Latest Entries »

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.

** Writer’s note: for at least 3 years I have wanted to pen some of the thoughts that were resultant from my struggles with depression in the past. I have literally thousands of notes scrawled all over the place from during and after those periods of depression all representing bits and pieces of the over all understanding of life, pain, happiness and meaning. The subject matter and the thought in it’s entirety was always too large for me to sit down and write about. I have managed to begin to collect and make these thoughts tangible though, the full account will only come out in time in numerous writings, but here for a start (I am pleased to have made) is the first. Regard it for what it is, beware of the presuppositions you encounter it with in your own mind and read it to the end or parts of it will be misunderstood.** 

What to do with my life… a question that makes my heart faint and threatens my happiness within seconds of beginning to stroll down the path the thought takes me on. I write from feelings of anxiety and fear that I must battle fervently for the sake of my happiness which I owe to to God and myself as a Christian. One of the rules of being a Christian that people forget concerns happiness. We are obliged and we have a duty to be happy or at least not unhappy, or rather a better word would be ‘joyful’ despite any circumstances and irrespective of our surroundings. There is a story related through a letter from Paul the apostle to the church in ….. of a group of christians who are said to have rejoiced in their persecutions. Their homes were ransacked and they were saddened and hurt by it but remained joyful.

There is an interesting duality here in the underlying life of a true christian. Christianity recognises that there can be sadness alongside joy. I have not come across any other teaching or philosophy that recognises this as yet besides those of christianity. I have experienced this duality of emotion for myself and this gives me confidence in my belief in it’s truth because I can not deny my own personal experience, knowing that I am not delusional or psychotic as some might suggest in offense of these assertions. There have been times when I have been sad and not at all joyful. At these times it would seem that there was none of the duality of which I speak – only a double portion of sadness perhaps, something deeper than mere sadness in fact: depression; despair; despondency. These feelings I would argue are unGodly feelings not acceptable to God. What this means then is that times of real depression (psychologically recognised depression) are also times of sinfulness in the person who is depressed. This thought needs patience and tact to deal with though for what needs to be understood is that being depressed is not usually the abject fault of the person who is depressed. In fact it is usually mostly the exact opposite and the very core and poison of depression is this; the state of being unable to change one’s own fate and the feeling that one could not have avoided it. The feeling of helplessness; the inability to pull oneself out of one’s own shadow of despair or to have avoided the initiation or continuation of it’s vicious cycle.

These thoughts come from someone who has been clinically depressed and recovered twice in his life time. Once as a sub-10 year old and once as a 21- year old. Here is what I believe in light of what I have said thus far stated clearly before I explain myself more precisely:

I believe that it is sinful to become depressed and it is a sinful way of life to live in depression and hence one should realise one’s deserved fate: to face judgement for this sinfulness.

but…

…and here is the definitive and most important point following this assertion: details forthright, God forgives those who surrender to the realisation of their guilt and who repent and he gives them the power to change their lifestyle and world such that they may find freedom from the depression they have acknowledged their guilt for.

Let me attempt to build upon and clarify these above remarks. I believe that the perfect person (who would be a perfect christian) would be able to fend off and avoid depression despite their circumstances and the events that may afflict them. Even with depression – a disease that seems to attack and take over a life with almost no fault of the person being afflicted, the person does have some ownership in the situation. Though this ownership may be very small – if they had spent their entire life being perfect, praying continuously, preparing their mind and heart tirelessly in all they did and had they been setting their mind on the things above (God and His consciousness of reality – this being the knowledge that all will turn out for good in the end), if they had done this, no matter their situation they would not have fallen into depression.

The first step out of depression for an imperfect person then is the realisation that one has some ownership in one’s situation. The realisation and acceptance that “I am guilty and this is partly my fault” is important and difficult and possibly very painful. The second and more important step out of depression is realising that this is ok and normal – that it is a worldwide truth that is true of every human being that has ever been. The depressed person should realise that to have ownership in this failure to be joyful is part of who they are as a human being, just like everyone else. This step leads to the next step which sets the first wrungs of the ladder out of the ditch of depression in place because the next step is very good news. The news is that the very one who set the standard (God) by which one must judge oneself a failure has long ago set out a plan to forgive the failure and sin of depression as well as bring the depressed person out of the depression they have ownership in through this forgiveness. This is possible because this forgiveness is that which provides opportunity for the one who does the forgiving (God) to provide the power needed to break free from the clutches of the depth and darkness of depression. Since it is God who set the standard by which one must condemn oneself – God himself is only free to help one out of depression once the crime and sin of falling into and living in depression as been forgiven and eradicated.

Freedom from deserved guilt is the first step on the ladder out of depression.

So I found that my realisation and acceptance of responsibility for my part in finding myself in my sorry state of depression became the very mechanism by which God’s forgiveness could rescue me from my depression and sin. In Paul the Apostle’s letter to the Roman church he speaks of this paradox when he talks of how the law came first to point out the sin which only gave more life to sin, being hidden beforehand… but it was only after this stage had been set that Grace, which could only come once the life of sin was brought to light through the law, could take its place in the centre of this stage and put the imposter (that is sin personified) to death and bring the life of forgiveness and positive change (redemption) to the forefront.

So if depression is ungodly, what about sadness? Does christianity disallow one from feeling certain emotions? No it does not, but a dichotomous duality (a duality that consists specifically of two different components) must exist. If there is sadness, there must also be some happiness or joy as well to parallel it. Part of being a christian then is to not let oneself fall into depression, and if one does, to fight and work hard to get out of it and attain joy within the duality again. A christian should strive to keep a sense of joy as one of the feelings in their duality of emotional existence. The other feeling can be anything as long as it is justified within the scope of the teachings of Jesus. Sadness at one’s home being ransacked or destroyed. Anger at the injustice of losing a loved one. (as a side-note, some emotions that are difficult to justify within the scope of Jesus’ teachings: fear; jealousy). These are all ok and good to feel. Part of being a mature human being and part of being what God intended us to be is to feel, to not become a Stoic or a robot. We must have hearts that bleed but countenances that are joyful. 

** Writers note: if you have read this far, my congratulations and thanks. This has become one of my longer writings and longer than I prefer for this medium (blog) so I have ended it here. More will come at a later stage. Peace.**

Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

* writers note: this is simply a section of writing a produced half written to myself a week ago. I could have adapted it for the blogosphere audience but decided to leave it as it is because any delays might become permanent as I tend to procrastinate such administrative edit-like practices. It also introduces a few ideas that I don’t conclude. I’ll get to them another time.*

This morning I am fasting until supper time, I sit now in the cafeteria area at st. Andrews village where we are staying and holding school for the Vietnamese kids. They are not what I expected at all – I thought that they would be poor kids taken out of poverty like the one’s I spent the first half of the year working with, they showed up last Sunday with Galaxy tablets and iPhones, gouchi bags and DC shoes and so my perspective changed – welcome to first world missions. Most of these kids are from high class families in Vietnam, one of the kids that I am personally responsible for as an example has a father who owns a hotel on the beach front of Ha Long – the biggest tourist destination in Vietnam. He showed my a picture on a post card:

image

There is a range though, Andrew (I’ll call the youngest kid Andrew as a code name) doesn’t seem to be as well off as the rest of them. He uses a cheap little Nokia cell phone, his parents may have sent him off with it as opposed to a more expensive phone, but I doubt it. He is a total technogeek. All of these kids are, but about 30% of them are in deep, not daring a trip to the bathroom without their tech in hand. Andrew is a fascinating little 11 year old though. I’ll get back to him but first I must mention Douglass (another code name). Doug is also an 11 year old but this is a troubled kid. A friend of mine also ministering as a missionary here is convinced he’ll be a ganglord with a baseball bat leaning over a disloyal worker in a basement one day later in life if he carries on on this path we’ve intersected him on. He seems to lack a conscience and is totally self involved – meaning that he will do all that he can get away with. He erupts into a vicious grin once in a while after he has just teased some other kid or somehow managed to inflict pain upon someone else. A few times I have arrived and found him grinning next to some kid with a sad expression. Doug laughs as he explains to me in broken English that “hahaha, no nothing happen ha ha *insert Vietnamese shouting and pointing in a mocking fashion towards the sad kid* ha ha, nothing happen”. We’ll continue to try and show this kid love and discipline.

*Writers note: these are all great kids though and let it be known that I grew very fond of them all and am eager to watch their progress through life. Many of them have really great potential and I was privileged to be a part of their journey in reaching it.*

Journal 2012-06-12
I spent time in the Buddhist tooth relic temple today in Chinatown. This was the first Buddhist temple I’ve ever been to. I was politely asked to remove my hat as I approached the inner doors by a guide lady. She couldn’t speak English but the hand gestures were clear enough and she smiled with her eyes when I removed my hat and stuffed it into my back pocket.

