‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

EDITOR’S NOTE—Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, we are publishing one of the most inspiring books our team has had the pleasure to prepare. With the release of Shining Brightly by Howard Brown, we’re all thinking: New Year? New Hope! In the weeks leading up to that launch, we also are going to take readers inside our publishing house for glimpses of the many ways we share such good news with the world. This week, for example, we are publishing the book’s Foreword by best-selling author and psychologist Dr. Robert J. Wicks. And, over in our Front Edge Publishing website this week, we are sharing a sample email we encourage authors to send to their readers to build excitement about a new book. If you care to help in spreading this good news into the world, please start right now by visiting Amazon and pre-ordering your copy.

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Foreword

By Dr. Robert J. Wicks

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

From the opening story in Shining Brightly there are teachings that are both simple and difficult. Filled with tradition and insight, Howard Brown shares stories not only about the persons he describes but, upon reflection, about ourselves and our stories of life. He speaks about the koans (puzzles that have no right or wrong answers) all of us face, the dangers we must confront, and the ultimate decisions we must make each day—sometimes without knowing it!

The lessons in this book stand out even more because the author is not a mental health professional, professor or in ministry. Instead, he is an “educator of life” in the wisdom tradition of mentorship. To accomplish his goals, he communicates through the lives of people that might have lived next door to us as a volunteer fireman, truck driver or as exotic as a war correspondent. In his vivid and colorful description of them, Brown regales us with stories that make us reflect on the relationships in our own lives and even the ongoing developing relationship we have with ourselves.

In this book, we learn anew about the “American dream” in ways that reflect the character of young and seasoned persons alike who live humbly and share wisdom that allows others to flourish as well. They are persons who enjoy a challenge, love the freedom of independence while simultaneously respecting the import of interdependency. Such persons see themselves as a part of nature and are sensitive to the dangers when they are—even in their minds—apart from it. Moreover, as adults, the “street sages” in this book who walked with Howard Brown, and now journey with us if we let them, model, rather than simply speak about, ways we can impact the young who are the future of America and the world.

In Shining Brightly, Brown’s stories and guidance also help us to meet suffering and uncertainty in new ways. In the pages and chapters that follow, his own story of confronting death is one we now refer to as an example of “post-traumatic growth” (PTG). This occurs when someone facing serious stress or trauma actually deepens as a result of it in ways that would not have been possible had the trauma or stress not happened in the first place. It is very similar to what for ages was known as “the spirituality of suffering” in which the person did not seek the undesirable, play it down, or romanticize it, but was also open to where such frightening events might take them. In other words, they did not see darkness as the final word but possibly the first step in new meaning-making and personal depth.

This new sense of perspective on life, as you will read further on, indicates that it is not the amount of darkness in the world or even in yourself that ultimately matters. It is how you stand in this darkness that turns out to be crucial going forward. As you will also sense in the words of Howard Brown and others, humility—which is not very popular today—is a key element in dealing with vulnerability and fostering resilience.

With a healthy attitude, the author also notes that we shouldn’t be surprised by failure or get discouraged by it because of our ego, but instead to expect it. This is not a defeatist stance but a realistic one because statistically the more you are involved in life, the more you will miss the mark at times. Instead, we are called to energetically march on with respect, compassion, integrity, perseverance, a sense of intrigue and hope.

A contemporary of Jesus, Rabbi Tarfon once said, “The day is short, the work is great, the laborers are sluggish, the wages are high, and the Master of the house is insistent. It is not your duty to finish the work, but you are not free to neglect it.” Ultimately for me, that was one of the messages I took from this book.

Brown, who casts himself like one of his role models, Roger Babson, is truly an “angelic troublemaker” in this work. He seeks to have us face our lives with complete clarity and kindness. Much good can be gained from reading and reflecting or even meditating over its contents. However, in the end, Shining Brightly is more like an unstructured projective device such as the ink blot (Rorschach) projective personality test. What you make of it and take from it will say more about you than the challenging themes and enchanting stories it contains.

And so, in the following journey you are about to take, I wish you well. How you respond will determine which fork in the road you take.

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Dr. Robert J. Wicks received his doctorate in psychology from Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital and is Professor Emeritus, Loyola University Maryland. Dr. Wicks has lectured on the importance of resilience, self-care, the prevention of secondary stress, and maintaining a healthy perspective in 20 different countries around the world as well as at the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Divinity School and on Capitol Hill to members of Congress. He has written and edited dozens of books, including Bounce: Living the Resilient Life and Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times.

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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’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

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My Unforgettable Encounter with E. Stanley Jones

E. Stanley Jones arrived in India in 1907 and made friends with many other religious leaders and social justice activists including Gandhi and the Nehru family. In this photo from the early 1920s, Jones (with a stole over his shoulders in the front row) posed with a wide diversity of religious teachers.

