Happy Birthday, Rachel! Or, A Message of Redemption

Hello again, dear Reader. As you may already notice, I was a Nihilist once. This was a very dark period in my life, almost akin to descending unto Hell itself. When you have lost any hope in the world—and in Life itself, for that matter—it is quite inevitable to conclude that nothing is worthwhile. Nothing is worth doing, nothing is worth saying, ergo nothing is worth living for. It was only by the work of a Miracle that I somehow managed to avoid the damning but perfectly logical response to those sentiments: suicide.

The world is full of suffering and misery and tragedy. Life itself is oftentimes unfair and strenuous. It’s so much easier to just give Life a middle finger and spit on its face.

But wait a minute. Could there be something in this? Could there be Meaning, intricately woven in the fabric of suffering itself? Could there possibly be a rainbow, somewhere in the distance, behind the clouds? Could there also exist Heaven, and not Hell only? Could Life be so much more than this? Could there be some hidden Truth that we somehow miss, veiled by a plank, a log, in our eyes? Could there be Joy, if only we persevere and take that Kierkegaardian—or Abrahamic, pick one you prefer—leap of faith?

From all this, this sailor of yours dare to humbly draw a conclusion: unless we start to get our act together, there will only be Hell. If we take the necessary leap of faith, the world will be a better place. At least on microcosmic level. Sure, it will still be rife with tragedies and miseries and unfairness, but at least we finally see that there is Meaning behind all this, that it’s not some random, probabilistic world crafted by some dice-playing God. That we need to be humbled enough to realize that maybe our naive, overly-simplistic, problem-of-evil-ish, armchair “better world” is not really better (we’re not God, after all). That there is a message of divine and glorious Redemption encrypted deep within each and every nodes.

Or the next generation’s world, after ours. Rachel’s world should be a better one, and that should be more than enough motivation for us all to work together for a better Jerusalem.

***

It was October 6, 2007; it was already twenty years since the last time New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup. They were to face the host nation France in the quarterfinal. They were the favourite of the tournament, but can they live up to the “Great Expectation”?

Up until the 40th minute the scoreboard was 13-0 to the All Blacks. It seemed like they were in for an easy win. But then, in the second half, all hell broke loose. By the time referee Wayne Barnes blew the final whistle, the score was 18-20 to the French.

The captain, 26 year old Richie McCaw, fell under criticism. He was accused of being unable to inspire the team and not providing enough leadership on the field. The first five-eighth Dan Carter’s ability to cope with media attention and commercial adulation he received was questioned. And the coach, Graham Henry? Many thought his tenure was over. His strategy and tactic was heavily criticised, even ridiculed. Overall, the team was perceived as choking on the big stage.

Then came the 2010 Bledisloe Cup in Hong Kong, pitting the All Blacks against their arch-rival, “the Wallabies” Australia. The All Blacks were leading 24-19 until the last 20 minutes, when Dan Carter was substituted by Stephen Donald. Donald got a penalty kick, which could make the gap between the teams larger, but he failed to score. Worse, in the dying minutes of the game, he failed to end the match by clearing the ball to the touchline. Instead, the ball fell to the Australians, and they scored, dramatically winning the trophy in a 26-24 scoreline. Soon, Donald fell upon criticism by the media and condemnation by the New Zealand public.

And then, the 2011 Rugby World Cup. This time the event was held on their own soil, New Zealand. The coach, Graham Henry, was given another chance to redeem the failure four years ago. So did Richie McCaw, the captain. But Donald wasn’t called to join the team, and on learning that, he decided to go on vacation—fishing whitebait on the banks of Waikato River. He even deleted Henry’s number from his phone.

But soon enough, things took a turning for him. First, Dan Carter was injured. Then Colin Slade. Donald’s phone was ringing. It was from an unknown number (it was Henry’s number, but he deleted his number). He ignored the call and continued fishing. Then his phone rang again, now from Mils Muliaina, his teammate in Waikato and Chiefs:

You’d better start answering your phone, fool, cause you’re going to be in Auckland in a couple of days!

