Public school teacher William Meyer shares the good news about meditation in 2 new books

‘BIG BREATH’ and ‘THREE BREATHS AND BEGIN’

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Cover of Three Breaths and Begin book by William Meyer

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

Story By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

The moment I read this paragraph, I wanted to talk to high school teacher William Meyer—because I am certain that our readers will find this very good news. In his new book, Three Breaths and Begin—A Meditation Guide in the Classroom, Meyer writes:

Since 2012 I have introduced meditation to my classroom as a tool to deal with the growing stresses of the school day, but also as a lens by which to facilitate greater connection between the students and the curriculum. What started out as part of a student research experiment involving a small group of six students sitting in the corner of a science classroom has grown into a club, a common occurrence in my classroom, and now an integral part of the community. As a result of the growth of this practice in the school over the years, students can be found meditating before tests, performances, speeches, sports games and even assemblies. The meditation bug has not only bitten the students, but it has also caught the attention of the administration, faculty, and community. It has become incorporated into weekly department meetings and has become a part of professional development workshops, book studies, and even faculty wellness programs of the school. The parents have been equally enthusiastic, embracing meditation in the form of a weekly Thursday evening circle.

Are you as surprised as I was by what Meyer has achieved throughout his high school? He teaches at Bronxville High School in Westchester County north of New York City.  In seven years of developing what is now a very popular practice among students and staff—and extending it into a public invitation to the community on Thursday nights—Meyer has not encountered one angry parent. That’s what he writes in his book; and that’s what he told me in our interview this week. I will admit that, as a journalist who has covered religious diversity for 40 years, I was surprised to hear this.

Of course, it helps with community-wide acceptance that some of the past leaders of his student meditation club wound up going on to top Ivy League schools—and these students credit meditation as one of the practices that boosted their academic abilities.

COVER Big Breath by William Meyer

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

Aren’t you eager to find out how Meyer has developed this program? Now, thanks to New World Library, two books bring Meyer’s guidance on meditation to the world. Three Breaths and Begin is a 256-page overview of his approach to meditation and mindfulness, especially geared toward teachers who want to bring these ideas into their classrooms. Then—although Meyer teaches high school students—he also has published a brief, beautifully illustrated introduction to meditation for children, Big Breath—A Guided Meditation for Kids.

In addition, he has an information-packed website with links to lots more news-media coverage of his work. If you dig a little deeper into that website, you’ll find a section with contact details and links to his schedule as he occasionally travels to teach and consult.

With the publication of Meyers’ two new books, I expect his travel schedule for the coming year will quickly fill to capacity. So, if you are discovering his work today through this column, and you might want to invite him into your community or upcoming conference—then, you will want to act quickly.

MYTH BUSTING:
THE POPULARITY OF MEDITATION

Pew Research Center chart on frequency of meditation

Click on this chart to read the entire Pew story.

In my interview with Meyer this week, I asked him about a Pew Research report on how widely meditation has been accepted across the American landscape. He had not spotted this particular Pew report, so I asked him several questions about the data.

I began by telling him, “First of all, here’s the headline news: Pew’s conclusion—drawing on their in-depth Religious Landscape Study—is that meditation is very popular these days. I think that’s one reason you have been so successful in winning over your community. Millions of Americans regularly meditate. Overall, Pew reports that 40 percent of Americans meditate at least weekly. You’re a Catholic yourself. Does that level of meditation surprise you?”

“Not at all,” he said. “My dissertation work includes Thomas Merton and his connections with meditation, so I’m very familiar with this practice among Catholics.”

I said, “When Pew divides up the data by religious groups, Catholics are exactly at 40 percent—the same as the overall population. So, now, let me ask you about a couple of other groups. You haven’t seen this chart yet, but would you guess that ‘evangelical Protestants,’ as a group, meditate more or less than the average 40 percent?”

“Less,” he said.

“No, actually, a higher percentage—49 percent,” I said. “Clearly the concept and terminology of ‘meditation’ has changed quite a bit over the decades. I think this is another reason you’re finding such a wide-open acceptance. Millions of Americans are quite comfortable using the term. So, what about members of black churches? More or less than 40 percent?”

“Less again?” he asked in response.

“Nope. Even higher—55 percent meditate at least weekly,” I said.

Of course, traditional approaches to meditation around the world do vary. A Zen approach to meditation might be closer to “clearing out minds,” while Christian contemplation might be described more like “deepening our focus” on a prayerful concern. The Pew researchers point out that people overall are using the word to describe quiet, personal reflections—even though their exact steps will differ, based on a person’s tradition.

However, the Pew researchers stress that meditation has never been foreign to Christianity. Meditative prayer goes back to the early centuries of Christianity, Pew points out: “Within Christianity, the practice of meditation or silent contemplation dates back to the Desert Fathers (early Christian monks and nuns who sought God in the quiet and solitude of the Egyptian wilderness) during the first centuries after the death of Jesus. Today Christians of various traditions still encourage meditation as a means to try to get closer to God.”

