Season of Gratitude: An inclusive celebration of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Season of Gratitude in Belfast MaineBy DUNCAN NEWCOMER

Thanksgiving? A feminist plot foisted on President Lincoln by the prominent editor Sarah Hale to augment Washington’s Birthday and the Fourth of July as national holidays for American unity?

Thanksgiving? An Anglo-Protestant tradition from the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony as the dominant national narrative?

Thanksgiving? A Judeo-Christian community event based on the liturgies of harvest blessing and Holy Communion?

Thanksgiving? An American Christian holiday, along with Christmas and Easter, defining our religious heritage and identity?

Thanksgiving? A somewhat meaningful pause for Extreme Travel between the growing outlay of money for a macabre Halloween and the extravaganza of Christmas shopping?

Here in Belfast, Maine, nearly 7,000 of us cling to the mid-coastal Penobscot Bay. As we pause to ponder the November holiday, we probably define ourselves a little bit by all of the above.

But the local minister’s association decided this year not to have a typical ecumenical worship-and-music service for Thanksgiving. Each church, we thought, could have its own meaningful gathering, but the wider community is being invited, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to a Season of Gratitude afternoon potluck supper at the local high school gym.

We might draw 60; we might welcome 200. We’re trying this for the first time in Belfast. We were inspired by the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit initiative from last year. And, we decided to reach out to people who we feel are a part of our community—but we never really see, much less share a common meal.

Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s call for national unity, not necessarily in churches, we are talking with churches who aren’t usually involved in ecumenical dialogue, community service organizations and half-way houses, Buddhist meditation groups, ethnic minority fisherman, and just plain secular people.

Humility, gratitude, shared life, stories, food and presence. That’s our goal.

Lincoln would often make a meal of a single potato or an apple. We will feast more, and the local Co Op and grocery store have made generous contributions. Lincoln also said that even in hard times, like the Civil War, the Most High God does wondrous things, and we also need to be penitential of our national perversities. That’s what he tried to do on that first annual Thanksgiving 151 years ago.

We’ll let you know how it goes.

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The David Gushee Interview on ‘Changing Our Mind’

David P Gushee Changing Our Mind front cover

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NEWS already is spreading that America’s leading evangelical Christian ethicist, Dr. David P. Gushee, has reversed his traditional opposition to LGBT relationships in a landmark book called, Changing Our Mind. One online news report about his new book racked up 42,000 mentions on Facebook by readers who understand the significance of this new stance by Dr. Gushee.

After 20 books—including the award-winning volume that now is a standard reference book for evangelical leaders, Kingdom Ethics—Dr. Gushee is completely rewriting his ethical and biblical approach to gay and lesbian men and women. The news has been welcomed by families, teachers and religious leaders who realize that traditional evangelical teaching has hurt countless men, women and teens. Predictably, the news also has sparked opposition from traditionalists.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed David P. Gushee about his book. But before we bring you that author interview, here is a convenient outline of other resources you’ll want to consider:

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH ETHICIST DR. DAVID P. GUSHEE
ON ‘CHANGING OUR MIND’

CRUMM: Let’s start with the most obvious question: Why now? You are a devout Christian, a serious scholar and you’ve already written enough books to fill a shelf in the library. Now, mid-career, you’ve chosen to reverse yourself on one of the most important issues dividing thousands of churches and millions of families. This is a rare reversal for a scholar of your stature.

In his Foreword to your book, best-selling Christian writer Brian D. McLaren calls this a historic moment and compares your new stance to some others that made headlines. Brian writes: “Older readers will remember when Billy Graham shocked American evangelicals—first, by refusing to segregate his evangelistic crusades, and then, by working with Roman Catholics. Younger readers will remember when Pope Francis shocked Catholics by washing the feet of a Muslim woman, or by refusing to condemn gay Catholics.”

So, David, the first question is: Why now?

Gushee author photo

David P. Gushee

GUSHEE: More with this book than with any other book I’ve written, I have a sense of being carried along by a power that goes beyond me. It’s like these ideas have been germinating underground for a long time.

Now, I feel compelled to do more to address this issue in a public way. I feel that this is the issue of the early 21st century in the way that race was the issue of the 1960s and, in my evangelical world, the way that women’s roles became the issue of the 1980s. By God’s grace, I have evolved into a leader in American Christianity and I feel like I have not met my responsibility up until now to lead on the LGBT issue. Now, I’m ready. It took me a while to get here.

CHRISTIANS ON A JOURNEY

CRUMM: That sense you describe of “being carried along by a power that goes beyond me.” Some of the early endorsers of your book are making this same point. One of the most inspiring, I think, is the strong endorsement by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America from 1994-2011. He calls  your new book “courageous, clear, balanced and … grounded in biblical faith.” And then he writes that your book “will be a challenge to some, an inspiration to others, but a gift to all who find themselves at some point on this journey.”

What he’s saying—and many other Christian leaders are saying, too—is that this is a moment of historic change.

GUSHEE: For a long time as evangelicals we made it impossible for LGBT people to exist around us in an honest way. We allowed no recognized space to be an LGBT Christian. Of course, we know that there are millions of LGBT people in America, but in the spaces we controlled? There seemed to be zero. Of course that means LGBT people were hiding. We were forcing them to remain invisible. That’s a form of marginalization that’s as acute as it gets. We have been saying: In our world, you can’t exist. You can’t exist as a devout Christian. We have been trying to create and enforce environments where it’s impossible for you, as an LGBT man or woman, to exist.

We made people suffer through what we said and taught and, by enforcing this kind of environment where people had to hide, we made people suffer even more.

