Consider the Courage of Celebrating Hanukkah with Jewish Families This Year

(Photo used with permission.)

With a worldwide rise in antisemitism,
the Hanukkah lights can become community affirmations

THIS WEEK, WE ARE WELCOMING TEN OF OUR MANY JEWISH WRITERSwho are sharing personal reflections on celebrating Hanukkah in 2023.

Of course, Jewish families know that Hanukkah is a relatively minor festival each year, heightened across the U.S. because of its proximity with Christmas. “It’s not the Jewish Christmas,” Jews tell non-Jewish friends each December. “Hanukkah is a celebration of religious freedom.”

And that’s why, this year, many non-Jews are adding—in the face of a horrifying rise in hate crimes: “Community affirmations of our Jewish neighbors are important, especially as we begin to see the lights of Hanukkah appear in windows.”

Since our founding in 2007, our publishing house has been proud to produce books with men and women from many different faith traditions, including two dozen Jewish writers. Over the past week, 10 of those Jewish writers sent us personal notes about the deep resonance of Hanukkah this year. Please, read this cover story and share it with friends as a way to spread a little peace and hope and affirmation of our religious diversity, this week. If you want to take a further step, we have added links to these authors’ books. Consider expressing your own affirmation of our religious diversity by giving a friend or loved one a book by one of these authors—or by purchasing one of their books for your own enjoyment.

Note: Spellings vary as writers refer to the holiday.

Rabbi Jack Riemer

Where is the miracle in the Hanukkah story? That the Jewish people have held onto the Hanukkah story for 2,100 years, transmitting it from generation to generation, in one country after another, when they had so many opportunities to abandon it; when they were offered both the carrot and the stick, rewards if they gave it up and threats if they did not; that the Jewish people held onto this holiday for 2,100 years—that is the miracle. And that we still have it now, that we are right now about to transmit it to the next generation, to those who will come after us—that is the miracle.

It is a miracle that more 20 centuries after the Hanukkah story happened, we are still here, still telling the tale, still transmitting it to a new generation which, in turn and with God’s help, will tell the tale to those who will come after them. Therefore, let us celebrate Hanukkah together this year, with a whole and a happy heart.

Rabbi Jack Riemer often is referred to as a “dean of preachers” among Jewish clergy, because he has taught and mentored so many of his colleagues. You can enjoy his most memorable holiday messages in his book, Finding God in Unexpected Places: Wisdom for Everyone from the Jewish TraditionHis newest book is Duets on Psalms.

Lynne Golodner

I agree that publicizing the miracle aspect of Hanukkah is even more important this year. In response to the catastrophic rise in antisemitism, especially since the Oct. 7th attack on Israel, I have pulled my Jewish star necklaces out of my jewelry box and started wearing them again. I’ve also gotten more involved in my synagogue and Jewish community. I believe the best way to combat senseless Jew-hatred is to be the proudest Jewish person I can be, publicly and privately—to infuse my life with Jewish practice and ritual.

And I am even more committed than ever to my author brand, which focuses on creating compelling Jewish characters. I’ve always lit a bunch of menorahs in the window every night of Hanukkah, and this year will be no different. What is different is that being Jewish is incredibly special, handed down over generations, a long legacy of prioritizing life, celebration and love. I am very proud to be Jewish!

Lynne Golodner is a leading journalist, author and educator who coaches other writers and creative professionals. Learn more at her website—and enjoy an example of her “compelling Jewish characters” in her new novel, Woman of ValorAmong her many books is an exploration of interfaith food traditions in The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

Rabbi Lenore Bohm

In my decades of celebrating Chanukah, I have never felt such a great need to see and relish the glowing lights of the Chanukah menorah. With deep longing, I seek to be reminded that we can create light in darkness and that we can increase light over time by lighting one additional candle for each of Chanukah’s eight nights.

It will certainly be a more solemn Chanukah celebration this year for many in the Jewish community. We remain shattered by the events of October 7 and anguished by violence that continues in and around our beloved Israel. We give thanks for the released hostages and pray that each one remaining in captivity will be reunited with family and friends before or during Chanukah. May Israel know true peace and security and may the Palestinian people gain freedom to choose worthy leaders who prioritize their people’s flourishing.

Rabbi Lenore Bohm is known as a pioneering Jewish leader, among the first women to be ordained. Today, she says, “I am thrilled that now there are over 1,500 women rabbis including almost 50 ordained under Orthodox auspices.” She also is known as a Jewish educator, including her book, Torah Tutor: A Contemporary Torah Study Guide.

Rabbi Joseph Krakoff

In the Chanukah story, a small group of individuals known as the Maccabees rose up to resist the Greek culture that was forcefully imposed on the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes during the 2nd century BCE. While some Jews willingly assimilated so they could more comfortably co-exist within the majority culture, a battle was waged by Jewish traditionalists to preserve the beautiful rituals and distinctive traditions that were the heart and soul of Jewish living. At the crux of the Chanukah narrative is the lesson that defending the right to practice Judaism freely and proudly is at the core of our ability to survive as a people. The eight-day holiday encourages and empowers each of us to do everything in our power to celebrate our differences while affirming the joy associated with being uniquely Jewish.

In this time of overwhelming challenge and struggle against growing antisemitism and the evil perpetuated on October 7 and every day since, we need to even more vigorously support and defend the Jewish right to practice freely in this country, in Israel and across the globe. May the brilliant lights of the Hanukkah menorah, this year more than ever before, remind us of our human responsibility to bring increased light into the world especially during our darkest days and when we all need to see and feel it the most.

Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff is CEO of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network. He also is co-creator of Never Long Enough, a unique book about the end of life, along with artist Dr. Michelle Y. Sider. This “picture book” invites families to reflect on the milestones of life either before or after the death of a loved one.

Howard Brown

We are not alone. That’s the affirmation that runs throughout Jewish history and is a key part of the Hanukkah story that has been preserved and handed down to us through the millennia. This also is a central truth understood by survivors around the world—certainly by survivors of stage IV cancer like me as well as survivors of traumas in so many forms, especially now.

