Review: ‘Cold War Road Show’ will make you feel safer now

REVIEW BY DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine

PBS American Experience Cold War Road Show DVD documentaryHere’s something to feel truly thankful for this year! Watch The Cold War Roadshow on PBS’s American Experience this week and you will feel safer about our world in just 1 hour.

Global warming? Ebola? The ruthless armies of ISIS? Sure, they’re all critical global concerns we must address as concerned humans. But half a century ago, American life was transformed by the first visit of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. As a population, “we” lined the streets to see his entourage pass through our nation. What is most remarkable about this? We stood along his motorcade route in stunned silence.

As the documentary about this world-changing 1959 visit explains: Americans were so terrified by the power of this man to touch off a global nuclear war that we didn’t know how to respond.

Khrushchev intended this visit to serve as a full-scale public relations campaign to win over American public opinion. He grinned almost constantly. He showed off his own family and warmly hugged any American children who came within arm’s reach. But his short temper often trumped his charm offensive.

When the mayor of Los Angeles insulted him at a public banquet, Khrushchev exploded. He roared back that Soviet factories were pumping out missiles like sausages and, if Americans wanted to go toe to toe with the USSR, they’d find themselves in a war to end all wars! The film footage from that day shows the mayor’s face going from a confident grin to a jaw-dropping expression of fear at what he had touched off.

One of the best things about this fascinating documentary is the decision by filmmakers Robert Stone and Tim B. Toidze to include interviews with two adults who were children on the front row of this first visit by a Soviet leader to American soil. Susan Eisenhower is Ike’s daughter and now is a highly respected consultant on international commerce. Sergei Khrushchev is the son of the former Soviet leader and an author and consultant as well. These two “kids” provide revealing commentary on what was taking place in that often shocking tour.

One insight? Khrushchev’s son admits that his father had a very short fuse when confronted with insults. At the infamous Los Angeles banquet, when he began boasting about turning out missiles like sausages, the Soviet leader was flat out lying. It was just angry bluster, the son tells us. In fact, the Soviets had produced very few missiles at that point. Of course, that angry exchange left Americans quaking in our boots—and led to increased spying and a dramatic escalation of Cold War confrontations into the early 1960s.

Any American who was a child in that era remembers the “duck and cover” drills we all learned in public schools. This documentary shows a brief clip of the way we did it: Boys and girls all dropping to the floor of our classrooms, crouching under our desks and covering our heads with our hands. Today, the idea seems like the darkest of comedy.

But then, when it comes to global issues right now, Pew reports “Americans don’t care.” Nearly 4 out of 5 Americans told Pew pollsters this year that they want our leaders to focus on domestic issues and stop worrying about global concerns. However, national security remains an almost universal concern and 3 out of 4 Americans told Pew that “preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction” should be a top national priority. However we may balance those two attitudes—Pew reporting does show that Americans are no longer worried about a worldwide nuclear war ending life as we know it. And that certainly wasn’t the case when Khrushchev flew back to Moscow in 1959!

Watching this hour-long snapshot of America’s nuclear anxiety half a century ago is certain to make you feel more thankful this month!

WANT TO SEE THE FILM?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Great With GroupsMovies and TVPeacemaking

Review: ‘The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden’

Cover Zeitgeist DVD The Galapagos Affair Satan Came to Eden

Click the cover to visit the DVD’s Amazon page. (The documentary also is available via Netflix.)

By DAVID CRUMM

This film might have been titled: The Perils of Pursuing Paradise.

Ever since the late 1800s when Jules Verne began publishing his international best-sellers, the world has been fascinated by the idea of dramatically escaping from civilization. Flash forward to 2014 and a dozen popular TV series are fueled by that same desire. In late September, the National Geographic Channel will debut another one: Live Free or Die, a series that looks at Americans trying to survive in remote woods and swamps.

Now, Zeitgeist Films brings us one of the strangest true stories of escaping adventurers. This mixed bag of misfits converged on a remote island in the Galapagos chain between the two World Wars. Their tale is so wild that a writer for the Smithsonian Institution, reporting on the Smithsonian’s extensive archives about this strange adventure, described the story as “a screwball farce peopled by eccentrics” that “abruptly turned to tragedy.”

During the heyday of this Galapagos experiment, lurid magazines around the world published fanciful dispatches from this little colony with headlines that included: “The Nudist Empress of the Galapagos” and “Mad Empress in the Garden of Eden” and “The Insatiable Baroness who Created Her Own Paradise.”

As it turns out, the real pioneer in this “paradise” was a German doctor with a grandiose vision of his role as a philosopher and naturalist. He apparently was a very effective wilderness pioneer, building many hand-made devices to make his island home a pleasurable place to live. But he also was motivated by a selfishness that amounted to loathing other people. When an odd-ball mix of other adventurers showed up on this doctor’s remote island, trouble was all but certain.

The adventurer who was chiefly responsible for the island’s global acclaim was a woman with even more grandiose visions than the doctor. She called herself a baroness (even though she wasn’t) and very publicly set up a household with a rotating series of male lovers. She even began production on a silent film with herself starring as a savage, scantily clad pirate! Some footage of this bizarre movie is included in the documentary.

No wonder the Smithsonian columnist wound up publishing a long, four-part summary of this strange tale as the saga is “told” through the Washington D.C. archives. (Here are the four parts: One, Two, Three and Four.)

Much more dramatic than this Smithsonian Internet series is the two-hour documentary by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, the folks who brought us the acclaimed documentary, Ballet Russes, which also dipped back into this pre-World War II era to give us a vivid portrait of the world-famous Russian troupe.

Why is ReadTheSpirit magazine reviewing this film? Because dreams of finding a remote paradise run throughout the long and tangled history of the world’s great religious movements, from some of the founding communities in what is now the United States (Remember the Pilgrims, the Puritans and the Shakers?) to tragic cults like Jim Jones’ Jonestown in Guyana where more than 900 people died in 1978.

Perhaps most fascinating about this cautionary tale from the Galapagos is that the German doctor’s master work of philosophy was ultimately of no interest to publishers in the civilized world and, instead, in 1935 his lover Dore Strauch published her own version of the island experiment, Satan Came to Eden: A Survivor’s Account of the Galapagos Affair.

This definitely is a mesmerizing two hours! It’s also a good choice for sparking conversation in any small group that enjoys discussing either new films or global issues.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Great With GroupsMovies and TV

Watch a preview of ‘Jerusalem’ the IMAX movie

Jerusalem the IMAX movie poster

Click the movie poster to visit the official website for the ‘Jerusalem’ movie, which provides much more information about the film and regional showings.

Reviews from a wide range of journalists are raving about Jerusalem, a 45-minute large-format movie distributed by National Geographic with an impressive array of partners involved in the production. Just how wide is this range of reviews? In Washington D.C., for example, both the mainstream Washington Post and the famously conservative Washington Times praised the film and urged readers to go see it.

The film’s official website has more information, including listings of regional screenings. Or, you may prefer to read the Wikipedia overview of the film first.

The film’s major strength is that this crew was given access to film in many areas usually barred to such media projects. Given the IMAX-scale production that mainly means the cameras could be strapped to helicopters that flew over and around some of the world’s most sacred landmarks. You simply won’t see these eye-popping vistas anywhere else.

The voice narrating the film now is familiar to millions of viewers worldwide: Benedict Cumberbach, the BBC’s newest Sherlock Holmes and also a co-star in movies from 12 Years a Slave to parts of the Star Trek and Hobbit movie series.

The filmmakers’ own explanation of this project is a fair summary of what you’ll see, if you attend a showing: “Our film is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It embraces the idea that Jerusalem is many cities: imagined and real; past and present; Jewish, Christian, Muslim and secular. We are trying to answer the question: Why Jerusalem? What is it about this tiny space that made it the ultimate prize of empires and the object of longing for so many different cultures over thousands of years?”

YOU SHOULD SEE a video screen below. Click to view a 7-minute preview. (And, yes, it’s worth all 7 minutes!) If you don’t see a screen here, try clicking this story’s headline to reload the page, which should properly display the video screen.

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Categories: Children and FamiliesGreat With GroupsMovies and TVPeacemaking

Great reading for the Lenten season

CLICK THIS GRAPHIC to visit our ReadTheSpirit Bookstore.

CLICK THIS GRAPHIC to visit our ReadTheSpirit Bookstore.

2 billion Christians around the world are in the midst of Lent, the season of prayerful reflection that leads to Easter. Whether you are a part of the Eastern Orthodox Great Lent, or the Western Lenten season, you’ve got more than a month—until Easter Sunday on April 20—to ponder your spiritual direction.

ReadTheSpirit highly recommends dozens of books, each year, from a wide range of authors and publishing houses. Today, though, we are asking our readers to help support ReadTheSpirit Books—our own circle of authors. Here are six great choices for Lenten reading …

OUR LENT

ReadTheSpirit’s founding editor David Crumm wrote this popular 40-day Lenten devotional several years ago—and we have heard from individuals, from small groups and from entire congregations who have enjoyed this book. It’s now in an updated Second Edition, available in our bookstore (where we provide easy links to buy our books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers). In each of the 40 chapters, David takes a portion of the Gospel stories about Jesus’s final days—then,  he chooses an object in that day’s Bible passage that connects Jesus’s life with our contemporary world. In the course of these 40 days, you’ll meet everyone from John Lennon and poet Joesph Brodsky to the Cat in the Hat and the Lord of the Rings.

FLAVORS OF FAITH

Sharing food is a cornerstone of virtually every faith on the planet. That’s why ReadTheSpirit online magazine includes our Feed The Spirit department with weekly stories and recipes. Our first major book on the connections between faith and food is Lynne Meredith Golodner’s The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads. Chapters include the importance of food in strengthening American communities, plus a recipe from a beloved American poet, and the story of pretzels as both a symbol of prayer and an annual reminder of Lent—and so much more.

BLESSED … PEACEMAKERS

Our Interfaith Peacemakers department is a great place to sample chapters from Daniel Buttry’s popular books, especially his latest: Blessed Are the Peacemakers. In these pages, you will meet more than 100 heroes, but most of them are not the kind of heroes our culture celebrates for muscle, beauty and wealth. These are peacemakers—and the world needs to hear their stories now more than ever.

GUIDE FOR CAREGIVERS

Today, you’ll find a fresh sample of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt’s writing in our We Are Caregivers department. Ben also appears in the website of the Day1 radio network. His practical, compassionate wisdom has attracted readers nationwide. This Lenten season, remember that 1 in 3 American households includes a caregiver. Buy this book for yourself or for a caregiver you care about. Here is Ben’s ReadTheSpirit bookstore page.

GOD SIGNS

Every week, author and journalist Suzy Farbman writes stories about the signs of God’s goodness that often surprise us—and may come into our lives in many forms. There’s not a better theme for the Lenten season! In her book, God Signs: Health, Hope and Miracles, My Journey to Recovery, Suzy invites readers along on a heart-opening journey through the many God Signs she encountered while struggling with one of life’s greatest challenges.

BIRD ON FIRE

Jane Wells writes on many themes. She is the host of our colorful Faith Goes Pop department, which explores connections between faith and popular culture—and Jane also has developed the Bird on Fire department, which inspires individuals and congregations to get involved in combating modern slavery, hunger and homelessness. In working with young people, Jane became aware that the enormous fascination with science fiction books and movies, especially The Hunger Games, reveals a deep concern for many of the world’s most vulnerable men, women and children. Jane’s slogans include: “Hunger isn’t science fiction.” If you know a young person—or you are a Hunger Games fan yourself—there’s not a better Lenten book than Bird on Fire: A Bible Study for Understanding the Hunger Games.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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Categories: BibleGreat With GroupsHolidaysPeacemaking

Amish return to PBS with Saloma Furlong in ‘Shunned’

PBS American Experience DVD cover for The Amish Shunned

CLICK this image of the DVD cover to visit its Amazon page.

One of our most talked-about author interviews, in recent years, was our 2012 conversation with former-Amish writer Saloma Furlong. A shortened version of her story was featured in the PBS American Experience documentary The Amish, which was both gorgeous and absolutely fascinating in its exploration of Amish life in America.

Now, on Tuesday February 4, 2014, PBS American Experience will debut another major documentary, American Experience: The Amish—Shunned. (Note: That text link takes you to the Amazon page where the DVD version is sold. This DVD eventually will be offered by Netflix. Some libraries may stock the DVD, as well.)

PBS WEBSITE: This American Experience website for the film includes a preview video, background materials, plus information about the series’ broadcast schedule, other upcoming films and some “bonus videos” related to Shunned.

WHY YOU SHOULD SEE
‘The Amish—Shunned’

Review by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

For some strange reason, the same Americans who are fearful of other traditionalist cultures around the world seem to love all things Amish. Mainly, this is because the Amish appear to be a living museum exhibit of America’s past. By driving through “Amish country,” eating at “Amish-style restaurants” and shopping in “Amish markets,” millions of Americans feel as though they are able to step back into their own families’ rural past. So, every year, millions of us pack up the kids and enjoy the smells, the rural vistas, the hearty food, the lovely hand-made goods and we return home to our busy lives feeling as though someone continues to preserve “our past.”

The truth is—as PBS’s American Experience series already has shown in its earlier documentary on The Amish: “The truth isn’t plain—or simple.” Like traditionalist Jews, Muslims, Hindus—and adherents of a host of other centuries-old global cultures—the Amish enforce rigid rules that leave many young Amish men and women sorely torn. Education—even a high school diploma—is strongly discouraged if not outright forbidden. Women are expected to play submissive roles. Everyone is expected to follow the Amish commitment to pacifism to the point of even forgiving extreme abuse within the community. Yes, many Amish families live very satisfying, faith-filled lives of love and grace and hard work.

But—

Well, this new documentary is about the many former Amish men and women who have weighed their experience with Amish life and have finally said: “But—this is not for me.” The documentary shows us how the strict Amish code of community then cuts off these wayward souls. In fact, in one story included in this new film, a family that spent years hoping to join the Amish community finds itself painfully shunned. That comes after the family has labored mightily to prove itself a part of Amish culture—yet is never able to properly measure up to the core traditions of the group.

This is a movie about painfully torn relationships and one of the leading figures in the film—and one of the most sympathetic figures overall—is Saloma Furlong herself. In my home as I previewed this film one evening for this ReadTheSpirit review, I found my wife absolutely fascinated, as well. She watched every minute of this film with me. We kept talking about the issues raised, long after the movie had ended.

You likely will find yourself captivated, as well.

Care to read more about the Amish?

ReadTheSpirit has reported extensively on the Amish, over the years. Our readers keep telling us—and showing us with your clicks and your Facebook sharing of these articles—that you find this subject as fascinating as we do. Here are some recommended links:

REVIEW OF PBS’s THE AMISH: As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I also reviewed the earlier American Experience documentary, calling that movie, “by far, the best film I have seen about Amish life in America.”  That assessment still stands. I am also highly recommending this new sequel to the first film, but Shunned is limited to one aspect of Amish life. The first film is a broad overview, so I continue to rate that first film even higher than this one.

MEET THE LEADING EXPERTS: This new documentary features Amish voices and the true stories of a few men and women who have left the Amish community. But this whole approach to careful, balanced media coverage of the Amish has been shaped by the leading experts in Amish studies. We featured this in-depth interview in 2011.

AMISH NOVELS AND MOVIES ARE POPULAR! We have interviewed Vannetta Chapman, one of the leading novelists writing best-selling tales of Amish life. We post movie reviews, occasionally, of new Amish-themed movies like this one that was broadcast by Hallmark. And, to help point out some of the better Amish movies, we published this overview of lesser-known movies that “get it right” in portraying aspects of Amish life.

READ MORE BY SALOMA FURLONG: Our earlier interview with Saloma Furlong was published when Saloma only had one volume of her memoirs. Watch Saloma’s own website for updates on her new volume, debuting in February, which continues her story past that first book.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Movies and TV

Our Holiday Grab Bag of 12 Guilt-Free Gifts

shopping for a little something? Perhaps a last-minute gift for a friend—or, maybe someone gave you a little cash in a holiday card, and you’re going to choose something for yourself? The staff and friends of ReadTheSpirit suggest these 12 Guilt-Free Gifts.

1. VISUAL PARABLES JOURNAL

Ed McNulty Visual Parables Journal on Faith and FilmFor more than 30 years, the Rev. Edward McNulty has been a national treasure. Since the 1970s, Ed has used his skills as both a Presbyterian clergyman and a professional Film Critic to write movie reviews, study guides and books that show readers how to explore films from a faith perspective. Each week, to this day, Ed “gives away” new film reviews in his department within Read The Spirit, called Visual Parables. But, today, we’re encouraging you to dig deeper into Ed’s wealth of resources: The way to receive Ed’s small-group study guides, each month, is to purchase a fully paid subscription to the one thing he sells: Visual Parables Journal. Please, support the work of this faithful film critic—and enjoy lots of uplifting fun with movies in 2014. How to get this: CLICK on the Visual Parables graphic at right; then, at Ed’s website, choose “Subscribe to the Full Journal.”

2. THE FLAVORS OF FAITH

If you’re shopping for a gift that you can share with family, friends or a small group in your community—then, please, buy a copy of Lynne Meredith Golodner’s The Flavors of Faith.  Lynne’s book tells the true story of how different kinds of bread are connected with the spiritual traditions of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Native Americans. She not only tells the sacred stories of these “Holy Breads”—she also provides delicious recipes for each bread. This will give you and your family months of inspiring eating—and it’s a great idea to use in either a New Year’s class or a Lenten-season small group at your church. How to get this: CLICK on this link, or CLICK on the Flavors of Faith book cover shown in the left margin of this webpage.

3. BIRD ON FIRE: ‘HUNGER ISN’T SCIENCE FICTION’

Bird on Fire Jane Wells websiteFaith-and-pop-culture expert Jane Wells is just releasing her newest inspirational book. As we discussed with Jane in a recent author interview, her new book, called Bird on Fire, taps into the phenomenal interest among teens and 20-somethings in science fiction and fantasy tales like The Hunger Games. This is an age range largely missing from most churches. However, as Jane says in our interview, the themes that are so compelling in these novels and movies are connected with major charitable campaigns in churches nationwide: feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and freeing contemporary slaves. These themes also connect with inspiring Bible stories, which Jane explains in her book. Energize and welcome this missing age group in your congregation by starting a local group to discuss Bird on Fire. How to get this: CLICK on the Bird on Fire graphic to jump directly to our Bookstore; or click on this Interview link to read more about Jane and her book.  

4. LAUGH IN THE FACE OF FEAR WITH RODNEY CURTIS

Rodney Curtis-book-coversLongtime readers are familiar with columnist Rodney Curtis, known by the title of his first memoir, The Spiritual Wanderer. Since we started ReadTheSpirit online magazine, Rodney’s quirky columns have launched 1,000 laughs. What’s amazing is that his good humor continued—even as Rodney hit the direst challenges of our era: losing his job in a downsizing industry—and—discovering that he had life-threatening cancer. He has survived both with his attitude undimmed. In our recent interview with Rodney, he talks about how he manages to keep “laughing in the face of fear”—and to encourage his readers to do the same. There’s not a better, more-hopeful gift for someone who needs a shot of humor than buying one—or all three—of Rodney’s books. How to get this: CLICK on the Rodney Curtis book covers, above, to jump to our Bookstore. Or, click on this Interview link to read more about Rodney and his remarkable work.

5. RABBI BOB ALPER: ‘THANKS. I NEEDED THAT.’

Rabbi Bob Alper Thanks I Needed That coverThere’s no storyteller like Rabbi Bob Alper, the world’s only full-time stand-up comic and practicing rabbi, whose hilarious routines are heard daily on the Sirius/XM clean comedy channel. His new book features 32 true stories from settings as far flung as The Tonight Show studio, the hills of Vermont, and a tiny Polish village. Readers meet a stained-glass artist whose granddaughter is Drew Barrymore, a woman who attends services with her dog, a 5-year-old grief counselor and an elderly Holocaust survivor who discovers that he can speak about his lost sisters for the first time. Warm, touching stories that evoke laughter and tears—this is a perfect gift for you or a loved one in the depths of Winter. How to get this: CLICK on the image of the smiling boy from Bob’s book cover, above, to jump to our Bookstore.

6. ‘DISTILLED SPIRITS,’ A GIFT FROM DON LATTIN.

Don Lattin book cover detail from Distilled SpiritsIf you happen to read this column before December 27, 2013, then author, journalist and religious historian Don Lattin is giving all of us a gift. He temporarily set the Kindle price at $1.99 for his fascinating book, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, With a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk. In April, we interviewed Don Lattin about this new book, which is an in-depth look at influences behind the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous and the spiritual connections between Bill Wilson, Gerald Heard and Aldous Huxley. The 12-Step movement now is regarded as a historic breakthrough in the history of world religions—and Don’s book is a terrific read. We guarantee: You’ve never heard the true story he unfolds in this book. How to get this: CLICK on the Distilled Spirits book image to jump to Amazon. Or, click on this Interview link to read more about Don and his remarkable work. Or, you can visit Don’s own website. (And if you’re reading this column after December 27—hey, the book is still a terrific read!)

7. MARGARET PASSENGER: ‘FINDING OURSELVES IN THE BIBLE’

Margaret Passenger's She and You and Me coverThe full title of Margaret Passenger’s new book is, She and You and Me: Finding Ourselves in the BibleMargaret’s long career spans three professions as: a high-school English teacher, a newspaper copy editor and a United Methodist minister. She and her husband, editor Henry Passenger, are longtime friends of ReadTheSpirit magazine and Books. Also, here in Michigan where our Home Office is based, the Passengers are very active in the interfaith network known as Michigan Communicators. Margaret agrees with us here at ReadTheSpirit in one pointed critique of inspirational publishing nationwide: Most readers of these books are women; yet more men than women are given opportunities to publish such books. Margaret spent many years working with small groups in parishes to perfect this book-length study of women in the Bible. We recommend it and encourage you to support Margaret’s work by ordering a copy. It’s a great choice for a New Year’s or Lenten small group discussion, because one of the central themes is: encouraging women today to take courage from the examples of biblical women. How to get this: CLICK on Maragaret’s book cover, at right, to jump to Amazon.

8. A Rare Story of Jesus as a Boy

Chris Stepien cover image from Three Days The Search for the Boy MessiahSpeaking of interfaith connections in publishing, we are impressed with the work of Chris Stepien, an independent author whose story appeared in ReadTheSpirit in June. His new book is called Three Days: The Search for the Boy Messiah. Like the Passengers (mentioned above), Chris is a long-time media professional who now is active in interfaith work. A devout Catholic and a father, Chris felt moved to explore the brief biblical account of Jesus as a boy getting “lost” in the Temple in Jerusalem. Even though Chris admits that he isn’t a formally trained Bible scholar—he set out to research and write a novelized account of those experiences. We are impressed with Chris’s approach to this work. Using his professional talents as a writer and researcher, Chris sincerely is trying to build cross-cultural connections through his storytelling. We say: He’s setting a great example. Get the book! Read it! How to get this: CLICK on the “Three Days” image from Chris’s book cover to jump to Amazon.

9. Fran McKendree helps out with a song

Musician Fran McKendreeSinger/songwriter Fran McKendree is a good friend to our readers, through his regular sharing of stories and songs. Among his past columns in our online magazine: You can see and hear him in this story, which includes a video of Fran performing Times Like These. Then, in his column Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Fran described a retreat he designed involving kites. This autumn, he wrote about his involvement in the Awakening Soul project. Then, one more link: Many readers enjoyed this meditative chant in video form. Our message to all of our readers is: Get to know this talented and faithful musician! He travels the country working with church groups and peacemaking events. And, right now, he’s selling a Christmas carol (for a dollar) to help raise funds for a good cause. How to get this: CLICK on the image of Fran to jump to his website. (And if you’re reading this column after Fran is finished with the Christmas carol effort—hey, get to know him through his website! He’s always starting something new and inspiring.)

10. Learn about Native Americans in ‘Our Fires Still Burn’

Our Fires Still Burn documentary DVD image Audrey GeyerFilmmaker Audrey Geyer devoted years to producing the documentary, Our Fires Still Burn, about the contemporary lives of Great Lakes Indians. What inspires us about this film is that Audrey balances the stories she includes in her film so that she is honest about some deep wounds, including the campaign to force Indian children into boarding schools, but she also highlights bright sparks of renewed life, as well. Her film has been featured in public showings—as well as regional broadcasts on PBS stations. You may see Our Fires Still Burn showing up on a PBS affiliate near you in 2014. Right now, though, we are encouraging our readers to visit Audrey’s website, learn about her documentary, make people aware of the film—and, please, consider ordering a DVD. How to get this: CLICK on the image from Audrey’s film to jump to her website.

11. Don’t Forget the Caregivers!

We Are Caregivers dot Com bannerHelping the nation’s millions of caregivers is a major goal at ReadTheSpirit, spearheaded by WeAreCaregivers.com columnist Heather Jose. In fact, Heather recently wrote a column, called What do we give? If you’re reading this item and you’ve forgotten to think of a caregiver in your life at this time of year—go read Heather’s column and make a plan. We are urging readers, as 2013 moves into 2014, to bookmark http://www.WeAreCaregivers.com so you won’t miss the many inspiring and helpful columns Heather brings us, each week. She welcomes guest writers, as well, including Benjamin Pratt, Rodney Curtis and Paul Hile. Of course, we would love to have you look at our ReadTheSpirit Bookstore and support these writers by buying any of our half-dozen caregiving-themed books. And, if you’re thinking of organizing a caregiving ministry in 2014, we would love to hear from you! Heather occasionally makes appearances at events nationwide and she’s always looking for ideas to highlight in her columns. How to do this: CLICK on the blue Caregivers logo to visit Heather’s department. Or, email us at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com

12. Join MSU in Celebrating American Diversity

MSU School of Journalism-100-Q-Americans-teamFinally, one of our proudest accomplishments is enabling the Michigan State University School of Journalism to launch a whole series of books helping in nationwide efforts to encourage “cultural competency”—the phrase commonly used today to describe educational efforts to break down cross-cultural bias. With coordination from MSU’s Joe Grimm, a veteran journalist and educator, MSU students first produced The New Bullying and quickly discovered that the book made a real impact in awakening adults to emerging forms of bullying among teens. Since then, Joe and his MSU teams of students have produced the first two volumes of what will be an extensive series of books on gaining “cultural competency.” Please, do your part to build healthier, more peaceful communities in 2014 by learning about the MSU project and buying these guides to use in your region. How to do this: CLICK on the image of MSU students to visit our most recent story about this pioneering project. You’ll find links there to purchase their guides.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Great With GroupsHolidays

Review of Margarethe von Trotta’s ‘Hannah Arendt’

MOVIE REVIEW
BY READTHESPIRIT EDITOR DAVID CRUMM

Click the cover to visit the DVD's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the DVD’s Amazon page.

If you care about peacemaking and global justice, then you must be fascinated to find the fury rising once again around Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The impassioned voices either defending or denouncing Arendt are, once again, nearly as impassioned as when The New Yorker magazine first published her five-part series as “A Reporter at Large”  in 1963. Then, Viking collected the series into a book. Now published by Penguin, hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold.

A new film defending Arendt and casting her as a brilliant crusader—as a new kind of sophisticated, feminist thinker for a new era in world history—is making the rounds, now in a DVD edition by Zeitgeist. It’s called simply Hannah Arendt. The convergence of the 50th anniversary of her landmark, incendiary work of news-analysis—and this very compelling new film about her life—now places Arendt squarely in the cross hairs of people who were not even alive during the Holocaust. In reviewing this new film, I must point out that, at age 58, I was not alive during World War II, either.

These days, most Americans don’t even know her name. In preparing to review this film, I asked a number of well-read writers what they thought of Hannah Arendt and, generally, the response was: “Oh, the Eichmann writer.” While her book flooded the world, few people living today have actually read it. I’m one of her readers, because I make a brief reference to Arendt’s classic phrase, “the banality of evil,” in my own book, Our Lent: Things We Carry. I briefly discuss her argument in my own chapter on Pontius Pilate trying to wash his hands after condemning Jesus.

4 Things to Understand about Hannah Arendt

She came of age in a circle of brilliant thinkers: Born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1906, Arendt’s life is a Zelig-like tale of connections with a wealth of towering intellectual figures emerging in that era before World War II. She became a philosopher and political theorist in a long series of books, dominated by Eichmann in Jerusalem. Until her death in 1975, her life revolved around the issues raised in that 1963 work. Her circle of friends is crucial to understanding the explosive worldwide debate that stormed—and continues to storm—around her work. Critics later argued that some of her friends may have been dark collaborators in her work; some of her friends came to her vigorous defense; some of her friends were transformed into relentless enemies by her work.

In the film: Of course, Margarette von Trotta’s film is a vigorous defense of Arendt’s life and work. The film does explore many of these complex friendships, generally depicting each relationship in ways that are sympathetic to Arendt’s memory. If you are reading this review and, already, you are realizing that this era of history is way beyond your own background—then you definitely will want to explore a bit of Arendt’s Wikipedia page before seeing the movie.

She was touched by the Holocaust: She fled the Nazis twice and was imprisoned for a time in a camp, although she was able to flee to America thanks to special visa. To this day, the question is hotly debated: How well did she understand the nature of the Shoah?

In the film: These two escapes are mentioned at several points in the film, but are not well explained for newcomers to this story. Again, read a bit of background on Arendt before you see it.

She went to Jerusalem to “cover” the trial of Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker magazine: She attended some, but not all, of Eichmann’s trial. She was stunned by her first encounter with this major architect of the Holocaust (who had fled to Argentina, but was kidnapped by Israeli forces and was put on trial in Jerusalem). Watching him speak from his glass-walled corner of the courtroom, Arendt formulated her most important conclusion: In the 20th century industrial age, vast crimes against humanity could be organized into a series of actions fit for bureaucrats to maintain as a matter of ordinary business. Her “banality of evil” phrase was not excusing or defending Eichmann, but was pointing at a far deeper truth: In a technologically advanced world, huge crimes could be conceived and broken down into steps fit for bureaucrats. This remains her most important insight—and the point I briefly discuss in my own book.

In the film: We are given the impression that Arendt covered nearly all of the trial in person, either in the courtroom or in the journalists’ newsroom via closed-circuit TV into the courtroom. We also are shown how extensively she studied transcripts and other records. The film does not deal with the more recent criticism by historians that her attendance at the trial was just a handful of days she spent sampling the real action in the courtroom. In the film, she seems steeped in all of the trial records.

She seemed to be attacking the courage of the Jewish people, collectively: It is almost impossible to imagine the impact of her reporting on Jewish survivors little more than a decade after the Holocaust’s end—and on Israelis in a tiny, besieged nation still trying to establish itself. A key section in her reporting criticized officials in European Jewish councils during the Holocaust for cooperating with Nazi transports to the death camps. To this day, scholars continue to study this question and to rebuke Arendt’s implication that these Jewish leaders did not do enough to try to save their people.

In the film: This is one of the strong points in the movie. We come away from the film, on balance, thinking that Arendt was indeed far too arrogant in the section of her reporting that seemed to attack Jewish leaders during the Holocaust. In a number of scenes, we see how—by sheer force of her considerable personality—she convinced The New Yorker editors to publish that incendiary section (about 10 pages out of 300 pages). In the film, Arendt is allowed to defend herself on this point but we do come away regarding this point as part of the tragedy of her life. She truly was out of her depth in making some of these charges and she paid for that over-reaching in her book with death threats and criticism that haunted her final decade.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: If you care about the course of peacemaking and global justice, since World War II, you must know something about Hannah Arendt. This film is absolutely compelling: For a docu-drama about a sophisticated intellectual, you certainly won’t want to stir until it’s over. Critics who have slammed this film—and there are some—see it as a shameful defense of a woman they still regard as an evil figure on the world stage. Critics who praise this film—and I am among them—see it as a fascinating cinematic introduction into the most important point Arendt was trying to make: that the nature of evil in the world is changing dramatically in our modern era. In her view, we may need to look for the bureaucrats in ordinary-looking offices to unearth the true monsters in this new age.

As The Paris Review pointed out earlier this year, this point should not be missed or overshadowed in the midst of the related controversies about Arendt. Robert Lowell termed her portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” and Bruno Bettelheim said it was the best protection against “dehumanizing totalitarianism.”

The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott made the same point in his review, which praises the film for raising awareness of her life: “We may need her example more than ever. It’s probably too much to hope that Ms. von Trotta and her star, Barbara Sukowa, will do for Arendt what Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep did for Julia Child, but surely a fellow can dream.”

I urge you to see this film yourself; I urge you to see it with friends; I urge you to acquaint yourself with the life and work of Hannah Arendt. You will be a better peacemaker for the effort.

CARE TO READ MORE?

The New York Times Review of Books just published two commentaries on Hannah Arendt and Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Watch filmmaker Claude Lanzmann: First, if you have read this far in the review, then you will want to know that Lanzmann’s most famous documentary on the Holocaust is now on sale for American viewers in Blu-ray as: Shoah (Criterion Collection). If you follow Holocaust studies, then you know his epic film has been hard to find for American viewing for many years. It’s expensive, but—again, if you are fascinated by this era or your work involves reflecting on the Holocaust for students or for readers—buy a copy of the Criterion Collection set right now. It may go out of print; other Criterion titles have. Then, continue to watch for news on Lanzmann, because he already is showing his latest production, The Last of the Unjust, a documentary that focuses on Theresienstadt and already is being described as a rebuke of Hannah Arendt.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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