Rusty Rosman is ‘keeping chaos from overlaying grief’ in ‘Two Envelopes’

Photo by Rodney Curtis

Readers are telling Rusty about challenges they have faced—and the value of her ‘Two Envelopes’

Have you discussed with your family: What will you wear?

By DAVID CRUMM
and RUSTY ROSMAN

“The stories I’ve heard!” Rusty Rosman told our publishing-house team this week as we discussed the enthusiastic interest in her new book, Two Envelopes: What You Want Your Loved Ones to Know When You Die. The book’s national launch date is this week: Tuesday, February 20, 2024.

As is the case with most book releases, Rusty already has been meeting with groups of pre-release readers who want to discuss her book. She has been learning a lot from families about what makes this book especially valuable.

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

“I was surprised by some of the things that can cause big problems in families when a loved one dies,” Rusty said.

Of course, Rusty was not surprised at the deep emotion surrounding the end of life. That’s why she wrote this book—and early reviewers confirm that.

“I truly believe that everyone could benefit from following this guide,” wrote one professional who works with families after a death.

“This book is an incredible gift to/for your family,” wrote another reviewer.

Rusty puts it this way: “We know that three of the most emotional times in our lives are our marriage, birth of our children and the death of a loved one. We cannot predict how we will react at these times but our emotions come out whether we’re expecting them or not. Two Envelopes helps keep chaos at bay when dealing with the emotions of the death of your loved one.”

But what about the question: What will you wear?

“I will admit that I was surprised by the number of people who want to talk about clothing,” Rusty told us this week. “I mean, I knew that was an issue, so I included it in the book—but the stories! I heard more stories about clothing than I expected.”

As you read this column, are you wondering about that question yourself?

Eventually, families confront this question. So, Rusty wrote the following to explain more about this often very challenging question:

One of the most emotional topics of family discussion when a loved one dies—and it can even become an argument—is what their loved one will wear for viewing and burial. Even if cremation is chosen, there often is a viewing before the final service.

I am amazed at how emotional this topic is. So many people have shared heartbreaking stories with me, which brings me to write about this—so your family can avoid this troubling conversation.

My recommendation in Two Envelopes is clear: Don’t leave this question for someone else to answer. You need to think about your life and how you want your clothing to reflect your life choices. Do you prefer a more formal approach such as a suit—or is the joy you had, for example, as a farmer better reflected in your coveralls? Is a dress from a special occasion what you want to wear when your loved ones and friends come to your viewing or does more casual clothing reflect who you are?

It’s amazing how controversial clothing is when your loved ones are left to answer this question. A member of one family told me that they almost came to blows over this issue—and, once a decision was made, some siblings are still angry and not speaking to one another.

Let me be clear about this: Clothing choice should not be the end of the road for family relationships!

So, I advise readers of Two Envelopes to write down what you want. That’s one of many, many details I advise readers to write down and place in the two envelopes mentioned in the book’s title.

Do you have a beloved baseball cap you always wore? A favorite outfit or scarf? What
clothing reflects who you are? Choose how you want to be dressed. No one really knows what
you want but you.

And here’s another tip about clothing: Sometimes many years and pounds have passed since you made your clothing choice. You might want to revisit your choice and change your preference—which is easy when your wishes are available in your handy envelopes. You can simply change the information in the envelopes.

One woman told me about a friend who made it known that her preferred outfit could be found on a pink satin hanger in her closet. Except, when she died, friends discovered the hanger was empty! So many years had passed, and her size had changed, so she had given that outfit away—but had forgotten to replaced it on the special hanger.

What to do!?! Well, those friends were at a loss, but I explain in my book the importance of quickly making such changes by revising the notes in your envelopes. I also advise people to describe the general type of clothing they prefer, which is helpful if you don’t have a specific outfit set aside. Guide your loved ones so they won’t start arguing about it.

Now, be honest: As you read this column, are you shaking your head? Does this sound ridiculous?

Well, it most definitely is not.

Recently, a man told me how upset he still is years after his father died, because his father was buried in a suit. Siblings fought about what their father should wear and the suit won out. “But Dad never wore a suit to work in his life! I’m still upset about that,” this man told me. Had his father been given the opportunity to make his choice clear to his family, this son is convinced that the suit would have been avoided. Years have passed and he’s still upset about that.

Although the choice of clothing is so important—it should not be fuel for a family fight.

That’s the reason I wrote Two Envelopes.

Yes, this book is a guide to end-of-life decisions, but really—it’s a step-by-step process you can follow at your own pace, now, to keep the chaos of family arguments from overlaying your loved ones’ grief someday.

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Get the book and connect with Rusty now

You can pre-order your copy right now in hardcover, paperback or Kindle from Amazon.

Or, if you prefer, you can order hardcover, paperback or eBook from Barnes & Noble.

Even the giant retailer Walmart has decided to carry this book among its online offerings.

In fact, you can buy this book from bookstores nationwide. If you have a favorite neighborhood bookstore, stop in now and ask at the counter to pre-order a copy of Two Envelopes. Rusty’s book is distributed worldwide by the wholesale giant Ingram, which serves nearly every bookstore in North America.

AND CONSIDER CONNECTING WITH RUSTY

In 2024, Rusty Rosman will be crisscrossing the U.S. both in person and virtually. She’s a delightful speaker and workshop leader who you can invite to appear easily via Zoom if you would like her to talk with your small group or class.

How do you reach Rusty? Simply visit this Front Edge Publishing author page, scroll down a bit and you will find all of Rusty’s contact information.

Rusty Rosman invites us to shape our own legacies through ‘Two Envelopes’

Rusty Rosman, author of Two Envelopes.

