27 Mar 2015

Holy Week 1: Jesus enters Jerusalem

Thousands throng the walkways, paths and trails even as more keep arriving. It is the high point of all Jewish life: the Feast. All good Jews would make an effort to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. It is going to be eight heady days of busyness and business as Jews prepare to meet the requirements of the Law and the rules set down by the rabbinic tradition over the centuries in order to observe the Passover.

Jesus chose to enter Jerusalem at this time. He is aware that his final moments and the great cataclysmic purpose of his life is about to unfold. It won't be his first visit to Jerusalem; but he must now fully assert his identity and complete his mission.

This final week sees Jesus reveal God's heart in his actions, his teaching and his responses to his enemies.

actions ~
the ride
Historically, the Roman overlords love to use this Feast season to remind the Jews of their power. Often the Roman governor of Judea would ride up to Jerusalem from his coastal residence in the west because right at this time, the population will swell  from its usual 50,000 to at least 200,000! An opportune time to impress and suppress the crowds!
The governor would come in all of his imperial majesty to remind the Jewish pilgrims that Rome was in charge. It would be a "..visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot solders, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold", with sounds to match: "the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums.  The swirling of dust.  The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful."
This is the usual mood.

Jesus chooses to ride into Jerusalem too. The Gospel accounts tell us that it wasn't just Jesus' intent. It was also the longing and hope of the people - for they have heard of his miracles, especially the raising of Lazarus - and now, they are gathering....as one people; what a better time to unite and defeat the Romans! So the people came bearing branches and shouting, "Hosanna, blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"
Immediately, Jesus' actions stir consternation and questions. Those who faithfully read their Scriptures may recall the prophet Zecahriah's words that the king would ride on a donkey. Yet, compared to the noise and pomp of the Roman ruler, this would be so ... weak. Surely, Jesus would quickly surprise everyone and show forth the great powers of God Almighty as God did when he parted the Red Sea for Moses and the rag tag Israelites scared-to-death as the loud poundng calvary of Pharaoh drew near....
We are pretty much the same. Faced with any situation we cannot bear, all we want is for the Saviour to come and save us with a wondrous act of deliverance; all the better if it is a mighty observable miracle to give us a solid-gold testimony of precise, definite victory!
the temple clean-out
Instead, Jesus enters the temple and cleans his own people out!
Come on, surely God can cut us some slack? We are the ones suffering. The bad guys are out there God! Why pick on us, fixate on our details... we are just trying to obey you, make things work out...be faithful...
But Jesus chases to the heart and the mild donkey-riding king is suddenly wielding whip and lashing out that we have betrayed God's intent. Ouch.
Honestly, by this time, I feel that the crowd's sentiments would begin to shift. 
Isn't it the same for us? Our faith shifts too as our expectations go unmet...

actions, teaching, and the way he responds to his disciples and his enemies
 are like mirrors that can reveal what is upon our hearts too. As we read on carefully this week and consider the final week of Jesus' life, may we enter into the experience and emerge changed.
Please read along slowly this week. You can read one Gospel for 2 days or read them as parallels according to the events:
Matthew 26-28
Mark 11-16
Luke 19v29 - 24
John 12v12- 21

note: as the Gospels were written to inspire faith, they do not include all the time-date details. This has caused some concern and many different scholars have endeavored to find the exact dates/times using the Jewish and Roman calendars. I do not personally think that knowing these details will make a real difference to our faith. It is important to be sure that Jesus was a historical figure and that we trust the accounts in the Bible as actual. Beyond that, we can choose tradition or scholarship to help us in our journey of faith, as long as it doesn't lead us into heresy! Personally, I find observing the Holy Week powerful for my faith experience; so I share some of my observations and reflections here. May it brighten your minds and strengthen your hearts!

For a simple background to the Holy Week: 
Lutheran Church on Holy Week

23 Mar 2015

To grief, mourn - for a stronger soul, and a gift of song

The way we grieve tells us more about who we truly are than all our acclamation. After all,
you mourn if you cherished
you cry if you feel loss
you sob silently for the broken heart is one that no longer holds it all together

This week will reveal our hearts, yea, our soul Singapore.

A visionary, sacrificial, bold architect of our little isle-state, one who is synonymous with our national journey is so many dimensions, has passed on.

We have been -
children who played
Teens who sulk
Adults who sweat and swear

But children, teens and adults all share one reality: we embody a soul. In times of grief, we cast off  our trappings and don the same apparel of mourning. We strip to basics and wear the cotton and linen and slop around in slippers, keeping vigil, losing sleep, living a different timetable and purpose.

