Monday, June 10, 2013

The Inspiration is in the Compassion

Ever since I graduated from Mount House (Churcher’s College’s junior boarding house in the days when Churcher’s had a small boarding community), I’ve not been much of a church goer. I’m afraid to say that despite my record as a decent student of Christian theology, my reasons for entering a church have been limited (usually to listen to a good choir – though I did attend for a while when I had other-halves who were trying to be Christian).

Unfortunately, life in Singapore doesn’t make it easier to be inspired by the church. It could be me but the few church visits that I’ve made in the last few decades have been closer to being at a combination of a rock concert mixed with a real life case study in marketing. I was getting used to the idea that Church was becoming the last place where you’d hear Godly words being spoken.

Thanks to the tough-half’s mother (this 70 plus year-old lady is a devout Catholic and the highlight of her visits to Singapore are my bringing her to Sunday mass) being in town, I actually found a service where Godly words were spoken. The priest at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd announced to his flock that the inspiration to worship God did not come from, “The Glamour of our Church buildings or the beauty of the liturgy but from the compassion that we show.”

This struck me as being the most amazing thing that I’ve heard in a long time. You could say that I’ve become a little jaded by a decade of being a PR man in Singapore. Life in the past decade has been about the constant search for more and in my case, I’ve been a very active participant in the process of telling people to buy more than what they may actually need or want. When you operate in a business that’s all about creating needs, you tend to get the idea that everything is all about packaging – God, is unfortunately not immune from this.

Singapore is littered with religious institutions that cater to various segments of the market. The Churches have been one of the most aggressive and slickest marketers. They have become so successful in the marketing department that Christianity has become personified by the likes of Joseph Prince, a young man who was destined to live life as an IT consultant until Jesus told (since I don’t speak to Jesus, I can’t verify this) that it was his mission to be a TV personality, wealth coach and author.

If you follow “Give me Your Money” school of Christianity, you’d be inclined to believe that Jesus died on the cross so that you would be entitled to live a wonderful life that would be free of sickness, worry and poverty. As my ex-girlfriend’s pastor said so eloquently, “Pagans chase good things – but good things just come to us naturally.”

Now, it goes without saying that faith is always easier to inspire when you look like the message. Think of how we’re all enamored by the wealth of Donald Trump, always seems to be living in the swankiest homes in the swankiest places on earth. Mr Trump personifies wealth and success despite the fact that the banks are consistently after him.

What is true of Donald Trump has been true of some of our church leaders. I think of the Rev Kong Hee and his wife Sun Ho, who currently facing charges of embezzling money. Despite the obvious evidence that is mounting against them, their followers continue to believe in the good pastor and his wife – I mean how can anyone who finances his wife’s singing career in Beverly Hills to the tune of $28,000 a week be anything but God’s one true representative on earth?

The problem with all these wonderful ideas about God being the source of prosperity, is the fact that Jesus (the Son persona of God) had a habit of blessing and bestowing kindness on social outcast like the poor, prostitutes, tax collectors and so on. Scripture clearly quotes him as saying, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Every available record of Jesus’s life show that this was a man who encouraged us to “love your enemies,” and to “bless those who curse you.”

The records show that Jesus was born into poverty. There are no records to show him owning anything more than the cloths on his back (a topic that even some dispute). Here was a man who told us that God was to be found in the dregs of society. It could be the fact that my theology is nearly two-decades rusty but I don’t recall scripture talking about an entitlement to prosperity and health by being a follower.

If anything, Jesus wasn’t into mass followings. I think he made it quite clear that being a follower could be a nasty and brutish experience. He told people to sell ALL their possessions to become his followers. All four Gospels quote him as saying that a follower had to carry their cross.

So, if you were to follow the evidence that’s laid out by Christian scripture, you’d realize that Jesus was, materially speaking, a pauper and his message was all about things like alleviating suffering of the down trodden.  

This fact goes onto beg the question of what Christ would have thought of the effort of Churches to out-do each other in the effort to build bigger and more glamorous buildings? What he have thought of Pastors who pay themselves salaries that are comparable to those paid to corporate CEO’s?

Ironically the one Church that is starting to answer these questions is the Catholic Church itself. While the Catholic Church has been noticeably quiet in its efforts to raise funds when compared to its more “charismatic” counterparts, it has several centuries before to raise funds. Popes have traditionally lived like monarchs. The Pope is regarded by international law as a “Head of State,” and has to be given the privileges of one.

The current Pope, has now began to challenge these by example. His Holiness dines with ordinary people and instead of conducting services in the beauty of the Vatican, goes and brings the word of God to such charming and acceptable people like prisoners.

Now, wouldn’t be nice if more of today’s self-appointed agents of God, thought of devoting more of their time to bringing compassion to the down and out?  

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