Lucille Sider’s ‘Light Shines in the Darkness’—Real help for abuse survivors from an expert counselor who also is a survivor

Lucille Sider’s new book Light Shines in the Darkness is available in hardcover and paperback and Kindle on Amazon and in hardcover and paperback on Barnes & Noble. Please help us to spark these open discussions in communities nationwide.

 

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Millions of Americans have survived sexual abuse. Millions still are trying to keep their experiences a secret after many years—often paying a steep price for that silence. Clinical psychologist, pastoral counselor and abuse survivor Lucille Sider wants you to know: There is help and hope.

In her timely memoir Light Shines in the Darkness Lucille tells her own story of surviving abuse, finding ways to regain stability from the traumatic effects and pursuing legal remedies against her abuser. What makes this new book uniquely helpful for individuals and small-group discussion is that Lucille then steps back and adds advice from her long career in helping others. Her psychological, spiritual and even her insights about the legal process are invaluable for other survivors.

That’s why Baptist Global News Assistant Editor Jeff Brumley wrote this profile of Lucille and sent it to readers worldwide, headlined: Minister’s healing from sexual abuse intersects #MeToo era in new memoir

‘You don’t escape this with the passage of time’

“I wrote this book because I know how these experiences affect people for the rest of their lives,” Lucille said in an interview about her book. “I don’t believe for a second that the trauma is simply going to recede significantly as time passes. Once, while I was serving as a pastor, I had a 94-year-old woman reveal to me that she was sexually abused as a teenager. She needed counseling and I strongly urged her to get some counseling.

“This trauma can keep affecting our lives over and over again,” Lucille said. “When my abuser finally was put on trial, many years had passed since he abused me, but that passage of time did not matter. At that time, I remember driving down a street near where I lived—which was far from where he was at that point—and I happened to spot this man along the street. From the back, he looked like my abuser. And, I was frozen! I had to work to get myself under control again. I had to think through what I had just seen: Obviously, it wasn’t him standing on the side of the road. I knew that, at that point, my abuser was far away. But I still had that shock without any warning. And, that’s the viciousness of post traumatic stress. Wherever you are, something can trigger the fears again.

“You don’t simply escape this with the passage of time.”

Spiritual Practices Are Key

Lucille has always been a speaker and group leader. More invitations are coming her way, now, with the release of her memoir.

As prospective event organizers ask her about her message for audiences, the first thing she emphasizes is: “I did not write this book to settle scores or just to draw readers’ sympathy to me. I wrote this book to help others—all those people who have suffered abuse and especially those who have remained silent about it.”

Then, Lucille stresses: “Spiritual practices were a major way for me to stay healthy. I’m a professional, of course, but I found that I had to develop my own list of spiritual and mental-health practices that could help me to remain stable. I don’t tell people: I have recovered. I say to people: These are the ways that I remain stable.”

As a veteran psychologist, counselor and pastor, Lucille said in our interview that she is concerned when she hears anyone claim to have a formula for a cure. “I believe my story can help others, which is why I’m telling it in this book, but I don’t say to people that I have the prescription for exactly what they should do.”

In her book, for example, she describes how she reached a point of forgiveness in her life, “but I would never tell someone that their goal should be forgiveness. Forgiveness can happen, but I don’t tell people they must forgive.

“For all of these reasons, I’m concerned when I hear people say they’ve been healed from their trauma or healed from mental-health disorders. For example, I have a friend who lived with bipolar disorder for most of his life and, one day, I got an email from him that said, ‘My doctor says I’m totally healed.’ As I read those words, I almost wept, because I know the next time he goes into a manic state, he will feel doubly hurt for letting down his doctor and his family and himself.”

Finding a Path Toward ‘Stability’

In her teaching, speaking and writing, Lucille emphasizes “stability.”

“That’s the word I use. I compare this somewhat to learning that you’re diabetic. You have this condition—and you know you’ll have it throughout your life—and you learn to manage it either through your behavior and what you eat or through medication. But you don’t expect to be ‘cured’ and not ever have diabetes again. Likewise, the spiritual and mental-health practices that I describe have the goal of ‘stability,’ ” Lucille said.

“There is such a widespread need to learn more about this,” she said. “Almost everyone, if you talk with them honestly, has experienced some kind of abuse in their lifetime. It might be verbal or physical or sexual abuse. It might be spiritual abuse—because some religious leaders or groups can be abusive.

“If I was asked to organize a group in a congregation, I might say to people in my invitation something like this: ‘This is for anyone who knows someone who has been abused.’ I’ve found that many people have wrestled with forms of abuse, over the years, so I would want people to feel welcome with their questions as we began to meet and talk.

“Of course, I can’t go everywhere or meet personally with every group—which is why I wrote this book. I do honestly describe the raw experiences that have been a part of my life. I’m sure many readers will recognize these experiences. They may have had similar experiences. But I’m doing more than simply describing what happened. I step back and interpret what happened from my perspective as a clinical psychologist and sometimes I reflect from my perspective as a clergy person.

“So if you read this book, you will move with me from the narration of what happened to some analysis that I think will be helpful for readers.”

Emphasizing ‘Empathy’

What’s the main outcome Lucille hopes will result from reading her book?

She paused in our interview and then said one word: “Empathy.”

She paused again and then said, “That’s what we really need. We need more people to have empathy for those who have been sexually abused and also for those who have wrestled with mental health issues, especially depression. That’s why I am inviting readers into my story in these pages. I want readers to understand what it feels like to live with the secrets of abuse and also to live with the effects of that trauma, including the mental health issues.

“That’s the one thing I hope in publishing this book: I want to inspire more empathy for men and women like me whose entire lives have been shaped by these challenges.”

Help Us Spread the Word …

EDITOR’s NOTE: Please help with this effort to reach survivors and their families with news of real help. I’ve devoted four decades as a journalist for major newspapers and magazines to reporting on religious and cultural diversity—including news stories about the tragic and secretive cycles of abuse within religious groups. Beyond exposing predators, the goal of this reporting is letting survivors know there is help. In recent years, I realized that congregations needed a solid, helpful book written specifically for churchgoers who struggle with the lingering trauma of abuse either in their own lives, or in the lives of loved ones. Now, we’ve got a very helpful new book! That’s why I encourage our readers to get a copy of this book to read as an individual—or to use in small group or class discussion. This book is widely available in hardcover and paperback and Kindle on Amazon and in hardcover and paperback on Barnes & Noble. You also can order the book directly through Front Edge Publishing’s website in paperback and hardcover. Please help us to spark open discussions in communities nationwide. —David Crumm

Care to Read Praise from Early Readers?

Visit this page in our Front Edge Publishing website to learn more about this book and read some of the comments from early readers.

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Reviewing ‘The Black Knight’—’a memoir of deep integrity … and wisdom’

Former President George H.W. Bush’s casket on the Capitol steps.

“For too many, all of life is divided into spans of time that would have us either rush by or stand still. Reality, however, keeps step with time’s steady cadence. The flow of time produces pleasure, pain, and indifference. Do not become mired in any of these; instead, ride the crest of life’s fullness found in the lessons of each.”
Clifford Worthy

The Black Knight:
An African-American Family’s Journey from West Point—
A Life of Duty, Honor and Country
Clifford Worthy, Author.
Available from Amazon in Paperback and Hardcover and Kindle—and from Barnes & Noble in Paperback and Hardcover and Nook.

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

BOOK REVIEW By BENJAMIN PRATT
Contributing Columnist

Ready! Step!
Ready! Step!

Our nation watched in solemn silence last month as a military honor guard carried President George H. W. Bush’s casket up the Capitol steps. In the background the Marine Corps Band played Fairest Lord Jesus and A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. The cadence set by the commanding officer was haunting, riveting and directive.

Time and again, as I read The Black Knight I was reminded of the command.

Ready! Step!

Clifford Worthy was ready and he stepped into the future, often feeling led by God. Worthy had the courage to step forward into the struggles on which faith and commitment are built. “Ultimately, this book is about daring to walk through doors and face whatever we find there,” says Clifford.

In 1948, President Harry Truman signed his historic order to integrate our Armed Forces. In 1949, Clifford Worthy, the great grandson of slaves, was one of four African-American men to be accepted, then to excel as a Black Knight of the Hudson, the nickname for West Point cadets.

This is a memoir of deep integrity, revealing honesty, and wisdom. From the mid 1960s until early 1970s, I was the founding pastor of a new congregation located between Ft. Belvoir and Quantico in Virginia. Many military families from those bases and the Pentagon were members of our church. Racial turbulence and the stresses of war were endured by nearly every family of our community. In the next phase of my career, 30 years as a pastoral counselor on Capitol Hill and in Northern Virginia, I continued to have close contact with military families who experienced the stresses of deployments and life-threatening duties.

In addition to the typical stresses on a military family, Clifford and Lillian faced the challenges of rearing a special-needs son. The day they received his diagnosis was followed by their deployment to Germany. Clifford wrote to Lillian, “Reality, however, keeps step with time’s steady cadence.”

Clifford Worthy reveals the ways racism impacted his family’s life and also introduces us to the numerous people who welcomed and embraced them without thought of race. He shares the primacy of family and friends throughout his career. He describes vividly the horrors he saw in Vietnam but also the compassion of many service personnel who cared for the native people there.

When did you last open and read a book by a 90 year old man?

Ready! Step!

You’ll be glad you stepped into this story of a family who served this nation with Duty, Honor and Faith!

Ready! Step!

Care to read more?

The Black Knight is available from Amazon in Paperback and Hardcover and Kindle—and from Barnes & Noble in Paperback and Hardcover and Nook.

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Anni Reinking’s ‘Not Just Black and White’—a Hopeful Vision of How Families Can Respond to Racism

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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine

The front cover of Dr. Anni Reinking’s new book is a hopeful vision of how families can respond to the dangerous, daily friction over America’s growing racial diversity. Her title is: Not Just Black and White—A White Mother’s Story of Raising a Black Son in Multiracial America.

Cover artist Sara Kendall illustrated this timely new book with an optimistic image of Anni and her son Ahmad stepping confidently into a new day—as Ahmad cheerfully repaints the whole world around them in a sunny yellow hue.

Ahmad is just one child—but he also is a herald of a whole new America that’s dawning, whether people like this new world or not. There’s a reason NBC’s smash-hit TV series about a multiracial family is called This Is Us. The fact is: Diversity is our future. By 2040, America’s “majority” will be “minorities.”

Still skeptical? Pew Research reports that half a century after the U.S. Supreme Court made interracial marriage legal nationwide, the percent of diverse households has soared from 3 percent to 17 percent of married couples now—and to 18 percent of couples who are living together. Those trend lines continue to rise every year.

And that’s just in the U.S.! In her Foreword to this new book, Italian journalist Elisa Di Benedetto—known around the world for her work in covering migration and diversity—sums up the importance of this new book:

This book is an extraordinary journey towards awareness and learning. Through her reflections as a woman, a mother, a wife and an educator, Anni invites us to formulate a fresh point of view on a society where visible differences are constantly dictating the narrative … Ahmad himself represents the priceless treasure of each human life in this world with its unique blend of cultures, experiences and traditions. As you read this book, you will find that the figure of Ahmad is the key for shifting the black/white paradigm to a black and white model in which diversity is seen as a resource rather than a threat. In a time when millions of people are migrating to other countries, Anni’s family, a multiracial family, can be seen as a vital part of the world’s future.

Elisa is based in Italy, where she reports for European and international publications. In the United States, praise for Anni’s new book has come from Publishers Weekly (PW) magazine, which chose to highlight her book in its roundup of Notable African-American Titles. Here’s how PW describes her book: “Reinking, an academic researcher and mother of a biracial son, recounts her experiences as the white mother of a black child who is striving to understand and prepare him for the world of racial bias and discrimination he will have to navigate.”

No question: This book could not be more timely in this era of friction over diversity! Even before Anni’s book was officially released on January 8, the African-American writer and activist Christine Michel Carter described this book’s importance in the starkest of terms: “By the time you read this book, another black man will be killed by the cops.” Christine Michel’s larger message now is included as a Preface to Anni’s book.

A HUGE STEP ONTO THE WORLD STAGE

Anni Reinking and her son.

This is a huge step onto the world stage for a relatively young writer. However, as Anni explains in a short video (which you can watch at the end of this column), she has been preparing for this moment for years. She is ready to take the risk of wading out into the middle of these swirling international waters of change.

“This whole process really began when I gave birth to my son in 2009,” Anni says. “I started writing blog posts about my own experiences—then I realized those blog posts reached a wide audience.”

Anni’s discovery of the urgency of this discussion for so many Americans continues—even as her book is released.

“I keep learning more as people contact me. Because I am sharing my story in this new book—and connecting that news across social media—a lot of people are finding out about this and contacting me about coming to speak,” Anni says. (Care to learn more about Anni’s schedule as a speaker? Visit her personal website, where you’ll find listings of upcoming events plus a link to contact her.)

“One of those early contacts was from a group that’s part of a movement I didn’t know much about—’transracial adoption groups’—so I started researching this movement,” Anni says. “These are support groups for parents who adopt children of a different race. I had not been aware of these groups because, for a decade, I’ve been focused on explaining to people I meet that, no, I did not adopt my son. He’s my biological son. People meeting us for the first time often assume I adopted him, so I’ve been focused for years on countering that assumption.

“But now, because of this book, I’m learning a lot about these transracial adoption groups. And, it makes sense that there would be this growing number of support groups for transracial adoptions. I agreed to speak to the group in Peoria on January 27.” (Care to learn more? The MeetUp website has one list of such groups, including a few outside the U.S. The American Adoption Congress has a general list of adoption support groups, some of which focus on diversity issues.)

‘DOING EVERYTHING I CAN TO SPARK FRESH DISCUSSIONS’

“So, as a mother, a researcher and an author, I’m always open to learning new things as people connect and talk about this book I’m sending into the world. I’m doing everything I can to spark fresh discussions,” Anni says. Old biases and stereotypes about race still are deeply entrenched in American laws, public institutions, social customs, schools and personal relationships—often with tragic consequences.

“Just within the last year or so we’ve seen a rise in reports of white people calling the cops on black people for simply living in their community,” Anni said. “We all know about the case of the cops being called because two black men were simply sitting in a Starbucks waiting for their friend to arrive. We’ve also had reports about the cops being called because black people are simply standing somewhere in a white community—or gathering to talk with friends on a sidewalk. And, those incidents aren’t even included in the FBI statistics on hate crimes, which are on the rise each year.

“Every American should be concerned about this. It’s certainly troubling for parents raising black sons,” Anni said. “In reading my book, readers can expect to be pushed as I write about these kinds of problems we face every day. My goal is to bring up topics and raise questions that encourage everyone to reach outside their comfort zones. It’s when you start to get into an area of discomfort that you finally can start to grow.”

‘THE TRANSCENDENT POWER OF THIS STORY’

A major strength of Anni’s book is that she teaches and pursues her own research as an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

As an expert in multicultural education, Anni guides readers by presenting important research-based evidence—as well as busting a number of myths. For example, she explains the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which sometimes begins with a racist tendency among many educators—most of whom are not even aware of their bias—to call in police when black students have discipline problems.

In the end, though, the heart of this new book are Anni’s personal experiences and her honest voice, telling true stories from her own life.

