376: Readers Tell Us About holidays, improving Muslim-Christian relations and an overlooked movie to catch

ow do you photograph a religious observance not happening? Bravo to the New York Times for this amazing front-page photograph illustrating Tibetans not celebrating their normally loud-and-festive New Year’s holiday! Bravo to photographer Shiho Fukada!
    The Tibetans declined to enjoy the fireworks that Chinese authorities were freely passing out this week, trying literally to spark some New Year’s cheer. Of course, there is little cheer in Tibet after harsh repression there.
    And — by the way — we told a bit of this important story to readers on Monday in our new version of What is the Spiritual Season? You can read that each week, now, on our Web site — and receive it free each Monday morning via our Planner newsletter. (Just send an email to [email protected] and type “Subscribe” in the message line.)

THIS IS OUR WEEKLY READER ROUNDUP and our mailbag is bulging! Today, we’re going to share with you two extended notes, including one from a reader who has never appeared in our pages — and then a second note from a popular “regular” with us, film critic Ed McNulty.

    Oh, and if you’re just joining us late this week and missed our earlier invitations: COME ALONG ON THE ADVENTURE: OUR LENT


    The Rev. Bill Gepford is a pioneer in interfaith circles, respected nationally and especially beloved in Michigan. Many years ago, when current leaders in interreligious programs still had not yet come to the tables that now are a natural part of their community life, Bill was a tireless organizer of religiously diverse events in the hope of building eventual friendships.
    He succeeded. Now, he is a senior figure in the interfaith movement, a bit less active but still supporting important voices he hears in the public square.
    This week, he Emailed us about our Conversation With Mark Siljander on the new book, “A Deadly Misunderstanding.” Here’s what Bill has to say:

    Your interview with Mark Siljander was most interesting. It is an
example of how one’s ideology can be changed. I agree with most of
Siljander’s new orientation.
    We need to keep in mind the fact
that many people believe in the need to have conversations with those
who may not agree with us, or may be labeled “enemies” or “terrorists.”
This is the most effective way to bring understanding, transformation
and permanent peace.
    Having mentioned Lebanon in your interview, let me share an experience.
worked in Lebanon in the 1950s and early 1960s, as a teacher and school
administrator related to the Presbyterian Church. While at the American
University of Beirut, I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Charles Malik,
a great scholar, person of deep faith and respected leader. As you may
know, as the ambassador to the UN, he signed the United Nations
Declaration of Human Rights in 1945.

    On occasion, over a cup of
tea, in his office, Dr. Mailik and I shared conversation on the status
of the Middle East. He said that Lebanon was always ready to welcome
Americans because they brought not only their specialties but also
their commitment to American human values of mutual self respect,
democracy, freedom and dignity for all. After noticing the recent
influx of American arms to the Middle East, he felt this to be a great tragedy. He despaired that this would transform that part of the world
into an arms race and a cauldron of conflict. His prophecy indeed came
true. He implored me to use any influence I had on behalf of peace.
    Many of us, working with the church and those in our
government’s diplomatic corps who had become closely related with the
indigenous population, at that time, protested this shift from
exporting human values to exporting weapons of destruction. We could
see that it would lead to no good. Unfortunately, no one in Washington
listened. The infrastructure destruction and death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, over the past fifty years,
is now history — and yet continues.
    Hopefully, the conversion
of one’s ideology, as exemplified by Siljander, will bring a
transformation in our Middle East foreign policy that will truly bring
permanent peace, so all, Palestinians, Israelis, Iraqis, Syrians,
Iranians, Muslims, Christians, Jews and other people of faith, my live
in dignity and peace. It is vitally important that every one be invited
to the table when these issues are discussed.
    Thank you for sharing this interview. It gives me a new hope for humankind.


    Ed McNulty, whose work we have featured here at ReadTheSpirit before, Emailed this week after the Oscar telecast to point out that one movie occasionally highlighted at the awards ceremony — “Frozen River” — is worth watching and discussing with friends. In fact, the film just became available on DVD.

    Ed has written books on faith and film, but he also produces various new-media forms of his film reviews and reflections. His home online is Visual Parables. Some of his content is free and some is for subscribers. A good number of clergy and teachers subscribe to his service.
    Today, though, we’re sharing this tip from Ed: He suggests starting a discussion of “Frozen River,” which is Rated R, with readings from Psalm 119:33-34 and Romans 2:14-16. Then, here’s his overall recommendation:

    In this film, we meet Ray Eddy, played by Oscar nominee Melissa Leo. Ray is a New York mother living in a trailer who, just before Christmas, is deserted by her husband. He has taken all of their savings, so she cannot pay for the other half of their double-wide trailer when it arrives.
    Unless she can come up with what is owed, she will lose both that half and her $1,500 down payment. Also at risk is their large screen TV set, dearly loved by her 5-year and 15-year-old sons, unless she can make payment by Christmas. She tries to convince her boss to be taken on full, rather than half, time as a store clerk, but he turns her down.
    She becomes embroiled with Lila, a young Mohawk woman who had picked up the car that Ray’s husband had abandoned before leaving town on a bus. Lila, too, has problems, her infant son having been taken from her by the tribe, apparently because of neglect. The Mohawk reservation straddles the New York-Canadian border, so Lila involves Ray in smuggling illegal Chinese and Pakistani immigrants in the car, traveling across the frozen river that separates the two countries.
    This is a simply told but powerful film that deserves a wider audience than it is garnering.

THANK YOU, Ed. ReadTheSpirit regularly recommends books, TV programs and films with spiritual themes. We’re interested next week in any viewpoints our readers care to share about “Watchmen,” a film that we know will attract many of our regular readers.

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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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