What with the new church and everything, I got behind. Plus, you know, it's the holidays, and I basically could live without them, probably forever. There is not a day when I don't feel the knife in the gut at least a dozen times. My most hated Thanksgiving moments: when people complained that all their children wouldn't make it home for the holiday. Really? It's a problem that all your children are healthy and alive somewhere else? I haven't decided yet what I think about Christmas this year. I should know, shouldn't I? But . . . it's hard. It's really hard. The music, the stores, the presents ~ they don't bother me (much) anymore. We're even going to an Advent concert Friday night. But sometimes I am doing . . . whatever . . . and I realize that I am on the verge of bursting into tears.
Anyway ~ we have decided to get a Christmas tree, and so there are piles of old lights from the basement and boxes of new lights from Target in the kitchen and sunroom and living room. I decorated the mantle, and I meant it when I said that I was nearly incapacitated by that project. It is only approximately a million times easier to churn out Advent sermons than it is to open boxes of decorations from years gone by.
Meanwhile ~ I have been grading college papers for the past eight hours. (Yes, I was really behind, and I suddenly decided to get it over with.) I am trying to focus on the positive, which mostly has to do with my students' reflections on the course and on some of their "outside experiences." Many of my Catholic students have been to Protestant worship services (one described a megachurch service as more akin to going to youth group than to mass, which I thought was pretty funny), and many of my Protestant and Jewish students have been to mass for the first time. There has been at least one humorous moment there, too, involving communion. Well, I found it humorous. I guess I should give better instructions. The megachurch communion was just sad. I am hearing a lot about ritual or lack thereof, with the assessments being quite varied. Lots of the kids went to our fabulous Jewish history museum, and ~ my favorite so far ~ one young man ended up attending a Sikh service at his family's funeral home, where he usually works parking cars, but got roped into helping one day when another employee was sick.
The comments that make me the happiest come from students who say how much they hated the idea of going outside their comfort zone and how glad they are that they did. And the ones from students who have found real-life applications emerging from the class: the young Methodist man whose cousin brought a Muslim exchange student home for Thanksgiving, just as we had begun our introduction to Islam, and found the courage to ask her questions and respond to hers, and the young lady who said that for the first time the Mass readings meant something to her, and that she turned to her mom and said, "This is just what we've been learning about!"
The more academic papers . . . well, I can't claim great success there. But I decided last August that my real role this fall was to be a cheerleader for these students studying religion seriously for the very first time. I think that was a good goal that I have more or less achieved. Most of them will take their second required religion course and that will be that, but most of them have also started considering matters they've never thought about before. That's a good result for all of us.