Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Pledge to Disown Myself

Recently, I was in the toilet and a thought took hold. It went like this, “Why is that person so dumb? Aren’t I smarter than him?” It was at that moment that I was dumbstruck. I stared blankly into the mirror and told myself off, literally, “I disown you!” It was a knee-jerk reaction. I revolted against that thought and wanted to have no part of it. Then I recalled in Mark 9:47 when Jesus told us to pluck our offending eye out because it is better to go to heaven half blind than to go to hell with both eyes seeing (Mm...wouldn’t heaven then be flat or two-dimensional?)

Well, here's my variation of that scripture. I assume that there are some sins (listed below) that require full body amputation in order to secure a safe passage to heaven. So, instead of removing the offending part (and going to heaven without much of a body), I have decided to do the next best thing, that is, to disown myself (like I did in the toilet). That way, I can still go to heaven with my body intact. The drawback is that I might have to live with a dual personality in heaven, each of me contesting for attention for as long as an eternity. Mm...that’s the price of heaven I guess. So, here goes...


I PLEDGE to disown myself the moment I think I am better or smarter than another. When I harbor such superiority complex, I would have failed to live up to what it means to be a fellow human being. I would have lost my bearings and the humility that keeps me grounded. Therefore I shall disown myself when that time comes for I'd rather be a stranger to myself than to live my life being a stranger to the principles that define what it means to be a human being.

I PLEDGE to disown myself the moment I think I have arrived in knowledge and there is nothing for me to learn anymore. When that day comes, I would have lost myself in the maze of self-delusion. It would be a day when I look into the mirror and find an image that I would not be able to recognize. I would be deprived of the life-sustaining opportunity to explore, to seek, to find and to unravel. I believe that to live is to learn and to stop learning is to start dying. Therefore I shall disown myself when that time comes for I'd rather be a stranger to myself than to live my life being a stranger to an endless world of knowledge waiting to be discovered.

I PLEDGE to disown myself the moment I think that this world is all there is, all there has been and all there will ever be. When that day comes, I would have ceased to look for the wonders in a rainbow, the depth of an emotion, the mystery of creation, and the hope of a life after this life. It would be a life of sterile imagination because science have replaced religion by a leap of scholarly self-conceit. Therefore I shall disown myself when that time comes for I'd rather be a stranger to myself than to live my life being a stranger to the unspoken secrets of the universe untainted by the hubris of this world.

I PLEDGE to disown myself the moment I think that fame and wealth take precedence over relationship and faith. When that day comes, I would find my soul diminished by the cravings of the flesh, the pride of life and the sway of greed. By then, I would no longer live for others and put their needs before mine. I would become a person who treats every relationship as a transaction to be exploited. It would be a life of ceaseless competition, constant rivalries, and superficial engagement. Therefore I shall disown myself when that time comes for I'd rather be a stranger to myself than to be a stranger to a life dedicated to flourishing relationship and deepening faith.

I PLEDGE to disown myself the moment I look elsewhere to find satisfaction in companionship rather than to seek the same in my marriage. When that time comes, I would be living without morals and betraying the one person I have pledged my whole life till death to be with - in good times or bad. I would then always be held hostage by the dictates of my lust and the ransom paid for it is to live a shallow life of regrets, drifting from one indiscretion to another, and never be able to look into the eyes of my children to tell them that faithfulness is the key to a happy marriage. Therefore I shall disown myself when that time comes for I'd rather be a stranger to myself than to live my life being a stranger to the enduring joy that comes from a resilent and fruitful marriage.

I PLEDGE to disown myself the moment I give up on life for whatever reasons. When that time comes, I would have nothing to look forward to. My tomorrow would be no different from my today. When everyday is the same as the day before and the day after it, the life that I have given up on would be indistinguishable from a life sentence to death. And if the death of a life is not the only end of a life, then the other death I can think of is to go on merely existing after I have given it all up. Therefore I shall disown myself when that time comes for I'd rather be a stranger to myself than to be a stranger to living a life the way it was meant to be lived notwithstanding the failures and mistakes. Because without them, I would never experience the growth and empowerment that comes from a life of overcoming. Cheerz.

* Image taken from ""

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Letter to my Son on Toxic People


Son, living in a world full of people is living in a world full of contradictions. You will have people loving you and people hating you. You will have people liking you and people irking you. You will have people who think the world of you and people who think the worst of you. People will adore you and people will vilify you. You can't escape from such contradictions, even from the same people. So, people will be people and to live in a people-less world is most unthinkable.

A world of people is what we cannot live without. But there are some people that we are better off doing without. This category is rare but exist they do. They are there to make whatever you do harder to do. And even if you do what they expect you to do, it is still done in a way that they think they can do better than you. 

You can consider them as the torn in your side, the dust in your eye or the pain in your derrière. However you wish them well, whatever you do for them with pure intention, they will still take it with a fistfull of sodium chloride and accuse you of vain pretension.

They indeed have eyes for you. But lest you get carried away, these eyes are sight for sore eyes. Sometimes they are jaundiced eyes or eyes of rage for reasons unrelated to your present but more connected to your past. Somehow they can never forget. On this, their memory is superb. You can think of them as having the memory capacity of the proverbial elephant. But strangely, this is exclusively, even begrudgingly, reserved for events that happened long time ago. 

With you, they just can't see what you are now or what you will be in the future. They only judge you for what you were then. It is like time stood still for them when it comes to you. And they only see you as you were in the past and everything you do now or promise to do in the future is judged through the prism of your past mistakes. What they therefore lack in imagination, they more than make it up for having a memory that cannot let go.

For others, they don't even need a reason to hate you. It just comes naturally like how a drop of water will slide down a duck's back or a lump of bullshit will come out of a bull's end. It is like they are born with this unusual genetic mutation and over the years, the mutation grows into character distortion. It is therefore as natural to them as the color of one's hair, skin or eyes. The difference here is that with color, you can dye the hair, alter the pigment, or put on color lenses.

But with such genetic mutation, it is often a cradle-to-grave kind of thing.

So please do not waste your time looking for the cause or origin of such toxic people. Unlike looking for a needle in a haystack, where at the very least the presence of a needle is assured, such search for better understanding is like looking for WMD in Iraq. Alas not only will you not find what you are looking for, you may be rudely shocked by a grouchy old bearded man squirrelling out of a dark and smelly hole to torment you even further. 

My son, these are the people who will challenge you to the core. Some will break you. Others will bruise you. Still others will humiliate you. Ego wise, they will miniaturize you. Spirit wise, they will seek to de-spiritualize you. But whatever it is, don't ever let them marginalize, antagonize and pulverize you. You are worth much more than that. You are more resilient than you think. You are built from the toughest material this world has ever made.

Remember, don't confront them. Don't match them word for word, malice for malice, hate for hate, and fist for fist. The greater man does the humblest thing. He is defined not by the coarseness of his anger, the swiftness of his fist or the wittiness of his insults. He is a man who takes it all in and then transforms it all within before it goes all out. It goes in with bitterness but it comes out in sweet fragrance. It enters in hopelessness but goes out in cheerfulness. Such a man knows how to transform hate into understanding, grudge into patience, and anger into empathy. 

But still, you are only human and let no one or books tell you
otherwise. Dealing with such people will always wear you down and tire you out. You will get angry, disappointed and even disillusioned. Sometimes, you may even harbor thoughts of vengeance against them. It bears repeating that you are only human and you can't be blamed for being one. 

In all this, you will have your time of ambivalence, struggling with the logic of what I had said about turning the other cheek and what the world will tell you about an eye for an eye. But trust me, an eye for an eye only makes the world half blind. But turning the other cheek hurts the slapper more than the cheek. The hand that seeks revenge will only "succeed" by transferring the pain from his hand to his heart. It will never go away. It just undergoes a change of address. In fact the physical satisfaction of the slap will not heal the emotional pain of the hurt, so to speak. 

It is said that the only way you win over your enemy is to make him a friend. And you ought to always bear that in mind. Your enemy is a friend waiting to be discovered. So, don't react when you can refrain and don't fight back when it is within your power to do what is right. The greater power rests on the one who overlooks rather than overreacts and enduring peace belongs to the one who forgives rather than hates. 

You will discover all these truths over time and even through trials and errors. But discover them you will. And when you apply them to your life, you will find a lasting transformation in yourself that changes the way you see the world and the people in it.

In fact, you will come to a point of seeing beyond the hurt that you suffer to the hurt that your enemy suffers. You will see how his pain is deeper than yours. With this understanding, you will be able to genuinely reach out to him. For the more you understand, the more you are able to forgive.

But son, before I end, here is a note of caution. There will be an exceptional few, maybe only one or maybe none, who will remain your enemy for what seems like a lifetime. They are the people who are generally unrepentant and savagely opportunistic. And no matter how you extend your hand of friendship to them, they will rebuff it. 

Or worse, they will shake it with one hand and stab you in your back with the other. These people will be a challenge to your faith in humanity. And there is little you can do about it.

But remember, people are people and most of them will surprise you in ways you will regret deeply if you react unthinkingly in the heat of the moment. So, walk away while you can because once the deed is done, you may never be able to walk away from it.

In the end, don't go sleepless over them. Theirs is not your fight. Let time or circumstances be their teacher.

Hopefully, they will change. If not, keep a wary arm's length from them. If you are unable to avoid them, don't let their conduct or words infect or embitter you. This will of course take practice and I will always be there to be your target practice. 

So my son, resolve in your heart to be open to and hopeful of all things. People will always be people and somehow the worst of them always makes the best of us, that is, if we deal with them honorably, patiently and with understanding. For if the prodigal son or the thief at Calvary can repent, then no one on this earth is beyond redemption – even if it takes close to a lifetime to see that happen. Cheerz.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

My top ten one-size-fits-all gospel

My top ten list of one-size-fits-all gospel.

1)     God wants you to love your neighbor. I know this is one of the two greatest commandments in the Bible. And it never hurts to preach it over the pulpit, almost indiscriminately. But at most times, the individual context is just as important. Of course, we are called to love our enemies the way Christ loved his. But this is often easier said than done. And we are also called to love others with God's love (not our own) but such vicarious loving often sounds better in theory than in practice. That being said, I think many Christians should be applauded for their unstinting efforts to do just that. Yet most times, the reality is far from the ideal. I have encountered many Christians (most would be slow to admit this), even pastors mind you, who have quietly kept and secretly guarded a little red book of "blacklisted people" in their breast pocket. Let’s just say that given a choice they would rather not share a broken down lift with these people or be caught offguard meeting them in a family outing at the park. The awkwardness would force them to put on a disingenuous smile and initiate a superficial exchange of pleasantries. Although this blacklisted book may contain just one or two thorns in the beholder's side, they are still perplexing thorns that are often carried over to their grave. I guess ultimately we are called to love one another as God loves us. But I think that pulpit message should be tweaked a little. Maybe it is more livable if it is not a communistic kind of love, that is, to love everybody equally. Maybe it is a passion of varying degrees. Maybe this is obvious. And if we are honest enough, the passion reserved for those thorns that have made their permanent residency in our side would somehow be moderated or at least unconsciously discriminated.

2)     God wants you to be healthy. Nothing can be closer to the truth. God indeed wants all of us to be healthy. My mother also wants me to be healthy. This also includes my wife, kids and friends. I particularly extend the same well-wishing to them. Such sentiment is heartwarming. But sentiments cannot be purchased for reality. No doubt the intention cannot be faulted as it is clearly a default position for every child of God. The fact of life, or biology, is that cells mutate prenatal, postnatal and in the course of living. Some of these mutations can turn fatal. So, whether we are sick or not, or whether it is a temporary affliction or one that is terminal, nature will have to take its course. And sometimes the course that nature takes might just break many hearts. But then, as Christians, we are called to believe in divine healing. That much can't be denied and I will be dealing with this point below.

3)     God wants you to be happy. This is the best part of believing in God. I call it the reasons-to-be-happy belief. But such happiness is subject to many interpretations. Sadly, some preachers take the easy road and interpret this as the happiness that comes only from material wealth. And many are naturally disillusioned when they don't experience such happiness in their life. Personally, I have seen happiness in many forms and the most authentic and enduring happiness is the happiness that comes from unhappiness, so to speak. I guess the happiness that comes from a contented heart, even when one is struggling with an affliction, falls under this category. How about a godly form of happiness that comes from being persecuted for your faith or being hopeful in the midst of a trial or being charitable in the face of the most uncharitable circumstances? All this would qualify as authentic happiness. I think happiness is deepest when it cuts the deepest and God's kind of happiness sometimes cuts through our comfort zone in a way that transforms us completely rather than it pampers us materially.

4)     God wants you to be the head and not the tail. Well, this makes it to the one-size-fits-all list because not all heads are deemed godly and not all tails are deemed ungodly. I guess one can lead others and mess it up big time because of pride and others can follow the leader and grow stronger in character because of humility (regardless of the leader). I think it is misleading to preach that God would make you a glorfied leader when you believe in Him. Sometimes, things don't go as plan and you may end up playing the supporting role for the rest of your life. But this doesn't make you the tail any more than sleeping in a garage makes you a car or attending a museum makes you an exhibit. This head and tail thingy is an hackneyed motivational talk that promises more than it delivers.

5)     God wants you to release the hate and forgive now. This may be a feat for the gods for some. Of course, it is easy to overlook a verbal slight spoken out-of-place and wholly unintended. But how do you overlook the hurt caused by a betraying spouse, an abusive husband, an unrepentant rapist, a convicted murderer, or a conniving good friend? Time is of essence here. Sometimes, for some wounds, it may take close to a lifetime. And you can't blame the one forgiving for taking such a long time because the conscious choice to forgive always comes way before the full resolution of the deep unconscious pain that is caused by the wrong. But the good news is that every day that goes by militates against the pain, like chipping off the edge of a boulder by droplets. It is therefore impractical to expect an overnight emotional healing when the hurt is so deep. Sometimes, such deep hurt might take what seems like an eternity to find, confront and forgive; and possibly never forgotten.

6)    God wants you to be rich. This is all the rage now. Prosperity preachers with all their material "bling bling" are pitching this sales jingle as if it is one of the hallmarks of a true believer. So, if after 5 to 10 years of being a believer, and the only thing rich about you is your calories intake, then you'd better get your money pulse checked by the money minister. Somehow, something must be wrong with your faith, so the jingle goes. Well, I do not want to be a wet blanket here but if riches is what the gospel is all about and nothing else, then all the disciples of Christ and the converts during the time of Acts, who gave away all they had for the poor, were the greatest fools who had ever lived on this side of heaven. I think sometimes we have to get our heads out of the offering bag and take a good whiff of reality around us. The truth is that many will not die rich and some may even leave this world having nothing to their name except their name. And what a name they leave behind. Bonheoffer was one such name. He may have died in a nondescript location but his legacy is as rich as all the riches in this world put together, if not more.

7)    God wants you to be successful. I am reminded of the biblical story of Joseph and that trite quote in Genesis 50:20, “you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” There is no doubt that God wants the best for us and it is said that if we obey His commandments, we will prosper like Joseph. Now, before we go whoop-de-doo about it, I think that scripture needs to be taken in its proper context. The impression given here is that a believer will be successful; he just can't help it. And the definition of success differs little from the personal enrichment touted by the prosperity preachers. Little needs to be said here except that there can be no enduring, life transforming success without failure. And this is often the huge mass of iceberg beneath the water that gets conveniently passed over. When success is promised to a new convert at the pulpit like a toto ticket to fabulous fortune, it runs the risk of making success the sole reason for believing. I personally believe that the ladder of success is often broken at many places. This is how God develops our character. The climb is going to be tough and there will be many obstacles along the way. At times, genuine success will elude us until we have emerged stronger, with better character, after a series of failures. At other times, success will be staring right at us in the curious eyes of our children, in the passion expressed by our spouse, in the commitment shown in our friends, and in the eternal hope of a promise made by the lover of our soul. In the end, the success in our life comes in varied forms and those who are most successful are usually those who are at peace with what they have and with whom they are with. The rest is success' consolation prizes.

8)    God wants you to be healed. I actually believe this with all my heart. But sadly, things don't always flow in the direction of my heart's desire. Nothing is more certain in life than death and that thing that afflicts you just before death. Like twins, death and illness are unavoidable. If granted the indulgence, and brought to the level of reductio ad absurdum,  I can imagine that the preachers of charismatic healing are right. God indeed wants to heal all and sundry, regardless and whatever. Then, the aftermath of it is either an immediate celebration or a long distance nightmare, depending on whether you are the victim (or his loved ones) or a demographic analyst (dealing with long term population explosion). As a Christian, supernatural healing is definitely one of the traits in the divine resume.  But it is not something that arises as of right and effected as and when a prayer is offered as if to apply a miracle lotion to one's affected body part and "presto!" - complete healing. The charismatics have gone wild with this peculiar gift and those boasting of it are laying hands with the misguided confidence of a shamanistic healer. Think about it...I mean really think about it with your God-endowed commonsense (really please do). If it is that simple, that is, all you need is childlike faith, a simple laying of hands and a self-assured proclamation, then one should not hesitate – not even for a second - to hold the healing services in a hospital, preferable the A&E or the ICU department (leaving the morgue alone for now). How about the children cancer ward? Now you can't say that it is not urgent for them, can you? You see, that is the litmus test of indiscriminate divine healing. And if one passes that test with flying colors (that is, emptying the hospitals and making all doctors redundant) without exception and those spiritualized excuses, then we would have to make plans to colonize Mars in the near future due to overpopulation (because the total number of people who had ever lived since the beginning was estimated to be around 100 billion – give or take a few million). It’s a stretch no doubt but I think you get the point?

9)    God wants your marriage to last a lifetime (and live happily ever after). I have seen the statistics on this and it is ugly. Religion aside, nearly 50% of marriages in god-believing America ended up in divorce. In Singapore, it is close to about 40% (median age, 2012). This is disheartening and being a Christian will not guarantee that your odds will be any better. Sure, a devoted couple whose devotion is to God will probably lead a strong and resilient marriage. But the marital road is a long and winding road and many may not even stay the course when the going gets tough. Even Christian marriages break up and Billy Graham's daughter is an unfortunate example. We should have no illusions about marriage. The marital oath is no doubt a good launching pad for one of the most important decisions of your life. But the marital flight or trajectory thereafter depends on many things, most of which will conspire to break up the union. I know the saying that a couple who prays together stays together. But at times, even those who pray together cannot guarantee that their partner will not stray altogether. We have to be realistic as the statistics don't lie. Having said that, it should be noted that statistics paints the big picture. On an individual level, we should always strive to jealously guard our own marriage. It is definitely one of the most rewarding and enriching relationships one can ever hope to commit in his/her lifetime.

10)      With God, nothing is impossible (and what is impossible is all in your head). This is the last one-size-fits-all gospel on the list. To be honest, I don't even know where to start with this one. In a world of the most gratuitous suffering imaginable, where birth defects abound and death and misfortune can happen to anyone at just about anytime and anywhere without any reason whatsoever, this biblical promise, if taken literally, would mean that you will never experience any pain, death and disappointment in your life, ever. The catchword here is “literally” and most pulpit sermons don’t make the distinction because preachers do not want to be seen by the faith-hungry congregation as diffident, unsure, or worst, faithless. You see, if with God, you can do even the impossible, then, considering that you are a righteous man, you would be praying for good health, success and smooth sailing, amongst other fairly godly goals. And if these blessings are granted to you as and when you petition for them, then you will practically be immune from pain and suffering in this world. Now won't that be a real charmer? I know I am stretching it a little again but my point is going to be a real downer for most believers. I think any right thinking Christian would agree that in the realm of endless possibilities, there will be many alternative possibilities that will elude us. In our life, some choices are already made for us like our biological condition at birth, our place of birth and our birth parents. Even for those things that we have a choice in like our schools, our career and our future partner, most times, unless we are born into immeasurable wealth, things don't always go our way. It is without any doubt that sooner or later we will experience a death or two in our life. We will also encounter failure here and there, like road bumps along the way. We may also suffer life changing events that will force us to make very painful choices. All in all, as Christians, we will be praying for deliverance to the chorus of "with God, nothing is impossible". But the truth is, some things are beyond our control and they happen very much without our permission. And when it happens, it robs a part of our humanity. No doubt we will recover and grow stronger but sadly some never do. Some wither away. Others change for the worst. This is another commonsense fact. And all this will not change the ironic fact that the most powerful supernatural being in this universe who loves us most immeasurably would mysteriously leave our desperate petition unanswered. Even the prayers of a righteous man would sometimes backfire. There are just too many examples here to prove this. Over the centuries, many prayers were left unanswered and the petitioner would just have to lower his expectation to pray for strength to brave through his trial rather than the faith to see it all go away like a bad dream (which is the apparent better option in the list without the benefit of hindsight of course). So, while many have experienced victory in prayers, there are still many who have seen how their earnest heavenly mails were returned to them seemingly unopened. Of course, what doesn't kill us will make us stronger. But sometimes what is impossible remains in the impenetrable realm of the impossible, and we will just have to come to terms with it. And here's how I personally come to terms with it: In the beginning, God did the impossible. In the end, He's going to perform another impossible, thoroughly awe-consuming, feat. But in the meantime, in the murky middle, we will just have to accept that anything is indeed possible, whether good or bad, and sometimes, the God of the impossible just allowed it to happen for reasons unbeknowst to all. And on this cliff-hanging note like the end of a movie that cries out for a sequel...Cheerz.