PBS debuts BBC landmark film on ‘Life of Muhammad’

Reporting and Review By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine

When the British television network, BBC Two, unveiled its three-hour series, The Life of Muhammad, in 2011, British journalists and top Muslim leaders were invited to a special preview screening. They were met by network executives crowing about this historic event: They called it the first full history of Muhammad’s life produced for “Western TV.”

However, their claim was debatable. Millions of Americans already were familiar with the PBS network’s 2002 documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. That two-hour PBS documentary has subsequently been shown in countless schools, congregations and small groups nationwide—and around the world. The BBC officials were claiming that their three hours were so exclusively focused on Muhammad’s life that their film was a Western-media “first.” In truth? The BBC was splitting hairs in making its claim.

That’s one reason American media coverage of the August 20 PBS debut of that BBC series is muted, compared with the debut in the UK. Most American viewers assume that public television already has covered the Prophet’s life.

In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the productions. For example, Karen Armstrong appears as one of the main “talking heads” in both productions. Also, both the BBC and PBS networks bowed to Islamic requirements that only Muslims are allowed to visit the sacred cities where most of Muhammad’s life unfolded. In the case of PBS, the American convert to Islam Michael Wolfe was the chief correspondent and, as an observant Muslim, was allowed to film in the sacred cities. In the UK, BBC executives tapped Director Faris Kermani and chief on-screen correspondent Rageh Omaar. Both are Muslim. Curiously, as PBS promotes its debut of the British series, press releases emphasize only that Rageh Omaar has worked as a journalist for the BBC and for ITV News. In fact, in the British press, he was better known in 2011 as a correspondent for Al Jazeera’s English-language network.

On balance? Both documentaries were produced with an obvious awareness that these films could do more harm than good. There is a painstaking balance to both films that occasionally makes them slow going for casual viewers. Contrast these films with the much more provocative documentaries about Jesus and various eras of Christian history—some of which wind up on American cable TV channels each year—and you will feel the weight that PBS and BBC officials clearly feel on their shoulders.

How do these two productions differ? As its title indicates, the PBS series really is about Muhammad’s legacy and focuses quite a bit on the millions of diverse Muslim families in the U.S. The BBC series stays for all three hours with the Prophet’s life, spanning the 6th and 7th centuries. Overall, the BBC series is heavily weighted toward British experts and media personalities.


Our Read The Spirit viewpoint: If you care about world religions and the growing religious diversity in the United States, this is “must see” television. You may even want to purchase the entire ‘Life of Muhammad‘ series on DVD, via Amazon. As Editor of Read The Spirit, I watched all three hours and can highly recommend the film. In tackling one potentially controversial issue after another, Omaar carefully presents various points of view and, in the course of the series, paints the kind of balanced portrait of Islam that fans of Karen Armstrong’s books will be comfortable watching on their TV screens.

The BBC deliberately costumed Omaar in this series as a humble journalistic traveler. Wherever he appears around the globe, he always is wearing a simple navy-blue or sometimes charcoal shirt, no tie, comfortable khaki slacks and sturdy hiking boots. Over his shoulder is a simple brown tote bag from which he occasionally pulls a book or some notes. We often see Omaar’s “talking head” popping up in dramatic settings to explain what we are seeing. The other experts he interviews usually are sitting in comfortable scholarly offices or libraries. At one point, Omaar does remove his traveler’s uniform to demonstrate for viewers how Muslim pilgrims to Mecca change into simple white garments. The production design of this series tells us loud and clear: These are all reasonable people talking wisely and compassionately about one of the world’s great faiths.

In other words, it’s a series you’d expect to watch in a class on world religions. Presumably, that’s where most of the DVDs for sale on Amazon are headed.


In the UK, the conservative-leaning newspaper The Telegraph assigned two journalists to cover the BBC Two debut. The newspaper’s TV writer Chris Harvey called The Life of Muhammad “an excellent primer, tracing Muhammad’s journey from orphaned son to prophet of a new religion. … I enjoyed it.”

However, the Telegraph’s religion writer Christopher Howse was less impressed. He criticized the great lengths to which BBC Two went to please Muslims with the series, including bowing to Muslim requirements that only Muslims are allowed inside the sacred cities. The BBC would not have been so deferential in reporting on Judaism or Christianity, Howse argued. And, he has a point. On the other hand, the PBS network made the same choice by tapping Michael Wolfe for its film.

The more liberal-leaning newspaper The Guardian assigned Riazat Butt, a veteran religion writer with long experience in covering Islam, to cover the British roll-out of the series. In general, her columns on the documentary reported positive reactions. Her main criticism was that the filmmakers seemed bent on checking off an inventory of “typical” elements in Muslim culture.

Riazat Butt wrote, in part: “Even though we didn’t see the Prophet, we did see shots of praying (tick!), veiled women (tick!), jihadi references such as the planes flying into the twin towers … and veiled women praying (double tick!). There were also shots of camels. My score card is full. The opening episode deals with the circumstances and society that Muhammad was born into. It charts his childhood and early years—being orphaned, being taken in by his uncle—and the narrative is interspersed, interrupted I’d say, with shots of Rageh praying, Rageh brooding, Rageh climbing over rocks in a manful and foreign correspondent-like way.”

Want to see the series? Be sure to check local TV listings in your region as public television show times vary widely.

AND: Consider ordering the earlier PBS documentary from Amazon: Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet


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Where to find DC’s first Muslim Green Lantern hero

If you know a Muslim family, ask the kids about the new superhero in the DC Comics universe. Frankly, ask any comic fan about this. Given the Green Lantern’s legions of followers over the superhero’s 70-year history—millions of Americans have heard of the new hero: He’s Simon Baz, the newest Green Lantern, an Arab-American Muslilm hero from Dearborn, Michigan.

Who is Green Lantern
and What’s His Origin?

AMONG THE OLDEST AND MOST COURAGEOUS: From his debut in 1940, Green Lantern now ranks as one of the oldest and most popular super heroes—even if the 2011 Green Lantern movie wasn’t greeted with the same kind of rave reviews lavished on Batman, Spiderman and Avengers movies.

GROUNDBREAKING SOCIAL CONSCIENCE: His reputation for having a larger-than-life conscience is longstanding. Back in the late 1960s, a restless, young generation of artists and writers emerged at DC Comics and chose the Green Lantern as one of their standard bearers. Through most of the 1960s, mainstream comic books had avoided dealing with serious social ills. Then, in 1970 and 1971, DC dared to put issues like drug addiction and racism on the covers of superhero comic books. It was a salute to the brave and venerable reputation of Green Latern that he was chosen to co-star in that series with another old-school hero, Green Arrow. Just this summer, DC released a full-color volume of the Green Lantern and Green Arrow series from 1970-71, which now is available from Amazon.

FROM WORLD PEACE TO COSMIC PEACE: Most Americans know a good deal about Superman, Batman and Spiderman—individual heroes trying to do the right thing. Green Lantern is different. Think of the knights in King Arthur’s round table. Think of the Jedi Knights in the Star Wars saga. The origin of his power resides with a cosmic round table, the Guardians of the Universe. These Guardians have distributed many power rings through the universe to all shapes and sizes and genders of heroes. The most famous “current” Green Lantern is American test pilot Hal Jordan who received his ring as shown in the 2011 movie—and suddenly found himself a cosmic peacemaker. Of course, in the realm of superheroes, peacemaking involves more battles than quiet negotiations. Think of the Seven Samurai from Japan or the Magnificent Seven from Hollywood Westerns—battling to restore peace, or so their stories go.

How Did a Muslim Get a Green Lantern Ring?

Now, we’re in the heart of the story unfolding in the latest DC Comics.

The re-launch of the entire Green Lantern saga occurred in 2011, when DC Comics re-started all of the longstanding superhero series. You can catch up on the latest storyline through Green Lantern Vol. 1, containing the first half year of the new Green Lantern comics in a single volume from DC and carried by Amazon. By this summer, it was becoming clear that at least a couple of green lantern rings—the official connection with the Guardian-authorized power—were likely to be on the loose. By early next year, the entire first year of individual Green Lantern comic books will be available in book-length collections. For now, though, the debut of Simon Baz is only available in Green Lantern #0 “The Introduction and Origin of a Surprising New Green Lantern!” That individual comic book is available through Amazon resellers and at comic stores, if they’re not already sold out. Some Amazon resellers already have their prices jacked up by more than three times the original $2.99 cover price. This is sure to become a classic.

Detroit Free Press staff writer Julie Hinds has published some of the best coverage of this landmark in Muslim media representations. In her first story about Simon Baz as Green Lantern, Julie accurately pointed out that there have been other Muslim and Arab characters in superhero comic books. In fact, some years ago, a team of Muslim comic creators launched The 99, an elaborate multi-media universe of male and female super heroes representing the best values in Islam. (Here’s a ReadTheSpirit story on a documentary film about The 99 that’s fascinating viewing for anyone who cares about these issues.)

In her second story, Julie covered DC executive Geoff Johns’ visit to metro-Detroit, where he was celebrated by Dearborn Arab and Muslim families. Julie wrote in part: Now based in Los Angeles, Johns grew up in Grosse Pointe and Clarkston and graduated from Michigan State University. To make sure he got all of the details of Baz’s heritage and hometown right, he consulted on the script with the museum in Dearborn. “He did his research,” said Matthew Stiffler, the Arab American National Museum researcher who worked with Johns. “He came to the museum because he didn’t want to reinforce stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. He’s really helping to break down stereotypes.”

Simon Baz is introduced to readers, beginning with a flashback to the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001. The comic then very quickly summarizes the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias that followed, even though the vast majority of Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans are deeply patriotic American citizens. Unfortunately, as a young man, this fictional Simon Baz gets caught up in an international web of investigations and—well, without spoiling the comic, it’s safe to say … he winds up with a green ring.

Our Recommendation: Sometimes interfaith peacemaking involves attending conferences and joint worship services; sometimes it takes long-term education and negotiation; and sometimes peacemaking is picking up some comic books and engaging kids in a fresh perspective on our world.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Brian McLaren on why interfaith peace begins at home

Brian McLaren’s new book is prophetic, as we explained in Part 1 of our coverage. That also means there’s real heat surrounding the book’s launch—at least in some quarters. Clearly, Brian now has legions of fans who follow his books for their inspiration and their fresh ideas. We dug into those ideas in …


DAVID: You’ve faced firestorms. It’s got to hurt when some other evangelicals claim that you’re no longer a Christian—or say worse things. As a journalist covering religion in America for nearly 40 years, I can tell that you’re clearly one of the most passionately committed Christian voices, today. So, how does it feel when you sometimes face misguided fire?

BRIAN: It’s always a little hurtful and sad. It’s ironic, too. If a Christian Fundamentalist says I’m not a Christian, I think: Well, I’ve met other Christians—Eastern Orthodox Christians for example—who think that American Fundamentalists aren’t Christians. So, the truth is: Everyone defines their terms in different ways. Some people don’t realize how big the Christian pond truly is.

DAVID: This new book, your first book really focused on interfaith relationships, is likely to fuel more fire, right?

BRIAN: All I can say is that I’m 56 now and I’m glad that I didn’t have to deal with this when I was 26. It would have been devastating then. Now that I’m older, it’s not as hard to deal with this kind of response. What we’re seeing in those responses really is an anxiety within our religious community. When we’re anxious, we immediately guard the doors and gates. We guard them not only because of who might get in—but because of who we fear might get out.


DAVID: I’ve researched this and we can say that you’re the person who has coined the new term CRIS, shorthand for Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome. That phrase describes people who are, indeed, committed Christians but who find the label “Christian” full of troubling baggage and likely to cause misunderstandings.

BRIAN: It’s funny to see how far that term I started using a year or so ago is spreading. I came up with it to describe what a lot of people are experiencing today. We are Christians, but the term is loaded for so many people—so we wind up going through all these explanations and adding all these adjectives to describe the kind of Christian we are to others.


DAVID: In your book, you write about Anne Rice’s turbulent relationship with Christianity. I know that you’ve had some contact with Anne Rice as she began writing her series of Christian books.

BRIAN: I read an early version of her first book about the childhood of Jesus, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. I was asked to read the manuscript and see if there were things in the story that might be offensive to Christians from my background. I remember there were two or three things that I thought should be revised. These were things she had picked up from extra-biblical traditions and I just thought they threw up some red flags that she didn’t need to provoke. I recommended she take them out and she was very gracious and hospitable to my suggestions. Writing about Jesus and Christianity was a whole new world for her. I was impressed with her.

DAVID: She’s in your new book because you describe how she has sort of rejected Christianity, or at least she has rejected the power structure of “Christian” leaders who like to beat up on vulnerable people like Rice’s gay friends.

BRIAN: That’s the problem I’m describing. This problem of Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome really came to a head with Anne Rice, when she said she was quitting Christianity. She announced her change on Facebook. She made it clear she still loves God and believes in Jesus, but she didn’t want to be associated with a community that seemed so hostile toward nonmembers and toward people who didn’t agree on any number of matters.


