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The Bishop and the Poet: Robert Barron and Bob Dylan

YouTube screenshot

On May 24, 2018, Bob Dylan turns 77 years old, and he’s lost none of the respect, admiration or importance he gained since releasing his debut album in 1962. At that time, Bishop Robert Barron was two years old. I don’t know if the two have ever met, but Dylan has had a huge effect on the media evangelist and now-auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Barron has referenced Dylan in videos and articles, and even said that his discussion of the singer’s work drew the attention of a YouTube-surfing atheist who eventually found his way back to the Faith.

Born into a Jewish family in Minnesota, Dylan appeared to make a public conversion to evangelical Christianity in the late ’70s, with the release of his Christian-themed 19th album, “Slow Train Coming.”

The emphasis on Christian-themed lyrics waned in the mid-’80s, leading to speculation that Dylan had abandoned his newfound Christianity in favor of a return to Jewish practice. Since Dylan is famously private, opinions on his religiosity are largely speculation.

From a 2017 piece at Crux:

Scott M. Marshall, in his new book Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life(BP Books, 2017), casts doubt on this hypothesis. Based on scores of interviews he conducted with many people who have been close to Dylan over the years, evaluations of public comments made by the singer since the late 1970s, and the songs penned and performed since his conversion, Marshall claims that it is wrong to confidently conclude that Dylan ever abandoned his Christian faith.

(Interestingly, he also claims that it is just as wrong to confidently conclude that Dylan ever abandoned his Jewish roots).

Part of Marshall’s thesis is that the Dylan who emerges from his 1983 Lubavitch studies, and subsequently releases Infidels, is not a restored Jew who has rejected Christ, but rather, a Hebrew Christian who has a better and deeper sense of his Judaism and the way it shapes his understanding of the biblical narrative and his relationship with God.

Because Dylan is a man who fiercely guards his privacy, nobody, not even Marshall, knows for sure.

In another Crux piece from about the same time, editor and  longtime Vaticanista John L. Allen Jr. offers a Barron quote from To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age, his interview/biography of the bishop. Barron says:

Do you remember at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when Springsteen inducts Bob Dylan and says the snare drum that opens up “Like a Rolling Stone” is like kicking open the door to your mind, and this whole world opens up?

This is cliché to say, but the Old Testament prophet is the right rubric for Bob Dylan. He’s Biblical. He’s a lot of things, of course, but above all, from beginning to end, he’s Biblical. He’s the one, perhaps more than anyone else in pop music, who brings the Biblical worldview into our time.

Buddy Holly, Woody Guthrie, Elvis and others influenced him, but it’s the Biblical take which drives his interest in sin, judgment, eternal life and God.

One of his later songs, called “I’m trying to get to Heaven before they close the door,”has stayed with me. Often when I’m in prayer in my chapel, I’ll look up at the tabernacle and say, “I’m just trying to get to Heaven before they close the door.” When it gets down to it, that’s all I want. I’m just trying to get to Heaven before they close the door.

And, on video, from 2008, when he was merely Chicago’s Father Barron:

Click here for a 2016 Word on Fire podcast, in which Barron discusses the following Dylan-related topics:

  • 0:17  – Bishop Barron at the Bob Dylan concert last weekend
  • 2:40 – Can Bob Dylan serve as a gateway to God?
  • 4:45 – Who is Bob Dylan?
  • 8:32 – Why Bob Dylan is best read as a spiritual poet
  • 10:11 – Bob Dylan’s religious views
  • 12:17 – Biblical elements of Blowin’ in the Wind
  • 15:39 – Bishop Barron on Like a Rolling Stone
  • 21:41 – Bob Dylan and the Resurrection
  • 22:10 – All Along the Watchtower and the Book of Isaiah
  • 26:41 – Finding Jesus in Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love
  • 28:43 – Question from listener: How can we evangelize in a secular workspace?

