115: Sure-Fire Groups You Can Lead 03: Change the world — one Hero at a time

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    TODAY, ReadTheSpirit also is launching a new, free, Monday-morning newsletter via email. The most valuable feature in the newsletter is a short, helpful check-list that we’re calling “The ReadTheSpirit Planner.” At a glance, this little emailed “Planner” tells you a half dozen key things coming up each week in the world of religion and spirituality — so you can start your week aware of what you’re going to hear people across the U.S. talking about in the days head.
    For instance, the Planner in today’s newsletter contained an item on Anne Rice’s new novel about Jesus, due out on Tuesday. (These once-a-week newsletters are free, we’re not sharing your email address with anyone else — and you can cancel it at any time.)
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e’re ALSO continuing our popular series on Sure-Fire Groups You Can Lead, today, with a book that’s close to our hearts, because we published it through our ReadTheSpirit Books. It’s called “Interfaith Heroes,” and we originally released the book on January 1 to celebrate the annual January-long Interfaith Heroes Month.
    What prompts us to include “Interfaith Heroes” as a Sure-Fire Group idea — especially for this spring and summer — is a convergence of events over the past week. The first was a telephone call from an old friend, a journalist who is a recovering alcoholic and has remained sober for more than 20 years now.
    This friend told me that he was quite intrigued by this whole concept — and he asked me about what happens between the annual Interfaith Heroes months.
    “Well,” I said, “we’re keeping the Interfaith Heroes Web page online.  We’re aware of some teachers in schools who have assigned students to read the book and to visit the Web page.
    “Plus,” I said, “the most important thing is: We’re collecting nominations of ‘interfaith heroes’ and, sometime this summer, we’ll get together with our sponsors of the observance and finalize our list of the 31 heroes we’ll honor in January 2009 both online and in the next edition of the book.”

    “So, what is an ‘Interfaith Hero’?” my friend asked me. “Because I think you should include Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob, the co-founders of AA.”
    The moment he said that, it hit me: Of course! Plus 2009 is the 70th anniversary of the “Big Book” that represents a pillar of the movement.
    A number of historians who specialize in 20th Century religious movements have pointed to the founding of AA by two men struggling for sobriety, Bill Wilson (formerly a stockbroker on Wall Street) and Bob Smith (a physician). Both were desperate and the movement they founded, in retrospect, is credited as a major advance in religious cooperation — a spiritual movement, focused around “a higher power,” that was organized by people from diverse backgrounds entirely outside any existing religious group.
    Yeah, Bill W and Doctor Bob would be pretty strong nominees for next year.

    Then, I also got a note from a woman in Singapore who said she was impressed to find that about one third of the men and women profiled in the 2008 edition of “Interfaith Heroes” had direct ties to Asia. (That’s due to the fact that the author of the volume, the Rev. Daniel Buttry, is an international peace negotiator for American Baptist Churches and he has specialized in work in Asia for many years.)
    The woman, who works for an American corporation in Singapore, asked, “So, will there be more people from other countries in your book next time?” she asked. “Or is Asia especially attuned to this kind of connection between religions? What’s the deal with people from other countries?”
    That’s a very good question, isn’t it? She was sort of challenging people from other parts of the world, in a friendly way, to look for heroes in their midst, as well.

    Are you catching my point?
    This is a fascinating area to explore with a group: Who shall we regard as heroes in peacefully building bridges between religious groups — rather than sparking friction or advocating violence?
    Are there heroes who’ve crossed religious boundaries in our own religious traditions? Are there interfaith heroes in our professions? In our social networks? In our communities or our countries?

    So, let’s call this class:
    “Finding Our Interfaith Heroes”

    When to Schedule the Group:
    Anytime. But, if you organize a group this spring — or even early this summer — you’ve still got time to make nominations of heroes who might wind up in January’s observance and the 2009 edition of the book. In other words, you can make a real difference in the world with the outcome of your group’s discussions.

    Length of This Group Series:
    Four to six weeks would work best.
If you choose a month-long series, you could ask group members to read the 31 chapters as a daily discipline throughout the month. Or, you may want to extend the group a little longer to have time to come up with ideas of heroes you’d like to nominate — and to do a little research into the people you’re going to recommend at the end of the class.

    How Can We Spice Up This Group?
    If you purchase a copy of the “Interfaith Heroes” book, you’ll find detailed study guides in the book itself — plus suggestions for organizing interfaith programs in your community, even if you’ve never done this kind of thing before. Contact information for groups involved in this kind of work is listed in a supplement to the book. Plus, there are discussion-starting questions printed at the end of each of the 31 chapters.
    The book comes “loaded with extras” as DVD marketers like to say now.

    To add multimedia to a group study, you might want to check out the “My Name is Bill W.” made-for-TV movie on DVD, a very fine film that earned actor James Woods an Emmy as best actor in 1989. Take a look, find out more about the AA movement — and, then, you tell us whether you think Bill W. And Dr. Bob should be honored as interfaith heroes in January 2009.
    My anonymous friend and I may be completely off base in thinking of them as pioneers in crossing spiritual boundaries. Or we might be right. Tell us what you think.

    (By the way — if you click on the AA Big Book at left, you’ll jump to the official Alcoholics Anonymous site where you can read more about that very important group.)

    There also are other fine films about religious diversity to consider for such a class. Check out our wide-ranging recommendations of spiritual films.

    What If I’m Not Christian?
    This class is made for people of all religious backgrounds — or even for groups with no specific religious affiliation. Such a group study is ideal, especially, for interfaith discussion groups. The material also is presented in a way that secular classes in the humanities, sociology, world history and other subject areas could explore — and even make nominations for next year.

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    COME BACK to this page Tuesday for our weekly Quiz — this time, a mix-and-match quiz on books of the Bible, which should be easy for most readers to sort out, right? And, Wednesday, you’ll find our Conversation With Mary Albert Darling, co-author with Tony Campolo of a book that was very popular with our readers when we first wrote about it, “The God of Intimacy and Action.”
    Then, later this week, you won’t want to miss a seemingly crazy idea we’ve tried recently that’s proving to be a revelation about spiritual reading. We’re calling it, “Judging the Book by Its Cover,” and our first experience with this idea wound up literally dousing a hot new book in a torrent of water! (And, we’ve got video to prove it. Stay tuned.)

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