i have trouble
remembering you
searching, frantically
for some fragments to hold on to
you are fading
in my memory
like a sun bleached polaroid
one day,
i will forget
your face
i still hear your voice
as though you are
in the other room
i will always
the sound of your voice

Stop the use of violent metaphors

This has been on my mind.
Can we stop using metaphors of violence and sexual violence? i have read so many gay people describing sex acts towards Brian Lim.
I want to invite everyone to pause and think.
This is same kind of rhetoric used by men against women, men against lesbians. i must honestly say i have not heard one woman in my life use the word "rape" metaphorically or metaphors of sexual violence on someone else. Maybe i am surrounded by wonderful women. But i read/see/hear almost every day men using "rape" or descriptions of sexual violence on people they do not like, or they disagree with.
This come from male privilege. This is the use of power as a way to threaten, coerce and impose one's opinions and one's will onto another person.
This is not getting one's point across intelligently, with reason and well thought out arguments/ points. This is bulldozing one's opinion, right or wrong, by sheer force and power. Often, it is used when one has been defeated in an argument, or when one is on very weak ground.
We want to change the world. We want to resist the oppression of the weak by the powerful. But when we use such language, such metaphors, we become the very same people we are resisting.
i have changed over the years. i choose my words pretty carefully. i have avoided for a while the word "fight." i will not fight for my rights - as someone who believes that violence will beget violence, hate begets hate, the way forward is not to "fight" but stand up and resist.
If we are to change, then we need to rewire ourselves. And the language we use shape our reality. So we need to reexamine the language and the metaphors we use.
Likewise, i would like to appeal to people not to call those people they do not like, disagree with, names. This reduces them. Dehumanizes them. As much as we disagree, as much as we don't like them, calling them animals, beasts will only create further divides. We are all humans. Even someone who yelled at a disabled worker. Even if someone did not apologise. Even if someone called for our deaths. Even if someone refused to see us as human beings. We should not succumb to the temptation to do the same. By all means, call out the wrongdoing. Point out bad behaviour. But don't call them names. Don't reduce them to one thing.
Dehumanizing someone makes it easier for us to hurt the other person - be it physical harm, emotional harm or psychological harm.
Change will only come when we see each other for the many things we share in common, not when we dehumanize each other.

There is more than one path

There is more than one path
Don't let people tell you otherwise
There is more than one path
Because each one of us
Blaze a different trail
One not better than the other
I cannot follow
Every one of your footsteps
Your shoes are not my shoes
My feet are not your feet
Resist following someone else's path
And resist telling others to follow yours
All paths have their bumps, dead ends and u-turns
And all of us stumble, get lost, meander,
One time or another.
There is more than one path
And we have to find
Our own.

Sermon: Worry 1 March 2015

Matthew 6:25-34
Rev Miak Siew
March 1, 2015.

Continuing our sermon series based on the book "Jesus Is The Question" by Martin Copenhaver, we come to the chapter Questions About Worry. Martin Copenhaver writes in his book:

"It is telling that Jesus’ longest discourse on a human emotion is about worry. That is particularly remarkable in light of all the other possibilities. He could have talked most extensively about sadness, fear, grief, loneliness, or shame. Instead, it is worry he addresses at length. He could have talked at greater length about positive emotions—emotions such as happiness, love, or gratitude. Of course, he addresses all of those emotions and more, but Jesus’ longest discourse about any human emotion is reserved for worry."

I want to start being clear what worrying is, and what worrying is not. Sometimes we get confused about what words mean, and we end up talking and thinking about different things even though we thought we are discussing about the same thing.

Worry is not “thinking” or “planning” or “being realistic”. Worry is getting stuck thinking about something over and over, and then not doing something about the situation that is affecting you. Some folks have told me before "don't worry about this" and in my head, I go - but i am not worrying - i am actually thinking and considering about what is the best approach to the situation so i can then do something about it. Of course, sometimes the best approach is not to do something at all - but that is not worrying.

“Worry is atheism.” E. Stanley Jones states. Martin Copenhaver quotes Jones in this chapter, and points out that Jones say that worry implies there is no God, or at least not a God who cares or a God who can act. Worry says, “It is all up to me.” Worry sings, “I’ve got the whole world in my hands.” It is the form of atheism that frets, “If I don’t do it, it’s not going to happen."

I don't agree with Jones though. Jones' views sound as though we can just sit back and let God take over. It sounds dangerously like those folks who believe that prayer alone will heal someone who is need of medical attention and medical treatment. I must be clear here - I am not saying that prayer does not work - but rather prayer alone is not going to work. Let me give you an analogy. Let me talk about something that worries me a lot when I was younger. I am sure many of you, like me, suffer from the same anxiety about examinations. To this day, I still wake up from nightmares that I overslept for my examination, or I didn't prepare for my examination. If we did not prepare and study for the examination, no amount of prayer is going to help us.

I also believe that thinking that everything is up to us isn't good either. Like Jones says, "Worry is atheism." Either that, or thinking that we are God, and everything is up to us. It is not a matter of either-or. Some people may have the opinion that when we seek medical attention and medical treatment, it is because we lack faith. So they adamantly refuse to as a demonstration of "faith." I would not mince my words - that is not faith. That is foolishness. But the flip side - that is to think that we are in total control is also foolish. There are far too many things beyond my control, and i have learned to, borrowing Pauline's way of using the word in her sermon last week, "faith."

During my time serving as a chaplain in the hospital, I "faithed" when I was asked to go to the ICU, not knowing what I am required to do. I was on duty, and I was told earlier that homeless person was admitted through ER and was on life support, and it was likely that they would turn off the respirator later that evening. Evening came, and the staff nurse called me and told me they found her family, and asked me to be present. I didn't know what to do - I was told her two daughters and her sister haven't seen her for 15 years, and now they were here at the last moments of her life.

No amount of preparation could prepare me for this. There is no guidebook, cheatsheet, handbook that would help me. The only thing I could do is do my best, and pray that God guides me to support them through this very difficult situation. I "faithed."

I believe that the serenity prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs is very helpful about worrying.
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference."

The prayer teaches us to discern between what we can do something about, and what we cannot do anything about. If we can do something about a situation, then the time and energy we spend on worrying takes time and energy away from doing. If we cannot do anything about it, then we need to move from worrying to serenity - accepting things we cannot change, accepting things we have little or no power over.

I have grown in that wisdom a lot through the years, and i am grateful. I would be a lot more high-strung, and probably stressed out and burnt out if I remained who i was in the past. I have learned in some way to move to serenity, understanding and trusting that God holds me, loves me, and cares about me, and I have learned to "faith." In other words, I have learned to surrender. Not my will be done, but God's will be done.

Worry, to me, is the opposite of faith. If there is something to do about a situation, then do your best about that situation. Act in faith that God will be with you. If there is nothing you can do about it, then seek the serenity to surrender and accept those situations.

All of us have worried at one time or another before, and just because Jesus said, "Do not worry" does not mean that we would stop worrying.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[j] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[k] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[l] and his[m] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I talked about ordinary miracles in my last sermon. And I will tell you one ordinary miracle that all of you have experienced before. Something that I keep marvelling at because it is just like Jesus lecture to us “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will God not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

Of course, it may be easy to see God's presence in things outside of our lives like the lilies of the field, the grass of the field, the birds of the air. It may be difficult to see God's presence in our lives. Just consider this ordinary miracle - each one of you is one in 40, 50 million. Consider your conception - you are the product of the fertilization of the egg in your mother by one in 40, 50 million sperm cells. Ordinary miracles like this - like how that one cell become two, become four, and how we were knitted in the womb - reminds me that God has been, and will be, always with me, in my birth, and in my life, and in my death, and beyond my death.

What most worries you? Is it something personal—something specific to your life? Your health? Your loved ones' health? Your career? Your fianances?

Is there something you can do about it? Is there something you should do about it? Are you doing something about it?

Or is it perhaps something global, structural, over which you are most concerned? The economy? The environment?

Is there something you can do about it? Is there something you should do about it? Are you doing something about it?

Hold that worry in your open hand, and then hear Jesus asking you, “Why do you worry? Does not God care for the lilies? If God will take care of the lilies, won’t God also care for you?”

What do you feel when you hear Jesus’ questions? Are they rhetorical questions? Perhaps. If you dared, nonetheless, to reply to Jesus, what would you say?

Would you ask God, "What do you want me to do about this?"

I would invite you to consider Jesus saying to us "Do not worry." (He says it at least 3 times in this passage! It must be important!) And I want you to consider what Jesus says at the end. " But strive first for the kingdom of God and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

"God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
The courage to change the things we can,
And the wisdom to know the difference."

Sermon: The Power of God 8 February 2015

The Power God
Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Rev Miak Siew
February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31
40:21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
40:22 It is God who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
40:23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when God blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
40:25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
40:26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? God who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God"?
40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable.
40:29 God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
40:30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
40:31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

147:1 Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
147:2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; God gathers the outcasts of Israel.
147:3 God heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
147:4 God determines the number of the stars; God gives to all of them their names.
147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; God’s understanding is beyond measure.
147:6 The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; God casts the wicked to the ground.
147:7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.
147:8 God covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.
147:9 God gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.
147:10 God’s delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor God’s pleasure in the speed of a runner;
147:11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear God, in those who hope in God’s steadfast love.
147:20c Praise the LORD!

I have used God instead of male pronouns as I see God more than just male and/or female – and being gender neutral is a more helpful way of understanding God.


Last week, I heard from Rev Yap that a few folks went up to him with some questions after his sermon and were very concerned about him saying that God is not in control, God is not all-powerful.

It mattered enough to him that he called me to ask if we can set up a session to allow folks to engage with the preacher to clarify some points that were made. He sensed there was something to do pastorally – something my friends told me before – if we are to deconstruct the God we knew, then what God is left?

Today’s lectionary readings from the Hebrew Bible – the passage from Isaiah and the Psalm both talk about a God who “covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.” and says “To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.” and “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

Yes, God is mystery, and we cannot know and fathom God completely. But there is a difference between acknowledging the limits of our understanding of the mystery of God, and laziness. I hear so often people say “God moves in mysterious ways,” “God’s understanding is unsearchable,” when they actually mean “I don’t want to think about that.”

Recently, UK comedian Stephen Fry, during an Irish TV programme, called God “evil, capricious, monstrous maniac.”

In his imaginary conversation with God, Fry says he would tell him: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right.

“It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

Pressed by Byrne over how he would react if he was locked outside the pearly gates, Fry says: “I would say: ‘bone cancer in children? What’s that about?’

“Because the God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him?! What kind of god would do that?”

Did that make you uncomfortable? I hope it did. It has made people uncomfortable long ago, and it continues to make us uncomfortable. This is the basic question of theodicy that people have struggled with for ages.

Theodicy – how do we make sense of an omnipotent God who is good and benevolent who allows the existence of evil? Where is God when religious extremists are beheading people and setting people on fire? Where is God in people’s suffering and despair?

There are a few ways to wrestle with this – either we say God is not omnipotent – that is all-powerful, or we say God is not good and omnibenevolent, or we say evil is not really evil because somehow, beyond our understanding, that evil serves a higher purpose. And some people will add on – God is all-powerful, but God is not in control because God gave up control – like the driver leaving the driver’s seat.

I want to present how I understand things so far. I would like to invite you to think about it, take some time to mull over it. I did not arrive where I am overnight – I took a while to reflect and develop my ideas and my beliefs about God.

That God that Stephen Fry condemns? I don’t believe in that God either.

“Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. “

Look around in creation. I have always been fascinated with the stars, with the cosmos, with nature. I certainly do not agree with biblical literalists that the world was created in seven days. I see the universe unfolding in a scale I cannot comprehend – in the scale of billions and billions and billions of years. Even you and I – we were not created in an instant – we spent 9 months gestating in our mothers’ wombs. Even our planet, young in comparison with the age of the universe is billions of years old. The Grand Canyon, one of the most marvelous sights I have beheld, exposes two billion years of geological history of the earth.

God, the creator, is powerful. But all this takes time. God did not wave God’s finger and everything miraculously formed at an instant. When people say, “nothing is impossible with God,” I often wish they would qualify that and add “in God’s time.”

When we say power, we talk about the kind of power that reflects our innermost desires – the kind of power that gives us what we want, immediately. Power that is instant. Power that allows us to control other people to do what we want. Power to make things happen the way we want. When people say “nothing is impossible with God,” I also sometimes wish they would qualify “except the impossible.” God cannot make a circle square, or things to defy gravity.

These words of faith and encouragement can be great in some situations – for people who are feeling down and need a boost to work through their challenges in life. But these words can also be cutting and unsympathetic in some situations. I would not say, “nothing is impossible with God” to a couple who just lost a child. I would not say, “Nothing is impossible with God” to someone facing terminal illness. What do I say then? I sometimes would say “God is with you.” Sometimes I would stay silent – which is rather usual knowing my personality. Though I am silent, I am with folks in their pain and suffering.

Sometimes we wish that God can help us undo our mistakes. Just like gamers would know - restoring saved game when our characters get killed, or we lost the game. But God doesn’t carry us over our problems – God accompanies us through our problems and situations. The cup doesn’t get taken away from us, but God is with us as we take the cup.

Giles Fraser, priest-in-charge at St Mary's Newington in south London and the former canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, wrote an article in The Guardian “I don’t believe in the God that Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in either” Fraser writes:

"Too many religious people actually worship power. They imagine the source of ultimate power, give it a name (God, Allah, Yahweh) etc, and then try and cosy up to it, aligning their interests with those of the boss. In this they are just the same as many non-religious people, except they believe that ultimate power is metaphysically situated. Whether it be a king or a prime minister or a CEO or God: the temptation is always to suck up to power.

This is why the Jesus story is, for me, the most theologically revolutionary story that there can be. Because it imagines God and power separated. God as a baby. God poor. God helpless on a cross. God with a mocking and ironic crown of thorns. In these scenes it is Caesar who has the power. And so the question posed is: which one will you follow when push comes to shove? You can follow what is right and get strung up for it. Or you can cosy up to power and do as you are told. By saying that he will stare ultimate power in the face and, without fear, call it by its real name, Fry has indicated he is on the side of the angels (even though he does not believe in them). Indeed, Fry is following in a long tradition of religious polemic, from Job to Blake and beyond.

Furthermore, this powerless thing subverts Fry’s accusation of God’s iniquity. For if we are imagining a God whose only power, indeed whose only existence, is love itself – and yes, this means we will have to think metaphorically about a lot of the Bible – then God cannot stand accused as the cause of humanity’s suffering. Rather, by being human as well as divine, he fully shares in it. This is precisely the point of Christianity: that God is not some distant observer but suffers alongside all humanity. Which is why, even in the midst of absolute horror, he has the authority to whisper in my ear that all will be well.”

God’s power is not in the power we desire - the kind of power that is power over someone or something. We desire power that provides instant solutions, certainties, absolutes. God’s power is power with, power through. God works through people who align themselves to God’s will. God works through us who seek to collaborate in the unfolding work of creation. God works through us doing ordinary miracles – not the extraordinary miracles like parting the sea.

I don’t see creation as an one-off event that happened a very, very long time ago. I don’t see creation as something that happened in Genesis. I see creation as a continuing process. We talk and sing about God as the potter and we are the clay. The question is – at which point does the moulding stop? At which point is the clay taken to the kiln to be fired? And the firing process – is God involved in that too?

God’s involvement in our lives does not stop. God’s involvement in the universe does not stop. But God’s involvement is not coercive but invitational. God prompts us, but never forces us to do.

God’s power – in my experience – comes through connection.
When we connect ourselves deeply with God – we participate in something larger and beyond ourselves.

Jesus said visit the sick. Last week, Gordon shared that he visited our friend Rose in the hospital – Rose is struggling with pain in her bones because of her leukemia. He noticed that she came alive when people visited her. Something happened when we are connected with each other.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” What he didn’t say, but lived out was to participate in that bending.

When he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech – I wondered if he dreamt that one day an African American would become president of his beloved country. Perhaps that would have been “impossible” in his generation. But he participated with God in the unfolding of God’s will, and sowed the seeds that lead us to this time in history.

We are not there yet. And we can choose to ignore the invitation to join with God in the continuing process of creating the universe. We can, like many people, yield to other temptations and seek out our own self- interest. Temptations that Jesus faced – to turn stone to bread – use our power and our gifts for our own benefit; to take the shortcut to get power and glory and control over the nations through the devil instead of taking the difficult path of the cross.

I believe that God builds up Jerusalem; gathers the outcasts of Israel, heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds, lifts up the downtrodden; and casts the wicked to the ground through our participation and connection in the work of love and justice – our connection to the work of God.

And when we do that, we are connected to something larger and bigger and beyond ourselves. This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus says is within us. God is with us, within us, as well as outside of us. God will give power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

The late Rabbi Zalman said something very powerful in one of the many youtube videos – He described what is faith -

“I open myself up to the central intelligence of the universe so that I might live to the purpose for which I was made.”

I had to listen to that again when I watched the video – so I will repeat it again for you - “I open myself up to the central intelligence of the universe so that I might live to the purpose for which I was made.”

This is about surrendering to God, to trust and have faith that through God, we have the power to perform the ordinary miracles that transform the world.

I pray that we may all live to the purpose for which we are made.

147:1 Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
147:2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; God gathers the outcasts of Israel.
147:3 God heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
147:4 God determines the number of the stars; God gives to all of them their names.
147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; God’s understanding is beyond measure.
147:6 The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; God casts the wicked to the ground.
147:7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.
147:8 God covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.
147:9 God gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.
147:10 God’s delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor God’s pleasure in the speed of a runner;
147:11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear God, in those who hope in God’s steadfast love.
147:20c Praise the LORD!

Sermon: Do You See This Woman? 25 January 2015

Do You See This Woman?
Luke 7:36-50
Rev Miak Siew
25 January 2015

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Do you see this woman? Jesus asked the Pharisee.

This woman who was touching Jesus - who and what kind of woman was she. She was a sinner thought the Pharisee.

Do you see this woman? Jesus asks us.

Who and what kind of woman was she?

When we walked past women in the streets of Geylang, what do we see?

When we see people, what do we see? Do we see objects? Labels? People? Human beings?

When we see one of those Stomp video posts that go viral - of people behaving badly - what do we see?

When we see someone who is working here in Singapore - whether he or she is from India, Philippines, Bangladesh, China, or from Malaysia, Europe or United States of America - what do we see?

Do we see like Jesus sees? Or do we see with our tinted, biased, prejudiced, jaundiced eyes? Do we see with compassion, or do we see with flawed judgement?

Today we think about the question of compassion, based on the second chapter from the book Jesus is the Question by Martin B. Copenhaver.

The word "compassion" comes from Latin - meaning "co-suffering." Passion here is the same meaning as the word "passion" in The Passion of Christ, meaning the suffering of Christ.

Compassion requires us to put ourselves in someone else's situation and feel how they feel. We need to imagine how their situation is, how they are feeling, we need to empathise.

It is not easy though - because i think sometimes when we imagine how they are feeling, we feel a fraction what they are feeling - the despair, the pain, the suffering. It can be so draining, that we look away.

Have you walked on the streets, and rendered someone invisible? The person selling tissue at the hawker center? The beggar sitting on the corner of the street? Have you avoided seeing them? I have. I avoid them because they trigger internal struggles within me.

I struggled a lot because i was brought up to believe that people end up begging because they did not work hard enough. I was told to work hard and not end up like them. If someone ended up on the streets, it was their own fault. It was because they were lazy, they did not work hard enough they did not try hard enough. It did not help that one of the homeless i gave a dollar to in the first few weeks i was the US, i bumped into him later at the corner store buying alcohol. It didn't help me see him better.

It has been years since, and i am in my 4th year of ministry. I have learned a great deal more. I have learned the power of addictions, and how it drives people to behaviours that are destructive. They know it is destroying them, eating them away from the insides, wrecking their relationships - but the addiction is so powerful that they cannot control it.

i have learned to see, not a person who tricked me into giving him money so he can buy a drink, but a person who turned to drink to escape from his troubles, but ended up getting addicted to it.

There was another homeless on in Berkeley that i see often - i would often pass him on the way to the pool in UC Berkeley. Cheerfully, he would say "Spare some change" to folks passing by. i avoided looking him in the eye when i passed. i rendered him invisible. It was easier on my conscience.

Some of my friends in seminary befriended him. They would chat with him, and they got to know him better. I know his name through them - his name was Grayson. They knew about his life, his situation, and his joy, despite his circumstances was infectious. On his birthday, some of my seminary friends came together to buy a gift certificate at LaValle's, the local pizza and pasta restaurant. The gift certificate would have bought him 10 meals, but he shared it with his friends.

How would Jesus see Grayson? Did I see Grayson like Jesus did? Who demonstrated compassion and love? Not me. My friend Paul Arensmeyer did. When I was preparing this sermon, i even forgot his name and had to ask Paul.

I remain a skeptic. Yes, i am to try see as Jesus sees, but that doesn't mean i get fooled. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, Jesus said. I just recently received an email to FCC requesting for help. A quick google search revealed a little more - this person had not been entirely honest about his situation.

Jesus healed Bartholomew, asking "what do you want me to do for you." However, at the pool of Bethesda, he asked the man who had been sick for 38 years, "Do you want to be healed?" Jesus asked him a simple yes/no question. The man gave all manner of excuses - he was never the first to get into the pool when the water was stirred, nobody was there to help him into the water. Jesus told him, "Stand up, take up your mat and walk."

Jesus saw them both, and understood their situations. Different people have different circumstances. I have learned to slow down and empathise, be compassionate, and then figure out what to do.

I have learned to pause and look at them in the eyes and say “what do you want me to do for you?”

For some folks, they would just part with their loose change. Sometimes, they won't even look at the person. Giving them some loose change means that we don't need to connect - we have "helped."
Pope Francis, during his visit to the Philippines, said "superficial compassion for the poor shown by many in the world, which amounts to just giving alms, was not enough." He added, "If Christ had that kind of compassion, he would have just walked by, greeted three people, given them something and moved on," he said.

The pope said the main reason for visiting the Philippines was to meet survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land which hit the country in November 2013, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing.
He flew on Saturday morning from Manila to Leyte island, ground zero for the typhoon, and celebrated a deeply emotional mass with 200,000 survivors.

"Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart," he said.

Like the Pope’s statement that just giving alms is not enough, I feel mission trips to orphanages and the like are not enough. The work of transformation and healing isn’t about flying in, doing good for a day, and then flying out. It makes us feel good about ourselves, but what does it do for the people who are “helped?”

Are they pitiful things to be helped? Is it sympathy – “I pity you” – or is it empathy – “I feel with you?”

