Six Weeks On

It’s now a tad over six weeks since beginning my sabbatical. I’m settled into my Chicago rhythms.

Turns out I’ve only had to make minor adjustments to my plans for the class. I expected worse…

My only formal college teaching experience before had been a day class at a Community College. I’m a great fan of Junior Colleges, as a High School dropout, California’s amazing Junior College system, and particularly evening school opportunities became my ticket into higher education. I suspect therefore I had somewhat unrealistic expectations. I taught a World Religions survey course. The kids were for the most part there because it was better than working at McDonalds. With a couple of exceptions they were bored and there because World Religions was considered an easy three Humanities units. The low point was a quiz where they were asked to briefly identify various theological terms and one described “Buddha” as a “minor God in the Muslim religion.”

This is not my problem here. These are older, smart, and deeply interested in questions of religion. At the same time few have had any exposure to Buddhist basics, so my fantasy of providing a good but not overwhelming reading list and then to devote the class time to higher end discussions has not happened, at least so far. I’ve found it necessary to lecture on the basic themes covered in the readings, providing reinforcement and focus on the central points. I still have hopes that as the class continues it will gradually shift from this form of lecture to that higher end discussion of what the consequences of Zen Buddhist thought might have for contemporary Western liberal religion. Of the twenty-one who seem to have continued in the class (it being so much larger than anyone expected as contributed to the problems), eighteen are Unitarian seminarians.

We’ll see.

On a related note, my book Zen Master Who? has been released. I spent a bunch of yesterday reviewing a copy. While one or two of my last minute edit requests didn’t happen, on balance, I’m just pleased as punch. A good index is an amazing help. All very exciting!

The apartment is nice, a big one bedroom affair. There is adequate shopping within walking distance. And I really enjoy hanging out in the school’s library and the Curtis Room, the defacto student center. I’ve made the First Unitarian Church in Chicago my “home” congregation while here. A gothic cathedral, it reminds me of my real home congregation.

Without a doubt the high point so far was the long weekend Jan spent here this past weekend. We rented a car, and while adventuring was somewhat limited by the fact my back continues to be problematic, we did get around a bit. We took the formal tour of Unity Temple in Oak Park, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first church. And, it turns out, touted as the first “modern” public building. It is an amazing bit of architecture. We also noticed a very bad roof leak, apparently a standard feature of Wright’s public architecture.

I’m behind in my writing project. Although I’ve had a lot of fun doing “preparatory” reading.

And I’ve found my thinking about liberal religion and particularly Unitarian Universalist parish ministry sparked in a number of areas. Nothing like being in such a hotbed of concern and obsession about parish life that one will find in a seminary! One question I suspect I’ll reflect on here before long is the question raised by one of the seminarians: Do we (Unitarian Universalists) really need a theological “center?”

More anon.

Clark Strand's Green Koans
The Beatles Take Their Walk Across Abbey Road, and Then, Well, Then An Era is Over
Went to See Hell or High Water. Liked it. Quite a bit.
Bishop Akiba's Dream: And Visions of Zen in North America