261: The Bad, the Ugly—and the Good—in emerging spiritual activism

We’re at war, but not just physically in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re caught up in a spiritual struggle right now over how we envision the larger world and our place among our neighbors.
    On Wednesday this week, you’ll hear from the peace activist and Nobel-nominee John Dear, SJ, who talks about how to devote our lives to “the struggle for a nonviolent world.”
    Our real spiritual struggle right now is between forces that seek to terrify us about our neighbors—and those like Dear and some other remarkable people you’ll meet this week at ReadTheSpirit who are using new strategies to remind us of the Good News about our neighbors.

Have you seen that best-selling diet book, “EAT THIS NOT THAT”? What’s so innovative about the book is that it makes nutritional choices as simple as road signs—complete with big, bold arrows pointing to specific food packages. The book says that if you’re hungry for something cheesy—then you should “eat this” package of food and “not that” package. If you make that choice, then you satisfy your cheesy craving and you save on fat and calories and other bad stuff.
    Well, we need some clear-as-a-road-sign marketing on spiritual media these days, which is why you’re seeing the graphic at right.


    We reported earlier on the spiritual problem posed by the nationwide distribution of “Obsession,” a fear-mongering DVD film designed to terrify you about the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims.
    (The film quickly flashes a disclaimer in the opening seconds that says most Muslims aren’t going to kill you, but then it relentlessly bathes viewers for the next hour in scenes of horrific violence cut and pasted together with frightening excerpts of extremist preachers and rallies in various parts of the world. The film’s basic argument is that terrorists represent a movement much like Nazism in the 1930s.)
    Originally, it appeared as though this wave of DVD distribution was a one-shot effort. Now, it’s clear that the shadowy backers of this distribution effort will continue through September paying to have it inserted in newspapers in political swing states.
    There are a number of superb books and documentaries available about
the problems of religious extremism—but this multi-million-dollar
distribution campaign apparently is funded by a secretive group of people
who want to whip up fear about Islam. The funders also apparently want to
see a Republican victory in November.
    Perhaps the saddest thing about this situation is that it reveals just how desperate newspapers are these days. They’re fighting for their own survival and apparently are willing to distribute anything to make a few dollars.
    Care To Read More?
    Pew Research Center reports that many Americans still believe Sen. Obama is Muslim. (In earlier reporting, Pew showed that this margin of voters may be key in eroding Obama’s Democratic base, which helps to explain some of the devious power of the “Obsession” campaign.)
    Meanwhile, Foreign Reporting is shrinking dramatically in U.S. newspapers, giving Americans fewer opportunities to find out what really is happening in the world.
    The professional magazine Editor and Publisher has been following this story. Click to read “Delivering Propaganda As If It Is Toothpaste,” or “Newspapers Deliver Millions of ‘Terror’ DVDs to … Swing States,” or “One Newspaper Refuses.”
    For more on one ReadTheSpirit reader’s response, check out the news item we published on Friday.


    Following the example of the best-selling diet book, “EAT THIS, NOT THAT!” — here’s a far better choice for viewing this week than that free DVD “Obsession,” even though you’ll have to pay to rent or buy a copy of “Young @ Heart.”
    I watched the film, which was just released on DVD, this past weekend and found myself grinning, occasionally tearing up and, at the end, shaking my head in amazement at this documentary.
    You’ve probably heard the buzz about this movie. This is the documentary about elderly men and women joining a rock band and touring the world with their rock ‘n’ roll revue. Because the DVD was just released, I even heard a couple of radio advertisements for it this weekend that described it as “the film that proves rock ‘n’ roll will never die.”
    But that’s not what this movie really is about.
    What you may think it’s about—a bunch of lovable Grandmas and Grandpas putting on a rock concert—is certainly a part of this movie’s charm. What it’s really about is how even the most frail, elderly men and women can create provocative, prophetic music that has the potential to reshape our understanding of the aging process.
    What it’s really about is not that rock will never die — but that the creative power of the human spirit will never die, no matter how rickety our bodies may become in our 80s and 90s.
    One of the musical numbers this rock revue rehearses and then eventually performs in the film is James Brown’s, “I Feel Good.” When the group’s director first introduces the song in a rehearsal hall one afternoon, you’ll chuckle over some of the skeptical faces among these amateur singers. But just watch them shimmy and shake their way into this song during their weeks of practice. Then watch them come out on stage and stun the crowd with their version of James Brown’s antics! Watch someone’s Great Grandma scream out the opening vocals, then someone’s Great Grandpa dancing as he sings, “I feel nice! Like sugar and spice!”
    You’ll discover remarkable facets of the aging process that you may never have guessed were possible.

    In the film, you’ll look into the big eyes of a man in his 90s who explains why he’s turning from his beloved classical music to spend long hours learning the solos to punk rock songs. He impishly smiles and says, “I’m trying to broaden my horizons.”
    While you might be nervous watching these folks keep up a pace that would tire 40-somethings, you’ll discover that they’ve got such a terrific good humor about life that it makes you want to get active in some kind of community group yourself. At one point, a singer with multiple health problem starts chuckling about himself and says he just takes life’s problems in stride. He loves the touring so much, he said that, “We went from continent to continent until I became incontinent.” And then he took a brief rest, but now he’s back. He’s laughing. We’re laughing with him.
    During the course of the documentary, the group also deals with death. And their spiritual affirmations about the nature of life and death are deeply stirring.
    In short: Dump that “Obsession” freebie in the nearest trash can—and enjoy this spiritually awakening film, instead!
    We promise: You’ll feeeeeeel gooood!

Care to Read More?

  We see spirituality as an all-encompassing fabric in life, so we do recommend the “EAT THIS, NOT THAT!” book in our bookstore. Also, in our Monday morning Planner today we gave our “Hot Read” honors to a new book from Thomas Nelson that encourages fresh thinking about what we cook, how we cook it—and the spiritual value of sharing meals. That Thomas Nelson book is called “Come to the Table.” Click on either book title here to jump to our review.
    Want to read more about “Young @ Heart” on DVD? We’ve got more about it in our ReadTheSpirit bookstore; just click on the title.

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