Grace Lee Boggs: What do Americans look like?

Grace Lee Boggs and Director Grace Lee. Photo by Quyen Tran, used with permission.

Grace Lee Boggs and documentary filmmaker Grace Lee. Photo by Quyen Tran, used with permission.

WHERE CAN I  SEE “American Revolutionary”? The documentary about Grace Lee Boggs debuts on PBS’s POV documentary series Monday, June 30, 2014. Use this PBS webpage to learn more and check local listings. AND, from July 1-30, 2014, PBS will stream the documentary free of charge from that website, as well. No word yet on a DVD release of the film, but stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit for news of a future DVD.

REVIEW by ReadTheSpirit Editor DAVID CRUMM

As she enters her 100th year on the planet, Grace Lee Boggs has lived long enough to see all of America celebrating her achievements as a philosopher and civil rights activist. That’s a stark contrast with the many years that FBI bulldog J. Edgar Hoover labeled Grace and her husband James dangerous subversives—resulting in FBI surveillance and a thick FBI file compiled on both of them.

Filmmaker Grace Lee accidentally discovered this woman who is a household name in Detroit (as one of Michigan’s most famous resident philosophers, authors and human-rights activists). When she was starting out as a young filmmaker, Grace Lee was intrigued by the significant number of Chinese-American women with “her” same name. A decade ago, she began filming interviews nationwide in what she called The Grace Lee Project, and she eventually completed a documentary on the similarly named women in 2005. Among the women she met in that project, Detroit’s Grace Lee Boggs was by far the most intriguing—so filmmaker Grace Lee began a long-term friendship with the Detroit activist. They visited at least once each year for additional interviews.

The result is American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. The play on the words “revolution” and “evolution” comes from Grace Lee Boggs’ own teachings about her journey as a young scholar from pure Marxism through the turbulence of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s—to an embrace of nonviolence and a new appreciation for the evolution of change within communities. That change takes the entire hour-and-a-half of this film to explain—including several “30-second primers” on key issues that filmmaker Grace Lee inserts into her documentary to help us keep up with Grace Lee Boggs’ philosophical arguments.

Born Grace Lee, the daughter of a well-to-do Chinese-American family in New York City (where her father owned a famous restaurant), the young Chinese-American woman stood out as a brilliant student. She graduated early from Barnard College and, by age 25, already had earned a doctorate in philosophy from Bryn Mawr. She quickly became a well-known translator, speaker, journalist and activist in the movement for social justice and for racial equality—a movement that was ruthlessly suppressed for decades. In 1953, she married African-American activist James Boggs, the great love of her life until he died in 1993.

Her extensive work in the civil rights movement and later in the “black-power” movement—working shoulder to shoulder with her husband—mystified Hoover and the FBI. In one of the more amusing scenes in this new documentary, the filmmaker shows us a passage from her FBI file in which the agents could not make heads or tails of her ethnic identity. She was a true original even to her enemies!

WHAT YOU WILL SEE IN
‘AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY:
THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS’

Grace Lee Boggs American Revolutionary posterThe film opens with Grace Lee Boggs walking—assisted by a wheeled walker—along the huge expanse of Detroit’s most famous symbol of blight: the 40-acre hulk of the devastated Packard Automotive Plant. Her words to us, as viewers, run counter to the startling visual imagery we see on the screen. She says:

“I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit. Detroit gives us a sense of epochs of civilization in a way that you don’t get in a city like New York. It’s obvious from looking at Detroit that what was doesn’t work. People are always striving for size, wanting to be giants. And this is a symbol of how giants fall.”

And she has made her point. The petite Chinese-American woman who now is nearing her own century mark has survived and continues to walk these streets—even as the gargantuan auto plant now is a dangerous ruin.

Then, she warns viewers not to think that destruction is inevitable. In fact, communities move in complex, sometimes circular patterns—and new possibilities lie just around the corner of our imagination. “Evolution is not linear. Times interact.”

If you’re a younger viewer, this may seem incomprehensible, she tells us. “It’s hard to understand when you’re young about how reality is constantly changing because it hasn’t changed so much in your lifetime,” she says.

And that’s just in the opening few minutes of this film!

Here are some other “take away” quotes from Grace Lee Boggs to give you a sense of the thought-provoking journey that these two Grace Lees—the filmmaker and Boggs herself—are inviting us to undertake in American Revolutionary.

On her attitude toward the world’s current condition: “I think we’re in a time of great hope and great danger.”

On the need for everyone to keep changing: “Don’t get stuck in old ideas. Keep recognizing that reality is changing and that your ideas have to change.”

And: “Most people think of ideas as fixed. Ideas have their power because they’re not fixed. Once they’re fixed, they’re dead. … Changing is more honorable than not changing.”

On the power of each life: “You don’t choose the times you live in, but you do choose who you want to be. And you do choose how you think.”

On the power of conversation: “We are the only living things that have conversations, as far as we know. When you have conversation you never know what’s going to come out of your mouth or someone else’s mouth.”

On imagination: “There are times when expanding our imaginations is what is required. The radical movement has over emphasized the role of activism and underestimated the role of reflection.”

Why did she eventually come to embrace nonviolence? “Why is nonviolence such an important philosophy? Because it respects the capacity of human beings to grow. It gives them the opportunity to grow their souls. And we owe that to each other. And it took me a long time to realize that.”

Finally: “It’s so obvious that we are coming to a huge turning point. You begin with the protests but you have to move on from there. Just being angry—just being resentful—just being outraged does not constitute revolution. So many institutions in our society need reinventing. The time has come for a new dream. That’s what being a revolutionary is. I don’t know what the next American revolution will be. But you might be able to imagine it—if your imagination is rich enough!”

Care to read more?

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Explore the world’s spiritual traditions in ‘Global Spirit’

Click this "Global Spirit" image to visit the TV series' website.

Click this “Global Spirit” image to visit the TV series’ website.

COMING JULY 13, 2014:
JOANNA MACY, MICHAEL TOBIAS
AND ‘SACRED ECOLOGY’

For years, ReadTheSpirit magazine has recommended the exceptional spiritual conversations hosted by Global Spirit, an innovative series of broadcasts mainly delivered across the Internet. Hosted by scholar, filmmaker and writer Phil Cousineau, the series has welcomed a Who’s Who of famous spiritual sages.

Coming July 13, you will want to visit Global Spirit’s live-streaming website to watch Cousineau interview two top environmental teachers: Joanna Macy and Michael Tobias. Until that time, you’ll see a brief excerpt in a video window on that page. Then, at the end of each new episode, Global Spirit also hosts Live Webcasts with participants in the program. Visit this page to find the Live Webcasts.

When are these broadcast? This page lists Global Spirit’s complete broadcast schedule.

Cover Active Hope Joanna Macy Chris JohnstoneJoanna Macy is well known as a Buddhist scholar and environmental activist, encouraging spiritual reflections on the Earth’s living systems. Wikipedia has a more extensive biography on this now 85-year-old teacher. ReadTheSpirit magazine especially recommends Macy’s book published by New World Library, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.

Michael Tobias also is profiled in Wikipedia. He’s a leading environmental activist, as well, writing and teaching primarily about population stress on our planet and, especially, the need to create sanctuaries and to change policies governing the protection of life on Earth. He has circled the world in his activism, working regularly with partners on several continents. His writing has appeared in many magazines and journals, including Forbes magazine.

WATCH JOANNA MACY
AT CANTICLE FARMS NOW

Global Spirit has posted a short video clip of Macy talking about Sacred Ecology as a preview for the upcoming broadcast. This YouTube video is well worth watching, because Joanna Macy guides host Phil Cousineau around her Canticle Farm in Oakland, California.

Named for St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun, Macy and her friends convinced the owners of five homes in a poor neighborhood of Oakland to take down the fences separating their back yards to form a single community garden. Organic fruits and vegetables are raised and given away to neighbors.

CLICK THE VIDEO SCREEN BELOW to watch this clip. NOTE: The first two-and-a-half-minutes show Macy in the Global Spirit studio talking with Cousineau—but stay tuned! The next five minutes are a colorful look at Canticle Farm.

Watch a preview of ‘Jerusalem’ the IMAX movie

Jerusalem the IMAX movie poster

Click the movie poster to visit the official website for the ‘Jerusalem’ movie, which provides much more information about the film and regional showings.

Reviews from a wide range of journalists are raving about Jerusalem, a 45-minute large-format movie distributed by National Geographic with an impressive array of partners involved in the production. Just how wide is this range of reviews? In Washington D.C., for example, both the mainstream Washington Post and the famously conservative Washington Times praised the film and urged readers to go see it.

The film’s official website has more information, including listings of regional screenings. Or, you may prefer to read the Wikipedia overview of the film first.

The film’s major strength is that this crew was given access to film in many areas usually barred to such media projects. Given the IMAX-scale production that mainly means the cameras could be strapped to helicopters that flew over and around some of the world’s most sacred landmarks. You simply won’t see these eye-popping vistas anywhere else.

The voice narrating the film now is familiar to millions of viewers worldwide: Benedict Cumberbach, the BBC’s newest Sherlock Holmes and also a co-star in movies from 12 Years a Slave to parts of the Star Trek and Hobbit movie series.

The filmmakers’ own explanation of this project is a fair summary of what you’ll see, if you attend a showing: “Our film is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It embraces the idea that Jerusalem is many cities: imagined and real; past and present; Jewish, Christian, Muslim and secular. We are trying to answer the question: Why Jerusalem? What is it about this tiny space that made it the ultimate prize of empires and the object of longing for so many different cultures over thousands of years?”

YOU SHOULD SEE a video screen below. Click to view a 7-minute preview. (And, yes, it’s worth all 7 minutes!) If you don’t see a screen here, try clicking this story’s headline to reload the page, which should properly display the video screen.

.

Amish return to PBS with Saloma Furlong in ‘Shunned’

PBS American Experience DVD cover for The Amish Shunned

CLICK this image of the DVD cover to visit its Amazon page.

One of our most talked-about author interviews, in recent years, was our 2012 conversation with former-Amish writer Saloma Furlong. A shortened version of her story was featured in the PBS American Experience documentary The Amish, which was both gorgeous and absolutely fascinating in its exploration of Amish life in America.

Now, on Tuesday February 4, 2014, PBS American Experience will debut another major documentary, American Experience: The Amish—Shunned. (Note: That text link takes you to the Amazon page where the DVD version is sold. This DVD eventually will be offered by Netflix. Some libraries may stock the DVD, as well.)

PBS WEBSITE: This American Experience website for the film includes a preview video, background materials, plus information about the series’ broadcast schedule, other upcoming films and some “bonus videos” related to Shunned.

WHY YOU SHOULD SEE
‘The Amish—Shunned’

Review by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

For some strange reason, the same Americans who are fearful of other traditionalist cultures around the world seem to love all things Amish. Mainly, this is because the Amish appear to be a living museum exhibit of America’s past. By driving through “Amish country,” eating at “Amish-style restaurants” and shopping in “Amish markets,” millions of Americans feel as though they are able to step back into their own families’ rural past. So, every year, millions of us pack up the kids and enjoy the smells, the rural vistas, the hearty food, the lovely hand-made goods and we return home to our busy lives feeling as though someone continues to preserve “our past.”

The truth is—as PBS’s American Experience series already has shown in its earlier documentary on The Amish: “The truth isn’t plain—or simple.” Like traditionalist Jews, Muslims, Hindus—and adherents of a host of other centuries-old global cultures—the Amish enforce rigid rules that leave many young Amish men and women sorely torn. Education—even a high school diploma—is strongly discouraged if not outright forbidden. Women are expected to play submissive roles. Everyone is expected to follow the Amish commitment to pacifism to the point of even forgiving extreme abuse within the community. Yes, many Amish families live very satisfying, faith-filled lives of love and grace and hard work.

But—

Well, this new documentary is about the many former Amish men and women who have weighed their experience with Amish life and have finally said: “But—this is not for me.” The documentary shows us how the strict Amish code of community then cuts off these wayward souls. In fact, in one story included in this new film, a family that spent years hoping to join the Amish community finds itself painfully shunned. That comes after the family has labored mightily to prove itself a part of Amish culture—yet is never able to properly measure up to the core traditions of the group.

This is a movie about painfully torn relationships and one of the leading figures in the film—and one of the most sympathetic figures overall—is Saloma Furlong herself. In my home as I previewed this film one evening for this ReadTheSpirit review, I found my wife absolutely fascinated, as well. She watched every minute of this film with me. We kept talking about the issues raised, long after the movie had ended.

You likely will find yourself captivated, as well.

