Reaching Out in Faith with Contemporary Forms of Media

My review for this newsletter was prompted by a number of things. I recalled a conversation with another member of AAIDD about being cognizant of the issue of age appropriate materials when reviewing products for purposes of religious education with persons with special needs. Recent interactions with “twice exceptional” (both gifted and disabled) persons who have been struggling with finding a place to fit in came to mind.

My review for this newsletter was prompted by a number of things. I recalled a conversation with another member of AAIDD about being cognizant of the issue of age appropriate materials when reviewing products for purposes of religious education with persons with special needs. Recent interactions with “twice exceptional” (both gifted and disabled) persons who have been struggling with finding a place to fit in came to mind. So did a reunion with a priest who was both famous and infamous (depending on the age demographic of those in attendance) for extensively weaving currently popular rock and roll song lyrics into his sermons. With that in mind, I wanted to provide brief snapshots of three resources that might be considered beyond the pale by some but that might also be very effective in reaching out to audiences of teenagers and adults who are resistant to mainstream religious educational approaches.

As Reinhold Neibuhr stated, “Humor is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and laughter is the beginning of prayer.” Mark Pinsky employed this quote when he wrote and then revised The Gospel According to the Simpsons.” (ISBN0664224199) This book explores multiple religious themes and issues explored across the many episodes of this long lived series. The revised edition, The Gospel According to the Simpsons: Bigger and Possibly Even Better has a companion leader’s guide for group study that has received positive reviews from youth ministers as a bridge by which to get their students to talk about the issues often raised in surprisingly deft ways in the episodes. Both are available for less than $15 from Amazon and other bookstores. As a fan of both the show and this book, I can also personally recommend it.

The second book, Rudolf Steiner and Anthroscopy for Beginners is one of a series of books in what is termed the graphic nonfiction genre. Graphic nonfiction and graphic novels have become extremely popular with younger audiences, and many of them have morphed into popular movies and TV shows, such as Road to Perdition and The Walking Dead. A catalog for a number of these books is avaialble online. While Steiner’s theory of Anthroposophy (accessing the spiritual world through intense, objective activities of inner development) could admittedly be seen as somewhat convoluted, the worldwide network of Waldorf schools founded on his principles remain viable and some influences have been seen in various special education facilities as well, primarily in Europe. Many AAIDD R&S members, including myself, visited one such special residential facility in Schoorl, Netherlands, in 2007. Unfortunately, some of the earlier issues, including this one and one on Judaism, are now apparently out of print but should be available through searching bookstores and surfing the internet. There is one in the catalog introducing Islam. Perhaps readers of this review may know of other religious education materials employing this graphic novel/nonfiction format and could share them with the group.

The last book was a real eye opener for me in more ways than one. Counter culturist cartoonist RJ Crumb, creator of underground comic book stars such as Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat, came out with The Book of Genesis: Illustrated in 2009. Based on a careful and respectful use of the King James Bible and Robert Alter’s “The Five Books of Moses,” Crumb’s meticulous use of his trademark pen and ink illustrations and calligraphy makes Genesis literally leap off the pages. Given to me as a gift by my daughter (Caitlin the Commie), I was somewhat skeptical of Crumb’s true motivations as well as how he would approach this task but, after multiple readings, agree with his assertion in the foreword that, “I approached this as a straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule, or make visual jokes.” That being said, the book is very graphic and there is a warning on the cover regarding use by minors. However, considering how much of our collective Judeo-Christian heritage, in all its aspects, is so densely compacted into this one chapter of the Bible the use of the illustrations could be an effective teaching tool if used in a careful manner.

This review is a bit longer than others due to my desire to briefly describe three examples of more contemporary approaches to examining religious, moral, and spiritual themes. It has been my experience that many young adults, whether “normal,” having special needs, or being twice exceptional, while often showing a façade of disdain for organized approaches to religion and spiritual exploration, often quickly reveal an intense and authentic desire to explore such issues if they are initially brought to them on their terms and in contexts comfortable to them. Perhaps materials such as these can be a bridge by which mutually beneficial dialogues can begin in this process of spiritual discovery and personal development. (Now, if only God would start texting… OMG!)

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