Alec Chia, 47, is the quintessential "god of fortune" or better known during this festive season as "Caishen".
He was a shoo-in for that role when he was as young as 15 years old. He played Caishen in a school play and even filled that role alongside Moses Lim during a CNY countdown show in 1995.
In order to fulfill his dream to be a full-time Caishen, he quit his job in a crystal shop and took up freelancing as a fengshui master. This allowed him to have more time to pursue the Caishen role.
Then, his big break came when he performed at River Hongbao in 2003. His profile was launched as the one and only Caishen. It was there that he got many engagements. It reports that "business has been booming since."
Mind you, Alec has done his bid for charity too. In 2004, he travelled to Sri Lanka for nearly a month with Maha Karuna Buddhist Society "as part of post-tsunamis efforts, where he distributed drinks, water and candy to the children."
Lesson? Just three.
What if I say that there is a parallel here in our modern churches nowadays? We have our own god of fortune too.
Mm...will I be stoned by fervent believers for such irreverent remarks?
Anyway, please hold that stone first and allow me to make my three points before you cast it my way. Here comes my first point...
1) It reports that Alec "now owns five custom-made costumes made with fabric from China, Thailand, Nepal and even Tibet. His headdress and robes are adorned with jade, crystals and other precious metals. The costumes cost more than a thousand dollars each and can weigh up to 6kg."
The parallel here is appearance. You can't miss it. The god of fortune ("Caishen") equivalent in our churches is the prosperity pastors who enthrone the god of prosperity.
Every Sunday, they are all dolled up to present this exciting side of the gospel, and the crowd sits comfortably lapping it all up.
You can witness the smiles, amen and hallelujah as the word of blessings, longevity and riches pour forth from the mouth of these prosperity preachers.
Not just their fine suits, bedazzling hairdos, made-up faces, and an awesome professional band with pyrotechnics, big screens and lightings as their backdrop, they are also high net worth individuals with private cars, private jets and private mansion to boot.
While Caishen dorns a headdress and robe with hanging jade and other precious metals, these prosperity preachers rule the stage with charisma, captivating messages, and a beaming smile to tell all and sundry that their God just can't wait to pour prosperity onto their lap, press down, shaken together and running over.
In fact, a rewarding God of all material goodness is a distinguishing mark of their faith and belief.
2) Alec admitted that some patrons were initially scared and uncomfortable with his imposing outfit.
They say that "when they see me, like see ghost."
He recounted that one woman even pointed a cross at him. But he tried to reassure her, saying: "Don't worry, I am something like Santa Claus but the Chinese version."
I guess by the standard of the prosperity gospel that has become a staple of the faith in our religious landscape, the Caishen equivalent for some churches may just be Santa Claus - that is, a god that gives unsparingly, loves without discipline, rewards exceedingly, promises without limits, dispenses with repentance, declares us righteous past, present and future, regardless, and emboldens us to open our mouth to claim whatever our hearts desire.
It is thus quite ironic to flash the cross at Alec because nowadays, as Chuck Colson puts it below, the modern churches have found a way to merge the message of the Cross with the message of prosperity (quite seamlessly).
These are Colson's words for your reflection:
"The church has been brought into the same value system as the world; faith, success, materialism and celebrity. We watch the leading churches and the leading Christian for our cue. We want to emulate the best known preachers with the biggest sanctuaries and the grandest edifices.
Preoccupation with these values has perverted the churches message."
3) Alec said that "besides dressing his part, the secret to being a good Caishen is having flair". He added: "You must believe that you are Caishen. You are giving hope to the people, and you must believe in yourself before you can get people to believe you."
The Bible says that without vision (or hope), the people perish. There is no denying that we need hope, and we need it more than ever.
In today's distorting environment, where objective truths take a backseat to subjective ones, and cultural values are adapted to suit our religious palette, our hope now seems to rest on the more pragmatic aspects of our faith.
With bills to pay, grades to achieve, reputation to protect, options that are endless to choose from, and prosperity in our mind, our hope is on the convenience of believing.
Forget about the journey, we are striving to get to our destination as fast as it is religiously permissible.
Whatever is convenient and whatever gets us there is whatever that is reverence and sacred.
As such, anything that promises us a leapfrog to our material goal and security directly satisfies the deep longing of our hearts.
This is where the modern churches come in.
They have everything in the offering. Their god is an all-embracing one. Their faith fast-forwards the journey of bearing the cross to the end part where we automatically become the resurrection of the righteous. And there is nothing more convenient than to expect a loving God to bless us beyond our wildest dreams.
Let me end with an article entitled "The Tyranny of Convenience" by Prof Tim Wu.
He wrote: "Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides."
And talking about trolley rides, I am reminded that Santa Claus has his slay ride all prep up for us to take us to where we want to go, to whatever destination our heart so desires. Cheerz.