The Fight

Samson squeezing two pillars in a Philistine Temple

Samson bringing the house down

And now a story I shall write;
It shall be about a fight:
In Israel a man there was
With arms of steel, heart of brass
Battle-hardened stripes had he
Many sprung from trickery.
Hair as long as he was tall,
His weapon once a donkey’s jaw.
What fame he held
As he Philistines felled;
In vengeance and passion
They died in like fashion.
That is, until a woman he met.
To win her love he made a misstep,
Confiding in her where lies his strength.
So her people him to naught did rend;
For she shaved his locks of dread
And he to the Philistines was fed.
The Spirit of God from him departed
Until his faith anew was started.
His gauged out eyes deterred him not
As a servant boy led him to a spot
Between two columns he rested his arms
He prayed, the Philistines stayed unalarmed,
Then he squeezed the two columns
Turning a jovial moment solemn.
Thus, in the end, he won the fight
A man’s strength lies not in his might,
Neither in his passion nor in fashion
But being the Lord’s dearest possession.

Winds of Change: 342-333 days to go

Mini-campaign

Well, the mini-campaign is done. And I give God all the glory for the role He played in making it a success. Our speaker originated from a neighbouring country. He has lived in mine for almost seven years. He made us laugh a lot. His was the kind of humour that had a whole lot of truth in it. He spoke about the Kingdom of God.

You’re most probably wondering how I dealt with the challenges I faced last week. In one short sentence, God carried me through.

At first the Conference Youth Director couldn’t make it for Saturday, 3 May because he was out of town. I contacted the substitute he organised. At first the substitute was to picked up at his domicile by us and brought to our church. But, the substitute also had to be ordained as a church elder at another church that day. He was going to lunch by me where the brothers from that church would pick him up and take him to their church where the ordination would take place. The arrangments changed many times as new information came to light. Ultimately, we agreed that the brothers from that other church would collect him at his domicile in the morning, ordain him at their church and rush him to mine so that he could preach.

However, on Friday (341 days to go) the Conference Youth Director confirmed that he would be able to preach on Saturday. With a smile on my face and a song in my heart, I informed the youth elder who did not inform the other elders as I would learn the next day.

The Conference Youth Director preached a powerful sermon on the Kingdom of God. He really made it personal. The congregation was moved.

That Saturday night the pastor who would conduct the campaign for the rest of the week delivered his first sermon. He had us cracking just like a famous comedian from my country. Being fully bilingual, and speaking to an almost fully bilingual audience, he mixed the two languages we speak pretty well. But, the message came through loud and clear.

After we did a lot of damage control on Sunday night (337 DTG) which made us start the programme 15 minutes late, we had to stall the programme the Monday night (336 DTG) because the pastor assumed that we would begin late again. As on Saturday afternoon (339 DTG), he came just as time ran out. He was on time for the rest of the week. He came a little late tonight though but not that late!

On Tuesday night, D spoke to me about the underlying tension she sensed in the group. She referred to my cousin, S. I asked her if she meant S, she said yes. Something just told me “Level with her” occurred to me. So, I did. I explained that S was upset with D because D didn’t organise a guest artist for Sunday night and that D should’ve been prepared to sing herself since she is the worship leader. I told her that I was also angry with her because of what she said to my cousin, the sensitive, temperamental pianist. It made me look bad, uninformed and incompetent as a leader (these are her words). But, because the unity of the team is more important to me, I decided not to hold it against her. I forgave her. Only then did she realise the implications of what she had said. She apologised.

Then I asked her to speak to S to clear the air. But she had reached the point where she just didn’t care anymore. D told me that she had called musicians the whole Sunday and the week preceding it, but she couldn’t secure anyone.

That night, I told S about my conversation with D explaining D’s position. I urged her to speak to D. But, S didn’t want to.

That same night (335 DTG) we had a short debriefing meeting after the programme to explain mistakes that we made and prepare the team for the next evening’s programme. Because D had to leave early, I informed the team that D had two unconfirmed artists for the next night. One of the pianists (N) and his cousin volunteered to perform while one of the other members (R) of the praise team was going to get men’s group to perform. However, I didn’t hear correctly and thought R was L (their names are similiar). L had fallen out of favour with S three years ago during the first mini-campaign we organised as a team. So, the team was shocked that D would have L secure an act for us. (The thing between S and L was really ugly since S loved L and her brother a lot. L had hurt S by misusing her name.) I was pretty shocked myself when I heard that L was going to secure an act for us. But, I’m always happy when those who left the youth start getting involved again. Quite upset S told me not to talk rubbish. I was taken aback by her outburst. She excused herself from the meeting and high tailed it out of there. We concluded the meeting and met S outside.

As a fail safe we asked a housemate of one of the team members to go on standby for us. We would confirm it on Wednesday morning. D had to let me know if the two acts confirmed by 10 am. I called her at 11:15am to find out. None had gotten back yet. D’s sister had been scheduled to sing for one of the two “special item” slots but due to her illness she couldn’t make it. That’s why we were looking for a replacement act. D asked me to ask the stand-in to prepare one item only. I, in my wisdom, asked the stand-in to sing two items. After D confirmed that the pianist and his cousin would perform, I informed D and the housemate of the stand-in about my error in judgment. I also gave D the housemate’s number telling her to communicate with him directly. (I panicked there for a bit, but I asked God to give me wisdom to handle the situation correctly.)

That Wednesday night everything went smoothly. It was then that I told about my conversation with D and asked her to speak to D. S refused out of fear of saying something she would later regret.

Everything went well Thursday night too (333 DTG). We had refreshments to which everyone on the team contributed. S supplied cocktail bread with various toppings, tea, milk and sugar while the rest of us supplied biscuits. D brought juice. Su and Sh arranged the refreshments. The pastor was really glad about this opportunity to meet the people. It rained cats and dogs so not many of the attendees stayed for refreshments.

Tonight (332 DTG) we had a small hiccup. The pastor ran late, the team mate who saw to the slide show ran very late, the head of family ministries in our church didn’t get a chance to speak since it was not included in the slide show, and the guest artist for tonight only sang one song when he was supposed to sing two. The congregation sang Heart of Worship in the open slot.

One member of the praise tried to convice D that she should sing in that slot even if it was only Amazing Grace but D refused. Seeing that D’s mind was made up, I told him that no amount of asking or begging would persuade D to sing. She is one of those people that rigidly obey Newton’s Third Law of Motion which says,

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” –from The Physics Classroom

D agreed. But her point was not that she was stubborn. She was not prepared to sing. She kept saying that voice was the same as any other musical instrument. You need to practice before a performance. It isn’t just a matter of going on stage and singing your heart out. It became clear that D and S would never reconcile on this point while the team mate understood D better.

I had to say thank you to everyone who participated in the programme. I prayed earnestly that God would help me do say thank you to the people. I don’t usually do the thanks at events. When I do, I try to finish as quickly as possible. This makes it seem cold and unemotional. But tonight was different. God answered my prayers. A warmth characterised my voice as I thanked the contributors and participants from my heart. I even blessed the pastor and mothers (since it’s Mothers Day weekend). Blessing the mothers was unplanned.

I’m grateful that God helped me and my team safely through this week. I’m grateful that God blessed this mini-campaign and kept the team together even though it seemed as if Satan would have the upper hand. I’m grateful that He blessed those who attended and that He guided the pastor in the presentation and preparation of the messages. I am grateful for His patience and for the work He performed on my character–a work that is very important to me.

And I thank you for your patience as my posts have become irregular.

Winds of Change: 343-337 days to go

Don’t you sometimes wish that all your problems could just go away? That God would just step in and work His divine alchemy to set everything right—the way they are supposed to be? But life is rarely that simple or easy. And even though it is possible (for God can do the impossible), He rarely, if ever, chooses to exercise His power in that way. Instead He uses those situations and the people who actuate them to build our characters.

That is how I see the problems I am facing now. Tomorrow (337 days to go (DTG)) I will return to campus as a full time student. It is with much dread and trepidation that I will set my feet on campus, but it’s something I just have to do. I have to demonstrate courage in the midst of fear. But, it’s scarcely a fear worth mentioning.

A brief look at fear

We humans face all kinds of fears and some are so intrinsic that they define us. Take agoraphobia (the fear of unknown places) for example. When the grip of the fear is so strong and severe it completely interferes with its possessor’s quality of life. The possessor becomes a prisoner in his or her own home.

Fortunately, I don’t suffer from agoraphobia or claustrophobia (the fear of small places), but I do slightly suffer from atychiphobia (the fear of failure) and the fear of hurting or disappointing people (I can’t find the Greek name for this one). I also fear conflict, not because I might get hurt. No. I fear conflict because I might just lose control, say things I shouldn’t and irreparably damage a worthwhile relationship. I also fear conflict because I might not respond in the most appropriate manner and lose brownie points for not standing up for myself or whoever I represent.

The sound of music

From my last three posts, especially the last one, you will remember that my cousin, S, and I had a tiff of sorts. She accused me of meddling and causing chaos with regards to the pianists for the mini-campaign which is currently underway. A couple of days after she (for lack of a better word) humiliated me in the youth executive committee’s instant messaging group, I texted one of the pianists saying that the person we initially asked was now available and we would no longer need his services. I thanked him for his willingness to help. I left it at that.

A week passed. D, the music director for my church’s youth, got guest artists for all the nights except Sunday evening (337 DTG). The initial pianist was on board and discussed practice session times with the praise and worship team. Then, all of a sudden the initial pianist could commit. He struggled to find time in his schedule for the practice sessions and for the mini-campaign. (When I stepped in organised the pianist for mini-campaign, I had gotten two pianists: the one I cancelled with and another one. This latter one is the pianist S overheard discuss who would play when with the initial pianist.) The sun couldn’t produce enough rays to equal the amount and intensity of the rays my smile emitted. I was right. I gloated to my parents and sister. I didn’t say anything to team though. It would cause unnecessary friction and might even drive us apart. But, I really revelled in being right about the situation.

D contacted cancelled pianist but couldn’t get through to him. She asked me to ask him to play for us, but I refused. I said, “After being told that I disorganise things that were already organised, I called [the cancelled pianist] and cancelled with him telling him that the person we asked initially was no available.” She was astonished. “So,” I continued, “I will not ask him to play again . . . Why don’t you ask one of the others to ask him.” She said that she had been trying to call him but couldn’t get through. I did not respond.

Today she told the team after tonight’s mini-campaign meeting that she spoke to the cancelled pianist. She asked him to play for us. When he said that I had already cancelled with him, she said that I had not consulted with her before doing so. He wasn’t pleased. I was speechless. She had just told a very sensitive person, who at one stage refused to play in the church (for various reasons), that I, his cousin, messed with him. She had just told him that I, her leader, acted out of line, while ignoring the fact that I saved her butt when I asked my very sensitive, temperamental cousin to play. All I could say in self-defense was “Did I not do the right thing? I told him exactly why we cancelled with him.” Her response, “You did do the right thing.”

After a while anger welled up inside of me. I had seen the implications of her actions when she told us. But, I was incapable of responding in a violent or aggressive manner. But the resentment built up very quickly. I guess, I tapped into S’s anger too.

S wasn’t pleased with D’s attitude and lack of camaraderie tonight. D did not organise a guest artist tonight and refused to sing in those slots. She had us doing damage control before the meeting started. This afternoon (338 DTG) she texted S asking her if we couldn’t play a video one of the guest artist’s slots, but S “blatantly refused” according to D. It was D’s mess and D had to solve it. I agreed with S when D informed me. So, S was angry with D way before tonight’s meeting.

S also told me that I should develop a backbone towards D. I told her that I’m working on it. I told S about D and the cancelled pianist, how she dragged my name through the mud and blamed me for the whole mess with the pianists. S was not happy.

