Darkness in The Golden Land

A temporal disjuncture of sorts.

Sin Ming coin prata, mutton curry, teh si kosong ping. Karen Connelly's When I look up from the book I’m reading, while nibbling coin pratas (doused in spicy tender mutton curry) and sipping a teh si kosong ping, I am, for a brief moment, amazed to find myself Singapore coffeeshop under a HDB block in Sin Ming.

A week ago, this would have been a dark teahouse or streetside affair in Yangon, with a semolina cake and very thick sweet tea. The dusty air, swirled about in the afternoon heat by an old fan, would have been a delicate potpourri of cheerful cheroot, flaking thanka, juicy red betel nut chews, and exhaust fumes; of sandalwood, jasmine, rose.

It is strange to feel this way. Just a hint of that sour-bitter taste of leaving the people I loved in London to come to Singapore. But how could any part of this heart have been left in the Golden Land? True, it was easy to slip into local life there – the cheap, ubiquitous, delicious street food; the oases of teahouses; the pedestrian dance with slow-moving traffic; the clean derelict streets… But no real gospel partnerships were found.streetside tea shop, Yangon

CC was both keen and cynical – the Judson translation was in Old Burmese and far too difficult for anyone to comprehend (LC agreed: “it’s like the KJV, in Latin”) so good secondary material was necessary, he thought. But so few of those were in Burmese. Yet, the situation was dire: Sunday school teachers were known to teach stories not even found in the Bible because that’s what they themselves had been taught. Meanwhile, Singaporean churches were arriving in Myanmar and throwing their money around, starting cycles of dire dependency and dangerously linking Christianity to material prosperity. Right doctrine, thought CC, was the way to go. – reformed doctrine, Westminster Confession etc.

LC, on the other hand, enthusiastic and well-intentioned, had an endearing way of sharing his life and his struggles, and was keen on social justice – visiting orphanages, feeding the poor in villages, fighting for the rights of those he perceived to be downtrodden. This was admirable and certainly love for neighbour in this sense must be one of the effects of the gospel in one’s life. However, not to the exclusion of and not divorced from even more important things: love for God and his word. LC had a risky loose way of speaking about things: “you are blessed” he said when I made it to the airport in time despite Monday morning traffic (so would I be “cursed” if i suffered the natural consequences of my procrastination?), “God told me/him/her” he explained, admiringly, as the reason why people arrived/left Myanmar sometimes just on the basis of someone’s dream, etc. And when I pointed out that his church was using “salvation”, “healing”, and “wellness” interchangeably, he got annoyed and said that I should not bring intellectual Singaporean standards to Myanmar.

waiting for the sun to rise in Bagan, atop a templeBut if we do not speak according to God’s word, there will be no light of dawn.

Attention to God’s word is necessary because it is our only authoritative communication from God – by his Scripture, God speaks to us and tells us of himself and his plan for the world, of our dire situation, of his Son’s saving work and future universal reign. And by God’s word, God works – his transforming powerful word does not return empty but accomplishes his mission of uniting all things under Christ.

God’s word is sufficient as the means by which we can have knowledge about salvation and knowledge about how to live godly lives. One shouldn’t admire the occurrence of random doubtful dreams and prophecies, but rather praise God for the miraculous ability of Christians to now live lives pleasing to God, putting to death our sins.

And God’s word is clear. God has not left his word to modern intellectuals; he gave his word to people in many places and many times – they were kings and court officials, and also peasants and fishermen, and the uneducated and the orphans, and he expected that they would understand and obey. But we do have to do the hard work of understanding it, just as we would a textbook or a legal document. And the Bible is far more important!

goatherds in Bagan, MyanmarPerhaps this heartache is for hungry goats without a goatherd who will beat the trees of leaves and feed and nourish them. Yet, I take heart that God is the ultimate provider, and will be praying for these dear brothers and for Myanmar for quite some time to come it seems.

