The Chapel Unchanged

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Location: Illinois, United States

I'm a junior English/Philosophy major who's looking forward to my senior year and looking back on the path that led me here

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

twenty two

So I'm turning twenty two in sixteen minutes.

I'm actually excited, probably the most excited I've ever been about a birthday - twenty two feels more like a step forward and backward at the same time. I feel younger, freer, than I've ever felt in my whole life, and yet more prepared, stronger, able to endure more than I can expect.

I've already posted "Forever Young" on this blog; part of my birthday ritual celebration is to play that song loudly when I wake up in the morning. It's my song of blessing, and I hope to hear it more openly, expectantly, than I ever have before.

I hope that I have a good year, and that good things come for others and myself.

I hope that I feel Jesus walking with me more.

I hope that my parents get jobs, that my sister finds expression and release in healing ways, that my brothers go to church.

I hope that I get a cool non-prof job after I graduate.

I hope that Sudan is freed from genocide.

I hope that my friends and loved ones are blessed and cared for, especially by me.

I hope.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Pilgrimage II: The Symposium

I'm still working and thinking through the end question, "what does Socrates think?", but hopefully the rest of the essay is helpful.

At the last St. Francis conference I attended, Eavan Bolan, an Irish poet, was the keynote speaker; she claimed that her poetry, like all poetry, was meant to offer a truer "history," the stories and happenings of what really happened in relationships of power, oppression, silence. She is from a colonized country, so she speaks from experience. When I asked her if the poet had a responsibility to the historian - of getting the story "crooked" for the sake of what really happened, for the sake of justice - she claimed that the poet had "no responsibility to anyone," and went on a long talk about how everyone hates the poets, poets are beholden to no one, that "even Plato hated the poets." When I came across this in the Symposium, I thought "get her, Diotima; hit Bolan where she lives":

"After all, everything that is responsible for creating something out of nothing is a kind of poetry; and so all the creations of every craft and profession are themselves a kind of poetry, and everyone who practices a craft is a poet." (205B)

Creation, the act of poesis, is something that Diotima sees everything and everyone participating in - the cycles of reproduction, the continuation of life, the Lover and the Loved as active pursuers and not the unmoving, passive recipients of some other, unnamed and unknowable action. And how interesting - Socrates speech is a recollection of a coversation with a woman, a recreation of a character that is reimagined for the listening men. It's not so much the fact that Socrates is talking to a woman that interests me - rather, the way in which he reconstructs the argument, the conversation, is interesting. There is an ascent there - Diotima's talk itself carries an ascent/descent motion, and it serves as the high point in the dialogue itself, with the prior speeches being steps and Alcibiades' entrance being the descent. And Diotima's description of Love as being between mortal and immortal makes me think that Love is a relationship of contraries itself, yet still something whole. It sounds like Love is also caught up in being loved, that Love is caught up in the Beauty and the Good, that there is an overflow of the One's self in the nature of Love's makeup (resource and need) that includes us as lovers, as pursuers.

So: is poetry in and of itself a contrary? Something coming from nothing?
Is the world itself, reality, a contrary?
Craig Mattson's question to me at OPUS - what does it mean to transcend the self? Are we made up of contraries as well, always living in tension? (that's probably the weakest question)
Is poetry a route to madness, to desire? Even as it is rooted in the specific, particular experience, rooted in the things themselves? Is poetry a way to understand non-escapist transcendence?
And is the One something that participates in Itself with us, not just a lofty goal?

Something that I keep returning to in my reading, and slow summer thinking, is my inability to move beyond wanting to establish the neoPlatonists as continuing Plato, not just adjusting him for Christian convictions (which can be pretty aligned with Plato's!). Plato's understanding of reality, the really real and the material and the steps between them, shows that the really real and the material are not just linked by a linear chain, or separated by binaries of body soul, similar/dissimilar (these are actually more connected than they seem), or that the material is a shadow of the form, but that material reality and the One, the bodily and the Beautiful, participate in each other, in circularity, in communion with one another. I hear this in Diotima.

I recently had a conversation with a fellow philosophy student who, when I described this project to him, said "Isn't that just neo-Platonism?" I've had others ask me that as well. And there is some thinking in the Symposium, not by Socrates, that suggests that contraries are more binary than not; Pausanias' begins his speech by declaring that there are two kinds of Love - common Love and heavenly Love, one born of Zeus and Dione, male and female (dissimilar), and one born of the god Uranus, motherless, unitary, the "similar" in contrast to common Love. Pausanias admits that in following thses distinctions in the "identities" of Love, we are actually understanding the essence of action:

"no action is either good or bad, honorable or it comes out depends entirely on how it is performed. If it is done honorably and properly, it turns out to be honorable; if it is done improperly, it is disgraceful...Love is not in himself noble and worthy of praise; that depends on whether the sentiments he produces in us are themselves noble." (181A)

What interests me is this division of Love - Pausanias lays out these contraries, which have interested me all summer, and states that commom Love, the vulgar Love, is the attraction between men and women, while heavenly Love, "transcendent" Love, is the connection between men and men, women and women. Calvin Seerveld is my philosophical great-grandfather, and I do feel his convictions rising up in me every now and then: isn't the vulgar Love the Love to be praised? Hearty, robust, earthy?

But is there something else worth critiquing here?

"Love is not in himself noble and worthy of praise; that depends on whether the sentiments he produces in us are themselves noble."

What Pausanias has said here, and what is reiterated in every speech besides Socrates' recount of Diotima's words, is an inversion of transcendence, an inability to look beyond self, a incapacity to understand Love and Desire and longing and the One. It's an incapacity because everyone is still so drawn into themselves, so bent downwards into self that they can't stand straight;

For Pausanias, Love's worth and movemnt is entirely dependent on what it brings out in us, as if we could control the direction Love would take us.

For Eryximachus, Love is entirely the matter of a balance between the divine and the human - there is no pursuit, only prescription.

For Aristophanes, Love is what melds us to the " young men that are meant for us," (193B) Love is what brings us to the ones we are looking for, and we get caught up in Love...but there is still something unsettling, for me, about this kind of transcendence.

And we think that Agathon gets it right when he claims that all the previous speeches did not praise Love itself, but humans in love, the effects of Love: he still misses something vital about madness, about desire, about poesis and transcendence:

"Love is neither the cause nor the victim of any injustice; he does no wrong to gods or men, nor they to him. If anything has an effect on him, it is nevery b violence, for violence never touches Love. And the effects he has on others are not forced, for every service we give to Love we give willingly. And whatever one person agrees on with another, when both are willing, that is right and just; so say the "laws that are kings of society." (479C)

How does desire work unless it works on us? How can Love be sovereign unless ther is some sort of violence, some sort of push, something that pushes us to desire? Something that helps us recollect?

And do we recollect willingly, or is it birthed in us?

Agathon's claim that our service to others is like Love's effects on us, is another admittance to a view of Love that places human beings the self, in the center, with Love as an aid, a background noise. This is not poesis - there is nothing new created here, nor is anything really cultivated or refined. In all these descriptions of Love, no one really describes human nature and divine nature as contraries that are caught up with each other, and Love becomes a tool for a transcendence that is self-satisfying, but not really transcendence.

And Diotima gives us a story about Love, his parentage, his wiles, that would make Wordsworth jealous.

I don't really know where to go from here - but I still can't shake this feeling that the poet and the philosopher sit in each others' skins much more than we think they do, than Bolan thinks.

Friday, July 28, 2006


So, in my reading and writing this semester on the Phaedrus and Symposium, I have constructed two essays, slowly, that help me think. Please read them, follow me through them, and let me know what you're thinking:

Essay One: The Phaedrus

So I'm feeling tlike I'm writing a sermon. A Rog Nelson sermon. I am scratching my head and slathering my hearers in alliteration and coming up behind a text to lay bare my assumptions, my incapacity to think, and my inability to believe fully. Check out my ponderings below:

