Thursday, 28 March 2013

Woe is Calvary

Woe is Calvary.
There's no end to this pain.
There's no end to this agony.

Maybe God could have done different.
Because the last time I checked, the world was no less indifferent.

Woe is Calvary.
The cross, the contempt, the misery.
The sneer, the scorn, the travesty.
Who can save us, this wretched humanity?

Maybe God could have started without.
This creature formed in his image.
Upon the ruins of Babel, they shout,
"I'm free! I'm free! I shall pay you no homage!"

So what good is good friday?
Where they put God on a stake.
What good is the narrow way?
Seriously, for whose sake?

Is God now redundant?
Have we retired our messiah?
Have we created an age of abundance?
And in His stead, reign our own desire?

If so, this is our irony.
The Maker's image is the image maker.
We can't escape this infamy.
Man's redemption? Any taker?

Imagine 6 billion gods, a global cohort.
Imagine each is on fire, to become man's next messiah.

Can we even live at peace?
Can we even aspire?
To put humanity's pain at ease.
To tame our endless desire.

l think the end is near.
This is my mortal fear.
When man decides to rule.
As gods, there's no greater fool.

So, woe is Calvary?
Or, woe is man's tyranny?
I guess the hope is misplaced.
Because the son cannot be replaced.

"It is finished!" is not a cry of the end,
Of suffering, Of death, Of pain.
The Cross as bloodied as it stands.
ls not a sacrifice that's in vain.

So the world will go on.
Though pain will not fade.
This is my savior's song.
Rarefied by love this world cannot relate.

Thus I shall rejoice on Friday.
I shall turn my eyes on him.
Because I know three days to Sunday.
In gladness, my soul shall sing.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

God's PR consultant: whose image is it anyway?

I can imagine angel gabriel (AG) consulting a public relations manager (PR) on improving God's "image" in the light of the current disillusionment. If I am allowed some latitude to set this imagination of mine free, I suppose the discussion will go something like this.

AG: You know people are beginning to think that he's a figment of their imagination. Some of the believers are even entertaining second thoughts, but such doubts are repressed for the sake of tradition, continuity and livelihood. I guess they figure that rocking the boat now may just sink it. (sighs) What should I do? How can I improve his image?

PR: If I may be frank sir, (waits for AG to return a pensive nod) I think the problem is two words, gratuitous suffering...

AG: (chimes in) I know. I know. What can he do in that department to burnish his credentials?

PR: Well, the answer is quite obvious. Can't he stop it (catches a glimpse of AG's expressionless stare and continues). I mean...can't he make it go away?

AG: Well, the plan was for his son to endure the worst of injustices, pain, and abandonment in their stead. He overcame it all and became a symbol of redemptive hope for them. Isn't that what suffering is all about?

PR: Yes, I can see that. The calvary message has given much hope to the people even today. But that message is...erm getting old for an increasing number of them.

AG: Old?

PR: ...I mean suffering is subjective. Only he who experiences the whole nine yards of it knows how much it hurts and how long he can endure it. And a distant memory of the exemplary suffering at calvary is just not personal enough to persuade those who have to endure endless and apparently meaningless pain to keep the faith. In fact many of them are raising tough questions only he can answer. What's more, the image he has been projecting since the beginning of time sorely contradicts with that of his son's.

AG: (squints) I think I know where this is going. But go on...

PR: (swallows the bile in his throat) Sir, the perplexing issues raised in the paradox of evil and the calvary of redemptive suffering just don't cut any ice with the people. They are more confused than they are enlightened. And so far, the apologists' debate has generated more heat than light, so to speak. Compound all that with gratuitous suffering and the information, internet age, you get the perfect storm of disbelief. Essentially, the people have evolved to be more informed and inquisitive. They no longer accept OB markers for their faith. They have outgrown the post-Eden age of knowing good and evil. They can in fact distinguish between original light and moonshine. You can call this development the rebel spring.

AG: But...but that's the point of faith isn't it? Evidence of things not seen?

PR: Sorry to be a wet blanket sir but that too I think is getting a tad old.

AG: don't think faith is persuasive or credible anymore?

PR: (shakes his head) I'm afraid not. To many people out there, faith is nothing more than a child accepting the existence of santa claus because there are presents underneath the tree. That's all. It's non sequitur logic to them. It's the fluff without the cream. And most have grown out of it. Faith actually adds nothing to the debate in their view and it's not helping that science is more engaging, informative and credible. And didn't Popper once say that a theory that explains everything explains nothing at all?

AG: Ah...that Popper guy, that epistemological imp. Anyway,  talking about science, she used to be the mother of theology you know.

