Conversion

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C.S. Lewis, after serving in the British army during the First World War, “returned to Oxford University, he received a First in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin literature) in 1920, a First in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923. In 1924 he became a philosophy tutor at University College and, in 1925, was elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, where he served for 29 years until 1954.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

In his partial autobiography `Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life”, he reflected on his conversion:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The prodigal son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?… The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation.

G.K. Chesterton, one of the dominating figures of the London literary scene in the early twentieth century, a journalist and social philosopher, converted to Catholicism at the age of 48. He wrote a poem titled `The Convert’ (1927):

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

As I read about their lives and encounters with God, it made me reflect on mine. When I was 16, my family moved to a new home and I shared a bedroom with my sister and we had a dressing table with a large mirror where at a short distance, you can see yourself from head to toe. It was very useful for checking out how you look or dress before going out. Unlike my sister, I hardly checked how I dressed but that did not make me less vain. Come to think of it, my vanity was more deep rooted even though my sister is 6 years older.

I was very active in school and spent most of my time out of the house. However, when alone in my bedroom, I would at times sit at the dressing table and take a look at myself. One day, I began to talk to myself at the mirror and examined my face closely. I remembered asking myself, “Who am I?” I recalled not being able to answer that question and went on to ask more questions like `What am I here for?’, ‘What is life all about?’ and `Who is God?’ Although I was raised in a family that goes to church and I went to a Methodist school (primary), it didn’t make me a believer. I know all the church speak and was involved in a lot of the activities in church since young and even excelled in them like I did for my school activities. Somehow, I had never really known why I was involved and just played along with the activities as there was nothing wrong with them. In fact you can say they were mostly good and noble stuff.

But there was always this emptiness inside, like a vacuum that couldn’t be filled with all the hype and activities going on in my life. That’s when I asked myself those questions. I took the time to stop all the `noise’ and searched my heart. Something was stirring within me and I saw bible verses at my study table that states:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).

They were the key verses I used to look at and quietly pray when I studied for my GCE O levels exams. It was more because I was in panic mode as I had not been studying and it was less than 3 months before the exams. I have been using God for emergencies only.

But back to the mirror reflection… this was something else. I could not let this go on. The best I can describe this feeling was I had no peace within me. There must be a reason for me to be born, to live and eventually die. It was not meant to be in vain or vain glorious. That was clear to me. It was when I acknowledged my human condition, the need to be saved from my wretchedness, and the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the love of God swept in to fill that vacuum so perfectly that I could only bow down in humble adoration. This was why Chesterton could say he was Lazarus and he lives. Likewise I was dead to sin and the resurrection power of Christ has brought me back to life.

What then, was the road smooth sailing? It surely wasn’t. In fact, it gets harder as long as I am in this human condition and in this world. However, the BIG difference is, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding has filled that vacuum. Life becomes richer and clearer, and God is no longer an emergency number but a blessed assurance of a relationship with an omnipresent and loving God who walks and talks with me every moment of my life. It’s no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me.

I can only conclude this experience with this passage which I read to my grandmother by her hospital bed in 2001:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life, and
I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Psalm 23 ESV)

Free Our Children

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Where can we find today, the likes of Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Wordsworth, Keats, Charles Dickens or Shakespeare ? Our modern day prominent figures are mainly those who have built their corporations through their creativity and business acumen, such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jack Ma. There are many other inventors and talented people out there but we hardly hear of any that can match the classics of the past. Why is this so? There should be many reasons but I would like to explore further on one aspect: the education of the young; our future leaders, inventors, artists and teachers.

Back in 1955, C.S. Lewis, a great philospher and author, wrote an essay, “Lilies that Fester” which I found quite applicable in today’s context. Surprisingly back then, it was already seen as a problem or troubling concern and it was about how the young were being educated. C.S. Lewis saw how it would impact future generations and felt ‘lucky’ that his childhood was spared this stifling situation. The following are excerpts from his essay:

“The pupil is now far more defenceless in the hands of the teachers… He has hardly ever been alone. The educational machine seizes him very early and organises his whole life, to the exclusion of all unsuperintended solitude or leisure.”

“The hours of unsponsored, uninspected, perhaps even forbidden, reading, the ramblings, and the ‘long, long thoughts’ in which those of luckier generations first discovered literature and nature and themselves are a thing of the past.”

“In short, the modern pupil is the ideal patient for those masters who, not content with teaching a subject, would create a character; helpless Plasticine.”

Fast forward 2015; 60 years has passed since this essay was written, what has become of those children? Where are they today? What kind of leaders, inventors, artists or teachers have come forth? Ordinary or extraordinary; common or unique?

I would like to pose 5 questions about children today:

1 Is our education geared towards developing the potential of each individual according to their own ability?
2 Does the child have enough time (no rush) to play and spend time with the family?
3 Are the holidays filled with nature, motor-skill games, sunshine and lots of laughter?
4 Does the child get to day dream or look at the stars and enjoy the breeze or nature?
5 Do we let our children grow in their own pace and time to discover their own talents without letting the school determine that for us?

If most of our answers are “No”, then we have a troubling future. This would mean that there will be less and less people who can think, dream or discover as we let the school or society do that for them. Now I see why the term ‘Plasticine’ was used by C.S. Lewis as the young were being molded into whatever shape the education or system wants them to be.

I don’t think anyone of us wants our children to become like this and we can all stop by helping them have a life of their own, to learn and grow in a safe and real environment, not a stifling or artificial one.

Buyers, Beware?

“The year is 2214, and your computer’s dusty hard drive has just resurfaced at an antique store. Write a note to the curious buyer explaining what he or she will find there.”

Dear Buyer,

Congratulations! You have chanced upon a crystal ball. This will unlock the life and times of people in the year 2014! You will need to find a working personal computer known as Apple (it was a brand of computer and not a fruit). It will be able to read this device called an external hard disk which contains valuable data. Once you are able to connect it, you will access all the data which will unveil all the news and stories about what was happening at that time in Singapore.

You will also get to see photos about the country such as how the people, the streets, buildings, transportation and fashion looked like. It will reveal what the people usually do as there will be letters and articles from friends and family including photographic evidence of what they were up to. For example, places they travelled to, how they spend their time with family and friends like having meals at various eateries and cafes, how they celebrate various festivals and occasions like birthdays, weddings and parties.

All these will help you unveil the true picture and account of what really happened in 2014. If it was something you already know from the accounts available to you as historical records and information now, then you are living in a country that does not need to hide anything from you, which is a good sign. I wish you all the best.

Buyers, Beware? – DP