Saturday, January 12, 2008

Angel of Grace

The new term starts Monday, and is the first time that I recall that there was no kind of "inservice" day beforehand. The hard-working faculty always complain about these being a waste of their valuable time and how it could be much better spent preparing; and so the place was like a ghost town all week. This is also the first term that I won't be showing up breathless with anticipation about the new crop of students; I won't be teaching any classes. Instead I am taking a sabbatical. Everyone assumes that this involves going somewhere exotic and doing essentially nothing but having a good time on the college coin. Let me disabuse you of this fanciful, though pleasant (and perhaps I wish it was true), notion. This SSCP will be hard at it every day working on his book, perhaps going no further afield on a daily basis than Downers Grove.

I have spent the quiet days since Christmas getting trying to get into character. It is decidedly strange to not have to go anywhere, to not have to get dressed, to not have to worry about appearances, to not have to wonder what the heck I am going to say in class. Dulcie will occasionally phone and ask me skeptically what I am wearing. Guiltily I rush to wash the dishes before she arrives home - as if that is really any proof of anything. Let me assure you gentle reader, lest you think I am just sitting around doing nothing other than catch up on the latest adventures of "All My Children," that I have been working quite hard, if sometimes in my pyjamas with the Go Lean (but not lightly) still on the table. I am aiming for a chapter a week and so far this has been successful. Come the official beginning of my sabbatical Monday, I will have twelve chapters to go and five months to do them in.

The time also affords opportunity to catch up on Podcasts from all my favourite shows. I happened to visit i-TunesU and there on the front page was a piece on Dietrich Bonhoeffer - an interview with the fellow that made the documentary of that name. I met him when I saw the film a few years ago at the Siskel Film Center (a must visit for any film lover although trying to contact anywhere there is maddeningly difficult). The film is largely based on Bonhoeffer's book Letters and Papers from Prison, a compilation of his correspondence with his fellow intellectual and friend Eberhard Bethge while in jail for his part in the conspiracy (which unaccountably failed) to kill Hitler. It is the best non-fiction book I have read. You will learn more about what faith means from that book than from any other. At the time, Bonhoeffer was working on a masterwork about Christian ethics. He was also having to lie in order to protect himself and his friends from execution. That placed a subtle tension on his ethics. Of course he is a hero and a martyr; he was executed a few short weeks before the war ended. Interestingly, for his part in the assassination plot, he was regarded as a traitor in Germany for many decades thereafter and was grudgingly exhonerated for his "crimes." Anyway, I prattle too much. See the film, catch the podcast, read the book. You won't be disappointed. You will be moved beyond measure.

“Who am I? They often tell me
I would step from my cell's confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They also tell me
I would bear the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I know of myself,
restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Who am I? They mock me these questions of mine.”

Taken from Letters and Papers. Hardly the strident self-confidence and certainty that exudes from most of your modern-day preachers.

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