Saturday, December 29, 2007

Two oh oh seven

One final post for the year. I was just thinking a little about the year gone by, as you do. And as always, it feels like it’s gone by too quickly. In some ways, I supposed this year was always going to be a transitional one. It’s quite stunning to realise that I’m over a year removed from my undergraduate days, although I’m really glad now that I didn’t move straight into the working world – I feel as if I needed to catch my breath a little! After that frenetic final year, it was quite nice to move back into a bit of a more 9-5 classroom routine, which is what this Masters felt like, and that the pacing of the course was more relaxed, enabling me to enjoy weekends without any guilt.

It was transitional, I suppose, not just academically, but also in adjusting to a new church, new living spaces, new friends, new realities, and also learning to say goodbye. In emails to friends this year, I often referred to Al Hsu and his perceptive comments in The Single Issue regarding the post-university years. Although I technically haven’t left university then, his wise words regarding the losses we sustain once we leave studentdom applied to me too. Briefly, these included

The loss of familiarity. University in effect becomes your home away from home. The hallways, the lecture halls, the library are all paths I travel through daily for 3 years. I know where the best cinemas are, the cheapest places to eat. The location has become part of my history, and so it’s not surprising that I need to properly grieve that when I move on. This is especially so when I move to a place like London, which is so huge that I still don’t have any idea half the time where to go to get a particular item or service!

The loss of status. We all fit into certain niches as students, and the way university is set up means that it’s pretty easy to find your way to fill those, whatever it may be: drama club etc. We might have been somebody, holding a committee position of some sort; in my case, a CU rep. No one really cares about that once you move on. The truth is that often these feeds into our identities and it can be quite disorientating when that’s gone.

The loss of intimacy. Basically, this simply means people move on. Two of my closest friends at university are no longer in this country, although the fact that both are currently in Singapore lessens that impact somewhat as I’m sure I’ll see them again at some point. But I also know that there are some people whom in all likelihood, I might never bump into again.

I think too of people moving on to different life stages from me, eg. friends who have entered into the working world while I haven’t, or those who have gotten attached (perhaps even married) while I have remained single. And of course, getting used to a more uncertain future. Now that I have finally left the education system, suddenly there isn’t quite a predetermined path to follow.

I was thinking too about how my university years have made me realise how much I don’t know. I always hoped that a university education would primarily teach me how to think, and while I am still not at all a natural critical thinker, I do know that at least I can see some discernible differences in the way I process my thoughts from a few years ago. I know that I see complexities more often nowadays. But it also makes the world a bit of a less certain place, and (hopefully) it humbles you as well.

One of the best things I got to do this year was to be able to go through Mark’s gospel as an ordinary member of a Bible study group. It was thoroughly refreshing and I think I can say that it did, however imperfectly, deepen my love for my Saviour. I was also more thoroughly convinced that, despite the obvious pitfalls of descending into bibliolatry, God’s Word grows us and sustains us. I don’t have all the answers to the various questions being raised at the moment with regards to Scripture, such as inerrancy, but I think that it is possible to freshly articulate a robust biblicism.

It seems more and more to me we’re living in liminal times, that is, a time where we’re in the middle of shifting paradigms. In the West, I think there’s plenty of recognition that we’re living in what has often been called "postmodernity", even if no one can quite agree on what that means, or at least it’s entering a post-Christian age. I think the age of secularism is on its last legs, and religion is making a big comeback in the public square, not that it ever left in some places. We have to come to grips with what it means to live in a globalised, pluralistic world. Not to mention the legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism for the Majority World, and how the Christian faith will engage with these new realities. The emerging church in its best expressions are taking this seriously. Pentecostalism is still young and it will be interesting to see how that evolves. As a non-cessationist, I’m glad that cessationism is becoming a minority position though. :-) But I would say that the prosperity gospel is also one the most dangerous threats in the Majority World today.

I’m too young to really remember even the Cold War, but while terrorism is now a familiar staple in the news, it’d be interesting to see what the rise of China and the possible comeback of Russia means. I know we often lament about our cultural captivity to consumerism as well as wonder about whether there ever will be any viable alternatives to unbridled capitalism.

Malaysia’s gone through quite some turbulent times this year, its 50th. I think that Abdullah Badawi’s relatively weak leadership has contributed to this, as unlike his predecessor, a strongman, he’s been less able to contain any political ferment. There are more questions than ever over the nature of the social contract, and more religious polarisation – from fervent debate over the nature of Muslim conversion (and burial rites) to the latest debates over whether it is appropriate for a non-Muslim to use the word Allah to refer to God. It doesn’t quite help that that the situation is still very much coloured by race. Christians will have differing stances over how to engage (or indeed, if to engage at all) but Malaysian Christians cannot take a tidak apa attitude any longer.

I always find going into a new year slightly intimidating, and even more so this time as I move into the working world and learn of budgeting and such. I know that in terms of personal holiness, I’m still sorely lacking. I’m leading a small group again, although in quite different circumstances, and that’s always a challenge. As is building and maintaining friendships, especially for anti-social me. :-)

I've discovered that this little excerpt from Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, which I first featured here has proved to be something worth reflecting on this year, and so I quote it in full once again:

"To suppose that [the Christian life is a quiet escape or a fantasy trip] is to turn the nut the wrong way. The Christian life is going to God. In going to God, Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.

The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God...We believe that life is created and shaped by God and that the life of faith is a daily exploration of the constant and countless ways in which God's grace and love are experienced."



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Blogger Kon Yew said...

Happy New Year!

9:40 pm  

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