Sunday, 11 November 2018

Kong Hee and the final sale of Sentosa Cove.

It was news no less...

Kong Hee had managed to sell his Sentosa Cove penthouse, but it was at a loss of over $2m. 

It reports that “the 5,242 sq ft waterway-facing unit at The Oceanfront changed hands in April for $6.7 millions, a loss of over $2 million” for the former pastor and his investor, one Indonesian tycoon Wahju Hanafi. 

FYI, they purchased the luxury property in 2007 for a price of $9.33 million and each paid monthly installment of $17,000 to service it.

And it was sold to a Kenyan diplomat one Neal Manilal Chandaria, “whose family is in the process of moving in.” 

The diplomat had viewed the property four times and said that “it was a good opportunity” to buy it at that competitive price. 

It is also quite ironic that Kong Hee was arrested at his Sentosa Cove penthouse in 2012 and is currently serving a jail term of 3.5 years. 

I know by all counts, I should have let dead dogs lie. This is an unfortunate part of the fall of a megachurch leader, and I have written much about it. 

But this post is not so much about Kong Hee. I should know better to leave a man on the road to certain redemption out of it. He is dealt with in his own way and that is how it should remain. 

My morning reflection is however about religion and it rides on what Kong Hee once said when he first put up his property for sale in 2015. 

He clarified that the Sentosa Cove penthouse was just a “temporary home” and he denied at that time that he was “living the high life”.

If you wonder why some may accuse him of living the high life, here is a brief description of amenities that the penthouse has: -

“The 11th-storey penthouse comes with a private lift, four bedrooms, an entertainment room and a jacuzzi. Its crown jewel is a high rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the upmarket One Degree 15 Marina Club, offering views of luxury yachts entering the marina and the city’s skyline and fireworks during festivities.”

Lesson? One, and it comes in the form of this question: “Should pastors live the high life?”

Now, I am not going to put a spin to defend what Kong Hee said. 

By all counts, having a private lift to your exclusive 11th-storey penthouse and a high rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the marina horizon of luxury yachts is deemed as living the high life.

Of course, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So in the land where every HDB home owner has an infinity pool and a private lift, the high life has to mean more than just one private lift and one infinity pool. 

But it is not the case here. And I guess one can say that Abraham and King David lived in like manner, that is, the so-called “high life.” And it is called the high life because one lives in luxury and wealth the majority can only dream about. 

Whether it is a case of material blessings from God or the entrepreneurial efforts of a man or woman, or even both, I would not be qualified to be a judge of it as the mysterious ways of omnipotence and/or the random element of fortunity are too complex for me to even take a stab at it. 

But, be that as it may, I still come back to the same question I started my lesson with: “Should pastors live the high life?”

And to be fair to Kong Hee, he did not start out that way. When they married in 1992, their home was a $127k five-room HDB flat in Tampines. Then, they upgraded to a million-dollar Horizon Towers unit in River Valley. 

In 2010, the family moved into a $2.6 million condo unit in The Suites at Central in Devonshire Road. And from there, it was Sentosa Cove penthouse, amongst other properties. 

I believe their upgrades matched the rapid grow of their megachurch and the funds they had received from the thousands of willing churchgoers. 

And this is where I will try to answer that question: “Should pastors live the high life?”

The conventional answer is, “Where your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” 

For the rich secularist, he or she is not ashamed to declare that their heart is to make money. That is what they aim to achieve when they set up companies, invent new products and invest in properties. All entrepreneurs have to watch their profit margin. Their business rise and fall based on it. That is their raison d'etre.

What about pastors then? Isn’t it possible for him to live the high life and still be faithful to his high calling? Can’t his heart be in his high calling and not in his high living? 

More relevantly, what does Jesus mean when he said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money”?

Can a pastor still serve God and only God while he lives the high life? 

In my view, Jesus saw what is coming when the accumulation of one risks the dilution of another. At some point, using money as a means to a godly end risks risking the end for that means and making that means its own end. 

As Christians, we are called to always guard our own hearts. But that guarding risks becoming overladen when we take in too much and grow beyond the capacity our heart can take and guard. 

That is why only absolute power does the greatest damage and the love of money corrupts even the most sincerest of hearts. 

And Jesus’ warning comes at the opportune time when he said that we cannot serve two masters not because we can’t organizationally manage it, but because our heart risks being overwhelmed by the misattribution, the distractions and the unwieldy grandeur of it all. 

That is, I feel, why Jesus rejected the kingdom of this world for the kingdom of the heart even if it means just sharing an intimate relationship with twelve for three short years and not seventeen thousands or more than thirty thousands for one’s lifetime. 

His is a church not primarily on quantification but transformation with time and personal devotion, that is, heart-to-heart, and not one to a few thousands of hearts. 

So, should pastors live the high life? 

Well, my answer is that there is something more than meets the eye about Jesus’ forewarning and the risky incompatibility of God and money. 

Ultimately, it is still about individual accountability. 

But, it invariably gets harder to give a proper account as a mortal accumulates in excess, wields almost unquestioned power and receives the raging adulation of thousands. Cheerz.

What about us? Church and her obsession for numbers.

I was at a recent youth fellowship feedback session and when it was time for Q&A, a teen stood up and spoke his mind. His voice was slightly shaky but he was sincere. 

If I may discern the central theme of his question (or concern), it was this: "How about us?"

You see, he knows what the church wants. It was clear to him. She wants young leaders to be faithful to the call of the Great Commission - to grow and multiply. 

But yet, I still hear his cry, "What about us?"

He knows that the church wants their members to be trained in the word, led by the spirit and to grow from one level to the other. This was told to them in no uncertain terms with such urgency that you cannot doubt her sincerity. 

But yet, I still hear his cry, "What about us?"

He knows that the church is behind them on this, to arm them with what they need, to suit them up with one training session after another, to beef up the gap and inspire them with more inspiring sunday sermons over the pulpit. 

But yet, I still hear his cry, "What about us?"

He knows the church is serious about their spiritual welfare and growth. He understands the heart of the church to desire firm and strong leadership that bears fruits through the disciplines of the word. 
But yes, I still hear his cry, "What about us?"

And last but not least, he knows he is not alone in this sacred responsibility granted to him by the church leadership. 

He knows he has all the support from the church and the latter is readily prepared to shore him up, to build his confidence. 

He also knows the church with its decades of experience and library of resources will be at his disposal as and when it is called to do so. 

The church leaves him no doubt that there is a firm, if not entrenched, system in place built over the decades, unchanging and unwavering, to produce results both in quality and quantity. 

But well, you know what is coming, and yes, I still hear his cry, "but, what about us?"

When I had a heart to heart talk with the teen leaders, at least for that brief moment, the feeling I got was that they were highly valued by the church, and the church has no doubt got their back. 

But it is not just the backing that they need, first and foremost, which is no doubt readily available. It was however a cry for more authenticity. And mind you, one youth leader actually used that word on me when I spoke to him (I shudder a little at it because it resonated with me deeply). 

Another told me that it felt like it was more transactional than discipleship training. 

It was like you are trained to go forth to bring the people in, to fulfill the Great Commission with studious diligence, and then, when the pen is full (so to speak), the appointed inspector will proceed to count the sheep and ensure that they are multiplying, that is, growing in numbers. 

The beauty of such growth as seen by the perspective of the church is that it leads to a certain validation of one's effort and that in itself is a validation of their faith, their belief and their loyalty to the call of the Great Commission. 

In the end, it is all about the Great Commission, which ought to spur on the Great Commitment, and from there, the faithful believer is expected to produce the Great Numerical Confirmation and then go on to reach out even more to reap in the Great Harvest. 

That is the complete Scriptural order of things, and it is undoubtedly awesome to witness as the church blooms and grows, and it clearly shows. 

Alas, while the cry of their heart is, "What about us?", my plea however that evening was this: "Is there a disconnect?"

You see, most times, it is not a generational gap that should concern us most, but a generational "we-know-best" that widens the gap even further without us even knowing it.

Jesus had no doubt asked us to go out there and make disciples. But I always ask, to what end then? 

That is, why are we making disciples for? What results do we hope to achieve? Is our validation in faith as a leader a validation based on the number of sheep we earnestly fill in the church pen? 

Of course not. The church is not that myopic. The heart of the church is never about the church of numbers. It is never about filling it up first and then worrying about how to keep them in later. 

It is never transactional in nature. It is on the contrary transformational in scope, depth and height. 

If the heart of worship is to return to the heart of the one who first started it all, the one who first commissioned us to go out there to make a difference one life at a time, then the heart of the church has never changed. 

The calling is the same then and now. Her heart is to touched lives, one soul at a time, and nothing more. 

It is a heart-to-heart relationship just as Jesus did for just twelve of his disciples before he persevered on to fulfill his father's will. And just as His kingdom is established within us for a dear price, so it is there - in our hearts - that His kingdom should take root and grow to impact lives thereafter. 

And if the kingdom within us does not grow apace, what purpose then does it serve for us to build the kingdom that is seen by the world in all its majesty, but the heart of His kingdom within us is struggling with this cry, "But what about us?" 

As I left the feedback session, I kept thinking about the cry of that youth's heart. I kept thinking how we the older leaders earnestly want to help them, to show them the way, to provide them with everything they need to make their cell grow, that is, to produce results that they can be proud of, and then be inspired and empowered to pass that on to the next generation of leaders before them and to the next in a legacy or model that truly works. 

Just about that moment of disquiet, I realised I too had the same cry, the same cry that cuts all generations: -

"But then, what about us? What about me?" ...cheerz.

Crazy Rich Asians and Jeff Bezos.

The crazy rich will always sit uncomfortably with the crazy poor. Their ostentatiousness, aloofness and condescension irk the poor to no limits. 

The reactions to the Crazy Rich Asians movie is one good example of how many Singaporeans see the uber rich, that is, they are spoilt, snobbish, and at most times, insensitive. 

Although it is just a satire, CRA nevertheless puts flagrant flamboyance on the big screen. And in a society with such a large income and social divide, it only deepens the gap and distorts the perception even further. 

And just when we thought that “the culture of excess by the privilege 0.01” in our society is as far as one can get or imagine to describe the fabulously rich amongst us, next comes a book entitled “The Billionaire Raj” by James Crabtree that makes CRA look like another middle income family sitcom. 

These are the Crazy Rich Indians in, well, India.

Just yesterday, Vikram Khanna, the assoc editor, wrote a thought-provoking article about the book, and in one paragraph he described the home of India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani and his family called Antilia, which is a 170m high, 27-storey vertical palace. 

Here is what Vikram wrote: -

“Billed as the most expensive residence in the world after Buckingham Palace, Antilia is said to have ceilings covered in chandeliers, sports courts, a temple, a theatre that can host Cirque du Soleil and Broadway productions, an “ice room” with man-made snow flurries and six flooring of parking.””

And trust me, Antilia can’t be anymore of an eyesore for the poor majority in Mumbai.

This is on top of toys that billionaires frequently purchase and possess which include huge, sprawling mansions around the world, homes with toilet bowls made of gold, “private museums, fleets of luxury cars, speedboats and private jets”, and “vast estates that host weddings where the buffers stretch for 100m or more.””


Actually, I don’t think I need one. This tale has been told ad nausem and we are all too familiar with the extravagance of the rich and famous. 

They have been in our face since the days of the Greeks’ and Romans’ palatial mansions and it stretches back to the time of the oldest empires in the history of world civilizations.

Just as the poor will always be with us, the rich will too because the hallowed goal of relative equality is a dastardly utopia that is forever beyond our reach. 

This brings me to the recently crowned richest man in our modern century. 

He is none other than Jeffrey Preston Bezos or better known as Jeff Bezos. 

His company Amazon is the second company to hit the one trillion mark in market value. Todate, his net worth is S$229 billion (or US$166 billion).

So step aside Crazy Rich Asians or Crazy Rich Indians and make way for one Crazy Rich American.

Bezos was born to a teenage mother in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Jan 12, 1964. 

His mother remarried when he was four and Bezos was legally adopted by his stepfather, a Cuban immigrant who worked as an engineer at a major petrochemical company. 

His dad came to America without knowing any English and according to Bezos, “has been kicking ass ever since”.

On Mother’s day this year, Bezos thanked his mother for everything. He wrote: ”You shaped us, you protected us, you let us fall, you picked us up, and you loved us, always and unconditionally.”

And to his father, he wrote: “Thank you for all the love and heart dad.”
Bezos himself is married to Mackenzie since 1993 and they have four children. 

Let me end with what Bezos said about his success formula. 

He said, “you need to be nimble and robust, so you need to be able to take a punch and you also need to be quick and innovative and do new things at higher speed; that’s the best defence against the future.”

Then he added, “You have to always be leaning into the future. If you’re leaning away from the future, the future is gonna win, every time.”

Well, I don’t know about the nimble and robust part and the quick and innovative bit because the majority of us will probably succeed (in our ways) in a less than nimble and robust pace as compared to him. 

Success in Bezos’ world is definitely different from success in most layman’s world. Not all of us are going to be the richest man in the world anytime soon and hit that over-100 billion mark. 

But still, that leaning into the future part is readily identifiable for me. My spin on that is about hope, not hope to be a billionaire, but simple and sustainable hope for tomorrow. 

For me, it is about fighting for hope, staying the course, doing what you can with what you have, never give up, and to borrow Bezos’ words, “able to take a punch” and then learn from it and move forward. 

In the end, it is about growing strong against the storms of life as one saying goes: -

“Strong people make as many and as ghastly mistakes as weak people. The difference is that strong people admit them, laugh at them, learn from them. That’s how they become strong.”

Alas, we may not be Crazy Rich Asians but we can always be Crazy Resilient Asians who are rich in ways our children can be proud of, and such a rich legacy is in the words of Bezos that of his mother’s unconditional love and the unfailing heart of his father. 

No money can buy that kind of love...and that’s crazy love for you, priceless and timeless. Cheerz.

Human Spirit and Quantum Physics.

I stood in awe of two news this morning. 

One has to do with the human spirit. The other has to do with quantum physics. 

The first news is a tragedy of sorts. A beautiful girl at 18 puts a hunting rifle below her chin and she pulls the trigger. Death is almost certain, but alas, she survived. 

Katie Stubblefield knew she was at the end of her life at 18 when he had to struggle with chronic gastrointestinal problems, which she has to undergo surgery for, and her boyfriend just broke up with her. 

To compound matters, her mother was "fired abruptly from teaching at the same school that she attended."

So, after she pulled the trigger, she "lost parts of her forehead, her nose and sinuses, most of her mouth and bones that made up her jaw and structures of her face. Her eyes remained but they were badly damaged." 

In other words, Katie literally blew her whole young pretty face off. 

Plastic surgeon Brain Gastman said: "Her brain was basically exposed and, I mean, we are talking seizures and infections and all kinds of problems. Forget the face transplant, we are talking about just being alive."

However, in a bid not just to save her life, but also her face (for what's left of it), Katie went through 31 hours of surgery which involved "replacing her full facial tissue - transplanting the scalp, forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye socket, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw and half of the lower jaw, upper teeth, partial facial nerves, muscles and skin." 

The surgery was nevertheless a success and mind you, there are only 39 surgeries of this kind. Hers is the 40th. 

Her donor (of the face) was a 31-year-old Ms Andrea Schneider, who died of a drug overdose. 

Snatching Katie from the jaws of death, with her life and face (more or less) preserved, Katie now has to take medication "to reduce the risk of organ rejection, and will do so for the rest of her life." 

She also has to continue physical and occupational therapy for as long it takes. 

Katie said: "I felt so guilty that I had put my family through such pain. I felt horrible."

Now, at 21, Katie can finally face the world and her future. It reports that "she hopes to go to college and eventually find a career in counselling and motivational speaking."

She said: "So many people have helped me, now I want to help other people."

Katie said she hopes "to speak to teenagers about suicide prevention, echoing what she told CNN: Life is precious, and life is beautiful." 

Hold it there, put a tag on that phrase, I'll surely come back to it. 

Here's the second news - for the science geek, which is out of my league (of course). 

Quantum physics - my god, who understands it? Currently, no one - exactly. 

In an article written by Prof Vlatko Vedral entitled "In search of the theory of everything", Vlatko attempts to crack the mystery of reconciling gravity of everyday life (the macro-world) and gravity of the atoms (the quantum world or micro-world).

At the moment, they are irreconcilable because while "gravity...can only be understood as a force emerging from an object that exists at only one well-defined position at any given time", in quantum space, all tiniest objects "can exist in two or more locations at the same time." 
It's like they are omnipresent. 

What then keeps them together? What kind of gravity holds them? 

Unlike the pull of gravity in quantum world, we know an apple will fall down (not up) in our world. That predictability helps us to understand the world at large. 

But in small quantum space, why are particles so sneaky, existing in a probability of different locations at one given time?

Not only that, Vlatko wrote that the macroscopic intuition about causality is different from the causality in the world around us. 

This is just another way of saying that in the real world, cause and effect are fixed. If you want to switch on the TV, press the button switch on th remote controller. 

The "cause" is the button being pressed, and the "effect" is viola! the TV is switched on. 

But in quantum world, causality plays trick on us. 

Here is how Vlatko describes the quantum phenomenon:-

"In quantum gravity, causes and effects could be reversed. The TV could go off before we touch the remote control. In fact, the two orders, TV goes off before or after the remote control was used, could even exist at the same time." Go figure?

So the holy grail of quantum physics is to merge the two (that is, gravity in the real world and gravity in quantum world) and to find a single theory that governs the two worlds. 

Scientists have been searching for it since Einstein's time - to no avail. 
Vlatko however thinks he has a shot at it by engaging in what he calls quantum entanglement which he had explained in the article, but it is not relevant to my post here. 

My point here however is to bring out the differences between the two worlds we confront everyday, or Katie confronts everyday. 

We have the world outside of us. The gravitational law that governs it is straightforward. The cause and effect is predictable. You switch on and off the TV and it does as you press the remote. It does not go "crazy" like in the quantum world. It is an ordered world. 

Metaphorically speaking, in the real world, these are the rules of the concrete jungle. You succeed, you are happy - people gravitate towards you. You fail, you are sad - people stay away from you. 

You are only as good as your last worst action. Should you fall, even once, all your good deeds are cast in the negative shadow of that fall - even if it was a folly on your part. 

The world out there tells you how to live your life. It is rigged in such a way as to program in you the need for the pursuit of fame, power and wealth. It spares no time for things and virtues that require time to cultivate like resilience, character and hope. 

Now, all that (resilience, character and hope) are what is within us. It is the world we face within our spirit. That is the quantum world for me. It does not go by the rules of the macro-world we live in.

They are invisible just like atomic particles. They defy earthly definitions and do not follow the causes and effects of the real world where the rules are this: To be happy, you have to be rich. To be whole, you have to be famous. To be fulfilled, you have to wield power. And no one will respect you if you have neither (that is, riches, fame nor power). 

Now, this is where Katie's phrase fits in. She said: "Life is precious, and life is beautiful." 

In her state now, needless to say, she is different from what she looks like before. Her one rushed act three years ago changed her life forever. 

By the world standards, losing her looks (as she was before) would mean losing everything that defines her. That's the logic of the macro-world. 

It is straightforward cause and effect - that is, the cause (pulling the trigger of the hunting rifle) and the effect (she should feel miserable in the state she is in now together with having to take lifetime medication).

Yet, thank god for the quantum world, that is, the spirit within us - that which defies the predictable causality or dictates of this world. 

Katie now treasures life. It is beautiful for her. Her beauty radiates from the inside. She now looks forward to her future and wants to be a positive impact to teenagers, a spokesperson against suicide. 

Her desire to end her life when she supposedly had everything by the standards of the world like youth and beauty is now turned upside down in the world within where different rules apply. She values life.

Her fortified spirit is inspiring because she now looks beyond the superficial, beyond the appearances, and towards the simple pleasures of life that leads to lasting fulfilment and contentment. 

Truly, how many youth her age can say the same thing and mean it with all their heart. 

Let me end with this quote that has always kept the two worlds for me in balance and in proper perspective. 

"What is beautiful is not always good. But what is good is always beautiful."

Indeed it is. 

Beauty in the flesh, in the possessions and in the worldly accolades do not define a person. They do not necessarily grow you, deepen your character or embolden your spirit. 

But what is good, what is the ageless beauty from within, is truly always beautiful because it can transform what at first sight seems to be a tragedy into strength you never thought you possess, into enduring hope that rises from deep within, and into a resilience that inspires many to push forward in their own lives. 

Indeed, we are like plane glass windows. In the day, we all shine out and reflect the brightness of the sun. But during the night, true and lasting beauty can only be seen when there is light within. Cheerz.