Saturday, 26 December 2009

No Room at the Inn

The few pieces of clothing
hastily retrieved in the heat of the fire
are barely enough to shield his children from the cold.
Possessions burnt down to ashes,
dreams blown up in smoke,
now nursing memories in the chilly December wind.

The well-worn teddy bear
hastily retrieved in the heat of the moment
is the only one she can confide in.
Communication broken down in anger,
parents caught up in fights,
now walking aimlessly on a lonely December street.

The few pieces of cardboard
hastily retrieved in the heat of the day
provide them little comfort against the concrete walkway.
Heads laid down on rags,
bodies curled up in the cold,
now counting sheep on a dark December night.

Yet not far away,
in holly-decked halls
people chat,
people laugh,
people kiss,
’tis the season to be jolly;
under bright lights
champagne is popped,
glasses are clinked,
music is played,
’tis the night before Christmas.

What of the man and his family?
What of the girl and her teddy bear?
What of the vagabond and his friends?
There is no room for them at the inn.
No room.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

O Happy Day!


One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is to attend a service in a Black Gospel church and be swept away by the fantastic singing and spirit. I still want to do that someday, but even if I had to die now I’d be content, for I just attended the Soweto Gospel Choir performance at the Esplanade. What a wonderful two hours it was!

The attractive and colourful costumes (where can we buy those?), the energetic movements and drumbeats (where do they get all that energy from?), the soulful voices and tight harmonies, all made for a most delightful concert. The singers definitely deserved the standing ovation at the end.

Included in the evening’s repertoire were some of the best arrangements I've ever heard of familiar favourites like ‘O Happy Day’, ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ (yes, there was a much-appreciated segment of Christmas carols in celebration of the season), as well as the indispensable classic ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and a very uplifting rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ that could move one to tears.

The only time the performance was slightly marred was when the audience clapped along during ‘The Little Drummer Boy’. I always think the audience should clap along only when asked to by the performers, or at least when the performers themselves are clapping, and refrain from doing so otherwise. But thank goodness it wasn’t that bad—the amplified voices and drumbeats were strong enough to be heard over the audience’s handclaps.

O what a happy evening! And what an inspiration the Choir was, just in time to usher in the celebration of Christmas! Now if only we could have more uplifting choirs like them in our churches...

Sunday, 20 December 2009


I just knew it would happen! The UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen has failed to produce any legally binding agreement on carbon emission cuts.

So what's new?  This is so much a symptom of fallen human nature: every nation looking out for itself. But, as Pope Benedict XVI says in his message for World Day of Peace 2010, ‘concern for the environment calls for a broad global vision of the world; a responsible common effort to move beyond approaches based on selfish nationalistic interests towards a vision constantly open to the needs of all peoples’. If only world leaders would heed this call!

How hard can it be for people to be less myopic, to see beyond their own puny worlds and come together to work for the good of the whole world? How can we keep dreaming of a white Christmas and singing of a winter wonderland when the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate?!

Good thing Christmas is so much more than snow and sleigh rides. Christmas gives us the reassurance that God has given us this beautiful world and that he cares enough about us to come into the world to save us. So we have a duty to look after this world! Even if world leaders are not ready to make bold moves yet, we can do what we can and play our part to be good stewards of creation. As the Pope continues: ‘Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all. May this be clear to world leaders and to those at every level who are concerned for the future of humanity: the protection of creation and peacemaking are profoundly linked!’ We certainly need God's grace and help to achieve this.

     O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!

Because there can be no true peace as long as this global warming crisis continues.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

What the World Needs Now

It's a crazy, crazy world—and it's getting crazier as the years go by.

If terrorists can ram planes into buildings and suicide bombers can set themselves off to kill thousands of innocent people, it must be a crazy world: life is no longer sacred.

If parents can kill or rape their own children and a famous golfer can be excused as being 'human' for sleeping around (kudos to Fiona Chan for her excellent commentary in The Straits Times today), it must be a crazy world: family relationships are no longer sacred.

If gays and lesbians can be consecrated as bishops and teachers can post pornography on their blogs, it must be a crazy world: values are no longer sacred.

If an entire nation can vote to ban the construction of minarets and companies can add harmful ingredients to infant formula milk, it must be a crazy world: social cohesion and responsibility are no longer sacred.

What the world needs now are love, peace, and joy—of the long-lasting variety that comes only from God. What the world needs now is to rediscover, reclaim, and relive Christmas—and all that it means and stands for. What the world desperately needs now is Immanuel, God with us.

     O come, O come, Immanuel,
     And ransom captive Israel
     That mourns in lonely exile here
     Until the Son of God appear.
     Rejoice, rejoice! Immanuel
     Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

When Hope Shall Sing of Triumph

There's been a lot of talk about hope and optimism these days. There is Hopenhagen, the movement that empowers global citizens to engage in the UN Climate Change Conference. Global warming is fast becoming a worldwide crisis, and millions of people all over the planet are hoping that the conference will produce concrete actions to tackle the problem head-on. There is hope yet that world leaders will come to their senses and rally to save this ailing world.

Then there is the Australian competition that has given the prize to 'One-ders' as the tag for the coming decade, because of its 'bright-eyed optimism'. Certainly this has been a tough decade to begin the millennium: terrorist attacks, wars, and the global financial crisis. There is hope yet that the coming decade (which actually begins in 2011, not 2010) will be a period of wonders rather than woes, especially with the comforting news in recent months that the world is beginning to pick itself up from the ashes of economic gloom.

I think all this talk of hope is very timely during this season of Advent in preparation for Christmas. The message of Christmas is, of course, a message of hope. Obama talked about the audacity of hope. I believe that what gives us that audacity is the unfailing, unconditional love of God: 'Hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.' (Romans 5:5) We dare to hope because we have come to know and experience the love of God.

So Christmas is all about hope, because the coming of Jesus reveals that God cares enough about us to come to us, to reach out to us, to become one of us. So as we go about decorating our homes, shopping for new clothes, and wrapping gifts for our loved ones, and in the midst of all our carolling and feasting and merrymaking, we should keep in mind this message of hope: there can always be a better tomorrow because God loves us and cares for us!

     O come, divine Messiah!
     The world in silence waits the day
     When hope shall sing of triumph
     And sadness flees away.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Obsession with Secondary Greatness

I think the difference between stature and status is similar to that between primary greatness and secondary greatness. Stephen R. Covey defines primary greatness as having to do with a person's character, contributions, talents, creativity, and discipline, whereas secondary greatness is about positions, titles, awards, wealth, fame, and rankings.

It seems to me that the pervasive Singaporean obsession is with secondary greatness. And, sadly, nowhere is this more evident than in the education system. True, there are schools that have excellent programmes in place to mould their students to achieve primary greatness, and there are many noble teachers who are doing a great job of nurturing their students in that direction. Yet isn't it also the case that character education is often relegated to a very minor position vis-à-vis academic subjects, and that schools often offer CCAs that can bring in the medals and awards rather than those that cater to students' interests? The list of examples could go on and on, but I guess my point is evident and I shouldn't have to put my head on the block to belabour it.

One can only hope that, as we move forward in this age of enlightenment, more educators will wise up to the need for a solid character education programme that permeates the entire curriculum ('ubiquitous', to use Covey's term). Many of the aspirations and ideals we hold as a society, such as being more gracious, are dependent on good character education. I daresay that, to a great extent, the future of our nation depends on it.