Salted and Hung, Purvis Street

Can’t quite remember the last time I put something in my mouth, masticate briefly, smile, and nod across to a similarly happy dinner companion:”Why, yes. This is exactly right, isn’t it?”

Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore

Salted and Hung (12 Purvis Street. facebook) though, totally hit the spot.

Was, frustratingly, delayed by complications related to flexible capacity systems. So the spherical ice-cube in poor VH’s cocktail was already sweating badly by the time I rushed in.

Nevermind the slightly schizophrenic grungy-modern decor mix of Ralph Steadman and Aussie cafe. Under the pink neon sign that read “Obey your tongue/Taste everything”, we made a tentative foray into some fat:

Lardo (truffle honey and chilli). Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
the lardo was melty slivers of pork fat drizzled with truffle honey and sprinkled with chilli, a combination I’ve used on smoked salmon on blini. I thought the combination just about worked, though still thought salty cured fish made for a more robust interaction.

Veal sweetbreads (with fermented cabbage, granola, saltbrush), Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
“I was thinking…sweetbreads?” ventured the very patient VH.

Definitely, said I, not in a conciliatory fashion, but thinking fondly of the absolutely tasty thymus last summer at the Hotel du Louvre. Salted and Hung’s came breaded, on a spicy fermented cabbage foil, topped with crunchy granola and crispy saltbrush leaves (?). A study in texture.

kangaroo ceviche, with pickled beetroot, blood orange and juniper. Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
We ordered the ‘roo on the back of these, because a man who can handle sweetbreads can surely be trusted with kangaroo ceviche/tartare. The acidity of these tender chunks was well-balanced, the blood orange not numbing to the tongue as is usually the case when the cook is both zealous and nervous.

scallop with apple, samphire, lardo. Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
The scallops were properly-seared and the interior cooked just right. Sweet, juicy and delicious alone, so even the lardo (yes!) and samphire seemed extra, not to mention the apple puree. But it was fun alternating between slightly saltier (with the samphire) and slightly sweeter (with the apple puree).

cauliflower with burnt butter tahini and piccalilli. Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
A chef with a Josper grill either means business or has made a major investment in hipster-ness. Since Nocente had so far shown himself to be more of the former than the later, and since it is a rare chef who does vegetables well, we went for the cauliflower (roasted, slathered with burnt butter tahini – very very good, with a dollop of piccalilli),

kale (nori, cheese, nuts, burnt butter). Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
kale stir-fried with nuts (pine nuts and chopped macadamia) accompanied by a quenelle of cottage cheese and nori (I think) – a triumph of taste and texture,

black mash - squid ink and charcoal. Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singaporeand wait, umami in mash potatoes? This black mash had it by the spadeful – squid ink (and is that muscovado sugar?) for the umami, and charcoal for that comforting stick-to-your-ribs quality. We scrapped the flower pot clean.

squid - yuzu, wakame, ink. Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
After seeing one too many squid get whisked past, we ordered the sotong too. Nocente does love playing with his fruit acids. Laced with yuku and seasoned with wakame, with plenty of Josper-grill-hei, this firm and tender creature was a fantastic end to the main part of dinner.

roasted pineapple with rum, coconut ice-cream, pistachios. Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, Singapore
peanut butter tim tams - with chocolate ganache, bergamot, chocolate ice-cream. Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, SingaporeAnd boy did this chef have real pride in his food. For many meat places and nose-to-tail outfits, the dessert course is an after-thought. A necessary evil. So you get offered a dry brownie or a lacklustre cheesecake. But not here. Both the peanut tim tam and the roasted pineapple (that was rustled up for the gluten-intolerant) were a joyful medley of flavours.

Anzac biccie - bacon and salted caramel. Drew Nocente, Salted and Hung, Purvis Street, SingaporeAnzac biccie – bacon and salted caramel

VH and I managed to taste all this through stuffy noses and a heavy cold. How much more amazing they must taste with clear nasal passages.

After I dropped VH off and went home to work on a Bible Overview, I thought too that as mind-blowing as our glimpse of what God’s plan for humanity and what he has been doing and is doing in the world is (from what our puny minds can gather from Scripture), we are but seeing through a glass darkly. How much more dazzlingly glorious a full view of reality must be!

Good morning, Vietnam

It is well past noon when we hurry down a dusty alley in Danang, Vietnam. On one side of the alley, bored women, sequestered behind their piles of brown dried meats and mounds of maroon meat floss, fan themselves in the afternoon heat.

banh xeo, Danang

Where the alley turns right into another row of bored dried-meat vendors, sits a bánh xèo institution. There is a ravenous silence around the sterile stainless steel tables as we stuff rice paper with fresh herbs and leaves and cool raw cucumbers and a tumeric-laced “crepe”, itself already bursting with tasty bean sprouts and shrimp and pork, and dip the whole fat roll into bowls of tangy satay-style sauce.

Little time for chit-chat. Much has already been said about external persecution – beatings and destruction of property and threats, and about internal strife – denominational division and sheep-stealing. Now we need to ride on to Hoi An to meet another group of brothers and sisters.

Hoi An will be our third stop. We are somewhat exhausted from bumpy roads and hard beds, but encouraged by God’s work.

Hoi An lanterns

That evening, after dinner, I speak about the importance of trusting God’s word in the Bible,  of the Bible being both a divine word and a human word, and as a human word – capable of being understood by the normal means of comprehension and consideration of context. Context to be considered: literary context, book context, historical context, and whole Bible context. I see furrowed brows during the hour-long session and pray that God would use this poor dry attempt to somehow help his people.


God deigns to use his weak vessels. Over little piles of hến trộn the next day, brothers talk about how struck they are that God’s word is primarily about God and what he is doing in the world, and about changing our fallen view of the world – not about going off to do something; and sisters say how mortified they are that they’ve been doing character studies on the life of Joseph.

Oh, that they will see the stupendous banquet that awaits them as they dig properly and heartily into the Scriptures. How much firmer they will be able to stand, knowing that the unspeakable sovereignty of our Father and the eternal salvation wrought by his Son, and the glorious hope of the new creation.

And this we pray too, for ourselves.

Valē, Mike Ovey.

Valē, Mike Ovey

The Facebook newsfeed is awash with shock and sadness. Mike Ovey is dead at 58 from a heart attack.

We shall miss his:

  • sharp thinking about theology:

Why bother with systematic theology?
Putting contextualisation in context
The gospel “how” of theological education
The gospel “what” of theological education
The grace of God or the world of the West?

  • astute theology:

The Person of Christ
Eternal subordination of the Son

The Son incarnate in a hostile world
Complementarianism and homoianism
Gender and sexuality

Valē, Mike Ovey

  • incisive commentary on contemporary issues:

Looters: them or us?
Killing cultures or saving from superstition?
How do we get the leaders we don’t deserve?
Malfunctioning Democracies?

  • deep thinking about the church, and interaction between Christians and the world:

Evangelical Liberalism in the UK
Is the Reformation over?
Courtier politicians and courtier preachers

Rev'd Dr. Mike Ovey from Lawyers Christian Fellowship on Vimeo.

Law and Gospel in the public square

Gender and free speech

  • absurd and unexpected pop culture references while communicating profound truths, and the timing of a stand-up comic

Valē, Mike OveyM1 and M2.

But most of all, we shall miss his deep humility and pastoral nature and genuine love and care for people. Many Christian leaders and teachers are clever and quirky; but it is rare to find one much like his Master.

When circumstances…take our mentors from us:

Lee Gatiss’ “A Tribute to Mike Ovey (1958 – 2017)”
Duncan Forbes’ “A Tribute to Mike Ovey. We need more Mike Oveys”
Chris Stead’s “Will you let God disagree with you?
Graham Shearer’s “On ‘Learning in Time of War’
Moore Theological College’s obituary – “The Rev. Dr Mike Ovey
Daf Meirion-Jones’ “Mike Ovey: The Spiritual Surgeon
Dave Williams’ “What Mike Ovey taught me
Matthew Barrett’s “Best Possible Gift: The Legacy of Mike Ovey (1958 – 2017)
Co-Mission’s “A mighty brother has fallen: we salute his courage for Christ
Mark Tanner’s “The gift of a friend
Chris Green’s “Obituary: Revd. Dr. Michael J. Ovey, PhD MTh MA BCL BA, Principal at Oak Hill College

And Credo is doing a much better job of collating!

Road Trip to Malacca

Christmas dinners roasted and then safely tucked into our tummies (or the freezer, for a rainy day), we legged it up the North-South Highway from Singapore to Melaka.

I’d pre-warned the travel companions that I’d be peopled-out by Christmas, but the self-sabotaging cete of badgers in my head was still on an adrenaline high from all the social interaction and wouldn’t put down their paper party crowns and half-drunk lagers.

The tummy, though, was a little grumpy – general consensus amongst our gaggle of 5 being that the food in Malacca was generally only serviceable. And we’d tried to hit up many highly-recommended joints – Jonker 88 for chendol, Baba Charlie for kueh, Nancy’s Kitchen for Peranakan food, Chun Wah for chicken rice balls…

Chung Wah, chicken rice balls, Malacca, Malaysia

But the flaking green walls of the East & West Rendezvous Café watched as we returned for a second round of Nyonya chang (rice dumplings) and finely-shaved chendol, generously drizzled with gula melaka.
Nyonya Chang (rice dumplings), East & West Rendezvous Café, Malacca, Malaysia
making nyonya chang (rice dumplings), East & West Rendezvous Café, Malacca, Malaysia

making nyonya chang (rice dumplings), East & West Rendezvous Café, Malacca, Malaysia

But Herodotus. And Ecclesiastes.

Mark 11 at Sunday School

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11

Sunday School at our church starts with an Introductory Session for the entire group, from drooling toddlers to awkward on-the-cusp-of-teenagehooders.

The aim of the Introductory Session is to prepare the kids for the lesson later, introducing ideas and bridging questions.

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11

This Sunday’s passage was Mark 11.

11 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Game (The King Says)

Kids move around to the music until it stops and a bell rings.

“The King is coming! The King says,”Act like a monkey etc.!”


Introduction 1: Jesus fulfils Old Testament prophecy

Leader: Actually, how will you know the king when he comes? What will he look like?

Kids: [various responses]

Leader: Where should we look to find out what the king will look like?

Kids: [various responses]

Leader: We look at the Bible! [Reads Zechariah 9]

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

Leader: [writes on pieces of paper: righteous and having salvation, humble, riding a donkey]


Now, while you wait for a king to appear, say together:

“Where is our King? Where is our King?
Riding on a donkey, humble as anything?”

ENTER LEFT: safari dude with lion head
Safari Dude: Hullo! I heard you were looking for a King. I can be your king. [Boasts about his ability to conquer even the King of the Jungle. How he can save people from lions and other scary creatures.]
props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11Kids: [boo]

Safari dude: Fine, find your own king then. [Leaves in a huff]


[Kids continue chanting.]

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11
ENTER LEFT: dragon-tamer riding a dragon.

Dragon-tamer: [boasts about his ride. disses the donkey]

Kids: [boo]


[Kids continue chanting.]

Introduction 2: The king will come looking for fruit of repentance

ENTER RIGHT: Proud Fig Tree
props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11: crepe fig tree leaves

Proud Fig Tree: Hullo! Are you all waiting for the king? I’ll wait with you.

[Kids continue chanting.]

11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.

20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11: green crepe fig leaves
Proud Fig Tree: [stands up suddenly] Say kids, I know we’re all waiting for the king to come. But have you wondered whether the king will like you when he comes?
[boasts about why the king will like him for his green leaves]

props for Sunday School lesson on Mark 11: green crepe fig leaves

Bridging Questions:
1. Who is the king? How do we know?
2. What will the king be looking for when he comes?

Drawing the Trump Card

Very little work was done in the office, on 10 November 2016 in Singapore (9 November in the U.S.).

As we watched the levels of red and blue creep towards the target of 270, the red faster than the blue, American colleagues started to ask about taking up Singapore citizenship. Others were trying not to choke while attempting to call Cheeto-face “my President”, or were fingering him as the beast from Revelation.

Magnum photos of the day:

Some data about the voters:

And loads of memes whose copyright owners are unknown.
memes on the U.S. Presidential Elections 2016

Struggling with disbelief, there were many theories about how this all came to be:

Analysing Why the Democrats/Hillary Clinton Lost

Clinton ignoring the economic anxieties of the white working class
The contempt of the (liberal) political elite for the common man

Disagreement with Obama/Clinton’s policies

Facebook as Echo Chamber and Vehicle for Fake News

Fake News About Clinton from Enterprising Teens in the Balkans

WikiLeaks’ leaks

Because Hillary Clinton was Hillary Clinton

Ignorance of Trump voters

And because not enough credit was given to the merits of the Trump team, Jared Kushner’s evil genius:

Analysing Why the Donald Trump Victory Was a Shock

Then, the stage known as Denial, in grief counselling – residual hope that Clinton might still make it to the White House:

memes on the U.S. Presidential Elections 2016
And then, there is also looking onwards to Trump as President:

Predictions about the Future

You can’t really make any decent predictions if: (i) the Prez-elect seems to just to have treated his campaigning as a publicity stunt and hasn’t really any coherent vision for leading the country; and (ii) he isn’t quite known as a man of his word anyway.

Predictions of a bleak future for some/all people

Worries that immediate incidents of racism are indicative of next 4 years

Stirrings of hope

(because, somewhat ironically, Trump isn’t a man of his word and may not make good many of his anti-immigration, anti-welfare, etc. promises)

Predictions about the rise of China

memes on the U.S. Presidential Elections 2016

Analysing Other Responses

Acts of resistance

Demanding better of Trump


Ultimately, trying to pin the Trump victory on one factor is impossible. Just as claiming to write an objective history is too naively reductionistic.

What is clear though is that the sovereign God has put him there, for there is no authority (whether good or bad) that exists, except what God has instituted.

John Rawls, Constructing an Ideal Society, and Thai Food

On the eve of the U.S. Presidential Elections 2016, under the regal gaze of the recently-deceased Thai King Bhumibol, over steaming tom yam seafood soup and larb moo at Plus Sixty 6 (1A Short Street), we were having a spirited discussion about the political philosophy of John Rawls.

Thai food at Plus Sixty 6, Short Street, Singapore

It is the nature of any human society that there will be differing views about:

  • what an ideal society would look like, what values it would embody;
  • what system of government would be best to achieve such an ideal society, etc

Rawls thought that political philosophy could discover common ground on which the various factions in a society come build a reasoned agreement on these two points.

Rawls starts from several presuppositions*:

1. Presuppositions about the government of society

Rawls assumes a society governed by a democratic system, not, eg. a monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorship.

2. Presuppositions about the citizens (cooperative, reasonable, rational)

Reasonable citizens, who want to cooperate with one another on mutually acceptable terms, will see that a freestanding political conception generated from ideas in the public political culture is the only basis for cooperation that all citizens can reasonably be expected to endorse.

Rawlsian citizens are … reasonable and rational. The idea that citizens are reasonable is familiar from political liberalism. Reasonable citizens have the capacity to abide by fair terms of cooperation, even at the expense of their own interests, provided that others are also willing to do so…Rawls calls this reasonableness the capacity for a sense of justice. Citizens are also conceived as rational: they have the capacity to pursue and revise their own view of what is valuable in human life. Rawls calls this the capacity for a conception of the good. Together these underlying capacities are the two moral powers.

3. Presuppositions about the conception of an ideal society by Rawlsian citizens

The three most fundamental ideas that Rawls finds in the public political culture of a democratic society are that citizens are free and equal, and that society should be a fair system of cooperation.

Rawls sees justice as fairness as answering to the demands of both freedom and equality, a challenge posed by the socialist critique of liberal democracy and by the conservative critique of the modern welfare state. Justice as fairness sets out a version of social contract theory that Rawls believes provides a superior understanding of justice to that of the dominant tradition in political philosophy: utilitarianism.

First Principle: Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all;

Second Principle: Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions:

  • They are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity;
  • They are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle).

Rawls’s conception of society is defined by fairness: social institutions are to be fair to all cooperating members of society, regardless of their race, gender, religion, class of origin, reasonable conception of the good life, and so on.

Rawls also emphasizes publicity as an aspect of fairness. In what he calls a well-ordered society the principles that order the basic structure are publicly known to do so, and the justifications for these principles are knowable by and acceptable to all reasonable citizens. The idea behind publicity is that since the principles for the basic structure will be coercively enforced, they should stand up to public scrutiny.

Thai food at Plus Sixty 6, Short Street, SingaporeAnd so he thought that common ground could be found:

on the basis of public reason:

it is unreasonable for citizens to attempt to impose what they see as the whole truth on others—political power must be used in ways that all citizens may reasonably be expected to endorse.

…Rawls extends this requirement of reciprocity to apply directly to how citizens explain their political decisions to one another. In essence, public reason requires citizens to be able to justify their political decisions to one another using publicly available values and standards.
Citizens engaged in certain political activities have a duty of civility to be able to justify their decisions on fundamental political issues by reference only to public values and public standards.

The public values that citizens must be able to appeal to are the values of a political conception of justice: those related to the freedom and equality of citizens and the fairness of ongoing social cooperation. Among public values are the freedom of religious practice, the political equality of women and racial minorities, the efficiency of the economy, the preservation of a healthy environment, and the integrity of the family as securing the orderly reproduction of society from one generation to the next. Nonpublic values are the values internal to associations like churches (e.g., that women may not hold the highest offices) or private clubs (e.g., that racial minorities are rightly excluded) which cannot be squared with public values such as these.

Similarly, citizens should be able to justify their political decisions by public standards of inquiry. Public standards are principles of reasoning and rules of evidence that all citizens could reasonably endorse. So citizens are not to justify their political decisions by appeal to divination, or to complex and disputed economic or psychological theories. Rather, publicly acceptable standards are those that rely on common sense, on facts generally known, and on the conclusions of science that are well established and not controversial.

The duty to abide by public reason applies when the most fundamental political issues are at stake: issues such as who has the right to vote, which religions are to be tolerated, who will be eligible to own property, and what are suspect categories for making employment decisions. These are what Rawls calls constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice. Public reason applies more weakly, if at all, to less momentous political questions, for example to most laws that change the rate of tax, or that put aside public money to maintain national parks.

Citizens have a duty to constrain their decisions by public reason only when they engage in certain political activities, usually when exercising powers of public office. So judges are bound by public reason when they issue their rulings, legislators should abide by public reason when speaking and voting in the legislature, and the executive and candidates for high office should respect public reason in their public pronouncements. Significantly, Rawls says that voters should also heed public reason when they vote. All of these activities are or support exercises of political power, so all must be justifiable in terms that all citizens might reasonably endorse. However, citizens are not bound by duties of public reason when engaged in other activities, for example when they worship in church, perform on stage, pursue scientific research, send letters to the editor, or talk politics around the dinner table.

The duty to be able to justify one’s political decisions with public reasons is a moral, not a legal, duty: it is a duty of civility. All citizens have full legal rights to free expression, and overstepping the bounds of public reason is never itself a crime. Rather citizens have a moral duty of mutual respect and civic friendship not to justify political decisions on fundamental issues with partisan values or controversial standards of reasoning that could not be publicly redeemed.

bento lunchbox: quinoa, larb moo, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes

and a practical way of public reasoning is by donning the veil of ignorance:

The most striking feature of the original position is the veil of ignorance, which prevents other arbitrary facts about citizens from influencing the agreement among their representatives. As we have seen, Rawls holds that the fact that a citizen is for example of a certain race, class, and gender is no reason for social institutions to favor or disfavor him. Each party in the original position is therefore deprived of knowledge of the race, class, and gender of the real citizen they represent. In fact the veil of ignorance deprives the parties of all facts about citizens that are irrelevant to the choice of principles of justice: not only their race, class, and gender but also their age, natural endowments, and more. Moreover the veil of ignorance also screens out specific information about the citizens’ society so as to get a clearer view of the permanent features of a just social system.

and so ultimately by working the constructivist muscle:

Political constructivism is Rawls’s account of the objectivity and validity of political judgments. The original position embodies, Rawls says, all of the relevant conceptions of person and society and principles of practical reasoning for making judgments about justice. When there is an overlapping consensus focused on justice as fairness, the original position specifies a shared public perspective from which all citizens can reason about the principles of justice and their application to the society’s institutions. Judgments made from this perspective are then objectively correct, in the sense of giving reasons to citizens to act regardless of their actual motivations or the reasons they think they have within their particular points of view. Political constructivism does not maintain that the principles of justice are true: questions of truth are ones about which reasonable citizens may disagree, and are to be addressed by each citizen from within their own comprehensive doctrine. Judgments made from the original position are, however, valid, or as Rawls says, reasonable.

*because the Stanford Encyclopaedia entry is more useful than any explanation I could have coughed up, I’ve let them explain Rawls here.

After all that, there was Love.

That is

after a birthday lunch and a karaoke session filled with hits from the 1980s, screeched at top volume, fuelled by a smuggled bottle of apple vodka, tipped liberally into soft drinks and hot mugs of coffee;

Dragonboat racing. Singapore River Regatta 2016
Dragonboat racing. Singapore River Regatta 2016after a few heart-stopped moments under a weepy sky, cheering on dragonboating friends at the Singapore River Regatta 2016 (organised by the Singapore Dragon Boat Association), and giggling at the frustrated linestarter attempting to get all his boats in a row before sounding the starting horn;

Singapore Writers Festival 2016, The Arts House, Singapore
Singapore Writers Festival 2016, The Arts House, Singapore
after browsing the mass of local writers at Singapore Writers Festival‘s Select Bookroom,

an international cast of writers read their work about love. Or they were meant to.

Singapore Writers Festival 2016, The Arts House, Singapore
Singapore’s Alfian Sa’at did his usual turn, alluding to the oppression of a minority race and religion, while sneering at the ironic selfishness of a believer;

Japan’s Ryoichi Wago’s heartfelt delivery was sadly marred by the untranslatable onomatopoeic device (we thought but might be wrong) in his poems;

Iceland’s Gerður Kristný’s jokes were like pointed icicles (“the shortest way to a man’s heart goes through his chest”);

Taiwan’s Wu Huai-Chen 吴怀晨 was a surfer dude philosopher and poet who saw the world as a book;

Sri Lanka’s Shobasakthi (ha, he said, they say I’m from Sri Lanka but I haven’t been back for 23 years) read a haunting story about a man, a corpse, and a horse;

Ghana’s Mamle Kabu came closest to the idea of sayang with a wistful piece about her daughter growing up and not wanting to colour with her anymore;

Singapore’s grand dame of poetry, Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, spoke about all human creation coming from love in a generic sense, words and music in poetry, and tried to sound a Tibetan singing bowl.

It was a pleasantly disparate crew, and I idly wondered if the staggering truths in Gerald Bray’s God Is Love could possibly be squeezed into poem form.

Controlled by the Illusion of Control

Amidst the noise of a hipster gastropark and a hipster HDB cafe, straining my club-deafened ears, I was grateful for life-chats with dear friends.

At Timbre+ (it calls itself a gastropark), before a tenuously-pitched band came on,
Timbre+, one-north, Singapore
Timbre+, one-north, Singaporeover a trendy beef rendang bowl with onsen egg, salted egg fried chicken, and a bottle each of Brewdog‘s Dead Pony Club and Archipelago Brewery‘s Singapore Blonde Ale,

beef rendang, onsen egg, Brewdog's Dead Pony Club, Archipelago's Singapore Blonde Ale. Timbre+, one-north, Singapore
Timbre+, one-north, Singaporea brother spoke honestly about his difficult childhood, his resulting need to please male figures of authority and the inevitable fall when these men (some even church leaders) manipulated him to their own selfish power-hungry ends. Succumbing to disappointment, he now tried to find satisfaction in work, pounding away at his laptop at all hours of the day and all days of the week, glorying in the exceptional quality of his reports and presentations. It gave him some semblance of control over his own life.

Yet, he knew it was folly. He just wanted it all to become better, just to snap out of it. But he wished people would stop asking him to read the Bible. When a colleague invited him to a retreat that promised an easy encounter with the Spirit that would free him from this habit, he was keen to go.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, SingaporeAt Sin Lee Foods (facebook), at the foot of a block of HDB flats along Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, a sister shared how her regular episodes of binge-eating* too gave her some satisfaction of control over her life. She’d grown up in a loving family and did not understand how she started to compulsively overeat. It shamed her to be found doing so, but she knew herself that the reluctance to change was too great. There was a comfort in being in control.

How lovely it would have been to be able to magick away their addictions. But that’s not how it works in this life.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore

There are some quick (and not very thought-through) thoughts:

1. Illusion of control

Work, the praise of humans, binge-eating, any addiction – anyone can tell, even with a casual glance, that none of these things even remotely suggests that a person is in control. In fact, the converse is true – they are being controlled by their compulsions.

2. Motive for change

Since both friends are Christian, I’ve wondered about the efficacy of them seeing non-Christian psychologists, mainly because there is a fundamental disjunct in worldview. As Christians, we live our lives under God. Therefore:

  • we would not want to change to prove anything to ourselves (no “Oh look, I am finally really in control of myself.”);
  • we would not want to change to prove anything to other people;
  • we should not even want to change to prove anything to God! It is precisely because we are such wretched people that God sent his Son to die for our sins.
  • rather we should want to change because we have already been freed from slavery to sin and brought into a relationship with God. Why continue to wallow in the mud and eat rotten peels when a hot bath has been prepared and a feast after?

3. Method of change

We do not need a fresh experience of the Spirit to change. When we trusted in Christ, God gave us the Spirit – He broke our inability to do anything good, He dwells in us, and conforms our lives to Christ’s. Therefore, what we really need is a constant reminder of God’s truth:

  • God is the only God, so we are not god – we can’t be in control of everything (or, ultimately, anything);
  • God is a perfectly good God, so we will not be able to find satisfaction in anyone/anything else. fact.;
  • God is an unimaginably powerful God, so He is the only one who can change us deep down inside where self-help and positive-thinking fluff can never reach;
  • yet, in a beautiful both-and way, a sovereign God works through human will, human skill (reading God’s word), and human reliance on Him (expressed in prayer) to effect this change.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore

*she tried to describe what binge-eating was. And later, I found Emma Scrivener’s posts here and here to be very helpful.

Happy Halloween at Woodgrove Estate, Woodlands, Singapore

I have happy (candy) memories of trick-or-treating as a kid. We canvassed neighbours in The Arcadia with our high-pitched half-hearted threats, then retreated to exchange our sweet haul.

Now, the festivities in Singapore have been ramped up at the American expat neighbourhood of Woodgrove Estate in Woodlands.

