Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Ten Favourite Christian Songs: 8/10

I can't list my favourite Christian artists without including at least one who has, like myself, migrated to Rome.  John Michael Talbot's biography does more justice in and of itself than I can in a summary, and you should read it - it's well written.

As with most of my music, the one album of his I have dates from the mid-1990s.  I remember when I bought it.  I was living in Ottawa at the time, and still not yet formally received into the Church, although I had begun the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.  I wanted to add something Catholic to my music collection, so I found a Christian book & music store and asked them if they had anything like monastic chanting.  The closest they had, the lady explained, was this monk who plays guitar.  I took a chance and bought the CD.  It was "Troubadour For The Lord."

Many songs on this compilation resonate with me, but his rendition of Psalm 131 stands out as unique for its pure simplicity.  There is no harmony and sparse accompaniment; a chorus of male voices repeats the same melody (lifted from true monastic life, I've no doubt) throughout the short psalm.  Considering the lyrics, the simplistic approach is perfect for the arrangement:

Unless you acquire the heart of a child
You cannot enter the kingdom of God
O Lord my heart is not proud
Nor haughty my hands
I have not gone after things too big
Nor marvels beyond me
Truly I have set my soul in silence and peace
As a child has rest in its mother arms
Even so my soul
O Israel hope in the Lord
Both now and forever
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, amen.

To listen to a sample of this song, click the Troubadour link above.  It's track #16 and you can hear 30 seconds of it there.

"I Know One!"

My boss shared something with me the other day that made me both proud (in a humble way) and ashamed (in a collective way) to be Catholic.

As a learned Christian man, he does some part-time teaching at a local Protestant Bible college.  He told me that one of the classroom discussions led itself into a discussion of the Catholic Church, and one young lady commented how Catholics are all lost and have no personal love for Jesus.  He challenged her on that statement, asking the class if any of them knew Catholics who didn't fit that description.  A lot of blank stares were passed around the room, until another young lady, by chance my boss' niece and also a coworker of mine, said, "I know one."

"Who are you thinking of?" he asked her.

"James," she replied.

"I was thinking of him too," he said.  He told them a bit about my conversion story and how my living faith is evident in my life.  He then warned the group that it's not fair to characterize one group of people by the actions of any of them, and a whole different discussion morphed out of that.

I was taken aback by this when he shared it with me.  Little old me arising as a sign of contradiction, in contrast to the way Protestants perceive Catholics!  I know these misconceptions well; I held them dearly once myself.

Indeed, I can identify with the words of G.K. Chesterton, another convert, who wrote, "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.... There drops from him the holy armor of his invincible ignorance; he can never be so stupid again."  Once I learned what I learned, I couldn't unlearn it, and for better or for worse I had to keep going.

Anyway, as my boss shared this tale with me, I struggled with a surge of pride, as would only be natural to any man in such a situation.  But as I pondered it more and more, my pride slowly migrated toward shame.  I'm not an amazing Catholic, really.  Just a normal one.  I still sin, I'm not always filled with sublime joy when approaching the Mass, and I get angry at my kids.  So instead of me standing out because I'm awesome, instead I stood out because the rest of the Catholics these young Christians know are so... unchristian.  They don't seem any different than the pot smoking neighbours, or the cursing motorist, or the irate customer.  In many cases, these people are Catholic, and the backdrop to many a middle finger is a rosary dangling from a rear-view mirror.  That's what other Christians know as Catholicism.

Now, I know many Catholics who live a spirit-filled, vibrant faith.  Their love for Jesus can't be denied.  Most of them accept the hidden glories - the poopy diapers, the late night shifts in the adoration chapel, the echos of prayers whispered in quiet prayer corners.  These indeed are praiseworthy, and more Catholics would do well to follow these examples of selfless love.

But my heart cries out for my estranged Protestant brethren, and I long to see them witness the same Truth which was revealed to me.  I suggest that every authentic Catholic should make at least one Protestant friend, and be willing to engage him or her in a frank discussion on the issues that separate them.

Maybe then my coworker won't be the only person in that classroom of young Protestants who can say, "I know one!"

Friday, February 11, 2011

Big Dipper Science Project

For her grade five science project, my daughter decided to take a look at the Big Dipper from a different angle.  I had been discussing with my kids how constellations only look like they do for us because of where the various stars are in relation to Earth.  To help them understand, I had put three beads on threads and hung them from the kitchen ceiling.  I arranged them so that from one angle you saw them in a straight line, and from another angle they formed an equilateral triangle.

That little teaching moment blossomed into this science project.  We discovered that the seven stars in the Big Dipper range from 78 to 124 light years distant from Earth.  Through trial and error, we scaled that down to 0.8 cm per light year, and came up with this model.  Shown here are the 'front' view, from Earth, and the view from the 'right side.' If you were plotting a course on the USS Enterprise, that would be bearing 45, mark 0, at warp factor nine for about 34 days - a distance of around 140 light years (we didn't put the Star Trek trivia in the project though).

This was a fun and educational project, both for me and for my daughter.