Wednesday, 28 January 2015

I am a sinner.

I am a sinner. I keep sinning. I start my morning with thousands of thoughts fighting for my attention. Most of them are naughty thoughts. They want me to grieve more, worry more, desire more, lie more, hoard more, idle more and at times, sleep a bit more. There are of course other thoughts, noble ones; at least I thought so. But they are less vocal about their agenda. They are more reticent. They'd rather be lurking behind the scene, hidden.

So most times, the naughty thoughts win by default. They are usually more boisterous and thus get my attention. They are also insistent and recursive. It even seems like they are reproducing themselves on a desperate viral binge. I am therefore tainted by my thoughts. I am at times even a victim in their continual struggles for my scarce attentional resources.

In fact, I have a few insidious characters that compete against one another. And they are unforgiving about it. If the arena of my thoughts plays out like a Korean drama, vanity would be the first to hoard the limelight. She will be strutting her stuff on stage and baring it all. She has no shame and also lacks self-awareness. Vanity will not be satisfied with being average. She wants adulation and I can't say that I am without such cravings. Sometimes, I live my life yearning for some recognition. I long for others' attention. If it is lonely at the top, try the depressing rock-bottom. So, the urges for fame stoke my desire like the dry wind would stoke a forest fire.

Then, trailing behind vanity is envy. Now this is a shadowy character. He is like a spoilt brat or a pampered adult dictator. Envy cannot stand what he cannot stand. He is forever standing on shaky grounds. There is never any stability or center to his endless desires. Envy is the seed of wants and it blooms overnight into a weed forest of discontentment.

Here I am a victim of my own competing wants. I sometimes feel like I have not done enough. I sometimes feel like an underachiever. I covet after what others have and sulk in my own self-perceived inadequacy and lack. I am like a child craving for toys I do not have and most likely, will not ever need. And if envy rots the soul, it also leaves my spirit broken and my resolve divided too.

And as I leave lust, greed and anger to their own devices, the last (but not least) character I wish to mention is pride. This is one fiendish old kid on the block. Pride always plays a game with me. It is a game of simple-Simon-says. And pride usually have his resounding say. He wants to be first. He wants to be right. He cannot lose. He cannot be ignored. He wants me to project humility so that he can be enthroned for being associated with that virtue. Pride wins because I don't want to lose. And pride is the first gobbler of my attentional resources because he knows my insecurity and fears.

So, returning to where I first started, I am a sinner. I keep sinning. This is my struggle as a human being, my fight as a believer, and my narrow road as a pilgrim. When Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, the light", I believe he doesn't mean that his way is a short cut. Neither does he mean that his truth is easy nor his light always clear. If anything, as faith and hope can testify, his way is often long and fraught with soul-wrenching challenges. His truth is sometimes caught between the illogical and the mythical. And his light is often occluded by smog, dust and mist of this bedazzling world.

But I have no delusions about it all. I believe that to escape from pain and disappointments is to escape from living and living to its fullest. I can very well pretend that I am above it all. But then, just like rearranging my prejudices, I will just be replacing one delusion for another. For this reason, I'd rather face the facts. And the fact is, I am a sinner. I keep sinning. But as long as I know that, I also know that I am in Christ. And in Christ, He has overcome. I too shall overcome. Cheerz.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

How Joel Osteen's god saved me...

One day, I dreamt I died and I was taken up to heaven to meet  with Joel Osteen’s god. JO’s god was a very affable guy. His mannerism was that of JO except that he looked more sagely, older that is. Maybe it was the beard that covered almost half of his face. Maybe it was the bassy throaty voice. Maybe it was the deep, mesmerizing stare. Or maybe it was all of the above. Anyhow, JO’s god took me by the hand and told me that I was not exactly dead yet. It was just an out-of-body visitation and I will soon be returned to earth.

So, I spent a day with JO’s god and I found it to be rather exhilarating, uplifting. He was a really cool god and uproariously funny too. For a moment, I thought to myself, “I could really spend eternity with this guy…I mean god.” If he wasn’t god, as in the self-styled creator of the universe, I’d have taken him to be my BFF, my best buddy. And I guess everyone should have a god for a buddy, right? Imagine taking selfie together with such a fun and bubbly deity and sending it off to your Facebook friends. You will surely receive “LIKES” in spades! You will be famous just by association with this awesomely hip and divine grand-daddy-O.

JO’s god then sat me down and we chatted for what seemed like eternity. He told me that whatever JO preached on earth about him was just about right, that is, right on the money. In between hi-fives, JO’s god reminded me to listen to whatever JO has to say. He told me that only JO spoke the truth about the truth. In my excitement, I told him that I’d read somewhere in JO’s book “It’s Your Time” that god puts dreams and desires in my heart and I will have to go through labor to give birth to them. JO’s god then burst out laughing and exclaimed, “Amen!” And the whole heaven shook and echoed with that affirmation like a passing earthquake.

Caught totally off-guarded and feeling too comfortable, I cracked a rather crass joke, “So bro, you inseminated me with dreams?Oops… There was a shocked silence. Everyone in heaven held their breath. The angels stopped traipsing around. The silence deepened. Then, as fast as a bolt of lightning, JO’s god burst out in laughter again - this time even louder than before - and the whole heaven shook once more. “Hey son, I never abort a dream mind you. The seed I put in you never dies,” JO’s god hollered. Phew…

I told him that that was exactly what JO had written in his book and he gave me a cheeky smile and thumbs up. I can’t tell you how relieved I was then. I was peeing in my pants actually. But after that, I was really relaxed with JO’s god because he was just too good to be true. He was just too cool for a god. After that slip of the tongue, I repeated what JO told his congregation that god wants everyone of us to be successful. And JO’s god immediately threw me a hi-five, “Amen to that too!

In fact, JO’s god did not stop there. He took a page out of JO’s book with this quote, “Son, I have preordained moments of favor for you. I have even lined up the right people, the right breaks, the right opportunities just for you. I have prearranged them for your future!” I was beginning to feel like I was on the top of the world, no, at center of the whole universe in fact. I was on a spiritual high. I was into the divine groove. Yet, I had to ask him whether he was for real just for sure and JO's god heartily replied, “Hey, in my eyes, your future is looking extremely bright!” He then waxed lyrical about how he is a god of increase and never decrease. He also reminded me to talk to my storm and not about it.

By this time, I was really warmed up to JO’s god that I nearly didn’t notice the occasional interruptions between him and a particular little angel that wisps in and out during our winsome conversation. They were exchanging something, whispering in delight. And every time that happened, JO’s god seemed slightly distracted. So I had to ask him what was that all about and he smiled and said, “Son, that’s my little Joel from earth. The angel’s just reporting about his prayer request to me.
And you answer them? All of them?” I asked eagerly.
Well, most of them. It really depends on his level of faith actually,” JO’s god said.

It was at this time that JO’s god confided with me a secret. He said that there is a caveat or proviso to all this prayer thingy. He said that he is limited by our level of belief. He said that he may be a god of abundance but if we don’t believe enough, and for long enough, he can’t act, he can’t deliver. I then reminded him about the mustard seed of faith and he replied that it takes little to believe. But if I don’t believe, even that little, he is powerless to bless me. Wow, imagine this, a mere mortal like me could actually limit the creator of the universe – I thought to myself and felt that this was exactly what JO had written about in his book.

I can't say that the last part didn't push me to think about things a little deeper. I somehow turned a little skeptical. I was beginning to entertain some doubts. But before I could register them, JO’s god chimed in, “Son, always ask for big things. I can give you greater blessings. Your prayers on earth are just too small. Please, supersize your prayers!” I scratched my head and asked him to explain the supersize part and he said, “Look at JO, look at how I multiplied his houses, his wealth, his status, his church attendances, and even magnified his appearances. In public, he is always picture-perfect, together with his life partner. That’s what I can do. I am the god to bless you. Son, I am prepared to give you a supernatural increase and unprecedented favor. Just like JO, you will be prosperous beyond your wildest dreams! All it takes is to believe.”

Feeling my confidence restored, I asked him whether these words written by JO in his book are true: “In your future, God has already dropped favor. He’s dropped promotion. He’s dropped health. He’s dropping wisdom. He’s dropped good breaks. He’s dropped divine connections. They’re out in front of you just waiting for you to come along. They are called “handfuls on purpose.”” 

After I’d finished, I caught JO’s god stoking his beard in self-delight before booming out ecstatically, “He’s always right about me you know. That’s who I am. Every drop of that is the absolute truth. Son, I am raining favors on you, and just you. In fact, just like JO said, nothing happens to you. They all happen for you. For I did not create you to be average. You are created for success! And I will turn your tears into pools to refresh you. Hahahaha…” At this exact moment, I have this uncanny feeling that even JO’s god had read JO’s books and memorized them from cover to cover.

To be honest, throughout our conversation, I did not hear a word about pain, failure, suffering, illness and death. Whenever I hinted to those things, JO’s god would echo the same words that can be found in JO’s book, “Don’t speak defeat over your life. Speak faith-filled words. Switch over to the language of victory. And in due season, you will eat the fruit of your words!” And he strangely punctuated the end of every sentences with his trademark jolly laughter and shook heaven repeatedly. I was in fact beginning to feel a little queasy, a little dizzy. In fact, this jolly deity sort of reminded me of that Pixar’s Yeti  (aka abominable snowman) from Monster Inc who just loves snow-cones.

Before I returned to earth, JO’s god gave me a pat on the back and blessed me with what JO would call the anointing of ease. He said that with this anointing, I will not struggle anymore. He said that I will feel a supernatural grace, and a favor that lightens the load and takes off the pressure. I will then be totally free from worry, stress, anxiety, disappointments, and sadness.

Now, I can’t say that I was not all psyched up to take the world by the horns after that session with JO’s god. It was better than any self-improvement talk that I had ever attended. It was like I had won the power-ball lottery and was cashing in on the winnings. I felt like a king’s kid, like the crown prince. I felt invulnerable. I was even looking for available seat on the right hand of JO’s god.

Then, just after I’d left the heavenly abode, a darkness enveloped me almost instantly. I struggled with my vision, shaking my head, and was rudely awakened from my sleep. It was there and then that it hit me with the force of a ton of bricks. It was just a dream, a crazy dream. And it should rightfully be so since it’s all just too good to be true. Cheerz.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A world without self-righteousness?

What would living in a world free from self-righteousness look or feel like? Well, I guess the first to go is that all too familiar holier-than-thou attitude. Essentially, you will feel or act no better, smarter or holier than your neighbor or that person standing beside you in the train or that man begging for extra change on the street or that candidate voting against you in a campaign or that churchgoer sincerely questioning your sermon or that young student raising a valid point that threatens your credibility.

A world without self-righteousness would leave most things we see today unchanged. Yet the change is nevertheless there. It is subtle and it goes far deeper. In fact, I believe the difference is so profound that many will find their relationships vastly improved, even more resilient. First impression will not only be enriching, it will be equally enduring too.

I imagine such a world will be devoid of self-conceited judgment and everyone will be a hardcore listener and not a die-hard critic. It is a world where having the last word is palpably embarrassing and most will politely refrain from speculating and prejudging. It is also a more transparent world where candid-ness is strongly encouraged and hidden motives frowned upon. There is in reality no axe to grind because there is neither any cause for wielding an axe nor grinding it.

Without self-righteousness, everyone will feel relaxed, fully disarmed, safe and secure, and completely open in sharing any feelings, emotions, hurts or disagreement that he or she may have over less than agreeable issues. Negotiation will be based on serving the interests of the whole rather than the interest of self or other dead-end ideologies used as a means to serve a self-glorifying end.
 Considering that self-righteousness is generally a delusional over-estimation of one's ability, expertise or opinion of oneself, I can expect that such a world will readily endorse this saying by the Chinese sage, Confucius, "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance." For if you think about it, in our infinite ignorance, aren't we all equal? For this reason, the starting point of any dialogue is to treat the other party with respect, understanding, and most importantly, as equals. No one will exhibit even an iota of self-superiority, pomposity or condescension. All know-it-all will humbly adopt a learn-with-all posture. 

I trust a world where self-righteousness is absent is also a world where people of all walks of life are conscious of their own flaws and shortcomings. Self-awareness will be so convicting (and restraining)  that it leaves no room for self-delusion. No doubt they will still compete with one another but the competition will be to do one's best and not to think that one is more superior than the other. There will of course be winners and runners-up but it will not result in envy or anger because when the focus is not on self but on others, the winners will generally be humbled and the rest will be duly inspired. Even those who are leaders, mentors and teachers will be scarce to flaunt their knowledge and experiences around.

The intrinsic beauty of this world is that no one is made to feel small, worthless, inadequate, inferior, discriminated, unimportant, disregarded, dismissed or insulted. Each individual is treasured for who he or she is and not what he or she is expected to become by an impersonal and capricious standard. There will no doubt be standards to achieve and performances to match but it will not be one where the winners are glorified and the losers are stigmatized.

I would never underestimate the power of change in a world where self-righteousness is done away with. I can picture a conflict-absent world where the people living in it are more self-sacrificing than self-hoarding. As personal egos are put to rest, or at least banished to a subordinated role, the world will for the first time experience a servanthood revolution. People will find more pleasure in giving rather than taking, and generosity and kindness will lead the way instead of strife, greed and exploitation.

Short of washing the feet of their people, world leaders will serve in humility, act with consideration, and lead with more heart than head knowledge. They will deal directly with the issues – however thorny they can turn out - and not the person, and they will seek to understand before they crave to be understood. Building relationship -  and not one's personal agenda and reputation - will be the overriding goal in international engagement.

A world without self righteousness is an others-first society and the unintended consequence of elevating others is that it will strangely lead to the elevation of self. But there is a decisive difference here. This unintended or indirect  elevation is not a result of mindless self-promotion, but instead it is a product of self-denial and selfless giving. As such, the discernible effect is both self-effacing and self-empowering. And that is why a world without self-righteousness is undeniably transforming, and not to mention, rather revolutionary. Cheerz. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

To offend or not to offend

Today's Straits Times’ article riled me up (20 Jan 2015). It is about the freedom of expression. In the light of the recent Charlie Hebdo tragedy, respected world leaders were called to offer their view on this motion: "Does one have the right to offend or not?"
At the front-and-center of the wrestling ring are the British PM and the French President. And seated on the bench, away from the belligerence, are the sassy Pope and the Turkish PM.
I will let David Cameron fire the first salvo here: "I think in a free society, there is a right to cause offence about someone's religion. I'm a Christian; if someone says something offensive about Jesus, I might find that offensive, but in a free society, I don't have a right to wreak vengeance..." How's that for a gracious society?
Now, this is what the Turkish PM has to say, "...Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult.” Here comes my angst rant below.
Lesson? Well, the first few questions I have here are not about whether one has a right to offend or not. It is about the need for more common sense in this world (a desperate need really). Firstly, isn't the above motion or subject a non-starter? Now, let me illustrate this with gritted teeth: which parent in their right mind would tell their child that he has the right to offend his classmates? Underscore "right". And then, when the child gets punched in the face or alienated for being a loud mouth or class pest, which parent will be smiling from ear to ear and showing a thumbs up to his kid with this exclamation, "Well done son, you did good. I am proud of you!" Get the drift?
Putting aside the right to seek revenge (or justice), why even be insensitive, and provoke your neighbors who have done nothing to you in the first place? This is clearly not about which of the two is the greater evil: To offend indiscriminately or to retaliate by shedding blood. It is of course obvious. But it is really about why you even need to start it all in the first place? Why can't we all just get along?
If you really really need to "bitch" about it, then, for goodness' sake, do a William Tell and target the rotten apple and not the innocent person. I mean, what has Jesus, Muhammad or Buddha done to you lately. Imagine cursing Karl Marx for Stalin's atrocities or blaming Papa Smurf for the very corny Smurfs movie part II.
My infernal bugbear is this, "Does anyone really have the right to offend (in normal circumstances and unprovoked)?" Is this the same twisted logic as the right to discriminate, the right to insult, and the right to hurt people’s feelings. If so, why not exercise your God-given rights in reverse, that is, insisting on the right to love, the right to forgive, and the right to show kindness? I mean, what is the provocative offender trying to protect...true democracy, freedom of expression? Or is he more concerned with his profit margin or his 7-minute fame or he’s doing it just for kicks or to show how smart he is?
Here is a thought experiment to present my point in a different light: Why build a society based on spite, malice, hatred, vileness and crassness, and then stand on a self-glorifying pedestal, declaring defiantly, "It's my right!"? Instead, why not build a society based on love, kindness, forgiveness and hope, and be a city on the hill, a high tower of timeless virtues, and then proclaiming with humility, "It's my right." Now, which society is bound to bloom, and which is invariably doomed, you decide (it’s a no brainer right?)

So, if I have a prayer for some world leaders, it would be this: "Dear respected leaders…forget about leading a nation, lead your own heart first. Forget about fighting poverty, fight your own ego. Forget about giving the best speech to a standing ovation, give to the least amongst you. Forget about saving the world, save yourself from hatred, intolerance and postmodern cockamamie logic. And most of all, forget about splitting hair over "the right to offend or no right to offend", the first question you really have to ask yourself is this, "Why even offend in the first place?""
I will end with these honest words of a leader whom I deeply respect, Pope Francis: "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others...if my good friend, Dr (Alberto) Gasparri, says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. (note that he is using a universal, secular example and not a religious one).
I hope the good Catholic's word is offensive enough to knock some sense into some people. Cheerz.