Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tattoos as Teaching Tools? With an Excursus on Sugar Packets...

I've been having a serious form filling week and fancied something even more frivolous that I normally post so please indulge me! I've been preparing my lectures for my undergrad course on Second Temple Wisdom, specifically on the Song of Songs. I've got the general introduction done and want to cover something about the interpretation of the Song throughout the history of biblical study in the second more indepth lecture. Now I don't have a whole deal of time (oh one day I'll get a whole 24 hour semester course to have such fun!) so I have to give a snap shot. Historically it's fine-start at Hippolytus and work through Origen, Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercian commentaries and a hop skip and a jump up to Pope Benedict XVI's Deus Caritas Est. Sprinkle with a little Messianism and I reckon I'll have it covered! But I want to include something more modern-for the rest of the Wisdom Literature books we've worked on I've tried to look at how the 'modern' Catholic Liturgy uses them and how the texts or the literature is still used even in secular society.

Anyone who I've ever tutored Wisdom Literature with knows about my Gem sugar packet trick-I show the longevities of the popularity of proverbs as a genre of literature that derives from a society’s oral tradition and how proverbs are an integral part of a culture by "procuring" packets of Gem sugar from every coffee shop and cafe I visit. Gem sugar print an Irish proverb on the back of each individual serving of sugar. I throw a packet out to each student (so much more fun than passing!) and we read them out-my year long collection means I can normally have a different proverb for each student. This always generates a bit of a giggle as some of the proverbs can be a little obscure. Some are easier to understand than others. Some require a little thought or an explanation of the image (e.g. you need to know what is involved in the process of thatching to understand "The day of the big wind is no time to be doing the thatching") Sound familiar? Exactly the same process with Hebrew proverbs. Without the threat of tooth decay...

To try and find something similar for the Song of Songs, I thought about what most people associate the text with and as they usually only hear the text at weddings, the phrase "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies" of 6:3 is probably familiar to most and has been interpreted in a very modern context as a good thing to ink on your body to show your love for your new spouse. David and Victoria Beckham have a matching tattoo which I put up on a power point slide with the Hebrew inserted in a text box over it. Then on the next slide I have David's matching one. It's a hard job hunting through hundreds of pictures of David looking for this-but I'm nowt but dedicated :)

We have a discussion then about the problems of David's feminine form of the verse and of the difference between the pointed and unpointed versions-using an example of Christina Aguilera’s similar though unpointed tattoo. Then we usually have a good debate (time permitting) about how this is actually an interpretation of the text as about a marriage between a man and a woman and how apt this is.
I never fail to highlight how Victoria is actually smarter than she acts as she obviously knows her Hebrew-the association between the Hebrew terms of David and Beloved is surely deliberate! More debate here, though not usually focused on the biblical text!

For more information on Hebrew Tattoos in general have a look at the Hebrew Tattoo blog for more whacky and beautiful designs.

And here's my Tat before you say I'm avoiding mentioning it :) Hebrew of hesed meaning "steadfast love", with pointing on my left wrist.

Lecture is in the next month so I'll let you know how it goes and of any revisions I make! Feedback as always greatly appreciated...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent & Easter Websites

Lent may be a time for penance and giving up chocolate and sugar in your tea (though if you're Irish you're already looking forward to St Patrick's Day-our national "Day Off" Lent and some Sundays. And your birthday if you're lucky enough to have it fall in the 40 days (though is it really 40? Can we squeeze another day off from somewhere?) but it's something that's being featured more and more on the Internet. Lent even has it's own hashtag on Twitter where #imgivingup is currently a trending topic on the site.

I'm trying to DO something for Lent rather than suffer misery and asked for suggestions on Facebook-some websites people recommended were:

CAFOD the official overseas development and relief agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has great ideas on what to do with the money you save over Lent (thank you Jane!)
LiveSimply hasn't updated their site for 2010 but the Lenten Ideas page for 2009 is excellent
The American Franciscan website (thank you Nancy!) has a great focus on reducing your carbon footprint. Accroding to Nacy this is all the rage stateside for Lent and something worth embracing all year round!

In Ireland it's Give Up Smoking Day so those addicted to the weed should check out the HSE website-good luck with that and may it last longer than 40 days!

Here's a few other websites concerned with the Lenten Season and some you could look at for ideas for Easter:

This Franciscan run website features a Lenten calendar, activities, readings and reflections updated daily throughout Lent, from Ash Wednesday through Holy Week and Good Friday. One particularly useful aspect of the site is the “Lenten Radio Retreat” which includes inspiring words and songs for Sunday Lenten reflection either online, or offline with a MP3 player. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, the site will post a new retreat each week for the duration of the Lenten season. There are also links to many articles from the publication “Catholic Update” that may be used for reflection including an excellent examination of the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, the significance of the Cross and some helpful FAQs on Lent which could be included in your parish bulletin. The e-cards on the site are slightly cheesy though-Have a Happy Lent?

The website run by the Global Catholic Network offers beautiful reflections on the Stations of the Cross with accompanying graphics. Websites such as this offer an excellent resource for small pastoral groups and even educators who may wish to offer a guide to the Stations but may not have the time and resources to attend a church or other physical representation. The ever popular Sacred Space website offers an online retreat on its well maintained site. The site also has an e-card resource and provides links to other sites that offer Lenten resources. One of the most admirable aspects of the content of the site is that its resources are translated into many languages making it accessible to practically all members of our communities.

Fr James McSweeney from Cork runs this excellent site that offers a “thought for the day” and is a good recommendation for those who resolve to take some time out from a busy day and focus on the philosophy of the site- that today is God’s gift to you. As a keen (and talented) photographer, James updates the photo on the main page each day and manages to blend the secular and spiritual with a reflective and inspiring approach that is worth a visit during the Lenten season.

Trócaire and the box with a wide-eyed child on it are synonymous with Lent for many Irish people and their website and provides background information on their Lenten theme, this year it is Hunger. There are plenty of development education resources for teachers and students featured on the site with information on Trócaire’s work with displaced people and an online form for ordering a Lenten DVD for schools. The colourful and easy navigable site provides not just information on Trócaire’s work with displaced people but resources that may be used in parishes. Clergy would benefit from reflection on the “thought for the week”, based on Trócaire’s ongoing charitable work throughout the world.

This site provides a beautiful resource on the Way of the Cross for use during Holy Week. The presentation is based on the “Bitter Journey” and provides reflections on Jesus’ last journey before his crucifixion through scripture references, reflections and religious texts accompanied by music and other sounds. The graphics that are used to portray a more modern, audio-visual contemplation on the traditional Stations of the Cross are the strong point of the site, promoting a real engagement with the material. The concept for the site is based on the traditions associated with the Tenebrae services, the Stations of the Cross and the Lamentations of Good Friday. In omitting some of the traditional Catholic stations, this feature refers to Pope John Paul II’s revised celebration of the Way of the Cross, which he led in Rome in 1991. The series of scenes is played using Adobe Flash player, which may be downloaded for free on the Internet. Teachers and those involved with small parish groups can easily download the montage using Real Player.

As our attention turns towards Jerusalem during Holy Week, it is interesting to use the Internet as a competent visual aid. This website provides a gateway to the holy city of Jerusalem with easy access anytime and from anywhere to the 3.4 billion people around the world have a special place in their hearts for the city. Those adventurous enough can record their own prayer to be broadcast by the websites owners through loudspeakers at various points over Jerusalem. The site offers educational resources on all areas of religious significance in the city, including video guides to the principal prayer sites. The option on the left hand side of the main page “Western Wall” provides a live feed to those praying at the Western Wall, a privileged view only those luck enough to travel to the city can witness. For more detailed images of the city, equirectangular images are used on Jerusalem360 to provide a 360 degree, virtual tour of Jerusalem. Sites such as the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, All Nations Church and the Western Wall (both a day and night view) can be viewed in a full 360 degree “sphere”-all the benefits of the tourist experience without the crick in your neck! You can also get a “feel” for the culture of the city by clicking on the “People” tag and see 360 degree stills of children at a history lesson in the Old city and a brightly coloured souk. The site needs Quicktime to load the images but provides a link to a free download if your computer does not already have it installed.

And if you're still stuck for ideas just donate some money to the people of Haiti and the relief effort

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Welcome to my World

I'm attempting to be all productive in the form filling side of my career this week but couldn't resist taking some time away from signing things in triplicate to share this picture I found on the SBL website:

There's no caption with it but a sneak at the properties of the picture show that this is a general pic from "a session" at the Annual Meeting held in New Orleans. The picture is therefore a generic (look at the fun you can have at our meetings! Sign up below!) one taken for marketing purposes.

Now class-anyone have any comments? Apart from the fact that everyone looks a little pained and the guy in the front and centre is wearing one of those trendy Dead Sea Scrolls ties (be afraid! You can get a bow tie too but that's a post for another day...oh ok then)
Unless you've lost the power of observation you should have noted that there is indeed only one female in the picture-front and centre mind you and not the most enthralled expression on her face but she is there! So welcome to my world. And I'd be willing to bet money on the fact she's not a lay women either.

The reason that this probably caught my eye (I'm kind of used to it by this stage) is that I've been invited to propose a contribution (probably a short paper) that I could give at the SBL Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession sponsored "Survivor" session for the Annual Meeting in 2011 in San Francisco. The topic of this session is teaching in conservative institutions. The thought of being a "survivor" at the age of 30 and only 3 years after getting my doctorate seems a tad premature but I'm excited at the idea of sharing my experiences and getting feedback from the huge amounts of female members of the SBL who attend these sessions. Rumour has it that only 23% of the SBL membership are female and when you attend the Women's Breakfast at the Annual meeting (so so worth getting out of bed for a 7.30am start!) and listen to our shared experiences you realise how tough it is for women t o get a break in the academic side of Biblical Studies. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Blog Roll

I've added a blog roll to my blog which seems to prove once and for all how diverse my interests are! The only criteria I stipulated for inclusion into the list was that there had to be some evidence of keeping the blog up-to-date and it had to be one that I read now and again. Some of the blogs are written by friends of mine, some by people I met at conferences, some I like the name of, one for the pure horror of the Hebrew tattoos that the blog critiques, some just because I feature on it, and some properly nerdy ones that no biblenerd should be without!

The proficient blogger that is Zoomtard (putting us all to shame blogging with broken arms-yes that is the plural) called this blog a biblioblog but I'm not too sure. Apparently there's a lot of strict criteria to be called this and I'm not too pushed on all that effort (perhaps the form filling I've been doing for funding this past week has made me wary about things with bullet points!) To be honest a lot of biblioblogs seem to take the format of "Oh I was reading this really obscure bit of Esther and here's 1200 words with no graphics on why I think it's especially fascinating. And I disagree with all the following people-link them in so they have to read this. Sit Back. Wait for Comments. Indulge in back biting and more obscure references." If this format is getting a bit tired, blog about how many books you're going to buy at SBL. Then take pictures of the piles, lamenting how you'll never get around to reading them as you're so busy reading Esther. And repeat.

Though never say never. The day blogging counts for academic publishing will be the day I start chopping up articles and lecture notes and following the above format. Until then, this is a handy resource I can send those poor unfortunates who have to sit through my workshops to so they don't have to cut and paste. And a good place to put all those Bible cartoons I get sent and have nowhere to showcase them.

Speaking of which :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Images of God-The Simpsons

I'm teaching my first postgrad course in Milltown on Images of God in Prophetic Literature. It's fantastic to have a course with postgrads (even though there's only five of us in the group) who are only too eager to share their ideas. The fact that they actually do the readings and assignments helps! As usual it's me who does most of the learning out of the course and one thing that it's renewed my interest in is the images of God (as in the physical images, rather than the metaphorical) that we come across in out daily lives and how these images shape our understanding of God.

One of the images I find most interesting and that is useful to those involved in second-level education is the character of God in the hugely popular Fox network television cartoon The Simpsons. While God does not appear on the character list on the official website he (and God is very much depicted as male) has appeared in several episodes as a reoccuring character , including "Homer the Heretic", "Thank God It's Doomsday", and a quick scene with him, Buddha, and Colonel Sanders in "Pray Anything".
The characeter is voiced by Harry Shearer and is normally seen as portrayed in a very traditional depiction of the Abrahamic God in the Western world: a gray-haired Caucasian man in a white robe with a booming voice. Though is is worth noting that God in The Simpsons is yellow-skinned (like the main “human” characters, but is clearly not of a different race (for instance dark-skinned like Carl, or Asian, like Apu).

In one episode, "A Star Is Burns" that he speaks in "Flanderese", responding to Ned Flanders' "Thanks, God!" with "Okely-dokely!"). His face is only seen in a picture owned by Homer in "Pray Anything" (though this was likely an artist's depiction), a picture owned by Ned Flanders in "Alone Again, Natura-Diddily", and the opening sequence for "Treehouse of Horror XVI". In all other episodes, only his beard is seen as the camera only films him up to the shoulders (God is a head taller than everyone else). His body is usually surrounded by a glowing light, and his robes float around him, though not always. He always wears old-school sandals.

He does not seem to be all-knowing; for instance, when referring to his son, he states that he does not know "what you people did to him" but "He hasn't been the same since". Also, in the Treehouse of Horror XIV segment "Reaper Madness" Homer tricks God by dressing Patty up as Marge. In the episode "Simpsons Bible Stories," where stories in the Bible are played by Simpsons characters, Ned Flanders plays the character of God in the story of Adam and Eve while Homer and Marge play Adam and Eve. In this episode, God's voice sounds like that of Ned Flanders; and while he is not actually seen we do see God's arm pop out of a cloud wearing Ned's trademark green sweater. One of God's distinctive features is that he is the only Simpsons character to be drawn with five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot, though not always (there have been scenes where God has only four fingers like everyone else in the show).

The Simpsons has a surprising amount of scholarly work on the idea of religion and the use of biblical texts. The show is very useful as the episodes are widely available, most students (and teachers and chaplains!) have seen the episodes in question at least once and due to the nature of the cartoon, it is easily to show either entire episodes or some snippets in order to spark debate or find another angle of looking at a biblical passage or concept

Some Internet Links for Resources on the animated series and the film:

Article on The Simpsons Movie and Religion
The Simpsons Archive

Religion on The Simpsons

Blessed Ned of Springfield by Mark I. Pinsky

Simpsons Movie Search for “Simpsons” and you get over a page of results-articles and graphics.

Springfield’s Saints by Cary McMullen

The secret of The Simpsons by William Langley

What would Homer do? By David Crumm
One DVD I have found particularly helpful is The Simpsons Classics "Heaven and Hell" available from lots of outlets including Amazon.