Pope Francis reminds the world that St. Thérèse of Liseux’s ‘little way’ can help us reclaim hope

Photo of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2023—On this Catholic “feast day” of St. Teresa of Avila—the 16th-century namesake of the 19th-century St. Thérèse of Lisieux—Pope Francis has published one of his most inspiring apostolic letters. This tribute to the wisdom of St. Thérèse comes two weeks after her own October 1 feast day and more than ten months after the 150th anniversary of her birth—an anniversary that Francis names in the title of his new letter.

This new letter ranks as one of Francis’s most timely and most inspiring messages to the world, so we are recommending that our readers check it out.

The Catholic News Service (as published in America magazine) began its story this way:

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, long one of Pope Francis’ favorite saints, teaches Christians “the little way” of love, self-giving, concern for others and complete trust in the mercy of God, the pope said in a new document. “At a time when human beings are obsessed with grandeur and new forms of power, she points out to us the little way,” he wrote. “In an age that casts aside so many of our brothers and sisters, she teaches us the beauty of concern and responsibility for one another.”

But we all can read the entire letter Francis wrote, translated into many global languages, at the Vatican website.

In that text, Francis also explains why he chose this particular date:

St. Thérèse is one of the best known and most beloved saints in our world. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, she is loved by non-Christians and nonbelievers as well. In addition, she has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most significant figures for contemporary humanity. We would do well to delve more deeply into her message as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of her birth in Alençon (2 January 1873) and the centenary of her beatification in 1923. Yet I have not chosen to issue this Exhortation on either of those dates, or on her liturgical Memorial (her October 1 feast day), so that this message may transcend those celebrations and be taken up as part of the spiritual treasury of the Church. Its publication on the liturgical Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila is a way of presenting St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face as the mature fruit of the reform of the Carmel and of the spirituality of the great Spanish saint.

Our recommendation to our magazine readers, this week, is:

Enjoy this fresh wisdom from Francis because it might bring fresh light into your life as well.

Brian McLaren tells the story of Easter morning from his book ‘We Make the Road by Walking’


SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 2023—In preparation for Easter Sunday, this year, we talked with best-selling Christian author Brian McLaren, who has been a frequent visitor to ReadTheSpirit magazine over the years. In fact, if you care to read more, here is our 2014 interview with Brian about the book he reads in this YouTube video, We Make the Road by Walking.

This week, as we talked with Brian again by Zoom, he said:

As your readers may remember, when I wrote this book, I was trying to give people an overview of the Bible in short chapters that could be red aloud as sermons in about 10 or 12 minutes. Then, as I organized the book, I tried to synch up the narrative in a meaningful way with the church year.

When I got to that season of Easter, I wrote each chapter as if it were written by an eye witness. One reason I wanted to approach it this way is so that instead of looking at the Easter narrative from a distance through the lenses of the theology that we have been given to understand these events—I wanted to try to help people go back and imagine themselves within this story that we share each year.

As we near Passover, Jewish communities offer ‘model seders’ to spread the message of religious freedom

This photograph from the 2023 diplomatic seder, hosted by the JCRC/AJC in southeast Michigan, is used with permission.

‘The message of freedom resonates with all people worldwide.’

SUNSET, WEDNESDAY APRIL 5—That’s when millions of Jewish men, women and children around the world will sit down for seder meals in their homes as the week of Passover begins. However, in March, many Jewish communities are offering their annual “model seders,” shortened versions of traditional seders that are presented for the education of non-Jewish neighbors.

The goal of these early versions of the seder is to help spread a deeper understanding of Judaism and the central theme of protecting religious freedom. That’s especially important in this era when religious freedom is endangered in so many parts of the world.

The Washington Post is among the leading news organizations reporting on the dangerous rise of antisemitism in America. The Post reported: “At points in the past half-century, many U.S. antisemitism experts thought this country could be aging out of it, that hostility and prejudice against Jews were fading in part because younger Americans held more accepting views than did older ones. But a new survey shows how widely held such beliefs are in the United States today, including among younger Americans.”

That’s why Jewish groups across the U.S. make an effort each year to invite their neighbors to experience educational versions of the seder, which highlight the ancient story of the quest for religious freedom as Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt.

This week in southeast Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the American Jewish Committee (JCRC/AJC) held a model seder for religious leaders from other faiths as well as diplomatic officials who represent their nations in Michigan. These guests were welcomed with:

It is with great pleasure and gratitude that we welcome you to our Annual Diplomatic Seder. We are pleased to be joined by representatives of many countries, interfaith partners from across Metro Detroit, young leaders, and our board leadership. Tonight’s Seder once again promises a global experience—one incorporating various texts and customs representing Jewish communities across the world. The message of freedom resonates with all people worldwide. We hope you will enjoy the entire experience, and we encourage you to participate together with your tablemates, asking questions and sharing customs. We look forward to many more shared celebrations in the future.

Front cover of the JCRC/AJC Haggadah.

Similar words of welcome are used at model seders held in communities around the world. By inviting non-Jews into an experience of the seder meal, those friends leave with a fresh sense of how much they share with their Jewish neighbors. They also typically go home with a specially designed Haggadah, the book that guides Jews through the seder each year. In Michigan, that booklet displayed colorful flags from around the world.

This year in Michigan, for example, Michigan-based officials representing the governments of Canada, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Italy and Mexico attended the special program. In addition, Christian, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders participated.

Because appreciating diversity is a central theme of these model seders, the Michigan Haggadah closed with a fascinating overview of ethnic variations on Passover practices from around the world. Among those examples:

Destroying Earthenware Dishes—The Jews of Ethiopia strongly identify with the story of Exodus—and indeed, the first of the famous airlifts that delivered them to Israel was actually called Operation Moses. In some Ethiopian families, the matriarch would destroy all of her earthenware dishes and make a new set to mark a true break with the past.

“Whipping” Each Other with Scallions—Jews living in Afghanistan developed the tradition of using scallions or leeks to stand for the Egyptian slavedrivers’ whips, using them to lightly “whip” each others’ backs. Jews have lived in Afghanistan at least since the Babylonian conquest 2,000 years ago, but in 2004 only two Jews were left in the country. It is now estimated that only a single Jew lives in Afghanistan, as the other died in 2005. The largest group of Afghan Jews in the world is comprised of 200 families in Queens, New York.

Re-enacting Crossing the Red Sea—Hasidic Jews from the Polish town of Góra Kalwaria, known as Gerer Hasids, re-enact the crossing of the Red Sea on the seventh day of Passover by pouring water on the floor, lifting up their coats, and naming the towns that they would cross in their region of Poland. They raise a glass at each “town” and then thank God for helping them reach their destination.

Breaking the Matzah into Hebrew Letters—In the Syrian community, the custom of breaking the middle matzah on the seder table into pieces (known as yachatz) can sometimes take on Kabbalistic meaning. Matzah broken into the shape of the Hebrew letters “daled” and “vav” correspond to numbers, which in turn add up to 10, representing the 10 holy emanations of God. Jews from North Africa, including from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Libya, break the matzoh into the shape of the Hebrew letter “hey,” which corresponds to the number five.

Tossing Pebbles in the Ocean—Among Moroccan Jews, Mimouna is celebrated the day after Passover with a generous feast of baked goods. Some say it marks Maimonides’ birthday, while others link it to the Arabic word for luck. A table is heaped with items symbolizing luck or fertility, many repeating the number 5, such as dough with five fingerprint marks or five silver coins. Fig leaves, live fish, stalks of wheat, and honey might also be included. In some parts of the Moroccan Jewish community, Jews entered the ocean and tossed pebbles behind their backs to ward off evil spirits.

