drama series Lost returned last night with a bang. Those following
the series regularly will not have been disappointed. I've written
before about the religious themes in Lost (click here
for article), and have used various clips in my classes on religious themes
in TV drama (here). However the religious themes
have not surfaced lately, and though the story is still intriguing and
absorbing, it has become more violent. Most of the characters are very
flawed human beings and it's getting harder to empathise with them, as
they show little moral insight.
Much of the time Jack has been something of a moral character, but lately
we've seen him trying to kill Locke in a temper, and commiting calculated
perjury in court - in one of the flash-forward scenes (a brave an innovative
move in the show which relied so much on flasbacks until this series).
In fact many of the main characters are murderers, and some aren't showing
much regret or need of redemption. I think the purgatory theme is well
and truly ditched, especially as some of the flash-forwards show the characters
off the island and still seriously messed up.
Some of my students are still watching it, and I even heard one muttered
reference to it today when the issue of Purgatory came up.
is a new programme on TG 4 Wednesday nights. The series started with a
look at the flesh and blood nature of Christianity, as shown in various
practices and especially in classical art. Actually, there was too much
blood for my liking! We got too many close ups of enthusiastic young men
in the Philippines getting actually nailed to crosses and beating themselves
to the point of bloodletting with whips, and of paintings where the artists
put huge effort to capture pain and suffering, especially of the Christ
figures and miscellaneous martyrs. The artists strove to move us emotionally
by the careful depiction of suffering, but also to flex their artistic
muscles with flair and abandon. Presenter Christy Kenneally seemed well
disposed to Christianity, but used rather emotive language, especially
at the start. There was talk of Christianity being "fixated on flesh,
blood and physical suffering", seemingly "obsessed with the darkness of
death", "illustrated with nightmares of torture" amounting to "a horrific
hymn of praise to pain".
There's much more to it than that of course, but I suppose it's worth
asking why there has been so much emphasis on suffering. Was this mainly
the Church, the artists or the believers? And so we got a tour of Christian
history that took in the Council of Nicea which confirmed the true humanity
of Jesus (as well as the divinity!) leading to more of a focus on his
physical life, including the suffering. There was also a focus on the
Eucharistic presence of Christ's body, but nothing on John Paul II's theology
of the body, which would have made a useful addition to the programme.
With the overdose of blood and suffering I doubt if I'll be using it in
was prompted to some spiritual reflections when watching a recent edition
of Around the World in 80 Gardens, just finished it's run on BBC
2, Sunday nights. Presenter Monty Don enthused about some amazing Renaissance
gardens in Italy, especially Tivoli (left), gardens that were designed
for some Cardinals. One was hugely ambitious and aspired to the Papacy
though he never reached that goal. So, I wondered what were cardinals
doing with such opulence and exuding such vanity, why weren't they out
proclaiming the gospel with more humility? I know this was from a period
in the Church's history that doesn't exactly fill us with pride, but it's
still hard to comprehend how the gospel message got so derailed.
Yet, looking at the programme, there was no denying the stunning beauty
of these elaborate gardens. Without the patronage of these "princes" of
the Church we might never have received such a heritage, and of course
the same point could be made about all the great artwork that was produced
at the behest of other popes and cardinals.
So I suppose we'll just live with such ironies, where vanity and power
can produce beauty that inspires others to greater things. And there's
even more mileage in the issue of how beauty can go on to deceive and
distract. The writer of Psalm 30:31 was aware of the issue ("Charm
is deceitful and beauty is vain") as was Yeats when he wrote Prayer
for My Daughter (full text here)
- "May she be granted beauty and yet not /Beauty to make a stranger's
eye distraught, /Or hers before a looking-glass". The gardens were undeniably
beautiful, and most impressive of all were the water features - huge waterfalls
and fountains of all shapes sizes and themes, monumental feats of art
and engineering. I particularly like the massive stone dining table, about
50 feet long, with a small canal running up the middle of it to keep food
and drink cooled, and another little stream at the foot of it where you
could cool your toes! I wonder if those cardinals, as they dined alfresco
ever wondered if they had strayed too far from the Last Supper?
Iíve been following 7th Heaven on RTE Sunday afternoons since
it returned for a new series (11th I think). I have to admire a show with
such staying power, even praying power, and have enjoyed watching the
child characters grow up with, and sometimes grow away from, the show.
But of late itís getting incredibly corny and cringe inducing. About the
only thing worth watching for at this stage is the mostly dignified and
often touching performance of Stephen Collins as Rev Eric Camden, the
minister with a heart of gold, whose life is now threatened by an enlarged
heart. But for a recent episode he donned a kilt, in public, more embarrassing
for the viewer than for him. And I must confess the remaining children
in the show are becoming increasingly irritating. As for Happy the dog
Yesterdayís episode sought to highlight the humanitarian situation in
Darfur, fair enough in itself, but the scriptwriters donít do subtle.
I have to confess I was getting sick of Darfur by the end of the show
as they laid on the message with a heavy trowel. Than, in case we hadnít
got the message already, the show ended with a prolonged photomontage
of scenes from Darfur. Also there seemed to be a political edge to the
show Ė it was stressed over and over that the USA was doing great things
about Darfur, including being the prime movers in declaring what was happening
there to be genocide.
Still, I've used several clips from the show in school over the years,
including some where the characters pray - you don't see too much of that
in TV drama.
On Friday last I started on what will probably
be the final module of my religion and arts programme with Transition
Year students (c 15 year olds) - religious themes in poetry.
I started with the Leaving Cert course material these students will probably
meet next year in 5th year. The course for Leaving Cert 2010 is available
at the SLSS website.
Knowing it's for Leaving Cert gives the students a little extra interest
- religious poetry not being such an attractive proposition to them. But
I think it went will, with quite a bit of interaction, helped by the fact
that nearly half class were gone on work experience to the army!
First up was poetry on the Ordinary level course. We started with Milton's
On His Blindness (text here)
which was useful to discuss images of God, poetry as a way of serving
God, the parable of the talents and more. Next was Vaughn's poem Peace
with it's unusual military imagery, suggesting the security of Heaven.
We discussed the very different image of God in this poem, the idea of
the battle against evil, even how The Legion of Mary uses the Roman military
terminology for its organisational structure. Last of all we looked at
A Christmas Childhood (text here)
by Patrick Kavanagh, rather unseasonable, but useful for discussion of
innocence and childhood memories. One student remembered a special Winnie
the Pooh teddy from a past Christmas! Next week it will be the Higher
level poetry and then some modern performance poetry with religious themes.
For more see my article The Search for Meaning
promised Iíll outline some classwork I did recently with Transition Year
students (c 15 year old boys) on religious themes in TV drama.
Iíve built up a collection of clips over the years, most still on video
but Iím hoping to transfer them to DVD soon. I always like to add new
material and this year I used some clips from Prison Break (Scofieldís
confession box scene) and Lost (this time I used the scene where
Desmond, who was training to be a monk, was ďfiredĒ by his genial but
firm superior who concluded that life held something else in store for
Desmond apart from the monastery). I used the scene from BBCís Manchester
Passion where Judas sings Heaven Knows Iím Miserable Now. Old
faithfuls included scenes from Ballykissangel (they like the scene
where the guard Ambrose, announces to his fiancťe that he wants to become
a priest) and its US imitator Paradise Island; a confession box scene
from the X-Files (with a new X-Files movie due this summer
this show will become more familiar); a scene from cop show The District
where the boss tells a young cop-in-crisis that he can do Godís work by
On the animation front I use some Simpsons clips, (conscious that
not all Simpsons episodes are respectful to religion) especially the latter
half of the episode where Homer makes up his own religion and chats to
God (left) after his house burns down. Always hilarious no matter how
many times I see it, and always popular with the students. From God,
the Devil and Bob I use the scene from Episode 1 where God meets Bob
for the first time. There are plenty of clips from this series on YouTube.
This year after Easter I also included some clips from BBCís The Passion
shown over Holy Week Ė in particular I showed the Resurrection sequence
as I thought this was cleverly done and also was topical just after the
Easter holidays. Earlier in the previous term we had studied other film
versions of the life of Jesus so this made for an interesting contrast.
Reactions were generally positive but quite a few found the remote location
of the tomb in the desert rather odd. There were divergent views on whether
different actors should have been used for Jesus to convey the Bibleís
indication that for some reason they didnít recognise him at first. Some
didnít like what they saw as Mary Magdalenís over reaction at the tomb.
The Bible says she cried, but here she screamed and threw stones around.
One student commented that this version showed that ďspecial effects donít
always have to be used to create an amazing movieĒ.
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