I am a freelance writer specializing in issues of faith, values, education and spirituality. I am also a staff writer for School News Network, an online publication covering public schools in Kent County.
In 2014 I published my first book, “Faith on First: Thoughts on God, Nature and Sacrifice Bunts” (Freeze Frame Publishing), a collection of my columns from the past 20 years. You may order a copy of it from Schuler Books & Music, from Amazon, or by emailing me at email@example.com. I am also available to speak to your group about the book and my experiences covering faith in West Michigan.
In addition, I teach a short course on the music of the Beatles, “Love is All, Love is You: The Spirituality of the Beatles.” The program features video clips of their songs and performances, discussion of their songs’ messages and values, and audience reflections on what the Beatles’ music has meant to them.
I wrote full-time for The Grand Rapids Press from 1985 to 2009, and retired in 2015 after 20 years as a columnist on faith and values. I became Religion Editor in 1994, covering daily religion news, planning each week’s Religion section and writing features and columns for the section. Previously I was a feature writer for the Flair section, and covered education and Wyoming city government for The Press.
I have a particular interest in spirituality and personal growth, the work of the church and of individuals for social welfare, interfaith understanding, music and the arts, community history, education, teen and men’s issues, minority concerns and disabilities. And, of course, baseball, rock music and the future of the ever-expanding universe.
Before coming to the Press I worked at the Murray Ledger and Times in Murray, Ky., was editor of The Enterprise in Williamston, Mi. and sports editor of The Towne Courier in East Lansing. Long, long ago I was a high schooler who covered sports for The Enterprise, which was quite a bit better than playing trombone in the marching band.
The Press took the Religion Newswriters Association award for best religion section in the years 2000 and 2002 among U.S. and Canadian mid-sized newspapers. Our section placed third for large newspapers in 2006 and 2005, third for all newspapers in 1999 and second in 1996.
I have won several awards for column writing, including third place in the 2012 Religion Newswriters Association Commentary of the Year Award. My columns also have been recognized by the Michigan Press Association, the Associated Press and the Kentucky Press Association. My five-part series on infant mortality won a Public Service Award from the Michigan Association of Local Public Health in 1991.
I have a bachelor’s degree in English from Murray State University and studied creative writing at Michigan State University.
I serve on the steering committee of the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding in Grand Rapids and remain active in interfaith advocacy. I was an organizer of GRPS Arts Advocates and Arts Jam, a yearly benefit concert and art auction for art and music programs in Grand Rapids Public Schools. I have taught journalism and liberal studies at Grand Valley State University, and also have taught at Aquinas College and Grand Rapids Community College.
I have two grown children and am an avid fan of Max and Emily, who are both much smarter than I am. I am continually blessed by the love and support of my significant other, Andrea Myers. My band, the Honeytones, has been pleasing Festival crowds and annoying the neighbors for more than 25 years.
I would love to hear from you about your spiritual backpack. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll have a conversation. Thanks, and keep the faith!
Awesome blog, man! You are rocking in the digital world now.
Charles you have fraud and corruption in the Kent County Circuit and Probate Courts; also the agenda of the Westminster Presbyterian Church is to take advantage of Jewish youth who have been put at risk by the courts. You do not seem to be aware of what is actually going on in the Grand Rapids area. Please read: http://www.grandrapidsboltandnutco.com–click on the various captions beginning with Properties, Idema, Cascade, Vandermeulen, Stoppels, Murkowski, Celia, Max, Brenners, and any others which you have time for.
Plafkin Farms-View on Photobucket.com and Webshots.com
Roger, thanks for your post. I am no longer religion editor so am in no position to look into issues like this. If you would like to bring it to the attention of The Grand Rapids Press/MLive.com please contact them directly.
First of all bring up Bev.email@example.com; read Nancy Thorner-World Press-her column on this site about abuse of the elderly by the Cook County Probate Court; then translate this into the actions of the Kent County Probate Court–Judge Dale Stoppels, David Murkowski-Susan B. Flakne; you will have a true picture of what has happened to our family.
Roger Plafkin-Plafkin Brothers-Grand Rapids Bolt and Nut Company-Plafkin Farms, Ada, Michigan
Hi Charlie! Send me your email. I have something for you! Best wishes. John
Very nice, Charley. I remember that pool: the chlorine smell and the crowd of kids with little shiny drops of water beading up on tanned skin.
Dear Charles, I am very interested in your seminar on 9/15: LOVE IS ALL, LOVE IS YOU: THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE BEATLES. Unfortunately, I don’t live in Michigan. I would be fascinated to hear your teaching — perhaps a webinar?
Hi Charles. I have written a book on the subject of The Beatles and Spirituality. You can see
excerpts here: http://jpoll3.wix.com/beatles-book
I just read your review of the the Sandra Bullock/Clooney movie in the Jax Cit Pat and was motivated to check out your blog. I like what I’m reading and look forward to more. By the way, Go Green – I work for the College of Arts and Letters at MSU… love that you’re one of ours.
Hey, thanks so much! Always a pleasure to hear from a reader — and to meet another Spartan! I spent many an hour poring over my creative writing papers at Morrill Hall. What is your work for Arts and Letters, if I may ask? In any case, I appreciate the feedback and hope to keep you interested in future posts!
Charley. Thought you might be interested on following up on this. If you do, please call me at 616 822 2465 Russ Pitts:
Grand Rapids Buddhist Temple To Hold First Novice Monk Ordination
On Sunday December 8 the Grand Rapids Buddhist Temple will hold its first novice monk ordination since opening in June of 2011. Two women and three men will be ordained as novice monks at a ceremony to take place at 10:00 am at the temple located at 451 South Division in Grand Rapids. Three of the novices are from Grand Rapids(Steve Sampson, Ryan Doran-Fisher, and Jennifer Sumner) and two are from the East side of the state (Candace Polipoli and Timothy Sheehy).
This ceremony is an important milestone in the growth of the Grand Rapids Buddhist Temple and Zen Center. Since it first opened in June 2011 on E Fulton Street, its numbers have grown significantly so that it had to relocated to a much larger space on South Division. Those being ordained will ensure the continued growth and development of the Temples both in Grand Rapids and Clawson, Michigan.
The ceremony marks the completion of the first three years of study for the novices and the start of the final 3-5 years of intense study and practice with their teacher, The Venerable Deok Wun Pitts who is a fully ordained monk, Bhikkhu, in the Korean Zen tradition.
December 8 is also one of the most important Buddhist Holy Days. On this day each year Buddhist celebrate the night Shakyamuni Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree and became enlightened. It is an auspicious day on which to hold novice monk ordinations.
Seating for the ceremony is very limited but the public is invited to attend. A free will offering is suggested. For more information on the ceremony and other temple activities please call 616 822 2465 or check the temple website http://www.grzen.org
Thank you for the heads up on this, Russ. I will keep it in mind for possible column material. If you are interested in coverage of the event itself, I’d suggest emailing Matt Vande Bunte at MLive.com, as he handles quite a bit of their religion reporting now.
Congratulations on this important milestone in the evolution of your temple. It’s great to have the Zen Buddhist tradition carried on in West Michigan!
I recently read your December 5 “Which Christmas carols leave you in the cold?” article in the Jackson Citizen Patriot. I confess that I have not previously read your column, but finding you a thoughtful, articulate writer, I will read you in the future. While I have a bit more tolerance for secular holiday music than you, I am solidly routed in traditional Christian carols. Thank you for a well written article.
Thanks for the feedback, Mr. Downing. I’m glad you enjoyed the column on carols. I do enjoy quite a bit of secular Christmas music (Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Charlie Brown Christmas etc.) but nothing touches me as deeply as the traditional carols. They just have more spiritual depth and, I think, are more beautiful melodically.
I’m in my 80s’ and have always enjoyed the carols and Christmas songs. I too however, enjoy the religious and sentimental ones the most. Hearing “Santa Claus got stuck in the chimney” and “Santa Baby” really are turn offs. Yet they go with the territory even on the TV Christmas Music channel so I endure them to hear the ones I do like.
I do have to tell you the experience of last Christmas Day Mass. When Father Mark gave his sermon it made a lasting impression on me. He started his sermon by first having us sing “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was a bit startled at that request. My five year old great granddaughters’ eyes lit up as she joined in the song. Fathers’ sermon was about bullying someone with a handicap who turns out to be the hero for the day. I don’t know about all the kids present in church but I do know that that particular song has a much different meaning for me now. Yes, we sang a few of the traditional Christmas carols too. If I want to get away from the really secular music there are always my CDs.
Thank you for the story about your granddaughter, Father Mark and Rudolph, Catherine. I would appreciate that song in a new way as well if I had heard that sermon. So much of what we love about Christmas music has to do with our memories and associations. This must be a really lovely memory for you every time you hear that song!
After reading you column in Thursday’s Press I think the radio station in Nashville you referred to might have been WLAC. We used to look for these stations in the 1950’s.
Thanks for the feedback David. I looked up WLAC online and indeed that was the station. Fascinating history there. It seems they started playing those R&B songs as a way to appeal to black listeners in the South, but AM being what it is the songs were picked up by white kids in the north and along the eastern seaboard. Clearly a historic marker in the evolution of rock and roll! Thanks for helping in my ongoing pop music education!
Pleased to hear your voice read from your new book. Word structure like a seven layer chocolate cake………..well done.
Thank you Mary, and thanks for coming Thursday night!
Good morning, Charley…I came upon your name by chance in an article about Ed Lantzer’s panels, my daughter Lee looked up this site and here I am, all 87 years of me, Donna Johnson Sears from Williamston. I too worked on the Enterprise, only in the 1950s when Lee Ann and Scott were young. It was a column called the Little Woman. All these years later I have reconnected with column writing here in Kalkaska and do a weekly piece called the Little Old Woman, an often humorous take on aging. You were the editor when my husband Chuck died and did extensive coverage which was so appreciated. I was fond of your mom and daily admired your dad when he walked past our house, hands in his pockets, smoking his pipe. I’m sure they were very proud of the track you have taken…and so am I. Donna
Hi Donna! How great to hear from you. Of course I remember you very well from the Enterprise days, and of course Chuck. I’ll never forget the magnificent funeral the town put on for him. Didn’t you used to do a school news feature when I was at the paper, or am I mixing you up with someone else? I do that more and more these days. 🙂 Anyway, I’m delighted to reconnect with one of our great Williamston women! Kalakaska must be a cool place to live. So do you know about Ed Lantzer from his time there? His art work is quite remarkable.
I’d love to read a couple of your Little Old Woman pieces, so please send me a link if you can.
Thanks so much for your kind words about mom and dad. I miss them terribly. Such a nice image to think of Dad walking past your house smoking his pipe. He used to love walking uptown to Baldino’s to get his latest pouch of pipe tobacco. They often told me they were proud of me, and there is no greater joy than that. Btw, I recently published a collection of my columns and dedicated it to them. If you’d like a copy please send me your address.
I hope you’re doing well these days — it certainly sounds like it. Take good care, and thanks so much for writing!
We really miss your Press editorials. Thanks for this blog. We need this breath of fresh air from the Lord through your pen and creative writing.
Many thanks Rod. Hearing from you is itself a breath of fresh air. I’m grateful to you and Phyllis for your continued support of my work. Take care!
Heard you this morning at the writers conference. It was a truly inspiring one and I walked away inspired and encouraged.
Thanks so much, Juan. I’m glad to hear it was helpful to you. You all were a great audience. I’ve found writing to be the most interesting and rewarding career possible, at least for me. Best wishes to you in your work, and hope you find some good publishing outlets for it! Charley