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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

We all know about Millennials and Gen Xers, right?

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

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

I gave them a two-question Pop Quiz.

Q: What’s a Millennial?

Real responses included:

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

Q: What’s a Gen Xer?

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

Answers:

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

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

So what IS a Millennial?

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

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

What IS a Gen Xer?

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

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

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

But, wait! Is this One or Two Books?

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

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

We all know pop cultural references, right?

In fact, we don’t.

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

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

Why Should We Learn about these Generations?

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

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

This volume is useful to a wide range of Americans:

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

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

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

Some of the 100 Questions asked and answered

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

Care to Learn More from Bias Busters?

Other guides in the series include:

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

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

Rozella Haydee White

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

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

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

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

front cover of Love Big by Rozella Haydee White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Love ourselves, so we can share love’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Facing hard truths head-on’

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

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

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

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

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

Together.

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

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

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

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

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

Confronting ‘the lie about Christianity’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Care to read more?

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

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

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

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

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Marc Bekoff and a friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in the book? Canine Confidential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in the book? Unleashing Your Dog

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

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

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

The book is organized into five major sections:

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

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

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

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

Bridging the Science and Spiritual Divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CARE TO READ MORE?

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

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

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

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

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Author, peace activist Brenda Rosenberg helps Girl Scouts promote peace and acceptance

Generation to Generation:
Teaching the Values of Peace and Acceptance

My promise to make the world a better place is …

  • to help the poor.
  • to love and accept everyone as myself.
  • to increase the amount of smiles I see on a daily basis.
  • to help people.
  • to share my ideas and listen to others’ ideas.
  • to be kind and loving to everybody.”

These are just a few of the pledges young women make in this inspiring 4-minute video from one group of Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan, meeting at Holy Family Regional School in Rochester, Michigan.

Author and peace activist Brenda Rosenberg was on hand to talk with the girls about promoting interfaith awareness—and peacemaking in general.

Here’s the 4-minute video:

Brenda Rosenberg:
Diversity is the Future 

In Michigan, The Jewish News published a report by Stefani Chudnow on Brenda’s work with the interfaith initiative among Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan.

Stefani’s story begins:

For the past several years, society has felt more divided than ever. It’s been an “us” versus “them” mentality for a while now, but politics has made everyday society increasingly hateful. Working to combat this is native Detroiter and interfaith activist Brenda Rosenberg.

Rosenberg is the Jewish liaison to the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. This group not only works to combat hatred among independent cultural groups starting at young ages, but also aims to develop myriad events meant to bring young girls with different backgrounds together.

“Several years ago, Suzanne Bante, who chairs the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan, contacted the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and wanted to speak to Jewish women who were interested in interfaith work,” Rosenberg said. “I was one of those women.” 

Click here to visit The Jewish News website and read Stefani’s entire story.

Brenda Rosenberg:
Read More and Take Action

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

Do you know a family involved in scouting in your part of the world? Are you a scout or a parent, or a grandparent, of a scout? Follow Brenda’s example.

Or email us with a question for Brenda via ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com

Want to learn more about Brenda’s larger approach to training in conflict transformation? She calls it Tectonic Leadership and you can order her book from Amazon.

The book’s description:

Harnessing the Power of Tension by Brenda Rosenberg and Samia Bahsoun introduces the paradoxical and evolutionary leadership approach to conflict transformation—Tectonic Leadership. By harnessing tension, the authors bridge their commitment as Jew and Arab to directly address the tension that separates them and use it to build alliances at home, in the boardroom, on campus and in communities.

To learn more about Brenda’s multi-media approach to global peacemaking, visit her home website.

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A Spring Walk and an Old Oak Pew: The Call of Memory and Reflections on JFK and W.S. Merwin

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“What you remember saves you.”
W.S. Merwin

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St Stephen Martyr, Washington DC. Photo by Martin Davis.

St Stephen Martyr, Washington DC, here and above. Both photos by Martin Davis.