Care to read more about the Amish?

ReadTheSpirit has reported extensively on the Amish, over the years. Our readers keep telling us—and showing us with your clicks and your Facebook sharing of these articles—that you find this subject as fascinating as we do. Here are some recommended links:

REVIEW OF PBS’s THE AMISH: As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I also reviewed the earlier American Experience documentary, calling that movie, “by far, the best film I have seen about Amish life in America.”  That assessment still stands. I am also highly recommending this new sequel to the first film, but Shunned is limited to one aspect of Amish life. The first film is a broad overview, so I continue to rate that first film even higher than this one.

MEET THE LEADING EXPERTS: This new documentary features Amish voices and the true stories of a few men and women who have left the Amish community. But this whole approach to careful, balanced media coverage of the Amish has been shaped by the leading experts in Amish studies. We featured this in-depth interview in 2011.

AMISH NOVELS AND MOVIES ARE POPULAR! We have interviewed Vannetta Chapman, one of the leading novelists writing best-selling tales of Amish life. We post movie reviews, occasionally, of new Amish-themed movies like this one that was broadcast by Hallmark. And, to help point out some of the better Amish movies, we published this overview of lesser-known movies that “get it right” in portraying aspects of Amish life.

READ MORE BY SALOMA FURLONG: Our earlier interview with Saloma Furlong was published when Saloma only had one volume of her memoirs. Watch Saloma’s own website for updates on her new volume, debuting in February, which continues her story past that first book.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Review: Don’t miss ‘The Poisoner’s Handbook’

Click on the logo to visit the PBS website for this film.

Click on the logo to visit the PBS website for this film.

WHERE TO SEE ‘THE POISONER’S HANDBOOK’—Visit PBS’s webpage for this documentary to learn more about its background and viewing options. PBS provides links to local listings. Since this is a well-researched documentary, the PBS website also offers educational resources. There’s even a step-by-step curriculum for science teachers to reproduce some of the then-groundbreaking lab techniques used by New York City’s first scientifically trained medical examiner and his staff.

You also could opt to purchase the DVD from Amazon, titled American Experience: Poisoner’s Handbook. Eventually the film will reach Netflix. Your local library may choose to stock a copy.

WHY YOU SHOULD SEE THIS FILM

REVIEW by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

Why should people of faith care about a bone-chilling documentary on the early history of forensic sciences in criminal investigations? Why should you help us to highly recommend this PBS American Experience debut to your friends, small group, congregation and community?

First, we all should promote this film because it’s flat-out fascinating. The two-hour documentary takes us back to the dawn of real-life CSI—the birth of modern homicide investigation and the spawn of thousands of hours of prime-time TV dramas. So, the first reason to see this PBS offering is: You’ll enjoy it!

At right is the first scientifically trained medical examiner for New York City Charles Norris and his chief toxicologist Alexander Gettler. Library of Congress archived photo in public domain.

At right is the first scientifically trained medical examiner for New York City Charles Norris and, at left, is his chief toxicologist Dr. Alexander Gettler. Library of Congress archived photo in public domain.

Second, by the end of this two hours, the real pioneering triumph of the film’s two main characters will become crystal clear: They proved to New York City and then to the entire nation that government must play a crucial role in scientifically investigating the vast array of potentially poisonous substances coming into our world—and protecting all of us, including the most vulnerable, from dangerous vultures. Most religious groups around the world hold human rights—caring for and protecting the vulnerable—as a sacred mission. The Poisoner’s Handbook is the true story of two men who fought against almost impossible odds to establish the government’s role in the science-based protection of public health.

Given the wall-to-wall prime-time status of CSI-style shows, you’ll be startled to discover that—before the arrival Dr. Charles Norris and his right-hand researcher Dr. Alexander Gettler—poisoners regularly got away with murder. There was no way to catch them. In 1922, 237 men and women died of fatal gunshots in New York City, but researchers believe nearly 1,000 died of poisoning!

The producers of this documentary have organized the two hours like a series of mini-CSI tales—all true stories. They begin with this new scientific team’s most puzzling early case, the 1922 death of an elderly couple in what appeared to be “a locked-door mystery.” I won’t spoil the suspense by revealing what they found.