“You’ll find funny anecdotes as well as stories of hard times in her family,” Elisa Di Benedetto writes in the Foreword. “That’s the transcendent power of this kind of story. … Anni takes us around the world in her story: from a little church in an American small town to Kenya; from current America to old, yet contemporary, Europe with its past of colonialism and slavery; from her own childhood to the childhood of her son Ahmad. As you travel with Anni through this narrative, you’ll find yourself thinking of your own family, friends and neighbors. Soon, you’ll find that her story spins off into your own reflections.”

That’s exactly the way Anni planned this book.

“I hope that many people discover their own stories are reflected in my book,” Anni says. “After all, this is the story of millions of families. By 2040, minorities will be the majority in America.

“I hope this book reaches many, many people. I hope that people who read it will tell their friends and relatives—and start a discussion about this. I hope book clubs will pick up this book and community groups will recommend this to their members. As Americans, we really need to talk about this. Too many lives are at risk right now. If they start reading and talking with others—people can really make a difference.”

Care to Learn More?

GET THE BOOK—It’s available via Amazon in paperback and Kindle, as well as hardcover. On Barnes & Noble, it’s in hardcover, as well as paperback and in Nook. In our own Front Edge Publishing bookstore, it’s in hardcover as well as paperback.

VISIT ANNI’S WEBSITEHer personal website is full of information about her work and travels.

FOLLOW HER ON SOCIAL MEDIA—Anni is active on Twitter as well as Facebook.

WATCH HER VIDEO—Below you should see a YouTube screen. Anni regularly reaches out in many forms of public media. In this case, she simply wanted to talk to prospective readers as her book reached its release date on January 8. So, enjoy seeing Anni welcome you to her story …

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Master Spiritual Guide Kent Nerburn Lights Up the New Year with an Invitation for Creative Pilgrims

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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Kent Nerburn is known around the world as a spiritual guide.

Throughout 2019, for example, his storytelling will be celebrated by readers across the state of South Dakota, because his classic Neither Wolf nor Dog was chosen as the focus for the 2019 One Book South Dakota statewide reading program. As a part of that big announcement, Kent told his South Dakota audience: “I am humbled to have my unique literary child, Neither Wolf nor Dog, chosen as the One Book South Dakota selection for 2019. A Native elder once counseled me: ‘You should always teach by story, because stories lodge deep in the heart.’ ”

Now, in his new book, Dancing with the Gods: Reflections on Life and Art, Kent offers all of us a guided tour through the challenges and joys of a storytelling life.

“My way of writing has always been an invitation to readers to walk with me through the world. Then, as we walk together, I try to extract what meaning I can from what we encounter,” Kent said in an interview about his new book. “That’s always been my purpose as a writer. I try to show the sacred in the ordinary—but not by standing up on a stage and lecturing about it, no—I always invite readers to be my fellow travelers.

“In this book in particular, I hope that readers will learn from me in this way—as fellow learners. My years of work with Native people really produced this whole approach to writing. Readers might open this new book and think that it’s a departure from my earlier books—but it’s not. I’m trying to describe here the creative life and, to do that, I’ve tried to look at this as the seasons of life. I think that this new book really is a continuation of my path with readers.”

Kent continued, “I’m 72 and I’ve reached the season in life of the elder who takes time to teach others. This book was born because I asked myself: ‘What am I able to teach? What do I know?’ And one thing I certainly know is the world of the arts. I earned a doctorate in theology and the arts. I worked for years with artists in many different genres and disciplines. I spent 20 years as a sculptor and 30 years working as a writer. This is a life’s work I know—this pathway through life—and hopefully I can offer some wisdom, now, to others.”

FAMOUS FOR HIS LETTERS

Kent Nerburn

Thousands of readers have interacted with Kent over the years. Some have attended his talks, readings, classes and other public presentations. (For more information on that, visit Kent’s “Speaking” page on his home website.)

Many others have sent letters to his previous home in Minnesota or now to his residence in Portland, Oregon. His openness in responding to letters from serious readers and writers is well known. (Scroll down to the “Care to Read More?” section at the end of this column for stories about my own brief travels with Kent some years ago, accompanying him in my role as Editor of this online magazine.)

“It takes time, but if someone writes to me in a thoughtful way, I always try to respond,” Kent said in our interview. “I can’t carry on an extended correspondence—but I do make an effort to answer at least a first letter from someone. I feel I owe that to others, because it was the exchange of letters with Norman Mailer many years ago that really helped me through a very difficult time in my life. He took the time to answer me. Now, I feel a responsibility to write to others in that same way.

“In the opening of this new book,” Kent continued, “I describe how these exchanges of letters really expanded into the writing of this new book. One way to think about this book is as a letter to the world, describing what I’ve learned about this life I lead.”

In fact, the opening sentence of his book refers to that exchange of letters. On his first page, Kent writes: “Recently I received a note from a young woman named Jennifer who was questioning her decision to pursue a life in the arts.” That letter from Jennifer “touched me—it mirrored the doubts and yearnings of my own youth.”

Then, Kent shares the letter he sent back to Jennifer. And that includes the story of his own agonizing doubts about a career in the arts while he was a graduate student at Stanford. He sent a letter to the best-selling author and celebrity Norman Mailer, asking for help. Kent was stunned when Mailer actually responded.

