Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent: Hopeful Yearning



It's Advent.

According to Justin Holcomb writing in Christianity.com this season was not always closely linked with Christmas.

Advent has its roots as a period of 40 days of praying and fasting in anticipation of the baptism of new Christians on the feast of the Epiphany. By the 6th Century Roman Christians tied Advent to the second coming of Christ (when he comes to establish the Kingdom of God.)

But it wasn't until the Middle Ages that the connection between Advent and Christmas was solidly established, setting aside the four Sundays preceding Christmas, looking forward to the birth of Jesus.

Holcomb writes that Advent helps us consider that, in a spiritual sense, we are living in exile in the world, like modern-day refugees. Much like the Old Testament nation of Israel in Egypt waited for a savior to take them out of physical slavery.

The lyrics of one of the well known songs of the season tell the story:

O Come O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of Man appear
Rejoice Rejoice
O Israel
To Thee shall come Emmanuel

Holcomb concurs with the original intent of Advent - that it should be a season of fasting and prayer -recognizing the tension of living between the first and second coming of the Messiah.

But Advent is essentially a season of hope.

Holcomb quotes Karl Barth, "Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other Faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting."

The hope of Advent, writes Dennis Bratcher,  is that all nature would one day be reconciled with the Creator, through the work of the Messiah.

Both Bratcher and Holcomb appreciate the reality and hope of the Messiah - having been born (on Christmas), being present in the world today, and coming at a future point in time.

Advent then, should be a season to embrace that we are broken people living in a broken world. (Brennan Manning was a master at understanding this dynamic. Agniezka Tennant's profile of Manning in Christianity Today points this out.)

During the remaining weeks of Advent, feel free to use any of the following meditation points to further focus on the season.

. In what ways are you experiencing the tension of living in a broken world?

. What might God be trying to tell you about that tension or brokenness?

. How can you live in a way that brings you and others closer to the Kingdom of God?

. What practical steps can you take today to know God better?

Feel free to share your thoughts by writing a comment.


Photo credit: www.churchreporter.org













Monday, November 28, 2016

Political De-stressing



The US has just gone through a horrendous election season with one presidential candidate capturing the Electoral College vote (by 74), while the other took the actual vote (by more than 2.3 million).

And the process itself left a lot to be desired. Most major news organizations predicted the democratic candidate would win handily. It didn't happen, leaving many voters going to bed late that evening, or waking up the next morning, completely stunned.

As this post is being written, the results are being disputed by two of the political parties involved. The republican candidate during the final debate stated that he would wait to see if he'd abide by the results. He also openly said that the election process was rigged. Now, ironically, he's criticizing the recount efforts as being rigged against him.

Frustration levels are high, with both the republican and democratic candidates (who were among the most disliked candidates in modern history); and with our political system itself, including the electoral process.

What I hope to offer here is a way to get beyond the emotional gridlock that such disappointment and confusion brings.

1. Stop focusing on political news.
Give your mind time to rest. Stay informed, but not to the point of obsession. The election is behind us. It's highly unlikely that a recount challenge is going to change the electoral college vote significantly enough to influence who won.

2. Channel your frustration positively.
Frustration isn't a negative thing. It can be used to fuel positive involvement. Make an effort to find outlets for the disappointment, confusion or concern you are feeling.

3. Get involved outside of the political arena.
Volunteer to read to a child at your local elementary school. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen, food pantry or fresh food distribution. (If you don't know where your local food pantry, soup kitchen or fresh food distribution sites are, contact your local food bank.) Make a financial contribution to an organization that is currently helping to feed, clothe or educate children and their families. Pick a social issue and become passionate about it at the local level.

4. Meditate.
At it's simplest form I'm advocating taking 10-20 minutes each day to sit down, relax and get the distractions of daily living out of your mind. As a person with a Judeo-Christian viewpoint, I focus on God during this time. Inviting God to cover (or protect) the time of meditation and help facilitate a strengthening of the relationship I have with God.

5. Be purposely thankful.
For some of us, next week marks the beginning of the Advent season. Advent traditionally lends itself to circumspection. To pausing. To go deeper spiritually in anticipation of Christmas. I would add that, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, this season is a natural one for contemplation and giving thanks. And it isn't limited to any particular denomination or belief.

