Sunday, 15 January 2017

5 inconvenient truths megachurch prosperity preachers (MP) rather not talk about.

Five inconvenient truths megachurch prosperity preachers (MP) rather not talk about.

1)          Being rich in God is not the same as being rich in the world. If I get a dollar every time a MP tells me that God wants to bless me with material wealth and unlimited success, I will have retired rich and living large before I hit 40 (and I am 46 now). Billy Graham once teased that the checkbook (cheque book) is a theological document, and it will tell you who and what you worship. Indeed, money has a powerful hold on religion just as it has on other aspects of public life. The corruption that money invites doesn’t just start with the love of it – most times, it comes with the over-exposure to it. In today’s money-driven religious world, serving two masters are no longer mutually exclusive. The promises of prosperity is the carrot that many MP use to spellbind their congregation and it is much easier to believe in a rich and faithful believer than a poor and faithful one. MP thus owes their congregation the pastoral obligation to present the full gospel of Christ here. Ours is not a one-dimensional gospel of success. It is much more than that. It is essentially the gospel of overcoming. More importantly, being rich in God is more about possessing those values which money cannot buy. A peace of mind, a spirit of resilience, a soul finding contentment, a fleshly desire subdued at times of temptation, and an enduring hope beyond this world are the first and last fruits of a rich believer in God.

2)      They (MP) don’t know everything. That’s the spoiler alert for their members. You see, MP may come up with books, DVDs, audio-recordings, and online sermons, all of which boast about their ability to explain all things, but there are still things or phenomena that escape them. Although no one expects them to know everything, the issue here is not that. On the contrary, it is about the image they project to their members. Every Sunday, standing before the crowd, the impression given is that there is an explanation for every unanswered prayer, every premature death or terminal illness, every unexpected misfortune, every undeserved crisis and every emotional betrayal. They will tell or hint to you that the problem is you, your lack of faith, your lack of belief, your lack of trust, your lack of love, your lack of truth, even your lack of bible knowledge. Well, there may be a little truth there I admit, but the point again is not that. The point is that the MP never falls short of making presumptuous explanations that seek to elevate their know-it-all status so as to preserve that superficial arm’s length respectability between them and their members. Somehow, being a leader, these MP feel that it is their sacred job to offer an explanation for everything. Alas, the last thing they want to disclose to their members is their ignorance. Yet, that is also in my view the main obstacle they face towards being an humble and respected leader.

3)     The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty. This third truth ties in with the 2nd one above. And because ignorance is to be avoided at all costs, the MP demonizes doubts as a stumbling block of faith. For them, the expression of doubt is the admission of defeat. But the truth is that having doubt is part and parcel of being a believer because we are human after all. However, doubts need not drive us away from the faith. Where doubts flourish is when we apply it to question self-serving and misleading beliefs. Like faith, doubt compels us to seek the truth. Although we now only see the glass dimly, we are called to defend our faith with understanding of the gospel – and not with self-conceited presumptions. The search for biblical truths is a lifetime endeavor and having doubt can drive us to probe, dig and go deeper.

4)          There is a simple logic why most MP are wealthy. You seldom catch them in second-hand cars, living in average houses or traveling in economy class. Some even have private jets, large estate and mansions, and earthly investment in the millions. They are rich because they sit on top of the pyramid of devotion with a broad base of eager givers below. And the broader the base, the wealthier the MP gets. Imagine the money collected every week, every month and every year. Idling cash stashed aside for a rainy day. In their organization, they directly or indirectly control the offerings and tithes offered by members. They largely decide on what to do with it. Most of them amass the funds and remunerate themselves rather generously. Personal prosperity inevitably comes with the territory. That is just how it works. It is what they deserve or are entitled to – at least that is how their members and staff strongly feel.  The reality is that they don’t preach for free. Neither do they write books nor appear on worldwide broadcasts for free. However, I see two issues here. First, the socioeconomic gap between the congregation and the leadership widens as the latter’s pocket deepens. And second, at some point, there is always a risk that they may cross that invidious threshold where their faith becomes more aligned to their cheque book balances than to their first love or calling. And alas, even if some of them have crossed that threshold, they are scarce to admit to it, or at all, because it is just too much of an inconvenient truth to face before their devoted, if not already besotted, members.


5)          They are human after all. After all is said and done, whether I offer five inconvenient truths here or two, the fact remains that they (MPs) are human – flaws and all. They may like to think that they are special, a spiritual cut above the rest, the one who has the favor and listening ear of the divine, or the one who knows, interprets and conducts themselves better than all, if not most. But the raw reality is that they are not. No doubt credit should be given where credit is due and some of them are amazing on stage, eloquent and delightful to watch, and some are flashy with charisma galore, but I believe they stand equal with all in the temptations they face, the emotional struggles they are embroiled in, and the distractions of the heart that seek to derail them. The reflective ones will not disagree with me on this. And if the many transgressions of MP past are anything to go by, with their fall from grace coming close at the heels of a self-driven pursuit for recognition or a belief in their own invulnerability, then MPs are no different from individuals (like you and me) struggling with their own humanity. Alas, some of these struggles are made complicated by the immense power, adoration and wealth they hold, wield or demand. And the other struggles come about as a result of their own belief that this time, it will be different – that is, this time, they are different. Cheerz.

Farewell Obama.

Goodbye Obama. I recall you once said this as the driving legacy of your Presidency: "Each of us leaders, each nation, can choose to reject those who appeal to our worst impulses and embrace those who appeal to our best."
The keywords in that foundational statement are "choose" and "our worst and best impulses". It is after all about us, our participation, that makes the difference. It is about the power of making right choices, daring to make it against all odds, and leaving a mark, however insignificant it may appear to us, that truly count.
I watched your farewell speech last night online, in which you called for unity, solidarity and loyalty to the cause of democracy, whatever the costs, and I can't say that I was not deeply inspired.
Well, a speech is nevertheless a speech, and yes we can and yes we did were all said and done. We all know that the inaugural and the farewell speeches are supposed to rile up the crowd, celebrate your achievements and give the people hope. Words are after all words.
But even in your failings, or where you fell short, that is, the drone attacks, the terrorism fear at home, the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rising inequality, and the nuclear and climate issues worldwide, you nevertheless made a true effort, that is, an earnest attempt with enduring hope, faith and passion.
For you, the road to Presidency hell eight years ago, with the worst of the economic crisis to confront, is not just paved with good intention. It is also paved with swift and decisive action.
In your speech, you reminded us this: "Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody. For every two steps forward, it feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some."
Most of all, when others took the low road, you went high. You refused to engage in gutter politics. You said this: "We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren't willing to enter public service; so coarse with rancour that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent."
Then, one defining moment is that you firmly and instinctively addressed the "boos" in your speech and not encouraged them. When you said that in 10 days, "the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy" - with boos all around - you raised your finger, shook it and your head, and continued, "the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next...I am committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me."
Lesson? What I've learned from your speech and your Presidency, Mr Obama, is this:-
Democracy is never defined by one. Neither can it be destroyed by one. If it is essentially the government by the people, for the people and with the people, then it is either defined or destroyed by all, the collective mass, through words or deeds, action or inaction, conduct or omission, design or apathy, or both.
Wise and respected leaders have come and go, misguided and malevolent ones have stormed in and out, via the honored and dishonored democratic process, yet they alone only set the stage for actors like us, the masses, to either play out their script, whether for good or for bad, whether in full or in part.
There will thus be no drama of progress or digress, peace or war, unity or chaos, without the drama of actors all playing their roles assigned. We collectively make up democracy and not the other way round. For in democracy's stage, there are no non-actors; just actors playing out a non-actor's role.
The greatest power of democracy is not in an ideal enshrined in a parchment kept in an air-sealed glass cabinet and stored away in a public archive building.
Her greatest power is in the collective choices we all make when we come together in unity, hope and purpose to lift up the dreams, lives and family of the least among us in the society we live in. That is the best of the democratic ideals, that is, the united and consistent action of the people to improve the lives of all, regardless of race, language, status and religion.
Democracy is therefore at her worst when the opposite happens. That is, when the dreams, lives and family of the rich and powerful are lifted at the expense of everyone else. Make no mistake, democracy always involves an enduring sacrifice from self for the benefit of another, and not from another to the benefit of self.
So, Mr Obama, for the 8 years, you have given us your best, which you can humanly offer - warts and all. More importantly, you have shown us how to fight racial hatred not with racial hatred, but with tolerance and understanding. You have shown us how one administration can rally up the hope of the people to participate in a script that is not based on blind populism and rhetorical extremism, but on forward-moving, inclusive purpose to empower the people, fortify the spirit, and strengthen our democratic ideals.
And most of us, in your farewell speech to the nation, you did not forget those who have fought side by side by and with you. The most touching moment is when you pause with tears as you called out your wife and daughters, your vice president and his wife, and all your staff to express your lifetime gratitude.
You thanked them with all your heart. You said that there is no greater role you have been privileged to be a part of, including the Presidency, than to be a husband, a father, a friend and a citizen standing with, for and by the people.
Indeed, you will be missed. And alas, the spirit, ideals and legacy you leave behind will be hard to match.
So, goodbye Obama. Godspeed. God bless America. Cheerz.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

A simple love letter.

Dear Anna, let me tell you what led me to write this simple love letter. It started on a guilt trip and it possibly ends on memory lane.

Last evening, your daughter, Jerica, reminded me about today. She asked me, "What you going to do tomorrow?" I didn't know what she was talking about - not a clue. I looked at her, puzzled. Her face lit up and said, "You mean you don't know what date is tomorrow?" I thought for a while and it hit me like our wedding bouquet you threw 17 years ago had just boomeranged back and landed right between my eyes. It will be our 17th wedding anniversary! OMG, I’ve forgotten all about it.

On the eve of our 17th, and I was completely oblivious. 17 years of marriage, sleeping together, sharing kisses, touches and hugs, weathering through arguments, cold wars and silent tears, bringing up three soul-sapping kids and nearly having a few nervous breakdowns, and I was about the let today pass by like a silent mist in the night.

Now, I have to say that it's not the day that is special. Our anniversary could have been on any of the weekends or holidays, and it would still change little of that day. You and I know that anniversary or not, life goes on. The kids are not going to magically give us a break - especially the youngest.

No doubt our kids will acknowledge that day with Joy skipping around expecting something celebrative to happen (preferably using it as a pretense to buy another toy). And Jerica pestering us to go for a good meal and Jezer hanging around you to share with you his latest running feat.

But what we are scarce to tell them straight to their angelic faces is that when we first started this marital journey together, there were just the two of us - minus the kids. And it stayed that way for the first two anniversaries. Those times were quieter, more private or less noisy.

Now, the bandwagon of love just got a whole lot more crowded and the road ahead is a bumpy one - challenging no doubt.

Alas dear, we can't really complain here. In the same way those three spirited kids demanded much of our time, attention and energy, especially yours, they have also given us what money cannot buy - that is, meaning, hope, legacy and joy.

Well, I guess the wedding package comes with this small fine print, which is easy to overlook amidst the champagne toasts, well-wishing and honeymoon excitement. And it reads: "Warning, this will change you." Indeed it has. More changes akan datang.

After 17 years, we have the scars of marriage to show that the years have been both kind and unkind, tough and toughening, happy and sobering. And they say, "Where's the gain without the pain, right?" Well, in our marriage, it is more like this, "Where's the love without the sacrifice?"

And Anna, you have sacrificed a lot for me and the kids. Your devotion is what makes the lasting difference and it transforms every anniversary into a cause to celebrate - with or without the kids (just kidding).

So dear, let me end by saying this: our marriage is not perfect (far from it). That would however be a frightening prospect. In any event, it is not perfection that completes us. If anything, perfection retires love. It makes love redundant. What gap is love trying to bridge in a perfect marital state anyway?

On the contrary, what joins us together is how we have grown to understand each other intimately, instinctively and most intentionally. In other words, you know my buttons and I know yours. They can be kept hidden away from the public and friends – even loved ones – yet you know where to find them, what to do with them, and when to press them. Your labor of love is thus about the love of laboring with my imperfections, my flaws – knowing and bearing with them.

Mind you, we started off 17 years ago clumsily navigating an emotional marital minefield, sometimes setting each other's sore or trigger points off here and there. But the years have added wisdom, patience, hope and understanding. The years have also added age, physical aches, tears and some unexpected twists and turns too.

But I guess the common thread that runs through it all is that thing they call stubborn love. And if I have one definition for it, it has to be a love that breaks our rebellious hearts up, mixes the broken pieces in a heap over the years, and then diligently melds them together as one resilient whole.

In the end, we can expect brokenness to end up with completeness – you me and me you. The union of two into one is therefore not a perfect fit. But it is about perfecting the fit. We will get there … we will.

So, happy anniversary dear. You mentioned yesterday did I forget today – I guess that little imp told you with some panache. Well, I sort of let it slip for a while. But a union like ours, the years together, for good and bad times, and the three evidential product of our loins, is impossible to stay in that clueless state for long. Love you, my big bird, Mike. Cheerz. 

Joy's first day.

My third child is going to Primary One tomorrow (3 January 2017). She is thumb-size small (see picture here  showing her wearing a "gown" of the smallest-sized uniform. It's supposed to be just knee length).
I have taken the day off for the occasion. No, she doesn't need me to be around - she's quite independent and well-adjusted in K1 and K2. Moreover, her mother will be with her. She is the world to her like the sun.
In that constellation metaphor, I am just a distant hovering moon - only visible in the evening when I return from work. But notwithstanding being a relatively hands-off father, I applied for leave tomorrow not so much for her but myself. I am giving myself a break.
If you think this write-up is about the throes and woes of sending your beloved crib incubatee to her first day of school, with worries/anxiety of adjustment issues and tears galore, where you as a parent sneaks around and camouflages yourself as the school notice board or blends in with the trimmed bushes just so that you could catch a glimpse of your little darling's many firsts - that is, first queue, first ordering, first seat with others, first munching without the parent coaching her the art of eating, swallowing and digesting in proper dosages - well, guess again.
But for those teary parents with interim separation anxiety, today's papers entitled "It's OK, mum, it's just the first day of school" by freelance writer Denise Lim is just for you. Denise, mother of three, has sound advice for you about "letting go and letting others (take over just for that few hours)".
She has many helpful tips for first time parents, and on lingering after assembly time, she wrote this: "...some experts recommend that not hanging around may actually help the child settle in faster. Keep your goodbyes short and sweet, they say, then will yourself to walk away."
Well, in the coming age of Trump, experts, statistics and facts are so overrated. Better to rely on our own overly protective parental instinct right?
So, for me, the day off is, well, for me. I need to occasionally remind myself that there is a bigger world out there in this goals-pursuing world I am immersed in. It is the world where I can make a small lasting difference, and live a life I will be proud of when my time too shall pass on earth.
Here, I am reminded of Psalm. It says that children are like arrows in the hands of a warrior. They are a reward from the Lord. So, blessed is he/she whose quiver is full of them (the last part would be ideal for our govt's baby bonus promotion - imagine an inspiring poster showing a chivalrous archer with a backpack full of them arrow heads. At times, it would indeed be a joy to just shoot all of them off in one stroke and empty that quiver in double-quick time).
Alas, this metaphor is apt to describe us as warriors because we all know that the only demilitarized time for us as parents is when they are sound asleep. The battle cry starts in the wee hours of the morning and ends only when the spirit of mischief leaves their tiny little body.
But, I have sidetracked. And yes, on a more serious note, they are indeed like arrows in our hands. We set the home example of where we want them to go, that is, in the direction we hope for them to grow in. This is not to dictate their life or impose on them, but to support them in their hopes and dreams.
And I think that that Psalm verse talks more about us parents than our beloved offspring.
Imagine an archer (that's us). She must first ready herself by adopting a stance - an upright one (that's being their moral compass). She must hold on to the arrow firmly and position it on the bowstring (that's guidance, support and encouragement). She must draw the arrow to her eye and against her cheek (that's focus, devotion and passion). Then, she whispers to the arrow and releases it (that's allowing them to set their own trajectory of growth and maturity).
As parents, after the release, we will always be watching, praying and hoping for them. And as I send Joy off tomorrow, I know she is in good hands. Not perfect ones, but hands that love her. Hands that will always be there for her. Cheerz.