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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal/Theological Notebook: Last Night in New Orleans; Picking Books for Fall 
2nd-Jun-2010 03:42 pm
October 2009 Haircut
Back from New Orleans for a few days, now. I had a fabulous time, through and through, and, as I've been telling people since, I now find myself excited about New Orleans and Loyola in a concrete way, rather than just a more abstract way. I got a chance on Friday night to spend time with some other faculty members. Tim had picked me up and driven me around part of the city, looking particularly toward Lake P and showing me the canals and the levees, and giving me a much fuller sense, geographically, of the scale of the Katrina destruction.

He then dropped me off at a particularly fine restaurant called Ralph's on the Park, where he handed me off to Judith, who I had met briefly earlier in the day. There we found Sr. Willems, who I had had some time with the day before, and we were then joined by a guy named Boyd, an ethicist in my department, who I had not yet met. I felt a bit underdressed, just in khakis and a polo shirt, as I had been told there was going to be no reason for me to bring a suit or a jacket, but I survived with only the slightest momentary squirm on that regard. The food was again an adventure. I shared with the ladies a special appetizer they were running that night of fried green tomatoes with a layer of pork belly, and then a covering of a sort of slaw topped with green beans, and tried but didn't care for Boyd's appetizer of Oysters Rockefller Reprise (crispy P&J oysters, spinach custard, roof bacon bread crumbs), and I again went with a special for my entree, of trout (poised and upright, as though in a drama of swimming upstream without a head) in an anduille sauce with green beans.

The conversation was first-rate, with a bit of getting to know the people and what they did: Boyd, as I mentioned, being an ethicist, and having done his doctoral work at BC, and Judith, from the History department and now an associate Dean, with a specialization in 18th and 19th century Atlantic history. (Something about her had been nagging at my memory through the evening, and I finally realized that she resembled and spoke like (minus the South Carolina accent) my friend Karen from undergraduate.) Two lines of the conversation especially pressed on my memory: first, to hear their accounts of Katrina and the rebuilding of the city was incredibly moving, as I had gotten all my information about this from the news media, not knowing anyone who had gone through it. The sense of abandonment, both by the federal government in its haphazard response, and by many of ones neighbours, really was palpable, and the long work of rebuilding gained a weight I'd not felt before in what I knew of what happened. Secondly, all three were friends of Stephen Duffy, who I had forgotten was on the faculty at Loyola until I had seen his picture on the wall on Thursday. I had noted his unexpected death in the journal a few years ago, because he had been one of the theologians I had most wrestled with in print, as his books were the best available on the theology of grace. Now I suddenly found myself among three people who all knew him well, if in very different ways, and so I suddenly found myself being introduced to the man as well as to the scholar, as they shared memories of him. It was every bit as moving as the Katrina stories, even if so different in scale.

Monday found me over at the Lloyds' for dinner, eating big yummy beef kabobs and hearing the news, particularly with Owen having gotten his first pair of glasses, and now starting to enjoy seeing the world around him more clearly. The kids said that they had really liked Grace, Haley and Sophie, and were pretty outrageously full of energy, and so it took them a long while to get settled down for the night. Dan had been working all last week on his paper for the NAPS, the North American Patristics Society meeting in Chicago, and so we both, with Amy, had yet to watch the LOST series finale, and were both absurdly grateful that we had managed to avoid any spoilers from friends, news media, or random internet nonsense, through all that week. So we finally had our bit of fun watching that, arguing a bit about it during the commercials and afterward as to how effective it was, or whether the writers had gotten lazy with a sort of soft "this takes care of everything" approach, and then finally watching the decompression special showed afterward on that night's episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live. At the very least, we thought that the sort of afterlife imagery offered was done with reasonable seriousness, if (unshockingly) with a pretty soft-serve theology.

Other than that fun, I've been trying to finish work on my book selections for the fall, and starting to rev up my brain for jumping back into my Odes of Solomon research and getting that article's revisions out to Vigiliae Christianae so that they can have it for publishing in their 2011 volume. For my class entitled "Jesus Christ," I am going to go with:
Theology: A Very Short Introduction by David Ford
The Gospels themselves: any good academic/study Bible
Jesus Through The Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture by Jaroslav Pelikan
Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, second edition, by Gerald O'Collins, S.J.
Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI
I had talked with Ralph Del Colle about the books he used for his undergraduate class of that sort here at Marquette, and I especially liked his saying that he typically used books of different sorts, in order to diversify the kind of reading the students did. So, since this is a first theology (instead of just "religious studies" class, which is usually a sociological or anthropological reduction of 'religion") for the students, I've got them reading this introduction to the study of theology itself, in order to first study the differences in method. The Gospels, of course, are the ultimate sources being discussed, and for nearly 20 centuries have transmitted the astonishing personality of this man Jesus quite capably. Jesus Through The Centuries will both be a huge survey of the cultural impact of Jesus, but will also introduce a pretty substantial variety of theologies and spiritualities to the students in an historical sweep, and then Christology will be a serious, chewy piece of Christological theology for them to cut their teeth upon. Jesus of Nazareth is there more as a piece of educated spiritual reading, which should be pretty accessible, given that it follows the gospels in a close reading, as well as being a piece of unobjectionably Catholic (it's a papal production, for crying out loud) spiritual appropriation of the texts in a contemporary context.

For my class entitled "Introduction to Catholicism," I am still undecided on a few texts. There are still a few I'm waiting to receive copies of to look over. I looked at another substantial text by Gerald O'Collins, S.J., called Catholicism: The Story of Catholic Christianity as well as his stripped-down version of the same text in Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction, and I'm actually leaning toward the latter, as a way of getting time for more material while still treating the same themes with sufficient weight. I've been looking at my old boss Larry Cunningham's Introduction To Catholicism, Gregory C. Higgins' Christianity 101: An Introduction to Catholic Theology, which was suggested to me by Sr. Willems while I was visiting Loyola, from the one time she taught that course, and Andrew Greeley's The Catholic Imagination as a way into the spirituality or mysticism of the sacramental worldview that is conversant with American sociology and culture.
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