EDITOR’S NOTE—Journalist Martin Davis’s reflections on spiritual life appear each month in our online magazine and have drawn an inspiring wave of reader responses. Having worked in media for many years, Martin also is an innovator in how this national conversation can unfold. In his last column, he essentially crowdsourced a column by inviting four writers to comment on the same day we published his column, called Tomorrow Is No Longer About You … In this new column, Martin collaborates with Editor David Crumm in this reflection on the Call of Memory and the passing this spring of the poet W.S. Merwin. Please, enjoy this column and share it with friends to spark further reflection and conversation.

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By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist

As the weather in Washington DC warms, I walk more.

One of my favorite strolls is from my office in Georgetown, up Pennsylvania Avenue to Connecticut and M, where I meet my carpool to ride home in the evenings. On the days the driver is late—or I’m early—I will sometimes stop along the way.

In this city of world-famous monuments, I visit a little-known touchstone of memory: a pew at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church. Although I am no longer a member of any organized religion, I am drawn toward sacred spots.

St. Stephen beckons to anyone who passes—from its huge white monolith with a cross on top that towers over the surrounding buildings—to an eye-popping statue of St. Stephen, affixed to the church’s brick front. The saint was sculpted by Felix de Weldon, who also created the Iwo Jima statue at Arlington National Cemetery.

But what really draws me toward St. Stephen is a pew, a lodestone of memory that causes my homeward walk to veer off course for a while, for a chance to sit, for a chance to meditate.

Photo by Martin Davis.

Which pew? It’s on the right-hand side of the church as you walk in, fourth from the back. A plate on the end of the wooden bench reads:

In Memory of
JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY
35th President of the United States

From this very pew, JFK and his family worshipped during the period Jackie described as Camelot. That the family worshipped there, and not at the more opulent and more prestigious St. Matthews Cathedral, which is closer to the White House, is a reminder that in some ways our world hasn’t changed all that much. The Secret Service couldn’t secure St. Matthews as easily, so the president went to St. Stephen the Martyr.

‘ALL TOO MORTAL’ MEMORIES

Most of us can’t sit in Kennedy’s chair that was in the Oval Office. Nor can we walk the colonnades outside the Rose Garden he so frequently strolled with his brother Bobby, the Attorney General. But anyone happening to walk along Pennsylvania Avenue can sit and worship, or meditate, or just think, in the very spot one of our most famous presidents once did.

We can sink into the cascade of memories that shaped our world in so many ways—Camelot and wars both Cold and in Vietnam, civil rights and moral conflict, the cult of celebrity and the catharsis of national mourning. All appropriate. After all, Kennedy—unlike the church’s namesake—was no saint.

He was all too mortal.

Certainly in his own day, there were many who questioned Kennedy’s piety on moral, theological, and political grounds. Of Kennedy’s faith, his close advisor Ted Sorensen, in Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, wrote: “Was Kennedy a ‘good Catholic’? … Personally, I had no reason to question the sincerity of Kennedy’s religious observances, including his attendance at Mass every Sunday, even when I occasionally wondered whether there might have been an element of political necessity as well as personal piety motivating him. As to the balance between the two, no one but JFK could know, and he never said.”

W.S. MERWIN AND SPIRITUAL ‘HOMESICKNESS’

In describing this experience to David, he reminded me that we recently lost our one-time Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner W.S. Merwin, who died at age 91 in his Hawaiian home. The New York Times editors regarded this as such a loss that they published two obituaries. One was a traditional “obit” describing his lifelong fascination with the natural world, Buddhism and the nature of love, loss and memory.

W.S. Merwin from the documentary Even though the World Is Burning, sitting on the porch of his Hawaiian home. (Click the photo visit the film’s Amazon page.)

The other was based on an interview just before his death. In that lengthy interview, Merwin surprised the reporter with an odd non sequitur.

Out of the blue, the poet asked: “Do you know what caused most deaths in Napoleon’s army?”

Caught off guard, the writer guessed that it might have been disease, perhaps cholera.

Merwin shook his head. No.

Then, he said one word: “Homesickness.”

CHANNELING PARADOXES AND GRASPING AN OLD PEW

David, correctly I think, sees Merwin as a “none” when it comes to religious affiliation. Most newspaper reports called him a Buddhist, and perhaps he was in his own way. The Los Angeles Times came closest to his lover’s quarrel with religion when it described him as “a post-Presbyterian Zen poet and channeler of ancient paradoxes.”

You can’t read far in Merwin’s many books of poetry without finding passages in which he is simply walking through the world—as both David and I like to do on warm spring afternoons—trying desperately to hang onto memories. All the while, he knows he can’t help but forget so much. We cling to memories even as so much is vanishing.

And so, as I walk through this city of great monuments on my homeward journey, I sometimes enjoy the substantial feel of that oaken pew in my palm as I grasp it, easing myself down to sit for a moment of reflection.

Surely there was something to the mystery of faith and our collective spiritual memory that drew Kennedy to that pew each Sunday. And surely he took with him each week something of the experience of transcendence to the White House.

CAN ANYONE WALL OFF OUR SPIRITS?

I’m telling you this story, because I have grown so weary with the endless headlines about divisions in organized religion and, worse yet, the politicization of churches in our escalating culture wars. Our houses of worship have become places where many not only feel unwelcome, but in many cases ostracized for their sexual identity or skin color. Instead of throwing their doors open to welcome the world’s diversity, churches continue to construct ever-higher barriers to admission.

In walking away from the institution of the church, I also tried to walk away from any notion that the buildings in which worship occurs are special or sacred. To the faithless, all the world is the same. And, for the most part, today’s religious leaders aren’t even talking about the possibility that the world is full of sacred spaces. They are more concerned with walling off their small patches of the divine and, in doing so, driving away those of us who find more solace in walking away.

Merwin certainly believed that. He loved to walk. He loved to sit. He sat in gardens. He sat on porches. He looked up at the stars. He listened to the rain. He watched birds.

In his final little book of poems—most of which he dictated to his wife, because he was losing his eyesight and couldn’t see well enough to write the words down himself—he composed a poem about this very process of wonderment and memory. He called it Voices over Water.

Merwin famously felt so strongly about propelling his visions into the world that he did not even stop to add punctuation. So, the poem begins:

There are spirits that come back to us
when we have grown into another age
we recognize them just as they leave us
we remember them when we cannot hear them

Why do we do this? Why do we yearn to remember and recognize these fleeting spirits? Because they enlarge our lives and give them meaning, Merwin tells us. The poem eventually ends with this haunting line:

there are distant voices still hoping to find us

REMEMBERING HOW TO RECONNECT

This spring, once again, I walk past gardens. Sometimes, I sit in that old pew at St. Stephen.

Sitting there, I don’t feel Kennedy’s presence in any supernatural way. I simply find it awe-inspiring to sit in the very surroundings that the most powerful leader of the Free World once sat–not only as president, but as a human drawn to the same eternal mystery of faith as me.

My mind races with questions. Did the undulating ceiling give Kennedy the same sense of transparency between the earth and heavens that it gives me? Did the relative simplicity of the sanctuary bring him closer to the people around him, in the same way I feel connections with the homeless and less fortunate who also come to meditate?

Sitting there, I do not expect to answer those questions. I struggle to explain what is happening to me in those moments. David has a very good idea about what is transpiring. What I treasure, he says, is this convergence of memory and meditation on my own life—pulling me outward to reconnect with our world.

Perhaps that’s the definition of sacred space: Any area one occupies that brings us face-to-face with our fellow human beings.

Perhaps what I—and many others who have walked away from traditional religious affiliations—really need is a friendly space that allows us to remember.

To reflect.

To recognize our deeper and larger connections with our world.

To reconnect with those other than ourselves.

A church will do.

Or a simple wooden pew.

And, what do we hope to find there?

Why do we hope to reconnect and to remember?

Ultimately, we are hoping against all odds that

there are distant voices still hoping to find us

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President Kennedy leaves St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in Washington D.C.

President Kennedy leaves St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in Washington D.C.

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In ‘Reforming American Politics,’ Harold Heie Shows How Christians Can Move from Conflict to Conversation

Front cover of Harold Heie's 2019 Reforming American Politics.

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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

In one front-page confrontation after another these days, “Christians” play a role as an angry and sometimes downright hateful force.

Now, scholar and online researcher Harold Heie is publishing news that may astonish many Americans: Christianity’s often-overlooked core values hold the key to turning confrontation into conversation. After nearly a year of online research, which involved dialogues between men and women nationwide, Heie now reports on his findings in the new book, Reforming American Politics: A Christian Perspective on Moving Past Conflict to Conversation.

Rather than scolding Christians who have been tempted to fuel the fires of sectarian warfare—Heie encouraged his own participants to rediscover and speak on behalf of Christian virtues that could lead us all beyond our vicious divisions.

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I’m not alone in praising the value of his new book. A Who’s Who of leading evangelicals point to Heie’s work as a welcome pathway out of endless feuding.

“It is hard to imagine a better book for times like these,” writes Mark Noll, who is widely regarded as the dean of American evangelical historians. “In an age of flaming rhetoric, fractious politics and fissiparous ideology, Harold Heie exemplifies a much better way. The discussions he moderates in this book treat red-hot issues like immigration, health care, economic inequality and money in politics … The marvel for readers will be to see believers airing their differences frankly, but doing so with Christian friendship preserved and Christian wisdom to the forefront.”

An endorsement like that from Noll is high praise indeed! Noll is most famous for his oft-quoted assessment of the painful lack of good scholarship in the evangelical world, when he wrote: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” (Note: Always the educator, Noll likes to teach readers words such as “fissiparous,” which means “inclined to cause division.”)

Randall Balmer, another nationally renowned Christian scholar and historian, puts it this way: “Heie does not settle for bromides or platitudes. He insists on thoughtful, theological, informed discussions, and he points us—all of us—toward a better way.”

Intrigued by what you’ll find in this substantial new book? It’s now available via all major online bookstores in all formats, including hardcover and paperback from Amazon.

How Can Christianity’s Core Values Promote Civil Conversation?

First, Heie tells us, Christians have to pause for a moment in the midst of their fury over hot-button issues to remember that they should be guided by a powerful list of values, or virtues, that were taught by Jesus himself.

On the first page of Heie’s Preface, he makes this crystal-clear case:

The premise behind this book is uncomplicated and easy to state. It isn’t rocket science, at least to say; it is much harder than rocket science to do: Jesus has called all his followers to love their neighbors. Providing someone who disagrees with you a safe and welcoming space to express that disagreement and then talking respectfully about your disagreement is a deep expression of love.

Heie spent nearly a year demonstrating this, along with 23 men and women he calls his Conversation Partners. In a little more than 400 pages, Heie shows us how these men and women across the U.S.—who deeply disagree with each other on many issues—nevertheless were able to conduct cordial and constructive conversations over the course of a year.

Again and again, Heie comes back to that first-page summary.

First and foremost, he argues, Christians need to stop battling and remember who Jesus calls them to be.

‘How Did Christians Get So Angry?’

“Every Christian knows that we must love our neighbors,” Heie said in an interview about his new book. “We all know that. There is no way to escape that truth.

“When I use the term ‘Christian,’ I am referring to anyone, whatever their particular denomination or tradition might be, who personally trusts in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as decisive for salvation and redemptive of the entire created order. Anyone who aspires to be a follower of Jesus must follow the two great love commandments taught by Jesus: love of God and love for neighbor.”

So what’s the problem?

“We all know we’re supposed to love our neighbors—but we don’t agree about how to express that love,” Heie explained in the interview. “A lot of Christians wind up violating our values about providing a safe and welcoming space for those who disagree with us. This is a real tragedy because, if we’ve lost our focus on love of neighbor, then we’ve really lost our way.”

I told Heie, “As a journalist specializing in covering religion, I’ve been reporting on these conflicts, sometimes called culture wars, that have been convulsing the religious landscape for many decades—certainly since the 1960s. Now, we’re at a point when many so-called ‘Christians’ are angrier than I’ve ever seen them. These are our fellow Americans. How did we get so angry?”

“There are many ways to begin answering that question,” Heie said. “But I think the main problem today is what I refer to as tribalism. We have segregated ourselves into tribal groups where we tell ourselves: We have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the issue at hand. And, if anyone outside our tribe dares to talk about this issue? We know they clearly don’t have the truth. We don’t need to listen to them.”

“To some extent, we’ve always seen that kind of conflict, haven’t we?” I asked him.

“Yes, to a certain extent, tribalism always has been a part of American history. So, why is tribalism getting so much worse now? I think social media has made a major contribution. Social media is not conducive to real conversation. In fact, social media tends to insulate us and often precludes real conversation. The deeper we go into our tribal social media, the less opportunities we have to learn something from someone who disagrees with us.

“Adding to that problem of isolation is our obsession with speed in communication today. People don’t have time for the complex conversations we need to explore the most important issues we face today. Working through alternative points of view is a laborious process. Learning from each other takes time. What most people want today is an answer that will fit into a Tweet.”

Christian Values and Virtues Promoting Conversation

Throughout Heie’s book, readers will rediscover—along with Heie’s 23 online discussion partners—the timeless values and virtues that can move Christians away from the current climate of conflict. Then, in his final chapter, Heie devotes 30 pages to a detailed overview of these values, easily organized with sub-heads so that the material flows logically from one lesson to the next. This section is perfectly laid out to help discussion leaders present these ideas to a group or class in a step-by-step manner.

We are using the phrase “values and virtues”—as Heie does himself—because Heie doesn’t want readers to get hung up on traditional codifications. Wikipedia has an overview of these ideas that stretch all the way back to ancient Greece and include some classic Christian attempts to turn them into codes of conduct. In his book, Heie writes that he is not interested in that academic debate over codes of virtues—or values.

Instead, he wants readers to focus on freshly rediscovering the heart of these values.

He begins with Love, Humility, Courage, Respect, Truth, Shalom, Justice, Patience and Hope. Then, he offers suggestions for applying these values in the world today. Among his many recommendations:

  • Develop personal relationships of mutual understanding by listening to and talking with those who disagree with you.
  • Move from understanding to trust.
  • Convene respectful conversations and expect civility.

How Harold Heie Drew Opponents Together 

As Editor of Front Edge Publishing, after my interview with Heie, I also reported on his unique method of organizing online conversations that formed the basis for this new book. If you visit our Front Edge Publishing website, this week, you’ll find a column about developing new books from online writing. In the final third of that column, you also will find links into Heie’s original eCircle articles that formed the basis for the first chapter of his new book. You can actually see the raw material as it originally appeared online.

“The conversations for this new book are now done, but I have left those materials on my website so that people actually can see how this can be done,” Heie said in our interview. “If you care to look at the pieces, step by step, you will see how people engaged each other respectfully and mutually found benefit in doing so. They find areas of agreement—and they illuminate their ongoing areas of disagreement, too—but they do so in a constructive way.”

Tips for Congregations Hoping to Encourage Conversation

In our interview, Heie stressed that starting a small group, which is common in most congregations—or a more formal process for conversation as he has modeled in this book—requires thoughtful preparation.

“This reflects my hard-earned experience with what has and hasn’t worked for me,” Heie said. “You can’t hope to have a really good conversation unless you devote the first session to discussing the purpose of the conversation—and the ground rules.”

Heie recently began orchestrating an in-person series of conversations and said, “In our first session, we don’t talk about the main political topic at all. I always start with two leading questions: Why are you interested in being part of this group? And: What do you hope the end result will be from this group? I’ve got eight people and we give them a chance to respond without interruption. The whole point of starting with that kind of session is to get used to listening to each other. We hear personal stories. We begin to understand more about what shapes each person’s way of thinking.

“Then, I lay out my five ground rules for conversation and I say plainly: ‘If you’re not going to abide by these five ground rules, don’t come back.’ That’s why I tried to spell out those ground rules in my new book.”

Readers will find that portion of his book beginning on page 388 with sub-heads over helpful sections that include:

  • Develop personal relationships of mutual understanding
  • Move from understanding to trust
  • Convene respectful conversations and expect civility (a section that includes Heie’s five bullet points)
  • Reach across the aisle, or table, seeking both/and positions

This new book really is a complete tool kit for teachers, community leaders and moderators of the millions of small discussion groups and classes that meet regularly in congregations coast to coast.

Once again, I am not alone in saying this.

