061: Your Voice Matters … from Home to Hajj

our voice matters.

    That’s a powerful affirmation in this era, when the great temptation is to think of ourselves as helpless in the face of the thunderous flood of media cascading all around us from the moment our clock radios spring to life each morning — until we flip off the TV and check our email one last time at night.
    If ReadTheSpirit has any prophetic power at all, please believe what we’re telling you:
    Your voice matters.
    As the Founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I see proof of this everyday. Here are several examples from this week alone:


    Dinah Berland, the poet who is reviving “Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women” — and who occasionally has been sharing the stories behind this amazing project with our readers here at ReadTheSpirit — sent me a fresh note about a way that she used her voice.
    Listen to this, because what she did was so simple, yet so powerful:

    “Today, I finally got around to delivering a copy of ‘Hours of Devotion’ to
Sam Johnson’s Book Shop — the used-book store in my neighborhood,
where I originally found that 1866 English copy of the prayer book that started this whole effort.
    “Larry, the
co-proprietor of the shop — a slight, rosy-cheeked man, probably in
his early 70s — was so taken aback by my story, he could hardly speak.
He just kept looking at my book and back at me with an incredulous
smile. I wanted him to know that his enterprise of collecting and
selling used books to others could actually change people’s lives.
said that the store has been in business for nearly 30 years and he
could tell from the writing inside the cover of this older volume that
it was probably among the first books in the store. So that means that
it was right there, on the shelf, waiting for me for 20 years — before
I even moved into the neighborhood!
    “What a great joy to be able to
present him with an inscribed copy of the new edition of the book that resulted from my finding the 1866 book in his store!
It was one of the most gratifying moments in this whole awesome

    This is, indeed, awesome! She took the time to return to the shop and thank one of the proprietors, which is remarkable in itself. How many of us take time to say, “Thank You.” Then, as Dinah talked with him, this became a moment of deep connection between them — and affirmation of his work in the shop.
    Then, beyond that exchange, think about the words Dinah chose to describe the 1866 book: Sometimes, things are “waiting” for us to find them.
    What’s waiting for you today? Will you see it clearly? And, if you do, will you tell someone about your discovery — and, thus, share it?
    Think of it: even the keeper of a seemingly obscure little shop had given Dinah a life-changing gift. And, eventually, Dinah gave him a gift in return.
    And, by sharing her story with us, she gave all of us a gift.


    Of course, this is the No. 1 affirmation in our list of 10 founding principles.
    This affirmation lies deep within our religious traditions. In Genesis, God speaks … and Creation unfolds. In the gospel of John, Christians are reminded that: “In the beginning was the Word …” And Muslims, too, know that their Quran originally was spoken and was intended for humans to preserve and recite to others.
    This week, I was reminded of the importance of this central idea in a telephone call from a longtime radio personality, a guy famous throughout central Indiana: “Big” John Gillis. Big John retired recently as one of the most popular voices on WIBC’s drive-time radio shows — just as I’ve retired recently after decades at the Detroit Free Press.
    If you’ve never been to Indianapolis, but know somebody who lives there — or has lived there for some years in the past — drop the name “Big” John Gillis on them. I can almost guarantee what will happen next. They’ll grin and tell you: “Yeah, the radio guy! He’s, like, The Voice of the streets of Indianapolis. Yeah, I love that guy!” (That’s Big John in white next to the WIBC helicopter in which he sometimes flew.)
    Although technically retired from news media, Big John and I share a strong sense of vocation after decades of working in communities with thousands of people just like you.
    When he called this week, Big John said: “I just want to remind you of something. You’re really onto something with all of these ideas you’re unfolding at ReadTheSpirit. But I want to keep reminding you of this one point: Don’t forget that it’s all about the Voice. Everything can change around us. Newspapers can fade into the Internet. Radio stations can change formats. All the technical stuff can change. How the message reaches us can change in all kinds of ways.
    “But people always need to hear a Voice that calls them together and reminds them of who they are,” Big John said. “That idea goes waaaay back. Just make sure you never forget it.”
    And I won’t — especially with friends of ReadTheSpirit like Big John down there in Indianapolis.

    During the season of Lent in early 2008, there’s a good chance that you’ll be treated to some special audio reports from Big John via ReadTheSpirit. Stay tuned!


    A reminder of this essential spiritual truth came in an email from another old friend: Victor Begg, who now is a nationally known Muslim peace activist. He’s based in Florida at the moment, but he has been a major pillar in Michigan’s interfaith community for many years.
    Starting January 1, this broad movement of people that Victor helped to launch, along with others in southeast Michigan, is coming together to declare an entirely new national observance: The 1st Annual Interfaith Heroes Month. From January 1 through January 31, they plan to expand upon the annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
     We’re a big part of that effort, too.
     Here at ReadTheSpirit, we will be opening up a whole new branch of our site — a beautifully designed new “home” within our overall Web hub where we’ll welcome all of the men, women and youth who want to explore this new observance along with us. In fact, I’m heading to Asia myself in mid January to visit several countries where I will be talking with people there about these new ideas.
    Click Here to read a summary of what’s unfolding in January.
    BUT, what Victor wanted to remind all of us about is that, right now, 1 billion Muslims around the world are spiritually focused on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
    “This is a very important time as Christmas, Hanukkah and the Hajj are very close to each other this year,” Victor said. “You’ve done stories on Hanukkah and I know you’re going to do stories on Christmas. Tell people about the Hajj, too.”
    To help in this effort, Victor wrote this brief summary: “Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, required to be performed once in a person’s lifetime by able-bodied Muslims who are financially able to undertake this travel. Preparation for Hajj includes asking for forgiveness from friends, relatives and acquaintances who you may have offended at some time. It is not unusual to see Muslims bidding farewell, asking for everyone’s  good will and taking care of their obligations before they leave for Hajj.”

     NOW, here’s what is astounding about what Victor did in this simple email:
    His “voice” reached our Home Office here in Michigan, where I began to check around on the other huge, religious Web portals to see what I could find in the way of Hajj coverage.
    I thought: Surely all of us in online religious media are including coverage of the Hajj at the top of our Web sites, right?
    After all, as of Thursday this week, the official office for the Hajj in Saudi Arabia reported 1.5 million men and women had arrived for this sacred observance. This is a HUGE human movement of the spirit all around the world. And, we’re right in the heart of it, now. The peak of the pilgrimage is expected on Tuesday, authorities were saying late this week.

    I began to look around — and my jaw dropped!
    I checked Beliefnet and — do you know what I found as of Thursday? Nothing on their home page. There is a very nice Hajj overview of the sacred rites and rituals — deep inside the Beliefnet site — if you know to search for it. We’re going to help you find it by clicking here, because you won’t stumble across it, otherwise.
    As I looked at various Web sites, it began to seem as though this  vast movement of Muslims was invisible.
    How about Newsweek-Washington Post’s big new On Faith site?
    As of Thursday night: Nothing. Eboo Patel was featured on the home page Thursday with an intriguing commentary — and I’m a strong supporter of Eboo’s work. I’ve recommended his autobiography, in fact. But even Eboo’s piece was focused on controversy in American headlines — and never so much as mentioned the Hajj.

    There is always an ocean of American media flooding around us.
    That’s how we live today.
    And, yet, there’s scarcely a drop reminding people to wish the more than 1 billion Muslims around the world a blessed Hajj, whether they are on the pilgrimage themselves this year or are prayerfully thinking of the 1.4 million who have made the trip.
    Well, news of the Hajj DID show up here at ReadTheSpirit, didn’t it? It’s a top-of-the-page headline today through Sunday.

    Please don’t misunderstand. My point here isn’t to criticize my very busy and highly respected colleagues in other online Web hubs. We all miss things.
    The point is — speaking for OUR home online — we’re thankful this weekend to mark the Hajj and wish our Muslim neighbors well in their travels, or in their home-based reflections in the pilgrimage.
    Quite frankly, we’re doing this because a simple Voice came through from a friend in Florida.

    Your voice?
    It’s powerful, too.

    Please — keep telling us what you think. Click on the “Comment” link at the end of this story on our Web site to leave a comment for our readers. Or Click Here to email me, ReadTheSpirit Founding Editor David Crumm.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email