The Greg Garrett Interview on our love of angels and demons

We love our angels and demons!

Pew’s massive study of American religious life shows nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe that angels and demons are active in our world. We’re also certain about cosmic realms from which these creatures emerge. More than 7 in 10 Americans believe in Heaven with our collective belief in Hell lagging a bit behind that.

Now, an intrepid explorer of the connections between popular culture and the spiritual realms invites us to travel with him as Dante did with his guide Virgil 700 years ago into Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso—a classic tale that we know as The Divine Comedy. Our new guide already is familiar to thousands of readers nationwide: Greg Garrett, a noted scholar at Baylor University and author of 20 previous books. He calls his book, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination.

Greg is well equipped to serve as our guide after decades of exploring religious themes in comic books, movies, music and American literature. As we set off with him on this great cosmic journey, he says: “This book really is the culmination of years of research. I hope readers will have fun with it.”

Note that this book is published by Oxford University Press so the standard of research is high and Greg lays out an extensive series of notes at the end of his book if readers dare to dive deeper into some of the strange corners they will discover in this adventure.

We can highly recommend the book both for individual reading, for any teachers or preachers who like to touch upon these issues and especially for small-group discussion in religious or secular settings. You’ll have lots of fun in your small group, bringing in video and audio clips to touch off discussion on the chapters in Greg’s book.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed the author. Here are …


DAVID: Wow! Talk about a whirlwind tour! The entire cosmos from Heaven to Hell—including visits with angels and demons, comic book super heroes, TV stars, great authors and even strange characters in video games—all in 200 pages!

GREG: Well, for many years as a journalist, you’ve been covering the same kinds of connections I’ve been covering—and this book really does bring a lot of things together in one place.

DAVID: How did you cast the net for this book? Every page drops another intriguing character into the mix. How did you amass this cast of characters?

GREG: I had all of my own research over the years, then I asked people to recommend stories about the afterlife—stories of the undead, angels and demons—and I got a ton of recommendations! A lot of my clergy friends had powerful stories they had used in their preaching. My literary and cultural friends told me about a lot of things they were researching. And I also crowdsourced this. I asked people questions like: What’s your favorite angel story? Then, I’ve consumed so much popular culture throughout my lifetime that I had tons of things to draw on—perhaps with the exception of video games but I even played my way through Diablo for this book.

DAVID: Many of our readers love to make these kinds of connections. Our online magazine hosts Ken Chitwood’s FaithGoesPop series and, every week, we’re exploring similar links between faith and popular culture.

In fact, I’m going to do a shout-out to our readers: What’s your favorite angel story? Go into Facebook or Twitter and tell us. Add the hashtag #FaithGoesPop so that we spot it easily.

GREG: If they want to add another hashtag that I’m starting to use for the book, they can mark their ideas #EntertainingJudgment and I’ll take a look, too.


DAVID: Let’s use this interview to showcase some of the very intriguing connections you make in this book. There are far too many to list them all in our conversation, but we can hit some highlights. So, let’s start with that mysterious middle-realm: Purgatory. You point out in the book that the word “Purgatory” never appears in the Bible and the vast majority of American Protestants think of Purgatory as a Catholic belief.

However, Greg, you argue that—in effect—millions of Americans are attracted to the idea of Purgatory through books, songs, movies and TV shows like Lost.

GREG: That’s a good place to start because Purgatory really was the starting point for this book. For a number of years, I had been talking about doing a book with my editor at Oxford, Cynthia Read, and then one day she asked me: “Why is it that most American Protestants think that Purgatory is ridiculous theologically but they believe that people do undergo hardship and transform their lives?”

And I told her: “You’re right. We have an operational belief in Purgatory even if Protestants think it doesn’t make sense theologically.”

That question opened up the whole book for me. One of the most primal stories we share is that people can go through Hell and emerge with a transformed life at the end of it.

DAVID: When I was reading that section of your book, I immediately thought of Dr. Wayne Baker’s research in United America. When you talk about this “operational belief in Purgatory” that rings the bells of several core American values that Dr. Baker has documented.

GREG: A perfect example of this is 12 Years a Slave—it’s a story of Purgatory, which in this case essentially means going through Hell with an expiration date when our hero emerges with a transformed life. In fact, it’s hard to watch some of the things you see in the film, unless you can keep reminding yourself: Hey, it’s only 12 years. He will emerge from this.

Or for a Purgatory comedy, think about Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Over and over again, he is tried and tested with the hope of emerging as a new and improved being.

Purgatory was built into the DNA of Lost. From the very first season, there was this whole debate among fans about whether the island itself was Purgatory. And the creators of Lost said no it wasn’t. But this led to the idea of creating, later in the series, a “sideways” world—a world in which the Lostees never crash landed on the island and are presented with challenges they failed in their first time around. Even Dr. Linus, the show’s biggest villain, gets an opportunity to redo an awful choice he made and get it right.


DAVID: There are dozens of other movie and TV references in this book from It’s a Wonderful Life to the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies. But let’s jump to very different forms of media: comic books, paintings and stained glass. You connect all those dots, too!

And that starts with Batman, who makes appearances throughout your book. The story of the “dark knight” is back on prime-time TV in the hit series Gotham. This new series takes us back to Batman’s boyhood as Bruce Wayne, which starts with this little boy’s absolutely terrifying experience of witnessing the cold-blooded murders of his parents. From that kind of trauma, other characters in Gotham become blood-thirsty criminals, but Bruce Wayne emerges as a heroic figure who wants to use his powers to do good.

While Superman may be America’s oldest super hero, Batman has far more fans keeping his legend alive and his fans continually morph Batman into new forms of this angel-demon figure. I think he’ll be a connection point in your book for lots of readers and, of course, there are a lot lessons that can be drawn from comics. ReadTheSpirit has even established our own comic section called Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. So, I was very pleased to find Batman, in particular, showing up as a recurring character in your new book.

GREG: Batman is one of our most pervasive cultural stories. When I wrote about Batman and Superman back in my book Holy Superheroes, I did not realize that those two archetypal stories would continue to follow me around.

In the story of Batman, we think of Gotham as this Hell on Earth and we can think of Batman as a demon—a fierce creature of the night who, instead of using his powers for evil, chooses to use them for good. So, we’re tracing a character who was born in Hell and chose to rise above it. He casts aside everything he ought to be after those early experiences—and instead chooses to devote his life to doing good or others.

That’s the central element of the Batman story: A person can rise above a tragic setting and prove to be a hero for the ages. The question about Batman is: Demon or angel? And we could say he’s both—a devil who chooses to be an angel.

DAVID: Well, I was also pleasantly surprised to find in your book a lot about Edward Burne-Jones, the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter and designer whose images are still splashed across Christmas cards, church windows and lots of other decorative arts. You point out that Burne-Jones was influential in rescuing the idea of an “angel” from the Italian artists who wanted to turn them into cute little babies with wings. Burne-Jones gave us angels with real super-hero size and shape.

In fact, I was just comparing some of the popular images of Batman—the dark knight overlooking a sleeping city—to Burne Jones’s famous painting The Briar Wood, part of a cycle of paintings that he did in collaboration with his friend William Morris. Basically, a dark enchantment has made nearly everyone fall down in a deep sleep. And in The Briar Wood, which was painted in 1890, we see a very Batman-like dark knight overlooking this sleeping town.

GREG: Burne-Jones is really interesting because he did help to restore some gravity to these narratives about angels. As angel imagery had evolved, it looked as though the basic story was going to run off the rails into sentimentality. Throughout scriptures—whether we’re talking about the Hebrew or Christian testaments or the Muslim holy scriptures—angels are described as imposing, frightening, powerful. But, by the time of Burne-Jones, artists had turned angels into these cutesy little babies with wings. In paintings and stained glass and in other images, Burne-Jones restored the powerful nature of angels.

DAVID: And this is not just a matter of aesthetics or interior design. This transformation of angels into super heroes speaks to the terrible nature of the global challenges we faced in the 20th century and face again today. If our spiritual imagination is going to keep up with the world’s terrors, then we need super heroes, right?

GREG: Flying babies don’t do the job for us when we need a really serious pipeline to the Divine. I think that whenever our culture threatens to turn angels into cute little domesticated figures, then we’ve lost the main story about angels.

DAVID: We could go on and on—but I want to urge readers to actually order your book to continue the adventure. Let me close by asking you to sum up how you hope readers will respond to your book.

GREG: There were two things at the heart of my desire to write this book.

First, I wanted to spotlight how important stories of the afterlife continue to be in our lives. A vast majority of Americans continue to believe in Heaven and Hell and in manifestations of angels and demons. And that’s more than just a casual belief. My colleagues in research at Baylor report that a majority of Americans believe they’ve been helped by a guardian angel. So, the first thing I wanted to say is: These are very important beliefs in our lives today.

Then, second, I wanted readers to think about this: We’re consuming so many of these stories very uncritically. I want to invite people into a thoughtful consideration about this. What do we believe about the afterlife? What do we believe about the way the afterlife shapes our everyday life in pursuing faith and justice?


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

Let PBS’s ‘Edison’ ignite your creative spark!

Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine

THERE is no more iconic American pioneer than Thomas Alva Edison—although his bright light may have been eclipsed in recent decades by other celebrated American innovators: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or perhaps in the realm of spiritual innovation Americans might name Oprah or Rob Bell or Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

In Edison’s prime, one poll of schoolkids found that Edison surpassed everyone else in America as the person they hoped to be like someday. Certainly, Edison was popular for his heroic rise to fame, his long series of startling inventions, not to mention the fortune he amassed. But the reason ReadTheSpirit magazine is highly recommending this two-hour PBS American Experience documentary about Edison is also the key to his worldwide celebrity as “the Wizard of Menlo Mark.”

Thomas Edison transformed our world.

Read the previous sentence again, because that kind of claim seems commonplace today, doesn’t it? Every day, headlines trumpet yet another “transformation” by Apple or the latest App developer with some new service that might range from finding a taxi to monitoring of our body’s vital signs.

What this PBS documentary shows us is that, by comparison with Edison’s milestones, most of these current “transformations” are trivial. And therein lies the deep spiritual and cultural questions raised by this fascinating video version of Edison’s life.

As an aside to our readers, in this review I want to properly credit writer and director Michelle Ferrari, who certainly has emerged as one of the most thought-provoking documentary filmmakers in America today. She also worked on two other documentaries that ReadTheSpirit highly recommended: The Poisoner’s Handbook and War of the Worlds. Bravo Michelle Ferrari for this intriguing body of work!

What Ferrari tries to convey to us in her story of Edison’s life is the earthquake-like changes he ushered into American life. Consider …

When he introduced the first device to permanently record sound—Edison took something that had been ephemeral throughout human history and, in one stroke, began the accumulation of audio in our worldwide cultural storehouse. Before Edison, music vanished as it was performed, great orations disappeared as soon as the speaker stepped away from the podium, and a host of historic events remain silent in our collective memories.

Think of the way our daily lives are surrounded by recorded sound in myriad forms! Before Edison, life’s soundtrack was limited to what happened within earshot.

When Edison introduced his light-bulb, Americans had been trying to claim useful hours after sunset through candles, oil lamps, gas jets and a handful of cities had tried using powerful outdoor arc lights. Edison safely tamed a permanent source of night-time illumination for our homes—and began the massive project of electrifying America—one city block at a time. Just imagine life before electrical outlets in every building!

Edison’s introduction of his first effective motion-picture camera was a turning point in global culture. Just as his audio recorder had suddenly allowed us to capture and preserve sounds—his camera let the world preserve motion! Before Edison, the world’s great dancers vanished with their last performance. Motion was ephemeral for thousands of years; now millions of movies surround every aspect of our lives.

If these Edison milestones intrigue you, then don’t miss Edison on PBS—or consider ordering a DVD of Edison from Amazon.

Care to see more from PBS?

This PBS American Experience website provides more background on Edison and includes a convenient option to find local broadcast times in your region.

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

Review: ‘Cold War Road Show’ will make you feel safer now

Editor of online magazine

Here’s something to feel truly thankful for this year! Watch The Cold War Roadshow on PBS’s American Experience this week and you will feel safer about our world in just 1 hour.

Global warming? Ebola? The ruthless armies of ISIS? Sure, they’re all critical global concerns we must address as concerned humans. But half a century ago, American life was transformed by the first visit of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. As a population, “we” lined the streets to see his entourage pass through our nation. What is most remarkable about this? We stood along his motorcade route in stunned silence.

As the documentary about this world-changing 1959 visit explains: Americans were so terrified by the power of this man to touch off a global nuclear war that we didn’t know how to respond.

Khrushchev intended this visit to serve as a full-scale public relations campaign to win over American public opinion. He grinned almost constantly. He showed off his own family and warmly hugged any American children who came within arm’s reach. But his short temper often trumped his charm offensive.

When the mayor of Los Angeles insulted him at a public banquet, Khrushchev exploded. He roared back that Soviet factories were pumping out missiles like sausages and, if Americans wanted to go toe to toe with the USSR, they’d find themselves in a war to end all wars! The film footage from that day shows the mayor’s face going from a confident grin to a jaw-dropping expression of fear at what he had touched off.

One of the best things about this fascinating documentary is the decision by filmmakers Robert Stone and Tim B. Toidze to include interviews with two adults who were children on the front row of this first visit by a Soviet leader to American soil. Susan Eisenhower is Ike’s daughter and now is a highly respected consultant on international commerce. Sergei Khrushchev is the son of the former Soviet leader and an author and consultant as well. These two “kids” provide revealing commentary on what was taking place in that often shocking tour.

One insight? Khrushchev’s son admits that his father had a very short fuse when confronted with insults. At the infamous Los Angeles banquet, when he began boasting about turning out missiles like sausages, the Soviet leader was flat out lying. It was just angry bluster, the son tells us. In fact, the Soviets had produced very few missiles at that point. Of course, that angry exchange left Americans quaking in our boots—and led to increased spying and a dramatic escalation of Cold War confrontations into the early 1960s.

Any American who was a child in that era remembers the “duck and cover” drills we all learned in public schools. This documentary shows a brief clip of the way we did it: Boys and girls all dropping to the floor of our classrooms, crouching under our desks and covering our heads with our hands. Today, the idea seems like the darkest of comedy.

But then, when it comes to global issues right now, Pew reports “Americans don’t care.” Nearly 4 out of 5 Americans told Pew pollsters this year that they want our leaders to focus on domestic issues and stop worrying about global concerns. However, national security remains an almost universal concern and 3 out of 4 Americans told Pew that “preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction” should be a top national priority. However we may balance those two attitudes—Pew reporting does show that Americans are no longer worried about a worldwide nuclear war ending life as we know it. And that certainly wasn’t the case when Khrushchev flew back to Moscow in 1959!

Watching this hour-long snapshot of America’s nuclear anxiety half a century ago is certain to make you feel more thankful this month!


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

Explore the world’s spiritual traditions in ‘Global Spirit’

COMING JULY 13, 2014:

For years, ReadTheSpirit magazine has recommended the exceptional spiritual conversations hosted by Global Spirit, an innovative series of broadcasts mainly delivered across the Internet. Hosted by scholar, filmmaker and writer Phil Cousineau, the series has welcomed a Who’s Who of famous spiritual sages.

Coming July 13, you will want to visit Global Spirit’s live-streaming website to watch Cousineau interview two top environmental teachers: Joanna Macy and Michael Tobias. Until that time, you’ll see a brief excerpt in a video window on that page. Then, at the end of each new episode, Global Spirit also hosts Live Webcasts with participants in the program. Visit this page to find the Live Webcasts.

When are these broadcast? This page lists Global Spirit’s complete broadcast schedule.

Joanna Macy is well known as a Buddhist scholar and environmental activist, encouraging spiritual reflections on the Earth’s living systems. Wikipedia has a more extensive biography on this now 85-year-old teacher. ReadTheSpirit magazine especially recommends Macy’s book published by New World Library, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.

Michael Tobias also is profiled in Wikipedia. He’s a leading environmental activist, as well, writing and teaching primarily about population stress on our planet and, especially, the need to create sanctuaries and to change policies governing the protection of life on Earth. He has circled the world in his activism, working regularly with partners on several continents. His writing has appeared in many magazines and journals, including Forbes magazine.


