Remembering that holiday spirits range from fluffy, happy clouds to dark nights

“Happy” artist Bob Ross is more popular than ever as we cross into 2023! Amazon is selling Bob Ross calendars; is streaming 31 seasons of Bob Ross’s TV shows via its FreeVee service; and is selling Happy Clouds socks like the ones Ben Pratt enjoys.

For millions, the simple joys of the season are muted by somber memories.

Acknowledging those Dark Nights Helps with Healing

Author of A Guide for Caregivers

The setting—a restored 11th Century San Fedele Monastery, Chianti Region, Italy. We were gathered on a terrace with new acquaintances, wine, awaiting dinner before an evening of live jazz under the stars.

The socks—pale blue with puffy clouds, the words Happy Clouds, and the face of a smiling man with curly black beard and hair. I wore the socks because of their funky nature that contrasted with this unique setting and sterling location—suspecting they might break the ice and lead to an interesting conversation among strangers.

The results—far beyond my expectation.

Megan, a young woman, probably in her thirties, moved close and said, “You’re wearing Bob Ross socks.”

“I think you are correct,” I responded.

Her next words jolted me: “After my twin brother suicided, I tuned in to Bob Ross reruns every day because it was the only thing I could watch without crying.”

My immediate response, non-verbal, conveyed a look of compassion and concern. Then I said, “I would be very willing to hear more if you wish to tell me.”

She told me the bare bones reality that she suspected led to his decision, and then more about the devastating impact on her.

Perhaps you share the questions that flow from a conversation like that one: How do we travel this spiritual journey of grief? Or, how can we heal from a broken heart? As we approach the holidays we are mindful that grief is often more intense in this time of family gatherings when the absence of one can be most obvious.

First, I need to say that grieving takes far more time than we anticipate in our world of K-cup coffee and e-mail. The grieving process isn’t fast. The duration for grieving may be in direct proportion to the intensity of the loss, and, therefore, is quite personal. As Shakespeare tells us through Othello: “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” The stages through which we must journey toward healing can be shock, anger, guilt, depression, bargaining, and then maybe healing acceptance.

Losses caused by sin, another’s violation of us or our violation of another, are the most difficult to heal because these involve forgiveness. Forgiveness is the ability to give up hope of a different past. It requires a different memory.

Options for surviving loss include burying yourself with your talents in the small room of safety or making a trusting leap of faith back into the unknown, just as Megan was doing by participating in JazZen Journey at San Fidele.

Do we stay on the bench or do we get back into the game?

Either way, it is a cost and a promise! We need to live into the hope that the risk is worth the promise of trust and joy.

Now, let me tell you a story from literature that illustrates the issue of loss and risking. (I suspect my choice of literature may surprise some of you.) This illustration comes from a novel, not from the movie which has little to do with the book. The writings of Ian Fleming, namely the James Bond, 007 series, are some of the most important religious narratives of the 20th century, in my opinion.

Listen as I tell you a story about loss and risking from James Bond. James Bond was married only once. His wife was shot and killed by Bond’s archenemy on the day of their wedding. Bond began to lose his edge. He didn’t show up for work; he began to deal with his loss by drinking and eating too much, gambling and losing his sense of mission. His boss, M, had Bond examined by a psychiatrist-neurologist named Sir James Malony who reported to M that Bond was in shock, and that his behavior was quite understandable. Then he says the thing that captured my attention: “We must teach them that there is no top to disaster.”

Everyone of us has a top to disaster.

It’s probably different for all of us: loss of a child, physical or psychological abuse, robbery at gunpoint, betrayal of a close friend, imprisonment, cancer, losing a pet, shaming oneself in front of friends. When we go over the top of our disaster limit, we are prone to reduce our world to a small, predictable, controlled safe place.

Risking our talents is the last thing we are prone to do—but that is what Sir James Malony prescribes. And then Sir James says an even more remarkable thing in response to M’s request of help for Bond. His answer is “We must give him an impossible job.”

In contrast to suggesting a month on a cruise liner, we hear that “he should be given an impossible job.” So M sends Bond on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a castle created for people who have lost faith in life, a castle where people can kill themselves. Bond himself could have been a candidate, since he had lost faith. Instead he is sent to risk facing and destroying it.

The man who created this castle of death is the same devil who killed Bond’s wife. By confronting and killing the devil of despair, Bond confronts his own despair and is on the road to healing his wounds. Yes, this is an allegory that is as much about the inner journey as the outer journey.

Let me be clear what I am not saying. I am not suggesting that we get ourselves off our own hands by attending to others or a larger mission. Turning outward can come after we have done the painful interior work of feeling loss. This is why most hospice programs will not accept volunteers who are not at least one year away from a significant death.

Eventually, however, the grief journey must include turning outward to heal the losses and grief in oneself, which feels like an impossible risk.

Perhaps real recovery takes place only when we take our own wound and turn it outward
to give generously and with gratitude to others.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, upon the death of a close friend: “I must love myself into action lest I wither in despair.”

Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest shared that “the wound of Jesus is like the Grand Canyon, a deep incision in the earth’s surface that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and meaning.” The wounds of Jesus have become a source of beauty for many.

Our wounds may become a source of meaning for others also.The pain can end and the healing take place when we take the beauty of our own pain and extend it as a gift to others. As their hurt is healed, so is ours.

My deep appreciation of music has a wide perspective. Willie Nelson wrote the following slow and sentimental song with his longtime co-producer, Buddy Cannon. The producer explained the genesis of this song lay in his overhearing Nelson consoling a friend who had lost a loved one.



Care to read more?

Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also is a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

His book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, explores some of the themes in this week’s Holy Week column, including an in-depth look at Accidie.

If you find these books helpful, and if you suggest that your small group discuss these books, we would love to hear from you about your response, ideas and questions. Or, if you are interested in ordering these books in quantity, please contact us at [email protected]




Inspiring gifts for Hanukkah and Christmas!

Give the gift of Wisdom, Hope and Resilience

Choose books that will make your life—and your community—healthier and happier

AS WE REACH THE YEAR-END HOLIDAYS in 2022, we are pleased to recommend wonderful Hanukkah and Christmas “gifts of reading” that will enrich the lives of your loved ones well into the New Year.

Our 2022 holiday-shopping list starts with:

Torah Tutor—A Contemporary Torah Study Guide

CLICK ON any of the covers with this story to visit the books’ Amazon pages.

When the first lights of Hanukkah are kindled on Sunday December 18, this year, a wonderful gift for someone you love could be Torah Tutor—A Contemporary Torah Study Guide by Rabbi Lenore Bohm, a beloved Jewish leader and long-time educator.

Hanukkah is a celebration of religious freedom and the long legacy of wisdom that continues to shine from the Jewish tradition—a legacy that begins with these dramatic stories from the Bible.

In Torah Tutor, Rabbi Bohm draws on her own lifetime of teaching about the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, starting with Genesis. Reviewers of her book praise the timeliness of the themes lifted up in this contemporary self-guided study, which is ideal for individual seekers and group discussions.

“Reading this may become one of the most meaningful parts of your week, renewing, enriching and energizing you,” says the Foreword by Rabbi Sally J. Priesand, America’s first woman ordained as a rabbi.

AND, THIS BOOK ALSO IS IDEAL AS A CHRISTMAS GIFT. Have you got someone on your shopping list who might be tough to shop for—but you know they love the Bible and enjoy inspirational reading? Most of us know someone like that in our families or circles of friends. This year, consider giving this book. Christian reviewers agree with Rabbi Priesand’s conclusion that this book is full of fresh energy. Here’s just one example, a review of Torah Tutor by the Rev. Sharon Buttry, a noted author herself and a peace activist through American Baptist Churches: “As a Christian, I have always loved the stories and wisdom in the Bible. Rabbi Bohm expresses that same love in Torah Tutor. With each portion of the Torah, she lovingly crafts questions and insights that draw us into the heart of God.”

Care to learn more about Torah Tutor? You can jump right to the book’s Amazon page, or you might enjoy looking at the Torah Tutor Resource Page on our Front Edge Publishing website.

Become an Ally of the Michigan State University Bias Busters

In 2022, the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters—a unique student-reporting project—reached important new milestones. In their mission to encourage cross-cultural understanding and dispel myths about American minorities, the Bias Busters published their 19th and 20th books.

Plus, the MSU Bias Busters learned that Michigan’s Department of Health & Human Services has recognized the value of these short, easy-to-read books by deciding to place those books in 17 of the statewide agency’s regional offices. Leaders in MDHHS’s Lansing home office invited their staffers in each regional office to select the guides that would be most beneficial in their communities.

Among the top titles chosen by these regional offices were:

If you would like to see all 20 of our titles, so far, here’s a link to the Amazon Bias Busters Kindle page.

AND, HERE’S A SPECIAL GIFT IDEA: Consider giving a personal gift to your own congregation or other community group this December as a way to encourage a greater sensitivity toward minorities in your area. Consider adding a selection of these books to your congregational library—or starting a community-outreach class that specializes in cultural competency. Order your own hand-picked selection of these guides and you’ve got a tailor-made gift for your community that will keep giving gifts to readers throughout 2023.

Two New Months of Inspirational Reading—

30 Days with America’s High School Coaches

And, 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones

IN 2022, our publishing house doubled the scope of our “30 Days With …” book series with two new volumes that offer a total of two fresh months of inspirational reading.

In January 2022, we launched Martin Davis’s 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches. (And a special notes for early-bird shoppers: Amazon deeply discounted the hardcover version of Martin’s book leading up to Black Friday. We’re not sure how long that Amazon sale will last, so order your copy immediately and you might get a real deal!)

What’s in this book? High school coaches shape millions of lives. These 30 short and inspiring stories show the diversity of approaches by coaches nationwide in building athletes’ hearts, minds and bodies to form successful teams, strong individuals and future leaders. The coaches profiled in this book come from every corner of the nation and every socio-economic setting, highlighting how they combine imagination, a selfless commitment to their athletes and a strong internal compass. In this book, you will find true stories of coaches who lead male and female athletes in a wide variety of sports.

We followed that volume with John E. Harnish’s 30 Days with E. Stanley Jones.

In his day, E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) was described as the “greatest missionary since Saint Paul.” More than an evangelist, he was the author of 27 books that sold millions of copies. He also was a statesman, the founder of Christian ashrams, an interfaith leader as well as a spokesman for peace, racial inclusion and social justice. He was a confidant of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

Does a preacher from the previous century have anything to say to this generation? Yes! His clarion call to justice and loving community was shaped by his friendship with Mahatma Gandhi and influenced the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Introduction to Christian Ethics

With Christianity in crisis, Dr. David Gushee lays out a faithful path forward

THIS IS A PERFECT GIFT for anyone on your shopping list who hopes there is a robust and loving future for Christianity as a global faith. There are millions of folks like that across America. For example, nearly all of us know someone who loves their congregation, but wonders if the Christian religion is endangered by the worldwide tug-of-war over what the faith requires of political leaders. Dr. David Gushee is widely regarded as America’s leading Christian ethicist and leads readers through a wide range of topics—including issues that show up in headline news stories on a daily basis.

In our February 2022 Cover Story about the launch of this book, we reported:

At this historic turning point in the faith of 2.4 billion people worldwide, Christian ethicist Dr. David Gushee is publishing his magnum opus: Introducing Christian Ethics—Core Convictions for Christians Today. This is a unique and powerful book. It becomes the capstone on a long series of Dr. Gushee’s books by giving readers 25 chapters drawn from his decades of teaching Christian Ethics at Mercer University—a career that has led to honors showered on Dr. Gushee from around the world. In recent years, those honors have included election by his peers for terms as president of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics.

PLUS—THIS IS AN IDEAL CHOICE for folks on your holiday shopping list who prefer to listen to books. With each chapter of this book, readers are provided with simple-to-use codes that provide either the audio of that chapter, or the video of Dr. Gushee presenting that chapter. Readers with a smartphone, for example, can choose to listen to Dr. Gushee—or to see him in full video. That makes this a great choice for small-group discussion as well, since the audio and video clips that small groups enjoy come within the pages of this book.

Suzy Farbman tells us the story of …

‘How we welcomed Detroit’s first avant-garde art movement into our home’

AMONG THE MOST BELOVED of the columnists in our Read The Spirit weekly magazine is veteran journalist Suzy Farbman. Her occasional columns introduce us to remarkable men, women and families from around the world—people who surprise, delight and inspire us. Whenever a Suzy Farbman column appears in our magazine, each new story sparks a shower of emails to our offices thanking us for Suzy’s work.

In 2022, Suzy Farbman turned her journalist’s eye inward and published a beautiful, full-color exploration of her own home and her many years of relationships with artists from Detroit’s “First Generation Cass Corridor Community.”

In her column describing the creation of this new book, Suzy wrote:

I thought about calling this book Love Stories for the Angels of Detroit. The phrase comes from a collaboration between poet John Yau and painter Archie Rand referenced in the text. Art appreciation has been a love affair for me. And my life has been blessed with many angels. … This book is a story of the art world I knew. An art world less destabilized by politics and political correctness. Not forced into months of seclusion by a deadly virus. A world where people felt comfortable in crowded galleries and museums. Where we relished squeezing together for the taking of a toast and tea. This is the story of the Detroit I knew and wrote about, mostly in the 1970s and 80s, the art world I experienced, the joy I had in collecting.

Have you got an art lover on your shopping list?

How about a native Michigander who loves stories about the creativity and potential of Detroit?

Visit the book’s Amazon page and consider ordering a copy right now in hardcover—a stunning gift to open at the holidays that we guarantee will inspire your loved one to flip one page after another—as they enjoy all the brilliant and sometimes startling images.

‘Shining Brightly’

Personalize This Story of Resilience for Hanukkah or Christmas

THEN, THIS IS A SPECIAL OFFER IN OUR HOLIDAY SHOPPING LIST: If you purchase a copy of Howard Brown’s Shining Brightly right now from Amazon—go immediately to Howard’s website and click on the link “Contact” (or just scroll down on Howard’s homepage and you’ll find that Contact box).

From the Contact box—send Howard a note asking for a free personalized bookplate for the holidays. Bookplates are a traditional way to personalize our books. Howard has lovely rectangular plates on which he adds a brief message (just a few words), then he adds his author autograph—and he mails these finished bookplates to readers who request them. You’ll get his envelope in first-class mail, add it to the book you’ve purchased and you’ll have a personalized gift that your loved one will treasure.

And as we always say at the holidays: Act now! You’ve got plenty of time to prepare this unique, personalized gift before the start of Hanukkah or Christmas day—but mail service always slows down in December and, in this case, you’ll need to receive both the book and Howard’s bookplate to create the perfect gift.

“I’m happy to personalize these books,” Howard said. “Of course, I’m Jewish. So, I’m happy to write a ‘Happy Hanukkah Sarah …’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah Sam …’ bookplate. But I’m also happy to help families celebrate Christmas with a ‘Merry Christmas Laura …’ or ‘Merry Christmas Larry …’ note. Just remind people to make it clear in their ‘Contact’ message to me what phrase they want—and be sure to give me their complete mailing address.”

Want to learn more about this inspiring book? One of the three main themes of Howard’s books is interfaith peacemaking. He’s Jewish and is internationally known for reaching out across the boundaries of our various faiths to make friends and build healthier communities. Read Howard’s Thanksgiving story, published last week, to learn more about the themes of his book.

Celebrate our 10th anniversary with Visual Parables

Give yourself and friends a gift of Faith & Film

CLICK ON THIS COVER IMAGE from the November 2022 issue of Visual Parables Journal to visit a page explaining how to subscribe. You also will see a blue “button” you can click to read this November issue as a sample of what you’ll get in coming months.

For a decade, Read The Spirit magazine has appeared every Monday with a popular Faith & Film section closing out our weekly issues. We’ve heard from readers around the world who enjoy Film Critic Edward McNulty’s thought-provoking reviews along with the connections he draws to religious wisdom. Each week, McNulty freely posts those new reviews in our online magazine for readers to share—and thousands of readers have done so from the more than 500 issues of Read The Spirit since he joined our team.

