Monday, 31 August 2015

Knowing God - an extract

I shared this with my cell group recently because I've been so impacted by it. This passage from a book I got totally transformed how I relate to God. So, I thought who better to share it with than with you, my lovely reader. 

Here goes!

What Knowing God Involves

It is clear, to start with, that "knowing" God is of necessity a more complex business than "knowing" another person, just as "knowing" my neighbour is a more complex business than "knowing" a house, or a book, or a language. The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it. Knowledge of something abstract, like a language, is acquired by learning; knowledge of something intimate, like Bukit Timah Hill or the Singapore Art Museum, comes by inspection and exploration. These activities, though demanding in terms of concentrated effort, are relatively simple to describe. But when one gets to living things, knowing them becomes a good deal more complicated. One does not know a living thing till one knows not merely its past history but how it is likely to react and behave under specific circumstances. A person who says "I know this horse" normally means not just "I have seen it before" (though, the way we use words, he might mean only that); more probably, however, he means "I know how it behaves, and can tell you how it ought to be handled." Such knowledge comes only through some prior acquaintance with the horse, seeing it in action and trying to handle it oneself. 

In the case of human beings, the position is further complicated by the fact that, unlike horses, people keep secrets. They do not show everybody all that is in their hearts. A few days are enough to get to know a horse as well as you will ever know it, but you may spend months and years doing things in company with another person and still have to say at the end of that time, "I don't really *know* him at all." We recognise degrees in our knowledge of our fellow men. We know them, we say, well, not very well, just to shake hands with, intimately, or perhaps inside out, according to how much, or how little, they have opened up to us. 

Thus, the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us. Our knowing them is more directly the result of their allowing us to know them than of our attempting to get to know them. When we meet, our part is to give them our attention and interest, to show them good will and to open up in a friendly way from our side. From that point, however, it is they, not we, who decide whether we are going to know them or not. 

Imagine, now, that we are going to be introduced to someone whom we feel to be "above" us - whether in rank, or intellectual distinction, or professional skill, or personal sanctity, or in some other respect. The more conscious we are of our own inferiority, the more we shall feel that our part is simply to attend to this person respectfully and let him take the initiative in the conversation. (Think of meeting the queen of England or the president of the United States.) We would like to get to know this exalted person, but we fully realise that this is a matter for him to decide, not us. If he confines himself to courteous formalities with us, we may be disappointed, but we do not feel able to complain; after all, we had no claim on his friendship. 

But if instead he starts at once to take us into his confidence, and tells us frankly what is in his mind on matters of common concern, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available for this kind of collaboration whenever he needs us, then we shall feel enormously privileged, and it will make a world of difference to our general outlook. If life seemed unimportant and dreary hitherto, it will not seem so anymore, now that the great man has enrolled us among his personal assistants. Here is something to write home about - and something to live up to!

Now this, so far as it goes, is an illustration of what it means to know God. 

Adapted from J. I. Packer's "Knowing God"

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Redeeming Depression

Have been meaning to blog but I’ve been just too depressed to do so. No trigger, just a chemical imbalance in that old brain of mine. But watching Disney’s Inside Out today was great! 

Spoiler alert!

It is a story of five different emotions in an 11-year-old’s brain. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Initially, Joy dominated and wanted to run the entire show. Eventually, she realised that Sadness had an important part to play too. Not to give everything away, but I absolutely love how Joy and Sadness collaborated in such a way to save the day. 

I have been thinking a lot about this.

Recently when faced with a fresh bout of depression, I blasted happy music. One of which was Hillsong’s Young and Free’s This is Living.

It’s a great song. What with lyrics like,

“Waking up, knowing there’s a reasonAll my dreams come aliveLife is for living with You”

Happy music indeed. :)

And with the encouragement of my vocal coach, I deleted all the emo music that makes me weep on the commute. So JJ Lin and Vicky Beeching’s gone. The former because of his brilliant song writing that tugs at the heartstrings, the second because of her tragic story.

But is that right?

Can depression play a redeeming role in one’s life?

I don’t know.

All I know is that when I’m not depressed, life is great. Maybe the contrast helped. In that case, it is indeed “black and white turn to colour all around” like how the (above-mentioned) song goes.

Perhaps what is needed is a healthy balance of joy and sadness.

I remember how in the darkest days of my depression in 2009 or 2010 when I was standing there on the first step of the terrace in church, singing 

“Though You, I can do anythingI can do all thingsI am living by faithNothing is impossible”

And that was truly words of faith. Because everything seemed so bleak.

This most recent bout of depression isn’t as bad as that.

Well, I guess melancholia can be helpful too.

But I’m not retrieving those songs I’ve deleted any time soon.


I think.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Crushing

Someone once mentioned to me that I crush on people very easily. From my experience in the past 5 years, I cannot help but agree. For the uninitiated, “to crush on” refers to me becoming infatuated with someone, as opposed to “crushing something (like a can)”. The word “crush” has certainly evolved, like many other words in the English language.

This post will mainly be dwelling on my crushes, the implications, and how I intend to deal with them going forward.

Well, how many have I crushed on? Let me count the girls. 

There was J. that I wanted so badly in 2010 when I was pretty sick. She was the first and only one I confessed my feelings to and who then suddenly disappeared from my life (which was not necessarily a bad thing - I think God was, and is, gracious). 

This was followed by S. that was a year long thing in 2011. There was a poem I wrote on the train home after a meeting with her.

Then came L. that lasted for a really short while.

Which was replaced by C. in 2013 that was so all-consuming that even when I was doing Pilates and trying to relax, my mind could not help but find its way back to her. It was terrible.

Then A. appeared which was lovely because she was a devout Christian and the first one since J. that wasn’t completely straight.

Finally we have E. today of whom I’ve only met with twice. This one is refreshing because I’m actually interested in her as a person (not that I wasn’t for the others, but I felt it was more of an hopeless case of besotted fantasies). I wonder what I would discover about her through conversations we could have and meals we could share. She seems really interesting.

Timothy Keller said in “The Meaning of Marriage” that often what we are in love with is the image of the person instead of who the person truly is. He goes on to explain that that’s the reason why marriages break up after a while, because there is a lack of true commitment to the concept of marriage and it is to falling in love that people subscribe to, and once that happy feeling is gone, poof, the marriage is gone.

So yes, I do admit that it generally is the image of the person I’ve set up in my mind that I’m infatuated with. But I cannot help it. I don’t know why it happens and I am unable to control it. So when someone once told me, “You told me you like guys too,” and attempts to get me to focus on that instead of fixating on girls, that person didn't realise that the intensity of “liking” is different. I like apples and I ADORE chicken rice. One of them is a preference, the other is a non-negotiable necessity. That’s the way for me. I like boys like I like apples, and I like girls like I like chicken rice. Though I must admit that these analogies are not the best nor the most appropriate. Haha, it’s all I can come up with for now. ;P

In any case, I shall wait for this latest crush to pass like the rest of them have. Of course, I will not discount the possibility of a friendship developing. Or even something more than that. I have often wondered how a chaste same-sex relationship would look like, having first come across this concept from the folks at A Queer Calling.


Well, 6 crushes in 5 years is some sort of a record I believe. They have been completely consuming, intense and were what convinced me that I am gay, or at least bisexual but heavily leaning toward the same sex. A friend once encouraged me, “Doesn’t it make life more interesting?” 

Well……

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Book review: Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark A. Yarhouse



I chanced upon this book while aimlessly browsing through Instagram. Someone had posted a photograph of couple of books he was reading and one of them was this. Intrigued, I decided rather quickly that I was gonna get a copy with my next paycheque.

Mark Yarhouse does not disappoint. This is a work written by a clinical psychologist who'd worked with those who identify as trans for many years. But apart from the in depth understanding he provides, he is also an elder in church and provides a refreshingly nuanced view of how to approach this topic often scarred by controversy.

In 7 concise chapters, he covers much ground, the titles of each chapter speak for themselves:

1. Gender Identity, Gender Dysphoria and Appreciating Complexity
2. A Christian Perspective on Gender Dysphoria
3. What Causes Gender Dysphoria?
4. Phenomenology and Prevalence
5. Prevention and Treatment of Gender Dysphoria
6. Toward a Christian Response: At the Level of the Individual
7. Toward a Christian Response: At the Level of the Institution

Each chapter was crucial in educating me and providing greater insight into this issue. Chapter 1 taught me about the lingo and jargon associated with those who have gender identity issues or who might experience gender dysphoria. It draws us into the complex world of these people and shows us that there is more than meets the eye. If you're looking for simple answers to answer your doubts about Caitlyn or Bruce Jenner's transition, you'd not find it here.

Chapter 2 suggests a way in which a Christian could approach this topic with love and compassion. Yarhouse provides 3 frameworks we could "engage the work being done in the area of gender incongruence or gender dysphoria", and these include (with all the definitions in Yarhouse's words cos I can't put them any better):

a) The integrity framework - This lens views sex and gender and, therefore, gender identity conflicts in terms of "the sacred integrity of maleness or femaleness stamped on one's body."1 Cross-gender identification is a concern in large part because it threatens the integrity of male-female distinctions.

b) The disability framework - In this framework, gender dysphoria is viewed as result of living in a fallen world in which the condition - like so many mental health concerns - is a nonmoral reality. Whether we consider brain-sex theory of any other explanatory framework for the origins of the phenomenon, the causal pathways and existing structures are viewed by proponents of the disability framework as not functioning as originally intended. If the various aspects of sex and gender are non aligning, then that nonmoral reality reflects one more dimension of human experience that is "not the way it's supposed to be."2

c) The diversity framework - A third way to think about transgender issues is to see them as something to be celebrated, honored or revered. The diversity framework highlights transgender issues as reflecting an identity and culture to be celebrated as an expression of diversity. This understanding also frequently cites historical examples in which gender variant expressions have been documented and held in higher esteem, such as Fa'afafine of Samoan Polynesian culture and the Two-Spirit people identified in some Native American tribes.3 Evangelical Christians are understandably wary of the diversity framework.

We are then called to take up an integrated framework as a new lens to view such issues so that we can employ the best practices of each framework and subsequently offers examples of how this would look like. Brilliant stuff.

In Chapter 3, he explores the various theories out there on the etiology of gender dysphoria. I don't like sound-bites when approaching sensitive topics, and so does Yarhouse, (but to be brief because this is turning out to be an ultra long review,) as of today, we know of no definite cause for gender dysphoria.

Chapter 4 brings us into the continuum that is gender dysphoria. We learn that there are many different expressions and manifestations (from cross-dressing only at home with undergarments, to full-on transition to another gender). We explore how gender dysphoria presents in children, and then moving on to adolescents and adults and learn that sometimes it resolves, and at other times, it doesn't.

The fifth chapter is interesting because of the many approaches one can take in the prevention and treatment of gender dysphoria. Just as it exists on a continuum, depending on the situation, various treatment methods present themselves. He provides the huge variety of options out there and carefully analyses which might be the best methods depending on the individual. Sex reassignment surgery (SRS) might not be the sole or best option for the individual that identifies as trans. There are other options out there that can be explored.

The last two chapters provide an excellent guide as to how a Christian or a church should respond. Almost all the trans Christians Yarhouse interviewed had experience some form of hurt from either the church or the individual Christian. We are called to explore how showing grace and love might look like even if we disagree with their choices.

All in all, this is a great book that is sorely needed. In the culture war that is being fought, it is unfortunately the trans individual that is often the most wounded casualty. I would recommend this book to every pastor, Christian leader, or even the average Christian seeking a better way to understand those who are trans and to developed a more nuanced insight into this topic.

Be blessed!



1 Gagnon, "Transsexuality and Ordination," www.robgagnon.net/articles/TranssexualityOrdination.pdf

2 Neil Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995)

3 Lynn Conway has a helpful summary that includes historical and current global perspectives. See http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/TG-TS%20World.html#hijra

Knowing the Father - an excerpt

Thomas Goodwin, a seventeenth-century Puritan pastor, wrote that one day he saw a father and son walking along the street. Suddenly the father swept the son up into his arms and hugged him and kissed him and told the boy he loved him - and then after a minute he put the boy back down. Was the little boy more a son in the father's arms than he was down on the street? Objectively and legally, there was no difference, but subjectively and experientially, there was all the difference in the world. In his father's arms, the boy was experiencing his sonship.

When the Holy Spirit comes down on you in fullness, you can sense you Father's arms beneath you. It is an assurance of who you are. The Spirit enables you to say to yourself: "If someone as all-powerful as that loves me like this, delights in me, has gone to infinite lengths to save me, says he will never let me go, and is going to glorify me and make me perfect and take everything bad out of my life - if all of that is true - why am I worried about anything?" At a minimum this means joy, and a lack of fear and self-consciousness.



Extracted from page 172 of Prayer by Timothy Keller

Friday, 7 August 2015

Scattered thoughts on a rainy day

Two nights ago I was in the train wondering if I should go to a gay bar after Church-wide Bible Study. It seems like every time I have a crush that would not resolve, I would want to go to there, despite clear instructions from God not to do so.

Well, there has been a recent workplace infatuation that has completely replaced the previous one. The worst thing is that I've only seen her once and I'm completely besotted. Now having read Timothy Keller's The Meaning of Marriage, I do understand that it is an image I am infatuated with, not the real person. This understanding does not make it any easier.

So just this past Wednesday, I was grappling with this workplace crush, and my tragic gay Christian life. And a word from my senior pastor changed my perspective 180.

It was incredible.

The Church-wide Bible Study was on the topic of the end-times, but it wasn't really that that captured my attention. I arrived extremely late, half an hour before it was scheduled to end, but in the ending prayer, Pastor Kong mentioned how he and his wife Sun were often encouraged by Galatians 2:20,

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

I started tearing up. All the fantasies and crushes, all the unfulfilled desires and unrequited longings didn't seem so important anymore. I was crucified with Christ. Everything made sense now.

It wasn't the first time hearing this, but it was an excellent and timely reminder. I probably need to hear it again soon. Indeed faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

I left church feeling so much more at peace and settled. Whether I enter into a mixed-orientation marriage, am celibate, or invest in a chaste same-sex relationship, God is ultimately in control and I do not have to give in to the demands of my flesh just because I've been crucified with Christ.

Thank you Lord.

Finding acceptance in an unexpected place

Not unlike Aydian Dowling who found himself crying in church , I found healing in an unexpected place yesterday. After some persuasi...