Friday, May 26, 2006

Going over the edge

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Today was the last day of regular instruction for the year and as you can see I finally snapped and went over the edge. My colleagues had been predicting I would snap earlier but I persevered until the end but today I decided to resist the temptation to keep it all together and just let it all hang out. Actually, today was a bitter sweet day. I was very happy to end the year. It's been very stressful teaching five different preps during the course of the year, psychology, sociology, economics, civics, and world history. I really need a break from it all. People who think teaching is easy just because we get alot of time off really don't have a clue what it is like to prepare interesting lessons, motivate the kids, discipline, process all the paper work, and go to god awful boring meetings too many times than I can remember. Most folks wouldn't last two weeks....anyway......While I am glad to have finished year number 19 I was also a bit sad regarding the kids. I took the kids out outside and took some group photos and then we came in and I told them I felt priviledged to be their teacher. We ended the class by listening to Annie Lennox's Into the West which is the song at the end of the Return of the King. It was kind of a sad ending to the class but I told them they were just beginning a new journey and they had alot to look forward to as they were about to embark on a new adventure in life. I am excited for them but I also know life outside of high school will be challenging and many of them will not see their hopes and dreams materialize in the way they thought but that is the nature of the beast of life. Next week is finals but I will only work two days since my senior classes have already finished their finals. I am looking forward to the summer but this summer poses a series of challenges on the homefront and I suspect I will be juggling my schedule more than usual. This summer will be interesting and promises to be a challenge. Just hope I am up to it all.....and....hope the weather gods have mercy on us folks from Bakersfield this summer. ....Heading off to visit my friend tomorrow in Paso Robles and intend to spend the next three days at the beach with my girlfriend and two sons. Should be fun and then I'll come back and finish the year next week......

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Numbers are in

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The numbers are in and the Da Vinci Code raked in 77 million in the states and 224 million worldwide which makes it the second largest worldwide release in history after "Star Wars: Episode III".....Not bad for a movie that was hammered by the film critics and the various religious institutions around the country. Not sure what to make of it all but am reminded that boycotts and criticism generally have the opposite effect when it comes to entertainment. ...or as the saying goes...."there is no such thing as bad press".....Some of the critics will of course want to suggest that this is further evidence of the dumbing/gullibility of the masses but I for one don't think the masses are as dumb or as barbaric as the elite make them out. This may be oversimplistic to suggest but I think people in general just like a good story and they want to be entertained and this film appears to fill the bill despite what many of the snooty critics say otherwise.....By the way....both Ebert and Roper gave the film thumbs up, so not all the critics are riding the bash the Da Vinci Code bandwagon.....Regarding the religious criticisms and concerns....I understand why many of the religious leaders and followers are concerned but when will they learn that their over the top attempts to torpedo the film industry are counter productive to their cause. Harry Potter, Star Wars, the Exorcist, etc., just to name of few of the films over the years that received extensive criticism from the religious community. Personally I think they would be better off to just encourage their people to go because the "don't touch the forbidden fruit" approach didn't work in the garden and it hasn't worked since....but to each his/her own, I suppose.....

Saturday, May 20, 2006

De-coding the Da Vinci Code

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Even though I have not read the book or seen the film yet I have an increasingly emotional interest in the Da Vinci Code discussion because of my interest in Christianity and my recent studies in Gnosticism, the canonization process, Biblical criticism, and the various early Christian communities. During Easter I read Bart Ehrman's books on the early "lost" Christian communities and "the story behind who changed the Bible and why" and I am currently reading Elaine Pagels book "The Gnostic Gospels" for a second time. While I have no personal stake in the Gnostic tradition I am interested in the diversity of the early Christian communities because of the social implications for our own time. Also, I have enjoyed learning more about the movement in it's historical context which I think is often lost when people discuss the Gnostics. For many Christians the gnostics have become the poster children for heresy and anti-christianity which in unfortunate because from my perspective I think they were trying to live out their own faith in the context of some very difficult circumstances. Hans Jonas, a prominent historian of gnosticism suggests in his writings that "many people at the time felt profoundly alienated from the world in which they lived and longed for a miraculous salvation as an escape from the social constraints of political and social existence."....therefore.....according to Jonas they "constructed a worldview--a philosophy of pessimism about the world combined with an attempt at self-transcendence."....Professor R.M. Grant "has suggested that gnosticism emerged as a reaction to the shattering of traditional religious views ----Jewish and Christian ---after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem inn 70 A.D."......bottom line......Based on what I have read I do now believe the Gnostics were trying in their own way to "experience the continuing presence of Jesus" after his death. One may question their methods and some of their counter attacks of their Christian contemporaries but they do seem to sincerely be attempting to work out their own brand of faith in the context of their own unique circumstances and time.