We are not alone.

As a lifelong volunteer in Jewish leadership, I have never seen our community so alarmed by the hundreds of antisemitic threats documented by law-enforcement officials—and the thousands more that pass without such official notice in communities across the U.S. and around the world. The alarming rise in antisemitism makes us especially aware and thankful for friends, neighbors and co-workers who express their support. As Jewish families set out our candles this year—and shine our light into the darkness of this world—it takes courage and commitment as we affirm religious freedom for all. Perhaps, this year, you can encourage a friend or neighbor by reminding them:

We are not alone.

Howard Brown is a two-time stage IV cancer survivor, an early Silicon Valley entrepreneur and an active interfaith peacemaker. Visit ShiningBrightly.comto join the thousands of listeners to his weekly podcast. And order a copy of his memoir, Shining Brightlyfor friends who may need a bit of inspiration in this holiday season.

Suzy Farbman

Lighting candles on Chanukah is a way to celebrate and express gratitude for my ancestors and for 3,000-plus years of Judaism. With the amount of antisemitism currently being demonstrated worldwide, observing Chanukah this year is also a personal expression of solidarity for Jewish people everywhere.

Suzy Farbman is a nationally known journalist who is one of the most popular columnists in ReadTheSpirit magazine. She shares the inspiring and often funny story of her successful battle with cancer in GodSignsand celebrates her love of the fine arts in Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond: Adventures of an Art Collector.

Bobbie Lewis

For me, Chanukah has a more poignant meaning this year, because the original Chanukah marked the victory of the Jews in Judea (an area that later came to be called Palestine) to be free from domination by the larger surrounding culture (the Assyrian Greeks). And so it is today. Israel is battling for the right to exist as a Jewish state—the only one in the world.

Bobbie Lewis—a past president of WISDOM and contributor to the Friendship & Faith collection (with a piece about Chanukah!)—is a retired public relations professional and a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News.

Joe Lewis

When I was young (in England) Chanukah wasn’t an orgy of presents to compete with Christmas. Instead, we kids would pay a visit to aunts and uncles and get a few coins as “Chanukah gelt”—Chanukah cash. Coins represent the independence of a sovereign nation, and the Maccabees minted their own currency, so coins are a reminder of our people’s independence long ago and—since the establishment of the State of Israel—the recovery of that independence.

Do today’s children know what coins are, I wonder? My schoolmates and I used to discuss the superiority of the twelve-penny shilling, so easy to divide by 2, 3, 4 and 6, over currency of other countries; we’d collect pennies from bygone kings and queens, every coin a history lesson; and a sixpenny bit or a threepenny bit in the hand conjured images of a spree at the sweet shop (candy store).

Joe Lewis is Bobbie Lewis’s husband and, among his many professional pursuits, taught generations of non-Hebrew-speaking men and women to enjoy a deeper participation in Jewish rituals, like the Passover seder, through his Singlish adaptations that he created and published. We thank Joe especially for his many years of support for our interfaith community of writers.

Rabbi Bob Alper

Our festival of lights comes at a time when we feel enveloped by the darkness of fear and overwhelming sadness. This year’s celebration of Chanukah reminds me of Rilke’s words: Even in the worst of times would you not still then have your childhood, that precious, kingly possession, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention thither. Try to raise the submerged sensations of that ample past.”

And so, for eight nights, as we light our menorah, for a few sweet moments I will once again be little Bobby Alper, standing in the dining room of our home at 89 University Avenue in Providence, our faded Chanukah banner hung across the door and warm orange candle wax dripping on my hand. For a few moments I’ll return to that chamber of happy expectation.

For a few precious moments.

Rabbi Bob Alper is the only practicing rabbi who tours nationally as a standup comic, famous for organizing interfaith comedy revues. You can enjoy more of Bob Alper’s wit and wisdom in his memoirs, Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This and Thanks. I Needed That.

Brenda Rosenberg

Celebrating Hanukkah, the Jewish festival commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem by the Maccabees (a group of Jewish rebel warriors) and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem is always a bittersweet time for me. My brother died on the first night of Hanukkah, 2020. My mother died on the last night of Hanukkah,1968. This year it will be even more emotionally challenging. October 7 in Israel was the most brutal attack on Jews since the Holocaust has left me shaken and fearful to be a Jew in America.

As I light the candles on the family menorah, the same Menorah I lit as a child, I will be praying for another miracle, a miracle of replacing hate with hope, and to creating healing. I pray my efforts with my friends from multiple backgrounds, religions and ethnic groups will bring a new level of understanding, to move from the ghosts and shadows from the past and heal our traumas, working together to create a new and viable future together.

Brenda Rosenberg is a peace activist and educator after a long career in retail marketing. Ironically, she is the creator of the original “Santa Bear” that swept the nation in the 1980s. Her commitment to interfaith peacemaking includes books, such as Reuniting the Children of Abraham and Harnessing the Power of Tension.

In 1955, Brenda Rosenberg (right) watches along with her brother Sanford Allen Cohen as their mother Belle Cohen lights the family menorah in their Detroit home.


‘Dear Mama God’ is a kid-tested window into the spiritual wonderment of children

Click on this book cover to visit its Amazon page.

Enjoy our Mom to Mom Conversation

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“Dear Mama God”

The moment we see those three words on the cover of a big, colorful book, we know this is a book intended for children. But what may surprise you about this new book is that these pages actually contain the words of a child—specifically Daneen Akers’ daughter Lucy when she was aged 4-6.

Daneen collected and organized lines from her daughter’s nighttime prayers to form the text for this new book with gorgeous full-color illustrations by Gillian Gamble.

And, here’s another surprise: You are reading this story at the recommendation of my 4-year-old granddaughter who so thoroughly enjoyed the debut reading of this book in our home that I asked her Mom, my daughter the Rev. Megan Walther, to help with this story. Like Daneen, Megan collected some of her daughter’s reactions while reading the book and added those to our author interview.

