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Blog Archive Sept 2007

30/9/07
After a month back in school I still don't feel settled in. Trying to use some artistic resources as usual, but it's hard to find time to use new ones. Did use the Confession scene from Prison Break when I was doing the Sacrament of Reconciliation with 6th years, along with my older material e.g. confession scene from X-Files. Taped another recently, though too late for class, from Only Fools and Horses. Not my favourite programme. The confession scene had the main character feeling bad that a scam he got caught up in involved swiping lead off the Church roof. He seemed genuine, but the resulting leak in the ceiling inspired him to set up a weeping statues scam to raise funds to save an old folks home. Not really offensive, but not sure of it's educational value! You'll get a flavour of the episode here on YouTube. Might add it to the video page later.
Saw The Fighting Temptations on RTE 2 Friday last - a film that centres around a gospel choir. There's great music, but the storyline was a tad corny and predictable - in order to get an inheritance a guy must get the local (and useless) gospel choir into shape for a competition. Guess what the outcome is! The film is favourably disposed to faith in a lukewarm kind of way, though church busybodies get a lash! The main character is a habitual liar, but he learns to be true to himself, though without any major religious conversion. The stereotypes would make you cringe at times, but the script is witty, and the whole thing so cheerful and upbeat that it's easy to enjoy and hard to get annoyed at. Some of the gospel music segments (including gospel rap - my son left the room in disgust at this stage!) might be useful in class to illustrate the variety of religious music, and the whole movie might make a useful example of a film with religious themes.

27/9/07
I didn't think I'd be disappointed with Prison Break, the US drama series back for a third season on RTE 2 last Thursday night. Fair play to RTE for getting it first on this side of the Atlantic, but I'm beginning to wonder if the producers should have ended it on a high last season. The first season concentrated on efforts to break an innocent man out of a Chicago jail, the second serried followed the exploits of the prisoners on the run and maintained high standards of plotting and character development. Now, rather implausibly, many of the same characters are back in jail, this time in Panama, and we're set up for another jailbreak. The Chicago jail was bad enough, but this one is completely savage, making for some very uncomfortable viewing. I won't be surprised in the Panamanian government starts kicking up.
One of my favourite programmes from the nineties was The Transatlantic Sessions and I'm thrilled to see it back on RTE 1 on Friday nights. The formula is simple - get some of the best folk musicians from Ireland, Scotland and USA together in a big house in Scotland and let them play away to their hearts content. Just two little disappointments to report here - it's not quite as good as the previous two series, with the material and performers just a tad weaker, and considering the musical roots involved I would have expected some gospel music to figure strongly - the nearest so far in what I've seen are two songs by Joan Osborne (well known for What If God Was One of Us, theme of the short lived Joan of Arcadia series). St Teresa, and Holy Waters seemed to be just using religious terms as metaphors.

6/9/07
I see a spectrum - on one end obvious respect, and on the other blatant blasphemy. The difficulties arise when you get near the middle, where artistic expression in particular treads a fuzzy borderline.
The Simpsons treads that line often, digging more at our human expressions of faith rather than the faith itself. Another animated series, God The Devil and Bob, offended some religious people with influence and it was pulled from the schedules in the USA, while others saw it as being quite respectful even if it was a bit raunchy at times. Jesus: The Guantanamo Years is a comedy show by Aibe Philbin Bowman, working the conceit that Jesus, being a Middle Eastern bearded man on a mission, would have been hauled in by US immigration and sent into internment. On Saturday Edition on Newstalk last weekend he defended the show against DUP councillor Christopher Stalford from the North, who took issue with him using Jesus like this. Stalford insisted he wasn't against freedom of expression, or seeking for the show to be censored or banned and it was worthwhile hearing his point of view getting a good airing. But his case was seriously undermined when he made out that this kind of thing wasn't funny, even though he hadn't seen the show! I don't subscribe to the idea that you can't criticise anything unless you've experienced it personally (e.g. drunkenness, or an infamously pornographic film) but Stalford just wasn't convincing in his arguments, while Bowman came across as being respectful of Jesus, and actually supportive of what he taught - arguing that the prejudice shown towards those of Middle Eastern origin was not consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Mind you his claim that his show "totally understood" Jesus was over the top. He covered other bases carefully - he was quite happy with any terrorists in Guantanamo being jailed after a fair trail, appreciated that the USA was a much better country than many others, but felt that it was undermining the values that had made it so good. I checked out a clip from the show on the internet (www.myspace.com/aibelaughs) and while I was a bit uncomfortable with him playing Jesus in comedy stand up (complete with symbolic crown of thorns), I really couldn't argue that it was disrespectful, though I thought it would be funnier and more dynamic.
The item reminded me of a discussion on The Last Word a week or so earlier, when Rev David McIlveen, also from the North, criticised the Harry Potter franchise for drawing children towards the dark arts and ultimately Satan. The Reverend has read his Bible, but unfortunately for him he hasn't read the Harry Potter books so it was quite easy for Eileen Battersby of The Irish Times to take him apart.
The interface of religion and the arts often figures on BBC 1's Heaven and Earth show, which came to the end of its run last Sunday morning. One of the special guests was a favourite singer of mine, Beth Nielsen Chapman, one of whose albums, "Hymns", is a most beautiful collection of mostly old Catholic Latin hymns from her childhood. On the show she spoke warmly of God as the "creative spirit" who goes by many names. Her upbringing on US army bases where a single space was used by many religious traditions gave her an appreciation of the presence of God in these religions. Her next album, "Prism", available later this month, will be a collection of spiritual songs, one of which she performed with great enthusiasm on the show. "God is In" was a simple but infectious song on the theme that God is everywhere. There were lines that might raise some eyebrows - "God is in those dancing pagans God is in the atheist and all those things that don't exist". Irony or what? Anyone offended?