Sunday, 30 October 2011

Migrant Sunday

I had the privilege of listening to Hangad, a Filipino choir, who flew to Singapore to sing to raise funds for charity. Majority of the audience was made up of Filipinos. They were clapping and waving their hands to the beat of the songs at certain times. They cheered at the end and were so filled with warmth in their strong support for their home-grown choir.

Quick snap of Hangad on my iphone
The most touching part of the concert was the last encore song - The Power of Your Love. Sr. Susay, rc, a Cenacle sister who came to Singapore from the Philippines, came up from the audience and took the mic for her solo. From where I was sitting, I could see that she was filled with emotions. Perhaps, an intensely nostalgic sentiment. As she sang, what caught me was not her voice (though her voice mesmerised me) but that to my ears, it sounded as if in every word and note she sang, it was an offering to God; an offering from the very depths of her heart; an offering of not just her singing but an offering of her whole life as a gift of love to God in response to His love for her. In that moment, I felt her deep gratitude. Perhaps, it was a gratitude for her life, her blessings and maybe, a gratitude for the opportunity of being there at the concert, to listen to the choir she journeyed with before leaving Philippines.

It was then when I realised that listening to the choir sing so melodiously may have just been a superficial experience for me. I was enjoying the singing musically. However, for those others in the audience who have left their homeland to work in Singapore, be it as religious, domestic helpers, or others, listening to the choir meant far more than what it did to me.

I asked myself what they could have been feeling at that moment as they listened to the choir.
What would I have felt if I were them? What would you have felt if you were them?

Perhaps, I would have felt a sense of warmth, a rare sense of familiarity that would comfort and ease my loneliness and the pinning for home in a foreign land, far away from family and friends, from the place I grew up to call my home. In this foreign land of strangers, a familiar face that shares the same background, culture and language brings such intense joy and excitement. How I would long to be home again. How I would long to fly home on the next available flight. When I hear a plane fly by, I would look up with envy. Yet, could I return if I knew that back home, there awaits lives depending on me for survival, mouths relying on me to feed? A sense of burden and responsibility that weighs me down and binds my life to the reality of this foreign land, in which people are not always welcoming, warm and kind. On the contrary, these people may abuse me, deprive me of basic food and rest, treat me lesser than a human person, and pay me far too little for the work they would rather not do themselves.

Have you ever walked past a maid agency and notice the looks on the faces of those seated there, waiting to be hired, to be called upon? Is it painful and distressing to look on? Or do we give an indifferent stare since after all, we have had bad experiences with a particular domestic helper for instance? If our social structures are not made by the rich and influential to favour, precisely, the rich and influential themselves, would there be such great inequality among us?

Last month, I heard about a construction company that bought all meals for its workers everyday for 6 months. It sounded like a great act of generosity. But the truth was that the owner did not pay his workers at all during those 6 months, only feeding them so that they did not starve to death. Thankfully, with the help of some locals, they managed to lodge a complain and sued the unjust owner, who then had to compensate for his very cruel act.

When God created us with different levels of physical strengths, mental capacities, talents and abilities, did He mean to stand for inequality? Or did He create for us the opportunity to be Christlike to one another, to complement one another so that all may live in justice, peace and sufficiency?

Today, we celebrate World Migrant Day. It is saddening to require such a day to be set aside to deliberately get people to pause and pay some attention to these migrants around us. Without this day, would we still remember these easily forgotten migrants we take very much for granted?

Who are the neighbours Jesus asked us to love as ourselves?
Are these migrant workers not our neighbours too?
We don't need to look very far and say that helping these people are too far-fetched a mission. Are they not within close proximity to us? Most of us have them in our own homes! If not, wait at the dustbin chute at the bottom of your flat or at the bin outside your main gate. You are sure to meet one even within your normal course of the day.
How have we, as Christ's disciples, followed Jesus' command to treat them as how we would treat ourselves, to extend a warm greeting as we would like one ourselves?
How different would it be if we were to treat them as our equals?

30 October 2011, Sunday

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Kidnapped - Held in Captivity

I was watching one of the last episodes of a very long Taiwanese drama series some days ago. One of the characters was kidnapped. Her hands and feet were tied very tightly with a thick rope, making it impossible for her to be free to escape. She could barely move more than an inch at a time. Needless to say, she could not feed herself, take a shower or do any basic task that a normal human person would do each day. Severely impaired. She struggled, pulled her hands in all directions in order to loosen the rope so that her hands could be free. To her, her focus was to set her hands free, which then allowed her to set her legs free and then, to find an escape route out of the hut she was held captive in. With the rope holding her hands so securely, was there any way she could ever struggle out of its grasp? 


Many movies would have a similar scene and it is not uncommon to watch how the captive, in her struggle for freedom, is badly cut all over the hands and feet by the force exerted by the rope. Some even have their mouths sealed by tape or stuffed with a cloth, preventing them for shouting out for help. And there are others who are blindfolded so that they will not know where they are or who their kidnappers are. Their world darkens to a blackness, so filled with insecurities, uncertainties, fears, anxieties, and perhaps, after a certain point, helplessness. 

Can we identify ourselves with the plight of such a captive when we look at our life experiences? How often have we felt like a captive of a certain kidnapper, taking the form of a broken relationship, a loss of a loved one, a failure to meet our own expectations, a nagging pain in the back that will not go away, a stab of betrayal? In those moments of desolation, how did we try to "deal" with the experience? In our uneasiness in facing the reality of our pain, by it physical or emotional, wasn't our most immediate solution to, as quickly as we can, "get over" the pain and "move on with life", and in the midst, denying ourselves of the attention and healing our pain is crying out for? We hurry to "heal", yet never really healing completely. We hate the trials that threaten the safety of our lives and we race to push them aside. Suppression and avoidance lie to us that we have recovered. Did we not engage in a tug of war between our hands and the rope? A fight to free ourselves? And in the process, cutting our hands real deep? The more we tug and pull, the tighter the dead knot, making our release even more impossible.

Yet, "To the Jews who believed in him, Jesus said: If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples; you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-32

What is this truth that Jesus promised? What is this freedom that He offered to the Jews, and which is now extended to us too? Why is it that only when we become disciples of Jesus that we will come to know the truth? What does it mean to be this disciple? 

Jesus came to dwell among Man to show us a living example of a life lived to its fullest, not by the world's standards but that which is benchmarked by God Himself. He taught us His ways, summed up in His commandment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too." Matthew 22:37-40
If we make these words our home, if we let these commandments be embedded in our hearts and be the motivation of our entire life, then very naturally will all our thoughts, words and deeds be steered towards the fulfilment of these commandments. 

To love God and thereby to make His word our home, we must first and foremost journey with Him into a deep, personal and intimate relationship. We cannot, in our human weakness, love God until we ourselves have experienced His love for us. Our love then becomes a response to His love. This entails a two-way dialogue with Him in daily prayer. And as we begin this lifelong walk with our Lord Jesus, we will begin to discover the reality of who He is, a reality that is often distorted and much less pondered upon. We have, more often than not, a very one-sided and vivid notion of who Jesus is, and who we are to Him. Our self-sufficiency and self-reliance prompt us to handle every situation on our own, by our own strength. We struggle to loosen the knot by brute force. Haven't we been cutting ourselves deeper and deeper each time? Have our lives become more whole or bruised?

But we have forgotten that no matter how much power and affluence we may accrue to ourselves, we are only creatures, created by an infinitely more powerful Creator. This is the reality of who we are. This is the reality of who God is. And thus, sets the truth of where our help, our freedom, our meaning and fulfilment, our joy and peace come from. We forgot our loving and almighty God, who awaits to be called upon by us, to help us tear out the tape from our mouths, to untie the ropes that bound and restricted us, to remove the blindfold. He is always waiting, wanting to come to our rescue, yet feeling so helpless because He knows He can only act when we allow Him to. He wants us to see again. To see His truth. To see His love and His mercy, His power and glory. To see how dearly loved and cared for we are by Him. He wants our hands to grab hold of His so that He can assure us and comfort us. He wants our feet freed, to follow Him wherever He wants to bring us. He wants our lips to sing forever in the joy of having been set free

Jesus came to set us free. So that the many things that burden our hearts may be lifted from us. So that the pain we used to feel no longer feels like a vulnerable, opened wound. So that we no longer live in the shadow of ours and others' expectations, that we can let go of the unwillingness to forgive. That every experience in our lives is seen in the light of our intimate relationship with Him. He, the certainty in all our uncertainties, the security in all our insecurities, the promise of hope in all our despair, the comfort in all our pains, the light in all our darkness, the consolation in all our anguish, the pillar of strength in all our struggles. Have we forgotten our God, our Strength? 

What does your dialogue with God sound like? Is it building a superficial or deep and intimate relationship with Him? 
Who are your kidnappers? 

26 October 2011, Wednesday

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Living Illogically in Insanity

Take a moment to imagine what our world will be like if it were completely void of a type of love that is unconditional, sacrificial and selfless.

Pause for another moment to remove all the experiences in our lives that were the effects of such a love.
What is left behind after this removal?
How will our lives look like?
And how are we left to feel being unable to receive such love?

