The title for this piece could have been “13 Things I’ve Learnt the Past 5 Years” or maybe “What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary” – something like that. But, after some thought these titles don’t REALLY represent where I am right now or how I view the growth of a human person. I have not learnt the follow 13 lessons in its fullness (as if I got it all figured out – in fact, I’m still learning and discovering the depth of these insights). Who am I to even think I know better then the seminary (as if I learnt nothing there – I fondly appreciate all the seeds planted in my life in those memorable 4 years – it’s more hopeful when I see us mutually learning from each other now!).
So, I decided to write what I’m ACTUALLY learning and discovering day by day, layer-by-layer, deeper and further since the year 2000…
The following are a sampling offering in no particular order and I’ve included some of my favorite pictures as a bonus! All these lessons or insights have emerged somehow as I’m seeking to integrate what I see as my calling expressed through
re-starting & pastoring BLC, serving within the Lutheran denomination, coordinating the Emergent Malaysia conversation, connecting beyond to Christian fellowships, Christian thinkers and practitioners local and worldwide.
learning how to be a Christ-follower afresh in the 21st century.
rediscovering the ups and downs of being human – as husband, as father, as son, as son-in-law, as brother, as friend, as Malaysian/Global citizen, etc.
1. The world is shrinking and possibilities are surprising.
Two groups came to visit us from overseas in the span of a month through one common link – a certain Joel! Two articles – one for an overseas magazine I wrote which was a great joy to see published, another sent to me by a Professor whom humbled me by seeking my opinion. Chatted online two days ago with a former associate pastor of one of my favorite authors. Spoke in real-time on Skype with a new friend. Finally met up with 2 friends through their books or their blogs this year in Singapore. Even within BLC, 5 years ago I would not have imagined there would be Koreans, Japanese, USAmericans, Aussies, Germans, Finnish part and parcel of our journey for shorter terms as well as longer term. I’m in constant awe how we are connected and delighted by the unforeseen possibilities!
2. Most of my discipleship happens when no one is looking.
All the spiritual practices – prayer, journaling, silence, solitude, worship, sacred reading, etc.- are non-negotiable and so nourishing that neglecting them would be a sure sign of something is getting out of hand. I’m also learning more how to integrate “Godly play” as part of my walk with God here on earth without prayer – I suffocate as a child of God, without play – I’ve forgotten how to be a child. That’s why, it’s not just mere ritual, it’s about relationship with the crucified and risen Christ Jesus. It’s about living (which includes dying to stuff that hinders as well). If it’s just for show, then I’ll follow Jesus so other people won’t call me a lousy Christian. When it’s not for boasting or obligation or other people’s expectations, then I’ll follow Him because it’s about love, life and being light in our dark world –even when no one is looking.
3. Education happens outside of my mind.
Mind-mapping is my default learning and organizing tool. Conversations with people teach me so much while I listen and try to communicate what’s in my head. Writing articles has taught me to discipline my learning while blogging allows me to roam more creatively. Failure and mistakes often serve as powerful memory makers!
4. Dead people have a lot to say that I need to listen!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kiekegaard, Lesslie Newbigin, Vincent Donovan, Confucius, Martin Luther, Philip Jakob Spener, Henri Nouwen, Lewis Smedes, Sadhu Sundar Singh, the Desert Fathers, Early Christians in Asia, Irenaus, Augustine… History teachers may be boring (I’ve had my few during school), but history at its best is a treasure house.
5. “Not there yet …” is one phrase that keeps me from insanity.
This gives space for others to “change” and grow (and thus not hopeless and damned) … it gives me “space” too.
6. The Bible doesn’t answer every question I throw at it, the Scriptures provides me with a library of answers, poetry, stories, letters, etc. that change my questions.
There’s so much to discover between its covers. Reading and reflecting upon its pages while allowing God’s truths to surface, opens one to the Holy Spirit’s illumination on its inspired texts! There are still parts that are hard to swallow. Some parts are a little easier to digest. Maybe because I’ve got the privilege to mine its depths weekly and share them with the Christian community I see more than what others might see.
7. May Chin, Elysia and Gareth are professors for my 24/7 school of life.
I doubt I’ll be graduating soon … the assignments involved for one to learn in being a husband and father looks like a long way to go. I recall my mentor Robert Brow telling me how I’ll learn so much about God, myself and the world around me as I learn how to parent (I’ll include how to be a husband too!).
8. My Canon A70 has given me a new set of eyes to capture moments on the run.
There’s so much happening around us … I was once reminded while in a state of hurry to slow down and smell the flowers. Now, with a digital camera I don’t just smell the flowers, I capture them (in a sense) and allow the pictures to remind me of the beautiful moments often easily missed. More importantly, like my artist-photographer Dad used to tell me to “Learn how to see” (more than just how to take pictures!) again.
9. Accepting people just as they are while not having to approve everything they do and believe is a door to freedom.
People are broken images … at times soaring the heights of saintliness, other times plunged into the cesspool of sinfulness (“Sin” is not just a word in a Hagen Dass ice cream menu!). Most of the time we live somewhere in between. To complicate matters, there are often beliefs, values, behavior that make it hard for us to relate to one another (how much more God!) as well as move forward as people belonging to God… John 8:1-11 is one episode that hangs close to me these days. Freedom doesn’t mean it’s not painful (“pain” indeed is a gift nobody wants but everyone goes through to some degree)… accepting doesn’t mean approving or agreeing … it’s a good starting point.
10. Eating an elephant is time consuming and it’s still one bite at a time!
Patience is indeed a need virtue today. Priority is not an easy discipline. The needs can be overwhelming – there’s so much that must be done, the lessons can be overloaded – we are so inadequate, the possibilities before us are almost unlimited – and yet we are limited. Brainstorming is fun, but baby steps are what’s needed. Painting the big picture helps, but starting to do something will make some difference and in time that step helps to finish eating the elephant.
11. I like Batman more than Superman; I like Alfred more than Robin .
Ok! Batman Begins the movie reminded me so much about what being human is all about – and how we can play our roles and fulfill responsibilities and live out our callings, even though we don’t have spectacular super-powers like Superman. Life is also full of paradoxes, complexities in the midst of apparent simplistic solutions, “both/ands” or even “beyonds” when we’re forced with “either/ors”. I can still hear so many “Alfreds” in my life – who helped me when I fell, who didn’t give up hope on me, who gave me a good rebuke, who’s there when everything is burnt to the ground … to start all over again (and again!) Money may be able to employ experts, but it can never buy good friends and godly mentors.…
.12. I still read & reflect (a lot) so I won’t feel alone.
This is supposed to be my “excuse” or “explanation” for my book buying habit! Of course, “read & reflect” for me is not confined to books – it includes experiences, events, nature, High’s & Low’s, etc (which can’t be bought!) At times, one of the best moments to pause is during my monthly haircut. (traffic jams are emotionally more difficult!)
13. Add to the list.
I’m still unfinished. We’re still learning. I’m sure there’s more we can add … if not today, surely tomorrow.
Like the Chinese expression puts it- “in a blink of an eye”, we’re already into the fifth year of the “resurrection” project called “Bangsar Lutheran Church”. The facility we affectionately call “the Father’s House” has evolved through the years. As an organization or congregation, we have “morphed” through often steps forward as well as setbacks. Many of the original members who started in my house in Petaling Jaya are with us today through the thick and thin. Some members have moved on, some got disconnected along the way, while new people have come along to join our adventures together. We are full of imperfections and yet God’s grace has not given up on us – He continues to shape us day by day.
We continue to extend open invitations to all who hear the call of Jesus upon their lives not only to be His “called out ones” to walk a less traveled path, but also respond to a journey in becoming “Sent ones” empowered by the Spirit to live the message faithfully and thus offer blessing to our fragmented world. This is one journey I’m still very much on …together we can go far!