Saturday, May 23, 2015

Priest in Geylang - The untold story of the Geylang Catholic Centre by Fr. Guillaume Arotçarena

This is one really interesting book. The beginning was a little unwieldy, probably because it was translated from French, and I found myself reading long and oddly worded sentences. But that disappeared after the introductory chapter and the rest of the book was a breeze to read.

So the book tells us about a French priest, Fr. Guillaume Arotçarena, who was sent to Singapore by a missionary group from France. He was with a Toa Payoh parish, and subsequently moved to Katong. Then he felt a call to start something in Geylang and did so.

The Geylang Catholic Centre attracted many foreign workers who sought them for help and there was a team of volunteer lawyers who helped them with legal work pro bono.

Because of the attention they were attracting, the ISD (Internal Security Department) came calling. And that eventually resulted in Operation Spectrum. For those unfamiliar with Singapore history, Operation Spectrum was launched by the government accusing a bunch of people, many of whom were involved with the Catholic church, of a Marxist conspiracy. I've heard about it vaguely before, but this was the first book I've read that delved in depth into the details. It's really scary man. And I'm slightly surprised that this book's seen the light of day. But I suppose they don't censor books like they censor films here. Haha. But I suppose if it's all the truth, there's nothing to worry about.

Now of course this is a rather one-sided point of view and I've personally not investigated the other side of the coin to give a more balanced viewpoint, but this is a blog, not a history textbook, so I'll leave that for another day.

In any case, everyone would do well reading this book, Singaporean or otherwise. The Singaporean, especially the younger ones, would do well to understand how Singapore operated in the past. Those who've lived through that time might want an insider's perspective on the entire incident. The foreigner can learn about that part of Singapore history and what we are like today that the author kindly provides in the Annexes.

All in all, it's a rather interesting and different read that I highly recommend to one and all. 


Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Meaning of Marriage - Facing the Complexities of Commitment withthe Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller

Single? Married? Then this book is for you. Adapted from a sermon series he gave to Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Timothy Keller presents a fresh perspective on the meaning of marriage to the curious reader.

Written in a conversational tone, the author quotes from a variety of sources as he presents his points. I have learnt so much about myself through this book and I’m sure you will too.

The learning begins from the very first chapter. I discovered the importance of having the gospel fill our hearts with God’s love because that would be what sustains us when our spouse loves us imperfectly. That probably isn’t very new to some of you, but I began to gain a glimmer of understanding of how vital this point is in the following chapters.

I also learnt that one of the reasons why I was hypersensitive to the comments of others would perhaps be because of how self-centered I was. That was a revelation to me. In addition, the author notes that all through our lives, our friends and family members would have probably pointed out some of our flaws which we have dismissed. It is only in marriage that would expose our flaws for what they are because of their effect on our spouse, the one who would bear the brunt of it. 

An important point made in the book is the goodness of singleness and the goodness of marriage. He points out that the Western church (and probably in mine too) has elevated the status of marriage that it has become quite difficult for the single person. He quotes from Stanley Hauerwas that “Christianity was the very first religion that held up singlehood as a viable way of life.” I was blown away.

Here is an excerpt: 

Why did the early church have this attitude? The Christian gospel and hope of the future kingdom de-idolized marriage. There was no more radical act in that day and time than to live a life that did not produce heirs. Having children was the main way to achieve significance for an adult, since children would remember you. They also gave you security, since they would care for you in old age. Christians who remained single, then, were making the statement that our future is not guaranteed by the family but by God.
Single adult Christians were bearing testimony that God, not family, was their hope. God would guarantee their future, first by giving them their truest family - the church - so they never lacked for brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, in Christ. But ultimately, Christians’ inheritance is nothing less than the fullness of the kingdom of God in the new heaven and new earth. Hauerwas goes on to point out that Christian hope not only made it possible for singles to live fulfilled lives without spouse and children, but it also was an impetus for people to marry and have children and not be afraid to bring them into this dark world. “For Christians do not place their hope in their children, but rather their children are a sign of their hope… that God has not abandoned this world…”

Yet marriage is good too.

And I quote,

Unlike our commitment-averse, postmodern society, Christianity does not fear or avoid marriage either. Adults in Western society are deeply shaped by individualism, a fear and even hatred of limiting options for the sake of others. Many people are living single lives today not in the conscious, lonely misery of wanting marriage too much but rather in the largely unconscious, lonely misery or wanting marriage too little, out of fear of it.
While traditional societies tend to make an idol out of marriage (because they make an idol out of the family and tribe), contemporary societies tend to make an idol of independence (because they make an idol out of individual choice and happiness). While the traditional motive for marriage has been social duty, stability, and status, the contemporary motive for marriage is personal fulfillment. Both of these motives are partially right, of course, but they tend to become ultimates if the gospel has not changed your mind and heart.

And he ends with the chapter of “Sex and Marriage” which was written beautifully and expounded on the importance and purpose of sex and why it should only be practiced in marriage.

If you’d like to get this book, you can order it through AmazonBook Depository or get it locally (if you're in Singapore) at Kinokuniya or Tecman


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Singapore Siu Dai 2 by Felix Cheong

I had rather high hopes for the second instalment of Singapore Siu Dai having been thoroughly entertained by the first. However, this book does not live up to that expectation.

The author takes on local issues with a vengeance. We see him tackling topics such as the competitive education landscape, our public transport system and even the Prime Minister himself. Unfortunately, instead of amusing witticisms like in the first edition, we find a rather snarky tone throughout.

I personally felt like I was reading satire from a cynical commentator on Singaporean issues rather than a humorous, light-hearted take on them, which was the purpose of this series.

So if you’d like to have a good laugh at the eccentricities of our lovely little country, have a look at the first book and give the second a pass.

If you'd like to get the books which I'm sure you'll be able to find in major bookstores, you can also order them here for the first one and here for the second.

Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review. This unfortunately, is probably not what they'd expected to see.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The secret thoughts of an unlikely convert - an English professor's journey into Christian faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's

I was very surprised when this book was delivered to my door just this Friday. I was expecting it at the end of the month, but barely a week and a half after ordering it from Holland Christian Books, here it was! I was very impressed with their speed. 

And just as quickly, I finished reading the book. It took me a day and a half. I was just a tad disappointed, wanting to learn more about how the author converted to the Christian faith after more than a decade as an out lesbian and an activist. But it was just about a chapter long. I guess she must have felt that what she had written was sufficient. And perhaps it is. 

We learn about Pastor Ken Smith must have been a God appointed angel specially placed in her life who broke every stereotype she had of a Christian. And led by the Holy Spirit, she engaged her for a year without inviting her to his church, which she admitted, would have scared her off. 

So as she studied the Bible and conversed with Pastor Ken and his wife, she gradually grew to discover how real God is and He became an undeniable part of her life. 

The following chapters deal with life after she came out as a Christian and abandoned her lesbian identity. Her professional life took a hit as she was an advisor to the university's LGBT group and also taught Queer Theory. Subsequently, she was engaged and had her heart broken as that engagement was broken. Later on, she moved to a different state, taught, and fell in love again. She got married, and adopted kids, forming a transracial family with Kent Butterfield. 

I felt that she was sometimes too harsh on evangelical churches, painting them all with the same brush. It might be that some might be shallow like she described, but I'm sure that not all of them are. I like to think that the one I belong to isn't. 

In any case, it's an interesting read. However, for those who are expecting a detailed account of her conversion, you might be a little let down. It is however, a journey into the Christian faith like she described and she most certainly welcomes all who're willing to walk alongside her. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Counterfeit Gods - The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters by Timothy Keller

This is one of the best books I’ve read recently. I’ve learnt so much about myself and about God through this gem by Timothy Keller. It’s BRILLIANT if I may say so. I really gotta thank my friend Chevonne who lent this book to me after I spotted it on her Instagram account.

Well, this book is about the idols in our lives and how they unwittingly enslave us even without us knowing it. Things like love, success, money and power can all become idols if we are not careful. 

We can’t get rid of idols. That won’t work. Another idol will just take its place. The key is to replace it with Jesus Christ. When our focus is on God, the first commandment is fulfilled - “You shall have no other gods before Me” and that is the solution to it all.

The part that impacted me the greatest was when he used the example of Jonah to illustrate how even when we claim to revere God, we could really be worshipping something else. Jonah was a prophet, someone who was supposed to do the will of God. But when God asked him to preach salvation to Nineveh, he went the opposite way and tried to escape from doing so. He had idolatry of a complex kind. You can read the book to find out more.

Keller provides in his last chapter, 4 helpful ways to identify our idols. They are listed down below:

#1 Our imagination - What do we think most about. Not just an occasional daydream, but what do our thoughts naturally gravitate to? A new car? How to climb the corporate ladder?

#2 What we spend on - Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If we find ourselves needing to exert a lot of self-control in our spending on certain items, there’s a big clue what we value.

#3 For those who profess a faith in God, what is your real, daily functional salvation - How do you respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes? And I quote, “If you ask for something that you don’t get, you may become sad and disappointed. Then you go on. Hey life’s not over. Those are not your functional masters. But when you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”

#4 Look at your most uncontrollable emotions - “Look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong. If you are angry, ask, ‘Is there something here too important to me, something I must have at all costs?’ Do the same thing with strong fear or despair and guilt. Ask yourself, ‘Am I so scared, because something in my life is being threatened that I think it a necessity when it is not? Am I so down on myself because I have lost or failed at something that I think is a necessity when it is not?’

The solution is to replace each of our idols with Jesus Christ. Only He can satisfy. Only He will.

I recommend this to every Christian who might otherwise not spot the invisible idols in their lives. I also recommend this to every non-Christian who would benefit in learning how money, sex, success, and power would ultimately not satisfy.

Go get your copy today!