Sunday, 24 September 2017

Jason's gold - an incredible spirit!

Jason Chee won. He really did. The news read: "Jason Chee has no legs, no left arm, is missing one finger and parts of two other fingers on his right hand and has only one eye. Yet a man who has lost so much still finds a way to win."

He beat his old nemesis, Thailand's Thinathet Natthawut, whom he lost to two years ago. He was denied the gold then. But not yesterday. He won it at the Kuala Lumpur ASEAN Para Games.

Jason exclaimed: "This gold mattered the most to me. I have waited so long to win the gold, and I am relieved. It is a blessing."

In 2014, Jason won bronze in Myanmar. In 2015, he won silver on home ground. And yesterday, it was the coveted gold.

In the papers today, his coach, Chia Chong Boon, 66, said that "even the Thais were amazed at what he had achieved. He had just returned from another setback (his eye cancer), yet he could beat the opponents who had beaten him two years ago."

Lesson? Just one, and I have written this before, but I feel there is still much to be inspired by, and learn from, Jason's life.

Jason said: "In this lifetime, you face many difficulties and it is going to be tough, but you have to overcome them and stay positive."

Let's face it, most of us will not live our life as traumatic or suffer a fate as tragic as Jason's.

Most of us are living our lives nowhere close to the fate of people like Jason or Nick Vujicic or the "armless" Jessica Cox who still managed to drive a car, ballet dance, fly a plane and play the piano with her feet. 

Yet for the vast majority of us, with our body parts still intact, the struggle we face has a familiar ring to that of Jason's. It is a struggle to overcome the tendency to take life (or living) for granted.

You see, you can be deprived of childhood, be tormented at birth, yet live a life of overcoming, and flourish with meaning.

People in this category make the most of what is given to them. They take nothing for granted.

Conversely, you can be given the best of childhood, padded by wealth, yet live your life struggling to find meaning - even toying with suicide.

People in this category are wandering unrooted because they make the least of what is given to them. They take life in general for granted.

In the same way that there is a resource curse for the oil-rich countries, where the majority still struggle below the poverty line despite being blessed by natural resources, there is also the curse of status quo where many take most things for granted despite living reasonably comfortable lives.

You can call it the I-complain-I’ve-no-shoe-until-I-see-someone(like Jason?)-with-no-feet syndrome.

In other words, you can have almost everything you want and still feel that life is unfair, hopeless and unbearable. Or, you can lose almost everything you have and yet feel passionate about life, hopeful and determined to rise up again.  

So, life's paradox is this: we can feel that we have failed miserably even when we are rich, or we can be driven by the hope of success notwithstanding our poverty. 

Jason said: "I'm a fighter and I never give up - that's my strength and that's what I have within me."

For Jason, the natural route is to give up and live a life with little or no hope. Yet, the many setbacks in life, that is, the death of his mother, the navy accident and the lost of an eye to cancer, in fact transformed him and he sees only a future of hope.

He therefore turned his mourning into dancing, his sorrow into joy, and the unspeakable tragedy into surmontable victory.

Jason thus takes nothing for granted. His fight to win the gold medal is a fight to demonstrate that the loss of limbs and sight has taken nothing away from his love for life and his passion for living.

Let me end with an encounter I had yesterday at Tampines Mall’s playground.

While my girl was playing there, I noticed a few kids riding on the horses as shown in the picture. These horses were stuck to the ground.

At this time, one of them shouted: "Let's compete. Let's race. See who wins!"

And the girl on the horse replied: "How do we even race if we are not moving?"

That interesting remark kept me thinking.

Maybe the same applies to our life here. The same question can be asked of us with some tweaks:-

"How do we even enjoy what we have if we take them for granted? 

How do we even begin to value our life if we refuse to see any worth in it? 

And how do we move forward in life if we choose to stay where we are, moping and complaining?" 

