I am, by my very nature, a peaceful man.
I will not raise a fist in rage.
I do not seek revenge nor do I speak out of spite, envy, hatred or woundedness.
I have very seldom even raised my voice in anger.
But, there is a time...
There is a time when justice demands a response...there is a time when one cannot sit idly by and merely be an observer to the goings on in the world. There is a time when love commands us to respond, not with fists or fights, but with love, justice, presence and power.
There is a time when we must live the words "the truth will set you free" with our words, our actions, our thoughts and our prayers.
Being a man of peace calls me not to be an observer of the injustices of the world, but to be a full participant in the daily joys and sorrows, defeats and triumphs of my global brothers and sisters.
I must, if I am to be a man of peace, commit every cell of my being towards shaking the devil off and raising the victorious hand of God, of love, of peace and of justice.
"Shake the Devil Off," a documentary from Swiss filmmaker Peter Entell, is both a celebratory and a revelatory call to action in post-Katrina New Orleans that is as much a love song to New Orleans as it is a testimony of one community's faith journey.
"Shake the Devil Off" centers itself squarely upon the unassuming shoulders of Father Jerome LeDoux, longtime pastor of St. Augustine Parish in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. Father LeDoux, a Catholic priest in the neighborhood for well over 40 years when Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, stayed in the neighborhood for eight days after Katrina watching over the neighborhood and his parishioners.
An already struggling parish, St. Augustine became utterly devastated by Hurricane Katrina as its members lost homes and family members in the days and weeks to come. "Shake the Devil Off" picks up when the Archdiocese of New Orleans has made the unfathomable decision to extinguish this beacon of light, a historic slave church and the FIRST known house of worship in America in which whites and blacks worshipped side by side.
From a distance, such a decision may seem reasonable and, dare I say, even justified. St. Augustine's numbers had dwindled, donations were down, the church was in disrepair and, after Katrina, the neighborhood itself showed little sign of being able to bring the church back to life.
As is often the case, however, logic seldom dictates faith and, in this case, those who gathered together to worship in St. Augustine's decided to fight back, not with violence or hatred, but with love and peace and presence and justice against the bureaucracy that had allowed the poor black neighborhoods of New Orleans to be decimated by Katrina and which now had threatened their beloved sanctuary of hope.
It is difficult to watch "Shake the Devil Off" without becoming enraged. As a minister and as a peacemonger, I found myself both in tears and in fits of rage as I watched an already knocked down community knocked down even further by the religious bureaucrats who were doing not much more than stealing the soul of the Church. How could the Catholic Church, already facing nearly universal suspicion over its abysmal record of protecting children, turn itself so blindly away from the needs of its people? Could the Archdiocese, with a straight face, truly complain of a lack of income from this historic parish when the Church itself is practically engulfed in million dollar lawsuits based almost solely upon the tangible and intangible failures of Church leaders live out their faiths rightly and justly and according to their very own teachings?
These questions consumed my mind, demanding answers, even as the parishioners of St. Augustine assumed a decidedly more peaceful and loving approach by simply uniting themselves and sowing justice where injustice had been planted.
As captured by Peter Entell, the story of Father Jerome LeDoux and the parishioners of St. Augustine beautifully blends a celebration of St. Augustine's rich cultural history into its present-day struggles and the community that seemingly rallies around it when it is announced that the parish itself will be closed except for Sunday mass and Father LeDoux. After all appeals are exhausted, the community of St. Augustine's resorts to sit-ins, joined by local college students, and a media campaign to bring its case into the public eye.
Capturing life in a church that many consider to be the birthplace of jazz, Entell wisely incorporates a virtual sampler of New Orleans sights and sounds including live music from the likes of the Marsalis family, Esquizito, Mother Tongue and Deacon John Moore among others. While the film's sound editing occasionally sounded just a touch off, the film's music is a perfect complement to the struggles and triumphs of St. Augustine's.
Beautifully photographed, Entell does a stellar job of convicting the Archdiocese of New Orleans without ever stooping to condemnation. Much like the parishioners of St. Augustine's, Entell's filmmaking is decidedly peaceful as he plants himself firmly in the spiritual life of St. Augustine.
Currently on the arthouse circuit as it seeks to qualify for Academy Award consideration, "Shake the Devil Off" is a reminder of the power of a few loud voices to rise up against injustice and sow the seeds of hope and healing.
"Shake the Devil Off" is a must-see documentary for communities of faith, peacemongers, those who crave spiritual communities of change and those who simply wish to see a deeply touching story about one man, the community he inspired and the city this small parish is loving back to life.
For more information on "Shake the Devil Off," visit the film's website
. Be sure to visit the website's link pages to learn more about St. Augustine's.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic