Book Review: Dessert First

We need people from interfaith families to write a whole list of books–on love, birth, coming of age, aging together–written from diverse religious, spiritual and secular perspectives. So I am thrilled that J. Dana Trent is on her way to producing an entire canon from her perspective as a Baptist minister married to a Hindu. Her first book, Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk, described her interfaith courtship and marriage with humor and humility. Her latest book, Dessert First: Preparing for Death While Savoring Life, brings those same attractive qualities to writing about the idea that we are “all terminal.”

Trent has abundant experience with death. She spent a formative year as a hospital “death chaplain,” sitting with dying patients, and with grieving families. She has been, at a relatively early age, through the deaths of her father, her mother, and her father-in-law. And she has experienced both the death of a parent with whom she had a distant and troubled relationship, and the death of a parent with whom she had an extraordinarily close relationship.

There are many self-help books out there about grief. Trent’s book stands out, not only because of the interfaith family angle, but because her irrepressible wit leavens the inevitable pain and turmoil surrounding death. For instance, she describes trying to fill out the necessary paperwork and plan a funeral in the first days after a death as ” like assembling IKEA furniture in a wind tunnel.” Having recently been through the death of both my parents, I found this to be a very apt, and funny, metaphor.

Dessert First was clearly written by a Christian living in the Bible belt. So, Trent spends significant time thinking about–and writing about–the afterlife, heaven, and the way that Christians do, or do not, navigate these ideas as death approaches. More interesting, for me, were the brief moments describing the interfaithness of her family, and the way this interfaithness has expanded to include the parental generation. So, for instance, we see her Hindu husband chanting into his father’s ear as he lies dying. And we see her mother’s body, after death, with glass Protestant prayer beads in one hand, and wooden Hindu beads wrapped in the other hand. Trent shows, in these glimpses, how her interfaith family is starting to figure out their own way to honor the religion of the deceased, while also honoring the religious rituals of those left behind.

The interfaithness of the book is also reflected in the inspirational quotes at the head of each chapter, including not only Christian texts and theologians but Rabbi Harold Kushner and the Bhagavad Gita. And Trent, who is a professor of world religions, provides a brief synopsis of ideas about the afterlife in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Dessert First also includes guidance on leaving instructions for your own death and funeral or memorial, in a section that complements the material on these topics in The Interfaith Family Journal.

My only significant qualm about this book is that the author expresses a strong preference for hospital deaths, versus home deaths. Trent is from a family of health practitioners (her brother is a doctor, her mother was a nurse) and her own experiences, both as a chaplain, and with her mother, were of hospital deaths. I’m not sure what informed her idea of “the trauma of dying at home.” Both my parents died in home hospice. I found these experiences peaceful and profound, and my only regret is that we did not bring my mother home from the hospital sooner. But inevitably, we each write from our own experiences.

Whether or not you are from an interfaith family, Dessert First makes a cogent case for discussing death early and often, for leaving explicit instructions, and for approaching this essential topic with curiosity and compassion, rather than fear and trembling. This is a slim and attractive book (with sprinkles on the cover!), filled with Trent’s stories and with her bravery in writing about this topic. Dessert First should provide succor, metaphorical balm, and even laughter, to all who read it.

Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and a workbook, The Interfaith Family Journal (2019).

Where Do We Go? Interfaith Families, Fall Decisions

The Interfaith Family Journal

The kids are back in school. The Jewish High Holidays are fast approaching. Are you joining a synagogue? A church? A Unitarian-Universalist congregation? A Buddhist sangha? A Hindu temple? A secular humanist community? All of the above? None of the above?

Are you interested in finding or creating an interfaith families community in your geographic area? Or, are you confident that you can teach your children what you want them to know about their religious heritages, and the religions of the world, at home? Do the schools your children attend teach one religion, or teach about many world religions, or avoid religion entirely? Do you and your partner agree on where you want your children to develop religious literacy and interfaith self-esteem?

Have you visited the communities available in your geographic area that might be a good fit for your family? Are they welcoming to interfaith families? Do the clergy officiate at interfaith life cycle ceremonies? Would they fully accept your children as belonging? Or, are their restrictions on participation?

So many questions! Interfaith families can feel overwhelmed this time of year, or even paralyzed, and may end up putting off decisions for another year.

But this fall, for the first time, help is here. I wrote The Interfaith Family Journal  in part to help you through this process of figuring out which community or communities will be right for your family, at this moment. Whether you want to join one community, ,or two, or several, or none, the Journal will help. Whether you want to raise your children with one of your religions, or both of your religions, or a new religion, or many religions, or with purely secular and cultural education, the Journal will help.

The Interfaith Family Journal  takes you through an interactive process of figuring out what you want, what your partner wants, and what communities are available to you. It gives you a checklist of questions to ask any community you are considering joining, to make sure your interfaith family will be fully included. This is the moment to buy a copy for yourself, and one for your partner (or for your adult children, or grandchildren, or for your favorite therapist or clergy member).

