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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
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About This Journal
Originally intended to be, and still occasionally a more formal "Theological Notebook," this is an ongoing open letter to family and friends: a continuation of my 1997 online journal, which in retrospect makes me one of the early adopters of the "blog," and this one of the elder blogs on the internet. So these are the incomplete words and experiences of a kid who grew up to become an historian and theologian. For me, there was no greater adventure than to try to gain a mastery of the whole of human experience. It's an impossible quest, of course, but the challenge of there always being more to learn keeps making it worth pursuing. Raised in the town of Oregon, Illinois in an Irish manner, vigorously educated (by atheists, Holy Cross and Jesuit priests, and a whole lot of ordinary folk, including his students), and recently completing a doctorate, the author continues to wander the Earth, looking for adventure.
Loyola Faculty Portrait
[From Facebook:]

I just had to search back through my Fall 2011 course evaluations for some data. I wish I knew who it was who left the comment, "He knows his shit."
24th-Jun-2012 03:41 pm - Personal: Some Parting Visits
Packing up has (naturally) been time-consuming and occasionally odious. But for someone like me, who can get lost in the rediscovery of old letters, knick-knacks, book marginalia and such, it's actually been something close to a triumph of efficiency. Not getting all that distracted, after all. The only downside is that I'm not getting the time that I hoped for to perhaps look around New Orleans a little more before I head up to Chicagoland.

2012-06-21 Bob Wardlaw at Nonna Mia's Cafe and PizzeriaBut I have made time to hang out with some people before leaving. After seeing Alex and Anil in the earlier part of last week, I closed out the week by taking some time to talk with Bob and Chelsey on Thursday and Friday evenings. Bob and I played tag for a bit because of my packing schedule, but he grabbed me while I was on campus Thursday working in my office and surprised me with dinner at a place I'd not heard of before: Nonna Mia's Cafe and Pizzeria, out near city central on Esplanade. He also gave me a going-away present of a number of albums by The Band. I've heard their music here and there through the years, of course, and some of the Freeks were fans, and so I remember some of that stuff being played on people's stereo systems at Notre Dame, or even covered occasionally, but I've never listened to it in a serious way. So that's on the iPhone now as part of the soundtrack of the train trip north and of the summer. He proceeded to give me a learned lecture on the material while we drove up Carrolton to the restaurant, with asides for highlighting personal favourites.

We got a great table on the front porch and started studying the menu. He was pleased to take advantage of their having Peroni, an Italian beer, on tap (his enthusiasm leaving me bummed once again about being such a bad Irishman that I have no taste for beer), and I found a glass of Zonin, a Montepulciano that I hadn't tried, that I found enjoyable enough. It took us a little bit of time to decide what to have because the options sounded so good. Bob eventually went with their Lobster Ravioli, served in a vodka cream sauce, which I had a taste of and which was scrumptious beyond reason (making me somewhat regret having anything else). But I went with one of their dinner specials for the night: the most fabulous seared salmon with capers, asparagus, and a zucchini and squash medley. It equaled the other dish and left me interrupting the conversation throughout to wax rhapsodic on the radiant joy of food!

So we talked about wine, women, and song – all manner of good things. He told me some more about growing up in Louisiana, about his family and the circle of friends he's cultivated down here. I couldn't help but admire his taste in knowing what the basic Good Stuff of life seemed to be. We compared travel notes, and he told me about high school adventures and misadventures in Rome when he took an overseas trip his senior year, and we talked about the attractions of Italy as we drank some more of what Italy had to offer.

2012-06-22-23 Closing Down The Columns with Chelsey RichterThe next night, I had made plans to catch up with Chelsey. Her sports internship kept her working well into the night, and so it was after eleven when we finally met at The Columns Hotel for drinks. There was a pretty huge crowd there, and I realized that I had tended to avoid it on Friday and Saturday nights exactly for that reason, and so I was pleased to have it thin out while we talked. And talked we did. We ended up closing the place down and then some: after originally finding space to sit and talk in the brunch room, and then later in the front room when the crowd had thinned out, we then moved out to the porch as the staff was preparing to shut things up at 2am, having our drinks switched to plastic glasses, and being told that we were welcome to sit on the veranda as long as we desired. We only sort of noticed in passing the other stragglers heading off as we continued to chatter, finally getting up to leave at 4am, after having had the space to ourselves for at least an hour.

There was more background talk than we'd ever had before, telling stories of family and where we had come from than we had known of one another, and I heard a lot more about growing up in the New Orleans area and some of its peculiar cultural tendencies than I had perhaps heard from other students. Unlike a lot of New Orleans natives that I had met, Chelsey wasn't utterly married to the idea of remaining in the area, whereas so many others are so taken with the city and its culture that they cannot imagine living anywhere else. (As devoted as New Yorkers, I've said, but not so arrogant about their place being the only place to live.) As far along as she was with her work in sports promotion, she had a number of other sites where she would be interested in working once her current internship was over. And so there was a certain amount of conversation about living in different places and the changes that come with different job prospects. There were only touches of "shop" talk having to do with the coursework we did together, most recently being my Modern Christian Thought class, other than her laughing about her mother noticing that since graduation she's been reading a lot more freely in the ethics direction, and so we talked a little about the temptation that some further graduate work has for her in wooing her away from the kind of business work she's been preparing for for so long.
I saw these online today. I think it's a pity that when someone dies, language becomes so inadequate to describing the person lost. I didn't know Fr. Fagin well, only working with him when we swapped classes last spring so that he could teach an undergraduate course on Ignatius of Loyola while I took the Master's class on "Church, Sacraments and Ministry" at the Loyola Institute for Ministry. But in talking over teaching that course with him, I was deeply impressed by his passion for working with students. That impression was reaffirmed in hearing students talk about him.
Loyola loses long-time teacher and beloved priest Gerald Fagin, S.J.

Father Jerry Fagin, S.J.Heavy hearts are on the campus of Loyola University New Orleans after the loss of Gerald “Jerry” Matthew Fagin, S.J., who died June 14 at the age of 74 after a courageous battle with cancer. Fagin, a member of the New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus, taught theology and spirituality at Loyola for 33 years, was a Jesuit for 55 years and a priest for 43 years.

“Jerry was a man who not only knew the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, but who also truly lived them in his work, his decision-making and in his life. He was a wonderful person to spend time with. He was insightful and humorous and had a wide array of interests. He truly believed that a person can find God in all things,” said Loyola President Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J., Ph.D.

To many, he was considered to be a true servant, powerful teacher and living example of Jesuit spirituality. Fagin was in great demand as a spiritual director and devoted many years to developing spiritual formation programs at Loyola and at the Archdiocesan Spirituality Center in New Orleans.

“I find it sadly appropriate that this great man passed away at this time of year when we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” said Edward “Ted” Arroyo, S.J., rector of the Jesuit community in Mobile, Ala., and a long-time friend and colleague of Fagin’s.

“Father Fagin was a wise, kind and inspiring guide for the Loyola University community and his Jesuit brothers, steeping us all in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and steering us in ancient and contemporary ways of following Christ. He will be dearly missed by so many whose lives he touched,” said Fred Kammer, S.J., director of Loyola’s Jesuit Social Research Institute.

Father Jerry Fagin in the ClassroomAccording to Thomas Ryan, Ph.D., director of Loyola’s Institute for Ministry, through his teaching, preaching, spiritual direction, and leading workshops and retreats, Fagin touched people in many circles in New Orleans and around the world.

"Jerry was beloved because of his gentle insistence on God's unconditional love and for his quiet and Irish sense of humor. He also loved to speak of gratitude - because of God's gift to us of our lives and creation, what other response can we offer to God than lives and words of gratitude?” Ryan said, adding, “Jerry always ended conversations about difficult and vexing matters with a word of hope. He would say, 'Courage.'”

Fagin was born in Dallas, Texas on April 19, 1938. He graduated from Jesuit High School in Dallas in 1956 and entered the Society of Jesus at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, La., that same year, pronouncing first vows on August 15, 1958, and remaining in Grand Coteau for his Juniorate (1958-60). He continued studies at Spring Hill College, receiving a Master of Arts in philosophy in 1963, and returned to Jesuit High in Dallas for regency from 1963-66. He then studied at Regis College in Canada where he received a Master of Divinity in 1969, as well as a Master of Theology and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in 1970. Following priestly ordination on June 7, 1969, at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Dallas, Fagin received a doctorate in theology from St. Michael’s College in Toronto.

Most of Fagin’s apostolic career was centered at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he began teaching theology in 1973. From 1978-89, he was associate professor of religious studies and was the chair of the Department of Religious Studies from 1981-84. He served as rector of the Loyola Jesuit community from 1984-89, and returned to teaching at Loyola as an associate professor of religious studies from 1991-95. From 1996 until May 2012, he was associate professor of theology in the Loyola Institute for Ministry. Fagin’s publications include “The Holy Spirit” (2002), co-authored with J. Patout Burns, and “Putting on the Heart of Christ” (Loyola Press, 2010), as well as several articles and published lectures. His new book, tentatively titled "God's Dream for You," will be published posthumously by Loyola Press. Fagin was also at work on a major book on spirituality for ministers at the time of his death.

“Jerry's last book before his death, ‘Putting on the Heart of Christ,’ shows us how the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius relate to contemporary virtue ethics, inviting us to a virtuous life,” said Arroyo. “May the example of Jerry's virtuous life help us who survive his passing truly grow in the virtues of putting on the heart of Christ.”

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Tetons and Me
2012-06-03 Dad in Audubon Park 3Lots going on. Dad's ten-day visit down here was helpful. As I recovered from surgery, he was able to run errands and such, saving me from the rigors of having to carry my own groceries and other trials while I was getting my strength back. Naturally, we watched the Cubs struggle more than once, although WGN's coverage of the Cubs isn't so constant down here. Long a vocal lover of trees, he kind of flipped with enthusiasm over the Southern Live Oaks that decorate New Orleans. (His train home was delayed with storm winds having knocked over a tree or trees onto the tracks, and while I was enormously grateful that this was caught and didn't cause any derailment, I could help observing to my sister that it would have been epically ironic had Dad been killed by a tree.) And we got a start on the packing, filling up some ten boxes of books and DVDs and the like. I've been continuing on that on my own, now that I'm stronger. I woke up early this morning and started at it again, and have packed another 17 boxes of books in the two days since the U-Haul boxes arrived.

Alex H. came over from campus the other night with some boxes, too, and we sat out on the porch and talked until two in the morning, ranging over how Loyola will finish up for him next year, to the theology of grace, to random talk about music. It was good to kick back and relax that way. I hadn't seen anyone socially, really, since Sarah had come over about two weeks ago the evening before she took off for her San Francisco internship, where we also cashed out on the porch for a few hours, after she had suitably charmed Dad after he came back for a walk. Somehow I can't remember much detail from that conversation, really, other than it being free-flowing and fun, and her laughing at the end about her un-lady-like sweating as we sat there. I talked with her a bit last night via text until I realized that she was texting while driving, which is the most hair-raising habit her generation possesses.

I bought my train ticket, but because I was still nailing down the exact details of my mover loading things up, it was just enough time that the price jumped nearly a hundred dollars. I could fly north for almost the same price now, but I've been wanting to make this train trip for a while, anyway. The "City of New Orleans" run between here and Chicago is scheduled at 20 hours or so: leaving here at 1:30pm and arriving in Chicago at 9am. I've driven down to Tennessee in the past, so I'm mostly curious to see the land *up* to Tennessee. The train gets into Memphis at 10pm, so it'll be dark then, but with the solstice just passing, I should have light up until we get into the Mississippi Delta region, which is sufficient for my interests. And then there's possible complications: my Dad's train home was delayed for hours because of the trees on the tracks due to the storming going on during his whole way through that area.

My brain is starting to rev up again. Once I'm done with the packing and the moving out, all I'll have to do "work"-wise is the research side of things. I've got two articles to work on for peer-reviewed publications, the book, and when Dad was down here I just busted out my notes from last summer on the sketch for the book on spiritual development that I wrote for Kevin last summer. (Fruits of our morphing ten-year conversation on the subject, now being taken in new directions by all the neuroscience he's adding to his psychological work.) I was really surprised to see how well those seemed to read to me, given that I wrote that stuff when I was pretty sick from an antibiotic that I turned out to be somewhat allergic to (we'd spent months thinking its effects were from the infection). Most of last summer until we got the antibiotic balance right the week before I met you guys in Arkansas is just a blur to me. I went over it with Alex when he was here the other night, and he was kind of jazzed to see the realistic complexity of an attempt to describe spiritual development that wasn't as linear as the models that are out there. Indeed, it's the very complexity and not-entirely-linear reality of that kind of development that makes me wonder exactly what "good" the book would offer. Most stuff I've seen on spiritual development seems to try to "sell" you something by taking you on the linear path from A to B. There are certainly higher forms of development in the Christian spiritual tradition (and some of that complexity and less-commercial non-linear-ness would come from dealing with and within the actual Christian spiritual tradition and not trying to water down spiritual reality into something more secular and politically-correct), and paths of progress that can be pointed out, but what I'm seeing at this point is almost more like a diagnostic tool, if you could write a popular version of something like that. It reminds me, in that sense, of some of what Kevin has told me about the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) over the years. So that's bubbling in the mix, too.

I've been hanging a bit with Anil the last two weeks, too, and had to laugh when he asked if I would being interested in becoming a guerrilla movie producer the other month, as he is trying to get his production company off the ground. He's an Indian immigrant, in NOLA for 20 years, who lost his businesses in Katrina, has had to drive a cab since, but for whom (in the long run) the disaster has become an odd kind of backwards personal blessing in that having his businesses and their security stripped away from him because it has given him the freedom to roll the dice and return to his original love: film. He'd been an assistant director under the "Spielberg of India" (who had predicted that Anil would be the first Indian director to win the Oscar) before coming to the U.S., but NOLA didn't have a film industry to speak of when he arrived, nor did he know the American approach enough to plug into one. The screenplays and ideas this guy is churning out now are enthralling (a real Hitchcock feel to them), and he's arranging things right now to try to build up to full features: starting with a local documentary this summer which can let him be seen as a director, then a small indie feature here of jury room drama based on the huge civil rights case we had here the other year – a police shooting of a man post-Katrina, which Anil happened to be the swing juror on – and then on to a full feature. He's been acting some, too, locally (has played with Morgan Freeman, Mark Wahlburg, and Russell Crowe), and has put together a full production company out of the regional film industry of crew who have gotten to know him and want to work with him; now he's just having to get the investment funding. But going guerrilla and doing something totally off my chosen career path would have had more appeal in my 20s (like working and touring with the Freeks for a year), whereas right now I'd like to settle in and get to work on what I've already begun. But it's been interesting to see all this coming together and to see him make it come together. (We had enormous conversation the other day about how to outfit a cab with cameras for the documentary.) He has also asked to use some of my music for soundtrack purposes, so that could be a bit of fun.

Watched a documentary called American Teen whose trailer I remember seeing in the summer of 2008 in our art house theatre (The Oriental) in Milwaukee before seeing The Dark Knight, and have had on my list to see ever since. Painful in a number of points, and it left me with a lot to ruminate on as to what the entire project attempts to do in following and documenting some Indiana teens through their senior year in high school. Some reviewers loved it, others found it suspect or contrived, or pointing out that the presence of cameras always necessarily creates an artificiality. But I think perhaps the most perceptive bit of criticism I've read accepted that it was an undirected (if not edited) documentary, but that it was a documentary of American teens who have grown up with the idea of "reality tv" and being in front of the camera all the time, and what's to be expected of those in front of such cameras, or at least "expected" according to the conventions of such so-called reality programming as they've grown up with. Anyway, so that served as an interesting piece of distraction.

An even better distraction has been Sophie, who has been having enormous conversations with me via FaceTime just about every other day. I've suddenly begun to fear for myself for my visit up there, as I think I'll be reduced to the status of "toy" for her, at least until the novelty wears off. My family would say that I was born with the Irish "gift o' the gab," so much so that I refused in Ireland to go near the Blarney Stone, explaining to my friends that not only was it (in my opinion) a horrible bit of tourist junk, but that my family would pay me money not to kiss the thing. But Sophie's capacity for chatter utterly overwhelms me. I suddenly realized the other day what it was that her way of relating to me was reminding me of: I'm Hobbes, and she's Calvin....
10th-Jun-2012 03:24 am - Personal: Grace Turns Ten
Family 2009
Today is my niece and goddaughter Grace Jean's tenth birthday: ten years of knowing her, and a richness and pleasure in that which I never could have imagined before she was born.
Age Zero: 2002

One Year Old: 2003

Two Years Old: 2004

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I only just saw that Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday. For a writer so associated with the 20th century's turn toward outer space, it is fitting that he died, like a legendary figure of old, during an astronomical event of some note: the transit of Venus across the sun. Would that the universe were consistently so emphatic in telling us who is worth paying attention to.

He's been one of our longest-lasting great voices of the last century, and I've loved the fact that he enjoyed such longevity, and that every few years, it seemed, I was able to check in with him, as I tripped across him speaking or writing about one thing or another. I discovered him in the same place that he discovered books: our local Carnegie libraries, his in Waukegan and mine in Oregon, Illinois, and I still associate his name with the feeling of wonder at the vistas the books within that place opened up for me. His Fahrenheit 451 remains one of my all-time favourite books, and has a distinction of being the most-stolen book from my library (or rather, that is, most-borrowed and least-returned). I'm on my fourth copy of it, I believe.

Ray Bradbury: who knew that we were surrounded by wonders, but that not all things were wondrous.
"A World Without Ray Bradbury": A Tribute From His Biographer

Ray Bradbury, author of 'Fahrenheit 451,' dies
Jun 6, 6:31 PM (ET)

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Ray Bradbury imagined the future, and didn't always like what he saw.
In his books, the science fiction-fantasy master conjured a dark, depressing future where the government used fire departments to burn books in order to hold its people in ignorance and where racial hatred was so pervasive that some people left Earth for other planets.

At the same time, his work, just like the author himself, could also be joyful, whimsical and nostalgic, as when he was describing the magic of a Midwestern summer or the innocence and fearlessness of a boy who befriends a houseful of ghosts.

Bradbury, who died Tuesday at age 91, said often that all of his stories, no matter how fantastic or frightening they might be, were metaphors for everyday life and everything it entailed. And they all came from his childhood.

"The great thing about my life is that everything I've done is a result of what I was when I was 12 or 13," he said in 1982.

For more than 70 years, Bradbury spun tales that appeared in books and magazines, in the movie theater and on the television screen, firing the imaginations of generations of children, college kids and grown-ups across the world. Years later, the sheer volume and quality of his work would surprise even him.

"I sometimes get up at night when I can't sleep and walk down into my library and open one of my books and read a paragraph and say: 'My God, did I write that? Did I write that?' Because it's still a surprise," he said in 2000.

In many ways, he was always that 12-year-old boy who was inspired to become a writer after a chance meeting with a carnival magician called Mr. Electrico who, to Bradbury's delight, tapped him with his sword and said: "Live forever!"

"I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard," Bradbury said later. "I started writing every day. I never stopped."

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5th-Jun-2012 09:36 pm - Personal: Last Faculty Gathering
Loyola University New Orleans
The second finale, as it were, of the school year came after the students' various graduation events, when the departmental faculty gathered at The Columns Hotel for a last get-together, the evening that Mari was leaving town. I was running a bit late from a meeting on campus, having a long, cool talk with the Dean, where we had gotten side-tracked by talking about the text of The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, which I was delighted to discover that she knew as well as I did, and by her describing to me her ongoing medieval Christianity/Islam research project, which should make for amazingly fun reading when she publishes it. So I got there in time to catch Mari and Ilya, and for a brief time Sara before she had to leave, and it wasn't long before we were able to snag a table out on the porch rather than remaining holed up inside, about the time Aaron arrived.

Ilya, Mari, and KenBob and TerriAaron and Liz

Mari and MikeBefore too long, we were all settled outside, where you have the pleasure of feeling the cooling of the evening in New Orleans, the breeze and the occasional rumble of a streetcar passing on St. Charles Avenue. Ken arrived, and in short order, Bob and Liz as well. By the time Aaron had to go, Terri arrived to take his place. It's been a few weeks, so in bad journaling form, I can't really remember much of the conversation now. There was a lot on summer plans: writing projects and goals, Terri's summer course in Rome (with a few days in Florence), which my Modern Christian Thought student Kyleah was going to be a part of, some of the restructuring of Liz's order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and the vast globe-trotting summer schedule of Mari and Ilya, where she would be home for a bit in Budapest, as well as joining Ilya for conferences in New York City and Seoul, before they vacationed in southeast Asia. And then her return and moving up to Canada. So that was kind of epic, and we all marveled at what they were going to juggle and enjoy.

By the end of the evening, it was just Mari, Ilya and I saying good-night to one another. I was getting a bit melancholy to already be saying good-bye to Mari, who I had collaborated with the most, and gotten closest to among all my colleagues, and it was a pain to see this friendship coming to an end of its "comfortably in the same setting" stage. So saying good-bye was a sad moment for that, although exciting for all that was in front of her.
Thomas More
While I was away from my journal last week, it was interesting to see the Catholic Church's impasse with the Federal Government come to a head in the form of a constellation of lawsuits over the circumventing of the First Amendment protection of religious freedom. Constitutionally, it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out, in seeing whether the First Amendment protections retain their traditional precedence, or whether some of the unwritten rights more recent constitutional interpretation has found imbedded within these will gain a primacy over the explicitly-stated protections that are (I assume) going to be argued to be built upon these unstated rights.

The Wall Street Journal ran an essay by Harvard's Mary Ann Glendon explaining why the United States' Catholic Bishops were going to court against the government, and around the same time, I received a mass e-mailing from John Jenkins, C.S.C., the President of Notre Dame, outlining why the University was part of the group filing these suits. These struck me as worth copying into the journal for future reference as what will perhaps be the biggest First Amendment battle of my lifetime plays itself out.
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30th-May-2012 09:18 pm - Personal: Graduations
Loyola University New Orleans
It wrapped things up neatly to then get to celebrate graduation with some of the students I've really gotten to know this year. I spent Saturday on the 12th in downtown New Orleans, which was replete with Loyola graduates and their families after the ceremony in the Superdome.

I spent the afternoon with Michael Kammer's family, seated between an aunt and Alexia, Michael's delightful 2011 Loyola-grad girlfriend visiting from Paraguay, who I had met earlier in the week. They held a graduation lunch over at The American Sector, the restaurant attached to the National World War II Museum downtown, which featured a kind of amusing menu that mixed New Orleans cuisine with WWII-era dishes, perhaps in somewhat refined form. I was curious as to whether I could find that famed Army dish euphemistically called "Chipped Beef on Toast" by some, in order to get a sense of maximum authenticity. The family conversation was hopping, and I was engaged steadily by the aunts-and-uncles tier of the family, along with Michael's parents, with occasional side conversations with Alexia. I finally met Michael's Uncle Fred, a Jesuit who exerts a dynamic influence on Loyola's campus as the Executive Director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute, but who I hadn't yet had occasion to encounter directly. Was I more directly engaged in social justice research and activity, he would have been someone to seek out as a mentor at Loyola, and even though those aren't my own areas of expertise and especial interest, I had a fascinating time talking with him. As the family was more within the region, they dispersed relatively early, and I hung out at the restaurant, waiting for the rain to stop before I walked over to the French Quarter for my dinner engagement.

I spent the evening over at the Bourbon House restaurant, where the infamous trio of Chris Bauer, Jeffrey Ramon, and Jimmy Elcock were celebrating their graduations with their families in an upper banquet room reserved for the occasion. I had heard a great deal about the restaurant from Chris, who had worked as a line chef there, but had not yet been there, myself. The décor was certainly elegant, and the sitting was very casual, and so that gave me a little more time to digest my late lunch before having to jump into another meal.

After greeting everyone, and finally meeting Chris's parents face-to-face (his mother had written me a lovely letter at the end of last semester about the independent study course I did with Chris in 20th Century Systematic Theology), I had the additional good fortune of finally meeting Sylvester Tan, S.J., a young Jesuit that I had heard many of my students talking about with great enthusiasm, and who had begun teaching this year in the Department of English, doing such things as Arthurian Literature. So he and I found ourselves talking for a time out on one of the interior balconies lining the second floor of the Bourbon House, talking various educational interests and experiences, chiefly, but with the primary result of leaving me disappointed that this was someone with whom I wouldn't get a chance to collaborate in the foreseeable future. (A number of students had become Facebook friends" of mine after the semester concluded, and some of these had particularly remarked upon the academic strength of Tan's courses, and so I was amused to then discover this Tweet pictured off to the right which had apparently been sent out from Jeffrey from back in April.) So we talked about teaching and students (in general) as well, and I heard more detail about the course he had been teaching (which I had heard about in some detail from students) on film adaptations of Authurian legend. I had even thought of tagging along with one student to catch an evening showing of Lancelot du Lac, which I had never seen, in the course, not knowing the instructor, though, and a bit shy of being a faculty member suddenly showing up and asking to be admitted, which could be alternatively rude or even threatening.

As the evening went on, I enjoyed more conversation with Remi, Chris's Mom, and with his aunt Becky, down from Nashville for the festivities, and whose wonder at being at her nephew's graduation tickled my imagination with how strange that will one day seem to me to be at the graduations of the nieces and of Nathan. There was more time to talk with Chris himself, more talk with Jimmy, with Michelle and with Alex, and with Natalie, who I had recently officially met, and all the crew in a whirl. I finally cut out by around nine, as the graduates were starting to contemplate meeting up with other grads for an assault on the rest of Bourbon Street, and so that seemed like a good point to catch a streetcar and call it a night for me. I had been (frequently) on my feet for about nine hours by that point, in a newish pair of dress shoes, and I would end up going on to pay for that with foot cramps throughout the rest of the night.
13th-May-2012 06:07 pm - Personal: The Prom
Chicago: Signature Room Night Skyline
Thursday concluded with the semi-formal dance/party called "Maroon and Gold," out on the "Horseshoe" Quad in front of Marquette Hall: the sort of "front view" of Loyola's campus, facing Audubon Park on St. Charles Avenue. After finishing up my work for the evening at the library, I strolled around to that part of the campus, running into Lee S., one of our minors, who had already taken the Modern Christian Thought course two years ago, and so had been conspicuously absent from my cohort of majors and minors in the class. I hadn't remembered that he was a graduating senior, too, and so we talked as we walked about his upcoming plans. A large tent was set up on the lawn, and as we came around the corner of Marquette Hall and through the colonnade toward it, I was nearly bowled over by the throbbing dance music pulsing from the huge sound system the DJ was working. Dance music having never really been my thing, I just sort of grinned, shook my head, shook Lee's hand as he went off to join some friends, and walked over to try to find the rest of my senior crowd, pay my respects, and cut out, with minimal faculty-member distraction from their celebrating.

The evening took a bit of a surprise turn when Robyn L. called out to me and came over to talk. (You could yell above the music if you stood some yards out from the tent.) Robyn had just finished my Catholicism course, and was part of my smaller evening section of it – sections I always enjoy because (surprise! surprise! just like all the educational research shows) the smaller sections are always more academically successful because of the ability for the professor to fully engage each of the students. So Robyn had spoken with me throughout the semester in class, but this was the first time she had really engaged me outside of the class. She began to talk with me about the course, her family and her twin brother's graduation from West Point in a few weeks, her plans in the competitive field of dental school applications. She's got a strong desire to get away from Louisiana for a time (most people from New Orleans, I've noticed, don't want to be anywhere else, in love with their town moreso than anyone I've ever heard outside of Manhattanites, but not nearly so snobby-sounding about it), and that took me a bit by surprise, so we talked about parts of the country where she'd like to live for awhile. In the midst of this, as friends came by to talk with her, she pulled them in briefly and made a point of introducing me.

That she introduced me as her favorite professor at Loyola was a bit of a shock, since she hadn't made a point of talking with me outside of class, which is usually a hint that a student thinks you're doing something successfully. She repeatedly laughed and assured me that, "I'm not trying to kiss your ass," but that she wanted me to know how strongly she felt about what I had been doing in the course. (I assured her that I'd already graded her, so if she was trying to sway my assessment at the end of the semester, she was too late.) Undeterred, she went on, describing how she and another friend in the course, both from Thibodaux, Louisiana, had apparently been struck by the clarity I was able to provide them in giving content and structure to their more nominal Catholic backgrounds, making sense of the context that had always surrounded them, but (in what I regret to say is typical Catholic fashion) had never been explained or passed on very well.

What really then surprised me was to discover that, after I announced that I would not be continuing at Loyola with the completion of my contract, she pulled together a group of students from the course and they apparently got in to see the Dean in her office. I was a bit mortified to hear this (Dean Kruz must have taken it in stride, as she was too polite to mention it to me the last time we spoke in the stairwell). But I was also deeply honored to hear that Robyn's protest included some sort of the complaint that "Everyone is always going on about promoting Jesuit values at the University, but this guy fully embodies that more than anyone we've seen, and you're letting him leave?" If she had been trying to flatter, that was as overwhelming a compliment as I could have received. The Dean, of course, told them that hiring decisions were departmental matters, as I would have had I known they were going to go off to ambush her.

A number of people had gotten only cursory conversation or waved off in how long we were talking, but Jeff R., one of Chris's best friends and another student who had taken my Catholicism course, and who was friends with Robyn, came over and successfully merged into our conversation, perhaps stunning us into availability by the reality-clashing jacket which he had managed to both discover and to wear to the party without suffering a seizure by draping himself that way. He'll be relocating to Loyola Chicago, where he'll be working on a Master's in Education as he begins to teach, and so we talked a bit about his excitement over that work, but mostly, having come into the conversation while Robyn and I were talking geography and places to live or study in the States, he (being a New Orleans native) began talking about "the snow and the cold" with a sound in his voice as though he were talking about moving into the crater of an active volcano, or into the Arctic ice itself. I tried to convey that it was an area full of dramatic weather contrasts, and yes, could be astonishingly vigorous or extreme in the winter (and in the summer, for that matter), but that it was really Not That Big A Deal. But I had to swallow those words, ultimately, as it was obvious to me that someone coming from New Orleans might experience a Great Lakes winter in such alien ways that I couldn't quite imagine the level of shock involved. So we'll see how that goes.

I then found Michael and Alexia, who had earlier ducked into the conversation with Robyn long enough to wave to me. They were all elegant and power couple-looking and taking pictures with friends, but I checked in long enough to say I'd see them on Saturday and to have some brief random songwriting conversation with Michael about the fact that we had both written songs that used rain as a primary metaphor for grace. Leaving them, I worked my way around to where Chris, Jeffrey, Jimmy, Michelle, Alex and Natalie were all hanging out, paying my regards to all of them before cutting out a few minutes before they did, running into them again and speaking for a few minutes as I was unlocking my bike in the quiet behind the bulk of Marquette Hall. They were off to some further rounds off-campus, and I was glad to wrap up a fun day with something as slightly surreal as the prom.
Loyola University New Orleans
Thursday was my last final to give, in this case the final session of my Modern Christian Thought course, where everyone was giving a closing presentation to the course. This course was my absolute favorite of all the university courses I've taught: I had to prep an enormous amount for it, well more than usual for even a new course, and I tried to stuff an inordinate amount of material into the course, though I remained conscious of significant movements I had to leave out for reasons of space. And it was all complicated by my injury and the series of surgeries I've had to have to fix my nose.

I was a little surprised at the beginning of the session to be passed a letter on thick beige paper that had been directed to me and apparently passed through the hands of multiple students, directed toward one of the class members, who was then directed to deliver it to me. Opening it, I found a letter from 1540, Loyola's secret society (presumably named for the year in which the Jesuits were officially recognized as an order by the Catholic Church). From what little I've heard, 1540 enjoys the typical mixed reception of such groups, with some on campus being very annoyed by the existence of a secret society, and others impressed with the anonymous charitable works and donations for other students that its members have engaged in. In my case, they were kind enough to go out of their way to say:
For the betterment of Loyola through selfless endeavors

Salve Dr. Michael Anthony Novak,

Formed on April 22nd, 1998, we are a secret society dedicated to the betterment of Loyola through selfless endeavors. We are who you think we are. We are who you think we are not.

We would like to take this opportunity to personally thank you for your exceptional commitment to the student body of Loyola University. Your tireless dedication to the Religious Studies department and the Catholic Studies program has not gone unnoticed. We understand that you had a particularly difficult time amidst your surgeries this academic year, yet the way in which you have carried yourself and have been a positive role model for students is truly remarkable. For your selfless devotion, genuine heart, adventurous spirit, and inspiring intellect that you share with this community, we thank you.

In our society of companions, we consider commendable the fruits of your labor at our University.

We hope you realize the significantly positive impact you have had on the minds and hearts of students here at Loyola. We will be saddened by your absence from our campus next fall, yet we know you will continue to bless those elsewhere with your presence. We thank you immensely, and we wish you well in your future endeavors.


So, as always, it's gratifying to be noticed and appreciated, not least as my visiting professor contract comes to a close.

The session itself was kind of a joy: a sort of victory lap for everyone involved, and a last occasion for some conversation about the ideas we all together encountered this semester, continuing in our more seminar-style format. It seemed that certain threads of what stood out to people as center aspects of Christian thought over the last three centuries became apparent over the course of the two hours' talk: the ongoing importance of the truth question in Christianity specifically and in religions in general, as Alex H. articulated, with support from Michael in talking about Karl Rahner, where he highlighted the critical role that harmony with the physical sciences (all enduring popular Enlightenment conception of a "war between science and religion" notwithstanding); the current theological task of creating a theology of world religions in Christian perspective, which Cardinal began the discussion by interestingly tying right back to our first reading of John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration and Chad continued with his ongoing consideration of Rahner's "anonymous Christian" category; the problem of the presentation of religious thought in modernity, with the still potent and serious moderation of John Henry Newman being held up as an example by Alex B. and Martin, with Tom going out of his way to specifically talk about ideas from Newman's Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine and the current row in the Church between the Vatican and some women's religious orders; and the thoughtful and engaged discussion of the importance of Liberation Theology and what it adds to the conversation from Monica, Michelle, Neefiyah, and Haley.

And so many other individual points: the ongoing revelation of discovering how little is actually known by people (believers included) of what the Catholic Church actually teaches in how Megan highlighted her reading of Pastor Aeternus and Lumen Gentium; Kyleah's vigorous argument that we had not read David Hume as moderately as she thought he ought to be read; Chris's yearlong-germinating reflection on grace in Dietrich Bonhoeffer that started in the 20th Century Systematic Theology directed readings he did with me; and Chelsey's take-me-by-surprise closing meditation on Paul Ricouer's work on narrative, causing us to close out the discussion, then, on the narrative or narratives we saw forming over the course of the semester as we attempted to get some mastery of the layout of Christian Thought from the Enlightenment until today.

The class began to pack up and the crowd dispersed, with the seniors getting ready for the semi-formal "Maroon and Gold" event on the "horseshoe" grounds in front of the university. But before that happened, a few people had been starting to talk about going out together, or going over to the Columns or some such, when a number of senior voices insisted that instead of doing that, I should come enjoy the free champagne with them at "prom." So I began to hear the utterly-unexpected sentence, "Will you come to Prom?" and the like. Since I was wearing a decent shirt and jacket (if with very dark jeans), I agreed to meet them at prom.

But before that, before and after I grabbed a quick dinner on campus, I had a couple of great talks with students. Megan, who I hadn't remembered was also graduating, had lined up a teaching position in the city already. Although her goal is to continue her education with a Master's in Theology before too long, she thought she would work her way up to teaching high school students, and so she is starting as the Religion instructor in 5th-7th grade classes at a Catholic grade school. This was fabulously exciting, so we hung around in the classroom talking teaching, student age and perception differences, classroom management, and the like for a while. We had a horrifying moment outside the student center where we stopped to help an older woman who missed seeing a step down and fell right in front of us, but mercifully she seemed unhurt. Later on, taking care of some work in the library, I ran into Kyleah, who I had only heard that day was going to be taking part in Sr. Terri's touring courses in Italy in the next month, and so I enthused about Italy for a bit with her, talking about Rome, about art to see in Florence during their excursion there (Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta and Masaccio's Holy Trinity being the two great masterpieces for me that cannot be found in the Uffizi). We talked about the geography of her experience as a native of Louisiana, and what she hoped to see of other places as she traveled abroad; as well as about the faux-historical fiction of Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth. I had to cut it short, though, as I had promised to get over to the "prom."

This managed to take me by surprise, too. But the entry is running long, so I'll continue that later.
Loyola University New Orleans
Giving my exams for my Catholicism course has given me a few surprise moments. I came into my first session yesterday with a small package waiting for me and a note that read, "Dear Prof. Novak, Just a token of our appreciation for sticking it out with us this semester. It took a lot of dedication to keep smiling and giving us your all. We all wish you speedy recovering and lots of blessings! Sincerely, Everybody here." And with this was a sort of New Orleans/Loyola dark French cross that will rank among my favorite office decorations in the future. Despite having to recover from obvious injury at the beginning of the semester, I really went out of my way to keep that from disrupting my students' experience, both being honest about it but without trying to distract from the course through my own drama. But I will say that it's cool to have had students appreciate the effort.

Along with good-byes and quiet conversations about summer plans as they turned exams in, I had one student who also bitterly complained that the exam didn't give her time or space to write the vast essays that every question provoked in her head. I could only laugh and agree that one could find a dissertation waiting to be written behind even a multiple choice question, but I couldn't help but be pleased that everything was just making her think excitedly. Lots of other little discussions: not being able to return home over the summer to Lima, Peru because one student was starting graduate school; another talking about summer back in the San Bernardino Valley and trying to find work while talking the geography of the area with me after discovering that I'd hiked there; another talking of the long journey of coming into a life of ministering to the mentally ill; and another talking about her current and summer work in recording as well as her own hip-hop artistry. What an epically cool semester's worth of people....
Loyola Faculty Portrait
I went to the 9pm Mass at Loyola Sunday night, the last one of the school year, which was a Bluegrass Mass. Leaving the house shortly beforehand, I climbed onto my bike to the gorgeous sound of a nighthawk hunting: the quintessential sound of summer to my northern Illinois-raised ears. The Mass was kind of fabulous. I had to wander a bit, as it had been moved to the big St. Charles Room in the student center, out from its usual spot in the chapel, but I got the feeling that they wisely stalled for a few minutes for just such stragglers as myself, who only found out about the change when they went to the wrong place.

I slipped in to an empty spot, which, as it turned out, was next to my student Alex T. from last semester, who had memorably closed out my course by giving me a large Christmas gift of chocolates, which were very welcome over the holidays. A few other students and staff members caught my eye before things started, waving or saying a few words. And then the music began, calling everyone to worship with a rendition of "I'll Fly Away," as five singers and a four-piece Bluegrass band (upright bass, guitar, violin, and mandolin) provided really tasty accompaniment. The music moved from lively and fun to exquisite and mystical during the Communion, where the three female singers, including my Modern Christian Thought student Cardinal, gave a deeply moving version of a song I'd never heard before, the Wailin' Jennys' song "One Voice," which adapted very easily to the liturgical setting. The Jesuit presiding gave a rich reflection on the significance of this time at Loyola for all the students, but especially for the graduating seniors. If they had not gone through some sort of crisis while there, of their major, of what to do afterward, of belief or of disbelief, then the time was wasted, he argued: that it was such moments of crisis in which we can potentially move to greater clarity and authenticity. I spoke to a number of people after Mass ended, complementing Cardinal on the music, and speaking to Ricardo Marquez from the Jesuit Center, seeing other students like Chad, Michelle, Chris, and Alex H. from the Modern Christian Thought class. Michael K. then introduced me to his girlfriend Alexia, a Loyola grad from last year who I had not met before, and who had flown up to surprise him for the week from her home in Paraguay. He then also invited me to lunch with his family after the graduation ceremony.

So I walked with them, talking with Alexia a bit more (and hoping I hadn't made her angry in any way for advising Michael to move to Nashville with his band – I hadn't!), as we went over to the traditional pancake dinner that's held after the last regular Sunday night student Mass. Curiously, the traditional pancake dinner always actually serves French toast, for which I'd had a specific craving earlier in the week, so that was especially satisfying. Chris, his roommate Jimmy (who drums in the band Jones Unleashed where Michael plays guitar), and their mutual best friend Jeff, a current Catholicism student of mine, all caught up to me here and talked for a bit. I then had some talk with Diane B. from the Loyola Institute for Ministry, who had been roundly applauded after Mass for her service living in one of the dorms, and we caught up on one another's news, before I settled in with yummy French toast with Chris and some others I'd not met before, lacking only raspberries, which they'd run out of by the time I got to the head of the line. After dinner, a few people stood and talked for a bit over in the main lounge, where Jeff, Jimmy and Michelle were ensconced with computers, studying or working prior to finals picking up in the morning. I announced that I had to go finish preparing my Catholicism exam so that I could prevent Jeff from graduating, which he took with a sheepish grimace, but which line seemed to especially please Michelle, and headed out. After finishing the exam and making my copies, I stopped by the student center again on my way out of campus, where I got into a brief conversation with Jimmy and Jeff about the forthcoming Peter Jackson adaptation of The Hobbit, the fears being expressed about it and the virtues of filming at 24 versus 30 (or more!) frames per second, and whether it was a greater priority to read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire or Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. I extricated myself relatively quickly, though, so that enthusiastic geek culture conversation wouldn't distract them any further from their work. All in all, a cool Mass and aftermass.

Today, in giving the first session of my Catholicism course final exam, the students were upbeat and chatty beforehand, teasingly asking about whether I was going to miss them (and laughing at the cuteness as my five year-old niece Sophie tried to FaceTime chat with me as the examination was beginning). And I realized that I really was: that despite all the bad voodoo swamp curses that New Orleans seemed to want to throw at me this semester, and all the distraction that that had provided to complicate my courses, I started to realize that this might have been my favorite semester of college teaching ever. The Modern Christian Thought class of majors and minors has been a very large part of that, with the most prep I have ever had to do, but with the richest payoff in student discussion and exploration, but that these Catholicism sections had also been each fabulous for student engagement, with students rallying each session out of late afternoon/early evening torpor to meet me as thoughtfully and provocatively as I've ever had from students, despite the usual few who lurked in the back corners and refused to be drawn into the mix.

Even as students handed in their exams, along with telling me about summer plans, a few took the time comment on a few points of the relevant text, and one student, who had made me enormously proud by how strongly she had come roaring back in the final weeks of the course after being compromised in the first half of the course by prolonged serious illness, stayed after to talk with me about some of the material and how it had impacted her thinking, making some really thoughtful comments about how a "big picture" course like this affect her plans and understanding for the "concrete" actions she wants to undertake in social service and social policy. And to castigate me for not remaining at Loyola to give her any further coursework.

So I got a gold star for the day, I think, and got to marvel at the almost excessive pile of fabulous students that got showered down upon me this semester. If there are ever days when teaching gets emotionally or mentally exhausting, or feels like an uphill Sisyphusean labour against some sort of other inevitability, these days remind me of the cure to when teaching seems like that: teaching.
1st-May-2012 02:59 pm - Personal: A Long-Distance Weekend
Family 2009
The weekend ended up being less fun and social than I had hoped, with the bulk of my energy going into grading instead, pleased at least to see how much my Catholicism students who had started to take it easy instead seriously rallied and did some very impressive work.

I had some good breaks into that, though, although they ended up being all long-distance. A typically-random and free-ranging conversation with Anne Marie in London occupied my Sunday morning, and a long Skype conversation Friday night with my friend Dan back in Milwaukee was provoked by his text to me that he had just won an assistant professorship and that they would be moving in the summer. The job description of the professorship was something I had seen, and had looked utterly insane to me, although I now learn from Dan that the vast list of duties which looked like they were concurrent, separate duties were in fact descriptions of overlapping duties, and so it wasn't so ridiculous a one-man-doing-the-work-of-five job as I thought. So they have a bid on a house in already, and we had a long talk about the effect on the kids at their (still mercifully young) ages, and the educational disappointment of their losing their German-language education, although they do have the bright spot of apparently moving into the best school district in South Carolina, which Dan said looked ridiculously healthy and flush with funds after witnessing the increasing-destruction of public education in Milwaukee.

I also had a long FaceTime conversation earlier in the day with Sophie, who, as usual, received the phone from Grace as soon as I called rather than texted. Then, also as usual, Grace hung out some in the background and spoke with me more obliquely, which is an interesting sort of display of shyness to me. My nieces are enthusiastic at play and chat when I'm actually physically present, but for some reason, the elder two have never warmed up to the phone, or even, once the initial novelty wore off, the visual "phone" now available across a wireless network. Sophie loves to chat, but Grace (who likes texting, more than talking) hangs back, and Haley works hard at pretending not to even notice me. Yet I'm so smitten with them that even Haley's apparent disinterestedness or stand-offishness comes across as cute, as there seems to be a certain element of razzing me as part of it. (Last year, for example, she actually called me, then muted her iPod Touch and placed it face down on the carpet, keeping the connection open while leaving me without sight or sound, which I thought was hysterical of her.) So at one point, then, in the other day's call, Grace was showing me new music skills from the background, playing the melody of "Amazing Grace" and "When The Saints Go Marching In" on the recorder and then the piano. Then both she and Sophie were propping the phone up or using it to film one another as they demonstrated some gymnastics to me, with Grace helping Sophie out on a move or two.

Haley was upstairs, glued to the television in the parents' room, watching Cartoon Network, as Sophie complained she always is doing, and peered at me in a sort of mute (and interested) greeting only at the end, as they all gathered to go out to the Olive Garden for dinner after Jim got home. She was peering at me interestedly, I think, because this was the first time I spoke to them with my face unbandaged. I broached the idea with Sophie at first as she appeared on the screen and as I realized (it being Friday and me being at home) that I hadn't covered my surgery site. I asked her if she wanted me to go cover it with a bandage (I was hiding it behind my hand) in case she thought it would be too scary to see my owie. So she peered at it for a moment, announced that it wasn't too scary, and that was that. Haley was the last to see it, then, but as she didn't say anything, I don't know what she thought.
Rahner and Ratzinger
The students in the Modern Christian Thought class kept me on my toes this week. Predictably, they found some of the hermeneutical philosophy background thick going (Gadamer, Ricœur) and found it easier to discuss the theologians we read something about (Wolfhart Pannenberg and David Tracy receiving more attention of this sort). Thursday's discussion of primary source texts focused on Pannenberg, where we looked at an old Christian Century popular article highlighting his overall theological approach, set in a semi-autobiographical sketch ("God's Presence in History"), as well as excerpts on the nature of systematic theology and the doctrine of God from his An Introduction to Systematic Theology.

This was especially interesting for me in that Pannenberg has long appealed to me as a thinker. I discovered him toward the end of my state university undergraduate, as his magnum opus Systematic Theology began to come out in English translation, which I found on the New Books shelves at Founders Library, and which made me almost melt in relief to find a contemporary theologian who took the category of history as seriously as he did, having found far too much of 20th century theology to be a weak dodge of such questions, myself. I missed my chance to hear or talk with him at the University of Chicago some years ago, only hearing about his presence after the fact, much to my irritation. (Out of the major theologians we've read about in the course, most of whom were dead, of course, by the time I woke up, I think I've only met Gustavo Gutiérrez, who is now at Notre Dame, and John Macquarrie, who I escorted for an afternoon at ND, without having the sense to write up the occasion in my journal: I have vague memories in my head of walking around outside the Law Library with him, talking about Existentialism....)

As I suspected, the students really centered in on Pannenberg's emphasis on truth as the central quest or criterion for systematic theology. I expected the relativist/post-modern aspects of the students' backgrounds to come to the fore in discussing this material, and, if that was indeed the roots of their thinking, I was not disappointed in their arguing over precisely that question. There was some conversation over his willingness to use multiple points of entry to his investigation, a very late-modern or post-modern "web" approach to knowledge or hermeneutics that surprised some students, given the extent to which they had gotten used to some sort of foundationalism in the approach to knowledge in what they have generally heard or in some of the Moderns we have read. Anticipating our final course session next week, where we look at recent Christian theologies of world religions (as the sheer fact of the world's religions has only relatively recently become a major or foreground "problem" of Christian theology), the students were particularly interested or occasionally uncomfortable with the question of truth as particularly applied to the existence of a multiplicity of religions. Whether there was the late liberal distaste for saying that anyone might be incorrect about anything, or whether even asking the question was an automatically-biased, Western construction – these questions bubbled up with interest and energy from the crowd. The analogy of scientific investigation (Pannenberg being particularly interested in the coexistence of the physical sciences and theology) to theological investigation came up, and students debated the merits or the strength of that analogy.

It posed an interesting teaching moment for me, since it was pretty easy for me to suspect that I was seeing a typical – even stereotypical – popular postmodern relativism at work in the students, leading to fairly predictable reservations at Pannenberg's description of the work of theology. But I had to check myself at some level on that point, asking myself during the discussion whether there might also be present here some sort of generational shift in insight or perception that could show me a blind spot in my own thinking. As usual, our 75 minutes together went by all too quickly, and I couldn't come to any final sorts of conclusions as to the significance of the student reaction to this particular material. I'd like to follow that discussion up, though, with at least some of the students, and have toyed with the idea of seeing if any of them are around campus, available,and interested in more conversation on the topic this weekend (although I suspect that a lot of this conversation will continue on Tuesday as we look at the Christian theologies of world religions of the last fifty years), despite the attractions of the New Orleans Jazz Fest, which is in full swing this weekend. Along with the actual jazz, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are all performing this weekend, so that's some pretty huge competition.

There was also some interesting discussion of the co-extensive nature of religious experience and theological reflection, given both Pannenberg's discussion of how these two interact in systematic theology (or ought to) and Pannenberg's own brief autobiographical account in the Christian Century article linked above. Questions flowed from students as to which was chronologically or logically prior, and of the relative weights to be extended to both, particularly with regard to the stated goal of seeking truth. Again, Pannenberg's willingness to start from, or to integrate, multiple starting points was something to consider here, and, as usual, it was entirely exciting for me to see students taking over the discussion and kicking these ideas around in a serious way.
Writing in Jackson Hole
In recent months, I've been interested to see some reports that have made me think some more about the power of the press to shape contemporary consciousness as to what is the news and how to perceive it. This thinking has been sometimes brought on, interestingly enough, by (what seems all too rare to me) stories that made it into the news cycle itself, offering even a hint of such self-criticism. So even seeing such simple observations as noting the long attention and support of the news media in highlighting the "Occupy" movement as a way of giving the movement approval and support, while a nonviolent political protest movement of which the mainstream media did not approve received no mainstream media coverage, like the New York Times declining to mention it, despite consistently drawing over 200,000 protestors to march, in contrast to the 30,000 reported at the large New York Occupy Wall Street protest.

Report: Media saw Romney as nominee post-Michigan
Apr 23, 3:34 AM (ET)


NEW YORK (AP) - The media decided that Mitt Romney would be the inevitable Republican presidential nominee weeks before voters did, according to a report that analyzes race coverage.

The study being released Monday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism found that while Romney didn't have a clear path until chief rival Rick Santorum suspended his campaign April 10, the media concluded the race was over Feb. 28, when Romney narrowly won the Michigan primary.

The report analyzed the content and tone of coverage of the contest from Jan. 2 to April 15. It used a computer-assisted analysis of more than 11,000 news outlets and a closer assessment of 52 key print, television, audio and online news outlets.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and a co-author of the report, said Romney was the focus of plenty of skeptical stories throughout the primaries, but the former Massachusetts governor's victory in Michigan led to a decisive shift in media coverage. Romney grew up in Michigan, but Santorum made a strong play for conservative support.

"The press began to see Romney's victory as essentially secured by the end of February even though it was clear many voters were still uneasy," Rosenstiel said. "What we saw going on in the coverage then was a suddenly intense discussion of 'delegate math' and the conclusion that no other candidate could win."

After Michigan, the report said, "news coverage of (Romney's) candidacy became measurably more favorable and the portrayal of his rivals - particularly Rick Santorum - began to be more negative and to shrink in volume."

Santorum would go on to win several more primaries in March, but by then the press had concluded the race was over, the report found. "In the media narrative, for all intents and purposes, the general election had begun," the report said.

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21st-Apr-2012 06:07 am - Personal: Great Teaching Compliments
Loyola University New Orleans
One of the most embarrassing or humiliating things for me about having a hundred or more students in a semester is not getting to know a bunch of them. Students who remain silent fall pretty quickly into memory's oblivion by failing to make any kind of impression on you whatsoever, even while you have them. Unlike high school teaching, at the university level you cannot take so much time and effort to draw out or force individual student participation, and have to let them take more responsibility for their success or failure in the course (barring some specific learning disability that you're watching out for or trying to help). Thus, the other week, walking and talking with a repeat student of mine who has long since made an impression on me, we stopped briefly on the Peace Quad to talk with a group of young women sitting on a bench under the trees in front of the library, and I was greeted by and spoke with one of them, who hailed me like a student of mine, but who I couldn't place out of a police line-up of two people, although I had a good (and correct, it turned out) guess of who the student was.

Having apparently broken the ice with that exchange, this girl is now a talker, and chatted merrily with me at the end of the Catholicism course exam from this week, where she was the last student in that section to finish the exam, and was laughing that she was usually not the last, overly-careful student, who took a long time lingering over an exam. But she said that she was really excited that this third "quarter" of the course was the payoff, as far as she was concerned, as we now had completed the more historical and theological "background" study of Catholicism, and that this section of the course had been much more an "application" and spirituality component of the course. She was lingering over the exam, she said, because even the exam questions, along with the reading, had been such an opportunity of self-discovery for her, despite the fact, I gathered from what she said, that she wasn't a particularly religious or Catholic person.

Talking for a bit after turning in her test, she went on for a while about how this had been exactly what she was hoping for out of the class, after she had heard about it. She had heard of it? I asked about that and she said, "Everyone's talking about your class." This made me blink, not that it was bad to hear, but rather that that hit me as though I had been told "Everyone's talking about podiatry." A bit hard to imagine. But she went on to say that people talked about me being enthusiastic about the subject without being preachy, about being willing to argue the truth of ideas without being close-minded, and the like. And that added up to being about as cool as any letter of recommendation I could have ever received. So that was a happy surprise to hear from a formerly silent student, especially when I'm so conscious of all the hurdles I could still tackle and the ways in which I could still improve my instruction.

All this dovetailed with something from the day before, when I had dinner Tuesday night after my Modern Christian Thought course with Michael, talking a lot of music industry stuff, mostly, including the news that my advice had been influential and that as a result, after graduation, the members of Jones Unleashed (of which he is the lead guitarist) were going to be moving up to Nashville and pursuing the musical dream. It's always alarming when people take your advice seriously, I find, and you find yourself having had any influence over the subsequent course of someone's life. (The scariest thing about teaching, arguably.) I had simply pointed out that, given the way the musical industry works, no matter what you have to offer musically, you typically can't get marketed once you are out of your twenties, unless you've already been discovered and established. While I can appreciate that Michael's ultimate goals and desires have more to do with a career in academia, the desire to do both pretty much demands that he make his musical attempts now. Happily, Nashville also hosts a substantial graduate theological school (which the ultimate goal of this Physics major, as it turns out) at Vanderbilt, where my Marquette student Jessica is already ensconced in the Master's program, and so that might be able to afford him some opportunity for "keeping his feet wet" with some occasional coursework (which can also provide plenty of artistic inspiration) before he eventually commits to full-time studies.

In the course of dinner, he suddenly shifted gears and spoke about the class, where he said that people had been talking approvingly of the sense that they're starting to be able to navigate the tendencies and landmarks of the development of Christian thought from modernity in a serious way. Jones Unleashed is famous among those who know them as a band full of guys of serious and utterly conflicting theological convictions, all bound together by friendship. The other night, apparently, after rehearsal some debate or other got going and Michael found himself saying something that lost everyone involved, like that someone's theology was being overly-influenced by some holdover from the 19th century's Princeton Theology that really begged some reconsideration or development from more recent information. It was then, he said, that he realized how much information and different forms of thought he was starting to be able to recognize and navigate.

To hear him say that this was not only his own experience but that others in the class were reporting this as well was something of a relief. This is the first time I've taught this course, and so as with any first-time course, it is still very much in the nature of an experiment. In my case, having become convinced from my own experiences at Notre Dame and Marquette – arguably the two best Catholic theological programs in the country – just how poorly students are prepared for studying systematic theology, I was determined in this course to go for breadth, cramming every last thing I could into the coursework (in order to try to provide something towards the sort of comprehensive background that I know that I and my fellow students lacked), which is why I've refused to miss a single session of the class, no matter how impractical schedule-wise: I'd Skype in from an ambulance if I had to in order to keep these majors and minors immersed in the content I'm trying to communicate to them. So it's strangely a very advanced course in many respects, but still structured in the nature of a survey. This last week, for example, we tackled both Latin American Liberation Theology and Black Theology in America, reading for our primary source work a selection from Gustavo Gutiérrez's A Theology of Liberation and the whole of Martin Luther King, Jr's Letter From Birmingham Jail.

So that was reassuring, as far as it went. I know there's more I'd like to do with the class, both content-wise and what I've been able to contribute to it, but it is what it is, especially for it being a first-time-out-of-the-gates effort. But just to hear that it is achieving my goals for it in the minds of the students is gratifying, and always much better than being thought to have missed the mark or being reviled. So it was also honouring to have Michael, who is wildly excited about graduation so that he has more time to read for fun, talk about being excited to read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and to invite me over to the dorm for eats and a viewing on Sunday evening of the latest episode of Game of Thrones with the guys, provided that they get back in time from the festival that they're playing in Austin this weekend. I also recommended that he tackle Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time as better than A Song of Ice and Fire, if I'm allowed to counter current fashion....
21st-Apr-2012 03:24 am - Personal: Odd Dream
Everwood: Andy and Harold
One of the happier things about my psychology, I gather, from talking with other people, is that I don't really have nightmares. I know some people really are plagued by these, which sounds more unpleasant for restful sleep than is having a pea-sized bladder or somesuch.

I fell asleep early, around 10pm, and fell right into what was for me a very strange dream: of being in the same room, at the same time. In my dream, instead of having fallen into my bed, I went over and checked my computer, probably my email, and noticed through the window (which looks out on my front porch) that Chris was on the porch, stopping by, which has happened before. It didn't strike me as odd, though, that Chris would be there at 10pm, as he works Friday nights as a line chef at Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House, which keeps him busy until closer to 1am. But in my dream, Chris seemed to put an envelope into the mailbox of the apartment above me and not come over to my door, which I thought was strange. I walked out of my front bedroom, around over toward the front door, but now the light on the porch was out and not coming through the window above my door. Weirder. I walked back into my room instead, where I could again see lights and such but no Chris. After a few moments, I guess, I went back around toward the front door. Again, now, there were no lights on, which seemed wrong. I unlocked the deadbolt and started to open the door, which suddenly began to be forced open by someone on the other side of it. I shoved back, but was losing the fight to close the door, which started shoving further open: I yelled in panic and opened my eyes – and could see from my clock radio that 25 minutes had passed since I lay down.

So that was, for me, as notable and journal-worthy a nightmare as anything I've had since the Picasso-ish wooden giraffe bench-thing in my room consistently freaked me out as a three year-old when the lights were turned out. Maybe just a reflection of a latent concern about New Orleans crime? Whatever. But, as I said, I'm lucky enough in my dreams (which are often quite entertaining in an action/adventure movie kind of way – I had a vast one the other night in a long bit of mostly uninterrupted sleep: not magical, per se, but a kind of "Harry Potter" mood/mystery/adventure setting. Wish I could remember the details, but I know that I was having an awful lot of fun! Anyway, I just woke up thinking that this night had been odd enough (and still more-or-less clear in memory) as to be worth jotting down for its unrepresentative strangeness.
Resurrection Raffaello del Garbo
There were two things I'd picked up at Easter from friends that I wanted to copy into my journal for memory's keeping. The first, a poem I saw on Professor Michel René Barnes's Facebook page. This appealed to a number of people, apparently, as I saw more people pick it up and reprint it:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Telephone Poles and Other Poems © 1961 by John Updike.
The second, an article that Anne Marie drew my attention to, given that it touched on the art of St. Michael's Cathedral in Coventry, which I saw during my visit to the place with Peter Booth in June 1997 when I spent a few days in the UK after the Folk Choir's tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Easter message: the triumph of the Resurrection
The Right Rev Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, delivers his Easter message

By the Bishop of Coventry8:03AM BST 08 Apr 2012

"I SAW the old cathedral as standing clearly for the sacrifice, one side of the Christian Faith and I knew my task was to design a new one which should stand for the Triumph of the Resurrection.”

That was the vision of Basil Spence, the architect of Coventry’s new cathedral, when he conceived its design following the wartime bombing of the city and its cathedral. His work, completed 50 years ago in 1962, became a symbol of the resurrection not only of a city, but also of a country and continent rising from the destruction of war into the new possibilities of peace and prosperity.

Today, Easter Day, in the cathedral’s golden jubilee, the momentous story that Spence set out in stone has been enacted through ancient ceremonies as worshippers gathered in the darkness of the ruined cathedral to see a fire burning once again.

Not, this time, the fire of war but the fire of the new creation, the fire of God’s inextinguishable love from which the new light of the Easter candle is taken and processed through the crowds, penetrating the night as surely as the deacon’s voice fills the silence with the sound of the simple song — “The light of Christ!”

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Some excellent moments throughout the last week or so. While being sort of marooned away from family was not my first preference for the Easter holiday, I had some chances to make up for that. One highlight was having a good talk with my brother Joe at the beginning of April in celebration of his birthday, reminding me again how after my visit to his and Daniele's home in December just how much we haven't gotten to just hang out together in the last several years, and how we're almost always seeing each other at big family functions, which are all good, but don't give the opportunity for extended slow and random time together.

I'm getting some other family time in an expected way, though: my Irish cousin Michelle's visit was good fun for her and her boyfriend Vinh, it seemed, and I think I did alright in adding my bit to that. We didn't know one another too well, and so I worried that we might end up flailing for conversation a bit. But the Panorama Jazz Band was in as good form as I had hoped when I met them down at the Spotted Cat Music Club on Frenchmen Street, playing a few of their pieces that I've particularly come to like. We grabbed some food at a place on Bourbon Street afterward, talking more easily with each other, getting to know one another a bit more, and me and Vinh getting to know each other for the first time, comparing notes on Milwaukee, where he had done his medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin and his residency in radiology at Froedtert. That gave us a bit of a respite from the mess of Bourbon Street, too, which often seems more desperate and sad than festive to me.

They spent Sunday exploring the Warehouse and Lower Garden Districts, and so when I brought them Uptown to take in dinner at Jacques-Imo's, they'd gotten a better sense of the city than just exploring the Quarter will give anyone. We only got in toward ten, just before closing, but we sat outside with cocktails, leaning against the Jacques-Imo-Mobile, until they seated us, where they went exploring with Vinh ordering the snails (salty) and she grabbing the Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake, while I stayed more tame with a Grilled Duck Breast with Orange Soy Glaze, Shiitake Mushrooms and Pecans. Michelle picked a Syrah for us, but the way the wine would activate the spices left on my tongue from the food replaced the wine's sweetness with fire, depending on what I had eaten immediately before drinking. (I've been noticing this as a New Orleans problem in ordering wine with a meal.) Michelle then became my hero when we were a few blocks away and realized for me that I'd left my bookbag at the table, so I hustled back for that, only to discover to our disappointment that the Columns Hotel bar closed at midnight, at which point we called it a night.

I got off the streetcar and home still pretty tipsy, collapsing into bed and waking up the next day around one with a mouth that tasted of old laundry and the confusion of weird dreams. That left me in a pickle of having to try to hurry and clean as well as review my prep for the day's lessons, which came off well, on American mid-20th century "Christian Realism" and the brothers Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr. But what else ought you to do for family? This afternoon my Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen will arrive in town, and so that'll give me family within a day of Easter, which I trust will feel like it levels things out. (Although long phone calls with Mom and Dad, and Dan Lloyd up in Milwaukee, helped make Easter Day itself more festive for me.)

The day after that, I was discussing sexuality as a metaphor for the love of God tomorrow (the "Sacred Desire" chapter from Andrew Greeley's The Catholic Imagination) in my Catholicism class, and so I was preparing, as best one can, for the rather unpredictable reactions students tend to have to this image. That discussion actually came out fairly strongly. In my first class, I actually had two guys so struck by the chapter that they started discussing it without prompting while I was still taking attendance! Interestingly, the classes seemed more uniformly interested or keen on the image, whereas in semesters past, students seemed split between finding it useful or illuminating and finding it just wrong: either those who didn't like it shut up in face of those who vocally did find the image intriguing, or there happened to be a lot less people who wanted to insist on what I suspect is a "amiable grandparent" image of the love of God. So that made four hours of discussing the same material three times through go by without any weariness on my part.

Huge storms rolled though New Orleans in the middle of the week, leaving me with no sleep Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, but a deep pleasure in the rain and storm itself made up for that. I had biked over to the office earlier, when the radar showed me a gap in the rain, and it was like artillery pounding the city after that, including light hail. A wondrous racket! The house shook constantly for the worst of it, around 3:30am, and I texted Sarah, sure that she was up, and was pleased to hear that she was enjoying the chaos of it all, too, as I guessed she might be. (Growing up in the Midwest gives you an appreciation of big thunderstorms as a kind of free natural fireworks show, as long as you aren't in a tent.)

Holy Thursday was made extra lively by a dinner invitation from Chris, after proposing we attend the Mass of the Lord's Supper together at Holy Name of Jesus. I ended up being late because a streetcar didn't come for 40 minutes, and I waited in order to not do a fast 20-minute walk there so that I wouldn't be sweaty and such in church. When this sometimes happens in New Orleans, that a streetcar doesn't come in a timely way, you think, "Surely, just another few more minutes..." and it still doesn't come, and then you feel a fool. New Orleans. On paper, they come every 7 minutes, which would be so cool!

So I arrived in a bit of a mood, which was dumb, and then the texts and homily really had me lingering in my own worries, too. So not the most amiable of Holy Thursdays, if that makes a lick of sense, but my current circumstances certainly made for a really vivid meditation. The mood picked up significantly once we headed out to Chris's for dinner, which was a simple, but excellent meal of good, high-quality chicken breasts I had (two each!), which he prepared with Creole spices, garlic powder, rosemary and a honey glaze, then bow-tie noodles and the most *perfectly* prepared asparagus I've ever had, which made me like asparagus a lot for the first time. So I learned how to properly prepare asparagus (and broccoli, as a related style). All that with an inexpensive but decent Chianti made for a very pleasant evening of tastes with good conversation on food, theology (especially some of Chris's ongoing interest in the significance for God of the humanity of Christ), friends, and his upcoming Jesuit Volunteer Corps placement in San Jose.

I had to burst out laughing a couple of times as we talked past midnight, as his roommate's father had amused himself by buying all sorts of Western-themed decorations for his son, who despite being from Boston, had taken to rodeo riding. So Chris was parked in front of a giant, beautifully framed, slightly absurd cowboy painting, whose presentation would have made more sense as a presidential portrait in the White House. He graciously allowed me to photograph the juxtaposition for my amusement and memory.

I then spent Good Friday entirely devoted to the stained glass window project. Sarah did some greater detailing on some of the figures (The Father; The Son and Spirit/Sophia; and Maximilian Kolbe, with vision of Mary), which blew me away when I first saw them, and with how quickly she could turn vision to reality on a piece of paper. I then proceeded to Photoshop into the the existing large working file (with an excursus on the work I'd done on Dali and the two of us peering at my prints on the walls). That was some painstaking detailing and annoying computer tweaking, with a printer that wasn't letting me do what I knew it *could* do, if I could remember how to persuade it. We ended the evening going out for an "inexpensive" dinner that, to my chagrin, cost us about twice as much as I intended, but which got us both in La Crêpe Nanou for the first time each, which was pretty much as good as it was said to be. She grabbed the Crêpe À La Crabe (fresh jumbo lump crabmeat in a Mornay sauce with creamed spinach) and I the Crêpe Bourguignonne (filet of beef tips and mushrooms braised in red wine and served with potatoes), which we both judged the superior one. We just "added on" an appetizer of mussels and then glasses of Bordeaux and surprise! surprise! that really cost more! So I felt a bit foolish, but it was great conversation. And, having deferred to me after suggesting an appetizer, she found that she really liked the mussels (steamed in garlic, cream and white wine), and so I felt I'd done a culinary mitzvah that way.

She got an internship this summer in San Francisco working for an illustrator who is currently doing a film about illustrators, so (with perfect timing for Sarah) she is going to be able to scout out what a lot of professionals in the field actually are doing before she goes into her senior year having to find some way to make this work for her living when she graduates. In other words, she managed to get an internship that doesn't show her the work of one illustrator and how they make a profession out of this, but the different forms of work several are engaged in. So I think she scored on that one, and then not least in getting to know San Francisco, which will really be her first immersive new city experience.

In a random piece of happenstance, later that night, I was digging through a box of odds-and-ends and found a set of long-lost photographs that I had taken during a Christmas holiday in college with my buddy Kim when he came to stay with us in Oregon. I had been wondering where these were for years, fearing them lost forever, and had just mentioned them in passing as the lead-in to a college dating story I told to Sarah over dinner. So that was a very minor, perhaps, but personally satisfying Easter gift for me, and I stayed up scanning those into computer files at last so that I could try to be more sure of preserving them, laughing all the while at how pretentious (but very 80s!) and unskilled our attempts at dramatically shooting one another ended up being.
Holy Spirit Dove/Jesus Freak
Sophia also confirmed something of what I had heard through Mom: the nieces' continuing, almost-rabid fascination with leprechauns, and the mischievous moving things around they'll do with objects around the house, and other pranks, including the much-feared pinching when they come into your house at night on Saint Patrick's Day. Sophie told me about Haley's building a trap to catch a leprechaun, and her ongoing desire to smite one with a hammer, but the leprechauns, alas, had triumphed in springing or partially dismantling the trap while Haley slept, moving things around in the night, and stringing something through the doors of the microwave oven in the kitchen. Sophie laughed with excitement and immediately called out to Leslie, repeating to Mommy my report that the leprechauns had taken my iPhone that night, erased everything and filled it up with text and recordings of themselves laughing at and taunting me. She seemed to think it was fair and good, though, that I received it back the next day, and that I was able to restore everything on it from my computer.

My majors- and minors-only course on Modern Christian Thought continued to impress this week, with the week's sessions being devoted to Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Not surprisingly, Bonhoeffer generated the most comment and excitement, especially on Thursday as we went over our primary source readings and responded to a selection of The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer's challenge to the notion of "cheap grace" went over with appreciation among the students, who responded with some zest to confronting diluted or self-serving forms of spirituality. But there was some serious response to Barth as well, and I was pleased at how the students handled the two of them together, both noticing the critique of earlier 19th century Protestant Liberalism, but also how Barth's interest in emphasizing God as "Wholly Other" (in contrast to the "tamed God" of Protestant Liberalism, who was so easily identified with German bourgeois culture) was still perhaps too detached from humanity, despite Barth's theology of the Word of God as the source of revelation. Bonhoeffer's focus on discipleship, then, and a more immediate, relational picture of Jesus served as both critique and correction of Barth, they judged, and that concrete grounding in Christ, Church and ethics served to allow God to be recognized as Wholly Other without being Wholly Removed.

Bonhoeffer's critique of the failings of German Christian culture as it secularized Christianity into a cultural trapping rather than true discipleship led to interesting discussion as I then pointed out how Bonhoeffer tried to re-articulate Christian faith in what scholars today often refer to as a "post-Christian culture." Bonhoeffer was contrasted with Nietzsche on this point, who only saw in his prophetic announcement of this culture that "God is dead!" while Bonhoeffer looked to a new, more minority reestablishment of serious Christian faith in and beyond this watershed. I pointed out the curiously Lutheran language of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI on this point, of the Christian future looking toward a smaller, more faithful Church, as he and many others have suggested, while another interpretation of the "next step" beyond a post-Christian culture is the attempt to once again establish a dominantly Christian culture, though now schooled by the experience of Modernity and its critique or rejection of Christian faith. The students stirred up quite an interesting debate about themselves as to whether or how these positions on the Church's future relation to wider culture were or were not living up to Christian ideals: did the idea of a smaller, "purer" Church forsake the call to evangelization? Did the idea of establishing a "neo-Christendom" fail to take seriously the Christian gospel's intrinsic challenge to the world in favor of some sort of rapprochement with a dominant culture? What would or could come next after a post-Christian culture phase of the history of the Church? These questions set up the class nicely for next week's look at the American "Christian Realism" of the 20th century, as we study Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, and read from the latter's classic Christ and Culture with its discussion of various relational paradigms between Christ (or God or Church) and culture.
A Whole World Out There
Going over uncorrected proof copies (I'm old enough to want to call them galley proofs) of my "The Odes of Solomon as Apocalyptic Literature" article for Vigiliae Christianae. I wasn't sure how quickly they were going to get to this, since the editor had mentioned to me that they had a number of recently-accepted articles and weren't sure in what order they would be putting these out, but I got the email and the instructions that these needed to be corrected and returned in four days, so they're clearly on their roll. Or it's like the Army timetable with a lot of "hurry up and wait." Either way, it's good to see the thing in Brill's (the publisher's) layout. That's my project for tomorrow, but my casual glance through it looks pretty good, although I imagine it's a lot harder to screw up the initial layout if you're cutting-and-pasting from the author's computer files.

At Thanksgiving this year, I met my cousin Michelle for the first time. She's my second cousin, if I recall correctly – think we have the same great-grandparents – and has been working in the United States this last year, and so is the first of the Irish family that I've met, since I never was able to go up to County Sligo when I was in Ireland. She's doing a spontaneous weekend getaway this weekend with her boyfriend, and they're flying into New Orleans tonight. So I'll be getting together with them sometime over the next few days, trying to keep them from spending all their time in the touristy French Quarter and maybe getting them to some good food and music. Depending on when they find themselves free and summon me, I'm thinking of The Panorama Jazz Band at The Spotted Cat, dinner at either Jacques-Imo's or La Crêpe Nanou, and of course at some point, drinks at The Columns. We don't know one another all that much, but we got on well at Thanksgiving, so this'll be a chance to expand on that a little bit, and to put what little native knowledge I've acquired to good use.

I had a great time talking with Joe the other night. He had called as I was beginning to teach my last Catholicism session on Wednesday, and I briefly interrupted my class in case it was a family emergency, and then called him back once I'd gotten to my office with some dinner. He used Nate's iPod Touch to FaceTime with me from where he was sitting in an easy chair in the basement library so that he wouldn't disturb Daniele or Nathan, and there was something of the old feeling of just being brothers alone again and talking about whatever we wanted to. It had been a bit too long since we had talked: I'd communicated briefly in confirming that they were alright after the terrible tornadoes in their area at the beginning of the month, but then I'd been all caught up in everything happening here and not thought to call except at times when I knew they'd be unavailable. The video tech revolution has resulted in me seeing more of myself speaking directly to a camera than I would have ever thought, and it's brought home how similar mine and Joe's delivery and facial expressions can be: something I had never come close to noticing as we grew up together. But seeing the bits of expression that (I think) are uniquely his, whether a certain tilt of the head, or a kind of knowing smirk of amusement at something – these were all refreshing for me in getting some face-time together to talk in the midst of our too-frequently conflicting schedules. So maybe this tech will let us make up some for not living near one another for too long.

Sophie gave me this gem on Wednesday, as I FaceTimed with her briefly between classes (and as students giggled, listening in), explaining to me that she hadn't gone to preschool that day because she and Grace had both had been sick: "I had a fever, so I'm eating carrots so I don't get a cavity." Awesome connections!
City of New Orleans
One of my less-successful teaching days today. I came into the class session with a set of notes and questions that I thought would make a provocative swing through talking about early 20th century biblical criticism, Ernst Troeltsch, and the issues they raised about the uniqueness of Christianity, the challenge that the reality of the world's religions pose for Christian claims, the felt need at the time to define the "essence" of Christianity – and it all turned to a sense of a flailing attempt on my part to bring these together in front of a group of students who were keenly aware that I was flailing and rather bored at watching me drown. So that kind of sucked rocks after the Tuesday session on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, which was full of stellar discussion by the students, and where I felt like every attempt to weave their comments and the intentions of the authors came off with serendipitous style. Today was my first attempt at Skyping into a class, as I wasn't going to come in right after my procedure and because the students didn't need to see me in my current state, but other than a few giggles early on at the oddity or awkwardness of it, everyone seemed to adapt pretty well. I'd like to attribute today to the technology, but either this was me failing to make the provocative material cohere into a unified discussion, or the class just wasn't jelling today. Minus evidence otherwise, I'll have to take the dive for that. Leading them into Barth and Bonhoeffer for Tuesday.

I was made very proud of my niece Haley today, who cut off eight inches of her hair to donate to Locks of Love. I've been lucky in that my only encounter with cancer has been with the relatively weak basel cell carcinoma, just as likely from a sunburn when I was her age as any other time in my life. But I told her that I did know what it felt like to have dealing with the disease make you feel ugly, and that I was so proud of her to donate her own hair to helping someone out who had lost their own because of cancer treatment. That made her pretty much the coolest seven year-old on Planet Earth in the Ides of March.

Incidental moments entered originally into my Facebook page:
New Orleans: walking home on an evening in the low 70s at the end of February to the sound of a kid in his backyard trying to work out "When The Saints Go Marching In" on a trumpet. His problem parts remind me of when my voice was changing...

Something I've never seen before: there's students playing Quidditch on the quad.

Student email today: "Professor Novak, Today i have to venture across the lake to help my grandma and family with a sort of tedious moving project and im not sure ill be back in time for class. I hope my absence wont horribly affect my grade. I plan on geting all of the missed material from a classmate." My minimalist response: "The 'material' today was your Midterm Exam."

Students taking my Midterm were disturbed a little while ago by the sound of chains rattling in the back corner of the room. We all looked: nothing there. (I've no idea: something in the next room? Workers on the roof? Who knows?) I resolved the moment by (loudly) mumbling "Damn ghosts!" Everyone laughed lightly and returned to their work. At which point an inexplicable whooshing/moaning sound was heard in the same quarter. "Sorry! Sorry!"

New Orleans: out grading exams on my porch, taking advantage of the extra hour of daylight, when a giant, overstuffed 4x4 truck pulls to a stop at the corner in front of my house. And out of its equally-overstuffed stereo system comes the sound of... quiet piano jazz.
Tim and Minoo biked by the hospital Wednesday evening, when I discovered that I had to remain under observation overnight. They even biked the mile back to my place to pick up a few things for me. In the morning Minoo gave me a ride home and then in the evening they brought a giant portion of a homemade soup for me (enough for two very full meals) before running off to their evening plans. Then Sarah dropped by, not having known that I'd just had the next step of the reconstruction, and despite my warnings about how I looked, insisting that she really didn't care. As I then wrote after she left:
I am *ugly.* I mean, post-flap-surgery, I look like the Elephant Man chewed up by Jaws and spit back out. I'm still patched, bloody and oozy, dramatically disfigured, not allowed to bathe until tomorrow, and never felt more gross in my life. So there's something wonderfully freeing in having one of the most beautiful people you know drop by for a spontaneous dinner, and her spending the next several hours looking you in the face, talking and laughing, and amazed that you would think she'd be bothered by your half-digested state. And this too is grace.
We toasted Anne Marie, in intention, at least, tonight when I treated Sarah to a sampling run of the milk, white, and dark chocolates Anne Marie had sent me from Fortnum and Mason's in London, and we bemoaned my lame lack of having any wine in the house as the dark chocolate *really* wanted it. So many levels of taste in that one, which I was actually only opening now for the first time. So she enjoyed my description of Anne Marie and of our unexpected correspondence/friendship with someone met in passing 15 years earlier, and Sarah opined that I had really lucked out in benefiting from her class and generosity with this care package.

Anne Marie had mentioned in a note yesterday that it was a bit of a relief in its own way to talk music (when we talked music) with a contemporary as it's sometimes disconcerting to talk to younger friends who just didn't experience all the music you take for granted. That made me laugh with it's timeliness in that Sarah and I were comparing some musical playlists tonight at one point on our iPhones, and I was showing her these "Fun Mixes" that I've made for the nieces as they turn five or so: "The Grace Fun Mix," "The Haley Fun Mix," and, now in final editing stage, "The Sophie Fun Mix." All music chosen to be just pure fun, but also for the purpose of educating me nieces beyond the dance music and top-40 that their friends will probably tend to play. And to see the hit-or-miss reactions on Sarah's face to knowing some of the 80s stuff well (like she recognized Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue" immediately) but then drawing a complete blank on others, like the Cure's "Just Like Heaven." I, on the other hand, got introduced to some sort of wildly-timed electronica tonight whose genre name I've already forgotten. [Dubstep!] As with talking youthful musical crushes with Chris Bauer the other night, and my speaking of Natalie Merchant, I now had to explain to Sarah who Diana Rigg was, and why I had a framed photograph of her.

Other than that, just rich, fun talk all evening: we talked some business about the stained-glass window project we're working on together; some of her thoughts in leaning toward a more commercial artistic career, switching from a BFA to a BA; her breaking the school record in the 400m the other day, only to have it not count on a technicality, and the ongoing strangeness of her professional trainer working with her in the midst of the New Orleans Saints; teaching and the (especially in high school) delicate phenomenon of becoming friends with students, and the distinct role of the high school Theology teacher as a kind of mentor or spiritual guide; family; looking back in life and not feeling too concerned with Roads Not Taken; the difficulty of trusting God when trusting God truly becomes difficult, or how it seems the way I relate to God has changed over the years. Then it was time for her to get going as she had a much busier Friday coming up than I did. A much more enjoyable evening that I expected I would have.
29th-Feb-2012 10:35 am - Personal: Notes on My 10th 29th
Before Sunset: Time Is A Lie
I have done a profound amount of writing and typing in the last week or ten days, but none of it has been in my journal. I've got to figure out how to be more attentive with that.

Yesterday was typical for the break-neck pace that school is for me this semester, since my prep for my Modern Christian Thought course has me reading all over the place in copious quantities. I'm hoping that I'm doing well by my students now, but I suspect that this is the groundwork that might really pay off for the students in five years or so. Yesterday, for example, I was prepping for a conversation on the impact of biblical criticism and of the advent of Darwinian biology in 19th century Britain (which I rightly assumed would take up the bulk of the class's attention) as well as the rise of later 19th century Protestant Liberalism, particularly in the persons of Adolf von Harnack and Walter Rauschenbusch. As usual, prepping this stuff didn't mean prepping just this stuff, but took me all over the place in trying to answer my own questions as well as prepare for questions I might anticipate among the students. Thus in the afternoon before the class session, I found myself going so far afield as to comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Isaiah to the Masoretic (Medieval) Hebrew text of Isaiah, and looking up what Augustine and Basil the Great had to say in the 4th century about the age of the earth.

I got a kind letter from a student who had been worried about how difficult some of the reading we were doing was for her, particularly Hegel, which she had virtually single-handedly chosen to present to her peers among the in-class presentations I ask students to do. I had to explain to her:
As to Hegel and your worries: I thought you gave one of the best presentations the class has seen. Not because you knew it all. I don't know it all. I found that stuff as hard going as the rest of you. But my point in taking you into the too-deep waters is, at its most basic, to get you used to not drowning in them, not to get you to be an Olympic swimmer. (Yet.) So you took on the toughest, most complicated reading we've done this semester, and you (as far as I could tell from my own reading of the material) pointed out where the issues that concerned Christian thinking were. To my mind, that's a rousingly successful exercise. Getting into this material, especially if you're looking at graduate school, is always going to be an exercise in humility over how much of this stuff there is to try to become competent in, and how difficult it is to gain competence in a lot of it. The trick is to learn to let our lack of knowledge empower us and drive us into further learning, and not to be overwhelmed and defeated by that lack of knowledge. I think the same is true for those going deeply into the physical sciences as well.
Just hearing back from her about her reassurance on this point, and her extra "Thanks Dr. Novak: you are always so helpful and caring and it really means a lot!" really kind of made my day. I mean, it's great to be paid for my work, and to be able to responsibly pay my bills and all, but it's even cooler to help students gain both a sense of the wider world around them and of their ability to uncover it.

By the end of the Mardi Gras break, it was quite exciting to see Sarah start to finish her initial drawing for the chapel window project. I don't know if I should post any of that online as yet, since it's definitely still "work in progress," but it was terribly fun to get each update from her: initial pencilings, rough text inserted, inked version, possible color scheme, and so forth. When she sent me a large scanned file, then I was able to start using Photoshop to insert a more formal version of the texts for the window, as well as to digitally clean up and tweak some details in the scanned image. That, class preparation, fielding emails from my filmmaker friend who is interested in using some of my music in his indie film, (being pretty sure that I was) talking plastic surgery intelligently with my doctor, and talking the virtues of Mel Tormé vs. Joe Williams or of the public perception of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams with Anne Marie in London – all began to feel very "polymath" after a while: pure fun, but reminding me why I crash hard in the bed when I get to the end of my day.

Leslie was jazzed to report that Grace had won the all-around in her gymnastics tournament on Sunday the 26th, with 9.425 on the beam for 2nd place, 9.475 on her floor exercise for 1st, and (if I understand the text at this point, which has a typo, I think) 9.05 on her vault and 9.3 for 3rd on the bars, for an all-around 1st place finish of 37.250. So cool! Seeing the picture of her on the winners stand that Jim had posted to his Facebook page was kind of grand.

My house adventures continued with a four-day gap without hot water (getting a plumber during the climax of Mardi Gras was a bit unlikely in New Orleans), and after some awful sponge-bathing experiences (my bathroom is almost so narrow as to have only one side), the plumber was able to get the hot water heater going again, and now I have water that's somewhere between tepid and vaguely warm. It's a vast improvement, but it's still cool enough that you want to be standing closer to the shower because the amount of cooling that occurs in the water from exiting the shower head and when it gets to the ground is actually rather significant. NO FUN.

I had a lovely dinner over at Sr. Liz's house on Saturday, with Tim and Minoo in attendance, (Sr. Terri having a bad cold and unable to make it). Tim opined on the way over that I had futzed up my taxes if I had owed anything, but I can't see how. (Which doesn't say anything at all.) And we looked at a few spots still wiped out from Hurricane Katrina on the way over, which took me farther north in New Orleans than I'd been in a long time, some of it since Tim showed me around in May 2010 and outlined for me just how vast (and deep, in areas) the flooding from Katrina had been. So over roast pork and real mashed potatoes and such, we spoke about work, of seeing students develop, of family, the Sisters' own Katrina stories, and all the sorts of good conversation you hope to have at a gathering of the sort. It was just fun to see how much fun Liz seemed to be having just in hosting itself.
Garden State: This Is Life.  This Is It.
These last few days have not been terribly productive, theologically, I suppose, unless you count the exploration of traditional aspects of Catholic culture surrounding Carnival. I have a few days effectively "off" and the restless (Catholic?) guilt of feeling unproductive begins to catch up with me. That said, I can feel the gears in the back of my head having begun seriously turning the last few days as I start to dwell on the content of the article that I've got cooking on Rahner and Aquinas. So something's starting to happen. And one of my other Trinitarian projects is moving forward.

I headed down to Mardi Gras on Thursday night with Chris Bauer to take in the Krewe of Muses parade. We got there early enough to catch a decent amount of the Krewe of Babylon parade beforehand, although we called it quits as the Knights of Chaos began to roll in. By that time, it was after ten and we'd been standing in the same spot for about three hours and that was getting old.

But we met up with a number of the other students of the quite consciously Catholic set down there, cheering the bands, laughing at the gags, competing for the throws and such. Alex and Michelle, two friends I had in my first Catholicism course last year – the same one where Chris was first a student of mine as he was coming into the major – were there, as well as Bridget and Chad, two students from last semester's Jesus course who are taking me again this semester for Catholicism and Modern Christian Thought, respectively, with Bridget consulting with me as she begins the Catholic Studies minor, and also Carissa, a friend of Bridget's in the same Catholicism section, who rounded out those students among the group that I knew. A few of the others introduced themselves, and it was just a fun crowd to enjoy the festivities with.

Alex had greeted me, laughing, wearing a fetching red dress, and admitting that he had waited until after Modern Christian Thought had finished an hour earlier to change, not knowing whether I would look askance at the distraction of his wearing it to class. Given that the entire group was getting slap-happy with Mardi Gras (or just their general) good nature by the end of class (I wryly told them that they were beginning to feel more and more like my children: and all of them about five years old), I don't see that the dress would have made much difference. The combination of brilliance and fun in the lot of them is really making the class a blast, although I admitted that I was taken a bit aback by how stuck they seemed to have gotten on Hegel and Feuerbach, not that I didn't find Hegel really hard going, myself.

One of the best moments of the evening came when one of these students, remaining nameless, asked me what I think he should do as he solicited his friends' opinions when a few underaged girls asked him to buy beer for them. "What do you think I think you should do?" I grinned with a little extra dramatically pedagogical flourish, prompting him to reply, "Oh, don't do that to me." The two girls looked on with a bit of confusion, so I then explained to them that this was a natural teaching moment and that I was his Theology professor. Horrified, they slunk away into the night, unanswered.

I did better with throws that night than I'd done all last year at Mardi Gras, no doubt because I got a lot closer to the street this time than I did on Napolean over by Tim's place, where I watched last year. (Lots of beads, a pink bowed Muses woven hairband, cup, mini soccer ball, portable clipped bag thingie, and glowing diamond power ring. Teased with two different examples of the coveted shoe throw, but no luck.) So I texted the nieces that night, showing them a few of the sights of the parade that I had caught on my iPhone, as well as the authentically-thrown (not store-bought like a desperate tourist) Mardi Gras beads that I could bring them at my next visit. The marching bands were great, and it being New Orleans, you also had a fair number of jazz and blues bands carted by as well. The St. Augustine's High School Marching Band, held by many to be the best in the area, played as the marched by (at our location, lots of marching bands marched by without playing, just with the drumline keeping them marching), but the musical act that most caught my attention was something like a group of singing Greek Chorus-dressed Muses, with New Orleans singer Theresa Andersson as Leda upon the back of her giant swan singing leads, to the music of a band marching behind her. I caught the tail end of that on video, along with some of the Loyola students starting to line dance to it.

Marid Gras since Thursday night has been too rainy for my taste. Parades have been getting rescheduled and shuffled around some. So I'm glad I ran into Chris and went out when I did. I'm content to be a fair-weather Mardi Gras-er in these matters. That kept me at home for some epic trans-Atlantic conversation pretty much all day Saturday with Anne Marie in London, as the thunderstorms rolled through New Orleans. The transcript of that would be a fair sample of the sort of wildly enthusiastic and tangential conversation I enjoy. We covered some more Sherlock details, European chocolate tastes and manufacturing, 19th century arboreal monuments to Horatio Nelson, music fit for representing Horatio Nelson, a fairly vicious disagreement on Mel Torme vs Joe Williams as more emblematic of the American Voice, local geographic details visible via the magic of Google Earth and Street View, secrets of our respective libraries, Notre Dame in 1995, former residences, job details, and even comparative London/New Orleans weather. Good times, and woosh! a day gone!
Modernity: Yearning For The Infinite
Here's an AP story I noticed just before it vanished off the bottom of the current news lists. I'm not sure who the writer thinks ranks Sir Isaac Newton as an "influential" theologian, but that aside, it's an interesting story. (All theologians I know of find Newton's theology to be much less theologically interesting than his physics.)
Israeli Library Uploads Newton's Theological Texts
Feb 15, 2:02 PM (ET)

JERUSALEM (AP) - He's considered to be one of the greatest scientists of all time. But Sir Isaac Newton was also an influential theologian who applied a scientific approach to the study of scripture, Hebrew and Jewish mysticism.

Now Israel's national library, an unlikely owner of a vast trove of Newton's writings, has digitized his theological collection - some 7,500 pages in Newton's own handwriting - and put it online. Among the yellowed texts are Newton's famous prediction of the apocalypse in 2060.

Newton revolutionized physics, mathematics and astronomy in the 17th and 18th century, laying the foundations for most of classical mechanics - with the principal of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion bearing his name.

However, the curator of Israel's national library's humanities collection said Newton was also a devout Christian who dealt far more in theology than he did in physics and believed that scripture provided a "code" to the natural world.

"Today, we tend to make a distinction between science and faith, but to Newton it was all part of the same world," said Milka Levy-Rubin. "He believed that careful study of holy texts was a type of science, that if analyzed correctly could predict what was to come."

So he learned how to read Hebrew, scrolled through the Bible and delved into the study of Jewish philosophy, the mysticism of Kabbalah and the Talmud - a compendium of Jewish oral law and stories about 1,500 years old.

For instance, Newton based his calculation on the end of days on information gleaned from the Book of Daniel, which projected the apocalypse 1,260 years later. Newton figured that this count began from the crowning of Charlemagne as Roman emperor in the year 800.

The papers cover topics such as interpretations of the Bible, theology, the history of ancient cultures, the Tabernacle and the Jewish Temple.

The collection also contains maps that Newton sketched to assist him in his calculations and his attempts to reveal the secret knowledge he believed was encrypted within.

He attempted to project what the end of days would look like, and the role Jews would play when it happened. Newton's objective curiosity in Judaism and the Holy Land contrasted with the anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by many leading Christian scholars of the era, Levy-Rubin said.

"He took a great interest in the Jews, and we found no negative expressions toward Jews in his writing," said Levy-Rubin. "He said the Jews would ultimately return to their land."

How his massive collection of work ended up in the Jewish state seems mystical in its own right.

Years after Newton's death in 1727, his descendants gave his scientific manuscripts to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge.

But the university rejected his nonscientific papers, so the family auctioned them off at Sotheby's in London in 1936. As chance would have it, London's other main auction house - Christie's - was selling a collection of Impressionist art the same day that attracted far more attention.

Only two serious bidders arrived for the Newton collection that day. The first was renowned British economist John Maynard Keynes, who bought Newton's alchemy manuscripts. The second was Abraham Shalom Yahuda - a Jewish Oriental Studies scholar - who got Newton's theological writings.

Yahuda's collection was bequeathed to the National Library of Israel in 1969, years after his death. In 2007, the library exhibited the papers for the first time and now they are available for all to see online.

The collection contains pages after pages of Newton's flowing cursive handwriting on fraying parchment in 18th-century English, with words like "similitudes,""prophetique" and "Whence."

Two print versions in modern typeface are also available for easier reading: A "diplomatic" one that includes changes and corrections Newton made in the original manuscript, and a "clean" version that incorporates the corrections.

All of the papers are linked to the Newton Project, which is hosted by the University of Sussex and includes other collections of Newton's writings.

The Israeli library says the manuscripts help illuminate Newton's science and well as his persona.

"As far as Newton was concerned, his approach was that history was as much a science as physics. His world view was that his 'lab' for understanding history was the holy books," said Levy-Rubin. "His faith was no less important to him than his science."
On the Web: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/NLI/English/collections/Humanities/Pages/newton.aspx
13th-Feb-2012 11:37 pm - Personal: Sounds and Stories
Smallville Potential
One of those great quiet moments. I've been sitting on my couch, distractedly trying to read about Hegel and German Idealism in preparation for my Modern Christian Thought class tomorrow. Finally in getting still enough to get work done, the stillness itself distracts me. It's raining in New Orleans tonight: mid-50s outside and a gentle rain that began just as I was getting off the streetcar, coming home after a late dinner in my office once I had finished up my three Catholicism sections this evening. I don't live on the top floor of my house, so I still do not have a roof (I've not had a roof directly above my immediate dwelling since Clifford The Big Red House in South Bend in 1997), but I can hear the rain outside and on the walls of the house in a way that I couldn't in my über-solid Milwaukee apartment "The Ledge" in the Ardmore Building. No thunder tonight: just the lovely, quiet sound of rain, with minimal traffic sounds to mar it. I don't know. It feels like a long time since I simply listened to that sound. And, dry and warm, the rain becomes a pleasure to witness.

My love of story added some fun to life tonight, too. I was talking with my Dad as I came home, filling him in on an interview that I had enjoyed during the afternoon, and was surprised to discover a package leaning by my door. I picked it up and discovered a British Air Mail tag, with the import/export documentation on the package, and exclaimed that I had a surprise from one of my British friends. (Or, I admitted, that I had again ordered something and entirely forgotten about it.) But within a moment, under the light inside, I saw the stamp from Anne Marie's London law firm on the label, and knew that I was about to discover something clever.

Indeed! I laughed out loud to discover Ransom Riggs' The Sherlock Holmes Handbook: The Methods and Mysteries of the World's Greatest Detective. After geeking out together online about the latest season/series of Sherlock from opposite sides of the Atlantic, this "how-to" book of Sherlocking (in faux-Victorian printed style, no less) put a huge smile on my face from the moment I turned to the one section that Anne Marie had flagged for immediate attention: "How to Survive a Plunge over a Waterfall."

I was also delighted, as a story lover, for discovering that one of my favourite stories had not yet met its end. Flaws, shortcomings, and inevitable swings-and-misses aside, I was a big fan of the show Smallville, and its take on the formative years of Clark Kent. After ten seasons, the series ended last year, and I managed to get a bit of Smallville fix in the fall by purchasing the complete set of adult and young adult spin-off novels that had been written in the first few years of the show. Those done, I thought I'd come to the end of that particular coming-of-age take on the Superman legend.

Not so! DC Comics announced that, in the tradition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, the canonical, continuity-continuing comic book series continuing from where the television production had let off, DC would shortly be producing an online (later to be collected in print editions) Smallville Season 11 series of comics. With show scribe and story editor Bryan Q. Miller scripting the series, it should provide a smooth transition into the new medium, and grant me this bit of entertainment "comfort food" for some time into the future, even though the coming-of-age aspects of the story (the strongest aspects of the series, I thought, with its deep roots in the meaning and influence of family) are long concluded, this particular spin on the DC Universe had its other attractions. So I'll see how that goes.

And the rain is still falling. Back to the books.
"*That's* an idea!"
A seriously cold night in New Orleans – almost down to freezing! I know, I know, as a northern Illinois native, that hardly seems excessive, but in pre-Katrina housing, that means no insulation in the house, along with 11 foot ceilings, and so New Orleans remains the coldest place I've ever lived, despite the fabulously mild winter we've been experiencing. Lots and lots of layers last night and extra blankets.

This is a grading weekend. Not much to say about that. Teaching a 4/4 load, it piles up very quickly, especially since I have three sections of my Catholicism course this semester, and so that means most everything comes at once. Overall, the level of conversation in those sections has been among the best of my courses, but now I'm having to try to especially zero in on those students who are trying to (or are effectively trying to) lie low in the corners. Been getting into the idea of God with them this week, and really trying to make the Jewish/Christian idea as clear and distinct for them as possible, particularly that (annoying quirks of English aside) God is not a god in the pagan sense. Trying to distinguish that idea of a Creator, outside or beyond the spacetime universe that is a finite artifice, and who lacks all context, origin, or environment – that always pushes to the limits of human imagination.

My Modern Christian Thought course continues to have great discussions, just woefully limited by the amount of material we need to cover in a mere semester. This week was the Anglo-Catholic Romantic experience, the Oxford Movement, John Henry Newman, and, over in Germany, the rise of the Catholic Tübingen School of scholars. I concentrated on Newman, then, for their primary source readings, where they had the option of reading either a long selection from An Essay on the Development of Doctrine or the text of his "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine." The discussion on the former went longer than I'd intended – time really runs away from us with this more advanced crew, who have lots they want to discuss about these texts – but the latter was sort of thematic folded into the former, anyway. I myself unleashed one corker, though, when I tripped over one of my own pet peeves, which is how often on TV I'll catch people saying "Calvary" instead of "cavalry," or vice versa. So as I was talking Newman's "Essay on the Development of Doctrine" with the students Thursday, I ended up saying:
"Remember, folks, that talking doctrinal development, it took us nearly 300 years to go from Calgary to Nicaea. ... Did I just say 'Calgary?!' Heh. Sorry; I don't even want to think what that might have left you thinking if I'd not caught it. So, three hundred years to go from Caval– Arg. Calval– Ah! Oh, just... GOLGOTHA!"
So they all had a good laugh at me with that. We're off in the direction of Hegel and Feuerbach this coming week, so I'm curious to see what these students will do with that.

On Tuesday, I got a bit of a surprise in an email. Nephew Nathan, who began reading at 2 3/4, now that he's all of 3 1/4 years old, has already figured out how to send me gag photos from his iPod entirely without help from his parents. So figure another two years or so before he's hacking into The New York Times to make the headlines funnier....

One of my Modern Christian Thought students, Michael, took me to dinner on Tuesday as his guest in the dining hall, where he really wanted to talk about music and touring more than Theology. (A Physics major, he's got a real talent for Theology, and thus is a Religious Studies minor.) But as the singer and a principal writer for the group Jones Unleashed, he had been curious about my autobiographical references (back when I introduced myself to the students) to the days with The Freeks at Notre Dame, or my later recording adventures in Nashville with The Renaissance Men. So we talked music production, touring, the business side of it all vs. the musical side of it, A&R issues, and the specific attempts of being a band doing spiritual music without going the purely biblical route of American Protestant "Christian Rock" in style. So we swapped CDs, and it was just good fun to step off the beaten path for a little bit. And all over a hot and spicy shrimp/pasta combo!

And more on the musical side. My filmmaker friend Anil has put together a production crew and company down here, and has expanded his current screenplay (since I last got a run-through in December) to a fabulously moving conclusion: the earlier conclusion was like being hit by a bomb; this one is more the deep and poignant beauty of carrying the weight of this world as it is. So he's hitting the stage now of starting to raise the funding for an indie feature, but he asked me (having possessed The Renaissance Men's Life and Other Impossibilities for a year) if I would contribute a song for the film's conclusion. I've not been writing music in the last few years as I became all about writing my dissertation and now turning my attention to writing articles and such, but I gave him demos for "Rain" and "The Right Dreams" this week, both of which he liked, and particularly flipped over the latter. So he's going to run them by the lead actor, who is going in with Anil on producing duties, and see what he thinks. Later, I sent him a rougher demo of the quieter "Summer's End," in case that mood might sit better with the end of the film. So, it's not something I am sparing much time or thought now on this, but it would be fun if something came of it. There's a good recording studio on campus (the benefit of being in the only Jesuit music school/music business program in the country), and I could get a good deal there, as I understand it, if I wanted to pull The Renaissance Men down to New Orleans to record a full version of a single.
Chagall/White Crucifixion
The Last Marranos: Examining 20th Century Jewish Converts to Christianity in Light of the Holocaust
Yaël Hirsch, PhD (Sciences-po, Paris) (the Paris Institute of Political Studies)

Loyola University New Orleans, Thursday 2 February 2012

Conversion fragile subject.  Especially delicate in Jewish 20th century.  Taboo in Europe in 1950s in Jewish kids rescued by Christians who were kept in Christian families.  But such converts can be great mediators.   Lecture plan: 20th century rediscovery of Marranos past.  Then a few portraits of intellectual converts in 20th century.   

Secretly practicing Judaism among Marranos.  Suspicion among Christians of new believers and their new social role.  Marranos is a curse word meaning swine, but she's using it academically and intentionally.  At the end of 19th century Christian intellectuals discovered classic-Spanish speaking Jewish communities and created an academic interest in the Marranos.  Some advocate for these to return to Spain.  European Jews wondering in the 1920s about relating to or reabsorbing this population, after Portuguese community in Belmonte rediscovered. A Spanish law of return passed before WWII granting Spanish citizenship.  Law used to save 40-60,000 Jews during the war, including many not actually of Spanish background.  By this time the word Marranos into a concept rather than a slur.  Seen as the first modern Jews with religion privatized a la Locke.  Marranos as cultural mediators, bringing forward Jewish scholarship with their knowledge of Hebrew and texts.  Derrida "Abraham, The Other" 2003, seeing Jewish identity as best in private, and not the identification with dogma: very Schleiermacher.  

Converts in the C20 as Marranos.  Why did these converts not become fully Christian in her thinking?  3 reasons to convert:  1. Assimilation.  To finally truly get the Enlightenment promise of equal protection of law.   2.  Philosophical reasons. Still trying to take the Enlightenment seriously and the idea of historical movement from Judaism to Christianity.  3. Beyond reason: real embrace of Christian faith as such.  Difficult to find Jewish spiritual and historical texts in European languages.   

Henri Bergson.  Philosopher in early C20 in France.  Intuition atop reason.  Reenchanting culture was Catholicism.  (reason 2) 

French Poet Max Jacob.  1876-1944.  Innovator of cubism in poetry, friend of Picasso.   Has a revelation in a figure of Christ.   Converts in 1915.  Retired to Abby and died on way to death camp after taken.   (reason 3 interested culturally mystically). 

Edith Stein 1891-1942.  Philosopher convert.  

Simone Weil   French philosopher and activist.  Resented by Jews for her hatred of Israel and emphasis on law.  Focus on Christ but didn't formally convert (debated?) as Catholicism was too legalistic for her too.  

Raissa Maritain, a Jewish student of Bergson, sees Christianity as natural outgrowth of Judaism.  

Jean-Marie Lustiger 1926-2007.  Converted in 30s.  Asked for kaddish at funeral Mass.  His book (didn't catch name: L'Alliance or perhaps The Promise?) speaks of difficulties of Christian language in Jewish experience.  Key figure of Jewish-Christian dialogue and counselor to John Paul II.   

Israel Zolli.   Great Rabbi of Rome having revelation of Christ on Yom Kipper 1944, converted to Roman Catholicism amid great scandal.  

John Maria Oesterreicher.  Also mediator between groups. After Holocaust gave up on active proselytism.  Called to Vatican to contribute to Nostra Aetate.  

Also Elie Wiesel. Author of Night. Talk with Christian Francois Mauriac provoking writing of Night, and dialogue in non-Marranos, non-convert fashion.
Florence-City of Art
I still seem to be slow enough that I'm not working in the time to journal very much at the moment. Daily life is more-or-less dominated by the regular rhythms of the semester now, of course, and so perhaps while that continues to grab my constant attention, it isn't "exceptional" enough to make me think that "I need to write this down!" Still, this was a busy week. Prepping for my majors/minors-only "Modern Christian Thought" class on Protestantism in the Romantic era threw me a lot to chew on, not least the rubbery mouthful of Friedrich Schleiermacher's Fifth Speech ("On Religions") from his On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, which was the primary text we were reading together. Things were so busy that Tuesday went straight on into Wednesday, with the chance to finally sleep happening early Thursday morning. This left me out of touch when a friend tried to call with his little son Augustine in the hospital, which I felt bad about, although mercifully it seems that the boy is doing fine after his dangerous infection.

I had lots of little details or activities "filling in the corners" of this time: after my three Catholicism classes on Wednesday, I met with Bridget, a student who took my "Jesus Christ" course last semester, and who wants to add our Catholic Studies minor to her current Economics major. So we talked for an hour and a half in my office about how I got into what I was doing (a lot of students entering into these studies seem to want to compare biographies in terms of this interest, maybe for some reassurance that others went off the beaten path for the same reasons that they want to) and what she was thinking about doing with it. So that was exciting for me just in seeing one of my students so enjoying the material as to wanting to tackle it in a fuller way. This came shortly after another student came to me about switching to a Religious Studies major and jumping right into my "Modern Christian Thought" course. So I'm feeling like a successful recruiter for the department at the moment.

I had a great time Tuesday or Wednesday night (it's a bit fuzzy) when I had a long Skype conversation with newly-minted Drs. Dan Lloyd and Bob Foster up at Dan's place, lasting into the wee hours of the morning. Bob had recently sent me the abstract from his dissertation Renaming Abraham's Children: Election, Ethnicity and the Interpretation of Scripture in Romans 9 and so I thanked him for that, and we talked about my surgical recovery, everyone's current research or (post-dissertation) sudden ability to read things for fun for the first time in a long while, about our Marquette learning experience and the possible long-term results of that, along with how wonderful Marquette had been in our time compared to the political polarization we heard about before we had been there (and which was news to Bob). Dan said Amy's pregnancy was progressing well, that they think it's a boy, but that she was tired enough that she had gone to bed at the same time as the kids, and so I didn't get a chance to see her. Bob told me about his teaching this semester at Marquette (which is why he was staying at Dan's) and the latest news with the kids. (I couldn't help noting the next day or so, his wife Carmen posting this scorcher from their son on Facebook: "Logan: 'Hey mom, when you and dad are old and get sick and die, because you know, that is what happens to old people, can I have your money? You would not need it anyways.' Can you believe this kid ..... I should disown him right now.") So he and Dan drank great-looking wine, of which I had none here, and had to content myself with drinking A&W with them online. (But I drank it right out of the 2-liter I had just bought, so I still looked cool.) Good time catching up, and Bob was delighted to discover that my comic collection was stored in Dan's basement, which was news to him. So I hope I get the good stuff back, after I made specific recommendations to him. I miss these friends.

Thursday, after "Modern Christian Thought" concluded, I made my way over to Nunemaker Auditorium, where my cool colleague Dr. Mari Rethelyi was staging the latest in the series of Jewish Studies Lectures that she had arranged for this school year. This one featured Dr. Yaël Hirsch of Sciences Po (the Paris Institute of Political Studies) speaking on "The Last Marranos: Examining 20th Century Jewish Converts to Christianity in Light of the Holocaust." I'll probably post my notes on the lecture here later, but as the advertising blurb described the lecture:
Hirsch examined the lives and the writings of thirty Jewish intellectuals who converted (or were pressured to convert) to Christianity, as well as thirty children who were born Jewish, but had to hide and convert to Christianity in order to survive the Second World War. Her work argues that despite exhibiting a deep Christian faith, all these converts still considered themselves Jews after their baptism. Hirsch asks why they couldn’t leave their Jewish identity behind and investigates why they felt Jewish even after they stopped observing Judaism. Using interdisciplinary approaches combining history, sociology, psychology, and literary critique, she questions the bond remaining between the Christian converts and their Jewish identity after baptism, in order to find new approaches to this very old issue. Her book project on this subject will be published in French in 2012.
The lecture was very well-received by the university and the well-represented local Jewish community, and there was lively conversation in the question-and-answer session afterward. Mari asked me to come out with them for dinner when the lecture was completed, which I hadn't planned on, but which worked out nicely. I had been intending to have a late working dinner with my friend Sarah, the artist with whom I am working on a stained-glass chapel window project, but she had had to cancel at the last minute due to having to leave exceptionally early in the morning for a track meet (she's also our star sprinter).

So that was fortuitous: Yaël turned out to be fabulously cool to get to know a bit, as an old friend of Mari's (they had met when Mari was starting her doctorate at the University of Chicago and Yaël was studying in the U.S. for a bit), and so Mari insisted (quite rightly) that we take her out to The Columns so that should could enjoy that bit of New Orleans chic. It was interesting to hear something of the doctoral process in France from someone who was in the same junior faculty stage as Mari and I, as well as just to get a sense of the intellectual and cultural life of Paris from a native in a related field. (She lives a block from the Eiffel Tower – imagine!) So other than the kitchen putzing up their order of Louisiana Crabcake, which then took forever to replace as there was a very large party being served inside (Mari devastated the chips of my Fish 'n' Chips), it was a good time: wonderfully mild outside, perfect with just a suit jacket on, and tasty Amaretto Sours for me. I also discovered that Yaël was a lyricist and music critic in her secret identity as we got to talking Other Things and I revealed my own minor musical past while slipping her a copy of Life and Other Impossibilities. So I hoped that she would find something to enjoy in that.

I made up my appointment with Sarah Saturday afternoon. She came over and crashed out on the porch with me at first, telling me the most hysterical story of being dragged to some professional athlete/Olympian trainer who has a worn and rugged Rocky-set athletic center in a warehouse in the city, where he proceeded to ignore then finally make her run, yell at her that her form was crap but that he could help her for $3500 a month, or have her sponsored for free. Overwhelmed by his oddities, his spraying of the F-bomb like Gatling Gun-fire, and his "Don't smile at me!" reaching out and turning her face away from him as he apparently thought she was trying to addle him with her feminine wiles. (Sarah being one of the least wiley women I've met.) So she's telling me all this, laughing herself silly as she was trying to figure out what the hell to make of this guy, and, the whole while, decked out in workout top and trunks advertising his place, which he had insisted she wear. So that took a little time to unwind before we moved indoors (just before a torrential downpour), grabbed some paper and pencils, and started in on the stained-glass window project we're working on together. (Kev and Frannie, remodeling their house, are putting in a small chapel in the new version, and want a stained glass window featuring the saints/figures of their children's names, which I thought was a cool idea: so, Paul of Tarsus, Hagia Sophia, Maximilian Kolbe, and Augustine of Hippo.) We worked on the overall layout of the window, the relationship of the figures to one another, tried out layout models for our idea of the window's primary theme-text, discussed some about the unifying possibilities of background texture and color, and then spent most of our time doing studies for each of the four panels (I posed for all figures, so now I'm a model). She's headed home and will work on finished versions of each of the four kid's saints' panels, which we will then manipulate for size in each individual section so as to allow room for the accompanying text.
Getting back to school this week was a joy. I was still pretty easily tired just from class, but other than that minor distraction, it was pretty much pure pleasure to get back to the work. My MW Catholicism course didn't meet on Monday because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, so my one meeting with those three sections was both introduction and getting going. I've switched the beginning of the course from the way I've been doing it here, introducing the topic of theology through David Ford's Theology: A Very Short Introduction from Oxford University Press, but after using that for the last three semesters, I felt that my approach toward the text wasn't making the most of it in the limited time I was giving to it, so I've opted to return to using the "Theology As Knowledge" symposium article that I used to open my Introduction To Theology courses at Marquette in order to achieve the same goals. I'll have more of a sense of whether that worked after Monday's session, although this semester's beginning has already been disrupted and is therefore already "atypical" for what I intend, so I'll likely have to try this for another semester or two to get the fullest sense of whether it works in this new context.

My majors- and minors-only course, Modern Christian Thought, is what I'm most excited about this semester. In the two sessions we've had, we've been looking at the "religion of Reason" of the Enlightenment period, with students taking a deeper dive into related primary texts, either reading John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration, or else selections from Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary and Edward Gibbon's A History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The Locke reading gave an opportunity to read in the direction of political philosophy for students who preferred that, in a text critical for the development of the American governmental experiment with a vision of a Christian state grounded in a policy of religious toleration, and the other two readings as a set conveying something of the era's anti-Christian cultural mood and style. The students seemed to throw themselves into the discussions with the zest I hoped for in such a select group, with only a few perhaps holding back at this point. I had the happy problem on Thursday going through the primary source readings of not having nearly enough time for all the conversation that could have occurred. Afterward, I grabbed a yummy big bowl of cream of broccoli soup from La Divina and had dinner with Chris, in an echo of last semester's Thursday night independent study sessions. He had been saving up a few theological questions he wanted to pursue in greater depth, and so we tackled some of that as we ate, including the thorny and tangled contemporary issue of Christian understandings of homosexuality and attendant ethical issues.

I had a few meals out this weekend, which has been pleasant for both being able to go out again (if still bandaged up) and for the fact that we have been having winter January days in the mid-70s. (While enjoying the mild weather, I confess to missing something of the snow and cold that my Mom was reporting from northern Illinois, which had me thinking of the lovely winters of my childhood, as pictured here.)

Tim and Minoo called Friday at about dinnertime, checking to see if I wanted to head out with them and Terri for dinner, and so we gathered over at the Saltwater Grill on Carrolton, where we talked the new semester and Terri kept us laughing with different stories from her career, or intrigued with anecdotes such as archaeological details she had noted in travels in Israel. I had a medium-rare salmon that was tasty as all get out, but they had substituted sweet potatoes that night for their regular garlic mashed potatoes, and the sweet potatoes, while entirely yummy in themselves, didn't match up with the salmon as well as I imagine that regular potatoes would have.

Saturday, I got together with Sarah for a later lunch. Changing our plans at the last minute, we just ended up getting burgers up at The Company Burger on Freret Street, talking everything from the stained glass window project we're working on together to the virtues of tater tots. Among other things, I found that I had had an invitation to go with Sarah to enjoy the afternoon with her Grandmother (who sounds infinitely cool) at the Fairgrounds. When I (naively?) asked what was going on at the Fairgrounds, Sarah looked at me like I was quite thick and told me about the horse racing. I suddenly realized (again) that I was in the South, and that the Fairgrounds would have a taken-for-granted association with steady horse racing down here that was only an occasional feature of the Fairgrounds I grew up with. Sarah had passed (for this day) for the both of us, but when she checked in with me I thought that that sounded like something fun for the future.

We passed a few hours talking there at the burger place, hitting some new details of her artwork and her current moves toward starting to market her work professionally in the city, and she was particularly interested in some details of some of my travels, which is the sort of thing she's pretty eager to take up herself. Both armed with iPhones, she was able to bring up pictures of pieces of hers, and I was able to bring up shots of places I was describing, which made for technology at its handiest. A tried and true New Orleans native, Sarah's never really experienced the sort of northern winter that was on my mind, and I was trying to describe the beauty in the extreme sensations of chilling outdoors and toasty indoors, and wishing that I could show her winter at its most gorgeous: the Jackson Hole winters I enjoyed in Kevin and Frannie's company. Then, describing last spring's abortive early discussions with Erik for heading to Jerusalem really reawakened that as a kind of ferocious hunger while we were talking.

I finally suggested we maybe walk outside a bit before she had to join her family at dinner, and enjoy the fabulous weather. So we went down to the Fly, which was littered with university students and locals enjoying the sun and the cool breeze blowing off the Mississippi River. As always, I got my particular pleasure of watching the shipping: there's something I really enjoy of the novelty (for me) of being in a major port city, and watching the freighters and the barges moving up and down the river, and the activity of the colossal rust belt of port facilities all along the waterfront, never gets old for me. We walked up and down the length of the park before finally settling in on a bench and watching the boats, the gulls, and the long lines of the sunset light, talking about the difficulty of making major life choices, and of sorting out the sorts of double-edged "rules" that you might apply to making such. As it started to feel cool and the light began to dim, we called it a day.

Someone finally added hundreds of 3-D buildings to New Orleans in Google Earth. I'm wondering if there is some sort of computer program someone devised to take the Google Earth and/or Street View data to automatically construct these things. I couldn't help but notice that my house has its old grey, pre-Butterlump paint schema in the model, as well as somehow lacking the entire ground floor of the building. That doesn't seem like it was a terribly hands-on project for someone. But it's cool to have a greater feel of the cityscape now, especially since the city is so flat that it really is the buildings that give the land all its shape and contours.

Sr. Liz came by this afternoon for a visit, with containers of frozen homemade soup in tow, and was pleasantly surprised to see how well I was doing. She had a hospital stay of her own recently, with some hip surgery, so we swapped medical stories and talked of the beginning of the new semester, of family, and the like. Lots of laughing.
Thomas More
This Supreme Court decision may have been one of the most important First Amendment decisions in years, moving back toward the American Revolution's "Freedom of Religion" intention and away from the last half-century of more French Revolution-inspired idea of a government backing a cultural "Freedom from Religion" as a matter of political obligation. I don't expect that the French Revolution sympathizers will be much pleased.
Church-state separation extends to religious schools, Supreme Court rules
Tribune Washington Bureau
Updated: 2012-01-11T22:21:46Z

WASHINGTON The Supreme Court gave churches and religious schools a new shield against civil rights claims from their employees, ruling Wednesday that the principle of church-state separation bars bias suits from teachers who serve as "ministers" of the faith.

In a unanimous ruling, the high court for the first time held the Constitution includes a "ministerial exception" that protects churches and their schools from undue interference from the government and its courts.

The First Amendment protects the "free exercise" of religion, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said "the state infringes" on this religious freedom if it forces a church or its schools to accept or retain "an unwanted minister. ... The church must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way."

While lower courts have long recognized such an exception, legal experts said Wednesday's decision was significant because it clearly extended this shield to tens of thousands of parochial schools across the country.

Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett called the ruling "one of the court's most important church-state decisions in decades." It "protects religious liberty by forbidding governments from second-guessing religious communities' decisions about who should be their teachers, leaders and ministers," he said.

Read more...Collapse )
John Paul II Champagne
A name I recognized from a few John Paul II biographies I've read over the years. It's a reminder that sometimes our lives might seem most significant on the world's stage for things that we do indirectly: we give birth to, we raise, we teach, or we befriend someone who has a visible impact far beyond our own. This, too, smacks of the mysteries of love and of grace to me.
Jewish friend of late Pope John Paul II dies
Jan 2, 5:45 PM (ET)


ROME (AP) - Jerzy Kluger, a Polish-born Jew who was a lifetime friend and childhood playmate of the late Pope John Paul II and who lost much of his family to Nazi death camps, has died in a Rome clinic, his widow said Monday. He was 90.

Irene Kluger told The Associated Press that her husband died on Dec. 31 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for three years and was buried Monday. The couple lived in Rome for decades, but at John Paul's urging, Kluger, a World War II veteran, occasionally returned to visit Wadowice, the southern Polish town where the two spent their boyhoods, his widow said.

Kluger, a year younger than John Paul, who died in 2005, was one of the last living childhood friends of the late pontiff. He was 5 when he met Karol Wojtyla, who would become a priest two decades later in his predominantly Catholic homeland, and eventually Krakow's cardinal, before being elected as history's only Polish-born pontiff in 1978.

The two - Kluger known by his nickname Jurek and the future pope known as Lolek - played soccer, shared school benches and lived in houses across a square in Wadowice. Kluger also recalled daring swims with the young Wojtyla in the Skawa River during the warmer months. In winter, the two also hiked for hours to the top of the local mountain to ski.

Upon John Paul's death, Kluger said the pope always had a passion for social justice.

"Even when he was a young boy, he would already show great concern for social equality, especially for the Jews," Kluger told the AP. "This was very important to him from a very early age."

John Paul's landmark efforts to improve Vatican-Jewish relations, including a historic visit to Rome's main synagogue, were a legacy of his 26-year papacy.

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Chicago: Signature Room Night Skyline
Things have been low-key here as I take things easy and rest up. Some work and some play. The work has been interesting, really. I had to tweak my Catholicism course for the next semester, dropping what I've been using as my opening, "orienting" text, and moving back to a symposium article that I used for similar purposes in my Introduction To Theology course at Marquette. In discussing "Theology As Knowledge," it probably doesn't delve so deeply or explicitly into what theology is as did David Ford's Theology: A Very Brief Introduction, as it is concerned to get on to the question of the public role of theology. But I think I can fill that gap in while using the text of the symposium (between James Stoner, Stanley Hauerwas, Paul Griffiths and David Bentley Hart) to orient students to the particular concerns of our time in the flux between Modernity and Post-Modernity.

But the bulk of the work went into designing my new course, a course intended for Religious Studies majors and minors only, part of our historical survey sequence, on Modern Christian Thought. I'd sketched out some of the basics in my head in the last few months since Tim asked me to teach the course (my first majors' course, which I'm quite excited about), but I've been waiting for the break to have the time to fill in the details. The bulk of that work was to quickly skim through a lot of potential primary source readings, and to whittle those down to something realistically brief for the time allotted, but still representative of the great ideas, thinkers and texts with which I want the students to gain some familiarity. So the final list looks to be selections from:
John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration
Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary
Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
David Hume, Of Miracles
Immanuel Kant, What Is Enlightenment?
Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches To Its Cultured Despisers
John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
John Henry Cardinal Newman, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Introduction to Lectures on the Philosophy of History
Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity
Pastor Aeternus
Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture
Lumen Gentium
Karl Rahner, S.J., Christology Within an Evolutionary View of the World
Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail
Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P., A Theology of Liberation
Wolfhart Pannenberg, Introduction to Systematic Theology
Wolfhart Pannenberg, God’s Presence in History
I'm really jazzed about this part. Some of these I've not looked at in years, and I was less-educated then: I think that this dive will be as fun a learning experience for me as I hope to make it for the students. Indeed, one of my intentions is to model for these more advanced students what it is live the life of an ongoing learner. So I'm heading into the library for Monday, and maybe Tuesday if necessary, in order to put the last texts together for the packet. A lot of these classic texts are available online, now, being in the public domain. But some others are not, and I still have a portion of my library in storage up in Milwaukee, so I need to be able to copy a few texts that I don't have currently in my possession. I'm hoping that Loyola's library isn't so basic as to not have something like a copy of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship on the shelves.

On the "play" side of the equation, there's been a few things to provide some fun distraction. I've been idly re-reading Jordan, which I feel guilty about, but there it is. I've watched some movies: saw the best reveal I've seen since The Sixth Sense in a small feature entitled Remember Me, enjoyed Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie & Julia, and finally saw Captain America: The First Avenger, which was great popcorn fare, although I kept grimacing when I saw things or heard things referenced that were anachronisms for World War II. Even a comic book movie deserves a consulting historian. Sarah came over one afternoon, and loaned me her family-favourite copy of the 1951 Alastair Sim film adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which I'd never seen before, but which was well worth the wait.

A number of cool conversations have helped pass the time, too. Nephew Nathan got his own iPod Touch for Christmas, having been very taken with my iPhone and the ability to talk to his cousins (especially Sophie, who gave him the most time) through theirs. So I've had a few calls from him, which mostly amount to him exclaiming over seeing me (he's calling me "Mike Novak" the last few times) and then talking with Joe for a while, which is also good. I had one substantial video-chat with the nieces, mostly being Sophie, once it was determined that my big bandage didn't make me too scary to look at, and a series of charming texts from Grace on New Year's Eve, as the girls stayed up for the big moment. It was cool of her to include me in that.

My own New Year's was necessarily low-key. I hadn't been here last year, so I was surprised by the insane amount of fireworks being set off right around my house, much less whatever was going on down near the Quarter. Kevin and Frannie got a hold of me the day before, delighted to offer to fly me up to spend New Year's with them, which I had to turn down, of course, and explain to Kevin that this wasn't my preference but a temporary necessity. Thus also my earlier turning down of Emily's invitation to join her family at their Texas beach house. Sigh. Dan Lloyd had called some days earlier and we caught up, and I had a great long-delayed talk with Kate in Victoria, the first since she gave birth to Kenny. She had posted earlier on her Facebook page that,
"The primal instinctual maternal part of my brain is now completely dominant. Regret to say I can no longer recall names, phone numbers, or what day it is. It's only unnerving when I fight it. Otherwise, it's quite a pleasant way to be."
I had quoted this in a phone conversation with my Mom, quipping that this would then be the perfect time to [falsely] remind Kate that she owed me fifty bucks. Talking with Kate, I then repeated this story to her, telling it as a joke I had made to my Mom, only to have Kate prove herself accurate by asking with utter innocence, "I dooo?!" I then burst out laughing, went over the joke more slowly, until Kate saw that she had just reaffirmed the warm fuzzy status of her maternal brain and burst out laughing herself. Good times.

Tim and Minoo invited me over to their place on Thursday for an absolutely scrumptious dinner of salmon, baby potatoes, green beans almondine, dark chocolate, extremely elite chocolates requiring a guidebook, Turkish Delight, another nougoty Persian dessert whose name I failed to learn, and then, after finally retiring back into the living room, oranges. Tim and I laughed over how much she keeps trying to get me to eat more and more, all part of being a gracious hostess. Tim has a bit more resistance built up than I do, because no matter how often I insisted I was full, I kept finding myself eating just a little more somehow. Not that this was in any way unpleasant. I know we inevitably talked some about work, some about food, and some about Iranian politics, but once again, somehow in their presence four hours of nonstop conversation seemed to flow by in merest minutes. Also very good times. Michel, Julia, Madeline and Janie sent me a care package of some scrumptious high-quality frozen meats and desserts from Milwaukee, which got me to burst out laughing on the front porch once I understood what the elaborate cooler package meant. And I had a long chat with Sr. Liz (from whom, via Professor Wood at Marquette, I heard about my job back in 2010) today, catching up with her as she's recovering from hip surgery over the break. She seemed in good spirits, but was baffled to have experienced something like four days of amnesiac effect from the medication, and cannot remember her days in the hospital hardly at all, despite lots of functional work and conversations she apparently conducted, which sort of left her somewhere between laughing and aghast at anything she might have said while under the influence. So it was good to hear that she's healing well and strongly.

And thus I come to 2012, working on a book review for The Journal of the American Academy of Religion and enjoying both the fact that we've had several days of weather mild enough to make it to 70ºF during the day as well as the fact that this has kept my heating bill in check.

Two more things: For the "location" tag on my LiveJournal, I really cannot keep calling this place "New apt., New Orleans" any longer. I've been here nearly 18 months, after all. I've been trying for quite some time to come up with a name for my place, much in the way my last apartment in Milwaukee was dubbed "The Ledge" for the visual effect of its series of windows in the living room and dining area looking out over the campus and city. But for the life of me, I cannot come up with any name that sticks with me for my apartment in this great pile of a house that has been repainted a mellow yellow than "Butterlump." I confessed this aloud to Sarah the other week as she dropped me off after we spent the afternoon at CC's Coffeehouse on Jefferson, and I'm tired of trying to think of alternatives. So be it. And now January 1st, 2012 brings with it a piece of instant gratification: the premiere of the second series (what the Brits call a TV "season") of their fabulous modern-setting adaption of Arthur Conan Doyle on BBC One: Sherlock. Thanks to friends in Merrie England, I've got it to watch here, which I am now retiring to do!
Raised Catholic
Here are two columns from The National Catholic Reporter that were worth reading and saving. The first is striking, especially as I go through this nasty surgery process. From the title, I expected "Manger/Baby Jesus" sentimentality. But in St. Paul's terms, this was meat, not milk. And good stuff. The second is a sensible article from John Allen from earlier this year that has stuck in my mind, and which I finally put down here, so that I don't have to look it up again.
A New Meaning for the Manger
by Melissa Musick Nussbaum on Dec. 12, 2011

In my memory, the Arnett aunts, my grandmother's sisters, are all dressed in pastels -- suits with jeweled pins on the collars -- and wearing hats and kid gloves. A patent leather handbag hangs over each aunt's arm.

There was a rhythm to the attire (suits, hats, gloves, nylons, heels for Sundays and family gatherings) and to the conversation. My father would always inquire after their health.

And one of the aunts (in my memory, it is always Nell Ruth) would place her gloved hand on my father's suit sleeve and say, "Honey, we have problems no lady can discuss."

As I grew older, the memory of that exchange made me smile. It made me smile until I realized I had become an Arnett aunt (albeit one dressed in packable, washable knits and leather flats for Sundays and family gatherings.) I realized it when a friend climbed into my car and had to move a bowel prep kit in order to sit down.

I've had two bouts of an ongoing, and increasingly, bothersome problem this fall. I will have surgery in the winter. Honey, trust me, it's a problem no lady can discuss. Read more...Collapse )

Thoughts on Post-Tribal Catholicism
by John L Allen Jr on Apr. 15, 2011

Tensions surrounding Catholic identity are very much in the air these days, and when they erupt they’re always a prescription for heartburn. People who regard themselves as authentically Catholic rarely enjoy being told they’re not, or that they’re only selectively so. Likewise, people who believe the faith they treasure is being misrepresented, or distorted, or eviscerated from within, typically get their Irish up.

A key question facing the church, therefore, is how to manage those tensions constructively. I offered some thoughts on that subject on Wednesday, at a conference in Chicago sponsored by DePaul’s Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and titled “The Discourse of Catholicity.”

My bottom line was that Catholicism needs a grass-roots movement to rebuild zones of friendship in the church. Read more...Collapse )
Nieces 3 (and Nephew!)
I ordered another JibJab the other day, because I'm dorky like that. I thought that this one came out pretty well, with nephew Nathan now joining the nieces, and Uncle Mike filling in to round out the band and remind them who visited this indignity upon them.

Family 2009
A bit of Christmas fun for the nieces. As I wrote to them, in my imagination they are not only always happy, but they're also not shy about singing.

Florence Duomo Erik Mike
Ah! I'm pleased that one of the secret pieces of good news I've been carrying around in my head has finally gone public. Now I can shout my pride to the world that one of my best friends has done good (even though he is now threatening to professionally hound me!):
BC Grad Goldschmidt to Lead C21 Center

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff
Published: Dec. 15, 2011
Erik Goldschmidt (Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert)

Erik Goldschmidt, a Boston College alumnus and executive vice president of FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities) in Washington, DC, has been named director of the Church in the 21st Century Center.

Goldschmidt, who will assume his duties on Jan. 9, succeeds Special Assistant to the President Robert Newton, the center’s interim director for the past 18 months. Interviewed last week, Goldschmidt said he looked forward to guiding C21’s efforts to be a catalyst and resource for the renewal of the Catholic Church.

“I’m honored to be the director of C21 going into its second decade,” said Goldschmidt. “I was a graduate student at Boston College when the C21 Center was founded at a time when the Church needed a forum to engage in difficult conversations about critical issues. I’ve been truly impressed by how C21, through its various programs and publications, has successfully balanced theological engagement and pastoral need. C21 has been a gift to the Church and to the Boston College community.”

Since its inception in 2002, the center has explored four focal issues: handing on the faith, especially with younger Catholics; relationships among lay men and women, deacons, priests, and bishops; sexuality in the Catholic tradition; and the Catholic intellectual tradition. In the past nine years, the center has attracted more than 60,000 people to its programs on campus, has published 16 issues of C21 Resources and 10 books, and developed a website with 300 archived webcasts and hundreds of thousands of visitors from 132 countries. It has also established a social media presence and a new C21 mobile app.

“The center will continue to address salient issues for the Church in a respectful fashion that facilitates productive dialogue,” said Goldschmidt. “The work ahead will build on the success of these past 10 years and ensure that C21 has a greater presence at the national level.”

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Loyola University New Orleans
With things wrapping up on a different timetable than I'd planned, I've had some extra time with students that's been kind of grand. While I have the usual last minute rush of students suddenly concerned with their final grade or asking for last-minute extra credit opportunities, more of it is cooler than that. I was able to squeeze in a session with my independent study student Chris, a senior who is studying "20th Century Systematic Theology" with me this semester, when we had thought I would actually be unavailable. So we got some extra time in on his plans for his project on using Karl Rahner's "Theology of the Symbol" as a tool for analyzing the Incarnation. We've gotten pretty chatty as we've gotten to know one another over the semester, and one thing that's cool about Chris (especially in a New Orleans context) is also that he works as a line chef in one of New Orleans' better restaurants, and so he's well-educated in matters of food. Some conversation when were done with our proper work turned in this direction, and I told him of my discovery of Patois the previous week, and that conversation quickly become unbearable temptation for me. So we relocated to Patois and carried on the conversation there, where I once again found myself visiting the flounder even though there are other things I want to try on the menu. But that served for a bit of an end-of-the-semester celebration for a great dash through the 20th century together. And they had my driver's license, which I had dropped when I was leaving the previous week!

An artist named Sarah in my Catholicism class got to talking with me after class on our last regular session, and showed me some amazing photographs of a display she had recently done in ceramics, but of a very striking nature. She had made some beautiful vases in clay, but had not fired them, then using thin wires, she had suspended these vases from a framework so that at first glance, you saw what looked like several vases frozen in mid-air in the act of falling to the ground. Then she had arranged for water to slowly drip onto the vases, causing them to dissolve while the display was being shown, all because what she really wanted to get at was the ephemeral nature of things. So I thought that that was both compelling and clever, and we had a long chat on art, on track (she turns out to be one of our star sprinters, and I always find it fun to talk to someone who runs seriously, even though I can't anymore with my bum knee), and then later, after the final today, she was asking me a bit more on my own road to Catholicism itself. So that made for a cool mix.

Then I've had three students approach me about changing their major to Religious Studies, and one about doing a Catholic Studies minor, all of which is great fun, although I feel like I have to apologize for disrupting people's lives when such things happen. It's really kind of terrifying to have a noticeable impact on students, when you think about it. I exchanged a few notes the last few days with Jessica C., a former student from my first semester teaching at Marquette, who ended up switching from Bio-Engineering or something lucrative like that to being a Theology and Philosophy double-major, and who is now working on her M.Div. at Vanderbilt, and I'm still kind of freaked out by that, even after having had plenty of time to get used to the idea as we got to be friends over the years. Two other students spoke to me about the effect of the class on their faith lives. One of my older non-traditional students, wryly and ruefully said something about how her finding a deeper connection to her faith through the course had pleased her Catholic mother, and another student, from a Baptist/Lutheran background, talked to me about how I had managed to address all the questions he had been thinking about with regard to his faith without him specifically having to ask about such things in class. So I hope that that means that I'm getting something of the balance right in speaking in an academic course on Catholicism while still providing students an existential understanding of how all this "data" then affects people in their actual spiritual lives.
Benedict XVI wind
I thought that this was an interesting reading of some of Benedict's thinking with regard to his comments in Benin last month, and his thoughts toward "liberation theology," broadly understood.
The Lonely Liberation Theology of Benedict XVI
by John L Allen Jr on Nov. 20, 2011 NCR Today

Cotonou, Benin -- Anyone just tuning in now to Pope Benedict XVI, who doesn’t know much about him but somehow caught wind of his Nov. 18-20 trip to Benin, could be forgiven a bit of confusion about exactly what the pope came here to say about the political role of Catholicism in Africa.

Understanding that a unique form of ‘liberation theology’ circulates in the pope’s intellectual and spiritual bloodstream can, perhaps, help make sense of things.

(“Liberation theology” usually refers to a progressive theological movement pioneered in Latin America in the 1960s and 70s, which put the church on the side of the poor in their political struggles, and which drew both praise and rebuke from the future pope while he was the Vatican’s doctrinal czar.)

On the one hand, Benedict repeatedly cried out in defense of the poor. During an open-air Mass this morning in a soccer stadium in Benin’s capital, before some 40,000 wildly enthusiastic, dancing and singing locals (with another 40,000 outside) he said “Jesus wanted to identify himself with the poor” and the poor deserve respect because “through them, God shows us the way to Heaven.”

Yesterday, in a highly anticipated speech at Benin’s Presidential Palace, Benedict sounded at times like a populist reformer.

“There are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and death,” he said.

In his major document on the faith in Africa, Africae Munus, or “Africa’s Commitment,” Benedict called the church to act as a “sentinel,” denouncing situations of injustice.

The pontiff also took yet another swipe at neo-con ideologies. In his opening speech of the trip, he warned Africans that an “unconditional surrender to the laws of the market and of finance” is among the pathologies of modernity they would do well to avoid.

Yet Benedict XVI also issued a clear warning to stay out of politics, which could seem at odds with his biting social commentary. While he rejected “withdrawal” and “escape from concrete historical responsibility,” he explicitly instructed clergy to steer clear of “immediate engagement with politics.”

The pope likewise stressed that “the church’s mission is not political in nature.” At another point, he added that, “Christ does not propose a revolution of a social or political kind.”

So, what’s going on? When Benedict talks about defense of the poor, is he engaging in pious rhetoric without any real-world bite? Is this just papal double-talk, tossing a bone to the church’s progressive constituency in one breath and its more traditional following in another?

In fact, the tension can be resolved with this insight: Benedict XVI has a distinctive form of liberation theology, and his various speeches and texts in Africa amount to vintage expressions of it.

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