12 February 2005

Small steps forward

I am currently reading Yancey's 'More Than Words: Contemporary Writers on the Works That Shaped Them', and was delighted that the first chapter is written by Richard Foster. It's a trip back 10 years to the one person who started me on the journey of spiritual discovery.

As I read Foster, and his interaction with De Caussade, I am so struck by how they all teach and echo the same truth. From Nouwen to Merton, to Thich Nhat Hanh, all from different traditions and different times, but searching for truth in the same way. And arriving at the same conclusion: that truth, life, and even God can only be found in the present moment and in daily living.

I rejoice for this has been the joyful discovery (amid painful struggles) of the last half year. Against my activistic church upbringing and the obvious disapproval of many close friends, it has been difficult to cutback, downsize, and disappear into anonymity.

Foster declares we have a 'duty to the present moment as the place where (we) find God'. Indeed, there is no other place to be. I am learning that we cannot be fully alive dwelling in the unchangeable past or fretting over the unknowable future. And only inasmuch as we are in the present are we able to encounter God who is in the here and now.

Foster also affirms my commitment to ordinariness - shunning special positions and spectacular projects - for 'right where we are is holy ground, in the families we have been given, in the tasks we are assigned, among our neighbours and friends.' I am learning that there is joy in ordinary living - watering the plants, riding the train, chatting up a taxi driver, a leisurely lunch with colleagues, simple conversations. In each moment the holiness within everything and everyone can emerge if we would sit back and allow it to. Watch for it with the simple ease of not trying too hard to do anything - but receiving graciously and giving spontaneously.

The beauty of such living - in the present, and in ordinariness - is the joy that fills it. I am at such ease, and can be present to anyone at any time with a natural joy. How else can we bless people if we do not safeguard our inner joy? Again, Foster affirms this self-sustaining and self-justifying way of living: 'it is this that makes life bearable,.. enjoyable. It enables us to walk cheerfully over the earth!'

If I were to describe the biggest steps I've made (baby steps as it were) over the past half year, they would be:
1. A commitment to the Ordinary Life - embracing the stuff of daily living, encountering God in the day to day
2. A dedication to the Mindful Life - returning to the present moment, encountering God in the here and now
3. A return to Authenticity - recovering a self minus the play-acting of multiple roles, relating to God from who I am

10 February 2005

A Free Man Indeed

My daily reading of the Bible has reached Gen 41. It's the point where Joseph is at last remembered and vindicated, now to a position of unimaginable height for a Hebrew slave in Egypt. It seems his life thus far has been a roller-coaster ride of intermittent dissapointments interspersed by fleeting deliverances, only to be thrown in the mud again and again.

Anyone having been dealt such an appalling hand in life would not be faulted for resentment and rebellion. Sold out by his own blood, jailed for his sexual integrity and loyalty to his boss, forgotten by recepients of his undeserved grace.

Indeed even the most moderate of sociopaths invariably have a history of protacted abuse during which his/her belief in the intrinsic goodness of mankind and the world is systematically raped. But not Joseph.

In spite of life's 'unfair hand' Joseph has kept his integrity and his faith. And even manages to be a blessing wherever he lands up. In captivity, in servitude, or in jail - he continues to bring value to his station in life. How does he do it? Wherefrom is this ability to see the big picture and believe in the significance of his role in God's plan? How does fading memories of childhood stories and idyllic dreams sustain a man through such hardening experiences?

Or could it be that the very crushing of a man yields the sweetest hope and grace? That in 'losing his life' he has gained it? By embracing death do we begin to live. In servanthood we have complete freedom. In letting go I have hands to receive.Egotism and ambition razed to the ground, he has escaped from the prison of self a free man - free from the fleshly compulsions and worldly attachments.

I wonder..

It seems life's harshest circumstances will inevitably have profound effects on our lives - but they certainly don't take away our ability to choose what they do for us.

07 February 2005

Dangers of pedestalisation

I'm currently on a self-declared sabbatical from formal church/parachurch responsibilities.

I need it badly.

Taking on too many leadership roles for too long corrupts the way you think/feel/act.

After a while you begin to believe (perhaps subconsciously) that you have all the answers. You are constrained to think in a politically correct way, act in a manner befitting and exemplary as a leader, and you stop asking really important existential questions. The pedestal you put yourself on is a spiritually stunting place and a trap for self-righteousness.

The moment I take up something this 'leader complex' creeps back in. And a thousand other compulsions and false sense of righteousness associated with it.

Let me first be ME. A human being, trying to reclaim a wholesome life, relating to a holistic God and all of the world - people, nature, myself and others. I must say NO, withdraw from substitutes for REAL spiritual living in the ordinary life.

I want to stay away as much as possible from all things institutional and organisational. From all things hierarchical and human-worshipping.

Honestly, I feel so much more real, so human, so complete and aware of my incompleteness WITHOUT church/parachurch responsibilities

Even the land rests

The closing of 2 Chronicles is amazing. The Chronicles were written to restore identity to a rootless generation. The two volumes pressed home the message in numerous examples that the only way to live in God's benevolent reign is by trust and obedience. To their peril, Israel failed mostly. Violently and humiliatingly sacked to non-existence, at the end of the kings' reign - the chronicler points out that their 70 years of non-existence was the Sabbath rest the land never got. The land finally got to rest. Rest from what? From evil, from sin, from wars, fightings within and without, from greed and idolatry. Rest.

Rest is an intrinsic law of the Universe. A rhythm that can only be violated to our peril. And if only to teach us that, God Himself rests! Why should he ever NEED to rest? But that's the whole point. The point of rest is not so that we can work. The chief aim of rest is not work! The aim of rest is to detach us from work - so that it does not BECOME our life, that it doesn't overwhelm us, that we don't place the seat of meaning and identity in it. But that work is work, and rest is rest. Rest is for itself. It is a self-justifying institution.

There is no rest without time, space and silence from the mind and heart's frantic voicings. There is no agenda in rest. For rest to be rest and has to have no point. It is about simply being. Being with myself. With God. With nature. With one another. But there are no goals, no aims, no parameters. Just simply rest.

The ending chapters in Revelations is such a rest. When we are surrounded by the fruits of the tree of life. Eternity in every moment. The way it was in the beginning.

Church in any form

I've been trying to follow some movements on the Internet such as the Emergent Church and House Church. And I'm excited about this new wave of rediscovering what life in the Body of Christ can and should be.

I identify with and give two thumbs up for any movement that tries to:
1. Undo divisions and reclaim unity among believers
2. Reclaim authenticity of the individual and stop role-playing/play-acting in churches
3. Minimise institutional structure to allow maximum spontaneity and relationships
4. Recovers ONE unified life under ONE God of all things from our fragmented and dichotomised living

Roger in Housechurch Blog asks:
What is “the church?” Can I live the Kingdom life without the institution? What does this look like?

Fredrik in freddyblog answers, 'I absolutely think we can, but I have no idea how it looks like. I feel comfortable about not knowing it. We don’t have to know. We just have to trust and live.'

Whichever way people go - it is authentic Body Life that we must live out. I think it matters little if we did it/found it IN A church or outside of one. Wherever we are and with whomever we are we must BE the Church.

05 February 2005

Redo Hair Day

I hustled my wife into a total hair job today. She's been so harassed and dehumanized at work lately I decided she needed something drastic - like straighten her curls and add some color to it!

We were at the saloon till long after closing time. My job? Take photos and keep a steady supply of ice cream and food. Just to keep her distracted.. Heh.

She still can't get over the total makeover.. I think she looks terrific!

But now all the male colleagues at work are offering to take her out for lunch and finish her chores for her... Great! Talk about the power of new hair!

Hospitality on the Blogosphere

I reread 'Lost in the Sea of Change' - one of my earliest pieces in which I wrote, 'All of us need people who will listen and offer others a ‘free and fearless space’ to be. When we accept each other and affirm God’s unconditional love, we can discover and pursue our true needs with confidence. Only then can we all make choices and commitments that are right and true to our heart’s cry'

Blogging has changed community and the art of connecting completely. Take a look at Messy Christian or Irene Q Unravelled and you'll know what I mean. Blogs have become places for self-discovery, journalling and above all - conversation.

And it's wonderful! There's an unstated understanding that a blog is like a home - the writer speaks his mind and heart and guests listen and respond with their own thoughts and experiences. Sometimes very thoughtfully, sometimes tongue-in-cheek. But always with respect for each other's space and place in their journey.

That's hospitality at its best - being a home and safe place for one another. Places where we can ask the unaskable and think the unthinkable. And maybe somewhere along the threads of mystery we all weave, truth will show itself to us.

Conversations with Thich Nhat Hanh

I've been reading with much joy Thich Nhat Hanh's book - Living Buddha, Living Christ. I know many well-meaning Christians would call me a heretic and burn me at the stake for even mentioning that I do (read a Buddhist monk's work.)

But he is a beautiful man with a beautiful mind. I am humbled by how insightfully he understands the Christian faith and teaches me to revere God and cherish my own spirituality more. What I would give to have a conversation with the man! Well, next to actually having one - this is what I would say if I had a chance to respond to him from him from his book...

TNH: When mindfulness is present,.. the Holy Spirit (is) already there.
YY: So true - when I live in the moment, in the here and now (not in the past or future), space is immediately opened up for God to come and dwell with us. God can only come to us in the present. The question is are we (present?). But we have to be ourself to be present. Most of the time we are someone else, someplace else, and in some other time!

TNH: ..we can put it (bread) in our mouth and chew with real awareness, not chewing anything else, such as our thoughts, our fears, or even our aspirations... this way, every meal is the Last Supper.
YY: Exactly! I've secretly practiced that - 'eating' Jesus in every meal (when I remember!). The exercise of eating is a spiritual one - always receiving in gratitude and not in greed.

TNH: The body of Christ is the body of God,.. of ultimate reality, the ground of all existence. We do not have to look anywhere else for it. It resides deep in our own being.
YY: Yes. How far must we wander to find Him who is already in us? We look for Him in service, in activism, in worship experiences - when we need only return to the here and now where He is waiting all along!

TNH: ..when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, He said, 'This is my body. This is my blood. Drink it, eat it, and you will have life eternal. It was a drastic way to awaken His disciples from forgetfulness.'
YY: It was also another graphic way of making the point that we must receive His sacrifice fully into ourselves to be a part of Him. He said, 'unless I wash your feet, you have no part in me.' Pride also keeps us from encountering God.

TNH: 'I am afraid this criterion (of believing in the resurrection) may discourage some people from looking into the life of Jesus.
YY: That is true.. We should not make believing in a creed an obstacle to encountering Jesus. Rather when one has touched the Living God - the resurrected Jesus is obvious to him. The creed is only an affirmation of that experience not the road to it!

TNH: We.. see... nonduality in God the Son and God the Father because without God the Father within Him, the Son could never be.
YY: Yes we often fail to see the whole Trinitarian God for the individual. The inter-being in the One God who is three is the source of all relationship and inspires us to achieve at-one-ment with self, others, creation and God. By drawing us to Himself, He mends our splintered lives and makes us One again.

TNH: Jesus lived exactly as He taught, so studying the life of Jesus is crucial to understanding His teaching.
YY: His life illustrates his teaching, and He spoke only from His own life. In the same way our lives must match our words, and we should only speak from our own experience. How easy it is to get carried away with empty rhetoric that are born out of insecurity and ambition rather than humble self knowledge.

TNH: Society is changing, people are changing, economic and political conditions are not the same as they were in the time of... Jesus.. (We need to) continue to develop as a living organism.
YY: The new movements of the Church often become the stale structures and shackles of the generation that inherits it. Cell groups helped rediscover dynamic living in the Body but today they feel more like prison cells - lacking in authenticity and spontaneity. Every generation must be brave to reinvent the way they live the spiritual life in order to remain fluid and organic - not static and lifeless.


Ever tasted something SoOOO good you felt the whole world should know about it?

Ever had a craving for that special something and just didn't know where to get it?

I've started a place for food lovers in Malaysia (wait a minute - that's the entire population) who can't get enough of it (just to make sure nobody feels marginalised here) and just want to share the good news with all the world. Come over and vote for your favorite food spots here.


01 February 2005

It's Federal Day!

How wonderful to have a public holiday in the middle of the week like that. Almost like a second chance for a Sunday that wasn't quite a Sunday last Sunday.

And well deserved too! All you non-FT-ites should not be jealous or complain. We in KL deserve at least ONE DAY off for all the time we waste away crawling in traffic.

The day's been wonderful. Slept in late, had a couple of coffees, caught up on reading and dialysed my fish tank. I swear the color is brown from uremia! Decided I had some time to experiment with food - grilled some chicken tenders marinated with Italian dressing and covered with bread-crumbs. Was yummy! Ate it with my own invention of pumpkin & sunflower seed bread, which, ahem was also scrumptious.

Oh and to top it off, it rained gloriously the whole afternoon, bringing our scorching temperature down a few notches. Only when I finally crawled out of the house to drive around did I realise it had stormed and blown off half of KL's tree tops!