The Bud Heckman interview on building interfaith relationships

InterActive Faith cover of book by Bud Heckman and SkyLight Paths

Click the cover to visit the book’s page at SkyLight Paths Publishing.

BUD HECKMAN is an interfaith Frank Lloyd Wright. This pastor, scholar and author is a global architect designing the structures we all will need—if we are to transform religious conflict into interfaith cooperation that can benefit communities worldwide.

Most of our readers are meeting him for the first time, today, because the majority of Heckman’s work takes place behind the scenes. He works through foundations, universities, government agencies and nonprofits. For years, he has been tirelessly crisscrossing the U.S., and often circling the globe, encouraging the formation of new programs and professional best practices.

If you care about the future of interfaith cooperation in the world, ReadTheSpirit magazine strongly urges: Order a copy of his book, InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook, published by our friends at SkyLight Paths.

AUGUST 10-13 2014: Bud Heckman will be presenting one of the workshops at the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) annual conference in Detroit. ReadTheSpirit founding Editor David Crumm also will be participating in NAIN 2014 as will a half dozen of our authors and columnists.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH BUD HECKMAN
EXPERT ON INTERFAITH RELATIONS

DAVID: First, let’s tell readers about your own religious and professional base: You’re a Protestant minister from the Midwest, right?

BUD: I’m an ordained United Methodist clergyperson from Ohio and I work currently in Washington D.C. for the El Hibri Foundation. I’m the Director of Outreach and the Mosaic Initiative.

DAVID: The Mosaic Initiative is new and I think it’s fascinating. Among other things, that program provides grants to graduate students pursuing peace studies or conflict resolution and, as we publish this interview in early August, you’re still accepting applications through September 5, 2014.

Bud Heckman

Bud Heckman

BUD: The El Hibri foundation encourages respect for diversity specifically through interfaith cooperation. We are still developing the Mosaic Initiative, which is focused on interfaith cooperation, organizing events, webinars and meetings of “thought leaders” who can help in this effort. We’re also encouraging men and women in the philanthropic world to offer more funding in this area.

DAVID: We have published more than 350 author interviews since 2007, and that list includes a lot of men and women trying to inspire interfaith cooperation. Just in these seven years, we’ve seen this message take hold in new ways: A lot of professional groups now require people to take “cultural competence” training: professionals in law enforcement, medicine, education and many other fields. Our publishing house works with a team at Michigan State University School of Journalism that is producing short books about “cultural competence,” so we share your goal.

What impresses me about your work is that you’re really an architect, trying to design permanent structures that will encourage cooperation. You’re looking at the structures—large and small—that must be in place to ensure this effort is more than just a fleeting inspiration.

BUD: That’s the heart of this work for me. When I got into this enterprise in 2001, I found there wasn’t so much as a phone book for this movement. We didn’t have the kinds of guidebooks that were needed for training and for developing new programs. Of course, this has changed over the last decade. These priorities and practices are becoming more formalized now at universities, in many kinds of groups and organizations, and also in government agencies.

But there’s still so much more to do.

DAVID: One big area you support is university-level research into the psychology and sociology of human responses to diversity.

BUD: We need more research into the ways that we can help people to move past the barriers they have built up so that they can appreciate a religiously pluralistic world. There’s so much we need to know: We need research on how people’s attitudes change. We also need research on the kinds of words and phrases we might use in approaching people to talk about religious pluralism.

Right now, the leading organizations in interfaith work have found that storytelling is an effective way to encourage cooperation across religious lines. So, we’ve got a lot of groups working on storytelling and specifically on creating programs to facilitate storytelling across religious lines. This does create change. But we need to know so much more about how this process works—and what other experiences also help to overcome conflict.

BUILDING NEW STRUCTURES TO ENCOURAGE COOPERATION

DAVID: Many of the authors we interview work on the theology of cooperation and peacemaking—and on storytelling, just as you have described. What’s distinctive about your role, I think, is that you’re also looking at the nuts and bolts that connect this new architecture to ensure it will stand the test of time.

BUD: Yes, we need to put new structures in place. One example is that we now have 13 different federal agencies with officers who focus on the role of faith in the work that we do from the federal level. President Clinton originally envisioned having faith officers; President Bush expanded on that; and President Obama expanded this idea further. From the time this idea first was raised in the Clinton era, we’ve gone from zero faith officers—to more than a dozen now in place who lift up the value of religions working together on projects. Other countries also are stepping up and creating new kinds of programs: One example is Jordan stepping forward to create World Interfaith Harmony Week.

DAVID: Universities and academic researchers have gotten on board, too.

BUD: As recently as 2006, the American Academy of Religion just had a couple of references to “interfaith” among the hundreds of workshops at their annual conference. Now, they have formalized “interreligious and interfaith studies” as a theme within the academy and they offer so many different activities, workshops and conversations around interfaith issues that one could actually spend several days just focusing on these sessions. It’s important to see this established within the academy.

And we’re seeing some major funders focus on interfaith cooperation. One example: For a while, the Ford Foundation seemed to be stepping back from funding in this area. But now we’re seeing the Ford Foundation supporting interfaith cooperation again.

BUILDING A PERMANENT INTERFAITH MOVEMENT

Interfaith Peacemakers Yo Yo Ma Bono and Leonard Cohen

‘INTERFAITH PEACEMAKERS’ is an ongoing ReadTheSpirit project, produced by international peacemaker and author Daniel Buttry. Click on this image to visit the Interfaith Peacemakers website.

DAVID: As a journalist covering religious and cultural diversity for more than 30 years, I’ve participated in thousands of interviews, meetings and events. I’ve heard all kinds of messages about faith and diversity. What’s distinctive in your approach is the bigger picture you paint for audiences. Yes, you’re interested in inspiring individual men and women, but you’ve got a much larger goal.

BUD: There are too many examples of rising religious conflict around the world. When I talk to people, I can provide many examples domestically and internationally. There are new headlines every day. But, I’m interested in showing people, instead, how religion can become more of an asset in our world. We cannot ignore religious differences. And, we have to involve religion in the answers that will help us resolve these conflicts we face.

DAVID: That’s a tall order: Recognizing the explosive nature of religious conflict—and at the same time recognizing the value of religion in resolving conflict.

THE  FOUNDATION STONES …

BUD: We need to “actualize” the interfaith movement. When I talk this way about the development of a movement toward better interfaith relations, people wonder if this is possible. I point out that, at one time, the environmental movement that has reshaped our world wasn’t a movement at all. There was a time when civil rights wasn’t a movement. There was a time when no one at the university level was studying the environment or civil rights. There was a time when nonprofits weren’t supporting these movements. But now? We all know the success of the civil rights and environmental movements.

We need to see a similar movement in interfaith relations. The academy needs to conduct more research and help us develop a rigorous discipline for developing these relationships. Nonprofits need to understand how to advance this movement and how to set measurable outcomes and to expect results that people can understand. These are the building blocks that can establish a successful interfaith movement. Governments are now taking a keen interest in learning how religions can work together for peace. Now, we need to consciously be designing and building the capacity so that the interfaith movement can become well established.

DAVID: We are strongly recommending your book, today. I’ve got shelves in my library packed with books on religious diversity, but I can say: Your book is unique in the practical advice it packs between these covers. In fact, your book is the only one on my shelf that tries to describe more than a dozen different types of interfaith groups that people have organized across the country. If our readers want to start a group or develop an existing group, your book concisely explains the different models that are emerging.

BUD: When I started this work more than 10 years ago, I couldn’t even find a phone book or directory that described the structure of this movement. So, I hired an army of interns and began collecting information. We collected more than a thousand different organizations and, now, other groups like the Pluralism Project list a lot of the organizations we found and they are now adding hundreds of others to the list.

DAVID: The problem we all face today is providing people with concise, accurate and trustworthy information. You and SkyLight Paths Publishing have accomplished something important in producing this book. Yes, the Internet is full of millions of pages of information about religion, but a lot of that material amounts to junk—or worse, in many cases.

DEVELOPING EYES FOR … ACCURATE INFORMATION

BUD: That’s true. We have tons of information at our fingertips. The problem is the quality of the information varies widely. We have to develop eyes, ears and minds that can discern good from bad information. There are people out there using all of this connected technology in very negative ways. We must help people to find the best sources of accurate information.

What we have learned over the years is that it’s more important to develop accurate, positive, helpful information about religious communities, rather than trying to run around the Internet and fight fire with fire. Yes, sometimes we do need to counter negative information line by line—when there’s an offensive post by a public official, for example. But the larger question we need to ask is: How can we help Americans find and share positive information? How can we develop new relationships that encourage appreciation of diversity and reconciliation between people?

DAVID: How can readers follow your work? Much of what you do is invisible to the public. Can you suggest a way that our readers can keep track of your work?

BUD: You’re right. Much of the work I do is behind the scenes, but I try to put interesting things I’m finding on Twitter. I do write occasionally for Huffington Post and other websites, but I don’t write for any of them all that regularly. The easiest way for people to keep in touch is to follow me on Twitter.

Care to read more?

Get Bud’s book! You can buy it on Amazon or through other online retailers, but we suggest that readers visit the SkyLight Paths website to buy the book. That gives you a chance to browse other titles by this important publishing house.

Also, ReadTheSpirit Books publishes a wide array of books about religious and cultural diversity.

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

The Matthew Vines interview on ‘God and the Gay Christian’

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines book cover

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

Think of Matthew Vines as a young Gen. George S. Patton. At 24, Matthew Vines is organizing a tough, smart, highly trained force of young evangelicals who are prepared to go toe-to-toe with traditionalist Christians on the issue of whether the Bible allows LGBT inclusion. Through videos, public talks, his new book and a series of national conferences, Vines is determined to martial wave after wave of young men and women, equipped with enough biblical scholarship to crack through the evangelical front still holding that the Bible flat-out condemns homosexuality.

Want to see how he makes this argument? Buy his book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. We recommend a lot of inspiring books at ReadTheSpirit online magazine, but this particular volume is different. This one is going to be a classic—a milestone at this historic turning point when more and more American churches are welcoming gay and lesbian men, women and their families. (Read the OurValues series this week, which summarizes recent research on this change.)

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, I can glance at the shelf in my library where other milestone volumes in this movement are stored. There is Yale scholar John Boswell‘s bombshell in 1980, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, which won the National Book Award. Next to it on my shelf is the equally stunning book Boswell published just before his death in 1994, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. I remember interviewing Boswell about that book, which reports historical evidence of same-sex Christian marriage in the early centuries of the church. Also on my shelf is What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage, a courageous 2005 book by two respected evangelical scholars: Hope College psychology professor David Myers (the man who writes psychology textbooks used in universities nationwide) working with co-author Letha Dawson Scanzoni.

Compared with those giants in scholarship, Vines’ book seems thin. In his detailed analysis of Vines’ book in Christian Century magazine, Tony Jones concludes that Vines’ scholarly sources in this new book are thin enough that evangelicals will try to discount them. But, anyone who dismisses this book misunderstands Vines’ savvy strategy.

If the opening comparison to Gen. Patton in this column seems overblown, consider that Vines already has launched a winning international media campaign. While still in high school, Vines created one of the most successful Harry Potter fan sites and soon found himself traveling the world with the official press corps covering the movie.  His new mission was prompted when he began studying as an undergraduate at Harvard, came out as both gay and evangelical—then decided he should drop out of college to help other gay evangelicals defend themselves. That led to a 2012 talk he gave at a Wichita church that went viral as a YouTube video, shared and re-posted countless times. (Don’t care to watch an hour-long video? Matthew also provides a transcript.)

To be fair to Matthew, he doesn’t call his trained followers soldiers. He calls them “ambassadors” and he urges them to conduct their “discussions” with traditional Christians in “love and compassion.” But—that’s not how evangelical power brokers see his mission. They’re already throwing up barricades against Matthew’s formidable strategy. As Tony Jones put it in Christian Century, they are “incensed” at what Matthew is doing. They’re already firing their biggest guns and are sending their best general, Albert Mohler, after Matthew.

Mohler published a lengthy rebuttal of Matthew’s book that argues: “Matthew Vines demands that we love him enough to give him what he desperately wants, and that would certainly be the path of least cultural resistance. If we accept his argument we can simply remove this controversy from our midst, apologize to the world, and move on. But we cannot do that without counting the cost, and that cost includes the loss of all confidence in the Bible, in the Church’s ability to understand and obey the Scriptures, and in the Gospel as good news to all sinners. Biblical Christianity cannot endorse same-sex marriage nor accept the claim that a believer can be obedient to Christ and remain or persist in same-sex behaviors.”

The_Reformation_Project___Training_Gay_Christians_and_Allies_to_Change_the_ChurchMohler and his allies understand that Matthew’s new book really is a field manual for a new nationwide movement. Matthew calls his movement The Reformation Project and the next national “training conference” is in November, 2014, in Washington D.C. Matthew calls these events “training conferences” because they aren’t like any conventions most of us have attended. These are intellectual and spiritual boot camps, drilling participants in close-quarter evangelical debate.

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I spent more than an hour interviewing Matthew about his fascinating work. Today, we are publishing …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH MATTHEW VINES ON
‘GOD AND THE GAY CHRISTIAN’

Author Matthew Vines God and the Gay Christian

Click this photo to visit Matthew’s website.

DAVID: At ReadTheSpirit magazine, we are closely watching the events unfolding around your work and also Ken Wilson’s work with A Letter to My Congregation. In our latest roundup of news items, I see that Southern Baptist heavyweight Albert Mohler is accusing you of not being a Christian, let alone an evangelical.

Despite what he thinks, you do proudly define yourself as evangelical. Explain what you mean.

MATTHEW: My orientation to scripture and the Christian tradition is theologically conservative in line with a lot of the governing norms of evangelicalism today. I grew up in an evangelical church in Wichita—and I imbibed evangelical theology as I was growing up. Today, that term “evangelical” is still pretty accurate in describing my theology. At the same time, that word comes with all sorts of political baggage that I’m not thrilled about. That’s why I tend to say I’m theologically conservative.

On this issue, what matters most to those who identify themselves as evangelicals is the big question: When it comes to scripture, are you saying that we are going to disagree with the biblical authors because we now know better? Are we saying the Bible is wrong? Or, are we saying there is room for a kind of life-long monogamous same-sex relationship within Christianity, a kind of relationship that is not in view in those Bible texts.

DAVID: In other words, as an evangelical, you don’t simply want to say: The Bible is wrong in these half-dozen brief references to homosexuality—just ignore them. You follow the Bible so closely that you’re saying something different: People are incorrectly reading that handful of passages—and, in truth, the Bible doesn’t condemn monogamous same-sex relationships. In your view, you’re not rejecting the Bible.

VINES: Yes, I come down on the side of Christianity that is very much committed to upholding the authority of scripture.

DAVID: If our readers do watch the hour-long video of your now-famous talk in Wichita (or if they read the transcript), give them some context. What are they watching?

VINES: That video captures the beginning of a two-year-long journey. By the beginning of 2010, I had come out to my parents. At first, my parents did not agree with my perspective, but my parents were open to learning more. That’s why I took off a semester from school in 2010 to dive into scripture and study. After several months of doing that, I felt I had a much better grasp of the issues. I came out to more friends including some friends at church.

It was in 2011 that I felt more comfortable talking to a broader audience. I spent eight months that year working as hard as I could to continue to study and to try to engage people on the topic. I tried to talk to people at our church. It was very difficult because nobody had ever come out in our church before and then stayed and tried to engage people in this way. People weren’t rude but that was the first time many people in our church had even been aware that there were other viewpoints on the scripture. Churches operate very locally and our church had simply not been a part of these long discussions in the mainline denominations.

Not surprisingly, most people weren’t willing to go 180 degrees after first hearing this kind of argument.

I felt I needed a platform to be able to speak and get more of a hearing. I was not able to get that kind of open hearing at my own church. At the end of 2011, I began looking around at other churches that might be more receptive to my message. Some were receptive but were reluctant to let me give a public talk. College Hill United Methodist in Wichita said yes.

DAVID: Your family church had been a very conservative Presbyterian congregation, which once was affiliated with the mainline Presbyterian denomination but now has gone off on its own. So why did you give the talk and make the video at this particular United Methodist church?

MATTHEW: It’s one of the more progressive mainline churches in Wichita. And they let me speak one evening. It was a Thursday night, March 8, 2012. We had about 150 people. The goal that night was to give the talk, record the video and post it online. And, as we now know, the response to that video was very inspiring.

TALKING ABOUT THE BIBLE WITH OUR FAMILIES

DAVID: One of the crucial steps in your journey, which readers will learn more about in your new book, is your recommendation that families study the Bible together. Clearly, that’s a core part of evangelical culture. But what you discovered is something that the pollster George Gallup used to say: Faith in America is miles wide and an inch deep. You discovered that even the staunchest evangelicals have big gaps in their understanding of the Bible.

MATTHEW: That’s right. Dad knows a lot about the Bible and studies the Bible regularly. He has throughout his life. But he acknowledged early in our conversations about this: “I’ve never actually studied this issue.” In fact, he couldn’t even identify the main scriptural references. There aren’t many verses and they do seem negative about this.

DAVID: I like Tony Jones’ way of describing this handful of verses that mention homosexuality. He calls them the “clobber verses,” because conservative Christians use them to beat up gay men and women.

MATTHEW: What I learned from studying and discussing the Bible with Dad is that it’s a really important first step we can take: Acknowledging that there might be something we can learn. And if that message is coming from someone who is a fellow believer and has a close existing relationship with the person—then we can come at this with a tone of respect and love and discuss this out of a shared reverence for scripture. That can bear a lot of fruit.

We know that when someone we love comes out, then that person can change a family’s attitude toward this. We’ve seen that over and over again. But, what that process misses is that evangelicals, even if they love people who are coming out, they still feel their hands are tied by scripture. They don’t see how they can change their understanding of same-sex relationships without having their broader faith in the Bible unravel.

So, the ideal reader for my book is a Christian who knows someone who is gay and then the arguments I present in this book can help those readers shift their belief system.

CREATING A NEW FORCE FOR INCLUSION:
THE REFORMATION PROJECT

DAVID: That’s why we’re recommending this book. Tony Jones calls it “a go-to book” for Christians to share with friends who are struggling with this issue. But you’ve also got a much larger force in mind. You’re creating waves of Bible-equipped evangelicals to go toe to toe on this issue. Tell us about the Reformation Project.

MATTHEW: We’re just getting started. Basically what I’ve tried to do in the video and in this book is to mainstream a biblical argument on behalf of same-sex relationships. Then, through the Reformation Project, we are equipping people—we say that we are creating ambassadors—for the widest reach of this approach in congregations.

In September 2013 we had our inaugural conference. We brought together 50 Christians from across the United States and Canada. I had them prepare for this by reading more than 1,500 pages of academic literature about these issues.

DAVID: Wow. A real boot camp. This is heavy-duty training.

MATTHEW: This is a step we need to take. Many gay Christians have been very good about talking about our lives and our relationships and experiences—but when it comes to discussing the Bible, the conversation stalls. We don’t have enough people fully equipped to talk in depth about scripture and the history of this issue in the church. Our conference had a laser-like focus on how to have these conversations about scripture and same-sex relationships. In that first conference, we were building our training model. What we’re doing this year in Washington D.C. is expanding that model. Some of our trained reformers from last year will be helping us.

In November, we’re expecting hundreds of LGBT-affirming Christians to arrive wanting us to help them learn about the biblical tools they need to shift the thinking of families, friends and congregation members on this issue.

We’re meeting at the National City Christian Church just a 10-minute walk from the White House.

DAVID: What’s the capacity? Is there still room to sign up if some of our readers care to take part?

MATTHEW: We can accommodate up to 900 Christians at this conference. Even if you aren’t Christian, you can come and experience this—but we are framing this conference specifically to train people who are already LGBT-affirming Christians and have relationships with people who are not affirming Christians. We’ll be focused on giving them a theologically conservative LGBT-affirming framework to go back home and help us all shift this conversation.

CARE TO READ MORE?

LEARN HOW MATTHEW AND KEN WILSON ARE CHANGING AMERICA—ReadTheSpirit magazine also is publishing an overview of news events as our own author Ken Wilson, as well as Matthew Vines, are changing this conversation nationwide.

CAN AMERICAN CHURCHES CHANGE? The simple answer is: Yes. Read this five-part OurValues series that brings together the latest research from pollsters, including the evangelical pollster George Barna, documenting this dramatic shift.

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

Grace Lee Boggs: What do Americans look like?

Grace Lee Boggs and Director Grace Lee. Photo by Quyen Tran, used with permission.

Grace Lee Boggs and documentary filmmaker Grace Lee. Photo by Quyen Tran, used with permission.

WHERE CAN I  SEE “American Revolutionary”? The documentary about Grace Lee Boggs debuts on PBS’s POV documentary series Monday, June 30, 2014. Use this PBS webpage to learn more and check local listings. AND, from July 1-30, 2014, PBS will stream the documentary free of charge from that website, as well. No word yet on a DVD release of the film, but stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit for news of a future DVD.

REVIEW by ReadTheSpirit Editor DAVID CRUMM

As she enters her 100th year on the planet, Grace Lee Boggs has lived long enough to see all of America celebrating her achievements as a philosopher and civil rights activist. That’s a stark contrast with the many years that FBI bulldog J. Edgar Hoover labeled Grace and her husband James dangerous subversives—resulting in FBI surveillance and a thick FBI file compiled on both of them.

Filmmaker Grace Lee accidentally discovered this woman who is a household name in Detroit (as one of Michigan’s most famous resident philosophers, authors and human-rights activists). When she was starting out as a young filmmaker, Grace Lee was intrigued by the significant number of Chinese-American women with “her” same name. A decade ago, she began filming interviews nationwide in what she called The Grace Lee Project, and she eventually completed a documentary on the similarly named women in 2005. Among the women she met in that project, Detroit’s Grace Lee Boggs was by far the most intriguing—so filmmaker Grace Lee began a long-term friendship with the Detroit activist. They visited at least once each year for additional interviews.

The result is American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. The play on the words “revolution” and “evolution” comes from Grace Lee Boggs’ own teachings about her journey as a young scholar from pure Marxism through the turbulence of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s—to an embrace of nonviolence and a new appreciation for the evolution of change within communities. That change takes the entire hour-and-a-half of this film to explain—including several “30-second primers” on key issues that filmmaker Grace Lee inserts into her documentary to help us keep up with Grace Lee Boggs’ philosophical arguments.

Born Grace Lee, the daughter of a well-to-do Chinese-American family in New York City (where her father owned a famous restaurant), the young Chinese-American woman stood out as a brilliant student. She graduated early from Barnard College and, by age 25, already had earned a doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr. She quickly became a well-known translator, speaker, journalist and activist in the movement for social justice and for racial equality—a movement that was ruthlessly suppressed for decades. In 1953, she married African-American activist James Boggs, the great love of her life until he died in 1993.

Her extensive work in the civil rights movement and later in the “black-power” movement—working shoulder to shoulder with her husband—mystified Hoover and the FBI. In one of the more amusing scenes in this new documentary, the filmmaker shows us a passage from her FBI file in which the agents could not make heads or tails of her ethnic identity. She was a true original even to her enemies!

WHAT YOU WILL SEE IN
‘AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY:
THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS’

Grace Lee Boggs American Revolutionary posterThe film opens with Grace Lee Boggs walking—assisted by a wheeled walker—along the huge expanse of Detroit’s most famous symbol of blight: the 40-acre hulk of the devastated Packard Automotive Plant. Her words to us, as viewers, run counter to the startling visual imagery we see on the screen. She says:

“I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit. Detroit gives us a sense of epochs of civilization in a way that you don’t get in a city like New York. It’s obvious from looking at Detroit that what was doesn’t work. People are always striving for size, wanting to be giants. And this is a symbol of how giants fall.”

And she has made her point. The petite Chinese-American woman who now is nearing her own century mark has survived and continues to walk these streets—even as the gargantuan auto plant now is a dangerous ruin.

Then, she warns viewers not to think that destruction is inevitable. In fact, communities move in complex, sometimes circular patterns—and new possibilities lie just around the corner of our imagination. “Evolution is not linear. Times interact.”

If you’re a younger viewer, this may seem incomprehensible, she tells us. “It’s hard to understand when you’re young about how reality is constantly changing because it hasn’t changed so much in your lifetime,” she says.

And that’s just in the opening few minutes of this film!

Here are some other “take away” quotes from Grace Lee Boggs to give you a sense of the thought-provoking journey that these two Grace Lees—the filmmaker and Boggs herself—are inviting us to undertake in American Revolutionary.

On her attitude toward the world’s current condition: “I think we’re in a time of great hope and great danger.”

On the need for everyone to keep changing: “Don’t get stuck in old ideas. Keep recognizing that reality is changing and that your ideas have to change.”

And: “Most people think of ideas as fixed. Ideas have their power because they’re not fixed. Once they’re fixed, they’re dead. … Changing is more honorable than not changing.”

On the power of each life: “You don’t choose the times you live in, but you do choose who you want to be. And you do choose how you think.”

On the power of conversation: “We are the only living things that have conversations, as far as we know. When you have conversation you never know what’s going to come out of your mouth or someone else’s mouth.”

On imagination: “There are times when expanding our imaginations is what is required. The radical movement has over emphasized the role of activism and underestimated the role of reflection.”

Why did she eventually come to embrace nonviolence? “Why is nonviolence such an important philosophy? Because it respects the capacity of human beings to grow. It gives them the opportunity to grow their souls. And we owe that to each other. And it took me a long time to realize that.”

Finally: “It’s so obvious that we are coming to a huge turning point. You begin with the protests but you have to move on from there. Just being angry—just being resentful—just being outraged does not constitute revolution. So many institutions in our society need reinventing. The time has come for a new dream. That’s what being a revolutionary is. I don’t know what the next American revolution will be. But you might be able to imagine it—if your imagination is rich enough!”

