Notre-Dame, the News, and Resurgent Religions

Many years back in my elementary school days, I remember a project our teacher gave us. For our current events class, we were to script a newscast and film it.

This was back before the Internet. We had to read the newspaper, watch the local TV newscast, and call the national weather service to learn which news items we wanted to portray on our news program. It may not have been efficient, but it certainly gave us opportunity to interact with others, to learn what they thought was important, and to get advice from our parents about which news items were affecting their lives. The lesson: automation has a downside, it severs the human connections that are the reason our lives have meaning.

Back to the story…this childhood newscast taught me a few things: how to speak clearly and communicate before a camera, and how to find resources of information about what is happening in the world around me. It taught me to sift, sort, and discern the news both at face value, and for what dynamics might be at work underneath. I learned the nascent art of spotting “fake news” long before that catch-phrase was news, and to question my first reaction to a story. That emotional reaction is frequently self-deceiving, a reaction to how a news story is presented or written, rather than to the actual facts of the situation.

Gauging fact vs. reaction

Attribution: By Pline – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4279202

Which brings us down to a recent news event, an actuality, which is the French word for a current event. Let’s look at the burning of Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019. Situated on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine, it has been at the heart of Paris for 856 years from the day the first stone was set in 1163.

It is not the spiritual center of historical France, that was the cathedral of Reims where many French kings were coronated, but it has become a symbolic center of historical France and Paris. Thanks in part to the story by Victor Hugo that was, after many interpretations, turned into a Disney cartoon film, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”

*For an off-site article recommendation to learn more about Notre-Dame, please see link following this post.

Rather momentously, it (mostly) survived the brutality of the 1790’s, during the philosophically atheistic Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. A few statues lost their heads, and it was turned into a secular-religious church of the cult of the Supreme Being. Alas, the neglect it suffered in the ensuing decades led to a restoration in the 1840’s directed by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. The very spire, the tower that went up so dramatically in flames on April 15, dates from this period.

And ironically, it was in the midst of restoration once again when it caught fire. Which brings me back to the news. How it sometimes pays to reserve our judgment on the cause of events.

It is tempting to think that the fire was the result of a malfunction of restoration equipment and computer systems, which, of this writing, it appears has become the official cause. On the other hand, we may be tempted to ponder the proximity to the traditional Christian religious festival of Easter, and the occurrence of other fires and defacements of cathedrals and churches around France, and indeed, Europe. It is logical to wonder if there is religious conflict at the heart of the conflagration. And this is where patience is the best perspective because, ultimately, time will tell.

Rapidly raising funds

But what I find more interesting, and illuminating (pardon the pun), is the speed with which over 1 billion Euros were raised to support reconstruction of Notre-Dame. Roughly, two days.

Much has been made of the secularization of the religious world, and specifically of Christianity, and precisely, the Catholic Church. Scandals, a Pope with sometimes seemingly mixed messages, has led many to assume that this ancient religious movement is defunct. I think it is unwise to make that assumption, and the rapidity with which funds were raised is just a slight rumble of a still active entity.

As tensions increase, and national identities, and identities of all kinds are debated, people will begin to move back to what is familiar. Atheism as a belief system (and it is one) has little hope to offer, but religions, of various definitions, do (however much we may debate whose belief system is truth).

This of course, as any student of Biblical prophecy knows, means increased conflict among religions, which is, unfortunately, the human experience. But it’s also history-in-the-making.

So when you read the news, take time to look behind the headlines. Consider the possible conclusions, have patience because the truth will eventually become clear. Guard your initial reaction to a news event, be ready to discern between how a story is presented and what the actual facts are. And most importantly, look at the news with an eye for what we can learn, just as the fund raising for restoring Notre-Dame was unexpectedly rapid, look closer, and consider further implications.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

*For an excellent article from Nation Geographic about the history and construction of Notre-Dame de Paris, with many images of the cathedral: CLICK HERE

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Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Radio Drama – Faith and Health – History Gateways)

Theater of the Mind: Adventures in Classic Radio

Can you see it? The detective walks cautiously through the streets of 1950’s Cairo. An American he, owner of the Cafe Tambourine and subject to all manner of trouble, from old friends, shady ladies, and local desperates. Luckily, he is aided in his sometimes inadvertent quest for justice by the stalwart Lt. Sam Sabaya of the Cairo Police.

Sound intriguing? Imagine the possible sets, camera angles, visual effects and action sequences! So when is this series going to premiere? Which channel? Or is it on one of the digital media powerhouses, Netflix or Amazon Video?

Would you believe……radio? No visual effects, no screens, no adventure sequences filmed with the help of talented stunt teams, just……voices, music, sound effects, and some incredibly talented writers. The show?

The Adventures of Rocky Jordan, starring Jack Moyles and Jay Novello. It was on air from 1948 to 1951 and was one of many in the genre of post-World War Two radio detective-adventurers. But the era called “the golden age of radio” wasn’t just about detectives, it included all manner of entertainment, humor, music, drama, news, matching and often surpassing the content of today’s video media.

The common element was that it was all audio and though it allowed for amazingly low budgets it did require three vital elements. First, actors with tremendous voicing skills, a finely tuned ability to express all emotions, states of mind, and motivations with voice alone. Next, writers of unsurpassed ability who could develop a script that accounted for descriptions that would normally be explained by visuals, as a result many shows were narrated by the main character to allow for this device. Finally, a sound engineer with imagination, timing, and endless energy to produce all the sound effects that filled in the final details of the audio action.

If you want to learn more…start with a simple online search for “old time radio shows”. Since the copyright on this type of entertainment has mostly run out, there are many shows in the public domain and posted by various organizations and individuals. If you use internet radio look for WMKV – wmkv.org (FM 89.3, Reading, Ohio), Conyers Old Time Radio – conyersradio.net (FM 89.9, Conyers, Georgia) and others, or search for an “old time radio” app on your smart phone. Finally, to hear a sample of Rocky Jordan use this link to the comprehensive Archive.org (a site with many episodes of many series available): https://archive.org/details/RockyJordan

Have a listen! It’s one of the places where history and entertainment meet!

Faith and Health: What’s the Connection?

According to the findings from the Nurses Health Study, which tracked 75,000 female nurses from 1992 to 2012, the women who attended church most often (Protestant and Catholic were the most common denominations among the nurses studied) had a lower risk of dying. Those who attended church (or church activities) twice a week had the lowest risk of dying, while those who attended once a week or slightly less also had a significant, though slightly less-lower risk of dying. Churchgoers were also found to be more optimistic.

Experts have endeavored to determine why this is. Some have posited that it is the social support that improves longevity. Others believe it is the framework of a belief system that provides improved life stability (Corina Storrs, “Going to Church Could Help You Live Longer, Study Says,” CBS Philly at Philadelphia.CBSlocal.com, May 16, 2016).

An interesting statistic. Many will find a way to discount it, but it gives food for thought. How does what we believe actually affect us? Do we stand for something? Or not? To go beyond and connect to the study of history: does the historical tradition and impact of ancient documents, such as the Bible, bear more respect as sources of verified history with the ability to create positive change in the life of adherents?

Finding Your Gateway into History

Many times I’ve heard people say that studying history in school was their most dreaded class. And almost instantly, and somewhat sheepishly, comes the follow up that they actually liked some of the stories and they find it fascinating now, but history class was so hard to get interested in then.

There are many explanations, often it has to do with the teacher. Some history teachers are jewels, and imparting the fabric of the past is their highest goal. However, others taught history because it allowed them to do other things, like coach, or sometimes they had to double up and teach history and literature and they simply didn’t have time to dedicate to creating that gateway between the student and the continuum of history.

The gateway is the thing. Think of it as a doorway or passage of curiosity that allows you to enter into the study of history. Not necessarily academic study, but a gradual building of knowledge on a particular part of history or on many parts of history that helps you understand the meaning of it all.

There are many gateways. Sometimes a good film about a historical topic makes us want to know more. At other times a biography makes us curious to know more about the people surrounding the main subject. A living history museum might be it, or a piece of art work that begs the question, what was going on then that made the painter create this image, this way? Even religious belief can be a gateway to history, for instance wanting to know more about the lands in which the biblical record took place.

Whatever the gateway you find, take it! The value of historical knowledge in the quest for truth cannot be overrated.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver