Morning Swim and the Work Ethic of 2 Thessalonians 3

competitive pool, OCBC Arena, Singapore Sports HubNothing like a good swim to attempt to clear the mind, even if laps at OCBC Aquatic Centre at the Singapore Sports Hub aren’t quite as heartily bracing as a dip in the pool on a blustery day in Portishead, Bristol.

The Singapore Church is coming to the end of 2 Thessalonians at the moment. Last night, we read the passage below:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-11)

A bible study leader opined that this demonstrated Paul’s single-minded devotion to the gospel, with the application to us today that we too should follow his example. Paul does set such an admirable example in, say, Philippians.

D.A. Carson thinks that this is an example of the benefactor-benefactee relationship that was rife in those days, with the contemporary application being that we should not be of-the-world, but should be distinct from it.

But Paul’s instruction, nay, command, in 2 Thessalonians seemed quite a bit more pointed than that – work and not be sponge off others; be busy at work and not be idle busybodies.

If read together with the preceding chapters, it could be that some Thessalonians were so affected by the prevalent erroneous over-realised eschatology that they’d given up all attempts at “normal” life. But as BL pointed out, as we were discussing this over a picnic, there’s nothing in the letter to suggest that this might not be a completely separate point.

Ah well, parking it here for now.

flat white coffee at Symmetry Cafe, 9 Jalan Kubor, SingaporeThis flat white at Symmetry Cafe (9 Jalan Kubor, Singapore) was all creamy chocolate and hazelnut in the cup. Not sure which roaster they got the coffee beans from but the Etcetera is a blend of Guatemala Antigua, some Columbian, and some Panama. Excellent service as well, with one waitress coming round to top up the complimentary tap-water, even as I sat there trying to figure out 2 Thessalonians for several hours!

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Compound Coffee, The Interlace, Depot Road, Singapore

Compound Coffee (facebook. 180 Depot Road, #01-08, The Interlace) is impossible to patronise unless you’re an insider – that is, if you are a resident of The Interlace.

Compound Coffee, The Interlace, Depot Road, Singapore Compound Coffee, The Interlace, Depot Road, Singapore

Walking into the compact space, you were alerted at once that the coffee here was the main star. A roaster in a corner, a Slayer espresso machine flanked by two Mahlkonig EK43 (probs?) grinders, and a Marco Uber boiler in another corner showed they really meant business.

Compound Coffee, The Interlace, Depot Road, SingaporeAnd exclusively single origin espressos? Well then!

Neiver Samboni‘s Columbian was in the hopper that day. Beautifully done in milk (flat white = S$7 (£3.50)), it was honey in a cup. Clean. Short finish (probably due to fully washed beans?). We wondered if another shot or a higher espresso:milk ratio would have pushed this to perfection.

Compound Coffee, The Interlace, Depot Road, Singapore

Would love to return, and hopefully, at these prices, on the company tab again!

The Plain Jane Cafe and the Word in Psalm 119

I love coffee.

When I used to sell the stuff, I’d passionately defend the Ethiopians against all aunties who wrinkled their noses and puckered their lips and complained,”Aiyoh, why so sour?”

“Auntie, not bad sour – is a citrus taste. Like lemon!”

“Oh yah hor. Hmm. Actually, not bad lah. Let me try again.”

The Plain Jane Cafe, Blk 211 Serangoon Avenue 4, SingaporeBecause I love coffee, I want more people to have access to the good stuff; to enjoy the richness and breadth and depth of the coffee world. So I was pleased to hear that The Plain Jane (Blk 211 Serangoon Avenue 4, Singapore. facebook) had opened at the properly heartland Serangoon Avenue 4.

The Plain Jane Cafe, Blk 211 Serangoon Avenue 4, SingaporeIt had some of the accoutrements of a hipster cafe of course – this decorative table with bits of nostalgia, and bunting overhead,

The Plain Jane Cafe, Blk 211 Serangoon Avenue 4, Singapore
and a bevy of hanging naked lightbulbs. The rest of the cafe was wood laminate and whitewash, with a display case full of Swiss rolls in tantalising flavours.

