‘China Heavyweight’ shows us rural lives driven by hope

‘CHINA HEAVYWEIGHT’ Qi Moxiang trains in Huili County, Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan Province. Photo by Sun Shaoguang, courtesy of Zeitgeist Films.THE WEALTH GAP is emerging as one of the biggest political, cultural and moral issues of our era. Not only is America’s wealth gap widening until upward mobility seems impossible for millions of poor Americans—but the global wealth gap threatens to keep world peace a distant hope. That’s the larger drama that keeps us watching China Heavyweight, the latest feature-length documentary from director Yung Chang and Zeitgeist films.

CLICK THE DVD COVER to visit the film’s Amazon page.Dirt-poor, rural Chinese kids are given opportunities at middle-school age to take a shot at wealth and success by competing in boxing camps. In 1959, Mao Tse Tung banned Western boxing for many years—as “too American and too violent,” as we learn in the opening minutes of this new documentary. But boxing is back now in the new China! As you watch this film, you will spot dozens of American icons from framed photos of Muhammad Ali to the Nike Swoosh surrounding these communities. That rising public interest in China frees educators, trainers and sports promoters to lure children toward the growing sport.

That description may make this movie sound like a simple tale of Good vs. Evil, of Western temptation threatening the health and wellbeing of China’s next generation. But filmmaker Yung Chang is a far better documentarian than that. Think of Hoop Dreams, the 1994 American documentary about poor, urban kids trying to make it in professional basketball. That documentary was showered with awards and has been listed, now, in the prestigious National Film Registry as an important depiction of American life.

Think of China Heavyweight as a kind of Asian Ring Dreams—as we watch stoic-looking young people pull on padded sparring helmets and thick gloves to train for their longshot of an Olympic berth. If you dislike sports films and perhaps hate boxing films, you should know that there is, indeed, some real boxing shown on screen. But much of this feature film takes us to the home communities and informal circles of friends and family that surround these boxers.

We are not alone in highly recommending this film for anyone interested in understanding global culture today. Variety magazine calls the movie “an intimate and affecting account of two aspiring boxers from the sticks training under the same hard-working coach. As he did in his Three Gorges Dam documentary Up the Yangtze, Chang examines how a particular strain of Western culture promises opportunity and prosperity for Chinese youth, even as it remains a continual source of intergenerational tension.”

In Film Comment magazine, Meredith Slifkin writes: “China Heavyweight isn’t just a story about boxing or about three individuals and their personal relationships to the sport. It’s about the significance of a traditionally Western sport’s emergence in a changing Eastern culture, the philosophy of chasing a dream—and the way that the trajectory of this trio comes to represent the cultural shifts of a disappearing rural China.”

If you like this film, you will also want to know about a related documentary about the huge annual migration across China for the New Year’s holidays, called Last Train Home, which also shows us the tensions in China between life in the nation’s industrial centers and fragile survival in rural homes.


Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Review: Clint Eastwood’s The Trouble with the Curve

Faith-and-film author Edward McNulty is read in congregations nationwide. Today, we also are publishing his overview of Eastwood’s career. Here is his movie review of Eastwood’s latest film …

Review: Trouble with the Curve

By Edward McNulty

In a rare appearance in a film that he did not direct Clint Eastwood plays a grizzled character similar to his retired autoworker Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino. This time he is a vision-challenged baseball scout named Gus Lobel who is near the end of his career working for the Atlanta Braves. Long widowed, he has issues with his career-driven daughter Mickey, played by Amy Adams, who resents his sending her off to live with a relative when she was a little girl.

This is both a baseball and a father-daughter film, with Justin Timberlake thrown in (as Johnny, a young scout for the Red Sox) added for the sake of romance.

Eastwood has no empty chairs to talk to, but there is a coffee table in his living room that he stumbles over because of his poor vision. He curses it as if it were alive and actively blocking his path. And the script does call for the actor to talk to his gravestone and his penis, as well. Perhaps those scenes were in Eastwood’s mind when he stood on the stage at the Republican National Convention and saw the aide holding forth the now famous chair.

