Sunday, March 26, 2006

word cloud


Sunday, March 19, 2006

We have moved...

We are now at Akouo.

Thanks for walking along with us thus far; hope to see you there!

Ben & Soo Tian

Sunday, October 09, 2005


One of my favourite U2 songs is "40" from their album War, which is based on Psalm 40 and concludes the tense, driving album on a note of peace and hope:

I waited patiently for the Lord.
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay.

I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long
How long to sing this song?

You set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm.
Many will see, many will see and hear.

I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?.

Last year, while journeying through the Message, I was struck by something in Peterson's introduction to the book of Psalms:

"In English translation, the Psalms often sound smooth and polished, sonorous with Elizebethan rhythms and diction. As literature, they are beyond compare. But as prayer, as the utterances of men and women passionate for God in moments of anger and praise and lament, these translations miss something."

What I like most about "40" is its prayerful tone, suggesting that there really is no way around war or strife apart from running straight into the arms of God. The whole idea of patience, of 'waiting patiently' doesn't come easy to us, who'd rather take matters into our own hands and dictate our own lives.

In a sense, the Message translation stretches and stresses the first verse much more:

I waited and waited and waited for God.At last he looked; finally he listened.He lifted me out of the ditch,pulled me from deep mud.He stood me up on a solid rockto make sure I wouldn't slip.He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,a praise-song to our God.More and more people are seeing this:they enter the mystery,abandoning themselves to God.

It was written by David, but the sentiments are universal. As I look at the first two lines, I realise that those words were most probably uttered by Job as well. Not just Job and David, but every God-follower who has ever come face to face with God's wisdom -- a higher wisdom that expects no less than the laying down of our own wisdom, which is foolishness to the highest degree, to receive a 'foolishness' that knows no earthly parallel.

This is the prayer I have learned to sing in my moments of doubt, anxiety and darkness... and musically speaking, it's precisely the kind of prayer Bono's voice was made for. The Psalms still remain inaccessible to me at times, especially if I read them merely as poetry or 'wisdom.' But wisdom buried in obscurantism isn't wisdom at all. Jesus himself spoke in the lingo of the 'man on the street.'

Perhaps that is why I remember and appreciate better the Psalms that have been made into songs, simply because the composers manage to find that earnestness of expression that gives voice to these seemingly archaic texts. Tear the Psalms out of their frozen zone, and scream them out with the passion of the psalmists... unorthodox, but more real, perhaps?

But we would be wise to heed a word of caution. In chapter 16 of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape describes a vicar who preaches nothing out of his cycle of 15 favourite psalms and 20 favourite lessons.

The Psalms, being good literature, tends to breed favourites. I do admit I prefer some psalms to others, but this is my fault. Not that it's a bad thing to fall back more on some psalms than on the rest; surely that is why God gave us 150 of 'em all! But feeling at home in my 'comfort zone' also restricts me from exploring the vast riches of the many more psalms I have not read in detail, let alone prayed.

There is always room to 'sing a new song,' and the greatest danger is sticking to a treadmill of psalms, thus limiting our view of the immense landscapes that have yet to be discovered. Let us go into the books of wisdom with an open heart, a sound mind, and a desire to pray and cry out to God.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Blazing Fire

Originally uploaded by mincaye.
Hi Soo Tian,

Life is like a whirlwind. Sometimes, there is peace in the eye of the storm, and sometimes, everything just spins around us and we get thrown off centre... like the stuff I've been going through of late.

But I suppose it is instructive to remember that whirlwinds don't just whirl; they are blowing somewhere. By faith, we know that we're making some sort of progress, though God's purposes are truly as mysterious as the wind.

Peterson wrote, "You are quite right in not looking to me for answers, since I have a pretty low credit rating in that department. But it's just fine to want and expect companionship in the Way" (p. 54). Thanks to you, and the d'NAers, for being that kind of friend -- not a bunch of know-it-alls intent on dispensing advice at will.

He also hits the nail on the head in saying that "A lot of the Christian life develops 'underground' when we aren't looking" (p. 57). Even in the trials of the last 10-14 days, tumultous as they have been, I believe God was (and is) at work, developing something beyond comprehension.

Sometimes I wonder, does this Christian life also grow when it seems repulsive to others, when it seems as if we're straying away from the truth? Tien told me, not too long ago, that she believes that the initial falling away from God has something to do with the later falling into God.

"But this warning: you don't come to God by thinking but by praying" (p. 61). Maybe this is why our Father is breaking me lately. I have much abused my intellect prior to this, reading all sorts of complicated (by Michaelian standards, heheh) stuff and acting superior and all.

But I have not been praying. And I still find it hard. Yet these episodes of tearing me apart, also force me into silence. Perhaps some laying bare is required, to make it clear that what I have is, in the words of Eliot, what I don't have. Before I can be filled, I must be emptied.

Please pray that I will pray more. Which reminds, me: I have yet to read your Huggett book, Finding God in the Fast Lane.

