Global Diversity of Love for Mary includes Greek Orthodox Bread for the Feast of Dormition

EDITOR’s NOTE: Our regular Holidays & Festivals columnist Stephanie Fenton writes about the global diversity of interest in Mary, the mother of Jesus in her column about the Assumption or Dormition of Mary. In addition, from his current base in the Middle East, Kevin Vollrath sends us this column about a local custom of symbolic (and delicious) bread baked for the Dormition. Here is Kevin’s story …

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Naila Libbis, a Palestinian Greek Orthodox believer who lives near Nazareth and bakes her bread in an outdoor oven at her home.

MARY is venerated by Christians today in a wide array of traditions that have evolved and spread around the world since the earliest centuries of the faith. One tradition is a molded bread that the faithful can smell baking this week—and, if they are lucky, can taste—in Orthodox neighborhoods of the Middle East.

For millions of Christians around the world, of course, Mary is a beloved part of nearly every season of the year—and images of her are displayed in homes and gardens. In Orthodox and Catholic churches, Mary has a number of feasts through the year, including her birth (September 8), the Presentation at the Temple (November 21), the Annunciation that Mary would become the mother of Jesus (March 25).

The Orthodox Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God commemorates Mary’s death without suffering and then her bodily resurrection. It is analogous to the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, celebrated in many Western churches. Both are observed on August 15 for those using the contemporary calendar, and August 28 for those using the Julian Calendar.

While Mary is adored by millions of men, women and children around the world, her exact role in the faith differs across the many branches of Christianity. For centuries, Protestants have shied away from venerating Mary, cautious of equating her with God. Even Catholic pontiffs over the past century have publicly expressed a range of perspectives on Mary’s role within the faith. For example, Pope Francis’s talks about Mary’s role in the Christian salvation story take a different approach than those by the earlier Pope John Paul II.

Where Eastern and Western branches of the church agree is that the events surrounding Mary’s death were miraculous. The Orthodox Feast of the Dormition celebrates her death without suffering as an indication of God’s faithfulness to God’s beloved.

This range in belief and custom evolved over the centuries partly because of the Bible’s lack of details about the end of Mary’s earthly life. A variety of sometimes conflicting accounts about Mary’s life and death emerged throughout the ancient Middle East.

One of the earliest traditions emerging in Bethlehem was that Mary began to pray at Jesus’s tomb, which annoyed Jesus’s critics. They asked her to stop. The story is described in the Oxford Early Christian Studies volume by Stephen Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. As Shoemaker tells it: Mary moved from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where she performed miracles and healings, inciting those critics to ask Roman soldiers to stop her. The Holy Spirit warned Mary and the apostles that soldiers were coming, and transported them to Jerusalem. The critics found her in Jerusalem and attempted to burn her home. While being ministered to at her tomb in Gethsemane, Christ received Mary’s soul, and Mary’s body was taken into Paradise.

Other early accounts of Mary described by Shoemaker begin with an angel telling her of her impending death and giving her a palm from the Tree of Life. Mary returns home in Jerusalem to alert her family, and the apostles are transported to her, miraculously. After a night of preaching, Christ receives Mary’s soul and and gives it to Michael. Mary’s body is taken to the Mount of Olives, where the apostles await Christ’s return. Paul asks about the mysteries Jesus taught, and Jesus’s followers begin arguing about how to preach the gospel. Eventually, Christ returns, vindicates the Pauline Gospel, and takes Mary’s body to Paradise, where it is reunited to its soul.

Today, Palestinian Christians continue to celebrate Marian feast days throughout the year—including a regional custom of a specially flavored bread that is popular to this day in Bethlehem and other ancient Christian communities.

This kind of wooden mold forms the raised symbols on the finished round loaves.

A Symbolic Bread for the Feat

Many Greek Orthodox believers living in the region today still bake a symbolic bread unique to this feast.

Two recipes are commonly used, says Naila Libbis, a Palestinian Greek Orthodox believer who lives near Nazareth. Every year, she bakes these two versions, drawing on family recipes handed down orally.

The first recipe is enjoyed by families at home around the time of this annual festival. As Naila demonstrates this variety, she pours 1 kilo of flower into a big bowl, blending it with more than two cups of water, a big spoonful of yeast, a smaller spoonful of sugar and a bit of salt. She blends and kneads and lets the dough rise—working the dough until she reaches a consistency that she can form into round, flat loaves. Traditionally, these loaves were baked in a wood stove, but Naila and many other home bakers now use outdoor gas or electric stoves manufactured in the region.