In Trouble with the Curve, Gus has just arisen from bed and, like so many men of his advanced age, finds it difficult to urinate first thing in the morning, hence his coaxing his appendage to perform. He keeps up his pleading until at last he gets relief. The gravestone marks his wife’s spot in the cemetery and reveals to us that she was just 39 when she died. That was some 28 years ago, but Gus still visits the site and converses with her, telling her how much he misses her. He haltingly sings what must have been a song they both enjoyed, “You Are My Sunshine.” Later, this song also becomes a connection point with his daughter Mickey.

Gus is of the old school of scouting, relying on sight, sound, and instincts sharpened by years of watching bush leaguers play in fields and small ball parks. His rival at the Atlanta home office believes that computers and their ability to analyze a player’s statistics offer more than Gus and his ilk can provide. Thus this film could be seen as a traditionalist’s answer to the film Moneyball.

Pete Klein (John Goodman), best friend of Gus and colleague at the Braves’ office, guards his friend’s back against those who want to put Gus out to pasture. Worried about how Gus has been behaving, Pete convinces Mickey to fly over to North Carolina where her father is scouting a hot new prospect. Although she is preparing for a big presentation that could lead to her becoming a partner at her law firm, she reluctantly agrees to go. Gus, of course, does not feel he needs any help, even though in several POV shots we see that his sight is deteriorating. His doctor has warned that he urgently needs to take a break and have an operation.

It is while following the talented slugger Bo Gentry (Joe Massingil) and his team The Grizzilies from small park to small park that we learn why Mickey and Gus have become so estranged.

Johnny, once an ace pitcher scouted and recruited by Gus, is also following Bo around as a hot prospect for his team. A victim of throwing too hard too often so that his shoulder and arm have given out, he aspires to move up from scouting to becoming a game announcer. He becomes as interested in Mickey as in Bo. What happens to the three of them is predictable, but great fun, all three thespians thoroughly convincing in their parts.

Bo Gentry, chubby but a great slugger, is headed for some kind of a comeuppance, we can guess because he is arrogant, basking in the glow of groupies who sense that he is headed for the majors. He enjoys signing autographs far too much, even though his fame reaches no further than the bush leagues. In one brief shot he yells at a vendor selling bags of peanuts in the stand, “Hey Peanut boy!” and the Hispanic young man (Jay Galloway) hurls a bag at him with the force of a cannon shot. With the sense of entitlement of a member of the superior class, Bo turns away without paying for them. Remember the young man’s face, as you will see it again in a satisfying climax to the film.  

Trouble with the Curve isn’t in the same league as The Natural or Bull Durham, but for first-time director Robert Lorenz, we might say that compared to their home runs, this film is at least a double, maybe even a triple. This is also scriptwriter Randy Brown’s first film, and he inserts numerous moments of humor. I won’t spoil the amusing scenes by describing them—but you will chuckle along the way.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that the basic plot is somewhat predictable (except maybe for a neat twist at the end). The film’s considerable pleasure lies is seeing a cast of excellent actors strut their stuff and make us care deeply about what happens to them. The audience at the screening I attended certainly felt this way, cheering at one point and applauding the film as the end credits rolled. I think you will too.

Once more an Eastwood film made my day. Just as Unforgiven made me forgive Clint Eastwood for the violence-affirming Dirty Harry, so this one helps erase from my mind the empty-chair vulgarity of the Tampa convention.

The movie is rated PG-13 and runs 1 hour 50 minutes.

Care to read more from Edward McNulty?

Coach Joe Gibbs talks about ‘GamePlan for Life Bible’

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.In Part 1 of our coverage of Coach Joe Gibbs’ GamePlan for Life Bible, this week, we shared one of Joe Gibbs’ many inspirational stories included in his new devotional Bible. In that story, Joe writes about how he turned his life around at a low moment with help from the New Testament book of James.
TODAY, Joe Gibbs visits ReadTheSpirit to talk about his goals in this new inspirational Bible published this autumn by Zondervan. He talks with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm in …


DAVID: We all can’t win. At the Olympics, we heard from proud medalists who had prayed before competing, but I’m sure lots of the losers prayed, too. Our readers know you as the famous Coach Gibbs who won three national championships in two sports. Yet, you don’t win every time, either. So, how do you pray before a competition?

