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Imagine the terror of a ten-year-old boy suddenly facing the nozzle of a submachine gun held by an SS soldier, after having been slammed against the courtyard wall with its butt. It was Jo Joffo, waiting for his older brother on the Rue de Russie in Nazi-occupied Nice, France. It was summer, 1942. For over a month nasty inspectors interrogated him and his brother at the Excelsior Hotel until they were finally released. This experience ripped Jo Joffo from his childhood with its games of marbles and jacks, with ringing doorbells and other pranks.

This boy would later become a French author whose 1974 memoir A Bag of Marbles narrates this gripping flight to freedom, a hair-breath away from the enemy. So deep was the memoir’s appeal that it was translated into eighteen languages.

Such stories of survival still speak. From a safe distance, we observe and learn from others who have suffered heart-wrenching losses and survived murderous occupations of their countries. Yet, our times are not that different. Subtle forms of “occupation” still abound: social media, fake news, and addictive substances that manipulate attitudes, thoughts, and choices and keep spirits in bondage to Evil. Indeed, Jesus cautions us whenever we step outside our homes: “Be like sheep among wolves, cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

The Plaza Frontenac Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, is currently showing the second film adaption of this memoir A Bag of Marbles; Christian Duguy directed it with English sub-titles.


Sections of empty seats in Powell Symphony Hall unnerved me. This was most unusual. On the program was the performance John Adams’s passion-opera-oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012); its libretto, a collage of Scriptural texts and selections from Dorothy Day, Hildegard of Bingham, and other poets, was composed by Peter Sellars.

Others felt the absence of the usual patrons for this Sunday matinee and buried themselves in the program notes. Like a voyeur, however, this emptiness pried into our concentration and stalked our preconception of what was coming. Never have I sat in such an audience.

All was ready: the St. Louis Symphony musicians and Chorus, two mezzo-sopranos, the tenor, and three countertenors awaited the baton of David Robertson. From the first notes came the primal engagement. Like it or not, we were to be swept into the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus and held hostage until its end.

Unlike other Passion oratorios, however, Jesus himself does not appear, nor His cross nor other images associated with His passion. As the libretto seeded our imaginations, everyone, onstage and off, became the Anointed One. Everyone suffered the dregs of intolerable darkness; were plummeted into that singular place of no return, alone and terrified; and nudged into ultimate trust of God, until released into Light. Enhancing this conversion experience were eerie sounds, from the musicians and principals, sounds turned inside out and prodding us into even deeper consciousness.

At the conclusion of the performance, even fewer patrons left Powell Hall for the parking lot, others having absented themselves at the intermission—Perhaps an allusion to “the grazers,” mentioned in Peter Sellars YouTube, A Fresh Passion.

Happy Easter to those daring to look afresh at this mystery!


It was Saturday afternoon, in the darkened movie theater of the Shady Oak. Around me other kids fidgeted and munched popcorn. Tentatively, I felt my nose. Unlike Pinocchio’s, it had not grown, despite lies I had told that morning. I squirmed in my seat; my face flushed knowing that scorched place from which this marionette’s tall tales flowed, one after another.

It was 1940. Walt Disney Studios had released an animated film based upon the epic fairy tale-novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 and set in Tuscan, Italy. An immediate sensation, it was translated into multiple languages—the English version by Mary Alice Murray, in 1892. Unlike Disney’s Pinocchio, however, Collodi’s takes the reader into his struggle to become the living son of the impoverished Geppetto who had carved him from a singing block of wood.

Wayward and petulant, the next morning Pinocchio kills the Talking Cricket crawling on the wall of the cottage and runs away, barreling out of control. A succession of misadventures befalls him: at the Great Marionette Theater; with a host of animals, both tricksters and helpful; at the Land of the Toys where he’s transformed into a donkey; and at the circus. All through these scrapes the spirit of the same Talking Cricket accompanies him and equates his lies to the enlargement of his nose. Even more trauma befalls Pinocchio until his wooden heart becomes one of flesh, and he wakes up as a boy, the son of Geppetto and his wife.

Both Collodi’s and Disney’s versions of this fairy tale offer a simple morality tale for children of any age. It’s about becoming fully human with its joys and foibles.




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