On debates and mission trips. Say yes to things that scare you

Words that inspire, stuck on my cluttered fridge. Although I do often give myself a day off, I believe, along with good old Eleanor, in doing things that scare you.

On Saturday night I was the moderator of a Religion and Society Series event at the University of Toronto, “What’s behind it all? God, Science and the Universe” with Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State and wearer of great sneakers, Stephen Meyer, intelligent design advocate and author of Darwin’s Doubt and others, and Denis Lamoureaux, doctorates three times over (dentistry, biology and theology) and professor of religion and science.

When I talked about the event, I used the term “host,” mostly because the thing that intimidated me the most was actually having to moderate, to get involved and stick my nose in the middle of a dialogue I knew very little about. I had hoped to be the person who opened the door, set the table and then closed the door with a thunk behind everyone at the end.

I prepared by reading articles (I tried books but such was the gulf between my pre-existing knowledge and the science I was reading, I reverted to 1000 words or less online), and I watched  footage of all three men either eviscerating others in previous debates (usually Krauss), being interviewed by friendlies (often Meyer) or presenting TED talks (Lamoureaux). I was anxious to see how the moderators functioned and what kind of questions they asked, and how silly they looked while they asked them (especially if they were clearly in over their grade 12 science level, which I most definitely was going to be). Krauss in particular does not mince words over how stupid or useless is a question. I chatted with a friend about how she mentally prepares, after all the hours of actual preparation is done,  for “things that scare you.”

I discovered she has the same bottom line approach I do: imagine you are someone who knows what they are doing, and just keep pretending you are that person.

Offstage, each presenter was, of course, friendly, polite and congenial. Onstage, it turned combative immediately. Of course. That’s the way these things go. And then it took an unexpected turn as Meyer fought off a crippling migraine, one he worried about getting when he first saw the intensity of the lights. He kept his composure, left and then returned to the stage.

Probably the smartest thing he did was encourage people to read his books which presented his arguments far better than he was able to that night. He managed to keep himself together and he appeared almost back to normal later on at the reception.

Mom and I sped off to the airport to pick up my husband, two of our kids and my 79 year-old father who were arriving in from Roatan, Honduras. They had spent 10 days doing construction work on a church/hurricane shelter, and hanging out with kids on this island that is one of those soupy mixes of wealth and poverty.  It occurred to me that my Dad, who had never done something quite like that before, had probably done a few things this week that scared him too.

And the final trick, in the end, is just saying yes to them.


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