Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: First Day of the New Semester (For Me); "God in America"

I still was pretty weak this afternoon, and hesitated on whether going in to the university was pushing things, but I just so didn't want my "The Experience of Grace" course or my once-a-week Master's course "Church, Sacraments, and Ministry" to be a week behind that I decided I had to do it. I had had to take a rest while doing the monumental task of shaving, with the voice of Thumper from Bambi providing commentary in my head with the line, "Kinda wobbly, isn't he?", but in spite of that, I figured I could do it as long as I took the streetcar there and back, rather than walking the mile either way. I'm glad I did. I was tired, and more than a bit achy, but it felt good to get things going. I had already gotten a heads-up from a student that the bookstore didn't order any of my Grace books, so I was particularly keen on getting in there to get them their first text, which I had actually ordered and bought 25 copies of myself, since I wanted a previous edition of the text. So that let the crew get started, and I made a point of directing those who were perhaps more ready for a more general class toward my course on Catholicism. Although the two courses are both second-level courses, presuming only the required "Introduction to World Religions" as a prerequisite, just by its specific topic, the course on Grace is going to be a bit harder, as I saw that the course on Jesus was last semester. The course on Catholicism, by contrast, is necessarily more survey-ish, and a more natural "second Religious Studies" course. I might point out that kind of distinction in a future department meeting, that maybe we could actually distinguish some things as more naturally filling the second general requirement in the subject, and others as more naturally filling the third. I don't think students would need to be required to follow the distinction, but for some of them that sort of graduated step-taking would be helpful.

It was all mostly standard "opening day" sorts of business for me, then, but in the Master's course for the Loyola Institute For Ministry (which swelled to a dozen people from the seven I'd had signed up a few days ago), we all did verbal introductions of ourselves for an hour or so, and that was fascinating. They're mostly an older set, with a few mid-twenty-somethings thrown into the mix, but they're all coming from such varied backgrounds, and possess such a variety of ministry goals for employing the degree, that it is going to be every bit the "adult learner" discussion group that I had been hoping for, with a real bunch of earnest and experienced people spicing the stew. There's more men than I had hoped (I had had only one on the original list I had been looking at), including a priest from Ghana who arrived in the States four days ago on a sudden sabbatical after something like a dozen years of various jobs since ordination, for a total of four guys out of the dozen. That group is just going to be fun and fascinating to read with.

Other than that, my only really notable point for the day is to just complete my "set" of comments over the last few days and to note that the PBS documentary God in America ended with its third episode being particularly strong, I thought. It handled the two key current major movements in public religious culture with clarity and without the sort of slant that I would fear. They noted the history of the rise of the Religious Right in the 1970s and 80s and the Republican Party's interest in grabbing this particular voting block (and even noting, as so few seem to remember, that where Evangelicals weren't previously apolitical, that they had been a Democratic block, consistently leaning for the "party of the little guy" before the New Left turned on them in the late 1960s/early 70), and hit the points and players I would have hoped. They also addressed the especially recent development of the Democratic Party's growing realization after 2004 that its repressively Secularist hostility toward religious discourse in the public sphere was utterly self-defeating. I had been particularly curious to hear Howard Dean start to express this at the start of his tenure as Chair of the Democratic National Committee at the time, during an interview on Meet The Press with the late great Tim Russert, and then to hear Barack Obama publicly making exactly that argument loudly, clearly, and rationally to his own party.

Along with a look at the particular "employment" of religion in America as part of the resistance to the consuming threat of global Communism in the 1940s through the 1960s, it also did a section on the fundamentally religious nature of the bulk of the Civil Rights movement. It made for a consistently-strong third and final two-hour episode that I wouldn't be embarrassed to use this one at all in a beginning course with students on Religion in America, just to let them eyeball and perhaps take in more strongly much of what would be (naturally) better treated in any of the great texts we have on the subject after this last generation of scholars working on it.
Tags: america, church and state, class-church sacraments and ministry, class-grace, loyola, movies/film/tv, teaching, theological notebook

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