Saturday, June 03, 2006

Callousness Confronts Kindness in the New Centre of the Universe.

It is now more expensive to occupy office space in downtown Calgary than it is in Rome.

Housing prices have risen by more than 42% over last year.

Retail spending in Alberta exceeds that of British Columbia, which has a million more consumers.”

Calgary sits at the cusp of 1 million residents, growing consistently by nearly 20,000 people each year for the past 10 years.

In mid-May, I walked through a nameless, gleaming, wing of a large, hub-city airport. And I was consumed by the same sense of busy, sterilized, newly renovated professionalism … and unmitigated largeness that I have in Los Angeles, Melbourne and Toronto. But this time I was home. It was the new WestJet arm of Calgary International, and I was just hopping over the mountains to Victoria to see my brother.

Home is changing. Fast. It’s full of brushed metal. I see more truly exotic cars on the streets ... a couple each week. I find myself often beside people who suddenly have obscene amounts of money and don’t know what to do with it, except to show it off.

The city used to be comfortably master-able, familiar to anyone who’d traversed it a handful of times. Now it’s moving faster than anyone can track; faster than builders can keep up with; faster than new workers can arrive; faster than any of us can map or contain it. And this inability to stay familiar feels cold. Even in an unusual May heat wave.

Of course few Calgarians really begrudge this growth. Salaries are up. The lucky folks who own homes suddenly have serious investments surrounding them. And it feels cool to be at the centre of the universe. But sometimes cool simply feels cold: When rush hour eats up what once was leisure time; when the lineup at your local coffee shop shifts from familiar faces to a group of strangers; when the same circumstances that are making so many people rich conspire to raise your rent, jack up your grocery bill and leave you with less resources to fight the cold.

And in a city once noted for its kindness, I wonder if callousness is growing. Money-fuelled callousness. Power-fuelled callousness. Anonymity-fueled callousness. Big-city callousness

After my brief reflection in the brushed metal glory of the airport, my plane takes off. The mountains flow out like a wave consuming more and more of the horizon. The fields, rivers and trees spread in all other directions. The city shrinks. It suddenly stops gleaming and becomes a strange sort of defect - a grey blotch on an otherwise cohesive natural whole. As is so often the case in Calgary, it is an especially meteorologically active day. Dark clouds now almost parallel to my perspective literally begin to disintegrate into the ground below as rain falls. The sun begins to set, and a few thousand feet later a new unblemished and ever-changing natural world emerges. The topside of clouds run from horizon to horizon in a gentle curve.

And all of a sudden I feel like a foreigner even to the once familiar city of my memories. The little old Calgary of my youth feels just as distant as the big new Calgary of adulthood.

There is a part of us - of all of us - that is foreign to all we’ve built. It’s foreign to everything that bears the mark of man. It’s as equally foreign to everything that Calgary once was as it is to everything that it is now becoming. It is the part of us that is at home only in that place where all that we’ve built has decayed into insignificance: the mountain vistas, the rock-crowned hills of cowboy country, the quiet gurgling of a tree-lined creek.

When this part of ourselves emerges, we too are threatened with decay and insignificance. Yet somehow as we shrink it brings comfort. Somehow we are more at home in this insignificance than when we glory in being the new gleaming centre of our nation.

Our Father’s fingerprints are all over this place. It’s home. All that we’ve built; even our most majestic cathedrals are small and temporary. The exploding city is small … even as it grows at an exponential rate it can never expand beyond this smallness. And neither can we.

But we can transcend it. We can drop into the familiarity of this larger world; into the arms of a loving God, a God who entered the smallness, imprisoned Himself in it, spoke of the larger world from within the small; And was tragically strangled by our smallness. Entombed. Dead.

Except that His largeness, His transcendence could not be held within even the iron fortress of death. He rose. And we can too, even if the smallness inflates itself into a pretension of largeness. Even if the callousness swallows the kindness. Our true home cannot be swallowed. It has already been swallowed by the larger, eternal world.

And so long as enough of us reside in this larger world, callousness will never overcome kindness in Calgary.