037: What are you reading? You look so HAPPY!

    We really do want your help in finding good books to recommend, because we’re hearing loud and clear from readers that you enjoy learning about books and films that are inspiring other people.

    In Friday’s story, we talked about the challenges of finding good, fresh, inspirational reading for the upcoming holidays! (Click on this link if you missed that story!)

    THEN — We got an intriguing plea for help from Gail Katz, who is one of Michigan’s leading experts on cross-cultural educational programs for students in public schools. She is working on a recommended-reading list for 7th Grade students in a nationally recognized program that Gail supervises, called “Religious Diversity Journeys.”
    This is a carefully balanced educational program that invites a group of middle-school students, each year, to learn more about the culture and community values that under-gird various religious groups.
    And, this year, Gail is putting together a fresh reading list of books that are appropriate for this age.
    One gem she has on her short list already is “Buddha Boy.” (Click on the book cover or the title to read a review and buy a copy, if you wish.) It’s a story of two high-school students from different backgrounds who share a problem with bullies, but deal with the problem in quite different ways.
    The author, Kathe Koja, may be familiar to our many readers who are concerned about spirituality as it relates to animals. Kathe has been widely praised for another book for young readers, called “straydog.”
    Gail is especially eager to find books that are appropriate for middle school students that feature inspiring stories about young people from various religious and cultural backgrounds, especially from the smaller minority groups in the U.S.
    So, if you’ve got a great suggestion — please, let us know!

    FINALLY, we were given a couple of great reading tips by painter Nancy Thayer, who has shown her work across Europe and the U.S., but whose home base also is here in Michigan.
    Nancy is an art instructor at the University of Michigan and also at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. And, she is one of the most spiritually optimistic people we’ve ever met.
    Nancy’s optimism springs from a deep wellspring of Bible study and prayer. It can be seen in Nancy’s professional work, which includes a national-level exhibition of spiritually themed art that she is helping to bring to Michigan in January. (Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit in coming weeks for news about this remarkable project!)
    And, her optimism can be seen in her daily life, as well.
    So, we asked one of our favorite questions: “What are YOU reading?”
    And, in Nancy’s case, we added: “We want to know because you look so happy!”
    In response, Nancy shared two of her favorite books with us.
    The first is “12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me),” by the popular Christian writer John Fischer.
    “I like his book, because he doesn’t let me off the hook at all. His book doesn’t let me point fingers at other people and blame them,” Nancy said. “The book talks about a life of astonishment, the life that the spirit of God desires for us. It talks about pride and humility, gratitude and love for others. It talks about the problem of self righteousness, and how we each can fall victim to this temptation of criticizing others.
    “It’s a great book to read and save and read again.”

    The second recommendation by Nancy is “Happiness Is a Choice,” by Barry Neil Kaufman, who has been working in the field of positive-thinking therapy for decades and is most famous for “Son-Rise,” the story of raising his autistic son.
    “On the first page of his book, he says you can take something that’s terrible and make believe it’s beautiful. And what he’s really talking about, throughout this book, is that the way we choose to see the world -– creates the world we see,” Nancy said. “I think that’s very important for us today. We’re seeing so much that’s terrible today and I think we need to keep asking ourselves if what we’re seeing is really what God created for us: the wars, the evil, the conflict that we see in so many places.
    “Or, is there another picture we’re not seeing clearly? Is there another a picture that we need to see?” Nancy said.
    “I love this book and, as an artist and a teacher, I’ve made it required reading in some of my classes in the past. I don’t require it in class anymore, but I often refer to it and read from it to my students.
    “This is a very important spiritual truth -– that it’s difficult for us, sometimes, to see the world clearly and to see the goodness that God created for us.”

    We wholeheartedly agree with Nancy on that point.

    BUT PLEASE — Tell us what you’re reading! Tell us about holiday books! Share with us any good tips for Gail’s list of diverse reading for middle-school students. And, tell us about any uplifting spiritual reading that’s making you happy these days!

    You can Email me directly, by clicking on this link, or leave a Comment on our Web site. If you’re reading an email version of this story, click on the headline to jump to our site and you’ll find the Comment link at the bottom of each daily story.

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