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Called to Care

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Hanging around with friends after a church service recently, and I was having a good ol’ rant about current societal evils. Boy oh boy, it felt good to vent.

 

But there was a hollow ring to that satisfaction. And it didn’t take much reflection to figure out why. I felt like one of those sqibs, a piddly little firework that goes, hiss, then a pathetic pop. Followed by… an anticlimactic nothing. Nada. Niets.

 

In my younger days, we joined Amnesty International and wrote letters to the offending government. These days we fume our outrage via social media.

 

But then what? Hiss. Pop. Nothing.

 

Maybe before I do right, I need to be right. I mean, do I actually CARE?

 

Because, if I truly cared, wouldn’t I DO something?

 

Jesus was saying to the crowd who came to listen, who came for answers:

“You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”

Luke 6:43-45 

 

Then it’s not what I write either – in this blog, on my Facebook wall – that makes me who I am?

 

It’s so easy to have a platform where we express ourselves, but I suspect we have totally swallowed the ‘alternative truth’: what I say I am, I am.

In the meantime, what has happened to the true me? Gone out to lunch while the PR and Marketing guys are working overtime? So impressed by the sales pitch, that I’ve inadvertently taken it on as my ‘true identity’?

I need to get this sorted, if only because I don’t want to be spouting emptiness, hypocrisy.

 

Again: Do I really care?

 

Dear God, give me Your heart.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Apple blossom in Mum’s garden, May 2017

When a foreigner shows me up

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“Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: ‘I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.’”
Luke 7: 9-10

The Roman captain was a friend to the Jewish community, and he had a far more solid trust in God than their own leaders did.

Maybe it’s the one who we see as the outsider, who is actually God’s insider. May such people make us jealous, so that we turn back to God and become as children again.

 

 

Photo: Manila sunset August 15, 2017

 

Unwrapping a surprise

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Have you had that experience when you’re reading and suddenly a line seems to jump out at you and stop you in your tracks?

That happened to me recently with the novel ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy.
Here’s the line:

“He’d been ready to die and now he wasn’t going to and he had to think about that.”

Both engaging and startling in its simplicity. But also somehow epic in meaning.

There was no way I could read any further, and pressed the proverbial pause button to recalibrate.

“He’d been ready to die and now he wasn’t going to and he had to think about that.”

An absolutely perfect sentence for the main character’s situation. (No spoilers here – you just HAVE to read the book!) But there was more to it than that. All kinds of ‘significance alert’ alarm bells were going off. Hinting at something just beyond the horizon, just beyond my mental reach.

Now, a few months later, I’d like to take a bit of time to start unwrapping it if I can. May be we won’t get further than the first layer. Let’s just see…

Utterly unexpected second chances can indeed take the wind out of our sails. We prepare for disappointment and decay, then suddenly we’re faced with the new reality of life. We thought we were going to disappear from the scene, but, no, we’re going to stick around for awhile yet.
This could have to do with the death of a relationship, which turns out not to be dying at all.
Or the apparent death of a talent or gifting, which suddenly emerges instead alive and kicking from the mess of a painful rebirth.

“He’d been ready to die and now he wasn’t going to and he had to think about that.”

If I trace the lines, squinting against the glare of a setting sun, determined to unwrap and see where this may lead, the ultimate meaning lies perhaps in the flip side of our reality, where we step into death and suddenly find ourselves in a garden, with life and possibilities beyond human measure.

… think about that.

 

 

 

 

 

photo: a balcony view

While the roof burns

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During a recent English tutorial with college students, we had an interesting discussion following the reading of an article on how fake news was involved in the US elections in November 2016.

 

We were asking ourselves: Where are we now, almost a year later? What happens when there’s a lot of fake news around?

 

Confusion, lack of trust, apathy – were some of the answers.

 

We looked at the journey from naivety to cynicism, from believing too much to believing too little, having had our fill of so-called fake news, to the point of indigestion.

 

Much like Aesop’s Cry Wolf fable, where the mischievous boy doesn’t get the help he desperately needs because he has turned his people into a village of cynics, of non-believers, so too can fake news eventually lead to disaster.

 

Early on this past year there was a shift, using the term ‘Fake News’ to label and deflect any disagreeable opinions or, dare-I-say-it, facts. Certain political leaders have turned this manoeuver practically into an art form.

 

But this can also eventually lead to disastrous consequences. Imagine a doctor who came along and told you that you were very sick and needed medical care. Then later you found out it wasn’t true and the man wasn’t a doctor at all. Of course, though relieved at being healthy, you’d be angry that someone had tried to fool you. But supposing a while later a real doctor comes along and tells you that you’re sick and need help. Because you don’t like what he says, you ignore him, choosing to believe that because one doctor was fake, all doctors are.

 

Risky stuff!

 

Also with the news. Not all news is fake just because some is. There is news that needs to be listened to and acted upon, even when the facts are uncomfortable!

 

The important thing is NOT one political side against another. Or one power versus another. Or he-says-she-says. That is polarization. The danger here is that it pits two groups of people against each other. And everyone loses, especially, ESPECIALLY the most vulnerable.

Colleague Vina reminded us of the Korean proverb: “When whales fight the shrimp’s back is broken.”

When we have two sides so busy arguing and trying to score points off each other, we don’t know when to stop, be reminded of what we have in common, and together figure out the real problems so we can figure out the real solutions.

 

It’s actually very human. Have you noticed when people are having a big argument, what we get really passionate about is winning, not figuring out the truth. But it’s only reality that sets us free. Not winning an argument, not gaining more supporters.

 

Imagine a basketball match, the finals of a national tournament, excitement at fever-pitch. Reds versus Blues, players, coaches, spectators alike caught up in beating the other side.

But a fire breaks out in the roof of the arena.

Now suddenly it’s not about winning. It’s about what’s happening.

How crazy would it be if Red and Blues just continue battling it out, ignoring the smoke, the flames, the screams.

 

Let’s stop what we’re doing, for everyone’s sakes, including our own. Let’s call off the match and vacate the building before anyone gets hurt.

 

 

 

 

Photo: Manila sunset August 14, 2017

Courage

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“… courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

Anne Lamott

 

No longer do we need to be ashamed for being afraid. If anything, fear tests the metal of our courage.

 

Fear screams, “Silence!”

Courage whispers, “Speak out.”

Fear insists, “Hate them!”

Courage assures, “Love each one.”

Fear scoffs, “No one will listen.”

Courage smiles, “Write anyway.”

Fear threatens, “Death comes!”

Courage points, “Behold, life!”

 

 

Dumpers of men

“To hire fishermen instead of undertakers. The opposite of Christianity…. not to be fishers of men, but dumpers of men.”

This is the response of a writer friend (known online as Self Respect) to the news about local fishermen being hired by authorities to dump bodies of drug war victims as “trash” in Manila Bay.

When I first read about it (*), the fact that fishermen are involved seemed somehow macabrely poignant. After Self Respect’s comment, I understand why.

 

 

(*) http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/philippine-police-dumping-bodies-drug-war-victims-170728034001676.html

Remembering

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I will forever be grateful to a certain 15-year-old Israeli boy who walked into my classroom one afternoon years ago, twirling a CD on one of his fingers. I’m afraid I’ve long-forgotten the lad’s name, but I’ll never forget the huge favour he did me, albeit unknowingly.

 

Our CD-twirling friend had just finished his regular classes at the international school located next to the private language institute where I worked in Hilversum, the Netherlands. Although we were about to start the English tutorial, we seemed to be facing a slight dilemma: what to do with the CD.

 

“I’ve just borrowed it from a friend at school,” he explained. “Shall I put it in there?” He pointed to the CD player at the back of the classroom.

 

“Sure, why not!” It seemed the natural place indeed.

 

Equally naturally, only a few minutes into the tutorial, came the next question.

 

“Can we play the CD while we’re doing the lesson?”

 

My first instinct was to say no – for fear of my student losing concentration. But then it struck me that this teenager most likely had music blaring in the background in his bedroom while he did his homework. Why not also create a familiar environment for his lesson. I just had two conditions.

 

“Ok, that’s fine. As long as it’s not playing too loudly, and as long as it doesn’t distract.”

 

Well. Guess who got completely and utterly distracted!!

 

The CD was Linkin Park’s ‘Hybrid Theory’. I was mesmerized. I was gobsmacked. I was… completely enthralled! And it wasn’t simply the music. What also grabbed my attention was the singer: he was screaming in tune. Who knew that was even possible! And, most quintessentially, the lyrics; they were pure poetry. Relatively ancient as I was, I was hooked from that moment onwards.

 

We’re 16 years later. This week Linkin Park lost their beloved lead singer Chester Bennington. Following his death, a deluge of grief has swept through social media. By voicing his pain, Chester gave voice to millions. Hearing his anguish, recognizing themselves in his words, teenagers the world over realized they were not alone. His voice became a literal lifeline. Now losing him to suicide of all things, has made the sadness only more brutal. He saved others, but we couldn’t save him.

I’ve never felt so motivated to pray for a celebrity’s family and friends. I suspect I’m not alone…

 

That afternoon back in 2001 was also a lesson to me to listen ‘beyond the style’ of music, and truly hear the power, the authenticity, the startling beauty of a song.

 

Linkin Park is surely one band I am so grateful I haven’t missed.

And Chester Bennington was one raw, beautiful soul I am so glad I had the chance to hear.

 

RIP dear Chester from an oldie LP fan.

 

 

Photo: July 21, 2017; “The ugliness of this morning’s smog somehow matches the sadness of this morning’s news.”