(Dis)Engaged

A lot more stuff happened on Thursday (341 DTG) and Friday (340 DTG) with regards to the Conference Youth Director who was not able to preach on Saturday (339 DTG) at first. He was not going to make it back in time. But, he made it. Some folks who attended church said that it was one of the best services ever and that that is what church should be like. I thank God that they were blessed.

The preacher for the mini-campaign (not Saturday’s preacher) acts a lot like a comedian from my country. His sense of humour is the same as a cousin mine’s. But, his messages are powerful.

Unfortunately, not a lot of youth are attending the mini-campaign. I don’t know why. Maybe they fell victim to church politics? Maybe they don’t like us? Maybe they are just not interested? Whatever the case may be, I will continue to reach out to them.

Seasoned advice

A senior pastor (who is also family) told me on Saturday after I lunched at his home that I have a defeatest attitude, that I shouldn’t resign. If I do, then, this resigning will become a habit and affect other areas of my life include my marriage and my career. I was pretty shocked. He spoke about the elders, their lack of leadership and hidden agendas. He asked me not to resign.

When I told my mom about all of these things this evening, she was upset. She asked me to resign from the youth leadership post and to focus on my studies. I assured her that I would still do it. She also advised me not to humiliate myself by saying anything to D and thus let it go. But, when I see my cousin, the cancelled pianist, again I should explain the situation to him. He would understand.

Right now, even as I prayed earlier tonight, I think that there are too many advisors. I don’t know who to trust anymore. Of course, my parents will see nothing wrong with me. I’m their angel. The consequences seem endless as I view the simple decision of resigning as youth leader. I hold the outcome of people’s futures in my hands, it seems. If I stay on as youth leader, my own future will suffer.

Free thinking

I’m also worried that I’m listening to my parents too much. When do I make my own decisions and my own mistakes? (This is where the fear of failure comes in.) The pastor who advised me is S’s father. So, does he have a hidden agenda too even though he loves me like his own son? Do I listen to my friends? Are they trustworthy? Are they wise? How do I know what God wants me to do?

How do I approach my studies? I don’t feel like a team player. I feel really stupid among my fellow students in the lab. How do I deal with my supervisors’ disappointments? Why aren’t my efforts good enough? Am I living in a dream world? Will I ever be successful? What character defects do my studies reveal about me? How do I manage or overcome those?

These are the questions I wrestle with at this moment.

On the porn front

I had wet dreams on Thursday (341 DTG) and today. I have no recollection of either dreams.

On Twitter I discovered how one reports pornographic media, profile pics and tweets. You can just report them as SPAM. Or if you want to file a more detailed report, you may do so here. You’ll have to look under “Report spam”. The URL of the media or profile is needed. At first, I opened the people’s profiles while covering the obscene images with my hand. Later, I just right-clicked on the (small) image or profile tab (with my thumb covering the pic) and selected the “copy link address” option from the pane that appeared.

The crucible of life—that’s where I find myself. Raw material for stories.

Winds of Change: 353-344 days to go Part Three

Here is the final part of the 353-344 DTG (days to go) series.

Such a lot happened today (349 DTG). Talk about drama! And church politics! I know that it’s not good practice to vent like I will but I need to. So, count yourselves privileged to being privy to my thoughts. 🙂

The short story

As you know, our youth had to organise a mini-campaign earlier this year. We postponed it to 3-9 May because three of the speakers cancelled and the team member in charge of music didn’t do her job. I took the postponement to the church board which okayed it. The original plan was to have the mini-campaign run from 4-10 May but the speaker we got could not preach on 10 May. He was available for the evenings of 3-9 May. So we secured him for that. We tried to get a speaker to end off the mini-campaign Saturday, 10 May. He is a very popular speaker being the director of the youth in our conference. But since he couldn’t speak on 10 May, he cancelled a long standing engagement so that he could preach on 3 May. My cousin (a.k.a. S) called me one Wednesday in March informing me of this.

I immediately called the youth elder and the head elder asking them if we could swap the speaker scheduled to preach on for 3 May to preach on 10 May so that the Conference Youth Director could speak on 3 May to launch the mini-campaign. They were supposed to get back to me that Saturday. I did not follow protocol by asking the head elder but I saw no choice because the youth elder disappointed us previously in a matter that concerned the speakers for Divine Service at church. Alas, they did not get back to me on time. We were still sorting the preaching schedule out tonight.

The backstory

After the youth executive committee decided to postpone the mini-campaign, the church board met. In the church board meeting, the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan asked whether the speaker we got to preach on 15 March would still preach on 10 May as he’d been scheduled. No one responded. He phrased the question in such a way that it seemed to be a problem. So, I saw an opportunity and seized it. I told the church board that it worked out well since we, as youth, usually get two church days for the annual mini-campaign. We already used one church day. Therefore, it would be fitting if our speaker for the week could preach on 10 May too. The church board was fine with it.

I then called the preacher, a pastor (not the Conference Youth Director), and confirmed that he would conduct the mini-campaign. He said that he would not be able to preach on 10 May but would see if he could organise something. I told him that it was alright, that we would get someone to preach on 10 May. And that is how we got the Conference Youth Director involved.

Since someone had already been confirmed to preach on 3 May and the Conference Youth Director could only come on 3 May, we approached our youth elder to solve the matter among the elders. He willingly took the matter up.

A church community meeting was held in which church members were informed of church business. The matter was mentioned at a church community meeting (where members are informed about church business) and the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan said that he would contact me. I did not attend that meeting and waited a week and a half before I called him!

He didn’t even remember his decision to call me! So, I had to fill him in from the beginning. He said that he was going to call the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan. I was amazed! Why did he carry the title when he didn’t do the work? I wondered.

Not much time passed before the real elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan called me to verify what transpired. He wasn’t pleased. I explained the situation to him. He said that he wouldn’t cancel the speaker of 3 May because the appointment had already been confirmed.

I then spoke to my team who said that they would not cancel with the Conference Youth Director. S was adamant because she begged him with tears in her eyes to preach that day.

Again I called the youth elder to speak to the elders to sort the matter out. We requested that the elders cancel with the Conference Youth Director because we were too ashamed to do so. The preaching plan was their baby anyway. We thought the matter was sorted.

A fateful Wednesday

A week or two later, S, along with the head deacon and pastor of our church, witnessed an argument between the head elder and the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan after prayer meeting. The head elder wanted the Conference Youth Director to preach while the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan said no. The pastor, according to S, said that the youth were entitled to having their preacher(s) preach on two church days for their mini-campaign whether the campaign was postponed or not. The elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan wasn’t happy.

Soon after this, the youth elder called me to hear what the arrangements were for the mini-campaign. I told him the whole story leaving out the events that transpired that fateful Wednesday night after prayer meeting. He said that he would take the matter up. He actually wanted to hear about the preacher for 3 May. He assured me that the Conference Youth Director would preach on 3 May. He said that the head elder had spoken to him already and confirmed. However, it turned out that the head elder had spoken to the pastor who would conduct the mini-campaign. I kept my team in the loop every step of the way but did not tell them of the confusion between the two mini-campaign speakers. It would only ruffle their feathers.

Meddling fool

So, on Sunday passed (352 days to go), the youth elder invited the youth executive committee to a meeting with the elders. I informed my team immediately. One promptly excused herself. This morning (349 days to go) I reminded my team about the meeting with the elders before prayer meeting tonight.

So, S responded to the whatsapp text “Who is you[r] exec, , unfortunately, I can’t make it tonight”.

I said, “We all serve on the exec [cuz]”.

The girl (she’s a woman actually) who excused herself from the meeting reminded us of that fact. This girl’s cousin also excused himself. I was fine with that.

Later that day, I informed them about the music. The pianist we had initially asked to play had told me that he would not be able to play anymore because it was crunch time for him. (I reported that it was crunch time for him that week, but now I remember that the whole month of April was crunch time for him so he wouldn’t have time to practice. It amounts to the same thing though since he does not play without practicing with the praise team first.) I told them that the pianists I got as substitutes were only availabe for certain nights and that there would be two nights where they could not play due to prior engagements. The team was shocked. My cousin (S) belittled me in the Instant Messaging group when she said the following, “E, [you] did not listen to A properly, he is available that week just specify which days, A and N already spoke how they are going to do this..please [don’t] let this thing be disorganized // Talk to A properly and listen”

“S, that is what he said to me, but I will contact him again // That is why I don’t want to be involved with the music,” I said.

“They spoke on Sabbath in front of me [about] how they’re going to do this.”

“I see,” I said.

“This is actually D’s baby so D please lead.”

“Guys, chil,” D said. “I will speak to A.”

My cousin, the girl who excused herself from tonight’s meeting and I all were happy with this arrangement.

As I said before, I’m a reluctant leader. I don’t like the responsibility but when things don’t get done I will usually step in to see that they are done. But, S’s comments really upset me. They shook me to the core. They sent me into a flat spin. I was so angry, so hurt, so upset that I couldn’t help the profanities that escaped my thoughts although I apologised to God for them. I just wanted to cry. I cried in my soul. I really felt like quitting. Who was she to speak to me like that?

On my way home from work, my anger turned to sadness. I questioned my ability to lead. Ever since I decided to quit, I’ve been second guessing my leadership skills. I wondered whether I would ever be successful. I saw how I sat at my desk typing away on my laptop surrounded by a life fraught with failure. I imagined how after this debacle I would resign as youth leader and sideline my whole team. But, I couldn’t hold that vision for long. It was too painful. I couldn’t cut all of them out of my life neither could I only cut my cousin out of my life; it would not be Christlike.

As I walked home, I wondered how people perceived my facial expression. Did I appear angry or sad? My team disappointed me by excusing themselves from tonight’s meeting with the elders. I prayed that God would give me the right tone of voice, facial expressions, body language and words to speak so that I could stand my ground and stand by our request.

I also thought about my ability to take a stand up for my team. I honestly don’t see myself as someone with a backbone. I shy away from conflict as much as possible. The way of the leaf is what I follow (a term I learned from the late Robert Jordan). But, it’s more like the way of the Lamb. When confronted with rage or anger, I’m taken aback. I cower before the torrent of people’s rage. Then, later, I would berate myself for not standing up or saying something. So, no, I don’t have a backbone.

My dad is fond of relating how he put one elder in his place when my dad had just become a youth leader, of sorts. My dad was a 16 year old teenager then. The man was the church’s head elder. But, I could never aspire to back chatting a church elder or responding in anger to one. (My dad made sure to beat that spunk out of me as a kid.) I deal with conflict by enduring the tirade and then stating my case after some time elapsed—usually less than a day.

Once I got home, I sent S a private message telling her that it wasn’t necessary to be rude. She replied, while I related the events of the day to my dad, saying that she was irritated with team mates not doing their job and thus shove their responsibilities onto the rest of us. At that moment I wanted to tell her why I intervened, but my dad said that I should not respond.

Before the tribunal

My sister and I left soon after this so that I could meet with the elders. Another cousin of ours was there. I was surprised to see him. We met the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan outside of the church. He had rushed to unlock the church but found it already unlocked by the youth elder who had a set of keys. The youth elder, it turned out, did not inform the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan about the meeting the youth executive committee was to have with the elders. I wanted to tell the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan about the meeting but it wasn’t my place. And since the situation among the elders is quite volatile, I decided not to. I don’t want to cause conflict.

He wondered why my cousin and I stood in the foyer of the church. When he asked whether we were going to have a meeting, I could not deny it. I told him that we were meeting with the elders. The youth elder entered the foyer at that moment and explained the reason for the meeting. The elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan, while looking at me, said that he had already discussed the matter with me. I confirmed this and said that I had informed the youth elder. The two elders went to speak outside the church. I took the opportunity to point out to my cousin, who also serves on the youth executive committee, that they didn’t even invite the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan to the meeting. That elder did not stay for prayer meeting. He sped off as soon as his conversation with the youth elder was done.

My cousin and I waited in the foyer until another elder came. He was the one who I was told arranges the preaching plan. He was invited to the meeting and actually chaired it. The youth elder brought him up to speed in another room of the church while my cousin and I waited for them in the pews. The head elder had also been invited but he did not pitch. The meeting took place without him.

