basil Rathbone used to do in those classic Sherlock Holmes movies—and saying, ‘Hmm, look! What’s this?’ ”

If you read any of Marilyn’s books—or visit her personal website—you will learn that she is Christian and has a loyal base of readers like Rohr who might be described as progressive Christians with a special interest in renewing spiritual disciplines.

“I describe myself as a follower of Christ,” she said in our interviw. “I am the daughter of missionary parents. I was born in India. I had very faithful parents. My mother really walked with Jesus in a way that was luminous but I also had my struggles with their particular generation of evangelicalism. These days I worship in a wonderful Episcopal church. I spent some time with the Quakers. So, I have had chapters of my life in different denominational settings and that’s been really rich.”

LISTS AS AN ANTIDOTE FOR ANXIETY

In addition to her writing and public speaking, Marilyn teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, in Medical Humanities. “For most of my career, I have tried to wander across disciplinary boundaries, so I’ve taught courses in literature and theology at a couple of seminaries,” she said in our interview. “At Berkeley, it’s Medical Humanities, where we explore connections between literature and medicine.”

Anyone who has been involved in therapy knows about the potential of lists. “What are you afraid of? Take 5 minutes and list everything that pops into your mind,” might be a request. Or, we might be urged to make a list of things we hope to do—or dread doing—and prioritize the items. We might be asked to list our fears, then deliberately set some of them aside to ponder another day. It’s no accident that the world’s most popular self-help programs are—12 Steps.

“I really am interested in that relationship between list making and anxiety,” Marilyn said in our interview. “There is so much floating around us all the time, these days. We are surrounded by the Internet, which is such a concentric and complex web of relationships that it’s very difficult to put your finger down on something and say: I’m going to start here.

“A list is a way of making sense of things. But there also is such freedom in list making. A list doesn’t demand that you organize something clearly before you put it down. A list is just a beginning, a opportunity to respond to what’s happening around us in a new way. I might encounter something in the front-page news that troubles me and I might respond by starting a list of ‘Things I’d like to understand about Islam.’ That’s a much more positive response than a lot of other reactions we might have.

“I hope people find in this book a lot of new possibilities to explore.”

Here at ReadTheSpirit, we do, too!

10 GREAT LISTS TO EXPLORE

A column on the power and potential of lists wouldn’t be complete without—a list. Since we love lists—and have published 100s over the past 11 years—here are some lists we recommend from our online magazine, our columnists and our authors.

1.) OUR NEWEST LIST—Over at our Front Edge Publishing website, we have just published our newest list: 10 Reasons We Like Epigraphs. At that Front Edge website, several of us on the publishing-house staff take turns writing weekly columns packed with tips and professional news for writers. This week’s column explains why many new books are sprinkled with short quotations in the form of “precedes.”

2.) OUR OLDEST LIST—Way back in 2007, we published one of our all-time most-popular columns. It was a quiz—in other words, a list of questions—asking readers to identify Is It the Bible or the Bard?

3.) PRAYING FOR OUR WORLD—As Marilyn explains in one section of her new book, prayers usually are lists, whether we prefer to call them litanies or liturgies or even free-form conversations with God. In prayer, we tend to move from one item to another and that’s quite simply a list. Our ReadTheSpirit friends have been involved in cooperatively writing prayers—as a group experience—for many years. Care to learn more? Here is a 2013 column called, Praying for Our World: The WISDOM of Women.

4.) MOVIE LISTS—We’ve published so many movie lists over the past 11 years that we can’t count them all. But we do know that the most popular movie list we ever published is Top 10 Jesus MoviesAll of our writers get involved in highlighting new books and films we love. Each year, author Rodney Curtis publishes his own Favorite Movies of the Year. Our readers love movie lists!

5.) FEED THE SPIRIT—We write a lot about the infinite spiritual connections with the food we eat. We even connected that theme with movies in A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Best Films on Food and Faith.

6.) HOLIDAYS—One of the most popular ongoing columns in our magazine involves global Holidays & Festivals. We love dreaming up connections that knit all of our themes together, so in keeping with our focus on holidays, we published Top 10 ‘Other’ Christmas Movies, After It’s a Wonderful Life.

7.) INTERFAITH PEACEMAKERSThis section of our online magazine, created by author and international peacemaker Daniel Buttry, is packed with lists of stories about heroic men and women.

8.) OUR BIG BOOKSTOREOn this website, our Front Edge Publishing bookstore lists most of the books we have published over the past decade.

9.) A BIG LIST OF COMICS—In our efforts to combat bigotry and bullying, we created another special section highlighting all the cartoonists who have contributed to Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.

