Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Tidings

Happy Birthday Jesus!

And a Very Happy Christmas to all!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Autumn in Princeton

For Serene.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
Psalm 57:11

As Saint Frances prayed, "It is in giving that we recieve, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

To those with ears to hear and eyes to see, there will be very great release from unbearable burdens in the language of autumn trees, for example, when they dress most gloriously in preparation for death. The red of the leaves is the sign of the cross.

Winter follows, when snow closes everything in frozen silence. The trees then are skeletons, but wonders are being performed under the surface of things. Spring comes, and the hidden wonders burst out all at once - tiny shoots, swelling buds, touches of green and red where all seemed hopeless the day before.

If the leaves had not been let go to fall and wither, if the tree had not consented to be skeleton for many months, there would be no new life rising, no bud, no flower, no fruit, no seed, no new generation.
Elisabeth Elliot in 'Passion and Purity'

The earth spins and the moon goes round
The green comes from the frozen ground
And everything will be made new again
like freedom in spring
'Golden' by Switchfoot

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Liberalism, the Gospel and the Truth II

I had intended to do a series of posts chronicling the 15-day long birthday fete (Cherfy's declaration was very prophetic indeed) but I only managed 5 days. I find myself desperately short of time. In conclusion: much fun and too much cake was had. Janice bought a very yummy ice-cream cake (the 4th one!) - thank you Janice!

I am ever so thankful for all my wonderful friends.

This is a post that I'd written earlier and had intended to post but I somehow forgot, so here it is now.

I had thought that it was pretty clear in my Wednesday Oct 19 entry about Liberalism, Christianity and competing truth-claims that I was not advocating the overthrow of the liberal state. But on further consideration and conversation with the ever-thoughtful Cherfy, I see how I might have been mistaken. I have no wish to forcibly foist my views onto anyone, like I said I fully respect your right to your beliefs, and I do apologise if you felt offended by the entry. I was of course simply expressing my views on the matter in a personal capacity, in the hope that it would open up meaningful dialogue. And so to that end, I seek here to clarify my stance.

My previous entry was primarily about the hypocrisy of liberalism on the issue of intolerance and the nature of competing truth claims. It was not an all-out attack on the liberal state. I did state categorically that I believed in the separation of church and state, democracy and the right to individual choice. If that does not give you a liberal democracy, I really don't know what does.

Further more, liberal democracy is itself is built on a lot of Christian principles - the fallibility of men and the moral equality of all. C.S. Lewis claimed that the best argument for democracy is not that men are good enough to govern themselves, but that men are so bad none can be trusted with absolute power. In his "I Have A Dream" speech, Martin Luther King powerfully proclaimed, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children."

A liberal democracy, while not perfect, is the least worst of all available options.

Also, I do not advocate political revolution as such, because as I have said, I do not think that that is what fundamentally addresses our deepest problems. The darkness that sits within each of our hearts can only be dealt with by personal acceptance of the gospel.

The gospel is not a system of morality that can be externally imposed by any secular power. It is not a set of laws that can be enforced. It is not something that anyone else, or any governmental organisation, can make you do. God uses people to reach other people, that is why it is so important to share the gospel, sensitively, respectfully and lovingly. (Of course this is not how it always is because we are all fallen, but this is the way it should be.) Ultimately, believing the gospel is something that is entirely between you and God.

In the beautiful words of Martin Luther King (again), "Evil can be cast out, not by man alone nor by a dictatorial God who invades our lives, but when we open the door and invite God through Christ to enter. 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' God is too courteous to break open the door, but when we open it in faith believing, a divine and human confrontation will transform our sin-ruined lives into radiant personalities."

The gospel is an individual understanding of what God has done for you. I am broken and self-absorbed. I do not love the one who created me and gave me every good thing, in fact, most of the time I do not acknowledge him and I live my life the way I please. I do not love my neighbour as myself. I am part of the reason why the world is the way it is. I am why I find it hard to read the news every morning because there is always something new that's wrong with the world.

But I have a certain hope, that this is not all there is, that our brokennes is not all there is to this world. Because there is one who has traversed every inch of the distance between the way things are and the way they should be. The infinite distance between our brokenness and the perfect beauty of God. Jesus descended to the depths in our place, on our behalves, that we might be lifted up and reconciled to God.

I am affirmed because God loved me enough to save me when I was least deserving. And I am humbled because there is nothing I can do to save myself. It isn't because I am cleverer, because I have read extensively and thought deeply, that I have come to believe what I believe. God found me. He came knocking at my door. And so even if you disagree with me, I do not look at you with eyes of pity, and wonder why you are so blind. We are all blind. But God, in his infinite love and mercy, reached out to us and showed us the way. It is not for anything that I have done, there is no pride, but for everything that he has done for me.

When I see how broken I am, yet how beautiful God is, when I see how far I was from God and how far he came to find me, this changes everything.

And this is why I believe in a liberal democracy because this is the only system under which there is freedom of belief, freedom to commune with God (or not to) as individuals exercising our God-given free will. I have no wish to forcibly impose my views on you. I suppose this is where I part company with the fundamentalist Christian right. My feeling is that though important, our biggest problem is not whether they teach evolution in schools, and that time and resources can probably be better spent in other ways, rather than brandishing our rights against others in political combat, but of course this is just me. All I ask for is open, respectful dialogue.

Individual faith worked out in community with others should be a thing of great beauty. My prayer is that we as Christians are so radically transformed by the saving grace of God that we pour out our lives into service, that we seek first to give instead of to gain at the expense of others, that we love as God loved - sacrificially, without pride and with no prejudice (I loved that book by the way), and that we become the revolution. Not a political revolution, but a gospel revolution, so that others may see the beauty of God in our lives and so be attracted and enticed to find out more about its true source.

For force is fleeting and temporal, but beauty transforms, and beauty is eternal.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Beautiful Surprise

On Saturday night I was totally convinced that Cherfy, Kenneth and I were going to watch Falstaff at Lincoln Centre. I got downstairs to meet them only to find Shuxiang, Mark and Adrian there as well. I thought we were all going for dinner together before the opera. Turns out I was only partially right - we were going to dinner, but there was no opera to go to. I had been completely and utterly duped. I was most impressed. I did not suspect a thing. This was a surprise early birthday dinner (because quite a few people would not be free next weekend, myself included, hopefully - I am on the waiting list for my church's fall retreat).

Cherfy had gone to much trouble to deceive me about Falstaff and Kenneth had rounded up the others. They even gotten in touch with Cass, and Serene and Greg came all the way down to New York too! I called Janice at the very last minute and she braved the pouring rain to come uptown. I was very, very touched by it all.

We went to Carmine's on West 90th Street, a big bustling Italian restaurant where all the food comes in jumbo family portions and everyone shares everything (think the Chinese version of Italian food). We had to wait almost 3 hours for a table - I kid you not. Very New York. On the weekends, all the good places to eat are just packed to the brim. Carmine's also refused to take reservations and big parties are always harder to seat. Most of the time was spent rather enjoyably in raucous conversation in the comfort of a nearby Starbucks. The wait was not in vain - the food was most excellent and the size of the portions bordering on obscene. We rounded off the meal with a yummy tiramisu cake and they insisted on singing Happy Birthday in Chinese, and then in Malay, because everyone else was singing it in English. I was deeply embarrassed but also greatly tickled, not knowing whether to laugh or to hide under the table.

After dinner a few of us went on an impromptu road trip up to Princeton - Greg had driven up to New York and so we gave Serene a lift home after dropping Cass and Janice off downtown. The random road trip turned out to be much fun even though there was some initial protestation on Serene's part - she didn't want us to be driving around so late. But we didn't want her to be travelling on public transport so late all the way back to rural Princeton, and we really weren't taking no for an answer.

The freeways were clear and Jersey city spread out before us in a sea of light. As we were approaching Princeton, we saw a deer dancing on the green.

We got back to Manhattan around 4am. I crashed straight into bed, only to be woken by numerous phonecalls. We were brunching in Chinatown. We had yummy northern dim sum at Shanghai Cafe - that woke me right up. Cherfarn pointed out that my birthday had become an 15-day long fête - like Chinese New Year. I very much liked the sound of that. Just like all my other birthdays, I even have an exam very close to it - I have an oral French mid-term this Friday. All part of the celebrations of course.

Janice and I were going to drop by her apartment but we took a wrong train and ended up in Brooklyn. It was a lovely accidental trip. She suggested we go to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and so go there we did. The views overlooking the East River and Manhattan were stunning. The weather was perfect - clear skies sprinkled with clouds, a crisp breeze and gentle sunshine. It was so beautiful, I was almost taken by surprise.

This whole weekend in fact, has just been one beautiful surprise.

Thank you all.

Brooklyn Heights Promenade

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the LORD is to be praised.
Psalm 113:3

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Liberalism, the Gospel and the Truth

Today we had our last seminar session with Professor G. A. Cohen - we had done this seminar series at double speed (two sessions a week) because he's only here for 7 weeks. He leaves for Oxford tomorrow. I attended Prof Cohen's lectures while I was in Oxford, so I was thrilled beyond words to find out that he would be visiting Columbia for 7 weeks this term. I somehow managed to get into his oversubscribed class, and I've really enjoyed these 7 weeks.

I attended Prof Cohen's Plato lectures 3rd year in Oxford. This series of seminars that have just concluded were about the most recent debates in liberal political philosophy, centering mainly around justice and equality (Rawls, Dworkin and Cohen et al). While at Oxford, I dabbled in all the philosophy between Plato and contemporary liberalism, covering ethics and metaphysics in the process. But my favourite subject area of philosophy is still political philosophy. I suppose it's fitting that I got to take this seminar on contemporary political philosophy with Prof Cohen, because he is the one who gave me an introduction to the earliest important political philosophy that we know (we covered the Sophists as well).

I love political philosophy.

I love it because it speaks to our fundamental dissatisfaction with the way things are and our deep desire for the way things should be. All good political philosophy seeks change, from Plato to Rawls, Dworkin and Cohen. It is fuelled by discontent and a ceaseless searching for radical improvement.

But you see, as much I love political philosophy, I do not think that it is the answer to our problems. And becoming better acquainted with it over the years has just made me more certain of my basic convictions.

I have been mulling over the tension between secular philosophy and faith-based theology for a while now. One of the most fundamental clashes between Christianity and liberalism turns on the issue of religious conversion. Christians are called to proclaim the gospel in the hope that others will also believe and be "converted" (but of course the question of how we are to best proclaim the gospel is in no way straightforward). It was this Sunday at church that Tim Keller gave a most brilliant exposition of the conflict, and it's resolution.

We underestimate how pervasive and deep rooted our white, Western Enlightenment, philosophically liberal assumptions are. When we insist that encouraging religious conversion is intolerant, we subscribe to a view of expressive individualism, which we hold and which we, by the same token, try our darndest to convert others to.

To be converted by a non-innate, comprehensive view of reality is unavoidable. We are all converted. The question is - which view of reality do you subscribe to? Which view of reality are you converted by? As Charles Taylor (also of Oxford) wisely said, 'Liberalism is a fighting creed'. It is one truth-claim among many - just ask the Islamic fundamentalists.

One question I used to frequently ask my trenchantly liberal friend was "If you are so liberal, why can't you accept a "conservative" point of view?" Political liberalism is hardly the benign, magnanimous, all-inclusive, endlessly tolerant and wonderfully cuddly philosophy that it is sometimes made out to be. It is one conditional truth-claim among many. It just so happens to be the dominant truth-claim in modern Western societies, which, of all the societies in the world today, have the most global economic and political clout.

Christianity's view of things is a view of reality based on faith. The modern liberal view that says that, you mustn't convert people because all religions are subjectively valuable, and no one religion is more objectively more true than another, is similarly a view of reality based on faith. It also takes faith to not have faith.

If it's narrow to say that one religion is the right one, then it is just as narrow to say that one view of religion (i.e. that they are all equal) is the right one. To say that you musn't convert people because all religions are subjectively valuable, and no one religion is more objectively more true than another, is a view that you are saying is the right one. And it's more right than the Christian one, or the Muslim one or the Jewish one etc.

So when you say that you mustn't try to convert people to a non-innate, comprehensive view of reality, you are trying to do the very thing that you forbid.

Can people be intolerant when they are trying to convert others? Sure they can. You can be intolerant with your attitude, you can be arrogant and haughty, you can be rude and insensitive, and you can be coercive and manipulative in your tactics. (This is absolutely against what the Bible teaches of course - we are to be loving in all that we do. It's a sad fact that we often fail to do so, but our inadequacies are our own, not God's. In fact, it is only because of God that we have any hope of rising above ourselves at all.)

But when you say that anyone who is trying to convert someone else to their worldview is, on principle, intolerant, then you are being a hypocrite.

Conversion to a non-innate, comprehensive view of reality that changes your whole life, and then seeking to convert other people, is unavoidable.

