Conversation last week was eclectic, so much so that in my sick dizziness, I was less capable than normal of remembering all its twists and turns. So I asked the lot of them to remind me about what we talked about, which was actually fascinating in its own right – to see what different things had lodged themselves in everyone's memory.
I walked in last Friday in the midst of some kind of talk about leather. The thing is, I just cannot hear the word "leather" said with no context without thinking of the scene five minutes into Annie Hall where all of "Alvy's" (Woody Allen's) first grade friends are telling where they are today and the last little girl says, deadpan, "I'm into leather." So that's that. I cannot remember anything of what it was that the gang was talking about regarding leather; I don't know that I ever figured it out, because my entire brain took over to show me that scene from Annie Hall again.And all such fun things is what I'm having to give up for my icky lungs.
There was a great deal of talk about Facebook, or as both Dan and Barnes had called it, "Facepage," to the general, you're-so-old-and-uncool amusement of their students. Everyone else had drifted into Facebook over the last few months, though Dan and Mike had done so with particular disdain. Although there was some attempt to talk about the pluses and minuses of the things as a social tool, I couldn't help but not the sheer amount of delight everyone was taking in just the capacity to check up on old friends and acquaintances, or to pull up photographs of people on a whim in order to illustrate some point of an old story.
There was an utterly unjust digression about the bathing habits of exchange students, mostly as an excuse for French jokes, that seemed to flow out from an earlier conversation about Milwaukee's French and German Immersion schools, where both families had been looking to send the girls. Dan was telling me the funny thing was how much the schools fell into cultural stereotypes with the German school rigidly ordered and brimming with dedicated efficiency, while the French school, equally rich in educational possibilities for the students, was much more laissez-faire and a touch disorganized.
There was also a short discussion about the meaning of manna, with Protestant and Catholic symbolic readings being discussed, as well as some of the local environmental explanations of just whatever manna was. The Hebrew name manna means, essentially "What is it?" I offered, as the best contemporary English translation of the name, "WTF?"
I think it was Mike and I who talked about – no, wait, maybe Dan was there, too; or maybe it was just Dan; see what I mean about my memory? – talked about opening Theology class sessions with prayer. Few profs actually do this, despite the more-or-less universal consensus in the Tradition (which is, capitalized, a technical term for the collective experience of Christians throughout history) that theology as an intellectual effort is, and must be, grounded upon the revelatory act of God as well as the efficient and wise use of our natural intellectual capacities. Therefore academic Theology must be grounded in the active spiritual life of which prayer is the core. In other words, we distort what Theology is when we cave to the sociological forces today that push us to secularize discussion of religion and to privatize its expression, removing it from public conversation. Even "religions" most popular cultured despisers would object to any other subject being taught according to the demands of some ideology opposed to it: we wouldn't be happy with all teachers of cultural diversity being required to teach the subject from the point-of-view of racists. But it's often assumed that religion ought to be taught from the perspective of non-belief, that this is somehow "neutral" rather than opposed. I went through this at Notre Dame with Catherine Mowry LaCugna, when her grad students prevailed upon her as our year with her progressed – first for Systematic Theology and then for Mystery of God – to open class with prayer. I spent a lot of extra time in her office after class pursuing this discussion, and she grew interested in the simple fact that she felt some kind of pressure not to do so, and coming to realize that that pressure had nothing to do with her subject nor with her beliefs on what was integral to teaching it authentically. So Mike and/or Dan talked at some length about opening class this way, and whether it made a difference if we were talking about undergraduate or graduate education. None of this would require anyone to pray who did not want to, but it would guarantee that students were seeing that the intellectual life and the spiritual life could not be legitimately separated, as Modernity tends to insist.
Mike mentioned that there was some discussion about teaching methods at the beginning of supper, although I'm drawing a total blank trying to remember what that was about, unless he's talking about the prayer thing, which I think might be the case. He also mentioned the mysterious way in which Dan and Dr. Barnes disappeared to the basement for a discussion of Man on Fire that was open only to those who had seen the film. Dr. Barnes found it hard to watch, given how much the little girl in the story looked like Rae, his granddaughter.