The Naomi Schaefer Riley interview on growing your congregation

Anxious Christians, watching young adults slip away from congregations by the millions, have built an entire industry around “church growth.” So, this new book by journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley is both eagerly awaited news—and a startling surprise.

What’s the big surprise in Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back? Riley’s extensive research, backed by the Templeton Press, shows that the advice hawked by a lot of would-be church-growth experts simply isn’t worth the money. And, congregations of any size—whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim—have an opportunity to welcome back young adults by focusing to the basics of religious community: hospitality, compassion and sincere relationships.

Frequently, self-proclaimed experts walk into congregations and promote investment in technology to bring young adults back to worship. Her book concludes: “Perhaps the most striking element that is absent from the accounts of successful religious institutions in this book is—technology. When I asked the academics, religious leaders and journalists who cover religion which institutions were doing the best job and how, my respondents barely mentioned Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Tumbler, let alone the institutional websites that congregations often spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours creating.”

And when Riley went out and talked to young adults nationwide? Yes, she reports, they did “expect a basic level of technological literacy from their churches and synagogues. … Of course they would like to see an updated Facebook page from their religious instutions with information about where services will be or what time events will take place—but I could not find one example of a technological innovation that brought someone into one of these religious institutions or an instance in which it convinced them to stay.”

In fact, young adults are even willing to forgive the technological limitations of their houses of worship. They’re seeking, first and foremost, something that congregations once understood was their core value—forming communities.

Today, ReadTheSpirit magazine is highly recommending Naomi’s book for individual reading and for small-group discussion. Click on the book cover and order a copy today. Invite friends to discuss this book with you.

Here is Riley’s message—after an impressive body of national research—in a few concise lines: “Religious leaders who are successfully connecting with young adults realize that sleek advertising is not going to bring people into the pews. The barriers to entry are not matters for a public relations firm to tackle. Young adults want community. They want a neighborhood. They want a critical mass of people their age. But they want to see older people and younger people in their religious institutions, too. They want a way to serve, and many of them want a way to serve sacrificially for longer periods of time. They want the racial and ethnic diversity of their country reflected in their religious community. … They want to feel welcome whether they are single or married. And while they may appear to be experiencing an extended adolescence, when they are given responsibility, they often are inclined to take it.”

Is this refreshing news—or what!?! For religious leaders bemoaning the mass exodus of young adults? Riley’s message is: The opportunity to welcome them back is right there in your hands and in your own timeless mission as congregations.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed the author. Here are …


DAVID: I imagine that many of our readers will be surprised by the conclusions in your book, but I see your work mirroring the No. 1 “Key Takeaway” from Pew’s study of the millennial generation: “Millennials have fewer attachments to traditional political and religious institutions, but they connect to personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups through social and digital media.” Most people reading Pew’s No. 1 point may focus on the final phrase in Pew’s conclusion “through social and digital media.” And Pew is correct in explaining how millions of millennials achieve community through social media. But your book looks past that final phrase to focus squarely on Pew’s main point: Young adults want to connect socially with a community.

NAOMI: Absolutely. My research for this book included going out and finding success stories to the extent they exist. When I went around the country and visited a variety of religious institutions–Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant–I asked the young adults I found there to describe what drew them in. I was surprised that nobody gave me answers involving technology. It wasn’t mentioned as something drawing them in.

What people described was a personal sense of human connection with the community. In New Orleans, when I visited Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I found that the people there focused on where they are—the neighborhood they are in. The pastor there prides himself in saying to visitors: Is there a church that’s closer to your home that you’d rather belong to? You don’t hear that from most religious leaders. He says that because he wants to warn people ahead of time that this church is very focused on the neighborhood. He walks everywhere. The members of the church really like the fact that they run into each other on a daily basis. They like seeing each other in coffee shops and bars and stores.

DAVID: Now, you also make it clear that digital technology is a way of life with young adults and congregations ignore that at their peril. Millions of adults want their congregations to connect in ways that make common sense in their lives today. For example, they want an easy-to-find website with the location and the upcoming schedule. The Redeemer church website provides all of that information on its opening web page. However, you also conclude that Twitter or Facebook “campaigns” aren’t going to bring young adults through the doors.


NAOMI: This focus on Twitter and Facebook among some of the people who are advising congregations is a misunderstanding of how young people think about technology. These are just tools—just a means of meeting other people. Most people are using these tools to say things to other people, like: “Hey, I’m at the Starbucks now. Where are you?” Or: “I’m headed to the bar later. How about you?” Or: “Want to go to the park?”

These tools aren’t magic. What we need to look at more closely is the spontaneous way that young adults use these tools to create human interaction. If you’re a congregational leader and you think that young adults will flock to you because of the coolness of your new technology—you’re missing the point.

DAVID: One of the fascinating examples in your book is called CharlotteONE, and the program’s website also makes it clear that these organizers understand what people really want on a website: the upcoming schedule. As we publish this interview “Upcoming Dates” is the top headline item on CharlotteONE’s website. This Charlotte program is an example of a bunch of local congregations all coming together to produce a “local” event aimed at orienting young adults to local houses of worship.

The program’s website boils the conclusions of your book down to a simple line: “CharlotteONE helps 20-to-30-somethings get connected, make a difference, and find their purpose.” At the moment, they explain: “We are a collaborative effort of nearly 50 local churches to provide young professionals with greater opportunities for establishing significant roots in Charlotte.” This is right in line with the central findings of your book.

NAOMI: One of the big obstacles that religious leaders and communities face in attracting young people is: Where do we find the resources? You have people in the pew now and you have an obligation to serve them. So, how much time and money should you spend on bringing in people who are not there–and who aren’t showing much interest about coming?

So, a group of religious leaders got together in Charlotte and found that they all were throwing up their arms in weariness over trying to create their own individual programs for young adults. Together, they came up with the idea: What would happen if we all contributed to this one big flashy gathering for young adults each week? Sometimes it’s a lecture. Sometimes it’s music.

DAVID: Since your book is about attracting young adults to Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations, we should explain that this particular example is very diverse but the CharlotteONE example is a Christian program. Sponsors include Catholic and mainline and evangelical congregations.

NAOMI: Yes, whatever the program might be in a particular week, this is always a Christian gathering with a Christian theme. But the real focus for the sponsors are these tables they set up representing all of the different churches in the Charlotte area. There are maps to help visitors see the locations. And, as everyone gathers, you’re supposed to walk around and talk to people about what you’re looking for in a church community. Some people might want to find a Catholic church; others might want to find a more evangelical congregation.

Because of its focus, CharlotteONE has an almost 100 percent turnover every few years. It serves as a funnel for young adults to think more about belonging to a church, attending on Sundays and putting down their roots in a local community. One characteristic of the Charlotte area overall is a transitional feel among the young professionals who live and work there. People are moving in, getting new jobs and then, like a lot of young adult life now, people expect to be drifting from job to job, roommate to roommate, friend to friend. CharloteONE is intended to help people put down some roots in the middle of that process.

DAVID: I could see this working in a big, healthy Jewish or Muslim community like the ones in metro-Detroit as well. There might be weekly regional gatherings for young adults co-sponsored by a number of congregations. This could work, of course, with Christian groups just as it does in Charlotte, but I think this is a part of your book that could apply to other faith groups as well.


DAVID: Let me ask about another key finding in your report: Congregations nationwide are missing a big opportunity if they don’t reach out to young adults with opportunities for service, either within their own communities or within other needy communities. This is fascinating: You conclude that many young adults today are looking for ways to provide much more significant service—even longer-term sacrificial service. I hope that religious leaders pay close attention to that part of your book.

I know, just from young adults I’ve known in recent years, this certainly is true. They’re not so sure that America has a secure “career path” waiting for them, so they are eager to consider alternative ways to work and provide service. I know a lot of young adults who have considered the Peace Corps, for example. This is very much in line with the big Pew study of “Millennials” that calls this generation: “Confident. Connected. Open to change.” As I read that Pew study, it’s a portrait of a generation open to invitations for service. Your research draws an even more pointed conclusion about this, right?

NAOMI: This is the first generation that has grown up and gone through school with this sense of community service as part of their curriculum. For many people in their 20s, community service actually was a part of their curriculum in high school and college. They don’t need to go the religious route to find opportunities for service, but this possibility of service is an opportunity for religious groups.

DAVID: One amazing point we should stress about your book: You say almost nothing about the religious teachings that should come from houses of worship. You do say a lot about the need for religious leaders to be honest and welcoming and reflective of the diversity in our country. But you really don’t write about theological themes. That’s one reason, I think, that this book can be so successful across faith lines.

NAOMI: That’s right. This book is not about changing your theological outlook. This book is about seeing your church, synagogue or mosque as an institution that needs to figure out how to get the next generation involved. And if you look through the chapters from different religious perspectives, then some things I write about will be more applicable to you than others.

But the most important message here is the importance of face-to-face contact focusing on your neighborhood. Young adults today have one of the lowest rates of car ownership in our history. Young adults want to walk places. Young adults want to know about their neighborhood. Second, young adults need to be treated as adults. Twenty somethings are perfectly capable of being in charge of any number of so-called “adult” issues in your congregation. That’s a point I can’t stress enough. It’s true that these young adults don’t have the traditional markers of adulthood. Many are waiting years to get married. Many may live with their own parents. They may not look like traditional adults to older leaders in religious communities. But they are very capable adults and we need to invite them to lead and to serve.

This really is about talking to young adults and saying: You really are valuable members of our community.

Care to read more from …
our own Millennial columnist?

Contributing columnist Gayle Campbell has written several series of OurValues columns about the values that motivate her Millennial generation. If you click here, you’ll find 15 of her columns, grouped into three series, including: “Doing Good,” “5 World-Changing Truths” and “5 Millennial Truths.” In many ways, Gayle’s columns mirror the conclusions drawn in Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book. If you are planning a small-group discussion of Naomi’s book, you may want to include some of Gayle’s columns, as well, which include discussion questions.

Care to see the idea?

Author and columnist Benjamin Pratt shares a vivid greeting card about building strong relationships that he often sends to young couples.

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

The Charles Marsh interview on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and ‘Strange Glory’

From Left to Right and all around the world, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is everybody’s hero. This courageous young pastor stood up to the Nazis in the 1930s, eventually took part in a plot to kill Hitler and finally was hanged in a prison camp before the war ended. Nelson Mandela talked about the inspiration he drew from Bonhoeffer’s example. But Bonhoeffer supporters cross the entire political spectrum. In American right-wing politics, Glenn Beck considers Bonhoeffer such a hero that his online store sells wall-size posters of the bespectacled pastor’s face over Bonhoeffer’s famous lines:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Glenn Beck tells his listeners: “This is a guy you should teach your children about!” And then Beck engages in what commentators from Left and Right like to do when they speak, write or preach about Bonhoeffer: hold him up as a mirror for each side’s approach to courageous defiance of authorities.

Within several years of Bonhoeffer’s death on April 9, 1945, at the age of 39, his books began appearing in English. However, according to Google tracking of trends in American publishing, Bonhoeffer did not become hugely popular in American culture until the mid 1960s. His most widely read book, The Cost of Discipleship, which was first published in 1937 in German, struck a chord 30 years later among young Americans working for change in the turbulent 1960s. In the book, Bonhoeffer tells readers: “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.”

When Glenn Beck talks about his hero, Beck scoffs at activists who claim that Bonhoeffer was “a social justice guy.” Beck says: Not so! Beck recommends a different biography of his hero: the 2010 book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, written by the journalist Eric Mataxas and published the conservative Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson. That book does the best job of emphasizing Bonhoeffer’s evangelical purity, Beck argues.

Today, ReadTheSpirit online magazine recommends Charles Marsh’s new biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer published by Knopf. Marsh compellingly tells the story of Bonhoeffer’s deep Christian faith, but he also more clearly describes Bonhoeffer’s life-changing experiences while studying for a year in the U.S. Most crucial to his transformation was his regular attendance at worship in a famous black church in Harlem—and a road trip Bonhoeffer took through the American South around the time of the infamous “Scottsboro Boys” trial.

Once Bonhoeffer returned to Germany after his year in the U.S., Mataxas’s book makes it seem obvious that any Christian leader with a spine would oppose Hitler from the beginning. From the first page of his biography, Mataxas describes Hitler and his “legion of demons” as ushering in an “evilly contorted and frightening” era in Europe. Marsh’s book, in contrast, explains how very difficult it was for religious leaders to understand the extreme danger during Hitler’s rise to power in the early 1930s. In fact, Bonhoeffer comes across as a much more remarkable prophet in Marsh’s book for clearly seeing the danger in the Nazis’ first tentative steps that would lead to the Final Solution.

