One of the reasons why I am positioning myself as a ‘learning Christian’ is that while I do not(yet) completely believe, I am still keen to know more. About all beliefs, actually. My new-found Buddhist friend who lives in Medan, she told me that a few of her Christian friends uses Buddhism teachings to help them in their daily life, and they don’t see a conflict in it. They are not the only ones, if you read this:
(I also managed to get my hands on The Heart is Noble by the Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.)
The Book of Daniel came to an end today. A lot of the sermons seemed to revolve around judgement and how people turned away from God and was punished, and how Daniel was given insight into the dreams and prophecies of this time. Pastor C gave quite a touching sermon today, he included anecdotes of his own sister (fighting cancer) and of the prison ministry within the church. Like a magpie who collects shiny things, I collected a sentence that he said about how his sister turned her back on him to wave goodbye, so that neither of them would break down at the train station. “If there’s no resurrection from the dead, then that’s all you have- goodbye.”
A main belief of Christians is that there is a heaven, where we will be reunited with God and it will be joy and peace like we have never known before. I would like the people who could not find peace and luxury in their current earthly lives, to find it in the life beyond death. Those who suffered their whole lives, the poor and sick, the oppressed, those who lived without God and in a self-imposed mental cage. I would like all beings to find happiness and justice, with a fair judgement of all.
The main question that I had in my head through the first half of the sermon was ‘living without consequence’. I am someone who is very curious, to the point of not caring about gender or religion. I just want to know what it feels like to be someone else. But my curiousity sometimes leads me down unwanted paths, like pornography (bestiality, bondage, threesomes, Japanese etc) and while I have been able to view all of what I discovered with a sort of neutral eye, like I will think to myself “why are they doing it this way”, “what camera are they using”, “what props, who are the actors”, I know that I am supposed to avoid all forms of pornography altogether. But I want to know what others are so obsessed with.
To me, as long as I maintain a casual attitude towards finding out what A or B is about, it is not a sin. Because there isn’t an element of lust to it- I don’t want to try any of that out. But Pastor C mentioned that it gets harder to form connections to real-life human beings as time goes on, although I think I am quite far from that stage, the question still remains- is what I do, even for curiousity’s sake, worth the consequences? The unlived consequences that don’t manifest now, but “if only our sins were written on our skin”. I might think that I am not physically depraved but it is more of a mindset that I have. I am still reading A.M. Homes- a lot of her books have an alternative sexuality/ liberal sexuality undercurrent to them- perhaps it means that I am not serious about learning the ways of Christianity after all. Words do affect me a lot more than moving pictures or audio recordings.
Another part of his sermon was about questions. It is the ‘epistemic depression’ that I sometimes go through, that “just because I cannot understand everything, means that I understand nothing”. I always get discouraged because I am a perfectionist and I would like nicely-rounded answers to all of my questions. Beautifully worded essays on the beauty of mankind and the reasons for God’s actions etc. I am so impatient- eager to not only know what I have to do, but tell other people what they have to do, because telling others means that I am 100% confident of my answers. Which I am not. And I don’t think I ever will be. Pastor C focused on ‘epistemic humility’, which is “God knows all things, I know some things”, and to trust that taking the next few steps will be enough for Him.
Between Pastor C and Pastor J, they have conducted the final blessings for hundreds of people. Old, young, sick, absolutely healthy. People pass away. Funerals take place. The mourning period starts. I have only been to two funerals in my whole life, and both were of distant relatives in Malaysia. I can barely remember the 2nd one, I know I burned a hole in the shirt of the person kneeling in front of me because my joss stick (Buddhist/Taoist influences in the family back then) touched her shirt and it was made from a flimsy white cotton material. That is the only thing I remember. Oh and the tidbits at every table. As a primary school kid, I thought seaweed chicken was a delicacy and I remember dreaming about how when I finally got to conduct my own funerals (LOL), I would have seaweed chicken at every table. And the scattering of rice afterwards, on the floor.
I don’t remember where I read this story, but it was about an author conversing with a woman, the woman said that she felt really blessed to have not attended any funerals even though she was middle-aged already. And then the author wrote, that the woman stopped and seemed to realise that loss was in the near future for her. None of us can escape death. None of us can escape the loss of a loved one, or a faraway friend. I will grow older and accept the fact that everyone dies, and remember that I typed this paragraph as a 23-year-old with no experience of funerals. And try to maintain my faith that while I might never be able to answer the question of ‘what happens?’ when I am still alive, I can keep an open space in my heart. A space for unanswered questions.
As Pastor C puts it, faith is not simply seeking answers, but also seeking acceptance. I don’t want to just think of human existence as a short hyphen between two dates, and that if I miss the final goodbye of a loved one, then I will never see that person ever again. That a consciousness can just disappear and all the beauty and joy that was the person, is also gone. Perhaps I am too hopeful, but I want to believe that the people who lived small and cramped lives on earth, persecuted and unacknowledged, can find their happiness in heaven.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
-1 John 4:8, ESV
Suffering forced me to recognize the futility of what I had built in my teenage years. Suffering also made me rethink the definitions of success and happiness, and what I am paying for with my life. With my time and my efforts. But I am (more) at peace now, and not just overwhelmed by all the different teachings of Christianity. I believe that with each year, I am one (tiny) step closer to understanding why I am here on earth. For God is love, and with love, patience, and with patience, acceptance, and then understanding.
For God is love.