“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!”
The role of a university president is varied and always interesting. I can truly say that I was prepared for the bulk of the issues that have come my way, but that there are still some that have caught me by surprise. Sometimes an issue can emerge that is so unexpected it leaves me speechless. One of the most unusual matters I dealt with last year was a formal complaint about our answering service. Like many institutions, St. Mary’s University had its phone lines connected to a radio station, so that if you called and were put on hold you were regaled with soothing music.
What no one expected was the impact of serendipity on song selection. You can imagine my surprise to discover, one day, that one of our devout Catholic parents called, was put on hold, and then met with a hearty rendition of Highway to Hell! A month later one of our callers gently chided me to say that they’d never heard the song Dropkick me Jesus (through the goal posts of life) but that they certainly hadn’t expected to learn about it from St. Mary’s. Why, I thought, couldn’t they have heard You Raise Me Up, or Operator, with the classic refrain, “Get me Jesus on the line”?
The solution, of course, was a simple one. We installed our own software that now plays university commissioned messages about our remarkable courses. Still, one can’t help thinking of the coincidence of callers receiving this kind of message, and it made me remember all the times when subversive, quirky or even oddball messages inadvertently find their way into our every day. How often might you be praying and an unfortunate thought finds its way into your head? Or inappropriate images flash across the television screen before you can switch the channel?
I think of this too in the university context when it’s sometimes suggested that material needs to be sanitized for students, so that they only receive the “right” message. It’s in that context that I remember how critical it is not to have too many filters in place, and to trust the individual, the community, or the school, to provide the critical understanding that equips an individual to compartmentalize the endless information that flows in our direction. In the same way that bacteria is critical for infants to build up appropriate immunity, it is also critical for all of us to encounter the real world, and to build our knowledge so that we can develop a robust, informed and moral understanding of our society. That’s not to say that every care shouldn’t be taken to protect us from unwanted messages; but it is equally critical to believe that God’s call to action is greater than any one of us can comprehend. So Operator, get me Jesus, get me Jesus on the line.
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.