Auckland, October 23, 2011. It was the Final; it was already twenty four years since the last time New Zealand won the Rugby World Cup. And this time they faced the French again, who knocked them out four years ago. Captain McCaw had a re-occurring foot injury throughout the tournament. He had a fracture on his metatarsal bone, but he decided against having another X-ray prior to the match and forced himself to continue playing.

The entire nation hung their hope on this team. They had longed for a World Cup trophy for decades. The day before the Final, a cartoon appeared on the Wellington Dominion, depicting Stephen Donald taking a match-winning kick as a nightmare.

RWC

The caricature was prescient: on 34th minute, Aaron Cruden injured his knee and was substituted by Donald. Soon enough, on the 46th minute, a penalty kick was given to the All Blacks. Donald stepped up to take it. New Zealand held its breath as he took the kick. In! Donald’s kick was the match-winning difference, as the All Blacks proceeded to win the game 8-7. After the match, the Christchurch-born coach Graham Henry told the reporter about McCaw’s injury:

He can hardly walk and how he played today I just don’t know.

Four years later McCaw and Carter won another World Cup trophy, after beating the Wallabies 34-17 on what many called the home of rugby, the Twickenham Stadium, London. These were brave men, refusing to be embittered by circumstances around them. Yes, maybe the critics were right. Yes, they made some mistakes. But they persevered. They started again. They improved their lot. They courageously took their responsibility and gave it their 110%. And for that, they got their Redemption.

 

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On Value Structures

Excerpts from Jordan B. Peterson’s excellent book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos:

Imagine that you’re unhappy. You’re not getting what you need. Perversely, this may be because of what you want. You are blind, because of what you desire. Perhaps what you really need is right in front of your eyes, but you cannot see it because of what you are currently aiming for. And that brings us to something else: the price that must be paid before you, or anyone, can get what they want (or, better yet, what they need). Think about it this way. You look at the world in your particular, idiosyncratic manner. You use a set of tools to screen most things out and let some things in. You have spent a lot of time building those tools. They’ve become habitual. They’re not mere abstract thoughts. They’re built right into you. They orient you in the world. They’re your deepest and often implicit and unconscious values. They’ve become part of your biological structure. They’re alive. And they don’t want to disappear, or transform, or die. But sometimes their time has come, and new things need to be born. For this reason (although not only for this reason) it is necessary to let things go during the journey uphill. If things are not going well for you—well, that might be because, as the most cynical of aphorisms has it, life sucks, and then you die. Before your crisis impels you to that hideous conclusion, however, you might consider the following: life doesn’t have the problem. You do. At least that realization leaves you with some options. If your life is not going well, perhaps it is your current knowledge that is insufficient, not life itself. Perhaps your value structure needs some serious retooling. Perhaps what you want is blinding you to what else could be. Perhaps you are holding on to your desires, in the present, so tightly that you cannot see anything else—even what you truly need [emphasis mine].

Imagine that you are thinking, enviously, “I should have my boss’s job.” If your boss sticks to his post, stubbornly and competently, thoughts like that will lead you into in a state of irritation, unhappiness and disgust. You might realize this. You think, “I am unhappy. However, I could be cured of this unhappiness if I could just fulfill my ambition.” But then you might think further. “Wait,” you think. “Maybe I’m not unhappy because I don’t have my boss’s job. Maybe I’m unhappy because I can’t stop wanting that job.” That doesn’t mean you can just simply and magically tell yourself to stop wanting that job, and then listen and transform. You won’t—can’t, in fact—just change yourself that easily. You have to dig deeper. You must change what you are after more profoundly.

So, you might think, “I don’t know what to do about this stupid suffering. I can’t just abandon my ambitions. That would leave me nowhere to go. But my longing for a job that I can’t have isn’t working.” You might decide to take a different tack. You might ask, instead, for the revelation of a different plan: one that would fulfill your desires and gratify your ambitions in a real sense, but that would remove from your life the bitterness and resentment with which you are currently affected. You might think, “I will make a different plan. I will try to want whatever it is that would make my life better—whatever that might be—and I will start working on it now. If that turns out to mean something other than chasing my boss’s job, I will accept that and I will move forward.”

