Brian McLaren asks ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ Then, he explains why that question is so urgent in our world.

Click this author photo to visit Brian McLaren’s own website, BrianMcLaren.net, where you can learn a lot more about his career, his other books and his ministry resources.

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The 11 Splinters of the Christian Brand—
And Why Brian’s Book Ends with Hope

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of Read the Spirit magazine

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

Brian McLaren’s new book, Do I Stay Christian? instantly has become one of my own first-choice recommendations to men and women who tell me they feel abandoned by—or disgusted with—their once-trusted religious brand of Christianity.

Consider for just a moment the dramatic arc of Brian’s career as a best-selling Christian author. He began by celebrating a compassionate kind of evangelical orthodoxy (in books like A New Kind of Christian in 2001 and Generous Orthodoxy in 2004) and now is more famous for his highly critical critiques of evangelical power in America. For that reason, he receives countless emails and letters from discouraged “Christians” every month, asking for help.

“Many of them are desperate,” he said in an interview this week. “The Christian religious world has decomposed in really significant ways since I was writing those books 20 years ago.”

“Give us some examples,” I prompted.

“Well, just speaking of White American Christianity, we’re seeing one megachurch scandal after another—and add to that all the problems the Southern Baptists are going through right now. Then, think about the Catholic church scandals—and, on top of that, the recent doubling down among some bishops and cardinals on refusing the eucharist to some Democrats, an act that shows an absolute lack of self-awareness of their authority. Then, think about the evangelical world and its capitulation to Trump and Trumpism and, in some of those churches, there’s an almost demonic possession by QAnon and white nationalism. Or, turn to the East and think about Eastern Orthodoxy and the Russian Orthodox primate’s uncritical support for Putin’s war forcing fissures in the Orthodox church.”

“You’ve described all of these conflicts as amounting to a historic ‘inflection point’—a change in the course of Christianity,” I said. “Describe that a little further.”

“I think we’re watching a massive decomposition of the dominant expressions of the Christian faith,” Brian said. “The decay continues—and we aren’t near hitting bottom yet. When you put that together, it’s as if you could not conspire to degrade the brand of Christianity any more than it is degrading itself right now.”

“That’s why I think it’s so important that you organized this book in a way that explains how these many splintering forms of Christianity are visible in our world right now,” I said. “I’m talking about your list of 11 things that word ‘Christianity’ can mean. So, next, let’s talk about that list, which I think is one of the most important contributions you’ve made in this book.”

The Eleven Splinters of the Christian Brand

Brian points out in the first half of his book that “Christianity”—a brand claimed by 2 billion souls around the world—can mean quite different things from one individual and one community to the next. In fact, Brian devotes his first 80-plus pages to a remarkably insightful analysis of what that splintered entity “Christianity” has become.

He argues persuasively that this “C” brand may mean nearly a dozen different things. From his book (on pages 3 and 4), here are the 11 Christianities he identifies:

  1. Christianity can be understood historically or culturally, as a legacy you are born into or enter by choice. To be a Christian is to inhabit a cultural or historical tradition.
  2. Christianity can be defined institutionally, as a power structure or hierarchy in which you participate. To be a Christian is to affiliate with an institution and accept its authority structure.
  3. Christianity can be defined doctrinally, as something you believe. To be a Christian is to affirm a system of beliefs or teachings.
  4. Christianity can be defined liturgically or pragmatically, as a set of rituals you practice. To be a Christian is to engage in some version of Christianity’s rituals or practices.
  5. Christianity can be defined spiritually or experientially, as something you feel or a conversion experience you’ve had. To be a Christian is to have, foster and share a set of experiences.
  6. Christianity can be definite moralistically, as a shared act of moral values or precepts. To be a Christian is to live your life by a moral or ethical framework.
  7. Christianity can be defined missionally, as a program, plan or movement for international action in the world. To be a Christian is to take on that mission as your own.
  8. Christianity can be defined demographically, as a sociological or anthropological identity. To be a Christian is to identify yourself as a member of a recognized group.
  9. Christianity can be defined politically, as a way of organizing people for political action (or inaction). To be a Christian is to act as part of a coalition with shared theo-political aims.
  10. Christianity can be understood socially, as a community of people in whose presence you feel safe, welcome, needed, accepted or supported. To be a Christian is to enjoy. an experience of social belonging with others who identify as Christian.
  11. Christianity can be defined linguistically, as a shared set of words and ways of communicating.

In our interview, I asked him to put this list into context for our readers.

“What the word ‘Christianity’ means anymore is so deeply, deeply conflicted,” he said. “If you think about those 11 categories, you realize that the word ‘Christianity’ currently means opposite things to many people. I’m not just talking about a diversity of opinions here—I’m talking about actual opposition on major elements of Christianity.”

“That seems clear from daily headlines,” I said. “But hasn’t conflict always has been a defining characteristic of Christianity? Think about all the earlier eras where Christians battled, sometimes lethally, from the Crusades to the Reformation to the Counter-Reformation to a long list of conflicts that are lesser known today. Conflict seems to be part of the brand.”

“Yes, it’s always been true that there have been divisions within Christianity, but now the stakes are so much higher for our whole world,” he said. “For example, right now in this country, we’ve got some Christians who are at the helm of denying America’s racial history—at the same time you have other Christians, especially Black and Latin-X and Indigenous peoples, in the forefront of trying to expose America’s racial history. And we’ve got some Christians now in the forefront of denying climate change—at the same time we have other Christians in the forefront of trying to slow climate change. Christians are lined up on both sides of the efforts to reach LGBTQ equality. The list goes on and on. This worries me because these stakes are so high. It’s dangerous and tragic.”

Brian paused for a moment, then added this stark warning: “One of the reasons I wrote this book in this way is that I am sincerely afraid that some of the worst crimes committed under the name of the ‘Christian’ religion could be in our future.”

But wait!
This actually is a hope-filled book.

“I hope that in reading this book, people will come to understand that I do believe that there are powerful resources within the Christian tradition that can help us at this historic inflection point. These Christian resources can help us to imagine new and different ways of being human,” Brian said.

After Brian lays out Christianity’s divisions and dangerous failings in the first portion of his book, he then transitions to a focus on faithful ways that Christians can continue to live out the core of Jesus’s message. What surprised me, given Brian’s roots in the Protestant world, is that one of his first hopeful examples involves the progressive communities of Catholic religious women who currently are trying to wrestle their 2,000-year-old church into the realities of this new millennium.

Rather than leaving Christianity, he explains, these religious women remind him that Christians can make a radically different choice: They can stay! As Brian describes that choice in his book, he personalizes this lesson: “I can stay defiantly, like Sr. Ann and Sr. Jean. I can intentionally, consciously, resolutely refuse to leave—and with equal intention and resolution, I can refuse to comply with the status quo. I can occupy Christianity with a different way of being Christian.”

In our interview, I said to Brian: “I really enjoyed the surprise of finding your chapter about Catholic religious women in the middle of your book. That’s where you’re starting to drive home this essential point: Christianity never was intended to erase people’s troubles and guarantee them easy success in the world, no matter what some evangelical preachers like to claim. From the founding stories told by Jesus himself, Christianity has been about the hard work of combatting the world’s injustices and lifting up the world’s most vulnerable people.”

