Our regular gathering over at the Lloyds on Friday gave me a weird moment when Dan told me that Tim Russert had died that afternoon. I discovered Russert's Meet The Press as I began to teach at Saint Joe's, and it remains to this day on my VCR's automatic taping schedule. He stood out not just for his service in trying to be a more substantive news encounter with the political world, but he was of particular interest to my field, as well. I thought him the most important figure for American Catholic politics, and a huge figure nationally for taking the theological and spiritual seriously in national affairs. His Meet The Press sessions with major religious leaders across the spectrum were serious cultural roundtables, while the bulk of the rest of the news media would have simply panted in their anti-religious hysteria at such scenes. The panel discussion he helped lead on Catholic Politicians in the U.S.: Their Faith and Public Policy at Boston College's The Church in the 21st Century Center (which Erik surprised me with a DVD of, since I couldn't attend) was as illuminating as anything I've ever seen in speaking about religion and public affairs. He was giving the Catholic Common Ground Initiative Lecture at the end of the month, as I saw from the ads in America, and I was wishing I could attend. Just the fact that he was 58: it all added up to just more of a sense of shock than some of the more recent deaths of major figures. You just didn't assume he was going to be next; you assumed you would get years and years more benefit of his experience, enthusiasm and insight.
The rest of the night had its fun, the silliest moment being when Renée, like all the kids, having been put to bed before we started watching the half-season finale of BSG, suddenly began speaking to us over the baby monitor, which she had long since begun using as an intercom. "Momma, I'll be sad when you're gone tomorrow," which left us laughing as the show began, since Donna would be gone from all of 5am to 10am for her shift at Starbucks. But it was another thing when the same thing happened during a critical moment of the show, with Renée leaning into the microphone and us suddenly hearing, "MOMMA, I WISH YOU WERE HERE WITH ME: YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE BUT I WOULD LIKE YOU TO BE; YOU DON'T NEED TO BE BUT I WANT YOU TO BE, NOT NEED YOU TO BE...." Or some seemingly-endless stream like that. Suddenly the whole living room was boiling with the tension of interrupted drama, and people were hissing, "Turn it off!" "Turn it down!" "I'm turning it down! I'm turning it down!" "What did they say?! What did they say?!" and just laughing about the whole thing. My friends certainly enjoy how cute their kids are, but even they don't always find even the cuteness to be the most convenient thing in the world....
I spent a larger part of the weekend writing an essay for a contest for America, actually, than doing dissertation work. In what seemed to me to be a response to the writings of "the New Atheists" (Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and their like, as I've noted here and there before), they were soliciting essays on the theme of "the case for God." I've always had a strong interest in apologetics, since I've been leaned on so much over the years for why I believe this whole silly thing to be true, and so I finally thought I'd throw my hat in the ring on the matter. I idly debated which of two approaches to take, and finally decided on the one that I thought had more substance, though was harder to articulate in the 2500 word limit, than the one that had more literary flair and fun (a proof for the existence of God based upon the existence of humour that I dreamt up at Notre Dame). But that seemed more potentially "fluff" to me, and as the New Atheists are more fluff writers, I thought that the serious response was the one more necessary for our times. We'll see. I'm not sure that it's the best thing I could have tried to pull off for a popular audience.
Recovering from that effort today (I had a 10+ hour writing and editing spree last night that took me into this morning), I spent some time in different parts around campus, but especially enjoying the time toward sunset while sitting by all the new roses in the Courtyard of the Fountain before the Chapel of Joan of Arc. There were various tour groups being conducted around, right up until sunset, and suddenly I heard one guide's voice behind me, saying something like, "... this is a great place to read theology. In fact, over to our right you can see my freshman Theology professor, a Notre Dame graduate and now Marquette doctoral student, hard at work and enjoying the surroundings...." I looked up to find David Kruse, one of my greats from last year, leading the group and grinning as he spoke. I saw the group laughing quietly at his "observe the beast in its natural habitat" delivery, and I complained, "I feel like I'm in a cage!," as I casually tried to hide the novel I had switched to. But they seemed a fun group, actually asking me about the two campuses in comparison, and while Notre Dame over-all beats Marquette for its beauty, which is not hard given their different locations, I have to give that spot at Marquette as being the best single "spot" between the two campuses: having an actual piece of medieval architecture like the Chapel, and the landscaping around it, beats the much vaster Basilica of the Sacred Heart, to my mind, despite everything I've enjoyed about that space. I had to pass on my thoughts about Notre Dame's team for the fall, having not given it the slightest thought until asked.