By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine
One of the joys as Editor of ReadTheSpirit is helping our readers discover inspiring authors who are just launching their first books. As Editor, I’ve published nearly 400 in-depth interviews with authors since this online magazine was founded in 2007.
On Saturday, however, my role reversed and I appeared off-line as one of the “celebrity readers” at a spirited launch event for Laurie Haller’s Recess: Rediscovering Play and Purpose, the newest book from Cass Community Publishing in the heart of Detroit. Our national headquarters are here in the metro-Detroit area, so I was able to join with other media professionals—in person for a change—as we all helped Laurie literally take the stage and figuratively step onto the national stage, as well.
Cass Publishing, which is headed by the entrepreneurial pastor Faith Fowler, has a mission to transform lives among Detroit’s most challenged families. Faith works with folks who have lost their jobs and, in many cases, their homes; folks who never learned to read properly and finally are retraining themselves as adults; folks who have a wide range of disabilities and find themselves marginalized.
The launch of Laurie’s Recess represents the second major Cass Publishing campaign—and any authors or media professionals reading this column today should beat a path to Faith Fowler’s door (or at least the Cass Community website) for a chance to learn from a master.
Faith turns book launches into big, splashy celebrations of diverse regional communities. She requires attendees to put money behind their interest—she sells tickets to her launch events. And, the crowds always seem to enjoy the show—as well as the feeling that they are becoming a part of a far larger and very hope-filled story. (Here is our report on Cass’s first major launch, headlined “We’ve never seen a book launch like this!”)
The event on Saturday actually was the second event in the current campaign to celebrate the release of Recess. With each new book, Faith organizes regional appearances for her authors and a January 17 event already had taken place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In advance of each event, Faith and her team reach out to media professionals in each city, inviting them to become a part of the program. TV, radio and print journalists are honored to be asked. They realize that a Cass launch event is, in effect, doing good for the world by raising awareness and funds to aid needy families.
Most importantly, these events are fun!
Attendees leave a Cass event wishing someone would provide a soundtrack recording they could play over and over again. Yes, the celebrity readers are terrific, but Faith always makes sure there’s a diverse showcase of local musical talent, as well. On Saturday, the musicians ranged from an a capella women’s quartet with a haunting version of a Dolly Parton song to a dozen women providing a meditative interlude on Tibetan “singing bowls,” and from rafter-rattling Gospel music to a stirring classical performance on pipe organ.
Why we need Recess …
If you are already are intrigued by this story, then you understand why we need a book like Laurie Haller’s Recess: Rediscovering Play and Purpose. On many levels, this is a perfect book to match Cass’s blend of creativity and hard work in helping men and women improve their lives. This memoir by Laurie Haller tells the story of a crisis in her own personal and professional life some years ago, when she decided to take three months away from her work as a pastor to travel in the hopes of reclaiming her original vocational passion.
This was made possible by a grant from the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program (which currently is welcoming a new round of applications, by the way).
On Saturday, the audience was reminded, again and again, of the widespread need for the insights in this book. Flipping opening the pages of Recess, readers found a personal note from former Michigan United Methodist Bishop Donald Ott, who writes: “Call it a book if you must, but for me Recess reads like a deeply revealing diary. Laurie Haller has a remarkable gift of linking everyday occurrences to her deep, yet always seemingly elusive desire to always, everywhere, and with everyone, live with and like Jesus.”
The emcee of the launch event—Alicia Smith, the 7 Action News This Morning anchor on one of Michigan’s major TV stations—talked about the widespread need for this kind of honest guide to renewal.
One of the readers finished an excerpt from the book in which Laurie describes her goal in her pilgrimage this way: “to listen to God, to discover who I am underneath all the crud and then become the person God wants me to be.”
As Smith returned to the stage as emcee, she talked to the crowd about the universal need to “discover who I am underneath all the crud.” Smith said, “Isn’t that something we all need to do sometimes?”
At another point, Smith asked men and women in the audience to raise hands if they have felt the kind of stress and burnout Laurie struggles with in this memoir. A forest of hands shot up.
“In this book,” Smith said, “you’ll find yourself taking this journey with Laurie.”