Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Adjusting to Change

The news is rather dismal--it's as warm as it is going to get today (33 degrees F.--a full 25 degrees colder than Greenville right now!). It will gradually cool a few degrees and we will descend into the first skiff of snowfall of the season. For a boy from the south, this smacks of some kind of cosmic freak show. I can't even remember snow this early in Toronto.

Adjusting to wintry weather so early in the season strains my immune system. The watery eyes, the sniffling nose, the aching shoulders--all point to a bodily sense I tend to associate more with December or January than mid-October. Back at home, students are waking up to mid-term exams and the realization that college is not really about improving one's social life. The pressure of academics and the darkening days can promote a sense of doom and gloom.

I have spent much of my professional career studying change: historical, literary, and theological. I am fascinated by how cultures, families, and churches adapt (or don't) to changing societal forces. Just yesterday, for instance, I was reading an essay by John Bossy entitled, "Moral Arithmetic: Seven Sins into Ten Commandments," in which he discusses how the moral system of the late Middle Ages (constituted by the Seven Deadly Sins) came to be displaced in the Reformation and Early Modern Period by a different moral system rooted in the catalogue of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments). Chancels were generally stripped of their medieval furnishings and, in many cases, came to prominently display above the communion table twin tablets--prompting Thomas Hardy to write in Jude the Obscure, "the tables of the Jewish Law towered sternly over the utensils of Christian grace."

Change calls forth the best and the worst in people. Families oftentimes wind up separated generationally while churches divide. I oftentimes find myself descending into the bathos of a professorial whine about the forces that are shaping my students--forces that are much more pronounced, much more complex, and much different from those that shaped me. It is tempting to settle into the "grumpy old man" routine, or, as I was once labeled, "an idiosyncratic old fart."

I'm going to try and avoid the worst of this approach. It doesn't really help, after all. In fact, writing this weblog, working on Facebook, exchanging e-mails are all attempts to adapt to a culture I find sometimes offensive, sometimes exhilirating. I guess I best do the same with the weather. Complaining only exacerbates one's bitterness. Better to revel in the changing of the seasons and the fact that, at least up here, one can experience real snow.