Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Story of a Soul

This year I've taken up the challenge of a reading bingo.  It's a 5x5 grid with a different type of book in each square, so that means with the free square in the middle (yippee!) I need to read 24 different books this year.  So far I've finished six books, most recently The Autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux, which she titled The Story of a Soul (buy it at Stephanchew's if you're in Winnipeg).  I selected this book to fill the category of "a book written by someone under thirty."

St. Thérèse, if you're not familiar with her, was a Carmelite nun who lived from 1873 - 1897, dying at the tender age of 24 from tuberculosis.  She is better known as Thérèse of the Child Jesus, or the Little Flower, or the architect of The Little Way.

She wrote the book under a directive from the Mothers Superior of her convent; it's doubtful that she would have put pen to paper in this manner if she hadn't been so ordered.  She was a quiet soul, longing to be taken into the convent at a young age and finally accepted at age fifteen.  The book was first published two years after her death, and has remained a beloved tome of the Church.

I was surprised to read that St. Thérèse shared a common thought with me: she felt that she was woefully inadequate compared to the giants in Christian history like Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and their illustrious ilk.  While she was still quite young, she voiced this feeling of being too small to her elder sister Marie.  She recounts the tale to Marie thusly:

I told you once that it puzzled me that God did not give everyone the same amount of Glory in Heaven and I feared they could not all be happy.  You sent me off to fetch one of Father's big glasses and made me put my little thimble by the side of it; then you filled both up with water and asked me which I thought was the fuller.  I had to admit that one was just as full as the other because neither of them would hold any more.
That was the way you helped me to grasp how it was that in Heaven the least have no cause to envy the greatest.

Lessons like this convinced her that she could still attain sainthood (and indeed, today she is known as a Doctor of the Church, meaning we hold her teachings right up there with Aquinas and Augustine) through what she called The Little Way.

You know that I have always wanted to be a saint; but compared with real saints I know perfectly well that I am no more like them than a grain of sand trodden beneath the feet of passers-by is like a mountain with its summit lost in the clouds. 
Instead of allowing this to discourage me, I way to myself: "God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized, so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.  I could never grow up.  I must put up with myself as I am, full of imperfections, but I will find a little way to Heaven, very short and direct, an entirely new way. 
"We live in age of inventions now, and the wealthy no longer have to take the trouble to climb the stairs; they take a lift.  That is what I must find, a lift to take me straight up to Jesus, because I am too little to climb the steep stairway of perfection."

I could get on board with that.

Books can have many different effects on us.  They can entertain, they can challenge, they can frighten, they can educate.  This is one of the most unique books I've read - I don't know how else to describe its effect on me at this point on my journey other than to say that it seems to have strummed the strings of my soul with brilliant, harmonic chords.  She is so very real in how she relates her journey; so very simple, straight, and thin - but her zeal burned so hot, she was like a hot knife which impossibly seems to cuts through the coldest brick of butter with ease.

St. Thérèse, pray for us!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why Did You Let Me Fall?

When I was a young man I drove a taxi.  That was a fun job - I got to drive nice old style boats - Caprices, Lincolns, and even a Cadillac from time to time.  Once I got to drive the firm's limo for a wedding - that was a neat experience.  I used downtime between fares to read good poetry and to write bad poetry. I developed incredible defensive driving skills which still benefit me to this day.  And I built friendships with many interesting people.

One of these people was a sweet old black lady named Mavis who used to call on us every now and then to take her to the doctor's office or the mall or other such places.  She was exceedingly charming, full of vim, and always had a story to tell.  I had actually known her casually for several years before I started driving the cab, and as I got to know her better in the ensuing years, I witnessed her pass a frailty threshold to the point where she always need an arm to lean on to get in & out of the car.  Being the consummate gentleman, I always obliged her cheerfully.

One icy winter night, I was escorting her across a particularly slick sidewalk to my cab (I had picked a bad place to park, in hindsight).  Her steps were timid and hesitant.  "Hold on tight," she admonished me, and I gripped her around her waist with one arm, holding on to her arm with my other hand.

But it was too slippery, and as we were almost right up to the cab I sensed her losing her footing and starting to fall.

My mind raced as time slowed to a crawl.  Despite her frailty, she wasn't exactly a petite woman, and I was not positioned well enough to support her weight and still keep my own footing.  Somehow, I instinctively knew that the only way to keep her from falling hard and breaking something was to let my hold around her waist slide up to under her shoulders and then to ease her gradually and carefully to the ground.  Somehow I managed to control her fall safely and gently, her legs sliding under my parked taxi in the process.

This must not have looked at all graceful to any onlookers.

Time resumed its normal speed.  She let out a whimper, and looked up at me with those big white eyes glistening in the starlight, crying out in her creaky, weathered voice, "Why did you let me fall?"

My heart broke.  I felt like I had let her down (pun unintended and shamelessly left exactly where it is).  But I knew that if I hadn't controlled her fall, she would have been in a much worse state than merely horizontal and a bit chilled.  I tried to stammer out an explanation but she wouldn't hear it; in her mind I had betrayed her by not protecting her absolutely.

I was able to raise her up again and get her safely into the cab, and I got her home and to her door with no further incident.  But the memory of that moment, and of the utter shock and hurt in her eyes and her voice, has stayed with me.

Today this memory sprung unbeckoned to mind, and it struck me that there's a lesson here.  I'm no stranger to sin, and as much as I do try to walk closely with God each day of my life, sometimes I am on slippery ground and don't realize my danger until it's too late.

But God is good, and his arms are wrapped around me.  If I am to fall, he's still got me, and he can protect me even in the face of mortal sin.  I can think of many times when my slips into sin have been unnaturally cushioned by grace at the end of the plummet.  And on those occasions, if I were to look up at God and ask, "Why did you let me fall?" I now realize the hurt that must cause him - he has done nothing but protect me, even if I made that more difficult for him by choosing to walk on slippery ground.

Mavis, wherever you are, thank you for being God's instrument in my life.  And I'm sorry for not choosing a better spot to park.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Transformations #44 - 49

If you've visited my home within the last year (or read my last post), you'll be aware that I performed an extensive renovation of our basement.  It was a pretty much a complete rebuild - we had an imperfect concrete floor that made use of the space for an entertainment room next to impossible, and we also wanted to add a bathroom.

I could go into great detail with what we did, but these before/after shots tell the tale more simply than words ever could:

Aside from tearing out the old & pouring the new concrete floor (Sturgeon Construction did that and did it very well), roughing in the plumbing (ahem), and taping & mudding the drywall (shout-out to my friend Lionel of St. Joseph's Carpentry for rocking that!), I did all the work myself, with the help of family and friends.

From the little errors I made as I progressed, I learned many renovation tips during this massive project, and they seemed noteworthy enough to count as the little Transformations I am still tracking in my life.

#44: Plan your framing to include corners for drywall mounting.  This might seem obvious to somebody who has done this before, but I hadn't, and I was left scrambling to figure out a way to screw in my drywall properly at the corners of the rooms.  It's all fine now, but do me a favour and don't lean on the inside corners if you visit.

#45: Consult a financial adviser when moving big money around.  We had stockpiled some money into our tax-free savings account, and drew from that to cover some of our costs.  After having a chance discussion with a financial adviser later, she cautioned me that I could get hit with a tax on moneys I withdrew from the account.  Fortunately it would have been a relative pittance, as most of the project was funded through a line of credit.  I dodged a bullet, but it was still a good tip I wish I'd known before.

#46: Practice a new thing first - i.e. putting in drywall screws - you get better at it as you go along, so mess up on a practice area first, instead of leaving your learning curve on display for everybody to see later.

#47: Inspect contractors' work thoroughly & don't be afraid to ask for corrections.  Most tradespeople will stand behind their work (ahem) and want to leave you with a good impression.

#48: Cut your holes in drywall for electrical boxes very tight - start small and work them bigger gradually as needed.  And cut circles (not squares) for circles.  If you know what I'm talking about, you'd be impressed with how I covered up those errors!

#49: Always have a shop vac, broom & dustpan, and large garbage container on hand.  Seriously.  Keep your workspace clean.  I've extended this lesson to my house in general, and have been able to keep my nice new basement clean as a result.

Oh, and Phillips head screws?  You suck.  Come on world, get on board with Robertson!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

An Example of Bad Service

I've got a bone to pick.

Last year, we did an extensive renovation on our basement, gutting it down to the dirt and finishing it.  It's now my favourite place in the house.  I did most of the work myself, but brought in professionals for the concrete, plumbing, and drywall finishing.

My complaint is with my plumber.  My concrete vendor recommended him.  I was a little leery, as I couldn't find any information about him in my due diligence (he has no website, no company profile on the BBB website, and no mentions at all of his name or business online, which is part of the reason I'm writing this post).  But I trusted the reference and booked him.  His name is Jason Borgstrom, going under the company name J.Son Mechanical.  I was happy with 99% of his work.  It's that nattering 1% that has escalated and has now completely soured my experience with him.

The job we had for him had two main elements.  Part one was roughing in plumbing for a 3 piece bathroom.  Part two was removing our 100 year old cast-iron main drain and replacing it with PVC pipe & a backwater valve.  Previous owners of our home had done some plumbing upgrading, and the main venting stack had been replaced with PVC and tied into the cast-iron drain.  This is where that little nattering problem came up.

The main stack, if you're not familiar with plumbing terms, is a vertical pipe that sticks out of the roof to allow air into the plumbing system.  This lets draining water be replaced by air as it flows out of the house - without this, you'd create a vacuum in the system, and drains would drain slowly, if it all.  The stack ties into the plumbing on every floor of the house.  In my house, this 2½ story piece of pipe is held in place by nothing other than the ground on which it sits, which is not a problem as that ground doesn't move.  But when my plumber removed the horizontal cast iron drain from underneath the vertical stack, suddenly the weight of the whole stack assembly was held in place by the thinner pipes that connected into it from the sides, all the way up through the second floor.  One of those connections, the one from the kitchen sink, cracked and started dripping.  It was a slow drip, so we didn't notice it right away.  But when we did notice it, we opened up the kitchen cabinets to find the source and deduced the cause.  We called the plumber back to correct it.

He insisted that he did not cause the damage, but agreed to repair it, and did so.  Up to this point, we were still at 100% in terms of satisfied with his work.

But then he billed us for the repair, to the tune of $65, on top of his $3425 invoice. [Seeing that, my satisfaction dropped to 99%.]  I objected to being billed for that since it was damage that he caused, and told him via email that we would subtract the $65 on our payment, which we sent him promptly.  This was his reply:

If you believe it was caused by the stack, then so be it. I am not going to make a big deal out of $65.00. Thanks very much for having the courtesy to inform me of the difference. Thanks again.


As a customer service professional, his snarky tone really irritated me, but that was the last I heard of it and I let it go.  I figured that maybe I had just caught him on a bad day.

But a few months later we learned that the city was offering a substantial rebate for renovations done where there was a backwater valve installed, which we had done.  They required a detailed receipt from a plumber showing the exact work that was done, but our invoice was very basic and did not meet the city's requirements.  So I emailed Mr. Borgstrom asking for a more detailed version.  He didn't reply, so I figured a phone call would be better.  When I talked to Jason, he said that he remembered me, and he flat out refused to help me, saying, "Maybe next time you'll treat your contractors better."


I am now of the opinion that Jason Borgstrom of J.Son Mechanical has deplorable customer service skills, which, in a referral driven trade such as plumbing, is very unfortunate for him.  I'm quite well networked, and have recently had several friends ask me if I can refer a plumber to them.  My response has been that I don't yet know any good ones.  While I don't wish him any ill will, I do hope that this post helps future prospective customers of his make an informed decision.

There is a happy ending though: the city, once we informed them of our situation and Jason's intransigence, agreed to make an exception and is proceeding with our rebate application.

Look at the powerful customer service lesson here: Jason had an opportunity to keep my satisfaction at 100%, and to generate referral business, by owning up to his mistake and not charging me $65 for the repair.  He had another opportunity to get me from 99% back to 100% by saying, "Sure, that's reasonable.  No problem."  And he could have got me from 50% back up to 99% if he had taken 10 minutes and done up the paperwork I needed when I first requested it.

Instead, he was unreasonable and rude.

For the record, Sturgeon Construction did an amazing job breaking up & repouring our concrete floor (that was a hard, hard two weeks for them), and St. Joseph's Carpentry did incredible work with our drywall mudding and taping (virtually dust free!).  Both firms had no problems coming back to fix minor issues.  I'd heartily recommend them to anybody.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Line

I've been following through with my commitment to do a Bible study to help Catholics learn how to read the Scriptures, and tonight our group went through Judges, Chapter 10.

The chunk in there that really resonated with me was this (v 6-8, emphasis added):

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served ... the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the Lord and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them.

Along similar lines, today I read the English translation of Pope Francis' first homily as Pope.  This passage stuck out:

When one does not walk, one stalls. .... When one does not profess Jesus Christ - I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.

These two passages, both coming from completely different directions, hit me in the same spot in my heart.  This is truly the work of the Holy Spirit.  In simple terms, they convicted me that there is no room for compromise in my service to God. If there are things in my life that do not bring me closer to Jesus, they draw me away from him.  And those things, those gods I worship - for everything we do is an act of worship of something - are never neutral.  For the very things that seem so innocent will certainly lead me to my destruction, just as the gods of the Philistines opened the door for the Philistines to shatter and destroy the Israelites.

There is a very clear line between good and evil, between Heaven and Hell, between Christianity and The World.  From the Christian side, that line is very visible.  But from the world's side, the line must appear invisible.

The world keeps urging the Church, "Worship our gods.  Be more progressive.  Allow homosexuality.  Allow contraception.  Allow divorce."  By making a stand against these things, the Church is being a bright light in a dark place, and it hurts the eyes of the people who prefer the darkness.  "Turn it off!" they shout.  "Walk in darkness with us."  Therein lies the trap.

One who hides his light under a bushel when it is the only light in the room is a damned fool.  Literally.  Keep shining the light, Holy Mother Church.  And invite those on the other side of that line - those perched blindly on the edge of a crumbling cliff - to come and join us in the light, where there is vision, safety, and warmth.  There is no condemnation in this invitation - there is only his mercy.

If you are reading this and are on the other side of this line, I implore you: come to the light!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Dec 26 is the Feast of St Stephen, the first Christian recorded as martyred for the faith. How amazing that this violent death is so closely tied to the miracle of the sweet little baby Jesus.  The parallels are striking: in both accounts, not everyone recognizes Jesus for who he truly is and what his coming means for the world. Some people (shepherds & Stephen) are given glimpses of the glory of God which sound bizarre to those who hear the tale, and others (King Herod & the Sanhedrin) react with violence for fear of losing the power they wield over the people.  The question before me as I meditate on this is: How will I respond to the truth Jesus sets before me?  Will I embrace it despite the cost & ridicule it may garner, or will I shut him out and live life on my own terms?

Each day is filled with countless moments where this question is asked of me.

Therein lies the secret of a life of faith - baby steps, small choices, incremental progress.  I am far from perfect; my flaws are legion, yet Jesus loves me and meets me where I am at in life without reservation, asking only that I give him permission to do what he wants.  Sometimes I give this permission with profound zeal, but mostly my permission is half-hearted.  Occasionally I refuse outright.  Yet he never grows frustrated, and always patiently waits for me to come around.

St Stephen was a much holier man than I, yet I now humbly ask for his intercession, that I would be given the grace to surrender my life more completely to the Lord Jesus.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Transformations #43: The Bike Theft

On Aug 4, my wife and I attended Freedom To Love, a conference on the Theology of the Body as presented by Christopher West.  If you're not familiar with this topic, it's one of the key components of the Catholic Church's New Evangelization.  It's a deep, profound, and complicated study but is full of insights into our faith, our creation as sexual beings, and our creator.  It is jam packed full of jaw-dropping "I never knew that!" and "That makes such perfect sense now!" moments.

It was a pleasant & sunny day - perfect for a bike ride to get us to the Convention Centre downtown.  I've become a big fan of riding my bike into downtown Winnipeg, as it is much easier to navigate the traffic and free to park.  But I had never parked my bike for an extended period of time downtown, and this was a day long conference.  I have a good bike lock though (or I thought I did), and we found a bike rack near the front of the building that I considered to be within sufficient public scrutiny as to prevent a would-be thief from being able to spend too much time trying to cut my lock.  I was reasonably sure everything would be fine.

After our lunch break, my wife wanted to confirm our bikes were still there, and I took a look - they were.  "She's being too nervous," I told myself as I headed back to the conference room.

The bike locks you see here aren't ours.
But as the conference ended - it was amazing, by the way - and we headed out to go home, I was stunned to see an empty bike stand where we had had them locked up.

This is such a gut-wrenching feeling.  While not as serious a violation as a home robbery, it is still offensive to think that somebody took the time to cut my lock (which was securing both bikes to the rack).  In all likelihood, the bikes were taken to a pawn shop or broken up for parts to sell to fuel a drug habit.

We immediately went to the security desk and asked them if they had any footage of the theft.  The cameras recorded somebody bending over them at 2:54 PM, a different guy approaching them at 3:10, and the same guy riding one of them around the other side of the Convention Centre two minutes later.  Apparently bike theft is a team event.

My house insurance deductible is $500, and putting in a claim would have an impact on our monthly premiums too.  It's hardly worth putting in a claim for this.  Remind me why I'm paying $100/month for their services?  Perhaps if the thieves had done a more thorough job and broken into our home too... I guess I'd better be careful what I wish for though.

According to the City's website:

As many as 3,000 bicycles are reported stolen each year in the city of Winnipeg. 
The City of Winnipeg recovers up to 1,500 bicycles each year, with only 10 to 12% returned to their rightful owners. 
The City of Winnipeg sells over 1,000 bicycles a year at its annual bicycle auction because ownership cannot be traced.

Ironically, I had read this about a week prior, and had resolved to get our bikes registered.  The key to finding the rightful owners of bikes is to register the serial number with the police, which means that we'd stand a 50% chance of getting our bikes back.  You can't imagine how hard I'm kicking myself for all the decisions I made (or the ones I procrastinated on) that led up to this theft.

But that's not my transformation moment from this tale.

I was scheduled to play music at our Mass today, and the theft had been understandably troubling me.  My spirit was not in a place where I could rejoice at anything.  So as I walked to the church I prayed.  I prayed that the Lord would take all my worries and woes away.  I prayed that the Lord would restore my joy and would allow me to let go of the anger I was feeling.  I prayed for the thieves, that they would be converted and saved from their destructive cycles.

And I felt liberated.  A new & refreshing joy filled my spirit and I was able to focus on the beauty of Mass.

My wife had an insight that I'm clutching as my only grain of hope in this situation: perhaps those bike thieves had nobody else to pray for them.  Perhaps the Lord allowed this to happen so that they would be brought into the circle of our prayer life.  If so, I am doing him and them a great disservice by holding on to my bitterness over this.

That release from anger, that liberating love: that's the small change wrought in me this day.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Transformations #42: Resonate

The first time I went to Mass after deciding to become Catholic, I took my Bible with me.  I went with a Catholic family whose daughter attended school with me, and they were amused that I brought it along.

I was ready to read along.  But for the first reading, the reader proclaimed, "A reading from the book of Isaiah."  I panicked.  Isaiah what?  There should be a chapter and verse proclaimed along with that, no?  How else could I follow along?

Fortunately I knew the passage and knew which chapter to flip to, so everything was OK.

I've since learned that this is just the way it's done in the Catholic Church.  Participants in the Mass are expected to listen instead of read, and that is why the exact reference is dispensed with.

If you're a Protestant reading this, you may be of the opinion that Catholics in general don't know the Bible well (and you'd be generally right).  And you may think that this is a reason why (maybe, maybe not).  I definitely observed a state of cluelessness about the scriptures among the faithful when I crossed the Tiber.  There was a hunger for them there, but there was a real lack of pastoral effort to feed that hunger.  Catholics especially don't seem to know how to take a passage of Scripture, meditate & pray through it, and come out with something concrete to improve their own lives.

For years I was frustrated at my fellow Catholics for this missing component (I've since learned that there is a Catholic name for the type of study I was used to - Lectio Divina).  But it never occurred to me that I could help to solve this deficit.

Until just a few weeks ago, that is - hence the Transformation moment.  The Lord laid it on my heart (there's a good Protestant expression!) to start a Bible study.  He assured me it would work with my busy schedule.  So I put the wheels in motion, spread the word around, and tonight we had our first one.  A group of seven of us sat with coffee around our living room, opened with prayers, and began to devour the Word together.

We'll be reading through the book of Judges, one chapter at a time, meeting twice a month.  I call this the Resonate Bible Study, as the goal is to search the passage for something that resonates with you.

The book of Judges is a pretty difficult read if one is new to the Bible.  The first chapter is filled with very foreign sounding names of people and places, and as we went around the circle it was almost humourous to hear everybody stumble over Canaanites, Simeonites, Adoni-Bezek, Kiriath Arba, Talmai, Hormah, Zebulun, Nahalol... you get the picture.  But we got through it.

The challenge to each person was to find something concrete in the scripture we read and to turn it into a prayer request.  It seemed like a tall order, as the passage was very dry on first glance.  But "all scripture is inspired by God and is useful" - very quickly an enriching discussion took place, and we closed off the evening with spontaneous group prayer for every person's specific prayer request.  It was a little over two hours.

For me, what resonated took a bit of cross referencing.  The chapter is an account of how the Twelve Tribes spread throughout Canaan, conquering cities as they went.  Judah, the tribe descended from the eldest son of Jacob and therefore the one with the most political clout, "took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots" (Judges 1:19b)  My Bible cross-referenced that with Joshua 17:16-18, where the tribe of Joseph - the descendants of the second youngest of Israel's sons, with fewer numbers and the least political clout - was given permission to take more territory from the Canaanites in the plain (the cities referenced imply it was a different region of Canaan than Judah later received).  They balked at this, for the Canaanites had iron chariots and seemed too powerful for them to conquer.  "But Joshua said to the house of Joseph... 'You are numerous and very powerful.... Though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.'"

The relatively small and weak tribe of Joseph took on the challenge of the iron chariots and won.  The strong and influential tribe of Judah, chief among the tribes, could not defeat the iron chariots.  For me, the prayer request was to be weak like Joseph so the Lord can fight my battles.  If I try to defeat my own "iron chariots" under my own power, I am doomed to fail.

All in all, it was an excellent Bible study and everybody who came got something out of it.  I am glad I organized this and am eagerly looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


A friend on Facebook recently posted this famous quote from Steve Jobs:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.

This inspirational quote is taken from his commencement address at Standord University in 2005, and upon Jobs' death a few months ago it was dusted off as an example of the way he lived.

The only problem is, anybody who listens to that quote and adopts what it says is failing to adhere to the advice it gives.  The person who hears that message and walks away with an elated heart, thinking, that's exactly how I'm going to approach life, is, to draw from the quote itself, adhering to "the results of other people's thinking."  The noise of Jobs' opinion is drowning out the hearer's own inner voice.

It's like the advice my uncle gave my wife and me on our wedding day.  "As newlyweds and future parents," he said, "you're going to get a lot of advice from all kinds of people on every little aspect of married life.  Don't listen to any of it.  Chart your own course, and follow it."  He then grinned and added, "In other words, ignore everybody's advice, except for what I'm telling you right now."

On the surface, both of these messages sound like a genuine nugget of wisdom.  But the concept it promotes - unfailing reliance on one's own self - is insidiously dangerous, in that it can lead a soul into the isolation of the self, rejection of God, and risking final damnation.

One of the compelling truths I discovered on my way into the Catholic Church is that history is filled with all kinds of people wiser than me.  I realized with a shock the pure arrogance of Protestant theology which empowers the individual Christian to discern absolute truth for him/herself.  This deception is based on the Scripture verse promising that the Spirit of Truth would lead us into truth, but when one person's truth contradicts anothers, it's clear that at least one of them has been misled.

I propose that the deeper and purer teaching would be to discern whose wisdom is genuine and to follow the teachings and examples of those people.  As a Catholic I willfully rely on the inherited wisdom of the Saints and Doctors of the Church, and with eagerness I adjust the way I live based on this revelation. Jobs brushes the edge of this Truth with his quote, but he is missing the full reality of it.  G. K. Chesterton summed it up best way back in 1926, regarding his own journey to Catholicism, when he quipped:

We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong. In these current fashions it is not really a question of the religion allowing us liberty; but (at the best) of the liberty allowing us a religion. These people merely take the modern mood, with much in it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is merely dull and obvious, and then require any creed to be cut down to fit that mood. But the mood would exist even without the creed.... They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already. They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it.

The key question is simple: Who has the final word on what is true?  And just as key is one's individual response to that question, for if one admits to an authority outside of one's own self, must not that same person conform his or her life to the demands of that authority?

Apple is well known for branding its products after the self: iPhone, iPad, iPod... I, I, I.  It's clear how Jobs' philosophy of the primacy of self has impacted his brand and the culture it permeates.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Power of Repentance

In my devotional time at the local perpetual adoration chapel, I often feel a prompt from the Spirit to meditate through a particular section of the Bible.  I can't explain exactly this prompting works; one of the books or characters just starts to stick out in my head.  I recently completed a meditation on the life of Abraham, and prior to that I had focused on Romans, Jonah, and Job, among others.

For the study itself, I take one section of the book, read through it prayerfully, and try to find a way to make it real in my life.  It's an old Protestant trick that many Catholics would do well to learn, although my time in the Catholic study group Familia really helped me to develop this skill too.

Currently I'm going through the Old Testament book of the prophet Joel, and I wanted to share one passage that has really resonated with me.  The story up to this point is that God's people had rejected him, so he sent an enemy army to go and lay waste to their land, to loot the temple, and to put the people into slavery.  After the Israelites had had enough, they cried out to the Lord in repentance and he came to their rescue.  If you study the history in the Old Testament, you'll see that this is a fairly common pattern.  Nothing new here.

Hold on, I'm getting to the good part.

After saving his people, the Lord then turns his hand against the enemy army he sent to conquer his people.  When the army wonders why they're now suddenly the target of God's wrath, he responds: (Joel 4:4-8, which might show up as Joel 3:4-8 in some versions):

Now what have you against me, Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.  See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done.  I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away.

Pretty harsh, eh?  This is one of those "eye for an eye" texts that are so difficult to reconcile with the idea of a loving God.  Perhaps this passage can't be understood so literally though.

Taken as hyperbole, the core point would seem to be that God still treasures his people and is fiercely devoted to protecting them.  The intended audience here is the Jews, after all, not the gentiles from Tyre and Sidon.  God is sending his people a message here: God's forgiveness is a complete forgiveness.  He doesn't hold a grudge after the reconciliation, wagging his finger & saying, "You did have it coming, you know."

God is so eager to wipe all traces of his people's iniquity from his mind that he is filled with a baffled rage against the nations that would dare attack his beloved. It's almost like he forgets that he was the one who pronounced that very doom upon his people, and he was the one who commissioned the enemy army to invade. Psalm 103:12 says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."  That's what we see happening here.  God has forgiven his people so completely that he doesn't associate the destruction they had gone through with their past sins.  All he sees is that somebody hurt his beloved people.

I'm also reminded of a line from The Hiding Place, by Dutch author Corrie ten Boom, whose family hid Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War (amazing book, by the way).  Leading up to the war, her wise & aged father witnessed some of the atrocities the Nazis were perpetrating and sadly shook his head, saying he felt sorry for the Germans.  Baffled, Corrie asking him why he should feel sorry for people who led such brutality.  His response: "They have touched the apple of God's eye."

Through the new covenant, I am now one of God's chosen people.  I am the apple of his eye!  When I turn to him in true sorrow for my sins, his forgiveness is a done deal.  The true power of repentance comes from the fact that God always responds to us with perfect forgiveness; when we reach out to him, we find that he is there, having extended his arms to us long before we noticed.  The challenge I derived from my meditation on this section of Joel was to bear this fact in mind the next time I felt hesitant to approach the sacrament of reconciliation.  I extend that same challenge to you, gentle reader.