In brief, I was fairly pleased with how the Introduction to Theology classes opened. I had ended up, in the few hours before class started, in a prolonged e-mail debate with Erik in Geneva about the best way to deal with the problem in our culture of the negative baggage students can have toward religion or theology as they come into the topic. Erik preferred a full session on drawing students out on the issue and letting reasons for hostility and the emotions attending them to be played out, and thus to create a sympathetic setting where students have already been assured of the concerns being taken seriously. My own experiences are of contextualized information about how this state has come into existence as being the best way to gain "control" over it, to objectify the problem away from my own limited perspective, and thus come to own it.
I ended up taking a half-way approach to it, which I figure Erik would likely have seen as a wasted opportunity, and I would agree with him to the extent that I could certainly have gone further with it. While I took care of a loathsome attendance/registration exercise I was required to do by the university (which sent me a three-page "taking attendance" memo to explain the idea), I had them write down their reactions to people bringing up the topic. I then went through the class reactions, anonymously, and we together saw the variety of reactions that were out there (even anonymously, though, they leaned 2/3 positive, I'd guesstimate). In response to their whys and wherefores, I did some of the sketching out of why I wanted to contextualize that in this first week of the course. I also got a joke in about it, telling them that they didn't know it, but that they had been the subject of a vast international debate just that morning, explaining a bit of who Erik was and who I was, and that I as a theologian really wanted to address the problem in intellectual and historical terms and contexts, while Erik as a psychologist wanted to address it in terms of personal impact of the cultural situation, and the emotional point at which that left the students. "Eventually, we realized that we were just arguing about which of us was cooler...."
But it was good to have someone to process the opener with right before it happened, and to nudge my plans on those insights.
It all went off relatively well. I got the business done that needed doing, and got to start to pry open the jaws of conversation with the group. I was surprised at the number of people who came up individually at the end of class in order to introduce themselves. I hope that's a good sign of enthusiasm and not of Machiavellian student politics. I was also surprised about how many sudden "Hi's!" I was receiving walking around the campus in later hours from them.
I ran into Shawnee at the library and she and I were able to catch up some, after not having seen one another for a few weeks. She was pleased about my surgery results, bonding as we did long ago over our messed-up digestive systems. I was pleased and flabbergasted to hear how quickly she's been writing her dissertation, now that Christine Firer Hinze has her doing re-writes. I hadn't realized how much Shawnee had written of it already when she was in St. Louis, and could now just incorporate into her work here.
I just finished the reading assignment I'd given the students for Wednesday: a brutal, into-the-deep-end shove of reading the Gospel of Mark straight through as part of our crash orientation. As I begin with the Old Testament texts, I need them to have already dived into the New Testament in a core way because our readings of the earlier texts will be consciously Christian readings in many respects. I did reassure them that a few of these opening, over-the-top demands I was going to make of them were not characteristic of the normal assignments, which will be more measured and paced.
I wrote back to Erik a bit ago, in response to his surprise that I had already started classes (since he thought through the discussion that it was still several days away) that the Summer of 2006 does not end until Erik leaves Geneva at the end of the week. This is true for me as well as him. (And I'm still trying to write here everything that my trip entailed....) His being there, and my more limited visit there, was too iconic for everything that was great about the summer for me, even as I have to continue to be jealous of how much more substantial his time over there has been and what he has been able to do with it. I think he has inspired me, though, that once I'm settled in a job, I'm going to take my first or second summer and just rent a place in Florence – to just do it, and take the plunge for living overseas for a brief time. We'll see.