Community and Belonging: Pappas Patristic Institute Summer Program 2016

pappaspic

 

Last week, I had the great opportunity and privilege to participate as a Teaching Fellow for the Pappas Patristic Institute’s summer program. I was there last year and enjoyed my time so I came back for another year. There’s a certain feeling of home when I enter the Hellenic College Holy Cross campus. I come from an evangelical background and yet, in many ways, I feel more at home in this Greek Orthodox setting than in an evangelical church context. Perhaps, it is because I’m surrounded by people coming from diverse backgrounds. I have friends coming from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Methodist, Baptist, and other Christian traditions. Despite our different backgrounds, we are all united in our desire to learn from, and understand, the words of wisdom handed down to us by our spiritual ancestors. It’s a little taste of heaven on earth! There were 12 (!!!) courses to choose from this year and trust me, it was a struggle because I wanted to go to every one of them! This year, I took “The Gospel of Matthew in the Patristic Tradition” taught by Dr. Brian Matz (Fontbonne) and “The Theology and Hermeneutics of Irenaeus of Lyons taught by Dr. David Jorgensen (Colby College).

As we studied together, I was reminded that there is nothing new under the sun. We are not the first society to deal with the problem of evil, of violence, of discord, of natural calamities, of economic injustices, of competing biblical interpretations, etc. The words of the ancients, written so long ago, still have the power to touch and transform us because there are some truths that can stand the test of time. As we look at the text, argue about how we should understand it, talk about the social context in which they lived in, we are left forever humbled and changed by it. Personally speaking, I just find it so refreshing to have the level of conversations I have had with everyone. If you want to be smart, surround yourself with smarter people than you. I have definitely been a believer of that advice and this week, I definitely got smarter as I interacted with such amazing minds. I think it is hilarious that whenever there was any debate in terms of trying to understand a certain passage, the admonition to “look at what it says in Greek” becomes the call we all heed. And maybe that’s what I enjoyed the most about this group of people who gathered together to learn from the Church Fathers… we came to learn from the text and we want to know what the text means. Any interpretation we may have concerning the text is first and foremost based on the text. The text is the ultimate control of any interpretation. Too often, I am around people who have Scriptural interpretations that do not take into account the whole of the Scriptures. For once, I am with people who acknowledge the primacy of the text over our own interpretations. There’s something beautiful about that. It becomes less a debate about ideas of what we think the text is about but actually debate about what the text is trying to say. I cannot tell you how beautiful it is to have that type of learning environment. We spend time looking at the text, mulling over the text, digesting the text, and just eating it up. To say that it was fulfilling cannot fully capture the feeling.

At the end of the day, any organization is really less about the program, but more about the people. I am thankful for the leadership of Dr. Bruce Beck in organizing this week of awesomeness. In many ways, his belief that it is important to learn as a community is reflected in how he has organized this program and its outcome. I’m blessed to get to know so many awesome people over the past 2 years. These people are legit smart and I can’t help but feel dumb around them because they’re so smart. Even though they’re smart, they are also the funnest and friendliest people I have ever met. Definitely came out of it feeling spiritually refreshed, rejuvenated, and replenished. Looking forward to next year!

The Gift of Play

sports

Today is Friendly Friday! I have been blessed to be surrounded by awesome people who are incredibly gifted and talented. Today’s guest blogger is my friend Justin Roberts. I got to know Justin awhile back through a mutual friend and at a young adult’s retreat. After that, I had the great privilege of starting my PhD journey with him as well. He is one smart dude!

And now, to present his guest blog post, here’s “The Gift of Play”

The Gift of Play

Sport is inherent to ancient and modern cultures alike, and because we are pressed to find
a thoroughly nonathletic society, it is more than trivial to ask why. Why are human beings
compelled by sport, to the point they cannot imagine life without it? The most convenient,
though pessimistic, answer might be that sport comes from combative instincts that favour the survival of the fittest, as demonstrated in the natural world and most spectacularly in war. The UFC, NFL, and NHL would be case in point.

Is sport simply the release of primal desire for domination, in which case “competition”
is the acceptable form of self-assertion and pride intended to gain personal advantage in the world? Perhaps, in some respect. But sport takes whatever domineering impulse lies in human nature and transforms it in the arena of play. With sport, we take swords and beat them into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks (Isa 2:4). From weapons, to instincts, to virtues, the athletic arena is violence overcome, and the chaos of survival is tempered by the game. Like the beautifully unnecessary play of a child, who delights in new challenges and works with others, we engage a culturally edifying act. Even the stereotypically cynical “sports guy” who demeans women and increasingly hardens himself to emotion finds sports deeply attractive, as there is an inner radiance to play that finds fewer and fewer outlets in the world.

This is not to turn a blind eye to those who abuse sport—in the many ways humans can—
for everything good is vulnerable to misuse. But we should recognize the place that “all the nations shall flow to” (Isa 2:2), and participate in the decidedly redemptive, and thoroughly Christian, gift of play. We should recognize the spectacle that tells of a primordial fount of glory, one in which life and love and gift is given and received in Father, Son, and Spirit. Be weary of the one who cannot play; for their noble and ardent facade will only distract from their more secret occupation of strangling Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Practice the gift!

 

Justin Mandela Roberts is a PhD student at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the author of Sacred Rhetoric: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Participatory Tradition and Behold Our God: Contemplative Theology for the Soul.

When Enough is Enough

depression

For today’s Wednesday Writings, I wanted to share a new poem I wrote. This poem was inspired by real life events. It is a mixture of different people I have encountered whose life situations were all different but strangely connected by one thing: addiction. There is something incredibly frustrating and painful for people who suffer through addiction of any kind. There is that daily struggle of succumbing to the temptation or fighting through it with teeth clenched. There is the awful feeling of guilt and shame, that you can never live up to everyone else’s expectations even if you want to. You know that you are hurting the ones you love and the last thing you want to do is cause them pain because of your actions but at the same time, sometimes you just can’t stop yourself from feeding the addiction itself.

So many times, when we see and meet people who are addicts, there’s a tendency to think “Why can’t you just stop what you’re doing? Look at how you’re hurting yourself and others around you!” It’s not as if the person doesn’t know that. It is hard to love an addict because in some ways, you have to be ready to be disappointed. Sure, things can get complicated and messy and confusing… but I hope that we would never stop loving even when it hurts to love.

 

 

Safi*

You look at the ground, cloudy eyes, creating raindrops that fall to the floor

Wondering

Waiting

 Wishing

Why?

Why can’t I change?

The destruction you leave behind in your wake knows no bounds

It is true what they say

The ones you love are the ones you hurt the most

She turns to look at you

For the last time

You break her heart into a million pieces because of your actions

She breaks your heart into a million pieces with her last glance

Just another broken relationship

In a long line of broken relationships

Broken hearts

Broken promises

Broken lives

You wonder

You wonder if this is what your life is really all about

Is it but heartache and pain?

You wait

You wait for healing that does not come

Is it for everyone but me?

You wish

You wish that things were different

Is it futile to hope for a better future?

You look at the ground, your face mirrored in the pool of tears, and scream into the nothingness you have created.

*Safi is a Moroccan word meaning “enough”

When suicide strikes too close to home…

depression

 

His name was Bill Zeller. I read his story and there was just something about it that just struck me to my very being. I think suicide has had that effect on me. Lives snuffed before their time. I wrote a poem dedicated to him.

the dark passenger
 

scream, cry, numb

every fiber straining
to hold it all together.
but i can’t.
not anymore.
no one knows
not until the end
will they realize.
by then… too late.
emptiness swallowing me whole

until i am lost, never to be found.

truth hurts.
It wasn’t the first time that I’ve written on the issue. I have talked about Amanda Todd and Matthew Warren. I have talked about my friend’s suicide.

This topic has once again hit me in the face. The helplessness, the feeling of “I should have seen it,” and the unremitting guilt that you could have done something but don’t know what you could have done plays in the background of your daily life. You can’t shake it off. You know that it is irrational. There is no reason to blame yourself. But you still do. The endless game of “What if’s” play on repeat within your head.

Hug a friend, a family, a loved one, heck, even a stranger. Be nice even to those who are mean to you. We are all fighting a battle. Don’t forget to show your appreciation while you still can. Make sure that those who are important to you know that you love them.
We all need to make sure that we create safe spaces where people can speak openly about mental issues. The stigma still remains, even more so in Christian circles, it seems. I have known many godly Christians who have been diagnosed with depression (and other mental issues). Because the illness isn’t happening on the outside, I think it is easy for others to simply dismiss it or discount mental illness as something that is actually real. Mental illness is real. Way too real.

Sid and the City – The Beginning

dating

 

I’ve been thinking about adding a new series for my blog that is slightly different from what I normally post. I’ve done a number of series on important topics like prostitution, suicide, shame, and self-esteem. I have also put in my two cents concerning theology and politics along the way. This series is more on the personal side. This series is when I get real. This is me shooting the breeze, so to speak, with you guys. So I’m trying out this new format and based on how people react, this might be an ongoing thing.

Considering that this is my first time to do this on this platform, I kept thinking on what topic I should talk about. I guess I will just go talk about the topic that comes up naturally whenever I seem to have any conversations this day: the topic of dating. Brace yourself because things are about to get real up in here real quick.

So yesterday, I had dinner with a friend I haven’t seen for a very long time. After our initial chit chat of “hi” and “I haven’t seen you in forever!”, he just goes to the heart of the matter in a very fast and efficient way. “So, should I have a +1 for you?”, he asks. Quick background: he’s getting married in a couple of months and I was invited to their wedding. We have known each other for awhile now. I met him while I was doing my Master’s at McMaster University. So back to the story… I told him that he should have a +1 for me because it is easier to remove people than add people at a later time. Meanwhile, I’m frantically thinking of who I should invite. If this wedding was in Ottawa, it would have been an easier time. Wedding dates can be awkward so I like inviting girls where we know where we both stand relationally speaking to avoid potential misunderstandings of what being my +1 could mean. I think I have done a great job but as time progresses, I have begun to doubt how great of a job I did.

Our conversation break down looks like this.

Friend: I haven’t seen you in awhile. Are you dating someone right now?

Me: No, right now I’m not dating anyone.

Friend: Well, you are rather picky. What you’re looking for doesn’t exist.

Me: I know. But at least I’m trying to be more open now.

Friend: You have too many deal breakers.

Me: I know, I know. I’m trying, ok.

Laughter ensues.

As a Christian male who is situated within the evangelical world, the dating game is even more fraught with dangers and snares. I remember talking to my friend’s girlfriend about the girls at a church we both attended. I was telling her how most of the girls there were so aloof and stand-offish, it almost felt sinful to say hi to them. They just gave off this hostile aura to any man who approached them. She told me that the girls were complaining about how the men were not “manning up” and asking them out. I remember saying, “Really?!? I never would have thought they wanted to be in a relationship based on the way they were acting!”

The Christian dating game can be arduous and frustrating at times. I have met a number of quality girls so I don’t want to give off the impression that all evangelical girls are men-haters or anything. I think the hyper-polarization of the sexes can often lead to that type of thinking. You often hear that there’s no way that guys and girls can ever just be friends. Well, sometimes it can happen. More often than you think. But, all is not lost. Or at least, that’s what I would like to think.

What kind of experiences have you had in the evangelical dating scene? Was it positive or negative? For those who are not Christians, how would you describe the dating scene within your own social settings?

2016 – The Year of Going Back to the Basics

Hello 2016. It’s me. I was wondering if we can have a brief talk about how things are going to be this time around. 2015 wasn’t exactly the best. Situations I never thought would happen happened. Feelings that I thought were gone reminded me that they were still lingering. I managed to surprise myself, and I don’t think I mean that in a good way. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom either. Started going back to the gym regularly thanks to awesome gym buddies. Realizing to a greater extent what “love covers a multitude of sins” means. Affirmed by my supervisor that I’m doing well. It was a story of ups and downs.

This year, I want to go back to the basics. Somehow, life got really complicated. I want to go back to a simpler time when things were less confusing and I knew what was going on. A huge part of that is finding my inner center and working on living out my true self. While many people have different ways to achieve this, for me, this means finding my identity in Christ and learning who I am in Christ. It means making sure that I’m reading the Scriptures on a daily basis and taking the time to meditate on His Word and spending time in prayer. In the busy-ness of life, it can be easy to let these spiritual practices go to the wayside, but it is when things are at its craziest that I actually really need to make sure that I am engaging in these soul refreshing activities. I want to develop a sleeping routine that allows me to be able to get the sleep I need so that I can have the energy I need for the hectic day ahead of me. I want to develop a work routine that allows me to get my job done but also allows me the rest I need. I want to make sure that my Sunday is a complete day off from work. I need to be reminded that I’m a human being and not a machine, so I need to treat my body with caution and care. I want to read books that I don’t have to read, but want to read on a variety of topics. I want to read for the pure pleasure of reading!

At the end of the day, I cannot control what will happen to me. Nor is it healthy for me to try and control everything in my life. The only thing I can control is myself… and that is something I haven’t been really good at doing. I want to learn greater self-control. I don’t want to be mastered by my emotions; I want to master my emotions! I want everything I do to be intentional rather than simply being reactionary. I just want to be a better me. So here we go 2016… let’s get this year of new blessings and new opportunities started!

Theology Thursday – When fear is no longer a reaction, but a willful action

syriachild

A picture taken by Magnus Wennman from a collection called “Where The Children Sleep”, which showcases the life of refugee kids after their flight from their homeland, Syria.

Like most people, I was shocked, angered, disheartened, and incredibly saddened by the recent horrific violent scenes coming out from Paris. I was at a book launch when my Twitter feed started to fill with the news that there were shootings and explosions in multiple locations. I saw the number of fatalities rise, almost every hour, it seems. The number of injured people also changed each time I checked.

Beirut also suffered severe bombings that took the lives of many people. I read the story of an unexpected hero, a father who saw the second bomber and rushed him, causing the bomber to detonate early, saving multiple lives and yet losing his own in the process.

Japan also suffered an earthquake and there were potential tsunami alerts. All of this happened within the space of 48 hours. It’s a bit too much to take it all in.

A video recently came out of a father having an important discussion about the event with his young son. The reporter asked him if he knew what happened. He replied, “Yes, because they’re really really mean … Bad guys are not very nice.” He was so worried that he may have to change houses. His father reassured him that they were not leaving because France is their home. “They have guns, they can shoot us because they’re really mean, Daddy,” the young boy responded back. “It’s ok. They may have guns, but we have flowers,” his dad calmly reassured him.

Admittedly, that was the part of the video where a tear or two may have escaped my eyes. I’m thankful that in the face of death, this father chose to focus on life. I’m glad that a generation of children can potentially grow up knowing that violence may not necessarily be the best response. I want a generation of children to know that flowers and candles can protect us.

However, I only have to go on Facebook to know that my dream is nothing but a dream. Many in my news feed want nothing but for there to be total destruction, even if it means innocent civilians are left dead, or what I think is even worse… alive and orphaned. The reaction against Syrian refugees has also been rather infuriating for me. These people want to escape the same terror that Paris and Beirut experienced and yet they are being blamed for the very thing they are trying to escape. As a Christian, it seriously boggles my mind when I hear anti-refugee sentiments from other professing Christians, especially since the main figure of Christianity was forced to flee from a maniacal terrorist and received refuge in another city. With Christmas fast approaching, the irony is rather striking.

In the past, I have tried very hard to write fairly neutral blog posts. However, I refuse to remain neutral in the face of injustice. When there are prominent Christians who are lumping the term “Syrian refugee” with the word “terrorist,” I am going to go out of my way to make sure people know that they do not speak for me. When there are more self-professing Christians who are bothered by Starbucks red cups and their lack of Christmas designs thus making them anti-Christ figures yet find nothing wrong with elected officials saying that they refuse to accept any refugee, even if it was a 3 year old orphan, there is something incredibly wrong about this. There is a vast difference with someone saying that proper procedures must be put in place to weed out terrorists among those claiming to be refugees versus making sweeping generalizations that all refugees are terrorists. Lest people forget, Timothy McVeigh was white. Last time I checked, there were no sweeping legislations made against white people as a result of the Oklahoma bombing. Dylan Roof went into a church and brutally killed 9 people and yet there was no general prevailing sentiment against the American people that all American males were cold blooded killers. It would be a lie to think that racism has not reared its ugly head throughout this situation.

Recent reports state that the Syrian passport found on one of the bombers was a fake. However, this information will probably have no effect on those who think that all the bombers were from Syria. This goes to show that this is not an issue of the head, but an issue of the heart.

I can only pray that our hearts will be full of compassion towards those who are in need. History reminds us that one day, we might need it too.

 

Tunes for Tuesday – Dan Auerbach (Goin’ Home)

dan

I found out about this song through a friend awhile ago and I must say that it has been a song that has quickly risen to “fave” status. Everything about it just speaks to me on such a real and deep level. The concept of “home” has been something I have thought about throughout the years as I have moved to another country, moved to another city, but periodically coming back home. What is home? That is the perennial question that I think most of us ask ourselves.

As Christians, we know that this world is not our home…. Our home is somewhere else. Maybe it’s because of all of these ideas swirling in my head as I contemplate the lyrics of this song that has made this song really resonate with me on a personal level. Take a listen and let me know what you think.

“We found friends in a hopeless place” – The Grad Student Life

grouppic

This September, I entered my third year of Ph.D. studies. I can’t believe how that is happening! Time flies when you’re having fun … or so stressed out you no longer have the energy to mark the passage of time in the first place. There comes a point when I have lived from one paper to another. Writing furiously to finish one paper only to have enough time to start writing furiously for another paper. Deadlines rule my schedule. Sleep becomes a luxury. Amidst the busyness of life, it’s easy for the social life to go as well.

The problem is I’m an extravert. I need people. People give me energy. From time to time, I admit that I can go into hermit mode and lock myself away from people… but that’s not the ideal. Over the years, I have learned that I can’t allow myself to neglect the social aspect of life. It’s easy… so easy… but it is not the ideal path.

We are social creatures. We need each other. Community is very important. Oftentimes, it is when I don’t want to be with others that I realize how badly I need to be with others. It’s easy to get trapped in your own little world where you are the center of the universe. Being with others is a nice reminder that there is a world outside that is waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Life is better with other people.

This year, I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t lose sight of community. The Ph.D. life can be very lonely. You often work in isolation and let’s face it, no one really wants to talk to you about what your dissertation is all about. They ask out of politeness but attention spans are usually within the 1-2 minute range. If they’re listening after 5 minutes, give them a gold star! During Orientation Week, I got a chance to meet a lot of awesome students. It’s always fun meeting new people. Then, I felt bad because knowing my normal schedule, that might have been the last time I would be able to see them. Then, I remembered that I wasn’t going to let that happen this year. As a student, we don’t have a lot of time to spare. So what if we can kill two birds (the need to study and the need for community) with one stone?  That’s when I decided to start a study group!

Studying in a group is way better than studying alone. I would rather be distracted by a funny personal story than random YouTube videos. We’re all going to be distracted at some point. I’d rather be “distracted” by something a friend says than the hundred other stupid distractions I could have come up with by myself.

It has been a blast getting to know people within this new setting. They are so full of life and energy. There is laughter whenever we get together punctuated by the silence of trying to understand Hebrew verbs and that book that just doesn’t make sense to you. It’s great to be able to talk about theology one minute and good T.V. shows the next.

Seminary can be a very difficult place. Sometimes, it can even feel hopeless (especially when all your papers are due around the same time!)

I’m just glad I was able to find friends in a hopeless place.

Tunes for Tuesday – Grace Defined and This Love

gracedefined

I am so blessed to be surrounded by amazingly talented friends. Today, I want to give a huge shout out to my friend, Grace Defined, who released her album today! She is an amazing friend and a wonderful artist. Download her new album, This Love, and share it with all your friends. The best part is it’s free! Head on over to her website where you can check out some of her writings as well. You can also get in touch with her through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

For now, check out her video below.

When Worlds Collide: Doing Theology within a Community

johnchrysostom

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the Pappas Patristic Institute’s summer program as a Teaching Fellow in training. We had the option of choosing from a number of available courses so I decided to go with “Theodore the Studite and post-Chalcedonian Christologies” (taught by Dr. Thomas Cattoi) and “The Problem of Evil in the Writings of the Fathers” (taught by Dr. David Goodin). It was a great experience of studying and examining the primary sources as a community of learners and students.

One of the difficulties of studying theology within a community is the problem of pride: We all think that we are right in our particular understanding of an author or their work. This type of attitude is not conducive to learning, much less practicing the art of humility. Doing theology within a community can become problematic because it forces us to realize that others’ interpretation may be in stark contrast against our own interpretation. There is a tendency to become incredibly defensive and sometimes, downright hostile in certain situations. Trust me. I know. I have seen it time and time again. “I am right and that’s all there is to it” becomes our primary exegetical tool. There is no room for diversity of thought nor is there room for multiple interpretations. The desire to maintain a level of orthodoxy becomes an excuse to display arrogance and condescension masked in “spiritual” form. Sometimes I wonder if it truly is the “zeal of the Lord” that consumes them or their “zeal to be in the right.” In the way they act, there surely isn’t a lot of godly attributes to be seen and heard.

Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why I really enjoyed my time as a Teaching Fellow in training. It was great to hear so many diverse opinions and interpretations as we delved deeply into the texts that were given to us. And by diverse, I don’t necessarily mean that they were so diametrically opposite from one another… there is diversity even in similarity. What others were saying was not necessarily any different from how I would interpret a certain passage. Instead, they highlighted a different facet, approached it in a different angle than what I am normally accustomed to doing. There is beauty in diversity. It doesn’t mean that the concepts of right and wrong are unnecessarily jettisoned as if they didn’t matter. It just means that we need to be open to understanding things in ways that may seem foreign to us. By doing this, it allows us to think and cogitate about what others are saying rather than reflexively shouting down their ideas.

This summer program also convicted me about the power of leadership in being able to transform others. Through the leadership of the Institute’s director, Dr. Bruce Beck, and the numerous teachers who taught the various courses, we were constantly reminded of the need to struggle with the texts and acquire an attitude of humility and a posture of learning. The teachers were reminded not to take a lecture approach. Instead, we were asked to “come and reason together” à la Isaiah 1:18. As a result, I have come away with a humble heart that is more willing to hear someone out rather than use Scriptural passages as a cudgel to drown out their voice.

Not bad for a week of learning.

Pensées on Love, Homosexuality, and the SCOTUS ruling

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The recent SCOTUS ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in the United States of America was met with a flurry of rainbow-themed avatars and #LoveWins hashtags. There was also a proliferation of warnings of apocalyptic destruction and the empire’s downfall from others. These two messages filled the air waves and polarized people in two camps. Social media was quick to highlight the tension between these two camps. Messages of love, hate, compassion, and confusion intermingled with one another forming an amorphous blob of simplistic explanations and pithy aphorisms.

There were many Christians who went out of their way to define and describe what love is. Some even reminded their audience of Jesus’ unconditional love for them. However, this was also coupled with a fairly lengthy caveat of sorts that turns into more like a disclaimer notice one would find in most contracts. I think it’s very important to make sure that we communicate what we truly mean. I would say that’s a basic given in trying to communicate with others. Yet, I feel like if you have to explain what unconditional love is by adding so many conditions to it, then it fails to be unconditional love anymore. If you have a son who is a drug addict, would telling him “I love you” mean that you are condoning or endorsing drug behaviour? No. If you have a daughter who got pregnant out of wedlock, would telling her “I love you” mean that you are condoning or endorsing sex outside of marriage? No. It means that even though they may have committed actions that you do not condone or endorse, you are not going to withhold or refuse to offer them your love. Displaying unconditional love means that our expression of love for another person is not based on what they have done but based on who they are.

In the Scriptures, we constantly see Jesus interacting with the marginalized and the oppressed. They were the bad people that society says we should never associate with: prostitutes, tax collectors, and cheaters. There is something startling in the way that Jesus dealt with those on the fringes of society. What startles me is not what Jesus said, but what he didn’t say. He never utters a single word of condemnation or what could even be interpreted as a “loving sermon.” He treats them with kindness, dignity, and dare I say it… love… that is so shockingly simple. This was not a love that needed lengthy explanations. This was a love that was simple and clear. It needed no further ramblings on what it meant. It was given purely. It was received purely. And it had the ability to transform their lives in ways that verges on the unfathomable.

When unconditional love is given, no words can properly define it. Why? Because unconditional love is intensely experiential. It arouses feelings within that we didn’t even know existed before. It is an incredible experience that defies logic. It may be difficult to put into words but it also unbelievably clear. There is no confusion in it. There are no doubts. Only clarity.

If we, as Christians, truly have this type of unconditional love for homosexuals as we often say we do, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have to go to great lengths to give them a detailed explanation because they would know what it means. The fact that we do makes me stop and pause for a minute and wonder if this is actually true.

Maybe it is best if we just said this: I love you. Period.

Theology Thursday – Lenten Reflections, Part II

gal614

This month, I had the opportunity to attend two back-to-back conferences in good ‘ol US of A. First, I presented a paper at the Eleventh Annual Archbishop Iakovos Graduate Students Conference in Patristic Studies hosted by the Pappas Patristic Institute in Brookline, MA. I also got a chance to be a respondent and a moderator for a session. It was a great experience and I enjoyed getting to know so many awesome people. Perhaps, it is a sign of the times that before going, I was wondering if the presenters were Christians too. In today’s academic climate, you just never know. Just because it’s a conference on a biblical topic, doesn’t necessarily mean that those who go will necessarily be Christians. So it came as a surprising shock (albeit the good kind) when I found out that the presenters were Christians too! There is a certain bond, a sense of camaraderie and fellowship, that Christians share. It is this sense of belonging to something… or should I say, Someone… who is greater than me, than us, than my culture, than my nationality, than my gender, than my socio-economic status. Through Christ, we are all brothers and sisters. There is something inherently powerful about that.

I also got the chance to go to the SPS (Society for Pentecostal Studies) conference in Florida. There is something weird about not wearing winter jackets in March. I enjoyed meeting my new roommates and making new friends. There was something so beautiful about seeing so many like-minded and like-hearted people in one place. I think that’s why I loved these two conferences that I attended. In some mysterious way, I felt like I belonged. As an academic, I think it’s really important to make sure that you join a society that gives you that feeling of belongingness. Everyone was incredibly gracious and extraordinarily nice. SPS felt like home, a place where there are people of differing personalities and temperaments, but are still united in love for God and for one another. Yet, their love for God doesn’t mean shoddy scholarship. In fact, I think that their scholarship is great because of their love for God and their love for the church.

I have been blessed to attend these two conferences. If anything, it was a lesson on humility. I was surrounded by people who were so smart, it’s hard not to feel dumb. However, they were not arrogant or prideful at all. They were so humble and gracious. These are the people who, in my mind, have arrived. But, there is a danger for anyone who ever thinks they have arrived. There is always something more to be discovered. No single person has the ability to know everything about anything. It was great to see these men and women of God exhibit that type of humility and grace within an academic system that is often bereft of such qualities. It is a reminder that I need to guard against arrogance and pride as an academic scholar. The call for humility becomes even harder when you feel like you have something to boast about. If I were to boast in anything, may I only boast in Christ, and Christ crucified. As this Lenten season is nearing its end, may it also signal the end of my own pride and hubris, and the beginning of humility and grace.

Theology Thursday – Lenten Reflections, Part I

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Lent is a time for reflection. To help me in this process, I have decided to give up Facebook and Twitter, two of the social media platforms that I frequently use. Today is Day One and I’m already feeling the withdrawal symptoms. As a result, it has forced me to reflect on some key personal issues that I will be reflecting on during this Lenten season.

One of those issues relates with the idea of being God’s image bearer. In the book of Genesis, it tells the story of how God created human beings, male and female, in his image. In theological circles, this is often referred to as the “imago dei” (the image of God). I was at a conference in Spain about five years ago when one of the speakers talked about this topic. He mentioned how a lot of the times, we are more image-builders than image-bearers. Too often, we become obsessed with creating an image for other people. We want others to know us as this self-created image. We put on masks and we readily wear it around those who surround us. We become people pleasers, continually seeking the approval of others. We end up finding our validation from what other people think of us. But, this comes at a cost. Wear a mask too long and there comes a point when you can fail to recognize what is fake and what is real. The mask no longer becomes a mask. The mask becomes the face.

As God’s image-bearer, we have nothing to prove. Have you ever met someone’s dad and look at your friend and be utterly shocked at the strong resemblance? I have. No matter how loud the protests of the son about not looking like his dad, it is to no avail. He is his father’s image-bearer. The imprint is there for everyone to see. He doesn’t have to announce its existence. His very presence is its own validation. There is something liberating about the notion of being God’s image-bearer. I have nothing to prove. Nothing I do will make me more, or less, of an image-bearer. There is freedom in that thought. This is not something I can conjure up or create by myself. This is something wholly Other.

As I think about this issue, I sadly confess that too often, I spend more time planning my own kingdom rather than furthering God’s kingdom. I think of all the ridiculous schemes I have in my mind to obtain money, power, and fame. Yet, too often, I don’t expend that much energy thinking of how I can help usher in the kingdom of God to this world. It is so humbling and humiliating to find oneself “losing the plot.” It is far easier to sing songs of devotion to God than actually being fully devoted.

And so, as the Lenten season continues, I pray that God would continue to reveal and uncover the various areas in our lives that we need to surrender to him. May we, as Paul beseeched the Romans, offer our lives as a living sacrifice unto God as our spiritual act of worship.

#tbt – Finding the voice within

As a PhD student, we have to attend 2 mandatory PhD colloquys. Today, I attended my second colloquy. As part of the plenary talk, the president of the seminary was talking about the need for each of us to find our own voice. This has been something of a struggle for me as an academic. However, this has not been the first time I have thought about this issue. I actually wrote about this very issue awhile ago as a guest blogger with Amused Now. This is the present me trying to learn from the past me. Oh, how easy it is to forget things. Sigh.

Here’s the link to the blog post. Or, just continue reading below. Hope you like it!

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Why? I seriously have to ask myself that question. Why bother writing a book? There’s enough lining the book stores. Why add one more to the pile? If I don’t ask myself this question now, I know that when I’m in the middle of writing a book, when I feel discouraged and feel like I’m drifting farther and farther away from my deadline, I won’t stand a chance of finishing it. I have to ask this now or else be crippled into lack of action later.

My initial response is “because I like writing.” While that may be true, writing a book can be a daunting task. It is not for the undisciplined.

When there is no “inspiration,” can I keep going based on sheer will and determination until the next wave of inspiration hits me? What if I only have that one initial wave of inspiration to tide me over throughout the whole journey? Is that enough? And so, I realize, that I have to dig deeper. I needed a better reason. I needed one that can sustain me throughout the writing process: from the initial brainstorming, to the first chapter, and the never ending edits that will come along with a “finished” product.

There’s a scene in the movie The King’s Speech when the king’s speech therapist asks him why people should listen to him? To which the king replies: “Because I have a right to be heard. I have a voice!” I was moved beyond comprehension by this brief exchange on the screen by two amazing actors. I wanted to get up from my seat and yell “Yes, I do have a voice!”

However, I was able to restrain myself and I am sure that those in the theater are happy that I did. What he said was true! I do have a right to be heard because I have a voice! I am who I am and that is enough for me to be heard. That is why I am writing a book. I want my voice to be heard loud and clear. I want my voice to be heard because I know somewhere out there, someone will read it and think “I am not alone.”

Right now, I have a couple of ideas that I am trying to work through. As I was initially brainstorming about ideas for the book, I was amazed and surprised that I had a few that I wanted to write. I initially thought I would have nothing to work with. As I work through each idea, it will give me a greater sense of which idea needs to be heard now. I am heavily inspired by classic philosophers and current pop culture trends. I am looking forward to write a book fashioned by my life experiences and travels across the world.

Trust me, you’re going to love it.

#tbt – Living with Shame

It’s Throwback Thursday! This is a blog post I wrote awhile back about shame. I wrote another article on shame that was published in Bedlam Magazine. To check out that article, click here.

Shame is something that we all struggle with. However, there’s a big difference between experiencing shame and living with shame. One means that it is an isolated event that is largely circumstantial, the other means that this is chronic and on-going. The first can be the fodder for comedy (we all have our painfully-funny-way-after-it-happened embarrassing stories), the latter is not. For those living with the burden of shame, I encourage you to let it go. Shame is not a burden that you should bear all the days of your life. There is a way out… and it’s called vulnerability.

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Maybe it’s just me but I am really good at compartmentalization. I have friends for different purposes. If I want a deep theological talk, I have a friend for that. If I want to have fun, I have a friend for that. If I want to talk about the arts, I have a friend for that. I have a personal world and a professional world. I have different sets of friends who have never met each other and I try my best to make sure it never happens. I’m a social chameleon. I can change depending on who is around me. To a certain degree, we all do that unconsciously. However, when we consciously put on a mask, sometimes we can forget to take it off. What we pretend to be becomes who we end up being. It becomes a blurry line.

Behind all the pretending and the acting, there is a voice that serves as the bread and butter of shame. It is the thought that no one will love you for who you are when they finally realize who you truly are. It is in the secret place that shame rules and reigns. All the surface affirmations do nothing to address it because it is easy to dismiss them. “You say that because you don’t know the real me. If you only knew…” becomes the standard response. “If you only knew…” becomes the tired refrain.

The problem with shame is that no one can actually know you because you don’t allow yourself to be known. All they see is the outside: they see someone who’s an extravert, someone who seems like he has it all together, someone who laughs loudly and is often the life of the party. They don’t necessarily see what is happening on the inside: the plague of insecurity, the constant self-doubt of being good enough, the nagging fear that I will never find someone who will truly love me for all of me.

Vulnerability becomes the main mechanism for exposing shame. While shame still manages to have a grip on my life, its grip has been lessened by the fact that I have been blessed with friends with whom I practice openness and transparency. I’m thankful for these people who have spoken truth and love and grace into my life. They remind me how warped my perspective can be at times and how my shame needs to be crushed into oblivion. I don’t know where I would be without their life-giving advices over the years.

Shame is a horrible bedmate. To wake up in shame and find no escape even in sleep from it is a horrendous way to live. Been there. Done that. That’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Overcoming shame is a life-long battle. Thankfully, it’s a battle that you don’t have to do all by yourself. Take the risk of vulnerability. It’s worth it.

Theology Thursdays – Why I Study Theology

For those tracking how I have labelled previous posts, you have seen Monday Musings, Tunes for Tuesday, Wednesday Writings, and Friendly Fridays. Poor Thursday was left out in the cold. So I figured I’d write about the one thing that I like so much, I have decided to do a Ph.D. in this area. What is it, you ask? Yup. The queen of sciences herself… Theology!

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For those of you who may not know, I’m currently pursuing my Ph.D. studies in Christian Theology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Canada. My focus is on church history. I’m still up in the air in terms of the time period I want to go with but I’m debating between Roman North Africa between 300 – 700 AD or what’s happening right now with ISIS. I really need to decide soon.

A lot of people tend to ask why I’m studying theology. What is it about theology that is so exciting that I’m willing to forego sleep and some semblance of a social life to pursue a doctorate in this area? For me, theology is this living, vibrant thing that whether we want to or not, we are constantly engaging with in some form or another. As a group of people, theology has moulded and shaped cultures, people groups and nations. In a more personal way, theology has also helped define and instruct individuals’ life styles. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is subject to further discussion… however, we can’t escape from the fact that theology is a prime motivator in the lives of many people in the world.

The word “theology” comes from the word “theos” meaning God and “logos” meaning the study of… so theology is the study of God. In one sense, we are all theologians. In some way, shape or form, we all have ideas about who God is. To be an atheist is to posit a particular way of understanding God even if it is to say that God does not exist. While this may not be in line with orthodox Christian theology, it is still a way by which an individual engages in the theological enterprise. (Side note: Christians were once called atheists. Roman culture believed in the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses. Christians, on the other hand, believed in the One True God. As a result, Christians were labelled atheists because they didn’t believe in the Roman deities.)

I am firmly convinced that our particular theology has a direct impact on the way we live our lives. It is because of this very reason why theology excites my curiousity. I’m interested in how people interpret the Sacred Scriptures. I want to know why people think the way they think about certain theological doctrines. What is it about knowing God’s goodness that motivates people to do things like going to far-flung countries in their desire to heed God’s calling on their life? What is it about experiencing God’s love that has the ability to transform people’s life? What is it about the loss of a loved one that has the potential to incur feelings of anger and hatred towards God? All of these life events, as disparate as they may seem, are all areas in which theology is lived out.

Having studied Psychology in my undergraduate studies, I am aware of how we are affected by our psyche. Our bodies are wonderful things that are able to create neural networks that inform our thoughts and actions. Psychology offers a glimpse into the inner machinations of the human being. In the same way, theology gives us another angle by which we can examine the human experience. It allows us to look at the spiritual component that animates us and controls our words and deeds. This seemingly unsubstantial and intangible concept has, time and time again, manifested itself in tangible ways. When someone offers food and shelter to a person in need and does it in the name of God, this is theology at work; when people are killed because they have done acts that besmirched the honour of a particular religious tradition’s revered prophet, this too, is theology at work.

There is no escaping theology’s grasp. Its effects are everywhere. Instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, I’d rather accept its existence and figure out how it works. Perhaps, if we can figure out how to properly understand theology, it can still be a tool to make this world a better place.

2015 – The Year of the Blog

               Happy-New-Year-10

2014 with all of its joys and triumphs, trials and triumphs, is now over. 2015 brings with it the whiff of potential change, that things will hopefully be better than the last. If 2014 wasn’t particularly kind to you, 2015 is the time to shake it off. A new year is the time when we can reflect about the previous year, learn from our mistakes, figure out our strengths and become the better version of ourselves for 2015.

2015 will be my “Year of the Blog.” Every year, I have struggled with being a consistent blogger. The excuses keep on changing every year but the end result is still the same: lack of consistency in producing blog posts. This is the year where that will hopefully change. I’m currently doing Jon Acuff’s 10 Day Do Over Challenge and I am yet again reminded of how I want to make sure that I put blogging at the top of my list to achieve this year. I will make sure that I will be producing content once a week. What that content looks like will vary. It can be a traditional blog post or maybe share poetry that I’ve written or share my love for a certain song or artist. Whatever it is, I will be sharing content once a week. By sharing this with you, my dear reader, you can help me be accountable in pursuing this challenge of mine.

To my readers, thank you so much for taking the time to read my musings on life. Thanks for reaching out to me and telling me how much you have appreciated something I have written in the past or interacted with me and expanded my views on certain issues. I have had the awesome privilege of being a guest blogger in a number of other blog sites because of people having seen what I have written in my own personal blog site. Thanks for reading, for liking and for sharing my blog posts. I would love to have more guest bloggers to highlight this year as well so don’t be surprised if I ask =)

Let 2015 be the year of overcoming obstacles and reaching greater heights in our own personal lives. May it be the time we finally decide to get rid of toxic relationships and only stick to those that encourage us. May 2015 be the year we take the time and effort to become the better selves we have always imagined ourselves to be. May 2015 be the year that our dreams turn into our realities.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Prosperous New Year!

I. AM. CANADIAN.

ottawastrong

The last couple of days have been quite emotional. The recent attack in Ottawa has had me battling the tears that often come unbidden. Ottawa was where I grew up. I practically lived downtown. I’ve spent many hours at Rideau Centre, studied at University of Ottawa/l’Université d’Ottawa, sat down at many coffee shops along Metcalfe and Slater. Although I’m currently living in Hamilton because of school, Ottawa will always be my home. So when I saw the images of violence that ravaged my home town, it affected me in a way that I never thought would affect me. Suddenly, the violence was personal. It’s hard not to take it personally. I kept thinking that if I was in Ottawa, I would be in the downtown area. I was sitting down, chatting with friends, last week at Parliament Hill. Parliament Hill was this place that you can go and relax. Its open space is so inviting. It practically beckons you to come and sit down, look at the amazing Parliament buildings, and be thankful you live in a country like Canada.

I once was invited to speak at the Parliament Hill Christian Fellowship. I remember feeling so honoured and humbled that I was able to speak about God within the hallowed halls of the Parliament building. There’s a certain majesty that you feel as you pass by the pillars that have seen so much Canadian history over the years. It was, for a lack of a better word, so inspiring. Most of my academic research deals with violence and oppression in church history. It was humbling to know that I could speak the Word of God in such a place without fear of reprisal or persecution. It was a beautiful feeling.

It was this sense of peace and calm that the shooting at Parliament Hill and the War Memorial tried to shake. Perhaps, that was what Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was attempting to do as he murdered Nathan Cirillo in cold blood and proceeded to attack Parliament Hill with a barrage of gun fire. However, he did not succeed. As MP Thomas Mulcair said in his speech, “It was intended to make us more fearful of our neighbours and less confident in ourselves.But it has failed. Today’s events have instead only succeeded in drawing us closer, in making us stronger.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper was clear that horrible acts like that visited upon us in Ottawa or the incident in Quebec, “we will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.” MP Justin Trudeau mentioned how “(i)n the days that follow, there will be questions, anger, and perhaps confusion. This is natural, but we cannot let it get the better of us. Losing ourselves to fear and speculation is the intention of those who commit these heinous acts. They mean to shake us. We will remain resolved.” It is clear that this act of cowardice, intended to incite fear within our hearts, have failed. Instead, our country spoke with one voice that we shall not let the actions of criminals change the way we live our lives.

I am thankful for the brave men and women who, in the face of danger, run towards it rather than away from it. To the various security personnel from all branches of the government who commit their lives in ensuring the protection of all Canadian citizens, thank you. To the men and women in the uniform, who through their valiant acts make sure that we live in a country free of fear and violence, thank you. To the family, friends, and loved ones of Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent, we mourn with you. We are so sorry for your loss. To Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers, thank you for valiantly protecting those under your care.

God keep our land, glorious and free.

Announcement!

Hi everyone,

My recent article on shame has been published by Bedlam Magazine. Woohoo!!!

Click here to read more about it or visit bedlammag.com.

I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Feel free to comment away =)

Monday Musings – Living with Conflict

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It was a Facebook post from a friend of mine that got me thinking about this topic. I was going to make a comment but thought that instead of doing that, I’m dedicating this blog post to him. This is for you friend.

Conflict is inevitable. If you’re human, you will know this all too well. We live in a world where conflict runs rampant. Turn on the news and you’ll know what I mean. Conflict is everywhere.

It is easy to think of conflict as an idea until that conflict becomes personal. Suddenly, conflict becomes real. Now, you have to do something about it because you have no choice but to deal with it. Refusal to deal with it is still dealing with it. Honestly, this has probably been the way that I have dealt with conflict for most of my life. Either I try to avoid it or refuse to deal with it. Both are not the best options… but it sure ranks as my top two responses to conflict.

When we refuse to deal with the conflict, it has a way of forcing us to deal with it. Something will happen that will conjure up previous memories of how someone has wronged you. While the situation might change, your reaction to that person stays the same. I have had to deal with situations in the past when I felt I was wronged or disrespected by a friend. However, during the time that it happened, I didn’t say anything. Silence does not mean that you have forgotten the hurtful words or actions they have done. Fast forward to a different time and place in the future and that same person does the same thing again. This time your reactions seems rather overboard compared to the situation but it’s because you have held on to that anger. As a result, your reaction has doubled or tripled. Refusing to deal with conflict can sometimes exacerbate it instead of diminishing it.

Sometimes, we can’t avoid the person who is the source of our conflict. In my case, we were roommates. We had similar personalities but where we differed, we really differed.  We both knew that there was a problem. He wanted to deal with it but I didn’t. I ended up isolating myself from him and others who were associated with him. That is not the way that conflict should be handled. Eventually, we sat down and we got real. We told each other what bothered us about the other person and how we can minimize future conflict. We got to know one another in a new light. Instead of trying to be understood, we tried to understand each other. I had the privilege of being a groom’s man at his wedding. If you would have told me that a few years earlier, I would have thought it impossible.

I still hate conflict. If anything, my top two responses to conflict hasn’t changed. But I have also learned that conflict can be the best thing that can happen in your relationship if you handle conflict properly. Conflict resolution has the potential to bring two people together in a more intimate and authentic way. However, there are also times when the best way to handle conflict is to part ways amicably and “wish nothing but the best” for that person. Trying to figure out which is the best option requires time, maturity and wisdom.

Whatever happens, conflict is here to stay. The question is: how will you deal with it? Will you let it affect your life in a negative way or will you allow it to be a catalyst for better living? The choice is yours to make.

Tunes for Tuesday – Bek O’Brien

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Welcome to Tunes for Tuesday!

Today’s featured artist is a friend of mine named Bek O’Brien. I have been super blessed to have friends who are also crazy awesome artists. Bek is a super talented singer-songwriter who is in the process of dropping an album soon. I have heard her sing live and this girl has the voice of an angel! Check out her Kickstarter link below to find out more about her project. Also, head over to her Facebook page where you can find out more about her. Make sure to “like” and “share” her amazing music!

Official blurb: Bek O’Brien is a singer-songwriter and native of Québec, now based out of upstate New York. She combines elements of jazz and folk to her music. She has been writing music for the last decade and is currently recording her debut album with Joel Williams, which will be released this fall.

Monday Musings – Living with regret

regretIt would be nice if we can go through life without regretting some of the things we have done. But, that is often not the case. A lot of the times, there are relationships we have had that should never have happened in the first place. Sometimes, it’s the opposite. There are relationships that we should have started. When I look back at my life, the common denominator in all the situations and experiences that I have gone through is this: fear.

Fear has this horrible way of setting paths askew. I can remember so many goals I have had that has been derailed by my own fears. In my mind’s eye, there was a straight line. I was focussed on the prize. I was ready to do whatever it takes to achieve it. I counted the cost. I knew it was going to be tough but I had tenacious determination that I could do it. With great gusto, I went charging ahead, daring to defy the world to come at me. Hurtling forward, it was almost dizzying with all the excitement that launching into the great unknown can sometimes give. Everything tends to go your way in those early days. And then, out of nowhere, it hits you. What if the prize isn’t really worth it? What if this is the wrong path? What if this whole thing is a joke in the first place? Can I actually achieve what I have set out to try and achieve? In those moments, the straight path doesn’t look so straight anymore. It is full of detours and sign posts to turn back from whence you came. So, you head back to where you started. Then you suddenly realize something: your starting point just became your finish line. It is at this point that you start regretting turning back. If only I stayed the course… if only I kept on going… if only I didn’t listen to all the negative voices… if only… if only…

I’ve lived with regret for most of my life. Why didn’t I do this? I really should’ve done that! These are some of the questions and statements that pop up in my head from time to time. The one positive thing that can happen when you live with regret is that you are also able to realize a few things about yourself that you may have never known unless you have felt regret in your life. I can’t believe how easy it is for me to be distracted by fear. I can’t believe how easy it is for me to want to turn back and run at the thought of potentially failing. My hope is that I can turn my regrets into reminders. A reminder that I am never alone. A reminder that the darkness can never truly extinguish the light. A reminder that I constantly underestimate myself. A reminder that I am stronger than I imagined and wiser than I thought I could be. A reminder that I am made perfect by the One who made me.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Have you ever lived with regret? How did it affect you?

Monday Musings – Living with hope

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“This world’s a tortured place to be / So many things to torment me / And as I stumble down this road / It takes a toll” – dc Talk, Supernatural

There are times in one’s life when the waves of insecurity comes crashing down so vehemently that one is left struggling to gasp for the air of hope. Each wave threatens to pound you down even further and further into the abyss of despair. It is hard to breathe, almost impossible, it seems. The will to struggle for survival is almost extinguished. The glassy eyes of apathy are but a symptom of this condition. The maelstrom of negative emotions swirling within leaves behind a destructive trail of broken dreams, failed attempts and copious amounts of tears.

Sometimes, it becomes easier to live in the land of depression. No one can hurt you there. After all, you’re already hurt. It is so much easier to curl up in an emotional fetal position than to stand up and daily live out the hurts and the pains of past, present and future. It takes courage and boldness and strength to face the challenges of today when reminded about the failures of the past and fear of the future. But to live in a state of constant anguish and anxiety is not a way to live. It saps you of energy. Vitality leaves your bones and is replaced with the burden of weariness that seeps into every fiber of your being. To prevent this from happening, it is important, nay crucial, to have hope.

Hope allows us to get through the day. It gently reminds us that the hurts of today does not have to be the hurts of tomorrow. Hope tells us that “this, too, shall pass.” Hope is the faint whisper of “things will get better” when we feel that our world is falling apart. Hope is what enables us to face yet another day that we fear to face.

It’s really easy to get trapped in the endless loop within our heads of how things are going wrong. One wrong thing after one wrong thing keeps on happening that sometimes I start wondering why the world/God/fate is against me. Hope is what enables us to get out of the horrible feedback loop we sometimes find ourselves in. Hope is our way out.

When it is impossible to change our circumstances, the one thing we can change is our perspective. You can let problems rule you or you can raise your fists in the air in defiance and shout “is that it?” Hope doesn’t mean that you fail to recognize your problems. That’s called denial. Hope is acknowledging that you have problems without letting your problems reign over you. Hope is what gives us the strength to wake up and fight every day. Never give up. Don’t quit. Choose to fight back. Choose hope.

Monday Musings – Living with doubts

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In the words of Five for Fighting’s eponymous song, “it’s not easy to be me.” I always wonder how to answer the question “how are you?” when posed in social settings. Do you really want to know or are you asking me because social etiquette dictates that normal conversations usually begin with that particular question? There are times when I am tempted to just unload what I really think but I often hold back. No one deserves to get dumped on like that with no previous warning. My friends are usually the ones who truly ask me how I’m doing. They don’t readily accept an “I’m fine, how are you” response. After the initial question, the follow-up question of “really, how are you?” is posed. That’s when the reality of my situation begins.

I’m currently doing my Ph.D. in Christian Theology. I just finished my first year of course work. It was as challenging as I thought it would be. And more. But, it was also strangely rewarding. I’m really thankful that I get to do what I get to do. I’m surrounded by people who have devoted themselves to studying the Scriptures more intensely and more actively than most people. How awesome is that? When you’re surrounded by greatness, it is really easy to wonder if you belong. I often wonder if they picked my name by mistake. Maybe, I got in the Ph.D. program by a clerical error. The feeling of “I don’t belong here” can be really debilitating. They have a name for this condition. It’s called  Impostor Syndrome. I have it and many in the Ph.D. program have it too. Apparently, becoming faculty doesn’t quite erase the feeling. That’s always good to know. =)

I also wonder how I can remain in the program. Financially speaking, I’m at my wits’ end trying to figure out how to fund this endeavour. Money may not buy you happiness but it sure can help you buy the things that make you happy. Right now, I really don’t know where the funding will come from. And that’s scary. I’m looking for a job that will allow this to happen and I’m not sure if I can find a job that would enable me to make it possible. This is when the small doubts coalesce to an avalanche that threatens to overwhelm me and bury me in its wake.

Yet, during this most doubtful of times, God has sent people along the way to affirm me. He reminds me that I am on the right path. He reminds me that I am where I need to be. I think my first response when confronted with doubt is to run away and cut my losses. Yet, I know that if I quit, I would never be able to live with myself. Like a moth to a flame, I would find myself back in this very same scenario time and time again.

As a friend once said, “I am exactly where I need to be.” I find strange comfort in that. Success is often measured on how many obstacles you had to overcome to get to your goal. Doubts present us with obstacles, real or imagined, that try to tell us that we can’t make it or that it can’t be done. I have no doubt that I will not be able to make it through without the One who gives me strength. In Him, I have no doubt. He will help me make it through.

Monday Musings – Living with Shame

Hi everyone,

It has been too long since my last post. And yes, that was supposed to sound like a confession. However, I am back! I wanted to re-start a weekly section of my blog which I will be calling “Monday Musings.” This is a space where I will be talking about the things that I have been thinking and mulling over in my head.

For those who are potentially new to this website, welcome and thanks for dropping by! The goal of this website is to foster a safe place where people can learn from one another so please feel free to comment and share your thoughts with me! I am a big fan of discussions BUT I also feel that discussions should take place in a civil and kind way. The moment that discussions start venturing into personal attacks or creating a negative atmosphere where people no longer feel free to express their views then I will take the necessary steps to remedy that. Hopefully, that wouldn’t happen.

Today’s blog post has been inspired by a TED talk by Brené Brown on shame. I think that shame is something that everyone has or will struggle with at least once in their life. These are my musings on the subject matter.

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shame

Maybe it’s just me but I am really good at compartmentalization. I have friends for different purposes. If I want a deep theological talk, I have a friend for that. If I want to have fun, I have a friend for that. If I want to talk about the arts, I have a friend for that. I have a personal world and a professional world. I have different sets of friends who have never met each other and I try my best to make sure it never happens. I’m a social chameleon. I can change depending on who is around me. To a certain degree, we all do that unconsciously. However, when we consciously put on a mask, sometimes we can forget to take it off. What we pretend to be becomes who we end up being. It becomes a blurry line.

Behind all the pretending and the acting, there is a voice that serves as the bread and butter of shame. It is the thought that no one will love you for who you are when they finally realize who you truly are. It is in the secret place that shame rules and reigns. All the surface affirmations do nothing to address it because it is easy to dismiss them. “You say that because you don’t know the real me. If you only knew…” becomes the standard response. “If you only knew…” becomes the tired refrain.

The problem with shame is that no one can actually know you because you don’t allow yourself to be known. All they see is the outside: they see someone who’s an extravert, someone who seems like he has it all together, someone who laughs loudly and is often the life of the party. They don’t necessarily see what is happening on the inside: the plague of insecurity, the constant self-doubt of being good enough, the nagging fear that I will never find someone who will truly love me for all of me.

Vulnerability becomes the main mechanism for exposing shame. While shame still manages to have a grip on my life, its grip has been lessened by the fact that I have been blessed with friends with whom I practice openness and transparency. I’m thankful for these people who have spoken truth and love and grace into my life. They remind me how warped my perspective can be at times and how my shame needs to be crushed into oblivion. I don’t know where I would be without their life-giving advices over the years.

Shame is a horrible bedmate. To wake up in shame and find no escape even in sleep from it is a horrendous way to live. Been there. Done that. That’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Overcoming shame is a life-long battle. Thankfully, it’s a battle that you don’t have to do all by yourself. Take the risk of vulnerability. It’s worth it.

 

A Lenten Poem

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The sky darkening
Thunder
It was as if the heavens themselves wanted to let the earth know of their anger
It was more than they can bear.

From the lofty heights, the clouds saw what was happening below
“What insanity has taken hold of the mortals?”, they wondered.
He was the One to redeem creation itself
Yet it was He whom they were intent on killing.

The trees began to whisper to one another
What madness is this that they chose one of our own to bring about His death?
They wanted no part in this folly
They wanted to clap their hands in praise
Instead, they mourned that one of their lot became a weapon of His destruction.

The winds were often thankful in His presence even if He did rebuke them that one time for their excitement
The words that came from His mouth gave them such pleasure to spread all over the world
Today, his cry was too much for their hearing
Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani
They wept at the message they had to send to the Father.

The rocks grumbled their disapproval
They could remain silent no more
The mortals had the audacity to nail his hands and feet
This can not be!

Michael, readying the legions of angel
Raphael, sharpening his sword
Gabriel, in utter disbelief that these puny beings should dare lay a hand on Him
Azrael, waiting to wreak vengeance.

They waited for the signal to lend Him aid
He but needed to speak the word
None came from his lips.

It is finished.

Meditations on 2013: A year in review

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Around this time last year, I was busy preparing for my Ph.D. application. I had just finished my Greek exegesis course and was busily doing research and writing for my writing sample. I had spoken with my thesis supervisor and decided that it would be better to write a brand-new writing sample based on my proposed dissertation topic so I can have a good base of research before heading into the program. This year, all the planning and the preparations to achieve this goal reached its fruition. I am delighted to say that I have finished my first semester of Ph.D. studies! Woohoo!

There are so many times in life when our dreams and our goals can feel like they are so close, yet so far. We can almost grasp it, but it is also a breath away from making it ours. 2013 reminded me of the power of perseverance. It is important to keep going, to keep striving after that illusive dream. Because sometimes, that dream can turn into a reality. But after going through everything, that reality starts feeling like it’s a dream =)

I think it would be disingenuous to say that perseverance is the only factor in achieving one’s goal. More and more, I am convinced and convicted that all my dreams would never happen without the love and the support of the people around me. After all, no man is an island. We are surrounded by people who help us become the people we are, whether they be friends or foes. I am so thankful to have family and friends who cheer me on and are praying for my success. Without them, I would never be able to where I am today. It sounds so cliché but once you factor in all the financial, emotional, spiritual, psychological and intellectual support one needs to achieve anything, it becomes less of a cliché and more as an undeniable fact. We need our communities to survive and thrive. Without them, life is empty.

Yet, as much as I truly value my family and friends for all of the help they have given me, it but pales in comparison with the love and grace that my God gives me on a daily basis. If anything, I see my family and friends as a visible expression of God’s love towards me. It always shames me to no end at how unfaithful I am to Him, and how it is always flabbergasting to know that even when I am faithless, He is always ever faithful to me. Awhile ago, I was talking to a friend about success and how our understanding of success is primarily based on the goal we have set before us. For me, I have said that if I am still in love with God, and actually confounded more this year than the year before about how much love and grace He has given unto me, then that would be a success. If I still yearn to walk in His ways, and grow even stronger in my desire to follow after Him this year than the year before, then that would be a success.

2013 was a success. Let’s hope that 2014 brings even more of it.

Fear of failure Part 2: The inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

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Image from: evokeandimagine.com

Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so, too, can this recovering perfectionist!

It was tough. I knew it was going to be tough, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. But knowing it’s tough and living through the tough are two different things. I knew within the first week that PhD was going to kick my butt. A lot. And boy, did it ever do that!

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine a week ago. I told her that I had just received my mark for a paper I handed in and that I didn’t fail. “Of course, you didn’t fail. You’re smart!,” she said. She continued on and said that “it is always the smart people who think they’re going to fail while those who usually fail thought they did a great job.” To which I quickly replied, “and that’s why we don’t fail. Because we always think we’re going to so we make sure that we don’t.”

I thought of that response that came so naturally to me. And it made me think that living in constant fear is probably not a good idea. Having a perpetual Sword of Damocles over one’s head is not conducive to joy or peace. As difficult as it is, I am trying to live a life that is not filled with perpetual fear of failing, of not living up to expectations that I have received from others or even myself. How easy it is for me to want to be like everyone else, but me!

I was reading this post by my friend, Sherree Worrell. These were the words that struck me:

“I’m right where I’m supposed to be…”

I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve said this. Sometimes I believed it, sometimes not so much. But, I’m a firm believer that the Universe doesn’t put us in places we’re not supposed to be…at least not for long. It’s what we learn in those places that make the difference in how we go forward with life.

I think the reason why I’m so afraid of failure, of not being good enough and all that negativity, is because deep down inside, I feel like I don’t belong. I don’t belong in this place, in this culture, in this space, in this time. I constantly feel that I have to prove my worth because somehow I am innately worthless. I try so hard not to fail because, when push comes to shove, I think that I am a failure. There is a big difference between doing something that can be labelled as a failure vs. be-ing failure. One is something that you do; the other is something that you are.

I’m thankful that I have friends who just give it to me straight. After complaining to another friend about how I feel, she said “Stop saying that! If you’re a failure, then what about the rest of us?” I had to laugh when she said that considering that’s exactly how I feel when skinny people complain that they’re fat. Part of my life journey is being able to accept myself, flaws and all, and be able to show love and grace to myself. It is something that others have given to me so freely, for which I am thankful. It is something that God has given to me so lavishly, for which I am humbled. I belong here. And I don’t have to fight so hard to prove that I belong. Otherwise, that kinda ruins the whole concept of belonging =)

Thanks world, for constantly affirming me that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Thanks God, for constantly validating me of that very fact.

Wednesday Writings – Nov. 27, 2013

heathhighres1

 

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the non-frequency of blog posts. Ph.D. is tough!!! However, that doesn’t mean that I have forgotten all about my blog. Hopefully, you’re still following me.

Today’s inspiration is an artist named Heath McNease. I was recently listening to this track and it was just so raw and so real. I have the greatest admiration for artists who are just so authentic and vulnerable. When you listen to him, it’s almost voyeuristic. I feel like I’m peeking into his mind and heart as he shares it through his songs. I met him in a concert awhile ago and he’s such a great guy. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Support his work. Buy some albums. Tell him he’s awesome.

This was the accompanying description of the track:

We were travelling from Montreal to Moncton, New Brunswick. It was a gray, rainy day that turned into a frozen, windy night. During a 15 hour drive your thoughts will wonder. We talked to each other about everything. We freestyled, listened to “Daddy’s Lambo” by Yelawolf 100 times for no reason, played “would you rather”, and alternated sleep schedules. It is in those moments of drifting to sleep in the backseat and those moments when you’re the only person awake behind the wheel when your mind will play incredible tricks on you. That’s what this song really is. Its just being out there on this huge highway we know nothing about. Its about leaving a place where the signs were in French and driving to a place where you hope things are more familiar (and they’re not). Its about the epic scale of Canada. This place is just so wide open, and that 3 am darkness just felt like it was going to swallow us whole. That’s when doubt creeps in. That’s when you start telling yourself you’re a failure. That’s when you start thinking that God is either setting you up for failure, or he has just decided that you’re not going to amount to anymore than you are in that moment…cold, hungry, confused, and exhausted. As an artist…the best part about being left to your own devices is that you’re mind might be plaguing you, but you’ve got all the time in the world to put it into perspective. This song is just that. Its us figuring out what that drive really was all about.

The thing is I’ve totally felt those feelings. The feeling of being set up for failure or that I’m not going to amount to anything. And it is a horrible feeling. And sometimes, it can be overwhelming.

This poem is inspired by the artist and his works.

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Portrait of a man 

Sometimes, in the dark, when the lights are off and left alone with my thoughts
Fear assaults, fear attacks, fear pounces
I am left battered, shamed into submission
My nerves are frayed, and I want to cry
But I don’t.
Not because I don’t want to
It’s because I know how useless it is.

I wonder why I have to feel this way
I look around and see the smiling faces, the fake masks
It’s easier to hide than to reveal
Less problematic, and they don’t know what I’m going through.
I keep it in.
Not because I want to
It’s because no one understands.

Through the pain, I hear your words
So real, so true, so raw
Your voice sings my pain and my confusion
And I want to stop listening because it hurts
It pains me that I am not alone
No one should feel like I feel
You understand me too well.

Tunes for Tuesday – October 22, 2013

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Hey everyone,

I cannot believe how blessed I have been in having legit crazy awesome talented friends! I’m so proud to know these amazing guys. If you haven’t heard about Finding Chuck, today is your day! Check out their video below.

Check out their website, like their Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter!!!

Flashback Friday – My hatred for the term “man up”

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Hey everyone,
For today’s Flashback Friday, I’ve decided to re-post something I wrote back in the day (Feb.2, 2011 to be exact). While time have passed since I first wrote it, my feelings about it remains unchanged. I still hate the term “man up” and I still think it’s meaningless.
If you are going to comment, please remember to refrain from being mean, sarcastic, condescending, and other negative attributes. If you can’t be nice, don’t post it. Please keep that in mind when you’re commenting. Thanks.
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A response to all the “There are no Christian men” blogs/posts
Introduction

While the bemoaning of the fate of Christian men (where are they?) by men and women have gone on for a very long time, I have a sense through the recent proliferation of blogs/posts by those within my social circle, that it somehow has reached some sort of tipping point. Many more people are talking about this not-so-old complaint. And so, I just wanted to add another voice, albeit probably a different one, in the conversation.

First of all, I have sincere and complete disdain about the term “man up.” While there are many societal and cultural conceptions of what man is, those things are ultimately bound up in its own cultural expressions. While I do not advocate some sort of relativization of definitions, I think it is important to realize that the concept of “man” is bound up in earthly descriptions that seek to promote its own cultural mandate for what a “man” should be.
If we truly believe that Jesus came down to earth to show us what true humanity looks like, I think it would be more appropriate to say “Jesus up.” The word “man” is bound up in too many semantical, linguistic, cultural baggage that it can sometimes be difficult to ascertain which qualities we are trying to call forth when we say the word “man up.” I would like to think that calling someone to “Jesus up” is synonymous to the call that Jesus has on both men and women to be more Christ-like.
Aside: when I see a woman who does not really exemplify a Prov. 31 woman, I don’t exactly write blogs/posts about how they need to “woman up.” If there is a challenge for men to be more like men, shouldn’t women be also challenged to be more like women?
In Christian circles, this type of thinking can lead into statements like, “real men pray” or “real men treat their wives well” or the like. While I do not disagree with such statements, what happens if I didn’t pray for a day. Is my masculinity negated by such an act? Is being a “man” a question of doing, or a question of being. Donald Miller, during an interview, probably said it best when he defined a man as “someone who has a penis.” (With recent medical changes, I would qualify that as someone who was born with a penis. I know that that definition could probably be re-visited for hermaphrodites, but I digress. Hopefully, you got the major point!)
Is there such a thing as Biblical manhood? While I have not read Piper’s book on “Recovering Biblical manhood and womanhood,” I would hazard a guess that most Christians would probably say that there is such a thing. At this point, I would say that the rules and regulations that God has given to humanity apply to both sexes. Obedience, submission, leadership are areas that God calls each and everyone of us to participate in and instill in our daily lives. While the expression of these things could potentially look different (complementarian vs. egalitarian), it does not negate the fact that no man or woman is exempt from exemplifying such attributes in their personal life.
Yes, I do believe that most XY individuals over the age of 18 yrs. old do not act in a responsible manner that traditionally such an age would call for. I also do not think that the Church has done a great job in discipling and mentoring young men to help them mature in their own Christian journey. It is a problem and it is an epidemic. We have created a generation of irresponsible, uncouth, selfish generation. (Of course, each generation have always looked down upon their youths. Egyptian artifacts would testify to this fact. So no, this is not a new problem kids.) However, instead of bemoaning and “challenging” men to be more like men, why don’t you help foster and create an atmosphere of encouragement for men to learn what it’s like to be men? Clearly, most of us have no friggin’ clue what it is to be a man. Does that mean you just keep on reminding us that we should be something that we don’t even know what it means to be what you are calling us to be? How can we be men if no one teaches us how to be one?
And this ultimately goes back to my hatred of the word “man up.” It points to no one and to nothing. The word “Jesus up” points us to be more like the Human Being that we all aspire to be.
I also think that women should be called to the same standard of being a woman as men are called to be a man.
Inconsistencies
One of the complaints being re-iterated is the fact that men are not leading and how women need/want to be led.
The passages in the Bible that most people look to for this type of thinking concerning the role of men and women are passages that advocate for male leadership within a marriage context. While I do not disagree that our cultural expectation is for the male to lead and for the female to follow, I do have problems when Christians exegete a passage improperly and not maintain logical consistency.
This is what I mean. If somehow you are going to promote an idea that a man must lead in a relationship (outside of a marriage context), then it follows that the woman must also submit to the man. Most women I know say that the idea of submission should happen within a marriage context and anything outside of it is outside the purview of those specific Biblical passages. In this, I agree with them. However, if you maintain that a man must lead in a relationship, then it must follow that you should be willing to submit to them in said relationship. You can’t have it both ways.
Secondly, each individual, either male or female, is responsible for their own personal walk with God. it is a PERSONAL relationship after all. That being said, a man or a woman, irregardless of their sex, should not expect another person to come along to lead them to Christ. That’s the Holy Spirit’s role. Yes, God gives help-mates along the way… but they should help, not initiate, a relationship with Christ.
In a romantic relationship, it is advisable and highly encouraged and recommended, to find a mate who would lead you to a better understanding of Christ and who would challenge you to be more Christ-like. Yet, when we die, we are called to take account for our own personal words and deeds, not the deeds of others, not even our spouses/lovers.
Conclusion
Men, we are called to look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and follow in His ways. Likewise, women, you are likewise called to the same high calling. All of us, men and women, are called to be Children of the Light. If one of us is not quite there in our Christian walk (and really, who isn’t?), let us exhort one another and encourage one another to be like Jesus, the ultimate model of what humanity should look like. We are ALL called to the same standard – and that standard is Jesus Christ.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Fear of not being good enough: the inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

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Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so can this recovering perfectionist!

In a couple of days, I will be starting my Ph.D. journey at McMaster Divinity College in the Theology program. Maybe it’s just me, but I already feel like I’m behind on my readings and school work… and school hasn’t even started yet! It’s really difficult for me not to look around the people who are going and not feel like I’m good enough. Some of them are presenting at conferences or on a panel for some colloquium thing… and I’m at home wondering what I’m going to cook for lunch. Sigh.

There is actually a thing called Impostor Syndrome.  It’s a condition found among many graduate students and academics. Basically, it’s this feeling that they’re a fraud and live in fear that they’re going to be found out. No matter how many awards, medals, plaques, trophies and words of affirmation they may receive, they never internalize their accomplishments. They attribute it to external factors like luck or that they just worked harder. For me, another factor that I have attributed my success to is lack of qualified candidates during the time that I won. It is pretty horrible the more I think about it because in my refusal to acknowledge my accomplishment, I have to denigrate other people’s abilities.

Throughout high school, I was a member of the Honours List. I graduated from my undergrad as a cum laude student (with honours). I even graduated from my Masters program on the Honours List and the recipient of the academic excellence award. And I still think I’m dumb! Usually, people tell you that you don’t need to listen to what others tell you. Instead, just believe in yourself. However, I find myself being the exact opposite. I have to listen to what others have told me (aka you’re smart!) rather than listening to what I tell myself (aka you’re really dumb!) Other people are way more gracious and capable of seeing things that I cannot see in myself. I think the only time that I feel smart is when I feel threatened and someone says (or makes me feel) like I’m dumb… it is only then that I act as if I know and believe that I’m smart.

When you have spent the majority of your life being constantly compared to others by your parents, it’s really hard to switch it off. It may have started off with them, but you end up internalizing that type of toxic mentality. There comes up a point though when you have to be responsible for your own actions and thoughts. I get riled up when people blame their parents, friends, or some other external agents for their own issues. Part of growing up is taking responsibility for your actions and stop blaming others. You are the one in charge of living your life and you can’t pass the buck to someone else when things don’t go well for you.

At the end of the day, I am thankful that I am no longer my own. My worth and self-esteem is found in the One Who has given Himself up for me. As I think of the love of Jesus, I am comforted that His love for me is unconditional. He’s not going to love me more or less because of my academic achievements or professional success in life. He loves me just the way I am. To Him, I’m good enough.

Thank God!

Pensées on Suicide

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There’s just something about suicide that just hits me to my core. My heart just goes out to people who carry what must be such unbearable pain that they feel that the only way to make it go away is to choose death over life. I can’t even begin to think how isolating and how lonely that must feel. I know that some people think that it is the only way to escape the immense hurt they are going through. Some choose death not because they don’t think that life is not worth living… they choose death because life is simply too much for them to bear. Suicide notes usually tell the people they leave behind that they have nothing but utmost love for them and tell them not to berate themselves for what happened. It wasn’t their fault.

Once you factor in mental illness in the picture, it becomes an even murkier picture. Schizophrenics are prone to hear voices that tell them to commit acts of aggression against others, or even against themselves. The line between what is real and what is not real becomes blurred. The constant struggle can be burdensome. In that one quick moment when you lose that fight between reality and illusions, the outcome can be tragic and irreversible. As someone once said, “suicide is a permanent response to a temporary problem.” However, I just find pithy statements like that to be so cliché that it verges on useless. I find that statements like that tend to make something painfully real into something abstract. Suicide is tragic. Suicide is heart wrenching. Suicide is soul crushing.

When I heard what happened to my friend, I was shocked. I was speechless. Immediately, you think of your last interaction and wondered if there was something you could have said or something you could have done to be an encouragement or bring a smile to their face. When faced with the reality and cruelty of death, we are forced to remember the fragility of life. We are forced to think of our priorities in life and what matters most to us.

As a Christian, the reality of death also confronts us with the reality of the afterlife. According to the Christian worldview, heaven and hell are the two places where one might end up when we die. Suicide, in particular, makes us wonder where the soul might go. I think it is only important to remind people that in the end, only God knows the eternal fate of our souls. It is good to be reminded that it is not up to us to determine where others shall go. Whatever your thoughts may be on the matter, it is probably better for you to keep it to yourself. Since you’re not God, your opinion/speculation doesn’t matter at all.

To those left behind, suicide is extremely hard to bear. It’s hard not to blame ourselves for what we could have done to prevent it. What if I said/did something that drove them to do it? Why couldn’t they confide in me? Why did they think that this was the only way to fix the problem? I can’t even fathom the emotions that a grieving loved one feels. There are no words to adequately explain the depth of hurt and pain etched in their faces and engraved in their hearts.

To those who feel that suicide is the only option, I want you to know that it isn’t. There is help available to you and for you. Please talk to a family member, a trusted friend, or if needed, seek professional help. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to go through the loneliness alone. This world is a better place because you’re in it. Please don’t quit on us. You are loved more than you can ever know by the One who made you. God doesn’t make mistakes and you are not a mistake. You are the apple of His eye.

For the rest of us, let’s not be stingy with our praise and encouragement of others. Let’s cherish each other’s presence. We can never say “I love you” too many times. Let’s make sure that the one time we do say “I love you” is not the one time that the person can’t hear it anymore.

To my friend, say hi to the angels for me. May you rest in peace in the bosom of the God who loves you.

 

Fear of happiness: the inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

 

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Photo credit: suitesculturelles.wordpress.com

 

Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so, too, can this recovering perfectionist!

I want to be happy. I mean, who doesn’t? Happiness can feel nice and gives us the warm fuzzies. Most people, if given the choice between happiness or sorrow, would probably pick happiness. Happiness puts a jump to your step and can make you feel like you’re on cloud nine. It’s a great feeling to have.

However, for some people like me, happiness can sometimes be hard to enjoy. It’s almost as if I’m waiting for something bad to happen. I can’t enjoy the happiness thoroughly because at the back of my mind, I know that something horrible is probably going to happen to take away my happiness. I don’t like being paranoid but the rules of life dictates that the greater the happiness, the greater the sorrow that will come with it. You can’t have one without the other. And so I’m left always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It is no fun to live like that. I can never cherish my happiness because of what’s going on at the back of my head. “Don’t enjoy it too much! That way, it won’t hurt too much once it’s taken away from you. And it WILL be taken away from you!” Living life in that state of mind is horrible. It is an attitude that is life-draining rather than life-giving.

It has been very challenging for me to “live in the present” or to “live in the here and now.” To taste happiness in its fullness with no attempts to mitigate it with thoughts of future sorrow. In the process, I feel like I’m living a better life. A true life. A real life. Not a life full of “what if’s” and so concerned with the future, I accidentally forget to live the life I do have.

So I’m trying to be ok with happy. I’m trying not to run away from it. I’m trying to embrace it and hold it tightly against my chest, never wanting to let it go. I’m trying to let my body feel what happiness is and be enveloped in its cheerful embrace. I’m trying to give myself the permission to be happy. And in doing so, it has made me happy. It has made me smile. It has made me laugh. It has made me more thankful for such wonderful moments in time.

I have also realized that everything doesn’t have to be perfect before I can be happy. I have realized that sometimes, it is in the most desperate situations, that happiness rears its happy head. Perhaps, to remind me, and all of us, that you never know what is on the other side of the pit of despair. So, as the old song goes, don’t worry… be happy.

Have you ever been afraid of happiness?

 

 

Fear of failure: the inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

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I started this blog with my “On the importance of…” series. Just to change things up, I’m starting a new series which will be called “Fear of ____ : the inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist”. I think that all of us have different fears that are borne out of our perfectionistic tendencies. I know I’m not the only one who suffers from this dreaded disease and so I wanted this to be a forum where people can hopefully be honest and vulnerable about any struggles we may have in this area… and to remind each other that we don’t have to be perfect! So, here’s the first post of this series. Hope you enjoy!

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Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so, too, can this recovering perfectionist!

I guess in many ways, the odds were stacked against me. First of all, I’m Asian. I also have very Asian parents. My mother is the original Tiger Mom who constantly reminds me that I have to be the best in everything. Not only do I have external influences that constantly demands for perfection, somehow, along the way, those values (vices?) were so ingrained in me that I took it as my own. So now, even without the voices from the outside telling me I have to be perfect, the voice within screamed even louder for the very same thing.

When I tell people that I feel like I’m the biggest failure in the world, I know many of them scratch their heads and wonder “Why?” On paper, I look really good. I graduated cum laude from University of Ottawa (Honours Psychology) and even won the academic excellence award when I graduated from McMaster University with my Masters of Theological Studies degree. I lived overseas for two years in my desire to listen to the call of God in my life to help and serve others in such a way that my life would be a testimony to God’s love and compassion. I’m surrounded by great friends and a family who have always provided for my wants and needs. I am well liked by others. A life like that looks like a success, doesn’t it?

But that’s the horrible part of being a perfectionist… nothing is good enough! It is greedy, compulsive, and leaves behind a wide swath of destruction in its wake. I have gone through most of my life thinking that I was not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, not financially stable enough, not Christian enough… and the list goes on. It manages to take things that should elicit joy into apathy. I have actually explained away a lot of the success I have achieved in life as either “dumb luck” or “weak pool of candidates to choose from”. Let me tell you, living like that is not fun at all.

The thing about trying to be perfect all the time is that it makes you risk-averse. It stifles you into making safe decisions. You do that long enough and it can suffocate you and prevent you from trying to achieve your dreams. In my attempt not to make mistakes, I end up making the biggest mistake of all: not living. Living is full of mistakes. That’s how we learn. That’s how we grow. My fear of failure has become my straightjacket that hinders me from turning my dream into reality.

So I write this to remind myself (and you, my dear reader) that it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to be human and make mistakes. It’s okay to get bruises on the way to realizing your dream. In fact, if you are not making any mistakes, I would argue that you are not living at all. So go ahead and feel free to make mistakes. I know I will.

Has your fear of failure ever stopped you from pursuing your dreams?

Tunes for Tuesday – July 9, 2013

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Today’s Tunes for Tuesday, I get to highlight two artists whom I absolutely love! I fell in love with Emili Sandé when I heard her sing during the 2012 Olympics. And my friend Reneé Robinson has been astounding me with her gorgeous voice for more years than I would like to disclose lolz So what happens when my love for these two singers collide? This version of “Daddy” by Emeli Sandé sung by Reneé Robinson =) You can follow Reneé on Twitter and FB

Any covers of your favourite artists you think I should listen to? Let me know in the comments below. 

Friendly Friday: On Marriage, Identity, and the One Who Called You By Name

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Welcome to Friendly Friday! If this is your first time here at my website, thanks for checking it out! Basically, this is my way of highlighting my friends who I think are pretty awesome and are doing great things in the world!

Today’s post is actually an experiment of sorts. This is the first time that I’m cross posting! What that means is that my friend, Ricki W., is a guest blogger at my site at the same time that I’m a guest blogger at her site. We even write about the same thing! =)

I’ve known Ricki for a couple of years now and one of the things that I really appreciate is her desire to be an encouragement to me and to others. It’s a great quality to have in a friend. She is also smart and very down-to-earth. And she’s real… very real. I think that it is that very thing that really shows up in her writing. It is real. It is authentic. And it is vulnerable. As a writer, our life experiences are the fodder for the things we write and she is not an exception to that truth.

Marriage is something that is often on the minds of many people, especially the single variety. In both secular and Christian circles, there seems to be this unspoken, but very tangible, message that singleness is a bad thing. Especially in Christian circles, there is this weird message that if you’re single, something must be wrong with you. It’s almost as if you’re a second-class Christian if you’re not married. While I think that marriage is a great thing to have and to experience, we need to be careful not to idolize it. Jesus, after all, was single. Paul, a key figure in Christianity, was also single. So think on that!

And now, for your reading pleasure….

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My brother is getting married on Saturday and I am SO excited for him. I have never looked forward to an event so much as seeing my brother wed his lovely bride. His enthusiasm has somehow rubbed off on me… at least enough to write this.

Marriage is a wonderful thing. It is God-ordained… it was written into the very fabric of this earth. God himself said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So He set about to create a helper for him. I love marriage. I love love. I am pro anything that God created good. Yet, sometimes I ask myself– what is going on in my life? All my friends are getting married… everyone seems to be pairing off. What’s wrong with me? Am I not beautiful enough? Am I not kind enough? Am I not good enough?

I think we all struggle with these questions. Whether or not you admit it, you likely struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps as a child you were made fun of. Or maybe you’re overweight. Maybe you weren’t good at things in school. Or maybe like me, you have accomplished a lot and just haven’t seem to “land” the right one. Maybe, like me, you have relatives that ask you why you aren’t looking harder or tell you that you just need to “get out there more.” Maybe you’ve stuffed down that perfectly horrible retort to their answer one too many times– and like a volatile feral cat, you’re feeling like you could rip their heads off.

Here’s the thing.

Marriage will not fulfill you the way you hope. It will not fill that God-sized hole you have in your chest. Yes, it may stave off loneliness. It may bring you great joy. Marriage is a wonderful thing. But let me say this. It will not fix your problems. Your problem is an identity issue, not a mate issue. You must find your identity in Christ before “finding yourself” elsewhere.

So note this:

You are beautiful. You are wonderful. You are specially made. Tonight, I was taking a walk as the sun was setting and I just said to God, “Wow. You must be really proud of your work here.” And you know what He said? “I’m really proud of you.” I almost burst into tears because there I was standing in the midst of his glorious creation, and the thing he remarked upon was me.

“You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knit you together in your mother’s womb. He knows you by name and he LOVES you. Can you believe it? Do you believe it?

Yes, people will always talk. That’s what we seem to do as humans. But whose voice should you be listening to?

 

Ricki is a self-described hillbilly with a literary flair. Passionate about Jesus, books, botany, hiking, and teaching, she desires to inspire the world with love, laughter, and timely doses of her own ramblings.

Twitter: @rickiblueeyes7

Blog: rickiblue.wordpress.com

I would love to hear your thoughts on marriage and singleness. Feel free to post a comment! Just remember to be nice. =)

Tunes for Tuesday – June 25, 2013

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Hi everyone,

Welcome to today’s Tunes for Tuesday. My friend Rose (@GraceDefined) introduced me to this video awhile ago and let’s just stay that it is one of those videos that stay stuck in your head for a very long time. I usually don’t like a lot of “Christian” videos and music in general because they tend to, ummm, how do I say this nicely… alienate my soul! Imagine my surprise when I saw a video that was phenomenal! It’s called “Bombs Away” by Jonathan Thulin ft. Rachael Lampa). Click on the video below to watch!

Are there any other Christian music videos that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section! =)

Pensées on Prostitution

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Photo: Getty Images

In a recent article, an esteemed friend (Julia Beazley) wrote about the current problem we have when dealing with the issue of legalizing prostitution. In her article,  she reminds us not to ignore the real issue on prostitution. A lot of the argument about legalizing prostitution revolves around the intended “safety” that legalizing prostitution would bring to those who practice this particular “profession”. By legalizing it, we can then enforce laws that could potentially create a safer environment for women who have “chosen” to be in this field of work. Beazley reminds us that

The violence is rooted in the underlying view among the people, mostly men, that purchase them that women in prostitution are somehow fundamentally different from their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters. This misperception justifies treatment of women as objects to be bought and sold. The very existence of prostitution requires a subclass of people who are available to be bought, sold and rented; people understood to be somehow just a little less equal than everyone else.

I know a lot of fathers who will move heaven and earth for their daughters. The moment their daughter’s little fingers wrap around theirs, even the most manliest man can be reduced to tears. They dream of a bright and lovely future for their daughter. Maybe she will become a doctor or a lawyer (especially if her parents happen to be Asians hahaha), a writer, a ballerina, a teacher, or even become the prime minister (or the president if you’re not in Canada)! I haven’t met a lot of normal fathers who ever dreamt a future of prostitution for their little girl. Probably because that would be incredibly sick and disturbing if they actually did! I would like to think that as a society, we can agree that wanting your daughter to be a prostitute when she grows up is wrong.

While I recognize that lots of things happen when a child grows up, I hope that our general views on protecting others from harm would not be something we throw out because of a change in someone’s age. The prostitute in the street is not a random piece of flesh to be bought and enjoyed like you would buy a chocolate bar from a vending machine. She is a woman created in the image of her Creator. She is someone’s child. She is someone’s sister. She is someone’s friend. She is a human being. She is not a piece of commodity to be owned and bought at someone’s convenience and pleasure.

We live in a broken, messed up world. I am not naïve enough to think that just because I think someone is wrong means that everyone will think what I think is wrong is wrong too. But, in a world of relativity and lack of absolutes in this post-modern world we inhabit in, there are general ideas that most people irregardless of their religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political stance do agree on. In general, we are all about love, peace, joy, and general happy things. We generally want peace instead of war. We are all about protecting the weak and oppressed against the power of the strong tyrant. And maybe this is just the idealist in me, but I really hope and pray that as a society, we would rise up to protect the weak and the disenfranchised who find themselves in the prostitution trade and remind them that they are not disposable sex objects but human beings who need to be treated with love and care. But then again, maybe that’s not me just being idealistic… maybe that’s just me recognizing and respecting someone else’s humanity. Maybe that’s just me being truly human.

 

 

Comments are always welcome. It’s ok to disagree with me and/or others, but we can disagree in a nice way that doesn’t result to denigrating or being demeaning to others in the process =)

On the importance of marriage

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Last week, I had the honour and privilege of attending the wedding of two amazing individuals, Peter (Mahaffey) and Gracie (Villanueva). I have been to a lot of weddings but this wedding definitely stood out. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wedding before where God was the underlying theme of the whole ceremony to begin with. I have been to Christian weddings before but there was something different about this one. Sometimes, I feel like God becomes a tag line in a wedding ceremony. The whole event is centered on the bride and groom and if God makes an appearance, it’s a brief cameo to bless their union. This time around, it seems that the event was built around the theme of God’s love instead of the love of the bride and groom. As a Christian, it was quite jarring and convicting. So this is what it looks like to have God be the center of a marriage, I found myself thinking.

During the speech, Gracie’s mom said something to the effect that their prayer that day was for God to be glorified during the wedding. I think I’m more used to prayers about how God should bless the couple’s lives rather than prayers that God would be honoured. It was one of those “really?!?” moments. While the sentiment expressed isn’t exactly revolutionary, I guess what surprised me was that she actually meant it. She really wanted the focus to be on God and not on the bride and groom. I think that really shocked me since I haven’t seen it before. During the numerous speeches, the one common thing was their constant reference to God’s love and God’s hand in bringing these two people together. It was so God-centered, I was quite taken aback.

I think that’s the one thing that people forget about marriage. Marriage is the most intimate picture we have of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. In the Old Testament, God’s relationship to Israel was often framed within a marriage context. Marriage is a beautiful picture of the divine love God has with His people. Throughout the Scriptures, we see a God who pursues His bride relentlessly. Even when the bride strays and becomes unfaithful to Him, still God woos her back to Himself. It is a picture of constant patience, grace, mercy, compassion and love to someone who, in fact, does not deserve a single ounce of any of these attributes. Even when the Brides gives the Groom a reason to leave because of her imperfections, the Groom not only stays faithful to her, but also goes out of His way to redeem the broken relationship. What a beautiful picture of heaven on earth!

What is marriage if not another way of presenting the gospel to the world? It is a proclamation of the good news that Christ brought to our world. It brings a man and a woman together while boldly challenging our individualistic culture and loudly proclaims that they are more than ok to be seen as one in the sight of men and God. It is another visible reminder that a proper marriage must properly have God in the center. It is a tangible expression of God’s love as expressed on earth.

To Peter and Gracie, I hope and pray that you would continue to walk in the ways of the Lord your God. Continue to esteem each other better than yourselves. May you daily submit your bodies and your lives wholly and completely to the wonderful and compassionate God who created you and brought you two together in His love and grace. It was an honour to be a witness to your beautiful union.

Guest blogging with Amused Now!

I had the great opportunity and privilege to be a guest blogger with Amused Now (www.amusednow.com). I wrote about my inspiration and motivation in writing a book. Click here to read it!  Hope you like it! =)

Feel free to share it, like it, retweet, or +1.

http://amusednow.com/blog/why-im-writing-a-book/

The importance of gratitude

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I recently came back from a week-long vacation in Maine with family and friends. It was great to see so many new places and eat delicious food everyday! The shopping wasn’t bad too =) When I got back home, it was great to see text messages from friends wondering if I was back in Ottawa. It’s always nice to be missed. And as I chatted with friends again and resumed normal daily life, I was yet again struck by how absolutely blessed I am to be surrounded by such amazing people. God’s goodness has been manifested to me, so many times, in the form of family and friends. Thankful doesn’t even begin to describe it. My treasure will never be found in my bank account (being the perpetual student assures me of that… lolz) nor in the material things I may possess. My greatest jewels are in the relationships I have formed over the years with quite possibly the best people in the world.

If my friends were gold (which they are!), they are definitely 24k. I am surrounded by singers, Masters, lawyers, social media experts, social justice activists, doctors, and all around world changers! It literally boggles my mind that I am surrounded by such amazing people. I honestly can’t believe I get to hang out with them because they are so awesome. People usually pay just to hang out with the kind of people I hang out with and I get to do that for free! Seriously, they are that magnificent =)

Yes, my friends are in society’s standards, super amazing. The jobs they have and the positions they are in are traditionally seen in high regard. But beyond the titles, what makes my friends so amazing is the fact that they are kind, gentle, giving, encouraging, and will do anything and everything to make this world a better place. All of my friends possess this great quality. Which is crazy! How did I find so many amazing people in one lifetime?!?

Because of that, I was reminded about the importance of gratitude. Or as my friend Hélène Campbell (@alungstory) would say… it’s an “attitude with a grrrrr”! (And yes, she has her own Wikipedia page. That’s when you know you’ve arrived lolz) I had the privilege to hear her personal story and how she overcame the adversities that life brings. She overcame it magnificently… and with an immense amount of gratitude. That’s the thing about gratitude: once you live it out, it becomes infectious. Through a series of amazing sequence of events, she received another shot at life as she became a recipient of a double lung transplant. Her campaign to raise awareness about organ donation has garnered the attention of celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ellen Degeneres. But more importantly, her campaign has translated into more and more people signing up to be organ donors. You would think that the story would end there. But since I already mentioned that my friends were amazing, there’s more. She has started a foundation to help out families who are on the waiting list for life-saving organ transplants. To learn more, please go to www.give2live.ca.

God has definitely spoiled me by surrounding me with a great family and great friends. They continually remind me that I am never alone. To have such a great emotional support network is such a blessing! When the lies of loneliness and isolation creeps in, I only have to hear the sound of a text message with an encouraging story, a tweet of a funny joke, or a wall post of the latest dance craze from a friend to make me smile and remind me that I am never alone. I belong to them and they belong to me.

What are you grateful for?

When humanity meets social media like a sloppy wet kiss: A book review on Return on Relationship by Ted Rubin and Kathryn Rose

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Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Collective Bias.

I have always said that “simplicity is complexity in disguise.” I didn’t find a new trick or a promotion for some crazy awesome social media tool that would solve everything in the book. It would’ve been an easier sell to others. Buy this and your world will change. Get this and you will get a thousand followers. Instead, it talked about a word that money cannot buy and people cannot manufacture: relationships. The beautiful thing about relationships is that it is dynamic, ever-changing from one state to another, and in a certain way, chaotic. It is unpredictable. It is fickle by nature. And the people who know how to have good relationships are the ones who take these things into consideration. They are not static, monolithic beings. They are lithe. They are agile. They are problem-solvers. They are able to maneuver and navigate the murky waters of uncertainty. They know when they have to be assertive and know when they have to relax and be laid back. They know when to jump into the situation to fix it and know when they just have to ride out the storm. This very thing, this thing called relationship, is the foundation on which every company and individual must stand.

This book reminds us that abstract things like emotions can bring money to the bank. When people feel like the company listens to them and goes out of their way to give excellent customer service, they are more likely to come back and tell others about your company. In essence, you get a free promoter (aka brand advocate). They don’t pay these people to advertise their products but they do so willingly and fervently. I remember when I used to be a Nokia fan boy and tried to make everyone buy a Nokia phone because they were awesome! And then, I decided that they did not value the things I valued like innovation and excellence (this was back in their Symbian days and before they went with Windows). I switched to Blackberry because of their reputation of excellence and solid performance. As the years went by, I felt that they also failed in being innovative and market leaders in their field. Ultimately, this led me to go to Samsung. The funny thing was I used to be a Samsung hater. But because of their desire to lead and produce amazing products, I chose to go with them. Now, I tell everyone that they should buy a Samsung phone. Their social media presence also helped me stay with them. When I tweeted about my complaint about my battery life, they listened. They didn’t pretend that it wasn’t out there. Instead, they responded quickly and efficiently. Within minutes, I received a response from them. Even though the information they told me were things I already knew, I appreciated the fact that they were eager to reach out and maintain a good relationship with their customer. This type of a relationship strengthens my brand loyalty, which in turn, will make it more likely that I purchase yet another Samsung phone in the immediate future. The company’s ability to be humble in their response certainly helped!

I found that the book was written in a concise and user-friendly manner. They were able to provide a good theoretical framework for their arguments and back that up with practical solutions. The only critique I would have of this book pertains to the editing aspect. I found multiple instances of bad grammar and words that should have been taken out that weren’t but eventually stayed in the published draft.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book (I finished it in two hours!) and would heartily recommend it to anyone who is involved or wants to be involved in being a business or social media leader. Well done!

Tunes for Tuesday

Hi everyone,

It was really nice to get all the nice comments I received after I posted my original song this January. I guess it has made me bolder in sharing more about my musical journey. So to inaugurate this new section of my blog, here’s a link to a remix of a song I recorded with my fabulous friend, producer, singer and all around diva Renee Robinson. Hope you like it.

https://soundcloud.com/coolaquarius/lead-me-to-the-cross-remix

Don’t forget to subscribe! =) As always, comments are welcome. Just make sure to be nice.

The importance of truth

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In a world teeming with lies, the truth is hidden. Sometimes, I feel like it is the Balrog (minus the evilness), hidden so deep that only the people who are willing to toil in the dark can be rewarded by its presence. These are the ones who, against what the conventional world is telling them, keep on laboring even when there is no guarantee that the reward lies on the other side. With their mind fixed, they possess a singular focus to unearth that which lies in secret. And when they catch a glimpse at that which their eyes have never seen before, they esteem it as precious and worthy of all the hard work they exerted to gain such a prize.

I live a life plagued with fears and lies. Our friends, our family, our society, our culture, our institutions, all seem to be working in close conjunction to propagate the lies that seep through our hearts and souls. We are then tainted by its touch and yet we cannot rid ourselves of its stench. It claws its way deep into our very essence. It perverts our thoughts; that which is wrong is made right, and that which is right is made wrong. Destruction lies in its wake and we, its willing vessels, are destroyed in the process. In the darkest darkness, the truth’s brief, shimmering light jars the mind and offers a completely different alternative: what if things do not have to be as they are now? What if we can change our fate? What if the details of our life are not written in stone? What if who we think we are is but a weak iteration of our true possible self? What if we are not merely victims of the capriciousness of life? What if we can be victorious instead?

The best lies are the ones we never question. Sometimes, you can talk yourself into the person that you become. Unfortunately, the words we often hear spoken over ourselves or the ones we proclaim over ourselves are not the ones we would ever want to become. The heart and mind are the greatest battle grounds we can ever face. If we win there, we win on every battle ground we can face. To lose there is to let the fears and lies reign over your life. If it is true that the best lies are the ones we never question, then it is equally true that the best truths are the ones we fought for.  That which I hold on as true cost me bruises and scars. These wounds serve as eternal reminders that the battle for truth is costly. However, the pain is worth it. It is more expensive to live a lie. Honesty is always the better policy. In fact, it should be your only policy!

It is sad to come to the realization that I believe more lies about myself than truths. It is heartbreaking to know that while I may be able to write a long list of the fears and lies I have believed in, the list is rather short on the truths I know to be true about myself. The path to finding the truth is ever fraught with obstacles. To gain Truth is both challenging and extremely liberating. Wherever you are on this journey, whether it’s in the first step of confronting the lies, or in the daily overcoming of the lies, may the Truth always encourage you and strengthen you along the Way.

Sharing is caring. Please feel free to like, RT, +1, LinkedIn this post. =) Comments are always welcome. Just remember to be nice, even if you may disagree with me or others. 

The importance of hope

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Rom. 15:13

These past couple of weeks, I have been experiencing anger. Lots and lots of anger. Specifically, I’ve been really angry at hearing how so many women have been raped or sexually assaulted. It’s hard not to hear about the horrific incident in India of how a woman was violated against her will in such a brutal fashion. Or hearing about how a 5 year old girl is now in the hospital because of some man’s heinous acts committed against her. Even within my own social circle, I have heard stories of how men have committed grievous acts against their will. My heart is not only angry, it also grieves for them. I grieve for them because I don’t ever want them to feel like they’re dirty, or that they’re now just “unwanted goods”. I don’t ever want them to feel like they’re unworthy of love or thinking that they somehow deserved it because no one EVER deserves to be treated in that way! The “if only” thoughts go into overdrive and leaves nothing but guilt and shame in its wake. I wish I could do something to make them feel better. To make the pain go away. But I am yet again reminded of the limits of my own humanity.

Last week, that feeling of hopelessness about the evils of our world was exacerbated by the Boston Marathon bombings. Lives lost. Lives forever changed in an instant. A brief moment of light and sound whose effects will reverberate for a lifetime. People running; the next moment, they are lying down on the hospital bed about to have their legs amputated. A man about to propose to the woman of her dreams at the finish line is left crumpled on the floor, willing her to life as she lies on the ground. There are no words that can capture the sense of loss and the overwhelming anger that rises after such a horrific event.

I’m glad that the God of Christianity is a God who knows what it feels like to have a son die. I’m glad that the God of Christianity is a God who knows what it’s like to be cheated or to be lied to. I’m glad that the God of Christianity is a God who can identify with victims of injustice. I’m glad because I know He understands what I’m going through. At the very least, I can never throw “You don’t understand” in His face. Because He does. He really does. And as I read the Scriptures, I am consoled by the fact that even amidst the most tragic events that we can ever experience, there is always Hope. There is hope that things can get better. There is hope that restoration is not just a far-off dream, but that it could also be a reality in our own life time. There is hope that this, too, shall pass. It may take awhile before we see the silver lining. It may take awhile before we can see its glimmer that shines ever so brightly, but so fleetingly, we wonder if we even saw it in the first place. There is hope that beauty can come from ashes. There is hope that broken things can be made whole once more. There is hope that no matter what depths of despair we may experience, joy will find us once again. There is always Hope.

The Importance of Lament – Part 2

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – Jesus, Matt. 5:4

Like so many people, I have been deeply affected upon hearing the story of Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, committing suicide. Rick Warren, in such an open and vulnerable way, shared an e-mail where he spoke about his brokenness. It was painful to read because death is always painful. I am reminded of a scene in Lord of the Rings (Two Towers) when King Theoden is at his son’s grave site and says “no parent should have to bury their child.” It is a reminder of the unspeakable anguish of what a parent feels when they lose a child.

In our culture, there is such a stigma about mental illness and suicide. These are the taboo topics that many in evangelical circles, or religious circles in general, don’t want to talk about. However, the more people don’t talk about it, the more people are forced to bear the pain alone. Losing a child is difficult (and that’s an understatement) but to heap feelings of shame and guilt on top of that doesn’t help. When someone dies from a terminal disease, we don’t deem their death as weakness or something that we must hide from others. Just because the illness happens in the brain does not make it less of an illness. I really hope and pray that our reaction to anyone’s death is one full of compassion and grief instead of sanctimonious platitudes of self-righteousness bereft of love and grace.

Death is devastating. As a Christian, it is but another reminder of the broken, fallen world that we live in. Death was not part of the original plan. It came as a result of sin. And so when we see it, our minds and our hearts are jolted back to the reality that the system is broken. While we long and yearn to see the day when there shall be no more death, that glorious day when God shall wipe away every tear from our eyes, we do not live in that dream just yet. Instead, we are thrust into living a nightmare that we cannot wake up from. And in this horrible place, we can do nothing but mourn. Mourn for the death of our loved one. Mourn for the sins of the world. Mourn for the life that is no more. Mourn for our broken dreams and shattered lives.

When we are humble enough to be honest with ourselves and with God, when we throw away our masks and in absolute nakedness present our whole selves to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Bible says that He will comfort us. He will give us consolation. He will give us a peace which passes all understanding. We cannot forget that the Lover of our soul experienced the touch of death Himself. He knows Death rather intimately. But He also knows that Death will ultimately be swallowed up by His victory. On that day, we shall rejoice more fully. However, today, when the promise of life looks bleak, He is there to hold our hands and weep with us. The tears shall pour forth. The confusion will remain.  And He will lovingly and graciously wrap His arms around us, and give us rest.

I hope and pray that we, as members of His body, would continue to lift up Rick Warren’s family in prayer. May He use us to be vessels of love, grace, and encouragement during such a time as this.

Secede in te ipsum

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I once had a blog that I titled “Secede in te ipsum”. I was reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and it was talking about the need to retreat within ourselves so that we can know ourselves.

For me, since social media plays such a big part of my life, sometimes I have to pull back so that I can have a clearer head space. My Lenten journey has been such an exercise for me. To pull away from the hustle and bustle of the virtual world so I can be a little bit closer to the real world. And not to be all esoteric, but the question of what is real becomes a very difficult question as the years go by. I feel that sometimes all the things that I view as real and important are really nothing but illusions, a shadow of something bigger and better that I am bereft of seeing. This world tells me to value “real” things – and by real, they really just mean, tangible, visible things. But sometimes, it is the invisible things that are real to me. Things I can’t see like love, justice, grace, compassion, humility, emotions. These things can definitely have its external manifestations for sure, but they’re not tangible. You can’t hold emotions in your hands. You can’t see virtues. For the most part, it’s unseen.

But these things that we can not see, they are the very thing that drives us. My fear of failure drives me to succeed. And if I have to waste my body to achieve it, so be it. I know that some people see me as successful. But whatever success I have achieved came at a cost. Bitterness, despair, lack of compassion, self-loathing, and a judgmental heart are not exactly the best side-effects of this so-called “success”. A jaded, cynical heart that looks down on others is too much of a price. It is not worth any “success” one can have.

The saddest thing in the world is to realize the success you so desperately wanted was not worth it. We need to count the cost of “success”. Perhaps, we need to re-define what success is. I know that I have had to continually revise and re-evaluate what success is to me. Before, success meant having all the luxuries that this world can offer or the high status or fame and fortune. Success meant being the best, and doing everything to make sure I am the best. While I do think that we should all strive to be the best that we can be, we must also strive not to be the best that someone else thinks we should be.

I am still on the long and painful journey of realizing that I am good enough. I must admit that the unconditional love that God offers me has been something that continually challenges me and encourages me in this journey. But, I do live in a world full of flawed human beings. It’s hard not to feel that you’re only loved conditionally by parents, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and everyone around you. It’s hard when you have viewed relationships primarily as business transactions. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. And once you stop scratching my back, well, I can find someone else who will. It’s easy to think that you’re disposable and not needed.

Maybe that’s why I keep on trying to discover what is real and what is fake. Maybe that’s why I’m trying desperately to understand what success is. Because I’m really afraid that I’m going to be an expert on illusions. I don’t want to devote my life and be someone who excelled in the trivial things of life.

I am not a failure because I’m in my 30s and not married and don’t have kids. I am not a failure because I’m not rolling in money. I am not a failure because I don’t have a job. While these things may describe my situation, it doesn’t define who I am.

As Five for Fighting says, “it’s not easy being me.” But, at the end of the day, that’s all I can be; me. I just hope I’m successful at doing that: just being me.

and scene…

Reflections on Good Friday

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A lot of the times, I really do feel that everything in Christianity is just so incredibly messed up in comparison to how the world normally works. Normally, people want to live. And yet, Jesus says that if we truly want to live, we have to die first. A lot of us would avoid pain and suffering at any cost. And yet, Jesus willingly goes to the cross. It just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe I should re-phrase that. It just doesn’t make sense in the natural order of things. Because in the heavenly order of things, it’s the only way that actually makes sense. The Bible speaks of Jesus being someone who became man and identified with humanity  so much so that we can never ever use the excuse “well, you just don’t understand” to Him. He actually does understand. Like a lot. Because he was put in the same situation as you are now in. He lived in a broken, fallen world, filled with corruption and politics (some things never change), teeming with both nice and mean people. If you think that you’re the only who was falsely accused of doing something you didn’t do, well that happened to Jesus. If you think that you’re the only who was forsaken by friends when the going got tough, that happened to Jesus too. And on the off chance that you think that you’re the only who has enemies in high places who wants you dead, yup, Jesus got that too. He identified so much with humanity, that years later, many would still deny His divinity because He wore the garment of humanity so well.

Why would the cosmic king of the universe deign to debase himself by being human? Here’s a hint: It’s the same reason why people do unbelievably crazy things for others. It’s because of love. A love that is so incomprehensible that words cannot even begin to convey what it means. Sometimes, I do think that our limbic system cannot fully understand the emotions that such love can make us feel. Our amygdala doesn’t even know how to process such a thing. (Yes, my undergrad is in Psych… lolz) That is what I am forced to wrestle with and rest in during Good Friday. I truly stand amazed that such a beautiful thing can happen through the most horrific experience. Crucifixion is right up there at the top when it comes to ways to torture people. The Romans mastered it and perfected it into an art. And through this violent and heinous act, the antithesis of Pandora’s box is opened. Whereas Pandora’s box released all manners of evil things in an otherwise perfect world, Jesus Christ’s death on the cross released love, grace, mercy, compassion, and all manners of good things in an unimaginably flawed world. This is the awesome beauty of the cross. What was meant to be a hopeless and tragic event becomes the event that would bring countless Christians hope and joy.

My friend, Renee, and I recorded a remix of a song called “Lead me to the cross”. Since it is Good Friday today, I hope that the lyrics of this song becomes the prayer of our hearts