Video: Watch the Trailer for ‘Hit & Stay’ – The Catonsville 9 and Beyond

Hit & Stay explores a little known group of nonviolent activists. They broke into draft boards, exposed corporate ties to the war in Vietnam, and went to prison in an attempt to stop the killing on both sides. The Catonsville Nine and the actions that followed turned priests, nuns, and college students into fugitives and targets of the FBI.

Staring: Daniel & Phil Berrigan, Elizabeth McAlister, Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, Amy Goodman, Laura Whitehorn, Howard Zinn, and many of the men and women who participated in draft board raids between 1968-1974. They prevented thousands of young men from being sent to the wars in Southeast Asia.

The film will premier at the Chicago Underground Film Festival on March 9, 2013.

Short Documentary: ‘The Line’ from Sojourners

Mitt Romney bravely mentioned the “poor” once and “poverty” twice in his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention. Last night, Bill Clinton also raised the P-word (“poor” seven times and “poverty” three times) at the Democratic National Convention. Will President Obama address this critical issue tonight in his acceptance speech before the Dems? 46.2 million Americans living below the poverty line want to know.

Sojourners believes Christians need to raise up the stories of the poor and powerless. Poverty needs to be back on the public agenda. Sojourners worked with an Emmy-award winning writer and producer to create a new film called The Line that reveals what poverty in America looks like today.

This 30-minute documentary features real people, their economic struggles, and their inspiring and creative responses to the challenges they face. This resource will help break through traditional political divides, foster honest dialogue, and re-focus our society on the common good.

The film will premiere at 8 p.m. EDT October 2, and we’re organizing viewing parties of The Line across the nation. It’ll be a powerful tool for your churches, communities, families, and organizations to use in raising awareness and fostering conversation about poverty’s effects and potential solutions.

I’m sharing the film’s trailer here in hopes that you’ll ask your friends, family, and community to host screenings. Additional details about the film and information on arranging a viewing can be found at www.thelinemovie.com.

This film is really good! I’m proud to be part of this Sojourners project. (And you get to see some footage of my Columbia Heights neighborhood.)

Is Dumpster-Diving the New Gleaning? See the film.

Jeremy Seifert, a member of Pasadena Mennonite church in southern California (whose pastor is Sojourners co-founder Joe Roos) has produced an award-winning film titled Dive! Yep. It’s on dumpster-diving.

One could preach volumes on charity and justice using this film. Even the trailer raises excellent questions about the ancient biblical practice of gleaning. The custom of allowing the poor to follow the reapers in the field and glean the extras as illustrated in Ruth 2:2-23. This custom dates back to one of the earliet agricultural laws of the Hebrews (Lev 19:9; 23:22; Dt 24:19-21). Breaking this law was a punishable offense. However, was a practice of generosity or of justice or both?

Check out the trailer below.

Dive! Trailer from Compeller on Vimeo.

(And now read Ryan Beiler’s excellent 1996 article The Tao of Dumpster Diving.)

Dispatch from Prison: How Strong Is Hope?

In my daily prayer book, the morning antiphon for today said: “The Lord chose these holy men for their unfeigned love …” The men referred to are Saints Phillip and James, whose feast day it is today. But as I return from a writing workshop at one of Maryland’s federal men’s prisons, the phrase takes on a fresher meaning.

This week I’m the visiting humanities scholar inside the “big house.” There were about 20 men in class today. I think they are all from Washington, D.C. When the federal prison at Lorton, VA, closed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, D.C. federal prisoners were shipped all over the U.S.– sometimes very far from their families.

Hope House DC was established by Carol Fennelly in 1998 to help keep those D.C. families with someone in prison together and keep incarcerated fathers active in the lives of their kids. Hope House also works to reduce the isolation, stigma, and risk families experience when fathers and husbands are imprisoned and raises public awareness about prison issues and this at-risk population.

Carol Fennelly invited me to participate in this program – funded by the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. – and made it possible for me to come teach these classes as part of the National Endowment for the Arts “Big Read” program. The book that D.C. has chosen to read and that we are discussing in these workshops is Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying, which takes on the question: Knowing we are going to day, how should we live?

The guys are discussing the book and writing about their own experiences. I was impressed that every single man had read the book in advance. From the depth of our discussion I think some had read it multiple times. One man quoted sections from memory and cited the page numbers.

We talked about the characters, their motivations, the setting in rural Louisiana in the 1940s. We talked about what makes a character — and whether a character always has to be a person or can it be the landscape or even an experience that looms large in the story line. The men struggled with each other over whether the main character “Jefferson” was a “victim of circumstance” or “did he make a bad choice” that ended with him on death row.

We talked about the preacher that peddles hope on Sunday mornings, but the hope fades by sunset and never leads to changing the systems of oppressions. Just how strong is hope? And how weak is optimism? We discussed how very small acts or things can be used to dismantle an overarching system — the weapons of the weak can take apart dehumanizing systems. But they only work if they force the oppressors and the oppressed to recognize their shared humanity.

At one point our conversation shifted. One man said, “We keep saying that Jefferson was simple or retarded or slow or stupid and that’s why he did those things that ended him up in jail. But WE did the same things! We made the same choices. And WE aren’t stupid or simple or slow.” Then each one began to wrestle with who he was in the story and the choices that he had made and how hard it is to build up enough strength to make new choices when the same old situations arise on the outside.

I won’t say that anyone in the workshop – myself included – is “holy” in a morally righteous sense. But instead “the Lord called these holy men” in the sense that holiness also means moving toward becoming a whole and healed human being. And even in this first day, I can stand as a witness to their “unfeigned love” – especially when they talk about their kids or show pictures of their families. Tomorrow we’ll work on a number of writing exercises and end with a reading from their work and a graduation certificate.

On another note, it turns out that “Casino Jack” Abramoff was also at this facility, on the minimum security side. He’s getting released to a half-way house this month just in time to see Alex Gibney’s newly released documentary about his life called Casino Jack and the United States of Money. Suffice it to say, the range of “bad choices” made by men in Washington, D.C., is wide-ranging.

Michael Moore: Catholic of the Year?

capitalism_a_love_storyLGEFilmmaker Michael Moore’s critique of capitalism is filled with respectful images and ideals from the Catholic Church, writes Tony Stevens-Arroyo in The Washington Post‘s column On Faith.

Stevens-Arroyo, a professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and scholar at City University of New York, looks at Moore’s favorable light on his lived experience with Catholic priests, the human face Moore puts on those suffering under unjust economic structures, the solutions-oriented approach taken by Moore to structural sin, and the emphasis he puts on a vibrant democracy vs rapacious capitalism.

Here’s an excerpt:

Should Michael Moore be named “Catholic of the Year”? Some people love his films and some hate them: but his newest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” provokes such passion on either side that — on that count alone — it becomes a tribute to his skill as filmmaker. Avoiding a film review here, let me offer reasons for considering “Capitalism” a special kind of Catholic achievement. …

Admittedly, Moore’s style borders on buffoonery, but his message is nonetheless important. I admire the Catholic currents of social justice in this film. And just like the feast days of Halloween and All Saints Day follow each other in the calendar; maybe Michael Moore is “Clown of the Year” and “Catholic of the Year” at the same time.

Read the whole article here.

Michael Moore: ‘If You Fail to Feed the Hungry, You’ll Have a Hard Time Finding the Pin Code to the Pearly Gates’

capitalism_a_love_storyLGEWho knew that shock-doc film producer Michael Moore was Catholic?

The maker of Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Sicko, sent a letter this morning promoting his new movie Capitalism: A Love Story that hit theaters last week. Moore’s e-mail is about as much of a “faith testimony” as you’ll get from most Catholics. (We tend to keep our faith on the inside and wear our “works” on the outside. Show, rather than tell.)

Capitalism: A Love Story is Moore’s version of the Pope’s latest encyclical Charity and Truth (read my cliff notes A Love Letter from the Pope), but alot more fun.  Both deal with the most critical question of our day: Is capitalism a sin?

In Bruce Headlam’s New York Times profile of Moore last month, Headlam teased out an interesting take on Moore’s faith-inspired prophetic vision, including Moore’s claim that he got his street-theater sensibilities from radical Catholic prophetic priests Dan and Phil Berrigan.

Headlam wrote:

As much as Mr. Moore sometimes plays a comic-book version of class warrior—Left-Thing vs. the Republic of Fear!—his politics are not grounded in class as much as in Roman Catholicism. Growing up in Michigan, he attended parochial school and intended to go into the seminary, inspired by the priests and nuns who, at least until Pope John Paul II, inherited a long tradition of social justice and activism in the American church. … Along with a moral imperative, Catholicism also gave a method. Mr. Moore idolized the Berrigan brothers, the radical priests who introduced street theater into their activism, for example, mixing their own napalm to burn government draft records. Their actions were a form of political spectacle that, conceptually, is Marxist—workers seizing means of production and all that—and it influenced some of Mr. Moore’s best-remembered stunts.

So, if you weren’t on the list that got a letter from Michael Moore this morning, read on:

Friends,

I’d like to have a word with those of you who call yourselves Christians (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Bill Maherists, etc. can read along, too, as much of what I have to say, I’m sure, can be applied to your own spiritual/ethical values).

In my new film I speak for the first time in one of my movies about my own spiritual beliefs. I have always believed that one’s religious leanings are deeply personal and should be kept private. After all, we’ve heard enough yammerin’ in the past three decades about how one should “behave,” and I have to say I’m pretty burned out on pieties and platitudes considering we are a violent nation who invades other countries and punishes our own for having the audacity to fall on hard times.

I’m also against any proselytizing; I certainly don’t want you to join anything I belong to. Also, as a Catholic, I have much to say about the Church as an institution, but I’ll leave that for another day (or movie).

Amidst all the Wall Street bad guys and corrupt members of Congress exposed in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” I pose a simple question in the movie: “Is capitalism a sin?” I go on to ask, “Would Jesus be a capitalist?” Would he belong to a hedge fund? Would he sell short? Would he approve of a system that has allowed the richest 1% to have more financial wealth than the 95% under them combined?

I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what’s left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you’d have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.

I guess that’s bad news for us Americans. Here’s how we define “Blessed Are the Poor”: We now have the highest unemployment rate since 1983. There’s a foreclosure filing once every 7.5 seconds. 14,000 people every day lose their health insurance.

At the same time, Wall Street bankers (“Blessed Are the Wealthy”?) are amassing more and more loot — and they do their best to pay little or no income tax (last year Goldman Sachs’ tax rate was a mere 1%!). Would Jesus approve of this? If not, why do we let such an evil system continue? It doesn’t seem you can call yourself a Capitalist AND a Christian — because you cannot love your money AND love your neighbor when you are denying your neighbor the ability to see a doctor just so you can have a better bottom line.  That’s called “immoral” — and you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others.

When you are in church this morning, please think about this. I am asking you to allow your “better angels” to come forward. And if you are among the millions of Americans who are struggling to make it from week to week, please know that I promise to do what I can to stop this evil — and I hope you’ll join me in not giving up until everyone has a seat at the table.

Thanks for listening. I’m off to Mass in a few hours. I’ll be sure to ask the priest if he thinks J.C. deals in derivatives or credit default swaps. I mean, after all, he must’ve been good at math. How else did he divide up two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish equally amongst 5,000 people? Either he was the first socialist or his disciples were really bad at packing lunch. Or both.

Yours,
Michael Moore

The Mosque in Morgantown: Finding Our Religion within American Pluralism

Asra Nomani (center) and family
Asra Nomani (center) and family

In March, I had lunch with Asra Nomani at Sticky Fingers, the vegan bakery across from the Sojourners office. Nomani, former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, mentioned the culmination of a two-year film project she’d been working on that PBS would be airing as part of the “America at a Crossroads” series. The Mosque in Morgantown premiers Monday, June 15, 2009, at 10 p.m. EST. (Check your local listings.)

I first came across Asra Nomani in 2003. There was a small article in The Washington Post about a woman who was fighting for women’s rights in her mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia. I was intrigued by a Muslim woman — born into an Indian Muslim family and raised in the United States — not only returning to the heart of her religion but doing it in a way that produced the kind of radical call to freedom true faith engenders. I was intrigued that she claimed Sojourner Truth, the ex-slave who adamantly defended the rights of women in the church and in society, as one of her inspirations.

The Mosque in Morgantown is the story of Asra and her mother, Sajida, who in 2003 entered their mosque in Morgantown by the front door and prayed in the same room with men. This was counter to the rising practice in many mosques, in which women are forced to pray behind partitions. In June 2004, five women from around the country joined the Nomanis to pray in Morgantown’s mosque.

Not only did Nomani forcibly integrate the mosque, she “nailed” (taped, actually) her “99 Precepts for Opening Hearts, Minds, and Doors in the Muslim World” and an Islamic Bill of Rights for Women on the mosque door. She stood firmly in the tradition of Martin Luther, who pounded his 95 Theses into the church door in Wittenberg, and Martin Luther King Jr., who posted the demands of the open-housing campaign on then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s office door in 1966.

The Mosque in Morgantown takes the viewer inside a religious community that’s in the midst of a simmering battle between progressives and traditionalists. We see how Nomani’s prophetic tactics of direct action alienate the moderates and horrify the traditionalists. We see the struggle for power that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever served on a parish council or vestry. We see the creative responses that emerge from the community as it is forced to deal with change.

Nomani is driven to fight the “slippery slope” of extremism that she perceives to be taking over the leadership of the mosque her father founded. It’s clear to the viewer that Nomani, who was a close friend of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, must take clear and decisive action against religious extremism in her home community because she’s seen where such extremism can lead.

At the same time, members of her community take great offense at being lumped in with violent extremists just because they take a traditionalist view of their faith. Other community members don’t like her tactics. They prefer a moderate, more measured, course. “The American experience,” says moderate mosque member Ihtishaam Quazi, “works against the idea of a slippery slope that Asra is so afraid of.”

Unfortunately, as we’ve learned from the murder of Dr. George Tiller by religious militant extremist Scott Roeder and the murder at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by militant religious extremist James W. von Brunn — both of whom claim to be Christians — the “American experience” and the vibrant flame of a pluralistic democracy must be guarded with eternal vigilance.

Watch The Mosque in Morgantown on PBS and find out more here.

This post first appeared on GodsPolitics.com. For more about Asra Nomani, see “Men Only?” by Rose Marie Berger and “Living Out Loud,” by Laurna Strickwerda. To read Nomani’s articles in Sojourners, see “A Faith of Their Own,” “The Islamic Reformation Has Begun,” and “The Struggle for the Soul of Islam.”