Posted by: C.E. Chambers | August 3, 2015

Tent City Jewels: Homeless Encampments That Work

[Update October 2015: United We Stand has a new phone number: 1-206-941-1932.  The fledgling tent city recently obtained recognition from Washington state as a non-profit organization.]

A tour in late April of two remarkable tent cities in Shoreline, Washington…as well as conversations with some of the people who reside in them.  But first: Who are the people who provide dinners every Tuesday night to Tent City 3 and United We Stand?

♥  Scroll down to the purple headline if you’d prefer to start with the author’s first-hand accounts of her tour of the camps. 

Puyet was deftly cutting tangerines in half through the middle and placing them in an attractive glass bowl. The cut sides were facing upwards and looked like giant glistening, sectioned jewels. Paul, a seasoned world traveler who had just returned from Venice, was standing on her left and was rapidly peeling more tangerines to keep up with Vietnam-born Puyet.

Massive pots containing sauces, soup, and rice were simmering on the stainless steel commercial stove in St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church’s well-equipped kitchen in Shoreline. Marlin, acting as if his life depended on it, was busily cutting loaves of garlic bread into hefty hunks in preparation for toasting them in the oven. Working away from the fray was a tall, aristocratic-looking man with sculpted white hair who was wearing a long, industrial-strength black plastic apron. He was focused like a laser beam on the dirty kitchen ware.

“This last half hour is when I begin to stress out a little,” Josef Hinkofer, the head chef, who was apprenticed as a cook at the age of fourteen in Germany, was smiling through his black, bushy moustache as he talked to me over his shoulder. Dressed in summer slacks and a button-down shirt, he was stirring the coconut milk and chicken sauce. He had added sliced Portobello mushrooms after sauteing them in a little butter. Quickly checking the food in the other pots, he handed me a stack of beige-colored ceramic soup bowls to place on the serving tables in the dining room and moved at warp speed in that direction.

The sweeping, well-planned lobby of the church doubles as the dining room; immense windows on the south side overlook the “tended informal gardens.” Serving tables were already displaying enormous stainless steel pans stuffed with lettuce that had been topped with thick slices of succulent, ruby-red tomatoes. Similarly sized rectangle pans of steaming hot apple cobbler would soon appear.

Everyone was working against the clock to meet a 5:30 p.m. deadline for a dynamic two-fold outreach to the community. The volunteers – anywhere from four to twelve show up – arrive at 3:00 p.m. to set up tables and chairs and assist Josef in the kitchen. (Not all of them are parishioners from St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church.)

Josef, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1975 and is currently employed as a meat cutter at a Safeway grocery store in Seattle, had been pounding the pavement since 9:30 a.m. He gleans “distressed produce” and day old bakery goods on Tuesdays from two participating Safeway stores, and, while on the run, formulates a balanced and nutritious dinner menu in his head according to the foodstuffs available that week. By 2:00 p.m., he begins prepping and cooking in the church’s kitchen. Generous donations by members of St. Dunstan’s enable him to purchase meat and other provisions.

Every Tuesday evening, since August 2014, approximately 100 people from various economic backgrounds converge on the quaint church in Shoreline for a “Free Community Dinner.” Situated next to four heavily-trafficked lanes on 145th Street, the building is nonetheless invitingly nestled in an almost six-acre wooded tract that contains cherry, pine, and cedar trees, as well as salal bushes – an indigenous shrub that produces dark, juicy berries much prized by Native Americans.

Reverend David Marshall, who’s served as a rector at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church since 2009, regularly attends the weekly community outreach and partakes of the substantial dinner. Tall, lanky, and exuding a natural warmth, he’s very recognizable in traditional black clerical clothing and an eggshell-white full collar. He converses easily with the diners who sit near him.

The free dinner is just the tip of a very controversial iceberg. On Tuesdays, Josef Hinkofer and his volunteers also prepare enough food for two remarkably well-structured and well-maintained tent cities that could become successful – if not astonishing – prototypes for homeless people in other cities and possibly in other states.

Tent City 3 (TC3) and United We Stand (UWS: a “rebel” offshoot of TC3) are currently located in the city of Shoreline. TC3 was established in 2000. (St. Dunstan’s has had an outreach to the camp for more than three years.) TC3 has a self-imposed maximum occupancy of 100 people; UWS allows 35. They are presently encamped on land owned by two different churches that gladly share their power and water. (Tent City 4 is currently encamped in Issaquah and is not covered in this article.)

Normally, churches contract to host the tent cities; however, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University, and Temple Beth Am have also allowed TC3 to encamp on their land. Per agreement between local governments, communities, and churches, the tent cities must relocate every ninety days. Extensions sometimes occur.

Both TC3 and UWS are self-governing and democratic. Their camps are clean, secure, and humane, thanks to a very cogent and viable Code of Conduct that all residents must honor or face expulsion: No littering, drugs, alcohol, weapons, violence, physical or verbal abuse, sexual harassment, etc. Open fires and smoking in the tents is not allowed.

Potential residents who apply to live in one of these two tent cities must provide valid picture I.D. which is checked by the local police department. People with outstanding warrants or who are registered as sex offenders are turned away.

An elected Executive Committee ensures that rules and policies are implemented and performs intake on potential new residents. Security Staff – a rotating three-hour shift that’s required of all residents – also protects the camp 24-hours per day from rule-breakers and, in addition, performs litter control, perimeter checks, and inspects the portable toilets.  Loitering and disturbing the neighbors in and around the camps is not tolerated; in fact, as a community service, Security Staff patrol the neighborhood within the two-block radius around them. (See police and community feedback after this article.)

A Kitchen Coordinator oversees donated food items, keeps an inventory, and helps “disseminate” large quantities of food. A Donations Coordinator oversees all non-food donations and helps distribute them to the residents of the camp. The Move Coordinator (called a “Move Master” by TC3) facilitates all matters relating to the relocation of the camp. There is also a Bookkeeper. (TC3 also has a Tent Master and a Bike Master. )

Charitable non-profit organizations such as SHARE/WHEEL (which advocates for TC3 but not for UWS), and Greater Seattle Cares (which has an outreach to both TC3 and UWS) receive funding from grants, philanthropic organizations, and private donors to provide essential items such as portable toilets, dumpsters, blankets, and bus tickets (for job interviews, doctor’s appointments, etc.). This includes material support for items such as propane and plywood (sleeping bags are laid on plywood that is positioned on wood pallets, for example).  (Josef is on the board of Greater Seattle Cares.)

C.E. Chambers’ Tours of Tent City 3 and United We Stand

It was raining on that Tuesday night in late April 2015 as I rode with Josef in his 2003 Chevy Silverado to deliver dinner to the residents of Tent City 3 in Shoreline. TC3 is currently hosted by the Shoreline Free Methodist Church. (Update: TC3 relocated to property owned by St. Dunstan’s Church on June 13, 2015.  Read community and police feedback about their 2014 encampment at that site after the article.)

A long driveway leads to the back of the church and a large paved parking lot; the encampment, beyond the curb, is almost hidden from view: forest-green security tarps have been installed along the perimeters and only the carnival-colored peaks from the tallest tents are visible behind them: blue, brown, beige, purple, and green.

At the entrance, Security Staff resolutely sit inside a stark, three-sided black tent regardless of the weather. A dark-haired woman sitting behind a desk was simultaneously eyeing us and assisting three men, all standing, who looked as if they were eagerly waiting to receive information. An empty coffee pot sat desolately next to the desk as a curtain of light rain fell outside the open end of the tent.

Josef keeps a tight schedule and four or five men from different ethnic backgrounds and age groups were waiting joyfully as he arrived in his truck. Women eagerly joined them amid the drip, drip, drip of cold rain, and they helped unload the sacks and various containers containing food. Most of them were wearing hoodies.

“This might be the only hot meal they will eat today,” Josef had shared earlier with me.

The occupancy rate that night was 105. As stated, TC3 allows a maximum of 100 residents. However, as Josef shared, “If someone tumbles off a bus in Seattle and has no place to go, they won’t be turned away.” New arrivals (who are sometimes referred to as the “overflow”) must be “clean and sober”; they normally stay one night. A member of the Executive Committee acquaints them with other organizations that provide shelter for the homeless.

Newcomers, for obvious and excellent reasons, are scrutinized closely when entering the sanctuary of a tent city. However, Josef has been a faithful friend and advocate of the homeless for many years and I was accepted without question along with him. Following the dirt path that turned right after the Security Tent, he pointed out the communal Pantry Tent, the Kitchen Tent, and the TV tent. On the left were the Office Tent (opposite the Security Tent), the Blanket Tent, and the Computer Tent.

I walked carefully on sheets of plywood that had been placed over the by-now muddy ground. Josef, who had been cooking and delivering food to TC3’s various encampments for almost seven years, sprinted ahead of me.