Each year, she also makes a second spiced version of the bread that is used in her Orthodox church as the bread for this holiday Eucharist.

For this special bread, she starts with the same ingredients as her family loaves, but adds roughly twice as much sugar, then mixes in a big spoonful of mahlab as well as a smaller amount of mastic. Naila’s family has passed these customs down by word of mouth, judging the exact amounts by eye and the feel of the dough. She said she hopes that sharing her story may inspire other bread-makers around the world to experiment with this custom to help keep it alive.

If you are reading this story and want to try this mixture, you can Google a wide range of other Greek-inspired “breads with mahlab (or mahleb) and mastic.” If those ingredients are not available in stores near your home, they are available in various quantities via Amazon—as are Greek Orthodox circular stamps for holy breads. (One example of a stamp is listed here on Amazon, but there are many others listed on Amazon, as well.)

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KEVIN VOLLRATH is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion & Society at Princeton Theological Seminary. He produced this series of columns as the Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). His home base is in Lambertville, NJ, but he currently is conducting fieldwork in Israel-Palestine.

A prophetic chorus calls us to become ‘dangerous’ peacemakers

J. Brent Bill on ‘Hope and Witness in Dangerous Times’

His Prophetic Voice Echoes in Many Ways Right Now

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

Three times this week, I was warned that would-be peacemakers need to become “dangerous.” The first warning came from psychologist Dr. Robert J. Wicks’ wise and wonderful book from 2012, Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Timesa book that I was rereading to discuss with one of our authors, Howard Brown.

Then, the second warning was from Quaker writer J. Brent Bill’s brand new Hope and Witness in Dangerous Times: Lessons From the Quakers On Blending Faith, Daily Life, and Activism, a copy of which Bill graciously mailed to our offices. It’s an inexpensive new 72-page booklet within an ongoing series. Bill’s volume is so new, in fact, that it is not yet listed in the Amazon Quaker Quicks index page, as of this week.

The third warning came from my sister, Shauna Weil, a musician, writer and partner in one of Michigan’s historic family-owned dairy farms. Each summer, the Weil family opens one of the most popular sweetcorn stands in mid-Michigan under a large tent. To be clear, Shauna never used the exact word “dangerous” in her telephone call, but that clearly was the context. She rang my cell phone to ask for help in editing one of the occasional inspirational columns she writes, because she was concerned about the dangers of including two real children in a column about racism. You can read her column for yourself here. As we talked, we resolved her concerns by making sure she consulted with parents, who approved publishing the story, and she also did not specifically name the two minors to protect them from backlash.

‘Listening Dangerously’

I realized, after these experiences, that my daily work as an editor amounts to what Wicks refers to as “a dangerous listener.” That’s especially true because—every week as editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine—I am engaged in talking and working with writers who are what J. Brent Bill calls “dangerous people.”

What makes us so dangerous in all three instances I am describing?

We are daring to reach out in a turbulent world to foster meaningful, hospitable, uplifting relationships with other people—daring to accept all of the risks and responsibilities of that messy and unpredictable process.

Why do we take that risk? Why are we willing to become dangerous?

Because, as all three of my mentors this week point out, we are attempting something that is radically countercultural: We are opening our hearts to people around us because we truly care about them. We love them in the way Jesus used the term “love”—as much as we love ourselves.

In Robert J. Wicks’ book, he puts it this way:

As Phil Cousineau, in his book The Art of Pilgrimage, rightly recognizes, “Listening closely is nearly a lost art, but a retrievable one. The soul thrives on it. … Words heard by chance have been known to change lives. … Listen as though your life depends on it. It does.” Listening closely, listening dangerously, listening as though our lives depend on it, means listening from the heart. When we seek to listen from the heart we recognize that we are not free in so many, many ways in our lives.

You might want to read Wicks’ words a second time. He’s describing an astonishing process, if we can make this kind of ‘dangerous’ connection of two lives in truth and selfless humility. And, then, consider the exponential power of that? Think of the spiritual energy we generate as a fully engaged community of two, or three, or four, or—? This journey always will be surprising and, as Wicks’ points out—beyond our individual ability to control! That’s when we become truly dangerous agents for transforming the world.

Becoming ‘Angelic Troublemakers’

Don’t take my word for it. Read the words of Wicks or Bill—or my sister—and you will find them all daring us to take this step toward caring for someone else so fully that we see them “through new eyes,” as my sister writes. When we do, we feel a mysterious unsettling of our hearts and minds. We can’t control that movement. In reaching out as a “dangerous listener,” we have let go of some of our own controls and boundaries.

We can feel the danger.

As J. Brent Bill puts it in his new book:

All of us are invited into a holistic life. As the early Quaker William Penn said, “True godliness doesn’t turn us out of the world, but enables us to live better in it, and excites our endeavors to mend it… Christians should keep the helm and guide the vessel to its port; not meanly steal out at the stern of the world and leave those that are in it without a pilot to be driven by the fury of evil times upon the rock or sand of ruin.”

I invite you to consider how your personal faith life better enables you to live in these dangerous times and how it moves you to work at mending the world. How do your spiritual beliefs empower you to help guide the vessel of the world and its people into a good and safe direction? …

Quakers have endeavored to live such lives—and we don’t always get it right!—and what lessons they might have for us. In this book, we will examine what motivated them, how they’ve acted and continue to act, and how we decide what we’re called to do, what our spiritual work in this world is to be. For some of us it might be the grounding work of contemplation and prayer that supports the efforts of those on the front lines… For others it might be to become, in the words of the Quaker civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, “angelic troublemakers.”

For many of us, it may well be some combination that may not have occurred to us up until now. Regardless, we’ll explore how our faith is not just about the hereafter, but it’s also about here.

After all, if faith matters, it has to matter now!

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Care to read more?

GET THE BOOKS! Follow the Amazon links above to order Robert Wicks’ and J. Brent Bill’s books. Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit magazine for news of an upcoming book by another “angelic troublemaker,” Howard Brown whose upcoming memoir is called Shining Brightly.

MEET BRENT BILL—Brent Bill is photographer, retreat leader, writing coach and teacher—and Quaker minister.  He’s written and co-written many books including Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality and Life Lessons from a Bad Quaker, in addition to more than 100 short stories and non-fiction articles.

Brent graduated from Wilmington College and the Earlham School of Religion. He’s worked as a local church pastor, denominational executive, non-profit director, seminary faculty member and go-cart track operator.

Brent is now retired (except from writing–he always has a new project he’s working on). He lives on Ploughshares Farm, which is fifty acres of Indiana farmland that is being reclaimed for native hardwood forests and warm season prairie grasses. That’s where he spends most of his time, doing chores, rebuilding rail fences, and enjoying life.

Contact Brent at brentbill.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/brent.bill, or Twitter at @brentbill

A ray of sunshine as wisdom passes from one young teacher to another

Clicking on this Weil Farm photo by Nicholas Weil will take you to the corn stand’s Facebook page.

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EDITOR’s NOTE: Shauna Weil is a musician, writer and partner in one of Michigan’s historic family-owned dairy farms. Late each summer, Weil Farm becomes a destination for hundreds of hungry Michiganders, when the Weil family opens its super-sweetcorn stand. Shauna also writes occasional spiritual reflections for friends in her congregation. This column touched many readers and was widely shared, including via ReadTheSpirit this week.

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“Words heard by chance have been known to change lives.”
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:36-39

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If this is the greatest commandment Jesus taught us—why can’t we do it?

I tell you a tale of the corn stand and a day my heart broke. It is not only children who learn lessons under the big tent we set up for corn sales each year. Adults do as well. I had this lesson seared into me one hot day in a way I will not forget—and taught to me by a child.

We welcome all travelers of the road to our corn tent, where we sell our farm’s sweetcorn each summer. I was working and happened to overhear two of our helpers, both of whom are middle-school age. The older boy told the younger boy that he would not go out to serve a particular car.

The younger one asked, “Why?”

“Because of that confederate license plate on the front of the car.”

Again, the younger one asked, “Why?”

The older boy explained that the confederate flag symbolized support for the ugly era of slavery in our country. Then, he went on to explain how he could not stand to be associated with the hatred that continues toward people of color to this day.

The younger boy looked at his friend through new eyes. A lesson was passing from older to younger, and I was overhearing it in real time. The younger freckled face was beginning to grasp an ugly truth in our world from this older boy, who still is very young himself and proudly identifies himself as a person of color. Despite his age, he already understood this pattern of hatred that runs so deep and wide in our nation.

My heart broke right there with corn in my hand as I overheard a child standing next to me explain this much better than I could have to another child. I didn’t want this hatred to exist in our world—in the worst way, I wanted to erase all traces of it—but it does.

We talked and I told him I supported his position entirely.

“Thank you, Shauna,” was the response to me from this child. I did not deserve his thanks. Of course, with the whitest of skin, I am a part of that centuries-old pattern of privilege. He was the wise one in this situation. He was teaching me. I should have thanked him. I cried that day and I cry now as I write these words.

I was humbled by my inadequacy. May we all be so humbled as we walk forward in faith truly loving our neighbor as ourselves. My heart broke that day, but God will mend it and make it bigger to spread more love and acceptance in this world where something ugly reared it’s head on a hot day under a corn tent on a small farm in Goodrich, Michigan, in the United States of America in North America on the planet Earth.

Reread Jesus’ commandment, please.

How big is your heart?

How big is your tent?

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Martin Davis: What does it mean that American evangelicals are in decline?

TWO MEN OUT: In this photo, President Trump spoke at the 2017 commencement ceremony at the religiously conservative Liberty University led at the time by Jerry Falwell Jr. In August 2020, Falwell was forced to resign after a series of scandals involving sex and alcohol.

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EDITOR’s NOTE: One of the most striking series of headlines about religion in July 2021 concerns the decline in self-identified evangelicals in America, triggered by new data from the Public Religion Research Institute. Headlines included The Washington Post: The Rapid Decline of White Evangelical America? and in The New York Times: The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It and in New York magazine: White Evangelicals Now Outnumbered by Mainline Protestants in U.S.—and finally from CNN: America is no longer as evangelical as it was—and here’s why, written by the esteemed scholar Diana Butler Bass. That’s why we asked for this column by our own resident writer who focuses on America’s growing ambivalence toward traditional religious identifications. To help put this news in context, here are the perspective of journalist and author Martin Davis.

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By MARTIN DAVIS
Contributing Columnist

A number of years ago I began asking folks who attended church a simple question: “What does it mean to be Baptist?”

Or, Presbyterian? Or Methodist? I adapted my question to the person’s affiliation. However, more times than not, people had no idea. They attended the churches they were at not because they came to a decision about what they believed then sought out a community that reflected those beliefs. Rather, they attend because their children got invited, or the church was near their house, or they had friends who attended and invited them, or they liked the sermons (See Pew Forum research on this question).

Almost never would a Baptist talk to me about the importance of missions, or the centrality of the Bible in their belief. Presbyterians mostly had no idea how their system of governance differed from Congregational or Episcopal communities. And while they knew the name John Calvin, almost none had ever read much of his work or wrestled with what his message means today.

As one person succinctly said to me: “Look, I just attend a Baptist church; that doesn’t make me Baptist.”

So when the Public Religion Research Institute, headed by Robert P. Jones, released research in July 2021 announcing that “Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020”—I was more than a bit suspicious.

First, the survey is based on self-identification, not actual records of church affiliation. And as suggested above, this can yield some perplexing findings.

Second, PRRI’s findings don’t square with other major studies of religion in America. Notably, Pew Research Center data shows only a minor drop in evangelicals. The General Social Survey and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study also show no such decline. (The Washington Post story linked above ends with a question mark in its headline and contains a nice summary of the conflicting data.)

What to make of this conflicting information?

First, recognize all of this data for what it is—a snap shot in time taken with one particular camera using a particular lens. This doesn’t make the information wrong or mean that the people conducting the surveys are up to no good. But the way you ask questions matters. And who you ask matters.

Second, it raises a more-important question: Who are these dwindling numbers of evangelicals, and what’s happening to those who no longer claim that name? Are they moving to mainline churches?

“The survey doesn’t provide precise explanations regarding the shift among white Christians,” Ed Kilgore relates in his New York magazine piece. “But [Jones] pointed to ‘circumstantial evidence’ that suggests ‘over the last two years in particular, white mainline Protestants seem to have absorbed at least some folks leaving white evangelical and other churches who may have otherwise landed in the religiously unaffiliated camp.’”

