Why I love endurance sports

bikeIt has been more than 20 years since I ran my first marathon.  Back then, the most popular question I got asked was: “What? You pay money to do this??  Why do you do this to yourself??”

Looking back, I realized through the years, my participation in endurance sports has gotten me through some of the darkest patches of my life.  Aside from the obvious physical benefits, endurance sports has taught me some of the most important life skills:

Keeping Life Simple: In a marathon or any other endurance race, everyone shares one thing in common, whether you are an elite professional athlete or someone who just got into the sport:  At some point, you are going to hurt.  When that happens, the challenge becomes pure and simple:  “Do I keep putting my one foot in front of the other?”  Nothing else matters.   It’s not about the equipment, the conditions, or what other participants are doing/not doing.  Everything gets reduced to this singular question:  Do I keep going?

When life gets overwhelming, I have learned it is easy to focus on things that I cannot control and feel helpless and victimized.  Sports taught me to reduce the battle to a fight that I can control and win: putting one foot in front of another, one step at a time.

Sharing the Journey With Others:  When you “compete” at my level, you are not really run“competing”.  I mean, is there REALLY a difference between who finishes 492 and 493?? The wonderful thing is that everyone that I run/race with don’t really care if you pass them, or they pass you.  We are each running our own race, and we each bring our own stories to the start line.  All of us are just trying to make it to the finish line.  Seriously, when I race I don’t even pay attention to the race clock anymore.  I find myself enjoying the experience much more when I seek to help and encourage others, rather than seeing other participants as my “competitors”.

Sometimes pain makes us focus inward and live life selfishly.   I have learned through sports rather than being obsessed with crossing the finish line first, the journey is much more satisfying when we turn our eyes outward, to share our lives and encourage others in the race they are running.

finish lineLearn From Mistakes: When your focus is in “learning” and “sharing” rather than “winning”, every race, every workout is a valuable experience.  In my first triathlon last week, the swim was cancelled due to wind and waves and was replaced by an additional run.  I failed to take into account that I sweat A LOT more running than swimming.  I forgot to hydrate adequately on the bike, and faded in the second run when dehydration set in.  Rather than freaking out, I was able to draw from what I have learned through years of racing and said to myself: “OK, this is gonna hurt.  But you know how to get to the finish line.”  On one hand, someone who has been racing for 20 years should not have messed up something as basic as hydration, but we all make mistakes.  Afterwards I quickly made a mental note to plan how I will take in enough fluids for my next race.

All of us are on our journeys.  All of us are running our own races.  All of us stumble and fall.  Let’s take it upon ourselves not just to run on our own, but help others along the way.  So that one day, we can say, in the plural “WE have fought the good fight, and WE have finished the race…”

 

 

See you this weekend!!

Hey everyone!! This weekend I will be speaking and performing with my musical friends on both Saturday and Sunday for Living Water Counseling Centre.  Click the link See below for info. Check it out!!

Living Water Counseling Centre Annual Conference and Gala

Also, The good folks at Herald Monthly 號角月報 recently did an interview with Anna and I and published an article on my story.  Many thanks to them for this opportunity to share.  See link below for the article, which is in Chinese:

Article on Herald Monthly

See you on June 4th!!!

13041348_10156801560455534_2405077246463726557_oLast Saturday many came out to the first session of the seminar and we were overwhelmed by the response to the sharing, the music, and the professional insights of Dr. Thomas Choy.  We are going to do it again on June 4.  Click on the poster to see the details re time and location.  I will again be speaking and performing with my talented musical friends, and of course Dr. Choy will enlighten us with his decades of professional experience as a psychiatrist.   My book will also be available for purchase at the event.  Don’t miss out!  See you there :-)

A Few Thoughts on Prayer

I was going through some old files and came upon an old “prayer list” that we used to hand out during prayer meetings at the church. Sometimes if space permit we will print the same list in the Sunday worship bulletin. Looking at the list, the items were categorized under two sections: There were the “Items for Thanksgiving”, and then there were “Items for Prayer.” The “Thanksgiving” list contain basically the “good things”: someone finding a job, someone recovered from an illness, a successful church program, etc. While the “Prayer” list contained the “bad stuff”: Someone with a sick child, someone being laid off, etc.

