Friday, 29 August 2014

Scariest moments

The scariest moments of your life are often the ones that do not announce their arrival. They are usually unsolicited. They come unbidden like the sudden drizzle on a sunny day or the change of wind direction. Why scariest? Because those are the times that you are least prepared to deal with. Like a thief in the night, these moments conspire to catch you unaware. Examples? Do you find it strange that at one moment you are so confident about your future and at another you are
 worried sick? How about the time when you think you are in control of your emotions and then all it takes is a little circumstantial trigger and you lose your head completely? How about lust? Do you find the sudden change of context in the form of a casual flirt from a secret admirer is strangely enough to wear down your marital resolve?

How about success? Isn't it uncanny that the material success you strive so hard for suddenly changes you from under your 
nose to someone you hardly recognize? These are the moments that come from behind and entrap you with your eyes wide open. You are seldom aware of their lurking shadows and they are master opportunists. They strike like snipers when you are either down-and-out or bright-and-rosy. Alternatively, they may just hit you between the eyes when you are so sure of your infallibility.

My point is that these insidious moments hide itself in our emotional ganglia just like the measles virus would seek refuge after retreating from an attack and then wait for the right moment to strike again. And trust me, in this uncharted journey of life, they are incubating for an attack to test 
our character, break our resolve and stretch our resilience. Are we then helpless here? What are our defences against these insidious moments? I don't think I can answer that confidently as each of us will have our own life's journey  with its own challenges.

But I recall one father giving this advice to his son, "There are only two lasting things we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings." I guess he meant wings to fly and soar in life, and that is not an issue here. We owe it to life to
 discover, explore, find our niche, develop it, train hard and live it up. That's good advice.

And then comes roots. To me, roots mean to always remember our origin. It means humility, respect and understanding. Now, that is relevant here. I think my son will be well rewarded in his life if he never forgets about his origin. He came from nothing and will leave with nothing. In between, he will succeed, fail, strive, achieve, regret, learn, err, flounder, doubt, fall, hope, and mature from it all. That's growth, even if it is means
 growing pains.

So, when we are reminded about humility, respect and understanding, we have a safe and firm anchor on the ground as we spread our wings in the sky. This way, we will always be in touch with our humanity and how vulnerable we are even during those high-flying moments. When we are deeply rooted in life, appreciating our perpetual flaws as well as the occasional flourishing, knowing intimately how life is transient and fleeting, and understanding that the value of
 relationships far surpasses the value of worldly possessions, we will cast our sight further, look beyond the surface of things, and think differently, deeply.

With such horizon-spanning perspective, we will then be able to face character-breaking moments in our life, however unsolicited, with calm indifference and a measure of sagely resolve. That's the best way I know how to walk our scariest moments by. Cheerz.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The dark Christian journey

I start this letter with what Maya Angelou once said when she was asked to speak about the lifelong journey of faith. She said, “I’m startled or taken aback when people walk up to me and tell me they are Christians. My first response is the question “Already?” Then I am minded to end my letter with what Nietzsche once proclaimed, “In truth there was only one true Christian, and he died on the cross.” And somewhere in the midstream, I plan to connect the two ends with this quote, “In the middle of the journey of my life, I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”

I guess that about sums up the journey of faith for me. In three unmistakable honest quotes I have managed to capture the essence of belief and the perpetual struggles of an earnest believer.  You see, the defining journey never ends with the altar conversion. We may be positionally justified in our faith but that is not the hardest of the struggles. Coming to one’s realization that the world has a Creator and He is reaching out to us is a spiritual epiphany no less but we, like what Paul in Corinthians has reminded us, are merely “babes in Christ”.  And we all know that babies are totally helpless, dependable and vulnerable. This is where the metaphorical message of Maya Angelou is so instructive and it also strikes a nervous chord in me. Her words “Already?” should be the mantra of a Christian held close to his heart as if it was a lost treasure recently found after a desperate, painstaking search.

The journey of faith is no different from the journey of life. Our birth is followed by our growth, from childhood to our youth, and from our youth to adulthood, we are faced with challenges that stretch us on all sides. And then comes the dreaded midlife, which sets all things past against all things future, with the tenuous present as its fulcrum of hope. But many will still struggle at this stage because we usually come to ourselves “in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”  This is where the disillusionment of life and faith intersect. This is the crossroad of our tormented selves coming to a boil with questions that have no clear answers and answers that spawn even more questions of their own.

A Christian will no doubt strive to be like Christ but if Nietzsche’s observation was any indication, the last Christian had already died on the cross. The allegorical irony in that Nietzschean quote makes a mockery of all our sincerest efforts to be like Christ. And if the proof is in pudding, then the mock is in the word “like”. To be like Christ denotes just that and no more and we all know that likeness to the real thing is but an approximation of what that real thing is.  Of course, perfection is unattainable in this world but I think Nietzsche was not referring to perfection in humanity because that would be the early herald of hell on earth.

If anything, I guess Nietzsche was insufferable when it comes to the hypocrisy of men. Religion to him is an amazing magic trick. It manages to turn the evil of men by the swirl of a ritualistic wand into an immediate good. But this good is not bankable because it is, like magic, illusory. And self-deception coupled with mass delusion only deepens the deception even further as the leader feeds himself with the empty adoration of his followers and the followers feed themselves with the delusionary promises of their leader. And this mutual symbiotic relationship, if left unchecked, will invariably ossify into a monolith of incredulous proportions.

This is also where, in the middle of the journey of our faith, we confront ourselves in the darkest depths of our heart and realize that the straight way is forever lost. For what is before us now is two equally narrow roads with one leading to what is an approximation of the real thing and the other road inevitably leading us to the real thing itself. Somehow, I dread to think that the only difference between the former road (approximation journey) and the latter road (authentic journey) is merely a reversal of roles between the crucified and the crucifers, that is, it is either we nail our Savior to the Cross for self-glory or we nail ourselves to the Cross for God’s glory. The metaphor is stark I know but the truth is not.

So, coming back to Maya Angelou’s statement “Already?”, I guess Jesus the Christ epitomizes what the Christ in a Christian really means and this journey of redemption is an extremely intimate walk of faith for the believer. It is going to be his toughest journey ever. It is a journey that will take a lifetime.  It is also a journey that will challenge him to his core, compelling him to face the demons of his self, and enticing him to strive for an approximation of the truth rather than to take the arduous, self-denying road to the exacting Cross where his Savior waits. 

So, if the last Christian truly died on the Cross, then I guess it is only by the Cross and through it that the first Christian will ultimately emerge victorious. Cheerz.

* Image from a friend.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Lost Shepherds.

This morning city harvest report (20 August) borders on insanity. Chew accused Pastor Kong Hee of paying salaries, royalties and bonuses to his wife from a fund meant for missionary work. The payment came up to half a million as the evidence revealed.

Chew said, "But there was never actually a deficit in 2009. The deficit came after you stripped out royalties and salaries and bonuses that went to Sun." Chew then claimed that Pastor Kong Hee never revealed to donors that the money was paid to his wife.

To which Pastor Kong Hee replied, "I didn't have the chance to check with my wife if she wants to reveal her salaries and royalties, and we have a culture in City Harvest Church, as in many companies, of keeping our income as confidential as possible." Well, he is right on one point...CHC is no different from many secular companies.

Chew ended his cross examination with this, "You do not love the church, as in its people, and you are not concerned about the church suffering losses."

Lesson? A sad one. Please bear with me. I recall Minister Joe Wright’s prayer when he opened the new sessions of the Kansas Senate.

He prayed, "Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We have exploited the poor and called it lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot anti-abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. 
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time- honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today: cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!"

I too have a prayer (sort of) after reading the above article. And it goes like this...

"You have exploited the members and called it sacrifice.
You have rewarded your wife and called it blessings.
You have misled your closest and called it confidentiality.
You have shot honest criticism down and called it rebellion.
You have neglected the true calling of God and called it crossover.
You have misused power and called it God's will.
You have coveted after church funds and called it church growth.
You have polluted the gospel with worldly attraction and called it freedom in Christ.
You have made a mockery of traditional church practices and called it the new covenantal direction.

Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today: cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!"

Please come to your senses, the chosen shepherd of our soul, and save the Church from further spiritual hemorrhaging. Because salvation belongs to the Lord and to Him alone. Cheerz.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Gambling with God.

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
- C. S. Lewis
My greatest fear is to live life pursuing false positives. In this context, false positive is a supposedly positive fact that subsequently turns out to be false. For example, to the question, “Is there a god?” and the answer is “yes” (positive). And should that turn out to be false, it is a false positive. There are many false positives in this world. Religion is one. Because with millions of gods vying for our 
undying devotion, and only one can be deemed as the truth, false positives here exist in spates.
Another false positive is our infinite ego. What makes it so insidious is that it is invariably an inextricable part of us. And it is a false positive because it is through our ego’s distorting lens that we see the world, and everything captured by it raises up a mirage of hope. However,
 this hope and all its worldly promises fall like a house of cards when the penetrating light of eternity bears upon it. So, we search for what we think will positively satisfy our unquenchable appetites, mistaking happiness for the temporal and transient. Alas, at some point, we realize that what appears true on the surface is but a shadow of the real thing. And what we thought was “positive” turned out to be false.
So, CSL's quote makes life a gambit for me. Its overture is to tempt me to make this existential bet of life, to lay my stakes and never look back. It forces me to make a commitment in a definite direction where the end is expected to justify all means undertaken. It is not a gambit to be taken lightly because, like all 
bets, it is one between a false positive (chasing after a mirage) and a tweaked “false negative” (chasing after the Truth). Maybe Kierkegaard puts it sharper, “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true (false positive) and the other is to refuse to accept what is true? (false negative)”
I believe there are two ways to live out my faith. One way is to walk away from this gambling table unconvinced, to resist the call, and to keep my
stakes pending a better hand to come by. By this, I mean living a Christian life without the commitment of venturing beyond the safe walls of faith. Or standing by the existential beach with my surfboard of faith and waiting for the right spiritual wave to emerge – so to speak. The second way is to put my money where my mouth is and "spin the wheel of life" like what CSL had done. He had placed his bet with his Savior and never looked back. But such was not a conversion characteristic of a floozy groupie mind you. He took the path of the most resistance.
One of his biographers, Professor Alister McGrath, wrote, "As Lewis 
later remarked, his specific way of coming to faith was "a road very rarely trodden", and could not in any way be regarded as normative. His account (CSL) of his conversion represents it as an essentially private affair, marked by understatement and a studied evasion of any dramatic gestures or declarations."
CSL was literally playing a cat and mouse game with his Savior, which kind of reminds me of this unenviable struggle uncannily expressed here, "You're the one
 who's shoulder I want to cry on, but you're the reason for my tears. You're the one I want to hide behind, but you're the one I'm hiding from."
At this juncture, I recall that Ronald Rumsfeld once forewarned us about the unknown unknowns. In his speech, he said, “There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there
 are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.” However clumsy the phrasing, I guess God lies between the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns”. And any believer who takes God seriously would have to take this leap of faith by laying his stakes not only in the realm of the unknowable but a little further down the estate that is beyond ever knowing.
This is definitely not a bet for the fainthearted
 as Eugene Peterson puts it, “The word Christian means different things to different people. To one person it means a stiff, upright, inflexible way of life, colorless and unbending. To another, it means a risky, surprise-filled venture, lived tiptoe at the edge of expectation.
For me, the choice is not a simple and obvious one. CSL has already set an arduous, tortuous footpath for me. It is one that I would have to lay down my stake with trembling hands and a mind
 most tormented. Cheerz.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A godless fool.

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." (Psalms 14:1) Mm... I wonder what fool is he? An atheist fool? An agnostic fool? A freethinking fool? An opportunist fool? A secular fool? A humanist fool? A pantheistic fool? A deist fool? A liberal fool? A myopic fool? A hedonist fool? An anti-creationist fool? An arrogant, self-worshipping fool? Or is he just a doubting fool? A skeptical fool? A questioning one?

When the fool
 says there is no God, what is the premise on which he bases his disbelief? Is he pitting modern science against an unproven, un-falsifiable Creator? Is one of the strings in his polemic bow the dastardly unanswered prayers? Or is it the misattribution of answered prayers to God rather than to chance and natural causes?

Or is his atheistic premise based on a hidden and silent God in the midst of widespread gratuitous sufferings? How about the sex-depraved priesthood who administers sacrament with one hand and fondles young altar boys with the other? Did that tilt the balance in favor of disbelief with fallen pastors, prosperity preachers and former clergymen adding to the icing on the godless cake? Maybe this fool had in mind the chaotic clamoring of thousands of gods, each supported by millions of followers, together insisting that only their god and no other god is the one true god?

I guess this godless fool has his plate full. His heart demands proof where proof is scarce. His mind only perceives what is there and what is not is not there. No doubt he accepts that reality may escape the naked eye. Perception is to him no less deceiving of course. He also endorses the impishness of quantum mechanics, the non-locality of quantum particles, and the impenetrable mystery of the universe or universes. But this fool cannot comprehend in his heart and mind the God of the
 three great, overlapping and monotheistic religions.

He helplessly grapples with the personhood of this supernatural being. He struggles with why God's love is so compelling yet not compelling enough to save babies from preventable deaths, rescue innocent lives from evil men, and stop humanity from hypocrisy and self destruction. And why is God all-knowing and all-powerful and yet he remains nonchalant when religious men uses his name to  pursue evil and self-enrichment. These questions seek answers
 that cannot be answered without bursting at the theological seams with more runaway questions. This task to the fool is as futile as emptying a bag of feathers in a twister and then trying to retrieve them.

So the fool who says there's no God is a fool that either questions too much or believes too little, if at all. He is like a man fighting himself into restless skepticism. He is like a worm looking into the mirror and is unable to tell his head from his tail and his tail from his head. Alas, this fool will remain a fool
 and that is to be his biblical fate. As long as he insists that there is no God, he is and will always be a fool no less. And a godless fool at that.

Of course this fool can readily shed his foolishness if he recants and proclaims that there is now a God.  In so doing, he is no longer a biblical fool, that is, he is no longer a godless fool. He would have changed his status from a fool always to a fool no more. But whether he still feels or acts like a fool is another thing altogether. Cheerz.