260: Readers Tell Us About … “Obsession,” Palin, Politics—and a Refreshing Spiritual Oasis

nce again, we’ve received so
many creative messages this week that we’re going
to share some of your best thoughts. We love to hear from readers!


   We often feature a weekend movie review in our Friday Roundup, based on what readers are planning to see. But, this week, we’re sharing readers’ concerns about a movie that’s coming to millions of American doorsteps this month tucked in their weekend newspapers on a DVD.
    The film is “Obsession,” a fear-mongering documentary that serves up an hour of bloody, horrifying scenes from terrorist incidents around the world. The movie argues that terrorist groups are equivalent to the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. The movie also cuts and pastes so much violence and tragedy together with scenes of scary anti-American rallies and speakers that you’ll likely have nightmares wondering if our Muslim neighbors are planning to kill us all.
    “I am deeply disturbed by the promotion of fear that this DVD intends,” Judy Trautman, a reader from Ohio wrote to me on Thursday. “I only hope that the politically timed and motivated dispersal of this
film does not incite a violent reaction. The astonishing amount of
money behind this DVD campaign is very suspect and deeply disturbing.”
    Judy is not a Muslim, but she is active in the Multifaith Council of Northwest Ohio and she’s the editor of the newsletter for the North American Interfaith Council. Her note was not an official statement by either group. It was a heartfelt personal expression. She told me that, as a reader, she felt betrayed by her local newspaper, The Toledo Blade, when the Blade agreed to distribute copies of “Obsession.” We’ve heard from many readers this week who are upset about this nationwide campaign and I’m sharing Judy’s story here as a good example of one woman’s response.

    Judy did what we recommend to other men and women: She wrote to her newspaper. This might sound like a pointless suggestion. Newspapers are crumbling and they’re in such tight financial situations right now that one publisher after another, across the U.S., is finding a rationale for accepting the money to distribute this movie. (For example, the movie opens with a few seconds of disclaimer, saying that most of the world’s Muslims are good people. Then, the movie unleashes its long, relentless deluge of terrifying scenes. The rationale given by some newspaper executives is that the brief disclaimer is enough to get them off the hook in distributing such an unbalanced movie.)
    One brilliant part of the movie distributors’ strategy is to release the DVDs over a period of weeks. Among other things, this gives potentially hesitant newspaper publishers the ability to say that  “other newspapers already distributed it.”
    I can tell you, though, based on my own decades working at major newspapers: Readers’ letters do have an impact. So, write!

Here’s what Judy wrote to her newspaper:

    I was very disturbed by the inclusion in my Sunday Blade of the DVD ‘Obsession.’ Having tried for many years to mount programs, including films,
that promote interfaith understanding, I know very well how difficult
it is to secure funding and marketing for such positive events. So I am absolutely astonished at the amount of money spent in
distributing this film to many communities across the US in their daily

    Especially in an election year, the promotion of fear is very
suspect. If you can keep the people afraid, you can control them. In my
personal opinion, fear-based government policies have dangerously
undermined sacred American principles. As a result, we are not more
safe, but less so. I know money talks, but I am seriously disappointed in The Blade for supporting this fear-mongering campaign.

    COME BACK on Monday for more on the challenge of confronting fearful campaigns like “Obsession”—and good news about some amazing spiritual activists who are using media to spread positive messages, rather than hateful ones.


   Even beyond the controversy over “Obsession,” we’ve rarely seen the kind of hot-button political debates over faith-based values that have arisen since the nomination of Sarah Palin by the Republican Party.
    Our goal at ReadTheSpirit is to connect readers with spiritually helpful voices in media—and to encourage vigorous, civil conversations about the importance of faith in our lives. All this week, Dr. Wayne Baker has been engaging with readers on the OurValues page. If you missed the conversation and want to catch up, here’s a link to Dr. Baker’s Monday story. You can follow links on that page to read the entire week-long series.
    Here’s an example of how powerfully these issues are motivating readers to speak out. One of the people who weighed into the debate this week was ReadTheSpirit reader (and occasional contributor) Cindy LaFerle, shown in the photo at right.

    Cindy is a talented writer about the spiritual issues we all face in daily life. We featured one of Cindy’s reflections earlier this summer. 
    This week, Cindy felt so strongly about these issues concerning Palin, faith and politics that she weighed in with other readers on the OurValues page. She wrote, in part:
    Not everyone worships the same way Sarah Palin says she does. And I
think Americans of all faiths need to consider this—and study this
issue—when they vote.
    When it comes to political leaders to represent my nation, I’m NOT
looking at their religious practice as a qualification. Nor am I
looking for someone who looks cute on the cover of a celebrity
magazine. Watching TV last night, I learned there is now a Sarah Palin
“action figure” doll.
    But here’s what I AM looking for: A candidate with a top-tier education from a well-respected American
university (Harvard works for me), legal experience, political
experience, a keen understanding of foreign and economic policy, moral
conviction, deep intelligence, grace, integrity, an abiding concern for
social justice, and a tremendous sense of dignity to represent my
country in foreign affairs.
    I hope everyone will vote with their brains, after studying ALL the key issues at hand.

    Now, our interest at ReadTheSpirit is making spiritual connections and creating civil places for readers to find helpful new ideas and share their thoughts. If you’re a McCain-Palin supporter, a great place to express your thoughts is at www.OurValues.org. Dr. Baker welcomes comments from all viewpoints. ALSO, if you really want to get involved in OurValues, this is a terrific time to visit that page and enter your Email address in the box at the top of the page. That’s where Dr. Baker is collecting Email addresses of readers who are willing to take two major surveys this fall. These are experimental surveys Dr. Baker is using to fine-tune a new way of asking Americans about their values. Your viewpoint really does matter.
    AND, if you care to read more from Cindy LaFerle, visit her Web site. She writes about far more than politics. Click here to read her own commentary on the importance of well-informed voting. Or, you can click here to read her current “top story.”


    One of the most important books we’ve seen in the past year is “The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism and Justice,” by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling.
    We were so impressed with this book, that we published both an in-depth Conversation With Tony Campolo and a Conversation With Mary Albert Darling. Mary is a regular reader of ReadTheSpirit and sent a letter this week, describing the past year of reactions and reflections on this landmark book.
    Here’s what Mary wrote:

    I’m finding that the theme of the book—having a kind of
intimacy with God that fuels us to do God’s work in the world—is really
connecting with readers. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, since I
really believe that was and is Jesus’ message. It’s just that it
can be too easy to disconnect. But now that the book’s out, I’m
finding that people are tired of disconnects and shallow living and are
hungry for something more that not only involves intimacy with God, but also
action in the world—particularly in the area of justice.
    It seems that every time I both speak about the ancient
Christian prayers in the book
and have people practice them, they tell
me that this is what they have been looking for—a depth of relationship
with God they either once had and lost or never had, but hoped was possible. For example, several people who regularly do the
prayer of examen have written how life-transforming that particular prayer is.
Ignatius of Loyola did say that this biblically based prayer is the one prayer
we should never forsake, not even for one day!
    I’ve also had several who claim a “personal”
relationship with God admit that it’s not been all that personal and they
are experiencing an intimacy with God they never knew was possible. One friend
in particular is spending time in conversation with Jesus and experiencing that
relationship in ways that are transforming her life and the lives of those
around her. I just spoke to a group of college students out of state last
week—all of them are involved in student ministries, from working at
homeless shelters to organizing overseas mission trips; after practicing a few
of the prayers in the book, several wanted to talk more about developing a deeper
relationship with God.
    I’m thrilled that the message of the book seems to be
resonating with such a wide range of ages and traditions. Those who come out of
a more evangelical tradition are really open to going deeper with God and connect
that intimacy with justice work. Those who come out of a justice tradition really seem to be seeing how intimacy with God can keep them from burning
    I think what’s most exciting and encouraging to me is how open
and eager people are, especially young people, to learn these prayers and find how
they really do empower and sustain them to do radical work for God.

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.

    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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