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Years ago my friend Gerry Straub underwent a spectacular modern-day conversion, from successful Hollywood TV producer and practicing atheist to downwardly mobile disciple of Jesus, following his hero, St. Francis of Assisi. Soon, he founded a Franciscan-based non-profit, the San Damiano Foundation, where he now makes groundbreaking films documenting the poorest of the worldâ€™s poor.
This week, his latest film premieres, touching upon a slightly different topic – of all things, me. It’s about my life in the New Mexico desert, my efforts to teach gospel nonviolence, and my tales from 25 years in the Christian peace movement.
Church groups and universities everywhere have shown his films, with titles such as: Endless Exodus, Embracing the Leper, Rescue Me, When Did I See You Hungry?, The Patients of a Saint, and Where Love Is. â€œI fervently believe film can touch hearts and minds,â€ Gerry told the Los Angeles Times. To The New York Times, he said, â€œMy message is for Christians who show an utter lack of concern or compassion for people who have nothing.â€
Gerryâ€™s new film about gospel nonviolence, The Narrow Path, developed over the course of some years. Gerry and I talk frequently (St. Francis is passion for both of us). During one conversation, when Gerry grew animated over the saintâ€™s voluntary poverty and his great love for the poor and marginalized, I suggested that Francis embodied radical nonviolence, as well.
From there Gerry spun out his idea. â€œLetâ€™s do a film about you in the New Mexico desert,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ll film you walking through the high desert, talking about the nonviolence of Jesus, and weâ€™ll culminate with the annual Christian gathering at Los Alamos.â€ Thatâ€™s where hundreds of us go each Hiroshima Day to sit in sackcloth and ashes to repent of the sin of war and nuclear weapons, just like the people of Nineveh did long ago.
Thus, a movie is born. The Narrow Path, some 90 minutes long on DVD – with cameos from Daniel Berrigan, Martin Sheen, Cindy Sheehan, Kathy Kelly, Ron Kovic and music by Jackson Browne, â€œLives in the Balance,â€ and Joan Baez, â€œLet it Beâ€ – is a movie set in the austere beauty of the desert where I live, atop a mesa some 7,000 feet in the air, overlooking miles of spectacular scenery, the land teeming with jackrabbits, ravens, horses, coyotes, scorpions, tarantulas, and rattlers (plus my cat) … And in the distance – the nuclear hellhole of Los Alamos.
Itâ€™s awkward undertaking such a project, but the risks notwithstanding, I hope it will spur people, especially young people, toward a life of peace work and active nonviolence; to take up the gospel journey and walk forward on that “narrow path” of gospel nonviolence toward a new world without war, poverty, or nuclear weapons.
John Dear is a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and the author of more than 20 books. He has also just released his latest book, Transfiguration (from Doubleday), and writes a weekly column for the National Catholic Reporter, at www.ncrcafe.org. The Narrow Path DVD can be shown in short chapter segments, and is an excellent resource for church groups, classes, or family viewing. Learn more at www.sandamianofoundation.org. For further information about John, or for discount bulk orders, contact: http://www.johndear.org/.