235: Readers Tell Us About … Race, Celebrity, Lifting Cities in Prayer and Ramadan

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!


    “I can’t decide whether I’m more disappointed by Ben Stiller or Robert Downey Jr.,” Frank Edmond Jr. wrote from Kentucky this week. “I loved ‘Iron Man’ and thought Downey was back on top. Now, I don’t know.”
    Well, the summer movie season is fading with a whimper in one of the grossest of gross-out comedies we’ve seen this year — starring a cadre of Hollywood stars, most of whom could have starred in other films instead of this lampoon of Vietnam War movies like “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now.” The central joke in “Tropic Thunder” is that a group of famous actors are making a Vietnam War movie — concerned about their own fading careers as they battle their way past heavily armed enemies who turn out to be actual killers. In other words, it’s a complex movie within a movie that turns out to be life threatening for all concerned.
    I saw the film at its midnight debut in a half-filled theater of young people who laughed nervously at a few scenes and hooted a few times at especially gross moments — like Ben Stiller licking up the gore from a newly severed human head. (Yes, that’s what he does — and it is one looong and yucky scene!)
    Here’s why I’m bringing up this movie in our Friday roundup: Through ReadTheSpirit, we’re also active in Facebook and a strange thing happened with this particular movie within Facebook. There are more groups aimed at boycotting this film than celebrating its release. It’s true that most of these boycott groups are small, but the members are sincere. I’ve visited nearly all of them.

Most of these groups were formed by people offended by Ben Stiller’s continuing jokes in “Tropic Thunder” about having played a “retard” in an earlier movie. This fictitious movie is called, “Simple Jack,” and the whole concept is an offensive revival of the “r” word.
    One man in Facebook wrote a series of heartfelt notes to his friends about his motives for boycotting the film: “I have a son with Down syndrome and I am offended whenever the ‘r’ word is used. This is a harmful, offensive movie that will encourage many more to engage in this demeaning and hateful speech. Ben Stiller has been spiraling down in his choice of movie projects and regretfully he has reached a new low.”
    Then, there are other Facebook groups offended that Robert Downey Jr. plays a white actor who goes “black face” to play a black character in “Tropic Thunder.” This apparently is intended as a hip joke about actors who will do anything, even if incredibly offensive, to try to rack up an Oscar. Nevertheless, it’s still a case of a leading white actor reviving the offensive tradition of “black face” in 2008.
    In one boycott group on Facebook, a man writes: “I cannot support this movie because of the stereotypes, and ignorance it perpetuates. As
a Black Male myself it is offensive to my culture, offensive to my
ancestors, and contradicts all of the civil rights they fought for.'”

    So, after an amazing start of the summer season with “Iron Man,” Downey ends the summer on a controversial note.
    If you’re interested in these issues, visit www.OurValues.org, where Dr. Wayne Baker has been asking readers about race and politics all this week.


     Let’s jump from the offensive to the sublime, shall we?
    Most of this week, we published a series of stories about an innovative idea — “LIFT (YOUR CITY) IN PRAYER.” (If you missed those stories, jump back to Tuesday and you’ll find the main landing page for this project.)
    People already are passing around this idea and are planning to start praying for their cities on August 24.

    Here’s the kind of note that came to the Home Office this week in response to this idea. Reader Carol Walczy sent us this Email: “I will be praying too. Thank you and God Bless you.”
    When we get an Email like that, as simple as it is, we feel renewed energy in our work.
    Like a lot of notes we receive, it wasn’t clear where Carol lives, but Linda Michael emailed about her plans to pray and explained that she lives with her family south of Nashville in Tennessee. Linda wrote:
   ”Thank you for these articles helping us know how to ‘Do
Something’ constructive toward building a rich and prosperous and self-growing
This is ‘Good News’ for sure. …
Our family will be part of this 3-week prayer vigil.”

   Later in the week, Linda sent a second Email, explaining that she thinks it is quite appropriate that this idea originated from Detroit, the original “MotorCity” that can have a powerful ripple effect in other parts of the world. Linda wrote that this is “a divine idea to start there and
continue throughout the world — which is what Truth does, since God never does for
one that God doesn’t do for all.”

   In metro Detroit, people are quite excited about this. Linda Swift emailed this encouraging message about our coverage this week:
  “Thank you so much for this. My
uncle just passed away, and he was a native Detroiter who loved
this city. Driving around with he and my Mom is a history lesson.
His personal library was filled with books on Detroit and its greatness.
I will so miss all his stories about our city. If he were here,
he would go to Hart Plaza on September 14th. I am the youngest of 18 grandchildren,
and we will go for him along with my Mom and aunt. Their memories
of Detroit are priceless, and we must preserve them in order to have a
great future. Thank you again for doing this. My Uncle Julius
is in heaven so proud!”

    Please, as this prayer vigil for the world’s big cities unfolds, tell us if you’re taking part and what you’re experiencing.

    (AND, HERE’S A HELPFUL TIP: If you want to share this prayer idea with friends around the world, we’ve added a special Web address that will carry people permanently back to the Resource Page for this prayerful movement. It’s http://www.LiftDetroitInPrayer.info — a name we selected because the city kicking off the idea is Detroit. If you’ve got news about prayer events in your big city — Email us and we’ll try to tell readers about that, too.)


      We’re also proud to be bringing you a first-ever online experience of Ramadan through www.SharingRamadan.info
    This new landing page already is “live.” There’s an easy-navigation “tab” at the top of this page at ReadTheSpirit — or you can go directly to www.SharingRamadan.info
    A number of journalists are pitching in to help us collect the uplifting stories we will feature throughout this annual month of fasting and spiritual reflection. It all unfolds in September this year.
    The world’s more than 1 billion Muslims already are talented at developing Web sites that feature leading scholars, preachers and all kinds of encyclopedic information about the faith, Islamic history and the Quran. In fact, 5 of the world’s 10 most popular religious Web sites are produced by Muslims. The Latter-day Saints are the only Christian denomination to make it into that top-10 list.
    So, our innovative Web site is not trying to compete with that vast body of online Muslim material. We’re not publishing an encyclopedia or a detailed guide to Ramadan practices.
    What we are preparing is a month of uplifting stories, much like you hear on NPR’s “StoryCorps” or you might find in “Guideposts” magazine. We are collecting short stories of everyday life as told by men, women and children about their experiences in this holy month. Already, the stories we have prepared for publication range from an older man recalling how his family helped to build an early mosque in the U.S. — to an 8-year-old girl explaining how she plans to try a few days of fasting this year.
    Because several of us have been out in the field, collecting stories, we’ve already touched off a fascinating conversation with readers about Muslim culture and teachings.
    After interviewing Halla Jomaa early this week, Halla sent me an Email continuing a conversation we started about the Muslim idea of “modesty” or “hijab.” In the Email, Halla explained that modesty isn’t just an issue for women, who may choose to wear a scarf over their hair in public. Modesty is an ideal mode of living for men and women, Halla said in her follow-up Email.
    “I specifically want to comment on the importance of the male hijab as
well as the female hijab,”
she wrote. “Often the term hijab is associated with
simply wearing the head-cover and nothing more. But, it is so much more
than that. The term means modesty, but modesty
does not stop with women. A Muslim man should observe modesty in his
dress, too, wearing modest clothing, approaching women with respect.”

    This is a fascinating discussion about a value shared by people of many different faiths. Clearly, this year, Ramadan will be a special month for Muslims — and non-Muslims, as well.

   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.

AND PLEASE, as these readers have done — Tell Us What You Think.
    There’s still time to sign up for our Monday morning ReadTheSpirit Planner by Email — it’s free and you can cancel it any time you’d like to do so.

    Not only do we welcome your notes, ideas, suggestions and personal
reflections — but our readers enjoy them as well. You can do this
anytime by clicking on the “Comment” links at the end of each story.
You also can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. We’re also reachable on Facebook, Digg, Amazon, GoodReads and some of
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