Sunday, 26 February 2017

I dreamt I had this chat with God.

I dreamt I went to heaven and met God. And I think I caught him at a bad time. No seriously, he was not in the best of moods. But still he beckoned me over and we had a chat. It was an unusual experience for me.

God strangely asked me how's life in the faith, and that's where I let it all out. He's God after all and I wanted to lay all the cards before Him.

"Oh Lord, I can't say I am happy. This faith thing is not easy. Not easy at all." I expected God to say something here, something encouraging, something uplifting. But he was all quiet. That felt all too familiar to me, so I up the ante.

"God, they say believing in you, trusting in you, is the beginning of wisdom, blessings and prosperity. But I don't see it, feel it. It's not happening. Life is still hard. Just the other day, I heard that a faithful servant of yours got cancer. He served you with all his heart, soul and might and yet he got that dreaded C. It's just not fair. It's not."

God held on to as long as he could with my rambling, and this is where he broke the silence. But he didn't give me any answer. No explanation whatsoever. He appeared not interested to tell me the cause and effect of things. He just repeated what he'd asked earlier, "So son, how's life in the faith?"

Puzzled, I replied, "But God, I just told you how's life, I mean just. Recall the hard life, the big C, the unfairness?"

"Son, I did not ask you about your faith. I asked you, how's life in the faith?"

"What do you mean Lord?"

"You are telling me what you expect when you believe. You are telling me what you think a life of faith means to you. I am not interested in that. That's not what I asked you. I asked you how's life in the faith?"

"Is it a loaded question? A tricked question? How's life in the faith?"

"That's the issue with you. To you, faith needs to be tangible. It is material, and not the evidence of things hoped for. You put your own spin to it. It is the evidence of things seen, realized and expected…in your hands, now. The blessings, the good health, the wealth and successes, you name it and claim it. That's what faith means to you. And when things don't turn out the way you expect them, you have a problem. Well, that's not my problem. It's yours."

I persisted here. "But didn't the Bible say believe and not doubt and you'll receive? And how about seek ye first and all these shall be added? Lord, I am not asking to be a billionaire. No, I am not. I am just asking for a fair portion in life. I don’t think my expectations are selfish or self-centered, are they? I ask for good health so that I can serve you all my days. I ask for evil to be promptly, or at least eventually punished. Not totally wiped out. I ask for the eradication of gratuitous sufferings. I mean…brutal, endless child-trafficking, sex slavery, gruesome torture, child soldiers…do we really need all that? I asked for long life here for the righteous. Don't they deserve it? Well, assuming righteous people are readily identifiable of course, and I don’t think there are many. And I asked for some material blessings so that there is assurance for families. Aren't these fair requests? Can't I expect all these from a good, loving and all-powerful God? From you, Lord?"

At this time, there was a pause before God gave it to me. He minces no words here. He was firm and stern. It was his turn to let it all out. As I told you earlier, he was not in the best of moods.

"Again, you make the same mistake son. You didn't answer my question, how's life in the faith? Your disappointment or disillusionment is a result of this disconnect, this tone-deafness of spirit. It's still your problem, not mine.

And tell me, who says there's no joy in sorrows? Who says there's no peace in a storm? And who says there's no strength in sufferings, no hope in death and no love in gratuitous pain? Isn't it said that the righteous shall live by faith? It didn't say by faith and then a little wealth on the side? Neither by faith and a trouble-free life? Nor by faith and some positive sentiment you call happiness sprinkled here and there?

If you are truly living a life in the faith you will be familiar with poverty, sufferings and failures. You will see them as visitors bearing gifts and not invaders with clenched fists. You will in fact live an overcoming life just like my son did regardless of where you are called.

Redemption is always about brokenness, a contrite heart, a contemplative life, and a joy that is not dependent on circumstances. Redemption is about self-loss. You however are looking for self-gain.

