PBS’s Landmark Native America Debuts: Exploring the vast civilizations created by America’s First Peoples

Click this image from PBS’s “Native America” to visit the homepage for the series.


Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“At the intersection of modern scholarship and Native knowledge is a new vision of America and the people who built it.”

Read those words again. That’s the single most important line in the introduction to Part 1 of PBS’s new four-part series, Native AmericaWhat public television is trying to do—along with the 100s of people who participated in this production—is redefine the way we think of Native Americans.

What does “redefine” mean? Now in my 60s, I was a high school student in 1970 when Dee Brown published Bury My Heart at Wounded Kneewhich has sold more than 4 million copies and been translated into 17 languages. About that same time, I learned about the burgeoning American Indian Movement (AIM). My childhood vision of Indians, mainly as the enemies in Westerns, was turned on its head. For decades as a journalist, I joined with other reporters in documenting a host of Native American campaigns for justice: reclaiming stolen lands, reclaiming stolen artifacts, preserving languages that our government had tried to erase, revealing the horrific legacy of government boarding schools where Indian children were forced to abandon their family traditions.


For half a century, our vision of Indians has been of a complex network of peoples struggling to overcome genocide and oppression. Our heroes—activists and authors and storytellers and musicians—were on a collective mission to right these wrongs. The lives of men, women and children in Native communities depended on this effort.

Now, half a century after the founding AIM and the spreading of this story of injustice by Bury My Heart, the scholars and Native elders who we meet in this eye-popping new series argue that it is time to cast an entirely new vision of what we think of as the Native American Story.

For many generations, American school children have learned about the geniuses and the technological advances of the ancient world by looking primarily at the Mediterranean basin. Increasingly, textbooks also look to Asia and Africa. What’s been missing is an awareness that great visionaries, philosophers, scholars and inventors lived in the ancient Americas.

In this busy autumn season, you may look at the listings for this series and think: Oh, another documentary about Indians. I’ve seen so many already. Why should I tune in?


The reason: Right now, we’re at a historic turning-point in our collective understanding of Native American cultures. In another 50 years, you and your children may look back and say: “I remember seeing that PBS series back in 2018. That really did open my eyes to the vast riches of Native culture.”

That’s why the four parts of this series are:

Click the image to visit PBS’s interactive map.

From Caves to Cosmos—The first hour explores Native origins, their creation stories and the way people living today continue to connect with these founding cultures.

European and Asian chefs may have originated some of the most popular dishes Americans enjoy today—but they stand on the shoulders of American Indians. Did you know that before Columbus connected the Old and New Worlds, Native peoples in the Americas had domesticated plants that, today, provide 60 percent of the food consumed in the world. Many of these foods were completely unknown outside the Americas until that cataclysmic connection in 1492.

In this first episode, you’ll see that one way Native peoples developed this expertise in agriculture depended on their connection with the disciplines of astronomy and architecture. We visit an amazing city designed collectively so that walls shared by all families served as a daily clock and a seasonal calendar. Farmers understood the optimal cycles for planting and harvesting by simply stepping out of their individual dwellings and observing the sun’s play along the city’s walls.

Then, the filmmakers take us to an even more astonishing series of three mountain ridges. The University of Illinois archaeologist Christopher S. Davis shows us around these ridges and demonstrates how paintings on the rocks turn this geography into an immense almanac. The narrator explains, “Eight thousand years before England’s celebrated Stonehenge, Native Americans painted these cliff faces to transform mountains into a three-dimensional solar calendar. It is the earliest evidence of tracking astronomical events in the Americas.”

Davis adds, “They created a calendar that you can walk through—a pictrographic almanac that encapsulates this landscape.”

These examples begin to sound like some awe-inspiring TED Talk by a cutting-edge green architect today, envisioning how we could transform the landscape to better accommodate weather patterns and natural resources. What we see in this PBS series is that brilliant Native innovators were doing this millennia ago.

Nature to Nations—We continue this story of the advanced Native cultures that built vast cities and elaborate systems of sustainable agriculture. We travel from Peru to Mexico to the Pacific Northwest.

Cities of the Sky—Just how advanced were these builders? These civilizations and the cities they built were capable of stunning public projects. Did you know that you don’t have to travel to Egypt to see the world’s largest pyramids? Some of the most ambitious were built right here in the Americas.

New World Rising—What are we still learning from Native peoples today? The authors of our U.S. Constitution were inspired by America’s first democracy—created by Indian communities. How can we feed the world’s peoples today? Consider that Native peoples carved the Andes mountains into fields that fed millions.


Where do we turn for ancient wisdom that may help our troubled world today? All too often, we simply assume that the great innovators lived around the Mediterranean—or perhaps, we look to Asia. Today, just as African scholars as showing us that their continent also was a seat of timeless wisdom—these Native American peoples are showcasing the gifts their ancestors continue to give our world, today.

As Part 1 of this series tells us: We have barely begun to glimpse the wonders of ancient America! The PBS narrator tells us, “It is another world thriving with 100 million people, connected by elaborate roads, bridges and social networks spanning continents with some of the world’s largest cities, aligned to the heavens. It is the birthplace of some of the greatest civilizations on earth. This is the Americas, more than 500 years ago.”

Tune in! Your vision of Native America may turn upside down.

Care to Learn More?

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

VISIT THE PBS HOME PAGE FOR NATIVE AMERICALots of multi-media resources branch from this homepage. First, you’ll find summaries of all four episodes, plus a handy way to find a channel in your part of the country airing this series. You also can enjoy lots of video clips.

INTERACTIVE MAP—At a glance, you’ll see the Americas, marked by icons you can click to learn more about specific cultures and artifacts.

DANCING MY DREAMHere at ReadTheSpirit, we are proud to publish Dancing My Dream, the memoir of Odawa-Lakotah elder and artist Warren Petoskey.
Like the new PBS series, Warren’s story spans centuries and lights up shadowy corners of American history with important memories of Indian culture and survival. Warren’s family connects with many key episodes in Indian history, including the tragedy of boarding schools that imprisoned thousands of Indian children as well as the traumatic effects of alcohol abuse and bigotry. He writes honestly about the impact of these tragedies, and continually returns to Indian traditions as the deepest healing resources for native peoples. He writes about the wisdom that comes from practices such as fishing, hunting and sharing poetry. This memoir is an essential voice in the chorus of Indian leaders testifying to major chapters of American history largely missing from most narratives of our nation’s past.

100 Questions, 500 Nations … Working with Native peoples, Michigan State University journalists created this guide to the most common questions people ask about American Indians.


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Michigan State University School of Journalism’s newest book is helping to improve police-community relationships

The center photo on our new cover is Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor. Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Michigan State University

Our newest guidebook, 100 Questions and Answers About Police Officers, surprises people.

For one thing, people wonder how police fit into our Bias Busters series of guides that now cover 13 subjects. For another, the guide demonstrates the flexibility of Front Edge Publishing, which seamlessly produced two simultaneous editions.

The subject for this new guide was proposed by Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor, the first person to lead the Michigan State University Police Department’s Inclusion and Anti-Bias Unit. She had long been placing copies of the cultural competence guides, produced in the MSU School of Journalism, in the police department’s lobby. Guides have covered racial and ethnic groups such as Hispanic, Black and Arab Americans, as well as religious groups, such as American Jews and Muslims.

McGlothian-Taylor reasoned that a guide about MSU police was needed, too. She was raising a new idea for our School of Journalism team to consider.

Why This Guide to Police Is So Important

Police do not fit the traditional demographics of race, ethnicity and religion. However, they are the subject of bias, rumor and stereotype that should be explored.

Police also share some characteristics through their training, experience and ethics. They have a shared language, traditions and a common bond. In these ways, police are an occupational culture group similar to veterans, and the Bias Busters series had already covered them.

Here was the challenge in McGlothian-Taylor’s idea: Scale! Veterans number about 20 million, while there are fewer than 100 MSU police officers.

How would it make sense to produce a book about this much smaller group?

These books can be modified for police year you

Enter Front Edge Publishing.

Every local agency, including police, deputies and tribal police, is a subset of the much larger whole. The Front Edge solution was to create a guide about local policing generally—and to simultaneously produce  a custom edition with a section specific to a single agency. The custom guide includes a letter by MSU Police Chief and Director James H. Dunlop and details the department’s mission, goals, history and even local contact information. The cover of that edition carries the department’s logo. This edition is published only for the Michigan State Police Department.

It was a simple matter for Front Edge Publishing to use the main body of the guide, without the MSU-only pages, as the national edition available on Amazon. Both guides went to press at the same time. Now, any department that wants its own custom guide for its community outreach work, can create a guide with its own messaging at a reasonable cost.

There could be countless custom editions of the 100-question guide. Because of Front Edge’s flexibility, these guides also can be updated, when necessary.

Collaboration on Flexible Editions Helped Everyone

Once McGlothian-Taylor and Front Edge Publishing turned our thinking around about how guides could be made, it opened the door to an extensive collaboration that ensured the guides were authentic and accurate. With a whole police department right across the street as partners, the journalism class that creates the guides had McGlothian-Taylor visiting the classroom, trips to the police department, access to police patrol ride-alongs and dozens more allies than we usually get to help check the guide. As it turns out, McGlothian-Taylor and some of her colleagues are very good editors.

