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

Hands responding to each other

Click these hands to learn more about our authors.

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 …



Click this snapshot to visit Ken's author page.

Click this snapshot to visit Ken’s author page.

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!



Click on this snapshot to visit the resource page for United America.

Click on this snapshot to visit the resource page for United America.

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!



Click this snapshot to visit Debra's column about her 10 Commandments project.

Click this snapshot to visit Debra’s column about her 10 Commandments project.

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

MSU journalism students launch 3 new ethnic guides

Three MSU covers of cultural guidesBIG NEWS: Students at the Michigan State University School of Journalism are dramatically expanding their popular series of books: 100 Questions and Answers About … Individual readers, nonprofits, companies and other schools are ordering these books to encourage “cultural competence”—helping Americans from diverse backgrounds to build positive relationships.

Your Opportunities …

Come to Detroit in August for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) annual conference and you’ll meet MSU project director Joe Grimm. At NAIN, Joe’s MSU team will announce another expansion of this project—and invite NAIN participants to help shape that next phase. (Here is the NAIN-Detroit-2014 website.) The ReadTheSpirit team, including authors Wayne Baker and Lynne Meredith Golodner, also will be presenting workshops. We’ve already published one earlier story about some of the key people coming to NAIN from across the U.S. Please, join us!

Many groups are ordering special quantities of these books for incoming students, employees and other new residents. Unlike other publishing projects, these books can be modified to include the sponsoring group’s logo and background information. That makes these books a valuable form of outreach for your group. Learn more here.

Thousands of books have been published about ethnic groups. So, why are readers snapping up these slim new books from MSU? Because they answer the questions real people are asking every day. We invited MSU’s Joe Grimm to explain this distinctive approach …



MSU 100 Question and Answer books

Covers of our first two books in this series. Click the covers to learn more about this project.

Students at Michigan State University have been busy using new publishing tools to help increase cultural competence. This spring, they published two new 100-question guides. There will soon be six guides in the series. In a program we call “Bias Busters,” MSU journalism students conduct interviews across cultures to surface the simple, everyday questions that people ask in coffee shops and cafeterias. Some Google analysis also helps find the questions people are asking.

The students select and research the questions and write the answers, which are then vetted by experts nationwide. After everything is edited and polished, these slim paperback guides are published in print and digital formats. It takes about 10 weeks from when the students first meet each other to when the guides are listed for sale on Amazon. The speed and flexibility, which comes from Front Edge Publishing tools, means “Bias Busters” can respond to current events—just perfect for journalists. At a time when so many people are pessimistic about journalism, these young creators find that traditional skills and new tools mean they can publish information that helps people, do it quickly and explore a promising business model that they can carry with them after school.

The guides are intended to be just the first step toward deeper conversations about race, ethnicity and religion. Besides the guides, the students have built a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. A facilitator’s guide is in the works.

Let me introduce three of our new guides …

100 Questions and Answers
About Hispanics and Latinos

100 Questions and Answers about Hispanics and Latinos was created by 14 students in the spring “Bias Busters” journalism class. About the time the guides went to press, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that Latinos became the largest group in California, our most populous state. Other nuggets in the guide:

  • WHAT’S IN A NAME? Hispanics and Latinos go by a wide variety of names and, except for in Texas, do not show much preference for either of those labels. Many prefer names like “Mexican American” or Puerto Rican.” The guide uses Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. Other names described in the guide are Tejano, Boricuano, Chicano and even [email protected] and [email protected] Some academic departments have begun using those terms to reflect the fact that Spanish refers to males as Latinos and Chicanos and women as Latinas and Chicanas.

