Kathy Callahan’s ‘Puppy Planet’ asks: What is the culture and language of our furry friends?

Kathy Callahan with a puppy pal and the cover of her new book. If you click on this photo, you will visit the book’s Amazon page. (Photo provided by Kathy for use with coverage of her book.)

‘This book is about empathy for these beings we are welcoming into our homes.’

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

After a lifetime of living with dogs—and a lifetime as a journalist covering religious and cultural diversity—I was surprised by how powerfully these two realms are connected in Welcoming Your Puppy from Planet Dog, a new book by Kathy Callahan.

As the title of her book indicates, Callahan’s unique creative contribution to puppy care is inviting readers to envision these furry new friends into our homes as visitors from another planet. Rather than unruly animals that need to be tamed and trained, these new puppies usually have spent a couple of months in their dog families of origin, instinctively immersed in their own culture. Our budding relationship will go a lot smoother if we spend some time learning to “read” our new puppies’ reactions, “talk” with our furry friends and learn from their “culture.”

“This book is about empathy. These are sentient beings we are welcoming into our homes,” Kathy said in our Zoom interview about her book.

I said, “Well, I am encouraging people to read your book, in part, because it connects these different realms through compassion and careful attention in fresh ways. I’m quite serious about how unique I find your book. In fact, I’ve now purchased three different copies to give to friends and they’re enjoying your book, too.”

“I absolutely love hearing this,” she said. “I hope people will talk about my book with others.”

‘If you want the gift of living with a dog—’

Then, I further explained: “You’re taking our need for cross-cultural awareness—and our even more basic need to really listen and see and learn from the people we meet—and applying that to our dog companions. On one hand, it’s a simple idea; and on another hand, I can’t recall other authors I’ve read articulating this so well. Did I get your message? Am I describing your message fairly?”

“That’s the message,” she said. “Puppies are a population stuck in our society without a lot of choice in the matter—and that’s not working great for a whole lot of dogs. For a whole lot of them, our pre-existing assumptions about them are contributing to them living a less than optimal life. We’re not even aware of that for the most part. We’re just going on about our day until we spot something they’re doing that bugs us and then we’re trying to train them out of doing whatever it is that concerns us.”

I was nodding across our Zoom connection. “And often, people with dogs are gone for long periods—so the dog is alone, perhaps for much of the day and frequently is penned or ‘crated’. It’s not much of a relationship in many cases.”

She agreed. “If you want the gift of living with a dog, you need to learn more about what a dog needs and wants. And the beauty of trying to figure that out is that you’ll find a much deeper relationship with the dog—which is what you dreamed of in the first place when you wanted a dog, right? We need to begin by thinking about what their natural canine needs are.”

In her book, Callahan describes vividly the start of a typical puppy’s life. For many puppies, that involves a couple of months of exploring a warm and wriggling world of other creatures (the mama dog and sibling puppies), mainly by using nose and mouth to explore that world. So, there are a whole lot of puppy behaviors that folks like my wife and I—lifelong veterans of living with dogs—almost immediately want to curb in some way. These behaviors include licking and nibbling and chewing and snuffling around the house and sometimes having “accidents.” Callahan argues that our human responses in trying to “train” puppies often are so misguided that puppies learn lessons we never intended to teach.

One sign of trouble is when puppies begin hiding their behaviors because we, as humans, get so upset when they do lots of things that they feel are quite natural behaviors. And, often, because our reactions can be delayed or directed in a thoughtless way—the messages get muddled. Callahan explains a number of oh-so-common scenarios in which humans—and my wife and I admit we’ve been among those humans—are so eager to “train” that we wind up sending the wrong message.

‘We should be thinking about our relationships with dogs in new ways.’

Callahan has been known in this field for many years and she reminds readers that “dog training” as we think of it in 2024 was not always the norm in the U.S.

“Remember getting a dog in the ’70s?” she asked me. And, we’re both of an age that, yes, we do have vivid memories of the dogs we lived with in that era.

“Oh, the ’70s!” I responded. “Yes, and I remember hearing about the monks of New Skete who were all the rage for their dog training for a while. As a young journalist, I eventually did a feature story on them, because I was so intrigued.”

“But, remember, that was a very specific kind of training they were doing for a particular breed,” she said. “What we understand about the lives of dogs, now, took many years of research. Today, we simply know a lot more than we did back then. And, because we’ve learned so much more, we should be thinking about our relationships with dogs in new ways.

“A lot of what people call ‘dog training’ today still is rooted in assumptions from the 1970s,” Callahan said. “I got my first puppy in 1976 and I was responsible for taking my 6-month-old puppy to training. And it was mean: Big voices and intimidation and yanking on chains and showing dogs who was The Boss. The whole alpha thing came in. If you didn’t dominate your dog, we were warned, then they’re going to dominate you. And eventually this became an explosion of training classes and people started training because they thought they had to.”

I said, “Let me emphasize that you’re not opposed ‘training’—quite the opposite—but you are showing us different perspectives on training. I would say the biggest theme you’re exploring in your book is that forming our relationships with young dogs involves just as much of our own discernment—our learning to ‘read’ our dogs and communicate with them in a compassionate way—as it is making them learn specific behaviors by rote.”

“Yes,” she said. “If you learn how to read your dog, you will discover that you can tell a lot from looking at a dog’s tail, a dog’s ears, a dog’s behavior, whether the dog yawns—there are so many things that a good trainer is noticing in a dog’s behavior that I want readers to begin to understand. Our dogs may not be able to speak English but they are talking all the time if only we are looking for the signals.

“I am not telling readers to give up on training,” she said. “Yes, it is helpful to teach the basics like sit and wait and stay and down. But the most important thing to learn is how to read your dog and support your dog.”

As we discussed the evolution of training in our interview, we talked about various authors and teachers from Ian Dunbar, who broke new ground in puppy research in the 1980s, to Marc Bekoff, an internationally known advocate for taking dogs’ personalities seriously in our relationships with them. Then, we wound up talking about Kim Brophey’s work in recent years, which Callahan credits in her book with providing the concepts behind one of Callahan’s most intriguing chapters, “Narrating Planet Human: Talk to Your Puppy.”

Kim Brophey and ‘The Mister Rogers Hack’

That chapter in Callahan’s book is based on a training concept Brophey pioneered and calls “The Mister Rogers Hack.” Callahan writes about taking one of Brophey’s classes herself:

It turns out that dogs have a receptive language ability on a par with a toddler’s. As Brophey delved into this topic during her week-long course, a light bulb went on for me. I taught preschool before I pivoted to dogs, and I can tell you that while most toddlers can’t articulate their thoughts very well, they understand an astounding percentage of what people say. … So—think about the old show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and that dear man’s reassuring commentary. … That purposeful narration works for dogs too, and Brophey calls it her “Mister Rogers Hack.”

I told Callahan over Zoom, “My wife and I have been using this principle in daily walks recently with our two new puppies. We read your descriptions of key words and phrases to use with pups and we chose some of them to teach our pups. To our surprise, this actually works!”

Callahan laughed, then said, “Yes, it does. Among the many people who have influenced my work, Kim Brophey is No. 1 or No. 2. She’s been using this method for years, but didn’t develop the course in which she teaches this until about five years ago, then she began to teach this to other dog trainers and that’s where I learned about it.

“What happens is that your dogs begin to learn some of these words you’re using to narrate the world around us. The words begin to have an effect over time. As you’re walking around with your dogs, they don’t know what’s coming next—and things that surprise them can make them nervous and do things you don’t want them to be doing. So, we use this language in our walks that helps them to anticipate and understand things we encounter. They become calmer and happier—and we’re happier too.”

One of the most valuable examples in her book’s list of “Mister Rogers” language to use with dogs is the phrase “Fixing it.” If there’s someone in the path of our dog walk who is using l0ud equipment (from a roaring mower to a buzzing lawn edger to a chorus of hammers on a new roof), we say as we approach: “It’s OK! They’re fixing it.” Then, we might repeat this calm reassurance a couple of times as we pass the source of the noise.

As surprised as my wife and I were—this actually has worked with our dogs. We use a half dozen of the terms Callahan teaches in this book and our dog walks now are nearly stress-free and bark-free. Also, our dog walks have taken on a fun, relational feel—actually relating to our dogs as we go.

My wife and I obviously are advocates for Callahan’s new book—but I asked Callahan to describe for us what she hopes readers will find in her book.

“I hope that my message in this book is reassuring,” she said. “I hope people will stop feeling so bad about their frustrations with trying to get what they want in dog training—and pause to think more about how our dogs are perceiving our relationships. I’m really encouraging compassion.

“And I hope there can be a ripple effect any time we encourage compassion. As people who have read this book spend more time thinking about the empathy they can experience with their dogs—that lesson just might spread to the way they relate to their children, their partners, their co-workers and friends. And, if so, that’s a good thing to be doing in the world.”


Care to learn more?

GET THE BOOKHere’s the link to Amazon, where you will find the book, Welcoming Your Puppy from Planet Dog, is available in Paperback and Kindle.

LEARN MORE ABOUT KATHY at her home online: https://www.puppypicks.com/about-kathy When visiting her website, you also can contact her.

Enjoy this video: Rusty Rosman lights up ‘Writers on Writers over a Triple Espresso’ with her ‘Two Envelopes’

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

Please enjoy the video below!

All of us at ReadTheSpirit are sending “Special thanks!” to podcaster Patrick Greenwood for hosting author Rusty Rosman on his popular series, Writers on Writers over a Triple Espresso! If you’re not already a fan of Peter’s podcasts, he stands out for several reasons:

First, he has an enthusiastic style of welcoming his guests that sets them—and us as viewers—at ease so we can anticipate a great conversation. For example, in introducing Rusty Rosman, author of Two Envelopes, Patrick says with a big smile: “We are joined this morning by a very unique writer—an incredible woman who has written something really amazing!”

How can you turn off the podcast at that point? You’ve got to keep listening.

Second, Patrick does his homework! For this podcast, he had already gone out on social media asking his audience: “What would you want to be buried in?” That’s one of Rusty’s most popular questions when she speaks with groups nationwide. Based on his own experience with that question, Patrick tells us: Wow, do people want to talk about it! “I got back answers—golf shirts, hula shirts and cycling shirts!” Patrick was chuckling happily as the conversation started.

Gotta keep listing, right? Sure.

Third, Patrick gets to his guest right away. Some podcasts make us run through looong introductions, but Patrick has Rusty talking with us almost immediately.

Well, see for yourself right here—

Care to learn more—or invite Rusty to talk with your group?

Visit Rusty’s online hub, featuring a wide array of resources related to her book, including contact information.


Brian McLaren’s ‘Life after Doom’ invites us to think in fresh ways about the world we are giving to our children

This is my dream, and perhaps it is your dream, and our dream, together: that in this time of turbulence when worlds are falling apart, all of us with willing hearts can come together—together with one another, poor and rich, whatever our race or gender, wherever we live, whatever our religion or education. I dream that some of us, maybe even enough of us, will come together not only in a circle of shared humanity, but in a sphere as big as the whole Earth, to rediscover ourselves as Earth’s multi-colored, multi-cultured children, members of Team Earth.”

From Brian McLaren’s new Life after Doom:
Wisdom and Courage for a World Falling Apart

This rich array of resources includes wisdom from Native Americans—and tips for families with children

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

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Why do so many of us keep reading Brian McLaren, year after year and book after book?

Because of the pastoral heart that beats within the pages of nearly all of his volumes—both prophetically preaching the truth of the tragedies we have inflicted on each other in many ways—and always overlaying that with a hopeful vision of the road ahead of us, if we heed his advice. Book after book, his voice echoes these two related themes—first, calling for an honest assessment of our crises and, then, describing a faithful way to continue living each day of our lives with the promise that what we choose to do really does matter in our troubled world.

And, yes, his newest book echoes with familiar McLaren lessons. For example: If you are a McLaren reader, you might recall his eloquent 2015 book, We Make the Road by WalkingWell, because Brian’s continuing series of books read like extended letters to dear friends—in this latest book, he reminds us of that 2015 lesson in the final chapter of this new book, which is titled We Make the Way by Walking.

Buying and reading one of McLaren’s books is an authentic invitation to become a friend in an ongoing journey.

But, wait: Is that just an exaggerated metaphor?