Mailer’s advice was the sage wisdom of a veteran writer: To become a writer, you have to start writing! Only by actually writing will you begin to discover the unique voice you can share with the world. As you write, you’re searching, Mailer wrote, for “what you can say that no one else particularly can say.”

‘AN AUTHENTIC HUMAN’

As Kent describes the years-long arc of a life in the creative arts—specifically in writing—he does not shy away from “The Hard Places” and “Secrets.”

“All of us have a public self, a private self and then a secret self,” Kent said. “Hardly anyone ever sees the secret self. But, as a writer, we do try our best to say to people: This is who I am. I have stumbled and made incredible mistakes in my life. I have experienced great joy. As you read my stories, you may not like what I have to say—in fact, you may not like me at all. But, after all these years as a writer, I do hope that what I am saying to the world is truly authentic. I say to readers: Perhaps you can find some help in your own journey from what I have learned. And, that’s really what motivated me as I wrote this book.”

What is so powerful about Kent’s voice—in this book and others—is that he is part of the life-affirming chorus of creative voices that includes such great talents as Robert Frost and Frederick Beuchner. None of these three offer cheap reassurance of any particular outcome in life, certainly no promise of success. All three write about what Kent calls, in his new book, “Dark Nights and Waterless Places.” But all three writers also affirm that our shared stories somehow connect us in a greater spiritual community.

As Beuchner put it, at one point, “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”

At the end of his new book, Kent writes:

“To affirm, to articulate, to console, to inspire—these are the great gifts of the arts. They let the light shine through the confusion of life and remind us that there is something more—a mystery that can only be touched but never understood. But above all, they provide the greatest gift that any experience can offer. They tell us that we are part of the human family.”

Toward the end of our interview, I asked Kent, “What do you hope readers will carry away from your new book, when they finish reading it?”

He paused for a moment, then said, “I want readers to come away from this saying: ‘I guess I can make it through this life, too. I can live as an authentic person even in the face of this whole bramble of life I have to struggle through.’

“Ultimately, this book is saying to readers: You are not alone.”

Care to read more?

WALK WITH KEN, AS WE DID—In 2010, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine, I traveled with my son Benjamin around North America and, for one week, we put ourselves in Kent’s hands in rural Minnesota. We published three of the many stories Kent guided us toward during that visit.

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Following the Star: ‘Surely Some Revelation Is at Hand …’

EDITOR’s NOTEWe are pleased, this week, to publish a column by veteran journalist Martin Davis, a leader of the International Association of Religion Journalists.

As Editor of this magazine, I was wrestling with what we could publish as a Holiday Cover Story spanning Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s. Daily headlines about looming chaos in our world—much of it revolving around the instability in our own nation’s leadership—left me yearning for an honest and hopeful message to share.

Then, without any warning, Martin emailed his first-ever submission to ReadTheSpirit. In his own home office near Washington D.C., he had been wrestling with similar concerns and felt moved to write the following column. 

Martin and I certainly are not alone. This New Year is the Centennial of W.B. Yeats’ most enduring poem: The Second Coming. Written in the wake of World War I’s devastation, Yeats looked clear-eyed into the yawning chasm of darkness in Europe. The lines Yeats wrote are some of the most frequently quoted in all of poetry. While he was painfully honest about the sorrows yet to come—and the apparent complacency of leaders to prevent it—Yeats also leaves us with the same question Martin asks:

What revelation will we chose to recognize in this New Year?

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By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist

It is Christmas at my house, but not in my life.

Our home is garnished with all the signs of the season. A Christmas tree—for the first time, an artificial one—filled with memorable ornaments that mark our family’s life and lore. A Moravian star hangs in our home’s second-floor window, a remnant of my youth in North Carolina where Moravians settled and introduced this German tradition. Red and white lights illuminate our home. Statues of Santa Claus, collected over the decades, stand guard from tables and nooks and display cases.

My life, however, is devoid of any religious connection to the holiday. Attending services on Christmas Eve, ritually awaiting the arrival of a Savior, and the lighting of Advent Candles—these are in my past.

Now, absent any instruments of community spiritual connection, the experience of the season has changed dramatically. Christmas has become a secular holiday for me, as it has for many others. The focus now is family. Consequently, the optimism that marks the religious practice of the holiday has given way to sentimentality.

I am hardly alone in feeling a sense of disconnectedness this holiday season.

Just in time for the holiday news cycles, Pew Research released a summary of its latest Christmas Survey. While 9 out of 10 Americans are celebrating Christmas this year—a widespread level of participation that Pew says “hasn’t budged” in years—Pew found the religious meaning of the holiday continuing to erode for millions of us. The report included:

As long-simmering debates continue over how American society should commemorate the Christmas holiday, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past—even as relatively few Americans are bothered by this trend. … Not only are some of the more religious aspects of Christmas less prominent in the public sphere, but there are signs that they are on the wane in Americans’ private lives and personal beliefs as well. For instance, there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe that biblical elements of the Christmas story—that Jesus was born to a virgin, for example—reflect historical events that actually occurred. 

This isn’t surprising to anyone who has followed national trends over the past decade. While a majority of Americans still say they identify with religious traditions—millions are abandoning organized religion. Nearly a third of Americans tell Pew they now have no religious affiliation. Pollsters have dubbed them “Nones”—and their numbers are growing each year.