CLICK THE COVER to jump to the book’s Amazon page.DAVID: OK, so here’s where it gets interesting. CRIS isn’t a problem just for Christians, right? That’s a point you make in your book.

BRIAN: Right. You see this problem in so many forms. I was just talking with some Mormons yesterday and when I raised this point, they laughed. They said they certainly feel this. They see themselves as Christians but many other Christians say they’re not.

DAVID: And, Christians aren’t alone in condemning fellow Christians. I know lots of Muslims and Jews and Native Americans and people of other faiths who publicly reach out across religious boundaries—and other members of their groups condemn them as betraying the core faith. You’re saying we share this problem with people of other faiths.

BRIAN: Yes, that’s one of the most important points in the new book. I don’t think we will achieve greater harmony and understanding among the faiths by minimizing our differences in belief and practice. But one of the things we hold in common is that there are features of our identity and our internal conflicts that we all do experience.


DAVID: You’re a good friend of Rob Bell, who has followed a similar vocational course. He’s now left his big Midwest pulpit for the independence of life in California and the freedom to preach and write in any way he sees fit. Having recently interviewed Rob and seeing all these similarities in your career paths, let me ask: Are we in an era when our world is more in need of prophets than pastors?

BRIAN: Rob and I have been friends for years and, yes, we are frequently on the phone sharing advice with each other about different things. We both come from very conservative evangelical backgrounds. As pastors, we were growing, thinking human beings who publicly went through changes in our thinking. I read your interview with Rob in ReadTheSpirit and I hope other people read it, too.

We do have examples today where pastors are prophetic, but it usually means that they’re prophetic on behalf of their congregations. All good pastors are trying to bring their congregations along in their ongoing preaching and teaching. I hope that Rob’s books and my books and ReadTheSpirit all are helping pastors. If pastors can encourage people in their congregations to start reading websites like yours and books like the ones we’re writing now, then that puts a pastor in a much better position as a moderator for what the congregation is reading and is discussing. It’s a lot better, as a pastor, to be in the role of advocate and moderator helping your congregation think through the new things they’re reading.


DAVID: I’ve described this as your first interfaith book, but it’s not like most of the other “interfaith” books on my library shelves. This really is a deep exploration of the barriers that Christians throw up against their neighbors of other faiths.

BRIAN: One of the biggest insights that came to me, as I was researching this book, is the realization that it’s not our differences that are keeping us apart. What’s keeping us apart is something we actually have in common: The way we often try to build our own identity through hostility. Leaders build loyalty among “us” by building hostility toward “them.” It won’t work to simply rush off into interfaith dialogue until we deal with some of the deep work within our own identity. We won’t get far in our relationships with others until we deal with some of the often hidden ways we have defined ourselves through our hostility.

Perhaps we can see this problem more easily in the political campaign going on right now. If you took away hostility toward Democrats, I’m not sure how much substance is left in the Republican Party. And, if you took away hostility toward Republicans, I don’t know how much substance there is in the Democratic Party. The same problem exists in our religious communities.


DAVID: That’s a key insight and, when readers actually go through the book, they’ll see that you explore this in detailed ways. You look at liturgy. You look at our missional outreach. You look at the Christian calendar. You get down into the nuts and bolts of parish life. I would describe your message as: There’s almost more danger to our diverse communities in the way we talk amongst ourselves, inside our houses of worship, than what we actually say in public. Or maybe: Interfaith peacemaking begins at home.

BRIAN: Yes, that’s fair to say. Think of it this way: Even if 10 or 15 percent of us are involved in interfaith experiences—or, let’s even say it reaches 25 percent of us who are doing these things—the problem is that leaves 75 percent of us isolated and stoking fires of hostility in our home congregations. Sooner or later, we have to deal with that identity issue.

DAVID: As I read your book, I turned down corners of pages and circled words. The opening half directly addresses the many ways we stoke the fires. Dozens of times, you use words like tension, hostility, conflict, attack, threaten, rivalry and violence. Then, in the second half, when you get into the nuts and bolts of building healthier and more welcoming communities, your chapters are full of terms like benevolence, generous, harmony and unity. Is that a fair way to express the movement between the first and second sections of your book?


BRIAN: Yes. That’s the challenge I’m asking readers to grapple with in the book. When we build our identity around hostility, it’s a very strong identity. Then, we begin to fear that, if we reduce the hostility, we will weaken our identity. If I say that it matters less to me that you’re Muslim—then does it also matter less to me that I’m Christian? Does it have to be like that?

I think the phrase “spiritual but not religious” is one sign people are giving that they want to end the hostility that they perceive is part of “religion.” We can build a strong and benevolent society—we can choose to do that and pursue it. But the second half of my book really is looking at the obstacles we have to overcome in building a Christian identity within our society that is strong, robust and highly committed—but that achieves this strength without defining itself against people who don’t share our identity.

DAVID: Before we end this, let’s update readers on where you’re based now.

BRIAN: For 24 years, I was a pastor in Maryland just outside of Washington D.C. Then, six-and-a-half years ago I left the pastorate for more time writing and speaking. For a couple of years, I continued to be involved in the church where I was pastor. Then, three-and-a-half years ago we moved here to Florida. I live in southwest Florida in a small town and I go to a small church where I don’t think anyone has read my books. It’s been wonderful to go from the pulpit to being the guy who sits in the fourth row from the back.

DAVID: And what’s next?

BRIAN: The next project looks at the whole church year. I have been working on an outline for 52 sermons and a kind of alternative lectionary that would give people a fresh introduction to the Christian faith. What I’m envisioning now is something that, when it’s finished, will be useful for a single family, or a congregation or even a whole diocese to adopt for a year. Individuals could sit around a table together, once a week, and go through the year together—or a whole region could do it together. Right now, the most important challenge I see is to help people take a fresh look at what it means to be a Christian in our world.

Care to read Part 1 in this coverage of Brian McLaren’s interfaith book?

Want more on Brian McLaren?

OTHER BRIAN McLAREN BOOKS and INTERVIEWS are described in our Brian McLaren Small Group Resources page..

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Brian McLaren: Why did Jesus, Moses, Mohammed …

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.Brian McLaren
marks 9/11
with a plea
for a new

In his 19th book, the prophetic evangelical author Brian McLaren is publishing his first interfaith book. It’s timed to appear on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that opened and still define this turbulent new century.

As you will read in our interview with McLaren later this week, the best-selling writer argues that this new book is far from the typical appeal for interfaith understanding that other writers are producing these days. While many of those books are noble, he has a different purpose in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. While smiling over the old joke in the main title—don’t miss that the book’s real focus lies in the sub-title about “Christian Identity.” This book is a passionate appeal to enrich Christian appreciation of cross-cultural relationships by doing some thorough house cleaning within Christianity itself. In this book, Brian is primarily writing to the Christians who comprise a majority of the American population.

FROM OUR INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN (coming later this week in ReadTheSpirit): Brian says, in answer to a question in the interview …
One of the biggest insights that came to me, as I was researching this book, is the realization that it’s not our differences that are keeping us apart. What’s keeping us apart is something we actually have in common: The way we often try to build our own identity through hostility. Leaders build loyalty among “us” by building hostility toward “them.” It won’t work to simply rush off into interfaith dialogue until we deal with some of the deep work within our own identity. We won’t get far in our relationships with others until we deal with some of the often hidden ways we have defined ourselves through our hostility.

Perhaps we can see this problem more easily in the political campaign going on right now. If you took away hostility toward Democrats, I’m not sure how much substance is left in the Republican Party. And, if you took away hostility toward Republicans, I don’t know how much substance there is in the Democratic Party. The same problem exists in our religious communities.

Read the entire interview with Brian McLaren, later this week.

A Return to Brian McLaren’s ‘Generous Orthodoxy’

Reviewing Brian McLaren’s new book as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I was struck immediately by the return this book represents to themes that he raised in his 2004 cross-over book: A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post-Protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.

In addition to setting a record for longest sub-title on the cover of a spiritual book, Brian staked out the term “Generous” for what he also has described since 2004 as “harmony,” “unity” and “civility.” McLaren urges people to sit down together across a table, to eat together and to begin forming a good-spirited community—rather than flashing doctrinal swords. Such words of wisdom echo what we are hearing from bright young Christian writers like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, these days.

It was McLaren’s “Generous” book that turned heads nationally among non-evangelicals. As a religion newswriter, at that time based at the Detroit Free Press, “Generous” was the first Brian McLaren book that I actually read cover to cover. It was the first McLaren book that I found my newspaper readers asking me about and telling me that they were reading themselves. McLaren was deliberately making a provocative play on words in selecting “Generous” as his mantra. Evangelicals always have set the high mark among Christians for giving money and sweat equity to missions—they always excel (and even boast) about that kind of “generosity.” But, Brian was calling for us to focus on a distinctly different meaning of that word. He also was chiding his fellow evangelicals to become truly generous.

In continuing to use the term “generous,” McLaren is not talking about drumming up dollars for the collection plate. He’s talking about what other writers today are begining to call “kindness” and “hospitality.” In his new book, he passionately describes a great “Reformulation” he sees possibly unfolding within Christianity—neither a rejection of orthodoxy nor a rejection of the Protestant Reformation—but a rethinking and a renewed appreciation of what core Christian beliefs truly mean in light of God’s diverse world.

McLaren: ‘Could doctrines become healing teachings?’

McLaren writes in the new book: Could it be that our core doctrines are even more wonderful and challenging than we previously imagined, asking us not simply to assent to them in the presence of our fellow assenters, but to practice them in relationships with those who don’t hold them? Could our core doctrines in this way become “healing teachings” intended to diagnose and heal our distorted and hostile identities—restoring a strong and benevolent identity, and unleashing in us a joyful desire to converse and eat with the other? Could our core teachings be shared, not as ultimata (Believe or die!) but as gifts (Here’s how we see things, and here’s what that does for us— )?

McLaren: ‘We must provide lots of support’

This is not an easy task, McLaren argues in the new book. He writes that, if Christians take his challenge seriously, they must face up to problems in traditional forms of liturgy, preaching and missional outreach. Late in the book he writes: Because the cost of embracing a strong and benevolent Christian identity is so high, we must provide lots of support for those who respond—support through fellowship, support through teaching (knowledge) and training (know-how), support through ritual and symbol, support through guided practice and mentoring. But since we are still young and inexperienced in this new identity, we have a long way to go in learning how to provide this support, and each of us must take whatever little we have learned and pass it on to others, even as we look for others who can pass more on to us.

McLaren: ‘What will we discover in that crossing?’

In the final pages, McLaren writes: So, imagine then, Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed crossing the road to encounter one another. Imagine us following them. What will we discover together in that crossing? Surely, it will be holy and humbling in that sacred space. Surely there will be joy, grace, and peace. Surely justice, truth and love. We will find hospitality there, not hostility, and friendship, not fear, and it will be good—good for our own well-being, good for the poor and forgotten, good for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, and good even for the birds of the air and the flowers in the meadow and the fish out at sea. “This is very good,” God will say. And we will say, “Amen.”

Read the entire interview with Brian McLaren, later this week.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Beauty of Ramadan, the fasting month for 1 billion

Ramadan lights going up in the Muslim section of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Click the cover to learn more about this book.Ramadan Mubarak!
That’s the phrase to greet Muslim neighbors and colleagues. The word Mubarak (the same as the name of Egypt’s former president) means “Blessed,” so the greeting “Ramadan Mubarak” conveys the wish, “Have a Blessed Ramadan!”
Ramadan 2012 is different!

That’s largely due to the Olympic games coinciding for the first time with Ramadan. Because more than 1 billion people around the world are Muslim, that means many athletes traveling to London will have to adapt for the fasting month. Ramadan rarely plays a positive role in global headline news distributed in non-Muslim countries. This year, it will, thanks to the Olympics.
Today, ReadTheSpirit recommends that readers consider ordering a copy of “The Beauty of Ramadan,” by Najah Bazzy, a nationally known cross-cultural nurse and human-rights activist. Najah’s book is packed with fascinating information about the religious and also the health concerns surrounding Ramadan. Even if you are not a Muslim, this information is vital to educators, public-safety professionals, medical personnel and community leaders.


Fast begins in daylight hours, Friday July 20 or Saturday July 21.
The actual beginning of the fast depends on many factors: Does one follow the lunar cycles with scientific instruments? Or does one start the fast only with eye-sight confirmation of the moon? What do leading imams in your region decide for the larger community? Is there an official schedule for your nation? News media reports across the Middle East and Asia are pointing toward July 21 for some regions, based on reporting by the Islamic Crescents’ Observation Project. (On the Project’s website, you can find elaborate astronomical charts.)

Across most of the U.S., the first fast is set for July 20: The Fiqh Council of North America is led by Muslim authorities across the U.S. from a wide range of ethnic groups and both the Sunni and Shi’a sects. The Council accepts calculation of the new crescent moon, marking Ramadan, by using scientific instruments. So, the Fiqh Council declares for the U.S.: “The first day of Ramadan is Friday, July 20, insha’Allah.” (That final phrase means, “God willing.”) Then, the fasting month ends with a huge celebration (the “Eid u-Fitr”), marked by a new lunar crescent that starts a new month. The Fiqh Council declares: “Eid ul-Fitr is Sunday, August 19, insha’Allah.”


The world’s billion-plus Muslims certainly eat and drink less during daylight hours, but during the evenings—and, in some cultures and communities, all night long—Muslims enjoy a festive Thanksgiving-like relationship with their food and drink. This is a time of family gatherings; friends spend time together at mosques and in cafes; family matriarchs pull out all the stops in making favorite dishes.

How much extra food? The oldest English-language newspaper in the Middle East, the Egyptian Gazatte, reports that Egyptians are anxious about food prices as each Ramadan rolls around. A July 4 Gazette report explained to readers: People eat 70 per cent more during Ramadan, according to a study conducted by the Chamber of Foodstuffs. Consumption of sugar and pastry increases even by 100 per cent, meat and poultry by 50 per cent and diary products by 60 per cent. The consumption of rice and wheat increases only by 25 per cent.”

Price gouging and price supports? In such a month, price gouging can be a problem and one UAE news publication reports: Ministry of Economy’s office in the Emirates has intensified price checks to ensure that all outlets, including super markets, groceries, salons and maintenance service shops, are not increasing prices.” Recognizing the huge importance of Ramadan, the government of Pakistan actually provides national subsidies to needy families through thousands of regional food stores. The program provides bundles of typical foods families need to provide night-time meals, bought in mass quantities by the government, bundled into “Ramadan Packs,” then sold at a deep discount to low-income families.


The Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles. So, observances like Ramadan “move forward” through the world’s standard calendar. In 2011, Ramadan was entirely in August. In 2012, the start of fasting moves into mid-July and that’s a crisis for Muslim athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics.

In their Ramadan reporting, the Times of India and Reuters are citing a university study that, in a typical summer soccer match, an athlete loses 2 liters of body fluids. Fasting under such conditions seems impossible—but Islam traditionally exempts travelers from fasting as well as anyone for whom fasting poses a health risk. Olympic competitors might claim either exemption; and Muslim scholars are suggesting a range of other ideas from “making up” the fast later to donating funds for feeding hungry families.

Across the UK, non-Muslims are suddenly well aware of Ramadan in a positive way. Muslim athletes suddenly are talking about the depth of their faith—and their commitment to peacemaking and helping the poor during Ramadan. And there’s more! Muslim organizations in areas around the Olympic venues are welcoming both Muslim and non-Muslim visitors for Iftars (breaking-the-fast dinners after the sun sets). The UK grocery giant Tesco has set up a Ramadan portal within its website, already declaring: “Ramadan Mubarak.” Among the featured Tesco items are dates, traditionally the first bite each night as the fast is broken.

Also: Read the News Release on Ramadan posted within the official 2012 London Olympics website.

And: There is more about the Olympics debate in Stephanie Fenton’s Holiday column on Ramadan.


Red-Carpet Hospitality in the UK: Given the global focus on London during Ramadan, various UK nonprofits and religious groups have established Iftar 2012, a program to organize and publicize a wide array of welcoming events. The information is centered on the Iftar 2012 website, a colorful collection of newsy posts and information.

Iftar 2012 describes its mission this way: “The British Muslim community invites you and your Olympic team to celebrate a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join them in a Ramadan fast-breaking meal during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Never before has the Olympics in the modern era coincided with the Islamic calendar month of Ramadan. Iftar 2012 is hoping to deliver the Ramadan experience with the help and support of Mosques, Islamic centers, community groups during the 2012 Olympics.” In many places on the website, the organization emphasizes that this is open to “Muslims and non-Muslims, people of all colors and races, people of faith and no faith.”

Hospitality across the United States: While Iftar 2012 in the UK already had generated a lot of news coverage, the same hospitality is shown by Muslim communities across the U.S. Generally, non-Muslims are welcome to visit mosques on most nights of Ramadan. It’s best to visit with a Muslim friend or to call ahead to ensure that someone from the mosque will orient you to the evening’s program. Most American Muslim centers do not provide nightly Iftar meals; that’s not typically a part of the evening gatherings for prayer and inspirational talks. However, most American Muslim communities do host occasional Iftars for friends and visitors. Call a local mosque or Muslim center and ask about local plans in your part of the U.S.


The Prophet’s sermon on Ramadan is one of the world’s most famous Muslim texts. Countless versions rendered in English are floating around the Internet, some of them more difficult to understand than others. For her book, The Beauty of Ramdan, Najah Bazzy consulted Muslim scholars and, then, gives readers this formal and yet accurate paraphrase in English. Note on parenthetical terms: The letters PBUH are a way for Muslim writers to show respect for the Prophets in their religious tradition, including Moses and Jesus. They stand for “Peace Be Upon Him.” In most English translations of Muslim texts in Arabic, parentheses are used to indicate words that go further than translation to add clarity to the otherwise unwritten context of a line.

Muslims enjoy the Quran inside the huge mosque in central Jakarta, Indonesia. Another popular form of worship is to recite the various Arabic “names” or attributions of God, often using a string of beads that sometimes are described, in English, as a rosary.O People! The month of God (Ramadan) has approached you with His mercy and blessings. This is the month that is the best of all months in the estimation of God. Its days are the best among the days; its nights are the best among the nights. Its hours are the best among the hours.

This is a month in which He has invited you. You have been, in this month, selected as the recipients of the honors of God, the Merciful. In this holy month, when you breathe, it has the heavenly reward of the praise of God on rosary beads (tasbeeh), and your sleep has the reward of worship.

Your good deeds are accepted in this month. So are your invocations. Therefore, you must invoke your Lord, in right earnest, with hearts that are free from sins and evils, that God may bless you. Observe fast, in this month, and recite the Holy Quran.

Verily! The person who may not receive the mercy and benevolence of God in this month must be very unfortunate having an end as bad (in the Hereafter). While fasting, remember the hunger and thirst of tomorrow in eternity. Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders.

Have pity on those younger than you and be kind towards your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are not worth seeing (forbidden) and your ears from such sounds that should not be heard by you.

