March 16th, 2012

City of New Orleans

Theological Notebook/Personal: Non-Flowing Lesson; Haley Rules; New Orleans; Getting Home

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.