Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire 10—When all three meet: Lincoln, black people and the Bible.

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

TWO HISTORICAL MILESTONES IN A SINGLE IMAGE: Frederick Douglass met Lincoln face to face three times. This famous painting depicts his first appeal to Lincoln in 1862 to combat discrimination in the Union army against black soldiers. The main effort to recruit black regiments began only after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January 1863. No photographs were taken during that meeting. This 1943 painting of the encounter is a milestone for two reasons. First, it broke new ground because it was an official U.S. government commission painted for public display by an African-American artist, William Edouard Scott. Second, it depicted Douglass in a clearly dominant position as he argued the case of black troops with a seated and weary Lincoln.

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By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a meditation on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome. Here’s a Lincoln quote for you:

“In regard to the great book, I have only to say it is the best gift which God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong.” Lincoln is replying to the gift of a Bible from a group of black visitors to the White House, some former slaves, some ministers. This quote is part of his reply early in September, 1864.

Lincoln’s life is inseparable from the Bible. If you subtract the Bible from Lincoln’s life you don’t have Lincoln. Lincoln, of course, is also inseparable from the life of black people in America. Without the black presence in America there would be no history of Abraham Lincoln.

It is then revealing to recount some of the stories of when all three meet: Lincoln, black people and the Bible.

In this 1864 event, Lincoln sees the Bible as a gift from God. Much of his own religious struggle was with Enlightenment Reason versus Biblical Revelation. But he comes to think—as he once told his best friend Joshua Speed—that you should go as far as you can with reason and then go the rest with revelation. The Bible is the gift of God’s word and the best one. It is a revelation not a conclusion.

In the grand narrative of American culture there is no other book, then or now, with this transcendent status. Lincoln does not, however, see the Bible as an American book. It is “the great book” with a message for the world. Lincoln’s eyes were on the whole world. In Lincoln’s view, “the work we are in” is to “achieve, and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” Those were his last Inaugural words.

For Lincoln the Bible is not the white man’s book.

When Lincoln, black people and the Bible converge in his life, it is revealing to see Lincoln’s point of view, and a point of view of the Bible, but also to see what might be learned from the black person’s point of view.

What might this 1864 “deputation of colored folk” as one old historian puts it, be seeing and thinking here with their Bible gift? This is in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation. This delegation is bringing sincere thanks. It is also near the time of the all-important next Presidential election. They and he might have some reasons to meet and share their loyalty to each other. What, then, might be the most meaningful and appropriate gift that they could put into his hands, to have him hold up in front of them?

The Bible is as much the spiritual property of black people as it was for this white man Lincoln. It could be a gift, then, between equals in terms of their biblical standing. The Bible could be a proudly given free gift from the former slaves to the present President.

There are other significant moments when Lincoln, the Bible and black people interact. One is when, as a young man, he receives the gift of a Bible from his best friend’s Mother, Mrs. Speed. The Speeds were slave owners. He would have been assigned a slave to care for him on his visit, no doubt. Lincoln is visiting Joshua Speed, his first roommate from Springfield and longest friend. He is in the deepest of “blues.” This motherly woman gives him a Bible and offers its support. He responds that if he could but take it on faith he knew it would help him. Lincoln promises to read it but he notes his own skepticism.

That Bible would have been in his bags as he took a steam boat back from Kentucky to Illinois. It is on that boat that he has the indelible sight of slaves, strung, he later writes, “like trout on a line,” but singing and sharing joy and music while in their chains.

Lincoln, a Bible, and black slaves.

Years later a former slave, a woman, his wife’s dressmaker, sees Lincoln one evening in the White House reading the Bible. Elizabeth Keckley had bought her freedom from her St. Louis master for twelve hundred dollars.

We see an echo of this moment in Stephen Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” when the two meet on the steps of the White House. They have a profound moment of wondering about the future of America and the races. They see each other honestly in terms of race. The script by Tony Kushner has Lincoln admitting his own ignorance, his lack of real experience in seeing black people as equals. “I don’t know you Mrs. Keckley.” It is a stunning and real moment of honesty from the Great Emancipator.

In her biography Elizabeth Keckley writes, as if a continuation of this scene, that she had seen the President walking back from the War Office. “His step was slow and heavy and his face sad. Like a tired child, he threw himself upon the sofa, and shaded his eyes with his hand. He was a complete picture of dejection.” He reported the news from the War Office was “dark, dark everywhere.” He then, she reports, took a small Bible from a stand near the sofa and began to read.

Fifteen minutes pass, as this is reported by Stephen J. Vicchio in his book Abraham Lincoln’s Religion, she writes, “I glanced at the sofa and the face of the President seemed more cheerful. The dejected look was gone; in fact, the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope.”

Lizzy Keckley, as she was known, then reports walking behind the sofa to see just what it was Lincoln was reading. It was the Book of Job. She says she could almost hear, “the Lord speaking to him from out of the whirlwind of battle saying ’Gird up thy loins like a man; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.’”

She adds, “Ponder it, oh you scoffers of God’s Holy Word, and then hang your heads for very shame.”

The Bible was a bond between Lincoln and black people. When Sojourner Truth, featured in a recent movie, “Harriet,” wrote to Lincoln that she feared he was in danger like Daniel in the Lion’s Den, he wrote back a letter full of references to the Book of Revelations.

On October 29, 1864, when the intrepid and intuitive Sojourner Truth visited Lincoln at the White House he showed her that Bible the ministers from Baltimore had given him. Their gift was dated “Baltimore, 4th of July, 1864.”

He shared with her that he often did feel like Daniel in the Lion’s Den. She is reported to have said, “…if the lions did not tear you to pieces, I knew it would be God that has saved you; and I said if he spared me I would see you before the four years expired, and he has done so, and now I am here to see you for myself.”

In the Great Chain of Being that we can call the spiritual life of Lincoln there are many links—none stronger than that between himself, the Bible and black people.

That link can hold us in honor down to the latest generation.

 

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Dr. Anni Reinking on ‘What can I do now?’

A man leaves a photograph at a memorial for George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photograph by Lorie Shaull, provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

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‘Breathing Racism’ and the ‘Adultification’ of Young Black Americans

By ANNI REINKING
Author of ‘Not Just Black and White’

“I am a 30-something, middle-class, privileged, Christian, heterosexual, anxiety-ridden, exercise-instructor, chocolate and peanut butter lover, social media addict, early childhood professor, dedicated educator, wife, step-mother, mother, daughter, sister, auntie, granddaughter, niece, sister-in-law, friend, blunt advice giver, equity-advocate, tattooed, world-traveling, female, and white. My biological son is black. My son is much more than people’s first impression; he is much more than the color of his skin. He is a yellow-belt Tai Kwando student, bow-tie wearing, competitive swimmer, wrestling-lover, video-gamer, animal fanatic, caring, pizza-loving, funny, weird (it’s a good thing), brother, son, grandson, cousin, nephew, friend, and biracial, but to the world he is a black male. But in the world’s eyes we are not those characteristics. What are we? I am white. He is black.”
Excerpt from my memoir, Not Just Black and White

My book invites readers to join me on my journey as a white mother raising a socially perceived black son. By writing a book that places me in such a vulnerable place, my friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers have reached out with this question:

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

“What can I do now?”

The question usually is prefaced or followed by: “I am mad as hell!”

Some of us are learning. Some of us have experienced the impact of racism in our lives. Some of us are constantly reflecting on racism in our country and how our brown and black brothers and sisters are tired of the daily harassment. And, for some of us, the concept of racism only is present while watching the news.

Given the power and grassroots nature of this tidal wave we have witnessed in recent days—people in all of these groups are asking that question:

“What can I do now?”

Many scholars, writers and community leaders have made lists. When looking through these suggestions, consciously reflect on the information that is being presented. Does it throw up red flags? Does it suggest something that is beneficial? Is it for my growth, my child’s growth, or for society’s growth?

You have to find your level of comfort and then take the next step because the line between comfortable and uncomfortable is where the growth begins. I am not presenting my ideas as “right.” I’m telling you what I know to be helpful because it’s what I am doing in my house, with my son, who is a Black 11-year-old in America.

What I Have Found Helpful—

1. Read and discuss my book Not Just Black and White, which welcomes readers to join me in my journey as a white mother of a socially perceived black son in America. I read this book with my son, my family, neighbors, friends—and people I do not know—in order to engage in respectful, and sometimes tense, discourse.

2. Read, listen, and learn from prominent voices today. For example, work by Jordan Peele and Spike Lee from Hollywood. Nikole Hannah-Jones’ work: The 1619 Project. Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ books, speeches and other pieces of writing.

3. Engage in discussions through literacy. Find books that are age-appropriate to discuss the Civil Rights Movement, this point in time and other current events. On my Instagram and Facebook pages, I constantly share and re-share lists for all ages, from young children through adults (@ReinkingEducationConsulting and @AKReinking)

4. Listen to NPR. Why? Because it is often kid friendly, is a great starting point for discussion and reflection, and provides warnings if anything is going to be playing that may not be appropriate for young years. Some frequent shows we listen to include Codeswitch, Up First, and We Live Here.

5. Have open and honest conversations. This also includes welcoming questions and reflections. This step is imperative. And, if you do not know, say so. It is okay not to know, but then to research and find out. Some great YouTube clips include: Systemic Racism Explained and Implicit Bias in Action.

6. Provide options for social-justice interactions with purposes and procedures. This could include participating in a #BlackLivesMatter march/protest or writing letters.

7. Whatever you do—
Be aware,
Be honest,
Be open,
Grow to learn by moving from comfortable to uncomfortable.

And remember, no matter what skin color your child has, they are never too young to talk about reality, racism.

Many parents, specifically white parents, say to me, “My children are too young to have these conversations.”

My pushback to them? “The children who are dead were not too young. Millions of children who face it everyday are not too young. Why do your children get the privilege of ‘being too young’ but others don’t?”

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Care to Learn More?

Read the Rest of This Story—

This is Part 2 of our Cover Story, this week. If you missed it, please, read Part 1: What Now? Dr. Anni Reinking reminds us it’s ‘Not Just Black and White.’ This column—which includes helpful links to other scholars as well—explains the long legacy of America’s “breathing racism” in the air of our collective culture. It also explains the problem black families face when their children suddenly face an unfair “adultification” by authority figures, including police. There’s a lot in this column to share with your friends, or your small group, to spark helpful discussion.

GET A COPY OF ANNI’s BOOK

The book, Not Just Black and White is in stock at Amazon in paperback, hardcover and eBook versions as well as other online retailers.

WATCH A VIDEO TRAILER FOR THE BOOK:

WHO IS ANNI?

Anni K. Reinking is a former professor and current education consultant located in Illinois. She specializes in early childhood education, multicultural education, and trauma informed practices. She currently provides training in topics focused on poverty, trauma, multicultural education, and developmentally appropriate practice. Her research agenda has consistently focused on multicultural education and social justice. She has published or presented research in the areas of multicultural education, challenging behaviors, trauma informed practices, and creating positive school cultures, and more. She is a member of multiple state and national organizations focused on multicultural education and education.

You can learn more bout Anni’s life and work at her Amazon Author’s Page.

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What now? Dr. Anni Reinking reminds us it’s ‘Not Just Black and White’

The Washington Monument and the White House are visible behind the words Black Lives Matter sign that has been painted in bright yellow letters on the 16th Street by city workers and activists, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Washington. (Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah provided for public use via Office of Mayor Muriel Bowser.)

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‘Breathing Racism’ and the ‘Adultification’ of Young Black Americans

By ANNI REINKING
Author of ‘Not Just Black and White’

Black is darkness. Black is death. Black is scary. Black is bad. Black is feared.

How many of you grew up with those ideas as part of your socialization? We all have. This is our reality.

“We are all racism breathers,” writes Lisa Delpit in her book Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children. Her statement is based in work of Beverly Tatum. A psychologist, educator and author, Tatum provides a powerful metaphor of the concept of racism breathers. She explains that in the same way residents who live in highly polluted areas cannot avoid becoming “smog breathers,” Americans who are immersed in the structures and practices of white supremacy unwittingly become “racism breathers.”

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

Many of us may not realize the degree to which these toxic beliefs shape our perceptions and experiences of the world. Unless we have opportunities to unlearn racism, these messages become absorbed and have consequences. In a book by social psychologist Jennifer L. Eberhardt, she describes a story she heard from a police officer as she was doing training on the impact of implicit bias in society. A short version of the story is that a Black officer approached her after the training and told her that one day as he was working undercover he saw a man with dark skin who looked sketchy. He began trailing the man until he noticed, several minutes later, that he was trailing the reflection of himself in a window/mirror. He, a Black man, was trailing his reflection, as a suspect, a sketchy looking person. We all have bias.

So, we, as Americans, all grow up as racism breathers learning that black is bad. In movies, dark scenes often indicate something scary is going to happen. Many children grow up being afraid of the dark, which is internalized through socialization. What color represents mourning and/or death? Black.

I grew up, just like all other Americans, in a society that breathes racism into our bones, our blood and our mindsets.

However—this does not give us an excuse to act on our racist beliefs. While we all reflect on this concept we need to be honest with ourselves. We need to consciously work against something that has been breathed into us, just as we breath in smog in polluted areas.

Does this concept make you feel uncomfortable? I urge you to keep pushing through your discomfort.

Today, we all have witnessed murders of black persons—especially George Floyd—at the hands of police. The global outpouring is forcing all of us to confront this uncomfortable truth that, in our society and culture, “Black is scary.”

Adding to this reality is the concept that in America Black bodies are owned. The concept of owning Black bodies is embedded into the foundation of our country—on the backs of Slaves, on the backs of Black people racially profiled, on the backs of Black people murdered, whose blood is flowing through this land—and those forgotten.

We have a history to fight against, but we are strong and this fight is not over.

‘Adultification’ of Young Black Americans

This piece of writing came about because of a picture I saw on social media—one that truly spoke to me. It was the picture of a Black boy holding a sign asking why society turns their view of him from cute to scary. This happens in the blink of an eye for Black children.

Black children are “adultified” and miss out on the growing years of adolescence where mistakes can be made and people forgive, rather than kill. Black children, in the eyes of Americans, go from cute to scary in the blink of an eye. But white children? They get the advantage of the learning and growing years where people forgive and dismiss occasional misbehavior as: “Kids will be kids.”

Remember—Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was murdered by police bullets. In the eyes of white Americans he was “adultified.” He was deemed scary because of the color of his skin. He was seen as an adult because of the color of his skin.

Remember—12-year olds are 5th and 6th graders. Think about 5th and 6th grade students. They are still children. Their brains are still forming. They are still learning about life. And for some Black children, they may be just starting to become aware of a society that is scared of them, especially because one year earlier they were seen as cute.

The adultification of Black children moves them from cute children to scary adults and skips the learning years of adolescence and young adult.

Why? Because we are racism breathers.

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Care to Learn More?

Read the Rest of This Story—

You’ve read Part 1. Now, read Part 2: Dr. Anni Reinking on ‘What can I do now? In this second column, Anni responds directly to the question so many men and women are asking today: “What can I do now?” She doesn’t claim to have the only “right” answers. Rather, she describes tried-and-true approaches she is taking with her own family, friends, co-workers and her students.

GET A COPY OF ANNI’s BOOK

The book, Not Just Black and White is in stock at Amazon in paperback, hardcover and eBook versions as well as other online retailers.

WATCH A VIDEO TRAILER FOR THE BOOK:

WHO IS ANNI?

Anni K. Reinking is a former professor and current education consultant located in Illinois. She specializes in early childhood education, multicultural education, and trauma informed practices. She currently provides training in topics focused on poverty, trauma, multicultural education, and developmentally appropriate practice. Her research agenda has consistently focused on multicultural education and social justice. She has published or presented research in the areas of multicultural education, challenging behaviors, trauma informed practices, and creating positive school cultures, and more. She is a member of multiple state and national organizations focused on multicultural education and education.

You can learn more bout Anni’s life and work at her Amazon Author’s Page.

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We Held a National Conversation asking, How Do We Reconnect Communities?

IS YOUR COMMUNITY GROWING ONLINE? The Women of WISDOM, an organization of women from many different faith traditions, already is producing new online content to connect diverse communities. This set of WISDOM images comes from the front cover of their book, Friendship and Faith. Clicking on this “tiled” display of images takes you to the book’s Amazon page. Want to know more about the group? You’ll learn more about WISDOM in the column, below.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Clicking on Rich Homberg’s photo takes you to his bio at the DPTV website.

“Since the start of this crisis, we are hearing from so many people that we need understanding and a place of refuge. Nothing is more important to us right now than helping people to reconnect with our communities—the communities around us, our communities of faith and culture and heritage. That’s what we do: We connect people.”

That was the call to action from Rich Homberg, the head of Detroit Public Television (DPTV) serving southeast Michigan. He was among two dozen media professionals nationwide who convened through ReadTheSpirit for a 90-minute national conversation on Friday via Zoom.

The conversation was scheduled to allow these professionals, connected with our magazine and publishing house, to check in from their isolation in the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as our meeting opened, we also found ourselves talking in the context of the fury following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In fact, one of the participants in the Zoom, author Benjamin Pratt, contributed a poetic reflection for our ReadTheSpirit issue this week on the Christian celebration of Pentecost, and on our collective anguish over violence.

So, why come together like this for 90 minutes? Was it an occasion for grief?

On the contrary, as Rich so aptly described it, gathering a community is an opportunity to share good news! Nearly all of the men and women who spoke during our 90 minutes shared news about ways they are using their talents and resources to try to connect people in healing ways. During that Zoom circle—plus the additional chats, texts and emails that swirled around it—many participants expressed deep thankfulness for this gust of hopeful inspiration that blew across our connection.

Although these men and women were of many faiths, Lincoln-scholar Duncan Newcomer summed up the effect from his Christian perspective. “This is an honor and a joy. This is the invisible church becoming visible.”

And, now, in this column, we are sharing highlights of this experience—and hopeful links—with all of you.

Creating Visible Communities Online

Making largely invisible communities visible is what most of these media professionals are striving to do each day.

Speaking from DPTV, Rich recommended that the participants learn from the recent example of the multi-part PBS series Asian Americans, which is streaming now online. Although this series was announced years before the current pandemic, The New York Times reported recently, “It is arriving with an unanticipated relevance, amid the surge of racism toward Asian-Americans during the pandemic.”

The debut broadcast on PBS was national in scope—but Rich told the online group: “What I think about, when I get up every morning, is that our mission as a public television station is to help all of us understand our community. We had a long lead-time for planning on this PBS series so, way before the pandemic, we had planned a 125-person regional gathering with Asian Americans. That’s what we do to reach out with these TV series—we invite people to get together.”

He paused and added, “Then, like everyone else, we suddenly had to go to social distancing—so we switched to Zoom.”

Rich asked, “You know what happened? Our 125-person gathering became a 400-person gathering! This shows you: Even in the midst of this health crisis, we can gather our communities and provide safe places to learn about each other.”

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

The Women of WISDOM’s Paula Drewek said her organization is making similar plans. WISDOM is an organization of women from many different faiths whose story is told in the inspirational book of true stories, Friendship & Faith. WISDOM’s signature public programs are called Five Women Five Journeys, featuring a panel of women from five of different faith traditions talking with audiences about what they share and how they differ.

“We had some of these programs scheduled this spring, then the pandemic hit. We actually experimented with holding our big annual dinner in a carefully rehearsed one-hour Zoom presentation—and it turned out to be very successful,” said Paula, who is an emeritus professor of religion. “Now, we are beginning to tailor our signature program Five Women Five Journeys so that we can present that online. That also will have an added benefit of our being able to offer the program anywhere that people want to gather with us. Rather than limiting us, this may wind up expanding our voices.”

(You can read much more about the WISDOM organization—and the Five Women Five Journeys program at WISDOM’s own website right now.)

Click on Bob’s image to read more about his new online programs.

That’s also what author and standup comedian Bob Alper is doing. In Bob’s work, he normally crisscrosses the nation most weekends, performing professional standup shows either alone or sometimes with a Muslim and a Christian comic on the same stage. However, in a world without in-person gatherings, classic standup comedy tends to fizzle—as is apparent when watching popular late-night hosts deliver lines from their homes with no one to laugh in response.

So, in the midst of the pandemic, Bob is offering two different online formats that groups are hiring him to present. He has moved a step away from classic standup and has developed these two formats to engage and entertain audiences in other ways through humor and storytelling and reading from his popular books.

(Care to learn more? Here’s a related story about Bob’s new programs.)

What Would Abe Lincoln, or King David, do now?

One of the continuing themes in our 90-minute national conversation was the need to rally around famous figures who have the potential to draw communities together—across the political chasms that have divided the nation.

Click on this snapshot from Duncan’s cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lincoln-scholar Duncan Newcomer talked with the group from his home in Maine about his continuing efforts to produce columns about the timely wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. In this weekly Quiet Fire series, Duncan refers to Lincoln as “the soul of America, calling us to our best as Americans.” (Note: Thirty of the best Quiet Fire episodes are available in both text—and audio links—in the book 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln.)

“What I most want to share with people in our conversation, today, is that Lincoln’s wisdom continues to be more and more relevant,” Duncan said. “I have been writing for years about Lincoln’s deep wisdom in confronting times of uncertainty, tragedy and death. But, right now, there is more relevance to his wisdom than ever. I deeply believe that his spirit is incredibly important to us in this particular time.”

This comment from Duncan led to encouraging voices from other men and women on the Zoom. It also prompted several participants to reveal that they actually keep small images of Lincoln in their home offices! There was refreshing laugher when one person after another would lift up their Lincoln statuettes or photographs into the Zoom window beside them.

“Just as I said: Lincoln’s popping up everywhere!” Duncan laughed.

One of those holding up a mini-bust of Lincoln was pastor, Bible-scholar and leadership coach Larry Buxton, who joined the group from his home not far from Washington D.C.

“I’m following Duncan in the 30 Days series with a second volume called 30 Days with King David on Leadership and I am very appreciative to find that people from across the political spectrum are responding to this idea,” Larry said. He explained how his book about David will open with heart-felt forewords written for the book by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and also Republican Andrew Card, who served as President George W. Bush’s chief of staff.

“They both ‘get it’ that we really need to find these touch-points that we all can share in learning about the timeless values behind leadership,” Larry said.

‘Don’t Miss This Moment!’

That’s when Rich chimed in again. “That’s why I’m saying: Don’t miss this moment! Yes, the news today is bad—but this also is an opportunity. A unique opportunity—an opportunity that may never be repeated in our lifetimes.”

Rich continued, addressing Duncan and Larry pointedly: “As you are seeing, it’s incredibly important to realize that millions of people are out there are trying to connect with community. That’s why you’re seeing the kind of response you’ve seen to these two books calling people together.”

‘Shining Brightly’

That message was echoed by two authors who are cancer survivors, both of whom are working on new books designed to tell stories that will, in author Rodney Curtis’s words, “bring people headlong into happiness, again.”

Rodney’s new book will be a joy-filled collection of his writings, the kind of stories readers have enjoyed in Spiritual Wandererand A “Cute” Leukemiaand Getting Laid (Off)(Plus, you can read lots of Rodney’s other writings in his section of ReadTheSpirit anytime for free.)

Howard Brown shining brightly on that big day at Babson along with a huge gathering of other alumni.

Howard Brown—who spent years as a leading entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and now is known for his work as a philanthropic peacemaker—also has survived advanced cancer.

In Howard’s case—twice!

He’s calling his upcoming memoir Shining Brightly, named after an overwhelming outpouring of support at an international alumni gathering for his alma mater Babson College. At that event, Howard was serving as head of the alumni association and managed to forever seal the memory of that day in attendees’ minds by passing out white-framed, gold-lens “Babson” sunglasses—inviting everyone to put them on in unison.

“You’re shining brightly Babson!” he shouted to the crowd.

They roared.

And, they remembered it.

“I agree with what Rich is saying,” Howard told the group. “I’ve been involved in online development of communities for many years and, I can tell you, we’re changing the whole dynamic right now. We’re changing it in the way our communities meet. And, as I am working on my book, we’re even changing the way a new book is produced through using online resources. We’re learning things right now that will change the way communities live and grow in the future.”

In fact, when Howard’s book is published, he will include creative calls to action throughout the book—then will invite readers to connect online to share the bright moments that they have discovered as a result of reading his true stories. He’s even planning to offer a limited edition of Shining Brightly sunglasses with early copies of his book—so stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit magazine for more on that.

‘It Takes a Lot to Keep That All Going’

On and on for 90 minutes, participants in the Zoom took to the main screen for a few minutes to describe the tireless work they’re doing to help communities survive and thrive.

Kirk Leifson, a Michigan-area representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talked briefly about some of the ways LDS volunteers are helping other nonprofit organizations expand their work—especially in feeding and job training. “The church has a big humanitarian arm,” Kirk said, “and it takes a lot to keep that all going.”

Kirk also is working with Joe Grimm, a professor of journalism at Michigan State University who heads the nationally known Bias Busters project. Working with many classes of journalism students, Grimm has produced a whole series of guidebooks to understanding minorities within the U.S.

“I need to thank lots of people on this Zoom for helping with our upcoming guides: 100 Questions & Answers about Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and also 100 Questions & Answers about Evangelicals—both of which I think are important groups to understand in a national election year,” Joe told the group. “I’m glad we’ll be able to have these books out there soon.”

Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit for news about those two book launches, meanwhile—

Click this snapshot of the MSU Bias Busters’ author page to visit the Amazon site and learn more about this valuable series of books about minorities.

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‘Looking for the Meaning in Big Questions’

Clicking on Rodney takes you to his full column about the memorial service.

Writer and journalist Sherita Bryant shared a side-conversation during the Zoom with Rodney Curtis about a recent request he had received to speak at a funeral for a journalistic colleague. Sherita has had to fulfill that role, as well, and told the whole group about the challenge of trying to help knit together families at such milestones, in these difficult days of separation.

“We have to learn to talk about what it’s like to be facing our mortality right now—while still seeing that there is another side to life,” she said, noting that media professionals tend to get this kind of request to speak at memorials because everyone assumes they know how to express difficult truths in a hopeful way. She said it’s a daunting request. “It’s certainly hard to do under the cloud of death constantly around us, right now. We need to try to reassure people in these situations about life—and hope on the other side.”

(On Sunday, two days after our Zoom, Rodney did follow up with a full column about his experience with the memorial service.)

Emelia Askari, who teaches environmental-and-public-health journalism at the University of Michigan, underscored that there are, indeed, many surprising new opportunities to use our creative skills as media professionals. While everyone knows that Zoom is more impersonal than in-person meetings, Emelia said, “It also allows us to have a lot more interactions with people in a single day.”

As an outgrowth of her teaching and ongoing research at UofM, Emelia’s journalistic projects include an effort to help young people living in southeast Michigan to write their own stories. A long-time member of the Unitarian Universalist church, she also helps young people to write their own statements of faith.

“This is exciting work,” Emelia said. “I’m seeing young people reaching for the meaning in big questions they want to explore—out of the difficult situations they’re seeing today.”

Martin Davis, a journalist based near Washington D.C., echoed Emelia’s amazement at the inspiring power of true stories that draw on the wisdom of men and women who might otherwise be ignored by national media.

In fact, in the week we were Zooming, Martin had written the ReadTheSpirit cover story, headlined: “Why We Need Coaches—Even If We Don’t Have the Games.” He is working on coast-to-coast interviews with men and women who coach high school athletes. He wants to glean true stories about the powerful wisdom coaches can impart to teens.

“If you haven’t had a chance, please read that cover story—and then let me know if you’re in touch with a coach who has shaped your life in an important way,” Martin said. “I want to expand these interviews. I can tell you, these are some of the most insightful interviews I’ve experienced in years of journalism.”

He said, “I’m not a traditionally religious person, but spirituality is important in my life and we need to remember there are lots of ways we can pass along wisdom.”

‘Bringing us into the Lives of Society’s Outsiders’

“Film is one of the most powerful ways we share wisdom,” said Ed McNulty. He is the columnist for ReadTheSpirit’s weekly Faith & Film section and also the author of Jesus Christ Movie Star, a book that collects some of his most thought-provoking articles about Jesus in Hollywood films.

“I’ve been writing about films for many many years and my focus is always to bring the relevance of scripture and faith to these films,” Ed said. “But right now, I’m finding that it’s especially important to write about the films I love most—which are films that bring us into the lives of society’s outsiders. Every week, now, I’m very concerned to relate the films I’m recommending to people to the relevance of everything that’s going on around us.”

Building Future Interfaith Relationships

Finally, one other theme that ran throughout the 90-minute conversation was the need to specifically focus on shoring up interfaith relationships in communities where social distancing has closed houses of worship.

Near the end of our conversation, Rich’s opening call to action was echoed by Bob Bruttell, an emeritus professor of religion and co-founder of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.

“When all of the disruption from the pandemic hit us, those of us working on the council’s projects thought at first: Well, this is something we’ll have to work around for a month, or maybe a couple of months,” Bob said. “Then suddenly we woke up to the realization: This is something we’re going to be doing for a year! This awareness really surprised us and made us think about what we’re doing in new ways.

“This really is an opportunity,” Bob continued. “Now, we’ve got people putting a lot of our resources and programs online in creative ways.”

“I’m certainly doing everything I can to keep those connections alive,” said Victor Begg, author of Our Muslim Neighbors. Originally born in India, Victor devoted many years to interfaith leadership in Michigan and now is active in the region around his Florida home.

Addressing the Zoom participants, a majority of whom were Christian, he said, “You know I’m Muslim but, last year, my book was launched in a synagogue—and I’ve spent many years building Christian, Muslim and Jewish relationships all over the country. We can’t meet in person at the moment—OK. So, now, I’ve got a Zoom book talk scheduled with a synagogue. We have to change and use the tools we can to keep reaching out. Like Rich said, I welcome all these opportunities.

You can go to my website and contact me. I’m involved in many different projects. When Ramadan ended this year, our Eid program at our mosque was put on local television for an hour, then that was put up online for people to see anytime if they want to know what happens at the Eid. It’s a good hour to watch. We’ve got to keep building these resources.

“You know, it’s so important we help each other,” he concluded. “And it’s really very easy to do, even on social media by adding a supportive comment or clicking a ‘like’ or sharing good news.”

Acting on that Advice Right Now

ReadTheSpirit Marketing Director Susan Stitt had the last word in an email she sent to participants after the Zoom ended—because so many of the men and women had asked for specific steps to take toward stronger connections.

Susan wrote: “It was wonderful seeing all of you today! What a treat to match faces to the many names that previously had only been email signatures. My request from the meeting today is that you respond, just as many people asked, by connecting with our publishing house social media pages.”

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FrontEdgePublishing/  Please “Like” our page.
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/publishingfrontedge/ Please “Follow” our page.
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidcrumm/ Please “Connect” with David and then go to https://www.linkedin.com/in/susan-stitt-2176824/ and “Connect” with Susan.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/FrontEdgePub Please “Follow” our page.
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuelki6y-Qq762Ya1MORULg  Please “Subscribe” to our channel.

 

Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire 9: A Unique Spiritual Quest and The Pilgrim’s Progress

This entry is part 9 of 13 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

This 1820s edition of the original 1678 Pilgrim’s Progress was packed with vivid illustrations that would have caught the eye young readers.

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By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

One of the black and white illustrations from that early 1800s edition of Pilgrim’s Progress. Lincoln surely would have found it an exciting tale.

This is Quiet Fire, a meditation on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome. Here’s a Lincoln quote for you:

“That I am not a member of any Christian Church is true, but I have never doubted the truth of the Scripture; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular. … I do not think I could myself be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion.”

Lincoln is running for Congress. It is 1846. His opponent is the Rev. Peter Cartwright, a locally famous Methodist evangelical preacher. Those rumors of Lincoln being a free thinking infidel have once again been raised. So, Lincoln responds with these words on a handbill to the Seventh District of Illinois. He wins the election 6,340 to 4,829.

As a young man, Lincoln sometimes was called an infidel. In the setting of New Salem, Illinois, that meant he and a few of his bookish friends held a wide variety of views. They were not orthodox Protestant Christian views. That does not mean he was what we might call an infidel today.

He could have thought, for example, that the Bible was not literally inspired, or that the miracles of Jesus were not scientifically factual, or that the Creation only took a week. And he did not want to join a church. Lots of infidel views.

Yet Lincoln was fiercely interested in the whole matter of religious and spiritual life. At that time he even wrote a deep essay on the anger of God that he shared with one of his older male friends.

Lincoln was inspired by Pilgrim’s Progress, the widely known and read book by the non-conformist preacher and writer John Bunyan. That 1678 book was well known even on the frontier. The hero, Christian, meets all sorts and conditions of people along the path of his spiritual progression. Lincoln would have liked that. He was one of those open-minded questers.

But some people in New Salem in 1830, if they had known, might have wondered about two other spiritual figures from history. Johnny Appleseed, for example. He was about to take his mission for God and orchards into the Great Lakes area of the American frontier. As a mystic unchurched preacher, would they think he was an infidel?

What about Joan of Arc, a saint so inspired by God that she moved a nation to crown a king as divinely ordained—and yet they burned her at the stake? What would they have thought of an untutored military genius and saintly Roman Catholic girl?

To grasp the wide reach of Lincoln’s spiritual life we can easily imagine him liking and wanting to know such spiritual heroes.

Johnny Appleseed was a common and a rustic man with an uncommon mission: to plant the mystical word of God and to seed hundreds of apple orchards and douse village sites throughout the expanding west. John Chapman, Appleseed’s real name, was a non-conformist as was John Bunyan.

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian, meets all sorts of people who influence his spiritual journey. Bunyan himself was a maker and mender of pots and kettles, a tinker. Like Johnny Appleseed and Lincoln, Bunyan had little formal schooling. Yet he had great faith struggles and extraordinary language skills. John Bunyan was often thrown in jail for his non-conformist preaching. He had rugged endurance as did Lincoln and Chapman.

These three men were great walkers and talkers, men of intense religious fervors and wide-ranging beliefs. Lincoln traversed on foot all of Sangamon County as a surveyor. Bunyan and Appleseed both were itinerant foot-bound preachers.  While Bunyan was a mender of pots, Appleseed is often pictured wearing a cooking pot hat, not, of course, to be confused with Lincoln’s stove pipe hat.

Lincoln’s spiritual beliefs were similar to those of the iconic Johnny Appleseed. Both John Bunyan and John Chapman would easily have been close and kindred spirits to Abraham Lincoln in his early New Salem, Illinois, days. Shirt tail boys grown into rustic men with fervent faith and rhetorical skill.

Chapman was an evangelical follower of Emmanuel Swedenborg, himself an Enlightenment thinker, a mystic, and an inventor, among many other things. Swedenborg believed that God was peeking out through not only the Bible but also nature itself and through human reason.

These were beliefs Lincoln could agree with. Swedenborg also struggled with the existence of evil, such as war. He believed in universal salvation, as did Lincoln. He even had a belief in good angels that would meet each of us in heaven and bestow upon us the better angel of our own nature.

In the landscape of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress we can imagine Lincoln meeting Johnny Appleseed, a frontier soul brother. We can also imagine him meeting a military and spiritual saint, that untutored young girl from the 1400’s Joan of Arc. Lincoln was always looking for an inspired fighting general who could lead the sacred national cause to victory.

Joan of Arc was a saint and like Lincoln she is hard to explain. How did such a mysterious figure ever come into history? No one, to this day, can explain how either of them came to be who they were.

At the end of his massive study of the life of that 15th century courageous young girl, Mark Twain himself concludes that we just cannot explain her. But Twain does write, on page 452 of his long-researched and passionately sincere historical novel Joan of Arc, that an artist who would paint Joan “should paint her spirit.”

Twain’s astonishment at the being of Joan of Arc rests on her pure and humble spirit and her bold unprecedented achievement for France against England. She lays the ground and the myths for the French nation. Her superhuman and even supernatural means of achievement led Samuel Clemens himself into a humble reverence, a new voice, without a trace of mockery or arch humor. He is as sincere as he will ever be in print.

Joan of Arc was a miraculous general and the fullest expression of obedient suffering and a noble, even holy, death.

Lincoln, however, had to find an able general in U.S. Grant, and then he left us with a nearly miraculous vision of a nation without malice toward the enemy, with charity for all and care for the wounded, and then his martyr’s death.

Lincoln was certainly no infidel. He was truly a John Bunyan type of pilgrim, with a nature so inclusive that he could be at home with these two remarkable religious figures.

In the torchlight of such a parade we too can be led down in honor even to the latest generation.

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Benjamin Pratt: ‘Pente-costly’

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: I have been writing poetry on the seasons of the Christian year as part of my ongoing contributions to Wild Goose Publications, based in Scotland. As the world’s Christians approach Pentecost this year, however, we feel a special connection with those first Christians who were grappling with the unthinkable trauma of Jesus’s death—and the ways they would try to live in light of his resurrection. As I offer up this Pentecost poetry in 2020, my own heart is breaking at the ongoing violence in our world. The timeless question that echoes down the centuries is: How shall we live in such a world? I have set this piece in the public square of a barroom, much as the first followers of Jesus were struggling in the public places of their era.

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Pente-costly!

By BENJAMIN PRATT

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Act 1

Three friends
In a bar
Drunk on dogma.

No soul-searching
So
No joy
No peace.
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Babel!

Words, words, words
Shot at
Each other.

Nothing shared
No listening
No hearing
No spirit
No communion.

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Acts 2

Three friends
In a bar
Sharing wine
Laughter
Talking with each other
Surrounded by
Smooth jazz

Bullets, bullets, bullets
Shot
At
Them.

The biggest one
Shares his body
Shielding both under him.

Taking bullets for them.

How do the two friends who live
Say thank you to the
One
Who dies for them?

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Act 3

Maybe
Like him
They can pour out their own
Spirit
Sacrificially
Bringing peace, joy and justice—
Acting from love
Hope
Gratitude.

Always listening to
Different-tongued voices.

Gratefully forming
Communion.

And, service.

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Martin Davis: Why We Need Coaches—Even If We Don’t Have the Games

By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist

Here I am celebrating after my kicker hit a 32-yard game-winning field goal on Senior Night. Fifteen minutes before, I was chewing him out for not executing the proper kick-off play. Sports are demanding, and hard. That’s what makes the lessons they teach so rich.

As I pulled into my driveway this past Sunday following a musical-chairs-type trip to the grocery store, I spotted my neighbor’s high school daughter in her front yard practicing her pitching. A rising high school senior, she’s both a talented student and a gifted athlete who is receiving serious recruiting attention from top-tier Division I universities.

I stopped to offer her my sympathies. Her softball season at school never got off the ground this year because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Track and field, Lacrosse, Cross Country, Soccer, Swimming and Diving all had their seasons canceled, too.

Now, I am concerned that high school football—the sport that I coach—will be the next athletic competition to fall victim to the pandemic.

In a Nation Divided, a Unifying Ritual

Millions of other student-athletes, coaches, parents and communities share our concerns. Losing high school football, of course, would mean losing the celebrations and heartbreaks that play out on more than 16,000 football fields across the nation every Friday night under stadium lights.

In a nation divided, it’s one of the few rituals that still brings us together.

Life Lessons Lost

My concern about the forthcoming season, however, goes far beyond athletes missing games and communities missing reasons to gather together.

What I worry about most are the critical life lessons these young athletes aren’t getting from their coaches: lessons about character, humility, dedication, commitment and living for more than yourself.

We are not talking about just a few privileged athletes who play football and basketball. According to data from the NCAA and Statista, just under 50 percent of high school students take part in high school athletics in some way during their teenage years.

Things Our Children Need to Hear

I have seen from several vantage points the critical role these coaches play in students’ lives. As a father, I value coaches because they can say things to my children that they need to hear, but they won’t hear from me. As a coach, I understand that my job is about so much more than teaching Xs and Os. It’s about supporting and being there for “my guys.”

Many coaches were mentors in my life. Mr. Finch taught me that there are ways get any point across, if you’re willing to change your approach. And Coach Brown taught me that failing as a football player just means you’ve failed at defensive end—not at life.

Such lessons are hard learned, and we all need to hear them. Coaches, perhaps more than anyone else, are best positioned to deliver them. And they do a great job of it.

My desire to capture the wisdom of coaches launched me my first book project. It’s tentatively titled 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches, and it will be published by Front Edge Publishing. (To learn more, or to suggest a coach to interview, check out this synopsis.)

For this book, I am interviewing high school coaches across the nation and gleaning the critical lessons that they impart to their students so that I can share them with you.

And the lessons I am hearing are truly inspiring.

There for You—Always

As part of a chapter on a coaching legend in the state of Michigan, I have interviewed several of his former players. Many were truly outstanding athletes who went on to win national championships at the Division I level in college. It was a call from a former player that I didn’t expect, however, that really caught my attention. This individual told how during his freshman year in high school, he heard this famous coach talk at a pep rally.

That talk struck him especially because his coach talked about everything but football. “I knew right then,” he told me, “I wanted to play for him.”

He eventually did. Over the course of his entire career, however, he never played more than a few minutes of varsity ball. It didn’t matter. Some 50 years later, Coach still knows and talks with him, and writes him personal letters. Coach was there for him when his wife passed away earlier this year. And Coach was there for him throughout his life, through highs and lows.

Talk about caring for the “least of these.” This Coach taught this gentleman that everyone matters. Whether you go on to win national championships at Notre Dame, or sell used cars in your local community.

Learning to Fend for—and Defend—Yourself

A soccer coach in South Carolina is another example. Among his players was a young woman whose father served in the military and was often called away from home. Her mom had to carry the load at home. And Coach was there every step of the way.

No wilting flower, the Coach was hard on his players. Some parents might see this and think of a coach as being cruel. But what he taught this young woman to do was to stand her ground and defend herself.

During one hotly contested match, this young woman watched as the opposition scored a go-ahead goal. Coach let her know in no uncertain terms this was on her. She was furious, but she gathered herself, finished the game, then thought through what coach had to say.

The next day she approached him: “I did not blow coverage, let’s look at the game film.”

She was right.

The end result? She became a coach on the field. She defended herself, and learned to talk to authority figures in a constructive manner. How many adults today would benefit from learning to deal with problems this way?

We All Need a Push

As I finish this column, I’m prepping for position meetings this evening with my own unit. We’re doing all our coaching for now on Zoom. We may not be able to be together or to practice, but we are using any means necessary to prepare our guys for the season. They will be ready when the lights come back up.

One of those life lessons: Control the things you can.

I truly believe that teenagers not only need the kind of life teachings their high-school coaches offer, they crave it.

In fact, I know it. You see, just this morning I got a call from one of my players.

“Coach, I have a question for you—”

“Sure,” I said. We talked football for a bit. And we talked about him and his family.

As we were hanging up, he said. “I can’t wait to hit the field again, Coach. I haven’t been screamed at in months.”

“Don’t worry,” I laughed. “It’s coming.”