Lenten Journey 2018


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.


Theology Thursday – Lenten Reflections, Part II


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


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.


A Lenten Poem


The sky darkening
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.


Secede in te ipsum


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


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


And now the end is near…

This Easter Sunday, my fasting from meat and social media will finally be over. It has been a challenging experience, to say the least. As much as I am looking forward to it, I must say that it was a really good experience. I think the reason why I like fasting from different things in my life is because somehow I need to prove to myself that I can live without all the things that I think are “necessary”. I didn’t die from not being connected to social media 24/7. I didn’t die from not eating meat. Sure, it was inconvenient at times, but it was not as dire as I thought it would be. It’s amazing how “normal” things can be even if I wasn’t on FB and Twitter every second. I didn’t really feel like I super missed out on things. And I’m sure that my battery life also lasted longer because I wasn’t using my data all the time lolz.

Life goes on. The things that we thought we could NEVER live without isn’t as true as we thought it would be. We move on. We discover a new normal. We discover a new way of going through the journey. I really needed to remember that and remind myself of that. Not everything is all good or all bad. At times,  I find myself constantly trying to straddle that middle ground between idealism and pessimism. My boss called me to let me know that the store I’m currently employed at will be closing by the end of the month. The next day, I got a call saying I got accepted in the Ph.D. program. And that’s life. Sometimes you’re on an incredible low, and then the next, on an incredible high. It’s important not to lose sight out of the bigger picture. However, I know it’s really easy to get stuck looking at the individual pixels, which by themselves mean nothing, but when seen from afar, you start seeing the pattern of an image. You can get stuck just looking at the finest detail and miss out on the fact that you’re looking at a gorgeous picture.

Fasting during this Lenten season reminds me that each thread leads to a great pattern. Each thread weaves itself into the grander picture. I need to stop examining each thread as if it would yield answers all by itself. Each thread will only mean something when seen properly. And it can only be seen properly when we see the pattern through heaven’s eyes.

and scene…