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December 28, 2012

Brief Thoughts On Growing Up

As I am getting older and working (or rather studying) my way through life, I am often evaluating and re-evaluating whether or not I have succeeded in the goals and objectives I have set for myself. Time flies, and it often seems like I have been too busy and didn't have enough time (and discipline) to become who I wanted to be.

When we are young, we have a certain idea of what we want to be like as adults. At the time, it seemed like adulthood was ages away; we thought we had a great deal of time to suppress our bad habits and flaws, to work on developing certain qualities and become that ''ideal person'' we had in mind.

It turns out that our time is short, that our faults are persistent, and that virtue requires a lot of discipline and self-sacrifice.

Someone once told me:
''Don't sacrifice what you want for what you want right now''

I can find two applications of this principle:

1. As a university student, it is sometimes very tempting to yield to the temptation of escaping my homework and readings in order to do more ''pleasant'' and ''entertaining'' things, such as wasting time on the internet, watching one of my favourite movies, etc.

It seems like a natural inclination to want to sacrifice what I want (an education) for what I want right now (leisure).

2. Paradoxically, what I want can become what I want right now in light of other priorities. Maybe the thing I want right now (an education, a career, traveling, for example) can become obstacles to what I want (the big picture for my life).

What exactly is the reason for our life? Do we live up to it? Or do we forget the big picture because we are focused on what we want right now?

November 23, 2012

What ''The Little Prince'' Taught Me About Relationships


Have you ever read The Little Prince? Maybe you were forced to read it in your French immersion class in High School. Maybe you've heard of it and recognize the iconic blonde child on the picture above, but have never read the book for yourself.

I think you should read The Little Prince. Everyone should read it. It is short, not very expensive, has a lot of illustrations and can move you in unexpected and incredible ways. Wikipedia tells me it is the most read and translated book of the French language, and one of the best-selling books ever published.

I will start by giving a little summary of the book with some key quotations, after which I will briefly discuss some of the key concepts and ideas.

Many people think of The Little Prince as children's literature, but it really is a book for adults.
This novella rests on the premise that adults, or ''grown ups'' are blind to the most important things in life, and are often more concerned about material, pecuniary things.
Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.

I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them. Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him
The narrator is a pilot, and the story takes place in the Sahara. While in the desert, the narrator meets the little prince, a strange child who says he is from another planet. As he talk about his ''asteroid,'' we learn that it is very small; it has three volcanoes and one rose.

The Rose
The little prince invests a lot of time in his rose, providing for her every need and every whim. In addition to being ungrateful for everything he does for her, the rose blames him whenever she can.
Eventually, the little prince gets hurt, and leaves his planet.
"I ought not to have listened to her," he confided to me one day. "One never ought to listen to the flowers. One should simply look at them and breathe their fragrance. Mine perfumed all my planet. But I did not know how to take pleasure in all her grace. This tale of claws, which disturbed me so much, should only have filled my heart with tenderness and pity."   
And he continued his confidences: "The fact is that I did not know how to understand anything! I ought to have judged by deeds and not by words. She cast her fragrance and her radiance over me. I ought never to have run away from her... I ought to have guessed all the affection that lay behind her poor little stratagems. Flowers are so inconsistent! But I was too young to know how to love her..."

After visiting a number of planets and asteroids, the little prince comes to Earth to find what he is looking for. He tells the pilot about some of his experiences and findings.

As he travels the Earth searching for men, the little prince makes two significant acquaintances.
First, he comes across a rose garden. The little prince is shocked: he thought there was but one rose in the whole universe! When he finds out there are many beautiful, identical roses, he is disenchanted.
I thought that I was rich, with a flower that was unique in all the world; and all I had was a common rose. A common rose, and three volcanoes that come up to my knees-- and one of them perhaps extinct forever... that doesn't make me a very great prince...
And he lay down in the grass and cried.

The Fox
After he leaves the flowers, the little prince is approached by a fox. The young boy wants to play with the fox, but the fox replies that he must be tamed in order to give the little prince his trust. Then the fox goes on talking about what taming means:
To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."
Time goes  by and every day, the fox comes a little closer to the little prince. The fox explains that in order for a relationship to be established, one needs rites and regularity. Eventually, the fox and the little prince tame each other; they love and need each other. Every day they look forward to the moment they will see each other again.
With that in mind, the little prince goes back to the garden of roses, but with a very different perspective:
"You are not at all like my rose," he said. "As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world."
"You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you-- the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars [...]; because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
The little prince then returns to the fox, one last time before he has to leave. Parting is heart-wrenching. As a last gift to the little prince, the fox reveals a secret:
"Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. [...] It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important. [...] "Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose..."
The little prince then continues his journey.

