Interview: American Quaker Poet Jeanne Lohmann, on her life and work (she near 90)

Interview: American Quaker Poet Jeanne Lohmann, on her life and work (she near 90)

There is no doubt that Jeanne Lohmann, Quaker poet, is a remarkable woman who in her elder years (almost 90) has a warmth and charm that makes talking to her by phone a pleasure. I spoke with her in interview on a number of occasions spending more than an hour developing this conversation about her work and even her life. We started talking, she in her Washington State home in the Great Northwest of the United States, and I just north of San Francisco by about 11 miles in my home located in the small town of Mill Valley near San Francisco. She lives in Olympia, Washington. We began about December 31, 2013 and ended February 8, 2014. It was a friendly conversation and at one time I interrupted her watching the beginning of the Olympics and so had to call back the next day. Another time, before that, the phones didn’t work—hers, we thought.

There is more to this interview than one conversation with the poet. There is also a conversation, brief, with the editor of her publisher Daniel & Daniel, located in California. More on that in a minute. Let me offer this statement on poetry from a packet sent to me by Jeanne Lohmann of her notes and diary material. This Religion Writer wants to set a tone about poetry more than about the article to come, important as that is in this introduction.

The statement on poetry from one of Jeanne Lohmann’s diaries (circa 1978 and beyond):

What is the spiritual practice of poetry? I think we fool ourselves with such divisions, separations. Practice is practice is practice, and requires us whole, body and breath that animates…vocal chords and song, imagination and word, story and story-teller.

Making use of poetry, adopting the habit of poetry, I write and revise, perform poems…learn how. Practicing poetry: I’m open to invitations from anywhere. I create my own rhythms, plod when I must, fly when I can. Maintaining the habit, I work to forego the habitual, the trite and easy.

Learning poems for my life, they save me over and over. Poetry swings my arms when I walk, spills around me in specific details, insights. Word-music shaping answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask, teaching me to re-think answers I thought I had: how to honor the awkward, the homely, and the broken.

On about December 5, 2013 John Daniel of Daniel & Daniel is noted in my pages as responding by email to questions about the publishing house he started and where he is editor. You will find more of that interview at the end of this conversation below with Jeanne Lohmann. To the first question John Daniel answers:

Yes, we (Daniel & Daniel, Publishers, which includes Fithian Press), do publish poetry. We also publish memoir and fiction, and our most successful line of books consists of mystery novels, which we publish under our Perseverance Press imprint. As for the state of poetry publishing, I observe that it’s becoming more and more a cottage industry. Judging from the number of submissions we receive, compared with the number of books we sell, I get the feeling more people write poetry than read poetry. But we soldier on, publishing books we like, by poets we like. We’re proud of what we do and want to stay that way, which is why we’re so choosy. We reject most of the manuscripts we receive.

But let me tell you more about Jeanne Lohmann. Her most recent poetry book is, “Home Ground” and it has much of her previous work in it. Published by Daniel & Daniel, it is found on here. Much of her work sells, and this over the years. She strikes a chord with people, especially with moving themes of death…death of her husband and love between a man and a woman. Here is an early remark by one reviewer of one poetry book, “Gathering a Life.”

“Lohmann does not wish her husband’s life to be forever fixed in time and place, but to remember him with some charity of truth so that he might return and be the person she loved. This is a diamond, cutting hard.” Written by Sally Bryan, University Meeting/ San Juan Worship Group Society of Friends. (Date unknown).

This Religion Writer’s earnest

Stanford Professor Luhrmann to win prize at Louisville Seminary for book on God talks back

Stanford Professor Luhrmann to win prize at Louisville Seminary for book on God talks back

“It’s really important to understand that God is not an impersonal force. Even though He is invisible, God is personal and He has all the characteristics of a person. He knows, he hears, he feels and he speaks.”

–Tanya Luhrmann from her presentation on her Prize winning book, “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.”

Dr. Shannon Craigo-Snell is the coordinator of the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, a $100,000 annual prize given jointly by Louisville Seminary and the University of Louisville for creative ideas that best illuminate the relationship between human beings and the divine. (

Louisville Seminary and and Stanford University point out Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford University psychological anthropologist, will receive the prize for the ideas set forth in her 2012 book, “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.” As of this writing Professor Luhrmann says in an email to this Religion Writer regarding her remarks for April, 2014 on receipt of the award that those remarks are not yet ready. “I am delighted to receive the award and I will use it to fuel my further research.”

The Seminary and University of Louisville presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.

Luhrmann wrote her 2012 book after four years of fieldwork in Chicago and Northern California with Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a church whose members speak in tongues and pray for healing. She observed and interviewed church members and took part in prayer groups, Bible study and weekly worship.

After extensive research, she concluded that the evangelical experience of God involves a sophisticated use of mind cultivated through both individual practice and communal support.

Besides tracing the development of modern evangelical Christianity and showing how questions of belief have changed in contemporary times, Luhrmann applies important theories from psychology and anthropology to explain what happens when evangelicals pray, said award director Shannon Craigo-Snell, a theology professor at the seminary.

“Instead of asking ‘Is God real?’ she asks ‘How does God become real for people?” Craigo-Snell said. “She offers a compelling exploration of religious experience in evangelical communities and a captivating account of prayer as a way of training the mind to experience God.”

Another point made by Professor Luhrmann in her presentation on her book is this statement from the work where she describes the getting to know God process:

} “I will set aside times where I’ll have date night with God … Especially when the weather is really nice, and I can go to the park and I can take a subway sandwich with me and just sit there. It’s almost like a conversation then, where we’re talking about His children and we’re talking about what’s going on in my life and what He’s doing in the world, that sort of thing.”

Christmas House lit with lights in small town Novato, California USA–a visit…

Christmas House lit with lights in small town Novato, California USA–a visit…

The Portuguese immigrant who lives with fame in his home town Novato, California (population 50,000), a city 25 miles north of San Francisco has the name Edmundo Rombeiro. His claim to fame is the way he says, Merry Christmas to all and peace to men of Good will each year. For 22 years this remarkable man, an American, decks his home and lights it like a Christmas tree for the joy of neighbors, visitors adult and children alike. Of course, not everyone is enamored of his style, his taste, his lighting his home to the tune of an electric bill costing $1,500 a month on Devonshire Drive in the more affluent community where homes are valued at $650,000.

In a telephone conversation, the creator and owner of the Christmas House, Mr. Rombeiro told me, “I got the Christmas spirit in my heart. In the Azores I watched my mother and my father make the nativity scene and really enjoyed it…All the lights….When I came to the United States …and started decorating in 1980 and (just) a couple of years later started decorating. I decorated $4000 or $5000 (worth of work) …. Every year (we have been) adding new stuff.

“Christmas is one of the best holidays for me. My daughter and I are the two main decorators. We give Christmas to the community. We give it to thousands of people in the whole community.

“Last year we had 18 or 19 tour buses for the entire year (come from San Francisco’s Bay Area). This year we had about 10 tour buses for the year. We feel very happy to see people smiling.”

Film Review: ‘Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago’ pilgrimage viewed at a small art theatre USA; enjoyable, picturesque and contemporary

Film Review: ‘Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago’ pilgrimage viewed at a small art theatre USA; enjoyable, picturesque and contemporary

There are a number of important things to say about this picturesque film about a religious pilgrimage with the apt title, “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” which this film goer viewed at the small art theatre outside San Francisco in the Smith Rafael Film Center, Paying $8.00 for the four o’clock show as did his assistant Linda Shirado.

Important thing number one to say: The scenery is just excellent, and we enjoyed the movie, if for nothing more than scenery alone. After all, this pilgrimage has lasted for 1,200 years and walkers have been walking it for that long in this Roman Catholic trek of penance that Producer Lydia Smith filmed and also caught its beauty. The Los Angeles Catholic paper Tidings writer Brenda Rees broadens the scenery remark of Lydia Smith this way: “Photographed with gorgeous images of idyllic landscapes and historical structures, the film depicts the physical and spiritual journeys for six pilgrims, ages 21-62, from Chile, Germany, Italy, the U.S. and other international countries. Some are walking for religious reasons, some for the physical test of endurance. Over the course of the film, these six will bond and form friendships, face extreme despair and doubt, accept kindness from strangers, find romance, brave the elements, and discover spiritual strength that will help them cross an entire country on foot.” How true is her statement, Brenda Ross’ It is in these relationships that some of the transformation is found. But for the religious, the transformation is with God, in that walk, in that way, in that step by step walk with God along the path. As two of the walkers found, it is on the path itself in the way that something unusual happens. It is a mystery of life itself, to be mystical about it and each has a way of coming to this mystery. Maybe it is in the joy they discover, and maybe it is in the hardships and the pain, and simply in the difficulty and success of traveling on foot along the 500 miles. Who is to say what the ways of the Saints or the ways of God may be that attract people to this practice. They go and do. Faith comes.

Interview: Mark Larrimore who wrote ‘The Book of Job: A Biography’

Interview: Mark Larrimore who wrote ‘The Book of Job: A Biography’

How I do like the way Mark Larrimore has begun his work, “The Book of Job: A Biography.” There is a chill to the start. Here are the first sentences of his book, part of a series by Princeton University Press:

The book of Job tells of a wealthy and virtuous man in an unfamiliar land in the East. His virtue is so great that God points him out to hassatan—literally the satan. “the adversary.” a sort of prosecuting attorney in the divine court, who, whether by temperament or profession, is skeptical regarding the possibility of genuine human piety.

There in the introduction to this interesting work that is part of the very complete and large series of titles, “Lives of Great Religious Books,” we find quickly a sense of foreboding. The series is described by Princeton University Press this way, in case you didn’know:”Lives of Great Religious Books is a series of short volumes that recount the complex and fascinating histories of important religious texts from around the world. Written for general readers by leading authors and experts, these books examine the historical origins of texts from the great religious traditions, and trace how their reception, interpretation, and influence have changed–often radically–over time. As these stories of translation, adaptation, appropriation, and inspiration dramatically remind us, all great religious books are living things whose careers in the world can take the most unexpected turns.”

Let us give ear to author Mark Larimore’s own recitation on the radio to a longish interview with Tom Ashbrook who says of Job in his introduction to the talk:

The Book of Job is a brutal corner of the Bible. A good man, Job, thrown arbitrarily, suddenly, into a life of absolute agony. Stripped of his wealth. His children killed. Plagued and hounded and showered with misery. His only consolation is sounds like none: “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” Deal with it. The Book of Job is so harsh. It’s about unrelieved injustice and the suffering of innocent humans. About grief and rage and the human condition. And maybe about wisdom that goes right beyond the Bible. Up next On Point: The Book of Job, and life right now.

– Tom Ashbrook

The broadcast is here and this is its title:

The ‘Book of Job’ In the Modern Age

The Book of Job and the trials of Job. Hard and endless. We’ll ask what the hard old Bible story has to say now.

A man with a PhD from Princeton who teaches at the innovative or some would say liberal and even small, special New York City University with the excellent reputation The New School, Mark Larrimore is consistently rated by students a superior teacher and a very interesting one. Called by editor of Princeton University Press a very talented up and coming writer, the promising and talented Mark Larrimore is a good talker who is a pleasure to engage in a conversation and a man who has what used to be called “good vibes” with lots of energy and good sense, too. That is judging by his intelligent and educated conversation that holds ones interest: he is to put it more briefly, engaging.

This short statement from his University profile says much of the character of his course material, and this is a quote: “The study of religion and liberal education are indispensable to each other because religion is so often illiberal and liberals so often anti-religious.” To reach the Professor by email, write him .

Since 2002, Mark Larrimore has been teaching Religious Studies at Eugene Lang College. In this interview conducted by WNSR’s James Lowenthal for 25@25, Larrimore discusses his discipline and its relation to the Lang community, and the various changes he has seen during his time at Lang.

Here is that radio interview:

Feature Broadcast on May 9, 2011

Feature: 25@25: WNSR Interviews Mark Larrimore

Mark Larrimore is a man who as writer of the work on Job thinks. This excerpt gives evidence of his efforts to find meaning and even some ongoing effort at working out the difficulties of the Book of Job…it’s kind of ongoing effect on readers through centuries of different readers and times:

Keeping company with Job, as friend or interpreter, is a worthy activity. Only the one who sees no challenge in Job or the questions his book is thought to raise should be dismissed. Recognizing that Job’s questions are not only “unfinished” in the book of job but “unfinishable”, we may conclude only that our obligation is to keep the retelling going in all its difficulty. This means learning to listen to every part of the text, and perhaps also to every serious past attempt to enter the argument—joining the long line of interventions that began with Elihu. Showing how or why this might be done has been the intention of this book.

An interview with the author Mark Larrimore was held with questions sent in writing and answers given in writing to Religion Writer Peter Menkin.


Mark Larrimore, author of “The Book of Job: A Biography” (The words of the whirlwind} and a professor of religious studies at The New School. The book is also found here: .

1. During the three years you worked on “The Book of Job: A Biography,” did you find the creation and research a kind of meditation? If so, tell us something of your meditation. Yes, this is a broad question, and to narrow it down: In what way did you find Job a Christian statement in your meditation, if at all?

Let me take that as two questions. Was it a kind of meditation? Yes, absolutely. I understand Job to be very significantly about our inability to understand the suffering of others, and even to acknowledge what profound questions it poses for our own religious views. The book is about interpretation and its failures. For me it’s a meditation on the experience of others, on our duty not to forget others in our own meditations. As I make clear in the introduction to my book, I do not come to the Book of Job out of world-wrenching suffering of my own. The Book of Job demands of me that I admit this. To the extent that it argues that extreme pain and anguish give a privileged understanding of things, an insight not attainable in any other way, I shouldn’t be interpreting it. But then my book isn’t my take on Job but an effort to provide resources for anyone’s effort to make sense of this book and the momentous questions it names, introducing interpretations and uses which are far deeper than any I could come up with.

‘Lives of Great Religious Books’ new series by Princeton University Press

‘Lives of Great Religious Books’ new series by Princeton University Press

In this article about the Princeton University Press series “Lives of Great Religious Books,” this Religion Writer offers a two part introduction: (1) A kind of interview with Fred Appel of the press who talks a little about the ongoing program of the publishing project, and; (2) some notes and comments on one of the titles written by the distinguished professor and scholar Alan Jacobs titled, “The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.” Interestingly, when I received the two of the books of the series, I noted their size and so inquired about that and was told:

Regarding the format of the books, we decided to go with a slightly smaller format (most books are 6 x 9, these are because it is visually appealing and also a comfortable size for reading and slipping into a pocket or bag. It also makes the collection really stand out on a shelf as a cohesive group.

Further, if the reader wishes to jump to an article describing the series, look to this link provided by the publisher who says on sending it:

We have had a few articles about the series including this rather early one:

But more as an introduction is this quotation as written in 2011 by the Editor of the project himself, found in the paragraph below as the best of introductions and explanation of the project itself. A far better one than this Religion writer could write and so well to the points of the project:

April 26th, 2011 by Editor

Fred Appel, editor of the new religious series, The Lives of Great Religious Books, wrote a piece for The Front Table this week:

“Lives of Great Religious Books” was born in the faculty lounge of the NYU Law School in the early spring of 2005, in a conversation over tea with the eminent Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit. I had come to NYU to meet with Margalit, then a visiting scholar in the Law School, to ask him about his current research and writing, and talk more generally about trends in the humanities. This is one of the great privileges and joys of being an acquisitions editor at a distinguished scholarly publishing house: being able to engage smart and imaginative people in conversation on topics that preoccupy them. After talking about his own work – including a book he had begun that we eventually published in 2009 – the topic of conversation turned for some reason to memoirs. Margalit was of the opinion that too many were being published – or more precisely, that too few were worth reading. Then he tossed his head back and said dreamily, “you know what I’d like to read? A biography of an important book – the story of its reception across time. That’s the sort of memoir we need more of.”

For more of this excellent piece about the story of this project written by the Editor, go to this link and finish his article. Copyright will not allow us to print the whole piece here.

During the course of looking into this series by Princeton University Press Editor Fred Appel agreed to take some time and jot some of his remarks on the series down in answer to some questions sent to him in writing. He responded in writing and herewith his answers as he sent them to this Religion Writer Peter Menkin.

1. In a conversation with your writer Mark Larrimore I expressed my interest in learning of interest in his title by the public in general, a hard thing to pin down since his book hadn’t yet been released when he and I spoke in early October, 2013. So this question of you, who created the series of religious titles: What expectation did you have of readers and that audience for their appetite for the titles in the series, including both Mark Larrimore’s book a biography of Job and Alan Jacob’s a biography of The Book of Common Prayer. Please feel free to give a broad based answer to the question.

When I think of who might be interested in reading books in the “Lives of Great Religious Books” series, I never think of “the public in general.” That seems like too vague a category. I see each book in the series having both a broad, interdisciplinary scholarly readership and a potential readership among educated and interested non-scholars. Just who these people are will vary from book to book. Alan Jacobs – a wonderful and experienced writer – has a following in Christian circles, and this fact combined with his particular assignment (the Book of Common Prayer) leads me to predict a strong market among (a) historians of Protestantism and the English Reformation & other scholars with interests in British Anglicanism and (b) non-scholars with involvement and/or strong interest in the history of the Anglican Church, and in Christian prayer and liturgy more generally. Mark Larrimore’s book on Job, by contrast, will likely attract a different scholarship readership – perhaps historians of philosophy and theology and other scholars interested in biblical reception histories – as well as a different general readership (more Jewish as well as Christian readers, say). A forthcoming book on the Yoga Sutra of Patangali – by David Gordon White – will attract readers interested in eastern religious traditions and the philosophical roots of yoga. And so on.

2. I think it is a rarer day than not when one gets a chance to get to ask an Editor in Chief who has created a “full length series” of such imaginative and scholarly religious titles of the kind you’ve begun to edit questions on their making. How does the series grow, and what does it take to get them to go? Please give us an anecdotal response on one or two author-scholars you chose and the titles they’ve written or will write. Any struggles in their creation?

Finding the right authors for books in this particular series has been a challenge. Ideally, authors for this series have some demonstrable scholarly expertise in the subject matter in question. That almost goes without saying. What is more, they must be able to tell the story of the book’s reception over time in a way that engages the interest of educated non-specialists. In other words, the authors must be comfortable writing for those who are not themselves specialists. Many of the authors in the “Lives” series have written books of this sort before, so the task is not so difficult for them. They’ve had practice. I’ve also chosen to work with scholars who have never written such a book before, and they require more guidance. Sometimes their first drafts are just too scholarly.

Interview: 90 year old poet of the Northwest USA William Matchett talks of his new work, ‘Airplants’

Interview: 90 year old poet of the Northwest USA William Matchett talks of his new work, ‘Airplants’

Interview and article By Peter Menkin

Quakers do not have a set of beliefs they adopt when they become Quakers. We have four testimonies we try to live out: Community, simplicity, equality, and peace. In poems you would find a number of things referring to (the testimony). We try to live for it. We believe in continuing revelation. Which means we feel there are new truths emerging in the Universe all the time and we need to use discernment and the help of each other to find these truths. To find if they are truly true.

–Judy Brown, Quaker

She introduced me to Poet Matchett and is an editor of poetry (Friends Journal)

An interview with poet William H. Matchett, Quaker, done by phone, but mostly answers typed on his typewriter from the 90 year old’s home in the remote area of Seabeck, Washington in the United States’ great Northwest where he lives with his wife in the Summer (this done 2013 from September 12, 2013 through the end of October, 2013). Correspondence by U.S. Mail was our method of sending manuscripts. This took a few days as poet Matchett has neither computer nor internet for one. He retired as a teacher from The University of Washington in 1982 (Shakespeare).

In this interview we focus somewhat on his new book described by W.S. Merwin as poems gathered over a lifetime and published by Antrim House in Simsbury, Connecticut, “Airplants: Selected Poems.” There is a short interview by Antrim House publisher Robert Rennie McQuilkin following the interview with poet William H. Matchett.

An older statement by The University of Washington on the internet says of him, in part:

William Matchett, professor emeritus of English and former longtime editor of the journal Modern Language Quarterly…Matchett retired from the UW in 1982 but continued teaching and writing after that. He is the author of two other books of poetry, Water Ouzel and Fireweed as well as the work Shakespeare and Forgiveness. He also has written stories, articles and other criticism, and his work has appeared in dozens of magazines, include The New Yorker, Saturday Review of Literature, Harper’s and The New Republic.

Antrim House says this of the poet: “William Matchett was born in Chicago and educated in its public schools until his final two years of high school at Westtown, a Quaker boarding school, where his commencement essay was a long poem. During World War II he was assigned, as a conscientious objector, first to a Civilian Public Service camp and then, as a guinea pig, to the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. After graduating from Swarthmore with highest honors in 1949, he married and returned to Cambridge to pursue a PhD at Harvard. While there, he had a teaching assistantship in Archibald MacLeish’s popular poetry course, and was one of the founders of the Poets’ Theatre, remaining active with it until 1954. Matchett’s entire teaching career since then has been at the University of Washington, where he is now an Emeritus Professor.”


1.Of your poems, many give a taste of being close to the land. Which of those speak to you of God, if you will, and give an example of one that is special to you–if only a few lines. Has your Quaker faith influenced you in your appreciation of the land and its environment?

I think it is true that the only time the word ‘God’ appears in these poems is in the third section of the Accademia poem where it clearly refers to the Old Testament God of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis as he appears in those glorious tapestries. I don’t use the word otherwise since it means so many different things to different people and would get in the way of the experiences I am trying to create. I don’t think of poems as sermons but as creating experiences for others to consider.

After I completed “Water Ouzel,” I recognized that it was one-sided, only part of the story. The poem ends most dangerously with the word “sweet”—dangerous because, as Shakespeare makes clear in a scene in Troilus and Cressida, it easily cloys. I didn’t know Troilus and Cressida that well when I wrote it. I did realize that it was a poem expressing a very optimistic view of the world, and I knew there was another side to the picture. So I wrote “The Petrel” to indicate a darker side of the balance. Still, I let “Water Oruzel” have the last word in that volume.

Many Quakers differ in the language they use to express their deepest convictions. But we are tolerant of each other and try to hear what the others are saying even though their words may not be ones we would use.

I don’t think of myself as a “Quaker Poet.” Though I am a Quaker who writes poetry, I don’t speak for Quakers. Many of my earliest poems were about birds. I then consciously ruled them out as a subject, not wanting to be thought of as a Bird Poet, wanting to avoid such cataloguing. Only two poems in this collection are Quaker in subject matter, “Quaker Funeral” and “Jordans Meeting.” However, a friend did once say she thought of Antinightmare” as a quintessential Quaker poem since (mistakenly as it turned out) I gave George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt, seeing that of God in him.

Yes, I think becoming aware of the incredible balances in the environment, and our need to protect them, has increased my Quaker faith, though I suppose it is circular and my Quaker faith has increased by sense of balances. I want to be on the side of protecting the land, yet I still drive a car. It is a Prius, but still uses gas. Our son will only use public transportation or his bicycle, but there is none of the former where we live and I am too old for the latter, so I remain inconsistent. Yet my Quaker faith is me. As you said, wherever I go, there I am.

I wrote “Fjord Afternoon” some years ago.


Our weeks of sun have come to an end, all the colors subdued under a mat grey sky, the surface calm, the maples along the shore patches of dull orange among the yellowing alders, the mountains flat planes of dissolving blues, the still warm air already beginning to turn.

No sound but the paddles stirring slow circles and the occasional loon laughing across the water, yet the fjord is restless with congregations of grebes and scoters extending into the mist; five cormorants crenellating a floating log take off one by one as we drift too close.

What an autumn this has been! A seal, slipping beneath the canoe, comes up on the other side, trying to understand us, keeping its soft periscope aimed in our direction. Its paler-than-usual face magnifies its eyes, its round black eyes, looking through and beyond us.

We face that fjord and the Olympic Mountains beyond it, as we have now for more than fifty years. But the fjord is dying. In winter there used to be rafts of many kinds of ducks. Not now. There are no longer the fish to support them. The ecological balance has gone awry. Even then I thought of the seal as looking through and beyond us.

Numbers of poems in this book end with unresolved observations, like “Clearing the View”:

Special Report: Philanthropy & Inflation in USA congregations new Study by Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Special Report: Philanthropy & Inflation in USA congregations new Study by Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Report by Peter Menkin

The Presbyterian Church Outlook publication arm, edited by John Haberer, is producing a series of Webinars and one played on the internet October, 2013 on philanthropy was of particular interest to this Religion Writer. Like many webinars produced by Outlook by the Presbyterian Church, says John Haberer, this one, characteristically, had fewer than 50 participants, it was a powerful and even elite course in a single subject of particular interest to its special group of internet viewers. The cost under $50, the webinar covered Philanthropy and the Church and included the long report about a Congregational Impact Study regarding inflation and the economy churches in the United States. This study of national character and excellent reputation encompassed more than 3000 Protestant churches, mostly.

The webinar was worth the price of admission; it was a smooth running affair led by and organized by William Enright, PhD. This Religion Writer spoke with him prior to the internet broadcast. This from my notes:

We survey over 3100 congregations: It [the 3100 congregations] represent the spectrums. We found congregations are recovering from the recession in 2007, and most are recovering and it is slow. Most are failing to keep pace with inflation. We figure 62% are not keeping pace. If you say you are giving the same in 2011, you are not keeping pace.

We gathered anecdotal data. Many congregations with shrinking dollars cut internal programs, and maintenance, but did not cut mission and outreach to serving others.

We use the data base from four organizations: Alban institute, weighted towards mainline Protestantism, with Jewish representation, Christianity Today, weighted towards evangelical spectrum, and national church business administrators, slightly weighted towards mainline with southern Baptist and evangelical.

Lake is part of the Lily Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University Family School of Philanthropy. This is the second wave, study done five years ago of congregational giving. In our work at the Lake Institute we do the intersection of religion and philanthropy, or faith and giving. We provide practical training for religious organizations. Our seminal seminar which we have done for 3000 congregations across the United States is called creating congregational generosity. We also have created have a certificated in religious fundraising called, Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF). We do the program in conjunction with seven to eight theological institutions in the United States: St. Meirand Seminary (Catholic); also next year through Fuller on the West Cost, and through Louisville, and through Duke, and through McCormick in South Carolina, Shaw University.

That is for clergy, lay business administrators, and for diocesan stewardship directors, or development officers in faith based institutions. Cost is about $1500 per person, and takes a project. The price will vary.

One of the findings from the survey is we discovered is that the clergy, the pastor is involved in the finances, and they understand the giving patterns;, the congregation does better than those congregations than where the pastor is not involved. That is a very important part. The average congregation in our study is around 400 members. On the other hand, the median is going to be lower.

Essentially, using an effective, organized address of an hour’s length with a half hour of questions afterward, William Enright worked from slides under the theme The Recession and Its Implication for Congregational Life in the United States (this the recession of 2007). 37% of the congregations in the study were established between 1801 and 1900 and just under half were suburban. Those with younger attendees did better than others. Though just better than a quarter of congregations had improved in their giving since the recession, a third had worsened.

When it came to keeping pace with inflation, a little more than half did not keep pace with the rate of inflation. Just isn’t happening, apparently.

In more than a quarter of churches, attendance is declining, whereas better than a third to almost 40% is staying the same. By the way the media reports Protestant church decline, this increase the study reports is almost good news. This writer wondered what had philanthropy to do with attendance, but on reflection there is a truth to this figure for in the greater sense churches play a major role in philanthropy. Though in the United States churches are not the major giver to aid people, for that is the United Way (number one USA) and they in step in size of giving with the Salvation Army which ranks at the top which for some reason is not counted as a church for the reasons Lilly holds–church attendance is part of this study.

We are hitting the high points in this study, and the material is somewhat confidential in the report given in the webinar, but because this Religion Writer was invited to cover the webinar readers get an idea of some highlights. Also, this is not a full report on the entire event, suffice it to say.

Interview with Pennsylvania poet, as she talks on ‘both … my poetry and … my spiritual life’…

Interview with Pennsylvania poet, as she talks on ‘both … my poetry and … my spiritual life’…

Marjorie Maddox, the pen name for Marjorie Maddox Hafer, a poet from Pennsylvania, is a woman of faith. In this lengthy introduction she spends time in corresponding by email with this Religion Writer. The first subject is Eucharist, that tender subject that sets the relationship with Christ in motion through worship. But let her speak to it through her email and some short quotes from her poems.

The following is what she wrote in her email in September, 2013 to this Religion Writer in Mill Valley, California:


Driving to work today, I was thinking some about the article you sent and also your comments about the “moral” poetic voice. Certainly the voice of the poet or short story writer—like a good painting or piece of music—has the potential to become that voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” It needs to be experienced, though, that voice; the painting, the music, the poem can’t really be paraphrased or condensed and must avoid the didactic. (And sometimes the didactic is misinterpreted as the moral.) But there is that potential for the work to point toward God and there is, indeed, something spiritual or akin to the spiritual in the process of creation. (We are, after all, made in the likeness of the Creator. The work gains its life from the spirit/breath of the artist.)

But, finally, words are not The Word. Period. I think it would be arrogant to think otherwise.

Off to classes. I’m teaching all day. These are getting long, so use what suits you. I hope they are

helpful. I will have less time during the school week, but wanted to get you something today.

Comments on poems

“Eucharist” (Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, 83-84)

Many of my faith poems center on and around what I see as one of

life’s most intimate experiences, the Eucharist. In part, this speaks

to a shifting of focus—both in my poetry and in my spiritual life.

The actual poem titled “Eucharist” appeared in an early issue of

Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion and also in the chapbook

Ecclesia, which is my poetic examination of the Anglican Theological

Exam. For a time, my husband considered ordination and so, while he

dutifully answered questions in prose, I explored the theological

concepts of Penance, Consubstantiation, Substantiation, Concomitance,

Reservation, and the like through metaphor and image. Some of this

series later found itself in the book Transplant, Transport,

Transubstantiation, which focuses on my father’s unsuccessful heart

transplant. (For a radio interview on this book, click on WPSU Take

Note Interview Show: For Father’s Day, Poets Todd Davis and Marjorie

Maddox Write About Their

Fathers .)

The rest took up residence in my third full-length book, Weeknights at

the Cathedral, the collection which most overtly chronicles my spiritual journey.

Surely, on one level or another though, my faith informs all my

poetry. It is, along with writing, most central to who I am. My core

beliefs have not changed that drastically. I grew up in a protestant

denomination and am grateful for the strong fellowship, values, and

Biblical education I received there. However, I knew nothing about

liturgy, the Church Fathers, or the Church calendar. Over the

years—and perhaps first at an Episcopal Church I attended while at

Wheaton College—I found myself increasingly drawn to liturgy and

image. And so, too, the Eucharist. Whereas in my early church

tradition we celebrated Communion four times a year with a meal and foot washing, I now celebrate it in weekly Catholic Mass.

Again, I see this as a shift in focus. Where and how am I able to most

fully worship the Living Christ?

Focus also is my greatest struggle. How to be truly present in

worship? In relationship? In writing? How to best battle all life’s distractions?

Through my first full-length book, Perpendicular As I, does not center

on faith, such images and struggles appear there as well, as in

“Invitational Hymn” (17).

Invitational Hymn

Everywhere white and stained glass.

Here, on this page,

notes dip like a child learning to swim.

In these sounds, I feel her

drop to her knees, sink till eyes touch water,

till she blows all air from her lungs.

Or, on the next page,

bells humming on a summer night

in circles: louder, softer, farther.

On this pew alone, a girl

twisting her hair like a chain, a man,

his voice a groan, a woman,

pushing half-notes past the stone walls, out, over the hills.

The boy beside me breathes in, out, loud,

migrates toward the aisle, leaves me

alone with a hymnbook,

words I’ve known too long,

trying hard not to breathe you in,

not to breathe at all.

Always, the choice, it seems to me, is whether or not to breathe God in.

(Interestingly enough, a poet from another state who has now become a

close friend, read this book, recognized the spiritual throughout the

collection, and began our now 10-year friendship. Poetry does

that—brings together seekers across states, countries, and, yes,


I am thinking now of an excerpt from John Donne’s “Satire III,” which

I used as epigraph for Weeknights at the Cathedral.

. . . doubt wisely; in strange way

To stand inquiring right is not to stray;

To sleep or run wrong is. On a huge hill

Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will

Reach her, about must, and about must go..”

I was taking an undergraduate class in the 17th Century Metaphysical

Poets from the great Dr. Beatrice Batson, dutifully reading my

homework, when I ran smack into epiphany. It is OK to question, to

doubt—just keep moving forward. Even the Biblical men and women I grew

up studying knew this, but to my teenage self, this was a huge revelation.

And so thirty + years later, I keep reading and writing, and, in the

process, discovering. I try, as often as I can, to breathe in. Deeply.


Poetry as a business

I think it has become that, and this is something that I’ve learned rather late.

I’ve always been able to switch between the business-of-submitting-writing-hat and the more important actual-writing-the-writing hat. (More often than I care to admit, the submission process occurs when I am procrastinating and unable to face the harder task of composing.) I am even good at teaching these necessary “business” skills to my students.

But now there’s the added hat of marketing. I am not a cocktail party conversationalist. I am not good at hobnobbing. It’s not part of my personality. Walking into a large room where I know absolutely no one still terrifies me. At heart, I am an introvert.

And yet, I am very comfortable (and animated) as a teacher. I love to give readings and interact with others. I am an email (but not Facebook) junkie; I like the one-on-one correspondence. (Some of my closest friends are poets of faith who live more than a few hours away.) It has to do with rapport and connection, I think.

I am delighted to direct three reading series and build relationships with visiting authors. I very much enjoy marketing and promoting these writers.

These days, though, writers also need to market and promote themselves. I prefer to first build the relationships and let the rest follow. That’s not always, though, how the world works. And so, I’m becoming braver. And so, with this new book, I’m learning to put on the marketing hat, too. I’m even having fun.

P. S. Here’s a poem that’s the epigraph for my circulating short story collection entitled What She Was Saying. The poem speaks, I think, to the same ideas that I mention above:


I’m not; all fine-toed thought

tip-tripping on this gang-plank of tongue,

clumsy and cumbersome in the outside air

of others’ ears and expectations,

all incubation of consonants off-limits,

sounds’ syllables looking silly,

without a line to dry on.

What a mess of metaphors the mouth makes!

It’s the pen that injects

tap dance, the click-clack of keys

that decodes the meaning.

Outside the letters, I’m incognito:

A suburbanite. Two toddlers.

A mouthful of stumbling practicality.

You won’t see me

till I write.

Interview: The real scoop from Reverend Doctor in Indiana about Mental Illness

Interview: The real scoop from Reverend Doctor in Indiana about Mental Illness

In a conversation spanning half hour segments numbering seven on the same number of separate days this Religion Writer talked with the Reverend Doctor Lawrence Michael Cameron, OAC. That is a total interview of 3 and a half hours. The subject: Mental Illness. That is the Reverend Doctor’s business and has been for 25 years as a pastoral counselor. We talked by phone to his home in Indiana from mine in Mill Valley, California.

An advocate for the mentally ill, Doctor C, as he is affectionately known, bent his comments to let the reader know of his favorable sense of hope for mentally ill people and their treatment.

He bent the direction of success for living in the world for the mentally ill in a way that says those with mental illness can have success and happiness. There is an important and positive truth in his remarks, based on psychiatric and psychological truths. Though those with mental illness may not be cured, they do and can manage their lives in a way that provides fulfillment and more normal lifestyles to live in the mainstream in a significant number of instances. He is an advocate and practitioner of this truism, as are his peers. This writer calls this a form of Christian hope and practice in the area of mental health as expressed by the Reverend Doctor.

A Congregational minister with thirteen years of education, most of his work is secular. What does a man of God see in this kind of effort in the Christian sense, so this writer wondered. Where is the Call? Obviously there is great satisfaction for him in the compassion and saving work of granting relief and health to those he helps. Are not hospitals named after the Evangelist Luke?

Also, let me say that churches have an institutional life, and the Congregational Church life is no different. This opportunity for them to have a presence in the world of helping the mentally ill in the profession of mental health is another place Christian service can help and have influence. No minor act in our day of retreat from secularism, humanism, and atheism in America. It is important to remember that Christianity has a statement to make in the world of giving people of all kinds health care in all kinds of places in the United States. Michigan is where Dr. C works, and it is one place we learn about a Reverend Doctor at work and learn what he has to say on the subject of mental illness.



You said in our conversation in August, 2013, “Mindfulness means to embrace reality in the moment. Most people suffer from cognitive distortions (stinking thinking) and worry about yesterday or are anxious about tomorrow.” A goal of your work is to help the mentally ill through spiritual and religious methods to have more peace, even tranquility. Speak a little about how mindfulness helps to reach this goal. For those of us who do not know what mindfulness may be, talk to us about what it is in this context for the mentally ill.

The mental health professional, whether wearing the hat of a spiritual director or counselor, mindfulness has been identified as … one component of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and it comes out of cognitive therapy… In the realm of spiritual work, mindfulness is the largest component.

Mindfulness is taught in every world religion in some form or fashion and we see it in Zen Buddhism, contemplative Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, all of the mystical sides of faith traditions and mindfulness is learning to be in the present moment. [These are spiritual disciplines that help the mentally ill.]

Anxiety. which is a crippling disease is about living someplace elsewhere than present. Someplace other than the present moment. Worry, racing thoughts, shame, grief, and guilt about things in the past, all of these things take us out of the here and now, and we live in yesterday and tomorrow. Mindfulness is teaching people to just be and doing what you’re doing letting everything other than the “right now” wait. It’s about being fully present to hear the other person’s question, not thinking what’s going to be done five minutes from now.

In pastoral care and counseling, in working with the person who is suffering, teaching mindfulness is central. But in the religious world it is taught to everybody. It is not particular to everybody who is mentally ill. The difficulty is that it is a lot like prayer, but people don’t use prayer until they need something or want something or find themselves distressed. Everyone should be learning mindfulness. Jesus tells people on the Sermon on the Mount, Don’t worry about tomorrow, and don’t worry about what you eat or wear. What he’s talking about is this aspect of mindfulness.

2. In your more than 25 years of ministering to those in need who are this special population, you told me regarding your approach and whether the mentally ill are a homogenous group that ask: “Why has God allowed this terrible disease.” Please explain this statement. In a way you are ministering to an individual who is disturbed, even asking the question, “Why me, God.” What is it that you start out with when meeting a new patient you plan to help? And how do you know they need you and you can help them with the God question they pose?

The population of the mentally ill is not homogenous. You cannot look at it as if it effects a certain population. Mental illness knows no class, no race, and no educational level. Mental illness like any other illness can occur to any human being. No one is immune to sickness whether it is physical or mental.

John Jones was born into what seemed like a typical family and one of his parents suffered from an organic disorder called Schizophrenia. Research has indicated that there is a possible hereditary link to some mental illnesses. Just like there is to some physical illnesses. If there are cardiac issues in your family of origin than it may affect you, too. Schizophrenia is one of them; Bipolar Disorder is one of them. Both may be inherited. So the particular illnesses can be linked to the family you are born into. Someone in your family has it. John Jones at age 22 has a psychotic break and leaves college in Ohio and ends up in California. In this episode he is discovered to suffer from Schizophrenia when he is placed in a hospital after being found just wandering on the street.

Client B, Sally Smith’s, normal regular life is interrupted by an experience of a trauma and she experiences the loss of income. His normal life seemingly is turned upside down by the trauma and she goes into a deep clinical depression. There is also research that shows the majority of incarcerated people, the longer they are incarcerated, the more likely mental illness will set in. We in no way have a system that rehabilitates prisoners. They are at risk of decompensating, including risk of mental health.

Not everybody asks the question, “Why me God?” That is a concern for some, but not for everyone. There are some who do ask that question. They wonder, “Why me?” When a person asks, “Why would God make this happen?” it indicates that the person has some faith resources. They came up with the question. They have come to believe there is a God. They believe God is involved with our immediate lives. We know they believe in a God who has something to do with them, intervenes, participates, and changes human lives. That helps us diagnose that they have some faith resources. That opens the door to explore what resources they have and mobilize those faith resources. It’s not my job, my calling, to try to get them to believe like I believe. What we want to do is see where their at and the only effective treatment for them is to mobilize what they have and make it work for them.

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