KTWU producer goes national with ‘Beyond Theology’

Taking Topeka to the national level Dave Kendall directs a new production that will take viewers “Beyond Theology.”

Travis Perry

When put together, thought-provoking theology, public television and a former French rap artist can only be one thing: “Beyond Theology.”

Produced by Topeka’s own KTWU, director Dave Kendall examines the history of the simple acronym, WWJD-What Would Jesus Do. The story of WWJD is an interesting one, but few are aware that its origins lie with a late 19th century Topeka minister, Rev. Charles Sheldon of the Congregational Church and author of “In His Steps,” a story of a fictional church where congregation members are encouraged to think what would Jesus do before handling a situation.

“Locally, I don’t think many people know that WWJD and Charles Sheldon came out of Topeka,” said Kendall. “Actually, the whole story of ‘In His Steps’ was targeted at Washburn students who came to Sunday evening service at the church.”

Made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Schumacher Foundation of Salina, Kan., Kendall was ecstatic at the thought of being able to expand the project beyond Topeka and into the national spotlight. In cooperation with American Public Television, the second largest distributor of public television in the nation, KTWU has been screened and approved for the first installment of the series to be aired at 8 p.m. on Feb. 26.

“Beyond Theology” features many of the great religious scholars in the world today, and Kendall traveled from Berkeley, Calif. to Harvard, Mass. in search of a fresh perspective on religion. Among those featured in the documentary are Sister Joan Chittister of Eerie, Pa., James Ford Jr. of Riverside Church in New York City and Peter Gomes, campus minister for Harvard University.

Others who helped in making “Beyond Theology” a reality included Jeff Carson of Gizmo Pictures, who helped with green-screening processes, and narrator Charles Atkins Jr., a prison chaplain for the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Yardville, N.J. Formerly a rising French hip-hop artist with Blacksound Productions, Atkins discovered that he was not leading the life he wanted and left Paris to join divinity school. Kendall said Atkins was truly living the life that Sheldon preached, and that this great voice and personality really added to the production.

“The challenge has been conceptualizing it and figuring out who you want to interview,” said Kendall

To make the most out of a single interview and to be sure he was speaking to the correct people, Kendall spent hours researching topics and publications of people he hoped to include in the program. He said while he didn’t read as much as he should have, he absorbed as much information as time would allow.

Kendall continued by saying that while “Beyond Theology” will offer a fresh and challenging view for what is going on in the world, it’s not intended for those who have their minds set already. Rather, it is aimed at those still searching for answers to what is happening in the world and in their lives.

“My hope is that getting people to expand their perspective of what’s happening on the planet will help us get over some of these sectarian differences,” said Kendall.

Kendall said that a large portion of the support he received during the two-year production of the project came from Eugene Williams, general manager of KTWU, and his wife Laura Kendall. Williams pushed for the crew to produce a high-caliber project, and Laura was great in establishing a trust with those Kendall was interviewing.

“Things are changing, and sometimes Topeka takes the rap for not being the most progressive, free-thinking city in the country,” said Kendall. “There are a lot of people here that are trying to bridge the gaps.”