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United-airlines

United Airlines: Who deserves to be on that plane?

See #UnitedAirlines trending on social media? If you haven’t heard about it, United Airlines is currently embroiled in a controversy over a shocking video of a passenger being forcefully removed from a flight after he refused to be off-loaded.

According to news reports, the flap started when passengers on Kentucky-bound Flight 3411 were offered US$800 to give up their seats to make way for four crew members. No one volunteered so the airlines randomly selected four passengers. While three of them left begrudgingly, Dr David Dao, a Vietnamese-American, resisted, saying that he was a doctor and that he needed to see patients the following day. Chicago Department of Aviation security officers then yanked the 69-year-old from his seat and dragged him off the plane.

Numerous videos captured by fellow passengers went viral and caused a storm. To make matters worse, a company e-mail was leaked revealing the airline’s CEO Oscar Munoz describing Dr Dao as “disruptive and belligerent”. He also said that he stood behind his employees.

Many are now accusing United Airlines of discrimination, saying that they treated Dr Dao so badly because he is Asian. This was not helped by a news report supposedly highlighting the doctor’s troubled past and brushes with the law.

When such things happen, it is easy—almost natural, in fact—to condemn the airline. After all, it would seem that Dr Dao should not have been subjected to the treatment he received, no matter what his past and ethnicity. Some have also condemned the news site for digging up his criminal past.

Reading these arguments has left me with a number of questions. For example: Should our ethnicity determine our worth? Should we be judged on our past? In short: Who deserves to be on Flight 3411?

As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that in God’s eyes, the answer to the first two questions are: No. God does not see us based on our skin color nor our past. In fact, we are all equal: all of us are sinners, and all of us are in desperate need of His grace. We can do nothing to make ourselves more acceptable to Him, or to increase our worth. That’s why God does not look at our past criminal records and secret sins, nor our achievements and accolades.

In fact, if God were to judge us based on our sins, we would all suffer the same fate as Dr Dao—mercilessly dragged off the plane. We would not even have the chance to be on that plane.

Our merciful Father loves us as His children and forgives our sins. Instead of hauling us off the plane, He invites us to join Him on board.

Now, if God were willing to forgive and put aside His judgment against us, shouldn’t we, as His followers, be willing to do the same? Do we judge people or treat some as less deserving? Having received God’s love and treatment, do we view them the same way God viewed us?

Today, I would like to challenge you to remember that we are all “equal”—we are all sinners who need grace just as we do.

It’s easy to point the finger at United Airlines and others. But is it time to do the same to ourselves?

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2016: When Death Is On A Roll

As if the sudden deaths of British pop singer George Michael, 53, and American actress Carrie Fisher, 60—just four days apart—weren’t shocking enough, Fisher’s mother, renowned US actress Debbie Reynolds, also passed away yesterday, just one day after her daughter’s death. It was reported that she had suffered a stroke while planning for her beloved daughter’s funeral arrangements and never regained consciousness. She was 84.

The untimely deaths of these three entertainers, all within the span of a week, wrap up a year that has seen the demise of many beloved celebrities. They include rock legends David Bowie and Prince, as well as British actor Alan Rickman of Harry Potter fame. For me, it was the death of American YouTuber Christina Grimmie that affected me the most as I had been following her journey as a singer since she first started.

But while there is nothing surprising about death (after all, people die every day), there’s no way of getting used to it—especially if it involves our loved ones or someone we know.

Perhaps it was the fact that I had just watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a day before Fisher’s passing, and Princess Leia (acted by Fisher) was the last person that appeared before the credits rolled. Or maybe it was because Fisher had been in the headlines lately after her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist, revealed that she had had an affair with fellow actor Harrison Ford while filming the original Star Wars trilogy. For some reason, I felt like I had lost a friend when I heard the news of her death.

And then to hear that her mother passed away merely one day later—I can’t even imagine what the family must be going through. I wonder what they had talked about the week before as they gathered around the family table. Did they discuss plans for the future? Their dreams for 2017? Did anyone have any premonition that a double tragedy would happen just a week later?

As I try to wrap my head around this spate of deaths, I reach the same conclusion I had three years ago when my own father passed away after a massive stroke: Death is no respecter of persons. It can strike anyone anytime, anywhere.

Even as I write this, I’m fully cognizant of the fact that my turn on earth could be up anytime. I may not make it into 2017. I may not be able to achieve or complete what I plan to. Life is fleeting. Tomorrow is never a certainty. Whatever I have now is temporary.

What’s with all this doomsday talk? you must be thinking. We’re on the cusp of the new year, you’re probably saying, let’s look forward to 2017 with anticipation and positivity.

I cannot agree more. But if it’s the “new year” we’re waiting for in order to make new resolutions, to set our priorities right, and to devote time to what really matters, I’d say we might be missing an important lesson.

If not for anything, this year’s spate of deaths should sound the alarm that life is fleeting. We simply cannot afford to put off what’s important. Let’s not busy ourselves with urgent but unimportant stuff. Let’s find time for the important (but not necessarily urgent) matters.

The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) highlights the temporal nature of our earthly lives and what our preoccupations should be—certainly not our earthly possessions. Have we been spending our time, effort, and resources on storing treasures in heaven? Do we pursue God’s kingdom and live for others?

In Mitch Albom’s memoir of his sociology professor Morrie Schwartz, Tuesdays with Morrie, he quotes something his late professor said which has stuck with me all this while: “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

I wonder how differently Michael, Fisher, and Reynolds would have chosen to spend their last days had they known those were their last. How would we spend our days differently if we knew they were our last?

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Brangelina split: The end of Love?

Or so that is what some news reports have been saying, after news emerged yesterday that Hollywood’s golden couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, are ending a two-year marriage—after 12 years and six children together.

According to documents obtained by various news agencies, A-lister actress and director Jolie is pulling the plug on her marriage to actor Brad Pitt because of “irreconcilable differences”. Other news media suggest that Jolie’s decision—which her attorney described vaguely as being made “for the health of the family”—could have been triggered by differences in parenting style or Pitt’s anger problems and substance abuse issues.

Jolie has reportedly asked for custody of their six children and visitation rights to be granted to Pitt; she did not ask for spousal support. What about Pitt? Well, reports have noted that he is “very saddened” by the divorce and is most concerned about the “well-being of kids”.

News of their split has sent shockwaves all over the world, with many expressing sadness over the end of Brangelina, as they have been dubbed by the media. But why should they? After all, if we’re being honest, Hollywood marriages and divorces are, well, a dime a dozen.

Perhaps it’s because for once, we believed that Brangelina would be different. Throughout their 12-year relationship, we’ve seen the couple’s commitment to their professional work, humanitarian work, each other, and their children. As one Independent article put it, “Despite being astronomically wealthy and living thousands of miles away from the average Brit, Brangelina’s relationship was perhaps the most aspirational of all – no tantrums, no screaming matches, no huge betrayals, just getting on with life, even with the stresses and strains of illness, operations and six children to boot.” In short, they appeared to be the exemplary Hollywood couple.

That’s probably why many millennials have been reacting to the news of Brangelina’s divorce with the idea that “If they can’t do it, no one can”. And that’s perhaps why many news outlets have chosen to accompany their headlines on the split with lines like “Love is officially dead” and “Love ends today”.

But not everyone agrees. As Mashable’s writer Martha Tesema writes, “Love is far from dead. It’s very much alive, blossoming within the thousands of other high-profile power couples in the world we can look up to in awe.”

Tesema is right on one thing—love is far from dead. The end of Brangelina does not mean that love has ceased to exist. As much as we are in awe of everything they’ve achieved, they’re mere mortals—just like every one of us. They make mistakes. They fight. They break up.

But to take comfort in the fact that love continues to be “alive” because the marriages of other high-profile power couples are still thriving is downright naïve—and, may I add, foolish. If not for anything else, Brangelina’s split should sound the alarm bells in our minds that nobody is immune to broken relationships. Regardless of whether we’re the President of America or Britain’s most well-known footballer, we’re all fallible. By our own strength, we can never guarantee the constancy of our love for our partners—and vice versa.

Who then should we look to? It’s obvious enough, isn’t it?

Christ.

Love is far from dead—because of Christ. It’s very much alive, blossoming within those who have received Christ’s love.

So let’s take heart, not in ourselves, but in the One whose love will never fail. Because He first loved us, we can keep on loving (1 John 4:19).

Photo credit: Filmstiftung via Foter.com / CC BY

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What the Olympics is Really About

What would you do if you accidentally collided into a fellow competitor in the most important race of your life? Get up as quickly as possible and try to make up for lost time? Or stop and help your fellow competitor up?

Well, two track Olympians, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino, chose the latter during their 5,000 meters qualifying heat at the ongoing 2016 Rio Olympics, a couple of days ago. As a result, their act has been lauded by media outlets all over the world as an embodiment of the Olympic Spirit.

Here’s a quick replay: During the race, Hamblin had her legs clipped by D’Agostino, and both women stumbled and fell. D’Agostino got up quickly and helped Hamblin to her feet, encouraging her to finish the race. Later on, Hamblin was seen encouraging D’Agostino who suffered an ankle injury as a result. Both ended up last.

Photos of the pair helping each other up and hugging at the end of the finish line have been splashed everywhere by major news outlets. Hamblin spoke highly of D’Agostino’s kindness, telling reporters: “I went down, and I was like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I on the ground?’. Then suddenly, there’s this hand on my shoulder [and D’Agostino saying], ‘Get up, get up, we have to finish this.’ And I’m like, ‘Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympic games. We have to finish this.”

As a New Zealander, I could not have been more proud of the 28-year-old track athlete, who epitomized the Kiwi spirit of willingness to lend a hand to those in need. But what was even more heartening to read was D’Agostino’s explanation about her response—which she attributes to God. In a statement posted by the USA Track and Field website, she said, “Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance – and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”

And there’s a happy ending—Olympics organizers have given both Hamblin and D’Agostino places to run in the finals on Saturday after their teams submitted protests.

Reading about how Hamblin and D’Agostino helped each other in their moments of distress reminded me of the verse, “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls, and has no one to help them up,” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

How often do we stop to “help each other up”? We’re not just talking about physically helping a friend who has tripped and skinned her knees, but friends who may be going through tough patches in life. Will we stop to listen, comfort, encourage, or give them a hand?

A friend of mine has been looking desperately for a part-time job, but has been unable to find any suitable employment because she has to plan her work around her toddler. Not many employers are able to offer such flexi-hours. But I cannot remember the last time I had rung her to see how she was doing. My friend has “fallen down”, and I have done nothing to pick her up.

If I were D’Agostino, would I have helped Hamblin up? Maybe. Or I might have been tempted to continue running because I wouldn’t want to miss my chance of Olympic victory.

We live in a rat-race economy in which the person who snoozes, loses. But the Bible reminds us that we are to take time to look out for our friends’ well-being.

By stopping to help each other, Hamblin and D’Agostino may have gone home without any hope of any medals. But the actions the two displayed on that day were worth their weight in gold.