Novak (novak) wrote,

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Personal/Theological Notebook: The Best of Times: Shawnee, Markus, and the Gang

I just enjoyed a wonderful burst of writing tonight over at the library, after an unproductive (but very enjoyable) last two days during which the little avatars of my Mum and my dissertation director that live in my head were yelling at me like nobody's business. I had thought as I went over to Raynor Library that "Tonight's a Shawnee kind of night," thinking of my "study buddy" from coursework days at Marquette, Shawnee Daniels-Sykes, SSNN, who haven't seen much since she defended her dissertation and graduated two years ago, and who is now teaching in the suburbs at her Order's Mount Mary College. So I was positively delighted when, working down on the 24-hour first floor since my carrel is on the closed-for-the-night fifth floor of Memorial Library, I looked up to see Shawnee walking over to a pile of her work scattered around a computer on the other side of the room from me. Perfect!

So we had a good piece of catch-up, with her telling me about the article she had to finish by next weekend on how biological components of cosmetics seemed to be provoking early puberty in girls. (Shawnee is a medical ethicist.) In turn I was updating her on my dissertation as it works toward its conclusion, which I now see comes almost three years to the day when I made my initial breakthrough in the library of what would become the idea for the dissertation, and which I bounced off of her and Tony Bonta in my first, excited moments of thinking that I might be on to something.... Tonight I made a textual breakthrough as I am justifying some of the use of this ecclesiology of charisms, and she was just as excited for me as she was in those first moments three years ago. So it was very cool to be able to catch up with an old friend like that, and to swap family news and the like, as well.

Thursday is shaping up to normally be a big dissertation work day for me, and that was the plan two days ago as I was leaving Weasler Auditorium after attending Markus' Luther Studies in a Catholic Context Lecture, "How did Luther's teaching become a doctrine?" Markus insisted that I must come out with the group that was going out for an authentically Lutheran beer and theology bash, despite the fact that I hate beer. It was now 4pm and I was looking forward to a long sprint until midnight on my dissertation, along with some grading I needed to take care of before the next day. I tried to explain this to Markus, and to point out that I was already scheduled to have dinner with him over at the Lloyds' the following night, only to be told "The poor you will always have with you; me you will not always have with you." In the face of such an awesomely funny and irreverant one-liner, I surrendered. Everyone trooped down to the Rockbottom Brewery, and then this turned into an after-lecture beer, appetizers, dinner, after-dinner beer, and then just more beer, until we left at 11pm. Markus graciously bought dinner for everyone present, and I inadequately tried to express my thanks by insisting on at least buying one of the late rounds. It was a night of fabulous talk, much of which was spent debating the contemporary implications of the historical point Markus was making (and which I won't attempt to reproduce here, other than noting that the big question seemed to have to do with the relative importance of the question of Truth in theology or in Christian claims). I was only disappointed in that Barnes had disappeared before we went down to the Brewery, as a question of his had most challenged Markus on this point, but I consoled myself in that I was having dinner with the both of them the following night, and then we could pick up that specific conversation at our leisure.

So Friday picked up with (dare I say such a thing?) a typically wonderful evening of food, drink, community and conversation at the Lloyds' house. I am likely growing spoiled being surrounded by such friends and opportunities to enjoy them. I woke this morning to a note from Markus, who, coming from Germany each semester (our last gathering like this with Markus was in February, after all), isn't so likely to get spoiled by the regularity of the nights, writing:
Folks - thank you so much for this wonderful night out in your house and garden. Amy's cooking was truly outstanding and the wine just caught up with it. I enjoyed our conversation very much - as the book "Tuesdays with Morrie" I like to write a sequel "Fridays at the Lloyds" which than would contain a larger amount of Christian identity and a much better eschatological vision than Mitch Albom's book has.

Though I usually go much earlier to bed - and I am afraid you too - you see what happens if you get me involved in good conversations grounded on even better food and wine ....
Along with being a Luther and medieval scholar of note, Markus has also been one of Germany's most famed food critics, and his praise of Amy's cooking, and his thought that she could open a restaurant, had to be heard in that context. I, on the other hand, am a miserable cook, and so my equally-miserable understanding of what Amy prepared had to be understood in that light: her experimental dish last night – a kind of eggplant roll with some kind of cheese, raisins, pine nuts and I don't know what else in it – was a big, sweet surprise for me: I had never had an eggplant dish I enjoyed so much. She served that with lamb and chicken kebabs and a thing that I think was a sort of curry with a tomato chutny in it. All tasty and daring.

Appetizers were served in the living room while the kids ate in the kitchen, and then the adults moved out to the patio for dinner, talking about the kids, the still-new experiences and thoughts regarding Renée and Anna at the German-immersion school (even Zeke greeted Markus with "Guten Morgen!"), and pretty much everything but "shop" theology talk. Barnes and Rayna took off, as usual, given granddaughter Rayna's schedule, around 8pm, leaving me disappointed that I still hadn't gotten a chance to get him and Markus to follow up on their different points from the lecture the day before. The Harrises were wiped out after a long school day, and so they ended up taking off unusually early, as well. That was too bad, as the talk was typically long and rich, hitting all the classical topics of love, marriage, raising children, and life in faith, with interesting specifics and stories from Markus' German experience, more on his adventures in life with Suzanne, and us summoning up our own American experiences to share with that less-usual cross-cultural eye. I wish I could capture all of it, instead of only being able to pull up these sentimental sounds about what it is like. Jupiter was rising just above the mid-point of the neighbours' house, from my perspective, when we began around 7-ish, and was nearly setting behind the corner of the Lloyds' garage when we called it a night at 1:30am, equaling our time from the week before, but this time with Amy making it all the way to the end.

Lingering over our third or fourth wine of the night, a slice of Key Lime pie, and a final glass of sherry, somewhere in there I remember Markus chiming in strongly with me on a point I had been thinking of in the last few days, about how these times are intrinsic to what I understand by "Church," in that the idea of Church is about the fullness of the experience of Christian community, and certainly not merely the gathering for ritual and sacramental worship and spirituality. If that's all that people conceive in the word "church" – and if that's all we convey in our teaching of that word – then it's no wonder that it seems like a sterile concept to people, especially if they have a very hit-or-miss experience in "feeling" or really being aware of what is being done in ritual worship. But the idea that I could conceive of Church without all the rest of it – these nights at the Lloyds', a full-on Freeks or Folkheads jam night back in South Bend, a gathering around a campfire at LOMC, or a late-night dorm group coming together back during my undergrad – that's inconceivable to me. I was pleased Markus was on the same page, and saw that as a "professionally" sensible thing to see and say in what we were experiencing together, too.

Tags: dissertation, ecclesiology, food, friends-marquette era, martin luther, milwaukee, mysticism/spirituality, personal, photography, teachers, theological notebook

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