GOD ONLINE: Exploring media spirituality

Web sites, TV, films, books and the search for meaning.

Archive for March 2009

Film review: ‘One Day You’ll Understand’

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What if you thought your father might be a Nazi? How deep into public records would you dig? How far would you push your mother to divulge the facts?

Those questions plague Victor, a usually calm businessman at the center of One Day You’ll Understand. In Paris in 1987, he listens with growing tension to media reports of the trial of Klaus Barbie, an accused Gestapo police chief in Nazi-era France.

Why is he anxious? Because his mother, Rivka, is a Jew, and his father may have been a collaborator with the Vichy government, a French version of the Third Reich. (Pictured: Hyppolyte Girardot as Victor and Jeanne Moreau as Rivka. Photo Courtesy of Kino International. )

How else to explain the father’s SS dagger? Why else did he sign a document certifying Victor’s sister as an “Aryan”? Why Rivka’s silence about her parents, who died at Auschwitz? Was the father another Klaus Barbie?

Victor learns of a small village hotel where his grandparents hid out, and he drives there for answers. There he finds the room where they lived — and he has a mysterious vision of that night when the Nazis finally found them.

The film is very un-American; it’s low-key and talky — in French, yet, with English subtitles. The film is short on the sex and blood and exploding helicopters that U.S. directors seem to consider vital ingredients. Yet One Day You’ll Understand has its own neck-snapping suspense. The more Rivka deflects, the more you want to scream: “DAMMIT, JUST TELL HIM! GET IT OUT IN THE OPEN!”

But of course, she can’t. Not after locking up secrets for four decades. And the film title comes true. When Victor finally grasps what she went through — and what knowledge she protected him from — he does understand.

The film troubles the conscience on several levels. One is the conflict of needs in a family: the need for truth versus the simple need to go on living, whatever the past may hold. Another is personal responsibility: How would we face a massive, genocidal force like Nazism? Would we flee? Join some guerrilla group? Lie to save our families? Or, as many did, collaborate?

Why do people act as they do? Or speak as they do? Or, sometimes, keep silent? We can only hope one day to understand.

Written by Jim Davis

March 17, 2009 at 4:31 am

A Noble Sanctuary for Muslims

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Explore the 35-acre quad in Jerusalem known to Muslims as The Noble Sanctuary via this attractive, fact-filled site. From the Dome of the Rock to Al-Aqsa Mosque to the Islamic Museum, you’ll gain a glimpse of why this is considered the third-holiest site in the Islamic world.

You’ll get a little history, starting with Muhammad’s legendary ascension to heaven from the mountain. You’ll see some closeups of the stunning Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome and its blue-and-white calligraphic tiles added by Suleiman the Magnificent. You’ll learn how informal centers of discussion at Al-Aqsa Mosque gradually grew into the four main schools of religious thought.

You’ll also see the vaulted underground prayer room sometimes called Solomon’s Stables. This is the structure that drew much controversy a decade ago, when it was being excavated by the Waqf, the Muslim trust that administers the area. Some Israeli observers said the Muslims were dumping truckloads of valuable archaeological materials. As this site says, Muslims counter that it was actually built during an eighth-century caliphate.

The writing is fairly lucid and direct, with only a few of those pious expressions like “peace be upon him.” Surprisingly, the site acknowledges that many people believe the mountain was the site of Solomon’s Temple. Some Muslim leaders deny that a temple ever stood there, loathe to concede any Jewish claim on the land.

One quibble: The siderail with the crosslinks is blue text on a field of green, making it hard to read. Green is supposed to have been Muhammad’s favorite color. But I suspect that unlike the designers of this site, he would have opted for function over form.

The Noble Sanctuary is a fairly complex Web site, and not all the sections are linked from the homepage. Fortunately, there’s a Contents page, which works as a site map for the 21 main sections.

Written by Jim Davis

March 12, 2009 at 4:10 am

Christian yoga: Too much of a stretch?

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Yoga: Hindu implant or useful import? Christians don’t agree on the answer. But there is a coterie of believers who try to merge the two, and their case in Christians Practicing Yoga is about as good as it gets.

“Christians connect instinctively with an embodied spiritual practice that inclines toward deeper prayer,” the homepage says. “It is embedded in our spiritual DNA to go to God the way God came to us — in and through the body.”

The site offers a variety of approaches. There’s the ancient devotional method called Lectio Divina. Contributor Lori Smith suggests chanting, a practice it shares with Christianity — and with Sufism and native American religions.

Writer Bernadette Latin goes into satisfying, lucid detail about yogic values, such as Brahmacharya (moderation) and Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to God). She draws some parallels between eastern and western beliefs, likening, for instance, the Sanskrit prana (life energy) to the Hebrew ruach (spirit).

Many Bible verses are offered, including Acts 17:28: “In Him we live and move and have our being.” There’s even a mini-directory of schools for face time with practitioners.

Much of the site is rather defensive. Latin, who seems to be the main ideologue, argues that yoga is a mere discipline that has been used by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, and can be adapted to Christianity as well.

Father Tom Ryan, another site maven, supplies a helpful FAQ file for questions about mantras, Kundalini, and invoking Hindu deities. He even takes the offensive, saying that “incarnational faith” must include actions — not just yoga but benevolence, human rights and social justice.

Written by Jim Davis

March 8, 2009 at 5:39 am

And the bleat goes on

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Sheeple, Churchianity, herd mentality — churchgoing Christians often get accused of being meek, bland and mindless. But instead of rebuking or repeating the snark, Sheep Comics turns it into satire.

The strip starts with Lionel, a youngish sheep who feels disaffected when his church doesn’t match what he reads in the Bible. When the pastor rebukes Lionel for questioning him — and even threatens to excommunicate him — Lionel concludes the church is designed to control access to the Great Shepherd.

Sheep Comics has gone on for 87 episodes like that, ever since it premiered in 1999. Various episodes skewer tithing, guilt, coercion, prayer meetings, denominational rivalries, theological quarrels, trite praise and worship music, “responsive bleatings,” even Thomas Kinkade’s “inspirational” paintings.

It’s a clever, subversive idea to take a common criticism of Christians and make it the theme of a comic strip. But the site’s unnamed Web Shepherd often blunts the effect with long “editorials” after the cartoons — 4,788 words in the very first installment. How ironic that some of his strips rant against boring sermons.

Still, so little cartoon satire is even attempted in religious circles, it’s worth your time to look through Sheep Comics. After all, to err is human; to forgive is ovine. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Written by Jim Davis

March 6, 2009 at 3:44 am

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