Why is it hard to apologize?

My wife went through an experience lately with a salesperson who obviously made a mistake in overcharging her for a pair of boots. The problem was the salesperson did not want to admit she made a mistake. My wife calculated the total with the tax on her phone, showed it to the salesperson and the salesperson still refused to admit that was the correct total. My wife then took the salesperson’s calculator and calculated it on her store calculator, showed it to her and still she was adamant about the previous price. My wife finally pointed out the obvious error the salesperson was making which was she simply wasn’t reading the “0” between two of the numbers. The salesperson then quietly re-entered the new amount into her computer and repeated the same total price that my wife gave to her. But still, no apology.

Lately, as I’ve been giving talks about beauty and love and the dignity that the two afford us, I got to think that we have a hard time apologizing because we’re afraid of losing dignity. Dignity is the most fundamental and foundational, qualifying trait of our humanity. Dignity conveys that we have inherent worth, intrinsic value and natural respect that needs no defense and should be assumed by all. But in our broken world and fragile self-esteems, dignity, ironically, seems to be the one thing that many people strive to get or fight for in the real world. Without dignity, we lose a sense of ourselves and feel weak in making choices. For some who aren’t confident about their dignity, they resign to feeling worthless while for others they overly assert themselves to the point of irrationality or insensitivity, like failing to apologize even when the fault is clear. In my Chinese culture, we have a common phrase for this kind of feeling, “losing face.” Perhaps much that drives our actions and arouses our feelings has to do with this quality that is fundamental to our humanity which we’re striving to preserve. We’re fighting for our dignity in our educational achievements, career advancements, purchases of nice things, sometimes with the friends we make and even the way we try to look. Often times (though not always), it’s not the toys, money, accomplishments, awards or good looks we’re really after — it’s the dignity we feel these things can give us. The opposite of dignity is shame, which is the skeleton and sensitivity we all wrestle with. What we don’t want is shame, from others, ourselves or God.

But at the base of our humanity is dignity. At least that’s what God intended when he forged us according to his own image. As image-bearers of God, dignity IS an inherent trait in our humanity, though sin, brokenness and our fallen state competes with our dignity. Because of the Fall, shame is very much a familiar friend, as it was for Adam and Eve. So, it’s no wonder dignity is such a sensitive spot in our souls; it’s because we’re fighting against shame that threatens us all the time whenever we forget to comb our hair, failed to pass that test, cracked a joke that wasn’t funny, or made a mistake that we have difficulty admitting.

In Hollywood, shame is the ultimate enemy. But genuine dignity is also the elusive prize. Have we truly achieved human dignity by the things we do or get? Perhaps by understanding that dignity is what we are really searching for it frees us to evaluate the things we pursue and ask if they really translate into dignity. If we have trouble as imperfect people admitting to a mistake we’ve made or being humble enough to apologize for it, then we have not found that solid dignity that grounds who we are.

“Frozen”: Took the East Way Out

I just watched the film “Frozen” which looked similar to Castaway or 127 Hours in that it had to do with being marooned and surviving the elements and its psychological effects. This is not one of my usual posts that purely discusses the theological ideas drawn from the film. Instead, what I feel compelled to comment on is the story itself and how it had the potential for greatness but fell sadly short of brilliance because it took the easy way out.

The film really should be called “Eaten” rather than Frozen. The characters are trapped on a ski-lift and what at first is threatening their lives is the cold. But instead of having the characters deal with the complexities of cold and beating those challenges, the writer throws in these wild wolves that in the end actually become the real antagonist for the characters. It becomes a movie about them escaping wolves. Mainly, if they can get away from the wolves, they will survive. The antagonist should’ve been the weather, storm and cold but the wild wolves became an easy way out. Had the writer stuck with the characters struggling with the cold, it would’ve forced the writers to become more creative, more complex in exploring the interaction and psyche of the characters and more brilliant in coming up with its resolution. The wolves seemed to come out of nowhere and had nothing to do with the main idea of the story. It was an easy way out to send a pack of wild animals, like Jaws, instead. The concept of being trapped on a ski-lift was intriguing, but the story fell clear away from brilliance. The easy way out with the wolves did not afford the writer the opportunity for brilliance.