Grief is our internal process, thoughts, feelings, the weight in the chest, the churning in the gut, the unspeakable thoughts and feelings. Mourning is crying, journaling, creating artwork, telling our story, speaking the unspeakable. Mourning makes it possible for us to touch, express and release our grief. {trans-formative power of grief}

This is why I urge all Singaporeans to find a way to mourn. I am glad that was the word the Prime Minister chose in his announcement. 

The late Mr Lee stirs us all up in different ways. Most of us are filled with an admixture of admiration, awe and angst. We are grateful for his grit, we may not be so thrilled with some of his iron-clad ways. This is because he is just human, like you and me. He is responding to his times, with his personality, training and convictions. We will never find anyone totally agreeable to us. What moves humanity along is a level-headed and full-hearted embracing of persons for who we are, recognising the difference we all make to each other.

What feelings are within you? It may be purple today and grey tomorrow.

Mourning is thus a deeply personal experience. But when we share a grief and a loss, it can be a collective experience too; one that calls us to go beneath the surface and reach out to one another. One that calls us to pause and consider, for

Loss is not just an ending; it marks the beginning of a new way of being.

This is not the time to scramble or fear. It is the time to remember, revisit and recast. 

This SG50 year, we had a song competition. I thought of our little nation and all that we have built: the infrastructure and functional values. On the Maslow's hierarchy, we have met our security needs. We are at the place where we seek the higher order needs of soul and spirit; the stuff of fulfilment. I am immensely gratified and proud of the many good Qs, initiatives and ideas that have poured forth. The late Mr Lee has helped us built a robust foundation for us to pursue these higher order matters. 

As we walk the next leg, let us take a leaf from other cultures and societies for this journey - observing what works and what backfires or even unravels. 

But it is time for dreaming again. 

Dreams do come true
We set our hearts
And pledged
to be
to prosper and progress

Miracle island
Shining in the world
An inspiration
That small things can
Make a difference

Look at us now
With our pioneers
Setting pace
We arise
To cherish and aspire

Our journey continues
A richer soul
Where each one is part
Of the greater whole
hearts are free
Every dream grows
as surely as the river flows

{lyrics: jenni ho-huan tune: dorothy yew for The Gift of Song, 2015}

And while you dream awhile, let these pictures stir you: is this what you dream of, or is it something else? Top 10 cities {Lonely Planet}

19 Mar 2015

What has your entire attention?

What is real, is what's before you.

Singapore's Marina Bay Sands

The rest of it doesn't exist except in your imagination, fantasy or worry.

It's 10:30am in the household and I am writing after the a late school-holiday breakfast and chores. Earlier I received a message from a friend, She shares one of her favourite verses, Matthew 6v34 ~ "therefore do not worry about tomorrow..." and then adds The Message rendering of it:

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

My entire attention.

Let's see, from the moment I awoke until now, what has managed to get my entire attention?

The personal time in the bathroom
The making of the bed
The setting out of food
The greeting of the children and the cat
The whatsapp
The breakfast meal

What about you?

Some things capture our attention.
Some we rather not have to attend to.
Some things it may be better not to pay any attention to!

bacteria - yes!

Our attention is trained.

From the earliest days, we train our attention. Were we taught to look out: at natural wonders, that crooked line, the neatly dressed child, that clever kid, the policeman who may catch us for misbehaving? Were we taught to look within: to notice our feelings and our motives?

When the children were little, we took walks often. Not very long ones, just around the neighbourhood, to the park, to the pool....and it is on these walks that they got their a good training to soak in daily wonderment, from bugs to leaves, from buses to lives.

Our attention is also strained.

As we grow older, more demands our attention. I find the children less able to sit still and pay careful attention because their lives is running on an RPM that would have sent the vinyl disc flying off the turntable. There is so much crying out for us to look into, consider, buy, plan, anticipate.

We gradually lose our ability to live in the now, to be real, to give full attention.

So today, with all that lies ahead and whatever surprises (including how my attempt at a new recipe will turn out), I am going to begin right now to pay attention to this one truth that makes re-gaining and re-training my attention possible: I am but a child of God. 

I am going to pay attention to this truth of my identity.

For out of this place of security, like a young child who explores because he feels safe; I can look out at a world spinning wild with troubles large and problems small... and ask, what is my Father doing right now? There is a place to ask what He is doing in Iraq, the church.. there is also the place and needful to ask, "what are You doing in my marriage, my children's growth, my own heart with all its many alleys and corners....

Little children are trainable. They have a natural curiosity. They are thirsty for absorbing fresh, new things. They are easily enthused, They are trusting.

As I return to my identity as God's child, I open myself to be re-trained to think and feel; to grow to become aware and attentive to His ways. Over time, we are able to pull away from our worries and be present to our lives, to what is real right now....and to live under God's sovereignty and goodness with a peace that is deep and abiding.

In fact, I am going to sit and give my entire attention to my Father for a while. Who knows what He will show me?

Why don't you do so too, and perhaps share what you saw or felt?