Archive for September, 2012


Everyone wants to know more about my travels and experiences in Asia, why haven’t I written so much about this specifically? Maybe I feel as if there is too much pressure, there is so much to write about and I have felt that I could not possibly do justice to the experience of it all and so have shrunken away from the task. No more though, I must and will share these experiences and they will shine through for what they are. Onwards then:

One of the first experiences that I must share is the experience of isolation. One of the reasons that I was comfortable with going on this long, interesting and new adventure on my own was that I thought myself to be one of the best subtypes of personalities to handle being alone and isolated for long periods of time.

I am an introvert and a thinker meaning that I spend most of my time, even when in my home country on my own digesting what my senses and intuitions have told me through the day. After a long day at work or varsity I have always enjoyed retreating to my own lonesome space to relax. Often during university vacations and school holidays I would almost entirely disappear in the eyes of the public – even somewhat to my closest friends so as to totally escape for a time while I ‘recharge’ mentally and spiritually (and sometimes physically). Thanks to a functional family and great social network (not twitter or facebook, the irl one) I am also no social recluse or am I otherwise socially dysfunctional, I just seem to enjoy being alone between social encounters more than most of (or at least half of) the population.

Not everyone could be a hermit or manage living alone in an isolated setting, I figured that if anyone could though, it would be me. This in part gave me the confidence to go on this Asia trip on my own – I was also interested in testing this theory out.

Now two months later I believe I have tested the theory out to at least some extent. I must explain the type of isolation I’m talking about here though, I am not far away from people, all I ever need do is stand on the balcony of my apartment at almost any hour of the day or night and I can see people moving about, so it’s not difficult to find people. Only one main thing separates me from these people though: language – English vs. Thai. I had expected there to be a second separating factor namely ethnicity, being a farang, a foreigner with curly hair and differently shaped face, however this has really not bothered me or seemingly any Thai people. We all seem to get on fine.

I am also not isolated from new friends and caring people, my missionary work colleagues have been the most welcoming and friendly people one could ever hope for when abroad, often translating and writing down meal orders for me to help me get my food, helping me when I was sick with a light case of bronchitis, referring me to attractions and teaching me how to use the taxis and trains when I first arrived. These new friends have made the difference for me and had I not had them the isolation would have been too severe.

The real isolation I am talking about comes through on the weekends, when I don’t have like-minded friends (and girlfriend) to share things with. I’ve found that the old saying really is true that nothing is fully enjoyed until it’s been shared (hence the facebook and twitter, etc. phenomenon). Even for the most reclusive introvert, a fair portion of the enjoyment of any thing or experience is in sharing it and one’s joy in it with someone, more so if they are like-minded and enjoy it as well.

I was fortunate to start dating the illustrator last year and since most of this year has forced us into a long distance relationship, we cultivated good communication habits early, speaking on instant messenger apps everyday and using google and skype video and voice call software once a week or so. She has been my greatest link to my home and my support system simply through the consistency of our communication (and her affection). Continued contact with my family and my good friend TUE on messenger apps and email have been significant in keeping me happy as well. It is so so key, I have found, to stay connected to the people that made you who you are.

The first major take-home I’ve gained from my adventure so far is the importance of friendships and relationships. Smart people like Viktor Frankl and Jesus and Ravi Zacharias have said this before me and now I must attest to their absolute truth in this – that relationships are a KEY factor to human happiness and purpose. Frankl includes the experience of love (importantly both given and received) as one of the 3 things that gives a man purpose in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Jesus’ teachings and those of the apostles who spread them have their foundations in the relational nature of mankind, even depicted in the relationship of God as three persons in one – God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus being the same spiritual entity but having a relationship nature as well (mind melting stuff). Zacharias includes relationships among the 4 things one needs to be happy (also included in this list is a sense of wonderment – hence the popularity of movies and fantasy and fiction).

What do I miss most about South Africa? – my girlfriend, friends and family. Thankfully my girlfriend will be here to visit me and help me enjoy all there is here in just 1 weeks time. And TUE may possibly be visiting in November.

If I were to define myself with a single word, I’d hardly pause before making my choice: ‘Introspection’. I feel that this is often my greatest strength, and a great vice at other times. It’s hard to say sometimes whether it’s a good or a bad thing. I have spent the past 2 months more introspective than anything else. What being in this state means though is that everything I think and do remains internal and this is a vice to the blogger. I was struck by the thought today that no thought, not matter how grand, is worth anything in the end if it remains uncommunicated. More so then for the less grand thought, which may take on some worth when it is taken outside of the singular mind and put into the public domain. This last thought prompted me to try and take what has been going on in my world over the past 2 months and put it down through the keyboard before me.

What follows is an attempt to take as many of my thoughts and experiences and the information I’ve consumed whilst being overly introspective and put it down in a code widely used and recognised as English characters and language (an old fascination of mine is that we as humans can so effortlessly interpret alphabetical code on the fly).

I have gone through a few obsessions over the past 2 months, one was the careful watching and analysis of debates between the most widely known Atheists in the world, known as the four horsemen of the New Atheism and numerous Christian opponents. The four horsemen being Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. The two Christians opponents were William Lane Craig and John Lennox. I watched many debates available online between these characters taking careful note of the arguments and pausing the videos every now and then to think about my response to questions and attacks and to think about what questions I would raise. What I love about these debates is the iconoclastic intellectual ballet it produces as two above average intelligent and well educated gentlemen engage in a careful but instinctual battle of minds. Testing the steel of their minds against each others, as I watch I can almost literally see the concepts dancing around as if a great ballet in my mind (another facination: the connection between dance and combat/marshal arts – enter capoeira). These debates also show that no single-disciplined approach is sufficient to explore the topics of metaphysics, one needs biology, mathematics, physics, psychology, chemistry and philosophy. However I believe that philosophy has the greatest hand of all of these academic offerings in answering these questions. Physics may be the ‘hardest’ of the sciences (psychology being the ‘softest’) but Philosophical ideas such as logic govern the most fundamental laws of physics.

One can find a very good list of debates free on the web here. I encourage you to take a look. These debates and arguments will seldom convince anyone of either stand point but what they do do for atheists and christians alike is to show that there is a deep integrity to the belief in the christian God, which has become the trend to deny allegedly in lieu of science.

In summary, some of the outstanding moments from these debates:
1) Richard Dawkins admitting to John Lennox that he was wrong in his book (The God Delusion) and in fact the Jesus of the bible emphatically did exist.
2) The late Christopher Hitchens being unable to offer a single refutation of any of W.L. Craig’s arguments for the explicit existence of the christian God through 3 rounds, ending in his forfeiting of his final chance at rebuttal/response to Craig.
3) Sam Harris adopting a fallacious stance of hostile ad hominem in his debate with Craig and again not responding to any of Craig’s arguments. I also seemed to me that he took a disrespectful stance of below the belt tactics, trying to shift the focus of the debate to topics and ends not helpful to the audience or his opponent. It seemed to me that he simply stalled the entire debate away.
4) The absolute refusal of Dawkins to ever debate Craig 1 on 1, this decision put him into a storm of hate mail and public slander from his atheist colleagues in Oxford and abroad. There is a summary of this story on YouTube here.

The next of my obsessions is still strong. I have been consuming a steady stream of documentaries on topics ranging from The cannibalism of ex-soldiers in Liberia to the Scientific truth behind losing weight to the truth behind Bodybuilding. I returned to the productions of my favourite Gonzo Journalist, the well known Louis Theroux from the BBC. I first discovered his documentaries when I happened to be up at around 10pm on a holiday night. A Louis Theroux documentary was showing, I think it was on “The most hated family in America”, it turned out to be a Louis Theroux festival and so I watched documentary after documentary until around 5am the next morning. I discovered this past month that there are a wealth of free documentaries available on the web, here are some of the best websites to access them in order of preference:
http://www.documentaryheaven.com
http://watchdocumentary.com/all_documentaries/
http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/watch-online/
http://www.documentarywire.com/watch-online/
http://www.documentarytube.com/
There’s even a great android app that I make a lot of use of available here.

Some of the highlights:
1) In the cannibalism of Liberia doc (available on YouTube here) the documentary takes a sudden unexpected (even to the makers) turn when they become captivated by the intriguing redemption story of General Butt-Naked. A man who once notorious in Liberia, used to fight naked with his men as he and his followers believed that this combined with the execution and consuming of an innocent child would make them invincible. He describes to the cameras how he used to sit on his ‘throne’ beside the dirty street with his troop crouching around him, he would capture an innocent child and cut open their back and pull their heart from their living body and share it with his men. At this point the story suddenly takes a turning point when he describes the moment he stopped these practices. He says he had just finished this ritual and his men were out collecting water, they were almost back when he heard someone calling his name from behind him “Butt naked! But naked!!”. He turned around and saw a man and a woman in white, the light was radiating though the man and it was “as bright as the sun”.
This man said to him “my son, why are you slaving?”
Butt Naked thought to himself “I’m not a slave!” and replied “In this whole territory I am the king, I’m supposed to be a king!”
and the man said “you’re right in saying that you’re supposed to be a king, but you’re living like a slave”
Butt Naked replied and said “I don’t understand what you mean”
and the man said to him “I mean, repent and live or refuse and die”.
The man and woman disappeared and he went into battle but his pistol didn’t work and he “was afraid for the first time”. Now words by themselves don’t mean much but the documentary changed direction now and followed General Butt Naked. At the time of the documentary he was now not a general anymore but a caring missionary, travelling around preaching the gospel and running a shelter for former child soldiers. Honestly coming across as a gentle and honest man. He was transparent about his evils but clearly ashamed of them and no longer held in guilt by them, redeemed. He had also been exonerated and forgiven of his war crimes by the country. Draw your own conclusions but it sound like he had a run in with Jesus like Saul in the the book of Acts in the bible. It’s a story that is hard to ignore.
Skip to 32 minutes to hear this story first hand.

