The tenacity of William Wilberforce

By Steve Beard

Published in 2006

If you’ve seen the movie Crash, there is a scene in which Anthony, a car thief, discovers a van with the keys dangling in the driver’s door. Since no one is around, he hops in and drives to a chop shop to sell off the parts. When they open up the back of the van, Anthony and the shop owner are startled to find a dozen Asian men, women, and children. In stunning immediacy, the shop owner offers Anthony $500 for each one without a tinge of reluctance—haggling for humans like used auto parts.

As the 2006 Academy Award-winning morality tale, Crash is loaded with gut-wrenching scenes meant to prick our racial prejudices and stereotypes. The chop shop scene came to mind while viewing Amazing Grace, a film about British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The movie’s release was timed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in England. At that time, the British Empire was heavily dependent upon the slave trade and Wilberforce dedicated his entire life to fighting the gross social injustice. Continue reading

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Iconic brushstrokes from Ukraine

Kateryna Shadrina. “Madonna with Child.” Click to enlarge.

By Steve Beard

As I watched the evening news during the haunting first few weeks of the scorched-earth invasion of Ukraine, I could not help but see Kateryna Shadrina’s vibrant image of the Madonna and Child superimposed over the video footage on television of mothers carrying their young children in a panicked evacuation of their homeland.

Although I have half-a-dozen depictions of the Mother and Child in my office, the liquid blues and electric yellows and oranges give Shadrina’s a different dynamic. The 27-year-old artist is an iconographer from Lviv, Ukraine.

Her image wreaked havoc on me.

Visual arts animate the imagination in ways that words alone cannot. To see Michelangelo’s Pietà – the sculpture of the lifeless body of Jesus being cradled by Mary after the crucifixion – is to engage a part of the mind and soul that mere nouns and verbs do not touch. Through painting, Van Gogh helped us visualize the story of the Good Samaritan, while Rembrandt illuminated the story of the Prodigal Son. El Greco told biblical stories in Spanish Renaissance fine art, Howard Finster preached the gospel through American folk art, and Marc Chagall challenged us to see the crucifixion from a different vantage point.

Let me be clear, I am not an art critic. I like what I like. But I also understand there is much to learn through the vision of an artist. “The first demand any work of art makes on us is surrender,” observed C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. “Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.” Continue reading

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Lenten Underground

“We are together” by Kateryna Shadrina in Lviv, Ukraine. Used by permission of the artist.

By Steve Beard

It was standing-room-only for the noon Ash Wednesday service at my local church. Ushers were pulling folding chairs out of a closet and people were sitting in the hallway outside the sanctuary. Parishioners were literally standing against the back and side walls. It was probably a fire hazard. 

We were all squeezed in to be reminded of our mortality. “Remember that you are dust,” the pastor said as the sign of the cross was smudged on my forehead, “and to dust you shall return.” Stark and sobering.

Six thousand miles away, there were believers in Ukrainian bomb shelters. At the time, the brutal invasion had only been a week old. “We survived yet another horrible night,” reported the archbishop of the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv on the first Sunday of Lent – the introspective season of denial leading up to Easter. 

“But after night, there comes day, there is morning,” he said. “After darkness, there comes light, just as after death there comes resurrection, which we all today radiantly celebrate!” Continue reading

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Alice Cooper on Sobriety, the Bible, the Devil, and Golf

On Easter, The Sunday Times of London published a “A Life in the Day” feature about the godfather of shock rock Alice Cooper (interview by Danny Scott). The rock legend has sold more than 50 million albums and has been married to his Sheryl for 45 years.

Here are a few of Cooper’s comments:

• I’m up before the sun; 5am is my time. Straight out of bed, make a cup of coffee, grab my Bible, then spend the next hour reading and praying. I read a couple of chapters a day — this is my 12th reading. It puts me in a positive frame of mind. …

• I play golf six days a week, but I could easily play every day of the year if I wanted. Eighteen holes is a lot of miles to cover and it’s the main reason I’m still in pretty good shape at 74. That and finally quitting alcohol.

Thanks to Sheryl — she committed me to an asylum for treatment — this is my 39th year sober. I was never a mean drunk. I was the Dean Martin of rock’n’roll, always on this happy, golden buzz. At first it was fun, hanging out with Jim Morrison, Keith Moon and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi gave me my first joint. We thought we were gonna live for ever, but then everybody started dying. I spent a lot of time with Jim Morrison and I don’t think I ever saw him not drunk or high. On stage he was an absolute professional, but nobody was surprised when he died. …

• Being a dad changed everything for me. It gave me a reason to stay sober. On stage I was Alice but, after the show, I wanted to be Dad. That life was better than a life in the bottle.

Sheryl is also part of my touring show — she plays various characters like the Dead Bride and Madame Guillotine — so we’re hardly ever apart. I love how calm she is amid all the mayhem on stage. People are getting beheaded and everyone is splattered with blood, but I sometimes look at her face and I know she’s wondering if she left the iron on in the dressing room.

A lot of our evenings are spent working with a charity called Solid Rock. We’ve set up places where any teenager can come in and learn any instrument for free. Music changed my life; hopefully, we can change a few more.

If we’re at home we’ll watch a horror movie, but I’m rarely in bed later than 11. Then I pray for a while. I believe in heaven and hell. People think of the Devil with horns and a pointy tail. Man, you are so far off the mark! The Devil is going to be the best-looking, smoothest-talking guy in the room. He’s going to make you feel like a million bucks. But you better watch out because he’s got a whole different set of plans for you.

 

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On a Hill Far Away

“Station of the Cross: Fall” by Ostap Lozynsky of Lviv, Ukraine. Special thanks to iconart-gallery.com.

 

I was in elementary school when I first grasped that the death of Jesus was a big deal. On Good Friday, my mom and dad signed me out of class in time for the noon church service. It was somber and stiff and formal – but I was out of school for the rest of the day. It got my attention.

“On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross,” we sang. “The emblem of suffering and shame / And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best / For a world of lost sinners was slain.”

Modern day hipsters may roll their eyes at the sentimental lyrics, but they stuck with me. It was a sing-a-long song about the most brutal injustice in human history and it became a well-known gospel chorus for an entire generation. Johnny Cash recorded four different versions. It was also recorded by Al Green, Ella Fitzgerald, Merle Haggard, Mahalia Jackson, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn.

“The Old Rugged Cross” was written in 1913 by a Methodist preacher named George Bennard (1873-1958) who was converted to faith as a young man after walking five miles to a Salvation Army meeting. At age 15, he had lost his father in a mining accident. Bennard found new life and inspiration in giving his heart to a Savior riddled with nail scars who had conquered death. Continue reading

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Was Jesus a Mutant in X-Men Universe?

According to Brandon Schreura of CBR (Comic Book Resources), a revelation in Marvel’s Immortal X-Men #1 suggests that Jesus Christ, himself, may have actually been a mutant in the Marvel Universe.

“Immortal X-Men #1 — which comes from writer Kieron Gillen, artist Lucas Werneck and cover artist Mark Brooks — hints that Jesus was actually an X-Men mutant during a moment in which former supervillain Exodus and Hope Summers are conversing on the mutant island of Krakoa. Exodus is insistent on calling Hope “Messiah,” given that she was the first mutant born after M-Day and considered by some to be the hero destined to save both mutantkind and humankind. Hope also is hosting the power of the Phoenix Force, which greatly strengthens her already pre-existing superpower abilities.”

Read the wh0le story HERE.

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Packing love in a back alley

Grace’s Nutrition Market in Spring, Texas

One set of my maternal great grandparents migrated to the United States in 1875 from Ukraine. They moved here shortly after they had been married in Odesa. Today, there are Russian battleships off Odesa’s coast in the Black Sea.

A few days ago, I had seen a young Ukrainian couple on the local news collecting blankets and jackets and socks to send to refugees. I had made a mental note to stop by their business, Grace’s Nutrition Market, not far from where I live.

Today, I went in to give a contribution. That is the reason you are seeing the photo of the diapers. Local people have been dropping supplies by their shop in order to help the beleaguered Ukrainians who are trying to flee a war zone. Greeted with warmth and a smile by those at the shop, I made a donation and asked about the diapers. The woman helping me asked if I wanted to see the rest of the operation. Moments later we were walking through the shop and through a dimly lit storage area before she opened up the door to the back alley.

Continue reading

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Nick Cave for the Holidays

Nick Cave is the exceptionally talented singer, songwriter, screenwriter, and performer who is most well known for leading Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. In “The Red Hand Files” series, Cave entertains questions from fans around the world. Allow me to cast the spotlight on his response to Hope, Optimism, and Christmas found HERE.

“Hope and optimism can be different, almost opposing, forces. Hope rises out of known suffering and is the defiant and dissenting spark that refuses to be extinguished. Optimism, on the other hand, can be the denial of that suffering, a fear of facing the darkness, a lack of awareness, a kind of blindness to the actual. Hope is wised-up and disobedient. Optimism can be fearful and false. However, there exists another form of optimism, a kind of radical optimism. This optimism has experienced the suffering of the world, believes in the insubordinate nature of hope and is forever at war with banal pessimism, cynicism and nihilism.

“As we move into Christmas, the image of Jesus in the manger — what Yeats calls the ‘uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor’ — is that hope and that radical optimism incarnate.”

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Denzel Washington, Man on Fire

Dana Scruggs for The New York Times.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has written a fascinating portrait of Denzel Washington and his upcoming film, “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”

As has been my custom for the last 30 years, I am most intrigued by elements of religion in pop culture – and Washington is one of the finest examples of interlacing his heartfelt faith with his meticulous artistic talent. Here are four stand-out segments from Dowd’s 3,500 piece.

• He had just put the final touches on a film he directed, “A Journal for Jordan,” the true story of the romance between Dana Canedy, a former New York Times reporter and editor, and Sgt. Charles Monroe King, a soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, after meeting their infant son only once. It stars Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams and also opens widely on Christmas Day. Continue reading

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Life Vests and Torpedoes

By Steve Beard

Some of the most emotional moments broadcast on television are when deployed military parents return unexpectedly to surprise their kids coming home from school, during a musical recital, or at a graduation. Sheer joy boils over and you can almost feel the tight squeeze of the bear hugs. Tears of happiness cascade down the faces of the unexpected with unreserved elation. In a perfect world, those moments would last forever.

A few years ago, I joined my family at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego to honor my grandfather, Harold L. DuVal, a veteran of World War II. For the families gathered at the site near the Pacific Ocean, it is a breathtaking experience. Those leaving flowers or touching plaques want to make sure that their loved ones are not forgotten. Walking the grounds gives a good opportunity to reflect on the service and sacrifice of men and women in uniform.

While Memorial Day in May is specially designated to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice during military service, Veterans Day in November is an opportunity to show gratitude for all current and former members of the Armed Forces.

February 3 is designated as a special day to honor four specific heroes from World War II (1939-1945) and recognize their acts of self-sacrifice during a fateful night off the coast of Greenland in an area the Navy dubbed as Torpedo Alley – a treacherous stretch of the North Atlantic filled with Nazi submarines. The U.S. Army transport ship U.S.A.T. Dorchester was a cruise ship that had been repurposed to serve during wartime. It carried more than 900 military personnel, merchant marines, and civilians. Continue reading

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