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?


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?


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 / CC BY


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.

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Why We Need Games like Pokemon Go

In today’s world, Pokemon are everywhere. And people walk for hours on end and visit places they don’t normally go to, well, catch these virtual pocket monsters. If you don’t see that happening, it’s probably because Pokemon Go hasn’t landed on your shores.

But trust me, it’s just a matter of time before Pokemadness unleashes. If you’re still clueless up to this point, Pokemon Go is a game that requires users to travel to find Pokemon. They show up on their phone screens when users are at different landmarks.

In the past weeks, the augmented-reality smartphone game has been launched in US, Australia, New Zealand, 26 European countries, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, and most recently, Singapore. The response has been spectacular.

Since then, the app has been downloaded more than 30 million times. It is more popular than Tinder, has more daily users than Twitter and more engagement than Facebook.

If you’re one of those (like me) still anxiously waiting for your turn to catch ‘em all, the game would be launched in some 200 countries and regions around the world “relatively soon”, according to John Hanke, Chief Executive of Niantic, the company behind this megahit.

So what is it about this mobile game that has taken the world by storm? After all, it’s not the first game to make use of augmented reality (google Ingress, a location-based social game). Among other reasons, here’s one: Pokemon Go is the result of a brilliant marketing strategy that ties our heavy reliance on smartphones with our emotional connection to the franchise, which began some 20 years ago.

And since the launch of this overnight sensation, the stories that have arisen have been simply fascinating . . . and bizarre.

Not only have there been accounts of how Pokemon Go has helped to “prevent crimes”, including catching an attempted murder suspect, it led a girl to discover a dead body floating in a river and even brought to light a cheating boyfriend. Some reports even claimed that playing Pokemon Go had helped to fight mental illness (depression and social anxiety).

Of course, there have been just as many stories about the downsides of playing this game, which include individuals quitting their jobs, trespassing on private property, falling off cliffs, getting stuck in caves, and even getting robbed or shot.

Closer to home, one of my friends—who normally doesn’t exercise—ended up walking some 16 kilometers to catch Pokemon, and another told me she accidentally stepped on a dead rat because she was so engrossed in the game.

It’s pretty baffling isn’t it? The extent that some of us would go for a game. And in the face of all these stories, the most natural response may be to dismiss this whole thing as a fad or a silly app game and tell ourselves not to get too invested in it. Some of us might even go one step further to condemn the game entirely. After all, good Christians don’t waste our time on such meaningless activities.

Those concerns are certainly valid. But while there’s wisdom in guarding our time, affections and energy, could there be value in having games like Pokemon Go every so often?

Here’s why: It shows the extent human beings will go to for something we feel passionately about—our single-minded devotion to completing a task at hand, our ability to remain focused regardless of our surroundings and, our unwavering commitment to share this passion we have with others.

It’s a beautiful picture of dedication—especially if it’s channeled for the right purposes. Imagine if we adopted this same attitude to reach others for Christ?

Photo taken from YouTube Video