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.

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