Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas: The Ordinary Christ.

I have been reading the papers for the longest time every morning, and I realised this morning that every page is about a life, a story, a fight, a surrender, a choice and a promise fulfilled.

So, the paper in your hand is an anthology of personal narratives about every person's life for that season in time, and it is a story each of them had lived through and is still living through as I flip the pages to the end.

It is thus for real, that is, the tears are real, the joy is genuine, the struggle is painful, the passing time unforgiving, and the hope is pressing.

There is no other way of capturing these stories except to put them on paper (photo or video), confined to a number of words depending on the narration, limited to a column or half a page, with photos inserted to complete the personal touch.

If you do a quick scan of The Sunday Times, for example, the front page captioned a lawyer Josephus Tan, who is a target of online flak for defending a couple who had tortured a vulnerable youth, Annie Ee, to death, and just below it is a corruption scandal whereby our very own Keppel Corporation (offshore and marine unit) was fined a record sum of US$422m for bribery. You can be sure that executive heads are going to roll.

Then, if you browse through the pages, you will find interesting stories like a cleric in Malaysia censuring fans for attending a candlelight vigil for the late Korean pop star Kim Jong Hyun.

The cleric warned Muslims with these words: "Cannot. You are forbidden from doing that...If it's a non-Muslim, why would we pray heaven for him instead? What's more, he committed suicide, why would we follow the culture of infidel?"

What is even more interesting is a summary of the events that shook 2017, that is, the good, the bad and the ugly under Insight.

Here you will find the nominees of the Singaporean of the Year award leading the charge forward to 2018.

These fighters have a full plethora of struggles and victories to tell with laudable depth from cartoonist Sonny Liew who beat the odds to win three Will Eisner awards for his book "The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye to a lawyer Satwant Singh, who will be spending Christmas building his 17th school in Ratokke with 20 volunteers, and to the Para-Olympian gold medalist Jason Chee, his life is just amazing.

One must not forget that riding the waves of these life's champions are the less-inspiring tales of the transport woes under Khaw Boon Wan's leadership, the controversial and bitter-sweet taste of the recent Presidential election, the radicalisation of our youths here, and the one event that took the cake last June/July was the Lee Family Saga.

The latter practically woke Parliament up with unprecedented urgency for a two-day personal triumphalist vindication.

These were the unforgettable words of our PM when he was asked about healing the rift: "Perhaps one day when emotions have subsided, some movements will be possible. These things take time."

Lesson? Indeed, these things take time.

The corruption, the bribery takes time. The beliefs of a lawyer on justice to and for all, regardless of how egregious their crime as perceived by some take time.

The religious underpinning of the cleric's rebuke takes time. The perseverance of the nominees for the Singaporean of the Year takes time. And the transport woes, the radicalisation process, and the healing of the family ties all take time.

My point is that every story I read about in the papers on a daily basis concerns the life of people and corporations thus far. It is the stories of their struggles, stumbles and falls, and overcoming up to the time the press goes to print.

In other words, they, and for that matter, we are not done yet. Unless of course, it involves a suicide or a death, then one can argue that his/her story has technically ended there and then.

But even for a termination of a life, it does not necessarily bring the story to an end. Mind you, the stories of the many valiant deaths, and the many ignominious ones, have regaled us, inspired us, awaken us, shocked us, relieved us, and empowered us.

Even in death, some legacies survive and pulsate in the continuum line of past and future histories, and others have left us scratching our heads wondering: "What just happened?"

Death therefore does not put an end to a life's story. It just creates more stories about it as lives in the living years ride on the lessons learnt in that life that went before it to cause an enduring inflection point in their own life's trajectory.

You can say that a life in living and in dying is always sending ripples of changes across his/her own circle of influence, which may be within close-knit relationships or on a global scale, and they are never forgotten because these ripple effects often cause a chain-reaction of forward-moving transformation.

This Christmas, one of the oldest stories I know has and is still sending ripples in the course of time, that is, past, present, and I believe, in the future. It is the ageless story of a man who gave up all for all.

At the lowest point in Calvary, there is nothing supernatural about his sacrifice. It is the most uneventful in fact. He died together with common thieves. You can't get any more pedestrian than that.

Jesus is many things to me, that is, a miracle worker, the great sage, the weather changer, and the death defeater. But what moves me most about his life story is not the supernatural, but the natural.

