Sunday, 10 September 2017

Crossover to Calvary.

When Chew Eng Han told the press that he has run out of options for his appeal, I empathised and believed him.

Apparently, it is the end of the road for him. At some point, he has to resign to his fate as he had exhausted all avenues of appeal and review, that is, short of petitioning to the President for a pardon equivalent to the one usually asked for by a convict facing the gallows.

To rub salt into the wound, this week, on Thursday, he got a earful from the Apex Court of three senior judges. Not only was his application to challenge his conviction and sentence applied out of time, it was also "plainly abusive" and utterly lacking in merit – so said the judges.

They were unanimous on the fact that the "offences of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts were satisfied". They also endorsed the decision of the court below on their finding that the actus reus of misappropriation and the mens rea of dishonesty have all been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

In other words, all the accused in the Apex Court’s opinion had "acted with dishonest intention to cause wrongful loss to the church even though they were not motivated by personal gain."

However, Eng Han could not reconcile himself to the verdict and sentence. He said, “I’m just not happy. I am not happy with the reasons offered by the judges.”

The main thrust of his appeal is that he did it all for the church, and he had gained nothing from it. Not even a single cent.

In his appeal, he highlighted this point: "a new precedent has been judicially pronounced, whereby a person can be convicted for misappropriation...even where that person has not used property for himself or a third party, and in spite of him having applied the property for the owner's (unauthorised) use."

And by owner, he meant the church. More specifically, he meant the church leadership, or his former spiritual mentor, Kong Hee. The corollary of his point is this: Why should the sins of the leadership be passed down to his faithful members, who had profited nothing from it and only wanted nothing but to see the church prosper as a whole?

This is the part that Eng Han could not let go, and understandably so. He just could not accept that his actions, motivated by an enduring sense of piety, loyalty and sincerity to the calling of the church leadership, could have been deemed as an act of criminal misappropriation - or worse, punishable by the law with imprisonment. How could something so right then end up so wrong now?

In fact, Eng Han once said that he had attended two of Sun's concerts and believed "100 per cent" in the crossover’s cultural mandate. "The logic is Sun becomes a megastar, (holds more) concerts ... then she can evangelise,” he told Channel News Asia last year.

To him, the end goal of evangelism just had to justify the means, however extravagant, because how do you ever put a monetary price on a lost soul returning to the Lord’s flock?

From a very vulnerable human standpoint, Eng Han had every emotional reason to feel aggrieved, betrayed and wronged for he had done all that was asked of him all that time believing wholeheartedly that the leadership was God-led, the crossover project was God's will and the money pouring in was God-sent.

But the reality was far removed from what Eng Han had once believed about his ex-church being the "ultimate church", and by extension of that logic, the leadership of that ultimate church was beyond reproach and also unquestionable.

In fact, while the other accused had surrendered themselves, Eng Han is the only one left standing fighting alone for his innocence because he did it all for the church and his conscience is clear. If anything, for him, it was an act of personal sacrifice and definitely not a criminal enterprise he was charged and guilty of - not even by a long shot.

Altogether, he had given nearly a million dollars of his own money to the church and the crossover project. He in fact joined the thousands of members, former and existing, who had given of their time, effort and money unquestionably to the church leaders, believing at that time that it was the right thing to do. They were so sure it was what God had commanded.

However, when asked by Justice Chan last year whether he was brainwashed, Eng Han admitted he was. He further admitted that he was once sold to the idea pitched by Kong Hee that Sun Ho would be more popular than Jay Chou, S.H.E. and even the late Whitney Houston.

At that time, he thought to himself, “If she was touted to be the next Whitney Houston, how would she not be a profitable commercial vehicle for us?

Alas, neither being brainwashed, sacrificing for the church leadership nor doing it not for personal gain was enough to exculpate Eng Han from the convicted intention to use unauthorised building funds to transform Sun Ho into an international superstar, evangelism notwithstanding.

In other words, his motive (on the “why” he did it, that is, purely for the church) did not in the court’s view absolve him from his intentional act (on the “how” it was done, that is, the illegal modus operandi of the act involving proven misappropriation and falsification). So, one’s end (or goal) may be noble, but his means (or methods) are deemed by the penal code criminal. In his case, the gap between motive (purpose) and intent (element of the offence) could not have been more different.

And after all is said and done, even Eng Han would have to admit that his faith and loyalty had sadly fallen squarely on man’s leadership, not God’s. This is something we all have to take note of because we are all equally vulnerable.

For the logic of the crossover may have appeared obvious to Eng Han and many at that time, that is, the elevation of one commercial brand to bring all to Christ. But it was still a man-funded elevation banking on the misled hope that such heavily invested worldly attraction would set the platform for a mass spiritual conversion thereafter. The strange logic is to make one popular so as to make Jesus even more popular - yet, such matching popularity runs the risk of competing allegiance and misattribution. 

And this is evident in an email in January 2005 written by Kong Hee concerning his wife: “I need our members to be super proud of her and realise that we do have a singing diva in our midst”.