Rusty Rosman, author of Two Envelopes, welcomes invitations to speak with discussion groups and classes either in person or via Zoom. Click on this photo of Rusty to visit her main author page online, where you can learn much more about her upcoming book—and how to connect directly with Rusty. (Photo by Rodney Curtis.)


‘What You Want Your Loved Ones to Know When You Die’

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

In 17 years as the Editor in Chief of our publishing house, we’ve published lots of books with helpful resources for individuals and families—knowing that these books are keys to resilience, hope and peace in our world. Every day, our publishing house team-members are guided by our founding mission: “Good media builds healthy communities.”

That goal certainly is met by Rusty Rosman’s unique new book, Two Envelopeswhich is launching across Amazon and other bookstores around the world on February 20.

The book’s subtitle is What You Want Your Loved Ones to Know When You Die.

If that subtitle sounds grim—just consider for a moment what Rusty tells readers on her first page: “It’s not always easy to think about dying—but each of us will, ready or not.”

In short, we all need this book.

How does this book build “resilience and hope”? By explaining a step-by-step process through which each of us—whatever our age might be right now—can clearly express what we hope our legacy will be in the world. We follow Rusty’s wise guidance as we read through the pages of this book, then we prepare our materials as she suggests, and finally we store them for the future in—yes, Two Envelopes.

Does this book really contribute to “peace in our world”? Certainly! If you have not already experience this yourself, then—as a lifelong journalist—I can tell you that millions of families have experienced deep hurt from arguments over “who does what” and “who gets what” as part of Mom’s or Dad’s legacy. One reason Two Envelopes is such a valuable guidebook is that those stumbling blocks can be removed as we outline our own expectations for our families—then save that record of our hopes for the future.

And, yes, that’s truly can be a powerful, loving act of family peacemaking.

Who should buy this book?

Everyone.

As Rusty puts it so clearly—death will come for all of us. Every one of us hopes that our legacy will be positive and loving. We don’t want to leave confusion or, worse yet, a family feud in our wake. Rusty’s book leads readers through that whole process of thinking about the future—and then laying out what we hope will happen after we’ve left this place.

Early readers who have gone through her book describe it as a self-revealing and wonderfully reassuring process of reflecting on the meaning and the ultimate impact of our lives.

Early reviewers say Rusty’s book “gives us peace of mind,” “a sense of control over how things will be handled in my family,” “compassion” and that the book even provides a much-appreciated dose of “love” to our families and friends.

“This book is an incredible gift to/for your family,” wrote Ida Goutman, an expert in counseling individuals and families.

“I truly believe that everyone could benefit from following the guide that she has provided,” wrote Joshua Tobias, one of Michigan’s leading funeral directors.

Get the book and connect with Rusty now

You can pre-order your copy right now in hardcover, paperback or Kindle from Amazon.

Or, if you prefer, you can order hardcover, paperback or eBook from Barnes & Noble.

Even the giant retailer Walmart has decided to carry this book among its online offerings.

In fact, you can buy this book from bookstores nationwide. If you have a favorite neighborhood bookstore, stop in now and ask at the counter to pre-order a copy of Two Envelopes. Rusty’s book is distributed worldwide by the wholesale giant Ingram, which serves nearly every bookstore in North America.

And Consider Connecting with Rusty

In 2024, Rusty Rosman will be crisscrossing the U.S. both in person and virtually. She’s a delightful speaker and workshop leader who you can invite to appear easily via Zoom if you would like her to talk with your small group or class.

How do you reach Rusty? Simply visit this Front Edge Publishing author page, scroll down a bit and you will find all of Rusty’s contact information.

Launching this week—’Telling Stories in the Dark’ invites readers to discover the healing power of community

And readers already are sending enthusiastic thanks for author Jeffrey Munroe’s inspiring new book

COVER STORY: Our entire team of writers and editors is thankful this week for the shower of encouraging notes from early readers of author Jeffrey Munroe’s new Telling Stories in the Dark: Finding healing and hope in sharing our sadness, grief, trauma, and pain

His book is officially launching this week via Amazon in hardcover and paperback, as well as via Barnes & Noble, Walmart and other booksellers.

One of the warmest emails was from a therapist who had received a pre-publication copy and loves the book so much that she has decided to place a copy on the table in her waiting room. She emailed Jeff to tell him she’s now ordering more copies, because that book is so attractive that she knows some of her clients will want to take it home! She needs more copies to keep the book available on her table.

And, please, don’t simply take our word for it about the value of this book: We also are pleased to share a link with our ReadTheSpirit readers this week to veteran journalist Bill Tammeus’s review of Jeff’s book in which Bill calls this “an enormously helpful book.” Bill headlined his review: Confronting trauma not with explanations but with love

Want to read a sample? This is the first book in our new Reformed Journal Books imprint and that online magazine—The Reformed Journal—has published their own column heralding the book’s official publication-date this week. The Journal editors chose to provide a brief excerpt from Jeff’s book, headlined: The Thing with Feathers, which was Emily Dickinson’s famous description of “hope.”

Got more questions? Perhaps we’ve already asked Jeff a question that might be in your mind. Last week, we published this Q&A with Jeff, based on the kinds of questions folks have been raising as they have learned about the launch of this new book.

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Jeffrey Munroe on the power of ‘Telling Stories in the Dark’: ‘When we tell our stories, others find their own healing and hope’

Click on this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page, where it will be available in Kindle, paperback and hardcover after the January 30, 2024, launch date. So, please order now for prompt delivery. The book also is available via Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Bookshop.org and other bookstores nationwide. And there’s even more: Readers also can learn much more about this book—and can download a free discussion guideby visiting the Reformed Journal Books page.

In Recognizing the Harmonies between Our Stories, We May Rediscover God’s Creative Music in Our World

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Healing. Hope.

