Biracial Parenting: Thank you Prince Harry and Meghan

By ANNI K. REINKING
Contributing Columnist

ASSOCIATED PRESS—Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have released a photo of their newborn baby’s feet above a field of spring flowers to mark Mother’s Day.

Here’s an Open Letter to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle:

First and foremost—Congratulations! Being a parent is one of the most rewarding, demanding, and overall exhausting experiences. Raising a child, regardless of race, is incredible.

However, as new parents to a biracial child in the world today, a lifetime of questions, experiences, and mind-numbing conversations may be in your future. Questions and conversations focused on skin color, hair, and traditions and culture will just be the beginning of where news articles focus, where headlines will concentrate, and face to face conversations will lead.

Speaking for Parents of Biracial Children …

We—parents of biracial children—are overjoyed to have the royal baby, a biracial baby, be in the spotlight, showing the world that children come in all colors. What matters most? Love. This idea, the importance this baby represents in our world, was also evident in an article by Sarah Gaither in Vox: “Biracial representation is sorely needed in a country with a fraught relationship with mixed-race people.” This is true in both the US and the UK.

When I heard the royal baby was born, the first thing I imagined in my mind’s eye was Meghan’s mother at their wedding months ago. She was unapologetically herself—a black woman supporting her daughter on her wedding day. Now, she is the grandma to the royal baby, a biracial baby in the world of judgmental and sometimes unaccepting individuals.

The British royal family now proudly displays a photo of both grandmothers admiring Archie on Archie’s official website. (Scroll down on the page to find that photo.)

The World Needs Biracial Representation

Visible representation of biracial children is needed in our world, and specifically in the United States. As much as our media documents the royal family, the royal baby is a symbol that reflects one of the fastest growing groups in the United States and the United Kingdom: mixed-race demographics.

So, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle congratulations and thank you. Thank you for being who you are and showing the world: Love is love. When conversations or media begin down the path of racist remarks or marginalization of your family, I urge you to be like Meghan’s mother: Unapologetically yourself in a world of ignorance.

I am fully aware that your experiences may be different than mine or other families who are not in the limelight, but I also understand the importance of this moment worldwide.

Representation matters.

Dialogue matters.

What is my hope? My hope is that the royal baby represents a new generation. A generation where biracial children are not questioned, do not feel marginalized, and become a demographic of individuals that represent love. Will this happen? No one knows. But, hope is hope. Love is love. And skin color is only skin deep. Melanin does not determine your worth, but can influence your experiences.

 

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Care to Read More?

ANNI REINKING is Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Southern Illinois University—Edwardsville. She is the author of the new book Not Just Black and White: A White Mother’s Story of Raising a Black Son in Multiracial America, available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle. You can learn more about Anni’s work—and also inquire about public appearances—at her website.

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I Know Why Abraham and Sarah Laughed: A Papa in My Mid-70s?

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Contributing Columnist

Our Bluebird House (with bluebird).

Our Bluebird House (with bluebird).

I just became a father!

You know I’m in my mid-70s and, earlier this year, I admitted to readers that I was the master caregiver who found myself, instead, receiving lots of care after surgery.

Yet, right now, I’m as proud as a papa can be. In fact, I’ve been reflecting on The Bible’s two accounts of the announcement that old Abraham and Sarah would soon become parents.

They laughed! Here’s the version where Sarah laughs; and here’s the one where Abraham has to cover his face, because he’s laughing so hard.

Abraham and Sarah encountered divine visitors. In my case, I spotted what turned out to be a heavenly little missive in the form of a request for Bluebird Monitors.

‘Bluebird Monitors?’

That’s what I asked about this strange request. As it turns out, these monitors in our community look out for the safety of our bluebird house. When I first volunteered, I naively imagined myself sitting, reading and occasionally looking up to see if any of these exquisite birds were chirping at me.

Oh, was I naive!

As it turns out, I was signing up to become a James Bond of bird espionage, intervening to protect the lives of our most vulnerable feathered friends. At least once a day, and often more frequently than that, I was tasked with looking out for the hovering father and the mother who often appeared just as she was leaving her home.

Soon, I found myself as overjoyed and anxious about our pending births as any expectant father. I was elated. It actually made me laugh!

I thought: So, that’s what tickled old Abraham and Sarah in such a memorable way that their mirthful story was handed down to us over thousands of years. Of course, they sealed their own fate, ensuring the story would never be forgotten. They named their child Isaac, which means “he who laughs.”

Protecting Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows

As a dutiful Monitor, I attended a training session where I learned that this particular corps of bird lovers looks out for the safety of both Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. Concentrated efforts through the establishment of Bluebird trails and provision of Bluebird nesting boxes are responsible for the gradual increase in the population of these endangered gentle birds.

Male Bluebirds are easily identified by their beautiful bright blue backs, head and wings, and their warm red-brown breasts and white bellies. Females are somewhat duller in color, even appearing gray and brown with a faded breast. Tree Swallows have iridescent royal blue backs and stark white breasts, and are slightly larger than bluebirds. They fly in a quick, swooping pattern as they snatch flying insects while bluebirds, on the other hand, eat ground insects—making the combination of these two species very beneficial to the community.

Protecting the Vulnerable

After The Disaster: The four eggs left in our bluebird house.

After The Disaster: The four eggs left in our bluebird house.

At the training session I was taught about the arch enemies of Bluebirds and Tree Swallows. I learned that House Sparrows are vilified as nest robbers, killers, destroyers of the lives and hopes of the prized birds. House Sparrows were vividly described as entering a Bluebird House, putting out the eyes and slitting the throats of Bluebirds. Just last week a Tree Swallow was found decapitated in one of our houses.

House Sparrows are non-native invasive pests and are not protected by law. In 2013 there were 18 bluebird fledglings and 19 tree swallow fledglings in our community. In 2017 there were 2 bluebird and 4 tree swallow fledglings—all due to the sparrow invasions.

Oh, and did I mention snakes? As my training continued, I realized there were predators all around us!

My new job description: I was the James Bond defending the coveted birds from a host of villains.

Just Call Me Bond; Just Call Him Isaac

Fortunately, I have a partner in this project. Liz is a seasoned champion of the prized birds. At first, we were delighted when we saw bluebirds checking out our box. We watched carefully as they came back often and began to build a nest—a remarkable engineering masterpiece with interlaced twigs forming a perfectly shaped cup. It wasn’t long until we discovered one egg and then upon our next examination we found five beautiful blue eggs!

Then, horror of horrors, we found an egg on the ground. Fearfully we opened the door and found the female sitting quietly on the remaining eggs. Of course, we have no idea what happened with the one egg.

Fathers of my age were restricted to waiting rooms, not permitted in the birthing rooms, when our own children were born. Now, half a century later, I was actively participating in a birthing process.

I was excited and hopeful for weeks—then I found myself laughing anew when we discovered our eggs had hatched. We got the news and a snapshot of the baby birds on Saturday May 11—just in time for Mother’s Day.

I have to admit: I’ve already got a pet name for one of those wee ones.

I call him Isaac.

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Isaac and his siblings.

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Care to Read More?

Benjamin Pratt is the author of several books, including Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral CompassIf you click the link to order a copy of the James Bond book from Amazon, you should know: No bluebirds were harmed in the publishing of that book.

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Dinner Churches Put Shared Meals at the Center of Worship and Congregational Life

EDITOR’S NOTE: The most common question our writers have been asked, whenever they make appearances in congregations is, “How can we grow?” Most Americans now are well aware of the nearly 1 in 4 Americans who tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation. Weekly attendance remains popular for millions of Americans, and some congregations are booming—but, overall, weekend attendance is declining.

This week, we are pleased to share some good news about a creative trend.

By HENRY BRINTON
Contributing Columnist

A dinner church in Florida.

This spring, people of faith have been gathering around tables.

In April, Christians had Communion on Maundy Thursday, remembering that Jesus broke bread at the Last Supper and said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Jews had Seders in their homes as a part of Passover, eating symbolic foods as they remembered the Exodus from Egypt. And in May, Muslims are fasting for Ramadan and then breaking their fasts with family members and friends at festive iftars at the end of each day.

In all of these observances, people are practicing their faith by eating at a table.

The Dinner Church Movement

While shared meals have been part of the religious practice of numerous groups for thousands of years, they are being given a new focus in Christianity through the “dinner church” movement—churches that have a shared meal at the center of congregational life.

These communities of faith are discovering the truth of an observation made by Harley Camden, the fictional Methodist minister in my new mystery novel City of Peace, who says, “Think of how much better the world would be if people actually sat down and ate with each other.”

Harley Camden is imaginary, but Methodist dinner churches are not. In the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, a dinner-church initiative called “Fresh Expressions” is gaining ground across the state. With a focus on simple meals and conversations around tables, the conference will launch 55 new dinner churches by September 2019, offering meals in venues ranging from community centers to public school cafeterias to outdoor parks. (Here’s a column from Florida United Methodist Bishop Ken Carter going into more detail about how this program sprang up in his state.)

‘We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship …’

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

“Fresh Expressions” is part of a larger movement that has been studied by Kendall Vanderslice in a book Eerdmans is releasing this week called We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God.

To write the book, she spent a year visiting dinner churches across the country, and discovered that in all of these congregations, relationships deepened as people ate, prayed and talked together. From Saint Lydia’s in Brooklyn to Garden Church in San Pedro, California, she found that dinner churches satisfy two basic human needs: To be nourished by food and to find companionship with one another.