It made me think of how often life is the same way. We want to tidy it up nice and neat, sometimes by avoiding the real problems and deflecting onto another. That’s the easy way out. To be brilliant means forcing ourselves to face the real problem and avail ourselves to the complexities of our human responses as well as making room for where we may creatively forge solutions. When we face the real problems – the real antagonists presented to us, we allow our character quality to be explored and to be developed in measures that match the intricacies of the problems we face. Then, we may discover genuine triumph.


What does beauty have to do with life?  In a contemporary culture where the mass media has portrayed the image of beauty as mainly having to do with cosmetics and decorations, our common perceptions may have easily dismissed the significance of beauty in life, society and faith.  Understanding beauty is significant because we love what is beautiful; we pursue beauty.  To not be conscious of why we love what we love, we may find ourselves eventually at a place we never wanted to be.  When we seldom think of the meaning and significance of beauty, we may be insensitive to what allures our hearts.

Seven: a world without redemption

It seems lately I’ve been encountering films that graphically and compellingly portray the lostness of humanity. These are films that shake up our optimism about our nature. In this older film, “Seven,” we’re left with a sinful world without redemption. The film totes the question of whether the killer (played by Kevin Spacey) is simply psychotic or a brilliant individual and makes it more believable that if we were left to our sins without any hope of redemption, we could identify with the frustrations this killer experienced. I’m reminded by this film of our need to be redeemed. No one wants to remain in a state of brokenness. There’s a desire within each of us to be whole, in harmony and beautiful. If we live a life as broken people without redemption, we could only do two things: deny that we’re sinful and broken and thus fabricate an optimism that avoids any honesty with about need or find our selves enlightened and driven mad like the killer. After all, how are we supposed to live in a world of decrepitude without hope of being any better. It’s not in our nature.

Proactive Prayer

Prayer typically tends to be a reactive activity.  Something bad happened to me, I pray to God for help.  Something good happened to me and I give thanks to God (if I’m good enough to remember).  Or, I sin and I need to ask God for forgiveness and cleansing.  It dawned on me that I treat prayer like a fire escape when it is supposed to be a weapon next to my sword, at least according to Eph. 6:18.  Paul told us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).  What would my life look like if I didn’t practice reactive prayers but proactive prayers?  Proactive prayers would mean that my prayers are not the effect of a cause.  Perhaps proactive prayers can take more of a frontal activity of actually being a cause to an effect.  It would mean my prayers would not be dependent upon circumstances.  Proactive prayers would mean I talk to God just to talk to Him.  Pray without ceasing.  A while back our church One Thing embarked on a 60/60 experiment – praying to God every 60 mins for 60 days.  I have to say that that period was when I was the most proactive in my prayers.  Proactivity of any sort assumes a greater responsibility towards something; it encourages a greater value in something.  I’ve been focusing, more like striving, to make prayer less reactive and more proactive, because God is worth talking to even if it’s just for the sake of it.

Inglorious Basterds – inglorious humanity

Tarantino’s film title “Inglorious Basterds” referred to a band of WWII american vigilantes out to kill as many Nazis as they could with unrestrained barbarism.   One might even think that these Inglorious Basterds were deliverers of justice and judgment upon a well-deserved evil, racist nation bent on world conquest.  However, as the film progressed, I became less convinced that the title of ‘Inglorious Basterds’ referred solely to this vigilante group.

Throughout the film, I found myself uncomfortably sickened by the very real portrayals of undignified human characters.  There was not one that showed a redeeming quality about them — not ‘the Jew Hunter’ who methodically and nonchalantly hunted Jews like ‘rats’ or the Frenchman who sacrificed the Jews for his and his family’s self-preservation nor the Jewish survivor of a massacre who was drunk with vengeance and referred to herself as “the face of Jewish revenge” while she laughed wickedly as she burned 350 Nazis down.  There was no remarkable display of sacrifice, courage, dignity or redeeming quality of compassion or mercy evident in any of the characters.  And yet, what was so striking was all the portrayals were so human.  Tarantino left the audience disturbed when the film ended with Pitt’s character carving the swastika onto the forehead of the antagonist, the Jew Hunter, and then marveling with a smile over what he called, “his best work.”  Pitt’s character wanted this man to always be known as a Nazi so that he would be the victim of future hate crimes, ironically, an act that parallelled the Nazis branding the Jews.  In a war like WWII where the perceptions of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong appears at the onset to be blatantly clear, this film challenges our assumptions of how easily we could draw pose ourselves as “the good guys.”  Instead, the film brings us disturbingly to an honest look at our common human depravity (common between the oppressor, resistance and victims) and smears away the arrogance of presuming that we could be better than the others.  Though the film rewrites history with a positive victory at the killing of Hitler and all his leaders, thus ending the war, we are left feeling the unavoidable impression that there were no winners.  Instead, humanity is portrayed with no glory to be proud of and we were all ‘basterds.’

I believe Tarantino effectively echoed the cry of Paul who ardently made the case that we are inglorious because “we have all fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that we are all basterds because we were “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).  Tarantino captured the biblical truth of human depravity.  The way the film ends with Pitt’s character devilishly smiling at us as if we were looking at him through the eyes of the Jew Hunter who was just branded with the swastika, we are either left with the hopeless notion that there is no hope — we’re basterds and there’s nothing more to it.  Or, the end scene leaves us with a question — the question of how could we be redeemed from our own debasement.  It is no wonder that redemption had to come from ‘the outside,’ God coming from heaven and stepping into our basterdly humanity (Philippians 2:5-8).  And it is no wonder redemption had to incorporate re-creation, that to redeem someone meant also to make them anew, where salvation is more than a matter of acquiring more time but rather salvation is about becoming someone entirely different – even someone beautiful and worthy of glory.  By the film’s final fade out, “Inglorious Basterds” gives no suggestion of the gospel but leaves us with two possibilities: we’re hopeless because this is all we are and nothing can be done about it or it sends us searching for redemption from our own depravity.

Regrets and Reconciliation

Regrets are among the greatest demons of life.  They eat away at us as we wish we had seized, accomplished or obtained the things that have now passed.  Regrets seem to be demons we all have.  As I recently arrived at the age of 35, I found myself automatically reflecting on my journey in life and I discovered that my regrets are not related to vocation, education or finance.  I think there were missed opportunities when it comes to those areas.  But I wouldn’t say I felt a sense of regret over them, like I have a nagging wish for doing those things differently.  The regrets that I’ve accumulated are related to my character, relationships with others, the kind of person I was or am, and my relationship with God.  I think what we regret are the things we value most and my regrets have seared a deep impression upon me that in this life what’s most important are not necessarily the financial decisions or career moves I make.  We can measure ourselves by the quantity of our successes and still miss the quality of being the person.  It is the kind of person I am day-to-day that sums up the kind of life I will have lived before God.  It is about how I love God first and others next daily.  It is about the attitudes I have, the thoughts I think, the desires I entertain, and the actions I do that sum up the kind of man I am.  It is not about how I have developed my financial assets but about how I have contributed to His kingdom in society.  Do my attitudes, thoughts, desires and actions embrace integrity, goodness, truth, love, and honor that rightly emulate Christ?  Do I contribute to the creative work of God or to the corruptive work of sin?  At 35, my impressionable regrets have ignited a vigilance in me to fight for the things that shape my personhood in Christ, to honor them and treat them as something precious in my life.

While there are no do-overs for regrets, the resolve I have is the reconciliation I find in the work of God in my life.  I cling to Ephesians 2:10 that tells me that I am God’s craftsmanship prepared in advance in Christ for good works.  “Good” may mean honorable, worthy, and valuable.  When elderly folks share with me about their regrets, a tone of insignificance plagues their testimonies.  Yet with God as my Artist, the Author Divine of my journey and the Master Craftsman who fashions me, my one confidence is the work of God that’s greater than my mistakes.  My reconciliation with my regrets is my faith in God’s artistry over my daily developments as well as my blunders.  At 35 as I reflected on my regrets, I found peace in God’s authorship.

Interview with a Vampire – what is immortality?

The current vampire craze rekindled an interest for me to re-watch Interview with a Vampire, in which many of its concepts and ideas appears to me to be the predecessor for today’s popular Twilight saga and Vampire Diaries.  Such themes include, exploring the psyche of vampires, a vampire’s ironic apprehension towards taking life, the “vegetarian” vampire, and giving the vampire the humane quality of love .  I didn’t remember much of this film since the first time I watched it.  Some of the scenes were more disturbing than I remembered.  Following Brad Pitt’s character, Louis, however, was gripping and fascinating.

Louis willingly entered into the dark life of a vampire, hoping to escape the hell of suffering the pain of being widowed but found himself in another hell as he became a monster.  He played the tragic vampire with a conscience.  He was a monster, a predator by nature, who still valued human life and felt regret for taking life in order to survive, which was an ironic twist, seeing that he was formerly suicidal as a human when he drowned in his grief.  Through an intriguing development of his character, the film portrayed his quest to find meaning for his immortally monstrous existence.  He sought out a sage to teach him about the purpose of his nature.  Who was the “creator” of all vampires, he asked; perhaps discovering the origins of his kind might offer some meaning.  But to no avail, his quest left him with no answers other than what LeStat (Tom Cruise) kept reiterating to him: he just was and there was no why.  His own quest surfaced the interesting question of immortality.  What is immortality?  Is it simply to live forever?  Is it simply to escape death?  Or does immortality have to mean a quality of existence, a certain state of being?  The escape of death is no solution if a life defined by goodness, purity, love, righteousness, beauty and godliness cannot be attained.  As it was for Louis, escaping death to embrace a life without such qualities is simply trading in for another kind of death, which perhaps is even worse than the former.  In the search for eternity, we may be led to redefine the meaning of living.  Interestingly, the one responsible for the kind of lives LeStat and Louis had were their makers.  Unfortunately for LeStat and Louis, their makers were vampires, creatures of darkness who preyed on others.  Even the oldest of vampires, Armand (Antonio Banderas), offered Louis no insightful meaning to their existence.  Hence, the only solutions offered to them were meaningless themes of evil.   In the question of what is the meaning of any being’s existence, we may find a foundational clue from our Creator.  The God of all things and beings may offer a ready answer to the meaning of eternity.  Like Louis, perhaps we’re all on a quest to discovering the meaning of immortality, a quest that directs us back to our Creator for answers.  Only for us, our Creator is a maker of goodness, righteousness, beauty, and truth.

A comment of caution – while this piece based on the Anne Rice’s novel is a classic and an intrigue and superbly raises human issues that many people would ask, it is rated R for violence and nudity.

Terminator Salvation – “Take mine.”

It was fascinating to see the character of Marcus attempting to find redemption throughout the film. In the beginning, he wasn’t looking for salvation or redemption, only to pay his debt for his murders by dying. In an ironic twist, he was “resurrected,” built as a machine-hybrid, a terminator, to deceive and destroy others. John Connor commented, “The Devil’s hands have been busy,” alluding to Marcus being a product of evil. But in the end as John Connor, the supposed savior of humankind, was dying from a battle-wound that left him with a failing heart, Marcus stepped forward, saying, “Take mine,” and offered one of the few human organs he had left – his heart. “Everyone deserves a second chance,” he said, “This is mine.” Marcus’ first death out of guilt for the lives he took was a debt to be paid. Marcus’ second death was a sacrifice to save the life of another that would benefit humanity from which he found redemption.  It was his sacrifice that was his “second chance.”

None of us are perfect. None of us our guilt-free. And perhaps all of us in the end either pay the debt we owe and hope that’s enough or adhere to the yearning for redemption and salvation. The theme of redemption is prevalent in films, from science-fiction to romantic comedies. It would seem that at the core of our beings we long for a level of redemption, whether socially, personally and especially eternally.  The only question remains, how will we find our redemption? In films and stories, the recurring solution seems to be sacrifice.  Perhaps our films reveal we understand something at the base of our humanity — sacrifice is the redemption for humanity, an act that is the core of the gospel of Christ.

“We all owe a death to God”

The recurring theme of the film The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 is from John Travolta’s repeated line, “We all owe a death to God.”  Surprisingly, undergirding this theme is the possibility of Denzel Washington’s character of finding redemption for a crime he allegedly committed.  There is perhaps no greater reality than that of death.  It is a looming fate which all people, young and old, know of, but few know how to deal with.  How we deal with death may influence how we live  life.  A destiny of corruption and deterioration casts a shadow on the meaning of life and an evaluation of the sort of persons we are.  Perhaps in a universal sense, we all search for redemption because we know we’re imperfect, corruptible and indebted people.  “Do you pay your debts,” Travolta’s character asked Washington’s.  Death is the debt to be paid, a fundamental reality we grasped in light of eternity.  But eternity escapes us.  And perhaps the gospel makes sense in this way – it speaks to the core human understanding of our plight.  It speaks of redemption and an altering of destiny.  And in the end, it simply comes down to a question of, do we pay our own debts or do we accept someone else’s offer to pay it for us?

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