By Debie Thomas

If someone had told me back in February that we would still be in the thick of the Covid pandemic nine months later — wearing masks, staying away from our loved ones, “attending” church over Zoom or YouTube, and watching in horror as the global death toll rises — I would not have believed them. …


By Brad Keister

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John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (New York: Viking, 2004), 546pp.

A review by Brad Keister, former Deputy Division Director of the Physics Division for the National Science Foundation.

This book tells the horrifying story of a particular strain of influenza that swept the globe near the end of the First World War, those who suffered and died from it, as well as those people in positions of power who altered its course: the physicians, the scientists, and the politicians.

As Barry observes, there had been other strains of influenza in the past, but this one, now known as H1N1, was particularly virulent, causing pain and death, sometimes within hours. The precise origin cannot be traced, but it appears to have started at a military base in Kansas in late 1918, while the United States was immersed in World War I. The wartime setting meant that bases were often crowded or overcrowded, and soldiers were often quickly moved from one base to another. It also meant that, as the disease spread, there was a conscious attempt to downplay its effect in order to avoid a demoralizing impact on the war effort. …


By Dan Clendenin

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The Edge of Democracy (2019) — Brazil

The actress and film maker Petra Costa wrote, directed, produced, and narrated this documentary about the fall of Brazil’s two democratically-elected presidents, and its subsequent descent into the authoritarian, populist regime of Jair Bolsonaro. It’s the third in a trilogy of films by Costa that blends her family’s personal history with Brazil’s national politics. The Edge of Democracy premiered on opening night at the 2019 Sundance festival, and was later nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2020 Academy Awards. When President “Lula” left office as a popular two term president (2003–2010), he had an 87% approval rating. Obama famously called him “the most popular politician on earth.” …


By Debie Thomas

In early 2013, Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz unveiled “Homeless Jesus,” a bronze sculpture depicting Jesus as a homeless person, sleeping on a park bench. Schmalz installed the original sculpture at Regis College, University of Toronto, and since then, casts have been installed worldwide. The sculpture is designed in such a way that Jesus is huddled beneath a blanket, his face and hands obscured. Only the crucifixion wounds on his feet reveal his identity.

A devout Catholic, Schmalz describes the sculpture as a “visual translation” of our Gospel reading for this week, in which Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner, and then tells his followers: “Whatever you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” …


By Dan Clendenin

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Madeleine Albright, Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir (New York: HarperCollins, 2020), 370pp.

After Madeleine Albright (born 1937) concluded her service as America’s first female secretary of state in 2001, she says that she needed a “new buzz,” and that “retirement was a four-letter word.” …


By Dan Clendenin

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The Cave (2019) — Syria

This National Geographic documentary features a thirty-year-old woman pediatrician named Amani Ballour, who manages a staff of 150 people in an underground makeshift hospital in the city of Ghouta, near Damascus. I cried my way through parts of this film — it’s a war movie that is equal parts horrifying, infuriating, and inspirational. In a complex network of underground tunnels called “the cave,” Ballour and her team serve the victims of the war that’s had the city of 400,000 people under siege for five years. …


Selected by Dan Clendenin

Langston Hughes (1902–1967)

Kids Who Die

This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.

Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace. …


By Debie Thomas

“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

These are the chilling words that end the “Parable of the Talents,” our Gospel reading for this twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost. No doubt you know the story: a wealthy man summons three of his slaves and entrusts them with “talents.” Then he goes away “for a long time.” While he’s gone, two of his slaves invest the money they’ve been given, and make huge profits for their master. The third slave, meanwhile, digs a hole in the ground and buries the single talent that was given to him. …


By Dan Clendenin

Yousef Bashir, The Words of My Father; Love and Pain in Palestine (New York: Harper, 2019), 224pp.

This memoir by the Palestinian American Yousef Bashir (born 1989) reminded me of the aphorism that’s attributed to Stalin, that whereas a million deaths is a statistic, a single death is a tragedy. …


By Dan Clendenin

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Honeyland (2019) — Macedonia

This remarkable documentary film is what I would call an ethnographic delight. It follows the daily life of a woman named Hatidže Muratova (born 1964), who’s a wild beekeeper in a remote village called Bekirlija. The movie premiered at the 2019 Sundance film festival, where it was the only film to win three awards. At the 2020 Oscars it was nominated for best documentary and best foreign film. Without any external narration or voice-over, there are really four stories here. The first is the scenery of the remote mountains of northern Macedonia, which alone would make the film worth watching. Then, we watch how Hatidže tends her bees, collects the honey, and takes the train to sell it in the markets in Skopje (four hours away). The third story shows how tenderly Hatidže cares for her partly blind, eighty-five-year-old mother, who has been bedridden for four years, and this in a setting that is unimaginably primitive (no running water or electricity). …

Dan Clendenin

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