Novak (novak) wrote,

Personal: Fun Moments, or, A Day In The Life

Had some good moments today. While giving my first exam to my Catholicism students (rated "fair" and "hard" from the students who spoke to me afterward), I received a text message from a three year-old. To be accurate, I had during the first session of Catholicism sent a text message to Sophie via Leslie, figuring that Sophie was with her all day, and that I might build off my recent success of sending her an enthusiastically-received email (via her sisters) about seeing Komodo Dragons at the zoo. During the second session's exam, I received the following note back (no doubt much-aided by the efforts and spelling powers of Mommy):
I'm with Mommy getting her hair cut. I won the "Caught Being Good" Award today at school. I was so proud!
I apparently caused slight disruption during the exam by grinning so wildly over that that students found it distracting. Colour me smitten.

I still continue to also grin madly (while feeling an internal shock and disbelief) when I hear myself hailed by title on campus. "Hey Professor Novak!" shouted one student who wanted to talk to me about his experience of the exam earlier today. "Hi Dr. Novak!" called another as I walked over to the student center for a bowl of their thick and yummy Vegetable Beef soup. I have been conditioned by over a decade's graduate work at the Master's and Doctoral level to think of myself as a graduate student, and I keep feeling as though I'm getting away with something by claiming to actually be a Doctor of Theology....

During the Dean's reception today for the new faculty, I had a long conversation with James C. Carter, S.J. (Or a longer version here. I had been introduced to him by Denis Janz the other week at Denis's party for the faculty, and had talked with him at some length there as well. Fr. Carter was President of Loyola for two decades, from the mid-1970s to the mid-90s, and is a physicist by training, who also had a full Jesuit's theological training back at Woodstock in the days when it ruled as the Catholic theological heart of the United States. While his published research was primarily in nuclear physics, his major teaching venue at Loyola is to teach a very popular science and religion course, which he does every semester. I'd love to sit in on it, actually. We got to talking in some of that direction, after he came over once the new faculty had finished introducing themselves and, as requested, their research specialities. He was curious about my ecclesiological work, and from there we drifted into teaching undergraduates and their problematic cultural prejudices regarding religion or Christianity. He talked about the difficulty of breaking them from the default setting of relativism, and I shared some of my current experiments in starting my classes with an inquiry into theological method and the question of truth (the harmony between theology's and the physical science's devotion to the idea of objective truth, I thought, would be the impetus for an increasing alliance between them – despite all the inherited 18th century Enlightenment bugbear about "science versus religion" – in the face of post-modern denial of anything beyond sheer perspective or narrative). And, further on that line, my using David F. Ford's Theology: A Very Short Introduction and its dive into orienting students to their context in-between Modernity and Post-Modernity, just to give them a chance at critically assessing the assumptions they've inherited.

In time, we were joined for a short while by the busy Harold Baquet, the University's official photographer, who I congratulated for having been awarded the President's Medal during our start-of-the-year convocation, where I had in fact seen him for the first time. He clearly was deeply moved and surprised on that occasion, while he was there working, and you couldn't help but be moved by his emotion. I then saw a great deal of his work over the next few weeks, and came to be a quiet fan of his ability to capture the drama and energy of the students' lives in the most ordinary of college circumstances. So we talked photography with him for a bit – the shift to digital, the old silver nitrate black-and-white film, and the differences that the different technologies make for the images – and then, after he got back to shooting the room, we were joined by a first-year colleague of Professor Carter's, Tirthabir Biswas, who had grabbed my attention during the introductions with his description of his cosmological research, came over and started talking a bit of cosmology with us, too, leading to the two of them trying to explain the notion of "dark energy" to me over the noise of the crowd. "Dark matter" I had heard of, but this was new to me....

As I walked up to the newly-painted house (now like a big yellow-and-white daisy) with some groceries, I ran into Yihan getting home from her day of medical school, where, she enthused to me on the porch, she had started dissecting her cadaver's GI system today. Her sheer excitement as she went into some of these details were in such contrast to the grisly nature of her words that I couldn't help grinning through that whole spiel, too. So we talked the wonders of the gastrointestinal system, and the blessed oddity of those doctors who choose to specialize in it. And that capped off a day that was all great fun.
Tags: astronomy/space, class-catholicism, faith and reason, friends-loyola era, funny, loyola, personal, scientific, secularism/modernity, sophia, students, teaching, technology

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