There is no wasted space – or litter – in TC3. The tents, large and small, are grouped strategically in tight rows. The well-maintained spic-and-span camp exudes an almost immediate impression of compact tidiness. Nothing seemed out-of-order in the utility tents or around the living quarters. The metaphor “clean as a whistle” is an appropriate, non-exaggerated description of the camp.

As one resident shared later: “Just because we live outside, it doesn’t mean we have to be dirty.”

Standing on a large scrap of plywood, I counted the number of Honey Buckets – which are serviced every week – that were grouped together near the tents used for living quarters: There were five; one is designed for the handicapped. I pulled the hood of my plum-colored sweatshirt, splotched with the increasing rain, down over my head even more. Standing just a few feet away were more than a dozen somber residents who had queued patiently outside the tent where Josef’s provisions were being served. They were shivering slightly under the gloomy, inhospitable skies.

J.V., working his shift as a member of the Security Staff, passed by wearing the requisite fluorescent-yellow jacket. Slightly built, mustachioed, and missing a tooth in a conspicuous spot, he readily and articulately answered my questions. He pointed out the four large tents that were grouped together on the left. Two of the “dorm tents” are living quarters for single males; one dorm tent is for females; and the “mash tent” is divided into three sections and can accommodate three couples.

Across the very narrow dirt walkway in front of the dorm tents – one could probably leap across it – are thirty-five single occupancy tents (8’x8′); twenty-two tents for couples (in three different sizes); and one family tent (10’x16′). They’re squeezed side-by-side in neat rows.

Josef and I then drove to the United We Stand tent city.  Currently hosted by the Richmond Beach Congregational Church, there were 25 people in residence that night. (Update: UWS relocated to Bethel Lutheran Church on August 1, 2015.)  A dirt driveway on a gentle rise leads to the three-sided black Security Tent that sits front and center: Staff can easily monitor all vehicles entering or leaving from that direction as well as foot traffic. To the left, erected on a sloping, tree-filled expanse of land, are tents that can accommodate 35 homeless people; they look like large, murky shadows behind a high, green mesh security screen.

To the right of the Security Tent are the utility tents that are also hidden behind a high mesh screen.  Josef and I headed to the pristine utility tents at a fast trot while carrying covered white plastic tubs of hot rice, the coconut milk and chicken sauce, and another aromatic concoction. “This is the spicy sauce,” Josef smilingly pointed out to a Donations Coordinator. There were few residents visible.

A tall, stocky, young man named Jonathan eagerly followed me back to Josef’s truck to retrieve more provisions: A large sack full of juice, milk, and compostable plates. Jonathan explained that he was a transplant from New Mexico. Later, as Josef and I were leaving, he expressed, with wrinkled brow and visible consternation, his concern regarding the availability of bus tickets: A large monthly donation from a particular donor was scheduled to end. Jonathan has a temp job working in construction in another city.

United We Stand was formed when approximately 25 residents broke away from Tent City 3 in late October 2014. TC3 was camped at that time at Haller Lake United Methodist Church in Seattle which had offered to host them for a few weeks beyond the normal 90-day contract. TC3 declined the offer – there are differing explanations for this depending on who you talk to – and decided to relocate instead to vacant land under a freeway overpass in the Ravenna area of Seattle without the customary permit. However, some residents, especially those who had found employment, felt substantial “angst” regarding possible sanitary issues (there was no hook-up for the portable shower that volunteers from Greater Seattle Cares had built) and wanted to remain at Haller Lake.

All residents are allowed a voice and a vote, and a very contentious debate ensued. About one-fourth of the residents were upset enough to form United We Stand and the fledgling tent city camped, by turns, at two different parks in Seattle for a few weeks until receiving permission to encamp at Haller Lake United Methodist Church.

King County’s largest shelter network, SHELTER/WHEEL, continues to advocate for TC3. However, it does not provide support, financially or materially, to United We Stand.

A few days after touring the two camps with Josef, I returned to the UWS encampment. It was a balmy, sunny day and the still waters of the Puget Sound were shimmering one-half mile away. Dennis, one of the residents I’d met before, had received the dog he’d been hoping to adopt from a “friend of a friend”: a Pit Bull Terrier Burmese Mountain Sheepdog mix. Dalya was laying comfortably in an attractive pink carrier that had been attached to an adult mobility walker.

Dennis, light-haired and blue-eyed with a buzz cut – and invariably polite, calling me “ma’am” – has been a resident of United We Stand since December 2014 and is a member of the Executive Committee. He helps enforce the rules and performs intake on potential new residents. Dennis, who’s in his 40s, had been homeless years before, and was working as a bill collector in 2000 when his wife, Penny, became bedridden. He gave up his job to serve as her unpaid, full-time caretaker. She passed away in 2011 and he was subsequently diagnosed with “social anxiety and severe depression.” Unemployed, he lived off his life savings until August 2014 when he couldn’t afford to pay the rent on his apartment any longer.

He “bounced around” the Lake City area of Seattle and lived in doorways. He visited food banks but preferred to sleep on the streets rather than in established community shelters. A few months ago he began to receive “less than $200 a month” from DSHS’s Aging, Blind and Disabled program which enables him to pay for public showers, a storage locker ($60/mos.), as well as provide for his new puppy. (Dalya receives free veterinary service through a program hosted by the Union Gospel Mission.) Dennis receives approximately $194 per month in food stamps. He hopes to qualify soon for Federal Supplemental Security Income and his name is on three housing lists.  (Read an update about Dennis and other residents after this article.)

Currently, nine men and two female residents of UWS have obtained jobs from temporary employment agencies or from compassionate neighbors in Shoreline. A family with two children were recent, short-term residents until members of a Mormon church arranged for them to live in a hotel.

I’d been wondering how the residents of the tent cities survive the Pacific West’s cold, damp climate in the winter. A few days before, I’d spent less than an hour touring TC3 and UWS during a moderate but cold rain shower and my feet had felt like they were encased in ice when I arrived home. Dennis shared that some churches, including their current host, add a provision to the 90-day encampment contract that ensures access to the inside of the church building when the weather is “freezing” (in his words), in addition to customary access during services.

My husband had waited in the car for me while I made the short visit to UWS. Under the warm sun, it looked – and even felt – like a different camp. A man was constructing a platform next to the Security Tent with plywood and two-by-fours. A woman with a young girl, who’d parked her car in the church’s concrete parking lot on the south side, was visiting a friend who’s a resident at the camp. A few of the residents were milling about and chomping contentedly on large taco salads.

As we left, a red SUV that had been waiting on the street pulled into the dirt driveway; the driver pulled out trays of food from the back. It was a good day…tomorrow is a question mark.

Tours of the tent cities are available; please ask for a member of the Executive Committee.  Tent City 3 (1-206-399-0412). United We Stand (a new phone number since Sept. 2015: 1-206-941-1932).

Feedback:  Tent City 3 had very successfully encamped at St. Dunstan’s Church in 2014 (and returned June 2015).  Read an excerpt about the 2014 encampment (including police and community input) written by Reverend David Marshall from St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church’s Weekly Highlights (available via email), June 11, 2015: “Celebrating Our Ministries: Hosting Tent City 3”:

“Last year, a few weeks after Tent City 3 moved off of our property, one of our closest neighbors came by the church to speak with me. He said, ‘I was nervous about having them here, but I have to say they were great. I would support you having them back any time.  About a month after that we got a call from the Shoreline police asking when we would host TC3 again. It turns out that there is less crime, and so less need for patrols, on the Interurban Trail when Tent City is hosted at St. Dunstan’s Church….”

UPDATE August 1, 2015:  I happened to visit United We Stand while the residents were in the process of relocating from Richmond Beach Congregational Church to Bethel Lutheran Church (also in Shoreline).  They had arrived at the latter church about 1:00 p.m. after tearing down their camp.  Bill Bear, a board member of Greater Seattle Cares — who, like Josef Hinkofer, had contributed invaluable input while I was writing “Tent City Jewels” — had hired a U-Haul and made trips between the two churches.

I arrived in the early evening and most of the heavy, bulky wooden pallets (to lay sleeping bags on) were in place and the residents were earnestly erecting tents.  It’s not an easy task, and people in the community (including six or seven members from Operation Nightwatch) and from at least one church had volunteered to help.  Temps had been in the 90s; it was still sizzling about 6:45 p.m. when I showed up.

Dennis shared that his puppy, Dalya, was in the care of friends who live in an apartment.  About two weeks ago, he began selling the award-winning street publication called Real Change in downtown Seattle and takes two buses to a street where there’s a shady spot.  I also spoke to Jonathan, who was in good spirits, although looking for work.  He’s a member of the Executive Committee now.  I finally met Mike, formerly on the Executive Committee, who’s 58-years-old; we had spoken numerous times by phone.  He’s been homeless since July 2014 after living with and caring for an elderly relative for many years.