To the book, Vanderslice brought experience in the restaurant industry and expertise as a baker, combined with a study of food at Boston University and theology at Duke University. She discovered:

  • At Potluck Church in Kentucky, every participant brings something to the table, and a former mayor worships alongside people who struggle to pay their monthly rent.
  • In Seattle, Community Dinners are held throughout the city, meals in which feasting with friends is combined with feeding the hungry.
  • When Church in a Pub offers worship in Lansing, Michigan, restaurant servers take orders while the pastor offers Communion.

In all of these congregations, stomachs are filled and Jesus is believed to be present at the table.

A Future of Food and Faith?

Will dinner churches become the new model for churches everywhere?

The model is likely to spread, but dinner-based congregations certainly won’t replace existing churches. Think of this as one of many creative models churchgoers are sharing across the grassroots. Barbara Brown Taylor just closed her new book, Holy Envy, with a vivid description of a congregation that meets in a public park.

In a Christian community torn apart by theological debates, these fresh ideas are opening new doorways to new spaces where the faithful can gather. Dinner-church services offer the possibility that the Body of Christ can be unified through the sharing of bread.

Churches across the country can benefit from gathering people around tables to be nourished in body and spirit, in meals that help people to grow stronger as individuals and as a community.

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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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Martin Davis: ‘Tomorrow, it’s no longer about you. It’s about the people …’

When you look left and right—who do you see? This 1963 photo shows a civil rights march on Washington D.C. (Public domain from the U.S. National Archives.)

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EDITOR’s NOTE—Once a month, veteran journalist Martin Davis contributes a column about the spiritual life of the millions of men and women who have left organized religion. Today, that group amounts to 1 in 4 Americans. We want you to play a role in this national conversation—so, we are trying something new with this column. We are publishing it along with several thoughtful responses from some of our other contributing writers. From all of us at ReadTheSpirit: We invite you to add your own comments—and to share this column with friends.

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By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist

Over the course of a decade, I’ve built a close friendship with a Baptist minister here in Fredericksburg, Virginia. As I’ve walked a path out of organized religion, he has been both supporter and sparring partner. He also asked the one question I’ve struggled most to answer.

Summarized, the question is this: If you reject religion, what becomes your measuring stick for right and wrong?

On one level, the question shouldn’t bother me. Just because one follows a particular faith tradition is no guarantee that your sense of right and wrong will be formed appropriately or used responsibly. I can point to any number of examples, as I’m sure you can, too.

And yet, this question has haunted me, because in the depths of my soul, I had no answer.

Send in the Marines

At Parris Island with our son.

As often happens when I wrestle with complex problems, solutions arise when I least expect them—and in places I’d never expect them. The answer to this troubling question came at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.

I was there in mid-April to attend my son’s graduation from boot camp. (You may want to read my earlier column about my son, called The Letter.).

Sitting in the stands that line Peatross Parade Deck, I listened as the base commander took the microphone and turned to address the graduates. “Today is about you,” he began, “and your accomplishment.”

Then, he said, “Tomorrow, it’s no longer about you. It’s about the people in these stands, and it’s about the Marine to your left and the Marine to your right.”

The words hit me with all the power that the Burning Bush must have struck Moses. The concept of giving your life for a friend, of living for those you don’t even know, is deeply ingrained in many of the world’s major religions. Understanding the depths of this, however, demands more than thought.

Watching my son commit himself to an ideal that demands he put his life on the line for the Marine to his left and right, and for those who stand at home away from imminent danger, gave me a new perspective on loving your neighbor.

At 19 years of age, he has grasped and embraced what it means to stand by the person to your left and your right more than I have at age 56. And more than most of us will ever have to embrace that ideal.

Living for the person to our left and our right. That is a ruler by which any of us would do well to measure our lives.

Too Simplistic?

If you’re less than impressed with my own revelation, I can understand why. “There’s nothing new here,” you might say. And you would be correct.

But allow me to return for just a moment to my Baptist friend.

I went through some horribly dark days a number of years back. And it has always stayed with me that when there was no one else to turn to, he was there—both in body, as well as in material ways.

He was there knowing that I had left his tradition–the one into which I was born. And he know that I had done so precisely because of the core of its teachings. He was there when I cursed, quite literally, the very god that he worshipped. And he was there, again, when our own arguments about politics threatened to tear our friendship apart.

Today, my friend is facing his own dark days. He is on my left, and on my right. And I will be there for him as much as he has been for me. I will do so because at the end of the day, we are the same.

Human. Despite the petty differences that separate us.

There’s nothing easy about any of this: Living for the person on your left and the person on your right.

Because this truth leads us to recognize that the line of people we should care about extends—well, it extends to people we don’t even know.

It’s not hard to understand.

It is incredibly difficult to live.

May we all rise to the task.

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Shoulder-to-shoulder lines of Muslims at prayer in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Nasir Khan Saikat via Wikimedia Commons.

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From David Crumm:
Millions looking right and left

As I read Martin’s column on the eve of Ramadan, which began at sunset on May 5 this year, I naturally thought of the long lines of Muslims gathering for prayer. During the fasting month, many mosques are packed to capacity after sunset for the day’s final prayers and then recitations of the Quran. Then, on the first morning after Ramadan, vast crowds often spill out of mosque doorways into the streets to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr. As a journalist specializing in covering global diversity, I have observed many of these almost overwhelming Eid celebrations.

Most non-Muslims know little about the content of these prayers, except that they involve chanting and repeated bowing. So, it may surprise non-Muslims to know that a proper prayer time (called salah or salat) must end with taslim (or tasleem) in which a person turns to both the right and to the left and says, “Peace and blessings of God be unto you.” For Christians, this might be compared to “passing the peace” in worship. Muslims believe this is an essential part of salah, because each of us must always be concerned with the people around us, as well as our relationship with God.

And to our Muslim readers: Ramadan Mubarak!

David Crumm is the Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine.

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Click the image to enjoy Stephanie’s columns.

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From Stephanie Fenton:
‘Our Future May Depend on It’

Raised in a devout religious denomination, it was as a young adult that I sought a truth beyond the faith I was born into, as Martin did. I could not grasp how others who practiced religions different than mine, lived by moral principles and devoted their deeds to carrying out a “good” life could be shunned for beliefs different than my own. I don’t think that kind of rejection reflects the all-encompassing love that religion teaches.

Several years and prayers later, an answer came: I was to begin the journey of documenting the holidays of world faiths in a weekly column, delving deeper into the tenets of each. Today, after more than a decade, I have come to realize a simple truth: We all see the same God. Whether we see God in a church or a temple, in the natural beauty of the outdoors or in the secular words of an addressee at a Marines ceremony, we share the same need for love—and we must share that love with others, despite our differences in opinions or beliefs.

How is this possible? As I now tell my children: Let’s say that God is water. These people, over here, see the river and call it God; those people, over there, see the pond and call it God; these other people, still, see the ocean and call it God. In truth, they all see God; they just see in different ways. And so, as Martin eloquently outlines in his column, we all must learn to look beyond our differences and to extend ourselves for our neighbors. Our future just may depend on it.

Stephanie Fenton is an editor for Front Edge Publishing and our Holidays & Festivals columnist.

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Harry Emerson Fosdick

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From Benjamin Pratt:
‘Christianity is to be done.’

Martin, you mentioned your own Baptist heritage and your friend, the sacrificial Baptist pastor. Harry Emerson Fosdick, another remarkable Baptist said:

“You say that Jesus gives you peace. Well, sometimes! But oftener, I think, in these days Jesus makes me miserable. His terrific care for people one by one, his indignation against institutions that hurt people one by one, his insistence on testing every social custom and institution by what they do to people one by one—that is no soporific; that is the fountainhead of the most tireless and dependable social devotion this earth will ever know.

“Christianity is primarily to be done. It is not first of all a finished set of propositions to be accepted; it is first of all an unfinished task to be completed. … If Christianity is a finished set of propositions to be believed, it is not costly. But if Christianity is an unfinished task to be completed in this terrific world, and if Christian faith is faith that this is the kind of world where that can be done, we are back again at Calvary.

“ ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’—that is Jesus, calling not for the acceptance of a theory but for the assumption of a task. Nine times out of ten the real conviction of mankind that anything is credible has come not from an abstract argument, but from deeds which showed it to be possible.”

Martin, I believe your son’s commitment to “put his life on the line for the Marine to his left and right,” and your commitment to be there for your good friend embodies what Fosdick would call “Christianity being done.” You, your son, your friend show it is true and possible and credible.

Benjamin Pratt is the author of several books and a regular contributing columnist to ReadTheSpirit magazine.

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Click this image to read the Manchester Journal’s story on Pal Joey.

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From Rabbi Bob Alper:
How Pal Joey Rose to the Task

I love and admire Marty’s description of his son’s commitment to putting his life on the line as a demonstration of loving his neighbor. Yet very few of us can become Marines, and very few of us will find ourselves in a position where we risk our lives to serve and even save others.

So let me tell you about Joey Diaferio, or “Pal Joey” as he was called. He died last week at 88. For the past 18 years, ever since he moved to our small Vermont town to be near his daughter, Pal Joey traversed the downtown area daily, in all kinds of weather, collecting cans and bottles. Joey was a curious sight, wearing colorful clothes. Our weekly paper ran a front page obituary. That story told us something few knew: for 18 years, every single nickel, every single dime received for his bottles and cans Joey donated to the community food cupboard. That’s how Pal Joey loved his neighbor.

As Marty writes, “Living for the person on your left and the person on your right. Living for those you don’t even know.”

Pal Joey, too, in his way, “rose to the task.”

Bob Alper is a rabbi, a standup comedian and the author of several books.
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And now it’s your turn …

Please, add a comment below.

Or, email us with your thoughts at readthespirit@gmail.com.

And, please: Share this column with friends to help spark discussion. Pew Research tells us that the ranks of the “1 in 4 Americans who have no religious affiliation” are growing. This is an important conversation as we build healthy, diverse communities.

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See Dr. David Gushee with CNN’s Don Lemon on Franklin Graham’s attack on LGBTQ Christians

You’ll find the full-size video screen below.

This week, many of our regular readers flooded our offices with emails asking: Where is the video clip of Dr. David Gushee appearing on CNN?

Well, here it is! You can watch the short interview in the video screen below.

CNN’s Don Lemon welcomes Dr. Gushee to comment on Franklin Graham’s attack on presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and describes himself as both gay and Christian.

In the clip, Lemon asks if Dr. Gushee is surprised by Graham’s condemnation.

Gushee answers: “I’m not surprised but I am distressed. What we’re talking about here is attacking a whole group of people at the core place of their faith and, in this case, of their marriage. … It was hurtful and inappropriate and represents some retrograde theology that continues to hurt people.”

Dr. David Gushee on the Dangers of Biblical Literalism

As the interview continues, Dr. Gushee talks about the dangers of biblical literalism: “What we’re talking about here is a long history of selective biblical literalism that takes certain passages—or sentences or strands—of the bible, and severs them from the heart and example of Jesus and ends up using that selective literalism to hurt people. There’s a long history of this from anti-semitism, to grotesque sexism, support for slavery, colonialism, segregation and even the exclusion of divorced people from the church. Right now the main battleground is LGBTQ inclusion.”

Gushee points out that most evangelicals have long-ago abandoned their historic attempts to defend racism and anti-Semitism. Divorced-and-remarried people now are widely welcomed into evangelical churches, which condemned them as unrepentant sinners not too many years ago.

Millions of Americans already have changed their minds and have come to accept LGBTQ inclusion, but, Dr. Gushee says: “Right now, conservative christians are digging in their heels.”

See Dr. David Gushee with CNN’s Don Lemon

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

Care to read more?

Order Dr. Gushee’s book from Amazon right now.

How did Dr. Gushee’s supporters respond?

Dr. Gushee is well aware that anti-gay evangelicals will continue to attack his outspoken appearances to discuss this issue. However, this is a vital issue for millions of American families—the majority of whom now are calling for acceptance, according to Pew Research.

Here is a small sampling of the encouraging messages that immediately flooded into Dr. Gushee’s Facebook page.

  • Susan Fritsch Stitt: Awesome. What a wonderful blessing this book is for our world.
  • Lynn McDonald: That is awesome David! We recommend your book all the time. So well done! Proud to call you our friend.
  • Ron Smith: It is a VERY good book and many thanks. We have used it extensively here in Australia.
  • Holly Lynn Collison: I’m so glad to see this!
  • Patty Thompson: Fantastic book
  • C. John Hildebrand: Reading it right now. Fantastic book.
  • Patty Hutchins: Good news! Hope a huge number of Methodists purchase it.
  • Beckie Carter McCall: Keep. It. Up. You are the thread some of us are holding onto right now.
  • Cheryel Lemley-McRoy: So glad more people are reading it!
  • Cynthia Whitehurst Jarman: I have this book and have read it. Thanks for the reminder – need to get it out and read again!
  • Dianne Buckner Otwell: Yes! A very timely message in your book!
  • Leslie Fitzmorris: That gives me hope!
  • Marcia Martin: I buy it for anyone who will read it!
  • Beckie Carter McCall: Thank you for standing up for our children. Thank you so much for your book. Please please speak out more.
  • Martha Rogers: David is a stand-up for Justice kind of guy! Love him dearly! He’s changed the landscape of the gay issue among evangelicals.
  • Meredith Webster Indermaur: Thank you for saying what needs to be said.
  • Virginia Classick: Thank you, David, for speaking out about the inclusive love of God so shown in the ministry of Jesus.
  • Brian Coogan: Thank you for your honesty and grace in calling our evil. You continue to make a difference.
  • Jim Pope: Thank you, David. We cannot allow Franklin Graham and his ilk to be the voice of Christianity to the world.

 

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Review: Doctor Esperanto and the Language of Hope by Mara Rockliff

Click this image to visit the book’s page on Amazon.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

When I began my studies at the University of Michigan in the early 1970s, many of my friends were longing for some sign of hope that our nation’s current war in Vietnam would end and that our planet would not explode in a Cold War nuclear confrontation. I was studying writing and literature on my way toward a career in journalism when several friends and I stumbled across Esperanto and decided to learn the language.

For more than a year, I studied Esperanto, a language named for the nom de plume of its creator. As I studied, I learned that the man behind the pen name—the multi-talented Dr. Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof—had published his book describing his new language under the name “Dr. Esperanto,” because he was a doctor (an ophthalmologist) and the word Esperanto means “one who hopes.” I was hooked! I even mailed out some Christmas cards to friends and family in Esperanto!

