Friday, 26 April 2013

What's wrong with the world?

What is wrong with the world? It is our insatiable appetites. Our craving to own, to conquer, to dominate. It is our desperation to assert, to compete, to flourish at the expense of the world, even at the expense of our future survival.  

Nature has seen no greater foe than mankind. It is a humanity without the humanity, dignity without the dignity and charity without the charity. We promised to make the world a better place. We assured nature we come in peace. We strove to change the world by invention and technology. But what have we left behind? We have left behind a legacy of premature extermination.  

The irony is that in our relentless drive for progress, for breakthroughs, and for longevity, we have unwittingly driven ourselves off the cliff. It is said that we have to protect our future because we will have to spend the rest of our life there. But the way things are going now, I'm afraid that the rest of our life would just have to be spent in the present. Mmm...fruit basket for thought?  

My point is this, the end is not a moment in time. It is a drawn out process. And in our blind march towards a certain progress, one that is fraught with greed and self aggrandisement, we have planted the seed of inevitability and we will therefore inherit the wind of our own destruction. Unfortunately, this time, we may even take the world down with us.
I have always ransacked religious books to look for the causes/signs of the end of the world. But I have looked amiss. In my feverish enthusiasm to understand our pending doom as foretold in the sacred books, I have overlooked the obvious. Alas, it is as obvious as the nose on my face. What is revelation to biblical end time is standard college economics to the end of the world.  

Stripped of all the jargons, isn't economics the study of two exhaustible variables: scarcity and fair allocation? But what economics has sadly omitted to mention at its footnotes, end notes or postscript is this foreboding warning: "Earth's scarcity is no match for man's ferocity."  Should there be a sequel or volume 2 to the economics text, it would not be about "microeconomics" or "macroeconomics", it would be more appropriately entitled, "mega-destructionomics".  

Alas, if the biblical end time doesn't end soon, mankind may just sign up as God's co-partner with it's own signature version of the weapon of mass destruction. I can easily think of two potential candidates here: nuclear and environment.  

So, Chesterton was right on the money when his sagely reply to the question "what's wrong with the world?" is, "It's me." If the sun, the source of all earthly life and the suckling mother of nature, could speak her mind, I would imagine her to say this to us, "It would take another 5 or more billion years to burn up the hydrogen in me and consume earth and all life on it. But it will only take you guys something shy of one hundred thousand years to perform the same feat. Indeed, I shine in awe!"  

I think I have to end now before the end time comes. And my parting shot is this quote: "I will die one day. Why then bring the rest of humanity into my grave?" (michael han). Cheerz.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Breastfeed Me Right

This is a tale of a baby,
Who needs to be breastfed.
And I don't mean maybe.
No milk and she's a train wreck.  

Breastfed at night.
Breastfed her right.
Breastfed in the day.
Breastfed all the way.  

I dread the day,
That the milk runs dry.
I can't imagine how "sway".
To endure her hue and cry.

So...together we sigh...
Breastfed at night.
Breastfed her right.
Breastfed in the day.
Breastfed all the way.  

This baby drinks,
By the twinning barrel.
She can even sing,
As she squeezes them with sheer terror.  

Ok, with all your might...
Breastfed at night.
Breastfed her right.
Breastfed in the day.
Breastfed all the way.  

So, there's just no way,
This baby will sleep.
Should the milk stay,
Away from her lips.  

Alas, let's draw nigh...
Breastfed at night.
Breastfed her right.
Breastfed in the day.
Breastfed all the way.  

And now the drum rolls...
As the plot unfolds...  

Here comes the miracle.
That made us swoon.
It's something truly magical.
It happens once in a blue moon.  

Today, we rushed to the door.
And saw something funny.
This baby crashed to the FLOOR! 
While watching my little PONY!  


OK, let's CELEBRATE real tight...
Breastfed at night
Breastfed her right. 
Breastfed in the day. 
Breastfed all the way.  


Happy families are all the same?

"There is no normal family. Every family is dysfunctional in some way." (Dr Yap)

Mmm…I wonder whether dysfunctional families are happy or unhappy families? And if unhappy, are they unhappy in their own way? And if happy, are they happy in the same way. Undifferentiated? Indistinguishable? I recall Tolstoy’s quote about this: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  

Of course, unless it is the Adam’s family, no family is happy all the time. But that’s stating the obvious. Even for dysfunctional families, each has its own share of happiness and unhappiness. What is interesting however is this: “Happy is as happy does. But unhappy does it in many different ways.” Back to Tolstoy's insight?  

So, a happy family is happy by the same definition? They are all similar? Their love for each other? Their generosity and magnanimity? Their hope and altruism? Even their philosophy of life and their ways of dealing with the trials of life? All the same?

In other words, if they come together and trade stories, though their stories will naturally differ, their emotions, expressions and conduct are uniform, even universal?  

Well, a canadian journalist begs to defer with Tolstoy and penned his own view here: “It may be the silliest damn sentence ever set down...He got things backwards. Experience and literature both demonstrate that happy families come in all shapes and sizes, but the burdens of unhappy families (emotional indifference, poverty, alcoholism, irresponsibility) are painfully predictable.” Pause for thought?  

Mmm...maybe we can see it in terms of means and ends. As true as there are many roads that lead to Rome, there are, in like metaphorical manner, many ways (attitudes) that lead to both unhappiness and happiness. But once arrived, once it reached its destination, unhappiness enters a mansion with many rooms.

Each room expresses a different emotion. There is the envy room. There is the hatred room. There is the grumpy room. There is also the depression room. And every such room has an adjoining room, a bigger room, which differentiates itself on behavior. There is a room of suicide attempts. There is a room of murderous intent. There is one of sheer passivity. And another of perpetual complaining.  

But for the mansion of happiness, there is only one room and one common roof. The room is big enough to house a host of positive and congruous emotions like hope, charity, faith and perseverance. And all of them live in harmony under one roof with this life-affirming motif: "Life embraced."  

I think a good analogy of this is our religion. We know that God is love. But love, as poetically described in Corinthian, has many manifestations.Yet love, as the mother of them all, sums it up supremely well. It is the cornerstone of the grand edifice of happiness, so to speak.  

Does this then apply to evil or sin? Well, I think Aristotle answers it best here, though a little pedantic:  

" is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited, as the Pythagoreans conjectured, and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in one way (for which reason also one is easy and the other difficult -- to miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult); for these reasons also, then, excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue; For men are good in but one way, but bad in many."   

Likewise, there are many ways to fall but only one way to stand up straight: right angle.  

So, here's how I end. My perspective is that the trials of life are essentially the same. Whether you are born poor or rich (even the rich have their fair share of pain), whether with disability or not, whether in the throes of adversity or otherwise, there are no surprises here.

But, as a family, as a whole, happiness attained is love, hope and contentment secured. To me, they are all life affirming and life embracing. All the same. In any event, isn't a good conscience above all else the best pillow?    

But unhappiness in its varying situations differ because it can be life-rejecting, life-abusing or life-disrupting. They are different and manifest themselves differently, if not most disagreeably.  

All said, I would like to add that the end result remains quite predictable though, that is, unhappiness under one roof will tear the house down eventually; while happiness under the same roof will build it up most outstandingly. Cheerz.  

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Does God pull a long face?

Recently (April 2013), I read an interesting report and here’s an extract: “An Istanbul court on Monday slapped world-renowned pianist Fazil Say with a 10-month suspended jail term for blasphemy, the latest in a series of cases to raise eyebrows about Turkey's dismal record on freedom of speech.

Mmm...I wonder...
How god feels when insulted?
Will he pull a long face?
Will he be pissed with the human race?

Will he denounce the offender?
Will he go cold turkey?
Will he side with his defender?
Or will he drop the dead donkey?

How will god react, really?
When atheists call him imaginary.
Will he bang tables, bang chairs?
Will he holler at vanity fair?

Is god a god who cannot stand,
A little disagreement from his fan.
Is he hot, short and touchy?
Is his hand of wrath a tad itchy?

I can't imagine,
The creator of heavens,
Getting all strung up,
By some silly old fart.

Surely he has better things to do.
Than to get all riled up with fools.
Per chance the insult was well intent.
Wouldn't his love understand?

Is this a form of abuse,
When god is the perfect excuse?
That his fans would loosely use,
To oppress, to jail, and to even kill?

Alas, it is how it is,
With the religion of control.
While god may not be pissed,
Some talking heads will still roll.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Heng...ah...I am not gay!

Heng…ah…I am not gay.

On the one hand, the “gahment” openly allows singles above a certain age to co-own a HDB flat, whether gay or otherwise. This was to ease its oversupply, so they say. It was purely a pragmatic solution, so they say. Some even called it the squeering strategy. But here’s the unintended consequences: What do you expect two closeted gays to do in the privacy of their co-owned HDB flat? Watch reruns of “Whose line is it anyway?”