The chair person recapped the story. He gave me an opportunity to complete it. I stated that my team and I relinquish to the elders the responsibility of informing the Conference Youth Director that the church does not want him to preach because the preaching plan is their responsibility. We thought that we did the church a favour by securing the Conference Youth Director for Saturday, 3 May since the elder-in-charge-of-the-preaching-plan couldn’t get a hold of him. I confirmed that the Conference Youth Director was going to open the mini-campaign and the other pastor will conduct the rest of the campaign. Our position was that if they decided to cancel with him, they were the ones who should inform him. We begged him to come. He cancelled another appointment in order to preach by us. We could not now turn around and say that he couldn’t come anymore.

The chairperson rephrased what I said adding that we insist that he should preach that day. But I just restated what I had already said. He then said that the elders will decide the matter and will inform us of their decision.

The mini-campaign is less than two weeks away.

I saw the meeting as a total waste of time. I didn’t tell my cousin that.

On the operating table

During the post-meeting analysis with my parents and sister, they strongly advised me to quit. My dad said that the elders were out to tear me down due to my pedigree and the role I play in the youth leadership. My mom said that my team mates were using me, making me the fall guy. “It was really bad of them to not pitch for tonight’s meeting,” they said. “S who invited the Conference Youth Director was supposed to be there.” I didn’t tell them that the cousin who was there basically said that I was the middle man in this situation having to do the dirty work of both parties. I didn’t tell him that I felt like I was trying to save a sinking ship. When I used this simile with my dad tonight, he said that I was not the captain of the ship. It was not my job.

At the end of this whole fiasco, one thing is certain: I will hand in my resignation as youth leader at the end of the mini-campaign. My mom doesn’t want me to tell the team that I will resign, but I will tell them just before I email the letter to the elders and the church clerk. My parents have been pleading with me to give up church leadership positions so that I could focus on my studies, but for the past three years,I did not listen to them. The time has come to follow their advice. Whether I’m a good leader or not, I still don’t know. I see myself as a follower. My heart isn’t in this leadership post anymore because my team mates aren’t doing their bit. Some didn’t even inform me that they wouldn’t be able to make it tonight!

One last thing before I go, upon telling my dad that I feel as if I’ll be running away, he said that I won’t be not running away. I’ll be doing what is best for me because the elders are out to sabotage me and my team. They are just the sort of people who will stop at nothing to tear people down because they want to be number 1.

A work in progress

So, with this account, some of you might feel that your sentiments toward Christ and Christianity are validated. But don’t let their example, or mine, put you off from following Christ. Look at James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Peter before Pentecost! I am no saint and neither were they! The elders of my church aren’t saints either. But, we’re following Christ as best we can. I don’t know what goes on in their hearts, only God knows. The intentions behind my actions and their interpretations of my action might very well be diametrically opposed. To them, I might even be the villain. So, don’t judge them.

Every church and every religion has some form of power struggle taking place in its ranks. It’s everywhere! Yet, I am reminded of when Christ asked Peter if he loves Him, to feed His sheep, and to follow Him (John 21), Peter looked back at John. He asked Jesus what would happen to John. Christ just said that Peter shouldn’t worry about John. If He decided John should live forever, then, that’s between Him and John. All Peter must do is to follow Christ, to keep his eyes on Him and, thereby, be a true disciple of Christ.

Their attitude and ineptitude won’t keep me from Christ. I realise that it’s part of the human condition and is exactly why Jesus came to die on the Cross. It’s the reason why He took my sins, and their sins, upon Him so that we all might live a life according to the Divine Model. We will never be morally perfect this side of Heaven. So, cut them some slack. You and I are no better. We all need salvation from sin and from self.

The wisdom of posting this will prove itself in the end.

The Matrix: Reloaded Revisited

Even though this post is not a work of genius (although I wouldn’t mind if it was), I feel compelled to write and share some of the stuff I picked up while watching The Matrix: Reloaded last night.

A few major events

The Matrix: Reloaded is the sequel to The Matrix and the second film of the trilogy. For a summary of the plot, you can read a synopsis here.

In short, in this film, Neo finds out that the Oracle is a program and is part of the Matrix, she helps him find the Architect–an AI program that designs the Matrix. The Architect answers Neo’s questions concerning the Matrix and his purpose. Agent Smith goes viral copying himself into a lot of people with the aim of killing Neo. We also see Neo save Trinity from death in a classic Superman and Lois Lane scenario. Zion is attacked by sentinels and its inhabitants slaughtered. A few ships survive Zion.

Themes

During the course of the film I picked up on the following themes. The film is rich in literary themes and the plot is well worked out.

1. Purpose. The whole trilogy of The Matrix movies centres around purpose specifically Neo’s. What is Neo meant to do?

2. Identity. Closely linked to purpose, the question of identity is one of the main driving forces of the film. In fact, it’s this search for identity that got Neo involved with Morpheus in the first place.

3. Truth. The two preceding themes are only two truths that drive us. In the first film, the reality of the virtual world is called into question. After Neo meets the Architect of the Matrix who explains Neo’s and the Matrix’s purposes to him, he realises that the prophecy is a lie. The Matrix is in its sixth incarnation as is Neo as the Machines grapple with understanding free will. Neo reveals to Morpheus the falseness of the prophecy towards the end of the film.

4. Self-sacrifice. A superhero movie would not be one if the hero impulse was not touched one or exploited. At the end of his meeting with the Architect, Neo is faced with the classic challenge of having to choose between saving the girl and saving the masses. He makes the unconventional choice of saving the girl.

5. Love. This theme is expressed through self-sacrifice. But Neo and Trinity’s love for each other drives and complicates the film too. It serves as good entertainment.

6. Choice. The problem of free will as revealed in Neo’s conversation with the Architect is something the Machines cannot understand. It is something the we humans cannot understand too. Everything in the film is driven by choice. It’s seen that even Mr Smith was given the ability to choose. (He chose to become a rogue program and to copy himself into a human-cyborg hybrid.) That said, predestination is rears its head too since Neo, we see, was designed to be the One. Morpheus was chosen to be Neo’s guide and Trinity our hero’s love interest. Neo was designed to be the anomaly born out of the sum total of all the wrong choices the citizens of the Matrix made. Neo’s existence was inevitable.

7. Belief. The more Neo knows about himself, the stronger he becomes. Everyone in the film believes something. Purpose and truth are only two things in which belief is manifested.

8. Understanding & knowledge. Although not always the same, the desire to know why things are the way they are, why Neo exists, why the Matrix exists, why Mr Smith keeps popping up, why Zion is being destroyed, and so forth, pervades the whole film. The Matrix exists to understand why the human race acted the way they did and to understand free will.

9. Fear. The fears of death and ignorance pervades the whole film. These are the most human of all fears.

10. Struggle for supremacy and freedom. These aren’t necessarily one and the same but in this “outside world” of the film, they are. The human race are subjects of the Machines. Their fight for freedom is limited by their fight for survival although one could say that their fight for survival is a fight to maintain their freedom. But what they do not know is that the Machines are controlling them giving the humans just enough scope to live but not enough to thrive. It is portrayed as if the humans and the Machines are in a war when the reality is the Machines have already won the war. The outside world is a controlled environment. Mr Smith’s obsession with killing Neo is another way in which the theme of supremacy is illustrated in the film.

The altruism test

One thing was clear, you had to listen carefully to what was said and what was not said. You had to listen carefully to Neo’s conversation with the Architect. At the end, Neo choosing to save Trinity should come as no surprise at all since whether he chose to save the masses then and there by his death or not, he was destined to die and so was Zion. His death was inevitable as was Zion’s. At Neo’s death, his body would be carried to the Source where his data would be downloaded and used to refine the seventh incarnation of the Matrix. A few humans would be released into the world driven by the need to build Zion. And the whole thing will start again.

Ties with Christianity

The whole trilogy seen from a theological perspective becomes even more interesting. Since Neo represents a Christ-figure, Morpheus John the Baptist, and Trinity Mary Magdalene (taken from The Da Vinci Code). Neo is the sum total of the bad choices and violence of humanity just like Jesus took the sins of humanity upon Him to die a vicarious death. The names of the people, places and ships hold a lot theological significance too.

The ultimate question

But the fundamental question is: why build the Matrix? Why do the aliens go to such lengths to destroy a society only to build a model to try and understand it? (I don’t know whether these question were ever answered in the trilogy.)

Conclusion

Fear, love, death, faith, freedom, control, choice and truth are the fundamental these the film explored. The Matrix is rich in symbolism and philosophy and superbly combines and explores the most important literary themes and truths. This, I think, is what made it a great success in addition to the media hype about it. The media played an integral role in promoting The Matrix trilogy using a human interest story to draw attention to it. The controversy and consternation the films created in the Christian community added to the films’ popularity.

As I said before, these are just a few observations I made while watching The Matrix: Reloaded last night. They aren’t worth much and only reflect the sense I’m trying to make of the world and of the movie.

What did you think about The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix trilogy as a whole?

Winds of Change: Day 197

A rondevouz with fate

This afternoon we had a mini family gathering at my aunt’s place. Some of my cousins were there. Now, I always had trouble with them accepting me which I spoke about before [will add link later]. But what happened this afternoon truly revealed their feelings towards me.

We sat in our aunt’s lounge while the aunts and uncles sat in the dining room. There were five or six of us, including my aunt’s husband. They spoke about restaurants they had visited while I literally sat in my corner looking at pictures of Christian sculptures and reading sculptors’ biographies. I did participate in the conversation, often cracking jokes with them. In the course of the conversation they mentioned a restaurant they would like to visit. Now I had gone to the restaurant with my parents last year and shared that information with them–twice. They, however, didn’t pay me any attention. They just continued their conversation as if I hadn’t said anything. My uncle heard though and inquired about the place.

I felt bad as anyone in my position would. As I analysed the situation I realised that it’s not that my cousins didn’t accept me; they were just not interested in me. Period. I would never be good enough for them because they didn’t care whether I was good enough or not.

As I said, I felt bad, but I am also free. I have since cut them out of my life. They don’t add value to me in anyway and they clearly don’t want me to add value to them. So, I won’t care about being in their company anymore. Of course, I will still care about them, we’re family. But more than that I refuse to give because they are simply not interested. Simply not interested. (I sense a poem there.)

As I observed them, I saw that they won’t understand my desire to sculpt or make a living from writing. Those aren’t things they are interested in doing so they can’t conceive of others doing it.

About lying low

I also feel bad about lying low with the youth leadership. It feels as if I’m hardening my heart and reject Christ. But I have to step back for the next four months to finish my thesis so that I can graduate at the end of this year. Maybe I should resign as youth leader? If I do, no one else will want to be because that’s exactly the reason I am the youth leader this year.

Stupid crazy dream

I didn’t have a wet dream this morning–a hatrick is more than good enough for me! Thank God! But I did have one crazy weird dream.

I dreamt that my sister and I were driving our car: she was driving, I wasn’t. It was one of those cars driving schools use that have two sets of pedals: one on the driving instructor’s side and one on the learner driver’s side.

It was a busy day in town. The roads were narrow due to the road works, trucks delivering their cargo, garbage trucks loading their cargo, milk trucks and a hot blistering wind. Traffic flowed well even though pedestrians were everywhere.

All of a sudden I took the wheel out of my sister’s hands, who had been speaking on her phone when the light turned green. I can’t remember our destination. But that’s when the trouble started. The more I tried to steer the car, the less control over it I had.

My sister grabbed the wheel and righted the car just as we headed for a milk truck. This happened quite a number of times. But I just took it from her again and tried to steer the car while sitting in the passenger (or in this instance the driving instructor’s seat). How I managed to change gears God alone knows because it was a manual car.

We were heading uphill by then and the danger of rolling back and colliding with another car was very real. The road painters had to vacate their posts while the on-coming cars veered out. All this happened while the truck in front of us tried to parallel parked. We weren’t responsible for it, but it sure felt like it.

When we reached the robot midway up the hill, I decided to give up and let my sister take the wheel.

Waking up from my dream, I had a strong impression that it applied to my life. The more I tried to manage my life, the more out of control it became. I also saw that my sister actually represented my mom who told me that I shouldn’t be the youth leader this year because my studies would suffer. And she was right. In fact, I now that that had I not been as actively involved in church leadership, I would have been done with my master’s degree a long time ago.

That said, the dream still left me confused. What was I supposed to do now? How do I handle my situation? What course of action should I take? Confused I went on my knees, apologised and asked the Lord to direct my steps. The sermon I listened to today was a reminder that we are God’s witnesses, chosen by Him to proclaim and live the Gospel. So, my prayer is that He will guide me. Yet I have to finish my degree this year.

Winds of Change: Days 194-196

Inspired by the qualitative studies I’ve been reading as background research for the two articles for work, I am writing those two in a narrative, conversational style. Whether my editor will be happy or not, we will see. I will edit or rewrite the articles prior to submitting it to her.

I had a wet dream every morning for the last three days! I cut this morning’s one short by waking up and then sitting up straight in bed.

I applied for another internship at the company I am an intern at now. We will see whether I will get it or not. If I don’t get it, I at least tried.

Today I decided to go on hiatus as leader of my church’s youth group. I need to devote more time to my studies if I want to submit my thesis for examination in June. But the church leaders and members don’t understand that. I might have to quit the leadership post. And I really wouldn’t mind doing it because, in all honesty, my studies were last on my priority list; my involvement at church always came first and my battle with pornography and masturbation was second. Like my uncle once told me, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

Tonight before typing this post, I got an awesome idea for a sculpture. I was thinking about how I would arrange the armature of the trees and trying to figure out how one would communicate emotion in tree sculptures when I got the idea. I won’t reveal it now. You’ll have to wait and see.

I’ve just been reading, thinking, and dreaming: reading papers for my articles; thinking about their contents, the youth and my team; thinking about my studies and my professors’ reactions to my request for an extension of the literature reviews’ due date; and dreaming about biochemical mechanisms for the production of electron beams in people. I woke up with a splitting headache at 2 or 3 AM which plagued me the whole day. But God has seen me through.

The prayer meeting went well. I was extremely nervous, uhm-ing the whole time, as I drew a parallel between the war in the Ukraine and the French Revolution. The aim was to remind the folk of Christ’s soon coming, the shortness of life, and how quickly life can change. I was worried that the message would be too deep for them because I spoke from the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Some of them thanked me afterwards for the message. I was so surprised but I praise God that some, if not all, were blessed.

I have to go. Dinner is calling as is my bed.

Winds of Change: Days 185-187

This entry was written last night (day 187).

I know I’ve been saying this a lot lately but this period in my life has been pretty stressful. (I risk sounding like a broken record.)

(Pre)Occupations

I write tonight because I found resolution. The mini-campaign my team and I are coordinating has been postponed and will now take place in May. All the speakers for the week were set until one withdrew last night and a second one this morning. We did not have a pianist and the guest artists did not confirm. So, the “faithful” team mates held a short teleconference where we decided to postpone it. The matter will go to the church board on Sunday.

I have a good feeling about the experiment I did on Monday (day 185) even though I had trouble adding the right amount of cells to the mixture. (The procedure is too technical so I won’t bore you with the details.) Today (day 187) I analysed the samples I took on Monday.

Yesterday I went to work where I struggled to focus because of the mini-campaign. But I did get some work done.

On the porn front

The wish to be naked in nature, to escape from my circumstances grew during this period, as has my awareness of the existence of sexual images. I came pretty close today to look at porn but by God’s grace I did not. Over the past couple of days there were many times when I told myself, No, I won’t look at that. No, I won’t search for that because my AB (short for abstinence) is important to me. I don’t want to fill my mind with that filth.

Let me honest here and say that I did search for tips on how and where to do the following activities nude: kayaking, canoeing, hiking and skydiving. And I performed group searches on Flickr to see what group names would appear in the results. I did glimpse some frontal nudity pics next to the group names but, while expressing dismay, I closed them with my hand, or fingers depending on the size, because I did not want to see such photos. With kayaking my question was, and still is, how do they get it right to disrobe on top of or inside a kayak without falling into the water? (If anyone knows the answer to this question please inform me.)

I performed Flickr photo searches looking for more pics in the line of those featured in the 10 Flickr Favourites post especially the skinny dipping types. I would really love to skinny dip, hike and kayak nude–alone or with friends (because the gender barrier). But I have resigned myself to the fact that such communal activities won’t happen. I also grew tired of the Flickr searches because it was a fantasy that I was creating and that never solves problems.

Therefore, to prevent myself from jeopardising my AB, I decided to respect Google’s SafeSearch by not searching for anything it won’t allow.

I don’t know whether I broke my porn abstinence during this period. The desire to look at sexually stimulating images (porn) was there but I never acted on that desire. Yet I question my interest in unobtrusive nudity. I understand that non-sexual nudity and the kind of images I collect (landscapes with the following elements: mountains, bodies of water, reflections, and colours of sunsets and sunrises) symbolise freedom, peace, nature, quietness, relaxation, escape, serenity, communion with God, and that they are an expression of my creativity since I strive to photograph such moments. Yet it feels like I’m placing a lot of emphasis on expanding my collection.

Did I pray at all during this whole “ordeal”? Yes, I did. I prayed a lot. I claimed Christ’s promises especially the promise St. Paul records in Romans 10:13. I asked the Lord to help me figure out what’s going with these Flickr searches.

Maybe I should just close that account since it’s causing me such a lot of grief and distress? I don’t need that in my life. So that instead of using my creativity to find beautiful pictures, I will use it to make my own and see in what novel ways it will “manifest” itself. (Some heavy personification there!) I think I will do that.

. . . or maybe not. But what I will do is stop searching for stuff with the words “naked” or “nude” attached to them even though I have questions and they are stuff I would like to do. The practice adds ambiguity and complications to my life which I definitely don’t need. It is now a principle of mine.

Winds of Change: Days 175-179

Awaiting emancipation

I actually wanted to post yesterday (day 178) but I felt too terrible. I was shivering the whole day, had hot and cold sweats and almost fainted on the train on my way home yesterday afternoon. My mom said I was as pale as if I had never been in the sun before. Each and every muscle in my body contracted and relaxed to it’s own beat. A dissonant symphony. The muscles in my back all the way up to my neck did the Mexican wave. I could barely concentrate on my work. But luckily I finished my allotted portion for the day.

My vision blacked out on the train as I did my best to remain conscious. I didn’t want to collapse and have my bag stolen. I even thought of asking one of the seated passengers to exchange places with me, but thought the better of it. Before boarding the train, I asked the Lord to give me a seat, but He didn’t. In retrospect, I’m glad He didn’t else I would’ve slipped out of consciousness and missed my stop which is only one station away from my work. I also prayed that the train wouldn’t stop in between the two stations as it frequently does. That prayer God answered affirmatively. When I disembarked I grabbed hold of the woman in front of me’s shoulder when I saw that there was no way I would be able to disembark without falling on my face on the platform. My vision still hadn’t cleared up by the time I reached my destination.

As I made my way home my constant prayer was that the Lord would send a bodyguard of angels to protect me and that He would sustain me. My legs were weak and quivered with every step. You can do this, Eleazar! Rome wasn’t built in a day and you are building Rome with every single step you take! Just continue planting your one foot in front of the other.

When I got home my mom and sister were already there. My mom, the worry wort, fussed over me. I let her. I mean I could’ve died. Any woman with a maternal instinct would’ve have fussed over their only son like my mom did. So I got into bed and slept after eating a dry roll and drinking a laxative. My strength returned to me with time.

This morning my sister more than made up for my constipation. She vomited top and bottom. Her bed clothes became soiled in the process. I will spare you the nasty details. But suffice it to say that she is now lying in bed with a whole of rehydration packs and some pills to stop her diarrhea while I’m sitting in bed waiting for some indication from my body that it wants to commence some bowel movements.

Focus on sculpture

I spoke to an American fine art sculptor over the weekend who belongs to my denomination about nudity in art. He was very encouraging. He even wanted to Skype and teach me about the fine art industry. When I told him about the scale at which I intend sculpt initially he realised that he couldn’t help me. I greatly appreciated the affirmation I got from him. He convinced me to sculpt with clay, to start off with nude sculpts in order to get the anatomy and proportions right, and to sculpt maquettes and at the minimum size for a sculpture to be fine art.

So, yesterday saw me contact local sculptors to hear where they purchase their clay from if they work with clay. I got two positive responses so far of the six I contacted: one works with clay, the other with a wax-based substance. I will call the supplier of the clay sculptor later today.

I also bought a book on clay sculpture and a tree anatomy book today. They should arrive at the end of this month. When they arrive I will buy the rest of my clay sculpture tools. I photographed all my tools and equipment for the American sculptor who said that they are more than adequate. But I don’t feel they are. I want to buy larger sized loop tools, a lazy susan (i.e. a round rotating table), wire for armatures and my own set of wire cutters, side cutters and pliers.

Because of the stress I experienced last week, I have become more prone to headaches. The constipation definitely contributed to the headaches I’ve been experiencing.

Saturday night live

I attended a Christian poetry concert this weekend which was awesome. The poems aimed at making you do introspection and recommit your life to Christ. I attended the event because the poets usually support my youth group’s events and because one of our own belongs to them.

Life modeling

Today I came to the decision that life modeling is not for me. Not because I have hang ups about my body, but because I can’t sit still to save my life. Some part of my body must always move. If I try to sit still, I always end up rocking back and forth. So kudos to all the life models out there!

Counting time

Oh yes! Before I end this post there are 99 days left to my second masturbation abstinence anniversary and I’m one day way from the six month mark of my porn abstinence anniversary.

Love is in the air

Do you remember the girl I wrote about the last time where I wrote about the embarrassment that overwhelmed me while I greeted her and her mother in church as we made our way out of the building? (I will have to find the post and link to it tomorrow . . .) Well, she was in church this weekend and was quite shy. My reaction: Oh no, Eleazar! What have you done?! The woman thinks I’m in love with her. Anyway, my cousin who was standing next me with her (my cousin’s) cousin said, “What’s wrong with you, Eleazar? Why don’t you go for her? She’s so sweet.” I was taken aback by that statement. The woman only greeted me shyly after class over the weekend. (I will explain this class setup at a later date.)

To be honest, I like the idea of dating even marrying the lady but I’m not so sure whether I like her. I haven’t seen any bad character traits and her father is a pastor. Her mom and mine were friends. Her dad’s family and my mom’s family basically come from the same region of our country. But, and this is a very superficial reason really, I don’t find her physically attractive. Whenever we spoke I’m guarded. I am not myself. And it’s important for me to be my “unruly” self with the woman I will marry.

What complicates the situation even further is that I may not act the way I usually do when I know a lady likes me romantically. I’m usually cold, distant and almost a jerk about it. So now I don’t know what to do. But, it’s not that big of a deal.

Had she looked differently would I have pursued her? I’d have to answer no. I’m not ready for a girlfriend right now. I’m only six months into my porn recovery and am still finding my feet career-wise and financially. My thesis is not finished yet. So I don’t have time. A girlfriend (or wife) takes time, money and patience. The first two I don’t have much of right now and the latter I have plenty of since I can wait.

If I had all those things at my disposal would I pursue her? No, because I’m not so sure that I love her romantically.

This is going to sound very arrogant: I think my shyness and embarrassment comes from the fact that I know she likes me and that I could “have” if I really wanted to. Both sets of parents (hers and mine) would approve of the relationship.

But yeah . . . I’m leaving it in God’s hands. He knows who I am best suited to be with and who is best suited to be with me. If I am to get over this lack of physical attraction, He will make it happen.