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Meditations on love

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For the last couple of months, I’ve been really thinking about the concept of love. A couple of months ago, a close family friend of ours passed away. She was a woman who loved God and loved others. It was so touching to hear so many stories of how her love touched the lives of so many. During the service, there was something that was said that in many ways made me contemplate more about love. She loved others even though at times, that love was not reciprocated. Yet, despite of this, she still continued to love. It was a reminder, yet again, to me of the unconditional aspect of love that Christ has called us to show to the world. When you see this kind of love, it really is an awesome thing to behold.

We live in a world where love is often over-sentimentalized or treated as this abstract concept that we should all try to attain. However, I think we often forget how true love is tangible and experiential. True love – the love that the Bible speaks of, the love that God exemplifies – is marked by words and deeds and not merely thoughts and good intentions. The Scriptures best captures this thought in this way: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9) The love of God was made manifest through a tangible act. It was not enough to have feelings of love towards humanity… it was made manifest by sending his only Son “to be the propitiation for our sins”. (1 John 4:10) And if it stopped there, that would have been amazing. But, it continues on to say that, “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) And that’s when things become difficult for me. 

Thinking that God loves me and that this type of love is tangible and experiential is great. Who doesn’t want to be loved like that? Over the years, I have felt and experienced the love of God in my life for which I can say that I am so blessed and thankful for. But it doesn’t stop there. This love that God has shown me is the same type of love that I am called to show to others too. In fact, the Scriptures are quite insistent that we cannot say “I love God” without “I love others” in the same breath. If I don’t love my brothers and sisters in Christ whom I can see and experience in the flesh, how can I say that I love a God whom I cannot see?

It’s easy to love when the person you are dealing with is likable, charming, and non-confrontational all the time. But, let’s be real, those people never exist in real life. If you’re a human being and we have any form of interaction with one another, there is a high chance that prolonged exposures will lead to one party being offended by the other because of something the other person did or did not do. The people closest to me are the ones who actually hurt me the most. People say things and do things that can offend us. If they don’t, I truly wonder how much of that is because of a very strong people-pleasing attitude. Can we love someone who has hurt us deeply? Can we love someone who has not shown any sign of love towards us that we can perceive? Maybe. For a short time anyways. But an enduring love for others, that self-sacrificial love that God shows us and continues to show us on a daily basis even after we have offended him… probably not.

God is love. The love that I speak of can only come from God and because God is the source of true love, it cannot be truly experienced outside of God. We cannot will this kind of love from ourselves. We can try to replicate it, and for a time, it may even work… but it is not sustainable. That’s how you can discern whether it is real or it is fake. It is a humbling thing to recognize and realize. I think we all want to be known as loving people. But let’s be real, loving others in that unconditional, self-sacrificial way is frankly exhausting. The faster we realize that we can’t do it on our own and how badly we need help, the easier it is to show this type of love that will cost us everything. When you know that you’re in the right and the other person is in the wrong, and that other person hasn’t even recognized that they are wrong, let alone ask forgiveness from their wrong, true love says it doesn’t matter. You still have to love. Before someone completely misunderstands what I mean, I will say that there is a time and place for correction in love. Loving someone does not mean that you can’t tell them about how their actions are not the right options. However, the manner in which one approaches a sensitive issue matters.

Our current political and social climate has not been the best environment for love to be fostered and nourished. Instead, fear seems to be the primary motivator. Changes and transitions in our culture can often lead to feelings of tumult and mayhem. I have seen this us-vs-them mentality becoming stronger everyday. Even among evangelical Christians, I hear their fear in their voices when speaking of where we are as a society. No one is exempt. Yet, the Bible is clear that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)

And so I am reminded yet again of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” I think about the true love that Jesus shows to the poor and marginalized and I am convicted that I do not do the same. I think about the true love that he showed even to those who would seek to do him harm and I am convicted that I do not do the same. It has often boggled my mind how easy it is for some of us to think the other as a heretic or misguided when that same inclination is also true of us. (Question: how many read that line and thought “uh oh, sounds like someone drank the poison of relativism lately”? Do not worry, dear reader. I will let you know that this has been addressed by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords Himself in Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”) 

I think that’s why true love is so difficult to achieve apart from God. For true love to exist, we need to have an attitude of humility. However, we cannot have an attitude of humility without the acknowledgement of our position as a creature and God’s position as creator. Once that is firmly established in our hearts and minds, it will provide the proper soil for true love to live. The thought that I must “in humility count others more significant than myself” can be difficult. Pride reigns in this sinful heart of mine. More and more, I am compelled to remind myself of John the Baptist’s words: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Without God, this whole showing true love experiment is not going to work out. With God, the possibilities of how this true love can be shown through our lives is limitless.

 

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Lenten Journey 2018

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Lent 2018 started this February 14. The fact that Ash Wednesday also fell on Valentine’s Day wasn’t lost on me. Both dates basically meant the same to me anyways: death to self. Last year, I fasted from social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, BBM, and WhatsApp) and carbs. This year, I’m continuing the trend of fasting from social media, but I have also added fasting from people, entertainment, and bitterness. Fasting from people means that I can only hang out with people twice a week. Any time I ask someone to hang out with me or if others invite me to hang out with them, that would count as hanging out. However, if I was isolating myself, I have to force myself to hang out. Going to the gym or my discipleship meetings wouldn’t count. I have a bad relationship with people. I tend to find my validation from people and that’s not a good thing. In so doing, I have a tendency to swing to either extremes of wanting their validation to completely avoiding people. Fasting from entertainment means that I am only allowed 2 hours or two episodes or one movie per day. This is to prevent me from binge watching on Netflix. Fasting from bitterness means I’m going to have a 5 minute rule. I may not be able to control my bitter reaction to something happening. But, after 5 minutes, I can choose to either continue feeling bitter or find a solution and let it go. My goal is to let go of bitterness every time I have the option of doing so.

I sometimes ask myself why I have this tendency to make my life a living hell by trying to do all of these hard things. I think a huge part of it is that I actually love Lent. Lent is one of the few times I have where I can have a prolonged reflection on the love of Christ and my desire to be more like him. I’m not perfect but I would like to be. I don’t mean perfect in the normal way we normally think of perfect though. I mean it more in a “I want to be whole” sense. I tend to live a fragmented, compartmentalized life. I’m trying to gather all the pieces and make it come together in some form of harmony.

About three weeks into this prolonged reflection, I feel rather disconnected from the world. Being away from social media, I have this feeling that I don’t know what’s going on anymore. In some ways, it has been difficult. In some ways, it is a reminder about the illusion of closeness that social media can have on my life. Just because I know what you did or what you ate does not mean I know what’s actually going on with you. I’m reminded to not settle for superficiality.

In some ways, I’ve also felt a sense of pride and empowerment. It’s nice to know that I have been able to resist going back to social media even though there’s a part of me that wants to quit every day. However, there’s also another part of me that is starting to be okay with the not knowing what’s going on around me. If it’s worth knowing, I’ll know it. Or at least I try to tell that to myself.

I’m looking forward to the lessons this Lenten season will teach me. I feel that I’m only just scratching the surface about what this time of preparation and rejuvenation can and will bring.

I look forward to knowing what happens when I let things go.

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Hello 2018… it’s me.

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Last year, I wrote a blog post about how my 2017 goal was to learn how to love myself. A year later, as I reflect on 2017 and what has happened, I am forced to face the fact that I failed miserably in achieving this goal. There’s a part of me that wished I didn’t make the goal to begin with. The rationale is that if I didn’t make a goal, then there’s no possible way that I can fail. Thinking back, I’m actually happy I made that goal, even if I did fail. It was in thinking and meditating upon that failure that has brought me to my 2018 goal. For 2018, my goal is to accept my humanity. Maybe it was too much of a big jump for me to love myself when I can’t even begin to be ok with myself. There is too much self-loathing in my daily life. I really don’t like myself. I don’t like the way I look. I don’t like the way I talk. I don’t like the way I move. I don’t like the way I think. I don’t like the way I feel. There’s virtually nothing in my life that I’m even remotely close to saying I like. And that’s a problem. The problem is that I’m so busy trying to be like other people, I can’t/don’t even know what it’s like to be me. I hate my flaws. I think it’s normal to hate one’s flaws but when every single part of you is deemed to be flawed, then what is there to love? However, it always amazes me that the very things that I hate about myself are the very things that people love about me. I hate the fact that I’m extraverted. It makes me think and feel that no one takes me seriously because I have a cheerful demeanour. And yet, my friends love the fact that I enjoy people and my outgoing personality. I hate that I feel too much and too deeply. And yet, my friends love the fact that they can always come to me with their problems and feel loved. The very things that I despise most about myself are the very things that define and make me who I am. I’m obsessed with perfection but I think I have gotten perfection completely wrong. In the Scriptures, the term meant complete. I need to be a whole person. Part of being a whole person is realizing my own strengths and weaknesses and quite honestly, being the best me I could be. Perfect doesn’t mean to have Zac Efron’s six pack abs, or the Rock’s bulging biceps, or the spirituality of a theologian like St. Gregory of Nyssa or the mysticism of someone like Teresa of Avila. Perfect is being the best version of who I can possibly be.

I know that it will be a challenge to be okay with my imperfections. I need to learn how to be okay with my humanity. I need to be okay with not being “perfect”. I need to be okay with being me. Perhaps, this is the stepping stone I need to learn how to love myself.

Dear 2018, let’s do this.

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Reflections on #metoo

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I was sitting down at Second Cup. She sat beside me. I was angry. I was sad. I was heartbroken. I wanted to punch someone. I wanted to hug her and tell her everything will be better. I wanted to weep because I know that not everything will be better.

She was at a party and a person she trusted took advantage of her.

I was on the phone talking to her. The same feelings I had came rushing in again. This time, it was a stranger who took advantage of her. I was furious.

Taken advantage. Had his way with her. Sometimes, we use euphemisms because we cannot handle the full weight of certain words.

Sexual harassment. Sexual assault. Rape.

The sad part is that her story is not new. I have been blessed with being surrounded by amazing women whom I have the honour and privilege of calling friends. And I have heard their stories. And it breaks my heart. A friend of mine had a first date with someone who touched her inappropriately and forced himself on her. What bothers me is that unfortunately, this has become such a norm that at first, she didn’t agree with me, when I said that the guy sexually assaulted her. “He’s just handsy,” or “he’s just horny,” becomes a familiar refrain.

Recently, on Facebook and Twitter, the hashtag #metoo has been trending and reading the stories of so many women I know and admire and care for has been both infuriating and heartbreaking. No one should ever endure that. No one should ever be touched in such a way that it violates their personhood.

So many women I know have suffered some degree of sexual violence. But I know that there are also a lot of men who have had to suffer in silence because of the sexual violence inflicted upon them. There are so many in the LGBTQ+ community where sexual violence is a daily reality.

There’s a scene in the movie “Mad Max: Fury Road” that has stuck with me ever since I saw it. It haunts me. On the walls are the words “We are not things.” It struck me because too often, we don’t value other people as human beings. We don’t see them as someone who has hopes and dreams and fears, just like us. We see them instead as tools to be used for our benefit.

This mentality lends itself to people using human beings as tools to achieve their pleasure. And let’s be real… the majority of the people who commit sex crimes are men. The rape culture that has unfortunately pervaded most of our society has allowed men to get away with a lot of things. By normalizing sexual deviancy, victims are made to feel like they’re the crazy ones for seeing sexually deviant acts as wrong. They’re made to feel as if they’re over reacting or their accusations are untrue or trivial.

When they finally decide to speak up, too often their perpetrators suffer no consequences for their action. The police are still working on my friend’s rape case. He works at Parliament Hill. The case is not advancing. The justice system often fails the very people they are supposed to protect. It’s no wonder that many women are silent. When they are already suspicious that nothing will happen and they hear a story of a woman who actually went to the police and receives the treatment she is currently receiving, it doesn’t help.

My Facebook timeline is filled with stories from women I know who have been on the receiving end of a crime. And it hurts my heart to read their stories. I wish I could give each and every one of you a hug and to let you know that I am so proud of you. I’m proud of you because I know how hard it is to tell others about what happened. I’m proud of you because it takes a lot of courage to overcome the shame that often accompanies such acts. I’m proud of you because vulnerability is one of the most bravest things you can do.

I’m grateful for people like you who encourage and empower others to do the same.

I long for the day when we would never hear of such crimes ever being committed. But until then, we need to change the world we live in. Men, we need to make sure that other men know it’s wrong to treat women as objects. When we are in our “Guys Night” events, we need to make sure that we let other men know that we will not laugh at jokes that seek to demean women or objectify them. We need to teach our children that girls are capable of anything and everything. We should not allow boys to grow up thinking that they’re better than girls because of the simple fact that they’re boys.

Until then, let us listen to the voices of those who are oppressed. Let us weep with them and mourn with them in the hopes that one day, we can also rejoice with them when the day of justice is at hand and when injustice is no more.

 

 

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Thanksgiving 2017

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I started the year with the desire to be better. I wanted to learn how to love myself. I’m not sure if I have done a great job of that. But I am thankful that I at least acknowledge the problem and wanted to make the necessary steps to achieve this goal. I think I’m slowly being more ok with myself. I’m not quite at the loving phase but I think I’ve been less resentful of myself. Baby steps I guess.

This year has been a whirlwind. I can’t believe that in a few months, it’s almost Christmas. I can’t believe that another year is almost over. I honestly don’t know how I feel about that. But I don’t want to think too much about the future that I forget the here and now. I want to live in the present.

And in this present, I just want to express my heartfelt gratitude. I am thankful for my family who supports me and my friends who continually encourage me. The PhD life is lonely and isolating. I’m thankful for people like Renee Robinson whose friendship over the years has brought so much laughter and joy in my life, for people like Justin Roberts who has this ability to speak into my life like no one can, for people like Josh Heath who continually challenges me to become a better man of God both physically and spiritually, for people like Josh Janzen whose desire to live a godly life is commendable, for people like David Fuller who has this keen awareness of how I’m doing, it’s uncanny, for people like Don Springer who always takes me out and talk about what’s bothering me when he senses that things are off, for people like Michelle Daniel who takes the initiative to reach out to me to make sure that I’m ok, for people like Sandi Hicks who may live in another province yet never fails to check up on me to see how I’m doing, for people like Rose-Ingrid Gracia who is living out her dreams and inspires me to do the same, for people like Lea Marte whose kindness and generosity towards people who are undeserving always convicts me to do the same, for people like James Lucas whose friendship over the years has never wavered. And there are so many others whose names aren’t mentioned here who encourage me, inspire me, exhort me, and challenge me to think properly about myself and who love me not in spite of me, but because of me.

Thanksgiving Week may be over but I would like to make sure that my attitude of thanksgiving keeps on going.

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Back to School

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I can’t believe I’m entering my fifth year of Ph.D. Has it really been this long? After finishing two years of course work, passing my comprehensive exams, modern language exam, and having my dissertation proposal accepted, I’m now in the process of actually writing my dissertation. To say that it has been an arduous journey is an understatement. It has been a difficult process. Sometimes, it can be easy to start thinking that one hasn’t accomplished anything worthwhile. Being in school for this long can sometimes make you feel that way. Recently, I was revising my CV and it was nice to see that I’m not as useless as I feel. It’s crazy to see the number of conference presentations I have been able to attend over the last number of years. It’s also been humbling that I’m in the process of working on some writing projects that I am considering submitting for publication. Seriously, I sometimes ask “Is this real life?” How did I get here?

I admit that I’m tired. I don’t really feel super refreshed heading into this school year. However, I am thankful to have people in my life whose presence refreshes me. Their words are often a balm to my soul and gives strength to my weary bones. I’m in the process of establishing a sustainable work schedule that seeks to address my whole being as a person. That means working out, hanging out with people and trying not to talk about school all the time, spending time with God, enjoying art… well, at least that’s the hope.

Here’s to another year of hopes, dreams, and lots of hustling. Looking forward to what the future has in store.

 

 

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On the importance of community

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Last week, I went to Boston to learn and fellowship with other like-minded and like-hearted individuals. Honestly, it is such a balm to the soul to get together with these people. The friendships made from going there for the last three years has been truly a blessing to me.

Every time I go there, there’s a joy and expectation of great things to come. This year, the two courses I attended were “The Lord’s Prayer in the Patristic Tradition” and “Taming the thoughts: Ascesis in the Monastic Writings.” I had the honour and privilege of being a teaching fellow for “Taming the thoughts” and for good reason… I needed to learn how to tame my thoughts! I have noticed that my focus has been waning. My thoughts wander too easily and I find myself distracted way too often. One of the reasons why I decided to enter seminary was to heed the Shema “Love the Lord your God with all your mind…” I wanted to know what that meant and what that looked like in my life. It has been a very long and sometimes, I feel, fruitless journey.

Enter the Desert Fathers. I have been fascinated by the Desert Fathers for awhile now. I have the utmost respect and admiration for people who decided that the noise was too much so they had to flee to the desert to get the calm they have been yearning for. I admire the monks who either solitarily, or in community, purposefully separated themselves from the world’s systems to establish their own system to prepare themselves for the world to come. Over the years, I have grown to love these people who revolted against the system and want to hear what they have to say.

And boy do they have a lot to say! They remind me to always be aware of what I’m thinking and how my thinking affects me. As the Oracle of Delphi says, “Know thyself.” They constantly hammer home the reality that we often do not know ourselves and it is to our own detriment and demise if we do not change that reality. So many of us live in the past or live in the future with no thought of the present. Yet it is our present that in many ways define our past and forge the future we are headed towards. To live in the here and now is an ability that I am not good at. I would like to think that I’m getting better at being present… but there’s always room for improvement.

I’m thankful to have other people around me who are willing to study various texts and hear what they have to say. Learning should always be done in community. It’s always a humbling and precious feeling to know so many amazing people who are so smart and so willing to share of their knowledge and wisdom.

Looking forward to next year!