Historic Dallas Jewish nonprofit honors George A. Mason as Pioneering Partner

The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason with the National Council of Jewish Women Dallas Section annual Pioneering Partner Award. (Scroll down to see more photographs from the event, provided for this story by Gail Brookshire.)

Highlighting the importance of ‘dependable allies in the struggle for freedom, justice and equity’

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

George Mason—author of The Word Made Fresh—continues with his courageous messages about the need for good people to support each other and the most vulnerable among us in our communities. He has spoken about this urgent need on national podcasts, in short videos, at major conferences coast to coast—and he offered that same timely call to compassion again in Texas before the 111-year-old National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) Greater Dallas Section.

The occasion was the NCJW’s annual Pioneering Partner Award and the group’s leadership asked the 2023 award winner—nationally known Latino advocate, attorney and public policy advisor Regina T. Montoya—to present this prize to Mason.

In presenting the award, Montoya said:

Today NCJW recognizes the Rev. Dr. George A. Mason, the founder and president of Faith Commons, a nonprofit that promotes public discourse rooted in the common values of many faiths. Faith Commons aims to inspire more people to participate in public life with mutual respect, hospitality and generosity.

The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason is a Christian theologian and Baptist pastor here in Dallas, Texas, where he served as senior pastor of the Wilshire Baptist Church from 1989 to 2022. … He participates in numerous local and global ecumenical and interfaith endeavors. He is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News on subjects of public interest that intersect with religion, such as public education, racial justice, predatory lending, and climate change. He is truly a shining star—a gift and a treasure to us here in our community.

Then, Mason rose to accept the award and said:

Thank you so much to NCJW for this remarkable award! Receiving it from this organization is significant to me because we live in such perilous times. Democracy itself is under siege. And having dependable allies in the struggle for freedom, justice, and equity is crucial these days—whether we’re talking about the endangered rights of women on all fronts, the full dignity of the LGBTQ+ community, the right to be safe from gun violence, the opportunity for a good public education that promotes critical inquiry and is free of religious control—or simply the most fundamental right of all—to vote.

NCJW is always on the job—and we salute you. The testimony of the recently murdered Russian dissident Alexei Navalny continues to echo in our hearts. From his isolated prison cell in Siberia, he told us that the forces of evil always want you to feel alone in your struggle for freedom and democracy. But we are never alone—despite how it sometimes feels. And, if you sometimes do feel that way—look around this room.

In these days, I know that many of you here have felt the agonizing tension between your deepest moral convictions and your spiritual and communal bonds. I want you to know tht we see you and stand with you in that tension.

In my own religious world, the fissure caused by Christian Nationalism continues to widen—and it is a threat that must be addressed from within our own community. Any religious ideas—even from our own faith—that deny or diminish the humanity of others or that endanger the planet we all share must be opposed.

George was interrupted by applause.

Fortunately, I c0me from a long line of radical Baptists—little noticed at times.

Interrupted by warm laughter.

Nonetheless, we believe that dissent can sometimes be the highest act of loyalty. For 35 year, I have had the privilege of serving or being part of a Baptist church like that—a church that believes it and practices it: Wilshire Baptist. And for the past six years, I have served through Faith Commons—alongside my peerless and fearless partner in that nonprofit, Rabbi Nancy Kastin.

Interrupted by applause.

We have gained inspiration to persevere from people like you in this room—people who believe that and practice it.

So keep the faith—and keep up the struggle faithfully.

And I’ll end with these words from the late minister of Riverside Church in New York City, William Sloane Coffin:

“The world is too dangerous for anything but truth.
And too small for anything but love.”

Applause.

Care to learn more?

The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason’s most powerful messages from throughout his long career at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas are collected in the new book, The Word Made Fresh, which is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle from Amazon.

 

As hate crimes continue to rise, this inspiring documentary about two courageous mothers—Mindy Corporon and Sunayana Dumala—is Must See TV

Three key people behind this new public TV documentary, Healing Hate, are from left: Sunayana Dumala, Solomon Shields and Mindy Corporon.


“Hate has no place—because it will touch everybody.”
Mindy Corporon in the documentary Healing Hate

“But both Mindy and Sunayana and their families used the worst days of their lives to empower them to engage the world in positive ways.”
Documentary filmmaker Solomon Shields


See this powerful documentary right now:

Right now, you can learn more about this documentary, created by Kansas City PBS along with filmmaker Solomon Shields, by reading our ReadTheSpirit cover story below.

But, first: Thanks to Kansas City public TV’s YouTube channel, you also can stream the entire half-hour documentary here:

To read Mindy’s entire story, including how she met her friend Sunayana—get a copy of Healing a Shattered Soul in hardcover, paperback or Kindle via Amazon.


‘Healing Hate: Turning Pain into Power’

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine

After weathering some of the most horrific hate crimes in America over the past decade—including a catastrophic mass shooting at a parade in February—Kliff Kuehl, the CEO of Kansas City’s PBS station, and filmmaker Solomon Shields committed themselves to arousing public action.

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

As the resulting 30-minute film debuts this week, Kuehl is telling viewers, “Kansas City PBS is honored to bring Healing Hate to our viewers. This documentary has the potential to inspire and ignite a collective commitment to stand against hate, fostering a more inclusive Kansas City,”

The film’s power springs from the stories of two women who have transformed their grief over losing family members, killed in earlier shootings, into major ongoing efforts to promote compassion, healing and inclusion.

The first of these two friends is author and nationally known advocate for community compassion Mindy Corporon, whose son and father were killed 10 years ago in an antisemitic hate crime outside the  Overland Park, Kansas, Jewish Community Center in 2014. Mindy has published the widely read memoir Healing a Shattered Soul and also is co-founder of the nonprofit community movement known as SevenDays.

Mindy’s friend is Sunayana Dumala, who Mindy met in 2017 after national news broke about the murder of Sunayana’s husband by a shooter in an Olathe, Kansas, restaurant. The murderer declared that he wanted to kill someone from the Middle East—and that he thought his victims were Iranian.

“I worked a lot of long hours with Mindy and Sunayana and many others on this project because all of us know how timely this documentary is,” Solomon Shields said in an interview this week.

The urgency they all feel this spring includes the latest mass shooting at the Kansas City parade—as well as national reports that hate crimes are rising to an all-time high, plus the upcoming April 13th 10-year anniversary of the antisemitic shootings that killed Mindy’s loved ones.

“All of us felt we had to share this documentary with as many people as possible—right now,” Shields said.

What’s so horrifying is: When bullets fly—they can hit anyone

“What’s so astonishing is that in all three tragedies—the gunmen were coming from a place of anger and violence that wound up killing people who they never intended to kill,” Shields said. “That’s one of the main themes of this documentary: When bullets fly, they can hit any of us.”

In 2014, Mindy’s son and father were in a parking lot preparing to participate in a community program being held inside the Jewish center—but they were not Jewish. In 2017, the shooter in Olanthe was raving about Middle Easterners and mistook Sunayana’s Indian-American husband for an Iranian, according to news reports. And, in February 2024, the one death and 22 injuries were caused by several armed young men who opened fire at each other in a personal dispute that had nothing to do with their 23 innocent victims.

“We have to realize: When guns are blazing and bullets are flying, those bullets don’t care what you look like or who is waiting for you at home,” Shields said. “It’s so important for people to understand that we all must take steps to prevent this from happening to others.

“This is definitely something that hits close to home for me as an African American filmmaker,” he said. “I have had friends who have lost their lives to gun violence: wrong place, wrong time and a bullet happens to hit them. I was very honored to work on this project because it’s something I can relate to. I remember both of these earlier shootings and they had a real impact on me.

“The main theme of the documentary is how these two families overcame such unspeakable tragedies so that they could continue to live and build relationships. That’s the flip side of this documentary: Even after such tragedies, we can decide to build relationships that can make our entire community better.

“I am so impressed by the strength of the human spirit in these two women who were able to face the world again after the worst days in their lives,” Shields said. “For a lot of people faced with this—it would have been understandable to simply say: We need our privacy and refuse to talk to anyone anymore. But both women and their families used the worst days of their lives to empower them to engage the world in positive ways.”

That took an enormous amount of emotional strength within these families—as readers learn when they read Mindy’s memoir. In this new public TV film, viewers also will see and hear these two friends talk about that process of transforming anger into hope.

Shields said he continues to be amazed at their strength. “I realize that they may not ever have a perfect day again after such tragedies—because every day they will remember the loved ones they lost. That’s why this film is so inspiring. These women chose not to close themselves off to the world. They decided to show the rest of us that there is still life worth living, if we can work on these issues together.

“When people see this documentary, I want them to come away, first, feeling informed about all the reasons this is such a timely message. Second, I want viewers to feel inspired that, even though these horrible things continue to happen, there are relationships we can form that can help us, our families and our communities—that is, if we are willing to search for those new relationships.

“Finally, I want people to feel that there are things they can do whoever they are and wherever they are,” Shields said. It’s a lesson he took to heart as he worked with these families and the Kansas City PBS staff to produce this film. “That’s what I could do right now. I’m a filmmaker here in Kansas City and I did something: I created this documentary that can share this story with so many people out there. And, now, I appreciate that others are out there trying to encourage more people to see this film.”


And one last reminder …

Wherever you live across the U.S., you can contact your local PBS station and urge the management to seek out this documentary to broadcast in your region. If you have never done this before—simply find the website of your “local” PBS station, contact station management through their website and share a link to this story. Most public TV stations appreciate local viewers making such recommendations.

To read Mindy’s entire story, including how she met her friend Sunayana—get a copy of Healing a Shattered Soul in hardcover, paperback or Kindle via Amazon.

Dr. Catherine Meeks transforms the “rags” of family trauma into a beautiful “Quilted Life”

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

Moving Together Toward Compassion:
A Call to Daily Transformation

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Most of us who have made it into the middle of adulthood can recall moments of harrowing tragedy, humiliation and harm we have suffered in various forms.

The scholar and teacher Dr. Catherine Meeks—who now is 78 years old as she gives us her memoir A Quilted Life—calls such experiences the “rags” we accumulate in life. The central metaphor of her book is the traditional way African American women, in particular, saved discarded cloth “rags” so they could cut small, useful pieces to assemble beautiful quilts.

But with words like “memoir” and “traditional,” readers may wonder: How relevant is this message to us today?

So, that was the first question I asked Dr. Meeks in our Zoom conversation about this memoir. “How do you assess our moment in history?” I asked. “How relevant is your message to our world today?”

She said, “Well, I’m trying to be a helpful voice in our moment in history—but I’m not always sure how we should describe this moment. On my good days, there’s a side of me that wants to say, ‘I don’t really think things are any worse today than they have ever been. Can you find a time in the historical narrative of the world when we were able to live together? We’ve always been in the midst of some kind of upheaval somewhere on the planet.’

“So,” she continued, “there’s that side of me—on my good days. On other days, it’s more likely I’ll answer your question: ‘Oh my God! The whole thing’s going to hell in a hand-basket! How in the world are we going to stop the flow in that direction?’ ”

She paused, then added, “But the biggest thing I want to say right now is: I think this is a moment that calls us to be grounded in whatever we believe deep within us can hold us together. You can’t count on external circumstances to be anything other than chaotic. Right now, at this moment in history, we have a real invitation for people to find out what truly matters to them beyond just the externals in life.”

This answer prompted a wide-ranging exchange as Dr. Meeks and I connected her core message with similar messages from authors as diverse as Maya Angelou and Jeffrey Munroe. For example, the theme of Jeff’s new book, Telling Stories in the Dark, reflects author Frederick Buechner’s defining message that telling our stories honestly to each other helps us to discover we are not alone—and to connect with other people.

“I think it’s a powerful message we need to hear loud and clear, right now,” I said to Dr. Meeks. “That’s why I’m talking to you today and publishing a story in our magazine to urge people to read your book.”

She nodded. “Yes, and that’s a message I’m also hearing from some of the first folks who read my new book and reached out to me about it. They’re saying my story helps them to remember their own story better,” Dr. Meeks said.

