Monday, February 6, 2017

Some great resources to increase our cultural and interfaith literacy: Upcoming events, newly-published books, and other opportunities for dialogue

In my past three posts I’ve shared with you highlights from the most recent meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC), including about the interfaith community's response to the dark turn our nation's current religious dialogue has takeninsights about finding reliable sources of information in an era where the news media has been branded by some as the "opposition party,and transcending not only religious differences but religion itself to help foster unity in diversity.

The MPC meetings are also an excellent forum for attendees to share about their own or their organizations’ faith- and culture-related work, including newly-launched outreach initiatives, upcoming community-education events, and recently-published books. I’ll share a few of them with you now, including one taking place tomorrow, February 7.

The first event is Luke Schaefer’s presentation regarding topics covered in his and Kathryn J. Edin’s book $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. The presentation, which is part of the 2017 Washtenaw Reads Book Event, takes place tomorrow from 7 pm – 9 pm in the social hall of the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor. (For address and directions, please click here.)

While this book’s focus is secular, the topic of poverty and marginalization in America is becoming more and more relevant to religious discussion, apropos of the current increases in prejudice and resource-restrictions against people of particular religious affiliations. Books and presentations about poverty from secular civic and academic perspectives can be good supplements to interfaith dialogue on the topic, especially if used to aid in brainstorming ways to help bridge the gaps between communities that would be stronger if they formed more alliances among themselves.

One such alliance is between the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Michigan Muslim Community Council. Alan Gale stated that the JRC identified a need to connect more with Middle-Eastern—particularly Muslim—communities, and partnered with the MMCC on the Shared Future initiative to help reduce tensions between the Jewish and Muslim communities by working together to address their “shared concerns.”

MPC facilitator David Crumm also made a great point that, while he is “a big supporter of the separation of church and state, there does need to be some re-connection between our groups.” While he was specifically referencing alliances between faith communities and public broadcasting, I take it to mean also forming faith alliances with civic, educational, and other secular institutions that directly impact the lives of people of all faiths.

The second event discussed at the MPC meeting is Diane Butler Bass’s presentation “Relocating Faith: Finding God in the Horizons of Nature and Neighbor,” on Saturday March 25 from 9 am – 2:30 pm, also at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor. Diana Butler Bass is a Christian minister and scholar of American religion and culture, who is has published books about changes religions undergo—or need to undergo—to adapt positively to the times. Her most recent book, Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution, is available on

Another book introduced at this MPC meeting was Miles Barnett’s God Explained, which Barnett explained is the culmination of his interviews with leaders from thirty different religions. What is noteworthy about this book is that, instead being of a collection of clergy members’ presentations about their religions’ views on God, Barnett asked them for their individual interpretations of God, regardless of how that view accords or doesn’t with their faith traditions. The book is available for purchase on and on

Read the Spirit contributor Chris Stepien was also in attendance, and briefly described his book Dying to be Happy: Discovering the Truth about Life, in which he discusses the universal theme of spiritual questions that arise from death. While Stepien writes from a Christian perspective, his book may still include inspiration and thoughtful take-aways for readers of other faiths, since we will all die regardless of how we live our lives or what religious traditions we practice.

Last but not least, a wild card presented at the meeting was Janice Leach’s and James Frederick Leach’s ‘Til Death: Marriage Poems, which takes a colorful departure from the typical “romantic” approach to poetry about the union of husband and wife. Janice Leach generously provided me with a reviewer-copy, so, just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’ll read it and write about it here before February 14. In the meantime, you can look it up on

Image: "From Diversity to Pluralism" by Karla Joy Huber, 2004; mixed media

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