229: Readers Talk About Catholics, Mennonites, Comics, Cave Men, Crime

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!
   TODAY we’re showcasing the real spiritual power of this online magazine to touch our lives on so many levels — from the creative contemplation of the arts — to very serious news about our world today — to uplifting stories about hope in bridging gaps between communities.
   Today, thanks to you, we’ll touch on all these themes. FIRST UP, WE’VE GOT …


   THANK YOU, Mrs. Roney, a high school teacher in Virginia, who dropped us a quick note about our Thursday piece -– partly because she loves Meryl Streep, but mainly because, “I’m so glad you pointed out how all these new releases that my students think are reinventing theater and cinema really are drawing from long traditions. … You said ‘Pineapple Express’ borrows from other American movies. You could have said this goes all the way back to Shakespeare and, beyond the Bard, way back to the Greeks and Romans. Action, adventure and broad comedy are our heritage going all the way back to these greats.”

   No question, Mrs. Rooney! (Print this out and tack it on your wall, if you’d like, for the start of the new school year!)
   In fact, what was prompting me in those comments on “Pineapple Express” was a set of DVDs I’ve been previewing this week, called “American Slapstick, V. 2,” from Facets Video.
   If you’re a teacher or group leader out there –- our just a movie lover like myself –- click on the cover of the DVD and grab a copy of this wonderful collection. This new set showcases dozens of rarely seen gems from the vaults of physical comedy — most, but not all of them, silent-era shorts. This collection focuses on lots of lesser-known comedians like Snub Pollard and Harold Lloyd before he put on his trademark glasses.
   Here’s the connection: In this set, I even discovered a perfect match for Seth Rogen, the star of “Pineapple Express.” In the silent era, the Rogen style was “owned” by the comedian Lloyd Hamilton.

   Like Rogen, Hamilton certainly didn’t cut the typical figure of a leading man -– yet he was attractive to the girls in his films, largely because of his lovable, hapless, persistent style. Like Rogen, his trademarks were his pudgy figure, a puzzled expression alternated with a confident smile, and his big round face.
   In fact, watching “American Slapstick, V. 2,” I realized that a clever film student could take the script of “Pineapple Express,” listing all the slapstick bits one after another –- and edit clips from silent films to fill the same script, virtually start to finish.
   There’s even a perfect scene here in which silent star Hamilton is so persistent in pursuing a beautiful young girl to her family’s home that her father pulls out a rifle and begins to blast away –- remarkably close to one comic sequence in “Express.”
   Clearly, our colorful cultural tiles are timeless –- the spiritual art is the mosaic we form from those bright gems.


   A Huge Thanks to reader and occasional contributor Kurt Kolka, the creator of the religiously themed comic series, “The Cardinal.” Kurt loves classic comics and did something about it, this week, forming the first Facebook group for the caveman’s birthday!
   Listen, if you want to get in on the ground floor of a Facebook group before it’s crowded with friends — check out the Alley Oop group! As of Thursday, Kurt and I were the only 2 members! I started a Discussion topic on the page — asking for memories of the cave man’s many comics. Or you can Comment here — or drop me an Email.
   After a brief shake-down cruise in the comics, Alley Oop debuted big time on August 7, 1933, so this week is his “diamond” birthday. Alley Oop’s name derived from the “let’s go” phrase Allez, hop! used as a cue by French gymnasts and trapeze artists.
   HERE’s some background from Wikipedia: V.T. Hamlin wrote and drew Alley Oop through four decades. Initially, Oop appeared in a short run around Christmas 1932. Beginning Aug. 7, 1933, the early material was reworked for a larger readership. During World War II, the full page vanished due to the drive to conserve paper, and it was reduced to a third of a page.

    When V. T. Hamlin retired in 1971, his assistant Dave Graue took over. From his studio near Caesar’s Head, North Carolina, Graue wrote and
drew the strip through the 1970s and 1980s until Jack Bender took over
as illustrator in 1991. Graue continued to write the strip until his August, 2001 retirement; then in December that year, the 75-year-old Graue was killed in Flat Rock, North Carolina, when a dump truck hit his car. The current Sunday and daily strips are drawn by Jack Bender and written by his wife Carol Bender.
    At its peak, Alley Oop was carried by 800 newspapers, and today it appears in more than 600 newspapers. The strip and albums were popular in Mexico (under the name Trucutú) and in Brazil.
    The list of Oop creators is important to understanding the 75th birthday cartoon, which has their faces in the corner.
   So, what do YOU love about Alley Oop?
   Me? Well, I loved the creative leaps the caveman could make, because he was regularly “unstuck in time,” to borrow Vonnegut’s phrase. The cartoon panel here is from a wonderful encounter he had with Will Shakespeare — taking us, Alley Oop!, full circle back to Mrs. Roney’s comment on comedy today. (Want to read one writer’s “take” on Alley Oop’s meeting with  Shakespeare? It’s online, too.)


   Thank you to all the readers who chimed in on our deeply disturbing story on Monday — about an activist pastor who has been sentenced to 3-to-10 years for quoting a curse from Deuteronomy in a published commentary about a judge. Jump back to read the story, if you missed it.
   Everywhere I traveled this week, readers called the events chronicled in this story “amazing,” “scary,” “ugly” — you get the point.
   ”Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn just died but the Gulag system is still alive and well in some parts of this world!” Mark De wrote from South Carolina. “How can a sentence like that stand against this man?”
   A special thanks to reader Sarah Nooden, who has followed the larger political situation in Benton Harbor very closely and offers some important background:
   ”The park that Rev. Pinckney is heroically trying to save for the citizens, especially the children, of Benton Harbor is Jean Klock Park, a park that was given to the children of Benton Harbor in 1917 in memory of a child.
   ”When the park was dedicated in 1917, J.N. Klock’s words included these: ‘The deed of this park, in the Court House in St. Joseph will live forever. Perhaps some of you do not own a foot of ground; remember then that this is your park; it belongs to you. Perhaps some of you have no piano or phonograph, the roll of the water, murmuring in calm, roaring in storm, is your music, your piano and music-box …The beach is yours, the dunes are yours, all yours. It is not so much a gift from my wife and myself as a gift from a little child. See to it that the park is the children’s.’
   ”The jailing of Rev. Pinckney for quoting from Deuteronomy in trying to protect this park is wrong, wrong, wrong. Clearly, those violating the Jean Klock Park deed should be ashamed of themselves for violating the public trust. We are commanded to be stewards of God’s creation.”


HERE’s our final transition in today’s short stories — from a man that many are calling a present-day martyr to a helpful role martyrs may play in peacemaking today. READER Eric Owski, a Mennonite from Chicago, sent in this newsy and uplifting reflection that he wrote after attending a meeting of Bridgefolk, Mennonites and Catholics working on reconciliation between these long-separated branches of Christianity:

   What’s happening at Bridgefolk is nothing less than a miracle. You might think that’s hyperbole, but listen to my story:

     I am part of Bidgefolk, a movement of sacramentally minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions and honor each other’s contribution to the mission of Christ’s Church. Together we seek ways to embody commitment to both traditions.
   On the last weekend in July, we gathered for an annual conference at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota. On the opening night, we heard from Ivan Kauffman, who has been working on this reconciliation for years. He told us about recently attending a theological conference at the Duke Divinity School at which one of the conference organizers observed the vast diversity of traditions represented by the people in attendance. Quite proudly, this organizer remarked, “We have everyone here from Mennonites to Catholics.”
   To those of us gathered at St. John’s Abbey, Ivan pointed out that the speaker’s statement was indicative of the perception that Mennonites and Catholics represent the opposite ends of the spectrum of Christian tradition. If there is any truth to that perception (and I think there is), then what I am describing is miraculous. And, Kauffman’s lecture on the opening night demonstrated the significance.
   He spoke about the ways in which both traditions remember their saints, and more specifically, their martyrs. For Mennonites, the memory of the earliest martyrs in the tradition is contained in the book, “The Martyrs’ Mirror.” The book contains stories and illustrations of the deaths of Anabaptist martyrs from the 16th century, and in numerous illustrations, Catholic priests are portrayed presiding over gruesome executions.
    A Mennonite friend (one who is deeply committed to a vocation of peacemaking) once told me that, to him, “Catholics are the people that killed my ancestors.” Ivan’s lecture illuminated that statement for me and reminded me that the obstacles to unity between the traditions are substantive and not imagined.
    The beauty of Bridgefolk is that it facilitates the discovery of common ground between the two traditions –- often ground we never knew existed.

    To this end, stories of Catholic martyrs were told as well, including the story of Franz Jagerstatter. Jagerstatter, an Austrian, was executed in 1943 for his refusal to fight for the Third Reich. The story of Jagerstatter’s commitment to peace in a violent and turbulent time is one that Mennonites can wholeheartedly embrace as their own.
    While Bridgefolk facilitates the discovery of common ground, the conference also facilitated conversation about traditional points of contention, including the role of Mary in the Catholic tradition. While many of the conversations at Bridgefolk engender warm feelings toward the other tradition, conversations about Marian dogma remind us that the road to unity is rocky and uneven.
    Given that the Catholics and Mennonites who are committed to the Bridgefolk dialogue have strong affinities to one or more elements of the other tradition, the temptation of sentimentality is present. For example, Mennonites such as myself are deeply attracted to the sacramental life, yet because of the centrality of peacemaking in the Mennonite understanding of the Gospel, we must persistently ask why the paradigmatic Sacrament -– the Eucharist –- is not inextricably linked to peace. This is a difficult question (and one of many), but the work of peacemaking is difficult –- and never cheap.

   Eric Owski is a member of Living Water Community Church, an urban Mennonite community on Chicago’s north side.
   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.

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