We have a guest among us these few days, here to share with us the good news from the Lord and the joy of life. Amidst the madness of marking during this exam season, I was blessed with the chance to eat at the same table and partake in the same conversation as Reverend J Tong and my family. This morning we were scheduled to have breakfast with him. I must admit that before this morning’s breakfast my heart was hardened to the idea of spending hours chatting. The prospect seemed almost idle and dishonourable to me – to be spending time in casual conversation, when there is a pile of work at home beckoning for your attention, just because we have a special guest from abroad with us over the weekend. I was not looking particularly forward to breakfast, and no bowl of fish porridge could warm my heart up to the idea.
The magic happened at the dining table having the bowls of porridge laboriously cooked over the stove for hours that we young people may eat as a family with a servant of the Lord. Our conversation was indeed casual – it scraped the surface of his family, our aspirations and very briefly, our professions, as well as dreams of our relationships.
When he visited last year, his sharing always stir up some greater aspiration in me, like many other youths I am certain. He was always able to live out a sense of Joy in everything, no matter the circumstance. Coming to Singapore, his schedule is packed with meetings, sharing and teaching sessions, with little personal time to rest and recuperate from the jet lag. Yet there is always a certain charm and exuberance he lives out from within him when he interacts with the brothers and sisters, a glisten in his eye that reflects a sense of eternal joy and hope in the world that he lives and the life that he is living.
His thoughts and principles were also equally intriguing and profound. As a psychologist, he knew more than just what we would read from textbooks and encyclopaedias. His thoughts were always lateral and different from what we are used to in a typical Singaporean person. He had the wisdom and joy from the Lord to accompany him in all his journeys. I have always envied at secretly marvelled at the wisdom and joy he could live his life based on. In fact, his principles and sharing have caused me to re-look at the reasons and basis to the way I lead my life, the values I guard so closely in my heart for the past twenty-seven years, and re-evaluate assumptions I have always held confidently dear to my heart.
The call for reconfiguration is necessary and refreshing, however unsettling it may be at the beginning. A simple way of looking from his perspective is in education, a child’s purpose is to learn, and the most basic testimony of the degree of learning that has taken place in a child is by formal modes of assessment to determine how much my child has learnt, to quantify it knowledge and skill. We would always look at the numbers and data, average it to find the cumulative grade for the year, and measure that against the rest of his peers or the national average, whichever you choose. The bottomline is, isn’t there another way to measure how much a child has learned? What about common or general knowledge, the soft skills in communication, problem-solving and team work? What about the ability to articulate the essence of morality and social values? What if a child did not use the given route to reach the same end point – would we be big-hearted and open-minded enough to embrace the wisdom in the child for being – different?
There seems to be examples all around us speaking of this ‘difference in thought’. I just finished watching X-Men: The Last Stand on Channel 5, and no prizes for guessing how the homosapiens reacted when they discovered they lived among mutants – people who were genetically different than they were. What about Divergent – a movie that speaks volumes about how their modes of thinking is so distinct from the others, they cannot be controlled or managed. I see it in education all the time, especially when not all of our students fit the classical way of rote learning in school.
In church, I sometimes wonder to what extent the Bible imposes expectations and regulations on us. Are we not suppose to be yoked together with a non-Christian? Are we suppose to shun those who come to church for the wrong reasons, perhaps to look for a partner or a look for some fun? Should we judge our friends because they proclaim an alternative sexual orientation or condemn those who behave in a certain way? I wonder if we are unnecessarily conservative at times, and this was a time I found myself thinking about the root of these principles.
‘Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.’ (1 Corinthians 10:23)
There are many things that we can do and we can proceed to embrace, but when we allow ourselves to be protected by the rules and expectations in our church community, I don’t think we are building ourselves up adequately.
Another example is that of offering. As the offering bag pass, an old man drops a twenty dollar bill in the bag. A young lady sitting two seats from him whispers a kind admonishment saying, “Dear Sir, you do not need to offer your money because you are not a Christian”. She proceeds to kick up a fuss because she felt concerned that a pagan’s salary would be used in the kingdom of God, and isn’t offering for Christians? The twenty dollars that was offered help to pay for the lunch of twenty of the little children in the church kindergarten, and the expenditure was used beautifully. Without that twenty dollars, it would have been hard for that church to make ends meet that week. Couldn’t it be possible that God used a non-believing man to help sustain His kingdom’s work? Our God is perfectly capable of creating his own resources, and we should not let our assumptions and expectations hinder that possibility for God to work wonders.
Mum always said it is important to look for a Christian partner. I have grown up all my life believing and expecting to date and marry only a good Christian man. In my mind my heart blocks out any man who is not a Christian as a potential partner because well, it is “unbiblical”. I realised how wrong it is, and this is a guise for many other assumptions we may be making unaware. Although there are plenty of reasons why it is advisable not to, why do we cut off all possible relationships (friendships, even!) with men who may be our potential partner because they are not Christian?
I think it may be a way for us to prevent ourselves from slipping. We are afraid of making mistakes, of falling below the grade, that we install plenty of rules and regulations to help keep our act together. If we have these rules institutionalised to follow, it makes following God easier. But I question that now – would it actually hinder the work of God? If we were truly His children with the Holy Spirit living within us, capable of prayerfully following God’s counsel, do we need the harsh conventional rules and regulations imposed upon us?
God gave Adam and Eve the choice – and they chose to sin. God could have easily taken that choice away so Adam and Eve would have to be given the burden of a task to make a choice – and risk making a wrong choice. But that wouldn’t be loving us and giving us the freedom in our spirit to make our own choices. It cannot truly be a choice be no choice was being made, can it. Similarly, you cannot have someone love you unless the person is free to love another, but chooses to love you instead. That choice, I think, is key to human relationships and life, and we should not shy away from the possibility or the risk of danger.
Tomorrow – there is more food for thought. Let me keep these questions and emotions in my mind where it belongs for now.