Then, as often happens, my life charged along into other professional pursuits and I stopped my Esperanto studies. What that experience taught me, however, has lasted through my entire life. I learned that good people around the world are continually looking for ways to peacefully communicate with each other. In fact, my career as a journalist has been based on that assumption.

That’s why I was so thrilled when the creative folks at Candlewick Press published a children’s picture book, titled Doctor Esperanto and the Language of Hope, written by Mara Rockliff. She stumbled across the language just like I did—and she turned out to be far more committed than I was. She became fluent and continues to speak to people around the world in that remarkably flexible language.

I try to avoid the phrase “children’s book” in recommending wonderful stories like this one. In this era of graphic novels and multi-media storytelling, this is really a book for all ages. I know lots of adults who would love to receive a copy of this book for their birthday or at the year-end holidays. In fact—hmmm, I’m already making a list myself!

What I share with those friends is an ongoing commitment to celebrating diversity and breaking down global barriers. In fact, this entire online magazine was founded for that purpose. Check out our original 10 Principles of Publishing. If you do, then, you’ll understand my great enthusiasm for this book.

What makes this book so engaging is that Mara begins with Zamenhof’s earliest enthusiasm—as a boy. Millions of kids dream cosmic dreams, as Zamenhof did at an early age. This is a true case in which his boyhood fantasy became a reality. As a parent, I know that’s an exciting story to share with kids. Who knows whether a child you love might be inspired to dream up their own new strategy for encouraging peace?

Illustrator Zosia Dzierzawska vividly brings to life the mix of cultures and religions and languages in the area where Zamenhof was born, which is now part of Poland. Then, the text and illustrations freely range from what might be described as simple charts—to elements from graphic novels. By the time readers finish the book, we are not only entertained—we are given the intriguing impression that this language might not be that hard to learn, today! After all, the author herself learned it not many years ago and continues to use Esperanto.

I also appreciate that a brief-but-well-summarized biography of Zamenhof appears as an appendix, along with recommendations for further reading. Plus, we are given a final, page-length essay by the author, trying to convince us to learn more about this language.

Here’s a sample paragraph from that part of the appendix, titled: Why Esperanto?

One reason is that, compared to other languages, Esperanto is simple and easy to learn. Nouns always end in o. Adjectives end in a. And the prefix mal—turns a word into its opposite. So if you know that amiko means “friend,” then you know that “friendly” must be amika. And malamika means … Can you guess?

Hmmm. Makes me want to pull out my old Esperanto books from the early 1970s and give this language another chance! Thanks so much for the invitation, Mara and Zosia!

Care to read more?

VISIT AMAZON—First, I’m recommending that you buy this enticing new picture book. Then, if you want to explore this language further, Amazon offers a number of books both about and in Esperanto. That includes at least one Esperanto textbook published in early 2019. Simply search for Esperanto at Amazon to find listings for such books, including a few that usually are listed as free for Kindle.

FREE BOOKS in ESPERANTO—The giant database of free out-of-copyright books, Project Gutenberg, offers a number of classics in Esperanto. Here is the first half of Gutenberg’s index of books in Esperanto. (On that page, click the “Next” link to look at the second half.) In particular, you might enjoy some portions of the Bible translated by Zamenhof himself, mainly from Psalms.

CONNECT WITH OTHERS—The World Esperanto Congress continues to organize gatherings.

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In ‘What Blest Genius?’ Andrew McConnell Stott Tells How Our Greatest Writer Was Enshrined in the Heavens

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine

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

Who is the greatest writer in the English-speaking world? William Shakespeare, of course!

In fact, our readers so love The Bard that one of our all-time most-popular columns (published way back in 2007) is called The Bible and the Barda quiz that, over the past 12 years, has challenged thousands of readers to look at 10 famous phrases and discern which came from the Bible and which were penned by Shakespeare.

Down through the centuries, both have been elevated to the status of Holy Writ. In our collective imagination, Shakespeare is virtually Divine.

However—there was a time—many years, in fact—when Shakespeare was all but forgotten. In fact, the handful of theater professionals who tried to keep his plays in production felt they had every right to “improve” on The Bard. They shortened plays. They combined plays. When theater equipment became more elaborate, they introduced special effects like flying witches. In one era, when Shakespeare’s tragedies seemed too somber, they felt free to completely rewrite their final acts. One long-running version of the blood-soaked tragedy of Macbeth was presented with what became a crowd favorite: a happy ending! (For fans of the play, the “happy” version reveals that Macbeth’s one-time friend Banquo is not dead, after all, and Banquo returns at the end for a “happily ever after” scene.)