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He felt obliged to see himself as having responsibility for the whole world, for as he saw it, that is precisely what a Christian is supposed to do.
From the introduction to 30 Days With E. Stanley Jones, by John E. Harnish

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By KEN WHITT
Author of God Is Just Love

I was familiar with the name, E. Stanley Jones, but I certainly did not know him, his story—not even his message. Yet two things happened when I found out that we were going to go to church that Sunday evening to hear him preach.

First, I called my parents, fulfilling my promise to them that they would hear from me each and every Sunday afternoon while I was traveling in Mexico. It was December, 1970. I casually mentioned our plans for the evening. Dad, usually quite reserved, burst forth with excitement and a couple of stories of Jones’ influence on his life and ministry—plus no shortage of envy that I would soon be face to face with one of his spiritual heroes.

Second, Alberto, a couple of years younger than me, burst forth with similar excitement when informing me of our plans to meet up with Dr. Jones at church that evening. What I remember best about Alberto was that he was, in his conservative Baptist family, a kind of rebel. He did not like church. But, he loved his beautiful Roman Catholic girlfriend, barely tolerated by the rest of the family. And he knew a lot about E. Stanley Jones.

Jones, Alberto informed me, was not a typical Christian. He respected religious diversity—thus would have blessed Alberto and his finance. He also preached on justice—thus affirming Alberto’s liberal political views, opposed in his family and their church.

Alberto specifically informed me that one of the many books written by E. Stanley Jones was credited by Martin Luther King Jr. with convincing him to use nonviolent resistance to fight the evils of racism in the United States.

Care to meet E. Stanley Jones yourself? Click on this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

My hopes soared for our evening of spiritual encounter with one of the greatest missionaries and preachers and prophets of the 20th century.

The next thing I remember about that Sunday evening in December in Mexico City is that a thin and tottering old man was pretty much carried to the pulpit by an usher.

Geez! He was so weak! Could this feeble preacher possibly stand up to our high expectations?

His voice also was weak, though from my point of view, plenty clear because he was speaking in English.

After the service, we shook hands and spoke for about a minute.

That was—oh my gosh—51 years ago. I am 72 now and Jones died in 1973. The one thing I will never forget is that E. Stanley Jones told me that I too am a citizen of the world. After all, I was speaking to him in Mexico—two Americans abroad.

I had felt a similar global tugging at my heart. Among many other possible choices to fulfill my degree requirements at Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia, I had chosen to plan an international project in Mexico. I traveled alone across beautiful and somewhat fearsome regions, experienced my own version of a great train robbery (I was cross-examined as a possible conspirator), stared in awe over the Copper Canyon, took four weeks of Spanish lesson in Saltillo, rode horses through desert canyons—and unexpectedly met E. Stanley Jones.

Now, I have been a pastor for the better part of half a century. I have participated in or led 16 mission trips in Eastern Europe and Central America, preached and taught in Spanish many times, and learned along the way what an incredible blessing it is to know that I am a citizen of the world.

Thank you, Dr. Jones, for being where I needed you to be at just the right time so that our lives could touch. Thank God you were a citizen of the world, a respecter of all of God’s children and a passionate prophet for justice and peace.

E. Stanley Jones in his 70s. When I met him in Mexico, he was in his mid 80s.

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Care to Learn More?

Ken Whitt’s book God Is Just Love explores the theme of this column in much greater depth. What does it mean to be a loving citizen of the world today? How can people of faith foster love and resilience in our children while building sustainable, diverse communities? Through wisdom he has gleaned from scientists, scholars and lots of real families, Ken shows how God’s love is a hopeful compass in our lives. He encourages enjoying stories, songs and explorations of the natural world with children, and closes with “100 Things Families Can Do To Find Hope and Be Love.”

You’ll also find lots of stories, columns and videos at the homepage for Ken’s ministry group: Traces of God Ministries. While you’re visiting that website, please sign up for Ken’s free email updates, which contain inspiring reflections, columns and updates that Ken shares with his readers.

And please learn more about E. Stanley Jones by ordering a copy of 30 Days With E. Stanley Jones through Amazon right now.

 

Can the prophetic voice of E. Stanley Jones revive a life-giving love of Jesus?

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A Prophet for These Times, When Christianity is in Crisis

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

One of the most widespread Christian movements of the 20th Century is in deep trouble. Don’t take my word for it. Search the word “evangelical” in Google-News and you will shake your head wearily at the tragic headlines—from angry public confrontations to rampant bigotry, mud slinging and sexual abuse. In his February 2022 analysis of this crisis for The New York Times, David Brooks writes:

“There have been three big issues that have profoundly divided evangelicals: the white evangelical embrace of Donald Trump, sex abuse scandals in evangelical churches and parachurch organizations, and attitudes about race relations, especially after the killing of George Floyd.”

For most of American history, the word “evangelical” was proudly claimed by Christians who loved Jesus and wanted to make the world a better place. So, this truly is a historic turning point when so many religious leaders across America—including many Christian leaders themselves—are arguing that it’s time to retire the explosive term “evangelical” altogether.

But then, they ask: Where does that leave Christians who still want to follow Jesus’s teachings and do good in our world? Is there a life-giving pathway forward for Christians who deeply love Jesus and see in Christ a welcoming, inclusive and socially just calling for our world?

Meet E. Stanley Jones and Discover His Embrace of the World

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. Amazon will begin shipping copies of this book on February 15, 2022. The book also is available from Barnes & Noble, Walmart and other online retailers.

Meet E. Stanley Jones. Take a moment to click on the book cover and order a copy from Amazon. You will find yourself surprised—and inspired.

In his heyday, Jones was a global Christian teacher who most Americans considered as important as Billy Graham in spreading the message of Jesus around the world. He was a prophetic voice against racism within Christianity and also had an enormous impact in worldwide interfaith relationships. As we reported earlier, Jones was the catalytic figure who connected the message of Mahatma Gandhi with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Right now, there is a small but growing worldwide movement to revive the message of this humble and deeply compassionate teacher by lifting up the many treasures from this once-best-selling author. Our publishing house is part of this movement. This week, we are publishing 30 Days with E. Stanley Jonesan inspiring introduction to his life and teachings designed for a month of inspirational reading and for small-group discussion. We are launching our book just as the E. Stanley Jones Foundation, which has maintained his literary legacy, closes in on its effort to bring complete editions of the 27 inspirational books Jones wrote during his lifetime into contemporary paperback editions. The year 2025 will mark 100 years since Jones’ first books began circulating around the world. Both our publishing house and the Jones Foundation hope that Jones’ message may once again help to call Christians toward a more compassionate embrace of the world.

“It is our good fortune that a person like E. Stanley Jones came into our world,” said Anne Mathews-Younes, who is Jones’ granddaughter and the president of the Foundation. “What was so powerful about his message and the reason so many people around the world wanted to see him, to hear him and to read his books was that he truly was in love with the whole world. He knew Jesus was his best friend—and, as a result, he saw everyone around the world as a friend.”

“He wanted to put his arms around the whole world,” said John Harnish, the author of the new 30-day reader of inspiring stories drawn from Jones’ life.

“Yes, he did,” said Mathews-Younes as the two spoke by Zoom in an interview about the release of Harnish’s new book. “And that’s what you’ve done in your new book. You’ve put your arms around dozens of stories from throughout his life that show his spirit and his message.”

In the Preface that Mathews-Younes wrote for Harnish’s new book, she puts it this way: “My grandfather was recognized as an evangelist who did not ask you to leave your intellect at the door. Rather, his messages engage the mind as well as the heart with the deeper and eternal matters for our world. … His words brought hope and refreshment to millions of people from every walk of life and I hope that these passages—skillfully chosen by John E. Harnish—do the same for you.”

‘If Protestants had saints, E. Stanley Jones would be one.’

The book’s Foreword was written by Dr. W. Stephen Gunter, one of the leading scholars of evangelism today who is active in the movement to lift up Jones’ teachings for a new generation. In that Foreword, Gunter writes in part:

Shaped in the womb of holiness Methodism, E. Stanley Jones’s writings exemplify this foundational Wesleyan principle: his stories (and his own personal biography) warm the heart, but they are without fail informed by sound scriptural principles. In their very essence, Jones’ writings are theological lessons to live by. That is why I love Jones’s writings, and that is why I enthusiastically accepted the invitation from the Rev. John E. Harnish to write a commendation and foreword for this book. This book is unlike most every devotional book I have ever seen: it both warms the heart and instructs the mind—a unique contribution to the genre of devotional literature.

In these pages you will get to know the heart and mind of E. Stanley Jones. Each of these devotionals stands on its own with the following characteristics:

  1. You look through a window of insight into the mind of Jones.
  2. You read a life vignette that illustrates a foundational concept that informed his ministry.
  3. You discover a pivotal principle that has application to the current context.
  4. You “meet Jesus again for the first time.” And this Jesus challenges your vested assumptions about what it means to be a Jesus-follower. …

If Protestants had saints, E. Stanley Jones would be one. …

E. Stanley Jones would like this book, and I think you will too.

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Care to learn more?

Order a copy from Amazon. You will find yourself surprised—and inspired. As of February 15, 2022, the book will be available in paperback as well as a sturdy hardcover edition. Soon, it will be available on Kindle as well. The book also will be on sale this week at Barnes & Noble, including in the Nook version—plus at Walmart and other online retailers.

LEARN ABOUTHow E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Are Connected

LEARN ABOUT the ongoing work of author, pastor and teacher John E. Harnish by visiting his website. Known as “Jack” to friends and colleagues, you also can learn about upcoming events and classes Jack is leading about the legacy of E. Stanley Jones. If you are interested in inviting Jack to share with your community, it’s easy to contact him through his website.

LEARN ABOUT how the news of this book launch is moving from American communities to a global audience in this Front Edge Publishing column about the book’s reception.

LEARN ABOUT Anne Mathews-Younes and the work of the E. Stanley Jones Foundation by visiting the foundation’s website.

LEARN ABOUT another Christian author and teacher who has been influenced by the message of E. Stanley Jones: Ken Whitt’s own book is appropriately called God Is Just Loveand tells readers about the many ways families can develop a healthy love of Jesus and the world.

And, please come back next week to ReadTheSpirit online magazine for a column by Ken about the experience of meeting E. Stanley Jones, when Ken was a young man and Jones was nearing the end of his life.

In an era of isolation, a community of writers is a creative catalyst

The statue of the prophet Isaiah holds a pen in Rome’s Piazza Spagna, near the Spanish Steps. This photo is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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A Minister, a Psychotherapist and a Football Coach Walk into a Zoom room

By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist

What is the value of a community of writers?

Click the cover to visit the Amazon book page for Martin Davis’s 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches.

During this past year of the pandemic, I have learned a great deal about such creative circles, thanks to an unusual friendship that has formed among myself and the authors of two other books in the same series as mine: Larry Buxton (30 Days with King David), and Duncan Newcomer (30 Days with Abraham Lincoln).

Front Edge Publishing Editor David Crumm brought us together. Then, over 2021, we began a dialog that has stretched far beyond the confines of the publishing house. The topics that we discuss in our weekly meetings are broad, ranging from the personal to the ethereal, from the writings and life of William Sloane Coffin to the beauty of a football playbook, and from the mythic power of biblical characters to the long shadow of Abraham Lincoln who led America’s Second Founding.

Mostly what happens is that we—admittedly three older white men who many would quickly stereotype as white, liberal cis males—grapple with the very broad gulfs that exist among us in an attempt to better understand one another.

A brief example from my perspective goes to show what we are teaching one another.

Regular readers know that I have a relationship with religion in general, and Christianity in particular, that can be generously described as troubled. Larry is a retired United Methodist minister. Over the past year, we’ve had discussions about faith that left both of us frustrated, irritated, and yes, at times, even hurt.

In our tensest moments, however, we also have come to a better understanding of our unique experiences. We have reached a point where a minister who truly believes that faith is a critical component to human life can understand how the trauma I’ve suffered in my experiences with faith has for many years made re-embracing faith impossible—while he holds onto his own faith. We both have deeper appreciations for the complex ways people wrestle with faith’s eternal, and ultimately unanswerable, issues.

Into this mix comes Duncan, a retired educator and psychotherapist who pushes me to understand the depths of my own personal struggles with religion, while appreciating the ways that coaching and working with youth has become a critical community for me that occasionally fills religious-like needs.

The results of these interactions are plentiful. The most important, I believe each of us would say, is how our friendship has helped us break down our stereotypes that we came to the table with when we first met, and allowed us to experience a fuller experience of what it is to be human through appreciating one another’s lives.

As I move into 2022, I owe a profound “thank you” to my two new, close friends Duncan and Larry.

In a world where more people than ever are writing to tell others what to think and do, I’ve had the good fortune to wrestle with two other men on a range of issues that have forced me not only to expand my ways of thinking, but have allowed me to write with a deeper knowledge of and appreciation for the people I hope to connect with.

We think this friendship is leading us toward engaging more fully with readers via words that better reflect the potential of shared community.

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Care to read more?

ARE YOU INTRIGUED by this column from Martin Davis? Right now, our publishing house is close to a nationwide launch of Martin’s book filled with uplifting stories about high school coaches and players nationwide. In his book, you will meet men and women, black and white, famous and unsung heroes alike.

His book will appear soon in our series of 30 Days With under the title: 30 Days With America’s High School Coaches.

You can follow Martin’s work through his personal website, MartinDavisAuthor.com, which describes his work as an author and editor, as well as his background as a veteran journalist for national publications.

Look around that website and sign up to receive free updates from Martin about new columns and podcasts. You’ll be glad you did!

And, Care to See One of Larry Buxton’s Short Videos on Leading with Spirit?

You’ve just “met” Larry in Martin’s column. We’re featuring one of Larry’s short videos, this week, in our Front Edge Publishing website. Please, take a moment to hear from Larry via this new video. It’s just a few minutes long—and you may want to share this message with friends, as well.

AND—if you are aware of like-minded writers who might like to connect with us, email us at [email protected]

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Prayer from Abraham Lincoln for Thanksgiving

LINCOLN scholar Duncan Newcomer has contributed many of the fascinating materials indexed in our Abraham Lincoln Resource Page. Drawing on Lincoln’s own words, from various texts, Newcomer has assembled this special prayer, perfect for use at Thanksgiving—the national holiday our 16th president established. Of course, you are free to widely share this prayer. Click the blue-“f” Facebook button, or the envelope-shaped email icon, or print this page and pass it around.

Inside the Lincoln Memorial Washington DCPrayer from Lincoln
at Thanksgiving

So, we must think anew,
And act anew.
We must disenthrall ourselves.
We are not enemies,
But friends.
We must not be enemies.
We cannot separate.
There is no line, straight or crooked,
Upon which to divide.
We cannot escape history.
No personal significance, or insignificance,
Can spare one or another of us.

The mystic chords of memory
Will yet swell the chorus of union
To every living heart
And hearthstone,
And again touch
The better angels of our nature.

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Missy Buchanan helps us talk across the generations

Cover Missy Buchanan Voices of Aging

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

Missy Buchanan is the first person to point out that—despite her seven popular books and her national advocacy on behalf of aging Americans—she’s not an expert in traditional terms.

“I don’t have a doctorate. I’m not a university researcher. I’m not a medical doctor. I’m not an ordained pastor. I’m just—well, I’m just me,” she says. “But, you know what? Often that’s how God works: God calls unlikely people to go out and do the work that needs to be done.”

However, as her readers nationwide and viewers of Good Morning America know, Missy’s talents begin with careful listening—the main discipline she tries to teach to her ever-growing audience nationwide. When her own parents were in their final years of life, she listened attentively to them. She listened to their friends. And, as she began writing about the spiritual lives of Americans aged 80 and older, she found that older men and women were eager to give her an earful.

Good Morning America Robin Roberts talks with coauthor Missy Buchanan about Lucimarian 2003

Missy Buchanan on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts at the time of the book launch.

That’s how she wound up twice appearing on Good Morning America, after co-authoring the memoir of GMA host Robin Roberts’ mother Lucimarian Roberts.

A CALL IN THE NIGHT

One night, Missy was at home with her husband Barry in Rockwall, Texas, when the phone rang. “And there was this woman with the sweetest little voice, asking, ‘Is this Missy Buchanan?’”

Missy said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“And, is this the same Missy Buchanan who wrote the book Living with Purpose?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Missy repeated.

Then, Lucimarian Roberts said, “You don’t know me but I think you know my daughter, Robin Roberts of Good Morning America.”

That night, a two-year friendship began that extended through an emotional launch of Lucimarian’s co-written book, My Story, My SongMissy’s appearances on Good Morning America—and then, all-too-soon after the book’s debut, Lucimarian’s death.

Missy Buchanan with Lucimarian Roberts daughter of Robin Roberts of Good Morning America

Missy Buchanan and Lucimarian Roberts as their book was launched.

“As we began this book, she still was living in Mississippi close to Biloxi where she had moved with her husband, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen,” Missy says. “I would travel back and forth to Mississippi and would sit with Lucimarian in her living room. She would talk; I would listen.”

There was an urgency driving this project. “The week before the book launch in 2012, she had been in the hospital,” Missy recalls. “But that spring, we had such a memorable gathering of about 350 of her friends and family. She was able to sign books all one day and the next day, too. All of the people who came had wonderful things to say about her. Then, she died in August, that year.”

The sharing of stories is such a powerful experience, Missy says, “that Lucimarian Roberts really became a cheerleader for me. She had chosen me to help her tell her story because she found my first book Living with Purpose, so helpful in her own life. And, of course, when we began this new book, I showed up at her home for that first conversation with so many questions I had prepared. I didn’t need to ask a one of them—the stories just flowed and it became the book.”

Missy kept listening. “The most important thing was helping her to tell her story. And it was such a pleasure to do this. She was so encouraging to me. I remember she’d end every conversation with these words: ‘I love you. You keep writing and speaking. We need to hear this. We need it.’ Every time. And that’s what I keep doing.”

INVITING US TO TALK ACROSS GENERATIONS

Voices of Aging author Missy Buchanan author photo

Click this photo of the author to visit her website.

Now, in her seventh book, Missy invites adults young and old into dialogue, based on thousands of conversations she has experienced through the years. Voices of Aging is subtitled Adult Children and Aging Parents Talk with GodIn the book, Missy presents both sides of 20 conversations on topics including: “The Car” (and whether it’s still smart to drive), “Doctors and Hospitals,” “Money,” “Holidays” and “Boundaries.”

Recognize your own family in that list? If her book can help your family through even one of these 20 topics—you’ll be glad you discovered Missy’s book today.

This is an inspirational book, including recommended Bible verses and short prayers that families might use if faith is a daily part of your relationships. But—as important as talking with God is to most of Missy’s readers—the real power of this new book is that it gets both generations talking with each other!

And, believe it or not, this book is not a downer! There’s a chapter on “Laughter” that will be a welcome relief to readers, for example. Missy’s tone through all of her books (check out her 2013 book Joy Boosters) is relentless optimism. As Missy describes this, it’s the central value of hope that runs like an artery through her life of faith.

“What I’m trying to do is reconnect these millions of Americans who have been all but forgotten by their churches,” she explains. “That’s what got me started on this work.”

A CHURCH GROWTH ISSUE

As you will learn this week in an OurValues series from University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker: It’s time to stop thinking about “aging” as an issue affecting someone else. Right now we are meeting aging America—and “they” are us!

Nearly every congregation in America is eager to welcome more men, women and their families. Yet, most church-growth programs focus almost entirely on young adults—while congregations are abandoning countless older members because they can no longer drive, or need help perhaps with wheelchairs. In addition to exiling all of those men and women—congregations often are pushing away their adult children and who can’t find Sunday-morning options to cover their caregiving duties.

That’s the truth Missy discovered a decade ago, when she began her nationwide mission by simply writing devotional readings for her own parents, adding them page by page to a home-made notebook and eventually making copies for an ever-growing circle of friends.

“This was born out of my own experiences with my parents,” she says. “When I began, I had no intention of becoming a national advocate on these issues. But I discovered that there were all of these people out there who had invested so much of their lives in their communities and their churches—then, once they had trouble attending regularly—their churches forgot them.”

At first, Missy thought of buying some inspirational books for older people, then using them to help lead devotional experiences among her parents’ friends. “But what happened at the bookstores really surprised me! I asked, ‘Do you have any inspirational books for seniors?’ And, they would lead me to the graduation section!”

She laughs. “So I would have to redefine what I wanted. And I would hear, ‘Well, there are all sorts of books written about senior citizens–but something inspirational?’ ”

She found shelves groaning with books about the problems of aging, how to avoid the effects of aging, financial planning—”but nothing inspirational written in language that speaks to their hearts, especially the hearts of men and women who are 80 and older.”

A former teacher armed with a masters in education, Missy began writing and sharing her own inspirational readings. Her first short prayer-poems were voiced from the collective experiences of older adults she met through her parents.

“I wrote them in the first person as if the person reading them was talking to God,” Missy says. “That’s the book that Lucimarian Roberts found and often liked to read from.”

Younger adults might think that older men and women would be experts at prayer, but that isn’t the case as they live through the often disorienting experiences of advanced age. “I regularly talk to older people who tell me, ‘As I’m getting older, I can’t pray the way I used to pray.’ ”

And Missy always asks, “Tell me what you mean.”

She listens. “Often they tell me, ‘I can’t formulate the words. I can’t make the words come to say what’s on my heart now.’ So, that’s what I try to do through all of my books—help their voices rise.”

She says, “You may think these books aren’t for you right now. But you may not realize that you can become the companion for someone on this journey by making time to talk, to share—and to listen.”

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

Care to read more?

VISIT MISSY—Click on her photo, above, to visit her web page, but you’ll hear most frequently from the author by following her on Twitter or connecting with her on Facebook.

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The Martha Spong interview about her book and RevGalBlogPals

Theres a Woman in Pulpit cover book edited by Martha Spong

CLICK this cover to visit the book’s page at the publisher’s website: SkyLight Paths.

A HOST of women have led religious movements.

Ancient Jewish heroes Esther and Judith risked their lives to save their people. At the dawn of Christianity, it was a woman (Mary Magdalene) who preached the first Christian message that Jesus was risen from the grave. Through the centuries, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena shaped the Catholic church so profoundly that they now hold the esteemed rank: Doctors of the Church. In colonial America, Lady Deborah Moody established a early community with interfaith freedom and Mother Ann Lee founded the Shakers. A host of church women led campaigns against slavery from the Grimke sisters to Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sojourner Truth.

In May, Americans celebrate the holiday originally envisioned by churchwomen Ann Reeves Jarvis and her daughter Anna Jarvis as a time for honoring women—and performing community service. In fact, if the elder Ann Reeves Jarvis had her way, spring would be a time for what she liked to call Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. Women led the way, rolling up their sleeves and tackling the toughest problems faced by poor families, especially TB and other life-threatening diseases in her era. When her daughter Anna finally achieved a nationwide holiday, Anna was horrified to see it transformed into a commercial bonanza devoid of its original faith-based mission.

Even conservative popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI each promoted a woman to the rarefied status of Doctor of the Church. John Paul added St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Benedict promoted Hildegard of Bingen. The latter news surprised and pleased theologian Matthew Fox, one of Hildegard’s biggest cheerleaders. Fox admits he was surprised that Benedict let this feminist “Trojan Horse” into the highest ranks of the church.

So, why do most of the world’s 2 billion Christians refused to let ordained women into their pulpits? (That phrase “most of the world’s Christians,” of course refers to the roughly 1.5 billion Catholic and Orthodox Christians plus millions of evangelical Christians as well.)

Entire library shelves groan with books and journals arguing this issue, so we won’t repeat the classic pros and cons. In fact, what’s so delightful about Martha Spong’s new book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, is that she lets a little girl make the case in the book’s opening chapter written by the Rev. Ruth Everhart. Indignant at the injustice of her family’s church leadership refusing to ordain her mother—or any woman—young Hannah Everhart declared to her mother:

“Even a first grader knows you’re a good minister. Stupid-heads!”

In fact, if you buy a copy of Spong’s marvelous collection of nearly 70 true-life stories written by 52 clergywomen from 15 denominations, you may close the book repeating what Hannah’s Mom tells her family after the little girl’s outburst: “Hannah’s right. They’re stupid-heads!”

Lest long-time ReadTheSpirit readers object that we are unfairly criticizing traditionalist churches, we point out that American polling over the past decade by Gallup and Pew and other researchers clearly shows that even a majority of American Catholics support the idea of women’s ordination. Currently, about half of Catholics think the Vatican isn’t likely to make this change in their lifetimes—nevertheless, most Catholics say they like the idea of women in the pulpit. (Pew provides a helpful score card on what denominations are—and aren’t—ordaining women, as of late 2014.)

Whatever your opinion on women’s ordination may be, we guarantee that you’ll enjoy these inspirational, often downright funny and sometimes emotionally stirring stories. Read one a day for a couple of months. Martha Spong has found some terrific storytellers to share their real-life experiences in this volume.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed the co-writer and overall editor of this new book. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH THE REV. MARTHA SPONG
ON ‘THERE’S A WOMAN IN THE PULPIT’

DAVID: Help me introduce you to our readers. You have so many talents and projects! How do you typically describe yourself, when you step out to talk to a new audience?

Martha Spong from her website

CLICK this photo of Martha Spong to visit her website and learn more about her many projects, including the Reflectionary columns she writes.

MARTHA: I usually say I’m a United Church of Christ pastor. I’m a Mom. I’m a wife. I grew up Baptist and became United Church of Christ. I’m a writer, an editor—and a rather obsessive knitter, too.

DAVID: You’re best known as the director of the large online community known as RevGalBlogPals, which describes itself as “a supportive community for clergywomen since 2005.” This new book really is a collective creation from network of women writers. First, tell our readers what they’ll find if they visit RevGalBlogPals.

MARTHA: What they’ll find is both a collection of resources aimed at clergy and, as we say on the website, a supportive community for clergywomen. This all started as a group of bloggers but it’s not limited to bloggers anymore. There are many people who visit with us, participate in our preaching discussions and share comments. We’re also very active on Facebook where clergywomen from dozens of denominations all around the world participate. Facebook is a good place place for people to come with questions, prayer requests and stories from ministry and find support from others. We’re also active on Twitter. We’ve even gotten involved in Pinterest—and Tumblr, too. We’re all over the place now, wherever women gather.

DAVID: There’s a wonderful story in the book about ministry in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina by the Rev. Sally-Lodge Teel. In 1978, she was the first Presbyterian woman ordained in the state of Mississippi and, as you point out in the book, she was really the catalyst that got RevGalBlogPals started 10 years ago, right?

MARTHA: That’s right and for a while we mainly had a web ring that allowed us to connect our blogs into an internet circle. People continued to join and we decided to write a devotional book as a fundraiser after Hurricane Katrina. We formed a 501c3 and I was one of the original board members. About two years ago, the board began talking about creating a more professional role in the organization. So, at this point, I’m the part-time director, running our web activities and I organize and administer our continuing education events, which we’ve been doing since 2008. Today, there are about 40 women who contribute directly to our blog and more than 300 bloggers who are in our web ring.

A FAMOUS FAMILY

DAVID: Our readers are also likely to recognize your family name. For about 30 years, I’ve maintained a warm professional friendship with now-retired Bishop “Jack” Spong. I first got to know him when I served as an American newspaper correspondent in the UK in 1988 at the month-long Lambeth Conference where the world’s Anglican leaders debated women’s ordination. He was very active in that campaign. (NOTE: Interested in our past ReadTheSpirit interviews with Bishop Spong? A few of our more popular conversations were in 2009 talking about Eternal Life—A New Vision, in 2012 talking about Reclaiming the Bible, and in 2013 talking about The Gospel of John.)

MARTHA: Yes, we are related. Jack and my Dad are first cousins. We’re happy to claim each other. Jack baptized my oldest child and was at my wedding two years ago.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

DAVID: I’ve already described the book, to some extent, but tell us more about what readers will find if they get their own copy.

MARTHA: The book contains stories that each are about 800 words long, so they’re perfect if people want to read one a day. They could be daily devotional readings for a couple of months. All of them are real-life stories by women who are juggling the work of ministry with the work of child rearing. Some of the stories tell what happens when these clergywomen go out into the community to do something not church related.Some of the stories are funny. Some are heart-wrenching. Each story puts the personality of the writer at the forefront.

DAVID: Let me ask you a question that, as a journalist specializing in reporting on religion, I’ve been asking for many decades now: Are women different than men as clergy?

And before you answer, let me tell you: Some famous women have either refused to answer the question or have objected to it. One of them is retired United Methodist Bishop Judith Craig who, for a while back in the 1980s, was the only woman bishop in a mainline denomination in the world.

When I asked Bishop Craig that question, she told me that she thought the question was a trap. If she said that women are different, that would label all women as identical in their talents and personalities. If she said women aren’t different, that would deny that women generally have developed some talents that may give them fresh insights into church growth. She didn’t want to group women as a homogenous gender.

I’m asking it because it’s obviously a common question, especially in churches that still refuse to ordain women. Are clergywomen different than clergymen?

MARTHA: You could say yes to that, because society expects women to have different skills and to fulfill different roles than they expect male clergy to fulfill. And people ask us questions they wouldn’t expect to ask male clergy.

But I agree with what you’re telling me about Bishop Craig. I don’t think the question of our gender or orientation is the significant one in terms of defining how we operate in ministry. If we assume clergywomen are different than clergymen, then that question presumes that we’re alike as women—and that’s not true.

‘A GENERATIONAL SHIFT’

DAVID: I’ll never forget the month I spent in Canterbury covering the Lambeth debates on women’s ordination. The whole world was represented there—even Archbishop Desmond Tutu—and the debates became very emotional. Flash forward 30 years, and I don’t think it’s as a big a deal in American culture to see clergywomen participating as local community leaders. Once it was so rare, it was surprising. What do you think? Are we seeing progress?

MARTHA: I think it is a generational shift. My own childhood denomination was the Southern Baptist Convention. But then, in February of this year, I was invited to come back and preach at the church where I grew up.

The pastor I knew years ago as a young man today is over 80 and he’s still preaching there. He invited me back to preach and he introduced me by saying to the people, “You may have heard that Southern Baptists don’t allow women preachers, but that’s not true.” And then he reeled off the names of a number of women who are serving Southern Baptist congregations—and he complimented their leadership and he finished by saying, “In the Baptist church, there are no absolutes.”

It was wonderful to go home to that church and to stand in the place in that church where I had never stood before. It was a tremendously positive experience.

DAVID: It may seem surprising to our readers that women do preach and serve in at least some Southern Baptist congregations, but I know that’s true. Southern Baptists are so loosely organized that there is more variation nationwide than people may think.

MARTHA: The problem is that, even in churches that ordain women, clergywomen often are limited to smaller churches or to part-time churches, because there’s still a demand for male pastors to serve larger churches. It seems like a no-brainer to me that women have the gifts for ordained pastoral leadership at all levels—but we still see resistance at the local level in a lot of congregations.

‘YOU ARE NOT ALONE’

DAVID: If our readers do get a copy of your book and start reading—what do you hope they’ll find between the covers of this book?

MARTHA: I hope this book will encourage women who are considering ministry to continue on in their dream. I also hope that it will show doubters how faithful women can be in ministry. And, I hope that it will show women in ministry that they have a lot of friends out there who are having similar experiences. I hope clergy women will realize: You’re not alone!

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