Megan is associate pastor at Clarkston United Methodist Church in Clarkston, Michigan, and also is quite active in the Goodreads community in reviewing books for children.

Daneen and her family are part of a congregation that has a long connection to our ReadTheSpirit online magazine: The Circle of Mercy in Ashville, North Carolina. That unique congregation is best known to our regular magazine readers as the welcoming Christian congregation co-founded by Nancy Hastings Sehested and Ken Sehested. Since our founding in 2007, we have occasionally published news items and other writing from the Sehesteds.

How did Daneen and her family wind up with the Circle of Mercy, given that she has been widely known as a California-based media professional?

She and her family decided to make a fresh start on the East Coast and liked the Ashville area. “Then, it took us a while, being new to the South, to understand the many different flavors of churches around us. We fell in love with this congregation because it’s known as a peace church and it’s progressive and welcoming,” Daneen said. “Our choice really was made by our children, who right away met other kids they love being with—and we’ve never looked back on that choice. I think Mama God was helping us out.”

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

Given how she described that choice of a congregation, I said, “So you liked Circle of Mercy because it is peacemaking and progressive and welcoming and kid-friendly—words that also describe your new book as well as your previous book, Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints.”

“Yes,” Daneen nodded on our Zoom screen. “I would say that is why Circle of Mercy was such a perfect fit for our family.”

Speaking Mom to Mom

Then, speaking Mom to Mom, Megan told Daneen: “There are a lot of things I love about this book. I love the expansive langue for God, No. 1. And, No. 2, I like the limited amount of text per page, which sounds simple, but for my 4-year-old that’s an important thing in pacing a book that’s fun to read.

“And, No. 3, I like that central phrase ‘Mama God,’ which is important—but I also like that those words are not used on every page of the book. This book doesn’t feel as though you’re trying to push that phrase on us at every turn of a page. We can tell that this is a natural way you think and talk about God in your family, and I like that natural feel in the pacing of this text.”

Then, Megan asked: “I also saw sub-themes that are easy for children to see in these pages, including the importance of gratefulness and the importance of creation care. Can you talk more about those themes?”

Daneen said, “I’m so glad that all came through to you and your daughter! Yes, I wanted this book to have a focus on gratitude because I think that’s part of the expansive wonder we want to encourage with our children. Remember that most of the texts on these pages are word-for-word prayers from my daughter. It’s what she would pray at night. One of the magical things about having children in your life is that you get to return to wonder along with them.

“We truly are living in a beautiful world—and this book celebrates that. I think that, as progressive Christians, we often feel this guilt that we need to be working on the many peace and justice issues that are so important in our world. I did consciously explore those themes in my earlier Holy Troublemakers book, but, in this case, I simply wanted to explore our thankfulness, the importance of gratitude and the many wonders of our world. So, I thank you for seeing those themes in this book and asking about them.”

“I’ve also seen your Holy Troublemakers, and I like that book, too,” Megan said, pointing out that a colleague at her church, who works with children, has shared a copy of Holy Troublemakers.

‘And a little child shall lead them’

Daneen said, “People like to repeat the words, ‘And a little child shall lead them,’ ” (from Isaiah 11’s vision of a peaceful kingdom). “And I think of those words in describing how this book can help us experience the wonders of our world with our children.

“Especially after going through the COVID pandemic—and so many other issues in our world today—we realize that this journey we’re on is truly multi-generational, meaning that it will unfold over a long period of time. I will do my part but I probably won’t completely fix anything in my lifetime—certainly not on my own. So, that means tending to joy and tending to gratitude in our families and our communities is that foundation of everything we hope can follow. We need to experience these soul-care practices, especially for me in the pandemic when I was experiencing so much anxiety. In that process, my children became teachers, because they were so in awe of the beauty they experienced around us.

“At the same time, I also am quite passionate about the importance of using explicitly feminine language for the divine, which I think is going to be important if we are going to find the cultural healing we need right now. I’ve heard from so many women sharing stories about this. And, we need this experience in many forms: song and poetry and prayer—and children’s books, too. And it is not just the words themselves I’m talking about here, which this book shows. Beyond the words on the pages, there is poetry about Mama God even in the illustrations. You mentioned, Megan, that you liked the minimal language and the way this book lets the illustrations speak directly to us. That is very intentional.”

Poetry in the illustrations

“Yes,” Megan said, “Poetry is a great word for this book, because the minimal language was paired with this beautiful artwork.”

“Well, that happened because Gillian is a complete genius,” Daneen said. “She and I also collaborated on Holy Troublemakers. She has three of her portraits in that book along with other artists who are part of that book. So, we had that earlier experience of collaborating and, when I began working on Mama God, I realized this new book really should would work mainly through the art. We talked for a long time about the style of art. We also had an art director who worked with us on both books in making those very intentional decisions.

“One crucial decision we made was not to just focus visually on just one child, who we might have shown going all the way through this book. After all, it was one child who voiced these prayers. But, instead, we decided we wanted diverse children to appear in these pages and come together throughout this book. We wanted everyone to feel welcome in these pages. It also was important to show both rural and urban landscapes in this book.”

“I love the way you approached those decisions,” Megan said. “I love that you can look into these pages and, somewhere, you can see yourself regardless of where you’re living or what you may look like.”

‘Inviting children to become a part of the creative process’

Then, Megan added: “I also specifically like the page toward the end of the book where you write, ‘Thank you for the paper that I can draw on.’ You’ve taken us, at that point, through these experiences of gratitude and wonder and then you’re inviting children to become a part of the creative process themselves—getting out paper and drawing on it themselves! I loved that.”

“I agree with you and I especially love that myself because those were words right out of the mouth of my 5 year old,” Daneen said. “There are so many books out there that read like an adult is trying to sound like a child—but these are actual words of a child.”

So, dear readers of our online magazine: You now know that you’re reading about a thoroughly “kid tested” book and should consider getting a copy of Dear Mama God for some young reader you love.


Care to Learn More?

ORDER A COPY OF THIS BOOK: The book is available in hardcover from Amazon.

CONSIDER Daneen’s Holy Troublemakers book as well: That’s also available in hardback from Amazon.

CONNECT with Daneen: Her website for this book is and that includes a Contact page.

CONNECT with the illustrator: UK-based illustrator Gillian Eilidh O’Mara (formerly Gillian Gamble) also has a fascinating website showcasing many projects.

For Father’s Day, Howard Brown reminds us: ‘It’s an honor to be a Dad.’

‘It’s an honor to be a Dad.’

This week in his podcast, Shining Brightly author Howard Brown reminds us of how much we may have learned from our grandparents, our parents—and then he talks about the high hopes we share for our own children. In Howard’s case, that’s the “miracle girl” you see in the photo above. He explains why Emily truly is a miracle. In honor of Father’s Day, then, please enjoy this heart-warming reflection on lessons and values that, at our best, we can hope to pass along through our families.



And what happened to that little ‘Miracle Girl’?

EMILY BROWN GREW UP to become a journalist, including an internship writing for our ReadTheSpirit online magazine as she was learning her craft. Now, she reports for KPAX Channel 8 in western Montana where Emily is carrying on her family values—described by her father in his podcast (above) as including tikkun olam, trying to help heal our broken world. In June 2023, Emily is reporting for KPAX on the legacy of Mika Westwolf, a Native American woman who was hit and killed by a driver who fled the scene. Because of Emily’s reporting and a growing awareness of Mika’s case across that region of Montana, part of Mika’s legacy now is public activism to increase awareness of the plight of missing and murdered Native Americans and their families. Through this link, you will visit the KPAX website. Emily’s 3-minute report plays on that page (after a brief ad) and the text of her story also appears on that page.

Then, Emily covered a Native American-led walk in Mika’s memory, intended to raise awareness of her death and the ongoing problem of unresolved missing and murdered Native Americans.



Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

And especially read this story: Two-time cancer survivor Howard Brown writes ‘Shining Brightly’ to encourage others to stay healthy

Free Resource Guides

Download (and free-to-share) resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:




Our authors would like to meet you and your friends to help spark healthy discussion

Three Books to Unite and Heal Communities


Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

A month from now, thousands of congregations nationwide will be kicking off virtual fall seasons of programming, complete with small groups and classes. Half a year into the pandemic, congregations now are well-equipped to offer online-streaming groups, many of which enjoy talking about inspiring new books as they gather.

This week, we are highlighting three authors who willing to help you lead and inspire those groups. Larry Buxton, Lucille Sider and Ken Whitt are offering to:

  • Appear by zoom (or your preferred streaming service) before your discussion begins to provide an opening talk that can enrich your experience—and that might even draw more participants to your group to hear their helpful and hopeful messages.
  • Appear by zoom during your opening discussion to introduce the timely themes in their new books.
  • Appear by zoom toward the end of your discussion series for a Q and A “time with the author,” once you’ve already had a rich discussion of their books.
  • FINALLY, A SPECIAL NOTE TO CLERGY—Most clergy nationwide are part of small groups that meet occasionally to discuss everything from upcoming sermons to creative planning for families and Christian education. All three of these authors are willing to zoom with such planning groups as expert resources in a Q and A format—or to help spark creative planning for the new year.


Two of the three books we are highlighting today will not even be published until later this year. As a publishing house, we are issuing this rare public invitation to contact us directly to order early, pre-publication copies you can read and discuss. If you do order books from us and participate in one of these zoom options—then, you and your friends will become part of the emerging national discussion on these timely themes.

If you do choose to become one of the first-in-the-nation discussion groups, we want to hear more from you! We want to hear your ideas, insights and responses. We want to share them with others. If you choose, your voice and that of your congregation can be amplified through coverage of your experience in this online magazine. This is truly a unique opportunity to raise encouraging voices in our troubled world.


Just email us at [email protected]

and 30 Days with King David on Leadership

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. However, if you want to order early copies of this book, before the mid-September publication date on Amazon, contact us directly at [email protected]

The Rev. Dr. Larry Buxton is a veteran teacher, leadership coach and long-time pastor. Larry serves on the faculty of Wesley Seminary, Washington, DC. During the fall season, Larry also will be launching a weekly, free “Leading with Spirit” video series that you, your friends and your small group will want to enjoy on a weekly basis. Your congregation can form an inspiring, ongoing relationship with this master teacher.

What’s in the book? In turbulent times, King David united a nation—and his hard-earned wisdom can bring us together today. This new 30 Days With book offers a month of readings. PLUS: A convenient discussion guide for small groups is included in the book.

Buxton’s book is a call for all of us to remember values that unite us. Answering that call in the opening pages are two nationally known political leaders—one a Democrat and one a Republican, who came together in these pages to urge all of us to read these 30 short stories drawn from David’s often tragically learned lessons about life.

An internationally known Bible scholar on the story of David, Wesley Dean Emeritus Dr. Bruce Birch, encourages congregations to enjoy and learn from Buxton’s book. Why? Because this triumphant-and-troubled hero from the Bible still can bring people together.

Is your community interested in interfaith dialogue this year? As a sacred figure, David is revered to this day by Jews, Christians and Muslims around the world.


Watch the video trailer for this book, which lists the core values covered in this new book about David. You can easily share that short video with your friends to spark interest. You’ll find that video in our Front Edge Publishing column about Larry’s book. Or, you can easily grab a shareable link to the video from YouTube itself.

Read—and share with othersthe Foreword to this book by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a prominent Democrat.

Read—and share with othersthe Preface to this book by Andrew Card, a prominent Republican. Together, these two opening letters to readers—included in the book—demonstrate why David can bring people together across the deep divisions that seem to be polarizing Americans right now.


and Light Shines in the Darkness

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. However, if you want to place a group order, feel free to contact us directly at [email protected]

The Rev. Lucille Sider is a clinical psychologist and a clergy-person who earned both a master of arts in religion from Yale Divinity School and a master of science from the University of Kentucky. She was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Northwestern University in the fields of psychology and religion. Lucille was licensed as a clinical psychologist and became a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. She is an ordained minister by the First Congregational Church, Evanston, Illinois.

