Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Christianity LS

Here's a picture of the roof console of my Chevy Uplander van, which has the LS trim. LS is the lowest of the General Motors trim designations, behind LT and LTZ. That means any GM vehicle with an LS after its name is without the bells and whistles that come automatically with the more expensive trims.


None of those buttons do anything. The blank placeholders indicate that I've got no rear power window vents, no built-in DVD player, no parking sensor, no heated seats. The very presence of the empty spaces is evidence that I'm missing something.

For the Protestant portion of my life, this was Christianity for me. But I didn't have the luxury of seeing a visual display of what "features" I was missing. Then one day I sat in somebody else's Christi-van-ity (just... just roll with it) and saw all these extras on the console like the Eucharist, the profound definition of a sacrament, the beauty of the liturgy, the Apostolic Succession and the See of Peter, the vivid and simple logic of the Eve-Mary parallel, even literal bells (but no whistles, although sometimes clackers during Lent). Yet despite all these extras, I was still in the same type of salvific vehicle.

I then returned to my own Christianity LS and realized what I was lacking. I couldn't stand it; I needed those upgrades like I needed air. I could not have been fulfilled as a Protestant Christian any longer.

Chesterton had a similar experience, and I've quoted this from him before"When a man really sees the Church, even if he dislikes what he sees, he does not see what he had expected to dislike. Even if he wants to slay it he is no longer able to slander it; though he hates it at sight, what he sees is not what he looked to see; in that place he may gain a new passion but he loses his old prejudice. There drops from him the holy armour of his invincible ignorance; he can never be so stupid again."

I had been raising thinking Catholics generally were not heaven-bound. We even had a bit of a backhanded compliment about this notion: "Sure, Catholics can be Christians too, if they accept Jesus as the Lord and Saviour." And yet here I realized that not only were they on the right road and knew it better than I did. They were also travelling in style.

If you're reading this as a Protestant, have you ever seriously considered what you might be missing?

Monday, July 24, 2017

So Close...

For my whole life, I've spent part of nearly every summer at Arlington Beach Camp north of Regina, Saskatchewan. The camp a mission of the Free Methodist Church in Canada, and is a hub of the denomination's western-Canadian presence.

I was raised a Free Methodist, and even had my sights set on the ministry. In my mind's eye, I foresaw me receiving pastor's training, marrying a piano-playing gal who could help lead worship services, and taking assignments in backwater prairie towns, feeding the flocks there with the word of God. To fulfill that vision, I attended the now-defunct Aldersgate College in Moose Jaw, SK to begin a Bachelor of Theology degree. Life, however, took me in another direction after my first year concluded, and the following year the college closed. Suddenly rudderless, I drifted around, and during my travels and wanderings I found myself summoned into the Catholic Church. That's a long story for another post... if I haven't told it somewhere else before. Here's the part where I apologize to any faithful readers I have left for the long gap between posts. This one ought to make up for it.

Being a Catholic has changed the flavour of my visits to Arlington. I still love being there, as many dear friends I've made over the years still attend camp, and it's always been a favourite meeting place for my family, who are scattered over the prairies. And I still encounter Christ there in my personal prayer life and in the Christian community and events. But in order to fulfill my obligation to attend Sunday Mass, I need to leave the camp and drive with my wife and kids at least 40 minutes to the nearest Catholic parish. The means that a 3 hour chunk of time during each week at Arlington is spent away from my extended family and friends. They don't understand the nature of the Catholic Sunday obligation, and they certainly don't understand my love for the Eucharist that beckoned me across the Tiber. And they've never really had the patience to sit through an explanation of the scriptural reasoning that led me to Rome; those conversations usually get heated before they devolve into "let's just agree to disagree on our interpretations." For the sake of peace, I back down, but my heart still burns within me to help them see the truth as it's been revealed to me.

My most recent journey to Arlington was no exception. But this year was the first one in a long time that found me able to participate in the organized Family Camp activities as an adult. That specifically meant I could attend a Bible study through Philippians led by one Free Methodist pastor, another study of church hospitality led by a different pastor, and evening sessions on the divinely inspired rhythm of rest and revolution, led by the new bishop of the Canadian Free Methodist Church.

Here's where my post title of "So Close" comes into play.

On eight separate occasions within those sessions, I found myself seeing a logical next step in the teachings presented that, if taken, could merge beautifully into Catholic doctrine, but the pastors/bishop would always stop before that step. It was eerie. I know that we're all Christians and we have a lot in common already, but the proximity to specifically Catholic ideas was startling.

For example, one pastor talked about John Wesley's wish that his followers would be partakers of constant communion. Growing up Free Methodist, a communion service was something that was done perhaps once every two months. Long before my conversion, I remember thinking how weird it was that Catholics could potentially have communion every day. But this apparently was a concept close to Wesley's heart, which is logical considering he himself was an Anglican priest, which just one step removed from Catholicism. Still, Free Methodists are a couple of steps farther away, so for one of their pastors to wish for more frequent communion services made me want to stand up and shout, "Yes! God wants this for us, more than you know!" And indeed they had frequent communion services during the week (I did not partake), and one time they kept the leftover bread and grape juice on display on a table at the front of the big tent in which we had our worship meetings each night. This had a semblance to Eucharistic Adoration. Of course, Free Methodists and Catholics have a very different understanding of what communion is, and nobody was venerating the exposed bread the way Catholics worship the Eucharistic Lord. Still, they were so close right up until that last understanding, at which point they veered off wildly.

Another example in the same vein: this pastor also talked about how knowing there is communion after his sermon really takes the pressure off him to "perform" well as a preacher. It was all I could do not to point out to the group that the highlight of the Mass is always the Eucharist, and that bad music, unintelligible preaching, and unfriendly pew-mates don't matter to me as long as I can participate in the sacrifice of the Mass.

The third so close moment was when the bishop talked about the importance of confessing our sins to one another, verbally and out loud. He pointed to James 5:16 to drive this home, and touched on how forgiveness comes only after a verbal confession of sin. Unfortunately, he didn't connect that to John 20:22, where Jesus gives the disciples the authority to forgive sins through the Holy Spirit. But never before had I heard a protestant preacher talk about the importance of a spoken, verbal confession of sins.

Fourth: one pastor talked about how in Acts 15, the apostles came together in what's known as the Council of Jerusalem to decide on the question of whether non-Jews needed to become Jewish as a prerequisite for becoming Christian. The council decided no, and issued a letter stating their authoritative teaching on this matter. Today Catholics would point to other definitive councils in history, most recently Vatican II, as equally authoritative as the Council of Jerusalem because they are done under the apostolic administration of the Catholic Bishops, who are the spiritual descendants of the original apostles. These councils have been held to address the larger questions facing the Church in its current culture, and will certainly continue until the Lord's return.

Fifth: the bishop talked about the importance of a specific venue for private prayer. Catholic churches have always understood this need, which is why many of them have side-chapels, perpetual adoration chapels, and alcoves within the main sanctuary. The bishop was specifically referring to having a place in one's home, and many Catholic families I know have this because it's been ingrained into them by what they see in their churches. So close...

Sixth: the bishop led an interesting teaching on how different prayer postures can facilitate different types of prayer. He saw merit in praying with one's hands stretched up to the sky, in kneeling, in being prostrate, in standing, in sitting, etc. To a Free Methodist listener this is pretty radical stuff. But Catholics get it. Throughout the liturgical year we see all of these positions several times.

Seventh: one night, the bishop read from James 5:14 about how those who are sick should seek out the leaders of the church and request anointing with oil and prayer. If you're reading this and you're Catholic, you'll see that this is one of the spiritual bases for the Sacrament of the Sick. And not only did he preach on this, but he also had the pastors come to take up stations to offer an anointing with oil to any who were sick or needed prayer. I partook of this opportunity, while realizing it wasn't a valid sacrament per se, but hey, free prayer is always good. Again... so close!

Eighth and finally, one pastor outlined salvation history this way, as a five-act drama:

  • Act one: Creation in the image of God
  • Act two: Sin and the fall, with the promise that the woman's seed would crush the serpent
  • Act three: the promise made to Abraham and Israel that as God's chosen people they would be the instrument of the world's reconciliation with God
  • Act four: Jesus and his redemptive sacrifice
  • Act five: the Church's fulfillment of the promise of salvation, culminating in the return of Christ

He maintained that the fifth act is incomplete because it's being lived out in our lives right now, and continuing the theatrical metaphor stated that we as the actors are basically doing improv until the Lord's return, with only the scriptural account of the early church to give us direction. I had the occasion to suggest to him privately afterward that as a Catholic, I have a script for these last days, and it's provided by the Church. I had done the improv thing, but once I found the script and discovered that it fit the flow of the production seamlessly, I could never go back to making it up as I went along. 

We couldn't get much deeper into it at that time, and I have written this post in large part to be able to articulate all of those "so close" moments that I didn't get a chance to share with the people I ached to share them with.

Jesus, before beginning his Passion, uttered a prophetic prayer to his Father in John 17:11, asking the Father to keep his followers "one just as we [Jesus and the Father] are." My decision to become Catholic was less an act of will and more an act of obedience to this prayer. I didn't want to become Catholic; I needed to. Me being a Catholic is my personal response to Christ's prayer for unity among his disciples. I've surrendered all doctrinal differences I had with the Church; no cafeteria-Catholicism for me! I saw no way to remain outside of the original Church and the teachings handed down by the apostles and their descendants, and at the same time honour Jesus' wish for unity among his people. I pray that all will feel the same conviction.

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.

[50%]

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."

[0%]

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

Decisions

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.