A voice crying in the wilderness

Archive for the ‘Faith and theology’ Category

A line in the sand

Is there a point where, as a Christian, you can say “I care only this much”? You draw a line in the sand that you do not cross lest you go mad watching people around you willingly, gleefully hurl themselves into destruction.

Though I often recite the mantra “Be in the world, but not of the world” and endeavour to live a life that reflects God’s glory, I often find myself wondering that because I am such a twisted, broken wretch, how can anything I do glorify God? Who can look to me and see Jesus at work? I am as flawed as those around me that I despair for.

Through God’s grace, I have been taught how to stand back from the material world and find now that I generally don’t covet Earthly treasures – I have all that I need, to do what I need to do. Any time I get distracted by new gadgets, I qualify it by asking “How will this enhance my creativity? How will it make me more productive?” If I can’t answer that, I don’t need it – unless my current product need replacing.

Accordingly, working in retail and being impelled to upsell customers to the latest, greatest and most expensive products certainly goes against the grain of what I believe to be a righteous way to live. Worse is when customers get upset and angry over either minor flaws or temporary inconveniences – if you fridge breaks down, it is an urgent matter. You need to keep your food cold and fresh. However, if your dish washer fails, you shouldn’t despair just because you have to wash dishes by hand for a few days. And with the privilege of buying premium products comes the responsibility of performing basic maintenance to keep everything in good working order.

The Simpler Life

I think I have finally come to understand my rotating obsession with Indonesia (primarily Bali), Japan and trying to relocate to Albany.

Each year that passes, I find that I am becoming more and more disillusioned with Western society. We, as a collective, are very fortunate and privileged to live where we do and have all the social securities that we do – and yet the more we have, the more we want. Instead of being thankful, we have become greedy, self important and rude. We flaunt our success and hoard our excess instead of sharing with the disadvantaged.

I found that I looked to Japan for a more idealistic way of life – people who were considerate towards one another, who worked co-operatively for the collective good of their community. People who were polite and well mannered, considerate and well behaved. People who were diligent and hard working. Everything I wanted our society to be – a stark contrast to the boorish, self-centred, self-serving “I want everything my way, NOW!” attitude of the spoiled Westerner.

During one of my bouts of depression and its subsequent upswing, I became obsessed with moving to Japan, taking up permanent residence, adopting their culture as my own, even changing my name and forging a new identity. If my wife didn’t want to go, fine – I would go by myself. I started studying again, trying to improve my understanding of the written language (I used to be competent in conversational Japanese but struggled with kanji and katakana).

But as I continued reading and referencing the logistics required to relocate, I started reading more and more blogs and journals of people – predominantly Americans – who had been living in Japan for some time, learning from their experiences of settling in and adapting to the culture, all the social protocols and obligations. The more informed I became, the less ideal the lifestyle appeared. Its not that the idea became unappealing, but rather the relocation would simply be exchanging one set of complications for another. Additionally, due to my peculiar dietary and medical requirements, along with many philosophical choices, I would need to import a great number of items from Australia. In short, I would probably be trying to recreate a miniature Perth in a different country.

Thankfully, my manic mood finally reached a degree of equilibrium and I was able to look at the concept with a clear mind. I would love to visit Japan again, but moving there is for a whole different project.

However, remaining in Perth still left with me with that frustration with our selfish, materialist society.

As a thought exercise, I considered how my expectations changed as my income increased. The more I had, the more I wanted and the less satisfied I became. Truthfully, I was happiest and most content when I had very little.

But could I go back to being that way again?

I continue in my pursuit of uncluttering my house – its an ongoing project and will probably last a lifetime. Its not that I want to get rid of absolutely everything, but I certainly would like to pair everything down to the essentials and remove unnecessary duplications.

An aspect of this is an attempt to step away from our disposable culture – I don’t believe in buying the best possible quality of everything; having worked so many years in retail and customer service, it repulses me the amount of money people will spend on an item for what is essentially “boast value” – people who buy expensive products for the sake of buying an expensive product even though they will never use it to its full potential. It would be a demonstration of the shallowness of our society by trying to impress people by flaunting how much money we have to waste. *

Unless a product has a history of longevity and delivers demonstrably better results, I tend to shy away from the premium products and direct people to more conservative, practical and realistic products. When buying for myself, as an example, though I might be happy with a $10 pair of jeans, I am also happy to invest $70 in a higher quality pair that will last longer and fit more comfortably. I do find, however, that the cheaper pants suit my non-fashion oriented tastes a great deal better. I certainly wouldn’t like to invest $100 for a brand name pair that is likely to have been made in the same sweatshop as the $10 pair.

For all our shortcomings as a city, Perth is still a privileged area and living here is a continuous and precarious balance of being in the world, but not of the world – even with my minimalist mindset, I still can be easily distracted by gadgets and materialist possessions. For example, I like my clunky but functional setup with Linux at home, but I am constantly fighting the urge to convert back to Apple – not because of its “coolness” but because all the equipment works together so nicely. A constant battle because Apple represents so many of the aspects of materialist society that I resent and reject. But apart from the tight integration with other Apple products, I cannot justify the expense as using their equipment would not make me any more productive or creative, but more likely would provide me with more distractions.

It would be tempting to run away from society and live as a hermit – as long as I had fresh water, electricity and a broadband internet connection of some description. But what would that achieve? I might be living a more complete and wholesome life but the rest of society would be continuing along their slippery path towards their inevitable self-destruction.

Regrettably, I must continue to live in the world as I have both a duty and obligation to lead by example – to show people a better way to live, rejecting Earthly treasures and selfishness, instead showing love, mercy, kindness and the way to Christ.

Even to those people who are far more deserving of being beaten over the head with a shovel.

* The recent mining boom and subsequent crash was a great example of this – so many people thought “I have just made a bucket load of money, I shall spent it wildly and recklessly.” With so much disposable cash abounding, the cost of living in Western Australia doubled over the next two years and even following the crash, the cost has barely come down.

Current affairs shows started doing reports on how people who were earning six figure salaries last year were now living on the streets following the crash. I’m sorry, but its difficult to be sympathetic to someone who earned in excess of $300,000 over the last two years but has absolutely nothing to show for it.

Embracing insomnia

Usually when I start writing an entry, I have notes to refer to written during lunch breaks or on trains – numerous notepads and exercise books lurk around me waiting to capture the nonsense that leaps forth from my mind at the most inconvenient moment. Its not often that I draft something direct into the word processor.

There are times that I have trouble sleeping – I wake up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning trying to get back to sleep. Sometimes I wake up my wife, sometimes I’m lucky enough that she will sleep on through – my habit of getting out of bed in the dark and going into the other side of the house does not meet with approval since she fears I may trip over something and injure myself. I think its more that I sometimes kick an object in the dark and wake her up.

I’ve come to appreciate that quite time; usually between 11:30 and 1:00, sometimes later – I’ve occasionally watched the sun rise before going back to bed for half an hour before the alarm rings. Its a time when everyone else is asleep and I am left alone with my subconscious mind. A time when it is just me and God – and the cat if she is feeling playful.

A time when I can work through ideas and get my thoughts in order.

Some people hate being awake at this time – and fair enough if you’re up for several hours. There can be a number of reasons – anxiety and stress tend to be the biggest players; lifestyle too, if you are prone to going to bed late and sleeping in. Sometimes it can be chemical – caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar or even far more sinister substances. I found that recently I’ve made a number of minor changes – I tend to rise early, go to bed early and read (I try not to use my tablet or ebook reader during the evening), avoid coffee, I’ve cut back on drinking and stopped my cigar smoking habit. Most of all, I trust everything to God – I might sometimes get a glimpse of what God wants me to do, but not an accurate time frame, and can make preparations but a lot of time, I just see what happens on a day to day basis.

One of the areas faith and religion come to friction is how God’s grace is perceived. Religion takes the approach of “I’ve followed all the rules, dotted the Is and crossed the Ts – you owe me now, God” whereas faith follows the line of “God has redeemed me through His mercy and grace so I do good things for His glory, and so others may see His work in me”. Sometimes it works to take a little of each – God is full of grace and mercy but don’t think that means you can take liberties, working on the idea that He will forgive you. You think you may have plenty of time to repent for your misdeed but no one knows for certain what the Father has planned for us – but when we do sin, we can confess and ask for forgiveness.

So whilst I wait for God to reveal His plan, or at least the next stage in His plan for me, I can use my quiet time for contemplation and preparation.

“Be ready,” He says to me, “Be prepared.” For what I don’t know for certain but I want to be able to hit the ground running when I find out.