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General Butt Naked interview

** end of part one. See next post for more thoughts.

This post is a follow up to my last post on depression about a month ago. I felt that neither was it complete nor was it an satisfactorily accurate reflection of my thoughts. I realised that discussion or conversation may be the best arena for the topic rather than singular treatises.

So accordingly, this post includes a guest appearance by my good friend TUE over at theurbaneagle.wordpress.com. We have both battled bouts of depression at times and have both given a crack at understanding it. TUE first posted about it here in depression and faith part one. TUE’s post is well written and I recommend reading it.

The conversation below is transcribed from the comments in my previous post (you may want to read said post if you haven’t already though it’s not essential). I will update it as and when the conversation continues.

theurbaneagle:

I think there is complexity in this subject that will dip into the nature of sin, the nature of the promises of God, the interpretation of Biblical suffering and the understanding of the intersection between body and soul.

For example, suffering is known to not always be the result of sin (, but suffering/stress increases cortisol which over time makes one feel depressed via direct action on the brain. People who commit suicide have real, observable anatomical changes related to hormone and brain function from depression. One can then ask the question at what stage does the spiralling levels of cerebral serotonin become medical depression, and furthermore whether treating it is then a spiritual or biochemical issue. This needs to be raised because then treating depression with antidepressants is sin. And if it is not sin, does that mean that there is a true medical adjuvant to grace?

This is a difficult topic for many people. For example, can people post head injury be Christian? Does this mean that the linked aggression and depression issues are sinful? Or is it linked to suffering for God’s glory? What about severe hypothyroidism or diseases of excess cortisol?

There must clearly be a holistic model that first clearly defines aetiology, as in underlying cause. And sin must be included true. But in that should there be complexities linked to godly suffering and the normal physiological response, and also the role of the abnormal physiological system causing depression isolated from the above aetiology. As far as I see it, if you link the factors you would find that some depression is medical, but can be exarcerbated by a sinful response. Some suffering of godly origin can be exacerbated by a sinful response. Some suffering for one’s good will cause a natural physiological response akin to depression that forever molds one’s brain and experiences into becoming who God wants you to be. And like you mentioned, some depression is of a direct result of the sinful nature. This same process can obviously be dealt with in a sinful manner by the believer. There is overlap and I think valuable nuances?

You must be commended for tackling such a loaded, candid and complex topic. These are just thoughts from a fellow traveller and thinker.

(And scripture does clearly have the command “be joyful always”. So I cannot disagree with the picture you have painted. I am merely attempting to integrate my own thoughts.)

thevagabond:

Ok, let’s see. It’s taken me a month to distance myself from the topic so as to come back and respond to your comments. They are very good comments.

I must try to clarify one thing: I believe that it is sinful to live in depression, but depression most certainly is not a punitive result of sin. This is a complex but imperative distinction. What I mean is that all depressions are a result of the attribute of sinfulness belonging to this messed up world (think: death, violence, crime, etc.), but they are not a punishment from on high.

Perhaps an example will best illustrate my point:

My best friend dies in a car accident and in the mourning I fall into a deep and dark depression. My best friend’s sister mourns and is desperately sad, but never falls into a lasting depression. It appears to me then that I am mentally less healthy than the sister. Why am I less mentally healthy and more prone to depression? Any number of reasons including my biology, past experiences of evil, my own masochism. Whatever the case – there is some ownership that I must take in my condition. Even if it is biology – it is *my biology. What I am saying then is that the first step to recovery is taking responsibility even for the failures and weaknesses that are not directly my fault.

This is complicated and I continue to wage war against my inability to express it properly.

On the biology and anti-depressants as either substitutes for grace or their sinful quality:
Anti-depressants could never substitute grace, and grace couldn’t substitute anti-depressants either… Grace is not the mechanism of healing, it is simply an avenue to psychological peace, a peace that may result in seeking out a psychotherapist and medication such as anti-depressants. Grace does not heal it provides freedom to be what you be, even be you depressed.

Grace didn’t heal me. It gave me peace enough to look into what I needed to change in my perceptions and world to achieve joy again.

Head injury people and other disorders/diseases should be looked at in the same way. What grace does for all of these people is say to them (even if they don’t understand it) that despite their condition (which is a result of a broken world) it is ok and they are accepted for who and what they are anyways. Medical care does this intrinsically when the doctor doesn’t blame the person or look down on them but accepts them as what they are (definitive grace) and offers them the mechanism for healing.

I won’t respond to the rest of your comment just yet because I believe I have shifted what you will understand to be my standpoint. Please respond accordingly with the same or new comments.

theurbaneagle:
Thank you for the detailed answers. It is a loaded and incredibly deep topic. One that is also impossible to separate from personal experience. When I tried, I found myself too ignorant of the depths of the biology, psychology and theology which intertwines and somewhere snakes its way through highest truth’s treacle.

Can’t add much to this brother, your thoughts continue to be valuable to me and I’m sure to others.

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