In Michigan, this year’s JCRC/AJC co-chairs for the diplomatic seder were Howard Brown and Carol Ogusky (left and right). The seder was led by Rabbi Blair Nosanwisch (center) of Adat Shalom Synagogue.

Care to read more?

Howard Brown’s work to combat antisemitism and build interfaith relationships is one of the central themes of his memoir Shining BrightlyIt’s also a theme he explores through the media on his website, ShiningBrightly.com

Book Birthdays: October 2022 ‘birthdays’ include great gifts from the conflicts of 007 to the compassion of Caregiving

PUBLISHERS and AUTHORS CELEBRATE “BOOK BIRTHDAYS,” the anniversaries of our books’ debuts. Among our October book birthdays are several that continue to be popular with readers—and this is a great opportunity for us to remind everyone of these still very timely volumes:

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

‘A James Bond Bible Study’

“This really amounts to a James Bond Bible study—taking these contemporary issues and trying to relate them to how the Bible says we should live. When we announced a new small-group discussion of this book, we had people sign up who have never come to a small group before.”

We heard that kind of comment from many readers after we published Benjamin Pratt’s book, in 2008, exploring seven universal moral dilemmas in Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadly Sins and 007’s Moral Compass.

This “Bible study”—in which Pratt explains the influence of the New Testament book of James on Fleming’s series of 007 novels—has been connecting with readers for 14 years.

Just like Bond himself! Worldwide fascination with 007 continues to grow. This October 2022 is the 60th anniversary of the first blockbuster Bond movie, Dr. No. To mark this milestone, Amazon announced that it finally had secured the rights to stream all 25 Bond films free for Prime subscribers. Already this month, a special Sound of 007 concert was streamed from Royal Albert Hall in London (and continues to play on Amazon), then a documentary film of the same name began streaming on Amazon. Other major media companies are jumping on board as well. Disney’s Dancing with the Stars broadcast a special two-hour-long episode featuring a dozen tributes to the movie series—an episode that now is streaming for all Disney subscribers. And—headlines are popping up weekly about the search for the “next Bond” to follow Daniel Craig.

There’s not a more timely book to choose for your own autumn reading—or a holiday gift for a friend!

‘Changing Our Mind’

Every bit as timely is Dr. David Gushee’s worldwide best-seller, Changing Our Mind.

Since its first edition was published in October of 2014, Changing Our Mind has helped thousands of families and congregations carefully and compassionately rethink traditional religious teachings about full LGBTQ inclusion.

Arguably America’s leading Christian ethicist, Gushee has written many helpful books for churches, discussion groups, and individuals. He is the author of the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture and drafted the Evangelical Climate Initiative. His Kingdom Ethics is on pastors’ bookshelves nationwide. Now, in what he describes as the most important book of his career as a Christian teacher, Gushee gives us this encouraging discussion on how he changed his mind.

Author Brian McLaren calls Changing Our Mind “deep, thoughtful and brilliant . . . [and] refreshingly clear and understandable.” It is an eminently useful handbook for any individual or organization that wants to better contextualize traditional church teachings, which have been and must continue to change.

Do you find yourself, your family or your community caught up in this issue in 2022? This is the perfect choice to read along with friends and family.

If you already own Changing Our Mind, then the follow-up book you’ll want to read is Dr. Gushee’s new Introducing Christian Ethics, which includes links to both an audio and a video version of that new book.



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

‘A Guide for Caregivers’

Benjamin Pratt served for years as a pastor and a pastoral counselor—so he has his eye, ear and heart close to the urgent needs of individuals and their families.

Pratt followed up his Bond book with a book we published in October 2011 that has helped thousands of exhausted caregivers to find strategies for more resilient living.

In one out of three American households, someone is a caregiver: women and men who give of body, mind and soul to care for the well being of others. These millions need help, more than financial and medical assistance. They need daily, practical help in reviving their spirits and avoiding burnout. Who are these caregivers? They are folks who have lived this tough life and felt the agonies and the boredom, yet they have extended compassion with a gentle word or a tender touch. As caregivers, they know anger, frustration, joy, laughter, purpose, mortality and immortality.

This book is drawn from the wisdom of many caregivers and we have taken their advice: these are short, easy-to-read sections packed with wisdom and practical help! This book is designed to let readers jump in almost anywhere and explore at their own pace. Considering the millions of people worldwide who are caregivers, this book also is great for small-group study.

Have you already picked up this book? Well, then, you’ll definitely want to buy the follow-up volume in which Benjamin Pratt contributed with more than a dozen other experts to Now What?: A Guide to the Gifts and Challenges of Aging.


Book Birthdays: August 2022

PUBLISHERS and AUTHORS CELEBRATE “BOOK BIRTHDAYS,” the anniversaries of our books’ debuts. Among our August book birthdays are several that continue to be popular with readers—and this is a great opportunity for us to remind everyone of these valuable volumes:

With the MSU School of Journalism Bias Busters’ team, in August 2018, we published 100 Questions and Answers About Police Officers. This guide has sections on training and  certification, special assignments, police culture, use of force, community policing, police jargon and police funeral etiquette. All the guides in this series are designed to help improve relationships across communities.

Earlier, in 2016, with the Bias Busters and their professor Joe Grimm, we published To My Professor. Teaching college is difficult and this book has some potential solutions. More than 50 chapters cover situations including expectations, communication, technology, race, gender and religion, mental and physical health. This is a perfect gift for the young person in your life who is heading off to college this fall.

Then, in August 2017, we published a book that has helped readers around the world learn more about American History Made Easy. This overview of American history was developed by veteran English as a Second Language instructor Kathleen Gripman to help men and women attain this crucial educational milestone. What began as a book primarily for ESL students also has become a popular choice for anyone who quickly wants to learn about the broad sweep of American history.


Yale historian David Blight helps us to remember: ‘African Americans invented Memorial Day’

EVEN AS Gen. Robert E. Lee was surrendering at Appomattox on April 9, 1865: Recently freed Black residents of Charleston, South Carolina, risked their lives to publicly prepare for the first Decoration or Memorial Day by digging up a mass grave of Union soldiers left by the defeated Confederate army. These Black volunteers then prepared proper graves for each of those more than 250 Union soldiers who died due to starvation and disease in a Confederate prison camp inside a local horse-race course. This photograph (above) was taken while the new graves were being prepared. Later, those Black volunteers built a decorative fence around the new cemetery, including an archway proclaiming this hallowed ground dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.” On May 1, 1865, these Black families held a parade of more than 10,000 people to this site to memorialize the dead with flowers, preaching, readings from the Bible and hymns—followed by family picnics. (Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

‘This was the first Memorial Day.’


AND NOW MONDAY, MAY 30—Given the racial trauma that continues to roil our American landscape, we believe it is important to cover Pulitzer-Prize-winning Yale historian David Blight‘s ongoing campaign to correct our history books and give credit to newly freed African Americans for establishing our post-Civil War tradition known to us now as Memorial Day.

“African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865,” Blight says in a lecture, an excerpt of which you can view below via YouTube. “There are cities in the United States North and South that claim to be the site of the first Memorial Day, but they were in 1866—they were too late. (As a researcher,) I had the great blind good fortune to discover this story in a messy totally disorganized collection of veterans papers at a library at Harvard some years back.”

Blight continues, “What you have there is Charleston in 1865 is African Americans, recently freed from slavery, announcing to the world with their flowers and their feet and their songs what the war had been about: What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a second American Revolution. That story got lost for more than a century.”

One of Blight’s early steps in his campaign to correct our history books was an OpEd essay in The New York Times, which now has become an oft-quoted summary of these events. The essay says, in part:

For the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. … Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events … took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. .. The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freed people, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

Blight also has written about this milestone on his own website, including this passage:

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers’ valor and sacrifice.

As a result of Blight’s campaign, now, the public historical record is changing. The widely used HISTORY channel website, for example, posted this in 2019 and updated it in May 2022:

His efforts have expanded over the years to include historical reflections on the way this annual observance reflects the meaning of American freedom and diversity in other parts of the U.S. In 2017, Blight was invited to write for The Atlantic magazine. He chose to focus this Atlantic story on memorial traditions in New Orleans, headlined:

Over the years, as a result of Blight’s work, various new historical markers have been posted in Charleston.

SECURING THE HISTORY IN CHARLESTON—For more than a century, Confederate sympathizers in South Carolina actively suppressed the history of the ground-breaking 1865 event—despite the fact that it was covered by newspapers at the time and was documented in at least a few photographs held by the Library of Congress. The Confederate sympathizers were so effective in their efforts that this crucial American memory was effectively erased for more than a century. Today, permanent memorial markers are a public record of the event. (Click on the photograph to enlarge it for easier reading.)


Care to hear Yale’s Dr. David Blight tell the story?

The video quality of the following YouTube clip is not ideal, but the audio is clear. In this seven-minute summary, Dr. David Blight mentions other related events held in Charleston, including a gathering at Fort Sumpter. The Library of Congress also holds original photographs taken at the April 14, 1865, Fort Sumpter memorial, including this photograph and also this photograph that originally were printed for viewing in a stereopticon.






So when is Easter? The answer is not as simple as you think.

Pink tulips, colored eggs, one fancy painted egg, in basket

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 17 and SUNDAY APRIL 24—As a journalist covering religious diversity for nearly half a century, the trickiest annual question is: When is Easter?

The question routinely sends me scrambling to double-check my calendar and that’s because, even if I happen to remember the date of Easter for Western Christians, I have to double check what our Eastern brothers and sisters are doing.

Sometimes, the entire Christian world celebrates Easter on the same Sunday. In this millennium, so far, East and West have been unified on seven occasions—in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017. Then, we won’t be on the same Sunday again until 2025. Generally, Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate later than Western churches, mainly because much of the Orthodox world still calculates Easter’s date using the older Julian calendar, which “lags behind” the Gregorian calendar, and because Orthodox tradition requires the date to be after the Jewish Passover.

In 2022: Western Easter is Sunday, April 17.

In 2022: Eastern Orthodox Easter is Sunday, April 24.

How are these dates selected? In general terms, Easter’s date is set on a Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox.

Sound simple?

Well, the first thing journalists who cover global holidays learn is that the “vernal equinox”—or “March equinox” or “northward equinox”—is not always on the same date. In fact, it can occur as early as March 19 and, right now, we are living through a period when that equinox routinely falls on March 20. However, church tradition dictates that the equinox is fixed on March 21.

That means, if the phases of the moon are perfectly aligned, Easter Sunday could occur on March 22, but not before that date. How rare is it for Easter to fall on March 22? The last time it happened was 1818, when James Monroe was our president. Over at the Vatican, Pope VII ruled the Catholic church, except for a nasty period when Napoleon kidnapped him and held him in France. By Easter 1818, Pius VII was back home at the Vatican again to celebrate that rare astronomical occurrence. (Don’t recall that pope? Well, Americans mainly know him for having expanded the Catholic church in America by establishing dioceses in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Charleston and Cincinnati.)

In short, it’s very very rare to have Easter as early as March 22. The next time the world will see a March 22 Easter? Well, none of us will see it. The moon and the calendar won’t align like that again until the year 2285.

Easter can fall as late as April 25 in the West, so this year of 2022 has a “relatively late” Easter for Western churches. Next year, 2023, Easter will be April 9. In 2024, it will be March 31. Then, in 2025, we get a much later Easter: April 20.

Eastern Christianity’s later Easter can fall as early as April 9 or as late as May 8 as those dates are listed in our contemporary Gregorian calendar.

Care to learn more?

When is Passover in 2022?