PR: Well it used to be that way sir. But now, the spin of science is better accepted than the spirit of faith. You see, many see faith as  ignorance disguising as confidence. It is no different from saying that I do not know and what I do not know is what I know and what I know I do not know is knowing enough for me.

AG: (narrows the brows) How about the new heaven and earth? Don't they know that the end will justify all the sufferings, even gratuitous ones.

PR: Well, that's another bummer sir. Nobody knows when that final curtain call is happening...erm except him. And I don't...erm suppose he will be tweeting out the date anytime soon? So, short of a total annihilation from a vindictive act of nuclear holocaust, global warming, a crashing meteor or the burning out of the sun which will then consume the entire solar system, and mind you, the latter is forecasted to take place about 5 billion years later give or take a few million, I'm afraid the patience of the people is fast running out. What I'm trying to say is that I think most of them are not going to bite that eschatology bait hook, line and sinker anymore.

AG: Hmm...I guess what you are trying to tell me is that the situation is far worse than I first thought?

PR: I am afraid so sir.

AG: Assuming you are right, what should he do then?

PR: I don't really know sir. I am not him. I am not God. But whatever he decides, he has to do it quick.

AG: (musing) Well, he can't send another flood. That ship has sailed. And that son-option is a once-in-an-eternity's deal...

PR: Sir, if I may be so bold, I think this time the solution will have to be nothing short of a personal, surprised guest appearance. And I am not talking about a burning bush, exclusive audience of one kind of experience. It needs to be big, grand, on an armageddonic scale, kinda like a divine flash mob. He has to show himself to all 6 billion of them!

AG: (forces out a wry smile) Ok. Appreciate your suggestion, especially the last bit. Will just have to pass the message. That's my job anyway. Thanks.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Draw the line between work and rest

“Life is short. Some people have been so long-term focused that they forget that.” (Dr Yap)

Here’s my view:

“Good point. This account for the build-a-fortune syndrome. We work so hard for our future and our children's future, but then we squander our present away. This sounds trite and corny but plain old truth doesn't need any accessorizing.

The thing about the rat-race is that in the end you are still a rat. The fortune you build up may be at the expense of the relationship you tear down, even unintentionally.

Doesn't the rat race also clone rat-like behavior out of us? We become skittish, edgy, and most of the time, lost. The late Stephen Covey bemoaned, "The perpetual circle of self-improvement makes anxiety spiral. It is not enough to be married; we must be marriageable and employable."

So, is this the mark of success, "the one with the biggest toys wins?" I think the most democratic place you will ever find on earth is the graveyard. When everybody is lying restlessly horizontal, they are just about level with all.

Maybe a balance is called for. This may sound zen-ish but it is directly relevant. The mantra is to live in the present moment. Don't mortgage it for an uncertain future. I read somewhere which says, "Live in the present. Don't re-live the past and re-feel the pain. Neither pre-live the future and pre-feel the anxiety. The present is indeed a gift."

I think the solution, to me, is to cultivate a sense of completeness; a sense of fulfillment. I think the problem is that we do not have time for a self pat-on-the-back. No time for self-congratulation. There's no feeling of work done and the much deserved soul searching REST between completed work and continued work. Sadly, many are being washed around aimlessly in the gyre of incompleteness (or unfulfillment).

There is a saying that the supreme accomplishment is to blur the line betwwen work and play.

Well, here's my twist of it: The supreme accomplishment is to draw the line between work and rest. And when we are resting, let's play real hard. Savor and milk every moment with loved ones. Only then, and only then, can we truly, deeply and madly enjoy this short life given to us by our Creator. Cheerz

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Marriage meets adultery

What are the causes of adultery? (Dr Yap, my de facto(r) internet mento(r))

Here’s how I would reply to it, hang on.

The causes of adultery are a wandering mind, an unsettled heart and an aimless soul. Adultery happens in the mind before in reality it unfolds.

It involves three parties in fact. Three weird hands to clap. How unnatural, yucks? How unfathomable, shucks!

One pastor pins it down to opportunity and time. Given both at play, most men (and women) will just fall away.

But opportunity, time and even loneliness are all outward signs of a marriage most passionless. It is one thing to be alone and faithful. It is quite another to be lonely and ungrateful.

My solution, if there ever was one. It would be this cheeky suggestion, bar none. And mind you, this is controversial. So pardon me and read at your leisure:

"If you have to commit adultery, then go ahead. Make it a date. Do it with pride. Make it a wild ride.

Do it all the way. Do it everyday. But do it with your WIFE. Go ahead, try her for size.

Yes, commit "adultery" with her. Make it a night to remember. Make every night a one night stand. Your wife, your number one fan, and you her hitchhiker friend.

Make your marriage a novelty. Make it a mardi-gras-like festivity. Make her your fantasy. Dress and undress her to your "lustful" fancy.

She is your partner not just in name. She is yours for life and you the same.

So, go ahead and commit adultery.

Because if your wife is also your mistress, all rolled into one;
Your marriage will not just be of interest, it will be a lifetime of love and fun!" Cheerz.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Peace of God?

“There are lots of people who use their "sense of peace" as a way to confirm God's will in each of their decision-making. Does it mean that when I don't feel that peace, what I am doing is not in accordance to God's will?” (Dr Yap)

Mmm...human emotions can be misleading, which includes the so called "sense of peace". Using emotions to confirm God's will is like using a thermometer to measure the ozone layer or using a screwdriver to drill for oil. I am not saying it is not reliable. I am just saying that we have to be more careful and discerning.

Doing the will of God is often a very disciplined pursuit. It calls for self-denial, prayer and trust; not to mention faith and hope. It usually goes against the mainstream and that explains the sheer loneliness. At times, it is akin to lumbering in a dark sewage tunnel with no end in sight. So it is normal for one to experience a lot of emotional turmoil.

As an aside, I had a few divorce friends who once assured me that their ex-spouses were chosen by God after experiencing that ethereal sense of peace. But after the bitter divorce, they knew better and are now less cavalier about making such public proclamations.

I know it is tempting to do a post-mortem of their faith with the benefit of hindsight and conveniently accuse them of being led by self-will rather than by God’s. But, as imperfect beings, it is still a slippery slope proposition to rely solely on one’s subjective feelings as a definite sign.

Honestly, we all struggle with our faith. Doing God's will (or staying in it) can at times be very counterintuitive, anti-logical and faith-defying. So, emotions, like a floodgate, can take us on a wild ride.

Of course, there is the veritable peace of God that surpasses all secular understanding. But frankly, one cannot be so sure all the time even when one is performing His will. Many prophets of old had faced their garden of gethsemane and they literally cried out for internal confirmation of His divine mission. They too struggled in silence and in solitude. Ultimately they experienced an all-encompassing, warm blanket of peace as they travailed and prevailed to the end. But this biblical peace is not a sure thing that is easily discernible and readily prevalent at all times.

In the interim, my questions are, “what if we do not feel that sense of peace at the moment when we need it most? What if there are only doubts and confusion and our feelings are completely unsettled? What if such topsy-turvy emotion is part of the test of our faith?” Or, “what if that all too familiar “sense of peace” is self-conjured and self-endorsed to ferry us along to that land of the feel-good?”

So, is it always the case of “no peace equals no Will of God?" Or “got peace means got God’s will?” Is it that simple?

Maybe there are other ways to secure the ballast of security and hope when performing His will. Maybe at certain times, feeling or emotions are secondary to silent trust amidst the internal anxiety. Maybe at times faith is that agitator of emotions and the sense of disquiet experienced is that which ought to stir us into further action and hope. Maybe one should gather a community of faithful and like-minded believers to encourage each other to persevere; instead of waiting for that pampering feeling of peace to nudge us along.

So, it is a fact that emotions can lead us astray. It can be a mirage of peace that lulls us into a self-believing bubbled reality. We can mistake human serenity for God-bestowed invulnerability. We must therefore be wary not to so readily endorse a feeling of calmness as a sign from God that we are walking in His will. l think it is safe to say that our sense of peace should not be a standalone sign. Neither should it be the sole determinant. In other words, and this is by no mean a cookie-cutter view, peace should arise as a result of trust, faith and hope and not the other way around.

So, let’s hope that at all times, our trust is in a faithful God to carry us through regardless of how we are feeling at the particular time and place. Cheerz.

Monday, 4 March 2013

God like Santa Claus is a figment of your imagination

Well, it is one thing to tell our children that santa claus does not exist. It is quite another to tell them that God is no different from Santa Claus, that is, he is imaginary too.

Imagine telling our children that our religion is nothing more than wishful thinking and god is a creation of man to ward off their fear of death. And telling our children that life is what they make of it and death is what nature makes of them. We come and we go. In between, we reap what we sow.

So, no supernatural being created the universe. It came about on its own. By fluke. By chance. By whim. By fancy. Just a whole lot of good jabbing, jibbing, jiving and presto!

Everything took its turn to evolve. From dead energy to blind atoms. From chemical reactions to emergent properties. From natural selection to group selection. From nothingness to somethingness.

There's no infinite regression. No "who created the creator". No mutilations from occam's razor. No fuss about the uncaused cause. No more mystery, wondering and pondering. And science is merely dabbling in the realm of the decimals.

Think about it. If atheism is true, isn't it an honestly unpretentious world? It's a short dream of aliveness ending with an eternity of nothingness (if eternity is the right description after all). What is our children to think? What is their life script? What is their purpose then?

If the purpose of life is to make life our purpose, what then is life if there's no life after life? And neither was there ever life before life to start with.

Stripped of the myths of heaven and hell, creator and eternity, our children will have to learn that their ancestors came from the sea and make land their final burial place. And their hope is in the "here and now" as they brave through a Christless past and a faceless future. So, God like Santa Claus is a figment of our imagination?

Now, here's a pause for reflection. Is my bias that obvious? Is my pessimistic undertones unfair? Have I been so lulled into a blessed assurance that I can't imagine living without one? Is an atheist universe that unthinkable? Is the Christian fish really the last to discover the godless ocean?

Well, as Bismarck once compared the folly of humanity as "committing suicide for fear of death," maybe the equivalent of that is for a fool to say in his heart "there's no god". Maybe I am more a realist than I am biased as David Ben-Gurion admitted, "In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles." I am therefore a miracle believing realist.

And maybe it takes just that first miracle, that first miracle of life, to magically turn all reality we observe today into a world no different from a child's fecund and unbridled Imagination. Thus the God "fiction" is indeed stranger than the godless "fact" although no less true.

But then, come to think of it, and after what the universe had gone through, I guess an atheist has to quietly admit that to live life without god is itself no less a miracle; a miracle that is as defined by an atheist. Cheerz.

Friday, 1 March 2013

A world without religion

I can imagine a world without religion. It is not hard to do. And I am not doing a post-john-lennon kind of thingy. This is not a song but a simple play-along.

I can imagine there's no beginning and no end. There's no savior and no god as your eternal friend. I can imagine that no one cares about the afterlife and there's no heaven or hell. What would the world look like? Can we really tell?

Will there still be wars, conflict and confusion? Will there still be pain, hatred and delusion? Will there be 9/11, 7/11, WW1 and WW11? Will we be happy or sad, fulfilled or mad? Seriously, what will the world really look like? How will the human stage be set?

Without theism, monotheism or polytheism, will there still be atheism, agnosticism or deism? Without God, will we still fear living as death draws near? Without the ten commandments, the Quran, the eightfold path to enlightenment, and the Bhagavad Gita, will we still be good, moral and less rude?

I guess all these imaginings point to one thing, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." The truth is, we can change our names but we cannot change our biblical fate. The label doesn't make us. It's the "us" that makes us.

Religion or no religion, we live to fight and we fight to live. The struggle is no doubt brief. Sure, the well off among us will live with some dignity. But stripped of that, denuded of wealth, aren't we all enlightened savages waiting to pounce with no qualms or mercy?

So, let me tally the scores: Religion-ONE and Atheism-ONE. With or without religion, I think it's a draw for all. It's the same difference. We have to stop thinking that religion will save us. We have to stop hoping that religion is the answer. It's not a quick fix. Neither is it a perfect mix.

Here's my view, if it matters at all. I think we cannot live without religion. That much is as plain as an eye sore. It is an inextricable part of us just like joy and pain are intertwined. The church, the services, the rules, the relationship and the leadership, the good intent and the bad desire, are all a package deal when we sign up for a messiah.

But although we cannot live without religion, we can surely live without a deluge of it. I guess the line would just have to be drawn, whether we like it or not. In other words, we ought to step out of the shadow of religion and walk under the light of our savior. The wine and the wineskin need to be distinguished. They need to be set apart before they can be mixed together.

We know we have too much of religion when our faith is juvenilized. When we crave for more signs and wonders, and less of His love and self sacrifice. When church maintenance takes precedent over lives. When pew numbers take priority over communal ties. When issue of succession is more important than all things eternal. And when pastoral activities become a competitive sport ruled by the laws of humanity instead of grace, hope and charity.

This is my conclusion, if there's ever one. I always thought that the best place to contribute after a battle-scarred career is the church. Isn't the church a place where love meets needs? Isn't it a haven for the lost, an inn for the weary, an ashram of peace, so to speak? Isn't it a utopia of some sort? Too naive?

Well, then I realized that a church stocked up with people is no different from an organization ruled by them. It's again the same difference.

Alas, in my search for a utopia, I have overlooked the one place that no one has ever thought of looking. It is neither a club nor a spa. It is not even a vacation home perched somewhere far.

If ever there was one, that is, a place that comes closest to a utopia, the one and only nominee, for me, would be the cross of calvary. Because it is there that the greatest church was built. It is also there that the wineskin was wholly filled.

The irony of it all is that there is no joy without sorrow, no love without sacrifice, and no perfection without submission. I guess the center of the church is the bloodied cross and we lose our way when we de-centralize Calvary by putting a glitzy cross outside the church. Sadly, we attract people with it but remain untouched by it. And that is what makes the religious no different from the irreligious. Cheerz.