Can’t Take Him Anywhere Part II: Catholic Edition

I thought it would be good to share this story, which took place the day after the last one, just to make clear that Alec is an equal opportunity offender.

On Sunday, I slept in and stayed at home, and Alec was out and about. I was still pretty sleepy when he left the house, but we agreed we’d meet at our church in the evening to attend Mass.

The following interchange of text messages took place during that afternoon:

This is the T-shirt:

And this is the best gif I can find depicting a “double facepalm” to represent my weekend:

Double facepalm

Kong Hee Kong Si Mi??! Towkay Jesus And The Calvin Klein Crucifixion

Wow.

Thanks to everyone who read, responded to and shared Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide To Sun Ho’s Greatest Hits! A certain amount of gratitude is also due to Sun and her team for coming up with material so hallucinogenically bad that the snark just writes itself.

I’m honestly rather shellshocked by the attention this blog has received in the past week, given that it has languished in near-obscurity for the past 12 years, and it was only about a month ago that I wrote about the many times I’ve considered just closing it.

In fact, I nearly even abandoned Gyrating For Jesus halfway. Because after initially plunging into the idea with outrage-stoked zeal…

…it wasn’t long before I realized the full extent of the suffering I had let myself in for.

Yes,  I do realize it’s a bit LPPL to complain about how awful it was to watch Sun Ho videos repeatedly, and then end up having to watch them again IN SLOW MOTION in order to get screencaps for the image[1. For anyone reading this who doesn’t already waste too much time keeping up with memes, and also simply because I would marry Allie Brosh if bisexual bigamy were legal, I have to give credit to the original source of those drawings.] you use to illustrate the complaint. But just to give you an idea of what it was like, I also made a gif.

sunho

For those of you who came for the snark and are considering sticking around, I really hope you like it here, but I’m also quite neurotically stressed that you won’t. Apart from the Sun Ho article and a few other examples, the content on this blog isn’t generally thaaaaat bitchy (immaturely vulgar yes, punny yes, more sophisticated forms of humour not really). I also don’t tend to do the sort of topical Singaporean comedy that people like Mr Brown or Rockson are so awesome at, although you might find my kitschfest photo stories of Haw Par Villa and the Lilliputt “uniquely-Singapore” Minigolf amusing.

So, what do I do here when I’m not picking on poor helpless multimillionaire geisha pastors from China? Among other things,  I geek out about music I love, and share my attempts to improve at photography. Over the years I have also written things here which are personal and heartfelt, such as the two surgeries I have had to remove breast lumps and the love I have for my husband (when I’m not calling him a Spandex Party Boy, that is). I really don’t know how many of you who found this blog through the Sun Ho article will find any of that interesting, but if you do, I would love you to hang out around here a bit longer. :)

But on to the meat of this post. While it may not be obvious from the Sun Ho article, I am actually Christian, a lifelong Catholic. At Mass this past Sunday, it so happened that the following Bible reading was used:

2 Corinthians 8: 7,9,13-15
You always have the most of everything – of faith, of eloquence, of understanding, of keenness for any cause, and the biggest share of our affection – so we expect you to put the most into this work of mercy too. Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty. This does not mean that to give relief to others you ought to make things difficult for yourselves: it is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus now against their present need, and one day they may have something to spare that will supply your own need. That is how we strike a balance: as scripture says: The man who gathered much had none too much, the man who gathered little did not go short.

While I had a feeling that a passage like this is the sort that would be easily exploited at City Harvest Church to shore up the twisted priorities that it promotes, it is chilling how easy it was to find support for this hunch. Watch Kong Hee’s “Was Jesus Poor” (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4) sermon on Youtube for yourself to see how he makes this passage the concluding linchpin of a shockingly simplistic hour-long crusade to convince his faithful that Jesus was rich. Because “if you believe Jesus isn’t poor…you are able to break through out of poverty and come into God’s abundance and God’s prosperity…you will always end up…the way you choose to believe.”[2. 6.55 of Part 1.] One wonders whether financial records revealed in the course of Kong Hee’s trial will include royalty payments to the author of The Secret.

In the course of the sermon, he makes 9 paper-thin biblical arguments to prove Jesus was rich[3. Starts at 1.04 of Part 2.]. One such gem is that Jesus had a treasurer, and you don’t make someone treasurer of no money[4. 4.29 of Part 3.]. (Tell that to the treasurer of Project Crossover USA.) He also explains, smiling and nodding, that even with Judas Iscariot embezzling from the treasury, Jesus could still afford to continue his ministry. Comforting words indeed from a man increasingly referred to online as Kong Hee Fatt Choy!

But the crowning glory of this exercise in idiocy must be his assertion that because four soldiers fought over Jesus’s underwear, that means Jesus must have worn good clothes even on the way to being crucified[5. 0.18 of Part 4.]. Christianity explores many profound philosophical questions, but I had never been aware till now that it also delves into that eternal conundrum: boxers or briefs? I can only imagine that Jesus’s coveted finery must have been something like this.

I want to end with something a little more serious. The Corinthians passage I quoted above is what brought me to Kong Hee’s sermon, and I have now wasted some blog space on what a passage like that means to him. To balance things out, let me say something about what a passage like that means to me.

St Paul addressed this passage to the wealthy Christians of Corinth as part of his fund-raising efforts for the church in famine-struck Jerusalem, so it is true that to a certain extent he was talking about money. But no conventional resource out there from the simple to the scholarly treats this passage as proof that God is as fixated on having prosperous followers as Kong Hee is. Quite to the contrary, it is a call for Christians to let what Jesus gave up for us inspire what we are willing to give up to help others. It is also a reminder that the more blessed we may be – not just in terms of wealth but also in “faith”, “eloquence”, “understanding”, “keenness for any cause” – the more we are expected to put these blessings to use in the work of mercy.

The churches of Corinth and Jerusalem were not as unified as one might expect them to have been. In a time of widespread anti-Semitism, the Corinthians (non-Jews) were being asked to help needy Jews who had never really welcomed them into the faith to begin with. So while the passage may sound like no big deal to us today – what’s so amazing about Christians just helping out other Christians? – it was actually a pretty tall order back then. Today, I’m fairly sure that the average Catholic would regard the passage as a call for charity wherever it is needed, regardless of religious affiliation. (I say Catholic because that is my reference point, but it’s more than possible that other Christian denominations would think similarly.)

There’s a fair amount of wishy washy “Oh, let’s just be vague about what we disagree with and pray for CHC, because at the end of the day the body of Christ should stand united” sentiment out there among Christians. I know this is well-intentioned, and honestly wouldn’t blame anyone for finding my post about Sun Ho’s music overly bitchy. But until I had watched Kong Hee’s sermons for myself, I hadn’t grasped the true extent of how antithetical the City Harvest perspective is to what I (and I daresay many other Christians) believe. So, dear fellow Christians, I commend your forgiving and prayerful nature. But if you haven’t already watched the preaching you seek to stand united with, I would recommend you do so[6. If “Jesus’s Crucifixion Chic” wasn’t enough for you, try “The Laws Of The Harvest” (part 1, part 2).] in order to understand, at the very least, just how hard you will need to pray.

Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide To Sun Ho’s Greatest “Hits”

It’s easy to jump to conclusions about the guilt of the City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, but I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’ve decided to engage in the admittedly snarkastic exercise of listening to every English release by Sun Ho which I could find on Youtube, to see if the quality, content and success of her music could ever have justified the expenditure of S$23 million, authorized or not.

(For those unfamiliar with the backstory, City Harvest is a hugely rich megachurch in Singapore, founded by pastor Kong Hee and his wife Sun Ho (once described as a “music pastor”). Several of its leaders, including Kong Hee, have just been charged with committing criminal breaches of trust and falsifying accounts regarding the use of church funds. In particular, S$23 million worth of church funds was purportedly misused to fund the “Crossover Project”, an initiative started by Kong Hee and Sun Ho to use Sun’s secular music to reach out to non-Christians. Sun has been trying to launch a US-based secular music career since 2003.)

#1 Dance Hits Which You’d Never Remember Dancing To

Given that you can usually find almost anything ever committed to recordable media on Youtube on the basis that someone somewhere somehow thought it was significant enough to upload and share with the world, I was surprised to discover no trace there whatsoever of Sun’s debut American single, “Where Did Love Go”. For a song produced by David Foster which reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play “Breakout” Chart in 2003, its “breakout” impact appears to have been short-lived. Sun’s management should address this problem by making it available on Youtube ASAP – it could, after all, rake in a few hundred accidental views from non-Christian lazy typists who were looking for the Supremes’ classic.

After this disappointing start, I was relieved to find some clues as to what Sun’s other “#1 dance hits” may have sounded like: one remix of “One With You”, two of “Without Love”, one use of “Gone” as backing track to an optimistically-titled montage of “international star Sun Ho” at US Fashion Week 2006, and three – wow, three! – remixes of Ends of the Earth.

There is little to be said about any of these songs. The tunes are forgettable, Sun’s vocals insipid, none of the songs have any discernable lyrical connections with Christian beliefs or morality beyond pedestrian references to love, and whether you like them or not will largely depend on your tastes in dance music and the abilities of the producer/remixer. One also wonders why anyone would see generic Eurodance as a good way of spreading the gospel in the US music industry in the first place. Perhaps the Crossover Project thought this is what gay clubbers like listening to.

Sadly, we’ve already reached the high point of Sun’s US chart success. But let us not waste any more time here. The low points yet to come are far more entertaining.

In God We Thrust: “China Wine” (2007)

 

“China Wine” was released in 2007, the same year that the misuse of funds allegedly began. I couldn’t possibly guess at how people with actual Caribbean music credibility like Wyclef Jean, Tony Matterhorn and Elephant Man were recruited to collaborate on the song, or why a famous MV director like Wayne Isham would have any interest in doing the video. I guess they must all have been big fans of Sun’s Eurodance work.

(It’s easier to appreciate the WTFness of this song if you’re already familiar with certain dancehall music references, so let me quickly explain that “wine” in the dancehall context doesn’t refer to the Blood of Christ but to gyration of the hips, and that the “dutty wine” is a well-known dance move where you whip your hair around while gyrating your hips.)

“In China,” Sun claims, “we luv da dutty wine so much dat we mix it with de China wine”. So basically, the song is about cross-cultural hip-gyrating. I’m not seeing a clear Christian connection there, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out if I think hard enough – oh hey, maybe this is how Jesus partied it up at the wedding in Cana! CANA WINE! CANA WINE!

dancing Jesus gif

Elsewhere in the song, Sun exhorts girls to “sing from the hoo-has”, Tony Matterhorn namedrops fashion designer Ed Hardy (Sun’s company is the exclusive distributor of Ed Hardy clothing in Singapore), and Elephant Man suggests that Sun’s gyratory skills (“so she do it fast, now she do it slow”) can make something dead grow. He is probably not referring to the Resurrection.

Out of the clusterfuck of nonsequiturs that make up this song, the biggest one may be why the hell a Singaporean is calling herself “Geisha” to sing a song about how much “we” in “China” love to dutty wine. Perhaps Sun hit her head after being slain in the Spirit one day and it affected her geographical knowledge.