Let’s finish off with the man himself, starting with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” performed live on TV in 1963:

And, “All Along the Watchtower,” live in Woodstock in 1994 …

Lastly, from 1979, the song called by Rolling Stone the “most religious” on “Slow Train Coming” — “When He Returns” (audio only):

The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears
Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
When He returns
Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice? How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
Will I ever learn that there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
Until He returns?
Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask
He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned
He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne
When He returns 

Image: Courtesy Word on Fire

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ returning to PBS KIDS — and Amazon Prime Video

If you love big dogs and good children’s programming, you’re going to love what landed in my inbox. Scholastic Entertainment’s TV version of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” — based on Normal Bridwell’s classic children’s books — is returning to PBS Kids with new episodes, which will also stream on Amazon Prime Video.

From the inbox:

As beloved TV shows from the ’90s and ’00s find new life (and new audiences) in series revivals across platforms and networks, Scholastic Entertainment today announced the biggest reboot of all: the relaunch of its multiple Emmy-winning preschool series Clifford The Big Red Dog. Based on the best-selling Scholastic book series by Norman Bridwell featuring the larger-than-life dog and his best friend Emily Elizabeth, the reimagined animated series will launch on Amazon Prime Video and PBS KIDS in fall 2019. The series is currently in production for 39 episodes.

Scholastic Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Producer of the new series Iole Lucchese believes there is good reason Clifford has captured children’s imaginations for over 50 years. “There is something enduring in Clifford’s gentle, loyal spirit that touches fans even after they become adults,” she said. “We see it in tributes on social media and in fan art, and of course, in every parent who grew up with Clifford and now shares their love of him with their preschoolers. Clifford has always helped children understand their world and face challenges with kindness and understanding, life lessons he’ll continue to share in the new series.”

“Not only will the new Clifford The Big Red Dog series feature an expanded world and bigger adventures, it will introduce all-new designs for main characters Clifford and Emily Elizabeth, original songs and new friends,” said series producer Caitlin Friedman, the VP & General Manager of Scholastic Entertainment. “To accompany the launch of the new show, Scholastic Entertainment is developing a global publishing, broadcast, merchandise and licensing program to help further extend the positive messages of the brand to children and families around the globe.”

Although still set on Birdwell IslandClifford The Big Red Dog will offer fresh and colorful new locations. The rebooted show will also have a strong emphasis on social-emotional skills such as empathy, along with a solid curriculum designed to boost early literacy and encourage imaginative play – teaching as it entertains with Clifford-sized humor.

Clifford The Big Red Dog is produced by Scholastic Entertainment. 100 Chickens and 9 Story/Brown Bag Films are on board to help bring this great big series to life.

Here’s what Common Sense Media has to say about “Clifford”:

Parents need to know that Clifford the Big Red Dog is chock-full of positive lessons and likable characters — and may remind parents of their own childhood fascination with Clifford. Kids are often magnetically drawn to stories about Clifford because he’s the magical pet every child wishes for. The series is full of educational messages on social, emotional, and physical matters.

Common Sense Media recommends “Clifford” for ages three ad up, and gives it five out of five stars.

Good Dog!

Here’s an episode from the original series:

Image: Courtesy Scholastic Entertainment

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Saint Pope John Paul II at the Movies (Plus ‘The Princess Bride’)

Jon Voight as Pope John Paul II

Saint Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) was a towering figure in many ways. He was physically strong and vital; he was a dynamic speaker; he was the first non-Italian pope in a long time; he stood against modernism and Communism; he survived violence and oppression to stare down violence and oppression; he generated love from without and within.

He’s also a tragic hero — in that his body failed him by increments in front of the whole world, reducing the former hiker and skier to a stooped figure who could barely move or speak. At the same time, the Church he loved and led was torn apart by darkness from within in the last years of his life, when he was significantly weakened.

In short, if you had to invent a pope made for a dramatic story, you couldn’t do better than than the former Karol Józef Wojtyła of Poland.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that his life and papacy have been dramatized several times, by both American and European producers. Here’s a rundown of some of the ones worth watching.

“Pope John Paul II” (1984)

British actor Albert Finney (in his U.S. TV debut) plays the pope in a CBS TV movie that follows him from his early days as an actor in Poland to being elected pope. Writer Christopher Knopf received a 1985 WGA (Writers Guild of America) Award nomination for his screenplay.

And, here’s the whole thing:

“Karol: A Man Who Became Pope” (2005)

Produced during John Paul II’s lifetime — and seen and praised by both the film’s subject and by his successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — the European TV miniseries stars Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk as the young Karol Wojtyla, as he survives World War II to become a priest, a bishop, a cardinal and eventually pontiff.

It was set to be released in early April 2005, but was delayed until later in the month by the pope’s death on April 2 at the age of 84 (a bit over a month shy of his 85th birthday).

It was successful enough to generate a sequel, “Karol: The Pope, the Man,” which came out in 2006.

Writes film reviewer and Catholic deacon, Stephen Greydanus:

Even before production began, the Holy Father met with Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk, who plays him in the film, jokingly telling him, “You are crazy to make a film about me.” After the completed film was screened privately for the Pope, Vatican press spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls described John Paul II as “very impressed” with the portrayal. Then, following a subsequent Vatican screening the day after what would have been the Pope’s 85th birthday, Benedict XVI addressed “a word of admiration” to the director and star, offering some moral reflections on the film’s portrayals of the inhumanity of the Nazi era of Wojtyla’s youth.

Again, here’s the whole thing:

“Pope John Paul II” (2005)

After airing in the Vatican in November 2005 and then on Italian TV, this CBS TV miniseries hit U.S. airwaves in December of that year. British actor Cary Elwes (a Catholic) plays the young Karol Wojtyla, with American actor Jon Voight (also a Catholic) taking over when the Polish cardinal becomes pope.

The new Pope Benedict XVI saw the film. From a CBS News story at the time:

When Pope Benedict screened the mini-series, Voight was sitting near him. “I was able to watch him a little bit, sneak a look… I could see he was moved by it and stuff. It was quite an experience.”

Afterwards, the pope greeted Voight in Italian, probably because the movie had been dubbed in that language for the Italian audience at the screening. Voight doesn’t speak Italian.

“You can see he’s very warm and everything. I could get the words he was talking about. Very sweet.”

As for Pope John Paul II, Voight said, “I really always thought he was such a man of grace and such a moral force. Good guy. Very good guy.”

Elwes is well-known for his role as Wesley in the cult favorite “The Princess Bride,” and apparently the pontiff he was to play was a fan.

From a 2014 New York Post story:

Elwes briefly met His Holiness at the Vatican in 1988, a year after the movie was released. After posing for a quick photo, the pontiff turned to the actor and asked if he was the one from “The Princess and the Bride.” (Infallible, my backside.)

Elwes was so startled, he could barely speak. “Yes,” he answered.

“Very good film. Very funny,” the pope said.

“I mean, what are the chances of that?” Elwes tells The Post. “‘Inconceivable’ was what went through my mind.”

As for the miniseries itself, Greydanus wrote:

Reverent, respectful, well acted and well-paced, Pope John Paul II does about as good a job at covering both halves of its subject’s life as could be hoped for in a TV movie. The miniseries neatly splits its two nights between the pre-election Karol Wojtyla and the reign of Pope John Paul II, with Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) playing Wojtyla from his youth to the 1978 conclave and Jon Voight (Holes) playing John Paul II from the conclave to his 2005 death.

Both actors do a remarkably good job at evoking the speech, style and physical presence of this most media-exposed of popes. Elwes particularly excels at projecting Wojtyla’s formidable intellect and passion, and Voight is especially good at realizing the Holy Father’s pastoral spirit and iron resolve. Both actors effectively tackle the physicality of the role, Elwes energetic and athletic as the younger Wojtyla and Voight giving an impressively controlled performance from the vigor of the early years of the papacy through the slow decline to that painful final public appearance when all the pope’s immense willpower could not coax speech from his throat.

Unfortunately, the whole movie is not on YouTube. Here’s a trailer:

But, you can buy it from Ignatius Press or from Amazon.com.

“Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism”

Of more recent vintage is this documentary, produced by Ignatius Press. Narrated by “The Passion of the Christ” star Jim Caviezel, it can be streamed or purchased at Amazon.com and several other platforms (see here).

George Weigl wrote at First Things:

It took me nineteen years of research and three books (The Final RevolutionWitness to Hope, and The End and the Beginning) to do what executive producer Carl Anderson and writer/director David Naglieri have done in ninety-three minutes of gripping videography and marvelous graphics: explain how and why John Paul played a pivotal, indeed indispensable, role in the greatest drama of the last quarter of the twentieth century, the collapse of European communism. In doing so, they make us think hard, again, about how this miraculous liberation took place—something no one expected on October 16, 1978, when a little-known Polish cardinal, who styled himself the pope “from a far country,” was presented on the central loggia of St. Peter’s as the new Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis is well on his way to being put into as many TV specials and documentaries as Saint Pope John Paul II, while no great dramas have yet to be announced concerning the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

One suspects he’s fine with that.

Image: Courtesy CBS

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Mass Enthusiasm With Bishop Barron, Father Mike Schmitz and Lizzie Reezay

So, what’s the big deal about the Catholic Mass anyway? If you’re not sure about that, Internet video is here to help.

But first, a few words from St. Francis of Assisi.

Forget the things St. Francis is said to have said, which he didn’t say (like “Preach always…” and the “Peace Prayer”), here’s something he actually said (or actually wrote), from the Vatican Website:

And as [Jesus] appeared to the Apostles in true flesh, so now also He shows Himself to us in the sacred bread. And as they by their bodily sight saw only His flesh, yet contemplating Him with the eyes of the spirit believed Him to be very God, so we also, as we see our bodily eyes the bread and wine, are to see and firmly believe that it is His most holy body and blood living and true. And in this way the Lord is always with His faithful, as He Himself says: Behold I am with you until the end of the world (Mt 28,20).

That’s the supernatural event happening in every Catholic Mass, but it’s easy to lose sight of that  — especially if you either take Mass for granted or just don’t know much about what’s going on.

Luckily, there are Web resources out there to help — some more engaging than others.

For example, there’s this video from CatholicChicago, which is very informative but not exactly cinematic:

Then there’s this short video from Ascension Press’ “Altaration” series featuring former actor Father Mike Schmitz, which really captures the drama:

Or, where Father Mike takes a more one-on-one approach, in his usual video format:

Los Angeles’ Bishop Robert Barron, known for his “Catholicism” series and much more, has undertaken a new series on the Mass. It is a subject he’s dealt with before, such as in this video from November 2017:

But now he’s taken it to the next level, with an upcoming video series called, unsurprisingly, “The Mass.”

Much of it was filmed at a church in his new hometown of Santa Barbara, Calif. (he’s the auxiliary bishop of the Santa Barbara region of the huge Archdiocese of Los Angeles). The six-episode series launches June. 12.

Episode 1: A Privileged Encounter: The Closest Thing to Heaven on Earth

Episode 2: Called Out of the World: The Introductory Rites

Episode 3: God Speaks Our Story: The Scripture Readings

Episode 4: Responding to Our God: Homily, Creed and Prayer of the Faithful

Episode 5: Preparing for Sacrifice: Offertory and Eucharistic Prayer

Episode 6: The Real Presence Creates Communion: Transubstantiation and Transformation

Click here for the homepage of “The Mass,” where you can sign up for early digital access of episode one; and here for a page with more information. Below is the trailer:

And, last but not least, here’s a video from recent convert to Catholicism (from Church of Christ), 23-year-old YouTuber Lizzie Reezay, a k a LizziesAnswers, whose bubbling-over enthusiasm for the Faith is infectious.

Filmed just prior to her entering the Church this past Easter Vigil, here’s what Lizzie loves about the Mass:

BTW, Family Theater Productions’ own Web series, “Catholic Central,” is working an episode about the Mass, so keep your eyes glued to CatholicCentral.com for when that happens.

