June 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's sunny outside, now.

Enclosed Fields with Rising Sun, Van Gogh, 1889

June 17, 2012

Introducing ''The Welcome Wagon''

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 11, 2012

Paintings That Fascinate Me

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

Starry Night (De sterrennacht) - Van Gogh, 1889

The Kiss (Der Kuss) - Gustav Klimt, 1907

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

American Gothic - Grant Wood, 1930

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

What do these paintings evoke in you?

June 4, 2012

Coffee and Ethics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Trade: The Power of the Consumer

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