JOE: I pray to God to help me be my absolute best. When we pray before our races, I don’t ask God for a victory that day. I just ask God to help us be at our absolute best that day. Now, to be honest, that doesn’t mean if I was facing a big race or football game, at times I might have violated that rule. (laughing) But seriously, I pray for God to help me be at my best that day.

DAVID: You explain this point in your new Bible. You’re not promising that if people start praying and reading the Bible like you do it, they’ll suddenly win like you. In fact, you don’t always win. You’re brutally honest about some times you’ve gone backward. You argue that winning, in itself, can become an idol.

JOE: I’m speaking to myself when I write about that problem. It’s easy to make winning an idol. I came out of school wanting to play pro sports, and I wasn’t good enough. Then, I began coaching and throughout my whole life I’ve gotten excited by beating other folks in the events where we compete. I’ve been involved in two professional sports at the highest levels. I want to win.

When I talk with young people, they ask me: How can I become successful? They want to know: How can I win? How can I gain position? How can I make money? What I tell them is that they need to have the right priorities in life. This is where I’ve fallen down in my own life sometimes.

What I’ve discovered is that it’s most important to keep God first in my life and, second, to focus on the influence I’m having on others—my relationships with the people around me. Then, I put my occupation third in life and, if I do that, odds are that I will be successful in life. Sometimes, I have twisted those priorities around. The danger is that you can charge through life for 10 or 20 years, chasing success in the wrong ways and realize that you really haven’t achieved happiness. You might have missed out on your kids and grandkids. When I set down with my own boys to talk, I admit: I’ve made mistakes.

DAVID: The importance of family—that’s clearly a theme that comes through in your writing.

JOE: (laughing) Like they say, when I’m on my death bed, my last wish certainly won’t be that I wish I spent more time at work! As I look back, I do wish I had done some things differently in my life. I wish I had spent more time with family. That’s the kind of thing I’m writing about in these devotionals I am giving to people in the pages of this new Bible.

DAVID: Let’s be clear: The “Game Plan for Life” you’re talking about in the title of this new devotional Bible isn’t Joe Gibbs’ game plan. You admit that your own game plan often was flawed. The plan you’re trying to highlight for readers is the Bible itself.

JOE: I want to show people that there is an all-powerful God who left us a game plan here on earth and that’s the Bible. And it’s a relevant game plan for today. I tell people: Life is a game. You and I are players. God is our head coach. Would our all-powerful God leave us here without a game plan? I don’t think so. In preparing all of the material for this new Bible, we relied on a lot of research to find out the most important areas in life where Americans have questions. It’s not surprising that some of the topics that are very important to people are concerns about their health, about their family, about their finances, about where they’re going to spend eternity. We had Bible scholars write sections of this Bible, focused on God’s game plan.

DAVID: For example, there’s a full page in Deuteronomy that is headlined: “Moses—He Followed God’s Game Plan.” Then, there is a helpful index to reading Moses’ story, most of which is in Exodus and Numbers. Then, an “Official Player Stats” section gives a short run-down on Moses’ life like a mini-bio on a professional athlete in a program you might pick up at a stadium. There’s a short inspirational article from the Bible scholars talking about how Moses made some daring decisions in following God. And finally there is a prayer that includes: “Lord, give me the courage to pursue your big plans for me. Please stand by me just like you stood with Moses …”

JOE: We had Bible scholars to do that. Then, my story weaves through the book, too, in pages where I write honestly about how I’ve experienced God’s plan—and how I’ve sometimes veered away from it.


DAVID: You’re well aware of life’s tragedies as well as successes. For example, you knew Payne Stewart, a devout Christian and someone who prayed on a daily basis. Yet, in 1999, Stewart tragically died with others when a Learjet depressurized. So, we’re not talking about minor lapses in successful careers. Sometimes, despite prayer and a solid faith, life throws us tragedy.

JOE: People ask, “How can a loving God be part of some of the things we see on this earth?” But, we need to realize that God didn’t create the world the way it is today. God created a perfect world, then we chose to sin and sin entered the world. As a consequence, a lot of problems entered our world. God created the Garden of Eden, the perfect place to live. But God also loves us enough so that God didn’t force us to follow his principles. God gave us freedom of choice. That’s the basic question for us to this day. What do we choose?

God created us. God wants to have a relationship with us. God left us a way to play the game of life—a game plan that is right there waiting for us in God’s Word. It’s relevant to this day, even though it was written thousands of years ago.

People always ask me: “What changes I coaching?” I tell them: Everything changes in coaching all the time—except human nature. Human nature hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

Even if we follow God’s game plan, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to make mistakes—and it doesn’t mean that bad things aren’t going to happen to us. But, in the end, we are far better in life if we’re on God’s team.


DAVID: For all of your fame in football and in racing, I’ll bet most Americans aren’t aware of your major efforts to help those in need. One of our authors, Dr. Benjamin Pratt, lives in the D.C. area and told me that he respects your work especially with children in need. So, let’s talk about these efforts for a moment. Your game plan includes helping others. First, tell us about your work in prison ministry.

JOE: I got involved in going to prisons with Chuck Colson and that has had a big impact on my life. Prison visits continue to mean a lot to me. I have never been in a prison yet where anyone has been disrespectful to me or has laughed at what I was talking about. I find myself standing there, often, in front of hundreds of very focused people, listening to everything I’m saying. When I leave, I hear: “Hey, coach, thanks for coming.” We have the perfect message for anyone who is incarcerated: We share a God of second chances.

I mean that. When I go into a prison, now, in my 70s, I see so many people out there who are young and have 50 years, or more, left to live on this earth. I say to them honestly, “I wish I could change places with you.” They look at me like: What are you talking about!?! But I mean what I’m saying. I’m older and I have a lot less life ahead of me. I look at these people in prison and many of them have a long life where they could take God’s second chance, or in some cases it’s God’s third chance, or God’s fourth chance—and make a big difference.

Chuck Colson is a good example. He led one whole life where he climbed to the highest reaches of power, but he totally messed up that part of his life. He went to prison. He could have been done with life at that point. But he chose to live another kind of life and he made a big difference in the world. We serve a God of second chances.

DAVID: You’re not just visiting the prisoners—something we are told to do in the New Testament. You’re also concerned about the orphan or the at-risk young person, as well—another biblical mandate. You personally established a major center to help at-risk youth. You raised a lot of money and put substantial brick-and-mortar resources behind helping these kids. Tell us a little about that.

JOE: I first got involved with kids who were transitioning through the court system—kids who were reaching age 14 or 15 and had fallen way behind in education. Now, where is a young person in that situation going to find a second chance? That’s a very tough one. That’s the kind of program I’m involved in: It’s an educational program to take teenagers like this and help them get back on track in their education and we also teach them a godly approach to life. Youth for Tomorrow has been a big part of our lives. It’s been 27 years now; it was built strictly with private funds in Washington; and our program is ongoing.


DAVID: You call yourself “the average Joe.”

JOE: That’s right. I’m the PE major, the average guy, the guy just trying to journey through life. When it comes to the real technical side of Bible study, I leave that to the scholars. They’re intellectuals who have spent their entire lives studying what God has to say in the details of scripture. I’m just the average person trying to follow God’s principles. I’ve learned a lot about those principles—and I’ve learned how I can get smacked around by life when I try to veer away from those principles.

DAVID: In Part 1 of our coverage, we will share your story about encountering the Book of James in an airport at a low point in your life. I think that story will connect with a lot of readers.

JOE: That was a critical time in my life. I was really struggling vocationally. I thought I was going to be a head coach and, instead, I was facing some severe disappointments in life. Anyone struggling with questions of vocation should look into James.

I reached a point where I was totally depressed, questioning God, sitting in an airport. I’m sure a lot of people have experienced something like that in their lives. Then, I realized that there was this Bible sitting near me in the airport. I turned to James, because I already had been looking into that book. A huge part of our life depends on how we make decisions. And James writes about that.

DAVID: You weren’t alone that day.

JOE: That’s right. I realized there was this guy sitting next to me. Either God orchestrated that whole setting or (laughing) maybe the other guy I met that day was an angel.

DAVID: Seriously. You’re not sure, right?

JOE: That’s right. I don’t know who that other man was in the airport, but I can tell you this: I know that God put that person there on that day. And, I know this, too: What happened that day in the airport was a huge milestone in my life. The Bible came alive in that experience.

That’s what I’m trying to tell people in these stories I have written. God always has an encouraging word for us—if we’re really diligent about studying God’s Word. After thousands of years, God still speaks to us all the way through scripture. God still has a plan for us.

Enjoy Part 1 of our coverage, which includes Joe Gibbs’ inspirational story from the new Bible about his experience with the New Testament book of James.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Coach Joe Gibbs tells how the Bible turned his life around

“I‘m an average Joe.”

That’s how Joe Gibbs describes his life—and it sounds absolutely ridiculous! Coach Joe Gibbs stands alone in pro-sports coaching after having dominated two completely different sports—football and auto racing with multiple national championships in both sports. He’s not “average” at all.

But, when he makes that sincere disclaimer about his life, Joe is talking about our daily struggle to find inspiration and direction from our faith. In that arena of life, everyone faces the same challenge: How do we crawl out of bed the next morning after a failure? How do we make it through another stressful day? What truly matters in life?

THAT’S WHY YOU SHOULD ORDER THE BOOK NOW: The new Game Plan for Life Bible, NIV: With Notes by Joe Gibbs is sure to be a hugely popular choice for inspirational reading this winter. Got a “guy” in your life who shies away from Bible study and is leery of opening up about the challenges of his faith? Get him this Bible now—or grab it now and save it for Christmas. At ReadTheSpirit we don’t normally comment on the prices of books we recommend, but we have to say: Amazon’s discounted prices for hardback and Kindle editions are surprisingly low. One more tip: Think about buying both the new hardback and the Kindle version. That way you can flip open the book for more relaxed devotional times at home—and carry the Kindle version with you wherever you go.


If you’re a big-time sports fan—you can skip to the next part of this story. But, for those of us who don’t follow sports quite so avidly, here’s the background on Joe Gibbs’ greatest accomplishments …

IN FOOTBALL at the Super Bowl level: Gibbs’ Washington D.C.-based team beat Coach Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins in 1983 at Super Bowl XVII; then Gibbs’ team beat the Denver Broncos, led on the field by Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, in 1988 at Super Bowl XXII; and the D.C. team with Gibbs at the helm beat Coach Marv Levy’s Buffalo Bills in 1992 in Super Bowl XXVI.
IN NASCAR auto racing, Coach Gibbs’ list of accomplishments also is lengthy, including several major cups and series wins. Most important are three NASCAR championships with Bobby Labonte driving in 2000 and Tony Stewart driving in 2002 and 2005.

HOW DID A SPORTS GUY CREATE A BIBLE? Come back later this week for our author interview with Coach Gibbs and you will find him refreshingly down to earth about his role in this new inspirational Bible. He certainly is not setting himself up a a Bible scholar, trying to dominate yet another professional field. The key to understanding his approach to this inspirational study Bible is our opening line today: “I’m an average Joe.” Zondervan formed a team of scholars to provide the Bible analysis on important passages. The publisher asked Joe to write the “average Joe” meditations to appear within each chapter. It’s a very engaging combination.


CLICK THE BIBLE COVER to visit its Amazon page.To show you what we mean, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm compared the new Bible meditations with Gibbs’ earlier inspirational book, Game Plan for Life CHALK TALKS. In our author interview later this week, Joe Gibbs explains that many of his new Bible meditations are taken from chapters in the earlier Chalk Talks book. But that explanation is misleading, because the new Bible material actually is better than the earlier book. Case in point is one of Joe’s most important Bible meditations—on the book of James. We compared the James chapter in the Chalk Talks book with the version in the new Bible—and the new version of the story is closer to Joe Gibbs’ own original version of the experience. Plus, the new version is more thought-provoking in small but important ways.

In Part 2 of this story, Coach Joe Gibbs talks with ReadTheSpirit about his work on this new Bible. Here is a sample of the new Bible—Joe Gibbs’ introduction to the Book of James …

It was a traumatic time in my life. Our coaching staff on the St. Louis Cardinals—led by my first boss, Don Coryell—had been fired at the end of the 1978 season. But then I received a phone call from John McKay with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He wanted me to become his offensive coordinator—I jumped on it!

The season didn’t go well. After losing the first two games, I’ll never forget the post-game press conference when a reporter asked Coach McKay what he thought about the team’s execution. “I think it’d be a good idea,” was his sarcastic response.

He was a great coach, but he was used to calling his own plays. He reinserted himself as the offensive play caller, reducing my role and responsibility. I was deeply frustrated. No one would want to take a guy from a losing program and make him their head coach. And to top it off, a big part of my job was gone.

As the season wound down, I began agonizing over whether to stay or to find another coaching situation. I learned that Don Coryell had accepted an offer to coach the San Diego Chargers. I loved coaching for Don, so I prayed, “Lord, don’t  have him call me unless you want me to leave Tampa Bay.” He called the next morning. But he wanted an assistant coach, a demotion for me. I was torn. If I went, I’d be stepping backward, and if I stayed, there was no guarantee anything would get better.

When I met with Coach McKay about my future at Tampa, he asked me to stay as offensive coordinator, but he still wanted to call the plays. I asked for some time to think about it, and we decided to meet again the next morning. It was a long night—losing my dream kept me awake. As I left for the meeting the next morning, I told Pat, “I still don’t know what we should do here.” Her advice was perfect: “Just let him do the talking, Joe. Say nothing until you hear all of his thoughts and plans.”

When we met, he pulled out a yellow legal pad and started down his list of things he wanted to talk about, reiterating his desire to call the plays. The longer he talked, the more I knew it was not the right situation for me. We parted friends. I accepted the job at San Diego with Coach Coryell, but I had little peace.

I decided to hop a plane to meet with my “spiritual father,” George Tharel, back in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It was snowing hard, and my connecting flight was cancelled. I was now stuck in a snowstorm at the airport in Fort Smith, Arkansas. After collecting my bags, I overheard two guys talking about driving to Fayetteville, and without giving them a chance to say no, I said, “I am going with you.” About a mile down the snow-covered freeway, it dawned on me these guys were not going to make it. I asked them to pull over, got out, and climbed over the center divider line in the freeway, bags and all, and hitchhiked back to the airport. I was freezing and dejected.

Thawing out at the gate, my eye caught a Bible laying on a table next to my seat. Though it was a little unusual to find a Bible sitting in an airport terminal, I picked it up and began reading James. I’d been studying this particular chapter where it talks about godly wisdom in making decisions. Out of the blue, a guy nudged me on the shoulder and told me that he’d recently claimed that chapter of James in his own life. “What?” I sputtered, truthfully taken aback.

This guy—a total stranger—was a pharmacist. He’d left his position to chase a dream job in another state. Upon arrival, he learned he’d have to take a tough test to be certified. He’d uprooted his family, left a comfortable life and now faced a career nightmare.

At the end of his rope, he read James for wisdom, telling the Lord, “I’m done. I’m turning this over to you. You know what I want to do in life, but I can’t do this. I’m just going to have to trust you.” He took the test. “I breezed the test, which seemed like an impossibility at the time.”

To this day, I don’t know if the guy was real—I think he was—or an angel God put there for me at a low point early in my career. What I did know then was that I had to give my career over to the Lord and trust Him. I had to do my best and let God handle the rest. The only open door I had was in San Diego, and I walked through it.

Two weeks after we arrived, the offensive coordinator left, and the job became mine. Two years later, after setting many offensive records with quarterback Dan Fouts and the famous Air Coryell offense, Jack Kent Cooke asked me to be head coach of the Washington Redskins.

Are you currently facing a career decision? Have you trusted God to direct your steps? My life is a testament to placing your career in God’s hands. It is the best move I ever made. No matter what He has called you to do in life, you can rely on Him to put you exactly in the right place that you need to be.

In Part 2, our interview with Coach Gibbs, he talks more about James and the whole Bible.


Click the cover to learn more about this book.ReadTheSpirit writers collectively were drawn to Joe Gibbs’ writings, when we realized that Joe himself had a life-changing experience of immersing himself in the often-overlooked Letter of James in the New Testament. For several years, ReadTheSpirit has been promoting Bible studies starting with James—based on the fresh approach by literary scholar and pastoral counselor Dr. Benjamin Pratt in his Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass: A Bible Study with James Bond.

Want to learn more about the Letter of James? We have an overview of James, and samples of the Letter of James, which you can read right now on our website.

How do books like Gibbs’ new Bible and our own James Bond Bible study work in churches? ReadTheSpirit just jointly published a new column about this challenge, written by Dr. Pratt for the website of the nationwide Day1 radio network. You can read Pratt’s article either on the Day1 website or posted here at the ReadTheSpirit site, as well. After years of working with this kind of material, Pratt knows what he’s talking about when he advises congregations on attracting inactive men, straying 20-somethings and other men and women who wouldn’t think of joining a Bible study group.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

‘Up Heartbreak Hill’ takes us inside Navajo Nation

Thomas Martinez runs down Asaayi Road. Image courtesy of Thosh Collins (Pima/Osage/Seneca-Cayuga).WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO SEE “UP HEARTBREAK HILL”
“Up Heartbreak Hill” is scheduled to air on PBS’s highly praised POV series, Thursday July 26—the eve of the 2012 Olympics. Check showtimes and learn more about the documentary at this POV website.
NOTE FOR iPAD and iPHONE USERS: This film has been selected as one of PBS’s free-to-mobile opportunities, starting now. Read more on this page at POV.

Review: ‘Up Heartbreak Hill’
Rare Journey Inside Indian Families

Reviewed by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

ReadTheSpirit encourages all of us to learn more about the lives of Native Amerians.
We published a profile of a traditional Indian healer in our American Journey series. We are promoting the remembrance of Jim Thorpe during this year’s centennial of the decathlon at the Olympics. We’ve covered the Twilight-related tribe, the Quilete, in their quest for greater recognition. Earlier this month, we reported from Ocmulgee in Georgia. And we are covering the progress of Bl. Kateri toward canonization as the first Native American saint in the Catholic church. (We also publish the book-length memoir of Odawa teacher Warren Petoskey, Dancing My Dream.)

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I come from decades as a senior religion news writer for major newspapers and know how difficult it is to report honestly and intimately from Indian communities. From the Native American perspective, almost no good can come from outsiders wanting to invade their lives—and a host of bad things can result. It’s not paranoia—it’s the Indian wisdom from centuries of tragedy.

That’s the important context behind this week’s delightful video postcard sent to us from the heart of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico—courtesy of several high-school students who dared to spend a year with fillmmaker Erica Scharf. Our appreciation also should extend to these students’ teachers, athletic coaches, families and friends. This level of access to dinner tables, classrooms and private moments with the kids is stunning for anyone who understands the huge barriers that normally prevent such projects.

This is perfect timing for PBS’s POV series. Both of the prominently featured teen-agers are athletes—so, as the 2012 Olympics also are roaring into prime time we can switch to PBS for this hour-long documentary and see what athletic competition really means to teenagers running against steep odds. We are hoping that the Olympics also will include a salute to Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, the first gold medalist in the decathlon 100 years ago. It’s wonderful to see Scharf’s scenes of young Indian track stars in the centennial year of Thorpe’s global success.

There are enough unguarded moments here with the teens that we are able to hear their voices loud and clear. Tamara Hardy is both an athlete and a top student in her high school. Listen for her graduation speech at the very end of the program for a memorable reflection on her life. Thomas Martinez is a distinctively mohawk-groomed kid who may look a bit odd, but is loveable in a sort of Jimmy Stewart way. Early in the film, he tries to describe his tangled feelings about being Indian, life on the reservation and his hope for a future outside the restraints of his troubled family.

Thomas says: “I hear it from people: What’s wrong with our Navajo Nation? But this is where I live. I just love the mountains and the trees. I love the idea of being free here.”

IMPORTANT NEWS LOOKING AHEAD: My one complaint about the PBS broadcast is that POV’s 60-minute time slot requires the original 84-minute documentary to shrink. Few Americans will have seen the original film in its brief 2011 tour of the country, so most won’t recognize what happened: Scharf cut the film to broadcast length by eliminating a third teen-ager in the original production. We’ve lost “Gabby,” an aspiring photographer and a very thoughtful addition to this film. Here’s the good news: Scharf plans to release the full version later this year on DVD and ReadTheSpirit will tell you how to order that film. So, stay tuned. Think of the PBS broadcast as a first taste of this story—with more coming later.

What’s best about this movie as it will air on PBS? Tamara and Thomas are ideal poster kids for the best in Indian communities. Despite all their hard luck in life, they are proud of their heritage, they love their families and they both seem destined for success by anyone’s standards.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Meet the Real Tim Tebow: Are You Tebowing?

Clearly, Tim Tebow is America’s most famous Christian athlete at the moment. And, according to a front-page story in the New York Times this weekend, he already has achieved something that only a handful of saints—like Francis, Patrick and Benedict—have achieved: a new approach to prayer.


As documented by The Denver Post and the Global Language Monitor, the prayer style and new word “Tebowing” originated after the overtime victory of the Denver Broncos over the Miami Dolphins on October 23, 2011. During the victory celebration, Tim Tebow “took a knee” and was photographed in a moment of prayerful reflection with his fist against his forehead.
Right after the victory, inside a New York City bar near Union Station, Jared Kleinstein and a group of his friends were euphoric about the Broncos victory. They stepped outside, so ecstatically thankful for the big win that they mirrored Tebow’s pose on the sidewalk, and photographed themselves in prayer.

As The Denver Post reports: “When Kleinstein got home, he uploaded the picture to his Facebook page. The ‘likes’ started coming in like crazy. And thus, the Tebowing phenomenon was born. Kleinstein created the ‘Tebowing’ tumblr blog on Monday, and on Tuesday purchased the Tebowing domain name from GoDaddy.com. Hundreds of people have since submitted their photos to be included on the site.” (Here’s a link to Kleinstein’s Tebowing website, where you’ll find a lot more photos like the examples shown at right.)


Tebow tells his own story with the help of a ghost writer in TIM TEBOW: Through My Eyes and the book is well worth reading for anyone curious about Tebow as a religious inspiration. In the opening pages, for example, you’ll discover that he is a deeply evangelical Christian. For example, God is “He” to Tebow. Abortion is a horrific evil. And abortion actually is a huge part of Tebow’s life story. At the time his mother became pregnant with Tim, they were living in the Philippines where Tim’s father was a church-planting evangelist. Tim’s mother was advised that her life was in danger if she did not terminate this pregnancy, but she defied the medical findings. She managed to carry Tim to term and he was born despite clear evidence in the delivery that it had, indeed, been a risky pregnancy. Pro-choice readers will grit their teeth in Tebow’s sweeping evangelical language about these issues. According to the New York Times, the politically conservative Focus on the Family has been funding TV messages by Tebow and his family since 2010.

In his new biography (which is published by the mainstream HarperCollins) Tebow makes it clear that he’s not likely to move off the topic of what he clearly considers his miraculous birth. He puts it this way:

We are all grateful Mom survived the pregnancy and childbirth. We have met families whose mothers gave their lives in childbirth for the lives of their children. We also know of children who went through normal pregnancies as well as difficult ones and did not end up thriving or even surviving the birth process at all. My parents knew that Mom might not survive, but they trusted God with her pregnancy. Trusting God is how they started their marriage, and how they have continued to this day. My dad always tells us that faith is like a muscle. You trust God for the small things and when He comes through, your muscle grows. This enables you to trust God for the bigger things, in fact, all things.

And while they waited for me to be born, my mom and brothers and sisters would sing Bible verses together. Mom always believed that putting verses to tunes helped us to learn and retain them. Later, they taught me these verses as well:

‘Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord, wait for the Lord. I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait. And in his Word do I hope.’ (Psalm 27:14; 130:5)

My unusual birth story has been important to our family for many reasons. Of course, we are so grateful that God’s plan included Mom’s and my survival. It also provided a deeper connection to one another, since all my family prayed specifically for me. The story has also given us a platform to share with others a variety of spiritual applications, including the faithfulness of God. And the fact that it all occurred in the Philippines made the land and its people all the more meaningful to us.

Remember: If you want to know more about this athlete who is changing our language and our style of spiritual expression, you can order TIM TEBOW: Through My Eyes from Amazon now.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.