Thursday, August 31, 2006

Merdeka... or Much Afraid?

I've been listening to this album repeatedly for about a week now. I actually bought it because of the title and cover picture. As far as I know, the 1 Utama MPH is about the only place that stocks it.

The title song has 'Jars of Clay' written all over it:

Much Afraid

Empty again
Sunken down so far
So scared to fall
I might not get up again
So I lay at your feet
All my brokenness
I carry all of my burdens to You

All of these things
Held up in vain
No reason or rhyme
Just the scars that remain
Of all of these things
I'm so much afraid
Scared out of my mind
By the demons I've made
Sweet Jesus, you never ever let me go
Oh, sweet Jesus, never ever let me go

So happy to love
Yet so far to go
You lead me on to where I've never been before


No, no, no, sweet Jesus, you never let me go

* * * * *

Being afraid of the things that scar and hurt us is one thing, but there is a greater fear: the fear of exposing our brokenness. Fear of vulnerability grips us like no other fear, and the the song 'Much Afraid' is a prayer that's not easily uttered.

...Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

--T.S. Eliot, 'East Coker' Stave II

Father, grant that I may be humble in love, not self-seeking and caught up in my own desires, purposes and vested interests; help me to love selflessly, graciously, mercifully and faithfully, as You love me.

"Our dreams should be locked in each other's fate, not mine and yours separate."

--Buchi Emecheta, Kehinde

My dogs are dependent on me, and they are not ashamed of it. Perhaps we ought to own up, and admit that we truly belong to our heavenly Father and to each other. 'Each man for himself' and 'survival of the fittest' are lies that should not have any place in our lives.

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish literary critic, playwright, essayist and 1925 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, said:

"Independence? That's middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth."

How true is this, in love and in life.

* * * * *

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye is a Victorian, I found out yesterday. He was the guest-of-honour at the V.I.'s Merdeka celebrations.

And today, Mum found out during the Kids' Carnival at church, that Pastor Ng Koon Seng is too. His wife had asked about where I'm studying, and when Mum said, "V.I.", he chimed in, "Me too!" He was in the V.I. from 1961-1967: a True Victorian, and in Murugasu's era, no less!

A 'shocked' Kian Ti behind Li-Shia and my Jalur Gemilang. He's really one wacky little boy (and quite a poser at that!) underneath all his outward displays of sanity.

Li-Shia enjoying the super-sugary royal icing on the Merdeka cake (baked by one Mary Ng). But she didn't have to eat it; she's already as sweet as sweet can be... ;-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I remember one of the questions Michael asked last year at d'NA group discussions: "How can we prove that what the Bible says is true/reliable?"

Judging from the answers given, most (if not all) of us turned to history, philosophy and, to a lesser extent, science, for our answers to his question.

And he said: "Why is it that we do not seek the answer in the Bible itself? Is there anything in the Bible that defends itself?"

Judging from the silence, probably none of us thought of that.

He proceeded to cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17;

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)

I recall this because the latest issue of TIME magazine (September 4, 2006) arrived today. On the cover are printed these words:


And I thought to myself, what makes a scientist/historian more credible than the authors of the Bible?

I can think of no reason, except this: people no longer want to hear the voice of God. And God has left us to our own devices.

* * * * *

Perhaps Love
(John Denver)

Perhaps love is like a resting place, a shelter from the storm
It exists to give you comfort, it is there to keep you warm
And in those times of trouble when you are most alone
The memory of love will bring you home

Perhaps love is like a window, perhaps an open door
It invites you to come closer, it wants to show you more
And even if you lose yourself and don't know what to do
The memory of love will see you through

Love to some is like a cloud, to some as strong as steel
For some a way of living, for some a way to feel
And some say love is holding on and some say letting go
And some say love is everything, and some say they don't know

Perhaps love is like the ocean, full of conflict, full of pain
Like a fire when it's cold outside, thunder when it rains
If I should live forever, and all my dreams come true
My memories of love will be of you

Some say love is holding on and some say letting go
Some say love is everything and some say they don't know

Perhaps love is like the mountains, full of conflict, full of change
Like a fire when it's cold outside, thunder when it rains
If I should live forever, and all my dreams come true
My memories of love will be of you

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Concentric Circles

For some reason that I cannot now recall, I drew these concentric circles while teaching just now. And I decided to play an impromptu, Whose-Line-is-It-Anyway?-style game with my students. Here's what we saw in the picture:

Chean Hong, 11, Kuen Cheng Primary School

- drill
- umbrella
- whirlpool
- plate
- torchlight
- fingerprints
- tyre
- CDs
- camera zoom lens
- hypnosis rings
- cross-section of the earth
- lollipop (think Stephen Chow and Kung-Fu Hustle)

Jean, 15, Sekolah Sri Garden

- cross-section of small intestine
- layers of cheese in a sausage (cross-section)
- black steel thingy used to scrub woks
- planet
- mouth of a cannon
- curly straws in bottles (found in Parkson Grand, apparently)
- mosquito coil
- dead skin patterns on heel of foot
- game in which kids throw rings at a vertical stick
- waves from a remote control

Ben, 19, Victoria Institution

- dartboard
- topographic contour map
- tornado
- psychedelic eyeglasses
- planetary orbits
- Aztec pyramid
- birthday hat
- ripples in water
- tree rings
- cinnamon roll
- ice-blended frappuccino (or Slurpee, for that matter)
- kids dancing around a maypole
- pencil/pen
- golf course
- egg frying in a pan
- legs of the (cartoon) Roadrunner

* * * * *

Last night, at dinner with the debaters (pictures coming soon), Dinesh asked me a question that still gnaws at me. "If God is God, why must he die to forgive, and not just forgive at will?"

Dan is supposed to burn for me a CD of a debate between the famous Ahmad Deedat and a Swedish (I think) theologian or apologist of some sort. I look forward to engaging Mr Deedat...

We talked about divisions in the history of the Christian Church, prompted by Dan's question as to whether Christians are actually agreed on anything. He says that for Muslims, their two-fold creed is that "Allah is God Almighty, and Muhammad is His Prophet", whereas for Christians, the Trinity raises a whole host of problems.

(Reminds me of the days I discussed the Trinity with my classmates back in Form One, and the many conversations on religion I had during National Service.)

My answer to Dan was this; that the foundation of the Christian faith is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Petra's song, 'He Came, He Saw, He Conquered' flashed across my mind. And now, as I think of it, St Paul himself said;

We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

--1 Corinthians 1:23 (NIV)

He Came, He Saw, He Conquered
(Written by Bob Hartman and John Elefante)

He came alone into the battle
He knew nobody else could face His foe
He left His throne, He left His glory
He knew nobody else could ever go
He called the bluff, He took the challenge
He came into this world to seek and save
No one could know, no one could fathom
The way to win was only through the grave
They laid Him in His tomb
They thought they'd sealed His doom
But He rose
He rose!

He came, He saw, He conquered death and hell
He came, He saw, He is alive and well
He was, He is, and only He forgives
He died, He rose, He lives
He came, He saw, He conquered!

The doors were locked, they heard Him knocking
They were afraid they would be taken, too
Familiar voice said, "Come and follow"
Come and see the things the Lord can do
They went to where He lay
The stone was rolled away
He rose
He rose!


He came into this world
He saw humanity
He heard the SOS
He met the enemy
The enemy was conquered
The enemy was conquered!

* * * * *

I loved the song played during the end credits of The Lake House, especially the chorus. Yes, I'm one of those nuts who stay to watch the credits...