They Call It Murrrrdaaaa[1. Apologies to Damian Marley and Ini Kamoze for associating them with this bilge.]: “Mr Bill” (2009)

 

It is baffling to think that anyone looking back at “China Wine” two years later could have regarded reggae as an ideal musical direction for Sun to continue in, but maybe Wyclef’s weed[2. c.f. Tony Matterhorn’s “China Wine” verse where he asks Wyclef to “passa blem”.] was just that good. “Mr Bill” is certainly more mellow than “China Wine” – except, of course, for some minor lyrical hostility involving Sun’s decidedly unmellow impulses to murder her cheating man.

Still rather confused about exactly where she is from in Asia, Sun aka “Geisha” begins the video by berating her man in Mandarin for lying to her. At times during the song, her attempts to deliver her lines with a ragga-tinged lilt are so inept that she might as well be speaking in tongues. And the less said about her dancing the better, except for letting you know that in or around the same time that this song came out, she was training with superfamous choreographer Marty Kudelka in her lavish Hollywood Hills home. Let’s add “groove” to the list of things that S$23 million still can’t buy, although it’s nice to know that Sun enjoyed 29,000 square feet (at US$20,000/month) worth of space to practice her flailing in. 

Fakey Gaga: “Fancy Free” (2009)

 

Following the disappointing failure of “China Wine” and “Mr Bill” to get the world pelvic thrusting for Christ, Project Crossover must have come up with a new strategy for “Fancy Free” to make its mark in a 2009 pop music landscape dominated by Lady Gaga. But simply writing a knockoff Gaga song is for poor schmucks who don’t have S$23 million to spend. If you’re funded by Project Crossover, on the other hand, you can also get what looks like a pretty expensive video directed by a hot shot MV director who’s already done Gaga videos, and employ Gaga’s then-choreographer Laurieann Gibson, just to leave nothing to chance.

Pity about the inconvenient fact that Sun ain’t Gaga. After several years of trying to make it in the American music industry, there’s still nothing that distinguishes “Fancy Free” from a Paris Hilton vanity project, except that the Hiltons never promised their hotel guests that no Hilton revenues were used to fund Paris’s singing career.[3. ”In 2003, an individual alleged in the media that the charity was funding Sun Ho’s music career. However, this individual eventually issued a public apology and retracted his allegations. Facing media scrutiny, City Harvest issued press statements, as well as representations to its church members, that they had not funded Sun Ho’s career.” – Asiaone]

And if you were hoping that Christian messages in Sun’s music might finally have emerged by now, with “fancy free” possibly referring to some sort of detachment from material goods, you obviously need to bone up on your core megachurch doctrines. Sun wakes up “feeling like a millionaire”! Which is pretty easy if you’re either waking up in a LA mansion or a S$9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse!

Cringeworthy hubris reaches its peak when Sun trills “Feels just like I’m on a shooting star / Made my wish to be a superstar”. It’s like saying you wish you could buy a Birkin when you can already afford to buy 2,300 of them, if you could only find a shop that respected you enough to sell them to you. Also, it appears that even long-ridiculed boy band tropes like rhyming “fire” with “desire” are too sophisticated for a song which rhymes “star” with……”star”.

A Conclusion And Some Parting Insults

Pages more could be written to deconstruct the multiple levels of epic fail in Sun Ho’s US music career, but there’s only so much torture I can take and I’m pretty much already at the point of uttering “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” So I will leave you with two last atrocities, and thank God for small mercies that they are only available in short preview clips. (Things seem to have gone suddenly quiet on the Sun music front just before the initial complaints against CHC surfaced in 2010.)

First up, “Hollaback Girl” oh sorry I meantCause A Ruckus” is Sun’s clubbing manifesto. Clad in shades and her “tight wifebeater”, she urges you to “leave your do’s and don’ts at home”. I was under the impression that the 10 Commandments are applicable everywhere, but what do I know, I’m not a pastor’s wife. Sun later contradicts herself with a command to “Do what I do,” which is rather alarming when followed by the tally of “one Tom, two Tom, three Tom, now four”. Which is a worse sin, fornication or bad pronunciation? But don’t worry, Sun, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, unless your US$100,000 media team[4. “In or around April 2009, a plan was conceptualised by Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee Gek Yin and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon to transfer monies amounting to $600,000 donated by Wahju Hanafi to the Charity’s Building Fund via a “refund” of Building Fund donations into the MPA to meet some funding needs of the Project, which included US$100,000 (S$128,000) to finance a media team from Singapore to publicise and write about Sun Ho’s music career in the United States.” – Asiaone.] uploads your gluttony to Youtube.

