Urban Mystic: The Video for the 19th anniversary of the LA riots

On this day in 1992, four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King and Los Angeles erupted in rioting. The beating of King, which had been video tapped, the trial and acquittal were seminal events in the history of race relations in this country.

Last year I interviewed the Rev. Scott D. Young about his annual pilgrimage to the site of the flash point of the civil unrest following the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King case.

NCR published the article and it can be read here: Urban Mystic at the Crossroads

I believe this outtake captures the essence of Scott’s passion for the city, a true urban mystic.

You can read Scott’s blog at The Culture Vulture Report

Sympathy for Delicious: Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut

Dean O’Dwyer (Christopher Thornton) is an aspiring DJ known as “Delicious D” on the Los Angeles underground music scene. A motorcycle accident leaves him in a wheel chair and he ends up sleeping in his car on Skid Row.

Fr. Joe (Mark Ruffalo) ministers to the homeless by organizing and serving meals and finding temporary housing shelter for those who will accept it. The priest notes how depressed the young man is and brings him to a healing service where people are “slain in the spirit.” Dean is skeptical but inexplicably he discovers he has the power to heal others. It is very confusing and a lot to take in.

Thornton and Ruffalo in "Sympathy for Delicious" that opens today in NY, LA and DC on May 5.

Meanwhile Dean, now a minor celebrity, joins a rock band and decides to market his abilities as a healer. This is not out of compassion. It seems an almost passive-aggressive reaction to God’s caring for others but not for him. Fr. Joe advises against this, but must confront his own personal faith issues as he tries to guide others. When Dean’s healing abilities fail when they are needed most, he is forced to confront his demons and accept the fact that sometimes the healing you get from God is what you need, not what you want.

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Beyond the Blackboard – Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for Easter Sunday, April 24

Beyond the Blackboard (CBS, Sunday, April 24, 9/8)

This Hallmark Hall of Fame special is based on the book Nobody Don’t Love Nobody: Lessons on Love From the School With No Name, by Stacey Bess. Her first job is at a school for homeless children, grades 1-6; the classroom is a warehouse shelter. This film, starring Emily VanCamp, is gritty and inspiring—a tribute to teachers who persevere and care. (Thanks to St. Anthony Messenger; this is my review from the April issue).

Feeling comfort from the cross for the first time

There are some things you should know about me and Jesus.

I was twelve years old in 1964. On Good Friday of that year, I was just about ready to set out on my bike for the services at St. Rita’s Church when my mother mentioned in passing that Jesus wasn’t Catholic. What a shock!

If Jesus wasn’t Catholic, then why all the fuss about having Protestant friends? And why hadn’t anyone told me before that he was Jewish?

I felt like I had been scammed and now I’d have to recalibrate everything I knew and believed about Jesus and religion to that point. That Jesus wasn’t Catholic, or that he was Jewish, seemed like really important information to hold back over all my years of CCD classes When, exactly, was someone going to mention this?

I got over it as I matured and learned more about my faith and the scriptures but I still wonder that I never connected the dots. Or that no one realized in those days that kids needed help connecting the dots.

I have always appreciated the beauty of the crucifix, especially on an artistic level. But it was hard to connect with the image of Jesus on a personal level because Jesus’ death on the cross has always been about my sin and guilt and this irritated me.

Even as I listened to the Palm Sunday homily this week, I noticed that no matter how hard he tried to get to the idea of mercy, Father couldn’t get past the dominant connection between the crucifixion, sin, guilt, and reparation for salvation.

Continue reading here from NCR Feeling comfort from the cross for the first time

PS Today is Good Friday (I wrote the above earlier this week) and I remembered a scene from Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) that is very moving. Here Judah Ben-Hur’s mother and sister are cured of leprosy and Jesus’ blood is washed into a stream and beyond; the visuals alone wouldn’t be nearly a powerful without the musical score that speaks louder than words.

African Cats

My review is posted at American Catholic, the web community for St. Anthony Messenger magazine:

Africa Cats: the cycle of life continues

Washing the Disciples’ Feet & Touch

One thing that religious give up is the sense of touch and being touched. Sure, we hug when we greet family and friends, and we buss with the best, but unless we go for regular massages for a medical reason, we give up the pleasure of being touched.

When I stayed with my sister last year for vacation, she took me with her for a pedicure.  She is a regular there and the ladies, all Vietnamese immigrants, greeted us warmly. We removed our sandals. I climbed into the throne-like seat and when the water was warm, the attendant invited me to put my feet in the water. The water was shooting at my feet and swirling.

Several minutes later, the pedicurist took my right foot and began to massage it with oil or lotion. She placed it back in the water and took my left foot.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

She dried each foot with care using a very soft white towel and then she trimmed my nails and sanded the calluses from the bottom of my feet.

I wonder what the apostles felt when Jesus washed their tired, dusty feet. I imagine those who were married had been long from the embrace of their spouses as they journeyed on foot with Jesus. Peter resisted because it was a lowly task to wash the feet of another, and he thought he should be washing Jesus’ feet.

Several years ago I was at a Maronite parish for Holy Thursday and the priest washed the feet of men, young and old, and three boys who could not stop laughing. I think they were embarrassed, but they made me laugh, too.

Two nights ago a sister of my community went to the parish where she sings in the choir. They had invited her to have her feet washed during the mass on Holy Thursday, and they wanted to have a dry run, literally. She is happy to be included.

Earlier this week I reflected on  feeling the comfort of the cross for the first time .Today I am thinking of the first Eucharist, yes, but also the washing of the feet and what it means for the body and soul, the whole person. Jesus probably didn’t rush through the washing for pastoral reasons. He who loved the disciples must have taken the time to truly wash their calloused, tired, perhaps neglected feet that had been everywhere, and perhaps unwashed for more than a day, taking each foot into his hands, and gently washing it and drying it before moving on. Perhaps he anointed their feet as well. It was Jesus’ way of showing them that they, too, must carry out this humble, comforting, and refreshing task for others, in order to approach the Cross.

In the documentary  The Saint of 9/11: the True Story of Father Mychal Judge, (that I reviewed in 2007) there is a part where he talks about ministering to men dying of HIV/AIDS in the hospital. Many were angry at God and wanted nothing to do with the Franciscan priest. But as he spoke with them, he would start to massage their feet, and this would calm them. In those first years of the pandemic, few people were willing touch a person with HIV/AIDS. I can only imagine what Fr. Judge’s care might have meant to them who were treated as pariahs and outcasts. It was the comfort of a loving God shown through the ministry of a priest.

My sister paid for the pedicures and I know she added a generous tip for the ladies. I felt and wonderful and I think I heard my feet laughing for the sheer joy of it.

A (Dinner) Prayer for Film & TV Writers via the Humanitas Prize

A couple of  Saturdays ago I received a call from Soozie Eastman, Director of Programs for the  Humanitas Prize. For the second year I was going to be one of the script readers to decide on which ones will receive this prestigious award trophy and cash prize. All the readers for television and film scripts were having dinner together that evening to pick up the parcels and share some inspiration. Soozie asked me to say grace.

I thought I would share this on my blog so that everyone could join in prayer to support the good work of the Humanitas Prize and to support film and television writers who seek to explore the human condition and promote human dignity in the stories they tell.

Paulist Father Elwood “Bud” Kieser (1929 – 2000) founded the he HUMANITAS Prize in 1974 “to celebrate television programs which affirm the dignity of the human person, explore the meaning of life, enlighten the use of human freedom and reveal to 
each person our common humanity.” You may remember Fr. Kieser as the producer of the films Romero(1989), Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (1996) and the “Insight” series (1960 -1983) for television.

I accepted Soozie’s invitation and did a search for “dinner grace” and guess what came up? A link sponsored by Target that wanted to sell me the DVD  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. That’s appropriate, I thought, since the readers come from various cultural and faith background.  But since Target wasn’t giving anything up on the prayer front, I decided to draw on my favorite cinema genre for inspiration: food movies.

Here is my prayer:

Dear God, come and be with us as we gather here from our Places in the Heart , at a restaurant that is a step above a Diner  , to  East and Drink as Men and Women  , let us be kind to the Waitress , enjoy Tortilla Soup,  Ratatouille  , or the  Mystic dimensions of Pizza ,  or whatever we choose; bless this Feast and those who prepared it with the generosity and totally outpouring of self of a Babette; may it to become Soul Food,  that will give us strength to confront the ducks in our lives as Julie&Julia Child admonished us; help us make this a Big Night for writers and all creative people, knowing that , as Primo said in the film, “to eat good food is to know God”. May this meal be capped by just a little  Chocolat as we begin the Humanitas Prize process once again this year with  No Reservations.   And whether we are  Mostly Marthas  or Marios, give us the grace to slow down and savor the fruits of the labors of these writers to choose the very best stories.

Thank you Lord for your blessings! Bless us, bless this food, and no Sideways Bottle Shock please – and be with us always!

(Here is an article about Humanitas director Cathleen Young  and the Humanitas New Voices initiative written by Neely Swanson in the WGA journal “Written By”; click on “Cathleen Young”)

Cathleen Young, director of the Humanitas organization, Brian Oppenheimer and Barbara Gangi, screenwriters, at the dinner to launch the Humanitas Prize process for 2011. Photo courtesy of Frederic Charpenier