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lessons from university - part two

The first round of Christmas gatherings have passed. It has been a great chance to interact with people that we see a few times a year, and in the case of some, once every few years. One thing that I have noticed in all the family activities is how often we don't really understand the other. Small things are assumed or left unsaid and this can lead to misunderstandings. Just today, Dean said he would pick me up at a certain door at the mall at a specific time. I arrived at the correct time and waited just inside the door, watching for him. Unknown to me, he drove by a few minutes before I arrived, didn't see me, and parked just out of sight, waiting for me to come out the door. After about 10 minutes, I decided to call him and it was then that we discovered that we had both been waiting, but for different things. I had expected him to drive by the door and he had expected me to come out the door. We had not been clear on the details or who was to initiate contact once we were …

lessons from university - part one

One of the things that I have learned in my studies is that it is really important to give the professor what he or she is asking for. I have read a lot of papers where students have neglected to follow the instructions given for the assignment. No matter how good your writing is, if you don't answer the question or use the specified sources, it doesn't count for much. I have heard a few presentations by fellow students that were impressive in every way except that they were not what the professor had asked for. Unfortunate, perhaps, but you don't get points for being impressive. You get points for giving the professor what he or she asked for. Besides learning about the topic at hand, an assignment is given in order to help one develop the ability to identify what is required and to channel one's efforts towards that end. This is a very valuable skill and not as easy to do as it sounds. It also expands one's mind, heart, character, and knowledge in ways that would…

rest is harder than it looks

I took the weekend off. By "off" I mean that I did not do any school-related work. The term officially ended for me when I handed in my last assignment on Friday afternoon (small cheer!). I had dinner with friends on Friday night, and on Saturday, turned my attention to a much-neglected house, spending the better part of two days tidying and cleaning. Good fun the first day, really not a lot of fun the second day. I found myself becoming critical and short-tempered by the end of the weekend. Ugh! It wasn't simply the cleaning; it was the change of pace. Instead of papers and proposals to write, I had the opportunity to be attentive to people and take care of life's little responsibilities. It called on a whole different set of skills than schoolwork.

The transition from very busy student to relaxed person has been less than smooth, because I have a tendency to transfer my way of dealing with school to the rest of life - but life is not a project, people are not deadli…

hope and expectation

We were talking about expectations a few days ago in a group setting (as a result of reading Luke 7 where Jesus asks: what were you expecting?[1]). I have come to the conclusion that in most cases, expectations are not a good thing. I voiced this opinion, but I could see that others did not agree, so I tried to explain the difference that I see between expectations and hope.

Picture a scenario: Dean is coming home after a business trip (as he actually was on the night of this discussion).

Hope, to me, is a buoyancy that comes from knowing I will soon see Dean. I am looking forward to meeting him, to having him back at home, but I have not written a scenario in my head about how it will happen.

Expectation would have me imagine the two of us seeing each other from across the airport, running into each other's arms, and murmuring loving phrases that set my heart aflutter and bring gasps of ooohhh and aaaahhh when I retell the story of our reunion.

Hope just knows that at some point, Dea…

wait or jump?

I was walking down the stairs of the metro station one day this week to catch the subway downtown. As I neared the bottom of the stairs, the warning set of beeps started to sound, letting me know that the train that was stopped there with its doors open was about to leave. Now, I usually get on the second last car in the train because it spits me out exactly where I need to be when I get off at my final stop. I have done this trip so often that my feet automatically head in the direction of that ideally located car. However, when the beeping started, I was several cars away from where I wanted to be.

And here was the dilemma I faced: should I just hop on the less than ideal car and thereby waste a few minutes on the other end when I got off, or should I wait for the next train to come and make sure I got my usual seat on the optimal car? I made a decision, fast, and jumped on the car right in front of me just before the doors closed.
At that point, I realised that my dilemma was a fake.…

reading and eating

I am in the thick (and thin) of finishing my reading course on Evelyn Underhill and early 20th century spirituality. It has taken me through more than 60 sources over the course of 6 months, and in the process I have learned something about reading. I was used to leisurely literary meals with ample time to digest the contents. No such luxury to be had here, I soon found out.

I have learned to sip chapters quickly through a big straw in order to gain maximum content with minimum chewing. I have learned to take just a bite of everything offered at the book buffet so as not to get bloated and sleepy. I have learned that unavoidably, sometimes it is necessary to eat on the run, so picking a few lighter topics when this is the case helps to avoid indigestion. And then there are the times when it is worth setting the table, lighting the candles, and sitting down to a full-course meal, enjoying every bite. Here are a few samples from some of the fine meals I have enjoyed this past week. Savou…

the lie of scarcity

Helloooooo!! I have been meaning to write a blog for a few days now, but with the boat-load of projects I have had on my plate lately (and still have), intent has not translated into action. However, with 3 of the 9 projects behind me, I believe I can leave the 6 to play unsupervised for a bit while I write something here.

I watched a video of a talk by Dr. Brene Brown a few weeks back (or maybe only a week, I have very little concept of how fast time is passing) that got me thinking about the culture of scarcity that we live in. She talks about the messages we are bombarded with: we are never good enough, safe enough, certain enough, perfect enough, extraordinary enough. And the sad thing is, we believe these messages. We find it hard to be thankful, joyful, content, and at peace.

She talks about how our desire for the extraordinary, the thrill, the special, has eclipsed our ability to value the ordinary in our lives. In fact, the ordinary is where we can find the most joy, she says. (…

I don't have what you are asking for, but...

On Monday morning, I was standing at the street corner waiting to get on the bus and head off to a class at the university. When the bus arrived, the doors opened, and I saw a woman in a purple coat standing beside the bus driver. The two of them were engaged in a conversation. I didn't think much of it - people often ask the driver for directions or information. I placed my bus pass on the pad at the front, heard the satisfying "ding" of acceptance, and squeezed past her. The purple lady followed me to my seat and asked if I had change for 5 dollars. I replied in the negative, because I knew pretty much what was in my wallet, but she looked so desperate that I decided to took a look just to check.

When I opened up my change pocket, I could immediately see that I did not have 5 dollars in change, but I did have $2.75, which was the exact cost of a bus fare. I pulled out the coins and handed them to the lady. She offered me the 5 dollar bill, but I refused, saying that I w…

one thing

A small group of us were sitting in my friend's living room last night in silence. Dean had led us in an exercise where we laid aside our thoughts and preoccupations of the day (mine were the 2 proposals I am writing, a lecture to prepare for next week, a reading course to finish, a research trip to organise, and that I really need to clean the bathrooms), confessing our shortcomings (I admitted to timidity, fear, lack of trusting God), and invited us to become quiet in the presence of God. It was such a pleasant sensation to let my mind stop its constant thinking about so much stuff, its habitual practice of mental notation and composition, and just look at Jesus. Only one thing on my mind.

It reminded me of what I had been reading on the subway on the way to the gathering. Kierkegaard talks about the one Good thing, and how everything else is not "one." When we are truly pointing in God's direction, looking and walking toward the ultimate Good, all is one. Here are …

take

You will not have this - its mine!
Words that a 5 year-old says when someone reaches for his toy. Words that a woman shouts when confronted by a thief demanding her purse. Words that a landowner utters when threatened by an invading king.
You cannot take this away from me! Words that the slaves sung to remind themselves that freedom can always be carried in your heart. Words that martyrs cried out as they offered their lives for their beliefs. Words that lovers whispered when they were parted by war.
Why are you taking this away from me? Words that Job flung at a God who seemed to be deaf to his pain. Words that don't know how this can end well. Words that the chronically downtrodden have forgotten how to form.
Why did I give that up? Words of regret spoken in hindsight. Words that cannot bring it back. Words that reveal powerlessness and perhaps a lack of courage.
Can you help me get it back? Words that carry hope. Words that have put aside self-reliance. Words that refuse to accept injustice as th…

the way things work

My plan:1. Send email to professor on Sunday night with a question. 2. Receive eager response on Monday morning, Tuesday morning at the latest. 3. When eager response not received by Wednesday afternoon, go to professor's office and demand that he respond to you. 4. When professor appears not to be in his office, stand in hallway and play with iPhone just in case he walks by in the next fifteen minutes. 5. When professor does not appear, walk back to library in the cold wind and ask God if he has a better plan.
Better plan: 1. Send email to professor on Sunday night with a question. 2. Wait patiently for a few days. 3. Stop in at the professor's office on Wednesday to follow-up. 4. In case professor is not in office, don't worry, just go to library. 5. After picking up books at library, get on subway to go home. 6. Transfer subway lines and while waiting for the next train, look around. 7. See a woman looking at you. Do I know her? Look away. Look back at her. Yes, I do know her. 8. S…

empty-handed

A long time ago, there was this group of people called the Israelites. Their ancestor, Israel (or Jacob) moved his family to Egypt to avoid a famine, and after a number of years, when this one family had multiplied into a very large clan, the Egyptian king freaked out and forced the people into slavery because he was afraid that they might leave or, even worse, turn against him in a war. It was a pretty ugly situation, but God had already planned for the Israelites' breakout. God got in touch with Moses and told him that he, Moses, was to go see the Pharaoh of Egypt and convince this stubborn king to let these people go that God called his own.

I am reading through the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and a particular phrase in chapter 3 of Exodus jumped out at me. When God is having a conversation with Moses about how things will play out, God warns Moses that the Egyptian king will be stubborn, but in the end, the ruler will be glad to see the Israelites go. In f…

pressure point

Today, I am reading a wonderful book called Minding the Spirit which is filled with articles by scholars from the field of Christian Spirituality. However, I am not having a wonderful time while doing it. Instead, I find myself suffering from fatigue of the spirit and the mind and the body. I would just like to go sit by the window and read some fiction for a day or two. Or maybe go for a long walk without thinking about my next research project the whole time. The pressure that has been piling itself on top of me these past few weeks, scoop after heavy scoop, is finally starting to dent my usually cheerful and buoyant demeanour. I thrive in a learning environment, but the love and drive for what I am doing has taken a few hits lately, and that makes studying quite a chore. I find myself tempted to walk away, at least for a bit. I won't, but I am tempted.

There is the constant pressure to be the brightest and the best, to do well not only in the classroom, but to fill one's res…

behind

Today, I finally got to some ironing that had been too long neglected: 12 shirts and 3 pairs of pants. I don't think there was much left to wear in the closet, actually. It seems like I am perpetually behind these days. I am a week and a half behind in the schedule I have set for my reading course in order to finish it in a timely manner. I am always trying to play catch-up in household cleaning, buying groceries, and personal writing. I don't even want to imagine what Christmas preparations will do to an already packed month ahead.

This week I began to think about my education. In order to be all that I can be, I should be submitting articles, presenting at conferences, and applying for awards, but frankly, I just don't have the energy. I know I have missed opportunities for funding and deadlines for submitting papers for important conferences. That's what happens when I am trying to live a joyful, creative, and peaceful life while being a full-time student, a teacher&…

The Waiter

This is the spoken word piece I presented earlier tonight. It is based loosely on Genesis 32.

Someone...is waiting for me.
I can sense it when I walk home at night.
Out there, just out of sight,
waiting, watching, debating when to make a move.
I can feel it when the hairs on my arm rise up slowly
and there is a tingle on the back of my neck, only
it doesn’t stay there. That tingle, shivery tingle finds
the bottom of my spine
and that’s how I divine that
Someone...is waiting for me.
I imagine and hypothesize and theorize
that the encounter will happen in some dark alley.
The marked and the marker meet and greet and all manner of devastation is heaped on me
yes, that is what I fear.
Deep in my belly, that’s where I hear the fear talking
so when I am walking
I am praying, hoping, that nothing happens.
It’s okay, I’d say, to be praying...for nothing.
But still, I know something or someone will, eventually, catch up to me.
It might happen in broad daylight, who knows?
Perhaps I am in a park, and someone sudde…

needs improvement

I just finished grading a whack load of essays and exams as part of my job description as a Teaching Assistant. The students have a lot to learn...and so do I. I occasionally drop my jaw and say, "Oh, wow!" at some of the creative answers that I come across (like mistaking the incarnation of Jesus for the endless cycle of re-incarnation), but the thing that really amazes me is that as much as the students' responses reveal how well they have grasped the material, my response to their work also reveals how much I have to learn in dealing with people.

One of the abilities I have developed over time is being able to see what is missing or where something is inadequate, so I make a good proofreader and a fairly accurate and meticulous grader. However, I can also discourage people by always pointing out what is lacking. Not only in their work and their writing, but sometimes I comment on people's actions and life choices as well. You see where this ends up - I am not alway…

seeds

Today I planted some seeds.
I planted thoughts: some about how good God is and some about how stupid people are.
I planted ideas: some about how to get my work done this week and some about how to get out of commitments I have made.
I planted words: words of kindness to a stranger and words of pride to a friend.
I planted attitudes: admiration for some colleagues and judgments against some others.
I planted pictures: beautiful yellow leaves on the trees outside and overpriced designer clothing that I will never be able to afford.
I planted sounds: the laugh of Dean on the phone and the swearing of strangers on the street.
I planted a few criticisms as well, mostly of myself. Some of my body, some of my tardiness, some of my lack of love for others.
I planted a fantasy or two: one about praise I would get for an assignment and another about the look of disappointment on my professor's face when I failed to do well.
A bit of doubt jumped in the ground, too. Self-doubt and doubt that I can tr…

words and pictures

This past week (and month and a half, actually) has been so crazy busy for me, that I have not had a lot of time to think, contemplate, and have long conversations with God. I miss that. But with a lot of reading to do, lectures to prepare and give, papers to write, several more meetings a week than last term, papers to grade, and being present for my friends and Dean...well, there aren't many words left in my head that don't relate to a paper or project that I am working on.

There are fewer words between Father and daughter, fewer words between Friend and be-friended, less words between Lover and beloved, but there are still words. The conversations I have these days with God are shorter, simpler, perhaps more direct, but also more gracious and overtly invitational. And they basically come down to 3 phrases that I hear over and over again.
1. Do you trust me with that? This is what I hear every time I start to think about situations that are out of my control, that are not wha…

remember me?

Since I started my MA in Theological Studies, it seems that I am forgetting things at an alarming rate. Names. Dates. Details. Questions. Answers. I will remember something someone said, but not who it was. I will remember reading an interesting thought, but not remember where it was or when I read it. Part of the equation is that I am inundated with more information than ever before, reading huge quantities of texts and volumes that not only cover quite a range of topics, but rather large expanses of history. My brain is not amused.

I am particularly bad at names for some reason. I have been teaching a few university classes this term as part of my job as a TA (teaching assistant). I enjoy it a lot. I have no problem standing in front of 40 students and talking, but the topic of Christian Spirituality is broad, and I have to cover many important historical figures and texts. Each class I have taught, I have managed to forget or wrongly identify the name of one of the people I am lectu…

cancelled

We cancelled our cable television just over a month ago. The idea was that after we returned from our vacation, we would sign up with another provider who was offering a deal on satellite tv that included a free PVR. That hasn't happened. The truth is, we don't really miss it that much.

The only times I miss watching TV is when I do my ironing. A home improvement show always made an unpleasant chore much more bearable and helped the time pass quickly. For a few weeks, I ironed in silence, facing the silent, dark TV screen. Not that great. Then I decided to watch a DVD while I did my weekly ironing. Six shirts and three pants were not really enough to get into a movie, so that idea kind of bombed. Last week, I tried something new. I set up the ironing board in the guest room, opened up the curtains, and did all my ironing in front of the patio doors which overlook our neighbourhood.
While I ironed, I watched the sky, which is always changing this time of year. It started out br…

thoughts on my birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. My 50th birthday. Some people think that's a big deal. To me, it is just a number that states how many days I have had the privilege of waking up and getting out of bed to explore life. And that thought causes my heart to become full and expand with a whole lot of thankfulness and awe at life itself. Yes, indeed. These were some thoughts I had yesterday:

I get to open my eyes every morning and see sunlight. Some days it is full-on, unclouded, make-your-eyes-hurt, kind of sunshine that greets me. Other days it is misty, rainy, curtained light, but it is always light. And I am blessed to see it every day.
I get to wake up next to a warm, cuddly, funny, wise, generous, and faithful man every day. He often stares at me with adoring eyes, and takes me on dates pretty much every week. He can fix almost anything electronic and always knows where we parked. He can keep a steady beat no matter how eratic and chaotic the sounds are around him. I am blessed to have s…

hello, my name is...

Hello, my name is Matte and I am a student. Seems fairly straightforward, right? Not really. You see, I have been reading the story of Abram again in Genesis, and I noticed a thing or two about the difference between what we call ourselves and what God calls us.

Abram's name meant "exalted father." He did pretty well with the exalted part (had a knack for getting rich and for the most part, enjoyed a good reputation), but the father bit...it just wasn't happening. If Abram were to introduce himself to us, it might have sounded something like this:
Hello, my name is Abram, and I grew up with a father who didn't follow through on what he said he would do. Genesis 11:31-32. His father set out for Canaan but settled in Haran, which was about halfway there.
Hello, my name is Abram, and though I have a lot of potential, I find it hard to leave everything behind and pursue the call of God. Genesis 12:1-6. He left his home, but not his family behind, taking his nephew with …

my election story

The city where I live had a provincial by-election on Monday. Politics in Quebec are a different bird than anywhere else in Canada, so many times it is not so clear who to vote for. The options presented to us were the Liberal party (the party currently in power dealing with some integrity issues), the Parti Quebecois (official opposition who rallies behind Quebec's sovereignty), the Action-Democratique du Quebec (a relatively new and untried party trying to put some new blood and new ideas into government but little idea of how to do it), the Green Party (environmental concerns are the main platform), and the Quebec Solidaire (feminist and sovereignist leanings). Like I said, not that straightforward, but I tried to do my best. Here is what happened.

The afternoon was fading away on Monday as I put aside my homework for a bit in order to read up on the parties before I headed off to vote. I was leaning towards the Liberals, that being the strongest and most visible party, but thou…