Alas, I do not deny that at one time, his wife was indeed a singing diva with fans all over Asia. Her influence then was unassailable, and her words from any pulpit would have been deeply influential. That was the high-water mark of her so-called elevated spiritual platform. I am sure then that Kong Hee got his wish - his church was "super proud" of his wife.

But sadly, that was never enough... 

What started off in the spirit often ends up in the flesh and this was where all noble goals went awry with China Wine. The latter was the beginning of the inebriated fall.

The sad drunken tale of this spirited ambition has been repeated ad infinitum in the history of man's rise and fall. For Jesus needed neither a megastar nor singing diva to bring him to the fore - he just needed an empty vessel with a humble and willing heart.

As such, the pastoral couple would not be the first to start off on the narrow way, which somehow unwittingly broadens out of control under their leadership, and neither will they be the last.

At this point, we are all reminded that the way of grief takes one to Calvary; it is the road of self-sacrifice. But the way of man draws him to his own revelry; it is a road of self-elevation.

And now that the dust has nearly settled in this unwieldy saga, it is hoped that we as Christians will be able to see clearer, deeper and further into what is written in Proverbs 19: 21: "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."

And what ultimately prevailed in the brief existence of the crossover is the call for the redemption of humanity, regardless of whether you are a layperson or a megachurch pastor.

For salvation still belongs to the Lord, and the only crossover that truly matters for all time is still the crossover to Calvary. Cheerz.

The strength of your heart.

What do you do with your life when you are already 46, suffering from a spinal cord injury in a workplace accident in 1996 and paralysed from the waist down, victim of a fall last year and had a broken leg while on the way to work, are divorced with no children, and once lived at a void deck for three years? 

Well, you deliver of course. You deliver food to people who are hungry and want their meals on time of course. 

Isn't that the normal response to adversity? Isn't that what normal people do after losing limbs, have little to go by daily, going thru a divorce and even doesn't have a roof over their head? Kamas is one such "normal" person. 

Mr Kamas Mohd didn't asked to be recognised. He was discovered by a customer and was featured in Stomp when the customer "praised him for travelling 2.5km on his wheelchair to her home in Stirling Road."

Kamas is neither slow too. He insists that "he is not slower than anyone else - he can fulfil a delivery order within the same timeframe of 35 minutes."

Rain or shine, Kamas has never cancelled an order so far. He is determined to go the distance regardless of his disability and setbacks in life. 

When he broke his leg last year, he was given nearly two years MC. So, his previous employers had to let him go because they were unable to pay his wages for the long MC period. But they told him to return after he has recovered. 

This was where Kamas found UberEats and now he earns a higher income of $400 a week. Before that, he was earning only $530 a month. 

Kamas currently lives in a rental Redhill flat and for the moment, his rent, water and electricity bills are paid for by MSF until he is back on his own two feet. 

Lesson? One. 

The world will do most of us no favours. There is no free lunch. Life gives no hand-outs. Happy ever after happens only in fairy tales. In the real world, it is about overcoming ever after. 

Some of us living reasonably well, with a roof over our head, and a family intact, with no disability, and we still suffer from hangovers, mild depression, dull moods, listlessness and a broken spirit, indefinitely.

The disease of the affluence is the dis-ease of the heart, and that is where all issues of life flow eventually. 

I discover that there is a poverty that is far greater than the poverty of one's living circumstances. This poverty has nothing to do with money or wealth. Neither has it anything to do with power, fame nor influence.

You can be the richest man on earth, but the saddest, even loneliest. You are befriended not so much because you are you, but because you possess many things that define and possess you. 

Or, you can be famous, and everyone knows you, but yet none of your loved ones know you the way the millions of fans know you. They know how far apart you are from the image you diligently project to your adoring fans. Deep inside, your wants are many, your spirit parched and your soul unsettled. 

The hearts of the rich and famous are not always at peace. They are no doubt rich in the way that is defined in this world, but they have a vacuum in their heart that cannot be filled by endless accumulation or depthless ambition. 

Neither are the poor spared this dis-ease of the heart. They too can be victims of a heart that never finds peace within. 

While the rich can be consumed by vanity, arrogance and greed, the poor can be consumed by envy, bitterness and unforgiveness. 

All this, I believe, boils down to the issues of the heart. And that is where enduring riches or crippling poverty reside. 

Its measuring rod is not about how materially deprived or endowed one is. It is neither about how good nor bad one looks. Or how well one is known, or for that matter, not known at all.

In my book, the greatest poverty is a heart that never settles, that is, a heart that is never at peace. It is a heart that wants more to cover a void that cannot be filled. 

It is a heart that plants its security on life's superficials like wealth, fame and power. It is a heart that breaks or dies every time another succeeds, wins or flourishes. And it is a heart that cannot see beyond the jealousy, hate and bitterness to the benefits to be gained from the growth of character, hope and love. 

