Friday, May 30, 2008

Afterthought: The Bucket List

The Bucket List (2007) is a story about two complete strangers (featuring Morgan Freeman who is a wise (as usual) and knowledgeable car mechanic and Jack Nicholson who is a very rich but arrogant man who owns private hospitals) crossing one another's paths when they ended up in the same bedroom in Nicholson's hospital as both were suffering from terminal illness.

When they received news from the doctor that they had only six months to a year's time to live, rather than spending their last days in the hospital to receive an experimental treatment, they came up with a list called 'bucket list' which consisted of things they wanted to do before they die. From then on, they journeyed around the world to complete the bucket list, doing crazy things (especially as they were elderly people suffering from terminal illnesses) like riding a motorbike up the Great Wall of China and skydiving etc.

The central message of the movie became explicit in the middle of the movie when they were sitting on top of a pyramid in Egypt. Freeman told Nicholson a story:

“The ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance of heaven, the gods asked them two questions. Their answers determined whether they were admitted or not."

As Freeman was about to reveal the questions, he wanted Nicholson to answer them as well.

Freeman asked, "Have you found joy in your life?" To this, Nicholson did not take much trouble to say "Yes!"

But when it came to the second question, "Has your life brought joy to others?" Nicholson struggled to answer.

Both eventually died at the end part of the movie (sad ending), but both brought genuine joy and meaning to one another's lives as they spent their last moments together. Not only have they found joy in their lives, they have truly brought joy to others as well.

Have we found joy in our lives?
Have our lives brought joy to others?

Joy, a rare virtue in a seemingly bleak world, and that includes the Christian world, or perhaps even more in the Christian world. Christians seem to be so serious that you seldom hear any laughter coming from them (Oh, I mean us). It is true that we need to recognise the depravity of man and the implications of such depravity that are manifesting in this world; it is true that Christians need to count the cost and carry the cross of suffering; but that does not give us the license to remain sorrowful and sulk in despair. We need to stand strong and find hope and meaning amidst our adverse environments. We need to put our "trust-in-God" mentality into practice. We need to pursue joy, now.

Only when we have found joy, can we bring this joy to others. Or else, gloomy faces, sulky appearances, negative mentality, critical condemnations...can such lives bring joy to others?

Please, find joy. Then, bring it to others. Easier said than done, but do it anyway!


Ugly Souls

Sophisticated cosmetics and trendy apparel have become necessities for many in this age where exterior of the self is more important than the interior. Once deemed as luxuries items, these goods are now relentlessly pursued to provide self-confidence and image for the pursuers. We feel secured and confident in cosmetics and gorgeous outfits because they complement our physical imperfections that are constantly haunting us.

Just observe what these things do to the actors and actresses we watch on the screen. With these things, they become the gorgeous and stunning idols that everyone wants to imitate. Yet, when they are stripped of cosmetics and covered with plain clothings, they look just like everyone else, ordinary with faces covered with pimples, scars and freckles etc.

Therefore, we recognise the power of these items in making one look better than one actually is, and we make them indispensable in our lives to hide our exterior imperfections from others' sight and perhaps, from ours too.

Unfortunately, we are also equally good in hiding our interior imperfections. We fulfill our religious obligations faithfully, attending weekly services, prayer meetings, cell groups, evangelistic rallies. It started out as pure piety towards God, but slowly as others heap spiritual praises upon us for our faithfulness, piety becomes pride. In order to feed our insatiable pride, we waste endless time to prevent the ugly creature within us from popping out, ensuring that no one (especially fellow Christians) sees our interior imperfections lest praises cease.

However, pride makes us callous and careless. We are so preoccupied in hiding our interior imperfections from others that we have forgotten to actually attend to the imperfections themselves. Thus, amidst the praises of others that make us think that we are on the narrow trail towards God, we may actually be wandering further away from God. Just as we think that we are doing everything right, we may have already forsaken the fruit of the Spirit for the rotten fruits of this world.

Most importantly, we may have forgotten that hidden beneath each and every beautiful mask of religious piety and spiritual pride lies an ugly soul which loves wickedness and deceit. How do we know we have forgotten this reality? We show our forgetfulness when we become proud of ourselves and boast of our earthly successes and spiritual achievements. We show our forgetfulness when we become contemptuous and judgmental of others when they intentionally or unintentionally reveal their ugly souls.

When was the last time we look at the mirror and really have a good look at ourselves? Most of the time when we are in front of the mirror, we are looking for ways to cover up our exterior imperfections. Next time, let us have a good, long look at ourselves and be reminded that we are all ugly souls which are going through the beautifying treatment by the Great Beautician.

Since it was this quote by Soren Kierkegaard that provoked this blog post (thanks to Sakti), I shall end with it.

It is true that a mirror has the quality of enabling a person to see his image in it, but to do this he must stand still.
Soren Kierkegaard


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Have We Forgotten?

We are so used to our frenzy pace of life, that we have forgotten how to remain still and enjoy silence.

We are so equipped with wonderful knowledge and facts about God, that we have forgotten who God is.

We are so obsessed with our perceived obligations to work and serve the Lord, that we have forgotten how to enjoy God.

We are so afraid of exercising our faith, that we have forgotten what God can do in us, for us and through us.

It is high time to recover what we have forgotten.


Monday, May 12, 2008

The Small Kid

Inside each one of us, there lives a small kid. This small kid is constantly battling against our natural growth for it is reluctant to grow up.

When we were young, we could do and say what we want for we know that our parents would bear the consequences for us. We had the freedom to make mistakes. As we grow up, we are confronted by tons of responsibilities and commitments that will cause us to be condemned by others if we fail to fulfill them. We are fearful of mistakes.

When we were young, we could put our trust in everyone that we meet. We could be ourselves without any masking or packaging. As we grow up, we are confronted by the sinfulness and imperfection of human beings. We can no longer put our trust in every person that we meet. In front of different people, we can only reveal certain aspects of our true selves in order to protect ourselves from hurts.

The small kid in us wants to remain in a world of innocence and purity, and struggles daily so that he/she can live in that world.

The small kid will eventually have his/her say, not now, but when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness, for in God's kingdom, there are only "kids".


Human Reasoning

Life is full of sticky decisions.

In a world of complication and chaos, we are constantly bombarded by multiple choices and decisions. Often times, these decisions do not wait for us, for when the deadline is reached, the absence of a decision is also a decision by itself.

In life, many of our decision-making involve morality. In ethical decision-making, each situation varies and it is crucial for us to learn to scrutinise each situation before we apply the appropriate moral principles to the specific situation. It would be naive and simplistic for us to assume that every principle is to be applied universally in all situations regardless of the context of the situation. Thus, we get frustrated when others are quick to make moral judgment without first looking into the situation, quick to point out what is wrong and forbidden without examining the context.

Thus, it is important for us to learn to use our human reasoning in every ethical situation and to be able to make sound judgments and wise decisions. Unfortunately, human reasoning can be abused too. We can use the power of human reasoning to justify decisions that we make by explaining that it is not wrong to make such decisions, and not pursue the highest form of right: the ideal.

It is one thing to recognise the fallen condition of the world and the depravity of man, but it is another thing to capitalise on this reality and use it to justify the less ideal decisions that we make, and forget and forgo the pursuit of the ideal.

Human reasoning - use it but not abuse it, for it can make or break you.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Perils of a Critical Mind

“Knowledge is power.”

The more knowledge one acquires; the more power one has in his hand, to critique, criticise or condemn.

As we acquire more knowledge, we tend to test our new-found power on people and issues. In the name of critique (we avoid using the more negative words: criticise or condemn), we tend to use our power to analyse and highlight the imperfection of others. Yet, possessing a critical mind can be perilous. We can become grumpy, cynical and skeptical of everything and everyone that does not match up to our measuring standards. We can easily condemn others even if we can only see what is happening in the foreground, without wanting to first understand the background context.

Perhaps we think that by doing so, we are emulating Jesus who was never afraid or slow to lash out words of rebuke at the wrongdoers. Yet, I sometimes wonder whether we are emulating Jesus or the Pharisees. The Pharisees were equally critical of the people and issues of their days, quick to highlight people and things that did not match up to their measuring standards. The difference between them and Jesus is this: Jesus did it out of love; they did it out of pride and contempt.

Thus, for those of us who possess critical minds; beware of the power that is entrusted to you. Do not be too quick to judge, comment, critique, criticise or condemn. Only be quick in listening, but be very slow in speaking. Speak only when you know that you are truly speaking out of love for the other, not out of pride and contempt to pull down the other. Speak only when you really see the iceberg rather than the tip. Speak not to someone else about it lest you are found guilty of showcasing your critiquing power, but if possible, speak directly to the person involved to benefit him or her with your words of wisdom.

Or else, the power will do no good and can only bring destruction.


Friday, May 02, 2008

Afterthought: The Road to Guantanamo

No one warned me about it.

Like a tsunami, it completely swept me away and left me stunned. Like a molten hot rod, it left a lasting mark on me which I will not forget.

This was what the movie "The Road to Guantanamo" (2006) did to me last night. The story depicts the tragic fate of three young Britons of Pakistani origin (known as the 'Tipton Three') who were captured by the Northern Alliance Soldiers while traveling in Afghanistan (They traveled to Afghanistan at the time just before U.S. was about to bomb the country after 911). They were later handed over to the U.S. military who suspected them of being involved in terrorist activities. They were then sent to Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, and suffered two years of inhumane torture and humiliation. They were eventually released without charges and without any compensation.

Some thoughts about the movie:

1. Can war ever be justified? As I watched innocent civilians running for their lives from bullets and bombs, I wondered what wrong have they done to deserve this. Nothing! U.S. may have her reasons to justify her invasion on Afghanistan, but how do you justify the plight of the innocent civilians who lost their properties, friends, family members, and even their own lives? How do you justify the inhumane treatment that was given to those detainees who were actually innocent? The tag line of the movie is worth pondering, "How far will we go in the name of security?" I don't think any reason can ever justify the war.

2. When the suspects were brought to the detention camp, they were treated as terrorists even before they were proven guilty. They were in fact given the treatment of "guilty until proven innocent." The soldiers treated them like animals, stripping them off their basic human rights and more importantly, their dignity. Even if some of them could really be terrorists (in fact one of the Tipton Three confessed recently that he had once visited an Islamist training camp, handled weapons and learned how to use AK-47 in the camp, thus causing many to question their innocence), they should be treated with dignity and respect. What more for those who are innocent. Sometimes, I think we Christians are no better, for we easily strip people of their dignity by showing contempt and condemnation whenever we find out that someone had done (or suspected of doing) something wrong. We who know that we are saved only by the grace of God, we who know that we are all depraved and fallen sinners, should know better than these soldiers!

3. The detainees were bound in chain all the time in the detention camp. This brings to my mind a fellow seminarian's preaching not long ago in the seminary. He brought up the incident of Iraqi prisoners who were humiliated as they were bound by dog collars around their necks. Whenever the Iraqis see a dog collar, it was a sign of humiliation for it reminds them of the humiliation that their fellow Iraqis went through. In the same way, the cross was a sign of humiliation to the Jews (especially to the Jewish Christians) for it was the harshest treatment for the worst of the worst. That is why Paul said that Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). The movie reminds me of the intensity of shame and humiliation that Jesus had to go through, and the cross should serve as a sign of humiliation of Christ for me, rather than a mere sign of my Christian faith.

4. At the end of the movie, the Tipton Three said that the whole experience had certainly changed their life, causing them to look at things differently. This reminds me of my recent post "The Blessing of Adversity" whereby I said that adversity can make you bitter or better. This movie reaffirms my understanding and necessity (this does not mean that we seek after suffering) of suffering to shape our lives to become Christlike.

Go catch the movie if you have not watch it!

You have been warned.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Fellowship of the Unashamed

During her Ethics presentation yesterday, Sharon gave us all a statement written by a young African pastor found among his papers in Zimbabwe after he was martyred. I pray that all of us would possess such courage, determination and commitment towards Christ.

I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The dye has been cast. The decision has been made. I have stepped over the line. I am a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, or back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap giving and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk with patience, live by prayer and labor by the Holy Spirit’s power.

My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is Heaven. My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, but my guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed.

I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the case of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until He comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He stops me. My banner is clear. I am a part of the fellowship of the unashamed.