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:




The Rev. Dr. George A. Mason takes us to a very different kind of ‘Sunday Service’ complete with skateboards and fresh vegetables


Editor of Read the Spirit magazine

Here’s why the Rev. Dr. George A. Mason—author of the new book Word Made Fresh—is nationally celebrated as a prophet among preachers: Like the great prophets of old in Jewish, Christian and Muslim tradition, George Mason 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.

This week, he’s taking all of us—via a video feature you can see below—to the Sunday Service at the 4DWN skateboard park in South Dallas. The moment we saw the headline on this new video episode in George’s ongoing podcast series—titled “A Different Kind of Sunday Service”—we guessed that George would show us some kind of trendy evangelical worship service with a rock band and a casually attired speaker maybe spouting skater slang in his sermon.


And that’s why George’s latest video is our magazine Cover Story this week. This is a story from one small corner of Dallas that the world needs to know about. George’s mission for many years—at his own home church, Wilshire Baptist and in his book The Word Made Freshhas been sharing a vision of what “church” can become in our increasingly diverse world.

The Sunday Service in the video, below, is a very compelling vision, indeed.

The big surprise in this video is that it’s a weekly congregation of people who 4DWN co-founder Rob Cahill lovingly describes as “weirdos”—as in: “If you come here on a Sunday and look at all these people working on sorting and packaging food, you wonder: Who are all these weirdos who come together on a Sunday to give their time to this? A lot of these people are lawyers, doctors, movers and shakers—but they come here and they are working side by side with people, some of whom don’t even have a home. What unites these people are the values we share.”

Remember our recent Cover Story by Duncan Newcomer about Braver Angels, another small group that is making a big difference in bridging America’s dangerous divides? Well, this week, George is bringing us another innovative idea from an at-risk neighborhood in Texas. We are covering these stories for our national audience because the world will be a better place if more people learn from these examples—and perhaps try something like these ideas in their own communities.

Come on! Right now, you could share this story across your social media or via email—and perhaps that idea will spring to life in another community.

Here’s the 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—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.

The Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown shares an idea to encourage college students to share their religious traditions

Photos courtesy of the Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown

‘Faith in Transition’ Strengthens Religious Affiliation

Contributing Columnist 

Religiously affiliated colleges and universities often struggle with their denominational relationship.  What follows is a program idea for schools that seek to grow this relationship.

I have always served as an institutional chaplain (primarily in health care). In the past, I served for many years as chaplain of a small, private liberal arts college. Part of my responsibility was maintenance of the college’s church relationship. At the beginning of my time there, this responsibility entailed representing the college at denominational meetings and occasional alumni functions. There was no direct tie to campus life, nothing that involved current students, faculty, and staff in the church relationship. Even the local church adjacent to the college was excluded from campus daily activities.

After building relationships, I realized that below the surface, there was interest in change. Faith-affiliated students wanted a more tangible church relationship. They had come to the college in part because of its historic denominational ties. They wanted to see something in campus life that was tangible. In an effort to listen and respond to these students, the Office of the Chaplain started hosting conversations about tangible goals.

As the conversations progressed, student leadership was built, and faculty and staff began to take interest. We capitalized on this growth and were able to make significant small steps that served as building blocks. Perhaps the most notable step for the purposes of this reflection was the creation of paid student minister interns in the Office of the Chaplain, focused on the college-church relationship. Under my supervision, these interns helped us host ongoing dialogues with students, as well as leaders from the affiliated tradition.

These conversations led us to further insights. My student interns and I realized the affiliated tradition was lacking the same thing as our college—tangible ways to be related. We realized that we needed to look both ways. We needed to look inward at campus life, while at the same time doing something that positively impacted the affiliated religion.

At this point, the conversations could have ended in any number of outcomes. We discussed many possibilities, including service projects, mutual visits, conferences and retreats, the list was quite long. We tested some of these ideas, like taking our worship team out into churches in the region.

Eventually, though, we settled on nurturing youth as a focus. This seemed to make the most sense, as it was a core shared value of both the college and the church.

