Blog & Articles

Tool: Christian Meditation

Meditation is peering beyond the veil of the natural to align your mind, body and spirit with it, in seeing, feeling and touching a deeper reality, and therein finding God. It can be the step between dramatic worship and practical service to a broken world


Roman Catholic

1. Notice all your senses: What you see, smell, hear, the feeling of the clothes on your skin, the surface you are sitting on, the feel and taste on your tongue in your mouth.

2. Remember that God is through you, in you and with you as you pray: what you see is an extention of him, what you smell is his breath, what you hear is his word through the world, what you feel is him hugging you, and what you taste is the bread of life.

3. Slowly you come to a deep realisation that he is really with you where you are, now and forevermore, maranatha.


Reformed Protestant

1. Notice all your senses: The look of the world around you, the way it smells, sounds, feels, the clothes on your skin, the itch on your nose, the surface you sit on and the earth beneath it, the taste of saliva in your mouth.

2. Remember that non of this is where you really are: on by one, identify these sensations and tell yourself it is not real, it is only another distraction. Where you really are is in the Throne Room of the Father through Christ, lifting you eyes to see his glory on his chariot.

3. Slowly you come to a deep realisation that you are really with Christ and the rest of Church, now and forevermore, soli deo gloria.


Evangelical Lutheran

1. Notice all your senses: The art in the view around you, the fragrance in the smells around you, the music in surrounding sounds, the sensation of the clothes your skin, the texture of the inside of your mouth with your tongue.

2. Remember that beauty can connect heaven to earth: one by one, find wonder in the things around you, they are divine, an expression of God’s love. Who you really are is a bridge between God and this broken world, able to perceive both, and reach out to them together.

3. Slowly you come to realise that God’s word extends beyond Scripture, reaching into heaven and earth, an open book that you live by in faith, sola fide.

What’s Your Point?

So one thing I’ve realised about my way of speaking is that it is not framed well. What I mean is that we tend to speak to illustrate points that end either philosophically, experientially or practically and we generally stick to one of those our whole lives.

Here is a way to think about it, in school, we start learn subjects that are philosophical, like mathematics, sciences, but also experiential ones like language. We move on to also include applied sciences like Home Economics and Design & Technology, and more advanced Humanities beyond language like History and Geography, then if you go to JC, English becomes actual Philosophy with GP or KI.

In theory, this develops us holistically, in reality, most of the the time we just memorise anwers and vomit. The few times we don’t, our society puts a strong emphasis on Natural Philosophy that leads to Applied Sciences like Engineering, Law and Medicine. Even our Humanities are taught in a very philosophical/practical way that doesn’t allow for more vague descriptions of human experience. Kind of hard to be artistic here, but thats what I am.

I get quite confused when people say I’m intellectual, I’m not, I’m artistic. Whenever I talk, it is to the end that essentially we both have a good experience with whatever it is weare talking about. I could care less about whether you are thinking about things properly or doing the right things to solve problems, I want you to have a good time. I only emphasise thinking and doing if it means you have a better experience.

Most of the times when I try to “make a point”, I’m really just trying to describe what I feel about the thing by concretising it in ideas or decisions on what to do, and sometimes that comes off as confusing and contradictory. Sometimes if I confuse you, I’m just trying to first hand tell you that my experience with it has been confusing too and I want that to stop.

In my faith, why I push for practical ecumenism is also not because I like the idea or have the ideals of unity, or that it practically works the best for Chuches to run their week to week processes if they are together. To me, the issue is that the Christian experience in Singapore can kinda suck for some people, its not particularly enjoyable to be isolated from family and friends for certain converts who come into the faith, nor is it fun to stay in the faith while everyone else goes cold or leaves. The tribalism and reputation of Churces as social clubs to find girls isn’t very nice either. Sometimes dealing with culture and making it good allows people to experience Jesus everyday unaffected by the tyranny and apathy of the Sinapore Christian experience.