Despite the odds, Jason took one painful step at the time towards his goal. Every day since then brought him closer to his goal until he finally realized it on Friday. It was no doubt a difficult journey for him. But he made it eventually. His spirit is infectious and inspiring.

I salute his life. It will always be the beacon of light and hope for me. Whenever I am tempted to gripe, to compare, to mope or to commiserate, I will be reminded of Jason's struggle with what little he had, and with how much he has achieved even with what little he had. What is my excuse then?

Let me then end with Jason's words to start off this morning: "I've lost a lot of things and been through a lot of pain, but I have to fight on and remain optimistic." Incredible spirit bro. Cheerz.

Barker, Sin Nam & Halimah - Heroes in their own rights.

When LKY confessed to being a robber, it started me thinking about the people who had struggled and sacrificed for our nation. That is, the ordinary folks living among us. 

In 1996, speaking in Parliament, SM Lee said:- 

"I feel very guilty today about Mr Barker, my friend, Eddie. I robbed him of at least $30 million had he stayed in Lee and Lee. Had he gone into business with my brother, he would have had easily $60 million...He was honest. He was capable. He was honourable. I trusted him...His wife is not a lawyer. He had only his salary. Can I repay him now? All I could do was to ask the Prime Minister, "Will you consider giving the old Guards a little token of recognition? It is too late. By the time he retired in 1988, time had passed, his energy level were lower."

Back then, in the 1960s, EW Barker was earning about $2,500 and he was the sole breadwinner with four kids to feed. It was way below his pay as a much-sought-after lawyer at Lee and Lee. He can't even pay for his mortgage until his wife pleaded for a small raise. 

EW Barker gave up his millions and served regardless, and he had made a huge difference in the lives of the people in Singapore, from drafting the separation agreement, to establishing the rule of law, to building houses and beautifying our garden city, and to promoting the sports locally and internationally. He did all that rather anonymously, away from the public limelight. 

If not for the book written about him entitled "The People's Minister" by Susan Lim, Singaporeans would not have known about the depth and width of Barker's sacrifices. 

In the end, he died very much the same way he lived, that is, leaving an unspoken legacy that has and will continue to support, strengthen and deepen the multiracial roots and economic well being of our nation. 

He is one minister I truly and enduringly respect. 

I am reminded of EW Barker's life when I read today's papers. It tells a tale of two lives. One of whom is famous, our President, Mdm Halimah Yacob. And another, I don't think we will ever get to know had he not been featured today by the deft journalistic hands of writer Olivia Ho. 

His name is Thio Sin Nam and the article is entitled "Hands that built a city". 

Sin Nam may not be a law minister or a cabinet minister like EW Barker, but he is a true heartlander like EW Barker. 

Olivia wrote, "While the pioneer leaders were the original architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here." And Sim Nam is one of them heroes.

His is not a rags-to-riches story, but a rags-to-struggles-and-overcoming story. Sin Nam started working at the age of five as a construction worker. 

He said, "I work until I cannot get up and go to work." Sin Nam laid bricks for swimming pool, carried loads for condo, and poured cement for buildings. He worked with his father until he passed away when he was 12. 

After that, Sin Nam had to drop out of school to support the family with his mother. He regretted that decision but said, "I don't blame my mother for making me give it up. We were poor, it was what I had to do."

From there, Sin Nam and his mother slaughtered and plucked chicken for a living, working for up to 12 hours a day. 

Olivia wrote, "Once, he and his mother got a job carrying door frames at Great World. As there were no lifts back then, they carried the frames up the stairs from the ground floor to the ninth. They managed 25 frames a day and got $1 for each one."

Sin Nam and his mother lived in a rental flat at Kim Tian for close to 50 years until his mother suffered a bad fall and fractured a bone in her neck. She went into a coma and passed away shortly. 

Sin Nam's only next-of-kin is his estranged sister, but he discovered that she too had passed away when he went to the Columbarium to visit her mum's niche and saw his sister's niche there. 

Now, Sin Nam lives alone with his pet goldfish. However, he continued his mother's social work when she was still alive. His mother used to cook for the elderly in her block and stitch for the community centre. 

Olivia's article is a touching tribute to the ordinary folks who live extraordinary life. And I salute and am deeply encouraged by their struggles in quietude and humility. 

After living such a hardscrabble life, Sin Nam said: "I eat simply, I live simply. I have a job. I have the freedom of not having to worry about too much. I have enough."

This brings me to our newly minted first woman President Halimah. Personally, I wish her well, and regardless of the grievances voiced most publicly over the seemingly contrived system that has somehow contributed to her becoming our ceremonial head of state, history will still be impartial to her.

She will still have to prove herself this six years to connect with and unify the people, and that includes proving to her critics that she is not a "puppet president". 

In other words, it may have been a walkover to Istana, but the journey ahead for her in a race-reserved presidency will be anything but a stroll in Istana's sprawling lawn. 

Be that as it may, her journey is nevertheless off to a stellar start when she told the press that she had no plans to move out of her family home at Yishun. 

She has been living in it for decades, witnessing the birth, growth and independence of her 4 children in a five-room HDB house she has proudly made her cosy home and refuge. 

And her husband has this to say: "There is no need to move as the flat was as huge as a penthouse." 

I guess critics can call Halimah by any less-than-complimentary names or labels, but the one thing they can't take from her is how she had lived her life, that is, uncorrupted by the Midas touch of gold, wealth and extravagance. 

She is no doubt cash rich, but wealth is not going to uproot her life and family and it has not since the last few decades. If one thing is consistent about her, it is her richness in service, and her humility in living. 

I guess the wealth in a life is in the health of a state of mind and heart. No external embellishment can even come close to a soul who has found enduring contentment in life. 

That is undeniably one of the distinguishing marks of a People's President, and Halimah carried it with her since day one. 

So, whether you are a nobody like Sin Nam, or a somebody like Halimah, the common bond that extraordinary people share is captured in the words of EW Barker as I close:- 

"Life is what you make of it. There are some who inherit wealth only to squander it away, while others make their fortune on their own efforts by dint of hard work, determination and perseverance.

But happiness is not necessarily associated with wealth. The important thing is to have a purpose in life, a goal to achieve and the satisfaction of achieving it." Cheerz.

Kong Hee's mansion - the wealth trap of megachurches.

The good news is that Kong Hee's penthouse is back in the market. The market price has increased to $11.5m, up 15% from $10m at the last listing. 

The luxurious suite of unimaginable comfort is huge. It's 5242 sq ft and co-owned by CHC's former senior pastor and his business partner, Wahju Hanafi. 

In other words, it's in their names, and not the church's. That means that they have the power and rights to deal with it as they please. 

Now, you have to wonder how did Kong Hee come up with the $17k every month to service the loan when he (and Hanafi) bought it in 2007 for $9.33m? 

I guess his pastor's monthly pay (and savings accumulated as a pastor) must have been way above that monthly figure? It's either that or he had big faith to believe in big things - and mind you, both of which are not contradictory. 

The prosperity gospel nevertheless teaches you that material success is God's endorsement of your faithfulness to the call of the ministry. It's therefore a blessing to be living it up.

But let's be clear, Kong Hee did preface it by saying that it was meant to be a "temporary home" for the family as they awaited the sale. 

And considering that his is a small nucleus family of only three, that is, himself, his wife and his son, (and maybe some overseas guests once in a while), you have to ask yourself this, what do you do with the extra space which works out to be $2,194 psf? 

If you take a look at the breath-taking view and the elegance of the exclusive suite, you would not be remiss to say that if this is not heaven on earth, then nothing is and will ever be. 

I guess this is the closest thing to heavenly living on a supposed pastor's pay.

Lesson? Three. 

I have three, and it's metaphorical. It has nothing (or little) to do with Kong Hee, but it has to do with the state of the megachurches today (and her leadership).

Nevertheless, I shall borrow from what the ex-senior pastor said above to form the spine of my three lessons here.

1) The penthouse was co-owner by the pastor and the businessman (that is, the church and the secular). The metaphorical juxtaposition is ironic to say the least. 

Jesus once said that you cannot serve two masters. We are called to choose this day for whom we serve - either our Savour or money, never both. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with being rich in the Lord - both materially and spiritually. For me, a Christian can be both bountiful in wealth and in spirit. 

For as long as his heart is right and remains that way, no amount of money can sway him or her. 

But the question is, should there be a different yardstick for a pastor? Should there be a limit to his accumulation of wealth? (Nobody is asking a full timer to eat sweet potatoes for the rest of his ministry's shell life).

Hypothetically, what if a pastor, who is called to serve in humility, crosses the billionaire dollar mark then? 

If a pastor is a billionaire, is he an example to be followed in the ways of bearing the cross and denying himself, or it is an oxymoronic image that is jarring to the faith and belief? You answer that.

If the road to full-time pastoral-ship is one paved with earthly gold and worldly fame, it wouldn't be a sacrifice anymore right? In fact, there would be a beeline for that coveted title where you can both build your treasure on earth as well as in heaven (with the people's money) right?

In that case, it's no longer a selfless sacrifice, but an earthly privilege leading to a parallel calvary-lite life of ever-increasing material endowment. 

Can the bloody Cross be made any more attractive, cost-less and glamorous?

2) Kong Hee assured the people that the penthouse is just a "temporary home". This is another irony of metaphorical proportions. 

Jesus reminded us that this world is not our home. Ours is a place eternal. It is not of this world for we may be in the world but definitely not of it. 

So, what do we make of megachurch pastors like Joel Osteen and his ilk living in exclusive, gated mansions, flying around in private jets or First Class on the tithes of the people's sweat and labour? 

Now, is there a risk that we may along the way of wealth accumulation reverse the order by living in such an extravagant manner, that is, making what is temporary permanent and making what is permanent temporary? Will our eternal hope then become a material one? 

Alas, has there been a reconstruction works done along "the narrow road" to broaden it so that we can accommodate our theology of prosperity, blessing and good health in lieu of carrying the cross, counting the costs and living for the lost? 


3) Kong Hee reminded us that the temporary home is for his family (as he awaits the sale). 

This last lesson reaches the zenith of the metaphorical irony with this remark "it is for my family." 

I wonder, in a megachurch context, who is really one's family? 

If the pastor is the lead shepherd and the members are his flock, and the money entrusted to him is the people's hard earned contribution to the expansion of God's kingdom on earth, does one's family means the expansion of the estate for one's own immediate family with the people's funds and then leaving the non-immediate family to rely on their own faith as preached over the pulpit for the same bountiful blessings enjoyed exclusively by the pastoral family? 

My point here is obvious, and it is encapsulated in this question: When is enough enough? 

Is it thus a case where because I have so much gathered under my outstanding church leadership ran in the same way as the world's efficient methods that I therefore deserve more and can spend more for my own family without guilt notwithstanding that a majority of my church family (existing in the thousands) are struggling to make ends meet in such uncertain times? 

Alas, how is this different from a pharaoh's mind-set as compared to my Saviour's mind-set, who considered all that He had as nothing, gave everything to all, held no possession to His name, possessed nothing at the Cross, died with love unconditional, and assured us He has overcome not by mistaking the world for the eternal hope, but by making the eternal hope the goal of Calvary?

So, however way you see it, the richest gain in Calvary is not a stacking up of material wealth on earth, but a quiet and determined sacrifice of one's life for another. 

That's the true Shepherd's heart, that is, a heart that owns nothing but in the end possesses everything. Cheerz.