Dr. Deanna Womack: Now, it’s time for ‘NEIGHBORS: Christians and Muslims Building Community’

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

As we pass the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and face a perilous new relationship with old foes in Afghanistan, there are no more timely words for all of us in America than these by Dr. Deanna Womack, who teaches interfaith relations at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta:

“We Christians and Muslims in the United States find ourselves at a turning point. We can either talk to and learn from one another, or we can slide into yet more fear, distrust and division. Positive things have come from the increasing diversity of our country, things like conversation about what we share as worshipers of the God of Abraham. Yet that same diversity gives rise to fear and resentment. Too often that fear focuses on Muslims. Too often politicians and religious leaders fuel that fear in order to boost their own power. … Our fellow American citizens represent just about every religious and nonreligious group on the planet. We Christians need to get along with all of them. But at the present moment, we need to reach out particularly to our Muslim neighbors.”

These are opening words from Womack’s book, NEIGHBORS: Christians and Muslims Building CommunityThis book for general readers is based on Womack’s career as a scholar and educator teaching interfaith relations at Candler—and in many congregations as well. Published by the Presbyterian Church’s Westminster John Knox (WJK) Press, the book’s nine chapters come with questions sprinkled throughout the text to spark individual reflections as well as conversation with friends. She also adds a complete discussion guide at the end of the book.

These examples from the chapter titles suggest Womack’s very practical approach:

  • Religious Diversity Starts at Home
  • Changing Our Minds about Other Religions
  • The Deep Roots of Islam in America
  • Opening Our Ears to Muslim Neighbors
  • Resources for Community Building

Readers who have been following our weekly ReadTheSpirit issues since our debut in 2007 will see right away that Womack’s overview of grassroots peacemaking parallels what our own team has been publishing over these 14 years. Womack’s goal in her new book is the same as many of our own books, including Love Loss and Endurance by journalist Bill Tammeus, Blessed Are the Peacemakers by Daniel Buttry, Friendship and Faith by the women of WISDOM, Reuniting the Children of Abraham by Brenda Rosenberg and Our Muslim Neighbors by Victor Begg.

This week, Victor Begg’s own new column appears in newspaper websites nationwide as well as in the widely read IslamiCity website. His message is appropriately headlined: 9/11 Remembrance Should Be a Time to Recommit to American Values. Like Womack, Begg points out that building peaceful relationships with our neighbors is part of what it means to be a good American.

So, if you already have some of these earlier books, why are we so strongly recommending Womack’s book now?

Because she is adding to this national chorus of peacemakers from her own unique perspective as a university-based scholar—and because she has focused her book on the weekly needs of mainline Christian congregations. She has skillfully adapted her stories—and her many discussion questions—to encourage a fresh wave of interfaith conversation. Congregations nationwide are home to millions of small groups, Sunday School classes and circles of men and women. Womack is experienced in working with those groups and has crafted her book as a resource that can be picked up and easily used by local group leaders.

The Most Common Questions about Islam

Womack talked with me about her efforts in the days just before the 9/11 anniversary in a wide-ranging interview about the timeliness of this effort.

“In planning this book, I started with the most common questions people ask me when I visit congregations,” Womack said. “It doesn’t matter whether the congregation is liberal or conservative, I am always asked: What is Islam? Is Islam violent? Doesn’t Islam oppress women?” she said.

“I’ve spent years thinking about how to present this information to seminary students who are going out into these congregations across the U.S. In this book, then, I’m thinking about how to present this to ordinary men and women across the country who are asking these same questions.”

In our interview, I asked Womack: “How much is 9/11 still shaping American attitudes toward Islam?”

“That’s a complex question to answer,” she said. “9/11 has been a reference point for Americans for 20 years, but it happened when I was back in college myself. I’m now teaching students who are so young that they have no personal memory of 9/11. What they know about it is mainly from stories they’ve been told by parents or grandparents. Then, there is everything that has happened among Christians and Muslims over the past decade. There’s the rise of Trump and new extremist groups. There are headlines from Afghanistan right now that are part of our national conversations.”

She paused, then added, “I think we all realize that this is difficult material to present to a group and then try to lead discussions about it. I’m thinking about all the people in congregations across the country who may want to explore Christian-Muslim relations in their classes and small groups over the coming year. They really need some guidance to help them understand the background and then to think about all these issues today. That’s why I wrote this book. That’s what I hope the book will help them to do.”

Womack is relentlessly hopeful. “There’s no way to go forward without being hopeful. As a Christian, I am hopeful.”

“Where do you see hope?” I asked.

“That starts with realizing that we are in a different world now than we were in 2001, and some of what has developed is good,” she said. “Yes, we know that we have seen various narratives of blame and anger and a desire for revenge. But we also have to note that, since 9/11, there have been so many new Muslim-Christian initiatives that were launched after 9/11 and now have matured. Right after 9/11, so many people wanted to know about Islam—and about how to counter all of the angry and negative voices people were hearing—that a lot of hopeful new work started. So, we have come a long way in these 20 years in developing new relationships and organizations.

“Having said that, I point out in my book that more than half of Americans still have not experienced a meaningful meeting with a Muslim. We are living together in our increasingly diverse communities, but there still are huge barriers between us. As Americans, millions of people still don’t know their neighbors. That has to be the starting point. That’s why NEIGHBORS is the title of my book.”

Reaching out to our neighbors is far more than a matter of warm feelings, Womack says. It can be a life-and-death issue. Hate crimes have risen in America during the pandemic, especially a dramatic rise in crimes targeting Asian Americans, but also against religious minorities, including Jews and Muslims.

“We have been living in some dark times and I don’t know if things are going to get better right away,” she said. “Things may get better as we move through COVID to a point where people are comfortable going out again and freely engaging with other people.”

A central message of her book is that, for the Christians she is addressing, this embrace of our neighbors is not merely a personal preference.

“This is our calling as Christians,” Womack says. “This isn’t an option for us. Of course we know that hate crimes are contrary to the teaching of Christ. But we are called to do so much more than just stand up against hate crimes. It’s part of my witness as a Christian to meaningfully connect with all of our neighbors so that everyone feels that we are part of the same community. I don’t have a choice about this. It’s my calling as a Christian.”

Rochelle Calvert invites us into the spiritual solace of ‘Healing with Natue’

Rochelle Calvert leading a retreat prior to the pandemic.


Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

After nearly two years of pandemic, simply opening the door to the outside world and gathering with others may seem like a daring step.

For years, Rochelle Calvert had been leading groups of pilgrims into spiritual encounters with the natural world, then her own plans for gatherings were hit by COVID concerns. Now, she is inviting all of us to get a taste of these adventures through her new book, Healing with Nature: Mindfulness and Somatic Practices to Heal from Trauma.

Plus, Rochelle has added free audio meditations, and there are  opportunities to meet her and join in her future programs. Of course, she charges for those in-person programs.

This is a good time to discover Rochelle’s work, because she is moving once again toward building a schedule of her signature in-person retreats. She is moving her home base this autumn to Taos, New Mexico—from which she plans to travel to her retreat sites across the Western states in coming years. She currently is booking guests for a November 19-23 retreat at Ghost Ranch, which once was artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in New Mexico.

(Note to readers: This is a good time to share this cover story with friends who might also be interested in Calvert’s work. You can do so by using the social-media links on this page, or even by printing out this story to share using the green “PrintFriendly” button at the end. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a friend who wants to read her book along with you and discuss it—or who might even want to go with you to Ghost Ranch.)

Rediscovering the Natural Roots of Our Faith

The central affirmation that Rochelle makes in her in-person work, her online teaching and in the pages of this book is that each of us can discover our own spiritual pathway toward healing with nature.

“I firmly believe that people need to be free to explore the spiritual paths that will bring them emotional, psychological and physical healing, so I am not trying to direct people into any one faith tradition,” Rochelle said in an interview about her book. “I want to help people to increase their capacity to experience their own faith.”

This approach is possible because all of the world’s religious traditions ultimately rest on truths that are drawn from the natural world and that continue to call followers to connect with the planet.

In 2015, Pope Francis wrote an entire encyclical on this theme, Laudato si’ (On Care for Our Common Home). The letter was so timely that the Vatican’s website crashed shortly after its release because so many people around the world wanted to read Francis’s message. Both Francis and Rochelle start by pointing out the same central dilemma. The pope begins his letter by addressing both the trauma humans are inflicting on the planet—and the trauma humans are experiencing in our own hearts, minds and spirits. The two are eternally related, he argues.

Similarly, Rochelle devotes her entire book to encouraging healthy responses to our collective trauma through a deepening relationship with the natural world. Rather than a lone voice crying in the wilderness, Rochelle’s new book is part of a global chorus, now.

And yet, in a number of ways, her approach also is unique.

Healing Our Many Forms of Trauma

Rochelle certainly is not alone in zeroing in on “trauma” as one of the central sources of the anxiety, conflict and violence we experience daily in our communities. For example, over many years our online magazine has recommended books by Dr. Robert J. Wicks; most recently his The Tao of Ordinariness was the subject of a cover stories. Then, Mindy Corporon, author of Healing a Shattered Soul, is now devoting her professional efforts to Workplace Healing, a project to assist employers in responding to the many traumas experienced in the lives of their employees.

So, then, why are we so strongly recommending Rochelle Calvert’s book and her ongoing work?

Because she is charting new territory with her series of outdoor retreats that take participants to many different locations around the West—as well as adapting those practices to outdoor experiences that readers can develop at home or close to home. As a writer and teacher, she is always thinking about adaptive strategies. She’s a fresh and compassionate voice.

The stories in the pages of her book ring true, because she has distilled them from her own, unique, real-world experiences.

She also is solidly grounded in her field. In the book, Rochelle defines “trauma” in terms summarized from leading international sources. You could find a similar definition, for example, in books by Dr. Wicks. Here is an example in Rochelle’s words, from page 2 of her book:

Traumatic experiences come in many different forms. The psychological community has classically defined traumatic events as including natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist acts, war, combat, rape and other violent personal assaults. But trauma also can arise from experiences of loss of control, like medical trauma (including life-threatening illness, surgeries and childbirth) and the loss of a loved one. Betrayal, racism, bullying, abuse of power, helplessness, political unrest, pandemics and the climate crisis may also be traumatic experiences for an individual or a society.

In our interview, Rochelle explained, “Through my work and now through this book, I hope that people can learn to wake up and heal from trauma. To help people become healthier, I am encouraging spiritual practices with nature. I’m hoping that people begin by tasting these experiences and that they go on to develop their own unique way of healing through reciprocity with nature.”

In fact, as her book explains, the complex and timeless forces within the natural world can teach us a great deal about resiliency and recovery from trauma. In her opening pages, for example, she describes how the living creatures within the natural world try to regenerate after a disaster. Those regenerative forces often spring from the heart of that trauma.

In her book, she writes:

This is where the wisdom of the natural world can help. Nature has an intrinsic tendency to thrive, and it always works with and toward a traumatic or difficult experience to find a new way of being and restore health. We can see this in the way a tree grows back after a limb is torn off by the wind, or a tiny patch of grass grows up through a crack in concrete.

In 16 chapters across 288 pages, then, Rochelle lays out many of the principles she has found effective in her work with people over the years.

As a powerful bonus, she also adds links to audio meditations that readers of her book can download to enhance their reading experience.


Over the years, our ReadTheSpirit magazine office has received dozens of review copies of new books about sources of spiritual renewal that humans can find in nature. After all, the idea stretches all the way back to the first book of the Bible, as Pope Francis points out.

What makes Rochelle’s book distinctive within this ongoing flow of books? One welcome feature of Rochelle’s book is that she writes with a veteran caregiver’s concern for readers who are not in perfect health. Countless other books seem to assume that readers are fit and flexible and capable of tackling all manner of outdoor activities. Within the opening sections of Rochelle’s book, she makes a point of stressing that not everyone is capable of every experience.

In a section called “Challenges of Attending to the Breath,” for example, she takes time to address readers who may have breathing concerns, including asthma. This may seem like a simple point, but this kind of real-world compassion for the wide range of our physical bodies is rare in such inspirational books. In a section on “Body Awareness,” Rochelle takes time to encourage readers to approach the ideas she is sharing with “an attitude of kindness and compassion” toward the limitations of our bodies.


“This concern that you are picking up in my book is intentional and I’m glad you’re highlighting it,” Rochelle said in our interview. “For example, I’m a huge proponent of building from small steps until we gradually build up our capacity for some of these bigger experiences. Especially if people are working toward healing from challenging experiences in their lives, like trauma, then we don’t want to start by trying to sit with that in meditation for two hours right out of the gate. That’s probably going to flood us, to overwhelm us and to cause turmoil.

“What I’m encouraging is that people begin by tasting what is possible, like tasting the fruit of new life,” she continued. “We might even start with just five minutes of stepping outside into nature and opening our sensory doors to nature—and that short experience may start a ripple effect that can build day after day. We often undervalue how beneficial even short periods of time can be, especially if we welcome them, build on them and let them take their course in our lives.

“With small increments, we can move from that first tasting to build, day by day, toward real change in our lives and real healing.”


Care to Learn More?

GET THE BOOK (and the links to audio meditations that are in the book). Healing with Nature: Mindfulness and Somatic Practices to Heal from Trauma is available from Amazon and other online retailers.

VISIT ROCHELLE’S WEBSITE. In our interview, Rochelle explained that some sections of her website, NewMindfulLife.com, will be updated through this autumn—but the website does contain a wealth of current information and resources. While some areas of the website still are being updated, one current page lists Rochelle’s upcoming schedule. The website also explains how to get in touch with Rochelle, how to sign up for some of her free content—as well as how to register and pay for future programs.





Henry Brinton: ‘Standing Together’

The FDNY memorial wall is a 56-foot-long bronze wall of cast bas-relief bronze that honors the 343 firefighters who gave their lives in service to the public during the attacks. Commissioned by FDNY and unveiled in 2006 as a memorial to the fallen firefighters, it lists all of the fallen firefighters names, and is installed in the west wall of Engine Company 10–Ladder Company 10 on Greenwich Street between Albany Street and Liberty Street, just across from Ground Zero.

A Reflection on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

Contributing Columnist

Some anniversaries are joyful, but not this one.

Twenty years ago, on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists took control of four passenger airliners. Two were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A third was crashed into the Pentagon. And the fourth was heading toward Washington but was driven into a Pennsylvania field when passengers overwhelmed the terrorists.

Almost 3,000 people died, 25,000 were injured, and many others suffered long-term health problems. 9/11 stands as the deadliest terrorist attack in human history.

In response, Americans came together in the face of a common enemy. The motto “United We Stand” appeared everywhere, flags were flown and churches were packed. Muslim organizations quickly condemned that attacks, and President Bush made an appearance at an Islamic Center in Washington. He spoke of the valuable contributions that Muslims made to the United States every day, and called for them to be treated with respect.

September 11 was a day of horror, but it pulled Americans together in a remarkable way.

To be sure, there were many who felt excluded.

A stained glass window at St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina, recalls Isaiah’s revelation from God. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My next-door neighbor, an Iranian teenager who was a member of the Baha’i faith, was terrified of what his classmates would do to him. Turban-wearing Sikhs across the country were falsely accused of being terrorists. Many American Muslims were the victims of anger and bigotry. The slogan “United We Stand” did not include everyone.

Twenty years later, we are having a hard time standing together. Fortunately, the prophet Isaiah—revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims—has words of guidance for us. The church I serve as pastor, Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia, gathers for worship each week under a verse from the prophet that appears on the wall behind the pulpit, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).

Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth by reading from the scroll of the prophet, and he went on to quote Isaiah eight times during his ministry—more than any other prophet. Both Isaiah and Jesus were committed to welcoming and including all of God’s children in the community of faith.

Unity remains a goal for us in the United States, and the challenges of 2001 are not behind us. If anything, they are bigger than ever. After 9/11, the danger was al-Qaeda. But today, our greatest threat is domestic terrorism—the people who attacked the Capitol earlier this year were extremists from our own country.

Now, more than ever, we need to respond to the invitation of the prophet Isaiah to “stand up together” (Isaiah 50:8). But how do we do this? How do we overcome polarization and take a united stand?

The first step is to teach the best of our religious traditions. Once again, the prophet Isaiah has some guidance for us: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher” (Isaiah 50:4). As servants of God, we are to be teachers of grace and truth and justice. We are to treat others as we want to be treated, and to see everyone as a child of God, made in the image and likeness of God. We are to lift people up, not knock them down. Help them, not hurt them. Love them, not hate them. At the same time, we need to be humbly honest about the failings and limitations of our traditions, realizing that many of our traditions have led to hatred.

Next, we are challenged to cooperate with God.  “The Lord God has opened my ear,” says the servant in Isaiah, “and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward” (Isaiah 50:5). God is calling us into a better future, and our challenge is to follow where God is leading. We are being rebellious when we turn around and follow other voices. Not everyone worked for unity after 9/11, so this anniversary is giving us an opportunity to embrace the challenges we may have missed twenty years ago.

Peter Marty is a Lutheran pastor who is concerned about preaching in a time of deep political polarization. He has noticed that many worshipers are ready to assign a political motive to everything a preacher says. Preachers get in trouble for saying too much or too little about Black Lives Matter, about the Capitol invasion, or about the presidencies of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

In the face of these challenges, Marty tries to preach sermons that help individuals to “meet God or be met by God.” Yes, he certainly feels called to reflect on cultural and political events, but he tries to do so in a way that offers new insights and fresh perspectives. He is not interested in lining up with partisan political positions.

But there is a problem, according to Marty: “many Christians now interpret faith through the prism of their political ideology.” It’s true for Christians on the right and on the left. And this approach is the opposite of what Isaiah recommends. Our challenge is to let the Lord God open our ears, and not rebel against God when we hear a challenging word. In a world of partisan politics, our goal should be to cooperate with God and move forward in God’s way.

The way of God always involves the building of bridges between people of diverse perspectives. “We are dividing into hostile tribes,” says retired General Jim Mattis. After four decades in the Marine Corps, Mattis knows that our internal divisiveness is often more threatening than our external enemies. Our focus should be on “rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions,” says Mattis.

Twenty years ago, the motto was “United We Stand.”

Today, our challenge is to do a better job of standing together by teaching the best of our religious traditions, cooperating with God and finding common ground.


A version of this column appears in the preaching journal Homiletics.




More about Henry

HENRY G. BRINTON is pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia, and has written on religion and culture for The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Huffington Post.

A frequent speaker at workshops and conferences, he is the author or co-author of books including The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality.—and a new cozy mystery called City of Peace.

Married with two adult children, he enjoys boating on the Potomac River and competing in endurance sports such as marathons.

A prophetic chorus calls us to become ‘dangerous’ peacemakers

J. Brent Bill on ‘Hope and Witness in Dangerous Times’

His Prophetic Voice Echoes in Many Ways Right Now

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click on this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Three times this week, I was warned that would-be peacemakers need to become “dangerous.” The first warning came from psychologist Dr. Robert J. Wicks’ wise and wonderful book from 2012, Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Timesa book that I was rereading to discuss with one of our authors, Howard Brown.

Then, the second warning was from Quaker writer J. Brent Bill’s brand new Hope and Witness in Dangerous Times: Lessons From the Quakers On Blending Faith, Daily Life, and Activism, a copy of which Bill graciously mailed to our offices. It’s an inexpensive new 72-page booklet within an ongoing series. Bill’s volume is so new, in fact, that it is not yet listed in the Amazon Quaker Quicks index page, as of this week.

The third warning came from my sister, Shauna Weil, a musician, writer and partner in one of Michigan’s historic family-owned dairy farms. Each summer, the Weil family opens one of the most popular sweetcorn stands in mid-Michigan under a large tent. To be clear, Shauna never used the exact word “dangerous” in her telephone call, but that clearly was the context. She rang my cell phone to ask for help in editing one of the occasional inspirational columns she writes, because she was concerned about the dangers of including two real children in a column about racism. You can read her column for yourself here. As we talked, we resolved her concerns by making sure she consulted with parents, who approved publishing the story, and she also did not specifically name the two minors to protect them from backlash.

‘Listening Dangerously’

I realized, after these experiences, that my daily work as an editor amounts to what Wicks refers to as “a dangerous listener.” That’s especially true because—every week as editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine—I am engaged in talking and working with writers who are what J. Brent Bill calls “dangerous people.”

What makes us so dangerous in all three instances I am describing?

We are daring to reach out in a turbulent world to foster meaningful, hospitable, uplifting relationships with other people—daring to accept all of the risks and responsibilities of that messy and unpredictable process.

Why do we take that risk? Why are we willing to become dangerous?

Because, as all three of my mentors this week point out, we are attempting something that is radically countercultural: We are opening our hearts to people around us because we truly care about them. We love them in the way Jesus used the term “love”—as much as we love ourselves.

In Robert J. Wicks’ book, he puts it this way:

As Phil Cousineau, in his book The Art of Pilgrimage, rightly recognizes, “Listening closely is nearly a lost art, but a retrievable one. The soul thrives on it. … Words heard by chance have been known to change lives. … Listen as though your life depends on it. It does.” Listening closely, listening dangerously, listening as though our lives depend on it, means listening from the heart. When we seek to listen from the heart we recognize that we are not free in so many, many ways in our lives.

You might want to read Wicks’ words a second time. He’s describing an astonishing process, if we can make this kind of ‘dangerous’ connection of two lives in truth and selfless humility. And, then, consider the exponential power of that? Think of the spiritual energy we generate as a fully engaged community of two, or three, or four, or—? This journey always will be surprising and, as Wicks’ points out—beyond our individual ability to control! That’s when we become truly dangerous agents for transforming the world.

Becoming ‘Angelic Troublemakers’

Don’t take my word for it. Read the words of Wicks or Bill—or my sister—and you will find them all daring us to take this step toward caring for someone else so fully that we see them “through new eyes,” as my sister writes. When we do, we feel a mysterious unsettling of our hearts and minds. We can’t control that movement. In reaching out as a “dangerous listener,” we have let go of some of our own controls and boundaries.

We can feel the danger.

As J. Brent Bill puts it in his new book:

All of us are invited into a holistic life. As the early Quaker William Penn said, “True godliness doesn’t turn us out of the world, but enables us to live better in it, and excites our endeavors to mend it… Christians should keep the helm and guide the vessel to its port; not meanly steal out at the stern of the world and leave those that are in it without a pilot to be driven by the fury of evil times upon the rock or sand of ruin.”

I invite you to consider how your personal faith life better enables you to live in these dangerous times and how it moves you to work at mending the world. How do your spiritual beliefs empower you to help guide the vessel of the world and its people into a good and safe direction? …

Quakers have endeavored to live such lives—and we don’t always get it right!—and what lessons they might have for us. In this book, we will examine what motivated them, how they’ve acted and continue to act, and how we decide what we’re called to do, what our spiritual work in this world is to be. For some of us it might be the grounding work of contemplation and prayer that supports the efforts of those on the front lines… For others it might be to become, in the words of the Quaker civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, “angelic troublemakers.”

For many of us, it may well be some combination that may not have occurred to us up until now. Regardless, we’ll explore how our faith is not just about the hereafter, but it’s also about here.

After all, if faith matters, it has to matter now!


Care to read more?

GET THE BOOKS! Follow the Amazon links above to order Robert Wicks’ and J. Brent Bill’s books. Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit magazine for news of an upcoming book by another “angelic troublemaker,” Howard Brown whose upcoming memoir is called Shining Brightly.

MEET BRENT BILL—Brent Bill is photographer, retreat leader, writing coach and teacher—and Quaker minister.  He’s written and co-written many books including Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality and Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker, in addition to more than 100 short stories and non-fiction articles.

Brent graduated from Wilmington College and the Earlham School of Religion. He’s worked as a local church pastor, denominational executive, non-profit director, seminary faculty member and go-cart track operator.

Brent is now retired (except from writing–he always has a new project he’s working on). He lives on Ploughshares Farm, which is fifty acres of Indiana farmland that is being reclaimed for native hardwood forests and warm season prairie grasses. That’s where he spends most of his time, doing chores, rebuilding rail fences, and enjoying life.

Contact Brent at brentbill.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/brent.bill, or Twitter at @brentbill

Madonna Thunder Hawk of the Lakota People’s Law Project on the Indian boarding school legacy

EDITOR’S NOTE: ReadTheSpirit magazine has been involved for many years in lifting up Native American voices. After our recent cover story about the launch of North American investigations into the legacy of Indian boarding schools, we have heard from many Indian readers and writers. This week, we chose this brief column to share from Madonna Thunder Hawk.

She has been active with the Lakota People’s Law Project, which was formed by grandmothers concerned about children who were still being removed from families by government officials as late as 2004.

Here is the message she sent:


The Intergenerational Trauma We Live With


There’s a lot of justified anger and trauma in Indian Country right now. For many of us, the reality of what happened in these horrific church-run and state-sanctioned facilities is not something we want to relive. That said, because I was there, I want to share with you some of what my experience looked like.

By the time I went to boarding school in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, things weren’t as horrifying as they’d once been. I spent a period of these years in the U.S. government and parochial boarding school systems on and off the Cheyenne River reservation. It may not surprise you to learn that I was always on the verge of getting kicked out. They said I was “too mouthy!”

My parents’ generation had it much harder. In their day, boarding schools were military in style and very strict. In the late 1920s and early ‘30s, my mother attended Pipestone Elementary. It was a U.S. government school, but many like it were parochial, mainly Catholic. She and her classmates were made to wear uniforms and march wherever they went. Neither crying nor laughing was allowed. No one talked, and many tried to escape, but they would always be found and brought back against their will. Then the administrators would shave their heads bald, march them into the auditorium, string them up and flog them. All the other kids were made to watch as a lesson in what happens when you run away. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that many children died from illness under these harsh conditions.

This is the intergenerational trauma that I and so many of my contemporaries still live with today. It informs our current fight to keep our young ones from being stolen away into white foster “care.”

It’s why we, as an organization, support U.S. Interior Secretary Haaland’s investigation, and why we hope even more will be done to empower a true reckoning here in the U.S.— through an audit of our own school properties and teaching real history in the schools of today. There is much that our past can show, if everyone will stop turning away from the truth.

Wopila tanka—thank you for your understanding and allyship at this hard moment.

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project


Madonna Thunder Hawk, a member of the Oohenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has a long history of grassroots activism prior to her formative work for LPLP as a Tribal Liaison. She is co-founder of Women of All Red Nations (WARN), as well as the Black Hills Alliance—which prevented corporate uranium mining in the Black Hills and proved the high level of radiation in Pine Ridge reservation’s water supply. She was a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and occupied Alcatraz and Wounded Knee in protest of the federal government’s genocidal policies against Native Americans. She spent months camped in Standing Rock to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline and protect clean water and treaty rights. Her work with LPLP builds alliances and support for Indian child welfare among South Dakota’s tribal leaders and communities. She is a grandmother to a generation of Native American activists.




Exposing the horrors of the Indian Boarding Schools: Why we need to read Warren Petoskey’s ‘Dancing My Dream’ in 2021

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the best known institution in this nationwide system of “schools” where children were forced to give up their Native languages, dress and customs. Author Warren Petoskey’s grandfather was among the children forced to attend Carlisle.


“Dedication: In honor of the victims and survivors of the Indian boarding schools, orphanages and foster care systems …”
First words in Warren Petoskey’s memoir Dancing My Dream

“The Indian Boarding School story that Warren Petoskey shares with readers is all too familiar to Indians in the United States and Canada. The story, however, is an unfamiliar one to white America. It is a story that needs to be told. Virtually every Indian family was touched by the policy of assimilation that the boarding schools were designed to promote. “Kill the Indian, but save the child” was the desired outcome. Instead of assimilation, the boarding schools created a syndrome of intergenerational trauma that afects most Indians in America to this day.”
Anthropologist Kay McGowan in the Foreword to Dancing My Dream


UPDATES: On July 11, 2021, an alert reader suggested we also share a link to this National Public Radio report on July 11 that represents a fairly in-depth overview of the story to date. And, on July 4, 2021, we published this column by Madonna Thunder Hawk of the Lakota People’s Law Project.


Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

The stories are true.

As horrifying as these stories seemed when they emerged into white American journalism over the years—stories of Indian children beaten to death or murdered in other ways over many years by a systematic government-sponsored repression of the Native population—the fact is: The stories are true.

We should have known better, but in the summer of 2021, the world is shocked to read about the discoveries of hundreds of children’s bodies buried near the sites of former Canadian Indian schools where Native children were held against their will.

And the American chapter of this story is coming. Soon, all of us who have been following this story expect that we will begin reading such horrifying news reports from across the United States. A forensic process to search for mass graves near boarding schools in this country is only beginning.

Why Our Front Edge Team Cares So Much

One reason that the folks at ReadTheSpirit magazine and Front Edge Publishing feel so strongly about justice for the long-oppressed Native peoples across North America is that our co-founders, our Publisher John Hile and I (Editor David Crumm), have been advocates for these issues for many decades.

As early as the 1990s, I was the leading American wire-service reporter covering a tragically ill-conceived United Methodist attempt to take the traditional Native American Green Corn Ceremony, revise it as a Christian ritual and print it in a new edition of the denomination’s worldwide guide to worship. United Methodists thought this was one way to honor the many Indian Christians within the denomination. However, those church leaders had failed to widely consult with Native leaders. In fact, most Indian leaders remained deeply wounded by the denomination’s refusal to publicly apologize for a Methodist preacher, John Chivington, who led the Sand Creek Massacre of hundreds of men, women and children. As a result of that wire-service reporting on the United Methodist Green Corn controversy, the denomination eventually met with Native leaders, dropped their plans to Christianize the traditional ritual—and did formally apologize for Chivington and the church’s role in Sand Creek.

Why Indigenous Voices Are So Important:
‘Race, Public Memory and Intellectual Property’

Site of the Sand Creek Massacre as it looked in 2004, when the National Park Service was beginning to develop visitors’ resources near this rolling grassland in the prairie. Photograph by John Hile.

In 2004, working with John Hile as the photographer, I launched another wire-service project in the American West, a series of reports about deep wounds in American history that was called Anger in America during the week-long run of these stories.One extensive part of that series focused on Sand Creek, which the federal government was in the process of transforming into a protected National Park Service National Historic Site. The reporting we did that summer wound up being cited in a great deal of other writing about injustices toward Native Americans. Among those other writings was a 2013 dissertation by Susan Chase Hall, which she titled Something Terrible Happened Here: Memory and Battlefield Preservation in the Construction of Race, Place and Nation.

In her book-length dissertation, Hall wrote:

In Anger in America, Crumm explained that “America’s anger often is fueled by the movement of people, especially as outsiders move into settled communities. But the problem is more complex. After all, in America, who is truly a settler and who is an outsider?” In his reporting, David Crumm has introduced an essential question of race, public memory and intellectual property rights. At the beginning of the 21st Century, who had a right to weigh in on what happened at Sand Creek and why? Who had a right to tell the Sand Creek story? Who has a right to be angry about what happened at Sand Creek?

Please, Learn More about Boarding School Trauma from a Native American

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

This is why our publishing house, which was founded in 2007, almost immediately began developing a Native American memoir with Warren Petoskey, an Elder of the Waganakising Odawa and Minneconjou Lakotah Nations. He is a freelance writer, native artisan, traditional musician and dancer, ordained Christian minister and a lecturer who speaks frequently on the history of the nation’s infamous Indian boarding school system.

Warren talked at length about these issues in a 2009 ReadTheSpirit Cover Story. As part of that earlier “conversation with Warren Petoskey,” he said: “I think the greatest damage that was done was spiritual. As we lost our traditional languages, our elders will tell you that we lost something in the way that we pray. And there is an even larger spiritual wound here. This was more than a century of organized attempts by our government to destroy our spiritual validation as human beings.”

To learn even more, please order a copy of Warren’s book today from Amazon.

And—we’ve got more about Warren’s book in this week’s Front Edge Publishing column, including an inspiring excerpt from the book. Plus, in that Front Edge story, we’ve got an overview of our other important book produced with Native American journalists, 100 Questions, 500 Nations: A Guide to Native America.

Mindy Corporon with the Interfaith Center at Miami University on ‘Healing a Shattered Soul’

Click on the cover image to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Mindy Corporon continues to crisscross the country with events that share her message of hope and healing in embracing diverse communities. This week, we can share this video sponsored by our friends at The Interfaith Center at Miami University in Ohio.

Are you just meeting Mindy today? Here is our April profile of Mindy when she launched her book.

This latest video begins with an introduction from Geneva Blackmer, program director at the Interfaith Center. Mindy reads a passage from her book about her own introduction to Judaism after the murders of her son and father in an anti-Semitic attack. Then, Mindy opens up the session to Q and A—and begins talking with other participants, including journalist Bill Tammeus.

“I would say my Christianity is a faith about humanity and about God,” Mindy says at one point, explaining that she really does feel the spirits of her late loved ones still alive today. “My faith is in believing that our loved ones are with us in some way,” she says.

There are parallels throughout the Abrahamic faiths, she explains. “If I were to explain Christianity to a niece or nephew now,” she says, “I would use many of the same phrases we find in Judaism and Islam: Be good to others; do good to others; believe that there’s a higher spirit that is with us and loving us—and, in the end, I would say God is love. God is love in all the faiths.”

If you are planning a group discussion of Mindy’s book with friends or in a small group in your congregation, Mindy’s videos can be a very helpful introduction to these conversations.

Here is this latest video by Mindy from The Interfaith Center’s program.