My friend Justin used to work in Bangkok. He and a few other friends visit an orphanage every month. They don’t bring gifts, or money – they go there monthly to play with them. He told me that the orphanage gets a lot of financial help from people who want to do good – some of the Thais believe that doing good on one’s birthday will accumulate merit. So they arrive at the orphanage with gifts and money in their big cars, and then they leave. They don’t interact with the children. They don’t “see” the children.
What did the children want? They wanted some people to play with them. To hold them, to hug them, to make them feel loved and cared for. That’s what these volunteers did. Who demonstrated compassion and love here? Those who interacted with the kids or those who dropped by with material gifts and donations?

You are familiar with what FREE in FREE COMMUNITY CHURCH means – First Realise Everyone’s Equal. First Realise Everyone’s Equal means compassion and understanding.

Dirty Hands – our outreach ministry – reflects this philosophy. It means we get our hands dirty, just like Jesus got his hands dirty, mixing his spit with mud in the work to heal the blind.

Dirty Hands means that we see ourselves as equally beloved as those we want to help – we want to learn to love them. We realise that they have as much to teach us as we have to help them.

A few folks visit Emily, one of the household of elderly that we have adopted. Emily cooked up a feast every time they visited – and there were occasions the volunteers felt uncomfortable because they were not “helping” as they did not do much cleaning. But they have come to learn what Emily really needs – people to talk to.

Dirty Hands also adopted IMH Ward 64 and part of our ministry is walking with the mentally ill.

Compassion and love are about seeing people, being with people, and walking with them.

Sometimes it does not need any words. Like what the Pope said – all I can do is keep silent. And I walk with you all with my silent heart.

It is hard to be compassionate, to empathise not sympathise – when we are different. We come from different socio-cultural backgrounds. We may come from different countries, we may speak different languages, we do things differently, we may have different states of mental and physical health. It takes a lot more to empathise, to imagine someone else’s situation that we are not familiar with.

It is hard to understand someone who spent all their lives in the rural countryside, someone who did not have much education, and someone who has not taken a flight in their lives, much less understand how aeroplanes work and what is safe and what is dangerous to do on a flight, someone who thinks that opening the emergency exit door for fresh air is perfectly alright – because that’s what you do on a bus – open the windows to get some fresh air.

As Pope Francis pointed out, “(There are) certain realities in life, we only see through eyes that are cleansed with our tears.”

Many of us experienced discrimination, ostracisation, hate – from these experiences, we can glimpse other people’s situations of being discriminated, ostracized, hated.

But not all of us get it. Bishop Flunder wrote about oppression sickness in her book “Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion.”

Instead of being compassionate and empathise, some of us close off our hearts so that we cannot be hurt, so that we do not feel, so that we will not be vulnerable. Then we would suffer from oppression sickness – that we perpetuate hate, oppression and discrimination so that we would not be the one at the receiving end, we would not be at the bottom of the pyramid, the bottom of the food chain.

I feel disheartened sometimes when LGBT people are the same people who spout hate at others who are marginalized. We can be as guilty of xenophobia, misogyny, racism, just as others are homophobic.

How we see ourselves? How we see others?

We who finally see ourselves as God’s beloved, need to see others too as God’s beloved. I think often those amongst us who still remain racist, xenophobic, misogynistic – are those of us who have still haven’t got it. Those of us who have yet grasped the radical nature of God’s love.

I am often disappointed when I read anti-Muslim, anti-foreigner comments that permeate social media today. Where is the compassion? Where is the understanding?

“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

If we don’t feel that we are worthy, then we may also see others not worthy. And to feel better about ourselves, we put others down and see them as lower than ourselves.

Do you see this woman as Jesus sees her?
Do you see yourself as Jesus sees you?
First Realise Everyone's Equal = compassion. It means understanding how radically God’s love applies equally to all. Perhaps, it is to see as Jesus sees us.

Sermon: What Are You Looking For? 4 January 2015

What Are You Looking For?
John 1:37-41, Luke 13:1-5
Rev Miak Siew
4 January 2015
Jesus is the Answer we often hear. As we start off 2015, we also kick start a book study based on the book Jesus is the Question by Martin Copenhaver.
I hope all the cell groups embark on this adventure to learn more about Jesus, about ourselves, and ultimately about God. Here at FCC, we follow Jesus' way - always by invitation, never by coercion.
For the first quarter, we have 8 chapter studies prepared - you can do all 8, you can do some of them, or you can do none of them. These studies will also be made available for individuals for personal reflection as well.
Martin Copenhaver observes in the introduction of the book:
"But I confess I didn't think I could still learn something about Jesus that would fundamentally transform my view of him.
That changed when a friend said, "Have you noticed that in the Gospels Jesus asks a ton of questions? In every situation, he's asking questions. I think Jesus may have asked even more questions than Socrates ever did."
I found his observation intriguing, and it left me eager to learn more. I set out on a quest for the questioning Jesus, not knowing at the time that the journey would lead to something like hidden treasure, a transformative new understanding: asking questions is central to Jesus' life and teachings. Jesus is a questioner. Jesus is not the ultimate Answer Man - he's more like the Great Questioner.
Jesus asks many more questions than he is asked. In the four Gospels Jesus asks 307 questions. By contrast, he is only asked 183 questions.
More striking still Jesus directly answers very few of the 183 questions he is asked. Two published studies state Jesus directly answers only 3 of the 183 questions he is asked. According to my count, Jesus directly answers as many as 8 of the questions he is asked, but whichever count you go with, it is still an astonishingly small number."
In our lives, we are preoccupied with answers, because we are preoccupied with certainty. We are uncomfortable when things are left hanging in the air, unresolved. We are uncomfortable with uncertainty.
Our spiritual growth doesn't come from knowing the answers, but rather our growth comes from asking questions, and living the questions. Throughout our lives, the answer changes, but the questions remain the same.
"What do you want to do when you grow up?"
"What would make you happy?"
“Why do bad things happen?”
I want to start with a question that Jesus asked, and then he answered because I am angry, disappointed that some Christians will hijack a disaster and say things that are downright offensive and wrong.
I am sure you have heard folks who profess to be loving, to be followers of Christ capitalise on a tragedy to spew their nonsense. Some may be vocal about it, some may be whispering within their own circles, feeling relieved that they are in the group that is safe from divine wrath.
It has happened before. It is claimed that the tsunami that claimed thousands of lives 10 years ago was God's wrath against a certain group of people. And recently, the Airasia tragedy is also used to support such a view.
Luke 13:1-5
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The people who went to Jesus and told him about the Galileans who were killed by the Romans while they were performing some religious ritual were concerned not about those who died, but actually concerned about themselves. Perhaps they were not as adherent to the religious practices as much as those who died - so they were concerned that if God didn't protect those who were more religious than them, then what about themselves.
Jesus’ answer was and is "no." A tragic death does not indicate a sinful life. He continues to talk about a tower which fell and killed 18 people, and said they were not worse offenders than others who lived in Jerusalem. Meaning that the tower did not fall on them because it was a punishment.
What kind of repentance then is Jesus talking about? What if Jesus isn't saying "repent and become a Christian?" Because Christianity did not exist back then. What if Jesus was telling them to stop worrying about other people's lives and focus on their own - focus on being people who bear good fruit?
We did not perish in a tragedy. Some of us fly a lot. And we give thanks after landing safely. Will we dig around our lives, put manure on it, and bear good fruit? Will we repent, and continue working on becoming better people - people who love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God? Will we live out the commandment to love each other as Jesus has loved us? Will we love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and love our neighbours as ourselves?
Surely, love means that we empathise, we hold those who are grieving and suffering, and walk with them. Not taking advantage of the situation and twist it to support our prejudices and biases. And not using it to say God punished the whole lot of them. And certainly not use it to be a point to scare people into converting to Christianity.
Really, do we think we are better than others, just because tragedy did not befall on us? Jesus’ answer is no.
We start off, like how the disciples of Jesus start off. This is a reading from the Gospel according to John, 1:37-41
37 The two followers heard what John said, so they went after Jesus.
38 Jesus turned. He saw them coming after him. He said to them, `What are you looking for?' They said, `Teacher, where do you live?'
39 Jesus said, `Come and see.' They went and saw the place where Jesus was staying. The time was about four o'clock in the afternoon. They stayed with Jesus the rest of the day.
40 Andrew was one of those two followers of John who heard John speak and went after Jesus. He was Simon Peter's brother.
41 The first thing Andrew did then was to find his brother Simon. He said, `We have found the Messiah!' (Messiah means the Christ, the messenger of God.)
Jesus' first question to the two who went after him was "What are you looking for?"
Their reply has always puzzled me. `Teacher, where do you live?'
I did preach about this a few years ago - I thought then it was pretty ridiculous to meet a Holy person, a Great Teacher, and the first question is "Where do you live?"
But as I reflect a few years on, I realised maybe their question isn't so ridiculous after all. I imagined Jesus to be one of those religious speakers people flocked to listen to. When the two asked "Where do you live?" it could be from an understanding that a person cannot be removed from the community he or she comes from. I have been so blinded by the idea of individualism that I didn't even realise that my view did not consider the community Jesus was in.
We are as defined by the community we come from, we live with, as we are as individuals. Our alma maters, our clans, our nationalities, our neighbourhoods, our ethnic groups - we continue to find our identities influenced and shaped by these communities.
When the two asked "Where do you live?" they wanted to see Jesus' community.
We, too, have community embedded in our identity. We are Free Community Church. I think in the life of FCC, we have come to understand and live out FREE – First Realise Everyone’s equal. I think we have come to the phase in our church life to focus on community. We need to see that our faith cannot be lived out in a vacuum. We live out our faith in the context of our lives - we live it out in relation with others. Community is, to me, a network of relationships.
Jesus reply to them - "Come and see" may be seen as an indirect answer. But I think it is as direct as it can get. Our lives, our communities, our relationships are easier experienced than described with words.
Jesus' reply isn't just a reply - it is an invitation. Again, it is not by force, but an invitation. Just like replying to the curious asking a question, the invitation is to bring the curious to experience for himself or herself what it is all about.
Following Jesus is not just a matter of believing. Saying we believe is simple. It is a matter of the mind. I either believe or i do not believe. It requires little effort to believe. To follow Jesus is quite a different matter.
When you come to FCC on Sunday, when you go to cell group (if you do), when you attend the different groups we have here - what are you looking for?
God? Peace? Joy? Let's be real - a partner?
Being in community - requires us to be ourselves warts and all. It is just social gathering. We bring our full selves here - our joys, our sorrows, our pains, our struggles.
It is not enough to just be hanging out after church having lunch and chilling out - not that you shouldn't do that. It is about forming a community that walks with you along your faith journey as you walk along theirs.
We have a rule - more of a guideline actually - that people shouldn't date each other for the first 4 months (some say 3 months) of knowing each other here. This is to create a safe environment of building relationships uncomplicated by our innate desire to date romantically.
Why? This doesn't mean you cannot date - this just means that you have an opportunity to get over the initial infatuation and have time to really know someone. Of course this is not a hard and fast rule - but i do hope that folks who decided to break this rule do let me, Pauline or someone in leadership know. Because that means you have thought through it, and you are taking responsibility for your actions.
What are you looking for?
What you are looking for will change from time to time, season to season. Perhaps you do find what you are seeking at one time, then you will move on to looking for something else.
That is why Jesus is the Great Questioner instead of the Ultimate Answer Man. Because answers deal with the question during the context of its time and situation. The questions remain the same, but times and situations change, and answers become obsolete.
What if I told you, finding what you are looking for is not as important as the process of finding? What if asking the questions is more important than finding the answers? What if the search is more important than the treasure? What if what we are looking for is not the point at all?
The problem about finding what we are looking for is that we will become complacent. It is like crossing the finishing line. We think it is done. It is finished. But our faith journey isn't done.
We need to guard against our complacency that we have got the answers. We have arrived. We have finished. The questioning is our quest for God, our desire for God, our neverending journey seeking God.
This U2 song came to mind when i was writing this sermon.
I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
I Burn like fire
This burning desire
I have spoken with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of the devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I'm still running
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
This is how we begin 2015 - with a question - What are you looking for?

Sermon: Incarnation - Being Present with God, with People, and with Self 28 December 2014

Incarnation - Being Present with God, with People, and with Self
John 1:1, 14 Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Rev Miak Siew
28 Dec 2014
Good morning, and i want to wish you a blessed Christmas. We have reached the final Sunday of 2014, and like many of you, i am looking forward to 2015.
We are in the season of Christmas - celebrating the Word made flesh, God being amongst us. Here i want to give a short interjection - according to the Gospel according to John 1:1, " In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." and John 1:14, " The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." The Bible isn't the Word of God - the Word of God is Christ. The Bible, as i have said numerous times before, is words about God. We need to get our prepositions right. God is revealed in the personhood of Christ because a person is dynamic - words on the hand are fixed.
2014 has been, like many other years before, a mixed bag of good and bad. 2015 will no doubt be the same. While we want to count our blessings, and be grateful for all the good things, 2014 also has its fair share of things we would rather not have happened - things we would rather not remember. But isn't that life?
That's why when John suggested God of the Moon and Stars as part of the worship set, i went, "Yes!" And i thought of how we can sing Joy to the World, even when we struggle with the emotions of God of Moon and Stars. I struggled to celebrate this Christmas - Joy? Bah! Peace? Bah! Love? Bah! Violence and hate seem to everywhere. Injustice, rather than justice prevails.
Perhaps we have something to learn from Job - who even when everything he loves, everything he treasures were taken away, he still said "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" Job 1:21
Perhaps we need to understand that life is life - there will be good times, there will be bad times. We need to understand that there is a season for all things.
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For those of you musically trained, you would realise that the worship team started Joy to the World in a minor key. They realised that it is hard to sing Joy to the World with all the emotions stirred after singing from God of Moon and Stars. But that, i think is how life is like - that is how Job can say "Blessed be the Name of the Lord." How do we remain joyful in the midst of struggle, how we allow ourselves to feel and not put on fake smiles and pretend to be joyful. This is what we hope to be - authentic.
Pauline said during the Christmas carnival - before joy, before peace, before hope, before love, there was being present. It stuck with me the past few days and it made me think and reflect. I don't think it is linear. i think it is being present that joy, peace, hope and love is incarnated. Joy, peace, hope and love is not some things that exist out there. There is no joy, peace, hope or love without a context. They are concepts. They don't exist on their own.
What if the incarnation of the Divine in Christ is precisely because God is immanent - pervading, permeating and present rather than transcendent and far away? That is, i think what we attempt to describe with the words incarnation and Emmanuel. Incarnation - in the flesh (carne). Emmanuel - God with us. Immanent.
Jesus is/was God being present with us - in the flesh - and not just in some abstract or invisible way.
We, too, are required to be present. To be present with God, to be present with each other, and to be present with ourselves.
Parker Palmer, a well known author, speaker and activist whose work on spirituality and personal growth i have benefitted a lot from wrote in his Christmas reflection this year:
"As a Quaker who believes that “there is that of God in everyone,” I know I’m called to share in the risk of incarnation. Amid the world’s dangers, I’m asked to embody my values and beliefs, my identity and integrity, to allow good words to take flesh in me. Constrained by fear, I often fall short — yet I still aspire to incarnate words of life, however imperfectly.
Christmas is a reminder that I’m invited to be born again and again in the shape of my God-given self, born in all the vulnerability of the Christmas story. It’s a story that’s hard to retrieve in a culture that commercializes this holy day nearly to death, and in churches more drawn to triumphalism and ecclesiastical bling than to the riskiness of the real thing. But the story’s simple meaning is clear to “beginner’s mind,” a mind I long to reclaim at age seventy-five.
An infant in a manger is as vulnerable as we get. What an infant needs is not theological debate but nurturing. The same is true of all the good words seeded in our souls that cry out to become embodied in this broken world. If these vulnerable but powerful parts of ourselves are to find the courage to take on flesh — to suffer yet survive and thrive, transforming our lives along with the life of the world — they need the shelter of unconditional love.
For those of us who celebrate Christmas, the best gift we can others — whatever their faith or philosophy may be — is a simple question asked with heartfelt intent: What good words wait to be born in us, and how can we love one another in ways that midwife their incarnation?"
Are we present - to God? How often do we spend time with God? Can we be still and know God? During communion, are you tuned in closer to the Presence of God, or are you tuned out and wishing it was over quickly? Or even worse, are you checking your Facebook on your phone during prayer, during communion, during the service? Are you here, or are you really somewhere else?
Are we present - to each other? To your family, your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues? How often do you check your phone when you are supposed to be present with people? Or are you like the modern Singapore family i saw at the restaurant - each one gazing at their own phones, whether it is checking or updating Facebook statuses, or playing candy crush, or checking in to the restaurant while waiting for the food to arrive? Are we more focused on updating everybody on how cool we are hanging out at the cool restaurant with our family instead of actually being present with our family? i am not saying that you should throw away your phones, or not use them. i am saying that your phone, your devices can be an impediment to you being fully present with those who are there with you. If the people you need to update about what is happening in your life, maybe you should be present with them.
This is the reality - we are not fully present because being fully present requires us to be vulnerable. It requires a considerable amount of energy. It requires us to put in effort. It requires us to face the uncomfortable truth. It requires us to deal with the issues with each other. That is what being present about.
I am sure some of you have experienced it. I am not fully present all the time. I try to be. But more often than not, i am not present. i may be preoccupied with something on my mind. i may be distracted. i may be trying to multitask - but multitasking doesn't allow me to be fully present - i can only be partially present and that usually doesn't cut it. i am sure some of you who interact with me often can sense the difference when i am fully present with you, and when i am not present with you. It affects the quality of our interactions.
So if you are with someone - be fully present with them.
And finally - Are we present - to ourselves?
Have you ever gone travelling, and you start taking photograph after photograph of the place, and yet feel as though you weren't really there? i felt that way sometimes. i was so preoccupied with taking photographs and posting them up to show the world what a creative photographer i was that i wasn't really there. i was not present. i learned to put everything aside, and just soak it all in. To experience in the flesh (Incarnation), to be fully present, to take it all in.
Then i picked up the camera again, this time allowing the camera not to be obstacle to me being fully present, but for me to see with the camera.
Sometimes i still lapse back to the old ways. That is when i am more focused on taking a photo to show folks, rather than being present.
Richard Amesbury wrote in his Christmas reflection on Religion Dispatches that his resolution for the coming year is to stop photobombing his occasional moments of transcendence.
There are moments that are meant to be experienced - and not captured. i think it happens a lot for me. There are many gatherings and occasions that i forgot to take a photograph. After reading Richard Amesbury's reflection, i realised that maybe it is because i was so in those moments, so present with the people, that i lost the sense of self and i was deeply connected that i forgot about capturing the moment because i was fully present in the moment.
Amesbury was writing about the experience of religious ecstasy, and he mentioned Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard's reply to the question if he (Karl) has ever experienced religious ecstasy.
“No,” Knausgaard replies, “but they say one of the main things about religious ecstasy is a feeling of selflessness—that you yourself disappear. I feel that when I read Dostoyevsky.”
Richard Amesbury writes:
"In the quasi-mystical sense in which he seems to mean it, to disappear is not to be diminished—reduced to something less—but to become transparent; to no longer be the object of one’s own attention.
Paradoxically, it is when the self is eclipsed by the world that one comes closest to something like authenticity. In such a state, other things and people swim into focus. The awkwardness vanishes; the implied scare-quotes drop from around one’s words; the voice of self-reproach is silenced. I am finally myself.
This invisibility of the self to the self—those days when the pool is so limpid that even Narcissus wouldn’t notice his own reflection — might well be what we call happiness. Is it a state that can actively be sought? I think not. Sometimes, when one is doing things that matter, it just supervenes. And even then, it is usually recognizable only in retrospect. Unlike unhappiness, which announces itself loudly on arrival, happiness slips in through an open window."
I think it is like being in the zone. Whether you are playing sports or music, we can reach a state where everything else falls away and we are fully focused on what we are doing. Sometimes i get there when i am studying - i am so focused on what i am reading that i cannot hear what is on the radio. Some of you may feel the same way while cooking - when i cook i get into the zone - i am focused on what i am doing. There is often only one other thought that comes into my mind when i cook - the people i am cooking for. Perhaps that is how our loved ones feel when they cook for us. Perhaps that is the secret ingredient.
In my 20s, i used to pack my schedule. My weekends are packed with activities. Public holidays are occasions to do something. New Year's Eve? i am triple booked - 3 parties to go to and i need to pick which party i will count down to the new year. i would not allow myself to have time to be alone. But i have learned through the years that i did not allow myself time to be alone because i was avoiding myself. i was escaping from myself - my issues, my insecurities, my life.
It is not until my time in seminary that i learned the value of being still, being with myself. The silence allowed me to face the person i am, and embrace the person i am. And the things i didn't like about myself? i learned to deal with it - whether it is about changing myself, or accepting that, hey, that is who i am.
i am no longer self-conscious. The sense of self melts away and i am me. i feel connected to something larger. i - in Amesbury's words - disappear. i am no longer the object of my own attention. i am finally, truly, me. i am finally incarnated - fully present.
I would like to invite you to go on a journey in the coming year, to be present - to God, to the people in your life, and to yourself. i would like to invite you to try to be as fully present as possible. i think that you would develop richer and deeper relationships, and you would experience spiritual growth.
So as a starter, i want you invite you to awaken what is within you. To be present in the next 5, 10 minutes. Be present with God, and with yourself. i want to invite you to do the Examen, but this time an Examen of the year, instead of the usual daily examen. i have adapted this from Mars Hill's guided version of the Prayer of Examen.
Close your eyes.
Be aware of God's presence.
Review the year with gratitude.
Try to look back objectively as you review. Rather than interpreting, justifying, or rationalizing, the intent is to observe and remember what happened. Allow your mind to wander the situations you’ve been in and to notice details. The questions in this exercise should help you bring specific experiences to mind.
What are the significant things that happened this year? What are the good things? What are the things you gained?
What are the bad things? What are the things you lost?
Were there things that were built up? Were there things that were broken?
Pay attention to how you are feeling.
When or where in the past year were you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life?
When were you resisting?
What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past year?
“Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul…Teach me to do your will, for you are my
God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” [Psalm 143v8b,10]
Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and interactions you’ve remembered as a part of this exercise. You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward. Allow your observations to guide your responses.
Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?
What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
“Ever-present God, help me to meet you in the Scriptures I read and the prayers I say; in the bread I break and the meals I share; in my investments at work and my enjoyments at play; and in the neighbors and family I welcome, love, and serve, for your sake and that your love and peace may reign now and forever. Amen.”

Sermon: Walk With Me: “Get Up, And Go On Your Way, Your Faith Has Made You Whole” 7 December 2014

Walk with Me: “Get Up, and go on your way, your faith has made you whole.”
Luke 17:11-19
Rev Miak Siew
7 Dec 2014
I am grateful that the two of you have stepped forward to share their journey with us - thank you for your willingness to be vulnerable, to take the risk, to share with people here - some who have known you for some time, and some who are meeting you here today for the first time. Thank you for being the voices in the wilderness – just like many other voices in the wilderness that prepared the way of the Lord – like John the Baptist, and even Lady Gaga.
I would like to invite you to walk with me. Walk with me on the Way, the Way of Christ.
Today, I would like to preach from the passage from the Gospel according to Luke
Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered the village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
We often read this passage as a healing story and stop there. Sometimes we confuse the stories – memory of other healing stories blend and bleed and blur into one another. Before you get confused with another story with another leper, Jesus did not touch the lepers in this passage.
When I was in seminary, my mentor Rev Jim Mitulski preached on this passage in connection with HIV/AIDS and it revealed to me the different layers this passage has. Since then, I have new insights, deeper understanding of the nuances and richness this passage holds every time I revisited it.
What came into your mind when I read the passage? A healing story? What jumped out? Did you know previously that it was the Samaritan who returned to give thanks? It was the marginalised of the marginalised who was grateful, who came back to give thanks.
This passage is about many things – about healing, about wholeness, about thanksgiving and gratitude, about privilege, about plight the marginalised of the marginalised.
The word here translated as “healed”is ἰάομαι (iaomai) – which can mean cured or healed. It could also mean to be made whole – free from errors and sins, to bring about one’s salvation.
I read to you the passage from the New Revised Standard Version – I think that sometimes the King James Version translates the meaning of the text better. Here, the verse 19 in KJV is, I think, a much better translation – “And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”
These ten men kept a distance, even as they approached Jesus. They kept a distance because that was what they were told to do. That was what society demanded – Lev 13:45-46 “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out “unclean, unclean. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” It was the priests who gave the final verdict whether someone is tsara’at / leprous – not as a healer or a physician, but as an authority on ritual, purity and holiness.
These men were marked – marked by the priests - as unclean, outcasts, for fear that they would make the rest of the community unclean as well.
I wonder who are the priests of today; I wonder who are the people marking people as unclean. Is it the religious leaders – the pastors, the church leaders? Or could we be also the people marking others as unclean?
All of us are imperfect people – we are broken in some way. Our brokenness can be visible like the “lepers,” or it can be invisible.
Some of these marks are inscribed onto us when we internalise the shame, the fear, the hate, the ignorance people place on us. We are told we are not worthy, not good enough, unclean, abominations – and then we internalise them, and we start believing that what they say is true about us.
Some of us hide our illness, our addictions, our fears, our disappointments, our depression because we think that this will mark us unclean, and we will be cast out of our communities, we would be rejected by the people – even by those we care and love, those closest to us.
But hiding these marks only reinforces our separation – we are afraid that one day we may be found out. By denying and hiding our issues, we are not able to deal with them properly – we are not able to allow others around us to walk with us on our journey. Without them holding us accountable to work towards wholeness, without emotional support, we often fall deeper into the chasm and get separated even further from others.
People often only see Jesus as a miracle healer. I think we lose a great deal of wisdom and insight when we do that. I often see Jesus as a psychotherapist. Remember when he met the man who has sitting on his mat for 38 years at Bethesda? I don’t think that was a healing story as we understand healing. Jesus asked him a simple question – “Do you want to get well?” It is a simple yes or no question. But this guy gives all sorts of excuses – when the water is stirred, someone gets there before me, or there is nobody to help me into the water. He is blaming everyone else for his situation. And Jesus tells him simply – “Stand up, get up your mat, and walk.” I don’t think he was healed miraculously – I think in this situation, Jesus understood that this man isn’t physically unwell, but rather his attitude of blaming and not taking responsibility for his own healing that kept him from his wholeness. His healing can only begin when he stands up on his own – even if he was physically healed, he was whole inside himself.
Likewise, when Jesus told the ten lepers, “Show yourselves to the priests,” the ten lepers were only healed when they were on their way to show themselves to the priests. Why? It is when we come out and face those who mark us, when we confront all the fear, the hate, the shame that we have internalised that we are liberated from them. I think that is why Jesus did not say “I have healed you” but “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”
Sometimes even when we are healed of what physically afflicts us, we may still suffer from emotional and psychological effects. Wholeness isn’t just about the physical, but about the entirety of our selves – the physical, the emotional, the psychological, the spiritual. One aspect of us is interconnected to another aspect of us – they cannot be separated. We know that – we often fall sick when we are down, and we feel aches when we are emotionally affected.
There is another aspect – a political aspect – to this story. Jesus told the ten lepers to show themselves to the authority. My mentor Rev Mitulski compared this to the STOP THE CHURCH protest 25 years ago on December 10, 1989 where protestors showed up at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to protest Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese's public stand against safe sex education in New York City Public Schools, condom distribution, and the Cardinal's public views on homosexuality. Some protestors attended the mass, and staged a “die-in” in the cathedral to demonstrate the fact that people were dying from HIV/AIDS because of the Catholic Archdiocese’s stand.
While there were those who were like the priests who “marked” others as unclean, there were others, like Jesus, who walked with those who were suffering with HIV/AIDS. In a time where nobody understood the disease, when even their loved ones and their families were fearful of them, there were nuns and priests who ministered to, walked with, and held people dying from AIDS and showed them love.
We are all marked in some way by society. Not good enough, not smart enough, not earning enough money, not man enough, not feminine enough, not gay enough. We may not have a degree, or a diploma, or do not fit into what is desirable in society. We may suffer from some illness, have some addictions, or wrestling with something we are ashamed of. But the good news – the gospel of Love that Christ proclaimed is this – you are God’s beloved. That is a given – nothing can change that, nothing can take that away.
Now, you have to “Show yourselves” - Be authentic, be honest and start dealing with our issues we keep running away from. Be courageous to confront the powers that tell you otherwise – Get up! – and go on your WAY, and in doing so, you will be made whole.
Let’s walk with each other. Let’s "show ourselves" as acts of resistance, vulnerability, honesty, authenticity, courage and love - and in so doing find our wholeness - for as Jesus said to the Samaritan who returned in gratitude, "your faith has made you whole."

Sermon: First shall be last and last shall be first

First shall be last and last shall be first
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Free Community Church
Rev Miak Siew
21 September 2014

First shall be last and last shall be first

Jonah 3:10-4:11
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.
He prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
And the LORD said, "Is it right for you to be angry?"
Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.
But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.
When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, "It is better for me to die than to live."
But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?" And he said, "Yes, angry enough to die."
Then the LORD said, "You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.
And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?

Matthew 20:1-16
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace;and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went.
When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same.
And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?'
They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.'
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.'
When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.
Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,
saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'
But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.
Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?'
So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Patheos community here.

Patheos has invited a number of us to write an end-of-summer post about what we find “most critical within our tradition” today (italics added), “the issue of greatest import.”

My tradition is Christianity – especially in its American form. I have been both all of my life. The most critical issue within American Christianity today as I see it? The co-optation of its most publicly visible face by an individualistic, self-oriented, exclusivist and entrepreneurial form of Christianity.

Individualistic: the Christian life is primarily about where we as individuals will spend eternity – heaven or hell. Or, in the prosperity gospel, how our lives as individuals will turn out in this life. In either case, what matters most are what we believe and how we behave as individuals.

Self-oriented: this is a direct and intrinsic corollary of the previous point. Christianity is about the eternal preservation of the self. Or the well-being of the self in this life. Or both.

Exclusivist: Christianity is the only way. That’s why people need to be Christian. Salvation – whether in the next world or this world – comes only through Jesus. That’s our product.

Entrepreneurial: the best-known American clergy today are those with mega-churches and/or television ministries. Most started their ministries themselves or inherited them from a charismatic founder. Many of them (most?) have not had a serious and sustained theological education. Many (most?) have not been ordained by a “brand-name” denomination. Entrepreneurial clergy succeed because they read the market well. And the market is seldom the way of Jesus.

This form of Christianity dominates Christian television and radio in America today. It is highly visible politically in the issues of “the Christian Right.” They are mostly about individual behavior, especially sexual behavior: abstinence teaching in sex education classes, no abortion, sometimes opposition to contraception, and of course defense of “traditional marriage.”

Beyond sexuality, the emphasis on individualism often leads these Christians to disregard and disparage “the common good” – as if “the common good” – what’s good for all of us and not just for a few of us – were a socialist or communist notion and not a biblical emphasis.

Also beyond sexuality: these Christians are most likely to support the use of overwhelming military power to counter any perceived threat to the United States. They were the demographic group with the highest approval (84%) of launching – starting – the war in Iraq in 2003. Most of them also unconditionally support the use of Israeli military power in Gaza and more broadly to control Palestinians living on what was once their land.

If the most public form of American Christianity were Christianity, I could not be Christian. I have a friend who frequently asks me, “How can you be Christian?!?!” I tell him: “I know that I live in the belly of the beast – and I still want to try to change the beast.”

What is at stake is what might be called “the soul” or “heart of Christianity.” Is it about my doing well in this life and/or the next? Or about so much more? For me, it is about so much more. For it to be less than that would be a betrayal.

First and foremost, I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you to all of you who have come together to make Amplify a success – to the people leading the worship, the technical crew, the welcome team, the ops team, the catering team, the Amplify connect leaders and all of you who participated. It is no longer just in theory of what we can do when we come together – we have seen the realization of the beloved community in action. We have come together and demonstrated something as a community. The question is this – what’s next FCC?

I will just summarize what I have learned from the three esteemed speakers this weekend –

1. We need to realize that we are building a movement and not a monument. Jesus built a movement. But it settled and fossilized into an inflexible structure that is about preserving the status quo and tradition.

2. We need to realize what our calling is. Are we just called to be just another Christian church just done gay? Are we just building a replica of the church we came out of, just that it welcomes LGBT people?

3. To do what we need to do we need to are, like what Rev Elder Darlene Garner so eloquently put – are we a spiritual emergency room that people go to get healed, and then realized that there is no space for healed people, they no longer stay. Or are we a spiritual fitness center, spiritual gym where we come to exercise and build up our spiritual strength to do what we are called to do as the Body of Christ? Yes, that still means we serve those who seek healing, and reconciliation and come for the “physiotherapy.”

We will remain that space that provides people struggling to come to terms with their faith and sexuality. We will remain the space that welcomes and embraces diversity. But I don’t think that is all we are called to do.

I think we have a special calling.

We need to realize that we are in a special position to be part of another Reformation of the church to make it relevant to the times. To keep the church grounded. We, on the margins, are the ones who push the envelope of what church can be. We can see the churches in Western Europe. Many of them are more a tourist attraction than a church.

But we can be like Jonah. We can run away from our call. We can choose not to move out of our comfort zone. We can be unwilling to serve those we are called to serve. We can get angry because God didn’t do what we expected God to do. We can get angry because the events that transpired proved us to be wrong, and we don’t want to be wrong.

We can stick to what we are doing – happy to be just like the other Christians, and hoping that one day we would be accepted by them, hoping that one day we would have membership in the National Council of Churches. Happy to be paid the same wages as those who came in the morning.

But what if that isn’t what we are called to be? What if God intends for something bigger for us? What if, OMG, because of who we are, we have something special to offer the Church?

What if the first shall be last and the last shall be first means something more? What if being first isn't just about being on top, having the seat of honour, but rather, being first is about leading?

My friend Rev Cody Sanders wrote a book titled "Queer lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow." I read it on my month long break in August, and it had a lot to offer us in the way forward.

The Church needs to be relevant. Irrelevant churches only serve their own objectives and only serve to preserve the status quo.

But the Body of Christ is not to preserve the status quo. It is to break in the Commonwealth of God.

We, the queer church, is poised to be the ones breaking tradition - not for the sake of breaking tradition, but to usher in another reformation. We have the gifts to do it.

Many of us went through wrestling with our selves, and diving deeper into our faith, Scripture, to find something larger than ourselves. We have learned not to take things at face value, to discern, to explore.

The Church in Western Europe is dead. They are monuments to an age of glory. I was at St Paul’s in London for Evensong service. There was maybe 100-200 people there at the service. And almost all of them were tourists. Church is no longer relevant – only relegated to being a tourist attraction.

We, the church, the body of Christ, have to relate to the now.

We have learned a lot on our journey - we have reclaimed parts of our tradition that is useful for us, and embraced it. We have left behind the baggage of our tradition that is not useful for us, the kind that only hinders us.

We have communion every Sunday. We carry on this tradition that goes back to Jesus - and some folks would say go even way before that to the Passover meal – because it has meaning, it has significance. It is an intimate encounter with God. We have, however, left behind the baggage of exclusion that surrounds the table. We do not require folks to be baptized – some churches even restrict communion only to the people who are baptized in their own church and nowhere else. We left that baggage behind because it is not useful – it does not build up, and it does not bring people closer to God.

How? Who? What? When?

What lessons can we offer?

We, who were rejected know something about being welcoming. Though we must remember - we sometimes fail at being welcoming ourselves.

We, who are sexual minorities have something to offer about sexual intimacy. We know when it is intimacy, and when it is not intimacy. We know when sex is good, and when sex is bad. We know that just because sex is done within the boundaries of a marriage doesn't make it good, and we know that sex can be good and bad - and it really comes down to how we treat the other person - is there mutuality, consent, respect, love? Is sex socially just, life giving, affirming and liberating or is it diminishing, addictive, manipulative?

We know something about being reflexive - we want to examine and reexamine our assumptions, our motivations, our values and principles. We want to always ask ourselves the question - is what we are doing loving? Is what we are doing harmful?

We know something about not being dogmatic. Because our faith is a living faith. It is a journey with God. It is not nailed down to doctrines and dogma.

We know something about doubt and uncertainty. Because we know we need to have faith. If something is certain, we do not need to have faith. We learn to doubt because it keeps us thinking, it keeps us wondering.

There is still no other progressive church in Singapore.

I was speaking in a talk, and a young woman – probably studying in the university now came up to chat with me. She was from our neighbor across the road. I was talking about the only time Jesus got angry and violent. She had not been taught that before.

We need to stop seeing ourselves as latecomers to the field. Whether it is seeing the Western/ American colonialists as being more Christian than us, or seeing our heterosexual siblings as those who have been in the field longer than us, and we have to avoid offending them, or we have to placate them so we have a place at the table.

But we also have to look within ourselves, are we also the gatekeepers of Gilead, the ones who get angry when God makes people equal to us whom we think are not deserving one way or another.

Free Community Church – It is no coincidence that we are called Free Community Church – because we are called to First Realize Everyone’s Equal. We are called to Free others – because Free people free people. It is no coincidence that we are here at One Commonwealth. Because God is concerned about “the common good” –what’s good for all of us and not just for a few of us – the common wellbeing of all people – including the enemy, the Other, Nineveh.

As Marcus Borg so eloquently put it – “What is at stake is what might be called “the soul” or “heart of Christianity.” Is it about my doing well in this life and/or the next? Or about so much more? For me, it is about so much more. For it to be less than that would be a betrayal.”