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the deepest recesses of the heart, the place where we seek solace
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4th-Apr-2014 04:54 pm - Thoughts after reading a new book
I have often asked people how can they have a future they cannot imagine and dream about? But there is a dark side to being able to imagine, being able to see, being able to dream about what one can have.

I graduated from business school. I learned about marketing, advertising, as well as psychology and sociology that goes behind the decisions people make every day. In our consumerist/capitalist world today, it is not only about production, but also about consumption. It is not just about supply, but also about demand. Almost all corporations have their performance measured in terms of growth. Singapore measures its success in terms of economic growth. So in marketing and advertising, we try to tell people what they should desire, what they should want.

Walter Bruggemann describes this as:

"the endless demands of economic reality, more specifically the demands market ideology, as Adam Smith had already seen, on the generation of needs and desires that will leave us endlessly "rest-less," inadequate, unfulfilled, and in pursuit of that which may satiate desire. Those requirements concern endless predation so that we are a society of 24/7 multitasking in order to achieve, accomplish, perform, and possess. But the demands of market ideology pertain as much to consumption as they do to production. Thus the system of commodity requires that we want more, have more, own more, use more, eat and drink more."

Mix this with instant gratification and you arrive at a soulless society that is not aware of the consequences of its endless pursuit of more, more, more, or the fact that getting more does not satiate the endless generation of needs and desires that we are bombarded with.

You want an example? I'll give you one. We have games today where there are achievement badges. Or games that pit you against your friends. And they get us hooked. Score about 50,000 points and you get an achievement badge! Be top of the scoreboard amongst your friends! That's how Candy Crush Saga, Bejeweled, Farmville, and a whole host of other games get you hooked. It gives you a false sense of achievement. Maybe bragging rights. I know, because I got hooked too!

Some people used to (and still do) travel to find themselves, and to see the world. I see, more and more alarmingly, people travel to consume, to satiate that desire that was created in them through hype and marketing - the x number of places to visit before you die.

I used to think that way. There were several places on my list. Machu Picchu, the Parthenon, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque.... I no longer have a list. Perhaps it is a realization that I cannot have it all, and the fact that having it all does not give me a sense of fulfillment. Having been to these places does not make me better than someone who has not.

I helped out in a funeral recently, and I was moved deeply. I did not know the deceased when she was alive, but meeting her family and friends, I felt like I knew her - albeit indirectly. Her friends flew in from Canada and the UK just to bid her farewell. She was an amazing person who touched many lives. I reflected - this is a life well and fully lived. It wasn't about what she had, what accomplishments she achieved, where she had been. It was about how she lived, and how she loved.

I remember one audio recording from the CD "Graceful Passages" my Christian Spirituality professor, Prof Joseph D. Driskill, shared with me. It is by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, famous for her theory on the five stages of grief.

"When you make your transition, you will be asked two things basically: How much love have you been able to give and receive, and how much service have you rendered. And you will know every consequence of every deed, every thought, and every word you have ever uttered. And that is symbolically speaking, going through hell when you see the many chances you have missed. But you also see how a nice act of kindness has touched hundreds of lives that you're totally unaware of.

So concentrate on love while you're still around, and teach your children early unconditional love."

I think our preoccupation with the culture of more, of consumption, of now, stems from our anxiety around our limited existence, around our mortality. Sadly, though, it is this very culture opposes to what is life-giving, and leads us towards death - not just the physical death, but the emptiness and the dying of our spirits.

What is important to you? Why is it important to you? How does pursuing what you are pursuing bring you closer to what is important to you? Will the path you are taking lead you to where you want to be?
12th-Feb-2014 12:50 pm - We Are Family
i keep hearing again and again about the traditional family - mom, dad and kids (hopefully 2.5 of them). There is nothing traditional about that. We have families that span many generations vertically, and many siblings horizontally. The Chinese in Singapore have clans where people who share the same surname and come from the same village who consider themselves family. It is rare to see a Malay family outing just with mom, dad and the kids - they gather as a family - with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins.

Families sometimes have little to do with how they are related by blood. I was raised by a woman who is not related to me by blood. My grandmother adopted my mother and raised my mother. When i was born, i lived with her until i was 3 or 4. (We were just a few blocks away from my parents' flat) My grandmother was a ma jie - she took a vow of celibacy and served as a domestic worker, and later a school attendant. Her family here was not just us - but her sisterhood of other ma jies, and only a few of them were related by blood.
Perhaps that is why i see family as something very much broader than the narrow definition of mom, dad and kids. Perhaps my personal experience opened my eyes to see that it wasn't blood that bound us together, it was love. Many of the ma jies treated me like their own kin - and when one of them passed on, i performed the funeral rites as her kin. My sister and i are both drawn towards old ladies because deep inside, we know any of them can be grandma. We don't need to be related to someone genetically to consider them family. We feel for their plight - struggling to make ends meet collecting cardboard boxes or drink cans - because that could have happened to our grandma.

When i was a chaplain intern in a hospital in California, i was often called to the ICU as i was the only Mandarin and Cantonese chaplain (i was the only Asian chaplain for that matter). There was once an elderly Chinese patient who passed away, and i was called to be with them. But i noticed that the African Amercian nurse was distrought, and i helped cover some of her duties going through the paperwork with the family while she removed the tubes and cleaned the deceased' body. i sat down with her after we were done and asked her what was wrong. She said that she grew quite close to the deceased and she was getting better before she turned for the worst. Even though there was a language barrier there was something she could not explain - she could only say - "She reminded me of my grandma." i was surprised. Here is an African American nurse and a elderly Chinese woman. Not only are they not related by blood, they did not speak the same language, they did not look the same. They were as different as you can get. But yet, there was a bond - there was something much, much deeper. i think this is what we share as mammals - if we can share affection across species with our pets, then we can affection across cultural, social, racial, language differences.

We need to stop drawing circles to exclude people from what we define as family. Because that is what it does is this - exclusion. It is about defining what is us, and what is them. It is about drawing the line who i must love and care for, and who i do not need to love and care. Love is not inward looking, self-serving, and selfish. Love is ever expanding to include those on the margins, caring for those who cannot give anything back to us, caring for those who are different from us. Families are not defined by their composition but what they are based on - love. Whether it composes of a sisterhood of ma jies, or mom, dad and their children, or a single person and his or her pet, or grandparents with their grandchildren, or single parent households, or LGBT couples and their friends, or all of the above - love is what they share.

i hope one day we can call each other family. Regardless of race, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, educational level, socio-economic class. Regardless, because all that matters is love.
25th-Jan-2014 01:57 pm - being lost [poetry]
we have forgotten
what it feels to be lost
with GPS, googlemaps
we know where we are

we have forgotten
the sense of adventure
with signs and maps and directions
telling us where to go
we walk on paths walked by some
traveller whose footsteps we follow
giving us tips of where to go, what to do
and things to look out for

we are a different generation
different from those who came before us
who ventured
not knowing what to expect
only armed with courage
and determination
we are armed with a little more knowledge

have we lost our sense of adventure
of exploration
of taking risks?
have we done something new
something different
something exhilarating
instead of echoing, parroting

we need to be lost
to find ourselves
23rd-Jan-2014 01:56 pm - i long again [poetry]
I long again for wide open spaces
wonders that take my breath away
Not via some shared viral video
But my feet planted in reality
Grounded yet with my eyes set
on the dark night sky
With the milky way
Spilled, like a pouch of diamonds.
First Sunday of Advent 2013

Isaiah 2:1-5
2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Matthew 24:36-44
24:36 "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,
24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Today, we commemorate World AIDS Day. Today, we also enter into the season of Advent, the season of anticipation, waiting and hope. Today, some folks are running the Singapore Marathon. Some have crossed the finishing line, and some are still running.

What has World AIDS Day, the first Sunday of Advent and the Singapore Marathon do with one another? Perhaps it will all make sense after I am done. Perhaps it will not.

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Today is a day of remembrance. We commemorate the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, gathering to remember those who have been brutally murdered due to transphobia, anti-transgender hatred, or prejudice.

Most trace the beginning of the Transgender Day of Remembrance back to a night in late November, 1998. The murder of Rita Hester on November 28th of that year in Boston shook the local community. The resulting walk through the streets and candlelight vigil outside her apartment are often considered the inspiration for what has become an international act of remembrance for those who were killed in acts of anti-transgender violence. The following year, a candlelight vigil was held in San Francisco, and each year the remembrance has grown, from very local beginnings to an international audience. In some places, the week leading up to or following the Day of Remembrance has been a time of extensive awareness building and advocacy. We want to be part of that. We want to educate people about transgender issues, the struggle that transgender people face, and to change laws and change the society we live in.
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2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,
3:15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
3:16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
3:17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you:
4:2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
4:3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires,
4:4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
4:5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

Genesis 32:22-31
32:22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
32:23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.
32:24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.
32:25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
32:26 Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me."
32:27 So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob."
32:28 Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed."
32:29 Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him.
32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved."
32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

I want to start by inviting you to open your ears, and your hearts and your mind. Sometimes our worldview and our beliefs prevent us from being open to change. Sometimes we have a fixed idea of how things are that we filter out everything else - we hear what we want to hear.

I was invited to lecture in a class in SMU last Monday. This is a class of the brightest amongst the brightest - they are part of the University Scholars Programme. It was an engaging session - and many of them were pushed to reexamine some deeply held beliefs they had. Some of them believe that there is an absolute truth. Yet, that same absolute truth cannot be subject to critical examination. I asked - "if it is absolute, then it should be able to be subjected to critical examination."

Professor Farid Alatas, the Associate Professor of Sociology at National University of Singapore, in the International Interfaith UnConference held yesterday at SMU said that it is by being deeply rooted in one's tradition that one can appreciate and interact with other traditions. People who are fearful of being contaminated or tainted by other traditions are not secured in their tradition. I appreciate what I have to learn from other faiths because I know it will only enrich me - because I am grounded in my tradition. I do not fear that I will "lose my faith." How can I lose it?
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Welcome Home! Welcome to Free Community Church's Homecoming 10th Anniversary service!

It has been quite a journey - from a small HDB flat at Zion Road, to 40 Zion Road, to Utterly Art, The Attic above Mox, to Yangtze and finally to Geylang Lor 23.

Our journey parallels the journey in Exodus - the Israelites liberated out from Egypt and heading towards the Promised Land. Like many other communities that are oppressed, we hear our own stories in the story of the liberated Israelites. The African American community heard their own story of oppression and liberation in the Exodus narrative.

Karen Armstrong, in her book "The Case for God" writes - "A myth was never intended as an accurate account of a historical event; it was something that had in some sense happened once but that also happens all the time."

When we talk about Exodus - there are some things we remember - the burning bush that Moses encountered, the plagues that struck the Egyptians, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the 40 years in the desert, the manna from heaven, the water from the rock, the ten commandments, the golden calf, the construction of the Tabernacle.

These events have in some sense happened once, but also happens all the time. The power of this narrative is how it applies to us even to this day, as we see these things anew.
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9th-Sep-2013 01:02 pm - The Scorpion and the Toad [prose, reflections]
A scorpion and a toad encountered each other on the road, and travelled together for a while, recognizing in each other the kindredness they shared.

They reached the bank of a river, and the toad asked, “would you cross the river with me?” The scorpion said, “I cannot – it is not my nature.”

So they bid each other farewell as they each continued on their way – the toad leapt into the river, as the scorpion scurried along the river bank.

The toad turned back, looking as the scorpion disappeared from its view, feeling as though a part of its heart was missing. “Ah,” the toad thought. “That is the nature of the scorpion.” The toad felt the ache in that empty space in its heart – not the ache of a thousand shards of glass, but the ache of a dying dream. And the toad thought to itself, “And this, this is my nature.”
6th-Sep-2013 12:37 am - may i always know
We all know our childhood shapes a significant part of who we are. And it is common sense that what we learned in our early years has a greater impact than what we pick up later. That is the one of the premises of the book "A General Theory of Love."

I was fortunate that my mom handled me the way she did. I was a child of questions. A "why?" child. Why is the wheel round? Why is the car blue? Why why why. When one question is answered I had another. My mom did her best. There are some questions that had no answers and there are some questions that is simply beyond my mom.

So she did the next best thing. She bought me a thick book called "Tell Me Why?" Why is the sky blue? Why are flowers brightly coloured? And I devoured it like how I devoured chocolate. And then she bought more. I had quite a few of those thick compendiums.

My interest in reading waned when I went to primary school. (I read the "Tell Me Whys" when I was in kindergarten) When I need to read to study, it kills off interest. But I guess this is why I prefer non-fiction to fiction.

Years later, my friend and mentor introduced me to a few books that rekindled my interest in books. He got me to read "The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature" by Matt Ridley. Then "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond. I continue to read books like this that helps me make sense of the world around me as well as the world inside me.

These books to me are the adult versions of "Tell Me Why." They may not be totally correct but it is up to critically examine what they present so we get a better grasp of what we know.

We may not be able to know everything. But to stop the quest of knowledge just because of that is just like saying we cannot explore the universe so we don't even take the first step into space.

Knowing may not make a difference if we don't apply what we know - just like Benjamin the donkey in "Animal Farm" but not knowing means we don't even know where to start making a difference.
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