    Hispanic front cover web res

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

  • DID YOU KNOW? We were surprised to learn that the quinceañera, a celebration that signifies a 15-year-old girl’s transition to adulthood, is now being used in some families for boys who turn 15. Then, it is called a quinceañero.
  • We were reminded about the complicated status of Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens by birth, but who cannot vote in presidential elections if they are living on the island because only people living in states have that right.
  • Pope Francis is the first pope from Latin America, but many Latinos do not consider him to be the first Latino pope because his parents are Italian.
  • By 2050, Hispanics will account for about a third of the U.S. population.
  • Most Hispanics in the United State were born here.
  • The state with the highest proportion of Hispanics is New Mexico, with 47 percent.
  • About a quarter of public school students in the United States are Hispanic.
  • The Hispanic market in the United States was $1 trillion in 2010 and is projected to be $1.5 trillion in 2015.
  • Hispanic people should not be lumped into one political camp. Their political affiliations mirror the country overall. Although they usually vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, they are as likely as the overall U.S. population to identify themselves as socially conservative.
  • The large number of eligible Latino voters who do not vote is widely regarded by political analysts as a sleeping giant.


100 Questions and Answers
About East Asian Cultures

100 Q&A_Asians front cover

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

100 Questions and Answers about East Asian Cultures had the benefit of a cross-cultural creation team. Members were students in an international advertising class taught by Dr. Dawn Pysarchik in the MSU Department of Advertising and Public Relations. This team included students from China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the United States. They worked in cross-cultural pairs, learning from each other as they researched. This guide was done, in part, because Michigan State and colleges and universities nationwide have large enrollments from East Asian countries. Americans have questions. These are some of the answers.

  • DID YOU KNOW? Asian countries, cultures and languages are incredibly diverse. While there are some shared cultural values, the differences among countries are incredible.
  • Differences between China and Taiwan or South and North Korea are profound. Millions of Asian people learn English, but do not know Asian languages other than their own.
  • Value systems such as collectivism, Confucianism and high-context communication play out in everyday activity.
  • In Japan, it is not uncommon for people to practice more than one religion.
  • Colors and numbers can have special significance in gift-giving, weddings and ceremonies, commerce and luck.
  • Japan gave us anime, manga, karaoke and Hello, Kitty.
  • South Korea gave us Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and K-Pop, part of the “hallyu” wave of pop culture.
  • China gave us eight major cuisines, not just the one or two you have heard of.
  • Speaking of food, chopsticks are not traditional in all Asian countries.
  • East Asians are adaptable, with Japan having become a strong U.S. ally since World War II and China easing its one-child rule and greatly enlarging its education system.

100 Questions, 500 Nations:
A Guide to Native America

500 nations cover only

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

100 Questions, 500 Nations: A Guide to Native America, originally published by the Native American Journalists Association in 1998, helped inspire the Bias Busters series. It has now been updated, redesigned and republished to reflect developments of the past 25 years. These are a few:

  • DID YOU KNOW? As the title reflects, there are now more than 500 federally recognized Indian nations. The guide includes a list of 566.
  • The tribes are sovereign, a concept that has been in the news in recent stories about Ukraine, Taiwan and the Middle East.
  • Tribal sovereignty is affirmed in treaties, court case law and the U.S. Constitution, but is still the subject of dispute.
  • It is OK to use the term “Indian Country” and many prefer “Indians” to “Native Americans.” Many prefer to identify themselves by their tribal affiliations.
  • Of the estimated 350 Indian languages that once existed, about 200 remain. Navajo has about 80,000 speakers, about 40,000 speak Chippewa and some others, in danger of extinction, have just a handful.
  • Indian casinos had $27.9 billion in revenue in 2012, but most tribes do not have casinos and this is only 8 percent of total gaming revenue in the country. Some Indians oppose gaming; some see it as a traditional activity.
  • Some people oppose the nickname of the Washington Redskins professional football team because, they say, it is on a racial par with the N word.


Other guides in the series

  • 100 Questions and Answers about Indian Americans has been available from Amazon since mid-2013.
  • In 100 Questions and Answers about Americans, we flipped our reporting perspective 180 degrees to produce a book intended for newly arriving students, workers and immigrants—answering the real questions newcomers to these shores commonly have about puzzling aspects of our American culture.
  • 100 Questions and Answers About Arab Americans (Coming in May)

COME TO NAIN in Detroit in August to learn about the next expansion of our project! Want to follow plans for the NAIN conference on Facebook? Here is NAIN Connect.

Mitch Horowitz on the American positive thinking movement

intrigued by Mitch Horowitz’s latest book (published by Crown), One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life? Then, take just 5 minutes and let him explain his thesis to you.

