Cover Story: ‘Love, Loss and Endurance’ shows how 9/11 extremism evolved to 1/6—and how we can ‘unplug extremism’

Click this cover image to read the story about Bill Tammeus.

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A Prophetic New Book Helps Us ‘Unplug Extremism’

UNDERSTANDING THE BRIGHT RED LINE FROM 9/11 to 1/6

COVER STORY—The first thing you need to know about author Bill Tammeus’s new book, Love, Loss and Endurance, is that it’s more than a “good read.” This is a prophetic book from one of the nation’s top journalists about how 9/11 extremism, 20 years ago, sprang from the same kinds of extreme, “monochromatic” thinking that produced the attack on the U.S. Capitol on 1/6. At the end of this dramatic story of real-life families, Bill gives us 16 pages of important lessons we can use—as individuals, families, congregations and communities—to “unplug extremism.” Please, read our Cover Story this week, order a copy of Bill’s new book—and share this news with friends.

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Bill Tammeus Is not Alone

OUR PUBLISHING HOUSE is releasing a whole series of books in early 2021 that will make our world a little better place, both in your reading and in the sharing of these stories with others. Read Susan Stitt’s overview of 10 upcoming books that will engage, inspire and provide practical new resources you can use right away. Yes, Bill’s book is the first one Susan covers in her column—then she previews nine more books you’ll want to consider, as well. Need something to lift your spirits in the midst of this dark winter? This lineup of new books is overflowing with hope.

Want to learn about another author in that lineup? Please enjoy the following news item …

A Breakthrough in Inclusion: Jets Hire Saleh

NFL WELCOMES ITS FIRST MUSLIM HEAD COACH

EVEN IN THE WAKE OF 1/6 EXTREMISM, opportunities for inclusion continue to expand in America. Just as we were going to press this week, we got an email from journalist and author Martin Davis—who will publish 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches this spring. He was celebrating the breaking news that Robert Saleh becomes the first Muslim to become a coach in the NFL. In sending along his newsy story, Martin wrote to us: “This column really is about two things: First, America as a nation needs our immigrants—they make us the strong nation that we are. It’s a message we desperately need to be reminded of. Then, second, this column reflects on one of the dominant themes of my book: the role of high school coaches in building communities. You see it in the story of Saleh and Stergalas. You hear it Abe Ahmad’s words.” Please, enjoy this breaking news as a hopeful antidote to all the other somber headlines coming our way this week.

When you do enjoy this column by Martin Davis, you will discover that it ends with a powerful quote from Abe Lincoln. And that’s a great transition to the next news item this week …

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WHAT A FASCINATING PORTRAIT OF COOPERATION! In 2010, President Obama met with the bipartisan co-chairs of  the new national council to reform U.S. financial planning. At left is Democrat Erskine Bowles. In the center is former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson. Above Simpson on the wall of the Oval Office is another famous Republican.

Larry Buxton: Simpson on Integrity

VISIT OUR AUTHOR LARRY BUXTON’S website for a 4-minute Leading with Spirit video about a couple of the values that millions of Americans seem to have forgotten in recent years. And, yes, as indicated in the photo above, Larry recommends some classic wisdom from Alan Simpson. Larry’s videos are easy to share with friends. Perhaps you could share this week’s video with a note on social media: “Remember when Republicans were sources of universal wisdom?”

Duncan Newcomer: Lincoln on Inauguration

DUNCAN’S QUIET FIRE COLUMN reminds us of another Republican sage as he shares Lincoln’s thoughts about the sacred nature of the inauguration and the transfer of power in the United States—certainly a very timely story.

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Learning from Dr. King

‘Anybody Can Serve’

ALL WEEK LONG, Stephanie Fenton writes, let’s remember the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Stephanie not only reminds us of King’s wisdom, she packs her column with newsy links, including: links to volunteer programs where you can serve your community, even if you can’t leave your home, plus resources for children from Scholastic, plus a stirring new documentary MLK/FBI, which is streaming online right now. And, yes, of course Stephanie included that link readers love to the recipe for Dr. King’s favorite sweet potato pie. Please, enjoy this column and share it with friends.

AND—OUR 2021 INTERFAITH CALENDAR

PLAN AHEAD—For the new year, we have a new format, which makes it easier for readers to make connections between great books—and the holidays, milestones and special seasons of the year. It’s easy to find our annual calendar of global observances. Just visit  InterfaithHolidays.com

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Click on this image to read Ed McNulty’s review of the documentary A Thousand Cuts.

FAITH & FILM 

Click on this cover image to find out more about the January 2021 issue of Visual Parables Journal.

ED McNULTY, for decades, has published reviews, magazine articles and books exploring connections between faith and film. Most of his work is freely published. Ed supports his work by selling the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine packed with discussion guides to films. This resource is used coast-to-coast by individuals who love the movies and by educators, clergy and small-group leaders.

Among Ed’s free reviews and columns:

  1. A THOUSAND CUTS—Ed writes, “The fate of Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa is chronicled in Ramona S. Diaz’s engrossing PBS documentary. One of the four “Guardians” (Jamal Khashoggi being another) to be named TIME’s Person of the Year for 2018, she proves to be a fearless and calm advocate for democracy in a land sliding toward dictatorial rule.”
  2. Click this image from the film to read Ed McNulty’s review, which ends with a link to watch this haunting, 7-minute documentary online now.

    A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN—”This short documentary is as chilling as you are likely to see, chronicling a public event taking place in 1939 at NYC’s Madison Square Gardens, and yet strikingly contemporary, because it reminds us that the spirit of fascism lives on. It was nominated for a Short Documentary at the 2019 Oscars.”

  3. ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI—”Actress Regina King’s first feature film is based on scriptwriter Kemp Powers’ 2013 play about the night when Cassius Clay won the World Heavy Weight Boxing title over Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964. I want to say up front that it is a “must see” film, bringing together a number of strands of the systemic racism that I have been urging readers to examine through various films.”
  4. A DANGEROUS LIFEEd begins this week by reaching back to 1988 to recommend a gripping documentary about events surrounding the 1986 Philippine People Power Revolution. His review includes a direct link to watch the entire film on YouTube.
  5. GUN AND A HOTEL BIBLE—Ed writes, “This is a delightful blend of fantasy and religion of which I think the author of The Screwtape Letters would approve. How often have you noticed or paid attention, during your stay overs at a hotel or motel, to one of those black-bound books on a table or in the drawer with stationery and tourist information? Imagine if one of those Bibles could talk about its effect on one of the occupants of the room—and you have this film, based on the play by Bradley Gosnell and Daniel Floren.”
  6. MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM—Ed writes, “In this adaptation of an August Wilson play, Denzel Washington (who in 2016 directed and starred in Fences), remains behind the camera this time as executive producer. But, his Fences co-star Viola Davis is very much front and center as the title character, a real life Blues singer, one of the first Black women to cut a record in the early 20th Century. The film is also outstanding because not only does her co-star Chadwick Boseman rise to her superb level of performance, it will forever be known as his last screen appearance. Even setting aside the film’s social significance, this is a film not to be missed!”
  7. THE LAST CHAMPION—Ed writes, “The Last Champion is truly a family film at both ends, from inception to viewing. Families will enjoy its coming of age aspect, sports thrills, and redemptive arc.
  8. NEWS OF THE WORLD—Ed writes, “Like Unforgiven, Paul Greengrass’ News of the World is an unconventional Western. Oh, there is are sections of violent gun play, but these are secondary to other themes, such as human relationships, the need for belonging, and the importance of “news” for connection to a world larger than our own narrow existence. Adapted by director and Luke Davies from the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, the film provides Tom Hanks with a great opportunity to display his acting ability, an opportunity of which he takes full advantage! It also introduces many of us to a delightful young German actress Helena Zengel.”
  9. THE MAN WITHOUT GRAVITY—”The Man Without Gravity is an Italian magical-realist tale from first-time narrative filmmaker Marco Bonfanti. In the film, he whimsically tells the story of Oscar (Elio Germano) from his incredible birth, through childhood, and ultimate reunion with his childhood sweetheart Agata. This delightful escapist film about an outsider has plenty of flaws but none that ought to spoil your enjoyment.”
  10. THE CROODS: A NEW AGE—”Director Joel Crawford’s film, the second in the series about a Stone Age family, is an amusing tale of culture clash and the need for solidarity. Just as I loved the first film almost seven years ago, The Croods, I recommend this one too. It provides both escapist fare for the whole family and, like the first film, teaches some worthy life lessons.”

