Saturday, August 31, 2019

On My Work (Fall 2019)

It’s a new academic year. That is always meaningful for me. I thought at the beginning of this year 2019-2020, it would be interesting to put to myself the question, “What do I do?”

When people ask this question, the “bottom line” is usually directed to the proverbial “putting bread on the table,” and understandably so. Now that it has been a decade since I retired from classroom teaching, I am finally getting to the age where my Emeritus status is no longer utterly peculiar. I am retired from the workforce, a “pensioner” before my time for health reasons after a long period of adult life intensively immersed in stressful, difficult, and absorbing work. The nature of the work is one of the things that broke my health, but that story has been told elsewhere.

Though I cannot hold a regular job (and I am grateful for the provisions in place - to which I contributed extensively in my working years - that have helped support us), I am not by any means “idle.” Teaching is so much more than a job; it is a profession in the classical sense. It is, in the human realm, a vocation, a whole way of life that entails preparation, the conferral of distinctive qualifications, and a level of commitment that orients and forms the mature personality. (I think if we had a more personalistic sense of the nature of human work, we would see that the dignity of “profession” - as a formative basis for different kinds of contribution to human life as interpersonal communion - applies widely to all kinds of fields of human endeavor, and is one aspect of the personal dimension of all human work.)

I am still very much engaged in the academic life: in the university culture, in scholarship and writing. I hope to make some enduring contribution to my own time, and leave some legacy for those who come after me.

What do I do? I am a teacher, by profession. This means being always a scholar, which is really a fancy way of saying "always a student." I am always trying to learn, and to communicate what I learn to others and hopefully inspire them to learn more.

Limitations, ironically, open up new possibilities. I have some energy for research and writing, which I try to use well. Currently, I have a regular column in Magnificat, this Blog (8+ years running), and other materials that I produce and distribute through digital media and graphics. It's interesting for me to consider that I am probably reaching more people than ever in these ways, even though I can no longer give regular lectures or "be productive" in a manner more consistent with my talents and education.

I do what I can. Most people my age are acquainted with their fair share of frustration and failure. We all suffer in different ways, and given my circumstances I can only be grateful for what I am still able to do, however unconventional the methods and unpredictable the patterns may be. Even on the worst days I am still capable of reading (or at least "listening"). Being slowed down has made me more aware of the patience required to learn anything really well.

I do have a number of ongoing research projects that I follow at my own pace. I don't know if I will be able to make any important contributions through these efforts, but I hope I can at least point in certain directions and encourage others to pursue further certain important themes. I have areas of focus that come under the more general heading of "reflections toward a personalist and communitarian theological and philosophical anthropology." They include theoretical efforts to elucidate further the foundational elements of a Christ-centered Christian humanism, as well as concrete studies of the nature of communications media, the impact of globalization and the explosion of technological power, China and East Asia and their historical and current relationship to the West, aesthetic values in contemporary culture, music and art...

When I write it down, it looks like a lot. But these are all connected to the important ecclesial themes of evangelization, inculturation, and dialogue.

If I use "the part of my brain that still works," I find that I have much to learn and share with others, much to ponder (which I can do even on days when other activities need to be set aside), much to remain engaged with, and to hold in solidarity and compassion.

For the rest, I am still learning how to be patient with the peculiarity of my own sufferings. Though I struggle with it, this is probably the most important "work" I'm called to carry out.