The greatest poverty is in fact the poverty of imagination, magnanimity and compassion. All of which have nothing to do with how circumstantially rich or poor you are. 

Most importantly, there is no poverty in the heart greater than a heart that readily surrenders itself to the dullness of the spirit, to the discontentment of the soul and to the endless appetites of the flesh. 

Let me end by saying that the greatest wealth is found in a heart that loves unconditionally, forgives unreservingly, and hopes unfailingly. No man or woman is ever poor when he or she is rich in the heart. 

In a world where the benchmark to measure wealth is not based on the superficials like money, fame or appearance, people like Kamas will stand tallest amongst all. 

It will be a world of overcoming hearts, a world of inspiring souls, and a world of embracing love. 

Such a radically redefined world would put to shame those who put their faith and hope in the pursuits of self-enrichment, and exalts those who sacrifice self for others. 

More relevantly, it will be a world our children can safely grow up in to treasure and pursue enduring riches that come from a resilient, overcoming and compassionate heart. Cheerz.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Having Dinner over the Presidential Reserved Election.

Yesterday, I had dinner with my loved ones, in-laws and parents and we were all uncertain about whom to vote for in the coming EP (if it ever goes to the ballot box).

The reserved election has caused some of us to feel that the whole EP thingy is too contrived, convenient and confusing.

As it stands, only Halimah qualifies. And her independence is surely the least of the qualifying factors in the minds of many Singaporeans.

Raised, bred and nourished in the political womb of the majority-led PAP government, Halimah's weakest link is her seemingly disingenuous claim that she will be independent if elected. Perception is really everything here.

Notwithstanding her stellar credentials and rich experiences, she is unfortunately plagued by three "backfiring" factors beyond her control: democracy, meritocracy and multiracialism.

Many felt that democracy has been tempered with. It is not unfettered  or free. Neither is it open. Puppetry seems to be the common gossip on the street. It gives the impression that the people vote for whomever the government puts on the ballot plate for them.

Alas, I feel that the government is not taking enough risk with the EP because they may feel that the electorate is just not mature enough to appreciate all that they have done for them.

And meritocracy, because of its skewed elitist elements. Of course, merits beat patronages and hereditary rights anytime, and I always believe we are on the right track by choosing merits over privileges. But elitism can mutate into the very problem that it once seeks to eradicate.

When meritocracy becomes institutionalised to favour only those pioneers who have made it in their early struggles, the leviathan can become not only paranoid but also self-serving and self-preserving.

The $500m shareholders' equity bar effectively eliminates the competition. In my view, it institutionalises merit into a gated edifice and keeps it away from the credible handful who have what it takes to be the people's president (save for the equity bar). 

The TCB court saga has already left a bad taste in the mouth of the people and they are clearly disillusioned.

Alas, the last thing we need is an elitist president, engaging regally in waving hands, cutting ribbons and tickling baby's cheek just for the camera. 

What's more, Warren Fernandez (Editor-in-Chief) wrote in today's article that "many in Singapore's Malay community also feel uncomfortable about such a concession being made for them, contrary to the deeply held meritocratic ethos of the country."

And lastly, multiracialism. I know the government has great foresight since independence to keep a good balance on the racial differences. But, there is a risk that the seemingly rushed-job of the reserved election is missing the forest for the trees.

Editor-at-Large Han Fook Kwang wrote an article today entitled "Will reserved election promote multiracialism?" and he said this:-

"The bottom line: There are no serious or pressing problems among the races, though racial biases and prejudices exist and may never go away. Seen in this context, the Government's move to introduce reserved elections for the presidency might seem perplexing. If it ain't broken, why fix it?".

Fook Kwang went on to highlight two more pressing issues like the "growing influence of Islamic teaching from the Middle East" and "China's growing strength" which "will greatly influence Singapore's Chinese population", and how "the confluence of these two developments can sharpen the differences among the races here."

That is the emerging grim reality that will conspire to destabilise the racial composition in our country. And in that light and context, and considering that the recent EP has raised more heat than light, the reserved election may not even be a step in the right direction to deal with the more pressing issue at hand.

At best, it may be a case of looking for your keys under the street lamp because there is light instead of searching for it where you had dropped them. At worse, it may be a case of cutting your nose to spit your face.  

And to compound matters, there is the foregone conclusion of a walkover to consider. Imagine that, our first reserved election for the Malay community and it is a walkover. The celebration will definitely be muted, if at all.

In such an event, Halimah would clearly be the winning candidate, and it is neither because the whole process is democratic nor meritocratic. It is simply because she is Malay, full stop, and the government wants a Malay in Istana for the next six years. 

So, there you have it. Dinner with loved ones can be a tricky terrain to negotiate when it comes to electing the next Malay president for Singapore.

Electing one is like picking a dish on the table, which has already been prepared for you. You have no or little say in the menu.

And if it is a good day, you get variety. If it is a bad day, you get just one dish. But the good thing about getting one dish is that you don't need to think so hard. Just suck it up and munch it down. Cheerz.