Thursday, September 24, 2009
The Discussion Format
The discussion format will provide an added appeal at this year's Oktoberfest in Kewanee, Illinois.
Last January Fr. Stuckwisch and I sat comfortably up front to discuss--what was it?--something about the future of the Missouri Synod, at Fr. Petersen's place in Ft. Wayne. It was, I think, the first instance of something new: the exclusive use of the discussion format. Fr. Petersen asked us questions about the topic, and we responded, and discussed. Questions were then invited from those present as well. This was a theological conference of sorts, but neither of us presented a formal paper. Rather, we spoke extemporaneously, and conversed with Fr. Petersen.
It was my own idea, which I had taken from what I saw on a National Review cruise last year. There were several speakers, big name people, but not one presented a paper. All were interviewed or involved in casual discussions on stage. The nearby picture is one I took of John O'Sullivan, Mona Charon, and Darcy Olsen in one such setting on the cruise. I found the format--to say nothing of the subject matter--to be very attractive, because it was so easy to listen to. I was so impressed--with the format, that is--that I even made a point of telling Jay Nordlinger so.
We've all been to theological conferences in which excellent papers are presented. And yet, even when the very best papers are presented--say, by David Scaer, or William Weinrich, who never disappoint--it's a standard rule that you must not ever say that your mind wandered, or that you had to struggle to stay with the speaker. (oops, I just broke the rule, didn't I)
Think about it: aren't the most memorable parts of such papers most often the asides, the offhand remarks, the non-scripted parts?
Speaking of Dr. Scaer, for instance: he will disagree with me about this, I know, because I've heard him say he thinks his writing comes off better than his classroom teaching, but I find his teaching--no prepared paper--nevertheless the places where he truly shines.
I remember back in the stone age of the Symposia, when speakers would give their papers in Sihler Auditorium, and as a sem student I'd sit there listening, after a late night of partying, and find myself struggling to stay awake. No matter what the paper was about, sometimes I know I missed out on some great material, for this very reason.
It was the format, I now conclude, that contributed most heavily to my zoning out.
So after the NR cruise, I got to thinking, and Fr. Petersen and I talked it over, and agreed to give it a try, at his place. I think it worked.
Then last spring I was up at Fr. Bender's place, his CCA shindig, and after having talked this over with him, partook in another such discussion. Then it was Petersen and I, with Bender as moderator, simply discussing, extemporare. And I think that worked too.
I'm beginning to think it is a more fit vehicle for theology than the prepared paper.
So, naturally, I determined this would also be the format for Oktoberfest this year. Our speakers will have no prepared manuscripts. Their preparation will be of the subject matter at hand (how the liturgy is Not a matter of Indifferent Things; details here). Frs. Stuckwisch, Beane, and Curtis will discuss questions which I will have prepared for them; and questions will be entertained from the people as well.
I am already convinced that this format is way better. Waaaay better.
It's coming up, October 11-13. Register here.