AN EMERGING JUSTICE ISSUE

CRUMM: One thing that’s important to understand about your response is: You’re not saying, “Well, the culture is changing and we should change, too, to remain relevant.” What’s driving your new work is really an awareness of the suffering that traditionalist Christian preaching and teaching has caused among countless families—not only LGBT men and women but their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

In the opening pages of your new book, Jane Clementi writes about the importance of your book to families who have gay loved ones. Jane and her husband now have co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation after their son Tyler was lost to suicide in the wake of that infamous case of cyber-bullying at Rutgers University. Jane concludes her note to readers this way: “Praise God for patiently guiding each of us to this place of new understanding as God moves the Church into the 21st century.” Unless your heart is made of stone, you’ve got to be moved by the Clementi family story.

So, your critics may accuse you of just surrendering to popular culture—but anyone who reads your book will realize that’s not the case. This is a theme that runs throughout your career as a scholar: In each time and place, we must look for those who are suffering and reach out to help.

GUSHEE: You’re right. Popular culture is not my prime motivation.

The prime motivation in all of my work is to help Christians discern what it means to follow Christ faithfully. Just because culture may be moving in one direction does not mean that we should just go along. My doctoral dissertation was on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust where millions in Germany simply went along with the dominant culture.

This is difficult to discern. Sometimes the culture is leading the way in a good direction; and sometimes culture is moving in a direction where the church should dig in its heels. My book addresses that issue directly: Is this change I am describing a surrender to sexual libertinism in our culture? Or is this an emerging justice issue for Christians who want to faithfully follow Christ? I don’t have any doubts about it anymore. This is an emerging justice issue for Christians who want to be faithful to where Christ is leading us.

I would say at the cultural level, while the conservative branches of the church are losing substantial numbers of people and substantial cultural ground on this issue, the responses I’m hearing from the cultural Right demonstrate they’re digging in their heels in a very strong way. Some on the cultural Right are going to be digging in their heels until the very end.

DISCERNMENT TAKES TIME

CRUMM: As a journalist, I’ve devoted my career to covering religion around the world. I’m fascinated by religious leaders who break with tradition on justice issues. Recently, we published an interview with biographer Charles Marsh about how Dietrich Bonhoeffer became one of the first Christian leaders in Germany to publicly oppose the Nazis—way before other Christian heroes followed his example.

I always wonder: How did these heroic Christian leaders decide to step out into the forefront and take such courageous positions? What fueled their decisions? Another example: I’m fascinated by the life of John Wesley who took decades to figure out that slavery was wrong, that it was a Christian justice issue—but finally Wesley became a leading abolitionist and published a stirring anti-slavery pamphlet in 1774.

GUSHEE: It took me basically 20 years to reach this point: 20 years and 20 books before I reached this point of discernment on this issue.

I think that no human being has the bandwidth to reconsider everything at the same time. John Wesley didn’t. Discernment takes time.

In the context and pace of global change today, it may seem as though we’re reconsidering everything every day. But, as a Christian, you inherit paterns of belief and ways the Bible has been traditionally interpreted on dozens and dozens of issues—money, environment, war, human relations, on and on—and something has to arrive in our lives to crack open a settled pattern of interpretation. Usually that takes the form of a transformative experience with people who are negatively affected by that traditional pattern of interpretation. If we encounter the humanity affected and suffering because of a particular pattern of teaching—then our lives begin to crack open and there is space to reconsider.

If you’re a Protestant, then the Bible is your main authority in life. And, if you’re an evangelical, you want to be sure you have a solid biblical base to your thinking. So, I needed to revisit the Bible passages that have been the main cluster of passages raised when this issue is discussed in evangelical circles.

When I began that careful study, I realized that I should have been clued into the flaws in the traditional analysis long ago. None of the passages cited in the traditional arguments about gay and lesbian relationships is a central passage on which we as Christians normally base our lives. Think about what we consider central as Christians: passages like John 3:16 and the parables of Jesus and Jesus’s own teachings. So, I should have realized that there were flaws in that traditional biblical analysis when it rests on passages like the one in Leviticus. Where else in contemporary life do Christians quote Leviticus as a guide for daily living? Yes, there are a couple of passages in the New Testament that are often cited as well, but they’re not the core passages of the Bible on which we rely every day.

The more I studied this, the more I realized: What a disaster! We have allowed a traditionalist reading of a small cluster of relatively marginal passages in the Bible to trump the heartbeat of Christian morality, which is based on the teachings of Jesus. I feel the scales have fallen from my eyes on this. I’m saying we need to treat LGBT people like Jesus commanded us to treat everybody we meet.

A HUMBLE APOLOGY

CRUMM: I was moved by your book, especially the final chapter. You close this book with a humble apology “to those who have been hurt by my prior teaching and writing on the LGBT issue.”

And that passage made me look back earlier in your career to the years of research you conducted into courageous Holocaust rescuers—men and women who now are called “righteous gentiles.” These people risked their lives, and many actually died, because they were convinced that they should reach out and help the suffering during the Shoah.

I  pulled off my shelf your book, based on those years of research, titled, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation. And, toward the end of that book you write: “Most rescuers … believe that their actions were in fact both morally obligatory and not especially commendable. Their obligation to help Jews seemed perfectly clear to them, and from their perspective a person deserves no praise for fulfilling an obvious obligation.”

Now, years after first publishing that book, you’re publishing Changing Our Mind and you close this new book on a similar note. You’re not asking people to praise you as a great hero. You’re humbling yourself at the end of this book. You’re publishing this book because it’s the right thing to do.

To echo a famous evangelical line: Here you stand; you can do no other.

GUSHEE: I’m really glad you discovered that quote in Righteous Gentiles. You’re right, I was deeply shaped by that research. I spent three years day and night reading about rescuers and researching in Holocaust archives—immersing myself in all of these hidden stories. That was my dissertation and the deepest I thought I’d ever go on researching any topic. Studying these rescuers set my course. I have been attempting to live up to what I learned from them ever since.

I’ve often talked about trying to follow a “rescuer Christianity” rather than a “bystander Christianity” or—even worse—a “perpetrator Christianity.” So, yes, I totally resonate with that quote you just read.

What I’m trying to do is to let Christians know: Here’s an idea. Treat gay and lesbian people just like you’d treat anyone else. Welcome them. Show them hospitality. That’s what we as Christians are supposed to do for everyone. This isn’t rocket science.

And, I don’t deserve praise for having taken 20 years to figure this out. Now that I have, I plan to stand in solidarity with the people we have made to suffer for so long—for the rest of my career. It is the least that I can do.

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

Welcoming scholar and journalist Ken Chitwood to ‘Faith Goes Pop’

Click this snapshot of Ken's department to actually visit Faith Goes Pop.

help us welcome our newest ReadTheSpirit columnist Ken Chitwood! You can do that immediately by engaging in Ken’s creative invitation to share your own “Faith Pop.”

WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT? Ken Chitwood is a multi-talented journalist, scholar and “public theologian.” Ken’s work is global. In recent years, he lived and worked in South Africa and New Zealand; his online columns have appeared in news sites from the Houston Chronicle to Religion News Service; and, at the moment, he is working toward a doctorate at the University of Florida and has moved to Gainesville with his wife Elizabeth.

CHECK OUT HIS NEW HOMEThis week, Ken Chitwood takes the helm at the ReadTheSpirit department called Faith Goes Pop. That’s where Ken posted his “Faith Pop” invitation to all of our readers.

Ken explains his approach to this new work in another column headlined, “Faith Goes Pop?” That column opens with a photo of music superstar Taylor Swift and says in part: “The Faith Goes Pop portal will continue to take a bold foray into the unknown and untamable intersections between, and manifestations of, religion and popular culture. … As we can readily see, the possibilities are endless.”

Please, make time this week to visit Faith Goes Pop for a glimpse of these creative possibilities! Yes, you can play a direct, creative role—and help us all with our mission of “building healthier communities” while you’re at it. How can you resist? You can have fun—and perform a good deed—at the same time.

David Crumm interviewed Ken Chitwood about his debut in Faith Goes Pop.
Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KEN CHITWOOD
ON ‘FAITH GOES POP’

DAVID: Ken, I’ve devoted decades of my life to journalism that explores the impact of religion in our world and I have to say: In this very difficult field of writing—you’re so creative! A breath of fresh air. I’m going to start this interview by showing readers how you took part in a real-life #EmojiResearch project and created an emoji-studded Tweet that explains the work that you do. Here it is:

Ken Chitwood's Emojiresearch tweet

Tell us about this. I must have spent 10 minutes pondering this elegant little Tweet. (And, by the way, our readers can follow your Twitter posts here.)

KEN: I saw an article about academics trying to express their research work using emojis. (Here’s a Chronicle of Higher Education version of that article.) My wife and I use emojis all the time when we message each other. So, when I saw that article, I thought: Why not try to express the research I’m doing using emojis? I saw some of the examples by scientists and mathematicians and historians but no one had tried an emoji description of research in religion.

It’s been fun to see how people interpret what I did.

DAVID: That’s part of the fun. The pictures make it open to interpretation.

KEN: Yes. For example, I chose an emoji that encompasses religion in general—two hands clasped together. But some people interpret that as “prayer,” and asked me if I meant to say that I study just prayer. It opens up some interesting conversations.

DAVID: This week, as you debut at the helm of the multi-media Faith Goes Pop column, you’ve got a similarly creative challenge for all of our readers. You want people to “Show me your ‘Faith Pop!’” Tell us more about that.

KEN: The main idea is that I don’t want to see my own voice all alone in this adventure. I want people to have fun and explore with me. I’m saying: Come on! I’m calling this a “bold foray” and I hope people will join with me. I want people to use Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or Facebook—whatever they prefer—and show us where they see faith going “pop” in the world around them.

Whatever they post, I want them to use the hashtag: #FaithGoesPop

KEN CHITWOOD: IT’S FUN … AND SO IMPORTANT, TOO!

Ken Chitwood author photo Faith Goes Pop

KEN CHITWOOD

DAVID: This work you’re doing is fun. But it’s so important, too. You like to quote Stephen Prothero on this: “Teaching about religion is bound to be controversial, but so is ignoring it.”

Not only is this a key to any hope for world peace, it’s also an eye-opening way to learn about ourselves and our families, co-workers and neighbors. You write: “When religion and culture meet, this intersection … tends to be where our convictions are discovered or displayed.”

KEN: I’m an educator. I teach and write about religion. One thing you quickly notice when you do this kind of work is—things can get controversial. People may be elated by what you’re writing or teaching, if they’re supportive of what you’re doing, but you also can experience humanity at its worst if people perceive what you’re doing as challenging their beliefs. This kind of writing and teaching does challenge concepts, but I believe we can do this in a bold and exciting way, and even in a way that includes a bit of good humor. Our goal is to learn about each other. We become stronger as a community when we appreciate our diversity.

So, FaithGoesPop is predominantly about places in popular culture where we see a mixing and matching going on with religion. The way we react to that experience can reveal a lot about our own beliefs. In the classroom, I start teaching by bringing in headlines—or some new thing I’ve found in popular culture that connects with religion in some way—because that really gets people talking.

In these conversations, people are much more likely to share from their hearts. Yes, this can be contentious at times, but most often this is wonderful. It’s fun. We all learn about each other and we grow from the experience.

‘A Safe Place’

DAVID: We have some extensive experience in this field, thanks to the sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker who created The OurValues Project. Over the past seven years, Dr. Baker has shown that civil dialogues are possible, even when the topic is a hot-button issue torn from the week’s headlines. The keys to maintaining a civil dialogue are: inviting readers to participate with us, moderating the responses so that readers are not allowed to personally attack each other—and, in general, maintaining a safe place to creatively discuss different points of view.

I’m confident we’ll have a creative and exciting experience with Faith Goes Pop. But let me push you a little further on this question. You’re actually a Christian clergyman: Among your many accomplishments, you graduated from a Lutheran seminary and you’re an ordained minister. But, I’ve read a lot of your columns in other publications and you always maintain the journalist’s values of accuracy and balance. You may push readers with your news analysis—or occasionally with humor—but you’re writing from a balanced point of view.

Is that a difficult point of view to maintain?

KEN: I’ve always been very interested in diverse religious communities, since I was a boy growing up in Los Angeles. I was surrounded by diversity and I have always sought understanding among people. I was never someone who wanted to just label a group—and then avoid it. I always wanted to learn the stories, share the stories and have fun experiencing the diverse traditions of the people who live around us. Today, anyone can learn about other cultures and faiths, if you care to do that. I want to encourage more people to learn about diversity.

I am Christian. I am Lutheran and did go to seminary and that education is invaluable in grounding me in my own faith tradition. Now, at the University of Florida, I am studying religion in a trans-national, global way. In my own journey, for example, I’ve become very interested in Islam, which I think is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. And I always am looking for diverse ways that these global traditions are experienced today. For example, you might find me writing about a Latino Muslim community in New Mexico, which is the kind of story that people don’t expect.

I have encountered people who ask: Why are you as a Christian studying other religions? Or they might ask me, after a particular column about Islam: Why are you writing so positively about Muslims? But I do this work because, as Stephen Prothero says, we must increase our religious literacy. I see that as part of God’s work in the world.

‘Theologian without borders’

DAVID: You call yourself “a theologian without borders.”

KEN: That’s true. I’m always looking for those places where the global becomes local—and the local becomes global. I’m not the creator of the term “glocal,” but I like that word. It’s an important idea in today’s world. We need to remember that we all have so much to learn.

I’m willing to go anywhere and learn from anyone to understand more fully how faith is playing a role in our world. I’m always looking for unusual connections. I want to know what it means to be a Christian in Kenya, or a Muslim in Mexico, or a Hindu in South Africa. I want to know how faith is shaping our world—as well as the place where we’re each living today.

I really do hope that readers will accept my invitation and agree to help me explore.

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

Phyllis Tickle interview: How The Spirit is transforming religious life

Cover The Age of the Spirit by Phyllis Tickle

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

“God told me to do it!”

These days, that claim is made by everyone from pro athletes and contestants on America’s Got Talent—to saints like the heroic doctors volunteering to help combat Ebola. But, where did people get such a startling idea—that God’s Spirit could direct their individual lives?

Now, journalist and scholar Phyllis Tickle has written a fascinating history of how Christians have come to understand the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. Her new book (written with Jon M. Sweeney) is called The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church.

Hearing so many people make this claim (“God told me to …”) may begin to sound like mere wistful thinking. But, we shouldn’t dismiss this, Phyllis writes in her new book. In fact, she argues, we are living in an era of profound change in the way religious motivations are shaping America’s dominant Christian population. (Wondering if the U.S. is still “predominantly Christian”? Pew’s global study says yes—4 out of 5 Americans still identify as “Christian.”)

But, we are witnessing something new in this majority religious group, Phyllis writes. Throughout most of Christian history, this is not how Christians talked—unless they were among the very few men and women who, today, we regard as “mystics.”

Phyllis is not alone in drawing this kind of conclusion. It parallels years of research by the University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker, creator of the OurValues project and author of the new book United America. His ongoing research shows that Americans, as a group, are unique in the world for being both intensely religious and proudly outspoken about our individual opinions.

Phyllis argues that the widespread belief in God directly guiding one’s life reflects a century-long growth of American interest in what Christians refer to as the Holy Spirit. Now, many Spirit-motivated Americans are drawing their own conclusions about centuries-old church rules and doctrines. Some are digging in their heels and rigidly clinging to traditional beliefs—but many are breaking down historic barriers: gender barriers, racial barriers, ethnic barriers as well as barriers against gay and lesbian men and women.

“This is a time of great change,” Phyllis says. “If we really understand what’s happening right now, then our jaws should drop open in amazement!”

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed Phyllis Tickle. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH
PHYLLIS TICKLE ON ‘THE AGE OF SPIRIT’

DAVID: Let’s begin this interview at the end of your book. In about 150 pages, you take us on a 2,000-year tour of Christian thinking about the Holy Spirit. Then, you conclude:

“As this new form of Christianity and this new way of being Church and Kingdom mature, they, like their predecessors in earlier upheavals, soon must come to address the question of authority—to address the question of how now shall we live and by whose definitions of right and wrong, correct and incorrect, holy and heretical. When they and/or we fully engage that dreaded question, it will be in terms of the Spirit and of holy discernment. The center of our new authority will lie, as it did in earlier presentations, not with politico-ecclesial hierarchies, nor even in sola scriptura and inerrancy as it is popular defined. Rather, it will lie within the realm of the Spirit and an awe-filled, discerning intercourse with it.”

In other words: Bishops and other Christian gatekeepers beware! You’re not in control anymore. Millions of individuals feel they’re hearing directly from God. Phyllis, is that a fair summary of what you’re saying?

PHYLLIS TICKLE, photographed by Teresa Hooper. Used with the author's permission.

PHYLLIS TICKLE, photographed by Teresa Hooper. Used with the author’s permission.

‘People who scoffed …
are at the heart of this!’

PHYLLIS: Yes, you’ve got it right. And, if you really think about those lines at the end of my book, then you realize why those are some of the scariest lines I’ve ever written.

Think about this. Not too long ago in our history, our upstanding Christian families in any community would have regarded these claims of the Spirit directing people as foolish. When this first started happening, this was associated with the “holy rollers” who set up tents on the edge of town. This way of talking was regarded by the upstanding folks as contemptible: They called it stupid and definitely regarded it as lower class. It’s true. Our highly regarded Christian families once dismissed these people as laughable.

Now, the landscape has shifted to the point where it is good upstanding folks—many of them middle class and some of them even wealthy now—who are engaging with God on a daily basis through Spirit. Today, we call this Renewalist or Pentecostal or Charismatic—people have various terms they prefer. But this is really a major shift in our American culture. The kinds of people who once dismissed this are now at the heart of it!

What happened in our country is that the Spirit landed on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 for the first time in a significant way since Pentecost 2,000 years ago—and that Spirit has continued to spread like wildfire throughout Christianity. I believe there’s no way to compare this dramatic shift to anything less than the wildfire that spread in the centuries right after Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. In those early centuries, lots of good Jews and good pagans, too, suddenly accepted this radical new belief that God could take on human form and dwell among us. That was the shocking shift in belief that fueled the first two centuries of Christian growth. This change was so dramatic that we wound up counting time differently. We reset the calendar. Now, I think we’re seeing a shift in Christianity that’s as dramatic as that first wildfire.

DAVID: The Azusa Street revival lasted for a number of years. We’re still in the midst of the Azusa centennial and I discussed this at some length with Dr. Tanya Luhrmann when I interviewed her about her book, When God Talks Back.

PHYLLIS: Yes, Tanya nailed this in her work. She got it right. The Azusa Street Revival sounded this trumpet. Now, millions of Americans are downloading the truth right from God. And, that’s a dramatic change.

AZUSA STREET: ‘The real shock …’

DAVID: And, talk about the potential for breaking down barriers! Reporters who covered what was happening on Azusa Street, a century ago, were stunned to find black and white men and women worshiping together.

PHYLLIS: The real shock was: Azusa Street started with a black preacher! Yes, at the heart of this was the way they were breaking down all kinds of barriers. And it took place in a building that was a converted stable! I love that fact. I think there’s poetic humor in God twice acting dramatically in a stable. And you’re right: Those LA Times reporters found that their mouths dropped open. They couldn’t deny the incredible energy they were witnessing: people speaking in tongues, people claiming to have been healed. What was happening there was so exciting that people simply could not deny what they were seeing.

I mean, women were receiving the Spirit right along with the men. Suddenly you had women preaching. Incredible! And it wasn’t just black and white. You had Asian-American and Latino-American men and women involved over time. Class barriers and economic barriers were thrown out the window. A lot of the preconceptions that had shaped Christianity to date—they just went “Bye Bye!” for these people.

DAVID: As I reached your conclusions in the final chapter of your book, I found your argument running parallel with Dr. Wayne Baker’s work on the World Values Survey. When Wayne looked at the data coming from that global research—giving him the ability to compare Americans with 80 other countries—then he was able to show that our American religious culture is unique in the world. First, we stack up with countries like Pakistan and Iran in the intensity of our religious belief—but we’re unique because we also stack up with Scandinavia in our rock-solid belief that each person’s viewpoint should be freely expressed.

‘A double-edged sword’?

PHYLLIS: That’s the pattern that I believe goes right along with the Charismatic or Pentecostal brand of Christianity. There’s this deep belief that says: “God told me to do it! I’m going to do it!” I may not be able to read. I may not have a dollar to my name. I may not even have a home. But I feel empowered from the inside out. I’ve downloaded truth directly from God. I don’t need any mediator. I don’t need any bishop or any church council.

I’ve talked to people who will go to their graves defending this way of seeing the world. And, if it goes to extremes, this becomes a double-edged sword. It’s inspiring and it can motivate heroes who do incredibly courageous things—but it also can be very dangerous.

Now we’re seeing the ordinary Johnny and June on the street feeling as though they’ve got direct connection with the godhead—and the Spirit can motivate them in powerful ways.

A Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson cover on the third way

Click the cover to read more about the book.

DAVID: In addition to seeing parallels in Wayne’s work, I think these conclusions you’re drawing explain the important message behind Ken Wilson’s campaign to open up evangelical churches to welcome gay and lesbian men and women. The argument he poses in his new book, A Letter to My Congregation, is that no official-sounding Christian gatekeepers can keep Spirit-inspired men and women from welcoming gay Christians into full participation in the church.

In Ken’s view, it’s almost irrelevant to ask for some church council to make an official ruling on this. Churches should simply throw open the doors and be hospitable, recognizing that Christianity is in the midst of change on this issue. It’s all about the authority of individual people, now. And, as I read Ken’s book, that’s the heart of what he calls “The Third Way.” The New Testament letter to the Romans says that Christian leaders should not divide the church over disagreements that amount to “disputable matters.” And LGBT inclusion is one of those matters where the Spirit is in the midst of changing minds, Ken argues. Official gatekeepers just need to get out of the way of that change and default to the deeper Christian value of hospitality and welcoming of everyone.

Am I reading his book correctly? You wrote Introduction to his book. What do you think?

MICAH 6 TRUMPS ALL

PHYLLIS: Yes, that’s what he’s saying. Theologically, I think Ken is making a very strong argument. He’s saying that the wisdom in the 6th chapter of Micah trumps everything on this issue. Micah says: What is it that God requires of us? To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. Ken says that’s the basis on which Jesus acted. And, yes, that’s right in line with this movement of the Spirit that I’m writing about in my book.

DAVID: So, how do you hope your new book will be used? What do you hope readers will walk away thinking after reading it?

PHYLLIS: Well, of course, I hope that a lot of different kind of readers realize that they’re a part of this story: Catholics and Protestants. A strong argument could be made that this whole movement of the Spirit connects with so many Christian leaders down through our history. I see it connecting with the life and work of John Wesley and a lot of others.

So, I hope readers can come away making a lot of connections from this book. I hope that people will read this and have a sense of awe. This is a time of great change. If we really understand what’s happening right now, then our jaws should drop open in amazement! What do I want readers to take away?

Just that, I think: A sense of humble amazement.

Care to read more?

  • GET THE BOOKS—We highly recommend Phyllis Tickle’s new book (click on the cover with this interview) as well as Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation and Wayne Baker’s United America. All three books explain powerful trends in American life and culture.
  • VISIT PHYLLIS’S WEBSITE—Her website, www.PhyllisTickle.com, is packed with information about Phyllis’s long career, her books and her ongoing work.

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

Back to School buzz: News about ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

Bullying Is No Laughing Matter headlinesTHANKS—to all of our colleagues in news media nationwide who are sharing headlines about Bullying Is No Laughing Matter with their readers. Before we look at some of those news stories, let’s answer a few questions:

THE LATEST NEWS …

What’s the buzz? Here are some of the stories this week …

NEW JERSEY’S ANN BRASCO—She’s the “Parental Guidance” columnist for the 12 newspapers that team up at the NJ.com website. In Ann’s column about the new comic book, she writes about the strong link between childhood and comics: “As a child, I loved to read comic strips. Lively casts of characters and unlikely heroes made me laugh and they made me think. It was exciting to join them on their adventures, to learn the lesson in their mistakes, and I certainly slept a little better at night believing that there was a team of heroes out there a bit braver than I was, who would come to my rescue should I need help. A new team of heroes has now been assembled to address a national epidemic.” You can read her entire column here. (Want to do a good deed right now? Go to Ann’s column, where you can Facebook “like” it or send her another kind of encouraging note. In this era of vanishing newspapers, journalists need your encouragement!)

WHY WRITERS LIKE ANN BRASCO MATTER—Media is so deeply interconnected today that we’ve already seen Ann’s coverage of the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter campaign show up as a recommended link on other websites concerned with parenting and back-to-school issues. That’s one reason Ann’s thoughtful work matters—because others can quickly share it across the Internet. (Have you got a blog, newsletter, Pinterest page or website where you could share a link to Ann’s column? Every time we share this news, it helps.)

King Features Comics Kingdom logoKING OF COMICS—King Features, the huge comics network, is a big supporter of this new comic book. First, King Features published a news story about Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. Then, King recommended the book in a special column that was posted in King’s giant online website for comics: COMICS KINGDOM. In that column, King editors said the anti-bullying comic book is a sign of how much good-hearted comic artists want to help people in need. The column groups the news of the new comic book with news about comic artists joining in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Want to see a couple of cool new Ice Bucket videos? Check out this column in the OurValues website. Come on! One of them features Kermit the Frog!)

Mary Worth salutes Bullying Is No Laughing MatterMARY WORTH’S ADVICE—Since the 1930s, Mary Worth has been sharing her sage advice on newspaper comic pages. In recent years, she has tackled every social ill from drug abuse to teen pregnancy. At ReadTheSpirit, we thank Mary Worth for contributing a comic strip to this new book—and now for quickly telling her online fans about the project.

CLEVER COVERAGE FROM NICK GLUNT—In Ohio, the Medina-Gazette’s Nick Glunt cleverly looked through our new comic book to find comic artists who live in his part of the country. “Localizing news stories” has become a mainstay of contemporary journalism. Nick Glunt found that Tom Batiuk, a major contributor to the book, lives in Ohio. Nick began his story: “When nationally syndicated newspaper comic strip writer Tom Batiuk was in grade school, he once saw a girl bullied by his peers and did nothing.” You can read Nick’s entire story here. (Want to localize a story for your readers? Email us and we can tell you if there are local connections with Bullying Is No Laughing Matter.)

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

Now it’s your turn to show ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

Family Patterns Matter group in Newman Georgia

NEWNAN, GA. The Family Patterns Matter group is enthusiastic about the “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” campaign. This south-Atlanta group welcomes teens and young adult alumni with the mission: “Youth Empowering Youth.” This year, the members’ special focus is bullying issues in schools, churches and throughout the community. They are creating a public service announcement that will be shown on local TV. They are especially interested in the definition of bullying that is presented in our new book. The goal of this diverse group echoes the advice in the new comic book: Young people have power that can help put an end to bullying.

THE BUZZ is spreading as millions of American kids head back to school. This year, friends and family concerned about bullying have a colorful new resource: The historic “team up” of 36 American comics in Bullying Is No Laughing Matter, available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Cover of the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter comic bookWe all want to thank the teens and adults in the Georgia group who posed with the book and with a no-bullying sign, then snapped a photo—and emailed it to us. They are showing the world what young people can do. Want to follow their example? Scroll down …

LET US HELP YOU
IN YOUR COMMUNITY

VISIT OUR FREE COMICS SECTION—Each week in our new comics section, we’re giving you a free discussion guide to one of the 36 comics in our new book. Small groups nationwide want to talk about responses to bullying. Share these creative resources. This week’s free guide features Blondie.

SEND US YOUR PHOTO AND STORY—Anti-bullying groups range from small circles of friends in schools and churches to big non-profits. We all share one goal: Spreading awareness of this message. One way you can do that is snap a photo of your group—just as the Georgia group did this week—and email it to [email protected] That’s a powerful way to show the world that you’re part of this nationwide effort.

GET THE BOOK—The book is packed with resources to help your group. The 36 comics are eye-catching discussion starters and there’s real substance here for group organizers, including the new national definition of bullying. That section was of particular interest to the Georgia group. Bullying Is No Laughing Matter is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

IT’S EASY TO SHARE YOUR PHOTO

CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to enlarge it. Right click on the large image and you can save it to your computer for easy printing.

CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to enlarge it. Right click on the large image and you can save it to your computer for easy printing.

PRINT THE SIGN—With this column, we are posting a sample No-Bullies sign that you can print and hold in your photo. Want to see many more examples of this campaign? The book’s creator, Kurt Kolka, produced a video of men and women in lots of locations, including Comic Cons, showing their support through photos.

SHARE THE BADGE—Another easy way to show the world that you’re part of this nationwide campaign is to download our free, colorful Web badge and place it on your Facebook page, in your newsletter or on your website. If you do that, please email us and let us know. We want to help you spread the word about your efforts in  your part of the country.

USE THE HASHTAG—Our friends are using #notfunny to find each other in social media.

VISIT US ON FACEBOOK—Hundreds of friends already have checked in at our Facebook page for the Bullying Is No Laughing Matter campaign. Please, stop by and show your support. Through that page, we’re happy to share support for your group, as well. Let us know what you’re doing. PLUS, there’s a really cool graphic on our Facebook page showing all the comics in the book at a glance. Seriously—check it out!

WHY COMICS?

th Bullying Is No Laughing Matter and Kurt KolkaWherever we travel with copies of this book, people stop us and ask to flip through these colorful pages. Americans love their comics! Read our interview with Kurt Kolka to learn more about that century-long love affair with cartoon characters.

Kurt Kolka asked the book’s contributors to explain this deep relationship. One of the best answers came from Neal Rubin at The Detroit News, the writer for the popular Gil Thorp comic strip. Neal said …

For a lot of people, the comics page was the entryway to reading newspapers. For me, in first grade, it was the sports section, but I absolutely read the comics as well. I’ve always had a soft spot for what I think of as starter comics—the ones that might seem silly to adults, but serve as the bait to help hook kids on reading. In my youth, that meant “Nancy.” Today, it might be “Overboard.” Aside from “Nancy,” the strips I recall reading back then were “B.C.,” which was in its heyday, “Brenda Starr” and “Rick O’Shay” about a sheriff in the Old West.

Kids still love comics—adults, too! Join us in this exciting nationwide movement. We hope to hear from you!

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

 

The Kurt Kolka interview on ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Bullying Is No Laughing Matter
Cover of Bullying Is No Laughing Matter comic book

Click the cover to learn more about buying the book.

Millions of American children are heading back to school—and many of them are dreading that first day, wondering: Will I be bullied?

Do you know one of these kids?

Be honest: Were you once one of these kids? In the weeks we have been preparing for the historic launch of this anti-bullying “Team Up” with 36 popular comics—our staff has been surprised by the responses of adults who got an early glimpse of the book. Wherever our staff traveled, carrying pre-launch copies of this book—into schools, churches, coffee shops and, in one case, even into a car dealership where the staff was eager to see the book—this experience is repeated …

Adult men and women eagerly look at the cover and flip the colorful pages. They smile. Then, many of them shake their heads knowingly and tell a personal story. About a friend who was bullied. A son or daughter. A brother or sister. Often, they tell a story of bullying they suffered themselves. Sometimes, people admit to having been bullies—and tell us the experiences that turned their lives around. That’s the power of this book.

BUT WAIT! You may be rolling your eyes and saying, “Isn’t all this anti-bullying stuff just a fad?” You may be saying, “Isn’t bullying just a way of life in America?”

THIS NEW BOOK says: Yes, bullying sure is a way of life in America! It’s been going on for generations but there are simple lessons we all can learn to make it stop. Even better: This process of learning about bullying—and forming supportive friendships to end the practice—can be downright fun! Just look at the two truly super videos Kurt Kolka produced to accompany this historic new comic book. One video explains the new nationwide definition of “bullying;” the second video shows scores of enthusiastic supporters of this movement nationwide.

WHY DO WE SAY ‘HISTORIC’? Kurt Kolka is a nationally known comics expert and he collaborates with his wife, educator Diane Schunk Kolka, in this project with our publishing team. In our long careers, we’ve never heard of such a diverse “Team Up” of comic artists in producing a single book with a single message like this. This effort is, indeed, “historic” and we’re honored to report that one of the very first copies of this book is being placed in the collection of the prestigious Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University. The publication of this book is big news!

GET INVOLVED YOURSELF!

There’s so much you can do today …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KURT KOLKA ON
‘BULLYING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER’

DAVID: Comic books are super popular! They’re in movie theaters and on TV. “Comic Cons,” big comic conventions, are held in major cities. This new anti-bullying comic book is buzzing around the comic world. Tell us about the support you’re already receiving as we officially launch this book.

Kurt Kolka

Kurt Kolka

KURT: We started organizing this project more than a year ago. When I began taking this message of “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” to Comic Cons with me, the response was very surprising! A lot of people began coming up to me, telling me they’d heard about this project and they wanted to know more. Over and over again, I heard stories of people who had experienced bullying themselves—appreciating the fact that someone was organizing a project like this.

I began asking people if they wanted to take a photo, often with an anti-bullying sign, to show their support and lots of people did that. We even had celebrities stop by and pose with a sign to show their support. Then, as we began inviting comic artists to participate in the book, we found many of them were eager to share their work to help this project.

DAVID: People may think of comics as stories packed with violence. Back in the 1950s, many parents thought comics were bad for children. Of course, today comics are celebrated everywhere you turn. You can’t buy a children’s meal in many fast-food restaurants and not find a comic character in the wrappings.

In this book, you and your dozens of comic friends are showing Americans that comic creators are not only popular—they’re also compassionate folks.

KURT: I’ve been drawing and writing The Cardinal for many years and I’ve gotten to know lots of other cartoonists and comic artists and writers. As a group, I’m proud to say that we combine compassion with our creativity. Especially the newspaper comic strip artists and writers: They’re very caring individuals. In working with the contributors to this book, I discovered that many of them were bullied themselves when they were young, or someone close to them was bullied. Some of those short stories are in this new book.

Tom Batiuk wrote one of the opening pieces for the book. He does the Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft comic strips. Tom has been honored over the years for issues he’s dealt with in his comic strips, things like how cancer affects people’s lives. When I was talking with Lynn Johnston about her For Better or For Worse contribution to this book, she told me that some of the earlier comic strips she had done on the effects of bullying had been welcomed in schools. She agreed this is an important issue. She’s already seen her own comics used in school groups—and now she’s also part of this larger team in this new book.

A BOOK (AND A MOVEMENT)
WHERE EVERYONE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

DAVID: When people open this book and start talking about bullying, one of the surprises may be: This is a book that’s good for bullies as well as for people who’ve been bullied. At several points in your book, there’s a clear message that bullying also is a problem for the bullies themselves. Everyone suffers when this problem continues. I don’t want to spoil your Cardinal adventure in this book by revealing too much, but the guy we think is a horrible enemy in your story—well, we learn that he was both bullied and he became a bully himself.

KURT: That’s a very important point. We all need to understand this problem. Of course, we want to encourage kids who are facing this dilemma. Every week, we see tragic news headlines about kids who don’t survive bullying. It’s very serious. But it’s a complex problem and we want everyone to get involved in discussing the solutions.

th Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website

Click this icon to see a sample of Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey that’s part of the ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’ project.

One of my heroes, as a comic artist myself, is Mort Walker. I remember how excited I was the day I got a personal note from Mort and I learned that he would be part of this. It was on a Sunday morning just before my family and I went to church and I felt so great all that day.

Then, it was so interesting as I learned more from Mort about his life. I learned that at one point in his earlier life, he was a bully. He would push people around and he got praise from some of the adults around him—Mort mentioned a coach who praised him as a model of a tough guy. Then, he learned that was not the way to live his life. He decided he had to change. We’ve all got important stories to share so that we can help the young people facing these dilemmas right now. I’m so pleased that great comic artists like Mort Walker wanted to be part of this.

THE CARDINAL:
MEET A COURAGEOUS YOUNG SUPER HERO

DAVID: In addition to the 35 short stories and cartoon panels from other comic artists—you created the most extensive adventure in the book, making it 36 comics in all. This big new book is published as a “Flip Book,” which means it has two covers. Readers can start from the “gallery” side of the book  (the red cover shown with this interview); or they can flip the book over and start reading a more in-depth Cardinal adventure, which is almost as long as a “graphic novel” that you’ve created about the problem of bullying. So tell us about your super hero.

KURT: Like Superman is Clark Kent, the Cardinal is Rich Benton. He is a young man who comes from a family of scholars who are well-known archaeologists. So that means Rich had lots of unique opportunities early in life to travel around the world with his parents. Instead of going to Disney World, his family would fly off to a remote archaeological dig.

He’s a young man from a church-going family and he lives in a college town, where he decides to help out the poor and needy through volunteering at a local mission. He begins to discover that, beyond the immediate needs of many poor people in his community, there are some corrupt powerful people who have a personal interest in keeping people poor. He decides that he has to stand up to the larger injustices he sees. Eventually, he teams up with a police detective, an older man who is a bit jaded after too many years of dealing with crime and injustice.

So, the Cardinal is really a college student who wants to help his community. His heart is in the right place, but he’s young and sometimes he doesn’t always find the best way to solve problems the first time he tries to help. He doesn’t want to use his fists in battling the bad guys. In fact, he opposes using weapons in general. He does carry a boomerang, but he uses that to disarm any criminals he encounters if they do have weapons.

DAVID: He sounds to me like a lot of the best comic book super heroes I remember reading over the years. His heart is in the right place, but sometimes he makes mistakes. He’s vulnerable, yet he’s courageous enough to keep pursuing justice.

KURT: When I created the Cardinal years ago, I deliberately gave him only one super power: the ability to fly. I did that purposely so that the Cardinal had to use his brains. Flying gives him some real advantages as a hero, but he’s not Superman strong and he’s not invulnerable like Superman.

DAVID: He reminds me a little bit of Batman, who is an athletically trained human. He’s not an alien from another world, like Superman who came to earth as a baby.

KURT: I wanted the Cardinal to be human like the rest of us and to struggle with the problems we all face. He’s really got some super advantages, because of all of his physical training. And, he can fly and he uses his boomerang very adeptly. He’s a super hero. But I wanted readers to see themselves in the struggles he is facing.

EXCITING STORIES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

DAVID: A year or so ago, we published another popular book about ways to end bullying, researched and written by a team from the Michigan State University School of Journalism: The New BullyingThat book has been highly praised for its research and clear writing on how forms of bullying have changed in recent years. It’s a great book for parents and teachers and other adults who care about kids to learn about how tough it is to escape bullying today, especially with 24/7 social media surrounding kids these days.

But a lot of readers said: This is great for adults. But how do we get the discussion going with kids themselves? That was one of the main motives in our working with you on this project. This comic book is packed with comic strips that act as “discussion starters.” People read the short comics and we’ve seen it over and over again even before we’ve officially launched the book: People want to start talking!

What’s your hope as we launch the book?

KURT: My wife is a teacher and she worked with me on this project. We’ve encountered so many people who have been bullied and who are eager talk, if there is a positive way to get the conversation going. This book is that invitation.

The biggest problem in dealing with bullying is getting people to sit down and start talking honestly. There is a whole lot of shame that surrounds the problem of bullying. People are afraid to talk about it. In this book, you’ll find dozens of comics with encouraging messages that many people face bullying, we all need to face this dilemma together. If you’ve been bullied, you’re not alone. If you’re a bully, you’re not alone. And we all need to talk honestly about ways to help each other.

Want to help reduce bullying? The first step is communication. Whatever your age is—this book gets the conversation started.

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