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

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

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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

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

In presenting the award, Montoya said:

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

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

Then, Mason rose to accept the award and said:

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

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

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

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

George was interrupted by applause.

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

Interrupted by warm laughter.

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

Interrupted by applause.

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

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

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

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

Applause.

Care to learn more?

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

 

Timely help for all of us: Mindy Corporon talks about spiritual and emotional resilience in the wake of tragedy in Kansas City

Talking about reclaiming “hope” at a 10th anniversary—and in the wake of fresh shootings

By HOWARD BROWN
Author of Shining Brightly

My podcast is heading toward 100,000 downloads—which means I feel a deep responsibility to my listeners around the world, each week, to continue providing inspiration and keys to resilience and hope.

Especially in the wake of fresh wounds from shootings in Kansas City, I am providing this special, slightly longer, podcast No. 68 with a woman who knows a great deal about living with such scars: Mindy Corporon.

In introducing Mindy for this podcast, I say, “We have to deal with the darkness in our lives to shine brightly once again. … Mindy Corporon is the co-founder of Workplace Healing and the Human Recovery Platform. She helps employers transform how they support an employee experiencing a life disruption.” And, she is the author of her own memoir about finding resilience after deep trauma, Healing a Shattered Soul.

Mindy is pursuing this work, today, because her own life was transformed by the savage attack by an antisemitic mass shooter who killed her father and her son outside a Jewish center near Kansas City—even though her family is not Jewish.

As we share Mindy’s wisdom about such tragedies in the podcast, I say, “Mindy, I hope that we are honoring their memory by speaking of them today.” We both felt emotional and humbled, because we were talking about that attack at the 10th anniversary—and yet we found ourselves once again needing to talk about coping with a mass shooting in Kansas City.

“It feels like yesterday and it feels like forever ago,” Mindy said. Those memories now are an indelible part of her life. “This changed the trajectory of where I would go in my life over the past 10 years.”

You can listen to this inspiring and wisdom-filled podcast right here:

 

Toast New Year 2024 with 10 Resolutions Guaranteed to Light Up This Dark Winter

In 2023, Laura Elizabeth participated in an author event at a winery in her part of the U.S. We thought this photograph from that event was a perfect way to illustrate both the New Year’s spirit—and the bright spirits our authors spark through their books. (Curious about that winery event? Here’s that news story from August.)


In 2024, start reading and you’ll find your spirits lifting!

Consider these 10 Resolutions from our Authors

For our 2024 New Year’s issue of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, we are sharing some New Year’s Resolutions from our nationwide community of authors. We did not have to ask these writers to send us “new” resolutions—because virtually all of our authors hope their books will make our world—and our lives—just a little better. That means—in the pages of their books—they’re offering readers wisdom about everything from finding happiness to peacemaking.

And, you’re right. That natural instinct to help readers makes these authors’ books very valuable. All you have to do is get a copy—and start reading—to find your spirits lifting. AND, as you read the following Resolutions—consider how timely these suggestions are today in 2024, even though some of them were expressed years ago.

If you agree, please share this column with friends this week via social media or email. That simple act of sharing this column might surprise you with the appreciation you’ll receive in response!

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1.) Befriend a stranger.

The Story: In 2023, Laura Elizabeth proved that the heart of a popular cozy mystery is not the crime itself—it’s the circle of friends who come together to help their community get through that crisis. That’s why there’s not a dry eye among Laura’s readers when a little boy named Jacob says in her novel’s final pages: “I don’t usually have a lot of friends, but I really hoped it might be true here.”

The New Year’s Resolution: In 2024, reach out to someone who might otherwise remain a stranger in your workplace or community—and make a new friend.

To read more about Jacob—and the entire creative, lovable circle of friends on Mongin Island, get a copy of Laura’s All Is Now Lost: A cozy mystery rooted in the South Carolina Lowcountry


2.) Look for beauty in our differences.

The Story: For decades, interfaith peacemaker, educator and peace activist Brenda Rosenberg has been building bridges across some of the world’s widest and deepest chasms—including those that often separate Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The New Year’s Resolution: In 2024, pray that our senses will be attuned to look for beauty, not in the sameness of the people and cultures we already know—but in the differences we discover among our new friends.

To read more about how Brenda brings people together across these chasms—and to find Brenda’s entire page-length Prayer for Peace—get a copy of her Reuniting the Children of Abraham.

 


3.) Listen more than we talk.

The story: Throughout his long life as a pastor, counselor, teacher and author, Benjamin Pratt has emphasized that we discover far more when we listen carefully to others, before sharing our own stories. In fact, in his popular Guide for Caregivers, Ben writes an entire chapter titled Talking Honestly; Listening Intently, which includes this sage advice: “The number one attribute and gift of a good listener is not the ear—it is the heart. A good listener has a loving, hospitable heart.”

The New Year’s Resolution: May we listen with an open heart more often than we rush to speak.

To read more about Benjamin Pratt’s inspiring ideas for our nation’s millions of caregivers, get a copy of his Guide for Caregivers, a book full of interactive wisdom for those of us who serve our families and communities each day.


4.) Watch out online this year!

The story: The “Dean of Jewish preachers” Rabbi Jack Riemer has preached scores of “new year” sermons at Rosh Hashanah throughout his long career leading congregations and teaching other Jewish leaders the craft of preaching and creative writing. In one of his most popular New Year’s sermons, Jack reminds people that we all too often abandon our best hospitable instincts when we log into our computers. He offers a prayer that says in part: “May we live as human beings who are created in the image of God, and not as creatures that are made in the image of the machine.” Wow! That’s a pretty insightful prayer, isn’t it?

The Resolution: As Jack himself puts it—in 2024, “may we guard our tongues—and guard our mice!”

To read more about Jack’s best holiday sermons—including the entire prayer for guarding our lives online—get a copy of his Finding God in Unexpected Places: Wisdom for Everyone from the Jewish Tradition.


5.) Try Writing Poetry

The story: Lucille Sider, the clinical psychologist and clergywoman who wrote a memoir about coping with deep-seated trauma, advises readers to turn to poetry to pour out some of our deepest pain, yearning and hope. “After writing a poem, a deep peace settles over me,” she writes.

The Resolution: Write a poem this year. (You may discover you like the feeling, whether anyone reads your poetry or not, and wind up writing many.)

To read more about Lucille’s remarkable resilience in living with trauma and resulting mental illness, get a copy of her memoir Light Shines in the Darkness.


6.) Pay attention to our ‘better angels’

The story: Many of our readers will recognize that phrase as one of Abraham Lincoln’s most enduring words of advice from his first inaugural address. That’s also one of the most powerful phrases stressed in Lincoln-scholar Duncan Newcomer’s book 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln believed that pausing to remember thankfully all that we have received in our lives is one of the surest ways to hear those “better angels” calling.

The Resolution: In 2024, pause before responding to a challenging situation—especially one that involves conflict—and listen carefully to those “better angels” who continue to speak to us, Lincoln said, through “the mystic chords of memory.”

To read more about the relevance of Lincoln’s wisdom for us today, get a copy of Duncan Newcomer’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—and you may want to find inspiration this year with our entire array of “30 Days” books.


7.) Confront racism

The story: There’s no way to avoid racism in America, writes scholar and educator Anni K. Reinking in her memoir. That’s true, even though political leaders in some regions are trying to erase the subject from our public schools and other institutions. In her wise, personal account of navigating racial attitudes, Annie challenges readers to realize that there is no way to avoid these complex issues. So, she wisely asks: Why not make a positive commitment this year to learn more about what each of us can do to overcome racism?

The Resolution: Welcome opportunities to learn about race and racism in America.

To read more about Reinking’s story—and her helpful research about racial attitudes—get a copy of Not Just Black and White.


8.) Share hope with others

The story: Sharing love and hope “is not an option. It’s not a hobby. It’s our purpose here as we walk the earth.” That’s how Howard Brown closes his inspiring memoir, Shining Brightly, which shares true stories about everything from overcoming stage IV cancer—not once, but twice—and finding success as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur as well. “While it may sound like a burden, that call to spread love and happiness turns out to be the key to our own happiness as well,” Howard writes.

The Resolution: Each day, find a way to share hope in a loving way with someone you encounter.

To read more about Howard’s wisdom for resilience in the face of cancer, overcoming the huge challenges of entrepreneurship and building bridges of peace in our world today, visit Howard’s Shining Brightly website. There you’ll find a link to buy his book and—you’ll find links to his weekly podcast that has attracted an audience of thousands around the world.

 


9.) Connect with a congregation

The Story: As surprising as this sounds to many people, a quarter of a century of research around the world shows that connecting with a congregation on a regular basis is a powerful predictor of health and wellbeing. That’s due to four influences explained in the 10th chapter of our book Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging. Chapter 10 is simply titled “Connecting with a Congregation” and has turned out to be the most-shared chapter of that book, which was written through the collaborative efforts of more than a dozen experts from around the world.

The Resolution: Connect with a congregation of your choice.

To read more about these remarkable “gifts and challenges,” get a copy of Now What? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of AgingOf course, that includes the very popular Chapter 10 and the details on those four influences that make most congregations centers of health and wellbeing.


10.) Remember—We’re ‘Always Arriving’

The story: This final, wise Resolution comes from the late Dr. Cheryl El-Amin, Ph.D., LMSW, who died in 2019. For many years, she and her husband Imam Abdullah El-Amin were two of the most important Muslim leaders based in Detroit. Beyond their beloved Muslim Center congregation in Detroit, the El-Amins both were involved in many interfaith organizations. This year, we also mourned the loss of Imam El-Amin, who followed his wife in death in March 2023. But, to remind us of their tireless commitment to peace, we still have some of Cheryl El-Amin’s wisdom in a collection of inspiring stories published under the title Friendship & Faith.

The Resolution: Never stop doing good work, even when we think we’ve done enough! (Cheryl El-Amin taught from the Quran that God wants us to: “Keep working hard, because … you never really arrive in life. You’re always arriving—G’d willing.”)

To read more about WISDOM’s remarkable collection of true stories about unexpected friendships, get a copy of the group’s book Friendship & Faith, subtitled: The WISDOM of women creating alliances for peace.


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Our Hearts Are Heavy, but We Must Keep Sharing Our Light with Others

That’s me with the late Samantha Woll (in the middle) and Kari Alterman, then-Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Detroit, at an event in 2014 promoting peace and combatting antisemitism. At that time, Samantha was an AJC board member and I was president of the board.

‘They hate me—but they don’t even know me.’

By HOWARD BROWN
Author of Shining Brightly

Our world is imploding and exploding—all at the same time.

Where I live in the Midwest, we still are reeling from the trauma of two vulnerable neighbors murdered in their homes—and, yes, we are mourning them like true neighbors.

On October 14 near Chicago, 6-year-old Wadea al-Fayoume was brutally killed (and his mother Hanaan Shahin was severely injured) by an Islamophobic landlord—and on October 21 my friend Samantha Woll, a prominent Jewish and interfaith leader in Michigan, was murdered in her Detroit home.

Initially, Samantha’s death was reported around the world as a potential antisemitic hate crime, since religious and racial hate crimes are at an all time high in the United States. Detroit Police investigators now say the crime likely was not a hate crime—but the shockwave has convulsed the entire southeast Michigan interfaith community, nevertheless.

Samantha was “our friend,” so many of our Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other neighbors have been publicly saying in notes of sorrow and tribute, ever since her death.

One of our mutual friends—the Rev. Kenneth Flowers, who is nationally known as one of Detroit’s most influential African-American pastors—told The Detroit Free Press this weekend:

“We were just devastated,” Flowers, whose work has been influenced by Coretta Scott King, said of Woll. “She left a legacy of bringing people together, whether it was Blacks and Jews, Muslims and Jews. … She was just a loving person, a kind person, someone who I could see as a major leader of Black Jewish relations going forward. It’s just a tragedy, but I believe her light will shine again because when we come together, Blacks and Jews and Muslims and Jews, it will cause her light to illuminate.” 

Our unique interfaith community is respected around the world because of our remarkable diversity, originally fueled in the early 20th century by the auto industry. We are known for our long history of building resilient, long-lasting relationships. One reason so many people knew Samantha across this region was that she served as the board president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit.

In the wake of Samantha’s death, public gatherings in her memory have drawn crowds of people from every race and religious background. Those gatherings have included dozens of writers who have contributed to www.ReadTheSpirit.com magazine, and Front Edge Publishing books, over the past 16 years.

So, this week, all of our ReadTheSpirit community of readers and writers are taking a moment from our regular weekly coverage to reflect on the challenge we all face of confronting hate—and renewing our hope and constructive community relationships even in the midst of horror, violence and sorrow.

Before Samantha’s death, I already had decided to devote the 50th episode of my Shining Brightly podcast to this theme. The ongoing wars between Russia and Ukraine and Israel and Gaza— overlaid with alarming FBI reports of the all-time-high level of hate crimes across the U.S.—have been a spiritual, emotional and moral weight on my shoulders.

Perhaps your heart is heavy, too.

You can listen to my reflection, below, in my Podcast Episode 50, as I talk through these challenges and offer some helpful suggestions for re-engaging in our vitally important interfaith work.

Also, today, please look below for several of the resources our community of writers have published, as we have worked together for many years.

Please consider ordering one of those books to lighten your heart, this week (all of them are inspiring and packed with constructive ideas). And please share this column with friends via social media to spread this light just a little farther into our often all-too-dark world.

Here’s Podcast No. 50:

Remember, I recorded this message before Samantha’s death, but ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm nevertheless urged me to share it as part of this special issue today:

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And Now, Please Take a Step With Us—
Shine a Little Light

As I said, above, please consider ordering one of the following books to lighten your heart—all of them include practical advice as well as inspiring stories. And please share this column with friends via social media to spread this light just a little farther into our often all-too-dark world.

Want to meet many of Samantha Woll’s friends? Many of the women with which Samantha worked in Michigan’s interfaith community contributed stories to Friendship and Faithwhich is available from Amazon in paperback or in an inexpensive Kindle edition as well that you can start reading right away. This is a book about making friends, which may be the most important thing you can do to make the world a better place, and transform your own life in the process.

Want to meet some of Samantha Woll’s spiritual heroes? Get a copy of Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers, which also is available in paperback and in Kindle. Buttry is an internationally known peacemaker and interfaith trainer who worked for many years in some of the world’s most dangerous hot spots—but Dan’s home base is the same southeast Michigan community where Samantha lived and worked. In Blessed Are the Peacemakers, Dan shares inspirational profiles of men and women whose light continues to shine every day in our world.

Want advice on “unplugging extremism”? Award-winning journalist Bill Tammeus lost a close relative in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and writes about the long legacy of such trauma in families in his memoir, Love, Loss and EnduranceThen, he concludes his book with a practical list of ways each of us can contribute to “unplugging extremism.”

Want help rediscovering your resilience after a traumatic loss? Mindy Corporon now is helping people nationwide cope with trauma and lingering grief. Her memoir is Healing a Shattered SoulMindy also is Founder and Co-CEO of Workplace Healing, which offers a series of programs and online tools to help people coping with these issues in their workplace.

And finally: Want to learn practical ways to keep shining your light—even in the face of catastrophic challenges? Please, order a copy of my own book, Shining Brightlywhich is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions via Amazon.

I speak to audiences nationwide on these themes regularly—both through my weekly podcast and in person at conferences, retreats and other events. Because I want to be as practical and helpful as I can in sharing ways to restore your resilience and hope—I also offer three free “downloads” that you can get on this page of my website. (Just scroll down on that page and look at the dark-blue box marked “DOWNLOADS.”)

Currently, I am offering three, free guides related to today’s column:

  • Mentorship: Why should we become mentors?
  • Survivorship: Keys to resiliency when confronting cancer?
  • Interfaith Bridge Building: Why do this work?

Yes, you can make a difference!

Throughout my life—and nearly every week today—I’ve seen small actions lead to remarkable outcomes. So, if you’ve read this far, become a part of this movement. In fact, I’ll give you a preview of something to look for in coming months.

The truth is that peace and understanding come from getting to know other people—just as I am inviting you to do throughout this column, today. Once we start learning about each other’s stories, those ugly and hateful instincts begin to fade. Each of us can choose not to hate.

That kind of healthy community often is just one new friend away.

Already, I am planning a future podcast that will take this week’s theme—”They hate me—and they don’t even know me”—and will turn it around with the headline:

“They love me—because they got to know me.”

C’mon: The first step to getting involved in our community is to connect with one of our writers through our books. We’re all hoping to hear from you.

I know for a fact: What I call Shining Brightly is a force multiplier for good in our troubled world.

May Samantha’s name and memory be only for a blessing for all who knew and loved her.

Peggy Fletcher Stack and Kathleen Peterson invite families to explore ‘A World of Faith’

Click on the cover to visit the Amazon page for the expanded Second Edition of this book.


“An attractive, sensitively written book that can help young people better understand their playmates and neighbors who may be of different faiths. Such an approach today helps ensure peace and cooperation tomorrow in our ever more diverse society.”
Joan Brown Campbell

“The concise, descriptive text and beautiful illustrations provide an informative and entertaining resource to help children—and adults—understand the diversity as well as the similarity of the world’s religions.”
Jimmy Carter


It’s a inspiring, eye-opening ‘family gift’ for the holidays!

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Have you already started your holiday shopping this year? A World of Faith is the perfect gift for individuals young and old—especially for families who welcome learning more about the inspiring, colorful diversity of our world’s many faith traditions. The moment I opened my copy of this gorgeous hardcover book, I was in awe of Kathleen Peterson’s full-page interpretations of the religious communities I have covered as a journalist all my life.

I should not have been surprised by the high quality of this book, because it was written and developed by Pulitzer-prize-winning religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack, who also currently is the Executive Director of the International Association of Religion Journalists. I’m honored to call her a friend and to work closely with her on the IARJ’s efforts to increase awareness of religious diversity around the world.

So, our interview about her book started on what might seem to be an odd note: the illustrations.

“What I fell in love with right away were the illustrations,” I told Peggy. “Your accompanying text about each religious group is masterful, but what makes this book so fascinating—so compelling that you just have to sit down and explore each page—are those illustrations.”

“I’m glad you’re going to emphasize the wonderful illustrations,” Peggy said. “This idea for this book began with a suggestion by a friend at The Salt Lake Tribune, cartoonist Pat Bagley, who suggested that I work on a children’s book about world religions with each page opening to show an illustration and some text going from A to Z as readers turned the pages. At the time he made this suggestion, Kathleen Peterson was looking for a project. This all came together in A World of Faith.”

“How should we describe Kathleen’s illustrations in words?” I asked Peggy. “I’m going to include the book’s cover with this column, so they can see one illustration—but, how do you describe the style that readers will find throughout the book?”

“First, they are paintings,” she said. “They look like batiks. In the center of each illustration are some people doing something that’s a part of that particular faith—maybe they’re getting married or we see the Eucharist or something else is going on in their faith community. In the background of each illustration is some kind of structure—like a church, a synagogue or a tent—and around the border are symbols of that faith. Kathleen spent as much time researching the illustrations as I did working on the text for each page.”

Make Sure You’re Ordering the Second Edition

The link with this column (above) will take you to the Amazon page for the expanded “Second Edition,” which was released in the final days of 2022, so it still is relatively new book as we near the 2023 year-end holidays.

Copies of the original, shorter version of this book, first published in the late 1990s, still are floating around the world, including on Amazon where some resellers are offering used copies of that first edition. Instead, we’re urging readers to get the new Second Edition.

“The first edition was more focused on Christianity,” Peggy explained.

That’s because the idea was shaped by a question from Peggy’s young son. As a family, they had just attended a colorful, annual Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartan service in Salt Lake City. “And, my son asked me about the differences between the different Christian denominations. He wanted to know: What makes Baptists and Catholics and Presbyterians—and all the other denominations—different from each other?”

So, that first edition was partly an answer to her son’s question.

“But then I became very involved with the International Association of Religion Journalists and I realized that I needed to expand the faith traditions in a Second Edition,” Peggy explained. “Because the IARJ has members—journalists who cover religion all around the world—I was able to ask our colleagues to help check the summaries I was writing to go along with Kathleen’s illustrations.”

What’s in the book?

In addition to Kathleen’s illustrations, you will find two paragraphs on each facing page, researched and written by Peggy, then vetted for accuracy by a wide array of scholars and journalists who are knowledgeable about these faiths.

I asked Peggy to describe the style of these texts.

“The opening paragraph is about the origins and founding of that faith group and the second paragraph is about common practices: baptism, bar mitzvah, wedding practices, anything that would make that faith seem more common to readers and also more distinct,” Peggy said.

“And the reading level?”

“We estimate the text is about 5th or 6th grade, but here’s the irony: I’ve heard from a lot of adults who love this book. A lot of people want to know just this much about religion—an illustration and a couple of paragraphs. There are hundreds of big books that go into great depth about religion available on Amazon. But, if you are interested more in a taste of the diversity of world religions, then this book is what you want.”

I agree entirely. The book covers a huge array of religious groups, including: Anglican, Baha’i, Catholic, Daoist, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon—and all the way through to Zoroastrian. This won’t make you an expert on world religions, but it will orient you to the many branches of faith that are a living part of our global culture today.

A Universal Call to Compassion

As a life-long professional journalist, like Peggy, I have specialized in covering religious and cultural diversity—so I was not surprised by the array of sacred practices and spiritual wisdom I found in these pages. I was impressed that she has included African and Native American traditions. I also can confirm that Peggy’s and Kathleen’s work is accurate in distilling the information down into an astonishingly small space.

One of the truths most readers will discover in these pages is that not all faith traditions identify what Americans think of as “God”—the Abrahamic idea of a single God—as the core of their beliefs. All of these traditions do, indeed, believe that there is a powerful spiritual realm in life—a transcendent core to our experience in the cosmos or, we might say, a universal calling to respect each other as human beings.

But that’s my way of summarizing the book’s central themes—so I asked Peggy for her summary, as well.

Peggy said, “I can tell you that writing this book was deeply inspiring to me. As I worked on it, and now that it’s out in the world, people always ask me: ‘What do they all have in common?’ And that’s not easy to answer because these faiths are not all monotheistic. Some traditions have multiple gods; some traditions do not even say there is a ‘God’ or that there are ‘gods.’

“What they do share is a belief in something outside of human existence. We might agree to use the word ‘divine’ to describe that ‘something outside of us.’ These traditions all have rituals and practices that they believe can somehow connect the human and the divine. And, when we do connect, what does this divine want of us? These traditions share a belief that this other sphere of existence, what we might call the divine, wants humanity to embody compassion and to follow ethical behavior toward each other on our planet.

“I found myself very moved by all the different faiths and the different ways that what many of us call God is expressed in our world. This book gives me hope—and my hope now is that children and parents and grandparents and teachers will be moved toward hope as they explore these pages.”

 

 

 

In ‘We Survived the End of the World,’ Native American author Steven Charleston urges readers to become prophets of hope

Steven Charleston (Photo provided by the author for this story.)


Like Native American prophets voicing hope in the midst of trauma, Charleston asks us—

‘I hope you will see this as a personal invitation to join me and millions of others.’


By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine

Are you afraid our world is ending?

Polls show that millions of Americans are fearful of the growing effects of climate change, of the rising tide of violence in many forms, of the impact of “wars and rumors of wars” and of the threats to democracies in many parts of our world. A vast number of us living on the planet share a growing sense that an irreversible “apocalypse” is on the horizon that is likely to change the lives of our children and grandchildren.

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

That also means millions of us are wondering: Where is hope?

The venerable Native American theologian, teacher and author Steven Charleston reminds us that there are neighbors living among us across North America who—as resilient communities of people—already have survived an apocalypse. His new book is aptly titled, We Survived the End of the World—Lessons from Native America on Apocalypse and Hope.

Just to be clear about this book’s focus: Charleston is referring to the relentless North American genocidal campaign waged by European immigrants against this continent’s original communities. That genocide has ranged from outright murder to the theft of homelands to the long-term policies in the U.S. and Canada of kidnapping Native children and sending them to brutal (and sometimes deadly) boarding schools that attempted to wipe away all memories of their families and their cultures.

In the opening pages of what may be the most important book he has ever written, Charleston writes, “Native American culture in North America has been through the collapse of civilization and lived to tell the tale. My goal is to investigate how my ancestors were able to do that—and what their experience can teach all of us who are living in uncertain times.”

Then, to be clear on a second point: Charleston is saying that our earth already is in the midst of cataclysmic change.

In 2021, our publishing house launched the book God Is Just Love, subtitled Building Spiritual Resilience and Sustainable Communities for the Sake of Our Children and Creation. In that book, author Ken Whitt, a nationally known Christian pastor and educator, wrote about the kinds of knowledge families should be sharing right now about grassroots health, well-being, spiritual practices and resilience because—in Ken’s view—the whole world already is moving through a catastrophic tipping point. In fact, in his book, Ken, who is not Native American, urges his readers to learn from our Native American neighbors about survival in this time of turbulence.

Now, in this new book, Steven Charleston—the former Episcopal Bishop of Alaska, an elder in the Choctaw Nation and a widely quoted Native voice in American media—is saying the same thing.

“Apocalypse is what we are living through,” he writes in his opening pages. “It is the coming true of our worst fears.” We already have crossed enough environmental trigger points that devastating storms and other ecological disasters will continue to unfold—unsettling millions upon millions of new refugees with each passing decade.

The great value that Charleston provides in his new book is what Ken Whitt—and many other wise writers and scholars—have been urging us to consider over the past decade: Charleston has filled this book with Native American wisdom on how a people and a culture can hope to survive the end of one’s world.

This new book shares the visionary wisdom of four real-life Native American prophets—all of whom have living legacies within Native communities—plus wisdom from the entire sweep of Hopi culture—plus, a final call to action from Charleston’s own wisdom as a prophetic elder. In less than 200 pages, Charleston has given us a crash course on this broad-base of indigenous wisdom—from a total of seven Native sources—that will be fresh news to the vast majority of American readers.

‘Cracking open the ability of people to cross boundaries’

The first step toward finding hope and building resilient communities is a clear vision expressed in an honest message.

In our interview, I summarized for Charleston how I was going to open this column. I asked him if I was accurately conveying what he hoped to achieve in this book.

“Yes,” he said, “I am saying that we’re already deep into the midst of change and, now, each of us could play a prophetic role.”

I replied, “So, by using that word ‘prophet’ to describe these great Native American sages in your book—you’re not using that word to describe someone who can predict the future. I find that a lot of Americans confuse the word ‘prophet’ with some kind of ‘futurist’ or ‘psychic’ or ‘seer.’ Your ‘prophets’ are people who are speaking important truths about the catastrophic eras in which they find themselves, right?”

“Yes,” he said again. “When I invite people to become prophets, I am literally asking them to accept the reality we can see in our world today—and then tell others honestly what we see. I’m trying to crack open the ability of people to cross boundaries and to talk to one another and share what they are seeing in the real world around us. That is the prophetic experience that those of us living in an apocalyptic time are trying to develop.”

I countered: “But our readers might ask, ‘How can you expect me—an ordinary, flawed, stressed-out person—to be as prophetic as you are with all of your academic degrees and experiences as a leader? How can we aspire to be prophets?’ Our readers might complain, ‘We’re way too flawed as individuals!'”

Then, Charleston summarized a central theme of his book in a few sentences: “We have to understand that the kinds of prophets I’m talking about don’t start out as anyone special. A person who becomes a prophet is often reluctant to be chosen for this role. Initially, they may not want to carry this burden. The prophets I’m writing about were everyday persons who transformed from the clay of their everyday lives into rather extraordinary people we remember today.”

Christians and Jews who have studied their scriptures are familiar with this foundational truth about the ancient “prophets” we share: Many were reluctant, most had obvious flaws and some were widely disregarded by their neighbors for most of their lives.

When I made that point in our interview, Charleston responded: “You’re not going far enough in your description. Some prophets actually were reviled because of their past behavior. The story of a prophet is a person who—despite those flaws, despite those mistakes and despite whatever their neighbors think about them—begins to speak truthfully about what they are seeing in the world around them. As they begin to speak, they find that their vision is something that they simply cannot contain. Their message must come out.”

Charleston continued, “That’s the key thing to understand about prophets: It’s something that any one of us can become. That’s why my invitation at the end of the book makes sense. With the right time, the right circumstance and the right depth of faith, any one of us can stand up and proclaim what we believe to be the reality of our situation—and we may find that others will share that vision.”

‘People who were broken or confused find themselves transformed’

In this column, we won’t cover all of the seven prophetic figures profiled in Charleston’s book—four individuals and then the Hopi nation as a whole, plus some of Charleston’s own prophetic reflections.

But here’s a good example of a major Native American prophet with a living legacy today: the Seneca spiritual leader whose name is rendered in many ways today.

He’s called Ganiodaiio in Charleston’s English rendering of his original name—or sometimes his name is spelled as Sganyodaio, Ganioda’yo, Skanatalihyo, Conudiu or, as Wikipedia has literally translated his name: Handsome Lake. In at least one other new book about Native American religious groups, his chapter is titled by none of those names but by the word “Longhouse,” because his teachings mainly are preserved by followers of the larger Iroquois Confederacy, also known as “People of the Long House.”

“How do you pronounce this prophet when you talk about him to audiences?” I asked Charleston.

“I’m not a Seneca speaker, but I pronounce his name gah-nee-oh-DAY-oh,” he said. “His legacy is long and I think it is very important for readers—especially readers who are non-Native—to understand that we are talking about a living religion that still is being practiced. His story is not known today to most Americans, nor is his story very well known to all Native people across this continent—but I can say that, across Native America, at least his name is recognized and respected.

“This is such a key point I am making in the book: Our Native culture is not some dusty matter for historians and anthropologists to study. The Native religious world view is an ongoing, contemporary, modern expression of human spirituality—a religious tradition like Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism. We are not a matter of history. I wrote this book to bring awareness that Native people—and our Native religious wisdom—is very contemporary and very future-focused as part of our global dialogue on spirituality.”

He continued, “I am at pains, whenever I write or speak, to tell people that these ancient parts of our indigenous cultures not only have survived, but are continuing to flourish especially as we cross into these difficult times.”

I asked Charleston to give us a very brief summary of this prophet’s life.

“Well, the first thing to understand is that he was a broken man—a person who had just about reached rock bottom in his life largely due to alcoholism. He was restored to health and strength by some mysterious spiritual encounter that released through him a powerful spiritual message that transformed his people. That is the prophetic role we are talking about here throughout all world culture and all of the living faith traditions—people who have been broken or confused or were trying to run away can find themselves transformed by a spiritual force to provide a message that breaks through to the world. This is part and parcel of the apocalyptic experience.”

Avoid ‘the Baloney’ and pick up the ‘seeds’ Charleston is offering

One thing Steven Charleston is not recommending is that non-Native readers try to convert to indigenous cultures. “There are lots of books and programs and retreats by people who claim to have taken the wisdom from Native people and recast it as their own mix of Native American branded herbs or drumming or visions—or whatever else they are selling. And, to all that stuff you can buy from people who aren’t Native American—I say: ‘Avoid all the Baloney!’ Native people don’t want non-Native people to come and appropriate our rituals as their own.

“In this book, I am sharing a deeper wisdom. I wrote this book so that readers—especially non-Native readers—can see that anyone—and I mean anyone from the vastly different cultures around our world—can learn the truth about our tradition. Even though we went through the end of the world, we survived because of the wisdom of our prophets and the strength of our spiritual vision.

“You don’t need to take our rituals. You can find this wisdom, and your own visions, from your own culture. Instead of trying to sell Baloney—I’m trying to inspire prophetic leadership from every community around the world. In this book, I am offering seeds that can give people the confidence they need to avoid hiding in spiritual bunkers as the apocalypse unfolds. I want people to know that there have been crises like this since the time of the Ice Age. Humans have had to deal with apocalyptic crises since the origins of humanity.

“We’re living in an age right now when people are deeply fearful. I want to show people one option they could choose based on Native experience to find new strength. If we do, we can make a real difference. We can prevent this feeling of helplessness and feel, instead, both hope and empowerment.”

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Care to Learn More?

Read our earlier interview with Charleston, headlined: Native American elder Steven Charleston’s ‘Spirit Wheel’ weaves spirituality from ‘common threads of hope and mercy’

Read Steven Charleston’s books! There are so many places to start. This week, we are recommending his newest book: We Survived the End of the World—Lessons from Native America on Apocalypse and Hope.

If you want to dig deeper into Native American reflections on connections between Christian and Native traditions, you’ll also want to read Coming Full Circle—Constructing Native Christian Theology.

Want to learn more about the many other Native American issues our magazine has been covering?

Check out these stories:

Water Walkers series: Carol Trembath debuts her latest Native American book ‘Pass the Feather’

Bill Tammeus on: ‘Land Acknowledgment’ is a first step toward justice for our Native American neighbors

Exposing the horrors of the Indian Boarding Schools: Why we need to read Warren Petoskey’s ‘Dancing My Dream’ now

And: In Native Echoes, Kent Nerburn returns from Indian country with A Liturgy of the Land

 

Sikhs show the world their spiritual commitment to service through “langar” at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Rice served in a langar service, courtesy of Dall-e AI.

By JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism founder of Bias Busters book series

CHICAGO—Sikh people have a wonderful, welcoming tradition that embodies the Sikhi religious value of selfless service. It is called langar and is a combination free kitchen, community meal and act of service.When the Michigan State University Bias Busters class compiled 100 Questions and Answers About Sikh Americans, we did not get to experience a langar because of COVID-19 isolation.

Sikhs entertained langar guests with music and chants. Photo by Joe Grimm used with his permission.

I got my chance during the Parliament of the World’s Religions Aug. 14-18, 2023, in Chicago. Each day of the parliament, there was a mid-day langar. The parliament attracted people from scores of religions and countries. All were welcome to experience a langar meal.

From the class’ work on the Sikh guide, I knew to expect lacto-vegetarian fare. Sikhs may choose to eat meat, but the langar is meatless. This means that Sikhs’ traditional neighbors whose religions forbid or discourage meat may join the langar. Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, embrace vegetarianism in keeping with their belief in nonviolence. The tradition was started 550 years ago by Sikh’s first leader, Guru Nanak. The meal is served for free to all regardless of religion, caste or gender.

A langar is traditionally prepared and served at a Sikh place of worship, called a Gurdwara. This gives members a regular chance to serve. The parliament’s langar was held in a tent set up just outside the McCormick Place convention center.

As at a gurdwara, participants removed their shoes and were fitted with white head scarves. Servers wore white turbans, although Sikh turbans can be of any color or pattern.

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

Guests could either sit on the covered ground or at a table. The meal included green salad, chapati (flatbread), dal (split peas or beans) and a refreshing cucumber dish. It was good, and servers kept plates full. There was also a sweet mango beverage.

One thing I was unprepared for was the large number of servers. Although Sikhi has about 30 million members worldwide, there are fewer than 1 million in the United States and they tend to live on the East and West coasts.

So, I asked my hosts where they live. The first man I asked said in a British accent he had come from the United Kingdom. The next person was also from the U.K. and said 105 had come on this mission the Midwest.

As I left the tent, I thanked one of the people for coming to Chicago to teach us.

A practitioner of selfless service, he said, “Thank you for letting us serve you.” Then he handed me a bottle of water.

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Care to Learn More?

Joe Grimm, the founder of the Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters project, attended the 2023 Parliament and has provided us two stories and colorful photos as well.

FOCUSING ON UKRAINE is a story headlined: 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions shows the peaceful potential of our diverse faith traditions.

FOR MORE ABOUT LANGAR, the Parliament staff posted an overview of this traditional service from the Sikh community.

Click on this image to visit the Amazon page for the Bias Busters series.

Joe Grimm is nationally known for his tireless commitment to diversity through journalism, both in the training and hiring of journalists and in the kinds of stories covered by newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and online publications. When asked to describe the Bias Busters project that Joe founded through the Michigan State University School of Journalism, he writes:

This series springs from the idea that good journalism should increase cross-cultural competence and understanding. Most of our guides are created by Michigan State University journalism students. We use journalistic interviews to surface the simple, everyday questions that people have about each other but might be afraid to ask. We use research and reporting to get the answers and then put them where people can find them, read them and learn about each other.

These cultural competence guides are meant to be conversation starters. We want people to use these guides to get some base-line understanding and to feel more comfortable asking more questions. We put a guide to resources in every guide we make, we arrange community conversations and we are working on a facilitation guide. While the guides can answer questions in private, they are meant to spark discussions.