Global Spirit has posted a short video clip of Macy talking about Sacred Ecology as a preview for the upcoming broadcast. This YouTube video is well worth watching, because Joanna Macy guides host Phil Cousineau around her Canticle Farm in Oakland, California.

Named for St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun, Macy and her friends convinced the owners of five homes in a poor neighborhood of Oakland to take down the fences separating their back yards to form a single community garden. Organic fruits and vegetables are raised and given away to neighbors.

CLICK THE VIDEO SCREEN BELOW to watch this clip. NOTE: The first two-and-a-half-minutes show Macy in the Global Spirit studio talking with Cousineau—but stay tuned! The next five minutes are a colorful look at Canticle Farm.

Our Authors: ‘Out there doing something good for the world’

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine and books

“Be the change you wish to see,” Gandhi says on bumper stickers. Personally, I prefer to repeat the words of a pastor friend, the Rev. Marsha Woolley, who ends her telephone voice-mail message with, “I hope you’re out there doing something good for the world.”

Over the past week or so, our authors have been out there doing so much good that we are devoting our Cover Story this week to just a handful of these inspiring examples. Making the world a better place by publishing important new voices has been the core vocation of ReadTheSpirit, since our founding. That mission now is fueling a major expansion this year to bring even more authors and cutting-edge publishing projects into communities everywhere.

Let’s start with the story of David Gaynes, a man who was a complete stranger to us one week ago …



Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation is a landmark book that tries to help the countless congregations divided by evangelical denunciations of gay and lesbian men and women. As a pastor, Ken saw many families divided within his own congregation; he also was heartbroken by the way religious condemnation can fuel teen suicides. So, Ken’s book takes a new approach to reading the Bible—an approach Ken calls “the Romans road.” You can read the three introductions to the book by Phyllis Tickle, Tanya Luhrmann and David P. Gushee here. You can read much more about the book and the controversy it has touched off here. Ken recognizes that many evangelicals vigorously disagree with him and welcomes civil dialogue. However, some critics have crossed over to angry personal attacks.

Down in Asheville, NC, veteran writer and media professional David Gaynes had never heard of Ken Wilson until recently. Gaynes and his family were celebrating Passover with the traditional retelling of the Exodus story and discussion of how we all should defend freedom everyday. At one Jewish community seder in Asheville, Gaynes recalls, the rabbi challenged each person: “How are you helping to make the world more free?”

That was the very day Gaynes’s media agency received a request from an old client. He hadn’t worked for this client for a while, so he did his homework and discovered that the project involved an evangelical publishing group. Then, he discovered that this group had recently published a particularly pointed attack on an author named Ken Wilson. This attack troubled Gaynes, whose family includes a gay son, and he wanted to learn more about this Ken Wilson. So, he dug further, finding a Detroit Free Press profile of Ken and his new book. (We’ve got a link here.) Gaynes was particularly struck by Ken’s words in that story “that being evangelical is about ‘welcoming previously excluded groups … to make the good news accessible to those who haven’t had access to it. That’s my task. That’s what a church is supposed to do.'”

Gaynes knew full well that his old client was offering a good-sized payday—but, right away, he sent a long letter to the client, declining to take on the new project. In the letter, he explained his own perspective on Ken’s inspiring book: “I do not believe that my son should repent of his homosexuality any more than I intend to repent of my heterosexuality. Both equally inherent and un-chosen personal attributes arise from the same source: our Creator. Loving my son as I do, and feeling as I do, I respectfully decline the current project with thanks. I am sure that you and your client will be better served by someone and anyone more aligned with your publisher’s viewpoint than I am.”

And then? Gaynes published the entire story, including the letter, on a Jewish blog. The headline? “A Passover Freedom Story

As editor of our online magazine and publishing house, I spotted Gaynes’ column, Googled his office telephone number and soon was talking to Gaynes himself. I told him: “As one media professional talking to another, I’ve got to say: This was a remarkable thing to do. It was courageous that you turned down the contract. It was amazing that you published the story for the whole world.”

“I’m completely OK with sharing my story,” he said. “I’m speaking from both my heart and mind here. My reactions here were instantaneous. There wasn’t any: Wait a minute. Now, if I do X or Y, then … Not at all.”

“Why such a strong response?” I asked, and he said what I’ve heard countless parents and loved ones of gay men and women say over the years.

He said: “I would never want to do anything that would render me unable to look my family in the eye.” And, that’s precisely why millions of younger Americans are staying away from gay-condemning churches—as documented by the Public Religion Research Project.

As a skeptical journalist, though, I pushed Gaynes harder. “Come on,” I said. “Didn’t you have some internal struggle? I know from talking to you, today, that you needed this payday—and it would have been a good-sized check. Didn’t you struggle a little bit?”

And I could hear the smile in his voice as he responded. “No, it wasn’t like that at all,” he said. “It seemed beyond coincidence, uncanny really, that this happened right after the Passover seder. It was as though some Power in the universe was saying: ‘You really feel this way? Let’s find out.’ And as much as that was a needed payday, I think of it as a tiny price to find out beyond any question that my values are not for sale.”

I praised him. “Well, it’s terrific to meet you on the phone here and I’m so impressed …”

But he cut me off. He shouldn’t be praised for doing the right thing, he said. “This is our work as human beings on the planet.”

And to that, I could only say: “Amen.”

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: As we prepared to publish this column, we got word from the well-known emergent-church writer and activist Tony Jones that he has written a new piece about Ken Wilson’s book that will be appearing soon in the widely read Christian Century magazine. Thanks in advance, Tony, for all your good work on the planet!



Speaking of high praise, as Editor of our publishing house, I learned that—as this school year ends at the University of Michigan—our long-time columnist and author Dr. Wayne Baker was honored among his colleagues at the Ross School of Business. Wikipedia’s tracking of business school rankings says that, in recent years, the Ross school sometimes has been ranked No. 1 in the nation and nearly always in the Top 5. The award presented to Dr. Baker was a major career-spanning honor, partly due to his research on American values.

The Senior Faculty Research Award was given to Dr. Baker “in recognition of his influential research, his stellar international reputation as a thought leader in the study of management & organizations and his dedication to building and maintaining a strong research environment at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.”

And this week? Dr. Baker is one of the featured presenters at the Ross School’s first annual “Positive Business” conference. All this week, Dr. Baker is writing about the conference in his popular OurValues column. At the conference, his new book United America will be featured.

You can read much more about the nationwide response to United America here. And, you can download many free resources related to the new book in this United America resource page, including two different full-color charts of the 10 uniting values.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Baker just wrapped up a series on Moms for the centennial of Mother’s Day and was featured, for his research on parents’ values, in this Washington Post column. Also, his book was covered by Dick Meyer (a top journalist who formerly headed divisions for BBC, NPR and CBS) in a new Scripps column that is syndicated widely across news sites nationwide. Here’s Dick’s column as it was presented in Cleveland. To all the journalists covering United America—thanks for doing something good for the world!



This week, we also were pleased to watch author Debra Darvick on television, talking about her ongoing visual project: “Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health.”

If you haven’t read about this unusual project, then click here to read Debra’s story about appearing on TV this past week. Her “10 Commandments” are a re-voicing of the traditional Decalogue or 10 Commandments as if a Mom (or other wise and caring Parent) were voicing timeless wisdom about living a healthy and happy life. Debra had the text printed in poster form, designed by our ReadTheSpirit art director Rick Nease, in a format suitable for hanging on a refrigerator door or bathroom wall.

And—hurray—the idea is catching on!

Thank you Debra for all the good you’re doing for the world!



This is just a sampling of the exciting stories that inspire our colleagues as we wake up each morning and get to devote another day to working for our readers. Among the other recent news …

This ongoing project at Michigan State University School of Journalism now has welcomed dozens of students preparing a half dozen guides under the direction of the school’s instructor Joe Grimm. Learn about the launch of their three latest guides, which combat bigotry by clearing up the real questions that real people ask every day about “the others.”

Global peacemaker, author and activist Daniel Buttry continues to circle the world as a representative of American Baptist Churches, the denomination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not only is Dan organizing the publication of uplifting new stories online in our Interfaith Peacemakers department—but he’s also spreading his collected peacemaking stories around the world. We just got word this week that a new translated edition of one of his books may be prepared for use in a particularly important region of Asia. (Stay tuned for more on that later.) That spread of Dan’s message—and the messages of our other authors—is possible because of the unusual, fast-and-flexible publishing system we have developed.

We heard more news, this past week, about the national conference coming to Detroit (at Wayne State University) in mid-August, called the North American Interfaith Network. That’s a wonderful opportunity to come and meet me, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, and many of our authors as well. Learn more by following the links from this story about our MSU students. (For news on NAIN, read the first item in that story, headlined “Join the MSU Project.”)



Did you know that the famous “Gandhi bumper sticker” isn’t directly quoting the Mahatma? In fact, the slogan does express Gandhi’s teachings, but the actual quote is believed to have come from his grandson—also a global peace activist—Arjun Gandhi. About a decade ago, Arjun contributed to a book that summarizes the Mahatma’s teachings—and the phrase, “Be the change you wish to see,” was born. The quotation, usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi was researched by The New York Times in 2011. Turns out, that line appears nowhere in the 98-volume collected works of Gandhi.

The closest Mahatma Gandhi got to crystallizing that message: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As we changes our own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards us. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

And to that word of wisdom, we also say: Amen!

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

Clearing boulders: In our culture, forgiveness is a surprise ending

A Truly Counter-Cultural Story


“Sue the doctor!”

That’s what friends and family urged my father-in-law, Donald Bosserman, to do after we discovered a mistaken diagnosis would end his life. How could this happen!?! There was no way to save him now. We wanted revenge.

I know a lot about “Revenge,” the action of hurting another in return for the wrong done to me, and “Avenge,” the verb that describes inflicting retribution or exacting satisfaction in such cases. We all know those words, because they are the fuel of our popular culture.

In recent years, my book about the spiritual lessons behind Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels has taken me into discussion groups far and wide. My focus is on the way Fleming crafted the novels to portray his hero as pursuing the seven, modern, deadlier sins that Fleming was convinced posed the greatest evils in our age.

One night, following a talk on Fleming and Bond, a man came up to me and wisely observed, “I know your 007 book is based on Ian Fleming’s literary tales and not on the films, but have you noticed that the recent Bond films—and almost all action films these days—are rooted in one theme: revenge?”

He was spot on. We are hurt in so many ways, season after season, and our culture tells us: The solution is revenge.

But there is an alternative story—think of it as a possible surprise ending—after all the tales of vengeance on TV, at the movies and in the front-page headlines that dominate our culture.

In more than 30 years with my father-in-law, he taught me this lesson. First, Donald taught me about clearing boulders. In the latter years of his life, he and his wife lived in Pennsylvania on a wooded lot filled with trees and boulders—land that once was riddled by bullets and bombs in the pivotal battle of our Civil War. They lived less than a half mile from the Eternal Peace Light on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Donald delighted in landscaping with trees, plants and boulders. He was always rearranging, and each time I visited, at least once a month, there were boulders to move—60, 100, 300 pound boulders. We strained, grunted, pushed, leveraged and laughed them to fit his new vision. Then we would sit on the boulders, sweating and drinking and talking about the ups and downs of our lives.

With refreshed energy, he then would jump up and say we needed to split and rack some wood for the fires, as fall was not far off.

The last months of Donald’s life were discouraging, difficult and degenerative. We were there every weekend as he declined in a nursing home. Donald’s doctor had misdiagnosed his illness as ulcers, not colon cancer. Once the correct diagnosis was made it was too late and the decline precipitous.

That’s when friends and family started talking about a lawsuit against the doctor.

I told Donald about this, but he wouldn’t stand for it. He called a couple of us to his bedside where he said unequivocally, “I will not rest peacefully in my grave if my family pursues any action against the doctor. He is human. He made a mistake. It was not intentional. I have forgiven him. If any of you continue to live with resentment or seek revenge, it will ruin your lives.”

And then he said, “Resentment is a closet full of rusty swords. If you don’t forgive; if you persist with resentment and think of vengeance, you will impale yourself on those rusty swords.”

Is it any wonder that I admired and loved him more deeply at that moment?

As Johann Christoph Arnold, the great peacemaker, puts it: “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.”

My father-in-law knew that. Yes, resentment is like a closet full of rusty swords.

Or, like a great big boulder we must clear to see life’s beauty again.

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

Amish return to PBS with Saloma Furlong in ‘Shunned’

One of our most talked-about author interviews, in recent years, was our 2012 conversation with former-Amish writer Saloma Furlong. A shortened version of her story was featured in the PBS American Experience documentary The Amish, which was both gorgeous and absolutely fascinating in its exploration of Amish life in America.

Now, on Tuesday February 4, 2014, PBS American Experience will debut another major documentary, American Experience: The Amish—Shunned. (Note: That text link takes you to the Amazon page where the DVD version is sold. This DVD eventually will be offered by Netflix. Some libraries may stock the DVD, as well.)

PBS WEBSITE: This American Experience website for the film includes a preview video, background materials, plus information about the series’ broadcast schedule, other upcoming films and some “bonus videos” related to Shunned.

‘The Amish—Shunned’

Review by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

For some strange reason, the same Americans who are fearful of other traditionalist cultures around the world seem to love all things Amish. Mainly, this is because the Amish appear to be a living museum exhibit of America’s past. By driving through “Amish country,” eating at “Amish-style restaurants” and shopping in “Amish markets,” millions of Americans feel as though they are able to step back into their own families’ rural past. So, every year, millions of us pack up the kids and enjoy the smells, the rural vistas, the hearty food, the lovely hand-made goods and we return home to our busy lives feeling as though someone continues to preserve “our past.”

The truth is—as PBS’s American Experience series already has shown in its earlier documentary on The Amish: “The truth isn’t plain—or simple.” Like traditionalist Jews, Muslims, Hindus—and adherents of a host of other centuries-old global cultures—the Amish enforce rigid rules that leave many young Amish men and women sorely torn. Education—even a high school diploma—is strongly discouraged if not outright forbidden. Women are expected to play submissive roles. Everyone is expected to follow the Amish commitment to pacifism to the point of even forgiving extreme abuse within the community. Yes, many Amish families live very satisfying, faith-filled lives of love and grace and hard work.


Well, this new documentary is about the many former Amish men and women who have weighed their experience with Amish life and have finally said: “But—this is not for me.” The documentary shows us how the strict Amish code of community then cuts off these wayward souls. In fact, in one story included in this new film, a family that spent years hoping to join the Amish community finds itself painfully shunned. That comes after the family has labored mightily to prove itself a part of Amish culture—yet is never able to properly measure up to the core traditions of the group.

This is a movie about painfully torn relationships and one of the leading figures in the film—and one of the most sympathetic figures overall—is Saloma Furlong herself. In my home as I previewed this film one evening for this ReadTheSpirit review, I found my wife absolutely fascinated, as well. She watched every minute of this film with me. We kept talking about the issues raised, long after the movie had ended.

You likely will find yourself captivated, as well.

Care to read more about the Amish?

ReadTheSpirit has reported extensively on the Amish, over the years. Our readers keep telling us—and showing us with your clicks and your Facebook sharing of these articles—that you find this subject as fascinating as we do. Here are some recommended links:

REVIEW OF PBS’s THE AMISH: As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I also reviewed the earlier American Experience documentary, calling that movie, “by far, the best film I have seen about Amish life in America.”  That assessment still stands. I am also highly recommending this new sequel to the first film, but Shunned is limited to one aspect of Amish life. The first film is a broad overview, so I continue to rate that first film even higher than this one.

MEET THE LEADING EXPERTS: This new documentary features Amish voices and the true stories of a few men and women who have left the Amish community. But this whole approach to careful, balanced media coverage of the Amish has been shaped by the leading experts in Amish studies. We featured this in-depth interview in 2011.

AMISH NOVELS AND MOVIES ARE POPULAR! We have interviewed Vannetta Chapman, one of the leading novelists writing best-selling tales of Amish life. We post movie reviews, occasionally, of new Amish-themed movies like this one that was broadcast by Hallmark. And, to help point out some of the better Amish movies, we published this overview of lesser-known movies that “get it right” in portraying aspects of Amish life.

READ MORE BY SALOMA FURLONG: Our earlier interview with Saloma Furlong was published when Saloma only had one volume of her memoirs. Watch Saloma’s own website for updates on her new volume, debuting in February, which continues her story past that first book.

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