13 True American Stars We All Should Know

PHOTOS FROM TOP: Kent Nerburn and his wife, the writer Louise Mengelkoch, on the porch of their Minnesota home; socks on a clothesline; Robin Roberts and Missy Buchanan in New York on the GMA show discussing their book about Robin’s mother; documentary filmmaker Ian Cheney; the cover of Joe Sacco’s Journalism; musician Carrie Newcomer; comedian-pastor-author Susan Sparks; theologian James Cone; the Goodwin family; travel writer Judith Fein has fun on one of her many global journeys; former-Amish writer Saloma Furlong; musician Fran McKendree; and bread related to Benjamin Pratt’s meditation. For July 4, we celebrate Americans
who are devoting their lives to strengthening our communities in creative ways. CLICK THE LINKS in each of these 13 mini-profiles to read a wide range of creative, inspiring stories. Enjoy!

(For fun facts and debunked myths about the actual holiday, read our Independence Day story.)


We love the first of our July 4 stars!
Kent Nerburn began his career as a sculptor, then morphed into one of America’s most beloved authors writing about Indian culture. Now, later in his life, Kent suddenly is having a ball going viral with a story from early in his career that often is headlined “The Cab Driver” or “The Taxi Driver” as it bounces around the Internet. We included a visit with Kent and his wife in our American Journey series in 2010. But, for the 2012 Fourth of July week, we’ve decided to join the viral publishing of Kent’s stirring “Cab Driver.


Speaking of “going viral,” inernational peacemaker Daniel Buttry is on his way toward a viral spread of an inspiring true story that involves prayer, international hot spots and—socks. Yes, socks, like the ones you may be wearing right now. Today, we also are joining in the viral republishing of Dan’s “We Are the Socks.” (Warning: Reading this story may be dangerous to overly comfortable readers.)


Here’s another star you may not immediatley recognize. We’re publishing a new story by author Missy Buchanan about Robin Roberts’ family.
Years before other authors turned to writing about the spiritual challenges of aging, Missy was inspiring people to reach out toward older men and women in their communities. Recently, Missy helped Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts produce a book about Robin’s mother, Lucimarian Roberts. Now, the world knows that Robin Roberts is facing a life-and-death challenge this year. What you probably don’t know is the story of the spiritual matriarch at the helm of Roberts’ big family. That’s Missy’s story, today.


Back in 2007, Ian Cheney brought us King Corn, a film that fans praise as a wake up call to the overwhelming dominance of corn in American culture. (Farmers and ranchers were not so happy.) But, on July 5, 2012, PBS’s award-winning POV series will premiere Ian’s latest film, “The City Dark.” In one hour of remarkable filmmaking, Cheney not only raises some urgent ecological questions—but he also touches on deep spiritual questions. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm reviews Ian’s new film The City Dark and explains how you can see it on TV—or online.


Famous comics journalist Joe Sacco is the first Maltese-American writer we have featured in our pages. We mention that because Sacco’s life was shaped by his birth on Malta and his childhood in Australia. By the time he became an American, he already was well aware of the world’s breadth. Joe Sacco also is the most controversial “star” in today’s list of 13. There are nearly as many foes as fans of his provocative reporting in comic form. In reviewing his new hardback collection, Journalism, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm argues that we should set aside our political arguments with Sacco. Instead, we should recognize that he is helping to create a new global language in news media.


Quaker folk musician Carrie Newcomer is as middle American as a Norman Rockwell painting. She even helps to fix hot dishes if a family in her congregation needs a hand. She once wrote a song celebrating the quirky names of Indiana’s county fairs. But she also is a restless creative spirit who is carving out new blends of traditional American and Indian music. Read our story about her album, Everything Is Everywhere, and learn how she collaborated with a famous musical ensemble from India.


She calls New York City her home. Her church shares a building with a hotel. That’s why, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11/2001, we invited Susan Sparks to write for ReadTheSpirit. We are recommending, today, that readers go back and take in Susan’s column, The Lifeboat of Laughter. In that piece she writes: Humor highlights our commonalties. When we laugh with someone … our worlds overlap for a tiny, but significant moment. … As W.H. Auden wrote, “Love your crooked neighbor with your own crooked heart.” Yes, insipring and wonderfully quotable!


Born in 1938 in Arkansas, the great theologian James Cone has taught students at New York’s Union Seminary since the 1960s. Watching the resurgence of bigotry in 2012, Cone’s effort to keep Americans from forgetting our history of racism certainly is timely.
In our most recent profile of Cone’s work, we wrote about him: He is eager to link together the many hard-won conclusions that he has drawn in his long career and, as a modern-day prophet, to sum up his central message for this new century. His newest book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, is an important testament in that effort—if you care about bridging America’s racial divide.

9 The Goodwin Family:
More than a ‘Year of Plenty’

From the East Coast to the West Coast: The Goodwin family sprang onto the national scene with, “Year of Plenty,” a book about radically reorganizing their family’s patterns of gardening, eating, shopping and overall consumption. In summer 2012, you may enjoy revisting our 2011 interview with the Goodwins. At that time, we called their book brilliant and innovative. We wrote: This Norman Rockwell family sewed together a patchwork quilt of principles that real people can duplicate—and that takes the century-old adage “Think Globally, Act Locally” one step further. The Goodwins managed to “Think Locally, Act Globally”!
Take a moment with the Goodwins. They may change your family’s life.


It’s summer. Millions are on the move. But, as you hit the road, are you thinking about the spiritual possibilities in your journey? Learn about The Transformative Magic of Travel with veteran travel writer Judith Fein, author of Life Is a Trip.

11 Saloma Furlong:
A Pilgrimage from the Amish

Millions of Americans saw a short version of Saloma Furlong’s story in the landmark broadcast of the two-hour PBS documentary, The Amish. Saloma is a rare and important new author, because she isn’t an outsider looking into Amish life. She comes from generations of Amish and tells her story in a memoir, Why I Left the Amish. This summer, millions of Americans will cruise through Amish communities nationwide, regarding these families with a nostalgia for our collective past. Meet Saloma Furlong and read about the real depth of Amish culture.

12 Fran McKendree:

Musician Fran McKendree barnstorms the country week after week, leading retreats, performing at conferences and using music to stir men and women to wake up the sacred vocation that often is stifled within them. Fran regularly keeps in touch with ReadTheSpirit and we know that, above and beyond his work with church groups across the U.S., Fran is using his studio to send even more moving music out into the world. Want a vivid example of this? Read our story about Fran McKendree and his song, Times Like These.

13: Benjamin Pratt:
‘Bread & Hunger Games’

Finally, here’s a special gift to readers from the author Benjamin Pratt. Over many years, Ben has been both an expert on pastoral care—and a liteary scholar specializing in the works of various authors. Today, Ben Pratt closes our circle of 13 stars by offering us a meditation that you are free to share, connecting three elements: our daily bread, The Hunger Games novels, and a courageous story of a musical peacemaker in Eastern Europe. Please, make time for ‘Bread & Hunger Games’ by Benjamin Pratt.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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