Like I said at the start of this post, I am not in a position to judge whether the channelling of S$23 million from CHC funds in support of Sun’s US music career was properly or improperly done. However, after suffering through what that S$23 million might have paid for, I’m inclined to state that even if every single CHC member wrote in their own blood that their tithes should be spent on Sun’s US music career, the question remains how anyone keeping track of this musical turd parade could possibly believe it to be pursuing or achieving the goals of Project Crossover. I have no answer for this question, but perhaps Sun does. Enjoy the last clip.

If you are interested in this issue, you may want to read my follow-up post: Kong Hee Kong Si Mi??! Towkay Jesus and the Calvin Klein Crucifixion.

Born Again

I have not always been a big fan of the current Pope but upon reading this article in the NYT, I felt all our theological differences melt away. Truly, I can now wholeheartedly accept and follow his leadership of the Cat-holic church, and am keen to learn and absorb his many teachings about the Cat-echism. Furever and ever, amen.

Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh)

Alec recently enjoyed Brideshead Revisited so I read it too in a fit of foppery. Waugh’s prose was masterful but I thought the book’s comic moments were far more successfully realized than its theme (described by Waugh in his foreword as “the operation of divine grace” on the book’s main characters).

The Catholics in this book struggle with the outward moral strictures of being Catholic but are indifferent to the internal. We aren’t privy to any thoughtful exploration of their faiths, just an inexplicable attachment to following some rules (eg. not divorcing your husband even though you have a loveless marriage and have fallen in love with someone else) but not others (eg. not cheating on your husband in the first place). I honestly don’t understand why they continue to feel any residual attachment to Catholicism when they have long ceased to practise it; it feels more like an explanation of the power of superstition rather than divine grace. I guess Graham Greene has just spoiled me in this regard, because I really think Waugh’s attempts here don’t hold a candle to anything Greene has accomplished in a similar vein.

But in case anyone reading the previous paragraph has immediately decided that Brideshead Revisited doesn’t sound like their kind of book, let me discourage you from that – it has many inimitably funny moments and it always feels wonderfully luxurious after I overdose on modern fiction to plunge into the vintage elan of a writer like Waugh. Here’s a passage I enjoyed – Anthony Blanche, my favourite character in the book because he’s just totally fabulous, describes the fumbling attempts of some fellow students at Oxford to dunk him in a fountain (due to his excessive fabulousness):

About six of them came into my room, the rest stood mouthing outside. My dear, they looked too extraordinary. They had been having one of their ridiculous club dinners, and they were all wearing coloured tail-coats – a sort of livery. “My dears,” I said to them, “you look like a lot of most disorderly footmen.” Then one of them, rather a juicy little piece, accused me of unnatural vices. “My dear,” I said, “I may be inverted but I am not insatiable. Come back when you are alone.” Then they began to blaspheme in a very shocking manner, and suddenly I, too, began to be annoyed. “Really,” I thought, “when I think of all the hullabaloo there was when I was seventeen, and the Duc de Vincennes (old Armand, of course, not Philippe) challenged me to a duel for an affair of the heart, and very much more than the heart, I assure you, with the duchess (Stefanie, of course, not old Poppy) – now, to submit to impertinence from these pimply, tipsy virgins…” Well, I gave up the light, bantering tone and let myself be just a little offensive.

Then they began saying, “Get hold of him. Put him in Mercury.” Now as you know I have two sculptures by Brancusi and several pretty things and I did not want them to start getting rough, so I said, pacifically, “Dear sweet clodhoppers, if you knew anything of sexual psychology you would know that nothing could give me keener pleasure than to be manhandled by you meaty boys. It would be an ecstacy of the very naughtiest kind. So if any of you wishes to be my partner in joy come and seize me. If, on the other hand, you simply wish to satisfy some obscure and less easily classified libido and see me bath, come with me quietly, dear louts, to the fountain.

Do you know, they all looked a little foolish at that? I walked down with them and no one came within a yard of me. Then I got into the fountain and, you know, it was really most refreshing, so I sported there a little and struck some attitudes, until they turned about and walked sulkily home, and I heard Boy Mulcaster saying, “Anyway, we did put him in Mercury.” You know, Charles, that is just what they’ll be saying in thirty years’ time. When they’re all married to scraggy little women like hens and have cretinous porcine sons like themselves getting drunk at the same club dinner in the same coloured coats, they’ll still say, when my name is mentioned, “We put him in Mercury one night,” and their barnyard daughters will snigger and think their father was quite a dog in his day, and what a pity he’s grown so dull. Oh, la fatigue du Nord!

To Jesusland And Beyond

Revolution in Jesusland is a fascinating new blog questioning and challenging the cynicism behind that “Jesusland” map which was widely circulated after the 2004 US elections. I’d suggest you read its introductory post for a full explanation of its goals and motivation, but in summary, it explores a growing movement among American fundamentalist Christians who, despite the strident intolerance of some of their number, are far more deeply concerned with issues of social justice and welfare than hating on gays and evolution. These Christians have taken on local yet hugely ambitious goals such as “eliminating” homelessness and poverty in their cities and have been prepared to make radical personal choices – such as moving their families into bad, violent neighbourhoods – in order to emulate how Christ engaged with the poor.

One of the blog’s two authors spent his life in left-wing progressive circles, leaving college to become a union activist. The other spent her life in conservative Republican circles and left college to become a missionary. They are married to each other. Beyond telling the story of this movement, the blog hopes to illuminate and analyse the often unexpected similarities and contrasts between these “fundies” and the secular left of America which generally despises them. It is incredibly refreshing to read something which departs so radically from the tone of debate on religious issues elsewhere on the Internet (where it often seems an unwritten rule that nastiness and en-masse straw man construction is OK as long as you’re an atheist dismissing something religious) but still doesn’t proselytize or pontificate.

Apart from the pure human interest aspect of the stories about what people are doing, on a personal level I find the motivations behind the stories truly inspiring. I’m cool with secular humanism even if I’ve chosen Christianity as my truth, and I certainly believe religion has no monopoly on the creation of exceptionally good people. But I’ve also always felt that for quite a number of us humans, there’s something about Christianity’s approach (I don’t know enough about the other religions to speak for them, but it may well be the same) that can force us to leave our comfort zone and do things where a non-religious perspective could not. (By “us humans”, I mean those of us who are essentially decent but not exceptionally virtuous – we are generally ethical in the things we do and minimally committed to good causes in that we might give them some money or sign a petition or two, we live lives that make us and our loved ones happy and are more or less harmless to other people, but it doesn’t go much further than that. We are not actively bad, but we are passively lazy and self-absorbed. This is me, and I think it’s also the average human being. If it’s not you, all power to you.)

First, there’s the idea of doing good because it is God’s will that we do so, and not simply because it’s good to do good. I’m a selfish lazy-ass, in all honesty. Without any sense of carrying out God’s purpose in the world, there’s little chance I’d ever go to the bother of doing something of real consequence (as in, beyond donating money or a few hours of time) to help the less fortunate. Following on from this, there’s the need to keep thinking about the good things in our lives and what we should be using them for i.e. the idea that the good things in my life are not things I did on my own or deserve; they are God’s blessings which I should use to do his will. For me, this works against the lazy complacency of being smugly happy with my awesome life but then dropping the “awesomeness ball” instead of passing it on.

Hang on a minute, you ask – here’s Michelle being all preachy about the wonders of Christianity, but does she demonstrate any of what she’s just claimed it can do? In all seriousness the answer is that I demonstrate very little. But while it’s certainly possible that things other than Christianity can motivate people like me to go beyond their essential selfishness, personally I’ve always believed it’s my best hope of transcending my suckage. (Seriously. I may not be saving the world yet, but without Catholic guilt I would be completely insufferable, and at least that’s something.) Here are excerpts from some posts which, to me, especially capture this:

Eternity In The Heart:

I asked, “Why is it that the Christians we’re meeting are so humble about the programs they run, even though some of them are incredibly impressive? In the [secular lefty] movement I come out of, we’d be bragging and sending out press releases and winning awards and all kinds of stuff for these kinds of achievements.”

And he said, “Well, I have seen that among many non-believers and many Christians who’ve lost their way too. And I have a theory about it.”

“Tell me!” I said.

He explained (and I’m paraphrasing, unfortunately) “God made humans in his image. And so we’re walking around with this huge, God-sized sense of meaning and purpose and importance in us, and a feeling of being entitled to that sense importance.

In addition, we walk around with all these amazing God-given abilities. It’s amazing what I’ve seen people do. Just amazing. And you’ve seen that too.

Now, if you know God, then you know where that power comes from. And you know where that feeling of importance and purpose comes from: you know you’re here to do God’s purpose.”

(Earlier he had explained in no uncertain terms that “God’s purpose” is for people to take care of each other.)

“If you think all that power comes from you, then you’re going to get pretty cocky about your successes. And if you think that your purpose belongs only to you, then you’re going to get pretty vicious any time anyone gets in the way of you and the exact way in which you think you’re supposed to be doing good in the world.”

It’s so interesting, because, of course, many Christians throughout history (including very powerful ones) have been incredibly arrogant and have even killed for what they believed was God’s purpose. (So have non-believers.) But this rising movement among Christian born agains and evangelicals today is obsessed with humility and “giving it all to God” is the way they seem to pull it off and maintain it, even when their heads should be swelling according to their successes.

I’m Doing This For God Not You:

The struggle burning in these white folks’ lives is: How can we eliminate poverty and tear down the barrier we’ve built up around ourselves WITHOUT veering into paternalism and doing more harm than good.

I haven’t seen any counterproductive white guilt here yet. I think there is something about these folks’ spirituality that cancels it out. It’s already part of their theology to accept and confess that they are utterly flawed sinners – broken people living in a broken world. That’s a pretty humble platform from which the Haves can go make relationships with the Have Nots. It seems to work pretty well for them (despite the mishaps they’re confessing, there’s a foundation of unmistakable, astounding success at helping huge numbers of people and developing communities).

Yesterday during a break from Bob Lupton’s talk, I was talking to a young guy (maybe 25 years old) who’s working as a missionary in Mexico, in an operation that provides all kinds of services and development assistance in a small community across the border. He looked a tiny bit overwhelmed as he was thinking out loud about the implications of what he was coming to grips with at this conference:

He said something like: “It’s easy being down there. I mean, it’s draining physically and emotionally. But I don’t have to change to be there. And it’s cool. You know, it sounds exotic. People back home get why I’m there, and think it’s cool. The whole church is behind me. But, living in a poor neighborhood in my own city in America – no one’s going to think that’s cool. And I don’t want to do it. It’s going to be awkward for all kinds of reasons. Being a foreigner in another country is one thing, but being a foreigner in your own neighborhood – that seems like that’s going to be really hard.”

But it sure sounded like he was headed for exactly that. Why? Because Jesus wants him to do it. I said something about how I have already seen more comfortable people in the Christian world make that uncomfortable decision than I ever had in 20 years in the secular left. (Mind you, they’re not just moving into the neighborhoods, they’re crossing boundaries and becoming responsible, as members of communities, for their neighbors’ lives.)

He said, “Hmmm. Yeah, that makes sense. The ONLY reason I’d do it is for Jesus.”

Born This Happy Morning

Apart from when I saw Nick Cave sing The Mercy Seat live, the music that has made me battle tears in public most often has always been sacred music. (Okay, also God Only Knows at the end of Love, Actually, but that’s kind of sacred too.) It’s the same with weddings – in church weddings I often feel like I’m about to cry when the couple is pronounced man and wife, but in the first secular wedding I attended I was shocked to realize that it didn’t touch me anywhere as much, or feel as meaningful. (To me, that is, of course I know it was deeply meaningful to the couple.)

Today in Mass during O Come All Ye Faithful, as the organ arpeggioed up towards “Glory to God! Glory in the highest!” and as the music softened down again for “O come let us adore Him” I had to close my eyes and stop singing. There’s no cool way to say this, and I guess some of you would rather I get back to talking about stuff like how I start every day with Satan, or my gay-soaked childhood, but at that moment I felt stunned by His glory, without which I really am nothing. Despite more than a year of feeling almost completely disconnected from Mass in Singapore, I imagined my life if I continued to keep God out of it, and it felt empty.

That’s all. Merry Christmas, everyone. We now return you to this site’s regularly scheduled blips of indie music blathering, frivolous vulgarity and cat pictures.

Graham Greene: The Power And The Glory

Again I am brought to my knees by Graham Greene. Again I find myself fumbling for words that deserve to be used in a review. Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is an incredibly audacious book; perhaps one day I’ll write an equally bold one about Graham Greene – because in my life so far (narrow-horizoned as it admittedly has been), I have not read a writer who can equal his understanding of what it is to be human.

Graham Greene Books (Thoughts)

In the middle of my third Graham Greene book (he’s my current binge), I’m not entirely convinced by the way all his characters inevitably contemplate faith and God and Roman Catholicism at some point in the story.

Graham Greene characters are ordinary people, essentially good but often weak or wilful; their ruminations on faith are convoluted, not always logical and sometimes theologically dodgy. But they are almost consistently more engaged with the idea of faith as a palpable presence in their lives (whether welcome or not), and what this means for the choices they make, than most people (including me) are.

Which is why I get something from Graham Greene that I haven’t really found before in other writers. I like the time I spend in his world where faith matters, it torments Scobie in The Heart Of The Matter, it separates Sarah and Bendrix in The End Of The Affair, it’s even a chink in Pinkie’s armour of ruthlessness in Brighton Rock. They don’t all deal with its dictates sensibly, but they find themselves incapable of indifference towards it.

This idea – that try as one might, one cannot be indifferent to God – is precisely what draws me to Graham Greene novels, but also precisely why I sometimes fear his books are getting more and more fictional as the years go by.

Distracted By Jesus

While ploughing through back issues of The Irish Jurist I was completely diverted from my quest for articles on unenumerated rights in Irish constitutional law (no prizes for guessing that Comparative Human Rights is my “fun but impractical” Masters course choice) by “The Trial Of Jesus As A Conflict Of Laws?” (1997 32 Ir. Jur. 398 for any similarly sad lawyer type who’s interested).

It tackles the three main areas of concern in the subject: jurisdiction, choice of law and enforcement of judgments, basically: who had the jurisdiction to put Jesus on trial, Pilate (as Roman governor of Judea), Herod (as tetrach of Galilee and a client-king of Rome), or the Sanhedrin (as highest Jewish court of law)? What law would be applied in the trial, Roman or Jewish? Lastly, if in answer to the first two questions we discover that the Sanhedrin decided, applying Jewish law, would Pilate be prepared or required to enforce the judgment?

It ultimately concludes that there was only one trial, before Pilate, who applied Roman law, which seemed a sensible if not revelatory stance, but it was a refreshing diversion none the less.