New From Oprah Winfrey: “Belief”

Posted on July 29, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Oprah Winfrey’s seven-chapter series “Belief” starts on October 18, 2015. It follows some of the world’s most fascinating spiritual journeys through the eyes of the believers. Episodes include: the largest peaceful gathering in the history of the world as a group of believers seek redemption along the banks of a holy river; a free climber on the side of a mountain who believes there is no greater power than just being present as he climbs without rope; inside the ceremonies of the past as a 21st century woman seeks to find a miracle cure using ancient ceremonial treatments; the quiet of the night as a culture seeks to hang on to its 50,000 year-old history by searching the stars for insight to share with future generations; and, a courtroom and prison where a grieving mother must grapple with forgiveness as she comes face-to-face with her son’s killer. These stories and others will all lead us to ask: “What do you believe?”

Sunday, October 18 *PREMIERE
“Belief: The Seekers”
Witness stories from around the world united by one of the most basic human needs – a desire to find purpose and meaning in our lives. First, 19-year-old Cha Cha, a devout evangelical Christian college student, hopes to reconnect with her faith after a recent trauma has shaken her to the core. Next, Reshma Thakkar, a young Indian-American Hindu woman from Chicago, travels to the banks of the Ganges River in India for the Kumbh Mela, joining millions at the world’s largest spiritual gathering. Meanwhile, in Budapest, Hungary, 13-year-old Mendel Hurwitz prepares for his Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish transformation from adolescence to adulthood. Mendel’s synagogue in Budapest once faced extinction, and this tiny population of Jews are struggling to keep their culture alive. In the final story, Terry Gandadila, an Aboriginal elder in Australia who is nearing death, passes on the wisdom and knowledge of his tribe to his grandson. Together, they walk the songline, an ancient roadmap that the tribe believes reveals how the world was created and how to live life in accordance with their ancestor spirits.

Monday, October 19
“Belief: Love’s Story”
Journey around the world in search of what it means to love one another. First, in western Pennsylvania, Ian and Larissa Murphy are two evangelical Christians who fell in love during college. Ten months into their relationship, Ian suffered a traumatic brain injury, dramatically changing their relationship while also showing them what it means to love unconditionally. Next, we meet Rena Greenberg and Yermi Udkoff of Brooklyn, New York as they prepare to marry in the Hasidic faith, which believes every person is born with one half of a soul, and only through marriage can the two souls reunite with each other. On the other side of the world, former professional skateboarder Jordan Richter from northern California is embarking on the Hajj, a pilgrimage that is one of the five tenets of his adopted religion, Islam. By joining millions of pilgrims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Jordan hopes to make peace with his past and cement a promising future. Finally, two leaders in Nigeria who were former enemies 20 years ago, Christian Pastor James Wuye and Muslim Imam Muhammad Ashafa, come together to reconcile and to honor one of the most sacred teachings at the heart of both their faiths: love your enemies.

Tuesday, October 20
“Belief: Acts of Faith”
Our beliefs can be a powerful guiding force to endure and overcome in some of the most difficult situations. In this episode, everyone faces a challenge to overcome, and they find their source of strength in a variety of different ways. In Topeka, Kansas, Judi Bergquist visits her son’s killer in prison with the hope that the act of forgiveness will help them both move forward with their lives. Next, under the blue Guanajuato, Mexico sky, Enedina Cuellar Pacheco is riding on horseback with Christ’s Cowboys in the hopes a miracle heals her son who suffered traumatic injuries in a tragic car accident. Together with thousands of riders, she makes the rigorous trek to the iconic 65-foot-tall statue of Cristo Rey. Finally, on the small Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, a young boy, Bebe, will act out a death-defying rite of passage into manhood. Bebe will bravely land dive off a giant wooden tower with just a tree vine tied around his ankles, participating in a sacred ritual that his tribe believes blesses the soil for a bountiful harvest.

Wednesday, October 21
“Belief: A Change Is Gonna Come”
Explore how our beliefs help us change. First, Anju, a young woman in central India, has committed to forgo all of life’s conveniences and permanently sever ties with her family in order to be initiated as a Jain nun. Anju must first pass three tests designed to challenge her commitment. Next, Howard Fallon and his daughter Shane arrive in the Nevada desert for Burning Man, an annual festival that provides an experiment in community art, self-expression and culminates in the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy. Howard and Shane are seeking to reconnect and heal after unimaginable personal loss. In another part of the American desert, Ashly Hines, a member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, prepares to participate in the Sunrise Ceremony, a spiritual ritual into womanhood. Finally, scientist Marcelo Gleiser stands at the foot of one of the most powerful telescopes in the world. He has journeyed to the heart of the Atacama Desert in Chile to look deep into space for clues as to how the universe was born and how it is changing over time. He finds the more he searches the universe, the more he must embrace the mystery of the unknown.

