Losing Sight of Lent

Today is Good Friday, (or Karfreitag, here in Germany) the day on which we remember that the maker and Lord of the Universe and all that is humbled himself to die a death described by scholars and scientists alike as the “cruelest and most disgusting penalty” possible (Cicero, crudelissimum taeterrimumque supplicium, Against Verres, 2.5. 165) all in the hopes that he might one day be reunited with his wayward creation.

There are so many different traditions that intersect on this day: lent is ending, Easter weekend is beginning, in just over a month we will celebrate the ascension.  Most importantly, in just two days I’ll be able to drink something that isn’t water again.  CAFFEINE!

I’ve been lucky to learn over the years the many joys and disappointments of Lenten discipline.  I’ve watched my father, the Christian mentor in my life that I admire most, for many reasons, not least of which is his tremendous wisdom, compassion and discipline, reap unbelievable benefits from these fourty days.  When I was younger, he once gave up yelling (which at the time was quite impressive, especially to a daughter who yelled even more than he did) and I don’t think he has ever shouted at any of us, at least within memory, since.  I’m not trying to suggest that Lent should be the Christian version of fad dieting.  “Give this up now, and you’ll kick that bad habit forever,” is not the sentiment I’m going for.  Rather, I watched my father give up something that was hurting his relationship with his family in the interest of improving his relationship with God, and in return, I saw him grow in not only his faith but also in his relationships with others.  In short, those 40 days of fasting has brought him great joy well beyond them.  He also fasts (from food) regularly, and often on Good Friday, which is always an inspiration to me, who has not been brave enough to try fasting at all.  This year, he’s given up listening to sports radio on his commute to work in the mornings (Mike and Mike, anyone?), and has devoted the time to praying with my younger brother while they drive to his school.

I, on the other hand, have given up all beverages but water, and attempted to give up daydreaming as well.  (I gave up on giving up daydreaming after about ten days).  I chose two disciplines in the first place because last year I attempted to give up complaining (somewhat similar to daydreaming), and wound up giving up nothing and hating myself more and more every time I complained.

Forgoing beverages has not gone well either.  Although it was a tremendous blessing for about the first twenty days, it soon became quite difficult and also very frustrating.  Instead of praying every time I thought about drinking something other than water, and thanking God for all that he gave up for me, (including 40 days of food, drink and companionship, and then another three of life and the presence of the rest of the trinity) I wound up resenting the tradition of Lent altogether.  I whined, I moaned, I faltered.  (The flight days, I feel were pretty reasonable, as it’s pretty difficult to travel overseas early in the morning or late at night without some caffeine to keep you going, but the desperation coffees (two of them) and the half bottle of wine I drank last weekend were definitely pushing it).

Lent, for many of us, is a season of attempts (and often failures) to forgo something for nothing.  It’s a tradition which is completely meaningless to most western Christians, to the point that most of us have stopped bothering to give anything up at all.  (Many are also completely unaware that lent is a part of the Christian calendar, surprising as that may be to a dyed-in-the-wool Anglican like myself).  For those of us still striving in the direction of Lenten discipline, stumbling blocks abound.  In our quick gratification-oriented lifestyle it’s hard to find any place for denying one’s self; trying to give anything up is not in our nature.  Year after year we whine, complain, and falter, ultimately losing sight of why we are fasting in the first place.

And there is a reason for this fasting, however mired in tradition it may be.  No great religion exists in this world that fails to recognize the benefits of self-denial.  Fasting creates clarity of mind, focus, and for those of us seeking relationships with God and his creation, it fosters empathy and understanding.  The most powerful bond of all is shared experience.  When Christ humbled himself to share our humanity, he not only took on our sins as the perfect sacrifice, but did so having shared in the burden of living in a fallen world.  Though he may not have fallen himself, he was tempted in the same ways we were, lived with pain and loneliness like we do, and also shared in all the simple joys of human life.  In short, Jesus shared our human experience completely.  Through fasting we have a chance to do the same as he did once again, to deny ourselves, like Christ, and in that denial begin, however slightly, to comprehend the sheer burden of the ultimate act of self-denial.  Furthermore, we have the opportunity to suffer as he did; to turn, in our struggle, to God as our sustenance.  When we forgo Lent, when we turn in half-hearted efforts, this is what we are giving up.

One of the constant rewards (and beautiful paradoxes) of the Christian faith is that every act of self-denial and God-following offers far greater rewards than we could imagine or ask for.  Next year, I think, I’ll try giving up beverages and perhaps even complaining again, knowing full well what joy I seek but still aware of the fact that again I will whine, complain, and falter.

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Lichfield

One station before the end of the line every person seated near me stands up and files off as if on cue.  I appear to be the only one on the train actually going to Lichfield.  It occurs to me that Lichfield, being fairly small, is probably not a common everyday destination for most locals. I am a tourist out of tourist season and it’s beginning to make me feel just the slightest bit out of place.

Traveling during tourist season, visiting visitor packed museums and no longer serene cathedrals, I often find myself grumbling under my breath about how much I loathe tourists.  But I’m beginning to sense that being surrounded by other people like myself gives me a certain feeling of belonging.

After hopping off the train I scuffle my way along the platform, check a bulletin board to find the time I should be back by and then I’m off.  Outside the station I jam my hands in my pockets and walk.

I wander, visiting a few nice parks and gardens, the local cathedral, a chapel, a hospital, a friary and a few heritage sights. Each place I visit is marked by a certain serenity and I do not leave any place unmoved by the stillness there. A small orchestra is practicing in Lichfield Cathedral. The conductor doesn’t seem too happy, but I think they sound phenomenal.

Heading for the train station I meander through the tangle of local shops in town. It will be Mother’s Day tomorrow here, and dotted here and there in between a farmer’s market, drug stores and coffee shops there are colourful street vendors’ booths offering specialty cards, bouquets if flowers and locally-made costume jewellery. I stop at an old-fashioned candy shop and buy two pound’s worth of dolly mix because it reminds me of my mother. It’s much sweeter than I recall it being and I can barely manage to finish a small fraction of what i purchased. I wish my mother were there to share it with me.

-Written on Saturday March 9th, 2013

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That cathedral looks a little bit like a Disney castle, doesn’t it?  Like Cinderella’s, maybe?

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New York, New York In Three Parts

Thoughts From the Met

I am in the Egyptian hall, moving on to others, and I cannot help but marvel at the fact that here, just four thousand some-odd years later I am gazing at these remnants of the past.  Four thousand years ago hands as capable, as limited, as incontestably human as mine crafted these stones into walls and chiseled stories and illustrations onto their sides.  These walls formed buildings and those buildings stood for centuries, until, through some uncommon twist of fate they found themselves here in the present, puzzled over by people none to different from those that they were crafted by.

In these glass crates lies all that remains of a people who were once as much as I am now.  Here lies all there is to remind us they once were: personal belongings which point not to the individuals who owned them but to the societal collective of those who owned all such items.  Yet these things are profoundly personal.  They belonged to people not to a society.  Only one Egyptian owned that bowl, only one African wore that mask, only one Incan wore that necklace.

I wonder if a few thousand years from now, similar artifacts will remain from today.  Will the objects I use daily, or ones similar, inspire the same awe in some other young person?  Might they too wander through a museum to gaze at the belongings of someone like me and wonder who might have owned them?

Confronted with these possibilities I begin to feel vaguely disconcerted.  Someone wore that necklace in the case beside me; those rings gripped someone’s fingers; that mask hid someone’s face.   I would hate to see similar possessions of mine in such a collection.  Even the ornate dishes and furniture in many of these galleries, though certainly art, bear an undeniable, uncomfortable intimacy.  So many of the things we consider art and artifacts were once a part of someone else’s daily life, and a part of me has to wonder how they would feel to see their most intimate possessions encased in glass and simplified by wall plaques for all the world to ogle at and puzzle over.  It seems a sorry end for many of the world’s most powerful and fascinating civilizations to have been watered down to the spectacle one finds in most museums.  Yet at the same time, I can think of nothing I would rather do with this particular afternoon than explore the Met, taking in all that I can of what remains of the past.

One last observation, and a somewhat paradoxical one: I feel a lot more comfortable photographing the artifacts than the art.  If a painting or sculpture catches my eye, I take a picture of the placard.

Thoughts from MoMA

Not enough time!  Not enough time! Not enough time!  Must get back, must pack bags, must catch plane!

 Relax.  Breathe.  Enjoy.   You have two hours.  It will have to be enough.

Still I find it hard to breathe, swept up in panic induced by lack of time and raucous, tight-packed crowds.  How many people can possibly come to see a gallery on a weekday?

Too many people!  Too many damn tourists!  I’m a tourist!  How can one possibly enjoy a gallery in such a crowd with such a din?

 Somehow, despite my panic and The Persistence of Memory being out on loan, I find I enjoy myself immensely.

A Couple Of Notes About New York

I have been to this city three times now, and each time has been something altogether new.  This time I had only a day and a half to enjoy the city, which made for an interesting visit.  I visited two museums, (unless the lobby of the Guggenheim counts as a museum on its own, then three) but only managed to spend four hours in the first and two hours in the second.  I’m definitely of the day-per-museum philosophy, or barring that, at least 5 hours.

I really like New York.  I have often said that if I ever have to move to the States, I would like it to be to New York City.  To be honest, I think the best way to see NYC is probably to live there rather than to visit for just a couple of days, but unless that dream of mine is realized, I’ll make do with what I can get.

My two days in the city this time around were the first two I’ve spent there on my own, part of a stint of world-travelling in between high school and university.  Although it’s always nice to travel with other people, in a city like New York I really appreciated being able to pursue my own agenda.  It was also great to have a chance to spend some time with my cousin who is at school in the city.

If ever you go to New York, I’d recommend taking some time just to walk through the city, and a great deal of time to simply walk through Central Park.  I would also, of course, recommend that you see the museums.  Aside from that, I personally think that tourist New York is a little overrated.  A Broadway musical is probably (definitely) worth it, but you can do without seeing Rockefeller Centre or the Empire State, at least in my opinion.

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What I Did In Lennoxville

I am sitting at a crowded airport gateway in Montreal, in the same uncomfortable seat I have been in for the last five hours.  It is quarter to eleven in the morning and with the aid of a couple of gruesome Tim Horton’s coffees; I’m finally beginning to really wake up.

In two months of living in the Eastern Townships I’ve only made it into the city twice, and all I’ve seen is the airport.  The first time I was just arriving in Quebec, and now, a blink of the eye later, I’m almost gone.  I can’t say I don’t regret not making it into the city for a bit of exploring, but sometimes the pace of life takes you by surprise, and all the best laid plans are cast aside in favour of more important and somewhat more mundane occupations.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

In the aforementioned two months, I haven’t managed to post a single blog post either.  Time moves in remarkable ways when you’re not paying it much heed, and while it feels like I arrived in Quebec just yesterday, a lot has transpired in the meantime.

A life can be built in two months.  I’ve worked in a new and completely unexpected career, become regularly involved in three different church communities, helped serve dinner to hundreds of students a week, seen many new faces and made many new friends.  I’ve been prophesied over, catalogued an entire library (albeit a small one), learned to cope with negative thirty degree weather and discovered a new passion for Christian Yoga and a form of spontaneous worship called Harp and Bowl.  Thanks to a fantastic used bookstore and an HMV less than a half hour away I’ve acquired seven new books and ten new CDs, not to mention the new wardrobe I’ve gained due to my job at a local vintage and used boutique.  In an hour, I leave it all behind, though what I’ve learned will stay with me for a long, long time.

So Lennoxville, I leave with a love letter and a few photographs.  I’ve really enjoyed my time here, despite a bit of homesickness and perpetually runny nose.  It’s been wonderful to wade through drifts of snow and walk atop frozen rivers.  I’m delighted to discover that I can, in fact, withstand the cold of the “True North Strong and Free,” and to learn that snowmobiling, while exciting and new, is definitely not for me.  Lennoxville, though everyone told me you were ugly in the melting, slushy snow, and that I “should really come back to see you in the summer or the early fall,” you have a certain rustic charm.  Your shopkeepers are friendly and your people even more so.  Your House of Prayer is a wonderful place to meet with God, and I wish I’d had more time to spend within its walls.  I love the old brick buildings and the unexpected street art plastered on them.  I love the way you look after a fresh coat of snow, but I’m just as happy when it melts.  Either way, you’re like a home away from home, and I was glad to have the chance to visit.

Goodbye, it was great, let’s do it again sometime, okay?

Below are just a few quick snapshots of my favourite Lennoxville spots.

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The Quebec House of Prayer, previously home to the Rev. Lucius Doolittle, once a bar, and now a tremendous testimony to God and his goodness.

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A statue outside QHOP.

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Above and below are a couple shots of my favourite local used bookstore. It reminded me of some such shops which my father used to take me to as a child: slightly musky in scent, colourful, serene, great to while away an afternoon and some money in, and filled floor to ceiling with well-loved, often out-of-print and vintage volumes, each with their own unique story told in worn spines, faded covers, bent page corners and the occasional personal note scrawled just inside the front cover.

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My workplace.

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18A Connely may look unassuming_ from the outside, but come every Tuesday night there’s a very dedicated group of missionaries who feed anywhere from 100 to 400 some-odd students there.

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And last but not least, above and below, my favourite local graffiti.

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Beginning is hard, continuing is easy

Well, the months have passed and again I must conclude that blogging, though something I enjoy, is not one of my strong suits.  Neither is being organized.  I leave for eight months worth of traveling in just two short days.  I have not packed anything nor have I tidied my room so that my brother can move in during my absence.  I haven’t bought most of my plane tickets, do not have one of the visas I need, and have no traveler’s cheques or American cash, yet somehow I still feel less mentally and  emotionally equipped than I am practically.  Beginnings are not my forte.

The last time I prepared to leave for two months of travel I wrote a poem called “To do before I leave.”  It was certainly not one of my finer works, but it summed up my troubles with traveling to a T.  I, like everyone else, am a procrastinator.  And as the days count down to takeoff, I realize more and more that I have too much left to do.  Once I’m on the road it’s easy enough to keep going- I miss the people I’ve left behind, but I’m more occupied with the things I’m doing than my homesickness.  If I don’t have the things I need when I’m on the road, it’s easy enough to buy them.  The last minute preparations are not really as devastating as people think they are, the real frustration is that they add to other stresses.

I am so nervous.  My real fear here has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t own all the appropriate clothing for the climates I’m headed for or that I don’t have perfectly laid plans for where I’ll be when.  What hampers my preparations is this sense of internal unpreparedness and inadequacy.  A pervasive feeling that says: “you’re not good enough.  Your reasons for traveling aren’t good enough.  Why are you doing this?  It’s a waste of your time and money, a waste of other people’s time and money.”  This feeling, I know, is common to all people- we all struggle with insecurity.  But somehow the thought that other people are dealing with self-doubt isn’t very comforting.  So all I can do is keep stepping forwards, keep pressing on, into a bright but wholly uncertain future with little sense that I’m doing the right thing.   But that, I suppose, is life as it has been, is, and will be for as long as I live.

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How to Get Good Free Music, or, How To Pay as Much for Your Music as Emily White Without Breaking the Law

Well, with a few more weeks of not-blogging under my belt, I return with a topic very dear to my heart: good, free music.  Truth be told, there isn’t much of it out there, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any.  And while I’d never claim to be an expert on the matter, I do feel that what I do know about it could easily be helpful to others who want to find good, legally free music for themselves without having to go to all the trouble I have in order to find it.  This post will also touch on some other things which might be useful to learn about- for example, why it is important to pay for your music (hint, hint, Miss White), why you should pay for actual CDs, and how to use targeted advertisement to your advantage, rather than just doing away with it altogether.

Now before proceeding, I suppose I should explain to my less internet-aware readers who the Emily White I’ve been mentioning is.  The Emily in question is a young NPR intern (or she was, when she came into the public eye), who caused quite a splash back in June when she publicized her less-than-legal methods of filling out her music library on the NPR blog All Songs Considered.  Her rather controversial article, which essentially promotes theft of music created by hardworking musicians, received widespread backlash from people involved in the industry as both consumers and producers, and I also wrote a brief response of my own about why I appreciate CDs.  However, my ultimate issue with White’s stance is not a matter of preference- it’s a matter of ethics.  Let me make clear from the get go that I do not in any way condone, support, or recommend pirating in any way shape or form.  This includes both “borrowing” CDs from friends (or in White’s case, occasionally  employers) and making personal copies and downloading from third party sites.

Now: onto the free music, and where and when it is legal.  You can, of course, stream most music that is produced nowadays in part (on iTunes) or in whole (sometimes on iTunes, but also on artist-sanctioned sites like Spotify, Slacker, Pandora, MOG, Bandcamp, or ReverbNation, and increasingly, on the artists websites), but if you’re hoping to actually own some free music, you’re bound to discover what I and many others have: there isn’t much of it out there, not legally, at least.  However, iTunes gives out free singles from popular artists once a week, and if you live in a country which is bilingual (like Canada!!) you can often get one in both of the national languages.  iTunes also collaborates with Starbucks to give out free songs, often every other week, alternating with some great apps and the occasional movie rental or TV episode.

The bulk of the free music to be had comes from the artists themselves.  Many fledgling artists give their songs, and even whole albums, out for free, digitally.  (Free music of this variety, with a few exceptions, makes up the entirety of the exclusively digital stuff in my collection, but more on that in a minute).  Some choose to submit their stuff to Blalock’s Indie Rock Playlist (or to other similar sites), a playlist of roughly one hundred songs by various fledgling indie musicians and bands which is released once monthly, along with the occasional extra mixtape and free song throughout the month.  To be honest, I don’t download BIRPs often, as finding music this way is something akin to digging through shit for sweetcorn, and I can usually distill the hundred some odd tunes down to a choice twenty to forty.  Still, everyone’s taste is different, and the playlists tend to accommodate many different musical styles and preferences, which means that there is reliably something good there for everyone (with the exception of my parents, who don’t generally like post-modern indie music, along with most of their generation).

Other artists give their music out more directly, on their websites, via email, on facebook, or on third party websites like ReverbNation and Bandcamp.   Here is where knowing how to use targeted advertisement to your own benefit is important.  While some of us (ie- people like me) might have the time to web surf or peruse the dwindling number of record stores in our area for new musicians, others are either to busy or don’t feel like searching for new music is a valuable way to spend their free time.  If this is you, or even if it isn’t, targeted advertisement can be a valuable ally, even if you (like me), are generally not a fan of ads.  Facebook happens to have targeted advertising down to an art, so it’s Facebook that I’d recommend using to find new music.  Log on, just once, and mentally go through your favourite artists, “liking” their official pages as you go.  You’re killing two birds with one stone here: if you’ve liked the official page (if the artist has one), you’ll find out about nearby concerts on your home feed, and you may also learn about free music they’re giving out.  You’re also letting facebook know what kind of music you like.  Now go through the advertisements on the sidebar.  Remove all the ones which aren’t about music, and mark them as “uninteresting,” or if you feel strongly about them, perhaps “offensive” or “against your views.”  The ads that appear after this will often be about new independent musicians and will often mention free music as an incentive for visiting the page.  Some of the stuff that shows up will be pretty poor in quality, but a lot of it won’t be.  I found out about a couple of my new favourite musicians this way- you can see their stuff here: David Stone’s Youtube, and Love Come Save Me (McHugh).  McHugh is still giving out his entire digital album for free, and it’s phenomenal (in my opinion, at least).

Also, if the artists you learn of are on bandcamp, they may link to “music you might like,” which is often by artists they know who are at roughly the same stage in development and production/ recording.  If the artist you enjoy is giving their music out for free, the other band may be also.  I found out about another new favourite this way- Catamaran (their demo album is still free to download).  Bandcamp is also generally a treasure trove of free music, if you’re willing to poke around for a while.

Finally- a note on why you should be buying CDs: it’s good for the economy.  Capitalism only works if people are paying for the things they feel are worthwhile.  The more music that is purchased, the more that can be produced.  Supply and demand only works when the people demanding things are willing to pay for them.  And why CDs rather than digital albums?  Those CDs support more laborers.  Roughly the same amount of money gets back to the musician as it does from an iTunes sale, and more of the money supports producers and factory workers, rather than going into a corporate budget that pays for advertising and the creation of new products.  Essentially, by purchasing CDs you are making capitalism a viable economic system.  By purchasing digital albums, you’re paying less money, but you’re supporting mega-corporations that care more about their continued success, rather than that of the entire human race.  And while CDs do support other large corporations, these are often smaller in size (while still supporting more employees) and there are a lot more of them competing for sales, whereas Mac currently holds the corner on digital music sales.  Of course, buying individual songs through iTunes is a great choice if all you want is the one song, but if you’re looking for an album, please consider buying a physical copy.

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Imperfection is Beauty or Nice try Veet, Let’s See Some Real Diversity!

In spite of the significant percentage of women’s magazines that is devoted blatant sexism written, photographed and designed for women by women, I read a lot of them.  Years of reading these has made me almost completely immune to the fact that having any excess weight is thought to be on par with wearing sweat pants to the office or wearing dayglo pants in terms of fashion crimes.  But the skinny-loving, fat-shaming rhetoric of the twenty-first century hasn’t gotten to me completely, and this advertisement caught my eye and set me off.  (I found my copy of the ad in this Augusts’ edition of Elle Canada, but I’m sure it’s been placed in many other magazines as well).Image
Let’s just say one thing: I think skinny women are beautiful.  I think women with big bums are beautiful.  I think African women, Asian women, white women, Indian women, Native American women, South American women, and women with all the body types that accompany these backgrounds are beautiful.  I don’t think there’s such a thing as a woman with an ugly body, and I have no problem with the stick thin models that populate the glossy pages of magazines.  What I take issue with is that they’re the only women on those pages.  Even then, no serious complaints; I understand that we’re not likely to see a mainstream shift from this attitude until skinny stops selling- which it probably won’t.  When it becomes a serious issue, in my mind, is when someone tries to pass off this selective, perfected, air-brushed image of women as diverse.

This advertisement in no way reflects diversity.  Sure, there are legs that differ in colour, but none that differ in shape.  The legs are all perfectly symmetrical, the curves parallel.  There has been some serious photo editing done here.  No woman has legs that perfect, and none have legs that similar to each others’.  Furthermore, these legs don’t differ in size, or apparently, age.  I can pretty much guarantee that none of the legs in this picture belong to a woman over the age of thirty-five.  So why does Veet even bother to try to cultivate some sense of diversity?  For financial reasons, mostly, after all they do need to somehow underscore their claim that “Legs everywhere are convinced,” but some of it, I’m sure, is legal.  If they’d chosen to show that many legs without some of them being non-Caucasian, someone would surely have taken offense.  Well, I’m writing this to say that I take offense too.  I’m tired of seeing women devalued for aesthetic reasons- sure, this incredibly-symmetrical advertisement looks great, but it also looks fake.  Women are beautiful even when they are old and imperfect, if their legs are long or if they’re stubby, they’re gorgeous even with scars and sometimes because of them.  Heck, women are beautiful even when they don’t shave and they’re really beautiful when they actually have pores.  One of the most undeniably beautiful thing about women is that they are real.  It’s time that we started calling companies out on selling their products by talking about diversity when the pictures they accompany their rhetoric with don’t reflect it.  I’m not asking them to change their advertisements, I’m asking them to start telling the truth.

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