Remembering Nelson Mandela 1918 to 2013

The world is awash in memorials and remembrances of Nelson Mandela. ReadTheSpirit, here, offers some texts, columns and reflections on his life and the struggle for freedom in South Africa that you won’t find without our help. Please, remember, reflect and recommit yourself to peacemaking …


U.S. President Barack Obama honored Mandela, on behalf of the American people, quoting from Mandela’s famous 1964 address to the court that ultimately convicted him and sent him to prison for nearly three decades. We have the complete text of Obama’s remarks, courtesy of the White House. Then, we also have an extended excerpt from Mandela’s own historic address to the court that convicted him, from 1964.


In their book Made for Goodness, Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu welcome us into their South African family—a courageous community of relatives and friends who produced one of the great miracles in modern history: the end of Apartheid. This 2010 author interview, we get Tutu’s perspective on the historic events that unfolded out of South Africa. In a separate piece, Mpho Tutu also provided her perspective on the movie, Invictus.


In 2011, we marked Mandela’s 93rd birthday, which coincided with the 200th birthday of William Makepeace Thackery, the acid-penned writer who originally composed Invictus. AND, if you’re thinking of watching Invictus to honor Mandela, you’ll also want to read faith-and-film writer Ed McNulty’s review—and discussion guide—to that film. Then, in addition to that Invictus study guide, Ed McNulty immediately posted an additional column, reflecting on a wide range of films and other media related to Mandela’s career.


The ultimate film documentary on the decades-long campaign to defeat Apartheid is Have You Heard from Johannesburg, a truly monumental achievement produced in part for national PBS airing in 2012. Read about this documentary and you may also want to follow links in the story to PBS’s website, where you can find out more about the production.


In remembrance of Mandela and celebration of his legacy, we are likely to hear lines from Seamus Heaney’s poem, The Cure at Troy, which was written at about the time Mandela was about to be released from prison. Here is our story, written when Heaney died, about his frequently quoted poem. If these lines intrigue you, then you’ll also want to look back to a poem written by noted peace activist Ken Sehested called The Deuteronomist, which echoes Heaney’s and Mandela’s spirits.


In 2010, Stephanie Fenton’s Holidays column marked a centennial celebration in South Africa, including a number of key interfaith connections.

President Barack Obama honors Nelson Mandela’s courage

U.S. President Barack Obama honored Nelson Mandela, upon news of his death, with this statement that was carried by news media around the world:

At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, ‘I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

(Read an excerpt of Mandela’s original address in a second ReadTheSpirit post.)

And Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man.

Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us—he belongs to the ages.

Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa—and moved all of us.

His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings – and countries – can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humour, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable.

As he once said, ‘I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings. The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.

And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set. And so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.

To Graca Machel and to his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him the most. And I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family. To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal and reconciliation and resilience that you made real.

A free South Africa at peace with itself—that’s an example to the world. And that’s Madiba’s legacy to the nation he loved.

We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived—a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. May God Bless his memory and keep him in peace.

Stormy Weather: Powerless? Nature is the real power

“If this phone line goes dead, that’s because of the storms hitting this part of the country,” our columnist and author Benjamin Pratt said this week as he telephoned the ReadTheSpirit home office in Michigan about the publication of his latest column.

The storms did more than knock out power. In a heart-breaking blow to people along the Boardwalk—high winds whipped fires that destroyed dozens of businesses. (See the news item below.)

This time of year—hurricane season—makes all of us anxious. As founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine and publishing house, I am writing this column because I so vividly recall the terrifying first hours of the “Blackout of 2003,” which affected 55 million people. I was a senior writer on the Detroit Free Press staff, at that time, and occasionally was called upon to serve as “Rewrite” for major tragedies. In a traditional newsroom, Rewrite was the staffer who sat by a bank of phone lines and took calls from a cast of dozens of reporters swarming all over a breaking story.

With my background in religion reporting and my generally calm demeanor, the Free Press honchos tapped me for Rewrite a number of times over the years. I was at the hub for a couple of plane crashes, a mass shooting, the explosion of a fireworks factory—you get the idea. The rest of the staff would run as fast as they could to grab individual facts, fanning out to police stations, emergency rooms, neighbors’ homes. On and on, they would race until deadline. And, Rewrite would take their calls, tapping more and more details into the final story with each telephone report.

The Blackout of 2003 now is remembered as a cautionary tale about flaws in our national power grid. One long National Public Radio report on the 10-year anniversary of the massive outage focused on the need for proper tree trimming along power right of ways. I thought: How the terror of that story has faded into mundane maintenance tips!

When the Blackout of 2003 hit, the first reports in our newsroom were: It’s another terrorist attack! As Rewrite, I recall one of the first phone calls came from a breathless reporter who was speeding somewhere in a Free Press car: “Flames have been spotted south of Detroit! I’m heading there now!” Turns out, those flames were just the tall, burn-off vents that always sent flames skyward in one industrial area south of Detroit. Suddenly, in the darkness that was descending all around us—those vent stacks were an ominous sign.

As my fingers tapped on a laptop, I thought to myself: “Wow. This is how panic spreads! In an instant of terror, we can leap to the assumption that we are under attack.”

The truth was: We were under attack from ourselves—our own flawed technology in the national power grid. (You can read all about it in the extremely detailed Wikipedia overview.)

The larger truth is: In stormy weather—when we’re suddenly powerless—we glimpse nature’s real power. Talk about scary!?!

TODAY, our intrepid columnist and author Rodney Curtis has published a new column about this very point—as his family was just caught in a power outage.

ALSO TODAY, our caregiving expert Heather Jose writes about the challenges faced by millions of caregivers nationwide as seasons change. She invites readers to share tips to help caregivers prepare for fall and winter. It’s a great idea—and only takes a moment.

AND … BACK TO THE BLACKOUT: Now, 10 years after the 2003 blackout, as I look at that classic photograph of the Free Press team finishing the front page that day, I think: Is this a nostalgic look back? Or, is this a vision of how we’ll all be covering the next waves of disasters as nature truly unleashes her power?

Am I sounding shrill? I think not. After 40 years in journalism, my skin is as thick as a rhino’s hide. I’m simply reporting here: When we’re powerless, the real terror is that we glimpse nature’s unrestrained power. Want to have this message driven home with hurricane force? Grab a copy of Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl on DVD. In our home, we had to watch Burns’ four-hour documentary over four evenings. It was just too darned shocking to watch more than an hour of that film in one sitting! In the 1930s, bad farming practices in the Texas-Oklahoma region set off dust storms that eventually reached the East Coast and even dropped Great Plains topsoil on ships at sea!

‘it’s weird we cannot make the connection’

Another ReadTheSpirit writer, Eileen Flanagan, regularly reports in national publications about the looming effects of global warming. In early 2014, we will publish Eileen Flanagan’s new book—about urgent ways we need to start connecting our global family. If you’re already laying out the calendar for your small group discussions, now that Labor Day has passed—make a note to look for Eileen’s book. For quite a while, Eileen has been writing about these issues in national magazines. She just had one of her stories—a report on how climate trends are affecting Africa—published as a cover story in Christian Century magazine. The title: Temperature Rising.

If you click over to read that story by Eileen, don’t miss the quote from Pini Chepkoech Kidulah, an activist in northwest Kenya who is trying to raise awareness and responses to the growing crisis. Pini is Christian, as are many people in that part of Kenya, and she reminds all people of faith: “As Christians we need to approach it as a justice issue because we have a history of working for social justice, but it’s weird that we cannot make the connection on ecological justice, climate change justice and the issue of poverty.”


By now, you probably know the Boardwalk story: Ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, the folks who live and work along the Atlantic coast Boardwalk rebuilt their businesses to capture much of the 2013 tourist season. Then, a fire on Thursday—whipped by storms that hit the East Coast—wound up destroying dozens of businesses along the restored Boardwalk. Associated Press reports, in part:

SEASIDE PARK, N.J. — A massive fire spitting fist-sized embers engulfed dozens of businesses along an iconic Jersey shore boardwalk Thursday, forcing workers to rip up stretches of walkway only recently replaced in the wake of Superstorm Sandy as they raced to contain the blaze’s advance.  The 6-alarm blaze began in a frozen custard stand on the Seaside Park portion of the boardwalk around 2:30 p.m. and fanned by 15-20 mph winds from an approaching storm system, quickly spread north into Seaside Heights, the boardwalk town where the MTV series “Jersey Shore” was filmed — and where the October storm famously plunged a roller coast into the ocean.

The CBS station in Philadelphia posted a several-minute video report in the middle of the night, as firefighters controlled the fires and residents, once again, talked about their resilience.

(This column originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Dag Hammarskjold: His spiritual writing and peacemaking genius are shaping lives to this day

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Dag Hammarskjold's Legacy

Dag Hammarskjold inspired so many of our readers to respond, over the past week, that Read the Spirit is adding one final part to our series on the Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of the spiritual classic, Markings. (Use our convenient series index, below, to enjoy the rest of our Hammarskjold coverage.)

Dag Hammarskjold:
from a spider

First, today, we’re sharing an email from Hammarskjold’s biographer Roger Lipsey, who sent us this recent “find” in his ongoing research. Roger writes:

Thank you for the Read the Spirit coverage. This week, I am speaking about Dag Hammarskjold to a lively, intelligent audience of young United Nations people from all over the world. Here is one passage about him that  I came across too late to include in the biography, but am sharing with audiences, now.

Hammarskjold once revealed something of his shrewdness. The report is from Christian Pineau, French foreign minister during the Suez Crisis:

He had no illusions about the possibilities for settling the great conflicts that divide the planet, nor even the difficulties among neighbors in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. His sole objective was to avert or limit bloodshed.

“To that end,” he explained to me one day, “I start by seizing on the problem in the name of the United Nations. Then I guard against proposing a solution too quickly. Coming from me, it would immediately be suspect and rejected. But I complicate matters as much as possible; I multiply exploratory conversations. I act like a spider tying up an insect to immobilize it before eating it. I weave my threads around the problem to the point of making it invisible or, if you prefer, incomprehensible. In the end people no longer have a clear notion of what made them adversaries—and renounce fighting.”

“Alas,” he added, “it’s not always a success.”

Thank you Roger Lipsey for sharing this vivid anecdote!

Dag Hammarskjold: Indelible Childhood Memories

As Editor of Read the Spirit, I was not surprised this week to hear a number of childhood memories from adults in their 50s and older. As Editor, I was moved by a childhood memory myself to interview Roger Lipsey about his new biography (the interview is Part 1 in this series). In the mid-1960s, my own father literally preached Dag Hammarskjold’s message. My father, now-retired United Methodist pastor the Rev. Donald Crumm, bought Markings the week it was released in English. He was the pastor of a mid-Michigan congregation, at the time, and wound up preaching a month-long series of sermons on the spiritual lessons of this great peacemaker. I was 9 years old and those sermons are some of the first I can remember to this day.

This week, we’ve selected one extended childhood memory to publish. This moving memoir was sent to us by Deborah Taylor Valencia, 52, of Northville, Michigan. Her father was James Clagett Taylor Jr., a native of Sebring, Fla. Debbie currently facilitates an interfaith study group at Northville United Methodist Church continuing to broaden the insights gleaned from living abroad and the inspiration her parents instilled about lifelong learning.

Debbie writes:

“Who is Dag Hammarskjold?” Jeopardy fans of all ages recognize that question. But, Hammarskjold is far more than an answer in a trivia game for me.

Each time I hear his name, I recall my own awakening to this great soul. It was in the mid-1970s while living in Lusaka, Zambia, as the daughter of a US Diplomat that I came to know of Hammarskjold. My family was adventuring in the northern regions of the Zambian Copperbelt. After a day of wandering along bumpy roads, we had one more stop. As three weary tweens we were bordering on uncooperative with our parents and their deemed “worthy, must see site.” They lured us by telling us details of a suspicious plane crash and so we were keen to spot the crash site, hidden in the dusty haze.

Traveling down a long dirt road, I do recall stands of tall trees as we arrived and parked near the landmark. We crawled out of the cramped Ford Cortina to notice a simple marker with a notably Scandinavian name. In an exasperated fashion we had the air of “This is it Dad? We drove all this way out here for this!?!”

We had no idea of the enormity of this loss to the world.

My father, along with my mother, then talked about the importance of honoring and remembering Dag Hammarskjold. Oddly, the facts my parents shared that day now seem fuzzy, while the intrigue of a “suspicious” plane crash remains. Most importantly, however, is the experience of visiting the site—and my father’s actions.

My diplomat father showed us such strong reverence to this great diplomat and statesmen, who held Service above Self (also a Rotarian, my Dad). As he impressed upon us how the world lost a peacemaking hero—tears rose up in my father’s eyes, and he wiped them away.

I knew at that moment that we were on sacred ground. I saw clearly and understood well that my parents were passing on the universal belief that all nationalities are here to serve and give back to the world. As we see the dignity in each other we are capable of humbly showing mercy, seeking justice, and creating peace through mutual giving and understanding. We are united, as the human family.

Currently, a museum now stands at the site of the memorial we visited long ago. I imagine too there are much improved driving conditions. Back in the USA over the many years when showing slides at local schools we would always include the picture of the memorial to ensure that the name Dag Hammarskjold was introduced to younger generations.

My father, as a diplomat, understood the brave efforts of Hammarskjold, and at the same time I sense he recognized a shared spiritual connection in Dag’s efforts to heal the world. As I read the stories in Read the Spirit this week, I see similarities to my own father’s faithful character. Hence, as we approach Father’s Day (my father’s 50th and last was 2011), I consider this a tribute to Dad, a person of great insight and courage. His service taught us the true value of loving, understanding and honoring your neighbor. To this day, I am drawn to courageous, humble, peace-abiding “heroes” who inspire a universal belief in humanity.

Desmond Tutu has often said, “We are made for Goodness.”

Dag Hammarskjold and my father would have agreed.

Care to Read More about Peacemakers?

ReadTheSpirit publishes three books by global peacemaker Daniel Buttry: Interfaith Heroes, Volume 1, with profiles including Gandhi, St. Francis and Rumi; Interfaith Heroes, Volume 2, with profiles including Pope John Paul II, Hans Kung and Thich Nhat Hanh; and Blessed Are the Peacemakers, with profiles including Dorothy Day, Pete Seeger, Diane Nash and Ken Sehested.