“You know, when the idea of this book first came up, I was hesitant,” she told me. “I asked myself: Who needs to read one more story about somebody’s journey—unless it is a catalyst for people to engage in their own journeys? And that’s why I agreed to write this book: I want readers to reconnect with their own stories and memories and be engaged—to go deeper into their own lives. My ultimate intention is to be a contributor to healing and wellness by helping people to connect with whatever God has for them to do in their life for the good of the world.”

“Powerfully said,” I told her. “I’ll definitely quote you on that from the transcript.”

She nodded again, then added, “You know, we get into so much trouble in this world, because we don’t realize that your story is my story and we share a human story. If people would understand this better, we could begin to erase the racism and sexism and classism and able-ism dividing us and causing so much of the tragedy in our world.”

Transforming the ‘Rags’ to See Their Beauty

At the end of that lament about harmful “isms” from Dr. Meeks, did you note her concern about “able-ism”?

Readers may assume that the this book is mainly about Dr. Meeks’ long family struggle with racism—as well as her struggle as a brilliant woman trying to make her way in a strongly entrenched network of male academics and church leaders.

But, there’s even more to ponder in this memoir about the search for equality and justice!

Dr. Meeks also is an eloquent advocate for the millions of Americans with chronic health conditions that complicate family life and access to work—as well as places of worship. For decades, she has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis—and that struggle has been as potent a learning opportunity as confronting sexism, racism and classism.

Early in her book, she writes:

My journey resembles quilt making in that it comprises many experiences that the world would see as raggy—irredeemable or useless. I have suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and have been exhausted by trying to build a career in racist institutions. I have raised two Black young men, on my own, in a country that threatens the lives and safety of Black men. Despite the hardship, each of these experiences has allowed me opportunities to listen for the sound of the genuine in myself and in the world around me. The rags became more than rags. They are threads of love that were waiting to be put into conversation with one another. Pieced together, they would be transformed into a beautiful whole. All the disparate emotions, fears, hopes, dreams, successes, and failures that may seem worthless actually hold massive potential to help in creating something new that never existed before.

Then, later in her memoir, Dr. Meeks addresses her long struggle with her chronic health condition and draws this startling conclusion: “Rheumatoid arthritis became my teacher.”

To learn how that painful disability became an opportunity for growth in Dr. Meeks’ life, you will want to get a copy of her book, of course. But, overall, Dr. Meeks’ constant call to readers is to think of those painful parts of our own lives—our “rags”—and to consider the radical idea of re-envisioning those rags as beautiful and life-giving parts of our lives. And, by sharing those stories with others, she says to us repeatedly, those rags can contribute to a life-giving transformation of our communities.

The Spiritual Wisdom of ‘Putting One Foot in Front of the Other’

This journey—and the hope of the kind of transformation Dr. Meeks is describing—certainly is not easy!

It certainly was not easy for Dr. Meeks! At nearly every turn in her life story, readers will discover that her successes seemed to be met with fresh challenges, dangers and traumas.

She told me, “I certainly did not write this book so that people would say: ‘Oh, what an amazing person!’ That’s not what I am trying to communicate! What I am trying to communicate is that life is about perseverance. Life often is hard. Very hard. But I am a person of hope who is trying to persevere each day, because I refuse to be stuck. I want to be free. I want to transcend the limitations that are placed all around me. And so I wake up each day and continue putting one foot in front of the other until I am moving through my day.

“This book isn’t intended as a celebration of my life. It’s a story of perseverance. We’ve got to greet each day, ready to keep moving on—because we are pilgrims forever. That’s my message I hope readers will see in this book.”

‘Pilgrims Forever’

Did you note that very quotable phrase? “We are pilgrims forever.” Dr. Meeks’ book is packed with quotable lines, another good reason to read it. Her wisdom is likely to be quoted in countless columns and Sunday-morning sermons over this coming year.

There is another reason Dr. Meeks agreed to write this memoir, she admits: She realized that many people today have no idea what it was like growing up in a Black sharecropper’s family in the South. She watched as her own father’s faith and hopes were crushed year after year, because the sharecropping system was designed to never allow him to bring his family’s heads above the deep waters of his debt to white property owners. At one point, her father even took a desperate action to break free—and failed. Dr. Meeks watched her father eventually die, sunk in his decades of discouragement.