The police did not flinch when the students’ reporting led them to questions and answers about controversial, timely subjects such as staffing cutbacks, mental health, use of force, profiling and corruption.

Officers from other departments, journalists and instructors also advised. The guide has extensive new research from the non-partisan Pew Research Center and some from the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. That kind of backup is essential in the guides.

Hard-To-Find Information on Police

The police also produced material that otherwise would have been nearly impossible to get. This included some dynamic videos in which officers explain bike and K-9 units and access to police equipment we could show to answer questions people have about that.

You can see the bike video here:

Coming Soon

Because Front Edge Publishing made small-batch publishing practical, we now have a flexible publishing model that can scale national-level publishing to specific local audiences.

On the press now in the Bias Busters series is a guide about sexual orientation, a companion to the series guide about gender identity. Then, we will publish one about Chaldean Americans, an important group of Iraqi Catholics who have been thrust onto the national stage by extremists, immigration and deportation debates.

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

Care to Read More?

READ THE MSU STORY—If you’d like to learn more about this unique School of Journalism team, you may want to read this MSU story about the new book, headlined: Students Join Forces with Police to Bust Bias.

HOW DOES FRONT EDGE DO IT? The Front Edge Director of Marketing Susan Stitt recently wrote an overview of our unique ability to customize books, a story that includes this new police guide as one of a number of examples. Do you have a publishing idea that could benefit from this kind of flexibility? Please, read Susan’s overview and get in touch with us.


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The Red Scooter: A real-life parable


EDITOR’s NOTE: In his books Guide for Caregivers and Short Stuff from a Tall Guy, Benjamin Pratt writes about the kinds of spiritual practices that help us to thrive as we age. One of those practices is sharing stories that turn our view of the world 180 degrees—from viewing what lies ahead of us with despair to glimpsing hopeful new opportunities. Occasionally, Ben writes real-life parables about these challenges, which we encourage you to share. An earlier parable that has been shared by men and women around the world is Angel in the Dump. As you read today’s story, can you think of another person who would enjoy reading this little story? Then, go on! Share it! There’s a convenient “Print” button at the end.

The Red Scooter

ReadTheSpirit Contributing Columnist

The shiny Red Scooter was the first to grab our attention—the second was the generous smile of the driver.

He glided slowly into the queue of patrons waiting for a table at the restaurant.

My wife Judith exclaimed, “Now that’s a well-polished, glistening, red scooter—I’ve never seen one so beautiful!”

“Don’t you love it?!” The driver replied with gusto, glistening with gratitude as brightly as his scooter.

As we talked, he explained, “I can’t walk any more, I can’t drive any more, but I finally have my childhood dream! I’m in my 80s and I finally have a Red Scooter.”

Suzi, Don’s wife, then joined us in line. Once a table was ready, we were pleased that we could sit together—two couples who had never met but enjoyed a good meal and shared life stories and struggles.

Benjamin Pratt with his new mentor Don. These two friends are ready to roll!

At one point in the lively conversation I turned to Don and said, “I want you to know that from the first moment we met this evening, I realized that you are a new mentor for me. The biggest spiritual challenge for those of us who are aging is how we cope with losses. They keep coming faster and hitting harder! As our bodies begin to fail us, bit by bit, we have to modify our range of motion—and we could let the richness of life slip away, bit by bit, as those limitations pile up. The moment you drove up, one of your limitations was obvious—then you floored me with the guts, good humor and joy that are still loud and clear in your life. What a witness! For that I am very grateful.”

Don appeared a little stunned, then he smiled and said a quiet, “Thank you.”

Now, like a little boy who once tacked up cool photos from magazines of sleek new machines, I’m going to tack up a new photo.

It’s a snapshot of my new friend—my new mentor.

He drives the coolest Red Scooter!


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Three new PBS documentaries explore diversity in America starting with The Greatest Show on Earth

Courtesy of  John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, State Art Museum of Florida, Florida State University.


Don’t Miss These PBS Documentaries


Step right up!

Editor of ReadTheSpirit

Lillian Leitzel is just one of the many fascinating performers you’ll meet in this series. Before her tragic death, she was one of the world’s most famous aerialists.

The Greatest Show on Earth is gone!

No, wait! It’s back with more interest than ever in the sheer diversity a circus represents. Since its release in late 2017, The Greatest Showman already has become the third-highest-grossing movie musical in history. A combination of great music—and a timely celebration of diversity among P.T. Barnum’s remarkable performers—has made the movie and its soundtrack a smash hit that’s likely to keep resonating for years to come.

Now, PBS’s American Experience series is airing a vast, four-hour salute to the history of the American circus—with its main focus on the same P.T. Barnum story showcased in the award-winning movie musical.

Too bad the actual circus closed before these movies opened! On May 21, 2017, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus closed after 146 years with a final performance on Long Island. The New York Times story of that final show began this way:

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The lights went up on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus on Sunday evening to reveal 14 lions and tigers sitting in a circle, surrounding a man in a sparkling suit. It was a sight too implausible to seem real yet such an iconic piece of Americana that it was impossible to believe the show would not go on. After 146 years, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey is closing for good, responding to a prolonged slump in ticket sales that has rendered the business unsustainable. … The circus—with its 500-person crew, 100 animals and mile-long trains, which moved around the trapeze and its artists, the high wire and its tightrope walkers, the motorcycles and the daredevils—had become infeasible in an age in which video games and cellphone screens compete to provide childhood wonder.

Truth be told: The Times story was a bit misleading, as this new PBS documentary shows us. At its peak, the Greatest Show on Earth toured with far more than 1,000 men, women and children in its crew, plus more than 700 horses—and more than 1,000 other animals.

That’s the scope of the truly “Greatest Show” that PBS brings us in The Circus.


The entire first night of The Circus covers P.T. Barnum’s exploits with his traveling circus. Part 1 of the documentary ends with Barnum’s death. Certainly, Barnum’s story is exciting!

However, the real discovery in this documentary are the lives of James Bailey and the five Ringling brothers, who most Americans living today know only as an obscure part of the circus’s name. The truth is that Barnum’s instinct for publicity already is well known, especially after Hugh Jackman played the showman in the 2017 musical. What you will discover in The Circus is that Barnum would not have succeeded without the brilliant strategist James Bailey—followed by the multi-faceted talents of the Ringling brothers.

The Circus points out that Barnum was famous for showcasing strange-looking and, in many cases, disabled men and women as attractions in his sideshow. At one time, activists decried the sideshow as abusive. However, right now, our viewpoints on the treatment of these performers is changing—in part because of the movie’s spin on diversity. The documentary points out that a number of Barnum’s most popular oddities actually saw this as a wonderful opportunity for fame and a successful career. Yes, some of these performers were wounded by taunts from the crowds—but others took it all in stride and thrived.

William Henry Johnson, aka Zip the Pinhead

One of the most famous, included in this film, was the performer known as Zip the Pinhead and also the Dean of Freaks. He performed for more than 60 years, capitalizing on an oddly shaped skull and a fanciful story that he was a “missing link … captured in Africa.” In fact, away from the sideshow, William Henry Johnson had warm relationships with friends and family; he was a vigorous athlete; and he once broke character to save a drowning girl at the Coney Island beach.

The documentary touches on issues of animal welfare, the low pay for most laborers and the many life-threatening dangers of the trade. But the film also stresses that the Ringling Brothers, in particular, were famous for instituting a moral code on the crew. They also brought in Pinkerton security guards to drive away pickpockets and con artists. While the Ringling Brothers failed in other areas of moral judgment—for example, they enforced racial divisions for many years—The Circus argues that this traveling community of circus nomads were mirroring—and often heralding—changes in America’s conscience.

What’s truly remarkable in this history is that the Ringling brothers welcomed the women’s suffrage movement and allowed the women who starred in the circus to publicly advocate for giving women the vote. The film shows that the highly athletic women who headlined the circus took this very seriously and met with other leaders of the suffrage movement.

Fans of American history will find lots of surprises! For example, when electric lighting was first invented, circuses carried these amazing lighting systems nationwide—before any U.S. cities were wired for electricity. The circus turned into a barnstorming campaign for electrification.

The same thing happened when Thomas Edison invented the motion picture. The circus added a “Black Top” where Americans got their first chance to see movies projected on a screen! Once again, the circus turned into a vast campaign for the fledgling movie industry.


Jonathan Lee Iverson

The other inspiring theme that runs throughout the four hours is the spiritual aspirations the circus embodied. Countless American children dreamed of running away with the circus. The performers were close to real-life superheroes showing people the great potential of the human body. Before fantasy novels and fantasy movies were all the rage, the circus was a glorious fantasy world.

Some of the best analysis of this spiritual side of the circus comes from Jonathan Lee Iverson, who was the first African-American Ringmaster in the circus’s history and played that prestigious role from 1999 through the show’s final performance in 2017.

We should expect no less from him. Wikipedia kept a running list of media notices about Iverson:

  • Ebony magazine: “The instant he appears out of the darkness and into the spotlight…the audience is rapt.”
  • The San Francisco Examiner: “Now imagine mesmerizing the crowd with a powerful voice and the bearing of a superstar.”
  • The Times-Picayune: “Tall and self assured…he works a crowd like a three ring evangelist.”

Here’s one of Iverson’s best reflections from The Circus: “A circus is a peek into what could be. It’s about conjuring your own miracles. We come to the circus for—the transcendent.”

So: Step right up! Step right up! Don’t miss it!

Tune your TVs now!

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Why I Wish Mel Gibson’s Sequel Would Be ‘The Compassion of the Christ’

ReadTheSpirit Contributing Columnist

Can you name the film released in 2004 that received three Academy Award nominations? Extremely bloody and violent, it did very well at the box office, grossing over $600 million worldwide. It remains the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history.

Answer: The Passion of the Christ, written and directed by Mel Gibson. The movie portrays the life and death of Jesus, in particular the last 12 hours of his life. The scenes of Jesus being flogged and crucified are presented in graphic detail, and are very hard to watch.

The word “passion” comes from the Latin word passio, which means “suffering.” We sometimes forget this when we speak of romantic passion, or the passion that someone has for a hobby or sports activity. The root of the word passion is suffering, which was made very clear in the Mel Gibson movie about Jesus.

Caviezel and Gibson Are at It Again

Newspaper reports over the past couple of years have said that Gibson is working on a sequel, which will may be called The Resurrection and will focus on the three days between the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Recently, the actor who is playing Jesus for a second time, Jim Caviezel, told USA Today that it “is going to be the biggest film in history. It’s that good.” Some people are calling it The Passion of the Christ 2.

Why Compassion Is Closer to Jesus’s Ministry

The Gospel of Mark tells us that when Jesus encountered a large crowd, “he had compassion for them” (6:34). This verse does not come from the three days between the death and resurrection of Jesus, nor from his last 12 hours. Instead, it comes from a time much earlier, when Jesus was performing his ministry in the region called Galilee. If I were to make a movie about this time period, I would call it The Compassion of the Christ. Not Passion, but Com-passion.

Compassion is such an important word in Scripture, and it doesn’t take long to figure out what it means. Passio means “suffering” and the prefix com means “with.” Put the two together and you get “with suffering” or “suffering with.” Jesus shows compassion towards the people around him, which means that he “suffers with” them.

In the sixth chapter of Mark, Jesus and his disciples are traveling the countryside, casting out demons and curing the sick. They are working so hard that they are not finding time to grab a bite to eat. So Jesus calls the apostles to hop into a boat with him and go away to a deserted place, to enjoy some rest and relaxation.

But the desperately needy people of the region see where Jesus is headed and hurry on ahead of him. When his boat hits ground there is a huge crowd waiting for him. Although he is weary, Jesus isn’t annoyed that his much-deserved day off has been interrupted. He isn’t irritated that these people are unable to help themselves. He isn’t even frustrated that the need all around him is so enormous.

No, Jesus has compassion for them. He “suffers with” them. The Greek word for compassion, splagchnizomai, is even more graphic than the Latin word—it means to be moved by something so strongly that you feel it deep in your stomach, deep in your bowels, deep in your guts. Jesus has a sympathetic awareness of the distress of the people around him, combined with a strong desire to alleviate it. Mark tells us that he has compassion because they are “like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (6:34).

Are We Ready for Jesus’s Compassion?

This raises important questions:

  • Do American Christians feel this same sense of compassion when they hear about immigrant families at the Southern border?
  • When we read about the grieving families of journalists shot to death in Maryland?
  • When we watch television coverage of the people displaced by Hurricane Florence?
  • When we discover how hard it is for low-income residents to live in cities across the country?

I recently learned that the median annual income in Fairfax, Virginia, where I serve as a pastor, is $80,800. If you make that much, you can afford to live in Fairfax. But if you are a minimum-wage worker, you would have to work more than five full-time jobs to earn that amount.

Yes, that’s right: More than five full-time jobs. More than 200 hours of work each week! That’s impossible, of course, since there are only 168 hours in a week. That is why I feel challenged to work to preserve affordable housing in Fairfax, and why the development of housing is a priority in the congregation I serve. Otherwise, minimum-wage workers—men and women who work so hard in our community—are going to have to move away. I think that Jesus has compassion for families who need affordable housing; I think he suffers with them. Because of this, I want followers of Jesus to be moved with pity from the depths of their guts, instead of being merely annoyed, irritated, and frustrated by the problems they see all around them.

Focusing on Compassion Every Day

As Christians, at our best, we try to focus on Christ’s compassion each day. That’s certainly a daunting spiritual challenge for anyone, because Jesus showed how far compassion should extend. We are called to suffer with people—people who are young and old, male and female, black and white, moral and immoral. According to Mark, Jesus helps everyone, without discrimination, and without asking how they managed to get in trouble in the first place.

This point is important, because there are people today who are quick to pass judgment on people who are homeless, poor, or ill with one of the “diseases of poverty”—tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. Mark tells us that wherever Jesus went, “into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed” (6:56). Yes, all who touched it were healed. Jesus healed everyone, without discrimination.

I believe that the very same approach can be taken by anyone today who has a sympathetic awareness of human suffering, and who offers help in a generous and nonjudgmental way. Such people are playing parts in a sequel to the blockbuster that Jesus starred in, The Compassion of the Christ.

Meet 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 five books including The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality.

Married with two adult children, he enjoys boating on the Potomac River and competing in endurance sports such as marathons, triathlons and century bike rides, one of which landed him in the hospital for 11 days.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Jeanine Patten-Coble says, ‘Want to help? Turn your offer upside down!’

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

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Jeanine Patten-Coble, the nationally known author and activist who has helped thousands of families cope with cancer, has some important advice if you want to help a family grappling with cancer: “Want to help? Turn your offer upside down!”

“At this point, everyone is aware of breast cancer,” Jeanine said in an interview this week. “So rather than emphasizing ‘Awareness’ in October, I like to emphasize Breast Cancer Engagement. That’s the real challenge. How do we reach out and help? The main advice I have for friends who want to help is: Don’t sit on the sidelines and wait to be called. Jump into the life of the person who needs your help.

“The most useless thing you can say to someone with cancer is: ‘Call me if you need help.’ If you’re living through a crisis, or if you’re facing a terminal illness, responding to such an offer is very difficult. First, that person who is struggling has to initiate a call back to you. For a lot of people, that’s a huge hurdle. We don’t like to ask for help. We don’t like to bother friends with requests that will take their time in a busy week. Then, even if you’re willing to make the call, you have to find the energy to call. For a lot of people with cancer, that’s another big hurdle. You’re down. You’re struggling. You’re exhausted from treatment. You simply may not have enough energy left to make a call, asking for help.

“So what can you do—if you really want to help? You turn your offer upside down. Don’t say: ‘Call me if you need help.’ Instead you can decide to just jump into that person’s life and start helping. Here’s a good example: You call and say, ‘I’m going to the store this morning. What can I pick up and drop off for you?’ Or here’s another idea: ‘I’m taking my kids to the park this afternoon. What time can I pick up your kids to join us?’

“Think about all the things you and your family do in the course of a week. That other family is struggling to get through each week. Engagement is the key. Simply make them a part of your life.”


Jeanine Patten-Coble

That’s the advice Jeanine took to heart when she survived a dire cancer diagnosis herself, then founded her nationally known nonprofit Little Pink Houses of Hope, a dramatic story she tells in Struck by Hope: The True Story of Answering God’s Call and the Creation of Little Pink Houses of Hope.

Here is how Jeanine begins to describe that process of transformation: “On the absolute worst possible day in my life, the day I dreaded telling my son about my cancer, God showed up. … He knocked me over. If it had been a scene out of a cartoon, it would have been God with a big huge frying pan hitting me over the head, stars swirling around me. God’s calling can be big and powerful moments, faint voices, or small and tender nudges. It can be a voice in the darkness or a trumpet in the light.”

Struggling to overcome her own cancer, Jeanine came up with a brilliant—and very ambitious—idea. She knew, first hand, that families need relief from the daily pressures of treatment, anxiety and weariness. She dreamed of finding locations nationwide where she could partner with property owners and local supporters to offer week-long retreats to families wrestling with cancer.

As readers will learn in her inspiring memoir—Jeanine turned her dream into reality. However, she has faced challenges along the way, including the horrendous weather this year.

In our interview, Jeanine said, “We have been affected by the hurricane, because we’re based in North Carolina. We schedule these retreats in many different places, now, but some locations in this part of the country were affected by the hurricane. We’re proud to say that we contacted all of those families who were planning on those retreats we had to cancel—and we rescheduled them to attend other retreats. When families make these plans, we are committed to making sure they get to a retreat. We can’t disappoint them.”


In 2019, the number of retreats will grow from 16 in 2018 to a total of 21. Most retreats have a capacity of 11 families.

“We’re also going to be launching a new kind of fund-raising campaign in which we invite donors to give $1,008,” Jeanine said. “Look for news about that on our website. That amount is the average cost we have to raise to pay for a family of four to attend a retreat. We always find that the local communities hosting these retreats donate a lot of resources to help us out—but then, there’s this average of $1,008 we have to pay for each family. Giving at that level lets you know, as a donor, that you’re making it possible for one more family to come to a retreat.”

Online applications to attend one of the 2019 retreats will open in November. Jeanine’s team also will be launching a new website around that time, along with news of the new appeal for donations.

Get ready to help someone …

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C.S. Lewis Is Alive and Well! Why an Oxford-Cambridge Professor who Died 55 Years Ago Remains a Best-Selling Author

C.S. Lewis

Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine

Clive Staples Lewis is back!

HarperOne has just released two new C.S. Lewis books that fans of the prolific Christian author should regard as magical wardrobes—literary doorways that open into the world of Lewis’s creative mind and heart.

That strong recommendation may seem surprising. One obvious criticism of How to Pray and How to be a Christian is that Lewis died 55 years ago! How can these be considered new books worthy of consideration? Here’s our answer: In the best literary tradition, HarperOne’s master editor Michael Maudlin curated the content for these new books from the vast body of Lewis’s work. Think of these books as similar to retrospective exhibitions of great artists. If we are fans of such an artist, then we’ve seen the famous works already. What draws us to take a fresh look is the curator’s eye for bringing together both the famous—and the obscure works. In that same way, these two new books can be considered eye-opening Lewis retrospectives. Using a metaphor familiar to Lewis fans, these books are magical wardrobes combining well known and largely unknown wisdom from Lewis.

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

At first glance, Lewis fans may respond by saying: I’ve already got a dozen Lewis books on my shelf, including all seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia. What’s so valuable in these two new books?

Well, take a moment and check your bookshelves: Do you have Christian Reflections; Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis; God in the Dock—Essays on Theology and Ethics; Letters to an American Lady; Letters to Malcolm—Chiefly on Prayer; Poems; Present Concerns—Journalistic Essays; Reflections on the Psalms; The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses; or The World’s Last Night and Other Essays? All of these are key sources for these two new volumes. These 10 fascinating books almost certainly are missing from most home or church libraries. For example, none of these sources are included in the popular eight-volume boxed set: The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics.

These little-known books are the stars of Maudlin’s curated collections. Through these two new collections, we are likely to wind up pursuing new adventures in reading with the beloved Oxford-Cambridge scholar and creator of Narnia.


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

These days, the term “bestseller” has lost any specific meaning. The term can refer to books that are selling well in a small niche on Amazon; it may mean that 10,000 copies have sold in a particular genre; it often means that more than 100,000 copies have been sold overall; and the word can also be shorthand for inclusion on prestigious bestsellers lists, such as the ones in The New York Times. In other words, the term has been cheapened by overuse.

Compared with all those common references, C.S. Lewis is in a higher universe of bestsellers. His Chronicles of Narnia series has sold more than 100 million copies! That’s way up in the stratosphere of worldwide favorites such as Harry Potter, Perry Mason, Nancy Drew, Peter Rabbit, The Hobbit and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Over the past 12 months, 1.8 million copies of C.S. Lewis’s books have sold,” said Judith Curr, the new President and Publisher of the HarperOne, Amistad and Rayo imprints under HarperCollins. Curr talked with ReadTheSpirit in an interview recently. “Of that total, about 1 million were Narnia and Narnia-related books. The rest were Lewis’s other titles. Among those, the most popular is still Mere Christianity, which sells more than 200,000 copies a year.”

Curr was brought in this year from Simon & Schuster to expand the work of all three imprints. HarperOne is best known as the publisher of such bestselling contemporary Christian writers as Marcus Borg, N.T. Wright, Dom Crossan, Rob Bell and Barbara Brown Taylor. In addition to expanding the list of titles at HarperOne, Curr also has been asked to grow the lists at Amistad, a longstanding African-American imprint, and Rayo, a Spanish-language imprint.

In simple terms, C.S. Lewis is a foundation stone at HarperOne. His backlist shores up the publishing house’s bottom line, year after year. As Curr plans to develop her cluster of imprints, she is praying that HarperCollins can bank on more decades of C.S. Lewis’s popularity.


HarperOne’s Michael Maudlin

Among the HarperOne professionals, Maudlin spends the most time as Lewis’s supervising editor. “I’m often asked to explain why Lewis remains so popular half a century after his death,” Maudlin said in a recent interview. “There are at least three reasons.”