10.) 100 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS—We even publish books that are cover-to-cover lists. The Michigan State University School of Journalism’s Bias Buster team has created a whole series of these books.

Care to explore further?

Beyond these Top 10 gateways to our most memorable lists, feel free to play around with the search box on our website. You may stumble across other gems you will enjoy. There are lots of hidden corners of this website. Here’s a hint: A few years ago, we shone a spotlight on one of the world’s masters of the literary list, Charles Dickens. Check out this introduction to Bleak House, which includes the text of Dickens’ famous list describing London’s infamous fog that opens this grand novel. Or, you might stumble across a column in which a few friends of our magazine began posting a list of curious words they wanted to investigate.

Enjoy! And please share your enjoyment of these columns with friends!

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Celebrating Diversity with Children: The Many Faces of Debra Darvick

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

By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit Magazine Editor

Christian children grow up learning songs that celebrate their diversity. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight. And: He’s got the whole world in His hand!

Jewish children grow up encountering an ugly legacy that dates back many centuries as anti-Semites tried to categorize Jews as looking a certain way—all in the service of excluding and persecuting Jewish communities.

In fact, Jews don’t all look alike!

According to Pew Research, American Jews are about as racially diverse a group as Episcopalians, United Methodists and Lutherans. All of those mainline denominations go out of their way to celebrate their diversity in everything from Sunday school materials to their church websites. (Side Note: The most racially diverse religious groups in America are Seventh-Day Adventists and Muslims; and the most homogenous are the historic African-American denominations.)

Author, educator and all-around creative storyteller Debra Darvick decided to tackle that infamous old stereotype about Jews head on! She created the colorful, photo-illustrated book for children, We Are Jewish FacesDozens of delightful photos show Jews enjoying life in all their global diversity. The images are accompanied by a rhythmic text that’s sprinkled with Yiddish and Hebrew terms and is fun for families to read aloud—over and over again. The book begins:

Bubbe faces, Zayde faces,
Brother, Sister, Friendship faces,
Faces of all Races and Places,
We are Jewish faces.

“The goal of this book was to neutralize once and for all the expression: ‘Funny you don’t look Jewish!’ ” Debra told me in an interview. “In this book, I’m showing the many faces of Jewish life. Period. When you finish this book, there’s no question: You can be any color and be Jewish.”

DEBRA’S VISION GOES WORLDWIDE!

Click the cover to learn more about this book.

Debra Davick is among the many authors published by ReadTheSpirit Books. Her collection of real-life stories, This Jewish Life, showcases special themes that take readers through the entire Jewish year. Thousands of readers, each year, visit our website about that book to enjoy the excerpts we posted.

We Are Jewish Faces was published by Apples & Honey Press, a division of the Jewish educational services company Behrman House.

All of us are celebrating the news that Jewish Faces has been chosen for distribution in 2019 through the PJ Library. This is a global program sponsored by the Grinspoon Foundation. Harold Grinspoon is a real estate tycoon from Massachusetts who made a commitment to give at least half of his wealth to philanthropic causes. In 2004, according to The New York Times, Grinspoon heard a National Public Radio story about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which has distributed more than 80 million children’s books to improve family literacy. Grinspoon decided he wanted his foundation to follow suit—but with a Jewish twist. At some point in 2019, Debra’s We Are Jewish Faces will travel around the world through the PJ Library distribution program.

Congratulations Debra!

 

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Matthew Polly interview on the cross-cultural legacy of Bruce Lee

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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

When you think of Bruce Lee—you may simply dismiss his legacy as fuel for violent movies.

If you do, then you’re missing Bruce Lee’s iconic status around the world as a symbol of crossing cultural and racial boundaries in pursuit of peace. You may be asking: What!?! Bruce Lee—the king of kung fu movies—is also a symbol of transformational peacemaking?

In fact, journalist and best-selling author Matthew Polly makes a fascinating case for exactly that status for this Eurasian innovator in martial arts, spirituality and media. It’s all in Polly’s new in-depth biography, Bruce Lee: A Life.

Are you questioning the claims you are reading here? Well, consider one recent example from Polly’s book. Did you know that as recently as 2005 in Mostar—in the deeply divided land of Bosnia Herzegovina—the community wanted to install a monument to cross-cultural peacemaking in the city park. Community leaders skipped over such heroic figures as the Pope and Ghandhi—as too divisive. Instead, they settled on a statue of Bruce Lee.

The public-art project was spearheaded by Mostar Urban Movement, a youth group headed by Nino Raspudić and Veselin Gatalo, who described the statue as “an attempt to question symbols, old and new, by mixing up high grandeur with mass culture and kung fu.” They regard Bruce Lee as a symbol of the fight against ethnic divisions and the effort to bridge cultures.  “One thing we all have in common is Bruce Lee,” they said.

Stunning, but true. There’s a photo of that statue, below.

One problem with wrapping our minds around this aspect of Lee’s legacy, Polly points out, is that he is most famous today in what Americans think of as emerging or Third World countries. In fact, Polly argues persuasively that Lee is one of the 20th century’s most influential figures. In the book, Polly writes:

Bruce was not simply an entertainer; he was an evangelist. Through the popular medium of film, he single-handedly introduced more people to Asian culture than any other person in history. Because of Bruce, millions of westerners took up the martial arts. … Many devoted martial arts students went on to explore the Chinese philosophical underpinnings of their styles. Taoist terms like “yin” and “yang” entered the lexicon.

And that’s why Polly took on the enormous challenge of writing the first fully researched biography of Lee—a book recently recommended for summer reading by The New York Times Book Review. (The Times calls this book “the first noteworthy treatment of its subject and a definitive one at that.” Today, Lee seems like “a visitor from the future,” the Times says.)

Here is how Polly explains his decision to tackle this larger-than-life story. He writes:

Bruce consistently ranks in the top 15 of Forbes magazine’s list of top-earning dead celebrities, along with such idols as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen. All of those iconic figures have proper biographies, except for Lee. Hardly a year goes by that a book isn’t published about Marilyn Monroe. There are half a dozen biographies of Steve McQueen.

It offended me. Bruce Lee was the first Chinese American male actor to ever star in a Hollywood movie. He inspired millions of people to take up the martial arts. He deserved an authoritative biography. I set out to write it.

‘WHAT WAS DRIVING HIM’

So what are the big headlines in this 650-page, $35 hardback?

Matthew Polly. Photo by Justin Guariglia; used with author’s permission.

When I interviewed Polly about his years of research and writing, I told him: “I began studying film and journalism at the University of Michigan in 1973, the year of Bruce’s big American debut in Enter the Dragon—and then he died that same year! I still remember all the mystery and controversy that surrounded his life and death. Now, 45 years later, I feel like your biography introduces me to the real Bruce Lee without all that lurid hype back in the mid 1970s. I feel like I’m finally getting to know this media innovator who I barely understood before.”

“That’s what I hoped this book would feel like to fans who have followed Bruce through all these years,” Polly said. “And I’m pleased that some of the early readers are responding just like you are. I’m hearing: ‘Now, I finally understand where he was coming from, what was driving him—and everything he accomplished.’ What Bruce achieved ultimately was amazing and it continues to this day. What’s even more impressive is that what he accomplished looked neigh on impossible at the start. But, he was willing to pay any price to achieve it. Ultimately, because of the way he drove himself, the price was his life.”

BUSTING BRUCE LEE MYTHS

In the course of this book, Polly tells lots of fascinating—sometimes suspenseful and sometimes downright funny—true stories about Bruce Lee. As he takes us through his life, Polly also busts a whole series of myths.

THE MYTH OF THE CHINESE STREET KID—Depending on where you got your ideas about Bruce Lee, perhaps from TV or other movies about kung fu, you may think of him as springing from the mean streets of Hong Kong. In fact, his family came from a wealthy and well-connected background that included a Jewish patriarch. (See the video below for more details on that.) Lee was, in fact, born in the U.S., then went back to Hong Kong where his parents cast him as a child actor in a whole series of movies. Eventually, Bruce became a competitive ballroom dancer and won prizes for his specialty: the cha cha!

THE MYTH OF IP MAN—These days, there may be more feature films on the nearly legendary kung fu innovator Ip Man (1893-1972). The myth is that Bruce Lee was hand picked by Ip Man at a very early age—and Lee eventually brought all of Ip Man’s legacy out of China and into the rest of the world. In fact, Bruce was a student for a while in Ip Man’s school, but the master gave Bruce little personal attention. As Bruce emerged as an Asian movie star, Ip Man was happy to celebrate Bruce’s return visits and to describe him as a star pupil. Fundamentally, however, Bruce did not carry on Ip Man’s exact system. Bruce’s genius—and his daring innovation—lay in his belief that traditional kung fu systems should continually evolve.

THE MYTH OF ‘KUNG FU’As Lee and his family and fans retold the story of the hit TV series, Kung Fu (1972-1975), a myth arose that TV producers stole Bruce Lee’s idea for this TV series and then rejected him as a star. Because of anti-Asian bias, they cast Bruce Carradine to play the starring role. In fact, Polly documents that Lee’s early script was something similar, but distinctively different. In fact, he did not write Kung Fu. That was the work of other writers. Then, Lee actually was given an audition for the TV series, but he performed poorly. Lee’s original script was for a series that came to be called The Warrior, which finally is being developed by Cinemax for release within the next year.

THE MYTHS OF HIS DEATH—A host of wild myths surround Bruce Lee’s death, largely fueled by undue secrecy among Lee’s friends and colleagues. In the midst of shock at his untimely death, they were trying to protect his reputation. Among other things, they were trying to conceal Lee’s extra-marital love life that complicated his death. Polly researched all of the available evidence and concludes that Lee’s death was triggered largely by heat exhaustion. His sudden death was, indeed, a tragedy. But, it was not a dark mystery in which killers somehow escaped justice.

Bruce Lee’s statue as a symbol of peace in Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

BREAKING BARRIERS

One truth about Bruce Lee that is consistently retold in all the existing media about Bruce Lee is that he believed in ignoring racial and cultural barriers. His first student, when he opened his American school, was African-American.

“And, at that time, no Chinese instructors were teaching African Americans. It caused some real friction because Bruce did that. But, he would not make racial or cultural distinctions. As a result, he wound up having the most racially diverse student body of any major teacher in America because he simply did not care about race,” Polly said in our interview.

For readers fascinated by connections in world religion, the heart of Polly’s book describes Lee’s restless personal quest for spiritual answers. A self-proclaimed atheist, Lee nevertheless believed that there were universal spiritual truths that each individual was called to explore. He read voraciously and collected a library of thousands of books, including works on Eastern approaches to spirituality. Lee was especially influenced by the life and work of Jiddu Kirshnamurti (1895-1986), who once was regarded as an emerging “world teacher”—then later rejected that claim and urged people to develop their own spiritual pathways.

That fit perfectly with Lee’s philosophy of life—and his belief that he was called to mix Chinese kung fu with American systems of self defense. We must each determine our own truths, Bruce Lee believed.

In our interview, Polly said, “When he first came back to America, he was very much in the Daoist tradition and then he added a little Zen Buddhism. His big breakthrough was discovering Krishnamurti. This was very much in keeping with the ’60s anti-establishment counterculture. We might think about the way American student protesters were questioning the Vietnam War and the values they had inherited at that time. Bruce was questioning Chinese tradition and kung fu traditions and, in the end, he put the individual at the center of his universe. He taught that each person had to find their own truth. We can borrow from tradition, but ultimately we have to develop our own spiritual path. That was the core of Bruce’s philosophy at the time of his death.”

THE BEST BRUCE LEE MOVIES

Click the cover to visit this video’s Amazon page.

No story about Bruce Lee would be complete without recommending a list of “the best Bruce Lee movies.” This is important, in part, because there now are exploitation films that appear to be authentic Bruce Lee movies—but are actually knock offs.

And here’s a special note to Bruce Lee TV fans: DC Comics has revived interest in Bruce Lee’s co-starring role in the TV series The Green Hornet (1966-67) by featuring the characters from the TV show in a series of comic books co-starring Batman and Robin. However, no producers have properly restored the original TV series for streaming or for a quality DVD or Blu-ray release. So, if you were once a fan of that TV series and would like to see it, again—you’re pretty much out of luck at this point.

Here are Matthew Polly’s recommendations of Bruce Lee’s feature films that are widely available:

Enter the Dragon (1973) is the one movie that anyone interested in Bruce Lee should see first,” Polly said. “Then, after that, I would recommend Way of the Dragon (1972), because he wrote, directed and starred in that movie, so he had total control of that project. You get a real sense of him as a filmmaker.

“If you want to dig deeper, then find a copy of The Orphan (1960), which Bruce made in Hong Kong,” Polly said. “It was Hong Kong’s idea of a Rebel-without-a-Cause kind of movie and Bruce was doing a James Dean kind of character. I think that was Bruce’s best acting performance.”

‘Like … Greek Mythology’

Lee’s iconic image as a bare-chested kung fu fighter still is widely known across Asia, eastern Europe and Africa, Polly said. “I don’t think there’s a single place on earth where I could go and have people look at a photo of him and not recognize him. This may be hard for Americans to appreciate, because we think first of actors like John Wayne as universally popular. But, John Wayne isn’t as well known around the world as Bruce Lee continues to be. Bruce is known like Michael Jackson everywhere you go.

“I think Bruce appeals to people today like our modern version of Greek mythology. He represents the spirit of the warrior seeking justice. He’s an underdog, trying to do the impossible. As a fan myself, I felt it was essential that I honor his legacy by writing this biography. Someone needed to carefully dig out all the truth about him and then write that truth for the world to see.”

