Pourquoi pas?

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Archive for the category “reflecting on faith”

not I, but God

We were having dinner last night and got to talking about teaching the kids at Church School and the various experiences I’ve encountered. At some point, a friend who was sitting next to me said: “wow, it must be really hard… I mean, you need to be able to think on your feet!” and I was like… “true!”

The prime example happened that very morning when one of the kids in class, a little boy barely 3 years old, determinedly informed me that he has found something really interesting that I need to see and returns from the other room with a big globe in his hand, telling me (still with extreme determination while shoving the globe to my hands): “This is what I’ve been telling you about. Take it!” And that is how I had to rebuild my lesson plan for the day in roughly 10 seconds.

Of course I could’ve chosen to ignore him, let his dad (who was standing a few meters behind me anyway) grab the globe off him, or to simply say “that’s wonderful, now let’s get back to our lesson today!” except that if I chose to do that, I would’ve lost this kid’s trust and attention, along with everyone else’s attention as the globe being shoved to me has pretty much captivated everyone. Some little side lesson for people working with children — 1. a big ball always spells f-u-n, and 2. when you have gotten everybody to focus on one thing, use that thing to move forward instead of trying to distract them from it and getting them to focus on something else.

So I had no choice but to take the globe in my hand. “Thank you,” I said to the little boy who happily ran over to his dad. I had seven kids staring at the globe in my hand. It’s make or break. I noticed a boy who was new and went to ask him, “so where do your parents come from?” this worked because at our very international church, everybody was from a different country. I soon got the kids engaged in trying to find the different countries on the globe, and then started singing “He’s got the whole world” (there’s a side story to that with regards to being gender inclusive but let’s keep it at this for the moment) and linked it to how good God is, taking care of all of us little ones… and then I moved into telling them the story of how God took care of the Israelites — the story of Moses that I was supposed to tell them this week according to our actual curriculum book. I am fairly confident that nobody would’ve guessed that I have just made all those connections right then and there, as I was speaking them.

The question is… how did I do THAT? No doubt experience has some parts to play in it — after all, I’ve been doing this since I was 14 — but there was no way I could’ve done it on my own. No, no, no… I don’t care what arguments you give about how the brain when properly stimulated is capable of great creativity etc., there was no way that on my own I could’ve chosen the right words to be able to link one part to the other without pausing. And it’s not just this Sunday morning that this happened. There have been more examples, it happens quite a lot: words flow and making logical sense and connection as I speak them despite it being impromptu. One of my favourite moment was when I was preaching, holding my complete sermon in hand and yet as I spoke new ideas came up and were miraculously woven into my sentences. I had diverted from my notes but it actually made a better sermon!

My answer as to how things like this are possible is this verse from Luke 12:12, taken a little bit out of context (although I could make a good case of how having to teach a bunch of hyperactive kids or to preach to at least 600 congregants on a Sunday morning is almost like being brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities — see Luke 12:11) and yet making perfect sense:

For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said (NLT).

When these little “miracles” happen, I am reminded that it is indeed not I who am speaking to these kids or to the congregation, but God.


Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, and traditionally it celebrates Jesus’s last supper with his disciples, which includes the well-known foot-washing “scene” where Jesus, the teacher, the leader, put himself in a servant position and washed his disciples’s feet. Many churches today celebrate Maundy Thursday with an actual foot-washing ceremony. So did the church I go to here in Geneva, the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The way it is done is that people can choose to come forward to the chairs provided and take turns washing each others feet.

I hesitated about coming forward for a long time. Slipped my shoes on and off a couple of time. Waited, waited, and in the end I never went.

My reason? I was ashamed. My feet are in an ugly sort of state. Dry heels, unkempt toenails… I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone in the congregation washing my feet — positive that they will have negative thoughts about my feet.

Then, the strangest thing happened. As the congregation cleared up the sanctuary, I helped someone carry away the bowl of water that had been used for the foot-washing ceremony. The bowl was heavy and even with the two of us carrying, it was still hard to maneuver. The aim was to get to the trees so the water in the bowl could be poured to the trees. Somehow we made it. And then as we poured, I realized the water splashed right on to my left foot.

It was as if God was telling me that he wants me to get my feet washed ANYWAY.

Because no matter how ashamed we are of our state of being, physically, socially, psychologically. No matter what we did or what we have been doing, God has chosen us, and he washes more than just our feet. He washes our heart. And after that, we become his servants, serving others in the world.

I have taken you from the ends of the earth and called you from its most distant places. I said to you, ‘You are my servant. I’ve chosen you; I haven’t rejected you.’
— Isaiah 41:9, GOD’S WORD® Translation (©1995)

Celebrating Ten Women of the Bible

Today is International Women’s Day, “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future”, and I thought I would take the opportunity to celebrate the women of the Bible. As much as I would like to celebrate ALL the women in the Bible (there’s not that many of them and yet still quite a good number), that might take a whole book to do. So here’s my selection of 10 women to celebrate today.

1. Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, Pietro Perugino (c. 1490s)

Possibly the most controversial woman in Christian history, Mary Magdalene (or Mary of Magdala). The most common misconception about her is that she was a prostitute (an idea brought forth by Pope Gregory I). In the gnostic writing The Gospel of Mary, Andrew and Peter seemed to completely dismiss her… and yet most gnostic writing hail her as a true disciple, one who Jesus favored much (some opinions in fact think that Jesus was in love with her — and Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code developed this idea). While discussions about Mary Magdalene could be very intense, let us celebrate her for what the gospel of John says about her… that she was a close follower of Jesus who became “the apostle to the apostles” as she brought the news of Jesus’ ressurection to the disciples with her famous line “I have seen the Lord” (read John 20:1-18 and listen to the song “I have seen the Lord“).

2. Deborah

In the days after Joshua died and before Saul became king there were judges who lead Israel, and Deborah was one of them. Yes, that’s right, a woman was giving the people of Israel instructions on how to lead their lives. In fact, the commander of Israel’s army came to her for advice… and he did not want to go to war without her by his side. How’s that for some female power?? While we’re at it, there’s another female in this particular story, Jael… who is actually sort of cooler cause it was her who effectively won the war when she killed the enemy’s king! (read Judges 4 and 5)

3. The Proverbs 31 woman

Proverbs 31 verses 10-30 talks about The Wife of Noble Character and has always been a passage that just annoys me to the max. This woman does EVERYTHING. She keeps her household in good order, she takes care of the business, and she even finds time to look after the poor and needy… and where’s her husband? Oh, he’s just sitting there at the gates talking to the other men, bragging about his wife. Huh, WHAT? Well, despite the fact that I personally think that no woman should be doing all the work while her husband just sits back and relaxes, kudos to this woman who is able to do it all, way before the days of emancipation and feminist movements (speaking of that, how did society go from letting the women do everything to letting the women do nothing but have kids and clean the house??)

4. The Canaanite woman

In the International Women’s Day worship at the Ecumenical Centre this morning, we read and reflected on the passage about the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28), possibly the most disturbing passage in the gospels when you’re a woman because here’s Jesus… and he is comparing this woman with a dog! Well, yes, there are good explanations to it, but still… WHAT?!! And yet, this particular woman is so awesome… she replied instantly to Jesus with such a witty comment that Jesus healed her daughter after all. That, my dear readers, is what I call female power.

5. Mary, mother of Jesus

Okay, she probably deserved to be mentioned earlier than this, but anyway… this Mary was a young woman who was obviously very devoted to her faith, and without her there would be no Jesus (well, okay, I suppose if she had said no, God could’ve found another woman too, but still…). Imagine what a shocking moment it must’ve been for her, and how difficult it was. Not only does she have to deal with her husband-to-be (luckily God took care of that) but also with society and with the pregnancy itself! Not to mention the tough deal of the journey and giving birth and what about seeing your precious son dying on a cross? For being such a strong and courageous woman, Mary, we celebrate you.

6. Abigail

I think many women could relate to Abigail… were there days when your husbands (or boyfriends) act like complete idiots? Yes? Welcome to Abigail’s life. Reading 1 Samuel 25, one could imagine that Nabal was possibly a complete d-bag. And yet, Abigail doesn’t give in to despair. Instead, she takes charge… and she saves her household with a highly courageous act. Bravo, Abigail!

7. Esther

I think I’ve made it clear by now that I’m aiming to get a whole variety of women and to celebrate them for many different reasons. We’ve had courage, wit, faith, bravery, well… here’s THE woman to be celebrated for beauty. Esther won a very important beauty pageant… instead of just receiving a crown and being treated like a princess for a day, she actually became the queen. Yet, she was not just beautiful on the outside, but she was beautiful in the inside too. Read her story in the book of Esther (one of only TWO books in the Bible to be named after a woman). The whole story is actually told to tell the origins of the feast of Purim, which coincidentally is celebrated today as well! How’s that for a celebration!

8. Vashti

It wouldn’t be fair to celebrate International Women’s Day and to include Esther in the list but not Vashti. If we’re going to be true to the roots of International Women’s Day marking the day women took a stand against the mistreatment they have been subjected to, here’s the woman did exactly that: speaking out against mistreatment. Read Esther 1… there he was, the king having a party, he got really drunk, and he summoned her queen to be DISPLAYED in front of everyone. And, while I’m sure she knows what the rules are, Vashti refused to come. Ha! Way to go, Vashti, woman of integrity!

9. Ruth

The other book of the bible named after a woman is the book of Ruth. And interesting enough, she wasn’t even an Israelite. The story of Ruth is a very touching story. Instead of going home to her family after the death of her husband, she decided to stay with her mother-in-law. Highly unusual, no? I often wonder what it is that made Ruth take this bold decision of going to a foreign country with no clear future… but perhaps it was an overflow of love to someone who needed it. Imagine Naomi, who had lost everything in her life. She was bitter, she was sick of it, she probably wanted to go home to Israel to die. She sent away her daughters-in-law so she would be all alone, no more burden, and she could be done with life. But no, Ruth saw the sadness, Ruth saw the bitterness, and even though she realizes it’s going to be tough for her, she decided to stay with Naomi. And they lived happily ever after. That, is genuine sisterhood.

10. Leah

Limiting myself to only 10 women makes it a bit difficult to choose who to feature as the count is almost up… but Leah has always had a special place in my heart ever since I read this novel that retold the story of Jacob’s clan from Leah’s point of view. Leah has always been misunderstood, overshadowed by her pretty little sister, and imagine having a husband who never wanted to marry you in the first place! And yet instead of Rachel, Leah was the one buried with Jacob in the cave of Machpelah, the same place where Abraham and Sarah, as well as Isaac and Rebekah are buried (see Genesis 49:29-31). Now what does that tell you? Well, it tells me that Leah was special. And perhaps, like in the novel (whose author’s name I can’t remember), Leah was the woman Jacob went to for counsel. The one he regarded as his “suitable helper”.

So there you have it, my selection of 10 women in the Bible who are to be celebrated for various reasons. Who would you celebrate and why?

Thank you, God, for menstrual cramps…

(a reflection on being a woman, gender equality and relating with men)

Menstrual cramps. The thing that women in general complain about for most of their lives. I don’t really remember but I’m pretty sure I never had a serious problem with it until I was in senior year of high school. For some unknown reason, my periods became unbearable that year. I became anemic, the cramps were almost constant, and I always preferred to stay home, near to my stockpile of hygiene pads, because of the horror of leakages. I hated my periods, cursed them fervently… And then they stopped.

Well, they stopped coming regularly, anyways. Sometimes it would skip a month, then two… Sometimes it would just be very light, sometimes it would only last a day. And while I rejoice in the fact that I don’t have to go through all the mood swings, pain and agony, a part of me missed having regular periods… and after a while I even started fearing that I won’t get them anymore. Being 27 with no special health cases, this made me feel very uncomfortable… Somehow almost less of a woman.

After all, very technically speaking, to be a girl child is to be born with the female reproductive system and one is called a woman after their first period, effectively making menstruation something that in a way answers “what is a woman?” and “how is a woman different from a man?” So yes, indeed, when I felt the cramps and my period suddenly decided to show up sometime last week, the first thing I did was to thank God for it (then I panicked and tried to find a pad :P).

During a debate competition in high school, my team won a debate under the topic “women on top” by arguing that a woman is in fact stronger than a man because they are able to endure the pain of menstrual cramps and childbirth. Looking back at this 10 years later (aka now), I cringe at how inappropriate the topic was. After all, I do not want women to be on top.

To make it clear, I do not want men to be on top either. The years of trying hard to understand feminism, female power, emancipation and gender equality (all of which really still confuse me from time to time) has gotten me to a point where I think that for society to function properly, men and women should be side by side. Gender EQUALity.

But let’s not forget that being equal does not mean to be the same. It means working together instead of trying to be better than the other. It means acknowledging that there are things women in general can do better than men, and things that men in general can do better than women… And letting them do those things (without any disrespect if the other way around happens).

It means realizing that men and women are to compliment each other as we build our society, each in our own unique way. It means accepting that women may have days where they are very cranky (aka PMS days) and men may have days when they act like they’re THE boss… But realizing right away that those are no reason to abuse the other.

It means making a big fuss of International Women’s Day tomorrow and feeling really special about it as a woman, yet also appreciating (or in fact, as a woman, making a big fuss as well since most men don’t) International Men’s Day (which is on November 16, by the way)!

And after the rain, there is a rainbow…

Yes, it’s been a while. Yes, I should probably write more. Since I’m free most afternoons anyway… well, except we’ll be starting French course tomorrow… that will take up two nights each week 🙂

Today did NOT start on a good note. I did NOT have a good night sleep, and woke up shivering cold. It did NOT help that I almost stepped into a flooded bathroom. THAT was just SO annoying. I mean, sharing bathrooms are not easy, and I have always had to clean up some hairs and stuff… but this morning… well… how someone managed to get 1cm of water on the floor of the WHOLE bathroom is just beyond me. So yeah. Then the walk to work was super chilly and I had some things on my mind so my morning was pretty much horrible.

Nevertheless, it all turned for the better during morning worship. My ex-lecturer who now works at the Lutheran World Federation was in charge of the worship and he had asked me to come and join the choir. So I was there early and we rehearsed songs. Then he asked me to read the opening Psalm, which I did. Worship was done in remembrance of the people of Palestine and it just really touched my heart (like a lot of worships have done lately, actually). I am actually glad that I am now working for an organization that is actually doing some difference in this world, in a building with so many other organizations who are making differences as well. This particular fact makes worship so much more real. Like when you say “send us Lord, to work for peace”, well, here that is actually what we do when we go back in our offices, in one way or another. That’s pretty awesome, if you ask me. So, the worship turned my day to the better.

Around lunch time, my ex-lecturer sent me a text message and asked if we could meet… so I went up to meet him, and it turns out that he has a coat to give me. AND it fit perfectly! You see, I have been wanting to buy a coat, but haven’t gotten round to find out that’s nice but affordable as well, and as evident on my morning walk to work, autumn is nearing and it’s getting cold. So, the coat couldn’t have come on a better time! Not only that but he also took me out for lunch at the ILO building, so that was very nice (although I have to say the lunch really wasn’t that good).

After work, Chris and I decided to go to Balexert (well, actually I wanted to go and I dragged Chris along :P), we did some shopping, but what was amazing was this rainbow in the dark cloudy sky that was visible for our whole trip home. It was the most amazing rainbow I have ever seen. I laughed like a little child when I saw that rainbow. It was as if God was smiling at me and saying “see, I know what you need and I will provide it!”

I have yet to figure out how to send money back home (or whether I could even afford to send money back home to mom who needs it desperately) and whether or not I would be able to move out of John Knox to the WCC studio that is supposed to be available… but I know God will provide what’s best for me. And I’m glad.

PS: if you look closely on that picture, you will see that there were actually TWO rainbows, one was slightly less visible. I like to think that is how God works, sometimes he makes it very obvious, other times there’s just faint colours and you have to squint to see them… but it’s there. God is there.

Feeling Weary

Every now and then I read other people’s God-experiences and wonder why I never have such experiences. Well, the truth is that I do, but too often I am unaware of them.

One such experiences happened just hours ago. I have been weary these couple of days for no apparent reason. Possibly a post-thesis syndrome (something similar to post-partum syndrome moms get) but I don’t know. I just feel down and lifeless. It hit a very low note upon confessing the feeling to my brother (the psychologist) who just told me to get over it *sigh*

Anyways, it so happened that we were at choir practice which we always start with a short devotion reading and we forgot the devotional book we usually read from. So I went through my collection of apps (I have quite a few) but most need internet connection and I didn’t bring my wi-fi modem with me either. Then, I found one app that would work, Lucado’s Life Lessons. Except, the devotions were grouped based on the books of the Bible, and I really don’t know which to choose.

So I resorted to letting my fingers wander at random and found myself reading Psalm 1:1-3:8. What was amazing, however, was when I read on and there was a story about a man, Joseph Crater, who was weary. WHOA!

Yes, the devotional was God talking to me, addressing my weariness. And I quote: “Only one man in history has claimed to have an answer to it (the deep, lonely, frustrated weariness). He stand before all the Joseph Craters of the world with the same promise: ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ – Matthew 11:28”

Isn’t God wonderful?

everything will be beautiful in HIS time

I’ve been seeing this quoted on many FB stats lately. And to be honest, I once supported this “idea”… that is, the “idea” that people usually have when they quote this sentence: it might not be beautiful right now, but it will be beautiful in the end, when the time is right… your life might be miserable right now, but something good will come out of it… it’s okay that things are not good for the moment, but God will make it alright someday soon, and so on.

Well, I hereby would like to say I no longer support that interpretation.

Instead… here’s what I believe in: everything, and I mean seriously everything… every scar, every tear, every heartbreak, every dark night as well as every smile, every moment of happiness, everything, is beautiful.

Because HIS time is all the time…
And without the scars, tears, heartbreaks and dark nights, you will never appreciate the smiles, the cures, the love and the sunshine 🙂

About Serving God

So here’s a little secret, the last two days I’ve been busy looking at tons of Christian blogs (and twitter accounts). I’ve been amazed at the creativity, the passion, and the achievements of so many people, pastors and laypersons alike. I marveled at what they did or are doing, at their ideas, at just how many great things their work has brought for God, for the world, for people. And I envied them. I wondered why they manage to do so much. I got slightly depressed at how my own ministry seems stagnant, at how I don’t come up with bright ideas, at just how little work I have done for God and how unpassionate I seem when compared to these people.

And then it hit me, and it hit me hard!
First of all, I am my own unique being, and God has a special plan for me, something that only I could do. It might not be serving 1000 youths in a volunteer campaign building houses in Africa (okay, that was totally made up), but there’s something somewhere for me to do. In fact, while I was busy moaning over those blogs, I should’ve been doing part of that work. I have a children curriculum to write! Duh. That curriculum is published nation-wide, so many people will be using it. And I was concerned about not making an impact??
Also, I have no idea what those people are really experiencing. For all I know, they’re probably struggling with the same issues I do every day!
So here’s the bottom line… it’s okay to look up to certain people for inspiration, but we must never let that keep us from serving God in our own way, in our own place. And with that, I’m off finishing that curriculum.

Maundy Thursday and April Fools’ Day

Is it just me or does anyone else think that it’s kinda weird that Maundy Thursday falls on April Fools’ Day this year? It’s just that these two very much unrelated contradictory events are being celebrated on the same day. And I wonder if we can significantly reflect on this fact. After all, this is an event that happens every decade or so (the last time Easter fell on April 4th and thus Maundy Thursday on April 1st was in 1999).

Okay. First, some basic knowledge on what’s what. The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word for “command.” The “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday refers to the command Jesus gave to the disciples at the Last Supper, that they should love and serve one another (from here). So basically, on Maundy Thursday we will recall the events of the last supper, and people usually emphasize on Jesus washing the disciple’s feet as an example for them.
April Fools’ Day, celebrated in many parts of the world on April 1st, is marked by the commission of hoaxes and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, enemies, and neighbors, or sending them on a fool’s errand, the aim of which is to embarrass the gullible (wikipedia).
Now, let’s get these two connected. We shall start at the very beginning of the day. I’ll be using the NIV Bible, BTW. And, since it’s kinda late, let’s just focus on two major points.
It was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, and the disciples asked Jesus where they should prepare for the meal. His answer?

“As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.” — Luke 22:10-12

If you were one of his disciples, living today… I bet you would say “April Fools’! Hahah, good one! Now, seriously, John’s place or Mark’s?” or something like that. Re-read that passage. Follow some unknown guy to a house and expect a room ready for preparations? Sounds bogus to me. But it didn’t faze the disciples. Instead, they left… and found things to be just like Jesus had told them (v.13). Moral of the story? God asks us to do unimaginable things sometimes, things that to us seem foolish, a mere prank! But when it is truly God who asks us to do something, he will prepare ahead of us, and we can be sure to find things just as God has told us.

Fast forward to the main event. It was a nice gathering, they were talking, arguing, in fact, about the Kingdom of God and who would be the greatest among them. And then…

he (Jesus) got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. — John 13:4-5

He also told them that it was to be an example for them. The leader should be a servant! Umm… April Fools’, anyone? Okay, maybe more Hunchback of Notre-Dame “topsy-turvy day” like. But April Fools’ has a similar concept, the person who makes an April Fools’ joke after the time limit is actually the one called an April Fool. Eh, out of topic. My point is… it’s upside down! The leader is never the servant in the world. Na-ah… and washing feet? That’s like… the lowliest thing to do ever! A servant should wash his/her leaders feet, showing respect and positioning themselves where they suppose to be, no? Jesus said, NO.

Moral of the story? What the world thinks to be foolish, God thinks the opposite. In fact he uses the weak things (cf. 1 Cor 1:27), and even more than that, he REQUIRES us to humble ourselves in serving one another. Why? I can list a lot of reasons, I think, but let stick with one for tonight. The world is too full of self-pride, and that hurts people in too many ways. The only way to heal, to live a beautiful life, is to put ourself aside and serve others. It is in fact in doing so that many people have found their own true happiness.

So what’s the BIBLE for?

Asked my lecturer. We just had a discussion on how the biblical material on David might just be fabricated (very interesting stuff!) and now he wondered how we felt about the Bible, and how it might not be the truth, perhaps half truth, somehow true, partially made-up, or mere fiction? And how does it feel to study the Bible, or even more than that preaching it?

Well, what say you?

My answer was something like this. First of all, we never ever ever know truth in life, mind you. We only know OUR version of the truth. Or somebody else’s version of the truth, if we read or hear it. And that is always only the truth that that person wants to share with us. Which is exactly like the Bible. It is some sort of truth that somebody shared hundreds of years ago.

As such, it is actually the oldest surviving document of the ancient world and therefore a major source in ancient truth!

And since life goes on in circles, whatever is happening now has probably happened in ancient times. That’s why a lot of people could easily identify with stories in the Bible for ages! It is then the task of a theologian to relate all these stories into the present time… To give people of today the hope, the cheering up, the wisdom, the love, and the faith that has been so well preserved over the ages so that it can help us live today !

At the end of the day, the Bible might not be necessarily (historically) true, but it is truly necessary!

PS: you gotta be kidding me if you’re going to say there’s nothing really divinely special about the Bible and it’s survival and influence over the hundreds of years. But that’s another story.

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