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how do you stop swearing?

Growing up in a pretty nasty neighbourhood in Jalan Besar, I picked up all kinds of language from gangsters and pseudo-gangsters. In retrospect, it must have been quite a sight to hear a prepubescent boy spewing endless vulgarities in a high-pitched voice, at people who were probably twice his size. I must have been possessed to have such guts.

Being educated in Anglo-Chinese School only made it worse. If I learnt lewd dialect in the rougher neighbourhood environment, then I certainly balanced it off with an equivalent amount of profane English words in a polished and cultured institution. Swearing became a part of my vocabulary and it was a routine for me as a 14-year-old to curse in hellish language on weekdays and to praise the Lord with hallelujah language on weekends.

I was a hypocrite and a terrible testimony in how I used my tongue for good and for evil.

The use of vulgarity could be habitual; it gets dangerous when this bad habit becomes chronic. Regardless of your religious beliefs, there’s nothing worth boasting about if you are expending an arsenal of damning words in your daily usage. You could be 13 years old or 30 years old and still there won’t be a good reason to employ the use of abusive words. I’d like to believe that in a professional (or even in a social) setting, it is a massive turn-off if you carelessly and subconsciously allow vulgarities to roll off your lips. The scary thing about swearing is that there no longer seems to be any societal standard anymore. These negative expressions have been infused into our culture and it has become the neutral norm, unfortunately. No one frowns at a cussing teenager anymore.

Personally, I have enforced a no-swearing rule wherever I went, so long as I was allowed to exercise authority – be it with my tank platoon, colleagues or in TeamR-AGE. And just very recently through REAL2010, I also enforced a complete boycott of all lewd words – including DMN, SHT and WHL. I’m proud of my REAL champs for this achievement of the epilation of vulgarities in their communication. I used to toss these three words frivolously, but now, the mere sound of these words make me cringe and become instantly uncomfortable.

But that’s my conviction and I do not wish to shove it down anyone’s throat; I’d be careful not to get too legalistic. This doesn’t make me a better Christian, of course, but I think it makes me a more effective witness for Jesus. I pay special attention to the words that I use not because I am concerned about my personal reputation or because I’m a youth minister. I scrutinise my language because I am more concerned about the reputation of Jesus, whom I’m an ambassador of.

I fondly remember a particular sermon at my first Grace Retreat in 1997, that turned my life around; DF, the founder of R-AGE, preached about “Bullseye Living” and it was at the altar call that I rededicated my wretched, hypocritical and double-headed life back to Jesus. I consciously and willingly (not emotionally) decided to make Christ my bullseye that afternoon and to start to live like a real Christian. The first thing that the Spirit prompted me to change, was to cease swearing immediately.

Honestly, I don’t know how you behave when you’re out there; I don’t know if you’re the same person at home, in school and in church. A lot of you may struggle to quit this destructive and seemingly incurable habit of swearing. I’d like to offer you some advice – and the method which I practised to great effect to help me kick this awful habit.

I simply prayed and asked the Spirit to help me stop swearing. Then I simply decided not to swear anymore. And that was it – an instantaneous decision that resulted in an instantaneous change – cold turkey, if you know what I mean. I returned to school after that June vacation and left all my baggage and bad habits buried at the foot of the cross.

If I, someone with a comprehensive knowledge of destructive vulgarity in all languages, could overcome swearing overnight, then surely you can do it too. Ask the Spirit to help you and by the grace of God you will eradicate all unwholesome talk and commence to use your tongue for His glory alone. I’m praying for you!

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football creates memories and conversations.

As most of you would know, this blog would naturally be about topics close to my heart. Amongst these things is football, of course.

This love affair started in 1994, when Man Utd whipped the living daylights out of Chelsea in an emphatic 4-0 victory at the FA Cup Final. It was the first time I watched football on TV, the first time I watched United, and the first time I saw in action L’Enfant Terrible, Le King, Eric Cantona. Proud as a peacock, he scored two penalties to secure the win and there was no denying an instant admiration for the puffed-up chest, erect collar, nose-in-sky arrogant swagger; he is the sole reason why I’m a Man Utd supporter, why I like #7 and why my preferred position has always been as a support striker.

Well, I was hoping to write this article at the back of an away United victory at the Allianz Arena, but alas, that utopia could not materialise. Instead, very ironically, Munich exacted its revenge on United in the same manner almost 11 years ago and scored the winner late in injury time. That moment in time, my friends, has to go down as one of the highlights of my life (although it had absolutely nothing to do with me).

There’s something special about football that allows guys to channel that barbaric, unbridled energy into something decibel-defying and of course in time to come, conversation-starting. It’s just like how Singaporean boys would congregate and chatter non-stop about their NS days even though majority of them slam it. Girls would probably never comprehend this love-hate sentiment boys have for NS; in the same way, most of them still do not understand offside, in spite of umpteen patient explanations. They just don’t get it, do they?

Back to football, it was on 26 May 1999 that my most distinct football memory was constructed. I watched it together with CC at his house and it looked like United was set to collect the runners-up medal. United conceded a goal in the 6th minute and Munich played a tremendous game to protect that precarious lead. In the 91st minute, Sheringham scored the equaliser from a Beckham corner. To put it very mildly, we went berserk – a barbaric celebration of screaming, shouting, hugging, hollering, decibel-defying madness. Just as we were about to settle down, Beckham stepped up again to take another corner in the 93rd minute and Solskjaer put the ball at the back of the Germans’ net from close-range to send 300 million fans into raptures. To put it very mildly again, we went ballistic – an even more barbaric celebration of screaming, shouting, hugging, hollering, decibel-deafening insanity. We weren’t the only ones replacing the rooster’s early morning crow – the whole neighbourhood was either with us, or woken up by us.

CC watched this morning’s loss with me at my place. We reminisced about the buzzing feeling that we had when we trotted off to school a couple of hours later. We were riding on the cloud nine of 1999. It was like we needed to tell everyone about the adrenaline-filled, lung-busting once-in-lifetime adventure we had just moments ago. Ask any twenty-something year old United fan about that night and I promise you an instant, enthusiastic conversation to follow. Observe the sparkle in his eye as he revives the memory that’s still fresh in his mind.

Now that’s the power of football – to create memories and conversations. Keep watching, keep screaming.

can i dream with You?

In life, there are many things that we share in common; dreams are one (and nightmares are another, but let’s not go there today). We tend to associate positivity to dreams (e.g. daydreaming always seems light and fluffy, after all it can’t be scary building sandcastles in the sky, right?); and we tie in negative connotations to nightmares. There are, however, dreams that well, are just neutral.

Like most of you, I can’t quite recall the majority of my dreams. I do recall a few particular (bizarre) ones, such as:

  1. It was 1994 and the first World Cup I watched. Brazil won Italy on penalties and it was Italy’s maestro Roberto Baggio who missed that decisive last kick. I was Signore Baggio and I remember placing the football on the penalty spot. The millions of spectators in the stadium were rapturous in their chanting of “JOEY! JOEY!” (Yes, indulge me, please). Very non-chalently, I silenced all of them with a wave of my hand and I knelt down to gather a handful of grass. (This is when it gets crazy…) I put one blade of grass into my mouth… And I shouted, “MEE GORENG!!!” (!!!) This catapulted everyone into delirium and they began their choruses of “MEE GORENG! MEE GORENG!” I went on to score of course, not that it mattered anymore. Crazy, I know.
  2. A part of my childhood was spent in the messy precinct of Jalan Besar and that was when I was really into Taoism – deities, ghosts, spirits, souls blah blah blah. It was also the time that I was really into Ghostbusters… (Yes, the TV/movie series with Marshmallow Man.) I recall being able to fly and manoeuvre around the estate on some cool skateboard machine. My main task each evening was to heroically exterminate the spooky beings in the (there’s-something-strange-in-the-)neighbourhood. I did that with ease and a dash of suave of course, shooting out from my bazooka green, acidic, slimy blobs of I-don’t-know-what and sucking the vermin into an ashtray-shaped ghost containment unit. As with all crazy dreams, before the mission was over, I ended up RECRUITING these ghosts instead. There is no sense in this, of course.
  3. When I am stressed, I almost always end up dreaming about looking for a needle in a haystack. (Cliche, but that’s the most normal bizarre dream…)
  4. And when I am very stressed, I dream about eating a piece of cake that grows bigger and bigger with each mouthful, and this stupid piece of cake (I remember it to be a strawberry shortcake) grows to the size of a HDB flat! It gets really insane because I’m supposed to finish eating a piece of cake that doesn’t quite finish!

These are the four dreams that come to my mind all the time, but I think if I had the time, I’d be able to pen down a few more ridiculous ones. Does anyone have crazy (or crazier) or recurring dreams like that? Do share!

On a more serious note, I actually am of the opinion that creativity takes place in the purest form in dreams. It’s as if each night we go to sleep with a white canvas, beckoning God to paint on it. Think about it, there are absolutely no limits in dreams; I can be anyone, doing anything, at anywhere I desire, at anytime I determine and with or without anyone. To an extent, it is when we actually get to experience what CREATING is like. (With God as the supreme Creator, I opine that human beings have absolutely no creativity. We are only able to innovate because everything that we “create” is but a reference from something else that already exists. More on that in another entry…)

Hence with dreams potentially serving as such powerful platforms, I’m inclined to do what I wanted to do some time ago – put a small notebook beside my pillow and to jot down, in whatever semi-conscious state I am in in the immediate aftermath of any dream. This is as good as getting free downloads from the Creator of the universe. Sounds lunatic, but dreaming actually taps into the creative power of God. (I say that very loosely and irresponsibly, of course.)

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that new songs and poems can be written and inspired by dreams. Dreaming is the playground for divine revelation and forward thinking. Our (finite) imagination is the platform for infinite possibilities. Holy smoke, I don’t even know how those statements came about. I believe that dreaming (whether day or night) transports us to places that our human eyes cannot see and our cognition cannot handle. We should not underestimate what (the work of God in) our minds are capable of accomplishing.

Of late, I keep dreaming of one particular action but in different scenes; I dream that I’m running against the wind – be it in football matches, away from crooks, chasing buses or even just regular jogging. Wind (or resistance), be it external or internal, is the immediate obstacle that is common to all, that all of us must overcome. I have mine and you have yours, in varying intensities. It’s always easier to cycle downhill or swim with the current; but it is running against resistance that train muscles and going against opposition that confidence is built up. These song lyrics sum up my sentiment perfectly:

逆风的方向,更适合飞翔;我不怕千万人阻挡,只怕自己投降。- 五月天:《倔强》

(Translated: Traveling against the wind is the best way to take flight; I’m not afraid of the opposition of a million people, I only fear my own surrender.)

I haven’t the faintest clue how this article evolved into this ending but I’m glad it did anyway; I just kept typing. In a sense, I put into practice what Finding Forrester advocates:

“No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

Spoken like a classic Sanguine, without first dreaming, we are never going to get anywhere. Dreaming without action may be useless and a complete waste of resources but without dreaming we have no solid action to execute at all! Let’s engage God in our dreams. Can I dream with You?

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