And I have to admit, this little interactive book has brought me nothing but joy. It brings me joy to help interfaith couples find their best pathways. But also, with this second book, I feel lighter. I do not stress as much as I did about the people, and institutions, opposing interfaith marriage. My focus is entirely on the people I am supporting and inspiring, helping them to see how you can claim joy in your interfaith family.
So, I was determined to have fun with this book. And that started with making my own book trailer, with a rock and roll soundtrack from my kid’s band:
And then when the pandemic hit, I decided to make a video featuring the coloring pages I commissioned for my website, in conjunction with the release of the book. (Again, I was lucky to have a musician kid to create an original soundtrack for me).
Just in the last few months, I’ve had joyous new experiences, including giving a keynote at an academic conference on multiple religious belonging in England (on zoom), sharing a keynote slot with an expert on multiracial families (on zoom), and giving a dvar (a reflection on a Torah reading) at a zoom Shabbat with the Wandering Jews of Astoria. And tomorrow, I will speak on a panel at an event in England with Jewish and Muslim women telling their interfaith family stories.
This has been a terrible year for humanity.
But the very idea of interfaith families continues to bring me joy.
And it brings me joy that this little book continues to bring joy to more of those families.
In the coming weeks, I am excited about visiting two states new for me as a speaker: Washington state, and North Carolina.
First up is the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (UUAGA) in Spokane, where I will host a Story Slam at 3pm, and sign books in the Exhibit Hall at 4:30pm, this Thursday June 20th. In part because both of my books are published by UU presses (Beacon Press, and Skinner House), I look forward to meeting up with longtime colleagues in the UU world. And I get a warm fuzzy feeling anytime I’m invited to speak in a UU environment. So, invite me to your UU community!
Often these days, I find the story slam format fulfilling. This is how it works: I give over much of my allotted time to the audience, and encourage people to describe the rich complexity of the benefits and challenges of being in an interfaith family, or claiming more than one religious or spiritual tradition. My intention has always been to foment rather than lead a movement, and to encourage others to write and speak from anywhere in the gorgeous constellation of complex religious, spiritual and secular families and identities. By sharing the literal stage, and inviting guest bloggers onto this virtual platform, I get to do that.
My next gig is in July, at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, outside Asheville. Wild Goose, originally inspired by the Greenbelt festival in the UK, has been compared to Burning Man, Woodstock, and an old-fashioned tent revival. The week-long festival draws thousands (many of them camping out) and includes music, art, craft brews, and top speakers (this year including Rev. William Barber–perhaps the greatest civil rights speaker of our time, the tattooed Lutheran firebrand Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, and mystic Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson). Wild Goose is open to all, but was founded by and appeals to socially progressive Christians, often allied with what was the post-evangelical “emergent church” world. I am excited to immerse myself in this world for the first time, and introduce festival-goers to Being Both and The Interfaith Family Journal.
I’ll report back from these points west and south, and look forward to hearing from you as I line up more Interfaith Story Slams and other book talks and teaching gigs for the fall, and into 2020.
Five years ago today, Beacon Press published Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. For me, that publication day was the culmination of three generations of experience in my interfaith family. And it was the moment when I took a stand, after a lifetime of hearing that interfaith families are problematic, for a more objective journalistic and academic treatment of the benefits and challenges of being an interfaith family. I also hoped to shift the interfaith family narrative away from straight white Jewish/Christian couples choosing one religion, to encompass the kaleidoscopic interfaith family reality of many religions, many family configurations, and many interfaith family choices.
I am so grateful to all of you who continue to buy the book, talk about it with friends and family, write online reviews, and invite me to speak and give workshops. As a result of your support, I believe that Being Both has made a difference in how religious institutions and clergy view interfaith families, and in how we as interfaith families think about ourselves.
Another goal, in writing Being Both, was to help spur a whole new interfaith family literature, making space for the voices of people from Muslim/Christian and Hindu/Sikh and Pagan/atheist families. Together, we are doing that. And Being Both is now cited in academic literature, and taught in universities and seminaries, helping to build a field of serious scholarship around the topics of interfaith families, multiple religious practice, and complex religious identities.
