i just preached yesterday about loving God. We talk about that all the time in church, but the specifics are sketchy. Some churches define loving God as regular attendance in church, serving in the various church ministries, tithing 10% of your income. Those are good things to do - if people don't attend church, don't serve on ministries, and don't give to the church, i would not have a job. But i believe that loving God means more than that. It means that in all that we do, we place God at the center. No, it doesn't mean we pray before everything we do, nor does it mean inserting God into our conversations at every given opportunity. i like to think that loving God means simply this, from the prophet Micah,
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8
How do we weave justice, mercy and humility into everything we do?
This incident, in the case of Amy Cheong and her infamous post on facebook about void deck weddings, provide an opportunity. First off, it is easy to bay for blood. "Sack her!" many demanded. "Send her to jail!" Even i felt a strange, unexplainable desire to see the Sedition Act used again - something i had to give some thought about. Our reactions baying for blood is not justice, nor is it merciful, and hardly humble at all. After all, like what some have pointed out (and quoted from Avenue Q which is just in town) - everyone is a little bit racist. We have to remember justice and legality do not mean the same thing. i personally think that the law is unhelpful - punishing someone for making a racist remark only drives racism into hiding. Some people have commented that Amy Cheong was stupid in making those remarks on Facebook. Does that mean that if she made those remarks offline, in front of people who agreed with her, that makes her remarks ok? We need to have open conversations about how racism if we are to deal with these deep seated ideas. Very often, these values are passed down to us from our seniors and our peers. Just because we may have friends (even good friends!) of other races does not mean that we cannot, at times, make racist comments. Just like having gay and lesbian friends doesn't mean we would not say something that is homophobic, or having women friends (and even a wife) doesn't mean someone will not say something that is sexist.
One thing i have learnt is this - if we ever are to grow and mature as a people, we need to address issues and attack the issues, rather than addressing people and attacking people. i don't know Amy Cheong. i don't know if she was complaining because she was nursing her baby, and the noise is preventing her baby from resting. Everything - really everything - is based on assumptions. The idea that she is elitist, that she is privileged, are all based on assumptions. There may be other issues that are really bothering her, and the noise from the void deck wedding just triggered her off.
Instead of calling her names, perhaps we need to address the problem itself. Can we be more tolerant of others, who may be different from us? Is it possible to feel joyful with those celebrating their wedding, instead of griping about the noise? Chinese funerals are often noisy too, and especially at night when the rituals are conducted. How do those in the neighbourhood (and even the police) handle the noise? They empathize. They mourn with those who mourn. Could we be more tolerant and understanding of the different predicaments people are in? And if we are not able to understand, can we enter into conversation with the other person to find out more, instead of calling the police, or resorting to violence or complaining to some authority.
What is the issue here? One thing that is evident is that there is a disturbing trend emerging in Singapore. There is a sense of entitlement. Is it emerging from how a generation has been brought up? There was a time when children shared their toys. As Singapore grew more affluent, to stop children from fighting over toys, many parents take the easy solution - buy each child a toy. No need to share their toys, no need to fight over their toys. But i wonder if there is a lost learning opportunity here. So now we have children with a sense of entitlement. What kind of adults will they grow up to be?
Some children do not realize that while they get to have their own toys, there are those who do not grow up in as privileged a background. Not only do they have to share what they have, very often, they don't even have toys to play with. They have to imagine. They have to make use of what they have - whether it is using paper to make aeroplanes, or kitchen utensils to play masak masak. They don't have parents who can afford remote control aeroplanes or a toy kitchen. Children need to be taught that having toys (or having better toys) - what they have - doesn't mean that they are in any way better than the children who don't. And not having something doesn't mean they are any less. This is the problem in our consumerist culture - we are taught the exact opposite. Advertising, marketing all tell us we are not good enough until we have whatever they are trying to sell to us. i hope that one day, we will ban all advertising that is directed at children.
No, calling someone a racist, a homophobe, a sexist, a elitist won't change them. But pointing out to them how they are doing is racist, homophobic, sexist or elitist would at least help begin a conversation and hopefully a journey of transformation. And no, firing her would not solve the problem.