Care to read more?

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

The Carrie Newcomer interview on ‘A Permeable Life’

Cover of Carrie Newcomer A Permeable Life CD

CLICK this cover to visit the album’s Amazon page.

Restless this summer? Eager to roam? Hoping to discover something that will energize and motivate you all year long? Then, don’t wait: Get Carrie Newcomer’s latest collection, A Permeable Life, and start singing along.

You can enjoy her first song, today, in our Interfaith Peacemakers department. It’s called Every Little Bit of It, a perfect song for a summer adventure. Here are a few of the lyrics:

Just beyond my sight,
Something that I cannot see,
I’ve been circling around a thought,
That’s been circling round me. …
There it is just below the surface of things,

In a flash of blue, and the turning of wings,
Drain the glass, drink it down, every moment of this,
Every little bit of it, every little bit.

Around our offices, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, I’ve been humming that song for weeks—alternating with Carrie’s triumphant hymn of praise for America’s all-but-forgotten workers. In this season of political struggle to raise the nation’s minimum wage and help working families have at least a shot of climbing out of poverty, I can’t get Carrie’s The Work of Our Hands out of my head. Her song’s title and refrain echo my favorite Psalm 90:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
Through all generations. …
May the favor of the Lord rest upon us;
Bless the work of our hands.
Yes, bless the work of our hands.

Carrie’s version of The Work of Our Hands could become an anthem for the movement to recognize, honor and improve the lives of millions of marginalized laborers who shore up the foundations of our nation:

They lay hands on boards and bricks,
And loud machines,

With shovels and rakes,
And buckets of soap they clean.
And I believe that we should bless,
Every shirt ironed and pressed,
Salute the crews out on the road,
Those who stock shelves and carry loads,
Whisper thanks to brooms and saws,
Dirty boots and coveralls,
Bow my head to the waitress and nurse,
Tip my hat to farmer and clerk,
All those saints with skillets and pans,
And the work of their hands.

Ready to meet Carrie? As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I interviewed her about this new album. Here are …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH CARRIE NEWCOMER ON
‘A PERMEABLE LIFE’

DAVID: Our regular readers know you already—either as longtime fans of your music—or from reading our earlier interviews on your album Before and After and on your East-West collaboration with Indian musicians in Everything Is EverywhereBeyond the music you write and perform, the one other identification people make with your work is: You’re a Quaker. But, what does that mean?

Carrie Newcomer with her guitarCARRIE: That’s an interesting question because usually, when I tell people I’m a Quaker, that’s it. It’s wonderfully vague. People kind of know that Quakers are people who have a long history of peace-and-justice work. People think we’re kind of a religious group but they’re not too sure about that. Generally, I say I’m a Quaker and they don’t ask any more questions.

And, I do shy away from hard-and-fast categories—I do that in my art, as well. I feel very much akin to Parker Palmer. Often we’re put into categories of “progressive Christianity” or “progressive spirituality” because of the Quaker affiliation. I can say: Quakers are spiritually grounded and a great deal of attention is paid to living out the ideals of justice and peace and love in the world in a particular kind of way.

DAVID: Quaker communities vary widely in style and worship. What kind of a Quaker meeting do you attend?

CARRIE: I go to an unprogrammed Quaker meeting, which means the meetings are for worship but they also are meetings for discernment and contemplative mediation and prayer. You’re right: There are a lot of flavors of Quakers and there are some Quaker communities that do have programs like some of the mainline Protestant churches. Then there are Quaker communities where people don’t even refer to God as God. They prefer to speak to whatever connecting unity there is as The Light. There are some Quakers who don’t call themselves Christian, and there are others who call themselves absolutely Christian. I like the unprogrammed meetings, because I think they are more open to all of the above. It is more about individual revelation and journey—experienced in a community context. Each person’s journey is their own; and the community is there as well.

DAVID: Describe one of your unprogrammed meetings. Readers, I think, may be surprised that a woman known around the world for writing and performing music attends worship that is mainly an experience of silence.

CARRIE: In an unprogrammed meeting, people enter at a certain time. Our meeting starts at 10:00 and it’s in a circle. There’s no pastor. People sit in the silence and they listen. In our lives, we tend to do a lot of talking at God or at the universe and, in a silent Quaker meeting, part of the idea is that you’re not praising or asking or confessing. What you’re doing is listening—you’re spending time with what’s sacred in our lives in that space. Sometimes people will stand and speak out of the silence but there’s a lot of respect for the silence in our group. This isn’t group therapy. Unless you really feel pressed upon your heart to say something, then you probably shouldn’t say it.

This usually takes place in about an hour. Sometimes, people will speak. And, sometimes it’s an hour of being in community together in silence. Generally, there is someone in the meeting who sits on a facing bench. That person finally will turn to the person next to them and shake hands. And that mean’s its over. Sometimes, once a month generally, we have a query where there’s an hour afterwards and there’s a question we talk about. We might ask about the testimony of simplicity: How is that working in your life?

PLAYING WITH IDEAS UNTIL THE SONG UNFOLDS

Carrie Newcomer A Permeable Life Poems and Essays cover

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

DAVID: I started with those questions, this time, because this is the first project you’ve published that also comes in book form. In A Permeable Life: Poems & Essays, you invite people to go beyond the music and actually explore some of the experimental poems and essays that you write before finally creating your songs. The collection in this book is fully formed—really thought-provoking poems and essays to read on their own. But, as you explain in the book, these pieces are experiments with ideas that may evolve, over time, into new songs. Tell us about your process, because it’s different than the creative process followed by many songwriters.

CARRIE: You’re right—we’ve all got our processes. If you ask 11 different songwriters what their process is all about, they will come up with 15 different ways they do this! My personal approach usually starts with a poem or an essay or a story. I’ll do a lot of writing that isn’t songwriting—I’ll write in these other forms and I’ll explore the topic for a while. That lets me play with the idea, write about the idea and hone the way I talk about the idea. From this process, I may come up with the one line that starts the song. Then, by the time I am writing, the words and music usually happen at the same time for me.

In this book, I’ve put together a collection of my essays and poems and stories—and most of them in this book represent the writing that started a song. That may be overt or it may be subtle in the way these pieces started songs. Then, for this book, I also added a few other pieces that weren’t the beginnings of specific songs, but were related to the themes that show up in these songs.

DAVID: I love the richness of your language in the songs you create. Compared with other songwriters, these are beautifully written songs. And, the interplay of language in nearly all of your songs makes you want to hear the song again—often right away. You want to catch all the twists and turns. Talk a little more about the way you use language.

CARRIE: I am a songwriter. I use these other forms of writing as a place where I can develop food for my work as a songwriter. One challenge is the condensed format of songs. You only have a few verses, a chorus and maybe a bridge—so every word has to count. And, the words that you choose to include should reach further than the actual, individual words. Then, you have the element of music. Lyrics share a lot with poetry but lyrics are not strictly poetry on the page. Lyrics are written to entwine with music so, if you read lyrics out loud, they don’t come off with the full effect that the words are meant to have. The words on a page aren’t the same as the final music.

DAVID: You’re right! And I did struggle with this in planning this interview. We are going to quote a few passages from your lyrics, but we’re also going to link to your website www.CarrieNewcomer.com, where our readers can find samples, and we are going to include one of your videos in the Interfaith Peacemakers department within our website today: Every Little Bit of It.

PSALM 90 AND THE WORK OF OUR HANDS

DAVID: My favorite song in the new collection is The Work of Our Hands. I hope this song travels far and wide. I hope we all hear it being sung at events celebrating America’s millions of workers—especially those who are underpaid and under appreciated. In that song, you’ve got a memorable melody, a rhythm that builds as you lay out the litany of workers—and a wonderful interplay of words.

CARRIE: Something really good happened in my songwriting when I gave myself permission to do a couple of things. One thing is: I allow myself to write the song I write today. When songwriters are starting out, they want to put the whole sum of their worldly knowledge into every song. It’s like pastors trying to write their first sermon.

But the best songs usually are about one thing. Just one thing. So, I write the song I write today and, another day, I write another song. I give myself permission to write today and that day’s masterpiece (she laughs) will likely be about one thing.

Here’s another thing: I have given myself permission to be a Hoosier.

DAVID: Anyone who has listened to much of your music knows that you’re from Indiana. Among my favorites from your earlier albums is the song that lists a lot of the county fairs and local festivals in Indiana. In this new song, The Work of Our Hands, you start with a description of how you prepare spiced peach jam and how you can dill beans “from an old recipe that my mother gave to me.” That’s a vivid, flavorful picture.

CARRIE: My potent voice is my most authentic voice. I’m never going to sound like someone who grew up in Manhattan. And I don’t have to cover that voice in my music. That’s for someone who actually grew up in Manhattan. My most potent voice comes when I give myself permission to be a Quaker from the middle of the Midwest.

I love how we’re different, as people. In our whole country there’s no place like Ann Arbor, Michigan, there’s no place like Minneapolis, no place like Asheville, North Carolina—and there’s no place just like Bloomington, Indiana. Places are so rich and diverse.

Yet, at the same time, everywhere I go—every single place I go—if I sing a song about love, about family, about kindness—simple human kindness—or if I sing a song about hope—and not Hallmark card hope but the kind of hope where you wake up in the morning and you get up and really do try to make the world a better place—then my song is immediately recognizable in any community where I’m singing all around this world.

DAVID: As I listened to The Work of Our Hands, all sorts of associations were firing in my mind. I heard the song as an echo of my own favorite Psalm 90. And, I also thought of an interview I did with Barbara Brown Taylor a few weeks ago. In her new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, she describes a back-country graveyard for poor sharecroppers in the Great Depression. The graves were hand dug; the soil was mounded on top; and the families lovingly placed on those dirt mounds objects from everyday life: a nice dinner plate, a tea cup or even, in some cases, lightbulbs in that era when electricity hadn’t reached every home. Why? These objects represented vocation and aspiration: In other words, they represent hope in “the work of our hands.”

‘Kindness washes the dishes when nobody asks.’

Grow Your Own Can Your Own poster NARA

A widely distributed poster during the 1940s.

DAVID: Tell us more about the origins of your song.

CARRIE: The genesis of that song began with a friend of mine who is a wonderful organic farmer in the Bloomington area. She invited me to do some canning in her back yard one August afternoon. At the end of the afternoon, there were about 20 sweaty women and a million jars of salsa. And as we were getting ready to leave, I just listened to what people were saying about the day’s work. These women weren’t talking about where they were going to store or keep the jars; they all were talking about the people to whom they were going to give these jars.

One would say, “I’ll give this to my sister.”

Another would say, “I’ll give some to my neighbor. She’ll love this.”

This work had turned into an expression of love. We all were thinking about the people we love. I went home and wrote a bit about this and then I started the song.

In spiritual community, we talk about “love,” but that idea of “love” can get really big and unwieldy and unfocused. I’m much more interested in the small kindnesses we do for one another every day. Kindness is the country cousin of love. Kindness washes the dishes when nobody asks. Kindness irons the shirts without even mentioning it.

DAVID: I think you’ve just given us a very quotable portion of this interview. I love that: Kindness washes the dishes when nobody asks.

‘A movement of air from the singer to a listener’s heart’

CARRIE: These are ephemeral things, really, and I hope that people will see and appreciate these things. After all, my art is ephemeral. I make air. It is relatively recent in human history that technology has existed to carry a song beyond the one time and place in which it is sung. The artform is ephemeral—a movement of air carried from the singer to the heart of the listener.

As I wrote The Work of Our Hands, I was playing with this whole idea. We need to see and appreciate these lovely, humble, daily things that we can do for one another that we so often miss and that are gone as soon as we do them.

DAVID: It’s crucial that we develop this vision in our lives—this constant awareness of things happening on the periphery of the circle. Or, as you put it in Every Little Bit of It: “Just beyond my sight, Something that I cannot see …”

I’ve been talking about these transformative challenges with other authors this spring—with Brian McLaren in an interview we’ll publish soon about his new book We Make the Path by Walking and with Barbara Brown Taylor about her book Learning to Walk in the Dark and Marcus Borg about his new book Convictions, which really is a book about change and growth in a rich life.

CARRIE: I think that this is so important, as an artist but also as a person. You have to be able to give up what you already think you know. You have to grow. And that’s not always an easy thing. We are comfortable with what we think we know

Maybe that’s part of getting older, too. You know, if I stop and look back, I sometimes think: Once, I really did think that was true! Parker Palmer calls it reaching the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Sometimes you do wind up returning to a simple truth—but now you know it with a much deeper complexity.

DAVID: I wish that you could somehow collaborate on a soundtrack to Barbara’s new book or Marcus’s new book. You’re singing about the same themes they’re exploring in prose. One of the first questions I asked Barbara Brown Taylor in this recent interview was: Why did it take so long for you to complete this new book? She answered: “Honestly, I think it’s worth taking time to actually live the kind of life that will produce something worth writing about.”

CARRIE: It’s a hard truth to appreciate.

I like thinking about the seeds that sit in the ground all winter. Then, in the spring, we’re surprised by all the green. All through the dark winter, those seeds were deep in the ground and something was happening there that we couldn’t even see.

And then the spring comes, the leaves come out—and there’s this riot of color. Life is both shadow and light. And I’m saying to the world: I want to embrace all of that—every little bit of it.

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

Rethinking Facebook: Hospitality in your living room

Facebook decline and growthEVERYWHERE we go, the ReadTheSpirit team is asked: “What are you doing about Facebook?” That’s a natural question. As innovative publishers, we are reshaping the way media is building positive communities—so men and women nationwide are interested in our advice in light of dramatic changes within Facebook.

Today, three of our experts respond.

How dramatically
is Facebook
changing?

This is an enormous shift! Since Friday (April 11), headlines in nearly all of the leading business publications are proclaiming, as Bloomberg Businessweek asks in a headline: Is this “The End of Free Facebook Marketing?” The biggest change is that, unless companies and other groups start paying Facebook to distribute their recommended links—those popular social media channels will be shut down to a minimal distribution. As few as 1 percent of your followers will actually receive what you are broadcasting in the “old” way so many Facebook pages have been operating.

Want even more bad news? (“Bad,” that is, if you are pushing “old” Facebook broadcast-style marketing.) News reports also are highlighting a second major change at Facebook. In an effort to weed out spammy manipulators of social media, Facebook now will search for and will punish those Facebook pages that explicitly tell followers and friends to go “like” and share their postings. In other words, if you try to work around the new limitations on distribution by aggressively and pointedly telling your audience to go spread your message—Facebook will even further reduce your reach. With the cap already heading toward 1 percent, this second reduction amounts to silencing activity on your Facebook page. In TechCrunch online magazine, Josh Costine’s current headline is “Facebook’s Feed Now Punishes Pages That Ask for Likes.” If you’re doing “old-school” Facebook promotion—ouch!!

And even more limits! On Friday, WIRED magazine’s latest headline is: “This is the End of Facebook as We Know It.” Ryan Tate—author, business analyst and one of WIRED’s senior writers—reports on yet another Facebook change. Depending on how widely you use Facebook on a daily basis, this may (or may not) be bad news for you: Facebook is shutting down the chat feature on its mobile app. Instead, you’ll be prompted to get another Facebook app just for messaging. Writes Tate: “Facebook, the company that makes billions from connecting people to each other, is about to make it harder to have a conversation. … In mature markets like the U.S., Facebook’s user base has essentially stopped growing.” In the future, Facebook will become more of a family of related apps, each with a specialized function.

RETHINKING FACEBOOK:
HOSPITALITY IN YOUR LIVING ROOM

Today at ReadTheSpirit, we are sharing this advice from three of our leading followers of social media …

MARTIN DAVIS

Martin Davis Sacred Language Communications

Click on this snapshot of Martin Davis’s website to visit Sacred Language Communications.

Martin Davis, based in the Washington D.C. area, consults with businesses, nonprofits and congregations through his company and website: Sacred Language Communications. He also is a contributing writer at ReadTheSpirit. Two of his most popular columns focus on revamping church websites and church newsletters.

You’re probably saying, “Wait a minute! We’re still learning how to use Facebook, because you’ve been telling us that everyone needs to get on Facebook. You’re confusing me!” To be clear: We are not reversing our long-standing advice. Facebook still rules all forms of social media.

Now, we’re advising, first: Don’t worry. Much of the high anxiety in headlines this week is coming from media marketers who have built their bottom line on coaching clients to drive Facebook marketing campaigns in ways that worked very well in recent years. If you are a member of a congregation or another community group, primarily using Facebook for its intended purpose—friendly contact with others—then you’ll be fine in the midst of these huge shifts in the business world.

If you are reading this column, today, as the sole person charged with using Facebook as a bullhorn to blast information to your congregation or community group—then you definitely need to rethink what you are doing. This approach to evangelism is a pathway to … well, toward a rapid decline in your effectiveness.

Social media is truly social connection. Meaning you have to spend time cultivating people, talking with them, and nurturing them. This is what Facebook at its best does—and will continue to do. It allows you to engage your members and those in your community by sharing photos and video clips, offering up thoughts and articles for discussion or spiritual growth. Continue to easily share that information with others—and really get to know one another more personally.

The good news? That’s what congregations and community groups do best!

DAVID CRUMM

About ReadTheSpirit magazine and books

Click on this snapshot of our ReadTheSpirit “About” page to learn much more about our background and the scope of our work so far.

David Crumm is the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine and books. To learn more about David and our work so far, visit our “About” page.

I agree entirely with Marty’s analysis. These huge changes in Facebook can actually benefit congregations and community groups—if you are focused on real hospitality, the ancient value that runs through all of the Abrahamic faiths and nearly all other global religious traditions as well. As Marty says, stop thinking of Facbook as a bullhorn.

Think of Facebook as your living room. When friends stop by, what do you? Offer a drink of some kind—and often food. You sit and chat, catch up on the news of the day—usually about what your kids are doing, the fun you had a local event the other night, what you’re planning this coming weekend. You talk. You listen. You show off your latest photos. At its best, that’s both classic hospitality (which is another term for the best forms of evangelism, or sharing good news). Facebook remains the most powerful network in America for doing that!

Be a good host—just as you would in your living room. For example, pay attention to the optimal times when your friends want to sit down with you and share the latest news. Did you know that recent studies of social media show that between 1 and 4 p.m., each day, is the optimal time for Facebook sharing nationwide? That’s different than the optimal time range for Pinterest (8 to 11 p.m.), Twitter (1 to 3 p.m.) and Instagram (5 to 6 p.m.). Warning: These times may not be optimal for your friends, though. Ask around. When are your friends online? Be a good and timely host and conversation partner.

Rather than assigning one person in your congregation or community group to “do Facebook,” look at all the ways your organization can be offering material to help with the person-to-person hospitality. One of the biggest ways you can help: Make sure that someone attending each of your significant events is snapping photos and uploading to your website a wide-ranging album of their pictures. Get friends in the habit of looking through your latest albums for photos they are eager to share on Facebook.

Encouraging real hospitality—a major goal in so many groups today—is a pathway to lively sharing on Facebook.

PAUL HILE

Paul Hile is a writer, editor and project manager with ReadTheSpirit magazine and books. He also is charged with keeping a close eye on changes in social media and advising our authors on the best use of these online tools.

These changes at Facebook are not ideal for most organizations who have been using pages to promote links back to their website or to their events and products. But, it is important to note: The biggest changes only affect “pages.”  Most of our authors aren’t in jeopardy of exceeding their “friend limit” on their personal Facebook accounts, so I am advising them to make better use of their personal Facebook activity.

This is all the more reason to encourage writers to use Facebook and engage with friends in a natural, regular way. The more people talk and interact with us on a daily basis online, the more we’re in front of people. It’s important to remember that there’s more than one way to get attention on Facebook. One, of course, is to post content. The other is to have people talk about you. The more that happens, the better.

As Martin and David have pointed out: This is social media.

In my research, I am convinced that successful social media strategies depend on human, person-to-person interaction. When our public presence on Facebook is “just another page,” then we’ve lost the human relationships that are the real arteries of social media. When followers of “just another page” don’t have any sort of personal interaction—attachment and investment in whatever is being shared—the results of that sharing fall off sharply.

People want to to interact, explore and invest in real relationships. If we pay attention to that core value, then Facebook continues to be a vast and friendly public square for lots of healthy sharing.

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

The Saloma Furlong interview on ‘Bonnet Strings’

CLICK on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

CLICK on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

Millions of Americans, once again, are thinking of driving through “Amish country” this year. We’re smiling at the nostalgic sights we’ll see, already tasting the traditional foods—and many are reading Amish novels (romances and mysteries, too) or tuning in made-for-TV Amish movies.

This is a perfect time to get a copy of Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds, the latest memoir by Saloma Furlong who was featured on two very popular documentaries about the Amish on PBS: American Experience: The Amish and American Experience: Amish—Shunned.

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, in preparing for this week’s Cover Story with Saloma Furlong—I had to wait in line to read Bonnet Strings. The book vanished the moment it arrived at my home office. My wife had grabbed it! She had enjoyed seeing Saloma on PBS, had read Saloma’s first book Why I Left the Amish: A Memoir, and was eager to read this more romantic second volume about the twists and turns as Saloma fell in love with a young toymaker.

Want further confirmation that you’ll enjoy this book? Mennonite author Shirley Showalter (who we featured in an earlier author interview) writes about Bonnet Strings: “This story includes all the elements of a good romance—attraction, danger, secrets, beautiful scenery, obstacles, culture clashes and old-fashioned chivalry. You will cheer for Saloma and the sense of self God placed in her heart.”

Also: Don’t miss the moving dedication page at the front of this book. This time, both David and Saloma wrote chapters (Saloma wrote most of them, but David contributed a handful of key chapters from his perspective). So, the book opens with two real-life love letters—a single sentence from Saloma to David: “It is because of your understanding and quiet perseverance that our love not only survived but also thrived.” And from David to Saloma: “Your truth shines a light on the path to eternal love.” Now, come on: Who can resist a real-life story like this?

Saloma Furlong recipe for Mems white bread and for Sticky BunsAND, THE BEST PART!

If you have seen Saloma in the PBS films, then you know that she’s a marvelous baker. You’ve seen her preparing those delicious “Sticky Buns” that look so good—you’re hungry when the film ends. Well, Saloma closes her new book with some classic family recipes: Today, she has given us permission to republish her Sticky Buns recipe (which includes her recipe for Mem‘s White Bread). In her book, the full recipe section includes her Pie Crust Made Simple, Olin Clara’s Peach Pie, My Favorite Apple Pie—and a link to find even more recipes. You’ll also be passing around her favorite foods for years to come!

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH SALOMA FURLONG
ON ‘BONNET STRINGS’

DAVID: Amish or not, many people will be drawn into your story by the first paragraph of your new memoir. You write:

It was a mismatch from the start—being born with a nature that just did not fit into my Amish culture. For as long as I can remember, questions had bubbled up from within. I tried to emulate other girls who were quiet and submissive. I’d practice folding my arms in the demure way of Amish girls, looking down in front of me instead of looking directly at others and not talking. That never lasted more than five minutes before I’d forget and become myself again.”

A lot of people today feel they don’t fit in. They want to “become themselves,” to borrow your phrase. As millions of Americans know from seeing your story in two different, feature-length PBS documentaries: You finally left the Amish community. But, I’m wondering: Today, do you consider yourself Amish? Or “formerly Amish”?

Photo of Saloma Furlong by Kerstin Martin. Used with the author's permission.

Photo of Saloma Furlong by Kerstin Martin. Used with the author’s permission.

SALOMA: I’m not sure I can be definitive in answering that. I am more of “a formerly Amish writer.” I don’t think of myself as “an Amish writer” because I’m not a practicing Amish. But, I’m still very Amish in my being.

I find myself serving as an accidental interpreter of the culture from which I emerged. There are so many misunderstandings about the Amish! I constantly find myself trying to clear those up. I get so many questions from my readers and from audiences when I go out and speak about this. I feel like I am constantly trying to right misrepresentations.

Often, I’ve felt like a lone voice in the wilderness until these two films came out. Callie Wiser was the producer of the first film that was shown on PBS and the director-producer-writer of the second film. She’s an amazing filmmaker because she’s such a careful observer and she understands things that many others miss. Thanks to Callie, those two films clear up a lot of misunderstandings, I think.

DAVID: Your first book’s title makes it clear that you left the Amish and, when people read that book, they realize that you grew up in a household with some tragically unresolved issues involving two men in your family. Eventually, we learn, some outside assistance helped with that situation—but you already had decided to leave. You left partly because of those men and primarily because your personality was in conflict with Amish ways.

Now, in the latest PBS film, viewers nationwide saw you helping another young woman struggle with her decision on whether to finally leave the Amish—or return to her traditional family. I suspect a lot of our readers are wondering: So, do you like and admire the Amish? Or, are you more of a critic of the Amish?

SALOMA: I am both. I like a lot of things about the Amish and I often find myself defending them, if I hear people wanting to demonize them. However, when people are trying to romanticize them, I point out some of the reality that doesn’t fit with the stereotypes. You could say: I complicate people’s idea of the Amish.

The Amish are people—they are human and they have their faults—but they also have some very important things to offer to the world, things like being more mindful about the technology we so easily adopt. They place a very high value on community.

DAVID: But you would change a few things about Amish culture if you could, right?

SALOMA: If I could change one thing about the Amish, it would be to allow the education of children beyond the 8th grade. When Amish young people graduate at 13 or 14 years old, they’re just too young to make it on their own in today’s world. Even if they got just a couple more years of schooling, then they’d have a prayer to make it on their own. But the Amish don’t want to talk about it. They say: God will take care of us.

