Marc Lesser’s ‘Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader’ fuses ancient wisdom with cutting-edge business

Marc Lesser author of Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader

“If what we did is woo woo—I want more of that!”
An initially skeptical participant in one of Marc Lesser’s sessions for business leaders—who turned into a supporter after the retreat

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

Marc Lesser is famous for forging a pattern of spiritual practices for daily living that fuses ideas from both the ancient and the newest sources of wisdom. A Zen teacher, his programs and books draw on the tradition of Gautama Buddha that originated centuries before the dawn of Christianity. Then, working on a cutting-edge Google team in 2007, he and Chade-Meng Tan co-created the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI).

Since that launch, both Lesser and Meng have moved on to many other projects based on their vocation of doing good things every day to help change the world. That includes Marc’s blog, which on July 8 told the story of an almost hostile group of executives who had invited him to hold a session at their business retreat. The skeptical men and women expected him to turn around their dysfunctional retreat with a 90-minute session of group reflection.

As he has done countless times over the years, Marc did step up to the challenge. As he walked into the room, this group was so frustrated—they had collectively fired their business facilitator just before Marc’s session.

Yet, despite the odds, Marc managed to reset the group’s attitude in that brief session. How did he do it? As he tells the story, Marc simply opened his toolbox of Zen practices and people responded, despite their skepticism.

Here’s how Marc describes the response he received three days later from one participant:

Three days after the retreat one of the board members, the CEO of a venture capital firm in Washington, D.C., sent me an email: She said she’d felt concerned when she’d heard about my proposed quiet time and was both cautious and curious about meditation practice. She usually strongly resisted anything that smacked of being “New Age,” or as she put it, “woo woo.” She concluded: “If what we did is woo woo—I want more of that!”

California Spiritual Fusion

Marc Lesser’s fourth and newest book is Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader: Lessons from Google and a Zen Monastery Kitchen. Marc has been writing about this idea of combining mindfulness and contemplative practices with business principles since 2005, which is before the launch of Google’s SIYLI. That first book 14 years ago was called, ZBA: Zen of Business Administration—How Zen Practice Can Transform Your Work And Your Life.

In this case, the background of that publication is relevant because this really is a story of California fusion.

Marc was following in the footsteps of pioneering Buddhist teacher Geri Larkin, who had stirred national interest in this idea of combining Buddhist and business principles in her landmark 1999 book, Building a Business the Buddhist Way. That first volume of Geri’s work was published by Celestial Arts, an imprint of Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, California—most famous for producing the mega-best-seller What Color Is Your Parachute. Ten Speed later was bought by Random House, so now it is part of the Big Five group of imprints that dominate publishing. Over the years, Geri went on to publish with several other houses, including another Big Five imprint: HarperOne.

As he aspired to become an author, Marc was picked up by another spiritually minded publishing house with origins in the San Francisco Bay area. New World Library began in Oakland and now is headquartered about 30 miles north of the bay in Novato.

Since 2005, Marc has remained with his original publisher. That has been a smart move for Marc, because the team at New World is steeped in the kind of fusion he is trying to teach. For more than 40 years, New World Library has been devoted to understanding the complex interweaving of spirituality and culture in America. (Curious? Take a quick look at their online booklist.)

Here’s how New World’s Monique Muhlenkamp describes Marc’s new book with spot-on context about this ancient and cutting-edge interweaving. Monique writes:

“In recent years, mindfulness has exploded in popularity, but an individual’s interest in mindfulness does not necessarily translate into them becoming a mindful leader. Understanding mindfulness can be challenging; even more difficult is embodying and regularly practicing it in everyday life. Of course, ancient practices weren’t developed in order to improve business. They are meant to shift our consciousness and way of being in the world. Yet these practices are essential to mindful leadership and to creating the type of supportive organizational culture that allows business and people to thrive. Grounded in the depth and simplicity of his experience of leading a Zen monastery kitchen, Marc Lesser unpacks the richness of these practices and makes them accessible to our daily life.”

DISARMING HUMOR AND HUMILITY

One reason people feel they are instantly connecting with Marc is that he is authentically interested in talking with them—and brings both a disarming humility and a sense of humor to the conversation.

In our interview about his book, I asked about how he has accumulated so much Zen wisdom over the many years—despite all the traveling and working in so many high-stress organizations. I expected that he might answer by talking about his work at Google.

Nope.

“I had the best training while working in the Zen kitchen,” he said. Marc literally worked his way up from serving as dishwasher at the Tassajara Zen monastery. (The great sage Sunryu Suzuki founded Tassajara in 1967, just four years before his death.)

“You learn a lot about life’s basic questions when you’re asking them over a kitchen counter, trying to prepare enough carrots to feed 150 people!” After he ascended various rungs in the hierarchy of cooks, he eventually wound up as head chef.

Maintaining a humble self assessment is a core principle in his book, especially in a chapter titled “Don’t Be an Expert.”

In our interview, Marc explained, “One of the things I appreciate about Zen practice—and especially the Zen tradition in which I was trained—is that, Number 1, it has a sense of humor about itself and, Number 2, it ultimately wants to negate itself,” he said.

“Explain more about that,” I prompted. “Buddhism and Zen in particular are different than other religious traditions in a number of ways. For example, Buddhism isn’t about worshipping a deity. Buddhism is more about what might be called compassionate searching or questioning. So, explain your phrase ‘sense of negation.'”

He said, “That sense of negation is a recognition that Zen, or we might say religion in general, is essentially a place holder for permission to ask questions: What does it mean to be a human being? Why is being human so difficult? Why have greed, hate and delusion been so popular for thousands of years? Why do they remain exceedingly popular today? And what can we learn by asking these questions?

“And we ask: What’s the role of a simple, profound several-thousand-year-old practice like meditation? This is a practice of just stopping and seeing what happens when we bring our full attention to an inquiry of what’s happening with our bodies, our minds and our hearts.

“To me, that’s my core training—and that training has come through the Zen kitchen and also from my pathway in the world.”

‘DON’T BE AN EXPERT’

Evidence of Marc’s authenticity as a writer and teacher is his acknowledgment that he is playing only one part in a long tradition. The “Don’t Be an Expert” chapter ends with an homage to Ram Dass’s landmark Be Here Now in 1971—a unique book that influenced countless lives. Our online magazine has published several interviews with Ram Dass over the years, including this one in 2013.

In other words: In buying a Marc Lesser book, or attending a Marc Lesser event, Marc makes it clear that you’re not encountering some new, trademarked system that he has whipped up in his kitchen. You’re tapping into a timeless line of wisdom.

Marc points out that, when he was only a 19-year-old kid, Ram Dass already was conveying this wisdom to his new generation. Why was the message of Be Here Now so surprising?

“It presented the possibility of finding a meaningful life by going beyond conventional ways of seeing ourselves and the world,” Marc writes in his new book. “I was introduced to the concept of not being an expert, of beginner’s mind, through what Ram Dass called ‘the most exquisite paradox’—as soon as you give it all up, you can have it all. When you relax thinking that you already know, there are many more possibilities. This practice is simply about making a sincere effort to listen without grasping, to respond without reacting, to be wiling to learn from each person and each situation.”

‘THE GREAT CONNECTOR’

In our interview, Marc pointed out that, while his Zen practice draws on several millennia of spiritual wisdom, much of that wisdom is also resurfacing in current research in broad fields such as psychology and sociology and in specific topics such as leadership. The fusion he is encouraging is surfacing naturally in global culture.

“The beautiful thing right now is that more and more research evidence is coming to us showing that a principle like vulnerability is an important quality in all relationships—and is essential for anyone in a leadership or management role,” Marc said in our interview.

“So, I’m not alone in saying that we all need to be a bit more humble, a bit more vulnerable and transparent. That’s emerging in a profound way from the latest research, as well.

“The great connector is that all people really want to find clarity and connection in their lives. People who are dealing with the struggles and opportunities in our world are ready for this message.”

Care to Learn More?

VISIT MARC’s WEBSITE and you can sign up for free email notice of his columns.

You’ll find all four of Marc’s books listed on his Amazon author page.

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Bill and Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann invite all of us to envision the best of community care in ‘Dying Well’

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

Take heed of the eight words on the first page of this memoir: “This book is verily an event of community.”

In one sentence, that’s a great summary of Dying Well: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann—right down to that fourth word evoking the era of Chaucer, “verily.” Nationally known peace activist, theologian and author Bill Wylie-Kellermann is the husband and chronicler of his late wife Jeanie’s robust life as a journalist and social-justice activist, as well as her unique journey toward death. In “verily” on the first page, Bill is signaling to readers that this book is as much about memory as it is about the cutting-edge activism that is so close to the heart of this family.

Dying Well is a profound love story about the two writer-activists who led a tumultuous life at the barricades of many justice issues—and then shared in an equally inspiring, seven-year odyssey toward Jeanie’s home-based death.

Remembering Our Families

This book certainly is all of that—but it also is an invitation for readers to remember. Remember a real love story you’ve known of an impassioned couple who become equally passionate parents. Remember the best of family life. And remember—when the arc of life is closing its path in this tangible world—remember how loving families used to care for the dying and then the mourners in the humble surroundings of home.

“As readers experience our story, many of them are going to remember things about their own families. In our collective memory—in our community memory—we all know a lot more about family life and the eventual process of death and dying than we realize,” Bill Wylie-Kellermann said in an interview about his book. “Talk to your relatives, especially the older people, and you’ll find we are not that far removed from vigils for loved ones that were held in parlors, back before the funeral industry took over most of this process from us. These family-based and community-based stories of caring for the dying, right up through the vigil and funeral—that’s a memory only a generation or two removed from most of us.

“This whole process once was something we all did for ourselves, along with the community. That was true all over the country. These memories are still in our bones. We still can choose to come together as family and community in ways that once were so natural for us. This story isn’t as much about pushing some new agenda as it is remembering the power of community and family.”

Love Jumps Off the Page

“Reading these pages, the love will jump right off the page,” writes their daughter, the writer-activist Lydia Wylie-Kellermann in her Foreword to the book.

“This is indeed a book about my mom, about community, and about dying in a culture of death,” Lydia writes. “But it is also a very real story about the ones who care for the dying—who walk beside in all the ups and downs, laugher and tears, living and dying.”

She sums up her Foreword in these words: “This is a gift you hold in your hands, a love letter, a story. I give thanks for all those who love the dying—some of the most important and courageous work there is. And so often lonely, thankless and long. I hope that within these pages, we all find a bit of your own story and a friend on the journey.”

‘Flashes of Raw Beauty’

One early reviewer, the author Laurel Dykstra, describe the book’s mix of letters, poetry and stories as “flashes of raw beauty and abject brilliance.”

The theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, “Of course all of us are precious in God’s sight. But some of ‘all of us’ stand out because of their freedom, their courage and their tenacity. We call them ‘saints.’ Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann was one such. She embodied gospel passion that led her beyond herself to a rich network of justice and restoration.”

Bonnie Anderson of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, writes, “Jeanie and Bill Wylie-Kellermann created a template for the rooted in love and community, supported by courage and faith. The words seem simple, living them is not.”

The Larger Meaning of Resurrection

The book’s subtitle has caught the eyes of many readers: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann. That’s especially true as they read the first line of the book’s description on Amazon: “A loving memoir about the life, illness, death and resurrection freedom of Christian mother, writer and community activist Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann.”

Bill is nationally known as a theologian who has taught over the years at a number of seminaries. Together, Bill and Jeanie taught an expansive view of the Christian meaning of resurrection.

“Most people may think of resurrection as something that happens after death, and they talk about it only related to terminal moments in life,” Bill said in our interview. “We see resurrection as a way of life, the risks you take in life to pursue the work you need to do. In many ways, resurrection is about freedom to live because you feel a freedom to die. Jesus talks about this so clearly as he calls people to discipleship. Jesus tells his followers: Nobody can take my life; I lay it down freely. That freedom changes everything about our ways of living.

“Jeanie lived that freedom and was able to take all kinds of risks, political and otherwise, that were rooted in her understanding—our understanding together—of what resurrection means.

“I hope that readers of this book will realize that dying well is related to the freedom to die, which includes the struggle to live. I want people to think of her resurrected life not only in the sense of eternity or communal memory—but also in terms of how we can live our lives now in the resurrection.”

A Call to Action

This book should come with a warning label. As a result of reading this book, you’re likely to have new conversations with your own friends and family. Together, you may decide to make some changes, perhaps to do something different with those in your community than you’ve dared to do before. The book is a call to action.

“When we faced Jeanie’s diagnosis, we accepted lots of advice about how to do this from the many people in our community and overall it was very helpful,” Bill said. “All too often, I see people trying to organize caregiving with just one or two people who will try to shoulder the entire burden. That’s a very hard way to do this. Reading this book, I think you’ll come away inspired to reach out and ask a larger circle of people to come together. you need lots of people to lean on in such a journey. Our society isn’t organized in that way. We’re too timid about reaching out and asking others to help.

“For me, this is a proclamation of the Gospel—the good news of Jesus—which I believe is incarnational and multi-faceted. Telling you about Jeanie’s life and death is my way of proclaiming the Gospel and sharing this good news with you and your community.”

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Care to learn more?

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

You can learn more about Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s work at his personal website.

Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is the editor of Geez magazine and the co-curator of RadicalDiscipleship.net.

Then, if you’re interested in the challenges of caregiving—and millions of American families are—then you need to know: We wrote the book on that!

Popular writer and pastoral counselor Benjamin Pratt wrote the book that’s become an inspiring, reassuring and, in some sections, downright funny: Guide for CaregiversKeeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down.

Over the years, Read the Spirit Books and Front Edge Publishing have published a number of books that are useful for small group discussion—or that you could give as gifts to breast cancer survivors and their families.

In a special column for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Front Edge marketing director Susan Stitt wrote about four books we have published, including Ben Pratt’s book, that are helping readers and their families cope with cancer. Her column also highlights two books we publish that help families and friends after a death.

 

 

 

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Henry Brinton: When a story is better than a sermon …

Victorian townhouses along the river in Occoquan, Virginia, home of Harley Camden, protagonist of the novel City of Peace.

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By HENRY BRINTON
Contributing Columnist

About 10 years ago, an imam walked into my office at Fairfax Presbyterian Church with a Christmas present. He was the leader of the nearby Turkish mosque, a man with a big smile and a warm spirit.

Margaret Johnson, a member of the Ezher Bloom Mosque in Chantilly, Virginia, interviews Henry Brinton about the interfaith themes in his novel City of Peace in April 2019.

He and I became friends and went on to lead two clergy trips to Turkey, a country with a rich history of interfaith relations. When the rulers of Spain expelled its Jews in 1492, Turkey welcomed them. And while there have been interfaith conflicts over the years, Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace through much of Turkish history. Back in the US, members of the mosque have helped us to feed the homeless on cold winter nights, and we have celebrated the end of Ramadan together under a tent in our church parking lot.

I often preach about the importance of interfaith cooperation, but I find that sermons have their limits. People naturally push back against sermons—a common expression is, “Don’t preach at me.” And interfaith events can be easily declined by those who don’t want to leave the comfort of their religious traditions.

Now I’m trying a new vehicle for interfaith dialogue: the novel.

Not that this story-telling approach is original to me. Jesus didn’t give lectures on heaven, but taught through parables such as, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground” (Mark 4:26). And Jewish rabbis continued this approach through midrash aggadah, an approach to biblical interpretation that centers on the story or characters of the biblical law.

In line with this tradition, I am delivering a message about the need for deeper interfaith relations, especially in a time of Muslim bans and terrorist threats, through my novel City of Peace. In it, a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden is sent to Occoquan, Virginia. Soon after his arrival, he is asked—as the only clergy in town—to visit a prisoner named Muhammad Bayati, an Iraqi immigrant accused of murdering his daughter.

After introducing himself, Harley tells Muhammad that he has recently lost his own daughter and wife. Looking Muhammad in the eyes to gauge his reaction, he says, “They were killed by terrorists at the Brussels airport.”

Muhammad’s eyes well up, which is not the reaction Harley expects. “I was informed of your loss,” he says. “You have my sympathy.” Harley thanks him but feels a little off balance.

