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New Year, New Me?

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2017 has come upon us. I remember January 1 as if it was just yesterday. I was full of hope, full of expectations, full of the thrill of the unknown. I really wanted this year to be different from last year. 2016 was not the best year for me. It was full of stress… well, more stress than usual. I found myself in a mental and spiritual space that was not the best. It was suffocating, it was unnerving, it was challenging. I isolated myself from others because… well, because I found it easier to stop caring. I’m an extraverted person and I definitely put myself out there. I care about others and as much as possible, I try to support others especially when they’re going through a difficult time. But there comes a point when you realize that when it is your turn to need help, it seems as if there is no one there. No one’s got my back, so to speak. Of course, this may, or may not be the actual case. I wouldn’t want to categorically say that I didn’t have friends who tried to reach out to me or were supportive during this time. However, perception is reality. Unfortunately, this was the reality I lived in.

As time progressed, I definitely got out of that horrible space. I was happy to be rid of 2016, with all of its hurts and pains. I was ready to shed the old Sid and was preparing for the new Sid of 2017.

Not even a fortnight and I seem to be back in the same, old patterns. In some ways, I’m not surprised. It’s a bit ridiculous and overly optimistic to think that the simple passage of time will bring about the necessary changes in my life. Maybe 2017 is the year of acceptance. I need to accept who I am (whatever that means!) and that whatever answer I find to that question, that I would know that I am accepted and loved by me. I think most of my life has been about trying to find love in all the wrong places. I want to be loved by others. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, there is something fundamentally wrong about not being able to love yourself.

Loving one’s self has been an arduous and tumultuous journey. I don’t know why it’s easy for me to look past other people’s flaws and failures, but can’t seem to let go of my own. I think it’s easier for me to believe that no one can love me than to believe the opposite. There are times when I would be walking and unintentionally catch the reflection of myself in the mirror and wonder why I’m still around. I feel like a waste of space… that my very being is consuming precious oxygen that should probably go to someone else who is more worthy or deserving of it than me. Or, that my physical appearance is so ugly or my voice is such a torture to be heard by those around me that I wonder why they tolerate my presence. Sometimes, I even wish that I was anorexic or bulimic so that I could have a skinnier body so that I don’t have to hear one more negative comment about my weight from family and friends. Trust me, I know how destructive these thoughts are… and how they are lies that I choose to believe. But when you are constantly fighting to believe the good about your self, it’s a little bit easier to go back to your default mode of self-loathing and self-hatred.

Here’s hoping that 2017 will be the year that I can learn how to truly love my self. I want to be able to see myself through the lens of my friends who have told me how smart I am, how kind I am, how amazing I am, or how good-looking I am. (Apparently, I made it to a friend’s top ten list hahaha) Most importantly, I want to be able to see myself through the lens of a Father who loves me and cares for me. He sees me as the apple of His eye and someone who is a co-heir of Christ. He sees me as someone who is precious in His sight.

I’m not going to lie, I am a bit skeptical that I will get that far. But, at the very least, I’m going to make the important baby step to move forward in that direction.

Let’s do this, 2017!

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Back to School

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It’s weird to think that I’m entering my fourth year of Ph.D. studies. I feel like it was only yesterday when I was starting this journey full of hope, dreams, nervousness, anxiety, trepidation and excitement. It’s one of those moments where you are just stunned that you’re actually living the dream. You’ve dreamt of this moment and now it’s finally here and you are in it and it is just so dang surreal. Questions of how did I get here and am I good enough to make it swirl in your head. The answers shall reveal themselves in due time. But for now, all you have is the now and it is intoxicatingly refreshing.

Four years later, fatigue takes over and one feels like almost fainting. The end is both so near and yet so far. I have realized things about myself that I haven’t known before. I am amazed at the opportunities I have been given and it is truly astounding to me that I get to do what I do. I remember guest lecturing at a class taught by my supervisor and seeing faces that I have gotten to know during the school year and I’m thinking how in the world did I get here? Am I actually standing here and teaching these students? Recently, my paper was accepted for SBL (Society for Biblical Literature) and I will be heading to San Antonio, Texas this November to present my paper. And I’m struck yet again by that question of how did I get here? You go to these conferences and you look around and you see all these presenters and wonder if you’ll ever get to that point in your own academic career when you’ll be the one presenting at these fancy conferences… and then next thing you know, you’re doing exactly just that.

I have also been able to meet and develop friendships that have changed me. I’m thankful for my workout buddies who have played such an instrumental role in my consistency in going to the gym these last two years. I’m thankful for roommates who have given me the opportunity to practice patience and mercy lolz I’m thankful for family and friends who have seen the journey that I am in and have chosen to walk alongside me to encourage me and strengthen me. I am truly amazed at how blessed I am to know and have so many stand up people in my life.

About five years ago, I had coffee with my supervisor and asked him if he was willing to take me in as one of his doctoral students. You always hope for a yes but until you ask, you don’t know what they will say. Thankfully, he said yes and the rest, as they say, is history. (If you didn’t get that joke, I don’t even know if you know me at all!) I wouldn’t be where I am today without his supervision and encouragement. It’s great to know someone is on your side and will be there to support you and champion you, instead of trying to make your life a living hell. I’ve heard horrible stories with grad students and their supervisors… it is tough out there if you feel like you have to compete with your supervisor.

I’m truly thankful that I get to do what I get to do. I know I complain and grumble a lot about the amount of work I have to do. However, amidst the difficulties, I realize and acknowledge how truly blessed I am to be able to do what I am doing. Four years later, I’m still the same student who walked into Orientation Day, somewhat dazed and confused, wondering what the future holds. I have no clue what tomorrow may bring but I do know Who holds my tomorrow. And for that I am eternally thankful.

 

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Community and Belonging: Pappas Patristic Institute Summer Program 2016

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Last week, I had the great opportunity and privilege to participate as a Teaching Fellow for the Pappas Patristic Institute’s summer program. I was there last year and enjoyed my time so I came back for another year. There’s a certain feeling of home when I enter the Hellenic College Holy Cross campus. I come from an evangelical background and yet, in many ways, I feel more at home in this Greek Orthodox setting than in an evangelical church context. Perhaps, it is because I’m surrounded by people coming from diverse backgrounds. I have friends coming from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Methodist, Baptist, and other Christian traditions. Despite our different backgrounds, we are all united in our desire to learn from, and understand, the words of wisdom handed down to us by our spiritual ancestors. It’s a little taste of heaven on earth! There were 12 (!!!) courses to choose from this year and trust me, it was a struggle because I wanted to go to every one of them! This year, I took “The Gospel of Matthew in the Patristic Tradition” taught by Dr. Brian Matz (Fontbonne) and “The Theology and Hermeneutics of Irenaeus of Lyons taught by Dr. David Jorgensen (Colby College).

As we studied together, I was reminded that there is nothing new under the sun. We are not the first society to deal with the problem of evil, of violence, of discord, of natural calamities, of economic injustices, of competing biblical interpretations, etc. The words of the ancients, written so long ago, still have the power to touch and transform us because there are some truths that can stand the test of time. As we look at the text, argue about how we should understand it, talk about the social context in which they lived in, we are left forever humbled and changed by it. Personally speaking, I just find it so refreshing to have the level of conversations I have had with everyone. If you want to be smart, surround yourself with smarter people than you. I have definitely been a believer of that advice and this week, I definitely got smarter as I interacted with such amazing minds. I think it is hilarious that whenever there was any debate in terms of trying to understand a certain passage, the admonition to “look at what it says in Greek” becomes the call we all heed. And maybe that’s what I enjoyed the most about this group of people who gathered together to learn from the Church Fathers… we came to learn from the text and we want to know what the text means. Any interpretation we may have concerning the text is first and foremost based on the text. The text is the ultimate control of any interpretation. Too often, I am around people who have Scriptural interpretations that do not take into account the whole of the Scriptures. For once, I am with people who acknowledge the primacy of the text over our own interpretations. There’s something beautiful about that. It becomes less a debate about ideas of what we think the text is about but actually debate about what the text is trying to say. I cannot tell you how beautiful it is to have that type of learning environment. We spend time looking at the text, mulling over the text, digesting the text, and just eating it up. To say that it was fulfilling cannot fully capture the feeling.

At the end of the day, any organization is really less about the program, but more about the people. I am thankful for the leadership of Dr. Bruce Beck in organizing this week of awesomeness. In many ways, his belief that it is important to learn as a community is reflected in how he has organized this program and its outcome. I’m blessed to get to know so many awesome people over the past 2 years. These people are legit smart and I can’t help but feel dumb around them because they’re so smart. Even though they’re smart, they are also the funnest and friendliest people I have ever met. Definitely came out of it feeling spiritually refreshed, rejuvenated, and replenished. Looking forward to next year!

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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?