Zoo Trip!

Mel wanted to introduce some of her friends to me this holiday and so in the spirit of wanting to have fun and fellowship, we went to the Singapore Zoo and the River Safari on Thursday. Because of the corporate passes we applied for, the four of us did not need to pay a cent to enjoy the two local attractions. yay! Despite the short shower in the afternoon, the weather was perfect as well, sun always up and shining, and the animals seemed happy and content.

The last time I went to the zoo was about six years back before the renovations took place and the pandas came in, so it was a very exciting trip. Furthermore, the company was very pleasant, and the exchanges was unexpectedly comfortable. I forget how refreshing it felt to have spiritually like-minded friends able to share and discuss issues.

Tomorrow I will be taking a short trip to Bangkok with a group of colleagues. It will be great. I pray for the spiritual vigil and maturity to stay alert and be a living testimony of God’s righteousness and grace. It will be fun!

In our stride

One day ago I was dealt with a rather overwhelming blow at work. To sum it up, there were some deployment changes that meant my effort and time put into work the past few weeks are entirely discounted and no longer contributes to my preparation for school next year. My supervisor unfortunately, did not have the courtesy to explain this change to me personally, but assumed that I would do her bidding – as always. To top it off, my new role seemed thoughtlessly thrust upon me for the sake of convenience. I felt that I was tasked to do the “dirty work” because others did not bother with it enough. I felt hurt and undermined, because I felt disrespected as a person. As an employee, I would suck it up and do it, but as a person, I was angry and upset at the way she handled things.

I realised I spend a great deal of time moping and brooding over something that bothers me. I was hurling words of anger and angst all around, and upon hindsight, am not proud of it. I was with a good friend yesterday afternoon, who accepted me as a rather emotional companion. (Thank you, See.) I confided in several of my teaching friends, thankful that I had at least a sister-in-Christ who was committed to praying for me to get back on track. Even that was not enough, I bought Auntie Anne’s pretzels for supper, and ate it before dinner because I was just feeling so “blah”.

My first thoughts as I opened my eyes this morning, was about the same matter. Obviously, I had not found peace before the sun set yesterday, and had harboured my frustrations and worries throughout the night. On some level, it must have plagued my dreams. It was a large burden that weighed my mind down.

Then I opened my devotional, for my Quiet Time with God this morning. The reading was on working for Christ. We forget that our God is sovereign – and that every little detail in our life is planned and rolled out by Him. I forget that it is not my supervisor who threw me such a heavy matter to deal with, but God, who allowed me to be thrown such a heavy matter to grow from. I forget my place. I grumbled, I complained, and I threw a fit because I forget that my God is greater than any supervisor or employer I had, have or will ever have.

I rest my head in shame, because certainly God knew the conflict it would cause in me. I must not forget that my Creator God has things in His hand.

It does change the game. I know that I will submit to higher authority and the lot they have allotted me, not because they are higher authority, but because God is the highest authority. This is not just a game of playing your pawns on a chess board; this is a game of staying faithfully to the calling of your Lord.

And this is a game which we have already emerged victors. This is a game we have already won.

Let the little children come to me

There was a large children turnout at the Prayer Meeting last evening. At first, I did not know why there were so many of them. But after the service started, I learnt that for the next few weeks, there would be a separate prayer meeting conducted for the little children during their year-end holidays.

The sight of the little children gathering with the adults in a circle with the orange song books in their hands, trying to mouth every word along with us, made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. As I looked at the little boy sitting opposite me metres away, looking up at the uncle standing next to him, pointing at the words on the page for him, I just felt such joy and pride at seeing their childlike submission.

These children wanted to come for prayer meeting, to pray for the church. They put aside their evening of TV, computer games, and other fun they may have been able to enjoy, and chose to attend prayer meeting with the rest of the family of God in church. I thought back to the moments in Sunday School when we taught the toddlers to pray. We would go around gathering prayer requests at the end of every lesson, and they would share what bothered them the most, and we would pray altogether for them and their worries.

The evening was heartwarmingly inspiring. A little girl told me on Sunday that she would not be able to come because both her parents would be overseas.

I asked her, “How did you come today?”

She replied, “My papa sent me then he go to the airport.” Her eyes speaking of the immense excitement coming to church on a weekday evening.

Another little boy I teach came by himself.

I asked, “Who brought you here?”

“Uncle.”

It just warmed my heart to see what childlike faith they demonstrated. Such little life lessons to be learnt from the children among us. With that, I resolve to come for prayer meeting every Wednesday instead of giving myself a whole list of excuses.

In one of my Quiet Time devotional readings recently, I was reminded that what matters is not how good we are in our work, but how intimate we are with our Lord. And if I were to give up the latter, the former would mean nothing.

 

Re-evaluating the reasons for our social conventions

The recent uproar brought about by the Ashley Madison website in Singapore did more than unsettle me. Quietly I have been following the news and threads on the dialogue between local netizens, the Government, MDA and Ashley Madison, and I have been reeling back in fear at the various reactions and responses exchanged by all parties. All along we have exalted the family unit as an integral and critical backbone of our Asian society, claiming ownership of strong “traditions” and “moral values”.

This episode only seemed to be unveiled some sort of truth for us – that our society is changing, and being “traditional” and “conventional” no longer holds the same degree of appeal or honour as it used to for the older generations. With this, I believe, comes the need to re-evaluate the reasons for the social conventions and beliefs we claim to hold on to. Do we really have the same convictions? What exactly is it, to be moral, anymore? 

When I shared the news of Ashley Madison to a few of my friends in the workplace, I was surprised (more shocked) that I would actually find people who disagreed with the campaign to block the website in Singapore. What made me more uncomfortable were the reasons cited, and I give my personal take on them below.

It is ‘none of my business’. If people want to sign up for it, why would we bother? 

The fact that we are all living in the same community is reason why it should be your business to care. If this website threatens the home of a friend, a relative or your own marriage, would you live in quiet acceptance of its presence? Furthermore, passively agreeing to welcome this site does make you complicit in its movement – you are passively agreeing to the values it upholds.

Maybe it will help keep families together.

Seriously? What about the families that it breaks apart because of it? How would that come into play?

If I need to hook up with someone else other than my wife or husband to keep me sane and thus “keep my marriage together”, I am not keeping my marriage together. I am probably not even in a marriage anymore. That is, unless your idea of marriage is a legal contract between two persons, which is a really depressing definition of a marriage (and definitely not worth spending tens of thousands on for your wedding). If marriage to you, like to me, is a commitment – physical, emotional and spiritual – to a person you promise to love for the rest of your life – there should not even be any room to negotiate for a any brief, casual encounters with someone else.

Anyway, it is just a matter of time before AM comes into Singapore.

True, even with the MDA ban, people can bypass the ban by using a VPN or logging in from another country. The website is up and running, and there is a network of interested parties building. It is just a matter of finding inconvenient to increasingly convenient channels of bypassing the ban and getting what we want (if that is what you are looking for). But why does this make it OK for them to be in Singapore again? Again, passively accepting this is equivalent to saying you are in favour of the concept and values it is founded on.

People should have freedom to do what they want. Those who values commitment and family will stay away from the site. And those who do not, would have committed adultery with or without AM anyway. Blame the people, not the tool. 

It is said that “AM is not the cause of infidelity” and uses this as reason not to block Ashley Madison in Singapore. True, even Noel Biderman, CEO and founder, said that Ashley Madison ‘“does not aggressively promote extra-marital affairs,” and is merely a platform that “cannibalises” an already existing behaviour pattern.’ There are plenty of extra-marital affairs and broken relationships among us and our family unit is definitely not as stable as we may ideally think it to be. But do we say “OK” to the opening of more channels that encourage infidelity because of what we tout as “freedom”? Why do we make things easier for the Wrong to succeed, when it is already difficult enough to do the Right sometimes?

If it comes down to having to make a choice between laying claim to personal freedom and having my government make a stand on what values we want to preserve and champion (despite an ever-growing number of ideologies that run against it), I would choose hands down the latter. Same logic goes to working in school for me. If you asked me which was more important: protecting my personal voice and freedom, or having school leaders that protect and guard the same values that we hold dear and our community is built on (like resilience, and good character, and confidence), I would definitely want a school with leaders who knew how to safeguard our values and convictions, because those strands make us us. 