‘Surely Some Revelation Is at Hand’

I am not condemning Faith itself. That timeless human yearning is beyond extinction. As a journalist, however, I am peering across a chaotic landscape as W.B. Yeats did a century ago with an awareness that in this apparent spiritual anarchy—something will emerge.

Many of us would love to find our way to a religious community. Just look around. The reality is that few of us have abandoned “Faith.” Were that so, Christmas would have no hold over our communities. We would not cling to the symbols that are laden with religious meaning—trees and tinsels and stars. We would simply move on. That isn’t happening—not yet, anyway.

While the numbers of people attaching themselves to particular faith traditions continues to falter, what hasn’t slowed is the human experience of transcendence. Pollsters now regularly report on “The Rise of Nones.” One of the ironic benefits? Hey, we no longer feel isolated.

At the same time, spirituality is as popular as ever. Social media allows like-minded folks to share their redefinitions of faith and holidays online and to form communities around these ideas. In short, we are supporting one another, even as faith communities create more barriers of entry to their houses of worship.

Since the advent of Facebook in the late 2000s, a friend of mine has told the story of Jesus’ birth each year by daily posting verses from the Gospel of Luke’s Nativity Story. He is not Christian in any orthodox understanding of that tradition. So why partake in this exercise? I’ll let him speak for himself:

In all the troubles of the world, a baby being born transforms everything. As far as religious imagery goes, while I am pretty sure no angels sang at my kid’s births, I am sure I heard them nonetheless…. The hope and promise of this story speak loudly to me and I hope to you too, and that’s all there is to this.

Through my own years of seminary education, graduate training in religion, and reading more volumes of religious history and theology than I care to remember, I don’t believe I’ve ever read a more honest statement about the human experience of transcendence.

And about the wonder of Christmas.

‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.’

Those are Yeats’ lines—the turning-point in the middle of his Second Coming. One-hundred years later, his assessment is still prophetic.

There is no shortage of theories among religious leaders, today, about what drives people away from religious communities. As someone outside a religious community, however, I rarely hear discussed the two issues that have forced me away, as well as many I know who are similarly disaffected by formal religious practice.

One reason will not surprise: Hypocrisy abounds in many communities, and I believe many like myself could deal with this better if churches simply owned it.

The other issue may surprise: Many faith communities have simply lost any appreciation of wonder, or awe. Again, I know I’m not alone. Pew researchers have been writing in recent years about the dramatic rise in the number of Americans who say they “regularly feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe.” Half of Americans now make that claim!

That “deep sense of wonder”? That’s awe—an experience millions of us aren’t finding in most houses of worship. For all the celebration of an “infinite” god, the deity of many Protestant, Catholic, and evangelical communities is stubbornly “finite.” The god that many people are forced to accept in order to join a community of faith is more often defined—formally and informally—by what that God rejects: Homosexuality, abortion—or any understanding of the transcendent that is out of lockstep with accepted dogma.

The dissonance this creates is simply more than many people can bear. Their solution? To leave the church all together. Then, rather than seeing those who’ve left the practice of weekly worship as fellow travelers on a spiritual pilgrimage, far too many religious leaders regard us as “the lost.” We become people who need to “be saved” or “redeemed.” Or simply cast aside.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. We are neither lost nor in need of redemption. To wrestle with transcendence is to recognize that we can, at best, capture one small glimpse of what that transcendence is. It’s all any of us can hope to do.

People who are sensitive to this reality tend to be less interested in answers, and more interested in the types of questions this raises about what it means to be human. And about what it means to experience transcendence.

Reclaiming Awe

Here’s the tragedy in this forced separation: Those of us who are pilgrims outside the walls still have a natural affinity with what houses of worship represent—a place to gather together and enter into sacred space. But not with the strictures religious officials place on what one must do to enter that space.

Is there hope? Yes, if we can agree to some basic principles.

The human quest for the transcendent in universal: Wherever you travel around the world, you’ll encounter people working out their experience of the divine. This reality should lead us to mutual appreciation and interaction; it shouldn’t divide us into warring camps. By making ourselves open to truly hearing what other people experience and how they try to understand that experience, we will come to appreciate one another better as humans. This leads us to the next principle:

Religion is at its core a human endeavor: Even so-called “revealed religions” concede that their understanding of god is defined as much by human culture and history as any direct experience. By embracing this historical reality, we can create common spaces for learning and sharing and growing together.

The Journey is more important than the end story: Surely there are many who will disagree with this. But even among evangelicals who insist that Jesus is the only way, and Muslims who insist that truth is only found inside the Ummah, there is an understanding that faith is a life-long journey. As “outsiders,” we can certainly appreciate people who earnestly travel this path inside one religious tradition. We simply hope that they will appreciate those of us who work out the same journey in a non-exclusivist way.

Following the Star

To those passing my house this season and admiring the star that hangs in our second-floor window, I hope that you can see how much we share with you.

I may not understand the star as a historical reality that led people to a manger, but I can appreciate that it symbolizes the journey we all take to understand our transcendent experiences.

The world is stumbling through a historic transformation right now. As Yeats glimpsed so clearly 100 years ago about the old walls that separate people: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

Like it or not: Something will emerge.