Either way, I should learn to put that disclaimer before I talk about anything serious: “My agenda here is for you to have a good experience with your life’s journey; nothing more, nothing less, and to maybe deepen my own in the process. Everything I’m about to say points to that.” And its good for you to be able to put that disclaimer too, whether you care about ideas, actions or, like me, feelings, it helps to tell people where you are going with the conversation.

Human Heads & Dog Tails

Not an in-camp photo, I found this on google

One very important thing we learn in in military dog-line is how to communicate with dogs based on body language. Essentially how this works is to look at the situation that the dog is in and compare it wity their tone of voice and body language, and then you infer the emotion associated. Now, all communication is emotional, even objective discussions, and every piece of information has to pass through the lens of one of 7 basic emotions: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust, Contempt and Surprise. I’m going to go through the first 4 as it relates to dogs and also how it relates to humans when trying to communicate non-verbally. It’s funny to see how we are not that much difference from dogs; as my ex CO would say, “They are also men, just with more hair”.

Disclaimer: I am no dog expert nor an expert on nonverbal communication; this is just a reflection on what I observe in my own experience with both dogs and people.


Happiness

In dogs, the tail is the most important part to look out for. When happy, the dogs wag their tail side to side and their tone of voice is firm. They may be standing still, but if their tails wag and their bark is clear, it’s fair to infer that what you did to them made them happy.

In humans, instead of tails, we tilt our heads side to side. And yes, I know you’re thinking of Indians, but what they do is just an exaggeration of what all humans naturally do when happy. Try to smile while keeping your head centered and still, it takes a lot of effort and feels very unnatural. Now try smiling naturally; yes your head tilts. Hindu culture was built on the principles of contentment; contentment with one’s own position and status, as well as with the people around you. It’s no surprise then, when this is dramatised in their culture, as if they are always happy to be talking to you.

Voice is the other interesting aspect. The tone doesn’t really matter here, it’s about the firmness of it. Try saying “Yes!” after putting yourself in a happy state of mind, try it with an upward inflection and a downward inflection, both still work, but notice how firm it is.

The next time you say something to someone and expect them to react with happiness, look out for these two signs, regardless of the words the use: tilted head, firm voice.


Sadness

When dogs are sad, they mostly lie down, as if drained of any energy, their tails are lifeless and limp and their bark is weak, if they even bark at all. In see this when they are sick and in pain, and bad health tends to do that to people to.

If you suspect someone is sad, look at their posture; limp and lifeless, drained of energy. It takes a lot of energy to grieve and it leaves people feeling tired. It’s as if the body is eating itself to overcome the dread of prolonged suffering.

Their voice will also be weak and inconsistent, unable to control the quality of the sound, especially when pushing back on the weight of that fatigue. They may be loud, may be fast, but if it is inconsistent and laboured, you have your clue there.


Anger

This one should be contrasted with Fear, which I will cover after this. When a dog is angry, it shows its teeth, stiffens its tail and growls before barking explosively. Anger builds, it starts mild and slowly sinks in deep enough to spring back out.

While we don’t bite each other as humans, we do punch and punch hard. When you see someone’s thumbs, they are prepared to fight. This one is also dramatised in our military foot drills. When standing in sedia (attention), the thumbs face forward, but in senang diri (at ease) they are hidden behind the back. To draw attention to the thumbs is also a cross cultural status symbol of warrior and noble classes; try putting your fingers in your pocket but leaving your thumbs exposed, so how that feels different. Or try pointing at something with your thumb curled over with the rest of your fingers vs pointing with the thumb also pointing in the same direction; like the hand sign for ‘gun’. I always thought it was funny how that sign looked nothing like a gun, but it’s actually a carry over for a more archaic sign of aggression.

Same as with happiness, human head movements correlate with dog tails. The head straightens and stiffens. I find it funny how almost everyone seems to look pissed in a passport photo, and it has to do with the position of the head. When the head straightens, it is subconsciously understood by everyone around you that you are outraged, even if you’re just trying to look good for a picture. Now, not all head tilts are happy looking, there is also the contempt head tilt, but I wont talk about that for now. But this one is something you should look out for, especially when you’re late for a meeting and you want to knos how the others feel about it haha.

