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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.

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When Enough is Enough

depression

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

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

 

 

Safi*

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

Wondering

Waiting

 Wishing

Why?

Why can’t I change?

The destruction you leave behind in your wake knows no bounds

It is true what they say

The ones you love are the ones you hurt the most

She turns to look at you

For the last time

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

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

Just another broken relationship

In a long line of broken relationships

Broken hearts

Broken promises

Broken lives

You wonder

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

Is it but heartache and pain?

You wait

You wait for healing that does not come

Is it for everyone but me?

You wish

You wish that things were different

Is it futile to hope for a better future?

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

*Safi is a Moroccan word meaning “enough”

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When suicide strikes too close to home…

depression

 

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

the dark passenger
 

scream, cry, numb

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

until i am lost, never to be found.

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

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

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

dating

 

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

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

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

Our conversation break down looks like this.

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

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

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

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

Friend: You have too many deal breakers.

Me: I know, I know. I’m trying, ok.

Laughter ensues.

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

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

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

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

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syriachild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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#tbt – Finding the voice within

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

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

frustrated_writer_boy-225x162

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust me, you’re going to love it.

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#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.

shame

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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I. AM. CANADIAN.

ottawastrong

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

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

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

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

God keep our land, glorious and free.