On the other hand, you have the sodomy law under the allegedly toothless Section 377A. While the heterosexuals (marital, extramarital or fornicating) may go on a physical frolick of their own without fear, and for some, without shame, under the same HDB roof, the gays would just have to watch their back for fear of reprisals from their religiously guarded, socially conscious neighborhood watch.

Heng…ah…I am not gay.

On the one hand, our gahment in 2008 warmly welcomed an American gay professor to helm the SEA’s largest earth observatory in Singapore. He was assured that he would not be discriminated against and he could even bring his partner over. Obviously, he had tribal immunity from the lurking shadows of Section 377A.

On the other hand, this same privilege has not yet been extended to gay Singaporeans. Our gay community had thus gotten the short end of the policy stick I guess.

Heng…ah…I am not gay.

On the one hand, gays are considered the “canaries of a creative economy”. One Straits Times commentator wrote, “If Singapore is serious about attracting smart, talented people, whether gay or not, many more bigger steps towards greater tolerance – and not just towards gays – must be made. Remember, this is not about gay rights. This is about economic competitiveness.” (Chua Mui Hoong, 2003) The message? Gays are creative people and are therefore here to stay for the sake of the economy?

On the other hand, the gahment once warned queer Singaporeans not to “assert themselves stridently as gay groups in the West.” More relevantly, in the 2007 debates on the criminalization of male homosex, LKY commented, “They tell me and anyway it is probably half-true that homosexuals are creative writer, dancers, et cetera. If you want creative people, then we got to put up with their idiosyncrasies so long as they don’t infect the heartland.” The message? Gays are to be kept at bay? They should be seen and not heard? They should quietly contribute during the day and not infect during the night? Not so clear cut after all I guess.

Once again, heng…ah…I am not gay. I think enough is said. The bottom line is that it’s no fun being a gay here, to put it mildly.

On the one hand, it is comforting to hear this PM Lee’s assurance: “De facto, gays have a lot of space in Singapore. Gay groups hold public discussions. They publish websites. There are films and plays on gay themes. There are gay bars and clubs. They exist. We know where they are. We do not harass gays… and we do not proactively enforce Section 377A.”

On the other hand, the mainstream religion views them as such, “Homosexuality constitutes a threat and an aberration to the paternalistic state because same-gender unions usually do not result in procreation.”

Furthermore, these words from the then Att Gen Walter Woon can be a little disconcerting regarding Section 377A, “As far as I am concerned, it is still against the law and we still prosecute if there’s a need. The Prime Minister said that, if its consensual between two adults, we are not going to go after them if nobody complains…In the case of 377A…we are prosecuting some cases, such as where you have an older man preying on young underaged boys. If it’s two consenting adults, technically it’s an offence but, if nobody complains, the police aren’t going to beat the bushes in the parks to spy on you. If somebody does complain, then the question is: Do we prosecute or do we just warn? Very often, we warn rather than prosecute.”

Mmm…is this the “complaint guillotine for gays”? Aren’t Singaporeans famous for complaining?

Heng…ah…I am not gay.

But for some of my friends who are, let’s hope that no one complains. Let’s hope that they are nice to everybody, lest they complain. And if they do complain, let’s hope that these hapless gays will fall on the “Very often” side of the law and get away with just a warning. The last thing they want is for their bushes to be beaten by the blue-shirted men.

So, together now, heng…ah…we are not gay! Cheerz.

Ps: What is the difference between a repented sinner and a repented gay? A repented sinner sins no more? And a repented gay is still a gay?

Now, let's change perspective. What do a repented sinner and a repented gay share in common? They both love Jesus.

Maybe some of us as Christians have been asking the wrong question and have therefore been getting the same answers we have been getting all this while. The bias is there. It's just unavoidable.

When we focus on the differences, the gap widens. But when we focus on the common ground, the gap seems more reconcilable.

Here's another way of looking at it. What do a repented sinner and a repented gay share in common? They all need more time? Because this I guess says it all, "God loves us for who we are but He loves us too much to leave us as we are."

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The narrow road...

 "If you want a religion that makes you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity." (C S Lewis)

So true, so true. Ours is a religion of blinding paradoxes and numbing discomfiture. We have a God who is all powerful; and yet was portrayed all-powerless at the Cross. A God who created us; and yet like orphans we rebel and disown him. A God who loves without reserve; and yet is seemingly reserved when gratuitous sufferings abound. A God who promises us greater things we shall do; and yet most times, the greatest thing the greatest amongst us have ever done was to suffer most greatly.

Indeed, Christianity is not to be recommended for the faint hearted. It is one religion that, if truly lived, will break you first, most sorely, even irreversibly, before it gives you hope. But this hope is not served on a silver platter, but on a broken chalice. More to the point, it is served at the Cross of Calvary, where the Creator was offered to his creation to do its worst. Aristotle once said, "To perceive is to suffer." Christianity does more than perceiving. It is transforming. And it transforms you with repeated blows on the anvil of sorrows and pain.

Let me present this paradox in the most visceral way possible for me. This is a tale of two havens. The first haven is the Orphanage of the Missionaries of Charity and the second is a non-descript church. Both places hailed from Rwanda. And the year was 1994. It was the year of the horrifying Rwandan massacre. This is the plain statistics: three months and 800,000 lives. It was to be history's most swift and efficient genocide. My source is from the book, "Against a tide of evil", by Dr Mukesh Kapila.

The first haven (Orphanage of the Missionaries of Charity) was a shelter for many young children whose Tutsi parents had begged the diminutive sisters for refuge from the merciless hands of the Hutu rebels. This was how their deliverance was recounted in the book by the head sister, "When the Hutu soldiers and militias heard what was happening, they came here...We (the sisters) stood in the entrance and blocked their way. We told them, "You cannot come in - this is a sacred place of God." And you know, those militias and the soldiers - they turned and went away."

To the sisters’ steadfast show of courage, Dr Kapila wrote in reply, "Yours is a story of the most extraordinary courage...You have made me believe again that there has to be a God, even in the midst of this sorrow and this bloodshed." 

Now embrace yourself for the second haven. This time, Dr Kapila was drawn to a church in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. There was a burnt stench coming out from the church.

When he stepped into it, this was what he saw, "The first thing I noticed was the pulpit and the hymn numbers on the board on the wall. Beneath that was a tangled heap of bodies - men, women, old people, kids, babies even. I saw women with naked tops and their breasts hacked off. I saw a baby clutched to his dead mother's breast, but with its legs hacked away. The place looked as if it would normally hold a congregation of around 200, but the corpses of at least 1,000 people were piled in there...There were even severed hands still clutching the bibles with which those in the church had been praying."

Alas, there is no better way to say this but if Peter Parker's uncle Ben was right ("With great power comes great responsibility"), then shouldn't God answered their prayers? Maybe the simplest reply to that is this, "God is no comics hero?"

Here, I pause for a deep sigh and continue with what Robert Frost wrote, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less travelled by, and that made all the difference." I also recall Jesus once admonished us to do all we can to take the narrow road. This I guess is why Christianity is so darn "un-recommendable" or is such a hard sell.

I can picture its brochure. It is a narrow road, cramped I suppose. It may even be one overlooking a certain fall, a certain death. I postulate it to be dark, dank and dreary. It is also a lonely road. And it is definitely a road without the usual creature comforts. Cold. Chilly. Creepy. Maybe. You take this road at your own peril, at your own risk. Should you choose this road, all bets are off. You may even enter a world of reverse expectations. Blessings become curses. Wealth becomes poverty. Health becomes illnesses. And life becomes death.

Let me end with how I view Christianity and I can say it no better than in Dr Kapila's own description. He wrote about the horror of wanton amputations in Sierra Leone. Here is an extract of what he had observed: "...the RUF rebels had specialized in amputations - chopping off arms and legs with machetes - as a means to spread total fear. The mother was cradling her child with her one surviving hand. I was mesmerized: such incredible grace juxtaposed with such mindless brutality."

I see the same juxtaposition in Christianity. Most unfortunately, it is not one primarily of wealth and health (although blessings do abound in many lives I know). It is not one of a long life and a good one. It is not one of success and more successes.

But it is one of grace unsparingly and suffering unremittingly. It is one between love personified and suffering magnified. It is one where with one hand, God is carrying us, and with the other, He is bearing the Cross. Quite frustratingly, it is one of too many paradoxes and I guess it would take much longer than my lifetime to understand. Maybe in all that, it is also one between life and a certain eternity. And it is an eternity worth enduring for. Maybe. Cheerz.