In Memoriam …
HE ‘TURNED ON’ AMERICAN SPIRITUALITY
RAM DASS—He turned a generation’s religious assumptions head over heels with the circular message on the square cover of his 1971 classic, Be Here Now. That was back when trying daily meditation could spark charges of cult-like behavior. How our hearts and minds have changed! Today, Pew tells us, 40 percent of Americans proudly say they meditate weekly, including half of evangelical Protestants. The Religion News Service obituary begins, “Ram Dass, a spiritual pied piper who introduced a generation of young Americans to Hindu meditation, died Sunday (Dec. 23) in Maui, Hawaii, where he lived and taught. He was 88.” And, here’s The New York Times obituary. As a journalist covering religious diversity for 45 years, David Crumm interviewed Ram Dass at various stages of his life. Here’s David’s last interview with Ram Dass from 2013.
A SPIRITUAL STORYTELLER—Our community of writers recognized Rachel Held Evans as a saint with remarkable talents for welcoming people into a Christian fellowship who might never have found their way through a church door. Our last interview with her was in 2015, focusing on her book Searching for Sunday. Of course, like most true saints, Rachel’s influence on this world continues long after her death. Here is a November column we published about her posthumously released column on LGBTQ inclusion. That column also includes links to other stories by and about Rachel, including the New York Times obituary.
A BRIGHT SPIRIT AND LOVER OF ANIMALS—Since our online magazine was founded in 2007, Doris Day has popped up regularly in many different contexts. Here’s a 2008 religion quiz about Christian Science where she makes a cameo. Rodney Curtis includes her in his delightful Spiritual Wanderer memoir. She also sent us a brief “thank you” note after we published Every Living Thing, religious reflections on caring for animals. Religion writers nationwide were puzzled that The New York Times obituary never mentioned her many active years in Christian Science. Fortunately, the Get Religion column did explore that part of her life in more depth for us.
ALWAYS SURPRISING US—When the poet died this year, at age 91, those of us who loved his work visited his world once again. Our contributing columnist Martin Davis collaborated with David Crumm on this reflection called A Spring Walk and an Old Oak Pew. Although many obituaries described him as Buddhist, The Los Angeles Times came closest to his lover’s quarrel with religion when it described him as “a post-Presbyterian Zen poet and channeler of ancient paradoxes.”
‘SAVIOR OF PEOPLE ON THE MARGINS’—When Jean Vanier died, The New York Times obituary used that phrase in its headline. Like Doris Day and Merwin, Vanier was a touchpoint for so many of our writers and readers over the years that our home office received a flurry of emails after his death. One place we referred our friends was this Ed McNulty review praising the film about Vanier: Summer in the Forest. Perhaps you might want to see the film in honor of Vanier. Ed writes, “At a time when our news media are full of stories of political folly and corruption, this film can help keep alive faith in humanity and a hopeful future.”
WE ALL FELT THIS LOSS—Our entire publishing house team felt the loss of U.S. Rep. John Dingell earlier this year—because Dingell and his wife Debbie had labored over a Foreword for Clifford Worthy’s inspiring memoir, The Black Knight. Dingell’s father had played a crucial role in Worthy’s life, sending him to West Point. We published this story about a major event in Detroit honoring both Worthy and Dingell’s role in the book. Today, Worthy is the oldest living black graduate of the famous military academy. If you haven’t already, please order a copy of The Black Knight—and you will find that Dingell’s affirmation of the American spirit in his Foreword is a stirring call to remember our core values in these troubled times.
WINDING DOWN THIS WEEK—Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration of African-American culture that was first celebrated half a century ago in 1966. Please, read Stephanie Fenton’s column on the festival, which includes inspiring quotes from a couple of Karenga’s messages.
Welcoming the New Year 2020
AND, A FAMILY STORY—Contributing columnist Judy Gruen, who first appeared in our online magazine in 2008, has returned with a heart-warming story about New Year’s customs that united her family and friends for many years. The story involves a “surprise” birthday party and— Please, enjoy!
Care to see all the holidays? It’s easy to find our annual calendar of global observances—just remember the address InterfaithHolidays.com
Faith & Film
ED McNULTY, for decades, has published reviews, magazine articles and books exploring connections between faith and film. Most of his work is freely published. Ed supports his work by selling the Visual Parables Journal, a monthly magazine packed with discussion guides to films. This resource is used coast-to-coast by individuals who love the movies and by educators, clergy and small-group leaders.
Among Ed’s free reviews and columns are:
- LITTLE WOMEN—Ed urges all of us to see this Greta Gerwig version of the classic story before it leaves theaters, giving the film 5 out of 5 stars.
- THE TWO POPES—”Brazilian director Fernando Merilles (City of God and The Constant Gardener) makes theological discourse exciting in this speculative film about the encounters between Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) and Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins).” (4.5 stars)
- THE AERONAUTS—Before there were aviators, there were aeronauts. Director Tom Harper, who gave us the tuneful film about a talented Sottish woman eager to sing in Nashville, Wild Rose, takes us back to 1862 when two English aeronauts ascended to a record height not surpassed until almost 70 years later. (4 stars)
- KNIVES OUT—Ed writes, “Director-screenwriter Rian Johnson gives us an old fashioned whodunit complete with a room full of characters, all of whom have motives that could have led to the murder in question. This is a stylish brain teaser certain to make you forget your own troubles for a while, although it does lift up the issue so troubling to many, that of immigrants. (4 stars)
- PARASITE—Ed writes, “Korean director-writer Bong Joon Ho, whose 2013 sci-fi film Snowpiercer included criticism of our society’s sharp class division, includes the latter in his horror genre film about three families and their struggle for wealth. This is the first South Korean film to win the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes this past year, so it is obvious that this is not your usual scare flick.” (4 stars)
- RICHARD JEWELL—”The story of security guard Richard Jewell could be the prime example for that cynical adage: No good deed goes unpunished. Director Clint Eastwood brings us the dramatic story of a hero suddenly under FBI scrutiny and media attack as a villain guilty of a heinous crime.” (4 stars)
- MARRIAGE STORY—Ed praises this heart-felt, honest drama and gives it 5 stars.
- PAIN AND GLORY—”Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, whose films usually center on strong women, draws on aspects of his own life in this story of a faded film director almost despairing of renewing his career. It will come as no surprise that there is a strong woman central to his story, his mother Jacinta, played by Penelope Cruz when he was a boy.” (4.5 stars)
- A HIDDEN LIFE—Ed writes, “Terrence Malick, after his three montage-type films (Knight of Cups; To the Wonder: and The Tree of Life), returns to a simpler narrative form in this biography of Austrian WWII conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter. He effectively juxtaposes the Eden-like tranquility and beauty of the Austrian mountain village of St. Radegund with the destructive evil of Nazis ruining Europe at the time.” (5 out of 5 stars)
- A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD—The new film is touching and terrific—even better than Ed had expected, he writes. (5 stars)