Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A comment on the commenting policy

Meta-blogging isn't something I find particularly interesting to read, so I'll keep this brief, but in light of some recent comments I think it's prudent to clarify the commenting policy.

Feeding the hungry for Jesus

Another great aspect of having a girlfriend is being able to plug into her social network, and one of the benefits of having a wider pool of people to interface with is that you may find yourself doing something you wouldn't engage in ordinarily.

A recent example of this was during a trip to Wisconsin, when Kate and I were offerred the chance to join her sister and brother-in-law in volunteering at their church-run soup kitchen. I should clarify - Kate was offerred the chance, and she volunteered my services. If I seem somewhat hesitant, I should make clear that the opportunity to do something selfless isn't one I'd agonize over, but this was a church-event, meaning I'd be helping the unfortunate in Jesus's name - as a rule, I don't donate money to charitable causes with a religious agenda, but I decided to make an exception in donating my afternoon to be a good Christian.

So after kitting myself out with a pretty sweet hat (mandatory) and a sweet fake name tag (also mandatory), I was ready for action. What kind of action? Well, to prepare for the onslaught of hungry homeless folk, I had to assist by wiping down tables and chairs with bleach-water, lugging large containers of gloppy foodstuffs around, folding cutlery and napkins together, and generally doing my best to make baby Jesus proud.

Sully is no more! Meet Gus, homeless-helper extraordinaire 
Once the preparations were done, it was time for the volunteers to get their breakfast. On the menu was stuffed pepper, pickled cucumber, day old bread, day old donuts, coffee, and fresh-baked cookies provided by Kate's sister. Before we could tackle the generous spread, it was time to say grace before meals. Damn Christians and their delayed gratification! The orator gave shout-outs to the bakeries and restaurants that donated the grub, presumably so God would know who to reward.

There were about a dozen volunteers, ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-eighties, and as I was the youngest, most able-bodied of the group, I got lumbered with the most arduous task. I was the dishwasher, cleaning every implement, every tray, and every piece of cooking apparatus with a high-powered hose that melted through more than a couple of my plastic aprons.

Through the spray of steam and food particulate I'd throw covetous looks towards my fellow volunteers. Thomas and his task of 'Greeting'. Oh look at me, I'm a World War II veteran. Then I'd glare at Kate as she cheerfully carried out her duty of 'Corn Ladling', my envious grimace turning into an appropriately cheery smile to reflect hers when she caught my glance.

With the exception of the bread, it tasted a lot better than it looked

When I found out that I'd be cooped up in the kitchen, I wondered if I'd find it satisfying toiling for the less-fortunate without getting to directly witness their enjoyment on the frontline. It was a foolish notion - I was immediately invested in the work I was doing, and I can safely reflect on it as the most earnest two hours of physical labour I've ever engaged in. My back was hurting, and I was getting splashed with food and scalding hot water, but I wanted to be the most efficient damn dishwasher that kitchen had ever seen. During moments when  I had cleared my station and had to wait on more ware to arrive, I'd start addressing things outside of my jurisdiction (including cleaning some obviously-neglected pieces of apparatus).

The way the room was set up meant that those coming to avail of the food were filing past the open kitchen door, and many of them took it upon themselves to shout in "God bless you". After shrugging off the first few seemed a little ignorant, I took to shouting back "same to yourself."

It was a great experience, one that I'd happily repeat, but like I said, my quixotic notions about 'good' charity cause some dissonance (i.e: My moral compass takes issue with reaching out to the less fortunate so you can bolster the ranks of subscribers to your supernatural ideologies). I was able to rationalize the sweat exerted in Jesus's name as a purely selfish act arising out of biological imperatives. How so? Well, my girlfriend wanted me to help the homeless, and complying with her requests will assist in the fulfillment of my carnal urges to copulate with her, so really, I'm doing this to satisfy my evolutionary impulses, so at the end of the day, Darwin wins.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Silver Lining

It doesn’t happen too often, but every now and again, I do something remarkable. The kinds of things that would be routine for over-achievers are novel for occasional-achievers like me, so I try to enjoy the satisfaction for as long as I can.

One of the fastest ways to spoil my enjoyment of an accomplishment is to get my mother to weigh in on it. Try it sometime. Next time you’re in the same room as my mother and me, ask me about something cool I’ve done and see what happens.

In every example from recent memory, the conversation goes something like this.

Well wisher: “I hear you graduated with a first class honours degree, how did you manage that?”
Sully: “Well...”
Mother: “I was down on bended knee!”
Well wisher: “Eh?”
Mother: “I was praying for him the whole time. His exams started at eleven, so I’d start praying at five to-”
Sully: “My exams started at 9am this year-“
Mother: “And I wouldn’t stop praying until I knew he was finished”
Sully: “Well, actually, there was a lot of project work in addition to--“
Mother:  “Our Lady of the Wayside, she hasn’t let you down yet”
Well wisher: “Our Lady of the Wayside? What’s that?”
Mother: “It’s a prayer for students and young people. It’s done wonders for all my lads--”
Sully: “But, younger Sully failed out of college.”
Mother: “Shush – that was the best thing that could have happened to him.”
Sully: “He also failed his driving test three times.”
Mother: “And he never gave up! Our Lady of the Wayside! It’s wonderful!”

Yes, my mother believes in intercessory prayer, and petitions me ceaselessly to integrate the pointless exercise – actively trying to distract me away from preparing for whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish.

At the last family gathering, one of the observers of this ritual was a priest. After pithily remarking that her favoured prayer “must be a traveller’s prayer”, he nodded sympathetically when I bemoaned her lack of recognition for all the hard work and preparation that brought about the spoils of victory.

Priests will admit what my mother won’t. Prayer doesn’t get work done. Work gets work done. If you pray for something (like my younger brother passing his exams and staying in college) and don’t get your way, you shouldn’t be able to rationalize it by saying that the actual outcome was better anyhow. If your prayers won’t change the outcome, why continue to waste your time? The system lacks a consistent inner-logic.

Last week, I interviewed for a (pretty cool) job. I poured countless hours of effort into preparing, and my mother insisted on ‘chipping in’ herself. She told everybody who’d listen about her efforts on my behalf, and how she “had a feeling” that I was going to get it. I didn’t get the job, but the disappointment was immediately allayed by the recognition that Our Lady of the Wayside had let me down. A-ha!

Of course, this was one of those rare instances where it sucks to be right.

At times, I wish I could live in her fantasy-world. My mother thinks that she has beaten the system. She has discovered a prayer that will make your wildest-dreams come true, and if they don’t, you didn’t really want them to come true anyhow.

No amount of reasonable prompts and suggestions will cause her to reflect critically on her little racket with the man upstairs, but I keep prodding, mostly because she makes for a fascinating case study.