Harry Emerson Fosdick: a prophet’s voice still echoes in our racially divided America

Fosdick was so famous—his critics at the time called him “infamous” for his prophetic preaching—that he was featured on TIME magazine’s cover in 1925 (the image shown on our front page this week) and again in 1930 as shown here. Both of these cover images are now out of copyright and in public domain, according to Wikimedia Commons.

Author of Short Stuff from a Tall Guy

As I laid down my daily newspaper the other day, recoiling from one more report about racially motivated violence, I thought:

This is why we need prophets.

I’m talking about prophets in our biblical tradition, men and women who dare to stand up and name the evils in our contemporary culture and remind us of a different way to live.

Think for just a moment about this question: How long has it been since you heard a sermon about sin? Yes, there are many sermons preached about greed, moral cowardice, self-righteousness, snobbery—the list of ills is long. But how often have you heard them referenced as sins? I suspect we are anxious about using that word today, because it reminds us perhaps of a fire-and-brimstone style of preaching that often is more toxic than truly motivating.

Yet, I don’t think I’m alone in reacting to the weekly litany of hate crimes by wishing that more prophetic voices were raised in all houses of worship nationwide to clearly name the sins of racism that continue to dominate American life. I say “all houses of worship” here because this particular sin has often been named in historically Black churches. What I wish we could hear was a more unified choir of voices of all color lifting up and naming this struggle.

You may think that prophets, motivated by our religious traditions, are irrelevant today. After all, one in four Americans now say they don’t have a personal religious affiliation. Millions of Americans seem to be abandoning religious authority. But, in fact, prophetic voices from many religious traditions continue to make a huge difference in lives around the world. That’s why my column that you’re reading right now is paired with this week’s ReadTheSpirit Cover Story on the prophetic work of Dr. David Gushee.

Or, you can read earlier stories in our magazine about the prophetic work of George A. Mason, Rabbi Lenore Bohm, Mallory McDuff or Daneen Akers.

These voices can be powerful, can move people to change their hearts, to re-engage in our society in helpful new ways.

A tradition in our American history

In this column, I want to remind readers that this tradition is longer than you might imagine in American history. One prominent voice against our sin of American racism was raised by the lead pastor at Riverside Church, New York: the Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) who was born and reared in Buffalo, NY.

Fosdick was commissioned for the ministry in the Baptist tradition in 1903 and graduated from Union Seminary in 1904. In 1918, he was called to First Presbyterian Church in New York City, and on May 21, 1922, he delivered his famous sermon Shall the Fundamentalists Win? In that prophetic sermon, he presented the Bible as a record of the unfolding of God’s will, not as the literal Word of God. He saw the history of Christianity as one of development, progress, and gradual change.

Just last year, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine began, historian Diana Butler Bass recalled the relevance of that sermon, which she described as “one of the most important and influential sermons of the 20th century.” She related that 1922 sermon to current debates within Orthodox churches over the war in Ukraine. (The Presbyterian Church USA’s digital archive has the text of Fosdick’s entire sermon online.)

After that sermon, many of Fosdick’s Presbyterian colleagues were so angry that they forced him to defend himself in a church trial. His defense was led by none other than John Foster Dulles, who later became U.S. Secretary of State. As a result of the furor, Fosdick won a new ally in John D. Rockefeller Jr. and became the first pastor of the historic, liberal, inter-denominational Riverside Church, Manhattan, in 1930.

Naming the Sin of Racism

Fosdick never wavered in his prophetic calling. During World War II, he preached a message naming the sin of racism that was collected in a now out-of-print book he called, A Great Time to be Alive; Sermons on Christianity in Wartime.

It’s well worth re-reading a portion of that message today to remind us of our collective calling as Christian leaders. Here’s an excerpt:

“We, the democracies, are likely to reap a terrific harvest from our racial sins.

“Moreover, the whole world knows how little democracy means to us when it comes to the racial line within our own nation. I get letters from people in this city filled with antisemitic hatred so dreadful that Hitler himself could hardly improve on it. In one of our states today there is a large and lovely lake, and on that lake a camp including both white and colored soldiers, equally ready to die for their country. A friend of mine has seen ten thousand of those soldiers swimming at one time in that lake, but no Negro was among them. Owing to local prejudice, the military authorities dare not allow a colored man to enter the water.

“Far from being an isolated phenomenon, this is symbolic of an intolerable situation affecting nearly one-tenth of the population of the United States. No section of the country is free from blame. Whether it be Jim Crow segregation, the closing of hotels and restaurants to Negroes, the refusal to address them as Mr. or Miss or Mrs., accosting them only by their given names, the denial to them of equality before the law, at the ballot box, and in educational opportunity, or the restriction of their employment to certain narrow fields regardless of their abilities, North and South alike we must rethink our attitude toward the Negro if we are not to make a farce of our democracy.