VIDEOS ABOUT BRUCE LEE

In this first 2-minute video clip, produced for the release of Polly’s book, the filmmakers have some fun as they explain Bruce Lee’s complicated family tree. If you don’t see a video screen, below, then you also can see the video at YouTube.

In this even-shorter video, you’ll get to see Matthew Polly talking about the “kung fu craze” that followed the debut of Enter the Dragon. If you don’t see a video screen, below, then you also can see the video at YouTube.

Care to read more?

GET THE BOOK—You can order Bruce Lee: A Life from Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

VISIT MATTHEW—Learn more about his ongoing work at his website www.MattPolly.com.

VISIT OUR BOOKSTORES—You’ll find lots of books that explore the challenges of cross-cultural friendship in our own ReadTheSpiritBookstore and our new Front Edge Publishing Bookstore.

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Celebrating July 4, even though we know our homeland is … elsewhere

Fourth of July fireworks seen across the Potomac River at Washington, D.C., USA (Shared by photographer Joe Ravi under Creative Commons license CC-BY-SA 3.0)

EDITOR’S NOTE—Our online magazine is proud, each week, to present a family of writers from many different religious traditions—Christian, Jewish, Muslim and others. Our cover story this week, for example, is about a man who was a self-proclaimed atheist—yet had a powerful spiritual message about breaking down cultural barriers. In this particular column, we invited author Amy Morgan to tell us about how she—and her congregation in Colorado—are approaching our major U.S. holiday this week.

By AMY MORGAN
Contributing Columnist

As we approach the July 4th holiday, our nation prepares to celebrate. We’ll have cook-outs and fireworks, sing patriotic songs and fly flags. (I’ll be drag racing, by the way)

But what, exactly, are we celebrating?

Many would say, “freedom.” But freedom from what? Tyranny, some might say. And this might be true for those revolutionaries in 1776. But when I look at our lives in this country today, I see a great deal of tyranny still in existence.

Our pockets may not be drained by taxation without representation, but the tyranny of fear, of scarcity, of accumulation, achievement, appearance are doing that job quite well.

We may not be ruled by a wealthy king, but there is plenty of tyranny to be protested in campaign finances and compensation policies of our politicians.

And there are many in this country who feel they have never experienced the same freedom as those who are privileged by virtue of skin color, gender, or social class. There are minorities who live under the tyranny of the majority.

It seems clear that only tyrants would even consider imprisoning children and families.

Does this mean we should not celebrate? Or, that we have nothing to celebrate? By no means!

Revolutionaries gave their lives hoping to birth a nation that would not just be free—but alive, liberated, and hopeful. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” those “inalienable rights” in our Declaration of Independence, offer up a vision of the best of what our nation might become. That it hasn’t reached this lofty goal in 242 years is no reason to give up on celebrating its possibility and potential.

People of Christian faith, however, do not place our national citizenship before, in opposition to, or conflated with, our citizenship in the commonwealth of heaven. Rather, our Christian identity and witness inform our civic participation.

We undeniably have dual citizenship, but our homeland is where God reigns sovereign. As such, we have the joyful burden of witnessing to the true liberation that can only come from God’s love for the whole world in Jesus Christ. This informs what we praise and what we protest, how we pray and what we speak, how we vote and how we spend our time, money, and energies.

In my church last Sunday, we celebrated our citizenship in the realm of God through readings from scripture and our Reformed confessions, interspersed with hymns praising God’s reign. I hope that this has prepared our souls to celebrate the birth of our nation, in all its flaws and failings, in all its hope and splendor, as dual citizens longing after the ideals of our earthly nation and the completion of God’s dominion on earth.

Meet Amy

The Rev. Amy Morgan is pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Loveland, CO. Most recently, she contributed to the second edition of Friendship and Faith, a collection of women’s stories about crossing religious and cultural divides to form friendships. She currently serves as Vice-President of the board of Yucatan Peninsula Missions and on the Committee on Preparation for Ministry for the Presbytery of Plains and Peaks. Amy and her husband, Jason, have a son, Dean. They love hiking in the mountains and biking around town.

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In this time of turbulence: How can we learn to talk to each other again?

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So let us begin anew—
remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness. …
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

John F. Kennedy

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EDITOR’S NOTEIn conversations with men and women coast to coast this summer, the question always comes up: “Did you see the latest outrage?” We can’t believe that our nation’s discourse has turned so violent and obscene. Since its founding, ReadTheSpirit has focused on the power of great books and films to celebrate our religious and cultural diversity. This week, one of our most popular authors shared a story from the 1960s about civility and diversity that involves a unique figure in the news this summer: Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr., whom President Trump has asked the U.S. Senate to confirm as a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia—only the second African-American judicial nominee by Trump. What makes Alston unique, according to The Washington Post, is that he also was endorsed by Virginia’s two U.S. Senators—both Democrats.

Here is Ben Pratt’s story, written in collaboration with Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.

By BENJAMIN PRATT
ReadTheSpirit Columnist

Civility requires courage.

In fact, that kind of courage may be the missing ingredient in our anger-drenched era of daily conflict. I was reminded of this truth by an old friend as we compared the conflicts we faced in the 1960s with the conflicts we face today. My friend is 61 now. I’m a good deal older. We first met in the mid 1960s when I was a young pastor trying to organize a new United Methodist church.

At the time, he was just 9 years old.

Click this image of the Washington Post to read the June 9, 2018, article about Rossie Alston.

I thought that I was courageous as a white pastor inviting families of all races to join our new church—in an era when that was considered daring, if not foolhardy, by many church leaders.

But, there was a lot of wisdom in what we collectively accomplished in that small town. In fact, the lesson about courage and civility came from Judge Alston’s father.

Here is how we met:

The 1960s were a tumultuous time for all of us, including my wife Judith and I who were married in August 1963 just before I started my studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. I began that first year at Wesley shortly before President Kennedy was assassinated. I was still in seminary when the 1964 Civil Rights Act became law and the Voting Rights Act followed—along with all of the turbulence, tragedies and successes of the Civil Rights movement.

Upon graduation in 1966, I was assigned to found a new church in a planned housing community 30 miles south of the U.S. Capitol called Dale City. Seminary taught me church history, theology, a love of classical literature and absolutely nothing about how to start or administer a congregation. My guiding prayer was: “May I show God’s love, respect and care for each person I encounter.” And, to this day, members of that congregation consider it a miracle that we received more than 1,200 members in eight years—more than a quarter of whom were African Americans.

Judge Rossie Alston Jr. was 9 years old when I was pounding the pavement, visiting families door to door. As he has told this story over the years:

My mother looked out the window one day and saw this tall, skinny red-head knocking on doors. She kept going back to the window. She wondered if he was going to knock on our door. Then he did. He said he was starting a new church with people from the neighborhood and wanted us to join him for worship.

He wasn’t there long—half an hour or so. And, when he left, my mother asked my father, “What are we going to do?”

My father said, “If he had the courage to ask us—we got the courage to go.”

Claiming the Courage

As the visiting pastor, that afternoon, I never got to hear what was said behind closed doors, but when my friend Rossie told that story years later—well, I’ve thought about the wisdom of his father ever since.

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

I wrote extensively about moral courage and cowardice in my book Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins—and described the complex push and pull of these values as I helped to establish that new church in the 1960s. Fleming believed that moral cowardice was one of the most powerful deadly sins of the modern world. He explored the deadly dangers of such cowardice in three of his novels. As I lead readers through these challenges, and describe Fleming’s thoughts on the matter, I finally boil this all down into two questions.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves on an almost daily basis:

So, what am I going to do?

And then I suggest a second question:

And, with whom am I going to travel?

Ultimately, that’s what happened on that fateful afternoon in Rossie’s home. All of us were summoning our courage and asking ourselves those two questions.

Because we did, the Alston family came to the church. They stayed. They were active members—and Rossie is still a member to this day.

‘There Is a Generous World Out There’

Talking to Rossie again, I was astonished by all that unfolded from that brief turning-point in the Alston home half a century ago.

Then, as we talked, Rossie fell silent. Clearly, he was remembering something more.

At length he said, “Ben, I just realized that you are the first white man I ever had a personal relationship with.”

Click these early photos of our congregation after a Sunday service to visit the Good Shepherd website. The Sermons page includes a recent message Rossie Alston preached, sharing some of his memories of the church.

In many ways, as a brand-new town carved out of the countryside with a significant number of federal employees, Dale City was a tabula rasa. Rossie’s parents both worked for federal agencies. As surprising as everything else about this story is the fact that Dale City has remained diverse to this day. The 71,000 people who live there now are a stable mix of families and individuals, races and cultures: 35 percent white, 30 percent black, 27 percent Hispanic and 8 percent Asian. That’s why Rossie is happy to follow in his parents’ footsteps and remain an active part of the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church we started.

“Dale City was a very small community when we first moved in,” Rossie said. “The closest grocery store was seven miles away in Woodbridge. There were no real amenities—so the Dale City Civic Association, the local volunteer fire department and Good Shepherd United Methodist Church were the social and spiritual foundations of the community. Most families were first-time homeowners, many were in their 30s or early 40s and there was a significant military representation. All of these things contributed to a rather cohesive community with little institutional discrimination.”