Lucille is a master storyteller, teacher and workshop leader. She courageously shares her own experiences in coping with sexual abuse and mental illness in her family. Then—just as she does in the pages of her helpful new book—Lucille is able to step back as an expert counselor and talk about ways families can protect the vulnerable and the ways adults who are still suffering the trauma of long-ago abuse can seek help.

Why is Lucille’s book so important in the midst of this pandemic? Because headline news reports throughout the summer say that abuse has risen during COVID-19. One example is an NBC News analysis of data from 43 states as well as the advice of experts in coping with abuse. NBC concludes that experts are alarmed by what seems to be shaping up as “an unseen surge in abuse behind closed doors due to COVID-19 related unemployment and financial strain.” Lucille’s message is that unseen trauma can fester for many decades in families, if we do not intervene and seek help.

Does this sound like a disturbing topic to raise in your congregation? On the contrary, this often turns out to be a warmly welcomed healing opportunity. You may be surprised, if you get a copy of Lucille’s honest-and-uplifting book and read it—then, invite men and women in your community to a group discussion of these issues. Millions of adults—including older adults—still struggle with the trauma of sometimes long-ago abuse. Some of those survivors are living in your community and may welcome a chance to find fresh insights and support.

Because Lucille’s book debuted before the other two books featured in this article, she already has experience with small groups where participants have been moved both by her story—and the constructive and compassionate wisdom she shares.

PLUS: A convenient discussion guide for small groups is included in the book.


Read our story about the launch of Lucille’s book.

Read this column by Lucille about some of the early group appearances she made before the COVID-19 shutdowns.


and God Is Just Love

For information on the availability of this book, email us [email protected]

The Rev. Ken Whitt’s book is not yet listed in Amazon for pre-sale, but will appear in the most popular online bookstores this autumn. Meanwhile, readers will be able to order books and receive them even before the official Amazon launch date. So, if you are interested in a visit from Ken, email us at [email protected] and we will let you know what’s available based on your schedule and the production timeline.

Ken is the Executive Director of Traces of God, a spiritual formation ministry founded after his retirement from 40 years of service to American Baptist Churches (ABC/USA). Ken’s ministries have focused on nurturing children, youth and families, mission trips, prayer and justice building. Through the ABC, he served on the General Board, the Board of International Ministries and the National Minister’s Council. His love of global diversity extends throughout his entire life from the communities with which he works—to the global variety of woods that fill his woodworking shop. Ken has four children and 11 grandchildren. His wife, Kathy, is a stained-glass artist, weaver, gardener and spiritual director.

What’s in the book? Ken’s full title is, God Is Just Love—Building Spiritual Resilience and Sustainable Communities for the Sake of Our Children and Creation. He likes to describe it as “a big book.” Here’s what he means: This book is big on hope—and even bigger on love that supports everyone who is concerned about the future world our children will inherit. Because of the big challenges we all face—from climate change to ever-deepening poverty in many regions of the world—we need to share big ideas and make big decisions. Ken invites his readers on a journey toward solutions where God’s guidance is our compass.

Because Ken has years of experience working with multi-generational groups, his book has lots of great ideas for adults to participate with children through stories, songs, art projects and especially stepping out into nature. The cover of his book illustrates a central story he shares of families looking up at the starry night sky with their children.

PLUS: His book closes with a list you’ll definitely want to share with your congregation of 100 Things You Can Do with Your Family right now.




Meet Reasa Currier of the HSUS—a different kind of interfaith activist

By DAVID CRUMM, ReadTheSpirit Editor

What’s the mission of an interfaith activist?

Often, the vocation involves bridging religious barriers in our communities, combating bigotry, defending human rights, and courageously promoting peace in global hotspots (see for more).

This week, we’re introducing a different kind of interfaith activist who is crisscrossing the nation on behalf of animals: the Humane Society of the United States’ Reasa Currier. Her title is long: Strategic Initiatives Manager for Faith Outreach, a division of the HSUS.


Reasa Currier’s mission is clear: She connects with religious leaders and activists who are motivated by their faith to join in widespread efforts on behalf of animals.

She’s relatively new to the job, yet her potential impact also is clear: In June 2015, Tennessee enacted tougher penalties for animal fighting, a campaign in which the Southern Baptist Convention played a key role thanks to Reasa’s work on behalf of HSUS with Russell Moore, president of the influential Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“It’s not just a step away from the cruelty and savagery of animal fighting; it is a move away from the exploitation of the poor through expanded gambling,” said Moore, who attended the June 11 signing of the legislation in Tennessee.

The anti-animal-fighting campaign is aimed at more than owners and promoters of animal fights. Reasa reminds faith leaders that this business represents a dangerous lure for poor Americans, often drawing them into ever-deeper cycles of gambling and also bringing their children into the bloody world of animal fighting.

Fighting rings are dangerous environments for vulnerable men and women, Moore and other religious leaders argue. In a public letter endorsing the Tennessee law earlier this spring, Moore warned that a “relationship between animal fighting, gambling and organized crime continues to grow.”

Are you surprised that kids are involved? One Tennessee newspaper featured a photo of a small boy proudly showing off his fighting bird.

Reasa says, “We’ve been involved in opposing dog fighting and cock fighting rings all across the country and we often find that children are present. We’ve found playpens set up near the fighting for small children. We’ve even seen children exchanging money as they gamble on the fights. That’s why we’re focusing on keeping children away—and we also support making it illegal for anyone to attend an animal fight. All too often, police raid a fight and nearly everyone walks away with no consequences.”

Many religious leaders find such a cause is in perfect alignment with their values. (Here is Baptist Press coverage of the Tennessee effort.)


Animal welfare and creation care may not be high priorities in your congregation—but they could be, Reasa argues. She can show teaching documents that span centuries and, in some cases, millennia.

“Many Americans are aware of the ancient tradition of  compassion toward living things in the Dharmic faiths,” which include Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions, Reasa says. “But, all of the world’s faiths have some teaching on animal stewardship—so I’m not trying to convince people to accept something new. It’s right there in their religious traditions. A lot of my work is connecting with faith leaders to lift up the teachings that they already have in their communities.”

The majority of Americans are Christians, although they may not often explore their teachings on animal welfare. The Christian connection draws on ancient roots of compassionate stewardship of land and animals in Judaism—a message of care for life that also extends into the other “Abrahamic” faith: Islam.

Many iconic Christian leaders—from St. Francis to the founder of United Methodism John Wesley—were famous for advocating animal welfare. ReadTheSpirit magazine has one of Wesley’s sermons on the topic. During his lifetime, some of Wesley’s harshest critics poked fun at his soft heart for animals and joked that they could spot a Methodist farmer’s barnyard by the kinder ways he treated his animals.

“Christians have a great and ancient history in understanding there is a sacred relationship between the farmer and the land, the land and the community and that includes the welfare of animals,” Reasa says. “There are so many scriptures that speak to this relationship.”

Given this deep consensus, Reasa says, “The easy part of my work is getting endorsements from faith leaders for issues the Humane Society is supporting. Sometimes it only takes a call or an email to tell them about an issue we’re working on—and they’ll want to be part of it. The hard part of my job is building community among the individuals we reach. We need to establish ongoing connections around animal stewardship.”

While Reasa’s work is in the U.S., she points out to religious leaders that efforts on behalf of animals and the environment can build relationships in the burgeoning Southern Hemisphere, where Catholics, Protestants and Muslims all have been experiencing growth. Uniting North and South is a message championed this year by Pope Francis.


As she travels, Reasa writes and speaks about signs of hope she sees nationwide.

“The news about climate change and the challenges of creation care can quickly turn to conversation about hurricanes and poverty and tragedies—and that can lead to a kind of helplessness,” she says. “The problems can seem to be of such magnitude that it’s just hopeless to try to make a difference as an individual.”

HSUS is well aware of that danger. That’s why the organization promotes lots of individual initiatives like The Humane Backyard, which people can work on wherever they live. Here’s how HSUS describes the idea:

In addition to providing food, water, and cover, a Humane Backyard gives wildlife a safe haven from harmful pesticides and chemicals, free-roaming pets, inhumane practices (such as wildlife trapping), and other dangers in our human-dominated world. Whether you have an apartment balcony, suburban yard, corporate property, place of worship, or community park, you can turn it into a habitat for wildlife, people, and pets.

For her part, Reasa lifts up small but significant examples she spots, while on the road. Recently, she published a column about a seminary that has established a community garden that is changing the way people think about the food they eat.

“I was impressed with their garden,” Reasa says. “They aren’t sinking into helplessness. They are doing something—planting a garden, harvesting vegetables and making a commitment that all their food is sourced in a sustainable and humane manner. They get their meat and dairy from local farms that have high animal-welfare standards. And the vegetables they grow are letting them cut back on the amount of food they’re buying that has to be transported thousands of miles.”

Want to get involved?

Learn about the Faith Outreach division of HSUS.

This week, ReadTheSpirit is publishing several columns packed with ideas you can use with friends. If you found this story about Reasa Currier interesting, then you’ll also want to read our story about the importance of Pope Francis’s campaign on creation care—and you’re sure to enjoy the OurValues series exploring the historic release of a new Dr. Seuss book: What Pet Should I Get?

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Celebrating innovation: New ideas in “children’s picture books”

Reviews by ReadTheSpirit Editor DAVID CRUMM

The world’s first human media? Sketches on cave walls—and thousands of years later, humans still thrive on visual culture. In publishing, today, the crescendo of that age-old journey is a flood of graphic novels and children’s picture books. (The “Children’s/Young Adult” segment of American book publishing is growing faster than other genres at 20 percent last year.)

When did this “trend” start? You could argue that children’s stories are thousands of years old, dating back to Aesop and ancient religious storytellers. But historians say that our modern concept of children’s books didn’t start until people accepted the cultural idea of “childhood” in the 1700s. Then, the widely recognized Father of Children’s Literature came along: John Newbery, the namesake of the famous prize established by librarians in the 1920s.

So what can possibly be innovative in children’s picture books after all these centuries?

The answer lies in the secret behind great books for kids: They’re as much for the adults who love children—as they are for the kids. That’s why inexpensive Little Golden Books exploded after World War II. Mom and Dad were a soft touch when kids begged for a quarter (“Just 25 cents, Mom, pleeese!”) to bring home a brightly colored Golden Book.

But that was harmless kids’ stuff, right? The idea of adults reading children’s books on their own? For decades, adults who loved picture books tended to be fans of—horrors!—comic books. Then, in the late 1970s, as comic books were recovering from their long, dark era of shame, Will Eisner published the ground-breaking “graphic novel” A Contract with God—and the rest is, as we journalists like to say: History.

A secret no more, serious writers know that adults don’t need an excuse to enjoy “picture books”—and both genres (children’s and graphic novels) have been furiously evolving for years. As I’ve watched that evolution, I keep watching for innovative children’s books to recommend to readers. And, this summer, two titles are worth snapping up for your home library.



As a student at the University of Michigan in the early 1970s, I discovered the life of the brilliant Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud and that contributed directly to my life’s vocation as a journalist connecting people across diverse cultural lines. I am proud, today, that we publish 100 Questions, 500 Tribes: A Guide to Native America along with Native American journalists and the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

So, I was pleased to see Indiana-based Wisdom Tales release a gorgeously illustrated picture book on one of the great moments in Red Cloud’s career: the strategic defeat of an encroaching cavalry force in 1866. The new book is called Red Cloud’s War and the battle is best known today as the Fetterman Fight, the cavalry’s worst defeat until the Little Big Horn a decade later.

