Sample from July 14, 2008: ReadTheSpirit weekly Planner

ReadTheSpirit Planner:

At a glance, here’s what you need to navigate the world of faith this week …



On Friday, many Buddhists will mark Asalha Puja, recalling their founder’s first sermon.


This week, one of the world’s most-endangered faiths marks its New Year. These are the Mandaeans,
who now are among refugees from Iraq and it is unclear at the moment
where most of them have settled. At least a few thousand are in the
United States. Some fledgling Mandaean Web sites established just a few
years ago now are either down or are inactive.


those of us intrigued by the conjunctions of births and deaths —
Wednesday is the birthday of two women who had enormous influence on
American culture: Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, and Ginger Rogers,
who teamed up with Fred Astaire to help popularize ballroom dancing —
and the effervescent music of Cole Porter and the Gershwins as well.

Can’t see any spiritual connection between these women? That’s because you’re not — nudge, nudge — thinking positive thoughts, even in tough times. Go rent “Shall We Dance” and you’ll understand.


“What’s my sign?”

No, we’re not
predicting some awful resurgence of lounge lizards, trolling for
astrological signs. We’re talking about the blossoming of campaign
signs, bumper stickers — and symbols on your license plates, too.

Last week, one of our most popular questions on the new OurValues landing page
was about the emergence of “Christian” license plates in the South. So,
by mid-week, Dr. Wayne Baker is going to return to that issue in a
fresh way.

And, today — today we ask college students to express their spiritual world in an unusual kind of sign — a single photograph. Check it out.




We Are Proud to Introduce —

Four National Co-Sponsors of “Our Values”

Our innovative online project with the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research
is an experiment in opening up the scholarly process of designing
research — to the whole world. Under the guidance of Dr. Wayne E.
Baker, we are exploring whether it is possible to “open source” a
constructive discussion on hot-button issues related to our most
heart-felt values.

To enlarge the
community that is inviting people into this pioneering project, we are
adding a short list of “co-sponsors” today — existing Web sites and
programs with a similar commitment to using online tools to make a
positive difference in our world.

These co-sponsors, whose links appear today on the OurValues landing page,
simply are indicating that they want to see this experiment succeed.
They’re not shouldering any responsibility for our specific content —
or occasional flaws, if we should encounter pot holes along this new
road. But their co-sponsorship is a welcome sign of encouragement.

I want to thank them
personally, today, on behalf of ReadTheSpirit, OurValues, Dr. Baker and
this UofM-ISR effort to redefine how scholars understand our values.

The four are:

The Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California.

Spirituality and Practice,
a major online hub for reviews of books and films on spirituality
produced by veteran journalists Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.

And, Peace X Peace, a growing international network of women connecting at a grassroots level to work toward peace.



Speaking of Campaign Signs —

Here’s Some Very Timely Political Advice

We know that this
ReadTheSpirit Planner is especially popular among leaders in religious
life — and we want to thank the Rev. Tom Reese, the Jesuit scholar,
author and journalist, for sending out this timely word of political

Most Americans don’t want clergy to endorse political candidates!

So, if you’re
feeling anxious this summer about whether you — or your clergy —
should stand up in the pulpit and “make a political statement,” Tom
wisely says: Back off.

A careful scholar,
Tom underscores this advice with data: Only 28% of Americans agree that
“clergy should be permitted to endorse political candidates during
worship services,” according to the Calvin College “Religion and 2008 Election”
survey. Support among Catholics is even lower (23%). Support for a
politically active clergy is highest among Latino and Black
Protestants, but even among these groups only 35% agree that clergy
should be permitted to endorse political candidates during worship

“While members of
the clergy, like every American citizen, have a constitutional right to
vote and support candidates, their congregations do not want to hear
endorsements from the pulpit,” said Tom, who is a senior fellow at the
Woodstock Theological Center. “Endorsements at church services can also
get the clergy and their churches in trouble with the IRS.”

pulled his information from a recently published summary from Calvin
College. If you click on the link above, you can download a 22-page
Word document that analyzes this data in greater depth.


Two New Windows into the Timeless

Allure of Egypt and Jerusalem

Since three of the
world’s great religious traditions, embracing more than half of the
world’s population, regard Jerusalem as a holy city — it’s fairly safe
to describe Jerusalem as the world’s most sacred city. But scholars of
global culture also can make a pretty convincing case that Egypt holds
a timeless allure around the world, as well. For Americans, Egyptian
imagery is everywhere from our currency to the current crop of
Hollywood blockbusters.

Considering the
enormous worldwide interest in these areas, it’s surprisingly tough to
find educational resources about the long history of travelers’
encounters in these locations.

So, I’m passing
along news today of two books that are available in new editions. In
this little niche of publishing, my advice is: Order copies now,
because they might go out of print again. Click on these links to read
our reviews of the books (and, if you wish, order copies via Amazon):

Traveling through Egypt: from 450 B.C. to the Twentieth Century,” a collection of hundreds of excerpts written by travelers, edited by Deborah Manley and Sahar Abdel-Hakim;

and “Jerusalem: Caught in Time,” a collection of photographs, many more than 100 years old, edited and introduced by Colin Osman.


Here’s Literary Networking at Its Best — and with a Quaker Example, No Less

If your life is anything like mine, you end
your day with a “To Do” list that’s longer than when you started,
right? So, you’re making daily choices about which Web hubs you’ll
visit — and sites that aren’t regularly helpful will fall by the

That’s how I felt
about GoodReads after I registered for the site earlier this year. It’s
a site that networks people based on the books they read. (THINK:
Facebook with your favorite books as the connective tissue, rather than
Facebook groups.) The idea is that you’ll log every book you read, then
later you’ll file mini-reviews, or at least numerical ratings of these
books. You can move through this community friend by friend — or book
by book.

Cool idea, right?

Well, I’m a
voracious reader but I only have so much time each day — and the books
I want to recommend wind up on ReadTheSpirit. I was beginning to think
that GoodReads should fall off my must-check list.

Then — I discovered
that GoodReads isn’t a daily stop, after all. It’s a community that’s a
lot like stepping into a C.S. Lewis novel — where, if you’re lucky,
you’ll encounter characters who essentially invite you into their home

This just happened with J. Brent Bill, the Quaker writer who we’ve featured on ReadTheSpirit, especially for his latest book, “Sacred Compass.”

Just a couple of
days ago, I got an Email from GoodReads (you can configure your
preferences via Email, if you choose) proclaiming: “You have 42 new
updates from your friends.”

Wow, I thought. My friends network on GoodReads just went viral!

But, no. It was all
Brent — apparently in a flurry of literary activity, rating dozens of
his books — mainly his favorites, although he fired darts at a few
big-name books that annoy him.

And I really enjoyed
this little virtual visit with Brent! It was like one of those scenes
from Narnia in which some friend invites you to step inside his warm
little, book-lined home — perhaps built in the trunk of a huge tree.

What’s intriguing
about Brent’s new literary list is that he doesn’t have much use for
Dan “DaVinci Code” Brown — but he very much enjoys both the
dark-obsessed Cormac McCarthy and the light-called Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Hmmm, that’s worth settling into an easy chair and talking about for a while, isn’t it?

Now, all GoodReads needs to figure out is: Who serves the tea and biscuits?

Hot Read:

If You Don’t Subscribe to TIME,

Go Get This “Dangerous” Issue on Twain

Most weeks, I like to give our “Hot Read” recommendation to publications that you wouldn’t normally find without our spotlight.

But this week,
anyone who cares about the literary world — and, the possibilities of
cross-cultural connection — should grab this issue headlined: “The
Dangerous Mind of Mark Twain.”

Oh, and: Actually read it. (We know you’re busy and TIME’s Twain section is a good chunk of reading.)

If you’re a Twain
fan like me, you can quibble here and there with a few references in
the lengthy section — but, hey, that’s what makes this a delight to

And, I have to
admit, I was pleased to see that — in addition to the Twain “required
reading” list, there’s a recommendation here of my own favorite among his lesser works, “The Innocents Abroad.”

Speaking of
Jerusalem, as we did above, Twain’s essay in “Innocents” about the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre is among his most pointed — and poignant.

This Week Inside ReadTheSpirit

We’re going to be exploring …

TODAY (Monday), we asked 10 college students to demonstrate the spiritual power of vision
— by choosing personal signs in the form of photographs they snapped
just for us. Check out their 10 images and reflections. Which image
captures your world today? Tell us.

Tuesday: Our
popular Tuesday quiz returns in honor of the convergence of the
birthdays of Mary Baker Eddy and Ginger Rogers. You’ll have fun — and
you’ll think positively about life, too!

We’ll introduce you to one of the country’s leading scholars of
spiritual writing — Dale Brown. For decades, Brown crisscrossed the
literary world, talking to a huge array of authors about the spirit of
their literary vocation.

Thursday and Friday: We’ve got several cool surprises — plus, we’re planning another reader-feedback page.


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