And the problem with you is that you inverse everything. To you, faith means success, tangible and instant. To you, love, my love, means you will come to no harm, your life will be protected, shielded from pain and sufferings. And I am not interested in your countless petitions for protection either. Mind you, I am not running an insurance agency here. Your belief is not the premium you pay for that comprehensive coverage you expect as and when your life is blighted by that unpleasant insured event. But having said all that, did I hear you nevertheless? Of course I did…

But what you want, as with all your prayers, is a laundry list of wishful immunity, a bubbled and pampered life, that is, protection at the expense of growth, success with little character to go with that, happiness without accountability, wealth but not too much exposure, and declared righteousness with token sanctification.

You choose to misapply everything good I have prepared for you because you want it quick, easy and convenient. For you, good has to be blessing, wealth and health, or else it is not good.

You just want to hear the good stuff. If it is about Calvary, you want to be there for the resurrection, and not bear the Cross. If it is about discipline in the Spirit, you want to lead, be seen and adored, and avoid the daily sacrifice to deny self. And if it is about the fruit of the Spirit, you can't wait to reap what you have not sown. Your fruits are all good on the outside, but unripe inside.

So, you cry and lament when things don't go your way, and raise your fist to heaven in protest. But you are too spoilt to embrace the truth that behind every trial is a prize of eternal value, and following close at the heels of a storm is a gift of hope that will deepen your faith.

The life you live in your faith is not the life I have called you to live in the faith. You idealize the faith to make it suit your expectations of how things should be. You don't internalize the faith to submit your will to mine and thereby make the enduring difference in the lives of others.

The plaintive chorus of your life is predictable, annoying even. It’s all about you. Your grief. Your deprivation. Your pain. Your struggles. Your disappointments. Your disillusionment. Your humility. Your idea of living a righteous life. Even your efforts to show others you have changed are annoying. That is what matters to you, to your faith.

As a result, there’s no room in your heart for things that really matter, that is, enduring growth in a trial, true perseverance in a storm, resilience as you overcome, and hope that is beyond this world. You are called to keep your eyes on my son and all else will go strangely dim. Yet, what you have been doing is to keep your eyes on what is short term, what is safe, what is glittering, what is superficial, what is instantly gratifying, and what is self-enriching, while the things of this world gradually takes over.

So, do me a favor, if you should prosper, and live only to prosper, boasting to others how great your god is and how they too can enjoy such prosperity, don't direct the praises or thanks to me. I have no part to play in it. No part. It's all your own effort. You can congratulate yourself, give yourself a pat on the back. 

...and it is not about a prayer that came to pass, or answered here. Please don’t adulterate what I have exonerate. It is however about an unquenchable human appetite that seeks in desperation for some flimsy spiritual window dressing. It's what Adam and Eve did with figs leaves to cover themselves. So, if vices pay homage to virtue, then your hypocrisy is no compliment to me.

In other words, don’t use my name in vain for your petty vanities. Your success is clearly not mine. My victory has been sealed by my son, and he had specifically warned you about this: "Where your heart is, there you'll find your treasure."

His kingdom is not of this world. And if you put all your hope in this world on the pretense that you are being blessed by me, please don't deceive yourself. It has nothing to do with me to start with.

It is said that perfect love drives out all fear. But your fear of losing everything you own drives out perfect love in your life. And in your cowardice, you are the least convicted by the declaration, "Where is thy sting, death?" Instead, your hope is in the here and now, and your treasure is in the earthly pleasures and the empty bragging rights that last only for a season.

Haven’t you been repeatedly reminded that this world is not your home, and you are just passing through? But you treat it as your furnished castle, and live it up like a blind wretched fool.

So, I hope I have made myself clear this time. I did not ask you about life in your faith or your idea of it. I asked about how's life in the faith, that is, the faith that raised my son, released my spirit, transformed hearts, overcame all, denied self, and counted the cost. It is not a faith that pants after his own reflection in the living stream, but one that surrenders to its source. 

And until you know the difference, and live out the difference in ways that not only change your life but the lives of others, you will never stop complaining, never stop living in a self-conceited mirage you have set yourself up for.

Anyway, we shall end here. I am telling you this son because I love you. Love may keep no record of wrong, yes, but it does not overlook them either. So, think about what I've said. Think hard about it. Goodbye."

And my dream ended there. I woke up that morning and thanked god that it is just a dream…it’s all made up…I thank god it’s not real. Cheerz.

A murder, a Bible and a Proposal.

Where do I even start with the news this morning (24 Feb 2017)? It involves a murder, a Bible and a proposal. The murderer was Gabriel Lee. His victim was his fiancée, Elsie Lie, a 24-year-old admin officer. At that time, Lee was 42, a security guard.

It's complicated from here onwards. The couple met in April 2011 when Lee was divorcing his wife, a lawyer with 2 kids. Elsie moved in with him two months later and he proposed to her a year later in March 2012 at Genting Highlands.

They then rented a room in Jurong West and believed it was haunted. Lee also suspected that Elsie was possessed. So, he bought her to a Catholic Church for an exorcism. Elsie was made to carry a Bible in her waist pouch.

On 30 March 2012, everything unravelled in the flat. At 6 pm, a neighbor heard a male voice shouting, "Go back! Go back to the sky!" Their flat mate said the couple had been in the kitchen toilet for three hours and when they came out Elsie looked pale and weak.

They went into their room after that and the main tenant called the police at 11:10 pm "when loud groaning noises were heard." The police came and Lee assured them Elsie was weak because of a recent abortion.

The next morning at 6:40 am, a paramedic was called. In the room, he saw a topless Elsie covered in blood, lying face-up on top of a naked Lee beneath her. By then, Lee had already gouged out Elsie's eyes and threw them out of the window.

And when the police arrived, they found Lee "kneeling next to the body, groaning and chanting while holding a yellow object that resembled a cross."

The gruesome find included "a few bent spoons and a fork" entwined in Elsie's hair, "a slice of her windpipe", "her eyeballs and clumps of hair" at the foot of the block, and the autopsy revealed "a gaping 12 cm wound across her neck" and "her ankle had been cut to the bone."

Lee was sentenced to 10 years for culpable homicide instead of murder due to a psychiatric report, which found him to suffer from a "brief psychotic disorder at the time of the killing."

Probably in 2 to 3 years time, Lee will be out as he has been in remand since 2012. His brother, a surgeon, promised to supervise him after his release.

Lee's lawyer Sunil Sudheesan told the Court that his client "came from a "strong Catholic background" and has believed in ghosts and spiritual possession since he was a child."

He added that "he killed a lady that he loved, that is punishment for him emotionally... this is a heartbroken man who deserves one chance."

Lesson? I have none. Not one.

When Elsie's mother heard the sentence, she was inconsolable. She cried, "my daughter died so horribly...Ten years for a life, it is not fair."
As a personal lament (which is never meant to disguise as a lesson here), I have stopped believing that the world is fair long time ago.

The demand for fairness is an emotional response to an experience, however traumatic it could be. And most time, it is a personal grief one has to confront in order to find some closure, if that's possible.

Between fairness and redemption, I choose redemption. Between justice and resilience, I choose resilience. And between hope and action, I choose action, that is, to act in the direction of hope instead of to just hope for the best.

Ironically, it was partly hope that things cannot be that bad during the brutal reign of the Third Reich that led many to their death. Their resistance was weakened by their misplaced faith in humanity at a time when self-preservation and self-advancement ruled with an iron grip.

Over the years, I have jettisoned many easy answers to humanity's problems out of the window. I have abandoned organized religion as the universal panacea, the notion that love costs little or nothing, the idea that faith means prosperity and unconditional blessings, that suffering is to be avoided for happiness, that all people come to their senses eventually (most do, but definitely not all), and that fairness is one's birthright.

No, I am not hardened by those abandonment. On the contrary, I am more down-to-earth, less flighty and infinitely less naive. In fact, I treasure things more, not taking them for granted.

Let me end with what Elsie's brother said. He said his family had hoped for life imprisonment. He said "his mother gets even more emotional when his sister's birthday and death anniversary come round."

And yes, the other thing that I had abandoned completely is to believe that you will fully recover, eventually, from some trauma. Most don't. And not because they can't or don't want to. But because they rather choose to grow from it, that is, grow together with the scars.

For deeper the pain, the deeper the roots. And deeper the roots, the stronger and taller the tree. Now, that's one thing I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. Cheerz.

Tan Sri Khoo - Making the Difference.

I had my dip in the obituary this morning (21 Feb 2017) and guess what, Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat popped out. He was a billionaire, with a net worth of about 4.3 billion. He died in 2004 and was (at that time) the 108th richest man according to Forbes. 

His source of wealth came from owning shares in Standard Chartered. It was the wisest investment move he had ever made. He was also a well known philanthropist who donated $80m to a medical school and has a hospital named after him. 

Lesson? Well, like Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars who sang desperately that they want to be a billionaire, most of us, the silent majority is not likely to become one. 

We can dream of it if we want to, but no amount of croaking in the bathroom to that materialistic chorus would see us becoming a billionaire (for most of us of course). I guess the consolatory prize would be to aim for that coveted Changi millionaire (before taxes of course). 

But my point here is this, while Tan Sri Khoo sought meaning (or significance) in philanthropy, sharing part of his wealth with thousands, what is meaning for the common folks, that is, the majority struggling to make ends meet, or the well-to-do living amongst us who are equally struggling to make meaning out of their lives? 

Let me start with a petty indictment here. I believe we are living in a happiness-addictive society. This is a society that puts a premium on feeling good, feeling happy. This happiness virus has infected all walks of life. In a money-driven world, the equation is most elementary: With money, you can buy happiness. 

Universities are designing courses to focus on narrower and narrower areas of specialty so as to make the biggest, most lucrative, personal impact. The unconscious goal is to demystify the mythical, relativize the objective and individualize the benefits. 

As such, we atomize society into various moving parts, all contributing to one sacred goal of enlightened self-interest and enrichment. The metanarrative here inevitably converges on how to maximize material gain so as secure the greatest happiness for oneself. Recall...with money, you can buy happiness?

Religion is not spared here. Some of the churches are a collection of like-minded worshippers who are told that love covers a multitude of sins, prosperity is one of the fruits of growth, and the spirituality of personal justification outweighs the sacrifices of self denial, and a repentant and contrite heart.

It is no wonder the we have made great advances in technology and great civilizational stride with a Midas touch, reaping much economic rewards from it, yet we are not the happiest lot on earth. 

A survey was done to compare the economically advanced nations against the poverty-stricken ones and they found that the rich are no doubt happier - so they claim. But compared to the poorer nations, they do not find more meaning in what they do, that is, the endless/mindless wealth accumulation. 

For the poorer nations, despite the uncertainty, insecurity and low income, they find greater meaning mainly derived from belonging, purpose and post-traumatic growth. Unsurprisingly, the suicide rates are higher as a whole in the economically advanced countries with Japan leading the charge.

So, this brings me back to my first question: What is meaning for the common folks? Well, we may not be happy in the way the rich are able to claim with most of their material needs and wants fully satisfied. But I guess, for us, meaning is found in family, loving bonds, unpretentious friendships, and a job that challenges us to make a difference in the lives of others. 

As such, we can fight monotony by giving monotony meaning in the way we deepen our ties in a marriage, practise kindness at the workplace, and going the distance for a friend. Meaning is thus about depth and depth is about giving and reaching out - beyond the self. It is about treasuring and building relationships and Tan Sri Khoo was doing just that in the philanthropy he was engaging in before he passed on. 

And if at the end of our life, we still have the committed love of our marital partner, the undying devotion of our children, the unceasing loyalty of friends, and the lovely remembrance of those who once crossed our path in life, I think we common folks would have left the richest legacy behind without being the richest man (or woman) alive. 

We will then be able to echo the same sentiment with pride as the one inscribed in Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat's memorial below: "A true measure of your worth includes all the benefits others have gained from your successes." Cheerz.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Love's danger.

Love is a dangerous thing. I would scarcely recommend it. It’s not in your best self-interest. It’s suicidal in fact. Love changes things. It never leaves things as they are. If you love things as they are, that is, love yourself as you are, then love is not for you.

Love transforms without forewarning and it transforms to the extreme. It doesn’t stop at your call. It only stops until it is done transforming. And it stretches you beyond what you are willing to be stretched.

Love is counterintuitive too. It just doesn’t render the results expected. Love’s rewards may be betrayal. Love’s payback may be a broken heart. Love’s harvest may be a dark season of hurts, pain and disappointments. With love, the seeds you sow may not always yield the fruit you reap – at least not in the way you would expect it. It shatters your expectations.