Wisdom Tales says the book is for kids aged 6 and older—but is aimed at a 5th-to-6th-grade reading level. This truly is a war story, told from the Native American perspective. Many died in the battle—and that bloodbath led to far more horrific violence in the decades that followed. So, this certainly is not a book for preschoolers. In fact, adults who read this book with kids will need to share the larger context—which fortunately is a fairly easy matter now, given all the films and books about American Indian history. (Hint: Click the 500 Nations link, above, and buy a copy of the MSU book, too.)

Red Cloud’s War really is a cross between a graphic novel and a children’s picture book. What makes the account of the conflict so gripping is the style of these illustrations that seem to race and leap back and forth across the pages.

At the end of the book, I appreciated finding a final acknowledgment that Red Cloud ultimately decided to stop fighting—a heart-breaking acknowledgment of the force of U.S. military expansion. He was a courageous, strategic genius. But, he also was a wise and philosophical leader of his people. In recent decades, he has been inducted into the state of Nebraska’s Hall of Fame. He has been honored on a U.S. Postal Service stamp and millions of Americans, like me, have been inspired by his story.



It’s fair to say that more than a billion people around the world have been inspired by the late Pope John XXIII, who is featured in an equally innovative book from Eerdmans, a publishing house far better known for serious books about theology than for its series of books for young readers.

If you’re Catholic, you know all about St. John XXIII. For non-Catholics, here is his Wikipedia biography. The key thing you need to know: John XXIII trusted that God’s spirit was moving throughout the entire worldwide church. He opened the Second Vatican Council, which revolutionized the world’s largest church. And he is best known for saying he wanted to “throw open the windows of the Church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.”

Many Catholics view the new Pope Francis as more akin to the spirit of John XXIII than to either of Francis’s immediate predecessors. After all, it was Francis who insisted that John XXIII would be named a saint, in April 2014, at the same time John Paul II was canonized. Francis didn’t want anyone to mistake the iron-willed John Paul II as the only spiritual guide for the worldwide church. The spirit of John XXIII still is blowing through the Vatican!

What Eerdmans has brought us is a slice of John XXIII’s core spirituality—the text of his famous “daily decalogue.” The Vatican provides the whole text, but in a somewhat different English translation than Eerdmans uses in this picture book, illustrated by Bimba Landmann. I like the reworking of the text in this picture book and I was thrilled to see this lavishly illustrated picture-book design for John XXIII’s meditation.

In the late 1980s, I traveled with the press corps covering John Paul II’s two-week tour of North America and, in that era, the only papal “picture book” was a short-lived series of—you guessed it—comic books. I can’t imagine many American families still have the 1987 John Paul II comic book on their shelves—but I can envision this new Eerdmans book read on a daily basis in many homes.

Whatever your faith, if you find yourself looking for more spiritual meaning in your daily life—buy a copy. Have no children at home? Who cares? You’ll still love this picture book.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

St. Walt Disney: ‘There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow …’

We made a spiritual pilgrimage to Disney World.

Three generations of us, led by our matriarch who was determined to visit Orlando one last time with her family. Her late husband, a Midwest dairy farmer, hated leaving the farm for any vacation except—the fantasy lands where he could truly relax and laugh with characters he loved!

We’re certainly not alone in feeling this way. GodSigns author Suzy Farbman also writes, this week, about her family’s love of Walt’s inspiration. And here’s a fun challenge for you: Suzy shares her favorite quotes from Disney characters—and asks you to share your favorites, too. Add comments to these columns. Or, on Twitter, mention #ReadTheSpirit, or just email us: [email protected]


You might call our family’s trip—just a typical American “vacation.” As you read my story here and Suzy’s too, you’ll probably recall your own vacation to a Disney park. After all, Walt’s worlds far outshine any other chain of amusement parks with more than 130 million men, women and children walking through Walt’s gates every year. Major League Baseball has been called a kind of American religion, but all teams combined last year drew an attendance that was half of Walt’s crowd. Or, you might ask: What about the size of the world’s bona fide religious pilgrimages? Mecca hosts 2 million Muslims a year; tens of millions of Hindus bathe in sacred waters during Kumbh Mela; but only the total Chinese homecoming migration at the Lunar New Year tops the vast tide of humanity flowing in and out of Walt’s worlds.

But, did our family really make a spiritual pilgrimage?

That’s the question Mark Pinsky asks on the opening page of the defining book on Disney and spirituality, The Gospel According to Disney. Researched and written while Mark was the religion writer for the Orlando newspaper, he wrote:

Mickey Mouse and faith? The world’s most famous rodent and his animated friends say more about faith and values than you might think—they’re not just postage stamps. Peter Pan taught us that “faith, trust, and pixie dust” can help you leave your cares behind. Jiminy Cricket showed Pinocchio—and millions of moviegoers—that “when you wish upon a star” dreams come true. Bambi stimulated baby boomer support for gun control and environmentalism. Cinderella became a syndrome. The Little Mermaid illustrated the challenges of intermarriage. The Lion King hinted at Hindu tradition in the Circle of Life. Walt Disney wanted his theme parks to be a “source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” Some have compared them to shrines to which American families make obligatory pilgrimages, parents reconnecting with their own childhoods while helping their kids experience a cartoon fantasy Mecca. Even Disney’s detractors see tremendous symbolic value in his cartoon characters.

Mark wasn’t kidding! I saw proof of Walt’s inspiration first hand as our matriarch—Joan Weil—led me and my wife (her daughter Amy) and her grandchildren (our daughter and son in law, the Revs. Megan and Joel Walther, and our son Benjamin) on this five-day pilgrimage: a day to arrive, a day to return and then one day each at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Sure, we missed Animal Kingdom—but this was a journey to revisit places where our late patriarch and founder of the family dairy farm, Leo Weil, had grinned broadly, often breaking out into laughter and later reminding us, “Now, that was good!”

Since our matriarch was “Grandma” to three of us, for this trip, she was Grandma to all of us.


Before we boarded our flight, a special box arrived with our high-tech equivalent of medieval pilgrim badges.