Now you’re on a whole different kind of trajectory. Before, what was right, desirable, and worthy of pursuit was something narrow and concrete. But you became stuck there, tightly jammed and unhappy. So you let go. You make the necessary sacrifice, and allow a whole new world of possibility, hidden from you because of your previous ambition, to reveal itself. And there’s a lot there [emphasis mine]. What would your life look like, if it were better? What would Life Itself look like? What does “better” even mean? You don’t know. And it doesn’t matter that you don’t know, exactly, right away, because you will start to slowly see what is “better,” once you have truly decided to want it. You will start to perceive what remained hidden from you by your presuppositions and preconceptions—by the previous mechanisms of your vision. You will begin to learn.


The God of Western tradition, like so many gods, requires sacrifice. We have already examined why. But sometimes He goes even further. He demands not only sacrifice, but the sacrifice of precisely what is loved best. This is most starkly portrayed (and most confusingly evident) in the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham, beloved of God, long wanted a son—and God promised him exactly that, after many delays, and under the apparently impossible conditions of old age and a long-barren wife. But not so long afterward, when the miraculously-borne Isaac is still a child, God turns around and in unreasonable and apparently barbaric fashion demands that His faithful servant offer his son as a sacrifice. The story ends happily: God sends an angel to stay Abraham’s obedient hand and accepts a ram in Isaac’s stead. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t really address the issue at hand: Why is God’s going further necessary? Why does He—why does life—impose such demands?

We’ll start our analysis with a truism, stark, self-evident and understated: Sometimes things do not go well. That seems to have much to do with the terrible nature of the world, with its plagues and famines and tyrannies and betrayals. But here’s the rub: sometimes, when things are not going well, it’s not the world that’s the cause. The cause is instead that which is currently most valued, subjectively and personally. Why? Because the world is revealed, to an indeterminate degree, through the template of your values (much more on this in Rule 10). If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it’s time to examine your values. It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions. It’s time to let go. It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best, so that you can become who you might become, instead of staying who you are [emphasis mine].

There’s an old and possibly apocryphal story about how to catch a monkey that illustrates this set of ideas very well. First, you must find a large, narrow-necked jar, just barely wide enough in diameter at the top for a monkey to put its hand inside. Then you must fill the jar part way with rocks, so it is too heavy for a monkey to carry. Then you must to scatter some treats, attractive to monkeys, near the jar, to attract one, and put some more inside the jar. A monkey will come along, reach into the narrow opening, and grab while the grabbing’s good. But now he won’t be able to extract his fist, now full of treats, from the too-narrow opening of the jar. Not without unclenching his hand. Not without relinquishing what he already has. And that’s just what he won’t do. The monkey-catcher can just walk over to the jar and pick up the monkey. The animal will not sacrifice the part to preserve the whole.

Quit Fooling Around, There’s Blood On Your Hands

Summer

Hate the sin, love the sinner

Mohandas K. Gandhi

Hello again, dear courteous reader. Once in a while, you have that irresistible anger inside of you. I think our modern pop psychology articles put too much negative publicity on this emotion, bordering on paranoia. For me, some angers (not all, of course) are a healthy sign of our having a good balance between the beautiful ideal and the ugly, brutal reality. Some darkness are meant to be cursed, and only then can we light up some candles.

Earlier this morning I was working at the storehouse, and I found a good piece of music by the inimitable Jon Foreman. This song has a healthy and humane mixture of hatred and anger (Jon is an honest songwriter; some of his lyrics may not be politically-correct, or theologically-popular, but he’s one honest singer). And he doesn’t stop at that. After banishing the viper, he paints the truth. That’s what I like about his songs: they’re so full of hope.

I think it’s apt to post the lyrics here. Again, I don’t own the copyright to this song. Please do check his songs out, they’re just that good.

 

I hate all your show and pretense
The hypocrisy of your praise
The hypocrisy of your festivals
I hate all your show

Away with your noisy worship
Away with your noisy hymns
I stop up my ears when you’re singing them
I hate all your show

Instead let there be a flood of justice
An endless procession of righteous living, living
Instead let there be a flood of justice
Instead of a show

Your eyes are closed when you’re praying
You sing right along with the band
You shine up your shoes for services
But there’s blood on your hands

You’ve turned your back on the homeless
And the ones who don’t fit in your plan
Quit playing religion games
There’s blood on your hands

Let’s argue this out
If your sins are blood red
Let’s argue this out
You’ll be white as the clouds
Let’s argue this out
Quit fooling around

Give love to the ones who can’t love at all
Give hope to the ones who got no hope at all
Stand up for the ones who can’t stand at all
All

I hate all your show

Instead of a show
I hate all your show

 

On Autumn and This Impermanence Dance We Call Life

Photo courtesy of Mark Gray (markgray.com.au)

 

The place changes as the Sun slowly travels away from the Southern Hemisphere. The air is colder now, and the days are getting shorter. The sky is grey most of the time. Walking along the lakeshore, I find all the reds and oranges to my liking. Yet some melancholy still hangs upon my heart.

A dove lands beside me. It’s strange, how our feet feel the same softness of the sand. We’re very different, but somehow we are the same. I put my glance on one particular tree in the lake, basking under the late afternoon sun which will soon fade away.

Another leaf falls gracefully from That Willow Tree. How cruel and nihilistic this thing called autumn really is! How could he force them to cut parts of them which made them green and lush and beautiful? How could he force them to shed parts of them which have worked hard all summer to harvest the sunlight and produce fresh air for all living beings?

But no. Autumn is a season of giving and sacrifice. Full of compassion, he tells them trees to forgo old ideas so new wine can be poured. Beneath the cold air and pouring rain, autumn holds selfless love for them trees. He teaches them the art of letting go, as he himself surrenders his love for the Sun.

Autumn is also a season of hope. Hope that come winter, come snow, light will always find a way. Hope that spring is already on the horizon, no matter how long winter will be. Hope that when the right time comes, new leaves will sprout from the old scars.

The dove walks awkwardly for a while and then flies away. Before long, the sun sets. A voice whispers, “They’re not yours; let your heart be untroubled. Their flying away and disappearing are how they serve and worship their Master.”

I take a deep breath and walk back to my car. It’s a beautiful autumn, a wonderful decay.

Every seed dies before it grows.

Jonathan M. Foreman

 

On Travel Ads and Fake Gospels and One Good Captain

I hate travel ads. I hate it because it always portrays the sea as beautiful and sunny and calm. “Go to the sea and recharge yourself!” they say, with images of coconut trees, turquoise water, and a person relaxing on a hammock. They distort the image of sea to better suit their quarterly revenue growth target.

The sea is not always calm. There are storms there. Ugly creatures. It can be menacing or even life threatening sometimes.

Those people don’t realize that it is what it is, or worse, don’t care that they are misleading people. They disconnect people from reality. It is dangerous! People can have unrealistic preconceived notion about the sea and they can be disappointed when they find storms there. Worse, they can be so discouraged to the point of hating the sea.

In reality, the sea is sometimes beautiful and enjoyable, while at other times terrible and somber. Don’t ever expect the sea to be a tame poodle dog which always waggle its tail when you come, and don’t think of the sea as merely a large pool of water. It has its own emotion and reason.

***

I hate prosperity gospels. I hate it because it always portrays Christian life as beautiful and successful and, well, prosperous. “You are God’s children and you shall be prosperous in this world. Hallelujah!” With their fancy dress and charm they ensnare thousands of souls while collecting a lot of money. They make people feel good about themselves and they mislead them into thinking that all is “well” in the future if they believe in God. They distort God into a merry Santa Claus who gives toys to well-behaving children.

Christians are not always merry and successful and prosperous in this world. There are times of affliction, poverty, suffering, or even persecution.

Those people don’t realize, or worse, don’t care that they are misleading people into thinking that the gifts are better than the Giver. They cunningly interweave words like joy, peace, righteousness, or confidence in Christ into their core message of worldly success and material wealth. They always talk about you will get this and this and that. They don’t even talk about counting the cost of following Him. They disconnect people from the heart of Christian life. It’s all about you, not God. It is dangerous! People can pursue the gifts but not the Giver and they can be disappointed when they are not successful or prosperous in their lives. Worse, they can be so discouraged to the point of hating God.

In reality, Christian life can sometimes be merry and prosperous, while at other times sorrowful and hurting. Don’t ever expect God to be a jolly Santa Claus who always gives you what you want. He is who He is. He has His own discernment and wisdom. He has supreme understanding and sovereignty of what is good for His people, which is not always aligned with what His people want.

***

Dear courteous readers, this sailor of yours sometimes misleads himself (unintentionally, of course). Being a novice sailor, he is apt to make wrong decisions now and then. Life is a journey, they say, and so is Christian life. Sometimes he fits the concept of God to suit his worldly desire. In this case, this sailor of yours is no better than those prosperity seekers. That’s what makes prosperity gospel—or any other material pursuits—very dangerous, because it appeals to our most universal desire of being selfish. Every sane person wants their desires to be fulfilled, therefore everyone is prone to make use of God to get what one wants.

But sailing he goes, and he has learned a lot and still has a lot to learn in order to love the Giver more than the gifts. He tries to connect more and more to the ultimate reality and not delude himself of wishful thinking. He begins to see that this wonderful dance called life has its ups and downs, just like the rhythmic change of weather in the open ocean. He starts to accept that even though human beings are powerful, but they are of no comparison at all with God’s power. After all the mess he has made, he no longer wants to be the master of his fate and the captain of his soul.

***

The ocean can be cruel. Fortunately, there is a good Captain for all sailors out there. You may not hear Him now, but He is there. His wonderful message of hope does not always arrive in explicit form. Sometimes there are bizarre ways through which He communicates His presence, rather like semaphore code, or Morse code. So whatever wave it is that strikes your ship, however big and scary it is, take heart that it will come to pass.

Post tenebras lux (After darkness, light)

Latin phrase

Shocked by Joy

Bayangin lo berada dalam satu ruangan yang di dalamnya ada Kebenaran. Tapi lo ga bisa liat. Lo cuma bisa tau doang dia ada di situ. Segimana pun nyari, sekuat apa pun minta, lo ga bisa liat. Lo teriak, lo nangis.

Terus sekalinya lo ngeliat, lo terkaget karena wujudnya ga seperti yang digambarkan di film-film. Ternyata yang lo lihat adalah wajah yang teramat jelek. Lo terkejut. Lo kecewa berat. Tadinya lo berharap semua berjalan mulus dan manis, seperti rencana pembangunan jangka panjang pemerintah.

Lo kecewa. Lo putar balik, lalu keluar dari ruangan. Lo nyalakan mesin dan gas sekenceng-kencengnya. Lo ga tau lagi harus apa. Sampai lo nyampe di suatu tempat di mana lo udah ga sanggup lagi ngegas. Lo berhenti. Lo jalan sempoyongan, dan kemudian jatuh pingsan. Pingsan selama entah berapa tahun lamanya.

Begitu terbangun, lo nyadar kalau ternyata itu bukan wajahnya. Ternyata dulu di ruangan itu dia megang cermin besar. Ternyata itu wajah lo sendiri.

Sekarang lo tau siapa yang siapa dan apa yang apa. Tanpa penyadaran itu, hampir mustahil rasanya untuk dapat melihat wajahnya. Dan ya, wajahnya memang seperti yang digambarkan di film-film. Lo teriak, lo nangis, tapi kali ini dengan disambil tawa bahagia. Dengan rasa penasaran seorang anak kecil lo menunggu trik sulap berikutnya dari sang Maestro.

Above the noise of selfish strife We hear Thy voice, O Son of Man.

Aiden W. Tozer

 

How Can You Even Make Sense of “Forever”?

Oftentimes I find the concept of “eternity” difficult to comprehend. Suppose you’re a painter, with what colors do you paint eternity? Suppose you’re a songwriter, in what chords, what progressions, what tonality do you compose?

It’s just over midnight when I decide to have a short walk before sleeping. I find all the boys are sound asleep except one.

“That your wife?”

“Uh, no, sir,” he replies while swiftly tucking a photograph of a beautiful young lady inside his pocket.

“You’re a lucky guy.”

“I guess so.”

“How long have you two been together?”

“Eight years.”

“Wow. That’s quite a long time.”

“Not without our ups and downs.” He chuckles nervously.

“Have some trouble sleepin’ in the dirt?”

“No, sarge, it’s just I don’t feel like sleeping already.”

I sat down next to him. It was full moon and I could see his weary face clearly. There’s a momentary silence as his mind begins to wander.

“I really miss her,” he says, out of nowhere. Then another silence follows.

“Do you think the war will soon be over, sir?”

“I don’t know.” I know that sort of answer would not give him relief but I honestly don’t know. Personally, I’m tired of this war.

His face becomes solemn. “When I go back to Jakarta, I will propose to her.”

“I’ll cut your throat if you don’t invite me.”

He chuckles again. This young man has a contagious kind of jolly and warm chuckle which immediately lifts your mood up.

“Tell me, do you believe in heaven and hell, private?”

“Yeah, I do. What of it, sir?” He turns his head towards me, interested in my unexpected question.

“I never get it.” I pause for a moment. “It’s funny, though, how temporary our lives here on Earth seem to be.” He looks intently at me, waiting to hear my next sentences.

“This war makes me think again, deep inside. I’ve seen plenty of deaths already. A grenade falls, bang! You’re dead. Just weeks ago we’re hit by an ambush. We were eating! There was this man, he hadn’t even finished sayin’ his prayer yet.”

“It’s horrible,” he says. He looks upset. Now he turns his head back, looking to the darkness in front of us. The darkness seems to stare back, as if mocking our complete inability in knowing when the war will be over.

“Sarge, what if this war won’t be over? What if… this war continues forever?”

“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, kid. What’s ‘forever’? What do you mean by that?”

“Uh, like, forever, sir.”

“I can’t make sense of ‘forever’. Guess that’s why I have trouble believin’ in heaven and hell.”

“I too, sir, have a difficulty in making sense of it. But dare I say to you, it might help if you look at it from another perspective.”

“Another perspective?”

“Yeah. I mean, ‘forever’ is almost crazy, right? You have this stretch of time,” he stretches his arms wide open, “and it has no beginning and no end. But then again, if you think about it, there is no time there.”

He is silent for a while, trying to find a way to communicate his idea. “Oh, now I’m blabbering.”

“No, no. Please continue.”

“Are you sure? My friends would be bored whenever I start to talk about things like this.” He chuckles again.

“Yeah.”

“Right. So you have this concept of a place where there is no time. How can a man make sense of a place without time? It’s very puzzling! We’re so used to the concept of time. All our lives, we cannot escape from time.

“But I try to approach it from the other direction. In my attempt to make sense of the ‘forever’, I’d think first of the ‘never’. The two are somewhat similar, in a sense that they’re both timeless. There is no time also in the ‘never’. I’d ponder about things that hasn’t happened yet, and extrapolate it so that it would never happen. Like, what if we’d never land on Mars, or… or, what if I would never marry her. Well, that knocks my brain!”

We look again into the darkness. Sometimes I have the feeling that I would never see peace again. This war has been going for three years I almost forget my previous life. Experiencing so many horrors sets a new normal in my mind.

“And then I’d compare those images of ’never’ with images of ‘ever’: the image of me living in Mars, for example. Or, the image of my wedding day. Well, even though ‘ever’ isn’t exactly the same as ‘forever’, but it helps, you know.”

Now it’s me who chuckle. “Funny. I compare the images of war and peace side by side. I can vividly imagine this war going on and on and on, but it just no longer makes sense to me that we can have eternal peace. Guess I’ve been here for too long.”

“Uh, in our original context of heaven and hell, it does make sense, sir. If I’m asked to imagine a place where there is torture forever, I cannot do that. But if I am to picture a place where no one can ever see Peace and Love, well, I can do that. Same goes for the opposite.”

The darkness in front of us is pitch black. It is a terrible thing to have no light at all. I get up, quietly thanking in my downtrodden heart for the full moon above us.

“It’s a helpful technique, sarge,” says he, with a cordial smile on his face.

“It is. Go to sleep, private, it’s almost one.”

“Yes, sir.”

As I walk back, I’m reminded of a story my grandmother used to tell me when I was a little boy. It was about a really bad man who never did any good during his life. He stole, he beat people up, he lied, he cheated. As the story goes, one day he was arrested and sentenced to death. No one would even dare to think that he could be forgiven. But on his last day on Earth, he said to the man beside him, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And as the story goes, that criminal be with him in paradise.

All of a sudden, the ‘never’ becomes ‘forever’.