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The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

My quest for the eternal lightness

Category Archives: Otherness

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Kabul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The latest ultimatum before the execution of 21 remaining South Korean hostages held by the Talibans expired at 7.30 GMT this morning. Tribal leaders who are trying to mediate have called for an additional 48 hours to avoid further bloodshed after the killing of two hostages. The terrorists have not yet responded.

I asked Justy and Lindy over frosty beer last night – how do you pray for this situation?  I painfully find it hard to only pass this over by handing it back to God. Sure, we all feel bad about this. I’ve been receiving text messages rallying Christians to pray for the captured Korean aid workers. I’m reading about the vigils held in Seoul. I am certainly troubled by it. I hope this bloodshed can be stopped immediately by some kind of miraculous intervention. (Perhaps, one can consider this a prayer). Then again, we could sign the petition for the release of these hostages (http://www.avaaz.org/en/honour_the_afghan_code/tf.php). Perhaps also, maybe a petition for the U.S. to release the Taliban prisoners, as demanded by these terrorists? That of course could be seen as a weak position and I could be condemned from many angles. Justy asked, if I would go to Afgan if he’s one of these hostages? We both agreed that that would not help either.

While we should continue to keep our hearts on this (fervently), I am also troubled by the bitter fact that our Christian solidarity has mostly been very tribal. Christian communities are mobilized when troubles hit their churches or when missionaries and christian leaders are under threats. Our mobile phones and e-mails are flooded with endless calls to pray and to stand together againts these evils. Sadly, I do not receive text messages to pray when christians are contributing to some of the evils in the world, or when it does not concern christians at large.

Why is it that our churches in Malaysia are not called so fervently and urgently to pray (and to hold vigils) when thousands perished in Iraq and thousands more innocent lives were at risk under the hands of the invading forces of U.S. and Britain? Aren’t these lives just as valuable to God? Yet, I personally hear renowned Christian leaders giving thanks to God for bringing down Saddam Hussein and his regime so that believers could openly worship in Iraq. Of course, the current ordeal in Afgan is a form of retaliation to this injustice – one which we could never fully settle the score on who the original culprit is, as the list would be endless – and every side have their version of the story.

Nearer home, where is this same voice that would cry out to God when injustice prevails? Where are the Christian e-mails and text messages when one is taken into custody without proper procedure? Perhaps they are not our children? Probably the situation is not as pressing, but our indifference now will allow problems to escalate. Why only throw the problem to God when situation runs out of control?

How can we start bridging this inconsistency? What are we telling our children in church? How are we connecting with these problems? What would be the content of our sunday school syllabus? Where are we taking our christian conversation with our youths? How can we listen to the voices from the other side? Until then, I find it hard to pray for this problem to just go away. I sincerely hope it would, though. But how sincere is sincere?

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Given that the words we use today are often nicely tucked away in well-defined categories and meanings, I find it useful to learn to ask this question – ‘What do you mean by that?’ I realize that when I learn to listen to what people are really saying beyond the terms and labels that I so readily ‘understand’ their meanings, I may find myself humbled and changed in a deep way in the conversation. 

For quite a while now, in my christian tradition, ‘holy’ has been defined as being ‘set apart’ or ‘separate’. Over the weekend, that understanding was challenged by once catholic nun Karen Armstrong with her perspective of ‘holy’ being ‘other’. That God being holy is a God found in ‘the otherness’ – that we are spiritually awakened when we begin to look into the suffering of others, feel their suffering, understand and weep with them. (excerpts and more here)

Karen discussed the concept of atheism – that it’s not necessarily a refusal to believe in God, but rejection of beliefs about God that does not lead to a meaningful way to live – to live justly, peacefully and compassionately. Even early christians were considered as atheists for their refusal to participate in many religious practises and beliefs.

More thinking to do for me for now.  

 

It’s lunch time now and I’m sitting in my office on the fourth floor. The cleaning lady is replacing the plastic bag from the wastebin. I could hear the Azan Zohor resounding in the air on the other side of the window (the mosque is next to  my office). She approached my table and began wiping my pc. 

 “Thank you,” I said with a smile.  – “Ha??”

I repeated myself, “thank you,” my hand already approaching my lips trying to sign the ASL ‘thank you’ , thinking she was deaf.

“Oh…ya.” She carved a smile. “Belum makan?”

I think I blushed. I replied, “oh belum lagi, tapi dah nak turun la ni”.

She smiled again before disappearing behind the door.

I stared at the door a while longer thinking about the seeming harmony that holds our multi-racial (multi-religious) nation together. I am tempted to examine the depth of our commitment to each other. It won’t be long before we hit the polls again. With much that is demonstrated so far from all ends, I wonder if we have ever believed in such a kinship. I fail to see a meaningful attempt to renew and rethink such commitment as embraced by this 50-year old nation.

My friend posted this some time back and I think it is a story worth retelling. I am also intrigued to reimagine this story in our context. What would we be telling our children? Would we tell them that the Azan is my neighbour’s expression of  loving God? 

I have been giving much thoughts to this.

I once expressed a thought which put someone on the verge of tears – that I find value in examining the Buddha’s way. This resides in a wider context of my thoughts on atheism – which in one of its many faces holds that it is impossible to give a coherent account of what belief in God involves, notwithstanding the fact that it is improbable that the universe contains nothing better than ourselves.

In Buddhism, the absence of reference to a transcendent agent is nothing remotely to do with arguments against divine existence, simply a recognition that the task in hand requires us to leave behind argument either for or against, indeed argument of any kind. Divine existence is a matter beyond the range of average human experience and not to serve as a topic of speculation and argument. Such involvement can only divert attention and effort from what ought to be our principal object: the overcoming of greed, hatred and delusion where they are found in the here and now.

…2 goodbyes in 2 months. It will be 2 years. Yet my friend left me a remarkable sharing:

Prayer … really is a silent surrendering of everything to God because it is not quite clear to me how I should pray.                                                                

Maybe I should seriously try to pick up Kierkegaard’s Journals one of these days.

Joe, my Catholic buddy would be delighted to know that I am slowly returning to what he calls my ‘roots’ in my gradual Lutheran and Episcopalian leaning.

Why I am inclined to the Anglican Church’s expression of faith: 

To be, so to speak, an ordinary average Anglican, to be an ordinary average Anglican diocese, to be an ordinary average Anglican bishop, now involves you in thinking about, planning for, and involving yourself in, some quite extraordinary and, on the face of it, sometimes rather unanglican bits of new life. We’re rediscovering something about what the Church is, as well as what the Church of England is; rediscovering that the Church is something that happens before it’s something that is institutionally organised – Fresh Expressions, the ‘life blood’ of who we are.

brokenbridge.jpgLast night’s sleep was a struggle. 

I crawled out of bed and listened to Simon & Garfunkel’s final album, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’. Was reminded how songs like this can be used for a church worship. And maybe Jeniffer Rush’s Power of Love might sound better than Hillsong’s.

In a rare display of novelty (that would be ‘inspired’ in today’s church language) the pastor convincingly explored how we are to become ‘bridges’ over the ‘troubled waters’ of the world.

I wonder what kind of bridges we have managed to build (or managed in becoming). Rowan Williams was said to have suffered a serious setback in his ‘Building Bridges’ attempt to foster Muslim-Christian dialogue (a far more noble quest for me at this moment I must say). I reflect on our own attempts in building our little bridges that connect our pulpit to the pews. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury urged that we keep our bridges in good repair, the bridges for listening and sympathy, hearing the truth from one another, learning what the other’s experience is like.

I snuggled back into bed…