A weekend in Chicago that started on Friday morning with, naturally enough, a walk from the Hotel (the very lovely Palmer House Hilton, located two blocks from the lake) to the Field Museum--a trek of about a mile. The temperature was in the high sixties, or thereabouts, and the vistas, once you reached the lake, quite lovely. Getting to the lake entailed passing by the "Taste of Chicago" festival, which closes down a number of near-lake streets for a week or more. Must be a trial to native Chicagoans, but those at the festival seemed to enjoy themselves.
The Field was as I remembered it with a magnificent display of Egyptian artifacts and one of the best dinosaur collections in the country. Predictably annoying were the various signs that announced global warming. Several were annoying in a way that only condescending, agenda-driven curatorial signs can be. For example, heading up the entrance to an Ancient Americas exhibit hall was a sign that said something like, "Diversity and change, NOT progress." And all i could think to myself is--yes--not progress--Native Americans no longer die of small-pox--no progress. Mexican natives no longer pull the beating hearts out of living people and tumble bodies down the steps of the pyramid--NOT progress: I could go on, but you can make up your own points. Additionally, the signs were all politically correct in chronicling the disaster of European colonization; the truth is ugly enough without falling all over ourselves with other supposed depredations. Somehow, I just don't see the sidelining of cannibalism (in some places) and torture as particular negative. However, handing over blankets infected with small pox and some of the other European tricks are not matters to be passed over lightly either. However, to say that life in the Americas has only changed, not progressed is evidence of a kind of post-modern sensibility that makes nonsense of the word sensibility.
The second provocative sign was one upstairs near the hall of evolution which stated that 27 (or 24) species on Earth had become extinct since that morning. Who was counting and watching so carefully? This is another example of pseudo-science and statistics masking itself as environmentally correct wisdom. Sheer and utter nonsense--how do they know? On what basis is this statement made? Once again, unsubstantiated nonsense. It was followed by some statistic that noted that the "typical pattern" of extinction was one species in four years. Once again, on what basis is that decided. There should be a commission put together to prohibit wayward curators from broadcasting their appalling and unsupported agendas to a public with insufficient scientific literacy to question the pseudo-facts that are presented to them. However, even questioning these facts puts me in the camp of the eco-destoyers and fundamentalist conservative "stewards of the Earth." TSO, among others, would be willing to tell you how close that is to reality--as I've annoyed many with my ecological ruminations and thoughts.
But Sue was there--body downstairs, overweight head upstairs in an annoying high-reflectivity plastic case which made getting a decent photograph nearly impossible. Fortunately, I had been able to spend some time relatively close up while the fossil was being prepared in Dinoland, Animal Kingdom, Disney World.
The other dinosaurs were spectacular. Equally wonderfully, but unfortunately not bruited as much as it could have been were fossils from the Solnhofen limestone (most famous for the seven extant Archaeopteryx fossils--the fossils included some fish and some invertebrates. However, appropriately given the close proximity of the fossil site to Chicago, the Mazon Creek Fossils got a great deal of play and I was able to linger over Tullymonstrum gregarium for a good fifteen minutes.
Returning to the Hotel, I passed through the noise, sounds and smells of "Taste of Chicago" and enjoyed the ambience greatly.
But to the point--why I'm here in the first place. The Convocation occurs about every two years. This is a particularly important one because during it the Lay Carmelites have been able to bid farewell to our present Prior General, who will be leaving office as soon as the General Chapter votes in a new Prior General. Fr. Joseph Chalmers has been a great prior general and a real friend and spiritual guide to the Lay Carmelites. He saw us through a very difficult period of redirection and refocusing, and continue to encourage us to our vocations. His keynote address was at once witty and touching given that it will be the last he will give as Prior General to the Lay Carmelites of the Provinces of The Most Pure Heart of Mary and St. Elias.
I have to say that the first talks on Saturday morning put me off a bit. They continued the very important theme of social justice that has begun to be made much of in recent years; however, they were more like scoldings or lectures than they were helpful guides as to how to enact social justice. However, the workshops were extremely helpful in thinking through ways in which we can enact social justice without merely haranguing those around us.
Today is the end of the convocation. There are two major talks about Carmelite Prayer and the final Mass of the convocation. I leave with unalloyed good feelings. The first two talks, initially disorienting and perhaps off-putting, have been placed in a reasonable and coherent context, and the final talks promise to be useful guides to continuing our Carmelite journey. One of them will be given by Dr. Keith Egan, who yesterday led a brilliant workshop on Silence and Solitude.
I probably will not report more about this; however, I wanted to say how pleasantly surprised I have been by the friendliness and pleasantness of the city of Chicago, how very much I've enjoyed my stay in the city, and how wonderful, worthwhile, necessary, helpful, and fulfilling the convocation has been. Perhaps the experience will provoke me to post some of the fruits of the convocation in later days.