Meanwhile, McNulty has supported his work by selling annual subscriptions to the PDF-format Visual Parables Journal, which our team publishes as a paid monthly supplement to our online magazine. Every issue of Visual Parables Journal—which is easy to download and read on any digital device—is packed with complete discussion guides for the wide array films McNulty has been reviewing that month. Those discussion guides range from family films to the latest Hollywood blockbusters—and from provocative documentaries to special “indie” releases.

At this point in his celebrated career, McNulty has devoted nearly half a century to reviewing films—with a distinctive emphasis on connections he draws to faith. For the first four decades of his efforts as a film critic, his reviews were widely shared across the religious world via various magazines, websites and newsletters. Some of his collected discussion guides even appeared as paperback books. We especially recommend his Jesus Christ: Movie Star, a collection of discussion guides exploring a dozen different film depictions of Jesus.


Over this past decade together, we’ve also been hearing from a growing number of congregations nationwide where folks like to schedule their own faith-and-film festivals. They often are held in January, since it’s fun to go to the movies together during the darkest winter months.

We’ve also heard from small groups in congregations that enjoy their own faith-and-film discussions in an ongoing way throughout each year. Of course, the Visual Parables Journal is the perfect companion for such groups.

Finally, we know that many individuals simply enjoy reflecting on the many questions McNulty weaves into the discussion guides that make up each issue of the Journal.

Want to get started right now? Here’s a link to the web page that introduces Visual Parables Journal, which includes all the information you’ll need to subscribe.

Want to see more samples? Here’s the Visual Parables Journal page that features recent issues, so you can get an idea of the films Edward McNulty features.

‘Happy Hanukkah!’ Rediscovering the meaning behind today’s holiday industry.


A Time to Ponder Some Powerful Themes


Author and Contributing Columnist

Let’s start with the truth that Jews find themselves explaining to Christians each year: No, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. These are completely different festivals. The main challenge Jewish families share with their Christian neighbors at this time of year is trying to rediscover the meaning beneath the vast weight of the holiday industry.

Jewish families know that our most important holiday season is in the autumn: the High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur with the week-long Sukkot harvest festival coming five days later. For those whose lives are shaped by Jewish practice, this winter celebration is recognized as subordinate to the biblically based holy days. Hanukkah is a distinctly minor holiday, elevated in importance only because it usually falls in December. Occasionally, such as this year, it begins earlier: November 28 will mark the lighting of the first candle.

Only because of its timing has this little festival been folded into the American “holiday season” of lights, decorations, presents and parties. Today, North American Hanukkah has become part of the holiday industry: elaborate decorations, themed wrapping paper and paper goods, personalized greeting cards, recipe books and sometimes even a so-called Hanukkah bush embellished with blue and white/silver ornaments.

But Hanukkah’s origins and meaning are far different than what Christians celebrate in December.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, most Jewish families recognized that Hanukkah meant lighting the multi-branched candelabrum, singing a few Hanukkah songs, eating potato latkes (pancakes), playing with a dreidel (a 4-sided spinning top) and giving small gifts to children, usually one gift per night.

It was a modest celebration, cozy and intimate.

But in the same way that thoughtful Christians reject the exploitation of Christmas as a commercial enterprise, so do thoughtful Jews reject the false equivalency of Hanukkah as a blue-and-white-silver version of red-green-and-white Christmas.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the national Temple in Jerusalem after it had been defiled by the ruler Antiochus Epiphanes in 168BCE. A coalition led by the Maccabee family pledged to fight against the Greeks and against fellow Jews who encouraged—or coerced—rejection of Judaism in favor of Hellenistic ideas and ideals. Although vastly outnumbered and materially disadvantaged, the Maccabees and their followers prevailed. They captured the Temple, which had fallen into Greek hands and was rendered unfit for Jewish practice.

According to the story, those entering the Temple found only one day’s worth of purified oil to light the candelabrum (menorah) that was the symbolic centerpiece of the Temple. Somehow (miracle, anyone?) the oil lasted for eight days until additional purified oil could be obtained. Hence, the eight day festival and the kindling of eight lights.

This is an abbreviated and slightly mythologized telling of Hanukkah’s origins. But, mythology notwithstanding, there are important lesson we can draw from the story. As is true of nearly every religious/cultural holiday, Hanukkah provides an opportunity to elevate certain important themes that go beyond the holiday’s color, food, musical and commercial associations.

Powerful Themes of Hanukkah

At Hanukkah, we can choose to ponder some powerful themes:

  • Minorities are always at risk of being attacked, from the outside, for their differences.
  • Minorities are always at risk for being seduced, from the outside, to join the dominant group and abandon their uniqueness.
  • Within minorities, people differ on how much the group should insist on retaining their authenticity, their particularism.
  • A culture/religion that never changes will atrophy.
  • A culture/religion that always changes will lose its identity.

The word Hanukkah, often spelled Chanukah, means “dedication,” referencing the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. But a related Hebrew word Chinuch means “education.”

The lessons of Hanukkah are far more important than its role as a seasonal opportunity for decorations and gifts. And, in the end, that’s the main challenge observant Jewish and Christian neighbors share in this winter season.


Care to learn more?

Rabbi Lenore Bohm was among the early wave of women ordained as rabbis in America. Before her ordination in 1982, she studied at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion in Jerusalem and Cincinnati. She began her rabbinic service in San Diego; she has continued her studies both in the U.S. and Israel over many years; and she has become widely known in southern California as a leading Jewish educator. In early 2022, we will publish her reflections on the Torah, a week-by-week guide book for individual reflection or small-group discussion. Stay tuned to for news about that upcoming book!


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.








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.




Have you established a memorial? A sacred place in your heart?

Four Roadside Memorials

Roadside memorials take many forms. (Photos for public use via Wikimedia Commons.)


Memorial Day commemorates those who died while serving in our armed forces—but this special day also inevitably reminds us of other losses we’ve experienced. It’s healthy to pause and ponder the way we make sacred room for these memories.

One half-mile south of the Occoquan River on I-95 in Virginia, one of the busiest corridors in our nation, is a place lodged in my memory and heart. The roadway is different now. What was then four lanes, divided by a grassy hill, has become eight lanes of concrete, ramps, guard rails and, of course, speeding cars and trucks.

Decades ago, I was the founding pastor of a new church in a planned community adjacent to I-95. Four of us in that community—three clergy and one paid fireman—did most of the fire and rescue runs during the daylight hours from Volunteer Fire Co. 10. Many of our calls were in response to accidents on I-95. To this day, I never drive that highway without remembering the spot of two runs we made.

One was filled with sadness—one with joy.

A doctor and his wife had recently bought a Winnebago Camper. She and her teenage son were driving north on I-95 in the camper while her husband followed in another car. On a curve over a steep hill, she lost control and the camper toppled over the guardrail and down the hill, bursting into flames. A young marine jumped from his car and pulled the burned son to safety but was not able to save his mother. Our arrival on the scene was to provide transportation of the victims and support for the father who was crumpled in shock and sadness. The son was flown to a burn-trauma center. There are no markers, and the landscape has been altered beyond recognition, but deeply seated in my mind’s eye is the trauma and sadness of a family’s instant transformation.

There is a memorial in my heart for the family as well as for the caregivers, the first responders, who served them well.

And, then the other memory follows.

It had not rained for three weeks in late August and the road had developed a film of oil. During a sudden rain storm, a north-bound 18-wheeler hydroplaned and the truck toppled with its wheels pointing north and the whole vehicle lay horizontal across all lanes.

One more amazing detail. A Ford Mustang had slid under the truck’s trailer as it toppled, with only the hood sticking out between the wheels. The rest of the car was crumpled under the trailer. When rescue teams arrived, we assumed no one was alive in the Mustang. Someone crawled under the trailer and tapped on the door of the crushed car.

Someone tapped back! Amazing! How to get to them? The rear trailer door was opened to reveal a full load of green tomatoes. Folks poured out of the blocked cars and began unloading the tomatoes onto the median strip. Special saws cut out the side of the trailer, the top was lifted off the Mustang, and four adults and two children, all pocked from broken glass, emerged from the vehicle.

I cried. What a miracle. There are no markers and the landscape has been altered beyond recognition, but deeply seated in my mind’s eye is the joy of that miraculous moment.

Across our land are countless markers left by families and friends to remember loved ones lost in traffic accidents. Roadside shrines of all descriptions dot the landscape as memorials, but for many, like myself, the memorial is carried in our minds and hearts—and the site is never passed without a moment of remembrance.

I write this to lift up each of our sacred moments of remembrance and to also express gratitude to the caregiver and first responders, be they professional or volunteer.

Memorial Day is a fitting occasion to remember those who died in our armed forces. If you have a chance to speak to a veteran this weekend about brothers or sisters lost in battle—their stories are likely to be quite specific about the location of the loss. By acknowledging the person and place—by remembering and sharing our stories like this—we are setting aside sacred space in our hearts.

THE REV. DR. BENJAMIN PRATT is a pastoral counselor with 30 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He also is one of ReadTheSpirit’s most popular columnists on a wide range of issues. Learn more about his books in our bookstore.

MSU ‘Bias Busters’ sort out the mysterious realm of religion

Front cover MSU guide 100 Questions about Muslim Americans

CLICK this cover to visit our Bookstore and learn about ordering your copy.


The MSU Bias Busters series of guides to cultural competence embarks on a new direction this week: We’re heading into the realm of religion.

The series, from the Michigan State University (MSU) School of Journalism, started in 2013 with 100 questions and answers to everyday questions about several groups. There are now guides for Indian Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, East Asian cultures, Arab Americans, Native Americans and, to help international guests, Americans.

Why did our MSU team decide to start this new series on religious minorities? Because such guides are needed by so many men and women, these days. Americans in countless neighborhoods and professions need to know how to interact with our neighbors and co-workers from minority faiths and cultures.

Why did we start this new series with Muslims? Because these men, women and children face the greatest misunderstandings right now, according to nationwide studies.

Recently, Pew researchers reported that prejudice against Muslim Americans is “rampant among the U.S. public.” The Pew team added: “We have a long way to go in dispelling prejudice against Muslims. Muslims were the group rated most negatively of all religious groups.”

Can our guide books really make a difference? Yes!

Here’s the goal of our overall series of 100 Questions & Answers guides: We answer the questions that real people ask every day wherever Americans gather. We answer the questions that no one else is answering in such a convenient and authoritative form. We have blue-ribbon readers across the country advise us as we answer these questions for readers—so you can trust what we’re telling you in these pages.

In your hands, these guides will help you get to know co-workers, neighbors or fellow students in your school. And that process of getting to know each other, concludes the Pew team, is the way to build healthier communities.

The Pew team used a thermometer chart to show Americans’ relatively warm vs. chilly attitudes toward minorities. The team’s report concludes: “Knowing someone from a religious group is linked with having relatively more positive views of that group. Those who say they know someone who is Jewish, for example, give Jews an average thermometer rating of 69, compared with a rating of 55 among those who say they do not know anyone who is Jewish. Atheists receive a neutral rating of 50, on average, from people who say they personally know an atheist, but they receive a cold rating of 29 from those who do not know an atheist. Similarly, Muslims get a neutral rating (49 on average) from those who know a Muslim, and a cooler rating (35) from those who do not know a Muslim.”


MSU Bias Busters Class works on 100 Questions about Muslim Americans

PHOTOS OF THE MSU BIAS BUSTERS: TOP PHOTO shows an MSU editing circle—clockwise from front: Arielle Rembert, Julia Gorman, Sarah King, Cheyenne Yost, Zhenqi (Bruce) Tan and Kate Kerbrat. MIDDLE PHOTO shows our editors Amanda Cowherd and Kyle Koehler collaborating on the new guide. BOTTOM PHOTO shows class members—front from left: Lia Kamana, Stacy Cornwell, Arielle Rembert and Julia Gorman. Second row, from left: Kate Kerbrat, Amanda Cowherd, Kyle Koehler, Zhenqi (Bruce) Tan, Cheyenne Yost and Sarah King.

The full title of our newest book, as listed on Amazon, is 100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans with a Guide to Islamic Holidays: Basic facts about the culture, customs, language, religion, origins and politics of American Muslims.

These guides are designed to answer the everyday questions that people wonder about but might not know how to ask. The Muslim-American guide answers:

* What does Islam say about Jesus?
* What does the Quran say about peace and violence?
* What is the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims?
* Which countries are predominantly Shia and Sunni?
* Do Muslims believe in heaven and an afterlife?
* Do Muslims believe that non-Muslims are going to hell?
* Is the Nation of Islam the same as Islam?
* Are honor killings a part of Islamic teaching?
* What does Islam say about images of God?
* Do women who wear the hijab play sports or swim?

The guide’s Foreword is by John L. Esposito, professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and author of the popular book, What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam.

Esposito wrote, “The Muslims of America are far from monolithic in their composition and in their attitudes and practices. They are a mosaic of many ethnic, racial and national groups. As a result, significant differences exist in their community as well as in their responses to their encounter with the dominant religious and cultural paradigm of American society.”

Esposito was one of 20 experts who helped MSU students in one way or another through the creation of our new guide. The students began by interviewing Muslims, and consulting with our experts, to determine the 100 commonly asked questions we would answer in this book. Then, the students researched the answers and, once again, consulted with our experts to verify the entire guide.


Another new feature in this new book is a nine-page guide to Islamic holidays. Written by Read the Spirit’s Holidays & Festivals expert Stephanie Fenton, it explains their timing, meaning and significance.

The guide also has a recording with American Muslims pronouncing Arabic words such as Muslim, Islam and Allah. Muslims told students that these are often mispronounced and the audio addresses that. (Visit the ReadTheSpirit bookstore now to learn how to order your copy of this inexpensive new book. When you get your copy, the first thing you’ll want to do is listen to this helpful audio track. In most e-readers, the audio plays within the digital book; in the print edition, a QR code lets you click on that page—and play the audio on your smart phone.)

The series is evolving and becoming more elaborate.

The next guide will focus on Jewish Americans and is expected to have videos.


JOE GRIMM is visiting editor in the Michigan State University School of Journalism. In addition to the MSU series, Joe has written two books about careers in media. You can learn about all of Joe’s books in our ReadTheSpirit bookstore.

Season of Gratitude: An inclusive celebration of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Season of Gratitude in Belfast MaineBy DUNCAN NEWCOMER

Thanksgiving? A feminist plot foisted on President Lincoln by the prominent editor Sarah Hale to augment Washington’s Birthday and the Fourth of July as national holidays for American unity?

Thanksgiving? An Anglo-Protestant tradition from the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony as the dominant national narrative?

Thanksgiving? A Judeo-Christian community event based on the liturgies of harvest blessing and Holy Communion?

Thanksgiving? An American Christian holiday, along with Christmas and Easter, defining our religious heritage and identity?

Thanksgiving? A somewhat meaningful pause for Extreme Travel between the growing outlay of money for a macabre Halloween and the extravaganza of Christmas shopping?

Here in Belfast, Maine, nearly 7,000 of us cling to the mid-coastal Penobscot Bay. As we pause to ponder the November holiday, we probably define ourselves a little bit by all of the above.

But the local minister’s association decided this year not to have a typical ecumenical worship-and-music service for Thanksgiving. Each church, we thought, could have its own meaningful gathering, but the wider community is being invited, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to a Season of Gratitude afternoon potluck supper at the local high school gym.

We might draw 60; we might welcome 200. We’re trying this for the first time in Belfast. We were inspired by the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit initiative from last year. And, we decided to reach out to people who we feel are a part of our community—but we never really see, much less share a common meal.

Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s call for national unity, not necessarily in churches, we are talking with churches who aren’t usually involved in ecumenical dialogue, community service organizations and half-way houses, Buddhist meditation groups, ethnic minority fisherman, and just plain secular people.

Humility, gratitude, shared life, stories, food and presence. That’s our goal.

Lincoln would often make a meal of a single potato or an apple. We will feast more, and the local Co Op and grocery store have made generous contributions. Lincoln also said that even in hard times, like the Civil War, the Most High God does wondrous things, and we also need to be penitential of our national perversities. That’s what he tried to do on that first annual Thanksgiving 151 years ago.

We’ll let you know how it goes.