HOW WILLIAM MEYER DISTILLS MEDITATION

As we continued the interview, I said, “Having read both of your books—including this wonderful new children’s book—one thing that struck me is that you have distilled meditation down to its essentials in many ways. You don’t include elements that could raise community concerns. Let’s start with the fact that you’re not clergy, and you’re not trying to bring in an outside spiritual teacher to lead these sessions. And you’re not teaching someone’s religious doctrine.”

“That’s right. And, that’s a big factor in the acceptance. I’m just a high school teacher and we started all of this as a way for students to connect better with their studies,” he said. “It helps that the founder of our student meditation club went on to Harvard. Another leader of the club went on to Dartmouth. The word gets around that this really does help students.”

I continued: “I think there’s another factor. Given your looks, and the way you dress in the photos I’ve seen online, you seem more like a Fortune 500 vice president taking part in a corporate conference—rather than any kind of religious leader. There are no eccentric visual symbols or garb.”

He laughed, “Yeah, that’s true.”

“Plus, you don’t use music, or incense, or bells,” I said.

“That’s right,”  he said. “We don’t need that stuff. I don’t have students bring in yoga mats and sit on the floor. We just make a circle of chairs and sit there. I usually turn down the lights. But that’s right. When I lead these guided meditations, I am stripping away many of the trappings that might raise people’s anxiety.

“And there’s nothing secretive about what we do,” he added. “We do the same kinds of things for the students, the faculty, the members of the community who come on Thursday evenings—and I’ve published the texts of some of my guided meditations in Three Breaths and Begin. I’m taking the mystery out of what we do—what millions of Americans like to do every week, according to that Pew report.”

‘TAKE A BIG BREATH’

Both of Meyer’s books are as straight forward as his successful introduction of meditation has been in his community. Anyone who has visited a meditation group or has taken instruction in meditation will recognize his techniques. They start with relaxation and awareness of one’s own breathing.

The first meditation in the book for adults begins this way:

“Find a comfortable spot on a chair or cushion. Make any adjustments you might need, rotate your shoulders, relax your arms, and let your legs be loose. When you are ready, either lower your eyes into a soft forward gaze or, if you are comfortable doing so, close your eyes.

“Now take three breaths and begin.

“Feel yourself breathing in and breathing out. Feel the space around you and within you.” (And the text for this guided meditation continues from that point.)

The children’s book begins this way:

“Find a comfy spot.” (A cute little girl is shown hugging a big, fluffy, red blanket.)

“Maybe on a squishy cushion or a soft blanket.” (A different child arranges some pillows.)

“Let your arms be long and your hands be soft. Place one palm in the other and gently squeeze your hands together. Take a BIG BREATH and close your eyes.” (A third child sits in a meditative posture.)

“Can you hear your breath? Can you feel it? What does it sound like?” (Now, the illustrations open up to evoke an abstract blue swirl of sky and water behind this seated child as the process expands awareness.)

WHY THIS MATTERS

These practices work. They have worked for thousands of years to improve mindfulness, attention to work, compassion toward others and a general sense of wellbeing.

But bringing these practices into a public school can be tricky, Meyer admits.

“How we carefully introduce these practices is important, because as educators we all know that it only takes one really angry parent to rise up and scare school administrators,” he said.

“What I’m sharing in these books is our story of how much difference this has made in so many lives—students, teachers and members of the community. I know that we are fortunate to have the whole community really embracing what we’re doing. The good news is: I know this is possible—we’ve done it here.”

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Care to Read More?

William Meyer’s work involves offering students tools to develop what educators often refer to as their social-emotional resources. Our publishing house has worked extensively with educators on these issues, including in early childhood—the audience for Meyers’ colorful book Big Breath.

Funding cuts and shifting public priorities nationwide mean it’s more important than ever to get involved in your local community. Front Edge Publishing partnered with United Way to produce a book series highlighting six nonprofits that work tirelessly to improve early childhood education. In order to help you facilitate early learning in your own community, we’re also offering free discussion guides for the books in this series.

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ARDA Ahead of the Trend: Studies follow uneven paths of secularization while debunking popular myths

Click on this photo of Dr. Kelley Strawn to read Richard Cimino’s entire column about the stalemate between religious and secularizing movements.

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By Richard Cimino

The debate about whether the world is entering a more secular age and whether the growth of religiously non-affiliated people is hastening such secularization in part revolves around questions of timing.

In other words, when did these trends start and what led to them?

Two new studies using time-related data argue that the growth of secularism and non-affiliation has been happening for some time, that its causes are far from clear, and that they don’t necessarily signal a one-way secular future.

A recent article in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion looks particularly at “political secularization,” which relates to the degree that nations show religious influence in their political life.

The study finds that most of the secular changes took place several decades ago.

Read the rest of Richard’s article …

Visit the website for ARDA. Here is a direct link to Richard Cimino’s complete August column. ARDA welcomes sharing of these columns, of course with a proper attribution. Plus, there is also a lot more fascinating data about religion to discover on ARDA’s website.

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Timothy McMahan King’s ‘Addiction Nation’—’Building a Culture That Makes Recovery More Possible’

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. …
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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

Front cover of Timothy McMahan King’s Addiction Nation

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Americans coast to coast are waking up to the enormous problem of addiction, fueled by fresh news stories every week about the toll of opioid addiction nationwide. This time, we are no longer deceived by the 50-year-old myth of drugs as mainly an “urban problem,” an evil enemy we should battle with a “war on drugs.” That myth, dating to the Nixon era, led to mass incarceration and did nothing to stem the tide of addiction that is sweeping the nation today.

Now, Americans are becoming increasing aware that this problem is ourswherever we live, even in rural communities. And that means community-based—and especially church-based—discussion groups an ideal place to explore these complex problems and our most effective responses.

That makes Timothy McMahan King’s new Addiction Nation—What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us an ideal book for individual reflection and small groups as your fall and winter programming ramps up. The book is published by the Mennonites, a Christian movement that arose five centuries ago and is best known today for public service and pacifism. (Herald Press is a publishing imprint of the Mennonite Church USA and Canada.)

King himself is a recovering addict. For years, he worked for Sojourners. Now, he is following a more rural vocation: farming, writing, speaking and consulting. Check out his website for more details. Over the coming year, he is devoting a large portion of his time to traveling nationwide, speaking and teaching.

Is this topic close to home for you? Are you part of a congregation or nonprofit interested in responding to this national crisis? Now is the time to visit King’s website and inquire about his travel plans over the coming year.

Evidence of Overwhelming Numbers:
Addiction Touches All of Us

USDA photo of a lethal dose of fentanyl compared with the size of a penny

Fentanyl is an especially deadly part of the illegal opioid trade these days. To illustrate the dangers of fentanyl, he U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration provides this photo that compares a common penny with the tiny amount of the powder that would be lethal to most people.

Before I share some of King’s insights from our interview about his new book, let’s look at the scope of the problem. You can use some of these details and links to convince friends to join you for a discussion series.

Among this week’s headlines are the bankruptcy filing of Perdue Pharma and law-enforcement agencies’ efforts to track down the riches of the company’s owners, the Sacklers. Purdue Pharma makes OxyContin, the drug widely seen as igniting the opioid crisis. Also this week, AP is reporting on a 29-year-old Eagle Scout in the suburbs near Salt Lake City who became an online drug kingpin via a deadly mail-order marketing scheme that sent fentanyl directly to addicts.

Earlier this year, Pew Research issued a summary report on the opioid crisis, which began with these facts about the dramatic rise of addiction in rural America:

The increasing number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has hit rural areas particularly hard. Between 1999 and 2015, overdose deaths increased 325 percent in rural counties. In 2015, they surpassed the death rate in urban areas. Additionally, nonfatal prescription opioid overdoses are concentrated in states with large rural populations. Helping to drive this trend in rural areas are high opioid prescription rates and challenges accessing medication-assisted treatment (MAT), the gold standard for treating opioid-use disorder.

A Pew poll, which was reported in June, asked Americans what they believe to be the biggest problems in our country today. Addiction topped this list: Percent of adults who say each is a very big problem in the country today, listed in order—

  • Drug addiction—70
  • Affordability of health care—67
  • How the U.S. political system operates—52
  • The gap between rich and poor—51
  • Made-up news and information—50
  • Violent crime—49

Concerns cut across all types of communities, Pew reported.

Americans overwhelmingly see drug addiction as a problem in their local community, regardless of whether they live in an urban, suburban or rural area. The public’s concerns come amid steep increases in the number and rate of fatal drug overdoses across all three community types in recent years. Nine-in-ten Americans who live in a rural area say drug addiction is either a major or minor problem in their community, as do 87% in urban and 86% in suburban areas.

Nearly half of all Americans have a friend or family member who has struggled with addiction, Pew also reported.

It’s common for Americans to know someone with a current or past drug addiction—and it’s an experience that mostly cuts across demographic and partisan lines. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in August found that 46% of U.S. adults say they have a family member or close friend who is addicted to drugs or has been in the past. Identical shares of men and women say this (46% each), as do identical shares of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents when compared with Republicans and Republican leaners (also 46% each). There are no statistically significant differences between whites (46%), Hispanics (50%) and blacks (52%).

It’s obvious that huge numbers of men and women are touched by this crisis and are looking for answers—and that the audience for community discussions cuts across all the other lines that divide us these days.

NOTE TO READERS—Please, share this week’s Cover Story with friends via social media or email with a suggestion to spark further discussion. If you want to print out this particular data-packed section of the story, you will find an easy-to-print button at the end of the text, below.

Addiction Nation:
This Story Will Surprise You

Were you surprised to find the opening quote from Jesuit teacher Pierre Tielhard de Chardin? A longer version of his verse appears in the middle of King’s book. It illustrates a central theme of this combined memoir and manifesto: This vast problem took a long time to manifest itself across our entire landscape—and it is going to take a long, multi-faceted response before it will subside.

No quick fixes are prescribed here. There is no 10-point list of public-policy priorities—or Top 10 personal goals—listed in a final chapter of this book.

If anything, King’s book is meant to stir us to action by debunking myths of quick fixes—including the idea is that all we need to do is organize more 12-step programs. In fact, as anyone within the 12-step movement will tell you, no one can force or compel an addict to successfully engage in 12-step programs. King also points out that, while 12-step groups continue to serve as a lifeline for millions, they are not the answer for many addicts—for a wide range of reasons that he details in the book.

One reason is that an opioid addiction is excruciating to tackle because this addiction often begins with a medical response to real, acute, physically based pain. Ending the addiction often requires a plan to manage the underlying, chronic pain. In these chapters, King tells the true story of his own life-threatening medical crisis that resulted in an agonizingly slow recovery in which his body was wracked with severe pain. At critical moments, opioids were all that kept him going through a very uncertain recovery.

For millions of addicts, medical help and alternatives play an essential role in recovery, he writes.

‘Building a Culture That Makes Recovery More Possible’

Timothy McMahan King

Timothy McMahan King

As they delve into this story, many readers will spot themselves—or loved ones.

“I wrote this book because I want people to understand that—when we’re talking about the addiction-and-overdose crisis—this isn’t just a problem for other people,” he said in our interview about his book. “It’s something we all need to think about because it’s not an issue that’s going on way over there in the distance—affecting all those other people.

“The subtitle points to this truth: ‘What the Opioid Crisis Reveals about Us.’ This really is about us. This is our collective story. And now, together, I am hoping we will start building a culture that makes recovery more possible for more people.”

King talks, teaches and writes from that broader perspective because, he argues, a whole range of changes need to be made in our existing communal responses.

“The more I researched the field of addiction, I realized that there is no single unifying theory of addiction that the medical or scientific community has agreed will solve the whole problem,” King said. “I have heard from a few early readers of my book who told me they were surprised that I avoided giving people a chapter that we might have called ‘My Answer.’ I resisted that temptation because that would not have honestly given people a picture of all the various answers—across a broad spectrum—that people are developing.

“Think about cancer research,” he said. “No one talks about The Cancer Cure as a single silver bullet. Instead, researchers are developing specific kinds of therapies for specific kinds of people with specific kinds of cancer.”

‘Trust in the Slow Work of God’

In the course of the book, readers will learn that Christianity has been one of King’s core sources of strength, which he describes in a couple of particularly moving chapters. But we should not confuse faith with a magic wand, he writes.

“It’s true that spirituality and faith are a deep part of my story—and they are an important arc in the narrative of this book. But, there is a real danger if people start to think that addiction can be reduced to a spiritual problem with a spiritual solution,” King said in our interview. “There are medical and scientific realities to addiction that require medical and scientific responses.

“The other danger is that we don’t want people to think that they can find all the answers to addiction by having a talk with their pastor or spiritual advisor. For the most part, clergy are not experts in addiction.

“I have been asked: ‘Should I call my pastor as a first step?’

“I answer: ‘Your first step should be going to see a doctor—but your pastor could give you a ride.’ ”

‘A Reflection of Forces Within Our Own Society’

That image of a pastor giving someone a ride to a doctor is a vivid reminder of the most important theme in Addiction Nation: A new cultural awareness and response is needed if we ever hope to turn the tide on addiction.

“This returns to the central point I talked about earlier: I want people to realize that this is not a problem caused by some outside group of individuals,” King said. “That’s very tempting these days, when people are regularly demonizing outsiders and connecting them with threats like drug addiction.

“That’s such a strong social impulse, but it’s not true and it’s not helpful. We don’t have an addiction crisis because evil foreigners have invaded us with drugs. We have this crisis because too many Americans demand too many drugs. If they read my book, I want people to realize that what is happening is a reflection of forces with our own society.

“For decades, we’ve tried to reduce drug addiction through whack-a-mole policies of chasing suppliers. What I’m calling readers to think about is this much more important—and much more personal—question:

“Why are so many people looking to these substances to try to deal with their pain or to seek something they feel is lost in their lives?”

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18 Years Later: The Parable of Flight 93

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a journalist, I was assigned several times over the years to report and write 9/11 anniversary stories, which were carried across a nationwide wire service. Each time, I interviewed men and women who were affected by the attacks’ legacy. These 9/11 milestones are important moments to reflect on America’s role in the world. This summer, I celebrated with Americans nationwide when John Stewart and other activists successfully pressed Congress to extend health benefits for the volunteers who helped in the aftermath at Ground Zero. Like most of us, I am not looking forward to the trial in 2021 of five men accused of plotting the attacks, a long-overdue trial date that was set a week ago. Eighteen years after 9/11, anger is rising in America, not subsiding. As Americans, any enduring lessons we might have learned after 9/11 seems ever further from our grasp. That’s why we welcome Benjamin Pratt’s thoughtful column this week. Please, share this column with friends.
—David Crumm

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THE PARABLE OF FLIGHT 93

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Contributing Columnist

A parable is a mirror into which each of us can look to examine our better or lesser selves.

My wife and I recently visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Spending two hours there was a memory evoking, emotional, tender and tough experience. It was also an opportunity to look into a mirror, a parable that shook my soul.

I believe it is there to shake the soul of all Americans in our present time.

On September 11, 2001, forty men and women faced the unimaginable horror of being victims of a terrorist coup, hijacking the United Flight 93 to use as a weapon of destruction and death at our nation’s Capital. The crew and passengers came from varied backgrounds—and from across the nation and around the world.

They bonded in a courageous, heroic vote to confront head-on the evil they encountered. Their action is a parable worthy of our reflection and action in our current contentious, divided time.

The Flight 93 National Memorial is set on 2,200 acres of rolling, pastoral, sacred land.

We drove down the long road from the entrance to the visitor center, passing the Tower of Voices, a musical instrument that eventually will hold forty wind chimes representing the voices of the passengers and crew members. The visitor center on the hill above the crash site introduces the chronology of Flight 93 and the personal and communal stories of the passengers and crew.

At that complex, there are multiple places one can peer over the wild flowers to see the Memorial Plaza below, which consists of the impact site and the debris field. The fields and woods beyond are the final resting place for the passengers and crew, thus only family members are permitted to enter that hallowed area of the Memorial.

We walked about 500 yards to the crash site, which is marked by a huge boulder where Flight 93 hit the ground, traveling at 563 mph and carrying more than 5,000 gallons of jet fuel. It exploded on impact and threw debris into the nearby hemlock grove. There were no survivors.

Next to the crash site is what appears to be a solid wall that marks the flight path of Flight 93. At first approach, it appears to be a solid wall, but upon closer observation it is clear that the wall is composed of separate panels with only two inches between them. Each panel has the name of one of the forty passengers and/or crew members. Separate individuals are united as a team in this symbolic expression of the wall.

Forty people who didn’t know each other and who were from numerous places, ethnic groups and cultures united in that crisis to vote to change the course of history and save lives in our nation’s capital. Standing before this wall I experienced many emotions—sadness, pain for the forty and their families, as well as the chilling awareness that the unity of those forty was felt throughout our nation for months following the attack. Sadly, divisions and contentious rancor have replaced unity in today’s time.

Flight 93 departed Newark for San Francisco nearly 40 minutes late. Thus, when terrorist hijackers took over the plane, passengers and crew began calling family, friends and authorities to report the hijacking. The calls—13 people placed 37 calls- informed them of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They then realized they were part of a larger assault.

Passengers and crew then made a collective decision, by vote, to rush the terrorists and try to retake the plane. Ending their calls to loved ones, they rushed forward.

The plane’s “black boxes” record erratic flight and sustained struggle in the cockpit. The cockpit voice recorder captures the voices of both native English and Arabic speakers, as well as screams, shouts, breaking glass, alarms and sounds of fighting. In the midst of the counterattack, Flight 93 crashed into the field near Shanksville, less than 20 minutes flight time from al Qaeda’s intended target.

The Congressional Gold Medal, authorized by the Fallen Heroes Act of 2011, recognizes the “heroic and noble” actions of the passengers and crew of Flight 93.

I anticipated I would be flooded with emotions and memories of that pivotal day in our history. I did not anticipate being confronted by art that questions my values, my commitments and actions, and those of each American.

As I look into the mirror of this parable I continue to ask myself what I would have done.

I also examine what I am doing in our divided nation.

Do I have the courage under pressure, enough hunger and thirst, enough ache racking my body to work with others to save ourselves and our country from itself?

Benjamin Pratt
September, 2019

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PHOTO CREDITS: These images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, shared under Creative Commons. The top photo was taken by Stephen Wissink. The maps are provided for public use by the National Park Service (clicking on those maps gives you access to larger versions of the maps). The photo along the wall was contributed by Acoterion. The memorial wall is from Jeff Kubina.

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Rabbi Bob Alper: A Shot Heard ‘Round the World

By RABBI BOB ALPER
Author of ‘Thanks. I Needed That.’

Rabbi Bob Alper on stage.

Rabbi Bob Alper on stage.

I never met or even heard of D. G. Martin.  But I like him and respect him as well.

D.G. hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch” on the University of North Carolina TV, and is a columnist for a number of North Carolina papers.

On August 19, he wrote a powerful defense of a friend, North Carolina Elections Board Chair Bob Cordle.  D.G. began by quoting a joke I told a week earlier, to a burst of laughter from 1,200 listeners, at the famed Chautauqua Institution.

D.G. writes, “On the same day, Rabbi Alper was accepting a warm and appreciative reaction from the audience at Chautauqua, Elections Board Chair Bob Cordle was getting a very different reaction after telling essentially the same story, set in Ireland and Wales rather than eastern Europe, to a conference of elections officials.”

OK, so here’s the joke, in its entirety, as transcribed and included in D.C.’s column.

Years ago in a small shtetl, a Jewish community and very poor, the communal cow died.

They collected 300 rubles, all the money they could gather, and sent a representative to Moscow to buy a new cow. He came back with 300 rubles and no cow. The cheapest cow was 600 rubles.

What are we going to do? The committee met. They thought, they thought. Finally, they came up with an idea that maybe cows are less expensive in smaller cities.

They sent him off to Minsk. He came back leading a cow.

This cow gave milk like no one ever remembered, amazing amounts of milk, to the point where they said, we need to breed her.

So they got a bull, and brought the bull to the pasture. The cow went to the far end of the pasture. The bull went to the far end of the pasture. The cow went to the east side of the pasture. The bull went to the east side,  The cow to the west side, and the bull….

Nothing was happening.

They went to the wisest man in the village, the rabbi, and told him what was happening.

He stroked his gray beard, and he thought and he thought. And finally he said, “Let me ask you a question. This cow: she’s from Minsk, isn’t she?”

“Why yes Rabbi, she is! How did you know that?”

“Heh, Heh,” the rabbi said, “my wife’s from Minsk.”

While I received guffaws, Cordle was forced out of his Elections Board chairmanship when he told his version.

“Cordle,” D.G. angrily observed, “has led an exemplary lifetime of unselfish public service. As his longtime friend and admirer, I have followed his laudable record of goodness and strength. To have his story characterized in the news as “a lengthy joke about cows, sex and women,” “sex joke,” “off-color joke,” “dirty” and even “misogynistic,” was unfair as was having him summarily forced out on the basis of these inaccurate characterizations of the story he told.”

My take on all this?  I’m deeply saddened that Bob Cordle ran into a buzzsaw of righteous indignation while I received only the sweet sound of guffaws from the intellectually sophisticated people in my audience, and not a single complaint.  In fact, I told that joke again last week at a “Solidarity of the Faiths” in Brick, NJ, co-sponsored by nine churches and three synagogues, with the town mayor and quite a few clergy in attendance.  No complaints there either.

As an outsider, I’d infer that some in the North Carolina audience were gunning for Bob and found their weapon.  Amazing they could brand it a sex joke.  “Dirty?”  I was listening to Raw Dog on Sirius/XM, and heard a “joke” in which the comedian spoke about performing cunnilingus on his wife while wearing hearing aids.  That’s a dirty joke.  And misogynistic?   The cow joke could easily be interpreted as being an example of misandry, about the sexual undesirability of the man, rather than the frigidity of the woman.

Plus, it’s funny!  I devote a section at the end of my shows to jokes, and that one draws some of the biggest laughs.

Sounds like Bob Cordle was faced with an audience, or part of an audience, who, as we say, were comedically constipated.

I have a line in my stand-up routine that I hope will cheer Bob.  “What I love to do just before Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, is to go around to family and friends and tell them, ‘If, during the past year, there is anything I have said or done that has hurt you or offended you, I want you to know – you’re too sensitive.’”

And the bottom line is that in this very painful era of national and international turmoil and fear, combined with all of our personal problems, sadness and challenges, what Bob Cordle did was to bless his listeners by providing a badly needed laugh.

As D.G. rightly observed, Bob deserves an apology.

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Care to read more?

VISIT BOB’S WEBSITE where you can check out his upcoming appearances as well as his various books and his DVD.

VISIT BOB’S AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE where you can order a copy of his books ‘Thanks. I needed that.’ and ‘Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.’

 

 

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Ahead of the Trend: Aging Populations May Slow Secularization

Click the photo to read David Briggs' complete ARDA column.

Click the photo to read David Briggs’ complete ARDA column.

Among people who care about religion, there isn’t a more timely issue than the rising tide of secularism. In the U.S., this often is cast as the “rise of the Nones,” because an ever-growing number of adults respond with “None” when pollsters ask them to identify their religious affiliation. Secularism is a major trend in Europe as well as many other regions of the world.

However, that’s not the entire story!

New research suggests that secularization may be counterbalanced by another well-known trend: As they age, people tend to become more religious. David Briggs, columnist for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), reported on this research in his ARDA column Ahead of the Trend. That new column begins this way:

Is there an inexorable trend toward secularization in the West as younger generations in nations from the U.S. to Switzerland are less likely to affiliate with organized religion?

Or does longstanding evidence that people become more religious as they age indicate that secularization trends may reverse in rapidly aging societies of high-income countries?

It is a difficult question for social scientists to answer. In many ways it tests whether secular culture will have the same appeal in the face of the existential meaning, social support and other goods that faith has long offered individuals confronting their own mortality.

At least one group of researchers has come up with some preliminary indications.

In what they say is the first systematic attempt to analyze this issue, three Russian researchers found the aging effect was far more dominant in predicting greater religiosity as one gets older than the cohort effect was in predicting less faith in more secular generations as they age. The co-authors of the report were Sergey Shulgin, Julia Zinkina and Andrey Korotayev.

Care to read more?

Visit the website for ARDA. Here is a direct link to David Briggs’ complete August column. ARDA welcomes sharing of these columns, of course with a proper attribution. Plus, there is also a lot more fascinating data about religion to discover on ARDA’s website.

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Best-selling author Missy Buchanan calls us to reflection along the shore

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish. … Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
JOHN 21:9-12

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“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
Ann Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, 1955

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

Front Cover of Missy Buchanan's book Beach Calling

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

The very last scene in the Gospels is Jesus sitting on a shoreline, cooking a breakfast of fish and bread for his followers—inviting them to come and sit a while with him over breakfast. The very first scene in Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s classic memoir, Gift from the Sea, is an invitation to lay down one’s burdens, settle into the shoreline and wait—patiently—for waves of spiritual revelation. Last week, in our cover story, spiritually restless columnist Martin Davis took us to the shore, as well.

For thousands of years, shorelines have fueled the human imagination—which is why best-selling inspirational writer Missy Buchanan is beckoning readers to come to the beach with her for 20 guided reflections. She calls her new, interactive book, Beach Calling—A Devotional Journal for the Middle Years and Beyond.

When Missy’s mother died in 2008, the one place Missy found solace was—the shore.

Echoing the opening pages of Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s memoir, Missy recounted her arrival at the beach after her mother’s death in an interview this week. “I vividly remember going with my husband to our favorite shoreline, an area near a national park that is so quiet. For me, sitting there, my mind drifts. You’re on the beach in that almost-asleep state and that is how I was able to begin to go back through all that I had experienced with my mother.”

In Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh actually insists that her readers not try to write when they first arrive at the shoreline. Yes, she advises, you should bring along that tote bag full of your writing supplies, but the sand, the wind and the waves take a while to work on us. Just when readers may guess she is advising them never to write on a beach—she shifts gears and says the writing must wait until the shoreline has had its way with our spirit.

Only at that point, Ann Morrow Lindbergh writes, something begins to happen: “The mind wakes, comes to life again. No—not in a city sense—but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach.”

And that’s precisely what Missy invites her readers to do in Beach Calling: A Devotional Journal for the Middle Years and Beyond.

After many years of mentioning Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s book to audiences, I subsequently have received emails with attached photos of pages from readers’ copies of Gift from the Sea. The margins are crowded with notes. In fact, I keep giving away my own copies to people who need to read it—and often forget and send them out into the world with my own notations and underlining still in the pages.

Ann Morrow Lindbergh was right. These beach reflections seem to keep lapping the shores of the world in unexpected ways, often connecting one person with others—as Martin suggested last week.

In Beach Calling, Missy anticipates that interaction of shore and spirit. Her publisher, Upper Room Books, designed this book with an interior spiral binding that allows the pages to lie flat—and extra pages are interspersed for journaling. Missy assumes you will want to pull out a pen or pencil and jot on these pages.

Her new Beach Calling is a terrific gift for yourself, someone you love—or to work through in a small group.

How This Connects with Missy Buchanan’s Elder Work

Longtime readers of this magazine have known Missy for more than a decade, because we have featured interviews with her—or stories about her books—every year since the debut of her hugely popular first book, Living with Purpose in a Worn Out Body (2008). Despite its somber title, that book connected in a powerful way with elderly men and women nationwide. What readers discovered in Missy’s books was utter honesty about the tough challenges of aging—coupled with a deep appreciation of the power of faith to sustain and strengthen people in their final years.

One of the early readers of her first book was Lucimarian Roberts, the mother of Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. When Robin encouraged her mother to write an autobiography toward the end of her life, Lucimarian agreed under the condition that Missy Buchanan could be commissioned to help her pen her stories. That led to a collaboration on My Story, My Songa book that landed on best-seller lists and brought Missy twice into the Good Morning America studios. Our magazine published several stories about that collaboration. The favorite, among our readers, is this heart-felt column Missy wrote for us when Lucimarian eventually died.

Among our other Missy Buchanan stories that remain popular with readers:

In the Introduction to her new Beach Calling, Missy explains how this book connects with her overall focus on the power of spirituality to cope with the often grim realities of advanced aging.

“For almost two decades, my life and career have focused on issues of aging. As a middle-aged caregiver for my own aging parents, I went to the beach as a place of respite. I was on a beach when I first felt a nudge to write about aging faithfully. Nine books later, I also speak at senior living communities, churches and conferences across the world and regularly visit older adult friends in my community. Yet as a woman of the Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964), I understand why my peers resist the topic of aging and why they feel such angst at the thought of growing older. We shudder at images of physical loss and thoughts of decline and vow to do all we can to stay young. We refuse to contemplate dreadful thoughts of losing loved ones or enduring a life-changing medical crisis. But even amid our best efforts of eating right, exercising regularly, and using anti-aging products, aging comes anyway, like the unstoppable tide. I wrote Beach Calling for you, and I wrote it for me.

Taking Time to Remember Our Path

While all this talk and imagery of shorelines suggests a lazy lack of movement—in fact, the root of this invitation taps into the ancient value of pilgrimage. Shorelines aren’t about stopping. They are about remembering our path in tune with the natural cycles of the world. For Missy Buchanan, that’s connecting with the wonders of God’s unfolding Creation. For Martin Davis last week, that’s connecting with the natural cycles of our planet.

In his column, Martin wrote about remembering and reclaiming our most important values. “We can think of each as one of the values that serves to bind people across a range of belief systems—and connects us. And when we are attuned to these values, we collectively come together to celebrate and marvel at the mysteries of life we all share.”

In her book, Missy agrees with Martin’s basic premise, then she goes on—as a Christian writer—to identify this pilgrimage to the shoreline as part of a shared Christian journey.

At the root of both writers’ reflections are questions millions ask each day.

“In my earlier books, I wrote about the many ways people wrestle with these questions as they age. Baby Boomers, the readers I’m addressing in this new book, have all these same questions—but they just don’t feel they have any time to stop and think about them,” Missy said in our interview.

“I am inviting Boomers to pause and to start thinking—now—about their own spiritual perspectives on what it means to age. But, when I do suggest this in appearances I’ve made on my book tour—I hear from so many Baby Boomers who are frustrated and overwhelmed by simply working through the essentials for their own parents. I hear the whole long list: ‘I’ve got to get Mom into a better place to live;’ ‘We’ve got to figure out this transportation problem;’ ‘I spend all my time taking care of medical appointments;’ ‘Just feeding, taking care of meals, is a huge problem every day.’

“And I get that. I understand how overwhelming all of this is for families. What I’m trying to do in Beach Calling is to remind Baby Boomers—and I’m one of them, so I’m reminding myself—that we have to take time out to reflect on all of these deeper questions ourselves.”

Just some of the questions she raises in her book:

  • What possessions could easily become burdens as you age?
  • What do you fear most about aging?
  • What are you looking forward to in your later years?
  • In what ways can the second half of your life be more interesting and fulfilling than the first?
  • What can you do differently today to intentionally bolster your sense of wonder?

Toss the Book in Your Bag of Yoga Gear

“I ask a lot of questions in this book, but I did not write this to sound churchy or to feel preachy,” Missy said in our interview.

She’s right about that. Readers can consider, or ignore, the questions at the end of these 20 reflections. The vast majority of the text is written in a prose-poem format that guides us along the shore, occasionally dropping in a few lines from the Bible, but not pushing any hard-and-fast conclusions. If you are familiar with her earlier books, then you know Missy’s approachable style. Her prose often reads as if we are strolling along a beach, or sitting above a shoreline, with her—simply talking as friends. It’s that honest, matter-of-fact style over the past decade that has won over thousands of readers.

I described that friendly approach to Missy and she told me a story.

“I gave a talk and was signing books at Story and Song, at Florida’s Amelia Island, and there were about 60 or 70 people,” she recalled in our interview. “As they came up to have me sign their books, most of them just had one copy. Then, there was this woman with 10 copies!

“I asked her, ‘Why so many?’

“She said, ‘I’m part of a beach yoga class and I’m buying one of these for everyone in my class. A few of them go to church, but not many. They don’t have to take a book, but I will offer a copy to everyone. Then, I’m going to offer to stay after the yoga class, for those who want to do it, and we will talk about one of your reflections each week.

“And I thought: That’s part of this movement we’re hearing so much about these days—what we sometimes call ‘doing church outside of church.’ Now, usually we hear about programs focused on youth or young adults or young families. Here was a woman who was just inspired to try to do something with her friends—inspired enough that she was willing to buy 10 books. And, that fits with what we’re seeing. This woman who bought the books was a Baby Boomer—I would guess between 65 and 70 and most of her friends weren’t church people. She just understood the value of trying to gather along the shore with others in an intentional way.”

That’s what Martin Davis saw along his shoreline, last week.

Along the Shore with Lucimarian Roberts

“The shore’s power is universal,” Missy said. “Since I finished writing this book, I’ve been thinking about an experience I had while I was working on the book with Lucimarian Roberts. That was a big project and I spent a lot of time with her. She enjoyed those days I was with her—especially because I had a rental car. She loved to have us get into that car so she could navigate. That way, we could go wherever she wanted. As we drove, we would talk and I always had my recorder with me wherever we went. So, these were good times we shared.

“One afternoon, we were driving along the coast near Biloxi on a road that had these parking areas every so often so cars could pull off to look out along the shore. After while, she said, ‘Would you mind pulling into one of these?’

“We did. We faced the gulf. I rolled down the windows and turned off the car. We just sat there in silence for a long time, listening to the ocean.

“After a while, I said, ‘Lucimarian, I think I understand why you and Larry decided to retire here. You could have retired anywhere, but you wanted to be near all of this.’

“And, she said, ‘The beach is where I come to grapple with life and with growing old.’

“That really stayed in my mind.”

And, if you explore this new book—it will stay in your mind, as well.

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Cover of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea

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

Care to read more?

IS THIS THE FIRST YOU’VE HEARD of Gift from the Sea? Amazon still has the lovely little 50th anniversary edition on sale.

LEARN MORE ABOUT MISSY—Missy’s own website is packed with information about her work, her travels and her books. It’s simply: MissyBuchanan.com

That website also includes a front-page endorsement from Adam Hamilton, who we also have featured in ReadTheSpirit over the years. He is famous as a Christian preacher, teacher and author; and he is widely considered to be one of the nation’s most influential United Methodist pastor, these days. His endorsement begins: “Whether you are at the beach, or just wish you were, Missy Buchanan’s devotional journal for those of us in the middle years is a refreshing gift!”

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