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.

“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.

Theology Thursday – Lenten Reflections, Part I

lent

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.

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!

phd

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.

Monday Musings – Living with Conflict

conflict

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

hope

“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

doubt

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.