224: Readers Tell Us About the Mummy, Global Music — and Old John Brown

nce again, we’ve received so
many creative and helpful notes from readers this week that we’re going
to share some of your best comments and ideas … Today, it’s your
page! And, please, we love to hear from readers!

   … is, well, some pretty lame options now that we’ve reached the shank of the summer season. All the glory — the razzle-dazzle of a better-than-expected “Iron Man,” the wonderment over “Wall.E” and the eerie spiritual questions raised by “The Dark Knight” — all of that seems to be behind us now.
   Man oh man, remember the excitement of Batman’s opening night? Remember how every theater seemed to sell out at seconds past midnight that night? Thousands of viewers congregated for several hours in our first glimpse of Gotham! Those are great summer cinema memories, right?
   Or, wait a minute!! That was just two weeks ago, wasn’t it?

   Now, we’re down to B-list actor Brendan Fraser and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”? Here at the ol’ ReadTheSpirit Home Office, “The Mummy” was the only selection for a midnight early debut this weekend.
   Having watched it in a half-full theater at 12:01 a.m., I can tell you: It’s a digital-effects-fest for nearly two hours. Don’t even bother trying to figure out all the rules of this supernatural game — like who’s immortal, or not immortal, or can rise from the dead, or turn into dust — because the filmmakers play fast and loose with all those rules. And half way through the film you’ll meet some characters who truly were dreamed up on a day when the well was running dry in the screenwriters’ office.
   (I think the single most interesting observation about the film is that the filmmakers labored to make sure that every political element of this fanciful tale could actually play in China itself — intriguing but not worth two hours of such silliness.)

   And after this one, before Labor Day rolls around? Well, there’s Kevin Costner in the political comedy, “Swing Vote,” then a new take on old Cheech and Chong drug comedies, a new spoof of Vietnam War films — and a new feature-length cartoon of “Star Wars.”
   Now, if you detect some regret in my tone here — I’m actually reflecting what readers were telling me this week.
   Tim Martins from Columbus dropped me a note this week that I thought was pretty telling. Tim wrote: “I like how you look around Facebook to see how much activity there is about new movies. So, I started looking around on ‘The Mummy’ … I’m a big Jet Li fan and even if the movie’s stupid, I’ll go to see him in anything. But I couldn’t even find a Mummy group … then, when I found a few they all seem to be set up by just one person without much activity at all … Not like the Dark Knight, right?”
   So, thanks Tim for pointing out how well the Facebook barometer provides a forecast on these things. I checked out the Facebook groups this week — and you can, too — and you’ll find that Tim is right.
   First, search on Facebook for a “Mummy” group — and you’ll get sites for Moms as far as the eye can see. There actually are some groups for “The Mummy” movie but they’re a pretty thin presence on Facebook compared with the huge energy in groups for the other hit films I’ve just mentioned.
   And “Swing Vote”? The first Facebook group I found for Costner’s film had a current membership total of: 2. Yes, that’s 2 — as in “two.”
   We know our readers enjoy movies — and examining the deeper themes within films — and, please, come back next week when we plan to “mop up” the summer movie season and look ahead to autumn with Ed McNulty, the author of a number of books about faith and film.


  Generally, I’m convinced that any time I hear an emerging idea from several different people in a single week — I need to stop and listen very carefully.
   Here’s what I’m hearing about music — and these are just scattered things I’m hearing — so I welcome you, readers, to chime in and tell me how you connect these dots:

   FIRST: Among the many church leaders I’ve been talking with in recent weeks are professionals trying to shape a new style of worship service for a big Protestant church. They want to build the new service partially around music that draws on a wide range of traditions. That means not only traditional church music and American popular music — but music from other lands and cultures. The question is, how should this church’s leaders talk about this mix of musical styles?
   Does “world music” sound like some throwback to the ’90s? Or is it “global music”?

THEN there’s this:
Our Conversation on Wednesday about the music of Bruce Springsteen brought a number of encouraging messages. I liked this one from a reader in Pennsylvania. “Fun stuff!” wrote Jen G. “Never thought there were 10 Commandments there (in Springsteen’s music). … But it just shows truth comes from everywhere. Gotta get my CDs out!”
   In response to the Springsteen piece, I also heard from Trevor Harden in South Carolina with this: “Great
job! What a fun read. I am
part of the founding team for a new multi-faith website called RockOm (www.RockOm.net) ‘the
crossroads of music and spirituality.’  Since your article speaks to
both music and spirituality, I was wondering if you would
be interested in allowing us to repost this article to our
   I sent back a note welcoming Trevor to repost the Springsteen piece. I am intrigued by his Web site, which is prominently marked “BETA,” because it’s so new.
   Here’s how RockOm talks about its version of this new fusion: “RockOm is an online community to celebrate, share and explore the common ground of music and spirituality, inclusive of all faiths and all musical styles.”
   But what do you think? Is there a new mix of music and spirit emerging here? Or is it an old mix of styles for which we may need a new name?


    I‘ve already pointed out the wonders of the GoodReads social-networking site. Basically, if Facebook friendships grow through “gifts” and personal invitations and groups — and LinkedIn friendships grow through shared professional interests — then, GoodReads friendships grow one book at a time.
   Or, in the case of more ambitious GoodReads users, friendships grow by one tour of the library at a time. I’m referring there to the Quaker writer J. Brent Bill who feeds recommendations into GoodReads by the dozens. Personally, I welcome that — it’s like I’m invited into Brent’s library, every now and then, to look over his latest batch of favorites.
   Another friend who posts fascinating reviews to GoodReads is the historian Angela Dillard, author of the history, “Faith in the City.” This week, she moved me to pick up a new book that I had overlooked about the pivotal historical figure John Brown. As the GoodReads social-network system operates, when Angela filed her review — I immediately got an Email sharing her thoughts.
   Brown is a catalytic and yet very difficult to interpret figure in American history. Some years ago, when I still was reporting for Knight-Ridder newspapers, I reported from Kansas on the enduring legacy of John Brown. Naturally, the moment I spotted Angela’s review, I was intrigued.

   Just to give you a sense of the quality of reviews you can read on GoodReads, Angela agreed to let us reprint her review here:

  David Reynolds’ sympathetic yet critical and probing treatment of John Brown — once among the most polarizing figures in America history — is an amazing and thought-provoking book. I use John Brown, and the events surrounding the Kansas “civil war” (“Bleeding Kansas,” 1856), along with the events of the raid on Harper’s Ferry (October 1859), as part of my freshman seminar on social criticism at the University of Michigan. Brown is an excellent figure to include in such a course for two reasons.
   First, Brown’s religious background gives us an opportunity to think through the ways in which a religious orientation can inform a radical social critique of an injustice such as slavery. Reynolds is very good on the details of Brown’s Puritan heritage and his Calvinist beliefs.  Ahead of his time in so many ways, Brown also had an ecumenical streak and was willing to work with people of other faiths, including Jews. Slavery was for him a grave offense to God and its overthrow involved not only uprooting the vile practice but an affirmation of black humanity (as children of God) as well. Brown also, by the way, supported rights for women and advocated humane treatment of Native Americans.
   Reynolds’ biography goes a long way toward supporting an argument that I’ve long made about the centrality of religious opposition to slavery which, I think, was more central than Enlightenment principles. OK, so Brown was inspired both by the dictates of God and by the Declaration of Independence but his clarity on the issue — what some would and have called his crazed zealotry — seems more divinely inspired. What lead Brown to kill in the name of justice — Faith or Reason?
   The other great question that John Brown helps to raise is whether it is morally permissible to kill in defense of justice, or, is violence an acceptable form of social critique? This is the question that made Brown such a polarizing figure, both before and after the Civil War. Henry David Thoreau does a beautiful defense, William Lloyd Garrison denounces him and historians and others are still divided on the issues posed by this “Calvinist terrorist.”

Thank you, Angela Dillard.
AND, THANKS to all the readers we’ve quoted today!

    If you didn’t see your comment or suggestion today — keep
reading, because we’ll have more news, reviews, quizzes and inspiring
interviews next week.
    The Interfaith Heroes project is
gearing up again, getting ready for another month-long focus in January
on these spiritual heroes. Over the past week or so, we’re seeing an
upswing in your interest in that project — and some new nominations of
heroes have come our way. Thank you! We’ll tell you more about this in
coming weeks.

AND PLEASE, as these readers have done — Tell Us What You Think.
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