"I am finding, as I read Plato's dialogues more and more, that pilgrimage is not explicity laid out in the texts that I'm reading; we certainly get stories and myths about the ascent of the soul, the relationship between the good and bad horse, the geography of Hades, and the just reward/return of the freed soul to a good life - it is within these aspects that we can find the principles and dynamics of a non-escapist transcendence, and give it arguemtn to flesh it out. As I try to flesh it out, I am struck by two things: the literary, technical workings of the dialogue, as they operate and find form both in Plato's construction of the dialogue and our reading of it, and the slow build-up of the "contraries" argument that, in my view, gives strength and foundation to a different (and more correct) reading of Plato's view of reality as "participatory," (a line from the Phaedo), with material reality and the "really real" having a more tangible AND transcendent relationship with each other. And, of course, I am highly interested in my slow re-read of the myth of the charioteer in the Phaedrus - this is, for many scholars and traditions, the key part of the dialogue. While I am interested in the technicality and precision of the theoretical arguemtn for the soul's ascent, I am also interested in refining our hearing of it: the life of the gods does not seem that far removed from the life of the body (or at least, the activities of the gods), the life of the fleshly human being, and it makes me wonder whether Platonic transcendence is not just the end of transitory bodily existence, but a fulfillment, a reinstatement, of good bodily work - work that is done in the body but is more perfect with the gods and unable to be fulfilled without a relationship to, a glimpse of, the divine. The activity of the gods, and the circularity of the soul's existence, make me think that the myth of the charioteer offers us a kind of participation in the divine, as readers, something that does not simply and singly connect us, temporarily, to the One, but something that recalss our already-existing connection to it, to the One."

Sometimes I feel like this is a rehash of all my thinking and working this past year - I know that I'm still trying to get my footing back after the Vander Velde proposal, I know that I'm trying to keep my footing for a lot of reasons. Even in the midst of learning, and the joy that comes from that learning, I find that I don't really have anything new to say.

"So I turn to the literary twists and turns of the dialouge, hoping to find some flesh instead of just breathing on the bones and expecting them to jump up. I turn to the things themselves because that's all I can lay my hands on. At the same time, it is easy for me to pick up a discussion about the literary aspects of the dialogues and, unknowingly, assume that the devices themselves are just tools for some other hidden path, a secret road to transcendence. They offer something like that, I think, but not in such a sneak Cartesian way."

I'm still looking for the ascents in the text - do they provide an actual ascent and instruction on how to seek it? and how do we know whether or not we are ascending? Do we read like Phaedrus, trying to memorize each and every line, trying to find someone to recite it with us, to be excited and overjoyed at the grand adventure, to arrive with us? Do we begin like Socrates, joking about the style of Lysias' speech when, in all seriousness and ceremony, we are asking: what is truth? And why don't we catch glimpses of it in the speech about the non-lover, the person who lives in utilitarian friendship and seeks only his balanced, well-reasoned gratification? I ask about how we read because I want to know what it means to imitate the gods - I ask "how do we see reading in this dialogue" because I cannot shake the hunch that reading and imiation, writing and transcendence, go hand in hand for the Phaedrus, that the discipline required for a palinode, and the rush of the poet's madness, are connected to real transcendence, the kind that's planted in the ground and reaching beyond the ozone, beyond ourselves. And the glimpses of this kind of imitation, this really-real living, are driving me nuts.

"One of the things that strikes me about the narrative aspects of the dialogues is their suggestiveness; it is easy to see the proofs present in Plato's dialogues and assume that everything is didactically laid out and made plain (that this proves certainty, or is a "certain" way of receiving assurance or philosophical satisfaction in the Dialogues). But do the proofs suggest something else? What is the point of a proof? And how does this connect with imitation?"

I have to admit, the proofs leave a bad taste in my mouth - I don't know if it's my aversion to "Certainty," or if I just don't understand what they're doing, but I get hung up on them, I stumble over them. Socrates puts a proof of what a soul IS in his story of the charioteer -

how can you ascend without knowing who you are? Is self-knowledge a kind of ascent? (well, yes, in Bonaventure....hmmm. has there been an ascent from the world around us to the self and up in this dialogue? without me knowing it?)

The proof, instead of being the compulsory device to give us assurance and clout over the text, becomes a way of knowing the self, is in and of itself a path to self knowledge, but still linked to the text, to the ascent. It reminds me of Craig Mattson's question to me at OPUS: "how does one transcend self?" If we do not know what the soul is, and how it is moved/moves others, we cannot move ourselves or allow ourselves to be moved. SOcrates even uses a metaphor within the proof to show that the systematizing itself is not just bare bones, but has flesh of its own: "To describe what the soul actually is would require a very long account, altogether a task for a god in every way; but to say what it is like is humanly possible and takes less time...let us then liken the soul to the natural union of a team of winged horses and the charioteer" (246A)

"If imitation of the gods is such an important aspect of transcendence in the Phaedrus, I'm wondering if and how we pick up imitation in our reading of the Phaedrus. I wonder if seeing hte literary aspects of the Phaedrus, as the "things themselves," could be helful in helping us find connections and support for a transcendence reality that is also concrete. I wonder what they have to do with contraries and similarities. And I wonder if the literary aspects of the narrative suggest some sort of "follow me" beckon, and how they do that - it might be through the various metaphors and similes that are employed (wolves and sheep, boys and old men, sleep and wakefulness, etc.) My hunch is that the "follow me" beckon is something that Socrates both offers and receives himself, and that it is through a combination of the literary elements that we receive this beckoning as well."

Does using metaphor bring us to an imitation of the gods? To say what something is like, to describe our imaginative glimpses of it - is that kind of recounting, that kind of storytelling, a way of imitation that we both find ourselves in as we read this dialogue and that we are called to take up? The path from Lysias' speech, through Socrates' first speech (a slight imitation of Lysias', only with the content changed) to this final palinode is a suggestive and inviting arc of ascent that keeps us grounded, in our desire, in order that we might peak above the clouds ourselves. Socrates claims that he "must attempt to speak the truth," (247D), that he has to be honest and hold to his already-existing claim to this story, this hope, about the ascent and transcendence of the soul. If pilgrimage is not explicity laid out in this text, it is because pilgrimage, non-escapist transcendence, is first and foremost an exercise, a process, something that is mapped but is better understood when it is taken up. Bonaventure and Plotinus understood that. Through our hearing of the Phaedrus, we become reacquainted with our fundamental desire to transcend, to "tell the truth," even if we are not in love. We become re-opened to our capacity to be touched by madness and prophecy, to know the mystery underneath the obvious sign, and we get a sense of the contraries that lie beneath the desire, the contraries whose relationship to each other provides a sense of unity and one-ness - the contraries are united by the One itself. This is how we receive the beckoning - this is how we get back on the road.

This is how I get my footing back.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

So I'm at Aqua Pools yesterday with the Reppmanns, and I'm excited about hanging out in the water, excited that I have a working bathing suit, excited and content with my ever-growing relationships with Tony and Zoe. Content. Comforted. Tony and I are hanging out in the 4' pool, which he can hang out in as long as he has someone to hang onto every once in a while. I'm happy to be hung on. Tony lunges into my arms, we laugh, and he swims to the side of the pool, getting ready for another lunge.

Then I feel an umistakable, unbelievable, and unexpected surge of pressure to the, ahem, side of my lower extremities. I yelp, turn around, and there's this freckly, snickering boy behind me, about Tony's age, with his hand extended like a lobster claw.

"That," I replied sternly, "was not cool. No, no, NO."

I tell Karen later, and we laugh in astonished annoyance and keep our eyes out for the little bugger, who is running around in green shorts and a sheer white sporting shirt. Which is a little presumptuous to me - why buy a shirt to go swimming in? When you're five? I can understand a t-shirt, something that you find at the bottom of the drawer, but this was a nylon shirt with black racing stripes along the arms. Prissy? Whatever it was, it did not make the boy any more endearing to me or my backside.

I tell this as a marker of the things that happen to delight and astonish us in the midst of waiting for good things to happen, in the midst of looking for that one great thing that you think will make all the doldrum grit and small annoyances worthwhile, like they're part of some overall plan for epiphany-like surprises. I've always thought that falling in love, or finding your vocation, should come as a surprise, some huge bang that makes all the rest of life fall together, like blocks or puzzle pieces or something. Not that I've fallen in love - I'm wondering if it's actually a falling, if fulfillment and real life, like grace, come instead in small recognizable moments, like when Tony and I were laughing together in the pool and I was both completely in the moment and completely aware that I was having a great time. The more and more that I hang out with little kids, I find that I'm becoming less needy in relationships, in projects and hopes for my future.

This might be one of those "let the little children come unto me" things.

This might be another working-out of grace in my life, and the lives connected to mine - that I'm being freed up to love and be loved, to be affectionate and silly and serious, to be myself, more openly and more securely.

If some little boy had pinched me in a pool five years ago, I'd write a sarcastic poem and read it to my friends in the lunchroom. Now I'm writing sermonish blog entries.

Friday, July 21, 2006


In the past few days, I've been doing a lot of nothing. I check my email constantly, looking for something besides news about Albertena Vander Weele's death, even though I use the excuse of new Vander Weele news to check the email. I feel stretched over time, looking for grace. And I know it's there; I know that I wouldn't be able to laugh at work if grace wasn't present, if God himself wasn't helping me scrub chairs in the dining hall. I know that I wouldn't be able to accept Tony and Zoe Reppmann rolling all over me, shrieking with laughter, if there was no grace to live on. I know that my relationships and anticipations of good things would be stringy and non-existent if it weren't for grace. And I can feel it, I can feel grace working.

I still keep checking, hoping for something really good.

Something that would bring some joy and fulfillment to this summer, which has felt more deadening than not.

There is good news, small victories, little lights shining. My mom has agreed to go through counseling with me through New Leaf Resources, a place for families with addiction. Caitlin and I will be reunited in two weeks, which is a joy beyond measure. Lucy is in town, and will be spending the night with me.

Mike Vander Weele taught me how to be thankful for food; the wall outside his office posts a sign reading "Small Gifts," with free books from the English department for the taking.

I am trying to find the small gifts.

I'm hoping for a big one.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Burn II - Here's the Aloe Vera

In afternoon prayer today, and every day, Psalms 126 - 128 are read. They are psalms of ascent, sung by the Israelites on their journeys to Jeruslam, their exiles as captives to Babylonia and Assyria, theirs and our long pilgrimage, our longing for God's justice and favor to shine upon us. Today, Caitlin asked me if I had heard about "North Korea wanting to kill us," and I offered my standard frustration at the lack of information that the American public is generally given about our unstable relationships with other countries - a lack of general information that arouses and sustains fear, immediacy, and unilateral response. I also commented that China, in the past, has "punished" N. Korea and its history of bad relationship with other countries (usually relating to nuclear weaponry) by cutting off food and oil trade, a major blow. Japan is also going to offer some sort of public condemnation - Caitlin said that she was glad about these things because it meant that the US wasn't "screwing itself" and accusing someone without other witnesses or supporters. I checked out the NY Times, and I have to admit that my liberal tendancies also allow me to whine with presumption and without blessing, without overcoming evil with good. This is an issue of international diplomacy and global safety, not just the US pointing lone fingers. While I will most certainly continue to critique the American media for exploiting fearful tidings, and critique the leaders and citizens who applaud and feed off such exploitation, I have to offer some good to triumph over the fear. In Iona communities in Scotland, monks left large boulders on their monastery pathways as reminders of their vocations as warriors - yes, prayer warriors, but in the righteous sense - for the land they lived in and the people they lived by, the people who had no idea that the monks were praying for their safety, their health, their salvation. I must offer the same today, and although this blog is public, Psalm 128 stands as a rock of blessing against fear of nuclear war, fear of others, and fear of self:

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!

By the labor of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper:
your spouse like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house,
your children like shoots of the olive
around your table.

Indeed thus shall be blessed
the one who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life!
May you see your children's children
in a happy Jerusalem!

On Israel, peace!



So my older brother, Chris, and my younger sister, Jess, invite me to a beach in Indiana for the Fourth of July this past weekend. Not only do I bring my trusty SPF 45, Waterproof Coppertone Sunscreen (complete with depantsed little girl on front), but I apply the lotion two separate times, after being in the water. The result?

I have sunburn on my feet that is brutal.

And my back. And the back of my hands. My lips are sunburnt.



So I'm at home, taking a day off (unfortunately), watching awful morning television. Good grief. The male anchors on WGN News in the Morning made obnoxious jokes about prostitutes and the upcoming "rolling hunger strike" that Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon are going on to protest the Iraq War. They also reported on North Korea's missiles every ten minutes. And, Oprah was hosting Celine Dion, along with reporting on her gigantic baby shower at Fort Bragg for all the pregnant soldier's wives. Sigh...if anyone would like to join me on a rolling hunger strike against bad sentimental anti-female dribble that comes with your morning coffee, let me know. If that's what undergirds most American "patriotism," we should all plant hummus and sleep out in Grant Park. And take Larry Potash's salary to rebuild the free medical center under my dad's old apartment outside Logan Square. And we should take some of that $400 billion defense budget and make art education a compulsary minor for all education students in the US. Bake sale for the air force indeed.

I don't really want to get into some anti-American rant after the 4th of July - nor do I want to retreat into Wendell Berryish romanticism (as righteous as it is, when pulled out at the right time). But it can bother me that my roommate's fiancee asked me this morning if I knew why "North Korea hated us so much," and that I had no answer for him. I'm tired of never knowing why we should be afraid of other countries, other leaders. I'm tired of terrorism, and our incessant hunts for terrorists that could be lurking anywhere. I'm tired of living in fear and creating fear for others. I'm tired of hearing about threats from everywhere. It isn't right to be the number one country in the world and the number one producer of nuclear weapons. It isn't right to sell that technology to other countries and then constantly talk about the fear of nuclear war. It is not right. It creates fear, an inversion of hope. Sigh.

I need to return to my aloe vera.

Friday, June 30, 2006

song lyrics, blessing and worry

I've been thinking about what to buy myself out of this paycheck; if I can find that Sarah McLachlan Storytellers album, that would be supreme. But I'm also thinking about getting another copy of Blood on the Tracks, one of the best Dylan albums ever. All our copies at home are scratchy, and while I need to do a Dylan inventory to see what I have, I'm pretty sure that most of my albums are from the early days of Dylan's career, before he went electric. I forgot until yesterday that I wanted to use "Forever Young" as the centering point for my Lincoln Laureate speech (if I receive that award - I'm also thinking the "Mad Farmer" poem by Wendell Berry, which would give me supreme satisfaction. It would also make the Law and Politics society burst blood vessels.) I'll post the lyrics below:

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.
May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.
May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

I've always thought of Forever Young as the ultimate song of blessing; I listen to it on my birthday, and while I definitely feel like I'm growing younger with each passing year, I also know that this is a song that challenges my understanding of blessing as surprise. Anyone will tell you that I am a stickler for surprises - ask Caitlin about her soon-to-be-coming birthday present. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted things to surprise me: gifts, compliments, relationships. Birthdays and Christmases were always a big deal; I love anticipation, I love expectancy and waiting. I guess that that's why I'm an Advent person. But while this song is about the gift of a new child, or a new phase in a child's/friend's life, it is also about continuity; being "forever young" is not just living in strung-together epiphanies, in the spotlight of everyone else's lives, but about the constancy of virtue, the "always" of being courageous, knowing the truth, and living in the light of God's love. It's about the "always" of singing joyfully and doing for others, and it's about the "always" of letting others do for you, letting others sing your song.

I wonder how many people have intended this song for others without realizing that it's intended for them as well. I wonder if that's where the surprise is, like in the liturgy at Fourth Presbyterian: "In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. Thanks be to God." That the surprise of community, solidarity, love, is something that does creep up on you, but in a softer light, not in explosive moments of recognition. That has to be how recollection works.
But I spend so much time anticipating the ends of things, the outcomes (me and Cebes and Simmias really do have a lot in common), that I get disappointed easily. I know that I am a faithful person, with a deep capacity for committment and love. I also know that I'm slowly growing away from that kind of expectancy, that kind of living. But it's difficult.

And I couldn't consolidate my stupid Student Loans today because the website won't let me check my balances! and my cell phone has no reception on Trinity's campus! Frustrating.....