In fact, Rossie recalls his parents as not dwelling on racial or cultural distinctions at home. “Interestingly, Mom and Dad never spoke to us about living in a mixed-race community,” he said. “My brother and I were taught to achieve, to not use our circumstances as a basis for not achieving, and to experience and learn from all people—both good and bad. My parents taught us that there was a generous world out there for us if we were willing to work hard and treat all people appropriately.”

And what was the basis of that optimism?

Rossie said that his family’s foundation lay in their faith and church. Even today, he said, “My abiding faith remains in a loving God who has allowed me the grace of achieving things almost unimagined for a little Black boy growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s. As I grew up, I fully committed myself as a Christian in 1977. My whole life’s accomplishments have been the result of the love of a gracious God and the lessons taught and reinforced to me by my mother and father. Although Mom and Dad had endured the scars from growing up during Jim Crowe, they would not allow my brother or me to allow their pain to injure our view of this world. In their own way, they suffered silently so that we would not have to. I miss them, so. Thanks be to God for them!”

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VISIT OUR BOOKSTORES—You’ll find lots of books that explore faith and diversity in our own ReadTheSpiritBookstore and our new Front Edge Publishing Bookstore.

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Echoes of Merton in Erin O. White’s love story of faith and family, ‘Given Up for You’

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

By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit Editor

Erin O. White has written a love story of faith and family. What could be more all-American as a memoir?

Unfortunately, the gatekeepers of Erin’s faith rejected her family and she had to choose between them. Given up for You is an achingly beautiful memoir of how Erin fell in love with both the Catholic church and the woman who would became her wife—and ultimately had to give up her church for the woman she loves.

This new book couldn’t be timelier—and the stakes have never been higher for the future of organized religion. A new report by Pew Research this spring shows the rejection of religious affiliation continuing to rise. Back in the 1970s, fewer than 1 in 10 Americans said they had no religious affiliation—now, it’s 1 in 4. Studies show one major factor pushing away young adults is the continuing hostility toward men and women who Erin likes to call simply “queer.” To millions of Americans, these are beloved family and friends who are being treated with contempt by many churches.

The tragedy of this situation is that Americans overall are moving rapidly toward acceptance. The latest Pew findings:

Seven-in-ten Americans now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with just 24% who say it should be discouraged by society. The share saying homosexuality should be accepted by society is up 7 percentage points in the past year and up 19 points from 11 years ago. 

Many recent books plead for inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians, including A Letter to My Congregation and Changing Our MindWhat we haven’t seen are memoirs of gay and lesbian Christians who have survived the crucible of religious bigotry—and have actually found their way back into a vibrant faith.

That’s the true wonder you will discover in reading Erin’s astonishingly compassionate book. As a young adult she was drawn toward Catholic mysticism and the works of Thomas Merton. But, at the same time, she was falling head over heels in love with the woman who eventually would become the mother of her children. From the opening pages of this book, we can tell: A collision is inevitable. Erin faces many struggles—mainly because of clueless men in the church who she consults for help.

However—and please forgive the spoiler here: By the end of this book, Erin is not like the countless men and women who remain so traumatized that they completely abandon religion. That’s an understandable response, given the wounds many queer people suffer at the hands of the so-called religious.

Instead, like a spiritual Rocky, Erin keeps charging along with her long-shot quest until she busts back into a congregation where her family’s spiritual lives can flourish.

‘SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN’ FOR OUR ERA

Erin O. White

Many of our readers are familiar with the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton (1915-1968). I told Erin in our interview: “I’m going to point out to our readers that you were inspired in your journey by Merton’s classic, The Seven Storey Mountain. We should remember that book also was startling and unique when it debuted in 1948. It was a sensation with spiritually restless post-WWII adults. Merton was a promising young man who dared to leave his secular life for the Trappists. And, now, 70 years later, I think you’ve just written a Seven Storey Mountain for our era. I can see the connection and the contrast, as well. Merton hero’s journey broke inward to the deepest of traditional religious disciplines. Your hero’s journey breaks outward into the inclusive spiritual world where so many of us hope to live.”

“I love that analysis of my book. And I see what you’re saying. My book can be seen as an inverse of Merton’s journey,” Erin said.

“Yes, that’s how I read it,” I said. “Merton saw himself as walking away from a world so dysfunctional and violent that he describes it on the first page of his book literally as a kind of ‘Hell’—a world of people ‘loving God yet hating Him; born to love Him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers.’ In your story, Erin, it’s the inverse—you found fear and hopelessness inside organized religion. To find hope and spiritual wholeness, Merton needed to break out of the secular world—while you needed to break out of the church, where men were condemning the love of your life.”

“I think you’re right in your reading of my book—I think the problem is all of the gatekeepers, most of whom are men,” Erin said. “But what I want to show in this book is that—it’s also absolutely true that there are lots of queer people who are getting past the gatekeepers and are living big beautiful spiritual lives as queer people.”

“The problem is that we’re not seeing many memoirs of people who find that new life within Christianity,” I said. “You discovered a way that you could do this. You’re still restless, but you’ve carved out a place for you and your family within a congregation. This really is a unique book.”

“You’re right about that,” Erin said. “As I worked on the book and as I talked to people about what I was writing, I learned that memoirs about lesbians and God—they’re very underrepresented in the world. That’s one reason I was glad that my book was accepted as part of the University of Wisconsin Living Out series. It’s such a wonderful series and I was thrilled that my book was accepted as a part of it.”

WHY ARE WE QUEER NOW?

I asked Erin why she chose to describe herself and many of her friends simply as “queer,” avoiding the initials often used to name this diverse community.

“I don’t like acronyms,” Erin said simply. “And all those letters get tangled up on my tongue. I don’t think we should get lost in all those letters. The point is that we are regarded as ‘the other.’ That’s an important stance to acknowledge. We are ‘other’ and there are so many men and women who are ‘other’ for so many reasons.

“So now I simply say and write, ‘queer,’ ” Erin said. “It took me a long time to embrace that word, but now I do—because it’s a way of acknowledging all those people out there who are ‘other.’ ”

I told Erin, in our interview, that I regard her book as “astonishingly compassionate.” I told her, “The first question I had as a reader, after finishing the first section of your book about your treatment at the hands of people you trusted in the church, was: Why isn’t this woman absolutely furious? Why isn’t this book dripping acid at the trauma that was visited on her either intentionally in one crucial case—or unintentionally by other clueless clergy? So, why aren’t you angrier?”

“First, you’re right. For a lot of people there is anger and alienation at the betrayal and condemnation we face,” Erin said. “And I have felt some of that myself. But writing this book wasn’t a time to blame people and to condemn Catholicism itself. I still love the Catholic tradition. I want opportunities to remain open for queer people still finding their way. So, I decided to write this book not as an interrogation of the church—but as a self interrogation.”

“That’s the approach of the Merton memoir, again,” I said. “One person’s true story of a spiritual journey. It’s what’s so compelling about your book, too. There are passages where I simply could not stop reading. The scenes are so vivid, so compelling. I remember that’s how I first read Merton’s book decades ago.”

HONORING OUR FORE-MOTHERS

I told Erin, “One of the passages that I think will melt the hearts of readers comes after you have carried us through this roller coaster pilgrimage of love—and loss—love reborn—and faith reclaimed. It’s near the end of the book. You pause and write about the fore-mothers, we might call them—the women who dared to come out as queer and paid a horrific price. In earlier eras, these women lost their families, their jobs—and some even wound up institutionalized. The violence against these women was tragic.”

“I’m glad you’re pointing that out,” Erin said. “This is an awareness that I came to later in my life after embracing my own lesbian identity. When I think of those courageous women, my heart fills with so much awe and gratitude, because they really lost major parts of their lives because they openly lived out who they truly were. I’m so thankful that some of them were brave enough to step out of the shadows and live their lives in ways that we can see as early models today. They had a vision of a world that was coming—even though many of them knew that they would never actually see that world. And, today, that’s why I feel so strongly about the world in which I want my children to live.”

“So, one final question: What do you hope your prospective readers will find in your book?” I asked.

“I probably have a different hope for queer readers and for heterosexual readers,” Erin said. “If a queer person reads this, I hope they will be inspired and emboldened to go after every bit of the spiritual life they want. I hope they are encouraged and realize that they deserve to find spiritual wholeness—and that there is a place for them if they seek it out.

“Then, for other readers, I hope that they will realize the full humanness of queer people and our great capacity for spirituality—and the potential we can bring for a vibrant life inside the church. The church loses so much when it rejects queer people and their family and friends.”

Care to read more?

GET THE BOOK—You can order Given Up For You from Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

VISIT ERIN—Learn more about her ongoing work at her website www.ErinWhite.net.

VISIT OUR BOOKSTORES—You’ll find lots of books that explore faith and compassion for “the other” in our own ReadTheSpiritBookstore and our new Front Edge Publishing Bookstore.

 

 

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