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!

Tunes for Tuesday – Dan Auerbach (Goin’ Home)

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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.

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

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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.

#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.

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!

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.

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.