“And nowhere is this more true than in our churches where often it is sheer hypocrisy to read from the New Testament: ‘There cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all.’

“Do not waste your moral failure; it is deplorable, but don’t waste it; it need not be a total loss; not only can you escape from it but you can make use of it. The Apostle Paul himself started as a persecutor of the church. I never read this thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians on love without seeing those blood-stained hands of his writing it. That violence of his against the Christians was an awful sin; he suffered agony about it but he learned something from it so profound and moving that when he wrote about the opposite of violence, love, he said something unforgettable that no ordinary man could ever have said.

“Paul’s moral failure was not wasted.

“If someone protests that it is dangerous doctrine to say that sin can be put to good uses, I answer: No! Just because trouble can be used to great ends nobody goes out looking for it, and just because sin can be transmuted into gain, no one will plunge into it. To make a huge blunder, to land in a Far Country, to suffer shame’s agony, and then to have to come again, saying, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son”—no man in his senses will go out looking for that. But when trouble and moral failure come—and they do come to all of us—don’t waste them!

“The greatest characters of history have been, as it were, born out of the travail of the sense of shame.”

Energy for the journey ahead

As I read Fosdick’s words so many decades later, I still feel that charge he lays out so powerfully in the language of his era. The core of his indictment is as valid today as it ever was.

Surely, our work of combatting racism in our country and world is a long road ahead. May we encourage each other—and prophetically energize each other—along this journey.

Lives continue to change as Dr. David Gushee reaches a milestone of 30,000 with his LGBTQ-affirming ‘Changing Our Mind’

Finding Christian pathways for LGBTQ friends and families

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

In our publishing house, we say, “A book is a community between two covers—and good books connect with real communities in the world.” That vocation for our authors defines the remarkable global growth of Dr. David Gushee’s landmark book, Changing Our MindAnd, this week, Dr. Gushee is celebrating with our publishing house reaching the milestone of 30,000 copies sold. We’re not only marking the sheer number of books sold—we’re celebrating with thousands of individuals and their families who have been helped by this book.

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

“This book has opened up a whole field of ministry for me,” Gushee said in an interview this week. “I realize now what an enormous need there is among so many people and their families to connect with ministers with serious Christian perspectives in counseling—people who understand how sexuality works and who accept LGBTQ people for who they are. I have learned through my journey with this book—and with people I have met around the world because of this book—that, when we as Christians are able to accept all people, then so many LGBTQ people and their families are able to find their own pathways forward in life that allow them to remain in relationship with Christ.

“I often talk about three callings in my life: my calling as a Christian, as a pastor and as an academic. In this book, and all of the talks and writings that have come from this book over the years, I have been able to exercise all three of those callings. I have found it immensely rewarding that my academic work in Christian ethics has been able to be of such pastoral significance to people who have told me this has helped them to put their lives and in many cases their families back together again and put them back in relationship with God.”

Since his book first was published in 2014, Gushee has heard from thousands of readers around the world, ranging from angry evangelical critics who are furious that he broke ranks with them—to people who have thanked him because they desperately needed this sign of hope.

“And within that larger response, there are probably 600 individuals with whom I’ve had even deeper conversations. With some, I’ve even formed ongoing pastoral connections and friendships,” he said. “These are people all over the world.”

Asked to share some examples, Gushee said, “Oh, there are so many! One example: I was particularly moved to hear from a woman in Indonesia who had been suffering from her family’s attempts to try to ‘beat the lesbian out of me.’ My book was a sign of hope to her that helped her to see a different way of understanding her life and new possibilities for a relationship with God.”

‘I Need to Tell You My Story …’

Usually, these new conversations begin with he words: “I need to tell you my story—”

As Gushee travels around the world to this day, he tells his audiences that listening is often more important than speaking. So, despite his jam-packed schedule and never-ending deadlines for writing and teaching, he has found himself devoting countless hours to listening.

He vividly recalls an event in San Francisco in late June 2015, when the Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that declared the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

“I was invited to speak at a vesper service at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco, when the ruling was coming. The invitation was: ‘If the court votes against us, then lament with us. If the vote goes for us, then celebrate with us.’ And, as it turned out, this became a big celebration.”

The pioneering San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, which helped to foster the LGBTQ choral movement in the 1970s, sang during that service.

“It was quite a celebration, very festive. There were robes—the choir was robed and I was wearing this Episcopal-style robe—and there was this gala event after the service with deserts so we could talk with people. And I’ll never forget one of the leaders of the chorus coming up to me, saying, ‘I need to tell you my story—’ And, of course, I am glad that I listened to his story, even though his experiences had been painful.

“He had been a minister of music in a Texas Southern Baptist church. Then, when he came out, he found himself cut off like so many LGBTQ people do if they have been part of an evangelical community. He said, ‘I lost everything. I lost my job. And I wound up out here.’ That’s a story I have heard from so many LGBTQ Christians who have come out. They lose their church, their community, often their friends and family. They lose their whole world.

“The difference in this case was that we were talking long after those painful experiences in his life. He said, ‘I was booted out of the evangelical culture in Texas, but I wound up finding a new home in San Francisco.’ And he had enough distance from that pain to say, ‘Now, I think it’s funny how happy my life is in this community. And I’m so glad you came out here to be with us on this night, so we can celebrate together.’ ”

In that journey, Texas lost one of its most talented Christian musicians, relationships were shattered, there was lingering trauma—and it took years for that talented musician to build relationships in a new supportive community.

“It’s so hard for people and their families to try to put their lives back together again,” Gushee said.

‘Conversations I didn’t expect to have’

Gushee himself is now known around the world as an “ally.” He’s “straight” and married, so he often tells audiences that the past decade of new friendships with LGBTQ folks has been a revelation of how complex and sometimes traumatic human relationships can be. Then, he tells people that two important values that anyone—whether LGBTQ or a “straight” ally—should model are openness and honesty.

That has led him to a relentlessly public affirmation of this inclusive journey in ministry—despite the years of attacks from evangelicals who are angry that he left their circle.

“Despite all of the criticism I have received from former colleagues, some of them friends I knew for many years, I would not change this path I have taken. I have never been tempted to change course. And, because I have remained true to this course, there have been many things—including many conversations—I didn’t expect along the way,” he said.

Just one example, he said, “Is an airline pilot from Chicago who reached out to me and told me his story of living for many years as a closeted gay man. He told me that he had read my book. And, after reading the book, he said, ‘I need to tell you my story—'”

He had grown up in a Christian family and had excelled in doing all the things that were expected of him as a promising young man in such a community. He became a successful pilot, but as he reached his 50s, he realized that his life was about to implode. At the end of his story, he told Gushee, “I just can’t live a lie anymore.”

“These are the kinds of conversations that, even as a pastor and as a teacher for many years, I was never invited into before writing this book,” Gushee said. “That’s not surprising, because people who are LGBTQ are well aware that non-affirming straight ministers are not safe people for them to have conversations with. That kind of conversation will only lead to more pain. So, this book suddenly put my name out there in the world as someone who is safe to talk with.

“What surprised me in talking with the pilot is that he flew down here to Atlanta and came to the Sunday School class I teach—and we wound up becoming friends,” Gushee said. “I’m so glad I was able to play that kind of role in his life.”

The warmest thanks: ‘This book changed my life.’

But the biggest surprise since Changing Our Mind was published in 2014?

“The biggest surprise is that for so many people—the book itself is enough,” Gushee said. “We’ve been talking about people who contact me, either at an event or in other ways, and conversations I’ve had with hundreds of people. But that’s not the case with most readers—and I’m so proud that this tells me: The book itself tells the story effectively.

“For all the people I’ve had conversations with, there are far more readers who simply say: ‘Your book helped.’ Or: ‘Your book is what I needed.’ And that’s amazing to me—touching lives through the book itself, not even a conversation was needed. Of all the responses I’ve received from these 30,000 books that are now out there in the world—that kind of response still moves me: ‘This book changed my life. Thanks.’ ”


Care to Learn More?

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

GET THE BOOK—It’s available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle from Amazon—as well as through Barnes & Noble, the Walmart website and bookstores everywhere. On Amazon, the book has earned an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars from 365 reviews—and it has earned a “Great on Kindle” badge from Amazon. On Goodreads, the book averages 4.3 stars, based on 962 ratings.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CONTEXT OF THIS BOOK—Order a copy of Gushee’s magnum opus from his decades of teaching Christian Ethics at Mercer. It’s a book called, Introducing Christian Ethicsand this unique multi-media book includes both video and audio of Gushee delivering the talks included in the book.

CONNECT WITH DR. GUSHEE by visiting his website (davidpgushee.com), where you also can learn about his upcoming book, Defending Democracy from its Christian Enemies, which will be launched in October 2023. While on his website, you will find links to his latest Articles and Podcasts. You also can learn more about his extensive public speaking and, on that same page you will find a link to invite him to speak in your community or event.

LEARN MORE ABOUT SEXUALITY AND GENDER through the award-winning “100 Questions & Answers About—” series from the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s “Bias Busters” program. These guides are prepared by student reporters, guided by blue-ribbon national panels of experts, and are a perfect way to start discussions about topics ranging from race and ethnicity to religion and gender.