Thursday, October 22
“Belief: God Help Us”
When tragedy, illness or loss feel overwhelming and relief seem beyond our reach, many believers appeal to their faith for strength. First, Karen Cavanagh, a Catholic from Slingerlands, New York is called to the Sufi path as a way of healing from a traumatic brain injury. Karen travels to Konya, Turkey to combine her Catholic faith with the practice of becoming a Whirling Dervish, a group who worships through meditative dance. Next, in Lima, Peru, a teenager, Beto, prays to the Lord of Miracles, a painting of Christ on the cross that is revered throughout the country. Beto is selected to march in an annual procession honoring the icon, bringing pride to his family. Then, in Lebanon, 13-year-old Walid, a Syrian refugee whose family fled their home in war torn Syria, still finds a way to participate in Ramadan, the Islamic faith’s month of personal and spiritual reflection observed with fasting and prayer. Finally, in Indonesia, 19-year-old Buddhist monk Bodhi Cahyno believes meditation can help him find a source of inner strength after enduring a challenging childhood. Guided by his mentor and teacher, Bodhi travels to the holy site of Borobudur in Indonesia – the world’s largest Buddhist temple – to celebrate Vesak, an annual ritual that commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.

Friday, October 23
“Belief: The Practice”
For many people, committing to a spiritual life through study, practice and compassion reveals faith. First, Shi Yan Fei is a young Buddhist monk at the Shaolin Monastery in Dengfeng, China, who came to the monastery because of his passion for Kung Fu. While Shi Yan Fei has nearly mastered Kung Fu’s physical movements, he has encountered difficulty mastering the spiritual element. Next, 65-year-old John Davie is hoping to reconnect with his Catholic faith as he embarks on the “Way of Saint James,” a 500-mile trek through the countryside of France and Spain. For a thousand years, Christian pilgrims have walked the “Camino,” which culminates at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Then, Mohamed El Haskouri, a teenage boy in Morocco studies diligently to perfect his recitation of the 80,000 words of the Qur’an in an ancient art called Tajweed. Finally, two teenage girls in Israel, 18-year-old Jewish cellist Hagit and 17-year-old Muslim flutist Mais find common ground and friendship in their shared love of performing classical music with the Polyphony Orchestra.

Saturday, October 24
“Belief: A Good Life”
Explore how beliefs help us face the fear of death and the mystery of what happens after we die. In this episode, we witness how death can also be a powerful call to action – to embrace life and those we love. In the shadows of Mt. Everest, Lekshey Choedhar, a young Buddhist monk at the Pema Tsal Sakka Monastery, learns a valuable lesson about the fleeting nature of life. There, Buddhist monks make devotional works of art called sand mandalas, which they then destroy in a ritual that symbolizes the impermanence of existence. Next, atheist Alex Honnold walks the edge between life and death as a world-renowned free-solo climber. He faces his mortality and finds meaning in his life as he climbs — with no ropes or harnesses — up a towering cliff in the Moab desert in eastern Utah. Then Donna Winzenreid, a military wife and mother of three in Colorado Springs, Colorado who has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, fights for her life by holding on to her Methodist faith. Next, India is home to more than a billion people and one of the world’s largest religions, Hinduism. Once a year, on the first day of spring, Hindus from all walks of life unite to celebrate the festival of colors – Holi. Gopesh Goswami, a Hindu priest, celebrates Holi as an opportunity to set aside daily responsibilities and experience joy, togetherness and the essence of a good life. Finally, from a space shuttle orbiting Earth, astronaut Jeff Hoffman stares out at a pale blue dot suspended in the vast expanse of the universe. He describes it as a transcendent experience, an overwhelming feeling that human beings are all truly connected.

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Spiritual films Television

Tablet Says The Best Movies Are Religious (Even If They Are Not Bible Stories)

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm

In the midst of the silly battles over “Noah,” Liel Leibovitz has a superb piece on the Tablet website about how the best movies always have a religious component.2001-a-space-odyssey-original

As is often the case when we strive to talk seriously about popular entertainment, we’re asking all the wrong questions. Rather than fretting about whether Hollywood gets religion—it does, gloriously so, and to great effect—we should wonder why, given its stratospheric success with religious-themed films, is Hollywood so reluctant to give its audiences what they so clearly desire.

This, first and foremost, is a question of definitions. Who’s a religious person? And what kind of film might he like? To hear marketers, in Hollywood and beyond, tell it, a religious person is someone whose cultural horizon begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation, some sort of sniggering simpleton who grows suspicious unless his entertainment features swords, sandals, and the heroes he’d read about in Sunday School. This lazy and skewed approach is no less offensive than the efforts to market products to women simply by slapping on pink packaging, and no less ineffective: Women, like religious people and members of minority groups and the young and the old and people with terrible nut allergies and anyone else who was blessed with the breath of life, are complex and nuanced people whose tastes and predilections run far deeper than a single, simple note.

I like the way Liebovitz understands that movies like “Groundhog Day” and “2001” are religious movies because they engage us in the deepest questions of meaning and purpose.  People of faith — whether those who are confident in their beliefs and affiliations or those who are seeking a better understanding of our connection to the infinite — are drawn to stories that explore those themes, and not just reiterations of Bible chapters.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Bible stories were a staple in Hollywood, with big, star-studded, prestige movies like “King of Kings,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “The Bible,” “The Ten Commandments,” and “Song of Bernadette.”  It is interesting to think about why that changed.  There are a lot of theories and the answer probably encompasses most of them.  The controversy over “Noah” is at least one indicator of at least one of the reasons.  As mainstream audiences have shown less interest in explicitly religious films, those who strongly identify as observant are

This year, in addition to Son of God and “Noah,” we will also see Christian Bale as Moses in “Exodus.”  I hope that both self-described faith-audiences and those who do not define themselves that way will give these films a try — and look for the spiritual themes and inspiration in whatever movies they attend.  The wonder of the Bible is that it gives us so much to ponder, and it can be a joy to share the way it speaks to each of us, even if those ways are different.  I hope these films get more people interested in reading and discussing the Bible and considering its lessons more deeply.

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Spiritual films Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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TV Guide on Faith on Television

Posted on January 9, 2011 at 9:50 am

Craig Tomashoff’ has a thoughtful article in TV Guide about the portrayal of religion and spirituality on television. It has some surprising examples. The often-outrageous animated series “The Simpsons” was praised for using “Christian faith, religion and questions about God” as recurring themes.Ned_Flanders.jpg

At first glance, it seems odd that a child-choking, beer-swilling glutton who has embodied all seven deadly sins could be considered a shining example of a man of faith. Then again, as the Vatican paper explained, the Simpson family “recites prayers before meals and, in their own way, believes in the life thereafter.” Even Melissa Henson, director of communications for the Parents Television Council, says, “The Simpsons is one of the more balanced treatments of faith-based characters that you’ll see. Flanders seems like a dork, but he’s sincere.”

Most prime-time elevision shows are designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience and producers worry that identifying characters with a particular religious faith will be controversial, offending both those who share that faith and those who do not. The result is a pervasive cynicism on television with regard to faith and people of faith.

A recent TV Guide Magazine poll found that 59 percent of readers believe religion and faith-based characters aren’t being treated fairly on prime time. As one respondent put it, “So often, religious people (read: Christians) are portrayed as crackpot, hypocritical, ultraconservative nutjobs.”

community.jpgThomashoff points to “Community’ as an example of inclusion and “The Middle,” “Lost,” and “The Good Wife” as shows that grapple with questions of faith in a sincere and respectful way. “Hellcats” has a Christian character whose faith leads her to decide not to have sex with her boyfriend. And Will Scheffer of the polygamous HBO drama “Big Love” says, “Faith is our main theme. All our characters will be struggling and questioning, but in a way that won’t be off-putting to viewers, whether they be atheists or true believers.” Stories — whether drama or comedy — are about conflict. When television writers and producers portray the struggles of their characters to find meaning and direction, questions of religion and spirituality provide an authenticity and connection to viewers.

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Television

‘Glee’ and ‘Modern Family’ Talk About God

Posted on October 6, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Religion and faith have been off limits on most scripted television shows, even those with characters who were members of the clergy. Christmas episodes are generally about Santa Claus and family, not about worship. So it was a very welcome surprise to see episodes of “Glee” and “Modern Family” that engaged in an entertaining but very real way with issues of belief. In “Glee,” the burn on a grilled cheese sandwich looked to Finn like Jesus. And when Kurt’s father was in a coma, other characters had a chance to explain what they believed as they tried to support him and he explained why he does not believe in God. On “Modern Family,” Jay and his new wife Gloria argue because she wants him to come with her to church and he wants to play golf. In the middle is her son, who gets very rattled by uncertainty over who and what to believe. Both episodes are available on Hulu.
I hope families use these programs to begin a discussion of what they believe, why they believe it, and how that compares to family and friends. Maybe then the next survey on our religious knowledge will produce some higher scores.

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Television

‘God in America’ Comes to PBS

Posted on September 29, 2010 at 3:58 pm

The US Religious Knowledge Survey, released Tuesday from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that Americans are more willing to say that they are religious than they are willing to learn about the history and beliefs of their religion. The highest scorers were the non-believers and the Jews. The survey asked for a fairly wide range of knowledge of different religious practices and beliefs and included two questions about what teachers can and cannot do under the terms of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
A new series on PBS can help American understand religion and its role in our culture For the first time on television, God in America, a presentation of “American Experience” and “Frontline,” will explore the historical role of religion in the public life of the United States. The six-hour series, which interweaves documentary footage, historical dramatization and interviews with religious historians, will air over three consecutive nights on PBS beginning Oct. 11, 2010.
To extend the reach of the series beyond the television screen, God in America has formed strategic partnerships with The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, the Fetzer Institute, Sacred Space International and other organizations. An integrated multimedia campaign set to launch six months prior to broadcast will include community engagement activities, media events and a comprehensive God in America Web site. The campaign will deepen public understanding of religion and spiritual experience in the life of the nation by encouraging the public to explore the history of their own religious communities and their individual spiritual journeys.

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