In the meantime, here’s our latest effort, a short video on Pentecost (which is this Sunday!).

Hope to see you all at Mass! (Even if you’re not Catholic, we’re always happy to have visitors; here’s a useful guide on Mass etiquette for non-Catholics.)

Image: Word on Fire; Ascension Presents; LizziesAnswers (YouTube screenshot)

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘The Twilight Zone’: Not Even the Devil Escaped Rod Serling’s Imagination

It’s May 11, a k a #TwilightZoneDay, and if you’ve never seen this classic TV series in its original 1960s incarnation, all the episodes are available at CBS All Access (and there’s a lot sprinkled across YouTube).

It was a generally secular show, but with a very definite moral core and point of view, largely due to its creator, voice and on-screen host, Rod Serling. A decorated World War II veteran and amateur boxer, Serling was raised in a Jewish household, but converted to Unitarianism to marry his wife, Carol.

He was a fearless and talented writer, who often clashed with network and studio heads over his willingness to take on controversial subjects. In “The Twilight Zone,” which originally ran from 1959 to 1964, Serling introduced and closed out the episodes, which employed excellent writers, directors and actors.

Many of the stories had science-fiction and horror themes, often used as vehicles to explore contemporary issues of politics, racism, war and even faith.

One, called “The Howling Man,” dealt specifically with a monastery where Satan is kept prisoner, and how and why he is set free.

Here’s a review:

OK, so they did a show about the Devil, but why should Catholics watch “The Twilight Zone”? I’ve gathered comments from some folks on that very subject.

From the “Why I Am Catholic” blog, in a post called “Thanks to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone”:

Whole fan sites are devoted to analyzing the moral messages and twist endings of Serling’s Twilight Zone tales. One theme of all the episodes I have viewed is Serling’s view that human beings must connect with one another. And that all humans have equal value. According to his wife, Rod Serling often said that “the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in; becoming narcissistic.”

This care for others certainly is a value we hope we are nurturing in our children. As Pope Benedict XVI says: “The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbor or hate him altogether. Saint John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”

On the same subject, from The Catholic World Report, in a story called “The Battle Against the Devil Is Still Being Fought Today”:

It’s the devil that’s in dire straits—imprisoned—in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode, “The Howling Man”, an allegorical story that depicts a Satan captured and imprisoned to curtail the wickedness he inflicts on man. The devil eventually escapes by exploiting the weakest human link, exactly the manner in which he relentlessly works on the conscience of each human being.

From “The American Catholic,” talking about an episode called “The Night of the Meek”:

Originally broadcast on December 23, 1960, the Twilight Zone episode Night of the Meek features Art Carney as a drunken Department Store Santa with a big heart who substitutes for Santa on Christmas. Rod Serling sums up the message:

A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek.

Here’s a quick summary:

And from Catholic-homeschool-focused Seton Magazine (as in Mother Ann Seton), in a post called “12 Reasons You Should Watch ‘The Twilight Zone'”: 

The Twilight Zone takes us into the mind of Rod Serling, who was an underrated observer of human nature and culture in the Twentieth Century. That is reason enough the watch the show, but the stories are top notch.

I am always searching for movies with a good message, because without a good message, movies and shows must succeed purely on the level of entertainment, and most shows fail on that level. The Twilight Zone succeeded brilliantly on both counts.

The final episode of The Twilight Zone may have aired over fifty years ago, but many of its observations are, as Serling might say, “as timeless as infinity.” You might even say it has many Catholic elements. As I watched the show as a child, most of these elements escaped me, but now I understand the deep level of significance that Serling was after.

So if you’re looking for a new show to devote your time to, you aren’t likely find a better one. As J. J. Abrams, one of today’s finest directors, said: “The Twilight Zone at its best is better than anything else I’ve ever seen on television.”

Here’s a rundown of some top installments:

Happy #TwilightZoneDay!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.