The Epistle of Q — Chapter Ninety-Six

It’s tough being an existential Christian (or is it a Christian Existentialist?) but it can lead to moments of random thoughts…

Thought #1:

Not sure what it is but besides the difficulties around trying to get the book finished, there seems to be a fair amount of angst floating though my personal ether. Churches are seemingly losing their way (not always individual congregations, but certainly mainline denominations often appear to be wandering from pillar or post) demonstrating a real dislike for sinners while craving an almost fanatical connection with every fad and movement out there. Locally I must admit I don’t find much solace in attending any church more than occasionally. For example: this Sunday I will go to the local United Church because a great Presbyterian minister and professor (Rev. Ross Lockhart) is preaching. Otherwise, for several months now (except when I am in other cities) it’s been the internet and Zion Presbyterian coming to me from Charlottetown. If this is an existential crisis of theological commitment, I’m not even sure re-reading Soren Kierkegaard will help me understand this glitch in my faith journey. Maybe studying Reinhold Niebuhr would be useful. But again, they aren’t here at the moment and perhaps trying to go back to re-ignite my religious passions is simply a road too worn. My sense of spirituality is still good and maybe the Zion web-site is the new congregation for some of us. So in this case until certain things change or new opportunities arise, the uncertain moment is probably the best option…

Thought #2:

Reflecting on one’s life similarly can cause moments of near paralysis as I try to stay in the moment (especially since that is a central theme of the book and for the most part, my life) and yet realize that there have been numerous occasions when decisions were made (or not made) that are, in retrospect, almost unexplainable – at least from a basis of sane rationality. Of course, perhaps that is the irony of it all – that in a life filled with affective as well as cognitive moments I ought not to dwell too long on the inadequate intersection of emotion and rational thought. It may just be best to be thankful I’ve got this far and, in spite of all the missteps, am still standing. This moment of being is certainly better than the alternative…I was recently reminded of that in a conversation with my editor’s partner. He’s a member of the OPP and was in Edmonton with my editor when she came out to participate in the final module of this year’s Environmental Health Ethics course. She herself has done graduate studies at CUE and is on the faculty at Queen’s in Public Health. She was one of the external judges for the Final Debates. One evening we went out to dinner and her partner was giving me some insights into police work in the area where I went to high school. Among the topics was the case of the military officer who went on a bit of a serial killing spree a few years back. It was fascinating to hear how sharp the detective work was on that case and yet how seemingly random the behaviour of the killer was, especially in taking lives of relatively young people. There was a good deal more to the evening discussion, but the point for me was again how thankful I should be for making it this far, relatively unscathed in the greater scheme of things – and in many ways I am where I am in a very wonderful state of being. Maybe my existential being is better than I sometimes appreciate.

Thought #3:

It also needs to be said the aging process seems very arbitrary. A good friend from back in my military days who has always been a picture of fitness and energy recently underwent several hours of open heart surgery – he’s recovering and seems okay, but he was among the last that I ever thought would be so afflicted.  Maybe his moment was to wake me up to keep taking care of myself. Another former colleague passed away quite suddenly recently but as we had not spoken in years it was simply a sad moment. On the other hand, my long-time retired travel agent who is in her late eighties is still going strong, travelling, enjoying great-grandchildren, and hosting people for weekends. She seems to be perpetually in the moment although she is finding attendance at Celebrations of Life are becoming fare to frequent. Another long-time friend and colleague is suggesting we should collaborate on establishing a fifty year review and revival of the Okanagan Basin Water Study — he’s a smart guy so why does he think we should be back at work when many around us are struggling to keep moving forward? Yesterday morning I was at a breakfast meeting of the gonzo group the youngest of whom may be in his late fifties or early sixties – our task? To try and bring some clarity to the desires and possibilities within the performing arts world of the South Okanagan & Similkameen. So aging isn’t devoid of ambition!!  Now, within this growing older business, I try to regain some semblance of physical fitness through visits to a local gym sometimes twice a week, and when I don’t then I go through a mini-workout routine at home – the results: no significant reduction in girth, no reduction in muscle cramping, no significant lessening of migraine & related headaches, no less need to visit my friendly doctors… so what gives? Is it all genetic? And if so, is my mother at 102 the model or my father who passed away at 80 (& quite suddenly)? And if it isn’t genetic, what might it be? An act of God? (That’s also an appropriate question to ask about the current state of churches as well as the unfolding changing climate.) Nevertheless I also am noticing other shifts — when I was a kid in Embro Ontario delivering papers I would try to maintain a speed of about 20 mph (30 km/h in today’s system). Many nights on the final run from the North Embro mill I would doubtless get fairly close to 50 km/h on the Embro Road as it was paved and part of it was downhill. When I took up biking more seriously again in the 70’s I bought a Motobecane racing bike and often could hit 60 km/h or better. By the 90’s I had switched to a mountain bike and 40 km/h was a satisfactory target speed. Then when I came back to Penticton in this millennium I started biking with my good friend, the late Bruce Johnson. We weren’t as concerned with speed as with endurance — a couple of times we made it all the way up the 2% grade KVR Trail to the Little Tunnel (which I also did with my grandsons a couple years back). Bruce is gone so I usually bike alone, now on a gravel grinder (acquired on the advice of my godson’s brother who had also helped me get my mountain bike). Today I noticed something as I went as far as the Arawana Station  — a return trip of almost 28 kms. I have trouble at times even keeping in double digits when going uphill. Is it a sign of COPD or the effects of scaring in the lungs or my lack of biking (this was only my 15th major ride this year) or my age…perhaps being more existential will get me past worrying about it…it was a wonderful morning to bike — it was cool, clear skies and few people on the path… yeah, maybe that’s what’s important — it was a beautiful day for a bike ride…

Thought #4:

And then there is the case of the two young men (or old teenagers, depending on your personal perspective) who are wanted for questioning re several murders in BC and seem to be eluding any semblance of capture. Has nobody thought that perhaps they are not as dumb as we think they are? Has no one in the myriad of law enforcement organizations involved in the pursuit of these two young men not sat down with some teenagers to try to understand the video games that the two had been playing to see if that might provide a clue? Is it not possible that these kids actually have figured out a way to avoid capture by sending the authorities on wild chases? For example, did they steal another vehicle well before they drove to Gillam so when they torched the RAV4 they took from their victim near Deese Lake it would look like they were in the area which would give them time to slip back down south where there would be more food, shelter and things to steal to keep them on the move? Maybe there are more kids involved – some acting as decoys perhaps? Perhaps the narrative has been kept too simple and by not giving the two adequate respect for being innovative and actually having a plan, police are always several days behind. I just viewed Tarantino’s latest flick “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and it takes a number of very interesting twists and turns – maybe a couple of Mounties should view it and develop a new paradigm for trying to interpret where they might be heading (let alone where they might currently be).

Thought #5:

Now, back to the moment I actually have more control over – my world! My energies have been focused recently on my teaching as I just completed another Environmental Health Ethics course at Concordia University of Edmonton. This is always a fun time; the students are interesting, they get quite involved in the course, and the pedagogy & curriculum never cease to create some dynamic learning moments. This year however there was an intriguing situation that developed in the final hours. Part of my evaluation process requires the students to evaluate each other – they determine the percentage (they also assess their own learning and between the two components there is a total of 20% of the grade). I do this because (i) I do not sit in on the small group and team discussions that frequent the course almost on a daily basis (I learned not to do that while during the major project in my doctoral dissertation research) and (ii) it is good practice for when they are in the workplace and must do employee evaluations or participate in 360 reviews. This year the students decided to allocate 5% to Peer Evaluation and 15% to Self Assessment. The instructions are fairly basic: one cannot put a mark in for themselves and they cannot give every other student the same grade (there is a rubric that suggests what each level of engagement might be worth). For the first time ever in all the classes I have allowed peer evaluation, every student turned in a sheet with every student marked as a 5.0 (which according to the rubric meant beyond belief – even better than I could ever hope to be!! So exceptional, it’s perfection!!). As I outlined at the outset, if all the form is filled in the form is set aside as someone is guilty of conflict of interest by giving themselves a mark – and since I can’t tell who it is, I just don’t include the form in the final tallies. Similarly if an individual gives every other person the same grade (even though they don’t grade themselves) I set this aside as there has been no effort to discern the degree to which each colleague contributed to conversations. Implementing these two caveats in this situation would mean that there would be not one peer evaluation form that could be used – all would then get zero. After entering into e-mail conversations with many of the students, I decided to give anyone who wished to change their form, could re-submit – most did and so marks could be determined. But the incident did raise some questions: was this a conspiracy to ensure everyone got extra marks? Was it an attempt to scuttle the entire idea of student participation in the grading process? Or, were people simply lazy and when one person thought up the idea, the rest adopted a “pack mentality”?

Thought #6:

I should mention that whenever I am undertaking my “mini-workout” I listen to my i-pod or whatever those things are called. I have quite a few pieces of music to access, but usually I stick with artists like Arlo Guthrie, the Jefferson Airplane (and all its iterations), John Denver, Moody Blues and occasionally Tamarack. This summer I thought it might be interesting to simply start at the beginning and each time go through another section of music. The machine orders them somewhat randomly so I don’t get any one artist’s work in its entirety but that has proven to be most intriguing. Each day I get another glimpse into music that at some time or another was really important to me. Not all of it really pumps up my workouts, and some of it is rather obscure making me wonder just when I would have listened to it. Nevertheless it does connect with me and reminds me once again about the important of music to the development of my brain and in essence my well-being. It’s amazing to realize the diversity of musical tastes and artists that influenced my development with their songs. Maybe I should listen to my music more often; it might lead me more quickly out of this funk that o’er taken my general sense of direction.

And in conclusion…

Maybe that’s the police should do too…and not just police marching bands
Perhaps the churches should as well – and they have a wealth of music to draw on…
And maybe you should quit reading right now and have a listen to some of your favourite songs…