Monday, 28 April 2014

Dear God, are you there?

A Prayer of Answers Questioned (PAQ)

Dear God, are you there? Can you hear me? Are you listening? I hope I am not speaking too softly. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time. I hope you are not too busy or something. I know this is one of the millions of petitions you will receive in a day. And I can't imagine the billions you get every year. I know you have heard them all. I know there is nothing new when it comes to you. But what is old stuff to you is actually new stuff to me. I am in my forties and you are well infinity. Going purely on numbers, you are way ahead of me in age and wisdom. So, what is billions of requests compared to an eternity, right?

Anyway, if you are still there, then you would have already known what I am going to say. But still, I want to say it because I need to personally know that I have said it. I am doing this more for myself. My insecurities that is. So, indulge me and pretend you are hearing it for the first time. And what I want to say to you starts with a question. It is from the heart. I hope it’s alright with you? Ok? 

Dear God, here's my question: Are you always there? Always near? Always within earshot? Of course the operative word here is "always". Because I consider your existence self-evident. That’s the privilege of my Christian bias. But still, I just need to know that you are still there, always. It is important for me to know that because nobody wants to be talking to himself, at
 least not when he believes he is talking to you.

People say that if my heart is open I can hear you. I believe that. I really do. Or at least I want to believe that. Who am I to even doubt that? In my many years on earth, I had a few significant moments when my heart was open. Yes, truly open. No joke. I know that because during those times, I felt that I was closer to you than I was closer to anyone. In fact I felt so close to you that I could almost feel your presence.
 Almost. But being truly open to you then, I did not get to hear you in the same way that I can hear my wife whispering to me. In other words, I did not get to hear you in such a way that I can record it all down in my hand-phone so that I can fondly listen to your voice again at a later date when I am discouraged. (pregnant pause)

Ok, maybe that recording thingy is taking it a tad too far. I get it. But still, I did not hear you audibly.

Dear God, let me be frank with you and I seek your pardon. I hope it's alright with you? (waiting

Ok, here goes. I can't help but get this impression that you don't seem to communicate with me in the same way that communication is normally understood by me. I know you have spoken before during biblical times of old and it was
audible, firm and even loud. No doubt about that. And I have heard the same testimony about you speaking to other believers in a loud and clear voice. At least that was what they told me. But when it comes to me, someone who is dying to have the same experience as those chosen ones, your still small voice somehow turns out to be more silent to me than it is still and small.

Well, truth be told, I have experienced the same kind of silent treatment in my life before. Trust me I have. My wife and I have gone cold turkey before. We treated each other like we didn't exist. But of course, it was merely a game of childish pretending or ignoring and it was not as if we didn't exist. You know that right? Some call it showing the other the cold shoulder. Or putting the other on cold storage. Or giving the cold treatment. Those were silent moments that basically arose from a vindictive or indignant

However, even during those times of general apathy and apparent distance, I am sure my wife was there. She was in fact in the other room, sulking. And I was in my room, sulking. You see, we may have no desire whatsoever to communicate but we knew outright that we were not far from each other. 

But in your case, dear God, I am sure that when I did not hear from you when I desperately wanted to hear from you, you were not in the other side of eternity, right? I am sure you were not angry with me right? I
 am sure you were near and you heard me? However you were just not replying to me in an audible voice because you have your reasons, right? You were basically held back by a higher purpose? And I am sure your reasons are beyond reproach, beyond challenge right? I am sure.

And by the way, who am I to question why you choose to refrain from projecting your voice in the same way that my wife projects hers when talking to me?  And why am I even making it an issue about you? Maybe I need to listen harder. Maybe I need to understand you more. Maybe I
 need to wait longer. Maybe I need to have more patience. Maybe I need to listen to you in other ways because you may have communicated to me in other ways too.

So, dear God, if I have not bored you thus far, I guess what I am trying to tell myself about what you are I guess trying to tell me is that you talk to me in many ways and I may have taken some of those ways for granted. Maybe
 you have spoken to me by way of a sign or upon the occurrence of an event. Or through a friend, a Sunday sermon, a heart conviction, a sudden moment of epiphany, a planted thought, a flip of the pages of the bible, and the list of possibilities goes on and on - anything but a direct, audible, and booming voice-over.

And though ironic, here's one more way worth exploring. Your reply to me may be to keep still and silent about my request to you. And at such time, I ought to respond by being equally still and silent, and while in this state of being mutually still and silent to each other, I should then acknowledge your presence.

Phew, did I get that all right, in the sequence they appear? I mean, silence in itself can be an answer, right? Right? that a yes, a no or a 
maybe? (waiting)

Mm...well, being only fully human, here's what's bothering me. Am I to give up ever hearing your audible voice? Too extreme? Because for the last forty odd years, after much reflecting and looking back, I don't think you have spoken to me in the way that being spoken to is ordinarily understood. Correct me if I am wrong...? Wrong? Mmm….

So, taking from this cue, should I then just look for signs, wait for a
f riend, sit in a Sunday service, pray and flip a page, or blank out my mind and take the first thought that pops in as your Spirit’s reply to me? Can I rely on them as your specific answer to my needs or as an answer to quell my doubts? Can I? Mmm….

But here's another bugbear for me. How can I then be sure that those indirect encounters (or replies) have been specially planned by you for the exclusive purpose of relating the message with my name on it to me through them? What if what I interpret from those signs or 
what I hear from others or what I read in the bible is no more than random events availing themselves to me just because I happen to be in the right place, with the right person and at the right time? What if they are all answers that I desperately want to hear and not answers you really want to tell me? You know messages can be mixed up with yours being overpowered by mine right? You do know that self-deception is the darnest thing, right?

Ok, this unavoidably dovetails to one fear I have and I trust you can empathize with me. This fear 
comes in three words (or two): Self-confirming bias. I am sure you have heard of that description a billion times and no further explanation from me is required.

So, after all is said and done - if not more is said by me on this side - is there a better, less round-about way to get your message across to me, dear God? Can we cut the middle man and have you speak to me heart-to-heart, face-to-face? And I am not even asking for it to be frequent. It can be infrequent and not even once a year. It can be done once in a blue moon and I hope in heaven, there's not millions of
 them blue moons!

Or maybe it can be done on rare occasions when I need to hear you most for encouragement and not when I am asking for something from you in particular. Maybe it can be just an under-the-breath whisper and not a grand appearance with horses and chariots and earth, wind and fire. It can even be anonymous but with your distinct divine signature of course. And by that, I mean something like a blind date in one of those restaurants that is completely dark.

In fact, those restaurants can be so dark that you can't even see your own hand
 waving in front of you. All you can do is to rely on your senses of taste and hearing, and it would be completely private, discreet and quick. How's that for anonymity? What do you think? Any chance of that happening once in a blue moon? (pause)

Ok...I take your silence as you are not too keen. I get it. I think I may be asking too much. I should be more respectful and understanding. I am sorry. I guess you are God for a reason (amongst many of course) and I have no right to be
dictating the terms of our rendezvous with you. 

Maybe what I really need is more meditation and less conversation, more silent inspiration and less vocal communication, and more watching and praying and less talking and questioning. Although if you'd recall in your Word, I am encouraged to ask and believe in the impossible. 

Alas, I guess this is one request that may be before its time. I understand. And I therefore humbly withdraw the request. I shall henceforth be, or learn to be, grateful that you once came, roamed amongst us, taught with infectious zeal, were persecuted most horribly, and rose in glory. I should therefore know my place in the sovereignty of your plan and obediently stay on my side of the faith, in reverence and fear.

For now, that should be enough, I think, Until the next itch comes
 along to be scratched, I guess. For now, this will be my Christian hope and the anchor of my faith. And as for that anonymous meeting in the dark, well, it can wait until that day when I see you face-to-face in resplendent glory and blinding brightness. 

I guess when that day comes, you won't be still and silent to me anymore. Neither will we ever need a middle man to pass the message. And on that day, it may not even be a face-to-face interaction but a heart-to-heart one - whatever that means in the realm of your eternal glory. Can't wait. Amen. Cheerz.

* Image from

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Why I may fail as a charismatic preacher.

