Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Memories (2)

Lately, I've displayed a particular tenacity towards dealing with some things that have really troubled my mind..the kind of all-out tenaciousness that just makes you drop everything and commit to the fact that either you or the offending matter will be put to rest once and for all.

Recently, a friend asked me what drives me, especially when I show passion for a task that in all likelihood is thankless and something most people are already ambivalent about. Truth be told, I didn't have a smart answer...no answer at all for that matter; but the thing about people is that they are a sum total of their reactions to all their experiences in life (past & present).

That brings me to the core of the story, this gem from times past. Recently, I recalled my first trip to Messiah College. The journey was a whole bunch of firsts for me: first time leaving home, being on my own, leaving the country, getting to the States, seeing a 5 pm sunset on arriving at Chicago O'hare etc. I was totally out of my element. I don't know about you, but when I get to a new place, I am totally hopeless; a fish-out-of-water. 

At the end of all that, finally made it to Harrisburg Airport. Unless things have changed lately, Harrisburg Airport must still be really small; that only served to accentuate the fact that outside lay a complex world that I definitely wasn't equipped to handle. At that moment, I noticed from a side glance that two people who were looking at me. I had been in correspondence with the school so I was hoping they kept their promise to meet me at the airport. Sure enough, Irwin and Elaine were there for me. (They must have been told to look out for the "most-lost" looking individual)...they came looking for a "Robert" though, but I won't hold that against them :-)

And that was my first experience with Messiah College (stateside), and words can't capture what it meant to me. Now, some of my friends might say that since I went to a private college it was the kind of mommy-coddling they had to do because their fees are higher than public universities. But I'd argue that there's only so much that money can buy you.

As I write this out, I'm reminded of someone else who reached out to me in a big way: Stephanie Phillips. While I was back home making the transition to get to Messiah, she answered all my emails and gave me a heads up on what to expect. (...that first email I sent her would be fun to look at now, in retrospect; I was so scared when I wrote it). And she even showed me the ropes when I got to Messiah and was a great friend of mine, a fellow member of ISA/MK. Pity I haven't gotten to talk to her since she graduated.

Putting all these tangents together, they are some of the reasons why I get passionate about some things. A lot of people made great impressions on my life, but sadly I never got the chance to pay them back; I'm speaking of course of a "token" payback, because you never really can pay someone back for an act of kindness. However, you can "pay things forward'...if anything, at least in a manner that a predecessor already showed you, and as time goes by, you can learn more ways to show off the kindness in your heart, birthed from a Benevelonce above.

My sister told me recently,
all these material things you accumulate can be taken away from you at any moment. But the way you make someone feel, what you do for them in their time of need, no one will ever be able to take that from you
So I guess I'll keep her words in mind when I'm being passionate about doing what I do.

Thank God for a little pure passion, no matter how it's inspired within us.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mark Schultz - Closer to You

From time to time, I love to just peruse the internet looking for the sentiments other people express concerning a song that I like. I haven't been able to find much in the way of comments relating to Mark Schultz's "Closer to you" from his Stories and Songs  CD. One other track in particular stood out from this album: "He will carry me"; it was used to accompany an especially well-performed ballet at Acclamation 2004/5 (Messiah College), and thus I was introduced to the work of Mark Schultz; coincidentally, my full introduction occurred when my elder brother played me the track when I was back home in Kenya.

Anyway, only this year did I fully listen to his whole CD; "He Will Carry Me" still carries the same poignant message that made it appeal to so many people, but practically tucked away at the end of the CD is the song "Closer to you". I remember someone describing it as someone recommitting their life to God, but at its core this song is the tale of someone who's transitioning to Eternity, and a most elegant portrayal of it in fact.

At the outset, we can tell that the person is in the firm grip of infirmity, and that their spirit is weary; NOT the kind of weariness that gives rise to hopelessness and desperation, but the kind that reminds us of the short-lived mist that every precious human lifetime really is; drawing us closer to the Ultimate Source of our strength and hope.
Closer to me, I'm tired and I'm weak.
And every breath within me is longing just to be
Closer to you, so I face the road ahead
'Cause I know there's no comparing
To what's waiting at the end.
So let the rain start falling where it will, and I will run through this valley, just to climb to that hill, and if they ask why I'm smiling, after all I've been through...it's 'cause I'm just a day closer to you
An adept storyteller, Mr. Schultz uses the third line in his chorus - which is the only varying element in each chorus - to shift us steadily through time, and through the deterioration of the person's life (smiling though weary - acceptance, dancing in the thick of things - ultimate trust, singing through to the end - embracing eternity)
Closer to me, I hear you whisper on the wind
You say although my life is fading, a new one will begin
Closer to you, and I know I'm not alone
'Cause I can hear you in the distance, saying you are nearly home
So let the rain start falling where it will, and I will run through this valley, just to climb to that hill, and if they ask why I'm dancing, though my days may be few...it's 'cause I'm just a day closer to you

No doubt most of us have lived this song with one of our loved ones, and the last verse is a testament to this. Even in the face of our weakness and limitation, we reach out to each other, affirming the reason for the hope that we have; and this act of mercy is never wasted.
Closer to me, you're in the laughter and the tears
Of the ones I leave behind me, who have prayed me through the years
Closer to you, and I know it won't be long
Till you're running down the path way, to come take me in your arms
So let the rain start falling where it will, and I will run through this valley, just to climb to that hill, and if they ask why I'm singing, though my life's almost through...it's 'cause I'm just a day closer to you , I'm just a day closer, 
I'm just a day closer to you
I lived out this whole experience with my Father, and I don't quite remember at which point it happened, but he found a deep semblance of peace, and that peace prevailed till the end. So for me, personally, this song is a celebration of my Father, the beautiful life he lived, and his strong finish despite all the things life may bring.

I'm reminded of something I read once regarding human weakness. It goes thus
Pain is a gift. Humanity without pain, would know neither fear nor pity. Without fear, there could be no humility, and every man would be a monster. The recognition of pain and fear in others gives rise in us to pity, and in our pity is our humanity, our redemption. (Dean Koontz, VELOCITY)
Thank you Mr. Schultz for celebrating the weakness which no person can run from, and in turn celebrating that which makes us most brave and brings about our redemption, reminding us to look to someone Greater for our hope and sustenance.

To God be the Glory.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Well, after an unusually tedious round of exams, it's time to say hello to the long summer holiday. Coming from me this time around, "holiday" is a somewhat paradoxical term because I intend to do anything but rest.

This semester, more than other, taught me that perhaps I've become too polarized in my approach to life. Putting all my eggs in one basket, hoping that mere attention to study would make things better. What I'm finding is that everyone needs to inject their "eccentricities" into the work that they do....y'know, "being the best you that you can be", even in a field that might not precisely call for those idiosyncrasies (medicine anyone).

I'm finding that my love for plants, my new-found respect for web design (and Search Engine Optimization, SEO) and video-editing are really not polar opposites to me reading at all. It's just hard to do most of these things when you have to devote your time to studies. So for me, this holiday finds me doing probably more work than I was expected to over the semester.

I can honestly say that opportunities that didn't exist a while back have suddenly opened up for me; and seeds that were sown more than 2 years ago now find a friendly environment and I can explore those ideas more fully. And the company of like-minded individuals full of initiative and humble at heart - who've inspired me throughout my time here - will certainly make the process much easier.

So in the course of traveling, working and just generally socializing, this is bound to be one fascinating summer. I'll keep you posted on how things go.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Well, here we go again. Another Christian (maybe well-meaning and of sound mind) has gone and declared the "end of the world" and gotten the world all riled up; not to be outdone once the prophecy failed to occur, he's gone and post-dated the 'event' to October, citing the initial date as one of spiritual judgment (bloggers claim that he forgot to "carry the one" and messed up his arithmetic).

It's the type of thing that gives Christians a beating in all spheres of life. Mind you, I'm not one who expects Christianity to conform to the ways of this world; let's face it, Christians are called to believe some things that aren't exactly easy to prove (though, to be fair, the empirical standard demanded of Christianity is a tad much higher than some of the "accepted" scientific explanations we have out there; for example - HIV arose from the crossing over of an animal virus due to humans - ahem, Africans - having sex with chimpanzees)

But I digress, some of this belief stems from what happens when an infinite unfathomable being makes contact with a finite fallible creature. They are unexplainable. But I once heard a phrase that I believe summarizes our notion of God in relation to nature:
God is not unrealistic; He is beyond Reality
This is a grounding perspective, for though the Christian is called upon to be a 'peculiar creature' in this world, this peculiarity is never meant to approach the degree of making him unrealistic and irrelevant to this world. This world cries out for intelligence, especially from the Christian; service to the Creator does not shield us from learning and appreciating the vast knowledge and delicate handiwork that went into making and sustaining this world.

I make this emphasis on Reality, because it appears a large amount of Christian teaching/evangelism is devolving into either the Fire and Brimstone or Prosperity Gospel avenues. It takes the minimal amount of brain power to teach these two. Judgment theology has been around for a very long long time; it accentuates the view of God as a Mighty and frighteningly Just Judge - squaring each and every account. Of course, Jesus came to show us that God was something else above all these things: MERCIFUL.

I'm tired of all apocalyptic literature being tied to excesses of weather (floods and drought), natural disasters (Ring of Fire, anyone), Wars, shifting world powers (China), etc. If anyone knows world history, the would know that these are pretty common occurrences. Truth be told, I believe all these things are actually bad for disbelief, because nothing drives a human faster into the embrace of Faith than when they finally realize how feeble they are in this world; that there is something much bigger than all that we see.

I'm personally more prone towards thinking of Jesus coming in the "thief-in-the-night" fashion. As a race, we still haven't risen above most of our prejudices, despite technological advances. There will be no $8 million billboard campaign when He comes through. We will be doing just what it is that we've always been doing - living our lives. He will come to find the habits that we've fostered in our own lives. - loving/stealing/forgiving/exploiting/caring/abandoning/edifying/bullying..... He's not coming for the one-off chance that we'll be doing the right thing at that moment in time [we can only be so lucky]

[aside: a friend of mine showed me a clip on apocalyptic prophecy where some consummate professional was being interviewed about the "signs of the times". The interviewer kept shifting things towards the role the USA was supposed to play as a good guy, and the oil reserves of non-Christian nations].  

Jesus had it right in Matthew 6 - we shouldn't worry. Chasing after these worldly things only makes us out to be the same as everyone else (...despite any pastor's remixed phrase of "Divine chasing"). Be right with God, and help those who need help. The widows, the orphans, the alienated, the disenfranchised... Let Jesus come and find you trying to finish this "unfinishable task", and He will embrace you as the loving faithful child that you are.

God Bless

Monday, May 16, 2011

Messiah College's Community Covenant

Lately, the spotlight has been on Messiah's community covenant as a result of an openly gay student's decision to leave the school stemming from incidences of harassment. For a while there, it was the first Google news entry concerning Messiah College (though to be fair, Messiah does have it's share of weird stories from time to time), but I only got to know about this because there's an actual petition going out asking Messiah to strike the "homosexual" clause from its community covenant.

We've come far as a society, and we've learned to tolerate and embrace a lot, 'cause as the human race we just have a suicidal tendency to seek out the smallest things that can divide us. In all this time, I believe that we've learned that we can get along with people, without necessarily agreeing with them or supporting them.

I empathize with the student who had to face that kind of discrimination. No one deserves to have death threats or any unbecoming behavior strewn their way - whether it be from peers or even teachers. What I do take issue with is this disordered desire for people to erase one injustice using another. A school is more than just the bricks and mortar that are used to put its buildings together; it is mainly the community and the tenets that bind that community that are the true heart and soul of the school.

Messiah is by its own admission a Christian school, and it's tried to base its principles on that (whether they succeed or fail is another matter altogether...but then again Christ never expected us to be perfect, but rather to work out our faith with a view towards being Ipse Christe - same as Christ.)

One friend of mine wrote that we Christians fail when we tolerate a porn-addicted pastor, but scoff away at people from the LBGT community. This reminds me of a friend from High School who once talked with me at length about the story of Jesus and the Adultress. My friend's take home message from the whole thing was that we are not supposed to judge people no matter what they do, and we should just 'live and let be'.
But there is an addition to that whole lesson: Jesus didn't condemn that woman, but He certainly didn't commend/condone what she was doing either. He extended mercy out to her, but He also enlightened her... He didn't set the bar lower so that the hooligans wouldn't have an excuse to execute the poor woman!!!

Seeing as the Community Covenant is in-line with Christian teaching, there is no need to change it. What does need to change is the hooligans who choose to take out their wrath on people they view as different. The school Provost admitted that the school does not screen students to find out whether they are homosexual or not. I'm guessing the school doesn't screen for hooligans, bigots, smokers, drunkards, philanderers, sluggard or a host of behaviors spanning the gamut of human failings either - that would be a logistical nightmare.

But they do have principles by which to proscribe this behavior, and hopefully remain relevant as Christians in a world where people are either deserting their Christianity or resorting to some trends that bear only a superficial resemblance to Christianity.
Apart from the whole discriminatory incidents, was the gay student really expecting a traditional Christian school to support him in his openly-gay demeanor? (Messiah is not Episcopalian, last time I checked).

This reminds me of a quote from that oft-misunderstood social commentary - the Boondocks:

"Not every [black person] that gets arrested is Nelson Mandela"
And so too with this case, the "LGBT query" is not the last unanswered wrong that humanity has not righted. We are called upon to be tolerant, but we don't have to condone. And I certainly would never condone this being used as an excuse to change a Community Covenant that is not the source of the problem. People will always find reasons to hate, but our moral compass always needs to hold true.

God Bless.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Toughest place to be a ...


I just finished watching the BBC show "Toughest place to be a ...", which, I guess was done as a special feature - only 3 episodes were made. The basic premise consists of taking a bunch of consummate professionals from the UK (bus driver, paramedic, midwife), and giving them an analogous work experience in a different part of the world, obviously minus a lot of amenities that they've grown accustomed to. (watch for the culture shock)

I believe the characters were well chosen because they espouse a certain humility and good work ethic (the BBC could very easily have ruined this experience by courting from among the roster of characters that plague various reality TV shows), and this brings out the humanity in all the situations that they go through - both humorous and heartbreaking.

It's very easy for a program like this to be misunderstood, because despite the real human dilemmas it tries to highlight, there's a chance that it could merely become a shock-fest of things from third world poverty. It reminds me of an experience during chapel-time at Messiah College. This student got up on stage to talk about his time spent doing mission work at the Kibera Slums in Kenya. He then proceeded to get emotional on stage and obviously alienate a whole contingent of international students who were in attendance that morning. I have nothing against the guy personally, this just requires a short accompanying factoid

  • Despite hosting a large number of people, the residence of former President Moi at Kabernet Gardens sits a few kilometers from Kibera
  • The student spent his entire summer break - 2 or so months - in the slum  
I actually know about Kibera, and I wouldn't be happy spending more time than I had to around there...and I'm not even talking about the slum portion of it. Everybody has that kind of part around where they live or at least somewhere in their country - it's what we like to call "The wrong side of the tracks". And c'mon, even if you see the worst-of-the-worst, it needs to be balanced with a view of what else exists out there, at least even at the middle class level, and maybe even get a taste of the opulent. You've got the massive Nairobi National Park close by (maybe just a few hundred yards away if you're in the right part of the slum!)....but I digress.

I'm not trying to defend my country blindly here, 'cause true to the matter, we have one heck of a record-breaking slum. But getting the full picture helps people understand that the disparity is sometimes based on policies that need to be changed. Josh West (the bus driver) highlighted this perfectly when he got to see the village area that his host Rogelio hailed from. The coastal town was truly beautiful and an obvious step up from the squalor that he faced in the city, but the search for employment drove him to the city.
This is a lesson that perhaps we shouldn't just concentrate on turning our cities into 'havens" of employment to the detriment of the countryside, but concentrate on investing in those same fringe areas, and at the same time decongesting the cities and returning them to a semblance of health.

Again, I thank BBC for a job well done. Rather than putting people on the offensive, it reminds us of things that sometimes we overlook, or never thought about. To cherish those gifts that we have, some of which we've worked for, and others which our parents toiled for. And I believe all those involved were affected positively.
There are no real happy endings here because a lot of the poverty that was seen is institutionalized, and needs the concerted effort of decent politicians working with the people to get things changed. But the friendships made and the shared experience are a step in the right direction. I hope that this is the kind of change I'll be able to bring when it's called upon on my part.

May God be with us all.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Someone once asked me what it was that I wanted to do with my life over the course of a semester. Basically, if I could use my life to do one thing, what would it be?

My answer to that was that above all things, I wanted to give people "Hope". It's just one of those things that gives life its spice. Nothing diminishes the human spirit more than despair, nothing weakens us more than hopes being crushed.

There is no substitute for hope. I've seen people try to plug the deficit with money, with their unbridled passions, or perhaps revert to an impervious form of cynicism. All of these attempts will at best render someone 'functional' in this cruel world, but they never quite live that life that the Lord aimed for us to have (I come that you might have life, and have it in abundance - John 10:10)

I've heard people say that life is short, but you never really get time to think about it while you're going through the motions. But if you live through life without any hope, every day lived is an eternity; your passions which are meant to make you so wholly attuned and at peace with this world will only make things worse. Devoid of a driving force, pleasure fades from things once enjoyable, and I think numbness would probably be a more pleasant respite [than living with the memory of what it once felt like to be 'normal'].

Back to that matter at hand - preserving/restoring/renewing another person's hope. Hope is a tricky thing to start with. I'd err on the side of caution and try to preserve it simply because there is no exact remedy for bringing it back. In this world "when it rains, it pours"; a tender crushed heart is just primed for another speedy beating.
Another reason I advocate preservation is because it's something that's relatively easy to do. Acknowledgment of another's presence, a kind word of encouragement, bearing another's burden, a loving smile, showing patience and letting a slight against you slide, forgiving the unforgivable, being there to listen...

Humans have progressed a lot in these past centuries, but in spite of that progress we might still overlook the very basic potent power inherent in every human being, the mystery that we've been so well put-together since the beginning; so well put-together, in fact, that we're supposed to heal this world and those around us if they need it. And of course, it's the small details about our interactions that count the most.

I realize my penchant for going on tangents, but allow this one: my mind gravitates towards one lyric in love songs I always heard growing up - "I'd swim the seven seas for you" [pretty dated, I know].
Pretty bold statement for a man to make, but I always wondered whether that same man would be prepared to put up with his lady's insecurities, annoying habits and other idiosyncrasies...or even take her shoe-shopping?
And the same thing applies to life: it's not about giving up the "now" for the 'promise of the infinite', but rather living a full expression of the "now" in preparation for the infinite.

So if hope be that potion that assures you abundant life, guarantee that it steadily increases within your life. And by all means, SHARE IT!

God Bless

Thursday, February 24, 2011


My mind is currently on a long hiatus - prefers the comfort of spacing out to waxing philosophical and stuff. Must be the effect of a dreary winter and a fickle spring. Can't wait till Autumn finally comes thru' later this year (...that's when I shine).

Anyhow, lately my mind just gravitates towards an early memory from my first year at Messiah College, which just happened to be my first brush with a REAL winter. My two future roommates (and best friends) Collins and Luke took me to the Lottie (School Cafeteria) for a spot of breakfast, and they especially made sure I took a load of sausages;

You shoulda seen the glee on their faces when I bit into those things. I'm not knocking American culture or cuisine, but those sausages were nasty (strange considering how their other delightful meats turned me into the Carnivore that I am nowadays). And those two practical jokers got to pull a fast one on me - priceless.

Dunno why the memory came at me so strong recently. Maybe 'cause of Deja vu with Chinese sausages (香肠 which translates to "Flavoured Intestine"...and boy do they taste like it!!!!), or maybe it's cause Collins has a date with destiny (impending wedding)...or might be that it's been 5 years since I've seen a lot of the friends that I had in College.
Whatever the case may be, I'm thankful to God for all the experiences, and like a friend of mine (Janice) reminded me I gotta stay in touch with my people.

So, in this the year of the Rabbit 2011, while of sound judgment and reasonably better financial status than other years, expect to hear and see more from me, my dear friends.

God Bless

And God speed with the wedding plans Collins