Only valued metal is put through the fire.
Francis I. Andersen
Hope ain’t always easy to find. Sometimes I wonder if it has forgotten me.
But it hasn’t. It ain’t always in the headlines, or on the TV screens, or in the faces of success.
No. Hope waits in the shadows, and it shines brightest in the dark and broken places. In restless pursuit of the lonely and forgotten. In the songs we sing when we can’t find the words.
Why do we sing? Is it for them? Is it for us? Is it because we’re humans?
Do we sing about what we know, or what we don’t? Do we sing when we’re happy, or only when we’ve come to the end of ourselves, wondering how we could ever move forward… or maybe both?
Maybe we sing because we’re wounded. Maybe we sing because Hope deserves an anthem. Maybe we sing because the wound is where the Light shines through.
… and by his wounds we are healed.
Excerpt from Eric Greiten’s excellent book, Resilience:
Smiling and breathing. These are simple things.
Exercising and serving. These are simple things.
Being grateful and gracious. These are simple things.
Acting with humility. Acting with courage. These are simple things.
Some people try to make this business of living too complicated, Walker.
It’s hard, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Decide who you want to be. Act that way. In time, you’ll become the person you resolve to be.
When you act this way, you’re going to feel like a fake at first. When you want to kill someone, but instead act with kindness, you’ll feel like a fake. When you want to hide in your bedroom, but instead go to work, you’ll feel like a fake. The first few times—the first dozen times, or the first hundred—it will feel like a lie, a trick. It will feel like putting on a mask.
But this is exactly how we consciously create our own character. “Be what you would like to seem.” Wear the mask of the virtue you want until it’s no longer a mask.
One day, it will no longer be you putting on the mask of resilience. It will be you, resilient.
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.
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.
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
I hate all your show
Instead of a show
I hate all your show
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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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’.
The man who suffers the most is the one reborn without the ability to overcome the flesh
J. P. Sanjaya
In the beginning, man created questions
Then he fashioned them
and used them,
for a Rebellion
Oh, how brave he was!
Never in life have I seen a tower
standing so tall and proud
“I hath killed Him,” said he, coldly
No, surely not!
Verily, verily, He was dead
but is alive
For how can Light be killed?
The Light came forth
blinding his vision
begged the wolf to the Lamb
Look now, he kneeled
Once mighty and brave,
he was crumbling into pieces
A leper has been cleansed
But, alas, a wolf’s a wolf
The pack came back
“Dear friend, where hast thou been?”
and gave thirty pieces of silver
Another day, another Judas’ kiss
“Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here”
He spat on his own feet;
and then the rooster crowed
(But still the Light cometh forth,
for he is considered precious
“I love you, son,
do you love me?”)
Eu acredito! (I believe!)
Dear courteous reader, I am sorry if this starts to annoy you. I thought there would be no part three, but what can I say? Watching the drama of yesterday’s penalty shootout sent shivers down my spine, bringing me back to the memories of my own penalty shootouts. Well, for your convenience, I promise I’ll make this one a tad shorter than the second part.
The referee blew the whistle. It was the end of 120 minutes of nerve-racking conflict between two equal sides. Everyone knew what it meant: the dreaded penalty shootout―a lottery contest to determine the winner and the loser. The horror of failing to qualify was plainly written in the Brazilian players’ faces. Captain Thiago Silva covered his face as he couldn’t bear to look at the massive yellow crowd in front of him. Poor him! I don’t need to explain how great the pressure was on the players. It might take another sixty years before Brazil would host the World Cup again. Every Brazilians were dreaming, dreaming of winning the World Cup in their own land, and now that dream hung heavily on the shoulders of the penalty takers.
The scoreline read 2-2. Up stepped Neymar, Brazil’s fifth penalty taker. He knew if he missed this one, that dream would be very likely to shatter to pieces. A nation’s dream, Ladies and Gentlemen! Imagine the suspense, listen to his heart thumping as he walked from the halfway line forward. He put the ball on the white spot. His complexion changed. Just a minute ago he was agitated and uneasy. Now, though, he seemed very composed and so sure that he would score. He looked intently at the goal and made up his mind. He ran forward. He swung his leg…
It is never easy for me to fully believe in something. I don’t know why―maybe it’s in my DNA―I always open some rooms to suspicion. This doesn’t help me at all when I am searching for that Hand in darkness. No, don’t misunderstand me, I do believe in Him, but it just feels agonizingly hard for me to surrender completely to a God that I don’t know really well. There’s always the doubt that there is nothing at all up there. I have asked numerous times for a conclusive proof to settle this once and for all―call me Thomas if you’d like―but nothing has been given yet.
Things get rough when I am having a navigational problem. As you have probably known, my ship had been struck by a heavy storm. Even without a storm the voyage itself is already frightening me a lot, and now what happened? A heavy storm, Ladies and Gentlemen!―as if the wave itself is not enough. It is not surprising, really, that I then looked for the Hand. Sadly, though, I don’t know Him well enough. It was very hard to be assured when one doesn’t know Him well.
It is frustrating to realize that no matter how hard I tried to suppress it, doubt always manage to arrive (rather on time, unfortunately). The result is predictable: I become afraid. Although fear is a normal thing during situation like this, sometimes―if it is allowed to grow larger―it can impair one’s ability to fight back.
The Brazilians are not the only ones dreaming. I am dreaming too. Without any offense to His omnipotence, I think I won’t get there with doubt still lingering inside me.
My friend once asked me on how to take a penalty―I had a pretty good record on penalties. Straight out, I answered: “Well, first of all you have to ask yourself whether you’re ready or not to take it. If you’re not ready, don’t take it. If you’re ready, take it. At this stage it is okay to have some doubts in your heart, but once you step up to take it you have to be 100% blindly sure that you will score. This won’t make your leg stronger, but somehow it will condition your mind to give its best. That’s the art of penalty taking, to achieve a state of mind where doubt no longer exist.”
When I watched yesterday’s penalty shootout I can understand how it was like to be in Neymar’s shoe at that moment. Somehow I could relate his tension with my own tension, and zap! It occurred to me that maybe living is―to some extent―similar to penalty taking: let no doubt take away the goal, the dream.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Katharina von Schlegel
P.S.: After Chile’s last taker of the shootout failed to score, Brazilians in São Paulo lit up fireworks to celebrate the thrilling victory. I hope one day Jakarta would be doing the same.
P.P.S.: I apologize yet again, dear courteous reader, for I can’t keep my promise. This post is longer than the second part.