No, a traveler’s symbol wasn’t one of Walt Disney’s many innovations. Pilgrim badges were mass produced across most of the last millennium in Europe. To this day, more than 200,000 Christian pilgrims annually look for centuries-old, scallop-shaped symbols to guide them to the shrines along the vast Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. John) across Europe.

Here in our American home, we snapped on our chip-equipped Mickey-shaped wrist-bands and headed to our own version of beloved family shrines: It’s a Small World After All, the Hall of Presidents, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Carousel of Progress, plus Spaceship Earth at Epcot and the Wizard of Oz realms recreated inside the Hollywood Studios ride.

Not spiritual? Then you haven’t stopped to ponder the cultural connections within these rides.


Our first stop was the often-maligned It’s a Small World After All, a multi-media ride originally designed by Disney for the UNESCO pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. The Orlando version of the show obviously has been updated in many ways—the figurines are squeaky clean and the sets look freshly painted for the most part. And before you deride that song—you know the one you can’t get out of your head—consider this:

I snapped a photo of Grandma looking fondly at the colorful children singing in the show—then I posted that snapshot to social media and I got 24 likes right away. (So there, detractors!)

The notes included University of Michigan campus minister Bob Roth, who told us all that “riding this at Disneyland in California in the 1960s sparked in me some kind of global perspective early on.” The veteran leader of spiritual retreats Dee Chapell called it “one of my favorite rides.” Free Press senior writer Patricia Montemurri added a triumphant: “After all!” The comments kept rolling toward me across the Internet for days—in many forms.

Walt knew how to inspire. Walt also knew how to connect.

Everyone we met inside Walt’s worlds was happy to share inspirational moments: A family from Louisiana holds its reunion in Orlando every year and, this year, 16 men, women and children were in the parks for a week. “When I think of our children growing up and our parents growing older—I think of them here,” a Mom in that family told us, becoming quite emotional as she described their many pilgrimages.

Want to talk more about this? Come follow me on Twitter. I have devoted my adult life to exploring the cutting edge of media that lets us connect our diverse cultures to build healthier communities.

Every year, I give talks to groups with titles like, “500 Years after Gutenberg—Still Revolutionizing Media.” So, as we started our day at Epcot, I snapped a photo of the animatronic Gutenberg checking over a proof page from his famous Bible, produced with the world’s first moveable type five centuries ago. I Tweeted it out with this message: “Epcot’s Spaceship Earth shows us Gutenberg starting our modern cycle of innovation, which we’re part of right now.”

Tarcher-Penguin Editor in Chief Mitch Horowitz immediately made that Tweet a “favorite” and I returned my appreciation: “Thanks Mitch! It really is true: We are Gutenberg’s grandchildren and need to dream big.”

And so it went. Our pilgrimage connected with a national conversation.


After their long journeys across Europe, the strongest and luckiest of pilgrims along the Way of St. James reach the thousand-year-old shrine of St. James the Great in northwest Spain. Our little band of pilgrims reached two final shrines—and watched our matriarch visibly light up at both.

One was the Carousel of Progress—the other exhibition Disney helped design for the 1964 World’s Fair. An animatronic American history lesson, the Carousel of Progress also has a catchy theme song written by the Sherman brothers—the same guys who wrote the Small World tune and music for Mary Poppins, the Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well. The brothers knew Walt very well and described their Carousel song as “Walt’s theme song, because he was very positive about the future. He really felt that there was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.” Other Disney associates called it simply, “Walt’s anthem.”

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow’s just a dream away.

The Carousel theater moves in a circle around four animatronic panoramas of everyday family life in a typical American home in 1904, on July 4 in the 1920s, Halloween in the 1940s and, in the current rendition of the Carousel, Christmas around the year 2000.

Grandma’s face glowed. She grinned. This was a time machine, whisking her back, back, back. As we toured the 1940s, she exclaimed: “That refrigerator! That’s the same refrigerator my mother ordered for us from an ad in the newspaper when they first became available. That was the first time we ever had an electric refrigerator.” That exhibit and its jaunty music was like a tonic, connecting her with a whole circle of lives now long gone from our visible world.

Overall at 88, Grandma is in good health, but her increasing fragility is obvious. She still can walk, but usually she waivers, needs a cane and only walks short distances. In Disney World, we pushed her in a wheelchair.

She planned for this journey as a last big, daring adventure—and a reconnection with her fondest family memories. As we took our journey through Disney realms and family heritage, we wheeled her into every shrine she had hoped to revisit.

Only one eluded us for a couple of days. She kept saying, “I do hope we see Mickey.” And the elusive Mickey never was within our grasp.

But good always triumphs in the Disney cosmos if we only wish steadfastly enough—and she certainly did! Late on our last afternoon, we learned that Mickey was appearing in a kind of Oz-like throne room, minus an actual throne. He simply was standing there, wearing his blue hat from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, grinning and waving at a long line of families queued up to greet him.

My adult children simply pushed their Grandma’s wheelchair into the throng, taking a place at the end of the ropes. At first, Grandma didn’t realize what was happening, but finally she caught on that this throng was patiently awaiting an audience with Mickey.

“Oh, I don’t need to be here,” she said. She looked at other parents and grandparents, most of them with children in strollers or in hand. “Let’s leave. Can we? I’m going to take up someone else’s time. I shouldn’t do that.”

Then, someone else’s Mom leaned across the ropes and touched her shoulder. “You stay put. You belong here. Take as much time as you want.”

Before long, she was rolled toward Mickey in his sorcerer’s robes. And then, she confidently rose out of her wheelchair, walked without her cane to stand proudly beside Mickey.

I could argue that she had a kind of healing in Orlando. With family around her for five straight days, more well-balanced meals than she normally makes herself at home, exercise in the sun and of course Walt’s relentless inspiration—it was a healing.

Then, after our return flight landed and we decided to have one last meal together at a nearby restaurant before driving to our separate homes—this woman who previously would totter as she walked slowly across a room suddenly stood up. She strode confidently along a sidewalk, strolled into the restaurant and ordered another great big wonderful dinner!

Tomorrow? It’s going to be beautiful.

Thanks, Walt.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)