Does this commit me to a theocracy? Hardly. Christianity has a strict separation between church and state; Jesus said with regard to tax-paying "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matt 22:21)

Does this mean I oppose democracy? Not at all. I don't trust anyone to be vested with a disproportionate, unchecked amount of power, least of all myself. And I do firmly believe that we were all created equal. In fact, it was the Christian doctrine of the moral equality of men (we are all equally capable of knowing God, and we are all equally loved by God) that was a significant factor in fuelling the democratic revolution that brought down the monarchies of Europe. It has even been argued to have produced capitalism. (For an interesting, though rather biased, argument for this see Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic.)

However, this does mean that I am not entirely comfortable with the truth-claim that liberalism makes about the subjectivity of all religion. But as I said, my persuasions are essentially democratic. I believe that you have as much right to believe what you do, as I do. There is no point forcibly foisting views upon others - religious conversion needs to be genuine and personal, if not it's better not to be converted at all. God gave us all free will and I absolutely believe in our individual right to choose.

But what we should all recognise is that we are all trying to convert each other to some extent; the Liberal, just as much as the Christian. Liberals are just as "evangelical" as Christians are, the only difference is that there are far more of them in positions of power.

You cannot avoid truth-claims.

The question is, which truth claim leads to embrace of people who are different than you, and which truth claim leads you to scorn people who oppose you as fools? Which truth claim leads to genuine community? Which truth claim both humbles and affirms you, so that you are not afraid of people who disagree with you, nor can you despise them?

This one. Jesus died for all of us. For you. And for me.

If I build my name on being liberal, then I am going to despise conservatives.
If I build my name on moral and traditional values, I am going to despise liberals.
If I build my name on being hardworking, I am going to despise people who are lazy.

But if I build my name on what Jesus Christ did for me, paying for my sins by dying on the cross, paying the price that I could never pay, dying in my place, so that I can have eternal life with God, now and forever more, how can I feel superior to anyone?

The only way we have eternal love, the only way we have heaven, is not because we are better than anyone in any way whatsover, not because of anything that we have done, not because of anything that we can do, but because of everything that God has already done for us. And understanding this truly amazing grace both humbles and affirms you. I am more sinful than I ever before believed, but infinitely more loved than I ever dared hope.

My identity is built on somebody who was excluded for me, who was cut off from the land of the living on my behalf, who loved his enemies even at the point of death, and that is going to turn me into someone who embraces. That is what should be the basis for the new human community that this world so desperately needs.

I simply do not think that secular philosophy is capable of fundamentally altering our motivations and changing our hearts, as much as it strives to. Thinking of cleverer institutions does not fundamentally change the way we are, and intellectual theories about ethics and morality do not really have a widespread and deep enough grip on the human soul (see also The Revolution).

But knowing God changes everything.

This is the real change.

This is the revolution.

In this entry I have borrowed extensively from the sermons of Tim Keller. For more of his general brilliance check out Redeemer Presbyterian Vision Campaign Sermons

Monday, October 10, 2005

Chris Tomlin Indescribable Tour (ft Matt Redman)

At first I was uncertain about whether to go for the concert but in the end I was so very glad that I went. Chris Tomlin's music turned out to be much better than I expected (he sang lots of stuff from his new album, Arriving) and Matt Redman, whose music I've always liked (Blessed Be Your Name is one of my favourite songs, ever), got quite a bit of stage time too. In a way, the concert was like a big flashy church service, with really cool graphics and fantastic sound and lighting effects. But the best part was that the concert wasn't about any of that or either of them and their status as music stars. The words of the songs came up on screen and everyone sang along. We were all singing to an audience of one. I think it's so human to want to sing when you're happy. When your soul is full of joy, when your feet are full of dancing, and your heart is full of song. I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free, His eye is on the sparrow, and He watches over me.

by Chris Tomlin

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation's revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky
and You know them by name

You are amazing God

All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing God

Incomparable, unchangeable
You see the depths of my heart
and You love me the same

You are amazing God
You are amazing God

"He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name."
Psalm 147:4

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"
Psalm 8:2-4

Monday, October 03, 2005


Over the weekend Cassandra and I went to the PureLife women's conference organised by her church. This was the first women's conference that I'd ever been to and I was ever so glad that I went. (Thanks Cass! ;)

And this is where words somewhat fail me.

Cassandra's (Oct 3, 4) written a far better account. I highly reccommend it, and I agree with her wholeheartedly.

I learnt more of what it was to love God with all your mind and all your heart.

And I learnt more of what it meant to be loved.

Unconditionally and unfailingly.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Friday, September 30, 2005


After much serious deliberation and consideration, I have decided that Switchfoot is my favourite band of all time.

They have just released a new album - Nothing is Sound. It is wonderful. (Go to to listen to samples from the album.) It's slamming rock tempered with beautiful little acoustic pieces. And the most important thing is, this is not just another Top 40 album about booty-shaking-baby-i-love-you-baby-i-want-you-back.

I am getting increasingly disillusioned with that kind of music - I hardly listen to it anymore. Tell me something that means something, say something that is true.

Below the lead singer of Switchfoot writes about their new album. He writes beautifully - both in lyric and in prose. I wish I could write like that.

In 1991, when Rolling Stone interviewed Dylan on the occasion of his 50th birthday, he gave a curious response when the interviewer asked him if he was happy. He fell silent for a few moments and stared at his hands. 'You know,' he said, 'these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed.'

This record was written somewhere between the blessed and the unblessed, between the godly and the ungodly by a few young urban professionals from San Diego. These songs are dreams and questions, bleeding together, breathing in and out - always somewhere between life and death. And I feel this tension, this distance now more than ever, like a numbing ache... deep inside. The distance between the way things are and the way they could be, the distance between the shadow and the sun. And this is where we exist: within the paradox. Living out our lives: oxygen and carbon and hydrogen and so on... This record was the attempt to make something beautiful in filthy backstage dressing rooms everywhere, trying to sing something true with a broken heart. This record was written about things that I don't understand.

And yes, there's more than a wink of irony in all of this: making music from our most intimate thoughts and selling these songs online for a dollar a pop. Singing an anthem every night about how "we were meant to live for so much more" and many times feeling like a failure; singing "I dare you to move" and feeling trapped. Both loving and hating all the fuss that the music has brought. Knowing that even Rock and Roll, perhaps the best job in the world will not make me happy (in the yuppie sense of the word).

And yes, this American life is absurd! a strange paradox indeed... Perhaps no amount of money, sex, or power has ever satisfied us before, but maybe today will be different! Maybe this new purchase will make me happy! And the sun rises and sets once more - another day, another dollar. A carbonated beverage will help to chase your insecurities away. This new product will help to fill the meaningless void I feel inside. And so I drink the beverage, wear the clothes, and watch the war on TV. meaningless. meaning less.

Do we hunt our ridiculous suburban dreams like the neighborhood cat? Have we quietly fallen in line with the advertisement? Are we driven by ego uncontrolled, our lives simply vain pursuits of meaningless ends? Do we attempt to validate our existence by material means, relational acquisitions, sexual conquests, fiscal achievement, and cultural prowess? It was another jewish man who said something like this a while back.

"All is meaningless,"
Declares the teacher.
"Meaningless, meaningless,
Everything is meaningless"

For me, there is a terrible, wonderful freedom in coming to terms with these un-happy, un-yuppie words. It's a strange consolation in our dizzy and breathless race for happiness to find that you will never outrun the horizon. It's an avalanche you can't escape. It's a fatal wound that you cannot heal. If you fall on this rock you will be broken, if it falls on you you will be crushed. You see, this album started with a blow between the eyes that I am still recovering from, that's really all I've got to offer these days.

So in the half-light glow of radio shows, music videos, and greedy billboard charts I am aware of a darkness that is beyond me, I am coming to terms with my unbelief. No, I don't believe in rock and roll. No, I don't believe in the success that we've achieved. And no, I don't believe in me. In a free market world of the bought and sold I feel caught in between. I believe I've heard about a man who was exploited to sell everything from indulgences to the wars of men. And yet he offered only one bitter pill that was not easily marketed. Maybe that's what this record hopes to be: a simple bitter pill of truth that steps outside of our hamster wheel and looks up at the stars and beyond.

Maybe Dylan was right when he said Rock and Roll isn't Rock and Roll anymore. I've met so many lonely, desperate, beautiful people over the past few years. Yeah, I've got a bitter pill to swallow, but it just might be true. Maybe our lives drift quietly by and we can't stop the current. Maybe this modern river leads to the sea of death, where no medicine can cure these ills. Perhaps our restless wanting is satisfied only outside of ourselves.

It was another jewish man who said something like this, "If you seek to gain your soul you will lose it." I am on a journey that will one day come to final terms with these words.

a few general thoughts on new tunes and their relationship to our previous four albums:

A part of me wishes I could say that our music was formulated and planned out by brilliant, methodical minds who structure entire records out of themes that are independent of anything that has ever been thought of before. In reality, most of these songs are simply the spontaneous ramblings of a man with a guitar who can't sleep - trying to make sense of a broken heart in world that is upside down. In many ways these songs mirror the melodies in my own life: relationships, fears, hopes, insecurities, doubts and so forth all set to the major and minor keys. But it makes sense that these honest songs are the ones that we're proud of; because whether it's Elliot Smith or Stevie Wonder or Pavement or whoever, the honest ones have always been my favorites.

So at the end of our time as a band perhaps we will have only one song to sing - just one very long, rambling, eclectic song that touches on life, death, pain, sex, anger, joy, peace, politics, God and the other elements of a searching soul in the twenty first century. Maybe at the end of my life I will sing only one song, a song that has been refined and purified. A lonely group of notes that will be a sweet, sweet sound for an audience of one. Or maybe I'm still trying to figure out this broken, beautiful planet - writing songs as a way of therapy in the hopes of a better understanding of this existence that we call life. Either way, the bitter struggle for meaning and truth in the postmodern world is a subject matter that I don't think I could ever exhaust.

"Nothing is Sound" is the fifth Switchfoot record. For me, it feels like the next step of a journey, diving deeper into uncharted territories. Because we've lived and breathed on tour for the last eight years, onstage is where our music comes to life, a life that is hard to pin down on tape. If you think this record feels a bit like a "live" record, we're proud to say that these recordings have somehow captured the energy of our live show more than any other record we've ever made.

Perhaps the best way to look at this record is as the next chapter in a mystery novel: many of the the same characters, the same settings and yet a few more clues come to life. Who knows, it could be a dark chapter revealing even more mysteries to be solved. I'm pretty sure you're the only one who can decide for yourself; I'd be curious to hear what your thoughts are. I certainly have my own... Whatever the theme of this record might be, believe me - it was only partly intentional! Hope you enjoy the tunes.


Friday, September 23, 2005

The Beautiful Letdown

We went to really nice French restaurant in Times Square for dinner with a representative from our sponsorship board.

Chez Josephine is run by Jean-Claude Baker, French adopted son of African-American Josephine Baker - "the most successful music hall performer ever to take the stage" (according to Ebony magazine). She was the toast of Paris in the 1920s, star of stage and screen in the 1930s, Red Cross volunteer and undercover agent in World War II, participant in the 1963 Civil Rights Movement march on Washington, and star of several farewell (and comeback) tours. She also adopted 12 children of different races and called them her "rainbow tribe." The restaurant is named for her and is essentially a celebration of her.

Mr Baker sat and chatted with us for a bit after our meal, regaling us with interesting little restaurant anecdotes and stories of his adoptive mother. He told us also about how he had set up a foundation to celebrate the work of early 20th Century black artists, in honour of his mother. I was most impressed.

The food was superb and the company delightful. The ambience was lovely, with live piano music in tinkling softly in the background. We even got complementary sorbet at the end (our fourth course!) and it was the best sorbet that I had ever had. Seriously. But then again, my experience of sorbet is hardly exhaustive.

We walked to the 42nd Street metro stop to catch the subway home, happily full of sumptious food.

It was close to midnight.

I saw this black girl in the near-empty station, busking for a dime.

She was playing "If I were a rich man" from Fiddler on the Roof, and the painful irony could not be more obvious.

And so this is New York.

An uneasy mix of extremes, an irresolvable tension, a conflicted existence. There is so much beauty and so much pain, all of it side by side.

To borrow words of Switchfoot, this is the beautiful letdown.

This is life.

But thank God that this is not all that there is to it.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Trip to the Opera

Lincoln Centre

We went to the opera, l'amie and I. Mon amie (see? I learnt a new permutation! :) geniusly found us $16 student rush tickets, and the seats were decent too.

In Madame Butterfly, east meets west. A callous American lieutenant marries a young Japanese girl (Butterfly), only to leave her. He comes back three years later with his American wife, only to find that he has a child. Madame Butterfly loves him desperately and has been waiting for him all this while. She is shattered when she realises that he has abandoned her. He feels deep remorse but it is now too late. He wishes to take the child back to America to give him a better life. She agrees to let to child go with him. When he comes for the child, she commits ritual suicide.

SHE sat quite still, and waited till night fell. She had a sword in her lap.

Butterfly [softly reading the words inscribed on it]
Death with honour is better than life with dishonour.

[points the knife sideways at her throat]

[The door on the left opens, showing Suzuki's arm pushing the child towards his mother: he runs in with outstretched hands. Butterfly lets the dagger fall, darts toward the baby, and hugs and kisses him almost to suffocation.]

You? you?
Beloved Idol!
Ador'd, adorèd being,
Fairest flower of beauty.
[taking the child's head in her hands, she draws it to her]
Though you ne'er must know it
Tis for you, my love, for you I'm dying, Poor Butterfly
That you may go away
Beyond the ocean,
Never to feel the torment when you are older,
That your mother forsook you!

[exaltedly] My son, sent to me from Heaven,
Straight from the throne of glory,
Take one last and careful look
At your poor mother's face!
That it's memory may linger
One last look!
Farewell, beloved!
Farewell, my dearest heart!

I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. It reminded me also of the ending of Miss Saigon (my favourite musical ever), where the sacrifice of the Vietnamese mother is clearer - her erstwhile lover proposes to support her and the child financially in Vietnam, but she kills herself so that he and his wife have no choice but to take the child back to America, where he will have a better life.

For there is no love greater than this - giving yourself up for another, dying so that those you love, may live.

God is love. - 1 John 4:16

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Light in the Darkness

We went on a very enjoyable sunset cruise organised by the university to celebrate the end of the orientation period and the end of the first week of classes. The views from the boat were spectacular. We saw the skyline illuminated in the orange glow of the setting sun, the sky gradually darkening and the city lighting up. It being the day that it is, the twin beams from Ground Zero lit up the sky, reaching so high that they grazed the stars. It was both beautiful and eerie; beautiful for what it was, but eerie for what it represented.

So much of what is beautiful is also oftentimes so very sad. We live in this strange dichotomy, this irreconciliable duality, where the human heart is capable of great love as well as immense cruelty.

You see, I don't think that there's a "them" and an "us". I think there's a "we", and we're all broken, and in our brokenness, we break each other.

Yet we were meant to live for so much more. He who made the sun and the stars, he who breathed blue into the sky and ignited the sunset, formed our hearts, and therein lies the beauty, for we were made in his image. But we have all rejected our first love, turning away from he who made us, and we live lives with no reference to the giver and sustainer of all life. We all go our own selfish way, and this is how we break.

But there is a light in the darkness for we were not, and we are not, left alone.

The opposite of love isn't hate - it's apathy. And he who made us loved us enough to come down to earth to be amidst us, to seek and to save, to mend and to make new, to bring beauty out of brokenness, to turn darkness into light.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Timely Mistake

Because I am such a muppet I left my much beloved sunglasses at Abercrombie & Fitch in Staten Island (of all places). Now I have nothing against Staten Island, it's just that it is so far away. But I had to get my sunglasses back. So I went, thinking that this was just going to be another wasted afternoon.

And yet God brings good even out of my careless stupidity, and I pick up a free book at the Activities' Fair from the nice people from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (thanks guys!) - "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller, "Non religious thoughts on Christian Spirituality" it says on the front. It's a great title. It's also a great book. I highly recommend it.

I read it on the Metro, on the ferry, on the bus, at the food court in Staten Island Mall, and then on the way back.

It was exactly what I needed.

It's just so amazing how God never lets us go.

"In America, the first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a free-form expression. It comes from the soul, and it is true."

"I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music. He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul. It is as if the soul is saying something, something about freedom.

I think Christian spirituality is like jazz music. I think loving Jesus is something you feel. I think it is something very difficult to get on paper. But it is no less real, no less meaningful, no less beautiful.

The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands."

- Donald Miller, "Blue Like Jazz"

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Of all places this picture was taken in the carpark of the Staten Island Mall.

It made me think about how oftentimes, there is so much beauty in the ordinary of everyday.


Suburban sunset (Staten Island, NY)

Today I saw the most beautiful sunset.

Of all the acclaimed paintings in all the art galleries (and I've been to quite a few), I think God is still the best painter of them all. He is the consumate artist.

Have you looked in the mirror lately?

Talk about beautiful.

Yesterday Cherfy and I took a walk through the Wall Street area down to South Street Seaport, and even though the sun was ferocious, we walked in the shade most of the way because the buildings were just so tall. Looking up, all you could see were slivers of blue. Today I took the ferry to Staten Island (passing by the Statue of Liberty - the Staten Island ferry is definitely the best "free" ride in New York) and then the bus to the Staten Island Mall. It's one of these typical suburban American strip malls with an open air car park that sprawls for miles and massive low lying buildings that stretch forever. But what surprised me the most was that looking up, there was just so much sky.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Baptised and Graduated

In all the comings and goings, meetings and partings, I think about why it is that some of the most beautiful things pass you by most quickly. Is beauty by definition fleeting?

Three years of Oxford have just hurtled by in the blink of an eye, and I now leave Oxford baptised and graduated.

Finals ended, finally. 3rd of June was a happy day. Thanks to everyone who was there to share the joy (in person or in "spirit" - ah the wonders of modern technology...)

12th of June saw me down by the riverside getting baptised. It's something that I've wanted to do for a really long time - to publicly declare my faith - but I've always held back.

However at just the right time, and not a moment too soon, I finally felt ready. I felt for the first time that I knew what I believed, that I was utterly convinced of what I believed, and that I wanted to shout to the world what I believed.

And this is what I said.

"Hi, my name is Peishan.
When I was 4, they told the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in kindergarten, and ever since then I've been absolutely convinced of the existence of God.

But it's only quite recently that I truly understood what it really means to follow Jesus - what it means to be loved by a God who loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to die for us so that we might live.

And so today, this is for me,

A declaration of faith
An acceptance of grace
And a celebration of love."

Back home for 3 weeks, then back to Oxford again to graduate and to say my final goodbyes. The graduation ceremony was charmingly traditional (most of it was in Latin), we did a lot of bowing and our gowns looked really great. (They were, after all, by Ede and Ravenscroft, royal robemakers since 1689.)

We were reminded of how we were part of a tradition that stretched back over 800 years, what a privilege it was, and how we should always bear the name of Oxford proudly. I shall always be proud to consider myself an Oxonian, to consider myself part of this venerable institution, this seamless blend of change and continuity, steeped in history and yet always moving forward.

Our tutor told us at Schools dinner that we are remembered by the year which we metriculate (joined the university) as opposed to the American tradition of being part of a graduating class. There is none of that boundless, extravagant American optimism that would see us marking the year in which we were all sent forth into the world to make it a better place. He said he preferred to think of membership in an Augustinian sense, there being a Church in heaven and a Church on earth, and us being remembered by the year in which we became members of the Church of Lincoln (or more generally Oxford). For that is when we joined and this is where we shall always remain.

We said our goodbyes as we each went our separate ways, knowing that the years would bring us together again, here and there, now and then, but also sad with the knowledge that it will never really ever be the same. But perhaps it shouldn't, for isn't change is the only thing that is constant? Yet I can't help wondering if what is beautiful never really lasts.

But we are together always, in memory and in love.

And I only know of one beautiful thing that truly lasts forever.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Big Blue Sky

The end is nigh!!! I can almost taste it. 6 papers down and 2 more to go. It's been OK so far, by the grace of God, in spite of all my fear and frailty. Thank you all for all your prayers and well wishes. (One can never say thank you enough ;)

Went for a walk today in the Parks - the third consecutive day that I've done that now. I LOVE the Parks.

It's so easy to get bogged down in fear and stress and just see no end in sight. But going for walks in the Parks - all that rolling green, sunshine and blue sky - just reminds me of all that I already have and all that there is to look forward to.

So look around you and look outside
A great big love and a big blue sky

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Birds, Flowers and Finals

First day of Finals tomorrow. It's Rupert's birthday today (poor boy) - happy birthday Rupert!

Also, good luck and God Bless to all my fellow Finalists!

Oxford tradition dictates that you pin a carnation on your gown (which you have to wear when you sit exams, along with a white shirt and a black skirt/ trousers, as well as a black ribbon round your collar, and you must also carry your mortarboard, carry, not wear - don't ask me why, it's tradition). White carnation for the first paper, pink for everything in between, and red for the last paper.

It's not compulsory, and I almost did not want to bother with it. But Rupert asked if we could swop carnations and so I said yes. The carnations are sitting in a cup in my bathroom.

Looking at them the other day, instead of thinking "oh no one more thing to worry about before I take my exam", I thought of something that Jesus had said.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? ...But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." - Matthew 6:25-34

So tomorrow, when I pin the carnation on my gown and walk down to exam schools passing the pigeons that seem to be all over Oxford, and all the tomorrows after that, I will know that if the birds and the flowers survive, I'll make it ok.

Thank you all for all the love.

[Jesus said] A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. - John 13:34

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. - 1 John 4:10-12

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Revolution

Had my last Foundations of Modern Philosophy revision class today, on Max Weber's Politics as a Vocation. We talked about how Weber made a distinction between an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility. The former referring to the grand, sweeping, passionate vision and the latter referring to a more pragmatic personal acceptance of consequences.

The blind pursuit of ultimate ends, though potentially dangerous, is also absolutely necessary. It's only great leaders, with such visions, tempered by a more pragmatic ethic of responsibility, who can affect real change in the modern world. A world, which for Weber, is one that is dominated by bureaucracy, alienation and disenchantment.

For Weber, my tutor said, the human condition is ultimately tragic. He said that when we got to his age, we would start thinking about such things more and more; about how ideals, however much you cherish and believe in them, are not attainable in their purest forms. Weber was not entirely spouting nonsense when he spoke of the world as a continual struggle for power and the state as the ultimate embodiment of violence. (Bleak, yes, but not entirely incorrect.) We can only struggle, and we can only get so far. Weber himself cites Martin Luther who, when pushed to recant his writings on biblical authority, proclaims "Here I stand; I can do no other."

And so the tragedy of the human condition sees humanity caught between great idealism and unachievability.

I think about how, while Luther was one of the great exceptions, and Protestantism spread rather successfully after his death, even if he were alive today, I doubt he would have said that his ideal had been entirely realised.

Ideals are not attainable in their purest form; you may struggle for your personal ideals all your life, to varying degrees of success, but for every great hope, there is greater disappointment. And we are constantly caught between the unlimited dreams that we can conceive, and the stark limits of what we can actually achieve.

And in the end, the end of us is just the end of us, concluded my tutor.

After that rather brief, and rather pessimistic aside, he quickly marched on, taking us through the text. I was very struck by his little diversion because he'd always struck me a very cheerful and ethusiastic person (he's also a great tutor, by the way, one of the best I've had these three years here, and that's saying a lot).

But I guess I shouldn't really have been surprised. Because anyone as clever as he is (and he's frightfully clever) would not have failed to notice that we live in a world that while beautiful in parts, is also immensely flawed. And if we are all there is to it, then yes, I think the human condition is ultimately tragic. We will never fully achieve our ideals in reality, and we often don't even live up to our own ideals in our daily lives.

And maybe you think, well, this is how it is. We are born, we die. And in between we struggle. And there are good bits and bad bits, but you know, I try to focus on the good bits, try my best to fix the bad bits, and if I can't then well, at least I've tried. And if it hurts too much, well, then I'll just try to forget.

But all the while you hear this little voice whispering, there's got to be more to life than this.

And there is. Because the truth is, we can't save ourselves. No revolution or institutional reform or global mass movement will really change anything, if we do not first grapple with the darkness that is in our hearts. The model of the self-seeking, utility-maximising "economic" man, while crude, does capture a significant part of the truth. So much of global injustice today can be attributed to sheer greed.

The very awesome Prof G. A. Cohen, who has written extensively in reply to John Rawls' Theory of Justice (among other things, that is; I also attended his lectures on Plato and Hegel & Marx - he is such a legend), criticised Rawls for having a strictly institutional conception of justice and equality. What good would that be if we can't even treat our fellow citizens with personal respect?

He writes that he's now much more convinced of the nostrum that "for inequality to be overcome, there needs to be a revolution in feeling or motivation, as opposed to (just) in economic structure ...short of a second coming of Jesus Christ ...there will bever be, many people would think, the needed change in motivation." (in If You're An Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich? p.20)

I believe that no secular conception of morality is going to provide the much needed motivational change; not consequentialim (most famously Mill's utilitarianism), nor deontology (such as Kant's categorical and moral imperatives), nor virtue ethics (first conceived by Aristotle).

No amount of thinking, institution-building or revolution-inciting is going to fundamentally change the way we think and act; the way we treat each other.

What we need, is a spiritual revolution.

Christianity is shaped by the conviction that the eternal wisdom and divine word that is in and through all things, took shape in a particular human life, at a particular time. The divine became part of the flux of human history in order to influence and transform it from within, through communities dedicated to following the word made flesh.

There is an intense inwardness about true religion, and in this it overlaps with the current fashion for spirituality. It does indeed offer inward strength. But the religion of the Bible is not primarily about achieving inward tranquillity. It is just as much about being wracked by a sense of protest and lament at the state of the world: a protest and lament before the very face of God. It is also about seeking to be a sign, through renewed human relationships and restored human communities, that not all hope is lost.

Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, "We Should Not Fear Religion"
The Observer Sunday Dec 19 2004

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Walk

A week to Finals. I am miraculously calm. Peter just asked me the other day why I was so calm. Resigned acceptance? Nope. Overly well-prepared? Hardly. So what is it? Faith, I said.

I had a really nice walk in the park today. The sky was a brilliant blue and all the world was bathed in sunlight. It was good to get out, and not be sitting at my desk; fresh air and good conversation can do wonders.

Thank you all for your prayers and words of encouragement.

Thank you for walking with me.

For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life. - Psalm 56:13

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Are You There God?

I was just thinking about how prayer can seem like such a strange thing. I remember that Judy Blume wrote a book called "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret." I think I must have read it (I was quite a big Judy Blume fan back in the day), but all that I can remember of it now is the title.

"Are you there God?" How can you speak to someone whom you can't see?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. - 2 Corinthians 4:18

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. - Hebrews 11:1

How do you know he hears you? Does he even know who you are?
"It's me, Margaret," you say.

O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.

...Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. - Psalm 139:1-10

It's immensely comforting to know that God is always with us, but at the same time, it seems almost frightening to think that anyone could know you so well. I often think that if anyone knew half the thoughts that ran through my mind, they really woudn't want to know me anymore.

This is how we are broken. And this is how we are lost.

We hide from ourselves, we hide from each other and most of all, we hide from God.

After Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, disobeying God and thinking that they knew best what was right and what was wrong, they found themselves ashamed of their nakedness and ashamed of themselves.

When they heard the Lord approaching in the garden, they hid among the trees. Without getting into a big fat theological debate about the book of Genesis, the essence of the fall of man is this - that we chose to disobey God, and take it upon ourselves to decide right and wrong.

This very rebellion against God is the essence of sin - all the other awful stuff we do to ourselves and to each other, that is the consequence of our first rebellion. So we choose to live our lives our way, exalting ourselves above all others, without enough regard for others and without any regard for God.

How then, can we, in our brokenness approach the almighty God? How can we possibly know the creator of all things, the author of the universe and the maker of our souls? He who hung the stars in the heavens, who breathed the clouds into the sky and touched each blade of grass with green. He who is perfect and gave us every good thing. He whose heart we broke the day we chose to turn away.

The most amazing thing about it all, is that God did not give up on us. He did not stay far away, setting the earth into motion and then leaving it alone. Banishing Adam and Eve from his garden and leaving them in the wilderness. He himself came to earth, entered time and space, became one of us, to speak to us in a language that we could understand.

Jesus came to earth, to die the death that we should have died for our rejection of God, so that we might live.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - John 14:6

Jesus reconciled us to God by sacrificing himself, in our place, on the cross. And because Jesus is God, his death has infinite worth - reconciling all of fallen humanity to our Father in heaven.

Because of Jesus, we no longer have to hide from God, afraid of the one who sees into all the hearts of men. Because of Jesus, we know that if we confess our sin, apologising for our rebellion, we know that we will be forgiven.

And this is why we can pray. This is why we can approach God freely and with confidence, in spite of our brokenness.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 4:4-7

Find me here
And speak to me
I want to feel you
I need to hear you
You are the light
That's leading me
To the place
Where I find peace

You are the strength
That keeps me walking
You are the hope
That keeps me trusting
You are the light
To my soul
You are my purpose
You're everything

And how can I stand here with you
and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me
how could it be any better than this?

You calm the storms
And you give me rest
You hold me in your hands
You won't let me fall
You still my heart
And you take my breath away
Would you take me in
Take me deeper now

And how can I stand here with you
and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me
how could it be any better than this?

'Cause you're all I want
You're all I need
You're everything

You're all I want
You're all I need
You're everything

And how can I stand here with you
and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me
how could it be any better than this?

Everything by Lifehouse

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Isaiah 40:28-31

I have to say, I'm quite a big fan of the random-bible-page-flip. Just when you think you need to hear something but you're not quite sure what - the random-bible-page-flip is the way to go. For He is always with me and I carry his word in my heart.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

- Isaiah 40:28-31

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

His Eye is on the Sparrow

I really needed to hear this today. Got home from the library and hit play on my ipod. My randomised playlist started up. This was the song that came on right after I Could Sing of Your Love Forever - another song I really needed to hear.

Just under two weeks to the beginning of Finals. Had a mild panic today over Plato. But it's all right now. It was always all right.

I just needed to remember what I believe.

It's not just a pretty song (although it is very pretty indeed). It's not just a crutch. It's not a comforting illusion.

It's the truth.

Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home

When Jesus is my portion

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. - Psalm 73:23-26

A constant friend is He

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13

His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches over me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

[Jesus said] Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. - Luke 12:6-7

I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free

Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." - John 8:31-32

His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

His eye is on the sparrow - Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount (Sister Act II OST)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The greatest thing you'll ever learn...

Had a really good discussion with my college Chaplain at lunch in Hall today. I asked him if he was at the William Lane Craig debate on Friday (see Friday April 29 entry) and he said he wasn't. He asked for a brief recap. We then talked about how when it comes to knowing God, there's a limit to how far your understanding can take you. At some point you have to acknowledge that it is just a mystery, that your finite mind cannot completely grasp the infinite.

That is not an excuse for mysticism and superstition of course; we should push the limits of understanding as far as possible, but there comes a point where you can push no further. Locke, in his Essay on Human Understanding points out in the introduction that we can't know everything, but what we do know, we can systematically understand.

We are not forever groping about in the dark, because even though we don't know the intricate workings of God's mind, we know his very character and his very nature, as revealed in Scripture and supremely in the life and work of Jesus Christ. And if you believe, we can know him also through his very presence and work in our lives. Because knowing is not just a purely intellectual exercise, but a personal experience as well.

When you reach the limits of human understanding, it takes humility to say, Lord, I don't know, but it is enough for me that You know, all the while trusting in His goodness. I don't know exactly how my heater works (clearly I wasn't paying attention in science class...), but I can feel the heat that it produces and it keeps me warm. And that is good enough for me. Of course there is no need for that now that summer's here, thank God.

Another analogy that struck me when I was thinking about the limits of human understanding. This might surprise you (or it might not), but when I was young I was quite the little monster. And when I was punished for my various misdeeds, I never understood why I deserved it - I had done nothing wrong. Much kicking and screaming would ensue. Including several "I hate yous", which of course I never actually meant. The thing is, even though I couldn't (or wouldn't) accept why I was being punished, fundamentally I never doubted that my mother loved me.

So while I don't understand everything (how exactly does the tsunami fit into God's plan?), I know enough of the very nature and character of God, to know that He loves me, and that He loves you.

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

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. - 1 John 4:9-10

I remember we spoke about this once, how the Moulin Rouge tagline reads "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return."

When actually, "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is how to be loved, and to love in return."

Because God loved us first.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Knowing Enough

Just returned from a debate at the Oxford Union between Professor William Lane Craig and Professor A. C. Grayling. Famous Christian theologian/philosopher vs. famous atheist philosopher on "Does belief in God make sense in spite of tsunamis?" It was thoroughly enjoyable and provided much food for thought.

Prof Craig went through the logical problem of evil and the probabilistic problem evil - the two main formulations which dominated the academic literature. There was even a handout laying out both arguments with premisses and conclusions and assumptions and rebuttals. (You will be glad to know that I won't be getting into specifics here)

To cut a long, complicated, often times quite intense debate short - If God is ominpotent and omnibenevolent, why does he create a world in which there is evil and suffering?

Prof Craig argued that the existence of free will meant that any possible world with free creatures would contain sin and evil. If we are all given the ability to choose, we all choose differently and some choose better than others. God is omnipotent, but that means that he can do all logically possible things. He cannot make a square round, or make someone freely do something - these things are logically impossible.

And so it is quite conceivable that the existence of both evil and God is not a contradiction.

I think it's quite apparent to most of us that a lot of the bad stuff that goes on in the world is a product of human choice - from the exploitative institutions that we create (just ask the Marxists), to the wars we fight, to the hurt that we cause the people in our lives.

But the question still remains - what about the exceptions of accidents and natural disasters? Prof Grayling argued that it was inconceivable that any loving God would cause such pain.

Prof Craig argued that it is possible to argue that God has morally sufficient reasons, reasons that do not have to be apparent to us, in allowing suffering in the world (even tsunamis). That it is all part of his providence, over the course of all human history, to build his kingdom by drawing as many people into it as will freely choose.

He spoke about the million contingencies in every moment - how could we possibly know which actions will achieve the best outcome overall, in the long run, over the course of all of human existence? Only God knows. And he holds all of history in his hands.

Prof Grayling said that whenever he spoke to people of faith he always had the problem of them saying that they know something which they claim to be the whole truth, but that they do not know these other things.

Prof Craig had pointed out the limitations of human cognitive abilities and how we simply would not be able to fully understand all the details of God's plans, and how great suffering could be a part of it. For how could the finite completely reach the infinite?

Prof Grayling then retorted by quoting Locke in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, saying that we have enough light in our minds with which the fathom the world.

At this point alarm bells went off in my head because I've read Locke and that is not what he says.

In the Introduction, section 5. "For, though the comprehension of our understandings comes exceeding short of the vast extent of things; yet we shall have cause enough to magnify the bountiful Author of our being... How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments, that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties."

"Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences of life, and information of virtue; and has put within the reach of their discovery the comfortable provision for this life, and the Way that leads to a better."

Locke is arguing that the light that we have in us, which is given to us by our Maker, is sufficient for our understanding of the things that we need to know. There are things that we shall never fully understand, like how exactly grave suffering fits into God's plans, but we know enough to have faith. Knowing God through the reading of Scripture, knowing God through his presence and his continuing work in our lives - that is enough.

Prof Craig pointed out that for most people the problem with suffering is more emotional than intellectual. And yet the Bible tells us of the God who shares our suffering in the person of Jesus Christ. Him, who was wholly innocent, but who was prepared to endure death on the cross and the sufferings of hell itself, so as to bear the sins of the whole world, so as to die in our place that we might have eternal life.

God isn't distant or remote, especially in suffering, for he suffered for us and he suffers alongside us still. In our darkest moments, it is his presence that comforts us and his love that gives us light.

Not only did Grayling twist Locke's words, Locke's very words can actually be used against him. Yes, we know enough to know. We know enough to have faith.

I wanted to raise my hand and point this out during the Q&A session, but I didn't. I guess nerves must have gotten the better of me. It would be quite funny (and slightly intimidating), telling Grayling that he didn't read Locke properly, especially since he wrote quite a few of the books on our philosophy reading lists. Even so, that doesn't make him right.

I don't know everything. But I know enough to believe that what I know is true.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." - John 8:12

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Why Did You Doubt?

A friend told me today "I haven't been well for awhile now." It's nothing strictly physical, but more emotional. And in some ways, that's harder to fix.

We spoke about how we are all weak. I thought about how most of us think we've got it all worked out, that we are fine as we are. Sure, sometimes we hit a rough patch, but we get by. Sure, there are some things that we can't forget or forgive, but we try not to think about them. And then I think, there's got to be more than this. I don't want to just "get by". I want to live. To take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:19)

We are all so weak. I think about how it's so easy to tell yourself that everything's fine. But we are all just a step away from stumbling and a tear away from crying and it could all so easily come apart.

Forgive me for such "depressing" thoughts. I have Finals in less than a month and so now it's just revision revision revision. It's hardgoing, I won't sugarcoat it. But even though I very often think that I just cannot do it, I know someone who can.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9

And so I'm holding it together, for in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

Favourite song of the moment: Storm, by Lifehouse (from their very first album when they were known as Blyss). Lifehouse's first three albums were amazing. For some reason their music seems to have taken a secular turn in this the new album "Lifehouse", which is disappointing. I've heard it, it's still a good album, but the songs just don't mean as much.

How long have I been in this storm?
So overwhelmed by the ocean's shapeless form
The water's getting harder to tread
With these waves crashing over my head

If I could just see you, everything would be all right
If I see you this darkness will turn to light
And I will walk on water
And you will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be all right
And everything will be all right

I know you didn't bring me out here to drown
So why am I ten feet under and upside down
Barely surviving has become my purpose
Cos I'm so used to living under the surface

If I could just see you, everything would be all right
If I see you this darkness will turn to light
And I will walk on water
And you will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be all right

And I will walk on water
You will catch me if I fall
And I will get lost into your eyes
And everything will be all right
Now everything is all right
Everything's all right

Jesus Walks on the Water
Matthew 14:22-36

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

"Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Throwing Stones

This is a prayer.

For calm amid chaos
for forgiveness instead of accusation
understanding instead of judgement
generosity instead of spite
love instead of hate.
That before we too eagerly point out the stain on others' hearts
we first look into the darkness of our own souls.

John 8:1-11

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”