I may be an old-fashioned conservative, but I find the self-centred view of wanting freedom (and not restricting our choices) extremely wanton and selfish.

Yes, ultimately it boils down to a fundamentally values dialogue.

Yes, it is all about the values and conventions. Ashley Madison and its varied supporters obviously proclaim a different set of values than what we do (or what we are used to).

I personally cannot get past the idea that AM openly claims to reach out to married partners who are looking for brief, casual encounters with another. People justify this as a need which marriage partners are sometimes unable to satisfy – sometimes sexual, sometimes emotional – which explains the warped idea that extra-marital affairs can help keep families together. It pains me to think that what is central to this line of persuasion is that you are the most important person in your life. If you cannot be satisfied, you have the right to look for contentment elsewhere. After all, you may be doing your family a favour.

The images on the website – to “shhh” and keep it a secret – is disturbing. Is it not common sense that when you need to hide something from someone, there is a high possibility that you are doing something wrong? Why does the company choose to feature such images?

AM capitalises on the needs of married persons and their possible weakness towards infidelity, as clients in the running of this website. Yet its founder, supporters and members, do not seem to think that this business concept is very wrong. It is a profit-driven business based on the weaknesses of others – and it justifies itself by apathetically ignoring the issue the morality, and rendering it irrelevant because of the potentially good things it does (like keep families together and satisfy individual needs and … everyone is doing it anyway!)

Not only does it seem to imply that it is reasonable to have an extra-marital affair, it also conversely seems to suggest that a marriage without it will be challenging and impossible. But since when were we told that relationships, marriages and building a family was easy? If commitment was so easy, it would not be called “commitment”.

Take the opportunity to ask some important questions.

Ashley Madison aside, this episode does spur me on to want to ask some important questions like:

Why do we hold on to those values like we did in the past?
Are they still relevant for us today?
How do we know what is right and wrong anymore?

Can we expect to impose our values and ideologies on others in the same community? 

Because honestly, Ashley Madison is going to be just one of those things that digs up our dirty laundry. Once this AM episode cools off and citizens come to accept its place (or lack thereof) in the society, something else is going to come along and jolt us into a string of questions again.

We all join this dialogue with different perspectives and ideas of what values are, how important they are, and why we should or should not fight for them. The Government claims that the site holds a “flagrant disregard for family values and public morality” – laying claim to protect the traditional Asian family values they want (or believe) Singaporeans embody. It is the conservative Asian society they want to preserve, and for many fairly good reasons, political, social, economical. I am not sure how many people actually spoke up against sites like AM because they believe in the transient nature of morality – that there are certain values that time has no bearing on.

There is a certain, definite right and wrong, good and evil, that I believe in, and that is dictated in the Bible. The principles and teachings of the Bible does not change through time – so just like God teaches us to value our loved ones and honour them, to honour the marital vows that were made before the Lord – I believe that those are right things which do not change just because social principles and conventions have shifted somewhat.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” – Isaiah 40:8

I believe there is a conscience placed in each of us that gently nudges us to do right and to shy away from wrongdoing. This is how we know that it is wrong to kill a man, betray one’s trust, rob a bank, or turn a blind eye to someone in desperate need. Our conscience may become suppressed into insensitivity and apathy over time, but there is a conscience at work. If we don’t feel good about those extra-marital affairs and feel a need to hide from our partners, we are doing wrong.

The next question is, can we expect to impose our values on the rest of our community, even if out of altruism and goodwill, we believe strongly that it is for the benefit of the people? I believe there is a necessity to stand up for what you know is right, and speak up against what you know is wrong. Of course, not everyone will agree, and some would take much offence at how grandly I appear to boast of my “Christian” moral goodness and integrity when I probably fall short in so many other ways.

Not everyone may understand or appreciate the reasons for your beliefs and convictions, or share your views in morality, but that does not mean that you are wrong to speak up for what you believe in. The Government, MDA, AM, and other bodies speak up about this issue from various points of view. I contribute to the pool of debate as well by speaking up from a personal point of view, and that includes beliefs grounded in my Christian faith.

I cannot condone or accept what Ashley Madison stands for (and of course AM will not the be only thing I frown upon with much disdain), and I want to share a piece of my thoughts if you would read it. In the same way, I hope people reading and exchanging in these dialogue would be able to respect and honour the views of individuals as well – individuals governed by their own set of values, beliefs and convictions.

 

Sickly Service

The most dreaded virus I find my body most susceptible to is the flu. I hate it each time I get the flu, when the waste-paper bins are filled with mushy white tissue paper, the mug you drink out of reeks of illness, and there is hardly enough water left in the jar because your body practically craves water like it is air. 

This morning I debated between spending money going to the doctor’s for an MC, or to just head down to school to clock in 4 hours. The headache told me that I should not risk going to school looking like a measled animal whimpering and sniffing and carrying boxes of tissue around, so I headed down to the doctor’s. I queued outside fifteen minutes before the clinic opened at nine o’clock, only to be told when it finally opened that the doctor would only arrive later. “He looks at the CCTV and sees how many patients there are.” The nurse explained to another patient, who inquired when the doctor would arrive. what?? is that how private gps work nowadays? 

The doctor finally showed up at around nine forty-five, and as the first patient I had a two-minute consultation with him before I paid close to fifty dollars for the consultation and medication, and left in five minutes before ten. 

The experience left me feeling ever more sore. I decided to visit this clinic because the other clinic usually met a waiting time of two hours. But I felt indignant that for this clinic, the doctor’s schedules seemed to revolve around him than his patients. He asked all the relevant questions and prescribed all the appropriate medication, but I did not feel that I had just visited a doctor – I felt that I had just paid close to fifty dollars for an MC, period. 

Teaching, just like being a general practitioner, has to be more than just a profit-driven business, right? I did not feel like a patient, but a customer, who just completed a quick transaction. So I decided that I will go back to my usual GP even if I have to wait for an hour or so more, simply because she cares for every single person – young or old – who walks in through her doors, and treats them with patience and heart. 

 

 

And I suppose the trait I am drawn to in a man is

I made an interesting discovery yesterday. First let me introduce you to three of my favourite movie characters. Then perhaps you might concur that they do share one or two rather distinct qualities which ultimately led me to my conclusion.

1) This is Agent Phil Coulson, from SHIELD.

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If you review previous Marvels superhero flicks you may find him in the background quietly working for SHIELD, such as in the two Thor films. Apparently fans will find him alive to play the upcoming drama series on Fox, “Agents of Shield”. Phil Coulson won me over in THE AVENGERS.

My favourite scenes were each time Agent Coulson would so eagerly fanboy over Captain America. He represented all of us. Yet at the same time, despite his minor role in SHIELD, he never failed to carru out his duties with pride, honour and commitment.
Rather than fear death, he looked at Loki in the eye and said he would never win because “You lack conviction.” That was such an act of a courageous and principled man.

2) This is Samwise from Lord of the Rings.

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He too, decided to follow Master Frodo and be his companion all the way to Mordor. He would not leave because the going got tough or because Frodo asked him to go. “I made a promise.” He persisted to the point where he almost drowned in the waters.

Sam’s character never got the glory Frodo or the other knights received. But that was not what Sam cared for. After the journey, he returned home to marry his childhood sweetheart, another act of a courageous, committed and humble young man.

3) And finally, this is Loki.

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Okay, this is Tom Hiddleston, but he played Loki in Thor. I know Phil Coulson accused this fellow of lacking conviction, but I think Loki’ s character became a lot more vulnerable and human than in the first instalment. That human quality was the redeeming factor for me.

So, I figured that…

These man are never the ones who enjoy the limelight, yet I find their characters incredibly attractive. They hold true to their beliefs (well Loki did hold true to wanting to be King of Asgaard) and were man of principle (apart from Loki). I am drawn to their sense of commitment and faithfulness to their purpose, their friends and their calling.

It doesn’t matter if this mister shao can hold a tune or looks fantastic and knows how to pair a tie with boots. What counts for me would be someone who had the courage to hold true to what they believe in and the strength to pursue something better.