So, these traumas Dr. Meeks writes about are more than insults or slights. These are life-and-death matters and her memoir is full of her own indomitable quest for justice—for herself and for her thousands of students over many years.

Yet, through it all, Dr. Meeks’ voice “sounds” very much like we are sitting around a kitchen table after dinner as this  matriarch tells her life’s story. Even in the most dramatic moments she encountered—for instance, the 1965 Watts Uprising—there’s no effort to over dramatize in her narration. In reading this book, we’re simply letting a beloved storyteller stitch together this astonishingly varied patchwork quilt into a narrative that has the potential to heal us—if we read carefully and take the lessons to heart, that is.

‘Turquoise and Lavender’

The book ends just before Dr. Meeks decided to add just a bit more to her life’s quilt. Shortly after she finished this manuscript, she finally retired from some of her major daily commitments (you can read all about her many accomplishments in the memoir)—and decided to launch a new online community dedicated entirely to healing individuals and communities by evoking shared experiences. Those include outdoor experiences, especially with flowers, herbs and stones.

If you want to explore that latest colorful section of Dr. Meeks’ quilt, visit her new website Turquoise and Lavender. If you do click that link, you’ll find a page with a longer summary of Dr. Meeks’ many accomplishments—and you’ll be able to see watch a beautifully produced video in which Dr. Meeks talks to visitors about this new project.

This memoir is inspiring because Dr. Meeks not only triumphed over adversity herself but, more importantly, has kept inventing new ways of promoting transformation in others. You’ll feel it’s well worth the effort to spend some time by Dr. Meeks’ side.

Redrawing the history of ‘comic books’ and celebrating the creative joy of all ‘outsider’ artists

Could a family member or neighbor be an unheralded light in our world?

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

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

In my half century as a journalist covering religious and cultural diversity, I have profiled hundreds of “outsider” artists whose unique creations in music, visual arts, filmmaking, poetry and sculpture have been a rich part of global cultures for thousands of years. I am continually looking for those overlooked men and women who are spreading joy—or are sharing their laments—through whatever art-forms they can envision.

I once profiled an Appalachian artist who constructed his entire two-story home to look like a gigantic duck (covering the entire duck-shaped home in shingles that looked like feathers) as his tribute to the birds he loved. In Asia, I profiled an artist who created an enormous shrine to his ancestors made entirely of seashells and beautiful stones he found along the ocean shore. I profiled an Appalachian coal miner who recreated the entire book of Genesis in wood-carved tableaux that eventually wound up at the Smithsonian. And, perhaps my personal favorite: I profiled an Appalachian woman who fashioned musical instruments from gourds so that she and her friends could play gospel tunes.

So, you can see right away why I was so eager to read and review this beautiful, fascinating, 634-page tribute to the comic books created by the until-now-unknown comic pioneer Frank Johnson. The debut of this selection of Johnson’s comics now will redraw our official history of American comic books. That will take some time, but that rewriting is sure to come—especially since this book was produced by the highly respected Fantagraphics and includes extensive opening essays by curator and historian Chris Byrne and fine artist and graphic novelist Keith Mayerson.

At this point, though, Frank Johnson does not even have a Wikipedia page—although that is certain to change over the next year or so. And Wikipedia still sums up the official history of American comic books pretty much like all the other history books, to date:

The term comic book derives from American comic books once being a compilation of comic strips of a humorous tone. The first modern American-style comic book, Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics, was released in the U.S. in 1933 and was a reprinting of earlier newspaper humor comic strips, which had established many of the story-telling devices used in comics.

This new Fantagraphics volume contains examples from half a century of the comic books Frank Johnson drew in blank, bound notebooks that were available in stores for students and office workers from the 1920s until his death in 1979. In other words, Johnson was creating full-fledged comic books a decade before Famous Funnies. His own private creative instincts led him to envision, plan, write and draw what is now considered an important American art form—years before there was any example on the market.

What could possibly have kept Frank Johnson going for so long in this private pursuit?

