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Otherness and Spiritual Direction

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2017 at 8:30 am

“Towards a Non-judgmental Life

One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices. Sometimes we aren’t even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different from us in colour, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle as equals, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there.

Strangers, people different than we are, stir up fear, discomfort, suspicion, and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being “other.” Only when we fully claim that God loves us in an unconditional way and look at “those other persons” as equally loved can we begin to discover that the great variety in being human is an expression of the immense richness of God’s heart. Then the need to prejudge people can gradually disappear.” – Henri Nouwen[1]

A spiritual director would find it necessary and helpful to consider studying Otherness, postcolonial theories, issues of race, equality and diversity for the purpose of giving spiritual direction and exercising spiritual discernment. A spiritual director, for example, could benefit from having a book like this to refer to; Readings for Diversity and Social Justice.[2] As an outsider myself to North America, I would also suggest Edward Said’s book, Orientalism.[3] This is a helpful book to help non-white spiritual directors understand how they might be perceived as the Other by those coming to them for spiritual direction.

Otherness is the term used to signify difference and separation from one group’s or one person’s position. The spiritual director putting herself in a position of privilege (having the status of being a spiritual director, having been trained in spiritual direction, having received spiritual direction, etc.) may forget that spiritual direction is humble listening to and accompaniment of the other. A person going for spiritual direction may understand the cost of doing so. The now often clearly stated “suggested” giving for the spiritual direction indicates a socio-economic class one comes from. A spiritual director who is paid clergy may not charge for giving spiritual direction as her/his employer (the church/denomination) pays her/his salary and s/he is assumed to carry out such direction as part of the pastoral ministry. Spiritual directors, on the other hand, who are part of a religious community or who are independent contractors may have suggested amounts a directee may contribute. In some retreat centres, a box for donation/payment is strategically placed before one proceeds to where offices are.

This pre-amble is simply to set the scenario of a certain standard that has been put in place for spiritual direction here in the west and which is also moving towards the rest of the world. All these assume that people seeking spiritual direction (not therapy) need to know that there is monetary cost connected with spiritual direction. Time is money. The spiritual director is to be taken seriously because the directee is reminded that s/he is coming to a person who is recognised as having achieved some expected standard of what it means to be a spiritual director. This expectation of met standards has to do with how societies view professionalism, education and status. These, to me, are part of what I consider “class.”

In many societies, there are class differences. There is this:

social_class

In India, there is the caste system which places people in social classes. While it is rooted in Hinduism, it has become so much part of Indian culture that I have observed Indian Christians who “put themselves unwittingly” into social strata, too. The Chinese have Confucianism which also places people in “their proper place” such as scholars, farms, artisans and merchants. There is also right relationships which are meant to maintain social harmony. These are ruler to subject, father to son, husband to wife, elder to younger and friend to friend. Authority and hierarchy are keys to (Chinese) society functioning properly.

Spiritual directors need to recognise that they may not be free from all these beliefs, expectations and prejudices within their own paradigm. Theologically, we need to recognise that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[4] This implies that both the spiritual director and the directee will have brokenness. This brokenness could include ideas about class and class differences which may or may not hinder the process of spiritual direction. If the spiritual director has not yet recognized within her/himself prejudices about how people in certain socio-economic classes are stereotypically believed to behave and function, the spiritual director may put up blocks which may hinder openness, acceptance, empathy and compassion towards the directee. The directee, on the other hand, may be coming with her/his own class prejudices or feelings of superiority or inferiority. This may prove challenging in how the spiritual director may try to suggest movements the directee can make or the directee may become deferring towards the spiritual director and take everything with such deference that the directee does not listen for the Spirit’s voice.

Class differences can lead to judgmentalism if left unchecked. It would make spiritual direction a hard thing to do if the spiritual director harboured a spirit of judgmentalism towards the directee. If it was reversed, the directee would not be open to the spiritual director. I referred to this article in my reading (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/02/class-differences.aspx) and was glad to see this closing paragraph, “Social class differences come about because of the ideas and values you are surrounded by, the types of social interactions you have at home, school and work, and the sorts of institutional practices and policies that are common in your community,” she says. “That means that these differences are not immutable.” Attitudes towards class differences CAN be changed!

In the context of Christian spiritual direction, the recognition and acknowledgment of Otherness or of the Other is necessary and important – both in oneself and in the directee. It seems like the daily disciplines one practices are crucial in ridding oneself of prejudice towards the other as well as self-loathing. We need to name our brokenness, our prejudices, our gifts and our calling and allow the Spirit of God to continue the work of conversion and transformation. Paul wrote these words to the Philippian Christians,

“be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,”[5]

Regarding the other as better than oneself seems to be what will break the classism that is subtle and insidious. I believe Jesus shows us how to subvert the dangers of isms which rob the Other of dignity. His Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7 (and the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke) speaks to the subverting of the world’s value systems which often elevate the powerful and oppress the other. In spiritual direction, we need to recognise that the sin of Othering is present in our societies and sadly even in our churches, but we have the responsibility of resisting those sins and of breaking down the structures that perpetuate them…starting with ourselves.

[1] http://henrinouwen.org/meditation/towards-nonjudgmental-life/

[2] Maurianne Adams e.a. (eds.) Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (NY/London: Routledge, 2000, 521 pp. ISBN 0-4159-2634-3)

[3] Edward W. Said Orientalism (New York:Pantheon Books) 1978

[4] Romans 3:23

[5] Philippians 2:2b-5

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Are you afraid of the dark? (first draft) Nov 4, 2015

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2015 at 7:01 am

Are you afraid of the dark?

Maybe because your eyes haven’t adjusted to the lack of light. Maybe you think there’s a demon lurking nearby and the hairs on your neck stand to attention at that thought.

Are you nervous in the dark?

“I might trip or stub my toe.” You think. “There might be a werewolf behind the washing machine” you telepath your thoughts to me.

Is the darkness a bad thing?

The “they” tells me it is a bad thing. We hide bad stuff in the darkness, right? We don’t want the light to shine and declare our corners lost to the princely one, do we?

Darkness isn’t where God is, some say. Many say that God is Light.

So darkness is bad. Yes? Some things are best done in the dark. If you still develop film, you need darkness, not light.

But if God is everywhere. EVERYwhere. Even in darkness God is there.

Couldn’t this mean God can make the darkness good? Right? Okay? Holy?

If we persist in dualistic thinking, God and darkness don’t sync. Aren’t the unknown facets of God hidden from us, a mystery to us, thus keeping us in the dark?

And God keeps some of us in the dark for a touch of mystery.

Creative Writing Homework on the topic of Bullying

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2015 at 9:09 am

“Bullies always justify their actions by extolling their good intentions. That’s why the road to hell is paved with them.” Skye Jethani

———————————————————————————————-Maria Ling

She fumed as she watched Mark cycle by and call Matthew a sissy. She shouted at Mark but it was to no avail. Matthew was only 6-years old and a quiet, gentle boy. She quickly rushed him inside and tried to distract him. She didn’t know what to do. Should she comfort him and tell him to ignore Mark? Should she hug him tight and tell him she loved him? She felt that these things would not really help but she didn’t know what to say or do.

Sally grew up the third of five siblings who were mostly a rambunctious crowd. She was the mousey one. It was as if being the middle child had squeezed all the gumption out of her. She was slight of build and plain looking. She did not bother to comb her hair much nor did she take trouble with her dressing. As long as she was clean and neat, she felt she was all right.

Her mother, Jan, was also the quiet sort, the self-sacrificing wife and mother who did not complain about anything but took everything in stride. Jan did not retort whenever her husband came home late from work and shouted for his dinner. She dared not respond in any way except to quickly get his plate out from the oven. Russ was not a man to be trifled with. He was tough, big and strong and had a temper to match his build, if and when anyone crossed him. He was not one to be bullied. If anything, Russ could easily bully others. Coercion came easily to Russ. That’s why he was able to run a tight ship at the construction site. He did not suffer fools gladly which was why both at work and at home, the construction workers and his children knew not to do anything stupid or be stupid for that matter.

Russ knew not to be physically abusive with his wife and children but he had a way with words that cut them to their core. It was not name-calling so much as statements that broke their spirits. He could undermine them and say such insidious things that he chipped away at his wife’s and children’s confidence and self-esteem.

“You think you’re so clever, is it, Jack?” Russ said to his oldest son who had fixed the garage door on his own accord. The door made a loud rattling sound whenever the remote control was utilized to open it or close it. It was so loud that they had stopped closing it. Jack thought he could fix it with some grease and WD-40 spray. He climbed atop a wooden box and loosened some of the nuts and re-tightened them after spraying them with WD-40. He applied grease to the pulleys and hoped it would work. When Russ came home from work, he found the garage door half-way closed. Using the remote control in his car, he pressed the Open button but nothing happened. There was only the sound of loud clicking from gears that had gotten jammed. Instead of lessening the rattling sound, Jack inevitably made it worse. Now it was stuck. Russ let out a barrage of choice curse words. Jack tried to apologize but got no where with his father. He hunched his shoulders and left the house. He’d have to let his father cool down. He hoped his father would cool down. Russ left the car in the driveway.

Jan quickly got his dinner plate out of the oven and put it on the table for Russ. While Russ washed his hands, Jan called the younger kids to send them to bed. Russ expected Jan to take care of everything in the home and when anything was out of order, he never let her forget what a lousy decision he had made in marrying her instead of her younger sister, Penny. He blamed Jan for getting pregnant with Jack when he was preparing to go to university. He had to give up his scholarship for engineering school and find a job to support Jan and Jack. Russ took every opportunity to blame her for the loss of the dream career in engineering. Russ let go a salvo of hurtful words before he took his first mouthful of his dinner. Jan felt a pang of regret in the pit of her stomach.

Sally took Matthew to his room and sat him down in his beanbag and stroked his hair. “Matthew, you’re a good boy, you’re Mummy’s big boy,” she said. She didn’t know if he was hurting or not from Mark’s callous words. All she knew was that she was hurting. It brought back memories of her childhood with her siblings and her father who verbally abused each one of them. Her mother, Jan, seemed powerless against that man. It seemed as if he had no compunction for what he did to them. Matthew looked sadly at his mother. He didn’t say anything but just sat there quietly and slowly died on the inside. What Sally did not realize then was that Matthew had already lost all sense of self-worth and self-esteem. His heart was already in many broken pieces. He loved his mother in his own six-year old way but how could he tell her that long before Mark called him a sissy, he had already believed himself to be worthless and weak.

Sally had to leave home when Russ found out that she was pregnant at 14. Jan could do nothing to stop Russ from throwing Sally out. It wasn’t like getting pregnant was Sally’s fault. Sure, she consented but how can one call it consent when she was so broken by all the bullying she’d suffered at school at the hands of the schoolgirl gang. They strong-armed her into having sexual intercourse with the boys’ gang while they jeered at her. It didn’t happen once but on a number of occasions. And Sally was powerless to complain to the school principal or report it to the police. The bullying did not stop even after she left school in shame. No one stopped to ask her what happened, not the school nurse or the counsellor.

Jan sent Sally to live with her aunt in the next town. Hopefully, Sally would be safe from the taunts and judgmental looks. Hopefully, Sally could muster up the strength to move on with her life. Her aunt, June, Jan’s older sister was a single lady who ran a small bookkeeping business and was able to give Sally the necessary training to help her in the front office. Sally was fine working alone. She did her work well and answered the phone politely. Aunt June did not put too much pressure on her. But even Aunt June could not rescue her from what had already been done to her in the past. Sally was a victim and had a victim mindset. She did not know how to break that mindset. She did not even realize how her inability to stand up for herself was affecting how she was raising Matthew. She tried to protect him and coddle him but in so doing she was not preparing him for real life beyond the safety of their home with Aunt June. Matthew was like a handicapped butterfly that had emerged limping from a messed up cocoon.

Everyday at the day care centre where Sally sent Matthew, the other children would poke and prod Matthew with their fingers, with sticks, with crayons. Matthew just sat there quietly. Once when he tried to tell one of the child minders, she shouted at him not to trouble her but “to shut up, sit down and colour his book.” The other children had found an easy victim to gang up against. Matthew had lost his voice. He became a victim like his mother.

Who was going to protect Matthew? Can the cycle of bullying be broken? Would Matthew have to suffer like his grandmother, his mother and his uncles and aunts? Would the bullying ever end? Once this summer was over, he would be going to school, to first grade. He didn’t know what was in store for him. Was life all about others hurting him, calling him names but making sure there were no visible signs? Just because there were no bruises on his body it did not mean he had no bruises inside of him. Who was going to stop this madness? Who could he call for help? Could he even muster up the courage to get help? Maybe this was normal. Maybe this was how it was for everyone – the bullies and the bullied, only two groups of people in this world.

Conclusion but not concluding

I tell this story of Sally and Matthew, Jan and Russ, Jack and Russ because things seem very bleak to me and I do not know how to end this story in a satisfactory way. There are so many campaigns to stop bullying and abuse both of children and adults, as well as of animals and those who are helpless. Is there a cure for bullying? Is there an end in sight for the use of force and intimidation? How do we stop the powerful from abusing their power over those without power and without the means to stand up for themselves? How do we stop a child from pushing another child off the swing at the playground? Can we prevent a spouse from bullying their spouse? How do we break this cycle of force and cruelty?

In this journey called life, single individuals can make a difference, groups of like-minded people can save a bullied child, shelters can provide a temporary haven for abused spouses and their children but the task will be a life-long one. These problems cannot be solved in a few days or by electing the right leader, or starting an online campaign. But it can be done. Slowly.

And even if our best efforts don’t stop bullying of all forms, it is no reason to give up hope. Hope is what will see us through. It is the firm belief that even if there are bad and wicked people in this world with bad and broken systems of government, many people working together can stop the bullying and the harmful effects of exercising power over others rather than with the powerless.

When is a Family Not a Family?

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2015 at 9:11 am

I appreciate Gwee’s thoughtful position. It’s not about right or wrong, left or right, sinful or without sin…what about learning to discern God’s Gospel for the chaotic world we live in?

Gweek Culture: World of Terrifying Secret Opinions

A slightly shorter version of this essay first appeared on 5 December 2009 on The Online Citizen and was reproduced on New Asia Republic.

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Some Christians make me cringe…I wonder why?

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Some Christians want everyone to live under their rules, laws and regulations. They want everyone in society to behave like they do, keep biblical standards like they interpret them. Just like some Muslims want Syariah law in their countries. They want everyone to come under the same law they come under.

Some Christians want everyone to be judged the same way they will be judged – Jews, Buddhists (all streams), Taoists, Muslims, Hindus, animists, atheists, deists, etc. etc. etc.

Sounds like they want a theocracy.

They want laws of the land to suit them and not those they have deemed sinners. They can keep and obey all the laws of the land, therefore, everyone else should, too.

Christians forget they are living in mostly secular societies or they are minority and even if they are in the majority (as some Americans believe themselves to be), there is separation of church and state but like some Muslims, they want church to rule the state, like Syariah (masjid teaching) should rule the land.

In the same way, atheists want the laws of the land to suit them. So where once “Christians” were in the majority, they are now feeling the push back from non-Christians.

But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not an American Christian. I’m a Singaporean Christian, a majority of the ethnic Chinese race there but a minority in terms of my religious beliefs. Christians generally want to change things – people, society, the world. How they interpret that is of course different from group to group.

I am finding Christians there want things their way. I could say more but I’ll stop here for now.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

In Uncategorized on September 11, 2014 at 7:56 am

It’s over two years now since we’ve come to live here in Toronto.

I admit that while many love city-living, I’m taking a bit longer to adjust even though I hail from a city state myself. I had gotten used to a quieter life, a rural life and a small city life.  All this buzz challenges my love for solitude so it pushes me to centre myself in the midst of the grey concrete, the grey exhaust fumes and the grey ash floating in the air.

We live close to the Boardwalk along Lake Ontario.  What a gift! you say but it is a gift for EVERYONE and EVERY CANINE to enjoy! Yay!  I love looking at those dogs.  I do! I love dogs. And so I learn and re-learn to be alone in the crowd, to be alone and not lonely, to savour the presence of the Advocate walking alongside, walking on the inside and walking in hover position over me.

Toronto, Ontario. Not my choice. But I trust the directive of the One who called us out of Waco, Texas and who called us out of Singapore, Singapore and out of living my life and into living the divine life.

Not easy but done with divine help.

Lumen Fidei: The Ecclesial Form of Faith

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2014 at 10:20 am

Steve Harper gives us a sound word.

Oboedire

When we begin to live in the light of faith, we see that our salvation incorporates us into the Church. We come to Life as one member of the larger Body of Christ. We cannot live apart from the Church any more than one part can live separated from the body.

This is why “churchless Christianity” will never work, even though some of the concerns it carries are valid. The cure for whatever damage the Church has inflicted on our faith is not our separation from it, but the renewal of it.

Christ gathers all believers to himself, functioning as our Head. We are “one” in him. We cannot individualize or privatize our salvation without destroying what Christ gave himself to accomplish–namely, the joining together of what sin had separated. No family is complete when there is an empty chair at the table, created when someone decided to leave home.

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Dying to Live like Baby Jesus

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2012 at 8:41 am

(This was the very first draft of an article I wrote when I misunderstood the target audience!  It is so rough that you will see my thought processes all in a jumble but I share it here with you).

Imagine being told your unborn child was not going to survive childhood because of an inherited genetic disorder.  Would you continue with the pregnancy and bring the child into the world knowing what you know about the realities of this earthly life?

 

When I had my 3rd child in the US, I had to fill in many forms and answer more questions than I had ever done with my previous 2 pregnancies in Singapore.  I learnt that certain ethnic groups were predisposed to particular hereditary medical conditions.   I tried to point out to the nurse that I was not from that ethnic group but it didn’t change the expectation that I answer every question to the best of my knowledge and ability.  The point was to make sure everything that could possibly be done for this child would be done should s/he be found to have any congenital disease.  Prevention was, thus, deemed to be better than cure.

 

Yes, why bring children into this world?  If Facebook posts and comments are anything to go by, every child should be saved from having to face the dreaded Primary School Leaving Examinations in Primary 6.  Yet, we are also torn.  We want our children to be resilient, to have the right tools and skills to not only survive but to thrive and succeed in this world where we are still measured by what we can do, produce and market. 

 

So we waffle between what our children should be and what our children should do.  We want good character traits like kindness and generosity but we want them to be assertive and aggressive, too, because we live in a world whose values we have been called not to be get sucked into.  We are reminded enough by sermons and Bible studies that we are in this world but not of this world.

 

Then the Incarnation.  God choosing to become a human being.

 

Many of us think that God sent Jesus to save us from the punishment of our sins and as soon as we can get that settled, we are A-OK!  That’s why we work so hard to get our not-yet saved family members and friends over the line, so to speak.   It’s almost like a sales target some of us believe we must meet.  Getting them out of hell is top of our bucket list and by golly, we’ll do it by hook or by crook.

 

Please do not get me wrong.  There is NOTHING wrong with wanting to see our friends and loved ones saved and moved out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.  We should all want that (even if sometimes they’re not so interested themselves).  What we need to think about is why in the world did God send a baby to do the job?

 

What job?

 

In the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ, the road to Calvary was literally paved with the shed blood of the man Jesus the Christ.  We think of those scenes and close our eyes and turn our heads away. How bloody and how violent!  We saw how Satan was depicted and we felt shivers down our spine when we acknowledged the human involvement in the punishment and eventual death of the man Jesus.  So let me ask you, how many times since then have you re-watched the movie?  How has that movie impacted your earnest desire to follow the teachings and life of Jesus Christ?  Watching him die and be reminded that he went through all that because of me and my sin would make many people fall at the feet of God in thankfulness and deep gratitude.  But it would make just as many people turn their backs on a God who would exact such a payment for the sins of humanity.  We face such tough theological questions or we do not face them and we avoid any thought or discussion on the Atonement or the Sacrifice or the whole Passion of Christ.

 

So what has this got to do with Christmas?  What has this to do with the job God wanted done?

 

Hard questions.  Struggles.  Mental anguish.  Fear and insecurity. Anxiety and dis-ease.  Apathy and indifference. Disdain and disrespect. Chaos and disorder. Conflict and tension. Unclarified doubts. Hunger and poverty.  Discrimination and exploitation. Hard questions.

 

These things mentioned above will not end.  In the same way, the poor will not go away as Jesus pointed out to his disciples. So if these things will not go away, do we ignore and avoid them?

 

Jesus came to take care of the consequence of human sin.  That’s why we have such movies like The Passion of the Christ to help us remember.  But Jesus also came to help us take care of the consequence of our human nature – the saved and being saved nature, the nature that yearns for release from the earthly toilsome place and be set free to the realms of heavenly glory.

 

But I joke, don’t I?  It seems to me people are pretty much holding on to this earthly life and believing this is the end all and be all of our existence.  We seem caught up with our personal pleasure and enjoyment of the blessings this life has to offer.  We attribute it to a good God who wants us to have an abundant life and so we chase every opportunity to secure our share of the blessings.  This scenario I’ve just described is one based on a perspective steeped in the affluent lifestyle of many cultural Christians in many first world and developed countries. We can buy our peace of mind, we can buy our joy, we can even buy enough presents to give away at Christmas to secure a better divine return on our investments.

 

The questions are still unanswered, the doubts still unclarified and the anguish in our minds is still there.  I have my salvation.  I have my ticket to heaven.  But why am I still unsatisfied?

 

Why did God send a baby knowing that in the baby’s DNA he would suffer horrendous treatment and be killed by age 33?  Why?  Well, of course, it was all for you but that doesn’t answer my question that I posed.

 

What is the job the baby came to do?  It’s easy to focus on his birth and the rough conditions the many paintings do not really capture.  It is easy to remind ourselves with a good reading of the Nativity passages that many paid a price because of this promised child.  Babies were killed, mothers were robbed of their progeny and the course of history was changed for eternity.

 

The baby in the cradle came to show the way of the warrior. A non-violent, love-filled warrior who prior to his foretold death, lived the Christ-one’s life which is, believe it or not, a possibility and a reality for us here and now.  The baby Jesus resisted evil and wickedness with love.  The baby shows us that in the midst of human wickedness and evil intentions and actions, love will prevail.  Yes, bad things will happen and will continue to happen.  Human beings will still act sinfully and choose stupidly and foolishly.  But the baby shows us that we can actually overcome all these with love.

 

This is why Christmas.  The baby shows us how to BE and not just DO.  It is in our being that we will do the godly that will make the earth a place of goodwill until we all, eventually, get to heaven.

 

If there was such a thing as a divine prognosis of this baby’s earthly end, no human parent would want too see the awful result but the Divine Father knew the awe-full end was the glorious beginning of the future of humankind.

 

Live as the baby grew and lived his life until he met his end at 33.  Meet him in the community called church and in the words he left behind as signposts for “the living of these days.”

 

Live your Christ-cradled life in the shadow of the Cross of Christ.

 

Baby, Oh, Baby

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2012 at 8:21 am

Let me come straight to the point.  God sent a baby to be the saviour of humankind.

A baby?  A baby.

What good can a baby do, you might ask?  You and I know pretty well that babies need taking care of practically 24/7.  Babies are helpless; cute but helpless.  What good is a baby when the world has been, is and probably will be going down a certain road of destruction?

Those of us who see things with a glass half empty perspective may believe that there is no amount of help anyone can give us to enable us to come out of this hot, gory mess we human beings have gotten ourselves into.  Global warming, threat of nuclear wars, economic crises, genocide, PSLE worries and anxieties, …

Alright so I’m being a little facetious here.  But hey, if Facebook posts and comments are to be believed, Singapore’s premier school examinations, the Primary School Leaving Examinations are about the worst type of suffering children and their parents can face in the present milieu of meritocracy and elitism.  We need saving from what the PSLE does to us and our peace of mind.

I see a lot of Singaporeans talking about migrating and seeking a better quality of life for themselves and their children.  I also know that many have already made that step and left Singapore for prospects beyond their wildest dreams.  This is, of course, until they find out that what they experienced while they were holidaying is quite different from real life and having to establish oneself in a new community and start paying taxes, too.  But for every one struggling migrant is another migrant who has made it, and made it qualitatively, “rich”.  We love seeing their pictures on Flickr and Pixable, those bucolic and pastoral scenes of life outside of Singapore.

Do excuse me, I write this from outside Singapore.  I am one of those who have left Singapore and moved to a different country, not once but twice.  Maybe I am not the best person to write this piece.  Maybe my perspective is skewed by what I see on Facebook and not what is happening in real life, in the heart of the heartland communities of Singapore, in Ang Mo Kio, in Bukit Merah, in Hougang and in Woodlands.  Maybe I don’t know what it is to really live the Singaporean life.  I am privileged.  I have an education.  I have a computer and Internet access.  I have an iPhone (not yet 5!) I have a roof over my head even if it is a rental.  I have access to medical care and public services.  Of course, my husband earns an income and pays taxes but that, too, is a privilege, it means he has a job.

Yet, I think I do have some perspective to share with you why I think in order to not only survive in this world but to thrive, it is important to consider the gift God gave us in the baby born in a stable and placed in a feeding trough. I write this as a missionary in a foreign land and once a missionary, always a missionary.  So my view is skewed, skewed by watching a very loving God at work in the world.

This baby was a love child.  It took the great incomparable love of God to leave the glories of heaven to be born of common folk in order to enflesh the divine and majestic yet personal love of God for you and for me.

Undeservedly we have become recipients of a gift we didn’t know we needed.  We may have searched for meaning and for purpose.  We may have sought direction in life.  We are looking for guidelines to live this life.  We seek high and low for some sense of control over our hectic, crazy, uncentered lives. We want friends but they seem to avoid us.  We make friends but end up neglecting our aging parents.  We want to enjoy ourselves but we have to go home and look after our children because we cannot leave the domestic helper with them for 20 out of 24 hours of each day.  We are looking for a bright future, we hope for a job that will pay well enough to enable us to take 3 vacations a year, we wish for time to chill with friends after work and sit at cafés and pubs until the wee hours of the morning before we have to return to the workplace and report for duty.

And we miss this gift given to us so graciously by the God who calls us by our name.  Quietly and personally, God beckons us with wooing that we fail to respond to.  Such love poured out for us but we quickly fill waking hours with the din of work, play and busyness.

And then “Ka-pow” it hits us again. We have to find our heart’s true home.  Something pulls us to the great Mystery of Love, the Great Giver of Love, this baby they call “Jesus” who is Love.

The late Henri Nouwen wrote, “The great message of Jesus is that God loves us first and that we can love one another only because God has loved us first. Jesus calls us to come home to that first love, which precedes all human loves. This is the original blessing, the original acceptance, our original home.”

I think it is because we do not yet understand what this first love is that we are trying to fill our lives with all kinds of loves and many of them quite wrong for us.  So we end up living our lives like hamsters constantly running on the wheel – burning a lot of energy but getting no where and not only that, we grow increasingly frustrated and angry.

If we can wrap our minds around this incredible truth of “God loves me” I believe it will give us the foundation we need to live this earthly life with a perspective that is more than the glass is half full.  In fact, we will neither see it as half empty nor half full but “always overflowing”.  This is how we are meant to live our lives, lives centered and founded on this baby who came to live in a non-descript little town but who grew up showing us that even though we are human with all that encapsulates, we are spiritual and we are more than capable of a living relationship with the true and living God.  What is incredible is that while we may not be able to fathom all these things, the truth of the matter is that if we are willing to follow in the footsteps of this baby, we will discover such a great love that is waiting to wrap us up and bring us through the journey we call life in our island state.

Let me share with you a Christmas hymn that’s always touched me deeply from the first time I sang it.  It’s called “Star Child”; (I personally prefer the tune by Carlton R. Young and not the guy who posted his video on YouTube).

Star Child, earth Child, go between of God,

love Child, Christ Child, heaven‘s lighting rod,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Street child, beat child, no place left to go,

hurt child, used child, no one wants to know,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Grown child, old child, memory full of years,

sad child, lost child, story told in tears,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Spared child, spoiled child, memory full of years,

wise child, faith child, knowing joy in store,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Hope-for-peace Child, God‘s stupendous sign,

down-to-earth Child, Star of stars that shine,

This year, this year, let the day arrive when Christmas

comes for everyone, everyone alive!

Words: Shirley Erena Murray (Matt. 2:1-12)

Music: Carlton R. Young

1994 Hope Publishing Co.

I have hit the red light…

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2012 at 10:56 am

I have few followers.  I’d rather think I have friends who have an interest in some of the things that I say.  But some months back, I decided to stop writing and posting here.

 

It was a reaction to my having opened a door and then not feeling too good about how certain people perceived me.  I used to think I didn’t care what people said or thought about me but I was reminded that I didn’t like being misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented.

 

The trouble is, when one makes mistakes, even unintentionally or foolishly, one has to live with some regret especially when some people will get angry, hurt and crossed by my mistakes.

 

I live with that.  And I care that some people were upset, have been upset and may possibly be upset by me in the future.  I care because I want to be on good terms with as many people as I can be.  But conflict and misunderstanding are real and fall outs happen.

 

I am not as courageous as the man I claim to be a follower of, Jesus Christ.  I guess I don’t want to be in a rocked boat or be the one who rocks the boat.  I felt differently earlier.  Earlier, I wanted to rock a boat, the boat, any boat. I even felt a sense of pride if I could rock a dinghy.  Now…I don’t want to rock at all.

 

The red light of the traffic lights shines in my face.  I’m sorry I’ve crossed people when that’s not been my intention.  Sharing things, saying words, doing acts which were not intended for evil but which yielded bad responses from them.

 

I feel crappy about that.  I need to get out of the stale, dank pond scum and be immersed in the well of Living Water…Will others let me?  Forgive me?  Will I let myself?

Imperfect…but loved by God.  Imperfect but will my human friends love me?  Does it matter?

The red light.