© C.E. Chambers 2015 (a pseudonym used by Diana Einarsen since 1999)

From the SHARE/WHEEL and Greater Seattle Cares websites (unless enclosed in brackets):

SHARE/WHEEL: “SHARE, founded in 1990, is Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (co-ed). WHEEL, founded in 1993, is the Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League (women-only). We are partners of homeless and formerly homeless men and women. All of our efforts are self-managed; run by the homeless members themselves. We are King County’s largest shelter network, with 15 indoor shelters and 2 Tent Cities [i.e., Tent City 3 and Tent City 4]. In addition to shelters and Tent Cities, we facilitate a Storage Locker Program and a Housing-For-Work Program called SHARE2. We are not a social service organization; we are a self-help group.”

Greater Seattle Cares:  “Greater Seattle Cares was established in 2005 to provide a vehicle for local communities to connect with Tent City 3 for the provision of the residents’ daily needs and to facilitate their transition to independent living. [GSC has had an outreach to United We Stand since its founding in late 2014.] To achieve this mission, we strive to:
Build a network of caring individuals and community partners committed to enhancing the quality of life of the residents.
Coordinate efforts to deliver meals, clothing and supplies to the residents.
Communicate needs and advocate for Tent City 3 at community meetings and potential host sites.
Collaborate with local organizations to develop opportunities for the residents to further their own development and self-sufficiency…”

Posted by: C.E. Chambers | May 17, 2015

C.E. Chambers’ Interview With Actor Ken Bevel

C.E. Chambers’ telephone interview with actor Ken Bevel (originally posted October 14, 2011). Bevel played a fireman along with well-known actor, Kirk Cameron, in “Fireproof” (2008), and a deputy policeman in “Courageous” (2011).  (See the gritty trailer of “Courageous” at the end of this article.)

Ken Bevel playing Nathan Hayes/Courtesy Todd Stone and

Actor Ken Bevel/Courtesy Todd Stone and

On September 30, 211, a new full-length feature film was released by TriStar Pictures that was produced by the independent and visionary Sherwood Pictures.  “Courageous” had already received $2 million in pre-ticket sales and earned $9,112,839 million at the box office that weekend even though it had a paltry budget (by Hollywood standards) of $1 million.  It debuted as number four in the U.S. compared to all other films that were showing and ranked in first place compared to three other new films.

Excitement had been building since November 2009 when the movie making team of Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, had announced they were involved in the development of a fourth film.  “Courageous” tells the story of “four policemen with a calling to serve and protect” their communities who realize their greatest challenge is to successfully raise their children.

Ken Bevel is a former U.S. Marine and senior assistant pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church who stars as a deputy policeman in “Courageous.”   (Kevin Downes stars, as does former running back Tony Stallings, Ben Davies, and Alex Kendrick, the director and co-writer of “Courageous.”)  He explained his thespian career this way:  “I’ve come a long way since playing a tree in pre-school.”

In 2008, Bevel played opposite well-known actor Kirk Cameron in the popular full-length feature film, “Fireproof”, another movie produced by Sherwood Pictures.  Bevel was asked to compare Sherwood Pictures with Hollywood’s movie making industry.  “I think we have two different purposes.  They do it to make money and entertain people.  Our focus is to help change lives.”

Sherwood Pictures is sometimes derided by Hollywood insiders as “just a bunch of amateurs making movies.”  However, even though “Fireproof” had a budget of only $500,000, it was the highest grossing independent film of 2008.  What is the secret to its success when the “studio” consists largely of volunteer cast and crew who utilize private homes and other locations around Albany, Georgia, for camera shoots?

“Since prayer is the foundation of the ministry-at-large and at Sherwood Pictures, we spend a great amount of time in prayer before we even enter into production,” Ken responded.  “We know that we are always one prayer away from making a huge mistake.”

“Courageous,” like “Fireproof,” doesn’t shy away from unpopular subjects but effectively tackles seemingly insurmountable issues with a skillful combination of great drama, riveting action scenes, and even humor.  Both movies offer hope to hurting people.

Ken Bevel’s marriage underwent a profound change three years ago as “Fireproof” was being filmed.  He played Lt. Michael Simmons, a fireman whose friend, Captain Caleb Holt, was consumed with frustration because of his disastrous relationship with his wife.  When she began divorce proceedings, Caleb’s father compelled him to try the forty-day “Love Dare” which, after many false starts, resurrected his love for her and saved their marriage.

Advice contained in “The Love Dare” can honestly be described as revolutionary common sense based on Christian teachings.  Bevel, a Christian at the time, shared that his “mindset changed” when he realized he wasn’t living up to admonitions in the Bible regarding the way men should treat their wives.

As Bevel shared, “Ephesians 5:25 encourages a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church.  Jesus laid down his life for us.  Was I doing that?  No.  How could I be making a movie if my own marriage didn’t reflect the message we were trying to put across?”

He went on to share, “Christ always made time for people and explained to them why he was doing things.  We can get caught up in day-to-day activities.  Am I putting aside things that I want to do to bless my wife as Christ has blessed me? ” Bevel made a short reference to this teaching applying to the “physical” part of marriage as well as to other areas.

Ken Bevel is a graduate of the University of Memphis with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering Technology, and a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School with a Master of Business Administration degree in Logistics Management.  He spent twenty years in the U.S. Marines Corps and served overseas in places like Japan and Kuwait, and traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan.  He retired from the Marine Corps as a Captain in April 2011.  He began serving almost immediately as a senior assistant pastor at the multi-ethnic, three-thousand-member Sherwood Baptist Church.

Bevel has been married to Luana Bevel for fifteen years, and they have two children: four-year old daughter Kyra and two-year-old son Kaleb.  Ken and Luana, like many other Americans, have activated blocking controls on their television to filter out programs they consider unsuitable for their children.

Bevel was raised in Jacksonville, Florida, by a Christian mother and a father who stayed home on Sundays to watch football.  Ken deeply loved his father and his “dream was to be like him.”  However, when he was approximately seven-years-old, his father became caught up in drugs and alcohol and his parents divorced.

Bevel says the premise of his new film, “Courageous,” parallels his life – boys who are raised without fathers who end up committing acts of crime – and he experimented with drugs when he grew older.  He graduated from high school when he was seventeen-years-old and joined the U.S. Marine Corps.  He liked the structured environment but continued “clubbing and drinking” and it affected his work performance.

His first sergeant gave him a warning around 1992 but Bevel didn’t change his ways and he was eventually charged with a court-martial.  After being told the devastating news, Ken went back to his room, dropped to his knees and prayed for God to help him.

“I hadn’t prayed for a while and I hadn’t attended church for a long time.  I didn’t know how to change.”  He gave his life to the Lord and promised, “If you can help me, I will serve you.”

Two weeks later, Ken drove to a Walmart store where he saw three men standing in the parking lot.  They were a Christian ministry team who approached him and asked, “Do you know the Lord?” Ken answered “No,” and they asked if he would like prayer.  When Ken said “Yes,” they prayed with him on the spot.

Approximately two weeks after this experience, a woman employed by the U.S. Marine Corps as a “monitor” (someone who helps transfer soldiers to other bases) arrived in Camp Lejeune in South Carolina where Bevel was stationed.  She presented him with very surprising news: The Marine Corps was willing to drop the court-martial case against him.

“Where do you want to go?” she asked.

“As far away as possible,” he answered.  He was transferred to Japan for one year.  His life began to radically change as he began attending church regularly and met “godly” men.   Also, his work performance greatly improved.

In 2003, Ken was stationed in Okinawa when he took a trip “back home” to Florida to see his father who “looked really beaten down.”  Their relationship was reconciled when Ken told him he loved him, and his father prayed for Jesus Christ to enter his life.  He passed away five years ago.

Bevel is a popular speaker at U.S. military bases and church congregations and is sometimes given permission by movie theater management to appear after showings of films produced by Sherwood Pictures.  Standing in front of the screen, he thanks the people who have attended and asks for the audience’s input.  Surprisingly, most people stay and are very open to listening to a presentation of the gospel of Christ.  Ken says people “want to leave changed.”  Sometimes moviegoers seek out Sherwood Baptist Church.  Recently, twenty-five people who had seen “Courageous” on a Friday (October 7) attended the following Sunday service.

Bevel, an African-American, was asked if he had experienced racism while living in the South.  “Most definitely,” he responded, and then clarified: “I don’t see it in the church.”   Sometimes restaurant servers have approached his table only after waiting on diners who had arrived after him.

What would Bevel say to President Obama, or any U.S. President, if he had the chance? “I would encourage my Commander-in-Chief to follow the Lord with all of his heart and soul and with all of his strength, and to love his neighbor as himself.”

NOTE:  Against all statistical odds, one million people turned out to watch “Courageous” during its opening weekend (Sept. 30 – Oct. 2).  Although it appeared on far fewer screens than other films, it received a post-screen average of $7,752 per screen which was almost double that of other movies.  More moviegoers turned out to watch showings of “Courageous” than any other film that played that weekend, including “Dream House,” “Moneyball,” “Contagion,” “Killer Elite,” “Dolphin Tale,” “The Lion King 3D,” “Abduction,” “50/50,” and “What’s Your Number.”

FILM REVIEW EXCERPT FROM THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER “Courageous reveals the duo’s growing expertise as filmmakers with its skillful blending of moving drama, subtle comedy and several impressive action sequences, including a well-staged foot chase and a harrowing shootout between the cops and bad guys.”  (Read full review here)

RELATED:  A fascinating article about Sherwood Baptist Church and the pastor’s interaction with the African-American community:  “Multi-ethnic Churches Still Rare In 21st Century(read here).

RELATED:   A video interview with Ken Bevel and Alex Kendrick regarding how they choose a storyline, etc. (link here).

RELATED:  A video taken during opening weekend of “Courageous” with clips from the film including short interviews with Stephen Kendrick ( the producer and co-writer), Alex Kendrick (the director, co-writer, and actor), and actors (link here).

YOUTUBE VIDEO:  The opening scene To “Courageous”:

Posted by: C.E. Chambers | September 10, 2012

Santa Knows

This article was written by C.E. Chambers and published by The Journal Newspapers on December 7, 1999 (Vol. 22, No. 320) in the Northgate Journal, Seattle, Washington edition.

C.E. Chambers sitting on the knee of the Santa Claus from the Alderwood Mall, Lynnwood, WA, in December 1999. Her husband is also in the photo.


It’s a good thing I was talking to the Santa Claus from the Lake Forest Park Mall by phone or he would have seen my mouth drop open.  I had asked him what his response would be to a child who inquired, “How do I become an elf.”

“Why, I’ve never been asked that question,” he rejoindered, obviously surprised.  “In fact, that’s not something a child would ask.  That’s something an adult would think of.”  Whoa!  Slap me with a sugar-plum!

He was right.  That question had been gleaned from an adult-generated list that included other inane offerings that I had been wise enough to ignore.  Santa’s response to my query became only one of many thought-provoking, almost prescient answers received from conversations with other Kris Kringles.  In fact, the perennial pied piper of reindeer, elves, and wide-eyed kids is probably hiding an IQ the size of a Microsoft megabyte under his beard.

But what do we expect from a seasonal globe-trotter who’s somewhere between 659 and 1,700-year-old?  Just because he lives in the North Pole and spends his spare time grooming reindeer doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned a doctorate in Psychology — the hard way.

The average Santa selflessly serves as friend, father, and counselor every Christmas season to myriads of expectant, and sometimes unruly, runny-nosed children who ask him things that would stump the average think-tank expert.  And, if truth be told, the Santas I interviewed approximated that 20% of their knee-warmers are way past the Sesame Street stage.  Adults of all ages unabashedly gravitate to Old St. Nick — who isn’t at all surprised to see them.  The bearded workaholic thrives on being a spokesperson for the celebration that enthralls all ages and countless cultures.  Santa isn’t in this for his health; his heart is bigger than his tummy.

A little girl once thought she had accomplished the impossible and tripped up the Santa Claus from the Lake Forest Park Mall.  He asked her a question, not knowing that she had just visited another Kris Kringle at another location.  “Hey, I was already asked that today,” she said, eyeing him with great suspicion.

“You talked to my brother,” he responded easily.  “I like to check up on him once in a while and see if he gets things right.”

That’s only one of the mysteries that children are innately capable of understanding.  Santa is an extremely busy man and sometimes incorporates help from brothers, uncles, and cousins.  Some are so popular that their followers, like swallows flocking to Capistrano, return year after year asking, for example, for Santa James, Santa Robert, or Santa John.

Does the exalted bearded-one ever get so short-handed that he calls upon the services of his wife?  “Oh, yes,” answers the Santa from the Everett Mall.  “Mrs. Claus has been known to help me in a pinch.  But she’s usually even busier than I am, what with overseeing the elves and the reindeer and spends much of her time keeping them in line.  “In fact,” he adds conspiratorially, “you could compare us to a government.  I’m like the President and she’s the Chief of Staff and does the delegating.”

At one point in our conversation he suddenly broke off, saying, “Mrs. Claus is correcting me.”  Sound typical for a millennium-long marriage?  I asked “What does Mrs. Claus look like?”

“Short and feisty,” was his answer.

Sometimes Santa’s visitors are pretty feisty, too.  The bearded-one from the Everett Mall relates this story:  “Once year, a man weighing 600 pounds came to see me.  He asked me to sit on  his lap, which I did.  Then he asked for a boat for Christmas.  The next year he returned and announced ‘I’m sitting on your lap this time.  I found a miniature boat in my stocking last year!’ “

Ah, the truth finally comes out!  But Santa is unruffled.  “Of course, people don’t always receive what they want,” he explains.  “I always answer requests — sometimes I say ‘no.”

One little boy, who was from Florida, visited the Santa at the Everett Mall and received his wish.  “I don’t want a present,” he declared.  “I just want to see some snow.”

“Now it just so happens,” Santa explains, “that I have arthritis — not surprising for my age, is it? — and I can predict cold weather pretty accurately.  My joints had started acting up so I told him that he would get his wish.  Snow started falling two days later.”

The Santa from the Alderwood Mall is just as unflappable.  “When kids ask where Rudolph is, I tell them to look up real quick ‘cos they might catch him trying to peek through the skylight.  Rudolph’s awfully nosy, you know.”  Regarding Mrs. Claus, he confirmed that she is as busy as he is.  In fact, “if she wasn’t keeping an eye on the elves, they’d be playing with the children’s toys!”

Not all the questions or requests are whimsical.  A child may share, “You know, this is going to be my last Christmas.  I have cancer.”  And, all too frequently, a little one sitting on that sheltering knee requests that Santa bring back a divorced or jailed parent or a loved one who has passed away.  It’s not unusual for a visitor to St. Nicholas to ask for prayer.  And, as one Santa told me, some youngsters are requesting weapons, rather than candy canes, in their stockings.

No matter the subject — humorous or heartbreaking — St. Nicholas is prepared.  As the Alderwood Mall Santa says, “I take the child’s lead.  When a child gets serious, I get serious.”  He echoes others when he says that a Santa’s main mission is unconditional love.  Children sometimes say ‘I believe in Santa Claus but I don’t believe in Christmas.’  A Santa always responds, ‘That’s okay — I believe in you.’ “

He continues, “There’s a different spirit this time of year; I can say things to people that they wouldn’t be able to handle at any other time.  Sometimes gang members sit on my lap.  Others walk by, give me the high-sign and remark, ‘Cool socks,’ or, ‘Hey, that’s a neat beard, man.’ “

The Father Christmas from the Alderwood Mall, like the others, “feel it, acts it, and lives it all year-round.”  He doesn’t always wear the obligatory red coat, but his billowy, cloud-like beard is the real thing and his white shirt and suspenders cause heads to turn.  Once he was walking through a store when he saw a young girl sitting in a shopping cart.  She scrutinized him for a minute.

“Nah,” she decided.

“Yeah,” he declared softly.  Her eyes became as big as saucers as he handed her one of the many tiny ornaments he carries in his pockets when people least expect to see him.

But that’s the whole key to understanding Santa Claus: He speaks the language of the heart.

Posted by: C.E. Chambers | February 9, 2012

The Librarian from Beverly Hills

A slice of Hawaiiana.  The true story of a librarian from Beverly Hills, California who moved to the Big Island of Hawai’i approximately one year before Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan.


Betty Bowman on the left with a friend. She was in her early '20s.

Betty and Pierre on their honeymoon at the volcano.

Betty and Pierre at his retirement party.

Betty Bowman in her late '80s. "She enjoyed a fun social life to the end."

“Hawaii was almost like a foreign country when I moved here,” shared Betty Bowman, who arrived in September 1940.  The blond, blue-eyed 28-year-old had been working at the City Library (at that time located in the City Hall) in Beverly Hills, California, when she heard about an opening for a Children’s Librarian on the Big Island.  She told herself that, if accepted, she’d stay for just six months.

“I came here for an adventure,” she laughed, “and found a paradise for single girls.”  Describing Hawaii as “heaven before the war,” she fell in love at first sight with a half-Hawaiian man.  James Pierre Bowman and Mary Elizabeth Bond (Betty’s birth name) were married January 1941.  Four children were born to them, and eventually they had eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

“The old days were such fun,” Betty reminisced.  “The first time I flew into the Big Island, it was raining like crazy in Hilo.  Two women came out to the plane with umbrellas.”  She added, “Hardly anyone flew back then.  You could travel by boat from Hilo to Honolulu for only $8.00 and that included a cabin.  For $5.00, you had a mattress on the deck.”

