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You Can’t Tell a Peacemaker…

…without a guidebook

The good news as 2013 opens is that peacemakers are front-page news around the world. Throughout 2013, Americans will hear about abolitionists who pushed to end slavery 150 years ago—including some names most of us won’t immediately recognize. Right now, South America is abuzz with news that the murderers of Chilean folk singer and human-rights activist Victor Jara may be brought to justice after four decades.

FOR THE INSPIRING STORIES BEHIND THE NEWS:  As vendors shout at sports events: “You can’t tell a player without a program!” Get a copy of Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers, a guide packed with stories about more than 100 peacemakers circling the globe. Blessed Are the Peacemakers includes both an uplifting profile of Victor Jara’s contributions to peace before his martyrdom—as well as stories about abolitionists and contemporary civil rights heroes in the U.S.


NEW YORK TIMES: Pascale Bonnefoy, writing in the New York Times: SANTIAGO, Chile—Eight retired army officers were charged with the murder of a popular songwriter and theater director, Víctor Jara, who was tortured and killed days after the 1973 military coup in a stadium that had been turned into a detention center.

CNN: Mariano Castillo, reporting for CNN, produced one of Google-News’s most-cited stories, describing Jara as: a cultural ambassador for socialist President Salvador Allende who was detained immediately after a September 11, 1973, military coup. His body, with signs of torture and 44 bullet wounds, was found days later in an abandoned field. His is considered one of the most emblematic deaths of the political repression that followed the coup. “Victor Jara was a symbol, he was a cultural, political and social icon,” Nelson Caucoto, a human rights attorney representing the singer’s family, told CNN Chile. “He was the embodiment of a process of change headed by President Allende.”

BBC: This late-December 2012 news comes as part of a wide-reaching series of investigations into what happened during the violent military coup four decades ago. In 2011, BBC News reporter Gideon Long reported on new investigations into the deaths of Allende as well as poet Pablo Neruda. Long’s story begins: They were towering figures in 20th Century Chile: Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda, the president and the poet, two men united in life by their left-wing politics, and divided in death by a matter of days. For years, Chileans have been taught that Mr Allende committed suicide during the military coup of 11 September, 1973, and that Mr Neruda died 12 days later of heart failure brought on by prostate cancer. But now, both deaths are under investigation. In both cases, the Chilean military stands accused of murder and the country’s former dictator General Augusto Pinochet is once again in the metaphorical dock.


As Daniel Buttry points out in in his book, peacemaking is global good news—often heroically achieved even in the face of terrible violence—but peacemaking also is a practice you can develop close to home. One way is to schedule a small-group discussion of Blessed Are the Peacemakers in 2013. The book is appropriate for congregations, schools, nonprofit groups or library book clubs.


Our Free St. Nicholas Photos … a Christmas gift from us to you

OUR author Benjamin Pratt recently visited the area in southern Turkey where the “real” Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas of Myra, once lived. Read our story about the Feast of St. Nicholas. TODAY, Ben is giving us all a Christmas gift: Free photos from Myra that you can use in your website, newsletter or publication. Simply add this photo credit: Photos by Benjamin Pratt of http://books.readthespirit.com/authors/benjamin-pratt/


Ancient Myra, Turkey, was where Bishop Nicholas changed the world with his compassion for the poor. Here is Wikipedia’s entry on the area now known as Demre. Joining pilgrims from around the world, Ben was struck by the many artistic images of St. Nicholas. Here are photo captions:
inside the St. Nicholas Church in Demre, Turkey, where the real St. Nicholas once lived. Plus, a detail from the frescoes showing St. Nicholas.
1981 bronze statue with two children at the St. Nicholas Church center in Demre. Plus, a more recent inscription on the base.
2000 Russian St. Nicholas in Courtyard at the St. Nicholas Church center in Demre.
2008 Turkish statue of St. Nicholas with a child on his shoulder in Demre.
American culture is obvious in a Coca Cola-style Santa at a Demre market.

Give Holiday Spirit with … ReadTheSpirit

Happy Holidays! Popular Books by ReadTheSpiritGive a gift of Spirit—and support your friends, the authors and writers at ReadTheSpirit. You’ll find all of our books showcased, if you care to browse on your own. And, let us recommend a few great gift-giving ideas.

MOVIE FANS ON YOUR LIST? If you’ve got a James Bond or Twilight fan on your shopping list, you can’t do better than books by Dr. Benjamin Pratt and Jane Wells. Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass is popular with readers who welcome a practical approach to making 2013 a more hopeful year. Glitter in the Sun is terrific for fans who also enjoy traditional Bible study.

CALLING ALL DOG LOVERS: After dozens of dog-themed Christmas movies, the year-end holidays have become a bark-fest of loveable canine friends. But, if you’ve got someone on your gift list who has an elderly dog—or perhaps lost a dog in 2012—this season can be a challenge. Rob Pasick’s Conversations with My Old Dog is the kind of book people cherish and keep on a handy shelf to read again.

THE SEASON OF PEACE AND FREEDOM: Whether Hanukkah or Christmas is your holiday, themes of religious freedom and the quest for world peace run through your community. Blessed Are the Peacemakers circles the globe. If you’re thinking of this book as a stocking stuffer, here’s a moving column by author Daniel Buttry called “We Are the Socks” that you will want to print out and give with a copy of his book.

NEED PEACE CLOSE TO HOME? Do you have kids who are eager for the year-end break from school and are dreading the start of classes in January? That might be because they face bullying. We worked with a team from Michigan State University to produce a book that’s helpful for parents and families: The New Bullying.

GOT A WEARY CAREGIVER ON YOUR LIST? The nation’s millions of caregivers rank high on everyone’s list. That’s why we launched the new WeAreCaregivers.com web portal. And, that’s why we are publishing a half dozen books to lighten the spirits of caregivers and all those coping with life-threatening challenges. The best gift for caregivers on your list is Dr. Benjamin Pratt’s Guide for Caregivers with its bright red cover. Our most popular book, at the moment, for anyone coping with life-threatening challenges, is Godsigns by Suzy Farbman. Simply want to give your loved one a healthy laugh about life? Check out Rodney Curtis’s The Spiritual Wanderer.

PLAN AHEAD—WITH A GIFT FOR THE NEW YEAR: A creative and forward-looking idea is to give your loved one a book they can enjoy in the next major Christian season: Lent. Readers in countless congregations have enjoyed walking day-by-day toward Easter with Our Lent: Things We Carry.

WHAT’S MORE? Order any of these books via our easy Amazon links today—and you’ll have them well before your holiday!


Native American Heritage Month is a fitting welcome to Indian voices

Cover of Native American memoir Dancing My Dream

AMERICAN INDIAN campaigns to establish a special time for celebrating the cultures of our native peoples stretches back more than a century, involving advocates ranging from Indian activists to the Boy Scouts. ReadTheSpirit has been involved in promoting Native American voices since our founding in 2007 and we highly recommend Warren Petoskey’s memoir Dancing My Dream.


Finding information on this observance online is tricky, because the exact name has evolved over the years through various presidential proclamations and online publications. The current official website for the observance is co-hosted by leading historical institutions in Washington D.C., including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.

Part-Seneca historian Arthur Parker

Seneca historian Arthur Parker

Here are milestones in the official website’s history of Native American Heritage Month: One of the earliest proponents of an American Indian Day was Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y. He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans” and for three years they adopted such a day. In 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, formally approved a plan concerning American Indian Day. The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.

In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994.


Each year, presidents freshly proclaim this month and day. In 2012, the official Native American Heritage Day is November 23. You can read this year’s entire proclamation at the White House website. It says, in part: As the first people to live on the land we all cherish, American Indians and Alaska Natives have profoundly shaped our country’s character and our cultural heritage. Today, Native Americans are leaders in every aspect of our society—from the classroom, to the boardroom, to the battlefield. This month, we celebrate and honor the many ways American Indians and Alaska Natives have enriched our Nation, and we renew our commitment to respecting each tribe’s identity while ensuring equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.


Odawa-Lakotah elder Warren Petoskey has crisscrossed the United States, talking about his memoir Dancing My Dream. You can read much more about this inspiring book at the Dancing My Dream website.

Lincoln and the Abolitionists Can Inspire Your Congregation

International peace educator and author Daniel Buttry is advising congregations nationwide not merely to sit back in awe of Abraham Lincoln and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation—but to roll up sleeves, organize discussion groups and fuel renewed grassroots activism. Buttry writes: “As someone who has been a peace and justice activist for almost 40 years, I’m delighted to see attention focused on the Abolitionist movement. Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln will give a lot of attention to the Emancipation Proclamation, and rightly so. But deep social and political change usually happens from the bottom up, not the top down. The Abolitionist movement didn’t arise from great politicians like Lincoln or even Wilberforce, but from ordinary people who sacrificially struggled for a cause that consumed their souls.”

To help local groups dig deeper into this inspiring history, Buttry is giving free access to two chapters from his new book, Blessed Are the Peacemakers, which you can feel free to print or repost or email or “like” on Facebook to share with friends. Visit Buttry’s book page and you will find links to chapters on the American abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the influential British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.


Why learn about Clarkson and Douglass at this historical milestone—the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation? Buttry explains: “In the earlier movement to end the slave trade in the British Empire, the most important activism came from a handful of religious activists on the margins of society with the audacity to take on the immoral trade at the heart of the British economy. From that group Thomas Clarkson became the organizing hero who invented many of the tools used in grassroots campaigns today: He created stunning graphics (the iconic drawing of slaves crammed into the slave ships moved ordinary people to the obvious injustice); he encouraged the purchase of fair- or free-trade products (freedman sugar); he organized book tours (Olaudah Equiano’s best-selling autobiography as a slave who earned his freedom); he helped to gather petitions from the public (presented in Parliament by William Wilberforce).

“In the U.S. the Abolitionist movement also began from the grassroots, from freed and escaped slaves such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and from people of conscience who aligned with them such as William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).  They all spoke and wrote and traveled tirelessly stirring up people to join the cause.  Such grassroots activism creates the climate that forces presidents and parliaments to act, sometimes in directions they would rather not pursue. These principles worked in the historical turning-points when slavery was quashed in Britain and later in the United States—and they can work for good to this day.”


We hope: Forever. In terms of American popular culture: Certainly through this winter. Why? Right now, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is receiving rave reviews, including this one from faith-and-film author Edward McNulty (who includes a free small-group study guide with his review). In addition, McNulty has written an overview of the often-debated question of Lincoln and his religious faith. Film critics report that it is almost certain that Spielberg’s film and some of his cast will be nominated in the February Oscar awards. Then, there will be a subsequent release of the film on DVD and Bluray in spring 2013. In addition, January is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the PBS network plans to air a major documentary series on the life of Douglass and other abolitionists.

Prepare now for a lively discussion group in your congregation. Order a copy of Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers, now, because that book makes it clear why the abolitionists’ legacy is still active today. Buttry’s book follows peacemaking through the 20th century civil rights movement and into the global influence of that activism in countries around the world.

Buttry concludes: “Abolitionist movements are not just a thing of the past. There are more people today in forced servitude around the world than at any time in history. Slavery still exists including the sexual exploitation of millions of women and children in an insidious trade of human trafficking. This issue has only recently reached into national and international political awareness. It is the grassroots activists working on streets, in slums, in shadowy corners of cities and countrysides, in churches and community halls who have uncovered this terrible trade and are forcing their way into our consciousness—and our conscience. We need to learn from the past and be inspired by it so we can rise to the abolitionist task before us today.”

Invite a Vampire to Church for serious Bible study at Twilight

Twilight Breaking Dawn 2 movie posterTHIS IS THE SEASON of pop-culture blockbusters—terrific opportunities to welcome newcomers to your congregation. Last week, we reported on the James Bond mania that will run through spring—and we recommended our sure-fire James Bond book that already has been used by small groups around the world. Today, we’re reporting on the ways that Twilight also can fuel fresh interest in Bible study. Think about the small groups currently meeting in your congregation. In many small to mid-sized congregations, Bible study means: older adults. Announcing a short-term Twilight Bible study is a great opportunity to welcome girls and younger women into such a group.

We recommend Jane Wells’ Glitter in the Sun. You can read even more about Jane and her Twilight Bible study in her regular author’s column. ReadTheSpirit publishes inspiring materials for Christians and non-Christians. In Glitter in the Sun, Jane’s approach is perfectly pitched for Christian churches, especially congregations that take Bible study seriously and share a lively evangelical perspective on faith. What do we mean by that? We’re talking about churches where people like to dig into scripture and talk about the daily role of faith in their lives—in other words, tens of thousands of congregations coast to coast. Perhaps a church just like yours.


Twilight Bible Study book coverHUGE! You’ll enjoy our 2011 report on the gigantic reach of the Twlight series. Now, there’s more! Last year, we reported that the Twilight films, so far, had taken in $1.9 billion. Today, prior to the release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 on November 16, the combined Twilight films are up to $2.42 billion. Each new Twilight movie takes in another $700 million—so it’s safe to conclude that the five Twilight movies will top the three Lord of the Rings films this winter. (If you’re keeping track: Three Chronicles of Narnia films now total $1.6 billion, nearly two dozen James Bond movies (with Skyfall about to drop this month) have racked up more than $4.8 billion and the eight Harry Potter movies have reached a stunning $7.7 billion.)

And those are just the movie numbers! How about the books? They’ve sold more than 116 million copies worldwide. That’s territory reserved for all-time best sellers like Charles Dickens (for Tale of Two Cities), Cao Xueqin (Dream of the Red Chamber), J.R.R. Tolkien (for both Rings and Hobbit), Agatha Christie (And Then There Were None) and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince). Of course, way above such numbers are Bible sales.


Confused about Twilight? The Saga began as a series of Young Adult novels, aimed primarily at girls, but it has crossed over now to women—and to some men who enjoy sharing in the tales that interest their significant others. If you’ve read this far and you’re not familiar with these stories of vampires and werewolves, we certainly can help you. The best way to do that is to recommend, once again, our guide Jane Wells. She created this Quick Start Guide to Enjoying the Twilight Saga Movie Debut.


You may still be scratching your head. Invite a vampire to church!?! We are not alone in recommending this kind of pop-culture connection. Abingdon Press, the publishing arm of the nation’s third largest denomination—the United Methodist Church—has published Clay Morgan’s Undead, a guide to welcoming zombies, vampires and all manner of undead into your congregation. ReadTheSpirit recommends Clay’s book and we published an in-depth interview with Clay. More recently, Jane Wells wrote an update on Clay that includes a short video about Undead. Compared with Jane’s book, Clay’s Undead is more of a manifesto about this whole concept of pop culture connection in those eerie realms. And Clay’s focus is mainly on zombies—another specific craze these days and one that tends to attract more guys than girls. But Clay’s work eloquently makes our point: Want to grow? Want to reach unchurched people? Connect with the tales that are exciting people today. Two thousand years ago, a wandering Jewish teacher in the Middle East had the same idea—teaching by telling popular stories. Hmmm. Not a bad idea.


James Bond: Ready for a rip-roaring Bible study this winter?

FROM OUR MAN “008” IN ISTANBUL: You may have expected that this story would be a movie review, based on the European early release of the new James Bond movie, Skyfall. European journalists are calling the latest film a triumph and Americans are likely to flock to theaters when the movie finally debuts here on November 9.

But today our question is: Where in the world is our own resident James Bond expert? He’s not in the U.S. Rather, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is in Turkey. This is no joke. Dr. Pratt—author of our popular James Bond Bible study book—actually departed for Turkey last week. Of course, the eyes of all true Bond fans around the world are turning to Turkey at the moment, because some of the most eye-popping scenes in Skyfall were shot around landmarks in Istanbul. Dr. Pratt and his wife traveled to Turkey to see major landmarks, including ancient Christian settlements from biblical times. Still, we have to wonder—considering Dr. Pratt’s nickname among good friends, which is “008,” our question is: What is the intrepid Dr. Pratt uncovering in Turkey?


We know where Dr. Pratt will pop up when he returns from Istanbul. He is appearing in news reports nationwide about his latest book on caregiving. In addition to his literary scholarship, another of Dr. Pratt’s lifelong specialties is pastoral counseling and expertise in caregiving. So, don’t be surprised if you see or hear him soon in news reports over the next two months, talking about his Guide for Caregivers.

But back to Bond! Now is the time to organize a Bond Bible study group in your congregation. If you schedule your group in November-December, you will capitalize on the excitement of the Skyfall release. If you schedule for January, you’ll reap the interest of the families that wind up with the Bond 50th Anniversary boxed set of movies as a Christmas gift. If you schedule for Lent or spring, you’ll chime in with the millions of Americans awaiting a DVD, Bluray or Netflix release of Skyfall. (In fact, the big 50th anniversary set comes with an empty slot in the fancy box to place the Skyfall discs when they are released.)


Please visit Dr. Pratt’s author page and also visit the page packed with information about the book itself. Click on the various stories indexed on those pages. You will discover that the idea of organizing a James Bond Bible study is far from a pop-culture whim. Ian Fleming himself had a lifelong fascination with religious principles. Specifically, Fleming was deeply concerned with sin. That’s not to say Fleming was a sinful man himself. Rather, he was a prominent editor at the Times of London. In the post-World War II era, he convened some of Britain’s leading authors to write about the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. When planning his own James Bond novels, Fleming set out to explore seven even deadlier sins in our modern era.

Dr. Pratt’s James Bond Bible study book has been used successfully in congregations across the U.S. and as far away as New Zealand and Panama. In addition, U.S. military chaplains in Iraq used Dr. Pratt’s book with groups of soldiers in the field. All groups reported enthusiastic interest in such an unusual approach to Bible study. They also spotted an encouraging trend with this particular book: inactive church members and first-time-Bible-study students were attracted to this particular discussion.

Front and center in Fleming’s own life—and in Dr. Pratt’s book—is the New Testament book of James. The top story this week on the front page of our ReadTheSpirit magazine is an interview with Bible scholar Marcus Borg, who also discusses the importance of James. Organize a discussion group in your community now; order your James Bond Bible study books early; and—BANG! You’ll draw a crowd!

St Kateri Tekakwitha opens Native American spiritual vistas

The canonization of the first Native American saint by Pope Benedict XVI means that more than 1 billion Christians around the world now are encouraged to learn more about Native American spiritual vistas. These insights are poignant because this deep religious wisdom was opened to the world even as tribes were decimated by the collision of American and European cultures. Today, while millions of native men and women across the North American continent maintain only their ancient spiritual traditions, millions more blend both their ancient cultures and Christian spiritual traditions.

What St Kateri Tekakwitha’s Canonization Means

In declaring the sainthood of the 17th-century convert Kateri Tekakwitha, Benedict is telling all Catholics around the world that she is, indeed, a heroic saint worthy of spiritual reflection and inclusion in prayers of the saints in any congregation. Her influence also extends far beyond the Catholic church into other Christian communities and national cultures. Some criticism remains of ongoing Christian evangelism among Native populations, but St. Kateri’s canonization is widely celebrated as an honor for all Canadians and all Native Christians.
In his declaration, Benedict said: “Leading a simple life, Kateri remained faithful to her love for Jesus, to prayer, and to daily Mass. Her greatest wish was to know and to do what pleased God. Saint Kateri, Protrectress of Canada and first Native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of faith in the First Nations and in all of North America! May God bless the First Nations!”

Bringing Native American spiritual wisdom into your congregation

One way to bring this discussion to your congregation is through the spiritual memoir of Odawa teacher Warren Petoskey, called Dancing My Dream. Visit the book page for Warren’s memoir to learn more about how Warren weaves his own deep American Indian traditions through his conversion to Christianity. You will come away from Warren’s story inspired and humbled by the tragedies his family suffered and the soaring spiritual insights he shares with all of us today.

Care to learn more about St. Kateri? You’ll enjoy Stephanie Fenton’s column about her, marking her saint’s feast day earlier this year.


New books for you & your group this winter

For your Winter 2012-2013 reading and small-group planning, ReadTheSpirit is opening the first phase of our online Bookstore. Soon, we will add even more recommended books and small-group resources. Today, please look around. Start by clicking on the Authors link, at left, to meet the talented men and women who are writing with you and your group in mind. Add your own question or idea, below, in the Comments section.

Remember These Milestones

On October 21, the Pope is scheduled to canonize the first Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, before a worldwide audience, ensuring that a discussion group on Dancing My Dream will draw a crowd. In November, debuts of Twilight and James Bond movies will make Glitter in the Sun and our James Bond Bible study popular choices. Efforts to reduce bullying are making headlines—so The New Bullying shares the latest ideas and you’ll learn how to make friends in our diverse world in Friendship and Faith. Many of the heroic men and women in Blessed Are the Peacemakers wind up on network news.

Consider the Caregivers in Your Community

All winter long, a non-profit advertising campaign is highlighting the challenges faced by America’s 65 million caregivers. Exploring caregivers’ needs in your community is guaranteed to draw new friends to your congregation or small group, so consider Guide for Caregivers, GodSigns, Guide for Grief. Not only will our books inspire you—they’ll draw a crowd. If this topic interests you, we’ve also opened an entire web portal called WeAreCaregivers.com