We decided to create a faith-enrichment opportunity on campus, designed for youth from our affiliated tradition. This would benefit the college overall by giving visiting youth and youth leaders a positive experience, and thus create a potential recruitment pipeline. This would benefit campus spiritual life, as students would become mentors for a weekend, and work together to fashion the overall experience. The hopes were also that interest would grow among faculty and staff. And the program would benefit affiliated churches. Youth would have an enriching experience designed for them, by college student mentors under my office’s supervision.

We decided the name of the program would be “Faith in Transition” (or FIT for short). I had talked with our student team about framing the program in developmental psychology theory. As studies continue to show, adolescence is often a crucial period of spiritual development.

Invitations were sent out by letter to affiliated churches in the region. Student leaders were asked to contact their home churches. I made phone calls to key youth group leaders and denominational representatives.

Each time we held the program, we used a fairly consistent format. Participating high school students arrived on Saturday and were welcomed by our college student leaders. We gathered participants together for an icebreaker, split them into mixed groups, and had them do fun activities with college student mentors around campus. They ate in the cafeteria, then returned to their mixed small groups for dialogue, followed by a combined campus worship service. After that, participants had a menu of options: Gaming, a live music café in the campus coffee house (with alumni performers), dialogue and activities with college student leaders, and other options. Participants left with their assigned college student host to sleep. Adult chaperones were lodged in college guest housing. Sunday morning was left flexible. All were invited to attend worship service at the adjacent affiliated church, eat breakfast in the cafeteria, and/or leave when their chaperones were ready.

In our debrief and evaluation, the student ministry interns and I pointed to a number of positive results. We had been successful in providing a safe, fun, and nurturing space for visiting high school students to consider what it might look like for them to stay active in their religion. We had provided a transformative ecumenical experience for our campus, most especially for the dozens of college students who helped lead the program.  We had provided the affiliated religion with a substantial program that served their mission. From the feedback we received, FIT had been a great success, accomplishing all the goals we had set forth.

As I’ve reflected on FIT as a program model, there were areas for growth. While we involved a handful of faculty, staff, and alumni/a in the program, we did not integrate the program into faculty and administrative culture.  While we involved a handful of leaders from the affiliated religion, we did not integrate the program into the religion’s culture. We made progress in both areas. But sustaining this program model would take a much wider effort.

For colleges and universities that might consider FIT for themselves, I would raise a key area of discernment.  As you have read, I chose to base this program on students, especially my student leaders. This had the desired effects of empowerment, ownership, and creativity. However, this choice came with consequences. The rest of campus culture was not integrated, though seeds were planted within faculty and administration.  I have often wondered if there were more ways to integrate these other parts of campus into FIT, whether in the planning, implementation, or evaluation phases.

I have also wondered if FIT could be a model for colleges and universities that are not affiliated with a religion. I think the answer is yes, and already happens to some degree with religious organizations that have existent, integrated ties with the college or university. FIT could easily be adapted for interfaith and intercultural purposes.


The Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown serves as Board Certified Chaplain (APC) with Trinity Health Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He can be reached at [email protected].






In ‘Chicken Scratch,’ veteran writer Ann Byle invites us to join her creative flock

Chickens roaming among bushes in the back yard of the Rev. Joel Walther’s parsonage some years ago.

Are you ready to take the next step in your creative life?

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

What’s your role in the flock?

Ann Byle with one of her chickens.

One thing I’ve learned from watching the chickens raised in our family is: Some may look alike but chicken personalities vary widely, so we can’t always anticipate what they’ll do. Chickens can surprise us; people can surprise us; and we can surprise ourselves. That’s one of the helpful insights in journalist Ann Byle’s new book, Chicken Scratch: Lessons on Living Creatively from a Flock of Hens.

A second helpful insight—and one I’ve taught myself in seminars and workshops through the decades is this: If you want to create—then create. You’re not a writer unless you write. If you want to be a good writer, you’ll write something every single day. And, in a wide variety of ways—sometimes funny and sometimes downright blunt—that’s another essential lesson in Byle’s book.

As simple as it sounds, that’s the first step toward a creative life: You have to start creating and, as Ann puts it, as you start, “Don’t worry about mistakes.” If you’re counting with me, that’s a third valuable “take away”—the creative life involves lots and lots of mistakes. Don’t be discouraged by disappointments; they’re part of the process. Keep going!

So, at this point, you probably realize a fourth important truth about this book: This is not guidebook on how to raise chickens in your yard. This book is about how a nationally known journalist and expert on creativity drew practical and sometimes surprising lessons from the chickens in her backyard. When you open her book, she’s up-front about her goals:

My dream for Chicken Scratch is that it inspires you to take the next right step in your creative life, and to move ever forward. It could be a new casserole recipe, a gorgeous oil painting, a better way to perform a lifesaving surgery, a new piece of music, a new children’s book. The world needs your creativity, needs your dreams, needs the very thing you dream of doing. Please, go forth and create—and maybe my little coop will inspire you as they have me.

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

How do we know that Ann Byle has authority in these areas?

Although her byline may not be a household name, she is well known in our professional field of publishing about religious and cultural diversity. Her substantial background as a journalist includes regular reporting for Publishers Weekly (PW) magazine about new books coming out on faith, spirituality and religion. She’s a media veteran who understands what’s popular with readers in this genre that rests primarily on inspiration: Will readers walk away from books feeling better than when they started reading?

As you read Chicken Scratch, you’ll realize that Byle has carefully planned each of her short chapters so that they are packed with ideas, questions for reflection, practical tips and even lists of other resources she recommends.

If you want to explore the creative capacities in your life, this is a book-length toolbox you’ll be pleased to own and open.

‘Touch-points on Faith’

Because I have never raised chickens myself, I invited my son in law, the Rev. Joel Walther, who directs the office of human resources for the United Methodist church in Michigan, to read Byle’s book and help us with our Zoom interview. Before his pastoral career began, Joel had managed a farm in Maine and, during his first years in ministry, he raised chickens in the backyard of the parsonage.

“I think this book is a delightful way to reflect on creativity from the perspective of chickens,” Joel said as we began our conversation with Ann on Zoom. “As I read your book, I found myself thinking about my own chicken stories from the years we raised chickens. Then, as a pastor, I also appreciate the touch-points on faith throughout this book. At one point, you remind us that Peter’s symbol became a rooster, because he denied that he knew Jesus three times before a rooster crowed. You also remind us of the famous passage in the Gospels when Jesus says he wishes he could gather his people under his wings like a mother hen.

“So, yes, I really enjoyed this book,” Joel summed up. “Chickens are a great place to jump off into lots of learning and teaching opportunities.”

“I very much agree,” I said. “And one of the most important lessons you draw in the book is that, like raising chickens or any livestock really, this requires daily practice. You can’t occasionally dabble in raising chickens or any other animals, right? It’s a daily commitment. And you can’t fully develop a creative pursuit without discipline.”

“I’m glad you’re pointing this out. It’s so important,” Ann said. “Way too many people don’t take their creative endeavors seriously enough. For example, people think of writing as a gift that’s always waiting—like a faucet that you can turn on any time and these things just flow out of you. Yes, writing may be a gift that you have, but you have to treat that gift seriously. You have to work at it.”

“It’s one of the first things I teach in classes about writing,” I told Ann.

She nodded across the Zoom screen. She said, “Having worked for a newspaper for many years, we learn that you don’t have the luxury of only writing when you feel like it.”

“I like the way you explain the challenges—and the mistakes we’ve all made along the way,” Joel said. “Raising chickens isn’t like raising a puppy. We’ve done both and we know. Chickens are different.”

“You’re right,” Ann said. “Chickens are livestock. The goal with chickens is not to have them curl up with you on the couch. They’re quite independent. They can fend for themselves most of the time—but you’ve got to pay attention everyday.”

“And sometimes there are setbacks, even tragedies,” Joel said. “I remember when we lost our first chicken because it literally chose to cross the road in front of our house. The other chickens did learn to avoid the road, after that, but there are lots of challenges—from cars driving by to predators that eat chickens. This is quite a commitment.”

“It is,” Ann said. “Chickens want to do their own thing, but every day you’ve got to be sure they’re safe and warm and have water and food. In the great scheme of things, chickens are not terribly difficult to raise—but you quickly learn that what you get out of raising chickens depends on what you put into this on a daily basis. And the same it true of creativity.”

‘Plus, this is just fun.’

Both Joel and Ann, who is active in her own congregation, said they can see this book as popular with small groups, perhaps discussing parts of the book over a series of weekly sessions. Those discussions could be within congregations—or in secular settings like a local library. Ann’s expressions of her faith in some passages of the book are within the context of a larger community conversation.

“I definitely could see people discussing this book in small groups—because it fits with a theme I always emphasize,” Joel said. “One thing I try to teach in my own community, especially in my church, is creativity. So for me this book is a perfect marriage of what I know about raising chickens and the challenges of the creative life. Plus, this is just fun—this book is fun.”

Ann said, “Churches would do well to have more fun and I appreciate that about my own church now—we do know how to have fun sometimes.”

We all agreed that one of the first reactions people will have to Chicken Scratch is: A big smile.

You will learn a few things about fostering creativity. You’ll feel encouraged if you already are a creative person. You’ll learn a lot about chickens. And, when you’re done, you’ll have a list of creative ideas to explore and lots of other recommended books to consider reading next.

“I hope people walk away inspired to tap into that dream they’ve always had,” Ann said at the end of our Zoom conversation. “It doesn’t have to be a big dream. It doesn’t have to be writing a whole novel or painting a big painting—but everybody has something that they love and they wold love to do more often—or they would like to start. Even if it’s just putting a new spice in a recipe or using a different kind of yarn when you’re knitting, I hope they come away from this book with the courage to try something new and creative.”


Care to learn more?

GET THE BOOK: It’s available in hardcover and Kindle versions from Amazon.

VISIT ANN ONLINE: The best starting place is her website, Many of our ReadTheSpirit readers are professionals and community leaders who are looking both for fresh ideas as well as the work of other talented professionals. If that sounds like you, then don’t miss the section of Ann’s website labeled AB Writing Services, where Ann outlines the many professional ways she has worked with clients over the years. You might want to remember her, if you or your community group needs a professional writer or editor. You might also want to take a look at her Events page, which includes a box you can use to sign up for her free newsletters.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE NATURAL WORLD: Our online magazine regularly publishes stories about the connections between faith, spirituality and the natural world. In a May Cover Story, we featured popular author Barbara Mahany talking about her new release, The Book of Nature. If you are interested in Ann Byle’s book, we can guarantee you’ll also enjoy Barbara Mahany’s writing.


David W. Peters’ ‘Post-Traumatic Jesus’ offers ‘A Healing Gospel for the Wounded’

Isolation is one of the greatest challenges for the millions struggling with PTSD.

You May Have a Friend with PTSD—and Not Know It

Editor of ReadTheSpirit Magazine

Here’s the first reason you need to read David W. Peters’ Post-Traumatic Jesus: A Healing Gospel for the Wounded—and it’s not a book review. It’s research summarized by the National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

“About 6% of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Many people who have PTSD will recover and no longer meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD after treatment. … About 5 percent of adults in the U.S. has PTSD in any given year. In 2020, about 13 million Americans had PTSD.

“Most of us will experience at least one trauma in our lifetime that could lead to PTSD. There are factors that put you at risk of experiencing a trauma, many of which are not under your control. For example, if you were directly exposed to the trauma or injured, you are more likely to develop PTSD.” (For more information, you can read the rest of this article on the National Center’s website.)

The point of quoting from this national research is, quite simply—

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

You may have a friend with PTSD

Let’s do the math: The highly respected Hartford Institute database on religion in America reports that the average attendance at the 350,000 congregations across the U.S. is 75 people. That means: If you are involved with a congregation, then it’s likely several people around you may be suffering from PTSD. In your larger community, you’ve got neighbors with PTSD.

Even if you are not suffering the effects of trauma yourself—and the majority of us are not, thank goodness—this issue nevertheless is likely close to home.

The Authenticity of David Peters’ Experiences

The author of this book we are recommending today, David W. Peters, was an enlisted Marine and an Army chaplain. He’s now the vicar of St. Joan of Arc Episcopal Church in Texas, where the congregation focuses on welcoming survivors of trauma. In the 150 pages of Post-Traumatic Jesus, this expert in PTSD explains how the Gospel stories of Jesus relate to  millions of men and women who have suffered trauma.

I am using that verb “explains” rather than “interprets” the Gospels, because Peters argues—much like John Dominic Crossan and other leading Jesus scholars—that the original context of the Gospels was Roman oppression and violence. David lays out that idea in the first line of his book: “The post-traumatic Jesus is the only Jesus Christianity has ever known.” While that may not be a theme emphasized in most American congregations, it certainly is a hopeful and transformative theme preached in growing Christian communities in the Southern Hemisphere to this day. The Gospels are filled with stories of traumatized people seeking Jesus’ help—and the four Gospels end with Jesus’ own trauma and resurrection. When readers reach the letters of Paul in the New Testament, as David points out in his book, they find Paul especially focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This subject is not a tangent from Scripture. The responses to trauma are right there on the pages of the Bible that are read in churches every Sunday, David explains.

His opening chapter begins with the story of the Annunciation from Luke, the story of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. David explains the relevance this way:

The world was brutal before Rome, but Rome industrialized brutality, incentivizing the rapacious and greedy to take more and more. For all those in Jesus’ day who were helpless in the face of their violations, the story of the Annunciation is a story where the God of power and might waits patiently for the answer of a young woman in an obscure town called Nazareth. Like the ER doctor, God offers a relationship of participation to Mary, and to us as well.

In 30 short chapters, Peters takes us through some of Jesus’ parables, Jesus’ encounters with people seeking his help, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Reclaiming that core message can be as powerful today in helping people find hope and resilience as it was 2,000 years ago, David tells us.

I agree. This is a must-have volume for pastors, small-group leaders, chaplains and anyone who cares about the lives within their families, their local congregations and their surrounding communities.

The Need to Find Such Resources for Congregations

For our ongoing special attention to these issues in ReadTheSpirit magazine, I have to credit my son in law the Rev. Joel Walther—who is now the Director of Benefits and Coordinator of Human Resources for the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church.

During the years Joel served as the pastor of several United Methodist congregations in Michigan, he continually tried to find helpful resources for members he knew were suffering from various traumas, including critical mental health issues. In 2018, Joel convinced me to report a Cover Story on David Finnegan-Hosey’s groundbreaking bookChrist on the Psych Ward. Then, two years later, Joel helped me with another cover story on Finnegan-Hosey’s follow-up bookGrace Is a Pre-existing Condition. Earlier this year, Joel helped me to select several more books on related topics, including our coverage of Charles Kiser and Elaine A. Heath’s new book Trauma-Informed Evangelism, Cultivating Communities of Wounded Healers.

And, now, Joel has helped me with this cover story on David W. Peters’ book. (Plus, if you read to the end of this column, you will learn that David Peters’ has another related book coming out this autumn—so stay tuned for that.)

‘Presence has a power to heal’

Compared with the other books on related themes that we have covered in recent years, Peters brings a unique authenticity. “Ever since I came back from the Iraq War, I’ve read Scripture through a post-traumatic lens,” he writes.

“I also appreciate that you have a pastoral voice throughout this book,” said Joel in our Zoom conversation with Peters about this book. “As a pastor myself, I am always trying to figure out how to help people move forward from trauma. And, I keep asking: How do we do that in a way that is helpful for that person? For example, I was particularly struck that at the end of Chapter 11 you write about a particular parable you offer to readers, then you end the chapter with: ‘There is much more to say, of course. However, there is enough in this parable to get you through the rest of the day. There is enough here to survive.’ I appreciate that as a pastoral response. Often, our first pastoral response is to try to resolve everything right away.”

So, Joel asked David to talk more about that insight in his book—how accompanying people who have experienced trauma is a long journey.

David said, “When Jesus comes back after the resurrection, the emphasis is on his presence among his followers. His spirit will be with them. The emphasis is on: You’ll never be alone. I will stay with you. And that’s so important. … If someone does decide to come into the church, we all need time to let that person feel the love of the community. Jesus taught us that presence has a power to heal—and that takes time.”

