Archive for November, 2007

The Call of Men

What is the measure of a man?

Part of Reverend Col Stringer’s message yesterday of how the world today is perpetuating a generation of the selfish. Seeing how we are surrounded by so many avenues of instant self-gratification, I’d have to agree. He also spoke of how the dissolution of family has contributed to this worrying trend, where young men are not men but boys adrift in a sea where their fathers have not anchored them.

What results is men not knowing how to be men.. but how could they know, when their own fathers have failed at their responsibilities to be leaders, mentors and examples? They are sons, paying for the sins of their fathers.

The message Rev Stringer shared has been something on my heart for a long time, even since the start of this year. It was such a joy to hear him speak of this. I sat there, in the auditorium, leaning forward in a manner no doubt inspired by the hunger within to hear and listen. I loved how he was real and such a straight-shooter.

It’s true. More than we need to be taught, we need to be trained. It’s not something we can just soak up overnight – it has to more than merely fill our heads and the underused grey machine residing within. It has to be exercised, put through the motions, it has to be something we speak of and do because this how we learn and becomes something instinctive.

So often in the news, we read of men beating their wives.. or pushing them on the path of an oncoming train.. or when we hear men travelling to Batam to pay for sex with children.. or of women in search of future coming to our shores and finding themselves tricked into prostitution. A hundred tales, a thousand tears, ten thousand sorrows. It’s all there.

But this is not how the world should be.

Do you feel the same? Do we just shake our heads at the sadness of it all and not wonder what has been festering in their hearts to cause to act thus?

In his article, ‘The Crisis of Manliness‘, Newell states something similar to what Rev Stringer shared in yesterday’s message:

“One thing is sure: Given our current confusion over the meaning of manliness, we have nothing to lose by re-opening the issue. If academic feminism is correct that violence toward women stems from traditional patriarchal attitudes, our grandparents’ lives must have been a hell of aggression and fear. Yet, if anything impresses us about our forebears, judging from their lives, letters and diaries, it is the refinement of their affections for one another — and of men’s esteem for women in particular.”

Newell’s article is eloquently expressed and defines the roots of the problem of the lack of manliness or masculinity. Mohler in a Boundless article presents his opinion on this ‘crisis’ in ‘A New Corruption of Masculinity‘ and offers his take on biblical masculinity in ‘For Guys Only: The Marks of Manhood‘. Rev Stringer yesterday also brought up the interesting notion of there traditionally being no notion of ‘teenhood’ – a boy was a man when he turned thirteen, evidenced in the Judaistic ritual of the bar mitzvah – while Alex and Brett Harris discuss this trend of unnaturally prolonged immaturity in ‘Addicted to Adultescence‘.

To me, one of the hallmarks of adulthood, or manhood in particular, is that you are called to accountability and responsibility. To love, honour and respect.

If you’re thinking that it is a too tall order for us to carry out, then remember what Rev Stringer also said: the gift of God’s grace means we are given maximum potential. (Was it Rev Stringer who once said that our potential in Jesus is 100%, in a sermon many years ago?) It simply means that whatever we thought impossible to do in our own self and by our own strength, is now possible by the grace of God.

It is the grace of God that will allow us to become the men he has called us to be (2 Peter 1:3-4). Not by our might or power, but by His grace alone.

Like what Rev Stringer shared about as well, I also believe that as men, we’re called to honour and respect women (1 Timothy 5:2). For me, I grew up reading lots of fantasy books which was where I came across the notion of chivalry.. I’m reminded of Arterburn and Stoeker’s book, ‘Every Young Man’s Battle’, where I came across this quote:

“In a newsletter, author and speaker Dr. Gary Rosberg told of seeing a pair of hands that reminded him of the hands of his father, who had gone on to heaven. Gary continued to reminisce about what his father’s hands meant to him. Then he shifted his thoughts to the hands of Jesus, noting this simple truth:

“They were hands that never touched a woman with dishonour.”

I pondered Gary’s words a little longer. Jesus’ hands never touched a woman with dishonour, but Jesus said lusting with the eyes is the same as touching. Given that Jesus is sinless, I suddenly realized that Jesus not only never touched a woman with dishonour, He never even looked at a woman in dishonour.”

That excerpt hit me to my very core and gave me food for thought. If I were a father, how would I want her to be treated by a young man courting her? If you are now pursuing the affections of a young lady, then do you realise that she is also the daughter of a father?

Earlier this year, I wrote about my thoughts of the film The Twilight Samurai, referring to Iguchi Seibei:

“Seibei, as we eventually come to learn, is a simple, unassuming man. His concerns centre completely around sustaining his family, even resorting to taking on odd-jobs like weaving insect cages (which was considered a woman’s work and shameful for men to do) for extra income. He carries a bokuto (wooden sword) in the guise of a real katana, having sold the sword passed down from his father, in order to pay for his wife’s funeral.

The implications of this are tremendous; a samurai’s katana is not only his weapon – it is a symbol of his authority and status, the personifaction of his identity as a samurai. Without his sword, a samurai is nothing.

Seibei, however, does not appear to be perturbed by this, and confides to his closest friend Iinuma that he wishes to relinquish his samurai status, preferring to live as a farmer and watch his daughters grow up.”

In my eventual post (‘Treasure in the Man‘) which I shared about the journey Abba was taking me, I wrote:

“Man’s opinion of us will always waver, but the way Abba sees us and all these ’small’ acts is unchanging: heartbreakingly beautiful in Jesus Christ. This is why I can lift my head high and have a grin on my face even in the midst of these nondescript things I do, because I know my Father’s heart for me.

Perhaps this is why I find such affinity in Seibei’s character in The Twilight Samurai. I see the love he bears for his family, that he would give up his samurai status to preserve the life he shares with them. He sought not glory won with the sword, one of the driving forces of a samurai, but to love and care for his family.

I think that I want to be that kind of man to my wife and children. I choose not to dwell or seek after the worldly things such as money, a high-powered career, what to eat or wear; instead I want to love my wife and delight in my children just as Abba loves and delights in me. All other things will be added unto my life, just as He promised.”

I thank Abba for the reminder and affirmation in the message shared by Rev Stringer. I know that this journey I am on is not coincidental, but without a doubt, every step planned by God. I read through those old entries again, and I find myself still wanting the same things that I wrote about ten months ago:

With all that said, I just want to be a man, an ordinary one who is content with the simple pleasures that life has to offer… an ordinary one in himself, but made extraordinary only by the grace of the living God. A man who walks by the Spirit, who realises the utter weakness of his flesh and yet knows with conviction the immeasurable extent of his Abba’s ability to assume authority in all aspects of his life in the place of his own inability.

Ito, Seibei’s daughter, says this of her father at the end of the film:

“In the new Meiji era, many men who had worked with my father rose to positions of great authority. I often heard them say, ‘Twilight Seibei was an unlucky man’.

“But I do not agree.

“My father had no desire to rise in the world, and I don’t think he considered himself unlucky. He loved his daughters and the beautiful Tomoe loved him.

“His life, I think, was short but full.

“I am proud to have had such a father.”

By the grace of God, and knowing that I can never accomplish anything apart from Jesus, I find myself wanting to be that kind of father to my own children.

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Explosions and Worship

Explosions in the Sky.

I first came to know of the band when I began watching the first season of Friday Night Lights. Snippets of the band’s work were meshed seamlessly into the frames to elevate it beyond the mundane. The music was moody ambience; crushed velvet with the subtle hint of melancholy silently filling the empty spaces. It was memories replayed in the head but embellished with the reminiscent fondness that so often seeps from the heart.. melodic crescendos of sound mixed with distillations of the soul..

I never knew ordinary music could be so singularly powerful. It is even more startling considering the band doesn’t use vocals in any of the songs. So their music allows the listener’s vivid imagination to conjure an entire plethora of meanings.. frantic drumbeats and razor-sharp guitar notes blend into the pulsating joy of five senses suddenly come awake (‘First Breath After Coma‘) and firing electric signals into your brain as you realise you are alive – not just a vegetative semblance of a human being – but alive.

Alive with life.

Explosions’ music inspires me. It is music for sunsets burning in the horizon, with the wind in your face; for nights spent in solitude as you stare at the moon and her stars and begin to dream; for mornings when you peek out of the window and marvel at the sun-coloured clouds creeping across the sky at dawn.

It is music for remembering and for writing. It’s the rush of blood to your cheeks as you feel the touch of her skin against yours for the first time (‘Your Hand in Mine‘).

Listening to Explosions makes me introspective. I began thinking of how musicians wring and weave such complexities in their music in their quest to attain the perfect sound. For one such as me, possessing only a minuscule amount of such ability, such a venture is daunting, if not impossible.

But Abba is a God of such wonderful contradictions. Following a listening session of EitS rose within me such a desire to commune with Him that I picked up the guitar and began playing the simple four-chord progression which was the first one I learned. With my soul already so sensitive to nuance I felt the entire weight – or perhaps that indescribable lightness of being – of His presence filling the room.

It was glorious. No need for words, not even tongues, in those moments as His majesty unfolded before me. The lavish gift of Jesus and the entirety of salvation revisited once again, and once again leaving me in awestruck silence.

Then it hit me: only through Jesus can simplicity become perfection. The perfect soul-music for the perfect moment.

However, the essential thing to be shared is that what truly began was a shift in how I perceived worship to be. Reading Kauflin’s article on worship gave me further pause for thought – what was the word after the transitive verb of “worship”, for me?

‘When we say we’re going to “worship”, we need to define the object of our attention and affections. It has to be more than the sound of the band, an emotional high, being with the people we enjoy, or any of the other things we tend to associate with “worship”.’

I think that Abba deepened my understanding of it. I’ve been to that place where I’m going through the motions – the raised hands, eyes closed and face arranged to convey an expression of reverence and dignity – but with my heart in some faraway place and not turned to God.

But I can tell that something has started to change from within.. in exactly what ways, I am unable to elucidate at this point of time. And just yesterday, during the closing song in Arrow service, the band playing the new song with guitar riffs surprisingly similar to Explosions’, those few minutes seemed to transcend through time as I opened my heart to Him.

There were no prayers from my mouth.. for I thought, why the need to say anything to my Father who weaves the desires of my heart and cultivates my very breath and soul; there were no heartfelt pleas.. for I thought, why the need to explain to Him who knows me to the bones of my bones..

I have just heard Him whisper: the absence of sound is not utter silence.. when words fail, the quietness you spend in my presence carries all the meanings you cannot express.

And in the space of those few minutes, ensconced in His presence, it was fresh revelation of worship.. and I felt as if I had touched the very face of God.

Happy Birthday, ZK

Hello my brother,

I remember very clearly the first time I met you.

It was during the Campus event, Sentosa Games Day (the second one) with Worship Under the Stars in the evening. The one that Ah Tan led in worship. It was also when Dennis brought me to meet the CG for the first time.

I like to think we’ve come a long way since then. And perhaps we have, through this journey that we have taken together as sons of God. We have learnt and we have shared. We have prayed and we have sat together in films we would be hard pressed to find someone else to go together with. We tussled on Bukit Timah Hill playing that silly egg game, which I only remember because you rugby-tackled me with the force of a brick wall (of course I didn’t tell you that).

I actually thought of writing this in your Christmas card but it is your birthday and I sometimes (well, most of the time) have problems saying all of this out loud and perhaps I write this because it merits the occasion.

So.. happy birthday, brother.

Despite the loud and raucous front you put up to the people around you, I’ve seen you when you’ve let your defenses down to share your heart. And it fills me with pride because I am a witness to your journey with Abba and how you’ve received the grace message with such gusto and fervour and passion. It humbles me so deeply that so many times I have gone back to the Lord with an open heart and outstretched arms because I have learnt from your example.

It is true, my friend, that iron sharpens iron.

You’re a man that has such love for the brothers around him. Abba’s favour rests like a mantle over your life – you have the uncanny knack to chip stones off walls with how you love with such abandonment. I don’t think you realise it but this is what I see in you. And oh, such a gift you have in singing and playing for Him.. it’s as if you go on this journey with Jesus and all of us are transported along with you. That’s when I witness how His glory shines in you.. seeing Jesus and you entwined together, as one.

There is too much to write, my brother, but I am glad I am typing this now and not writing in a card because that would take a lot of paper hahahaha.

Today as we prayed for you, I felt as if a stream of fire was pouring down my arm as I laid hands on you. Abba reminded me of the story of Elisha. You are that man who asks for the double portion, who comes boldly to the throne of grace – because you know that apart from Christ, you are nothing.

You have dreams that you keep hidden in your heart, and you ask Abba, “How can they be?” But He wants you to know this, my brother: it will be done. It will be done. It will be done. Even as insane or out-of-this-world or completely bat-crazy those dreams may seem or sound like, He hears… and He answers.

So don’t be afraid to keep dreaming, my friend. As you’ll soon come to know: clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Can’t lose! (Because the victory is already won)

Here’s to your first film premiere, your first sermon, your first concert and your congregration waiting in Korea and Japan.

You’ll be the first person I’ll tell when I sell my first screenplay to Hollywood, first script to Vertigo or receive my first offer from Marvel to write the Punisher. You’ll also be one of my Minutemen at my wedding hahahaha.

So happy birthday again, brother. May each one that rolls along be the best one you’ve ever had.

I’ll say ‘Amen’ to this together with you, but it did make me laugh like an idiot when I saw this pasted on the wall in your room

O Solitude!

Reading this article on loneliness and solitude has given me fresh perspective. On how I enjoy solitude and the way that I write.

The ending poem brings a poignant and no less true, ending to the article:

Don’t surrender your loneliness
So Quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight,
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
Absolutely clear.

– Daniel Ladinsky

Only Words

I salute you, all ye who transcribe.

Minutes of conversation or speech take an exponential amount of time to bash out into written text. Its a tedious, so far anyway, process. I’m fair enough using the keyboard (averaging 60-70 wpm the last test I had to take) but even so, I find it impossible to match the speaker word for word.

The first time I had a go at transcribing – it was an interview for a profile piece (well, the editor did most of the work, seeing that it was my first time doing one) – I took four hours to finish the hour-long interview.

On Sunday I interviewed the boss of soon lee (whom I wrote about before. We played Sega Megadrive games together when we were in primary school and she is the best friend’s sister, hence her acquiescence to the interview) and it was a good and solid twenty-minute conversation with plenty of quoteworthy stuff (it’s for a profile piece for a media writing school assignment).

It’s only been four minutes of the recording and I’ve already churned out many hundreds of words. It’s really amazing how much can be said in the space of a few seconds. Language is fascinating in the way it can convey truth in a single phrase.. in how it can encapsulate experience, thought or feeling.. in how it forms the fundamentals of how we communicate. But it is the intent behind our words that becomes its everything. It is the meaning we attach to our words that transform them from the mundane into the transcendent.

It is just like how the Spirit makes the Bible into a living Word. By itself and to veiled eyes the Bible seems a dead letter, an archaic text of the distant past containing two Testaments that seem to paint contradictory pictures of God. It’s like receiving a love letter, speaking of truth and sacrifice.. but not knowing it’s addressed to you.

But that is a poor metaphor at best. So, right now I’m listening to Alexi Murdoch’s Orange Sky.. to all appearances a song secular and bearing no allusion to the supernatural other than the word ‘salvation’, a word so often bandied about that the true weight of its meaning has been lost to the world.

Yet, even as Murdoch’s song filters through the borders of my subconscious, I feel the Spirit stirring from within; with gentle whispers and stardust trailing in his wake as he brings to remembrance the victory won, and a promise made.. on a bloodstained, splintered cross two thousand years ago.

Words become more than words –  more than I can ever describe to you or even imagine. It makes me realise there is only so much I can say or write, because there will always be something that will be beyond my ability to describe or translate into words; whether it be a look in her eyes, or the way she inhabits the space around her.. even the simple things are made too complex for the capacity of letters and sentences.

And this is how the Spirit speaks with me, in his recondite voice that carries the faces of my Father and Saviour, in a language that is beyond any that exists on this world.