Here is just a little of what he says in this video: “Positive thinking surrounds us. It’s the language that we use in everyday life and it’s the language people use when they’re trying to persuade us of something. And it all comes from one simple idea that bubbled up in American mystical subcultures in the mid 19th century. It was this: Thoughts are causative! When Ronald Reagan, for example, used to say in his speeches, “Nothing is impossible!” that was not the kind of thinking was always used in this country. That was language that came out of the positive thinking movement. When we talk about the importance of having a positive attitude—that way of thinking is new. The notion that you have to be able to foster a diplomatic atmosphere with other people—it seems like it’s always been with us. It hasn’t.”

Click the video screen below for this really intriguing introduction to Mitch’s book. (Don’t see a video screen in your version of this story? Try clicking the headline of this post to re-load it. Or, you also can watch this video directly on YouTube.)

Have you found our interview with Mitch? If you are landing on this video page, first, you’ll also enjoy ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s interview with Mitch this week.



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!


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.


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.)

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

No, that's not the central character in our story today. But looking at real-life boulders like this one helps to tell this story. (Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for these images.)

No, that’s not the central character in our story today. But looking at real-life boulders like this one helps to tell this story. (Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for these images.)

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.

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

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.

Thanks to LD Pedersen for sharing this photo of a huge boulder at the edge of an Iowa corn field. No other comment is needed here.

Thanks to LD Pedersen for sharing this photo of a huge boulder at the edge of an Iowa corn field. No other comment is needed here.

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

United America: Rediscovering Our Common Ground

United America by Dr Wayne Baker 10 Core Values form American Common Ground

CLICK on this graphic to visit the United America resource page, which includes free downloadable charts of the 10 values, plus a new Bible Study Discussion Guide for small groups.

We are excited!

Many readers—just like you—already are pitching in, helping us to spread the hopeful news contained in Dr. Wayne Baker’s United America: The surprising truth about American values, American identity and 10 beliefs that a large majority of Americans hold dear. Today, we’re going to tell you about just one of the communities pitching in: an inspiring grassroots network near Philadelphia that has sprung up in recent years from an idea that started in just one family—among the children in that family!

ALSO NEW TODAY: Dr. Baker’s book is intentionally designed for discussions in any venue, including public school classrooms, libraries, as well as team-building exercises in corporations and non-profits. But, we know many church-based groups are eager to discuss this book. So, today, we are debuting a free downloadable Bible Study Guide to this new book, developed by a top author of Bible study materials.

And, before we take you to our story from the Philadelphia area—

Here’s all you need to know to join in this nationwide movement of people rediscovering our common ground through these core values documented by Dr. Baker at the University of Michigan’s prestigious Institute for Social Research. To help promote a United America, you can …


Click on these photos from Live Civilly to visit the group's website, which uses graphics drawn by children to inspire others to join in many kinds of community-based programs focused on children.

Click on these photos from Live Civilly to visit the group’s website, which uses graphics drawn by children to inspire others to join in many kinds of community-based programs focused on children.

WITHIN DAYS OF PUBLICATION, last week, we got an enthusiastic email from Kahra Buss, who lives in New Jersey not far from Philadelphia with her family and their growing community of volunteers. The good news found in United America—that one of the nation’s top social scientists has documented the surprising breadth of Americans’ common ground—is sparking all kinds of fresh ideas, Kahra said.

“When we received your book we were immediately flooded with a host of ideas about how to incorporate it into our programs and lessons,” Kahra said. “We were so flattered to be included, we couldn’t help but get excited about all of the possibilities!”

Kahra and her family appear in the pages of United America. Their inspiring story is one of many short, real-life stories Dr. Wayne Baker shares with readers in the book to demonstrate the potential of these 10 core values to connect and motivate grassroots programs.

Get the book to read more, but here is the story of the life-changing moment for this family living across the Delaware River from Philadelphia in Moorestown, New Jersey—

The moment came quite unexpectedly one night in 2009 at their church. Kahra Buss, her husband and their three children (aged 2, 4 and 9 at the time) volunteered to help with a local rotating homeless shelter, which housed needy families in various churches for a week at each location. The Buss family brought dinner for the families in the program and then spent the evening with them. The kids—the Buss children and the children in the homeless families—did homework together, played together, read storybooks and quickly formed friendships.

Near bedtime that night, Kahra’s family headed toward the church’s parking lot to drive home. “That’s when Grace, who was 4 at that time, looked around the parking lot and saw that we were the only ones leaving the church. Grace asked, ‘Why aren’t they going home like us?'”

As Kahra vividly recalls that night in the parking lot, “We explained to the girls that these families didn’t have homes. Our girls hadn’t fully understood the idea of homelessness until that moment. It was if someone had completely pulled the rug out from under their world.

“The children in the shelter had just become their friends. Our girls now realized that their new friends were not able to get into a car and head home, climb into bed, hug their favorite stuffed animal and listen to a bedtime story in their own bedrooms.

“This truth hit them far harder than we ever imagined. Grace looked at us and said, ‘We need to do something.'”

My husband and I agreed. “We said, ‘We all need to do something.'”

That word “all” turned out to be the sticking point. “We learned that they were too young to do anything in the existing programs around Moorestown,” Kahra said. “They best we could find was a food bank where they could come with us, mainly to get a tour of the food bank. My husband and I feel very strongly that it is important to give children, at that age, an opportunity to get involved in helping other people. Everyone can do something to help, even children at that age. And, if they start at that age, it becomes a lifelong practice.”

Like most young children, the Buss kids’ first ideas were … well, a little impractical. Grace declared: “We should build a hotel where homeless people can stay.”

Kahra explained to her daughter, “We’ll have to wait a while to try that.” Instead, the children decided to organize a local food drive to restock food pantry shelves. And that idea proved so fruitful that … Well, read Dr. Baker’s book to find out everything else the Living Civilly nonprofit is doing in that corner of New Jersey. Working with children, the Buss family’s nonprofit has expanded to a wide array of creative programs from community gardens to distribution of healthy after-school snacks to innovative peer mentoring programs in which older kids help younger kids with homework.

Everything the Live Civilly nonprofit organizes benefits families, especially focused on children—both in receiving assistance and in providing it!


What does it mean to “pitch in” and to “to join in this nationwide movement of people rediscovering our common ground”? We hope you will share fresh ideas with us. Email us anytime at [email protected] Meanwhile, look at the bullet-point list of options at the top of today’s story.

Here is what Kahra Buss and her nonprofit already are planning to do with Dr. Baker and United America. Perhaps one of their ideas is good for you and your group?

PERSONALIZED EDITIONS OF UNITED AMERICA: Our publishing house can modify group orders of United America, directly shipped to you or your group. Kahra’s group plans to order a box of books personalized for Live Civilly with the group’s logo printed on the book’s cover and a half dozen pages added to the opening of the book (actually bound into the books in that box shipped to them in Moorestown), explaining to readers of those personalized editions more about the story behind Live Civilly. That first box of books will go to long-time supporters of their organization and will serve as an outreach tool to new supporters. Rather than giving supporters a logo-stamped water bottle or other typical promotional gifts, these special copies of United America are an inspiring and motivating keepsake. Interested? Email us anytime at [email protected]

HOSTING DR. BAKER FOR AN EVENT: Reading the good news contained in United America inspires readers, just as it did Kahra Buss this week. As you can read in our first story about the book’s release, Dr. Baker already has tested this book with pilot groups in two cities. We have seen the transformative impact of this book. Kahra Buss is talking with Dr. Baker about planning an event in their part of the country, including a keynote talk by Dr. Baker. Interested? Email us anytime at [email protected]

THIS IS REAL NEWS: Grassroots organizations like Live Civilly always are struggling to raise awareness through regional news media. This is a perennial concern for groups nationwide. Kahra’s organization is raising awareness, right now, through national news about United America. The fact that, today, you have read about Live Civilly is a part of that effort. Together, we all can raise awareness of this important kind of community-building. Got an idea about this? Email us anytime at [email protected]

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

Amish return to PBS with Saloma Furlong in ‘Shunned’

PBS American Experience DVD cover for The Amish Shunned

CLICK this image of the DVD cover to visit its Amazon page.

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