Wednesday, September 5, 2018

This is what inequality looks like by Teo You Yenn

This book is a game-changer.

Professor Teo You Yenn, head of the Department of Sociology at the Nanyang Technological University has just published a book about the underprivileged in Singapore. This book features material from 3 years of ethnographic research on families living in rental flats in this country.

Even though the author is an academic, this book is written for the layman in an easy-to-read manner that allows one to go through the book without any great difficulty.

We are eased into the topic with an introduction that lays bare the reality of the poor in Singapore. This chapter is named “Step 1: Disrupt the Narrative” and with good reason. We have all been sold the well-known narrative of a country that went from Third World to First in a matter of decades and how we were once poor and now rich. But what about those who have not shared in the country’s success story?

We are told why this matters and what is at stake here.

The book is arranged as a series of essays that can be read in any order, but they have been arranged to be read as a totality and in sequence. I did that and would highly encourage all to do so.

Different ones will find different chapters resonating with them.

For me, it was the chapter on education.

I’m not surprised when she revealed that Singapore’s education system, hailed as one of the best in the world, most likely perpetuates inequality instead of allowing the poor to level up. This is because in an age where every child is sent for multiple tuition and enrichment lessons, the poorest of us who are unable to afford these classes lose out.

The chapter on race that the author was “strong-armed” by her editors to write too proved to be a good lesson in sociological terminology.

After reading this book, I became more acutely aware of the my own privilege and will make an effort to support the poor and needy in the little that I am able to.

I’d highly encourage everyone, Singaporean and non-Singaporeans, to grab a copy of this book to uncover the hidden realities of those living in poverty in a first-world country like ours. Click here to buy a copy today!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame by Vicky Beeching

Vicky Beeching used to have a successful career as a Christian musician whose songs were played in churches all across the world. When she came out as gay, she lost not only many of her friends, but also her music career.

Why would she do this?

All the years of hiding in the closet took a toll on her. At around the age of 30, she developed an auto-immune disease that forced her to undergo chemotherapy treatment and to confront the truth about her orientation. Her doctor shared with her that most of his patients had an unresolved trauma that provides ongoing stress that would trigger the onset of this disease.

This was the impetus that led her to come out publicly in 2014.

This book tells her story.

It is heart-breaking at times as she recounts how many times her heart got broken as she had crushes after crushes on her straight female friends who then went on to marry or date other guys.

However, there are light-hearted moments, especially the one where she shares about her experience meeting a prominent music executive on page 114 of the book. I couldn't stop smiling at that anecdote where her British accent got her entangled in a major embarrassing moment.

I loved her recounting her days at Oxford and her theological meditations on issues such as slavery and women's equality that were big topics of debate in the church in both the past and present respectively.

It was also interesting to read about her music career touring church after church across the United States. (It's not as glamorous as you may think.)

Her orientation, which she kept secret, caused lots of issues and pain for the men around her who tried to date her but were inexplicable rejected time and again.

She tried confession to get rid of her gay feelings, and even underwent an exorcism to boot. Nothing helped.

Once, at the end of her rope, she even contemplated suicide, something many LGBTQ+ Christians can identify with.

Fortunately, she made it through those dark times, and in an interview, shared that after coming out, she has been her most liberated self, truly understanding what freedom is like.

This is a most lovely book, probably a little triggering for gay Christians to read, but nonetheless very educational for the average parent, pastor, or church leader who may have closeted members in their congregation. This book will help them understand the very real difficulties they face, and hopefully, bring about some change in currently toxic and largely negative attitudes many of them have (at least in Singapore) regarding the LGBTQ+ community.

I'd encourage everyone to pick up a copy of this book today!

If you'd like to watch a video review I made of this book, here it is:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke

This is an incredible book to read. I've read it twice already and I don't usually re-read my books. It's that good.

This book is divided into 2 parts. 

Part 1 talks about the landscape in America today regarding trans identity and how it intersects with the Christian faith, gives us vocabulary to help in the discussion and more. Chapters 1 talks about the landscape of the intersection between trans identity and the Christian faith in USA today. Chapter 2 gives us some vocabulary to help the uninitiated understand the terminology used by trans folk today. And Chapter 3 is a dissection of Mark Yarhouse's 3 frameworks.

Part 2 has theology interwoven with personal testimonies of different trans / non-binary / genderqueer folks.

My favourite chapter was Chapter 5 that featured Aidan Wang, a transgender man from Taiwan. 

This is because in the many LGBTQ+ books I’ve read that dealt with faith, I’d only come across one that featured an Asian American. So to read about an actual person from the queer community right here in Asia was quite a treat. Thank you for your radical inclusiveness Austen!

In addition, the detailed exposition of Isaiah 56:3-8 in Chapter 7 really blessed me. Austen really went into great lengths to explain how this chapter resonated with him when he encountered it afresh as he was finishing seminary. I liked how the chapter was almost a Bible Study where he gave us background info, historical facts, and set the context for us to interpret it accurately.

Get this book to help educate Christians leaders, parents, friends, and family. This is a useful resource in the Christian world that sometimes contains lots of misinformation and hate against trans folk. 

Check out my YouTube video where I talk about other aspects of the book here: 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

An Extra Mile by Sharon Garlough Brown

This is the last book in the Sensible Shoes series but even though it's the only one I've read, it was still an excellent read!

I didn't feel too lost jumping into it as the plot explains itself. And it didn't feel too strained or artificial either.

Four women are coping with the death of a dear friend and mother, even as they experience significant transitions in their respective lives.

Sharon Garlough Brown has a gift of making characters come alive. I resonated with Mara, Hannah, Charissa, and Becca at different points in the story.

I felt for Mara, the single mother who nevertheless spends time each week to serve at a homeless food centre.

Hannah's story tugged at my heartstrings even as she gave up a ministry position to move in with her husband.

Charissa reminded me the importance of rest and how in every crisis there can sometime be a silver lining.

Becca disdains "Jesus-people" and rejects several attempts of others who try to bring her to faith.

Their stories intertwined perfectly and I never felt lost even though the entire novel's narrative alternates between the four of them.

It's a little like my life honestly, I've lost a friend earlier this year and together with some of my friends, I'm learning how to cope with it. So it's nice to read a book that doesn't paper over the grief one feels when a close friend dies.

I'd give this book 4.5 stars out of 5, so grab your copy today from IVP. :)

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

4 Views of Hell by Various Authors

This was quite an educational read as I had only one view of hell. I didn't even know people had other ideas of what hell could be, so this book was a must-read.

Each chapter is followed by responses from the 3 other authors so that it provides a more balanced view as the others analyse what might possibly be wrong about that particular view.

So the book opens with Denny Burk defending the traditional view of hell, also known as "Eternal Conscious Torment" where people live forever, being tortured by hellfire and such. This is my understanding of hell so nothing was new except for the fact that the author used 10 different verses to back up his claim that this is what hell truly is. I thought it a was rather thorough explanation and wondered how the other authors could fight against this.

The second chapter is titled "Terminal Punishment". This is a more palatable view of hell where the damned just disappears after being thrown into hellfire. He uses some biblical texts to support his claim which I thought were pretty reasonable.

Next, the third chapter deals with "Universalism", which was once known to be heresy, but is essentially the claim that by the blood of Jesus, God saves everyone in the end. He surprisingly does an interesting exegesis of relevant texts from the holy book, so no one can say he spun out this theory from thin air.

Finally, the last chapter deals with Purgatory. This is strictly not hell, as some claim that it's an anteroom to heaven, a place where people are sanctified before entering the presence of God. This chapter unfortunately has woefully little Bible verses to back its claims, so I thought it fell a little flat. It's interesting to see what C. S. Lewis had to say about Purgatory though, which is what the author referenced to a lot.

The book closes with a conclusion by Preston Sprinkle who evaluates each chapter and tells us where it shines and falls short. I thought it was a reasonable end to a very informative book. Pick up this book if you'd like to learn more about the various conceptions of hell Christians have.