If you want the happiness that this world offers, avoid love. Avoid it at all costs. Love is practically self-sabotaging. There is just no self in love. Love compels you to move out of yourself. It forces you to put yourself last. It demands that you serve others first. It is just foolish in the eyes of the world – it makes no sense. Is enlightened self-interest the way to save the world?

There is no instant gratification with love. The sweat of your brows come from the silent pain in your heart with love. Earthly pleasure is the antithesis of love. Hedonism goes against the grain of love.

Love constrains. It restricts your heart’s desires. It is a freedom killer, the venom to Thy Will Be Done. You can’t do what you want to do with love. It holds you back. It forbids. It forestalls. It forebears. It does things to annoy and infuriate. Love rises like a sore thumb in an otherwise self-enriching world.

Love asks too much in return for receiving too little – in the tangible. It is never a self-profiting bargain with love. The quid pro quo is self-defeating. If love is applied in the marketplace, you might as well be prepared to sell and give away all you own. You are nothing but just a steward, not a capitalist baron. Now, that’s a deal-killer in the real world. That’s a price too high to pay. That's a road no market-driven capitalist looking for the next big buck will trek.

Love is a totalitarian too. It dictates. It makes the rules. It overthrows, overrules and overcomes. It is relentless with the discipline of self. With love, you are bound by compelling passions beyond your control. And it makes you do things you don’t fully understand, or even want to understand.

Love makes you soft. It makes you wonder. It makes you give pause. It makes you look inside yourself. It makes you give in, let go, let off. It makes you embrace the unembraceable, forgive the unforgiveable, and do the impossible. Love will conquer you.

For this reason, the world gives love many demeaning labels. They call it weak. They call it foolish. They call it mindless, even hopeless.

I guess that is why CS Lewis forewarned us about love in The Four Loves:-

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of perturbations of love is Hell.”

The greatest example of love is Calvary. It is an enduring example, an unforgettable devotion. A man hanged there once. He hanged there with two others. He hanged there not because of guilt, but because of love. He had forsaken all for love. He was a both a slave to love and the master of it. Jesus is love.

Jesus demonstrated to the world how weak, foolish, mindless and hopeless love can be as he hanged there bloodied, ugly, dying, tormented, unrecognizable, and unapproachable. He was the sacrifice of love. The ultimate price for a lost humanity.

Jesus experienced the things that CS Lewis mentioned above about giving oneself to love. He became vulnerable, broken. He was betrayed by a kiss, sold out for 30 pieces of silver. He was persecuted, whipped and tortured. He was abandoned, alienated and left to die. His heart was wrung, torn, aggrieved, and his body eventually gave in when he exclaimed, “It’s finished.”

But before he heaved his last breath, Jesus embraced the unembraceable, forgave the unforgiveable, and did the impossible. He gave his life to all and redeemed all. His death was the price and life was his gift.

In love, he came. In love, he lived. And in love, he rose. As promised, he left the world transformed, forever.

So, love is indeed a dangerous thing. CS Lewis was right – “There is no safe investment” with love. You lose yourself in love. You pay the highest price for love. Love’s sacrifice takes everything from you. Love’s labor also changes everything in you.

Once you surrender to love, you surrender to all things impossible. All of a sudden, love does things you can’t recognize yourself doing them.
In a marriage, love endures to the end. It fights for what truly matters. It compels you to commit with a passion you didn’t even know you had in the first place. The days may turn to months and the months turn to years and the years to decades, and yet love is never tired. It never wavers. It persists on. It is a stubborn transforming force.

In all relationships, love makes the first sacrifice, and it is always a lasting one. Love transcends human ability and transforms human inability. Love makes things happen which wouldn’t have happened without love.

And to love is to deny self. For it is said that every summons of Christ leads to death. The death of self. This echoes Bonheoffer’s sentiments fittingly: “When Christ bids a man come, he bids him come and die.” For to die to self is to live for love. And to live for love is to overcome, eventually. Love frees when self bleeds. Jesus is love. And there is no greater freedom than to be in Him. Let love rule your heart. Let it change you. Let it make you more like Christ. Cheerz.