A REAL-LIFE AMISH LOVE STORY

DAVID: Well, let’s turn to the strong appeal of this second memoir: It’s got good food and real romance. At this point, publishers understand that those millions of American tourists who love to drive through “Amish country” every summer also are grabbing Amish romances and mysteries to read, when they get back home. In book publishing, it’s often said: “Put a bonnet on it, and it’ll sell.”

While a lot of books have bonnets on the cover, these days—most are fiction. Your book? It’s the real deal. It all happened.

SALOMA: We hear a lot of feedback from readers of this new memoir that they would like to see this made into a movie. David and I would love to see that, although we haven’t heard from any filmmakers, yet.

DAVID: As Shirley Showalter says in recommending your book, this is a compelling love story because it involves dramatic clashes and obstacles along the way. In real life, love isn’t easy—and your love story certainly was a roller coaster.

First, you left the Amish and fell in love with this toymaker—the young man who is now your husband David. But that love took a painful turn! You wound up almost breaking David’s heart by going back to the Amish and leaving him behind. He was so loyal that he kept pursuing you, despite some huge barriers you threw in front of him.

There’s a scene in this new book, on a day when David actually showed up and tried to reconnect with you. You had decided to go out in a canoe for the day with a sister and some friends. As you’re going out onto this reservoir in the canoe, he shows up and hands you a piece of paper that he thinks will be very meaningful to you. I won’t reveal to our readers what was on the paper. But, instead, you drop the paper into the water. Now, that’s a scene from a movie. I can see that fragile white paper sinking into the dark waters of the reservoir.

SALOMA: When we started talking about movie scenes, I knew you were going to bring up that moment in the book! And, of course, I can still see that in my memory. Memories, like that day when I dropped David’s paper into the water and tried to reject him again—those memories become so vivid because they’re the experiences that shape who we are as people.

DAVID: I hope that many readers buy your book, enjoy your story, make some wonderful baked goods from the recipes in the back of your book—and we wind up seeing your story on the big screen. Do you have a third book in this series of memoirs in the works?

SALOMA: Well, it all depends on how successful these first two books are. Right now, my husband is bringing in the bread and butter to keep our household going. In this book, the publisher has included a few chapters written by David, but I’d like to write more with him. The problem is that his work is so time consuming that, right now, he doesn’t have time to write.

DAVID: Meanwhile, keep baking! We’re going to share your recipe for bread and sticky buns. They’re so good!

Care to read more?

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

Johann Christoph Arnold interview: Finding happiness in aging

Cover Johann Christoph Arnold Rich in YearsHIS WISDOM about family life and peacemaking has circled the globe; more than a million copies of his books have sold in dozens of languages. Now, the aging teacher and peace activist Johann Christoph Arnold turns to lessons about the spiritual treasures of—aging itself. In an inspiring and fun-to-read new book, Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life, the spiritual head of the Bruderhof community shares what he has learned from his own life—and the lives of many other people—about finding happiness in old age.

“Old age”—it’s a phrase avoided like the plague in most books about growing older, which are aimed mainly at avoiding or denying the aging process. But, Arnold always has been a radical teacher and, in Rich in Years, he explores the provocative idea that happiness can grow even as our bodies lose our youthful physical abilities. Talk about counter-cultural teaching!

Arnold was raised in a radical, courageous tradition. His grandparents—Eberhard Arnold and Emmy von Hollander Arnold—were deeply inspired by the Salvation Army movement in Germany in the early 20th Century. Later, they gathered with friends and launched a new kind of communal Christian community, based on Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Their Bruderhof (place of brothers) was founded in 1920 along with a famous magazine now called Plough. The Arnolds eventually learned of another communal Christian community with roots in the 1500s, the Hutterites, and Eberhard visited their communities in North America as he shaped the new Bruderhof.

The Bruderhof’s pacifism and defense of religious minorities in Germany, including the Jews, led to Nazi persecution. Eberhard Arnold died in 1935 after a procedure in a Nazi-run hospital and the entire movement fled outside of Germany, eventually resettling years later in the U.S. The official Bruderhof website describes the group’s history and its life, today, in more detail.

Arnold, now 73, has been an almost Zelig-like character—present at many milestones of peacemaking since the mid-20th century. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; he traveled occasionally with Pete Seeger; he has met and talked with world leaders in many settings, including at the Vatican.

Here are highlights of ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s interview with Johann Christoph Arnold …

HIGHLIGHTS OF
OUR INTERVIEW WITH
JOHANN CHRISTOPH ARNOLD

Photo of Johann Christoph Arnold © Plough Publishing House. Used with permission.

Photo of Johann Christoph Arnold © Plough Publishing House. Used with permission.

DAVID: Let’s start with a little bit about the Bruderhof today. I don’t see a membership total online. And what is your title with the group?

JOHANN: I am the senior pastor. The community I’m in is about 350 people. We have around 35 communities all over the world. We are about a total of 3,000 people.

DAVID: I also see various short “bios” of you online, but most aren’t up to date. What are the numbers now? Your age? Your number of grandchildren?

JOHANN: I’m 73. We have 43 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

DAVID: And, here’s one more question that’s so common that your website addresses it in a video: What’s the difference between your communities and the Amish?

JOHANN: There are a lot of similarities, but we really believe in going out to all people and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus—just like Jesus asked his disciples to go out into all the world. The Amish are more withdrawn.

DAVID: You’ve got YouTube videos featuring Bruderhof men and women talking, on screen, about the movement. That’s a big difference between you and the Amish.

JOHANN: We believe in using technology, providing it really serves God and his kingdom.

DAVID: You’re one of the most prolific authors in America. So, do you use an e-reader these days?

JOHANN: No, I do not read e-books. I like to have a real book in my hands. A real book is a thrill to hold! We have a huge library of books. We believe in libraries of real books and not in e-book libraries.

DAVID: I know that you are very proud of your history. Your newest book, which we are recommending today to readers, quotes your grandfather in a couple of sections. But I wonder: Today, in 21st-century America, what kind of connection do you feel to the founders of your movement so long ago and far away?

JOHANN: I would say there are many, many similarities. In my grandparents’ time they did speak out against Hitler and for the Jews and that took a tremendous amount of courage. The German people were gripped by fear—and there was a real threat of being sent to concentration camps. So, when people spoke out, as my grandfather did, this took real courage.

My family did have to flee Germany. We eventually had to go to Paraguay and then because of a dictatorship there, we came to America because we believed here in America we could practice our beliefs. And, to a large part, this was possible.

Sadly, American society today also is gripped by quite a bit of fear, since 9/11 in particular. Fear binds people. Fear shuts up people. We need courage today to lift up the true American spirit. … I see too many people who try to stand up for something today finding that they are marginalized. So, yes, what we are experiencing today in America has similarities to what my grandparents experienced.

DAVID: The Bruderhof is known as a “peace church” and you have been personally involved in peace and civil rights movements. You marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the South. You’ve been involved in anti-war movements. Do you see yourself as an isolated voice coming from the Bruderhof? Or do you see yourself as part of a larger community of activists?

JOHANN: We are very much part of a much, much bigger picture. God is great. God constantly creates something new, something moving. We want to be involved wherever we can work with people, together, for a more positive society.

Pete Seeger was a friend of mine and one of the last things he did was to review my newest book, Rich in Years. I was with Pete Seeger at many rallies over the years, against the death penalty and on other peace issues. He was an incredible man! If anyone should have won the Nobel Peace Prize, it should have been Pete Seeger. He was a man of peace and I thank God that I knew him and worked with him.

(After his recent death, ReadTheSpirit published a tribute to Pete Seeger’s life.)

HAPPINESS IS:
‘Another day to love and to serve’

DAVID: Your way of talking about the peace movement—serving people wherever there is a need—touches on the central theme of your newest book, Rich in Years. That book is about what I would describe as “the gifts of aging.” The subtitle says it’s about: “Finding peace and purpose in a long life.” And the most important lesson you teach in this book is: As we age, our happiness depends on the service we provide to others.

Toward the end of this new book, you write about your relationship with your grandmother, later in her life. There’s even a lovely photo of her in the book, leaning down so a little girl can kiss her cheek. With the photo are Emmy’s words: “Each morning when I wake up I am happy because I have been given another day to love and to serve.” She was quite a model for you, wasn’t she?

JOHANN: My grandmother’s life was incredible. Here was a woman who was only married for 27 years and then lived as a widow for 46 years and she had a great dignity. People just loved and appreciated and flocked to her. She had an incredible long life and her memory was pretty much good until the very end. She died when she was 96.

I am thankful that we spent so many years with my grandmother. My grandfather died in a Nazi hospital. He had a leg fracture and then there was a surgery, and he never recovered from that. He died. It was never quite proven what happened, but I do know that the Nazis definitely had an eye on my grandfather. But my grandmother was able to flee and lived a very long life.

DAVID: Such a person, who survived Nazi threats and was essentially driven as a refugee around the world as a result, might have wound up quite bitter about life, quite fearful. But that was not the case with your grandmother.

