Archive Nov 2007
I'm currently in the middle of a module on religious themes in
film with Transition Year class. Firstly I divided them into small
groups – each group had to lists films with religious themes in various
categories – e.g. comedy, horror, serious drama, biography, and “weird”
(films about cults, dodgy faith healers etc, the movies often focus on
this aspect of religion). This was a useful 40 minutes as I could ramble
from group to group discussing the various issues that arose. I then took
feedback and filled the board with all the films named in their categories.
The next step was to show clips that would represent some of these films
and categories. I used the parting of the waters scene from The Ten
Commandments (Cecil B. de Mille version, 1956) as an example of the
old fashioned Bible epic, some scenes from Sister Act (including
the first appearance of the gospel choir) as an example of comedy, the
scene from The Field where the priest upbraids the community for
hiding a murderer (I find the film version to have an anti-clerical bent
not present in the original John B. Keane play), and the similar but more
positive scene from On the Waterfront where the priest (Karl Malden)
remonstrates more kindly with his community, also for staying deaf
and dumb about a murder) – both examples of serious drama. As an example
of “weird” I used a clip from one of my personal favourites Static,
about a collector of faulty crucifixes who believes he can tune in heaven
on his TV. The scene where he reveals his invention always holds the students’
attention. It raises interesting questions about heaven, and has echoes
of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. It’s not everybody’s cup
of tea but I don’t find it disrespectful, and it’s certainly unpredictable.
Next, I’ll be moving on to a class or two about films on the life of Jesus.
At the end of the Mission of the Church module I brought the
third year students to the prayer room. Apart from some prayers and readings
I found it hard to come up with some good music on the topic - all suggestions
gratefully received (use contact details over). I used Go and Do the
Same by Sal Solo from his excellent Look at Christ album, Salt
and Light by Amy Delaine from the Various Artists album Songs From
the Loft (full of useful material for teens), and Here I Am Lord
- the John Michael Talbot version from the album Table of Plenty,
and even Go Tell It on the Mountain by Peter, Paul and Mary (don't
think this version went down too well with my lads!).
Doing classes on The Mission of the Church with third year students,
I gave one class over to looking at music as a way of spreading the gospel.
This year I used three pieces of music on video - Michael Card singing
the beautiful Known by the Scars, and Amy Grant singing Too
Late, a song about commitment, and Calling on You, a rather
unusual prayer song by metal group Stryper. All video clips I had taped
from The Rock Gospel Show, an old programme broadcast on BBC, but
the students rightly pointed out, especially with Stryper , that the message
wasn't coming through very clearly because the words couldn't be made
out clearly, surely a telling point with relevance to any method of spreading
the gospel. These clips are hard to find now, but plenty of alternatives
are available from the likes of John Michael Talbot, Liam Lawton, and
others I've mentioned in my article on using music DVDs in class (here).
At a parent teacher meeting today I was glad to hear that one student
had reported home, favourably, on the classes, and that the parents were
also fans of Michael Card.
In English class have been studying Philadelphia
Here I Come! by Brian Friel (comparatively with The Truman Show
and The Importance of Being Earnest). Religion is part of the social
background, but it’s not presented that positively. The Canon is in a
long tradition of doddery/figure-of-fun clergymen, like Dr Chasuble in
The Importance of Being Earnest, Fr Mulcahy in MASH, Rev
Lovejoy in The Simpsons, you know the type. There’s the usual thing
from Irish writers about the repressive/oppressive Church, especially
in sexual matters, but there was one striking quote in a scene towards
the end – the main character Gar is frustrated at the poor relationship
he has with his father, it’s heartbreaking really, and he desperately
wants to make sense of it before leaving for Philadelphia in the morning.
As his father and the Canon play draughts/checkers the Private Gar makes
a silent plea to the Canon: “you could translate all this loneliness,
this groping, this dreadful bloody buffoonery into Christian terms that
will make life bearable for us all … Isn’t this your job? - to translate?
Why don’t you speak then? Prudence, arid Canon? Prudence be damned! Christianity
isn’t prudent – it’s insane!”. In the context I take this to be a roundabout
compliment to Christianity. Discuss!
Have been doing faith with third year students,
and finished off today with a prayer service. The songs I used were: Faithful
by Kim Hill (from original album Kim Hill, or compilation CD Testimony
- hear a sample here),
which focuses on our faithfulness to God, Faithful by Randy Stonehill
(from album Until We Have Wings) which is more about God’s faithfulness
to us, and We Believe in God by Amy Grant (from the Various Artists
compilation Songs From the Loft, which has some great songs for
young teens and adults - hear samples here).
I would have used I Believe in the Sun by Carey Landry from the
old Glory and Praise collection, but my tape of it is worn out!
I did however use the words as a meditation – you’ll find them here.
It was last class in the evening and the third years were a bit frisky,
but I hope it was a suitable way to round up two weeks on the topic of
faith. Any other ideas on this theme would be welcome.
started to do the poetry of Phillip Larkin in English class. His
poem Church Going is certainly not devotional, but raises some
interesting ideas - here the poet hasn't much time for religion, reckons
that soon all church buildings will "fall completely out of use", and
yet feels strangely drawn to churches, in these buildings, despite everything,
he finds meaning in the modern world - "A serious house on serious earth
it is,/In whose blent air all our compulsions meet … someone will forever
be surprising/A hunger in himself to be more serious … gravitating with
it to this ground". He returns to church in An Arundel Tomb, and
again is ambiguous, certainly not as sure as Donne about the immortality
of love - "Our almost-instinct, almost true:/What will survive of us is
love". Yet in The Explosion, he celebrates a heavenly vision reportedly
seen by wives of miners killed in a mine explosion: "The dead go on before
us, they/Are sitting in God's house in comfort,/We shall see them face
to face ". Admittedly he does distance himself from this somewhat by noting
that this was a quote from the vision, but overall the poem is very positive.
For a fuller treatment of Church Going click here.
a look at The Tudors on TV 3 recently. The production values are
high, the costumes and sets are impressive, the actors are excellent -
Sam Neill as Cardinal Wolsey, Maria Doyle Kennedy as Katherine of Aragon,
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII to name but a few, but I couldn't warm
to it. It was unnecessarily crude, the foul language seemed anachronistic,
and Henry made for a particularly repulsive character, especially played
by Myers as a spoiled, selfish, petulant young fellow, a 16th century
rock star! Henry's divorce case and the resultant conflict with Rome were
central at this stage - as Henry was increasingly thwarted he started
toying with the idea of becoming his own little pope in England. Thomas
Moore figured increasingly coming across as a calm man of conscience,
Henry insisted on him becoming Chancellor, though Moore was reluctant,
aware of the storm clouds ahead. Henry knew Moore's opinion of the marriage
dispute, but promised that it wouldn't cause him any trouble in his new
office. Oh well, that didn't work out so well.
Spiderman 3 last night and wasn’t expecting any deep themes, religious
or otherwise. But I was in for a surprise. The most overtly religious
scene was decidedly odd. Spiderman, going through a bit of an evil alter
ego experience (as you do when you’re a superhero), looked up a church,
as if longing for goodness, and perched himself on the steeple for a bit
of a think. Meanwhile inside the church, one of the villains was actually
praying to Jesus to kill Spiderman! This guy was no stereotype villain
– he was a young photographer who had let ambition lead him to do wrong
(quite a bit like Macbeth). Mind you, he was under the influence of a
parasitic alien life form, but seemed quite willing to go over to the
dark side. There was a strong message against revenge in the film (Spiderman’s
aunt warns him against the inner corruption in a scene that I might use
in class), and there is a significant redemption theme when he is reconciled
with one of his friends at the end, and when he forgives one of the villains
for unintentionally killing his uncle. I’m not sure how useful this segment
would be in class as they students mightn’t thank me for giving away the