Betty began working at the Hilo Library, and her position included servicing the schools in both east and west Hawaii.  Three to four days a week were spent on the road.  The librarians, who were “sent out in pairs like missionaries,” utilized puppets along with literature.  They worked from early morning until they were pau (finished) which was sometimes quite late.  A young man of Asian descent assisted them by driving an old Ford book truck with a side that lifted up like a lunch wagon.  Sometimes a territorial car with a running board also doubled as a moving library.

“On Hilo side, we’d travel first to Pa’auilo, and then to Volcano.  Then we’d drive to Puna.  If it was raining, we’d drive into the school’s garage and open up the side of the truck to the children and teachers.”

Traveling to the west side of the island was decidedly more arduous.  Because of the four-hour drive from Hilo to the Kohala coast and the rustic trails that led to the schools, the traveling librarians usually spent the night upcountry at the old Waimea Hotel.

Betty’s adventurous nature surfaced when talking about their forays into Waipio.  “It was a good, fun trip.  Each of us had two gunnysacks full of books, and we would drive to the plantation at Honoka’a where two horses would usually be saddled and waiting for us.  It was a little spooky because of the narrow trail leading down into Waipio, but we would ride slowly, visit the school, and then spend the rest of the day racing our horses!”

Sometimes Betty and the other librarian would walk down the trail with their gunny sacks – a 1½-hour trip.

“There was quite a settlement down there in Waipio.  There was a four-room schoolhouse located by a river, and a couple of churches.  The 1946 tidal wave destroyed a lot.”

Servicing the schools in the Kona area was much easier as they were mostly in walking distance of each other, some just two or three minutes apart.  However, the old Kona Road, as she called it, was “very narrow and only half-paved.  They had run out of money and hadn’t finished it.”

Another hardship was the lack of public restrooms.  Many times they used the time-honored tradition of campers who are forced to utilize trees or bushes as cover for an outdoor latrine.  Small country schools had outhouses:  There was a bowl of water to wash the hands.  There was also a bucket of water and a dipper “and everybody drank out of it.”

On Saturdays they visited plantations until noon.

Betty, who had attended Reed College in Oregon, Pomona College in California, and the University of California in Berkeley, had graduated with a Masters in Library Science.  She wasn’t prepared for what she called the “verbal shorthand” in Hawaii.

“The pidgin was so prevalent when I first came, I could hardly understand a word!” she laughed.  “There were times I wished I was back on Beverly Boulevard.”

Keeping up on national and international news wasn’t easy, either.  Ships arrived from Honolulu only twice a week and the newspapers were already out of date.  Sometimes they were mailed to the island.  Air travel was arduous compared to today:  It took 2½ hours to fly from Honolulu to Hilo on a 12-passenger plane.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed December 1941, everyone was frozen to their jobs.  “I had married Pierre January 30, 1942, during wartime, and remained working in Hilo for three more months.  He was working for the Kohala Sugar Co., and it was a six-hour trip by bus from Hilo to Kohala to visit him on the weekends.  On Saturday, I would take the bus at noon to Kohala and return to Hilo Monday morning.  Sometimes he would drive to Hilo to stay with me on the weekend.”

“A college friend who had married Pierre’s brother had taken me to a luau and introduced me to Pierre.  When I first saw him, it was love at first sight.  He had curly dark hair and brown, mischievous eyes.  When you’re 29, you’ve been around the block a few times and know what you want.”  Pierre’s father was English and Scotch-Irish, a colonel who had served in the Army in Ohio.  His mother was “pure Native Hawaiian.”

Betty’s eyes surely sparkled when she remembered her next encounter with Pierre.  It was on one of the days that a ship from the mainland arrived, which was considered a requisite social outing.  “Everyone congregated at the pier, kind of like friends and family meeting at the mall or the beach.  Just as my friends and I were ready to leave, there was Pierre at the other end of the pier.  I told my friends that I  had a ride.  Not really knowing what would happen next, I waited until the crowd had thinned out.  That’s when Pierre came over to me and asked if I had a ride home.”  As they say, the rest is history.

They were married a few months later at Christ Church in Kona.  Betty was 29 and Pierre was 32-years-old.  The plantation gave them a two-bedroom house to live in and a one-week honeymoon before she returned to Hilo.

Just a few months later, in April, Betty moved to their house in north Kohala and began working at the Bond Memorial Library.  At that time, it was open only three afternoons a week.  She stamped the books and a custodian swept the floor.

“I got pregnant right off the bat,” Betty remembers.  She gave birth to three girls and one boy (Barbara, Kimo, Maile, Lani) and at the age of 13 or 14 they were all attending different boarding schools.

After Betty and Pierre’s first daughter was born, Betty taught girls’ P.E. for one year at the Kohala Elementary and High School.  As employees of the Kohala Sugar Co. rose to higher positions, they were given larger houses.  The Bowman family lived in the house in the Union Mill area the longest:  a two-story, six-bedroom prefab from New England with high ceilings.  They purchased it in the 1960s for $19,000.  After residing there for 50-years, they sold it in 1992.

Betty worked off and on as she raised her children.  In the mid-50s, she taught one of the first Hawaiiana classes and one of the first sex education classes at Kohala High School.  She retired in 1974.

During their retirement years, Betty and Pierre did some major traveling.  They flew to Guatemala to visit a nephew, and they cruised on the Inland Passage in Alaska.  They also traveled across Canada on a train.

Pierre retired in 1970.  He passed away in 1995 at the age of 85.  “He was a darling,” Betty fondly remembered.  Friends and family still comment on the fact that he was the love of her life.

 Betty passed away in January 4, 2004 at the age of 92.  The legacy of Pierre and Betty Bowman is a blessing to all those who knew them.  As her children are known to say, “No one ever left our parents’ house hungry, or without a smile on their faces and with laughter filling their insides.”

(Written by C.E. Chambers and purchased by the “Waimea Gazette” in 2004.  Matt Pearce was the owner/editor.)

Posted by: C.E. Chambers | October 21, 2011

“The Mighty Macs”: Film Review

theatrical poster

Written by C.E. Chambers   Published October 21, 2011

It’s been an unusually good month for well-made films with creative content that can be enjoyed by the whole family.  “The Big Year” (an absorbing and humorous story about professional birdwatchers competing against each other), “Moneyball” (the riveting true story of the financially strapped Oakland Athletics baseball team who became unexpected champions when the general manager threw out conventional wisdom regarding how to choose players), “Courageous” (another inspirational drama/comedy from Sherwood Pictures about men who serve their communities heroically who also become champions at home).

And now “The Mighty Macs” from Quaker Media.  The true story of Cathy Rush, a young woman who decided not to let rejection define her but used her skills to transform a rag-tag team of unpolished and disinterested female basketball players from a small, struggling Catholic college into one heart, one hope, and one goal -– who ended up astonishing the nation.

I saw this film a couple of days ago and really enjoyed it.  An inspirational, thought-provoking, and sometimes humorous story with some “Cathy-isms” that are rather brilliant from a woman who was only in her early twenties at the time.  It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of conquering giants and shocking so-called “experts” and maybe easy to write a review along these lines.  However, the film’s content and characters are much meatier than that.

Tim Chambers, the producer, writer, and director of “The Mighty Macs,” stated in the press kit for this film that “the story is told from Cathy’s point of view.”  In one of those divinely inspired twists of fate, he saw her when he was ten-years-old.  He watched Cathy coach Immaculata College’s basketball team as they practiced in his grade school gym in Pennsylvania.  The players were “incredibly gifted and cohesive.”

Cathy Rush also left an indelible impression on Mr. Chambers: He never forgot “the swagger, the style, the charisma.”  He could have never guessed that, years later, he would enter into partnership with Vince Curran, a former basketball star from Pennsylvania, to create Quaker Media and make a film about her.

In the early 1970s, Cathy became head coach of the basketball team from the all-female Immaculata College in Pennsylvania.  In 1972, The Mighty Macs –- wearing their uniform short dresses with plaid sashes against other female competitors dressed in non-restrictive shorts and tops — won the historic, first national championship for women’s college basketball.  They went on to win the championship for two more consecutive years.

Cathy was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

It wasn’t commonplace in the early 1970s to encourage females to pursue sports.  Cathy (played confidently by Carla Gugino) is a “woman with a dream” who’s surprised when the Reverend Mother at Immaculata College accepts her application to become their basketball coach. She’s never worked in this capacity before.

Cathy could have allowed fate and cultural norms to define her.  She had excelled at basketball during high school and was dismayed when her high school cancelled the girls’ basketball season during her senior year and asked them to become cheerleaders instead.  She was a star player at West Chester University in Pennsylvania during her freshman and sophomore years but was cut by her coach during her third year.

The Reverend Mother (played by Ellen Burstyn), during her job interview with Cathy, asks her if she’s named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria or Saint Catherine of Siena.

“Atlantic City,” Cathy flippantly replies.

