‘Popular’ Christian Culture: politics, good looking politicians and music (Part 2)

I’ll try not to cram too many thoughts into this post and I’ll try to make it coherent and readable.

First question: What does it take to become a pastor?

Just like we have many notions about what it takes/means to be Christian/how Christians should look/behave, etc., we’ve a set idea about what church leaders should be. Usually pastors are:

  • Age represents wisdom, education, knowledge, makes them respectable (age is correlated with wisdom, especially in the Asian context)
  • Because. Patriarchy. And the historical context of males usually being more educated, and somehow religion has become more about knowledge rather than wisdom and faith?
  • Well dressed. Because, ‘Sunday best’. Yet they can’t wear/have expensive/ostentatious things lest they stumble others or distract themselves from God. Just like how monks/nuns take vows of poverty, so pastors are held to a similar standard?

(Many other side questions about: how should churches be run? Democracy? Theocracy? We need a prophet to ordain leaders like in the bible? HAHAH. Should churches be involved in politics: Jesus’ answer about taxes; give Caesar what is his and God what is God’s. Hmm kings did not have much interaction with Jesus, I mean, they didn’t really ask Jesus for wisdom and help. Also, should pastors be allowed to have expensive things? What does it mean to love God?).

I brought up this question about pastors because this (image we have of pastors) = not entire good/I’ve heard complaints. 1) It’s unsustainable? Why do we have so many old pastors in church, where is the next generation? Are they not bringing up the next generation? Injecting fresh blood = innovation when it comes to faith (thinking about ‘traditional church’ growth rates as compared to Hillsong? controversial video right here!! 2) these old pastors/old fashioned ideas = too much focus on tradition?

But young pastors/new church (those that look like they attract lots of ‘millennials’) are getting lots of fire (the video above). Criticisms include

  • Not having a lot of substance; the gospel is diluted/no rigorous study of the bible?
  • Looking too fashionable (not that it’s wrong per se, but to me looking fashionable often correlates with how important image is to people. Being fashionable/being attractive often ends up = worshipping looks. Idk, but do you think it’s possible to take lots of pictures/be super good looking/go on Instagram a lot/be able to comment about how to post the best picture etc, but also be comfortable without social media and not ‘worship’/get too caught up with it?)
  • We’ve problems with church pastors being intimate with political figures (more so a problem in US, I think. Trump/Hillary) or even people’s feelings about Justin Bieber being Christian (he’s not a good role model? He doesn’t always behave very Christian like??). People are indeed naturally judge-y, huh?

Oh. I’m meant to write about Christian music too. HAHA. Actually this segment was just going to be about questioning why Christian music has become so popular, unlike the unpopular Christian culture described in the previous post. Some answers I got were: it’s easy to listen to music casually without really listening to the lyrics, it’s short unlike books and movies (no need to commit, and besides, everyone likes music but not everyone likes books), you don’t need to purchase the music to enjoy it (get more publicity). STILL. These answers seem quite inadequate?


‘Unpopular’ Christian Culture: literature, books and movies (Part 1)

I don’t read much, if any, Christian literature and I don’t particularly like movies. I remember feeling ‘ashamed’ when I’m at a Christian meeting and someone asks if I’m reading a Christian book and I say no. That happens(ed) semi often. The excuse I usually give is that reading Christian lit = reading fan fiction, to me. I rather read the bible which has more substance, real truth? Christian lit has little appeal, to me? I’ll be using literature/movies/culture a little interchangeably here.

There have been quite a lot of videos/pieces written about why Christian movies sucks. Here’s a good video on why Christian movies suck. I’ll write a short piece on why these movies are deemed bad:

  • The purpose of Christian content: is it for Christians, or for non-Christians whom we want to ‘evangelise to’? That determines how good/bad it is. But if it’s mean for evangelism somehow it’s usually bad?
  • Some issues include: too preachy, normal people don’t understand (e.g. what is ‘sin’ in our postmodern, post absolutist world?), Christianity has too much history/content/knowledge and normal people get lost when they read these books/watch the movies.

