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St. Louis Buddhists Are Now Featured in a New Movie

Ian Scott Aug 20, 2018 8:06 AM
TZU CHI STAFF
Kalen McAllister faces the camera.
Laughing Bear Bakery and Shinzo Zen Meditation Center share a building at 1610 Olive Street (it’s a big building). Here, in large part to the efforts of Kalen McAllister, who founded both organization, convicts are given a second chance at work, and meditators work to achieve enlightenment.

McAllister, a Buddhist priest and founder of Inside Dharma, has been invaluable in her efforts to bring Zen Buddhism to St. Louis, and has the (baked) goods to back them up. Now, a new film is highlighting the incredible story.

“Second Chances” is one of four short films — all themed around Buddhists doing various good deeds — set to show in St. Louis next month. The screening will be hosted by the Tzu Chi USA, a Taiwanese philanthropic organization. The film focuses on the foundation of the bakery, which only employs convicts, and the impact it's made.


The bakery's origins were detailed in an April 2017 RFT story. McAllister was a prison chaplain for five years; she made strong connections with the inmates, and she looked for a way to secure work (and income) for rehabilitated convicts upon their release.

McAllister founded Laughing Bear in 2015, part of her quest to help ex-cons find jobs. ("We only hire ex-offenders,” she boasted two years later.) The organization began as a nonprofit and work-skills program within Inside Dharma, an outreach organization that offers Buddhist teachings to incarcerated and ex-offenders. In 2016, Laughing Bear moved to an incubator commercial kitchen at Centenary United Methodist Church downtown. The Shinzo Zen Meditation Center, where McAllister teaches, moved in last year, too.

KALEN MCALLISTER
Laughing Bear employs ex-offenders.

"Second Chances" initially premiered in New York City in May, though McAllister was too wrapped up with working on the bakery to go. She will be in attendance for its St. Louis premiere, set for September 7 at Webster University's Winifred Moore Auditorium, and will participate in a Q&A session after the film regarding socially active Buddhism.

Mcallister describes the clientele of Shinzo Zen as a “steady group." Still, she notes, Buddhism "is a hard practice, because we don't offer anything at the end. There aren't rewards, like if you meditate you go to heaven. It's about the here, the right now, this moment. So if we don't offer rewards, it's not everyone's cup of tea."

"Second Chances," along with the other three films, is essentially on tour right now. After St. Louis, it will play in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then in mid-October it will screen in what's perhaps the kingdom of westernized Buddhism, Los Angeles.

“Second Chances” airs at Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium (470 E. Lockwood Ave) on September 7. The four films will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $8 on Eventbrite and are now on sale.

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