“Harold Heie practices what he preaches—which is civil conversation, from a serious Christian theological perspective, amid a context of brutal division. He doesn’t just theorize about the essential challenge—he creates contexts that model the way forward. This book is an impressive example of what Heie is about. I strongly recommend it—and the practices it embodies.”

So says the Rev. Dr. David Gushee, author of Changing Our Mind.

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In ‘The Universal Christ,’ Richard Rohr Urges Readers to Expand Our Spiritual Universe

By DAVID CRUMM
ReadTheSpirit magazine editor

Best-selling author and Catholic teacher Richard Rohr knows why so many Christians can’t seem to embrace the world in a compassionate way: Their Christ is too small.

His new book has the grand title, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for and Believe. So, what is this “Forgotten Reality”? Rohr argues persuasively in his 260 pages that Christians have forgotten the very words of the Bible that tell us “Christ” embodies God’s timeless, creative power.

“The problem is that too many Christians still think of God as a male monarch on a throne who easily gets upset and has a big list he’s checking twice,” Rohr said in our interview about his new book. “That’s actually more of a pagan conception of God. So, we have to get that misconception cleared up. In this new book, I am trying to show readers that Christ really is an eternal presence in God since the very beginning of things.

“Too many Christians think that God only started interacting with us 2,000 years ago. That’s unthinkable to me! There are billions of years of God’s creation! My Franciscan tradition sys that creation was the first Bible. We point to Romans 1:20, which tells us that everything we need to know about God was encompassed in creation from the beginning.”

Rohr isn’t proposing some revolutionary idea. On the contrary, he said, “This book really is orthodox teaching that God is saving humanity, that God is saving history.” In the course of his book, he takes readers through many Bible passages that describe this cosmic concept, including Colossians 1:16-17: “For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Rohr said in our interview, “What I’m talking about is right there in the Bible, but many Christians seem to have missed it. I’m trying to show readers that Christ is much bigger than what they are envisioning. As presumptuous as this may sound, I can describe it this way: Christ is a creation-based universal notion of the anointing of matter with spirit. Because of that, Christ’s people should never be seen as a separate tribe. Christ is too big to be encompassed or enclosed by any organization. If there’s going to be any hope for this world, we’ve got to start seeing Christ on this much bigger scale.”

What Does Rohr Say in ‘The Universal Christ’?

Why does this matter so much to Rohr?

In the opening pages of his new book, Rohr explains the dramatic impact of embracing this larger understanding of God’s purpose: “If my own experience is any indication, the message of this book can transform the way you see and the way you live in your everyday world. It can offer you the deep and universal meaning that Western civilization seems to lack and long for today. It has the potential to reground Christianity as a natural religion and not one simply based on a special revelation, available only to a few lucky enlightened people.”

Like other great Christian writers, including C.S. Lewis, Rohr often teaches through questions, as in this passage from the book: “You and I can reopen that ancient door of faith with a key, and that key is the proper understanding of a word that many of us use often, but often too glibly. That word is Christ. What if Christ is a name for the transcendent within of every “thing” in the universe? What if Christ is a name for the immense spaciousness of all true Love? What if Christ refers to an infinite horizon that pulls us from within and pulls us forward too? What if Christ is another name for everything—in its fullness?”

Always a teacher and spiritual counselor, Rohr writes, “I want to be your guide in exploring these questions about Christ and the shape of reality for each of us. It’s the quest that has fascinated and inspired me for over 50 years. In keeping with my Franciscan tradition, I want to ground a conversation of such immense scale in the stuff of earth so that we can follow it like a trail of crumbs through the forest: from nature; to a newborn child with his mother and father in a lowly stable; to a woman alone on a train; and finally, to the meaning and mystery in a name that might also be ours.”

Rohr Readers Say: This Is Not Only a Catholic Book

The Rev. Ken Whitt, Baptist pastor and author, poses with a full-size cut out of Catholic author Richard Rohr at an Albuquerque conference.

“He’s only cardboard!” Ken wrote as he emailed us this photo from the Albuquerque conference as he posed with the full-size cutout of Richard Rohr provided for the enjoyment of attendees at the event.

Over many years of interviewing Rohr and then reporting on his teaching and his books, I have often heard more from evangelicals than Catholics about the importance of his work. One of those avid Rohr readers is the Rev. Ken Whitt—a Baptist pastor, teacher and author who was inspired by Rohr’s work as he was writing his own upcoming book, God Is Just Love.

Ken and his wife attended Rohr’s March 28-31 Universal Christ Conference at the Albuquerque Convention Center to learn more about Rohr’s latest teachings. Ken told me, this week, that the conference was a high point of his year, because this book is so close to his own current message to evangelical readers.

“My brother Jim and I are both American Baptist pastors. We both got copies of The Universal Christ as soon as they were released recently and began reading at the same time. What followed was a lengthy series of calls back and forth,” Ken told me as we talked. “I told Jim in our first call, ‘I keep wanting to underline everything!’ Rohr’s books flow with inspiration like a river at flood stage.

“There’s a lot I could say about this new book, but I will boil it down to three points: Rohr is correct that Christianity, along with other great religions, are experiencing major course corrections—and he is pointing us toward the best course through this transformation. Then, in this transformational process, spirituality and science must be partners. I explore that whole realm at a much greater depth in my own book. And, finally, as we say ‘in Christ,’ we are talking about the essential unity and beauty, and especially the love, that saves both ourselves and all of creation.”

Rohr Is Not Alone in This Message

Ken Whitt immediately added that Rohr is not alone in sharing this more expansive message about Christianity’s inclusive potential. “I’ve started calling myself an evangelical liberal and I’ve been on the move in this direction for many decades. Rohr has been one of my guides, but I’ve also learned a lot from Richard Foster, Rob Bell, Marcus Borg, Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle and dozens more. Rohr is not alone. We are not alone. And that’s very important for people to understand.”

In my interview with Rohr, he said the same thing.

Having interviewed Rohr about most of his new books, over the years, I began this interview by telling him, “I have to say, right at the start, that I read your new book with the refreshing realization that this is a powerful echo of themes explored back in the 1980s by Matthew Fox in his classics like his breakthrough book, Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality, and then he just kept knocking out these visionary appeals to broaden our thinking in books like Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.

“I mean it as praise for your book, Richard,” I said in the interview. “I feel as though this whole movement is blossoming in ways that are very accessible now for readers.”

“I take it as praise,” Rohr said. “Matthew and I are friends and we mirror the historic partnership between Franciscans and Dominicans. Historically, they have been more systematic and academic than we are. Matthew has a mind I can’t begin to match. I come at this from my Franciscan tradition in a more intuitive, spiritual way in writing this book.”

In fact, these two best-selling Catholic authors met and talked recently, Rohr told me. “He came out to visit me and he was very affirming of what I’m saying. That was very kind of him to describe our work as parallel and complimentary. And I’m glad you sensed that connection, as well. You could say that Matthew and I both are beneficiaries of the best in classic Catholic education: very broad, including philosophy, psychology and history. That kind of education calls on us to keep expanding our thinking.”

In the interview, I read aloud to Rohr some of his own words from the book—the questions that are quoted earlier in this column, including, “What if Christ refers to an infinite horizon that pulls us from within and pulls us forward too?”

“In our conference in Albuquerque, we had more than 2,000 people who came to explore those kinds of questions with us. We created daily liturgies to try to communicate this expansive theme.

“What we are saying is not something new we are making up. So, people need to get over any initial shock they may feel that we’re somehow teaching heresy. We’re certainly not! We’re teaching right out of the Bible. If people read my new book they will find lots of specific references inviting them to go back and read their Bibles again. It’s all right there.

“Christ resists our attempts to limit Jesus to tribes that separate us from the world. This book is meant to help us open up our Christian imagination.”

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Care to Read More?

Among the most popular Richard Rohr stories we have published over the years are:

ON AGING—Richard currently is 76, but back in 2011 when he was still in his 60s, we published this extensive three-way interview with Brian McLaren about the spiritual journey of aging.

‘IMMORTAL DIAMOND’Then, in 2013, we talked about Richard’s new book Immortal Diamond—subtitled, The Truth for Our True Self. Mid-way through that interview, Richard and I also began talking about Matthew Fox’s pioneering work.

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