Eventually, I realized that I could not personally meet with every interfaith family, and that in order to help more interfaith couples and families, I needed to write another book. The Interfaith Family Journal(coming this March from Skinner House) is for any interfaith couple or family, living anywhere, with any two or more religions in the family tree. This workbook, filled with interactive exercises and creative activities, takes couples or families through a five-week process to help them figure out how to amplify the joys of being an interfaith family, and surf through the challenges with confidence.
I read once that five years is the perfect spacing between siblings, because each child gets the full attention of the parents. And we know that each child has unique needs and gifts. I think of Being Both as a lively and challenging child, filled with what my Jewish father would call chutzpah, and what my Protestant mother would have called “animal high spirits.” It’s a book that is hard to ignore, full of ideas and stories, daring to claim space in academia and in religious institutions for families celebrating more than one religion.
In contrast, I think of The Interfaith Family Journal as a highly sensitive and introverted child: observing, asking gentle but profound questions, reflecting back. Rather than staking out academic territory, the Journal is entirely devoted to meeting the needs of interfaith families who are desperately seeking an objective framework for moving forward, a practical resource based on my decades of experience.
And while this newborn Journal will be, in some sense, a younger sibling, it has a broader and more universal goal. It will serve the whole wide world of interfaith families, including any and all religions, single parents, adoptive parents, LGBTQ people in interfaith families, intercultural/interracial interfaith families, those who want to choose one religion, those who want to teach their children many religions, and religious nones.
Often, folks ask me, “What’s your next book about?”
This book, and the next, and the next, will be about interfaith families. I have an entire library of interfaith family books in my head, clamoring to be written. The interfaith family is my life’s work–the work I was born to do–and I intend to bring you as many of those books as I possibly can.
It has been a freezing winter, with everything cased in ice, still waiting for a thaw. Meanwhile, my longtime followers may have noticed that my blog has been in hibernation. After almost a decade of posting, and more than 300 essays on the topic of interfaith families, I have been sluggish in writing new material here. Instead, I curled up in my den, trying to keep warm through seasons of family grief, and dark times for the country, and the planet.
But now spring is on the way. And, while hibernating, I have been gestating a new book for interfaith families. Now that I have submitted the manuscript, and the sun is returning, and grief is receding, I will return to posting more often here. In the meantime, you can always find my curated links for interfaith families on my facebook author page, and on twitter.
The percentage of interfaith families continues to grow, and there is still a serious lack of informed and impartial books and resources by, for, and about us. Before 2018 ends, if all goes according to plan, my new book will reach you, providing support and inspiration for all interfaith families, whether Protestant and atheist, Muslim and Jewish, Hindu and Unitarian-Universalist, Pagan and Catholic. And I am already booking a new round of speaking engagements and workshops for next fall and winter, so that we can continue these conversations in person. So, stay in touch here for more details, as we awake, stretch, and stumble out into the spring light together.
Is this truly year three of the Being Both book tour? Somehow, I am still traveling around the country, speaking at museums, universities, conferences, synagogues, and churches. I continue to draw new energy and ideas from my conversations with all of you at these events. And, I am even more passionate now than I was three years ago about listening to your stories, and exploring the experiences of interfaith families in our culture and our world.
If the time seemed right for Being Both three years ago, it seems all the more important now, as we face religious and racial intolerance and strive for social justice. I find my message is evolving in response to my encounters with all of you, in person and online. Here are just some of the advocacy themes that I feel compelled to tackle as an interfaith activist:
Religious institutions need to accept that a significant percentage of interfaith families want their children to have interfaith education. Engaging with these families makes more sense than excluding them.
Religious institutions need to move beyond tolerating or even welcoming interfaith families, and figure out how to benefit from interfaith families.
Organizations devoted to interfaith dialogue and understanding need to recognize the important role of people from interfaith families as bridge-builders and peacemakers, rather than feeling threatened by perceived blurring of boundaries.