Just as in the TV dramas, there’s even a recurring character, a woman accused multiple times over the years of what amounted to serial murders. And, yes, just like the TV series today, these early scientists head into the laboratory over and over again. Sometimes, they must devise new tests. Occasionally, they must exhume a body and look more deeply into the human remains.

In the second half of the film, Norris and Gettler tackle huge public-health issues. Viewing this in 2014, you’re likely to be startled by the official government position on what amounts to massive crimes against vulnerable people. Officials in New York City and Washington D.C. felt that these threats weren’t a part of their responsibilities, until Norris and Gettler joined the campaign to change their minds.

You’ll have a whole lot to talk about after watching The Poisoner’s Handbook. Bravo to PBS and The American Experience for kicking off 2014 with such a landmark film.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

VeggieTales reminds kids of Chrisian reason for the season

VeggieTales Merry Larry Christmas video

FROM TOP: The DVD cover. Second, a scene from the new movie showing the Narrator mopping up at the mall as he talks with viewers. Third, the real Silas Merritt “Uncle Si” Robertson.

Either you’re a VeggieTales family—or you’re not. That’s certainly true, after more than 40 original Veggie Tales videos and a host of other TV shows featuring these big-eyed, big-hearted vegetables. This year, VeggieTales is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first direct-to-DVD film, Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?

Most families know what to expect: Lots of colorful vegetables bouncing around on their rear ends (everyone knows that vegetables don’t have legs!), singing silly songs in high-pitched voices (hey, millions love it when the Muppets do it, right?)—and drawing biblical lessons at every turn of the plot (they’re such universal Christian lessons that it’s hard to imagine any denominational friction).

What’s new in the 43rd VeggieTales?

The producers have convinced the bearded old “Si” from the super popular Duck Dynasty TV series to appear as the on-screen Narrator in VeggieTales: Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas. Overall, he’s an odd casting choice—certainly not as memorable as Burl Ives as the Snowman/Narrator in the original TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The bearded Narrator aside, Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas is a pitch-perfect slice of VeggieTales silliness. Sure, the jokes are puns worthy of groans—the Veggies themselves are in on the joke. After about the third “turnip” joke in this new movie, even the turnips are groaning. Sure, the songs verge on nonsensical, but they’re called Silly Songs.

In this new tale, the conflict turns on which is more important for Christmas: Glitzy lights at a shopping mall—or the love of God as shown in Jesus’ birth? It’s hardly a “spoiler” to tell you: Jesus wins.

One of the sung refains starts:

“Oh, Christmas shines most bright and true.
“When you give the love God gave to you.”

The Silly Song in the middle of the video is about Larry managing to completely cover himself in Christmas wrapping paper. The refrain:

“Somehow when I was packin’
“I got caught up in all the wrappin’”

No, it’s neither Cole Porter nor Elton John—but I defy you not to start tapping your toe halfway through the Silly Song.

Have you got children—or an entire family—on your holiday gift list that would enjoy such high-spirited, goofy fun? Click on the image with today’s story and visit the movie’s Amazon page.

REVIEWED BY ReadTheSpirit EDITOR DAVID CRUMM.

Video: Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer on the significance of Thanksgiving proclamation

Duncan Newcomer—author, theologian and Lincoln scholar—has written extensively about Abraham Lincoln, including various columns now indexed in our Abraham Lincoln Resource Page.

Duncan produced this 11-minute video explaining the significance of one of Lincoln’s most enduring decisions: the declaration of Thanksgiving. If you are planning to discuss this milestone in your small group—or perhaps you are planning to write about it—you will want to watch Duncan’s short talk.

In the opening of the talk, Duncan explains: “I want to help us look at Abraham Lincoln’s unusual Thanksgiving Day Proclamation—unusual because he instituted a nearly religious national holiday and unusual because of the values and ideas he used to do so. Lincoln’s two greatest speeches are the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. They have become American beacons of light from an extraordinarily dark time—our Civil War. The ideals enshrined in those speeches are enacted in at least two practical proclamations: The Emancipation Proclamation and this lesser-known Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. In these, Lincoln took practical steps toward the two goals of the Civil War: freedom and union.”

Click the video screen below to watch the entire, brief talk …

Don’t see a video screen in your version of this column? Try clicking on the headline above to reload the column.

Want to share this video with your audience? Here is the direct URL on YouTube: http://youtu.be/Cc5A6aicJWQ

..

.

.

Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

.