Those are really nice quotes but what's the point?
Many doctoral theses have probably already been written on the little prince and his relationship with the rose and the fox, so I will not try to reinvent the wheel.
What I love about this story is that is interesting and complex on so many levels.

It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important... I remember how in Economics we were taught that things only have the value that we give them. Gold, for instance. Its price is ever-changing and fluctuates with the market. If gold was not pleasing to the eye or if it was not a key component of a number of products and machines, would it still be so valuable? Probably not.
This logic works as far as things are concerned, but what about people and relationships? Do people only have the value that we give them? Sadly, this is what many people seem to think, but I do believe that people have intrinsic value that finds its origin in their human nature.

I do think that many relationships are important to us because of all the time and energy we invested in them. Do you have a friend that you have known forever and have shared many important moments with? Have you spent so much time together that you can hardly imagine life without them?
When I think of the people close to me, this definitely rings true. All the time you have spent together and all the things that have happened cannot just be erased. These people will always be a part of you, somehow.

If you tame me, we shall need each other... I find interesting the idea of taming in The Little Prince. At first, the fox and the little prince are indifferent to each other (''you are like my fox when I knew him. He was just a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes''). Trust seldom comes instantly. The fox needed time to trust the prince, and the prince needed time to trust the fox. As they invested more and more in each other, the relationship developed. As he got to know him better, the little prince came to appreciate the fox individually: he was not longer like any other fox. He was his fox, he knew him and was known by him. (''I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world).

You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed... I wondered for a long time what this meant and how I should interpret it. We do not often think of relationships in terms of ''responsibility'' or ''obligations.'' Hanging out with friends seems like an easy and effortless thing to do. What does it mean to be responsible for what we have tamed?
I think this is connected to what I wrote about how people become a part of you and you become a part of them. From the moment you are a part of someone, you have a responsibility. Once you are a part of someone, you cannot separate yourself from them without causing harm. You have great power to either bless them or damage them. With great power comes great responsibility. In the same way, we become responsible for what we have tamed.



If I could have it back, all the time that we wasted, I'd only waste it again
I would love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again


October 31, 2012

Kings of Convenience: Sheer Simplicity


I love to discover new bands that I love. When I find a gem of a band, I get very, very excited.

Kings of Convenience is one of those bands. It's actually not really a band, but two friends: Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe. Yes, they're from Norway.
KOC's music is surprisingly simple, yet their melodies are very elaborate. Their lyrics are both light-hearted and profound, introspective yet slightly naive. In that regard, Kings of Convenience remind me of Sufjan Stevens.

Unlike some other indie bands, KOC have music videos for many of their songs. I included some of my favourites. 

Enjoy! (I suggest you watch all the videos. You'll know right away whether you like them or not, but if you do like them, you'll become addicted!)



I'd Rather Dance With You

Boat Behind

Cayman Islands

Misread

October 25, 2012

Distraction


Distraction.

«Manque d'attention, habituel ou passager, de l'esprit occupé à autre chose que ce qui lui est proposé»
«Ensemble de chose qui occupent agréablement l'esprit, délassent et recréent»

Il y a un bon moment que je pense à écrire au sujet de la distraction.
La facilité à laquelle l'être humain est distrait et se laisse distraire m'a toujours fascinée. Pourquoi, lorsque nous sommes occupés à une tâche, nous laissons-nous aller à nos pensées, ou délaissons-nous notre tâche pour faire autre chose?
Il semble que lorsque notre esprit est occupé à quelque pensée ou réflexion grave et importante, la tentation de la distraction et du loisir devient irrésistible.

C'est en quelque sorte une fuite de l'absolu et une soif de légèreté et de plaisir.

N'est-ce pas une tendance très répandue chez l'être humain? Nous laissons de côté nos devoirs et passons plutôt des heures à regarder des vidéos et flâner sur Facebook.
De la même façon,  nous préférons nous divertir plutôt que de penser aux choses importantes de la vie, et de la mort.

Les hommes n'ayant pu guérir la mort, la misère, l'ignorance, ils se sont avisés, pour se rendre heureux, de n'y point penser. - Blaise Pascal 
Le divertissement est le meilleur régime contre le poids de l'existence - Franck Dhumes
Cette tendance à la distraction et au divertissement comme «détournement» m'effraie. On ne peut sans cesse remettre à plus tard la pensée de l'avenir. Le sentiment d'avoir perdu son temps est un des plus terribles, sachant que notre temps est limité et qu'on ne peut le récupérer si l'on en fait mauvais usage.

C'est précisément pour cette raison que l'on doit fuir cette tendance à la distraction et au divertissement pour ce qui est des questions sur l'existence et la mort.

Mieux vaut aller dans une maison de deuil que d'aller dans une maison de festin; car c'est là la fin de tout homme, et celui qui vit prend la chose à coeur. - Ecclésiaste 7:2
La jeunesse est particulièrement sensible à la distraction. Tant de choses s'offrent à nos yeux, à nos coeurs, à nos esprits. Nous sommes facilement distraits, facilement divertis, et c'est là ce que nous recherchons, bien souvent.
Blaise Pascal, qui, vous aurez deviné, est un de mes philosophes préférés, a dit que «la seule chose qui nous console de nos misères est le divertissement et c'est pourtant la plus grande de nos misères».

La jeunesse est pourtant le moment idéal pour réfléchir et rechercher la vérité. Quoi de plus terrible que de se rendre compte, à la fin de nos jours, que notre vie n'avait aucun sens ou que nous n'avons pas vécu pour la vérité?

Jeune homme, réjouis-toi dans ta jeunesse, livre ton cœur à la joie pendant les jours de ta jeunesse, marche dans les voies de ton cœur et selon les regards de tes yeux; mais sache que pour tout cela Dieu t’appellera en jugement. 
Bannis de ton cœur le chagrin, et éloigne le mal de ton corps; car la jeunesse et l’aurore sont vanitéMais souviens-toi de ton créateur pendant les jours de ta jeunesse, avant que les jours mauvais arrivent et que les années s’approchent où tu diras: Je n’y prends point de plaisir;  avant que s’obscurcissent le soleil et la lumière, la lune et les étoiles, et que les nuages reviennent après la pluie, temps où les gardiens de la maison tremblent, où les hommes forts se courbent, où celles qui moulent s’arrêtent parce qu’elles sont diminuées, où ceux qui regardent par les fenêtres sont obscurcis, où les deux battants de la porte se ferment sur la rue quand s’abaisse le bruit de la meule, où l’on se lève au chant de l’oiseau, où s’affaiblissent toutes les filles du chant, où l’on redoute ce qui est élevé, où l’on a des terreurs en chemin, où l’amandier fleurit, où la sauterelle devient pesante, et où la câpre n’a plus d’effet, car l’homme s’en va vers sa demeure éternelle, et les pleureurs parcourent les rues;  avant que le cordon d’argent se détache, que le vase d’or se brise, que le seau se rompe sur la source, et que la roue se casse sur la citerne; avant que la poussière retourne à la terre, comme elle y était, et que l’esprit retourne à Dieu qui l’a donné. - Ecclésiaste 12:1-9

Il est encore temps.

October 1, 2012

Rue Royale, or Candy for Your Indie Ears

Photo Credit: Berlin Sessions



I stumbled upon Rue Royale's songs while searching for cool new playlists on 8tracks. What really strikes me about their music is how sophisticated and creative their melodies are. Every song of theirs is precious and unique.


Rue Royale's motto is ''it's all about the journey, not the destination.''
Indeed, many of their songs seem to line up with the idea that it's all about the process and not the end goal.

And Rue Royale is not only about the music; their lyrics are deep, genuine, and relateable. Some of their songs are in fact profound reflections about being a human, the meaning of existence, and one's spiritual journey.


Even in the Darkness
oh I will follow you
even in the darkness know you're true
oh I will follow you
walking in the light you call me to
cause i 
i love your name it is like honey on my mouth
oh i 
i love your ways they are so beautiful to me


These Long Roads
'cause you know when you walk so long
in your head it feels oh so wrong
we're not alone, no
we're not alone
at the end
at the end of these long roads



Blame
give me just a clue
just a glimpse into
what it is you'd like to say



September 19, 2012

In the Great Scheme of Things

At the Milliner's (1878) - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
I love this painting and the idea it conveys. The woman, though surrounded with colours and noise and movement, is calm and thoughtful, almost daydreaming.

I wish I was that woman, calm, peaceful and serene in the midst of a restless world.

My world is restless, and so is my life, most of the time. It seems like there's always more work to be done. It is so easy to let ourselves be carried away by our daily worries and go about life with our eyes closed, focused on the task and the here and now and losing sight of the greater scheme of things.

It is so tempting to trade the ultimate for the immediate.
It is so easy to just go with the flow.
It is so easy to let ourselves be overwhelmed

In the midst of this crazy life I hope to not get caught up in the daily details. As one of my teachers would say, I don't want to ''major in minor.''

It's really all about keeping the big picture in mind. We have but one life to live.

Somedays, the only thing that keeps me from falling into despair is this:
Commit your way to the Lord,
trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:7
I need to be reminded that I can trust God with my life, my schooling, my job, my hopes and aspirations. I can rest in the knowledge that my life is in his hands and that He will take care of me. I need not worry about a thing.

For in Him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, 'we are His offspring'. (Acts 17:28)

When we are free from the world and the cares of this world, we are free to live for what life really is all about. No matter how valuable education is or finding a good job is important, education and work are not the ultimate reason we are on Earth for.

I don't want to spend my life 'majoring in minor things.' I want to be calm, peaceful and serene in the midst of a restless world, giving all I am and have for what truly is meaningful in the great scheme of things.

August 28, 2012

The 2012 Quebec Election, or Why Democracy Is Beautiful Even Though You Don't Always Have Your Way

(credit)
The 2012 Quebec election has got me thinking a lot about democracy.

For those of you who don't know about Quebec, let me explain; Quebec is one of the 10 provinces of Canada. The concept of a province in Canada is equivalent to the concept the state in the U.S., although a province has little less independence than a state. Although they operate under the federal government, each province has its own provincial government. The provinces regulate their own healthcare and education systems, for example.

Politics is a touchy subject everywhere, and especially in Quebec. Quebec is a diverse society that has many social and political cleavages, and a particularly divisive issue: the debate over sovereignty.

Simply put, sovereignty is the idea that Quebec should be a country of its own, not just a part of Canada. This has been a debate for decades; there has been 2 general referenda, and in both cases, Quebecers decided they wanted to stay within Canada.

In this 2012 election, there is much at stake, and it is very hard to predict what will happen on September 4th. It is very easy to criticize the political parties or leaders we disagree with, especially during an election campaign. Ideologies are exposed, scrutinized and discussed, but they are also condemned and scorned.

Everyone has their own opinion about how society should be run and what government should do. We try to figure out which party is closest to our ideals, and eventually, we go to the polls and vote on what we think is the best option out there.

Obviously, as individuals, we don't always have our way. In Canada, governments are generally elected with about 35% of the popular vote, which means that about 65% of voters don't have their way. This is how representative democracy works, and even though this system has its flaws, it is still democracy.

Whichever party is elected, I am grateful for living in a democratic society. I am blessed to live in a country where every citizen has a right to vote and decide what party is in power. Unlike many countries where fundamental rights are restrained or suppressed, Canada ensures freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of association and free elections.

I hope that a large number of Quebecers will vote on September 4th: No vote is lost, every one of them counts. I encourage Quebecers not to vote strategically, but to vote according to their own conscience. Even if the political party you are supporting ''does not stand a chance'' of forming government, your vote gives it funding for the next election.

Whatever happens next Tuesday, let us accept it as the will of the people, whether it is change or status quo. Let us be thankful for a wide array of parties to choose from and free elections. Let us be thankful that the results will be truthful, not corrupted.

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country
- Franklin D. Roosevelt


The Quebec National Assembly


August 21, 2012

Probably My Favourite Poem So Far


George Herbert,  1593-1633

Most people today have never heard of George Herbert, a 17th century English Priest and prolific metaphysical poet. His most famous collection of poems, The Temple, was published posthumously.


The Metaphysical poets ''developed a poetic style in which philosophical and spiritual subjects were approached with reason and often concluded in paradox.'' (Academy of American Poets)


Herbert's The Collar has been one of my favourite poems for a long time. I appreciate how genuine and honest it is about spirituality. 

The Collar is the story of a man who has been faithful to God throughout his life but now doubts. He is counting the cost and is questioning whether he should persevere. Progressively, he starts trying to convince himself to let go of everything he has always believed in. For a moment, he is tired to seek God's face, to seek moral righteousness and justice.


        I Struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
                                             I will abroad.
        What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
        Loose as the winde, as large as store.
                     Shall I be still in suit?
        Have I no harvest but a thorn
        To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
                                             Sure there was wine
            Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
              Before my tears did drown it.
        Is the yeare onely lost to me?
                     Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
                                             All wasted?
        Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
                                             And thou hast hands.
                     Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
                                             Thy rope of sands,
Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee
        Good cable, to enforce and draw,
                                             And be thy law,
        While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
                                           Away; take heed:
                                           I will abroad.
Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
                                           He that forbears
                    To suit and serve his need,
                                           Deserves his load.
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
                                           At every word,
        Me thoughts I heard one calling, Childe:
                    And I reply’d, My Lord.
The last two lines get me every time. As the author grows fierce and wild, God whispers and reveals himself to the author again. He has been there all along! 
Doubt gives way to certitude, and the relationship is restored.

July 10, 2012

Western (Twisted) Logic

Old Beggar, Louis Dewis (1916)
Last week, I was enjoying the beautiful weather outside on my lunch break. I work at a coffee shop downtown, surrounded by large government offices, law firms, fancy restaurants and luxury hotels.

I remember sitting outside in my barista uniform, surrounded by many well to-do adults: graduate students, civil servants, retired couples, tourists... Everyone was in their own bubble, looking busy and/or indifferent to the people around them.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an old man  walking towards where I was. He was short and slightly hunchbacked. He had a long, apparently filthy beard and was dressed in rags. Without knowing who he was, everyone knew what he was. A homeless person. Or, as some would say, a hobo.

I could see about 20 people staring at him, most of whom I knew were professionals. People stared as he walked towards the garbage can. People stared as he took the lid away. People stared as he went through the content of the garbage, and took a banana peel. People stared.

The scene was rather shocking. How could so many people bear the sight of this poor man degrading himself so as to look for food out of a public garbage can? How could we just stare at him?

I felt indignant and ashamed. How can people who have a well-paying job, a house, a car and a retirement plan just watch this humble man and not feel personally called to give a hand to a person in a degrading situation?

We are often very judgmental and indifferent towards people who live on the streets.

If you are not convinced, watch for how many people will pass by a beggar without even looking at him when you go downtown. How degrading, disrespectful and devaluing that must be! If you ask anyone whether all humans are equal in worth and value, chances are the answer you will get is yes. Most of us will agree to that statement. But do we live up to it?

Beggars, who are, by definition, beggars, and do not have a home of their own or food for tomorrow, seem to be often perceived as thieves, trying to use your hardly-earned money for the sole purpose of buying drugs. Some consider them completely responsibile for being on the streets, like it was their career choice or something.

It is true that some of them may use charity money for drugs, but this situation only highlights their misery, and should make us more compassionate. But is this an excuse to not give? We don't have to give money, we can give goods, such as food. Besides, some of them are completely sober, and do not misuse the money they are given.

Our reasoning seems to be an excuse to not take action, most of the time. But beyond our assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes, there is much to learn and discover.

The times I have had talking with people living on the streets have been some of the most enriching in my whole life. They taught me so much about how they conceive and live life. They gave me a perspective on the world I had never had before.They opened up to me and gave me more than I gave them, it seems.

Instead of suspecting the worst, we should hope for the best.
Compassion. Love. Generosity. That's what's truly important.

 In what practical ways can we help the people who live on the streets? There are many ways we can give them assistance in a safe and respectful way.

I think that's what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves. If a brother, another human being, is needy, we should try to meet their needs.

Remember the old man who was going to eat the banana peel?
Someone walked up to him and gave him lunch.

Portrait of Sir Francis Ford's Children Giving a Coin
to a Beggar Boy,  Sir William Beechey (1793)

June 29, 2012

Singing In The Rain, or ''How Great Thou Art''

Cliffs at Pourville, Rain, Claude Monet, 1896
About an hour ago, I was calmly sitting outside reading when a storm suddenly broke. I heard thunder and saw lightning as it started pouring rain. It was a big storm.

As I was watching the thunderstorm from the garage, I was very impressed by all the strength and power of the natural elements on display. I automatically started thinking about God.

All I could do was to watch, to appreciate, to admire. At that moment, I was just so aware of my powerlessness as a human being. We humans are not even close to understanding all the complexity of how the universe works. The fallibility of our knowledge in that area is made obvious by the fact that we cannot even predict the weather very well based on observation.

As I was observing the storm, I couldn't help but praise the Creator for his strength, beauty and magnificence. That was a great reminder that he is in power, and I am not. I am so small, helpless and flawed. Strangely, in his greatness, God cares about me. He who created the earth, the stars and the sun wants to be in touch with humans, whom he made in his image.


I was then reminded of an old hymn, How Great Thou Art. When I was younger, I was not very fond of old hymns because I thought the melodies were not catchy enough and there were way too many stanzas. Now that I'm older, however, I am learning to appreciate the hymns more and more and see them as hidden treasures. 


Here are the verses that came to my mind as I was watching the storm:


O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee
How great thou art, How great thou art


In that moment, these words came alive to me like never before. It seemed that the hymn perfectly translated my thoughts into words.

When the storm was over, I did some research about How Great Thou Art, and found that it was originally a Swedish poem written by Carl Gustav Boberg in the 19th century. Here is how the song came to be:
Carl Boberg and some friends were returning home to Mönsterœs from Kronoböck, where they had participated in an afternoon service. Nature was at its peak that radiant afternoon. Presently a thundercloud appeared on the horizon, and soon sharp lightning flashed across the sky. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. The thunder pealed in loud claps. Then rain came in cool fresh showers. In a little while the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared.
 When Boberg arrived home, he opened the window and saw the bay of Mšnsterœslike a mirror before him… From the woods on the other side of the bay, he heard the song of a thrush…the church bells were tolling in the quiet evening. It was this series of sights, sounds, and experiences that inspired the writing of the song. (Retreived here)

I think it's very interesting how this song was written after a storm, which perhaps explains why I thought of it during a storm. It's fascinating to think that we can have similar thoughts about God in similar situations.


It's sunny outside, now.


Enclosed Fields with Rising Sun, Van Gogh, 1889

June 17, 2012

Introducing ''The Welcome Wagon''

Photo from Asthmatic Kitty's website
The picture above shows Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique, also known as ''The Welcome Wagon.'' I have previously written about Vito Aiuto and Sufjan Stevens in a post called Vito's Ordination Song - A Masterpiece by Sufjan Stevens.

I love The Welcome Wagon's music. Although I'm not big on labels when it comes to music, I would say it's some kind of (christian) indie folk. I enjoy their heartfelt and unconventionnal lyrics, as well as their diverse and original melodies. They use a wide array of instruments in in their songs, and sometimes have a choir singing with them.

I discovered their band while searching for Sufjan-related music on the internet. Indeed, their first album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was produced by Sufjan Stevens and his record label, Asthmatic Kitty. Here are some songs I love from that album, as well as some lyrics.

But For You Who Fear My Name
You shall be my very own / on the day that I / cause you to be my special home. / I shall spare you as a man / has compassion on his son / who does the best he can.


Up On A Mountain
Up in the heavens our Lord prays for you / He sent his spirit to carry us through / So it's true that you're not alone. / Do you know He came all the way down?


I Am A Stranger
Tis' seldom I can never see my- / Self as I would wish to be, what / I desire I can't attain, from / what I hate I can't refrain



I think what I really enjoy about The Welcome Wagon is how beautifully honest they are about faith, doubt and emotions. Sometimes life is easy, and sometimes it's hard. But whatever happens, we know that God will carry us through.

I must say I am very, very excited about The Welcome Wagon's latest album, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, which was released only a few days ago! I am already in love with I Know That My Redeemer Lives. You can listen to this song here.

I hope you'll enjoy listening to The Welcome Wagon as much as I do! When I first started listening to them, I didn't really like their music, but it grew on me. I love their music now!

June 11, 2012

Paintings That Fascinate Me

Here are some paintings I find fascinating. I could  write about each of them and explain why I find them captivating and moving, but I don't want to corrupt your interpretation of the paintings with mine.


Starry Night (De sterrennacht) - Van Gogh, 1889


The Kiss (Der Kuss) - Gustav Klimt, 1907

London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining Through the Fog (Londres, le Parlement. Trouée de soleil dans le brouillard) - Claude Monet, 1904.


American Gothic - Grant Wood, 1930


The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower - John Everett Millais, 1878




What do these paintings evoke in you?

June 4, 2012

Coffee and Ethics

 

Everyone who knows me knows I love coffee. I love an espresso with real nice orange crema. It's no wonder I'm a barista at a coffee shop! It's a great student job, and I get free coffee!

But my student job is not what I want to write about. I want to write about ethics and coffee.

Canada is a democracy: every four years, citizens vote for the party they want to see in power.

As individual consumers, we have a similar power. Every time we make a purchase, we make the decision to favour a product or a brand over another product or brand. Remember supply and demand?

Our daily choices influence what is on the market. Different types of consumers are looking for different types of products: some want the highest quality, some are looking for the cheapest product and some are looking for a middle ground.

In North America, coffee is a beloved product. Here in Canada, coffee grain is even tax-free because it is considered an ''essential good.'' Some couldn't get through the day without their morning coffee at work while some others prefer to sip an espresso macchiato while reading a book in a café on a rainy thursday afternoon.

I don't know whether you are aware of it, but the coffee you buy at the grocery store or at your favourite coffee shop makes a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people living thousands of miles away from you.

In many African and South American countries, coffee producers are being exploited. Many of them do a lot of physical work and hard labour, only to get miserable wages.

When I was in Costa Rica 4 years ago, I lived with a family who owned a coffee plantation. Far from being wealthy, they lived in a tiny house and had a very simple, frugal lifestyle. The thing is, their coffee is bought at a very cheap price by big companies who then sell it at a way higher price to European and North American coffee companies.

In other countries, the State is sometimes the only authorized buyer, and sets the price of coffee. The government can then buy the grain from the peasants, only to make loads of money by selling it to coffee multinationals.

I don't want to write about this forever, so here's the point: buying fair trade coffee is important. Otherwise, chances are the coffee producers were not paid a fair price for their work and their product.  Coffee is not produced in factories: coffee is produced by plants and harvested by people, who toil and sweat.

The market share of fair trade coffee is still very low in many countries, but here's what we can do if we care about the quality of life and recognition of the hard work of coffee producers.
1. Buy fair trade coffee if you can afford it (only slightly more expensive than regular coffee, but it makes all the difference in the world. That extra money goes to the producer)
2. Ask for fair trade coffee at your favourite coffee shop. Many coffee shops offer at least one variety of fair trade coffee. (Second Cup, for example, offers the Cuzco, which has the fair-trade and organic certifications)
3. Get informed. Read this article by Fairtrade Canada.
4. Realise and appreciate the power you have to change things as a consumer! If the demand for fair trade coffee increases, the offer will increase as well!

Here's a cool video I found on youtube. It's about fair trade in general and, obviously, the power of the consumer. It's super short.

Fair Trade: The Power of the Consumer






May 26, 2012

Some Thoughts on Faith and Doubt

Claude Monet (The Reader), Pierre-Auguste Renoir

''Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!''

These words were spoken more than two millenia ago by a father to Jesus. Here is an exerpt from the full story found in Mark 9:14-27.
''[Father:] But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.''
Jesus said to him, ''If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes''
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ''Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'' 
This father who lived in a different time, in a different culture and in a different place spoke words that illustrate a struggle 21st-century people experience. At times, part of me believes, and part of me doubts.

There is an interesting tension between faith and doubt.

The French philosopher René Descartes has been remembered for his Method of Doubt, among other things. Descartes highlighted the importance of questioning every thing and every belief. He is also known for saying ''Doubt is the origin of wisdom.''

Doubt is defined as ''uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-making, [...] a lack of confidence, an inclination not to believe or accept'' (Merriam-Webster).

Faith, however, is ''complete trust and confidence in someone or something, strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof'' (Oxford).

In Hebrews, Paul writes: ''faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.''

Questioning and examining what we believe is definitely healthy. Beliefs, like houses, are strong and reliable when they have a firm foundation.

Doubt makes us examine why we believe certain things, and makes us inquire for evidence to support their truth, or show they are erroneous.

Some discredit the element of faith in Christianity on the basis that it seems irrational to firmly believe something that can't be proved.

But we ''have faith'' in people and things that ''can't absolutely be proven'' all the time. We trust that our friends will not betray us, we have faith in the positive influence of literacy in developing countries, and we believe that the sun will rise again tomorrow.

The purpose of doubt is to question and inquire in order to eventually reach certitude. Sometimes, however, doubt is used as a weapon for one to discredit any opinion, while not having any opinion to defend oneself. In such a case, doubt becomes a comfortable place.

Questioning everything (without really searching for an answer) can become comfortable because one never has to take a stand, and never has to defend any idea.

I find Soren Kierkegaard's thoughts on faith and doubt very interesting.
He wrote;''it is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.''

In my experience, this statement is very accurate!
Sincere belief yields to action. If I truly believe it is unfair that some people live in poverty, then I will do something about it.

So back to faith and doubt. Faith is a central element when it comes to believing in God, Jesus and the Bible.
There are things we can understand, and things we cannot understand. But it seems to me that it was meant to be that way. There is something beautiful about believing without seeing completely.  It requires trust and effort!

C.S. Lewis said, ''faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.''

So faith is not about being completely irrational, as some would say. Lewis points out that there is an element of rationality in faith--it's not all about foolish and empty beliefs.
 If I have read about God's goodness in the Scriptures and have experienced it, faith means that I trust him and still believe he is good even though I am feeling unhappy one day.

I would say that faith is not always the easy way. As I wrote earlier, it requires trust and effort, but it is also rewarded.

To conclude, here's one of the key Bible passages about faith and doubt. It takes place after Jesus died, and has to do with the news of his resurrection:


 ''Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” 
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”Then Jesus told him, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:24-29


May 18, 2012

Six Books On My Bedside Table, or Books I Am Planning to Read This Summer

First of all, I have to make this clear: I have not pre-arranged those six books on my bedside table in order to write a blog post. In fact, I had no clue what to write about this week. I turned around, I saw my bedside table, and I got the idea to write this article! 
Also, I took an amateur photograph of each of the books, because I think amateur shots are cool. Also, I'm not the best photographer in the world.


Charles Dickens - David Copperfield




I know... I haven't read it yet... It just seems so lengthy and intimidating! I love Dickens but he scares me with his dictionary-long novels. ''A Christmas Carol'' is short and much more accessible!!! But I can't wait to rediscover David Copperfield. I think I read an abridged, translated version of it (not the good stuff) when I was a kid, but I can't remember ever reading the original.







Blaise Pascal - Les Provinciales (Provincial Letters)


This (very old) book was given to me by my late grandfather, who had the largest and nicest personal library I've ever seen (besides that of Thomas Jefferson at the Library of Congress). To be honest, I have no idea what this book is about, but I do love Blaise Pascal's writings. Pascal was an outstanding scientific, philosopher, author, genius,  etc., etc.  My favourite of his quotes (and don't ask me why) : ''Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.'' 








Countess of Ségur - Après la pluie, le beau temps (After the rain comes the sun)


It's a shame that the Countess of Ségur is relatively unknown in the English-Speaking world. I read almost all of her books when I was a child. Sophie de Ségur was a 19th century French author of Russian origin. She wrote dozens of books with strong moral values and life principles to her grandchildren. I've read Après la pluie, le beau temps a number of times, and I love it every time. It's about the lives of Georges and Geneviève, two cousins. George is the bad boy, and Geneviève is the good girl.  Believe me, you have to read the book!!!






Peter Leithart - Fyodor Dostoevsky 



This book is a biography of one of the greatest writers of all time, Dostoevsky (also translated Dostoyevsky). Ok, to be really honest, I started reading Crime and Punishment last summer, and 150 pages in, I still wasn't hooked. But I'll try again this summer, I hate to half-read books. 
Here's what the back of this book says: ''To absorb Dostoevsky's remarkable life in these pages is to encounter a man who not only examined the quest for God, the problem of evil, and the suffering of innocents in his writing but also drew inspiration from his own deep Christian faith in giving voice to the common people of his nation... and ultimately the world.''




Rick James - Jesus Without Religion
This book is an informal summary of Jesus' life, what he said and what the Bible says about him. The back of the book expresses well what the book is about:
Rick James begins by clearing his throat. Free of creeds, quarrels and specialized theologies, he speaks of Jesus. No dogma, no politics, no moral at the end.
Jesus. What he said. What he did. And what, exactly, was the point.


I've read the first chapter and it's refreshingly unconventional. I still can't give my opinion on the book as a whole, but I agree that we  need to be reminded of the basics when it comes to Jesus and Christianity. Although James' book might be helpful, if we want first-hand information on Jesus and God and what this is all about, we should go to the Bible directly.


Chrétien de Troyes - Lancelot ou le Chevalier de la Charette (Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart)

As I was wandering and dreaming in the bookstores of Paris last summer, I wanted to buy typical, even stereotypical French books. I thought nothing could be more French than medieval French, and so I bought Lancelot, a very long poem written in the 12th century. It's about Middle Ages stuff. And some love story between Lancelot and Guinevere. Lancelot was one of the Knights of the Round Table (King Arthur and friends)












So that's what I told myself I would read this summer. What will you read this summer?
I might have used the word ''book'' a lot, but you'll agree that this word doesn't have many synonyms.

May 11, 2012

Five (Relatively Unknown) Songs I Love

Metronomy - ''Everything Goes My Way''
Metronomy is an English band I've known for a few years. A month ago, I had the privilege to see them live in Edmonton (they were opening for Coldplay), and I just loved their performance! This song has something exotic to it, but I don't know what exactly. I love how the video is so innocent and beautiful.



Sufjan Stevens - ''Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing''
Oh, Sufjan. Sufjan Stevens is one of my favourite artists. I love his early albums (his Christmas album is just  wonderful!). This song is an old spiritual hymn: Sufjan didn't actually write it. His interpretation of it is exquisite (love the banjo!!). The music is remarkable, but I think the reason I appreciate this song so much is that the lyrics often reflect the way I feel about God.



Philipp Poisel - ''Durch die Nacht''
Philipp Poisel is a young musician from Germany. I was introduced to his music by one of my German friends last summer. We were driving a convertible, it was raining, and this song was playing. The moment was perfect! Listen to the guitar. It's so delicate and emotional!



Josh Garrels - ''Rise''
Ok, this song is very strange and unique. It is very heavy and solemn, and I think it was meant to be that way. You can get Josh Garrels' latest album, Love & War & The Sea In Between for free here (I know!! It's so cool that he's letting people download it for free!!). Many of Garrels' songs are spiritually-oriented. ''Rise'' is an apocalyptic, almost prophetic song. It's about the Christian journey, persecution, perseverance, and restoration. The chorus makes me shiver. This song is a masterpiece.



Two Door Cinema Club - ''Something Good Can Work''
This is probably one of my favourite songs. Ever. I love it so much, especially the chorus. It make me happy. Two Door Cinema Club is a band from Northern Ireland. Their debut album, Tourist History, is very, very good. I also really like ''What You Know.'' 




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