On page 64, Peterson reminds us not to have any illusions concerning life and death: both are just as real. I suppose my MSN nickname (Mortalis) has in some ways embodied this, for it is what I often feel: not the 'happiness and blessings' sales pitches of our modern prosperity gospel, but the more sacrificial voice of a 'wounded healer,' to borrow a Nouwen term.

Speaking of which, Peterson also writes: "And... we... have the Eucharist by which we keep faith with both death and life." That reminds me, that the Nouwen book you have is about living an Eucharistic life. May it challenge and further encourage you along the way!

Especially in these wilderness times, I am even more grateful for the presence of all of you in my life. Peterson downplays the role of the so-called 'professional spiritual director' in favour of simply that of a friend.

You all are my mentors, my directors, the voices and lives through which God makes himself known in mine. Not because of your wisdom, but your folly. Not because of your strength, but your weakness. Not because of your adequacy, but your lack of it.

And in that tattered frame, God's wisdom is able to shine through, his strength able to uphold, and his grace made sufficient. Thanks for being vulnerable enough to share the journey with such a fallen one as I.

Our Master does have a sense of humour. To borrow a picture once painted by Max Lucado, indeed I think the heavenly hosts laugh at us d'NAers at first, and then laugh a whole lot more with us.

Will be busy with exams this week; thanks for keeping the site up. I shall join you soon. Au revoir!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

(an apology is in order here)

Hi Soo Tian.

I am very, very sorry for taking so long to put it my entry. It's been over a week, and I guess I just let many things get in the way; I should not have done that. Forgive me.

I went through part of Peterson's book, and below reproduce some excerpts I found inspiring, along with some of my thoughts:

'The church is... a super-natural community. And the super in that word does not mean that it exceeds your expectations; it is other than your expectations, and much of the other is invisible to you as yet.' (p. 27)

As I begin to understand d'NAers better, I realise that I am not in a community of super-Christians who are the epitome of Christlikeness. Instead, we are all imperfect beings with more flaws than beauty. Indeed, it has been a journey of discovering the 'otherness' of expectations.

'We have so little encouragement to cultivate emptiness, that when the weather does it for us, it strikes me as a gift. Without self-emptying, how can we be ready for Spirit-filling?' (p. 31)

Rain. Ever since a meeting I had with Sivin at BLC on 27 May 2005, it has always held for me a special significance.

'... the Holy Spirit grows the spiritual life in you, forms Christ's life in you, in the particular conditions in which you live...' (p. 33)

Yeah, I'm finding this truth very difficult. It is an extremely daunting thing to believe that the spiritual life is being woven into the fabric of mundaneness; so much easier to be impressed by visible stuff like big rallies.

'I had a friend years ago who always bought inexpensive Bibles; each morning he ripped out a fresh page, stuck it in his shirt pocket, and at odd times through the day pulled it out and read a few lines at a time.' (p. 38)

Do we sometimes 'respect' the Bible so much that we're content to let it remain on display, no more than a white elephant?

'Spirituality then becomes an elitist activity... No more mystery. And only as much of God as they think they need to legitimize their spiritual selfism.' (p. 43)

Yeah, when God can be explained away and boxed up... hang on, did I just say 'God'? No, he would cease to be God.

'For even though you weren't giving God much of your life those years, at least in a believing way, he was spending considerable time and effort on you the whole time. Now that you have your degree, let's see how he will use you.' (p. 44)

What kind of relentless God is this who still works on even those who shun him?

'The Christian life is not romantic. And it certainly doesn't assume the best in everyone -- particularly preachers. In some ways we assume the worst, but without despair, for it is because of this "worst" that we are in the salvation business, not out selling religious cosmetics.' (p. 48)

A relief, indeed. So much of religion is about cosmetics and looking good. And many don't have the chance to just be themselves without getting a lot of negative criticism.

'... a considerable number of people in North America wondered whether religion could be marketed as a consumer product for just such ninnies... Their basic strategy is to locate an area of dissatisfaction in modern life, and then promise God, or something that has to do with God, as the solution.' (p. 51)

As if Jesus is the answer. As if Jesus is something we bring into our lives. Nay, he says, "I am the way!" And it is we who enter into his life, into God's kind of life. God is NOT a consumer product. The disciplines are anything but easy; and certainly not the 'easiest solution' to present troubles.

How are things? Is the weariness lifting? I presently feel rather dry spiritually. Most of it can be read off my blog; it has indeed become an avenue for me to express myself -- my transparent self. Sometimes people tell me that it's hard to write their innermost feelings on their blogs, lest they offend readers. I don't seem to have that problem. Maybe because I know those who read my blog are aware that anything could appear up there. Thanks; you're one of these faithful readers ;-)

I am still struggling with being honest with myself. My identity has become fuzzier and fuzzier by the day, and sometimes I wonder where I'm headed. Hope, if there is any, seems faint. And I do not deserve to call myself a Christian.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Dear Soo Tian

I do not have much time to write presently, but I would like to take these few minutes I have to put down a reflection or two on the Introduction.

Peterson writes that a letter, personally addressed, is the first piece of written material that gets read by him, i.e. Number One on the priority list.

Indeed, even I have had fallouts with my parents on the subject of priorities, and I must admit that most of the time, I am in the wrong. Sometimes I am so connected with the 'Christian' world I know, the blogosphere, etc, that I end up spending hours at the computer, or hours out of home, visiting someone or attending some event. They want me to spend more time resting, and I cannot disagree.

When I think about letters, I realise they are subversive in almost every way. Existing since the time of the Ancients, they stubbornly refuse to succumb to extinction in our modern, instant world. They can disappear into a folder, between sheets of paper, and suddenly pop up when you least expect them to. There is equal capacity to ignore them, and to ignore everything else but them.

In a world of e-mail, instant messengers, the telephone and SMS, letters are a novelty at best, and an antiquity at worst. But in the last few months, I have experienced writing and receiving letters like never before; they summon all of me, and cannot be read in passing. Letters demand full concentration, and somehow bring about a unity in communion between the writer and the recipient.

I wonder, why is it that the New Testament contains so many letters, but hardly any theological papers? Could it be that the letters we write to one another will have more value than the countless books published by theologians?

As far as I'm concerned, I believe it's because letters, more than anything else, arise out of real contexts; letters alone among others, cannot be produced in a vacuum of thought. Oh sure, isolate a theologian in a monastery, or an archaeologist at a fossil site, and they'll produce hundreds of pages of thought. But letters are too connected to people to be written with any less than 90% of thought devoted to the recipient.

They are more brutally honest and open than anything else, and can encourage as much as they can scar. In either case, there is neither idolisation nor disparagement of the other party; letters hold one another in greater esteem than even the most thoughtfully written books or carefully preached sermons. It is because of this colossal mutual respect, that letters are at equal liberty to pierce and praise.

Peterson's letters to Gunnar, as profound and candid as they may be, did not come close to moving me as much as those personal letters I'd received in the last few months. This illustrates, not the weakness of Peterson's writing, but the fact that letters can only serve their full purpose within the contexts in which writer and recipient find themselves, as we established earlier.

Indeed, the very phrase "Dear so-and-so" determines how much a letter affects someone. "Dear Gunnar" will never mean as much to me as "Dear Ben." And that is why, when I write to you, the greeting is phrased "Dear Soo Tian," not "Dear Eugene." (But of course, we all know that, heh)...

Still, there is much thought within the pages, and I will go through some of them prior to my next post. (Just a reminder here: we have until the middle of July to finish Peterson).


p.s. Pardon the seeming disconnectedness and lack of coherence in this letter. I am not in my usual frame of mind right now.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Dying this way

Near the end of C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, the character Emeth says: "Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him."

Thing is, I sometimes want to die. I wish I could die, and rid myself of all the troubles of living. It appears many people are afraid of death, because their security is in this world, in the things of the world. But I have no faith in it. My life is a fucking mess, and my only hope is in Jesus Christ.

It is harder to live than to die. Somehow life seems like a living hell, what with the need to put up with all kinds of pains-in-the-arse, and have yourself to contend with at the end of the day!

'Peccavi' is the Latin for 'I have sinned'; it's probably the most apt description of the degenerate being writing this entry, and seems to sustain any and every act of piety or 'counter-sin.' Soo Tian was right: ascetism never works.

For awhile it was OK. My life wasn't such a mess. And then, I got chickenpox. No, the disease is not the mess, but my life has been made more vulnerable. So who do I blame? God? No! The blame is mine; who was I to leave myself wide open for the invasion of evil, the draining out of good?

And yet Peterson seems to say it is better to leave our lives open to the elements that are more likely to destroy, than to stay in a safe cabin. I've got to learn to let go. But letting God run the show is so difficult. It requires devotion and discipline. Focus and faith.... things I don't have.

If I were God, I'd have given up on my life. And right now, I'm actually willing to say, "God, take a good look at me. See if there's anything good left in this stupid shell. If there is, spare me and make something out of it. If not, I might as well burn in the fire."

Some say God is even better than we expect; to believe that means to stop thinking about just how good God is, because the moment we try to assign God to a level of 'goodness' (even if we use that magic word 'infinity'), we are locking him in our four walls of 'expectation.'

And they say God likes surprising us. Suddenly the storm hits. Do I run into it, embrace the power that God reveals through nature, or hide? It's the kind of moment when I might just say "Oh, what the hell--" and dash smack into the centre of the whirling winds and stinging rain, and bask in the presence of God.

In this moment of my depravity, I ask you, God, for this: your forgiveness. God, forgive me. How many promises have I made, and how many have I kept? The worlds biggest liars put together couldn't come close.

But I don't count on that alone. The only thing giving me any fucking hope, is that I hear people saying you're not done with us, and that means you're not done with me. So what if I'm this screwed-up tool lying about in the workshop, all rusty and useless? It appears the craftsman needs me for something, and my duty is yet undone.

I want to amount to something; I want to do great things for you, God. And if you can make anything out of this depraved life, out of this decadent soul, out of whatever fucking little is left after round and round of sin enjoyed rather than despised... especially if you want to... then who am I to stop you?

(Good night)

Now Playing: "Song of The Wretch" by Soo Tian performed live in front of the computer on my four-string classical guitar (2 strings broke). Dedicated to Tim.