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.

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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.

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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 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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Cover Story: We’ve never seen times like these. So, we’ve never seen prayers like these.

Cara Gilger Gives Us ’99 Prayers Your Church Needs’

Turning to God in Turbulent Times—and in Celebration

Most of us pray. Researchers tell us that the vast majority of Americans pray. But how do we pray? What do we say? Beyond frequency of prayer, research tells us little about the details.

That’s where the Rev. Cara Gilger lends a hand. Detailed, specific prayer is the focus of a new book by Cara and a nationwide network of 40 talented young clergy, titled 99 Prayers Your Church Needs—But Doesn’t Know It Yet. The book is a cornucopia of words that real people in real communities have lifted up in the face of all manner of celebrations and catastrophes.

And, here’s another reason to read this Cover Story: The second half of the story is packed with links to other resources provided by Cara, who is a church consultant and also regularly writes columns with fresh ideas for families. The book is great for individuals, as well as religious communities. Please, enjoy this week’s cover story and share it with friends.

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Holidays & Festivals

Books Make Great Holiday Gifts

More Americans Are Reading Right Now Than Ever Before

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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St. Nicholas Day

PLAN AHEAD FOR DECEMBER 6The white-bearded man in the red suit may travel by reindeer in the West, but on December 6, Sinterklaas, or San Nicola, arrives across Europe on horseback—for St. Nicholas Day. For European children, St. Nicholas Day brings hope of sweets, small toys and surprises. For Christian families, the excitement and gifts of St. Nicholas Day can better prepare children for focus on the Nativity on Christmas Day.

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It’s a Holiday Tradition: Generosity!

What Sparks Our Generosity?

GREATER GOOD MAGAZINE, which is published by the University of California-Berkeley, features our author Najah Bazzy in a fascinating column about the connections between empathy and generosity. We are proud to publish books that include Najah, including Friendship & Faith, a collection of inspiring stories about women crossing barriers to make new friends. This year, if you would like to contribute directly to Najah Bazzy’s many projects to help families—please visit her home website at Zaman International.

How Do We Express Love to Others?

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THIS WEEK’S ‘LEADING WITH SPIRIT’ VIDEOS explore two important aspects of generosity.

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 

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 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME“The title of actress/writer Heidi Schreck’s Broadway hit suggests that her one-person (almost) dramedy must be very personal, and we soon see just how deeply personal it is. Attired in a yellow school-type blazer, she takes us back to when she was a precocious 15-year-old competing in American Legion-sponsored What the Constitution Means to Me contests.” He urges all of us to see it—streaming for free now with Amazon Prime.
  8. 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).”
  9. AND BREATHE NORMALLY NOW—”The conflict over immigration and protecting a nation’s borders is not just an American concern, as this dramatic film by first time Icelandic director Ísold Uggadóttir shows.
  10. CHASING FREEDOM—Reaching back to 2004, Ed writes, “Though director Don McBrearty’s TV movie was released in 2004, its concern for the plight of the endangered immigrant remains as timely as ever.”

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Behind the Plymouth 400 story: Summoning Thanksgiving in the midst of a deadly epidemic

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Devastation plagued both Indians and Pilgrims

Giving thanks even in the midst of sorrow

Thanksgiving in 2020 will undoubtedly look different, but that doesn’t mean Americans won’t still be counting our blessings. After all, the tradition stretches back more than 400 years on this continent. Please read Stephanie Fenton’s Thanksgiving column about how astonishing it was that Native Americans—decimated by epidemics—and Pilgrims—also suffering deadly illness—gathered in a spirit of gratitude.

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A Prayer for Thanksgiving

Giving thanks in the midst of war

ABRAHAM LINCOLN SCHOLAR DUNCAN NEWCOMER reminds us of the other American Thanksgiving milestone that unfolded in the midst of a national crisis—the Civil War. First, here’s an 11-minute video from Duncan explaining the significance of Lincoln’s declaration of our Thanksgiving holiday.

Then, based on his many years of studying and writing about the 16th president, Duncan has developed this Thanksgiving prayer, drawn from some of Lincoln’s most enduring phrases.

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More Holidays & Festivals

2o2o Books That Make Great Gifts

More Americans Are Reading Right Now Than Ever Before

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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St. Nicholas Day

PLAN AHEAD FOR DECEMBER 6—The white-bearded man in the red suit may travel by reindeer in the West, but on December 6, Sinterklaas, or San Nicola, arrives across Europe on horseback—for St. Nicholas Day. For European children, St. Nicholas Day brings hope of sweets, small toys and surprises. For Christian families, the excitement and gifts of St. Nicholas Day can better prepare children for focus on the Nativity on Christmas Day.

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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

.

.

.

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 this image to learn more about the November 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. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME“The title of actress/writer Heidi Schreck’s Broadway hit suggests that her one-person (almost) dramedy must be very personal, and we soon see just how deeply personal it is. Attired in a yellow school-type blazer, she takes us back to when she was a precocious 15-year-old competing in American Legion-sponsored What the Constitution Means to Me contests.” He urges all of us to see it—streaming for free now with Amazon Prime.
  8. 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).”
  9. AND BREATHE NORMALLY NOW—”The conflict over immigration and protecting a nation’s borders is not just an American concern, as this dramatic film by first time Icelandic director Ísold Uggadóttir shows.
  10. CHASING FREEDOM—Reaching back to 2004, Ed writes, “Though director Don McBrearty’s TV movie was released in 2004, its concern for the plight of the endangered immigrant remains as timely as ever.”
  11. THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7—”West Wing lovers might well be ecstatic while viewing writer and director Aaron Sorkin’s new film that Netflix picked up after the pandemic forced Paramount Pictures to scrap plans for a theatrical release. Sorkin’s film is full of the conflict between the powerful and the vulnerable and the fast-paced repartee that made the White House-based series so enjoyable to watch. The infamous trial, dragging out over 4 ½ months, was almost ready-made for a film, with its colorful, controversial characters.”
  12. THE WAY I SEE IT—”Director Dawn Porter’s documentary exploring the work of White House photographer Pete Souza is a combination of cinematic Valentine to Barack Obama, the man as well as President, and a polemic against the current occupant of the White House.”
  13. THE GOOD LORD BIRD—Ethan Hawke has the role of his life as fiery Abolitionist John Brown in this tongue-in-cheek Showtime mini-series that he created and helped produce and write. The true part comes from James McBride’s National Book Award-winning novel of the same name, on which the series based.”
  14. TIMEThis gripping documentary was produced and directed by Garrett Bradley. It follows Sibil Fox Richardson, fighting for the release of her husband, Rob, who is serving a 60-year prison sentence. It had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2020, where it won the U.S. Documentary Directing Award.
  15. Click this photo to read the review of ‘Hosea’ (2019).

    HOSEA—Ed writes, “Director/writer Ryan Daniel Dobson was inspired by the ancient prophet when he wrote and directed this love story that unfolds in the darkness of human lust and depravity. However, instead of the story focusing on the prophet and his mission to a fallen nation, Dobson centers his film on the former prostitute turned wife in present day Oklahoma City. Unlike the Biblical prophet, we are given the back story of how Gomer—here renamed Cate—became a prostitute.”

 

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Cover Story: In ‘For All Who Hunger’—Emily Scott tells how she began uniting a diverse community, one dinner at a time

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Meet the Founder of the ‘Dinner Church’ Movement

Facing the Demons of Isolation and Exclusion with Bread and Wine

COVER STORY—AS WISE PROPHETS have done for thousands of years, Emily Scott saw where American forces of isolation and exclusion were headed. She met these dark forces with delicious dinners that drew together a remarkably diverse congregation despite a host of challenges—including a full-fledged hurricane! For her spiritual foresight and courage, Emily is recognized as the founder of the “dinner church” movement that now is spreading around the world. Now, she tells the inside story of this almost impossible quest in a book she calls simply, For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World.

Think about that title for a moment. Isn’t that what we’re all hoping to find in this season of turbulence, especially in the United States. Please, read this cover story—which is based on our interview with Emily about her hopes for our future—and then share it with friends. As you get excited about Emily’s spiritual adventures, who knows? There may be a dinner church in your future.

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Want More Good News?
We’ve Got Lots to Share!

NAJAH BAZZY ALWAYS INSPIRES US

BEST-SELLING AUTHOR MITCH ALBOM just posted his latest Heart of Detroit video story about our own author and all-around hero Najah Bazzy. The headline is: One nurse is helping hundreds of thousands of people in the Heart of Detroit

Over the years, we have been honored to publish the writings of Zaman International founder Najah Bazzy—who also has been honored as a CNN network and People magazine hero, not to mention a hero whose face was featured on a special edition of Lays potato chips bags.

In addition to her Beauty of Ramadan, Najah also has contributed to our collection Friendship and Faith—and she wrote a chapter of our upcoming book: What Now? A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging, due to be published in early 2021.

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‘PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION’

AUTHOR and CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST MARTIN DAVIS appears this week on the Play Like a Champion podcast. This nationwide nonprofit has worked with 130,000 coaches to promote education and best practices that will ensure athletic programs are focused on the entire physical, mental and emotional well being of children.

In this new Champion podcast, Martin talks with the hosts about core values in coaching, including the importance of academics as well as athletics. In addition, the hosts ask Martin about his upcoming book 30 Days with America’s High School Coaches. Intrigued? You can learn more about Martin’s work at his home website—where you also can sign up to follow his ongoing columns, podcasts and other news. If you’d like to hear this latest podcast, here’s a direct link to listen to the Play Like a Champion interview with Martin.

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‘THERE IS A LOT OF WISDOM IN THIS BOOK’

THAT’S WHAT JIM FAUSONE tells Col. Clifford Worthy about his memoir, The Black Knight. Fausone is the host of Veterans Radio. He’s a veteran himself who has dedicated his long career to work that has improved conditions for all veterans. One way he highlights veterans’ issues is through these podcasts. Fausone leads Col. Worthy through his entire book, which includes stories about his family, his experiences at West Point as one of its first Black cadets—and even the dramatic night when Col. Worthy and his wife found themselves in a dangerous situation in a rural diner. This 50-minute podcast with Fausone is the best interview we’ve heard with Col. Worthy about his long career, which included service in Europe in the Cold War and later in Vietnam.

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WANT TO SUPER-CHARGE YOUR ZOOM?

JOE GRIMM INTRODUCES PREZI

THIS IS THE SECOND in a series of videos by Michigan State University Journalism Professor Joe Grimm—the founder and coordinator of the 18-volume series of Bias Busters’ guides to cultural competence. In these videos, Joe shares tips for writers, editors, educators and community leaders about how to create media that will excite people as you share your message. In this video, Joe introduces Prezi video tools and shows how he uses them himself in online talks he produces.

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Fueling Our Lamps

THIS WEEK, LARRY BUXTON talks about the values that are leading millions of Americans beyond the dangerous divisions we still face in our post-election political turbulence. He reminds us of timeless virtues, including integrity, humility, courage, tenderness and self-control. “They’re the fuel for leadership,” he says in this week’s short video. Please, visit his website, enjoy this short video and share it with friends.

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HOLIDAYS & MILESTONES

Those 272 Words at Gettysburg

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2020, is the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer writes: “When we re-read his 272 words, we find subliminal poetry—and it is all about birth: conceived, brought forth, birth and rebirth. All the major verbs and nouns reflect this generative feminine motif. To him the killing field can most deeply be seen and felt as a birthing place, not to glorify war and death, but to see glory and new life in the honor and dedication to a high ideal sacrificed for on that ground. That ideal was, in Lincoln’s mind, and then in so many hearers’ minds ever since, the idea of freedom and its soul-mate, equality.”

 

The Christmas season begins

NOVEMBER 15—The American Thanksgiving may not have arrived yet, but millions of Orthodox Christians around the world are turning toward the season of Jesus’s birth—which they refer to formally as the Nativity—with the start of the Nativity Fast on November 15. For many centuries, Eastern Christians have prepared for the Nativity with a 40-day Nativity Fast. And, yes, we know Orthodox dates vary, a detail that Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton explains in her column.

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Thanksgiving

SOCIALLY DISTANCED DINNERS?—Stephanie Fenton writes, “Thanksgiving in 2020 will undoubtedly look different, but that doesn’t mean Americans can’t still count their blessings—after all, it’s the season of gratitude! Houses of worship across the country are encouraging Americans from their websites, offering a hopeful message in spite of the pandemic: Give thanks anyway!

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St. Nicholas Day

PLAN AHEAD FOR DECEMBER 6—The white-bearded man in the red suit may travel by reindeer in the West, but on December 6, Sinterklaas, or San Nicola, arrives across Europe on horseback—for St. Nicholas Day. For European children, St. Nicholas Day brings hope of sweets, small toys and surprises. For Christian families, the excitement and gifts of St. Nicholas Day can better prepare children for focus on the Nativity on Christmas Day.

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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 this image to learn more about the November 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 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.”
  2. WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME“The title of actress/writer Heidi Schreck’s Broadway hit suggests that her one-person (almost) dramedy must be very personal, and we soon see just how deeply personal it is. Attired in a yellow school-type blazer, she takes us back to when she was a precocious 15-year-old competing in American Legion-sponsored What the Constitution Means to Me contests.” He urges all of us to see it—streaming for free now with Amazon Prime.
  3. 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).”
  4. AND BREATHE NORMALLY NOW—”The conflict over immigration and protecting a nation’s borders is not just an American concern, as this dramatic film by first time Icelandic director Ísold Uggadóttir shows.
  5. CHASING FREEDOM—Reaching back to 2004, Ed writes, “Though director Don McBrearty’s TV movie was released in 2004, its concern for the plight of the endangered immigrant remains as timely as ever.”
  6. THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7—”West Wing lovers might well be ecstatic while viewing writer and director Aaron Sorkin’s new film that Netflix picked up after the pandemic forced Paramount Pictures to scrap plans for a theatrical release. Sorkin’s film is full of the conflict between the powerful and the vulnerable and the fast-paced repartee that made the White House-based series so enjoyable to watch. The infamous trial, dragging out over 4 ½ months, was almost ready-made for a film, with its colorful, controversial characters.”
  7. THE WAY I SEE IT—”Director Dawn Porter’s documentary exploring the work of White House photographer Pete Souza is a combination of cinematic Valentine to Barack Obama, the man as well as President, and a polemic against the current occupant of the White House.”
  8. THE GOOD LORD BIRD—Ethan Hawke has the role of his life as fiery Abolitionist John Brown in this tongue-in-cheek Showtime mini-series that he created and helped produce and write. The true part comes from James McBride’s National Book Award-winning novel of the same name, on which the series based.”
  9. TIMEThis gripping documentary was produced and directed by Garrett Bradley. It follows Sibil Fox Richardson, fighting for the release of her husband, Rob, who is serving a 60-year prison sentence. It had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2020, where it won the U.S. Documentary Directing Award.
  10. Click this photo to read the review of ‘Hosea’ (2019).

    HOSEA—Ed writes, “Director/writer Ryan Daniel Dobson was inspired by the ancient prophet when he wrote and directed this love story that unfolds in the darkness of human lust and depravity. However, instead of the story focusing on the prophet and his mission to a fallen nation, Dobson centers his film on the former prostitute turned wife in present day Oklahoma City. Unlike the Biblical prophet, we are given the back story of how Gomer—here renamed Cate—became a prostitute.”

 

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