Musings on: Flow, New Morning Mercies. Fueled by matcha espresso.

Typing this at Coffee Bean at Expo. It is raining and there is no shelter to CBP, so I’m grabbing this opportunity to have some quiet time and also to be late for work.

Reading an article sent by Austin Kleon- he has a newsletter in which he compiles all the read-worthy things that we are missing out on. There was an article titled ‘The Busy Trap. The crazy busy existence that so many of us complain about is almost entirely self-imposed’. And it is so true, but I have come to realise something more than self-regulations. It can sound very trivial and rat-race mentality to say that we are the only ones imposing (negative connotation already) our standards on us. I would say that it is part of nature’s call, that we are humans who innately want to do better, do more, and to stretch our abilities. Get out of our comfort zones. We want to know what we can achieve, because that is interesting, and we want to know how far we can go before we burn out. What happens if we die the next day, is this all we are leaving behind? Wanting to improve is a part of our DNA.

Some of us are busy, and we love it, because we know that we are doing the things that we want to do. The things that add value to our lives. Some of us are busy because we have an expectation placed on us by other people. Some are busy because even though no one cares, we still want to have what other people have. A title, money, good looks. The people who are suffering under the weight of being ‘busy’ are the people who are not choosing the right things to be busy about. You can choose to take a whole day off and go to a secluded beach to just relax, and that is it- a fulfilling, busy day. After all, the definition of busy is ‘to keep oneself occupied’ and ‘having a great deal to do’. Is it really absence of busyness if we choose to dedicate ourselves to a whole day of sitting at the beach? I am facing my inner thoughts. Standing next to them, talking to them, not letting myself gloss over them like I usually would. I am looking at myself clearly in the mirror.

I watched a tedtalk last night- it was about a book which I’ve read a few years back, it is called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

He was recapping the feelings we experience when we are doing things that give us joy- the feeling that time has stopped, hours go by like minutes, our minds and body are working to produce something bigger than the current moment. Like we have lost consciousness of our troubles and temporary to-dos, and gone into a state called flow. When I read that book in the past I was engaging with the reality of what I was experiencing then- that I had just started doing my diary entries, and flow was still an uncommon feeling. I was interested in that idea but did not have the requisite number of hours to trust that flow would come to me more consistently in the future.

When I write, flow is the feeling that I am communicating something that is really important and nothing else matters, as long as I capture the mood of the moment. It is not flowery language that helps, usually I just need a clear mind and a calm room and this need to tell someone about my day. That I have something important to say, although I don’t know what, and I will keep writing until I get to that point. Which is about 40 minutes into the diary entry.

But anyone who has experienced flow knows that the deep enjoyment it provides requires an equal degree of disciplined concentration.

Now, a year on (I think I first started writing in October 2016, although this domain was purchased in Jan 2017), my understanding of flow is not just an experience that can be worked at, but something to buffer me against the unhappiness of some projects and some blips and arguments in my life. It is not just a state of disciplined concentration, but something that I can make a part of me as a human being. It is not dependent on the activity- I can find flow in many things. Personally, I try to do something every week that would contribute to my feeling of ‘flow’.

flowcsikszentmihalyi

To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer exclusively respond in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstance.

Thinking about a question- ‘what makes my heart leap for joy’. It is the feeling when I am really excited to do something, I want to do it, my brain is generating new ideas for it etc. Like create articles for publication on the company intranet. Sing ‘king of the jungle’ with toddlers (off-key, but they are allllll off-key so it doesn’t matter. Really. Not one of the toddlers I know have musical talent, unless making muffled dinosaur noises is a foreshadowing of their potential Carnegie hall performance). Interview people at work, understand their needs and aspirations. I would be lying if I said that I like to analyse client data. But I like the impact, the feeling that we turfed out something that no one wanted to say explicitly, but we are able to verify that data and make some changes to the org structure because of it.

The essence of socialisation is to make people dependent on social controls, to have them respond predictably to rewards and punishments.

I am also reading ‘New Morning Mercies’ by Paul Tripp. I started reading it during the kelong trip, but also on public transport now. I guess CBP’s greatest and worst point is that it is so far from my house. I have an additional two hours of quiet time (read: less sleep) daily because I am stuck on the bus/train.

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I don’t think it is meant to be a book for new believers, but rather, a book for people who have been in the faith for some time already and have forgotten the main tenets of living by faith in Christ. If I were a new believer, all the concepts that he is talking about would be new to me. Older believers sometimes stray into the path of sticking to intellectual theological arguments- what does this line mean etc- and the laws that they keep, rather than the premises of everlasting grace and steadfast love. The diary entries would remind them, over and over again, of the amazing things that God has done and which he has given us. Not laws, but love.

 In some way, every person who has ever lived is on a hunt for love and scared to death that he won’t find it.

In some way, everyone fears judgement. She fears the hammer will come down on her because she has failed to measure up and she will spend her life paying for her crimes.

In some way, everyone is afraid of being poor. We’re all afraid of not having the provisions we need to live. We’re afraid that success will escape our grasp and we’ll end up as beggars on the street.

There is a difference between the doctors, lawyers, hedge fund people, and the rest of the people in the cell group. The people who fall into the first three category are always busy. They have 10,000 things to do in their work and personal lives. The rest of us- the government people, budding consultants, music teachers and primary school teachers- we are still tired, but less busy. We can find time more easily. But for all our busyness and experiences, how comfortable one feels with people is not based on how much work or busyness we have in common. God made all of us with our own idiosyncrasies and struggles, even when one seems to have disadvantages or advantages in every way.

And what I personally thought was a good reminder to me.

You could read your bible every day and the entire bible each year and still live for yourself. You could be faithful in your attendance at all your church’s scheduled gatherings and still live for your little kingdom. You could regularly place your hard-earned money in the plate and still not live with God’s kingdom in view. You could be expert in the theology of the word of God and still shrink your life down to what you want and what you tell yourself that you need.

Day 2 of Easter Convention

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

-1 Corinthians 15:9-11

Hello! Another post. I was watching Buzzfeed on being an Instagram fashion star for a week and I realised that I was trying to also create quality content, except that ‘trying’ is the imperative word and I am not trying very hard. I am just slotherious-ing when I feel like it. It is not a job or even a regular pastime. That said, I expect to be uploading a lot of book reviews once my final exams are over! Yay!

This is the second of the series of the Easter Convention. The previous post was about gospel amnesia and how we forget the importance of the gospel in our lives, and instead focus on parts of our lives which are unable to bring us ‘life’. This post focuses on how Paul was once an angry man who persecuted his fellow brothers of the Church, because he did not understand. But through the grace of God, Paul was changed and his life story stands testament that it is possible for all of us to change. There will be another post tomorrow for the service at Expo and a last one on Saturday for the Easter service. I am not evangelising, I just like writing about my experiences. And I would like to believe that I can use my words to create a story about what I am learning in the various parts of my life.

Pastor Tripp started with a question- why would Paul talk about himself in 1 Corinthians 15:9, when he was talking about reminding others about the importance of the gospel and how the resurrection will happen. How would his narrative fit into the historical resurrection of Christ? He spoke about how Paul Tripp, himself, the man who toured the world and wrote nearly 20 books to date, was once an angry man filled with pride. He spoke about how he didn’t see himself as being angry and now he looks back on those days with grief. One day, as he was in the car with his brother, driving back from a Christian conference, his brother asked him a series of questions which made him realise that he has been an angry man and needed to change. He didn’t explain what he was angry about or how it manifested, but he did emphasize that the ‘him’ now is a very different him from the past, and that all that he has done so far might not exist now, if he had not humbly accepted the change.

This is grace– unasked for grace, grace that changes proud people into humble ones, grace that leads demanding people to serve others. The grace of God has the power to change people, to fix human brokenness. I was thinking about how my DG leader was discussing one of the pastors in the church, we were talking about prison fellowship and the topic turned to the people whom God has used to show his grace. The pastor in question spent 10 years in jail for drug abuse, and he is now a very different man. (Although the question about how to integrate ex-convicts into the gated community still remains.)

Pastor T. emphasized that grace is able to rescue you, it is able to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And that what the resurrection guarantees is not just a future resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not just eternal life, but also a current resurrection- bringing you out of sinful thoughts and angry deeds, and into the newness of life. I admit that I got a bit lost here because I was thinking to myself, if I am unable to see my own faults and need to be rescued then how am I going to ask for rescue? What exactly do I ask for, is it like a general “hey I know I am faulty somewhere”. It can’t be something obvious like my pride- I am a proud person, I don’t like being seen as stupid, it sounded like it has to be something much more insidious. Or maybe it is my need for autonomy, the need to control everything in my life and to be self-sufficient, because I like relying no one but myself. I am a strong and independent beagle.

Pastor T. characterized Paul in three ways. Firstly, Paul was foolish. His heart was foolish and he denied the existence of God. He had great power and was able to hurt other people, and he acted like he did not need God. Secondly, Paul was a rebel. Not only was he foolish, he was actively foolish. And thirdly, Paul was blind. He did not, and could not see the danger that he was to himself. On the way to Damascus, had God not spoken to him, I wonder what would he have done (and later regretted). He is deeply convinced that whatever the problems are, it is outside of him. Being spiritually blind is the scary thing because you might remain convinced that because you are passionate, disciplined, knowledgeable and determined, you have it all fixed. But you might be completely wrong about what you think you know.

(On the power that Paul had against Christ and his followers)

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

-Acts 9:13-14, ESV

It reminds me of Gellert Grindelwald in Harry Potter (the dark wizard that Dumbledore defeated), it was written that he showed remorse in his later years in his cell at Nurmengard. Some of us did things that we now regret because we were self-assured and proud of our own abilities, and woefully ignorant of what is beautiful and wise in other living beings. I am talking about myself and what I did when I was much younger. Did I know that it was wrong? Yes. Did I care that it was wrong? No. Youth commits folly, but youth does not bother about the consequences because she is unable to see so far ahead.

“Grindelwald tried to stop Voldemort going after the wand. He lied, you know, pretended he had never had it.”

Dumbledore nodded, looking down at his lap, tears still glittering on the crooked nose.

“They say he showed remorse in later years, alone in his cell at Nurmengard. I hope that it is true. I would like to think he did feel the horror and shame of what he had done. Perhaps that lie to Voldemort was his attempt to make amends… to prevent Voldemort from taking the Hallow…”

“… or maybe from breaking into your tomb?” suggested Harry, and Dumbledore dabbed at his eyes.

-J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I do very much love Harry Potter.

The central message is this: there is hope that the grace of God will come to us, and it will change us from being the petty, sinful, jealous, anti-social, awkward creatures that we are (I’m talking about myself, again), to something better. The six most important words in this part of 1 Corinthians 15 is “but by the grace of God”. Paul did not know about God, he was not kind to believers in Christ. And he didn’t ask to be rescued, but God decided to show him grace. He later became one of the 12 apostles of the church.

There are two more things that I learned during his talk. The first is the difference between the laws, and grace. Christianity is not just a system of theology and rules, although sometimes I feel that that is all my mom can focus on. Her method is to follow all the rules, and go above and beyond the rules, so that she feels assured of her salvation. If the Bible recommends to fast for one day, she does 40 days. (Although she does drink water, hence she’s still hanging around the house.)

But Christianity at the core is grace and love and hope in the salvation that only God can provide, and as believers we should not look towards the laws and ask the laws to do what only grace can do. Laws cannot deliver you from sin, although it can expose sin. It can separate your actions and thoughts into right and wrong, but it cannot peel back the layers of your heart that you are unwilling to give to God, neither can the laws save you from yourself. Christ did not die for us for us to only learn the laws.

(However, because I just started learning, I don’t really know much about faith or grace. Start small with the laws, but do not look to it as all that I need to learn.)

The second is that grace will not change you overnight, although for some it will. Because our nature is still sinful- one does not get rid of sexual perversion overnight (although this time, I am not talking about myself), although some people do. Being changed is a process, it is something that takes a long time. And staying with that process is important because while God can and will help you if you want to help yourself, if you are an actively resistant person, the process will be much more painful. After all, it’s like dieting. The more you want to diet but also simultaneously resist your diet, the more mental space it takes up, it’s like a double whammy.

We believe- and hope in a rescuing grace. A redeemer who is unlike anyone on earth. Paul was rescued from Paul himself. And Ananias practiced forgiving grace on Paul, when he laid his hands on Paul and said the first word, “brother”.

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.

-Acts 9:17-18, ESV

When Paul (previously listed as Saul in the Bible, but he later used the version of his name which was comfortable for the Gentiles because he intended to bring the gospel to the Gentiles) was baptized, that was transforming grace, because he later became an avid preacher. And lastly, delivering grace, giving him not just a promise of a future, but also what he needed in the here and now. Although the practical applications are a little murky because so few of us understand (or maybe it is just me) what is the ‘here and now’. I don’t really know how to exist today.

It is good to remember that the grace of God still lives tonight. In our mortal bodies. That while Christ might have died 2000 years ago, his power has not faded away. As Pastor T says, it is hard to estimate the legacy that God produces in us or through us. Lest we forget who we are, and what God can do, let us turn once again to 1 Corinthians 15:9, to understand how Paul’s transformation is an application of grace.

As a pastor, Paul Tripp knows nothing of the lives of individuals who sit in the congregation. But he can still say a general paragraph and bring about silence. It is slightly paraphrased, but the general gist is- you know what you are doing is wrong but you do it anyway. Perhaps you are browsing websites that you have no business to be on, but because there is something that you want to experience. Or gossip, you love to carry a tale, because there is power, but you know that you shouldn’t be doing it. Where is the blindness in your heart? Can you look sincerely at yourself and say, ‘I am more like Paul than unlike him?

There are many, many parts of life that I wish I could change. But it is so difficult because I have the stubborn temperament of a starved-beagle, with terrible myopia. But “may our celebration of your resurrection be with our confession of our need for grace.”