314: Readers Tell Us About … Mumbai Responses, Bond-U.N.C.L.E. Links, “God Stories” and 2 important films

ur mailbag is bursting this week! So, let’s immediately get to the gems you’ve sent us. And PLEASE, send us a note right now! We love to hear from readers!


Millions of Americans are intimately connected with cities around the world today, especially major hubs like Mumbai. I received a heart-felt note from a friend this week that she gave me permission to share with you if I maintain her privacy. So, I am not including her name. She did not send the note to spark publicity. She sent it as a simple, direct-from-the-heart expression of her grief to friends who had expressed their prayerful concerns to her already.
    “Friends,” she wrote, “I am deeply touched by the emails and phone calls I have received about the terror attacks in Mumbai while I was away … Everyone I know is alright, but I am saddened by several things, not the least of which is imagining the emotions of those who are there, like my niece who is in her first year of med school in Mumbai. I relived some terrible moments from my freshman year of college …

    Then, my friend went on to describe violence she lived through in an earlier era in India. My point in sharing this note is that many of you may have relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors and members of your congregations caught up in tragedies like Mumbai. I am not writing this to dwell on the hurt, but because our central theme at ReadTheSpirit is “spiritual connection” — and this is clearly a time when people need to connect with each other.

    I also received many Emails this week from readers who wanted to find online statements either condemning the violence or sorting out the many conflicting claims being made as the investigation  unfolds.
    One terrific Web resource, which is designed to serve the news media with insights into religion reporting, is the University of Southern California’s very solid site: Covering Religion in the 21st Century. If you care to read more, here’s a helpful piece they ran on the emerging consensus that these terrorists should not be called Muslims.

    If you missed yesterday’s “Letter from the Hajj,” you might want to jump back and read that story as well. In contrast to the handful of extremist gunmen, the Hajj involves millions of Muslims peacefully renewing their faith and it’s taking place right at this moment.


ou’ll find a number of intriguing news items popping up on the www.BondBibleStudy.info Web site in coming weeks. Among other things, a small group in New Zealand is likely to hold the record for the farthest spot on the planet studying Benjamin Pratt’s book — but in coming weeks we’re going to tell you more about a fascinating bi-lingual study group forming soon in the Republic of Panama.             Groups are forming closer to home in the U.S. as well, but I’m intrigued by the global reach of this new book.
    You’ll read more about the remarkable Rev. Marvia Lawes from Colon, Panama, in coming weeks. Among other things, she blogs about church growth strategies from Panama. Marvia Emailed this week to say that she’s excited about undertaking a Bond study: “I can predict an influx of youth attending studies now. Your timing is perfect of course, given that Panama’s ‘Summer’ (Dec-March the dry season) has now started. Public schools will be closed and students the real lovers of all the Bond action will be more involved in church. So it should be lots of fun.”
    We’re also tracking down a mystery in coming weeks and we want you to help! There’s a big upswing in interrest in the 1960s spy series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” which was just released in a DVD set for Christmas. The show only ran four seasons but at one point was the No. 1 series on television. It began as a fairly serious spy thriller, then took a tragic turn toward “spy spoof” for a while, which left ratings sagging. The series tried to move toward solid drama again, but ultimately died from its creative indecision.
    Bond author Ian Fleming actually consulted on the creation of the show and named the main character Napoleon Solo. In “extras” in the new DVD release, there’s a tantalyzing, incomplete image of a memo that Fleming wrote early in the creative planning, calling for the series to be a kind of “Pilgrim’s Progress” — clearly a reference to the kinds of spiritual reflections unearthed by Benjamin Pratt for his Bond Bible study.
    Anyone out there who knows more about Fleming, Bond and U.N.C.L.E.? We’re interested to know more!


Here’s what I love as Editor of ReadTheSpirit: Our readers truly do shape our stories.
    A bright-blue book with a starfish on the cover has been sitting in my “To Read” stack for some weeks. I flipped enough pages to know it’s worth recommending, but hadn’t completed the book.
    From Southwest Harbor, Maine, reader Shawna Middleton, nudged me to recommend this book. Her Email was enthusiastic about the book and I invited Shawna to review it for us. I couldn’t have done a better job than this. So, here is Shawna Middleton’s review of “God Stories” by Jennifer Skiff on behalf of ReadTheSpirit:
    Because I live in the area where Jennifer Skiff grew up, I had the opportunity to attend a talk she gave on “God Stories” while she was in Maine a week after the book’s release. She struck me as intelligent and grounded; very warm and real. And on the verge of receiving a lot of attention. The stories reverberate, especially in that so many people had kept their experiences to themselves until now. I found the book comforting. “God Stories” re-enforced for me the mystical aspect of Spirit at work in the world. And that there is a forest of signs if you pay attention.
    In a time of troubling news around the world, Shawna, thanks for this review! And, Jennifer, thanks for your new book!


his autumn, we began more regularly reviewing a few of the made-for-TV movies on the Hallmark Channel and I’ve received many comments from readers on these recommendations. Mostly the notes are positive. I did received a critical note from a reader in Chicago who was not crazy about the last movie we recommended, “Naughty or Nice,” concerning a Chicago-based radio shock jock whose life is turned around by an angel.
    The Email was from Jen Cook, who works in downtown Chicago and saw this movie with George Lopez in an earlier release on TV. Jen wrote: “You should warn people. If you’re from Chicago … the movie doesn’t really feel like Chicago.” (Sorry I missed that Jen. I’ve only been a visitor to the Windy City, not a resident. But your warning goes out today — and “Naughty or Nice” does air three more times in December.)
    More typical is an Email from Sue O’Connor in Atlanta that “we don’t get that channel but we’re getting cable in January and I look forward to seeing the movies.”
    Well, here’s another great reason to check out Hallmark’s offerings. It’s “The Christmas Choir” and debuts Saturday December 6 at 9 p.m. Eastern time, then it shows five more times in December (check your listings).
    The movie is moving, partly because it’s true. The real story is this: In 1995, dental technician Pierre Anthian decided to finally put his training as a classical musician to work on the side. He visited a homeless shelter in his hometown of Montreal and hit upon the idea of forming a choir of homeless men. The idea was to empower them to earn some money for things like Christmas gifts. They had no formal training other than Pierre’s direction, but the choir was a huge success, singing in the subway.
    I don’t want to spoil details of the drama, because the choir hits a major hurdle toward the peak of the film — but I can tell you that part of the story is true as well. Some details have been changed. The dental technician is now an accountant, for example. But it’s a wonderfully uplifting movie — and it’s great to see Rhea Perlman playing a street-smart nun. I’ve met a lot of nuns in my time covering religion and she strikes a perfect note in the movie.


ome back Tuesday for a complete review and details about PBS’s debut of “Inheritance” at 9 p.m. Wednesday December 10. After that, the film will be streamed online by PBS — and you can order copies on DVD. We’ll tell you more about it on Tuesday.
    I’m including a note here because readers continue to send me Emails about “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” which I wrote about when the controversy heated up about that film — and again when readers sent us the first wave of responses.
    I don’t want to be careless in mixing fiction (“Pajamas”) with fact (“Inheritance”), but this amazing documentary might be described as: It shows what can happen when the children of Holocaust perpetrators, like those in “Pajamas,” grow to adulthood and must confront the horrors their families’ wrought.
    The horrors Monika Hertwig had to confront were those committed by her father, Amon Goeth, the death-camp commandant featured in “Schindler’s List.” In fact, that sociopathic killer depicted in “Schindler’s List” turns out to be a near-perfect portrayal of Monika’s father. He was hung for his crimes while she was a newborn, but she decides to confront her past by meeting Helen Jonas, who once was one of her father’s slaves at the camp.
    Stay tuned for our review on Tuesday — and the film on Wednesday night. Yes, this is an important film that teachers may want to use in Holocaust classes, especially in classes that watch “Schindler’s List.” AND PLEASE: Keep sending me Emails about your reactions to any of the Holocaust films debuting this month.

“Thanks” to all the readers we’ve quoted today!

   If you didn’t see your comment or suggestion show up 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.
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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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