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

There are 6 main ways you can dress for the task:

  • scary
  • sexy
  • cute (anything furry, or see below*)
  • pop culture referencing (Superman, Spiderman, Ironman; a Pokemon; Harry Potter character; Sesame Street character)
  • dress-up trope (“Red Indian”, policeman, fireman, military personnel, pirate, witch, wizard)
  • nerdy (Minecraft character)

*But if you’re below the age of 2 years, you’ll end up in the third category, no matter how hard you try:

Little Halloween Witch Fairies. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

At Woodgrove, a housing agent was seizing the opportunity to dole out free orange balloons (with their name and contact details of course), fresh popcorn, pink candy floss. Little wizards, witches, ninja turtles, boys with knives through their heads were patiently queuing for these treats:

free popcorn. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

free popcorn. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Thus fortified, the hordes then continued on to open homes. At some, the owners or their children handed out the treats themselves. Other households had maids or even hired men doing the work while they sat and watched the proceedings:
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

a tub of sweets. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
bet you didn't see the pontianak until it was too late! Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore<
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

These were the best dressed hosts I thought – a man with his head in a box and his bloodied zombie bride:
man with his head in a box and his bloodied bride. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
The Woodgrove households have been kind and rather generous in inviting all and sundry to partake of the festivities. They probably wouldn’t want to lay down rules, but with the crowds almost reaching the thousands, a few pointers wouldn’t go amiss – because where the free stuff is, the Ugly Singaporean Person isn’t far behind:

  • dress up! Even if you’re there to chaperone a kid. I heard one frustrated host refuse to give candy to someone in t-shirt and shorts, saying,”At least try to make an effort!” Each individual makes up the crowd. Each person contributes to the fun atmosphere, so don’t just turn up in normal clothes. Rise to the occasion!
  • be polite! Greet each host (“Trick or Treat!” “Happy Halloween!”) and commend them on their costume or house decor. Say thank you. Don’t grab sweets from their tub unless they ask you to. It’s not a free-for-all buffet. Throw sweet wrappers and other rubbish in the many bins around.
  • give way! There were at least two people on wheelchairs who couldn’t seem to get through the crowds. Don’t be kiasu lah, just give way to them. There were lots of older kids lazing in prams though, which was a little unfortunate since they could walk. This led to a lot of people’s feet being run over and generally hampered traffic flow.

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Speaking of costumes, this fox was fantastic. Everyone simultaneously loved this kid and worried about him/her overheating in the Singapore heat:
Fantastic Mr. Fox. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Fantastic Mr. Fox. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

We don’t know if the Gryffindor troupe ever saw Snape hanging out with Professor McGonagall:
Gryffindor. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Professor McGonagall with Snape. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

I’m sure I saw you in a meme, horse-head and inflatable T-Rex:
horse. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
inflatable T-Rex. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Minecraft in pixelated glory (see instructions here). Boxy head also useful for containing the night’s haul:
Minecraft. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Minecraft head. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Cool people-riding-things costumes:

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

princess riding a unicorn. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
witch riding a dinosaur. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Other snapshots from a jaunt around the estate. Loads of fun!

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
lantern fish? Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Harley Quinn. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

But how can a Christian celebrate Halloween, someone might ask.

Well, of all people, a Christian can best celebrate Halloween with a light heart, without superstition or fear! In its Singaporean form, the dead are not honoured nor prayed for at Halloween, nor is Satan or any demon worshipped.

If anything, dressing up as pretend-scary people, or getting splattered with fake blood, or paying good money (for charity, of course) to enter a haunted house thumbs the nose at the powers of darkness and death.

Haunted House. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
skulls hanging from a frangipani tree. Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

A child of God isn’t afraid of the powers of darkness, because the Son of God has triumphed over them when he died on the cross. The prince of darkness, the Devil, has no hold over us.

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

15 He disarmed the [demonic] rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Romans 16:20)

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

And though the Christian still dies, he/she does not approach death with morbid fear, because the Christian is assured that his/her Lord has gone before him/her. And will, on the Last Day defeat death, so that all who trust in Jesus will rise again to new and eternal life.

24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”(1 Corinthians 15:24-27)

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore
Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore

This does not mean that Christians dismiss the Devil as myth though. Rather, we understand that Satan works not in a sweaty sweet-hording festival but in every day life; in tempting us to sin against God and by encouraging us not to acknowledge God as God, or submit to his Son as Lord.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:8-9)

Halloween 2016 at Woodgrove, Woodlands, Singapore