Right now, millions of us are trying to follow a star of hope. We take this journey not alone, but with a moral compass that helps to steer our course.

Right now, we are standing outside your houses of worship asking if there is room for us.

Perhaps in 2019, more people will say “yes” and open doors in true hospitality.

It really is that simple.

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In ‘The Black Knight,’ Clifford Worthy welcomes readers to the courageous adventures of a real-life American knight

Care to Learn More about This Book? You can find The Black Knight right now on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You’ll also find much more information at www.TheBlackKnightBook.comAnd, you can directly order from our publishing house here.

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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

When I first met retired Col. Clifford Worthy, his firm handshake and straight-backed military bearing commanded respect. I could not believe he was 89, as he began to vigorously tell his life story and unfold a thick photo album from his adventures around the world.

The press release about his new memoir, The Black Knight, begins this way:

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.
Rick Forzano, former head coach of the Detroit Lions, praises Worthy’s memoir and his example to all of us. “He has fought his way through virtually every stage in life with his faith in God giving him the necessary strength and courage,” Forzano writes. 

As Col. Worthy and I talked in that first meeting, I was impressed with the title he had chosen for his book. He is literally a Black Knight of the Hudson—a proud West Point alum. Then, of course, there is deeper meaning to the word “Black” in the title. His memoir vividly shows us what it was like to be among those early African-American cadets who emerged after President Harry Truman officially integrated the Army.

What I came to realize—in the year we worked together on editing his manuscript—is that the most powerfully evocative word in the book’s title actually is “Knight.” In a lifetime of journalism, I’ve covered knights and knighthood in a host of contexts around the world—from those who have received royal European honors to the host of knights in popular culture. But I had never met someone who more fully embodied the concept—until I met Col. Worthy.

The artist who designed the book’s cover, Ann Arbor-based Becky Hile, had the same instinctive response when she met Col. Worthy at his home. On that day, Becky had arranged for a series of high-resolution photographs to be taken of Col. Worthy and the memorabilia in his home. Among all of those visual options, Becky realized that the hilt of Col. Worthy’s West Point saber was the perfect image for the book’s front cover.

Certainly, this is an inspiring book to read for its revelations about military history and Black history. This is the story of one African-American family’s progress through the dangerous years of the Jim Crow South and the decades of civil rights progress that finally opened new doors. This book also carries us through life in the military from the post-World War II era into the Cold War and on to Vietnam.

But the real surprise readers will discover in these pages is the story of this “Knight.” Readers will want to keep turning these pages for story after story of Col. Worthy’s many challenges in trying to be a good husband, father and Christian—as well as a dutiful officer in the U.S. Army. As readers complete this memoir, they’re likely to look at that book cover once again—and recognize both the cross shape and a potent symbol of the centuries-long tradition of noble virtue in a classic knight’s quest.

From Firing Big Guns—to the Loving Challenges of Home

Clifford Worthy as a cadet at West Point.

There are plenty of military stories in this book, covering everything from the ferocious power of the big guns Col. Worthy would command on the battlefield—to the Cold War anxieties of serving toe-to-toe with Communist forces across the Iron Curtain. Veterans and those who love military memoirs will enjoy these aspects of the narrative.

But, there’s so much more here! Some of the most touching stories in this memoir are about the challenges of family life—for a military family, for an African-American family and ultimately for a family with a special-needs son.

Just imagine the challenge this young couple faced in trying to raise a special-needs son in an era when medical professionals were cruelly dismissive of the potential of such children! Col. Worthy and his wife had faith that their son could lead a remarkable life, even in the face of these dire medical verdicts. In the end, they were right in their assessment. The value of their son’s life shines through these pages like a beacon.

Col. Worthy encourages readers, over and over again, to remember the wealth of love and support we can find in our families and networks of friends. He is using his life story to urge all of us to reach out in selfless ways, as he has done.

A Rare Window into African-American Family Life

A family reunion in Detroit in the 1940s.

Want a feel for this narrative? Here are the opening lines of Chapter 1—Walking through the Door:

I am not the product of privilege, but I am from solid stock. The values flowing through my ancestral bloodstream are biblically based and, most likely, you will find they are values that flow through your family as well. I was taught that the road to fulfillment in life is paved by the relentless pursuit of excellence and steadfast trust that God will guide us. As you read my story, however, you will also see that opportunities are sometimes thrust upon us unexpectedly. A successful life depends as much on recognizing and embracing important opportunities as it does on our tireless commitment to a chosen course. Sometimes, despite the plans laid out in front of us, our lives take twists and turns that we never could have imagined. If we are open to change, we can allow Providence to guide us.

In the late 1940s, West Point was virtually out of reach for young men of color. In that era, many colleges and universities had racial barriers and offered few options for poor students, whatever their race. But, in those years, America was changing in surprising ways. A new racial openness at West Point was triggered by direct presidential action. I benefitted from crossing paths at just the right time with Congressional Representative John Dingell Sr., who was committed to knocking down unjust barriers wherever he could.

There is that central theme: Wherever our adventures carry us in life—and whatever dire challenges we face—we can draw on the strength of faith, family and friends.

Dingell: ‘We are servants. We are not masters of people.’

John Dingell Jr. is sworn into Congress by House Speaker Sam Rayburn in 1955.

In his Foreword to this book, retired U.S. Rep. John Dingell Jr. writes:

This memoir of retired Col. Cliff Worthy may seem like the story of one family, but it really is the story of many American families. Cliff’s story reminds all of us that—at our best as Americans—we are called to help each other build a stronger, healthier community. America’s great strength is that we come together here—we come together in all of our wonderful diversity, reflecting our families’ origins in places around the world. 

Like Col. Worthy, Dingell Jr. relied on the pillars of family and friends. After Dingell Sr. served in Congress under President Roosevelt’s New Deal Era and was able to send Col. Worthy to West Point—Dingell Sr. passed away while in office. At that point, Dingell Jr. followed in his father’s political footsteps and eventually became the longest-serving member of Congress. In his Foreword, Dingell Jr. writes:

My father, John Dingell Sr.—who played a crucial role in the life of the Worthy family—was a wonderful teacher to all of us. He taught me what it meant to truly be a public servant. As I followed him into Congress, I never forgot what he said: “We are servants. We are not masters of people. We serve—and that is the highest calling of all.” …

Today, as Cliff and I both are in our 90s and have retired from public service, we share our pride in family. We can see those around us continuing in this courageous vocation of service. We need to keep opening doors for other families. If my father had not taken that chance in the 1940s of sending a young African-American student from Detroit to West Point—Cliff would not have had his remarkable career. And, as you will read in this memoir, without Cliff’s life of service, I doubt that we would have his daughter, Kym Worthy, serving as our Wayne County Prosecutor today.

As it was in the past, our country once again is deeply divided. I love this country. Cliff Worthy loves this country. I hope that this memoir will remind you of what it truly means to be an American.

We come together. We serve.

Care to Read More?

You can find The Black Knight right now on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You’ll also find much more information at www.TheBlackKnightBook.com.

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Take a Small Step in Learning about Our Neighbors—and You Can Make a Huge Difference

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

BY JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism

The newest Bias Busters guide is a lesson in how small can be huge.

Bias Busters are cultural competence guides published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

The guides are small—just 100 questions with answers—but the series has become big: 14 guides in just five years. Several have won awards and they are used by universities, businesses and interfaith groups.

But the really big small thing about our latest book, 100 Questions and Answers About Sexual Orientation, is that it was published by just three students. It usually takes a whole class, as many as 20 people, to publish one guide. The three students on this guide—Caitlin Taylor, Alexis Stark and Rebecca Fadler—were in a class that produced the earlier 100 Questions and Answers About Gender Identity. They decided a companion volume was needed—and they were concerned about the delay in publishing the Sexual Orientation volume if they let that project wait until it fit into our regular School of Journalism course schedule.

So, the three created an independent study project and began work immediately.

The guide answers questions including:
• Are bisexual and pansexual the same?
• Are drag queens and kings gay?
• What is conversion therapy?
• Are people born gay?

WHY THIS MATTERS NOW

Pew Research continues to track our changing attitudes as Americans. The latest report by Pew research analyst Anna Brown shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans now tell pollsters that they believe LGBT people and homosexuality in general should be accepted. That’s a dramatic increase over the past decade. In 2006, only half of Americans told pollsters that they favored acceptance.

As a result, Pew found, millions of people now feel comfortable being open about their sexual orientation. More than 10 million Americans now identify as LGBT—up from 8.3 million as recently as 2012.

Bottom line: American acceptance is growing every year—making more and more LGBT people feel safe in letting others know about their orientation.

Right now, questions are buzzing in living rooms, small groups, coffee shops and around water coolers at work.That means: We need accurate answers now!

HELP FROM OUR ALLIES

Click the book’s back cover to see it enlarged.

As our MSU teams prepare each guide, we always invite a nationwide array of blue-ribbon advisors to help us ensure accuracy.

Allies for this guide included Dr. David P. Gushee and Susan Horowitz, who wrote introductory essays for the new book. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 22 books including Changing Our Mind, which has been read by individuals and small groups around the world. Susan Horowitz is editor and publisher of Between The Lines/Pride Source. She founded Pride Publishing, Inc., a graphic arts and publishing company and the publisher of the New York City Pride Guide from 1983 to 1999.

The three student authors echoed the actions of another small group of Michigan State students who advocated for tolerance of gay people almost 50 years ago. In the fall of 1971, they asked the East Lansing City Council for an ordinance banning discrimination in hiring. The following March it passed, 3-2.

That made East Lansing the nation’s first community to enact civil rights protections for gay and lesbian people. Small group, big impact.

TAKING YOUR SMALL (BIG) STEP

You can use these small guides, whether they are about gender identity or sexual orientation or race, ethnicity or culture, to make a big difference, too.

We’d like to suggest that you make a New Year’s resolution to read at least a couple of our MSU guides. You can find them indexed on Amazon and on the Front Edge Publishing website. This effort takes little time. By getting clear, accurate answers to our questions about each other, we can start conversations with neighbors, co-workers or new relatives we wanted to have but were reluctant to try. Perhaps we didn’t want to ask questions that might be harmful. Maybe we felt these were things people just expect us to know.

Now, you can those little conversations. And that is really big!

Joe Grimm is editor of the Bias Busters series and visiting editor in residence in the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

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