Thursday, January 28, 2010

Follow Up on Social Networking-God and Facebook

Purely humourous but  to brighten up your day check out this mock up of God's very own Facebook page, created by Andrew B.-and as I've been telling my student's for years, God has a great sense of humour :)

Click on the two pictures picture below for a better look and be warned some of the humour may be a little crude for the delicate amongst us:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Social Networking

My website reviews for Intercom for February were based on my favourite hobby horse of the moment, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Bebo. Many people (Ryan Tubridy I'm looking at you) think that they're the the detriment of modern society and the root cause of all the world's problems from family breakdown to poor spelling. I managed to get most of the rant out in the 400 words allocated to the website reviews but I've reprinted a longer version here with the generous permission of my most wonderful editor, Francis.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph in August 2009, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols voiced his concerns that social networking websites such as Facebook and Bebo encourage teenagers to build “transient relationships” that can leave them traumatised and even suicidal if they collapse. Nichols said that the sites encouraged young people to put too much emphasis on the number of friends they had rather than on the quality of their relationships. His comments follow an inquest into the death of 15-year-old Megan Gillan, from Macclesfield, England, who took a fatal overdose after being bullied on the social networking site Bebo. Nichols claimed that the Internet and mobile phones were “dehumanising” community life, and relationships had been weakened by the decline in face-to-face meetings.

“I think there's a worry that an excessive use or an almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we're losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that's necessary for living together and building a community.”

Does the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales have a point or is his view of social networking sites outdated? A social network focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. The websites normally provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as email and instant messaging. As a subscriber and regular user of several social networking websites, I have found that using them actually helps me keep in touch with friends both from the past and to keep in touch with new people I meet either through work or socially. At a recent party, my group of friends laughed as we realised we did not have to spend time catching up on what had happened to us since we had last met as we can easily keep tabs on each others lives through out Facebook accounts. Reaching out to a friend now can be done instantly and a short message can brighten up a day and remind someone that you are thinking of them. Naturally this system is open to abuse, especially in the perilous social world of a teenager. Bullying started in the real, not virtual world and just as we have to teach out children the social skills and self confidence to face the taunts that they might face in every day human interactions, we need to do the same with online activity.

At the moment social networking sites that cater to a majority of Catholic users are small in number, but growing daily in their users and the resources that each site offers. There are five clear leaders in this area:

Flocknote caters for two types of users. If you are a Church or community leader the site facilitates the sending notes to the entire congregation or just a specific group without the frustrating job of managing multiple mailing lists by email. As a member of the site, you can get the latest news and information from the groups (e.g. Liturgy, PPC, Readers of the Word) you wish to subscribe to; through the website, email, text messages, and more.
The Catholic Community website is helpful if you run a group, organization or parish as this community enables to promote your aims as well as your news and events. When people link to your group you can not only keep them up to date, but they can meet other people who share a passion for your work. One of the fastest growing elements of the site is the section on sharing your skills and opportunities for volunteer work.
While 4marks is still a small community, the website grows daily and if you run a group, organization or parish you can use this community to promote your aims or your news and events. The website has weekly trivia, daily lessons, information on the Saints, and other interactive features as well as the usual platform for establishing networking with other Catholics. The site is very family friendly and very heavily moderated so that you can be guaranteed that the content is suitable for all ages.
This website MyCatholicVillage is quite small in terms of the amount of registered users it has but it is relatively new and the number grows quite rapidly. The majority of registered users are based in the US but this is slowly expanding. One of the benefits about the site is that it follows the outline of social networking sites such as MySpace which mean that it is very user friendly and efficient.

Xt3 which stands for Christ in the third millennium was launched for World Youth Day in Australia in July 2008. Since then, more than 35,000 people from 170 countries have signed up to the site. I feel the jury is still out on the "coolness" of a site that has as it's tag line "So good even the Pope uses it". It has the functionalities of the most common social networks, but with a broad resource base of the latest media that relates to the Catholic faith. Xt3 is a site to help you connect with others interested in the Catholic faith. The site is open to everyone, not just Catholics and provides a good list of Internet resources, a prayer wall and daily updates on the Vatican. One negative about the site is that it makes quite a song and dance about inputting your religious “status” in order that your correct ecclesial title can be used. This leaves lay users as myself, feeling as if the site offers a hierarchical structure, perhaps in the virtual Catholic community such vestiges of formality should not be given such emphasis.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book Review-The Liturgy of the Word with Children

After a few months of searching I’ve finally come across a decent book for use in our Children’s Liturgy of the Word. Our group were looking for something accessible for all aspects of the format our meetings take and it was proving hard to locate a text that would be helpful but not cost the earth. This morning, the excellent (and cheap!) Book Depository delivered The Liturgy of the Word with Children by Katie Thompson and from a sneaky look, I love it.

The tag line of the book is “A Complete Three Year Program Following the Lectionary” which finally means we won’t have to chop and change for each year and now have lots of resources literally at our fingertips and won’t have to spend half our time trying to find out what the readings are for a particular Sunday. Each Sunday is given a detailed breakdown to include a focal point for the group, an introduction written in child-friendly language-It is geared to ages 5-8) several of these resources presume a rather biblically literate child. Not very helpful if you have a bunch of four year old!). There’s also a Gospel acclamation, a child friendly Gospel reading, Reflections (with questions and reflection points for all involved), and activity and intercessions. On the opposite page there’s lots of cute (I know, not a very biblically academic word) activities that you can photocopy. For example last week’s activity (where the Gospel was based on the wedding at Cana) was simple pottery jars that we could cut out lots of, get the children to colour in and then write on the back what they were thankful for. We could assemble them in a jug for bringing to the altar at the presentation of the gifts. The book take account of the fact that not all groups have oodles of time (listen to the next homily you have at Mass and try fitting all the above into it).

The book also comes with a music CD and offers informative background notes and directions for liturgy leaders, parents, catechists, and all who work with parish children

We’ll keep you posted on how we get on!

Friday, January 15, 2010

U2 and the Bible

Admittedly I'm not the world's greatest U2 fan-my Mum used to play The Joshua Tree when I was younger so maybe I'm stuck in the idea of anything my Mum might be into, couldn't possibly be that cool. For several years I've managed to get away with only a passing interest in anything to do with them (towers, taxes and big claw-like structures seem to be my main association with them) but as my foray into reception theory and biblical studies grows (it's what all the cool kids are doing these days) I come across more and more work on how U2 use the Bible in their music.

The first time I came across any serious scholarship on the subject was as the SBL in Boston where I heard Andrew Davies, who originally taught in Sheffield give a paper on "The Bible under the Joshua Tree" which the SBL helpfully published here. Andrew's presentation was resplendent with graphics and audio snippets. And I admit it, I was jealous. I wished I studied something cool enough to have audio clips (people singing the Psalms in Hebrew doesn’t count). The paper was also memorable as it was the first time I’d ever asked a presenter a question (those who know SBL know that you must have a certain degree of brass neck and verbosity to stand up at question time-you’re not really asking for information, more to prove someone wrong). But I thought I’d stand up for the Irish interest and asked about what their religious upbringing might have to do with what seems to be a rather biblically literate group.

Recently the rather brilliant Faith Central blog on The Times website had an entry on Bono and the Bible, looking at a new book in Italian, U2: The Name of Love by Andrea Morandi. There's 664 pages of Italian I won't be reading anytime soon, but the blog does give a link to one of the better sites that list biblical references in U2 lyrics.

I have actually used U2 lyrics in some of my resources for second level inservices. I try to get teachers to see that rather than try to be trendy and bring a recent "hit" into the classroom and try and read God and moral theology into it (a popular one of late seems to be "Where is the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas (and the lovely Justin). I would think "can do better"-it's far too obvious and was released in 2003-trendiness moves on quickly!). Rather than try to keep up with trends (you'll never please all of the people all of the time anyway), try and use modern song lyrics that use the same style as the biblical text you're looking at, or address the same themes. Often students understand the reasoning of modern song lyrics very easily-and then bring that comprehension back to the "difficult" piece biblical text you are trying to work with. U2 lyrics work well here:
"U2 “40” (Rock, 1983). This version of Psalm 40 combines the elements of thanksgiving with the cry of lament. The song could be used to consider the nature of the faith of the Israelites as expressed in the psalm, or to illustrate how one individual psalm can express seemingly contradictory emotions and sentiments.

Another U2 song to consider is “The First Time” (1993) which according to Bono is a retelling of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) where the son rejects his father’s welcome. Useful in looking at the idea of a parable or another angle for trying to untangle this difficult parable"

At the SBL in New Orleans (Who Dat?) I found this book by Westminster John Knox which might be useful to anyone who wishes to pursue the idea further-the book is more on the spiritual and ethical side but well worth a look.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Apple in Genesis

I'm a busy bee this week as I'm starting my two new courses in Milltown. My undergrad course is on Wisdom Literature and I have my first lecture this evening. While preparing my last few bits and pieces and trying to pre-empt as many questions as I can I go to thinking about the course I gave last year on the Pentateuch to the first year BD students, many of whom have braved another course with me. These guys are great students and never fail to give me things to think about after every lecture. Last year they caught me out failing to pay attention to my golden rule about reading a biblical text-never assume you know what the story is-always read the text and never read "into" it something that isn't there (a good example is the Creation accounts, or Infancy narratives in the Gospels). I kept talking about "the apple" (ever notice if you say something incorrectly you don't just say it once? No siree bob!), which of course as my class kindly pointed out to me isn't actually in the text. Oops!

But it did get me thinking and like any good lecturer I went away and came back with all the info and will share it here!

The Book of Genesis depicts Man and Woman (Adam and Eve) leading the good life in Eden. God decrees that the may eat fruit from any tree except one, "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." Unsurprisingly, they eat the forbidden fruit and are expelled from paradise. The original Hebrew says only "fruit," (gah I can't get the Hebrew font in!) but in latter-day Western art ranging from serious religious painting, to cartoons, to hair care products, to perfume, the item in question is invariably depicted as an apple.

Early rabbis suggested the fruit was:

The Fig because the next verse mentions sewing together fig leaves to make loincloths;
grapes, which later cause trouble for Noah, not to mention many other vino lovers;
The Citron, a lemonlike fruit which in Hebrew is etrog, a pun on ragag, "desire";
Wheat, khitah in Hebrew and thus a pun on khet, "sin" - a stretch, considering wheat isn't a fruit and doesn't grow on trees; or
The Carob, because in Hebrew its name puns on the word for "destruction."

Many modern scholars think the author(s) of the text had the pomegranate in mind.

The Book of Genesis doesn't mention apples, but Proverbs 25:11 says a timely word is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. More significantly, in the Song of Solomon the apple is an erotic symbol indicating sweetness, desire, and the female breast.

Early Christian scholars often took the forbidden fruit to be an apple, possibly because of the irresistible pun suggested by the Latin malum, which means both "apple" and "evil." At least one early Latin translation of the bible uses "apple" instead of "fruit." A contributing factor no doubt was that apples were a lot more popular in Europe than in the Middle East, where it's generally too hot for them to thrive.

It wasn't just Christians who picked up on the apple's racy side. The most famous apple of Greek myth is the gold apple labeled "To the fairest" that Eris, goddess of discord, throws among the guests at a wedding party, leading to the judgment of Paris (he has to choose whether Hera, Aphrodite, or Athena is the most beautiful) and ultimately to the Trojan War. You get the picture: apples may look good, but they're trouble. Christian scholars knew the Greek myths and adapted many to their new religion.

Still, the apple wasn't the unanimous choice for forbidden fruit. Carved depictions of Adam and Eve with apples are found in early Christian catacombs and on sarcophagi. The apple was the favored representation of the forbidden fruit in Christian art in France and Germany beginning around the 12th century. But Byzantine and Italian artists tended to go with the fig.
In Areopagitica (1644), Milton explicitly described the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil as an apple, and that was pretty much it for the apple!

Some Advertising reasons I might have got confused: