Thursday, 31 March 2016

A mother's love.

"Please keep trusting people because society is still beautiful. Please give your dearest family members a hug. That would be the most comforting and caring thing you could do for me." This was the message of the mother, Claire Wang, whose daughter was brutally killed in public in a random attack by a 33-year-old.
In one cruel stroke, Wang Ching-yu, "grabbed the child from behind and decapitated her with a cleaver as she was riding a bicycle near" her mother.
But while some are calling for his execution, Claire called for calm. She said, "This is not a problem that can be solved by passing a law, I hope we can address the problem at its root, from the perspective of family and education, so that there will no longer be people like him in our society."
Taipei mayor remarked on Facebook: "The mother's calmness and perseverance were admirable and heartbreaking."
Lesson? Just one. I recall after 911 terrorist attack, a fireman was asked how he dealt with the mindless carnage around him, and he said, "Focus on the rescuer."
This is exactly what Claire did. She focused on what is most redeeming about humanity, that is, our capacity to love and to forgive. I believe what makes us human is not so much our brilliance in technology or innovation. It is not even how far we as a species have come in exploiting nature to serve our survival and prosperity.
People like the fireman and Claire and the many unsung "rescuers" who live their lives quietly giving of themselves to their loved ones and to others show us what it truly means to be the ceaseless candle in the wind.
Their light will always shine brighter than the surrounding darkness because they consciously choose the road less traveled. It is no doubt a road that induces one to the greatest resistance because it is so easy (or natural) to lose our head and heart and rebel against society with hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness.
However, it is also a road of the greatest overcoming whereby at that crucial crossroad of pain, suffering and torment people like Claire went against the grain of what a jaded society considers as natural and drew upon the resources of love, understanding and hope to urge all to move forward. She said: "I believe the suspects in these kinds of random killings lose their minds at that moment...I have never believed that hatred and recrimination can solve problems."
I too earnestly believe that life is a journey and in this journey God allows us to be human. And to be human is to be open to all experiences and to grow with them. The pain, disappointment and betrayal will come like regular guests to life's many inns. We can thus choose to close our heart's door to them, shut them out, and hide in the hermitage of ourselves.
Or we can gradually allow them in, one guest at a time. We can sit with them and listen to their message. And I believe if you take the time to unravel them, each of them carry a message of hope, healing and growth. This is not a feel-good message. It is on the contrary a heal-well message.
I guess we all resist the healing process because letting go and letting God always means that we are letting off the one who hurt us too lightly. But we often forget that by letting go, we are not so much releasing the wrong done to us by another.
We are however releasing the bitterness and hatred that seek to consume and transform us. That is the one thing that stands in our way of full recovery and growth. Alas, life's greatest tragedy is to go to our grave with clenched fists instead of open palms
Let me end with the words of a psychiatrist who had his share of life's sorrows. He was paralyzed by a traffic accident when a big wheel went off the road and landed on the top of his car, crashing his spine.
He said that "we are all born square. But we die round." And dying "round" is to return full circle to where we first started and to see life not as an obsessive abuser or a petulant taunter, but always as an abiding teacher. That change of perspective is always empowering and transforming. Cheerz.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

What the Cross means to me.

The Cross means everything to me. And it represents everything that we desperately need now more than ever. While the postmodern world of self-significance is moving away from it, we need to turn from all that and return to the Cross. I believe it is a place where we will find our anchor, our meaning and our joy. 

Even if you are an atheist, the Cross is still compelling. It speaks about a historical man who gave himself completely for a cause. He died for a reason and that reason is not to save himself. He died for love. He gave himself for love. He lived a life of love. That's the long and short of it for the atheist. A metanarrative in a nutshell.

Even if an atheist would to deny that Jesus is God, he can't deny his unwavering commitment to the end, even unto his own death. There is just something provoking about the Cross that should give the atheist pause to do some soul-searching reflection, especially during such time of self-seeking indulgence.

The Cross is visible to all for a reason. It is a unifying force for everything that is redeeming in us. It is meant to be an invitation for all to come and witness for themselves a man who was at the lowest point of his life. You see, Jesus had a choice but he made his nevertheless. He could opt out of it but he wanted in. He was already free, but he chose the greater freedom – the freedom to obey.

Stripped of practically everything, Jesus had nothing and was nothing as he hung there. He was both full and devoid of humanity. He was both the most reviled animal and the most glorified beast you will ever witness. He was in fact a sight of unspeakable disgust and paradoxical awe. 

The message here is not about how he was put to death. But more importantly, it is about why he put himself there in the first place. Why did he submit to such a macabre end?

In today's business jargon, one can say that Jesus was a value-driven man. Yet his values were not efficiency, productivity or material success. It is definitely not those values that the world embraces or seeks after. 

Hung there, at the nondescript Cross, Jesus was anything but the symbol of efficiency, productivity and material success. Only one value drove Jesus at all times, and that was selflessness. He emptied himself completely by offering himself at the Cross. And that was why he took that road to grief, that lonely tortuous journey to Calvary. 

While the world seeks to identify with money, fame and power, Jesus shunned all that and chose to identify with love and sacrifice. He saw a greater freedom in the road less traveled, the narrow way. That freedom is the freedom from self. 

And that is why the Cross means everything to me. It doesn't just preach about love. It fulfilled it. It doesn't just preach about sacrifice. It satisfied it. It doesn't just preach about victory over flesh. It crucified it. The Cross is more than a symbol of mind over matter. It is in essence spirit over flesh, hope over despair, love over hate, strength over sufferings, obedience over self-will, and joyful action over apathy. 

The Cross therefore deals with what matters most in my life. It shows me the order of things, the priority of goals. Jesus did not come to win a campaign, to spread an ideology or to secure an earthly crown. He came and died for a mission far more important, urgent and relevant. He came to show us how we can do likewise, that is, to overcome self. He took the battle of personal change to where it really counts, that is, in the hearts of men. 

Jesus' battle and victory were unseen because he fought for an internal transformation, and not so much an external one. Clearly the Cross succeeded at doing just that because for those who are transformed by it, the change is genuine, enduring and empowering. Needlessly to say, it is also infectious. And it is only by such change that humanity will move forward together and not go down on their own totalitarian paths.

However, the world reversed that priority and places external change before internal transformation. And sadly, this has resulted in what we are witnessing today, that is, the bankruptcy of the spirit for the expediency of the flesh even as the flesh seeks to do what it deems is good. But it is only a self-seeking good that further deepens the spiritual estrangement. While the Cross seeks to expose the hypocrisy of man, the world seeks to offer it convalescence and refuge. 

For all these reasons, I am deeply indebted to the Cross for showing me the way, the truth and the life. The Cross humbles me. It awakens me. It empowers me. As a believer, the Cross tells of a simple love story. It is a story that showed that someone actually bothered. He bothered to go all the way. He bothered to give all up. He bothered to remember me. And as a believer, that someone is my Creator.

Jesus was indeed a revolutionary in his time and for all time. He made himself a shinning example - both an example of the ugliness of sin, and at the same time, an over-comer of it. 

Here, as I end, I am reminded of a poem by theologian John Shea about John the Baptist being only half a man because he could do only half the job:

"I can denounce a king, but I cannot enthrone one.
I can strip an idol of its power, but I cannot reveal the true God.
I can wash the soul in sand, but I cannot dress it in white.
I can devour the word of the Lord like wild honey, 
but I cannot lace his sandal.
I can condemn sin, but I cannot bear it away.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."

So this is the day,
That the Lord has fulfilled.
By the Cross, he laid.
And death's repealed.
So I will rejoice,
And be glad in it.
Lifting my voice,
And declare he lives!


Friday, 25 March 2016

Son, this is how you confront life.

Son: Dad, how do you confront life?

Dad: Son, you confront life with love, not hate, with peace and not war, with hope and not despair. You confront life by fighting for what is right. It is a fight to win a fight. And the greatest fight is inside you. Everything starts there (points to the heart). You start with a thought, whether good or bad. You start with envy, lust, greed, disappointment and unforgiveness. You deal with them.
It is a lifelong battle because every age comes with its own temptations. And you grow every time you overcome them. They are what make up life. They will come whether you invite them or not. And they conspire with your circumstances to distract you, to break you, and to change you. They come with agenda, their own agenda. That's where it all starts. Within you. That's where you have to take the fight to.
Son, don't go around changing the world and leaving yourself unchanged. Don't shortchange yourself. Don't deceive yourself. You see, you can be the most popular person in this world, adored even, and at the same time, you can be someone that you and your loved ones hardly recognized. You can end up being a stranger to yourself. In life, you go for the jugular son. You go for what matters and what's enduring. You go for real change.
So, confront life with love. Make love selfless. Make it unconditional. Make it last. But start small. Start with less ambition and more decision. Don't boast that you love, just love. Keep the theatrics for the stage. The only script you need to love is to love. Actions speak louder than words. Most times, action transforms you; words only inform you.
Son, please bear in mind that some things in life are supposed to be kept simple. That's the elegance of simplicity. Don't make them profoundly bedazzling only to find them disturbingly self-serving. So make choices to grow love. Make it everyday. Demonstrate love in your thoughts and deeds.
You've heard that love conquers all. But let me tell you son, what matters for you is that love conquers you. It transforms you just like hate, envy, lust and despair seek to do. But while the former (love) is life-giving, the latter is life-taking. Love grows you. Hate and all rob you. Love overcomes while hate consumes you.
Son, it's the same when you compare love and like. Like is for a season; love is for all seasons. Like touch-and-go; love stays deep in your soul. And like is about the flight of emotions. Love on the other hand is about the fight for progression. You move forward with love while you waver with like. That is why love is life-giving while all else is life-hoarding.
That's how you confront life son. When you become love's co-pilot, you will not be immune to hate, greed, lust or despair. But you will always be above them. And because you are above them, you will always see hope at a distance. Your eyes will always be on the horizon where hope, peace and joy are. And with a horizon that wide, a perspective that broad, you will always find true freedom in living. That freedom my son is the freedom to love with all your heart, soul and mind. Nothing compares with that. Nothing is more transforming. Nothing.

Youth shunning religion

This morning's news is about "youth shunning God." Those that say they have no religious affiliation has increased from 17% (2010) to 18.5% (2015). One youth, 23, left Buddhism, joined the Christian faith, and then ended up with atheism. She said, "I think it is highly improbable that any god exists. There is no evidence of it."
The Catholic Church said that "traditional religions have also been slow to engage young people and help them appreciate their faith." Reverend Father Jude David believes that without religion "Singapore would certainly lose a part of her soul or spirit."
Lesson? Yes, just one. Is reason replacing God? A political science undergraduate, 21, said, "I don't think I need divine guidance to make a right or wrong decision. Reason alone can guide such decision-making."
Well, I can't say he is wrong about that. I always believe that atheists can arrive at the same decision about morality as a believer could. Mind you, the golden rule is not the sole domain of believers only. In fact, at times, being a believer for 30 years, my lamentation is that atheists demonstrate more compassion and understanding than believers.
While atheists struggle with a godless morality, the believer struggles with a morality that seems to me to be rather godless. I guess that is why Jonathan Swift said, "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."
There is just something polarizing about a common belief existing in the majority that makes its devotees more self righteous than those who stand as minority simply looking for hope, understanding and acceptance.
It is reported that some young people identify more with liberal ideologies because they find religion "variously limiting, irrational, oppressive, unreasonable, and unscientific." And the papers went on to cite the "high profile incidents such as the City Harvest cases, where church leaders were found guilty of misusing around $50 million in church funds."
Well, I can't say that I am not personally disillusioned by that too. Alas, most times, people are not looking for a righteous heart in a fallen world. But they are earnestly looking for a broken and repentant heart in a hopeful world. So, after all said, has reason then replaced God?
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I have not spent 30 years of my life still holding on to my faith on a wing of a prayer and some feel-good jibing in my soul. It may be true that you can reason your way to morality, but I believe you cannot always be moral just being reasonable. What is reasonable to you may not be reasonable to another person (or a group of them).
You see, when the late Syrian dictator Colonel Gaddafi was found, he turned to his captors and pleaded to the effect that he could not understand why they were so bent on overthrowing him since he has been providing for the country. In other words, he did not think his actions/policies (which were beyond description if you read about his cruelty) were unreasonable.
The problem with a postmodern society is that it is unreasonable to claim that your reason is more reasonable than another. In the end, with a society based only on reason, we end up no doubt being courteous, tolerant and even inventive.
But what is missing is a sense of awe, that is, a flourishing and inspiring metanarrative that goes beyond what reason can offer. You see, reason only shows you one side of this incredibly multifaceted world. You will be shortchanging yourself by putting all your "curiosity" eggs in one "epistemological" basket.
I think Salmon Rushdie puts it well when he said that "the idea of God is both a repository for our awestruck wonderment at life and an answer to the great question of existence."
The truth is, we will never know everything. Knowledge (and the bounds of reason) are limited. And we can't understand God with knowledge/reason alone. I feel that knowing the omnipotent is experiential and only the earnest years will add up. Our youth is preparatory or seminary of what awaits us when we have journeyed through life long enough to appreciate the limitation of reason and the wonderment of that which reason cannot comprehend. Where reason has tired, awe gently holds us by the hand and takes over.
And God can be found in the awe-consuming natural world that He has created. He can't be directly known but He can be intimately intuited. That is why the French philosopher Simon Weil wrote: "If I light an electric torch at night out of doors, I don't judge its power by looking at the bulbs, but by seeing how many objects it lights up. The brightness of a source of light is appreciated by the illumination it projects upon non-luminous objects. The value of a religious or, more generally, a spiritual way of life is appreciated by the amount of illumination thrown upon the things of this world."
Let me end with what R. Buckminster Fuller has to say: "Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is staggering." And for the youth out there, reason herself staggers at the infinity and depths of His mysteries. Cheerz.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Naked Trump.

Donald Trump (DT) once said in the 2000 presidential election that "if the right man doesn't get into office, you're going to see a catastrophe in the country in the next four years like you've never going to believe, and then you'll be begging for the right man."
Are Americans begging for the right man now? Are they sick of the status quo paralyzed by lobby interests and partisan politics and are looking for their independent knight in shining golden armor to save the country? Is DT the right man then? Will DT deliver? Because if you look at the candidates on offer on the Republican side, DT is clearly leading by a large margin with Senator Rubio dropping out and Dr. Ben Carson endorsing him because he had promised him a job in an advisory capacity. Alas, DT practically leads the GOP charge.
As for Hillary Clinton, she is blighted by two setbacks even before the race begun (which I call the curse of the status quo). First, she's a Democrat. And second, she's in the incumbent's inner circle. Needless to say, 8 years of more of the same thing is enough for the Americans. They are looking for a change. They are hungry for a complete overhaul. And here is where the billionaire real estate mogul sashay in like a breath-of-fresh-air (or foul air?).
So, is DT the chosen one for the American people? Will he prove his critics wrong? Will he be an effective leader of the free world? Are we just too prejudiced or blinkered to see it?
Now I should respect the democratic process because it defers to what the majority want. When the votes are counted, the one trailing behind cannot complain because the people have spoken (or selected). I am therefore obliged to honor the democratic ideal notwithstanding the winner’s shady character. For the former (democracy) is time-honored and the latter (the candidate) is only for a time. So, even if DT were elected, his term is only for 4 years. What damage will he do if he turns out to be the wrong man? As for democracy, it has been around since the time of Athens. It will trump Trump.
In fact, if you consider Hitler, he was actually chosen via the same time-honored Athenian process. My point here is not to ridicule democracy so much as I want to bring out its irony in that at rare times, we use the best means available to select the worst man possible.
But of course, DT is no Hitler. He is on the contrary someone who understands human nature. If he were not a billionaire businessman, he might just as well consider a career in psychology. He once said that every successful person, including Mother Teresa and Jesus Christ, was driven by ego. He said that they had "far greater egos than you will ever understand." DT also understands intimately the motivation of politicians when he said that they are "mostly driven by ego, some driven by greed, most driven by both."
There is no doubt that DT feels that self-love is not to be frowned upon. For him, it is a virtue to be embraced. A prized asset to be nurtured with unrelenting dedication. In any event, he is at least unashamedly candid with the American people when he declared that "part of the beauty of me (he opened his arms wide before an audience) is that I'm very rich."
And when it comes to self-praises, no one comes close to the real estate magnate. He is extraordinarily effusive when it comes to admiring himself before the world. This is the same man who crowed: “I’ve been very successful and people are starting to find out I’ve been much more successful than people even admit…I’m much richer than people understand.”
The world is equally besotted by this larger-than-opulent-life man who treats his wealth and coiffure as sacred embodiments of material success. He would in fact go on the offensive against anyone who dares to speak ill of either. DT once sued an author (O'Brien) for damages in the tune of $5 billion for claiming that he "was not remotely close to being a billionaire." To DT, being extraordinarily wealthy is the hallmark of success and to make such allegation about his net worth, regardless of whether it is true or not, defames him beyond repair.
In his latest book, DT actually estimated his net worth to be around $8.6 billion (after taking into account his personal debt of half a billion). Alas, while many are turned off by the pornography of the naked flesh, considering it crass, degrading and demeaning to women, the pornography of wealth and fame has been given the hallowed welcome because to be rich and famous in today’s society is considered successful.
That is why his voters feel that DT's success in his business and his acquired worldwide fame would stand him in good stead when it comes to running a continent and affecting real changes in the world at large. "So I am going to be very good for the world. I'm going to get along with the world. You're going to be proud of me as a president," was the horn that DT was trumpeting at his ongoing campaign and he appears to be playing all the right notes with his signature braggadocious self-promotion. The crowd just loves him!
At this juncture, I just can't help but ask myself this: Is Trump the leading expression of the value of our time? Is this what we are and he is what we want? The issue here is not so much about him winning the presidency this November, but it is about what DT represents to the world at large.
Now let’s give credit where credit is due. His popularity is clearly undeniable, even formidable. One ardent supporter exclaimed: "There is nothing short of Trump shooting my daughter in the street and my grandchildren, there is nothing and nobody that's going to dissuade me from voting for Trump." I guess that’s the Trump effect on some voters – it not just increases the value of properties, projects and products, it also increases the support for him, even to fanaticism level!
But seriously, have we mistaken popularity for substance, celebrity status for effective leadership? Has superficiality trump character and enduring values? Is this the sign of our time? Because if DT represents the zeitgeist of our age, then these are the qualities that the American people are voting for.
His son once said that his father was a polarizing guy. And more than that, his values are similarly highly unusual. This is a man who once said that he doesn't like to analyze himself. In one of his rare candid moments, he admitted to this: "When you start studying yourself too deeply, you start seeing things that maybe you don't want to see. And if there's a rhyme and reason, people can figure you out, and once they can figure you out, you're in big trouble."
Mm…I wonder what DT is trying his darnest best to hide from the people when his whole life is already an open book. This is the same man who is obsessed with the idea of being the richest man in the world. Next to being famous, money is everything to him. In 1996, when Forbes pegged his net worth at $450 million, he complained to the editors that his worth was much bigger than that. This obsession is still very much alive today. To him, nothing is more important than getting his net worth right. His worth is his wealth.
This is also the same man who shoots from the mouth without any restraint or reflection. He has no inner filter and he says things as he pleases. He openly labeled people as "ugly", "stupid", "scumbags", "losers", “murderers”, “rapists” and "pigs". He even made this remark about Hillary: "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America."
And I will not even start with what he thinks about the Mexicans, the Muslims and the immigrants in the country. The recent violent protest in the Chicago rally has shown that voting DT into office runs the risk of inducting not a unifying president, but a highly divisive one. Recall his son once said that he is a polarizing guy? President Obama recently decried DT with this forewarning: “What the folks who are running for office should be focused on is how we can make it even better – not insults and schoolyard taunts and manufacturing facts, not divisiveness along the lines of race and faith. Certainly not violence against other Americans.”
DT even said that when elected, he would simply ignore Congress if it suits him, all in the name of being "decisive". Well, if being decisive is anything like his highly volatile, abrasive and inflammatory character, then the American people are in for a very unpredictable and disturbingly rough 4 years.
Here, one has to wonder, “Is Trump making America great again or is he making her hate even more?
One columnist and author, Gideon Rachman, wrote this about DT: "A large part of the horror at the Trump phenomenon is that he is appealing to "nasty" instincts among the American electorate...There is a finer line than is commonly acknowledged between populism (which all "right-thinking" people abhor) and democracy (which we all approve of)."
I guess that’s the problem with populism, you get to be right not because you are right, but because you are popular. The results? Well, according to one columnist (Jonathan Eyal), he wrote that “ultimately, the rise of populists tends to dumb down all political discourse, to transform all politics into a circus.” And since DT is popular for no other reason than he is rich, loud and sensationally ill-mannered, he tends to get away with many things.
He gets away with having no political experiences whatsoever except that he once wrote a book boasting about how good he was at making deals. He intends to make winning deals with the Russian and the Chinese President if elected. That's his idea of politics. He gets away with depicting women in his third book, Trump: The Art of the Comeback, as sexually voracious "killers" who traded on their beauty to dominate men. This is a man who once confessed that "sex was his one real indulgence." He gets away with declaring himself bankrupt to avoid being declared broke (he actually negotiated his way out of his debts because he was deemed too big to fail). Here, it should be noted that he is currently being sued by a former student of Trump University and the New York Attorney General for misrepresenting and failing to deliver on its promises.
He also gets away with saying that "global warming bullshit has got to stop" and publicly declaring that inoculation causes autism, a statement clearly unsupported by medical science. Lastly, this is one megalomaniacal billionaire who can rally his supporters to “knock the crap out of them” (referring to his protesters) and promising them he would foot their legal bills to rousing applause, and with social impunity. 
One columnist commented: "Trump shows how to turn audacious and even obnoxious narcissism into pure gold." And if there is any doubt about what narcissism means for our day and age, I think the authors Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell define it best in one paragraph. Here goes:-
"We have phony rich people (with interest-only mortgages and piles of debts), phony beauty (with plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures), phony athletes (with performance-enhancing drugs), phony celebrities (via reality TV and YouTube), phony genius students (with grade inflation), a phony national economy (with $11 trillion of government debt), phony feelings of being special among children (with parenting and education focused on self-esteem above all else), and phony friends (with the social networking explosion)".
It seems that DT would fulfill most of the above description, if not all of them in thoughts, spirit and deeds. And this is why the best metaphor for DT - should he become the 45th president of the United States - is the famed Hans Andersen’s tale about the Emperor’s New Clothes. Except that the Emperor was butt naked when he lavishly paraded himself before the cheering crowd until a child cried out: “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” It is the same here with the Naked Trump. Cheerz.

* Above photograph taken from the book “DONALD TRUMP and the PURSUIT of SUCCESS: NEVER ENOUGH” by Michael D’Antonio.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Repentance: the loneliest road.

In the light of MP David Ong's fall, here is my reflection on true repentance that lasts for a lifetime and more. Only time will tell...
Repentance. He takes the loneliest road. It is a fraught road, loaded and spirit-sapping. It is a road that will lead him to confront himself, his mistakes. It is an emotional juggernaut from his past. A phantom menace. There is no greater struggle for him. There is no tougher fight. The die has been cast. He has chosen to do this.  To turn away, for good.

He has made up his mind. His past will not show mercy because it is a showdown that will determine who lives and who dies. It is a battle royale of self against self. A cremation awaits. But who will survive this internal fight?

It is a struggle for survival and rulership between his past and his future. And it all depends on what his present self does now. There is no time more urgent than the present. He knows it. He will have to face it. His future depends on it.

No one can help him - at least not in the way that help is defined when self confronts self, when the little David of his present confronts the Goliath of his past. Well-wishing, oral encouragements and other social supports can only go so far. Their effectiveness is limited.

In the loneliest fight of his life, repentance demands that he make up his mind when no one sees, hears or is present. He is literally locked in an island in a world of his own past temptations.

For all practical purposes, the fight is his alone because his past self knows him too well. He knows his buttons. He knows his triggers. He has pushed it so many times before in the past, and without fail, the bidder does as he pleases. It is the piper who calls the tune and the past self has called it every time he played it.

Repentance therefore calls for extraordinary resolve and extraordinary resolve calls for extraordinary focus and consistency. It is definitely not a showdown to chat up, call for a truce, or reach a compromise. Nothing short of a death is needed because repentance demands an enduring clean break, not an interim one.

Neither is it an accommodation nor an adaptation. There is no peaceful co-existence with his past self. He knows he is in too deep to expect his past self to want to retire as the tail while his present and future self becomes the head. His past self has too much leverage over him to accept subordination over domination, and resignation over manipulation.

He knows viscerally that repentance is not just a change of mind. It is a change of heart, will and life. His future cannot be tethered to a past whose only goal is to seek full control. And his fight depends wholly on the resolve of his present self to prevent that eventuality from surfacing at all cost.

He has to literally burn the bridges after crossing it for the last time. He will not go back. He cannot afford to go back, not even for a visit or a peek. The pleasure that his past self offers would have too much of a hold or sway over him. And anything short of burning the bridges would mean that he risks treading in a minefield of self-entrapment set by his past self. A careless step would mean a fall so bad that he will be lost beyond redemption.

For he did not set his mind, soul and heart on repentance just so that he - in a moment of sentimentality - returns to the source of his agony all over again. There is no memorial service for his dead self.

So, repentance is indeed the loneliest road he will ever take. He knows there is no other way. The grief, the hurts and the disappointments have all pushed him to the edge of the cliff. And to tempt himself with the idea with this lure - "one last time for old time's sake" - would only confirm his indentured bondage to his past and to a future he will not have a stake in.

No doubt there is no perfect repentance except death but then, in a world of perfection, where's the need for repentance then?

So his decision and the many decisions after that is a laden one, a heavy one. They come with a price. He pays it forward every time he makes a choice to go forward and never look back. And as he walks with a steely heart towards enduring change, the siren voices of his past will become fainter and fainter. Its hold over him will be reduced to an obnoxious taunt instead of an obsessive haunt - a mere bugbear instead of the grip of a bear-trap.

There will of course come a time when he will look back from where he stands. But it is not to long for the life he had wholeheartedly abandoned. No way Hosea. It is to quietly celebrate the distance he had gained over the long journey he has taken towards a repentance that comes closest to the perfection the world will ever come to know. Cheerz.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

21st Century Preachers of Prosperity.

Apostle Paul wrote in Acts 20:30-31: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each one of you night and day with tears.” 

I wonder, if Apostle Paul were to be transported to our modern era and witness for himself the immeasurable wealth of mega-churches today - their emporium-like sanctuary, personal palatial mansions, and private jets - will he still continue his warning with tears and maybe travailing? He was nevertheless the one who wrote to Timothy to warn him about a particular destruction that awaits: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destructions.” 

Of late, prosperity preachers are all the rage. They are everywhere. They preach what most people want to hear, that is, they too can get rich with God. This is unmistakably captured (and sadly distorted) in 3 John 2: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” Riding like rodeo ranchers on this verse and many others stringed together for their sole advantage, the prosperity preachers have enriched themselves far beyond their wildest dreams. And they have become materialistic voyeurs with many imaginative ways to secure that extra dollar from their members. 

Ironically, one of the forerunners of the prosperity gospel, the late Kenneth E Hagin, actually denounced their shameless methods in his book The Midas’ Touch. He called them gimmicks and wrote, “What are some of these gimmicks? The number apparently is endless, for new ones are heard of frequently. The partial list includes such things as follows: a “blessed purse” that causes money to multiply “supernaturally”; the “gift” of prosperity; “magic pictures” in which the image reappears after the person has closed his eyes; a special “prayer carpet”; “holy oil” or “holy water” that is supposed to carry a special virtue; cloths which “supernaturally” change color; “blessed nails”; “blessed sawdust” on which an angel is supposed to have walked; a barrel of water in which an angel comes down and “troubles it”; “bottled demons,” etc. These are only a few of the long list of gimmicks which have been offered to the public.” 

The prosperity preachers also come with countless incredulous justifications to encourage their members to strive to be materially rich in the name of God. One of them, Frederick Price, once boasted, “If the Mafia can ride around in Lincoln Continental town cars, why can’t the King’s Kids?” He was also the one who proclaimed, “The Bible says that He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. That’s the reason why I drive a Rolls Royce. I’m following Jesus’ steps.” This sentiment runs parallel with the prosperity preacher extraordinaire Creflo Dollar when he said, “Don’t let them tell you, you can’t have a brand-new, a brand-new car, because if Jesus rode in on a donkey that no man had ever sat on, then you and I can ride in an automobile that no man has ever sat on.” 

Another preacher Jesse Duplantis once told a Christian off when the latter said, “I don’t give to get, Brother Jesse, I give because I just love the Lord,” and this was Duplantis’ rebuke, “That’s the spirit of stupid on you!” Others resort to lame justification of what is infamously known as the hundredfold blessings. The logic in that hundredfold tag is so perverse even a ten-year-old can do the maths. However, I will let Kenneth E Hagin lead the charge here. He wrote, “Does the hundredfold return mean that when we give an offering, we should get out a calculator and compute the monetary payback we expect to receive at the rate of one hundred to one? In other words, if we give a dollar to God’s work, are we promised that He will give us a hundred dollars back?”

Given a little reflection here, one dollar will yield one hundred, and one hundred will yield ten thousand, and ten thousand will yield a million. If there is any basis or truth in it, all Christians will be millionaires many times over and all the preachers on stage will have to retire their tithes envelopes and offering bag for good. In fact, they ought to be giving money away to strangers in the streets because their storehouses will be bursting out in all directions with running dough. 

Yet, however incredulous the claims, the money from members still crashed in like hungry wolves dying for a bite of the raw prosperity meat. Alas, go figure…

Then we have the prosperity preachers who entice their members with self-visualization, dreams and mouthing out blessings and prosperity. Joel Osteen comes to mind here when he wrote in Your Best life Now, “Conceive it on the inside. Start seeing yourself rising to a new level, doing something of significance, living in that home of your dreams.” Another preacher went straight for the jugular of the prosperity gospel by exclaiming, “Some of you better go down to that Lexus and Mercedes dealership and just sit down in one of those things with that leather all over it.” 

In line with this questionable tactic is our very own local prince of radical grace when he encouraged his members not to ask God for small things, but ask him for big things. In his book The Power of Right Believing, he wrote that “God is not offended when we ask Him for big things.” (page 270) One of his subtitle reads: “God loves it when you ask of Him.” Should I even imagine God grinning from side to side when I ask him for an extravagant upgrade on my car, house and bank account? While those discerning listeners would take it in its context and with a pinch of salt (maybe a fistful of it), the less discerning ones will gobble it down hook, line and sinker. And I can’t imagine how sorely disappointed (or worst disillusioned) many of his listeners will be in due course. 

The reality is this, we will never know whether God is offended or not when we ask Him for big things, and there is no guarantee that He will answer them (the big things that is). Similarly, the logic is again as incredulous as the hundredfold blessings. Imagine every believer asking for big things all at the same time and they all get it – without exception. Why should there be in the first place right? No one is thus left with unanswered prayer. Mm…should I ask the ten-year-old boy back to do the maths?

At this point, I can actually go on to write about the many unbelievable things that prosperity preachers do to “extort” money from eager-to-please members. You see, Benny Hinn once said this, “Every time you hold back your seed (money), my friend, heaven will charge you 20 percent whether you like it or not. In fact, if you don’t give it, God will take it away from you through tragedy…if you don’t give to God, He’ll take it from you whether you like it or not through troubles.” On the home front, we have our convicted (yet subject to appeal) pastor Kong Hee who went to great length and jumped many sham-hoops to siphon building funds from the church to bankroll the Crossover project spearheaded by his wife. But alas, I think you get the drift without me writing anymore. 

So, here is my soft landing to bring this post to a close and it comes in four different observations (with the last one being my own).

The first observation is from one of the most exquisite wordsmiths of the literary world, namely Mark Twain, who once said, “The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.” And by example, I guess there is no better guide here against the distractions of the prosperity gospel than the proverb of Agur: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Indeed, godliness with contentment (and balance) is great (eternal) gain.

The second observation is from a repentant televangelist Jim Bakker, a former prosperity preacher himself. Convicted in 1989 of twenty-four counts of fraud, he said, “It’s time the call from the pulpit be changed from “Who wants a life of pleasure and good things, new homes, cars, material possessions, etc? to “Who will come forward to accept Jesus Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings? I believe the heart of God is grieved when we cannot delay self-gratification for earthly things in exchange for life in eternity with Him.Mm…this doesn’t seem to gel with what our local mega-church preacher once wrote that God is not offended when we ask Him for big things.

And the third and final observation is from the ex-wife of Oral Roberts’ son Richard Roberts. In her book Ashes to Gold, Patti Roberts wrote this sobering note, “I know a lot of people were blessed and sincerely ministered to by what we sang on TV, and by what we said – but the overall picture, I’m afraid, seemed to say, “If you follow our formula, you’ll be like us,” rather than, “If you do what Jesus says, you’ll be like Him.” It was certainly more exciting to follow us, because to follow us was to identify with success, with glamour, with a theology that made everything good and clean and well-knit together. To identify with Jesus, however, meant to identify with the Cross.

I guess in the end, the Cross of our Savior is first and foremost about selfless giving, personal sacrifices for the hungry and the poor, and unconditional love that empowers us to overcome all trials. It is surely not about helping ourselves to the mindless accumulation of earthly wealth by using his name in vain. 

And this brings me to my fourth and last observation by yours truly. Here goes: "Dealing with the statistical maths of average is as accurate a reflection of individual reality as a doctor telling a patient that his average temperature is fine if he has his feet in the oven and his head in the refrigerator. Mm...this reminds me of the prosperity preachers telling their congregation that God wants them to be rich if they put their money with the church treasury and leave their brains at home." So much for the statistical averages of blind faith. Cheerz.