Alicia Keys and her new album Here

Some of the new songs on Alicia Keys’ album Here are a wonderful inspiration for our studies in Religious Studies.

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First of all the song Halleluja (meaning God be praised when uttered in worship or as an expression of rejoicing) has a religious theme, where it seems as if Alicia’s looking for strength and has to find it in religion. The song is featured in the trailer of Let Me In, a film written and directed by Jonathan Olinger that portrays the refugee crisis as if it were on American soil. Here are the three first verses to give you a feel of the song:

There’s a hole in my heart I’ve been hiding
I’ve been strong for so long that I’m blind
Is there a place I can go where the lonely river flows?
Where fear ends and faith begins

Hallelujah, hallelujah, let me in
I’ve been praying but I’m paying for my sins
Won’t you give me a sign before I lose my mind?
Woah, hallelujah, let me in

Every step makes me think that I’m closer
But somehow I just never arrived
When our hope disappears, please protect me from my tears
I need you right by my side…

A second song to listen to is Blended Family (a family formed when a couple moves in together, bringing children from previous relationships into one home). The song describes the emotional turmoil there can often be in a Blended Family. For a new blended family to be formed, a breakdown of an original family must happen, so it’s normal for children to experience intense and sometimes overwhelming feelings: anger, disappointment, sadness, grief, guilt, worry and insecurity. When parents remarry or move in with a new partner who has children from a pre-existing marriage, a child faces further threats to his sense of stability. The song perfectly illustrates this. Once again here are the first few verses:

Hey I might not really be your mother
But that don’t mean that I don’t really love ya
And even though I married your father
That’s not the only reason I’m here for ya

I think you’re beautiful
I think you’re perfect
I know how hard it gets
But I swear it’s worth it, worth it

Cause what you do, what you do, what you do, what you do for love
There ain’t nothing, there ain’t nothing, there ain’t nothing I won’t do for us
It may not be easy, this blended family, but baby
Cause what you do, what you do, what you do, what you do for love, love

I know it started with a little drama
I hate you had to read it in the paper
But everything’s over with me being your mama
Baby everybody here you know adores ya…

Finally, though I am sure other songs on Alicia’s album would be worth listening to, there is the song Holy War (war which has religion as a driving force). On the US TV show the Voice Alicia told a packed audience she’d originally planned to perform the album’s newest single, “Blended Family,” and began with a single verse of the track. Suddenly, though, she stopped, and admitted she’d had a change of heart in light of recent political movements — what many inferred was Donald Trump‘s ascendance to presidency. “That’s my new song ‘Blended Family’ that I was supposed to sing tonight,” she said. “But due to the current climate there’s only one song I can sing and that’s ‘Holy War.’” Then, with the help of fellow Voice judge Adam Levine on guitar, Keys delivered a powerful rendition of the politically charged anthem from her signature piano perch.

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Maybe we should love somebody / Maybe we could care a little more / Maybe we should love somebody / Instead of polishing the bombs of holy war,” she belted as Miley Cyrus sang along from her swiveling chair. Here are the first few verses:


If war is holy and sex is obscene
We’ve got it twisted in this lucid dream
Baptized in boundaries, schooled in sin
Divided by difference, sexuality and skin

Oh so we can hate each other and fear each other
We can build these walls between each other
Baby, blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself locked in, yourself locked in
Yeah we can hate each other and fear each other
We can build these walls between each other
Baby, blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself locked in, yourself locked

Oh maybe we should love somebody
Oh maybe we could care a little more
So maybe we should love somebody
Instead of polishing the bombs of holy war…

Les Miserables

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Based on the book by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, Les Misérables has been running as a musical on the London stage since 1985. It is without doubt one of the world’s most popular stage productions, and has toured the far corners of the globe with its powerful, haunting music and deeply human, bitter-sweet story. A few years ago it was brought to life on film in an exciting production which featured a stellar cast including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

Against the background of social unrest in 19th Century France, Jackman brings to screen the tortured soul of Jean Valjean, a French convict of nineteen years, newly released from prison. Life is hard for an ex-convict, and he steals from the first person who is kind to him, a bishop. Threatened with re-arrest, Valjean is startled when the bishop rescues him and gives him a new start in life. This experience of mercy redefines Valjean and he attempts to help the destitute Fantine and her daughter Cosette, all the while attempting to escape the determinedly ruthless Javert.

Exploring the themes of passion, sacrifice, love, justice and redemption, Les Misérables sings the human story with an impact that is timeless.

Here are some questions from Damaris Media to help you consider the religious links in the film connected to Fresh Starts:

  1. Javert thought his way of justice was the way of God. He could not accept Valjean’s generosity towards him so he never experienced a fresh start. Indeed he did not believe a person could change. What holds us back from new beginnings? How can we help people who are holding back from a fresh start in their life?
  2. Jesus said that we are forgiven as we forgive others. Valjean demonstrated his grasp of this command from Jesus when he released Javert. But offering forgiveness to another can be extremely difficult, especially towards those who may have hurt or deceived us. How can we move towards this? `Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us’ Luke 11:4
  3. Do we need to balance forgiveness and protecting ourselves (or others)? How do we do this?
  4. Valjean’s life was transformed by his response to the mercy offered by the Bishop of Digne. The ultimate fresh start for Christians is, of course, the one offered by Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross. `For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
  5. What does it mean to you that Jesus died ‘to set you free’? How free are you? `if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ John 8.36
  6. The revolutionaries tried to create a fresh start for the downtrodden poor of France. How much can we create our own fresh starts – or fresh starts for others? One solution to the problem of the disparity in French society was to take up arms against the ruling elite. This happened several times, and barricades like the one in Les Misérables really were erected more than once.

Here are some questions from Damaris Media to help you consider the religious links in the film connected to Difficult Choices:

  1. Les Misérables raises questions about the nature of wrong-doing. Would you steal to save the life of a family member, as Valjean did? Was it wrong for Fantine to turn to prostitution to make ends meet? It is easy to condemn the innkeeper Thénardier and his wife for lying, cheating, and attempting blackmail, but were they just trying to survive? Does trying to make a living in desperate circumstances make what they did less wrong?
  2. Jesus said ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’ Matthew 7.1. Like Javert we can also be quick to condemn others. What makes it so challenging to obey Jesus’ teaching on this? The Christian church can have a bad reputation for treatment of others. People easily refer to the Spanish Inquisition, witch-hunts, and the public pronouncements of judgmental preachers. It’s easy to forget the powerful influences of people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and William Wilberforce.
  3. If you had been a friend of Fantine’s, what would you have advised her to do in order to be able to care for Cosette?
  4. One of the stirring songs in Les Misérables is Red and Black, the call to arms sung by the revolutionary Enjolras. These young people decided to fight in an attempt to change the world by force. How does this compare with Christian martyrs in history and today?
  5. Fantine sings ‘To love another person is to see the face of God.’ Is this true?
  6. The people by the docks quickly condemned Fantine and she was only saved because Jean Valjean stepped in. What are the parallels with the account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery? The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ John 8:3-7

Truetube for RE videos

Instead of searching on YouTube for RE videos to help you understand topics like the nature of God, the nature of evil, religious traditions, faith, conflict and moral decisions, why not try Truetube?

Not only has it got all these RE videos to help you but there are also topics such as jobs and money, health and body, relationships and the global.

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One of their newest films is a short drama sketch which explains the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

James Corden speaks about his loss of faith

James Corden has become quite a hit Stateside with his hosting of the Late Late Show and unforgettable turns in the car with Carpool Karaoke.

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In an interview with comedian John Bishop, due to be broadcast on W on September 1st at 9pm, he explains that even though he grew up a Christian he now no longer believes in God.

In the Daily Mail parts of that TV interview are reported with James Corden saying, ‘When you ask me what are my beliefs I really struggle because you can’t argue with science, only a mad man would. There’s a great saying that it’s not the stuff you know that will undo you, it’s the stuff you think you know that just ain’t so. I feel like that about faith, I really don’t know.’

Despite saying he was a ‘spiritualist’ he said he ‘would never go as far as say I am a Christian’. His family are part of the Salvation Army which is an international charitable organisation and Christian church derived from Methodism. A National Geographic documentary on YouTube explains how the church grew up and what it’s like today.

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Van Niekierk – the signs were there

Back in March 2016 Wayde Van Niekierk from South Africa ran a sub 10 second 100m race, to make him the first athlete to run under 10 seconds for the 100m, 20 seconds for the 200m and 44 seconds for 400m. On Instagram afterwards Wayde wrote “Wow! Finally reaching my dream of sub 10.” Meanwhile the former world and Olympic 200m and 400m champion Michael Johnson wrote on Twitter: “Sub 10, sub 20, sub 44. That’s crazy. Great things could be ahead.”

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So fast forward to August 2016 and the Rio Olympics and we shouldn’t have been surprised to see Van Niekierk not only winning the 400m gold but also smashing Michael Johnson’s world record that had stood for 17 years. The BBC reports  about not only the terrific events on track with Van Niekierk race from lane 8 wowing athletes and spectators, but also about how Van Niekierk is coached by Ans Botha, a 74-year-old great-grandmother who has been coaching track and field since the 1960s. His mum Odessa was a talented athlete who competed at national level but was barred from international events under South Africa’s apartheid regime of racial segregation, which did not end until 1994. His cousin, Cheslin Kolbe, also competed in Rio as part of the bronze-medal winning South African sevens rugby team.

Interviewed after his blisteringly fast 400m Gold medal win Van Niekierk said: “I believed I could get the world record. I’ve dreamed of this medal forever,” said Van Niekerk. “I am blessed.”

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He often refers to his faith in God during interviews and is a devout Christian who attributed Saturday’s success to his religion, “I am really just blessed and thankful to the Lord for this opportunity.” When interviewed before Rio about his expectations he said, ‘I always want more but it’s no use me going on my knees every race and saying “God take over and control my race”. I’ll be happy with whatever comes my way – I’m so grateful. This is a new competition but I’ll put my best foot forward. We don’t know what time will win, but I hope the time I run is the winning time.” In an interview straight after his win he said that he kneels down and prays every day, but he obviously knows that humans have free will and can’t rely on rewards from God to make things happen.