I first met the Rev. Roger Coleman in the 1970s, when I was working on several series of articles for The Kansas City Star about racial turnover and how that was affecting neighborhoods in Kansas City. Roger lived in Midtown and was a force at helping to stabilize neighborhoods and to encourage thoughtful and constructive relations between and among the races.
He and his wife, the Rev. Liz Coleman, oversaw the Pilgrim Chapel on Gillham Road for many years, and though Roger has retired as director of the Pilgrim Center, he's still the chapel's chaplain, though now he lives in North Carolina.
Over the years, I've been impressed by the creative ways that Roger has used music and literature to create insight and dialogue among people, and his new book, Of Stones and Feathers: An Odyssey, fits that pattern marvelously well.
This is a fun, warm book that is wonderfully illustrated by Neil Nakahodo, an illustrator/designer at The Kansas City Star.
What's especially fun for Kansas City readers is that anyone familiar with Midtown will know exactly where this fantasy story takes place, as it moves from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (in the book it's called the Rockhill Museum of Art), the Kansas City Art Institute, through Gillham Park, across Armour Boulevard, down Broadway and into Penn Valley Park. Sometimes those locations also take on slightly different names in Roger's busy imagination.
The story is rooted in a curse, one that turns Kansas City into a city plagued by dullness and a destructive love of the past. The only way to break that old curse is for 100 years to pass or for a feather from a golden swan to fall to the cursed ground.
A boy named Jason creates a paperclip swan from a statue on the grounds of the Kemper Art Institute, as it's called in the book, and the adventure begins as they search for happiness and, without quite knowing it, an end to the curse.
What does any of this have to do with faith, besides the fact that a member of the clergy wrote it?
Well, for one thing, it contains an important lesson that many faith traditions try to teach. As the "Angel Voice" says in the book, "Happiness is more than a place, Jason. Happiness is a relationship." Indeed, we are built for relationship -- both horizontal (meaning with other people) and vertical (meaning with God).
We're also built to ask questions, to wonder, to challenge.
"Once you begin to ask 'Why?'" Coleman writes, "the whole world can change."
Is this a children's book? Yes, but not just that. It's also a call to develop courage and to use our imaginations. And if ever there was a divine gift, it is the gift of imagination.
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A REPRISE OF A SAME-SEX MARRIAGE POINT
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently in favor of same-sex marriage being legal in all 50 states, I wrote here about the reality that no community of faith, by this ruling, could be forced to conduct weddings for same-sex couples. There's still some willful confusion about that, and this editorial from the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Ga., takes pains to clear up that confusion by making the same point I made. Good for the editors of that paper.
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P.S.: Speaking of books by Kansas City writers, as I was above,, my own latest book is Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans, which is almost free from Amazon in the e-version. If you want an autographed print version copy, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can pre-order my next book, co-authored with my pastor, Paul Rock, from Amazon. It's Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church and is due out in early September, just before the pope arrives in the U.S. I've read them both and can recommend them highly. Really.