Thomas Moore starts with ‘The Eloquence of Silence’ to help clarify a crystalline glimpse of hope

Early on a calm morning on Lake St. Clair in Michigan.

Surprising Wisdom in Tales of Emptiness

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

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

“It’s good to talk with you again after 30 years,” I told the bestselling author Thomas Moore as he appeared on my Zoom screen for an interview about his new book, The Eloquence of Silence—Surprising Wisdom in Tales of Emptiness“Should we make an appointment now to talk in another 30 years?”

Moore laughed. Although he is known for serious spiritual writing, longtime readers enjoy his occasional mischievous wit as well—and it’s certainly evident in his new book, which is full of unexpected twists and turns.

“Let me think,” Moore said. “I’ll be 112 then. I think I’ll have some free time. Sure, let’s set the date.”

The humor we were sharing actually relates to a milestone in Moore’s life that he describes in the opening pages of this new book. Back in 1992, his fifth book had just been published and he traveled all the way from his New England home to some West Coast book events. On his first night out there promoting his book, he showed up for a launch event at a Portland, Oregon, bookstore—where he waited.

And waited.

And no one showed up.

Not one soul.

At that time, Moore shrugged his shoulders and chalked it up to the tough life of a would-be author. So far in his career as a writer, not many people had bought his books, so his expectations were not high for this new book.

Then, on the second night of that 1992 West Coast swing, at a different bookstore this time, hundreds of people showed up. That book—Care of the Soul—soon was on national bestseller lists and, to date, has sold more than 2 million copies. Today, after that classic and more than a dozen other books, we all know that Moore is a major figure in American publishing—period. In the specific circle of spiritual authors, he’s truly a Giant.

But what Moore focuses on in his opening pages of this new book is not the later success. No, instead, he wants us to consider what it felt like on that first night in his lonely vigil, waiting for readers who never arrived. Moore learned far more the first night than he did on the second night of his book tour. Among the lessons he learned that first night was: “That evening of emptiness in Portland taught me not to be attached to obvious and literal success but to remain indifferent to how my work is received, to cherish my creations whether or not anyone shows up to express their approval.”

And, please, read that line again because it’s a truth I’ve learned myself after 50 years as a journalist and editor. As Moore explains, it’s a Buddhist truth that is essential to a balanced life. I have often described that inner balance in the face of the world’s turbulence with a playful metaphor: “having the hide of a rhino.” In his new book, Moore names this more clearly as sunyata, which he describes as reflecting “the great Heart Sutra and the many pages of theoretical writing by the sage Nagarjuna.”

Whatever you prefer to call this timeless spiritual truth, here’s another thought: Sunyata most often is translated as “emptiness”—and Moore and I both know that’s a hard concept to sell to readers. In fact, Moore and his publishing team intentionally moved that word to the subtitle.

Why Emptiness Is Prized

“We had trouble with the title for this book,” Moore told me. “The publisher and my agent and my family all were talking about the title. Sometimes titles just snap into place, but this one was a struggle. The book really is about emptiness but it’s hard to put that word into a book title. Who would buy a book that says it’s about emptiness? That sounds like a blank book.”

Moore paused, then smiled and said, “But I wanted that word somewhere in the title, because this is a book about emptiness. And, in religious tradition, emptiness is prized. And that’s why I’m very happy to see some prominent Zen Buddhists endorsing this book.”

That has been one of Moore’s great talents as a writer and teacher. His story now is well known: Born into an Irish Catholic family in Detroit, he was part of the Order of Servants of Mary (Servites or OSM) for 13 years. He eventually left the order, earned a doctorate in religious studies at Syracuse and worked for many years as a psychotherapist. In his 50s, then, he became world famous for weaving together all the strands from his life, including spirituality and psychology from many traditions.

“In India, there is a tradition of writing long, abstract treatises about emptiness—a treasured tradition that still is studied,” Moore said. “My work in general over all these years is to take these traditions that I think are very rich—and I want to present them in a way that a modern person can understand and apply. I want to use good English to describe these ideas accurately, without all the starchy academic wording, to show how these teachings are relevant today. There are so many ways to approach emptiness. Emptiness is something that can be very spiritually advanced in your spiritual life—or you can start with emptiness as simple as cleaning up your desk, emptying your schedule or cleaning out a closet.”

Wisdom that unfolds over many years

Like many great Christian and Buddhist mystics, Moore’s wisdom has been unfolding ever so slowly over the decades. He was 51 when Care of the Soul made him an internationally influential spiritual teacher. In fact, when I first interviewed Moore in early 1993, there was a lot that I did not know about him—that I have learned subsequently through his writings and that we talked about in our Zoom interview about this new book.

