Sunday, 28 June 2015

Cows left dung for me!

We rented a quaint apartment in Belfast, Ireland, in my recent UK tour, and I jogged in the morning under a temperature of about 5 degrees (with the occasional Irish chill). The view along the paved road was indeed chicken soup for the soul.
One morning, while jogging, I came upon a herd of cows grazing over what appeared to be little humps of dung. I then took pictures of them and something clicked in their bovine mind. They stared at me, transfixed. As I turned around and jogged back, they followed me. Literally, in a group, they abandoned their piles of shit and followed me. I only managed to shake them off when I ran behind a hedge of bushes and was hidden from their view. Out of sight, out of mind right?
When I told my family about that, Nat joked, "So they left the heap of shit for you? Isn't it the Platonic model of leaving the material (dung) for the ultimate non-material Ideal or Form (me)?" We had a good laugh over that.
However, at this juncture, a thought came to mind - more like a metaphor - "Cows congregating over dung?" Isn't this about the dastardly herd mentality where the bigger the crowd simply means the smaller the brain? And more relevantly, it is about people who would believe in anything and are therefore attracted in swarm to what - upon closer scrutiny - is nothing but a load of bull. Unavoidably, some religious teachings figure prominently in my cows-over-dung reflection (case in point is Joel Osteen's message that the apostles of old were mistaken that adulterers and idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God as forewarned in Galatians).
In fact Joel Osteen's inclusive universalism makes a mockery of Calvary and the call to repentance. But this is what some people want to hear and they will come in busloads to churches that preach it. If you preach it, they will come (in herds).
I guess if anyone steps forward and declares that he has found the ultimate answer to everything, regardless of how tenuous the claim, the cow-like following will be helplessly drawn to the cult-like personality.
We in fact live in a world of answers. Some people seem to know the answers to life. There seems to be no mystery anymore to them. Trust me, they know. They are asking less and answering more. Visit a bookshop and you will know how I know. In London, I visited bookshops galore and a lot of the books I come across are offering to answer your questions rather than to invite you to question your pre-canned answers. This is most glaring and daring in the religious department.
While there are many books that make you think critically, the shallow (or brazen) ones offer to do the thinking for you. They spoon-feed you with answers wrapped in saccharine goodness so that their one-size-fits-all nostrum goes down well with you.
You are in fact surrounded by self-styled celebrity authors who claim to know life more than all the dead philosophers and theologians put together. And these authors are getting younger and younger. In the past, it used to be those who are in their dying or in twilight years who impart wisdom to the younger generation. They have lived their life almost to its tail end and they are therefore ready to tell their enriching story.
But nowadays, it seems like experience is secondary to mid-life divine revelation of sorts. Here I often stumble upon religious authors in their late thirties or forties telling you that God had spoken to them intimately, personally and exclusively. Without fail, it is always a subjective divine encounter, and for some of them, a daily and as-and-when-they-need-it encounter.
Honestly I can only marvel at how they could be so lucky to have been shortlisted by the Creator of the Universe for an exclusive audience. It must have been a truly life-transforming experience (or a self-enriching one - depending on which side of the fence you are standing on).
I sometimes wonder whether they were given any forewarning of that divine appointment? Were they informed prior? I guess not. Because if that should be the case, I would expect the whole storm of the media and the curious public to converge at the divinely appointed hour. It would no doubt be a reality show of the most celebrated episode in the entire history of tele-media. Alas, the visit is strangely as surreptitious as a thief in the night. Their god must therefore be an intensely private sovereign or maybe just media-shy.

Then comes the so-called revelation. This is the part that I can only quietly marvel. And not surprisingly, it is often a series of divine revelation that can conveniently be captured and compressed into one or two books to be collectively sold for a tidy personal profit, of course.
And my marveling continues with how these comparatively young and photo-shopped authors with their beaming smiles on the front, side and back covers are able to tell you with certainty that God had told them the secret of living the life that God himself had planned for each and everyone on earth regardless of context. I guess this is Calvary mass manufacturing?
Maybe I am old fashion, but I for one always believe in the quaint saying that a picture paints a thousand words. And should their god happen to make a personal appearance before me, I trust that that experience would be worth reading a million of their books in tow.
But alas, I guess I am asking too much and the next best thing to that transforming divine encounter would thus be to fork out $29.90 or $34.50 to buy their book and to relive their experiences vicariously.
In any event, playing devil's advocate here (pun unintended), isn't hearsay evidence enough to make a convert out of me? Shouldn't I, a voracious reader myself, be content to just accept that these young know-it-all authors can be trusted and that the account of their divine encounter and revelation are equally authentic and unerring?
Am I then too skeptical for my own good? Should I then reexamine my own heart? Maybe it is an unfortunate case of divine estrangement between God and I and it is to my benefit that these authors are elected to stand in the gap on my behalf. Maybe they have something relevant in their encounter for me in my work, family and life. And for this reason, I should not be too quick to judge the book by its cover or them by their shored-up stage-appearances. In fact, maybe the reasonable thing to do is to give their prophesies, teaching and revelation a chance and the light of day in my heart.
And if I should gingerly flip the pages, and read their exhaustive message-in-a-bottle love note from God himself, I may just be duly convicted by their conviction that God desires of me to pray big, ask big, believe big, live fearlessly (even richly), bless me unending, favor me beyond my wildest imagination, forgive me unconditionally, make repentance irrelevant, love me until it seems like it is only me and no one else, bestow victory on me, grant me peace surpassing all understanding, be the head and not the tail, put thousands to flight, enjoy good health and everlasting bliss, be spared diseases and suffering, live in increasing wealth, and in everything, God is only concerned for and about my happiness and joy.
But then, what then? And for what end?
Here's my reservation. Wouldn't all that jolly-ness and goodness smacked in a $34.50 hardcover or preached over a Sunday pulpit make me feel singled-out, extremely special and almost invulnerable? Wouldn't all that puff me up to believe that nothing is indeed impossible for God especially when it comes to making all my wishes come true? Wouldn't a book or sermon like that make an addict out of me to want more, believe more, subscribe more, give more, and devote more because in return, it promises me so much more?
In fact, there is a rather clumsy name for this form of susceptibility and it is called moralistic therapeutic deism. One author describes it well this way: "It is the belief that God wants people to be good and nice, that the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself, that God does not need to be particularly involved in our lives except when he is needed to resolve a problem and that good people go to heaven when they die." (Jim Belcher, In Search of Deep Faith)
Alas, the most disconcerting part for me is that this is one system of belief where the object of my worship seems to exist just for me and not the other way round. And if truth be told, at the end of the day, I am afraid that there is nothing new under God's heaven. In fact, the only thing new about us is the unbelievable layers of our own gullibility. There seems to be nothing on earth that can match it.
And charisma and good looks aside, these authors/preachers will not be the first and they will not be the last to tout their moonshine gospel that essentially - and rather surreptitiously - put self first before all things. Their all-too-familiar formula is in fact repackaged in raggedy old wine skin. For if you promise them big, they will rush in herds. And if cows are attracted to dung, then I guess some crowds are no more discerning than our bovine friends. Cheerz.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Despair is self-fulfilling.

Despair is self fulfilling. It really is. Find me a negative man and I will show you a negative life. Put a man who sees no hope and a man who does together and plot their life trajectory and then sit back with a bag of popcorn and watch. Likely chance is that the former will fall flat before his time and the latter (the hopeful one) will soar when his time comes. Without hope, the people perish. 

So, if you wear despair well, on a daily basis, partner with it in everything you do, share your most intimate moments with it, bring it with you to your workplace, social gatherings, home, dates, holidays, and dining, and even allow it to fill your dreams and wake up every morning with it by your side, then more likely than not, despair will take over your life, completely and absolutely. It will cast a long shadow with you at the center of the bleakness and  commiseration will be your main preoccupation. 

Here is another way of looking at it. It is strange how that dastardly coin always roll to the corner of the room, and comes to a stop at the furthest and hardest spot to reach. Whether this is Murphy's law or random luck or particle physics, I guess the coin was just following the path of least resistance. This is the tendency of despair. When we set our mind to despair, for whatever reason or cause, our life script follows the path of least resistance. We are led to the garden-path of gloom and doom so to speak. It is a cruising ride downhill. 

We don't even know how self-fulfilling it could be. It is that sneaky and insidious. It is no less a slippery slope where we slide deeper and deeper without any self awareness of it whatsoever. In fact, if we dwell long enough in despair, we effect an emotional climate change within and around us and this changes everything we see, feel, touch, think and talk about. The image I see here is the tweaked version of the tragic Midas' touch where everything we encounter turns cold and old and eventually folds and rolls over. Dead.

So despair is not only self-fulfilling, it is self-defeating. The opposite of despair then is hope. It is faith. It is belief. It is the belief that is based on hope and faith. I guess the crucial difference between them is vision. Despair sees reality as it is but hope confronts it as it has yet to become. Despair's sight is limited to what is immediate and hope casts its sight further, even beyond the horizon. Despair embraces what has unfolded and hope embraces what is still unfolding. Despair therefore accepts its fate; hope however changes it, challenges it. 

For despair, a negative is a negative is a negative. And to borrow the analogy of developing film in a dark room, despair sees only the negative but hope sees the emerging picture as it comes into sharper focus. Indeed without hope, we all perish. The hopeless thus lives from one day to another while the hopeful lives a full life in a lifetime. For a person who hopes for the best in the worst of circumstances, hope is likewise self-fulfilling. If hope is about believing for a better outcome or eventual recovery, then the same will ultimately come to pass and we have this cliché to thank: "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger," and if I may add, "better, wiser, sharper, more resilient and even more creative.

Here is a life that exemplified all that. He is an Israeli major named Rami Harpaz. 

Chased by an anti-aircraft missile, Rami ejected from his plane and landed in hostile enemy territory. He became a prisoner of war of the Egyptian ground forces. For three years in captivity, and locked in solitary confinement, Rami refused to give in to despair. He in fact kept himself busy. He implemented a daily physical regimen of running in a tiny eight figure in his dinghy cell until he had clocked 4 miles. 

When he was not running, he kept his mind busy with mental challenges like making a list of prime numbers from 1 to 1000. Altogether he identified all 169 different prime numbers. As the days got longer, Rami turned his cell into an imaginary garden and extracted cottonseed from his mattress. He then inserted them between the cracks in the wall as a farmer would plant seeds in the field. 

Later, Rami was transferred to a bigger cell with other inmates and he spearheaded a book project. One of the ambitious projects was to translate Tolkien's The Hobbit into Hebrew. After he was released, Rami recalled fondly about the project, "We tried to convey the atmosphere and the spirit of the story, and this raised our creativity to its climax. The four months dedicated to this project was a beautiful period, full of elation; it gave us a sense that we were winning against the whole world.

When the translation was completed, it was promptly published. It is in fact one of only two Hebrew translations of Tolkien's work. 

Rami lived his three years in the worst of circumstances but he did not give up hope. He made the most of what was handed to him and he turned it into a world class gym, a brilliant garden and a community-driven, life-transforming book project. Truly, regardless of where you are placed today, whether good or bad, you can choose either to make your life a graveyard of buried hope or a harvest field of realized dreams. Choosing the latter is not a delusional act or idealistic or wishful thinking. It is called bending reality towards hope and not surrendering it to despair. Cheerz.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A Prosperity Preacher's Prayer

Dear God, as you look down from Heaven, do remember me, your humble servant as I keep your promises in my heart, seek your righteousness and receive your abundant blessings in my life.

Give me this day more than I can store in my warehouse of faith and fill me to the overflow as you have filled the land for Abraham, Jacob and Joseph with livestock, cattle, great harvest and riches beyond their wildest imagination. For none of those who serve you and praise your name from morning, night and noon are in need, in want and in lack.

Lead me to your prosperity and success as I am always mindful to sow seeds of faith and hope, and in return, reap a windfall of blessings, health and wealth for as long as I live on this earth. Let me never forget that you delight in rewarding your humble servant as your favor is on those who love your word and meditate on them day and night.

Oh Lord, keep me from being tested beyond what I can take in this mortal shell of mine as your grace is always sufficient for me and your unconditional love covers a multitude of my sins.  For there is no more condemnation in my life and I can walk boldly without fear of sin or re-sinning or the need for repentance. I am eternally grateful that I am assured of eternal salvation and security. So, remind me to never crucify you twice. Never. And as you have overcome, so shall I. I am therefore always protected from temptations as I walk in your will and believe that you have bought me with a price. I am therefore counted justified, made whole, and even deemed righteous in your eyes and in the eyes of my church members.

Dear God, deliver me from evil and rescue me from poverty. Let my mouth never taste the sting of destitution or my hands ever be bruised by the curse of hard labor. Let me never forget that you are a prayer-answering God and nothing is impossible for you. Don’t ever let me forget that. For if I ask, will you not freely give? And if you should freely give, will you not freely give me that which I have specifically asked and desired for? For your gift is perfect and it is perfect for me.

Give me wisdom too Lord to know thy will for my life and to hold on to your promises that surely goodness, prosperity and mercies shall slavishly follow me all the days of my life. Let me lean not on my own understanding but trust in your ways and thoughts that are infinitely higher than mine to know intimately that they are to keep me from financial, physical and mental harm and ruins. For it is said that the man who pleases you, you give wisdom, knowledge and happiness. I therefore claim all that in full and bank them all into your storehouse of blessings and love. Pleasures and joy shall therefore be my inheritance in life.

And forgive me Lord if I believe too little in you or underestimate the richness of your plans for my life or forget that you love me unconditionally and want only the best for me or take your power to prosper me for granted or live like a pauper when you have duly bestowed on me the promises of an abundant life or ever doubt that you will pour down blessing like the latter day rain on every aspects of my life unto overflowing or hesitate to believe with all my heart that you will give me the riches of this world in good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over as you pour onto my lap. 

Finally, dear God, grant me the strength to never falter or waver. In my faith and hope in you and in claiming all of your steadfast promises to make me whole, you will continue to bless me abundantly, grant me good health and long life, lead me from one success to another, keep me safe and secure, deliver me from trouble in this world, give me peace that surpasses all human understanding, assure me that I am more than a conqueror in you, remind me that there is no more condemnation in you, encourage me to strive to be humble so that I may be exalted, find favor in me so that you may grant me the desires of my heart, add everything unto me as I seek your righteousness, and preserve me whole and unblemished till I heave my final breath. 

And after that, I shall meet you in a heavenly Mansion you have prepared just for me that is a thousand times bigger than the few earthly mansions I already own here.

As I close dear sovereign Lord, maker of all things good, I recall in the scripture that you have told me this so that my joy will be complete. I hereby admit without doubt that my joy is indeed complete. For I believe, therefore I possess; and I shall always possess. Amen.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

I am a pleasure-seeking man.

I am a pleasure seeking man. I seek the pleasure of company that money cannot buy. I crave after the assuring presence of my wife and relish the time I share with her. I enjoy her daily experiences told to me by her, however routine they may be. I savor the moments we have together and allow the moments to teach, replenish and refresh me as we journey hand in hand in good times and bad.

I seek the joy of a touch we share and consciously choose to linger on for as long as time permits. I go beyond the remit of physical intimacy and allow the intertwining of our souls to open up a world of discovery for us. I seek the pleasure of knowing her the way I want to know about myself and life in general. I seek the growing opportunity of understanding her dreams, hopes and even fears without judgment.

I am no doubt a pleasure seeking man. I seek the pleasure of growing old with her. I seek the enduring joy of knowing that nothing fulfills life more than being faithful to my vows. I seek the contentment that comes with loving just one person and that person is the one who walked down the aisle with me, go through thick and thin together, struggle and stay with me despite my flaws, share my dreams and hopes, and accept me for who I am.

I acknowledge that temptation abounds but I also acknowledge that the joy of faithfulness abounds even more. I therefore seek the pleasure that is shared between two lives joined as one and treasure the trials that come with this union with eyes that look beyond the conflict and into our growth and resilience. 

Without shame, I am a pleasure seeking man. I seek the pleasure of the company of my children. I seek to accept them for who they are and focus on their strength rather than their weakness. I relish the time spent with them and I shall endeavor not to let every opportunity to learn and grow with them pass me by. I understand that we are joined together more by our flaws than anything about us that is even remotely praiseworthy.

I treasure the enriching time we share when we joke with one another, when we go out for a walk, when we share a humble meal at home, when we play before bedtime, and when we go through hard times together. I am richer knowing that the time spent with my children is both for my growth and theirs and the memories we share will keep the candle of my life shining even brighter.

I look forward to persevering with them when they face growing issues in their life, and with optimism, hope and love, I seek the joy that comes with seeing them overcome and learn from life's lessons every step of the way.

I am thus indebted to them for bringing meaning and hope to my life and for teaching me lessons that I never knew I needed them as I face my own trials. I am empowered even more when they shower me with affection and appreciation unsolicited at unsuspecting moments that validates my own struggle for purpose in this world. My joy is therefore the privilege of being a father and my privilege is the joy of fatherhood.

I am unapologetically, undeservingly and unwaveringly a pleasure seeking man. I seek the pleasure that a godless world deems as a mirage of hope or as outmoded and impractical. I seek the pleasure of being faithful for a lifetime. I seek the pleasure of nurturing my very own and learning from them in return. For what more pleasure is there to be had than to see them growing up and then nurturing their very own in this trying but rewarding cycle of parenthood?

I seek the pleasure of believing in love unceasing, hope unfailing, joy unsurpassing, faith unseeing and a mystery unraveling. I seek the pleasure in the knowledge that there is more than meets the material eye and that the world did not come from nothing to something but instead from everything to something. I seek the pleasure of a company that far exceeds my wildest imagination, who sought my company first out of a sacrifice of love, and abides with me as I seek to abide in Him.

I seek the pleasure of the things that money cannot buy and where all the riches, fame and power of this world combined pales in comparison. I seek the pleasure of cultivating virtues the world finds a stumbling block to the freedom of self as defined by this world. I stubbornly seek the definitive and ultimate pleasure that the happiness in the here-and-now will not even come close to satisfy.

I seek the pleasure of giving and not taking, hoping and not giving up, truth and not deception, and faith in uncertainty and not fealty to my own certainty. I seek love above lust, joy above happiness, contentment above constant craving, trust above self-serving gains, relationship above networking, and sacrifice above convenience.

All these are my "guilty-pleasures" and the only guilt I have after I am done and quietly leave this world is not having more time to indulge in them when I had the chance. Cheerz.