And speaking of Ken Sehested: You may also enjoy reading Ken’s remembrance of the late civil-rights activist the Rev. Will D. Campbell.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

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


The Dag Hammarskjöld interview with biographer Roger Lipsey

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Dag Hammarskjold's Legacy

Dag Hammarskjöld’s Nobel prize ranks him among the world’s greatest peacemakers. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America urges prayerful reflection on his life in the church’s annual list of saint’s days—calling him a “Renewer of Society.” Retired Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams writes that Hammarskjöld “almost single-handedly shaped the vision for international co-operation and crisis management that we struggle to realize” to this day.

Henry P. Van Dusen—a former head of Union Theological Seminary in New York who often was called “a Christian statesman” himself—described the publication of Hammarskjöld’s Markings as “the noblest self-disclosure of spiritual struggle and triumph, perhaps the greatest testament of personal faith written in the heat of professional life and amidst the most exacting responsibilities for world peace and order.”

So why don’t more Americans recognize Dag Hammarskjöld’s name today?

Dag Hammarskjöld:
Mystery Behind his Plane Crash Resurfaces

His memory has faded partly because he died more than 50 years ago. However, later this year, the mystery behind his death is likely to resurface. After leading the United Nations as Secretary-General through a series of world crises since 1953, Hammarskjöld was attempting dangerous diplomacy in war-torn Africa in 1961. That’s when his plane crashed and suspicion, even then, fell on U.S.-and-European-backed forces in Africa who wanted his “meddling” to end. Unfortunately, that was the iciest era in the Cold War and the investigation into Hammarskjöld’s death was put on hold by the UN. The evidence seemed to be too remote; the potential issues behind his death too explosive.

However, later this year, a volunteer team of top international jurists is likely to reopen the case. Rowan Williams himself writes in the Cambridge Humanities Review that there “is an overwhelming case for a reopening of the investigation.”

This news alone is a solid reason to purchase a copy of Roger Lipsey’s inspiring new biography: Hammarskjold: A Life. Later this year, his name likely will be in headlines once again. You’ll be able to draw fresh interest in organizing a discussion group around Hammarskjöld’s life and spiritual legacy.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Markings, the Spiritual Classic

What transformed Hammarskjöld from an internationally mourned diplomat into a widely revered saint was the discovery of his private journal in his sparsely decorated, sanctuary-like bedroom. This collection of private jottings—the American title calls this collection Markings—became an instant best-seller in Swedish and then in English translation in 1964.

In Hammarskjöld, we have a world-class peacemaker who proved effective in the most potentially explosive conflicts in the Cold War—and a world-class saint with a spiritual wisdom captured in his own words over many years. ReadTheSpirit highly recommends Roger Lipsey’s biography of Hammarskjöld, and we are not alone in this view. Rowan Williams writes that “Lipsey is brilliant at reading the life in tandem with the meditations, so that we can see something of what was in Hammarskjöld’s mind at points of crisis—not his thoughts about the details of a crisis but what was nourishing him internally.”

ABOUT DAG Hammarskjöld

DAVID: Once upon a time, the world knew two Dag Hammarskjölds. There is the author of Markings, a spiritual classic made up of his short meditations and poems about the meaning of life. Then, there is the diplomat who ran the United Nations from 1953 to 1961 at the height of the Cold War. As you point out in your book, however, he is no longer a household name. So, let’s start by introducing him to readers. He became a world leader almost by accident, you tell us in your biography.

ROGER: The people who selected him did not understand who they were choosing. Hammarskjöld was plucked from obscurity in 1953 by leaders in the United Nations Security Council who considered him a safe bureaucrat who had shown a lot of integrity in international meetings on finance and economics. They thought he would be a good and quiet administrator. They were wrong about that, but it was on that basis that the United States and the Soviet Union, the two main combatants on this choice, agreed to ask him to take office.

Hammarskjöld began to reveal himself in his first public words when he arrived to take office. Anyone with good ears could recognize right away that this was no dull bureaucrat. He was at Idlewild Airport in New York, now known as JFK airport. He was standing there facing reporters and one of them asked if he liked mountain climbing. He explained that his experience in mountaineering was limited to Scandinavia, so he had not climbed any famous heights. Then, he said:

“However, this much I know of the sport, that the qualities it requires are just those which I feel we all need today: perseverance and patience, a firm grip on realities, careful but imaginative planning, a clear awareness of the dangers but also of the fact that fate is what we make it and that the safest climber is he who never questions his ability to overcome all difficulties.”

That wasn’t the voice of a faceless bureaucrat! In one sentence, he pulled together a whole series of values, he showed his intellectual abilities and showed confidence without pride. This was someone with profound abilities for the challenges that lay ahead.

DAVID: World leaders continued to underestimate him for a while. He also started by quietly but firmly building his base. Give us a couple of examples.

LIPSEY: There are still living witnesses who remember that in his first weeks at the UN, he went to every floor and every office to shake hands and say hello to 4,000 employees. That’s still legendary at the UN.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Freeing Prisoners in ‘Red’ China

LIPSEY: I’ll skip over some of the earliest challenges he faced—but after his first year, he hit one of the biggest challenges of his career. The People’s Republic of China was a new regime and the United States, under the flag of the United Nations, had been at war with North Korea as well as thousands of Chinese troops. There was very bad blood between the U.S. and China. But some American pilots had been captured in China and they were facing a miserable future in Chinese prisons. President Eisenhower of course was upset, as were many American leaders, but they had no line of communication open to the Chinese leadership. So, it was handed to the United Nations to try to solve this problem. The General Assembly voted to dispatch Hammarskjöld to solve the problem. The truth is that American leaders did not expect much.

DAVID: You explain in your book that, even as Hammarskjöld started his negotiations, American leaders said particularly damning things about him. He was widely considered a failure—at first. Then, people realized that he had, indeed, been effective, right?

ROGER: Yes, this was Hammarskjöld’s first big international test and it worked out that these pilots were freed some months later. When they finally came home, this was justly considered a major victory for Hammarskjöld personally. He had shown what he was worth. After that, he was regarded as a big figure on the world scene. The major world powers knew that he could face intricate challenges and carry out highly effective diplomatic work. Hammarskjöld clearly was someone to reckon with.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Spiritual Strength in Peacemaking

DAVID: So, as readers enjoy your book, they’ve got these gripping stories of international conflict. And, as you retell them, you also show us what Hammarskjöld was writing in his secret spiritual journal that one day would become Markings. In the most difficult days of the Chinese conflict, he jotted some lines from Psalm 139. He wrote Markings in Swedish, and you’ve rendered that text in English translation. I like the wording you have in your book.

ROGER: On the day of his departure for Beijing, he wrote: “If I take the wings of the morning and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there also shall thy hand lead me.” He wasn’t talking about this publicly, but we now know this is what he was praying as he headed to China. Hammarskjöld was a man with a very strong spiritual life. He was a man on the world stage who—after the success with the Chinese—was highly honored and was being given one difficult challenge after another until the end of his life in 1961. Yet, we now can see that, although he never made a show of this, he was exercising an approach to living that was deeply Christian. This wasn’t in the way most of us may think of Christian practice. He did not attend a church, for example. But Markings shows us the depth of his reflections. He drew on Christian mystics, especially Meister Eckhart. Of course, this was not known during Hammarskjöld’s life.

Dag Hammarskjöld:
Broadcasting Faith with Edward R. Murrow

DAVID: Or, perhaps, people in the 1950s weren’t listening clearly, as you point out in your biography. Hammarskjöld did not exactly hide his spiritual side. He appeared on the popular Edward R. Murrow CBS radio series This I Believe.

ROGER: Yes, and in the 5 minutes provided in those short broadcasts, he provided a considerable credo. The United Nations even issued a press release about the Murrow broadcast, but the public didn’t realize what they were hearing. I have included the entire text of his broadcast in the book so you can read the whole thing.

DAVID: Now, so many years later, this is the broadcast where Hammarskjöld gave the famous description of his family providing two different streams of insight. Readers can get your book to read the whole thing, but he said in part: “From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country—or to humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions concerning what was right and good for the community, whatever were the views in fashion.

“From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God. Faith is a state of the mind and the soul.” And he went on to quote another mystic: St. John of the Cross. An amazing broadcast!

Dag Hammarskjöld: Creating the Room of Quiet

ROGER: There was another declaration of his spirituality that was noticed by the public—although no one seemed to draw conclusions about Hammarskjöld’s spiritual life. This was the creation of the Room of Quiet, which still exists to this day.

DAVID: You describe this inspiring project in your book and I think this is a good choice to excerpt a bit more of Hammarskjöld’s writing. So, we’re going to publish a second story with this interview about the Room of Quiet.

In relation to the Room of Quiet, let me point out to readers of our interview that Hammarskjöld was both Christian and deeply Asian in his mystical path, as well. I say “Asian” in general, because he clearly was immersed in Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese-Confucian traditions. He was eclectic in his mysticism. Toward the end of your book, you describe the rather startling appearance of his bedroom, after his death. This is where the text of Markings was found. And, I have to say, his sanctuary-like bedroom sounds fascinating. He kept it spare—we might say very Scandinavian—and yet he included a dazzling Buddhist wall hanging, a sketch of a man before a cross and so on.

Dag Hammarskjöld: Drawing from Asia

ROGER: He did read classics of Chinese and Indian spiritual literature. He knew the Gita cold! He also really appreciated Ezra Pound’s translation of Confucian literature, particularly Confucius’ The Unwobbling Pivot as translated by Pound. He especially appreciated Chinese works that synthesized political and community insights with personal spiritual insights. That’s one of the main characteristics of the Confucian literature.

Hammarskjöld read very broadly. He felt a kinship with Asian cultures in general. When he traveled to Laos, Burma, Cambodia and other countries in Asia, he was impressed in many cases by the quality of the culture and the people he met.

DAVID: I see an Asian approach to the subtlety of discernment even in the opening quote in your book from Hammarskjöld. He wrote: “You see, even a very small dent may lead to a rift, and a rift may lead to an opening and you may break in through the wall. The interesting thing is—is this a dent which may lead to a rift?” Is it fair to see an Eastern influence in his comments like this?

ROGER: Yes, I think that is fair to say. What we detect in Hammarskjöld’s expressions—including many that people thought of as diplomatic statements at the time—was an extraordinarily fine awareness of the need to subtly examine the texture of experience to find ways forward in peace. Hammarskjöld was a close student of the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, and you will find in Eckhart writings about a kind of emptiness and a kind of openness to God that is similar to some of the discourses in Buddhism and Vedanta. Really, Hammarskjöld regarded these as paths that led to the same summit.

DAVID: Was he a saint? Because he wasn’t Catholic, he isn’t in the running to be canonized as an official saint at the Vatican. But many American Lutherans regard him as a saint—he’s already on the annual prayer list of saints in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. How do you regard his spiritual legacy overall? I gather from your biography that even his closest friends were hesitant to talk about his spiritual power—other than recommending Markings itself to readers.

ROGER: The best way to answer this is from the beautiful letter toward the end of the book from Hammarskjöld’s friend Greta Belfrage. It’s a long letter and you can read it in the book, but at one point, Greta writes that Markings is “shattering reading of his struggle with himself, of the strong belief he has in himself as having been ‘chosen,’ of his never-faltering will to be led in his life and his work only by this God, who once spoke to him and called him.”

Then, at the very end of her letter, Greta explains that she and others are remaining quiet in public about the way they describe Hammarskjöld. She concludes: “Of course we know—even if we will never say so to anybody else—that he was a saint.”

Care to Read More about Peacemakers?

ReadTheSpirit publishes three books by global peacemaker Daniel Buttry: Interfaith Heroes, Volume 1, with profiles including Gandhi, St. Francis and Rumi; Interfaith Heroes, Volume 2, with profiles including Pope John Paul II, Hans Kung and Thich Nhat Hanh; and Blessed Are the Peacemakers, with profiles including Dorothy Day, Pete Seeger, Diane Nash and Ken Sehested.

And speaking of Ken Sehested: You may also enjoy reading Ken’s remembrance of the late civil-rights activist the Rev. Will D. Campbell.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-“f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

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

Review: Free Men, a Holocaust story you’ve never seen

Free Men

By ReadTheSpirit Editor
David Crumm

As a journalist covering religion and diversity, I’ve reported for many years on the rise of Holocaust awareness in popular media. The event that set off this wave was the debut of the 1978 TV melodrama The Holocaust with Meryl Streep. The subsequent explosion of public interest in capturing Holocaust memories on video eventually was championed by Steven Spielberg. Now there are more hours of Holocaust video, counting Spielberg’s vast library of Shoah Foundation videos, than a single person could watch in a lifetime.


At ReadTheSpirit, we’re always looking for that exceptional, unusual Holocaust resource that you’d likely miss without our help. We’re looking for accuracy. We’re looking for top-quality production. And we’re looking for compelling films and books that will hold an audience. All of those things are true of Ismael Ferroukhi’s gripping drama, Free Men, now available on DVD from Amazon thanks to the folks at Film Movement.


Since the release of Free Men last year, the film’s storyline has been controversial. For the most part, Muslim and Arab leaders across Africa and the Middle East during World War II were not helpful to Jews trying to avoid the Holocaust. Visit Yad Vashem in Israel and this point is driven home in the historical galleries about the Shoah. However, there were indeed some notable cases of Muslims risking their lives to save Jews—and one of the most poignant stories happened in the heart of Paris at the historic central mosque involving a world-class musician, Salim Halali.

Salim Halali, a one-man beacon of diversity

FROM THE MOVIE, FREE MEN: The film’s fictional main character, at left, talks with the singer Salim Halali to warn him about a new Nazi crackdown.If you’ve never heard of Salim Halali, you’re certainly not alone! Try to find him on Wikipedia or in any standard Holocaust history book and you’ll come away scratching your head. I know, because I tried after watching this impressive drama—and was on the verge of concluding that Halali was some kind of fictional figure. Then, I found quite a number of French-language websites and magazines that have profiled the famous musician. After using Google-Translate on these compiled clippings and comparing the facts—this true story emerges:

In 1920, Salim Halali was born into a Jewish family, originally from Souk Ahras, Algeria. In the 1930s, he was working mainly in France as a successful Arabic-language flamenco singer in Parisian nightclubs. He also toured Europe and North Africa, until the German occupation. As a Jew, he was at risk in Nazi sweeps of Paris, but the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit, decided to save his life. The rector managed the mosque, but he also was a musician and scholar and loved Halali’s genre of Arab-Andalusian music. Under the rector’s direction, Halali was given forged papers and protected through an elaborate charade that included the creation of a headstone etched with the name of his father that was placed in the Muslim cemetery in Paris.

CLICK THE CD COVER TO VISIT ITS AMAZON PAGE.After the war, Halali founded the Oriental Folies Ismailia, a club that was the toast of Paris in the late 1940s. Later, he moved to Morocco and opened a club in Casablanca that drew rich and famous guests in the 1950s. Halali toured the world performing his distinctive genre for his fans. He retired in the 1990s and died in 2005.

Both the Halali character in the movie and the rector of the mosque look remarkably like the original historical figures. Vintage photos on some French-language websites confirm the visual accuracy of both men. What’s more? As it turns out—you still can order a CD collection of Halali’s melodies via Amazon and, among the offerings, I recommend the collection called: Jewish-Arab Song Treasures.

Verdict on accuracy in Free Men

First and foremost, the basic story about Halali, the rector of the Paris mosque and the elaborate deception is accurate. Beyond that, the film’s handsome young hero, shown on the cover of the DVD, is a fictional composite of Muslims who must have interacted with Halali and the rector during the Nazi crackdowns in Paris. That’s how filmmaker Ismael Ferroukhi describes the creation of his fictional “main character” and it makes sense—this is a suspenseful drama and this young French “everyman” can connect the dots between historical events. In addition, the filmmakers say that they have historical documentation about two little Jewish girls who the Muslim characters also try to save. Overall? This movie is far closer to the accurate history than a lot of movies supposedly “based on a true story,” these days. This verdict matches the conclusions of a lengthy story analyzing the movie in the Jewish Daily Forward by Benjamin Ivry.

Care to read more about this true story? It’s a chapter in the book Interfaith Heroes 2, which is available to read online.

Support culturally diverse cinema!

In the cut-throat competition to provide home access to feature films, major media companies are slashing their way to the cheapest forms of distribution. This also means that countless films with valuable stories are being lost to American viewers. Fewer and fewer feature-length DVDs are being released and sold, especially foreign-language films. We want to encourage distributors like Film Movement to keep doing what they do so well. Earlier this year, we recommended the superb Film Movement feature, Foreign Letters, about an Israeli girl and her Asian friend. You also may want to learn about Film Movement’s monthly DVD series for home viewing. Or, if you are a librarian or are interested in a group showing of Film Movement movies in your part of the country, click here to learn about Film Movements various options for “Non-theatrical Screenings.”

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

13 True American Stars We All Should Know

PHOTOS FROM TOP: Kent Nerburn and his wife, the writer Louise Mengelkoch, on the porch of their Minnesota home; socks on a clothesline; Robin Roberts and Missy Buchanan in New York on the GMA show discussing their book about Robin’s mother; documentary filmmaker Ian Cheney; the cover of Joe Sacco’s Journalism; musician Carrie Newcomer; comedian-pastor-author Susan Sparks; theologian James Cone; the Goodwin family; travel writer Judith Fein has fun on one of her many global journeys; former-Amish writer Saloma Furlong; musician Fran McKendree; and bread related to Benjamin Pratt’s meditation. For July 4, we celebrate Americans
who are devoting their lives to strengthening our communities in creative ways. CLICK THE LINKS in each of these 13 mini-profiles to read a wide range of creative, inspiring stories. Enjoy!

(For fun facts and debunked myths about the actual holiday, read our Independence Day story.)


We love the first of our July 4 stars!
Kent Nerburn began his career as a sculptor, then morphed into one of America’s most beloved authors writing about Indian culture. Now, later in his life, Kent suddenly is having a ball going viral with a story from early in his career that often is headlined “The Cab Driver” or “The Taxi Driver” as it bounces around the Internet. We included a visit with Kent and his wife in our American Journey series in 2010. But, for the 2012 Fourth of July week, we’ve decided to join the viral publishing of Kent’s stirring “Cab Driver.


Speaking of “going viral,” inernational peacemaker Daniel Buttry is on his way toward a viral spread of an inspiring true story that involves prayer, international hot spots and—socks. Yes, socks, like the ones you may be wearing right now. Today, we also are joining in the viral republishing of Dan’s “We Are the Socks.” (Warning: Reading this story may be dangerous to overly comfortable readers.)


Here’s another star you may not immediatley recognize. We’re publishing a new story by author Missy Buchanan about Robin Roberts’ family.
Years before other authors turned to writing about the spiritual challenges of aging, Missy was inspiring people to reach out toward older men and women in their communities. Recently, Missy helped Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts produce a book about Robin’s mother, Lucimarian Roberts. Now, the world knows that Robin Roberts is facing a life-and-death challenge this year. What you probably don’t know is the story of the spiritual matriarch at the helm of Roberts’ big family. That’s Missy’s story, today.


Back in 2007, Ian Cheney brought us King Corn, a film that fans praise as a wake up call to the overwhelming dominance of corn in American culture. (Farmers and ranchers were not so happy.) But, on July 5, 2012, PBS’s award-winning POV series will premiere Ian’s latest film, “The City Dark.” In one hour of remarkable filmmaking, Cheney not only raises some urgent ecological questions—but he also touches on deep spiritual questions. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm reviews Ian’s new film The City Dark and explains how you can see it on TV—or online.


Famous comics journalist Joe Sacco is the first Maltese-American writer we have featured in our pages. We mention that because Sacco’s life was shaped by his birth on Malta and his childhood in Australia. By the time he became an American, he already was well aware of the world’s breadth. Joe Sacco also is the most controversial “star” in today’s list of 13. There are nearly as many foes as fans of his provocative reporting in comic form. In reviewing his new hardback collection, Journalism, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm argues that we should set aside our political arguments with Sacco. Instead, we should recognize that he is helping to create a new global language in news media.


Quaker folk musician Carrie Newcomer is as middle American as a Norman Rockwell painting. She even helps to fix hot dishes if a family in her congregation needs a hand. She once wrote a song celebrating the quirky names of Indiana’s county fairs. But she also is a restless creative spirit who is carving out new blends of traditional American and Indian music. Read our story about her album, Everything Is Everywhere, and learn how she collaborated with a famous musical ensemble from India.


She calls New York City her home. Her church shares a building with a hotel. That’s why, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11/2001, we invited Susan Sparks to write for ReadTheSpirit. We are recommending, today, that readers go back and take in Susan’s column, The Lifeboat of Laughter. In that piece she writes: Humor highlights our commonalties. When we laugh with someone … our worlds overlap for a tiny, but significant moment. … As W.H. Auden wrote, “Love your crooked neighbor with your own crooked heart.” Yes, insipring and wonderfully quotable!


Born in 1938 in Arkansas, the great theologian James Cone has taught students at New York’s Union Seminary since the 1960s. Watching the resurgence of bigotry in 2012, Cone’s effort to keep Americans from forgetting our history of racism certainly is timely.
In our most recent profile of Cone’s work, we wrote about him: He is eager to link together the many hard-won conclusions that he has drawn in his long career and, as a modern-day prophet, to sum up his central message for this new century. His newest book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, is an important testament in that effort—if you care about bridging America’s racial divide.

9 The Goodwin Family:
More than a ‘Year of Plenty’

From the East Coast to the West Coast: The Goodwin family sprang onto the national scene with, “Year of Plenty,” a book about radically reorganizing their family’s patterns of gardening, eating, shopping and overall consumption. In summer 2012, you may enjoy revisting our 2011 interview with the Goodwins. At that time, we called their book brilliant and innovative. We wrote: This Norman Rockwell family sewed together a patchwork quilt of principles that real people can duplicate—and that takes the century-old adage “Think Globally, Act Locally” one step further. The Goodwins managed to “Think Locally, Act Globally”!
Take a moment with the Goodwins. They may change your family’s life.


It’s summer. Millions are on the move. But, as you hit the road, are you thinking about the spiritual possibilities in your journey? Learn about The Transformative Magic of Travel with veteran travel writer Judith Fein, author of Life Is a Trip.

11 Saloma Furlong:
A Pilgrimage from the Amish

Millions of Americans saw a short version of Saloma Furlong’s story in the landmark broadcast of the two-hour PBS documentary, The Amish. Saloma is a rare and important new author, because she isn’t an outsider looking into Amish life. She comes from generations of Amish and tells her story in a memoir, Why I Left the Amish. This summer, millions of Americans will cruise through Amish communities nationwide, regarding these families with a nostalgia for our collective past. Meet Saloma Furlong and read about the real depth of Amish culture.

12 Fran McKendree:

Musician Fran McKendree barnstorms the country week after week, leading retreats, performing at conferences and using music to stir men and women to wake up the sacred vocation that often is stifled within them. Fran regularly keeps in touch with ReadTheSpirit and we know that, above and beyond his work with church groups across the U.S., Fran is using his studio to send even more moving music out into the world. Want a vivid example of this? Read our story about Fran McKendree and his song, Times Like These.

13: Benjamin Pratt:
‘Bread & Hunger Games’

Finally, here’s a special gift to readers from the author Benjamin Pratt. Over many years, Ben has been both an expert on pastoral care—and a liteary scholar specializing in the works of various authors. Today, Ben Pratt closes our circle of 13 stars by offering us a meditation that you are free to share, connecting three elements: our daily bread, The Hunger Games novels, and a courageous story of a musical peacemaker in Eastern Europe. Please, make time for ‘Bread & Hunger Games’ by Benjamin Pratt.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

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