July 7th, 2010


Personal/Theological Notebook: Closing Days: Lloyds Dinner; Sweeney July 4th; Catholicism Course

I've been stuck in the apartment, puttering away at pre-move work, for most of this last week. Social activities have been intermittent, but enjoyable. Little breaks of that sort have been empowering me along the way, giving me smiles to last through days of then working by myself.

The Lloyds had me over for dinner last Wednesday, with Michel and with Julia also in attendance, and sitting out on the patio with good food and relaxed conversation was a bit bittersweet for me, seeing as how this was one of the last such gatherings I would attend. The kids were shooed off more than once so that the adults could talk, which through the kids' attention for about three seconds before they just dived back into play. Nevertheless, kids were then one of the chief subjects of conversation, such as hearing how Julia's Maddy and Janie were doing while off visiting their dad, or me telling stories of my ten days of seeing the nieces. We broke out one of the remaining bottles from my graduation party, an Argentinian wine that Dragos had given me, and talked about things from our youths. I asked Julia about growing up in Alaska, curious about how a high school teenager at the time saw an Alaskan hometown in relation to the rest of the country or world. For my part, I talked about how growing up in Oregon, Illinois felt very much an experience of growing up in the proverbial "heartland," in the sort of town that could (with lots of other Midwestern towns) recognize something of itself in John Melancamp's anthem "Small Town," while also having its unique touches, like Oregon's outrageous amount of public art, making it more like an Italian Renaissance town than I would have recognized at the time. I was interested to hear Julia speak therefore of a certain sense of being disconnected from the "lower 48" States, but to also here in that a bit of a tone of them being seen as "lower" in class, too, not unlike a Manhattanite's sense of being a bit (or more than a bit) "above" any other place in the U.S., but in Alaska having that feeling for other reasons than Manhattan would, tied mostly to its vastness and its rich wilderness character. She grew reflective about later realizing just how many dysfunctional people had made their ways to Alaska, to escape the kind of oversight that they might have had in the legal cultures of the lower 48, and how in retrospect she could see a dark underbelly to Alaskan culture that she had taken for normal when she was younger.

On Sunday I received an invitation from Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen to join them for a 4th of July dinner at their place with a small group of friends. I forgot I needed to switch buses at one point, and so I ended up a little over a mile from their place, but ended up actually enjoying taking a bit of a walk because of that, continuing to read in Joseph Ellis's Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation as I went, pausing now and then to look a little more closely at some piece of Shorewood architecture (beautiful houses and little buildings in the downtown area), until I arrived at the house. The quartet of friends they had gathered were two couples, the Murphys, who were new to me, and the Balistreris, a pair I had met now and again, since I had guest-lectured in Rose's Art History class at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts on classic motifs in Christian art a few years back (I think I talk crucifixion scenes, Madonna-and-Child scenes, and Baptisms of Jesus/Trinity), and had been getting her husband and Bill into the Marquette indoor tennis courts for some time. For guest-gratitude here, I pulled out the Montepulchiano that Anthony Briggman had given me for my graduation, which, since most everyone had had their fill of wine with the previously opened bottle, came down to me and maybe one other guest to finish – yum! There was lots of yum, in that Bill had grilled some classic American fare for the meal, especially some wonderful marinated tenderloin (Helen fixed me up with some to take home, too, so I got another meal of that last night), brats and Italian sausages, great homemade potato salad, spinach salad, red cabbage, and a peach cobbler for dessert. There was some occasional political conversation, mostly ongoing concern with the economy and some speculation as to what Republicans might emerge on the top of the heap by the 2012 election, some random theological questions I had to field – my dissertation topic, my thoughts on Benedict XVI, the nature of Gnosticism, and Bruce giving me a sense of the task of writing in Milwaukee Magazine. The whole evening was just a pleasure, and people called it quits just in time for me to sub for Bill in going with Helen down to Atwater Park to see the Shorewood fireworks display. As Bill never wants to go, this was a real plus for Helen, who was her usual bundle of fun in talking about news of Ben and Becca while we walked, and oo-ing and ah-ing appreciatively through the fireworks. I don't think I had ever actually been that close to a display before, and so that was new for me, even if fireworks themselves are not. (Not that I ever really get tired of fireworks.) When we got back to the house, the three of us sat at the kitchen table for awhile longer, talking family and other things, and I showed off Leslie's latest portraits of the girls.

I also had some cool conversations at the Department of Theology yesterday, as I stopped in both to update my information with the New Orleans address, and to scrounge for any more boxes I could find. I happened to find Gale Prusinski still in the office, and so I caught her up on the news. She coordinates the Department, and made my entire tenure at Marquette far more smooth and successful than I would have accomplished on my own. So we swapped little bits of family news, too, with me again sharing niece portraits and my hearing of her new grandson Simon Joseph. I then stuck my head in the Chair's office to just pay my respects and ended up in a prolonged conversation with Susan Wood (who had also been on my dissertation board) about how the Loyola New Orleans job has been settling into shape, along with news about my living situation and such. She was particularly interested in hearing about the Introduction To Catholicism course I've been designing, and we talked through my final selections for the book list, which turned out to be:
Theology: A Very Short Introduction by David Ford (to introduce theology proper and theological methodology, and to distinguish that from the Religious Studies approach to which the students have already been introduced)
Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction by Gerald O'Collins, S.J. (yes, two of that series! For a quick overview of the subject)
Christianity 101: An Introduction to Catholic Theology by Gregory C. Higgins (to then settle in to the subject in greater and prolonged depth – the central text of the course)
The Catholic Imagination by Andrew Greeley (as a way into the spirituality or mysticism of the sacramental worldview that is conversant with American sociology and culture)
and Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures by Joseph Ratzinger (as a conclusion, introducing them to the circumstances of the contemporary place and challenges facing Christianity in contemporary culture, as understood by the current Pope)
Professor Wood was quite interested, moreso than I would have expected, but I came to realize that this was because the course was broader in character than the sort of undergraduate Ecclesiology class she had taught, and on which I had consulted her as I was beginning to think about this course. The Ecclesiology approach is distinctly one of the theological exploration of "Church;" mine is broader, also concerned with history in a more straightforward way, and directly engaged with cultural dimensions. It is "Catholicism," which is a wider concept than "Church" alone. I talked some about my experience of TAing for Richard McBrien's undergraduate "Catholicism" course at Notre Dame (using his book of the same name), and we touched on the strengths and drawbacks of that. What was really grabbing her attention was that Marquette didn't have a course of this nature for undergraduates. We looked at a couple of offerings in the catalogue, but nothing really equaled a general study of, or introduction to, Catholicism as such. So she asked me to check in once I was done, and when I had filled out the descriptions with the experience of teaching the thing for a semester, so that maybe she could copy or adapt the course for Marquette's curriculum. So that was cool.