Guest Post: At Home Everywhere on Earth

By Carol Johnston Carol.Johnston

CTS Director of Lifelong Theological Education

A few years ago I met an African American boy who had lived in a high-crime neighborhood all his life and whose home was hardly less chaotic than the streets. He was participating in a meeting at a large wealthy church where almost everyone present was white. A place far from his own “home.”  Yet, though in an alien place surrounded by white strangers, he was completely unintimidated.  He spoke without hesitation and asked some of the most insightful questions of anyone at the meeting.

This young man had been mentored at the Kheprw Institute where he had experienced a sense of “home” that was about being seen for the gifted human being he is. He had been encouraged to develop and share his gifts. He’d also been taught to view the earth as his home—a place to be embraced and cared for. As a consequence, he carried a sense of “home” inside him and could be “at home” wherever he went.

From a faith perspective, I would assert that this young man has been nurtured in a healthy spirituality—one that had helped him realize wherever he lives, it is infused with a divine presence and care that can be accessed.

When this experience of home is present, you discover divine care is present everywhere. Wherever life takes you, you can carry the sense of security of home inside you.

Most faith traditions affirm that the whole of creation is home because the world and everything in it, including each of us, is infused with the loving care of the Creator. As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it, “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.”

This is the reason people of every faith are trying to wake us up to the danger of environmental destruction, especially climate change. We believe that the Earth is our home, and that it is imperative for the sake of all life to care for it.

We are working to help shift ways of life that work against nature’s creativity and endanger all life to ways of life that learn from the divine wisdom embedded in nature and work with it for the benefit of all. My Christian faith affirms that the whole Earth is the sacred realm of divine creativity and love, and that we are all loved, gifted, and interrelated in this web of life.

Whenever and wherever any of us can experience this love and affirmation of our gifts, and affirm the same for others, we are doing the work of creating home for each other. This fThen we can be at home everywhere, and join in the work of healing and repairing “this fragile earth, our island home,” as an Episcopal prayer puts it.

Photo blog: Before I Die recap

Spirit & Place was honored to work with the IU School of Nursing this past weekend on Indy’s — and America’s! — first Before I Die Festival. Thanks again to Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coates for leading faith leaders through a day of reflection and skill-building on how to create courageous conversations with their congregants and to Light of the World Christian Church for their generosity in hosting the event!

Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coates is the author of Waiting for my Lunch Date: A Journey Through Grief and a Path to Joy and pastor of God Answers Prayers Ministries in South Los Angeles.

Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coates is the author of Waiting for my Lunch Date: A Journey Through Grief and a Path to Joy and pastor of God Answers Prayers Ministries in South Los Angeles.


Photo cred: Facebook – Jennifer Vines

















The weekend was packed with even more events, including the Crown Hill Cemetery Before I Die Wall walk. See the full list of events and partners here and check out more images from the weekend here.


Death, Dying, & Awkward Conversations

By Lucia Wocial, PhD, RN, FAAN

When I first started telling people about the idea of a Before I Die Festival (April 15—17), I invariably heard an incredulous, “A what???” often followed by, “Don’t you think you should change the name? That’s awkward!”

The topic is absolutely awkward. That is kind of the point. But by explaining our goal is to use what people find comfortable – art, literature, faith, and even food – to spark conversations about death, people start to warm to the idea. In fact, virtually everyone I speak to has a story to tell about death.

BID_LogoGerogioProFinalFew people are comfortable talking about death, even though all of our lives will be touched by it sooner or later. If the first conversation you have about what you want for end-of-life care is when you get bad news from your doctor, it is too late.

There are so many heartwarming stories about how people have beat cancer or survived some terrible accident. It is easy to trick ourselves into believing we don’t have to plan for death. Subconsciously we know we will die but our conscious mind does not want to go there. We believe we will be in control; we will be able to tell people what we want up until the very end.

Because I work in healthcare I know that the majority of people who are dying are too sick to tell us what they want.

If they haven’t had conversations with the important people in their lives, family is left to feel a terrific burden. The greatest gift we can give our families is to tell them exactly what matters most to us should we develop a terrible illness or learn we are dying. In my experience, there is a tremendous sense of peace when patients have shared with their friends and family what they want.

It is sad when people die. It doesn’t have to be traumatic.

Come to the festival and find out just how easy it can be to talk about death.

Lucia Wocial, PhD, RN, FAAN is a nurse ethicist with the Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics as well as an adjunct assistant professor with the IU School of Nursing. Her work with the RESPECT Center is focused on research in palliative and end-of-life communication and training.


Do’s & Don’ts of a Successful Spirit & Place Application

It’s time to submit that application! What exactly might the Selection Committee give you props for and what might they ding you on? Here are some key “do’s and don’ts.”


  • Be inventive and collaborative. For example, in 2015 the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation, and Global Justice created an event (“Dare to Dream”) featuring a lecture by anti-apartheid leader Allen Boesak—a pretty tried and true event format. But, they partnered with the Kheprw Institute [LINK] to create a short documentary that was shown before the lecture and featured local youth sharing their dreams. This provided a fresh design twist and demonstrated the creative power of collaboration.
  • Put the theme front and center. Be clear on how your event drew inspiration from the theme and how the audience will experience/reflect upon the theme during the event. Here’s an example from the Indianapolis School of Ballet’s 2015 application for “Suite Dreams are Made of These”:

Theme: The Nutcracker, one of the most well-known and beloved ballets, is closely linked with dreams of dancing. In the Nutcracker story, Clara’s journey through the Land of Sweets in Act II is often interpreted as a fantastic dream. Many dance students, including those in the preview performance, began dancing after seeing a production of The Nutcracker. Children in the audience may have dreamt about dancing but never had the occasion to try. This program is about encouraging children to follow their dreams, including children who have hearing impairment, with its visual emphasis, participation and interaction.

  • Demonstrate your capacity. Some applications read like a whirlwind of activity and leave the Selection Committee wondering how on earth the event partners will pull everything off. We want you to challenge yourself by creating something unique and never-seen-before, but still keep it focused on what can actually be accomplished. Your application should be  more than a wish list.


  • Force what isn’t there. You might have an awesome idea for an event . . . that doesn’t really connect to the theme or invite wide community participation. The festival isn’t the right venue for all events. Trying to force a connection to the theme or back-engineering a design component that encourages wide participation is usually pretty transparent and “dinged” by the Selection Committee.
  • Ignore your audience. Invest the time in really talking about the needs, wants, and values of the audience you hope to attract and serve. In particular, if you want to attract a new audience, make sure you are working with a partner who can help you understand and serve that audience.
  • Get lost in language. The application questions have word limits for a reason: To force succinct explanations. Be descriptive, but direct. Compelling, but concise. You don’t need to be Tolstoy.

What are you waiting for? Apply today!


Facing Death: A Prescription for Feeling Alive

People often ask me how I came to be interested in the topic of death. Depending on the context, there are a few explanations I may offer up: an excellent course on death and dying that I took during college; my husband’s career as a medical ethicist wherein conversations about death are considered normal dinnertime fodder; I may even tell the story of my days as a hospitalized newborn whose parents were told they should prepare for my imminent demise. Having dodged the grim reaper in my first weeks of life, I always imagined myself as someone who was here by accident, crashing the greatest party ever.

I heard about the Death Café movement via NPR, felt an immediate affinity for the concept, and hoped someone would start one locally. Six months later, feeling rather uninspired, I took a seat at a staff training session. Fighting against my laconic mood, I started chit-chatting with the co-workers at my table, all of whom were strangers to me. I honestly can’t recall how we veered into this territory but the woman to my left informed me she was getting ready to start a Death Café. Cue the proverbial jaw drop! In a city this large, how is it that the person willing to take the initiative to get this started just happens to be my co-worker? The shock was mutual, as I think the prior reactions she had received were of the “raised eyebrow” variety. I immediately offered to help, as it’s not every day fate places a kindred spirit in the chair right beside you.


As we embark on our third year of Death Café Indy, I can affirm that talking about death with strangers and friends has enhanced my worldview. Death Café’s aim is to “increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.” I now make choices as a direct result of saying to myself “What’s the worst thing that could happen? You could be dead tomorrow, so why not try?” Some were small risks (dancing on stage for the first time in over twenty years); others, more significant (leaving the security of my decade-plus job). For this mental paradigm-shift, I thank the indefatigable Monica Doyle, as well as every Death Café attendee who has helped me to close my mouth, open my ears, and learn.

Jennifer Vines is the Project Manager for the “Before I Die” festival, Monica Doyle’s sidekick in Death Café Indy, and a Florida State University philosophy alum.

Returning Home

While preparing the Spirit & Place website with book, film, music, and other suggestions related to HOME, I was struck with how the notion of “returning home” is both ancient and contemporary.

The original and ultimate “I just want to go home” tale, Homer’s classic The Odyssey, recounts the efforts of Odysseus (aka Ulysses) as he fights to make his way back home to Ithaca after the Trojan War.

The Odyssey (and its prequel, The Illiad) resonates so strongly with the human condition, it has inspired artists, composers, and writers for almost three thousand years.

(Disclaimer: If you’re not sure you are up to reading ancient Greek prose, check out the Cohen brothers’ adaptation of The Odyssey, “O Brother Where Art Thou?” You’re welcome.)


Then, of course, there is the childhood story that taught us all, “There is no place like home,” L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Like Odysseus, Dorothy struggles to make her way home and in the process faces danger, moral dilemmas, flying monkeys, and witches.

Okay, Odysseus didn’t meet any flying monkeys, but he did outfox the witch Circe.

Dorothy also discovers the importance friendship, family, and love . . . and manages to find her way home in far less time than Odysseus. (Twenty years, Odysseus? Seriously?)

Not all characters in literature are able to return though. In You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe’s main character, George Webber, writes a novel about his hometown and is then driven from his home by family and friends who feel betrayed. (Real life Hoosier author Dan Wakefield can speak to that kind of reaction towards a book.)

The struggle to figure out where we belong and to put down roots, while also not wanting to turn down opportunities for travel and new experiences, pulls at many of us. Odysseus, Dorothy, and George Webber certainly felt that tug. I find satisfaction in knowing this tug-of-war on our sense of belonging—our sense of home—is old and even common to the human experience.

And I find even more satisfaction in exploring the art and literature that has been created out of this experience. Check out our reference page and share your suggestions on HOME-related books, films, plays, music, or whatever (!) at