“That’s good, because St. Catherine of Alexandria had her head chopped off,” the Reverend Mother retorts.  (I love Burstyn in this role.)

Cathy, a Baptist, is given the job because no one else applied for it.  Her new husband, Ed Rush (David Boreanaz), disparages her small seasonal salary and wants her to spend more time at home.  He’s a referee in the National Basketball Association (NBA) whom director/writer/producer Tim Chambers describes as an “alpha male.”

It’s a good thing that Cathy is a determined type of person – and even a little bull-headed — because it turns out she’s expected to make bricks without straw.  They gym burned down three months ago, there may not be enough players to form a basketball team, and Immaculata College is failing financially.  The Monsignor wants to sell it.

A young nun (Marley Shelton) who’s disillusioned with the mundane work that’s also a requirement of her spiritual commitment agrees to become Cathy’s assistant coach.  (Marley, a great adjunct to the other strong female characters, says “take a knee” when she encourages The Mighty Macs to pray before competitions.)

The Mighty Macs have a love-hate relationship with Cathy at first.  For example, she gives each girl a piece of paper and reverently instructs them to close their eyes and envision everything they know about basketball.  She wants them to “mentally transfer this knowledge onto these delicate pieces of paper and hold them close to your heart.”  The girls obediently do this, Cathy solemnly collects the pieces of paper in a basket – then disgustedly throws them in the trash.  They’re in basketball boot camp, Cathy’s their boss, and she’s breaking them down so she can build them back up into worthy competitors.  Thinking about this scene still makes me laugh.

There are quite a few Cathy-isms in this film and this is one of my favorites: “Representing this school is a privilege: We will learn to defend it.”

Cathy is definitely “sassy, strong, charismatic, attractive, stylish, and a natural leader” (all of the qualities that director Tim Chambers looked for in the actress who would play this part), but she’s also big-hearted and could easily double as a college counselor.  One of her players is overcome by grief after her boyfriend breaks up with her.  The coach seeks her out, empathizes with her, but doesn’t let her wallow in self-pity.

“What are some of the things that he is going to miss about you?  What makes you special?  What you think of yourself is way more important than what he thinks about you.”

The girl had been proudly wearing her boyfriend’s letterman-type jacket to signify their upcoming engagement, but Cathy instructs, “Don’t let his jacket define you” — and hands her a new, sporty, and very attractive black and white jacket.  One that all of the team members will now start wearing over their official athletic uniforms before they compete in those totally inappropriate dresses that don’t contribute much to modesty when they take tumbles on the floor.

“You’ve earned this jacket.  Nobody can take it away,” Cathy shares.

As The Mighty Macs unexpectedly begin to trounce their opponents, discouraged nuns who are expecting to be relocated God-knows-where after years of service at Immaculata College rally to become the team’s most loyal defenders and pack gymnasiums during competitions.  Faces beaming with joy unspeakable, they pump their fists in the air when the team scores points.  (The gesture is very ‘70s-ish and hasn’t gone out of style since.)

And newspaper headlines demonstrate the public’s fascination with the team:  “What a Rush!” (a ‘70s cultural play on words), and “It’s Becoming A Habit.”

A sports announcer, thrilled by The Mighty Macs performance at the first national championship for women’s college basketball, exclaims:  “When will this fairy tale end?  The answer lies somewhere between heaven and hardwood!!”  Just one week before, they had been in 15th place out of 16 bids.

By all means, may independent moviemakers — since Hollywood is dragging its leaden feet — present weary American audiences with even more films that instill hope, inspire greatness, and sometimes even portray religion as a very natural and fulfilling backdrop to real flesh-and-blood people – even nuns who stay up all night playing poker.  You know, the same ones who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and sleep on hard beds in barely furnished bedrooms.  Definitely my kind of Jesus-follower – even if I don’t understand the concept of praying to saints.

Rated G: A man in a motel lounge makes a very suggestive comment to two women.  Similar to some of C.E. Chambers’ film reviews, it would have benefited from a little editing.

[The photo of the cast from “The Mighty Macs” is courtesy of EPK.TV.]

Posted October 7, 2011


Sept. 2011: Sandy Ferra Martindale is on the far right; Wink Martindale is third from the right. Courtesy: Dan Wooding.

Dan Wooding is an award-winning British journalist, author, and well-known radio commentator and host who lives in California.  He recently interviewed a woman who had dated Elvis Presley for six years.  She had met the King of Rock and Roll at her father’s night club in Los Angeles two months after he had returned from serving in the U.S. Military in Germany.  She was just fourteen-years-old.  Over the course of what sounds like a long and delightful relationship, they discussed marriage.

Sandy Ferra later married Wink Martindale, a popular radio and television personality, who had known Elvis in Tennessee years before she met him.  Sandy Ferra:  “And then Elvis told Wink that I was the nicest girl from the nicest family that he ever knew.”  Sandy and Wink were with Elvis in Las Vegas just months before he died in 1977.

Read Dan Wooding’s full bio after the article.  He’s published forty-four books, including his memoirs, From Tabloid to Truth, and a new novel, Red Dagger.

ASSIST News Service 

“Elvis and the G.I. Blues…”

By Dan Wooding   September 30, 2011

BEVERLY HILLS, CA (ANS) — After Elvis Presley returned to the United States from Germany in 1960 following his time as a G.I., he eventually moved to Los Angeles and with his girlfriend Priscilla pining for him in Germany, Elvis Presley began dating Sandy Ferra, the then 14-year-old daughter of a nightclub owner.

This was revealed at the Media Fellowship International (MFI) Thirteenth Annual Praise Brunch held at the historic Beverly Hills Hotel on Saturday, September 17, 2011, when the perennial American radio and television favorite, Wink Martindale, said, during his keynote address, that his wife, Sandy Ferra, who was in the audience, had once dated Elvis Presley.

That news was too much for an old hack like myself to pass by, so I managed to get an interview Sandy after the event, and I discovered that, because of her young age, she was initially chaperoned everywhere by her mother Mary Lou, and that 25-year-old Presley got no further than kissing Sandy, but apparently he had other intentions.

Media reports said that one night Presley asked Mary Lou if she and her daughter would consider moving to his new mansion, the soon-to-be-legendary Graceland, where he would “raise” Sandy as his future wife.

In this exclusive interview, Sandy told me that she first met the King of Rock and Roll when he visited the Cross Bow, her father’s night club in Panorama City, which is located in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. He was in town to make “G.I. Blues,” his first film after his discharge from the army.

“Elvis had just got out of the army and one day he came into my dad’s club and saw my picture in the office, and said, ‘I’d like to meet your daughter,'” Sandy recalled. “So Elvis called me, and because it was a school night and my mother wouldn’t drive me up to the nightclub, he said he could come back the next week and he asked me if I could come up and meet him there. In the meantime, my dad came home and told me that he [Elvis] was a ‘gorgeous guy’ because I didn’t know who Elvis Presley was.”

Sandy explained that Elvis didn’t visit the club to sing, but just for recreation.

So, the next week my mother said she would drive me to the club,” said Sandy. “Elvis had a date with a beautiful actress and I just sat there with my little ponytail and frilly dress. He kissed me on the cheek and then he called and told my mother he wanted to date me and my mother said, ‘I don’t care if you’re King Farouk; my daughter’s only fourteen and she can’t go out with you.’ So he said to my mother, ‘Well, you can come on the date,’ so she came on our first three dates.”

Where did you go?  [Read more here and see a photo of Sandy Ferra with Elvis]

Posted by: C.E. Chambers | October 1, 2011

“The Lion King 3D”: Film Review

theatrical release poster

Written by C.E. Chambers  Posted October 1, 2011

Mr. Seatmate and I think we’re quite sophisticated for rednecks and we’re not hardcore fans of 3D, so naturally we didn’t plan to watch this Disney classic.  Besides, we’d seen it numerous times since it was first released in 1994.  However, “Straw Dogs 2011” was so revolting we found ourselves gravitating the next week to something tried-and-true and G-rated.

It was like putting on a pair of shoes that’s out of style but exceedingly more comfortable and of higher quality than contemporary footwear.  Something you wish would last forever but would gladly scrimp and save to purchase again and again.

There’s only one problem if you watch “The Lion King 3D” at a theater.  You have to sit through the revolting previews for “Happy Feet 2” and “Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked.”  One has to be in just the right mood for jive, Antarctic penguins who make life miserable for a young penguin who is disarmingly innocent and naïve but, alas, “choreo-phobic” (as some critics are describing little Erik’s flaw in advertisements for the sequel to “Happy Feet.”).  Say, what?

As for “Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked,” the animals (especially Alvin) can best be described as looking as if they’re wearing invisible but heavily loaded diapers the wrong way ‘round.  And I mean loaded.

We also saw a preview of the new Muppets movie: They were singing “We Built This City On Rock And Roll.”