“Yes,” he said and nodded vigorously across the Zoom screen.

Then, I told Brian: “When I reached page 101 of your book, I highlighted this quote:

‘Religion, at its best, is what re-ligaments or reconnects us to God, one another, and creation. It challenges the stories that pit us against each other: us over them, us overturning them, us competing with them, us isolating from them, us in spite of them, us purifying ourselves of them. It tells a better story—some of us for all of us—a story in which there is no them, a story in which we tear down the walls that have divided us—and from the rubble build bridges.’

“That’s definitely not an easy-path-to-an-easy-life kind of faith you’re describing,” I said. “That’s a faith of compassionate struggle. In fact, that quote from page 101 appears in a chapter called ‘Where Else Could I Go?’ Your argument is that abandoning the conflict within Christianity, right now, certainly doesn’t guarantee you a peaceful path forward. Am I understanding you correctly?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” he said. “I understand why some people are heading out the doors of Christianity. But I’m saying: If you leave, it’s not like you’re escaping the one place in the world where there’s trouble and you’re going into a safe place.

“Our entire world needs radical rethinking,” he continued. “If you agree with me that we’re in a historic inflection point right now—then I think that those of us who stay Christian have a phenomenal opportunity to bring the best resources of the Christian tradition to the side of those who are trying to create a new and better future. We have no control over people who will try to bend Christianity to preserve the evils of the status quo. But it’s also true that no one can stop us from using the many resources of our tradition to bring the kind of change we need into our world.”

“That’s the message you offer in your final chapter,” I said. “That’s a powerfully inspiring passage.”

In the book—before Brian adds an Afterword, Acknowledgments, a discussion guide and various other end-notes for readers—here is his energizing call that ends his final chapter:

“In the absence of ease and certainty, what amazing things can happen.
Life can happen.
Wonder can happen.
Faith, hope, love, unspeakable joy can thrive in difficulty and uncertainty.
A new humanity—humble, just and kind—can be born.
Can you imagine that, fellow humans?”

The Rev. Dr. John Harnish, author of ’30 Days with E. Stanley Jones,’ is honored with a global award in Christian outreach

“At the beginning of my ministry,” says the Rev. Dr. John E. Harnish, “I never intended to be connected with colleges, seminaries and campus ministry, but looking back over 50 years, I realize what an important part it has played in my life.”

Education has played a large part in the work of the Methodist Church around the world as well. Methodism had its birth when John Wesley was a student at Oxford and his “Holy Club” was mockingly called “Methodists” because they were so methodical in their disciplined life. When Frances Asbury came to the American colonies as the first Methodist Bishop, he said he believed there should a school beside every church. Wherever Methodists have gone in the world they have established schools and colleges as well as churches.

Annually, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the church’s program of higher education and campus ministry with the “Frances Asbury Award.”

In 2022, the Michigan recipient is author Rev. Dr. John E. Harnish, who has just published 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones—Global Preacher, Social Justice Prophet. Jones himself counted education as one of his own primary goals in global evangelism.

How did Harnish find himself focusing on education? He says, “It started in my early years in ministry when my District Superintendent made it possible for me as a young preacher to serve on the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.”  That led to his connection with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry where he eventually serving for seven years as the Associate General Secretary.

Two events during his time with the General Board book-end United Methodism’s commitment to education—the grand opening of Africa University and the 250th Anniversary of Kingswood College. His first international trip on behalf of the board took him to the new university in Zimbabwe and on a trip to England he shared in the anniversary of Kingswood, John Wesley’s first school. Today there are 107 United Methodist colleges, universities and seminaries in the USA and over 1,000 Methodist-related institutions across the globe.

Dr. Harnish is a graduate of Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary and received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  He has served on the Boards of Trustees for the Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia, Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Adrian College in Michigan. As the pastor of Ann Arbor First United Methodist Church, he worked with the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan and when he pastored First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, MI, the church was linked with four seminaries–Garrett-Evangelical, Duke, Costa Rica and Estonia.

Harnish says, “I am grateful for the Frances Asbury Award and I give thanks for the opportunities to be involved in this facet of the global work of United Methodism.”

Charles Wesley wrote a hymn for Kingswood College which includes the line: “Unite the pair so long dis-joined–knowledge and vital piety. 

Over the centuries,” Harnish says, “that has been the commitment of Methodism, and looking back, I am glad I’ve been able to share in it.”

 

We’re grieving right now, but our spiritual wisdom calls us not to grieve alone.

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of Read the Spirit magazine

We listen to our readers. We listen to our writers. We listen to friends and family, too. We listen because we truly have formed a community of writers and readers around Read the Spirit magazine’s 750-plus weekly issues. Each week, we hope that our columns contribute to healthy community conversations.

Sitting at the editor’s desk, I listen very carefully. And, over the past week, here is what I heard loud and clear: People are grieving. I counted seven different, significant conversations about grief—one a day.

Why now? Part of this weight is seasonal, culminating each year in the upcoming Memorial weekend. Part of this is the on-gain off-again COVID pandemic, which is playing havoc with our deep desire to gather together once again. In my own family, COVID recently caused the eleventh-hour cancelation of the funeral of a beloved matriarch, because that event was on the verge of becoming a super-spreader event. Part of this season of grief arises from the seemingly endless trauma of our polarized culture—culminating in tragedies like the Buffalo mass shooting. Part of this is an accumulation of daily images of war crimes in Ukraine.

Part of this—

Well, whatever is causing this season of grief—my column today is not about sadness.

This is about resilience.

The most profound of my seven conversations was sparked by a long email from the musician, cancer survivor and patient advocate Elaine Greenberg. This is a woman beloved by thousands across southeast Michigan—a woman who my wife and I have known for decades along with her late husband Shelly. In my nearly five decades as a journalist, I have never met a more creatively resilient person than Elaine—and that’s saying something! She turned life-threatening cancer into an ongoing campaign to help other families touched by cancer. She hosted concerts to raise funds for her causes. Some years ago, I joined with our Publisher John Hile in bringing a group of high school students to Elaine’s home for an impromptu afternoon concert and conversation around her piano—because John and I wanted these young people to experience what a truly resilient life of faith looks like. Elaine dazzled the kids! We shot video of the young people interacting with Elaine that day and a number of those kids, who now are adults themselves, still talk about that inspiring day with Elaine.

What hit me like a brick to the forehead in Elaine’s email was her opening sentence. She wrote that, especially after the tragedy in Buffalo, “I have to admit I am overcome with emotion.”

I thought: Elaine!? The strongest woman in any room is overcome?! Then, in the next few sentences, she proceeded to describe how much sad events this spring have made her ponder the loss of Shelly late last year.

The reason I am telling you Elaine’s story is because of what Elaine wrote next. After sharing her grief with me, Elaine did what our Abrahamic spiritual traditions all teach us to do:

She reached out.

She reached out to me.

She put me on the spot. I could envision her finger pointing right at me, asking for me to help not only her—but all of us who are feeling this same weight this spring.

Why did she ask me to help? “Because I know you have a vast library of books on the subject,” she explained.

Therefore, she concluded, “I am asking you for your recommendations on a well-written book on grieving and related caregiving. If you can recommend anything, it would help.”

And anyone who has ever known Elaine knows what happened next.

I agreed to help.

