Writing for Change in Trump’s America

Greetings to new and old subscribers,

When you don’t hear for me for quite a while, it’s usually because I’m busily writing this and that. Our country’s polarization has made me even more determined to write commentaries and articles that will provoke thought and ideally, prompt change in some way. That’s not that unusual, I guess, for a long-time journalist, but these times make the job of a writer more urgent.

In the past few weeks, I’ve published a few pieces. One continues the themes I wrote about in Faith Ed. While the goal of my book was to mainly promote the idea of teaching about the world’s religions to reduce bigotry and decrease religious intolerance, it also was to educate about what is legal when it comes to religion in the schools. I admit it. I get fired up when I notice an example of a blatant disregard of the separation of church and state. Hence, I wrote a commentary about a mother’s lawsuit against a West Virginia school system that has held steadfast to a clearly preachy Bible course.

At the request of my publisher, Beacon Press, I wrote another commentary on why Open Mosque Days can make a difference. I saw the power of visiting others’ houses of worship while reporting on Faith Ed and have experienced the joy of learning in that fashion myself. At a Muslim friend’s invitation, I went to an iftar, a break-the-fast event, at her mosque in suburban Boston. Don’t wait for an Open Mosque Day to visit a mosque in your community. Check their website for information on making a visit or call to arrange a visit. Do the same with a local Jewish temple or a Hindu mandir. In the process, you will see more than a building. You will meet people of other faiths.

This week, The Atlantic published a reported-out story I did on teachers teaching about the alt-right, white nationalist movement. I have been hanging out in a high school’s class on race all school year for a future project and was fascinated when the teachers took on this topic. This is not an easy time to be a social studies teacher, given the divisions across America. As a fellow journalist friend of mine recommended, read the story but perhaps spare yourself from reading the comments. Some alt-right trolls have taken over a bit of the comment stream.

Even as I begin work on a new project, I remain committed to writing about the intersection of religion and public life and how that is playing out now across our country. It was tough to teach about the world’s religions, particularly Islam, when I began reporting my book in 2010. It is tougher now. I have various talks coming out in the next several months and also was asked to train teachers at a Chicago area school this summer.

I will be teaching two courses on writing about religion this summer, one at Grub Street in June as a one-week writing intensive. The other course, from July 31-Aug. 4, is also a week-long program, taught a few hours a day, in my stint as a prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writer’s Center. In both seminars, I will coach writers on writing but also talk about how writing about religion can help foster dialogue in our troubled country. Registration is now open for both programs.

As always, thanks for reading. My next public appearance is April 30th at a 9 a.m. event at Temple Emanuel in Andover, Mass. It includes breakfast. Hope to see some of you there.


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