Now I qualify that with the word "may". It is not a sure thing. It is more an unsure thing because people do change. Some people are rarefied by challenges. Others are terrified by it. The truth is, you will never really know it until you are thrown into the situation. But let's do a mental exercise here. Let's put imagination to work. I wonder what happens if I am a charismatic preacher? What challenges will I face? In fact,
 what challenges does a charismatic preacher in general face?

Personally I trust a charismatic preacher will conduct himself above board. In any event, he is where he is because he has proven himself over the years. His industry has paid off. That much can be safely presumed. I can trust that he will resist a bribe. He will refuse a questionable proposal. He will watch his tongue most of the time. He will also reject favoritism, discrimination and overt nepotism (leaving covert nepotism aside). I will also expect the charismatic preacher to be able to control his carnal appetites, to refuse an indecent proposal, to turn away from worldly affiliation, and to resist a gamble that ordinarily seems too good to resist.

Now, it seems like I am describing an almost perfect person and I know that's quite delusional. Let me balance it up then. If the Catholic priests convicted of sexual misconduct 
is any indication, I guess what is uncommon to pious men can sometimes be rather common when they are given enough opportunity, indulgence and adulation to feel infallible or indispensable.

So, my praise for them may be on the effusive side but I guess the majority of them will struggle successfully to meet the collective expectation. Still, my point is a nuanced one about these charismatic preachers and why I may fail as one. There is just  something that goes far deeper than the sins of the carnal flesh 
as listed above.

I believe that even the sin of the carnal flesh pays homage to this core sin. And it is the sin of the ego. This is what I truly fear. And this is where I find it most uncanny or strange. Here's why. If we take Lucifer’s fall as a timeless lesson for all, the strange bit is that we often overestimate our own ability to overcome pride and underestimate Lucifer’s. Although seldom openly admitted, we think we are special, chosen and different. As such, we tend to measure ourselves with a 
centimeter ruler and interpret the results in miles. And therein lies the problem.

Lucifer fell because of pride and he was needless to say the apple of the Father's eye. Alas, being highly favored was not enough for the most talented creation before man. Lucifer didn't just want to be the object of God's love. He wanted to be God; full stop. He wanted to be worshipped. And here is a wry quote that comes to mind, "If you worship me, you will find that I am actually a very nice guy." This is the implied danger
 faced by many charismatic preachers. Like it or not, the adoration of charismatic preachers by the masses somehow do cross the line from respect and reverence to idolization and even worship, albeit demonstrated most indirectly; most times even unknowingly. And the effect on the charismatic preacher can be unnervingly delusional and even self-realizing. 

Now let's go back to my chances of being a successful charismatic preacher. Pride is a slippery slope for me and it is the main reason why I may not make the cut. What makes pride even more insidious is its close cousin called humility. Here's another quote that comes to mind, "Most of what they call humility is successfully disguised arrogance." (Nassim Nicholas Taleb “The Bed of Procrustes”).

Many would think that the opposite of pride is humility. Well, this is not always the case. In fact, most times, the private self-ingratiation of pride needs to be buttressed by some public form of self-effacement. You can call it a hired public relation officer or a spin doctor of humility. Of course, I am employing a semantic twist to humility here. My point is that charismatic preachers will be adored. That's a fact. That's a fact even if the preacher himself (with the best of intention) constantly reminds his people to redirect their adoration to the right person. They will also be showered with praises. They will
 be treated like the "Vicar of Christ" so to speak. 

Let me go out on a limb here to prove my point with this scripture. If no man comes to the Father except through the son, then for a charismatic preacher, there is a hidden risk that his enraptured congregation may take that scripture to its next logical conclusion, that is, "no man comes to the son except through my pastor."

This is where the resolve to resist the onslaught of pride gradually wears down and become compromised by a deluded sense of self-believability. This is also where projected humility becomes disingenuous over time as the preacher’s popularity rise by default of congregational strength.

As a result, these popular preachers will have to struggle through with this larger-than-life image forced upon them and it is not going to be easy. I therefore empathize with them. In 
fact I empathize with myself more. I believe there is no immunity for pride unless one is immune from being a human being.

In the end, I think that all such personalities, who are constantly being placed quite involuntarily under the spotlight, should be reminded that when the blinding light shines directly at them, they cannot possibly see where they are going. It clouds their way and they sometimes have to muddle through. This leaves the pitfalls, potholes and road bumps in the open and
 increases the risk of missteps and mistakes.

I guess pride has an insidious way of anesthetizing us into a lull of invulnerability. It conflates our sense of self importance and gives us this "I-just-know-I-am-right" mindset. This mindset is stubbornly resistant to changes even when such changes are long overdue. Before long, the victim is entombed in his own self-fortifying sanctuary, which is watered and fed weekly by the wholehearted endorsement of the majority of his congregation.

 for all those reasons, the yoke of the charismatic preacher is indeed heavy. And a yoke I would be unduly burdened with. If we cast it on the back of Christ, we will overcome eventually. But if we want it all for ourselves - the glory, the fame, the adulation, the perpetuity in succession, the iron-fisted control, the self-conjured charisma, the self-deluded invulnerability, the holier-than-thou-or-righter-than-you mentality (not openly embracing them but progressively and largely unknowingly), then we are ineluctably following in the angel of light's footstep (2 Corinthians 11:14). That is, the one who once thought that he was better than his Creator and considered a replacement as long overdue. Cheerz.

* Image from a page by Brandon Wallace.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Greed, that sly philosopher

How powerful is greed?
Greed is a sly philosopher.

He is a long-suffering sniper.

He waits for the right time to pull the trigger.

His methodology is exact and subtle.

He sits with you like a friend.

He consoles you like a counselor.

He plays religion with you too.

He preaches life more abundantly.

He whispers about a heaven on earth. 

He forces you to confront the cross of shame, poverty and

He wants you to lead a post-Calvary life of overcoming.

Greed wants you to succeed. 

He wants the best for you.

He wants to see you soar.

He wants you to accumulate.

For much will have more, and more will have much.

He is a maternal nurturer whose bosoms flow with milk and honey. 

Greed is a song of hope. 

Greed is a timeless encourager.

He advocates time-honored values.

Perseverance to the end.

Patience to harvest the fruits of one's labor.

Strength to run the race.

And hope to see it all through.

Greed draws upon historical resources too.

Where will capitalism be without greed?

Where will market-driven growth be without greed? 

Where will industrialization be without greed?

Where will globalization be without greed?

Where will modernity, inventions, innovation, creative destruction,
 prosperity, GDP, global trade, wealth, surplus, technology all be without greed?

Greed cradles civilization forward.

The invisible hand of the market is the indulgent fan of greed. 

For if the hand that feeds is also the hand that needs to be fed, then greed is its sustenance and profit its supplement. 

The philosophy of greed is the philosophy of raw utilitarianism. 

The end justifies all means. 

And all means 
edifies the end.

The greater good for the majority is also the greater good for greed.

But the sleight of hand here is not on how the greater good is defined but how the "majority" is defined.

And the majority is often not a quantitative measure but a qualitative one.

It is a weighted majority not of numerical strength but of concentrated wealth.

Think of a pyramid with its apex of power and the thousands that slave and die building it stone 
by stone and you will see my point.

And my point is about a gilded point supported by a large base of unnecessary sacrifices.

As the base narrows up to a tip, the power concentrates and acts as it deems fit.

As the storm stirs from below, the froth of greed rises to take hold.

As the minimum wagers wage on for survival, the maximum profiteers celebrate its acquisition revival.

So the sly philosopher is
 eminently sly.

Not because he tells it as it is.

But because he tells it as it is not as if it is.

Now that's an art.

That's an unfathomably great delusion.

Imagine truth prostituted, virtue enslaved, and hope betrayed.

Greed takes the form of an angel of light to guide all partakers on a self-indulgent flight.

He will incentivize your conscience.

He will ease your angst.

He will be your companion till the

He will resist all resistance.

He will clear the way.

And you will experience unbridled latitude to act free from guilt, remorse and compassion.

Greed is the acid that dissolves all moral resolve.

So greed is indeed good, for the sly philosopher has spoken. 

His religion is redemption.

From a world of shame, poverty and rejection. 

You can find no better friend or counselor as the effervescent greed.

And if you have half the worldly mind, you would readily embrace greed.

For to do otherwise.

Is to be forever left behind.