I walked down the narrow streets of Jakarta one Sunday evening. The city had returned to its usual pace, beating with its lively pulse again. Cars, and motorcycles, and street hawkers. Lovers walking hand in hand and kids playing firecrackers. It’s good to be back home.
War is over. It’s been a year. Finally, we get to live the freedom we’ve fought so hard for.
I was strolling along the street when I heard somebody called my name.
I turned my head to see who it was. “Sergeant! Never thought I’d meet you here.”
“Well, me too, Sir.”
Always with his inexplicable radiant charm, this young man. You know, that kind of person who lifts your mood up just by his presence. I lit up my cigarette and offered him, just to tease him a bit.
We both laughed. Ever since he decided to quit smoking I had always made a good fun of him by offering cigarettes. We got bored on the battlefield, and it was just one of those harmless jokes that soldiers make to keep us warm at night. He’s all right, this kid, understood that that’s the way soldiers treat their friends.
We were together in the war for, I don’t know, maybe four years. Funny, because when you look back, it feels like it wasn’t very long. But back then, it felt like forever. Like the war would go on and on and on till kingdom come.
Those years saw us hiding in jungles, sleeping in dirt, and patrolling the perimeters. We had our thoughts on loved ones back home, but we had to rely on one another to keep ourselves alive. Over the course of the war, I got promoted to the rank of Captain, while he got promoted to a Sergeant.
“How’s life, Sergeant?”
“No need to worry about snipers, eh?”
“Yes, Sir, you bet.”
“Man, I miss you guys.”
“Whoa, are you for real, Sir? Captain Martin himself, said those words?” He let out a couple of his trademark warm chuckles.
“Oh, shut up.”
I had a reputation among the boys for being a very unsentimental man. Heck, even ‘unsentimental’ is an understatement.
“Anyway, how’s it going, Sir?”
I paused for a while. “Settling down, I guess. Enjoying life. Speaking of settling down, though, I think I’m gonna cut your throat, Sergeant. How could you?!”
“What, Sir?” He seemed a little perplexed.
“Remember that night when you couldn’t sleep? You looked at a photo of that girl of yours?”
In an instant his face changed. I’ve never seen him look like this. Even when old Ronnie died there was still a hint of lightness in his face. Now, though, he was petrified.
He tried to gain composure by switching his body to another foot. But it didn’t take long before he smiled again. He’s a fine soldier, this fellow.
“Yeah, Sir, when I got back here, it… it turned out she’s already married.”
“Oh, man, I’m sorry to hear that.” Now it was me who got awkward.
“Yeah… it’s funny, though, cause I… I went straight for her soon as possible, I forgot to report to battalion,” said he, sensing the awkwardness and trying to ease the tension. He laughed nervously.
There was a silence for a while. Honestly, I didn’t know how to respond.
“Lucky me, battalion sent a reminder.”
“Yeah, you don’t wanna miss that. I mean, there was this guy who didn’t report to HQ on time and when he got back, all of a sudden there was this general, and…”
“Ah, never mind, Boy.”
He just smiled, and then another period of awkward silence as we continued our aimless stroll.
Now normally I’m not a nosy guy, but somehow there was this curious itch to know more about this fella.
“So the war should’ve ended earlier, eh?”
“Yeaaah… no, Sir, I think the war was just alright.”
“It’s funny, Cap’n, how complex Life is. Y’know, with all Its actors and scripts and settings. Don’t get me wrong, though, I meant it not as a complain, but a compliment. It’s just beautiful beyond belief.”
What’s this guy talking about?
“Yeah, but don’t you think it should’ve ended earlier?”
“I wish it would’ve ended earlier. Look, Sir, you can ask God how many times I begged Him to end that war. I think He was really bored with me, y’know. ‘Oh, this same guy again, with this same prayer again.’ Hahaha.”
No cynicism in his laughter. Intrigued, I wanted to ask something. But he went on.
“But I don’t think it should’ve ended earlier. No, it’s not like I don’t want peace or love violence or som’ing like that, y’know. It’s just that I felt everything has their purpose. It is what it is. Four years, it is what it is.” He took a pause.
“Tomorrow knows what it knows, Cap’n. Couldn’t make it get here sooner.”
I find it interesting how he can manage to find meaning amidst all this. Well, it’s not like he’s a goddamn psycho who doesn’t feel anything. I mean, you can sense deep sorrow in his voice, in his eyes. But somehow he refused to wallow in despair. Somehow he believed there’s something good behind all this. And it’s not just a mind hack or… or a make believe stuff you see on the internet. It’s solid.
“Good point, Sergeant.”
And we continued our walk for another half an hour before we parted ways. As I walked back to my home, his words came back to my mind. War, peace, and all this intricate dance called Life.
Tomorrow knows what it knows.
Hello, there, dear courteous reader! It’s with much regret that I inform you of my impending voyage. It’s high time for the Dawn Treader to set her sail.
Adieu, until we meet again.
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.
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
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)
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
“Really? For Goliath’s sake, when was the marriage?” asked I, upon learning that a friend had the courage to get married without my knowledge of the special occasion.
I was only a bit annoyed at first. But then came my friend’s response: “It was on Facebook! When was the last time you sign in to your Facebook account?”
“I don’t see why I should.”
“Come on man, are you kidding me? You live in the 2016 and you can’t see why you should be on Facebook?!”
Now normally I am a very calm man, but okay, he asked for it.
“Listen to me. Imagine you are hitchhiking on a spaceship launched exactly from the location where you sit now. At first you will see this compound of concrete and asphalt we call Jakarta. All its buildings, all its roads, cars, along with its happy inhabitants. After a while you will be high enough to look at the vastness of the dense Borneo jungle, all those innumerable trees—with who knows how many insects and birds and bats and reptiles—crisscrossed by large, snake-like rivers. Then the Pacific ocean comes into view, glimmering under the Sun on one of its corner and brewing a tropical cyclone on the other, at the same time being a nurturant home to countless fishes and invertebrates.
“Keep going until the whole planet fits into your panorama. This, I presume, should be the first time you really have a sense of how big and beautiful Planet Earth actually is. Continuing your hitchhiking voyage, you come within moon’s orbit distance. You see the proverbial earthrise the way Frank Borman saw it. You concede a gaping mouth, I bet. Now keep going, keep going. By now you should reach the periphery of the Solar System. As Neptune passes by, you notice the one planet you call home shrinks. It shrinks and it shrinks and it shrinks, until it turns into a pale blue dot.
“Right now you must wonder, is this how small we are in the universe? Our planet, with all the people and all the events? Now picture people. People hunting antelope, people building pyramids, people fighting each other. People reciting poem, people singing, people dancing. People writing equations, people sailing around the world, people testing out a flying contraption, people making video calls. People praying. People go to work. People marching for freedom. People born. People die.
“And then you wonder why are we here—what are we doing, on this pale blue dot in one corner of the universe.
“Now hold your curiosity, go find a mirror, see your own facial expression, and then say: FACEBOOK.”
He stared blankly at me. And after a few seconds paid his due attention back to the news feed again.
Well, maybe he doesn’t like essential things. Or maybe he is just addicted.
One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.
John S. Piper