Being purposely thankful has lots of proven benefits. Among them less stress, increased mental health and creativity and a heart that is more readily loving, empathetic and giving.

A final note to anyone who voted republican: Although your candidate may have won the Electoral College vote, God isn't a republican. Please don't assume that God is "blessing" the president-elect in a special way, or approving his post-election actions. Please don't assume that the US has special favor in God's eyes. God is above politics. Or nations. God's perspective is much larger than ours and includes not only the earth, but the entire universe.

A final note to anyone who voted democratic: Please remember God isn't a democrat. Please don't assume the worst is going to happen. Stay vigilant, engaged, but not enraged. Remember that neither party's candidate mentioned anything specific about their policies to help the poor. (For some reason, BOTH republicans and democrats seem to think that the lowest rung on the economic ladder is the middle class.)

Jim Wallis, who has been at the forefront of social activism for decades, wrote an interesting book, On God's Side. Although it was published in 2013, Wallis was prophetic in noting that the religious right and the religious left both need to learn from each other. Here's an excerpt from On God's Side:

"A central purpose of this book is to challenge the hateful ideological warfare between the conservative and liberal sides in our ongoing political battles, as well as their inability to listen to or learn anything from each other. I believe the best idea of the conservative political philosophy is the call to personal responsibility: choices and decisions about individual moral behavior, personal relationships like marriage and parenting, work ethics, fiscal integrity, service, compassion, and security. And the best idea of the liberal philosophy is the call to social responsibility: the commitment to our neighbor, economic fairness, racial and gender equality, the just nature of society, needed social safety nets, public accountability for business, and the importance of cooperative international relationships. The common good comprises the best of both ideas—we need to be personally responsible and socially just. This is key to ending the hateful conflict and beginning to understand the other side’s contributions to the quality of our life together."

For extra credit, here's Jon Stewart's take on the recent election.

Photo Credit: Top, youtube.com



Monday, November 21, 2016

Worry & Prayer



"If you prayed as much as you worried you'd have a whole lot less to worry about."

That's Pastor Rick Warren's take on the beginning of a 34 day journey with his congregation at Saddleback Church, towards Christmas Day.

Warren went on to outline a very do-able way to keep focused on God during the holiday season.

It's a four-part strategy, consisting of:

1. Don't worry
That's straight from the 4th chapter of Philippians 4. "Don't worry about anything..."

The world can be a scary and unpredictable place. Life doesn't always go as we had planned or anticipated. The unforeseen can quickly overcome.

Nonetheless, it's good to remember that worry actually doesn't change anything. It only adds pressure and can actually get in the way of creative solutions.


2. Pray about everything
Again from Philippians 4. "...instead [of worrying], pray about everything."

Despite what our natural mind might tell us, praying is a very practical thing to do. It calms our spirit. (It releases hormones that result in calming us down.) And it's a great way to release the pent up, negative energy that surrounds worry. Clearing the way for level-headed, God-centered, spiritually-minded solutions.

In case you need convincing, Psychology Today has listed five major benefits of prayer.


3. Thank God in all things.
Still from Philippians "Thank God for all God has done."

The act of giving thanks puts us in a thankful mood.

This past Sunday at church, during a worship song, members of our congregation were encouraged to come up and say a few words about something they were thankful for. One ten year old came up and thanked God for healing her Mom. She had been suffering from the effects of a concussion for three months. It had been a long and frequently intense struggle, but overnight, she was healed. (The mom had posted the story on social media a few days before.)

We're a small church, so everyone there knew what the family had been going through. To say that this was powerfully uplifting is an understatement.


4. Stay focused on true things.
By 'true things' Warren explained he meant God's word, and the character of God and the promises of God contained in it. The idea comes from Philippians 4.8 "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and and right and pure, and lovely, and admirable."

There's a spiritual dimension to life. Although the natural world reflects this, the spiritual side of things are much, much bigger and ultimately more important.

Going a bit deeper, Warren offered a simple way to remember who and what to pray for, using your hands as a guide.

WHO to pray for (using your left hand):
1. thumb = family and friends
2. index finger = leaders and teachers
3. middle or tallest finger = those who influence us
4. pinkie or weakest finger = kids, the elderly, the poor, those who are sick
5. myself

WHAT to pray for (using your right hand):
1. thumb = my heart and the hearts of others
2. index finger = my priorities and schedule
3. middle or tallest finger = my example and influence
4. ring finger = relationships
5. pinkie = material blessings

In a previous teaching, Warren encouraged people to make a commitment to pray three times a day. He suggested taking 4-5 minutes in the morning, at mid-day and in the evening. But, he emphasized it didn't matter what time of day you prayed as long as you did it.

Towards the end of his teaching Warren mentioned "The more grateful you are in life the more breakthroughs you'll have."

By breakthrough he meant significant progress in answers to prayer.

Although I'm not a member of Saddleback Church, I've decided to take Warren up on this focus and way of praying. Especially being thankful, before the rush of the holidays, to have a template to make this season more meaningful.

Photo Credit: 9Health Fair











Monday, November 14, 2016

Are we becoming intellectually illiterate?



Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the NewYork Times about the prevalence of "alternate news" sources, mostly spread via the internet, that peddle nothing but false news, based on pure fabrication.

He gave examples: According to one website, the Democratic presidential candidate was involved in a satanic cult and an international child enslavement and sex trafficking ring. Of course both of these accusations were without basis. Among the hundreds of people adamantly believing and sharing this misinformation was someone I know.

So Kristof''s example really hit home, hard.

And it frightened me.

I've written about being careful in choosing sources of news. (Including steering clear of talk radio, television news and fake-news websites as our primary news sources.)

Breitbart News is an example of a website that offers thinly disguised racism and xenophobia as news.  USA Today has reported that the president-elect has chosen Stephen Bannon as his chief White House strategist and counselor. Bannon is the CEO of Breitbart News.

Speaking of the danger of false news being spread via social media, President Obama recently mentioned, "If we are not serious about facts and what's true and what's not...If we can't discriminate between serious agreements and propaganda, then we have problems."

Years ago I taught a class on Research Writing & Rhetoric. The first lesson each semester always included a challenge to check sources of information.

Part of this process involved explaining the difference between a fact, an inference and a judgment.

The textbook I was using offered a really good example. Say you were invited to your Uncle Jim and Aunt Maggie's home for Christmas dinner. As you walk into the living room Uncle Jim is standing next to the Christmas Tree, smoking a cigar. You walk past him into the dining room. A few moments after you sit down to eat, smoke is seen coming from the living room.

One relative says, "Smoke is coming from the living room!" That's a fact. You can see the smoke and smell it.

Someone else at the table adds, "The Christmas Tree's on fire!" That's an inference - there's smoke coming from the living room. The Christmas Tree is in the living room. Therefore, the cause of the smoke must be the Christmas Tree. But no one has gotten up from the table to check to see if this is an accurate statement.

Another person declares with conviction, "Uncle Jim is so careless!" That's a judgment, coming from the inference that the Christmas Tree must be on fire.

The smoke could have been caused by a variety of things - for instance, a spark from faulty wiring igniting a piece of paper nearby.

Are you beginning to see how the connection between fact, inference and judgement works?

In his article, Kristof's main point was that there are a proliferation of website-based and talk show- based "news" sources that skip right past facts to inferences. In many cases (as with the example of the Democratic candidate being part of a satanic cult), there isn't any fact behind the inference, leading the reader down the path of forming a negative opinion that's not even faintly based in reality.

And that's how intellectual illiteracy spreads.

Intellectual illiteracy happens when we substitute inferences and judgments and even opinions for facts.

Someone who cannot read is left wide open to a false impression of a book, or any written material. And someone who doesn't think logically, based on factual information, is left wide open to be influenced by wildly false and inaccurate conclusions.

Decision making involves discernment. And discernment is, at least in part, a spiritual act.

We are living in an age where intellectual illiteracy spills over into all areas of life. Including our spiritual side. If we aren't able to get in touch with our souls, our spiritual health suffers, and we're in danger of becoming spiritually inarticulate.

Over time, we can lose the ability to communicate with our souls or even hear what our souls are trying to tell us. Truth, at its deepest level, involves a spiritual dimension. That's where our conscience and true wisdom come from.

Let's take a couple of real life examples of how this plays out.

According to a NY Times exit poll, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the Republican presidential candidate, fully aware of that candidate's unchristian behavior. As did 58 percent of Protestant Christians. The Washington Post exit poll arrived at the same conclusion as did the Pew Research Center.  

Why would anyone who professes that their Christian faith is important vote for someone whose actions show they aren't a "true believer?"

86 percent of those who voted for the Republican presidential candidate support building a wall across the Mexican border. But the fact is, since the Great Recession, more Mexicans are leaving the US than entering. A Pew Research Center study confirms this.

Why would such a high percentage of Republican voters say building a wall across Mexico is important when the data shows that it's unnecessary? (Not to mention extremely expensive at an estimated cost of $25 billion.)

We tend to vote with our feelings when continually exposed to inaccurate information presented as fact. And without having the benefit of spiritual discernment, that's how we become unduly influenced by fear and insecurity.

Entire nations have suffered from the effects of such morally broken decision making.

Let's earnestly pray that ours doesn't.

Photo Credit: from Technical Efficiency Coaching



Monday, November 7, 2016

The Real Hero of Hacksaw Ridge

HACKSAW RIDGE is a film based, very closely, on the life of Pfc. Desmond Doss, who was a medic during World War II.

Doss grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of William and Bertha Doss. William was a World War I veteran who was an alcoholic suffering from PTSD.

As a child, the younger Doss was drawn to an illustration on one of the walls of his home that depicted the Ten Commandments. In particular, the Sixth Commandment (Thou Shall Not Kill) which showed Cain murdering his brother Abel.

After witnessing a particularly violent fight between his father and uncle, Doss swore off guns. He became a fervent Seventh Day Adventist, mainly due to the influence of Bertha.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Doss was working in a shipyard in Newport News, making him eligible for a deferral. But he felt it was his moral duty to enlist. The challenge, which the film emphasizes, was that Doss refused to hold a gun or kill an enemy soldier, because it was against his personal and religious beliefs. (Holly Meyer's article in USA Today does a great job of detailing the beliefs behind Doss' actions, noting that Seventh Day Adventists adhere to a policy of nonviolence but allow followers to serve in the military as noncombatants.)

As you might well imagine, Doss was subjected to physical and verbal abuse while in boot camp. His fellow soldiers felt that Doss' faith, combined with his slight physical stature, would make him a major liability on the battlefield.

Doss proved them wrong.

During the battle of Okinawa, as a medic for the 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division at Urasoe Mura, the division came under heavy fire. They were trying to take a 740 foot high escarpment and came under heavy fire.

According to Doss' Medal of Honor citation, he carried 75 wounded soldiers, one-by-one, back to the edge of the escarpment and lowered them down by rope to receive medical treatment.

During a night attack, Doss was seriously wounded. Rather than calling for another medic to leave cover to help him, Doss waited five hours before stretcher bearers came. Caught in an enemy tank attack. Doss, seeing that another soldier was critically wounded, crawled off the stretcher and told the stretcher bearers to take care of the wounded man first.

While waiting for the stretcher bearers to return, Doss was hit by a sniper bullet that resulted in a compound fracture of his arm. He bound the wound, using his rifle as a splint, and crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station.

For his valor, Doss received the Congressional Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart.

Doss eventually married Dorothy Schutte, whom he met before the War and they remained married until her death in 1991. Desmond passed away in 2006. They had one son, Desmond, Jr., who was recently interviewed by Mike Miller for an article in People Magazine.

In the article Desmond, Jr. gives kudos to Mel Gibson's film, HACKSHAW RIDGE:  "I grew up in a household where there was an endless stream of people coming through the door wanting to make a movie, write a book..." The reason Desmond's dad refused to grant their requests was "none of them adhered to his one requirement, that it be accurate. And I find it remarkable the level of accuracy in adhering to the principal of the story in this movie."

The elder Desmond spent the rest of his life devoted to serving his church. Doss never took credit for his heroic actions. "He just wanted to give all the glory to God," his son said.

