July 28 ‘Sample’ of RTS Planner: Bonfires, Worship Miles, Starbucks, Fire Fish and the Bible

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At a glance, here’s what you need to navigate the world of faith this week … 


On Wednesday evening, many Muslims will begin Lailat al Miraj
(spellings and dates of observance vary). The holiday recalls the
Prophet Muhammad making a miraculous “night journey” from Mecca to
Jerusalem, up into the heavens, then back again to Mecca.


Wednesday also is the 190th birthday of Emily “Wuthering Heights” Bronte
— who perhaps lived a couple of centuries too early. Just imagine how
her spiritually tormented love story might have played out, fully
flowered in the 21st Century.


If you have English or Scottish friends, ask them about Lammas
on August 1. In this first-fruits festival, families once brought a
loaf of bread made from their new crop of wheat to their local church.


Or, if you have neo-Celtic or neo-Pagan friends, you might wish them a happy Lughnasadh
at the same time. A bonfire and dancing may be in store, depending on
each group’s customs concerning this Gaelic first-fruits holiday. In
ancient times, the idea spread widely. For example, even many Swiss
will celebrate.


“How do you connect to your community?”

With gas prices
spiraling into the range of what once was science fiction, this is
becoming one of the huge moral-spiritual questions of the summer — an
example of a gut-level, pocketbook issue sparking reflections that even
silver-tongued preaching couldn’t have inspired, right?

So, if you’re among
the leaders, teachers, media folks, writers among our Planner
readership — grab this golden opportunity to talk with people about
the central question: What’s the value of each personal connection you
make with your community? The New York Times just did this on Sunday,
so we’re not alone in raising the question.

And, today at ReadTheSpirit,
you heard it here first:
We’re adding our own twist to the conversation — introducing you to
the phrase “Worship Miles.” Talk about prophetic? Talk about an issue
that’s virtually a form of spiritual fire to contemplate?

“Worship Miles.”




Of Trans-Fats and Newspapers —

Our Cultural Morality Can Turn on a Dime

When Gov. Arnold
signed into law California’s ban on Trans Fats on Friday, there should
have been a little nervous shudder felt by people working in print
media. This was another illustration of how quickly Americans’ sense of
cultural morality turns on a dime. Convinced that Trans Fats are so bad
for us that we should be protected from them, our trend-setting West
Coast state quickly banned them. Most of us are saying: bravo.

But think about how
fast that issue flipped — from barely thinking about the crispy treats
we were consuming to getting mad enough about Trans Fats that: Bam!
Banned in California.

What does this have
to do with print media? Well, we’ve written fequently here about the
earthquake rumbling through print journalism. One of the rising
cultural spectres here is the feeling among younger Americans that
print media isn’t merely irrelevant — it’s a morally bad use of
precious natural resources (trees, gasoline, landfills, etc.) to
deliver what we can get faster online and via hand-held devices.

I had coffee with a
small circle of college students a few days ago and we got to talking
about this issue. I said, “You know, we’re hearing that some younger
people think print media actually is morally wrong — because of its
use of newsprint, gasoline to haul papers around and so on –” I was
saying this with a sort of ironic smile, shaking my head.

Until — I looked up and all of them were staring back at me without a hint of amusement.

“Why should we kill
forests to print something that we get better and faster right here?” a
young woman said, waving her cell phone at me.

They might have just said to me: “Duhhhh …!

Now, they’re only college students. Tomorrow? Our teachers, preachers, media producers and policymakers.

But the News Is Not All Scary:

A Big Kiss Blown To All of Us,

Courtesy of the New York Times

Did you read the New
York Times story just a couple of days ago about the fees authors are
commanding these days for personal appearances? Basically, writer
Rachel Donadio tossed a big bonus to struggling writers and
communicators everywhere — and we know there are many of you among our
Planner subscribers.

You may have missed it. Check it out (you may need to register if you’re not a Times reader).
In part, Rachel reported that, these days, “a mid-list novelist might
ask, though not necessarily get, $2,500 per appearance, a superstar
presidential historian might command $40,000. And some best-selling
authors charge double that.”

This isn’t a story
about author envy. It’s a report by Rachel on what event planners are
willing to pay these days when brokering public appearances by writers.
Clip the story. Save it. Get a copy of it ready on your computer to
Email to people with whom you’re discussing your recruitment for their
upcoming events.

Essentially, the Times is helping to recallibrate the professional barometer — a big kiss blown our way in turbulent times.

Here’s why that
story is so valuable: The realm of professional fees for appearances is
a mysterious swamp with few markers for the uninitiated. Even veterans
of public appearances admit that setting appearance fees is a shadowy

Now we’ve got another helpful reference point in our files: “Well, the Times just reported …”

And a special word
to clergy out there? Chronically underpaid clergy? Highly educated,
talented, undervalued clergy? Perhaps print out a copy of the article
and tack it up on a bulletin board. Even if your pay doesn’t rise to
match your true professional value, at least people may appreciate your
work a little more.

We Touched a Nerve on “Metropolis”

and the Good, the Bad and the truly Ugly in Our Digital Libraries

We definitely
touched a nerve last week with our Planner item on the discovery (after
nearly 80 years) of a new, longer version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”
I celebrated this discovery. Lang’s work fascinates me and holds enough
cultural keys to help us explore many spiritual threads that run
through the 20th Century to today.

BUT — it was my
next question that brought a flurry of Emails and messages. I asked
whether everything in our cinematic archives — even the hateful and
the racist films — should be revived and released on DVD.

“I can’t believe you’d even suggest censorship!” a longtime friend said on the telephone.

“I wasn’t,” I said.
“I was just asking whether we really want all the old racist and truly
ugly stuff in older movies to resurface.”

“Yeah, you’re pushing censorship!” she cried. “This isn’t even a real problem, so don’t start people off on a witch hunt.”

And, frankly, I have
to admit that we don’t have any control over this, anyway. We’re
rapidly approaching the point where nearly all major media ever
produced will be available 24-7 at our fingertips. Just ask a college
student how to catch an old episode of John Stewart — or find a scene
from some obscure Fred Astaire musical — and you’ll be on YouTube or
some other Web site watching the clip before you can refill your cup
with coffee.

We all know there’s a lot of far uglier stuff already at our fingertips as well.

Here are a couple of your other comments:

Reader Thomas
Fitzgerald put it this way, “Just get off it! Smells like earlier
guardians who worried about whether we ought to see this or that. … I
don’t need to be worried over.”

Reader Jim Leach
celebrated with us the news about “Metropolis,” which is among his own
personal favorites — but warned that we shouldn’t even toy with the
fire of censorship. The challenge now is to preserve the past before
early cinema crumbles, Jim wrote. “Do we close down an archeological
site as soon as we find evidence that they hated their enemies and
wished them bodily harm?”

To these — and all the readers who responded — thank you! We’ve heard you loud and clear!

Have You Got a Spiritual Hero?

Many minds and hearts are converging

on the upcoming Interfaith Heroes Month

We want to thank the Episcopal Church’s nationwide office for interfaith relations
for recommending our Interfaith Heroes
landing page — where all the action and inspirational reading will
center in January.

But — lots of creative programs are simmering already. We have an ongoing relationship with the Michigan Round Table for Diversity and Inclusion’s
Interfaith Partners, an internationally known group that helped us to
pioneer Interfaith Heroes Month and prepares our annual inspirational
books on “Interfaith Heroes.”

We’ve been collecting your nominations — which you’re still welcome to submit through our Web site. Author Daniel Buttry already is organizing the 2009 volume of this uplifting paperback and Web celebration.

What can you do now? Tell us about interfaith events on the horizon in your part of the world. Alert us via email and we may be able to help spread the word. We won’t be able to respond to every note. But we’re trying to become a helpful hub, sharing such news with readers.


Reformation and Renewal

in the Temple of Starbucks

also collecting comments, anecdotes, reflections about your experience
during the Reformation and Renewal of the “Temple of Starbucks.”

I’m one
of the earliest chroniclers of the spiritual lessons in Starbucks
culture. I wrote the section on Starbucks for the 2004 Baylor Press
book, “Quoting God,” two years before the 2006, “Starbucks Experience,”
and three years before Leonard Sweet’s 2007 “Gospel of Starbucks.”

books are now nearly a genre — and I welcome all the voices coming to
the discussion. I especially recommend Leonard’s book.

But, now
that Starbucks is in trouble, going through its own form of Reformation
and Renewal — now, I think, is the truly fascinating moment to look at
the complex relationships of culture, business and community that meet
around the high altar of espresso.

Seriously, we plan to do more writing about Starbucks in its season of transformation. So, send us your thoughts, please. And, if you’re an author or publisher of the next Starbucks book in this budding genre — drop us a note.



“The Giant Leaf” and “Fire Fish”

A New Perspective on Bible Stories

If you haven’t discovered the work of artist and storyteller Davy Liu, you need to explore his earlier “Giant Leaf,” where a plucky little fox is the chief hero and his brand new “Fire Fish,” where a family of perch swim up to a heroic challenge.

Liu is trying to
pioneer a creative approach to developing children’s books about Bible
stories. You’ll find that reviewers (myself included) don’t reveal
details of the specific Bible stories Liu is reviving. Part of the
amazement in his books involves discovering which ancient stories
you’ll encounter.

He starts his books
by trying to envision what spiritual forces may have been at work in
the natural world at the time of these epic events in the Bible. He’s
not pushing doctrine here. He’s trying to enlarge our creative
perspectives on biblical accounts that are so familiar that we’ve lost
our sense of awe.

He gets our “Hot Read” honors this week!


This week at OurValues.org:

“Pursuit of Happiness,” Pregnancy and You

UofM’s Dr. Wayne
Baker is kicking off this week with a challenge on: Happiness. Just how
happy are you? And how does your happiness related to your values?

By mid week, he’ll
be asking about teenage pregnancy — and other issues important to his
research team as they try to structure various pieces of their
long-term research on American values.

Check it out,
add a comment, take Dr. Baker’s new Quick Poll and, if you haven’t done
so already, sign up for his longer-term online survey.


This Week Inside ReadTheSpirit

We’re going to explore creative spiritual connections people are making with our communities.

Tuesday: Our popular Tuesday quiz
returns, concerning Animals and the Bible — an opportunity to tell you
more about the work of Davy Liu, who is trying to envision how animals
relate to our religious tradition.

Wednesday: You’ll meet an expert on Bruce Springsteen, who explores The Boss’ prophetic voice to his listeners over the years.

Thursday: You’ll meet an unusual Guest Writer.

Friday: We’re planning another Reader Roundup page, because you keep sending us so many wonderful notes, reflections and fresh ideas.

Our Latest Stories

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