Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Right place, wrong time; Wrong place, right time?

Since we have been in Toronto, media personnel asking our opinions have twice approached us. The first time was Good Friday last year, as we were entering St. Mary Magdalene's Anglican Church (this is many of our friends' church, as well as the one that was Robertson Davies inspiration for his book The Cunning Man and the church that the queen goes to when in Toronto--in order of my engagement and interest with these random facts). Anyway, we were there with our priest from St. Anne's Anglican (see Course Papers, Community Dinners and Consuming Beverages, below), who had suggested that we experience High Anglican Mass at this highly impressive church on this highly significant day, and we willingly agreed. Because of the special-ness of the day and the special-ness of the church, I suppose (in retrospect) that it shouldn't be surprising when all of a sudden we hear...

"Did you give up anything for Lent?" There is a cameraman holding a camera next to a TV station's van right in front of me.

But, at the moment, walking into a new church on the most somber day of the church year, it did catch me a little off guard. So much for attaining a mood proper to the occasion...

"Well, yes. I gave up desserts." Not a difficult feat, since we didn't really have room for them in the budget.

"Did you keep it?"

I said, "Yes, I did, as a matter of fact." Probably wasn't the right answer. I could imagine he was waiting to hear about how someone blew it and all the appropriate details. But, better he asked me than Mike. Mike had given the intangible negative attitudes toward people that he had realized in himself as a product of soul searching and desire for Christ-likeness --something that marks the true spirit of Lent.

I felt pretty good about myself walking into church that night. I had curled my hair (good choice), I kept my lenten covenant, and I had some publicity about it--at least potentially. It was Good Friday and I was feeling good. Through the self-reflection and desire for Christ-likeness that the service provoked in me, however, much of that smugness disappeared. Why couldn't I have said something meaningful!?

Flash forward to today (Monday): Toronto Media Encounter #2. This time it's AM 680 talk radio. Unlike the first encounter, this one is a highly unremarkable day in the beginning of February--except of course for the extreme cold (-30 degrees Celcius wind chill!) that keeps us from biking--but little did we know it would turn into a subway fiasco.

Paying our fare, we rush downstairs as we hear the train stopping--hoping we can just hop right on. Alas, when we do arrive, it was only the other side--the doppler effect concept doesn't work so well when you are standing above the moving object. Instead of hopping right onto an on-schedule train, we descend into a veritable sea of people also waiting to head East-bound into the city. It's rush hour--this is normal. Three minutes--another train heading West-bound. Ten minutes--another West-bound train, then the third, fourth, fifth Over a half hour later... What is going on!?

"We are experiencing some mechanical difficulties at the Dundas W train station... There are crews on the scene... You may experience delay... Thank you for your patience." Not two stops to the West of us. So we wait. We leaned against the wall and chatted for awhile until a microphone was thrust in our faces:

"Do you take the subway often?"

"No, not really--this is our first time in a month--just when it is really bad weather." Of course, we have used it within the month--not only for the bad weather days this January, but also to visit friends that are beyond the possibility of biking distance in a Toronto January. That's probably not important here, though... I gloss over Mike's generalization--caught up in the anxiety of someone recording our words.

"So, what do you think about it so far?"

Truth be told, I wasn't thrilled to be waiting in a dismal crowded tunnel for the better part of an hour, but it was warmer than biking, even if we weren't going anywhere at the moment. Besides, this happens all the time, as our interviewer was well aware.
"I am going to be late for work, and since this happens so often, I was thinking about writing a story about how the TTC isn't really a better option." (By the way, this is the Toronto Transit Commission's current advertising slogan)

I admired her dedication to her job--which was seemingly off the clock, and her desire to make Toronto transit better. We told a bit of our story, the hours we normally take transit (rush hour, generally), and how we felt about the current delay (miffed, as any other honest person down there). We chatted a bit more, mostly making generalizations into the hear-all microphone and tape recorder that didn't really do justice to the specific situations that they were meant to make sense of.

When we finally crowded onto a slowly moving sardine can of a subway car, I watched her as she continued interviewing. Sometimes she recorded, sometimes she just got to know the people she was talking to, off the record.

If I was more prepared for this, I would have said something totally different! Why did I want to generalize my experience--'we usually...' when it was usually so specifically situational?! Aren't the specific stories more human--more helpful for provoking change? Besides, by telling our story, what she was really after, we could have given a particular perspective--showing that our situation was different, as unique as anyone else in that underground tube." Mike and I had both wanted to sound like everybody else, to fit in, that we had said, well, nothing.

Well, anonymous woman from AM 680 talk radio--this is my short and less interesting but more real story.

"No, we don't take transit often. We are students who are deeply thankful for our bikes that transport us all the limited places we need to be for significantly less than the couple hundred a month it would cost us to rely exclusively on public transit. Even so, I am grateful for Toronto's commitment to public transportation and am nearly always more impressed with its punctuality and coverage of area and overall cleanliness in comparison to Chicago's system--where we used to live. We are also appreciative that we have lived here for a year and a half without a car and have rarely missed it--especially since this public transportation is so much better for the environment."

Yes, that is what I could have/would have said, if I was thinking, if I was ready to. It's not very interesting, it wouldn't have fed her anger at the TTC, but it's true and it's my story. Why is it that when I am faced with the very real possibility of having my words go public--when someone is recording what I say with intention to release it to the world--I attempt to give some self-perceived right answer instead of my answer? I don't know the answer to Toronto Transit hiccups (I know there are many)--but I know why it is good for me, even when it's bad. I don't know what sexy thing I could have given up for lent until I broke down in weakness--but I do know why we do it, and what that means for me.

I hope that most people aren't like me--that most people can say what they mean and give their unique story when faced with mass-media exposure. Mostly because I would prefer not to think that the stories 'from the street' that I hear on TV and radio are just people trying to fit in to what they think someone wants to hear. I guess even more so--I hope that I can stop being one of those people.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Mike's book tag

Now its my (M) turn:

1) Grab the book closest to you.
2) Open to page 123; go down to the fourth sentence.
3) Post the text of the following three sentences.
4) Name the author and book title.
5) Tag three people to do the same.

"When she met him, she said to him 'Abba, where does Abba Longinus, the servant of God, live?' Not knowing it was he. He said, 'Why are you looking for that old impostor? Do not go to see him, for he is a deceiver. What is the matter with you?'"

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward.

That is a bit out of context, so I guess you'll just have to read it, eh? Kind of Luke meets Yoda--very interesting...

Ok, I'll tag Erin M., Aron R., and Stu B.


Over the last few months (more broadly, the last 30 years) a lot of energy has gone into conversations discussing our identity here at the Institute for Christian Studies. What have we been all about? What are we doing now? Where will we be in twenty, five, or even one year? A crisis of identity is no surprise for anyone or any institution; the interesting thing is that ICS has never had a point where this wasn't the pressing institutional question.

One small aspect of life here presented itself recently when I was waiting for my class to begin at Regis College, a wonderful Jesuit school in the Toronto School of Theology. As I sat on a small bench in the hallway, people began coming and going. They stopped for pleasantries, but the drive of leaving or arriving for a seminar was unmistakable, for they all had a destination firmly in mind. As I watched my colleagues arrive for class, my amazement grew, because the whole thing seemed like magic. Everyone in the class came from different areas; some commuting in over an hour by train or car, others walking from the subway, a few cycling. But within minutes, seven people from all over the region assembled in one particular room.

For a moment, I imagined individual molecules of gas floating around in some ephemeral space. In the GTA there were millions of people bouncing off each other, all flying in random chaotic directions, often beyond their control. But somehow, the same little molecules congealed on a regular basis at the same time and in the same place with the help of schedules, calenders, and PDA's.

Traditionally, the Institute has a unique spin on this concept. Sure, people rotate around the few classes we offer this semester, but this intentionality is more diffuse. Most show up a significant amount of time before or after class begins, and stay for a while after it ends. They loiter in order to have conversations with each other, about projects and life in general. They have tea. They play checkers. They sit in the lounge and make fun of an article in Christianity Today.

Much to the chagrin of the administrators who value professionalism, the front desk is a popular gathering place. People hang around, make comments about senior members, the fax machine, the weather, the book you're holding, your hat; pretty much anything. Jeff told me once that he thinks this is a natural place to gather at ICS since it doesn't force you to make a choice or a firm commitment to what you're going to do. If you sit in the lounge, you have staked a position to socialize, and there is no backing out prematurely. Not that this is a bad thing. It simply rules out so many other potential decisions. But if you stand in the hallway, there is room for the unknown, the surprising. Maybe you'll stay. Maybe you'll walk away. Maybe you want to chat. Maybe you want to look at the art hanging on the wall. Maybe you're waiting for someone or something. Maybe you loiter without expressed intent. Whatever it is, you don't have to define yourself and cut off all other possibilities, since the hallway and reception areas could be a transitional place, but they could also be a place where you make your home for a little while.

From what I understand, ICS started with a bunch of people hanging out in Toronto listening to what each other had to say about life. Now, we might own a building (or 30 percent of one), pay people and issue degrees, but I don't think the heart of the Institute is in the classroom or even the lounge. It's in the hallways—the wild spaces where we molecules arrive from hundreds of different places to come together for a short time, then scatter to hundreds of unknown destinations. These spontaneous encounters, the true hallmark of ICS, are the ones that change us. And they can only happen without the magical restrictions of schedules, calenders, and PDA's.


Friday, February 2, 2007

An Interesting Exercise...

In response to Chris' latest blog ("I'm Important and People Like Me" [How very humble of you, Chris]) , I/we have been tagged to

1) Grab the book closest to you.
2) Open to page 123; go down to the fourth sentence.
3) Post the text of the following three sentences.
4) Name the author and book title.
5) Tag three people to do the same.

Because I (Y) am sitting by the computer with the internet, which happens to be Mike's computer, which happens to be on the desk Mike works at, which happens to be the place where all Mike's books are, I am going to walk 4 feet to the bookshelf where I keep my books and grab the first one at random. He can quote you something from one of his books, but it just won't be the same to do this exercise with a book I haven't read (or plan to read in the near future). So here goes...

"Herein is a capital truth. It is not the natural capacity, the congenital gift, nor is it the effort, the will, the work, which in the intelligence has way over the energy capable of making it fully efficacious. It is uniquely the desire, that is, the desire for the beauty. This desire, given a certain degree of intensity and of purity, is the same thing as genius."

Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks by Simone Weil. Trans. Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957.

Ooh, goody goody, now I tag people.
Kidgit, Allison, Benjamin A. (you can post in a comment on this blog since you don't have your own..., or you could get your own blog, they are the coolest!)