Gnosticism has received more than it's fair share of criticism from certain Christian quarters over the years and it now appears that alot of that criticism in now being projected onto Dan Brown's book and the film. All the major Christian parachurch ministries are talking about the book/movie and websites and articles are popping up everywhere. Over the past couple of days I have visited some of the websites and read a few articles and I am taken back a bit regarding the misinformation and, imo, alarmist concerns over a book that is after all, only fiction. One writer of a popular Christian organization writes, "Brown opens his book by writing, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." By extension, then—despite his online disclaimer—he, his book and now his movie assert that the New Testament is not the "true" account of the life of Jesus. Rather, the Gnostic Gospels tell the true story.".....Really?....Is this what Brown is asserting? Perhaps it would be helpful to hear what Brown himself has to say about the matter. Brown had this to say in a recent interview,

While it seems that
the book's characters and their actions are obviously not real, the
artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals depicted in this
novel all exist (for example, Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings, the
Gnostic Gospels, Hieros Gamos, etc.). These real elements are
interpreted and debated by fictional characters. While it is my
belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may
have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters'
viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations. My hope in
writing this novel was that the story would serve as a catalyst and a
springboard for people to discuss the important topics of faith,
religion, and history.

From my vantage point it appears that Brown is "only" asserting that the gnostic documents exist but "is not" asserting a particular interpretation or theory. While it is true that the characters in the story have a particular opinion about such matters it is important to remember that the story and the characters are "only" fiction. Brown also had this to say.....

"Since the beginning of recorded time, history has been written by

the "winners" (those societies and belief systems that conquered and

survived). Despite an obvious bias in this accounting method, we

still measure the "historical accuracy" of a given concept by

examining how well it concurs with our existing historical record.

Many historians now believe (as do I) that in gauging the historical

accuracy of a given concept, we should first ask ourselves a far

deeper question: How historically accurate is history itself?"

Another critic of Brown's book had this to add, ""Do you realize that the Gnostics were not eyewitnesses? And did you know that the early church was aware of these teachings and refuted them? The New Testament has much more historical credibility."

Is this critic aware that the Gospels are also not eyewitness accounts but were written anonymously perhaps for the purpose of establishing authority in order that people might take seriously what they had to say? And, while the gnostic texts are not as old as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John no one knows for sure when the gnostic texts were "originally" written and it is not too far fetched to question whether the originals might have been banished or cast into a lake of fire considering what many of the early church fathers had to say about the gnostics in their numerous attacks on the movement.

The same critic concluded with this statement, "many who read The Da Vinci Code are prone to believe it: Forget historical investigation; forget the need for consistency; forget the need for continuity with the Old Testament. It comes down to the desire to have a tolerant faith that lets us pick-and-choose our beliefs, cafeteria style.

If we bring this battle for the canon back to rationality, consistency and historical investigation, we have nothing to fear. We can't compete with people's desires, but we can show that all the hard evidence is on our side."

Really, condescending and arrogant....So much for Christian humility.....So why all the effort to discredit and demonize a film/book that is only a work of fiction? Are people really that gullible, naive, and unable to sort through the facts for themselves? Apparently some people think so.......So why all the concern and apparent need by many to refute something that is fiction especially when you consider that critics of the Bible and traditional Christianity have been around forever and quite prominent today....I suspect it's the "popular appeal" of the Da Vinci Code that warrants such attention. Traditional/Conservative Christians don't have to seriously worry about the writings of the Jesus Seminar, left leaning, and secular critics because their books, articles and other means of communication are limited only to those who frequent the kind of places where their work is featured and since Christian Television, radio, and bookstores are a monopoly of like minded people one can go for years without thinking much about the type of questions that are raised by the likes of Crossan, Ehrman and others. But, pop culture is another matter. Lots of people go to films and later talk about what they have seen to their friends, relatives and colleagues....therefore.....While the Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction it's story is raising alot of questions and discussions for alot of folks regarding Christianity and apparently this concerns a significant number of Christians. Apparently Joseph Campbell was right....Myth is powerful.....

Friday, May 05, 2006

Riverwalk Park of Bakersfield

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It's been loooonnnnnng week.....Computer crashed.....washing machine line on my car crashed....alingment crashed.....and....air conditioner required three hours of my precious time that I really don't have. Am burn't, through and a crisp....on both sides.....but relief is in sight...... am taking off to the coast for three days, by myself to see an old buddy of mine who recently bought a house near the coast. No kids, no girlfriend, no students and no responsibilities for three glorious days....I really need it....and....only three more weeks of school and then I am finished for nine weeks. Did manage to squeeze some time to make it over to the new Riverwalk Park on the west side of town. Quite impressive and predict it is going to be a big hit with the locals. The park took ten years to plan and build and is located along the river that "sometimes" flows through town. Much of the year it is dry and hideous looking but the last couple of years water has actually been sighted running for most of the year....The new state of the art park has a couple of small lakes, a running stream, fountains and an impressive outdoor amphitheatre where bands such as the Moody Blues are "suppose" to play in the years to come. Went and saw the opening act the other night. It was a freeby concert featuring the Fab Four which is a tribute band to the Beatles. They were very, very impressive. About half of their act sounded "just like" the Beatles. I'm not kidding or exaggerating. They were awesome. Particulary got off on the second act when they came out dressed in Sgt. Pepper outfits and played Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart club band, With a little Help from my friends, and a Day in the Life. Really look forward to going back out to the park and doing a few barbecues and bike riding. Bakersfield doesn't have much going on in the city since I have lived here but I give the city planners an A plus for this one.......Well thats it for now. Need to get to bed and get my beauty rest because I have to get up early and head the beach....Hooooray.....Hooooray.......