In fact, back in 1992, I had never heard of Thomas Moore. I was the Religion Editor of The Detroit Free Press and was not even aware of his books. There was no Google (1998) or Wikipedia (2001) prompting us with things we should know. There were no emails prompting me, as a journalist, with press releases from publishers. The vast Amazon mothership wasn’t even founded until 1994.

But, in our Free Press newsroom in early 1993, an alert editor called me over to her desk: “I’ve never heard of this guy,” she said, pointing me toward a copy of The New York Times books section laid out on her desk. “But you’re our religion guy and you should know him. After all, he’s a Detroit author, or at least he has family roots here in Detroit—you know, local writer becomes a hit nationally. His book is all over the bestseller lists. We need you to get an interview with him and write up something for our Sunday paper.”

And so I did. I don’t remember much about that interview, nor does Moore himself. Because of some technical glitches in the archives of Detroit newspapers, that resulting article seems to have vanished even from the vast digital archives online these days.

“Talk about emptiness!” I said to Moore in our Zoom conversation. “It’s strange to have a number of years of your public work from that era simply disappear. The story once was there—so very public that it was hand delivered all over the state to a million homes. Now, it’s—gone. Like it never happened.”

‘Hmmm. Makes you think.’

If you have read this far, let me recap: In the opening of this column, so far, there are at least two tales of emptiness that could have served as chapter openers for Moore’s new book. In his 200 pages, Moore’s 40 chapters each begin with a very short tale of emptiness, then he reflects on the wisdom we could glean from those stories and he invites us to continue pondering those stories throughout the rest of our day. At least that was my experience, because I read his book over 40 days as morning meditations.

What are those two tales I’m using to illustrate the kinds of tales you’ll find in his book?

Well, in the opening of this column, there’s the wonderment of the emptiness implied in our scheduling another meeting in 30 years. He would be 112 and I would be 98. But where will we be? Perhaps separated; perhaps together in the great beyond? Where will you and a friend be in 30 years? Hmmm. Now that’s worth pondering.

Or, consider the fact that our first meeting—our first conversation that was delivered to more than 1 million readers of The Free Press 30 years ago—has vanished through a series of archival glitches. Or did that story vanish? Is there someone out there who first “met” Moore through that Free Press story 30 years ago and became one of his millions of readers? In that emptiness—that missing story of our first meeting—were there enduring ripples? Are there readers who intertwined with our story, living with the blessing of having first met Moore in their Sunday Free Press—living with positive Moore memories to this day?

Makes you think.

And, if you like that kind of prompting—and that kind of spiritual reflection—then you’ll love Moore’s new book. There’s something about our very brief cosmic connections across 30 years that is the perfect prelude to The Eloquence of Silence.

A 1945 Newspaper Clipping from the Shores of Lake St. Clair

Since Moore and I were time traveling in our Zoom conversation, we also leaped back 78 years to Michigan’s Lake St. Clair. It’s not as vast as the five so-called Great Lakes, but it’s a very large lake in its own right—and it plays an enormous role in the middle of Moore’s new book. Lake St. Clair is the main character in Chapter 25, called “No One in the Boat.”

“I’m fascinated with that story,” I told Moore. “When we talked 30 years ago, this never came up. And, back then, there was no way to search the archives to find something like this. I know that the story did not appear in Care of the Soul or most of your other books.”

Moore nodded. “It’s a story that has a lot of meaning for me, but it’s not a story I told in my early books.”

Part of the problem—similar to the challenges of explaining words like “emptiness”—is how to tell the story so that readers will understand what Moore himself has gleaned from it. In our interview, he told me that he once resisted telling the story because readers responded to it as proof that God had saved him from the dangerous waters of Lake St. Clair to fulfill his life’s purpose. And, Moore insists, that is not good theology—or, at least, is not his theology.

“But, as I have gotten older, I have begun telling the story,” he said. “I think I’ve told it a few times before this book.”

Later, I checked and he is correct. The first version of the story appeared in a brief passage in his 2004 book Dark Nights of the Soulincluding text of a brief 1945 newspaper clipping he has saved:

“A boy whose grandfather gave his life to save him was rescued from Lake St. Clair. The boy, Thomas Moore, 4, son of Ben Moore, was thrown into the water with his grandfather, also named Thomas Moore, when a gust of wind overturned their light boat. The grandfather held the boy afloat above his head as he struggled to keep afloat. The grandfather, exhausted by his efforts, cried out for help.”

Men in another boat on the lake eventually responded, saving the boy. But the grandfather had drowned. The magnitude of that event has stayed with Moore throughout his life. Although he rarely spoke of it in public, he wrote in the 2017 book, Ageless Soul, that not a week has passed in his life that he has not revisited his memories of that day at Lake St. Clair.

“I still wonder about the meaning of it all,” Moore said in our Zoom conversation. “My relatives tell me that I was saved to do the work that I do—but that’s not my version of the story and I think it’s one reason I did not tell the story for many years. My version of the story is that this acquaintance with death made me serious about things. It had that kind of impact. It set my course on a serious life of study and reflection.”

Hmmm. And what are you thinking about this dramatic story? Well, it’s a good reason to read this new book. In describing the book as “crystalline,” I am thinking especially of this story. Although Moore has mentioned this story briefly in at least two earlier books—this three-page account of the Lake St. Clair story is the defining version.

But, be careful. Now that Moore has told the story to me in these pages—as a writer who has worked most of my life among the Great Lakes, now I can’t stop thinking about it. That little story is both haunting—and hopeful.

Stories not only travel through time—they travel person to person and, once again, that’s a truth that defines the popularity of Moore’s work over the past three decades.

This Book Either Is—or Isn’t—Filled with Hope, Depending on Your Hopes

I told Moore in our Zoom that I found his book filled with hope. I told him I was going to use the word “hope” in my headline to this column.

He warned me against it.

“Hope is a confusing word,” he told me. “The word hope can be a problem, because people will think I’m talking about hoping for something, something they might want or some specific outcome. But when I talk about hope, I’m not interested in those things. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t think that hope refers to a specific set of doctrines. But generally I would say that hope is an essential way of approaching life, as in the call to value ‘faith, hope and charity.’ If we are concerned about how to live in a community, today, I can’t think of a better trio follow than faith, hope and charity. But don’t let people think that I’m talking about hope for some object of desire.”

And so I have added Moore’s qualifier from his own lips.

Nevertheless, I am recommending this book as remarkably full of hope—a joyful collection of readings.

It’s true. That joy starts with Moore’s almost anarchic approach to his stories. He encourages readers to dive in anywhere, almost on any page. You could read the chapters in this book in reverse order, if you want, or select chapters at random. Each one is a crystalline artwork, and I use that word intentionally because Moore himself says he thinks of this book as an “artwork.”

Plus, this book is so easy to read! While many of Moore’s books are written for specific audiences—sometimes aimed more at religious leaders, therapists and academics than ordinary readers—this book is for all of us. There’s something here for everyone to discover, day by day, and there’s no excuse that you don’t have the time. These chapters take just a few minutes.

And for all of that hopeful, joyous light Moore has given us—I’m as happy with this new Moore book as I’ve been since I first discovered Care of the Soul more than 30 years ago.

‘What’s your passion?’ Howard Brown welcomes internet pioneer Jeff Pulver

Author of Shining Brightly

I love recording conversations with creative men and women for my weekly podcast series, because it gives all of us a chance to discover new ways to shine brightly in our communities.

That’s especially true with internet pioneer Jeff Pulver, who often greets people with the question: “What’s your passion?”

He’s a friend after my own heart in wanting to lift up the people around us in our communities—and the new people we meet every day.

As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur myself, I followed Jeff’s work for many years. He’s a tech industry icon, a pioneer in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and an advocate for internet freedom. If you don’t recognize the worldwide importance of VoIP and Jeff’s contributions already, then let me briefly sketch his story:

In the ’90s, you’ll learn from Jeff’s Wikipedia page, he recognized that what he had been thinking of as a hobby—speaking to people around the world over the internet—led him to help launch a whole new industry. Of course, the existing telephone companies were not happy about this! There was a huge legal battle and Jeff helped to rally supporters of this new freedom around the world.

In February 2004, the FCC issued what’s become known as the “Pulver Order” classifying these new applications as information services. This meant that VoIP networks would, under law, be classified as internet applications, rather than telecommunications services. Without that order, we wouldn’t have had Skype and now Zoom and other services like it that so many of us depend on every day.

So, today, when you’re talking to someone online, remember to thank Jeff!

And, please listen to the podcast below because Jeff talks about how that vision of global conversation really supports our shared vision of shining brightly.



Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

And especially read this story: Two-time cancer survivor Howard Brown writes ‘Shining Brightly’ to encourage others to stay healthy

Free Resource Guides

Download (and free-to-share) resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:




The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason takes us to a multi-faceted center where neighbors feed neighbors

If you missed the previous video in the Rev. Dr. George A. Mason’s series “More than Food for Thought,” then take a look at George’s visit to a very different kind of “Sunday Service” at a Dallas skateboard park!

In this new video, George takes us to the West Dallas Multipurpose Center where he meets with Ashley Hutto, who shows us some of the ways the city of Dallas is addressing the issues of food access and insecurity. In a part of the city where access to grocery stores and fresh produce is limited, the Center offers emergency food assistance, bilingual SNAP application support, a teaching kitchen, a Neighbors’ Community Garden, and more. Follow along as George and Ashley explore the importance of seeking out sustainable and long-term solutions to hunger that arise from the community and maintain the dignity and independence of its members.