For me, if life is without such love, I will return home every evening after work to a cold, empty house. Perhaps, to begin with, I will probably not even have a house to go back to since I have insufficient to buy one on my own! I would have never experienced the warmth of a family that I look forward to returning to each day. Every morning, there will not be a cup of honey, a bottle of water for the day and breakfast made ready for me on the dining table. After a tiring day out, I will have to do my own laundry and find myself even more drained out. There will be no van or car to drive around and I will have to wake up much earlier, get home much later and squeeze with many other people on the public transport. There will be no air-conditioning to emit the cool air that covers me to sleep. There will be no job to pay me as well as it does because I would not have gone through the education that I did. And these are just some of the privileges I am enjoying because of the unconditional, selfless and sacrificial love of just two very significant people in my life - my parents.

Without such love, life would be like a stroke of black paint on a black sheet of paper - motionless, depressing, lifeless, meaningless.

What is your life like without such an unconditional, selfless and sacrificial love? Will it be just as desolate as mine?

The recent news of a 2 year old toddler being run over FOUR times by two vans in China, with no one bothering to stop by to help the poor, helpless and defenceless child portrays, precisely, the effects of a society that advocates that unconditional, selfless and sacrificial love is stupid, illogical and plain insanity. Consequently, this poor child who initially had a whole future ahead of her is now pronounced "brain dead" by the doctors who could not safe her, not of any fault of theirs.

Please do not watch this if you have a faint heart. 
It will be very disturbing for you.

If we take a good look at our lives and how we ourselves have benefited from being at the receiving end of such a love, we will not be able to deceive ourselves any further that such a love is stupid, illogical and plain insanity.

How then, is it stupid, illogical and plain insanity to subscribe to the values of Christ and to take these values into the secular world, taking after the example of Jesus, who with His own life, demonstrated and set the benchmark for what love really is? How then, can we reject walking in His way of love? Unless we are ready to give up and reject all of such a love that others extend to us and completely rid our lives of it. Otherwise, we are just hypocrites who receive, with open arms, what we ourselves think it is ridiculous to give to others.

The world we live in is snuffing out the Christian values that hold the key to the peace, happiness and fulfilment we are so deprived of.

Fidelity has given way to infidelity.
Love has given way to a refusal to forgive.
Peace has given way to terror and unrest.
Compassion has given way to aloofness.
Community support is replaced with individualism.
Hope has given way to despair.
Trust has given way to betrayal and suspicions.
Kindness has given way to sadistic crimes.
Empathy has given way to detachment.

How many lives have been lost because of this shift to a self-centred value-system?
How many lives have been prematurely ended?
How many relationships and hearts have been scarred as a result?
How much more brokenness are we creating for ourselves?

Can we truly say "no" to loving unconditionally, sacrificially and selflessly even though we know it all too well that such a love is not only challenging to extend but more so, it requires us to "die to ourselves" so that we may "love till it hurts and still... continue to love"? Can we truly remain indifferent without denying the reality of who we are and what we are called to do as fellow humans living and sharing this planet? Much for us to ponder on. What is our stand?

How have our lives been enriched because we have been truly loved?
Who, in our lives, have we been refusing to extend this love to? And what is our Lord nudging us to do about this refusal everyday?

18 October 2011, Tuesday

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Chasing His Image

I saw a reflection of Him in a mirror far into the distance;
I thought He was there.
I walked ahead towards Him but the distance never shortened as much;
the reflection and I like two magnets repelling each other,
keeping always the same unbridgeable distance.
Yet, I kept running ahead, wanting more and more to reach Him in that distance.
I grew tired, I grew disheartened.
I hung my head low.

And then I lifted my head up again
and I jumped at the sight of Him who was right before me.
I shifted my gaze back into the distance and still I saw His reflection in that same mirror.
My gaze shifted back and forth
till I finally realised that all these while,
He was never in that distance but have always been in front of me.
All I ever saw was that familiar image I was insistent on chasing after in that distance.

He stands before me.
If I reached out my hands, I would touch Him.
If I called out to Him, He would hear me.
If I took just a step forward, I would bridge the entire distance between.

After chasing my mental image of Him in that distance,
after seeing now how close He actually is,
and after knowing now how to catch up with Him,
my hands are but half-raised,
my lips utters everything except the words that truly matter to Him,
my legs quiver in an apprehension to take that step.

The greatest irony...
Of chasing with my greatest might after an unreal image,
and of freezing on the spot when it is time to hold on to His hands for real.

How have we placed obstacle after obstacle between God and us?
Why is the spirit so willing but the flesh unwilling?
What really are we afraid of?

15 October 2011, Saturday

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Modernised Foot Binding

In China, not too far back in history, women were breaking their bones at young ages in order to bind their feet into a shape that was considered at that time as desirable and fashionable. Having tiny feet was believed to increase a woman's status and chance of marrying into a rich and prestigious family, which then opens the gateway to a more comfortable and worry-free life. 

Yet, the pain endured did not seem to reap the same benefits for those who were living in the era when Communism took over and foot binding was outlawed in 1912. As Yang Yang put it"These women were shunned by two eras. When they were young, foot binding was already forbidden, so they bound their feet in secret. When the Communist era came, production methods changed. They had to do farming work, and again they were shunned." Not only had their bounded feet become an obstacle to moving ahead with the changing economic demands, as Zhou Guizhen recounts, all her possessions were confiscated by the Communists even though she was born into a rich family and was married into great riches. The comfortable, worry-free and even prestigious life that formed the underlying motivation for this self-inflicted mutilation was, eventually, snatched away, leaving these poor women with no riches and no means to work for their living without them having to struggle hard to get around with their tiny feet.

Today, our bones are not necessarily deliberately broken (though in plastic surgery, they are) and our bodies are not painfully bounded into unusual shapes to fit in to what society defines as attractive and desirable. We do not need foot binding to place us on a high societal standing. In fact, we might even find foot binding stupid, meaningless and even demeaning to the womenfolk. We have, in our era, progressed on to more "sophisticated" ways of defining who we are. We have high-heeled shoes that raise our professionalism at the workplace, lingerie with the maximiser functions to assert our womanhood. We have various symbolic stuck-ons at the front and rear of our cars to affirm the level of our successes, a myriad of alphabets on our handbags and clothes that secures a topic for conversation and a ticket to enter the race for the most fashionable urban dweller. We have examination score sheets that foretell our future and enrichment classes to enrol our kids into to prove our love for them and our dedication as parents to their development. We have our child's straight-As as evidence of our successful parenting. 

We do not have broken bones as a result of such a lifestyle aimed at fitting in to the society we have made for ourselves. What we do have are broken hearts from disappointments, shattered egos from our failures to meet up to expectations, broken families from our dissatisfying pursuits we thought could satisfy, broken self-identities from the betrayal of who we truly are in search for our far-fetched secular ideals. We have disfigured faces beneath the thick layers of paint that masks all the cracks as a result of our brokenness. We have broken relationships from the pain caused by these very cracks of one another. We have broken lives from the meaninglessness of our mundane living, and yes, in this case, we have multiple broken bones from a hopelessness that forces us over the edge of a high-rise flat.  

Then, after we have broken all that can possibly be broken, what will happen to us when we, like those who witnessed the transition to Communism, have to face the eventual transition between health and sickness, between agility and handicap, and most of all, between life and death? When we have to transit from our indifference and enter into the inescapable presence of God standing before us on judgement day? How will we stand firm in the Light of the Eternal Truth, just as those tiny feet cannot possibly stand firm on the uneven grounds of their farmlands? When all that we had worked for and chased after, when the life we had fought hard to secure and the layers of fake gold we had adorned ourselves with begin to fall apart into the nakedness of our creature-hood before our Almighty and Living God? And when our masks have been ripped off, we will, like Adam and Eve, run into hiding in shame of our bareness. But where will we run to? Where can we run to? 

Instead, put on the cloak of our Lord for the journey, the cloak of sincerity, humility, and of openness, which are necessary for the journey less travelled but is nonetheless, the only road that brings us to God, from whom we came and to whom we are invited to return. Put on the armour of prayer that guards our hearts and grounds our faith with wisdom and strength. Follow the Way of Truth and of Life that brings joy, freedom and peace instead of the ways of the world that have proved to distort, destroy, discriminate and disintegrate. 

Let us pray for the graces of courage and wisdom, of sincerity, humility and openness to uncover and acknowledge the aspects of our lives that have been broken, to bring these brokenness to the Lord in prayer and to await in faith the healing grace already given when He emptied Himself on the cross for our sake. Let us reach out our hands to claim this grace by first following His command to seek Him with our whole heart, turning our hearts and lives away from the world and fixing them upon the Lamb, who tenderly calls us to enter into the gift of His loving presence, the King, who has slaughtered the fattened calf in the eager anticipation of our coming to rejoice with Him in His heavenly banquet. 

How have our lives been "bounded" to forcefully fit into the "shoe" of society?
How have we been broken as a result? 

13 October 2011, Thursday