Showing posts from October, 2009

Puppies 102

More fun facts about dogs, these for the most part from Patricia B. McConnell's The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs (New York: Ballantine, 2002).

1. Perhaps 75%* of "dog training" is actually training their humans to give them clear signals about what the humans want the dogs to do. Dogs are watching us all the time for clues, but while we are speaking in primate, they are listening in canid.

2. Humans, chimpanzees and bonobos tend to greet each other by looking at each other's faces, ideally into each other's eyes, and extending their hands. They also like kisses and, above all, hugs. Dogs hate hugs because they understand them as gestures of dominance, not affection. They will tolerate them from members of their human "pack" but they are never happy about it. Nor do they like strangers to look them in the eye; again, for dogs, this is a gesture of aggression, not intimacy. Likewise pats on the head: dogs find this rude, …

Good Dog!

A single lesson, in two parts.

The first part came last night on campus when I was leading a discussion on the medieval Christian tradition of meditation and contemplation, including that described in The Cloud of Unknowing, a late 14th-century Middle English treatise perhaps best-known today as the inspiration for the development of the practice of Centering Prayer. I had asked the participants in the discussion which of the contemplative methods we had looked at they felt most drawn to practice themselves, and one responded with concern, "But don't all of them take a long time to practice?"

"Aha," I replied, "yes and no. Yes, in that all of the methods would seem to require long preparation, but no, because God doesn't work like that. In fact, according to The Cloud author, it only takes an instant: 'This work asketh no long time or it be once truly done, as some men ween; for it is the shortest work of all that man may imagine. It is never long…

Status Update

The week that was, according to my Facebook profile.

17 minutes ago: "The discourse of history as such replays (in parodic form) the eroticization of linguistic transparency." [Linked to Make Your Own Academic Sentence, courtesy of the University of Chicago writing program.]

23 minutes ago: "Here are the eyeballs."

24 minutes ago: "F.B. has a fridge full of confectionary eyeballs and a son with a fever too high to take his creations into school today." [Update: he woke up feeling better and insisting that he could wear a mask with his costume.]

Yesterday at 11:51am: "F.B. had a cockroach on her back in class...and didn't scream!" [19 comments]

Wed at 1:13pm: "F.B. decided to pretend that she had a dog and so took the almost-unheard-of step of taking herself for a walk across campus, only to meet...a Cardigan Corgi in the middle of the quad! Enough signs, we're getting a puppy!" [15 comments and one "Like"].

October 26 at 1…

Heresy and the Average Man

"It is not true at all that dogma is 'hopelessly irrelevant' to the life and thought of the average man. What is true is that ministers of the Christian religion often assert that is is, present it for consideration as though it were, and, in fact, by their faulty exposition of it make it so. The central dogma of the Incarnation is that by which relevance stands or falls. If Christ was only man, then He is entirely irrelevant to any thought about God [take that, Dan Brown!--FB]; if He is only God, then He is entirely irrelevant to any experience of human life. It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that a man should believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unless he believes rightly, there is not the faintest reason why he should believe at all. And in that case, it is wholly irrelevant to chatter about 'Christian pirnciples.'

"If the 'average man' is going to be interested in Christ at all, it is …

Jesus, Son of Mary

"One day God will gather all the apostles and ask them: 'How were you received?' They will reply: 'We have no knowledge. You alone know what is hidden.' God will say: 'Jesus son of Mary, remember the favour I bestowed on you and on your mother: how I strengthened you with the Holy Spirit, so that you preached to men in your cradle and in the prime of manhood; how I instructed you in the Book and in wisdom, in the Torah and in the Gospel; how by My leave you fashioned from clay the likeness of a bird and breathed into it so that, by My leave, it became a living bird; how, by My leave, you healed the blind man and the leper, and by My leave restored the dead to life; how I protected you from the Israelites when you had come to them with clear signs: when those of them who disbelieved declared: "This is but plain sorcery"; how, when I enjoined the disciples to believe in Me and in My apostle, they replied: "We believe; bear witness that we submi…

How the Work of Contemplation is To Be Undertaken, and Why It Surpasses All Other Spiritual Works

"Lift up your heart towards God with a humble stirring of love; and think of himself, not of any good to be gained from him. See, too, that you refuse to think of anything but him, so that nothing acts in your intellect or will but God himself. And do what you can to forget all of God's creations and all their actions, so that your thoughts and desires are not directed and do not reach out towards any of them, in general or in particular. But leave them alone, and pay no heed to them.

"This is the work of the soul that pleases God most. All the saints and angels rejoice in this work, and hasten to help it with all their might. All the devils are driven crazy when you do this, and try to frustrate it in all ways they can. All people living on earth are marvellously helped by this work, in ways you do not know. Yes, the very souls in purgatory are relieved of their pain by the power of this work. You yourself are cleansed and made virtuous by this work more than any…

Glass Ceiling

I've been complaining a lot for a while now about feeling like I have reached the limits of what I am going to be able to accomplish in life, most viscerally (and vocally) in fencing, but more seriously (and melancholically) in my career, particularly my research. I have various theories about why I've been feeling like this:

* delayed post-tenure depression brought on by the opportunity at long last to spend a year off actually working on my research;

* fatigue brought on by working so hard this past year on my research, coupled with despair over the fact that there was no way I was going to be able to finish anything like a full draft of my next book in only a year, particularly since I was more or less starting from scratch on the research;

* anxiety at the thought that my son is now a teenager, which means that he will most likely be leaving home for college within the next five years, leaving me without a reason to get to campus in the morning other than to work on my own re…

Puppies 101

Fun facts about dogs that I have learned from sitting in on the puppy obedience class and reading Stanley Coren this week:

1. Touching a puppy all over is the best way to get her to start nipping and biting. This is a good thing if you want to practice teaching her how hard not to bite.

2. Dogs track or trail by following the scent of all the skin cells ("rafts" or "scurf") that fall from our bodies during the day. So, basically, to a dog, we're all trailing Pig Pen clouds of scent.

3. The best way to discourage a dog's attention is to "be a tree": stand still, fold your fingers together, and look at your feet.

4. The critical period for puppy socialization is between four and twelve weeks of age. During this time, puppies need regular dog and human contact (and sheep contact, if they are going to be working as herd-guarding dogs) in order to learn dog language (e.g. how to wag their tails) and to be comfortable around human beings.

5. Dogs thin…

Glass Half-Full

Things for which I am thankful tonight:

1. That I have found a dog obedience class that meets not only in our neighborhood, but even in the basement of our church...on Wednesdays, that is, not on fencing nights! My son and I attended the puppy class (sans puppy) this week, and I was very impressed. Now all we need is the puppy.

2. Dave Stringer's music, especially "Govinda Jaya Jaya" (which I'm listening to now).

3. My students. Have I mentioned how amazing they are? I am so proud of how well they are doing on their presentations for class. We have had some of the best discussions I have ever had in class this week, even with me being somewhat tired from all the tournaments. It is such an honor to be teaching--and learning--from them!

4. My friends at fencing. We put ourselves through so much together, being there for each other night after night at practice, hanging together through wins and losses at tournaments, competing with and for each other. I wish I …

Disposable Thoughts

I was afraid this would happen. It's term, which means that I have barely time to eat most days, never mind check Facebook, never mind keep up with my blog in the way that I would like. I'm trying not to feel angry about this, but I am afraid that I do. This is not (quite) the life that I signed up for. At least, back in the days when I was making decisions about what to do with my life, I didn't think it was.

You know the fantasies that you have when you are in college or graduate school. Don't the professors just seem to float through their days thinking great thoughts, occasionally showing up to teach a class or two, but otherwise mysteriously engaged in the life of the mind, lost in their labs or libraries doing quote-unquote "their own work"? Ha. Double ha. I do remember that one of my teachers as an undergraduate warned me about committee meetings and how they eat up time, but as far as I can recall, nobody said anything about how relentless the…

Glass Half-Empty

So, I fenced in a tournament yesterday (yes, another one!). And...well, you know what's coming. I didn't fence as well as I think I should. Not to put too fine a point on it: I fenced worse than I did two years ago in the same tournament (I missed it last year because I had stomach flu). So, two years on progress. Zip. Nada. Zero. Nothing. I'm going backwards even. And no, it doesn't help looking over the results to see that there were more upsets yesterday in the D-E table than just mine. I suck. I can't improve. I'm hopeless.

So why don't I quit? I don't know. I wish I could. My life would be so much easier that way. Imagine, no more rage, no more frustration, no more feeling the way I do right now. Still wanting to smash something, preferably my equipment. No better off for having stayed to watch the remainder of the tournament, trying all the while to smile even though all I wanted to be doing was screaming. Feeling like…

Been There, Done That

It's probably just because I'm getting old, but there are certain topics about which I have almost no patience anymore (not that I ever had much, even when I was younger). Indeed, I find it increasingly difficult not to roll my eyes and snort whenever somebody raises them as a possible topic of research:

1. Heresy, especially Gnosticism. I don't have much patience with Catharism either. Not that I don't think actual Gnostics or Cathars were sincere or that their beliefs do not raise interesting questions about the relationship of humanity to the divine, but because more often than not they are simply stand-ins for "rebels" or "dissidents" or "the oppressed," by definition considered to be a good thing when heresy (properly understood) is not.

2. Identity, whether ethnic or otherwise, especially when proposed as more or less the only viable reason for doing historical research. Someday, somebody is going to write a brilliant historiogra…

Dogs of God

"The holy soul of the Song of Songs, feeling within herself the pain and harsh impediment of this worldly love, and wishing to hasten to God, her friend, pleads with him: 'Draw me to you and we will hasten to your anointing oils' (cf. Song of Songs 1:3-4), meaning your sweetness. And thus God often acts toward his servants, for he sends them a sweetness, an odor, a taste, a sober joy, a brilliance, a peace, an opening of their mind, a sense of bliss, a soundless sound. Briefly, there is an attraction, a process, and a movement that one is unable to describe, but which one does experience. Then the soul is freed from this bond of worldly love, and there is nothing that holds it back, not riches, nor carnal delights, nor enjoyment in drinking, in eating, in playing. Such a process is a source of amazement for worldly people, who are filled with foolish love. They mock and ridicule whatever this holy soul does, which is so drawn by God, for they see it leaving behind ev…

The Fullness of Time

I'm a mess. Here I am supposed to be thinking about the transformation of the late antique world and the integration of the Germanic kingdoms into Trinitarian Christianity, preaching as a devotional activity in the later Middle Ages, the reforms of the eremitic community at Montserrat in the fifteenth century, family politics in the Holy Roman Empire and the political economy of the Ancien Régime (to name only a few of the things on my teaching and departmental schedule this week), but all I can think about is...dogs. How cute they are. How much I want one. How complicated our lives would become if we were to adopt a puppy. Umm....

That's the problem, really. Do I realistically have time for a dog? I've been so tired this week after coming back from the NAC, it's hard to imagine how I could possibly add yet another responsibility to my schedule. And yet, I can't seem to avoid thinking about how wonderful it would be to have a dog. Did you notice that I mana…


Any questions?

Drawings by TRFB
Coloring by RLF

How to Read the Pool Results

(click to enlarge)
NAC A Div II Women's Foil

There were seven fencers in the pool, against whom I came in 5th with three victories and an indicator of +5. As far as I can recall (I haven't been very good at keeping a record of my results this past year), this is one of the best indicators I have had. I am particularly proud of the score in the third column: TR, for "Touches Received." Note that while I only won three of my bouts, I had the second best TR in the pool. Which means that I only gave up two touches in the bouts that I actually won. What the chart does not show is that I beat one of the fencers 5-0 who won four of her bouts and that I only lost by one touch in overtime to the other who won four. The only fencer whom I could do nothing against was the one who won our pool. So, all in all, a good pool round!

Habits of Change

I had a thought for this post while I was praying this morning, but now that I'm sitting here in the hotel restaurant so as not to disturb my still sleeping roommate, my thoughts are all of a-flutter and I simply can't concentrate. It snowed last night (!). Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize (!!). I want a puppy (!!!). Jump, jump, jump. My thoughts are everywhere. The point of the post was going to be about how I don't like change, which, at the moment, would seem to be true. This post would be much easier to write if I were sitting in the usual spot where I blog, on the couch at home. It would probably be easier to write if I were able to sit with my laptop on my lap upstairs in the room. At least then I would be in my usual posture as I blog. As it is, I am sitting in a booth with unfamiliar lighting and noises around me, and all I can think about is how I can't think.

I don't, as a rule, tend to like change. At least, I tell myself I don't. I have--a…

House Proud

I want a house. No, I don't. Houses are trouble. They have roofs and furnaces and plumbing that all are in constant need of repair. Their property taxes are higher and, if you are lucky enough to live in the suburbs, they have lawns to mow.[1] They're lonely because you don't have anyone walking above you or playing loud music through the walls. Some of them are no bigger than the apartment my family and I live in now, and the ones that are bigger are simply too big, all that useless space.[2] Plus, of course, having a house is just one step closer to utter damnation, because, as you know, most people in the world would kill just to live in an apartment half as nice as the one we have. Who am I to imagine that I deserve a better place to live when most of the world's population lives in cardboard?

Okay, so that's a bit hyperbolic (but only just). Actually, I'm not sure whether I want a house. I like our apartment. It has character and style.[3] It…

Sleepless in Chicago

I am not getting enough sleep. Sure, it's the second week of term and things have been a bit hectic, what with meeting my new classes and having the usual sleet of committee meetings and student conferences. But it's not that I feel particularly stressed, at least not more than one might expect, nor have I been having any back-to-school anxiety dreams that I am aware of. I'm just not sleeping. Some of it, I know, is the time I am having to spend preparing for class. Even though I have set up both my undergraduate and my graduate courses to be primarily discussion, with the students preparing significant parts of the material to be presented in class, in order to be ready to respond to their presentations and questions, I need to be up on the texts, too. This kind of preparation takes time, even when (as with most of the texts we're discussing) I've read the texts often many times before. And yet, it really shouldn't be taking so much out of me.

I'm wo…

Office Hours

Things that I had to think about this afternoon in the course of meeting with students:

1. Modern art displayed in spaces formerly used for religious worship; 12th-century Cistercian arguments for and against the use of ornament in devotion; the definition of art; the exhibitions at the newly-restored Collège des Bernardins (beautifully photographed by one of my students)

2. Humbert of Romans and the purpose of preaching; the purpose of reading religious literature and how it differs from the way in which academics tend to read; how to read doctrine from outside the tradition in which it was written

3. The relations between Byzantium and the West in the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries

4. Literature on the medieval engagement with the liturgy and on the concept of conforming oneself to the image of God; unedited treatises on the idea of the soul; devotional miscellanies in the collections at the Regenstein and Newberry libraries

5. Eusebius

6. Haskins' The Renaissance of the Twelfth C…

Q&A: On the Purpose of Studying History

My (former) student Jason asks: "First, thanks for referencing me--I feel so prominent now! Second, can I ask for your reflections on why we do what we do (besides that it's soooooo interesting)? I'm taking a military history class with [Prof. L].... He spoke at length about applied military history vs. academic, how all of his students have gotten jobs (whether in academia or at the Pentagon), and how he was speaking to General X about Louis XIV and Iraq.

"This made me reflect (again) on what we contribute as medieval historians. Right now, everyone else seems to be contributing to society: military history has its applications; medieval theologians were then what political scientists are now, informing decisions the Church made; even the original Academy sought to help people understand their role in society...

"I would like to think that understanding the church and the City of God has some transcendental value, but is there some here-and-now value? Why don'…