Monday, March 20, 2017

Meet Author Beverly Nault


Beverly Nault writes Fresh Start Stories, because everyone needs one from time to time. Her stories are filled with colorful characters whose lives are changed through storylines that draw the reader in through humor, poignant moments, and fun-filled adventure. Beverly is the Associate Editor of the literary journal, “Eastern Iowa Review.” She is also a freelance developmental editor.
Bev lives with her husband Gary in Southern California and dabbles in photography. She has two grown and married children, and one incredibly talented one-month-old granddaughter who already shows a lot of potential.
“The Kaleidoscope,” (2015, Wild Rose/Crimson Press) a romantic suspense, earned an InDy’Tale Magazine five-star review and their Crowned Heart for excellence.
Beverly has written the award-winning The Seasons of Cherryvale, series, set in a small town. The first book in the series, “Fresh Start Summer,” earned the San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild Excellence in Writing Award, was included in Real Simple’s 21 Best Summer Reads list, and earned Honorable Mention in the Reader’s Favorite Writing Awards (2011). Her short story, “Camouflaged Christmas,” appears in the “21 Days of Christmas, a fiction devotional (2015, Broadstreet Publishing).

Beverly co-wrote “Lessons from the Mountain, What I Learned from Erin Walton,” with Mary McDonough about her years working up on the acclaimed television program, The Waltons, and her life growing up in Hollywood. “Lessons” won the Ella Dickey Literacy Award.

According to one interview, your favorite book as a teen was “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Why was this book important to you?
At the time I was intrigued by Scout’s precociousness, and also her relationship with her father, who was an attorney. My own father was an attorney, and Atticus’ insights and wisdom resonated within me. Harper Lee built into the story so many layers that it has a remarkable texture and relevance for any age and time. For a book to reach so many levels is an extraordinary feat.

What other novels have influenced you & why?
“Gone With the Wind” is another novel of complicated relationships, a complex time in history, and a strong heroine who at first glance reveals herself to be of questionable “character,” but then she ends up a much improved, better version of herself for what she’s gone through by the end. I admire authors who can take us along the journey with their characters and at the end we feel as if we’ve become a little better or stronger or more convicted as well. But without all the turmoil and self-sacrifice, we can remain comfortable and relaxed in our easy chair.

Where do you get your inspiration to write? 
Every story has a different prompt. When I first conceived of “The Kaleidoscope.”  I imagined what it would be like if we could see a glimpse of our own future. Would what we see cause us to change, would we be bolder, or frightened of what was to come? Would we become a better person for the challenge? As I researched advances in artificial intelligence for the technical elements of the story, I realized I wasn’t the only one wondering the same things. That in itself was a glimpse into the future!                                                                                                       

Do you have a favorite genre, as a reader?
I read everything from classical literature to short fiction to bestsellers, so I wouldn’t say I have a favorite. I’ve also been Associate Editor for the Eastern Iowa Review, a lyrical essay journal, and a beta reader for agents and publishers, so my reading piles vary widely. I think reading multiple genres informs an author’s work, and enriches their reader’s experiences. I’ve just finished reading “Two Years Before the Mast,” and thoroughly enjoyed swinging from the yardarms and exploring early California. Books are the best, aren’t they?

You co-authored with Mary Beth McDonough, “Lessons from the Mountain,  What I Learned From Ellen Walton” (from The Waltons, television series). What was that experience like?
That experience was one of the highlights of my career. She’s a wonderful, kind, funny, smart woman, and a very talented actor. We laughed together and cried a bit over her incredible experiences, and I got to interview iconic actors from Patricia Neal, who was the original Olivia Walton in the made-for-television movie, “The Homecoming,” to Earl Hamner and Richard Thomas and the other living cast members. Each was helpful and genuine and as kind as they are on the show. Mary and I formed a bond that will last forever because of the experience, and I’m proud of her for going on to write her own novels.
Do you have a writing routine? (Time of day, place to write?)
I need quiet and a comfy chair, and to know I have a couple of uninterrupted hours. When I first began writing fiction I was told there’s such a thing as “fiction brain,” a special place where your most creative thoughts come from. I can say that it’s absolutely true. It’s as if you’re accessing a different part of the mind that needs to be exercised, but also approached with respect and reverence for it to work properly. Don’t want anything to shut it off when it’s really cooking! By the way, I wrote the first draft of “The Kaleidoscope” long hand. I learned in a workshop that it’s a great way to slow down the process to give the creative brain a way to keep up, and I really do think there’s wisdom in that. Typing your scribble into the computer then becomes the first round of editing. Try it!

How did your Seasons of Cherryvale series come about?
Seasons sprang from my thoughts as I pondered about our communities where we we tend to drive home and straight into our garages, essentially ignoring our neighbors and never getting to really know them. So I came up with a concept of a town that had been built many years ago around a bridle path that has become a jogging and walking trail in the modern times. This artery’s history became a sort of anchor for the townies, and now this CherryPath “ties neighbors together like a patchwork quilt, in good times and bad.” Funny thing about that series, I live in Southern California where we don’t really have seasons. So I needed to find a small town that experiences the full range, from autumn colors to firefly summers and the challenges of snowstorms, so I studied a map and found a small town in Kansas called Cherryvale. I liked it so much I decided to “borrow” their name. After the series came out, someone from the town contacted me and asked if I knew they existed. I told them I did and hoped they didn’t mind. They said they were actually flattered, and invited me to appear at the upcoming Cherry Blossom Festival with the first two books that were available at the time. I enjoyed meeting everyone in town, from the mayor to the Fire Chief to the pastors of the churches, and all my new fans. They made me feel as if I was a townie myself, and I’m excited to say I’m returning “home” for this year’s Blossom Festival with the completed series.

Did you know, going into the first Cherryvale book, that it would become a series?
Yes, I wanted each book to be based on a season or holiday. There are six books or novellas, and one short story. Here’s the sequence: “Fresh Start Summer,” “Grace & Maggie Across the Pond” (a novella set in England), “Autumn Changes,” “Hearts Unlocked” (a Thanksgiving Romance), “Christmas Bells,” “Aloha Grace” (a short story set in Hawaii) and “Spring Blossoms.”

You have won the San Diego Christian Writers Guild Excellence in Writing award. Could you describe the importance of your faith?
My faith in Jesus Christ is woven into the tapestry of my soul, and everything I write stems from what he taught and what he’s done for the world in his sacrifice on the cross. That said I try to temper everything I write so that it’s appropriate to the piece and audience. No one wants to read sermonettes or anything heavy handed. I believe it’s possible to use characters who believe in God without sermonizing, or question and rebel and even reject God, because it’s how we as humans process and live out our relationship with the Creator.

What is your definition of success, as a writer? If you had to pick one accomplishment to be most proud of, what would it be?
Probably the publication of “Lessons from the Mountain.” An agent shopped our proposal at the same time as the country was reeling from 9/11, and no one wanted to take on a new project around that time. We stepped back from seeking a publisher but went ahead and wrote the book. A couple of years later, we had a terrific memoir of what Mary’s life had been like growing up in Hollywood, but we had no agent. We knew we had an excellent manuscript, so we persisted, and we eventually sold it on our own to Kensington. (It’s now gone into its fifth printing.) The icing on my own personal cake was that in the very same month that Lessons came out, “Fresh Start Summer,” also released from a small press. I call them my twins, and still can’t believe my “luck” in having them released at the same time.
Would you be willing to share a few tips for writers?
Read everything you can, especially “above” your own talent so you can learn from those who’ve gone ahead of you. Join a critique group with members who are relentless and honest. Attend conferences and workshops. Write, polish, and then hire good editors, both for developmental feedback, and for proofing. When I read for agents and for the journal, I can tell right away if someone has done their homework and studied the craft, and then readied it sufficiently for market. If you believe in your work enough to spend the time writing, then you should believe that it takes a team to make your project the best it can possibly be. There are a lot of books out there competing for readers’ attention, so from the very first page, serve them a polished masterpiece, and don’t let go of their mind and soul until the very end. And please, think about your ending as much as your beginning. Your readers deserve an ending that satisfies.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I’m excited about my next novel. I’m currently fine-tuning, “Misdirect, A Novel of Spies, the Sahara, and Searching for God,” which is about a former CIA operative who finds herself back in the field. Following my own advice, I’m now polishing it so it shines. I’ve had it with beta readers, I’ve taken important sections to a critique group, I’ve hired an editor and proofer, and then when it’s been through these very important steps, I’ll finally have it ready for market. Here’s the summary:  A CIA analyst assigned to desk duty must return to field operations to redeem a failed mission she blew years ago. When she’s about to retire and put the entire fiasco behind her, she learns her estranged daughter’s fiancĂ©e’s life is in danger, and she must not only rescue him from the enemy, she must stop the largest terror attack ever planned on America.

Find Beverly at: www.beverlynault.com






Monday, March 13, 2017

The Story Behind A United Kingdom


The film, A UNITED KINGDOM, is a love story between Seretse Khama (who is the Prince of Bechuanaland, a UK protectorate) and Ruth Williams, (a clerk at Lloyd's of London).

Seretse was a black African and Ruth was white and English. Which was a bit of a shock in 1947, when they met at a London Missionary Society dance.

According to Jessamay Calking, writing in the Daily Mail, in post WWII, blacks made up only 0.02 percent of the population in England, and the interracial couple faced enormous prejudice. In fact, Seretse's uncle conspired with the UK government to stop their planned wedding. He succeeded, but Seretse and Ruth married in a civil ceremony.

Ruth, in particular, paid a high price for her love. She was sacked from her job and her family disowned her.

But Seretse also had a tough road ahead of him.

In a series of tribal meetings back in Bechuanaland, he had to convince leaders that he was fit to govern them. Eventually, in 1949, over 9,000 men turned out to hear Seretse's appeal to accept him as their chief and honor his wife. They overwhelmingly agreed.

After this meeting Seretse telegraphed his wife to join him in his homeland. Initially it was hard for Ruth to gain acceptance, but after her pregnancy, the women of Bechuanaland softened, soon to be followed by the men. However, the British government, bowing to pressure from South Africa tricked Seretse into coming back to London. (South Africa - which borders Bechuanaland - had a deeply entrenched system of apartheid. It did not formally bring about a democracy until 1992, under international pressure to do so, a year after Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years in prison).

Seretse was then banished for five years from going back to Bechuanaland. Later, when Winston Churchill's party won the election, Churchill had Seretse banned for life, which effectively separated him from his family indefinitely.

Fortunately, during this time, Seretse was allowed to return to his country to follow up on a lawsuit he had begun against his uncle (the same one who tried to keep his marriage from happening).

While Seretse was reunited with his family, their first child was born. But because of Seretse's banishment, he had to take his family back to England with him in order to remain together.

It wasn't until 1956 that Seretse and his wife were allowed to return to his home country for good, but as private citizens, stripped of his royalty.

According to Wikipedia, in 1961 Seretse got back into politics, establishing the Nationalist Bechuanaland Democratic Party. He was elected the first Prime Minister in 1965 and pushed for independence from the UK. In 1966 his country gained independence, changed its name and elected Seretse the first president of Botswana.

As evidence of showing what a remarkable leader Seretse became, when he was elected, Botswana was the third poorest country in the world. But he pushed for economic development (producing beef, cooper and diamonds). The discovery of the Orapa diamond deposits resulted in Botswana becoming the fastest growing economy in the world between 1966 and 1980.

Seretse also upheld democracy and non-racism within a portion of Africa that was raging with civil war. (Remember that Botswana borders South Africa). And he insisted upon strong measures to keep corruption at bay. All of these efforts led to economic prosperity and peace among his people.

Seretse and Ruth had three children. He died in 1980, at age 59, due to prostrate cancer.

Calkin's article points out that Ruth remained in Botswana after Seretse died, living alone on a farm and devoting her time to women's rights. She passed away in 2002.

All of Seretse and Ruth's children live in Botswana. Ian, their eldest son, is the fourth president of Botswana.

As for the film, A KINGDOM UNITED, director Amma Asante was quoted by Calkin as saying she was drawn to the project because of her admiration for Seretse and the love he had for his wife. "It reflects on how he was able to love his people. He was an honest man who had great integrity. And I think that integrity is something the (Botswanaian) country has been able to benefit from ever since."

Calkin quotes David Oyelowo (who plays Seretse in the film) as saying of Asante "I always hoped to find a female director to do this film. I wanted it to be unashamed. I've been a huge beneficiary of working with female directors."

Rosamund Pike, (who plays the part of Ruth), was quoted as saying "I do feel that in general, the cinema needs more love stories... It's one of the most deeply human things you can express on screen."

And Calkin's piece in the Daily Mail wraps up by quoting the real Seretse Khama, from Susan Williams' book Colour Bar (upon which A KINGDOM UNITED is based.) "Bitterness does not pay. Certain things have happened to all of us in the past and it is for us to forget those (things) and look to the future. It is not for own benefit, but it is for the benefit of our children and our children's children that we ourselves should put this world right."

Here's the trailer to A United Kingdom.

Photo Credit: Getty Images - top photo
Africaok - image of family






Monday, March 6, 2017

Matt Cooper & A Soldier's Home


Matt Cooper has been an attorney for 26 years.  He recently provided representation to a United States Service member, Sgt. James Hurley, in a Federal Court action that lasted over five years.  This action resulted in amendments to the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  Hurley v Deutsche Bank, et al.  These amendments (known as the "Hurley Amendments") continue to affect every man and woman on active duty service in the United States Military.  Matt memorialized this landmark legal conflict in a book entitled A Soldier’s Home.  He currently represents a number of servicemembers in similar cases.


Matt also co-founded the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Foundation, Inc., (SCRA) a Non-Profit Public Charity that is focused on assisting United States Servicemembers and their families with their rights and protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  Through the Foundation, Matt pursued and partnered with Western Michigan University Cooley Law School to produce the 2015 Michigan Revised Judge’s Guide to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  The SCRA Foundation raised funds and distributed Judge’s Guides to every federal, state and tribal Judge throughout the State of Michigan.  This caught the attention of the Department of Army, who sought Matt’s assistance and partnership with Army OneSource to develop and distribute Judge’s Guides in every state.


How did you decide to become a lawyer?
While attending Western Michigan University, I worked for five years at Wickes Lumber Company.  I enjoyed higher education at Western and I received a lot of personal satisfaction helping customers.  Between desiring more education and helping people, I thought a legal degree and becoming an attorney would fit well with my ambitions.


Why did you choose to represent Sergeant Hurley? Can you offer the basic details of the case?

While Sgt. James Hurley was in Iraq during President Bush’s surge in that war, Deutsche Bank, Saxon Mortgage and their attorneys illegally foreclosed on his home.  Hurley’s mother, wife and two small children were displaced from their residence.  The bank not only illegally foreclosed on his home, but sold it to a bona fide purchaser.  Upon Sgt. Hurley’s return from the war, he found another family living in his home; a home that he had lived in and enjoyed for ten years.  Sgt. Hurley was a man in his 40’s and had developed quite a homestead.  His home was set high on a ridge along the Paw Paw River.  It was a beautiful home and he had never missed a payment. Sgt. Hurley’s home was illegally taken from him; while he was away serving our country at war. Sgt. Hurley’s home was near my law office.  One day he came to my office seeking to know if he had any rights relating to his loss. At the time, I was not at all familiar with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  However, I knew that Sgt. Hurley had been wronged. I have always held the belief that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong and that our justice system, on its best days, does attempt to achieve justice and do what is right.

Your case involved going against Deutsche Bank. What was that like?

It was miserable.  The case drug on for over five years because Deutsche Bank could not allow the violations that they were committing against thousands of soldiers to be disclosed.  Unbeknownst to me, the United States Department of Justice had been tracking me and this case for the last two years of its progression through the court system.  Because of the Hurley case, the Department of Justice learned that these Defendants were violating the rights of thousands of other soldiers.  In fact, the United States Department of Justice obtained the largest SCRA settlement as a result of Hurley.  Senior attorneys at the Department of Justice declared Hurley and his attorneys pioneers in this area of the law and because of what they were able to accomplish - allowing the Department of Justice to obtain justice for thousands of soldiers.  As a result of Hurley, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act was amended.  These amendments are referred to as the Hurley amendments.  All of this was fuel for Deutsche Bank defending its actions and trying to keep a lid on the illegal violations they committed against United States soldiers.  At one time, Deutsche Bank even filed for sanctions against me.


What was it like trying a case in federal court?

Federal Judges are appointed for life.  This question reminds me of an old joke that I have heard told in various forms.  That is; upon entry into Heaven one day, someone noticed that there was an interesting fellow walking around in a black robe.  Upon inquiry of another as to who the gentleman was, the response was, “oh, don’t worry, that’s just God.  Some days he likes to pretend he’s a federal judge.”

How did your experience with the Hurley case change your opinion of the legal system in the US?

Not for the better.  I have always been a firm believer in that our system of government is the world’s best.  The justice system, however, I believe has been mostly ignored by society and our governmental leaders. 

What’s the mission behind the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)?

The SCRA has as its stated purpose from Congress, to secure the defensive needs of our nation.  The principles behind the SCRA were formed before the founding of our nation when General George Washington stated: “When we assume the solider, we did not lay aside the citizen.”  These principles were expanded upon by President Lincoln during the Civil War.  In 1917, the United States Congress passed, for the first time, the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Civil Relief Act.  This Act protected our servicemembers throughout World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.  In 2003, these protections were updated and re-named the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Upon enlistment, our servicemembers sign a blank check payable to the United States of America up to and including their life.  The least we can do is what President Lincoln recognized - if a servicemember can defend our nation, they should be allowed to defend themselves back home, relating to civil suits and claims made against them.  Simply put, if a servicemember is defending us, shouldn’t they be allowed to defend themselves?

What does the SCRA Foundation do? (How is it separate from the SCRA itself?)

We formed the SCRA Foundation, Inc., in an effort to help the public, judges, lawyers and military personnel recognize the rights and responsibilities associated with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and what soldiers endure when they are activated.  I felt much of the problem in the Hurley case was the need to educate our judiciary about what is contained in the SCRA and its practical application.  Working with Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, the SCRA Foundation, Inc., developed a Judge’s Guide to the SCRA and provided a copy to every state, federal and tribal judge across the State of Michigan.  The Foundation also provided a copy of the Guide to hundreds of lawyers and military personnel.  This project caught the attention of the United States Army.  They sought out our partnership with Army OneSource to work with different law schools in each state throughout our nation providing Judge’s Guides to judges, attorneys and military personnel throughout the country.  It is my understanding it is quite a lucrative business model for lenders to target United States Military personnel for extending loans and credit. 

I recently worked on an SCRA case for a captain in the United States Army.  He was in default on his mortgage and on active duty.  Yet, his mortgage was easily sold and acquired by someone seeking out this type of mortgage.  Could you imagine making the business decision to buy such a mortgage?  Think about how money is made in that type of transaction.

In your experience, how do members of the US Armed Forces lose their homes?

As Sgt. Hurley's story indicates, thousands of servicemembers actually lost their homes through illegal actions taken against them by financial institutions.  Following the Hurley case, it is illegal, and in complete contradiction of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to exercise a non-judicial foreclosure against someone on active duty military service.  We know this happened to thousands of servicemembers.

If financial institutions would only follow the SCRA, it would work to their benefit as well.  Soldiers do not have their debts forgiven.  They are not allowed to be irresponsible for their bills. The SCRA merely provides practical protections that anyone would see as reasonable. For example, helping a soldier on active duty in a war zone far from home to participate in the process.
This is not a political issue; it is about being an American.  The men and women serving and protecting our nation are our country’s most precious asset.  The SCRA does not give them something for nothing; it merely helps them balance their responsibilities as a servicemember with their obligations as a citizen.


How big a problem is foreclosure among veterans? Do you have a few tips as to how to avoid this?

I believe our servicemembers are used to pulling up their boot straps and marching forward.  But many times this causes them hesitation in seeking out help. Typically servicemembers are trained to take responsibility for their actions, including their debts.  When foreclosure occurs, sometimes the servicemember is simply willing to move forward and not protect their self against violations.  My specific tip would be to seek out legal counsel right away.
                                                                                                               
Can you offer an update as to how Sgt. Hurley is doing today?

I would encourage anyone who is interested in arts and crafts to check out Sgt. Hurley’s website, Razor’s Edge.  Sgt. Hurley is a skilled craftsman  and is extremely talented with his engravings.  If you have the opportunity to read the book, A Soldier’s Home, you will see that Sgt. Hurley is a man of incredible character and fortitude.  I continue to admire how he has endured and has moved forward in such a positive manner.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Please recognize the importance of our servicemembers serving on our behalf.  Unfortunately, we live in a very violent and adversarial world.  It is the men and women serving our nation that provide us with the freedom and ability to live the lives that we do.  If you have any desire to provide assistance or learn more, please visit www.SCRAFoundation.org   The Judge’s Guides can be found and downloaded directly from the site.

You can check out A Soldier's Home here.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Everyday Oscars

Well, the Oscars are over. Including a slight snafu around the announcement of Best Picture.

And Emma Stone's acceptance speech hit a high note. She said, in part, after thanking everyone involved in the production, "I still have a lot of growing and learning and work to do..."

Which got me to thinking, what if they handed out Everyday Oscars? And the nominees are...

Best Cinematography - Mother Nature (also known as Creation). Of course that would include everything from the Swiss Alps to the Grand Canyon to the Great Lakes to Iceland. Or the tropical Rain Forest cutting through the Amazon. Or the Amazon River itself. Or the Rockies. Or the Himalayas?

Best Sound Editing - How about the sound of ocean surf pounding against cliffs? Or the same surf a few days later, gently lapping at the shore? Or the sound of the wind rustling its way through a forest? Or the enveloping silence of snow falling in the evening? A cat purring?

Best Director - Anyone who takes the time to mentor someone else - mostly by their example. Especially to a kid who doesn't have someone else actively caring about them. This of course includes hundreds of thousands of educators - from kindergarten on up through PhD level. And the equally dedicated millions of volunteers is school systems worldwide.

Best Visual Effects - Putting down your smartphone and looking into the eyes of someone while
they are talking to you. And smiling as you acknowledge their presence.

Best Writing (Journalism) - Goes to anyone who writes/has relentlessly written the truth, undeterred by the consequences. Inspiring all of us to live the same. Including, but not limited to Hu Shuli, James Agee, Christine Amanpour, Nicholas Kristoff, James Baldwin, Margaret Bourke-White, Ed Bradley, W.E.B. DuBois, Frances FitzGerald, Nat Hentoff, Dorothy Thompson, Langston Hughes, Charles Kuralt, Bill Moyers, Anna Quindlen,  Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Mike Royko. Here's a list of 100.

Best Costume Design - A spotted leopard, a white-headed capuchin monkey, a blue-and-yellow
maccaw. The elegantly simple design of the ladybug. Or any forest dressed up in its autumnal glory. Or how about an evening sky in the desert (or anywhere away from city lights), with millions of stars overhead?

Best Make Up - Having the confidence and peace to go out into the world as yourself.

Best Actress - All Moms, for their consistent, unrelenting, unshakeable love. Especially in the middle of a earth-shatteringly hectic day (for them) when their kids voice their need for affirmation.

Best Actor - All Dads who offer the same. And for step-moms and step-dads, grandparents and all others who are able to handle the emotional acrobatics of stopping whatever they are doing, on a dime, to pivot their attention towards a kid.

Best Animated Feature - An otter scooting down a muddy river bank into the river. Followed
closely by any flock of birds taking off together in a miraculously random pattern. (Or if you live in North America, seeing your first robin way before your calendar officially turns to spring.)

Best Supporting Actress - Your best female friend who offers a smile when you need one. Cries along with you, without you having to stop and explain why you're crying. Offering encouragement, always.

Best Supporting Actor - To any male who offers the same as above, maybe minus the crying.

And if you're a bit curious to see who actually won the 87th Annual Academy Award Oscars, look here.

How about you? Who would receive YOUR Oscars??

Photo Credit: night sky - Islay Pictures Photoblog
otter - Wikipedia











Monday, February 20, 2017

Civil Righteousness & Nina Simone

Over the past weekend I had an opportunity to attend a couple of events tied to a Civil Righteousness Conference held in Kalamazoo, MI.

The Conference featured Jonathan Tremaine Thomas (who is Nina Simone's grandnephew). It was co-sponsored by Jesus Loves Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo House of Prayer.

During a breakfast meeting Friday morning, Thomas said that "we're in a protest culture." And that protesting keeps "recruiting on the unhealed wounds of America."

Mr. Thomas lives in St. Louis, Missouri and talked about what it felt like to be on the front lines of the protests that happened in Ferguson (a suburb of St. Louis) after the shooting of. Michael Brown. Thomas noted that the protests, while relevant, failed to address the deeper wounds.

He gave a quick history lesson about Ferguson, mentioning that Dred Scott (of the infamous Dred Scott decision) was buried not many miles from the epicenter of the protesting in Ferguson. Scott was a slave who had sued for his freedom after his master died, having lived in a free state. The case went to the Supreme Court, where the decision, given by a Court with a majority of judges from the South, ruled that Scott, being a slave, had no right to sue for his freedom. The case added fire to the growing hostility that led to the Civil War.

Thomas made the point that racism is a violation of Divine Principle, and that any violation of Divine Principle (aka spiritual ethics), results in racism, oppression, and trans-generational wounding that leads to a "breach in the spiritual walls of righteousness."

He said that our country is experiencing "inculturated pain" that is a result of non-normal ways of dealing with violation of Divine Principle.

The church should be leading the way to heal the deep-seated wounds but "the church has no oil." Thomas referenced Ez. 22:29-30, where God speaks: "I looked for someone who would rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn't have to destroy the land, but I found no one."

According to Thomas, we need a spiritual solution to the problem of racism in our country, which he called Civil Righteousness. He defined it as being "the pursuit of moral excellence in the face of injustice," using a biblical standard.

The next day, at another Civil Righteousness Conference event on the steps of Kalamazoo College's Stetson Chapel, Thomas offered a template that any city or region could use to help proactively address the issue of systemic racism. The steps included:

1. Prepare yourself, spiritually, emotionally and mentally, to run into the fight. Mobilize, pray, worship and bring spiritual engagement within the conflict zone. Thomas emphasized the importance of training and gave the example of Martin Luther King, Jr's insistence that participants in the Civil Rights marches of the early 1960s be trained in non-violent protest. So they knew what to expect from the opposition and how to respond.
2. Be a bridge by cultivating fruitful relationships and mutual understanding among feuding factions through preemptive measures.
3. Dream with God - lead the change. Innovate comprehensive solutions and strategies that foster sustainable spiritual, cultural and economic reformation.

Prior to the early afternoon discussion, Thomas gave a presentation on his famous relative, Nina Simone. While there has been a resurgence of interest in Simone's music recently, many fans have no idea of her roots. Thomas explained that Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Wayman. Her mother was a Methodist preacher.

At a young age Eunice played the piano and was a prodigy, being able to perform classical pieces from memory.

Eunice played the piano in her mother's church and had a wide regional reputation. But when she applied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, she was denied because of her color.

Eventually, Eunice gave private piano lessons to earn an income, but when she began to supplement it by playing in night clubs, she changed her name to Nina Simone, so her family, who disapproved, wouldn't be offended.

At first Simone's music was more jazz centered and incorporated elements of the music sung in black churches. But after the killing of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church which killed four young black girls, her music took a more confrontational tone. Her song, "Mississippi, God Damn" was an example of this turning point.

According to Thomas his great-aunt then became increasingly involved in the Civil Rights movement, feeling a great burden for the injustice she experienced and saw around her. That, combined with a bipolar disorder, resulted in her eventually removing herself from her traditional Christian upbringing of her youth, leaving her open, explained Thomas, to her darker side.

In an interview on French television Simone was asked how she felt about how her life had developed. "I''m sorry that I didn't become the world's first black classical pianist. I think I would have been happier. I'm not very happy now," she said flatly, near tears. (And I have to say that, having seen the clips of performances that Thomas showed, I was left profoundly saddened at what appeared to be Simone slowly being given over to an anger and grief that she couldn't resolve.)

Perhaps this is why Thomas says he has been called to a ministry of Civil Righteousness, seeing the results of the heaviness of wounds left to fester on their own.

Photo Credits:
Jonathan Tremaine Thomas - Twitter
Nina Simone - blacktimetravel




Monday, February 13, 2017

Voting & Vetting



It's been a busy time at the White House during the first month of the new president's administration.

There have been 11 Executive Orders signed.

The current administration occupying the White House seems to believe they are following up on campaign promises that represent the majority will of citizens living in the US. But taking a quick look at the election results proves this is not the case.

According to The United States Election Project, only 59% of those eligible to vote did so. That means 41% of those eligible didn't. Unbelievably, that's about average for a national election.

The Pew Research Center reported that among those who did vote only 8% of Blacks and 28% of Latinos voted for the current president. Understandably, many people of color feel let down and left out.

According to New York Magazine, the Democratic nominee actually won the general election by 2.8 million votes, or 2.1% of the total. This is the second largest margin (by percentage) by which a candidate lost the Electoral College vote but won the popular vote since 1824.

Considering all of the above, it would seem like the current party that controls the White House and Congress would be less inclined to act as if they somehow have a mandate. Instead, the current president continues to insistent that he lost millions of votes due to widespread voter fraud. Including an allegation that Massachusetts voters were bused to New Hampshire to vote illegally. None of these claims have been proven to be true.

The current administration's lack of popular support among US citizens is especially important when considering a few of the executive orders signed by the president within his first month of office. This lack of support goes far beyond politics.

One executive order elevated Stephen Bannon (his chief strategist) to the National Security Council (NSC). The same order lessened the power of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the highest ranking military officer in the US). Now the Chair of the JCOS and the Director of National Intelligence will attend meetings of the NSC only "where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise care to be discussed."

Former White House aides who know the importance of separating politics from national security decisions have said that this action on the part of the present administration is ill-advised and unprecedented.

The president also signed an executive order authorizing the US to build a "contiguous, physical wall, or other similarly secure physical structure"  across the Mexican border. The estimates of building the wall run from a minimum of $12 billion to $24 billion.

Another executive order pledges to hire an additional 10,000 immigration officers. If an immigration officer earns $20,000 a year, that would translate into an expenditure of $200,000,000 annually.

Given the Republican party's historic focus on fiscal responsibility (especially when it comes to a reluctance to fund programs targeted to serve the poor) it's curious to me why they would back executive orders that will substantially raise the national deficit. How is this being fiscally responsible? (Giving in to fear and prejudice can be extremely expensive.) Not to mention that the Pew Research Center and others have factually proven that for the past few years, the number of Mexicans leaving the US has been greater than those coming in. Meaning, in practical terms, there simply isn't a need for a wall. 

The president insists the wall will do wonders for our national security, meanwhile he has succeeded only in alienating President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico.

Perhaps the most controversial of the executive orders has been the one instituting a travel ban on Muslims from seven targeted countries, as well as all Syrian refugees.

The day the president signed this particular executive order, there were protests across the US and around the world.

The president has also cited the need for "extreme vetting." The current vetting process involves 20 steps, beginning with the United Nations, and includes clearance from the US State Department, FBI, Homeland Security and US Immigration. What would "extreme" vetting accomplish, except making it more tedious and expensive to implement? What practical, factual cause is there for hiring 10,000 additional immigration agents?

BBC World News has done an outstanding job of detailing the executive orders.

If you're wondering why there have been more protests than normal surrounding this new administration in Washington, maybe it's good to remember that the president isn't exactly popular, and despite his belief, he did not come into power upon a tidal wave of support.

In fact, the support for the current president is actually quite low.  Forbes reported a late January Gallup poll in which recipients gave him a 45% approval rating.The most recent Gallup poll puts the president's approval rating at 38%  The lowest approval rating for an in-coming president in the history of Gallup (since 1953). To put this in perspective President Obama came into office with a 68% approval rating. George W. Bush had a 58% approval rating.

And this displeasure has been filtering down to members of Congress at local town hall meetings.

Those familiar with the Bible and what it has to say about treating the poor know the gold standard for a religious life, which is to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God." (Check out Micah in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New for additional details.)

So, taken from a moral or religious view, the current administration's actions to date, have much to be desired.

It's no wonder then, that there has been such an outpouring of protest - the Women's March in January and the aforementioned demonstrations at airports included.

What else can a person do to keep the present administration accountable?

. call your elected state and national representatives and tell them, respectfully, what you think
. after you get off the phone, track how they voted
. which is part of keeping tabs on your state capital and federal government
. stay informed - but steer clear of radio talk shows, cable news, alt-news websites and any other source that is extreme in its views; read a national newspaper on a regular basis; understand the difference between opinion and fact (we need to be able to separate fact from political opinion)
. continue to stay engaged - but not enraged (the Bible also tells us to take a break, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments specifically mentions setting aside a day a week to rest and give thanks).

Photo Credit: Jeannette Rankin Peace Center













Monday, February 6, 2017

Sally Stap: Brain Surgery Survivor

Sally Stap is an author living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She's always dabbled in writing, but found that writing after brain surgery gave her an outlet to capture her experience. After her broken brain brought an Information Technology career to a halt and she struggled with head pain, facial paralysis, and single-sided deafness, she found that writing helped her express what she was feeling both physically and emotionally.

Her right brain, subservient to her left brain throughout her career, now regularly finds a voice through writing as she strives to interpret emotions and experiences through words. She's a member of the Kalamazoo Christian Writer's critique group, Wordweavers, and Faithwriters.com.

Smiling Again, chronicles the journey you took after being diagnosed with a brain tumor and the surgery that followed. What motivated you to write about this experience? I was shocked by how my life was turned upside down by this experience. I had done research but was totally in denial about what outcome I might encounter. I felt that all the scientific information available didn’t prepare me for the human experience that I had. 


In what ways did your experience change your understanding of God?
I like to say that my faith evolved from theoretical to applied. I have had a relatively blessed life and usually “got what I wanted.” This experience helped me to understand that God frequently has plans different than we do, but that ultimately His view is better than ours. I had a strong faith that has been tested. I’ve had to admit to being angry with God at times and worked through that. I can question, be frustrated, or accept what is and move on. I now seek joy in each day and accept that I don’t have all the answers.


In what ways has your faith been challenged?
Prior to my surgery, everyone I knew was praying for me. Specifically, the day before I left for Mayo I was at a church conference. About 15-20 people laid their hands of me and prayed. I even told them what to pray -- that the tumor be easy to remove ad not vascular or sticky. After surgery, I learned that the tumor was very vascular (lots of blood vessels in it) and it was sticky – particularly to my facial nerve. I had prayed for a perfect ending with a neat story to share. Instead I was given a fight for my life and I had to ask where God was in my experience.


You led a very busy life as a business consultant before being diagnosed. Do you miss that life?
Yes, I miss it. I have adjusted though and have worked much more with the right side of my brain by exploring art. My life is definitely more peaceful now. I need to be calm and deliberate to minimize my chronic head pain.


How have your priorities changed since the surgery?
My career ended, so I had to figure out my self-worth. I now appreciate relationships and the generosity of people. I appreciate each day and don’t push to always be productive.


What advice would you give to anyone reading who may be facing surgery for removal of a tumor?
Connect with the community on social media (and local support groups if possible). There are many different outcomes, so you want to be knowledgeable but not freaked out. You will get through it and your journey will be unique. Possibly easy, possibly challenging, but it will be your unique journey.


What advice would you offer, in general, for living life?
Seek joy in each day. Don’t always have huge expectations because you might miss the fragile flower growing between the cracks in the sidewalk. Love the people in your life.


What’s most important to you in life now? And why?
My family is most important to me. They were there for me and I recognize moments spent with them that might not have been. Every day following brain surgery is a gift.


Can you give us an update as to how you’re doing physically, emotionally, spiritually?
Physically I’m still struggling with head pain. I am deaf in the right ear. My face is still challenged with partial paralysis. Emotionally? Life is emotionally challenging when you are living with chronic pain and disability. I must let my body be the judge of what gets done in a day. I’ve lost that battle --- mind over matter – so I now listen. I build in much more rest time and allow myself quiet time without guilt. Spiritually? I have a strengthened faith in God and am doing better at handing issues over to Him instead of clinging to them as I whine.


What was your writing routine for Smiling Again? Do you have a particular writing routine now?
I’m more of a sprinter than a marathon runner. I am not disciplined daily – I confess! For Smiling Again, I wrote for a while but was too much in the experience to complete it. I had to get out a couple years from the trauma before I could look back and write reflectively (and objectively) about it. Mostly, I write when words about a topic pop into my head. I take notes immediately and at some point, sit down to sort them out.


Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I’ve had to accept that I’m not in control. I don’t have all the answers. My goal is to live a peaceful life seeking joy in each day. Of course, (grin) I have to mention the value of reading Smiling Again for anyone, whether facing a crisis or not. It is my best attempt to be transparent and share my human experience. I welcome dialogue with readers on my blog www.smilingagain.com or https://www.facebook.com/Sallystapauthor
You can check out Sally’s book, Smiling Again, here.