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The Return of the Prodigal Blogger

It has been awhile since I have last blogged. I guess that’s what happens when one has to deal with conference presentations, dissertation proposals, and the looming deadline of writing the actual dissertation. But, those are all excuses. At the end of the day, I’m just bad at time management. Sigh.

Well, I’m about to embark on a vacation of sorts so I have decided to write a quick blog post to let yall know I’m still alive. But what does alive even mean? I sometimes feel that I’m barely existing. The stress of a PhD program coupled with insecurities, feelings of failure, and constant bouts of wondering if I’m good enough, can take its toll on a person. I’m feeling rather raw… and vulnerable… so this post will be about my ruminations on the topic of vulnerability.

I would say that within the last decade, the concept of being authentic and vulnerable has shaped a whole new generation. We have grown up with this constant admonition to be “authentic”, to be a person who does not change for anything or anyone. But what does that even mean? Does that mean that if you are someone with jerk ish attitudes, you should just admit that being a jerk is what makes you you and that you should not change because to change your jerk ish attitude is to be false to who you truly are? I’m sure that’s not what people mean when they talk about being authentic… and yet this can sometimes be the unintended message. Same goes with vulnerability. We are supposed to share our thoughts with no fear of any repercussions. But we all know that in the digital world we live in, every Facebook post, every tweet, every snap we send out in the virtual world can come back to haunt our analogue lives. Yet, we are supposed to not have any masks and show the world who we truly are, whatever that means.

Yet, in reality, even being authentic and vulnerable with others can be another mask we put on. It becomes another performance we enact to gain some social capital in the circles we frequent. Maybe, there is no such thing as true authenticity or true vulnerability. Without the performative aspect inherent in these two concepts, we can come across as critical and judgmental human beings whose unfiltered thoughts and views tell the world that we are selfish and unruly tyrants.

If authenticity and vulnerability are not understood within the context of a relationship, it is of no use to the unlucky recipient of these two traits. When I share something that means something profound to another person, I choose my words carefully to elicit the feelings and emotions I want my words to convey. If I share a very difficult moment in my life to my friend, I will not only give the “objective facts” of what happened but also include the “subjective feelings” I felt during said event. Failure to add the emotional context is to present a false picture of what happened. Also, because I know my friend, I will use words and concepts that s/he can relate with. If I use academic jargon that obfuscates the issue, then I have failed to be truly authentic or vulnerable. I need to let the other person know what it was like to be me, to invite them in to my personal journey, and as the story unfolds, allow them to put themselves in my shoes. Authenticity and vulnerability is not about merely stating facts, but also giving permission to the other to become you.

This is what makes authenticity and vulnerability an unbelievably scary and terrifying act. Moments of true authenticity and vulnerability is like creating a horcrux… a piece of your soul is torn from you and given to another recipient. In that authentic and vulnerable moment, this other person now has a part of yourself that exists outside of you… and this part is something that is now forever a part of both of you. Your souls have now met and are intertwined and to separate it from each other is to destroy a certain part of yourselves in the process.

Yet, to be fully human, is to be relational. We are social creatures. We cannot live in isolation, as appealing as that that thought can be. I don’t think that it is surprising that cultures all over the world always manage to form a belief system that acknowledges this universal truth. Time and time again, people come together to form societies. Time and time again, we find objects of worship. If one does not believe in an external deity, worthy to be worshipped, they create one internally and make themselves their own object of affection and worth. There is no escape from this desire to participate with another, even if the other is found in one’s own very self.

As communal creatures, we seek the other. We want the other to like us, to affirm us, to be one with us. The hard part is discerning who those people should be in our lives. We cannot be 100% authentic and vulnerable with everyone. I don’t even know if I can do that with my own self, let alone with others! But, I encourage everyone to find someone you can trust and can confide in… who will help you bear the burdens of life because we are not meant to be alone.

As a Christian, I am thankful that the Christian God is one who constantly pursues me and woos me to himself. He is like a loving father who sings over me and is like a mother hen who protects me from harm. The psalmist speaks of how “though my mother and father forsake me” the Lord our God will not leave me. There is a beauty in that kind of love. I’m thankful that this type of love is something we are all called to embody.

We live in a world where strife and hostility is our everyday reality. Amidst the hate, let us all to seek to reach out in love, even when that’s the last thing we would like to do. In these moments of loving relationships, authenticity and vulnerability can bind us together, reminding us that love can overcome hate. Love will prevail… but it will come at a cost. The cost is our decision to rid ourselves of hate and submit ourselves to the continual process of loving and loving again.

If we are being honest with ourselves, that cost is too much to handle. It is a sobering reality that we are not as compassionate as we wish we could be. But, it is only when we come to that realization that we can appreciate how courageous it is to be authentic and vulnerable. It is a helpful reminder that authenticity and vulnerability is a precious gift and it must be cherished and adored.

So go ahead… be authentic… be vulnerable. Open your heart to pain and in doing so, you open your heart to unspeakable joy.

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

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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.

 

On the importance of marriage

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Last week, I had the honour and privilege of attending the wedding of two amazing individuals, Peter (Mahaffey) and Gracie (Villanueva). I have been to a lot of weddings but this wedding definitely stood out. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wedding before where God was the underlying theme of the whole ceremony to begin with. I have been to Christian weddings before but there was something different about this one. Sometimes, I feel like God becomes a tag line in a wedding ceremony. The whole event is centered on the bride and groom and if God makes an appearance, it’s a brief cameo to bless their union. This time around, it seems that the event was built around the theme of God’s love instead of the love of the bride and groom. As a Christian, it was quite jarring and convicting. So this is what it looks like to have God be the center of a marriage, I found myself thinking.

During the speech, Gracie’s mom said something to the effect that their prayer that day was for God to be glorified during the wedding. I think I’m more used to prayers about how God should bless the couple’s lives rather than prayers that God would be honoured. It was one of those “really?!?” moments. While the sentiment expressed isn’t exactly revolutionary, I guess what surprised me was that she actually meant it. She really wanted the focus to be on God and not on the bride and groom. I think that really shocked me since I haven’t seen it before. During the numerous speeches, the one common thing was their constant reference to God’s love and God’s hand in bringing these two people together. It was so God-centered, I was quite taken aback.

I think that’s the one thing that people forget about marriage. Marriage is the most intimate picture we have of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. In the Old Testament, God’s relationship to Israel was often framed within a marriage context. Marriage is a beautiful picture of the divine love God has with His people. Throughout the Scriptures, we see a God who pursues His bride relentlessly. Even when the bride strays and becomes unfaithful to Him, still God woos her back to Himself. It is a picture of constant patience, grace, mercy, compassion and love to someone who, in fact, does not deserve a single ounce of any of these attributes. Even when the Brides gives the Groom a reason to leave because of her imperfections, the Groom not only stays faithful to her, but also goes out of His way to redeem the broken relationship. What a beautiful picture of heaven on earth!

What is marriage if not another way of presenting the gospel to the world? It is a proclamation of the good news that Christ brought to our world. It brings a man and a woman together while boldly challenging our individualistic culture and loudly proclaims that they are more than ok to be seen as one in the sight of men and God. It is another visible reminder that a proper marriage must properly have God in the center. It is a tangible expression of God’s love as expressed on earth.

To Peter and Gracie, I hope and pray that you would continue to walk in the ways of the Lord your God. Continue to esteem each other better than yourselves. May you daily submit your bodies and your lives wholly and completely to the wonderful and compassionate God who created you and brought you two together in His love and grace. It was an honour to be a witness to your beautiful union.

Secede in te ipsum

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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

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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