We chose the Thai milk tea version. Deliciously full-flavoured.

The coffee was made from Gentlemen’s Coffee Company‘s Handlebar Espresso blend. The lady at the espresso machine was quite apologetic about not knowing what a flat white was, saying that she was still learning. Not a problem, I said. Practice makes perfect. Also, I’d be happy to return and marvel at any improvement in her barista skills.
Thai milk tea swiss roll. The Plain Jane Cafe, Blk 211 Serangoon Avenue 4, SingaporeAnother thing I love is the gospel, and similarly, I want people from all walks of life to get access to good Bible-teaching so that they can taste how absolutely wondering and refreshing and life-giving God’s word is.

The problem is that, locally there hasn’t been that much improvement in that regard for the last decade or so. There’s been a lot of noise about the advent of proper Bible teaching, and certainly there is the intentional push towards it – but in a sense, that’s always been what Christians have been on about since Singapore’s independence 50 years ago: the large number of Bible colleges, the immense number from every denomination attending Bible Study Fellowship, overwhelming number of campus ministries (Navigators, Campus Crusade, Varsity Christian Fellowship etc), Precept Ministries with their OIA (observation, interpretation, application), the Baptist churches getting inspiration from Reformed Americans (and John Piper’s arcing method) etc etc.

And different churches import faithful speakers – the Sydney/FOCUS/Unichurch camp get Phillip Jensen, Paul Barker, and Joshua Ng; the UK/St. Helen’s Bishopsgate/Cornhill gang get their usual fare; the Baptist churches, their modern-day Puritans…

The Plain Jane Cafe, Blk 211 Serangoon Avenue 4, SingaporeSomeone was just lamenting today how these foreign speakers’ schedules are so highly regulated by their sponsors that groups with little money or clout are unable to get access to them. Further, the public talks are sometimes more dear than fence-sitters would pay (about S$40 – S$60. in purchasing power parity terms, £40-£60).

I didn’t really think this was much of a problem. What, after all, is the aim of breathing the same air as these faithful speakers? We certainly aren’t the celebrity-chasers that Kevin DeYoung claims the Americans are. And arguably, the ultimate goal isn’t learning to handle the Word correctly.

What does the Psalmist say in Psalm 119? Erm, ok, we haven’t gotten quite far in yet but just from the first few alphabetic acrostic chunks, knowing God’s commandments and statutes enable us to seek God and not sin against him, to keep our way blameless so that we will not be put to shame.

How can we do so? Not by imported preachers however charismatic and faithful; not by insufferable goody-two-shoes-ness. Rather, it is God who must open our eyes so that we can understand the wondrous things in his law. We are all literate, but it is God who must import the meaning of his commandments into our fallen-yet-somewhat-renewed minds.

Therefore, let us pray more earnestly that it is his good pleasure to do so. (Also, be thankful for the blessing of the internets!)

Five by Five Cafe and Bar, Thomson V One, Sin Ming Road and Gwee Li Sui’s “Myth of the Stone”

Five by FIve Cafe and Bar, Thomson V One, 9 Sin Ming Road, Singapore“Where you want to go?” asked the security guard at Thomson V Two as he emerged from a room probably full of surveillance screens, having interrupted his lunch to deal with this loiterer. No he hadn’t heard of “5 by 5”. Massage place? (Nooo…how…?) Chicken shop? (That’s probably Chicken Clinic, where chickens are cured of the disease of…er…life.) French food? (Nope, that’s The Black Sheep Cafe.) Bakery? (Nope, #1 Baker Street.)

Five by Five Cafe & Bar (facebook. #01-03, Thomson V One, 9 Sin Ming Road) was eventually discovered without assistance on the canal / lokang side of the building. A clean space decked with white tiles, equipped with a brew bar. There was a Synesso for shots and Cafe de Tiamo coffee drippers for brews.

Five by FIve Cafe and Bar, Thomson V One, 9 Sin Ming Road, Singapore

Five by FIve Cafe and Bar, Thomson V One, 9 Sin Ming Road, SingaporeCafe de Tiamo stainless steel coffee drippers

Five by FIve Cafe and Bar, Thomson V One, 9 Sin Ming Road, Singaporecake!

Five by FIve Cafe and Bar, Thomson V One, 9 Sin Ming Road, SingaporeThis flat white was courtesy of, I think, Common Man Roasters’ 22 Martin blend – Brazilian and Indian. Good mouthfeel, thorough incorporation of milk. Chocolate with a hint of cinnamon. Given my preference for strong bold flavours, I wished I’d persuaded the barista to have given me a double ristretto instead. (She’d explained that a single shot was best for the blend. I forgot to counter that I was quite abnormal, and would never have made as good a barista so far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, but pretty please could I have it more gao.)

Five by Five Flat White x Gwee Li Sui's Myth of the StoneStill, it was an enjoyable cup to accompany the reading of Gwee Li Sui’s Myth of the Stone (facebook) – “Singapore’s first graphic novel”. This appeared to be a bildungsromans of sorts with Li-Hsu, our protagonist, learning that decisions come with consequences and the necessity of making responsible choices. Like the hodge-podge cast of international mythical characters that populated the book, the decision-making plotline was one of many that criss-crossed the comic. Working through this piece of re-worked juvenilia, you followed the author on a journey of catharsis, picking his way through the accumulation of tropes and motifs of fantasy narratives, biblical allegories, deus ex machina interventions, etc, reaching some sort of denouement. Perhaps the journey was picking the author instead.

The amateur artwork, I thought, was terribly appropriate for this atmosphere of juvenile dissatisfaction and confusion.

Five by FIve Cafe and Bar, Thomson V One, 9 Sin Ming Road, SingaporeMJ and I had been continuing our way through Genesis that morning, seeing how, in Genesis 12-17, God promised to start to deal with the problem of sin (and therefore, man’s broken relationship with God) and the consequences of sin (man’s broken relationship with the world). If Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman epic is meta, then the Bible’s one story of mankind is much more magnificently so.

The Sharing Economy, Collaborative Economy, “Gig” Employment

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road
Cafe-hopping, I was told, by various people and oft, when I arrived in Singapore, was totally the thing right now. It leveraged on synergies:

  • people wanting some content for Instagram
  • cafes ensuring their food was instagrammable, but at a cost
  • people banding together and pooling resources to ensure a much lower overhead cost for each enviable instagram-shot

The sharing economy or collaborative economy goes further than the mere cobbling together of resources. And the companies that have made the greatest gains don’t even start with much:

Uber – the world’s largest taxi company, yet owns no vehicles

Airbnb – the world’s largest accommodation-provider, yet owns no property

Alibaba – the world’s most valuable retailer, yet owns no inventory

Facebook – the world’s most popular media owner, yet creates no content

These sharing platforms have been hailed by many as representative of the new dawn of socialism. The idea isn’t new of course – Napster was nabbed for that a few years ago. And before that, the people in Acts “held everything in common”.

So this is libraries and hitchhikers, on steroids, built on the necessary foundation of “the internets”.

flat white coffee, Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadWhat are the benefits of such peer-to-peer transactions?

  • transparent utility
  • transparent allocation of benefits
  • lowers inefficiencies in the market – through capital-sharing (Airbnb, Relayrides, Zilok), labour-matchmaking (Uber, Lyft, DogVacay, Taskrabbit,) person-to-person marketplace platforms (Alibaba)
  • better for community? more emphasis on social capital – the return to pre-industrial relationship (albeit in a very artificial superficial way) and the creation of trust relationships
  • more personal interest in behaving well, providing good service?
  • participation x choice x social justice? because the cost of use falls
  • if “sharing is the new buying“, there will be less demand for new products, and less strain on the world’s resources (as the environmentalist spiel goes)

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road
What are some concerns?

  • easy for these large corporates to flout laws much like the traditional big companies of old, except this time, they bypass the usual democratic process by appealing to their consumer-following to pressurise regulators into capitulating on laws, effectively nullifying the electoral/legislative process.
  • making business out of not being responsible – the companies running these platforms don’t bother with legislation meant to protect employees (from overwork, from discrimination, from exploitation, to ensure they are properly insured, etc); they don’t bother with consumer rights;
  • while marketing solidarity and saving liberal consumers a few pennies, what allegedly happens is that the rich get richer by shirking taxes (that are a mechanism, amongst other things, for the re-distribution of wealth).

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadIt is with some amusement that one realises how similar the dangers of a (neo)liberals’ dream economy is to criticisms of liberalism in the political arena. This fetishised dream of freedom from “burdensome” laws! and “oppressive” authorities! and “overbearing” commitments! forgets that laws and authorities are meant to protect the weak, and commitments ensure job security (hence the protests against zero-hours contracts).

And if so for human laws and authorities which are inevitably flawed on many levels, what about God’s laws and the lordship of Christ?

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadBut…I myself work for a gig employment type company that enables me to earn some bread to feed myself, while also part-time unpaid full-time ministry. It distinguishes itself by actually employing people and then seconding them, and it accords them with the usual benefits of healthcare and insurance.

This is a mere thought-in-gestation…I wonder about the efficacy of a collaborative economy or gig employment for Bible teachers. In a city where there are many churches and few good teachers of the Word, would it be possible to have some sort of platform for desperate churches or parachurch organisations to get the services of (be served by) someone well-trained but, as is usual in any monopoly, hasn’t been given the opportunity to make use of that training (because, eg. the pastors-in-power are wary of their better skills in bible-handling, because they don’t show enough loyalty to the pastor to be given a higher profile)? Most preaching/teaching gigs happen now along the lines of old boys’ networks, strengthening existing monopolies, widening inefficiencies that could be used better for the kingdom.

Of course, sovereignty of God…to which one says, ah but human responsibility.

Still, this might be useful in a limited sense: one-off talks or a short training season; it can’t quite replace a long-term pastor/teacher who is committed to loving and caring for his flock, and who is responsible under God for them.

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road

*the cafe in this post is Paddy Hills (38 South Buona Vista Road). They use Tiong Hoe coffee. This flat white was very dark – it tasted like ash on the roof of my mouth. Perhaps an off-day? The berry hotcakes idea was decent (crispy on the edges, fluffy inside), though the original Kettle Black one in Melbourne had the advantage of cream, which, everyone knows, makes everything better.

**update: see also Robert J. Shiller’s article, Faith in an Unregulated Free Market? Don’t Fall For It.

In Search of the Best Flat White in Bristol. Or Prayer and Coffee, and the Promise of Mark 10:29-30.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

It is only when cast upon the hospitality/mercy/generosity of others that one begins to understand the promise in these verses…

For the first pop-in to Oxford this summer, the Ls kindly let me have their spare bedroom in Headington. I was impressed how calm everything was in the house, despite the run-up to Keswick. If I was in-charge of a major national convention, I would more likely be in a mad tizzy than offering lifts to and from town to guests during the day and sitting with them calmly drinking tea and eating cake in the evenings.

One morning, while I was working on 2 Peter in the kitchen over a very slow and late breakfast, JL popped in to grab a drink – “all you need is prayer and coffee”, he grinned.

A week later, with friends in Bristol, JB was making delicious pour-overs on his V60 with Pact Coffee‘s Jammy Dodger (a Brazilian from Fazenda Santa Ines).

For the first few days, I kept forgetting that Bristol wasn’t Melbourne. The sunshine, the full-blown alternative culture that can’t quite be said to be alternative if it was so mainstream, the hipster cheerfulness of its inhabitants sitting out in said sunshine, and the high propensity for purchasing good coffee, almost had me fooled.

But first, the ones that didn’t quite make it:

Full Court Press (59 Broadmead Street, Bristol. facebook) didn’t quite do it for me, despite the high rating on Beanhunter. The Ethiopian Gedeb was completely overwhelmed by the milk.

Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol   Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol

Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol
Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol
Full Court Press Specialty Coffee, Broadmead, Bristol

Playground Coffee House (45 St. Nicholas Street, Bristol. facebook) was as per tin. It boasted swings and board games and fun little touches, and the staff, true to theme, were friendly and chatty – a marked contrast to the coffeeshop above. A place to sit with friends, though not a coffee destination.

The search for good coffee in Bristol: Playground Coffee House (St. Nicholas Street)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Playground Coffee House (St. Nicholas Street)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Playground Coffee House (St. Nicholas Street)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Playground Coffee House (St. Nicholas Street)

Outstandingly good though, were:

Spicer + Cole (9 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton Village, Bristol BS8 4BX. facebook) – I had their flat white done with Extract Coffee’s Unkle Funka twice. Different baristas on different days, same amazing cherry kirsch chocolate bon-bon bomb. Well done.

The search for good coffee in Bristol: Spicer + Cole (Clifton Village, Bristol)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Spicer + Cole (Clifton Village, Bristol)
The search for good coffee in Bristol: flat white from Spicer + Cole (Clifton Village, Bristol)

Small Street Espresso (23 Small Street, Bristol. facebook) provided a flattie that was a dark chocolate Cointreau bon-bon. Absolutely beautiful.

The search for good coffee in Bristol
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Small Street Espresso, Bristol
The search for good coffee in Bristol: Small Street Espresso, Bristol

More wonderful and satisfying than even the best coffee in Bristol was to go “home” after, to people who loved God, whom God loved, whom I loved, and who loved me. The brothers and sisters and homes promised in Mark 10.

The search for good coffee in Bristol: Small Street Espresso, BristolLady, I felt that good sans a back massage.

But the Mark 10 list that promises houses and brothers and sisters in this lifetime also includes persecutions. And that is already increasing, as it must. Still, we can look forward to, in the very near future, the certain hope of eternal life.

The Cup of Truth

We passed the board indicating the shops that dwelt underground, in the subway to Flinders Street Station. One name jumped out – “Cup of Truth” it said, matter-of-factly. It was so incongruous it made me laugh – like finding the Holy Grail at the back of a dusty charity shop, labelled “Holy Grail – used. 99p”.

Cup of Truth, 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street Subway (below Flinders St)

Cup of Truth, 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street Subway (below Flinders St) Cup of Truth (facebook, 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street Subway, below Flinders Street) was infact a purveyor of coffee, and a rather famous one at that. The shop was named for the large red cup on the counter where customers were to pay and pick up change; the honesty cup.

Cup of Truth, 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street Subway (below Flinders St) Cup of Truth, 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street Subway (below Flinders St)In the hopper for espresso was a Cup of Truth blend from Axil Coffee Roasters. While waiting, had a little chat with the barista about how the Technivorm compared with a Wilfa, and how the consistency you get from an EK grinder made so much difference to the final drink.

We sat in the subway tunnel sipping our drinks. I very much enjoyed my flat white – almost as fragrant as an Ethiopian, even though the advertised blend on their FB page is 75% Brazil Ipanema, 25% Costa Rica El Pilon.

Then some of us wandered around – across from the coffee-in-the-wall, a singing Italian barber and a publisher of self-zines. Others of us went to get our Mykis topped up, not wanting to cheat the public transportation system.

Cup of Truth, 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street Subway (below Flinders St)

Cup of Truth, 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street Subway (below Flinders St)  Cup of Truth, 12 Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street Subway (below Flinders St)

Ah, the cup of Truth.

I thought of the Bible study group I’d been visiting back in Singapore – full of philosophy postgrad students and Oxon graduates, yet even with their obvious ability to read and comprehend vast stacks of material, they did not seem able to understand the most important book of all – the Bible.

It bothers me greatly that though they have such a treasure in their hand, they have shown themselves unable to enjoy the richness it contains. On their bookshelves, on their mobiles and laptops, the fountain of truth, containing living water that endlessly refreshes awaits, yet they have barely had a little sip to sustain themselves on the journey.

And any attempt I make to get them to look more closely at God’s word is seen as disruptive. Sure, it does rather break up the pointless meandering, but perhaps that’s exactly what’s necessary.