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Cover Story: We’re publishing what we all need in 2021—True Stories of Love, Resilience and Healing

Peacemaking in the face of violence

There’s Help and Inspiration on the Way!

YOU CAN PRE-ORDER, RIGHT NOW, SOME REMARKABLE NEW BOOKS. This week, Front Edge Publishing’s Susan Stitt, who works closely with all of our new authors, starts 2021 with a preview of upcoming titles. What amazes us, in light of events last week, is the prophetic timeliness of these books. In 2020, our authors and staff could foresee what Americans would want to read in early 2021—books that inspire hope and share practical paths toward peacemaking—but we had no idea how obvious this need would be to the whole world in early January.

Please, read this Cover Story now. Follow the links to order books that inspire you—or email us with inquiries about upcoming books that aren’t available yet online. Ask us about group orders and discuss these books with friends in your congregation or larger community. And, please, share this cover story with friends via social media. Each step you take to share this news potentially makes the world a little better place.

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World Religion Day

BAHA’IS’ PIONEERING ROLE AS INTERFAITH PEACEMAKERS

SATURDAY, JANUARY 16, 2021—Stephanie Fenton writes, “Take a few moments to consider unity through diversity, joining Baha’is on this, the 70th observation of World Religion Day. Initiated in 1950, World Religion Day follows an essential tenet of the Baha’i religion: the belief that all religions are one, with each prophet or messenger delivering God’s truth for his time and place.”

AND—CHECK OUT OUR 2021 INTERFAITH CALENDAR

PLAN AHEAD—For the new year, we have a new format, which makes it easier for readers to make connections between great books—and the holidays, milestones and special seasons of the year. It’s easy to find our annual calendar of global observances. Just visit  InterfaithHolidays.com

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What We Can Learn from the Power of Time

WE NEVER STOP GROWING … 

THE ANCIENT PSALMIST understood the power of time to reassure and empower us to build healthy communities. Psalm 90 says it clearly: “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” That’s why ReadTheSpirit magazine was launched in 2007 with a commitment to cover religious and cultural holidays and festivals as a part of our weekly issues.

And, over the past week, two major milestones remind us of this timeless truth. First was the death of British director Michael Apted, whose life was chronicled in a New York Times obituary. Among other great films, Apted created the 7Up series, documenting the lives of a group of children throughout their lives—since 1964. The Times calls this “the most profound documentary series in the history of cinema.”

Well, these days all of us can number our days, just as the Psalmist and Apted demonstrated. That’s why, this week, you don’t want to miss author and photographer Rodney Curtis’s tribute to life and love even in the midst of COVID. And, yes, you’ll want to share this with friends.

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The January 2021 issue of Visual Parables Journal is now available. Please click this image from the Journal cover to learn more.

FAITH & FILM 

ED McNULTY, for decades, has published reviews, magazine articles and books exploring connections between faith and film. Most of his work is freely published. Ed supports his work by selling the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine packed with discussion guides to films. This resource is used coast-to-coast by individuals who love the movies and by educators, clergy and small-group leaders.

Among Ed’s free reviews and columns:

  1. A DANGEROUS LIFEEd begins this week by reaching back to 1988 to recommend a gripping documentary about events surrounding the 1986 Philippine People Power Revolution. His review includes a direct link to watch the entire film on YouTube.
  2. GUN AND A HOTEL BIBLE—Ed writes, “This is a delightful blend of fantasy and religion of which I think the author of The Screwtape Letters would approve. How often have you noticed or paid attention, during your stay overs at a hotel or motel, to one of those black-bound books on a table or in the drawer with stationery and tourist information? Imagine if one of those Bibles could talk about its effect on one of the occupants of the room—and you have this film, based on the play by Bradley Gosnell and Daniel Floren.”
  3. MANK—Ed writes, “I love films about filmmaking, and David Fincher’s Mank, centering on Herman J. Mankiewicz the co-writer of Citizen Kane, is no exception. Based on a script by Jack Fincher, the director’s late father, the film has scintillating dialogue that is as delightful to the ear as the repartee in the madcap comedies popular during the period of the story, the mid 30s to 1940. And Erik Messerschmidt’s crisp B&W photography certainly evokes that bygone era.”
    1. RELATED: CITIZEN KANE—As an added bonus, Ed has published a column about Citizen Kane, which is a central part of the Mank movieAnd, there’s much more …
    2. RKO 281—Ed writes, “Even as the NetFlix film Mank gives us more of Herman Mankiewicz’s version of the writing of Citizen Kane, this HBO film gives Orson Welles far more credit for its authorship.
    3. CRADLE WILL ROCK—Because of the interest in Orson Welles raised by Netflix’s Mank, we reach back to the March 2000 issue of Visual Parables for this film in which Welles is an important part of Broadway history.”
    4. THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTHEd also recommends a unique, brief TV production by Welles titled The Fountain of Youth. The program was shown once in 1958 as a pilot that was never picked up by the networks. Nevertheless, it won a prestigious Peabody Award that year and it is now available on YouTube via a link that Ed provides.
  4. MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM—Ed writes, “In this adaptation of an August Wilson play, Denzel Washington (who in 2016 directed and starred in Fences), remains behind the camera this time as executive producer. But, his Fences co-star Viola Davis is very much front and center as the title character, a real life Blues singer, one of the first Black women to cut a record in the early 20th Century. The film is also outstanding because not only does her co-star Chadwick Boseman rise to her superb level of performance, it will forever be known as his last screen appearance. Even setting aside the film’s social significance, this is a film not to be missed!”
  5. THE LAST CHAMPION—Ed writes, “The Last Champion is truly a family film at both ends, from inception to viewing. Families will enjoy its coming of age aspect, sports thrills, and redemptive arc.
  6. NEWS OF THE WORLD—Ed writes, “Like Unforgiven, Paul Greengrass’ News of the World is an unconventional Western. Oh, there is are sections of violent gun play, but these are secondary to other themes, such as human relationships, the need for belonging, and the importance of “news” for connection to a world larger than our own narrow existence. Adapted by director and Luke Davies from the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, the film provides Tom Hanks with a great opportunity to display his acting ability, an opportunity of which he takes full advantage! It also introduces many of us to a delightful young German actress Helena Zengel.”
  7. BEYOND THE WALL—Directed by the late Jenny Phillips and telecast in 2018, this documentary was part of the PBS series America Reframed. This series of well over 100 independent films for several years invited us each week to look at many overlooked aspects of our nation. This episode from the series reveals many of the difficulties that confront newly released prisoners, especially those (a majority) wresting with drug addiction.”
  8. THE MAN WITHOUT GRAVITY—”The Man Without Gravity is an Italian magical-realist tale from first-time narrative filmmaker Marco Bonfanti. In the film, he whimsically tells the story of Oscar (Elio Germano) from his incredible birth, through childhood, and ultimate reunion with his childhood sweetheart Agata. This delightful escapist film about an outsider has plenty of flaws but none that ought to spoil your enjoyment.”
  9. THE CROODS: A NEW AGE—”Director Joel Crawford’s film, the second in the series about a Stone Age family, is an amusing tale of culture clash and the need for solidarity. Just as I loved the first film almost seven years ago, The Croods, I recommend this one too. It provides both escapist fare for the whole family and, like the first film, teaches some worthy life lessons.”
  10. THE BREAD WINNER—”Irish director Nora Twomey, who co-directed the exquisitely beautiful The Secret of Kells, launches out on her own with the gorgeously animated film set in Kabul in 2001 on the cusp of America’s invasion in retaliation for the attack on the Twin Towers. With its theme of the Taliban’s oppression of women, the film will remind some of another similarly themed film, though set in Iran, Persepolis.”

