June 23 Sample of Our ReadTheSpirit Planner

The following is a “sample” of our Monday-morning “ReadTheSpirit
Planner” — a free e-mail service that starts your week with a lively
slice of news about spirituality and media …

    IF YOU’D LIKE TO RECEIVE our Planner each Monday morning (it’s free and you can un-subscribe anytime) — then, send a quick Email to ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm — and we’ll get our next edition to you on the next Monday morning!

ReadTheSpirit Planner for the week starting June 23:

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



For millions of Americans, we’re now in the heart of Vacation Bible School season — and summer camping season, which many people pursue for spiritual inspiration.

We received a very nice cross-country note on this theme from the Rev. Jonathan Sams, rector of an Episcopal church in Michigan — writing about the deep inspiration he feels at a camp in Alabama. His note was a great example of how Americans are spiritually on the move in the summer. He wrote, in part:

“Camp McDowell
is an outpost along the pilgrim’s way, a place where a green gospel can
grow and flourish. It is a place where the words of the Prophet Hosea
are being lived out:  ‘I will make for you a covenant on that day with
the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the
ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land;
and I will make you lie down in safety.’ “
(Hosea 3:18)

Please, Email us about your summer experiences. We’d love to read more notes like Jonathan’s.

Check out our ReadTheSpirit story today for more on this “season” of the year.


This coming Sunday
(June 29) is a rare Christian observance that originated many centuries
ago. It’s rare because both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians
mark the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.


“How do we hold onto our core values in the midst of rapid change?”

Values questions
will dominate our American conversation in the next few months as the
presidential campaigns wrestle their way toward November.

But the question is
even broader than politics. Just take a look at our news items today
and you’ll see “values” reflecting in many directions.

This week at
ReadTheSpirit, we’re looking at Values from many perspectives: from
children learning about urban farming (today) — to the crazy-creative
views of comicbook artist Chris Yambar later in the week.

THEN, because I know
we’ve got a number of journalists, bloggers and other new-media
insiders in our readership, here’s an important “HEADS UP” about news
we’ll be breaking in one week:

In the next edition
of this Planner, on June 30, we’ll tell you about the launch of an
innovative partnership with a University of Michigan research project
to explore American values in an entirely new online format. This is
news that will touch a lot of people’s lives in coming months. So, stay




Help us Solve “The Love Guru” Mystery:

Is it funny?

And, Is There Really a Hindu Controversy?

Here’s the first
important clue in unraveling the tantalizing mystery of the “Guru”
“protests” we’ve been hearing about in some news media: As long as
religious controversies about movies don’t become explosive, then a
little snap, crackle and pop actually is encouraged by movie marketers
these days. So, I’m always very suspicious when I read urgent news
reports about Hollywood movies — like the report that broke from
Post-Newsweek a few days ago proclaiming:

“Hindu groups have
protested that ‘The Love Guru,’ the latest Mike Myers movie, exposes
their faith to ridicule. Where is the line between acceptable humor
about religion and offensive disrespect?”

Well, obviously the
values question that Post-Newsweek was raising is a very important
question right now. But, this idea that there’s a major Hindu protest
against the film is simply: “Nonsense.”

So, here’s the mystery: How did this “nonsense” become a “protest”?

I’ve spent long
hours researching this mysterious little tempest and, as far as I can
tell, the “protests” arose in a handful of news reports based in Indian
media, later picked up from Asia by some British media. These news
reports focused on critical comments by a few key people in India who
had seen the movie’s Preview.

Having reported from
Asia myself occasionally, I am part of a journalists’ Email network
that spans South Asia. And in tracking down this controversy, I want to
say: “Bravo!” to a journalist who is Hindu herself and goes by the
online name Raghu. Even as Post-Newsweek was heralding these
“protests,” Raghu was sticking a huge needle into this bubble and
calling the controversy “nonsense” in a point-by-point rebuttal of a
British news story about the film.

In fact, if American
journalists had just taken a little more time to check out the story —
it turns out that the Hindustan Times was actually praising the movie by this weekend! That’s the major newspaper in India where some of these alleged “protests” were reported weeks ago.

As it turns out, the
best-selling writer Deepak Chopra played both behind-the-scenes and
on-screen roles in the movie. And, by this weekend, the Hindustan Times
was crowing enthusiastically about how Mike Myers is even toying with
the idea of making a Bollywood movie in India.

Here’s what the Hindustan Times actually had to say about the movie this weekend:

“‘The Love Guru,’
which is inspired by new age guru Deepak Chopra, pokes fun at the way
the West is co-opting spirituality and not the religion of Hinduism, as
some protesting Hindus believed after watching just the trailer. The
film … has some Bollywood-style elements, even a dance sequence in
which Jessica Alba wears an orange sari.”

In fact, the biggest
protests against the movie aren’t from Hindus at all — they’re from
the chorus of film critics trashing the movie as tedious and the humor
as sophomoric. That point is debatable, of course, but Americans did
wind up voting for “Get Smart” over “Guru” in terms of ticket sales
this past weekend at a rate close to 3 to 1 (although the final data
hasn’t been tabulated as we go to press on the Planner).

Lesson: Not
all religious “protests” are really protests — so let’s not be so
quick to characterize devout people as knee-jerk reactionaries. Raghu’s
analysis in recent days is right on the mark in this regard.

Sometimes, we’re all
just cautious about our rapidly changing culture, aren’t we? We don’t
want our core values maligned. But, we also love to laugh. And for at
least some moviegoers this past weekend, Mike Myers served up a few
good-spirited chuckles.

Heck, after seeing
“Guru” myself, I think there’s less offensive stuff about faith in
“Guru” than there was in “Zohan” — and moviegoers seemed to love

New Light Shines on Our Spiritual

Blind Spots on Race and Culture

We reported on this
last week — but we’re reminding you about it again this morning,
because I’ve heard from many readers that they are planning to tune in PBS’s “Traces of the Trade” on Tuesday evening.

We strongly
recommend this film for small-group discussion and, with help from the
folks at PBS’ “P.O.V.” and even some notes of encouragement from the
DeWolf family (the filmmakers themselves), we’ve provided a special quiz, plus links to great resources for small groups watching the film.

If you suspect we’re too shrill on this issue — you need to look at the wave cresting on this issue all across American media.

On Sunday alone, the
New York Times Book Review carried a long piece praising Robert
Whitaker’s “On the Laps of the Gods,” a history of a tragic “race
massacre” in Arkansas in 1919 — and the Washington Post carried a
front-page story on the lingering levels of racism across the U.S.

This particular
Values issue is going to get red hot before the summer’s over — and,
at ReadTheSpirit, we are determined to provide helpful ways to discuss
these crucial issues.


These “Barbarians” at the Gates

Will Open Your Eyes to the World

So, much of what
we’ve reported today is pretty serious stuff, concerning our spiritual
diversity. Even the “Guru” controversy story would have been a very
serious matter, indeed, if a mean-spirited Hollywood film had tried to
humiliate Hindus.

So, now, here’s Something Completely Different as our Monty Python pals once loved to say.

If you’re looking
for fascinating summertime viewing — and especially if, over the
summer, you’re thinking about autumn groups and classes you might want
to organize, we strongly recommend Terry Jones’ documentary series, now
available on DVD, called “The Barbarians.” Click on the link to read our review of this light-hearted but really quite provocative series of documentaries.

Note: The series
includes an entire hour-long episode on the ancient Celts — the
pre-Christian Celts who were patriarchs and matriarchs of the later Celtic movement that is reviving in so many corners of the world today.


Crowdsourcing Audio Books

technically isn’t “new.” It’s been around a little while, but it’s
picking up enough steam that I’ve heard about it from two people in the
past month — and buzz like that is a sign that people regard it as a
fresh idea.

Think of this site as an audio version of Project Gutenberg, which is the origin of many books that volunteers read for LibriVox.

With MP3
players everywhere these days, the growing “shelf” of free audio books
at LibriVox is very tempting — just as the vast “shelf” of free books
at Gutenberg is now a gold mine for owners of book-reading devices like
the Kindle.

According to one report, LibriVox adds more than 60 new books a month.

Here’s what’s especially cool about this online project:
It’s branching out with recordings in a number of languages. AND,
LibriVox invites volunteers to read books aloud and post them on the
site, which means you could start offering more people around the world
your favorite spiritual book — assuming it’s a book that is freely
licensed for you to record. (Check out the site’s FAQs to learn more.)

If you do use this site: Hey, tell us about it!


Speaking of the Kindle …

We Apologize to John Dunham and Crew:

At ReadTheSpirit,
we’re pleased that we’re getting to know John Dunham and his creative
crew at International Bible Society. John is one of the key people
behind “The Books of the Bible” project. We have even featured an in-depth interview with one of John’s creative partners on the project.
However, in writing a news item last week on John’s accomplishment of
loading up some portions of the “Books of the Bible” onto the Kindle —
I had a momentary lapse of memory and said that John works for the … ahhh, the other Bible society.

We apologize, John!
And here’s a second, correct “Bravo” for the many extra hours you and
your team put in to get “Books of the Bible” onto our new hand-held
devices. (Psst — check it out — they’re only 99 cents per portion of scripture.)

This Week Inside ReadTheSpirit

We’re going to be exploring …

TODAY (Monday), You’ll read about some cool summertime spiritual experiences
in a collection of three short stories based on readers’ notes to us.
And, hey, today is probably the only time in 2008 that you’ll read a
spiritual item from a guy named “Napalm.”

We’ve got important news to share with you. The massive new Pew
database on religion in America is releasing another round of material,
which we’re following closely. You’ll see it on the wires mid-week —
but turn to us, as well, because we’ll give you our seasoned
perspective on what’s really significant in this new report.

Don’t miss our Conversation With Chris Yambar — a comic book artist
with a whale of a passion for reaching young people (and adults who
love comics) in fresh ways.

Thursday and Friday:
We’ve got another terrific guest writer visiting ReadTheSpirit,
Jewish memoirist Judy Gruen who has been racking up awards for her humorous memoirs.
And, we want to share more of your thoughts, reflections and


Our Latest Stories

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