“The Lion King” is such a charming and well-made film that it really doesn’t need the addition of 3D.  But I rather enjoyed the novelty of an exotic bird flying over my head to land on bended knee before regal King Mufasa during the opening scenes.  (The king is memorably voiced, of course, by James Earl Jones).

Jungle foliage projects mystically into the theater and tropical rain falls all around.  Just before the film starts, a large, glistening prism expands and seems about to envelop viewers.  The 3D effect mostly occurs during the first third or so of the movie although there are one or two surprises later.

The leering expressions on the faces of the mean hyenas that are larger than life in one scene aren’t graphic enough to frighten small children.  This is an area of concern that could become very controversial if makers of 3D films incorporate disturbing images into G-rated movies.

I just had a disturbing thought: Will “Straw Dogs 2011” be converted into 3D one day?  If you can see rain falling on you but you can’t touch it…if birds fly so close they can almost nest in your hair….It’s too horrible to contemplate.

As I melted into my seat while enjoying “The Lion King 3D,” I was caught short by the realization that the vocabulary is probably much higher than what’s available in most films geared for young children today.  When’s the last time expressions like “quid pro quo” and “At your service, my liege” rolled believably off of animated characters’ lips?  Instead of a preachy propaganda-laden cliché, wise advice like “You can run from your past or you can learn from it” is offered.

As almost everyone knows, Simba is the male offspring to the wise King Mufasa, the undisputed champion and overseer of the lion kingdom and all those who reside within its orders.  Simba’s jealous and very crafty uncle, Scar, creates a scenario that causes the impressionable young lion to voluntarily leave the safe haven of his father’s kingdom which enables the slinky Scar to take over King Mufasa’s throne.

Since almost everyone is already acquainted with this timeless film (including children wearing loaded diapers the right way ‘round), I won’t elaborate on any of the other characters except for Pumbaa, the silly but loyal warthog who mostly plays straight man to Zazu, the very funny meerkat (a type of mongoose).  Zazu keeps up a running commentary on almost everything.  He’s like a stand-up comedian who doesn’t need to use one-sided political humor to guarantee he’ll have an audience.

The addition of an Elton John song during the end credits makes this film a class act from beginning to end.

Hakuna Matata, everyone (Swahili for “no worries”).  In Hawaiian, it’s A’ole pilikia: “No problem.”  I’m really glad I took the time to see this film again and I feel privileged to have been able to write about it.

Posted by: C.E. Chambers | September 30, 2011

New Film “Courageous” Opens Sept. 30, 2011: Press Release

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C.E.C.: The moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, continues to astound experts in the entertainment industry.  Its low-budget, third independent film, “Fireproof” (with Kirk Cameron), grossed $33.4 million at the box office in 2008 and most of the cast and crew were volunteers.  This latest release by Sherwood Pictures (distributed by TriStar Pictures) is another film marketed to families that is nonetheless unafraid to tackle difficult issues and has already received more than $2 million in pre-sales ticketing: “The story of four police officers with one calling: to serve and protect.”

From Lovell-Fairchild Communications : For Immediate Release

CULVER CITY, CA (Sept. 29, 2011) – TriStar Pictures and Sherwood Pictures are pleased to announce that COURAGEOUS, the latest installment from Sherwood Pictures, has reached more than $2 million in pre-sales ticketing in anticipation of Friday’s national release.

Pre-sales numbers for COURAGEOUS more than double that of Sherwood Pictures’ most recent film, Fireproof, which opened at $6.8 million and went on to gross more than $33.4 million at the box office.

COURAGEOUS is the fourth release from the moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.  The first release was Flywheel (2003), followed by Facing The Giants (2006) and Fireproof (2008).  With each release, Sherwood Pictures continues to entertain moviegoers with films that affect lives through heartfelt stories of faith and hope.

“Such great advance momentum reaffirms that the topic of fathers is universal and that COURAGEOUS touches a nerve,” Sherwood Pictures Executive Producer Michael Catt said. “Present or absent, fathers shape lives and we’re excited to use drama, adventure, humor  . . . to inspire men to the high adventure of full-on parenting.”

COURAGEOUS is the story of four police officers with one calling: to serve and protect.  As law enforcement officers, the men are confident and focused. Yet at the end of the day, they face a challenge that none of them are truly prepared to tackle:  fatherhood.  With God’s help, they struggle to be able to find a way to serve and protect those that are most dear to them. COURAGEOUS is rated PG-13 (for some violence and drug content) and runs 129 minutes.

Sherwood Pictures is the movie-making ministry of Sherwood Church of Albany, Georgia, known for its authentic and faith-filled stories of everyday life. Executive producers are Michael Catt and Jim McBride; Alex Kendrick is director, and Stephen Kendrick producer.  To date, Sherwood Pictures has produced Flywheel (2003), Facing the Giants (2006), Fireproof (2008), and now COURAGEOUS.

Lovell-Fairchild Communications: at 1-214-536-4319

(Highlighting was added by C.E. Chambers)

Posted by: C.E. Chambers | September 24, 2011

The Help (2011): Film Review

theatrical release poster

By C.E. Chambers   Posted September 24, 2011

This film is based on a novel by Kathryn Stockett.  Tate Taylor, the screenwriter and director, deftly achieved a near-miraculous balance between the raw subject matter and the characters drawn from sensitive racial tensions and cultural traditions of the 1960s in America’s South.

The major protagonists are Negro women living in 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi, who are career domestic servants for pampered, wealthy white women, and a young Caucasian journalist nicknamed “Skeeter.”  Skeeter (Emma Stone) has just graduated from college and is angry at her mother for the mysterious firing of a much-loved maid who had worked for the family for twenty-nine years.  She obtains a part-time job writing a cleaning advice column for The Jackson Journal.

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer give inspired, brilliant performances as Aibileen and Minny, two maids from an era when young Negro girls not infrequently dropped out of school in order to earn money for their struggling families.

The long-suffering Aibileen, whose son died four years before, faithfully works six days a week and instills frequent healthy doses of self-esteem into the white children she lovingly raises (seventeen in all).  Minny is a renowned cook whose employer throws a hissy fit at the thought of a Negro using her bathroom.  Mississippi laws during that time period explicitly outlawed the interchange of books between white and black schools and prohibited black barbers from cutting white girls’ hair.

The white women spend most of their time primping for and attending sumptuous luncheons and raising money for poor children in Africa.  Most of them are honey nice on the outside and pitifully shallow on the inside.  (Actress Sissy Spacek’s character is a spunky alternative to the disingenuous characters.)  They’re very negligent mothers; one is known to leave her child in the same diaper for ten hours if the family maid isn’t there to change it.

Hilly, the town’s heartless queen bee (played malevolently by Bryce Dallas Howard), whom all the other white women swarm around, refuses to loan $75 to her maid to help her son remain in college.  Hilly prefaces her response by saying, “As a Christian, I’m doing you a favor…” and then adds something like “[We] don’t give charity to those who are well and able to take care of themselves.”  But that’s when she’s being nice.

Skeeter, a likable, color-blind and eager journalist (Stone is never cloying), decides to write a book “from the perspective of the help.” She tries to gain the confidence of the black maids in the town.

Vintage cars, upswept hairdos, women who wear starched, cotton dresses (Skeeter wears what looks like a fetching all-linen dress in an early scene), and turquoise-colored leather booths from a diner impart a decidedly ‘60s aura.

Domestic violence is alluded to but never seen.  African-Americans receive spiritual and emotional nourishment by attending a Christian church.  (When was the last time Hollywood allowed non-African-American characters to listen to a church sermon and put the words into practice after arriving home?)

There’s a short segment about Medgar Evers, the gifted African-American civil rights activist and first field operator for Mississippi’s NAACP who was murdered in Jackson in 1963.  The unsettling subject matter could have justifiably propelled the film in a different direction.  Evers once wrote:

“It may sound funny, but I love the South. I don’t choose to live anywhere else. There’s land here, where a man can raise cattle, and I’m going to do it some day. There are lakes where a man can sink a hook and fight the bass. There is room here for my children to play and grow, and become good citizens—if the white man will let them….”

“The Help” is almost two and one half hours long but the film never lags.  Even though there’s an uneven emphasis on wealthy white women to the exclusion of portraying anyone else as poor unless they’re Negroes, and even though Southern white men are portrayed as obnoxious and unfeeling, and even though there’s a ridiculously ignorant but good-hearted dumb blonde with an hourglass shape whose clothes look like they’ve been painted on her, and even though the other dominant white woman besides Skeeter is a stereotypically cold-hearted and unethical Christian, I still enjoyed this film.  At least three other white characters aren’t heavily stereotyped.

I will be very surprised if “The Help” and some of the actors aren’t nominated for awards.  I believe without a doubt that it will be re-released in February 2012 during the 84th Academy Awards.

[Rated PG-13: light profanity; a racial expletive; blood from a miscarriage; a pie from h*ll]


It’s impossible to watch this film without the specter of slavery looming in the shadows of the darkened theaters in which it’s shown.  The early 1960s was the dawning of the civil rights movement in Mississippi.  Approximately 102 years earlier, Mississippi had been unwilling to part with its slaves and had broken away from President Lincoln’s Union of federally-connected states.  The Civil War began shortly thereafter; four long years passed and approximately 650,000 soldiers died but slavery was eradicated from America.

In 1963, an African-American living in the South who was more than one hundred years of age may have been born into slavery.

In approximately 1970, I experienced something that alerted me to the fact that a measure of the same cultural scenario that was playing out in the Jim Crow South had a toe-hold in the Pacific Northwest where slavery had been basically non-existent (except among early indigenous Native Americans).

As a recent high school graduate, I had obtained a temporary job at a large company in Bellevue, Washington, a city I wasn’t familiar with.  On my first day of work, I arrived late at the crowded downtown Seattle bus terminal and jumped onto a packed bus just before it departed for the approximate thirty or forty minute trip.  I quickly paid my fare and turned around to search for a seat – and was surprised to see everyone staring at me.  They all had the same stunned expression on their faces.

They were all African-American women dressed in white uniforms who were on their way to work as domestic servants for the affluent residents of Bellevue.

For the two weeks or so that I worked for the insurance company in Bellevue, I was the only white passenger during that morning ride.  The African-American women always seemed a little surprised when I boarded the bus.  The passenger sitting next to me would engage in pleasant small talk if I instigated it.

I debated whether I should share this story.  The only people who can validate it are the passengers whose bus I shared and my father, who was a policeman and worked in downtown Seattle.  He drove me to the bus terminal each morning.  He passed away a few years ago.


Note:  Slavery in North America is a very complex subject for many reasons.  The geographical enormity of the region, the individual histories of the early British-held colonies that introduced Europe’s practice of owning African-American slaves to the new world, and the American Territories and American states (some were created with a prohibition against slavery and others ended slavery in the late 1700s), etc.  In addition, African-Americans, Native Americans, and even whites were slaves.

On the eve of the Civil War in 1861, America had thirty-four states and at least seven Territories.  There were nineteen “free” states and fifteen “slave” states. (Other states were added to the Union during the Civil War which can cause confusion for researchers.)

Many if  not most of the soldiers who fought during the Civil War were volunteers, especially during the first year.

Some researchers say that African slaves were introduced into North America two centuries before the United States Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.  Others claim there was a gap of one century.  Wikipedia:  “The first English colony in North America (Virginia) acquired its first Africans in 1619, after a ship arrived, unsolicited, carrying a cargo of about 20 Africans.  Thus, a practice established in the Spanish colonies as early as the 1560s was expanded into the English North America.”

Somewhere between 500,000 to 645,000 African-American slaves were brought to North America while an estimated 12,000,000 were shipped to the Caribbean.

Slavery in North America flourished mostly “in the South until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.”

What is not widely known is that Thomas Jefferson stated that one of the reasons America needed to break with Great Britain was because of “a desire to rid America of the evil of slavery imposed on them by the British.”

“Benjamin Franklin explained that this separation from Britain was necessary since every attempt among the Colonies to end slavery had been thwarted or reversed by the British Crown.  In fact, in the years following America’s separation from Great Britain, many of the Founding Fathers who had owned slaves released them (e.g., John Dickinson, Ceasar Rodney, William Livingston, George Washington, George Wythe, John Randolph, and others).”  (The last two paragraphs are from

Posted by: C.E. Chambers | September 17, 2011

“Straw Dogs” (2011) Film Review: Totally Trash

STRAW DOGS (2011) Film Review: Totally Trash


By C.E. Chambers   Posted September 17, 2011

Mr. Seatmate (my husband) and I were so disturbed by this film last night that we forgot to take care of a pressing business need afterwards.  Arriving home, I watched the Jimmy Fallon show in which he interviewed the lead actress, Kate Bosworth.  This is what Fallon said about “Straw Dogs”:  “It will ruin people.”  And, “It’s going to give me nightmares the rest of my life.”

Was Fallon kidding?  He didn’t appear to be.

I’m not kidding.  This is the most despicable film I’ve ever seen.  Hollywood may have hit a new low.  Besides the heavy emphasis on “psychotic violence” (read Mr. Seatmate’s capsule critique here), and the well-worn stereotype that depicts “Christians” as outrageous hypocrites, it’s set in America’s rural South where white men are portrayed as sinister gun-toting, beer-swigging, lazy employees who are hostile to newcomers.  Adding to the over-worked and dishonest cliché-ridden plot is a thinly disguised dig against the U.S. military.

The inclusion of a prolonged rape is like adding poisoned icing to a cake already heavily laced with strychnine.

It’s the remake of an American-made film from 1971 whose characters lived in Britain.  While retaining most of the crucial elements of the first film, the setting for this one was moved to Mississippi.  A very convenient way for contemporary Hollywood moviemakers to interject bigoted material.

The first “Straw Dogs” sparked heated controversy over “the perceived increase of violence in cinema” and its “debasement of women” (read here).

Amy (Kate Bosworth), one of the lead characters, aggressively fights against her “Christian” ex-boyfriend when he tries to rape her — and when he overpowers her, she’s made to look at one point as if she’s enjoying it.  Lurking in the background and off camera is the boyfriend’s beady-eyed, menacing black-bearded buddy who takes over when the first rapist is spent.  He’s also a church goer.

Amy is portrayed as almost deserving of the rape:  deliberately undressing in front of a window while her ex-boyfriend and his simmering, creepy friends watch with their mouths hanging open.  Her new husband, David, a normally pleasant, intellectual Hollywood writer, ominously complains when she jogs in slinky tank tops without a bra in the sultry Mississippi climate.  (He prefers to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.)

For a character who walks out of a well-attended church service because he isn’t “religious,” David seems to enjoy threatening his wife with terminology from the Bible that refers to “reaping and sowing.”

Why do some moviemakers seem to relish the sexual denigration of women by exposing them — via actresses playing a role — to real live men who may already be on the precipice of a heat-seeking psychosis?  Is there terminology for the twisted ethics of movie industry insiders who only vilify people from a particular faith while simultaneously striving to become wealthy by endangering a particular gender?

The town’s football coach — a “Christian” who mouths Bible verses along with his pastor during a church service — is an iconic, emotional powder keg with a short fuse who has a daughter who tries to seduce a mentally handicapped man.  She knows that being alone with him can jeopardize his well-being if not his life.

Some of the other suit-wearing churchgoers easily strip down to sweaty muscle shirts and abhorrent, illegal behavior outside the boundaries of the physical sanctuary and aggressively ride around in a dusty, red truck that displays large stickers: “Keep honking; I’m just reloading.”  And, “These colors don’t run.”

One of these “rednecks” accuses David of belonging to the “educated” class of  people who believe in “global warming.”  Their pastor gives a sermon from Revelation in a fervent, trembling voice, and, of course, prays for a particular football team to win an upcoming game.  He asks God to “please protect those from here who are serving overseas.”

Finally, the blood-thirsty “Christians” wage a full-blown epic battle against Amy and her husband and the mentally handicapped man.  The agnostic Hollywood writer has no choice but to turn the tables against the unhinged “Christians.”

Plot spoiler:  A “Christian” African-American sheriff is killed by the white “Christians.”

Is it a coincidence that two Hollywood-generated films are currently playing in theaters that portray characters from Mississippi?  Is it a coincidence that both films contain Caucasian “Christian” characters who are thoroughly unlikable and incompetent?  While I highly recommend “The Help” (a miraculous balance is achieved between extremely sensitive subject matter and the characters who play out a real-life drama inspired by a novel set in the 1960s), “Straw Dogs” is just trash.

I used to incorporate icons along with my critiques when I worked as a film critic for a print publication.  One depicted a dump truck.  Look for it at some point to be displayed alongside deserving films such as this one.

Question:  Will StarvingEyes – the same company that recently released an online video game that allows users to vicariously murder politicians and cable news commentators whose political beliefs are different from the ultra-liberal left — create a video game that allows users to “kill” blood-thirsty, rapacious white “Christians” who attack an innocent Hollywood insider and his wife?

“Straw Dogs” is rated a hypocritical “R”: Inexplicable horrific, extended violence by “Christian” characters against an innocent man and his wife who are protecting a wounded guest in their home.  Cold-blooded murder of a policeman seeking to stop increasing violence against innocent parties.  The rape scene has an aura of provocativeness that may be considered “sexy” by thrill seekers who have become inured to scenes of violence against women.  Extremely foul language.  Heavy Christian-character assassination.]

NOTE:  If readers would like to know the names of the other actors in this film, pull up the lengthy review from an experienced film critic who described the impossible-to-miss Christian-bashing as “A subplot involv[ing] the way the town centers on high school football and local church services, which interlock sports and religion.”

[The “warning” image is from]

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