No, this is the way McLaren has engaged countless readers around the world for decades. To get a feel for his good-humored, welcoming relationship with readers, visit Brian’s blog online—which at the time this article was published starts with a note to friends in England about an upcoming visit in August. And, just before that, he posted a video-playlist of music to help readers appreciate his new book featuring musicians he enjoys from Michael Franti to his dear friend, the late Fran McKendree.

At our own publishing house, we’ve been saying since our founding in 2007 that “a book is a community between two covers—entering the world to connect with that real community manifested around the world.” (And for another perspective on that power of authors and their books, read Laura deJong’s column in our Front Edge Publishing website this week. Our entire community of authors tries to live by this idea.)

And—that’s a vision we share with Brian McLaren and that’s why I have been honored to talk with him many times over the years to share his ongoing story with our readers.

‘I’m the kind of Christian who …’

In fact, this is the 20th anniversary of my first conversation with McLaren—in my role, back then, as a journalist covering religious and cultural diversity for The Detroit Free Press.

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

How did we meet?

An alert editor at The Free Press plopped a new book on my desk in 2004 and told me: “As our religion editor, you’ve pretty much gotta interview a guy who titles his new book: ‘A Generous Orthodoxy—Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished CHRISTIAN.’ This Brian McLaren seems to be the hottest new thing from the guys up in Grand Rapids at Zondervan—so the story’s got a Michigan hook to it. So, read the book. Then, call the man.”

I took the assignment, of course.

If you’re not familiar with McLaren’s big breakthrough book on the national publishing circuit—those 32 words, 15 plus signs and six slashes did, indeed, form the title of his book. Then, sitting just above all those words on the cover of his book was Brian’s bespectacled face with a sort of Mona Lisa smile. It was obvious from that book onward that this guy has a hopeful sense of humor. So, first as a journalist for major newspapers—then later as the editor of this online magazine—I have made it a point to check in with him once or twice each year for an interview to highlight whatever his newest book might be.

My last major interview with McLaren was about his 2022 book, exploring the many reasons that organized religion seems toxic to a growing number of Americans. He called that book Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned. 

So, given the trajectory of his writing, in my interview this week about Life after Doom, I asked McLaren a question that caused him to chuckle, at first.

I asked, “So, how do you identify yourself today when people ask you to give your religious affiliation?”

After chuckling at my question, he pondered a while before responding: “I’ve been around long enough that I don’t get asked that question too often anymore. But—I still identify as a committed Christian. Then, if people ask what I mean by that I say, ‘I’m the kind of Christian who believes that the better Christian I am—the more I’ll love my Muslim and atheist and Jewish and Hindu neighbors as myself.’ ”

So, that’s the first thing you need to know about this new book: Yes, it’s written by one of the nation’s most influential Christian authors—and the overall thinking is shaped by McLaren’s deep faith—but this also is a book for “everyone” as he argues in the Introduction:

“Life after Doom is for everyone who has reached a point where not facing their unpeaceful, uneasy, unwanted feelings about the future has become more draining than facing them. It’s for anyone who understands that we’ve entered a dangerous time and we need to prepare ourselves to face that danger with wisdom, courage, character and compassion.”

If that sounds like you—then I can assure you this will be welcome reading!

But, if you’re still undecided about putting this on your reading list, let me share a few things I really like about this book.

Starting with compassion

McLaren models that compassion he’s seeking, as an author, by doing something I can’t recall another author doing in such a timely book. He actually tells readers, before Chapter 1, that if the early portion of the book (in which he explains the nature of the global crises we face) is too depressing to read right away—skip ahead into the middle of his book and start with the more hopeful chapters. He writes, those early chapters “are really important, but for some readers, going to the end and then coming back to the middle may make more sense.”

In our interview, McLaren credited his longtime friend, the late author, scholar and activist Michael Dowd with encouraging this kind of gracious humor. “Starting with Generous Orthodoxy, I remember talking with Michael about the power of humor—and sometimes gallows humor—to pull us through the tough times,” McLaren said. Over many years, his friendship with Dowd—who features prominently in this new book—was grounded in a compassionate approach to the people reading and listening to their messages.

This is a good illustration of how Brian is not alone in this kind of writing. He’s part of a real community in our world. For example, if you are aware of Michael Dowd’s considerable contribution to this movement that Dowd liked to call “post-Doom,” then you also might want to get Ken Whitt’s eloquent book for parents, grandparents and church leaders, God Is Just Love: Building Spiritual Resilience and Sustainable Communities for the Sake of Our Children and CreationWhitt also is a part of Dowd’s ongoing post-Doom network of writers, educators and religious activists—a fitting legacy to Dowd’s remarkable career.

In our interview, McLaren told me, “Michael was a person who saw the natural world as having deep meaning and depth and sacredness—and he spoke about that so boldly and calmly that I feel he was giving me a great gift in sharing the way he had explored that territory.”

Considering Native American wisdom

McLaren’s community of friends also includes a number of leaders in the emerging wave of Native American voices—especially Steven Charleston (see my October ReadTheSpirit interview with Charleston about his book We Survived the End of the World). The truth is that indigenous people around the world have experienced centuries of near-extinction and yet many of those communities survive and some of them are thriving. McLaren’s humble recommendation to listen to Native voices is a passion I share as well as a journalist.

“I think that Native American perspectives absolutely have to be a part of the path ahead for us,” McLaren said in our interview. “At this point, it’s almost too late to keep hoping that any of the systems that brought us to this point will somehow provide solutions. We need to consider value systems that predate colonialism and industrialism and empire.”

Talking to our children

McLaren and his wife have four adult children and five grandchildren, the oldest of whom is 14. As a grandparent myself, I appreciate the appendix to this book in which Brian suggests ways to talk with young people about the crises we are facing. Those are very challenging conversations, in many cases, even with preschool kids—believe me, I know as a grandparent. McLaren’s suggestions include a model letter from a grandfather to the next generations.

We all should write such letters, shouldn’t we?

When I told McLaren how much I appreciated his resource sections at the end of the book, he said, “It makes me happy to hear that you plan to highlight that—because I worked hard on those sections. I use an image in the beginning of the book about how what’s happening is hitting us like a tornado going through people’s nervous systems. There are a lot of ways to react to such a tornado that are not helpful, so I wanted to pack as many sources of help into this book as I could.”

