By MARTIN DAVIS
More than a decade ago, ReadTheSpirit magazine and Front Edge Publishing launched with a radical idea: human stories matter. Their founding principles are summed up in 5 words: “Good media builds healthy community.” In the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, our writers—myself included—are not publishing stories built on Big Data, although we need such stories from major news media to chart the pandemic’s scale and direction.
We are publishing stories about individual lives, families, small communities.
Right now every journalist I know is reflecting on what has become our life-and-death vocation: Waking up each morning and continuing to report on what we see unfolding all around us. Like most journalists, I work for several organizations, each with a different purpose. And, in ReadTheSpirit this week, I want to tell you: We’ve got a uniquely valuable opportunity here as writers and editors contributing to ReadTheSpirit and the books produced by Front Edge.
We bring people together, one by one, group by group.
Most importantly, we make room for everyone regardless of culture or religious faith—or no religious affiliation at all. Front Edge publishes Jewish, Christian and Muslim authors—as well as secular writers or “Nones” like me. That is such an important truth to share right now in a time when faith communities often are tempted to pit themselves against non-faith communities. This is already a dangerous time of rising bigotry—and I am writing today to stress that we all can play a role in making sure that our anger doesn’t rise with our anxiety.
Some Boundaries Already Are Vanishing
Consider just some of the things that have happened in my small corner of the world.
Bloomia—a flower grower in nearby King George, VA—was sitting on canceled orders for more than 300,000 tulips. The company decided to deploy a little “Flower Power” and handed out free bundles to anyone who wanted them in downtown Fredericksburg on a recent Saturday. “Fredericksburg is so close to us, and right now we all can use some happiness in this unstable situation with the coronavirus,” General Manager Werner Jansen told The Free-Lance Star. “It’s good to spread some happiness.”
The Brisben Center in Fredericksburg has long served the region’s homeless. Originally founded as a faith-based organization and supported by more than 70 area churches, the Center is seeing a surge in need for meals. Unable to prepare meals in their own kitchen anymore, the Center has partnered with Fredericksburg City Schools, which delivers cold meals three times a day to those at the Center.
Meanwhile, local reporter Cathy Dyson has written extensively about the ways that faith and non-faith communities are working together to ensure that the region’s elderly are taken care of.
Closer to home, in my own neighborhood, people are using the community Facebook page to deliver meals to those in our community who need them, run errands to grab prescriptions, organizing “Bear Hunts” for children (place your teddy bears in the window and kids will walk around and find them).
Not once in the weeks that we’ve been effectively sheltering in place has anyone that I’ve encountered required someone in need in this extraordinary time to meet a theological litmus test. The only concern is well-being for one’s neighbor. That’s a very Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, and Buddhist ideal! It’s also at the core of the belief structures of non-religious writers and activists. Plato certainly did not believe you needed religious faith as we understand it to organize a moral and just society.
An Open Invitation: Connect with me and share a story
This is why ReadTheSpirit, its writers, and readers are so important to our nation right now. Without choosing sides in the nation’s many deep religious divides, David Crumm and the entire publishing house team have led the charge to simply tell the stories of people of faith—and non-faith, however we may understand that.
What the pandemic is teaching us is something that David Crumm understood years before. There really is no divide. That’s why in times of distress, we set aside the argument over what motivates us and focus on using our positive motivations—whatever it is that motivates us—to solve the problem at hand.
The question becomes: Once this pandemic is under control and we return to something resembling normalcy, how do we avoid reviving those painful old religious feuds?
The answer rests on telling the kinds of stories that make ReadTheSpirit a special voice in a media-verse filled with white noise.
Each issue, David challenges us to find a story that speaks to us and share it via our social media channels. And we do this.
Here’s that Personal Invitation
I would like to challenge us to do more.
When you spot a ReadTheSpirit kind of story—grab hold of that link and share it with family and friends. Share it with a neighbor. Sure, you can share it online—but consider sharing it in person. We know that millions of congregations and communities—religious or secular—are jumping into all forms of social media to connect.
You’re reaching out in person already, aren’t you? So many of us are sharing the most dire and tragic headlines with our friends each day—often face to face across digital media. Balance that by sharing stories of hope and compassion.
Another idea: Start incorporating these stories into your daily religious exercises, or your daily meditation, or just the time you spend in the mornings or evenings reflecting on something good to strengthen your soul and heart. Enjoy one ReadTheSpirit story each day this week.
HERE IS MY PERSONAL COMMITMENT—In the coming weeks, I am going to be reading a ReadTheSpirit story each morning, and writing about it on my Facebook page. I’m inviting you to join me in this daily practice. Or, create your own daily reflection on your social media channel of choice. And let me know, so I can join in with you.