In this series, George carries his faith into the real world and shares the Good News he finds there every week. Mason’s parish truly is the whole world.

Yes, these stories come from small corners of one city—but they’re good news for the world. What motivates George in this series is what motivated environmental educator Mallory McDuff to create her new book, Love Your Mother. In saving our planet, and our communities worldwide, McDuff says in our cover story: “I really believe that it’s going to take thousands of different solutions.”

That’s a message George echoes in his ongoing video series.

Here’s the latest video from Dallas!


Care to Learn More?

First, order your own copy of George’s book—and consider ordering a second copy to give to a friend. Amazon offers both hardcover and paperback editions for gift giving.

Connect with George yourself via www.GeorgeAMason.com—which is a gateway both to his new book and to all of George’s ongoing work now that he has moved to emeritus status with Wilshire. When you first visit, sign up for his free email updates. (It’s easy to cancel anytime, but we doubt you’ll want to cancel.) Then, the website also makes it easy to Contact George, if you’re interested in an invitation to speak or have other questions.

In ‘Love Your Mother,’ Mallory McDuff brings us 50 women from 50 states urging climate justice

Mallory McDuff, at left, leads a class. (Photo from Warren Wilson College, used with permission of the author.)

Good People Are at Work Everywhere! Want to Help?

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Empathy for each other and for our world as a whole is a value shared by our entire global network of authors and writers who have been contributing to our weekly online magazine since 2007. Our regular readers will recall our recent conversation with Barbara Mahany about discovering spiritual wisdom in the natural world, our story about Anita Nowak’s research into how “purposeful empathy” could save our planet, our ongoing coverage of Laura Elizabeth’s mission to highlight her beloved Daufuskie Island, our interview with Daneen Akers about bringing these lessons into our daily interactions with our children—and our conversation with Ann Byle about how much we can learn from … chickens.

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

Did you notice?

All of five of those recent columns highlight the remarkable, creative work of women.

This column is a sixth example of the strength of women in connecting all of us with our ultimate Mother, the world on which we live—and on which we hope to continue living for generations. That’s the major theme in environmental educator Mallory McDuff’s new book, Love Your Mother: 50 States, 50 Stories and 50 Women United for Climate Justice, which is available from Amazon and other booksellers.

Mallory is a person of faith, active in the Episcopal Church, but—like the other authors we continue to feature—she envisions a caring circle of men, women and children as big as the planet in all of our religious and cultural diversity.

‘How Can I Become Involved?’

In a Zoom interview about her new book, Mallory told me: “In this new book, there are stories of farmers, community organizers, elected officials, students, scientists of all different kinds, artists, sculptors, poets. I hope readers will find stories they identify with either by vocation or geography or by theme. And I hope that connecting with these stories might be a way for readers to take a next step to find out: How can I become involved?”

I completely agree with Mallory’s mission and her approach as an author. If we are going to get out of this climate crisis alive, and our grandchildren are going to have a shot at a healthy life, then we all need to help—whatever our faith or motivating principles may be.

Mallory and I both are people are faith as are many of the women you will meet in her book. However, as we talked over Zoom, I told Mallory that some of the most impressive allies in this cause who I have met and interviewed over my decades as a journalist are secularists, including self-described atheists and humanists. I have been impressed, over the years, with direct appeals that secularists such as James Gustave Speth and E.O. Wilson have made to people of faith. Both Speth and Wilson have published pointed invitations to people involved in religious movements to join hands in helping to preserve our planet. Readers who respond to such appeals by Speth and Wilson will feel right at home in Mallory’s appeals to the moral conscience of everyone—whatever our faith or secular practice may be.

I am spending this much time introducing Mallory in this week’s Cover Story, because that point needs to be stressed: We can’t allow boundaries of faith, culture or politics to keep us from recognizing the core of our shared community on planet Earth.

A Connective Prophet in Perpetual Motion

Mallory McDuff is a connective prophet who seems to be in perpetual motion, linking lives wherever she goes. I have followed Mallory’s work for a decade, since I first read her 2013 book Natural Saints: How People of Faith are Working to Save God’s Earth, published by the prestigious Oxford University Press. For that book, Mallory made a pilgrimage to 50 faith communities “with two daughters in tow,” as she puts it.

In my earlier Cover Story about Anita Nowak’s book Purposeful Empathy, one of the central findings in Anita’s research into empathy is that empathic adults usually are formed by the experiences they had as children. So, kudos to Mallory for taking her daughters on the road with her. That’s a theme echoed throughout the work of Daneen Akers and so many other colleagues.