Looking at the list today (and countless others that we printed using the same “template”), it became clear to me now that the implicit purpose of the prayer meetings was to move items from one list to the other, from the “items for prayer” list to “items for thanksgiving” list. That was it. That was the goal.

Interesting.

I can go on writing forever about the fundamental issues that I see with that approach. But I thought it may be more interesting if I simply leave this with you…with a few questions for thought:

What does it say about us, when we instinctively classify every human experience we encounter under those two headings? Can you think of different, or better “headings”?

Is prayer, fundamentally speaking, a “means to an end”? Regardless of whatever the “end” is?

If we accept the popular notion that prayer is fundamental to our Christian spirituality, what does this pattern or tendency of prayer say about our spirituality, and ultimately our approach or understanding of the Christian faith?

Depression Support Group starting soon

During the winter months, I lead a 10 week depression support group at the church my family is attending (The Bridge – Markham). We use Among the Ashes as a platform for discussion. Each week the group reads a chapter and we share our experiences and encourage each other. I share with the group some of the “behind the scene” stories behind the writing of the chapter and also lessons I am learning on my ongoing journey.

Our church considers this as a service we offer to anyone and we do not limit participation to people from our church (or ANY church, for that matter). If you or someone you know may be interested being part of the group, please pm me. We are very intentional in keeping the group relatively small (10-12 people) so it doesn’t turn into a “class”. We will probably start the weekly meetings towards the end of January.

Please email me (alfred.lam@gmail.com) if you are interested or have any questions.

What Paris taught me about parenting (of all things!)

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Paris is, in one word, breath-taking.  (Does that count as one word?)

There were times when I stood in front of the historic sites, and feel my breath literally being knocked out of me.

As a photographer, it is almost impossible to take a bad picture in this place.   Seriously, you can stand on just about any street corner, take a random picture and end up with something that is postcard worthy.

But beyond the visual beauty, the city is a living, breathing story book.  Every building, every street corner tells a story.   Who would have guessed that underneath today’s majestic beauty, the city’s streets once ran with blood from the French revolution and two world wars?

This morning at breakfast, I found myself having a good conversation about the history of Paris with the girls.  We talked about the stories of the city.  And we concluded with the lesson that if we don’t know the stories, it is easy to take what we see today for granted and one day repeat the same mistakes of the past.

Then it occurred to me that it is so important to raise our children with an appreciation of history and the arts.  I want my children to grow up with a strong sense of being part of a story that is greater than themselves, and they have to make choices as to how they will contribute to the story.  I want my girls to grow up wanting to create, to give to those around them, to add to the world they live in.   Without a sense of history, without an appreciation for the arts, it is so easy for kids to grow into a me-first, self centered, what’s-in-it-for-me, get-ahead-of-others-at-all-cost kind of life.  Which, sadly, is what I see so often in the Hong Kong culture that I came from.

Love or hate, create or compete, contribute or consume, give or grab…these are the choices that all our kids will learn to make.  They don’t need to all become philosophy or history majors.  They don’t all need to become singer-songwriters.  And they don’t all need to go to Paris to be inspired.  They all will, however, look at the kinds of choices WE make, and the messages WE in turn communicate to them and ultimately become the kind of persons the choices shape them to be.

 

What Donald Trump teaches pastors and Christian leaders

In recent days political pundits and commentators have been baffled by what is now called the “Trump phenomenon”. Despite saying outrageous things that would normally have killed any political campaigns, Donald Trump’s support continued to grow according to the polls. The typical explanation that had been given was that “Trump supporters” are not concerned with, nor offended by the same things that one typically expects from the general electorate.

Without getting into the politics of it, I believe the Trump phenomenon teaches Christian leaders an important lesson: It is so easy to surround yourselves with people who sound like you, think like you, agree with you and build a “personal empire” by feeding your “fans” or “followers” or “supporters” (or congregants?) exactly what they want to hear.

In my experience as a pastor, I have seen that as pastors, it is very easy for us to speak boldly when we are among our own congregations, when we are “preaching to the choir”, so to speak. But very few of us are good at communicating and having meaningful and genuinely respectful dialogue with those who are different than us. Folks who are from another religion, folks who believe different than we do on social issues, or even Christians outside of our own communities. Perhaps much of that is simply due to the fact that we don’t do it often enough. However, in a time where tension continues to grow along religious lines, religious leaders such as pastors need to set an example of what it means to seek understanding and look for ways to unite and bring people together. We need to stop caricaturing or worse, demonizing those who are different than us, simply because “it will preach” or because that’s what our “fan-base” expects from us.

Why it is biblical and Christ-like for Christians to support the Muslim Community

Over the last few weeks, I have watched with horror the rapid spread of “Anti-Islamic” sentiment both in Canada and the US. It has genuinely frightened me to see, even in 2015, how racism can be so easily embraced and “celebrated” even among the Christian community. On television and social media, the words “Terrorism” and “Islam” are forever linked. We have politicians suggesting only “Christian” refugees should be admitted into the country and not “Muslim” refugees. We heard a US presidential hopeful saying he will shut down mosques and register all Muslims in the country in a database. Prominent church leaders have expressed publicly that Muslims should not be allowed into the US. It seems a foregone conclusion in most people’s mind that terrorism is marked by a Muslim label.

That, is both wrong and un-Christian.

While it is true that terrorist organizations like ISIS operate under an Islamic banner, their actions have been condemned by the Muslim community worldwide, stating in no uncertain terms that ISIS and others like them do not represent Islam. Why do we then insist on identifying terrorism with Islam? We have seen plenty of similar examples in the church: For those of us a little older, we will remember back in 1993 in Waco, Texas David Koresh led his “Branch Davidians” community into a violent clash with the authorities, resulting in the death of the entire community. They claimed to be a Christian sect and were acting in accordance with the Bible. Yet I do not know a single Evangelical Christian today who would consider David Koresh and his followers representatives of Christianity. In fact, we would not even use today’s ever so popular labels and call them “Radical Christians” or “Extremist Christianity”. We would simply call them for who and what they were: a misguided, dangerous cult that was not in any way representative of the religion they claim to follow. Why do we insist on doing otherwise with ISIS and Islam?

The truth is, apart from the “Islamic label” there are plenty of infinitely more important factors that speak to the who, why and what of terrorism: The history of the region, civil unrest, political instability, a history of violence; extreme poverty and the global economic injustice, just to name a few. In other words, there is a story, a context, a narrative to how terrorism came to be. And it is much, much more complex than simply a group of “extremist” Muslims deciding to come together and do bad things.

That, is where the “Christian” response need to start from. When Jesus came into contact with someone, he saw beyond the “easy labels” that people had slapped on the person: The adulterous woman, the woman at the well who was married multiple times, the demon possessed man who lived with the pigs, and so on. In many of his stories he made it a point to challenge popular discriminatory labels that people put on others: The parable of the good Samaritan, The story of the tax collector who prayed outside the Temple are good examples. Part of the “Christian worldview” involves seeking to understand the narratives and stories behind each person. When we do that, everything changes. It changes the way we understand the global problem of terrorism and what may actually work as solutions (as opposed to the popular macho bravado of “bombing the sh*t out of them”). It changes the way we view the refugee crisis and our appropriate response. But more importantly, it changes the way we see ourselves, and our place and responsibility in this world.

Sorry Mr. Huckabee, refugees are not peanuts

Following the Paris attacks, when a Syrian passport was found on or near the body of one of the attackers, the sentiment against accepting Syrian refugees into the country reached a new high both in the US and Canada. The rhetoric goes something like this: “It is possible that ISIS terrorists are among the Syrian refugees, and in the interest of national security, we must not allow them to enter our country, at least until it can be proven that they do not have ties to ISIS.” Even though there has not been any evidence conclusively supporting the idea that ISIS is using the refugee crisis as a way of entering different countries, the argument says “Since it IS possible, we must choose to be safe rather than sorry, no matter how low the risk may be.”

Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and current Republican presidential hopeful said in an interview on Tuesday with MSNBC: “If you bought a 5 lb. bag of peanuts and you knew that in the 5 lb. bag of peanuts there were about 10 peanuts that were deadly poisonous, would you feed them to your kids? The answer is no”

I am sorry, Mr. Huckabee. With all due respect, refugees are people, not peanuts.

What is shocking to me is that while they may not use the same words, many Christians share the same anti-refugee sentiment: There is a chance that some may be “terrorists”, so Syrian refugees pose a threat to our country, our security and our way of life.

Such a position presupposes one thing: That somehow we have a God-given right to the life of privilege we live in North America, and we deserve it more than the refugees. So we must not allow “them” to threaten “our” way of life.

Even though more than 250,000 Syrians have died since 2011. And more are dying. Every day.

Even though 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the civil war started.

Even though the United Nations have identified the Syrians as the world’s largest refugee population.

Even though every day we hear and see heart breaking stories and images of children losing their parents, families being torn apart, people drowning while escaping, thousands dying along the way.

Yet, we say, “we must not risk having them threaten our way of life.”

What is even more unbelievable to me is that many who hold this position were once immigrants themselves. Once “fleeing” the dreaded China takeover of Hong Kong in 1997.

So let me get this straight: Canada should let us in because we came from lives of privilege in Hong Kong where we have what it took (money, education, professional background) to “qualify” for immigration. Now that we have entered the “safe haven”, we watch the Syrian situation developing, with hundreds of thousands dying, and we say we must not allow them to threaten “our” way of life? Why are we more deserving of safety, freedom, future for our children than the Syrians?

Are we serious? Like, really?

Because I work in the immigrant settlement sector, let me ask one more question of those who say we must “vet” refugees properly before allowing them entry. What exactly do we mean by “properly vetting” the refugees? Do you envision refugees lining up, all with perfectly certified documents, their documents being checked against some mega database, and then being issued a “This person is not ISIS” certificate?

These are people fleeing for their lives. Many, most of them have nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They are not tourists with perfectly stamped visas.

Given the massive wave of people fleeing Syria, no country, nor the United Nations have the man power and resources it takes to do do this kind of “investigative background check” on everyone. Yes, there are unknowns, but we cannot exaggerate the risks and assume everyone is a threat “until proven otherwise”.

The current Syrian refugee situation is the biggest humanitarian crisis we are facing. No single country has the ability to handle the challenge. It requires a coordinated, united global effort. If we in Canada have anything that is “God given”, it is the inescapable responsibility we have to be a world leader in this endeavor based how much we have been given and blessed with. (Isn’t there somewhere in the Bible that talks about to those much is given, much will be demanded?) But we cannot lead, if we are not setting the example.

As Christians, we must be careful not to become part of a narrative of hate

These are interesting days politically in both Canada and the US. We of course have just witnessed another Federal Election in Canada which resulted in a change-over of power. South of the border we are seeing daily dramatic developments as the US prepares for another Presidential Election next year.

During this time, I have become extremely concerned with one particular development both north and south of the border. It seems the anti-Muslim sentiment in North America is increasingly being used and exploited as a political advantage. And even more alarmingly, such views are receiving support from certain parts of the Christian community.

Here in Canada, we saw the whole Niqab debate being “framed” with language that suggests supporting the Niqab ban is consistent with “Christian” or “Canadian” values: We heard it is a issue of “security” for people to “hide their identity” during citizenship ceremonies. The truth that is that the women’s identity is never an issue because they would lift their veil for the citizenship judge to confirm their identity, and only wear the Niqab during the public ceremony (there were only 2 cases out of 680,000 citizenship ceremonies where this became an issue for the applicant). We heard that Canada is supposed to be an “open and transparent” society and the wearing of Niqab violates that as an attempt to hide the person’s identity. The fact is that Muslim women wear the Niqab as an EXPRESSION of their religious and cultural identity, rather than an attempt to hide who they are.

But that is how hate starts: You use language of “us” and “them”, and create a narrative that suggests “us” is better than “them”, and “they” are a threat to “us”. On the Niqab debate, We say things like “We” value openness and transparency (which suggests “they” don’t). We say “We” do not oppress women (again, suggesting that “they” do). While hate and fear has often proven to be useful political tools, what is alarming to me is to see Christians lining up under those banners.

The growth of the Islam is NOT a threat to the church. The real danger the church faces is being lured and sucked into the prevailing anti-Islamic sentiment, to become part of the narrative of hate. History in fact provides a clear warning: During the time of Nazi Germany the vast majority of the German population was Christian. With the rise of Nazism and its clearly anti-Jewish ideology, the church in Germany at the time was lured and persuaded into supporting the Nazi platform as affirming to “Christian values.”

Is it too far fetched to suggest history is threatening to repeat itself here in North America?