Re-knowing Friends

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I remember the times of my primary school till junior college days, and in particular, something I noticed.

I remember some teachers that I really liked and somehow, after they got married, things changed. For one, they changed. They become…different. How different? I can’t really put down in words. For some, they seem less caring or loving as they formerly used to be. In fact, I remember noting that same change when my aunt got married as well. Maybe it was a change in her priorities, and I was no longer the apple of her eyes.

We all evolve in some ways; we all change.

When I got married, sometimes I wondered if people around me start to feel the same way. Do I become more preoccupied with the things of the household and my husband? Do I become a better/worse friend? For starters, I no longer hang out with my girlfriends for as long as I like without being accountable to W. I don’t stay on for friends’ engagements while W is struggling to stay awake after a long week and in bad need of rest. But who can completely understand, and how do I expect my single friends to?

More so, given that we are currently based in Melbourne and home in Singapore only for the summer break meant that we have to do a series of crash catch-ups within those few weeks. Friendships that I treasure do take precendence over others, given the limited time and energy we have.

It is in these instances that my own confusions set in as I come to realise that even my friends are changing, and that I have to re-know them. Also, being joined at the hip to W meant that in my heart of hearts, I’d like my friends to be able to relate to him the way they do to me. Sometimes that isn’t the case. Sometimes, keeping those friendships seem impossible. Or maybe I have changed, having spent married life away from my former communities. Or more possibly, we have both changed and wonder how we can find a place to connect once again. And we’re (just me or them too) thinking how we can re-know one another all over again.

Marriage does not exist in a vacuum – it exists and is affirmed (or worn down) by the communities it is surrounded by. It isn’t just about the love of two people but a love that exists because of God’s initiating love for us. It can be about two people growing together, shaped by the communities that they are surrounded by, and become conjoiners in this journey alongside them.

The Science and Faith Debate

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The man and I watched Angels and Demons last night and the closing thought that lingered with us (or maybe me) was when Cardinal Strauss said this: “Religion is flawed, because man is flawed. Especially this one (pointing to himself).”

Anti-Christian advocates readily point out that religion is bigoted and intolerant. This argument comes largely from the premise of some Christians’ attempt to influence public value and politics through their belief system. And that seems just it. But the quote (above) rings true, and was beautiful persuaded by renowned historian, academic and former pastor John Dickson at the recently concluded Made Good conference organised by Ridley Melbourne. He argued that how Christians bring forth the message of Christ may be flawed (yes some bigoted, some intolerant, and others many other types of faults as capably executed by the flawed human heart), but that does not negate the truth in the message itself. Something worth thinking about. 

The other point that the movie raised was the age-old debate between church and science/rationality post-Enlightenment. It is an long-drawn yet still on-going argument. The Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne this Easter was evident of the ‘side’ that many chose when it comes to the presence of God…or not. Reason and rationality based on science and empirical evidence stand above so-called superstitions and suspended rationality through faith.

As a minor point to the above debate but something I can relate to, being in Melbourne while most of my family is in Singapore make me very thankful for something which science gave birth to – technology. We have Skype, which defies time difference and spatial vastness, and allows us to stay in touch with people who are far away but dear to us. That is but just one of many. I hardly think we can ignore the benefits of science but like the flawed man, science is equally flawed in that while it can benefit man, it can also bring destruction. Think pollution as a good example.

Another evidence of the benefits of science is this. Growing up, watching nature documentaries with my dad have always been a great bonding time. After becoming a Christian in my adult years, I still enjoy it, and this time with fresh eyes. My dad just sent me a video today and I was amazed at how advanced technology has enabled cameras to the depth of focus that we can now achieve – far sharper than your 6/6 perfect vision.

 

Even the normally-detestable creepy crawlies look beautiful superup-close, with their technicoloured exo-skeletons. Birds and butterflies dance in slow motion, seemingly at play in the wind. I don’t know about you but what technology and science has done for me in this instance is to remove the everyday eyes that I use to observe a bug and a bird in nature, and bring me back to a place of awe. It is an awe that runs above between religion and science simply because life itself as a miracle hints of some level of supernatural AND intelligent design all at once.

Love and Being Nice

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Even animals have conflicts.

There’s a bible study we did on Love recently that stuck in my head and in my heart for a bit. Thanks to the amazing ‘pong piah’ (loosely means ‘exploded biscuit’ in Hokkien) for leading it.

We looked at the context of 1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter that supposedly speaks about love, and appears to define what love is.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is slow to anger. Love perseveres. Immediate catch phrases come to mind. And if there’s anything I mistakenly thought about what love means, it is to be nice.

Being too nice can a dangerous thing. In fact, it can be a dishonest thing. In a world that continues to scream ‘Make Love Not War’ even way past the hippie era when it started, conflict of any sort is frowned upon. I am tempted to live out my Christian life trying to be nice, say the right things, say the encouraging thing, be slightly firm in the wrong things but try to make it up with a whole lot of flowers, cupcakes, sugar and spice to make things all ‘good’ and ‘nice’ again. But if I just focus on having those wonderfully peaceful relationships, I’d be dishonest. Yet that being said, in times of conflict, there is a thin line to be drawn between applying tactfulness in firm loving gentleness and brash confrontations that tear the other person down.

So yes, excuse me while I learn what not trying to be nice looks like, and what loving someone means. After the study, and aided by further learning through a cool bible learning resource from the University of Notthingham (again, with thanks to the amazingpongpiah), it is apparent that Paul wasn’t trying to define love for us, but was trying to show the Corinths what they weren’t doing.

So what does love looks like then? If we’re tempted to ask that question, perhaps in practice, for me, it would be doing/saying something and desiring the other person to become more like Jesus.

Doing Church, Doing Worship…What ARE We Really Doing?

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Having a chat with my housemate last night, we got talking about what going to church means and for me, it’s more about what does going to church mean, in today’s context, 6 – 8 months after being in Melbourne.

Being in Melbourne is new for me. Firstly, stripped of the comfort of friends and family, the other thing I had to deal with was lifestyle change. Going back to Uni has its own set of familiarity as well as alienation given that I’ve been out of full-time academia for 6 years. Having to find a new church to go to because I’m in a foreign land is another issue to grapple with. It seems the thing to do isn’t it? That the first thing we do is to find a church that will ground us in a new land but somehow, the task isn’t as easy as it seems.

Perhaps I have the mistaken view that Christians are meant to be loving, friendly,hospitable and accepting, but I often forget that that’s not the case. And more often than not, it seems a lot easier for me to assume when a person that I meet in church isn’t a Christian, including those in “service” or “ministry”. But before anybody exclaims “she’s judging”, let me just say that I’m sharing from where I am right now, in my context at this point in time.

The housie is new from another Aussie city and settling into Melbourne. Being an Aussie-Chinese, he has his own set of struggles deciding between a diverse church of various cultures or a Aussie-Chinese dominated one. For me, I’m wondering why am I even going to church altogether. I meet people week in week out on a superficial level. I try to connect with some (takes alot more effort but hey, there are some progresses here and there and I do meet people I really like) and attempt small talk with others. I listen to sermons weekly but wonder what I learn. I sing during the “worship segment” of doing church and wonder why the songs are on repeat every week that I just give up singing them cos hello, where’s variety.

Yes, I’m struggling. And a part of me is still struggling with doing church and what serving in church means. I’m revisiting what it means to do church, what liturgy means, why are churches churning out new songs like some line in a production factory, and why some churches are pimping their songs week after week during service (coincidentally) before the launch of their album, or coming up with inhouse songs is just an attempt at getting past the whole church songs licensing issue. I just sense something terribly wrong with that and don’t see how that differs from when Jesus caused a ruckus in the temple and He said the money changers there were turning his temple into a ‘den of thieves’ (Mark 11:15-17).

After that chat with the housie and just mulling over things, Hillsong’s You’ll Come arose in my heart. Now, I really like that song. It has good melody, some good lyrics, and it’s catchy in general. But somehow, I paid more attention to the lyrics this time and it made me sick in the stomach I just flipped.

You’ll come; Let Your glory fall as You respond to us

You’ll come? He already did. He is all around. Should the continuous focus be on Him responding to us because if I recall it right, the awe is in the fact that He allows humanity to respond to Him and the point isn’t about us.

Spirit rain; Flood into our thirsty hearts again

Is this a bit too pop psychology like the Spirit is some type of drug that we get a high out of? There is a deep sense in me that we’re not made to stay on this earth to be like human beings hooked onto the IV with the Spirit dripping into us. I have a sneaky feeling that’s not a right image to portray of who God is and what He does.

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Textbook lyrics are really bothering me. With the commercialisation of Christianity into some kind of commodity, Christian songs have become more about the melody and how catchy it sounds instead of a focus on words that describe who God is and His glory. How many new songs have you heard that has lyrics that go something like “God, You are glorious”, “You are mighty”, “You save us from death”, “We worship you with all our hearts”, “We honor you”, “You are our God” etc? Do we even know the extent of what we mean when we say/sing all that? I hope so. Too often, the songs just end up like another one on the worship set list to be fulfilled for that Sunday.

How do we know when we serve and if it’s (secretly) about us? Maybe relooking at the definition of what our gifts and talents is will help a bit. Try reading this and refer to the article on Pg 5 titled Unwrapping Presents Or Rolling Up Sleeves? to see what the writer says about that topic.

I’m sure God has a grander plan, despite our (subtly self-glorifying) efforts to do church, our attempts at worship in the confinement of a “worship segment” every Sunday. I’m also sure that whatever it is that we attempt to do, His desire is to transform our hearts and it ain’t about all the stuff we are trying to conjure week after week.

Perhaps my own challenge is to learn to love these people whom I think are a self-glorifying lot, and what loving them means and looks. Let this rut pass…according to Your will.

 

Let It be Your Glory, O Lord

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I’m tired of

textbook songs that sing

of Your great love.

 

Coined lyrics

Overused words

Hold little meaning.

 

When are we gonna

lay down our pride

tear down our idols

toss out the music

and come to You

with a pure heart

that just longs for

Your holy presence?

 

Songs that sing of Your holiness

but empty on their own;

Gigs in Your name with

their faces

their glories.

Whose glory;

Whose sake?

 

Week after week

Same songs

Same glory.

Your glory

Or is it?

 

When do we know it’s a sham

When do we know it’s too far from You?

 

Maybe we’re all far from You

else we wouldn’t need Jesus

the only way to You.

 

And it ain’t gonna be on our grounds or efforts.

 

Not how much we sing

how perfect our pitch is

how good we look on stage

nor how in love with You we appear.

 

Let all that we do

be Your glory, O Lord,

not ours.

Resolved 2010. Now 2011…

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The year has already advanced a week yet I’m still pondering over 2010. 2010 has been a year filled with making decisions and learning how to make decisions. It was also filled with distractions good and bad. I was left with several why’s that I couldn’t understand nor arrive at an answer at, which pretty much frustrated me because when too many things overcomes me, I stay confused for a really long while.

I’ve started acquiring a penchant for adding images to my blog posts since I attended a class on New Media in my current studies…mmmm but maybe not for this one. But I do digress.

Recently, I was at a small group retreat where we focused on reflecting on what we have learned in 2010. Since then, my mind is still pondering over some of the questions when perhaps I should be considering more of what is going to take place in the year ahead. The main stuff that was bugging me were the many why’s I was facing.

Particularly, I came this close to going full-time into theological studies and changed course to go into Communications at the last minute. There were several reasons but it suffices for me to say the decision came after a the-curtains-were-drawn-and-my-eyes-were-open-and-i-saw-light type of moment.

Those months of being single-minded about going into bible college were challenging and yet not without fruit. I do think that anybody who is serious about their own Christian faith can do some good in taking up a theological course at some stage. Through interactions with superawesome ex- and current theological students, I realised that what the church and popular authors (shall not name them) have indoctrinated me with, I now wonder if I really knew what I knew, or if what I knew, is really true. Through those interactions or perhaps challenges, I started wondering what I really knew.

If they got me started on having questions on what I thought I knew, I started having questions about everything I thought I knew.

What if, God, I don’t know what I know about You anymore? Will knowing and remembering that Your death on the cross redeemed us be sufficient to keep me going in confusing times as such? It suffices to say that it is His death and resurrection that kept my faith real.

It came to the point where I couldn’t care less about theological debates cos they just don’t matter to me and I was tired of people arguing. Isn’t there already a truth?

MK said that we Christians live in confusing times as opposed to first generation Christians (as in the book of Acts). ST said that it’s ok to leave questions unanswered sometimes – just remember to lean on Him and press on despite the lack of clarity.

Perhaps the beauty of these months of struggles, is that I learned to be more critical and discerning of what I read, yet hopefully not overly critical for the mere sake of it and to the state of being jaded. Instead of holding onto fixed answers of who I think God is, hopefully this will lead me to continue exploring and discovering who He truly is.

Continuous Forgiveness

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If I ever doubted the fruit of true love and wondered how that looked like, I bore first hand witness to that recently.

Only a year into her marriage, a dear friend of mine went through the painful trial of finding out about an affair her husband was involved in. It came as a shock to me. He was a pretty chauvinistic guy and definitely charming, but I never doubted his devotion towards her.

Perhaps the transition into a busy work life changed him. Or having to stay out late often and hanging out with his colleagues on the pretext of improving working relations shaped his behavior. Whatever it was, he started drinking, smoking, going to bars regularly and then the affair happened.

It wasn’t a one-off affair. Despite being found out by his wife, the affairs continued and the lies piled up along with the secret late night rendezvous.

If I used to think that he was pretty rude to her even in front of others, make her tend to his every wants and needs, his character was only salvaged by of his apparent faithfulness towards her all through the 8 years they were dating. But all that crumbled and he became the biggest jerk alive.

I sat through pots of coffees and tears with her. We prayed together. I listened while she ranted. My heart ached with her when she was on the verge of giving it all up because of his unrepentence. I was helpless in what I could do except to be there to hold her, listen to her, and pray for her.

It was a while after that episode before I saw her again and this time with her husband. Instead of divorce, she opted for continuous forgiveness. Instead of leaving him, she chose to love him again. And in response, he chose sacrifice and love, giving up what he thought he wanted, for what he committed himself to, and giving the marriage his best shot once more.

He gave up his work and found new one, in a family-oriented environment that shaped him to be more loving and tender.

He said he’ll not see the girl anymore, nor hang out with people with her amidst the crowd, and he must have done that too.

And he finally started going church with her, where she used to go alone.

When I saw them again, the fruits of love, sacrifice and forgiveness were apparent. If there was a cynical part of me that didn’t think this was possible…it is. I saw it for myself. He tended to her needs more tenderly than I have ever seen. His eyes weren’t all over the place all the time, the way he used to be, but focused on her when he speaks to her, and delights in her little nuances instead of react with annoyance. It was a new him.

Sometimes a cynical part of me is still lodged deep within and refuses to budge. Yet, it is also people’s experiences as such, that I encounter first hand, on the peripheral, which moves me to know that we do have a hope in Christ, a hope that all brokenness in men can be made whole again slowly…finally.