Thursday, October 07, 2004

ROCK ON, DAUGHTER OF GOD!

Has anybody noticed some of the cool things showing up on Joan of Arcadia so far this season?

For example, the season opener introduced an ex-nun character who agrees to instruct Joan's mother in religion, using a literature based catechesis! So, in the second episode, there is Joan's mother talking about how great Graham Greene is! Barbara Hall told me that the fan websites for the show have all been buzzing about who Graham Greene is, and which of his books would make a good first read. How cool is that?! There was also a point in the first episode in which Joan's character opens a copy of Howards End and reads the two word preface out loud: "Only connect." (It's probably just a coincidence, but this is our Act One motto, btw, and the title of our alumni newsletter. I'm just saying...)

See, class, this is one of the reasons we want to be in Hollywood...

About five years ago, I was involved with starting a special RCIA (that's Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program for people in the entertainment industry. It seemd to me that, as artists, they particularly respond to narrative. And also, I wanted to introduce them to some other really smart and talented artists who believe this Christian stuff. (There aren't a lot of folks in the biz who do, so part of the battle in RCIA here is in fighting antagonistic peer pressure.) We also use the Catechism and Vatican II so that nearly every lesson involves a story and then doctrine.

The program has been flourishing over the last five years. It's very smart, and it asks the candidates and catechumens to do much more reading,. writing and thinking than any other RCIA program probably anywhere. But they love it. And we always end up attracting twice as many Catholics who want to come just because they haven't ever been catechized, or certainly not in a smart literature-based way.

Barbara Hall was one of our students a couple of years ago, and so, now, the whole world gets to hear that the coolest way to study Christianity is to read some great novels.

Several people have asked me for the curriculum we use. I will happily send it to anyone who requests it by email, but here are a few of the titles we have used, along with the class topics in which we use them:

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh - "That Catholic Thing"
Silence, Shushaka Endo - "The Problem of Suffering"
"The Grand Inquisitor" (from The Brothers Karamazov), Fyodor Doestevsky - "Sin and Temptation"
The River, Flannery O'Connor - "Baptism and Grace"
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene - "The Priesthood"
Babette's Feast, Isak Denison - "The Mass and the Eucharist"
The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander - "Mary the Mother of God"
The Mission (WB pictures) - "Conscience"
The Inferno, Danta - "The Last Things"

It's a very wonderful program, and it smashes early on the lingering prejudice some of the candidates come in with that Christianity is anti-intellectual.

The only downside to the program, is that when our students come in to the Church, they are shocked by the anti-intellectualism they find in the Sunday liturgy. As one of my former students noted to me after being in the Church a year, "Father's homilies are kind of embarrassing, aren't they? It's like he is talking to fifth graders."

72 comments:

Gelis said...

I too was THRILLED to see the literary references in Joan of Arcadia! (I've just gone back for an MA in Literature recently and recently how education is really wasted on the young). Barbara Hall deserves so much praise for bringing this intelligent and unique show to life. I was afraid it would be a retread of the rather sappy "angel" programs of the past, but instead it has intellectual depth and an "edge" that I think will reveal (and has revealed, judging from the popularity of the show), the complexity and wonder of spiritual belief.

Anonymous said...

I have the opposite reaction. The literary references strike me as rather precious, intended to reveal nothing but how smart the writers fancy they are. I don't remember exactly how she put it, but the mother's description of what Greene's novels were about also struck me as wrong. The books, even the Catholic novels, are not about God. They're about the mystery of sin and encountering God, paradoxically, through sin.

And are you telling us that the character is based on you?

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here.

Anonymous said...

May I take a few words to go off on a bit of a tangent re. Graham Greene? I have been sickened by the recent revelations about the deep and unrelenting depravity he exhibited in his personal life as regards women--I can never read him the same again after some of the details I have read within the last few weeks--if fact I don't think I will ever read him again at all. If recent revelations are in fact truthful, his life as lived went in flagrant opposition to all Catholic notions of the dignity of the human person. His was not the case of say for example, St. Augustine, where he had a conversion experience which transformed him. Rather, Greene seem to cling to this stuff in the most brazen way long after any kind of conversion. His life as lived bears far more resemblance to Larry Flynt than it does to St. Augustine and I personally can no longer claim him, in any way whatsoever, as a "Catholic" writer. I am not knowledgeable about Greene's biography and in many ways, I know enough--I do not want to know more.

What I am wondering is more generally, when thinking about the subject of literature and faith--and teaching it for that matter--is the author's life relevant? Flannery O'Connor wrote quoting St. Thomas, that "art does not require rectitude of the appetite." Can the life of an artist be so depraved as to diminish or even negate the value of his or her art?

cradle catholic said...

A nice addition to your bibliography would be Sigrid Undset's Kristen Lavransdattar (a trilogy in one volume: Undset won Novel Prize for Literature for it). Subject could be the presence of God in daily life. It's just a super book. I've read it about every five years since 1964-ish.

I thought mentioning Graham Greene in JOA was just fine: WHATEVER WORKS! If one can come to God and the Church through literature that's wonderful. And GG's life? hey, a lot of authors are nasty characters. It's the words following on each other that bear the mystery. I'm looking forward to tonight's episode.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated Q. re: Joan of Arcadia

I had never seen the show. (Don't watch much TV... I know, I know, but for me it's just not worth it). But after reading various positive comments on this blog I watched an episode earlier this year. Main plot turned out to be an utterly conventional (in Hollywood liberal terms) story about a repressive Christian Father beating up a schoolteacher he 'claimed' had molested his son. Turns out the son is "exploring his sexuality" and the father responds with the typically Christian act of beating the teacher to death (or near it). Can't claim to have watched the show to its conclusion. Did I miss a brilliant turnaround? (suspect not) Otherwise, it was hard to see how this show broke any moulds (sp. I'm Canadian eh?)

John

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