*************

Flight from Singapore to Yangon: Jetstar Asia (S$230)
Train from Yangon to Bagan, and Bagan to Yangon: purchase at the station – second class (6,000 kyat), sleeper (14,000 kyat)

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Playmax 2015 (PM4: The Game Changer) – 18th and 19th June 2015, St. Andrew’s Cathedral

SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, SingaporeHad the most fun day at Playmax 2015 (facebook), a bi-annual carnival organised by Singapore Youth for Christ at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, City Hall.

"You are in Sectore #21". SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, SingaporeThis was no cheesy funfair, but a life action role playing game (LARPG). Was incredibly impressed by the military-steampunk sets and costumes – built mostly from scrap and cast-offs,

SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
heehee - water closet. SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
the graphics and music and dramatic sequences that moved the narrative along,
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
the seamless game play, and the very fun station games…all done by the staff of SYFC and volunteers, over the course of 2 years.
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
Here’s the narrative context:

More than fighting oppressive regimes in a fictional world, trying to change the course and ending of our fictional raider/resistance etc. lives, there’s trying to change the course and ending of our real lives. And this isn’t about fighting whatever happens to be the popular “oppressive regime” of the day – that merely replaces one “oppressive regime” with another – and this isn’t just limited to political oppression but dietary fad oppression, relationship oppression, career dis-satisfaction oppression…

It is realistic to say that we will not be completely happy in this world. There will never be perfect peace, justice, love, relationships…yet our yearning for them suggests that there is some residual knowledge, common to humanity about how things once were – when God first created a world, a perfect world.

What happened? Well, rebellion happened. A wrong rebellion against a God who was perfectly good and perfectly loving, yet accused of being corrupt and oppressive. And so man destroyed the rest of creation. Cue: natural disasters and man-made disasters. A life lived in fear of being killed by accidents and the evil of others. A life hurting from broken relationships, and hurting others in turn.

No good can come from being separated from the God we rebelled against.

But then imagine this God is so good and so loving that he is determined to bridge the gap between evil sinful humanity and his holy self.

SYFC's Playmax 2015, PM4, St. Andrew's Cathedral, SingaporeHow can this be done? By someone taking our rightful punishment (eternal death) on our behalf!

Who could possibly do this? A man so perfectly pure and obedient that he himself isn’t guilty of any sin – God’s only Son, Jesus the Christ.

Through His life on this world, Jesus showed us what the perfect world ought to be: he healed the sick, enabled the blind to see and the lame to walk again. The good news he brought was that someone at last had come to change the course of the world that was only getting more evil all the time.

By Jesus’ death on the cross, he paid the punishment that was meant for us because of our sin. If we accept this, we are brought back into relationship with God!

By Jesus’ resurrection, he proved that he had conquered death and is alive to bring us who trust in him, into a new world that we can look forward to.

This Lou Fellingham song, via Phatfish comes to mind:

There is a day
That all creation’s waiting for,
A day of freedom and liberation for the earth.
And on that day
The Lord will come to meet His bride,
And when we see Him
In an instant we’ll be changed.

The trumpet sounds
And the dead will then be raised
By His power,
Never to perish again.
Once only flesh,
Now clothed with immortality;
Death has now been
Swallowed up in victory.

We will meet Him in the air
And then we will be like Him,
For we will see Him, as He is,
Oh yeah!
Then all hurt and pain will cease,
And we’ll be with Him forever,
And in His glory we will live,
Oh yeah, oh yeah!

So lift your eyes
To the things as yet unseen,
That will remain now
For all eternity.
Though trouble’s hard
It’s only momentary,
And it’s achieving
Our future glory.

Nathan Fellingham
Copyright © 2001 Thankyou Music
CCLI Number: 3359080

Singapore Skyline from the Sea, and Social Justice

On an Indonesian island, I asked some teenaged girls what they thought the biggest problems were, in the world.
“No money!”
“No job, no money!”
“No wisdom for victory!”
“No marriage!”
“No peace in family…”

I suspect their answers were partly a reflection of their own cares and concerns, yet also astutely, what the world thinks its problems are: poverty, employment rates, lack of expert opinion, no sex or marriage, domestic conflict.

Singapore skyline from the seaYet, God says there is a far larger problem:

23 …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

and if all have sinned, with no exceptions, Western or Eastern, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, and

23a…the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a)

then everyone, whether in first world or third, in developed country or developing, oppressor or oppressed, exploiter or exploited, has the same problem – we all face the certainty of death in this lifetime, and the prospect of eternal death thereafter.
Singapore skyline from the sea

…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23b)

This is the gospel (good news) that Christians are so eager to proclaim to the world. This is why that proclamation is ultimately more important than merely attempting, unsuccessfully, to alleviate poverty now or to put right perceived injustices.

ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road and the Authentic Artist

Having grown up amongst paintings and drawings and their artists, I am particularly fond of art workrooms strewn with unfinished work, a paint-splattered floor, inspiration boards in a mess, smelling strongly of acrylic or watercolour paint. So was delighted for a free hour or two to mosey about the open studios at ArtWalk@Wessex (facebook) and chat with some of the residents.

ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeOther than the happiness of being in a workspace and discovering new art, I had two aims: (i) to subtly help artists sell their work; (ii) to see what sort of artists occupied the Wessex Work Lofts.

ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeTo achieve the first aim was relatively easy. Artists have different temperaments and worldviews:

  • some are in it for the alleged (mostly elusive) easy money. Lots of schmoozing ensues;
  • some want a lifestyle that is non-office droney (or, depending on your perspective, undisciplined) and gives them hipster and authenticity points with their friends and society. Lots of “hey look how cool and alternative and smart I am” ensues;
  • others just want to make art but obviously need to feed themselves so have put on their scratchy best shirt and try their hardest to be friendly to visitors. But they’d rather be in front of an unfinished canvas.

With the last, a few well-placed questions, especially when it was obvious that potential customers in the studio were not quite appreciating the art for lack of commentary, was just the push they needed to them them going. Many collectors like to know the story behind a piece of art, the vision of a work, and several stopped to look more closely after sullen artists started getting more animated and chatty. Hopefully some went from “I’m not sure this goes with our decor” to “actually, I think we can repaint the wall”.

To achieve the second aim, I’ve learned from years of attempting to extricate myself from the over-friendly hard-sell of schmoozers to dress down as much as possible: slippers, shorts, a t-shirt that has seen better days. Artists who prioritise sales more than educating people about their art would ignore someone like that, and a handful did. It was their freedom to do so, and it was great because it helped me concentrate on those who were less commercial-minded and who just wanted to chat about their projects and were curious about the lives of visitors as well.

Frances Alleblas. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Frances Alleblas. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Frances Alleblas. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeFrances Alleblas (2 Woking Road, #02-03)

Max Kong Studio, ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Max Kong Studio, ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Max Kong Studio. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeMax Kong Studio (3 Westbourne Road, #01-01) – sun and moon – he demonstrated how the pieces would look different in daylight and at night without artificial lighting.

Saya Yamaguchi. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeSaya Yamaguchi (also 3 Westbourne Road, #01-01) Tsujii Junko. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore girl adding to a painting by Tsujii Junko. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Tsujii Junko. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Tsujii Junko. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeTsujii Junko (3 Westbourne Road, #03-05) CdeM Atelier & Art School. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore CdeM Atelier & Art School. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore CdeM Atelier & Art School. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore CdeM Atelier & Art School (5 Westbourne Road, #01-02. facebook) by Patricia Cabaleiro. Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeMilica Bravacic (5 Westbourne Road, #01-01) – inspiration from Peranakan tiles.

d'Art Studio - Dick Lim (Chye). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore d'Art Studio - Dick Lim (Chye). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore d'Art Studio - Dick Lim (Chye). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapored’Art Studio (5 Westbourne Road, #02-03). Dick Lim who signs his work as “Chye”. Amazingly versatile artist. Particularly liked the black-and-white canvases with a little thing of red.

Beng (Benny Goerlach). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Beng (Benny Goerlach). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Beng (Benny Goerlach). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeBeng (8 Woking Road, #02-03. facebook), who isn’t the Hokkien vulgarity-spewing long-fingernailed man you thought he would be.

JoyClay Studio & Gallery. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore JoyClay Studio & Gallery. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeJoyClay Studio & Gallery (10 Woking Road, #01-01).

Authenticity in art, in terms not of provenance but artistic motivation, is a big criteria for me. It sounds a bit esoteric but owning a piece of art is like purchasing a sliver of the artist’s soul – and I would like one that is kind and generous and passionate and well-thought-through (about a cause or a message, not Mammon or ego).

Perhaps this comes from being used to people holding out the Christian gospel to others: they do so for the glory of God whom they think should, rightly, be worshipped, and they do so for the good of the people to whom they are speaking – for their salvation. While missionaries, evangelists, pastors, Bible teachers may be paid for their work (just as an ox is fed for treading out the grain), to preach the good news merely for monetary or other personal gain would be anathema!

ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore

Rico Tice at St. George’s Church, Minden Road, Singapore

Photograph St. George's Church, Minden, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Name tags, St. George's Church, Minden, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
We rocked up at St. George’s Church (44 Minden Road, Dempsey Hill) on sunny Sunday after their morning service. The building is unique: a red-brick barn in Romanesque basilica-ish style…and without air-conditioning! In the Singapore heat!
Photograph Christmas Eve Service, St. George's Church, Minden by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
A few days ago, Christmas Eve service here had been a slightly sweaty affair. Also, I’d mistakenly gone up to the altar for the bread and wine, and wandered back and forth in full view of everyone before being directed to kneel for the bread (but why? I did not ask).
Anyway, this time, we surprised the usual suspects near the “altar”, one of whom said he’d spotted President Tony Tan and bodyguard in the congregation earlier.
After laughing at his celebrity-spotting proclivities, we went to a much less frivolous information session led by Rico Tice of All Souls, Langham Place (2 All Souls’ Place, London).

Photograph Rico Tice conducting a Christianity Explored training session, St. George's Church, Minden, Singapor by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Rico took us through 2 Corinthians 4:1-6:
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

Q: What is evangelism about?

It is not about recruiting the soft-minded into the latest (or oldest cult). It is about stating the truth, proclaiming the gospel, the good news of the glory of Christ. It is fab glad tidings that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Why is this such good news that Jesus is Lord – the master of this world?

  • Because it means that this world will not end in chaos or with someone’s itchy finger on a red button that launches a nuclear missile – it will end exactly when God wants it to end and when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead.
  • It means that all the injustice in this world that we are all angry about will be dealt with one day by Jesus the judge.
  • It means that what Jesus said he had come to earth to accomplish more than 2000 years ago – to die for our sins so that by believing in him we might be saved – has indeed been accomplished, and so we can be confident in putting our trust in him and be assured of our salvation from a harsh judgement on the last day.

Q: Who is at work in evangelism?

We are, since we have this ministry, to make open statements of the truth, to proclaim the gospel.

But more importantly, God is at work in everything and everyone including us: in his mercy (he did not need to, but did, out of compassion for humankind) he has given us this ministry. The gospel is God’s word, not ours. And it is he who opens blind eyes – it is not the sheer willpower (or stupidity some might say) of Christians or the charisma of the ministers that changes hearts. In fact, the verses above suggest that the conversion of a unbeliever is such an immense undertaking, it is like the recreation of the universe.

Q: So then, in what manner should we preach Christ?
We don’t lose heart. “How did the event go?” we are usually asked and usually ask. And by that we mean what are the success rates like? But we are not into numbers. We cannot be into numbers because all we can do is to preach Christ; it is God who opens blind eyes.

And because we are not some horrid multi-level-marketing scheme, we do not use secret and shameful ways of getting followers for Christ. We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.

It is usual for people to leave out the rather important bit about God’s wrath or Jesus’ coming judgement so that people will be more willing to accept our message. But by doing so we present falsehood and demonstrate that it is not Christ we are preaching but ourselves (and the worldly success of our ministries, or our popularity).

Photograph St. George's Church, Minden Road, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500pxI am always sorry when people lump all sorts of “extremism” together. While I can’t speak for Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism, it seems from this passage that Christian “extremism” is what one might expect of a outstanding upstanding member of society and of the human race: honest, truth-telling, humble, who preach themselves as the servants of others for Jesus’ sake.