Mel Gibson does an outstanding job in directing HACKSAW RIDGE and coaxing a beautifully understated performance by Andrew Garfield (who plays Desmond). The trick was to portray a man of remarkable moral character who was not physically commanding, and Garfield does a great job of this. Teresa Palmer portrays Dorothy with a seasoned grace that shows there is much below the surface. And in an atypical role for him, Vince Vaughn does a fine job as Sergeant Howell (Desmond's drill sergeant). Luke Bracey does an admirable turn as Smitty, a soldier who slowly changes from active loathing of Doss in boot camp, to recognizing Doss'  uncommon valor in the line of fire.

Normally I avoid military-minded films and don't promote them. But I found that the cumulative effect of HACKSAW RIDGE's battle scenes served to accentuate the utter (and ultimate) futility of war. HACKSAW RIDGE is not primarily a film about war; it's a statement about faith. There simply was no other way to show the extent of Doss' remarkable courage and moral character apart from the battlefield upon which they were demonstrated.

Be advised: A large portion of HACKSAW RIDGE centers on the battle of Okinawa. These scenes are graphic and openly gruesome. The blood flows as the carnage flies. However, the film sets itself apart from most war films in that the gore of war isn't made trivial or glorified. If anything, the battle scenes serve to underscore Desmond Doss' amazing faith and moral foundation.


Photo Credits: Records of Virginia World War II History Commission


Monday, October 31, 2016

An Atypical Election



To say that this presidential election season has been atypical is an understatement.

By now, most of you who are eligible will have made up your minds. But, for those who have not, I offer the following.

This is an era of rapid-fire social media that offers opinions without facts at the speed of light. So I targeted major daily newspaper endorsements because typically a newspaper's editorial board will offer plenty of factual reasons for choosing the candidates they support.

The Democratic presidential candidate has received the support of 215 daily newspapers, while the Republican candidate has received only 8. Overall, the Democratic candidate has garnered a total of 389 newspaper and magazine endorsements, while the Republican candidate has received eight. Only one major daily newspaper (the Las Vegas Review-Journal) has chosen to endorse the Republican candidate.

USA Today's editorial board broke a tradition of not supporting any presidential candidate, by endorsing the Democratic runner. In part, USA today explained, "Trump has demonstrated that he lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents."

One of the more noteworthy endorsements for the Democratic candidate came from the Arizona Republic. It has never endorsed a Democrat since its inception in 1890, being a fiercely conservative newspaper. Nonetheless, the Arizona Republic's editorial stated "The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and is not qualified. That's why, for the first time in our history, the Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president."

In such a heated campaign, it's natural for the candidates to cherry-pick the truth to make their points. But there is a marked difference between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in this regard.

PolitiFact, which has earned a Pulitzer Prize, reported that the Democratic candidate has a 50 percent truth telling ratio (145 out of 287 statements being true or mostly true), while the Republican candidate came in at 4 percent (15 of 315 statements being true or mostly true). Perhaps more telling, the Republican candidate had 55 statements being rated as liar-liar-pants-on-fire while, the Democratic candidate had a total of seven statements in this category.

Even among conservative evangelical Christians, support for the Republican presidential candidate has been dropping. Most notably in response to the release of a video in which the candidate bragged about his sexual advances on women. Women make up more than half of the evangelical church in America. And over 800 of them signed on to a letter denouncing the Republican candidate within hours of its publication.

And the dissent among evangelicals isn't limited to whites. Minority evangelicals voiced their disapproval of the Republican presidential candidate way before the outpouring tied to the letter written a few weeks ago.

The Republican candidate has made many attention-getting remarks throughout the campaign. There are too many of them to go into detail here, but if you're interested I'll refer you to what Newsday has recorded.

This tactic of making outrageous statements that stoke fear and bigotry has worked very well for the Republican candidate. One wonders, without this questionable trait, would he have even been nominated in the first place?

The Republican candidate says he has the ability to Make America Great Again. It would seem a leader would need to be able to draw a diverse population together in order to achieve that goal. Something the Republican presidential candidate and the Republican party, in general, have not been able to do.

A recent article in the LA Times noted that the candidates seem to be getting their support from two different Americas. The Republican candidate's base is white and heavily male. The Democratic candidate's support is much more diverse and reflects the reality of present day America. (The LA Times referenced a report from the Pew Research Center that estimated a 17 percent increase in Latino voters and 16 percent increase in Asian voters from 2012 to 2016.)

In the end, the choice, come election day, may come down to which version of America do you prefer? One that seems rooted in the past, giving in to fear of the future; or one that embraces the future, believing that America will be able to face its challenges? The choice isn't yours if you don't choose to vote.

Regardless of how you feel about the candidates, or the campaign process itself, please vote on November 8. 

Photo Credit. uconntoday















Monday, October 24, 2016

13th: Review of film by Ava DuVernay



"Neither slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States." 13th Amendment to the US Constitution


13th, a documentary by Ava DuVernay (director of SELMA), begins with a stark statistic.

The United States holds 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners.

13th (titled after the 13th amendment) seeks to answer the question: Why?

DuVernay picks up the story after the Civil War, making a case that targeted incarceration of blacks began as a means to rebuild the Southern economy.

Lynchings became increasingly more common during the Reconstruction era, setting the stage for Jim Crow legislation, a series of state and local laws in the South that enforced racial segregation.

The "separate but equal" status they sought to justify was anything but.

In 1954 the US Supreme Court struck down segregation in public schools, but the practice still remained. Causing Martin Luther King Jr. to comment years later, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied."

13th makes the point that after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, mass incarceration of blacks began. Prior to that time, the incarceration rate had been flat, but the sheer volume of people in prison speaks to the point: In 1970 there were 357,292 people in prisons across the US. By 1985 that number had increased to 759,100. And by 1980 there were 1.1 million people in prison.

A big part of the reason for the increase was the infamous "War on Drugs" started during the Nixon Administration. 13th makes a case that the War On Drugs turned drug addiction to a crime issue rather than a social issue.

A decade later, Ronald Reagan took the economic inequality that existed among the races, bringing the War on Drugs to another level, instilling a fear and law-and-order attitude in relating to inner city communities. During this time period (mid to late 1980s) criminologists coined the term "super predators" in an attempt to identify minority members who committed crimes.

The effect of this stereotyping was plainly evident. "We make them their crime" said Bryan Stevenson, head of the Equal Justice Initiative. "You have then educated a public, deliberately, over decades to believe that black men in particular, and black people in general, are criminals."

The administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton featured the continuance of the get-tough-on-crime message. (Bush pushed for and signed the Crime Control Act of 1990, while Clinton pushed for and signed the Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act of 1994). And the number of people in prison continued to grow. From 1,179,200 in 1990 to 2,015,300 in 2001.

During President Clinton's tenure in office, in particular, he signed into law a bill that helped fuel further expansion of the prison system, and eventual privatization of it, making it a multi-million dollar industry. Of that bill, Clinton was to later admit: "I made a mistake. I signed a bill that made the problem worse."

In 2014 the US prison population was 2,306,200. (Keep in mind that 40% of those incarcerated in prisons across the country are black.) Even though the incarceration rate has leveled off in the past year, 13th points out that if you are a black man, you have a one in three chance of being incarcerated.

As an example of how police can target minorities, before Ferguson became famous, there was an average of 3 warrants per household in the city, which is 67 percent black. An investigation found that most of these warrants were for minor offenses.

13th ends with a visual montage of disturbing images of photos of slaves with scars from whippings and lynchings to civil rights marches. The narrator says "This is what segregation looks like."

The final quote of the documentary comes from Bryan Stevenson, who takes the part of a person who asks: "How could you have tolerated slavery and lynchings? Segregation? If I had been living in a time like that, I would never have tolerated it." Stevenson goes on to make the point, "But the truth is we are living in a time like that, and we are tolerating it."

Throughout the film, DuVernay includes several experts to back up the points her film makes, including Stevenson, Jelani Cobb (Professor of African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut), Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Professor of History at Harvard University), John Hagan (Professor of Sociology & Law at Northwestern University), Malkia Cyril (Director of Center for Media Justice) and Charles Rangel (Congressman from New York City).

DuVernay's documentary isn't easy to watch, but it remains engaging and necessary in its straightforward examination of the incarceration system in the US.

Here's the trailer to 13th.