Minnie Black’s All-Gourd Band: ‘A Joyful Noise Unto the Good Lord’

I remember interviewing Minnie Black, the Appalachian gourd artist who created an entire band’s worth of instruments from gourds. She eventually appeared nationwide on radio and TV and had a sampling of her work collected by the Smithsonian—but in her early years as a gourd artist, her friends thought she was a bit eccentric even by Appalachian standards.

“Minnie, you created the first all-gourd band anyone has ever heard,” I said. “What made you think of this? And what kept you going even when no one seemed interested, at first?”

“I just wanted to make a joyful noise unto the Good Lord and I saw a gourd one day that was shaped like a dulcimer—and the next thing I knew, I was seeing gourds that looked like other instruments, too,” she said.

Minnie was a full-fledged artist—the Smithsonian would call her a “folk” or “naive” artist—for years before the world discovered her body of work.

‘Cautionary humor’ about life’s great challenges?

What’s so fascinating about Johnson’s body of work, beyond his pioneering creative vision, is that—like Minnie Black’s gourds—his comics reflect the challenges of his life.

The book opens with selections of Johnson’s Bowser Boys comic books, whose “heroes” are a group of homeless alcoholic friends who pursue booze with clever twists and turns every day of their lives. They rise to the challenges of daily life—even though their clothes are rags, they are covered in grime and Johnson draws them with flies buzzing around their heads.

As it turns out: At one point in Johnson’s real life, he was an out-of-control alcoholic himself and clearly these comics are a kind of wildly satirical exorcism of that raging addiction. Eventually, he became a devoted member of AA, but that era seems to have remained in his mind and heart for the rest of his life. We don’t know for sure, because Johnson left few biographical details when he died, but these comics could have been cautionary humor to share with friends Johnson got to know at his AA meetings. Perhaps some surviving friend will surface, now that Johnson is receiving more publicity, to fill in that biographical gap.

However, the majority of this book focuses on his decades-long Wally’s Gang series of comic books. This series feels like a first cousin to Archie and Gasoline Alley: a small-town gang of friends forever facing challenges in their relationships—and often pulling pranks on one another.

Some outsider artists—notably Minnie Black, who eventually appeared on Johnny Carson’s late-night talk show—attain a measure of fame in their lifetimes. In fact, I helped with her ascent into the public eye as a journalist, publishing one of the first major profiles of Minnie for a national wire service in the 1970s. She thoroughly enjoyed all the attention she received until she eventually died in 1996 at age 97.

But far too many “outsiders” only shine posthumously. Keith Mayerson captures the bittersweet truth of Frank Johnson’s career in this haunting line: “Frank Johnson laid out the future of comics for an audience of no one.”

No one was aware of his astonishing lifetime output until his descendants realized there was value in all those notebooks he had stored away.

If you would like to glimpse what the other kind of outcome for an American outsider artist can look like, you can watch a marvelous 4-minute video of Minnie Black uploaded to YouTube in 2023 by the Appalshop Archive.

For Frank Johnson, the creation of his body of work was enough to keep him going for many decades. The sheer joy he found in creating these stories is obvious in the glee shared by members of Wally’s Gang. And, now, his family can celebrate the true creative genius of their patriarch.

And—Here’s Minnie Black

 

Jeffrey Munroe and Nicholas Wolterstorff: ‘A book so meaningful, strangers tell others to read it’

Jeffrey Munroe (right) with Nicholas and Claire Wolterstorff


EDITOR’S NOTE: “It’s a book so meaningful, strangers tell others to read it.” In 17 years of publishing books, we can tell you: That’s the highest praise an author can aspire to earn. Since our founding in 2007, our authors have shared our mission: “Good media builds healthy community.” That happens when strangers feel compelled to spread the good news to others. Jeff Munroe’s new book, Telling Stories in the Dark, is receiving that valuable word of mouth. In this column, Jeff writes about one of his mentors who impressed him in this same way.


Meeting an author whose life and books have shaped my own

By JEFFREY MUNROE
Author of Telling Stories in the Dark

Sometime in the 1980s, I attended a discussion about dismantling Apartheid, the South African system of discrimination and segregation that allowed a non-White minority to rule that country. One of the speakers was Nicholas Wolterstorff, a professor of philosophy at Yale University. Wolterstorff was joined by Alan Boesak, President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a black South African who had very few civil rights in his own country. Their conversation was enthralling, and after the event I walked into a pop-up store that featured books by the authors.

Nicholas Wolterstorff’s books were on topics like art and aesthetics, reason and religion, and justice and peace. I suspected they were beyond me. (No one was going to suggest I study philosophy at Yale.)

Amid these weighty tomes, there was a small book called Lament for a Son. When I picked it up, a stranger leaned over and said, “Oh, you’ve got to read that one.” As I experienced, it’s a book so meaningful strangers tell others to read it.

Wolterstorff had lost a son in a climbing accident a couple of years earlier. Lament for a Son was a full-throated cry of anguish, sorrow, and grief. I took it home, read it in a day, and then read it again. I’ve read it five or six times since—it’s one of those books I keep returning to. There is great comfort in Wolterstorff’s words. He hadn’t put aside his great intellect to write the book, but there was nothing academic or intellectual in an off-putting way about it. It was thoroughly human and riveting and it is a book I treasure.

Fast-forward more than 30 years: As I was working on my book Telling Stories in the Dark, a book about people who have not only faced great loss but have done something redemptive with their loss, I thought of Nicholas Wolterstorff. I wondered if I might interview him for my book. I knew he was about 90, but had a mutual friend who told me Wolterstorff was still at the top of his game. I asked the friend if he would introduce us through email, and, as it turned out, Wolterstorff was happy to talk with me and be in my book.

The pandemic was winding down, so I used Zoom for the interview, which also gave me an easy way to record our conversation. The first thing the distinguished Professor Nicholas Wolterstorff did was insist I call him Nick. Then he mesmerized me as he spoke not only about the loss of his son but of living with this loss for decades. I knew our conversation was going to be very helpful for others.

When the interview ended, I shut down Zoom and waited for my computer to tell me it was storing the recording. Nothing happened. After a few moments of panic, I realized I was so excited about interviewing Nick—I had never hit the “record” button. (I might have said one or two bad words at this point.)

I quickly wrote down everything I could remember—thankfully, I had my list of questions, so used that as an outline. Then I decided the only thing to do was come clean. I decided to go back to him, tell the truth (leaving out the part about messing up because I was nervous about talking to one of the gods on Mt. Olympus), and hope for the best.

He was incredibly gracious. He offered to do the interview again, and also offered to send me some additional things he’d written as background. I used what he sent, augmented my notes, and then sent what I had to him.

He wrote back almost immediately, gave me a few corrections, and told me it was “excellent.” (For a second, I thought maybe I should have studied philosophy at Yale after all.)

I am profoundly grateful that we know each other. Nicholas Wolterstorff is one of our most distinguished philosophers. He has been invited to lecture at virtually every prestigious university in the world. Yet the other day, when I visited his church to lead an adult education class on sorrow and grief, he not only welcomed me enthusiastically—he walked me through the large building so I arrived where I needed to be.

He and his wife sat in my class and expressed gratitude that I had told their story well. His humility and authenticity are remarkable.

And so is his story, which I am exceedingly proud makes up Chapter 9 of Telling Stories in the Dark.

Hate crimes against gay and transgender students are way up! And—we’ve got helpful resources.

In a rising tide of hate crimes—

Our authors are publishing, teaching and speaking out for equality and inclusion

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(EDITOR’s NOTE: Special thanks to MSU School of Journalism Professor Joe Grimm for writing about this alarming new report on the steep rise in hate crimes among our most vulnerable young people. Joe is one of many authors in our publishing community concerned about equality and inclusion. Right now, for example, Christian ethicist Dr. David Gushee is preparing to deliver the April 14 keynote at the Parent & Family Summit—”Interwoven: Uniting Kids, Parents and Community.” Follow that link to learn more about the event, which you could attend online.)


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By JOE GRIMM
Founder of the MSU School of Journalism Bias Busters

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page

Hate crimes against gay and transgender students are way up, especially in states with laws against transgender rights or teachers’ speech about gender and sexuality, according to The Washington Post. And the crimes are not up by just a little.

FBI statistics on anti-LGBTQ+ school hate crimes doubled from 2015-2019 to 2021-2022. But in the 28 states with new anti-LGBTQ+ laws on the books, such crimes quadrupled, The Post reported.

FBI stats show the most common crimes associated with LGBTQ+ school hate crimes are simple assault, intimidation and vandalism. Forms of bullying, which are lower on the aggression scale, might not rise to the level of being a crime. Recently, however, news stories have linked bullying of LGBTQ+ students to suicide.

On March 13, a summary autopsy report said Oklahoma high school student Nex Benedict died by suicide after being bullied in a restroom at their school because they did not identify as strictly male or female. The Washington Post report came out against that backdrop.

The Post looked at laws that bar students from sports teams or school restrooms that differ from the gender they were assigned at birth. Other laws limit or forbid teachers from talking about gender identity or sexual orientation.

How are state laws related to bullying?

The Post quoted Amy McGehee, an Oklahoma State University doctoral student who researches LGBTQ+ health and well-being. She said, “Policy sets the tone for real-world experiences [and] discriminatory policy just creates a hostile environment.”

The Post also quoted California high school student Max Ibarra, who identifies as nonbinary and transgender: “The school board has made it very clear we’re not welcome here. It’s very clear they don’t want us to exist.”

3 Valuable Books to Help Change Community Thinking

The Michigan State University Journalism School’s Bias Busters series has three guides that address basic questions for people who seek greater understanding.

One book is titled: “100 Questions and Answers About Gender Identity

Here’s an example of a common question we ran into for that guide:

Do all transgender people have gender-confirming surgery?

The answer:

Most do not. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey, only 25 percent of respondents said they had some type of gender-confirming surgery. Transgender men were more likely than transgender women to have had surgery, 42 percent to 28 percent. Nine percent of nonbinary people have had surgery. Fourteen percent of transgender women and 21 percent of transgender men said they never wanted surgery. Surgery is expensive and insurance doesn’t always cover it. Even if a transgender person does not have or want surgery, their identity is still valid.

A second book is titled: 100 Questions and Answers About Sexual Orientationhttps://www.amazon.com/Questions-Orientation-Stereotypes-Surrounding-Sexualities/dp/1641800275

And a third closely related book is: “The New Bullying: How social media, social exclusion, laws and suicide have changed our definition of bullying, and what to do about it

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Joe Grimm is an MSU journalism professor and founder of the series.

Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds says, ‘There’s power in telling these stories!’

An enthusiastic new review of Jeffrey Munroe’s ‘Telling Stories in the Dark’

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

THIS WEEK, we’re bringing you a video book review of Jeffrey Munroe’s new Telling Stories in the Darka review in a video podcast with Hearts & Minds bookseller Byron Borger.

You can learn more about Byron’s bookstore at his website, HeartsAndMindsBooks.com

Recently, Byron appeared on this podcast, hosted by CCO campus ministry network, offering reviews of a number of books that Byron is currently recommending.

Byron starts his list with an enthusiastic review of Jeff’s new book, so we have “set” the YouTube video below to begin with that review. (If you care to see the entire video, which includes about 2 minutes of introductory material, simply reset the video “slider” to the beginning.)

About Jeff’s book, Byron says in part: “There’s power in telling these stories—and I’m not kidding you! This book is moving!

“And, here’s what’s interesting: Jeffrey Munroe not only tells and narrates each story, which itself would be worth reading. But then, in the second part of every chapter, he brings another person into the conversation: a therapist, a pastor, a clinician, a theologian.

“He brings somebody in and he says, ‘As I’ve told this person’s story, what do you see happening here?’ And then that other person who he’s interviewing … helps evaluate what was going on in that story of trauma. So you’re getting not only a moving story of somebody who went through hard times and coped with it—but then you’re getting an expert … who then evaluates the story and brings some insight. …

“So, it’s not ony the story that’s told but it’s also the evaluation that Jeff does when he engages these experts … And he has lots of good people in here! … And that’s what makes this book shine compared with other books of this kind.”

See Byron’s review of Jeffrey Munroe’s new book

Here’s the YouTube video: