The Authenticity Face-Off: Jennifer Lawrence or Anne Hathaway?

•March 12, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Have we over-rated, over-valued and in the process, over-simplified authenticity?

Authenticity. This word has become a beloved buzzword in both celebrity culture and Christian conversation: authentic life, authentic relationships, authentic community, authentic worship. We root for those we deem “authentic” and deride those who seem fake, polished, artificial, perfect, professional…

Is this the way it’s supposed to be?

This question came to mind as I read an article in Christianity Today (here). Just compare the two Hollywood darlings at the moment. On the one hand, Jennifer Lawrence is viewed as silly, relaxed, clumsy. She trips on the way to the podium and then talks about fast food on the red carpet. On the other hand, Anne Hathaway comes off as rehearsed, planned, calculated. Her responses don’t seem real or authentic. We are annoyed that Anne Hathaway didn’t trip on the way up the stage as her dreams “came true.” And we are disturbed that she even had the temerity to actually practice her Oscar acceptance speech (gasp!)

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We love Jennifer Lawrence because she points out her own imperfections. Anne Hathaway annoys because she keeps them private. Yet both women deserved our unreserved congratulations. And neither should be tasked with making us feel better about our reality by giving us something “real” to compare ourselves to. This is because none of us is perfect, and that’s because of our sin and nothing else; in comparison to God and no one else. We shouldn’t need a starlet to fall down the stairs to make us feel better about our ‘real’ selves, to remind us that she is fallen (literally and theologically), and that we are both so very far from our perfect God.

Yes, no one is perfect. But it isn’t for me to point out their imperfections. Or feel better about myself by assuming that others’ public personas are too polished. Or require others to share some flaws before I give my stamp of approval (“good job for being authentic!”) or friendship (“if you don’t tell me your deepest darkest secrets, you are not being real to me and therefore we can’t be friends”)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that we all hide our weaknesses and ditch authenticity. I believe that authenticity is important for real Christian growth and community. Yet, it can, like other things, become a badge that we wear on our sleeves to show how spiritual or real we are. And ff we are not careful, we may end up desiring a particular kind of authenticity that can, ironically, turn out to be fake and rehearsed too.

The Story of Blondin the Tightrope Walker

•March 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Faith isn’t faith until it is acted upon!

The Hound of Heaven

•March 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
 
          I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
  Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
        Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside).
But, if one little casement parted wide,
  The gust of His approach would clash it to.
  Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
  And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
  Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars;
        Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;
  With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
        From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
  I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
  Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
  Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
      But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
    The long savannahs of the blue;
        Or whether, Thunder-driven,
    They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
  Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
      Still with unhurrying chase,
      And unperturbèd pace,
    Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
      Came on the following Feet,
      And a Voice above their beat—
    ‘Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.’
 
I sought no more that after which I strayed
  In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
  Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
  With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
‘Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me’ (said I) ‘your delicate fellowship;
  Let me greet you lip to lip,
  Let me twine with you caresses,
    Wantoning
  With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
    Banqueting
  With her in her wind-walled palace,
  Underneath her azured daïs,
  Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
    From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.’
    So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
  I knew all the swift importings
  On the wilful face of skies;
  I knew how the clouds arise
  Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
    All that’s born or dies
  Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
  With them joyed and was bereaven.
  I was heavy with the even,
  When she lit her glimmering tapers
  Round the day’s dead sanctities.
  I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
  Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
    I laid my own to beat,
    And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
  These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
  Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
  The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
    My thirsting mouth.
    Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
    With unperturbèd pace,
  Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
    And past those noisèd Feet
    A voice comes yet more fleet—
  ‘Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me!’

Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
    And smitten me to my knee;
  I am defenceless utterly.
  I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
  I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
  Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
  Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
  Ah! must—
  Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
  From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
  Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again.
  But not ere him who summoneth
  I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
  Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
  Be dunged with rotten death?
 
      Now of that long pursuit
    Comes on at hand the bruit;
  That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
    ‘And is thy earth so marred,
    Shattered in shard on shard?
  Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
  Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught’ (He said),
‘And human love needs human meriting:
  How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
  Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
  Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
  Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
  All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
  Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
  Halts by me that footfall:
  Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
  ‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
  I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

– Francis Thompson (1909)

How much does a heart weigh?

•March 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

How much does a heart weigh?

That question was on my mind as I drove home from a church group sharing session on Saturday night where the discussion topic fell on our hearts. We spoke of how the Lord always sees our hearts, while we often look at the outside (1 Samuel 16:7). And the ‘outside’ does not just refer to physical appearances, but also what we perceive as strengths, capabilities, competencies, talents. “Ah, that’s a leader-type” or “Well, I wouldn’t choose him to do this task if I were you”, we say. But who is to say who is usable in God’s economy? And we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that God chooses the weak and the foolish to shame the strong and the wise. Remember that Jacob was a liar; Rahab was a prostitute; Elijah was suicidal; Timothy was too young…and Lazarus was dead! But God used them all for His purposes.

As I was driving, my thoughts also drifted to how the ancient Egyptians had this belief that a person’s heart would be weighed on a scale at the time of his death as a means of determining whether or not one is fit to enter the Egyptian equivalent of heaven.

Weighing the Heart

In Exodus, we frequently read of how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh would remain stubborn and refuse to let the people of Israel go. Much ink and sweat have been expended on this issue but one interpretation I find interesting is by Douglas Stuart who compares this ancient Egyptian concept of weighing one’s heart to what God did to Pharaoh. God did not override Pharaoh’s free will by hardening Pharaoh’s heart against his will, but instead this was a imagery that God used which would be easily understood by the ancient Egyptians at the time.

“It’s crucial to remember that in the eyes of the Egyptians, Pharaoh was essentially god. He was a pure person with divine credentials. So not only was he perceived as sovereign, but also essentially sinless. Therefore, the idea that God could harden his heart or that Pharaoh could harden his own heart flies in the face of Egyptian theology. It overtly implies that Pharaoh is neither sovereign nor sinless: only the God of the Hebrews is. As Douglas Stuart says, “Each time Yahweh is described as hardening Pharaoh’s heart, the alert reader is reminded that Yahweh had, as it were, weighed Pharaoh and found him wanting.”

O Lord, help me to see events as You see; to see people as You see; and to see the heart as You see. And may my heart not be found wanting when You weigh it.

The ‘I Will’ God

•March 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

In an earlier post (here), I penned some of my thoughts on the ‘I AM’ God.  And during last Sunday’s sermon, I realized that while His eternal existence and ontology is captured in these two words,  another facet of God’s character is encapsulated in another two words, and these words are: “I will”.

Where did I see this? In Exodus 5, after Moses confronted Pharaoh for the first time. Armed with confidence of God’s promise to deliver the Israelites and emboldened by God’s power as seen in the miracles that God had performed, Moses entered Pharoah’s court and asked for Pharoah to let God’s people go. Yet, not only did Pharaoh deny Moses’ request, Pharaoh responded by imposing even harsher labour on the Israelites. Rebuffed by Pharoah and scolded by the Israelites, a dejected and confused Moses turned to God asking these words:

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (Exodus 5:22)

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Now, we must recall that Moses took up the job of delivering the Israelites only very reluctantly. At the burning bush, standing in front of the Most High God, Moses tried his best to wiggle his way out of the immense task that God has entrusted to him . It was only after God met and answered each and every one of his excuses that Moses agreed to go to Pharaoh.

And then Pharoah said no.

But the story is not over yet! In response to Moses’ questioning, God said these wonderful words:

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 6: 6-8)

Thus, while Moses said ‘I can’t’, and while Pharaoh said ‘I won’t’, God said ‘I will’.

Our God is a covenant-keeping God and ‘I will’ tell me that whatsoever He promised in the past, whatsoever He promises today, He will see it to pass in the future!

#501

•March 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Wow, after posting the last post, I was informed by WordPress that I’ve posted 500 posts thus far! So this current post (#501) is to celebrate the fact – a fact that I didn’t even realize! =D And also to remind myself…

 “Why do we write?
To make suffering endurable
To make evil intelligible
To make justice desirable
and . . . to make love possible.”

― Roger Rosenblatt, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

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The World is Not Ours to Save?

•March 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Just read a book review of this interestingly-titled Christian book called ‘The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good’ by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. In it, he writes of how our well-intentioned impulses to do good can actually lead to us modeling ourselves after the wrong Christ. Oftentimes, our problem is not that we lack concern for Jesus and God’s work because His heart and compassion often drives our responses and actions. Yet in taking the world’s burdens onto our backs, we may run the risk of trying to grow in the image of Christ that we see in Colossians: the cosmic Jesus in whom “all things hold together” and through whose blood God chose to “reconcile to himself all things” (1:17, 20). Horrified and saddened by the sin and pain we see and experience in this world, we then try to stretch wide enough and sacrifice hard enough to fix it.

But our shoulders are not big enough for that task. In this wonderfully-written book review, the reviewer reminds us that the miracle of the incarnation means that Jesus the man is also the Son of God, and so his sacrifice is sufficient for all of us. As disciples, we are called to conformity with His image, but not to His divinity (see Romans 8:29; Luke 6:40). In a student ministers’ discussion, Greg Carmer, the Dean of Chapel at Gordon College, put it well: a mature understanding of the unity of the body of Christ allows us to care about everything Christ cares about, but to carry only what he has given us to bear. Therefore, Ephesians 4:16 which tells us that “from Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” is important because we need to always bear in mind the diversity of gifts that Christ has given to His body.

For me, this comes at an exciting time because I’ve been recently mulling and praying over where and what God is calling and leading me to use my gifts. And in this journey that He is walking with me, I hope I learn to lean on Him and His strength and that I do not overstretch and burn out in my passion and activism zeal.

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