“You may know that the Qur’an says that whoever kills a person unjustly, it is as though he has killed all mankind,” says Muhammad. “I condemn the killers of your wife and daughter.”

The two men go on to talk about justice, God, and even Jesus—a prophet for Muhammad and the messiah for Harley. Then Harley says, “Our Bible says that God is love.”

Muhammad cocks his head slightly and replies, “That is different from our understanding. We have many names for God, but love is not among them.” He knows that “All-Compassionate” is one of the 99 names for God, but so is “The Distressor.” In Islam, none of these attributes of God is identical to God’s essence.

“For Christians, love is at the core of who God is,” explains Harley. “God reveals his love by sending Jesus. And the response we are supposed to make is to love one another.”

“I would agree with that,” says Muhammad. “Loving God does require that we love the people around us.” Harley begins to see that he and Muhammad have much in common, and that he is wrong to be prejudiced against someone with a commitment to love of God and neighbor.

This, then, is a portion of my parable, my midrash aggadah. Church members who have little interest in interfaith relations are attracted to the whodunnit aspect of the story, and are learning about Muslim attitudes through Muhammad, a multidimensional and sympathetic character. Readers identify better with Harley, a flawed and grieving man, than they do with a minister in robes.

But a story is no guarantee of interfaith harmony. When I presented City of Peace to members of the Turkish mosque, one woman complained that I had slighted Islam by saying love was absent from the names it gave God. But after a long discussion between two imams, one said, “On this point, Pastor Brinton is correct.” Whew. I was relieved.

Novels can ignite important conversations about matters of faith and morality, and they can get people talking outside the walls of the church. Such conversations can lead to new visions for our life together, and draw people together around values that are common to diverse faiths and cultures.

I don’t plan on giving up the pulpit, but I am glad to have discovered a less preachy way of preaching.

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Care to learn more?

You’ll enjoy our March cover story about Henry and his new novel.

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More about Henry

HENRY G. BRINTON is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia, and has written on religion and culture for The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Huffington Post.

A frequent speaker at workshops and conferences, he is the author or co-author of books including The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality.—and a new cozy mystery called City of Peace.

Married with two adult children, he enjoys boating on the Potomac River and competing in endurance sports such as marathons.

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This July 4th don’t just honor our military personnel—get to know them

TAKE THE TIME TO GET TO THEM and you will be surprised by the global spectrum of stories you will discover. In this photo, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Linda Beede and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Roger McCune are hanging their mobile banner, signaling the beginning of the medical workday in Ghana. Their work was part of a U.S. Navy outreach program, typical of aid programs found in all branches of the service. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Todd Beveridge.)

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Two US Troops Killed in Afghanistan
a headline from MilitaryTimes, June 26, 2019

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By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist

As America ramps up for its annual Independence Day celebration, I find myself thinking less of bunting, barbecues and fireworks, and more of those whose lives are literally on the line.

At no time since 1974 have fewer Americans been engaged in military service. According to Pew, the number of active-duty military has dropped from 3.5 million in 1968 (draft era) to 1.3 million today. That 1.3 million represents just 0.5 percent of the US population.

The number of veterans is also down dramatically. From 18 percent of the population in 1980, to just 7 percent today.

It’s also arguable that America’s love-affair with the military is at its highest level since World War II. Among the anecdotal evidence:

  • Our ballparks are epicenters of military celebration.
  • Both political parties jockey to paint themselves as the true defenders of the military.
  • The number of young people engaged in war-oriented video games continues to surge.
  • And, any time a service man or woman appears on a live TV show, the hosts always pause to publicly thank them for their service.

Pew researchers explore this subject with a question about trust and confidence. When Americans are asked to rank major institutions they trust, the military tops the list with 80 percent confidence compared with 45 percent who trust business leaders, 40 percent who trust news media and 25 percent who trust elected officials.

A GAP WE CAN BRIDGE ONE FRIENDSHIP AT A TIME

Clearly, we admire those millions of men and women who are serving now—or have served us in the past.

Our challenge nationwide is simply this: There’s a serious disconnect between direct experience with the military, and our support for it. As the numbers of veterans and active-service personnel dwindle—so do our direct ties to family, friends and neighbors. So, our responses to “the military” begin to fall into rote patterns.

This dynamic plays out in America’s churches. Evangelicals wrap themselves in flags and patriotic worship services, while more-progressive Christian communities take a respectful, but at-an-arms-length approach to even talking about the military. Both sides claiming God is behind their position.

As one who takes no part in organized religious practice, and whose son now proudly serves in the United States Marine Corps, my thoughts about much of this are evolving rapidly.

MAKE A JULY 4 RESOLUTION

To mark July 4 this year, I’m asking you to consider a different approach to your celebration. Whether you love the military, or do not; whether you believe in the use of military force, or believe in diplomacy first, last, and in between—set your personal opinions aside and get to know someone who serves, or has previously served.

Ask them about their service.

Ask them about their lives now.

Ask about their families.

Develop a relationship that extends beyond July 4.

I’ve had that honor over the past year, as my son has joined the Marines and I’ve gotten to know some of the young men with whom he serves. Two weeks ago my wife and I were in Jacksonville, North Carolina, visiting my son. We met him and some of his friends at the local mall, where we walked, and talked, and hugged.

I got to hear a bit of their stories. I got to know a young man from St. Louis who is learning to work on heavy equipment. Another who is training to be a mortar man. Another who is training to be a machine gunner.

Now, when I read headlines announcing someone’s death in conflict, I think about these young men and women that I’m just getting to know. Your feelings about the military aside, these service members are first, and above all, human beings. They are not pawns in our culture war. Nor are they there for us to whoop and holler and cheer.

The have hopes, dreams and loves. And for various reasons, they have chosen a risky path to launch their careers.

These are the faces of the people behind the headlines.

They need us—all of us.

As do the families of those who sons and daughters are no longer here to celebrate the 4th.

This week, as you’re planning your favorite barbecue recipe, take a moment to think of someone you can reach out to—and make a personal connection. You’ll honor them best by simply getting to know them.

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Care to read more?


We have published a number of books over the years involving the military.

In 2019, we are proud to launch The Black Knight: An African-American Family’s Journey from West Point—a Life of Duty, Honor and Country.

In the late 1940s, the doors to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were closed to most young African-American men. Finally, President Truman signed an order integrating the Army and a small handful of cadets dared to heed this new call. Clifford Worthy, the great grandson of slaves, was one of the few African-American men of his generation who was accepted and excelled as a Black Knight of the Hudson, a traditional nickname for West Point cadets. Worthy describes his journey to West Point, the many challenges he overcame both in his family and in the U.S. Army, including service in the front lines of Vietnam.

Half of the book is about Col. Worthy’s experiences in the Army, but the other half is about his family life. That deeply moving part of the book includes the Worthy family’s daunting experience of trying to raise a son with intellectual disabilities in an era when most medical experts wanted to lock such children away in institutions.

Earlier, we spent a year working with veterans and active-duty military service men and women through the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters project. Students in that on-going project produce books designed to bust myths and break down stereotypes. We say their books “answer the questions everyone is asking, but no one seems to be answering.”

100 Questions & Answers about Veterans is available through Amazon and all other online bookstores.

Want to know more about the Bias Busters project? Our most recent Cover Story was about their newest guide on the Millennial and Gen X generations.

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Finally, we’ve got answers! 100 Questions and Answers about Millennials and Gen X

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

We all know about Millennials and Gen Xers, right?

To be honest, we should say that we think we sorta, kinda know about these generations that are powerfully reshaping America.

To test the need for this new double-sized, double-cover guidebook by the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters project—I asked a dozen ordinary folks about these huge groups.

I gave them a two-question Pop Quiz.

Q: What’s a Millennial?

Real responses included:

  • “They’re the youngest adults, aren’t they?”
  • “People born around the year 2000.”
  • “People who grew up with the Internet from the time they were babies.”

Q: What’s a Gen Xer?

  • “They’re teenagers now—or kids—or, at least, young. Is that right?”
  • “They’re younger than the Millennials—or we could say the next group after the Millennials.”
  • “They were babies when iPhones were born.”

Answers:

If you answered like these friends I quizzed without warning, then—sorry to say—you failed this Pop Quiz.

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

So what IS a Millennial?

The correct answer from the new MSU Bias Busters book is: “People born from the very early 1980s to the mid 1990s are, by most definitions, Millennials. … The United States has 73 million Millennials. They succeeded Baby Boomers as the largest living generation and will be surpassed by the post-Millennials.”

In case you’re keeping score, that means those three answers I got from ordinary folks about Millennials were wrong with the possible exception of the “grew up with the Internet.” The Internet became a widespread phenomenon in the second half of the 1990s, so that one description is sorta, kinda correct for some Millennials.

What IS a Gen Xer?

In fact, Gen Xers are older, not younger, than the Millennials—so the three answers I quoted above were flat-out wrong. Perhaps you know the right answer and I simply asked a confused bunch of people. Maybe.

To set the record straight, the Bias Busters book defines Gen Xers this way: “Generally people born from the mid 1960s to the late 1970s or early 1980s are called Generation X. … This is a smaller generation than the ones that came before and after. There were an estimated 66 million Gen Xers in the United States in 2015. Then, the Millennials overtook them.”

Maybe you knew a lot more than my friends. Still, that Pop Quiz is humbling for most folks.

But, wait! Is this One or Two Books?

It’s a Millennial book! It’s a Gen X Book! No, it’s two, two, two books in one!

By the way, Baby Boomers and some Gen Xers just recognized that as a play on the old Certs breath mint commercial from the 1960s and 1970s. Millennials?  They probably think there’s a typo in my repetition of the word “two.” That’s how generational differences work.

We all know pop cultural references, right?

In fact, we don’t.

However we say it: There are two books here, bound together as a single volume. The book’s main Amazon page displays the Gen X cover—but this book is bound so that readers can flip it over to discover the second front cover, the Millennial cover.

Readers can start reading from either cover—and they’ll meet in the middle of this “double volume” in the Bias Busters series.

Why Should We Learn about these Generations?

Every day, millions of Americans ask: “Why can’t we get along?”

One major reason is that four distinctly different generations now are working side by side. That’s why community leaders—from employers to educators, health care workers to sales representatives, public safety officers to pastors need a copy of the MSU School of Journalism’s latest guides to cultural competence. This subject touches on so many issues in daily life that the MSU Bias Busters team is publishing in a new format—a double-volume called 100 Questions and Answers About Gen X and 100 Questions and Answers About Millennials.

This volume is useful to a wide range of Americans:

  • Media professionals: How do we reach these folks?
  • In business and marketing: How do they manage and spend money?
  • In the food industry or in organized religion: What do these young adults want?

The list goes on and on, making this new MSU double-volume an essential resource in homes and offices nationwide. These MSU experts are answering in plain language the questions everyone is asking—and no one seems to be answering. Generational thinking is a shortcut to understanding and reaching millions.

This new generations guide is written for those who want authoritative answers about these important generations—providing valuable insights into how we can work together more effectively. This is a starting point for people in business, educators, government, marketing, law enforcement, human resources and journalism who want to get a fast grounding. The guide suggests resources for those who then want greater depth. Each guide has sections on demographics, seismic events, values, technology, pop culture, education, work, money, sex and love, and politics.

Some of the 100 Questions asked and answered

  • Why is Gen X smaller than other generations?
  • How did 9/11 affect Gen X?
  • Where do Gen Xers get news about politics?
  • How do Gen Xers spend their money?
  • What traits are attributed to Millennials?
  • Do Millennials have short attention spans?
  • Do Millennials chafe under authority?
  • What is some Millennial slang?

Care to Learn More from Bias Busters?

Other guides in the series include:

For a complete list, please see www.FrontEdgePublishing.com/bookstore. Or learn more by visiting the Bias Busters homepage at MSU.

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Rozella Haydee White urges us to ‘Love BIG,’ if we hope to heal the world

Rozella Haydee White

Rozella Haydee White. Portrait used by permission of the publisher.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Need a heaping helping of encouragement in these troubled times? That’s what best-selling inspirational author Nadia Bolz-Weber desperately needed one day.

The famously confident Nadia felt so anxious that she was on the verge of “totally losing it”—as Nadia tells this story in the Foreword of Rozella’s new book, Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World.

“My confidence was shot”—so Nadia picked up her phone and rang her friend Rozella Haydee White.

front cover of Love Big by Rozella Haydee White

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

After Nadia had poured out her emotions, Rozella told her friend with conviction, “I get that you’re feeling this way Nadia—but it’s just a feeling. And you know what’s bigger than feelings? Truth. And the truth is that God would not call you and then fail to equip you. I promise that you already have access to everything you need.”

That encouragement transformed a crisis in Nadia’s life. In the Foreword, she concludes: “When Rozella speaks into someone’s life, she draws on a source that is not just her; she draws from the source.”

Our regular readers keep coming back to ReadTheSpirit magazine, week after week, looking for the latest news about books and films that celebrate religious and cultural diversity. So, here’s the real news in this particular story:

Think back about six years—before Nadia’s book Pastrix hit like a bombshell and reverberated across national media. (Need help recalling Nadia’s book? Here’s a link to our 2013 interview with Nadia about that book.) Back then, Nadia was just beginning to attain the popularity that made her a sought-after guest on National Public Radio and even the subject of a profile in The New Yorker. At that time, you could schedule a “group read” of one of Nadia’s books—and you could negotiate an author appearance with relative ease. In 2019? She’s a major celebrity. Such arrangements are more challenging.

Well, right now is the time to buy Rozella’s first book, talk about it in your small group—and book an appearance. As Editor of this magazine, I can confidently recommend her as a speaker because, among other professional talents, Rozella has been inspiring groups coast to coast for years. She is well known among Evangelical Lutherans (ELCA)—a denominational affiliation Nadia and Rozella share. She’s just not a national celebrity—yet.

With Love Big, her profile is rising. It will continue to grow as more and more Americans get a taste of her wise storytelling and inspirational encouragement. As Nadia puts it simply in her Foreword: “Rozella is a world-class encourager.”

‘Love ourselves, so we can share love’

When I interviewed Rozella recently, I asked her to help me summarize her book for readers and she began by reciting a passage from Matthew 22.

One day, Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

And Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Then, Rozella said, “Every Christian knows those words, but we often forget parts of that. One part we forget is at the very end: We have to love ourselves first, so we can share that love with the world. If we ignore that last part—if we don’t love ourselves—then we don’t take seriously what it truly means to love others.

“This book asks: How can we engage with a God who lavishes such love on us? I would tell readers: This book is not about feeling good. This book is about going deeper. I’m asking uncomfortable questions here. You might not have ever discussed some of these questions in your Sunday school class.

“Ultimately, the purpose of loving your neighbor is to bring to bear a fulness of life, an abundance of life, a just and equitable world—so while it sounds simple to talk about love, there’s a whole lot we need to talk about before we understand what that means.”

‘Facing hard truths head-on’

On racial reconciliation, Rozella makes it clear in her opening pages that she’s not talking about simply smiling at each other racial divides and assuming all is well. She writes:

“All too often in conversations about racial justice, people jump immediately to talk of reconciliation. No one wants to directly address the harm that has been done. But true reconciliation requires facing hard truths head-on and giving back what was taken from Black and indigenous people, honoring the labor that built this country and created generational wealth for white Americans. Any other starting point is bullshit and doesn’t honor the very people you want to be in relationship with. As a Black woman I can’t name a time when people of color were in life-giving, reciprocal, and uplifting relationships with our white counterparts. This time has never existed, yet we talk about being reconciled as if there is a former reality that we can recreate.”

Let’s read one of those lines again: “As a Black woman I can’t name a time when people of color were in life-giving, reciprocal, and uplifting relationships with our white counterparts.”

This is a crucial point early in Rozella’s book and begins to explain why she is calling for relationships that are “revolutionary.” She persuasively argues in these pages that there is no earlier golden age in America when relationships were wonderfully reciprocal like the happy families on 1960s TV shows. “Making peace” is not about simply ending current conflicts and letting all of us settle back into comfortable isolation.

In Rozella’s nearly 180 pages, she’s saying: There’s work to be done.

Together.

And it starts with accepting who we are as individuals—with all of our diversity—and then gathering together to start the heavy lifting of creating healthier communities.

We’ve got to ‘recognize the fullness of someone’

Color-blindness should not be our goal, Rozella stressed in our interview. “On the one hand, so many voices have been telling us that we shouldn’t see race or color. Well, I think that’s a disservice to God’s creativity. God’s nature is imprinted in all of humanity, so if we don’t recognize the fullness of someone—their race or their identity or their way of being—that’s a real problem. When you say you don’t see color, you’re saying you don’t recognize the range of God’s creativity.”

To clear up a stereotype, Rozella points out that her family’s African-American, Christian identity runs deep in the Lutheran church. That may surprise a lot of readers. For example, Garrison Keillor would joke on a weekly basis about the lily-white culture of Lutheran churches in the upper Midwest.

“But I’m proof there are exceptions,” Rozella said in our interview. “I’m a third-generation, black, Puerto Rican, African American Lutheran. My grandmother was baptized at a Lutheran church in Harlem. I grew up in this tradition. The Lutheran curch is deeply embedded in my family and my life. My grandmother was an organist. My mother sings in the choir. I grew up attending Lutheran camps and then I went to work in those camps. I interned at the local bishop’s office as a young adult. I went to Lutheran seminary. I worked as a minister of young adults in congregations in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas. Eventually, I served as director of young adult ministries for our denomination out of our Chicago office.”

Confronting ‘the lie about Christianity’

Perhaps concerned that she might be scaring away some readers with her warnings about this book, Rozella also stressed in the interview that she has no interest in attacking readers.

Uncomfortable new questions? Sure! “But, my whole desire in raising such questions is to invite more people into an expansive vision of our faith,” she said. “So, for example, I have no interest in shaming readers about race. That’s not my way of operating. I don’t want to call people out in that way. I don’t want to divide people. My calling is to build bridges. What I want people to realize is that, when they rely on a traditional, limited vision of the world—when they rely on stereotypes—they’re missing the larger story. The God I serve is an expansive, inclusive God. Don’t miss out on that.

“And while some of the stories you find in this book are challenging, the book really is an invitation for people—especially those who have struggled to love themselves as they are—to fall more deeply in love with themselves. That’s how we confront the lie about Christianity that is so present today—the idea that Christianity is all about exclusivity. That lie is peddled in too many places today and it harms too many people.”

In the interview, I asked Rozella about her mentors in this national ministry.

“Well, one person who comes to mind is Howard Thurman,” she said.

“I’ve always been inspired by his life, his writing and his legacy,” I said. “And I’m thrilled to see there are a lot more people rediscovering his work this year.” I told her about the Journey Films documentary Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story that is slowly making its way around the country this summer.

“His Jesus and the Disinherited is one of those books I read over and over again,” she said. She also reads books by Parker Palmer.

“What draws me to their work is the way they speak a truth that withstands the test of time,” she said.

“I think that principle must have been in your mind as you worked on your own book,” I told Rozella. “I’m not saying you’ve achieved the status of Thurman or Palmer, but you’re fearlessly digging deep into your own life and your own sometimes-hard-earned wisdom to address lots of hot-button issues that divide people today.”

“I think of my book as inviting readers to form a relationship with me,” she said. “I know that’s a powerful claim to make. But that’s why I wrote this book. I want readers to come back to this book again and again, because it resonates with the human condition.”

“What do you mean by that phrase—the human condition?” I asked.

“We are broken,” she said simply. “Yet, at the same time, we are seeking love and belonging and connection. I want people to see themselves in my story. I want people to understand that redemption is always possible and that relationships can be what binds us together in life, rather than the friction that divides us.”

She paused a moment, then added, “Loneliness is one of the world’s biggest problems. In everything I do in life, I simply want people to feel less alone.”

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Care to read more?

Get the book. Follow the links above or go right to Amazon here.

Visit her website. There’s a lot more information about Rozella’s work, which includes public appearances and a consulting service, at her home online—RozellaWhite.com

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Marc Bekoff invites us into the amazing world of dogs in Canine Confidential and Unleashing Your Dog

“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer … convey their message to us. We have no such right.”

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Marc Bekoff and a friend.

Marc Bekoff and a friend, in this case a wolf.

The opening quote today is not from Marc Bekoff’s two new books that invite us to explore the inner lives of dogs: Canine Confidential and Unleashing Your Dog. That quote—an impassioned plea for justice on behalf of the animals sharing this planet with us—is from Pope Francis’s major encyclical, Laudato si’.

Readers who first discover writers like Marc Bekoff could mistake them for animal-rights advocates on the vegan fringe. In fact, Marc is a long-time researcher and scientist. Almost by accident, he became a best-selling author by reporting on emerging scientific research—and combining that news with a love of animals shared by millions of us around the world.

Some of his books, like his popular Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, read like news dispatches from the front lines of research. That book features not only his fascinating anecdotes that are fun to read, but also a wealth of links and citations readers can follow to websites, news stories and journals that will provide a wealth of background information.

To be clear: Bekoff is a secular scholar and researcher with little personal interest in religion—but his writings also parallel timeless spiritual wisdom expressed by many spiritual leaders, including Pope Francis. His readers make their own choices. Bekoff is a master teacher. His personal style focuses on explaining and encouraging—not preaching. But many of his readers over the years have connected the breadcrumbs he drops along the way to make their own connections between science and religion.

Evidence of Bekoff’s success in spanning the realms of both peer-reviewed science as well as spiritual reflection is the fact that his first book in this new series about dogs, Canine Confidential, was published by the venerable academic publisher University of Chicago Press. Then, Unleashing Your Dog comes from the creative folks at New World Library who are known for celebrating religious diversity. Clearly, his teaching spans both realms.

What’s in the book? Canine Confidential

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

“Will you help me describe to readers the differences between these two books?” I asked Marc in a recent interview. “They’re likely to start with one—but they may want both as they begin to see how much helpful information you provide.”

“Well, the first thing I would say is: The two books are quite different,” he said. “But there is  overlap. That’s because both books really are about how we can give dogs the best lives possible by understanding more about their world.

“Canine Confidential really is about dog behavior—all kinds of dog behavior. I discuss cognition, what dogs think, emotions and what dogs feel.”

In the Preface, Marc explains that Canine Confidential is his summation of a lifetime of talking with people about their dogs.

“I’ve probably heard every question there is about dogs,” he writes. So, in this book, he tackles a looong list of questions, including:

  • How do you measure a dog’s quality of life?
  • How do you know if a dog is in pain?
  • Should you just say “good dog” for “nothing”?
  • Why do dogs bow, bark, mark, snort and shed?
  • Why do dogs bury bones and other objects and immediately dig them up?
  • Why do dogs try to bury bones on the carpet and act as if they bones are invisible?
  • Do dogs have a sense of self?
  • Why do dogs eat grass?
  • Do dogs like television?

What’s in the book? Unleashing Your Dog

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

“Then, I would describe Unleashing Your Dog as going deeper into ways you can enhance your dog’s life by looking at their senses,” Marc said. Jessica Pierce, who also is a well-known researcher and author on animal behavior, co-authored Unleashing.

“In Canine Confidential, I encourage people to become dog literate—or fluent in dog. Then, in Unleashing Your Dog, we help people understand a lot more about what that means by telling people a lot about dogs’ five senses,” Marc said.

The book is organized into five major sections:

  • Smell, including: Let Dogs Sniff! The Importance of Pee-Mail; Let ‘Em Roll; and Burps, Gas and Doggy Breath.
  • Taste, including: Let Them Eat Pasta; Let the Drool Fly; Help Your Dog Stay Fit and Trim; and Chewing Is Important.
  • Touch, including: Collars and Leashes, the Balance between Control and Freedom; Nurture Your Dog’s Friendships; and Dogs Dig Together Time.
  • Sight, including: Let Dog-Dog Interactions Flow; Tales about Tails; and Dogs Speak with their Ears.
  • Hearing, including: Barks and Growls, the Language of Dogs; Turn Down the Volume; and Be Sensitive to Noise Phobias.

“The more you understand about your dog’s life, the more the relationship is a win-win for all,” Marc said.

“Explain the title,” I said to Marc. “Because you’re not arguing that dogs should never be on a tether. It’s more of a general goal of allowing your dog more freedom, right?”

“Yes, it’s more of a metaphorical reference,” Marc said. “But we do argue in the book that, because dogs have to be tethered to humans for so much of their lives, you should find ways to unleash your dog as much as possible. Let them run free whenever you can. And, don’t constantly shout at them to stop or come back to you, because you think they’re misbehaving. A lot of times, they’re doing things that are very dog appropriate—if we understand why they’re doing these things.”

Bridging the Science and Spiritual Divide

Some Eastern traditions have been preaching compassion for all living things for thousands of years. In Western Christianity, the 12th-century St. Francis of Assisi was a pioneer in reminding Catholics that God intended animals to be our partners in life on earth. Then, the 18th-century founder of Methodism, John Wesley, preached to Protestants that God intends animals to join us in heaven one day—so we had better care for them compassionately in this life. Wesley was a pioneer in the British movement that eventually founded the world’s first society for the compassionate care of animals.

In other words, although he writes as a secular scientist, Bekoff’s invitations to learn more about animals’ lives connect with powerful, centuries-old traditions in the world’s spiritual traditions—as well as the latest in scientific research.

His books are great choices for animal lovers—and make great gifts for animal lovers on your shopping list. What’s more? Although Bekoff writes from a secular point of view, his books are a fascinating choice for reading in classes and small groups that meet in congregations. You could read Bekoff’s book in parallel with a book such as Every Living Thing, which covers a wide range of spiritual teachings about animal care.

In such a small-group setting, readers will discover echoes from both spiritual and scientific communities about our relationships with animals.

One example: Bekoff argues that humans should not regard the world as simply a place where humans are free to manipulate all life for their own benefit. All creatures have rights to pursue life in this world. Bekoff argues on behalf of simple justice and fairness in this world. He asks: Shouldn’t all creatures be allowed to have the best life possible?

Then, if group participants turn to the writings of John Wesley, or other early British Christian leaders who called for compassionate care of animals—they will find these same arguments from a religious perspective.

When asked about the religious traditions that parallel his own ethical arguments, Marc said, “I can only speak as a researcher. That’s my field. But, whatever helps you decide to become more deeply involved in interacting with your dog—I can tell you this: It will bring you and your dog a lot more joy in life.”

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CARE TO READ MORE?

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

GET THE BOOKS. Follow the links above to Marc Bekoff’s two new books about dogs.

VISIT MARC ONLINE. His website is simply http://marcbekoff.com/

‘EVERY LIVING THING’ The Humane Society of the United States produced this inspiring overview of statements about animal care from many different religious groups. The book is available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

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