LEWIS IS NOT BURDENED WITH EVANGELICAL JARGON—”A lot of the so-called ‘Christian’ bestsellers today are written in an evangelical jargon that has become almost a separate language,” Maudlin said. “If you come from that evangelical world, then you may feel right at home. That specialized language used in American evangelical churches seems quite natural in that world. But, if you’re not familiar with that world—if you’re part of the general public who doesn’t attend those churches already—then this style of evangelical writing can seem like a tribal barrier. I think that’s the first reason Lewis’s books continue to be so successful. He didn’t write in our contemporary American evangelical style. He wrote in a different time and from a different place. He addressed readers in language that still comes across as fresh and direct and engaging. What’s even more impressive is that Lewis also managed to write with such depth that people who have been Christians for many years also find that his books are profound and can deepen their faith.”

LEWIS INVITES READERS ON AN ADVENTURE—”The second reason may surprise some of Lewis’s fans because they know that he was famous as a Christian apologist,” a world-famous specialist in defending Christianity from critics. Lewis was popular for laying out his arguments point by point in logical fashion. “The real truth about Lewis’s appeal is easy to miss, because he was so good at apologetics. The truth is that he really was not selling Christianity on the basis of these logical arguments. What he really was good at was inviting us on an adventure. Over and over again, he was telling readers: ‘God has intervened in the world! Don’t you want to explore what’s happening?’ That’s why his Narnia books are his most popular. Lewis’s strongest appeal isn’t in convincing readers to try Christianity on the basis of sheer logic. No, what he’s saying is: ‘Come along! Join Aslan! Enjoy our heroic adventure!’ ”

LEWIS IS A MASTER TEACHER—“Then, I would say the third reason is his brilliance as a teacher,” Maudlin said. “Lewis was both a deep academician and a populist—and managed to use both of his strengths in the way he wrote and taught. His own reading list was huge! He read ancient classics. He enjoyed science fiction. He enjoyed popular books. He imbibed deeply from many genres. He wrote in many genres. What runs through all of that work is his sure hand as an uncommonly gifted teacher.”

Evidence of all three forces is the feeling readers find welling up in themselves as they read Lewis’s books, Maudlin said. “When you finish reading one of his books, the main response isn’t usually one of feeling that you’re right or vindicated. Even though Lewis often writes in a logical way, his books are not an intellectual exercise aimed merely at having you think in a certain way. Something larger, or deeper, happens when you read his books. You feel ennobled. His books draw on your heart and character. His books evoke something that’s rare today: ennoblement. You feel like a better person for having read his books.”


Michael Maudlin isn’t alone in his reflections on Lewis. The fact is that teachers, preachers, journalists and a host of other community leaders draw on Lewis every day in one way or another. Lewis’s fans continue to invite others along on the great adventure.

If you doubt this, try an experiment. Go to the Google News search page and type in C.S. Lewis. That search engine is designed to pull only the most recent postings from news organizations. On any given day, you will find Google reporting dozens of fresh headlines.

Judith Curr

“I see this all the time,” said Judith Curr. “People want a moral compass. Other writers, including journalists, are continually asking themselves: Where can I go for some wisdom on this particular subject? Who can I go to for some spiritual-religious-hybrid guidance? Who can I point to who won’t be dismissed by my readers because the source is too tainted by the divisions in contemporary society? Well, C.S. Lewis often is the answer.

“One recent example I can point to is a David Brooks column in The New York Times that opens with a long reference to Lewis,” Curr said.

She was referring to a July 16 column by Brooks, headlined, The Murder-Suicide of the West—Trump forcefully caps off years of deterioration in European-American tiesHow could Brooks possibly connect Lewis with such a subject? Well, as he started his Opinion piece, Brooks wrote:

When C.S. Lewis was a boy, his mother died. “With my mother’s death,” he wrote, “all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.” It may seem melodramatic, but that passage comes to mind when I think of the death of America’s relationship with Europe.

That’s why new C.S. Lewis collections like these two new volumes are so valuable. More than half a century after his passing, Lewis remains as current as our daily headlines.

“The problem is that most people have not read the breadth of Lewis’s work,” Maudlin said. “A critic could mistake these new books as a crass commercial venture, but I assure you that is not why I spent all this time working on them. In creating these books, we’re trying to offer new possibilities—things that most readers have never seen—new doorways.

“I’m one of the few people who reads, and re-reads, the whole C.S. Lewis canon, including his letters and his lesser-known works. By creating these new collections, I’m showing readers how these Lewis touch-points run throughout his entire body of work, whether in his major books, his letters or his public talks. What we’re doing in these new books is inviting readers to come along on a classic Lewis adventure. We’re saying: ‘Come on! Let’s do some treasure hunting.”

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