Monday, September 27, 2010

Mangrove Mountain weekend

For months, I've needed to get away from the perpetual loud and busy of normal life. For months, it's seemed impossible.

Last week was different. Circumstances converged, producing a situation where my car could once again travel to faraway places

and I was put in touch with kind people who offered me a fully domesticated train carriage in which to spend the weekend

on the 10 hectares they call home.

I found there were horses big and small to befriend,

songs to be sung outdoors,

and jewels to admire

and exult in

while exploring private bushland.

I came away hoping

that the peace

would ride along with me back to the city

where loud and busy resume.

It did.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Better than starlight

It's the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, commonly known as the "Mid-Autumn Festival". Traditionally, this is an annual celebration for the Chinese (and many other cultures): a time for family reunions, sipping tea outdoors, taking a lantern-lit stroll around the neighbourhood. A time to admire the splendour of a glimmering, perfectly round moon and reflect on the metaphor of wholeness in family and community.

Far as I am from my family, I'm glad it doesn't take a celebration like this to have me looking upwards. I love staring at the sky at night, any night. Growing up in an increasingly smoggy city near the Equator, I didn't get to see the moon and stars as clearly as I do now. It's made me appreciate every twinkle, twinkle I see from these not-so-little celestial bodies.

"It occured to me then, and I said it to Paul, that there is something God made that is better than starlight. What is it? he asked me. It's you, man, I said. Me? he asked. You, I said, you know, friends, people, it's beautiful, really, that we don't have to be alone." -- Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts

I couldn't think of a better quote to go with this occasion. I have so much "better than starlight" in my life, I could take on a power grid.

Thank you, my family (blood, ketchup or otherwise) and friends, for shining.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Finding faith

There are times when I hesitate to say the words, "I'm a Christian," or to respond in the affirmative when people ask, "Are you Christian?"

It isn't because I'm not a Christian. The thing is, I don't know if I am. At least, not by your definition, or that of the person asking the question. Of course, definitions can be inaccurate and outright wrong, but most of the time even the most off-base of impressions is born in reality.

Christians are hypocrites. They say one thing and do another.

Christians are judgemental, always telling you that you're a sinner and you need to repent. Who are they to judge?

Christians are no fun. They keep quoting that book of theirs with all the weird numbers and rules.

Christians are people who've left their brains at the door before walking into church... and never claimed them back. That's why they have to ask their pastors everything; they can't do any of their own thinking.

You begin to see, don't you, why I prefer to ask, "What do you think 'Christian' means?" before answering the first question?

In my book, "Christian" used to mean any or all of these:
  1. [n] person who behaves one way in front of church friends, and another when alone at home with family;
  2. [n] person who is constantly nagging you to believe in what he believes, threatening you with hell if you don't;
  3. [adj] behaviour and social pattern involving strange, outdated language and severely limited music;
  4. [adj] chronic tone-deafness and lack of basic rhythmical ability, usually and unfortunately accompanied by the presence of one or more tambourines;
  5. [adj] hypocrisy demonstrated in the practice of saying one thing and doing the opposite.
I'm sure you could add to that list. Please do, if you want. My blog is bloodbath-free. Or email/message me if you don't want to say it in public.

As for my list... what changed my definition and impression of the "Christian"?

There were a few equally significant factors: loving friends who accepted me unconditionally, didn't give hell threats and listened to much better music; reading dozens of books that combined to give me a more balanced and truthful perspective; gradually separating myself from the culture and people who'd given me my first, poisoned tastes of the beautiful faith that is finally mine.

But I would have to say the main thing that has changed the meaning of the word "Christian" in my mind is Christ.

See, most of the people I talk to hear "Christian" and they see church, a building in an industrial estate with inadequate parking facilities.

Or think of a cross hanging around someone's neck. (Someone who may have been very nasty to you while at the same time insisting that you needed to go to church.) A stale brown book in peeling bonded leather. Memories of a service someone may have dragged you to once, where you couldn't pick out a single word of plain English amidst all the "thees" and "thou shalts", chapter and verse numbers. Little plastic buckets being handed around while people dropped money in.

And I just want to say, those things aren't Christianity. Before anyone gets indignant and starts picking up stones (yes, reactivity and short fuses are also common defining factors I've heard), I'm not saying they're unrelated to Christianity. I'm saying they aren't Christianity, in the same way the clothes that you're wearing right now aren't you. They're external and changeable. Things you can put on and take off without losing your thoughts, personality, habits and preferences. Although the taking off might cause you to lose some friends... or make new ones, depending on certain factors.

I'm sorry if church and all things "Christian" have left you with a bad taste in your mouth and you never want to hear about it again.

I am sincerely sorry. I mean that both in the "I'm apologising" way, and in the way people express their sympathy, as in "I'm sorry you missed your flight", "I'm sorry you lost the match" or "I'm sorry you didn't get to taste that batch of brownies before I finished it"... oh wait, that last one is an apology.

I'm sorry because I've been in the same boat. In some areas, I still am in that boat -- the one where my view of what the faith really is, what its central figure truly looks like, is being obscured by external frivolities.

I can't really say that I have found faith, as much as that it's found me. Like the sharp, deep breaths you take when first let outdoors from a stuffy old bus with broken air-conditioning, I am delighted to find that the clothes (so to speak) can come off and the person stays the same. That everything I have ever loved and cringed to see limited by "Christianity" is made even more alive in the presence of unbiased truth. That I no longer have to keep my "happy face" on just so that people can feel comfortable in their approximations of "church". That I can be the same person on Tuesday afternoon as I am on Sunday morning. That I can hold on to my brain, thank you very much, and even pray at the same time.

By the way, I mean it. Please email me your thoughts. All things kept confidential. It's the counselling training done it; I'm good with secrets.
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