I took many photos, it was difficult to do so though because of the strange lighting. Most of the temple is dark with bad lighting of the overwhelming- red and gold in the architecture and statues of the 100 Buddhas around each of the 20 or so larger Buddhas. Then there is a very large Buddha guarded on either side by golden guard statues with angry expressions and angry weapons in their hands. This big Buddha is completely gold in colour with a hand raised as if to bless those in the room and a smirk to rival any other. There are lights shining brightly onto this Buddha from all directions reflecting off of the statues gold with the effect that any attempt at amateur photography yields only an overexposed blur. I’m sure they do this on purpose.

I had a long conversation with a serving lady in the temple who has been a Buddhist for about 15 years. She tried a few Japanese religions before becoming a Buddhist. She said that she had been searching for happiness and truth (in her own words) and truth (which was implied – being the foundational aspect of Buddhism – the search for and ascent unto pure truth). She said that she had found all of this in Buddhism and that she had a sharper and quicker mind since becoming a Buddhist. I smirked inside as she begrudgingly and slowly attempted to put this idea of her quicker mind into words.

Half way through our conversation she stopped and stepped aside to help a young man in a trendy blue v-neck and a backpack to a little red card which he then wrote the names of his family on (5 Mandarin symbols). He took the card and placed it amidst flowers at the base of a little glass lantern and she instructed him in placing it upon a table where it joined 25 other lanterns – “he is acquiring a blessing for his family” said my guide lady friend as she returned to me, having observed that I waited for her and for this little ceremony to be completed. As I enquired more of her and her religion she invited me to study more on the topics I asked about. I told her that I had been searching for the same things as her – “peace, happiness and truth but that I had found it in Jesus Christ” and that I believed there was some truth in Buddhism but it wasn’t all true, as opposed to Jesus’ teachings. The conversation continued and she invited me to the library upstairs where they keep literature and the teachings of the Buddhas. There is also a monk scholar there who she recommended I speak to. I hope to take her up on this suggestion. I would like to hear what a fully fledged Buddhist has to say on matters of truth and spirituality.

**Writer’s note: What follows are some thoughts directly transcribed from one of my favourite moleskin notebooks that I carry around and record my thoughts, questions and ideas in and in italics are my current thoughts on the transcription. These are mostly curiosities that may or may not end up as longer posts in the future. I have a stack of molskins, the following excerpts are only about 30% of one of them. I hope to use more of them with more finesse later.

I am curious: what was the attitude of the early christians and general educated public (pre-Athenasias) toward the scriptures (before the canon was constructed)?

I realise that a rational belief doesn’t quite cut it for tough situations. A purely rational belief doesn’t go far enough, only a belief coupled with faith goes far enough to bring relief and peace when we run into trouble too big for us.
** I have been slowly reading through Romans, and chapter 7 specifically from the message version comes to mind with regard to the comment above.

Why is it that I continue to go to church at all? To continue to be encouraged to believe.
** A friend of mine TUE and I call ourselves and others like us coffee-shop christians. The kind of christian that often doesn’t feel comfortable in a normal Sunday church service. I realise that church serves (among a few others) the following purposes:
– fellowship: being in contact with other believers who can support and understand your world view.
– edification: being put into contact with good solid teachings on the fundamentals and complexities of the christian faith.
– service: being in a community that helps to put you to work practicing your faith so as to have a well rounded faith – practical and theoretical for the sake of a respectable (and not hypocritical) pursuit of truth.
– preaching: a place to preach the truth of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard or grasped it so that they might begin their own pursuit of it.

What this year has taught me (2011):
– I am smart; I enjoy teaching; I like robots; I miss fighting; I like assignments not tests; faith > belief; I can do this romantic relationship thing.
** I doubted for a long time whether I was actually capable of maintaining a mature and good romantic relationship. 9 months with theillustratedwriter.blogspot.com have taught me that I can.

On post FINAL DESIGN dissatisfaction: one has to learn to focus on the things that one has done right. You can’t; and it’s too easy to focus on the mistakes. Even though there are so many things that are/were correct.
** A note on human nature I think. Surely this must be adopted into any successful human philosophy – obtaining the ability to consider the mistakes and dwell on the successes instead of the opposite. Does Christianity preach this? I think so – the concept of the grace of God deals with this.

Below are my notes from the planning for the predating outing on which I hoped to impress the illustrator:

image

** it worked

How to write music? What way works for me? Do I start with guitar or words?
** I must still discover the answers to this. I only have one song with both lyrics and words. The words came after the music. A lot of acoustic guitar (as opposed to electric) and practice with singing this year (2012) has helped a lot.

Humility = accepting other people’s flaws.
** Not one’s own.

On challenging people to improve upon a flaw: this is good but making them feel bad is not alright. Maybe it is? But how do we/I balance this art? Show acceptance? How?
** This is a question that should come up for any leader. Part of the answer may be found in Hebrews 12 with regard to discipline being painful for the moment but reaping the final result of righteousness.

Humility, shyness and fear. How are they related? Shyness – there is pride in this too.

Should we be careful to have less regard for people as well as more regard for God. Are these directly inproportional?

So what if you gain the whole world (like professorship and academics) but/and lose your soul? Do I follow Wilke or Ingles or Jesus?

Some thoughts on meaning in life:
Ravi:
– Wonderment
– people/friends/family

Frankl:
– love of a person
– hope for a future something
– an activity to keep one occupied
(All of these are items based in the future)

** CS Lewis: Don’t be too concerned with the future or the past because neither exist such that one may be lead astray from reality based truth. What about time transcendent truths (those which are based in the future but we know them to be true now) like Frankl’s hope and Ravi’s wonderment? These become present tense. Hope of a future something is only edifying then when it is an assured hope. Christianity calls faith “the assurance of what is hoped for”.

The role of relationship? A helper. Someone to pursue life with.
**A partner in the pursuit of all life has to offer.

Notes from Thesis work in Mechanical Engineering final year:

image

The end of the world: should we fear it as christian?
** I am still unsure of the answer to this. We should be nervous but confident. When the day comes we will be in awe. Neither/both fearful and full of joy. Our Lord and saviour will be returning – but we will face judgement in the face of his glorious and frightening perfection. Judgement founded on grace toward us who have come to him in need though. So awe rather than fear I think.

Ahh wow, Singapore – this city gets me, it understand me. It provides a 24 hour Starbucks 10 meters away from a pristine and perfect subway. It has clear and clean walkways for pedestrians and cyclists. It has the beauty of high rise buildings with their lights, blue tinted windows and gun-metal grey architecturally alluring angular walls, reaching for the sky in pure prideful self indulgence (buildings are tall here because they can be, that is all) and an atmosphere of forestry due to the beautiful green grasses, South East Asian trees and the many twisting lakes and rivers winding through the bright streets and shining cars and busses. This is what strikes me most and first about this country compared to South Africa, nothing is dusty. I haven’t seen dust in my 3 days here so far – everything is clean and nothing is any less than its true colour. Everything seems to be bright. The gray roads even seem to shimmer like silver and the sidewalks like precious stones.

image

Singapore city (c) JSB

Thud thud thud, went the sound of my feet as I took my first run through this concrete jungle this morning. I woke up early enough to take a 30 minute run and be back at st. Andrews village before breakfast. My brand new New Balance running shoes were perfect for the occasion, new like everything else in Singapore. This city is a shopping mall. Actually it’s like some grand city creator opted away from the cheaper brands and walked straight into the designer city chop, picked Singapore in it’s expensive packaging off of the top shelf and payed for it with a Platinum Credit card. Unwrapped it from it’s pricey plastic wrapper and placed it in the ocean for the amusement of the Chinese, Indonesian and other South East Asian people. This city is fresh like a Samsung Galaxy S3 right out of the box, comes with its batteries pre charged and like an Asus Transformer: Primed to go.

I run out through the automated booms unnecessarily guarding st. Andrews village from one of the safest places on earth. I take a left through a group of Asian school kids making their way to school for morning classes. I keep my pace up, measuring my stride by my breathing, not growing tired simply because of how entertained my mind is at the people, streets, buildings, grasses and Singapore river which has now come up beside me as I move through the streets. I am amused, I am very amused. 1.3 gadgets per person as I get to a bridge girded by purple flowers, I have never seen such a technology integrated culture before. I am reminded as I join the runners walkway next to the river of two nights before when in my jet lag I took a walk to an all night Chinese diner through dark alley ways and obscure corners in the shadow of the government housing apartment skyscrapers with my eight thousand rand tablet loosely in my hand, not a fear in the world. My South African nerves took a few minutes to calm and then the safety of this world sunk in. Thud thud thud, the feel of my feet hitting the perfect pavement still reverberating through my body as I pass old Chinese men and women stretching in Tai Chi stances against the railings by the river. I make a mental note: “stop to stretch in a tai chi fashion when you’re too tired Jeremy, that’ll be cool”.

“I should probably turn back” I think to myself, 07:55, I read the time on the watch of a 5 foot tall Chinese lady runner because I can’t understand her Mandarin when I point to my wrist in the global sign language of the developed world, noting that 25 minutes have passed and I’m getting quite far from my base. I don’t want to stop though, this is too good. A perfect running experience, the pain of the air straining through my lungs and the developing stiffness in my calves are a dull backdrop to the sights, sounds, smell, atmosphere of where I am. Dull like the streets of Pretoria – a whole nother world, more than a world away.

Soon I’m in the city, and an hour later I’m finally back at st. Andrews village. Having gotten lost in the city and circled around with the help of locals until I finally found myself in a familiar area and on my way back to Patong Pasir, my Singaporian home suburb.

“Glorious” I sms to a friend back home in South Africa. That run was glorious. This city is almost perfect. Only three days in and I am enthralled with what I have seen.

This school can be a major challenge at times. The word ‘challenge’ is a euphemism of course – sometimes it can feel like a nightmare. Schools like this feel like black holes sometimes, just sucking up the light you bring without compassion or mercy.

The latest struggle has been to simply have afternoon classes. The first quarter went very well in terms of classes in that I was able to give classes three times a week every week to the grade 10s, 11s and 12s. With much discussion and observation I tried to diagnose the situation in the school with regard to maths. The school had come to us reiterating again and again that maths maths maths was really the key problem here. Their other subjects were ok, maths was the real need.

So the problem has always been simple. The situation and ‘why’ behind the problem has been more complicated. This is always the case though – finding problems with the world and ourselves is easy – but determining the practical ‘why’ behind the problem is hard. Root cause analysis is difficult. It is the only way to truly solve a problem though.

So the first ‘why’ that the teachers and I came to agree on was that the basics were a problem for the students. They still needed to grasp those foundational concepts of negative numbers and integers and even basic arithmetic. One afternoon class I stopped in abject frustration and went through this with the top class in the school – Grade 12A:

image

Board work (c) JSB

So despite the depth of this problem, it gave purpose to my lessons in the first quarter – knowing exactly what to teach them. I drew up worksheets with problems designed to guide the students into understanding. These went down very well and I was encouraged numerous times as I would literally see the moment when the concepts would click in the minds of students who had been blind to them for so many years.

Now this quarter has been a little different. I came back from the holidays after the first quarter with a lot of enthusiasm to really do things well – but I was stopped right in my tracks. Something was getting in the way of all of my classes – the reason for which I only discovered 2 weeks ago. It turned out from a conversation I had with a teacher who I have befriended at the school that there was trouble from the government after the results from the first quarter. All of the teachers giving matric subjects were tasked with coming up with some kind of plan to fix the situation. Most of the teachers’ plan was to have more after school classes – at the times when I would usually give my classes. So the problem was simply communication. Now I have no quarrel with these after school classes because it’s a great thing. Teachers taking more responsibility for their job and working at getting their students to where they need to be, but I wish I had been told earlier so that I could have made alternative arrangements and not been in the dark wondering why things weren’t coming together for so long.

After I found this piece of information out I started thinking of a new plan and came up with this:

image

Maths Poster (c)

In speaking to teachers and students I came upon another major problem and ‘why’ behind the maths problems in the school. Students in the area have struggled to find a safe and dedicated place to do their homework and studying. The idea dawned on me that we needed to try to create a studious atmosphere where students could come and spend time in their books and get assistance from myself and the other VET volunteers (my colleagues) not only in Maths but in whatever work they were working on. The second problem has always been communication. In the first quarter, the only way to get students in your class was to chase them down and struggle and fight to remind them of their class that afternoon. We needed a better, clearer and less time consuming way to communicate with the students. This poster would do the trick. Finally, we needed a venue for this initiative. The Media Centre is a classroom that once looked like this:

image

and that now looks like this:

image

Kwa-Dinabakubo Media Centre (c) JSB

image

Kwa-Dinabakubo (c) JSB

There was still one problem though that put this new plan of mine on hold. Chairs. We had managed to organise tables, we had painted the room. We had cleaned it. We had managed to get some encyclopedias and build a few bookshelves – but we didn’t have chairs. There could be no class until we had chairs. I put a status up on my personal facebook as follows:

image

and God provided. The next day or a few hours later I received an sms from a generous person offering to donate R1000 toward chairs for the media centre! I promptly got onto the internet and made a search for school chairs. I came across an advert on Gumtree and got into contact with the seller who I negotiated with and with a discount and an extra R100 of my own I came away with 30 second hand school chairs. With a rented trailer and a borrowed car (with a tow hitch) I delivered the chairs to the school and finally the classes could begin!

Yesterday (May 29) I finally made copies of the poster and pasted it up all over the school. The idea for this class to be held at 15h30 was so that the class wouldn’t get in the way of other classes held by other teachers and also so as to act as a deterrent to all except those students that wanted to come and work. That day many students showed interest and that afternoon our first three students showed up to work and ask questions. Finally – I could assist and teach some students once again after more than a month of struggling against the system in this rural environment.

Today though I must confess that I am frustrated and a little put down. We arrived at school today to find more than half of the posters that I had put up torn down and defaced. Why would they do this? One puts in so much effort only to have it thrown back in the face. Of course I understand that students will be students and that the environment of violence, disrespect and hopelessness around them all inspires such acts of insolence – but still, this is demotivating.

In any case I will not be deterred and I will not be stopped, I fight for principles far above those which try to destroy our work and so as I write this today at 13h20 on 30 May, our class will go on and students will be helped. For the glory of God who inspired all of this and who has helped to make it all happen.

Peace. Jeremy (aka Jack Figure)

* Note from the Author: these are merely my thoughts. Some of them not put together or explained all that well. Read with grace.*

Readers, supporters, friends, family, internet trolls: I am off on a journey to South East Asia. Welcome. Here are my thoughts:

The idea snuck up on me like a ninja in the night. I’m not sure when I first began to dream of travelling to the East. It may have begun when I read a book by Sam Sheridan who travelled across the globe learning the fighting trade. Boxing in the USA, Brazilian Jui-jitsu in South America, wrestling in Russia, Tai Chi in China, Muay Thai in Thailand.

It may also have been the Kung Fu movies I love – crouching tiger, hidden dragon; The forgotten kingdom. It may have been spurred on by my love for martial arts and my training in Kickboxing (etc).

Mostly though – I think it was a fascination with their philosophy. Eastern philosophy has something to it that it’s western cousin just can’t quite capture. Something spiritual, something beyond logical constructs which paradoxically form illogical constraints that dull the honest search for wisdom. A wisdom beyond ontological argument and Niche scepticism. Eastern philosophy at it’s best is the oasis in the desert of the western paradigm.

Now I stand ready to take this single step so as to begin my journey of a thousand miles. Confucius would be proud. My visa is in the works, my airplane tickets are bought and payed for, the money I’ll need for this mission is raised… Just one month from now, I am off.

I will be travelling with my own philosophy into a completely new world drenched in the philosophies of a different sort to those I’ve grown up around. My philosophy is a christian one. The philosophy as taught by Jesus of Nazareth – as such; I go with a mission to make His glory known, simply through living as a man moved by His truth, glory, love and hope. I will be involved in education in Singapore and Thailand through local churches and mission organisations. In Singapore I will help to teach and influence Vietnamese School students and in Thailand I will offer myself as an aid for Thai students to learn conversation skills in English.

There is more though.

I think I have one very specific calling (among others)- to write. Not necessarily right now (I am not wise enough or skilled enough just yet), but one day – I must fulfil this mandate to write of what I discover – mixing experience, philosophy, apologetics, politics, history, science, technology and theology. I must discover the essence of Buddhist transcendence and Hindu fragmentation and learn to apply Christian truth to Buddhist culture and Hindu practices. If Jesus isn’t applicable in all places – he isn’t applicable at all. I must learn and apply different perspectives, like filters, to this analysis of Christ and his message so as to free my philosophy of the peripheral and base it on the essential. I believe the whole truth is right here in the bible – but it is clarified when one applies and examines it across contexts – therefore I must make an effort to experience other contexts. I believe the truth of the gospel is applicable to all people and across all contexts – but to demonstrate this I must widen my understanding of the world and it’s people. I feel as if God has something to show me, some story for me to discover and some perspective to gain from which to write about it. To a large extent that is what this trip is about. An investment into preparing myself for the work I must do for the kingdom of God and for the kingdom of the world as time takes me on this train ride onwards through my life.

“Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.” – Confucius.
“And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil” – John 3v19.
“Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying “I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life”” -John 8v12

Please stand with me in prayer and support as I go off in this light to discover and learn;

Regards,
Jeremy (aka Jack Figure)

* Note from the author: this note talks of topics not yet fully resolved in my own mind, and may be retracted or edited in the future, please approach it with due grace. It covers sensitive topics and I have somewhat skirted around a few areas related to my arguments. Sometimes in searching for truth one must abandon comfort and force oneself to begin to form an opinion and this is my public attempt at doing so *

I work in a field that I enjoy where I can also make a difference in other people’s lives – and I do this from the perspective of my life philosophy – which is based on the teachings of Jesus. I am no militant evangelist but a philosopher and a man in search of truth, so when I come across a person in a distressful situation – I give encouragement and advice based on the philosophy I live by – sometimes this means advising people to seek God

This is the premise from which I understand evangelism at this point in my life. Evangelism is such a dirty word these days. Understandably so. Most evangelism – or at least the type that most people (of whatever persuasion) are exposed to is a closed minded endeavour to bully or provoke a listener into abandoning all they have ever known for something alien and seemingly harsh.

When the message of Jesus comes across as unfairly harsh and closed minded I believe something has gone wrong in relating it. However – there is danger in avoiding this line of thinking too, and I come now to one of the toughest questions in christiondom today:

Can I be a christian and open minded at the same time? Does being a christian mean that I must close my mind to whatever else and become what I protest to hate: closed-minded?

What do you think? I think we tread on sensitive ground and a part of me wants not to go on exploring this question for fear of the stern words I may receive. A quote comes to mind though:

“There is nothing so self defeating as a question that has not been fully understood when it has been fully posed”: Ravi Zacharias quoting CS Lewis

What this statement gets at is that the inquiring mind must first set adequate and appropriate foundations and devices in place before attempting to answer profundities with due eloquence and sensitivity.

It is important to realise that one does not sacrifice open mindedness by holding onto certain philosophies and ideas. Every person has a perspective from whose balcony they look upon the world. Without a perspective that one firmly holds onto, one is blind. And to be blind is to be closed minded.

What I have come to believe is that though it requires a delicate application of wisdom, one can in fact be open minded and hold on to one specific and exclusive perspective or philosophy simultaneously – on one condition:

The exclusive philosophy to which one holds must allow for the free will of others and hold that each individual is only responsible ultimately for them self.

Where evangelism seems to go wrong and cause hurt is where the evangelist denies the free will of him he evangelises and wrongly assumes a greater responsibility than he is fairly due for the listener’s life and beliefs. I believe that when correctly done; it is the role of the evangelist to provide and present argument, persuasion, doctrine freely as being what he believes. He should do so with conviction and passion – for passion is stirred by true belief. But – this is where his responsibility ends. He may even pray for the patron of his conversation but he must leave it then to them to ponder and act or act not.

Within the christian worldview – what follows humane and godly evangelism is a matter between God and an individual.

Being open minded means accepting that people believe what they believe – it does not mean rejecting what you already believe or feeling under obligation to reject it. One should be ready to give a thought to someone else’s beliefs and weigh them up against their own but refusing to adopt someone else’s beliefs does not make one closed minded.

Jesus was sure and uncompromising in who he was (God incarnate) and in what he believed to be true, and he stated it in no uncertain terms – but he was open minded, listening to the arguments of others before questioning them and stating his own.

If  being a christian did in fact call me to become closed minded and bigoted it would in fact be a case of “Missionary Impossible” for me.

It is from a careful, confident and open minded approach like this that people become receptive to arguments on matters of such sensitivity and importance, approach people in any other way and you will misrepresent the gospel and our God – for our God is one of love, compassion and wisdom, as well as of justice and holiness.

I think that a life well lived is one in which someone seeks God and finds peace in a life given over to Jesus. Heed my words, I believe them to be true and critical, but take it upon yourself to bring them further or leave them here.

Dear friends and family

The past few months have been dense with learning experiences, challenges (spiritual, emotional, physical) and God. I arrived here 3.5 months ago and this fact surprises me every time I think upon it because it has felt a lot longer. I think part of the reason for this is that back at University time really flew, especially in final year as a Mechanical Engineer, the continual deadlines came at me each week and the mounting pile of work and concepts to comprehend meant that I was always on the move.

Students never stop moving. They are a passionate demographic. Whatever they are doing, they are generally doing it with everything they have. I always felt as if I needed a few more hours each day; the effect of spending a long period of time with the constant feeling that one is short of time leaves the impression that time passes by very quickly. In contrast to this, life here in the valley is still very busy, but only to a fair and manageable degree. In University I needed 28 hours per day, here I need 24 hours per day and so my life feels balanced. This is what I have been searching for and have gone in search of this year – balance.

I would describe the work that I am involved in here as two part time jobs. The first is as a Maths teacher at Kwa-Dinabakubo Secondary School and the second is as a general project team member where I assist with the weekly teaching and other projects that go on in any way that I can. Usually this includes video camera and multi-media work. We try to record each teaching and message that is given in both video and audio to put on CDs and DVDs. I also am the only one around with a car available and so another duty of mine involves taking people where they need to be for the different programs.

The school work is my main concern though, this job has become very close to my heart and is a vital part of this year of mine as I try to ascertain what to do with the years that follow this one. I am testing a hypothesis; I want to know if I can truly make a life out of teaching. I am considering acquiring a diploma in higher education and becoming a travelling teacher, spending a few years at a time (up to 10) in different countries, starting in the East (Japan, Thailand, South Korea, etc.).

So far the hypothesis is being proven true. I still thoroughly enjoy teaching and find that teaching comes naturally to me. As I step in front of a class and begin to open my mouth; it is as if a switch gets flicked and I go into ‘teaching mode’. I have learnt that I thrive in an atmosphere of organised chaos where maths lessons become more of a dialogue than a monologue by the guy in front with the chalk in his hand. I find that my training in engineering has prepared me such that I am able to answer questions even on new areas with just a few minutes of quite thought – giving me the freedom to provide a free sort of classroom environment. One in which every mind is engaged constantly.

I also know the value of discipline though, having learnt that without a certain amount of discipline one becomes shackled by one’s own languidity. I spent the first few weeks at the school walking around with a stern expression and a stiff gait, demanding respect from the kids. Thus when I arrived in my first class, the first impression was already one of someone who won’t take nonsense. This backdrop then gave me the freedom to introduce a less strict atmosphere into the class whilst retaining control. I enjoy a good joke, whether made by myself or one of the kids in the back row, and I believe this helps to build upon that relationship I hope to foster with the learners. In the end I want them to feel comfortable to come to me with maths questions, and life questions. On this front I have had some measure of success already. There have been 4 or 5 kids that have opened up to me and who I have done my best to guide in one way or another (with God’s help).

These are some of my thoughts on my mission thus far. Peace and grace to all my supporters. Thanks for the support. You are making a difference.

Jeremy (aka Jack Figure)

This write up will simply entail my thoughts on the book rather than comprehensively review it. The first thing that came to mind after completing the book was that it should have ended a few chapters earlier than it did. Dick finished the more interesting story line and then spent the remaining two chapters on some of what I felt were the weaker elements of the book. Of course this is a subjective opinion and there are PKD fans and critics all over the world that would heartily disagree with me.

The second thought that came to my mind was a realisation of just how brilliant Asimov and Clarke were. Here is PKD at what may have been his best, yet compared to all of the Asimov and Clarke I’ve read it just seemed shallow and unconvincing. There just wasn’t the same feel of universal completeness or intelligence in comprehension that I’ve come to love in Asimov and Clarke’s writing. Possibly though – Asimov and Clarke (of whom I am a big fan) have ruined me for a lot of other sci-fi simply due to their brilliance.

However, ideas are the medicine on which I depend to make my life more than a repetitive, existential procedure, and PKD put some great ideas in this novel:

1) Mercerism: a new order of religion. Technology and psychology combined and synthesised – Technopsychology/Psytechology is what I call it. Based upon some transient being called Wilbur Mercer who in a Buddhist sort of way helps all humans to come together to share their pains and joys using their ‘Empathy box’ in the accent unto true enlightenment. There are a few interesting thoughts on sacrifice in here too. This surreal part of the society in PKD’s book is worth a look.

2) The Mood Organ: Here is a truly interesting and surrealistically succinct commentary on the human experience: this mood organ. When connected up, the mood organ introduces whatever mood one desires into one’s Psyche. Coupled with being an alarm clock, this piece of technology is truly brilliant. Simply set it for setting 481 “Awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future” and 5am and you wake up to this mood even at so early an hour. This whole idea really got me thinking – especially in light of the Stoicism I recently wrote about. What happens to a world in which everyone only ever feels what they want to feel? Is this Utopia or does it turn to Distopia when the balance of good and bad in the universe tries to correct itself?

3) Organic Androids without Empathy: PKD’s androids are organic contraptions with a life span of 4 or so years. The engineers of the time had conquered all scientific and biological aspects in the creation of these beings except for cell reproduction – meaning that the organic machine would simply wear out, break down and fail after around 4 years. The other interesting part of PKD’s androids is their one major disability – a complete lack of empathy. This disability becomes all the more contrasting and important in the age of Mercerism – a religion based upon the experience of empathy.

4) The name of the book: In a world where almost all animals have died it has become a social imperative for people to keep and take care of animals (animals like sheep for example) with which they can practice their empathy. This has become such an integral part of people’s lives that people even dream of having an animal of their own if they don’t already have one. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep then? No, I don’t think they do.

The book reads quite easily and I did enjoy it the whole way through, I also respect and admire PKD and was very pleased to finally read this iconic book that I’ve heard references to so often.

Brilliance of prose: 6/10
Ideas and ability to inspire: 6/10
Comprehensiveness: 5/10
Storyline: 6/10
Value to vagabond doctrine: 7/10
Total: 60%

%d bloggers like this: