Monday, December 31, 2007

What I have Learnt in 2007

(standing on the speaker stone in the Agora, Athens)

An unknown Abbot of Greve prayed, “Lord, may I be wakeful at sunrise to begin a new day for you, cheerful at sunset for having done my work for you; thankful at moonrise and under star shine for the beauty of the universe. And may I add what little may be in me to your great world.” I tried to live out this prayer for 2007.

As in 2006, God taught me many lessons. However, I have never been a good student, often rebellious and head-strong. I am blessed to have the Holy Spirit, a loving wife and children, and wonderful friends to make sure I learnt these lessons. Here are some of the lessons I have learnt in 2007:

• I’ve learnt that not making New Year resolution is a good idea.
• I’ve learnt that it is easy to pretend to be a Mr. Know-It-All but deep down, I know that I really do not know anything at all.
• I’ve learnt that it is okay to be me.
• I’ve learnt that God is not impressed with what I have achieved.
• I’ve learnt after leading a silent retreat for a group of graduating seminary students, that they have been trained to be activists rather than contemplatives.
• I’ve learnt that the more my true self wants to be closer to God, my false self draws me further.
• I’ve learnt that knowledge and information does not automatically translate to wisdom and practice.
• I’ve learnt that it is not easy to give up the things that I think I deserve.
• I’ve learnt that it is very easy to be misunderstood if you are a preacher, church leader or Bible teacher.
• I’ve learnt that acts of kindness can be mistaken as acts of cruelty.
• I’ve learnt that all people are self-centered including me.
• I’ve learnt that while darkness is my constant companion, God is also present in that darkness.
• I’ve learnt that while I value friends, I often take them for granted.
• I’ve learnt that I need more than 24 hours in a day if I am to do all that I want to do.
• I’ve learnt that the more I study the Bible, the more I uncover the multiple levels of meaning there.
• I’ve learnt that it is difficult for me to forgive and to receive forgiveness.
• I’ve learnt that either I accept that I will never be the person I want to be or be constantly angry.
• I’ve learnt that the more I try to detach myself from worldly status symbols, the more attractive they become for me.
• I’ve learnt that people do not like to learn the truth about the prosperity gospel.
• I’ve learnt that I can understand spiritual truths better by writing about Abba Ah Beng and his smart Ah Leky disciple.
• I’ve learnt that an academic pursuit of a PhD distances me from people and life.
• I’ve learnt that the more I research a subject, the more nebulous it become and the more uncertain I become.
• I’ve learnt that the pain I feel in my heart is the also the pain that God shares.
• I’ve learnt that it is easier to become cynical and judgmental when I become older.
• I’ve learnt that I enjoy working with university students and their youthful enthusiasm energizes me.
• I’ve learnt that the more I try to lose weight, the more I gain in kilos.
• I’ve learnt that inside this aging body is a little boy with a great sense of wonder.
• I’ve learnt that I comprehend more about Paul, Corinth and the Greeks by being there in Athens, Corinth and Delphi than all the books about them.
• I’ve learnt that in a top hotel in Athens, you must check your itemized bill because someone may try to change the amount on your credit card chit.

Each year is different, every year brings something new. I echo what Ruth Harms Calkin has written:

Mysterious new year
So wrapped in reserve and surprise
You have no reason to feel smug
Or even condescending.
After all, the majestic God
Has full knowledge of you
Just as he has of me.
There is not an issue that you can evade.
Furthermore you are powerless
To do anything to me
That God does not permit.
All he allows in his infinite wisdom
Is for my ultimate good
And his greatest glory.
Consequently, new year,
You cannot trick or disillusion me
By your baffling unexplainables
Or your feverish activity.
My times are in the hands
Of my sovereign God
Whose power is limitless
And whose love for me is everlasting

Soli Deo Gloria



Blogger sp lim said...

Hi Alex,

You have certainly learned a lot in 2007. A no. of your lessons you have learned I observed are quite paradoxical e.g. trying to lose weight but gain in kilos etc. Not very encouraging for someone who is trying to go back to gym tomorrow after almost a 2 month break.

It may take a while to reflect on all the lessons I've learned in 2007. But I've certainly learned a lot from reading your blog. For that, I would like to say a big 'thank you'.

Have a blessed 2008 and may you continue to share lessons you learned along life's journey with your fellow pilgrims.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’ve learnt after leading a silent retreat for a group of graduating seminary students, that they have been trained to be activists rather than contemplatives. that true? what sort of activists?

But it's definitely difficult to think deep and act...too difficult. Some of us just don't have that sort of disposition.

Happy New Year Dr. Alex. May you have another meaningful year this year!!


11:25 AM  
Blogger pearlie said...

Happy New Year Alex.
May your cup be continually overflowing and running with the goodness and joy of the Lord.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi sp lim,

Blessed New Year. Thank you for reading my blog and your comments. I am very encouraged by you.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi Jack,

Happy New Year. Most seminary education are still very academic orientated and geared towards the active life. There are just not enough time in the 3-4 years to teach the students the contemplative life. In evangelical terms, seminaries then to produce more Marthas than Marys.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi pearlie,

May this be a very Blessed year for you and your family. Shalom

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this enjoyable post. Have a blessed 2008.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Reb Anthony Loke said...

dear jack and alex,

while most seminaries seem to be geared towards the active life and end up producing graduates with little in the contemplative, part of the problem seminaries in malaysia wrestle with is the students' lack of comprehension and ability to understand and grasp deeper things. don't expect much help from the school system which teaches students to memorize by rote.

while a seminary like stm do emphasize the contemplative, present students struggle with the issue of time which is the number one contrainst. because of their lacking in critical comprehension, they take longer time to digest what they read or to write. hence, the time that is supposed to be set aside for contemplative use is also used for other things like reading, comprehending and writing.

in the older days like 25 years ago, students came out from the government schools with a greater grasp of english. hence, they could read faster, comprehend easier and write more eloquently. time for the contemplative could then be utilized for that purpose.

unfortunately, after the last 20 over years of b.m. syllabus and english 121, the students coming into seminary today lack the necessary critical qualities. the seminary syllabus is like an arts course, not a science one. seminary assignments are not like writing science papers, merely quoting facts or showing the equations. it deals with logic and the ability to argue or defend one's position, rhetoric or the ability to persuade people to your position, and a wide grasp of the subject to be studied. all these unfortunately are lacking in present batches of students.

once in a while, some bright students come in and they can handle what is expected of them and not encroached into the time set for the contemplative. these are the ones who can balanced active and contemplative life with lesser difficulties.

for a semianry to produce the 'best' or 'allround' graduates for the ministry, we have to begin with the best material. unfortunately, we do not get the best always. so, the question is 'can we ensure we send in the best qualified people?'

some other questions i can raise: how do we attract the best people for seminary training? are christian parents themselves holding back their best sons and daughters? are the youths not interested in full-time pastoral ministry? is the trend going to be people who have worked a considerable number of years in the secualr world and then opt to take optional retirement to come into seminary for training and serve their remaining years in the full-time ministry before they officially retire at 65 years?

2:28 PM  

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