Sunday, 30 April 2017

Bomoh and Christian evangelists.

Ibrahim Mat Zin, the shaman king of the world, kept me thinking this weekend.

His words lingered with me even after he admitted this week that the coconuts and bamboo pole were all an elaborate scam. He said this about the bamboo sticks, "I couldn't see anything inside. I was told to shake the sticks. I took the coconuts as if they were bombs. I didn't know what I did was wrong...All of it was drama." 

The part that caused me to reflect deeply was when he explained that bomohs are no different from faith healers of other religion, such as Christian evangelists.

As a Christian, I find no basis for him to make that kind of statement. It was a low blow – even for him.

Now, this is not about me being biased due to my own beliefs. But, comparing a bomoh to a Christian evangelist is too much of a stretch right? Surely a Christian evangelist differs both in form and substance from a bomoh.

(And for the purpose of this post, I am taking Christian evangelists to mean those megachurch leaders who are able “to articulate Christianity in a very contemporary manner” (Terence Chong, senior fellow at the Institute of SEA Studies) by blending “market-friendly ideologies associated with individualism and self-empowerment” and “selective Christian theologies to emphasize positive living and blessings, while deflecting overtly negative Christian doctrines such as suffering, judgment, sacrifice, hell or death from sin” (Jeaney Yip, lecturer of University of Sydney Business School)).

As such, I shouldn't even dignify that baseless accusation with a reply here. Anyway, Ibrahim Mat Zin has already admitted to being a fraud and that should be the end of it. For you don't hear such admission from megachurch prosperity preachers locally or abroad like Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Sun Ho or Joseph Prince.

For this reason, his words, or comparison, shouldn't even be taken to mean anything but a desperate attempt to cast aspersions on otherwise adored cause célèbre-like megachurch prosperity preachers.

If I would to take Sun Ho as an example, although I disagree with her brand of evangelism via worldly immersion, I cannot say in good conscience that Sun Ho misleads her members with bamboo-like vision of the crossover project involving china wine and mr. bill, right?

According to her, she did it for the Church. Her pure intention exculpate her? She even said that she pleaded with God to ask for how long she would have to bear with the exposure of immodest flesh and the gyration of loose hips in order to bring about the conversion of broken hearts.

Then comes Benny Hinn. Where do we start with him? Some call him a false prophet. Others support him as God's chosen one. Either way, Benny Hinn has his fair share of controversies from his untold wealth to his failed prophecies, and from his erroneous teachings to his vainglorious stage antics.

Is he and Sun Ho then “shamanistic” in their charismatic leadership with one sprouting self-serving revelation and the other indulging in a fantastical concept of soul-saving with worldly tactics as a decoy respectively?

Moving down the list we have two beloved prosperity preachers leading megachurches here and abroad, and recently appearing on American tv, excitedly exchanging exuberant visions and dreams about a generous God with a care-bear-like heart.

Joel Osteen and Joseph Prince have almost singlehandedly redefined God for the whole Christendom to much shock or awe - depending on whether you are a critic or a fan. Notwithstanding the controversies they have spun, JO's gospel of self-help and JP's gospel of radical grace have taken the believers' world by storm. And they have been handsomely rewarded with money, membership and international stardom over the years.

Their individual net worth and amassed material possessions speak intimately of a God who rewards his devotees when they believe big and give even bigger to the respective ministries. Alas, there is surely no spiritual law against a Christian leader living extravagantly by the ordinary-man-in-the-street standard on the back of the people’s heartily donated cash right?

And while the self-proclaimed shaman king cannot boast that he attracts tens of thousands under one roof, famous preachers like JO, JP and Benny Hinn effortlessly command such adulating masses on any given Sunday service without the need to resort to strange rituals involving coconut bombs and bamboo telescopes.

Their magnetic charisma on stage woos and swoons the crowd with promises of prosperity, divine favors and protection all year round as long as they hitch their faith to God's opulent bandwagon of wealth, longevity and successes. Nothing is therefore impossible for their God.

So, we are back to the discredited Charlatan, the shaman king. We now know as a fact that he is a fake (by his own admission). His outlandish claims that he can save Malaysia from a North Korea invasion with coconut and bamboo cannons and that the passengers of the ill-fated flight (MH370) are currently residing in a parallel realm and will return in 25 years are incredible tales that only a deluded mind can so irresponsibly concoct.

And when we align the spiritual claims made by Christian evangelists like JO, JP, Benny Hinn and Sun Ho and those made by the infamous Raja Bomoh, we know by sheer logic and instinct that the two categories are nowhere alike (as Ibrahim Mat Zin would have us believe). You can’t possibly compare apple with pineapple, especially if the latter is rotten, right?

In other words, nowhere is the Crossover project with millions invested to elevate one in the most sordid manner conceivable in order to save souls standing in the same league with some shamanistic rituals involving coconuts and bamboos sticks.

Equally applicable here is JP's radical grace, which has effectively dispensed with post-altar-call repentance altogether and retired the Holy Spirit's role of convicting one of sins, or towards holy grief. In fact, he once told a crowd of 1,200 when clad in white leather jacket and jeans that God will reward them with houses, cars. Jobs, pay raises and holidays in a fundraising drive. I wonder whether there is any follow up on that?

And needless to say, JO's claim that every bible-believing churchgoer is bound for prosperity, good health and material success (or your money back) is another testament to prevailing reality that no bomoh's claim can ever hope to rival or come close in verifiable truth.

So, herein ends my weekend reflection about the rubbished comparison made by the reality-defying medicine man (Ibrahim Mat Zin) who was recently charged in the Syariah Court and had pleaded guilty to charges of insulting Islam or causing people to have a negative perception of the religion.

Let me fittingly end with the words of the decommissioned Rajah Bomoh before he was indicted. On why he wore suits, and travelled in style, he said: "We have to look smart in public. I am the king of shamans, we must protect the image of bomohs. That's why I come in BMW and Mercedes with a driver."

Well, incidentally, some of these megachurch prosperity preachers come in suits and ties too, and in branded cars - some even in private jets or travel first class, because as Kenneth Copeland once said, it is impossible for God to talk to him while travelling in coach.

I guess image is equally important to these rich and famous Christian evangelists too. And that may just be the only similarity they share with the dethroned shaman king. Other than that, the rest of his coconut and bamboo acts are simply ritualized nonsense. Cheerz.  

Ritualistic Nonsense and Charlatans.

Some mornings you wake up and you are greeted by a news that pleasantly surprises you (comedic in nature notwithstanding). This is one of those mornings.

Recall the bomoh who sat on a magic carpet ride with two assistants, two coconuts and one long bamboo pole (as telescope) to look for the missing flight a few years ago?

Well, he is in the papers today (26 April 2017), but it is not to brag about how he is world renowned as the King of Shaman. No.

He's in the papers to finally admit to this: "All of it was drama, the shaking of the bamboo sticks. I couldn't see anything inside. I was told to shake the sticks. I took the coconuts as if they were bombs. I didn't know what I did was wrong."

This was the same shaman king (alias Ibrahim Mat Zin or Rajah Bomoh) who a few weeks ago claimed with panache that he was using the coconut and bamboo cannons to save Malaysia from a North Korean invasion.

But what is most infuriating (to say the least) is what this hustler have to say about the fate of the passengers in MH370:-

"The plane is in a parallel realm. It will be missing for 25 years before it returns, but the people may still be alive because the air is different, a month is like a day to them." (How convenient...he may not be around then).

Alas, there ought to be a clear dividing line drawn between harmless, delusional gobbledygook and heartless, mindless horseshit. And he has crossed the line with that totally insane and insensitive statement.

And about his so-called "coconuts" craft, Rajah bomoh has this to say: "Bomohs are no different from Chinese sinsehs and faith healers of other religions, such as Christian evangelists."

Lesson? Just one.

Here, I recall a saying: "We live in a world of many illusion and many of human belief and behaviour is ritualized nonsense."

Mm...while some "rituals" are harmless and may even be helpful like conscientiously prepping yourself up every morning with a painted face to tell yourself that you are simply irresistible to psyching yourself up with boastful statements to boost your self-esteem just before exams, presentation or competitions, some rituals however are just plain silly, if not, incredibly nonsensical (cue in Mr Shaman King).

We by the sideline can laugh about it, but these bomohs, faith healers, spiritualists and prosperity preachers thrive all thanks to us. There is actually nothing divine about their theatrical acts. It is all about economics, silly.

It all boils down to demand and supply. You demand, they supply. You come, they perform. You pay, they bedazzle. And you cheer along, they wow even more.

It is an endless, ever-increasing loop that sucks in the crowd, money and delusion to give it a celebrated veneer of truth, veracity and reality.

Mindless crowd attracts even more mindless crowd until what is undeniably mindless mutates into an impenetrable citadel of mass delusion.

That's how they roll and that's how they are still around living in big houses and enjoying the ill-begotten fruits of their own ritualized nonsense.

You see, they may not believe what they say or do, but who long as if you do. Often times, it's not the leaders who feed the followers, but the followers who feed the leaders.

Let me tell you who is an honest godly minister to me. He is one whose main task is to prevent people from suffering for the wrong reasons.

This world has seen enough suffering. Scams of all kinds (whether religious or the irreligious) have effectively exploited, robbed and ruined the innocent of their money, hope and integrity.

So, the heart of a true minister is one who gives hope without exploiting naivety, who sacrifices self without sacrificing others, who leads by example without being hypocritical, who bears the Cross without reaping financial gains in return, and who tells the ugly truth without sugarcoating it so as to please the wealthy and influential members.

True, in this life, there will be struggles or suffering. But to suffer for the wrong reasons so that these fraudsters can benefit from it wholly is not only unethical, but offensively cruel.

Imagine a pensioner who gives away her life savings to fatten a preacher's coffer over time. Or a father denying urgent medical help to his dying son because he was told by a religious leader that seeking medical intervention is an act that shows a lack of faith.

Or worse, having tens of thousands blindly endorsing whatever a man or woman say behind the pulpit about secularizing faith to win faith, about repentance being redundant, or about divine love means you can embrace everything without discipline and consequences.

Please...let's suffer for growth, for maturity, for lessons learned and experiences gain so that we may be wiser, more resilient and morally courageous. And not suffer for a deluded cause from the horseshit of a deluded mouth.

Let me end with this: "The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds."

And trust me, what we fail to notice often shapes our thoughts and deeds that at times will cost us more than just our time and money. It may just cost us our life. Cheerz.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Sabbath after the City Harvest..

There is a time for everything. There is a season for trial, for reflection and for learning. A life goes through these seasons and draws its own lessons from them.

I have written (or commented) much about Kong Hee and his leadership and it's time for now to put that pen or keyboard to rest. My season of writing about him has come to an end as he starts his sentence last Friday. He will have to confront the next season of his life, and I believe it will be the most challenging one for him.

Before he surrendered himself, Kong Hee said this: "I am ready to face what is to come with the peace and grace of God in my heart."

Well, whatever that awaits him in the years to come, he will have no other choice but to face them - even head on in the quietude of his cell.

More relevantly, he will enter an unfamiliar environment away from the creature comforts he has grown accustomed to. He will also be stripped of a world he was used to where his actions were readily affirmed, his pulpit messages were easily assimilated, and his charisma was wholly electrifying. 

Like an onion, this solitary world will compel him to peel off the complicated layers after layers of motives, intentions and designs he had brought to bear on his leadership in the past seven years so as to reveal the inner core of what he really thought, desired and coveted after when he started the church on the crash course of what is now known ignominiously as the Crossover Project (or the Cultural Mandate).

Nevertheless, on this footing, Kong Hee started off right when he offered his third apology since October 2015. This time, what is most significant is that his apology was not just addressed to his church.

In one paragraph, he acknowledged how he had failed to live up to the calling expected of a fellow believer. He wrote:- 

"To all I have disappointed, stumbled and hurt in my congregation, in the Body of Christ at large, and in the public, I am truly sorry. I have made unwise decisions in the past that have led me to where I am today. I am filled with grief and regret over my mistakes and I sincerely ask for your forgiveness."

With that apology, it is time to move on. It is time to heal, to reconcile and to unite. For this reason, I see no point in flogging a dead horse, or to dissect his apology into smithereens just to see whether there is any stray pieces of insincerity or pretentiousness left to render blunt.  

As for the rest of us, all those who stood by the sideline to watch the drama unfold or unravel over the years, I humbly repeat the call of seasonal observance and growth. That is, to observe the season of change from a time of trial to a time of reflection, from a time of denial and disbelief to a time of soul-searching, and from a time of disquiet to a time of quiet, a time of stillness. Each season ought to bring us closer to the Lover of our soul.

Let me therefore end with three events that followed at the heels of our risen Saviour before he declared "It is finished" at Calvary.

The first event talks about an exchange. You'd recall that the crowd clamored for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus in line with a Passover custom. To me, this exchange is about personal sacrifice, that is, one life for another; and ultimately, Jesus for the lost world.

The second event is when Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. He made it clear that this world was never his home - neither should it be ours.

And the third event is when Jesus pleaded with His Father to forgive the people for they know not what they are doing. It is essentially a call to forgiveness and repentance. It's a time of refreshing and renewal. 

For me, these three defining events mark the enduring legacy of Jesus, that is, sacrifice, eternal hope and forgiveness. And these three legacies are spurred on by love, faith and understanding.

For the more we love, the more we give of ourselves to others. The more faith we have, the more we put our trust in the world that is to come. And the more we understand, the more we can readily forgive. If anything, then let this season be a season of understanding rather than of sowing grievances.

At the end of the day, this should be our disposition as fellow Christians standing together with our fallen brothers and sisters. For regardless of the wrong, the hurt and the failures, this is a season of making amends, comforting and healing broken hearts.

So, I wish Kong Hee (and the other leaders) well as they enter the next quiet season of their life. Like what Kong Hee said before, he is in God's hands now. And I trust that the Master Potter knows how and what to make of His own jar of clay. Cheerz.

Postscript: This is a recent reply to a friend of mine on my Facebook post concerning the plea for us to move forward.

"As much as we would want to pursue the matter, calling into question some gaps in his past, casting some doubts at his leadership (or apology), we also ought to readily embrace a future of hope, reconciliation and a contrite heart.

The protests and calls for accountability can only take us so far, and the rest of our own personal journey will have to be taken with the generosity found in our loving Savior when he put aside all that is wrong with us and heaved his last breath, proclaiming, "It is finished."

In Kong Hee's context, and when he serves his sentence in the years to come, we have to accept by hope, love and faith that God will do a finishing work in him.

Like what he said in his most recent, most comprehensive, and most intimate apology, he is indeed in God's hand now.

Alas, in the last few years, many (including me) have been busy exposing and debating about the wounds of the faith and the flaws of the leadership.

It is therefore time to learn from these lessons, apply it to our lives and move on, that is, move forward.

I guess the greatest lesson we can learn from this most unfortunate saga is that given the right time, circumstances and power, we ourselves will also be tested. We therefore share something in common with Kong Hee - our own vulnerability."