He defeated all odds, overcame life's obstacles and completed the race not with supernatural powers, that is, by wondrously bending time and warping space. On the contrary, he overcame all with the most natural, that is, a surrendered heart, an obedient will, and a crucified flesh.

When it matters most for him to dispense his supernatural powers to create a ripple effect of wows! and awe!, Jesus chose instead the bitter cup of obedience, forgiveness and love at Calvary to make the enduring difference.

It is therefore the ordinary Christ that moved me most, and most intimately, because it is his ordinariness that I can relate to most deeply when I face my own trials in life.

Let me end with the words of a great late historian, Will Durant, who had won many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and spent 50 years writing the eleven-volume series, The Story of Civilisation.

In his end-of-his-life book entitled "Fallen Leaves", he concluded one of the chapters "Our Gods" with this pervading sentiment:-

"If I could live another life, endowed with my present mind and mood, I would not write history or philosophy, but would devote myself to establishing an association of men and women free to have any tolerant theology or no theology at all, but pledge to follow as far as possible the ethics of Christ, including chastity before marriage, fidelity within it, extensive charity, and peaceful opposition to any but the most clearly defensive war. I can imagine what fun the wits of the world could have with this paragraph, and I know how unpopular and precarious my proposed fellowship of semi-saints would be; but I would rather contribute a microscopic mite to improving the conduct of men and statesmen than write the one hundred best books."

That is in fact the timeless story of the Ordinary Christ, the Lover of my Soul.

Merry Christmas to all, and have a Blessed New Year. Cheerz.

Walking with you for life.

In collaboration with Centre for Fathering, I’ve crafted this heartfelt note below to my daughter, and to share with everyone my experiences and feelings as I watch her grow up with every step we take together.

Hopefully, this will inspire and encourage all you fathers reading this to find your own special ways to bond with your child in the coming new year.

"My dear, you hold a special place in my heart. It is a place reserved just for you, and Daddy will protect it with his life for the rest of his life.

Daddy also wants you to know that it is not going to be a neat place because his heart is fragile at times. It has cracks from the mistakes he had collected over the years before you came into his life.

But since you came, you changed all that.

You see, every step Daddy takes with you in every journey of life, from your first step to your uncharted runs, from your first day in school to the year's end, and from your first tear to the drying of your last, Daddy's heart grows with yours from strength to strength.

Now, as the new year unfolds, Daddy wants to start every day right with you. He wants to walk with you to school. He wants to know you more. He wants to go the distance, feel assured in the silence, and learn with you along the way.

My girl, this will be more than just a father-daughter time we share. It will be a defining bond built over the years. And this bond will endure beyond your school and graduation.

In fact, it will be a walk for life, a journey with your heart in mine. And one day, this walk will lead to Daddy walking with you down the aisle before he gives you away.

But Daddy knows that it will not be the end of our journey. It will just be the beginning of another. By then, you will have your own family, and you will walk your own children to school.

And when you do, you will remember our walk together. You will remember our special bond as you build yours with your children. And this bond will always have a special place in Daddy's heart as your children will have in yours.

Love always,

Sunday, 17 December 2017

My reflection in Church this morning.

They say God is in church today, but where is he? Where is the God who is supposedly everywhere?

Where is God when prayers fall on deaf ears? Where is God when a wife and her child are abandoned by her husband? Where is he when a devotee is dying and a believer is being persecuted for his faith? Where is he when we need him most?

If he is there, then where?

Is he in the routine smile of an usher who loosely shakes your hand? Is he in the church worship team who performs to great fanfare? Is he in the lyrics of a song, the message of a sermon, or the communion elements we partake?

And if the gathering of saints in church moves the heart of God, then where is the part where this divine effect also moves the heart of man?

For isn't it undeniable that many come to church to seek many goals that have little, if not, nothing to do with personal redemption?

Some come to seek attention, to bedazzle with their gift. Some come to seek relief from guilt so that they may return to their old man for the rest of the week. Some even come to reinforce and reaffirm their own righteousness to give the impression that they are above the rest.

Still others come for the social mass effect to gossip, spread discord and entrench toxic views and position. And lastly, there is one group that comes with no agenda, no string attached, no commitment.

In other words, they are the inertia within the inertia. They are like the dry paint in the church; clearly visible but seldom moved.

Truly, the church is a complicated place, where the weekly convergence of saints requires the surrender of one's will for a transformation of one's life. But most times, it is the resistance of one's will against the gentle invitation towards enduring change.

Where then is God in all this?