ReadTheSpirit Editor interviewed Charles Marsh. Here are …


DAVID: Most Americans recognize Bonhoeffer’s name, but most of us don’t know a lot about him. Recently, when I’ve visited various groups, I’ve asked people what they know about him. Usually people say: He defied Hitler and the Nazis killed him. Some of them know that he could have moved away from Germany, but made a conscious decision to stay. In general, people don’t know much more than that. I think lots of our readers will find your book absolutely fascinating.

CHARLES: Well, those details you just mentioned are true. That’s what makes Bonhoeffer’s life so compelling, but it’s also true that the facts of his life create misunderstandings. He was a theologian on a restless journey.

DAVID: In reading about his childhood, I was reminded of other famous religious figures who began life with great privilege—St. Francis, the Buddha and others—but later gave that up to follow their vocations. Your book describes Bonhoeffer’s childhood as living in the lap of luxury and opportunity. His family lived in Berlin’s well-to-do Grunewald district, since the late 1800s an area known for its big homes and elite families.

CHARLES: He was a golden child, raised in privilege and yet, as an adult, very early in the 1930s he was able to see with great clarity and prescience that the appointment of Hitler as chancellor of Germany constituted the emergence of what Bonhoeffer would call the great masquerade of evil.

He was restless in his studies, his travels and his conversations. At one point, his long journey led him to reach out to Gandhi in correspondence to see what Gandhi advised about creating intentional communities for peacemaking.

He was a pacifist, but later he also was part of a conspiracy to kill Hitler as he served as a pastor and theologian to the resistance. He was clear, at that point, that killing the madman was a responsible course of action, his principled pacifism notwithstanding.

Just as you’re describing it, I am fascinated to find so many people interested in Bonhoeffer: evangelicals, liberals, conservatives, believers, nonbelievers, humanists, activists, Jews, Christians and Muslims. They all find inspiration in aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life and work. In this book, what I’ve tried to do is invite readers along on this journey of Bonhoeffer’s life, trying to show how vivid and complex a person he was.

DAVID: Some of the other books on the market portray him as a pure saint from start to finish, almost glowing on every page.

CHARLES: In my book, I wanted to move beyond that kind of hagiography to respectfully probe his character, which had so many complex dimensions.


DAVID: My advice to readers is to enjoy the opening chapters about Bonhoeffer’s youth—then, I think most of our readers will really start turning pages in the middle section of this biography. I read your section on Bonhoeffer’s year in America twice. He shows up in New York City to study at Union seminary in 1930 under the great Reinhold Niebuhr, who had just arrived from Detroit two years earlier. Niebuhr was teaching “practical theology,” based on his experiences in the urban crucible that was the city of Detroit. Niebuhr’s church had been in what is today called Detroit’s New Center area.

They collided in New York—Niebuhr and Bonhoeffer. As a hot young German scholar, Bonhoeffer thought Niebuhr was a theological lightweight, compared with the world of German academia.

CHARLES: That’s true. He arrived as a straight arrow academic with no sense at all that America had lessons he might want to learn. Initially, he was quite taken aback by the way theology and ethics were taught at Union Theological Seminary. He once asked Reinhold Niebuhr after one of his lectures, “Is this a seminary or a training center for social activists?”

DAVID: But your book shows that Niebuhr and Union and New York City had a profound impact on Bonhoeffer’s life. Among other things, Bonhoeffer began attending the church led by the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr., who boasted the largest Protestant congregation in the U.S. with 10,000 members: the famous Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

He became angry over the infamous Scottsboro case in which a group of young black men were framed on charges of raping white women on a train. Bonhoeffer called it a “terrible miscarriage of justice.” He got back to Germany and summarized what he had seen of white Americans’ treatment of black citizens as so fundamentally unjust that it was “darker than a thousand midnights.” As Bonhoeffer described this evil system, he mentioned American policies on “blood laws, mob rule, sterilizations and land seizures.”

CHARLES: His travels abroad gave him a different sense of his own country’s problems. I also point out that Bonhoeffer met with officials from the American Civil Liberties Union while he was in New York. Remember that the ACLU formed partly over concerns with deportations and abuses heaped on resident aliens in this country. Bonhoeffer wrote to his older brother to say, “We will need an ACLU in Germany.”

When I was reading Bonhoeffer’s papers in the archives, I was amazed at how thick his files were from his year in America and how attentive he was to groups like the ACLU that focused on human rights and social dislocation. Bonhoeffer read news reports on lynching, on homelessness. He looked into the whole constellation of human rights organizations while he was there at Union.

DAVID: He didn’t spend much time in the South, but he did make an epic road trip into Mexico and, as you point out, he did pass through the South on his return to New York. So, in addition to reading news reports about conditions there in New York City, he did see conditions in the South for himself.

CHARLES: Bonhoeffer always had a distrust of authority and his experience in the United States showed him some of the dangers that could arise when authority over minority groups was abused.


DAVID: This is the point in your book when I couldn’t stop reading. Bonhoeffer goes back to Germany in 1931 and he begins studying under the famous theologian Karl Barth. He’s right back in the center of the world’s most elite theological circle of scholars—people far more concerned about academia than about the real lives of ordinary people.

Then, in early 1933, Hitler is rising in power and places the “Aryan paragraph” into Germany’s civil service laws. Very soon, this limited ban on Jewish employees is extended to schools. By June 1933, it’s extended to ban intermarriage. But, this is two years before the 1935 Nuremberg Laws appear and, suddenly, everybody is seeing these frightening posters about racial purity. Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, wouldn’t happen until late 1938.

Here’s what I found fascinating: Immediately in early 1933, Bonhoeffer saw the danger and knew how to respond. You document in your book that his great hero, Karl Barth, was willing to simply ignore the Nazis as a bunch of brutes and idiots. But not Bonhoeffer. You argue that his year in America and his passionate faith let him see what was going to happen years before others in Germany could guess at the danger that lay ahead. In the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer was helping to draft a manifesto, the Bethel Confession, that warned of the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews.

CHARLES: It is true that there were dramatic differences between the two men. Bonhoeffer was part of the original drafting of the Bethel Confession. (It went through several versions and Bonhoeffer had left for England by the time the final version was published.)

DAVID: Your book points out that Barth refused to openly defy Hitler until 1934, a year later, and when Barth did issue his declaration it was all about the rights of the churches to be free of Nazi control. Barth was mainly concerned about confronting Hitler’s God-like status and Hitler’s authority over Germany’s churches. Bonhoeffer’s early work in 1933 made statements about the Christian defense of Jewish communities that the world wouldn’t see again until Vatican II passed Nostra Aetate in 1965. Talk about a visionary prophet!

CHARLES: That’s right and that’s such an interesting part of this story. Everyone who knows about this era wants to celebrate Barth’s declaration in 1934, but in many ways Bonhoeffer’s earlier work on the Bethel Confession was the more important document.

DAVID: I keep asking myself how he was able to see the larger issue—the Christian need to oppose the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews—so much earlier than Barth or other leaders.

CHARLES: Remember that Bonhoeffer had grown up in this upper-middle-class neighborhood in Berlin that was also populated with Jewish families. His family socialized with prominent Jewish families, so this awareness was part of his upbringing.

Later, after several versions of the Bethel Confession had been revised already and Bonhoeffer was no longer in Germany, the final draft was worked on by two theologians who would become pillars of the Nazi church. They deleted references to the significance of the “Aryan paragraph.”

But you are right in mentioning Nostra Aetate. Bonhoeffer in 1933 was wanting the statement to clearly say that Jesus, who Christians follow, was a Jew. And he wanted to point out all that should follow from that.

DAVID: As I read that section, I thought: The world wouldn’t see this kind of affirmation for another 30 years and, in between, Hitler would carry out the Final Solution. So tragic that other Christian leaders didn’t listen to Bonhoeffer in 1933.


CHARLES: Ultimately, just as you have been describing this, I hope that readers will find this book a compelling narrative of an amazing life. I hope that I can bring readers into this beautiful and yet heartbreaking world—Bonhoeffer’s world. And, I hope that readers will come away with a different way of understanding the life of faith among those we consider our saints today.

I hope that Bonhoeffer emerges not just as a hero from another century, but as a Christian for our time, as well. The power of his life crosses so many boundaries, bridges so many divides and illuminates so many conflicts and passions—that I believe his life story becomes an extraordinary gift to us today.

DAVID: I want to close our interview by point out that this kind of connection between faith and action is an ongoing part of your professional life at the University of Viriginia. You are part of the Lived Theology project. You’re also part of the really remarkable archive called the Civil Rights Digital Archive, which contains lots of stories about largely unknown figures in the American civil rights era, including links to original documents.

CHARLES: The Project on Lived Theology began as a way to put bricks and mortar on Bonhoeffer’s own response to what he found in America in 1930 and 1931. These were his concerns. When he arrived at Union seminary, Bonhoeffer was shocked to see his professors leading student out of the classroom to take part in lived theology in the throes of the Great Depression. He was amazed to hear students asking: What are faith’s social obligations? And, how can we use our skills as pastors and theologians to make a difference and to relieve human suffering?

Later, Bonhoeffer said that these experiences helped him to turn from the “phraseological to the real.” What was poignant about Bonhoeffer’s return to Berlin is that he tried to find space at the university for this kind of transformative approach to theology and he was not able to do that for many reasons. That’s the vision of our Project on Lived Theology. It’s to create spaces within a major research university where scholars and theologians can work alongside each other and can turn the phraseological into the real.

ALSO NEW TODAY—Award-winning journalist William Tammeus writes a personal column about why he dedicated the time to report a book about Holocaust rescuers in Poland. Tammeus and his Jewish co-author are traveling to spread awareness of their book, as well.

Care to read more?

GET THE BOOK: Click on the book cover, above, to visit the book’s Amazon page.

READ MORE INSPIRING STORIES: ReadTheSpirit also hosts Interfaith Peacemakers, a growing archive of inspiring stories of men and women who often risked their lives on behalf of world peace.

MORE INTERFAITH HEROES: ReadTheSpirit Books publishes books by international peacemaker Daniel Buttry.

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

Bill Tammeus: Holocaust remembrance takes each of us

FROM ReadTheSpirit Editor DAVID CRUMM—We must not forget. We must act to prevent future genocide. We are, right now, the people called to these goals.

More than 50 years ago, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial opened in Israel and Raul Hilberg published his 1,400-page history, The Destruction of the European Jews. But, decades passed before Holocaust education became a standard part of history lessons in American public school and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in 1993 in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, witnesses were vanishing by the thousands, which is why Claude Lanzmann spent a decade creating his vast documentary, Shoah, and Steven Spielberg followed with his Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Many historians, journalists and other researchers also have contributed to this effort. Award-winning journalist Bill Tammeus and his co-author Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, a descendant of Polish rabbis, both call Kansas City, Missouri, their hometown. They decided to contribute to this important body of documentation with their book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.

As these co-authors continue to share these stories across the U.S., ReadTheSpirit online magazine invited Bill Tammeus to write about their travels and their ongoing work.


In 2004, when Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I began work on, They Were Just People, we knew that in some ways the book would be timeless.

It proved to be exactly that from the time the University of Missouri Press published it in late 2009. Why? Because unlike books about—say, theological trends or how Pope Francis is affecting the Catholic Church—our book contains stories of what individuals went through to survive the Holocaust, and what each person went through is by now as complete a story as any can be.

The book, in essence, shines a light on a small part of the whole bitter Holocaust experience and, in doing that, seeks to honor both those who survived and those who helped them avoid Hitler’s machinery of murder.

So Jacques and I continue to give talks about the book, and we suspect we will do that for years to come.

One of our talks will happen the evening of Tuesday, August 5, 2014, at the Holocaust Memorial Center in suburban Detroit. And we will dedicate that evening to Zygie Allweiss and his family. Zygie is a Detroit-area resident who survived with his brother Sol, now deceased, thanks to help from the Dudzik family, who provided places for the boys to hide on their Polish farm.

Eventually Zygie and Sol came to Detroit and ran service stations there for years.

We are at or near the final years of life for the last of the Holocaust survivors, even many of those who were just children at the time. Indeed, Zygie has had several health issues since I last visited him in 2011, when I came to Detroit for a conference. And several of the 20-some survivors whose stories we tell in our book have died since the book was published. So it was important that we started when we did to spend several years on research, interviewing (in the U.S. and in Poland) and writing. Had we waited much longer some of the stories would have been lost.

It is both an honor and a burden to have become in some ways the voice of the Holocaust survivors in our book—and others as the people in our book in turn represent many other survivors who made it through—because of people whom Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial authority, names as “Righteous Among the Nations” or more informally: righteous gentiles.

If the post-Holocaust phrase “never again” is to have meaning, we must not forget the reality of the German regime’s plan to destroy Europe’s 9 million Jews (more than three million of whom lived in Poland at the outbreak of World War II). Hitler’s “Final Solution” resulted in 6 million Jewish deaths, many of them in the six extermination camps that the Germans built in Poland.

And so it falls to people like Jacques and me, who are by trade simply story tellers—me as a journalist, Jacques as a rabbi who tells sacred stories—to make sure the world remembers.

And this is not simply an act of nostalgia. As Alvin H. Rosenfeld, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, notes in his 2013 book, Resurgent Antisemitism, hatred of Jews around the globe is dangerously rising again for many reasons. Anti-Judaism (a theological position) and modern antisemitism (more a racial stance full of character stereotyping) have deep roots in world history. In fact, David Nirenberg, in his 2013 book, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, traces this bigotry back to ancient Egypt.

In our book, we tell stories of people who for many reasons—a few of them seemingly irrational—stood against that deep tradition of antisemitism and anti-Judaism and risked their lives to save Jews in Poland.

There is, of course, no silver lining to the Holocaust, which at base is a story of death and death and death. But here and there people who found themselves in the midst of it spoke life and life and life into the face of that death. And part of Jacques’ and my responsibility today is to tell the story of such brave people and of the difference they made in the lives not just of individual Jews but also the history of flawed (but sometimes glorious) humanity.

ALSO NEW TODAY—If you appreciated this column, you’ll also want to read a new, in-depth interview with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biographer Charles Marsh about how Bonhoeffer so clearly saw the dangers of the Nazi regime before other European Christian leaders.


Order a copy of his book, They Were Just People, now through Amazon.

Bill Tammeus spent most of his career as a columnist for The Kansas City Star and he continues to write columns in his own website, now, called “Faith Matters.” To learn more about his long career in journalism, starting with his boyhood and spanning his career with The Star from 1970 to 2008, you will enjoy his new book-length memoir, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans.

Bill also writes columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and The National Catholic Reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, author of Accessible Judaism: A Concise Guide, is the spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Greater Kansas City and founder of Brit Braja Worldwide Jewish Outreach, the world’s first virtual synagogue in Spanish. Contact him at [email protected].

This column is jointly published by Faith Matters and, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.

Philip Jenkins interview on his book for the WWI Centennial

A flood of books, DVDs and TV specials are marking the centennial of World War I. The war has been a major theme on Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge. But you may never guess from most of this media that the war had anything to do with religion.

That’s why—if you care about religious diversity and the role of faith in global war and peace—then you must get a copy of Philip Jenkins’ new The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade. ReadTheSpirit online magazine highly recommends this unique and important look at how the First World War reshaped global conflicts we are still wrestling with a century later.

Jenkins writes this in the opening pages:

“The First World War was a thoroughly religious event, in the sense that overwhelmingly Christian nations fought each other in what many viewed as a holy war, a spiritual conflict. Religion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war. Not in medieval or Reformation times but in the age of aircraft and machine guns, the majority of the world’s Christians were indeed engaged in a holy war that claimed more than 10 million lives.

“Acknowledging the war’s religious dimension forces us to consider its long-term effects. In an age of overwhelming mass propaganda … nations could not spend years spreading the torrid language and imagery of holy warfare without having a potent effect. … The war ignited a global religious revolution. … It transformed not just the Christianity of the main combatant nations but also other great faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. It destroyed a global religious order that had prevailed for the previous half millennium and dominated much of the globe. The Great War drew the world’s religious map as we know it today.”

What readers will find in the book’s nearly 400 page are stories that will surprise and, in some cases, utterly shock contemporary readers.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Philip Jenkins. Here are …


DAVID: The fact that religious fervor was at the heart of World War I will come as a surprise to many of our readers, who largely see TV shows about the patriotism that drove men to enlist. So, I’m going to start our interview by quickly listing just a few of the historic religious events that took place on the eve of this war:

There’s no wonder that people around the world thought the End of the World might be at hand, right?

PHILIP: And there are so many more dates you could include in that list! Certainly you could include in 1917 both the Russian Revolution and the appearances that are known to Catholics around the world as Our Lady of Fatima. Then, if you add General Edmund Allenby capturing Jerusalem in 1917—well, when people picked up their newspapers, it began to seem as though they were reading a direct commentary on the Book of Revelation.

By 1917, all the nations involved in this war were deep in despair. It had begun to seem as though this terrible war might carry on until every man in Europe was killed off. If you were alive in that era, then you were reading all of these headlines in the newspapers—including stories out of Portugal about these apparitions of the Virgin Mary and the sun dancing in the sky. Some of this news becomes absolutely baffling. If you don’t believe the Apocalypse is imminent, then you don’t have much imagination.


DAVID: We’ll return to some of the amazing spiritual visions from World War I in a moment, but I want to ask you right away about some of the really shocking Christian perspectives you’ve documented in this history. And let’s start with Lyman Abbott, one of the most famous theologians and writers in America in that era. Earlier in his life, before the Civil War, he fought against slavery shoulder to shoulder with Henry Ward Beecher. He was a progressive who backed Theodore Roosevelt. And yet when World War I came around?

PHILIP: Like a lot of the leading Protestant clergy of his day—including a lot of the liberal and progressive clergy—Lyman Abbott entirely accepted that the war was necessary. But, then, he went far beyond that to see the war as a crusade. He had a vision of the war in which the Allies represented absolute good and the Germans represented absolute evil.

DAVID: I found an online link where people can read Abbott’s most infamous publication about the war, “To Love Is To Hate.” But give us just a brief summary of his message.

PHILIP: In today’s terms, we would say that Lyman Abbott declared the war a Jihad. He didn’t use that term, of course, but he was declaring this a holy war. In that piece you mentioned, “To Love Is to Hate”—and in other pieces he wrote—Abbott said that anyone who died in the war was a martyr. Fighting in this war was a matter of sacrificial Christian good. Fighting in this war was sacred.

DAVID: He called the German leadership murderers, pillagers of churches, violators of women and he declared, “I do well to hate.”

And, Abbott certainly wasn’t alone. Let’s talk about another figure in your book over in the UK: the Bishop of London Arthur Winnington-Ingram. I don’t want to leave readers with the impression that Abbott may have been an odd exception in this era. The Bishop of London went much further than Abbott and declared that this was “a war for purity.” He told young men in the Allied armies to “kill Germans … kill the good as well as the bad, kill the young as well as the old.”

PHILIP: He was making statements so outrageous that there were even people at that time who considered his statements outrageous. Before the war, he had been fairly pro-German. But, during the war, he accepted the idea that this was a crusade and, in today’s terms, he talked about the war very much like we would describe a “Jihad” today.

DAVID: But those voices weren’t the worst—as incredible as that may seem. Some major religious leaders—including the famous Brooklyn preacher Newell Dwight Hillis—said that the Allies should practice eugenics. Today, after the Holocaust and so many other tragic attempts at genocide around the world, we now regard “eugenics” as an ugly word. But here was this highly respected preacher calling for “the sterilization of the ten million German soldiers, and the segregation of their women, that when this generation of German goes, civilized cities, states and races may be rid of this awful cancer that must be cut clean out of the body of society.”

PHILIP: Hillis was taking eugenics ideas and, by 1918, he was saying that the only way to deal with the Germans was to eliminate the race chiefly through sterilization. What’s especially interesting about him is that he’s not some crazed writer off in some corner. His pamphlets and books were circulated in the millions. This was an age of mass circulation of printed and visual media. However crazy he seems to us, he had a major impact. Abbott, Ingram and Willis cannot be easily dismissed. In their time, they were widely heard around the world.

DAVID: It’s amazing to think that they could play with this kind fire in their preaching and writing. Of course, the world hadn’t experienced the Holocaust, yet.

PHILIP: No, but the Armenian Genocide took place in World War I in 1915. If you were an American reading the daily newspapers, you were aware of that. And here was Hillis arguing that genocide isn’t bad, as long as you direct it against the right people and, for Hillis, it was the Germans.

Of course this is chilling to read today.


DAVID: Within your nearly 400 pages, there is so much more that readers will discover! “Lawrence of Arabia” is in this book as well as General Allenby’s battle at Megiddo, which led people to call him “Allenby of Armageddon.” There’s his historic march on Jerusalem. You take us to Hollywood and report on some of the blockbuster movies that were produced about the war. I found your book to be a real page turner with one intriguing story after another.

Just as Allenby’s forces clearly bought into the religious fervor of the era, I want to ask you about a couple of the most famous battlefield “miracles” of World War I. The religious zeal around this war wasn’t limited to preachers on the home front. The men in the trenches often were telling about the importance of their faith in the midst of these terrible battles. And, in a number of cases, some of the men were claiming miracles.

I think the most startling story in your book is about “The Angel of Mons.”

PHILIP: It started when a Welsh fantasy writer, Arthur Machen, wrote a short story about the Battle of Mons, where a small and heavily outnumbered British force had won a victory against a much larger German unit. In Machen’s short story—which he called The Bowmen and which he didn’t claim was true—the Battle of Mons is won when these thousands of British soldiers from the Middle Ages suddenly arise and fight off the Germans with arrows. Machen was well known as an author of fantasy stories.

But, Machen soon was amazed to find people telling him that the story is true! People begin saying they were there at Mons and saw these bowmen arising. Then, as the story was retold, the vision of the bowmen morphed into a vision of angels coming to defend the British. This story of angels coming to the defense of the British—”The Angel of Mons”—becomes one of the central, defining stories of the First World War.

But that story Mons isn’t the only one about angels or about the dead rising. You find these stories absolutely everywhere you turn. Many people saw apparitions in this era. These stories like the “Angel of Mons” fit into this larger Apocalyptic narrative about the war.


DAVID: No one seems to have counted the cost of these extremes to which they were going during the war. The same could be said of the Second World War, too. But we end your book shaking our heads that no one could envision what titanic forces they were setting in motion during the 1914-1918 conflict.

PHILIP: A very large proportion of the participants in World War I believed that they had been involved in a Holy War, even after the war. Then, this poses two questions: If you’ve just won a holy war, then what are you supposed to do? And the other question is: If you’ve just lost a holy war, what do you do? The winners then encounter even more questions because they thought they would enter an age of perfection and, soon, it was obviously not the case. Even worse, the losers wanted to find the scapegoats who led to their defeat. This sets up the rise of Naziism and other Fascist and nationalist movements.

Very soon after the war, there was a sense that this was just one phase of worldwide conflict and another one would come along.

DAVID: One of the interesting post-World War I perspectives you include in the book is the fear of writers like C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer that the world is moving into an increasingly pagan era. While a lot of Christian leaders, during WWI, were saying that this was a Christian crusade—Lewis and Bonhoeffer and others realized that something much more troubling was spawned by the war.

PHILIP: I describe this as a “Christian war,” but many orthodox Christians are very troubled by what they see in this era. Many evangelicals are troubled by the idea that, if a soldier fights and dies in a national cause, then the soldier gets a straight pass to heaven no matter what else he’s done in his life. That’s the most extreme and vulgar expression of holy war. And, as you’ve just pointed out, a lot of the ideas that arise during this war are occult. Spiritualism runs riot throughout the war and afterward, especially among the families of the millions of dead, hoping to speak to their loved ones again. The religious spectrum in that era is as extreme and bizarre as the array of religious movements we saw in the 1970s.


DAVID: Most of our readers, I assume, know that the end of World War I contained the seeds of World War II. The popular version of this story is that the Allies forced such draconian terms on Germany that a second war was inevitable. Your book points out that there were other evil seeds beyond the terms of the final peace treaty. One of the worst outcomes of the WWI era was a rise in antisemitism.

PHILIP: When the First World War starts, there is almost an era of good feeling among the major nations fighting on each side. Everyone thinks: We’re in this together. We have a common citizenship. We will fight together and then, after the war, we will be one united nation. Jews believe this wholeheartedly as World War I begins and, in Germany, many Jews see their service in the war as a final emancipation. They’re becoming fully German as they fight for their nation.

But, by about 1916, the question already is arising in many places: If we’re fighting a holy war and we’re God’s greatest nation—then why aren’t we winning this war? We must have missed something. There must be someone within our gates who is causing this problem for us. Some very troubling things begin to happen regarding Jews, especially in Germany and Russia.

By the end of the war, there was this widespread search for scapegoats. Naziism arises in the 1920s as a veteran’s movement aimed at preventing another failure like what happened in World War I. But, this scapegoating process begins during the war. And, as we know, the Jews come out of this era as one of the most-blamed groups. The war marks a decisive stage in reshaping antisemitism. The two most important things in 20th-century Jewish history are the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel and neither of those could have happened without the First World War.

DAVID: At the very end of your book, you describe the dramatic redrawing of the world’s religious map that was a result of that era, a century ago. One major impact was the explosion of Pentecostal movements worldwide. Today, that’s a huge population often estimated at a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians. You also point out how dramatically the First World War reshaped the Muslim world, literally redrawing international boundaries and setting up future conflicts.

You describe the scope of this change in a dramatic way. You write that, while the entire war lasted only four years, the scope of religious changes in that era was like moving from the 1850s to the 1950s in just a few revolutionary years. I’ll close our interview with your book’s last line: “Only now, after a century, are we beginning to understand just how utterly that war destroyed one religious world and created another.”



ReadTheSpirit online magazine has been publishing many perspectives on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, because we are moving through the 150th anniversary of that war. Starting this summer, we are publishing a series of unique stories, columns and historical profiles to mark the centennial of World War I.
Here are some we already have published …

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

Review of Margarethe von Trotta’s ‘Hannah Arendt’


If you care about peacemaking and global justice, then you must be fascinated to find the fury rising once again around Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The impassioned voices either defending or denouncing Arendt are, once again, nearly as impassioned as when The New Yorker magazine first published her five-part series as “A Reporter at Large”  in 1963. Then, Viking collected the series into a book. Now published by Penguin, hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold.

A new film defending Arendt and casting her as a brilliant crusader—as a new kind of sophisticated, feminist thinker for a new era in world history—is making the rounds, now in a DVD edition by Zeitgeist. It’s called simply Hannah Arendt. The convergence of the 50th anniversary of her landmark, incendiary work of news-analysis—and this very compelling new film about her life—now places Arendt squarely in the cross hairs of people who were not even alive during the Holocaust. In reviewing this new film, I must point out that, at age 58, I was not alive during World War II, either.

These days, most Americans don’t even know her name. In preparing to review this film, I asked a number of well-read writers what they thought of Hannah Arendt and, generally, the response was: “Oh, the Eichmann writer.” While her book flooded the world, few people living today have actually read it. I’m one of her readers, because I make a brief reference to Arendt’s classic phrase, “the banality of evil,” in my own book, Our Lent: Things We Carry. I briefly discuss her argument in my own chapter on Pontius Pilate trying to wash his hands after condemning Jesus.

4 Things to Understand about Hannah Arendt

She came of age in a circle of brilliant thinkers: Born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1906, Arendt’s life is a Zelig-like tale of connections with a wealth of towering intellectual figures emerging in that era before World War II. She became a philosopher and political theorist in a long series of books, dominated by Eichmann in Jerusalem. Until her death in 1975, her life revolved around the issues raised in that 1963 work. Her circle of friends is crucial to understanding the explosive worldwide debate that stormed—and continues to storm—around her work. Critics later argued that some of her friends may have been dark collaborators in her work; some of her friends came to her vigorous defense; some of her friends were transformed into relentless enemies by her work.

In the film: Of course, Margarette von Trotta’s film is a vigorous defense of Arendt’s life and work. The film does explore many of these complex friendships, generally depicting each relationship in ways that are sympathetic to Arendt’s memory. If you are reading this review and, already, you are realizing that this era of history is way beyond your own background—then you definitely will want to explore a bit of Arendt’s Wikipedia page before seeing the movie.

She was touched by the Holocaust: She fled the Nazis twice and was imprisoned for a time in a camp, although she was able to flee to America thanks to special visa. To this day, the question is hotly debated: How well did she understand the nature of the Shoah?

In the film: These two escapes are mentioned at several points in the film, but are not well explained for newcomers to this story. Again, read a bit of background on Arendt before you see it.

She went to Jerusalem to “cover” the trial of Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker magazine: She attended some, but not all, of Eichmann’s trial. She was stunned by her first encounter with this major architect of the Holocaust (who had fled to Argentina, but was kidnapped by Israeli forces and was put on trial in Jerusalem). Watching him speak from his glass-walled corner of the courtroom, Arendt formulated her most important conclusion: In the 20th century industrial age, vast crimes against humanity could be organized into a series of actions fit for bureaucrats to maintain as a matter of ordinary business. Her “banality of evil” phrase was not excusing or defending Eichmann, but was pointing at a far deeper truth: In a technologically advanced world, huge crimes could be conceived and broken down into steps fit for bureaucrats. This remains her most important insight—and the point I briefly discuss in my own book.

In the film: We are given the impression that Arendt covered nearly all of the trial in person, either in the courtroom or in the journalists’ newsroom via closed-circuit TV into the courtroom. We also are shown how extensively she studied transcripts and other records. The film does not deal with the more recent criticism by historians that her attendance at the trial was just a handful of days she spent sampling the real action in the courtroom. In the film, she seems steeped in all of the trial records.

She seemed to be attacking the courage of the Jewish people, collectively: It is almost impossible to imagine the impact of her reporting on Jewish survivors little more than a decade after the Holocaust’s end—and on Israelis in a tiny, besieged nation still trying to establish itself. A key section in her reporting criticized officials in European Jewish councils during the Holocaust for cooperating with Nazi transports to the death camps. To this day, scholars continue to study this question and to rebuke Arendt’s implication that these Jewish leaders did not do enough to try to save their people.

In the film: This is one of the strong points in the movie. We come away from the film, on balance, thinking that Arendt was indeed far too arrogant in the section of her reporting that seemed to attack Jewish leaders during the Holocaust. In a number of scenes, we see how—by sheer force of her considerable personality—she convinced The New Yorker editors to publish that incendiary section (about 10 pages out of 300 pages). In the film, Arendt is allowed to defend herself on this point but we do come away regarding this point as part of the tragedy of her life. She truly was out of her depth in making some of these charges and she paid for that over-reaching in her book with death threats and criticism that haunted her final decade.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: If you care about the course of peacemaking and global justice, since World War II, you must know something about Hannah Arendt. This film is absolutely compelling: For a docu-drama about a sophisticated intellectual, you certainly won’t want to stir until it’s over. Critics who have slammed this film—and there are some—see it as a shameful defense of a woman they still regard as an evil figure on the world stage. Critics who praise this film—and I am among them—see it as a fascinating cinematic introduction into the most important point Arendt was trying to make: that the nature of evil in the world is changing dramatically in our modern era. In her view, we may need to look for the bureaucrats in ordinary-looking offices to unearth the true monsters in this new age.

As The Paris Review pointed out earlier this year, this point should not be missed or overshadowed in the midst of the related controversies about Arendt. Robert Lowell termed her portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” and Bruno Bettelheim said it was the best protection against “dehumanizing totalitarianism.”

The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott made the same point in his review, which praises the film for raising awareness of her life: “We may need her example more than ever. It’s probably too much to hope that Ms. von Trotta and her star, Barbara Sukowa, will do for Arendt what Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep did for Julia Child, but surely a fellow can dream.”

I urge you to see this film yourself; I urge you to see it with friends; I urge you to acquaint yourself with the life and work of Hannah Arendt. You will be a better peacemaker for the effort.


The New York Times Review of Books just published two commentaries on Hannah Arendt and Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Watch filmmaker Claude Lanzmann: First, if you have read this far in the review, then you will want to know that Lanzmann’s most famous documentary on the Holocaust is now on sale for American viewers in Blu-ray as: Shoah (Criterion Collection). If you follow Holocaust studies, then you know his epic film has been hard to find for American viewing for many years. It’s expensive, but—again, if you are fascinated by this era or your work involves reflecting on the Holocaust for students or for readers—buy a copy of the Criterion Collection set right now. It may go out of print; other Criterion titles have. Then, continue to watch for news on Lanzmann, because he already is showing his latest production, The Last of the Unjust, a documentary that focuses on Theresienstadt and already is being described as a rebuke of Hannah Arendt.

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

News about authors Rabbi Robert Alper and Lynne Meredith Golodner

AT READ THE SPIRIT, we appreciate hearing from journalists who are covering news related to our authors. We like to showcase your media coverage and provide links back to your original work. Here are several recent news items about authors published by Read the Spirit Books.

‘A Potent Dose of Laughter’

Rabbi Alper is the author of Thanks. I Needed That—a book of real-life stories that readers nationwide will be hearing more about in September. Nicolette Milholin writes about Alper’s book in the Montgomery News, which is part of the Journal Register company of newspapers and websites. She writes, in part: “Author Robert Alper knows exactly how important a potent dose of laughter can be. In his new book—aptly titled Thanks. I Needed That.—Alper shares inspiring stories from his life as a rabbi and stand-up comic.” Please, read Nicolette’s entire column, which includes an interview with Alper.

Lynne Meredith Golodner:
‘Food and Faith Intersect’

Lynne Meredith Golodner’s new The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads was just featured in The Detroit Free Press by Food Writer Susan Selasky. Susan used the occasion of Ramadan to connect with a chapter in Lynne’s book about Muslim bread baking. The book also has stories and recipes about breads from many religious groups, including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Native American traditions. In the Free Press, Susan made that very point, writing in part: “Ramadan isn’t the only time faith and food intersect. In her new book, The Flavors of Faith, Lynne Meredith Golodner explores the cultural and communal aspects of breads across many faiths.” Please, read Susan’s entire column, which also includes some wonderful photos of Muslim cooks and traditional recipes.

Lynne Meredith Golodner:
‘Soulful Recipes and Food Stories’

Thanks, also, to Motown Savvy columnist Carla Schwartz for a hearty endorsement of Lynne’s book to her online audience. Under a headline, Spiritual Musings, Carla recommended a whole array of Read The Spirit features including our new Feed The Spirit department, written by food writer Bobbie Lewis. Carla calls our overall online magazine: “innovative, fresh and cross-cultural.” Of Lynne’s work, Carla writes: “I look forward to more soulful recipes and food stories.” Please, read Carla’s entire column.

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

Celebrate with our authors Debra Darvick and Joe Grimm!

AT READ THE SPIRIT, we celebrate great authors every week. From N.T. Wright and Barbara Brown Taylor to Jimmy Carter and Eileen Flanagan—we have published hundreds of book reviews and author interviews. Today, it’s time to celebrate with two of our own authors, published by Read the Spirit Books.

Named among ‘Best Detroit Writers’

Thanks go to southeast Michigan CBS affiliate, Channel 62, and to regional arts writer Romero Anton Montalban-Anderssen for including Debra Darvick in the new “Best Local Authors in Detroit.” In this part of the U.S., news media use “Detroit” to describe the whole metro-Detroit region. Montalban-Anderssen chose a diverse short list, including the author of a children’s novelty book and the creator of a fictional veterinarian-detective. Read the Spirit Books publishes Debra Darvick’s highly praised This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy. Each week, you also can enjoy Debra’s columns in her own section of our Read the Spirit magazine.

Hot dog! Multi-talented author honored for covering Coneys

Coney Detroit by Katherine Yung and Read the Spirit author Joe Grimm, has won the bronze medal for regional adult non-fiction in ForeWord Reviews’ book-of-the-year competition. ForeWord was founded as a trade review journal to cover the independent, alternative, university and self-publishing industries. Coney Detroit covers the history, lore and people of Detroit’s signature food, the coney island hot dog. Coney islands are great equalizers where people from all walks of life can sit side by side and enjoy a steamed bun, a natural casing hot dog, beanless chili, diced onion and yellow mustard. The book features more than 120 color photographs by a dozen photographers and is based on interviews with many of the principal figures in the coney business. The book was published by Wayne State University Press. All author and photographer royalties are being donated to the Gleaners Food Bank of Southeast Michigan.

Joe Grimm also is nationally known as an educator, columnist and consultant in journalism. As a professor in the Michigan State University School of Journalism, Joe has developed innovative projects involving journalism students to produce books with Read the Spirit.