Myself, Rani

91. Queen (2014) — OK, I waited way too long before writing my reflections on this one so the reality of the film is probably going to be compromised … but here goes.

455847-queen

I like this film. Left me smiling. I could not recognise the Kangana Ranaut of Gangster (an eyeroller of a film, that one), and there was a kind of joyful, artless authenticity to everyone and everything. No one is that bad, or that saintly; nothing is quite the end of the world, or the beginning of a fairytale. What we get is the crushing of a caterpillar’s dream and the cracking of a butterfly’s cocoon. Then — Revelation. Dignity. Identity. Good stuff. Even with the awkward “Japanese” guy.

I resonated most with the slow and steady flashback-awakenings of our queen as to all the tiny papercuts that made That Guy (such a good actor, Rajkummar Rao — loved to hate him) all too wrong for her. (I also resonated with the lead’s irrepressible auntie-ness — I love how she’s never other than herself even as she blossoms.) Why do I need a movie to tell me how to process my feelings? I’m sorry and not sorry. And thankful.

Happy thanks to Sayesha for introducing this gem, and feeding me before it!

Achaaaaaaar

I couldn't find my fave still from the movie — from the book reading scene — so this will have to do!

I couldn’t find a still from the beautiful book reading scene, so this will have to do. Fun bit! (Sanjay Dutt was super in his role.)

90. PK (2014) — It is a great pleasure to encounter a film that is both entertaining and powerful, a pleasure compounded by sharing it with a first-time and slightly fearful Hindi movie viewer (she was delighted in the end).

“PK” — to a Mandarin-speaking reality TV viewer, a “PK” round is one in which the loser is immediately out of the competition, an allusion to “player kill” in a multi-player game. In “PK” the Bollywood movie, it is a play on the sound of the Hindi word for “tipsy”. “PK” is also the name of a popular Russian rifle … anyway, the point appears to be that the word could and would mean different things in different cultures, for such is the oddness and wonder of human languages.

What we have in “PK” is an alien’s eye view of humanity (mostly represented by brethren in the subcontinent), specifically its tendency towards religiosity. (The twist in the romance was suitably tear-inducing, and added to the big picture instead of being the big thing — huzzah!) As the alien casts his eye across humanity, it is not from the vantage of a throne or castle, but as a vagabond tossed about by the usual slings and arrows of fortune, made all the more outrageous by his unfailing honesty.

What it seems we are being led to see through his (mis)adventures is the paucity of truth in much of our ever-searching for God (even when we think we have found him — non-gender-specifically), which has inevitably led to a myriad variations of idolatry (making God in our own image; taking anything or anyone other than God to be God), with “managers of God” doing their daring best to exploit the misery of the masses.

“PK” sometimes veers close to the arrogance of those who declare that all gods are the same — for would they not have to be a god to judge so? In its send-up of the “wrong number” dialled by various religions, it does get Christianity wrong — no one is ever born a Christian, even if they’re born into a Christian family. Following Christ is a decision you make, not a decision made for you — in other words, God has no grandchildren.

But I take the point about the confusing damnation of hell — why would God destine his children to eternal suffering? Yet here the moviemakers are guilty of using terms without defining them and of taking imperfect language to be a full description of the perfect. I should be wary then of how the other religions are depicted/caricatured in the film — but could even this be a masterstroke of a point?

In any case, the movie’s points remain, given to the audience not in masala or half-measures, but as strong and subtle assertions for any work of art. We are all seeking for God, but surely the Creator gave us minds — and hearts — so we would use them. It follows then that if God were powerful enough to create us, then we are fools to believe we need to protect his honour by doing violence unto his creation, instead of honouring him by protecting our fellow creatures. We should be wary of disdaining honest questioning (wouldn’t God be big enough to take it?) and depict our fellow seekers as enemies.

These points are all the more keenly felt in the wake of the many mindless, heartless massacres from Peshawar to Paris.

Annus mirabilis

One of the reasons why I made such a shift in (or should I say, actually found) direction in life was because of the creeping horror that otherwise “this” was what life was going to be like if I didn’t giddy-up and head to where I should be going — the days drifting before me year by year, nothing changing at the speed of light. So I am very happy to report that 2014 has proven to be a tremendous year for me —

  • through the agony of work and the ecstasy of fellowship in the last semester of my Master of Divinity programme at Singapore Bible College
  • through my first-ever silent retreat, a weekend with the Jesuits at Kingsmead Centre
  • through my first-ever visit to Indonesia — gobsmacked by the architecture, I was
  • through turning old enough to apply for my own public housing flat …
  • through the actual fact of graduating (how did that happen again???)
  • through adrenaline-pumping adventures with schoolmates at Phuket, Telunas, and the epic Justice Conference Asia
  • through beginning to make my way into a new church, with all the attendant training in humility, patience and trust
  • through a big and happy change in hairstyle ^_^
  • through returning to the same seminary, this time as an administrative staff (shout out to those patient, pure-hearted labourers), a research student (shout out to the longsuffering labourers passing through the Master of Theology programme), and — how’s this for amazing — a teacher of basic Hebrew (shout out to my own teachers, on whose shoulders I stand)!!!
  • through the sobering, gentle, piercing, God-given words of a warrior ajumma who runs a prayer mountain in Korea
  • through the mind-altering, faith-bolstering Philosophical Hermeneutics course, and the ensuing research paper and presentation with encouraging feedback
  • through the once-in-a-long-while family trip (and getting to visit Taiwan again!), undertaken to support my little bro in the steps towards the big venture of marital bliss
  • through the unexpected gift of viewing all three Occupy HK sites through my own beady eyes
  • through the utterly unlooked for and undeserved opportunity to attend this year’s South Asian Christian Youth Network gathering in Dubai, all thanks to TSY!!!
  • through being set free from anxiety attacks in confined spaces that somehow began on the plane to HK
  • through having any lingering illusions shattered about a self-deceiving hope I once had, the denouement to a tale I would not want my worst enemy to live through, but have grown tremendously through nonetheless
  • through the glorious news of a cousin getting baptised on the same day as his then-fiancée, and the happiness of witnessing their wedding and having the energy to drive two hours straight and back to Muar without dozing off like I did three years ago … (my parents were in the car, and they aren’t believers yet)!!!

In the past three years of seminary, I have fallen into every trap I could. The Lord in his love has let me suffer the consequences of my actions and inactions, and helped me learn from them — the Lord in his mercy has rescued me from much delusion, especially in the year gone by.

I look forward to the year ahead with eager anticipation for where this freedom will lead to, and pray especially to flee like the wind from the temptations of my besetting sins, finally grasping the finality of victory in Christ over them.

Next post will be about the adventure in Dubai!

[Addendum: And how can I forget? I played basketball and even football in school this year — at my grand old age! Better late than never ever! Teehee!]

Not wasting the waiting

Wise words on not wasting the waiting by Mark Romanek, director of iconic movie videos (lately that jolly one by Taylor Swift; make sure you watch Hurt by Johnny Cash) and who has indeed transitioned to films like One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go:

I always really wanted to be a feature film director, but that wasn’t coming together. So I said, well, maybe if I just do this and really focus on it, I’ll learn more about myself as a person, and I’d have more stories to tell, be able to just grow as a human being, and be ready to make a movie. Because I might know a thing or two, and really learn the craft by getting to do all these different aesthetics … and I just really embraced it and tried to get really good at it.

— from a documentary on Romanek here

By the grace of God, a research paper and presentation was somehow accomplished this past week. By the grace of God, my teaching of Biblical Hebrew, part one, will be roundly completed this coming week. By the grace of God, unexpected adventures are afoot the rest of November. By the end of all this, I will have truly ‘levelled up’ in ways beyond what I could’ve imagined at the beginning of the year.

The Philosophical Hermeneutics paper was a mountain I had to go back down and climb up again so many times, and the summit was so impossibly high. The teaching of Hebrew was a lesson in hard work, humility and the huge difference that a mentor makes. And the upcoming adventures — well! Will tell if I survive them.

But these all feel like steps and stations; I’m on the way to somewhere or something else. I’m growing up, I’m gathering stories, I’m getting ready to … (blank to be filled in by the rest of my allotted days). In the meantime, much maturation is needed and to come. Pray for a sister!

Yeah yeah yeah

So Gary Chapman’s concept of the Five Love Languages may be a little too … exclusive. But I think it’s always good to be that bit more self-aware and we shouldn’t expect broad brushstrokes to colour our every nuance anyway. So just for the record, here are mine — the top three — with explication from the official site:

1. Quality Time — cos how else do I know you’re for real?

In Quality Time, nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there — with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby — makes you feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed activities, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Whether it’s spending uninterrupted time talking with someone or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.

2. Acts of Service — definitely cultivated by the expectations and example of my parents!

Can helping with homework really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. When others serve you out of love (and not obligation), you feel truly valued and loved.

3. Words of Affirmation — needless to say … for someone who grew up with her nose in more books than flowers.

Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love  language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important — hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten. You thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words that build you up.

You can suss out your own lurve languages here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/. Let me know what they are? It’ll mean you spent quality time to give me this act of service that will result in words of affirmation …

God keeps his promises

Here’s one to cling to in an age of tyrants, beheadings and other nauseating defilements of the divine image, at a time when the blood of a family of eight can be dashed against their open Bible because their deepest loyalty was upward-bound:

Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

— Matthew 13:40–43 NRSV

Ye olde homiletical garden

IMG_4286My approach to preparing a sermon has been that I must never assume I will ever get to preach again. That’s a bit of a cop-out, though. It ignores the fact that we must always seek to improve, and that also means accepting that this next time mustn’t be our last or best attempt at faithfully digging out first century questions and bravely essaying twenty-first century answers.

In any case, thinking in such a linear fashion — this time, next time, the time after that — won’t be too helpful if you don’t have the luxury of being a full-time student and your deadlines are as fixed as the passage of days.

All that preamble is to preface this bit of ‘preaching lore’ I came across — hope it helps my fellow hatchlings:

How Much Advance Planning Should We Do for Our Sermons?

Preachers vary widely in their planning habits. Some preachers have well-organised minds, and with the aid of a calendar and a lectionary they plan their preaching months in advance. A few even take a week or so of study leave to sketch out a general preaching scheme for the coming year. Most of us are less disciplined, beginning the next sermon only after the present one has been delivered.

The best wisdom is that every preacher can be actively at work on five or six sermons at once. A good method is to create separate file folders for, say, the next half-dozen sermons. The biblical texts should be chosen and enough of the exegetical work done on these texts to know the general direction of each of the sermons. The preacher can then browse through these files periodically to keep the upcoming sermon themes in mind. Clippings from the newspaper, quotes from novels, pastoral experiences, and other ideas can then be placed into the files so that, when the time comes to create a sermon, its folder will already contain some working material. As soon as a sermon is complete, a new file is made to take its place at the end of the line. Older homileticians called this method a “homiletical garden”. The big task is in setting up the system, since exegetical work on several sermons is required. Once the garden is planted, however, it can be tilled and cultivated as a matter of routine.

— The Witness of Preaching (2nd ed.) by Thomas G. Long (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), pp. 234–235.