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Archive for August, 2007

I just found out that my niece (five years old–Sophie) has been diagnosed with maligment neuroblastoma stage 4.  Place of origin-adrenal gland.  As of yesterday’s testing, it has metastasized to the lymph nodes and bones.  Dr’s prognosis is 50/50 chance of survival.  She just started on chemo.  It will be later followed up by surgery.  If any of you have any information, kindly let me know.  Thank you.

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I will be visiting Thailand, Malaysia, and may be Laos in the next month. Part of the trip is to do some volunteer work for an NGO that helps victims of trafficking up in Mae Sai (near Thai-Burmese border). Hope to learn more on the issue of trafficking from this visit.

Not certain how often I can get into this site to blog. So, please come and visit this site again (especially when I return). Will try to write some during my visit especially on the issue of human trafficking. For those of you who have interest on this issue, please check in occasionally.

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I have been thinking a lot lately about religious fundamentalism and its possible connection to violence, war, and conflicts in our global community. We have been hearing the term fundamentalism very often lately. And whenever it is being used, it is never referred to ‘us’ but always to ‘them’ to the ‘others.’ They are the fundamentalists. I do wonder about the use of this term, particularly the psychological interpretation of its usage. Personally I see fundamentalism as an idea that there is one way to view reality, and one way to be. And ours is often better than that of the others. We often hear the term respect being thrown into conversations. I like to think that respect, ultimately, is that ability to come to fully acknowledge that there are other views and possibilities. That we do not have it all. This does not mean that we do not have a good solid opinion or ideas. But even with the best of ideas, there are still the possibility of alternate views of things. Respect also conveys that others have the ability to solve their problems. It may not be the way we do it. It may not even appear to be the best way in our opinion. But it does exist. The path may be more convoluted and circular. But it does exist. I think this, at the core, is the opposite of fundamentalism. In a way to point to others and call them fundamentalists is fundamentalism in itself.

There is however another dimension to this issue. I believe that fundamentalism is often a response to a perceived attack on one’s identity. Like teenagers going through their stages, the fighting is only for the carving of one’s identity. And this is precisely the problem. When the identity is stable one needs not fight. Fundamentalism, in a way, is a return to a previous understanding of reality. It is a regression at some level which happens to all of us when in crisis. We move back to the place that is secure. Something we know well. And this place is often undifferentiated. A conservative student who has been just exposed to a very liberal ideas my return to his/her previous view that offers security and protection. A nation under attack may share a similar process. In crisis, we move back to the fundamentals and start seeing the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ often not realizing that fundamentalism in itself is not able to sustain itself. In a world of complexity, fundamentalism is only able to move within a very small territory because its view is very limited. Hence it is easier, some think, to change the world to fit this limited view of the world instead of adapting the self to the world of complexity. In a way, fundamentalism has to be agressive believing that only when they can change the world, will the world be livable.

There is a strong parallel process with many people who have, themselves, been through crisis. These individuals, often time, learn that pain does not cease in control but in letting go. Crisis is not solved through forcing things to happen but in trusting…trusting in God, in others, in the direction of life itself. Perhaps, as a community, we may one day learn that trusting may be an avenue for our ability as a world community to come together and learn from one another.

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Note: this post is a part of the on-going conversation about various doctrines in my church. Part of my role is to write on the church’s doctrine about marriage and family. The following is my attempt within the limits of space and time.  For discussion and comments on this post, please visit:  http://spectrummagazine.typepad.com/

I personally believe that there is an ontological drive toward Transcendence in all of us and this drive expresses itself in various dimensions of life. This fundamental belief about marriage and family grows out of this inner reach for Transcendence and Divinity within human relationships. While it may be practical to capture this within the belief system, Transcendence always transcends any attempt to capture it, especially in doctrinal form.

There is an inner longing in us for that ideal family where love, respect, honor, and responsibility form the core values. Where our inner needs are fulfilled. Where there is harmony. Where family members constantly support and nurture one another. Where everyone is fully committed to standby in misery and happiness. Where there exists complete acceptance and love. Where family members take the time to really listen. These are the yearnings of the soul for the Divine within the boundary of human relationships. These yearnings and longings are a part of us from creation. They are the essence to which we were created for. They are the stuff of the soul that needs to be recognized and honored.

At the very same time there needs to be the recognition that as human beings, we are always standing in-between, between the heaven and the earth, Divinity and humanity. We are children of both realities. And “family” is very much a part of these two realities. We stand in-between. The earth represents the possibility for conflicts, tensions, human weaknesses, the basic primal aspects of our humanity. The earth symbolizes the messiness of life, of the reality that love is a difficult path to follow, that respect requires a great sense of maturity, that honor does not come easy, that responsibility comes with growth. On earth one realizes that the desire to love is compromised by the reality of our humanity, of the possibility of our weaknesses, insecurity, and jealousy.

To stand in-between is to come to an awareness of the deep yearning for the Divine within the boundary of marriage and family and the reality of our humanity. It is to create the distinction between the yearnings and the reality of there fulfillments. To stand in-between is to allow our souls to savor the romance of Divine agape while extending our love tarnished by our very own humanity in the best possible way. I personally think that if we do not place our marriage and family between heaven and earth, we may be living in a home without a soul, or having a soul that has no home.

I do have many suggestions about raising children in relation to the concept of standing in-between. But when you have your own children and you have lived through their teenage years, what is there left to say about raising children except that may the grace of God be upon all of us parents. As my wife once remarked to me, “When you have children, you are never the same. They change you.” While raising my teenage son, I was forced to grow emotionally. I can’t say that I’m fully emotionally mature, but I have certainly grown. If you are not growing while helping your child to grow, you have to wonder what growth is all about. A part of parenting is about a corrective that a child places on us in the way we come to experience Transcendence.

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Lately I have met a number of very spiritual people who struggle with different types of addiction (from mild to moderate obsession). They all have experience depression (some more severe than the other). One of the most interesting aspects is the recognition that prior to depression, most of them were rather disciplined, in control of things and life events, and succeeding. This is also a reminder that before my experience with major depression, I was pretty optimistic with a strong sense of accomplishment. I believed in my ability to achieve but for the last decade (after my depression), it has been very difficult regaining this sense within me. This observation leads me to ask a number of questions. Is it possible that addiction is a form of regression? This regression takes place because a person is faced with problems they cannot handle and therefore the self naturally gravitates toward that which bring comfort to the psyche. This comfort is normally primal in nature. Second, is it possible that the disciplined self can maintain itself only within the context of positive emotions? Therefore the negative emotions and the strong sense of guilt that are symptoms of depression make it impossible to practice self discipline and also spiritual discipline. There are studies showing that diabetic patients with depression have a much harder time complying.

I posted these observations to my supervisor, Christa McNerney, and her response was very insightful. Agreeing with most of my assumptions, she also raised a very interesting question. Is it also possible that the initial cause of depression in the first place has to do with a very high expectation for oneself? The expectations that may be imposed from external sources or constructed by the self such as the strong need to achieve, to succeed, to be in control, to be spiritually high, to be perfect in God’s presence.  We face overwhelming feelings or problems often because of what we expect out of life and of ourselves. These expectations drive us further and further away from who we are. The further we go, the more removed we become from our essence. When we feel overwhelmed by these expectations of life which we can not cope with effectively, we regress.   This regression also affects our spirituality and spiritual discipline.  Here lies the paradox.  Spirituality, in my opinion, is really about finding the essential self within the presence of God. Because the only way to come to God is to come the way we essentially are. If we are anything else, we will only end up dishonoring God. Spirituality is God’s invitation to us in all aspects of who we are. It is God saying, I love “you.” Spirituality is that space that allows us to just be and be ok with who we are. It negates any attempt to be what the society wants us to be. It negates any attempt to find the high in the spiritual experience. It is in what “is.” It is not going out looking for God and proving yourself to God. It is in knowing that God is in the very “isness” of us.

This leads to my final question. Is it possible that certain understanding of spirituality can lead to depression which results in addiction and not the other way around? Just a thought!

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I have an intense fear for conflicts and tensions. It stresses me out bad. I do realize that this is indeed a very bad habit especially when I’m in relationships because it does not solve anything. Hence, my normal response is to avoid or find other ways to escape potential conflicts. Yesterday I was forced to deal with a potentially very conflicting situation, a very angry person. I was very anxious and five minutes before the meeting I went into a small room to take a deep breath and to ponder. What was interesting was that while I sought a good coping mechanism, the image that came to mind was my dream about being bitten by a snake. The phrase kept repeating in my head was, “I was bitten but I survived.” In fact, in that dream I became more alive than ever. I came back even stronger. That image from my dream brought great comfort because it was not just another image but it was archetypal and it guides me to realize what can potentially happen. I took a deep breath and went to see this person and things could not have turned up any better. Dreams do come true.

I read somewhere that snake dreams occur when the dreamer is attempting to come to terms with his or her more instinctive self.  In a way, it is also about trying to gather energies from the suppressed self for personal integration.

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