Personal thoughts on how Christian culture isn’t great:

  • Limited genre? The Christian culture that I know comes in the form of
    1. Children’s cartoons/storytelling and bible stories (veggie tales!! Which is nice)
    2. Historical retelling (Jesus film, Moses)
    3. Bibliographies/real things that happen. (Missionaries life stories, contemporary incidents like ‘God’s not dead’)

Where is the imagination in Christian literature? How about things that appeal to people? A best-selling book? How about other genres like science fiction? Why is most stuff non-fiction? Yes, there is some stuff out there – I read a re-telling of John/the gospels when I was younger. It was quite interesting, an accessible way to understand the historical context/possible struggles the apostles may have faced during that time. Things like family, relationships, etc – but generally it didn’t hold appeal/not interesting. A case of ‘bad acting’/writing? I’m not sure.

  • The storylines are flat. No nuance in characters, contemporary issues about race, etc? It’s generally quite a predictable plot? (A Christian movie worth checking out is Silence (2016) though! I read the plot/watched the trailer and indeed it is good).

There’s lots more stuff about Christian culture that could be written about: the issue of Christian music/MVs and their popularity which belong to a whole other post (stay tuned to part 2!) But some closing thoughts regarding this issue:

  • We need Christian artists and not Christian art (we have a too narrow perception on what Christian art is?) I’m thinking of ‘covert’ Christian music I like: Starfield, switchfoot, (sleeping at last?), Relient K. Mumford and sons

Once again questioning the aim of Christian culture. Entertainment, evangelism and accessibility for other people to think about and know about issues in Christianity?

Afterworlds, and Missions

I’ve been thinking so much about faith, but ironically I won’t say that I’m at my best state. I think I just have been really stressed out and hence am not doing so well (haha ironic, since exams are over). But I’m not going to write too much about my introspection because this is not the purpose of this blog. This blog was meant to be about sharing ideas/helping people, and myself, think more.

Related image

First, good book! I’ve been reading Scott Westerfield’s Afterworlds. I’m still halfway through, but I’m enjoying it quite a bit. He was introduced to me by John Green (he’s quite a few videos recommending books) and I first read the Uglies series. Good ideas, but I didn’t quite like the writing style. After a while it got really tedious to read/nothing fresh anymore/it got too complicated and confusing but without any substance/essence/good stuff (this is the reason why I dislike the Maze Runner series). ANYWAY, about Afterworlds: it’s basically told in the alternating perspectives of Darcy Patel, a 17 year old writer who wrote Afterworlds, and the Afterworlds text itself. Darcy’s perspective tells the story of the publishing business (lots of networking, pleasing people, the anxiety of writing/creating art) and everyday life; relationships, living in a new place, family, other thoughts surrounding writing books like ‘cultural appropriation’, YA themes in books. It’s things that I’ve not known/thought about before and is sufficiently engaging. The story of Afterworlds (written by Darcy, i.e. the one in the book, not Scott’s Afterworlds which is ‘both’ books) is about the afterlife and a girl called Lizzie who is able to live in both the real world and also in the alternate dimension where ghosts live. It’s also YA romance (which I think is lame lol); between Lizzie and a ‘Hindu (made believe) death god’.

Other thoughts; religion again. New thoughts, I suppose, after I attended a class (?) last weekend. It was about missions and church history. I’ll just spew some thoughts I had:

  • I haven’t really thought about the rise and fall of Christianity (church history); persecutions helped spread, emperors could dictate your religion (no longer about accepting a certain religion, but rather that you’re born into it, as part of your citizenship/heritage. Which is true now), how religion is inherently tied up in class/politics/gender (who can lead/who is more powerful or not) issues (here, it’s upper-middle class, Chinese, wealthy, educated, etc). There is no one strategy to spread beliefs/religion (duh. And I think I haven’t really thought about why we should spread Christianity in the first place? I think I lack conviction. Which is quite dangerous)
  • Also about missions: we’d a session in CF about doing missions (inherently tied up with notions about voluntourism/marketplace ministry; i.e. staying or going when we’re doing missions. The CF session was about realising we’ve lots of opportunities where we are, since the places people usually go for missions = those are the places where our international students come from. So why should we go overseas to reach out to people who are coming here?)
  • It got me thinking about migrant workers/the communities churches usually reach out to. My church has a congregation of Indian migrant workers, but they remain rather detached from the main congregation (we don’t speak the same language, they come in the evenings due to their work schedules as well). We aim to minister to them so that they can 1) strengthen their faith here, 2) build community while they’re here, and 3) they can start/contribute to churches when they return to their homes, bringing back what they’ve learnt.
  • Migrant communities. I’m thinking about Chinese churches in Singapore – do they/why don’t they reach out to the mainland Chinese workers? We share the same language, and it’s difficult to bring Christianity into China (state sanctioned Christianity only allowed; which may be rather political?) I wonder what the state of Singapore’s Chinese churches…
  • Lots of other smaller thought bubbles, but I’ll write about it another time. Things like, how I don’t know much about the other populations in Singapore. We’re really so diverse! Like I wrote about in my last post; I want to know more about the ‘other side of Singapore’; not to mention the many other races, religions and stuff here. I wish I were more extroverted and could find out more about these things, but I’m simply not. And it’s not a simple solution of ‘JUST BE MORE EXTROVERTED AND TALK TO PEOPLE!!’; other things (e.g. time to think and digest information) will be compromised.

Hope this stuff inspired some thought.

Who is your faith for?

(Yourself? Others – and if ‘others’, who are these others? God?)

This is a long standing topic/thought that has been exposed to me since I was young: ‘does Christianity exclude certain people’? I remember being in youth group and they would ask us to think of people that we think the gospel cannot reach: most commonly people would think of the elderly, uneducated, those who have done ‘too many bad things’/hopeless, un-saveable people (unrepentant people)? I remember my church founder as well, he asked where the taxi drivers, the hawkers, the cleaners were? Why were they not coming into our church? How can mothers be carrying the bible and the helpers carrying their babies; it should be the other way around?

Does Christianity have a class divide in Singapore? Last Sunday, the speaker was sharing his experience; in the 70s, he came to know Christ and shared the gospel with 2 of his friends. He was English educated, spoke English, Mandarin and Hokkien; his first friend was Mandarin educated and spoke Mandarin and Hokkien, while the other was not educated and spoke only Hokkien. His 2 friends joined a Chinese church and eventually the uneducated Hokkien friend gave up his faith – he had to work to support his family and could not understand what was going on in the church.

Generally, I think churches are fairly homogenous. Which is not necessarily a bad thing – alternate Sunday services at the Novena chapel at conducted in Tagalog (mostly Filipino congregation), my church is made up of mostly highly educated, ‘successful’ people, but we do have many other ethnic congregations (we don’t mix/much). There are as many churches as there are ‘different congregations’: there are Hokkien churches (there’s an elderly woman in ION who always shouts ‘thank Jesus’ in Hokkien as she tries to sell people tissue), Nepalese, Korean, Indian ones, for the old, young, in-betweens, migrant populations, etc. They meet specific needs of the different groups.

But yes, I wonder about Christianity as a whole. Which people are most likely to become Christian (rich, educated people? In my university paper, I suggested that Buddhism/Taoism is a majority religion in Singapore and some people questioned this, fairly obvious (?), fact – too many people practising Christianity/atheism in university which confounds their perception?). I think knowing this is important so that we know if Christianity is becoming/is exclusive. If it is, doesn’t it contradict what it should be and therefore we should change it?

I guess this thought has become stronger because of ‘where I am currently’ (the mental space I am currently occupying):

  • Since I was in primary school, I always thought it cool to get to know the ‘other side’ of Singapore (i.e. the side I am not currently on; all my opposites). But I never had the chance? Yes, I did have friends who took drugs, weren’t really intelligent, partied a lot (both in ‘upper’ and ‘lower class’ clubs), (my neighbourhood!!! Haha it’s so obvious to see ‘the other side’ in my neighbourhood – drinking, homelessness, cannot afford to pay rent/need to borrow money, etc.), but I suppose because I don’t enjoy these activities/don’t engage in them, I never really got to see how life was like in those circles.
  • I was pondering about who God is (to us humans). Our attitude/perception of God shows in our prayer: do we treat God like a genie, asking Him for stuff? Like an ‘aunt agony’; complaining about life, etc. What is the point of prayer too; how did we come to pray in these certain ways that we do? (I was wondering how meaningful/is it right, to pray for our friends, ourselves. I think I generally take life as it is and accept my circumstance pretty well; I don’t blame God or whatever forces out there, and that affects the way I pray too).
  • I’ve had a disinterest in studying lately. Which is something I’m afraid of. But I was thinking about this in relation to ‘who is Christianity for’: Singapore’s Christianity focuses quite a bit on studying; ‘bible STUDY’, group DISCUSSIONS. But, that’s not what Christianity should be about? Application is more important? Focusing on studying excludes those who do not like/not good at studying?

(Reflection on my spiritual life/Luke 15, cont.)

I remember going through Matthew 20 in J2 retreat. That parable was about vineyard workers who were all paid equally no matter whether they started work in the morning or late in the evening. I remember referencing Luke 15: though all workers were paid equally, it is good to start work earlier. You have security, and in Luke 15: ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours’ (read Luke 15 if you are unsure what this means).

Today’s new perspective – (Piper wrote:) ‘Jesus is entreating all of us (both the Pharisee and the sinner who have come to him). Sinners of the worldly kind and sinners of the religious kind. Come in from the foreign country of misery, and come in from the porch of hard-earned merit. Both are deadly. But inside is the banquet of grace and forgiveness and fellowship of an all satisfying father, and inheritance unfading, undefiled, incorruptible…’

So even the good son was wrong. He was jealous that his father was generous to whom he was generous to; what right did he have to be jealous after all! (Don’t we sometimes feel this way of our own parents? I know some of my peers are upset at our parents’ ways of life. Too spendthrift? We see it as our burden; the extravagant lives they live now = less money for our future, we need to look after them when they are old and have no money). But God’s wealth is infinite and he does not need us to look after Him.

(Questions to ask self; what are the characters, what are their attitudes)

Why did the older brother choose to live like a slave? Yes, work is important and necessary, but to be a slave? Why did the brother think that he needed to prove himself?

On a side note, I’ve also been thinking about the human condition/human nature. Stuff like; what makes humans, human? Is there a single human essence? (Hobbes/Locke/other thinkers; are we inherently good or bad, in-between, etc). How do we see God and what does that tell us about our human nature: we feel a need to prove ourselves? Where does that come from?

And also, from the books that I’ve been reading. (I realised I quite like thinking about AI). AI: what makes AI different from us; humans have ‘soul’, ‘spirituality’, which computers will never be able to have. And some quotes from Windo’s book: ‘we thought that someone else would save us’ (This is so Boserup; just increase the population, hopefully someone born in the future will be smarter and can invent something which would save our world).

Other things that I’ve read/encountered which has been great: The Fable of the Dragon Tyrant. It’s really thought provoking; questioning whether or not we should accept the status quo. Watch it, what did you think the dragon was? (I thought it was capitalism; but this is the actual story/the breakdown).

(Reflection on my spiritual life/Luke 15)

I read Luke 15 today and I’m grateful for new insight into a familiar passage, remembering things that H and I talked about many years ago in college. Looking into the 3 parables that answered the question: ‘Why does Jesus hang out with sinners/losers?’ Some new things that I got out of it:

  • These parables (lost sheep, coin, son) delve into predestination and free will; in the first 2, the owner of these things have lost inanimate objects; similarly the losers were ‘predestined’ to be lost, due to original sin, the original fall away from God. Therefore, God has actively searched for them (Jesus hangs out with these losers because they were lost and he wants to be together with them again).
  • (Also that all peoples use to belong to God; he had 100% ownership; no replacement ‘sheep/coin’ except the original. Therefore, no one can say that they were never God’s).
  • But the Pharisees may argue that these losers actively chose to sin, therefore do not deserve Jesus’ company (free will), the parable of the lost son comes in. The lost son realised his own mistakes and chose to return to God (Jesus’ hangs out with the losers who have actively sought him out; salvation/faith is a two-way relationship, requires both parties to search each other out).
  • (The father is the hero of the story. Reorientation of how I see God = how I see myself; the son wanted to be a servant, to correct his mistakes, but the father never saw the son’s identity change despite his mistakes).

Random takeaways:

  • Why do I not love ‘losers’/ (rather, those different from myself, downcast in society) like God does? (I find it difficult to love people; I’ve been questioning a lot about how I value/see people. I value academia/intelligence/achievement, rather than the inherent worth of a person, I don’t value ‘spirituality’ in a person too; do I admire pastors more than professors? No, but why. Quite a loaded topic which I may write about another time)
  • God’s search for humans (// parable of the lost sheep/coin), where can we see that? I think that answer is in Jesus; Jesus actively came to look for the lost, looking for something requires sacrifice, seeing how God has reached out to people many times (e.g. personal experience of hearing/seeing/feeling God, other people as God’s ambassadors to search for people, etc.)
  • (Unrelated; why am I shy/almost ashamed about my faith? I am not comfortable with talking about it/showing it/living it out? Though I talk a lot about it and seem to be comfortable, it actually isn’t; I wonder if the other Christians I know feel the same way.)

Meaning of Life/Christian Work/Christian Politics

I’ve been bothered by this question for a long time. What is the meaning of life?

I like Philosophy tube a lot and I watched this video some time back. “The meaning of life!”, as Olly titles it. I’ve understood Olly’s position and I think he has reiterated it in quite a few videos – even though philosophy can ‘destroy things that bring you comfort’, Olly sees philosophy as a tool, a way of seeing life, and he believes that he can still find enjoyment in things like hanging out in a pub with his friends, having sex, etc.

But I totally disagreed with Olly in this video. It made me uncomfortable, unhappy. I don’t know if it is due to my history of depression, but I felt that he totally missed the point. Yes, agreed, philosophy can be a way in which we understand the world and does not have to be so all encompassing that it takes away all joy, but, at the same time, it could be and therefore by having that potential, it has been the cause of immense, insurmountable pain for some people. That pain cannot be argued away by simply saying that philosophy does not have to be that way. It’s a moot point. That pain has already been caused by philosophy’s mere existence.

I don’t know how many people can understand that type of sadness. The sheer intensity, depth, character of it. I feel like I’ve been there, I still am there, I will never totally get out. I remember finding it difficult to say what I truly like/find happiness in when people ask. I’ve had times where I could have so much of those things (i.e. ‘things that make people happy’), and I’ve indulged in them then, so much so that it now disgusts me. I like reading, but I’ve read too much. Shopping, eating, spending money; I now associate these things with almost, sin? How could we use resources so casually without realising that so many people do not have things? (Remembering those times when I would wash my hands and think about how some people would gladly drink the ‘dirtied’ water that I so readily and easily let drain into the sink). How could I live with myself? There’s too much pain, anxiety, sin, black holes, dark spirals in those thoughts. I shall avoid writing about it. At least for now. Strange, but I do miss those times, sometimes. At least I felt alive, I felt something, I thought about things, I was conscious of sin, compared to the lukewarm, banal, thoughtless days of now?

Moving on. Meaninglessness of ‘Christian work’.

I’m lazy to define what ‘Christian work’ is. Just take it as work in a Christian setting. Church/para-church/ministering to other Christians.

