We’re grieving right now, but our spiritual wisdom calls us not to grieve alone.

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of Read the Spirit magazine

We listen to our readers. We listen to our writers. We listen to friends and family, too. We listen because we truly have formed a community of writers and readers around Read the Spirit magazine’s 750-plus weekly issues. Each week, we hope that our columns contribute to healthy community conversations.

Sitting at the editor’s desk, I listen very carefully. And, over the past week, here is what I heard loud and clear: People are grieving. I counted seven different, significant conversations about grief—one a day.

Why now? Part of this weight is seasonal, culminating each year in the upcoming Memorial weekend. Part of this is the on-gain off-again COVID pandemic, which is playing havoc with our deep desire to gather together once again. In my own family, COVID recently caused the eleventh-hour cancelation of the funeral of a beloved matriarch, because that event was on the verge of becoming a super-spreader event. Part of this season of grief arises from the seemingly endless trauma of our polarized culture—culminating in tragedies like the Buffalo mass shooting. Part of this is an accumulation of daily images of war crimes in Ukraine.

Part of this—

Well, whatever is causing this season of grief—my column today is not about sadness.

This is about resilience.

The most profound of my seven conversations was sparked by a long email from the musician, cancer survivor and patient advocate Elaine Greenberg. This is a woman beloved by thousands across southeast Michigan—a woman who my wife and I have known for decades along with her late husband Shelly. In my nearly five decades as a journalist, I have never met a more creatively resilient person than Elaine—and that’s saying something! She turned life-threatening cancer into an ongoing campaign to help other families touched by cancer. She hosted concerts to raise funds for her causes. Some years ago, I joined with our Publisher John Hile in bringing a group of high school students to Elaine’s home for an impromptu afternoon concert and conversation around her piano—because John and I wanted these young people to experience what a truly resilient life of faith looks like. Elaine dazzled the kids! We shot video of the young people interacting with Elaine that day and a number of those kids, who now are adults themselves, still talk about that inspiring day with Elaine.

What hit me like a brick to the forehead in Elaine’s email was her opening sentence. She wrote that, especially after the tragedy in Buffalo, “I have to admit I am overcome with emotion.”

I thought: Elaine!? The strongest woman in any room is overcome?! Then, in the next few sentences, she proceeded to describe how much sad events this spring have made her ponder the loss of Shelly late last year.

The reason I am telling you Elaine’s story is because of what Elaine wrote next. After sharing her grief with me, Elaine did what our Abrahamic spiritual traditions all teach us to do:

She reached out.

She reached out to me.

She put me on the spot. I could envision her finger pointing right at me, asking for me to help not only her—but all of us who are feeling this same weight this spring.

Why did she ask me to help? “Because I know you have a vast library of books on the subject,” she explained.

Therefore, she concluded, “I am asking you for your recommendations on a well-written book on grieving and related caregiving. If you can recommend anything, it would help.”

And anyone who has ever known Elaine knows what happened next.

I agreed to help.

Five Best Books for Rediscovering Resilience in the Midst of Grief

Here are the five books I most frequently recommend to grieving friends—but before I list them I want to explain why I regularly suggest these books.

At the core of all five books is the Abrahamic wisdom that life should not be lived alone. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all teach that we are made by God to reach out to others. That timeless spiritual resource is built into many customs we all follow in our faiths. After a death, Christians gather for “visitation” and services and often a meal. Jews like Elaine not only gather for services, but also spend days “sitting shiva.” And for Muslims? The care of the dead and the grieving family is truly a community concern. We could quickly expand this lesson to the world’s other great religious traditions, but I know Elaine is waiting for me to get to those recommended books. So, I won’t belabor this interfaith truth.

If you click the following links to visit these books’ Amazon pages, you can learn a whole lot more about the books themselves, the authors, what other readers have said about them. What I am going to share briefly about each book, right here, is my reason for including it in this list.

Rodger Murchison prepares for a television interview about his book. Over the last decade, Rodger has spoken about spiritual resilience in the midst of grief to groups across the U.S., in Latin America and in Europe. (Click on this photo to visit the book’s Amazon page.)

‘Guide for Grief’

The spiritual power of this short book began with the remarkable coincidence of its origin.

Not long after we established this publishing house, Publisher John Hile and I participated in a week-long retreat at Iona Abbey in Scotland. One of the other pilgrims participating in that week was a Southern pastor with a deep, resonant voice who wound up walking into the Iona library on the same morning John and I were sitting at the library’s enormous hardwood table, planning future projects. After a casual greeting among Americans in a distant land, Rodger settled into a seat at the table. His engaging voice and manner immediately moved our conversation to a deeper level. He revealed to us that one reason he was making this pilgrimage to Iona was to prayerfully discern what he should do with a book manuscript, which was based on his many decades of counseling individuals and families through grief.

“I’ve been praying that God would lead me to a publisher,” Rodger said.

In the words of our columnist Suzy Farbman: It was a GodSign.

As he has proven through his worldwide travels, teaching groups about the complex issues surrounding grief, Rodger is—to put it quite simply: “the real deal.” He has the warm personality of down-home pastor, but he also has scholarly credentials that include Princeton and Oxford. He has been invited to lead groups across the U.S., in Latin America and in Europe.

That’s why the first choice for coping with grief—a recommendation all of us in the publishing house team have made repeatedly over the years—is Rodger’s Guide for Grief: Help in surviving the stages of grief and bereavement after a loss.

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‘Never Long Enough’

Click on any of the book covers in this week’s cover story to visit the Amazon pages.

Whenever our publishing house team hears of a friend moving through the process of hospice with a loved one, our first recommendation is a unique book developed by Rabbi Joseph Krakoff, head of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network, and artist Michelle Sider. We specifically recommend the hardcover version of Never Long Enough: Finding comfort and hope amidst grief and loss.

That’s because this book, which might look like a children’s picture book at first glance, actually is designed to have family members of all ages talk about the illustrations and brief texts with their loved one. Many families have added to the book, perhaps jotting notes on the pages about fond memories that arose—or even placing photos or hand-drawn pictures between these covers. If you’re personalizing this book in that way, then you definitely want the hardcover edition so this becomes a “forever book.”

But don’t just take my word for it. One of the most-helpful reviews on the book’s Amazon page describes the experience:

This beautiful book hugs and comforts while reminding the reader of tender and cherished moments. The art of the images and words has created a treasure to cherish and read throughout the process of grieving. Never Long Enough will be a wonderful guide to revisiting special memories over the years for all those we cherish and keep with us in memories. A wonderful guide to help countless people through the human experience that is challenging and necessary. It reminds us that we all have these special remembrances of our loved ones. Everyone who grieves needs to feel comfort and Never Long Enough truly reminds us all that we all have each other and the sadness we feel with loss is meant to be taken carefully as we remember.

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‘Love, Loss and Endurance’
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‘Healing a Shattered Soul’

Whenever our publishing house team hears of people grieving a tragedy as senseless as the Buffalo supermarket shooting, we know that we are grappling with the additional trauma of violent extremism and unthinkable hatred unleashed in our world.

Then, our first two recommendations are:

Bill Tammeus’s Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.

And Mindy Corporon’s Healing a Shattered Soul: My Faithful Journey of Courageous Kindness after the Trauma and Grief of Domestic Terrorism.

Both books are memoirs by authors whose hard-earned wisdom about resiliency in the midst of grief comes in the wake of personal tragedies. Bill is one of the nation’s top journalists specializing in covering the role of religion in our lives. He lost a relative in the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks that were aimed at New York City and Washington D.C. Mindy Corporon now is known nationwide, as well, for several programs she has developed to encourage kindness and resiliency both inside companies and throughout local communities. Mindy’s young son and her father were killed by an antisemitic gunman who randomly attacked people he thought were Jewish in the Kansas City area.

Both authors also explore one of the most important truths about grieving: The process goes on for many years. Long after neighbors, friends and coworkers may have forgotten that you have experienced a death, you’re still remembering. That’s true at least through the next year of “firsts”—first birthday, first anniversary, first holiday seasons. And, as Bill explains so powerfully in his memoir—some families grieve for decades.

Finally, both authors model resiliency in the way their traumas spurred them to community action in many forms. At the end of Bill’s book, for example, readers tell us they are inspired to find his detailed section on “unplugging extremism.” These books take readers on the journey through many forms of grieving—and many forms of hopeful action as a result.

What have readers told us about these books?

Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, Senior Rabbi of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park, Kansas, writes about Mindy’s book:

Each of us will struggle at some time in life. Some of our struggles are monumental as in Mindy’s story. Others are shattering in other ways: a failed relationship, economic downturn, the death of a loved one. Regardless of what causes us to struggle, Healing a Shattered Soul can help us discover what we can do to find a way to crawl through what Psalm 23 calls the “valley of darkness.” As Mindy shares her personal journey, she does not preach at us. Rather, she opens the door so that we can walk alongside her, revealing that loss and love, hurt and healing, faith and freedom all go hand in hand. As she was advised by her pastor to “keep listening,” Healing a Shattered Soul is a must-read for all of us who need to keep listening to find healing and hope in a broken world.

About Bill’s book, best-selling author Brian McLaren emphasizes the importance of Bill’s “unplugging extremism” section:

Near the end of this beautiful, powerful book, author Bill Tammeus offers eight ways that each of us can help build a more peaceful world, less divided and devastated by violence in the name of religion. Those eight insights alone would be worth the price of this book. But by reading the whole story of love, loss and resilience that frame those insights, you will be not only a wiser person but also a more compassionate person as you turn the final page.

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‘Dying Well’

Another book we often recommend to readers struggling with the flood of anxieties, emotions, spiritual questions and decisions surrounding a death is Dying Well: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann.

As a journalist, I connected in various ways with both Jeanie and Bill Wylie-Kellermann over many years. I respected the journalism they each produced in various formats—as well as their public activism in support of faith-and-justice issues. As Jeanie was dying of cancer, I was inspired by the way their family reached deep into their spiritual roots to choose those general approaches and specific rituals that made Jeanie’s passing a community-wide example of grieving that built resilience into each step of the journey.

This book is their story.

A great summary of the book can be found in the first eight words Bill wrote: “This book is verily an event of community.” That choice of “verily,” which evokes memories stretching back to the age of Chaucer, was no accident.

Bill begins by chronicling Jeanie’s robust life and then he shares many equally inspiring stories about the seven-year progress from diagnosis of a glioblastoma until her death. In “verily” on that first page, Bill is signaling to readers that this book is as much about memory as it is about this couple’s cutting-edge, social-justice activism.

Readers have repeatedly praised Dying Well as a profound love story about the two writer-activists who led a tumultuous life at the barricades of many justice issues—and then shared in an equally inspiring quest for healing and eventually after many years a graceful death. Ultimately, though, this book expands into an invitation for readers to remember: Remember a real love story you’ve known of an impassioned couple who became impassioned parents. Remember the best of family life. And remember, when the arc of life is closing its path in this tangible world—remember how loving families used to care for the dying and also the mourners in the humble surroundings of home.

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And so …

AND SO, Elaine, how did I do with this next installment of our conversation?

And to all the others with whom I have spoken about grief over the past week or so, perhaps you will find some resources in these recommendations that may help you.

If you do find these books helpful, please take a moment to visit their Amazon pages and add your own review. That ongoing string of reader reviews becomes another form of conversation that welcomes the whole world into this healing process.

‘Introducing Christian Ethics’ welcomes us with multimedia storytelling

By KEN WILSON
Author of Letter to My Congregation

Say to a pastor, “Let’s talk Christian ethics”—and you’re likely to hear a groan.

Most are inclined to outsource nettlesome ethical discernments to their institutions, sub-consciously careful not to jeopardize their jobs by breaking ranks on red-line issues. The institutions themselves, of course, are wracked by the same toxic forces that paralyze our national ethical discourse, such as it isn’t. (Reinhold Niebuhr observed that individuals often display greater moral maturity than collectives do.) In the evangelical, non-denominational sector I used to inhabit, serious ethical reflection was rare, superficial—in a cynical moment, I might say oxymoronic. I get it: In the modern era, lose-lose ethical debates come at us pastors fast and furious and we have churches to run.

Another challenge: The scholarly discipline of Christian ethics has been dominated by men in my demographic who weigh in with their expertise on matters that do not and never will affect them personally—abortion, marriage equality, women’s rights, racial justice to name the obvious ones. Worse, the same scholars barely acknowledge this remarkably pertinent fact. Following the traditions of academia (and human nature), rarer still is the published Christian ethicist willing to publicly acknowledge that their previous writings on a given subject were flat out wrong.

‘Enter a Breath of Fresh Air’

Enter a breath of fresh air—a guide who treats us like adults: David Gushee and his latest, Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today.

David Gushee is known by pastors for co-authoring (with Glen Stassen) Kingdom Ethics—used in many seminaries for years, and revised in 2016. He first gained my attention as an evangelical ethicist willing to take on the climate-skepticism of his tradition, and then, state-sanctioned torture; his contributions on this issue arguably contributed to a reversal of U.S. government policy. But then David Gushee did something that altered the landscape: wrote Changing Our Mind in 2014, a book that cost him his evangelical bona fides for its advocacy of LGBTQ+ inclusion.

I thought: What’s this?! A well-placed Christian ethicist with the courage to actually pay a personal price for his honesty?!

AN EMOTIONALLY AFFECTING INTRODUCTION TO ETHICS

As a new introduction to Christian ethics, his latest book is singularly engaging in its approach. I confess that reading it was an unexpectedly emotional experience. Gushee reveals himself, at times, with candor. As a reader, I responded by letting my own guard down, to notice how much emotion, how much anguish, how much fear attends the task of engaging in serious ethical reasoning within the contemporary religious-political-cultural context. Laypeople, let alone pastors who are engaged in this work, discover that where one lands on key ethical discernments can lead to increased tensions within families, destabilized friendships, and lost church connections.

The personal impact of the book is amplified by some innovative publishing technology that I haven’t seen before. By clicking a phone or tablet on QR codes in the book, the reader can access a recorded version of the text—audio or video—adding Gushee’s literal voice to the written words, a voice that conveys the emotion that corresponds to the author’s convictions. It’s as close to sitting down with an author as one can get for the modest price of the book. Kudos to Front Edge Publishing.

THAT LAYS OUT THE ETHICIST’S CRAFT

The first portion of the book is an engaging introduction to the craft of ethical reflection within the Christian tradition.

How does someone who has devoted their life and vocation to this discipline go about it? We’ve all seen (and some of us have practiced) the ethical party-line posing pastors do in a cheap imitation of ethical reasoning: making sweeping assertions with anecdotal evidence, proof-texting, sloganeering.

Maybe in this pandemic you had to figure out how to cut your own hair; it can be done, but it’s a far cry from going to a skilled hair stylist or barber—and it shows. Lo and behold, there’s a discipline called Christian ethics where skill, effort, and practice matter; so do sources and methods. (Personal gripe: Biblical scholars like N.T. Wright, Robert Gagnon, and many others weigh in with scholarly prestige on contemporary ethical debates, without reminding us they are not trained Christian ethicists.)

Learning from Gushee about what goes into the craft of ethical reflection made me want to ask him, “David Gushee, where were you when I was a leader in a renewal community that formed like a flash mob in the Jesus movement of the late 1960’s—trying to figure out complex issues such as divorce and remarriage in my twenties?” How many pastors today weigh in on complex ethical subjects (or enforce ethical norms in their congregations) involving people’s actual lives without doing their homework or without even understanding what the homework might be?

Gushee lays out what the craft of ethical reflection involves. He tells us, here are some things you need to consider to do justice to these subjects: What’s a basic vocabulary to help you examine and articulate your thoughts? What’s the history of reflection on whatever topic you are considering? What forms of moral logic are available? What big picture Scriptural themes might guide an intentionally Christian approach that moves beyond proof-texting?

Obviously, this is the work of someone who has taught his subject to beginners many times over and he’s come up with ways of presenting the material that are sticky, helpful, clarifying, and accessible. One method I especially appreciated is that, at the beginning of most chapters, he reminds us: Here’s where we’ve been and here’s where we’re going next and why. IT’s like watching a Netflix series drama that begins with key highlights of earlier episode. Throughout, including the early more technical chapters, Gushee introduces Christian ethics as a good storyteller who has honed his storytelling by previous audience reactions.

A STORY-TELLING APPROACH TO INTRODUCING ETHICS

In an early and determinative chapter, “Jesus from Below,” Gushee tells the story of Howard Thurman, whose work shaped Gushee’s own life. In Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman emphasizes that Scripture is written by the marginalized, for the marginalized—and to the extent it carries divine inspiration conveys the concerns of the God who sides always with the oppressed and against their oppressors. Those of us who are not oppressed, get on God’s side by siding with them enough to get a small taste of what they experience. Not your usual white bread Christianity. But Gushee doesn’t just lay out Thurman’s thesis, he tells the gripping story of how Howard Thurman became the theological forerunner of the Civil Rights movement and the impact Thurman had in Gushee’s life, as a corrective for his coming to faith and rising to professional influence within Southern Baptist evangelicalism. Clearly, Howard Thurman changed Gushee’s life and work.

In a later chapter, “Repenting White Supremacy” Gushee tells the story of a year spent reading nothing but the novels of black writers like James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison and others. For several pages, he confronts us with what these writers tell us about white people under the shadow of white supremacy—knowing that their voices matter more than his in this incisive and humble chapter. Yes, Gushee speaks of his own experience, but I also appreciate how often he tells the stories of others who speak from the margins.

How to say it? He’s not just another white guy citing other white guys in the white guy echo chamber that so much Christian scholarship has been for so long. He’s searching out other voices, learning from them, seeing, feeling, thinking, doing new things. If you share Gushee’s social location and know it’s time to expand your horizons, I can’t think of a better place to start than to read this book to get the motivation and early leads you need. If possible—and it is, even if you aren’t podcast savvy!—listen to Gushee’s actual voice reading “Jesus from Below.” Soon thereafter Gushee (under Thurman’s influence) centers Christian ethics in the Kingdom of God and the Sermon on the Mount.

THAT PULLS NO PUNCHES

Then Gushee takes us on an introductory tour of five components of a Christian moral core with chapters on truthfulness, sacredness, justice, love, and forgiveness. Sounds a little ho-hum? Not so much. His chapter on truthfulness lays out the Judeo-Christian ethical tradition on this subject, the various ways people understand truthfulness, key terms in biblical Hebrew and Greek that pertain to truthfulness, along with the stunning abandonment of truth-telling norms in recent years.

Then he addresses the elephant in the room, Donald Trump lying:

“The most interesting people to watch during this awful time were not the Democrats, whose party affiliation and ideology made it easy for them to perceive Donald Trump clearly. Instead, it was the population of Republicans who had to decide whether they would submit to a regime of lies when they knew what it was. The most impressive in this group are those who suffered real costs for choosing bedrock truth over Trumpism power. But there were not enough of them. The U.S. body politic remains fractured because of Donald Trump’s lies, the most dangerous of which proved to be the claim that the election was stolen from him” (101).

At this point in the book, we’re half-way along what Gushee calls “driving down the ethics highway.” Our next stops? A chapter-by-chapter introduction to all the hot topics: Caring for creation, ending the rule of men over women, repenting White Christian Supremacism, economic ethics, contraception, abortion, sexual ethics, marriage, church and state, criminal justice, peace and war-waging, and end-of-life ethics, with two final chapters on ministerial ethics and why our moral vision is so easily corrupted by, well, ourselves.

AND TREATS US LIKE ADULTS

Throughout, there’s no argumentative bullying, no condescension, no displays of expertise for manipulative effect. In every case, Gushee is transparent about the pros and cons of differing perspectives, his sources and methods, and, crucially, the factors and concerns that weigh most heavily in his conclusions. That’s the treating-us-like-adults part of his book that I so appreciate. Don’t just tell us your thinking, show us your thinking so we can discern its validity for ourselves and use it as a springboard for our own reflection. Often, I was right there with him. In a few places, I wanted to interject, “But you haven’t considered this or that…” In other words, he did what really good teachers do: Gushee equipped and engaged me as I suspect he will equip and engage many readers who consider these matters with him.

There are plenty of gems to underline or mark with exclamation points.

I’ll close with a favorite in a portion with the sub-head, “The Erroneous Split Between Jesus and Justice.” With the personal insight of a former insider to evangelicalism, Gushee traces several factors that led white, conservative Christianity (that is, dominant American Christianity) to drive a wedge between Jesus and Justice(!)—something that has baffled me for years. This portion reads like a crime novel: the incipient anti-Judaism of early Christianity coming to full bloom in the Protestant Reformation, framing justice as an inferior Old Testament concern (contrasted with grace, mis-identified as uniquely Christian) followed by translation decisions for key Hebrew and Greek words that effectively erased justice from many English Bibles, combined with hitching much national and global missions work to the colonizing horrors of empire in need of a religious cover-up story. It’s enough to make your skin crawl and renew your conviction that some mysterious power that Scripture calls the devil really does roam the earth.

Reading Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today was a surprisingly emotional experience!

I hope many pastors and lay people distressed by our religiously charged and fear-driven debates will spend some time with Dr. David Gushee—whose guiding wisdom will make possible fruitful ethical reflection and deeds of their own.

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Care to Learn More?

Emily Swan and Ken Wilson serve as co-pastors of Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor. Together, they wrote their own fresh overview of the Christian calling in Solus Jesus.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Five hundred years ago the Protestant Reformation claimed the Bible as the authoritative guide for Christian living (“Sola Scriptura!” Only Scripture!). In this groundbreaking work, Emily Swan and Ken Wilson claim the authority of the church is shifting back to where it should be: in Jesus (Solus Jesus!). As co-founders of Blue Ocean Faith, Swan and Wilson are pioneering what it means to be post-evangelical—post-Protestant, even—in a time when such re-imagining is desperately needed.

You also may want to read Ken’s original book, which continues to help families and congregations around the world: Letter to my Congregation—An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender into the company of Jesus

Charmed: Peacemaker and Fashionista Brenda Rosenberg celebrates her lifelong commitment to diversity and peace

THE STORY BEHIND THIS PHOTO: Brenda Rosenberg welcomes her friend Ariana Mentzel at a launch event for Brenda’s memoir Charmed at the Detroit Institute of Arts on May 5, 2022. The 800-plus-page book celebrates Brenda’s long career, including work with the DIA as well as her co-development of the program “Tectonic Leadership” that has trained young people to break down barriers of religion, race, culture and class. A decade ago, Ariana was one of the college students who participated in the first week-long “Tectonic” retreat with Brenda and her colleague Samia Moustapha Bahsoun. Today, Ariana is Managing Director of the Detroit Center for Civil Discourse and an American Jewish Committee board member in southeast Michigan. Ariana is just one of countless young people who carry on the legacy of Brenda’s two decades of creative approaches to peacemaking.

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Launching a Fun Book with a Serious Three-Fold Mission

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Many stories and photos in Brenda’s book highlight her work with young people in the U.S. and around the world. Click on this photograph from page 479 to see it enlarged. The photo shows a group Jewish and Arab students who participated in Brenda’s Reuniting the Children of Abraham (RTCOA) training. (For more on RTCOA, look below in this story.)

After 20 years as a peace activist, trainer and consultant tackling some of the world’s toughest religious and cultural divides—author Brenda Rosenberg now is working on several new initiatives to empower at-risk young people to join the next generation of peacemakers. A key milestone in these efforts is the launch of a massive, two-volume, hard-back scrapbook celebrating what Brenda has accomplished so far in her life.

Charmed: The Memoirs of a Changemaker weighs in at more than 10 pounds and is packed with thousands of photographs from Brenda’s long career as a groundbreaking Fashionista, followed by her decades as a peacemaker.

Her aim is three-fold: This book is a colorful documentary of her globe-hopping life that she hopes will inspire readers to embrace rather than to fear our world; second, it’s an “idea book” showcasing her many projects, designed to inspire new allies for her future projects—and, third, it’s a fundraiser. Brenda underwrote all costs of the creation and printing of these books. Now, any copy of this $150 set that is sold through Brenda’s website, from the DIA’s online store—or through Amazon will result in a matching $150 contribution from Brenda to the DIA’s ongoing community education programs in southeast Michigan.

For years, Benda has been a strong supporter of such programs. Among them—in early 2020 just before the COVID pandemic hit—she sponsored a special educational day that brought Christian, Muslim and Jewish Girl Scouts to the DIA. Together, they experienced a multi-media educational program that showed the girls how much their faiths and cultures have contributed to our shared global culture.

To read about that special day, see our January 27, 2020, story headlined Girl Scouts, Detroit Institute of Arts and Brenda Rosenberg Are Reuniting the Children of Abraham. In fact, the main photograph at the top of that 2020 story—showing a huge circle of Girl Scouts from around the state of Michigan at the DIA—is the first full-page photograph in the new book, Charmed.

This isn’t the first time Brenda has published her best ideas. Many of her creative resources for peacemaking are explained in more detail in Brenda’s two earlier books. Look below for more information about those books. Both earlier books are are relatively short and are focused on the nuts-and-bolts of bringing together people who might consider themselves to be enemies.

“So, first of all, this new book is different—obviously! It’s huge! It’s intended to be fun!” Brenda said in an interview this week, after a launch event for her book at the DIA on May 5. “I want people to smile and laugh and have a good time looking at all these photographs and reading the stories. But there’s so much more to this book than just the fun of it. With every copy sold, I’m giving the entire $150 purchase price to the DIA. Then, finally having all these stories published lets me share the excitement with readers about what’s possible for us to do together. You know me—I’m always making new friends, finding new allies—and that’s so important, because there’s so much more we need to do out there.”

Breaking Barriers

Barrier breaking is a theme that runs through Brenda’s seven decades. Charmed tells that story through photos with short texts—from her start in smashing racial barriers during her career in fashion to a brand new 2022 plan to empower children attending low-income schools in Detroit through coaching them in winning chess strategies.

One truth that Brenda has proven repeatedly throughout her career is this: Popular culture—especially fashion—can be shaped to help bring people together.

“Fashion and design are a visual history of life and love through the ages. They’re the ultimate influencers,” she says. “I was a fashion groundbreaker. I was the first woman vice president of fashion merchandising for the J.L. Hudson Co. And, I hired the first Black fashion models in Detroit and possibly in America.”

Then, in 1968, Brenda explains, “Bill Blass was here for a fashion show at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Troy, Michigan, where he saw the beautiful Black model Billie Blair for the first time. As a result, she was invited to one of his shows in New York City. And then Billie went to Paris with Bill Blass and the other American designers in 1973 for the historic Battle of Versailles Fashion Show that pitted French designers against American designers. The Black models stole the show for the Americans!”

Or, as The New York Times described the influence of those pioneering Black American models in a retrospective story about the landmark fashion event: “Hard as it may be to credit in an age of inclusion, the Grand Divertissement à Versailles was very nearly the first time that anyone in Paris had seen an African-American woman on a catwalk. Back in those early days, said Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ‘an ethnic woman was someone who was southern European.’ ”

Brenda says, “And because I first had dared to put Black models in our shows in the 1960s, I had played my part in all of that unfolding.”

Winning Moves

That’s just one chapter from the past, celebrated in some of the photos and texts in Charmed. However, clearly a major weight of this book—maybe 5 of the book’s 10 pounds—is focused on current and even future tikkun olam projects. In English, that’s the Jewish call to repair the world.

Among Brenda’s new projects, which springs from the stories in the pages of Charmed, is a tribute to her late brother Sanford Cohen, who died in 2020.

A story about Sanford in The Jewish News explains: “For 30 years, Sanford was a civics teacher at Southeastern High School in Detroit’s most impoverished neighborhood. He created a chess club as an after-school activity to engage and empower the students to think in new ways. He took the chess team to the national competition for these students three times. Some 1,375 high school chess players from 200 high schools in 33 states participated. Southeastern High sophomore Martell Collins swept to a perfect 7-0 score in the tournaments and to a National Championship title.”

Now, in honor of her brother’s commitment to chess as a creative way to empower some of the most vulnerable children in Detroit, Brenda now is helping to support the next wave of young chess champions. This year, she is embarking on a five-year collaboration with Chevelle Brown, one of Detroit’s leading chess coaches, and the PAL (Police Athletic League) program in the city’s public schools.

“This is a big new commitment, but it’s such a wonderful way to remember my brother, and to make sure that his legacy of coaching these young champions will continue,” Brenda said.

“Anyone who looks through this new book will see how all of these stories really are related,” she said. “As Sanford and I were growing up, nearly every week, my parents took us to the DIA where we saw the beauty in differences—differences from all around the world. Growing up, I couldn’t wait to go to Africa and Asia to see the artwork in the places where these wonderful works were created. Eventually, I was able to travel so many places. Then, all of those travels made me want to keep spreading that message that we need to creatively explore our world together. It’s really all part of the same big, big—obviously very big—story.”

Yes, Brenda is well aware that not many readers will ante up $150 for this massive set of volumes. However, the sheer fact of this book’s existence now means that Brenda herself—and anyone who reads this book—have all of these inspiring stories documented in dazzling color photos and text that just might spark future waves of creative peacemaking.

“And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, since 9/11,” she said. “I want to be part of finding and preparing that next generation of peacemakers.”

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Care to see Brenda tell her own story?

Here’s the book trailer for Charmed as designed and produced by Brenda. (If you prefer, you can go directly to YouTube to see this video.)

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Care to learn more?

Brenda Rosenberg’s two earlier books share inspiring materials she has used with groups of high school students and adults to help bridge barriers of religion, culture and ethnicity.

Her foundational book, which stretches back to creative work Brenda developed with high school students in the wake of the 9/11/2001 attacks is Reuniting the Children of Abraham: The Sacred Story that Calls Jews, Christians and Muslims to Peace.

ABOUT THE BOOKReuniting the Children of Abraham is a powerful, multimedia peace initiative created with Jewish, Christian and Muslim families to combat the fear, bigotry and bullying that fuels violence. The multicultural project described in this book includes inspiring true stories and educational materials that flow from the ancient story of Abraham, a patriarch in all three faiths. Just as Abraham’s own children were reunited, this project is a model for calling these vast families of faith toward building peaceful new relationships. The project was the focus of a CBS network special documentary, which pointed out: “Abraham, of the Old Testament, was the founding patriarch of a new, monotheistic faith, which included Jews and later Christians and Muslims. One of his two sons is historically tied to the founding of Judaism, the other to the founding of Islam.”

Recommending this book are …

“This project is a powerful experience that gives hope to the idea of these three religions being able to find their common heritage as a reason for mutual religious respect and spiritual healing in the future.”
Producer John P. Blessington, CBS Entertainment

“In her resolve to reconnect the Children of Abraham, Brenda Naomi Rosenberg recognizes that tension has eroded our shared traditions deeply rooted in our Abrahamic ancestry. Yet by harnessing the the tension that once separated us, Brenda and I now share an unshakable bond, rooted not only in our commonalities but also in our differences.”
Samia Moustapha Bahsoun, co-author of Harnessing the Power of Tension

“We all want people to be able to experience religious diversity and not be afraid of the differences that seem so new to them, at first. Our Girl Scout Law is rooted in the commitment to make the world a better place. Our girls come from every religious tradition. Whatever their individual background may be, we want our girls to see that their ideas, hopes and dreams can contribute to peace in our community and the world.”
Suzanne Bante, chair of Religious Relationships Committee, Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan 

Also consider reading …

Harnessing the Power of Tension Paperback moves beyond the initial project that brought together Christians, Muslims and Jews—and expands the bridge-building principles to bring people together across divisions that include race, class, gender and our often conflicting roles in our communities.

This book was developed by Brenda Rosenberg, collaborating with co-author and co-presenter Samia Bahsoun. They call their “evolutionary leadership” approach to conflict transformation: Tectonic Leadership. By harnessing tension, the authors bridge their own personal commitments as Jew and Arab to directly address the tension that separates them and use it to build alliances at home, in the boardroom, on campus and in communities.

Planning your summer reading and book discussions? Here are some timely choices.

Click on this image to visit our Front Edge website for the latest news on our 2022 books.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of Read The Spirit magazine

Since the founding of our publishing house and this online magazine in 2007, nearly every May our team has released at least one new book that is ideal for summer reading. Because our motto is “good media builds healthy community,” these books often address timely issues that readers are eager to explore in a balanced, well-researched and helpful way. We feel pride in our collective work when readers tell us that they have eagerly welcomed these books—because they have inspired them to positive action in the world.

So, as May debuts this year, our Marketing Director Susan Stitt suggested that we feature this Cover Story looking back over some of our earlier May releases that remain as timely in 2022 as on the day we published them.

The following is just a sampling of these highly relevant May releases over the last 15 years. Stay tuned, because we plan to feature a few more of our May titles next week.

Summer Reading:

Time to learn more about Native Americans

For more than a year, our online magazine has been featuring occasional headlines about Canadian and American efforts to come to terms with the government-sponsored trauma of so-called Indian boarding schools. These prison-like institutions operated for centuries—many of them under the direction of American and Canadian church leaders. Official Canadian investigations into this generation-spanning trauma started a couple of years ago and now fresh American efforts are underway spearheaded by the U.S. Interior department. Most religious leaders are cooperating with this historic reckoning, which will unfold over the rest of this decade.

So, this is an ideal moment to learn more, starting with Dancing My Dream (published in May 2009), the inspiring memoir of Warren Petoskey whose family was shaped by that boarding-school tragedy. Then, for a fascinating dive into the vibrant diversity of Native American life, you’ll also want to pick up a copy of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s 100 Questions, 500 Nations (published in May 2014).

What have readers told us?

“Reading Warren Petoskey’s memoir is like sitting around a fire with the Elder, listening to years upon years of wisdom, reflection, heartache and love. There is much darkness, but in every thing the Creator broke through and led Warren to the dawn. To read—no, rather to listen to—the Elder’s stories is to taste the love in Creation in every leaf and drop of rain, to ache and long with him for years that can never return, and to yet find the Creator still carrying us onward to the next mountain. Warren’s words and the love coming from him have been light in the darkness for me. My only regret about the book is that I wish I could sit around the fire with him longer, to listen to more of his stories and his understanding.”

“Mr. Petoskey is an encyclopedia of knowledge and wisdom, a true Native American treasure. His love and efforts to protect and preserve the Native American culture, tradition and teachings are beautifully documented in this book and no matter if you are Native or not, it will surly touch your heart and mind in a very positive way.”

“This book is an important testimony for the Odawa people, and a significant record the Odawa walk through life. It was an inspiration to me as an Odawa person and it has served to help many people who are not from my culture to understand my culture. The significance and inspiration I found in this book will be relevant to many others from all walks of life.”

“Warren Petoskey is a storyteller and poet, and carries a prophetic word for those who have ears to hear. Without bitterness, but with a cutting edge clarity, he tells the story of not only his family but of Native Americans across this continent as they struggle to come to grips with a forgotten past. Warren reminds us of things that should never be forgotten and offers a spiritual answer that can bring healing to the Native and understanding to the non-Native. Books like this are rare and priceless.”

AND ON 100 QUESTIONS, 500 NATIONS:
“This guide was created by the Native American Journalists Association, which recognizes Native Americans as distinct peoples based on their tradition and culture. In this spirit, NAJA educates and unifies its membership through journalism programs that promote diversity and defends challenges to free press, speech and express.”

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Summer Reading:

Is peace possible?

Given the horrors of war in 2022, consider the reassurance in these words we published when Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers debuted in May 2011: “In the pages of this book, you will meet more than 100 heroes, but most of them are not the kind of heroes our culture celebrates for muscle, beauty and wealth. These are peacemakers. They circle the planet. A few are famous like Gandhi and Bono of U2. But most of them you will discover for the first time in these stories. Watch out! Reading about their lives may inspire you to step up into their courageous circle.”

What have readers told us?

“I haven’t felt so good at the end of a read in a long time as I did when I finished Daniel L. Buttry’s collection of over 60 short biographies of men and women working for peace. The peacemakers are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and what have you–women and men, and even in South America a 12 year-old girl.”

“Blessed Are the Peacemakers is not just another collection of bios about inspiring people. It’s educational, putting peacemakers and their work in cultural, historical, and religious context to help readers really understand how these people did what they did for humanity.”

“If you need a lift, this is an inspiring place to go. Mr. Buttry has collected inspiring stories from activists and world changers at every level of notoriety, all doing powerful and effective work in the world. This is no hippie dream or pollyanna denial of the cruelty in the world, however. These are the stories of people doing the real work, facing the real struggles and showing us how to go about the work of changing the world for the better.”

THEN, continue your summer reading with the memoir of one particular peacemaker—pastor, teacher, songwriter and pacifist David Edwards, whose story is titled, What Belongs to God (published May 2021). There’s even a special “gift” inside this book—links to enjoy free selections of Edwards music online.

What have readers told us?

“I’m so grateful for the wisdom of this man’s life and legacy. It helps strengthen me for my own calling to follow Jesus as a peacemaker and justice maker. What a powerful testimony, easy-to-read and easy to relate to.”

“This account of one person’s journey into pacifism moves beyond memoir. His evolving understanding of his faith and commitment to service is informative and inspiring. Cultural and biblical insights encourage unsettling reflection and action. The study guide offers a helpful way to engage others in a vital conversation. I am grateful.”

This book “arrives at a time when the issues of nationalism, militarism, and violence are ever-present and unavoidable challenges in the United States and throughout the world. In a brief, compact volume, Edwards argues passionately for the thesis that ‘nonviolence, refusing to kill, forgiving one’s enemies, is the life for which we are all made.’ ”

“There is so much in this book. It is a manual on character, a guide to decision-making, a testimony to the cause of justice and an affirmation of the dedication to serving one’s brother and sister in love.”

“In times of enduring warfare—and war metaphors for addressing pandemics, climate change and poverty—David Edwards offers a biblically grounded and theologically insightful testimony about what it means to live non-violently for the sake of creation.”

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Summer Reading:

Yes, there are ways to reach across our divides

Across a series of May releases, through all these years, our publishing house has introduced authors’ very practical advice for reaching across the seemingly insurmountable chasms that seem to have formed between Americans and cultures circling our globe. In May 2016, Nathan Albert’s quirky and challenging Embracing Love debuted, springing from an inspiring social media post about a gay-pride parade that went viral and suddenly put Nathan in a global spotlight as a pastor and teacher.

What have readers told us?

“Embracing Love is a timely and needed book in the evangelical world. I appreciate how Nathan presents both theological viewpoints, while allowing the reader to develop their own conclusions.”

“Nathan Albert joins a growing number of thoughtful evangelical Christians who simply lve LGBT people with deep loyalty and care. Nathan’s love for those so long wounded by the church is not despite but because he loves Jesus.

“This is an excellent book for both traditionalist and progressive Christians and church study groups to use for early forays into the conversation about the relationship between churches and the LGBTQ community. Albert’s writing style is easily understandable, is filled with self-deprecating humor, and contains a large number of personal anecdotes. His sections on terminology and problematic phrases will be helpful to all. The six main Bible verses causing so much contention are presented with a short overview and then a balanced summary of each side’s interpretation. Albert’s goal is to unite Christians who are struggling with and against each other over this important topic.”

“Nathan Albert approaches this very difficult topic with honesty, sensitivity, curiosity, passion for knowledge and understanding of others’ experiences. Through his experiences in theater, seminary, and now the pastorship, Nathan has a unique perspective that allows him to shed light and bring two seemingly different worlds together through understanding. His love, knowledge, compassion, and heart shine through his words. Highly recommended for all readers of all backgrounds and walks of life.”

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THEN—Readers kept asking us: “But, how do we even start a constructive conversation anymore? Does anyone have fresh ideas?” As Americans increasingly seemed to be refusing to even talk to each other anymore, a Michigan State University scholar, Dr. William Donohue, introduced a unique, research-based approach to conversation—aimed at positive results. As we introduced Donohue’s Critical Conversations as Leadership to a nationwide audience, we wrote: “Effective leaders are good communicators. … Negotiating is often adversarial, but it does not have to be. Learning how to resolve conflict allows effective leaders to communicate in a collaborative and successful way.”

What have readers told us?

“This book is filled with practical tips and effective strategies for improving your communication and leadership skills. As a communication professor, former director of a faculty grievance office, international consultant, parent and spouse, Professor Donohue draws upon his vast expertise and experience to provide guidance for shifting the nature and style of conversation depending on the setting and purpose of the communication.”

“So many leaders struggle to find the right approach to communication that effects positive change. Using the common language of the card game, Donohue masterfully helps each of us identify the various ‘role cards’ that we have in our life’s deck and the best ones to play in various situations (i.e. the Friend card, the Leader card). In this way, we become more self-aware and able to effectively interact with others in a manner tailored to the situation.”

“Donohue’s Critical Conversations is an engaging book well worth reading. His card game metaphor reflects a blend of themes from role theory, symbolic interaction, and games people play. He captures the dynamics of conversations with advice on how to read situations, knowing which card to play, and how to switch cards as the situation unfolds.”

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EACH YEAR—and particularly each spring-summer—we return to these vital themes of practical peacemaking and personal resilience. As the current rise in antisemitic incidents was building in May of 2021, we focused specifically on that deadly issue with the release of Mindy Corporon’s Healing a Shattered Soul.

What have readers told us?

“In response to a neo-Nazi’s murder of her son and father in 2014, Mindy Corporon has filled her world with love, compassion and kindness. But as Healing a Shattered Soul reveals, that doesn’t mean she has avoided profound, intense, at-times debilitating pain. Hers is the sort of grievous wound caused by the type of extremism that those of us who are members of 9/11 families know only too well. This book gives you the privilege of sharing both in Mindy’s grief and in her remarkable hope, which is rooted in faith. Let this book heal you so you can help heal the world.”

“I picked up this book and could not put it down. Mindy has a way of telling her story so the reader actually feels they were with her on that horrific day that her dad and son were murdered. I remember when this event happened. I remember I was on vacation and I walked into the living room and saw Mindy on national television. I was immediately amazed at her sense of calm. This book takes the reader through every step of the tragedy: from Mindy driving on to the scene just minutes after the shooting, to her ongoing healing and hard work to take this tragedy and use it to inspire others to love and accept one another. I think every person on this planet should read this book. Her honesty about her family’s struggle to heal from this unthinkable action is both gut wrenching and beautiful. I cannot recommend this book enough!

“Mindy’s story, from the depth of grief to the height of hope, gives each reader the gift of a gentle push forward. Whether we are grieving the loss of a dear loved one or grieving collective/societal divisions, Mindy’s vulnerable words jump out from the page to encourage a next step.”

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Summer Reading:

Finally, take time for some film fun

In May 2016, we published a fun and thought-provoking book by our beloved Faith & Film Critic Edward McNulty, called Jesus Christ Movie Star.

Pop some popcorn and invite your friends. This is fun and spiritually enlightening. From many years of guiding viewers, Dr. McNulty knows what details you will need to host a successful evening. If you are not part of a group right now, you still can enjoy this book for your own home viewing—most of the films included this book are easily available from the media services now reaching American homes, including Netflix and Amazon.

What have readers told us?

“This is a great tool for groups who want to explore some great movies together, or if you just want to delve a little deeper yourself while enjoying a fabulous movie. Rev. Dr. McNulty poses questions to facilitate discussions and thoughtfulness, and help you think when watching other movies as well. McNulty has been a writer and movie critic for years, and is always relevant, thoughtful, and right on. This is not just for church groups, but for anyone who wants to explore the themes of good vs. evil, the Christ figure throughout today’s life situations, humility, and sacrifice.”

“Christian church groups and faith groups, whether Catholic, Protestant, or non-denominational, will enjoy this book and its in-depth exploration of Jesus Christ on film, and will find the discussion questions for each film especially helpful. But it shouldn’t stop there. This book will also be of interest to theologians, Jewish and inter-faith groups, and anyone who just has a love for the movies.”

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Keep the Inspiration Flowing

Please, share this story with friends and family across social media and by email.

Those small actions—by one reader at a time—make an enormous difference in spreading this good news.

And, if you order one of these books, today, please take a moment later to stop by Amazon and post your own review. Those reviews inspire all of us!

Reflecting on Holy Week and Easter with Ian Fleming, James Bond and Benjamin Pratt

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—This photograph shows the interior of St. George’s Church in western Ukraine, one of the region’s uniquely hand-crafted wooden churches. It is part of a cluster of 16 surviving wooden churches in western Ukraine and Eastern Poland that now are considered a World Heritage Site. Built in the late 1400s, St. George’s in Drohobych is one of the oldest and best-preserved timber churches of Galicia. Because Russia has targeted relatively few bombing raids on western Ukraine, this particular religious masterpiece so far has not been damaged. (NOTE: If you care to share this image of St. George’s with others, Wikimedia Commons makes this photograph by “Moahim” easy to share. You will find more photos of this church below.)

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From Good Friday’s ‘No!’ to Easter Sunday’s ‘Yes!’

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EDITOR’s NOTE: Over many years, author, pastor and counselor Benjamin Pratt has talked with Christian communities about the deep drama that unfolds in what Christians call Holy Week, the observances leading up to Easter. Sometimes, as in this column, he draws on illustrations from his literary research into the moral lessons in the novels of Ian Fleming.

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By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins

Bond, James Bond 007 was married only once. Then, in one of the most shocking turns in the course of Ian Fleming’s novels—Bond’s wife was shot and killed by Bond’s archenemy on the day of their wedding.

Bond began to lose his edge: He didn’t show up for work; he began to deal with his loss by drinking, eating too much, gambling, losing his sense of mission. His boss, M, had Bond examined by psychiatrist-neurologist Sir James Malony who reported to M that Bond was in shock, and that his behavior was quite appropriate. Then, he concluded with the startling line: “We must teach them that there is no top to disaster.”

Everyone of us has a top to disaster. As we are seeing in the ruined streets of Ukrainian cities, that trauma varies widely: the death of a child, rape, torture, loss of a home. In our own country, during this pandemic, so many of us have lost jobs and homes, suffered from life-threatening conditions from COVID to cancer.

When we go over the top of our disaster limit we are prone to reduce our world to a small, predictable, controlled safe place. Risking our talents is the last thing we are prone to do.

But, Sir James Malony says an even more remarkable thing in response to M’s request of help for Bond. His answer is We must give him an impossible job.  In contrast to our thought that he should take a month on a cruise liner, we hear that “he should be given an impossible job.”

So M sends Bond on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a castle created for people who have lost faith in life, a castle where people can kill themselves. (Bond could have been one of those who had gone to kill himself since he had lost faith. Instead he has come to risk facing and destroying it.)  The man who created this castle of death is the same devil who killed Bond’s wife. By confronting and killing the devil of despair, Bond confronts his own despair and is on the road to healing his own wounds.  (Yes, it is an allegory that is as much about the inner journey as the outer journey.)

How is this relevant to our journey toward Easter in 2022?

Christians around the world are entering Holy Week, which contains the three most important days of the Christian calendar. Holidays focus on history. That’s the way most of us approach the ancient traditions and family customs that we love to repeat each year. But, the yearlong cycle of Christian holidays are much more than that. These seasons are timeless, yet they also are very clear invitations to affirm our personal journey as God’s people.

Now, in Holy Week, everything converges in a kaleidoscope of life and death, hope and tragedy, community and isolation. In these final days before Easter, we pass through enormous sorrow and abandonment as we move toward the spectacular joy we proclaim at Easter. On Good Friday we experience the top of disaster, recalling how Jesus was tacked to a tree—his spirit broken. Holy Saturday is a long period of waiting when, some Christian traditions say, Jesus descended into Hell. Easter brings resurrection—in this life and the next.

We might think of Friday as the day of “No!” As we personally experience Good Fridays, life throws us against a rock, tacks us to a tree, devastates our innocence and dreams for our marriage, our country, our children, our lives. That “No!” breaks our spirit and almost destroys our faith in the goodness of God. On such Fridays, the pain is excruciating, and it is appropriate to be angry, enraged and in deep grief.

Saturday is “I don’t now.” We move—as Jesus’s followers did 2,000 years ago—into a soft cynicism or despair. We can’t stay in Friday’s intense pain, but we haven’t reached Easter’s joy. Saturday is the janitorial day. We can’t mourn; we can’t celebrate; we don’t sing Alleluias. So, we get up and start moving through our many tasks. Grief and anger from Friday evolves into a flat, soft, lazy, cynical bitterness, a spiritual deadness. This is life without any spice, vitality or vigor. This is spiritual accidie—a term I describe in my books on Ian Fleming and on coping with the challenges of caregiving.

And, Sunday? “YES!” We yearn for Easter, when we are reborn with new directions, new possibilities. It is the day of a clean and restored heart. We are able to sing praises and live with purpose, compassion and gratitude. The Psalmist writes: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, not a cynical spirit, not a bitter spirit. You will not reject a humble and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51)

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

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

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

This year, many Christian churches will be including prayers and other symbolic signs of our solidarity with the people Ukraine who continue to suffer seemingly endless cycles of violence.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, upon the death of a close friend: “I must love myself into action lest I wither in despair.” Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest shared that “the wound of Jesus is like the Grand Canyon, a deep incision in the earth’s surface that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and meaning.” The wounds of Jesus have become a source of beauty for many of us.

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

Let me illustrate by the story of a real life James Bond—a sheet metal worker named Michael Flocco. Michael and his wife had only one child. He was killed when the plane went into the Pentagon on 9/11. It was an over the top disaster experience. Michael stopped going to work, he sat at the kitchen table every morning looking at the family photo album which contained pictures of his son. He started with coffee but by lunch he was hitting hard liquor to drown his pain and grief. One day, Michael’s wife saw an ad for sheet metal workers needed to repair the Pentagon. She cut it out and placed it in the family album. That morning Michael found the ad and called his boss and told him he wanted to go to work at the Pentagon repairing the building. Michael’s choice to work repairing the very building where is son was killed must have felt like an impossible job. It became the place he began to heal his soul and recover his life.

It became a place for Easter Joy!

Exterior of St. George’s church. (Wikimedia Commons)

Interior of St. George’s church in Ukraine. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Benjamin Pratt …

VISIT BENJAMIN PRATT’S AMAZON PAGE: Go to his author page and you’ll learn more about him, plus you’ll see links to three of his books.

Get a copy of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass from Amazon.

Benjamin Pratt writes: “I have been bewildered by the staying power of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lust. It was not until I began reading and studying Fleming’s ‘Bond, James Bond,’ that I was convinced that Bond was a knight out to slay these contemporary dragons threatening our lives. All of Fleming’s 007 tales follow a common theme that he identified in his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, as parables about evil people. Fleming’s stories have considerable mythological, allegorical and theological depth that are compelling to this day. Fleming found most of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins to be closer to virtues in contemporary culture.

While an editor on the staff of the Sunday Times, Fleming suggested the famous London-based newspaper publish a series of essays on the traditional Seven Deadly Sins. Fleming later saw that this collection of essays was published as a now out-of-print book called simply, The Seven Deadly Sins. In his Foreword to that volume, Fleming lays out seven modern deadlier sins, a list that turns out to be a roadmap to his overarching intention for writing the James Bond novels. Fleming’s modern sins that will send people to Hell are: Avarice, Cruelty, Snobbery, Hypocrisy, Self-righteousness, Moral Cowardice and Malice.

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Reflection on Ramadan: Victor Begg reminds us that all of our faiths call on us to be peacemakers

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—This is the current Al-Salam mosque and cultural center in Odessa in southern Ukraine. Muslims in Odessa are especially anxious about Russian attacks in this region, because many families recall the 20th century devastation during Soviet religious oppression across the USSR. For many centuries, Odessa has had a prominent Muslim community. However, Soviet officials ordered the demolition of the landmark Odessa mosque and even destroyed a nearby Muslim cemetery. After the breakup of the USSR, this current mosque and cultural center was completed in 2001. So far, it has not been damaged by recent Russian shelling across Ukraine. (Note: This photo by “Pyhpyh” can be shared via Wikimedia Commons. More photos are below.)

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By VICTOR BEGG
Author of Our Muslim Neighbors

As families gather during Lent, Passover and Ramadan, our three Abrahamic faiths remind us of our responsibility for each other and for our world.

What brought these religious observances together? And what is the significance of it?

The answer to the first question lies in the lunar cycles that play an important role in our ancient traditions. At the time of Jesus and the biblical prophets, people followed a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar. Dates changed each year due to the monthly phases of the moon. Because lunar calendars result in a 354-day year, Judaism and Christianity developed ways to adjust their calendars to keep holidays and festivals in the same seasons each year. However, Ramadan always is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and Islamic tradition does not “correct” the lunar cycles—so the fasting month moves “earlier” by about 11 days each year.

That’s why, after coinciding with Passover and Easter this year and again in 2023, this convergence won’t happen again for about 30 years!

Then, what is the significance as these three observances coincide?

First, pausing to think about these movements of our calendars is a reminder of how much our faiths share. All three holiday observances are calculated, in part, by cycles of the moon.

And there’s so much more. We live in religiously diverse communities in which all three of our faiths are calling us, this month, to ask ourselves: How can the spirit of our holy seasons manifest in peaceful neighborhoods and beyond to a global spring of peace? We face strife and divisions in America and around the world. How can we transfer the moral lessons of moderation, repentance and self-denial into actions that lessen conflict?

Fasting is a pillar of faith that naturally brings humility and peace in human behaviors. All three faiths have traditional periods of fasting. While most American Christians do not practice fasting during Lent, these days—Eastern Orthodox Christians still observe a 40-day Fast of Great Lent, when observant Orthodox Christians deny themselves many foods.

There is timeless wisdom in this practice of fasting that leaves less energy to foster violence and aggression—a much-needed grace in this increasingly violent era. Refraining from food for a period also reminds those who are blessed with refrigerators full of food of those who lack basic sustenance.

Many Christians will see in the suffering of Jesus a reminder to be more concerned for the suffering of people in today’s world. Jesus fed the hungry. Muslims observe an entire month of fasting to seek God consciousness, together with another pillar of our faith that ordains giving zakat or alms—an act that naturally helps us to identify with the hungry and the poor. At Passover, Jews recite “Let all who are hungry come and eat” to welcome strangers to their Seder and provide food for anybody in need.

This month is a reminder to all of us that we bear a responsibility for the millions around the world facing malnutrition and starvation.

The knowledge that our faiths have such common religious values should be an impetus to work together to address this global need.

Today, more clergy are committed to inter-religious cooperation, because we have a better understanding of changing demographics. Many of today’s American families include more than one religion. A Pew Research study highlights: “One-in-five U.S. adults were raised in interfaith homes.” The same research shows there’s little discord in multi-faith families and millennials are more likely to have been raised in households with mixed religious identities. This trend will only continue with the changing landscape of America.

The recognition that we share this holy time makes America stand out among the nations of the world—more than an economic and military power. It is the idea of our Founding Fathers: “One Nation Under God.”

Interior of the Al-Salam mosque and cultural center in Odessa. (Wikimedia Commons)

Interior of Al-Salam mosque and cultural center in Odessa. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Victor Begg …

VISIT VICTOR BEGG’s WEBSITE: Go to OurMuslimNeighbors.com to find more information about Victor Begg’s ongoing work.

Get a copy of his book ‘Our Muslim Neighbors.’ The book is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and audio—as well as from other online and independent bookstores.

The American Dream is alive and well in this memoir of a Muslim immigrant from India who arrived planning to start a business, working so hard toward his personal goals that he even pumped gas and sold vacuum cleaners door to door. Victor Begg successfully built a thriving, regional chain of furniture stores. Along the way, he discovered that America’s greatest promise lies in building healthy communities with our neighbors.

“In one book, I have come to understand much more about Islam, its followers and its teachings,” Rabbi Bruce Benson writes in the book’s Foreword. “I’ve come to realize that the challenges Muslim immigrants have faced are similar to what Jews and many other immigrant groups have experienced as they tried to settle in America. By the end of this book, I hurt with Victor and I laugh with him, because—as Americans—we share so much. We are him. His journey is our journey. This is our story.”

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Reflecting on Passover with Rabbi Jack Riemer: Proclaim a ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—So far, Russian attacks in Ukraine have not hit the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Ukraine. The building is an architectural landmark because it was designed in 1909 with the intention of including visual elements reflecting Jewish, Christian and Islamic cultures of Palestine. Because of the building’s enormous size—138 feet tall at the dome with a total footprint of 22,250 square feet—the building’s Soviet-era uses included as a cinema and a sports complex. When the building was returned to the Jewish community in 1990, it once again became a center of Jewish life in Kharkiv. Many Christian Ukrainian leaders have visited this synagogue to show solidarity with the Jewish community. (Note: This photo by Adam Jones can be shared via Wikimedia Commons. You can see more photographs below.)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Rabbi Jack Riemer often is referred to as a “dean of preachers” among Jewish clergy, because he has taught and mentored so many of his colleagues. This year, he sent out a special adaptation of the popular Passover song Dayenu, which includes a focus on Ukraine. If you feel so moved, Rabbi Riemer welcomes readers to share this text with others.

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A Dayenu for Our Time: ‘If we only …’

By RABBI JACK RIEMER
Author of  Finding God in Unexpected Places

Dayenu is a spirited song that is a highlight of the Passover Seder. The word itself refers to the phrase, “It would have been enough …” and expresses heartfelt gratitude for the many ways God protected the Jewish people during the Exodus. Shown here is a haggadah, a guide to the Seder, created in Germany in about 1300. This illustrated manuscript is open to the text of Dayenu. (Note: You can share this photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

If we only saw the courage with which the people of Ukraine are fighting for their country and their freedom—it would be enough to make us admire them;

If we only saw the kindness with which so many people in Europe and Israel and elsewhere have opened their hearts and their homes to the refugees from Ukraine it would have been enough to make us stand in awe;

If we only saw the wonder that Ukraine, which was once so antisemitic, is now led by a Jew who has become the moral voice of the world—it would have been enough to make us proud;

But so long as the cities of this land lie in rubble, and so long as its people must take shelter in subway stations and so long as their maternity hospitals and their movie theaters are considered targets for the enemy’s missiles, and so long as so many of its people live without food or water or heat—it is not enough for us to take pride in their achievements or to sit back and watch their suffering but we must send medical equipment and food and funds and we must do whatever else we can in order to help them;

And if we only saw the bravery of the young Russian woman who went into a television station in Moscow during a news broadcast and held up a sign that said, ‘THIS IS NOT TRUE’—how impressed we would be.

But since we see all of these things every day, we must not turn away from watching the news because it is too painful and we must not hide our eyes from what is going on but instead we must work and pray and cry out and do whatever else we can—and if we don’t?

Then the sanity of humanity will be lost.

If we only saw the calm and quiet dignity with which Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson responded to the crude and rude questions that she was subjected to at her Senate hearing—we would feel proud;

And if we only have the ability to choose our channels or to turn off our television sets whenever our leaders lie to us and whenever they tell falsehoods that seek to divide us—how fortunate we are;

And when we are hesitant to be with our families or our friends because of the fear that we may endanger them or that they may endanger us—how blessed we are that we have vaccines that can protect us for these medicines did not exist just a few years ago;

And when we are confined to our homes for days that turn into weeks and weeks that turn into months, how blessed we are that we have homes—unlike so many people in this land who are homeless—and how blessed we are that we can work from home, and that we can be with our loved ones at home;

But until those who live under bridges and in their cars and on the streets have homes, and until those who do not have the vaccines that we do, can get them—it is not enough to just be thankful for what we have but we must do whatever we can to enable others to have the blessings that we take for granted.

And when we miss our grandchildren and wish that we could hug them and kiss them without endangering them—let us be grateful that we can at least see them and speak to them and listen to them on Zoom or on livestream, for this is the next best thing to being with them, and these things did not exist just a few years ago;

For all these things, let us be grateful tonight and let us express our gratitude by belting out the song Dayenu with a whole and a happy heart;

But let us also be aware of how much there is still left for us to do in order to bring close the day when these blessings will be the possession or all those who live on earth.

For now we know that we are one related, interdependent human race, for what we breathe in—our neighbors breathe out; and what they breathe out—we breathe in.

And therefore, we are bound up with each other and we must learn to live together as partners.

Exterior of the Kharkiv synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Interior of Kharkiv synagogue. (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Rabbi Jack Riemer …

FOR MORE HOLIDAY STORIES from Rabbi Riemer, get a copy of his book Finding God in Unexpected Places. In endorsing his book, Dr. Bernie Siegel, best-selling author of a dozen books about spirituality and healing, tells readers: “Rabbi Riemer offers us the kind of wisdom that we need in order to survive and thrive.”

The late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel adds, “Jack Riemer’s words are songs of hope and faith. Listen to them as I do.”

What do a professional baseball player, Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry box, a hurricane, a garbage dump and a blue blazer hanging in your closet have to do with each other? They’re all turning points in Riemer’s stories that lead us toward universal questions we all confront at some point in life, including:

Is there a dream that gives meaning to your life? What are our duties to the people we love? How do you make a decision when you’re caught between two conflicting values? And, what would you do if you found out that your time on this earth was almost up?

Reflecting on Riemer’s wisdom about life, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes that the rabbi “is obviously a person with much understanding of the human situation.”

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