Can you see how this circle of creative prophets connects around our world—whatever our gender or our age may be?

I mention Natural Saints, among Mallory’s many books, because Love Your Mother springs from a similar concept of searching the landscape and reporting on good news from 50 corners of the U.S. The subtitle of Love Your Mother is 50 States, 50 Stories and 50 Women United for Climate Justice.

“For this book, I did not go back out on the road again. I worked on this in the middle of COVID and I wasn’t able to go to all 50 states,” Mallory said in our interview. “I researched this book using information from sources I could access online, interviews with people by phone and Zoom. To complete the majority of this book, I was able to send each story back to the person for them to check over. Even in the research and writing, this was a case of women working collectively to share these stories.”

Finally, there is no list of 10 things Mallory expects readers to do at the end of her book. Her book has far too many suggestions to count! She gives us hundreds of things we could read, places we could visit, ideas we could pursue, people we could contact and ask to talk in our communities.

I said to Mallory, “I like that you leave us with so many choices. You’re not insisting on 1 thing everyone should do or even 10 things.”

“That’s because I really believe that it’s going to take thousands of different solutions,” she said. “The take-home message of this book for me is an awareness of so many individuals who are working in community—and that’s how this is going to change. Lots of people. Lots of solutions.

“My job as a writer and educator is to show people where they can plug in. If you’re feeling anxious about this as an individual, or if your local community is worried, then the question I hope readers of this book will be asking is: Where can we plug in with other people for collective action?”

And, ultimately, that’s the huge gift of this book: Wherever you live and however deeply connected you may be to environmental causes, I guarantee you will be surprised by some of the women you will meet in these pages. And, Mallory makes it easy to dig deeper into their work with a big resource section in the back of her book. Wherever you may be reading this column in our world, today, Mallory and I are pretty sure you can find similar good news stories by connecting with activists you could lift up as simply as sharing their social media with your network of friends.

Please, if you feel like doing a good deed in the world today, order your own copy of Mallory’s book and dig in! If you’ve got a similar story to share, we’d like to hear from you at [email protected]

If you’d like to connect with Mallory, please visit her website: https://mallorymcduff.com/

Howard Brown takes a different approach to social media to spread a little sunshine with spiritual reflection

Author of Shining Brightly

In my life, I am forever grateful for all the people who brought me a little sunshine, a little hope, when I was at my worst. Whether I was battling stage IV cancer or was facing the ups and inevitable downs of launching a new company or building up a nonprofit—I learned that these are team sports.

When I travel and talk to audiences now, the first thing I tell people about finding the resilience to succeed in life is: You can’t do it alone.

I take that to heart in my social media, too, often thinking of simple questions that may remind my online friends of the many ways people are shining brightly around them, every day.

So, today, I’m sharing two recent posts to show you a couple of ways I have done this. Maybe, after looking at these posts, you might decide to shine a little brighter in your own social media.

I’m sending you this creative sunshine in the form of this ReadTheSpirit column—so that, if you’re inspired, you may pass that sunshine on to others.

Sharing Our Happy Places

The first post is from Facebook. Because basketball is the “happy place” that literally has saved my life more than once, I often post about shooting hoops with friends. My hope is not that everybody is going to start playing basketball, but that each person who sees these posts may decide to get active, may head outside for some exercise and may be more thankful for their own family and friends. I’m modeling that in this Facebook post by also giving a “shout out” to one of my long-time friends Martin Davis, who wrote the book about coaches.

(Want to learn more about hoops as a “happy place”? Head over to Amazon and get a copy of Shining Brightly)


Linked-in illustrates that “leadership” is more than a job title

I also use Linked-in posts to illustrate the many challenges of effective leadership. True leadership involves far more than a job title. Authentic leadership depends on understanding and valuing the entire community we represent—shining light on everyone’s role and encouraging everyone to be their best.

Here’s a creative example of a post that you might never have expected to see on Linked-in, which many people regard as a place to celebrate their latest professional accomplishment. As I just explained, above, true leadership is about more than our individual resumes.

So, this Linked-in post is about—Barbie!

My wife and I had fun seeing the Barbie movie and that led to lots of conversations with friends and family. I’m well aware that social media mavens tell us that you shouldn’t use too many hashtags in your posts. But, in this case, I intentionally grouped a lot of the common Barbie hashtags together—along with a fun photo of me inside the giant Barbie box at the theater where we saw the film. My question asked friends to simply think about which of those hashtags mean the most to them.

That kind of reflection is one of the many daily steps toward effective leadership.




Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

And especially read this story: Two-time cancer survivor Howard Brown writes ‘Shining Brightly’ to encourage others to stay healthy

Free Resource Guides

Download (and free-to-share) resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly: