Sunday, November 08, 2009

Leaf Peeping

Leaf peeping is the art of being at the right place at the right time. To be there just as the perfect combination of sunny days and cool nights turns the leaves into the brightest shades crimson, orange and gold.

It was a perfect day. The autumnal air was crisp and fresh. The sky was a deep, cloudless blue. The sun set the leaves ablaze.

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing find the place where all the beauty came from ...the place where I ought to have been born.

Psyche, in Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves — that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can't. They tell us that "beauty born of murmuring sound" will pass into human face; but it won't. Or not yet.

For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory

Monday, September 07, 2009

Lost and Found

When Billy is asked at The Royal Ballet School auditions how he feels when he dances, he says:

I can't really explain it,
I haven't got the words
It's a feeling that you can't control
I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are
And at the same time something makes you whole self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm of all creation and of all being. For the Eternal Word gives Himself in mortal sacrifice; and that not only on Calvary. For when He was crucified on Calvary He did that in the wild weather of His outlying provinces what He had done at home in glory and gladness. From before the foundation of the world, Christ surrenders begotten deity back to begetting Deity, in obedience. And as the Son glorifies the Father, so also the Father glorifies the Son. ...From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever. This is not a which we can escape ...What is outside the system of self-giving is ...simply and solely Hell ...that fierce imprisonment in the self ...Self-giving is absolute reality.
C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain

Perhaps what is true of dancing, is also true of life.

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Matthew 16:25

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Amazing Grace

They sang mostly in their native Zulu language, and they danced the dances of their people. Their harmonies were so tight, you could not differentiate individual voices - it was as if only one person was singing, in a tone so rich and so pure that the concert hall was filled with perfect melody. They sang about hope amidst suffering, the beauty of their homeland, their people's struggle for freedom, the need for all of us to come together to work for peace.

But when the lights dimmed and the audience clapped them back on stage for their last song, this is what they sang.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Drag Me to Hell?

Though not a fan of horror movies (I avoid them almost entirely - the last horror movie I saw was the The Sixth Sense and I must confess that it scared me quite a bit), I was persuaded to go to a screening of Drag Me to Hell with the assurance that the movie had received rave reviews.

The movie was full of well-executed thrills and scares, topped off with wacky humour and numerous "gross-out" moments, though it was surprisingly free of gore. The story revolves around a young woman who humiliates and angers an old gypsy lady, who then puts a curse on her. Predictably, said young woman is in imminent danger of being dragged to hell by an evil spirit, and most of the movie revolves around her valiant efforts to avoid this nasty fate. The zany humour and the over-the-top action tempered the scariness of the film, and I was relieved to leave the cinema mostly untraumatised.

I was struck by the film's implicit acceptance of good and evil, the need for atonement and forgiveness of one's transgressions (at one point a poor goat is led out to be slaughtered), and the existence of a supernatural realm - hell included, of course.

The hell depicted in the movie seemed to be typical of most horror movies, full of raging fires and ghoulish souls reluctantly condemned to eternal punishment for the wrong that they did while they were alive on earth. People are dragged there kicking and screaming.

Most biblical commentators agree that the language that is used to describe hell in the Scriptures is metaphorical - hell is portrayed as eternal fire as well as the outer darkness (which are of course literal contradictions). Tim Keller points out that "[t]hey are vivid ways to describe what happens when we lose the presence of God. Darkness refers to the isolation, and fire to the disintegration of being separated from God. Away from the favor and face of God, we literally, horrifically, and endlessly fall apart."

The scariest part of all of this, is that no one is reluctantly "dragged" to hell as the movie suggests with equal amounts of hilarity and horror. We chose it.

In short, hell is simply one's freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity. We see this process "writ small" in addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First, there is disintegration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction. Second, there is the isolation, as increasingly you blame others and circumstances in order to justify your behaviour. "No one understands! Everyone is against me!" is muttered in greater and greater self-pity and self-absorption. When we build our lives on anything but God, that thing - though a good thing - becomes an enslaving addiction, something we have to have to be happy. Personal disintegration happens on a broader scale. In eternity, this disintegration goes on forever. There is increasing isolation, denial, delusion and self-absorption. When you lose all humility you are out of touch with reality. No one ever asks to leave hell [note: as is the case in Jesus' parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus]. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham.
Tim Keller in The Reason for God
In the words of C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, "Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others... but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticise it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud."

The Christian doctrine of hell has never been a popular one. It's one that has often been caricatured and trivialised. However, as Tim Keller points out:
Unless we come to grips with this "terrible" doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him he was experiencing hell itself. But consider - if our debt for sin is so great that it is never paid off there, but our hell stretches on for eternity, then what are we to conclude from the fact that Jesus said the payment was "finished" (John 19:30) after only three hours? We learn that what he felt on the cross was far worse and deeper than all of our deserved hells put together.

And this makes emotional sense when we consider the relationship he lost. If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you - that hurts. If a good friend does the same - that hurts far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you saying, "I never want to see you again," that is far more devastating still. The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more tortuous is any separation. But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginningless and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship. When Jesus was cut off from God he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. He experienced the full wrath of the Father. And he did it voluntarily, for us.

Fairly often I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all." Why, I ask? "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin." But this shows a deep misunderstanding of both God and the cross. On the cross, God HIMSELF, incarnated as Jesus, took the punishment. He didn't visit it on a third party, however willing.

So the question becomes: what did it cost your kind of god to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this god agonize, cry out, and where were his nails and thorns? The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary." But then ironically, in our effort to make God more loving, we have made him less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a god like this will be at most impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We could not sing to him "love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." Only through the cross could our separation from God be removed, and we will spend all eternity loving and praising God for what he has done (Revelation 5:9-14).

And if Jesus did not experience hell itself for us, then we ourselves are devalued. In Isaiah, we are told, "The results of his suffering he shall see, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). This is a stupendous thought. Jesus suffered infinitely more than any human soul in eternal hell, yet he looks at us and says, "It was worth it." What could make us feel more loved and valued than that? The Savior presented in the gospel waded through hell itself rather than lose us, and no other savior ever depicted has loved us at such a cost.
See also Hell: Isn't the God of Christianity an angry Judge?

Friday, June 05, 2009

How Tim Keller Found Manhattan

Great article about the wonderful story of Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church and New York City. It's not hard to see why Dr Keller and Redeemer's ministry has grown so quickly and touched so many, myself included.

The Kellers stick to a few rules. They never talk about politics. Tim always preaches with a non-Christian audience in mind, not merely avoiding offense, but exploring the text to find its good news for unbelievers as well as believers. The church emphasizes excellence in music and art, to the point of paying their musicians well (though not union scale). And it calls people to love and bless the city. It isn't an appeal based on guilt toward a poor, lost community.

... Keller's reading of Scripture fueled his enthusiasm. Conn had taught him a positive biblical view of cities. As he studied New York, he began to draw out that understanding. Surely God's command to exiled Israelites applied to Christians in New York: "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you" (Jer. 29:7). Long before that, God had designated cities as places of refuge when Israel entered the Promised Land. They remain so today, Keller noted—which explains why poor people, immigrants, and vulnerable minorities such as homosexuals cluster in cities. They attract people who are open to change. Paul did most of his missionary work in cities, and early Christianity flourished within them. Revelation portrays the final descent of the kingdom of God to earth as a city, although a garden city, with fruit trees and a life-giving river at its center. Keller suggests that, had Adam and Eve lived sinlessly and obeyed God's directions, they would have made Eden into just such a city.
The New Jerusalem
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and there was no longer any sea.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"Now the dwelling of God is with men,
and he will live with them.
They will be his people,
and God himself will be with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away."

He who was seated on the throne said,
"I am making everything new!"
Then he said, "Write this down,
for these words are trustworthy and true."

Revelation 21:1-5

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Ultimate Boyband Song

Undoubtedly the gold standard by which all boyband songs are measured, and the template according to which all such songs are written. Performed by Oxford's very own "boyband", the all-male a cappella group, Out of the Blue.

Declaration of my feelings for you
Elaboration of those feelings
Description of how long those feelings have existed
Belief that no one else could feel the same as I

Reminiscence of those pleasant times we shared
And our relationship's perfection
Recounting of the steps that led to our love's dissolution
Mostly involving my unfaithfulness and lies

Penitent admission of wrongdoing
Discovery of the depth of my affection
Regret over the lateness of my epiphany

Title of the song
Naïve expression of love
Reluctance to accept that you are gone
Request to turn back time
And rectify my wrong
Repetition of the title of the song

Enumeration of my various transgressive actions
And insufficient motivation
Realisation that these actions led to your departure
And my resultant lack of sleep and appetite

Renunciation of my past insensitive behavior
Promise of my reformation
Reassurance that you still are foremost in my thoughts now
Plead for instruction how to gain your trust again

Request for reconciliation
Listing of the numerous tasks that I'd perform
Of physical and emotional compensation

Acknowledgment that I acted foolishly
Increasingly desperate pleas for your return
Sorrow for my infidelity
Vain hope that my sins are forgivable

Appeal for one last opportunity
Drop to my knees to elicit crowd response
Prayers to my chosen deity
Modulation and I hold a high note...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Of fragrant harbours and homesickness

I recently went to Hong Kong for a short break and was taken on a whirlwind tour of the city (courtesy of some wonderfully hospitable friends). I have not been to Hong Kong since I was a child, so in a way, I was discovering the city for the first time. My local friends assure me that plenty has changed since I last visited and from what I can remember from my previous visits, they are entirely right. [Disclaimer: Given the brevity of my stay, all opinions expressed here are impressionistic.]

Hong Kong is great fun - good food, vibrant nightlife, fantastic shopping... (Pictures can be found here.) It also has a very dramatic skyline which looks particularly lovely at night. Where Singapore is planned right down to the very last street corner, Hong Kong sprawls out in a more haphazard fashion, no doubt a legacy of the Brits' laissez-faire approach to governance.

I was struck by the many buildings which housed trendy restaurants, bars or boutiques on the first floor, but looked utterly dilapidated from the second floor up. The streets are windy and - for a directionally challenged person such as I - quite confusing. However, their subway system - the MTR - is efficient and has great coverage. Also, I have to agree with my Dad when he says that it is easier to get to the airport via the MTR, as opposed to Singapore's MRT. You can even check in your luggage at the train station. Impressive stuff.

While Hong Kong is a place that I would recommend to anyone for a short holiday, I must confess that it is not somewhere that I would like to stay for any extended period of time. For one thing, my Cantonese is virtually non-existent. I also find the pace of life far too hectic. From chatting with some local friends, the impression that I got was that work is virtually all consuming. Everyone is in a constant struggle to get ahead, because no one - least of all the government - is going to help you. This breeds amazing entrepreneurial spirit on the one hand (out of sheer necessity almost), and an intensely individualistic society on the other. It is no surprise that there are far more wealthy businessmen in Hong Kong than in Singapore.

Food in Hong Kong - especially traditional Cantonese cooking - is sublime, but I still prefer the full variety of Southeast Asian flavours that we have in Singapore. As far as I can tell, Singapore is also more ethnically diverse, which makes for a more interesting city. I also like that the pace of life here is somewhat more laidback and the city more orderly. I also appreciate the fact that the government does try to give its citizens (especially those who are less advantaged) a helping hand wherever possible.

But my fundamental preference for Singapore over Hong Kong may just be a matter of habit and familiarity. After all, both cities have plenty to recommend themselves. At the end of the day, it may simply be a matter of preference. Singapore is not without its problems. While the government provides far more for its people, there is also the danger of Singaporeans becoming overly reliant on the government. Also, how does one plan to have "buzz" in a city?

There is no perfect city. I love coming home after a holiday, but after awhile I long to go away again. While I was abroad at university, I would come down with occasional bouts of homesickness. But now that I've graduated and come home, every now and then I find myself wishing that I could relive my university days. Sometimes it seems that we're constantly in transit. Sometimes it seems that we're just passing through. You never feel like you completely belong somewhere, or anywhere, really. In a way, we are all permanently homesick.

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

I've got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can't go back
Back to how it was

I believe now
I've come too far
No I can't go back
Back to how it was

Created for a place
I've never known

This is home
Now I'm finally
Where I belong
Where I belong
This is home
I've been searching
For a place of my own
Now I've found it
Maybe this is home
This is home

Belief over misery
I've seen the enemy
And I won't go back
Back to how it was

And I got my heart set
On what happens next
I got my eyes wide
It's not over yet
We are miracles
And we're not alone

And now after all my searching
After all my questions
I'm gonna call it home

I got a brand new mindset
I can finally see the sunset
I'm gonna call it home

Now I know
This is home

I've come too far
And I won't go back
This is home

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday: This Is Love

This is love
Hanging on a tree
For all the world to see
Holy sacrifice

This is love
Dying in my place
Bearing my disgrace
Giving me new life

This is love, perfect love
Like I have never known
Father God, in your righteousness
To think You would claim me as Your own

This is love

This is love
Reaching for me first
When I was at my worst
On a lonely road

This is love
My sin as black as night
Covered in a robe of white
That your grace bestowed

This is love, perfect love
Like I have never known
Father God, in your righteousness
To think You would claim me as Your own

This is love
This is love
by Todd Vaters

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale is said to be one of Shakespeare's final plays. Perhaps that might explain why it defies categorisation – it is most accurately described as a "tragi-comedy". One could very well imagine a playwright at the height of his powers doing what he does best, writing both high comedy and high tragedy into the very same play. It is a tale of two kingdoms – Sicily and Bohemia – and it is fitting that it is staged by The Bridge Project, a transatlantic partnership spearheaded by three New York and London theatre companies. Director Sam Mendes (of American Beauty fame) has cleverly cast the British actors as Sicilians and the American actors as Bohemians.

The first half of the play is set in Sicilia where a Lear-like tragedy unfolds. Leontes, the King of Sicilia, is a jealous tyrant who throws his wife in jail and casts his infant daughter out of the kingdom, mistakenly believing his wife to be an adulteress and his daughter, a bastard. The dark first half ends, fittingly, with Shakespeare's most famous stage direction "Exit, pursued by a bear." The Sicilian nobleman Antigonus, who is given the heart-wrenching task of leaving the infant princess the wild deserts of Bohemia, is consumed by a bear.

The contrast between the first and the second half of the play could not be more stark. The first half, set in Sicilia, takes place in the depths of winter. The stage is sparse and dimly lit. Hanging lamps with flickering flames adorn the back wall. All the characters are dressed in dark, sober colours, mostly black. At the beginning of the play, Leontes' young son is asked by his mother the Queen to "tell us a tale". "A sad tale's best for winter," he replies. The dramatic irony could not be more obvious given the impending tragedy that will rip the Sicilian royal family apart. The young prince himself dies of grief soon after his mother is found guilty of adultery. The Queen faints when she receives this news and is taken away. A little later on, Leontes presumes that she too has died.

Fast forward 16 years later and we find ourselves in Bohemia, where Leontes' daughter, Perdita, had been adopted by a shepherd and has now come of age. She has fallen in love with the young prince of Bohemia, whose father had been accused of committing adultery with the Queen of Sicilia, Perdita's mother. The second half of the play takes place in pastoral Bohemia, where sunlight dapples the ground, flowers are in bloom and a sheep-shearing festival is in full swing. Ethan Hawke makes his much touted appearance as the rogue, Autolycus, singing and dancing, pick-pocketing and cheating his way through the crowd. High comedy ensues when some of the young men and women at the festival break out into a bawdy fertility dance. All this is more reminiscent of Shakespeare's light-hearted comedies in which mistaken identities and misunderstandings are eventually cleared up, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Most of the second half is devoted to a series of fortuitous events, which eventually sees Perdita reunited with her parents, the King and Queen of Sicilia. They too are reconciled to each other. Perdita and her beloved, the Prince of Bohemia, are together at last (the King of Bohemia had originally opposed their marriage, thinking that Perdita was one lowly born), and both kings - erstwhile bosom friends - are also reconciled. Leontes' character is fully redeemed - he has spent the last 16 years remorsefully regretting his actions, and is speechless with joy when he gets both his wife and daughter back from the dead. Everything ends happily, and the tragedy of the first half is entirely reversed. The oracle from the first act has been fulfilled - that which was lost has now been found.

The seeming incongruity between the two halves of the play has led some critics to consider The Winter's Tale to be one of Shakespeare's "problem plays." The play itself is not easily categorised with the two halves so starkly contrasted - dark and light, tragedy and comedy, winter and spring. But perhaps these disparate elements of the play actually represent real life more faithfully than either a straightforward tragedy or comedy could? After all, life is never entirely joyful nor entirely tragic, but often a curious mix of both.

Could it not also be said that the joy of the second half is made more acute by the tragedy of the first? After all, if winter had not been so cold, the trees not so bare, would we behold the first dew and the first bloom of spring with the same wonder? In the same way, if our hearts had not been so dark and hardened, would we be so deeply moved by the immense magnitude of God's grace when first his light breaks in?

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2

Friday, March 20, 2009


We were talking about how keen we both were to watch The Bridge Project's The Winter's Tale.

- Do you like Shakespeare?
- I like Ethan Hawke.
- But he's an adulterer! He cheated on Uma Thurman and their two kids!
- You don't know what happened, what it was like to be in his shoes. Maybe he had his reasons. You can't judge.

I mumbled something about penance and repentance, but this kept stewing in my mind all the way home. For all my mock protestations about Ethan Hawke's adultery, I am very excited about the play and the fact that he is in it - I loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. In the latter, he might very well have alluded to why his marriage with Uma Thurman broke down. In conversation with Julie Delpy's character, Celine, he (Jesse) describes his unhappy marriage as akin to "running a small nursery with someone I used to date."

We all judge. We judge people for judging. We are self-righteous about the self-righteous. We all have standards of some sort and according to our standards, some people are right, and some are wrong. We cannot avoid making judgments. Despite the ever-present danger of hypocrisy, I still think that it is important to make such distinctions about motivations and action, especially with regards to ourselves. Hate is wrong. Lying is wrong. Cheating is wrong.

However, when we make moral distinctions about other people's actions, the most important thing is to recognise that had we been in their position, we would have done the same - or worse. The difference between making a moral judgment (or being morally discerning), and judging someone - is humility. This is the honest admission that you are nobody's moral superior, and are probably morally inferior in so many ways. Jesus told us as much when he allowed himself to be crucified - for us. He took the judgment that we deserved to bear.

We are all cheaters. God loves us with a faithful, everlasting love, but we have been faithless. We love other things more than Him, in place of Him. Willful self-determination, money, power, success, romance, human approval... the list goes on and on. Even though he gave his whole heart to us, we gave our hearts away - and we have done so at our own peril. We do not love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and as a result, we do not come anywhere close to loving our neighbours as ourselves.

We have caused God - and consequently each other - so much pain, and yet his reponse to our betrayal is not to lash out in anger, to hurt us like we have hurt him. Instead, he takes all the pain and hurt of the world - that we have caused - upon himself, so that we may be reconciled to him. We deserved judgment, but he showed us mercy. We deserved his anger, but he showed us forgiveness. We are cheaters, but he is ever loving, ever faithful.

I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, higher than the heavens;

your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,

and let your glory be over all the earth.

Psalm 108:3-5

Sunday, March 08, 2009

When I look at the stars

According to the New York Times, there are two projects underway to allow New Yorkers to get a good look at the night sky. With the current levels of light pollution, most people never have the chance to see the night sky in its full glory.
Indeed, a study published in 2001 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in London calculated that more than two-thirds of people in the continental United States never encounter a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. With the majority of the world’s population now living in or near cities, there is growing concern among astronomers and environmentalists that the permanent twilight of urban areas is making star gazing, once as simple as looking up, a bygone pastime.
Hopefully these projects will succeed and this will be something that we can do here, too.

"I love the night sky. It reminds me of how small and insignificant I and my problems are in light of the infinite. When I look at the stars, I feel like myself." – Jon Foreman (Switchfoot)

Maybe I’ve been the problem
Maybe I’m the one to blame
But even when I turn it off and blame myself
the outcome feels the same
I’ve been thinking maybe I’ve been partly cloudy
Maybe I’m the chance of rain
And maybe I’m overcast
And maybe all my luck’s washed down the drain

I’ve been thinking about everyone
Everyone you look so lonely

But when I look at the stars
When I look at the stars
When I look at the stars
I see someone else
When I look at the stars
The stars
I feel like myself

Stars looking at a planet watching entropy and pain
And maybe start to wonder how
the chaos in our lives could pass as sane
I’ve been thinking about the meaning of resistance
Of a hope beyond my own
And suddenly the infinite and penitent
begin to look like home

I’ve been thinking about everyone
Everyone you look so empty

Everyone, everyone, we feel so lonely
Everyone, everyone, we feel so empty

When I look at the stars I feel like myself
When I look at the stars I see someone

Friday, March 06, 2009

He's just not that into you

The movie was passably pleasant but what really surprised me was that it was actually based on a book which had earlier been published in 2004. Both writers had been involved with Sex and the City, one as a writer and the other as a consultant. I actually remember this line from the series. In one of the episodes, go-getter career woman Miranda has a relational revelation one fine day, when she realises that she doesn't need to keep agonising over whether or not a guy calls back or reciprocates interest. If he doesn't, it just means that he's just not that into you. Armed with this new-found knowledge she goes round the city trying to dispense this wisdom, but is unceremoniously rebuffed by women who want to persist in their self-denial. "He will call," their friends assure them (despite all evidence to the contrary) and they blindly believe.

Which begs the question - why are we so blind?

The contents of the book reads as follows, and the movie is structured along the same lines:

1. He's Just Not That Into You If He's Not Asking You Out
2. He's Just Not That Into You If He's Having Sex With Someone Else
3. He's Just Not That Into You If He Only Wants to See You When He's Drunk
4. He's Just Not That Into You If He's Breaking Up With You
5. He's Just Not That Into You If He's Married

None of these statements are earth-shattering revelations - in fact one would think that they are common sense. And yet the movie - and the book - seems to have struck a chord with quite a few, which leaves me to conclude that we have an amazing capacity for self-denial and deception. What is patently obvious to a disinterested outsider is hardly obvious to the one who is in the throes of a largely one-sided, intense relational experience. This is best exemplified by the character of Gigi (played endearingly by Ginnifer Goodwin). Guy after guy, rejection after rejection, she persists in the hope that the current object of her affection will reciprocate.

I've been reading a bit more about the science of decision-making recently, and one of the things that comes up again and again is that our minds are extremely good at filtering information to confirm pre-existing notions and desires. We all suffer from cognitive biases. (Try this exercise.) I'm guessing that this is one of the main reasons why so often, we just don't see that he's just not that into me/you. So what's a girl to do?

Personally, I know I'm much more susceptible to relational idiocy when I've spent more time marinating in our romance-obsessed culture and not enough reading up on real love. We so often reserve 1 Corinthians 13 for wedding readings, but how often do we singles need to be reminded that love is patient and kind and not envious, boastful, proud, or self-seeking. Armed with such truth, we're much less likely to fall for any cheap love knock-offs.

And probably the best antidote to this relational settling is being filled up with perfect love. The kind that casts out all fears, that was offered to us first and when we were still wretched messes. Love that's unconditional, sacrificial, unending. Love that comes from the One who knit you together in your mother's womb, who knows the number of hairs on your head, who gathers your every tear in a bottle, and who's etched you on the palms of his hands. And why does he do all these things? Because he's just that into you.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Much of the film's romantic and philosophical posture hinges on Benjamin and Daisy getting together at the right time, and they do so in an entirely satisfying way; by the time of consummation, with Brad Pitt now in full physical glory and Blanchett at her womanly peak, they - and the audience - are more than ready for it. But their passion is all the more pointedly ephemeral due to the consciousness of being headed in opposite physical directions. The necessary acceptance of this fact produces a sincerely and genuinely earned sense of melancholy about the transitive nature of love and life. - Variety
The movie left me with a wistful sense of longing - does nothing truly beautiful last? Perhaps we all pass through this life - and meet here - but once. Benjmain and Daisy only have a few blissful years together - she is growing older and he is growing younger, and they cannot help but grow apart. He leaves before this happens.

We might have a few more years - a few more decades even - than they do. Yet everyone and everything we love is fleeting. Everything is slowly falling apart. Time catches up with all of us and in the end, death rips us apart.

Why does this feel so unnatural? Why does this hurt so much? Deep down, something tells me that this is not the way things were meant to be. This atrophying world can't be all there is. We were made to last. Love lasts.
If you really are the product of a material universe, why don’t you feel at home in a world where you die and disintegrate? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did would that not strongly suggest that they were once not purely aquatic creatures? Why are we continually shocked and repulsed by death? Unless, indeed, something in us, is not temporal.
Tim Keller paraphrasing C. S. Lewis
in Death and the Christian Hope

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Punchline

I heard a really good wedding speech today. Of all the groom speeches that I've heard so far (and I've heard quite a few), this was the first one that started with a personal admission of weakness. The speech went something like this.

"I can't love you as much as you deserve to be loved," he said to his bride.

Cue a collective "Awww..." from the guests.
"Hang on," said the groom, "this is not the punchline."

"Love in its purest form is unconditional. But I have come to need you so much. I can't imagine my life without you."

Again, a collective "Awww..."
"Wait, this is not the punchline."

He continued, "I can't love you as much as you really deserve to be loved. Only Jesus can. He loves you more than I ever could and His love can, and will, satisfy your every need. Knowing that His love covers my weaknesses and binds us together, I am not afraid to be myself with you. I am not enough but Christ more than enough for me, for you. For us."

Can I just say - "Awww..."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

This much I know is true

2009. Exactly a year ago, who would've thought that 2008 would've turned out the way that it did? Who knows what 2009 will bring? Fireworks light up a hundred skies as people usher in the new year with hope and no small amount of trepidation. It can't get any worse than this, can it? There can't be any more catastrophic global upheavals on the way, right? Do we know anything for sure, anymore?

The only thing that is constant is change, so they say. But there is one exception. The only thing that is constant, faithful and unchanging is You.

So I don't know for sure what the new year will bring. The future is open. But this much I know is true - You.

Walking, stumbling on these shadowfeet
Toward home, a land that I've never seen
I am changing: Less and less asleep
Made of different stuff than when I began
And I have sensed it all along
Fast approaching is the day

When the world has fallen out from under me
I'll be found in you, still standing
When the sky rolls up and mountains fall on their knees
When time and space are through
I'll be found in you

There's distraction buzzing in my head
Saying in the shadows it's easier to stay
But I've heard rumours of true reality
Whispers of a well-lit way

You make all things new
You make all things new

When the world has fallen out from under me
I'll be found in you, still standing
Every fear and accusation under my feet
When time and space are through
I'll be found in you

Shadowfeet by Brooke Fraser