June 20th, 2012

Tetons and Me

Personal/Theological Notebook: Packing Up; Revisiting Spirituality Notes

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....

Personal/Theological Notebook: Loyola Suffers the Death of Fr. Gerald Fagin, S.J.

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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