Don’t those two words sound wondrously powerful? And—don’t those two words seem desperately needed by all of us in our troubled world, today? That’s why I responded so enthusiastically on behalf of our publishing house the moment journalist, author and pastor Jeffrey Munroe proposed his new book to me.

“Telling our stories—that’s where we find healing and hope,” Jeff said to me and instantly I knew I was collaborating with a kindred spirit. Of course, I was already a fan of Jeff’s earlier book-length introduction to the works of our mutual mentor Frederick Buechner, Reading Buechner. I have been a life-long reader of everything Buechner has written and, as a journalist myself, had the opportunity to interview Buechner several times over the decades.

Both Jeff and I credit our mentor with laying out this wisdom about storytelling. Here’s just one of Buechner’s many formulations of this powerful truth:

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. … It is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”

This week, our publishing house team is preparing to launch Jeff’s bookTelling Stories in the Dark: Finding healing and hope in sharing our sadness, grief, trauma, and pain. In preparing this news to share with the world, we asked early readers of this book what questions they hope interviewers will ask Jeff as he embarks on a series of public outreach events.

And please stay tuned to our ReadTheSpirit weekly magazine—and to the magazine where Jeff is the Editor, The Reformed Journalfor an ongoing series of news items about the many ways Jeff and his new book will be touching lives around the world in 2024. (By the way: There’s even a “Books” section now in The Reformed Journal’s website for news about this new book and future books we plan to produce with Reformed Journal partners over the next few years.)

Questions Readers Want to Ask Jeffrey Munroe

Jeffrey Munroe with his wife Gretchen in Holland, Michigan. Their mutual story also is a part of this book.

We’re starting our public outreach this week—as we count down to the national release of Jeff’s book on January 30—by asking the questions most folks hoped we would ask him.

Question: How did you come to write Telling Stories in the Dark? What led you to be interested in this topic?

Jeffrey Munroe’s Answer: The pandemic set me on this path. I knew seven people who died in the first year of the COVID pandemic and that made me think: If I know seven people, imagine the multiples of what this means across the general population? How in the world do we even talk about such enormous, widespread loss? I was having trouble reckoning with the loss myself—and I realized we all would need fresh resources, ideas for finding help together.

Also, my book Reading Buechner had launched just a few months before the pandemic hit and I lost opportunities to talk about that book because so many things were cancelled. But, I did find myself talking about the book with people at a church in my hometown—and I mentioned Buechner’s idea of “stewardship of pain”—and a woman asked me if I would talk with her further about that idea. When I began talking with her, I realized that I didn’t have as many answers as she had questions about this. What does it mean to work with our pain in ways that will lead us toward hope and healing? So, that woman’s questions led me to want to know much more about this. And, the fact that she asked me those questions showed me something else: We tend to think about pain or the experience of loss as something that happens to us individually—but talking about these stories opens doors to others.

I kept thinking about that question: What would it mean, after experiencing a loss or trauma, if we took that experience and did something with it that might bring healing to ourselves and to others?

Frederick Buechner flips a parable to explore ‘the stewardship of pain’

Question: How does this new book build on Reading Buechner, your previous book?

Answer: Reading Buechner is not a biography of Frederick Buechner, although I do cover biographical details. He was a prolific memoirist himself, so readers tend to know a lot about his life already, plus there have been academic, critical reflections on his life and work published on several occasions. Instead, I wrote this book for people who may have heard his name and are curious enough to wonder: What should I read? There are so many books out there you could choose—and he was a master of multiple genres, so you could choose novels or memoirs or other kinds of books! So, in Reading Buechner, I took 10 of his 40 books that I consider essentials and helped readers to see why those were good starting points.

If readers are looking for the phrase “the stewardship of pain,” I found it in an essay titled Adolescence and the Stewardship of Pain in the book The Clown in the Belfry. Buechner looks at the parable of the ‘talents’ in Matthew 25 in which Jesus tells about a man going on a journey who gives pieces of his property to be managed by his servants. Usually, in all the sermons I’ve heard about this passage, it’s about how we should manage our resources, our money and property, a pretty literal reading of the parable. But Frederick Buechner totally flips the parable around by asking: What if pain is the thing we’re given in life—and our temptation is to bury that pain and hold it inside of ourselves. The reality is that burying pain doesn’t work. Anything we bury like pain won’t stay buried. So what could it mean if we tried to do something redemptive with that pain?

People are willing to share their stories—if we are prepared to listen

Question: How did you find people to tell their stories in this book?

Answer: That’s the rub here. I did wonder: Are people willing to take the risk of sharing these kinds of stories? I discovered that, yes, people are willing to tell their stories if you ask them—and you are prepared to spend the time to listen carefully.

I’m finding this in discussion groups, too. Even before the book’s launch date, I’ve been able to discuss the book with early readers. I’m hearing some remarkable stories shared in those discussion groups. People are willing to share—even though our culture for many years has told us to hide these kinds of experiences. If we encounter loss and trauma, we’re told by lots of well-meaning people around us that we should just “get over it” as quickly as possible. But it doesn’t work that way. These stories are deep inside of us and can keep affecting us sometimes for many many years.

Instead, when we name our pain and talk about it with others, we find not only healing and hope ourselves—but others can find their own healing and hope. That’s what Frederick Buechner is talking about in that famous quote about telling our stories so others can recognize their own.

An insight shared with the 12 Step movement

Question: And this is an insight that lies at the core of the 12 Step movement, as well. That’s what Bill W discovered and it has helped millions of lives around the world. As recently as November, I was moved by actor Hank Azaria’s tribute in the New York Times to Matthew Perry for taking him to a 12 Step meeting. So, this idea of the transformative power of telling our stories rests on a deep foundation, doesn’t it?

Answer: Even Frederick Buechner once said that the church should look a lot more like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting than it does.

