Featured

Meditations on love

love

For the last couple of months, I’ve been really thinking about the concept of love. A couple of months ago, a close family friend of ours passed away. She was a woman who loved God and loved others. It was so touching to hear so many stories of how her love touched the lives of so many. During the service, there was something that was said that in many ways made me contemplate more about love. She loved others even though at times, that love was not reciprocated. Yet, despite of this, she still continued to love. It was a reminder, yet again, to me of the unconditional aspect of love that Christ has called us to show to the world. When you see this kind of love, it really is an awesome thing to behold.

We live in a world where love is often over-sentimentalized or treated as this abstract concept that we should all try to attain. However, I think we often forget how true love is tangible and experiential. True love – the love that the Bible speaks of, the love that God exemplifies – is marked by words and deeds and not merely thoughts and good intentions. The Scriptures best captures this thought in this way: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9) The love of God was made manifest through a tangible act. It was not enough to have feelings of love towards humanity… it was made manifest by sending his only Son “to be the propitiation for our sins”. (1 John 4:10) And if it stopped there, that would have been amazing. But, it continues on to say that, “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) And that’s when things become difficult for me. 

Thinking that God loves me and that this type of love is tangible and experiential is great. Who doesn’t want to be loved like that? Over the years, I have felt and experienced the love of God in my life for which I can say that I am so blessed and thankful for. But it doesn’t stop there. This love that God has shown me is the same type of love that I am called to show to others too. In fact, the Scriptures are quite insistent that we cannot say “I love God” without “I love others” in the same breath. If I don’t love my brothers and sisters in Christ whom I can see and experience in the flesh, how can I say that I love a God whom I cannot see?

It’s easy to love when the person you are dealing with is likable, charming, and non-confrontational all the time. But, let’s be real, those people never exist in real life. If you’re a human being and we have any form of interaction with one another, there is a high chance that prolonged exposures will lead to one party being offended by the other because of something the other person did or did not do. The people closest to me are the ones who actually hurt me the most. People say things and do things that can offend us. If they don’t, I truly wonder how much of that is because of a very strong people-pleasing attitude. Can we love someone who has hurt us deeply? Can we love someone who has not shown any sign of love towards us that we can perceive? Maybe. For a short time anyways. But an enduring love for others, that self-sacrificial love that God shows us and continues to show us on a daily basis even after we have offended him… probably not.

God is love. The love that I speak of can only come from God and because God is the source of true love, it cannot be truly experienced outside of God. We cannot will this kind of love from ourselves. We can try to replicate it, and for a time, it may even work… but it is not sustainable. That’s how you can discern whether it is real or it is fake. It is a humbling thing to recognize and realize. I think we all want to be known as loving people. But let’s be real, loving others in that unconditional, self-sacrificial way is frankly exhausting. The faster we realize that we can’t do it on our own and how badly we need help, the easier it is to show this type of love that will cost us everything. When you know that you’re in the right and the other person is in the wrong, and that other person hasn’t even recognized that they are wrong, let alone ask forgiveness from their wrong, true love says it doesn’t matter. You still have to love. Before someone completely misunderstands what I mean, I will say that there is a time and place for correction in love. Loving someone does not mean that you can’t tell them about how their actions are not the right options. However, the manner in which one approaches a sensitive issue matters.

Our current political and social climate has not been the best environment for love to be fostered and nourished. Instead, fear seems to be the primary motivator. Changes and transitions in our culture can often lead to feelings of tumult and mayhem. I have seen this us-vs-them mentality becoming stronger everyday. Even among evangelical Christians, I hear their fear in their voices when speaking of where we are as a society. No one is exempt. Yet, the Bible is clear that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)

And so I am reminded yet again of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” I think about the true love that Jesus shows to the poor and marginalized and I am convicted that I do not do the same. I think about the true love that he showed even to those who would seek to do him harm and I am convicted that I do not do the same. It has often boggled my mind how easy it is for some of us to think the other as a heretic or misguided when that same inclination is also true of us. (Question: how many read that line and thought “uh oh, sounds like someone drank the poison of relativism lately”? Do not worry, dear reader. I will let you know that this has been addressed by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords Himself in Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”) 

I think that’s why true love is so difficult to achieve apart from God. For true love to exist, we need to have an attitude of humility. However, we cannot have an attitude of humility without the acknowledgement of our position as a creature and God’s position as creator. Once that is firmly established in our hearts and minds, it will provide the proper soil for true love to live. The thought that I must “in humility count others more significant than myself” can be difficult. Pride reigns in this sinful heart of mine. More and more, I am compelled to remind myself of John the Baptist’s words: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Without God, this whole showing true love experiment is not going to work out. With God, the possibilities of how this true love can be shown through our lives is limitless.

 

Advertisements
Featured

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.

Featured

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?

Featured

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

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.

 

Featured

“We found friends in a hopeless place” – The Grad Student Life

grouppic

This September, I entered my third year of Ph.D. studies. I can’t believe how that is happening! Time flies when you’re having fun … or so stressed out you no longer have the energy to mark the passage of time in the first place. There comes a point when I have lived from one paper to another. Writing furiously to finish one paper only to have enough time to start writing furiously for another paper. Deadlines rule my schedule. Sleep becomes a luxury. Amidst the busyness of life, it’s easy for the social life to go as well.

The problem is I’m an extravert. I need people. People give me energy. From time to time, I admit that I can go into hermit mode and lock myself away from people… but that’s not the ideal. Over the years, I have learned that I can’t allow myself to neglect the social aspect of life. It’s easy… so easy… but it is not the ideal path.

We are social creatures. We need each other. Community is very important. Oftentimes, it is when I don’t want to be with others that I realize how badly I need to be with others. It’s easy to get trapped in your own little world where you are the center of the universe. Being with others is a nice reminder that there is a world outside that is waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Life is better with other people.

This year, I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t lose sight of community. The Ph.D. life can be very lonely. You often work in isolation and let’s face it, no one really wants to talk to you about what your dissertation is all about. They ask out of politeness but attention spans are usually within the 1-2 minute range. If they’re listening after 5 minutes, give them a gold star! During Orientation Week, I got a chance to meet a lot of awesome students. It’s always fun meeting new people. Then, I felt bad because knowing my normal schedule, that might have been the last time I would be able to see them. Then, I remembered that I wasn’t going to let that happen this year. As a student, we don’t have a lot of time to spare. So what if we can kill two birds (the need to study and the need for community) with one stone?  That’s when I decided to start a study group!

Studying in a group is way better than studying alone. I would rather be distracted by a funny personal story than random YouTube videos. We’re all going to be distracted at some point. I’d rather be “distracted” by something a friend says than the hundred other stupid distractions I could have come up with by myself.

It has been a blast getting to know people within this new setting. They are so full of life and energy. There is laughter whenever we get together punctuated by the silence of trying to understand Hebrew verbs and that book that just doesn’t make sense to you. It’s great to be able to talk about theology one minute and good T.V. shows the next.

Seminary can be a very difficult place. Sometimes, it can even feel hopeless (especially when all your papers are due around the same time!)

I’m just glad I was able to find friends in a hopeless place.

Featured

When Worlds Collide: Doing Theology within a Community

johnchrysostom

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the Pappas Patristic Institute’s summer program as a Teaching Fellow in training. We had the option of choosing from a number of available courses so I decided to go with “Theodore the Studite and post-Chalcedonian Christologies” (taught by Dr. Thomas Cattoi) and “The Problem of Evil in the Writings of the Fathers” (taught by Dr. David Goodin). It was a great experience of studying and examining the primary sources as a community of learners and students.

One of the difficulties of studying theology within a community is the problem of pride: We all think that we are right in our particular understanding of an author or their work. This type of attitude is not conducive to learning, much less practicing the art of humility. Doing theology within a community can become problematic because it forces us to realize that others’ interpretation may be in stark contrast against our own interpretation. There is a tendency to become incredibly defensive and sometimes, downright hostile in certain situations. Trust me. I know. I have seen it time and time again. “I am right and that’s all there is to it” becomes our primary exegetical tool. There is no room for diversity of thought nor is there room for multiple interpretations. The desire to maintain a level of orthodoxy becomes an excuse to display arrogance and condescension masked in “spiritual” form. Sometimes I wonder if it truly is the “zeal of the Lord” that consumes them or their “zeal to be in the right.” In the way they act, there surely isn’t a lot of godly attributes to be seen and heard.

Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why I really enjoyed my time as a Teaching Fellow in training. It was great to hear so many diverse opinions and interpretations as we delved deeply into the texts that were given to us. And by diverse, I don’t necessarily mean that they were so diametrically opposite from one another… there is diversity even in similarity. What others were saying was not necessarily any different from how I would interpret a certain passage. Instead, they highlighted a different facet, approached it in a different angle than what I am normally accustomed to doing. There is beauty in diversity. It doesn’t mean that the concepts of right and wrong are unnecessarily jettisoned as if they didn’t matter. It just means that we need to be open to understanding things in ways that may seem foreign to us. By doing this, it allows us to think and cogitate about what others are saying rather than reflexively shouting down their ideas.

This summer program also convicted me about the power of leadership in being able to transform others. Through the leadership of the Institute’s director, Dr. Bruce Beck, and the numerous teachers who taught the various courses, we were constantly reminded of the need to struggle with the texts and acquire an attitude of humility and a posture of learning. The teachers were reminded not to take a lecture approach. Instead, we were asked to “come and reason together” à la Isaiah 1:18. As a result, I have come away with a humble heart that is more willing to hear someone out rather than use Scriptural passages as a cudgel to drown out their voice.

Not bad for a week of learning.

Featured

Pensées on Love, Homosexuality, and the SCOTUS ruling

lovewins

The recent SCOTUS ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in the United States of America was met with a flurry of rainbow-themed avatars and #LoveWins hashtags. There was also a proliferation of warnings of apocalyptic destruction and the empire’s downfall from others. These two messages filled the air waves and polarized people in two camps. Social media was quick to highlight the tension between these two camps. Messages of love, hate, compassion, and confusion intermingled with one another forming an amorphous blob of simplistic explanations and pithy aphorisms.

There were many Christians who went out of their way to define and describe what love is. Some even reminded their audience of Jesus’ unconditional love for them. However, this was also coupled with a fairly lengthy caveat of sorts that turns into more like a disclaimer notice one would find in most contracts. I think it’s very important to make sure that we communicate what we truly mean. I would say that’s a basic given in trying to communicate with others. Yet, I feel like if you have to explain what unconditional love is by adding so many conditions to it, then it fails to be unconditional love anymore. If you have a son who is a drug addict, would telling him “I love you” mean that you are condoning or endorsing drug behaviour? No. If you have a daughter who got pregnant out of wedlock, would telling her “I love you” mean that you are condoning or endorsing sex outside of marriage? No. It means that even though they may have committed actions that you do not condone or endorse, you are not going to withhold or refuse to offer them your love. Displaying unconditional love means that our expression of love for another person is not based on what they have done but based on who they are.

In the Scriptures, we constantly see Jesus interacting with the marginalized and the oppressed. They were the bad people that society says we should never associate with: prostitutes, tax collectors, and cheaters. There is something startling in the way that Jesus dealt with those on the fringes of society. What startles me is not what Jesus said, but what he didn’t say. He never utters a single word of condemnation or what could even be interpreted as a “loving sermon.” He treats them with kindness, dignity, and dare I say it… love… that is so shockingly simple. This was not a love that needed lengthy explanations. This was a love that was simple and clear. It needed no further ramblings on what it meant. It was given purely. It was received purely. And it had the ability to transform their lives in ways that verges on the unfathomable.

When unconditional love is given, no words can properly define it. Why? Because unconditional love is intensely experiential. It arouses feelings within that we didn’t even know existed before. It is an incredible experience that defies logic. It may be difficult to put into words but it also unbelievably clear. There is no confusion in it. There are no doubts. Only clarity.

If we, as Christians, truly have this type of unconditional love for homosexuals as we often say we do, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have to go to great lengths to give them a detailed explanation because they would know what it means. The fact that we do makes me stop and pause for a minute and wonder if this is actually true.

Maybe it is best if we just said this: I love you. Period.