In recent weeks, I have had deeply fulfilling experiences presenting my work on interfaith families in Spokane and Asheville, with groups of young interfaith couples and groups of rabbis, and to an international documentary film crew. Next up, I’m heading to Chicago to speak and to sign books. Let your Chicago friends know!

My intention for this fall is to support as many interfaith families as I possibly can, in every geographic region, whether or not I am able to personally coach them. The Interfaith Family Journal distills my decades of research, personal history, and coaching experience into a slim format to help you through these moments of transition. If it is helpful to you, please let me know, and post a review. Thank you!

Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and a workbook, The Interfaith Family Journal (2019).

New! Online Interfaith Couples Workshop

Photo of author Susan Katz Miller
Photo: StephanieWilliamsImages

For years now I have led interfaith family workshops for specific groups (including rabbis, and Unitarian-Universalist religious educators). I have helped lead interfaith couples workshops in the DC area, and privately coached interfaith couples.

But this fall, for the first time, I am thrilled to facilitate a four-part online workshop for interfaith couples based on The Interfaith Family Journal. The workshop is open to those from any religion, or all, or none. It is open to those who plan to practice one religion, or two, or more, or all, or none. All are welcome. The sponsor is Reconstructing Judaism, the first of the four largest Jewish movements to ordain rabbis with a spouse or partner from another religion. I am honored to work with them to bring you this unique workshop experience. We will meet online for an hour on each of four Tuesday nights starting September 3rd.

I created The Interfaith Family Journal to help any family or individual, anywhere. Through writing prompts, interactive exercises, and creative activities, the Journal supports you in understanding your religious and cultural past and forging a plan for your own interfaith family dreams and visions. Those who have used it testify to the power of this slim workbook.

Now, with this workshop, we have the opportunity to come together as interfaith families, no matter where we live. Together, we will create a supportive mini-community while working through the Journal to share our thoughts and experiences, our challenges and our joys. There is nothing like hearing your own questions and formative moments reflected in the words of someone else in a group, someone you’ve never met before. By spending these intimate hours together, we have the chance to feel affirmed and supported, gather new ideas, and feel less alone when facing ignorance or exclusion. Together, we will create this new space, and feel free to celebrate all that can be joyful, educational, and inspiring about being an interfaith family–whatever that family looks like for you.

I cannot wait to meet those of you who sign up! I am spending my August making plans for how we will weave this community together, and how I can be most helpful to you in these hours online. I have that excited back-to-school feeling with September approaching. Who will be in my class this year? (Yes, I was that nerd who loved school, both as a student, and later as a teacher). So please join me, sign up here before the workshop fills (space is limited), and share this post with anyone you know who might benefit.

I hope to see you soon, online!

Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and a workbook, The Interfaith Family Journal (2019).

The Interfaith Family Journal, for Everyone

Copies of The Interfaith Family Journal on a table.

A rabbi, a Baptist minister married to a Hindu, a Unitarian Universalist Muslim, and a Sikh and Muslim interfaith kid all…recommend a book. (Because not everyone walks into bars, and this book is all about inclusion). As you may have guessed by now, the book they recommend is The Interfaith Family Journal. And you can read their lovely endorsements on my author website here.

And new this week, for the growing number of people who do not identify as religious, interfaith and Secular Humanist speaker and activist Miranda Hovemeyer gave The Interfaith Family Journal its latest five-star review:

My husband and I are both non-religious. I am a Secular Humanist and he identifies as Atheist, but we both grew up in households where there was some kind of religious practice. The book contains so much material that we can use ourselves to talk about our family and non-religious identification now, as well as how we grew up, and what we want for any future children we may have.

In my last blog post, I explained why two family members (spouses, partners, a parent and teen child, a guardian and a family mentor, etc) need two copies of The Interfaith Family Journal to go through the five-week process together. But just a week later, I am actually rethinking that proclamation. My readers have convinced me to recant.

What has perhaps surprised me the most, since the publication of the book just a few weeks ago, is the number of people who say they are finding The Interfaith Family Journal useful, as individuals. From the start, I knew this book would help clergy and therapists in counseling congregants and clients. But I had not anticipated that a friend who leads community engagement and diversity trainings with parents and children would find the book inspiring, and plan to use it in her work in the community, even though religion is not the topic of her work. In another case, a reviewer noted that while the book is an “amazing tool” for interfaith families,“one can also use it as a personal workbook to dig deeper into one’s most cherished but unarticulated commitments.”

It honestly had not occurred to me, until I started getting this feedback from readers, that individuals, even individuals who may not see themselves as part of an interfaith family, would benefit from the Journal. Now I am realizing that for some couples, one partner may be more interested in working through the issues of their religious and spiritual and cultural history, and will find support in the writing prompts and activities in the Journal, even if the other partner has no interest in the topic. But more broadly, any person, regardless of their family connections, could find the Journal useful in discerning how their family background, present beliefs, and dreams for the future are interwoven.

Whether you consider yourself part of an interfaith family or not, come out and tell us about your religious, spiritual or secular journey, or just gather ideas and inspiration, next week in DC at the Northeast Neighborhood Library, on Wednesday June 5th at 7pm. There will be copies of The Interfaith Family Journal for sale and signing. You might just need one for, well, anyone and everyone.

Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of The Interfaith Family Journal (2019), and Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2013). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

The Interfaith Family Journal: Why You Need Two

The Interfaith Family Journal is available now. And as with any book launch, there’s a lot going on:

As I am out and about, explaining this new book to the world, one of the questions I get most frequently is:

Wait, what? I need two copies of this book to do this process with my partner?

In short, yes. The Interfaith Family Journal takes you through a process of delving deep into your background and current beliefs and practices, and making a plan based on your dreams for the future. And in order to engage in this process with a family member or friend/mentor (spouse, partner, older child, or a Journal partner you choose for this process), you will each need a copy of the book. That’s because you write in your Journal, and then trade books to read what your Journal partner has written, and then engage in conversation and activities based on that interactive process. So if you are giving the Journal as an engagement or wedding gift, I recommend giving two copies. (The price of two Journals, I will point out, is going to be far, far less than a single hour of online coaching with me or anyone else, or a therapy session with a counselor, or one date night. Although you might want to do all of those things as well).

So does everyone who buys this book need two copies?

Well, no. I want to get this book into the hands of every clergy member in the country and around the world. And every therapist and counselor. And every Student Life professional in colleges and universities. These professionals only need one copy, in order to read the book (it takes less than an hour) and understand the power of The Interfaith Family Journal as a resource and tool for them. So if you want to help all interfaith families everywhere, give a copy to your favorite clergy person, or your favorite therapist or counselor. And then let them take it from there, to use the book with clients or congregants, to support more families, and support more love.

Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of The Interfaith Family Journal (2019), and Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2013). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

Interfaith Families, Worldwide

young woman on beach in Brazil
My daughter, Maracaipe, Pernambuco, Brasil.

Question: Are interfaith families an American thing? Who reads this blog? Who reads my books? How do the the joys and challenges of being an interfaith family resonate in other countries, and continents? Last week, which was not atypical, people from 40 countries viewed this blog. I challenge you to guess which ones! (Spoiler alert in the last paragraph).

Having lived for years in Senegal, and for years in Brazil, I like to think I have a global consciousness, or as close to one as an American can have. So The Interfaith Family Journal  was designed to work for people of any and all nationalities, from any and all cultures, from any religion or none, on every continent. International readers, I am excited to hear from you, to find out how the Journal worked for you, and your family.

Answer: In the past week alone, people have visited this blog from the US, India, the UK, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Italy, South Africa, Ghana, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, Trinidad & Tobago, Lebanon, Denmark, Gambia, Pakistan, Zambia, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Mozambique, Romania, Switzerland, Madedonia, Belgium, Bahrain, Malaysia, Mauritius, Morocco, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria, Norway, Zimbabwe, Finland, Jamaica, Philippines, and Turkey.

Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (forthcoming in 2019). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

The Interfaith Family Journal: The Video

Breaking news!

The video book trailer for The Interfaith Family Journal is here.

While you wait for your pre-ordered journals to arrive on March 31st, I hope you get a kick out of watching this video featuring…

  • enthusiastic praise from experts
  • gorgeous cover art
  • and great indie music courtesy of Ladle Fight

…all packed into less than one minute.

For years, couples and families have been asking my advice on how to get joy from being an interfaith family. So I created the first and only book published to support any and all interfaith (or religious/non-religious, or completely secular) families. Whether your family roots are Hindu/Jewish, or Christian/atheist, or Pagan/Buddhist/Unitarian, this is the first interactive journal written for you.

The Interfaith Family Journal can help any and every family through a five-week process of discerning your own best path. How will you celebrate holidays? How will you honor births and deaths? How will you find a supportive community? And how will you create a positive way of engaging with extended family members who may not understand your plan, whatever that plan is?

In recent weeks, I’ve been describing the book to people I meet, and the reaction I get is either,

“Oh wow! We’re an interfaith family! We need this book!”

or

“Huh, that’s funny. We’re not even an interfaith family, but actually, this sounds like it would be really helpful for us.” 

So, seriously, this book can help anyone and everyone. The trailer gives you a sneak peek at some of the praise coming in from rabbis, ministers, authors, therapists, adult interfaith kids, and other experts. Stay tuned for more endorsements and book launch news soon, by subscribing to this blog, following my author page on facebook, and following on twitter @susankatzmiller

And please do post and email the direct youtube link to the video trailer for friends who might benefit from The Interfaith Family Journal. We are a global virtual community of interfaith families, of every configuration and persuasion. And though some of us still face resistance, we are rising up to support each other. So thank you for helping all of us by being part of this community!

Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (forthcoming in 2019). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.