321: Readers Tell Us About … the spirituality of animals, poetry of nature and … ahhh, comedy of Christmas

ur mailbag is bursting this week! So, let’s immediately get to the news you’ve sent us. And PLEASE, send us a note right now! We love to hear from readers!



One of the most intriguing reader Emails this week came from Karen Allanach, associate director for Animals and Religion at the Humane Society of the United States. Karen shared a personal note, simply thanking us for our Monday-morning Planner newsletter. (See the end of today’s story if you want to receive that free newsletter.)
    Karen said, in part: “I rely on your emails to keep up with what is new in religious publishing. … I must say: Yours is one email that I truly look forward to reading in my inbox regularly!”
    I thanked her for the kind words, but here’s what’s really fascinating about this exchange: Karen alerted me to a wonderful online resource on the spirituality of animals that I must admit I had overlooked.

    It’s a terrific resource that I’m sure a lot of our readers will want to bookmark. It’s also a growing resource — and some of you who are involved in religious leadership may find that you want to contact the Humane Society and help out with their efforts to collect even more helpful spiritual resources about animals.

    In 2009, we’re going to share with you news about some spiritually themed programs the Humane Society is developing, because we know that these stories are very important to a lot of our readers. But, for today, simply check out this page the Humane Society has been developing, called All Creatures Great and Small.
    At ReadTheSpirit, we’ve published many stories on these themes. In fact, this week there is a fascinating 3-part series unfolding on the OurValues.org landing page all about finding fresh insights into the crises we face with Global Warming. If you’ve missed this week’s OurValues.org series, check it out by clicking here. (And, here’s a “preview” of coming attractions: Don’t miss the third and final part of this series on Wednesday in which guest writer Dr. Allan Schnaiberg really “brings his series home” with a conclusion that will make you think in new ways about this seemingly insurmountable problem!)

    We’d like to hear more about your own experiences and thoughts on spirituality and the natural world.


Maryland-based poet Judy Neri wrote to thank us for our recent story on the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. Specifically, Judy thanked us for quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins in the piece.
    We’ve had a strong appreciation for poetry since the founding of ReadTheSpirit. Among the stories on our site that continues to draw readers is a Conversation With another poet named Judy: the poet Judith Valente.
    And, back to Hopkins himself: We already have recommend Ron Hansen’s novelized look at the turning point in Hopkins’ life when he finally began to write verse again. The Hansen novel is called “Exiles,” and the book includes a complete copy of Hopkins’ lengthy poem: “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” (One story in which we recommended Ron’s novel is in our Conversation With Dale Brown, which included a section on Hansen and “Exiles.”)
    So, Judy Neri’s Email touched on all kinds of ReadTheSpirit connections.

    I want to share the note that Judy sent us because it’s such a beautiful addition to our own reflections on Hopkins. Judy wrote:
    “I loved your piece on the Writers’ Museum and the opening lines on ‘Wildness and wet’ of Gerard Manley Hopkins! I have always thought of him as the first environmentalist poet. Could that be true? I don’t know of any prior poetry so explicit on the theme — but maybe other readers might. Your quote reminds me of ‘Binsey Poplars,’ of which I include here the first, most moving stanza, full of pathos:

Binsey Poplars
(felled 1879)

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,

All felled, felled, are all felled;

  Of a fresh and following folded rank

       Not spared, not one

       That dandalled a sandalled

    Shadow that swam or sank

On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed — winding bank

O if we but knew what we do

    when we delve or hew –

  Hack and rack the growing green!

    The rest of Hopkins poem appears online, including the stark warning that our human efforts to “fix” the natural world often are worse than leaving nature alone: “even when we mean — to mend her — we end her.”

    Thank you Judy Neri for this wonderful reminder of all Hopkins still can teach us!


strange as this may sound, standup comedy is precisely what Rabbi Bob Alper, the nationally known standup comic, and his new Muslim co-comedian Azhar Usman will be doing on Christmas at 7:30 p.m. at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Schuamburg, Illinois. It’s a show co-sponsored by a local mosque, a synagogue and the Lutheran church.
    I have known Bob for many years and had the honor more than a decade ago of publishing the first major review of his spiritual memoir, “Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This” — which turned out to be hugely popular with Catholic readers. And, that’s not a joke.
    Over the past 10 years, Bob has been a mini-movement in interfaith circles, tirelessly crisscrossing the country with his interfaith standup comedy acts — featuring his “comedy stylings” joined with an array of young Muslim comics. If you want to read more about some of his co-comedians, visit Bob’s own Web site.
    Bob sent an Email about performing this year both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, a deliberate sign of interfaith unity.

    He wrote: “David, this Christmas idea is a first for us!
    “Of course, Azhar and I are also performing at Congregation Shalom, Milwaukee, on Christmas Eve (Yule in the Shul, a.k.a. High Holly Day) but it’s not nearly as interesting as the show right on the 25th.
    “Here’s a recent bit we added: Last month, I performed with Mo Amer, another member of Allah Made Me Funny, at Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains. As we left the synagogue, Mo asked me what ‘Kol Ami’ meant.
    “I replied: ‘Voice of my people.’
    “Mo was relieved. He said, ‘That’s good because in Arabic, it means: Eat my uncle.’
    “You can be sure that one’s now in our act!”

    Now, that’s simply good news whatever your faith may be, right? Want to actually see a little video of Bob and Azhar? It’s a TV news report that you can watch by clicking here. You’ll have to watch a 15-second TV commercial first, but at least you can see a few moments of the pair in action.
    Thanks for sharing that great news, Bob!

“Thanks” to all the readers we’ve quoted today!

   If you didn’t see your comment or suggestion show up 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.
    This is a good time to sign up for our Monday-morning ReadTheSpirit Planner by Emailit’s
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what we’re seeing on the horizon, plus it’s got a popular “holidays”

    Not only do we welcome your notes, ideas, suggestions and personal
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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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