Now, historian Andrew McConnell Stott brings us the delightful story of the year when daring British entrepreneurs joined forces with Britain’s greatest actor to officially seal Shakespeare’s reputation for all time. After their Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769, a worldwide fascination with his plays arose that eventually evolved into today’s preservation and scholarship of The Bard’s original works.

This is a true story full of all the greed, pride, envy, lust—and also the loftiest purity of passion—that are the highlights of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. This is also a true account of ruthless media professionals flocking to a public spectacle both to the detriment and to the enduring benefit of Shakespeare’s most fervent fans.

Like Freddy Mercury Performing Bohemian Rhapsody at Live Aid

In describing the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford-upon-Avon, the author captures one of the defining moments in the history of public performance—like the watershed appearances of Joe Cocker at Woodstock, or Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, or Freddy Mercury and Queen at Live Aid.

What was the crescendo of the festival in 1769 that forever changed the world’s impression of Shakespeare? You might guess it was a show-stopping performance of one of his plays. But, no! In fact, none of his plays were performed at this jubilee.

Instead, the cultural crescendo of the 1769 festival was something so innovative that it startled the audience—a bit like Mercury’s famously over-the-top performance of Bohemian Rhapsody at Live Aid. In 1769, the festival’s transcendent moment was a long poem delivered by Britain’s most famous actor David Garrick, voiced over a soaring orchestral score. As strange as that may sound, Garrick’s “Ode” was such a huge hit that its repeated performance became the heart of a long-running stage play in London after the festival. People could not get enough of it!

This week, I talked about this book—and the lessons of the 1769 festival—with author Andrew McConnell Stott, who was born and raised in Britain but now is Professor of English at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Stott never mentions contemporary comparisons, like Mercury at Live Aid, in his book—but I did ask him about such parallels to help explain the significance to readers.

“As strange as it may sound,” he replied, “I think you’re right to compare Garrick and his performance of the Ode with something like Queen appearing at Live Aid. That is an appropriate comparison.”

A Life-Changing Performance at a Cultural Pilgrimage

Andrew McConnell Stott

Andrew McConnell Stott

“When people first hear that my book is about a Shakespeare Jubilee, they just assume it must have been like Shakespeare festivals today with lots of different plays,” Andrew continued. “But it wasn’t. In fact, they did not perform a single play. This Jubilee was more like other kinds of modern festivals with lots of events and food and souvenirs for sale and dancing. There was a lot of music at the Jubilee. There were formal orchestral performances. There were dances. There was special music written for the festival. There were even troubadours who strolled through the streets serenading the crowds. On the first night, before the rains began and flooded out some of the later events, people who were there wrote that the setting was absolutely magical.

“I can relate to that myself. When I was still a kid of 17, I remember going to Glastonbury, which is sort of a British Woodstock and that was life-changing for me. This Shakespeare Jubilee was life-changing for lots of the people who attended; and then it later made a huge impression on the thousands of people who read all about it in the newspapers; and then there were all the people who went to see the stage show in London; and, for years, there also was a lively trade in festival souvenirs.”

So, I asked Andrew: “Can you help me explain to readers how this all happened—how it rocketed Shakespeare’s reputation into the stratosphere? The crowds weren’t even going to see his plays! This whole festival was built around a famous actor standing up in the festival’s big theater and reciting a very long and flowery poem, this Ode to Shakespeare, with orchestral accompaniment. It’s hard to appreciate how such a moment touched off Shakespeare mania that’s still thriving today—more than 250 years later. What can you tell our readers about why this long poem was such a sensation?”

“The honest answer is: You had to be there,” Andrew said. “That’s the truth about festivals like Woodstock or Glastonbury or Live Aid. You had to be there. And that’s really the heart of this book: I take readers to the Jubilee. That’s the biggest challenge for a writer: Can we capture and reconstruct for readers a moment that was truly ineffable? Once it’s over and done, even the people who attended the event can’t quite put into words how it affected them.

“This is even more difficult to capture for readers, because the truth is that the language of Garrick’s Ode was a hack job. When you read the text of his Ode on the printed page, you can hardly believe anyone was moved by this.

“What was it that was so memorable? How did David Garrick create this Ode? The problem Garrick faced was that—while he was a great actor, the greatest of his age in Britain—he wasn’t a poet. So, he pasted together a tissue of lines he borrowed from Shakespeare and other sources to create this Ode. Then he and his friends devised this whole Jubilee schedule of entertaining events to attract Londoners to pack up and travel to Stratford.”

“Right,” I said. “I could hardly believe the way they seemed to throw in everything they could think of that might attract a crowd! They put on a biblical operetta that had nothing to do with Shakespeare. They even staged a horse race. And, most of the people had a terrific time, despite the fact that they had a terrible time getting to Stratford and then had horrible accommodations. It reminded me of all those legendary stories about the people who made their way to Woodstock—and then the hard time they had with the overwhelmingly large crowd and the rains.”

“I think that was part of what made the Jubilee so special for people,” Andrew said. “We’ve all heard the stories about people who went through so much to reach Woodstock—it became a pilgrimage. And, the people who made it to the Jubilee also faced all kinds of problems. No one had ever held a big public festival like this to celebrate a writer. This was a ‘first’ and the planners got lots of things wrong.

“But they succeeded in convincing people to make this pilgrimage from London to the Jubilee. And one thing that meant was: When people got to the Jubilee, they were ready to witness something historic. They wanted to see the great Garrick at his greatest—and he did not disappoint them! They were ready for his performance—and he delivered it.”

The Roots of Modern Media Frenzies 250 Years Ago

The 18th-Century Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall features (in the niche on the second story) the statue of Shakespeare that was presented to the town by David Garrick at the 1769 Jubilee.

So, one reason to enjoy Andrew’s new book is to learn about the roots of our fascination with cultural milestones in the memories of Baby Boomers—from Woodstock to Live Aid. Another lesson you’ll learn in this book is that the ravages of modern media frenzies stretch way back more than two centuries to this much earlier era when pamphleteering and newspapering were rampant in Britain.

Some Americans already are aware of those overwhelming forces. For example, millions of Methodists look back to their founder John Wesley and quickly learn that he ran his particular religious revolution through pamphlets. In the years not long after the Shakespeare Jubilee, Wesley announced to the whole world that he opposed slavery—and that he urged compassionate care for animals—through pamphlets he printed and widely distributed. As a result of such media campaigns by Wesley and others, including the ongoing work of William Wilberforce, the British abolitionist movement and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were firmly established.

Andrew’s book does mention John Wesley briefly, but he is not trying to explore those other media-fueled movements. That’s perhaps the subject for another entire book, one day. What Andrew does show us quite vividly was the already rapacious media industry that was in full swing in Britain surrounding the 1769 festival.

One of the most entertaining parts of this media-marketing sub-plot of Andrew’s book is the subject of festival souvenirs. Today, entire lavish volumes have been published for collectors of the memorabilia from our modern stars of stage and screen. What Andrew’s new book shows us is: This certainly isn’t an invention of Baby Boomer culture. The roots of celebrity memorabilia stretch back over many centuries.

The mania for Shakespeare souvenirs was so crazy, after 1769, that speculators soon were churning out fakes. For example, according to a popular story, Shakespeare planted a mulberry tree in his back yard, which was cut down by a later owner of the property.

“Today, the idea of cutting down Shakespeare’s tree would be considered a huge crime, but the owner of the property didn’t like tourists invading his back yard to take little cuttings from that tree. He was within his rights in having it cut down,” Andrew summarized in our interview. “So, that wood gets sold to a local carpenter and everybody moves on with their lives. Then, as Shakespeare’s reputation grows, thanks to the efforts of Garrick and others, people who crave some tangible contact with Shakespeare start to crave bits of mulberry.

“There’s an analogy here to the Catholic obsession with relics and things like these ‘fragments of the true cross’ held in reliquaries in churches around the world. In a similar way, there are more bits of ‘Shakespeare mulberry’ today than you could possibly extract from one tree. The trade in these items became absolutely ridiculous. Garrick himself had a chair made of mulberry. There were mulberry spoons and all sorts of other souvenirs.

“This led to another interesting cultural aspect of the Jubilee. Just like today, almost as fast as the mania spread among Shakespeare fans—detractors were ridiculing the whole idea. The obsessive existed side by side with their detractors.”

As Andrew sums up the tale in his book:

“In many respects, the ability to season the dish and adapt Shakespeare to suit one’s own palate is the lasting impression of the Jubilee. For all its paradox and absurdities, Garrick’s revel on the banks of the Avon established the terms under which Shakespeare has infused our culture through the succeeding centuries, as an enduring ghost, ever present yet insubstantial, the weightiest of cultural authorities understood as much by his name and the associations he invokes as by sustained engagement with his works. As such, the Jubilee is a defining moment in our cultural history, and one that goes to show how, through a confluence of intent, mishap, and grubby self-interest, the most glorious and enduring of myths was made.”

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

Care to read more?

GET THE BOOKIt’s available right now through Amazon.

WE ALSO CAN RECOMMEND Andrew McConnell Stott’s earlier books,
The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature’s Greatest Monsters as well as The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian. In our interview, Andrew points out that the Grimaldi who makes a cameo in his new Shakespeare book is the father of the main character in his 2010 biography. “During his lifetime, Joseph Grimaldi was one of the most famous performers in Britain,” Andrew said. “He was the inventor of the clown figure we know today with white-faced makeup. All white-faced clowns today trace their lineage back to him. He developed a kind of sketch comedy that Americans would be familiar with from the early films of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.”

VISIT THE AUTHOR’S WEBSITETo learn more about Andrew’s work, visit his website.

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