For Pride Month 2024, we’ve got a colorful array of books to encourage LGBTQ inclusion

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

For more than a decade, our Front Edge Publishing community of authors has been on the cutting edge of producing books that help communities understand and reconnect with LGBTQ folks—especially welcoming them into the thousands of congregations nationwide who are in the process of opening their doors.

We have reported in ReadTheSpirit weekly magazine—and have published books—about many aspects of this historic transition in American life. For example, in March, we reported on the deeply troubling rise of hate crimes against gay and transgender students—and we highlighted two particularly helpful books published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters project.

In May, we reported on the more than 20,000 United Methodist congregations now opening their doors nationwide after a global gathering of that denomination’s leaders voted overwhelmingly to become more inclusive.

NOW—For Pride Month, this June, Front Edge Publishing’s Susan Stitt produced the following video to showcase our array of helpful books.

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PLEASE, ENJOY THIS 2-MINUTE VIDEO OVERVIEW OF OUR HELPFUL BOOKS …

The books’ direct Amazon links follow this video. And—if you want to contact our authors to inquire about public speaking, a podcast conversation, or a possible Zoom appearance with your small group or congregation—Please, email our Front Edge Publishing director of outreach programs Susan Stitt. [email protected]

Amazon Links

Clicking on this collage of book covers will take you to our Front Edge Publishing Catalog page.

TO JUMP TO AMAZON RIGHT NOW—

Changing Our Mind

Changing Our Mind (Spanish edition)

A Letter to My Congregation

Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters:
100 Questions and Answers about Gender Identity

MSU Bias Busters:
100 Questions and Answers about Sexual Orientation

The Word Made Fresh

Introducing Christian Ethics

Solus Jesus

Embracing Love

Blue Ocean Faith

Sanctuary—Queering a Church in the Heartland—will be coming soon from Amazon. Right now, if you are interested in this upcoming book about the inclusive journey of a small church in Iowa: Email our Front Edge Publishing director of outreach programs Susan Stitt. [email protected]

 

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

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

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

By HOWARD BROWN
Author of Shining Brightly
And host of the Shining Brightly Podcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

My purpose today is simple:

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

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

6 Fan-Favorite Episodes of the Popular Shining Brightly Podcast

After historic May 1, 2024, United Methodist vote for LGBTQ inclusion—millions of members are challenged to ‘widen the circle’

Our authors join with church leaders in welcoming LGBTQ+ friends nationwide

FIRST—After a historic decision by a global gathering of United Methodist leaders on May 1, millions of members of America’s third-largest are challenged to figure out what it means to openly welcome LGBTQ+ persons to their more than 20,000 congregations across the U.S.

THEN, WE SHARE—HOW OUR AUTHORS CAN HELP. Scroll down, below the news summary, to learn about inspirational and information-packed books—starting with a 2-minute video produced by Susan Stitt.


First the news:

What just happened? United Methodist global leaders move toward LGBTQ+ inclusion across the U.S.

The news made headlines nationwide. Here is a selection of that news coverage, chosen because of the helpful insights in these stories:

The New York Times headline: United Methodist Church Reverses Ban on Practicing Gay Clergy—church leaders also voted to allow LGBTQ weddings.

Excerpt: “We’ve always been a big-tent church where all of God’s beloved were fully welcome,” said Bishop Tracy Smith Malone, the new president of the denomination’s Council of Bishops and the first Black woman to serve in that role. She called the vote “a celebration of God breaking down walls.”

The Associated Press: United Methodists repeal longstanding ban on LGBTQ clergy.

Excerpt: Delegates voted 692-51 at their General Conference—the first such legislative gathering in five years. That overwhelming margin contrasts sharply with the decades of controversy around the issue. Past General Conferences of the United Methodist Church had steadily reinforced the ban and related penalties amid debate and protests, but many of the conservatives who had previously upheld the ban have left the denomination in recent years, and this General Conference has moved in a solidly progressive direction.

CNN: United Methodist Church lifts 40-year ban on LGBTQ clergy

Excerpt: After the vote, retired United Methodist Bishop Hope Morgan Ward prayed the church would be used as “peacemakers and servants” and be “welcoming all people into the embrace of God.”

Michigan United Methodist News: General Conference Delegates Pass Revised Social Principles

Excerpt:  The Social Principles help United Methodists frame, with simpler language, how we’ve always paired faith with action. “This is one of the unique things about The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Megan Walther, clergy delegate from Michigan’s Clarkston United Methodist Church, “and our Social Principles outline what we believe, and then congregations are invited to take action. So, if we say we care about creation, that invites us to think about what we are going to do to protect it. … In an election year, it’s especially good for us as United Methodists to practice having difficult conversations on things we disagree with. And if the Social Principles provide an avenue for us to have difficult conversations, that is a blessing.”

Journalist Bill Tammeus: The United Methodists get this issue right—finally

Excerpt: So slowly Christian churches are abandoning the bogus idea that the Bible condemns homosexual orientation.

CNN: ‘A better church is possible:’ Methodists celebrate as the church embraces the LGBTQ

Excerpt: “This change in our church law is so huge because it means that folks can choose to show up as who they really are and still choose to serve God,” said the Rev. Andi Woodworth, a United Methodist minister from Atlanta.

United Methodist News Service:  40-year ban on gay clergy struck down

Excerpt: Mountain Sky Area Bishop Karen Oliveto said, “Today, we celebrate this historic vote,” she said. “Tomorrow, we will continue to work together. To learn from one another. To stand with one another. To continue to widen the circle so that those on the margins of church and society can find a home.”

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Then, here’s the help we can provide:

Please, enjoy this 2-minute video overview …

Amazon links follow this video. And—if you want to contact our authors to inquire about public speaking, a podcast conversation, or a possible Zoom appearance with your small group or congregation—

Please, email our Front Edge Publishing director of outreach programs Susan Stitt.

[email protected]

Amazon Links

Clicking on this collage of book covers will take you to our Front Edge Publishing Catalog page.

To jump to Amazon right now—

Changing Our Mind

Changing Our Mind (Spanish edition)

A Letter to My Congregation

Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters:
100 Questions and Answers about Gender Identity

MSU Bias Busters:
100 Questions and Answers about Sexual Orientation

The Word Made Fresh

Introducing Christian Ethics

Solus Jesus

Embracing Love

Blue Ocean Faith

Sanctuary—Queering a Church in the Heartland—will be coming soon from Amazon. Right now, if you are interested in this upcoming book about the inclusive journey of a small church in Iowa: Email our Front Edge Publishing director of outreach programs Susan Stitt. [email protected]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

‘We can go so much farther—together!’

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

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

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

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

A Free Online Book Club Starts Soon

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

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

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

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

DAVID: Tell us more about the book club opportunities.

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

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

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

DAVID: And this is free, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea’s friends give us ‘Energy Boosts’

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

How many co-authors are in this book?

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

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

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

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

‘Sustainability is a huge word …’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It takes a series of baby steps.’

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

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

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

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

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

Are you preparing for Passover with family and friends?

Photos courtesy of the Rosman family.

Rusty Rosman shows us how she makes—and transports—a family holiday favorite:

Nema’s Traveling Matzah Ball Soup


EDITOR’S NOTE—We are wishing our Jewish colleagues and neighbors well as they prepare for Passover with family and friends—starting on the night of April 22. Right now, Jewish families around the world already are planning for this traditional festival. These special seder meals are a lot of work! Rusty Rosman is the author of the new book, Two Envelopes, and she’s a grandmother who travels with her matzoh ball soup to various family homes as Passover begins—so she has developed a way to make that beloved soup quite portable. If you enjoy her column, please share it with friends across social media. All of us want to warmly celebrate with our Jewish friends at a time when antisemitism has risen to the highest levels the FBI has seen in their tracking of hate crimes.


By RUSTY ROSMAN
Author of Two Envelopes

I’m a very lucky Nema!

My oldest grandson took the name Grandma and turned it into Nema and I’ve been Nema ever since. I love the uniqueness of Nema and now it has an official place in our family history as the official name of:

Nema’s Matzah Ball Soup

And, yes, because we love our grandchildren so much, I have to admit that we’ve also made room for an alternative name for this family delicacy. When my youngest grandson was 5 years old, he couldn’t remember the kind of Nema’s soup he wanted—so he thought really hard and then yelled: “Mozzarella Soup!”

This coming week, I will be serving up this delicious soup to those eager grandchildren—whatever they manage to call it.

Matzah Ball Soup had its origins as a Passover food because matzah is a major part of the biblical story. These balls are made of very finely ground matzah flour that is only allowed to rise for 18 minutes. The matzah balls in chicken soup were so dearly loved that they became year-round delights.

Every year during Passover, there’s always the question: Did your grandma make hard or soft matzah balls? What’s your preference?

My family loves the soft. My six grandchildren firmly believe that every holiday meal menu is just Nema’s Matzah Ball Soup! Each child must have 3 matzah balls in their soup bowl—and there should be more in the pot if they want seconds.

So, here’s the story of Nema’s matzah ball soup.

I begin days ahead of a holiday because I make so much.

For the broth, I use 20 pounds of kosher chicken, the full sleeve of celery and three big carrots, six large onions, the whole bundle of parsley and dill and 3 large parsnips. And of course, salt and pepper.

First, the chicken is divided between two 20 quart pots which I cook at the same time. I put in the chicken, the salt and pepper and then cover the chicken with water—plus not too much more. Then the vegetables go into the pots.

I cook this for 3 hours.

Then the fun begins. I separate the vegetables into different bowls; the chicken goes into a huge bowl; and my husband pours the soup through a strainer into another huge pot. I push the green vegetables through the strainer so I get the liquid but not the green stuff.

Remember—we’ve been working with two pots. Now, I wash one of the pots, put a strainer over the pot and put a large piece of paper towel in the strainer.  Then, using a one quart pot, I pour hot soup into the strainer with the paper towel, which picks up all the little particles that I don’t want in the soup.  I keep changing the paper towel until all the soup has been stained.  Now I have a very clear soup.

Just like my mom did, I push the carrots through the strainer so they go into the soup as tiny pieces.  My husband does the heavy lifting of the pot so, after it cools for a few hours, we put the pot into the refrigerator (on a towel) where it sits overnight.  The next morning, he lifts the pot out of the refrigerator and puts it into the sink—it’s so much easier on my arms than when the pot is up on the counter.  I run paper towel over the top of the soup to skim the congealed fat from the chicken.

Once it’s clear, I stir the soup so the carrot is all around and not sitting on the bottom of the pot.  I freeze the soup by the number of soup plates I’m serving.  (Example: A gallon-size zip-lock bag will hold 6 servings; the quart size holds 2 servings.)  Next, I carefully—really very carefully—lay the bags on the freezer shelf one on top of the other. Then, I pray that I sealed them well and they won’t leak!  It can take up to 24 hours for all of the bags to freeze solid.

Then it’s time for matzah balls!

My gorgeous grandchildren can easily go through 50 in one holiday and that’s not counting the 6 adults!  I make a dozen matzah balls a day. (The recipe’s on the box.)

I freeze those on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper.  Once they’re frozen, I bag them and back into the freezer they go.

This goes on for days!

Finally, it will be travel time. Since my children live in different states, we drive for hours to get to their homes. So, I take one of the 20 quart pots and load it with the frozen soup and the frozen matzah balls.  They travel well that way. The fun begins when we arrive and the kids start counting the matzah balls and jostling to see who gets to carry them into the house!

I am the luckiest Nema in the whole world because 6 wonderful grandchildren hug me and tell me that I make the best matzah ball soup in the entire world. And I believe them because that’s all they want to eat at the holiday dinner.

I have two grandchildren that even eat it for breakfast!

My joy in making this soup overrides all the work—and it is a lot to do!  But the fun I have thinking about how happy my family is to eat this soup makes it a pure pleasure to create this memory.

I am the luckiest Nema in the entire world.

 

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Photo by Rodney Curtis
www.RodneyCurtis.com
@rcurtis on Twitter
@that_rodney_guy on Instagram
[email protected]

Care to learn more?

VISIT RUSTY ROSMAN’s author website to learn much more about her new book: Two Envelopes—What You Want Your Loved Ones to Know When You Die.

In 2024, Rusty is considering lots of requests to appear on podcasts, in interviews, and in community groups either in person or via Zoom. She is especially popular in small groups both Jewish and Christian congregations—and meets with groups of professionals who care for our millions of aging loved ones.

Care to connect? Scroll down on her author website to learn how to contact her.

Interested in her book? Two Envelopes is available via Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle. It’s also listed on Barnes & Noble, Walmart and other online booksellers.

Historic Dallas Jewish nonprofit honors George A. Mason as Pioneering Partner

The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason with the National Council of Jewish Women Dallas Section annual Pioneering Partner Award. (Scroll down to see more photographs from the event, provided for this story by Gail Brookshire.)

Highlighting the importance of ‘dependable allies in the struggle for freedom, justice and equity’

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

George Mason—author of The Word Made Fresh—continues with his courageous messages about the need for good people to support each other and the most vulnerable among us in our communities. He has spoken about this urgent need on national podcasts, in short videos, at major conferences coast to coast—and he offered that same timely call to compassion again in Texas before the 111-year-old National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) Greater Dallas Section.

The occasion was the NCJW’s annual Pioneering Partner Award and the group’s leadership asked the 2023 award winner—nationally known Latino advocate, attorney and public policy advisor Regina T. Montoya—to present this prize to Mason.

In presenting the award, Montoya said:

Today NCJW recognizes the Rev. Dr. George A. Mason, the founder and president of Faith Commons, a nonprofit that promotes public discourse rooted in the common values of many faiths. Faith Commons aims to inspire more people to participate in public life with mutual respect, hospitality and generosity.

The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason is a Christian theologian and Baptist pastor here in Dallas, Texas, where he served as senior pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church from 1989 to 2022. … He participates in numerous local and global ecumenical and interfaith endeavors. He is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News on subjects of public interest that intersect with religion, such as public education, racial justice, predatory lending, and climate change. He is truly a shining star—a gift and a treasure to us here in our community.

Then, Mason rose to accept the award and said:

Thank you so much to NCJW for this remarkable award! Receiving it from this organization is significant to me because we live in such perilous times. Democracy itself is under siege. And having dependable allies in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equity is crucial these days—whether we’re talking about the endangered rights of women on all fronts, the full dignity of the LGBTQ+ community, the right to be safe from gun violence, the opportunity for a good public education that promotes critical inquiry and is free of religious control—or simply the most fundamental right of all—to vote.

NCJW is always on the job—and we salute you. The testimony of the recently murdered Russian dissident Alexei Navalny continues to echo in our hearts. From his isolated prison cell in Siberia, he told us that the forces of evil always want you to feel alone in your struggle for freedom and democracy. But we are never alone—despite how it sometimes feels. And, if you sometimes do feel that way—look around this room.

In these days, I know that many of you here have felt the agonizing tension between your deepest moral convictions and your spiritual and communal bonds. I want you to know tht we see you and stand with you in that tension.

In my own religious world, the fissure caused by Christian Nationalism continues to widen—and it is a threat that must be addressed from within our own community. Any religious ideas—even from our own faith—that deny or diminish the humanity of others or that endanger the planet we all share must be opposed.

George was interrupted by applause.

Fortunately, I c0me from a long line of radical Baptists—little noticed at times.

Interrupted by warm laughter.

Nonetheless, we believe that dissent can sometimes be the highest act of loyalty. For 35 year, I have had the privilege of serving or being part of a Baptist church like that—a church that believes it and practices it: Wilshire Baptist. And for the past six years, I have served through Faith Commons—alongside my peerless and fearless partner in that nonprofit, Rabbi Nancy Kastin.

Interrupted by applause.

We have gained inspiration to persevere from people like you in this room—people who believe that and practice it.

So keep the faith—and keep up the struggle faithfully.

And I’ll end with these words from the late minister of Riverside Church in New York City, William Sloane Coffin:

“The world is too dangerous for anything but truth.
And too small for anything but love.”

Applause.

Care to learn more?

The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason’s most powerful messages from throughout his long career at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas are collected in the new book, The Word Made Fresh, which is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle from Amazon.

 

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

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

Moving Together Toward Compassion:
A Call to Daily Transformation

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transforming the ‘Rags’ to See Their Beauty

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

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

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

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

Early in her book, she writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Pilgrims Forever’

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

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

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

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

‘Turquoise and Lavender’

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

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

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