We Are Not Alone

We are not alone. This theme of presence within a caring community also is a central theme of Greg Garrett’s new novel Bastille Day, which we featured in a June 2023 cover storyThe main character in that novel is a repeatedly traumatized TV war correspondent, Calvin Jones.

In that earlier cover story, we explained that Greg researched all of his fictional characters’ lives before completing his novel, including talking to his friend David W. Peters about PTSD. Peters’ own experiences as a Marine and Army Chaplain mirror some of Calvin Jones’ hard-earned wisdom in the novel.

“Greg and I talked as he was writing Bastille Day,” Peters told us. “And, now that I’m reading his book myself, I can see some of what we talked about reflected there. For veterans I’ve known, myself included, combat trauma opens a much deeper wound inside us that is unable to be healed or medicated or numbed in the normal ways people do. In Bastille Day, Greg really captures the way that kind of trauma affects relationships and our ability to function in the world.”

“Now, in your book,” I asked. “What do you hope readers will discover?”

David summed up his answer as: “The message of the Gospels that has given people hope and resilience for 2,000 years.”

“As pastors and as people who care about our congregations, we’ve got to make this message simple again,” David said, “and that should not be difficult, because the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Gospels is real simple. It’s mostly the story of what Jesus is doing, what’s happening with the people around him and what people heard from hm before and after the resurrection. Through it all, we find hope. And, that’s a story that’s just as compelling today as it was back then.”


Care to learn more?

Order a copy of Post-Traumatic Jesus in paperback or in the Kindle edition from Amazon.

You also can pre-order David W. Peters’ book, coming out in November, on a related theme: Accidental—Rebuilding a Life after Taking One. In this November book, David explores the concept of “moral injury” and focuses on accidental deaths, including accidental deaths on America’s highways. Once again, this new book offers a unique perspective on a pastoral issue rarely explored by other authors. Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit, as well, because we will feature another interview with David this autumn to discuss this upcoming book.

You can learn more about the church startup David W. Peters is leading in Texas by visiting the congregation’s website.

There’s a helpful definition of PTSD at the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Finally: Want a fact sheet to share with others in your congregation? The Centers for Disease Control offers an easy-to-print, 2-page PDF titled “Coping with a Traumatic Event.”


Mark Jacobs on: How Lincoln’s astonishing resilience and perseverance inspires me today

A view of Mark Jacobs’ Lincoln Room, courtesy of Mark Jacobs.

Contributing Columnist

For many years I have had a room in my house dedicated to Abraham Lincoln.

It is adorned exclusively with a variety of Lincoln-related memorabilia, photos and books, and is referred to, of course, as our “Lincoln Room.” Some people find it intriguing, others think it’s humorous, and some just think it’s weird.

I don’t care what they think. I love that room. I take my Lincoln very seriously.

I am hardly alone. About 15,000 books have been written about Lincoln, more than any other person in history except Jesus Christ. There are monuments to Lincoln throughout the U.S. and around the world, from Mexico to Moscow. The man who once described his youth as nothing more than “the short and simple annals of the poor” continues to hold a fascination to millions of people, some 158 years after his death.

Anyone who has seriously studied Lincoln—from the recognized experts to the casual fans—understands what Lincoln historian Doris Kearns Goodwin meant when she said, “The more I study Lincoln the more I love him.”

We have learned that he was the unlikeliest of heroes who just happened to find himself at the center of the most momentous period in American history.

Historians typically rate Lincoln as the greatest president of all-time, but the path of his life hardly suggested that greatness would be his destiny. His personal life was often in shambles, beset by death, failures and profound sadness. He was regularly dismissed, ridiculed and underestimated. He had very few friends.

Yet he somehow persevered and will be forever credited for saving the U.S. and re-shaping the world. His death at age 56 by an assassin’s bullet—on Good Friday, no less—just a few days after finally achieving victory in the brutal Civil War, only adds to the Shakespearean drama of his life.

For years I only focused on Lincoln’s legendary accomplishments, which were indeed lengthy: self-taught, successful country lawyer, extraordinary orator and writer of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, considered the greatest speech in U.S. history, and so on. Many Americans know about these things, if only on a surface level.

But I have come to realize that these accomplishments are only half the story. The real Lincoln story, to me, is how a man plagued with so many personal struggles could function—and miraculously, triumph—under such extraordinary circumstances. We can all relate to dealing with setbacks, but Lincoln’s struggles seem incomprehensible, almost fiction-like, as if he were the central character in a Greek tragedy.

He had always known sadness. His mother died when he was 9, his father was abusive, his only sibling died when he was 19, his first love—which many experts believe was the only true love of his life—died when he was 26. Two of his children died at young ages. He lost 8 elections, had a nervous breakdown and had to declare bankruptcy.

He often spoke about suicide during those early years, once causing a friend to write, “Lincoln went crazy … had to remove razors from his room—take away all Knives and other such dangerous things—it was terrible.”

Lincoln himself wrote at the time: “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.”

When he won the presidential election of 1860, he was the most hated man in half the country. The South didn’t just oppose him, they despised him. An Atlanta newspaper wrote that the South “will never submit to such humiliation and degradation as the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.” A slew of Southern states immediately succeeded from the Union, thus making civil war imminent.

Despite his Inauguration plea to the South that “We must not be enemies,” a full-scale war broke out within weeks, and no one thought Lincoln was up to the task, including his own cabinet.

He suffered from insomnia and would often roam the streets of Washington alone at night. The war that many expected to last just a few weeks dragged on with a steady and staggering number of casualties. In all, over 2% of the American population died in the Civil War. As a percentage of America’s population today that number would be well over 6,000,000 people.

Lincoln attempted to project confidence, but the weight of his burdens took a huge emotional toll on him. At one particularly dark time in 1863 he wrote, “If there is a place worse than hell, I’m in it.”

His marriage was not a source of comfort or stability. Mary Lincoln was prone to erratic behavior and bouts of depression. They had already lost a child, Edward (“Eddie”), who was 3 years old when he died from tuberculosis. During Lincoln’s first full year in office, his beloved son, Willie, died at age 11 from typhoid fever. The boy’s death devastated the Lincolns, and they never recovered. Lincoln was seen sobbing and Mary was inconsolable. She later hosted a series of seances to speak with Willie, which Lincoln sometimes attended.

But Lincoln had little time to grieve, as the war showed no signs of letting up. Many of his closest advisers counseled him to negotiate a peace with the South—to essentially surrender—but he was steadfast in his belief that the preservation of the union was non-negotiable.

A lesser man—essentially anyone else—would have easily succumbed to the temptation to allow the nation to split into two. Had he done so, the world would have surely taken on a different trajectory.

Historians have long speculated that if the South had become a separate country, North America would have eventually been comprised of a collection of different countries, just like Europe. If so, then the absence of a strong United States would have likely changed the outcome of the two global wars that ensued in the following century.

It is thus not hyperbole to suggest that Lincoln ultimately saved not only the U.S. but altered the course of world history.

Where did Lincoln’s strength come from? He was not a religious man. He once famously said “when I do good, I feel good, when I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.“ Perhaps it was his sense of humor that allowed him to overcome adversity, even if it masked a deeper melancholy.

When once accused of being nothing more than a two-faced politician, Lincoln smiled, pointed to his face and said, “if I really had two faces, do you think I’d wear this one?”

When asked how he dealt with the reality that so many people hated him, he would say “there’s always some fleas a dog can’t reach.”

Lincoln’s legacy as the man who freed the slaves and saved the Union is forever preserved. But there is another legacy that will always astonish me. In the face of endless tragedies and dire circumstances all around him, he was somehow able to clear his mind, persevere, and defeat any obstacle that threatened to destroy him.

That’s a powerful life lesson that we—and this nation—would do well to remember today and forever.


Mark Jacobs is an attorney and long-time community activist. He is the co-founder and co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity and the co-founder and chair of the Legal Referral Service at Jewish Family Services, a pro bono program that has provided legal aid to people in need for the past 15 years. 


Care to Read More in our Fourth of July 2023 series on Lincoln?

Whatever you choose to read next, you will find the following links to the other 2023 columns at the bottom of each page:

Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer’s introduction to this series includes a salute to Braver Angels, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to de-polarizing American politics that is gathering from across the country for a major conference at Gettysburg this week.

Duncan also writes about: What were Lincoln’s hopes for our nation?

And, he explores: What were Lincoln’s core values?

Then, journalist and author Bill Tammeus writes about how Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address still calls us to reach out to one another.

Journalist and author Martin Davis asks: Are our battle-scarred American roads capable of carrying us toward unity?

Author and leadership coach Larry Buxton writes about: Growing up and growing wise with Abraham Lincoln

Columnist and editor Judith Pratt recalls: Hearing our Civil War stories shared generation to generation.

Attorney and community activist Mark Jacobs writes about: How Lincoln’s astonishing resilience and perseverance inspires me today



Want the book?

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

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions.




Judith Pratt on: Hearing our Civil War stories shared generation to generation

One of the first visitors to the Gettysburg battlefield was illustrator Alfred Waud, who worked for Harper’s Weekly. Just after the battle ended, Waud perched near Devil’s Den with his pad and pencils, sketching a scene that was rushed back to his editors. Alfred was one of only two artists present at the Battle of Gettysburg. His depiction of Pickett’s Charge is thought to be the only visual account by an eyewitness.


Contributing Columnist

The battlefield at Gettysburg has always been part of my life.

As a child, our family would often go to Devil’s Den to play on the boulders, visit in spring to enjoy the beautiful red bud trees in bloom, walk over the sacred ground (although we children didn’t understand what that meant) with the dry leaves rustling under our feet in autumn, have snow ball fights on Little Round Top in winter.

Not until I was older did I understand what really happened there and how critical that battle was for the preservation of our democracy.

In the meantime, my friend and neighbor, Daddy Bream he was called, would tell me stories. He was undoubtedly the oldest person I had ever met, even older than my grandparents. One day he told me about the soldiers marching past his family’s farm. The grapevine had warned that they were coming—and they were starving!

At age 7, he was sent deep into the forest with the family’s horses, loaded with everything his parents could tie onto them, everything they couldn’t afford to lose. And he was ordered to stay there until told to return to the farm. He didn’t remember how long he stayed there, but it seemed like forever, he said.

That was the very early summer of 1863.

Several months later, his father told him that he was heading to town to hear President Lincoln speak. The two of them saddled up for the ten-mile ride and found quite a crowd when they arrived at the new National Cemetery.

Papa wanted to get close enough to hear the President, so my friend was charged with staying with the horses. From horseback, he could see President Lincoln, but he couldn’t hear.

And then, he recited Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to me, having committed it to memory—just like we all did. I felt as though I had been there too!

Now that I am old, although at least a decade younger than he was then, I feel so very fortunate to be the oldest of the six of us children who were Daddy Bream’s posse. Of all of us, only I remember those stories and have that feeling that I was there.


Judith Pratt is best known to our readers as the chief editor of her husband, contributing columnist and author Benjamin Pratt, who wrote A Guide for Caregivers.


Care to Read More in our Fourth of July 2023 series on Lincoln?

Whatever you choose to read next, you will find the following links to the other 2023 columns at the bottom of each page:

Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer’s introduction to this series includes a salute to Braver Angels, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to de-polarizing American politics that is gathering from across the country for a major conference at Gettysburg this week.

Duncan also writes about: What were Lincoln’s hopes for our nation?

And, he explores: What were Lincoln’s core values?

Then, journalist and author Bill Tammeus writes about how Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address still calls us to reach out to one another.

Journalist and author Martin Davis asks: Are our battle-scarred American roads capable of carrying us toward unity?

Author and leadership coach Larry Buxton writes about: Growing up and growing wise with Abraham Lincoln

Columnist and editor Judith Pratt recalls: Hearing our Civil War stories shared generation to generation.

Attorney and community activist Mark Jacobs writes about: How Lincoln’s astonishing resilience and perseverance inspires me today



Want the book?

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

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions.