“For my friend said that he opened his intellect as the sun opens the fans of a palm tree, opening for opening’s sake, opening infinitely for ever. But I said that I opened my intellect as I opened my mouth, in order to shut it again on something solid. I was doing it at the moment. And as I truly pointed out, it would look uncommonly silly if I went on opening my mouth infinitely, for ever and ever.” G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles.
Possibly the most pathetic of all the delusions of the modern students of primitive belief is the notion they have about the thing they call anthropomorphism. They believe that primitive men attributed phenomena to a god in human form in order to explain them, because his mind in its sullen limitation could not reach any further than his own clownish existence. The thunder was called the voice of a man, the lightning the eyes of a man, because by this explanation they were made more reasonable and comfortable. The final cure for all this kind of philosophy is to walk down a lane at night. Any one who does so will discover very quickly that men pictured something semi-human at the back of all things, not because such a thought was natural, but because it was supernatural; not because it made things more comprehensible, but because it made them a hundred times more incomprehensible and mysterious. For a man walking down a lane at night can see the conspicuous fact that as long as nature keeps to her own course, she has no power with us at all. As long as a tree is a tree, it is a top-heavy monster with a hundred arms, a thousand tongues, and only one leg. But so long as a tree is a tree, it does not frighten us at all. It begins to be something alien, to be something strange, only when it looks like ourselves. When a tree really looks like a man our knees knock under us. And when the whole universe looks like a man we fall on our faces.
Heretics, G. K. Chesterton
Each thing was made for Him.. He is the centre. Because we are with Him, each of us is at the centre. It is not as in a city of the Darkened World where they say that each must live for all. In His city all things are made for each. When He died in the Wounded World He died not for me, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, he would have done no less. Each thing, from the single grain of Dust to the strongest eldil, is the end and the final cause of all creation and the mirror in which the beam of His brightness comes to rest and so returns to Him. Blessed be He!
Perelandra, C. S. Lewis
Whatsoever is unworthy of God, is of gain to me. I am safe, if I am not ashamed of my Lord. Whosoever, says He, shall be ashamed of me, of him will I also be ashamed. Other matters for shame find I none which can prove me to be shameless in a good sense, and foolish in a happy one, by my own contempt of shame. The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible.
Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ
The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity - and that so irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. We have already affirmed how impossible it were for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one. Nothing can exceed the magnitude of the required change in a man’s character - when bidden as he is in the New Testament, to love not the world; no, nor any of the things that are in the world for this so comprehends all that is dear to him in existence, as to be equivalent to a command of self-annihilation.
Thomas Chalmers,The Expulsive Power of New Affection
His cross intended for great loss,
Became the picture of hope for the world.
His crown, intended to mock Him,
Irony withheld. They didn’t know.
They didn’t know.
“I have my doubts about all this real value in mountaineering, in getting to the top of everything and overlooking everything. Satan was the most celebrated of Alpine guides, when he took Jesus to the top of an exceeding high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth. But the joy of Satan in standing on a peak is not a joy in largeness, but a joy in beholding smallness, in the fact that all men look like insects at his feet. It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level and have no need of that celebrated Alpine guide. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help; but I will not lift up my carcass to the hills, unless it is absolutely necessary. Everything is in an attitude of mind; and at this moment I am in a comfortable attitude. I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.“ - G. K. Chesterton
Visit to the Sulha Peace Project Tribal Fire
As soon as I heard about it, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the Sulha Peace Project “tribal fire” at the Pluralistic Spiritual Center in Neve Shalom, 30 kilometers at the outskirts of Jerusalem. It came at a time when the Muslims are in their final days of preparation for the upcoming Ramadan and for the Jews the mourning of the destruction of the Jerusalem community as well as the Second Temple. The air was ripe with souls wanting to unite in their commonality as human beings. Loving and sharing were the verbs of the evening. It was indeed refreshing to see a grassroots initiative out of all the political, religious and governmental organizations.
The event saw the participation of Israeli Jews, Arab (both Israeli and Palestinian) Muslims and Christians, along with many curious visitors from around the world. Like me, it was Mohammed Deek’s first visit to the Tribal Fire. For him, crossing the separation barrier dividing Israeli and Palestinian territories was also another first. As we talked and exchanged contacts, he eagerly showed me the entry permit he obtained for coming to this event, a rarity among Palestinians. Many of them faced hindrances from the uncooperative Israeli military who guard the checkpoints.
(Left: Mohammed, Right: His cousin Khaled who works for the court in Ramallah)
Mohammed is a final year Mechanical Engineering student in Ramallah. He showed me a photo of his young brother who is only seven years old. As with many Arab families, he is but one of seven children. He was really eager to make new friends, especially learning that I’m from Singapore, probably the first of such friend and the only one for a long time to come. As we talked, I couldn’t help picturing the situation of the Palestinian economy (the Palestinian Authority is millions of dollars in debt and ballooning) and putting myself in his shoes. He seemed rather positive about the future, but I kept my doubts, not until matters of the conflict have improved and life returns to normalcy.
At one point we split into different workshops. I attended one which covered the topic of fasting from the perspective of the three Abrahamic religions. Probably the most amusing part of the evening, the Jews and Arabs began their bickering, along with the translators working hard to keep up with the Hebrew and Arabic thrown across the room. It was even more amusing to watch the Jews being the only ones bickering among themselves about how many days of fasting they observe in the year (clearly diasporic Jews differ from Israeli Jews in their practices).
After dinner, we gathered around a bonfire and watched a dance put up by adorable Palestinian children. They remind me of young Malay boys who are usually very naughty and rowdy. Then came singing and clapping, songs of peace and love, drums, sharing, and even more dancing. The most touching story I heard through the evening was probably the friendship between an Israeli teen and a Palestinian youth. Knowing that his friend who’s about to enlist in the army might be guarding the checkpoints in a year’s time, he asked her if she might be more lenient when he comes through. It is these stories that give rise to the hope that those strands of friendship forged around and over the fire may one day withstand the tests of injustice and conflict.
Not long after, it was time to depart and say our goodbyes. Mohammed came to me and asked if I’d accompany him to the old city and to walk the streets as he has never in his life step foot in Jerusalem. (For Muslims, the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount is the third holiest site of the religion.) Then came the sudden realization that it was really late and his permit to stay expires at 12am. Almost instantaneously, his heart sank. My heart saddened as well as I tried to comfort him. There is no clue as to when it’s possible for him to visit again. But I remained positive that he will when he attends the next Sulha event.
As the bus made the journey back to the checkpoint, the Palestinians return to their routine lives on the other side of the separation barrier. The Israelis return to their homes in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the surroundings. Has the conflict been resolved? No. And I don’t think the conflict situation has improved a tiny bit; the impact is probably negligible. But for the Israeli and Palestinian kids and youths who have gathered tonight, there are now more reasons for them to embrace their counterparts and neighbours, who share, live and cultivate the same piece of land. And for that, I’m thankful to God.
“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” – John 21:25
With that being said, I still want to write something about my little adventure in Galilee, in the footsteps of Jesus. With a car, most of the sites can be visited within a day, though I find the ‘no visitation’ rule between 12.00 to 2pm a little frustrating because there are just no places to rest along the way and I had to find shelter under a tree from the sweltering noon sun.
When we talk about Jesus’ most significant work, the cross and the crucifixion are almost always mentioned. But when we jump ahead of ourselves in our creeds and faith, we neglect the period of time when Jesus did the majority of His ministry in the region of Galilee.
Jesus spoke of the lilies of the field and the sparrows of the sky, the seeds of the sowers and the harvests of the land. As I ventured deeper into the Galilean countryside, I saw these imagery appear before my eyes quite unlike what I would imagine from reading the bible. When we read about how Jesus travelled across the sea of Galilee, from calling the disciples in Capernaum to the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida, from the journey to Caesarea Philippi to the land “beyond the Jordan,” the geography of all these places and the physical journey of Jesus and his disciples simply unfolded before me. I am simply in awe of God. (Though not when I was travelling and only in hindsight; it was just so HOT!) The feeling is kind of like reading about D-Day and just fumbling about with your imagination until you watch Band of Brothers and see scene of the paratroopers landing on Normandy.
“…but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations…For to us a child is born, to us a son is give; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore…” (Isaiah 9:1,6-7)
Jesus came to Galilee to preach the dawn of a new kingdom. Sometimes we forget that His ministry in the Galilee is not all peaceful and tranquil like the scenery you may find along the Galilean shores. His message was radical - the kingdom of heaven is at hand, albeit in a very strange way, and not everyone was comfortable with it.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force…The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:12,19)
John the Baptist had a different impression of the messiah, and what Jesus did really puzzled him. So did the Pharisees, the Essenes, and many of Jesus’ disciples, including His closest ones too. “They longed for God to become king, and were increasingly prepared to use any means available, including violence, to bring this goal about. They had their own kingdom-agenda, their own kingdom-movement; and they believed it was what God commanded.” (N.T. Wright, The Way of the Lord, 50)
Sometimes I feel that though we now have the benefit of reading the scriptures for ourselves and being informed by the works of the apostles and gospel writers, we are still far from heeding the Galilean message ushering the new kingdom. I’m also awed by how human Jesus was when he proceeded with His Galilean ministry, not exercising the full right of His powers, but little by little paving the path for us to follow. There were times he fled and hid from people. There were times he retreated to the mountains to pray, showing us that the Way of the Lord is a life of obedience and submission to His timing, His will, His way, through His word.
“You commit yourself to deeds and words which say, as Jesus’ deeds and words did, that there is another king, that there is another way of organizing the world than the way of Caesar and Herod, that there is another kingdom than the kingdom of swords and crowns. You commit yourself to the work of healing and liberation, both actual and symbolic. You commit yourself to freeing slaves, to loosening the bonds of debt, to bringing good news to the poor. And you commit yourself to doing those things, not as a grand social action which you will implement by your own energy and ingenuity, but in the power, and with the weapons, of the kingdom of God: by prayer and fasting, by truth and righteousness, by the gospel of peace, by faith, by salvation, by the word of God.” (Wright, 53)
A reminder to self – Don’t forget His passion.
Following along the lines of my first two posts, this will be nothing about the places I visited or the things I did, but rather my reflections on the whole process. Suffice to say that I misplaced my credit card yesterday evening, took a really long detour with my car to the restaurant where I left it since I did not have gps, and found my credit card (thank God!). And did not go according to plan to cover the places I wished to visit, since most places in Israel close really early (around 4-5) on Shabbat Fridays.
Do cut it short, miracles do happen (as seen from above), and I thank God for using these incidental miracles to teach me lessons I would have otherwise missed.
When it comes to Jesus’ ‘first’ miracle, turning water into wine, there is nothing short of divine commission, since it is inexplicable by natural and scientific methods. It always puzzled me, what is the gospel trying to tell us? The Book of John where the miracle was recorded contains an interesting way of dating, placing this miracle as the first, though earlier in the book it recorded miracles performed in Jerusalem. What might be more symbolic is the fact that in this miracle, the disciples saw the sign and believed. And thus Jesus revealed His glory. “His glory would be revealed in greatest measure in his cross, resurrection and exaltation, but every step along the course of His ministry was an adumbration of that glory.” - (Carson, The Gospel According to Jesus, 175) As the ‘first’ or primary miracle, that might be something important to know.
I really hope to see God’s glory revealed in fuller measure day by day, to just be so awed and enraptured by His beauty. A life lived without a measure of God’s glory is like a life lived without hope.
How do we ascribe God glory? Sometimes I just feel so inadequate when I ask myself how my life can glorify God? Even though creation resounds with every colour and sound, while angels sing and cherubims flap their wings, who can glorify Him perfectly other than His own begotten son? He is perfectly loving, perfectly obedient, perfectly dependent, perfectly satisfied (as John Piper often speaks of the Christian Hedonist), perfectly spotless and holy, perfectly taking on God’s attributes. There is something just so amazing about the gospels.
It saddens me to see churches engulfed in rivalry based on dispute over who should have access to the holy places (especially in Jerusalem). At Cana where Jesus’ first miracle was performed, there are two churches, one Greek Orthodox and the other Roman Catholic, claiming two separate locations for the incident (and they are only steps away from one another). The latest archaeological records show that the real location might actually be somewhere else at Khirbet Qana, where only ruins are left.