Question: And, of course in your book, you welcome into each chapter this wide range of experts and scholars to talk about these gripping true stories we’re reading. That makes this book a real page-turner! As each chapter opens, we are immersed in another compelling true story, then in the second half of the chapter, an expert discusses that story with you. I know as I read your book, I began starting each chapter wondering: Will I be able to spot the key moments in the story that the expert will highlight?

Millions of books have been published and it’s possible someone else has used that format, but it seemed unique to me—that chapter-by-chapter pairing of people. How did you come up with that format of matching a different expert with each story?

Answer: I’m proud to say that I thought of that format myself. And part of that idea may have been because I’m a journalist. As journalists, we’re not setting ourselves up as The Expert; our role is to find people to interview who are the real experts.

When I started working on this book, I did try to read as much as I could in these fields of pain, loss and trauma—but I realized that the best use of my skills was to act as a reporter and interview people who know a lot about these issues. So, then, my challenge became: Can I match each person telling their story with someone who has real wisdom and insight into that kind of experience? I think that matching of people in each chapter really is a unique strength of this book.

For people of all ages

Question: Is this book intended solely for people who have gone through tragedy? Who is your target
audience?

Answer: No, this isn’t just for people who have gone through tragedy. This is a book for all of us, because we all will go through some kind of tragedy or a loved one will—even if we have not experienced that already.

Question: I’m thinking of Queen Elizabeth’s comment after the attacks on 9/11: “Grief is the price we pay for love.” Just as Buechner wrote about it, pain is something that happens in life—it’s something we all can expect to receive. And that makes this book appropriate for a very wide age range, doesn’t it? Can’t you imagine how different a discussion among college students might be from a discussion among older adults?

Answer: I’ve already heard that, yes. I shared this with an adult education class at a church and I asked: “Who do you see as the audience for this book?”

One woman said, “It ought to be a text in a senior seminar at every college. This is the kind of thing they should be talking about at that age. It’s equipment they need for living as they walk out into their lives.”

So, yes, I’m already hearing that this can be a good book for many different age groups.

Connecting with Jeffrey Munroe

Question: You mentioned that you’re available to lead discussions about Telling Stories in the Dark. How would someone go about reaching out to you?

Answer: Visit my website, JeffreyMunroe.com, then click on the “Contact” link.

If people visit my book’s page at ReformedJournal.com, they also will find a free Study Guide they can download to help with individual reflection or group discussions.

Ordering your own copy

Question: And where can readers purchase your book?

Answer: The book is available via Amazon, where readers can choose Kindle, paperback or hardcover editions. The book also is available via Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Bookshop.org and other bookstores nationwide.

Greg Garrett amplifies James Baldwin’s prophetic call from ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ to ‘The Welcome Table’

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

‘Any Myth that Denies a Person’s Humanity Has to be Excavated and Repented’

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

The author and educator Greg Garrett has been teaching the works of James Baldwin for many years in his courses at Baylor—and it took those decades of reflection and dialogue with students before Greg could finally give birth to his newest book, The Gospel According to James Baldwin.

One milestone that helped Greg was a major grant from the Baugh Foundation to study how American media has shaped popular racial attitudes—what Greg calls “racial mythologies.” The foundation’s financial support helped to fuel his wide-ranging research on related issues in the U.S. and around the world.

“Racial mythologies have been deeply embedded in American life, from film to legal codes to theology to popular and material culture,” Greg said at the time the Baugh grant was announced. “Any myth that denies a person her or his humanity has to be excavated, examined and repented. So often, we are unconscious of the degree to which those mythologies are operating and even defining us.”

Another milestone that refreshed Greg’s life-long interest in Baldwin’s life and work was the 2017 acquisition of “30 linear feet” of Baldwin’s papers, manuscripts, notes and artifacts by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at The New York Public Library.

“This collection at the Schomburg is incredible!” Greg said in our interview about his Baldwin book. “I want to keep learning about—and from—James Baldwin for the rest of my life. So, looking at these manuscripts—especially those about the play, The Welcome Table, that he was working on at the end of his life—allowed me to see how Baldwin kept working on this idea over time. As an Episcopalian, I believe that some relics are holy and, when I was holding a manuscript of The Welcome Table that included the author’s hand-written corrections—well that’s a holy moment, a holy relic.”

“I have to credit the archives with letting me move the closest to Baldwin that I have felt in my life,” Greg said. “And, that was just one of destinations where I got closer to Baldwin. I start and end this new book with descriptions of trips I made to the same Swiss village where Baldwin went at least three times—and I think I’ve uncovered a fourth visit he made later in his life. Walking the same streets in Switzerland that he walked, I felt a deep connection with him—seeing what he saw and looking out across the same valleys he saw as he wrote there.”

‘The Welcome Table’—A Good Reason to Order This Book

Greg ranks the papers concerning The Welcome Table among the greatest treasures in the Baldwin archive. Baldwin still was working on the play when he died in 1987 at age 63. To Garrett’s knowledge, no one has yet secured the rights to produce a version of that nearly finished draft. And, reading Garrett’s book, perhaps someone will feel moved to do so.

To put it simply: That section in Greg’s book about The Welcome Table is a good reason to buy a copy of his new book, even if you have other works by and about Baldwin on your shelf.

This play, in Garrett’s words, “brought together many of his greatest themes” and “would have been a fitting end to a monumental life. … In most of Baldwin’s work, failures to love sacrificially, failures to love with courage, failures to love in the face of whatever others might say about love, doom characters.” Nevertheless, “even in The Welcome Table, where Baldwin was wrestling with his late-life inclinations about the necessity of love and the irrelevance of labels, we find characters trying to live into the importance of love.”

Greg said, “Throughout his life, he loved the Blues, hymns and spirituals and The Welcome Table connects us all the way back to the era of slavery—and the hope that there is a kingdom we all are working toward.”

Acknowledging the Primacy of Love

In the book itself, Greg writes:

Baldwin had been taught early in his life in the church that we are called to love everybody. “Whoever else did not believe this,” he remembers, “I did.” And, thus, to talk about a faith community—about any community—one has to acknowledge the primacy of love, “our endless connection with, and responsibility for, each other.”

To the end of his life, Baldwin spoke of the concept of the Welcome Table, a place where this brotherhood and sisterhood, this kind of love, this kind of unity, might be possible. The concept comes from a spiritual that was also sung in the civil rights era. Its first verse proclaims, “I’m going to sit at the Welcome Table one of these days.” Perhaps just now, I am alone, hungry, sad, lost. But someday, somewhere, there will be a place where I belong. Where I will be seen and known. Where I will be accepted. Where I will be welcome at the feast alongside all my brothers and sisters. One of these days, I’m going to sit at the Welcome Table.

This was an article of faith for Baldwin. If we did not succumb to fear and hatred, if we did not implode from our own divisions, such a thing was attainable.

What Else Is in This New Book?

If you have read this far, you probably are familiar with Baldwin in some way. Perhaps you were assigned to read his books in school—as Professor Garrett does each year with at least one Baldwin book for his classes at Baylor. Perhaps you enjoyed Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning 2018 version of Baldwin’s 1974 novel, If Beale Street Could TalkPerhaps you are old enough that, like me, you followed Baldwin’s provocative literary and film criticism as it flowed through major American media during his prime.

So, you may be asking: Do I need another Baldwin book?

This column is arguing: You do. But let’s be clear on what Greg is offering here to both individual readers who want to reflect on faith and race and culture in America—and to small groups who may want to engage in that kind of timely discussion in their communities.

What he is not attempting in this new book is another exhaustive biography of Baldwin. If that’s what you are seeking, I can recommend the three volumes of Baldwin’s own works collected by Library of America, since Baldwin publicly explored his own life and wisdom across his published works. In effect, he wrote his own autobiography. If you want a substantial biography of Baldwin by a scholar, I can recommend David Leemings’ 1994 biography of Baldwin that’s more than twice the length of Greg’s book. Or, you might consider Princeton scholar Eddie S. Glaude Jr.’s 2020 Begin Again, which also is a lot longer than Greg’s book.

What Greg Garrett has accomplished is what I would describe as a very compelling “magazine-style overview” of crucial themes that Baldwin was trying to convey across the decades that we had him with us on the planet. In other words, Greg has given us a book that everyday readers can jump into without a lot of background reading—and glean some very timely insights.

In chapters on Culture, Faith, Race, Justice, Identity and New Beginnings, Garrett takes us through the broad sweep of Baldwin’s wisdom about how the world desperately needs to confront our collective, selfish and destructive biases—if we hope to have any chance at reconciliation. And, as Baldwin always emphasized: That sentence contains a huge “if.”

Baldwin never was certain that we could collectively attain what he yearned was possible.

James Baldwin as a Prophet for Our Times

Greg Garrett is not the first writer to refer to Baldwin as prophetic, but he does argue this case in a fresh and persuasive way in this new book.

“This is something he thought about himself,” Greg said in our interview. “At various points in his life, he wrote that he saw himself as a sort of Jeremiah—and I think that’s a perfect characterization of him. I think of that passage as Jeremiah stands at the temple saying to the people: ‘God will not reward your worship and faithfulness until you treat the marginalized with justice.’

“When we encounter Baldwin today, that’s sort of what it feels like: Being there when a Jeremiah calls out to all of us. And Baldwin’s voice still moves people, if we only listen, if we only read. We are now more than 70 years from Go Tell It on the Mountain and 60 years from The Fire Next Time—and, those books still are read and are moving readers toward the kingdom that Baldwin always was seeking. This is not wisdom lost on a dusty library shelf. This is wisdom people still are encountering today and can wind up living every day of their lives as a result.”

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Care to Read More?

GREG GARRETT is a long-time friend and regular visitor in our weekly online magazine. Two other ReadTheSpirit Cover Stories featuring Greg that you may find relevant to this new book on Baldwin are:

From June 2023, headlined: Greg Garrett’s new novel, ‘Bastille Day,’ asks: Can we find spiritual resilience to face the dangers in our world?

From June 2020: Greg Garrett Helps Us Understand Hollywood’s Role in Systemic Racism

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Not Just Black and White, by scholar Anni Reinking, also is a very helpful book focused on the growing number of mixed-race families trying to navigate racial attitudes. Her book is available in Kindle, paperback and hardcover from Amazon as well as other booksellers.

Reinking has spent years as a researcher, scholar and educator. Her roles as mother and researcher come together in this important book. She shares her family’s life in the hope that these stories will foster learning, discussion and new places for reflection and growth.

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PLUS, thousands of Americans now are using volumes from the nearly two dozen produced by Michigan State University School of Journalism’s long-running Bias Busters series. Among the volumes in this award-winning series—prepared with the oversight of blue-ribbon, national panels of experts and scholars—are:

100 Questions & Answers about African Americans

100 Questions & Answers about Hispanics and Latinos

100 Questions & Answers about Arab Americans

And, of course, many, many more.

 

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Toast New Year 2024 with 10 Resolutions Guaranteed to Light Up This Dark Winter

In 2023, Laura Elizabeth participated in an author event at a winery in her part of the U.S. We thought this photograph from that event was a perfect way to illustrate both the New Year’s spirit—and the bright spirits our authors spark through their books. (Curious about that winery event? Here’s that news story from August.)


In 2024, start reading and you’ll find your spirits lifting!

Consider these 10 Resolutions from our Authors

For our 2024 New Year’s issue of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, we are sharing some New Year’s Resolutions from our nationwide community of authors. We did not have to ask these writers to send us “new” resolutions—because virtually all of our authors hope their books will make our world—and our lives—just a little better. That means—in the pages of their books—they’re offering readers wisdom about everything from finding happiness to peacemaking.

And, you’re right. That natural instinct to help readers makes these authors’ books very valuable. All you have to do is get a copy—and start reading—to find your spirits lifting. AND, as you read the following Resolutions—consider how timely these suggestions are today in 2024, even though some of them were expressed years ago.

If you agree, please share this column with friends this week via social media or email. That simple act of sharing this column might surprise you with the appreciation you’ll receive in response!

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1.) Befriend a stranger.

The Story: In 2023, Laura Elizabeth proved that the heart of a popular cozy mystery is not the crime itself—it’s the circle of friends who come together to help their community get through that crisis. That’s why there’s not a dry eye among Laura’s readers when a little boy named Jacob says in her novel’s final pages: “I don’t usually have a lot of friends, but I really hoped it might be true here.”

The New Year’s Resolution: In 2024, reach out to someone who might otherwise remain a stranger in your workplace or community—and make a new friend.

To read more about Jacob—and the entire creative, lovable circle of friends on Mongin Island, get a copy of Laura’s All Is Now Lost: A cozy mystery rooted in the South Carolina Lowcountry


2.) Look for beauty in our differences.

The Story: For decades, interfaith peacemaker, educator and peace activist Brenda Rosenberg has been building bridges across some of the world’s widest and deepest chasms—including those that often separate Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The New Year’s Resolution: In 2024, pray that our senses will be attuned to look for beauty, not in the sameness of the people and cultures we already know—but in the differences we discover among our new friends.

To read more about how Brenda brings people together across these chasms—and to find Brenda’s entire page-length Prayer for Peace—get a copy of her Reuniting the Children of Abraham.

 


3.) Listen more than we talk.

The story: Throughout his long life as a pastor, counselor, teacher and author, Benjamin Pratt has emphasized that we discover far more when we listen carefully to others, before sharing our own stories. In fact, in his popular Guide for Caregivers, Ben writes an entire chapter titled Talking Honestly; Listening Intently, which includes this sage advice: “The number one attribute and gift of a good listener is not the ear—it is the heart. A good listener has a loving, hospitable heart.”

The New Year’s Resolution: May we listen with an open heart more often than we rush to speak.

To read more about Benjamin Pratt’s inspiring ideas for our nation’s millions of caregivers, get a copy of his Guide for Caregivers, a book full of interactive wisdom for those of us who serve our families and communities each day.


4.) Watch out online this year!

The story: The “Dean of Jewish preachers” Rabbi Jack Riemer has preached scores of “new year” sermons at Rosh Hashanah throughout his long career leading congregations and teaching other Jewish leaders the craft of preaching and creative writing. In one of his most popular New Year’s sermons, Jack reminds people that we all too often abandon our best hospitable instincts when we log into our computers. He offers a prayer that says in part: “May we live as human beings who are created in the image of God, and not as creatures that are made in the image of the machine.” Wow! That’s a pretty insightful prayer, isn’t it?

The Resolution: As Jack himself puts it—in 2024, “may we guard our tongues—and guard our mice!”

To read more about Jack’s best holiday sermons—including the entire prayer for guarding our lives online—get a copy of his Finding God in Unexpected Places: Wisdom for Everyone from the Jewish Tradition.


5.) Try Writing Poetry

The story: Lucille Sider, the clinical psychologist and clergywoman who wrote a memoir about coping with deep-seated trauma, advises readers to turn to poetry to pour out some of our deepest pain, yearning and hope. “After writing a poem, a deep peace settles over me,” she writes.

The Resolution: Write a poem this year. (You may discover you like the feeling, whether anyone reads your poetry or not, and wind up writing many.)

To read more about Lucille’s remarkable resilience in living with trauma and resulting mental illness, get a copy of her memoir Light Shines in the Darkness.


6.) Pay attention to our ‘better angels’

The story: Many of our readers will recognize that phrase as one of Abraham Lincoln’s most enduring words of advice from his first inaugural address. That’s also one of the most powerful phrases stressed in Lincoln-scholar Duncan Newcomer’s book 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln believed that pausing to remember thankfully all that we have received in our lives is one of the surest ways to hear those “better angels” calling.

The Resolution: In 2024, pause before responding to a challenging situation—especially one that involves conflict—and listen carefully to those “better angels” who continue to speak to us, Lincoln said, through “the mystic chords of memory.”

To read more about the relevance of Lincoln’s wisdom for us today, get a copy of Duncan Newcomer’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—and you may want to find inspiration this year with our entire array of “30 Days” books.


7.) Confront racism

The story: There’s no way to avoid racism in America, writes scholar and educator Anni K. Reinking in her memoir. That’s true, even though political leaders in some regions are trying to erase the subject from our public schools and other institutions. In her wise, personal account of navigating racial attitudes, Annie challenges readers to realize that there is no way to avoid these complex issues. So, she wisely asks: Why not make a positive commitment this year to learn more about what each of us can do to overcome racism?

The Resolution: Welcome opportunities to learn about race and racism in America.

To read more about Reinking’s story—and her helpful research about racial attitudes—get a copy of Not Just Black and White.


8.) Share hope with others

The story: Sharing love and hope “is not an option. It’s not a hobby. It’s our purpose here as we walk the earth.” That’s how Howard Brown closes his inspiring memoir, Shining Brightly, which shares true stories about everything from overcoming stage IV cancer—not once, but twice—and finding success as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur as well. “While it may sound like a burden, that call to spread love and happiness turns out to be the key to our own happiness as well,” Howard writes.

The Resolution: Each day, find a way to share hope in a loving way with someone you encounter.

To read more about Howard’s wisdom for resilience in the face of cancer, overcoming the huge challenges of entrepreneurship and building bridges of peace in our world today, visit Howard’s Shining Brightly website. There you’ll find a link to buy his book and—you’ll find links to his weekly podcast that has attracted an audience of thousands around the world.

 


9.) Connect with a congregation

The Story: As surprising as this sounds to many people, a quarter of a century of research around the world shows that connecting with a congregation on a regular basis is a powerful predictor of health and wellbeing. That’s due to four influences explained in the 10th chapter of our book Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging. Chapter 10 is simply titled “Connecting with a Congregation” and has turned out to be the most-shared chapter of that book, which was written through the collaborative efforts of more than a dozen experts from around the world.

The Resolution: Connect with a congregation of your choice.

To read more about these remarkable “gifts and challenges,” get a copy of Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of AgingOf course, that includes the very popular Chapter 10 and the details on those four influences that make most congregations centers of health and wellbeing.


10.) Remember—We’re ‘Always Arriving’

The story: This final, wise Resolution comes from the late Dr. Cheryl El-Amin, Ph.D., LMSW, who died in 2019. For many years, she and her husband Imam Abdullah El-Amin were two of the most important Muslim leaders based in Detroit. Beyond their beloved Muslim Center congregation in Detroit, the El-Amins both were involved in many interfaith organizations. This year, we also mourned the loss of Imam El-Amin, who followed his wife in death in March 2023. But, to remind us of their tireless commitment to peace, we still have some of Cheryl El-Amin’s wisdom in a collection of inspiring stories published under the title Friendship & Faith.

The Resolution: Never stop doing good work, even when we think we’ve done enough! (Cheryl El-Amin taught from the Quran that God wants us to: “Keep working hard, because … you never really arrive in life. You’re always arriving—G’d willing.”)

To read more about WISDOM’s remarkable collection of true stories about unexpected friendships, get a copy of the group’s book Friendship & Faith, subtitled: The WISDOM of women creating alliances for peace.


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The Top 10 Stories You Told Us You Enjoyed—and Shared with Friends—in 2023

‘You’ve got to read this!’

When readers share our stories with others, we know we’re touching lives far and wide.

AS WE DO ON THE LAST MONDAY OF EACH YEAR, we look back across our previous 51 issues and we highlight 10 stories that really got our readers talking in 2023! Please, enjoy this year’s annual Top 10 list—and remember to keep sharing these inspiring and thought-provoking stories with friends as we move into the New Year 2024. Through such sharing, we increase the hope, wisdom and good news that flows across social media and circles our globe.

(And, if you read to the end, you’ll find a bonus story that you won’t want to miss!)

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Click on any of these images to jump to the original stories.

A Call to Remember the Most Vulnerable

On the first day of 2023, we touched on a major theme of our publishing house: The need to spread awareness and encourage compassion for the most vulnerable families living among us. Author Henry Brinton contributed our New Year’s Day 2023 column, headlined: Marking the Centennial of the Rosewood Massacre: Remembering our past prepares us to build a healthier future

After Henry’s story appeared, we received an ongoing series of emails from readers who appreciated knowing about this important centennial observance. We also heard from a number of pastors who told us they followed up by highlighting the Rosewood centennial for their congregations either in prayers, in sermons or in columns they wrote for their local newsletters. Thanks, Henry, for starting 2023 with this stirring story!

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And a Call to Resilience in Our Challenging World

Our online magazine also is trying to revive awareness of another valuable, historic story—the resilient and hope-filled life of entrepreneur Roger Babson. Largely forgotten in today’s media culture, Roger Babson once had a global following for his newspaper columns, public lectures and books.

The main reason people remember him today is that the college Babson founded continues to rank No. 1 in the U.S. for entrepreneurial education—and because author Howard Brown’s memoir Shining Brightly adds a fresh spotlight on Babson’s truly unique approach to coping with the world’s many problems. In early 2023—shortly after we published the somber story about the legacy of Rosewood—we published this cheery story about Roger Babson, headlined: Try carrying ‘Hope’ with you, each day—Roger Babson built a ‘Good Cheer Library’ on that principle. Many readers enthusiastically shared that story with friends. The late Mr. Babson surely was smiling down on all of us!

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Healing Wisdom of Gustavo Parajón

And speaking of coping with global challenges, in early 2023 we published a new biography, Healing the World—Gustavo Parajón, Public Health and Peacemaking PioneerThe story we published at the launch of this inspiring book began with these words:

In an era when a Russian dictator can declare a war that kills thousands—and when angry political factions around the world routinely touch off deadly violence—millions of us are wondering: Is there a better way to live? Indeed, there is: We can look to the life of Gustavo Parajón (1935-2011), a Nicaraguan doctor and pastor who became so well known around the world for his peacemaking efforts that U2’s Bono once disguised himself so that he could quietly slip into a gathering of people listening to one of Parajón’s talks in the UK.

We were especially proud of the way the production of this book brought together peacemakers from Central America, the U.S. and the United Kingdom—who contributed in various ways to creating and promoting this book.

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Reading the Bible with ‘Fresh’ Eyes

The Rev. George A. Mason’s new book The Word Made Fresh landed in our world with a considerable impact—spurred along by George’s tireless work as a now-semi-retired pastor and full-time writer, teacher, media personality and interfaith peace activist.

This “story” of George’s ongoing work unfolded across more than a dozen feature stories, columns, videos and news items that we published in 2023. Here are several examples of the many ways George’s overall “story” touched our readers’ lives:

Clearly, George’s thought-provoking approach to Good News will continue into 2024. While it is obvious that “the Bible” can divide people—George A. Mason continues to preach that the Bible still can bring people together in life-giving ways.

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Dr. David Gushee Shifting Focus

Our publishing house team is proud of our collective work with a wide range of prophetic peacemakers like Gustavo Parajón and George A. Mason—and like our long-time friend and author Dr. David Gushee. Over the past decade, Dr. Gushee has become the leading Christian scholar arguing for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in churches around the world. Then, in 2023, Gushee shifted his focus slightly to take aim at the rising tide of what often is referred to as “Christian Nationalism.” The “story” of Gushee’s activism extends far beyond our publications. Now, Dr. Gushee’s efforts are regularly featured in columns, podcasts and news stories around the world. Here are two of the stories we published in 2023 about his ongoing work:

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A Different Kind of Community

In 2023, our first cozy mystery author, Laura Elizabeth, showed the world that readers love “cozy mysteries” because these novels often focus on entire communities coming together to help solve crises.

Just read some of the dozens of glowing reviews on Laura’s Amazon page to see how personally readers enjoy becoming part of Laura’s island community: “Laura Elizabeth made every character come alive for me. Can’t wait to visit them again in future books. I loved the bookstore and the delightful smell of the pies,” wrote one 5-star reviewer. In fact, some readers actually visited the real-life island on which Laura’s novel is based. One of them writes, “I started reading this in paperback form while staying at Daufuskie Island, SC, at a BnB. I got drawn in so quickly I needed an electronic copy so I wouldn’t have to put the book down.”

Here are several of the many columns, news items and updates we’ve published about Laura’s world in 2023:

From June: Laura Elizabeth’s first cozy mystery, ‘All Is Now Lost,’ finds hope and home on a famous little island in the Atlantic

From July: As Babson College tells us, Laura Elizabeth’s cozy mystery is about much more than suspenseful fun (Yes, like Howard Brown, Laura is a Babson graduate.)

From September: Come to a beautiful island with Laura Elizabeth’s new cozy mystery, ‘All Is Now Lost’

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And, welcoming another community!

A major news story in November was our  collaboration with the popular online magazine The Reformed Journal in establishing a new Reformed Journal Books imprint.  Our headline on that story aptly captures the theme: Our publishing house welcomes Reformed Journal Books, compassionate Christian voices of resilience and hope

As we broke that news, we reported: “To put it simply: This book and this new imprint represent the collective good work of a host of professionals who truly want to share hopeful stories in these troubling times. This is an exciting group of people to get to know through their upcoming books—and who want to actively engage with groups and congregations nationwide.”

In fact, even though Jeffrey’s book does not officially launch until late January 2024, he already is scheduling public appearances, discussion groups and a whole array of outreach with readers. Thanks to everyone who is sharing this news with friends in an ongoing way!

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Spiritual Renewal in the Natural World

Over the past decade, there’s no author we’ve featured in ReadTheSpirit who inspires more reader sharing than Barbara Mahany. We were pleased to feature her again in 2023 in an interview about her new The Book of Nature: The Astonishing Beauty of God’s First Sacred Text.

Barbara’s latest book is truly “remarkable,” because her aim is nothing short of “bedazzlement”—trying to summon all of our senses to a fresh appreciation of, quite literally, the natural world in our own back yards from gardens, trees and birds to wind, snow, dawn, dusk and the stars at night. Down through the millennia, she explains, great writers and spiritual sages have “read” this “book of nature” as a revelatory gift from God.

Here’s a link to that story, headlined: In ‘The Book of Nature,’ Barbara Mahany bedazzles us with the spiritual wonders in our own back yards.

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Steven Charleston’s Native American perspective on saving our planet

Not long after our publishing house was founded in 2007, we began publishing the voices of Native American leaders. Among those landmarks was the 2009 publication of Warren Petoskey’s memoir, Dancing My Dream. Many readers follow our online magazine to find our ongoing coverage of related issues, including: investigations into the legacy of prison-like “Indian boarding schools,” questions about “land acknowledgment,” and reporting on the ongoing efforts of Native American leaders to help us all preserve our planet.

In 2023, we were honored to welcome Steven Charleston twice into the pages of our online magazine. Here are those two stories, which were shared far and wide by our readers this year:

From August: Native American elder Steven Charleston’s ‘Spirit Wheel’ weaves spirituality from ‘common threads of hope and mercy’

From September: In ‘We Survived the End of the World,’ Native American author Steven Charleston urges readers to become prophets of hope

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And, finally: ‘Excelsior!’

One of the great pleasures as editor of this online magazine each year is that I occasionally collaborate on contributions from writers on stories that touch my own life in powerful ways. That certainly was true in February 2023, when best-selling author and Day1 radio host Peter Wallace sent me his story about Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee.

The story was headlined: ‘Excelsior!’ (Higher!) The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee’s Dream of a New Kind of Christian Comics. Both Peter and I are lifelong fans of comic books and comic strips—which is why one of our publishing house’s gems is a collection of anti-bullying comics we produce, called Bullying Is No Laughing Matter

In the weeks after we published Peter Wallace’s column about Stan Lee, I heard from comic fans nationwide who were surprised that Lee ever considered producing a line of Christian comics.

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BONUS: A delicious story that continues to circle our world

To demonstrate the ongoing positive power of sharing such Good News, we only have to summon the example of a 2020 story written by two of our longtime friends: Martin Davis and Elisa Di Benedetto. The year their story about family traditions involving minestrone soup was first published, it ranked as one of the Top 10 with our readers.

And that story continues to be shared!

Here’s our original version in 2020: Across Thousands of Miles, Friends Still Connect to Feed Our Families and Our World

And here is the version that appeared in The Advance online newspaper on December 23, 2023: Warm Bellies, Warm Hearts, Warm Season

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May we all continue to do good in the New Year 2024!

So, now, please take a moment to share one of these stories with friends.

You’ve just done so?

Then, blessings on you for that simple, powerful mitzvah!

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