047: Change the World: Here’s How You Can Do It, 1 Circle at a Time

he question is not what you look at. But what you see.”

Henry David Thoreau

    That’s exactly what we are urging ReadTheSpirit discussion circles to ask themselves: “What are you seeing out there that gives you hope? What are you seeing that inspires you?”
    And, because we love the power of the written Word, we also are urging people to ask each other: “What are YOU reading?”

    This is such a simple, fresh and uplifting idea for people that, so far in our opening weeks online, we’ve heard from several readers across the U.S. who are gathering with friends, inspired by ReadTheSpirit, and are starting informal discussion circles.
    No, we’re not talking about classes with a fixed curriculum or required reading. Quite the contrary, we’re inviting all of you out there to try organizing an informal circle with this kind of fresh questioning as the starting point each time you meet.
    Believe me, it works!
    Thoreau suggests it.
    And so does Dr. Kenneth Libbrecht of Caltech.

    Before I tell you more about ReadTheSpirit circles — let me introduce you to the amazing Dr. Libbrecht, whose photographic books and home Web site, www.snowcrystals.com, are celebrations of the power that lies in simply slowing down and focusing our vision.

    The Thoreau quote at the top of our story today appears in one of Dr. Libbrecht’s many books dedicated to his snowflake photography. He’s the head of the physics department at Caltech, where his professional pursuits include things like “advanced detector development for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory.”
    In his spare time, he specializes in capturing awe-inspiring photographs of snowflakes using special equipment to document crystal formations in ice.
    There’s nothing specifically religious in his work, as far as we can tell.  But he sprinkles his photographs with quotes from such sages as Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein and Robert Frost. Clearly, Libbrecht is pointing us toward the transcendent power of clarifying our vision.

    (Click on the cover of his book or any of his sample snowflake photos with this story to jump to a review of our favorite choice among his books.)

    The point is that we all need to refocus in the midst of this stressed-out holiday season. Actually, we need spiritual refreshment of our vision in every season, don’t we?
    For a half dozen years now, I’ve been doing this with the help of circles of friends who gather over breakfast, or coffee, or lunch — and we start by looking hopefully out at the world around us.
    The location doesn’t matter. I’ve met with circles in conference rooms at the Detroit Free Press, around those tiny little tables at Starbucks, over big breakfasts at Bob Evans — or in a quiet corner of a bakery.
    What’s important is agreeing to meet, not to focus on all the stress in our lives — but to let each person in the circle share something they’ve seen or read that gives them hope — or that sparks their creative impulses.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, I reported on just such a circle of friends who met in a coffee shop in Dearborn to talk about what they’ve been reading.
    If you’re anxious that you won’t find enough to talk about — don’t be. Once you start meeting with a circle, the opening questions tend to echo in one’s mind and, before you know it, you’re spotting more creative, hopeful things each day than you can hope to share at your next circle.
    The questions, as simple as they sound, are powerful sparks.
    When I met with the women in Dearborn a couple of weeks ago, we agreed to meet for an hour of conversation — and, then, we discovered that we were roaring along so enthusiastically that we had to cut off our discussion when we hit the two hour mark!
    The final story about our meeting that I published online touched on only a handful of highlights from our conversation. The whole evening ranged from sharing our favorite passages of Dr. Seuss to sharing tips on  gripping memoirs written by talented writers in the Middle East.

    Here’s why this is VERY IMPORTANT right now, beyond the obvious benefit of helping to refocus our spiritual lives. It’s as simple as this:
    You can change the world.
    I am not kidding. After more than 30 years as a writer and editor in American media, I can see the truth of this as clearly as Dr. Libbrecht has shown us snowflakes.
    Everywhere I go — and I’ve spoken to countless groups across the U.S. in talks, workshops, retreats and conferences over the years — people always ask me how they can help to reshape “The Media.”
    Well, RIGHT NOW, Media Managers are listening — and they’re especially eager to hear from small groups all across America. As surprising as that may sound, it’s true.
    American media is moving through a dramatic transformation even as you read this story. Click Here to read our debut story on this issue, if you missed it.
    NOW, you can make a big difference.
    Just last week, the New York Times reported extensively on this trend under a headline: “Publishers Seek to Mine Book Circles.” And, it’s not just book circles. The same thing is true, now, about TV and movie marketing, as well. “Support from small groups … can create a best seller,” the Times reported. Then, Times writer Joanne Kaufman went on to document case after case in which small groups played a profound role in reshaping media — from the success of “The Kite Runner,” which now is an international phenomenon, to the success of “Water for Elephants” and “Eat, Pray, Love.”
    Just as important as spotting this world-changing trend is figuring out how to have your circle’s voice “heard” in the deafening roar of media.
    That’s were WE come in at ReadTheSpirit!
    What we’re adding to this exciting mix of activity is this: First, we’ve got an unusual approach to forming these circles. You don’t need to find friends who’ll make a heavy-duty commitment to a fixed reading list. Instead, together, you meet and become a seed-bed for the kinds of fresh ideas we’re all trying to spot here at ReadTheSpirit.
    Then, through sharing your thoughts with ReadTheSpirit, you become part of the vanguard spotting fresh spiritual and religious ideas — in books, movies, TV shows, in trends, styles, retailing, in new groups, Web sites and new voices you hear — anywhere — that are making a difference in your life.
    You’ll enjoy your local circle, then you can send some of your ideas to us here, at the hub of ReadTheSpirit — and we’ll share your voice with the whole wide world.

    Here’s How To Do It, Step by Step:
     Think of a few friends who you’d enjoy meeting for coffee and conversation — or tea or lunch or breakfast.
    Settle on a comfortable place to meet, a date and a time. Give yourself a good 90 minutes.
    Start with these questions: “What are you seeing out there that gives you hope? What are you seeing that inspires you?”
    Go around the circle and let each person have the floor, pretty much uninterrupted, so that each person feels comfortable sharing their own creative sparks.
    Our watchwords at ReadTheSpirit are “great curiosity and great respect.” That’s the only way a group like this, over time, will thrive. That’s because, sometimes, our responses are half baked, maybe flawed, sometimes downright silly. Over time, you’ll probably laugh as much as raise your eyebrows in awe at what you’ll hear. But, always, show respect.
    Bring a pad and pen, because you’ll walk away with tips for reading, great films to watch, TV shows to catch, a store, museum, community center or natural place that you’ll want to visit to catch a glimpse of what animated your friend to mentioned these things.
    AND — and this is an important part of this request from ReadTheSpirit: If you form a circle, Email us with your ideas, reactions and suggestions — so that we can share some of your ideas with others.
    Together — no question about it — we will reshape religious-spiritual media — and the world.

    In coming months, we plan to support such circles in a variety of ways. We plan to open up six different Top 10 Books sections of our Web site, where you’ll find a showcase of 60 great voices (50 books and 10 multimedia selections that we’ll honor and display prominently on our site). We’ll have safely moderated areas for your comments and even your reviews, sermons, jottings and study guides concerning these works.

    We’ve got specially themed seasons planned to help light up your seasons in new ways.
    In January, we’ll invite you — and your circle, if you’ve formed one — to celebrate Interfaith Heroes Month with us. There will be 31 profiles, one per day, of 31 men and women who crossed religious and cultural boundaries, down through history, to promote peace in the world.

    And, soon, through this Web site, you’ll be hearing from some of our other colleagues across the U.S. A few of those voices will appear in December — and more will appear in the new year.
    Some of those voices can be yours and your friends.
    We’ll provide you a whole range of resources, day by day and week by week.
    So, circle up, friends!
    We’d love to hear from you about this — and we think you’ll love giving this idea a shot. We’ll be here to help!

    COME BACK on TUESDAY for our weekly Quiz. This week it’s “Saints Preserve Us!” (Remember, you can reprint and share any of our articles on this site — by just making sure to include a credit to “readthespirit.com”)
    On WEDNESDAY, we’ve got a Conversation With the internationally famous scholar Karen Armstrong, who talked with me about her innovative new “biography” of “The Bible.”

    AND: PLEASE, keep telling us what you think. Click Here to email me, David Crumm, or leave a Comment for other readers on our site.

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