Acknowledging our biases

If you’re familiar with McLaren’s writing, you know that he’s no arm-twisting salesman trying to convince readers to adopt his plan for meeting these crises. Yes, he does encourage readers to develop their own plans and he does offer a few suggestions. But, this book is not some kind of a sales pitch for Brian McLaren’s 10 Tips for Avoiding the Apocalypse. In fact, at the close of his book are seven pages titled “A Short List of Biases”—and those pages alone are worth the price of this book.

This is a terrific book for small-group discussion and, yes, McLaren includes tips for organizing such groups, including how to divide up the chapters of this book—depending on how many weeks you’re thinking of devoting to this theme.

As we closed our interview, I asked McLaren how he hopes this new book might change readers.

“I hope people will accept the reality that our future is very uncertain,” he said. “I present four scenarios in the book—and we can’t know right now which of those scenarios we’ll end up in. But what we can do is decide how we are going to show up in whatever scenario does unfold.

“Then, in just about every area of my life, I feel children should be so high on our list of priorities that their wellbeing and their future should outweigh our own short-term concerns and profits. So, I’m constantly trying to envision what it’s like to come of age in this kind of world that our children are inheriting. As a Christian who writes and speaks, I’m often asked by parents, ‘What should I teach my children?’ And, what I try to tell them is: I want to give our children something of value, but I don’t want to give them the same thing I was given years ago. I think that together, we need to find fresh ways of thinking about everything—and sharing that with our children.”

Christa Brown’s ‘Baptistland’ is a prophetic call for justice far beyond Baptist boundaries

Click on the cover to visit the book’s home page at Lake Drive Books.

‘Baptistland’ warns about the damage when male-dominated churches double-down

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

The news that startled church leaders just before Mother’s Day this year was that, for the first time, a younger generation of women is leading the exodus away from churches—this time, in higher numbers than their male counterparts in Generation Z.

What was especially surprising is that this study was released by the Survey Center on American Life, which is part of the conservative-leaning “think tank” the American Enterprise Institute. Here’s a one-paragraph summary from the Survey Center of their findings:

Even as rates of religious disaffiliation have risen, conservative churches have been able to hold on to their members, but they are facing more of an uphill battle keeping this current generation of young women in the pews. Sixty-one percent of Gen Z women identify as feminist, far greater than women from previous generations. Younger women are more concerned about the unequal treatment of women in American society and are more suspicious of institutions that uphold traditional social arrangements. In a poll we conducted, nearly two-thirds of (65 percent) young women said they do not believe that churches treat men and women equally.

To understand more about why this exodus is unfolding, read Christa Brown’s new memoir, Baptistland—A Memoir of Abuse, Betrayal and TransformationTwo years ago, you may have seen Christa’s name in the Religion News Association’s widely reported 2022 list of that year’s “top newsmakers.” RNA wrote, “Christa Brown’s advocacy for fellow survivors of sexual abuse helped force a reckoning over the Southern Baptist Convention’s history of mishandling cases of sexually abusive ministers and of mistreating victims.”

After reading Christa’s book, I invited her to spend time on Zoom talking about her life and this new book for our ReadTheSpirit readers.

Right away, we talked about the new Survey Center report and Christa said, “I’m glad that you’re making this connection between this recent polling and my book about women leaving the church—and why.”

Christa further describes her catalytic role this way: “I was the first Baptist clergy sex abuse survivor to directly address members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee at the ‘Baptist Vatican’ in Nashville, and I’ve continued to plead for reforms for nearly twenty years.” (To read much more about Christa’s accomplishments and milestones in the Southern Baptist struggle with this issue, visit Christa’s own “In the News” page online.)

Christa’s activism has connected far and wide with survivors of abuse in other “high-control, male-dominated” religious settings. Over the years, for example, she has worked closely with David Clohessy, one of the best-known international activists exposing Catholic clergy sexual abuse. In fact, David’s endorsement is the first one listed inside Baptistland‘s front cover: “Baptistland is a searing yet inspirational memoir and sorely needed guide to all who try to expose any corrupt institution.”

Appreciating the powerful potential of this book depends on understanding this context: In growing numbers, Americans—and women in particular—are turning away from churches that they believe are toxic cultural centers of male control.

‘The fallout from this is enormous’

In our interview, I said to Christa: “Readers are going to discover that this book is about a whole lot more than just your own experiences of abuse within your denomination. They’re going to see this is a far larger pattern of male domination.”

“You’re absolutely right,” she said. “I’m describing what high-control families and high-control churches do: They want to keep control even when they learn about child sexual abuse—and other abuse of women that is unfolding. They just don’t want people to see what’s happening. They’re willing to cover up these very dark narratives—but, in the end, they can’t control the ripple effects. Those ripples build and build. And eventually the fallout from this is enormous.”

“I’m assuming that’s why the title is Baptistland,” I said. “This really is an all-enveloping culture you’re describing. Your book is a story of lives interwoven in that culture whether they’re actually at church or they’re at home or at school or at work. It’s an all-enveloping ‘land.’ ”

“It is,” she said. “What I’m describing is what happens when a high-control, authoritarian faith group connects with patterns in high-control families. Then, you see these same patterns repeating—the same relationships of oppression and dominance that translate from pastor to the congregation, from husband to wife, from parents to children, from older siblings to younger siblings. The influence of white evangelicalism in culture and politics at large is profound.”

And that’s the real power of this memoir—seeing how these abusive relationships form a community culture that’s often impossible to crack open for the protection of the most vulnerable. In one of the most horrifying scenes in Christa’s memoir, she describes how her physically and verbally abusive father flew into a rage so violent that Christa feared for her sister’s life. And, “I did the unthinkable. I ran for the phone.”

Christa called the police—but in that insular community in which her family lived, the police arrived and “asked which church we went to.” When Christa’s parents named their church—the police called for a pastor to come meet with the family! When that “Brother” arrived, his advice to Christa’s mother was that she was at fault for her husband’s violent rage. “Don’t give him reasons to get angry,” the Brother said.

This overwhelming blanket of family, congregation and community is the same claustrophobic strangle hold described by Lucille Sider in her memoir Light Shines in the DarknessLike Christa, Lucille and her brother Ron were caught in a family so immersed in male-led Protestant evangelicalism that the adult protectors in their lives could not even conceive of allowing Lucille to honestly cope with her abuse. Instead, her parents prayed over Lucille and urged her to keep the abuse a secret. Then, much like Christa, Lucille did step forward many years later and finally pursued legal remedies.

“I’m glad that people finally are realizing that these cycles of abuse are not exclusively a Catholic problem,” Christa said in our interview. “That was the dominant narrative for years and I am glad that David Clohessy and others in SNAP were able to organize so many of the Catholic survivors. But this is a problem much larger than the Catholic church.”

‘We’re all kind of on our own.’

Pursuing cases in denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention is, in many ways, more difficult than investigating the entrenched patterns of abuse and coverups in the Catholic hierarchy—and that’s another important reason to read Christa’s book.

“Southern Baptists are not organized in dioceses with bishops in charge. We’re all kind of on our own,” Christa said. “And there’s an emphasis on individual sin, individual piety and individual experiences that make it more difficult to address this as a larger systemic problem.”

However, because of activism by Christa and others, the Southern Baptist Convention was forced to at least acknowledge a problem. In 2018, a report identified cover ups involving 700 accused ministers and church workers. Then, in 2022, came a further report that detailed not only the cover up—but the leadership’s active efforts to dismiss and attack accusers and their advocates. As in the case of the Catholic church, the public finally learned that Southern Baptist church leaders had a nationwide policy of retaining those accused church leaders without informing congregations of the potential danger.

How could that happen? Wouldn’t any sane adult want to protect children? That’s why Christa’s story is so important—learning how this all could unfold in a pattern of secrecy that began with her childhood trauma of abuse within the church and continued as the abuse was compounded through the years.

Finally, though, we learn about Christa’s courageous efforts as an adult to awaken public awareness. At one point in her adult efforts, she writes, “Speaking out about Baptist clergy sex abuse began to feel like an endless Whac-a-Mole exercise in some sadistic, surreal circus. … As soon as one predatory pastor was knocked down, another would pop up. The problem was systemic, but it seemed people in Baptistland simply didn’t believe in systemic issues.”

It’s a compelling story, taking us deep inside one person’s and one family’s experience within this “land.”

But, ultimately—this is a hopeful and empowering book.

‘A God who is not boxed in’

Today, Christa no longer is active in her former church.

“How do you want me to describe you religiously in this story?” I asked her.

“Well, I can’t imagine being part of an organized, structural faith,” she began. “And I don’t particularly like the word God—because it’s become just a word to me that people can so easily misunderstand. To me, there’s a wild God—a God who is not boxed in—a God who I usually encounter in the wilderness. I live in the mountains now, so the mountains are a part of my spiritual consciousness. I look to the hills—I’m frequently hiking in the mountains. So, I describe myself as a spiritual person who doesn’t want to be put into a box or described with a particular name. I’m very content with whatever this Spirit is that I meet and I sense in the mountains.”

And in that answer, Christa describes millions of the 1 in 4 Americans who now are lumped together by some pollsters as “Nones,” because their spiritual-religious affiliation doesn’t neatly match any of the dozen or so check boxes on survey forms.

That’s where a large number of those Gen Z women are headed when they tell pollsters that they’re leaving “church” behind.

And, ultimately, that’s why Christa’s book is an inspiring story—despite the tough stuff readers will encounter in her life story.

“Hope resides in you and in the truth of your stories,” Christa writes to her readers—and survivors in particular—at the end of her book. Then she adds this stirring call to other survivors to take another step forward in their own journeys toward empowerment:

Every time a survivor understands the truth of their own experience, there is hope. Every time a survivor is able to acknowledge that truth—even if only with friends or family—there is hope. Every time a survivor finds their voice and speaks out, there is hope. When we tell the truth about something so painful as clergy sex abuse, it can empower us to tell the truth about a lot of other things. Strength grows. It’s the kind of strength that brings hope for a different future for each individual, and collectively, with thousands of us, it brings hope for a different future for our children.

A better world is possible—a world in which these horrors will be far less pervasive. I may not see it in my lifetime, but on a good day, I swwear I can almost hear that better world breathing.

A ‘Shining Brightly’ Milestone: Celebrating more than 100,000 doses of sunshine, inspiration and keys to resilience

Clicking on this banner will take you to Howard Brown’s “Shining Brightly” website—where you will find links to all 78 episodes.

Are you just discovering this weekly half hour of good news?
Well, here are 6 fan-favorite samples to get you started.

Author of Shining Brightly
And host of the Shining Brightly Podcast

This celebration isn’t about me—it’s about the more than 100,000 times people have chosen to listen to these stories of hope and resilience.

Want the whole story? Click on this cover to visit the Shining Brightly book page on Amazon.

ReadTheSpirit magazine Editor David Crumm invited me to write this column because we want to celebrate the lives this podcast has touched—perhaps yours. From what regular listeners tell me, through this podcast, I’m able to meet this growing audience every Wednesday morning with a boost of energy and fresh ideas for making it through our daily challenges together.

This column is all about celebrating you—and inviting others to join us. Let me be clear: If you already have been inspired by one of the 78 episodes I have released so far, then you’re part of a coast-to-coast community of listeners who know how important a ray of sunshine can be in a tough week.

If you’re hearing about my weekly Shining Brightly podcast for the first time—then below are six samples that will welcome you into our nationwide community of listeners.

I’m sure you’ve got more questions for me, including suggestions for my future podcast guests. But, today, I want to get quickly to those fan-favorite examples. (And, of course, if you want podcasting tips—I’ve already shared columns describing the many ways podcasters can build national audiences. For example, I wrote a Front Edge Publishing column headlined, Top 10 Tips for Building a Successful Podcast.)

My purpose today is simple:

I want to thank you for listening and sharing links to my podcasts with others. Together, we’ve blown way past the milestone of 100,000 experiences with our listeners.

And, for folks who are just discovering this podcast, I hope you will enjoy these 6 samples—and become regular listeners.

6 Fan-Favorite Episodes of the Popular Shining Brightly Podcast

Andrea Longton emerges as an important new voice in the national conversation encouraging Social Justice Investing

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

What is the greatest good we can do in this world?

THIS WEEK we are publishing two stories to introduce an important voice in the national conversation about Social Justice Investing: Andrea Longton—a nationally respected expert in this growing field of finance that encourages people to exercise their spiritual and ethical values while investing their money.

This is such an important area of interest for our long-time ReadTheSpirit readers that we providing two perspectives on Andrea’s work:

First, this is a Q-and-A with Andrea, interviewed by David Crumm with links to Andrea’s book and some of her free online resources, as well.

(Then, in this second story, financial expert and author Jonathan Grimm adds his perspective on Andrea’s new book.)

Andrea Longton. (Photo from the author used with permission.)

‘We can go so much farther—together!’

DAVID: Along with this article about your new book, we’re going to make sure to provide readers with links to your resource-rich website—and also specifically to the area where they can find out more about your podcasts. I’m highly recommending your work through our online magazine because you share our publishing house’s value of collegial cooperation in trying to spread valuable news to people in need.

ANDREA: I completely agree about forming collegial relationships. My philosophy is a linked-arm approach to connecting with colleagues to form new friendships as we work in this area. We’re going to go so much farther that way!

Working together, our purpose is figuring out: How can we get resources, opportunities and equity into communities in the U.S. that need them? We also want to do this globally, too, but my focus is mainly domestic right now. I think most of us who are working in this area think like this: Working together, we’re stronger. So, we’re willing to link arms without being threatened by rivalries. That’s a real advantage of working in this way.

DAVID: Those values are bedrock for both of us. The first thing we’re suggesting this week is that reaers order a copy of your book. Then, let’s talk more about what readers can find online through your website right now. If people go to TheSocialJusticeInvestor.com—what do you hope they will notice when they visit?

A Free Online Book Club Starts Soon

ANDREA: We’ve designed the site to address the questions: What are we talking about? What is social justice investing? And what is this new book about?

And another important question for us as we developed this website is: When I arrive, do I feel welcome in this community? We want people to find answers to questions like: How do I get involved? Even if I’m new to the idea of social justice investing, how can I finding information that is helpful to me?

Then: How do I dig deeper? One thing we’re excited about is creating a virtual book club. We’re going to go through the book together online, probably five chapters at a time. Finance can be really overwhelming and intimidating, but if you break it down into parts, it becomes much more accessible.

As we talk about this, I believe in focusing on: What’s the next step? I don’t assume that everyone is trying to understand everything in detail all at once. That’s nearly impossible. But we can talk about: What’s the next step I can take?

DAVID: Tell us more about the book club opportunities.

ANDREA: First, we decided to set this up with start and end dates for the series so we can go through the book live and folks can join with their questions if they’re interested in doing that. We’re doing it as a Zoom experience so people can see that there’s a real community forming around you. So the first start-to-finish series will be live. But then, we’re also going to be recording those sessions so that you can go back to previous sessions, if you want.

And we’re making this available free through the website.

On our calendar right now, Book Club Meeting No. 1 is on May 9 starting at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Then we will continue on a weekly basis, so the next one would be May 16 and so on. These will be 45 minutes to an hour. The recorded sessions will be available on the website sometime afterward.

DAVID: And this is free, right?

ANDREA: That’s right. There’s no fee. We will welcome people and learn more from them, at the same time, about what areas they want to know more about.

Appearing in person to Washington D.C., California, Virginia and North Carolina

DAVID: Beside this wonderful Zoom opportunity you’re providing, people might want to take note of your schedule-and-events page.

Between now and July, for instance, I can see you’re going to be in Washington D.C.; Oakland, California; Arlington, Virginia; and Union Grove, North Carolina. Those are just some of the places that people could meet you in person if they get the information from that part of your website.

ANDREA: We are trying to keep expanding opportunities for people to get involved. We’re working on adding more locations, so it’s good to check back on that page over time. I’m reaching out to my national network of professional social justice investors and I’m so pleased that people are wanting to invite me to do events near them.

Andrea’s friends give us ‘Energy Boosts’

DAVID: And I’m pleased that your new book models that kind of collegial value. It’s literally a collaborative book. Your name appears on the cover as the author, as it should, but there are a lot of other writers who contributed interesting and inspiring stories about specific ways we can help our world, using these principles.

How many co-authors are in this book?

ANDREA: There are 20 different stories in the book that we call “Energy Boosts” and 19 of them were written by contributing authors. I wrote one of the 20. So there are 19 people who have joined me in this book.

DAVID: I think that whole approach to putting this book together illustrates the breadth of this movement. Readers will discover they’re not alone in these pages. Opening this book introduces readers to a whole community of people living and working today.

I should also explain to readers: This is not a historical book. You don’t really write about the earlier eras when faith-based leaders like Maimonides or John Wesley or early American Quaker writers—the historical list is very long—urged their followers to consider embodying their core values in the way they spent and invested their money. In this book, you are showing us the contemporary depth and diversity of this movement right now.

And you’re introducing readers to the key concepts they’re going to need if they begin stepping into this field. So, let’s talk for a moment about one of the key words readers will find as they explore your book: “sustainable.” There’s a lot of depth behind that term. So, please, talk to us about that one example of a core concept in the book.

‘Sustainability is a huge word …’

ANDREA: Sustainability is a huge word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different folks—even within the impact-investment industry. If you say ‘sustainability’ to one person they’re going to think about something completely different than what another person thinks when they hear the word.

But, mainly, I’m focused on talking to everyday people about their personal investment choices and personal finances. In that context, the word “sustainability” refers to questions like: Will your family have the financial security needed for expected and unexpected life events? And do you as a person or a family have financial earnings that will sustain you through those events? No one has a crystal ball that can show exactly what those events will be, but we can make reasonably informed decisions about what a financial cushion for your life should be.

DAVID: Let’s talk further about that concept, though, because what you just described will mean vastly different things for various people. For some, their basic financial security means an enormous house in an expensive zip code and multiple cars and other amenities. That’s completely different than families who intentionally are living on a more limited budget so they can donate to important causes and can invest some of their funds in ways you are describing.

When you talk to people about this kind of social justice investment, are you suggesting to people that they should down-size their own living situation to be able to participate in helping others?

ANDREA: You’ve just identified the beautiful part of financial planning—and the hardest part of financial planning. Sustainability looks different to everybody and everyone defines what they need in their own way—and I am not trying to pass judgment on people about those choices. It’s up to every person to decide how they want to approach this.

One person may define sustainability as trying to maintain their 3,000-square-foot home; another person may define the goal as living in community with a refugee family they are hosting in a blended household in a much smaller house. And that’s why I refer to the beautiful side of finance—meaning, it’s a set of tools you can use to try to get you where you want to be. The hard part is being real with yourself about where you can be.

I understand that these are big conversations in families. What I’m trying to show readers are practical ways to start those conversations. For a lot of people, the only financial advice they’re getting focuses on the question: Do you have enough money to get by right now?

If you do want to consider social-justice investing, these conversations and decisions are hard. Now, in addition to trying to take care of yourself and your family, you’re adding hard new questions: Do these decisions I’ve been making—and these plans I’d like to make—mesh with what my values are? Does this mesh with who I want to be as a person?

DAVID: You already have an impressive background as a professional in finance. I’m urging readers to find out more about you—by providing those links to your website and also recommending that they people read your book.

But you’re more than just a financial expert. You also live out these values you’re writing about in your own life. How do you balance your work between these big realms of secular finance and spiritual-and-ethical values?

ANDREA: It varies. If I’m going to speak at a meeting of financial professionals, if I begin by introducing myself as a person of faith, they’re going to turn off my message before I get started.

But I’m also going into settings where people already share the values that come from my faith. For example, that event you mentioned in North Carolina is in July and it’s the Wild Goose Festival. At Wild Goose, I’m comfortable introducing myself as a person of faith—and that will make sense in that context, because people at Wild Goose understand what I’m talking about when I say I want my investing to be in line with my values as a Christian.

In that kind of setting, I like to talk more about how this conversation has gone in my own family.

DAVID: I’m going to present this part of our coverage of your book as a Q and A so that readers can get a feeling for your overall style as a writer. The way you’re talking here is very much like your “voice” in the book. In many cases in these chapters, readers will find you describing family conversations and community conversations, too. Right?

ANDREA: Yeah, that’s right and those personal conversations are not quick—and often they’re not easy. Having these conversations—and doing the research involved for this kind of investing—is a multi-year process. And it involves so many questions that are all interrelated to our lives and, in my family’s case, our faith. I’m active in my Presbyterian church, for example.

DAVID: And, while your book is specifically about investing—putting your money to work in various funds and projects—a family involved in a congregation also needs to talk about donations. So, to be clear, the book is about the many issues you need to understand to start making social-justice-informed investments, but you also recommend that people be involved in helping people in other ways, too, right? Like donating to a church.

ANDREA: My family definitely supports our church and I think as Christians we are called to give—so yes, I do believe in giving. But as people with resources living in this country, there are many different ways we can use those resources to support our families—and to make the world a better place at the same time. That’s why these family discussions are a multi-year process.

Each of us has different kinds of resources: We have our time and our talents as well as our “treasures”—our money. In this country, there are a lot of us who have the privilege of enough money so that we can do more than just support ourselves and our families. We can give—that’s one very important way. And many Americans also have some money that they are setting aside for future needs that they are choosing to invest in various ways to try to ensure those resources are there for them later.

If we decide to get involved in this way, then we need to ask: How can I use the tool of my money to reflect the values I live by?

DAVID: That’s a pretty good summary of what people will find in your book. What else would you say about what you hope readers will find in these pages?

‘It takes a series of baby steps.’

ANDREA: I am very fortunate that I learned about social justice investing from some of the pioneering investors who already were doing this. Going back to our conversation a moment ago about the 19 co-authors in this book: I am thankful to that whole community for the wisdom I have learned.

So, what do I hope readers will find in this book?

I hope people will improve how they use their money. If you’re working with a financial advisor, then call your financial advisor and say, “I’d like to move my money toward social justice investing.” If you’re a DIY investor, or you want to get started as a DIY investor, then use the Investor Values Tool to research investments that you want to make. If you’re a 401K investor, then call your HR manager and say “I’d like some investment options that reflect my values. Can we look at social justice investments?”

I hope people will get these conversations started because it truly does take a series of baby steps to make all of this happen.

That’s what I hope people will find in this book—the tools they need to take the first steps in what I hope will become a life-long process.

Dr. Catherine Meeks transforms the “rags” of family trauma into a beautiful “Quilted Life”

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

Moving Together Toward Compassion:
A Call to Daily Transformation

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Most of us who have made it into the middle of adulthood can recall moments of harrowing tragedy, humiliation and harm we have suffered in various forms.

The scholar and teacher Dr. Catherine Meeks—who now is 78 years old as she gives us her memoir A Quilted Life—calls such experiences the “rags” we accumulate in life. The central metaphor of her book is the traditional way African American women, in particular, saved discarded cloth “rags” so they could cut small, useful pieces to assemble beautiful quilts.

But with words like “memoir” and “traditional,” readers may wonder: How relevant is this message to us today?

So, that was the first question I asked Dr. Meeks in our Zoom conversation about this memoir. “How do you assess our moment in history?” I asked. “How relevant is your message to our world today?”

She said, “Well, I’m trying to be a helpful voice in our moment in history—but I’m not always sure how we should describe this moment. On my good days, there’s a side of me that wants to say, ‘I don’t really think things are any worse today than they have ever been. Can you find a time in the historical narrative of the world when we were able to live together? We’ve always been in the midst of some kind of upheaval somewhere on the planet.’

“So,” she continued, “there’s that side of me—on my good days. On other days, it’s more likely I’ll answer your question: ‘Oh my God! The whole thing’s going to hell in a hand-basket! How in the world are we going to stop the flow in that direction?’ ”

She paused, then added, “But the biggest thing I want to say right now is: I think this is a moment that calls us to be grounded in whatever we believe deep within us can hold us together. You can’t count on external circumstances to be anything other than chaotic. Right now, at this moment in history, we have a real invitation for people to find out what truly matters to them beyond just the externals in life.”

This answer prompted a wide-ranging exchange as Dr. Meeks and I connected her core message with similar messages from authors as diverse as Maya Angelou and Jeffrey Munroe. For example, the theme of Jeff’s new book, Telling Stories in the Dark, reflects author Frederick Buechner’s defining message that telling our stories honestly to each other helps us to discover we are not alone—and to connect with other people.

“I think it’s a powerful message we need to hear loud and clear, right now,” I said to Dr. Meeks. “That’s why I’m talking to you today and publishing a story in our magazine to urge people to read your book.”

She nodded. “Yes, and that’s a message I’m also hearing from some of the first folks who read my new book and reached out to me about it. They’re saying my story helps them to remember their own story better,” Dr. Meeks said.

“You know, when the idea of this book first came up, I was hesitant,” she told me. “I asked myself: Who needs to read one more story about somebody’s journey—unless it is a catalyst for people to engage in their own journeys? And that’s why I agreed to write this book: I want readers to reconnect with their own stories and memories and be engaged—to go deeper into their own lives. My ultimate intention is to be a contributor to healing and wellness by helping people to connect with whatever God has for them to do in their life for the good of the world.”

“Powerfully said,” I told her. “I’ll definitely quote you on that from the transcript.”

She nodded again, then added, “You know, we get into so much trouble in this world, because we don’t realize that your story is my story and we share a human story. If people would understand this better, we could begin to erase the racism and sexism and classism and able-ism dividing us and causing so much of the tragedy in our world.”

Transforming the ‘Rags’ to See Their Beauty

At the end of that lament about harmful “isms” from Dr. Meeks, did you note her concern about “able-ism”?

Readers may assume that the this book is mainly about Dr. Meeks’ long family struggle with racism—as well as her struggle as a brilliant woman trying to make her way in a strongly entrenched network of male academics and church leaders.

But, there’s even more to ponder in this memoir about the search for equality and justice!

Dr. Meeks also is an eloquent advocate for the millions of Americans with chronic health conditions that complicate family life and access to work—as well as places of worship. For decades, she has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis—and that struggle has been as potent a learning opportunity as confronting sexism, racism and classism.

Early in her book, she writes:

My journey resembles quilt making in that it comprises many experiences that the world would see as raggy—irredeemable or useless. I have suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and have been exhausted by trying to build a career in racist institutions. I have raised two Black young men, on my own, in a country that threatens the lives and safety of Black men. Despite the hardship, each of these experiences has allowed me opportunities to listen for the sound of the genuine in myself and in the world around me. The rags became more than rags. They are threads of love that were waiting to be put into conversation with one another. Pieced together, they would be transformed into a beautiful whole. All the disparate emotions, fears, hopes, dreams, successes, and failures that may seem worthless actually hold massive potential to help in creating something new that never existed before.

Then, later in her memoir, Dr. Meeks addresses her long struggle with her chronic health condition and draws this startling conclusion: “Rheumatoid arthritis became my teacher.”

To learn how that painful disability became an opportunity for growth in Dr. Meeks’ life, you will want to get a copy of her book, of course. But, overall, Dr. Meeks’ constant call to readers is to think of those painful parts of our own lives—our “rags”—and to consider the radical idea of re-envisioning those rags as beautiful and life-giving parts of our lives. And, by sharing those stories with others, she says to us repeatedly, those rags can contribute to a life-giving transformation of our communities.

The Spiritual Wisdom of ‘Putting One Foot in Front of the Other’

This journey—and the hope of the kind of transformation Dr. Meeks is describing—certainly is not easy!

It certainly was not easy for Dr. Meeks! At nearly every turn in her life story, readers will discover that her successes seemed to be met with fresh challenges, dangers and traumas.

She told me, “I certainly did not write this book so that people would say: ‘Oh, what an amazing person!’ That’s not what I am trying to communicate! What I am trying to communicate is that life is about perseverance. Life often is hard. Very hard. But I am a person of hope who is trying to persevere each day, because I refuse to be stuck. I want to be free. I want to transcend the limitations that are placed all around me. And so I wake up each day and continue putting one foot in front of the other until I am moving through my day.

“This book isn’t intended as a celebration of my life. It’s a story of perseverance. We’ve got to greet each day, ready to keep moving on—because we are pilgrims forever. That’s my message I hope readers will see in this book.”

‘Pilgrims Forever’

Did you note that very quotable phrase? “We are pilgrims forever.” Dr. Meeks’ book is packed with quotable lines, another good reason to read it. Her wisdom is likely to be quoted in countless columns and Sunday-morning sermons over this coming year.

There is another reason Dr. Meeks agreed to write this memoir, she admits: She realized that many people today have no idea what it was like growing up in a Black sharecropper’s family in the South. She watched as her own father’s faith and hopes were crushed year after year, because the sharecropping system was designed to never allow him to bring his family’s heads above the deep waters of his debt to white property owners. At one point, her father even took a desperate action to break free—and failed. Dr. Meeks watched her father eventually die, sunk in his decades of discouragement.

So, these traumas Dr. Meeks writes about are more than insults or slights. These are life-and-death matters and her memoir is full of her own indomitable quest for justice—for herself and for her thousands of students over many years.

Yet, through it all, Dr. Meeks’ voice “sounds” very much like we are sitting around a kitchen table after dinner as this  matriarch tells her life’s story. Even in the most dramatic moments she encountered—for instance, the 1965 Watts Uprising—there’s no effort to over dramatize in her narration. In reading this book, we’re simply letting a beloved storyteller stitch together this astonishingly varied patchwork quilt into a narrative that has the potential to heal us—if we read carefully and take the lessons to heart, that is.

‘Turquoise and Lavender’

The book ends just before Dr. Meeks decided to add just a bit more to her life’s quilt. Shortly after she finished this manuscript, she finally retired from some of her major daily commitments (you can read all about her many accomplishments in the memoir)—and decided to launch a new online community dedicated entirely to healing individuals and communities by evoking shared experiences. Those include outdoor experiences, especially with flowers, herbs and stones.

If you want to explore that latest colorful section of Dr. Meeks’ quilt, visit her new website Turquoise and Lavender. If you do click that link, you’ll find a page with a longer summary of Dr. Meeks’ many accomplishments—and you’ll be able to see watch a beautifully produced video in which Dr. Meeks talks to visitors about this new project.

This memoir is inspiring because Dr. Meeks not only triumphed over adversity herself but, more importantly, has kept inventing new ways of promoting transformation in others. You’ll feel it’s well worth the effort to spend some time by Dr. Meeks’ side.