Five Best Books for Rediscovering Resilience in the Midst of Grief

Here are the five books I most frequently recommend to grieving friends—but before I list them I want to explain why I regularly suggest these books.

At the core of all five books is the Abrahamic wisdom that life should not be lived alone. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all teach that we are made by God to reach out to others. That timeless spiritual resource is built into many customs we all follow in our faiths. After a death, Christians gather for “visitation” and services and often a meal. Jews like Elaine not only gather for services, but also spend days “sitting shiva.” And for Muslims? The care of the dead and the grieving family is truly a community concern. We could quickly expand this lesson to the world’s other great religious traditions, but I know Elaine is waiting for me to get to those recommended books. So, I won’t belabor this interfaith truth.

If you click the following links to visit these books’ Amazon pages, you can learn a whole lot more about the books themselves, the authors, what other readers have said about them. What I am going to share briefly about each book, right here, is my reason for including it in this list.

Rodger Murchison prepares for a television interview about his book. Over the last decade, Rodger has spoken about spiritual resilience in the midst of grief to groups across the U.S., in Latin America and in Europe. (Click on this photo to visit the book’s Amazon page.)

‘Guide for Grief’

The spiritual power of this short book began with the remarkable coincidence of its origin.

Not long after we established this publishing house, Publisher John Hile and I participated in a week-long retreat at Iona Abbey in Scotland. One of the other pilgrims participating in that week was a Southern pastor with a deep, resonant voice who wound up walking into the Iona library on the same morning John and I were sitting at the library’s enormous hardwood table, planning future projects. After a casual greeting among Americans in a distant land, Rodger settled into a seat at the table. His engaging voice and manner immediately moved our conversation to a deeper level. He revealed to us that one reason he was making this pilgrimage to Iona was to prayerfully discern what he should do with a book manuscript, which was based on his many decades of counseling individuals and families through grief.

“I’ve been praying that God would lead me to a publisher,” Rodger said.

In the words of our columnist Suzy Farbman: It was a GodSign.

As he has proven through his worldwide travels, teaching groups about the complex issues surrounding grief, Rodger is—to put it quite simply: “the real deal.” He has the warm personality of down-home pastor, but he also has scholarly credentials that include Princeton and Oxford. He has been invited to lead groups across the U.S., in Latin America and in Europe.

That’s why the first choice for coping with grief—a recommendation all of us in the publishing house team have made repeatedly over the years—is Rodger’s Guide for Grief: Help in surviving the stages of grief and bereavement after a loss.

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‘Never Long Enough’

Click on any of the book covers in this week’s cover story to visit the Amazon pages.

Whenever our publishing house team hears of a friend moving through the process of hospice with a loved one, our first recommendation is a unique book developed by Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, head of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, and artist Michelle Sider. We specifically recommend the hardcover version of Never Long Enough: Finding comfort and hope amidst grief and loss.

That’s because this book, which might look like a children’s picture book at first glance, actually is designed to have family members of all ages talk about the illustrations and brief texts with their loved one. Many families have added to the book, perhaps jotting notes on the pages about fond memories that arose—or even placing photos or hand-drawn pictures between these covers. If you’re personalizing this book in that way, then you definitely want the hardcover edition so this becomes a “forever book.”

But don’t just take my word for it. One of the most-helpful reviews on the book’s Amazon page describes the experience:

This beautiful book hugs and comforts while reminding the reader of tender and cherished moments. The art of the images and words has created a treasure to cherish and read throughout the process of grieving. Never Long Enough will be a wonderful guide to revisiting special memories over the years for all those we cherish and keep with us in memories. A wonderful guide to help countless people through the human experience that is challenging and necessary. It reminds us that we all have these special remembrances of our loved ones. Everyone who grieves needs to feel comfort and Never Long Enough truly reminds us all that we all have each other and the sadness we feel with loss is meant to be taken carefully as we remember.

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‘Love, Loss and Endurance’
and
‘Healing a Shattered Soul’

Whenever our publishing house team hears of people grieving a tragedy as senseless as the Buffalo supermarket shooting, we know that we are grappling with the additional trauma of violent extremism and unthinkable hatred unleashed in our world.

Then, our first two recommendations are:

Bill Tammeus’s Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.

And Mindy Corporon’s Healing a Shattered Soul: My Faithful Journey of Courageous Kindness after the Trauma and Grief of Domestic Terrorism.

Both books are memoirs by authors whose hard-earned wisdom about resiliency in the midst of grief comes in the wake of personal tragedies. Bill is one of the nation’s top journalists specializing in covering the role of religion in our lives. He lost a relative in the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks that were aimed at New York City and Washington D.C. Mindy Corporon now is known nationwide, as well, for several programs she has developed to encourage kindness and resiliency both inside companies and throughout local communities. Mindy’s young son and her father were killed by an antisemitic gunman who randomly attacked people he thought were Jewish in the Kansas City area.

Both authors also explore one of the most important truths about grieving: The process goes on for many years. Long after neighbors, friends and coworkers may have forgotten that you have experienced a death, you’re still remembering. That’s true at least through the next year of “firsts”—first birthday, first anniversary, first holiday seasons. And, as Bill explains so powerfully in his memoir—some families grieve for decades.

Finally, both authors model resiliency in the way their traumas spurred them to community action in many forms. At the end of Bill’s book, for example, readers tell us they are inspired to find his detailed section on “unplugging extremism.” These books take readers on the journey through many forms of grieving—and many forms of hopeful action as a result.

What have readers told us about these books?

Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, Senior Rabbi of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park, Kansas, writes about Mindy’s book:

Each of us will struggle at some time in life. Some of our struggles are monumental as in Mindy’s story. Others are shattering in other ways: a failed relationship, economic downturn, the death of a loved one. Regardless of what causes us to struggle, Healing a Shattered Soul can help us discover what we can do to find a way to crawl through what Psalm 23 calls the “valley of darkness.” As Mindy shares her personal journey, she does not preach at us. Rather, she opens the door so that we can walk alongside her, revealing that loss and love, hurt and healing, faith and freedom all go hand in hand. As she was advised by her pastor to “keep listening,” Healing a Shattered Soul is a must-read for all of us who need to keep listening to find healing and hope in a broken world.

About Bill’s book, best-selling author Brian McLaren emphasizes the importance of Bill’s “unplugging extremism” section:

Near the end of this beautiful, powerful book, author Bill Tammeus offers eight ways that each of us can help build a more peaceful world, less divided and devastated by violence in the name of religion. Those eight insights alone would be worth the price of this book. But by reading the whole story of love, loss and resilience that frame those insights, you will be not only a wiser person but also a more compassionate person as you turn the final page.

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‘Dying Well’

Another book we often recommend to readers struggling with the flood of anxieties, emotions, spiritual questions and decisions surrounding a death is Dying Well: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann.

As a journalist, I connected in various ways with both Jeanie and Bill Wylie-Kellermann over many years. I respected the journalism they each produced in various formats—as well as their public activism in support of faith-and-justice issues. As Jeanie was dying of cancer, I was inspired by the way their family reached deep into their spiritual roots to choose those general approaches and specific rituals that made Jeanie’s passing a community-wide example of grieving that built resilience into each step of the journey.

This book is their story.

A great summary of the book can be found in the first eight words Bill wrote: “This book is verily an event of community.” That choice of “verily,” which evokes memories stretching back to the age of Chaucer, was no accident.

Bill begins by chronicling Jeanie’s robust life and then he shares many equally inspiring stories about the seven-year progress from diagnosis of a glioblastoma until her death. In “verily” on that first page, Bill is signaling to readers that this book is as much about memory as it is about this couple’s cutting-edge, social-justice activism.

Readers have repeatedly praised Dying Well as a profound love story about the two writer-activists who led a tumultuous life at the barricades of many justice issues—and then shared in an equally inspiring quest for healing and eventually after many years a graceful death. Ultimately, though, this book expands into an invitation for readers to remember: Remember a real love story you’ve known of an impassioned couple who became impassioned parents. Remember the best of family life. And remember, when the arc of life is closing its path in this tangible world—remember how loving families used to care for the dying and also the mourners in the humble surroundings of home.

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And so …

AND SO, Elaine, how did I do with this next installment of our conversation?

And to all the others with whom I have spoken about grief over the past week or so, perhaps you will find some resources in these recommendations that may help you.

If you do find these books helpful, please take a moment to visit their Amazon pages and add your own review. That ongoing string of reader reviews becomes another form of conversation that welcomes the whole world into this healing process.

Charmed: Peacemaker and Fashionista Brenda Rosenberg celebrates her lifelong commitment to diversity and peace

THE STORY BEHIND THIS PHOTO: Brenda Rosenberg welcomes her friend Ariana Mentzel at a launch event for Brenda’s memoir Charmed at the Detroit Institute of Arts on May 5, 2022. The 800-plus-page book celebrates Brenda’s long career, including work with the DIA as well as her co-development of the program “Tectonic Leadership” that has trained young people to break down barriers of religion, race, culture and class. A decade ago, Ariana was one of the college students who participated in the first week-long “Tectonic” retreat with Brenda and her colleague Samia Moustapha Bahsoun. Today, Ariana is Managing Director of the Detroit Center for Civil Discourse and an American Jewish Committee board member in southeast Michigan. Ariana is just one of countless young people who carry on the legacy of Brenda’s two decades of creative approaches to peacemaking.

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Launching a Fun Book with a Serious Three-Fold Mission

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Many stories and photos in Brenda’s book highlight her work with young people in the U.S. and around the world. Click on this photograph from page 479 to see it enlarged. The photo shows a group Jewish and Arab students who participated in Brenda’s Reuniting the Children of Abraham (RTCOA) training. (For more on RTCOA, look below in this story.)

After 20 years as a peace activist, trainer and consultant tackling some of the world’s toughest religious and cultural divides—author Brenda Rosenberg now is working on several new initiatives to empower at-risk young people to join the next generation of peacemakers. A key milestone in these efforts is the launch of a massive, two-volume, hard-back scrapbook celebrating what Brenda has accomplished so far in her life.

Charmed: The Memoirs of a Changemaker weighs in at more than 10 pounds and is packed with thousands of photographs from Brenda’s long career as a groundbreaking Fashionista, followed by her decades as a peacemaker.

Her aim is three-fold: This book is a colorful documentary of her globe-hopping life that she hopes will inspire readers to embrace rather than to fear our world; second, it’s an “idea book” showcasing her many projects, designed to inspire new allies for her future projects—and, third, it’s a fundraiser. Brenda underwrote all costs of the creation and printing of these books. Now, any copy of this $150 set that is sold through Brenda’s website, from the DIA’s online store—or through Amazon will result in a matching $150 contribution from Brenda to the DIA’s ongoing community education programs in southeast Michigan.

For years, Benda has been a strong supporter of such programs. Among them—in early 2020 just before the COVID pandemic hit—she sponsored a special educational day that brought Christian, Muslim and Jewish Girl Scouts to the DIA. Together, they experienced a multi-media educational program that showed the girls how much their faiths and cultures have contributed to our shared global culture.

To read about that special day, see our January 27, 2020, story headlined Girl Scouts, Detroit Institute of Arts and Brenda Rosenberg Are Reuniting the Children of Abraham. In fact, the main photograph at the top of that 2020 story—showing a huge circle of Girl Scouts from around the state of Michigan at the DIA—is the first full-page photograph in the new book, Charmed.

This isn’t the first time Brenda has published her best ideas. Many of her creative resources for peacemaking are explained in more detail in Brenda’s two earlier books. Look below for more information about those books. Both earlier books are are relatively short and are focused on the nuts-and-bolts of bringing together people who might consider themselves to be enemies.

“So, first of all, this new book is different—obviously! It’s huge! It’s intended to be fun!” Brenda said in an interview this week, after a launch event for her book at the DIA on May 5. “I want people to smile and laugh and have a good time looking at all these photographs and reading the stories. But there’s so much more to this book than just the fun of it. With every copy sold, I’m giving the entire $150 purchase price to the DIA. Then, finally having all these stories published lets me share the excitement with readers about what’s possible for us to do together. You know me—I’m always making new friends, finding new allies—and that’s so important, because there’s so much more we need to do out there.”

Breaking Barriers

Barrier breaking is a theme that runs through Brenda’s seven decades. Charmed tells that story through photos with short texts—from her start in smashing racial barriers during her career in fashion to a brand new 2022 plan to empower children attending low-income schools in Detroit through coaching them in winning chess strategies.

One truth that Brenda has proven repeatedly throughout her career is this: Popular culture—especially fashion—can be shaped to help bring people together.

“Fashion and design are a visual history of life and love through the ages. They’re the ultimate influencers,” she says. “I was a fashion groundbreaker. I was the first woman vice president of fashion merchandising for the J.L. Hudson Co. And, I hired the first Black fashion models in Detroit and possibly in America.”

Then, in 1968, Brenda explains, “Bill Blass was here for a fashion show at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Troy, Michigan, where he saw the beautiful Black model Billie Blair for the first time. As a result, she was invited to one of his shows in New York City. And then Billie went to Paris with Bill Blass and the other American designers in 1973 for the historic Battle of Versailles Fashion Show that pitted French designers against American designers. The Black models stole the show for the Americans!”

Or, as The New York Times described the influence of those pioneering Black American models in a retrospective story about the landmark fashion event: “Hard as it may be to credit in an age of inclusion, the Grand Divertissement à Versailles was very nearly the first time that anyone in Paris had seen an African-American woman on a catwalk. Back in those early days, said Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ‘an ethnic woman was someone who was southern European.’ ”

Brenda says, “And because I first had dared to put Black models in our shows in the 1960s, I had played my part in all of that unfolding.”

Winning Moves

That’s just one chapter from the past, celebrated in some of the photos and texts in Charmed. However, clearly a major weight of this book—maybe 5 of the book’s 10 pounds—is focused on current and even future tikkun olam projects. In English, that’s the Jewish call to repair the world.

Among Brenda’s new projects, which springs from the stories in the pages of Charmed, is a tribute to her late brother Sanford Cohen, who died in 2020.

A story about Sanford in The Jewish News explains: “For 30 years, Sanford was a civics teacher at Southeastern High School in Detroit’s most impoverished neighborhood. He created a chess club as an after-school activity to engage and empower the students to think in new ways. He took the chess team to the national competition for these students three times. Some 1,375 high school chess players from 200 high schools in 33 states participated. Southeastern High sophomore Martell Collins swept to a perfect 7-0 score in the tournaments and to a National Championship title.”

Now, in honor of her brother’s commitment to chess as a creative way to empower some of the most vulnerable children in Detroit, Brenda now is helping to support the next wave of young chess champions. This year, she is embarking on a five-year collaboration with Chevelle Brown, one of Detroit’s leading chess coaches, and the PAL (Police Athletic League) program in the city’s public schools.

“This is a big new commitment, but it’s such a wonderful way to remember my brother, and to make sure that his legacy of coaching these young champions will continue,” Brenda said.

“Anyone who looks through this new book will see how all of these stories really are related,” she said. “As Sanford and I were growing up, nearly every week, my parents took us to the DIA where we saw the beauty in differences—differences from all around the world. Growing up, I couldn’t wait to go to Africa and Asia to see the artwork in the places where these wonderful works were created. Eventually, I was able to travel so many places. Then, all of those travels made me want to keep spreading that message that we need to creatively explore our world together. It’s really all part of the same big, big—obviously very big—story.”

Yes, Brenda is well aware that not many readers will ante up $150 for this massive set of volumes. However, the sheer fact of this book’s existence now means that Brenda herself—and anyone who reads this book—have all of these inspiring stories documented in dazzling color photos and text that just might spark future waves of creative peacemaking.

“And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, since 9/11,” she said. “I want to be part of finding and preparing that next generation of peacemakers.”

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Care to see Brenda tell her own story?

Here’s the book trailer for Charmed as designed and produced by Brenda. (If you prefer, you can go directly to YouTube to see this video.)

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Care to learn more?

Brenda Rosenberg’s two earlier books share inspiring materials she has used with groups of high school students and adults to help bridge barriers of religion, culture and ethnicity.

Her foundational book, which stretches back to creative work Brenda developed with high school students in the wake of the 9/11/2001 attacks is Reuniting the Children of Abraham: The Sacred Story that Calls Jews, Christians and Muslims to Peace.

ABOUT THE BOOKReuniting the Children of Abraham is a powerful, multimedia peace initiative created with Jewish, Christian and Muslim families to combat the fear, bigotry and bullying that fuels violence. The multicultural project described in this book includes inspiring true stories and educational materials that flow from the ancient story of Abraham, a patriarch in all three faiths. Just as Abraham’s own children were reunited, this project is a model for calling these vast families of faith toward building peaceful new relationships. The project was the focus of a CBS network special documentary, which pointed out: “Abraham, of the Old Testament, was the founding patriarch of a new, monotheistic faith, which included Jews and later Christians and Muslims. One of his two sons is historically tied to the founding of Judaism, the other to the founding of Islam.”

Recommending this book are …

“This project is a powerful experience that gives hope to the idea of these three religions being able to find their common heritage as a reason for mutual religious respect and spiritual healing in the future.”
Producer John P. Blessington, CBS Entertainment

“In her resolve to reconnect the Children of Abraham, Brenda Naomi Rosenberg recognizes that tension has eroded our shared traditions deeply rooted in our Abrahamic ancestry. Yet by harnessing the the tension that once separated us, Brenda and I now share an unshakable bond, rooted not only in our commonalities but also in our differences.”
Samia Moustapha Bahsoun, co-author of Harnessing the Power of Tension

“We all want people to be able to experience religious diversity and not be afraid of the differences that seem so new to them, at first. Our Girl Scout Law is rooted in the commitment to make the world a better place. Our girls come from every religious tradition. Whatever their individual background may be, we want our girls to see that their ideas, hopes and dreams can contribute to peace in our community and the world.”
Suzanne Bante, chair of Religious Relationships Committee, Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan 

Also consider reading …

Harnessing the Power of Tension Paperback moves beyond the initial project that brought together Christians, Muslims and Jews—and expands the bridge-building principles to bring people together across divisions that include race, class, gender and our often conflicting roles in our communities.

This book was developed by Brenda Rosenberg, collaborating with co-author and co-presenter Samia Bahsoun. They call their “evolutionary leadership” approach to conflict transformation: Tectonic Leadership. By harnessing tension, the authors bridge their own personal commitments as Jew and Arab to directly address the tension that separates them and use it to build alliances at home, in the boardroom, on campus and in communities.

Planning your summer reading and book discussions? Here are some timely choices.

Click on this image to visit our Front Edge website for the latest news on our 2022 books.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of Read The Spirit magazine

Since the founding of our publishing house and this online magazine in 2007, nearly every May our team has released at least one new book that is ideal for summer reading. Because our motto is “good media builds healthy community,” these books often address timely issues that readers are eager to explore in a balanced, well-researched and helpful way. We feel pride in our collective work when readers tell us that they have eagerly welcomed these books—because they have inspired them to positive action in the world.

So, as May debuts this year, our Marketing Director Susan Stitt suggested that we feature this Cover Story looking back over some of our earlier May releases that remain as timely in 2022 as on the day we published them.

The following is just a sampling of these highly relevant May releases over the last 15 years. Stay tuned, because we plan to feature a few more of our May titles next week.

Summer Reading:

Time to learn more about Native Americans

For more than a year, our online magazine has been featuring occasional headlines about Canadian and American efforts to come to terms with the government-sponsored trauma of so-called Indian boarding schools. These prison-like institutions operated for centuries—many of them under the direction of American and Canadian church leaders. Official Canadian investigations into this generation-spanning trauma started a couple of years ago and now fresh American efforts are underway spearheaded by the U.S. Interior department. Most religious leaders are cooperating with this historic reckoning, which will unfold over the rest of this decade.

So, this is an ideal moment to learn more, starting with Dancing My Dream (published in May 2009), the inspiring memoir of Warren Petoskey whose family was shaped by that boarding-school tragedy. Then, for a fascinating dive into the vibrant diversity of Native American life, you’ll also want to pick up a copy of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s 100 Questions, 500 Nations (published in May 2014).

What have readers told us?

“Reading Warren Petoskey’s memoir is like sitting around a fire with the Elder, listening to years upon years of wisdom, reflection, heartache and love. There is much darkness, but in every thing the Creator broke through and led Warren to the dawn. To read—no, rather to listen to—the Elder’s stories is to taste the love in Creation in every leaf and drop of rain, to ache and long with him for years that can never return, and to yet find the Creator still carrying us onward to the next mountain. Warren’s words and the love coming from him have been light in the darkness for me. My only regret about the book is that I wish I could sit around the fire with him longer, to listen to more of his stories and his understanding.”

“Mr. Petoskey is an encyclopedia of knowledge and wisdom, a true Native American treasure. His love and efforts to protect and preserve the Native American culture, tradition and teachings are beautifully documented in this book and no matter if you are Native or not, it will surly touch your heart and mind in a very positive way.”

“This book is an important testimony for the Odawa people, and a significant record the Odawa walk through life. It was an inspiration to me as an Odawa person and it has served to help many people who are not from my culture to understand my culture. The significance and inspiration I found in this book will be relevant to many others from all walks of life.”

“Warren Petoskey is a storyteller and poet, and carries a prophetic word for those who have ears to hear. Without bitterness, but with a cutting edge clarity, he tells the story of not only his family but of Native Americans across this continent as they struggle to come to grips with a forgotten past. Warren reminds us of things that should never be forgotten and offers a spiritual answer that can bring healing to the Native and understanding to the non-Native. Books like this are rare and priceless.”

AND ON 100 QUESTIONS, 500 NATIONS:
“This guide was created by the Native American Journalists Association, which recognizes Native Americans as distinct peoples based on their tradition and culture. In this spirit, NAJA educates and unifies its membership through journalism programs that promote diversity and defends challenges to free press, speech and express.”

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Summer Reading:

Is peace possible?

Given the horrors of war in 2022, consider the reassurance in these words we published when Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers debuted in May 2011: “In the pages of this book, you will meet more than 100 heroes, but most of them are not the kind of heroes our culture celebrates for muscle, beauty and wealth. These are peacemakers. They circle the planet. A few are famous like Gandhi and Bono of U2. But most of them you will discover for the first time in these stories. Watch out! Reading about their lives may inspire you to step up into their courageous circle.”

What have readers told us?

“I haven’t felt so good at the end of a read in a long time as I did when I finished Daniel L. Buttry’s collection of over 60 short biographies of men and women working for peace. The peacemakers are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and what have you–women and men, and even in South America a 12 year-old girl.”

“Blessed Are the Peacemakers is not just another collection of bios about inspiring people. It’s educational, putting peacemakers and their work in cultural, historical, and religious context to help readers really understand how these people did what they did for humanity.”

“If you need a lift, this is an inspiring place to go. Mr. Buttry has collected inspiring stories from activists and world changers at every level of notoriety, all doing powerful and effective work in the world. This is no hippie dream or pollyanna denial of the cruelty in the world, however. These are the stories of people doing the real work, facing the real struggles and showing us how to go about the work of changing the world for the better.”

THEN, continue your summer reading with the memoir of one particular peacemaker—pastor, teacher, songwriter and pacifist David Edwards, whose story is titled, What Belongs to God (published May 2021). There’s even a special “gift” inside this book—links to enjoy free selections of Edwards music online.

What have readers told us?

“I’m so grateful for the wisdom of this man’s life and legacy. It helps strengthen me for my own calling to follow Jesus as a peacemaker and justice maker. What a powerful testimony, easy-to-read and easy to relate to.”

“This account of one person’s journey into pacifism moves beyond memoir. His evolving understanding of his faith and commitment to service is informative and inspiring. Cultural and biblical insights encourage unsettling reflection and action. The study guide offers a helpful way to engage others in a vital conversation. I am grateful.”

This book “arrives at a time when the issues of nationalism, militarism, and violence are ever-present and unavoidable challenges in the United States and throughout the world. In a brief, compact volume, Edwards argues passionately for the thesis that ‘nonviolence, refusing to kill, forgiving one’s enemies, is the life for which we are all made.’ ”

“There is so much in this book. It is a manual on character, a guide to decision-making, a testimony to the cause of justice and an affirmation of the dedication to serving one’s brother and sister in love.”

“In times of enduring warfare—and war metaphors for addressing pandemics, climate change and poverty—David Edwards offers a biblically grounded and theologically insightful testimony about what it means to live non-violently for the sake of creation.”

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Summer Reading:

Yes, there are ways to reach across our divides

Across a series of May releases, through all these years, our publishing house has introduced authors’ very practical advice for reaching across the seemingly insurmountable chasms that seem to have formed between Americans and cultures circling our globe. In May 2016, Nathan Albert’s quirky and challenging Embracing Love debuted, springing from an inspiring social media post about a gay-pride parade that went viral and suddenly put Nathan in a global spotlight as a pastor and teacher.

What have readers told us?

“Embracing Love is a timely and needed book in the evangelical world. I appreciate how Nathan presents both theological viewpoints, while allowing the reader to develop their own conclusions.”

“Nathan Albert joins a growing number of thoughtful evangelical Christians who simply lve LGBT people with deep loyalty and care. Nathan’s love for those so long wounded by the church is not despite but because he loves Jesus.

“This is an excellent book for both traditionalist and progressive Christians and church study groups to use for early forays into the conversation about the relationship between churches and the LGBTQ community. Albert’s writing style is easily understandable, is filled with self-deprecating humor, and contains a large number of personal anecdotes. His sections on terminology and problematic phrases will be helpful to all. The six main Bible verses causing so much contention are presented with a short overview and then a balanced summary of each side’s interpretation. Albert’s goal is to unite Christians who are struggling with and against each other over this important topic.”

“Nathan Albert approaches this very difficult topic with honesty, sensitivity, curiosity, passion for knowledge and understanding of others’ experiences. Through his experiences in theater, seminary, and now the pastorship, Nathan has a unique perspective that allows him to shed light and bring two seemingly different worlds together through understanding. His love, knowledge, compassion, and heart shine through his words. Highly recommended for all readers of all backgrounds and walks of life.”

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THEN—Readers kept asking us: “But, how do we even start a constructive conversation anymore? Does anyone have fresh ideas?” As Americans increasingly seemed to be refusing to even talk to each other anymore, a Michigan State University scholar, Dr. William Donohue, introduced a unique, research-based approach to conversation—aimed at positive results. As we introduced Donohue’s Critical Conversations as Leadership to a nationwide audience, we wrote: “Effective leaders are good communicators. … Negotiating is often adversarial, but it does not have to be. Learning how to resolve conflict allows effective leaders to communicate in a collaborative and successful way.”

What have readers told us?

“This book is filled with practical tips and effective strategies for improving your communication and leadership skills. As a communication professor, former director of a faculty grievance office, international consultant, parent and spouse, Professor Donohue draws upon his vast expertise and experience to provide guidance for shifting the nature and style of conversation depending on the setting and purpose of the communication.”

“So many leaders struggle to find the right approach to communication that effects positive change. Using the common language of the card game, Donohue masterfully helps each of us identify the various ‘role cards’ that we have in our life’s deck and the best ones to play in various situations (i.e. the Friend card, the Leader card). In this way, we become more self-aware and able to effectively interact with others in a manner tailored to the situation.”

“Donohue’s Critical Conversations is an engaging book well worth reading. His card game metaphor reflects a blend of themes from role theory, symbolic interaction, and games people play. He captures the dynamics of conversations with advice on how to read situations, knowing which card to play, and how to switch cards as the situation unfolds.”

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EACH YEAR—and particularly each spring-summer—we return to these vital themes of practical peacemaking and personal resilience. As the current rise in antisemitic incidents was building in May of 2021, we focused specifically on that deadly issue with the release of Mindy Corporon’s Healing a Shattered Soul.

What have readers told us?

“In response to a neo-Nazi’s murder of her son and father in 2014, Mindy Corporon has filled her world with love, compassion and kindness. But as Healing a Shattered Soul reveals, that doesn’t mean she has avoided profound, intense, at-times debilitating pain. Hers is the sort of grievous wound caused by the type of extremism that those of us who are members of 9/11 families know only too well. This book gives you the privilege of sharing both in Mindy’s grief and in her remarkable hope, which is rooted in faith. Let this book heal you so you can help heal the world.”

