Let’s Promote THOREAU: Surveyor of the Soul

As you can see elsewhere on ReadtheSpirit, I really  enjoyed watching the Thoreau video by the man who professionally goes just by the name “Huey.” It provides an over all view of the life of the man and his challenging writings. Because it is currently available only from him, it will be difficult for many of you to see. Thus I’m urging you to do what I’ve done, put in a purchase request  for it to your local library. It is the ideal DVD for this, filled with inspiring information about a man that  the public is aware of but about whom it really knows little.

There is very little information about the film on IMDB, the link to my review being the first, and there is no photo of the DVD cover–thus I believe that the filmmaker is so engaged in teaching & filming that he’s been able to do little to promote the film beyond his arranging for its screenings. You can be of great help in spreading the word about it by getting your library to buy  a copy. You might include a link to my review, or copy & paste relevant portions of it–don’t worry about copyright.

I’ve initiated a contact with the American Library Assoc. to get  one of its staff to review the film so that more librarians will become aware of the film. T here is as yet nothing about the DVD on Amazon, so I am urging the filmmaker to work on this.

This is an independent film that deserves to find an audience, always an uphill struggle for small budget filmmakers.  And this is a time when we need Thoreau to remind us to resist injustice at all levels of society and government. Please join me in this effort–and let us know by  your replies that you are doing so.



The film Chappaquiddick brought forth a number of memories and conflicting feelings for me. I wonder if it did for my readers as well, specially you who have been around the block a few times and can actually remember that distant event

It took me three or four times to write the review as compared to most other films. This was partly due to my dealing with a mild, though debilitating, case of pneumonia, but far more due to those conflicting feeling just mentioned. As an admirer of much of the service Ted Kennedy rendered the nation during his long Senate career, I went to see the film with a note of dread–that it might be a hatchet job a bankrolled by wealthy conservatives. As you can see in my review, this is not at all the case, even though parts of the script had to be based on conjecture. In a non-strident way the filmmakers tell the story of a man confronted with an agonizing choice, to confront the consequences of his act, or to procrastinate and flee, with a life hanging in the balance. Unfortunately for Mary Jo Kopochne, the passenger in the car that ran off the Chappaquiddick Bridge, Ted Kennedy made the wrong choice. He did not get in touch with the police until at least ten hours had passed! According to expert testimony at an inquest, she probably did not drown, but died of asphyxiation when she breathed in the last of the oxygen in the trapped bubble of air in the overturned car. The chief of the local fire rescue team said he could have had her out within twenty-five minutes of his arrival, had he been called.

Other events depicted in the film also show the Senator and his support team in a bad light as they use their connections to shield the politician from the full force of the punishment of the law for what should have been a case of negligent homicide. And yet the people of Massachusetts returned him to the Senate for another forty years. I need to remember this when I read of evangelical pastor who overlook the lies and philandering of the current US President and declare their support of him. I have tended to agree with the labeling of the President’s supporters as “deplorables,” and yet I probably would have voted for Ted Kennedy had he run for the Presidency. I did vote a second time for Bill Clinton, while confessing to holding my nose while doing so. Is this really any different from 2016? It is always easier to set aside the flaws of “our candidate” while picking out those of the opponent;s, isn’t it? However, I don’t mean that we should lapse into moral relativism and say that “they’re all crooks,” so that it doesn’t matter whom we vote for, or that we shouldn’t bother to vote at all.

Ted faces his father & feels his contempt.             (c) Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

I hope those reading this will see the film and then come back and share your reactions. This is a film that, as far as I can tell, does not have an ax to grind, but lays out a plausible scenario of what happened on that awful night, and leaves it up to us to judge a flawed man. I would love to see the same team, including the fine actor who portrays the troubled Kennedy in this film, make a sequel depicting the great Senate career that followed replete with scenes depicting how the Senator wrestled with his past demons. Something happened to this weak man that transformed a weak-willed man desperate for the affection of a stern father into the champion for justice and the underdog, eventually designated “the Lion of the Senate.” Was it a renewal of his religious faith; the support of friends, or what?

I could write a lot more, but this ought to be enough for now. How can CHAPPAQUIDDICK contribute to moving our political discourse beyond shouting and name-calling?


The Gospel and Humor

 With Easter falling on April Fools Day I thought this article,  reprinted from the April 2007 issue of Presbyterians Today, with a couple of resources updated and the note about Parable added, might be of interest.







When Thou Shalt Laugh, a DVD featuring a stage full of Christian comedians, was released last year, some critics were amused by what they considered an anomaly- the idea that Christians could be funny. Let’s face it: many regard Christians as humorless and church services as boring affairs for the seriously pious. But not only are humor and laughter indigenous to the Christian (and Jewish) faith, they are rooted in the very nature of the Bible. Smiles and celebration belong in church, especially at Easter, when we remember Christ’s victory over sin and death.

Godspell got it right

John-Michael Tebelak saw the potential for humor in the gospel story when, joining with composer Stephen Schwartz, he conceived his Broadway musical Godspell. He daringly depicted Christ as a clown, who calls men and women from their humdrum world to form a troupe of comic performers. Through mime, song, dance and vaudeville skits, they sing the good news. Tebelak was very much in tune with theologian Harvey Cox, whose book The Feast of Fools (1969) called the church to rediscover the joyful spirit of the Gospels.


When I wrote this article in 2007 I did not recall that my favorite short film PARABLE inspired GODSPELL.


Another popular 1970s musical, Jesus Christ:  Superstar, presents the story of Jesus as a tragedy. It’s the tale of a good Jewish boy who becomes a hapless victim. Lamenting the situation, narrator Judas wonders (to Jesus) “why you let the things you did get so out of hand?” The show closes with the soft music of “John Nineteen Forty-One,” referring to the verse in John’s Gospel about the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid. No resurrection here.

In contrast, Godspell presents the story of Jesus as a comedy, filled with exuberant music, clever sketches interpreting Jesus’ parables, funny pratfalls, soft-shoe dance routines and outrageous comments uttered by Jesus and his disciples. True, the scenes of the Last Supper, Gethsemane and the crucifixion are serious and moving: the disciples sing a dirge-like song, “Long Live God,” as they carry the dead body of Jesus on their shoulders. But then the film version concludes with the disciples breaking into the raucous “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” Jesus’ body is gone, and his risen presence seems mystically embodied in the disciples who are skipping and dancing again as they did earlier in the show.

A resurrection outlook

Tragic elements certainly exist in the story of Jesus. But even the grimmest passages recounting events leading up to Jesus’ death offer hints that the impending tragedy will ultimately be swallowed up in God’s “divine comedy.”

For example, Jesus’ appearance before Pilate, as depicted in John 19:10-11, is a serious confrontation. Pilate challenges Jesus: “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”
But Jesus answers, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” His reply brings to mind the child’s response to the naked potentate in Hans Christian Anderson’s the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” “Look,” the youngster blurts out, “the Emperor doesn’t have any clothes on!”

Jesus’ faith in God enables him to see through the humiliation and pain to the reality that Pilate is not as mighty as he thinks he is. Suffering must be endured; but Easter will reveal that God’s power not only surpasses that of any political leader, it is greater even than sin and death.

Followers of Jesus today view the tragedy of the cross through the lens of resurrection. How much more inviting would Christian worship services be to outsiders, if they embodied this resurrection outlook. The Lord’s Supper, for example, ought to be more like a celebration than a funeral service. Instead of the preacher solemnly intoning the
familiar words of the liturgy against a background of muted organ chords, why not sing a joyful hymn such as “Lord of the Dance” while preparing to share the bread and wine?

A Sunday for laughter

A pie in the pastor’s face during worship is not standard fare in most churches, but it’s no longer unexpected at First Presbyterian Church in Winter Haven, Fla.

Nine years ago the church joined the Holy Humor Sunday movement, and attendance has been climbing steadily for its Sunday-after-Easter service. Associate pastor C. Alan Harvey says church leaders got the idea for the service from an
article in The Joyful Noiseletter (see “Humor helps,” opposite page). They read that early Greek Orthodox Church leaders called the Sunday after Easter “Bright Sunday,” emphasizing the joy and laughter engendered by Jesus’ resurrection.

Last year’s Bright Sunday service at First Church will be hard to top. At the climax of the children’s sermon, pastor Steven D. Negley pushed a pie in Harvey’s face.

It was one of those “guess you had to be there” moments, but the pastors say the stunt somehow related to a telling of the Bible story. The church has adopted the butterfly as a symbol for Bright Sunday. Thanks to Florida’s warm climate, worshipers are able to go outside and release butterflies given to them at the beginning of the service.

 Clowns and comedians

Even outside the church, a resurrection outlook informs the performances of classic comedians such as Charlie Chaplin. For Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, life is a dangerous and humiliating waltz among the slippery banana peels of life. He suffers many falls and disappointments, but each time he stands up again, retrieves his cane and dusts off his fallen hat. Then, after doing a little hop/dance step (I like to call this his resurrection dance), he heads down the road into a new day.

Resurrection-centered faith is the basis for clown ministry, a movement that sprang up around the country in the 1970s. Inspired by Paul’s words about “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31), chaplains at retirement homes and hospitals have donned clown make-up to lift the spirits of patients and demonstrate the healing effects of humor. As
Lutheran minister Floyd Schaffer put it in his 1984 book If I Were a Clown, “a clown is someone who lowers himself, in order to lift someone else up.” (Not a bad description of Jesus’ ministry.)

Comedy in Scripture

Many of us approach. the Bible with such seriousness that we miss the comic element in some of its stories, But readers looking for humor will not be disappointed. For example:

Gospel guffaws

In his ground-breaking book The Humor of Christ (1964) theologian Elton Trueblood pointed out examples of the under-appreciated humor of the Gospels: Jesus accuses show-off hypocrites of blowing horns before giving alms. He warns that when blind (leaders) lead the blind, both will wind up in a ditch. And he compares a money-obsessed person seeking to enter the kingdom of heaven to a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle. Some humorless scholars have attempted to “explain” Jesus’ hyperbolic joke about the needle’s eye by suggesting that there must have been a low gate
in the Jerusalem wall through which a heavily laden camel could pass only by kneeling and inching its way through.

Mirthful birth

Genesis 21:17-21
God chooses a childless couple in their 90s to begin the family of “chosen people.” Ludicrous! No wonder Sarah and Abraham laugh when God tells them they will become parents. When Sarah finally does bear a son, the parents name him Isaac, which translates as “Laughter.” Sarah declares, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

Sibling rivalry run amok

Genesis 25-29

Hebrew storytellers must have chuckled over the saga of the contentious twins, Esau and Jacob. They begin competing against each other while still in the womb, each trying to position himself to emerge first and thus have the rightful claim
to the family inheritance. Second-born Jacob enters the world holding onto Esau’s heel, trying to pull his brother back into the birth canal. Jacob manages to trick Esau out of his birthright, but the trickster gets a taste of his own medicine when he finds himself tricked by Laban into marrying the wrong woman.

Wise ass

Numbers 22

It’s hard to miss the humor when Balaam’s donkey is depicted as having more sense than its owner.

Designer gods

Isaiah 44:9-17
Satirical passages like this one in the book of Isaiah show the absurdity of making and worshiping idols.

Fish tale


The delightful story of Jonah could be subtitled, “Your legs are too short to run from God.” Don’t get hung up on the question of whether or not a person can survive in the belly of a whale, or you’ll miss both the humor and the point of this fisherman’s tall tale.

Humor Resources

The books mentioned in the article, by Cox, Trueblood and Shaffer, are out of print but are available through Amazon.corn. Go to the “Book” section and type in the title to find used book dealers that sell them. Other books
related to humor and the gospel: • The Gospel According to Peanuts, by Robert Short (Westminster John Knox Press, 1964; reprinted often)

  • The Joyful Christ: The Healing Power of Humor, by Cal Samra (Harper & Row, 1985; also out of print but available
    from Amazon .corn)
  • Reaching for Rainbows, by Ann Weems (Westminster John Knox Press, 1980)
  • Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, by Frederick Buechner (HarperSanFrancisco, 1977)
  • Thou Shalt Laugh (Warner Home Video, 2006), a DVD featuring 90 minutes of Christian stand-up comedians, hosted by Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond).
  • The Gospel and Comedy Retreat Kit provides humorous Scripture passages, movie references and sample skits for a group
    to explore this topic in depth. Contact Visual Parables, 4337 Napa Valley Dr., Bellbrook, OH 45305 or edsvisualparables@twc.com

Especially for children

  • The Clown of God, by Tomie dePaola (hardcover: Harcourt Chidren’s Book, 1978; paper: Voyager Books, 1989)

Reflections on Billy Graham

The recent death of evangelist Billy Graham brought forth a number of memories for me. I have long entertained conflicting feelings about him and his ministry. As a survivor of a Fundamentalist church during my years in grade school, I was repelled by Graham’s Biblical literalism during his early years and his simplistic approach to the world. Early in my own ministry in the early 60s I recall that my Presbyterian Church issued a series of low-cost books called The Layman’s Theological Commentary, one of which was by Cornelius Lowe, MODERN RIVALS TO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. The most startling chapter in the book was devoted to Billy Graham, whom the author took to task for his individual-centered, social justice ignoring theology.

Then through the years I encountered in a couple of cities the network of supporters of the Billy Graham Crusades and was impressed by their ecumenism, bringing leaders of diverse theologies and polities together. Most of all, I was impressed by the evangelist’s refusal to speak to segregated audiences. This latter was well before the Civil Rights movement sprang up. He did not become a prophet like Dr. King or the Berrigan brothers, but to insist on integrated audiences at the time certainly made him their ally—and probably took some courage, as I would suppose that his advisers cautioned him about the consequences in the South. Throughout his career he insisted on the equality of the races, rejecting the widespread racism of his fellow Southerners (and of many Northerners too)–though he never appeared before the public with fellow preacher whom he called “my friend,” Dr. Martin Luther King. (Also disappointing was his response to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” Talk about “Pie in the Sky”!)

I came to a new respect of Graham’s moral integrity in the early 60s when I sat next to Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood at a luncheon. During my college years his books inspired me to think about the moral and political implications of the Christian faith, so I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with him. I was then a student associate campus minister at Bowling Green State University, and we had invited Dr. Trueblood to be our Religious Emphasis Week speaker. The subject of Billy Graham had come up, and, given Trueblood’s liberal views, I expected to hear some critical remark offered. Instead, Dr. Trueblood revealed that he had known the evangelist for many years. When the young evangelist started to become nationally famous, he had come to the Quaker for advice, and Dr. Trueblood suggested that he needed to avoid the temptation that had ruined many a traveling evangelist, the lust for money with its resulting corruption.  He should set up an independent body to handle all finances, and he should accept a fixed salary.

Billy Graham followed this advice, the result being that there have been no charges of financial misdeeds. He might deserve criticisms of being too close to some U.S. presidents; of being uncritically supportive of the Vietnam War; and even of harboring anti-Semitic feelings, but never of financial shenanigans. And, we should add, given the fate of so many TV evangelists, of any sexual improprieties.

Billy Graham left a legacy of changed lives, we ought to remember. After reviewing the film Unbroken I read a biography of its WW 2 POW hero Louis Zamperini from which I learned how he was converted at a Billy Graham rally and subsequently began a long career as an evangelist preaching forgiveness and reconciliation—a career assisted by Graham. Thus, though I still have reservations about Billy Graham, I can join with those who laud his ministry and mourn his loss. The world is richer for his having lived and ministered among us.

12 STRONG: Interview with Spec. Ops Team Leader Mark Nutsch

On the afternoon of January 11 2018 I was privileged to interview by telephone Major Mark D. Nutsch.  A captain in 2001, he was the team leader and commander of ODA 595, one of the first Task Force Dagger combined Special Forces teams sent to Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban terrorist attack on New York City’s Twin Towers. The story of his team’s fantastic adventures is told in the film 12 Strong, reviewed elsewhere on this site.

After exchanging greetings, the following transpired:

Mark: In the film 12 Strong I was portrayed by Chris Hemsworth. In 2001 I was Southern Forces Detachment Commander of the Army’s Green Beret, with the rank of captain.

Ed: The film is based on a book called The Horse Soldiers. Were you interviewed by the author?

Mark: Yes, years ago members of my team, including myself, was interviewed very, very briefly, and the book was published a number of years later and eventually purchased for a film. And it took 5 or 6 years for that film to be developed, and here we are.

Ed: Yes, and I could hardly believe the film, it seemed so much like a novel, the 12 of you accomplishing so much in such a short time.

Mark: I’ll tell you, we were so inspired by the first responders. Most of America was watching the smoking pile of rubble in New York or that hole in the Pentagon or that field in Pennsylvania. We had in a very short time. By the 15th of September our team was alerted for a mission and in final preparations to deploy, knowing our mission was going to unfold in Afghanistan. Didn’t fully know the details yet. But by seeing the TV and seeing the first responders and what America was doing, rallying around them at those tragic locations where 3000 of our American citizens and international citizens were murdered, we were honored to be on the first team to be sent into Afghanistan.

Ed: It’s good to know that. How did it feel to see yourself in the film portrayed by an actor?

Mark: Well, my 2 daughters and 2 sons take a little humor in the fact that Chris Hemsworth is portraying their dad. I don’t think they fully grasp or realize yet what the mission entailed, the sacrifices and the commitment that our entire team had throughout the duration of that extended mission—that mission was several months long. It wasn’t just one of these fly in on helicopters, step off for a few hours, you know, and get up close and personal in discussions with the enemy, and get on the helicopter and be home for breakfast. We were living it day in and day out, 24-7 in that situation, just pushing each other and pushing ourselves. My resilience to bounce back in time, we learned lessons we took some lumps, no doubt.

Chris Hemsworth as Capt. Nutsch. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ed: In the film there was a deadline set while you were being briefed?

Mark: Yeah, we—the Command actually didn’t set the deadline. They didn’t expect us honestly to survive the mission. They expected us to winter in the mountains with our local partner force, build that army in capability, and come down out of the mountains in the spring, and help our U.S. military conventional forces, the Army and the Marines, that would try and come in, because it was going to take them months to build up the force that they needed. Our local allies, Gen. Dostum and others from three different ethnic factions that had been utterly brutalized by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, they didn’t want to wait either. None of us wanted to hole-up in the mountains past the winter. We did it within 21 days–we had liberated the key city of Mazar-e-Sharif and the surrounding six northern provinces of Afghanistan.

Ed: That was incredible. Were you really as confident as Chris Hemsworth said, “Well get it done before that time, and we’ll all come back”?

Mark: No, because as I said, the Command was not imposing that time-line on us. We were confident. We were confident that our team was the one to send. Very much the spirit of our team was, “Send me. Send us. We’re the team that is trained, mature, ready. We’ve been working so closely together that we are the right team to put into this unknown situation. Let us figure it out…

Hal Spencer was the pseudonym of the character portrayed by Michael Shannon. Some Special Forces teams do get ready for a mission, they have to go into an isolation that cuts them off from any distractions, and then they plan the mission. And they brief the Command on what they feel is the best course of action to that meeting. Once we briefed our plan, the task force commander, looked at it and said, “Hey, that’s a pretty good plan,” because really nothing was happening, there was not very much information out there. So, we thought we put together the best plan going.

You asked something earlier about confidence, and here’s how the confidence resonated throughout the team. One of the questions that was asked, “Can you make it to Mazar-e-Sharif in a good time frame?” And we told him, “Well, we’ll give it our best shot.  If we don’t, the storms that come in will push us up into the mountains, but we will continue to fight from the mountains, and we will conduct ambushes, raids, everything we need to whip up the Northern Alliance forces, advising and training them in those types of operations. The last question asked of me was by Col. H. He said, “That will work, and what do you think you will gain from that?” And I told him flat out, “Well win! We’ll win,” so we had the confidence going in.

(The press agent announced we had just a brief time left—and unknown to me I was also at the end of the cassette recording tape, so the following is what I can remember from Major Nutsch’s answers to my last questions.)

To my query about the his experience with Muslims, of the people being more than the stereotypical one held by some Americans, he replied that some Muslims did, of course, have a distorted form of the faith that led them to do terrible things. But that was not the way the people he dealt with were. He visited in the homes of many while deployed in the country and found them warm and hospitable. He has maintained contact with some, including Gen. Dostum, who now is Vice President of the country. The Major has done more than staying in contact with people in Afghanistan; he and his wife Amy have been supporting rural development and educational projects in the country as well. Our all too brief time concluded with my thanking him for his service to our country and the honor of talking directly with him.

Mark Nutsch himself has appeared in a documentary film, Greg Barker’s Legion of Brothers that was featured at the 2017 Sun Dance Film Festival and broadcast on CNN in October. It tells the story of Mark’s group in northern Afghanistan in October 2001 and a second group that infiltrated the southern part of the country. His bio sheet states,”Nutsch is now a research analyst for the Instiute and a reservist in special operations, working on aerial intelligence surveillance and emerging field technologies. He provides analytical support on Syria and the ISIS network. During his service he earned Bronze Stars and was awarded a Purple Heart.

An Artist for MLK Day

This morning I just discovered the marvelous works of artist Brian Washington, which made me aware again of how little I know. His works are in the collections of several museums and famous people. Mr. Washington is an African American lawyer by profession, but a fine artist by avocation. Working in charcoal, he has created a series of works on the rise of blacks from sharecropping to freedom fighters. In all of them he has captured their patience and dignity as they rise above their current circumstances.

You can see his works at http://www.brianwashington.com/continual-struggle/works.

I especially urge you to click onto the Interactive Tour bar because it includes his comments on each picture and its background. This Tour is a great way to celebrate MLK Day, or to honor on any day, the brave women and men who pushed this country closer to Dr. King’s great Dream.

Now in his mid 30s and fighting a disease, here is a work he created when he was just 17!


“Hurting a Nation” is this young man’s comment on how Liberty is crucified by those racists who persist in persecuting blacks. His collection called “The Continual Struggle” begins with share croppers and moves on the scenes of the brave women and men fighting for freedom and equality in the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these pictures brought to my mind memories of the brave souls I met and worked with when I participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. Treat yourself to an inspiring experience by seeing this wonderful art collection.

Five Good Films For MLK Holiday

Whether for personal or group viewing, below are some excellent films available in video that honor this great prophet for America. To read my reviews, click onto a title.



I start with this wonderful film because it is so little know, despite its two major stars, Whoopi Goldberg & Susie Spacek–and also because I will be leading a screening of it at the church I attend in Bellbrook, OH. The film chronicles the fateful impact of the Montgomery Bus Boycott on a black and a white family. Thus, it is a film about the foot soldiers rather than the General in the war on Jim Crow. Odessa is a household servant who must walk across town during the boycott because none of the black drivers go that far to the white side of town. Her employer Miriam is a dutiful housewife whose husband has just joined the White Citizen’s Council. She is upset at first by Miriam’s frequent tardiness. Then as she gets to know her servant better, she begins to understand and sympathize, and…




This TV drama covers Dr. King’s life, from his days as a flashily-dressed seminarian courting Coretta Scott through the bus boycott that catapulted him to fame, through the March on Washington and His “I Have a Dream” speech and the dark days when he was shunned by fellow CR leaders because of his public opposition to the Vietnam War, to his untimely murder in Memphis. The cast is excellent, the chief actors being Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, and Ossie Davis as, respectively, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Martin Luther King, Sr.



Much shorter than King, this HBO film focuses upon Dr. King’s days in Montgomery. It also gives notice of the importance of Montgomery’s black women in starting and spreading the word about the boycott after Rosa park’s arrest for refusing to give up her seat.



A contemporary of Dr. King, and like him, devoted to the non-violence espoused by Gandhi, this is the moving story of the leader who brought dignity to oppressed California Latino grape pickers by organizing a nation-wide boycott of table grapes.


gandhiAs with KING, this story of the Grandfather of the nonviolent movements for freedom and justice is for those with lots of time, its running time being over 3 hours, But there are so many good scenes of Gandhi and his followers facing hatred with nonviolence that you will long remember them.