Sunday, July 19, 2009

Miserere: A Sinner’s Prayer Set to Contemporary Music

The sinner’s prayer is as old as Christianity itself. It can be as simple as the lines in the parable told by Jesus in the 18th chapter of Luke, where He commended a despised tax collector for uttering the simple words: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” A variation of the prayer has been repeated since the dawn of the Church every Sunday in liturgical masses, be they in Latin or in the vernacular:

If spoken in sincerity from the heart, such a prayer is indeed salvific. Of course, the danger of its repetition Sunday after Sunday is that it easily becomes formulaic and loses its meaning, even though the “Miserere”, as this portion of the liturgy has come to be known, is unsurpassed in its simplicity, beauty and truth.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

And yet the prayer has a way of taking on a life of its own, even breaking forth into contemporary pop culture and music, which otherwise seldom makes room for the sacred. An example is the song Miserere, composed by Italian artist Zucchero Fornaciari (known simply as “Zucchero”), with alternate English lyrics written by U2’s Bono.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

There's a Ford in my Future

I have never purchased a new car in my life. My first car was a 1975 Fiat 128, which my brother Nick acquired for next to nothing because it had a blown engine, and he worked his mechanical magic, dropping in a new engine and otherwise refurbishing it for his kid brother. Since then, my vehicular history has been as follows:
  • 1977 Fiat 131 Brava, purchased from my brother
  • 1980 Fiat 131 Brava, SW, purchased from my brother (Are we sensing a pattern here?)
  • 1981 Toyota Corolla, purchased from one of my brother’s customers
  • 1983 Mercury Grand Marquis, “purchased” from my parents (very reasonable price)
  • 1988 Dodge Caravan, purchased from one of my brother’s customers
  • 1989 Ford Ranger, purchased from a total stranger (I was getting brave!)
  • 1992 Pontiac Transport, actually purchased from my parents at near market value
  • 1991 Mercury Grand Marquis, “purchased” from my parents
  • 2000 Dodge Caravan, actually purchased from my parents at near market value

The closest I have come to owning a new vehicle was a 2005 Ford Taurus purchased used with very low mileage from CarMax (but since totaled), followed by a 2006 Taurus also from Carmax.

The 2006 Taurus and the 2000 Caravan are now sitting in my driveway, but it looks like the latter is on its way out. And for the first time in my life, I am thinking of actually buying a new car, despite the fact that new cars depreciate significantly in value the moment you drive them off the lot. So why the change? Let me go into a little history, some from last century, and some more recent. It’s a little convoluted, and not all of it has to do with cars, but bear with me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Baia di Puolo: Another Golden Find off of Italy's Beaten Path

Five years ago, Susan and I celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary in style. It was the first time she and I got to go to Italy sans enfants, thoroughly enjoying a glorious three weeks together in which we cruised up and down the Italian boot in a rented Peugeot 307 (Okay, maybe we could have done without the French car, but I must admit it was fun to drive). We started north of Milan on the picturesque Lago Maggiore, one of the lakes that straddle the Italian-Swiss border, and spent our first week southbound, stopping in Venice, Rimini, San Marino, Assisi and the Amalfi coast before spending a week in Sicily and another week northbound through Pompeii, Rome, Florence and Genoa.

Every stop, including the places we had been to before, had a new and interesting discovery, but the one that stands out in my mind was on the Amalfi Coast. In fact I had never been there before and—like most first timers who drive the narrow roads that hug the mountainside hundreds of feet above the crystal clear waters of the Tyrhennian Sea, my mouth hung open in amazement at the breathtaking panorama. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because our adventure started well before we reached the Amalfi Coast.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Musings of a Happily Married Man

Thirty years ago today Susan and I exchanged vows at Ebenezer United Methodist Church, just outside of Rising Sun Maryland. It was a sweltering hot day with 200+ people packed in a small country church with no air conditioning. There was no sacristy or side room for the groom to hide in, so there I was standing in front of the whole congregation, for some reason trying not to make eye contact with anyone as I awaited the bride. As Susan walked up the aisle, she was obviously more nervous than I was. Her hands were shaking so badly that I thought the petals on her bouquet were going to start dropping.

We had somewhat of an ecumenical service, officiated by the Rev. Lloyd Foard, a family friend and former minister of Susan’s home church, and Father Douglas Dempster, a Roman Catholic priest and personal friend. Between the two of them, we probably had received a total of one hour of pre-marital counseling. I don’t fault either of them for it, because it’s not like we exactly sought their advice. Looking back now, I think if we had approached the pastors of our current church, Solid Rock Church, and said we wanted to get married, they would have lovingly and wisely asked us to reconsider. We were both much too selfish and immature and had no clue what we were getting into. Scratch that sentence. I was too selfish and immature and had no clue what I was getting into.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Christian and Atheist Bloggers Abound

I started this site sometime last fall and, until recently, I could probably count on the fingers of one hand how many people actually read it. While the site is not devoted exclusively to Christian apologetics, my first post explicitly devoted to that subject [Apologia] seemed to provoke a modest spike in readership, as indicated by the site meter. I also received three unsolicited friendly comments from fellow Christians who are otherwise total strangers to me. One of them, who goes by the pen name of Makarios, has a very impressive blog dedicated exclusively to Christianity and apologetics. Not only is his writing more prolific than mine, but he is head and shoulders more knowledgeable. My hat is off to him.