“I picked up this book and could not put it down. Mindy has a way of telling her story so the reader actually feels they were with her on that horrific day that her dad and son were murdered. I remember when this event happened. I remember I was on vacation and I walked into the living room and saw Mindy on national television. I was immediately amazed at her sense of calm. This book takes the reader through every step of the tragedy: from Mindy driving on to the scene just minutes after the shooting, to her ongoing healing and hard work to take this tragedy and use it to inspire others to love and accept one another. I think every person on this planet should read this book. Her honesty about her family’s struggle to heal from this unthinkable action is both gut wrenching and beautiful. I cannot recommend this book enough!

“Mindy’s story, from the depth of grief to the height of hope, gives each reader the gift of a gentle push forward. Whether we are grieving the loss of a dear loved one or grieving collective/societal divisions, Mindy’s vulnerable words jump out from the page to encourage a next step.”

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Summer Reading:

Finally, take time for some film fun

In May 2016, we published a fun and thought-provoking book by our beloved Faith & Film Critic Edward McNulty, called Jesus Christ Movie Star.

Pop some popcorn and invite your friends. This is fun and spiritually enlightening. From many years of guiding viewers, Dr. McNulty knows what details you will need to host a successful evening. If you are not part of a group right now, you still can enjoy this book for your own home viewing—most of the films included this book are easily available from the media services now reaching American homes, including Netflix and Amazon.

What have readers told us?

“This is a great tool for groups who want to explore some great movies together, or if you just want to delve a little deeper yourself while enjoying a fabulous movie. Rev. Dr. McNulty poses questions to facilitate discussions and thoughtfulness, and help you think when watching other movies as well. McNulty has been a writer and movie critic for years, and is always relevant, thoughtful, and right on. This is not just for church groups, but for anyone who wants to explore the themes of good vs. evil, the Christ figure throughout today’s life situations, humility, and sacrifice.”

“Christian church groups and faith groups, whether Catholic, Protestant, or non-denominational, will enjoy this book and its in-depth exploration of Jesus Christ on film, and will find the discussion questions for each film especially helpful. But it shouldn’t stop there. This book will also be of interest to theologians, Jewish and inter-faith groups, and anyone who just has a love for the movies.”

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Keep the Inspiration Flowing

Please, share this story with friends and family across social media and by email.

Those small actions—by one reader at a time—make an enormous difference in spreading this good news.

And, if you order one of these books, today, please take a moment later to stop by Amazon and post your own review. Those reviews inspire all of us!

Deanna Witkowski invites us to immerse ourselves in the spiritual jazz of Mary Lou Williams

This Gjon Mili photograph of Mary Lou Williams’ hands was taken during the early 1940s jazz sessions Mili hosted for LIFE, but the photograph was not included in the 1943 special issue. You can learn more about Mili via Wikipedia. And, you can see an online version of his famous 1943 illustrated story for LIFE here, based on what has been described as “the single greatest jazz session ever held in New York City.”

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of Read The Spirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. Another option is to purchase a copy of the book from Deanna’s own online store. Deanna says she will sign copies bought from her store.

Deanna Witkowski’s new album, Force of Natureopens with a five-minute tour de force celebrating the vibrant legacy of jazz pioneer Mary Lou Williams. That spirited selection, called Gjon Mili Jam Session, comes from music Williams played in the early 1940s gatherings of jazz greats sponsored by LIFE magazine in New York City that now are known simply as the Gjon Mili Jazz Sessions.

“Anyone who loves jazz could only wish to have been alive and sitting somewhere in that room on the night Mili shot those photographs for LIFE,” says Deanna Witkowski, who has been promoting awareness of her spiritual mentor for many years, culminating in her new book, Mary Lou Williams—Music for the Soul, and her new album.

In an interview about her lively spiritual relationship with Williams, who died in 1981 at age 71, Deanna highlighted a passage from the opening of her new book that sums up the connection: Over the years, “I began to realize that I was literally walking in Mary’s footsteps. As a musician who presents jazz in churches of all different denominations, I often picture Mary seated at the piano in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, playing her joyous Mary Lou’s Mass with her trio in front of 3,000 people as five priests process to the altar. Mary gives me courage. Sometimes I speak with her before I play, knowing that in a very real sense, she has been here before me.”

“You speak to her like a saint?” I asked Deanna.

“I would say that sometimes I speak with her when I need inspiration, because she knew so much about the challenges musicians face, and sometimes before I begin playing on stage, I send a quick prayer to Mary—to Mary Lou Williams,” she said.

Click the cover to visit the album’s Amazon page. Another option is to purchase a copy of the CD from Deanna’s own online store. CARE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS CD before ordering your own copy? Here are two links to short CD-preview videos. Here’s a 24-second version. And here’s a 1-minute version.

Of course, I wanted to know more. I said, “As you describe in your book, Williams had a vast career from the 1920s through the 1970s, marked by a huge number of challenges from racism to sexism to her eventual decision to selflessly give back to the musical community on a daily basis. In her apartment and across her neighborhood, she personally cared for a number of jazz legends when they were facing hard times,” I said. “In talking about your own daily relationship with Mary now, tell us more about the challenges you face that Mary also faced.”

“Of course, I don’t face everything she faced,” Deanna said. “What I’m talking about are the day-to-day frustrations and the need to find the energy that it takes to keep doing certain kinds of work as a jazz musician and composer—like getting people on board with new projects. That may sound like mundane business to your readers, but this life is not playing the piano. There’s so much other daily work involved in booking gigs, arranging for performances, setting up future projects. Now, anyone who reads my book about Williams’ life will learn that she was both one of our greatest jazz musicians—and they’ll also learn that her faith led her to become a great humanitarian as well. For me, how I relate to Mary on a daily basis has to do with the creative energy it takes to get this music out to people. That takes so much work! And somehow Mary kept finding that energy. She kept going.”

As Deanna explains on her website, the releases of the book and album “cap a 20-year deep dive into the ground-breaking impact of Williams’ life and music.” In the process, Deanna has become a leading authority on Williams. What makes her new biography-and-album so compelling, compared with the two other earlier biographies of Williams, is that Deanna not only researched Williams’ life. She also continues to live, breathe, arrange and perform Mary Lou Williams, giving Deanna an unparalleled empathetic connection with Williams. Deanna has presented at the Kennedy Center, Duke University, Fordham University—and has performed Williams’ compositions as a featured guest with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Please note: Deanna also is thankful for Williams’ earlier biographers, who wrote for university-based publishing houses; she recommends their significantly longer books if you find yourself fascinated with Williams and want to learn much more about her early life—so, Deanna asked that we include links to their books at the end of this story.

Deanna also helped to select some video clips, below, that will give you a feel for Williams’ music and her legacy.

But first: Why is Williams such a giant among jazz musicians?

Well, the first answer is: Get a copy of Deanna’s book and read it.

But, one way to quickly shore up Deanna’s enormous respect for Mary Lou Williams is to turn to the words of legendary jazz journalist John S. Wilson, music critic for The New York Times for four decades. When Mary died in 1981, Wilson honored her with a lengthy profile of her career. In part, he wrote:

Mary Lou Williams, pianist, arranger and composer who was the first woman to be ranked with the greatest of jazz musicians, died of cancer at her home in Durham, N.C. She was 71 years old.

This is one of many photographs taken of Mary Lou Williams by the famous photographer William Gottlieb in sessions between the late 1930s and late 1940s and was visual source material for the cover illustration on Deanna’s new biography. You can see more of Gottlieb’s photographs via the Library of Congress website. Or, you can read more about his career on Wikipedia.

Miss Williams was an important contributor to every aspect of jazz that developed during a career that began in the late 1920’s and lasted for more than half a century. She was involved in the vitalizing Kansas City jazz world at the end of the 20’s, when she was playing piano and writing for Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy.

She was an essential element of the Swing Era when she wrote ”Roll ‘Em” and ”Camel Hop” for Benny Goodman, ”What’s Your Story, Morning Glory” for Jimmie Lunceford and ”Trumpets No End” for Duke Ellington. In the be-bop years in the 40’s, she wrote a Dizzy Gillespie hit, ”In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee,” and after she became a devoted religious convert in the late 50’s, she wrote a number of religious works, including a mass that was performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Miss Williams’ apartment in Sugar Hill Harlem was a place where musicians of all styles and statures flocked. ”I’d leave the door open for them if I was out,” she said. ”Tadd Dameron would come to write when he was out of inspiration, and Thelonious Monk did several of his pieces there. Bud Powell’s brother, Richie, who also played piano, learned how to improvise at my house. And everybody came or called for advice. Charlie Parker would ask what did I think about him putting a group with strings together? Or Miles Davis would ask about expanding his group with a tuba.”

In our interview, Deanna verified that Wilson had effectively hit many of the highlights of Williams’ career.

“But there’s a lot in that piece by Wilson that only people who follow jazz would understand. When he quoted Mary as saying that Charlie Parker consulted her on working with strings and Miles Davis talked to her about his idea of forming a tuba band—those now are famous innovations in jazz history. What Mary was explaining to the interviewer is that she really was right at the heart of what was happening in jazz.”

What also is clear in Wilson’s tribute is the reason that Deanna’s new book is unique in the field of her biographies. Wilson all but buries half a sentence about Mary Lou Williams’ sacred music in a longer paragraph about her popular jazz. In Deanna’s book, Williams’ conversion to Catholicism and her later music are essential parts of her life. In fact, as you will discover in Deanna’s book, Mary Lou Williams continued to establish historic landmarks in jazz-style sacred music until her untimely death.

Videos of Deanna and Mary Lou

Let’s start with one of the official video-previews for Force of Nature.

Then, here’s a 3-minute introductory video that Deanna posted to her YouTube channel. The clip begins with a final short segment of the Gjon Mili Jam Session, which is the first track on her new CD.

This 7-minute video is a homemade clip Deanna streamed in 2021, when the book first was released. The CD’s release followed many months later. In this first video, below, Deanna reads a bit from the book.

After that first video, Deanna made a second video in which she plays from Mary Lou Williams’ version of The Lord’s Prayer.

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Care to learn more?

For all of Deanna’s videos, visit the Deanna Witkowski YouTube channel. (And note to readers: Deanna also has made lots of videos about the challenges of adapting jazz for sacred settings, including examples of her own compositions and arrangements. Especially if you are interested in this kind of music, there are a whole lot of terrific clips to share with friends in her YouTube Channel.)

There also are various videos of Mary Lou Williams’ performances floating around the internet. Many are of poor quality. Deanna says the best introductory documentary she has found is Music on My Mind, a one-hour documentary released in 1989 that currently is streaming on Vimeo.

For a deeper dive into Mary Lou Williams’ life, Deanna also recommends two earlier and more in-depth biographies. Deanna’s new biography is 168 pages.

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With Christianity in crisis, Dr. David Gushee’s ‘Introducing Christian Ethics’ lays out a faithful path forward

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Christianity is in crisis—and our community of authors includes Christians who are in the vanguard of lifting up the timeless good news that made Christianity the world’s largest religious movement.

Need evidence of this crisis? We laid out much of it in our earlier story about the timeliness of a prophetic new book about E. Stanley Jones. Then, here’s another example of this crisis: Coming in May 2022, Brian McLaren—once celebrated as America’s best selling “evangelical” author—will publish a book titled, Do I Stay Christian? Chapter 1 of Brian’s book begins with two sentences that capture the hostility many people feel toward Christians and the anger many Christians feel toward political partisans distorting their faith. Brian writes: “Nobody is born a religious jerk. It takes a religion to help someone become that way.”

Click on this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page, where you will find it available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions. The book also is available from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback and Nook editions. You’ll also find it at Walmart.com, Powell’s Books—as well as bookstores around the world, including Australia’s giant Booktopia.

At this historic turning point in the faith of 2.4 billion people worldwide, McLaren certainly is not alone. This week, America’s most influential Christian ethicist Dr. David Gushee is publishing his magnum opus: Introducing Christian Ethics—Core Convictions for Christians Today.

This is a unique and powerful book. It becomes the capstone on a long series of Dr. Gushee’s books by giving readers 25 chapters drawn from his decades of teaching Christian Ethics at Mercer University—a career that has led to honors showered on Dr. Gushee from around the world. In recent years, those honors have included election by his peers for terms as president of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics.

In fact, Dr. Gushee felt so strongly about the timely need for this particular book that he summoned additional resources. That included substantial work by Mercer’s multimedia staff so that Dr. Gushee could include both videos and audio recordings of every chapter. Links to video and audio are right there in each chapter so readers can choose from three multi-media formats as they read this book: the text itself, video of Gushee delivering the message of each chapter or audio of Gushee’s voice.

This book is a multimedia package that no other publisher of religious books is giving readers today. Dr. Gushee chose this cutting-edge format because he wanted to be heard, loudly and clearly, in whatever form will reach people in the most compelling way.

Why did he put so much effort—and content—into a single book? Because Christianity’s core convictions are truly a life-and-death issue for millions of people, Dr. Gushee says in interviews. “They need convictions they can build their lives around.”

The crisis is real, Dr. Gushee argues. “I am seeing a fundamentalist religion with so many holes in it, and with so much absolutist talk, that when it blows up for people, they are left free falling. I believe people cannot float free.”

If you care to hear from Dr. Gushee himself about these issues, please watch a 59-minute “webinar” with Dr. Gushee hosted by Jeff Brumley of Baptist News Global. You can watch that webinar in the streaming screen that should appear, below, on this page. Or, you can go directly to YouTube to watch the webinar, which includes an array of buttons that make it easy to share this video with friends via email or social media.

In fact, if you are one of the many writers and teachers who follow our online magazine, at the YouTube site you can find a “share” code that will allow you to easily embed this inspiring video in your own blog, weekly column or congregation’s website.
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Care to learn more?

GET THE BOOKThe book is available via Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions. The book also is available from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback and Nook editions. You can find it at Walmart.com, Powell’s Books, and the independent-bookstore-related website alibris. In keeping with Gushee’s international work as a scholar and teacher, the book also is available around the world, including: Australia’s giant Booktopia, as well as Blackwell’s in the UK, Taiwan’s huge Amazon-like retailer Books.com.tw and Books Kinokuniya in Japan.

HELP SPREAD THE NEWS BY REVIEWING THE BOOK—You’ll have the most influence if you review Dr. Gushee’s book on its Amazon page. You also can be influential by writing about the book in the Amazon-owned Goodreads community.

LEARN MORE ABOUT DR. GUSHEE’S WORK. Visit his online home DavidGushee.com and you will find a wide range of resources from his biography to his most recent columns. Sign up for his free email newsletter to follow his ongoing work.

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