Friday, October 19, 2007

A Religious KISS

A Religious KISS

Ah Beng was the only Chinese disciple of Abba Isaac, the most famous of all the Desert Fathers in the Fourth Century. Ah Beng had traveled all the way from China to learn to love God and become a good Christian under the teachings of Abba Isaac. After fifteen years. Abba Isaac decided that Ah Beng was ready to start his own monastery so he sent him home. With tears in his eyes, Ah Beng bade his sifu goodbye and made his way back to China. Finally he decided to settle in a small place called Sow-Lin in China.

Being a disciple of Abba Isaac, Ah Beng led a very ascetic life. He lived in a simple wooden hut. Soon many became his disciples and the making of a Sow-Lin monastery were in the works. Ah Beng owned only a loincloth which he washed everyday. Unfortunately, whenever he left it out to dry, the rats would tear at it. So Ah Beng decided to keep a kitten to drive away the rats. However, Ah Beng found that now he had to beg for milk in addition to his own food everyday. This took time away from his prayers and meditation. So Ah Beng decided to keep a cow to produce milk for his kitten. When he had the cow, Ah Beng found that he now had to find grass for his cow. Again this cut into his prayer and meditation time. Then Ah Beng had a bright idea. Instead of begging for his own food and grass everyday, he would cultivate the land around his hut to grow wheat and use the stalk to make hay for his cow. In farming, Ah Beng found out the hard way that it took even more time away from his prayers and meditation. So in frustration, Ah Beng decided to employ people to work his farm. Ah Beng discovered that supervising his employees took up a lot of his time so he decided to employ a manager. In a short while, Ah Beng discovered that he had became very rich!

One day Abba Isaac decided to visit his disciple Ah Beng in China. Instead of a hut, Abba Isaac found Ah Beng living in a mansion. “Your house is like a temple in Sow-Lin,” stammered a surprised Abba Isaac. “All this came about” explained Abba Ah Beng, “because I wanted to keep my loincloth.”

As Abba Ah Beng has found out that such a simple spiritual discipline of asceticism and wearing a loincloth can escalate into a full bloom Sow-Lin temple. I wonder how many of us are aware how complicated Christianity has become. We build multi-million Ringgit churches which are used only a few hours every week. The rest of the time, the buildings are left empty. These are our houses of worship. We worship in air-conditioned comfort, with upholstered seats, clear view of the stage where we see the musicians and speakers perform. Our sermons are uplifting, comforting and simplified so as not to make demands on our time, effort and wallets. We are entertained by karaoke choruses, PowerPoint presentations with sounds and video, and brilliant solo performances by singers and choirs. There are many translations of the Bible in English; offering us the choice of choosing by the beauty of the language (KJV) or reading like a newspaper (The Message). Our theology are so complicated and convoluted that we are willing to kill each other over it. We fellowship with people who are like us in status; socially and economically. To help the poor and the marginalised, we prefer to give money rather than to get our hands dirty. We retreat into our religious ghettoes and watch as social injustice and racial polarisation tear apart the infrastructure of our society.

Have you ever wondered what God really require of us? Does God wants big fancy churches, emotionally stirring worship performances and Christians who are not disciples? The prophet Micah has this to say, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). God’s requirements from us are simple; (1) we are to be just in our action, (2) we are to be merciful to others, and (3) to walk humbly with our Creator God. Our Lord Jesus Christ clarified that for us in what is known as the Great Commandment; we are to love God and to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).

Ever wonder how something so simple can become as complicated as modern day Christianity? I believe it is time that we re-examine the way we practice our religion. We need to get a religious KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). We need to ask ourselves which of the many activities we do in church is what God requires. Our church facilities and assets must also be examined to see if that is what God requires. We also need to reassess if we neglect what God requires of us: to seek social justice, to give voice to the oppressed and marginalised, to defend the defenceless and vulnerable, to eradicate poverty and to reduce suffering of the sick, wounded and traumatised.

If this means we have to simplify our lifestyles in order to act justly and to show mercy, let it be so. If it means we have to re-examine our dependence on lavish church buildings, then it is needed. If it means our worship be less of a performance and more of a service, may it be done. If this means our pulpit teaching be more Christ centered rather than man or psychology-centered, it will be beneficial. If it means we have to reduce our church activities to its minimal so more time can be spent outside the church building to offer justice and mercy, let us do it then. Jesus led a group of disciples for 3 years and left them to form a church. Within three hundred years, the church became the most powerful religious institution on earth after it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately it also became the richest, most ritualistic, power-hungry and self-centered institution on earth. Then as now, the church of Jesus Christ needs a religious KISS.

Reflection Questions

(1) How will you simplify your worship of God? In what ways can you make your worship closer to what God requires of you? How will you walk humbly with God?
(2) How will you simplify your lifestyle so that you will have more opportunities to act justly and show mercy?
(3) Are all the many church activities or programs necessary? Ask yourself if any of these activities or programs is serving God or man. Also think of any activities or program your church should be doing but is not.


Forgive us in the way we have made a mockery of your church. Forgive us for adding so many rituals, demands and needs to your church that your people have been separated from a true worship of You. Lord, help us to simply our life and our religion. Help us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with You. We thank you for the work of your Son on the Cross and for the Holy Spirit who will help us to keep it simple.



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Blogger Paul Long said...

Thanks. Thought provoking story. Trtying to lead a spiritual life is complicated *sigh*

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think that 'act justly and show mercy' can be the driving theme of spirituality...if only b'cos it takes us "out of ourselves"...which would mean we're less trying to attain some 'state of perfection' and more seeking to serve/redeem the world(?)

8:42 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi paul,

a religious KISS ;P

3:31 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alwyn,

you are right. Spirituality especially Christian spirituality is not navel contemplation but action.

As Thomas Merton said long ago, true contemplation will lead to an encounter of the real God through yourself and will result in action in the world. That is why a contemplative Thomas Merton was so active in the American activist movement.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried not to be judgmental. But a RM100 million Christian Convention Centre is still mind boggling.

11:07 PM  
Blogger cksheng74 said...

thanks for the post... i remember hearing a radio program in which the speaker said that we should approach the bible in a simpler manner... many times we re-interpret and analyze and put in all sorts of theological argument.. we should rather let our yes be yes.. no be no... if the bible says no then no la... i am guilty of that too :)

12:39 PM  
Blogger Tracy Tan said...

reminds me of the story of the fisherman and the businessman by the beach. the businessman wanted to teach the fisherman to expand his business so that at the end, with all the money earned the fisherman could retire and while his time away by the beach which was what he was doing in the first place when the businessman met him!

i shall KISS and just enjoy the beach :)

11:53 PM  
Blogger Paul Long said...

I know I should KISS ... but that story is just me ... after a while I get things over complicated ... :-(

BTW, Not sure how you define KISS ... is it "Keep it short and simple" or is it "Keep it simple stupid!!" lol (for me it is more of the latter!)

5:35 AM  
Blogger Chicken Feet aka KaKiaYam said...

KISS is also interpret as Keep It Short and Sweet.

Thought provoking, will forward it to my frens, if you don't mind...

Is there a 100 million convention center being build?

6:27 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi splim,

I read in the Star papers that it will cost RM 150 million. That's a lot of money in any currency.

12:22 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hello dr.chew keng-sheng,

Welcome, yes, let our yes be yes and no be no. The danger of theology is that knowledge for knowledge sake.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi tracy tan,

welcome. I pray that you will KISS and enjoy the beach :)

12:25 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi paul and kaki ayam,

KISS was originally Keep It Simple, Stupid!

However being politically correct, it was modified to Keep It Short and Sweet and Keep It Simple and Short.

Personally, I like the original version better *grin*

sure, I am happy for you to forward it to your friends. And yes to your question. It's in Kuala Lumpur.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The convention centre would be dedicated to holistic activities.

“It will have the facilities to host international, regional and national conventions, banquets, seminars and creative performing arts. At the same time, it is devoted to the educational, vocational and spiritual development of this country’s young generation,” he added.

Just came back from hearing Don Carson preached from 1 Cor 15:1-19, The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Actually, the full text of his message can be read in the Agora forum. But hearing him preached with passion was quite different from reading the cold text.

Coming back to the convention centre. Has the gospel been reduced to a set of holistic activities? Shouldn’t the convention centre be dedicated to the furtherance of the gospel? Where is Christ in all this? Maybe they can’t be so explicit because the above statements were made for the press. Then again, why do they need to go to the press and not being transparent?

As I mentioned earlier, I try not to judge. At the end of the day, it is the leaders of that church who will be accountable to God. But then again, don’t we, as members of the Body of Christ have the duty to raise our concern in love and not in condemnation?

12:43 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi splim,

I understand how you feel. I have spoken to a few of the church members and they themselves have some reservation. However without knowing all the facts, I pray for wisdom for their leaders.

My opinion of expensive church building is here

1:21 AM  
Blogger Girl said...

Thanks for posting this. Been feeling out of whack of late. It's easy to slip on a mask in the daily grind, even deceiving ourselves - thinking we are being true to ourselves. It's a good reminder of keeping things simple, then we can be transparent and be free to be who God has made us to be.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi girl,

welcome. You are right. It is much easier to remove our mask and be ourselves than to wear our mask everyday. Life can be so much simpler.

C.S.Lewis wrote a wonderful book called Till We Have Faces. It is all about masks and to be true to our true self.

1:48 AM  
Blogger Chicken Feet aka KaKiaYam said...

Can anyone point me to the news? Surprisingly, no one posted this to the Agora forum.

5:54 PM  

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