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Cover Story: We invite you to look at the bright potential of 2021 through Holidays & Festivals

SINCE OUR FOUNDING IN 2007, our publishing house has become known around the world for our careful reporting on religious and cultural Holidays & Festivals, the specialty of journalist Stephanie Fenton over the past 13 years. Today, we know there are many calendar apps and websites. Our distinction as a publishing house is that Stephanie is the leading journalist focused on actively reporting about these milestones. That’s important, because dates and times and even the names of these observances vary—as well as the meaning of these observances in various countries and cultures. In her columns, Stephanie explains the fascinating stories behind these events, advises readers on newsy updates—and always provides an array of links to learn more about everything from the history of the holiday to DIY holiday-related crafts and tasty traditional recipes.

NOTE: It’s simple to find these columns. Just go to the master year-long calendar via InterfaithHolidays.com

Twelfth Night, Epiphany & Theophany

Here’s an example of Stephanie’s reporting: She looks at this cluster of festivals that close out the Christian Christmas season and mark other major milestones, including the tradition that several Magi visited the baby Jesus. Enjoy Stephanie’s column. Curious about 12th Night Cake? Want to try one at home? Stephanie’s got a link to a recipe.

A SPECIAL INVITATION AS 2021 DAWNS—

In 2021, we are adding even more value to this master calendar. Front Edge Publishing’s Susan Stitt, who regularly works with our many authors and contributing writers around the world, always keeps an eye out for connections between Holidays & Festivals—and the books we publish. This year, we have invited Susan to collaborate with Stephanie on this calendar listing by adding some natural pairings with our books.

Interested in a particular observance? We may have a book for that! Please, spend a moment looking at the inspiring sweep of the 2021 calendar. Find something on the horizon that you can share with others right now.

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‘One large, sweeping tale we’re lucky enough to share’

YOU’VE SIMPLY GOT TO READ THISIn a short and beautiful tribute, author and photographer Rodney Curtis draws into sharp focus why these ever-moving cycles of seasons matter so much to all of us.

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‘Gratitude. A Guiding Principle for 2021’

THEN WATCH LARRY BUXTON’S LATEST VIDEOAfter Rodney’s very short, illustrated story, click here to visit Larry Buxton’s weekly video on Leading with Spirit. These are very brief meditations you can watch each week by a master counselor and storyteller (just sign up for a free email reminder while you’re at Larry’s website). In this case, Larry talks about the same value that Rodney Curtis names as crucial to finding hope as a new year dawns: Gratitude.

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‘Shaping the Lives of Thousands of Young Men and Women’

OUR WHOLE TEAM IS GRATEFUL FOR … As 2021 begins, Front Edge Publishing is pleased to announce that we will publish the final Introducing Christian Ethics lectures by Dr. David P. Gushee, who is known around the world as a leading Christian scholar and ethicist. Through decades of teaching Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, Dr. Gushee has shaped the lives of thousands of young men and women as they begin to grapple with morality in ministry and their chosen professions. Read the whole story here.

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SPECIAL FOCUS ON ORSON WELLES THIS WEEK: If you are intrigued by Netflix’s new biographical drama Mank, our faith-and-film writer Ed McNulty serves up a series of other video recommendations related to Orson Welles. This image is from the HBO film RKO 281.

FAITH & FILM 

ED McNULTY, for decades, has published reviews, magazine articles and books exploring connections between faith and film. Most of his work is freely published. Ed supports his work by selling the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine packed with discussion guides to films. This resource is used coast-to-coast by individuals who love the movies and by educators, clergy and small-group leaders.

Among Ed’s free reviews and columns:

  1. MANK—Ed writes, “I love films about filmmaking, and David Fincher’s Mank, centering on Herman J. Mankiewicz the co-writer of Citizen Kane, is no exception. Based on a script by Jack Fincher, the director’s late father, the film has scintillating dialogue that is as delightful to the ear as the repartee in the madcap comedies popular during the period of the story, the mid 30s to 1940. And Erik Messerschmidt’s crisp B&W photography certainly evokes that bygone era.”
    1. RELATED: CITIZEN KANE—As an added bonus, Ed has published a column about Citizen Kane, which is a central part of the Mank movieAnd, there’s much more …
    2. RKO 281—Ed writes, “Even as the NetFlix film Mank gives us more of Herman Mankiewicz’s version of the writing of Citizen Kane, this HBO film gives Orson Welles far more credit for its authorship.
    3. CRADLE WILL ROCK—Because of the interest in Orson Welles raised by Netflix’s Mank, we reach back to the March 2000 issue of Visual Parables for this film in which Welles is an important part of Broadway history.”
    4. THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTHEd also recommends a unique, brief TV production by Welles titled The Fountain of Youth. The program was shown once in 1958 as a pilot that was never picked up by the networks. Nevertheless, it won a prestigious Peabody Award that year and it is now available on YouTube via a link that Ed provides.
  2. MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM—Ed writes, “In this adaptation of an August Wilson play, Denzel Washington (who in 2016 directed and starred in Fences), remains behind the camera this time as executive producer. But, his Fences co-star Viola Davis is very much front and center as the title character, a real life Blues singer, one of the first Black women to cut a record in the early 20th Century. The film is also outstanding because not only does her co-star Chadwick Boseman rise to her superb level of performance, it will forever be known as his last screen appearance. Even setting aside the film’s social significance, this is a film not to be missed!”
  3. THE LAST CHAMPION—Ed writes, “The Last Champion is truly a family film at both ends, from inception to viewing. Families will enjoy its coming of age aspect, sports thrills, and redemptive arc.
  4. NEWS OF THE WORLD—Ed writes, “Like Unforgiven, Paul Greengrass’ News of the World is an unconventional Western. Oh, there is are sections of violent gun play, but these are secondary to other themes, such as human relationships, the need for belonging, and the importance of “news” for connection to a world larger than our own narrow existence. Adapted by director and Luke Davies from the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, the film provides Tom Hanks with a great opportunity to display his acting ability, an opportunity of which he takes full advantage! It also introduces many of us to a delightful young German actress Helena Zengel.”
  5. BEYOND THE WALL—Directed by the late Jenny Phillips and telecast in 2018, this documentary was part of the PBS series America Reframed. This series of well over 100 independent films for several years invited us each week to look at many overlooked aspects of our nation. This episode from the series reveals many of the difficulties that confront newly released prisoners, especially those (a majority) wresting with drug addiction.”
  6. THE MAN WITHOUT GRAVITY—”The Man Without Gravity is an Italian magical-realist tale from first-time narrative filmmaker Marco Bonfanti. In the film, he whimsically tells the story of Oscar (Elio Germano) from his incredible birth, through childhood, and ultimate reunion with his childhood sweetheart Agata. This delightful escapist film about an outsider has plenty of flaws but none that ought to spoil your enjoyment.”
  7. THE CROODS: A NEW AGE—”Director Joel Crawford’s film, the second in the series about a Stone Age family, is an amusing tale of culture clash and the need for solidarity. Just as I loved the first film almost seven years ago, The Croods, I recommend this one too. It provides both escapist fare for the whole family and, like the first film, teaches some worthy life lessons.”
  8. HILLBILLY ELEGY—The film is flawed but not as badly as the critics would have us believe. If for no other reason, you should tune in to Netflix because of the Oscar talk that is already building up around Glenn Close’s portrayal of Vance’s stern but warm-hearted grandmother, whom everyone calls Mamaw.”
  9. THE BREAD WINNER—”Irish director Nora Twomey, who co-directed the exquisitely beautiful The Secret of Kells, launches out on her own with the gorgeously animated film set in Kabul in 2001 on the cusp of America’s invasion in retaliation for the attack on the Twin Towers. With its theme of the Taliban’s oppression of women, the film will remind some of another similarly themed film, though set in Iran, Persepolis.”
  10. FISHING WITH DYNAMITE—Ed writes, “In this documentary, director Paul Wagner clarifies for those of us who are economic dummies the murky subject of capitalism. His film explores the contentious history of American corporate culture. It explores the arguments of two influential theories—stakeholder vs shareholder capitalism. And it does so in an amusing and entertaining way.”

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A Dozen Doses of Hope: Our 12 most popular cover stories of 2020

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Good Media Builds Healthy Communities‘ is Our Motto and Promise

AS 2020 DRAWS TO A CLOSE …

THIS DARK AND DEADLY YEAR WAS TRAGIC—but it also inspired countless men and women to shine hopeful lights in our world. Since our founding in 2007, our publishing house team has released a new lineup of ReadTheSpirit magazine stories every week—700 issues in all! To close out 2020, here are the 12 most popular Cover Stories among our last 52 issues. This ranking is based on the readership numbers of our 2020 stories as well as the levels of follow-up contacts we’ve had with readers, colleagues and friends around the world as a result of these stories.

12. Celebrating Our Religious Diversity

In 2020, MSU JOURNALISM STUDENTS, known as “THE BIAS BUSTERS,” launched their 18th guide to cross-cultural awareness—focusing on the uniquely American religious movement, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our Cover Story explained why the MSU team chose the LDS church for their latest book—and why understanding religious minorities is crucial in bringing Americans back together, again. One inspiring comment you’ll find in this Cover Story comes from an LDS member who reflects on the pain of the myths and stereotypes so many Americans hurl around in everyday conversations. “When our hyper-focusing on differences causes us to lose sight of our common humanity—and we treat people as less than human because they’re not like us—we betray the ‘better angels of our nature.’ The world is less full of love, joy and peace. Everyone suffers when one suffers.”

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11. Free Resources on Diversity

NATHAN ALBERT IS JUST ONE OF OUR AUTHORS who devoted extra effort during the COVID pandemic to helping readers learn more about diversity—and invite friends along for a discussion. We asked Nathan to write this Cover Story because, as he explains, “I am finding myself in the media spotlight again, as an associate chaplain at the University of Lynchburg in Virginia, because Religion News Service staff writer Aysha Kahn featured me prominently in a story about innovative approaches to ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The headline on that RNS story showed up on social media and other websites far and wide.” Our Cover Story featured a link to the RNS story, plus we invited Nathan to introduce the other free resources he is offering including a podcast about spiritual practices that has proven to be especially appropriate in the midst of COVID isolation.

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10. Raised in War—Her Vocation Was Peace

In 2020, THE WORLD LOST MOTOKO HUTHWAITE, who lived such a unique life that The New York Times devoted an extensive obituary, saluting her life as an “Art Preserver.” That’s because Motoko served, after the war, in the now-famous corps of Monuments Men and Monuments Women, specializing in recovering and restoring looted cultural treasures. She worked in the Pacific theater with the team and eventually was the last surviving member of the Monuments Women, who had numbered 27. The opening sentences in the brief memoir she wrote for our book Friendship and Faith are as gripping as any lines we’ve ever published: “When the sirens went off again, we all went and sat in the air raid shelter expecting to die there. There was no stopping the atomic bombs if they hit.” As a result of living through World War II as a Japanese-American—living both in the U.S. and Japan during the war—Motoko developed a deep commitment to peacemaking that spanned the rest of her life. Please, enjoy this Cover Story and share it with friends.

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09. A Peacemaker’s Holiday Story

HOWARD BROWN’S LONG COMMITMENT TO PEACEMAKING is part of the upcoming 2021 memoir, Shining Brightly, a book that certainly will embody this theme that everyone can shine hope-filled light in the world. For the Jewish High Holy Days in the autumn of 2020, Howard wrote a true story that has been shared and re-shared around the world. The headline was, At Rosh Hashanah 5781, remembering a shofar that a Muslim friend carried half way around the world. Howard also is a two-time survivor of stage-four cancer and another major part of his life is helping to support individuals and families struggling with cancer. A week after his Rosh Hashanah column, Howard wrote another widely shared column about the bittersweet moment at Yom Kippur in which people solemnly reflect on the meaning of the life they have been given by God. The headline was, The timeless question: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ These are columns we know readers will continue to share for a long time.

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08. ‘Blue Nuns’ and Green Living

THIS NOSTALGIC PHOTO summons deep memories for millions of Americans who were taught by nuns. But make no mistake. Patricia Montemurri’s new book about one of the most influential religious orders to serve American families makes it clear that these sisters—brilliant pioneers in many fields—are now a global model for Green living. Yes, their numbers have dwindled—and their ages have risen—but a few women still are joining the order. Most importantly, even as they have aged, these pioneers have focused their ministry on what they can control. That includes a multi-million-dollar transformation of their enormous Motherhouse in Michigan into a global model of green systems. This Cover Story proved popular with readers, in part, because these sisters’ legacy is truly global. They taught an estimated 700,000 people in more than 100 Catholic schools in the Detroit-area, across Michigan and several other states as well as overseas.

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07. ‘Unstuck’

WE COULD NOT HAVE PLANNED A MORE APPROPRIATE BOOK FOR 2020-21! How can overwhelmed leaders hope to cope with a pandemic? One of the nation’s top business consultants—Craig Lemasters of GXG in Atlanta—is sharing his answers to that question. His book Unstuck was underway before any of us had heard the term “coronavirus”—but Craig’s long experience with global disruption had taught him that catastrophic upheavals are inevitable. From hurricanes to technological transformations that can devastate entire industries, Craig has seen tidal waves of change move faster and faster. In Atlanta, his team helps Fortune 500 executives grapple with such seemingly insurmountable challenges every day.

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06. ‘What Can We Do Now?’

SEVERAL OF OUR MOST WIDELY SHARED COVER STORIES IN 2020 focused on racial injustices from many different perspectives. Among the most influential was a two-part Cover Story by Dr. Anni Reinking. She is a researcher and educational consultant with a specialty on the racial dynamics shaping the lives of children and families. Part 1 was: What Now? Dr. Anni Reinking reminds us it’s ‘Not Just Black and White.’ This column—which includes helpful links to other scholars as well—explains the long legacy of America’s “breathing racism.” Anni also explains the problem black families encounter when their children suddenly face an unfair “adultification” by authority figures, including police. Part 2 was: Dr. Anni Reinking on ‘What can I do now? In this second column, Anni responds directly to the question so many men and women are asking today: “What can I do now?” She doesn’t claim to have the only “right” answers. Rather, she describes tried-and-true approaches she is taking with her own family, friends, co-workers and her students.

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05. ‘Becoming Brave’

‘BECOMING BRAVE—FINDING THE COURAGE TO RESIST RACIAL INJUSTICE NOW’ was one of the most influential books we recommended in our 52 Cover Stories this year. The author of that book is the Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil who directs the Reconciliation Studies program in the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University, preparing students to engage the culture around them as Christian reconcilers. Her new book, Becoming Brave, is a call to action for people in congregations who want to get more involved in the work of changing America. At various points in the new book: McNeil talks to us as a teacher; sometimes she preaches a little bit; occasionally she tells compelling stories of real people she has encountered—and her entire narrative is interwoven with the life of Esther. Esther is the courageous queen in the Bible who risked her life to protect people targeted with genocide under the reign of a Persian king.
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04. ‘Beyond Hashtag Activism’

MAE ELISE CANNON GAVE US A CRASH COURSE ON FAITH AND JUSTICE in 2020 with her new book Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age. Cannon is a leading Christian expert on sorting out the often-confusing impulses of our hearts. In our Cover Story, we called her “a Christian ethical organizer.” Her encyclopedic new handbook covers lots of life-and-death topics, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the #MeToo movement and the rights of LGBTQ people. Her book is as timely as today’s front-page news. PLUS stay tuned in in 2021,because our online magazine plans to collaborate with Cannon—and some of her colleagues—on a series of occasional columns about spiritual wisdom from the ancient Christian churches of the Middle East. When those stories begin appearing in late January, you’ll definitely want to share them with friends.

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03. ’30 Days with King David’

AND SPEAKING OF ANCIENT SPIRITUAL WISDOM—pastor, Bible scholar and leadership coach Larry Buxton launched 30 Days with King David—on Leadership. King David is both a world-class hero for defeating Goliath and also a beloved writer of Psalms that millions of us remember in daily prayer and Bible readings. What was must remarkable about the launch of this book was its bipartisan support in a year when it seemed that Democrats and Republicans could not agree about anything. The proof of the bipartisan appeal of this new book is in its opening pages. Take a look at our Cover Story on King David that featured links to the Foreword written by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and the Preface written by Republican leader Andrew Card.

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02. A Pot of Soup Across 4,300 Miles

ONE OF OUR MOST UNUSUAL COVER STORIES IN 2020 involved two journalists and their families who live half way around the world from each other! We posed the question: Can something as simple as a pot of soup help us to reconnect, even the midst of this global pandemic? Two regular contributors to our online magazine are Elisa Di Bendetto and Martin Davis—who are physically separated by 4,300 miles. She is based in Italy; he’s near Washington D.C. They became friends through the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) and have visited in person over the years at IARJ events. As spring turned to summer in 2020, they both were reminded via email and social media that their thoughts were turning toward their mutual love of cooking with fresh ingredients, especially the first crop of summer vegetables. In this cover story, they came together to talk about an Italian classic—minestrone—plus they are sharing colorful photos as well as their personal recipes.

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01. ‘Reuniting the Children of Abraham’

THE No. 1 MOST INFLUENTIAL COVER STORY in 2020 was published in January. More than 100 Girl Scouts from across Michigan gathered at the internationally renowned Detroit Institute of Arts for a one-day challenge to explore the many religious themes in the DIA’s collection. This elaborately planned day of cross-cultural discovery was part of the 2020 redesign and relaunch of Brenda Rosenberg’s innovative Children of Abraham peacemaking project. We reported on this unique day of adventure—as well as new friendships that were sparked across racial, cultural and religious lines—during the various opportunities within the multimedia program. With the publication of this book, Brenda’s program now is a national model for building multi-generational interfaith relationships that you can easily share with friends, discuss in your small group—and consider adapting for your region.

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Holidays & Festivals

Kwanzaa

STARTING SATURDAY, DECEMBER 26—Gather in the name of unity and learn the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Each year, Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga publishes an annual message. Now in his late 70s, these messages are heart-felt appeals to rediscovering and reclaiming African values that can contribute to the wellbeing of the whole world. Stephanie Fenton’s column quotes last year’s message—and has the link where you can find Karenga’s 2020 message, when it is published.

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Books Make Great Holiday Gifts

More of Us Are Reading Right Now

IN OUR FRONT EDGE PUBLISHING COLUMN, Susan Stitt explains why 2020 has been very busy despite the pandemic. Our books are our way of making the world a little better place. Susan Stitt looks at this year’s colorful array of books—which make perfect holiday gifts.

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Care to see all of our Holidays & Festivals columns? It’s easy to find our annual calendar of global observances. Just remember the address InterfaithHolidays.com

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SPECIAL HOLIDAY OFFER! To celebrate a decade of Ed McNulty’s involvement with ReadTheSpirit magazine, we are offering a half-price annual subscription to Ed’s premium content, his Visual Parables Journal. These monthly PDF-format magazines are packed with complete discussion guides for lots of films, both current and classic. It’s great for individual reflection and small-group discussion. Clicking on this image takes you to the Visual Parables Journal page where you can scroll down to the red-colored section and learn more about this special offer, now through December 31.

FAITH & FILM 

Click on this image to learn more about the December 2020 issue of Visual Parables Journal.

ED McNULTY, for decades, has published reviews, magazine articles and books exploring connections between faith and film. Most of his work is freely published. Ed supports his work by selling the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine packed with discussion guides to films. This resource is used coast-to-coast by individuals who love the movies and by educators, clergy and small-group leaders.

Among Ed’s free reviews and columns:

  1. MANK—Ed writes, “I love films about filmmaking, and David Fincher’s Mank, centering on Herman J. Mankiewicz the co-writer of Citizen Kane, is no exception. Based on a script by Jack Fincher, the director’s late father, the film has scintillating dialogue that is as delightful to the ear as the repartee in the madcap comedies popular during the period of the story, the mid 30s to 1940. And Erik Messerschmidt’s crisp B&W photography certainly evokes that bygone era.” As a added bonus, Ed also has published a column about Citizen Kane, which is central to the Mank movie.
  2. MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM—Ed writes, “In this adaptation of an August Wilson play, Denzel Washington (who in 2016 directed and starred in Fences), remains behind the camera this time as executive producer. But, his Fences co-star Viola Davis is very much front and center as the title character, a real life Blues singer, one of the first Black women to cut a record in the early 20th Century. The film is also outstanding because not only does her co-star Chadwick Boseman rise to her superb level of performance, it will forever be known as his last screen appearance. Even setting aside the film’s social significance, this is a film not to be missed!”
  3. THE LAST CHAMPION—Ed writes, “The Last Champion is truly a family film at both ends, from inception to viewing. Families will enjoy its coming of age aspect, sports thrills, and redemptive arc.
  4. NEWS OF THE WORLD—Ed writes, “Like Unforgiven, Paul Greengrass’ News of the World is an unconventional Western. Oh, there is are sections of violent gun play, but these are secondary to other themes, such as human relationships, the need for belonging, and the importance of “news” for connection to a world larger than our own narrow existence. Adapted by director and Luke Davies from the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, the film provides Tom Hanks with a great opportunity to display his acting ability, an opportunity of which he takes full advantage! It also introduces many of us to a delightful young German actress Helena Zengel.”
  5. BEYOND THE WALL—Directed by the late Jenny Phillips and telecast in 2018, this documentary was part of the PBS series America Reframed. This series of well over 100 independent films for several years invited us each week to look at many overlooked aspects of our nation. This episode from the series reveals many of the difficulties that confront newly released prisoners, especially those (a majority) wresting with drug addiction.”
  6. THE MAN WITHOUT GRAVITY—”The Man Without Gravity is an Italian magical-realist tale from first-time narrative filmmaker Marco Bonfanti. In the film, he whimsically tells the story of Oscar (Elio Germano) from his incredible birth, through childhood, and ultimate reunion with his childhood sweetheart Agata. This delightful escapist film about an outsider has plenty of flaws but none that ought to spoil your enjoyment.”
  7. THE CROODS: A NEW AGE—”Director Joel Crawford’s film, the second in the series about a Stone Age family, is an amusing tale of culture clash and the need for solidarity. Just as I loved the first film almost seven years ago, The Croods, I recommend this one too. It provides both escapist fare for the whole family and, like the first film, teaches some worthy life lessons.”
  8. HILLBILLY ELEGY—The film is flawed but not as badly as the critics would have us believe. If for no other reason, you should tune in to Netflix because of the Oscar talk that is already building up around Glenn Close’s portrayal of Vance’s stern but warm-hearted grandmother, whom everyone calls Mamaw.”
  9. THE BREAD WINNER—”Irish director Nora Twomey, who co-directed the exquisitely beautiful The Secret of Kells, launches out on her own with the gorgeously animated film set in Kabul in 2001 on the cusp of America’s invasion in retaliation for the attack on the Twin Towers. With its theme of the Taliban’s oppression of women, the film will remind some of another similarly themed film, though set in Iran, Persepolis.”
  10. FISHING WITH DYNAMITE—Ed writes, “In this documentary, director Paul Wagner clarifies for those of us who are economic dummies the murky subject of capitalism. His film explores the contentious history of American corporate culture. It explores the arguments of two influential theories—stakeholder vs shareholder capitalism. And it does so in an amusing and entertaining way.”

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What’s Christmas all about? The wisdom of Linus, Everett Dague and 1 in 4 Americans

‘Isn’t there anyone who knows?’

Fifty-five years ago, during a problem-plagued Christmas pageant, Charlie Brown shouted in exasperation: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Today, A Charlie Brown Christmas is recognized as an innovative masterpiece. That’s despite the fact that, today, America is more secular than ever. An ever-growing number of Americans—it’s now about 1 in 4 of us—say they have no religious affiliation.

So, where do we find meaning in this global celebration of Christmas? Our Cover Story this week was written by author, journalist and contributing columnist Martin Davis, who specializes in reporting stories about the millions of spiritual-but-not-religious people. In this Cover Story, he introduces us to a group of friends who revive Luke’s classic story each December because of the deep truths anyone can find in this ancient story. Please, enjoy this story and share it with friends.

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What’s Christmas all about?
Stephanie Fenton knows, too.

HOLIDAYS & FESTIVALS EXPERT STEPHANIE FENTON has the story about Christmas 2020, including drive-up Christmas services and a heart-felt echo of a Judy Garland classic. There’s a lot of news—and some helpful links here—so please share this with friends.

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And, finally: ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Abe Lincoln

LINCOLN SCHOLAR DUNCAN NEWCOMER wraps up a year of columns on the spirituality of Abraham Lincoln with a fanciful flight into Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The lives of these two men, Lincoln and Dickens, overlapped and, even though they never met, there was a deep connection between their visions of the world’s most needy—and the call to redemptive justice. Please, enjoy this column and you’ll also find an audio link, this week, to listen to a radio version of this column, if you prefer.

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More Holidays & Festivals

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Yule, Solstice

MONDAY, DECEMBER 21—Since ancient times, the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, this is the winter solstice! Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts. Stephanie Fenton has the story—including links to great recipes and other festive ideas.

.

Kwanzaa

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 26—Gather in the name of unity and learn the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Each year, Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga publishes an annual message. Now in his late 70s, these messages are heart-felt appeals to rediscovering and reclaiming African values that can contribute to the wellbeing of the whole world. Stephanie Fenton’s column quotes last year’s message—and has the link where you can find Karenga’s 2020 message, when it is published.

..

Books Make Great Holiday Gifts

More of Us Are Reading Right Now

IN OUR FRONT EDGE PUBLISHING COLUMN, Susan Stitt explains why 2020 has been very busy despite the pandemic. Our books are our way of making the world a little better place. Susan Stitt looks at this year’s colorful array of books—which make perfect holiday gifts.

.

Care to see all of our Holidays & Festivals columns? It’s easy to find our annual calendar of global observances. Just remember the address InterfaithHolidays.com

.

.

.

SPECIAL HOLIDAY OFFER! To celebrate a decade of Ed McNulty’s involvement with ReadTheSpirit magazine, we are offering a half-price annual subscription to Ed’s premium content, his Visual Parables Journal. These monthly PDF-format magazines are packed with complete discussion guides for lots of films, both current and classic. It’s great for individual reflection and small-group discussion. Clicking on this image takes you to the Visual Parables Journal page where you can scroll down to the red-colored section and learn more about this special offer, now through December 31.

FAITH & FILM 

Click on this image to learn more about the December 2020 issue of Visual Parables Journal.

ED McNULTY, for decades, has published reviews, magazine articles and books exploring connections between faith and film. Most of his work is freely published. Ed supports his work by selling the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine packed with discussion guides to films. This resource is used coast-to-coast by individuals who love the movies and by educators, clergy and small-group leaders.

Among Ed’s free reviews and columns:

  1. THE LAST CHAMPION—Ed writes, “The Last Champion is truly a family film at both ends, from inception to viewing. Families will enjoy its coming of age aspect, sports thrills, and redemptive arc.
  2. NEWS OF THE WORLD—Ed writes, “Like Unforgiven, Paul Greengrass’ News of the World is an unconventional Western. Oh, there is are sections of violent gun play, but these are secondary to other themes, such as human relationships, the need for belonging, and the importance of “news” for connection to a world larger than our own narrow existence. Adapted by director and Luke Davies from the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, the film provides Tom Hanks with a great opportunity to display his acting ability, an opportunity of which he takes full advantage! It also introduces many of us to a delightful young German actress Helena Zengel.”
  3. BEYOND THE WALL—Directed by the late Jenny Phillips and telecast in 2018, this documentary was part of the PBS series America Reframed. This series of well over 100 independent films for several years invited us each week to look at many overlooked aspects of our nation. This episode from the series reveals many of the difficulties that confront newly released prisoners, especially those (a majority) wresting with drug addiction.”
  4. THE MAN WITHOUT GRAVITY—”The Man Without Gravity is an Italian magical-realist tale from first-time narrative filmmaker Marco Bonfanti. In the film, he whimsically tells the story of Oscar (Elio Germano) from his incredible birth, through childhood, and ultimate reunion with his childhood sweetheart Agata. This delightful escapist film about an outsider has plenty of flaws but none that ought to spoil your enjoyment.”
  5. THE CROODS: A NEW AGE—”Director Joel Crawford’s film, the second in the series about a Stone Age family, is an amusing tale of culture clash and the need for solidarity. Just as I loved the first film almost seven years ago, The Croods, I recommend this one too. It provides both escapist fare for the whole family and, like the first film, teaches some worthy life lessons.”
  6. HILLBILLY ELEGY—The film is flawed but not as badly as the critics would have us believe. If for no other reason, you should tune in to Netflix because of the Oscar talk that is already building up around Glenn Close’s portrayal of Vance’s stern but warm-hearted grandmother, whom everyone calls Mamaw.”
  7. THE BREAD WINNER—”Irish director Nora Twomey, who co-directed the exquisitely beautiful The Secret of Kells, launches out on her own with the gorgeously animated film set in Kabul in 2001 on the cusp of America’s invasion in retaliation for the attack on the Twin Towers. With its theme of the Taliban’s oppression of women, the film will remind some of another similarly themed film, though set in Iran, Persepolis.”
  8. FISHING WITH DYNAMITE—Ed writes, “In this documentary, director Paul Wagner clarifies for those of us who are economic dummies the murky subject of capitalism. His film explores the contentious history of American corporate culture. It explores the arguments of two influential theories—stakeholder vs shareholder capitalism. And it does so in an amusing and entertaining way.”
  9. THE 12th MANNorway, 1943: After a failed anti-Nazi sabotage mission leaves his eleven comrades dead, Norwegian resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) finds himself on the run from the Gestapo through the snowbound Arctic reaches of Scandinavia.
  10. THE LIFE AHEAD—”Even were it only half as good, this remake of the Romain Gary novel that became the Oscar-winning 1977 French drama, Madame Rosa, would be noteworthy because of its star and director: Sophie Loren and her son Edoardo Ponti.”
  11. FUNANCambodia, April 1975. Chou is a young woman whose everyday world is suddenly upended by the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime. During the chaos of the forced exile from their home, Chou and her husband are separated from their 4-year-old son, who has been sent to an unknown location.

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Cover Story: ‘Hopes and Fears,’ a Shared History of Summoning Spiritual Strength

‘The Hopes and Fears of All the Years …’

3 Writers Remind Us of 3 Turning Points—

1.) Duncan Newcomer: ‘Civil War Christmas’

LINCOLN SCHOLAR DUNCAN NEWCOMER reminds us that Christmas 2020 is not the first time Americans were deeply anxious about our collective future. In fact, in the midst of the darkest days of the Civil War, Lincoln himself told Congress that pushing on toward freedom was “the last best hope of earth.” Please, read Duncan’s column—and all of our columns this week—and share them with friends to strengthen and inspire their spirits in this darkest season of the year.

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2.) Benjamin Pratt: ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’

FOR 152 YEARS, Philips Brook’s “simple little carol” has been a Christian call to summon spiritual strength in the midst of ‘hopes and fears.’ In this Christmas letter to readers—called “Love Is a Verb”—our author Benjamin Pratt explains why this wisdom is such a central part of the Christian faith.

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3.) Bill Tammeus: 9/11 and ‘Faith that Keeps Me Going’

THE NEW YEAR 2021 is the 20th anniversary of one of the darkest hours in American history—the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. Early in the new year, popular journalist and author Bill Tammeus is launching his powerful memoir and reflection on the dangers of extremism: Love, Loss and Endurance. In this column, posted to Bill’s personal blog, he writes about his own search for “faith that keeps me going.”

And, stay tuned! A full cover story about this wise and inspiring book is coming to ReadTheSpirit in mid-January.

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Holidays & Festivals

Hanukkah

RUNS THROUGH DECEMBER 18—Many world holiday traditions are being severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but Hanukkah may be an exception—after all, much of the rituals are performed at home! While most synagogues will not be open for in-person services, families can still gather around a menorah, fry latkes in the kitchen and play a festive game of dreidel. Stephanie Fenton has the story.

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Yule, Solstice

MONDAY, DECEMBER 21—Since ancient times, the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, this is the winter solstice! Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts. Stephanie Fenton has the story—including links to great recipes and other festive ideas.

 

Books Make Great Holiday Gifts

More of Us Are Reading Right Now

IN OUR FRONT EDGE PUBLISHING COLUMN, Susan Stitt explains why 2020 has been very busy despite the pandemic. Our books are our way of making the world a little better place. Susan Stitt looks at this year’s colorful array of books—which make perfect holiday gifts.

.

Care to see all of our Holidays & Festivals columns? It’s easy to find our annual calendar of global observances. Just remember the address InterfaithHolidays.com

.

.

.

SPECIAL HOLIDAY OFFER! To celebrate a decade of Ed McNulty’s involvement with ReadTheSpirit magazine, we are offering a half-price annual subscription to Ed’s premium content, his Visual Parables Journal. These monthly PDF-format magazines are packed with complete discussion guides for lots of films, both current and classic. It’s great for individual reflection and small-group discussion. Clicking on this image takes you to the Visual Parables Journal page where you can scroll down to the red-colored section and learn more about this special offer, now through December 31.

FAITH & FILM 

Click on this image to learn more about the December 2020 issue of Visual Parables Journal.

ED McNULTY, for decades, has published reviews, magazine articles and books exploring connections between faith and film. Most of his work is freely published. Ed supports his work by selling the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine packed with discussion guides to films. This resource is used coast-to-coast by individuals who love the movies and by educators, clergy and small-group leaders.

Among Ed’s free reviews and columns:

  1. THE LAST CHAPION—Ed writes, “The Last Champion is truly a family film at both ends, from inception to viewing. Families will enjoy its coming of age aspect, sports thrills, and redemptive arc.
  2. BEYOND THE WALL—Ed writes, “Directed by the late Jenny Phillips and telecast in 2018, this documentary was part of the PBS series America Reframed. This series of well over 100 independent films for several years invited us each week to look at many overlooked aspects of our nation. This episode from the series reveals many of the difficulties that confront newly released prisoners, especially those (a majority) wresting with drug addiction.”
  3. THE MAN WITHOUT GRAVITY—”The Man Without Gravity is an Italian magical-realist tale from first-time narrative filmmaker Marco Bonfanti. In the film, he whimsically tells the story of Oscar (Elio Germano) from his incredible birth, through childhood, and ultimate reunion with his childhood sweetheart Agata. This delightful escapist film about an outsider has plenty of flaws but none that ought to spoil your enjoyment.”
  4. THE CROODS: A NEW AGE—”Director Joel Crawford’s film, the second in the series about a Stone Age family, is an amusing tale of culture clash and the need for solidarity. Just as I loved the first film almost seven years ago, The Croods, I recommend this one too. It provides both escapist fare for the whole family and, like the first film, teaches some worthy life lessons.”
  5. HILLBILLY ELEGY—The film is flawed but not as badly as the critics would have us believe. If for no other reason, you should tune in to Netflix because of the Oscar talk that is already building up around Glenn Close’s portrayal of Vance’s stern but warm-hearted grandmother, whom everyone calls Mamaw.”
  6. THE BREAD WINNER—”Irish director Nora Twomey, who co-directed the exquisitely beautiful The Secret of Kells, launches out on her own with the gorgeously animated film set in Kabul in 2001 on the cusp of America’s invasion in retaliation for the attack on the Twin Towers. With its theme of the Taliban’s oppression of women, the film will remind some of another similarly themed film, though set in Iran, Persepolis.”
  7. FISHING WITH DYNAMITE—Ed writes, “In this documentary, director Paul Wagner clarifies for those of us who are economic dummies the murky subject of capitalism. His film explores the contentious history of American corporate culture. It explores the arguments of two influential theories—stakeholder vs shareholder capitalism. And it does so in an amusing and entertaining way.”
  8. THE 12th MANNorway, 1943: After a failed anti-Nazi sabotage mission leaves his eleven comrades dead, Norwegian resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) finds himself on the run from the Gestapo through the snowbound Arctic reaches of Scandinavia.
  9. THE LIFE AHEAD—”Even were it only half as good, this remake of the Romain Gary novel that became the Oscar-winning 1977 French drama, Madame Rosa, would be noteworthy because of its star and director: Sophie Loren and her son Edoardo Ponti.”
  10. FUNANCambodia, April 1975. Chou is a young woman whose everyday world is suddenly upended by the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime. During the chaos of the forced exile from their home, Chou and her husband are separated from their 4-year-old son, who has been sent to an unknown location.

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Cover Story: In nearly a century of living, here’s what my mother taught me about light and darkness

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What power do we hold in the face of death?
We tell the stories.

As we near the end of 2020, our entire publishing house team—including our worldwide community of authors and contributing columnists—is attuned to the losses so many families have suffered this year. We cannot even begin to call out all the names even within our own circle. Just one example: We are proud to be an active part of Agencies United for Healthy Aging, a network of nonprofits with which we are producing an upcoming book to help families cope with the challenges of aging. That coalition of tireless public servants, collectively, has lost many friends and loved ones to COVID this year in Detroit. And, another example from half a world away: We work regularly with Algeria-based journalist Larbi Megari, who also contributed to a chapter in the healthy aging book. This year, Larbi is mourning the loss of multiple family members.

While there is no way to list all the individual losses this year—we are far from powerless in the face of death. Because we are journalists, writers, editors and publishers, we tell stories. We shape the memories by which the world will remember these lives. This is a timeless human instinct, of course, and an ancient truth within the world’s great religious traditions. At a time of loss, we share stories within our circles of family and friends.

We need to continue using that power of naming what names we can, of forming our collective narratives and of shaping our communal legacy. That is why, this week, we are pausing in our regular schedule of weekly ReadTheSpirit magazine Cover Stories to set an example and remember just a few of the lives lost in 2020. In some cases, across our community, lives were lost to COVID. Some were lost to other conditions, including cancer and heart failure. Whatever triggered each death, the losses are real, the grief is long-lasting and the need to share stories will span our lifetimes.

In short: As storytellers, this is why we do what we do.

Our Litany of the Saints

So, to encourage everyone to tell and share stories about their own loved ones, here is our modest starting point on a 2020 Litany of the Saints.

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And We Also Want to Share …
Some Joyous News as Well 

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Najah Bazzy: A ‘Michiganian of the Year’

TURN CELEBRATION TO CHARITY—Our whole team at the publishing house continues to celebrate with our author Najah Bazzy and the staff of her Zaman International, as journalists nationwide keep shining spotlights on the work Zaman does to help at-risk families. We’re joyous about these spotlight honors, not just because Najah and her Zaman staff deserve high praise—but because each new story and honor connects with more potential donors and supporters. Please, read the latest news story about their work, courtesy of The Detroit News staff who just named her one of their “Michiganians of the Year”—and consider whether you might want to visit the Zaman International website at https://www.zamaninternational.org/ and make a year-end gift yourself.

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Rodney Curtis: A Soupçon of Sausage Silliness

‘THE SAUSAGE THIEF’—That’s what writer and photographer Rodney Curtis calls this silly little column. Read it carefully and you’ll discover it’s a soupçon of real life that could befall any of us in the midst of seasonal stress as we try to navigate COVID-world shopping.

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Holidays & Festivals

Bodhi Day (Rohatsu)

LIGHTS SHINING FROM BUDDHIST COMMUNITIES—This month brings a season of light for several world religions, and as Christians light candles for Advent and Jews light candles on the menorah, Buddhists celebrate light with a holiday known as Bodhi Day (or, in Zen Buddhism, Rohatsu). Stephanie Fenton has the story.

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Hanukkah

SUNSET THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10—Many world holiday traditions are being severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but Hanukkah may be an exception—after all, much of the rituals are performed at home! While most synagogues will not be open for in-person services, families can still gather around a menorah, fry latkes in the kitchen and play a festive game of dreidel. Stephanie Fenton has the story.

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Books Make Great Holiday Gifts

More of Us Are Reading Right Now

IN OUR FRONT EDGE PUBLISHING COLUMN, Susan Stitt explains why 2020 has been very busy despite the pandemic. Our books are our way of making the world a little better place. Susan Stitt looks at this year’s colorful array of books—which make perfect holiday gifts.

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Care to see all of our Holidays & Festivals columns? It’s easy to find our annual calendar of global observances. Just remember the address InterfaithHolidays.com

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SPECIAL HOLIDAY OFFER! To celebrate a decade of Ed McNulty’s involvement with ReadTheSpirit magazine, we are offering a half-price annual subscription to Ed’s premium content, his Visual Parables Journal. These monthly PDF-format magazines are packed with complete discussion guides for lots of films, both current and classic. It’s great for individual reflection and small-group discussion. Clicking on this image takes you to the Visual Parables Journal page where you can scroll down to the red-colored section and learn more about this special offer, now through December 31.

FAITH & FILM 

Click on this image to learn more about the December 2020 issue of Visual Parables Journal.

ED McNULTY, for decades, has published reviews, magazine articles and books exploring connections between faith and film. Most of his work is freely published. Ed supports his work by selling the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine packed with discussion guides to films. This resource is used coast-to-coast by individuals who love the movies and by educators, clergy and small-group leaders.

Among Ed’s free reviews and columns:

  1. THE MAN WITHOUT GRAVITY—Ed writes, “The Man Without Gravity is an Italian magical-realist tale from first-time narrative filmmaker Marco Bonfanti. In the film, he whimsically tells the story of Oscar (Elio Germano) from his incredible birth, through childhood, and ultimate reunion with his childhood sweetheart Agata. This delightful escapist film about an outsider has plenty of flaws but none that ought to spoil your enjoyment.”
  2. THE CROODS: A NEW AGE—”Director Joel Crawford’s film, the second in the series about a Stone Age family, is an amusing tale of culture clash and the need for solidarity. Just as I loved the first film almost seven years ago, The Croods, I recommend this one too. It provides both escapist fare for the whole family and, like the first film, teaches some worthy life lessons.”
  3. HILLBILLY ELEGY—The film is flawed but not as badly as the critics would have us believe. If for no other reason, you should tune in to Netflix because of the Oscar talk that is already building up around Glenn Close’s portrayal of Vance’s stern but warm-hearted grandmother, whom everyone calls Mamaw.”
  4. THE BREAD WINNER—”Irish director Nora Twomey, who co-directed the exquisitely beautiful The Secret of Kells, launches out on her own with the gorgeously animated film set in Kabul in 2001 on the cusp of America’s invasion in retaliation for the attack on the Twin Towers. With its theme of the Taliban’s oppression of women, the film will remind some of another similarly themed film, though set in Iran, Persepolis.”
  5. FISHING WITH DYNAMITE—Ed writes, “In this documentary, director Paul Wagner clarifies for those of us who are economic dummies the murky subject of capitalism. His film explores the contentious history of American corporate culture. It explores the arguments of two influential theories—stakeholder vs shareholder capitalism. And it does so in an amusing and entertaining way.”
  6. THE 12th MANNorway, 1943: After a failed anti-Nazi sabotage mission leaves his eleven comrades dead, Norwegian resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud (Thomas Gullestad) finds himself on the run from the Gestapo through the snowbound Arctic reaches of Scandinavia.
  7. THE LIFE AHEAD—”Even were it only half as good, this remake of the Romain Gary novel that became the Oscar-winning 1977 French drama, Madame Rosa, would be noteworthy because of its star and director: Sophie Loren and her son Edoardo Ponti.”
  8. FUNANCambodia, April 1975. Chou is a young woman whose everyday world is suddenly upended by the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime. During the chaos of the forced exile from their home, Chou and her husband are separated from their 4-year-old son, who has been sent to an unknown location.
  9. THE GOOD LORD BIRD—Ed writes, “Ethan Hawke has the role of his life as fiery Abolitionist John Brown in this tongue in cheek mini-series that he created and helped produce and write.  We know at the outset that this isn’t pure history when, before the title we read, ‘All of this is true… Most of it happened.’ The ‘true’ part comes from James McBride’s National Book Award-winning novel of the same name, on which the series based.”
  10. LET HIM GO—This is sort of a Gothic horror film for senior citizens, thanks to the goose bump-rising performance of Lesley Manning as the matriarch of a North Dakota family. But writer-director Thomas Bezucha’s adaption of Larry Watson’s 2013 novel does not start there but in neighboring Montana. As all good horror thrillers, it starts on a peaceful note on the ranch of Margaret and George Blackledge (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner).”

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