270: Readers Tell Us About … Faith for Tough Times, Rob Bell — and a Movie

nce again, it’s Friday when we turn to the messages you’ve sent to us.

All this week, we’ve been focusing on the Jewish High Holidays — with a detour on Wednesday to hear from popular evangelical writer Rob Bell. We heard from you on those themes and others.
    As we try to do each Friday, we’re turning the page over to you.
    We always appreciate hearing from readers, and we’d love to hear from you!


    Elaine Greenberg is a regular reader and occasional contributor to ReadTheSpirit. She’s a musician and a cancer survivor who devotes her musical talents to helping lift the spirits of other men and women struggling with the challenges of cancer.
    Elaine wrote to us this week, saying that she was carrying reflections from our recent stories about aging into her spiritual reflections on the Jewish High Holidays this year. She wrote:

    I LOVE the fact that my husband Shelly and I are getting older, and we are
both active seniors, physically and mentally, but there is a fear
factor, too. How did we get to be our parents? When did this
happen? When did Shelly suddenly age in his looks, and where did all
my wrinkles come from? How come we don’t have the energy our minds
think we should have?
    You’ve also asked people to share about how we are thinking about the Jewish new year. Well, over the past year, I never stopped on my mission to
give inspiration to those who have been diagnosed with cancer. Whether it is through a personal phone call, speaking to groups or singing
to patients.
    I am traveling to Saginaw and Toledo to speak and I spoke at the opening of a new cancer center at St.
Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia in June. I LOVE talking to people, if I can teach survivors and their families about “The Healing Power Of Music”. I love to watch the faces of the people in the audience as they respond
to the music. By the end of my talk, those who were reluctant, at first, finally are sitting up and belting out whatever song it is we
are singing.
start my presentation by singing “Blue Skies”.
    I always end with “High Hopes”.
    I am working all the time on something — planning a third annual jazz concert next summer at Temple Israel and asking young people to help me plan the mix of music; thinking about taking on a facilitator’s job in training medical students about cancer; always looking for ways to help.
    My faith in God has become stronger as I continue on with this
journey. I ask for some help, and then a day or two later, I am given
some sort of sign and I know it is telling me that God is always with
me — guiding me, not abandoning me.
    Sometimes the sign is subtle, and
it takes me a while to realize that this was the help I was asking
for. Did this strong faith come about because of the cancer
experience? I guess I would have to say that I was always someone who
had a very STRONG faith, but yes, the cancer experience has
made that belief stronger.
    I have to work very hard to convince myself to “stay in the
moment” and not worry about what happened yesterday, or how I will
handle tomorrow. That is a lot of work for me, but probably is for
anyone whose brain races ahead of their physical body.
    You have written that two of the most challenging spiritual questions are: “Why should I get out of bed in the morning?” And, “How do I make it through another stressful day?”
    Here is why and how I do it:
    I have faith.
    And I have a passion — inspiring other cancer survivors and trying to teach others
about the magnificence of music.


    I don’t think there’s anything else that I need to say about Elaine’s wonderful letter, except to point out that Elaine has her own Web site about her work with music and recovery from cancer. It’s certainly an affirmation of faith, of life and of purpose that we all can share.


    Helping out with ReadTheSpirit this fall is Megan Crumm, a student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. She’s part of a team of college-aged young people developing some new projects that you’ll see this autumn, including a cool new online landing page called WriteTheSpirit — a place to shine a spotlight on grassroots spiritual bloggers around the world. The site still is “under construction” so far, but we’ll unveil it soon.
    If you’re aware of a spiritual blogger who more people need to discover, please Send Us an Email with your recommendation, especially if that blogger is overseas. However, we’re pointedly asking our college-aged team to serve as the judges on which blogs will be honored. We really want this to become a grassroots launching pad for important, new, young voices.
    Which brings us to Rob Bell — an important, young voice with a new message this autumn.
    Megan was in charge this week of gathering some of our reader comments on Bell. Here’s some of what she collected —

    Reader Chris Balk writes: Rob Bell has a great ability to take traditional ideas and explain them
in a more contemporary way. While some may criticize his ways as part
of the “emerging church”/mega-church movement; I think that how he
delivers interpretation of the scripture is refreshing and can help
Christians who are new to walking the path.

    Dave Santiago writes via Facebok:Velvet
” was an amazing book and Rob’s “Nooma” series is some of the best
stuff I’ve heard ever.

    A seminarian from Louisiana, Drew Sutton, writes: I met Rob Bell last year at his the “God’s Aren’t Angry” tour last year.
At the end of the message, I had a chance to meet him.

    I said to him,
“I just started seminary and each week you mess with my

    He laughed. I was kinda stoked but my statement was true. Each
week he challenges me to look at scripture with a new lens and to then
use the same lens to observe the world around me.

    Louise Monacelli writes: I see in Rob Bell the kind of leadership the Christian church
desperately needs today — men and women who are willing to speak out, to
call people back to the larger truth of the Scriptures and Christian
history, not our current narrow definitions that demonize folks (even
other Christians) who do not ascribe to the same ideas.

    The statistics
on the number of folks leaving the ministry every month are appalling,
but it may be a winnowing process so that only those who have the depth
of faith and strength of character to stand up in the face of all the
change coming will be left standing. I intend to be in that number.


    Arielle Ford is one of the many media professionals who follows what’s happening here at ReadTheSpirit and occasionally drops us notes. She’s best known as the publicist for Deepak Chopra and she’s a leading advocates of learning more about Eastern religious traditions, including traveling to India.
    Earlier this week, we praised Judy Gruen’s indie spirit as a writer and talked about the importance of supporting independent voices in spiritual media. Similarly, we’ve helped to spread the word about an independent spiritual-movie project that Arielle also has taken under her wing. Even during my years as a Religion Writer for Gannett newspapers and the Detroit Free Press, I was a subscriber and supporter of Stephen Simon’s Spiritual Cinema Circle.
    Now, with the media industry in the midst of turbulent change, the Spiritual Cinema Circle is one of those inspiring “cottage industries” of indie-minded folks who are licensing, packaging and distributing great movies with spiritual themes every month. Click here if you want to jump to our Conversation With Stephen Simon.
    But, THIS WEEK, Arielle sent me a note about an upcoming Michael Douglas film in the Circle’s monthly schedule. This film clearly is a personal favorite for her in the Circle’s schedule. I’ve seen the movie, too, and know it’s a fun choice. For the weekend, we usually try to make at least one movie recommendation and, while this one isn’t in theaters, it’s worth noting.

    Here’s the note Arielle sent talking about why this particular film struck home:
   Last month I had the opportunity
to spend some quality time with my big, crazy family at the wedding
of our niece, Eve. We all gathered in Prescott, Arizona, for the Big
Day. One morning, after a long hike, my nephew Beau and I had
a funny conversation about the various strange, and sometimes wonderful,
behavior of various relatives. I suggested to Beau that the term “dysfunctional
family” is an oxymoron.
    He argued that it’s really “functional
family” that is the oxymoron. Actually, I think in this case we are
both right!

    I’ve lived long enough to
discover that all families are a bit crazy and dysfunctional.
And, it doesn’t matter. Somehow we have all come together to
teach each other life’s most important lessons: how to be unconditionally
loving, and how to practice forgiveness and compassion.
    It’s a lot like “King of California.” Michael Douglas plays Charlie, a musician just released from a well-earned
stay in a mental institution.

    In the film, Charlie’s
teenage daughter Miranda, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is hoping they
can create a normal life together. Unfortunately Charlie immediately
announces that he is on a hunt for Spanish treasure buried under the
local Costco. Charlie soon lures Miranda to join him in this Don Quixote-like
quest. Watching the loving, confrontational, and extremely complex father/daughter
relationship between Charlie and Miranda reminded me of my own “dysfunctional”
relationship with my Dad. The film has an unpredictable but strangely
satisfying ending.

    Thanks, Arielle!
    Oh, and that photo at right? No, it certainly isn’t Arielle and it isn’t Michael Douglas. It’s Stephen Simon, the founder of the Spiritual Cinema Circle. Click on Stephen’s photo to jump to his site and check out his Circle.

THANKS to the readers we’ve quoted today!
    If you didn’t see your comment or suggestion today—keep
reading, because we’ll have more news, reviews, quizzes and inspiring
interviews next week.

AND PLEASE, as these readers have done—Tell Us What You Think.
    There’s still time to sign up for our Monday morning ReadTheSpirit Planner by Email—it’s free and you can cancel it any time.

    Not only do we welcome your notes, ideas, suggestions and personal
reflections—but our readers enjoy them as well. You can do this
anytime by clicking on the “Comment” links at the end of each story.
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