Friday, August 22, 2014

Dissecting the relationship between politics and religion // Diseccionando la relación entre la política y la religión

What I love most about going on trips organized by Princeton is the opportunity to meet people doing really interesting work that I wouldn't get to know if I was just passing through as a tourist. This is a more academic and boring piece sparked by a visit to the studio of the Peronist artist Daniel Santoro, about the relationship between politics and religion. Managed to chat with him about the Frankfurt School (bahaha that semester of 8am German philosophy precepts was useful after all), Singapore (he had two exhibitions here in the 90s), and the similarities and differences between Singapore and Argentina ("I think, if the populations of Singapore and Argentina were exchanged for a day, all the Argentines would die!")

It's kind of interesting reading this post again because I was clearly trying to negotiate, both in my head and on paper, my identity as a Christian and my current calling as a student in which I'm mindful that many of those who read my work do not share my beliefs. I keep telling myself that the gospel should not be relegated to a specific sphere of my life earmarked "religion," but it's often messy trying to practically apply the gospel as a means of integration for various facets of my life. Anyway, I'm clearly still quite a baby in my spiritual and academic journey and that's okay. I'm already becoming more and more of an auntie in so many other aspects of my life :P

Dissecting the relationship between politics and religion
26 June

This week we went to the studio of the artist Daniel Santoro. It was an incredible experience for me, not only because of the art (which was very impressive) but also for the opportunity to understand more about his artistic, political and personal philosophy. What I found really interesting was the link that he made between Peronism and Christianity; for example, he spoke about the Pope as a companion in arms. I began to think more about the relationship between religion and politics, especially with respect to the massive popularity of figures like Evita Perón and Pope Francis.

I know that the connection between Christianity and radical social justice isn't new. When Sr. Santoro spoke about Christian social justice, what occurred to me immediately was the concept of liberation theology that has roots in Latin America en the 1960s-70s. It also reminded me that although Christianity now seems bourgeois and conservative, Jesus and the early church were quite radical in their time. The Bible describes how "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." (Acts 2:44-5) This seems very socialist! Thus I see clearly the relationship between the substance of religion (for example, in the theology of social justice) and politics.

However, what interests me more is the relationship between politics and the form, the exterior of religion. I am speaking of liturgy, rituals, the aesthetics of the presentation of sacred figures. I think that the popularity of the Pope and of figures like Evita to Che Guevara is due partially to the exploitation of these religious forms. For example, when the Pope kissed a man with skin disease, when Che crossed the river to join his friends in the leper colony, when Eva kissed the poor, these acts alluded to symbols that already had much significance - the image of Jesus curing lepers and eating with prostitutes and tax collectors. These images provoke something bittersweet in the spectator - one feels admiration and hope, but also the pain of the sacrifice of these saints or heroes. During my first Sunday here, I went to a Catholic mass with my Argentine host mother and I was blown away by the multitude of rites that everyone (except me) knew and enacted naturally. Perhaps we all also enact small rites that keep the memory and aura of these figures alive without us knowing it - for example, the multitude of tourists that go to Evita's tomb reinforce the idea of her mystique. I think that the public fascination with figures like Che and the Pope comes less from an intellectual agreement with their ideology/theology and more from the aesthetic similarities between religion and politics that evoke a feeling of adoration. What does this tell us? Do we prefer the forms of religion to its substance? Do we desire the security, the discipline, the order of religious ritual? What are the practices (secular or not) that become the liturgy of our lives? (Here I am reminded of the book "Religion for Atheists" by Alain de Botton, in which he speaks about the benefits of adopting religious practices and rites, but this is a debate for another time.)

Exploring one of Sr Santoro's works in progress - a miniature city of all cities. 

 
Part of Sr Santoro's studio. You can tell this is a place of great productivity!

Photo with the man himself!

Diseccionando la relación entre la política y la religión
26 de junio

Esta semana fuimos al estudio del artista Daniel Santoro. Era una experiencia increíble para mí no solamente por el arte (que era muy impresionante) pero también por la oportunidad de entender más sobre su filosofía artística, política y personal. A mí me pareció muy interesante el vínculo que hizo entre el Peronismo y el cristianismo; por ejemplo, habló del Papa como un compañero de armas. Empecé a pensar más en la relación entre la religión y la política, especialmente con respecto a la popularidad masiva de figuras como Evita y el Papa Francisco.

Sé que la conexión entre el cristianismo y la justicia social radical no es nuevo. Cuando el Sr. Santoro habla sobre la justicia social cristiana, me ocurrió inmediatamente la teología de la liberación que tiene raíces en la América Latina en las 1960-70s. También me recuerda que aunque el cristianismo ahora parece ser burgués y conservador, Jesús y la iglesia temprana eran bastante radicales en su época. La Biblia describe cómo “Todos los creyentes estaban juntos y tenían todo en común: vendían sus propiedades y posesiones, y compartían sus bienes entre sí según la necesidad de cada uno.” (Hechos 2:44-5) ¡Se ve muy socialista! Así que veo claramente la relación entre la sustancia de religión (la teología de la justicia social, por ejemplo) y la política.

Sin embargo, me interesa más la relación entre la política y la forma, el exterior de la religión. Estoy hablando de la liturgia, los ritos, el estético de la presentación de las figuras sagradas. Creo que la popularidad del Papa y de figuras como Evita hasta Che es debido parcialmente al aprovechamiento de estas formas religiosas. Por ejemplo, cuando el Papa besó un hombre con enfermedad de la piel, cuando Che cruzó el río para reunirse con sus amigos en la leprosería, cuando Eva besó los pobres, se refieren a los símbolos que ya tenían mucho significado—la imagen de Jesús curando los leprosos, cenando con las prostitutas y los recaudadores de impuestos. Estas imágenes provoca algo agridulce en el espectador—se sienta le admiración y la esperanza, pero también la pena del sacrificio de estos santos o héroes. El primer domingo aquí, fui a una misa católica con mi mamá argentina y era deslumbrada por la multitud de los ritos que todo el mundo (excepto yo) sabía y hizo naturalmente. Quizás nosotros también hacemos pequeños ritos que mantienen vivo la memoria y la aura de estas figuras sin saberlo—por ejemplo, la multitud de turistas que va a la tumba de Evita refuerza la idea de su mística. Creo que la fascinación pública con figuras como Che y el Papa viene menos de un acuerdo intelectual con su ideología/teología y más de las similitudes estéticas entre la religión y la política que evocan el sentimiento de adoración. ¿Qué dice esto? ¿Preferimos la forma de la religión en vez de su sustancia? ¿Queremos la seguridad, la disciplina, el orden de las ritas religiosa? ¿Cuáles son las prácticas (seculares o no) que se vuelven en la liturgia de nuestras vidas? (Aquí me recuerdo el libro “Religion for Atheists” de Alain de Botton, en que habla sobre los beneficios en adoptar las prácticas y las ritas de la religión, pero eso es un debate para un otro tiempo.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Some lessons from my adventures in Uruguay // Algunas lecciones de mis aventuras en Uruguay

Glad I'm finally getting down to translating these and sharing them with people! Every time people ask about my time in Argentina I can only gush about it in the vaguest of terms, like "it was amazing, I really enjoyed it" but these descriptions without specifics are always so weak and don't do justice to the richness of the time I spent there. Hopefully these posts will provide some brief glimpses into my experiences and my reflections on these experiences; though they may be only sporadically clear patches of a foggy window, I think they do show something of my physical/linguistic/psychological journey, and so I'm eager to write these even though it's really embarrassing to read my Spanish and watch my current and past self battle on tiptoe with cultural difference and with how to talk about cultural difference.

Today: my trip to Uruguay (a ferry ride away from Buenos Aires), featuring duty-free shopping, self-righteous angst about how people talk about the "chiquita"-ness (tinyness) of Montevideo (possibly related in some way to my social studies-induced consciousness of the tinyness of Singapore), and Luis Suárez (cue vampire jokes).

Disclaimer: This has very little actual narration about the touristy places I visited, but if you want to know more about that part of Montevideo & Colonia, I'm happy to talk about it privately!

Some lessons from my adventures in Uruguay
22 June

Ciudad Vieja (Old City) in Montevideo

A stretch of beach (along the Río de la Plata) in Montevideo

I just got back to Buenos Aires after a weekend in Uruguay. On Saturday, I arrived in Montevideo at 10:30am and my "host," C (a friend of my SPA107 professor in Princeton), was already waiting for me in the terminal. I spent a day with her during which we blitzed through tourist sites and afterwards took a "tourist bus" (a public bus that passed through many places of interest, accompanied by the dry narration of C). Quickly, I found out that she did not like tourist spots and preferred to take me to various neighborhoods in Montevideo to show me something more unusual. This seemed good to me and in my view was an advantage of having a "local" guide. The next day, I said goodbye to C and went to the Tres Cruces terminal to take a bus to Colonia del Sacramento, where I managed to visit 6 (small) museums in 1.5 hours. There are many more details about my trip but I'm not going to bore you all. Instead, and better, I'll recount some unexpected lessons that I learnt from my trip to Uruguay.

Lesson 0: Chivitos are amazing, but also a heart attack waiting to happen!!! It's also really difficult to fall asleep on a chivito-filled stomach.

1. Is there a complicated relationship between Argentina and Uruguay?

Saturday was the (World Cup) match between Argentina and Iran. C and the owner of the restaurant in which we were in were very happy until Messi scored a goal. When Argentina won, C repeated many times: "I couldn't believe it!" Although she has many Argentine friends and comes to Buenos Aires every week for class, it seems that she doesn't have a positive opinion of Argentina. In addition, she happily showed me a piece of graffiti in which someone wrote "Las Malvinas are of Suárez!" (Cultural context: La Guerra de las Malvinas (or the Falklands War to those of us who grew up in Anglocentric society) is and was a highly traumatic event for Argentina for many reasons that I won't go into here, and there is a lot of pain and bitterness still present in society. So a very common slogan that you see graffiti-ed around in Buenos Aires is "Las Malvinas son de Argentina," which means "Las Malvinas are of Argentina / Las Malvinas belong to Argentina." The Uruguayan version, of course, pokes fun at this slogan by replacing Argentina with our favourite Uruguayan biter.) I don't know if there truly exists a rivalry between the two countries that extends beyond football, but I'm going to ask more people about this.

(Addendum: One of my professors commented on this journal entry saying that the rivalries are mostly minor, but an interesting one is that the Uruguayans insist that Carlos Gardel, one of the key figures in tango history, was born there.)

2. The Buquebus customers love the duty-free shop on board.

It was very impressive that the Buquebus and Seacat ferries (Buquebus is the company operating the ferry I took from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, and Seacat is the ferry company I took from Colonia back to Buenos Aires) had duty free shops on board, but even more impressive was the determination and courage of the customers who queued outside the shop (because it was too small for everyone to enter at the same time). I suppose that the reason for this behavior is the extremely high import taxes in Argentina, and not just an ardent desire for Swiss chocolate or vials of perfume.

Uruguayan countryside on the way to Colonia

Colonia: filled with some colonial ruins, a famous lighthouse, and lots of tourists.

First selfie in South America #epic #pole #lighthouse #notagram

3. It's not fair to say that "Montevideo is the younger sister of Buenos Aires."

Although it's quite natural to make comparisons between the two cities, perhaps it is dangerous to imagine or conceptualize them in terms of the other. Although both have streets with the same names and the architecture seems similar, they are not identical. Someone told me that Montevideo is boring but maybe he/she did not know the city well. How can we do justice to the individual character of cities? I am restricted by the gaze of a tourist, the immaturity of my experiences and the ineffectiveness of my words.

Algunas lecciones de mis aventuras en Uruguay
22 de junio

Acabo de volver a Buenos Aires después de un fin de semana en Uruguay. El sábado, llegué a Montevideo a las 10:30am y mi “anfitriona,” C (la amiga de mi profesora de SPA107 en Princeton), ya estaba esperándome en el terminal. Pasé un día con ella en que corrimos por los sitios turísticos y después tomamos un “bus turístico” (un colectivo que pasó por muchos sitios de interés, acompañada por la narración seca de C). Rápidamente, supe que a ella no le gustaban los sitios turísticos, y prefirió llevarme a varios barrios en Montevideo para mostrarme algo más inusual. Esto me pareció bien, y para mí fue la ventaja de tener una guía “local.” El próximo día, dije adiós a C y fui al terminal de Tres Cruces para tomar un colectivo a Colonia del Sacramento, donde logré visitar 6 museos (pequeños) en 1.5 horas. Hay muchos más detalles sobre mi viaje pero no voy a aburrir Uds. Mejor, voy a recontar algunas lecciones inesperadas que aprendí de mi viaje a Uruguay.

1. ¿Existe una relación complicada entre Argentina y Uruguay?

El sábado fue el partido entre Argentina y Iran. C y la dueña del restaurante en el que estábamos estaban muy alegre hasta que Messi marcó un gol. Cuando Argentina ganó, C repitió muchas veces: “¡No pude creerlo!” Aunque ella tiene muchos amigos argentinos y vuelve a Buenos Aires cada semana para clase, parece que no tiene una opinión positiva sobre Argentina. Además, me mostró alegremente una pieza de grafiti en que alguien escribió “¡Las Malvinas son de Suárez!” No sé si verdaderamente existe una rivalidad entre los dos países que extiende más allá del fútbol, pero voy a preguntar más personas sobre esto.

2. A los clientes de Buquebus les encanta la tienda libre de impuestos.

Fue muy impresionante que los ferrys de Buquebus y Seacat tengan las tiendas libre de impuestos, pero aún más impresionante fue la determinación y valor de los clientes que hicieron cola afuera de la tienda (porque era demasiada pequeña para entrar todos al mismo tiempo). Supongo que la razón por este comportamiento sea los impuestos altísimos en los productos importados en Argentina, y no es simplemente un ardiente deseo para los chocolates suizos o los viales de fragancia.

3. No es justo decir que “Montevideo es la hermana menor de Buenos Aires.”

Aunque es bastante natural hacer comparaciones entre las dos ciudades, quizás sea peligroso imaginarlas o conceptualizarlas en términos de la otra. Aunque ambas tienen calles con los mismos nombres y la arquitectura parece similar, no son idénticos. Alguien me dijo que Montevideo es aburrido pero tal vez no conozca la ciudad. ¿Cómo hacemos justicia a la carácter individual de las ciudades? Estoy restringido por la mirada de un turista, la inmadurez de mi experiencia y la ineficacia de mis palabras.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nightlife // La vida nocturna

As promised, here comes a series of posts that I've picked and translated from some of the journal entries I wrote for my class on Argentine politics and culture earlier this summer while I was studying in Buenos Aires. I've tried to translate in a way that is fair to the striving, yearning girl who was writing the Spanish versions sitting at a desk in a twelfth-floor apartment in Palermo, and so forgive the roughness of my language. The Spanish version, undoubtedly full of errors, sits below the translation in case any of you have the inclination to figure out how much I'm embellishing.

Nightlife
19 June

During my last call to my parents, they reminded me once again that I have to be careful when I walk or return to the house after sunset. Each time I talk to them, they tell me the same thing - that cities are more dangerous at night and that I have to avoid walking too late. But what is considered "late" here? People have dinner at 9pm and go out even later. Eventually I told Mummy and Daddy that sunset is not a good indicator of the hour in which the city mutates from a place that is professional, clean, ordinary, into a world that is dark, risky, full of traps.

In Princeton, I'm used to waking up at 7am and sleeping at midnight (or, if I go to bed later, it's because I'm doing homework), but in the summer I think we all enter an unreal world where we don't have a clear conception of time. The first few days here, I didn't have a phone or a watch, so I floated restlessly in a state of not knowing the time. The local schedule complicated matters even more. On Saturday I went with a few friends to a bar and then to a nightclub - I left my house at 1:30am and returned at 5:30am - and I felt the same head-cloudiness that I feel after a flight of 24 hours from Singapore to Princeton. I remember that I was very lucid, but not sharp, and almost energetic (until my head touched the pillow). My eyes were tired but I was not, my mind was still busy. What was the cause of this feeling, this spirit? Maybe the alcohol, but I had only had half a drink... perhaps the lack of sleep. Perhaps the emotion, the residual nervousness of our adventure in Palermo Soho, the smoke and the vague odor of sweat.

I blame all the aforementioned - and none of them - because I blame the night. Some happens when one is outside the house at five in the morning, when the streets are empty and the air is cold and still. Everything is different at night. For some, the night is a liberator that allows them to explore, to dare, and then to sleep better. Unfortunately, at night it is dangerous to have a vivid imagination like mine. This is what happens for me: I look around in paranoia, walk quickly towards home, suspect all thee people, shadows and dogs that I see on the street, and I rest only when I have kept myself under lock and key in my room. Everything is different at night, the herald of an alternative life, my friend, my enemy.

La vida nocturna
19 de junio

Durante mi última llamada a mis padres, me recordaron otra vez que tenga cuidado cuando camino o vuelvo a casa después de la puesta del sol. Cada vez que hablo con ellos, me dicen la misma cosa – que las ciudades son más peligrosas por la noche y que debo evitar caminar demasiado tarde. Sin embargo, ¿qué se considera “tarde” aquí? La gente cena a las 9 y sale aún más tarde. Eventualmente dije a mamá y papá que la puesta del sol no es una buena indicación de la hora en que la ciudad muta de un lugar profesional, saneado, ordinario a un mundo oscuro, arriesgado, lleno de trampas.

En Princeton, suelo despertarme a las 7 y acostarme a medianoche (o, si me acuesto más tarde, es porque estoy haciendo tarea), pero en el verano creo que entramos en un mundo irreal donde no tenemos una concepción clara del tiempo. Los primeros días aquí, no tenía un teléfono ni un reloj, entonces flotaba inquietamente en un estado de no saber el tiempo. El horario local complicó aún más el asunto. El sábado fui con unos amigos a un bar y después a un boliche—salí de mi casa a la 1:30am y regresé a las 5:30am—y me sentí la misma nubosidad de cabeza que me siento después de mi vuelto de 24 horas de Singapur a Princeton. Recuerdo que estaba muy lúcida, pero no aguda, y casi energética (hasta que mi cabeza tocó la almohada). Mis ojos estaban cansados pero yo no, mi mente estaba ocupada todavía. ¿Qué fue la causa de este sentimiento, este estado de ánimo? Quizás el alcohol, pero sólo había tomado un mitad de un trago… quizás la falta de sueño. Quizás la emoción, el nerviosismo residual de nuestra aventura en Palermo Soho, el humo y el vago olor de sudor.

Yo culpo todas las anteriores—y ninguna—porque culpo la noche. Algo pasa cuando uno está afuera de la casa a las 5 de la mañana, cuando las calles están vacías y el aire está frío y tranquilo. Todo es diferente por la noche. Para algunos, la noche es liberadora que les permite a explorar, atreverse, y después dormir mejor. Desafortunadamente, por la noche es un peligro tener una vívida imaginación como la mía. Esto es lo que pasa para mí: miro alrededor paranoicamente, camino muy rápido hasta la casa, sospecho todas las personas, sombras y perros que veo en la calle, y descanso sólo cuando me he guardado bajo llave en el cuarto. Todo es diferente por la noche, el heraldo de una vida alternativa, mi amiga, mi enemiga.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A very brief history of the so far

Jolted into writing something here by something TS said, haha. Guilty as charged. What has changed since March? So much. Spring semester flew by, it was full of extreme highs and extreme lows. All of my classes I loved and was challenged by in many ways - maybe "love" is too strong a word for COS126, but definitely by the end I really enjoyed GER210 (and was given undeserved grace in that class) and SPA207 and my two amazing history classes. I would say HIS421 was pretty defining - got to go to Athens and Crete on Princeton's tab during spring break, discovered more of an interest in early modern Europe, slogged my butt off writing the longest paper I've ever written (and the one I'm proudest of, probably), attended an amazing conference organized by Prof S (I had the poster on my room wall for ages), got a job working as one of her research assistants, and discovered that maybe, maybe, this path is one I want to venture down upon. I spent a lot of time with R sitting in our corner in Frist laughing and angsting and squealing over cute things (and studying, of course; ostensibly that was why we were there). I continued to struggle with having discipline in prayer, devotions, and approaching life with a worldview that recognizes and is transformed by the gospel. At the end of the semester I worked the 60th Reunion as a site manager which taught me so much about teamwork, managing people and dealing with stress and unexpected situations. That was an overly brief summary that does no justice to the tumultuousness of those few months but, what can I do? Words are brief, the tasks keep coming and things never sound quite the same as they do in my head.

I am now in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I am discovering again how much I love a travel with purpose, with unexpected people and conversations, with time enough to venture forth but also to come back to a warm bed and reflection. I also want to speak - however hesitatingly and brokenly - this beautiful language, and experience more of this world that has been so far from me and yet that I have brushed with the tips of my fingers early on, flipping through the works of Borges, Cortázar, Vargas Llosa and friends (or frenemies). I am also journalling somewhat frequently (I spelled that frecuently and stared at the red squiggly for a while not knowing why - I take that as a positive sign that the phrase con frecuencia is becoming less foreign to me) for my program in Spanish, so perhaps when all this is over I will post some translations here. Needless to say, my thoughts unfold themselves more unelegantly than normal in Spanish, but I try my best.

Read this today: A list of 50 great love poems from 30 different countries and was struck by quite a few. Glad that I can use here the word "globalizing" in a sense that is menos mal than how us hipster pseudo-intelligentsia would use it. I am profoundly aware of the presumption in my self-deprecation, and as a result confusion reigns. But anyway:

Before You Came


Faiz Ahmed Faiz1911 - 1984
Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of sight,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.

Now everything is like my heart,
a color at the edge of blood:
the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,
the gold when we meet, the season ablaze,
the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,
and the black when you cover the earth
with the coal of dead fires.

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
the road a vein about to break,
and the glass of wine a mirror in which
the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

Don’t leave now that you’re here—
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Subliminal

"Indeed, the frontier for the historian operates as what the anthropologist would call a space of liminality."
- Brook Thomas, Turner, Martí, and a Home on the Range

- seeing the intersections of my two favourite disciplines = moment of intellectual beauty (as pretentious as that sounds.) This makes the endless readings and all these late nights of barely-snatched sleep worth it. Perhaps I should really start thinking seriously about this grad school thing.

Things have been tough but, everyday, praying for more trust, more faith, more grace. To rest secure in the knowledge that kneeling in front of the Lord, my cup overflows.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me;
    strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
    open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
    You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
    save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my people;
    in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
    Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
    before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek the Lord will praise him—
    may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

Great sermon about anger and forgiveness today, much more relevant to me than I would have originally thought. Forgiveness is a struggle...

School begins again tomorrow. I pray for God to keep working within me (and to find comfort in the small things) 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Things I've Been Learning

I spent a long time trying to figure this out yesterday:

I was working a brunch shift at the dining hall yesterday and doing my usual job of watching over the fruit counter, cleaning up when brunch ended and then going to help wipe tables and sweep floors. Fruit's not a very fast-moving station especially when brunch is ending, so I'm just there staring into space when one of the professional workers comes and takes a few pieces of honeydew and rockmelon as well as the syrup/juice(?) that collects at the bottom of the fruit trays. I'm kind of intrigued and wondering what he was going to do with it, and so he tells me that he's blending it all into a juice with some vegetables and asks me if I wanted to try some!!! Of course I said yes and later on he gave me this glass of green frothy juice which I tried with excitement. It tasted really good - extremely refreshing + had a hint of cinnamon + according to one of the other professional workers was going to be "cleansing" for me lol. That made me so happy for the rest of the shift, and I didn't even know why!!!

As I think about it more, though, I realize that I felt so happy because it was an act of love/caring/kindness, whatever you want to call it. And I've felt loved by so many people recently, ranging from the dining hall workers to my Manna friends to family back home. It makes me almost ashamed because I know I'm often misanthropic and unloving, yet I receive so much from people that I both know very well and hardly know at all outside of work.

God has been breaking my pride recently, especially this past weekend. I came back from winter break extremely cranky and tired. I was (and am) dealing with a number of things including:
- a very painful breakup (he is amazing and we are still great friends but a breakup is a breakup, it is a kind of death)
- the sudden passing of my uncle at a relatively young age (he is only in his 50s and was a healthy man - his family used to host us when we went back to Malaysia for Chinese New Year and I just feel awful that I hadn't seen him for more than a year and now I can't anymore)
- papers to write, finals to study for
- general homesickness and missing my family, especially knowing that my brother is going into the army soon and I won't be there to see him off or give him advice about uni applications - I've felt like a very absent sister since coming to college
- incredible jetlag that didn't go away for 1.5 weeks and had me waking up at 3am every morning
- a renewed sense of how expensive my education here is, and how I might be able to play my part by not spending on unnecessary things
- anxiety about my major and future.
So I've not been the nicest person around on campus, and I'm still self-pitying, self-indulgent and self-centered... but I've been receiving so much love that I can't even fathom. And I was blessed by the two OSGs that happened this week and last week - after both, I felt God subtly showing me that I'm complaining so much and I think I know myself and my limits but actually He knows me so much better, He knows what is good for me. Then today's message in church was about envy and contentment, and I realize how much I do envy other people their money and grades and appearances, but more importantly I realize how uncontent I am and how perfectly content I should be.

During Children's Time, Zhihui, our seminary intern who's on exchange from seminary in Singapore, asked the children how they would feel if their teacher gave a toy to their friends but not to them. "Sad," came the chorus, and this is exactly what's been happening to me - and yet as Zhihui reminded the children, God has given us the most important gift that we could ever need and so we should celebrate with our friends instead of envying their seeming lack of suffering. Then we heard the parable of the vinyard owner and his workers (Matthew 20:1-16) and it really all fell into place for me - my pride in thinking that I deserve to have a perfect relationship, a perfect school life and a perfect future, my secret envy of those who seemed to have those things or even just one of those things, and yet the incredible grace I've received that surpasses all these earthly things. Finals time is a time where we compete without knowing it, and it's hard to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

But I know I am not doing this alone. God is with me, in me. He didn't give me a giant breakdown or sudden epiphany or intense emotional experience. But all the same he calls to me through people and little things, and I feel that he's slowly easing me into this new self, this new Kar Min, who is more and more aware of His presence and His goodness. And now I know, in my head, and slowly slowly in my heart, that I am comforted - not because God is going to fix my broken relationship or make me super rich or give me fame and success (though he may or may not do those things), but because He has already given me all I need, the perfect gift, the most important victory of all. 

Let me keep learning.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me."
- Psalm 51:10