This Never Happened Before
By Paul McCartney

I'm very sure
This never happened to me before
I met you and now I'm sure
This never happened before

Now I see
This is the way it's supposed to be
I met you and now I see
This is the way it should be

This is the way it should be for lovers
they shouldn't go it alone
It's not so good when you're on your own

So come to me
Now we can be what we wanna be
I love you and now I see
This is the way it should be

This is the way it should be


I'm very sure
This never happened to me before
I met you and now I'm sure
This never happened before (this never happened before)
This never happened before (this never happened)
This never happened before (this never happened before)

* * * * *

Love (or rather, its accompanying tongue-tying symptoms) can make a person mispronounce certain words.

For instance, 'weak knees' can become 'kneak wees'.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thoughts after The Lake House

Watched The Lake House with Mum at the Cineleisure Damansara (next to The Curve), while Dad, Kevin and Sara went for Garfield 2.

It's really quite a perfect romantic movie, vivid in its cinematography and sweeping in its chemistry. Not much in terms of plot, but very evocative. By the end of the movie, I was left with one thought, inspired by the elements of time and death in the movie. Well, the thought isn't mine; it's T.S. Eliot's;

You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.

--From 'The Dry Salvages', Stave III

What makes the Cineleisure Damansara such a wonderful place for romantic movies, however, is this: they have 'couple seats', which are sets of two seats without the arm-rest in the middle! A wonderful device for couples who want to huddle up in the cinema, seeking the warmth of each other in the cold air of the hall...

* * * * *

In his masterpiece The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis suggests that romantic love should always be seasoned with fun and humour, that couples should not take love so seriously to the extent that it becomes a matter of life and death (such as is often portrayed in romantic tragedies and pop culture).

We are under no obligation at all to sing all our love-duets in the throbbing, world-without-end, heart-breaking manner of Tristan and Isolde; let us often sing like Papageno and Papagena instead...

...Lovers, unless their love is very short-lived, again and again feel an element not only of comedy, not only of play, but even of buffoonery, in the body's expression of Eros [romantic love].

* * * * *

Heard this in the car just now, before Mum dropped me in Taman Segar to get some work done at the Stationery Shop, develop some photos and get a haircut.

My Girl
By The Temptations (written by Ronald White and Smokey Robinson)

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day.
When it's cold outside I've got the month of May.
I guess you'd say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin' 'bout my girl (my girl).

I've got so much honey the bees envy me.
I've got a sweeter song than the birds in the trees.
I guess you'd say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin' 'bout my girl (my girl).

Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

I don't need no money, fortune, or fame.
I've got all the riches baby one man can claim.
I guess you'd say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin' 'bout my girl (my girl).

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day
with my girl.
I've even got the month of May
with my girl...

* * * * *

Sara outside the Cineleisure Damansara office...

...and Kevin in 'jam' mode yesterday morning.

* * * * *

It's already been a week and 33 minutes...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Of Hemingway and Hardy

When I first read Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, the 'unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse', I had no idea it would come across as nearly a different novel when read from within its context.

Some things take on a certain appearance when you're outside looking in, but become transformed into a totally different experience when you're inside... looking both in and out.

Here are two excerpts I didn't take much notice of when I first read the book. It may be useful to remember that the story is narrated by Lieutenant Henry, the American ambulance driver.

(From Chapter XVIII:)

We had a lovely time that summer. When I could go out we rode in a carriage in the park. I remember the carriage, the horse going slowly, and up ahead the back of the driver with his varnished high hat, and Catherine Barkley sitting beside me. If we let our hands touch, just the side of my hand touching hers, we were excited...

(From Chapter XXIII:)

[Henry said,] "We always feel good when we're together."
"We always will be together."
"Yes, except that I'm going away at midnight."
"Don't think about it, darling."

We walked on up the street. The fog made the lights yellow.

"Aren't you tired?" Catherine asked.
"How about you?"
"I'm all right. It's fun to walk."
"But let's not do it too long."

We turned down a side street where there were no lights and walked in the street. I stopped and kissed Catherine. While I kissed her I felt her hand on my shoulder. She had pulled my cape around her so it covered both of us. We were standing in the street against a high wall.

* * * * *

Reading through Hardy yesterday, several poems left a strong impression on me. Here's one with which I resonated, despite its want of a better title.

To a Movement in Mozart's E-Flat Symphony

(From the collection Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses)

By Thomas Hardy

Show me again the time
When in the Junetide's prime
We flew by meads and mountains northerly! --
Yea, to such freshness, fairness, fulness, fineness, freeness,
Love lures life on.

Show me again the day
When from the sandy bay
We looked together upon the pestered sea! --
Yea, to such surging, swaying, sighing, swelling, shrinking,
Love lures life on.

Show me again the hour
When by the pinnacled tower
We eyed each other and feared futurity! --
Yea, to such bodings, broodings, beatings, blanchings, blessings,
Love lures life on.

Show me again just this:
The moment of that kiss
Away from the prancing folk, by the strawberry-tree! --
Yea, to such rashness, ratheness, rareness, ripeness, richness,
Love lures life on.

Actually, come to think of it, the title isn't all that bad. There is something musical suggested by 'Lines to a Movement', and truly, the poem is musical in the typically songlike nature of Mozart's works.

I really must listen to this E-Flat Symphony. Problem is, Mozart has five E-Flat symphonies, nos. 1, 3, 19, 26 and 39!

* * * * *

Love lures life on, indeed.

Ephesians: Take Three

Among the best elements of the The Message are Eugene Peterson's introductions to the various books of the Bible.

For Ephesians, he writes:

...[St Paul shows] how Jesus, the Messiah, is eternally and tirelessly bringing everything and everyone together. He also shows us that in addition to having this work done in and for us, we are participants in this most urgent work. Now that we know what is going on, that the energy of reconciliation is the dynamo at the heart of the universe, it is imperative that we join in vigorously and perseveringly, convinced that every detail in our lives contributes (or not) to what Paul describes as God's plan worked out by Christ, "a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth."

I couldn't agree more. Having read through Ephesians twice recently, I am left with a picture of Christ drawing us to him, and to each other. Why are we to be imitators of God, but that we should also extend his love for us to others?

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

--Ephesians 4:32-5:2

But Ephesians is so much more than that. If reconciliation is the framework, then the rest of Ephesians is the manual, the Reconciliation for Dummies or Complete Idiot's Guide to Loving One Another text. It begins by recalling the work of Christ in initiating the reconciliation, and ends with a description of the way the Spirit works in us to continue and effectively spread this reconciliation.

By the way, if the excerpt from Peterson's introduction above seems difficult to read at first, let me say that this is precisely how Peterson writes. Having read The Wisdom of Each Other and begun Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, I am beginning to realise that he has a knack for vivid imagery (e.g. dynamo), dynamic adverbs (vigorously and perseveringly) and long sentences. And yet, his writing comes across as conversational and not tedious.

To some extent, it borders on the impressionistic. In reading his introduction to Christ Plays, I could mow through a page in record time. His words are not like those of a Biblical commentary, in which the reader has to pause at almost every sentence to let the thoughts sink in. Rather, his is like an enjoyable romp through the page, leaving the reader with an overall view of a breathtaking landscape.

* * * * *

It happens that, with so many entries, I'm beginning to lose track of when and where I typed certain things. So I've decided to put Google Search on my blog. (See sidebar on right.)

Thanks, Joan, for the HTML!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Bono said something that made me realise why I like U2 so much. He said that, although The Joshua Tree was not a distinctly Irish album (in fact, it was heavily influenced by American music), the melancholy that pervades it is uniquely Irish. And I guess that's it: U2's melancholy. Somehow I can identify with U2's depth of emotion, and it means a lot.

* * * * *

My favourite song on Jars of Clay's album Much Afraid is the last track, 'Hymn'. Indeed, their slow songs are their best; songs like 'Faith Enough', 'Frail', 'Worlds Apart', and 'Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder'.

By Jars of Clay

Oh refuge of my hardened heart
Oh fast pursuing lover come
As angels dance 'round your throne
My life by captured fare you own

Not silhouette of trodden faith
Nor death shall not my steps be guide
I'll pirouette upon mine grave
For in your path I'll run and hide

Oh gaze of love so melt my pride
That I may in your house but kneel
And in my brokenness to cry
Spring worship unto thee

When beauty breaks the spell of pain
The bludgeoned heart shall burst in vain
But not when love be pointed king
And truth shall thee forever reign


Sweet jesus carry me away
From cold of night, and dust of day
In ragged hour or salt worn eye
Be my desire, my well sprung lye

(Chorus x2)

Spring worship unto thee
Spring worship unto thee

* * * * *

One of the things I look for in a girl is soundness of mind. But that is not to say I will only date members of Mensa!

She must be someone who can love God with all her heart, her soul, her mind and her strength.

Of all that is given unto us, will we return in proportion to God? Of him to whom much is given, much is also expected.

* * * * *

Yay! I managed to finish reading all of Thomas Hardy's poems today. That's over 80 poems in a day. I thought I'd require two days, but these last few days have been really productive, thank God!

Looking forward to Friday night and Saturday...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Thoughts on a string...

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi launching the country's first hybrid car that runs on petrol and hydrogen in Johor Baru yesterday. With him are, from right, the technology patent holder Dr Halim Ali, Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman and Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Samad, seen fixing the Jalur Gemilang onto the LMG Trekker.

(From The Star, 16 August 2006)

* * * * *

Here's an interesting poem from that master of poetic wit and humour, Ogden Nash. Poetry Speaks Calendar, 21 August.

The Purist
By Ogden Nash

I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist.
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles!"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."

* * * * *

It occurred to me at church on Sunday, that the band Jars of Clay really do write and title songs that reflect the verse after which they are named:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

--2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

Songs like, 'Waiting for the World to Fall', 'Worlds Apart', 'Frail', 'Much Afraid', and 'Faith Enough'.

Hwei Ling, who is flying off (as usual!) today, says their songs don't really arrest at first, but tend to grow on her. I think she's right. Thing about Jars of Clay is, the words are so powerful, that often, in my hours of darkness, I will sing (and sometimes even pray out) their songs.

* * * * *

I discovered a video documentary of U2's bestselling and Grammy-winning album The Joshua Tree in MPH 1 Utama on Sunday.

In it, Bono says, "We were a band before we knew how to play our instruments."

Maybe that's what keeps them going so strong; they were a band to begin with. A band of brothers.

* * * * *

After walking George, and before taking a shower just now, a thought came to me: some of God's 'finest' were denied what they desired most.

Moses led the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, after what was probably the most spectacular deliverance in history, but was denied entry into the Promised Land.

Job suffered everything except his own death, but God chose to answer his questions and cries with even more questions.

David was described as a 'man after God's own heart', but he wasn't allowed to build the Temple of God.

John the Baptist was the Messiah's forerunner, the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus Christ. But he spent his last days in King Herod's jail, and was finally beheaded to please Herod's niece. He never got to see what the Messiah would do.

* * * * *

Yesterday, as I was looking through virtually all the photos I'd taken in school since last year, thoughts flooded my mind as I looked at my friends, so different then; a year can do so much to people.

It's like, in a photo, you were there once... but not again. The past is lost in tears shed in the present.

Li-Shia has this quote on her MSN nickname: "The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do."

I don't know if that's really the best thing about a picture. Sometimes, it strikes me as more of a sad thing, because I can't help feeling gripped by the passage of time, wallowing in sentimentality when I gaze upon these fossils, as it were.

When I first started taking photos, I never realised they could have such a powerful effect. Now, it is too late to turn back.

* * * * *

I think my favourite song on the Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe soundtrack, is Rebecca St James's 'Lion'. 'Stronger' by Delirious and Steven Curtis Chapman's 'Remembering You' are also excellent pieces.


(Written by Rebecca St James, Kerry Barlowe, Jamie Moore and Shaun Shankel)

That's what I call You
I'm curious about You
I'm scared and I'm not sure that You are safe
But your eyes seem to say that You are good

This is not a dream that I'm living
This is just a world of Your own
You took me from all that I knew
Shown me how it feels to hope
With You with me, facing tomorrow together
I can learn to fly
Feels like I'm living in the lion's mouth
But the lion is (an angel)

Wise eyes, You see the core of me
Your gentleness melts me
And now I know that words cannot describe
The power that I feel when I'm with You


Peace and power, love forever
Who am I to stand before You?
I am speechless
But in my weakness
You are here and all is well

But the bridge of Steven Curtis Chapman's 'Remembering You' is probably one of the most impressive sequences in the entire album. Even its lyrics sound monumental;

The dark night, the hard fight
The long climb up the hill knowing the cost
The brave death, the last breath
The silence whispering all hope was lost
The thunder, the wonder
A power that brings the dead back to life

* * * * *

Read two chapters of Maths (Probability and Discrete Probability Distributions) today. It's been a productive start to the week, especially after yesterday's success. Basically, that's why I'm blogging now, simply because I've finished half of the work I set out to do this holiday week.

Thomas Hardy, here I come!

* * * * *

When there are just too many coincidences, can it be considered a conspiracy?

Ephesians: Take Two

Yesterday, I read through Ephesians in one sitting during my class, this time using the New International Version. The following are the passages that caught my attention this time around.

* * * * *

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight... In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.

We were chosen to be holy and blameless. That is the purpose, the goal.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.

Saved because of love...

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

...and saved by grace alone. We are God's workmanship. I like that word.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ... For through him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access to the Father by one Spirit.

By the Spirit of Christ are we drawn near.

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

We can now come before God because Jesus made a way. It's like what the author of Hebrews wrote; "Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, as our prayers draw us near."

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

What a prayer!

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

This reminds me of what Tom Hanks's character said to Ryan in the movie Saving Private Ryan; "Earn this." The captain died to save a private, and his dying words were an exhortation, that Ryan would live a life worthy of the great sacrifice made by others to save him.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Together, these three passages are a call to grow up and mature in Christ. To put on the new self of holiness. Perhaps, if God's Spirit is the new wine, we are like wineskins; unless we change too, our old selves will not be able to contain the new wine. Instead, we would burst because our old skins are incompatible with the Spirit.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

To be imitators of God; precisely what the disciples and followers of Jesus are to be. What else does an apprentice do, but learn to walk in the ways of the Master?

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Not even a hint. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Reminds me of this passage:

John 3:19-21
[Jesus said,] "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

There is probably a conspiracy afoot, as this verse is actually quoted from Genesis 2:24. 531 and 224... conspiracy indeed! (OK, just in case you're wondering, it's actually an inside joke, so don't crack your head trying to understand the significance of the numbers.)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Referring to the NIV study note, I realise that indeed, the Gospel is not an escape route from the realities of the day, but a way of life characterised by the active working of the Spirit of God day by day. It's like what John the Baptist said to the soldiers: be content with your wages, etc. He did not tell them to quit service in the Roman army, though the Romans were the enemies of the Jews.

As Brian McLaren wrote in A New Kind of Christian, God does not free us from our contexts, but he does redeem us from sin within the context of our lives.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Our battle against the spirits of darkness can only be won by the Spirit of Light. I wonder if little children know that the song, 'Read your Bible, pray everyday' is really a powerful call to arms that sends echoes of fear into the depths of hell...

Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

These are the last words. And as I read them, I wondered if I truly love Jesus with an undying love. Can we possibly love Him like that?

C.S. Lewis described one aspect of our love for God as need-love, which is a love characterised by our needs, much like children who express their love for their parents when they go to them for food and comfort.

How much do we love Jesus?

* * * * *

It occurred to me a while ago, that the Bible is really alive and cool. Yup... I can't seem to think of another word to describe what I'm thinking of at the moment. Cool.

And this second reading of Ephesians has left me with a phrase, which also serves as a reminder that I need to get back on track with Akouo.

The phrase is: "The Imitation of Christ".

Saturday, August 19, 2006

On finding yourself... and someone else

Find Yourself
by Brad Paisley

(from the Cars Original Soundtrack)

When you find yourself
In some far-off place
And it causes you
To re-think some things
You start to sense
That slowly you're becoming someone else
And then you find yourself

And when you make new friends
In a brand new town
And you start to think
About settlin' down
The things that would've been lost on you
Are now clear as a bell
And you find yourself
Yeah, that's when you find yourself

There you go through life
So sure of where you're headin'
And you wind up lost
And it's the best thing that could'a happened
'Cause sometimes when you lose your way
It's really just as well
Because you find yourself
Yeah, that's when you find yourself

When you meet the one
That you've been waitin' for
And she's everything
That you want and more
You look at her, and you finally start
To live for someone else
And then you find yourself
Yeah, that's when you find yourself

We go through life
So sure of where we're headin'
And then we wind up lost
And it's the best thing that could'a happened
'Cause sometimes when you lose your way
It's really just as well
Because you find yourself
Yeah, that's when you find yourself

It's been a year of losing and finding myself over and over again, in so many different ways. I'm still grappling with what I found on Friday, 18 August 2006... or rather, what found me.

* * * * *

She and he are worlds apart.

She uses an automatic camera;
He uses a manual.

She likes dressing casual;
He likes formal wear.

She drives;
He doesn't.

She's more of an extrovert;
He's more of an introvert.

She feels more;
He thinks more.

She doesn't like jazz;
He can't get enough jazz.

She plays by ear;
He plays by sight.

She reads inspirational fiction/biography;
He prefers philosophy/theology and poetry.

She uses Xanga;
He uses Blogger.

Her back usually faces the audience;
His front is usually seen.

She likes the air-conditioner;
He lives like Malaysia is the North Pole.

She lives along a busy street;
He lives in an idyllic cul-de-sac.

* * * * *

Soo Tian said, "Even if this story must end, one day you can take the book off the shelf. And I don't think you'll regret what you've written at all."

* * * * *

Father, hold our hands even as we uphold each other. Guide us that we may not fear what lies ahead.

Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we'll be safe

* * * * *

Three o'clock in the afternoon. Such a storm as had not been seen in many a day. With droplets hurled like a curtain onto skin chilled by the wind, with thunder roaring overhead and lightning flooding the skies, with water overflowing from the drains...

If only the rain lasted longer; if only time could stand a little stiller.

Our two worlds came crashing together, with the crash of lightning and thunder reverberating overhead.

Thoughts on Integrity... and more

There were a lot of interesting ideas that flowed forth from the Third National Congress on Integrity, held this morning at University College Sedaya International (UCSI). The plenary speakers, Dr Ravi Zacharias and Dr Syed Hussein Alatas, were in good form. Dr Ravi took the Christian standpoint, while Dr Syed assumed a perspective grounded in the Malaysian context.

At the end of the day, I was left with one overarching thought about the meaning of integrity: the question of integrity is the question of what it means to be good, truly good.

Dr Syed spoke much on hypocrisy, while Dr Ravi centred his talk on 'vertical accountability' (i.e. accountability to God and not just man), describing the Joseph of the Old Testament as an embodiment of integrity.

When Dr Ravi said "A leader must begin his/her day on his/her knees", it struck me that this could have been one reason why I failed in the Victorian Editorial Board. I used to begin my days on my knees; well, not literally, but the Editors' Room was always a sanctuary of sorts. And then I drifted from it; I no longer met God there in the mornings. (Father, forgive me, for I have sinned.)

During the roundtable discussion (just like Emergent meetings in The Father's House!), a rather elderly man said that students were exposed to the teachings of various religions back in his schooldays. He said that no such thing is done today. Actually, he was wrong; comparative religion (i.e. not just Islam) is still a significant part of Form Four History. Trouble is, people don't take God seriously anymore. And we're not talking about studying other religions; even Christians, for example, don't take Jesus seriously enough!

A young lady called Pauline cited indifference and the lack of transparency as two of the main issues concerning integrity in our country today. I think she nailed it perfectly. Li-Shia helped me see that, indeed, people today don't want to get involved with others. We are content living our own lives; who wants to help others when we've got so much on our own plates? And we would rather hide our true selves; vulnerability is a taboo word.

On the whole, it struck me that many people have an issue with the government. A lot of opinions given, including much that was discussed at my table (there were four of us in all), centred on corruption and irresponsibility in the government. Yet I find that, we can talk all we want about the government, but unless we take the first step, nothing will happen.

Put it this way: if God were to judge you by His standards, in the same way that you judge the government by your standards, would you be able to stand God's test? Are you already good enough for God? Will others be able to say, "Here is a man/woman in whom God dwells"?

The closing remarks were very significant.

Dr Ismail Noor, one of the moderators, said we have to stop the blame game. The question is: what can we do?

Dr Ravi then said that we have to stop complaining about the environment, because it is we who create the environment. He cited the example of an editor who asked, "What's wrong with the world?" G.K. Chesterton, the great Christian writer, then wrote to the editor, "Regarding your question about what's wrong with the world, I am, yours truly, G.K. Chesterton."

Dr Syed continued; the Quran says that God created differences so that we may learn to understand each other, and compete to do good. The children of God are not confined to one community.

And finally the other moderator, K.J. John, left us all with a thought, which is actually the title of a book by a professor who taught him (if I'm not mistaken): "How come every time I'm stabbed in the back, the fingerprints on the knife are mine?"

I still don't really know what that means, but I am reminded of Ray Boltz's song 'The Hammer', in which he suggests that the hand that swung the hammer, nailing Christ to the cross, was not the hand of a Roman soldier, but ours.

* * * * *

Speaking of Ravi, the other day at GTPJ, he told a joke. Apparently Muhammad Ali was in his private jet when it encountered some turbulence. So the stewardess (or someone like that) told him, "Please fasten your seatbelt." And he replied, "Superman don't need no seatbelt." To which she just said, "Superman don't need no airplane either."

So much for pride.

* * * * *

This is what Ryan did to me yesterday morning, when I was washing my hands in the garden before leaving for school. His pawprint on the back of my baju Melayu is quite unmistakable. I think it was Ching Yeng who first noticed it in school, at recess.

* * * * *

More birthday presents. The Unic pen is from Jean, the bookmark is from Li Ling (on the other side, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is quoted; "Pray without ceasing."), and Sivin gave me Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Whee!

I was expecting to pay him for it (RM73 for such a book was very reasonable for me), but when he dropped by after school yesterday, he just said "Happy Birthday." Thanks so much Sivin!

And thanks Jean and Li Ling! (For some reason, I seem to get presents related to reading and writing all the time :-P)

* * * * *

Meet four of the toughest/heaviest books I have. I don't think I'll be able to manage them now, what with STPM trials (and the real STPM) around the corner. But come December (and a long holiday after that), I'll have to keep this brain churning!

Just in case the picture isn't clear, they are:

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson
The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
Logic: An Introduction by Wilfrid Hodges
What Does It All Mean? by Thomas Nagel

* * * * *

This is one reason why you'll never be a spy, dear Perfume Girl. :-P

(I'll never forget the little squeal when I named it correctly!)

* * * * *

Li-Shia will turn 22 (two-two) on the 40th anniversary of the 13 May 1969 race riots.

I will turn 31 in 2018. My house number is 18; my grandparents', 20. In that year, my grandfather will turn 91; will he live that long?

Ephesians: Take One

The other day, I read through The Message translation of Ephesians in one sitting. These passages struck me.

That's plain enough, isn't it? You're no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He's using us all--irrespective of how we got here--in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day--a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

The plan will come to pass. Christ is the cornerstone and indeed, He who has begun a good work in us will complete it.

And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.

Things that are way over my head indeed. The ever-pervasive Greater Reality of the inexhaustible riches of God's grace and mercy.

But that's no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything--and I do mean everything--connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life--a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, we who are in Christ are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. And as Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:48, we are to be perfect just as God is perfect.

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry--but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

Don't go to bed angry. That's the hard part, isn't it? The trouble with us is not anger, but resentment. But how heavy hatred is! We would do well to let this sort of burden go; go into the hands of One who can better deal with anger than we.

Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

Only by God's grace and strength can we forgive. And his grace is sufficient.

Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

I pray I will be able to love as Christ loves. To love deeper and stronger when the offence is greater; to love even the unlovable. To 'give everything of myself' when I love.

And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become "one flesh."

The famous description of marriage.

Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

The famous passage on the Armour of God. As is typical of The Message, here it has less literary value and more practicality.

And don't forget to pray for me. Pray that I'll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Jailbird preacher. I like that. I remember something Max Lucado wrote, about a hypothetical comment made by a Roman official; "Throw Paul into jail and bind him in chains. Then what will he do? Write letters?"

If only they had any idea what impact those letters would have, they could have saved a lot of energy hunting Christians, simply by killing Paul on the spot. But they didn't; God made sure the movement continued. And today, He keeps us going.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Greater Reality

Meet The Sigma Effect... again. Apparently there was a confusion at the Battle of the Bands. They are in fact, First Runners-Up! Congratulations, Sigma Effect!

I'm really proud of my brother and his friends; this is one step closer to the Grammys!

When I think of Second Place, I feel it should neither be a plateau nor a crushing end. There have been so many Second Places this year: the debate team, the choir, The Sigma Effect, Gustave's Silver Medal in Solo Acting. I remember my seconds too; the Scrabble Nationals in 2004, and my Impromptu Silver last year, among others.

To me, Second Place is the anticipation of greater things. For the Forensics, my Gold Medal eventually came. But I never expected nor worked for it, in the year that I won it (this year). I think victories often surprise us; I was blessed enough to see the V.I. reclaim the Rafidah Aziz shield at the Forensics in my final year as a student.

* * * * *

An education fair has been going on in school over the past two days. One thought that struck me, amidst all the promotions and advertising, was this:

A degree in something that is marketable, may not be what you want to study. I say, go for passion. The market will always be there; what's more, it will always be changing. But passion is fleeting; capture it and make something of it, or let it pass forever.

Henry David Thoreau said, and I agree: "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

* * * * *

I finished Blue Like Jazz a few days ago. Sunday, I think. My favourite chapter is also the shortest in the book, spanning only six pages. It is the chapter on Worship. Here's one of my favourite passages in the book:

It comforts me to think that if we are created beings, the thing that created us would have to be greater than us, so much greater, in fact, that we would not be able to understand it. It would have to be greater than the facts of our reality, and so it would seem to us, looking out from within our reality, that it would contradict reason. But reason itself would suggest it would have to be greater than reality, or it would not be reasonable.

And Donald Miller ends the chapter with what I think it the most honest, candid, open and inviting call to follow God I have ever heard:

And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don't think there is any better worship than wonder.

* * * * *

The Poetry Speaks Calendar featured this rather melancholic poem on August 15. I like its simplicity.

Summer Evening
By Walter de la Mare

The sandy cat by the Farmer's chair
Mews at his knee for dainty fare;
Old Rover in his moss-greened house
Mumbles a bone, and barks at a mouse.
In the dewy fields the cattle lie
Chewing the cud 'neath a fading sky.
Dobbin at manger pulls his hay:
Gone is another summer's day.

* * * * *

Today, at the Chairmen-Prefects-Old Boys' dialogue session at the VIOBA (VI Old Boys' Association) Clubhouse, I thought of this year's Sports Day. It was my very last Sports Day as a student, and I really wanted to go for it. Unfortunately the ISKL SEA Forensics Finals were on the same day; whole day.

In retrospect, I feel both a sense of regret and yet, also of non-regret. Whatever the case, I chose my path. And in many ways I am glad I did what I did.

By the way, Mr Chung Chee Min has uploaded the True Victorians 2000-2006 photo onto the VI website. Click here to view.

* * * * *

I began typing this entry in the evening at 6.14 p.m. before leaving with Mum for the Ravi Zacharias talk at church. Dr Ravi is indeed an inspiring speaker, and his message was themed 'A Mirror of the Soul'; whether or not it was suggested to him by the church, or not, I do not know.

He began by asking, "Who are you? What does it mean to be you? You cannot find fulfilment unless you know what you're fashioned for." And he drew three lessons from the Wilderness Wanderings of the Israelites en route to the Promised Land; namely, Humility, Spirituality and Faith.

On Humility: Don't offend those you want to reach out to, for what's a flower without a nose to smell it?

Philippians chapter 2 speaks of Christ's humility.

Ian Blaicklock (not sure if I got the spelling right) said, "God alone knows how to humble without humiliating and praise without flattering."

On Spirituality: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of God," as Moses wrote in Deuteronomy. These were the words quoted by Jesus when tempted in the desert.

And Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are my disciples; then you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free." Winston Churchill said, "Truth is so valuable that it is guarded by a bodyguard of lies."

If on this earth we yearn for our parents to say, "Well done," how much more then will we yearn for our Heavenly Father's "Well done!"

On Faith: A student in New York University asked, "How do I know that I exist?" And Professor Nathan replied, "And who may I know is asking?"

The question is not whether or not we live by faith, but in whom is our faith. Joshua said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

And Paul said, "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it to the day of Jesus Christ," and elsewhere, "I bear in my body the marks of Christ Jesus."

Dr Ravi ended with the story of a Vietnamese friend of his called Yen, who was brainwashed by the Communists. And just as he was about to give up on God, he was sent by the commanding officer to work in the latrines, just to make sure there would be no escape for the young Christian's mind. But there in the latrines, amidst all the shit, Yen found scraps of pages from the Bible.

That which the commanding officer used as toilet paper, Yen used for his devotions. The first piece he found was from the book of Romans, chapter 8. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes." "For we know that nothing... in all creation can stand between us and the love that is in Christ Jesus."

Finally he closed with this quote: "Put your hand in the hand of God; it shall be better than a light in the night, and safer than the known."

* * * * *

Safer than the known... sounds like Miller's thoughts on worship in Blue Like Jazz. It's almost as if the whole Christian experience is about throwing ourselves into a reality beyond us, into something we will never understand, into Someone who is beyond comprehension, but who knows us in and out. We reach for God because he reaches for us.

There is one more thought along these lines, and I quote from Li-Shia's blog:

Thank You for listening when troubles cloud my mind; thank You for wanting to care. For all the encouragement and point of views. Especially when it came to doing the Right Thing and in having faith in people. You’ve been great!

One thing I’ve learnt is that we will not progress if we always cling on to what’s ‘traditional’. Once in a blue moon, we should budge--walk out of the Circle, close our eyes, take a deeeeep breath...

...and jump.

You might like it very much.

And jump... Reminds me of Steven Curtis Chapman's song, 'Dive', which speaks of diving into the unknown. Its chorus goes;

I'm diving in, I'm going deep
In over my head, I wanna be
Caught in the rush, lost in the flow
In over my head, I wanna go
So sink or swim, I'm diving in

And the words, "Thank You." Words I think we do not utter enough. Words we do not utter enough to God. Li-Shia has paved the way; let us follow in offering our thanksgiving to Him alone who is worthy.

* * * * *

Oh, two more thoughts from Li-Shia's blog.

"There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness."

--Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes, there is reason in madness, simply because what is 'mad' to us may actually reflect the greater reality of which we are ignorant. This world does not operate on man's laws and logic, but on the will of the Almighty.

And I think poor Chris Martin needs to go for vocal lessons.

Interestingly, that is one of the things I actually like about Coldplay: Chris Martin's rather stretched and torn vocals. And I think this is one of the elements of Coldplay that make people compare them with U2, for Bono doesn't quite have a wonderful voice either, to say the least.

But it was Bono and U2, not Alicia Keys or Celine Dion, who taught me to feel. They're not going to win any singing competitions, surely, but Coldplay and U2 are truly atmospheric bands that succeed despite technical flaws. At any rate, I'll bet Coldplay will become extinct the day Chris Martin sounds like Josh Groban or Michael Buble!

Actually, lately I find that I prefer Petra to U2. But U2 still write some of the best songs I've ever heard, and the intro of 'Where the Streets Have No Name' is still the finest intro of any song I've ever heard.

* * * * *

In closing;

1. I won't be blogging till perhaps Saturday or Sunday, when I shall return with my reflections on Ephesians.

2. God has arranged a meeting with me at the Pavilion/School Field tomorrow. He wants to go through Ephesians with me.

3. Just as we forgive and are forgiven, let us be bold to intercede for one another; to stand up for our enemies just as we do for our friends.

4. In all things, be not afraid to be honest and speak the thoughts of your heart. (I really felt that God was serious about this when the thought came.)

Monday, August 14, 2006

With Hope

In memory of Jonathan Gan, 1990-2006.

Li-Shia and I were supposed to visit Jon Gan today as she couldn't join Miss Shanti, Jon Siao and me last Wednesday. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Five days is not a long time; unless two people are separated by eternity.

The photo above, I took on Jon's 16th birthday on 26 July. It is not stitched or edited in any way; it uses only the reflective and transparent properties of glass, captured together from this unique angle. It is one of my finest pieces, and I was thrilled to present it as a gift to Jon and his family last Wednesday. I told Aunty Agnes I'd invite her if ever I had an exhibition of my works; I still hope to honour that promise.

A few hours after our visit, he would never be able to see the picture again. What kind of irony is this, to give a person his birthday gift on the day he should die?

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

--John Donne, Meditation XVII

I have been thinking of funerals and the wailing that usually accompanies them. And I recalled Paul's words;

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

--1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

These were the words that helped inspire Steven Curtis Chapman's song, 'With Hope'. And this song has been a source of comfort and peace over the last few days.

This is not at all how
We thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you've gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you, but...

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place where we'll see your face again
We'll see your face again

And never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God's plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father's smile and say well done
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
'Cause now you're home
And now you're free, and...


We have this hope as an anchor
'Cause we believe that everything
God promised us is true, so...


We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope

At his wake last Friday, we sang six songs:

Through It All (You are forever in my life...)
Shout to the Lord (My Jesus, my Saviour...)
Our Father (Hear our prayer...)
The Power of Your Love (Lord I come to You...)
Give Thanks
Amazing Grace

We also sang Give Thanks at Aunty Irene's wake last year;

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks to the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given
Jesus Christ, His Son

And now let the weak say 'I am strong'
Le the poor say 'I am rich'
Because of what
The Lord has done for us

Give thanks

What kind of crazy faith is this, that we sing songs of thanksgiving at wakes and funerals? What kind of tears are these, that do not vanish into the catacombs of regret and despair, but resound with echoes of hope and renewed strength?

I think of what Patch Adams said; "You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, no matter what the outcome, you win."

Death, as he says, is not the enemy; indifference is. The doctors, Jon's parents, Jon himself... they all lost when it came to treating his brain cancer. But in these last stages, I saw such solidarity, faith, hope and love in his family and friends. Those who treated Jon won.

I couldn't help asking myself the great euthanasia question: If a person is effectively brain-dead, can't we just pull the plug on his/her life, if only to alleviate the suffering? I have always been against euthanasia; I still am. Jon was nowhere near brain-dead, but indeed his body was wasting away. Yet his family continued to love him as if he was a newborn baby.

Patch Adams would never condone euthanasia, I think. Jon was worth it; worth it because he was God's child, God's creation, God's gift.

When I think of the grieving, I wonder if we're sad for Jon, or sad for ourselves. Jon is in a better place now. Everyone says that; some really believe it, while others say that just to comfort themselves. I really believe it. I think if Jesus could rise from the dead, there must be a better place beyond this world.

Yet though we are temporal, we like holding on. We hold on to everything from positions of power and influence, to people we love and things we like doing. Maybe it is because, as King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, God has set eternity in the hearts of men. We were meant to live forever, and so when people (or even pets) die, we feel that the foundations of our very existence are shaken.

One of Jon's favourite songs is Bob Dylan's 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door', and his aunt Jamie performed it on piano at the wake. On Saturday at the Battle of the Bands, the emcee closed by quoting this well-known pantun, with a little modification;

Jika ada sumur di ladang
Boleh saya menumpang mandi
Jika ada umur yang panjang
Boleh kita berjumpa lagi...

Tapi jika umur tak panjang
Di pintu syurga kita menanti

And I thought of Steven Curtis Chapman's words in the bridge of 'Let Us Pray';

But since we have this moment here at heaven's door
We should start knocking now
What are we waiting for?

Since Jon is already in heaven, surely it is we who are knocking on heaven's door. I think death forces us to come to terms with a reality greater than ourselves. It makes people submit to God, give thanks to God, pray to God, cry out to God, curse at God, shake their fists at God... everything except ignore God. Death doesn't allow that.

For whatever reason, we are knocking on heaven's door. Some of us are banging, demanding an explanation. Bob Carlisle and Regie Hamm wrote a song called 'River of Peace', and the chorus goes;

Ours is not to question why
Ours is just to live and try
To settle for the answer
Whatever it might be

Until we see You face to face
In another time and place
Where the river of your peace runs free

We are reminded by Carlisle and Hamm that God is greater than us, and by Chapman that the one thing we must do is pray. Everything that happens in life will either drive us to God, or away from Him. And that choice is ours.

One of our discussions with the Bishop Dr Hwa Yung at d'NA Stage 2 yielded some interesting ideas in this area of death and the afterlife. The way I understand it (as I still do now), is that all moments are present in eternity. Which means that though Jon is dead to this earth, he is alive in God's new creation. And since that is the eternal kingdom, we are there too.

We don't see Jon anymore. But he can't stop seeing us; not just as we are now, but as we are in eternity. All moments are present in God's new creation. (Please bear in mind that I am writing of things way beyond my mind and all possible depths of human understanding).

And when Donne said that no man is an island, maybe we really share a part of each other. So that every man's death really does diminish us to some extent. I will always remember Jon as the naughty, playful, noisy boy who used to talk nineteen to the dozen whenever I visited Miss Shanti when she taught him in Forms One and Two. (I'm not sure if she taught him in Form One, but I think I first got to know him then). And in him I see a reflection of myself: naughty, playful, noisy.

Maybe we miss him because he was, in some sense, us. His death is like our death; as if we are following him. Only that the difference is that he can pass on, being no more bound to this earth, while we end up clogged in a pipe like dirt.

At the wake, one of his uncles said; "Some people say that God loved Jon more, and that is why God took him. As for me, I cannot accept that." I can't say that I can accept that any more than he. After all, Job, Moses and Abraham lived long lives, and God called them His friends.

Speaking of Job, he uttered these words when his children died;

"The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away,
Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Dare we utter those words if God should so claim our children? Dare we hold on steadfastly to our faith in God? That seems to be the call of Hebrews 10:23;

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (NIV)

For He who promised is faithful. Perhaps that is why we can give thanks, why we can cry with hope, why we can trust that we shall see Him one day, why we can believe in something greater than ourselves. Because God is faithful; because God is good. And maybe for us, that is all we need to know.

Some of the most faithful and righteous people in the Bible, underwent the most severe and crushing of trials. Yet they held on to God. May it be so with us.

At Jon's birthday, we sang him a number of songs, accompanied by Adri on guitar. At the end of the songs, he opened his eyes. At that very moment, hope and joy soared in our hearts so much so that it seemed as if God were recreating the world. I was given the privilege of seeing him open his eyes yet again, last Wednesday. But these eyes shall never open again.

And yet, God's promise is that we shall be given vision far better than the best any human being ever had, for we shall be able to see God for who He really is, and we shall be able to see everyone else for who they really are. In heaven, there are no longer any masks;

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

--1 Corinthians 13:12

My last words to Jon, before I left on Wednesday, were the words of the benediction of Numbers 6:24-26. Miss Shanti asked me to say a short prayer for him, but since I didn't know what to say, I decided simply to say a blessing;

"The LORD bless you
and keep you;

the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;

the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace." (NIV)

Unfortunately I couldn't remember the last line at that time. I remembered it later, the NASB version from my pocket Bible. And at the wake, I completed the benediction;

"The LORD bless you, and keep you;

The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace." (NASB)

I think I like 'life up His countenance' better. Maybe it just sounds richer and more poetic. Indeed he now rests in the peace of God. Shalom means that he is now whole once again, in a world that does not know cancer.

At the wake, the words 'I am the resurrection and the life' were written across a banner hung behind the bier. We walked in between the banner and the bier before embracing a long line of family members waiting on the other side.

The words are taken from John 11:25-26, the words spoken by Jesus when Lazarus was dead;

Jesus said to [Martha], "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" (NASB)

He is the resurrection and the life. God's name, the great 'I AM', echoes in this proclamation. And the great 'I AM' is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And all who die in Him, shall also live in Him, for they shall share in His resurrection.

I believe that everything good that dies, will be raised incorruptible someday. Just like every good seed that falls into good soil will bring forth a good plant.

With the words of C.S. Lewis in the final chapter of the Chronicles of Narnia, I end this entry; at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Jon has gone on ahead of the rest of us. Have mercy on us, O God. Glory to God on high. Amen.

Thoughts after Battle of the Bands and today...

(OK, I titled it 'today', but it's just passed midnight, so 'today' is still Sunday!)

Introducing my brother's band, The Sigma Effect. Probably one of the best band names I can think of. U2 is definitely there, and so is Petra (come on, they're the only rock band called 'Rock'!). They performed Red Hot Chilli Peppers' 'Can't Stop'; alas they did not win. But they really enjoyed themselves. I think most of the bands were in it to perform, not so much to win.

Unfortunately, there were certain moments of tragedy, besides pitching problems and over-loud guitars. Among the more memorable ones was the transformation of 'Belaian Jiwa' into something more akin to 'Gempa Jiwa'. And then there was the band which did Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water', which was very impressive, only that they followed-up with a song about a mother... and that ruined everything. Still, they made it to the Top 3 I think.

Ironically, the heaviest songs were the lightest. As in, the 'heaviest' rock songs were only heavy on the ears; when it comes to substance, they were featherlight.

My brother says songs by U2 won't work in these competitions because the judges want skill. U2 is one of the least impressive bands in the world when it comes to technical flair. Adam the bassist is famous for his monotonous eighth-notes, Larry can't seem to get away from the military drum feel, and Bono has his wavering voice; only the Edge has technical prowess.

But U2 has, as described Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone magazine, a 'warmth that all too few rock stars have any idea how to turn into music.' And the emotion and depth of U2 is something I really love about them. Not many rock bands can move me to the brink of tears; U2 is one of them for sure.

Shazlan the choir coach (and one of its founding members in 2001) was there as a judge. I'm putting this photo up for Li-Shia; notice the Seamaster bottle next to him, heheheh...

I sat on one of the VIP chairs towards the end of the concert, and my parents commented that VIP might stand for 'Very Important Photographer' or 'Victoria Institution Photographer'... I like both ideas!

* * * * *

Here's how the Kamus Dewan defines the gambus:

"Sejenis kecapi Arab yang bertali enam (dimainkan dengan iringan gendang)."

I like the word 'kecapi'... quite cute. It refers to stringed instruments like guitars.

* * * * *

Today Pastor Kuan Ming spoke, as Pastor Vincent was elsewhere preaching.

Some interesting trivia:

The shortest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 117, while the longest is Psalm 119. The chapter right in the middle of the Bible is Psalm 118 (before and after which are 594 chapters, which add up to 1188), and the centre verse is Psalm 118:8, which reads:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. (NASB)

Quite a central verse indeed!

He preached from Daniel 3:14-18, in which Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego took their stand before King Nebuchadnezzar, saying;

"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

--Daniel 3:17-18 (NIV)

Pastor said;

"Some say that we should say, 'God is able', full-stop. No 'But if not'. Yet if we are unable to, so to speak, leave room for doubt, then we are likely to crumble in our crises. At any rate, we are already 'dead' when we give our lives to Christ."

And he is right. We die the moment we give our lives to Christ; death cannot claim us anymore as He has the final word.

But as for us, can we still rejoice even if God should slay us? Can we truly abandon ourselves to God the way these men of faith did?

* * * * *

This afternoon, my family attended a lunch reunion of Mum's teenage Sunday School class at Aunty Boon Kee's house. They've known each other for over thirty years!

They were called the Overcomers. Quite a name, no?

I'm just wondering, what would we be like 30 years hence? One of my Mum's friends, Uncle Kian Yeap (who worked aboard Doulos and is still involved with Operation Mobilization) used to sport an afro, but is now bald. Can we possibly imagine a bald Soo Tian, Phak Hoe, or--horror of horrors--Shern Ren?!

* * * * *

Pastor Kuan Ming and Aunty Boon Kee... characters from my days in the Evangelism Explosion programme. Pastor Kuan Ming introduced me to evangelism, and it was on one of my hospital visitation trips with my trainer Soon Teik and team partner Ellie, that I first met Aunty Boon Kee at the University Hospital.

* * * * *

Let me be the first to wish the VI a Happy 113th Anniversary!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Runaway Pram and Other Stories

I snapped this picture from the Lecture Theatre while the choir did their debriefing there, after performing for Speech Day this morning. The blur reflects the speed of the pram, while the pram itself is relatively sharp because my camera panned along with it. It struck me as a rather humourous composition, what with the little boy running after the pram...

* * * * *

Well, I'm officially down with the cold. Must've gotten it from my brother, who was ill last week. Li-Shia is down too; her sister had the 'flu last week as well.

I wonder if this is God's way of punishing those who neglect their duties/responsibilities to Him and to others. Then again, to assume that all the hale and hearty are righteous, and the sickly and decrepit evil, is the sort of mistake exemplified by Job's friends.

Whatever the case, I do realise that I haven't been reading the Bible much over the last two weeks or so. Beyond that, I cannot recall, but I haven't been reading the Bible much anyway. So I shall consecrate these days of my illness to the reading of God's Word.

The focus: Ephesians. Perhaps I'll read both the NIV and The Message. See what God has to say this time around.

* * * * *

Li-Shia says the burnt offerings are to prevent the Hungry Ghosts from disturbing the house. Jean says they are provisions for the Hungry/Homeless Ghosts.

What Jean said struck a chord. It reminded me of Christ's command to care for the poor, as He illustrated with this parable:

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

--Matthew 25:34-46 (NIV)

Which begs the question: why stop at the Ghosts? Should we not also care for the living homeless and hungry, not just the dead ones?

I wonder if the haze is caused, in part, by the burning of the offerings for the Ghosts. Yet rain has been falling, just as it fell in the days of Elijah. God sends rain to wash away the dust and dirt of life, ushering in the promise of hope and new life... times of refreshing.

* * * * *

We listened to the Petra Means Rock CD in the car today. Dad likes it. ;-)

Friday, August 11, 2006

This Precipice

What Eugene Peterson wrote in the preface to his book The Wisdom of Each Other, will always remain etched in my memory: "Life is meant to be lived on a precipice."

I have come to realise that most people love stability and hate the idea of shaking the boat. Everything from the government in general to school administrators everywhere. Not to mention people too. Auden was right; we would rather be ruined than changed.

But there's this song by Petra called 'Shakin' the House', and I really think it reflects the promise of the Gospels: that everything will be shaken. Just as flour is sifted, so will the hearts of all people be searched by God. All things will be shaken, just as the ground was shaken when Jesus died.

Shakin' The House

There's a rumble in the distance - a trembling in the air
It's uncertain in direction - does it come from here or there
It's approaching by the minute - does it lead you to despair
Feel it shakin your foundation - when you haven't got a prayer

Everything that can be shaken will be shakin' from within
Better have your house in order when the shaking begins
Shakin' the house
Shakin', shakin' the house

You examine your foundation - does it stand on rock or sand
When the smoke clears, does it bring fears - when the houses fall or stand
In the fire of refining - with the flames too high to douse
You remember someone saying it's beginning in the house

But don't fear when it comes near
And you see the raging fire
If you hold fast it will all pass
Till your heart has His desire

It was partly inspired by Hebrews 12:25-27;

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. (NIV)

* * * * *

Today, we had our Christian Union meeting in the open, near the Pavilion. It was a breezy and cool day, though I can't quite remember if it was Li-Shia or Wilson (or perhaps Rebecca) who first suggested going out. We were then joined by Jeremiah, Edwin and Lai Nai Kiat; we had to leave a message for Jeremiah so he wouldn't wonder where we all disappeared to!

Li-Shia accompanied worship on guitar, and we played the Animal Action game (the one in which we clap our thighs and hands to establish rhythm...) before Wilson shared from Luke 12. Wilson was looking for the passage, and I recalled the chapter from memory (though at first I thought it was in chapter 9), as it is one of my favourites.

Then turning to his disciples, Jesus said, "So I tell you, don't worry about everyday life--whether you have enough food to eat or clothes to wear. For life consists of far more than food and clothing. Look at the ravens. They don't need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not! And if worry can't do little things like that, what's the use of worrying over bigger things?

"Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won't he more surely care for you? You have so little faith! And don't worry about food--what to eat and drink. Don't worry whether God will provide it for you. These things dominate the thoughts of most people, but your Father already knows your needs. He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.

"So don't be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

"Sell what you have and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven have no holes in them. Your treasure will be safe--no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.

--Luke 12:22-34 (NLT)

It was a timely message about trusting in God and learning not to worry: something that is always so encouraging, and yet so much easier said than done. Sometimes I wonder if passages like this seem to suggest shortcuts in life, as if we don't have to work hard and all. But I now know that it is easier to overwork ourselves with worry than it is to surrender ourselves completely to God.

We still don't dare live on that precipice, for God's way of life is too risky. So much for those who say the Bible is too safe, too conservative, too un-revolutionary. Hello! It's so outrageous that it could have only come from the very Author of Life!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thoughts in a blender...

Yesterday, I finished the transcription of Dr Mahathir's address to my school last year. I'd recorded it on tape, and spent the last few days working on it. As I listened to his speech, many things he said resonated with me, not the least of which were his comments on the religious tensions in Iraq; it reminded me of my Extemp finals speech at ISKL earlier this year.

These were some of my thoughts alone the way:

I will not run away from this country, for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ is a call to engage all people.

The Victoria Institution is really quite a microcosm of Malaysia. Many complain that the school brings in students based on racial quota rather than academic merit. This is generally true, but I guess I've learnt to live with it; this is one of the things that makes the VI a good training ground for life ahead, especially life in this country. Even the Malaysian government is reflected in the rather fractured administration of the VI!

Being a Christian helps me understand the idea of dual identity. I am heaven-born yet earthbound, and in a similar manner, Chinese yet Malaysian.

Prejudice is evil. We are all fallen; no one race can boast superiority over another. To be sure, some races are better than other races at certain things, but what is the mark we are missing? If there were no reality outside of man, outside of this world, then survival of the fittest is everything. Not so if there is a God in whose image we were made.

* * * * *

Last week, Pn Jaya asked me to share my views on National Service with her Lower Six Bio-Maths class. I was really fuzzy in the mind that day, and barely spent five minutes in the classroom. In retrospect, I regret letting her down...

However, I do remember one question I answered. Anas asked, "Did NS make you more patriotic?" My answer was to this effect: NS doesn't make you more or less patriotic.

I did not really elaborate, but in my case, my love for the country will not be changed by a short programme like NS. Whatever sentiments I have, were built up over the last 19 years.

* * * * *

These are lines from a conversation. At many points, I couldn't quite tell if I said the words, or if the other guy did; he reminds me so much of myself.

"I need to conform to what people expect, or else I'll lose respect."

"Now I'm just an ordinary Victorian."

"In order to blaze a trail, I decided to start a Sex Club."

"It's better to be notorious than anonymous."

"I was a nerd."

"I felt I needed to finish what I started."

"I'm no longer the President of the Sex Club; I decided to pass the baton."

"I say this because I insaf already."

Of all days for an influx of sex-related stuff. First the Form Six condom case (which nearly drove Callyster into violent hysterics), then the sex-saturated conversation.

* * * * *

Why Theology? Well, it's conversational, discursive, and above all, accidental. We can only see God through many stumbles.

Sometimes I wonder what I'd think, some years hence, of the entries Soo Tian and I wrote on TM Squared.

* * * * *

Dear Miss Cheezy Wedges,

God cares; indeed He knows the plans He has for you. What may seem like coincidence to us, is really no coincidence. Albert Einstein (a scientist) said God does not play dice with the world, and Steven Curtis Chapman (a singer, which is different from a scientist) said God gives purpose to chance.

Even before you stepped into Hamidah's office, He made a way. And He is making a way for you, even before you need one. Surely the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, had already charted the course to the Promised Land of Canaan (full story in the book of Exodus). In your trials and tribulations, whether those related to a bunch of singers on a stage, or a string of numbers/symbols on a page, our Father will see you through.

Take heart!

By the way, the verse I was telling you about this morning, is Proverbs 27:14. Here's the 'radical' translation...

If you wake your friend in the early morning
by shouting "Rise and shine!"
It will sound to him
more like a curse than a blessing.

--The Message

...and the more conservative one:

If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning,
it will be taken as a curse.

--New International Version

Don't be afraid of anything. It's just a little more to go...