It is time to celebrate the rise of Generation Interfaith. Our world is being transformed by adult interfaith children who are now rabbis, ministers, priests, teachers, and organizational and political leaders.
In a time of continuing religious tension and strife, we all need more interfaith education. And interfaith children, in particular, need and deserve interfaith education.
Coming up in March, I am excited about continuing these conversations in Harrisburg PA, Chicago, and Long Island. If you have friends or family in these places, let them know about these upcoming events:
Harrisburg PA, March 3 2016, 6-7:30pm. Interfaith Families (and book signing), Morrison Gallery, Library, Penn State Harrisburg. Free.
You can always check the most updated details on all of the upcoming Being Both events at susankatzmiller.com/events. And let me know if we can work together to set up a talk, workshop, or consultation in your area. I am not going to move on and write a book about a completely different topic. Interfaith life is my life’s work.
You may be wondering what I thought of the new national study from Pew, entitled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which found 25% of intermarried Jewish parents raising children “partly Jewish and partly in another religion.” In short, I was not surprised. In researching Being Both, I found data on many individual cities (including Chicago, San Diego and Philadelphia) where 25% or more of such parents are raising kids with two religions. The Pew study confirms that our grassroots movement is important on a national scale. And now, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family will provide the first glimpse of the first generation of teens and young adults to grow up in dual-faith education programs.
Here’s how the American Library Association’s Booklist, a resource for librarians, described Being Both last week:
Beginning with the story of her family of origin, Miller surveys the burgeoning phenomenon of families who observe two religious faiths. Her Jewish father married an Episcopalian…So began a multigenerational interfaith reality, which Susan continued as another Jew married to a Christian, this time in a ceremony that honored both religions. Four years later, the couple joined the Interfaith Families Project (IFFP) of Washington, D.C., whose mission is to raise member families’ children as Jewish and Christian. From the members, clergy, and teachers of IFFP and similar organizations elsewhere, Miller gathered the stories of how these families successfully raised children who are happily interfaith and intend to raise interfaith children themselves. Miller concludes this fine resource with a look at the next wave of, this time, Christian-Muslim and Christian-Hindu interfaith families.
The first hardbound copy of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family just arrived at my door. I immediately unwrapped the dust jacket to peek at the lovely naked book inside: gold lettering on a burgundy cloth spine. Early reviews also celebrate the birth of the book, from Kirkus (“An insightful examination of one way that religious beliefs are shaping American families”) to Booklist. If you pre-ordered a copy, it should ship to you on the official publication date, just five weeks from now, on October 22.
My dream is that the book will inspire a national conversation around the fact that many interfaith families are choosing both religions. This year, I will travel the country to reveal my findings and to hear your interfaith family stories–at bookstores, college campuses, seminaries, churches, synagogues, community centers, and interfaith groups. I hope to meet you, my blog readers, at some of these book launch events (for event updates, go to my author website, susankatzmiller.com):
Washington DC, Sunday October 27 at 5pm, Hometown book-launch, at Politics & Prose
New York, NY, Wednesday October 30 at 7pm, Barnes & Noble (82nd & Broadway)
Weston MA, Thursday November 14 at 7pm. Book talk with refreshments, limited to the first 100 people to RSVP, co-sponsored by the venerable Weston-Wayland Interfaith Action Group (WWIAG), Weston Library
(At all of these events, books will be available for purchase and signing. Contact Travis Dagenais at TDagenais@beacon.org to set up a new event near you. Media and bloggers, contact Travis for a review copy.)
For the hundreds of families who contributed to this book, through survey responses and long interviews, this is the moment to celebrate–and to stand up and explain the joy of being both to the rest of the world. And for those who are curious (or uncomfortable or upset) about the idea of educating interfaith children in two faiths, this is the moment to engage in the conversation. Why are parents making this controversial choice? And how do children feel about it? I look forward to lively discussions on these questions, with all of you.