Another scary thought that I’ve been having. I like doing Christian work. I think I can sometimes be tough on myself, a perfectionist, never being satisfied with my work (school, work). Christian work is a reprieve from those thoughts; I tell myself that God will judge my work, I need not think too much about what others think (unlike school/work, where I’ll be judged by humans. And since human thoughts are accessible to me, to an extent, I’ll try to understand what others are thinking). I work and find peace in Christian work, knowing that it’s simply, work, without baggage of politics, anxieties of whether or not it’s ‘good enough’, etc.

But. I’ve wrote about bullshit jobs/the economy before. Jobs that should not be done; they don’t actually produce anything, material, meaningful? And I’ve been thinking recently that Christian work is quite like that too. Lots of time is spent talking, fellowshipping. Things that I don’t particularly like? Is that why I’m dissatisfied; perhaps I’m simply in the wrong field of Christian work?

The end of service term is worse. Honestly, I feel quite uncomfortable when people praise my work/thank me when I’ve done work in church. I know it’s good to encourage people, it’s a good thing to give thanks, but it somehow feels wrong to me. I feel like those thanks are ‘self-praise’; the church reaffirming itself. ‘This is what we’ve done this year, we did well. God is pleased with the people we’ve brought down to church this year’. All I can see are the flaws, the gaps that we missed in our service term, what more we could have, should have, done. I feel that my standards from ‘regular work’ are creeping in, those dissatisfied voices which I’ve never heard when I did work in church.

I long for affirmation from who I am actually working for. Have I received it before and therefore if I don’t receive it now, I feel greatly uncomfortable? I know that my life is not right; there is sin that I’m trying to hide, to run away from, sickness within me that seems incurable, but I am unable to articulate. But I’m afraid that even if I received affirmation from Him, how would I know that’s really real? (Ok, actually, no, I don’t really struggle with discernment/knowing what is real or false, I think).

Aside: I had a new revelation about prayer in QT. We usually start off with thanking God for things: ‘a space to gather for fellowship’, ‘that we can pray openly’, ‘brothers and sisters here’. We should not thank God for these things. The opportunities, chances, privileges, are sometimes the precise things which stumble us and prevent our further growth. If we’d never known riches, it may be easier for us to share; c.f. rich people = hard to enter heaven/give up wealth. Instead of babbling with many words, we should start off our prayers by simply praising His name: ‘Our father in heaven, holy is your name’ indeed.

Lastly, Christian politics.

I’ve been thinking about succession in para/churches. Mentorship and stuff. Also about political structures. We’re meant to follow God as our true leader, yet we have people in power? What’s the ideal power/political structure in society? J brought up an interesting argument: pointing back to history and how Israel chose its rulers. Why not have prophets to appoint leaders? And back to thoughts that I’d before: democracies isn’t the ideal political system. Theocracies? (My struggle with trying to understand/see/come to terms with religious radicals like ISIS). Other thoughts from long ago about how it would be nice to live in a country run by and for Christians (America’s past?).

Succession = ? Availability, no, Convenience. Who is there, wanting to serve, most likely to say yes. Rationalising choices: good character, palatable to people, what people want to hear, respectable, gets things done, responsible. Characteristics not necessary to be a leader in God’s eyes. Yes, we prayed (how much)?

Aside: I’ve had the concept of ‘holy ambition‘ after attending an annual general meeting of a para-church 2 years back. Seeing no one wanting to take leadership positions made me angry/sad. I remembered my primary/secondary/junior college days when people would clamour, fight to take on responsibilities (for their graduation certificated/ ‘CVs’). How about in the church? There is little/no glory to serve in church? Is it our whole societal system – (Asian) parents dream ‘great things’ for their children; to become a doctor, lawyer, make lots of money, have lots of kids. How about them dreaming of more meaningful goals: healthy spiritual lives, becoming pastors, missionaries (a la Hannah who gave up Samuel, her firstborn son, to serve in the temple).