Japan and the Christian mind

Crossposted from City Cost
It intrigues me that less than 1% of Japan’s population identify as Christian. According to Wikipedia, this still equates to over 1 million people if you lump Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox together. A respectable number even if a tiny, tiny proportion of the nation. When I began studying Bahasa Indonesian some six months ago, I learned that around 10% of the population identify as Christian, but this number is closer to 23 million people.

I began studying further, utilising search engines, blogs, ebooks and even talking to Actual People and the prevailing thought seems to be that Christianity is disruptive; it spoils the harmony of the community and provokes a selfish, individualist attitude.

What kind of “Christians” have these people been talking to? The question stopped me in my tracks. In my own experience, Christianity seems quite in tune with the culture – it is focused on community, assisting those around us who cannot assist themselves and reaching out to those around us, lifting one another up and teaching one another. The question really should be “How have we Christians been conducting ourselves?”

I started thinking about my own experiences with so called Christians before I found my faith again and I began to understand the negative viewpoint. I encountered a great of hypocrisy, bigotry disguised as doctrine and wild eyed, mindless fanaticism. People confronting me in the street, grabbing my arm and shouting how I was doomed if I didn’t accept Christ as my Saviour, buskers committing crimes against music to the point that even the church they were performing in front of ordered them to move on. And then you have the prosperity focused churches who are all about the money. Certainly one can understand how these false teachers are seen as disruptive and objectionable.

As I began to write this entry on New Years Day, I received multiple interruptions that disrupted my train of thought – these proved to be beneficial however, as they gave me time to further my research and realise that my original idea was incomplete. Whilst I had briefly glanced at the history of Christianity in Japan, I discovered that there was a great deal more than I first thought and my original understanding was flawed.

I came to discover that part of the problem was they way we approached the subject – Christianity explained from a Western perspective can be construed as sometimes meaningless, sometimes objectionable and offensive. Expressions and similes that we use in English (or even the original Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic texts) don’t translate well into either the Japanese language or the culture. In addition to translating the language, we must also seek out a cultural equivalent to explain.

So as I renew my studies of Japanese, reviewing my textbooks and notes from my night classes dating back from 1997, I realise that I need to approach my learning from the other direction – I need to study not just more about the culture but also the religion of Japan to find parallels, to find the parallels that make the gospel more comprehensible but more accessible. We will never inspire people to look further into the gospel if we start off offending them.

Show the past a clenched fist

I was attending a product launch at a football stadium in a prestigious suburb, one where my former employer lives. I found myself wondering what they would say if they saw me walking between the train station and stadium. When I was working for them, I recall all manner of bold statements made – “If you want to earn the kind of money that we do, you need to put in the effort that we do”. After several staff departed in rapid succession, I was asked to put in extra effort to fill in for them until they were replaced. Gradually more tasks were placed upon me until I was spending almost every free moment doing work for the company. It took some time before I realised that I was burning myself out for little or no reward whilst all the managers seemed to be driving new cars or buying bigger, fancier houses in increasingly expensive suburbs.

Eventually I stood up for myself and left the company, taking a less prestigious job but that paid more and required fewer hours of my life.

I suspect that whilst they knew that they were misusing me, they felt betrayed when I left.

If I were to encounter them again and they were to boast of their wealth and Earthly treasures, how would I respond? That in one year I made more progress in my life than I had in the 11 years that I was employed by them. I went from being a nobody to a somebody with a loving wife and a house and working in a job that rewards me for effort and an objective in my life.

Truthfully it was inspiration from God that enabled me to move on, giving me both courage and direction with which to take the next step. Not my own strength certainly – the company had robbed me of all that. My house and car may not carry the value and prestige that theirs does but it provides all that I need for my purposes – my goals are higher and greater than anything that they can comprehend because they can think only in worldly terms.

My treasure is in Heaven and God is my god.

God and The Untitled Document

God cannot be explained with logic – at least, not with logic alone. God can only be explained through faith and trust.

Non-Christians want a simple, one size fits all explanation for who or what God is, but if you try to give them one, they will refuse to accept it. How can you give a simple explanation for the most complex and comprehensive being in the Universe. He is the creator of all things. This Universe is of God, God is not of the Universe.

When people try to apply logic to God, they try to compartmentalise Him. They want to break God down into smaller, more manageable pieces, each with its own label and classification. Essentially, its a human trait to try and dismantle something, find out what makes it tick and rob it of its mystery and power. We don’t like the idea that something is unknown and unfathomable. Humans don’t like the idea that something is bigger than us and we certainly don’t like feeling small.

God Incorporated

Once you answer your calling to become a Christian, you are starting a new job. You work for God now. He will typically leave you doing to same task you were doing before, under the same managers but now you have additional duties and are answerable to a higher level supervisor. You might not get a pay rise but your retirement package is going to be amazing.

If you do start getting pay rises, remember not to increase your standard of living, but your standard of giving.

When the pay rises come, there is much temptation to go a little crazy with spending – but remember that Earthly pleasures don’t last and its too easy to get info a habit of spending like they will.

Your new duties will involve evangelising Jesus at ever chance – sometimes with co-workers, sometimes with clients, sometimes with friends, neighbours or strangers.

Each person is given different abilities – some can speak well, knowledgeably and confidently and possess an agile mind that can leap from task to task, overcoming clever counter-arguments with truth rather than twisty logic. Others are great singers who can profess the glory of God’s love. Another may be a skilled writer that can create engaging and convincing prose. But what if you fall between any of these categories? You demonstrate some competence in many areas but have no great talent in any? God has need of any and all abilities, great or small. You are the mortar that joins the bricks together, the mediator between crafts and disciplines. Sometimes all you need to be is an example – people look at you and see Jesus at work. They see the joy that you take in life and the kindness you show others and say to themselves “I want to know what drives this guy!” Take time to learn patience, to cool your temper, to read and reference the bible. You aren’t expected to have a perfect recollection of all the texts, merely to have a basic understanding that you can call on.

Reject false icons

One of the few things that Gorrilaz have said that made any sense

When you choose to pursue an idea or notion, what is it that motivates you? Do you became fixated with an idea because it suits you or your situation, or would you follow it because it enables you to fulfil God’s work?

At the age of nearly 42, I occasionally look to my peers and compare my life with theirs. I’ve seen the successes – the big house, the big car, the big salaries, the fame and notoriety. I’ve seen the failures – the broken marriages, the broken minds, the addictions that have taken their toll. How do I rate myself?

I consider that I am successful, just not on an Earthly scale. I have achieved many of the things that I have set out to do and have more that I wish to do. I’ve seen too many occasions of people who have done everything and now are just passing time until they die.

When you work for God, there will always be more to do.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
– Mark 16:15 ESV

Each of us has different callings and different gifts with which to achieve those callings. Sometimes those gifts are something that drives our whole lives, sometimes they are something we indulge in during our spare moments when we aren’t earning our living. God will put us in a position where we can do our work so its important that we make ourselves flexible enough to respond. Its also important that when God has given us a gift, we don’t exploit it to our own ends.

I have heard it said “Live to work – if you work to live, you will always hate your job.” But if you make your Godly work your first priority, all else becomes secondary.

Be fed, clothed, pay your bills and keep a roof over your head but do your best not to be distracted by worldly concerns – eating at the post restaurants, the latest fashions that change weekly etc. Don’t seek out prestige in your home or your possessions, take only what is necessary and give yourself over to serving God by serving others.

How do you present yourself as a Christian?

When you tell people that you are a Christian, you can see their eyes glaze over immediately. People jump on you, calling you judgemental, superior and discriminatory – even people who know you well enough to know better. Even if you try to explain or defend your beliefs, they won’t listen and simply shout you down.

I recall a comic showing people listening to Eastern philosophy or popular commentary and taking it to heart or revering it but when shown similar wisdom from the bible, they instinctively recoiled and rejected. Even though the same person might quote from psalms or proverbs not realising its origin.

But as a Christian, how do people perceive you? Do you come across as smug and superior? Do you present an attitude of “Holier than thou”? Do you take humble to excess? Are you so meek and mild that people look at you and see a whipped puppy? Are you a hypocrite? Saying one thing but doing another? Do you gossip and slander, backbite and speak ill of one another? Christians are human and therefore sinners – we are weak and flawed, the same as everyone else. We are perhaps a little more aware of our shortcomings and strive to keep ourselves disciplined – but we still have our faults and foibles. I have struggled with smoking and alcohol abuse. I experience bouts of depression and my discipline is at its weakest when I am tired. I, too, get angry and say things that offend people with intention or realisation. I know that if I repent and pray, the Lord is kind and forgiving but people sometimes are not so.

The Father is full of grace but that isn’t a “Get out of jail free” card – we are still subject to the laws of man and people still carry grudges.

Who, or what, inspires you?

Whilst driving back from our church bible study group last night, I began to ponder my various creative exercises over the last 25 years and why I came to partake of them.

I started drawing, composing and writing poetry in high school – started with purpose that is, rather than just random scribbles and singing during my childhood. I would go through stages of each, move on to another and then forget about it until years later.

I began to compose music on my computer in late 1991 when I joined a demo group known as “The Solution”, later we were all inducted into Chrome. Though I drew a series of comic strips in high school, I wouldn’t pick up a pencil with any great enthusiasm until 2003. I wrote a lot of song lyrics and poems in high school and again in my college years, but didn’t write again until 2007.


All of these abilities would lay dormant until someone gave me cause to try again. Always it was a woman.

S1 caused me much heartache, alternating regularly between flirtation and rejection, that the only way I could express and release my pain and anguish was through music – she became the inspiration for many a sad, melancholy but often beautiful tune.

S2 inspired me to start drawing again, though I knew she loved a friend of mine – I was not in her league of talent but I had the energy and motivation to start writing stories and comic strips again, many of which were published in a local fanzine and on their website.

L got me into writing poems again – though I knew she was a bad influence, I was quite fascinated by her. She had a Steve Jobs style “reality distortion field” around her – you knew that she was using you and yet you did what she wanted anyway. I was a secret admirer who watched her from the shadows and took inspiration from her actions.

And then there was J, who taught me about blogging, maintaining websites and encouraged me to journal and write essays – this website itself was through her encouragement. Though I had my own site before and wrote articles on a semi-regular basis, all the code was manually updated, untidy and disorganised. With a better system at the back end, I could concentrate on content rather than form.

When all of these relationships and associations ended, for the most part I stopped indulging in these activities. I haven’t drawn anything regularly for ten years, I’ve written only a couple of songs in the last 15, and little poetry has sprouted forth in the last five. Even my blogs stopped appearing for a few years.

Then I met M.

In a way, all these activities and all of these people culminated in bring us together – mutual friends and shared interests. Though M and I spent a lot of time together, it was clear that we only had a future together if I were a Christian. I had considered myself one but I rejected church due to so many unfortunate experiences over the years – elitist “holier than thou” types, corruption in the church and some occasionally terrifying “head in a bucket” displays of ignorance. M made it clear that my concept of faith was misguided, not entirely wrong but close enough, and that I should visit her church to learn more.
In that respect, I was very fortunate – the church she attended was lead by a pastor who taught well, and taught enthusiastically. More importantly, he was extremely well read so could teach us proper historical context, important background information and even address translation errors from the original Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic texts. I was fascinated.

After church, M and I would often go out to lunch together to discuss what we had learned that morning – I would go home and read my bible afterwards, taking time out every lunch time and bedtime to read more. I started with a disintegrating Good News bible that my brother had from primary school, later investing in an English Standard Version and later a New International Version as I read more.

In time, we grew closer together – later in the year, M and I started dating officially (though many of our friends had thought we had already been dating for a couple of years by this time, we fit together so well). In time, we got engaged and then a year ago, we married. All brought together through our mutual love of Christ.

But what of the creative tasks that I wrote of earlier – where was the inspiration that M brought me?

I wrote only one song during this time, recycling an older tune that I could not think what to do with and wrote some new lyrics about wrestling (of all things). I tried my hand at drawing again, sketching abstract images during the evening services after the congregation had shared a meal together, but after a few attempts, I stopped. Very little poetry came forth, even though M herself was a poet. I still wrote journals and essays from time to time, but only when I was alone.

Was my wife draining all of my creative energy?

Then thinking about it last night, I realised that my wife inspired me in a different fashion – creative energy doesn’t always manifest itself in an outward fashion. Sometimes it motivates you to absorb knowledge, art, music and literature around you to turn it into something new, different or fresh.

Previously, my journal entries were primarily about computers, sometimes about gardening, photography or politics, and sometimes just rants and frustrations – a way of exorcising my demons that instead entrapped them and held them up to remind me of their existence constantly. Many of those older posts are still here but removed from view.

Instead now, I write about Christ – something I had never done before. I write to raise people up rather than putting them down. I write to provoke though and consideration, instead of argument.

In time, my music, my art, my poetry and storytelling, my photography skills will be called on again, but not until God requires them of me. They are on standby until then. Not forgotten or lost, merely resting.