Be kind to orphans so that if your children become orphans they also may be treated with kindness. Do invoke God that He may forgive your sins. do raise your hands at the time of Salat (Prayers), as it is the best time for asking His mercy. When we invoke at such times, we are answered by Him; when we call Him, He responds; and when we ask for anything, it is accepted by Him.

O People! You have made your conscience the slave of your desires; make it free by invoking Him for repentance and forgiveness. Your back is breaking under the heavy load of your sins, so prostrate before Him for long inervals and lighten your load.

Do understand fully well that God has promised in the name of His Majesty and Honor that He wil lnot take to task such people who fast and offer prayers in this month and perform prostration, and will guard their bodies against the punishment on the Day of Judgment.

O People! If anybody amongst you arranges for the Iftar (food for the ending of the fast) of any believer, then God will give you a reward as if you have set free a slave. He will forgive your minor sins.

Then the companions of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “But everybody amongst us does not have the means to do so?”

Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told them: Keep yourself away form God’s wrath, by inviting for Iftar, though it may consist of only half a date or simply with water if you have nothing else. O People! Anybody who may cultivate good manners in this month wil walk over the bridge to the next life with ease, though his feet may be shaking.

Anybody who in this month may take light work from his servants (male or female), God will make easy his accounting on the Day of Judgment.

Anybody who covers the faults of other sin this month, God will cover his faults in this life and in eternity. Anybody who respects and treats an orphan with kindness in this month, God shall look at him with dignity in the Hereafter. Anybody who treats well his kinsmen, in this month, God will bestow His mercy on him, while anybody who mistreats his kinsmen in this month, God will keep him away from His mercy.

Whoever offers a recommended prayer in this month, God will give him freedom from Hell. Whosoever offers one obligatory prayer in this month, for him the Angels will write the rewards of 70 such prayers, which were offered by him in any other month.

Whosoever recites repeatedly Peace and blessings upon me, God will keep the scales of his good deeds heavy, (promising heaven).


More about Ramadan in our Holidays column. Writer Stephanie Fenton follows Holidays and Festivals around the world. Her column already has additional details about the start of Ramadan. You may also want to bookmark the URL to her column https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/ so that you can follow upcoming stories about individual holidays that are marked within the month of Ramadan—whch will be published as Stephanie files those stories.

Read an interview with Dr. John Esposito, widely regarded as a top English-language scholar on Islam. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm conducted this interview with Esposito a couple of years ago, but most of the scholar’s conclusions are relevant to this day.

Athlete’s point of view: Female Tae Kwan Do instructor Fidaa Bazzi talks about the difficult challenge of following the Ramadan fast as an athlete and college student in the U.S.

Mom’s point of view: Cooking during Ramadan is quite an effort, explains Zahia Hassen.

Hearing the Quran recited during Ramadan is one of the most beautiful and memorable experiences for Muslims around the world. Radwan Almadrahi talks about this experience.

LEARN MORE ABOUT ‘THE BEAUTY OF RAMADAN,’ a complete book about this season by cross-cultural nurse Najah Bazzy. This book not only explains the month of fasting in detail, but also contains information that is helpful to educators, health care professionals and community leaders.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

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Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

ONE & Oprah: How a small-town Dad is inspiring millions

Click the DVD cover to visit ONE’s Amazon page.The story behind ONE sounds like a Hollywood fairy tale: A group of friends get together and decide to put on a show. They pool their resources. Despite the longest of long-shot odds—these eager first timers produce a hit!

That is, indeed, the true story of ONE, although the feature-length documentary isn’t exactly an overnight sensation. A decade ago, Ward and Diane Powers were typical American parents, active in their local Catholic church, when the terrorist attacks hit on 9/11. As ordinary residents of a Midwest community, the Powers thought and prayed a lot about how they could teach their three daughters not to fear the world’s diversity. The Powers knew that the world’s varied religious traditions—at their best—promote a unified call for compassion even in the midst of diversity. Rather than contributing to the overall post-9/11 anxiety, the Powers wanted to help highlight that compassionate message.

Much like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney putting on a makeshift Hollywood show, Diane and Ward enlisted their friends in their ambitious project. When they began, they didn’t even own a quality video camera. They were not journalists—they weren’t even writers. They had no experience contacting major religious leaders. Yet, they began making a list of people who ordinary American parents would want to question at such a turbulent time in world history.

Now, after years of barnstorming through film festivals and indie screenings, Oprah is announcing that ONE will air on her OWN network. Later this year, the whole world will see the Powers’ show.

And, what a show it is! Moved by these parents’ sincere request, one major religious figure after another agreed to appear in the film. Now, even as ONE hits a global audience thanks to Oprah, the documentary already has become a cinematic classic—marking wisdom at the dawn of this new millennium from some of the world’s most famous religious sages (some of whom sadly won’t be with us that much longer).

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm, as a long-time religion news correspondent, has been covering the ONE story since its inception. Today, David talks with the small-town lawyer and father of three, Ward Powers, who became one of the world’s most unlikely filmmakers.


DAVID: Today, there are millions of filmmakers on YouTube. (And in Part 1 of our coverage of ONE this week, we include several YouTube clips that are out-takes from the movie.) So, let’s begin by stressing that ONE isn’t just another YouTube creation. This is a high-quality, feature-length documentary that took you a couple of years to produce. So, this leads to another question: How old are your kids, now?

WARD: Let’s see. I’m 54. Diane is 52. Our daughters are 17 to 21. When this started they were little kids and we were thinking about what we needed to show them about the world just after 9/11. Now, one daughter is in law school. As a family, we do mark time in relation to ONE. You know, we’ll be trying to place events through the years and we’ll say: This happened or that happened just after we finished ONE.

The whole story began in April of 2002, about six months after 9/11, when war drums were pounding in the campaign to attack Iraq, which our country finally did in early 2003. So, as the idea for ONE came to me, the tragedy of 9/11 already was leading toward another tragedy.

I was really disturbed that, right after 9/11, Americans were being taught that there were a billion Muslims around the world who we were supposed to fear or even to hate. Diane and I realized that this was contrary to the reality of life on this planet. Humanity is an interconnected web. All living things are one. That was a truth we held very close, but we could feel that truth moving away from us in that really fearful time. We were just a Mom and a Dad living in suburban Detroit. But, what we saw going on in our world called us out of our comfortable home. We kept asking ourselves: How can we create something that will focus much needed light back on the truth? And that truth is, as our title says: In this world, we are—ONE.

That April, there was this one particular morning—quite early that morning. I was kind of half awake in bed and my mind was drifting. The idea came to me: We should set off on a journey with our friends and make a movie. For us, it would be a personal journey.

DAVID: When people watch the opening of ONE, they’ll see a generic man waking up in a generic hotel room. Does that represent the morning when you woke up with this idea?

WARD: No, it’s not that specific a reference to my waking up with the idea. But, I can also say: Yes, this is a guy like everyone, you know, waking up in bed and looking for a fresh start in life. This particular nameless character we see is staying in a dumpy hotel room, waking up with some kind of unnamed troubles in his life. And, we see him start his day. We’re trying to encourage everyone to wake up and head out with us on this journey of awareness. And, I should say: This movie isn’t some big crusade to convert anyone to any particular religious tradition. This is a personal call to viewers to get up, start a new day, and take a fresh journey to discover the world’s underlying truths.


DAVID: That is an important aspect of ONE, Ward. We do see an incredible diversity in this film. You’ve got pretty much all the compass points covered.

WARD: For example, a group of atheists were having a picnic for the summer solstice. So we went out and filmed interviews with some of the atheists. About the same time, we interviewed a Christian talk show host. We talked with all points of view. This project wasn’t about us picking and choosing a particular point of view that we were pushing. No, we wanted to capture the whole range of humanity.

This turned out to be the right decision on many levels. When we were interviewing the atheists, we ran into a reporter who was writing a story for a Detroit newspaper. He was fascinated by what we were doing and wrote a story about us. When that appeared, it opened up a whole new range of possibilities. Suddenly, people were aware of what we were doing; we were authentic at that point and the project grew. One day, there was this young guy who just showed up at the front door of my offices. He told me that he had read the newspaper story about the film and he was carrying this book by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. He said, “You’ve got to include Llewellyn in your movie.” Now, at that point, I’d never even heard of Llewellyn, but this young guy made a strong case for our including him. The connections flowed like that: We were at a picnic, there was a reporter, there was a story, there was a kid at the door, there was Llewellyn. That was the magic of how the doors opened.


DAVID: And ReadTheSpirit has just published a fresh interview with Llewellyn. Your film is unique because it includes so many giants: Father Thomas Keating, Robert Thurman, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ram Dass and others who won’t be with us forever. These are major voices who are speaking for themselves in this film—not their followers or some scholar talking about them—but the real Keating, Thurman, Ram Dass and Thich Nhat Hanh. Figures like Keating, Thurman and Ram Dass go back to the explosion of religious diversity in America from the 1960s into the 1970s. This film still is fresh and inspiring to new viewers. But, already ONE is a must-see classic that captures a particular range of great voices in American faith, culture and history. I don’t think anyone could duplicate this treasure.

WARD: It takes the background of someone like you to appreciate this about ONE. It’s true: These voices all have unique things to tell us. Yet, they somehow all come together here in ONE. It helped that we were keeping our own orientations out of what we were filming. We looked East and West. We looked for traditional religious language and more contemporary language. But this idea of ONE-ness permeates all of these voices. We opened up a welcoming space where all of these voices felt comfortable sharing their perspectives.

DAVID: At ReadTheSpirit, we value journalism—accuracy, balance and the goal of conveying someone’s voice honestly to our audience. That kind of balance is part of the value of ONE. You’re not a religious leader. In fact, you’re an attorney. You’re trained in critical-thinking skills; you’re schooled in techniques of careful observation through your profession. Do you think that your professional background help you?

WARD: Yes, I think it did. In fact, after ONE was finished, I wound up traveling and speaking at a number of bar associations around the country. We tend to think of trial lawyers, which is my own specialty, as people who are pitted against each other as advocates for their one side against another side. By showing ONE and talking about it with other lawyers, I was able to address my own profession and say: Let’s look at what we do again. The reality of what we do, beyond beating somebody on the other side, is to serve justice. And justice is something bigger than winning. The law is intended to give people a language and a place to breach their differences and to work out and compromise and resolve their differences. The goal of law is to find justice and balance again. After those bar association programs, I had some remarkable and rewarding responses from trial lawyers. We all need to realize that we’re part of something bigger.


Click the cover to visit the book page.DAVID: This is a really important point: There are strong secular and civic reasons to see a film like ONE. Let me give you an example from another colleague: Stuart Matlins of the SkyLight Paths publishing house has found that a book he publishes, How to Be a Perfect Stranger, is popular among professionals in international business. “Cultural competency” is a hot skill set to develop right now.

WARD: A lot of people have started using the film in that way. For example, there was one banking professional who began using the film with his professional colleagues. Later, for a while, he worked out of my offices, designing some educational programs using clips from ONE for different audiences: high school and college students, executives, corporate groups embarking on tasks together. That’s an amazing outgrowth of ONE.

DAVID: There are many professional groups interested in this information: medical personnel, public safety officers, on and on. In this film you have authentic, high-level voices from the world’s religious traditions. In ONE, viewers are getting the real deal.

WARD: Quite honestly, I like ONE more now than when it first came out. As I have seen it stand the test of time, I am appreciating the larger value of the film. I do keep seeing new connections. That’s partly because the world keeps turning and news keeps coming out about people and ideas related to ONE.

Another reason it’s so valuable is this isn’t one more message about how to make a fast buck, how to get what I want, how to get more stuff for myself. That idea of success and personal satisfaction—dream your own dream and grab your own success—is very popular in Western culture. I understand the appeal, but that idea has its limitations.

DAVID: ONE was born out of post 9/11 anxieties, but flash forward to this current era of global economic crisis. People around the world are realizing that, even though they may live in a developed country, their lot in life isn’t going to be better than their parents’ generation. That’s a huge shift in global anxieties. One limitation of prosperity preaching is that it’s a tough sell in the midst of such a crisis. But, ONE is very appropriate in this era. You’re not offering cheap avenues to personal success through spirituality. ONE is talking about ideas that might actually help us in these troubled times.

WARD: I’m glad you said that. Yes, ONE is about finding our way back together again in this divided world. The movie starts with this down-and-out guy waking up in his bed and wondering what this new day holds. ONE is about the catalysts that can shake us out of our own individual corners. The whole idea of ONE is to offer a place where what seems so divisive in our world—our religious voices—can offer a gateway back to unity. That’s why ONE remains so powerful. There are things in that film that I could never have dreamed would be relevant with each passing year. But, ONE takes people wherever they’re at today—and it talks to them about some big truths they may have been missing in their lives. This film touches people in new ways with each new viewing. That’s why this whole journey has been so magical.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Parker Palmer, 2: ‘Good news from within our lives’

This is the conclusion of our interview with Parker Palmer.
You may also want to read a brief excerpt of his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.
Then, if you haven’t read it already, here is Part 1 of the interview.


CLICK THE COVER TO JUMP TO AMAZON.DAVID: In this new book, you use “heartbreak” as a metaphor for where we are now as a nation. You write: “We will never fully understand why people respond so differently to experiences of heartbreak. There is an eternal mystery about how the shattered soul becomes whole again. But people whose hearts break open, not apart, are usually those who have embraced life’s ‘little deaths’ over time, those small losses, failures and betrayals that can serve as practice runs for the larger deaths yet to come.”

As a nation, we are heartbroken now, you tell us. Throughout the book, you are pushing people to use this sudden opening of hearts in a compassionate way—not to allow ourselves to sink into bitter despair and anger. But I have to ask: When there suddenly is a tragic shift in our life’s core assumptions as fundamental as losing one’s job, or one’s long-promised pension, or the value of one’s house—when such values that form the foundation of our lives suddenly are overturned—then it’s awfully hard to react in a compassionate way, isn’t it?

PARKER: You’re absolutely right. When you discover that your home suddenly is worth less than you thought it was—and you may never recover your life’s investments—this is very scary. I agree with your analysis. It gets even scarier when your job disappears, or even when your job is suddenly less secure.  This is one of the reasons that, in my book, I take issue with what other observers commonly call “the politics of rage” to explain where we are as a nation. I am saying that we must look beneath the rage we are seeing and, when we do, we find what I am calling “the politics of the broken hearted.”

Just think about this: Perhaps a third of the homeless people in this country are our veterans. Or consider: A quarter of our children in this country are at risk. Many children go to bed hungry every night in our country. Poverty is growing. Many people have at least a sense that these things are happening, even if they don’t know the specific details. To allow these conditions to continue shows a hardness, a crudity, a seeming disregard for the value of life in our country. And, all of this—all we have been talking about here—contributes to our heartbreak as a nation.

DAVID: Your book offers lots of sage advice about this. As we introduce your book, we will include the text of your “Five Habits of the Heart,” which is part of your advice to readers. But, these Five Habits are advice for the journey, aren’t they? In the end, there is no sure-fire, 10-point plan for success, is there?

PARKER: That’s right. And, I don’t propose one big answer to this big problem, because problems this big don’t have big answers. They have a million little answers that have to be acted out in a million lives. Promising one big answer, at this point in our nation’s life, is not wise. Such promises may be appealing, but they backfire with results ranging from the discovery that it’s a false hope—to accepting a totalitarian takeover as a way to reach that promised big solution.

We have to start this process with a good diagnosis. If what we diagnose is rage, then we are likely to rage back at people or to go hide out somewhere. That’s a simple diagnosis and a simple answer, but raging at people or hiding out ultimately will undermine what holds our democracy together. If we leave the diagnosis at rage, then the creative, life giving, noble possibilities of our democracy are endangered. But, if the diagnosis is heartbreak, then we can start to come together. The prescription for heartbreak is different. We can begin to search for some kind of common ground in our shared experience.


DAVID: You’re mainly addressing an American audience, but this has applications all the way around the world. Over the past decade, we have reacted to what we perceive as anti-Americanism with rage. We’ve gone to war twice over the past decade.

PARKER: That’s right. For example, in the Christian world, there are lots of folks who perceive men and women in the Muslim world to be enraged extremists. What we are actually seeing, in many cases, are people who are heartbroken over their prospects in the world, too. Many are heartbroken, in particular, about the prospects for their children, much as we are.

I ask people to remember that period right after 9/11 when people around the world were saying things like: “I am an American with you, today.” And: “I understand your pain and your loss as Americans.” In so many parts of the world, people had a deeply compassionate response. That was a moment of shared heartbreak.

My dear late friend Henri Nouwen used to say: We join with each other more through our brokenness than we do through our strength. It’s an ancient Christian theme and it’s true today. In his song Anthem, Leonard Cohen asks us to “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything—that’s how the light gets in.” This is ancient human wisdom that, in our heartbreak, it is possible for us to come together.

In the case of 9/11, that moment of shared heartbreak lasted a very short period of time before we turned to an eye-for-an-eye response and we didn’t much care where we would take our revenge. The attack in Iraq had very little to do with the 9/11 attacks. That was irrational violence and it ended our post-9/11 opportunity to come together with people in many parts of the world through our shared broken heartedness.


DAVID: One of the most provocative things you say in your new book involves “media.” For most Americans, that M-word summons up an image of network TV, major newspapers and magazines. But, in fact, “media” is simply connection through all sorts of means—from human tissue to digital transmission, from paint and ink to music. In your book, you warn us—as you warned us in Part 1 of this interview—about the dangers of mass media today.

But, hey, you’re a part of mass media yourself. You’re a popular author with a bunch of books listed on Amazon. Henri Nouwen? His books have circled the globe. Leonard Cohen? His music is performed on hit TV shows all the time. Cohen was just performed on X-Factor. So, you’re not really urging us to give up all media.

Quite the contrary, I would argue, you’re actually giving us some advice, in this new book, about two things: How to discern the flaws in the media we accept into our lives, and how to raise our own voices—perhaps daring to do so for the first time—in a healthy and helpful way. Am I understanding you correctly? I don’t think it’s possible to achieve what you hope to achieve without media, right?

PARKER: Again, a great question. The real problem is that too many of us spend our lives in schools and churches that treat us as if we are supposed to sit there and receive information as empty vessels. I write that “many of us lack confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference. We grow up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama, and as a result we become adults who treat politics as a spectator sport.”

The idea we’re given is that we’re not supposed to have knowledge or wisdom within us as individuals. This leaves lots of people dependent on external sources for what they regard as “truth”—to the extent that people even use that word today. Steven Colbert understands what’s happening here, so he’s turned the word into “truthiness.”

What I am talking about is the need to use all the ways possible to help restore people’s confidence that they do, indeed, have life experiences and inner processes that are, in themselves, sources of insight and knowledge. In my own life, this was a struggle. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I felt very intimidated in an academic environment and I had to struggle for many years, a struggle that culminated at Berkley in graduate school where I finally claimed my own.

We need to do everything we can to help people reclaim the authority and validity of what they already know inwardly. We need to help people realize that they need to check and correct themselves with other people, as well. This business of “knowing” becomes an interactive, co-creative process.

No, there’s not much good news in the news media, but there is good news in the wisdom traditions from within our religious communities. And, there’s also good news that comes from within our own lives.

Remember: You can order a copy of Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit from Amazon.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

 We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
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Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.