Or is it possible that these people who once identified as evangelical but no longer do are still attending the same houses of worship they always have? Perhaps they just don’t want to be associated with the term “evangelical” because of the Dumpster fire that was the Trump presidency and his unholy alliance with conservative Christians.

It will take more than a while–and a lot more studies–to sort all this out.

More Than Cultural Change

There’s a deeper concern in the general tone of the reporting this month. It’s as if many Americans would like to simply wish an entire group of people—so-called evangelicals—would simply fade away. There’s a hope among many Americans that the shrinkage of evangelical communities might somehow resolve some of our public conflicts and social ills. And that’s simply wrong headed.

However Americans choose to describe the religious part of their lives, the animating ideas that have long been associated with the word “evangelical” still are deeply embedded in our culture.

To highlight just one example: Racism still is part of American life. Although many Americans tended to associate racism with political conservatism and evangelical affiliations, racism runs from top to bottom in our culture and, more importantly, in our civic and corporate structures.

Another example: The yawning chasm between the haves and the have nots is a massive issue that will not be solved by books like Hillbilly Elegy, which wrongly places all the problems that poor Americans have squarely on their shoulders. The book’s overriding solution–just grow up and accept responsibility for your life–could only be expressed by someone who escaped poverty with little empathy for those left behind.

There are many more examples that probably are rolling through your mind right now.

The bottom line is: The people who have been called evangelicals, and the larger conservative world they populate, are not going away. If, as PRRI claims, evangelicals are in sharp decline, then how does one explain Donald Trump getting 77 million votes in 2020?

So What Do We Do?

So, perhaps evangelicals aren’t dying. Perhaps there’s just a fashionable change in labeling. There’s no question that millions of Americans see themselves along a whole series of political and cultural barricades. For those of us who appreciate the progressive values of American justice, concern for the less fortunate and embrace of diversity, the question becomes: How can we find a way forward?

I believe we are in for more political and social struggles, not unlike the fight that leaders in the Civil Rights movement waged throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

President Reagan meeting in the Oval Office with Jerry Falwell, Sr., in 1983. Falwell was the founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, a megachurch in Lynchburg, Virginia. He founded Lynchburg Christian Academy (now Liberty Christian Academy) in 1967, founded Liberty University in 1971 and co-founded the Moral Majority in 1979. He died suddenly of cardiac arrhythmia in his office at Liberty University at the age of 73 in 2007.

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Since the rise of the Religious Right under Jerry Falwell in the 1970s, evangelicals have refused to evolve away from the position that there is only one way to truth—their way. In fact, since that time the evangelical insistence that they hold The Truth has only grown more insistent. We see it in movements like dominionism, which is a move to subsume all aspects of American life under an extreme evangelical rubric. (Here’s an excellent story about one such community in Fort Worth, Texas.)

We see it in our political system, when a womanizing, foul-mouthed, intellectually-deficient man-child becomes the great beacon for the group pollsters describe as White Evangelicals. And we see it in governments in Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, and others, where Republican-led state legislatures use the Bible to defend denying people the vote, punishing the poor, depriving children of nutrition, and punishing people who–heaven forbid–have sex outside of marriage.

There is no working with or talking to many of these individuals. I can write that line, because I came from that world. And I left that world. And I had my life nearly destroyed along the way.

My story isn’t important. I have finally put that part of my life in the rear-view mirror. I’ve never taken my eye off what I left behind, however. And I am convinced that it is gaining ground again–even if the numbers of self-identified adherents are down. Even in decline, their power is far out of proportion to their numbers.

It is time that we claim and raise the voice of our own Silent Majority: people of no religious affiliation like myself that now account for 1 out of 4 people in this country, plus religious liberals and people of faith who simply are just decent people. One deep concern we share is the rise of an evangelicalism that can become more nihilistic even as it declines in numbers.

We need to encourage national conversations about what it truly means to embrace American values.

Values that unify us as Americans

Four come to my mind.

A commitment to freedom lived in a respectful community. For too many on the extreme right of the evangelical world, religious freedom means the freedom to do whatever they want, and to deny those same freedoms to others. We must insist that our freedoms are not grounded in any one religious group or theological position. Our freedoms are grounded in the Enlightenment, which gave birth to the US Constitution, guided the thinking of our Founding Fathers and Mothers, and stresses that every individual is a person of worth. These ideals flummoxed our nation’s leaders in the earliest days. Washington and Jefferson and Madison all struggled with the dissonance between the ideals they espoused in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence—and slavery. That dissonance has never gone away. Progressives today are stifling our ability to create a broader discussion around freedom and community by continually taking the culture-war bait that evangelicals keeping throwing out. It’s time to quit defensively responding and force the debate about the reality that freedom must be lived out in community.

A commitment to facts. When KellyAnne Conway insisted from inside the White House that there were “alternative facts,” she made public what people who have followed evangelicalism have long known. The worst of evangelical tendencies is a refusal to deal with facts in a reasonable way—and a rejection of objective knowledge and science that is inconvenient to their creed. We must insist that being part of this nation means accepting as reality what is testable and knowable.

A commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The evangelical movement has long rejected this core tenet of American society. That dates at least as far back as so-called Progressive movements like Temperance that were thinly veiled bigotry against poor immigrants. Those of us among the Silent Majority I am describing must also guard our own actions against similarly demonizing poor communities. What we need is honest, balanced, hospitable engagement and conversation. The danger is a slide toward a Balkanization of our nation. I know that I am not alone among community leaders nationwide who are working, even now, on new structures to cross our chasms and re-engage in the American values that can continue to unite us.

A commitment to peace. The reality now is that a significant portion of radical evangelicals accept that they will have to launch a violent overthrow of the current system. This is no idle threat as we all witnessed on January 6, 2021. The temptation is to suppress and fight back. Or simply wish these people away. That will not win the day. We must rise up, nonviolently, and stare this evil squarely in the face.

Understand the Moment

It is important that we truly grasp what is happening around us, and the very real threat that we all face. We cannot afford to gloat in the wake of one study that shows the threat to the way of life that we enjoy is shrinking in numbers. Shrinking, maybe, but power is not now, nor has it ever been, distributed equally. And far too much of it rests in the hands of extremists.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to how Michelle Goldfarb summarizes where we are at in her current New York Times Op-Ed piece:

“I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.”

Evangelicals have driven the discussion far too long in the country. We must take charge of the discussion, and quit hoping things will get better without the active engagement by all of us.

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Care to read more?

MARTIN ALSO REMINDS US that there are major questions about the validity of American polling that have been raised by everyone involved with such research—from the pollsters themselves to the journalists, scholars and community leaders who rely on this kind of data. He says, “I recommend that people also read this Washington Post story about the very real problems with polling and why we should always be skeptical of the numbers we are seeing. I love the conclusion, which I agree with fully.”

The conclusion of the Post story says:

Instead, polls should serve as a rough guide to public opinion. They’re the only way to ask the country a question and get a timely, meaningful response. We should be cognizant of polling’s problems and shortcomings—at least until someone comes up with a better way to discover what Americans think.

Care to read even more?

Right now, Martin and our editors are completing a book filled with uplifting stories about high school coaches and players nationwide—men and women, black and white, famous and unsung heroes alike. His book will appear soon in our series of 30 Days With under the title: 30 Days With America’s High School Coaches.

You can follow Martin’s work through his personal website, MartinDavisAuthor.com, which describes his work as an author and editor, as well as his background as a veteran journalist for national publications.

Look around that website and sign up to receive free updates from Martin about new columns and podcasts. You’ll be glad you did!

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Madonna Thunder Hawk of the Lakota People’s Law Project on the Indian boarding school legacy

EDITOR’S NOTE: ReadTheSpirit magazine has been involved for many years in lifting up Native American voices. After our recent cover story about the launch of North American investigations into the legacy of Indian boarding schools, we have heard from many Indian readers and writers. This week, we chose this brief column to share from Madonna Thunder Hawk.

She has been active with the Lakota People’s Law Project, which was formed by grandmothers concerned about children who were still being removed from families by government officials as late as 2004.

Here is the message she sent:

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The Intergenerational Trauma We Live With

By MADONNA THUNDER HAWK

There’s a lot of justified anger and trauma in Indian Country right now. For many of us, the reality of what happened in these horrific church-run and state-sanctioned facilities is not something we want to relive. That said, because I was there, I want to share with you some of what my experience looked like.

By the time I went to boarding school in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, things weren’t as horrifying as they’d once been. I spent a period of these years in the U.S. government and parochial boarding school systems on and off the Cheyenne River reservation. It may not surprise you to learn that I was always on the verge of getting kicked out. They said I was “too mouthy!”

My parents’ generation had it much harder. In their day, boarding schools were military in style and very strict. In the late 1920s and early ‘30s, my mother attended Pipestone Elementary. It was a U.S. government school, but many like it were parochial, mainly Catholic. She and her classmates were made to wear uniforms and march wherever they went. Neither crying nor laughing was allowed. No one talked, and many tried to escape, but they would always be found and brought back against their will. Then the administrators would shave their heads bald, march them into the auditorium, string them up and flog them. All the other kids were made to watch as a lesson in what happens when you run away. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that many children died from illness under these harsh conditions.

This is the intergenerational trauma that I and so many of my contemporaries still live with today. It informs our current fight to keep our young ones from being stolen away into white foster “care.”

It’s why we, as an organization, support U.S. Interior Secretary Haaland’s investigation, and why we hope even more will be done to empower a true reckoning here in the U.S.— through an audit of our own school properties and teaching real history in the schools of today. There is much that our past can show, if everyone will stop turning away from the truth.

Wopila tanka—thank you for your understanding and allyship at this hard moment.

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

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Madonna Thunder Hawk, a member of the Oohenumpa band of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has a long history of grassroots activism prior to her formative work for LPLP as a Tribal Liaison. She is co-founder of Women of All Red Nations (WARN), as well as the Black Hills Alliance—which prevented corporate uranium mining in the Black Hills and proved the high level of radiation in Pine Ridge reservation’s water supply. She was a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and occupied Alcatraz and Wounded Knee in protest of the federal government’s genocidal policies against Native Americans. She spent months camped in Standing Rock to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline and protect clean water and treaty rights. Her work with LPLP builds alliances and support for Indian child welfare among South Dakota’s tribal leaders and communities. She is a grandmother to a generation of Native American activists.

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Exposing the horrors of the Indian Boarding Schools: Why we need to read Warren Petoskey’s ‘Dancing My Dream’ in 2021

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the best known institution in this nationwide system of “schools” where children were forced to give up their Native languages, dress and customs. Author Warren Petoskey’s grandfather was among the children forced to attend Carlisle.

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“Dedication: In honor of the victims and survivors of the Indian boarding schools, orphanages and foster care systems …”
First words in Warren Petoskey’s memoir Dancing My Dream

“The Indian Boarding School story that Warren Petoskey shares with readers is all too familiar to Indians in the United States and Canada. The story, however, is an unfamiliar one to white America. It is a story that needs to be told. Virtually every Indian family was touched by the policy of assimilation that the boarding schools were designed to promote. “Kill the Indian, but save the child” was the desired outcome. Instead of assimilation, the boarding schools created a syndrome of intergenerational trauma that afects most Indians in America to this day.”
Anthropologist Kay McGowan in the Foreword to Dancing My Dream

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UPDATES: On July 11, 2021, an alert reader suggested we also share a link to this National Public Radio report on July 11 that represents a fairly in-depth overview of the story to date. And, on July 4, 2021, we published this column by Madonna Thunder Hawk of the Lakota People’s Law Project.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

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

The stories are true.

As horrifying as these stories seemed when they emerged into white American journalism over the years—stories of Indian children beaten to death or murdered in other ways over many years by a systematic government-sponsored repression of the Native population—the fact is: The stories are true.

We should have known better, but in the summer of 2021, the world is shocked to read about the discoveries of hundreds of children’s bodies buried near the sites of former Canadian Indian schools where Native children were held against their will.

And the American chapter of this story is coming. Soon, all of us who have been following this story expect that we will begin reading such horrifying news reports from across the United States. A forensic process to search for mass graves near boarding schools in this country is only beginning.

Why Our Front Edge Team Cares So Much

One reason that the folks at ReadTheSpirit magazine and Front Edge Publishing feel so strongly about justice for the long-oppressed Native peoples across North America is that our co-founders, our Publisher John Hile and I (Editor David Crumm), have been advocates for these issues for many decades.

As early as the 1990s, I was the leading American wire-service reporter covering a tragically ill-conceived United Methodist attempt to take the traditional Native American Green Corn Ceremony, revise it as a Christian ritual and print it in a new edition of the denomination’s worldwide guide to worship. United Methodists thought this was one way to honor the many Indian Christians within the denomination. However, those church leaders had failed to widely consult with Native leaders. In fact, most Indian leaders remained deeply wounded by the denomination’s refusal to publicly apologize for a Methodist preacher, John Chivington, who led the Sand Creek Massacre of hundreds of men, women and children. As a result of that wire-service reporting on the United Methodist Green Corn controversy, the denomination eventually met with Native leaders, dropped their plans to Christianize the traditional ritual—and did formally apologize for Chivington and the church’s role in Sand Creek.

Why Indigenous Voices Are So Important:
‘Race, Public Memory and Intellectual Property’

Site of the Sand Creek Massacre as it looked in 2004, when the National Park Service was beginning to develop visitors’ resources near this rolling grassland in the prairie. Photograph by John Hile.

In 2004, working with John Hile as the photographer, I launched another wire-service project in the American West, a series of reports about deep wounds in American history that was called Anger in America during the week-long run of these stories.One extensive part of that series focused on Sand Creek, which the federal government was in the process of transforming into a protected National Park Service National Historic Site. The reporting we did that summer wound up being cited in a great deal of other writing about injustices toward Native Americans. Among those other writings was a 2013 dissertation by Susan Chase Hall, which she titled Something Terrible Happened Here: Memory and Battlefield Preservation in the Construction of Race, Place and Nation.

In her book-length dissertation, Hall wrote:

In Anger in America, Crumm explained that “America’s anger often is fueled by the movement of people, especially as outsiders move into settled communities. But the problem is more complex. After all, in America, who is truly a settler and who is an outsider?” In his reporting, David Crumm has introduced an essential question of race, public memory and intellectual property rights. At the beginning of the 21st Century, who had a right to weigh in on what happened at Sand Creek and why? Who had a right to tell the Sand Creek story? Who has a right to be angry about what happened at Sand Creek?

Please, Learn More about Boarding School Trauma from a Native American

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

This is why our publishing house, which was founded in 2007, almost immediately began developing a Native American memoir with Warren Petoskey, an Elder of the Waganakising Odawa and Minneconjou Lakotah Nations. He is a freelance writer, native artisan, traditional musician and dancer, ordained Christian minister and a lecturer who speaks frequently on the history of the nation’s infamous Indian boarding school system.

Warren talked at length about these issues in a 2009 ReadTheSpirit Cover Story. As part of that earlier “conversation with Warren Petoskey,” he said: “I think the greatest damage that was done was spiritual. As we lost our traditional languages, our elders will tell you that we lost something in the way that we pray. And there is an even larger spiritual wound here. This was more than a century of organized attempts by our government to destroy our spiritual validation as human beings.”

To learn even more, please order a copy of Warren’s book today from Amazon.

And—we’ve got more about Warren’s book in this week’s Front Edge Publishing column, including an inspiring excerpt from the book. Plus, in that Front Edge story, we’ve got an overview of our other important book produced with Native American journalists, 100 Questions, 500 Nations: A Guide to Native America.

Mindy Corporon with the Interfaith Center at Miami University on ‘Healing a Shattered Soul’

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

Mindy Corporon continues to crisscross the country with events that share her message of hope and healing in embracing diverse communities. This week, we can share this video sponsored by our friends at The Interfaith Center at Miami University in Ohio.

Are you just meeting Mindy today? Here is our April profile of Mindy when she launched her book.

This latest video begins with an introduction from Geneva Blackmer, program director at the Interfaith Center. Mindy reads a passage from her book about her own introduction to Judaism after the murders of her son and father in an anti-Semitic attack. Then, Mindy opens up the session to Q and A—and begins talking with other participants, including journalist Bill Tammeus.

“I would say my Christianity is a faith about humanity and about God,” Mindy says at one point, explaining that she really does feel the spirits of her late loved ones still alive today. “My faith is in believing that our loved ones are with us in some way,” she says.

There are parallels throughout the Abrahamic faiths, she explains. “If I were to explain Christianity to a niece or nephew now,” she says, “I would use many of the same phrases we find in Judaism and Islam: Be good to others; do good to others; believe that there’s a higher spirit that is with us and loving us—and, in the end, I would say God is love. God is love in all the faiths.”

If you are planning a group discussion of Mindy’s book with friends or in a small group in your congregation, Mindy’s videos can be a very helpful introduction to these conversations.

Here is this latest video by Mindy from The Interfaith Center’s program.