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).

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, 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

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 or
You can check out Sally’s book, Smiling Again, here.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Morality & Executive Orders

A lot has happened in the US over the past week-and-a-half, including the signing of an executive order closing the borders of the US to all refugees and suspending entry of anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somolia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Over the weekend this executive order resulted in protests at major US airports. It also resulted in confusion among those detained, those responsible for enforcing it, and, in the US, travelers who were affected by the slow down of routine flight checking.

In conjunction with the executive order, the President has called for "extreme vetting measures" to permanently keep "radical Islamic" terrorists out of the US.

The current vetting process is lengthy and comprehensive, involving 20 steps that include the United Nations, the US State Department, US Immigration and US Homeland Security before anyone is cleared for entry. Here's the vetting process details. Conservatively it can take up to two or more years to be cleared for admittance to the US.

On a purely practical level, the executive order does not include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Egypt - whose citizens have launched terrorist attacks. None of the nineteen hijackers involved in 9/11 came from a country targeted by the President's executive order.

The Washington Post reported that, according to a senior US counter-terrorism official that the executive order was created without the normal inter-agency reviews that happened under the Bush and Obama administrations. "Nobody in the counter-terrorism community pushed for this," said the official. "None of us asked for it."

So, who did ask for the ban?

Over the past week, Stephen Bannon, the President's senior strategist, was promoted to attend meetings of the National Security Council. Meaning he sits next to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. This is unprecedented. Meanwhile the office of the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence have been downgraded. Meaning that Bannon's opinions now hold much more weight in the eyes of the President.

Bannon helped pen the President's infamous "American Carnage" address and who told the news media "to keep its mouth shut."

The President also signed an executive order to obtain funding to build a "great wall" across the Mexican border. This act was seen as a slap in the face by Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico's President.
To the point that Nieto canceled his scheduled visit to meet with the US President, although they did speak by phone.

Similarly, another executive order of the current administration involves re-starting work on the Keystone XL/Dakota pipeline. It has earned the concern of Justin Trudeau, the President of Canada.

To sum up, within a week of being in office our President has managed to upset the leaders of both of our bordering North American neighbor nations as well as major allies like Germany, France and England. And this week Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was added to the list.

On a purely moral level, the current US President's actions do not bode well.

"Make America Great Again," seems to be translating into a very selfish, isolationist and faithless way of looking at the world.

All major religions attempt to promote peace and goodwill. Judeo-Christianity, and the Buddhist and Muslim faiths, in particular, place a premium on looking out for the stranger among us. Jesus said that we are to consider everyone our neighbor. (I refer to the parable of the Good Samaritan.) He also said blessed are the peacemakers (Check out the Beatitudes). It's a global view of the world and admittedly challenging.

The Bible is full of wisdom regarding how to treat the poor - and warnings for those who engage in self-centered behavior.

Over the weekend I had an opportunity to re-visit former President Jimmy Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech, given on July 15, 1979.

Although the speech was given during the Energy Crisis, what President Carter had to say bears repeating.

"We're confronted with a moral and spiritual crisis... all the legislation in the world can't fix what's wrong with America," he said.

President Carter went on to say that the fundamental threat to democracy wasn't political or economic, but rather "the threat is nearly invisible... it's a crisis of confidence."

He defined that crisis to be a loss of purpose, "the erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of America."

President Carter said that, until recently we "always had a faith that the lives of our children will be better than our lives."

The hope rings familiar today.

But President Carter also went on to warn that "too many of us tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning."

He gave some sobering facts: For the first time in history, the majority of adults living in the US believed that the next five years would be worse than the past five. That two-thirds of those eligible to vote don't.

President Carter said that Washington, DC was "knotted up" in gridlock and that "anything that demands a sacrifice from all of us is abandoned like an orphan."

Towards the end of his speech, President Carter warned that we are a crossroads, with two possible roads to take. One road was that of fragmentation and self-interest. "That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow self-interests, chaos and immobility." The other path involves realizing we have "a common purpose" that can unite us towards a better future.

The same two paths remain in front of us today. We can choose to act in fear, or faith.

P.S. Here's an excellent opinion peace by Nicholas Kristof that speaks to this issue.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone: A Review

Gavin Stone needs to work off 200 community service hours because of trashing a hotel room during a `bad boy' spree.

And his choices are seemingly stark: Either clean sewers, or help out at a church in his home town.

Reluctantly, Gavin chooses the second option.


When we meet Gavin, he's a former child-star who had his own tv show where he was constantly getting into trouble. His made-for-tv excuse when asked if he was the culprit: "Don't look at me!"

It was cute when he was nine, but now Gavin's in his mid-30's and still operating under the assumption that the world revolves around him.

Gavin (played to the "t" by Brett Dalton) has burned most of his bridges behind him. He has few financial resources. So he lands on the front door of his old home, where he faces his dad. It helps that Gavin's dad, Waylon, is played by Neil Flynn (who was the nameless janitor on "Scrubs" for nine seasons).

Flynn gives us an understatedly-wise Father, a man with few words, but immense thoughts as he welcomes his son back home.

Gavin's first day at his home town's church is a bit rough. He's surprised that Pastor Allen (played by D.B. Sweeney) doesn't seem to know him from his television days. Pastor Allen is willing to sign him up for community service, but lets Gavin know he won't tolerate any fudging of the hours. And Pastor Allen fully expects to hold Gavin to fulfilling every one of them - doing janitorial work.

Meanwhile Gavin runs in to the Pastor's daughter, Kelly, as he's attempting to clean the women's bathroom. Although Kelly (played by former MAD-tv star and stand up comic Anjelah Johnson Reyes) recognizes him, she's too busy juggling church projects to be impressed.

And so begins their relationship.

One of the projects Kelly has on her plate is directing the church's Easter production.

Gavin slips in to a rehearsal and is immediately captivated by the chance to do something theatrical in place of pulling mop duty.

After a reluctance to cast Gavin because of his mega-sized ego, Kelly talks it over with Pastor Allen, who convinces her that giving second chances is what Christianity is all about.

As the title implies, the remainder of THE RESURRECTION OF GAVIN STONE chronicles his epiphany and eventual personal resurrection into a relationship with God's son.

For the most part, the film, written by Andrea Gyertson Nasfell, (who also wrote the screenplay for MOM'S NIGHT OUT) does a great job delivering a solid message without thumping us over the head with it.

Some of the most brilliant moments of Nasfell's script take place as Gavin is playing the part of Jesus on stage. Gavin's Jesus whispers to the man who balks when asked to give away everything and follow him. "Don't walk away! Don't go!," Gavin ad-libs, pleading with him. An improvisation built on Gavin's own growing relationship with the person he is portraying.

The film's direction by Dallas Jenkins (son of writer Jerry Jenkins) does much to gently draw this out. He also extracts a believable performance from former WWF star Shawn Michaels as Doug, a fellow church member, a bit gruff on the outside, but with a heart of gold.

In the end Gavin says to Kelly, "I was rude and selfish and you guys gave me a second chance." To which Kelly replies, "That's what we do."

All in all THE RESURRECTION OF GAVIN STONE is a faith-based film filled with little gems that record Gavin's turn around. It is, indeed, a resurrection.


Photo credit: From Christianity Today website.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Meet Author Jane Knuth

Jane Knuth writes a monthly column for The Good News, the newspaper of the [Catholic] Diocese of Kalamazoo, and co-writes a column for a local newspaper, (coincidentally named Good News) with her daughter Ellen. She and her husband, Dean, volunteer in local food distribution efforts. They live in Portage, Michigan.
In 2011, Jane’s first book, Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25 Cents at a Time, was awarded first place from the Catholic Press Association for Popular Presentation of the Catholic Faith. Thrift Store Graces, her second book was published in 2012. She and her daughter Ellen, released Love Will Steer Me True: A Mother and Daughter’s Conversations on Love, Life, and God from Loyola Press in November 2014.
Ellen Knuth returned to the USA after 5 years in Japan. Having already been an English teacher, a singer in a rock band, a dairy princess, a MC, a newspaper columnist, and a university relations manager for a study- abroad company, she now works as a head hunter for a multinational firm in the Detroit area.  She travels extensively, writes occasionally, and sings constantly. Love Will Steer Me True is Ellen’s first book.

Although Jane and Ellen co-authored LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, the following interview is with Jane.

The back cover of LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE has this quote: “Did we teach our children to love God in order to keep them close to Him? If that’s the case, then it shouldn’t matter where they travel in the world.” Could you elaborate on that?
Raising children is different than raising adults.  I always had in mind that I wanted my daughters to become adults and that meant that I needed to gradually teach them adult knowledge like laundry, driving, money management, etc, and most importantly: prayer. Knowing that God exists and that God is reachable is the biggest coping skill out there. My daughter Ellen believes in prayer and uses it extensively.  God is everywhere and Ellen knows that, too. My worrying about Ellen being on the other side of the planet was a denial of what I had taught her. She was right to ask me not to worry.

From your point of view, why is there so much religious diversity in the world?  
Religious diversity reflects the diversity in the rest of humanity. To me, this seems natural. I would be astounded if every culture and every individual understood God in the exact same terms and metaphors. Since persons are not God, we can only understand God in what is revealed to us personally or through traditions passed down. Certainly, this is good. In this way we can learn about God from each other’s experiences and traditions.

In your book you mention tradition and faith. What do you see as the difference? Are they equally valid?
The way I understand it is tradition is the spiritual knowledge and practice passed down from generation to generation. Faith is a gift from God to an individual. I can practice faith traditions like worship, prayer, and sacrifice, but I only have faith itself by receiving it. I cannot conjure it up on my own. “Are they equally valid?” Hmm…I would say they are both part of the journey. But faith can happen with no effort on our part, only acceptance, and any pure gift is valid. Tradition is about learning what others in a long line of believers have determined is true. That is certainly valid, too.

What have you learned from the faith relationship between you and your daughter Ellen?
I learned that I was not the only teacher of my daughter. I learned that God’s plan for her is something that I need to accept just the way it unfolds in her life. Ellen’s soul is not my soul, and her journey is not my journey. I am always trying to learn about faith, but Ellen is always living it. In Japan, Ellen found herself teaching the Ten Commandments to people who had never read a word of the Bible. They asked her to teach them. This has never happened to me in my entire life. It was not her intention to spread the Christian faith when she was there, but God used her to do that. When she left, one of her adult students told her that, before she met Ellen, she had never realized that prayer was possible.  Ellen never prayed with this woman. She only prayed alone in the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Ellen has taught me so much about living the faith that I never would have learned anywhere else.

In one of the chapters of LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, you mention a conversation you had with your husband Dean about the difference between worry and prayer. In your opinion, what’s the difference?
Worry is trying to figure out the future and maneuver around it. Prayer is accepting the present and putting the future into God’s arms.

You mention having to answer the question “how do you share catechesis” in the classroom (as a middle school math instructor). In your book, you don’t provide the answer. I’m curious how would you answer that question?
It happened naturally many times. For example, I had the job of introducing the students to the concept of imaginary numbers (eg. the square root of -4). They were astounded that mathematicians would ever think about something that could only be labeled “imaginary.” Not only did mathematicians think about it, they developed theorems and proofs around it, and used the theorems to solve problems in the real world. This opened the students’ minds to the concept that different universes can occur simultaneously. And that naturally opened their minds to the spiritual universe that their religion teachers kept telling them about.

Do you have any practical advice to give in regards to being  sensitive to other faith traditions?
LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE is partly the story of how Dean and I raised our daughters to respect different faith traditions. We never fight over religious doctrines. It would be useless for us to try to solve arguments that have been going on for generations. We prefer to live the life of love that is demonstrated by Jesus in the scriptures. Jesus seldom got into debates with the religious leaders of his day. They wanted to debate him, but he side-stepped their arguments and traps with parables and miracles. He didn’t even argue with the devil in the desert, except to quote some scripture. But that story shows us that the devil can quote scripture, too, so why let ourselves get pulled into the arguments?

In LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE, the death of Rodger (Ellen’s friend who went to Japan with her) is a definite shock which faith, initially, doesn’t seem to heal. Of that experience you mention that God uses failures. Can you expand on that?
Rodger’s death brought to the forefront both Ellen and my fear of death; our own death, unexpected death, and a young death. Faith is all about facing death and learning to live, so this moment was necessarily a trip into the strength and weakness of our personal beliefs. It showed us how weak and defenseless we all are in this world. This was a good, necessary, and painful lesson. From our shaken-up faith, God lead us to see our vulnerability. I learned that I am fooling myself if I think I am not vulnerable to all the possible catastrophes in this world. Rodger was a good, good person. He died suddenly, far from home, with only a newish friend by his side. The tsunami taught the same truth on a much larger scale. Faith in God is not about escaping trials, it is about trusting that we are eternal souls and that eternity is good.

Can you describe your writing routine? (When do you write, where, what inspires you to write?)
Sure, but it’s not good advice! I write sporadically, smack up against deadlines, and only after distracting myself with dusting, doing the laundry, and making a cup of tea. To my credit, I actually enjoy the revision part. Getting the initial story down is like pulling teeth, but re-writing is kind of fun.

You also do quite a bit of public speaking. What’s that like? And do you prefer one (writing) over the other (public speaking)?
It surprised me how much I enjoy public speaking. On average, I am asked to speak to women’s groups two to three times a month. I also speak at book clubs, help-agencies, and libraries. The people I meet are kind, thoughtful, and diverse. It’s a great gig. I don’t prefer speaking to writing, but it is a lot less work!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
My publisher, Loyola Press, asked me to try to write a book about family prayer. The idea is to find out how different families pray, whether they are Christian or another faith. This does not include corporate worship or personal meditation, but the more intimate joining in prayer of loved ones.  Why does the publisher want this? Because they are hearing from readers that this will be helpful.  I am intrigued by the idea and I’m collecting stories from everywhere. If any of your readers have a good story to tell about praying with their loved ones, I would love to hear it. 

You can reach Jane Knuth via her Facebook page.

You can check out LOVE WILL STEER ME TRUE at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It is also available through Loyola Press, the publisher.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Meryl Streep: "Disrespect Invites Disrespect"

During the Golden Globe Awards Meryl Streep received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement.

She also gave an impassioned address on behalf of human rights advocates everywhere.

Here's some of what she said:

"Who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola [Davis] was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina; Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids in Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia... 
So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners...
...An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.
But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose."
Streep was referring to the president-elect's mocking of a disabled reporter in a public forum which happened during the presidential campaign.
While this isn't new information, or even shocking anymore, one thing that Streep said really stuck out. That is her reference to the trickle down effect of intolerance and bigotry.
It would behoove us all to pause a moment to consider what Streep is telling us.
She's saying when a person in a position of power models intolerance, that intolerance goes way beyond the intended victim and effects us all. There is no safe zone to avoid or excuse it.
The door is opened as Streep says, giving permission for other people to mimic this abhorrent behavior.
So, "disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence," and so it goes.
What can we do in the face of racism, xenophobia, racism or other forms of intolerance?
1. We can be diligent, checking ourselves first, and then those in power to be sure such behavior is challenged and doesn't become 'the new normal."
2. We can refuse to be intimidated into silence. That's how aristocracies and dictatorships are born.
3. We can volunteer at organizations that will place us side-by-side with people who don't look or think like us, providing an opportunity to learn and grow.

4. We can model positive, affirming behavior. It's the "Bambi Rule." If you don't remember the Disney animated classic, here's what I'm referring to.  "If you can't say something nice [about someone] don't say anything at all."
Much of this may be outside of our comfort zone. But most of the leaders of the major religions of the world didn't live comfortable lives. They challenged us to look beyond ourselves to the common good.

Maybe this is as good a time as any to heed their call.

Here's a link to Meryl Streep's Golden Globe address.

Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC