Thursday, April 29, 2010

What is in a name . . . what is in a word?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
by any other name would still smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II

In this seemingly simple quote above, Juliet sums up the beauty, the angst, and the eventual tragic denouement resulting from her love for Romeo. Who would have thought that love could hold so much pain in its bosom – a pungency of sadness that simmers down to a mellow sweetness. Love, with all its exultation, with all its cherry-fresh succulence and brio, is a precursor of sweet sadness. Would the ambivalence of love be absent if it was called by another name?

What is in a name afterall? Is a name not a sophisticated verbal articulation, a mere product of the movement of the vocal cords modulated by the tongue and lips? If the english choose to call the action of putting food into your mouth “eat” and the French choose to call it “manger”, does it change the fact that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – via his mouth of course” (can I get an Amen! from the male corner?)

But seriously, is it my calling a cup a “cup” that makes it a cup? Was it not a “cup” before I called it so? I have heard christian say that Adam named all the animals in the garden as if there was something particularly mystical about the sound he made when he called out the names. I agree that Adam named the animals. I don’t doubt that. But, do you seriously think that Adam called a wild cat with spots a “leopard?” I mean, do you think he actually mouthed the words: l-e-o-p-a-r-d / lěp'ərd /? Did Adam name the animals in English then?

Which language in particular did Adam speak?

How about christians who insist that when David faced Goliath in a duel and went down to a stream to pick five smooth stones, that each of those stones represented a letter in the name, "Jesus". That sounds interesting and would make for a good line during a sermon, but is it not taking it too far when people insist on making a doctrine out of five stones representing the five letters in the name of Jesus.

Do you think Jesus was addressed as “Jesus” when he was on earth? He was called Yeshua in Hebrew and Iesous in Greek and when these names were written down, they were definitely not done with the characters of the alphabet that we use today. Does that make Jesus any less than who he was when he was on earth? – Divinity in human form.

I am not trying to split hairs here. I mention these things because history has taught us and is still teaching us that mankind generally tends to be religious, so religious at times, even to the detriment of the truth. People can make a doctrine out of anything and from seemingly simple issues, as evident in the myriad of denominations in christianity today.

These doctrines usually start from something simple and seemingly uncontroversial but with continuous reiteration they take on a mind and a life of their own, become binding on their followers and eventually everybody forgets why the instruction was given in the first place and obey it without so much as a question. When you ask these followers why they subscribe to such a doctrine, they give you an answer that basically says:

“that is what we do in our church”

Man is a religious being: The children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank which is on the hip socket because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip. . .

Jesus on the mount of transfiguration had Moses and Elijah by His side and Peter calls out “It is good Lord that we are here. We will build three tabernacles – one for You, Moses and Elijah.

I tell you, if Christ were to appear to you in your living room, sitting on a particular chair, it is extremely likely that after the event, you would venerate that chair, infact no one will seat on it again. You would even have people coming on pilgrimage to your house from all over the world to see what will now be fanciful called

“The Chair”

Do you think that example is far-fetched?

Have you not heard of christians trooping to various parts of the world to sites, were supposedly a Saint was reported to have been sighted? Huge crowds gather around those sites for days.

People still troop to Jerusalem constantly to see the tomb of Jesus. Have these christians not heard the words of the angel? It was announced two thousand years ago and still reverberates to this day:

“He is not here. He is risen!”

Now patience, patience, don’t jump on me yet. I am not against visiting historical sites but I only bring these up to show you how susceptible man is to concede to religious activities while ignoring the substance and the essence of the gospel. Man has a tendency to chase shadows. Christ Himself said it best –

“You strain at a gnat but you swallow a carmel.”

I read an article in a blog recently where a christian asked a rather pertinent question. She wanted to know if it was okay to substitute some other words in place of “swear words” e.g.

“shoot” for “shit”,

“heck” for “hell”

“darn” for “damn”

"effing" for "fuck"

Personally, I wonder, whether words become less of a profanity just because you take a letter or two of the alphabet out of it? Does it make any difference if you voiced “heck” and “effing” but your heart is actually saying “hell” and “fucking”?

You are merely playing with words, my friend. It is still profanity no matter how you spin it.

It is mere window dressing and political correctness run amok when people write f**k when everyone knows that the asterisk in the midst of the words is “uc”. It is ludicrous to say the least when we tacitly agree that it is okay to swear on television and on radio as long as we “bleep it”

Hello!!! "THE BLEEP" is now the universal Morse Code for a swear word or a foul language. So, who is kidding who or in the words of “my generation”:

"So, who the heck is f**cking with who?"

Oops! see what I mean? The asterisks could very well have been the actual alphabets, “uc”

Is it not better if you do not use profanity at all? I know that one can make occasional slip ups (I certainly have) but it is a different ball game when society is almost elevating swear-words to the level of Art with all the fanciful embellishments that it gets. Let us instead call it what it actually is:

A verbal diarrhoea resulting from mental constipation.

There is a whole variety of words in the english language and in any other language of your choosing to express yourself in. It is a poverty in the depth of vocabulary that makes one resort to four-letter expletives.

Oh, I see, you want to sound “folksy” and “current” – well, too bad that you have to go into the gutter to do that.

To echo the mood of a modern day Juliet:

What’s in a name? “A hell of a piece of shit”,
irrespective of how you spin it, to “A heck of a piece of sh*t”
would still smell, just as bad.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ancient of Days (1)

(Painting) Ancient of Days by William Blake

I watched till thrones were put in
And the Ancient of Days was
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like
pure wool . . .

And the books were opened.

Daniel 7: 9-10

It is rational to believe in the existence of God. Infact, it does not stand to reason if you do not believe in a Supreme Being who created the universe. Yes, we might debate about which way is the right way to approach Him or split hairs over some doctrinal issues, but there is a God. He exists!

I have never understood the flawed logic of the atheist, who proudly beats his chest in the “certain knowledge” that there is no God. Well, what can I say, . . . there are bounds of reason, but I guess all humans do not dwell within its confines.

At no time in the long history of mankind has the topic of God’s existence been more contentious than it is today – in this age of information. I do not propose to provide in this brief write-up an “undisputable proof” of the existence of God but rather to lay, however briefly, a rationality for the belief in a Creator.

It is imperative in this present age that christians educate themselves not only in scriptures but also in as many subjects as they may find time and means to study. It is a brave new world out there – a world of ideas – in our campuses, classrooms, lecture halls and laboratories and you must meet the opposing ideas and “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Now, when I say give “a defense” I do not necessarily mean that it has to be “a scriptural verse” or “a passage from the bible”. I am talking about discussing philosophy with the philosophers, discussing physics with the physicist, and biology with the biologist . And no, you do not need to be a universal expert in all of these disciplines to confidently do so. There is a simple rational basis in all academic disciplines and that rationality is usually more than enough to state your case.

And why is this important you ask?

The story is told of a fourteen-year-old boy from a christian family who asked his father about the existence of God and the conversation went something like this:

“Daddy, God created the world, right?” the boy asked

“Yes my son, He did” the father responded “Why do you ask son? You have believed in God since you were ten years old. Are you having any doubts?” the father asked.

“No Dad. I got into a debate in school with some of my classmates about the existence of God and as hard as I tried to make them see my point of view, they were unyielding.” the boy responded.

“Just tell them God created the world and how it is well explained in Genesis chapter 1 and 2. Also mention John 3:16 and how God sent his only Son to die for the sins of the world” the father said

In exasperation the boy blurted out,

“I know all those scriptures Dad! The book of Genesis and John work very well within the confines of our house and in church, but these books do not do very well in my classroom.”

I will leave you to imagine the expression on the father’s face.

A fourteen-year-old boy has perhaps stated in plain words what you obviously must have experienced when you tried to talk about your faith from a strictly biblical perspective with your professor or your academic colleagues. The point is that they do not accept as valid the reference text (Bible) from which you are quoting. They wish to engage you at an academic plane, to make the discussion as intellectual, as logical and completely subject to reason and empirical evidence.

So what is the christian to do? Walk away?

No. No. A thousand times, No!

As a christian there is more rationality in your faith than in the fleeting convictions of an atheist. What is your faith? When I hear christians talk about faith, they speak of it as if faith is the same thing as some helpless belief that they have no option but to resort to.

When the apostle Paul defined faith, he called it the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. So faith can have a substance, faith can have evidence. Have you noticed that Paul defended his faith before scholars and before illiterates, before Greek philosophers and before the academics and intellectual elites of his day; so much so that Festus cried out in a loud voice “Paul you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!

And what was Paul’s response?

“I am not mad most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason”

Did you read that? …the words of truth and REASON! So there can be a reason for faith, a substance for faith, an evidence for faith. Faith is not some passive, weak-minded and whimsical belief that a christian should capitulate to because he has not made the effort to think. It is and can be rooted in REASON if christians would make the effort to read and to think.

Christians, I implore you all to Think, and you shall Find!

Of course I am not in any way suggesting that you will know all things. No man knows all things, but you will always know enough and more than you need to debate and to defend your faith in the battlefield of ideas. Yes it is a battlefield and the war has since started. On television, in university lecture theatres, academic fora and conferences, men from every field of learning are constantly casting doubt over the existence of a Supreme God.

You may say it does not concern you but O it does. You can already hear the questions being asked in every nook and cranny of university campuses and on the streets, and no doubt you will have children of your own someday and your children will ask you these same questions because they will hear it in school from their classmates and from their teachers. If you are not prepared now, you will not be prepared then.

It is also important that christians educate themselves so they do not make statements that are to say the least “totally outrageous”. I listened to a radio programme recently where a christian lady called in to express why she believed in God/Bible. She started off by making certain assertions about cloning and to quote her, called it “crap”. As a fellow christian, my sympathies were with her but I cringed at her utterance; anyone who says cloning is crap (perhaps suggesting that it doesn’t work) certainly doesn’t know anything about cloning in the first place. It is statements like these, made by this caller that leaves the christian faith open to assault by non-believers who call us a bunch of mythologists.

The caller was not lacking in passion, but passion without facts and reason is not enough. You can pound on the table and speak at the top of your voice from sunrise to sunset that “I believe the Bible!” “I believe in God!” I believe the Bible!” I believe in God!” but that alone will not be admissible in an intellectual argument. That approach may work in church but it will find no acceptance against the logic of your professors or your intellectual non-believing colleagues.

I am by no means saying we should not quote the bible, what I am saying is that as christians we should be wise enough to be mindful of our audience and how best to engage them. You might need to engage people in an intellectual debate of your faith before you introduce the scriptures because that might be the only way you can get past the walls they have erected in their minds.

As christians we must read far and we must read wide, and not just the bible but other books as well. When was the last time you read a book on history, geography, government, or theology? Have you read an account of the history of the church (and I don’t mean the Acts of the Apostles), I mean the history of the church from the time of Polycarp, through the dark ages and the enlightenment period in Europe.

You have lived in England for five years perhaps, but do you know the history of that country from its Celtic inhabitants through the Roman occupation and the Anglo-Saxon invasion to present day or have you taken a scholarly tour through the “Egyptology section” of the British Museum?

Do you know what a gene is and how it affects our existence as humans? If you don’t know, what are you waiting for before you do? How do you expect to debate atheist like Richard Dawkins, an Oxford university professor or Christopher Hitchens for that matter.

Get a library card and read for goodness sake!

When was the last time you read a book on christian epistemology or apologetics? Why are the only books christians ever read always “Seven steps to …… (fill in the blank).

Have you listened to a theological discourse by Ravi Zacharias or John Polkinghorne? It would not cost you a cent to. An archive of Ravi’s apologetics can be found on his website.

There is a battle of ideas going on in the world right now, in society at large but particularly in our citadels of learning – the psyche and the instincts of people – students and children especially, are been turned further and further away from a belief in God.

Do you even have a library card?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Friendly Fire

Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried,
grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel . . .
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment . . .
This above all: to thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1 Scene III

Do you know what it means to be criticized? I am not talking about the opinion voiced by one of your friends about why the colour of your shirt does not match the colour of your trousers or why you have chosen to wear the same dress you wore to class to a birthday party.
I am talking about a criticism that assaults your dreams, your ambitions and your hopes; the stinging attacks against your aspirations – that rips to shreds the blueprint (or a blueprint) you have drawn up for your life. That insistent myriad of voices that bombard your consciousness in the guise of friendly advice and at times, outright hostility:

“you are aiming too high”
“you are taking on too much”
“you cannot”
“you are a dreamer”
“this is a stupid venture”
“you are not ready”

How many times have you heard these from well-meaning friends and acquaintances? How many more times in your journey through life will you feel the piercing darts of the critical tongue? It might be useful to remind yourself in the midst of scathing criticism, especially of the type that queries your abilities or that continually insists that “you are not good enough” that the cautious approach of a tiger is not an indication of weakness but rather, an intoxication of strength.

Hostile critics are perhaps the easiest to deal with (they are not any less stinging) but they are easier, because you know, at least, that their intentions are opposed to yours. It is indeed a curious thing and I dare say this in all sober earnest and with all the humility that I can glean from my arrogance, that if you are alert to the possibility and can adequately gauge the stubbornness of these hostile critics by the measure of your own obstinacy, these critics can very well be your greatest cheerleaders.

But, the gentle suggestion of friendly criticism, now, that is a whole different matter altogether; the gentle hand of a friend on your shoulder, the clear, unwavering eyes staring directly into yours, coaxing you with all the honesty that friendship grants it liberty to, a critic that does not wish you ill, infact oftentimes, a critic whose intentions are noble – that my friend is a much more perilous sea to navigate.

But, the noblest intentions, contrary to all expectations can smother the best of dreams – the noblest of your friends can actually kill your dreams with too much love.

So, should you not listen to your friends, or should you only have friends that agree with you all the time? The short answer to both questions is “no,” but the long answer to both questions are two questions, “Who are your friends?” and “Do you know what you want?”

The advice of friends can be useful and there is nothing wrong with one seeking wise counsel from those you have chosen to call your friends. But, there are certain friendships that you need to strengthen and there are other friendships that you simply have to say “bye-bye” to.

A wise man once said, “Choose your friends wisely, if you don’t choose, you will lose”

The keyword there is WISELY, and “wisely” does not mean based on social, economic or religious factors but rather based on your core values.

So, what are your core values?

Choosing your friends based on your CORE VALUES and having a well-defined set of goals are indispensable preambles to accurately judging and handling whatever criticisms may come from them when they offer you advice.

There is no prescription that can be written to tell you “when to listen to your friends” and “when not to listen to your friends” but if you have chosen your friends wisely and know exactly where you are in life and know exactly where you want to get to, Providence will always lead you along the right path. It is an uncanny truth but true all the same, that Providence always seems to throw its weight behind the man or woman who knows exactly where he or she is going.

Ultimately, the buck stops with you and you alone will live in whatever reality you choose to create.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Living in the Present

“Now, is the accepted time” the lawyer from Tarsus boldly proclaimed about 2000 years ago. You will find layers of meaning compressed in that singular statement, which for the brevity of this post I will not go into. For many people the past and the future are always a constant companion and not very pleasant ones at that; they are either relieving over and over again the mistakes of the past or fretting constantly about what the future might bring (or might not bring). For such people, the present never really exists – they are caught perpetually in a time loop – swinging on that obsessive pendulum between the tears of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow.

But, . . . “Now, is the accepted time”

There is nothing wrong with thinking about the past, infact you should give the past a considerable amount of thought. The past holds your memories, your joys, your friendships, and your successes but it also holds your mistakes, your regrets and your failures. There is nothing wrong with thinking about the past, to draw courage and belief from your successes and to learn valuable lessons from your setbacks. It only becomes a problem when you focus on your mistakes and regrets so much that it numbs you from daring to go forward.

The same is true about the future – your dreams are yet unborn, you do not know for certain what form the offsprings would take but remember that reality is the offspring of dreams, and it is within your power, and within the latitude of your ability to dream dreams that would shape that future reality.

Two things come to mind when people hear the name King Solomon; firstly, the fact that he was an extremely wise man and secondly, The Temple that was built during his reign, called Solomon’s Temple, was perhaps one of the most magnificent structures ever constructed by man. But, how many people realize that both King Solomon and The Temple are in a sense the consequences of two mistakes in the past of King David.

Solomon was David’s son by his wife Bathsheba whom he took through dubious means from Uriah the Hittite (Let’s call this David’s first mistake). The site on which The Temple was built was the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, the same location where an angel was restrained from carrying out destruction when David erroneously numbered the Israelites (Let’s call this David’s second mistake).

Only God can take a man’s two greatest mistakes from his past and build a magnificent Temple out of it in the future.

As obvious as it may seem, people should always remember to live in the present while garnering wisdom from the past and dreaming about the future. Let go of the nightmares of the past and dream great dreams about the future; see clearly in your heart and in your mind what your goals are because knowing what you want and defining it clearly, has a way of rallying Providence in your favour.

Always remember the words of the lawyer from Tarsus: “Now is the accepted time”

Moreover, if we are to consider the issue just a little further, there is no such thing as yesterday, today and tomorrow anyway. What we call the past, the present and the future is actually just one, vast, and eternal NOW!!!