The voice is another indicator of anger. First, you will notice the person speaking slower, softer and with a lowered tone of voice. This may not be obvious, but that’s the point, it is the calm before the storm, the coil before the spring, the silence before the blast. Then is slowly builds until it explodes into shouting or screaming. Be very very careful when a person starts speaking in more subdued tones, his mind is preparing for a fight.


Fear

This one is interesting. When dogs are afraid, their tails curl up between their legs, they close their mouths.

I’m not sure if you can hear fear in a person’s tone of voice, but I know you can see it in body language. First, like the dogs teeth, the human thumbs disappear. People hide their thumbs from the things they are afraid of, to not provoke them to fight. Similarly, the head is unable to keep straight or still, oftentimes slightly exposing the back of the neck in a gesture of submission.

This is also kind of why we put our hands together and bow our heads in prayer, it is a gesture of fear and submission to the deity, where the thumb is hidden and the back of the neck exposed. However, in prayer, the shoulders tend to stay down and hands are away from the neck, which is a key different between fear of something you trust, what we call reverence, and fear of something you don’t, which we call terror. Fear is not good or bad, it is neutral, it is just an emotion, but the type of fear isn’t. The Bible commands us to not be afraid (terrorised) but to also fear (revere) the Lord.

In terror, we subconsciously protect our necks. Watch something gory and you instantly feel the urge to hold your neck, your shoulders also rise and stiffen protecting the back and sides of your neck. We don’t do this in prayer, because we trust un the God we pray to, but we do do this when we are verbally abused by a boss or school bully.

Machiavelli wrote that it is better to be feared and to be loved; to me, you must be feared, at least a little bit, by everyone around you in order to be respected, but this fear is more reverence than terror. If you want a good reality check on whether or not you are seen as a benevolent authority figure or a bully, observe the necks of the people you are talking to. Regardless of what you say, if they are terrorised by you, then just stop; no one deserves to be terrorised or bullied in any other way.


Anywhale, that’s just what I’ve learnt from spending to much time with dogs… and people lol. Remember that we all have 5 senses and all are used to communicate our feelings to others, so don’t just listen or read, but watch the people you talk to.

Orphan Spirit

I went for Day of His Power, and aside from the usual conservative campaign agendas, there was something new this year. Rev Daniel Khong is taking over the role of Senior Pastor in FCBC this week, and at DoHP he preached about reconciliation of Fathers and Sons: in Families, in Nations (UK/Japan and Singapore), in Individual Churches like FCBC.

In my own family, this is something I know very well. For me, at least, I have a deep resentment for my parents for their failure to keep the family together, or maybe for failing to even try. I tried for awhile to do it on my own, but now I realise that it is really up to my father, if he does not want to change, we will all suffer for it. That kinda makes me even more resentful.

Singapore has done well to reconcile with Britain and Japan, the two nations that colonised us, and it is a real testament to our ability as a nation to forgive and cooperate. Even to our former federal head, Malaysia, we have shown honour and sacrifice, featuring Tun Mahathir in our parade this year and settling our Water Dispute peacefully.


But one more thing I think hasn’t been well explored is this Orphan dynamic in the Protestant Church in Singapore. On this Island, we have 9 historical denominations: Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Baptist, Methodist, Adventist, Mar Thoma Syrian and Pentecostal. This makes up a third of the local Protestant population. The other two thirds belong to various nondenominational churches and associations.

Nondenominationalism only became a phenomenon in America in the 1990s, and in Singapore, it his us even earlier in the 1980s. Before WWII, all the churches in Singapore would have mostly been from these 9 denominations, but over the years churches like Cornerstone Community Church and City Harvest Church broke away from their Anglican roots to form the more well known of the many nondenominational churches today.

Half of me suspects that this was a result of the same Orphaned resentment. I think one of the more obvious ones would be the Charismatic movement and the early opposition they faced from the colonial churches (Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian). Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, where the Vatican ordered that the Charismatic Movement be treated as a move of God since the 1960s, Protestants had a rather frustratingly slow reaction to what was, at the time, a very very important Christian revival in Singapore. While the Methodist and Anglican Churches have since marginally accepted the Movement as valid, and the Presbyterians incorporating Contemporary Worship styles, the damage had already been done and the divide between the denominational and nondenominational was cemented.


I got a feeling, though I have no evidence to back it up, that what my family is going through mirrors the Protestant Church in Singapore. The “parent” denominational churches failed to establish and maintain effective platforms of communication to deal with the highly important issues of the day.

However, these 9 denominations hold the key to the past, in their historical creeds, confessions, catechisms and liturgies, they form the bridge that links the modern church through the Protestant Reformation and back to the early church and the Apostles. They form the starting point of the Singapore Christian story that tells us where we have been, where we are and where we need to go next. It is not enough for everyone to look back to the 1970s and proclaim Singapore the Antioch of Asia when we really don’t know what that means. Our direct history begins in the 1830s, and from what I can tell, we are less like the Antioch of Asia and more like the Rome of Asia, if I had to guess, the Antioch of Asia is Korea and the Alexandria of Asia is India. Singapore is a City that is one of the Financial hubs of Asia, with a minority Christian population that is liturgically diverse, but internationally influential, made of mostly recent converts and with hardly any actually history of being a Christian people. That is Rome, not Antioch. This is something I learnt studying the early Church and got interested in that by studying the historical documents of the 9 Protestant denoms in Singapore.

I feel like as important as unity is, the largest barrier is some spiritual resentment that the newer churches have for the more traditional ones, and until the traditional ones cooperate, they cannot keep up with the problems of today that the nondenoms have been relentlessly tackling. Nondenoms seem to tackle these problems rather inefficiently too, because they disagree on what to about it, like the FCBC and NCC disagreements on Evangelism, and without a canon of internationally recognised, unchanging and ratified set of creeds and confessions, there is really no way to discuss these issues in any concrete way, other than the horrendously unhelpful “I’m right because I teach what the Bible says and you don’t”. However, the people that can actually galvanise the Protestant community as a whole are more concerned with international relations within their own denomination and having tea with the Prime Minister than joining the nondenoms in involving themselves in social campaigns and evangelistic policy.


All in all, I know as much about what to do about the Protestant Church as I do my own family. I feel like unless the Anglican Church steps up to initiate ecumenical relations with the other 8 denoms, we won’t really see a united and powerful church in Singapore. Just some thoughts I guess.

Poetry: Jungle of Fear

I am lost in the jungle
Too weak to move
Surrounded by strangers
Not the brothers of my youth

Nor the lover in my bed
Or the leader above me
I stand in a twofold jungle
Of my own thoughts and peers

I look around startled
The sun is setting
And though it rises again
I yet smell death

The wind whistles words
Like an omen clear
That my end is slowly seeking
To draw me in with fear

My eyes, my eyes
So cold and red
I am sure that loneliness
Would have me dead

The Singapore Protestant Religion in its Historical Documents 

1. Lutheran: Book of Concord 

2. Anglican: The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The 1662 Book of Common Prayer & The Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons 

3. Presbyterian: The Westminster Standards

4. Dutch Reformed: Three forms of Unity

5. Baptist: The Baptist Faith and Message 

6. Methodist: The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church & The General Rules of the Methodist Church

7. Adventist: The 28 Fundamental Beliefs

8. Mar Thoma Syrian: The Mar Thoma Syrian Liturgy & The Mar Thoma Syrian Church Order for Holy Matrimony

9. Pentecostal: Pentecostal World Fellowship Statement of Faith

The Gospel In Creation

I want to share something I’ve learnt recently about Sunday morning worship and the Sabbath, as well as how it relates to our Singaporean work week context.


“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light… And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day… Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them… And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day… By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” – Genesis 1:1-2:2

So today I want to unpack these 3 concepts: New Creation, Current Creation and the Sabbath.


Part 1: New Creation

“Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world … That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.” – Rt Rev N.T. Wright

The early Christians by mid 200s AD had developed a tradition of having city-wide Eucharistic worship on the morning of the 8th day, yes, 8th day; that was how the early Church saw the Eucharist, as the begining of a new age. The gospel centres on the concept of ‘New Creation’, the old order of the world has been vanquished by the cross, where the law was the strength of sin, where people persecute each other in show of hypocritical self righteousness based on their innate sense of justice. By the Cross, the world was made new and that new world begins in a meal.

“When [Jesus] wanted to explain what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give a theory. He didn’t give them a set of scriptural texts. He gave them a meal.” – Rt Rev N.T. Wright

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Luke 22:28-30

We see that the Eucharist here dramatises the future hope of having the meal with Christ the King at the start of his manifest eternal Kingdom. Where people who were once enemies come together in peace to nourish themselves on the Word of God, literally in the Liturgy of the Word and Dramatically in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This was never meant to replace the Sabbath, how can it? The 8th day is the day after the last day of the week, the first day in a new age; so for the symbolism to work, the 7th day has to remain a day of rest as stated in Genesis.

The Eucharist is also traditionally celebrated in the Morning, and for good reason, since it is the start of the new age, it has to follow the rising of first light as in Genesis. The first day was the day where God said “Let there be light”, when the Word of God himself created the light of a new age. The Sunday Service is also, therefore, the begining of the work week; much like the Morning Assembly we had in school that started our day of work. I think that is a concept we have lost in Western Christianity, the idea that the Mass (Dismissal), or Divine Service to Protestants, is meant to energise and commission the Christian community into the world to work for the Kingdom; it is the dismissal from the Sabbath. Over the centuraries we have instead used it as like a replacement for Sabbath rest or just a retreat from real life to focus on God, when we forget that the whole week is an act of worship that should begin with the Eucharist. Why the Eucharist? Because you are what you eat, the ultimate symbol of of New Creation is the build your own body with the Body and Blood of Christ.


Part 2: Current Creation

The Islamic faith holds their weekly worship, the Jummah, at the middle of the fifth day, or Sabbath eve; the day that mankind was created. Islam fundementally differs from Christianity in their belief of human nature, and that is the only permamant difference. While Christians preach New Creation, when the depravity of sin is take away from us and we are glorified in God’s full image, Muslims preach Restoration, where they look to their inner selves that carry the full image of God in the current state of creation. So while Christians, who believe that mankind is inherently evil, looks to the future and a new age, Muslimin, who believe that mankind is inherently good, looks to the past to find themselves in God. The Jummah is thus the celebration of the completion of creation, the begining of the Sabbath, and the Mass/Divine Service is the celebration of the completion of new creation, the end of the Sabbath.

The Mosques are empty and plain, allowing the congregation to focus on itself and look inward to find God, while Churches are filled with decorations that mirror the age to come, from scripture verses to depictions of Biblical stories that push the Christian to look outside himself and forward to his blessed hope in glory. These things are very specific to the Soteriology of each of the religions and it is good to know why they are set up in such a way.


Part 3: The Sabbath

Now I have fluctuated between many different Sabbath practices and now I would like to go through some history on how these different stances came about, this would also apply to the Muslims and Jews who share our understanding of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath started off being universally practiced by the early church. However, in light of legalistic Jewish Sabbath onservances, as well as Amillennial beliefs that the current age is the manifestation of the Kingdom, the then Imperial Catholic Church (including modern Roman Catholic, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox) had developed a doctrine of the Sabbath being a the state of the current age rather than one day a week, and it largely stuck.

“[The Christian] will not be commanded to leave idle one day of rest, who is constantly keeping Sabbath.” – Iranaeus

In the East, the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, founded by Jewish congregations had also restored the Saturday Sabbath and added Sunday as a second Sabbath, to incorporate Sunday Divine Services.

However, back in the West, as the Ten Commandments became more and more important in the Church, the Papacy had then moved the Christian Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, to coincide with Sunday morning worship. This was a tradition carried on and further enforced by Protestant groups such as the Methodists.

Soon after, other Protestant groups started to restore the practice of Saturday Sabbath, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, instead of the Sunday one, and moved Sunday morning divine services to Saturday morning ones; a copy paste of Methodist practice, but just on a different day. With the rise of Messianic Judaism, Christian Hebrew Roots and Hebraic Roots congregations, the practice of both Saturday Sabbath and Services have become more common too.


To me, I feel like the apostolic practice of Saturday Sabbaths and Sunday Morning Worship has never been effectively restored, though many groups have tried. Personally, I’ve gone from the position of No Sabbath, to Sunday Sabbath, to Saturday Sabbath and Service, and now finally to Saturday Sabbath and Sunday Morning Service.

I think that it is a really wasted opportunity, because the Saturday Sabbath is something we can agree on with the Muslims here in Singapore, and can be a joint time for family and community building. It also wouldnt affect the times that we worship, like Friday afternoon or Sunday morning, so its more of a cultural rather than institutional change. Ideally we have a weekend that starts from 12pm on Friday to 12pm on Sunday and that would literally make all religions happy, but a relic of our Western Christian colonial past has left us with the current work week of monday to saturday morning work and a one and a half day rest, now developed to something more like a 5 day work week instead.

I know in Singapore we have this Epicurean understanding of a God who is far away, that we maybe meet in a Church-Mosque once a week if we feel like it, but I think worship starts from the home, and nowhere is that more possible than in Sabbath keeping culture. Fathers have to be there at home to teach there children to find God not just in a church or mosque but in the family that loves and surrounds them, either begining with the Jummah or ending with the Mass/Divine Service; then maybe the awareness and fear of God will come back to our little red dot.

That’s about all I have to say about this for now.

No Choice

I remembered as a Christian just starting to discover my faith how I would get very angry at people saying “It is your choice to do right or wrong thing” or worse “It is your choice to accept Jesus or not”. Some might attribute that to the fundemental Calvinism that I picked up from the Bible Presbyterian Church that introduced me to real Protestantism, but even to this day I cringe when I hear those things… very simply because it is wrong from the perspective of both Roman Catholic and Reformed Protestantant doctrine and because it seems to be why people find it so hard to forgive.

I grew up Roman Catholic, taught that the human essence is permanently “weakened and diminished by Adam’s fall” (Council of Trent), and swinging over to Reformed Protestant thought, both Calvinist and Arminian, “We are all sinners by nature, therefore we are held under the yoke of sin.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion). It is fairly plain to me that Christians should never be surprised by people, not just doing bad things, but shamelessly enjoying doing bad things. I used to lash out at people that talked about choice like that, (which in hindsight makes me look rather crazy,) by saying that that kind of thinking was Islamic, and here I am 5 years later still believing that same thing (just that I keep it to myself a little more). Islam universally teaches that mankind is born innocent and becomed corrupted by a sinful world, whereas Christians universally teach that mankind is born evil and proceeds to corrupt the world around us. The need for a saviour necessitates the that human nature is so evil that it cannot save itself. If human beings really had a choice to do bad things or not, that would kind of make the cross a joke dont you think?

So often I see conflict arise from people who are just so shocked that the people around them would hurt them or be lazy and apathetic, but the Bible and Church clearly teach that, well, that is kind of the default. People doing anything good is a sacrifice, giving up the natural inclinations to do something good instead, and it is a borderline miracle that should be celebrated. I find it so frustrating that people have these lines and boundaries that say “I cannot forgive because they are not sincere”, like yea, what did you expect? No one is sincere, no one but God. All our “sincerity” is a cheap immitation of God’s goodness that we dont fully understand. Roman Catholics teach that we can be consecrated to the point that we understand God’s goodness, Arminians teach that we can be sanctified until we reflect God’s goodness, Calvinists teach that if we persevere, we can be glorified to embody God’s goodness in the next life, and what all these three agree on is that holiness as we understand it is both rare and not necessarily permanant on this side of eternity. There is no reason to expect anyone to do good to you, reciprocity, or at least true reciprocity, never works.

It is a lot easier to live at peace with people when you really dont expect anything from them except evil. You celebrate their good points and move on from their evil ones pretty quickly. The world is a really hostile place and the only real way we have a shot at redeeming it is to forgive. God is not intimidated by sin, and neither should we be. The Cross shows us that our self righteousness and unforgiveness leads to us killing our own saviour, and many a times if we think back on our own lives, thats how we treat our own “enemies” and “neighbours” too; their sin intimidates us and we repay in kind not knowing that they might actually be our saviours. God’s healing goodness dispells decaying sin with a word, but mankind’s mortality forces us to answer sin with and endless cycle of wrath. Christ made us acceptible to the Father by taking on the wrath of man and destroying it with a show of humility, it is when we stop fighting each other that we can meet the Father; the Law of the Lord is Love alone.

I talk a lot about Unity and how I think the divisions in the Singaporean churches need to be fixed. I see a lack of unity as a compromise on the Gospel itself; Unity cannot be achieved with persecution and repression, because that just perpetuates conflict again, nor with tolerance, that is really just internalised and secret conflict. Unity is achieved in humility and forgiveness, in expecting people to do wrong, think wrong and feel wrong, and yet not fight them but seek to understand them… by just actively listening.

Listen to and observe the culture, the worship, the doctrine, the works, the practices of other people and actively celebrate everything that is done right as a miracle of God and integrate that into your own life. That is what the Gospel community has to look like, that is what real ecumenism looks like, what a life of forgiveness looks like. It begins with humility and ends with unity. All mankind is born in sin and is in need of a saving God, learn to see glimmers of salvation in everyone you meet.

Shrines of God (Part 1)

“Solomon’s heart belonged to the Eternal. Solomon abided by the same laws as his father, David. The only difference was that Solomon offered sacrifices and incense at the high places. Solomon went to Gibeon—the great high place—and presented 1,000 burnt offerings at the altar.” 1 Kings 3:3-4

It would surprise many Christians to know about the dichotomy of temple (or tabernacle) worship and shrine (or high place) worship. Traditionally, Church building designs incorporate both the temple and shrine aspects of old testament worship; in modern day however, our church designs tend to be simplified to shift focus more on the community of people worshiping rather than poetically represent the nature of worship.

Today I want to quickly go through the 4 basic themes that come from shrine worship. Hopefully, it will help you draw on the ancient, mystical and primal nature of worship as you envision yourself walking through these places in prayer.

When you pray, in your imagination, walk through these places and describe what you see and feel; very often it reveals aspects of your own life that yoy would otherwise not be able to see.


The Cold Northern Forests

“Singaporeans Have Been Praying to Trees For Over 200 Years. Here’s Why” – Pan Jie, Rice Media Co.

This type of shrine I like the most, the northern forest shrine. Here is a picture of the godswood from Game of Thrones that I think really encapsulate the feel of it.

This kind we see in the Northern European designs, drawing from the Celtic and Germanic traditions of sacred groves. Where druids and shamans, mad from dwelling in cold forests practice dark and mysterious rites.

Here is how it looks in a Singapore Church, St Andrew’s Cathedral and Wesley Methodist Church:

This is a dark symbol of Chaos and Potential, a mix of Water and Earth, where the canopy of leaves above block out the sun, and in the woods around you hide the unknown, ever shifting and renewing, a concentration of the messiness of life. This is where everything is possible both in opportunity and danger.

To find the cross in the centre of it all is the goal of the Christian, the suffering servant, to reach into the abyss and find beauty in the harsh reality of life.


The Hot Southern Mountains

Next we come to the mountains of Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings. Shrines to the words that supernaturally empower.

This kind we see more in Southern European design around the Medditeranian, drawing from Greco-Roman traditions, when the gods ruled from Mount Olympus and from Palatine, the city of Rome rose from seven hills. Where oracles speak and priests offer sacrifices of fire and blood in high temples of stone.

And here is Princep Street Presbyterian Church and the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd:

This is the Bright symbol of Order and Stability, a dance of Fire and Wind, where the Sun in its glory beats heat onto the peaks reaching into the clouds, as our mortal world touches Heaven. This is where all things are revealed, and truth is manifest on a continual base of ancient stone, never to move or be changed.

This is where the Cross stands above all, a focal point of all generations who adore Christ the King, a beautiful reality we can barely imagine.


Okay, I’m not sure I’ve written this to my own satisfaction, and I find it really really hard nowadays to write anything at all, I have to force it out of myself. But I think being able to draw of these archetypal places of primeval consciousness has allowed me to access an imaginative creative greater than my little Singaporean experience can produce.

Anyway, I will get to the Sea and Desert shrines, that are a little less common, but equally architecturally beautiful in Singapore. This is the advantage of a little Literature background, that allows me to see a little bit more of the universal human experiences carved into our places of worship.

Taoist/Hindu Christianity

For Chinese and Indians in Singapore, the main deities worshiped are Mazu (Taoist), Guanyin (Buddhist) and Murugan (Hindu) and their worship is deeply ingrained in our culture even when we convert to Christianity. 


Mazu and Guanyin

Mazu is the goddess of protection at sea and Guanyin is the goddess of mercy, both aspects of the feminine ideal, the motherly figure. Catholics might think of it as Mother Mary and Protestants as the Holy Spirit, and both are necessarily true, but i like to think about the Christian Feminine ideal as the Church, whom the Spirit moves through and is personified by Mother Mary.

We think of the world like the sea, it sustains us with food, being a southern fishing people, but we somehow as a culture agreed that it is also our greatest danger, which we need both protection and mercy from. Protection suggesting that it cannot be reasoned with and mercy suggesting that it can. Life can be reasoned with sometimes and to seek mercy ensures our survival and sometimes it cant be reasoned with and you just need someone who has mastered life to protect you from it.

As Christians, the Chinese people will then naturally look to the Church as our sources of both protection and mercy, an institution set up by God, his holy bride and the mother of us all, that has through her discipline and sacrifice mastered life before us and us both our greatest source of social and moral sustenance and danger.

The Chinese people are particularly sensitive to the state of our religious communities and always hold in our minds the ideal of the great mother archetype, going to great lengths to maintain and develop our fellowship.


Murugan


Murugan is the god of youth, beauty and war, the picture of a man in his prime, the vedic equivalent to the god Mars or Thor, or the Chinese Weituo Pusa. These are aspects of God the Son, the Word of God who reveals himself in the liturgy of the Word and Eucharist.

So less focus on the people and more on the preaching and ritual of worship. Christ the King is the warrior that conquers the hearts of men, until his enemies are his footstool; the almighty creator and sustainer of all things. It is in accurately portraying and acting out these aspects in worship that the indians are inspired to face life as if it were a war for life against death; to bring the nations under his law and teachings and peace with God and mankind.

It is this youthful zeal that creates real beauty in this world. They are sensitive to the accuracy of the gospel proclamation in every aspect of worship and this striving for excellence in it is what brings them together to fight sin and death.


Why Bother?

I think it is in understanding our ethnic roots that allows us to really draw the strength to live a truly good Christian life, just using the weight and momentum of our culture alone. It also allows us to see where our lives may be lacking and what other cultures have in their favour.

I think that having Taoism and Hinduism intact for us is really a hidden benefit to us Christians, because it allows us to understand and build on the cultural knowledge of our ancestors that we integrated into as children, rather than have to build our faith from scratch, as if the spirit and knowledge of God is totally foreign to us.

I see Taoist and Hindu practices more like a veneration of personified attributes of God or our common historical ethnic heroes who have come close to demonstrating the heart of God, whom we worship in Jesus Christ, and is of immense value to me in my understanding of the Gospel.

You have to remember that ethnic religions are defined not by their books and moral teachings, but by the practices and traditions which the books attempt to explain. Christians and Buddhists have it the other way around where our practices are an attempt to explain our books. Sometimes the two go together very nicely, so while we may reject certain teachings of Buddha, Lao Zi and Confucious, their practices still hold value in dramatising the Gospel for us as a culture.