Where is he when pride, self-righteousness, envy and lust corrupt the heart and rob the redemptive path of a fallen soul? Where is God when hypocrisy reigns and faithlessness persists?

Are there more prodigal sons in church still demanding their inheritance in advance so that they may live their life on their own terms?

Or, are there many others in church who follow the path of the elder brother who live seemingly impeccable lives and are intolerant of the sins in others but blindsided by the sins in themselves?

Alas, if this is what one can generally expect in a church, then I think I am home. I think I fit in, snugly.

This is a place I can truly identify with. I am therefore with people I can relate to. For I have embodied all that I have written about, if not more (or worse).

I get lost in my pride, misled by my greed, derailed by my hypocrisy and am indulgent in my own comfort zone.

I have taken the same route the prodigal son had taken and wandered even further into the thorny path of envy and self-righteousness that the elder son had ever wandered.

It is therefore comforting to know that I am at home in church where I am not expected to be hung up as perfect museum pieces for others to marvel at and bid for only to find on closer scrutiny how imperfect I am.

But on the contrary, in a church, I am with broken people, sometimes still lost, sometimes still struggling, and sometimes still resisting the disciplines of the Spirit.

And where is God in all this? Where is he in all my imperfections, flaws and the strewn broken pieces? Where is God when I fall, cry for help and wander in my own wilderness?

Well, I believe he is there, where I am, at a place he has been before, and taking the same road of grief he once walked. 

As Christ bore the Cross on a bloody trail to the Calvary of self-death, that is, the perfect for the imperfect, I am taking my own journey to that same place of my own demise.

But for me, the road to self-denial is never easy. With every step I take, the broad road calls out to me. Its plans to derail me sometimes overcomes my spirit and plunges me into a time of deep reflection and soul-searching.

As Christ confronted divine helplessness for a purpose and for a season, I believe I too have to confront mine for a purpose and for a season no less.

At most times, I know it is not going to be a readily accessible answer. But it will at least be one I know my Savior had taken before me, and overcome.

As such, maybe my belief are made of better things, that is, stronger and tougher. 

Surely, it is not made of material that bends and breaks. Neither is it made of defences that yield when threatened and tested.

Instead, I'd like to believe that they are made of the same material that once carried my Saviour through. And they are the material that defy the elements of this world. They are in fact beyond what this world can ever comprehend, contain or contrive.

And I suspect this material is comprised of love, faith and hope, and the toughest of them is still love, that is, a love that will carry me through. Cheerz.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Two Fools.

In this world, there are some fools living amongst us. On both sides of the theist/atheist divide, they reside foolhardy. For now, I have two fools in mind here.
The first fool is the fool who says in his heart “this is no god”. His faith is on reason and reason alone. For him, reason is the alpha and omega of all things. He feverishly digs the existential foxhole with his bare hands of reason to the exclusion of everything else. He refuses to explore the values of myths, wonders and marvels of religious tradition 
past and present as revealing the essence of our nature, our hopes and our yearnings. He refuses to see beyond reason to the heart of humanity, one which seeks far more than what reason can ever hope to offer.
He is the one who shouts out at the self-glorifying summit of science to proclaim to the world that the basis and means of all discoveries to the origin and meaning of life is reason and reason alone. Nothing else explains it better, or more credibly or convincingly. No reality exists apart from what reason can unearth. The unseen is therefore the figment of one’s febrile imagination while all that is seen is by virtue of reason’s exploits. There are just no fairies in the bottom of the garden.
While the late notorious atheist-turned-theist Professor Antony Flew proclaimed, “I am open to omnipotence,” this first group of fools nevertheless choose to remain open only to reason and reason only.
And while Professor Flew declared this: “In short, my discovery of the Divine has been a pilgrimage of reason and not of faith,” this same group denounces that statement as misguided reason disguised as mindless faith.  
So, for this reason, religion for them is neither the cradle of civilization nor her nurturer. Instead, she is the orphan child waiting in vain for adoption as potential adoptive parents walk on by convinced that there is nothing of value for them to stop and consider.
Alas, this group takes self-ignorance to a whole new level of daily application and servings. To them, religion, philosophy and art are all dead. Their incarnation in whatever institutionalized and aesthetic forms over the ages only serve to perpetuate the illusion, and dead they have always been.
To them, ethics is a mental calisthenics of personal preferences and choices; just so long as no harm is done to others (as for harm to oneself…this personal advice reign 
supreme: “Bugger off, my house, my rules”). 
There is, I suspect, more than personal hubris in this class of halfwits. Their ceaseless inspiration comes from something far deeper than the arrogance they unabashedly project to one and all.
Maybe, if one had paid more attention, one would have noticed that the force of their mull-headedness is betrayed by that chilling tingle in their spine, that familiar quivering in their lips, and that tics-like squinting in their eyes as they confront their own 
mortality. And it is the indignant resistance to the possibility that they may be wrong, and for that matter, dead wrong, that ironically breathes more fire into the bowels of their endless rebellion. Go figure…
Let’s just hope that at some point in their life, they will take the time to wander out of their own inscrutable fortress of self-smugness to discover that there has always been a much larger picture to the world they operate in and the universe they quietly marvel at.
And to have but a glimpse of that 
whole picture, or eternity uncovered, so as to be deeply enlightened and forever transformed by the beauty beyond reason, one is required to courageously venture beyond the boundaries of science and into the realm of faith and hope.
For isn't that why we are called homo sapiens, the "wise human" – and not homo ignoramus?
Let go for the second group…
The second group representing the other side of idiocy is the fool who claims that faith and faith alone defines the world and universe. To some extent, they are on the right track.
However, even when they are on the right track, believing that our existential uniqueness goes beyond reason and into the realm of faith and hope, they are still fools no less. Why?
Because they are right for the wrong reasons. And because the fool in them makes sure that they conduct themselves in a way that only a fool would conduct 
This group is usually the self-defining religious purveyors of the faith, that is, pulpit firebrands and prosperity preachers hankering after fame, fortune and adoration on a worldwide scale.
The hallmark of this peculiar group of nincompoops is again arrogance and obstinacy. This is ironically the common bond shared between the first and the second fools here. Two sides of the same coin - so to speak. And ignorance and obstinacy are their trademark which, when unraveled, is nothing more than self-conceited knowledge.
For what could be more foolish than to know that you are right (that is, subscribing to faith and hope as an inseparable part of reality) and then go about screwing that up by rubbishing reason altogether and ignoring good counsel and appeal of common sense?
It is not hard to identify someone who epitomizes that kind of wrongness in his trekking to be right. We have the religious stage-performers who strut their controversial messages every Sunday to a mindless chorus of mass adulation.
They no doubt believe the original Redeemer and even got their theology correct at first instance. But then, along the way, the right and narrow road gets a little too familiar to them, and they couldn’t resist the temptation to spruce things up just that tad bit to make what is already original even more original (so to speak) only to wow the sight-and-wonders crowd.
They are what Galatians 3:3 would classify as the foolishness of beginning in the Spirit and then finishing by means of the flesh, human effort and human understanding.
Here are some examples as a sour foretaste of this second class of inanity.
They turn bloody Calvary into a 
self-glamorizing carnival, make the nailing to self less about their Savior and more about themselves, and steal the limelight from under the Redeemer’s nose by showcasing their scriptural creativity (if not shameless audacity) over the pulpit under the veneer of charisma, originality, and popularity. It is more about the twisting of the word than the expounding of it.
Worse still, they gradually, and even unknowingly, claim full ownership of sanctified materials in the Book authored 
by their Redeemer through self-serving alterations which I’d call ala carte religiosity. The obvious may be staring at them in their faces, but they will never be the first to wink. Somehow, stubbornness is the prize of such self-serving religiosity.
To them, nothing in theology is unanswerable - the answers however come in neat, pre-canned, and well-packaged answers in either 5 simple, easy-to-follow steps or 12 cut-and-dry lessons. They have effectively embodied the mind of their creator, and even boast to become one themselves.
If knowing the truth sets them free, then this particular class of simpletons is indeed set free, but free only to do what they wilt and doing what they wilt is, to them, the whole of the law, that is, a law 
unto thyself as a self-referential measure.
And what about the so-called fruits of their delusion?
Well, it comes in various forms: Belief without repentance, love without discipline, faith without works, earthly hope without eternal perspective, material success without sacrifice, and prosperity without bearing one’s cross or counting the cost.

Alas, I will leave this class of fool to their own devices and hopefully, with enough idiocy, imbecility and inanity sloshing around and colliding at breakneck speed in the self-centered universe of 
their own making, they might just come to their senses and, who knows, make a decisive switch to being right for the right reasons this time…and thereafter return to the narrow road they first started with, that is, the way, will and walk of the faith emboldened by reason, and not relying on human effort and the works of the flesh. Cheerz.

* Image taken from The Visitorium