JOHANN: She had very happy years right up to the end of her life.

DAVID: And, in your book, you point out why you think her life was so happy.

JOHANN: She was so happy because my grandmother believed in service; she believed in doing good deeds for anyone she encountered: a child, a grown up, a guest. She constantly was thinking of other people. In that way, she was an incredible inspiration to me and to many others. She left a legacy for younger people, today, that if you want your life to count for something, you will serve as a role model to others. Throughout her life, she was a role model to thousands.

DAVID: I have been reporting on religion and spirituality for nearly 40 years and in my library of books about the spiritual side of life, I can find very few that focus on the “gifts of aging.” Most books on aging are about how to avoid it or to deny it. The main example from this other point of view is Joan Chittister’s book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.

Why did you decide to write such an unusual book—about the gifts of aging?

JOHANN: My wife and I, whether we like it or not, are also becoming senior citizens so we thought it was time to explore this and to contact other senior citizens to see how they made out. I was richly rewarded in realizing that—these old timers who have been married for 40, 50 or 60 years—they were able to do this because they had a firm belief in God and believed in what I call the old values.

I did find another book about aging that I found very helpful: Billy Graham’s Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well. I found that book incredible. It inspired me. I read it before I started writing this book and it was inspiring to me as I put my own book together.

DAVID: Your book radically challenges our assumptions as Americans about what aging should be like. There’s a popular TV advertisement, these days, in which the actor Tommy Lee Jones is selling a financial-planning service and asks viewers: “Can you keep your lifestyle in retirement?”

For most Americans, that involves a whole lot of consumption. We measure our success largely by how much we own and can afford to keep buying. Instead, your book argues that real success—real happiness in life—depends on how much service we provide to others.

JOHANN: Yes, David. And I include stories about people who have found this to be true. There’s a story in the book about Vincent and Jean DeLuca, an elderly couple I met when Vince was in his 60s. They ran a family business until they both were in their 80s. So here are two people, who left their business in their 80s—but they didn’t sit home. In the book, I write: “Now that they are no longer in business, they spend their days volunteering locally, mentoring younger volunteers and inspiring them to work hard in whatever vocation they might choose. As Vince and Jean get older and physically weaker, it seems they get spiritually stronger.” This is an incredible story.

DAVID: That’s really a central theme: even as they get physically weaker, they get spiritually stronger. You tell about lots of other people, in this book, but let’s bring this back to your own life. You’ve lived a life of service yourself.

JOHANN: When my wife and I married, we decided that our marriage would be one of service to other people, via counseling, teaching, working together with others and enjoying being with other people. We have now been married for 48 years and in many ways, life is getting lovelier each day. Life is not boring! Every day you find new outlets where you can share with someone a little bit of joy. Jesus said that if you simply give a stranger a cup of water, you will be rewarded in heaven and that is our hope. However long God has for us, we can make a slight difference in somebody’s life with each day we have.

WHY FORGIVE?
‘Forgiveness … frees us.’

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

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

DAVID: This is such a refreshing message in a world where people often talk about the rampant fear and anxiety in our lives. This leads me to the central theme of your other recent book, Why Forgive? Before people are able to free themselves up to embrace this life of service you describe, a lot of us have to get past these heavy weights we carry around of hurt and anger, right?

JOHANN: Yes. Fear and anxiety are so widespread today. But you know, Alan Paton, the famous South African writer said that if an injury has been done to you, no matter how heinous, there is only one way to recover and that is to forgive. That is the kind of message that I and others have been trying to get out to Americans, and trying to get into our schools. And, when I have been out speaking about this, I have seen a real hunger for forgiveness and for nonviolent forms of conflict resolution.

DAVID: A common misconception about forgiveness is that it’s the same thing as conflict resolution. But it’s not. In your writing—and in other classic writing on forgiveness—this process is really about us, as hurting individuals first. We forgive by giving up our lingering thirst for vengeance. We give up our hurt, to the extent that we can. And we do this, whether the offending party participates in reconciliation—or not.

When we publish this interview, we’re also going to publish a column by the writer Benjamin Pratt about forgiveness, which he describes as “Clearing Boulders.”

Forgiveness begins inside each of us. Am I saying that correctly?

JOHANN: If we don’t forgive, we die of a cancer of bitterness and the cancer of bitterness kills as thoroughly as any other threat to life. Bitterness can destroy the lives of the most beautiful people simply because they cannot forgive. When I am in front of groups at schools, I say, “When we forgive: Everybody is a winner. When we don’t forgive: Everybody is a loser.” This is simply the message of Jesus. In Matthew, chapter 18, Jesus says we should forgive 70 times 7 times.

DAVID: You’re talking about love replacing bitterness.

JOHANN: Wherever the love of Jesus overwhelms one person, the angels in heaven will rejoice and that is something to be thankful for.

If someone really does a grievous thing against me, then I have a choice of either being very hurt, very offended, wanting justice at all costs—or forgiveness. But first I have to realize that it is wrong for me to carry all of this bitterness around with me. We must realize: If I forgive my enemy, then I am not doing my enemy any favors. The one I do a favor to is myself.

If I don’t forgive, I am a bound person. I am consumed by the person who has hurt me. I am consumed night and day by him. If I forgive, I let go of all that. I do myself a favor by forgiving. That’s difficult to understand for many people.

DAVID: In Why Forgive? you pose the challenge this way: “Forgiveness is power. It frees us from every constraint of the past, and helps us overcome every obstacle. It can heal both the forgiver and the forgiven. In fact, it could change the world if we allowed it to. Each of us holds the keys to forgiveness in our hands. It remains to us whether or not we choose to use them.”

WHERE IS HOPE?
‘Wherever people start working together’

DAVID: Are you an optimist about America and Americans these days? Or are you worried about our future?

JOHANN: That’s a beautiful question. I have always been an optimist all my life, even when things looked very very bad. Wherever there are people there is reason for optimism because God is at work in every human heart and can change it in an instant. Wherever people start working together, there is reason for optimism. One of the most optimistic guys I met was actually Pete Seeger. He was always was optimist and always saw hope and always was excited about something new. In the same way, I want to be excited about new things each day.

DAVID: You often speak to children and youth. What are you trying to teach them?

JOHANN: I have been in schools where there were thousands of students sitting in gymnasiums in bleachers and filling the floor and what thrills me in this sea of faces is seeing each child’s face. What we need to understand is that each one of these children is a unique story. We need to show interest in the stories of other people, of each person. When I talk to these groups, I say: “I am here because your story is important.” Then I point out to them role models they could look to: Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa. I tell the children: “You will become the world’s next leaders. It is important that you grow up to become the next role models.”

This all begins with thinking of other people, first. There is a reason and a purpose to life in this world—and the time we live in this world is so short, David, so short. Even if we live a long life—it is so short. We had better be active each day, doing something of service to others.

DAVID: I think we’ve come full circle, talking about your life and your work and your two most recent books. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

JOHANN: Tell your readers that they are in our prayers. For us, prayer is the strongest weapon that God gave us in our arsenal to use and it is the most underused weapon. With prayer we can change the world.

MORE ON THE BENEFIT OF SERVING OTHERS

Sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is devoting a series of columns—in The OurValues Project, this week—to the value of helping others. In his first column, he reports on a five-year University of Michigan study that shows significant benefits in the lives of people who choose to help others.

MORE ON JOHANN CHRISTOPH ARNOLD
AND THE BRUDERHOF

Johann Christoph Arnold edited the volume in the Orbis Modern Spiritual Masters Series that collects his grandfather’s most important writing. The book, Eberhard Arnold: Selected Writings, is available from Amazon.

You also can learn more about Rich in Years at The Plough website.

Johann Christoph Arnold’s colleagues report the following about the historic Plough magazine: “Plough Publishing House, founded in 1920, is an independent publisher of books on faith, society and the spiritual life. We’re based in Walden, New York, with branches in the United Kingdom and Australia. After 12 years online-only, Plough is re-launching in 2014 with a fresh team, enthusiastic backing, and a mission to contribute to the renewal of both church and culture. In addition to serving up views and insights online, we’ll launch the Plough Quarterly, a new magazine with in-depth essays, stories, poetry, and reviews. To be notified of developments, sign up for Plough’s weekly updates.” (See the lower-right corner of this Plough homepage.)

The Plough editors add: “Appearing in print and digital editions, Plough Quarterly aims—in conjunction with Plough’s books and online publishing—to build a network of readers and writers with a common vision. As an ecumenical magazine, it will regularly feature Catholic, evangelical, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Anabaptist, Quaker, and Jewish contributors, as well as occasional Muslim, Buddhist, humanist, and other voices who in fresh ways bring out aspects of Jesus’ message.”

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