Monday, September 19, 2005

Michael Ondaatje More Popular than Jesus

A meat ball made in a pressure cooker has a mild, acquiescent taste—the sort of taste which I imagine that a particularly forgiving Anglican missionary would have in the mouth of a cannibal. Your true meat ball is made of sterner stuff, and if he tastes of missionary at all he tastes like some stern Jesuit, who died dogmatizing.

-Samuel Marchbanks

I went to the ‘Save St. Stephen’s Concert’ last night—or stood on the Bellevue sidewalk anyway, with the other rabble, watching the proceedings digitally projected onto a bed sheet affixed to the church’s front wall.

Oddly[1], Sook-Yin Lee[2]—notorious, not too long ago, for the rumours that she would be starring in a piece of lay pornography directed by John Cameron Mitchell—emceed the event, which featured other such notables as Bruce Cockburn, Molly Johnson, Daniel Lanois, Michael Ondaatje and Jane Siberry … And, of course, my old friends Olivia Chow and Jack Layton.

Suffragan Bishop Phillip Poole was the first to speak, and he made the rather piquant observation that the situation facing St. Stephen’s could never have become so dire were the parish to see on most Sunday mornings such a turn-out as this, to catch a glimpse of a handful of barely middle-range Canadian celebrities. (Not quite what he said, but ...) Which made me wonder: is Michael Ondaatje more popular than Jesus Christ? He (Michael Ondaatje that is) never said so when he spoke—but that, of course, is his charm. Perhaps, I thought, if Our Lord had drawn a little less attention to His being the Son of God and, perhaps, if He had given the delivery of so many of His otherwise quite meritorious little parables a little more by way of lyrical nuance and understatement, maybe He shouldn’t find His church so forsaken now ... Hindsight, I guess, is twenty twenty. What worked to put bums on seats in the first century can hardly be expected to keep its appeal for two thousand years—

I was interrupted in these musings by a woman, clad in a huge white t-shirt—worn over, I eventually noticed, a more likely floral patterned dress—asking me if I should like one too (a t-shirt, not a dress) to commemorate the occasion. Not having the required twenty dollars I said no thank you, which didn’t seem to bother her too much. Pointing at the dozen or so pamphlets I was holding—which someone, inexplicably, had handed me a half hour earlier—she said “Of course, because … ” and I just nodded my head (not having the faintest clue why) and said “Exactly” and she moved on. It didn’t occur to me until about five minutes later that she had assumed from these pamphlets that I was a volunteer too. And, looking in the direction I’d observed her going off in, I could see her now, speaking with a fierce, administrative-looking type, and making clear motions my way. “They think I’m skiving off,” I thought, and quickly made a great show of pestering a couple of my neighbours to see if they would like a program. Five annoyed looks later—and a rather awkward moment where I was offered money—I perceived that I’d successfully drawn attention away from myself ...

Molly Johnson confessed in good humour that she was a “lapsed Anglican”; Jane Siberry tied herself in knots over the positive and negative energies at work in the gathering; Olivia Chow not only quoted Jesus, but misquoted him, twice; her husband kept on referring to St. Stephen's as a “facility,” said that it was an “incubator for community based solutions”; Michael Ondaatje invoked Balzac in his reduction of a church to its architecture; Sook-Yin Lee inspired the crowd with wisdom taken from a favourite Birds song, then said that St. Stephen's was “the most progressive church in Toronto.”

I paced Bellevue back to my car with a heavy tread.

[1] Or perhaps not so oddly, if you’re familiar at all with the current state of affairs in the Anglican Church of Canada.
[2] With, perhaps, the most absurd Wikipedia entry of all time—let me direct your attention, in particular, to the last line.