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BTS: Is True Love About Loving Yourself?

Screenshot taken from YouTube Video

“True love first begins with loving myself,” began BTS’ leader Kim Nam-jun, better known as RM, in his impassioned six-minute speech, which ended with resounding applause from the packed crowd at the launch of a UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) youth campaign yesterday (24 Sep).

As I watched and listened to RM’s personal story of how he himself struggled with meeting the expectations of others and broke free of it, and his eventual call to stop “trying to fit ourselves into a mold”, I was moved. Of course, it helped that the leader of the world’s biggest boy band spoke articulately and fluently in English, and that he, along with the rest of his team mates who stood behind him in solidarity, was dressed impeccably.

I was also impressed, because this was the first time a K-pop band had been given the privilege of addressing the United Nations, as a result of their partnership with UNICEF’s global initiative, Generation Unlimited, which is aimed at empowering young people by increasing opportunities and investments for them.

But at the same time, I couldn’t help but find his message a little ironic, as I recalled the many reports I had read of the extremely competitive, stressful, and controlled conditions members of K-pop bands are put through in order to fit into the industry’s mold. It has been reported that trainees are often required to forgo their personal lives, which includes their friendships and hobbies, in order to devote time to perfecting their vocal and dance skills.

This was recently debated about and cast into the spotlight again following the tragic suicide of SHINee’s Jonghyun last December, who had left a harrowing note highlighting the pressures young stars face in South Korea’s highly competitive entertainment industry.

But beyond the irony of his sharing, it was his emphatic pronouncement of “loving myself” as the mark of true love which I found myself struggling to agree with. There is no denying that it’s a popular idea which stems from good intentions. Resist the pressure to conform. Be true to yourself. Express your conviction. These catchphrases definitely sound inspiring and empowering—but they can be dangerous if these ideas are separated from God’s blueprint for our lives.

As believers, we’re called to something else. Self-fulfilment or self-actualization cannot and must not be our end goal. Instead, the greatest commandment Jesus gives to his believers is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And he immediately follows that with a call to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40).

The Bible is emphatic and consistent about where true love stems from and who we should love: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7a). Self-love, as the Bible puts it, is a natural posture we all already gravitate towards. Loving God and loving others, on the other hand, is not.

In fact, one of the most notable references to “loving ourselves” is highlighted as one of the characteristics of what it would be like in the “last days”, as it says in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (Emphasis mine)

It can even be argued that the Bible seems to speak strongly against “self-love”, such as in Philippians 2:3-11, where it is written that we are always to value others above ourselves and consider the interests of others more than our own.

To be sure, BTS has done a lot of good for others, such as raising 1 million USD for UNICEF to help in ending violence against children and young people—and they certainly should be lauded for that. But perhaps we as believers, particularly for those of us who are fans, need to take a step back and evaluate what we hear—especially when it comes from those we esteem in high regard.

As believers, whose voice will we listen to? Who do we love the most? Are we prepared to be break out of society’s mold and definition of true love?

Crazy Rich Asians: The One Struggle We All Have in Common

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

 

Rating: 4 out of 5

“Why are you watching that bimbo show?” A friend of mine asked incredulously, when I told her that I was going to catch the sneak preview of Crazy Rich Asians, which had finally opened in my country, Singapore, earlier this week after much hype.

“Well, I like bimbo shows,” I replied with a grin. Of course, I could have argued that this was no “bimbo” movie, but a “movement”—in the words of the movie’s director, Jon M. Chu. Even before the show was officially released, much was written and said about how Crazy Rich Asians is a watershed moment for Asian representation on the big screen: it is the first Hollywood movie to feature an all-Asian cast 25 years after Joy Luck Club.

Or I could have expounded on the need for us as proud Singaporeans to throw our weight behind a show that featured our little red dot in all its splendor and glory. After all, how many movies are there in Hollywood that mention our city-state, much less, choose Singapore as their main film location?

I could have also highlighted how well the movie had performed at the US box office over its opening weekend, raking in over US$35 million and coming in at number one.

But the truth was, I had simply read Kevin Kwan’s book earlier this year and was excited to see how the rom-com would play out on the big screen against sights and sounds I was familiar with.

It is a tale as old as time, albeit with an all-Asian cast twist: a guy falls in love with a girl and brings her home to meet his parents. The only catch is that Singaporean Nick Young (played by Henry Golding) is from one of the richest families in the island-city and his Asian-American Economics professor girlfriend, Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu) doesn’t have a clue about it. Unsurprisingly, drama ensues the moment they set foot in the Young household and our female protagonist finds herself the target of almost everyone in the Young family—especially Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young (played by Michelle Yeoh)—who thinks she’s not good enough for her son.

As my friends and I took our seats in the cinema, it was apparent that we were not the only ones ready to be entertained. Around us, young and old, Singaporean and non-Singaporeans, Asians and non-Asians, filled the packed theater and had come with food and drinks as well. The excitement in the theater was palpable and the atmosphere boisterous. It was as though everyone knew this was a movie of significance to Singapore (not only was it shot in Singapore, it involved 297 Singaporeans or permanent residents as production crew members, and 12 home-grown names in the cast itself), and we all really wanted to like it.

True enough, the movie did entertain. People laughed, cried, and even gasped at all the right junctures. And as the credits rolled, a round of applause resounded in the theater; the movie had lived up to expectation. Though most (if not all) of us were neither crazy nor rich, something in the movie had definitely struck a chord. And I suspect it wasn’t just the Singlish, nailed effortlessly by Singaporean actress Koh Chieng Mun (who plays the mother of Peik Lin, Rachel’s good friend).

Beyond the perfectly coiffed hair, impeccable make-up, gorgeous landscapes and outfits, the show surfaced an inherent human trait in its main characters that transcends socioeconomic status, lineage, and cultures: self-worth. Yes, apparently even the crazy rich struggle with it (some spoilers ahead).

For female lead Rachel, you could even say that her bigger story is about finding where her worth really lies, as she grapples with gaining acceptance in the ridiculously rich Young family, especially from Nick’s steely and imposing mother who tells her to her face that she will “never be enough”.

Or you might feel sympathy or chagrin towards Michael Teo (played by Singaporean actor Pierre Png), the hot-and-cold husband of Nick’s cousin, Astrid Leong (played by Gemma Chan),  who can’t seem to break out of feeling second class among the Young family despite his dashing good looks and impressive military achievements (which are elaborated on in the book).

Even the doyenne herself, Eleanor, reveals to Rachel at one point that she herself hadn’t been the first or even second choice of Nick’s grandmother, who jumps on every opportunity to remind her that everything she does isn’t good enough. And so she tries to establish her worth through Nick, by letting him stay with his grandmother so that he can gain her affection.

If there’s one thing that the movie does a great job portraying, it’s that rich or poor, handsome or plain-looking, clever or mediocre, we all have moments where we doubt our worth. Yet even as we struggle within, like Eleanor Young, we seem to use these very same characteristics to lord it over others and say or do things (whether intentionally or not) that make others question their worth as well.

But beauty is fleeting, and so is our wealth and intellect. If we anchor our self-worth in these things, we will ultimately become highly insecure and judgmental beings, our confidence tossed to and fro by the changing standards of the world.

That’s where the beauty of the gospel comes in. In the eyes of God, we are all truly “not good enough”, but not because we’re not from a good family, don’t have a good job or the perfect features. It’s because we have rejected God and chosen to live our lives our own way. Yet, while we were still rebelling against Him, God sent His son, Jesus, to die for us—to make us “good enough” out of His love for us (John 3:16).

Now that is a game changer. Because our worth, regardless of our lineage or achievements, is fully intact as a result of Christ’s finished work on the cross. This means that as children of God and co-heirs with Christ, we should no longer worry about establishing our worth or judging others, but focus on living for the One who gave it to us (Romans 8:14-17).

And what that looks like practically is summed up succinctly in the passage Eleanor reads out from Colossians 3 in that especially ironic scene where she is having a bible study with her sisters:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Will we shake off the baggage in our lives—opulent or not—and turn our eyes to things that truly matter, and last?

Why I Was Captivated by the Thai Cave Rescue

Screenshot taken from Facebook Video

 

Like many others all around the world, I cheered when I read the news yesterday evening that all 12 Thai boys and their 25-year-old assistant soccer coach had been safely rescued from a cave in Northern Thailand—after being trapped inside for two weeks.

Since reading about how they had gone missing on June 23, I found myself riveted to my phone screen for any news about the “Thai cave rescue”.

My heart went out to their families and friends when I read that they had been missing for more than a week after what was supposed to be a half-day trek into Tham Luang cave. And I was moved to read that 1,000 people (from all over the world, including Australia, United States, Britain, Germany, Japan and China) had stepped forward to help in the massive search to find them.

When they were found nine days later (July 3) by a pair of British divers some 4km from the cave entrance, I was elated. But joy quickly gave way to heartache at the news that a former Thai Navy Seal, Saman Gunan, 38, had lost consciousness and died last Friday after placing spare tanks along the route.

The dramatic and dangerous rescue operation, which started on Sunday morning, had me on the edge of my seat, and every news notification I received about another boy being successfully extracted from the waterlogged cave evoked relief and joy.

I didn’t know any of the boys or the rescuers personally, but I was emotionally invested right from the get-go. At first, it might have been because I felt as though I could empathize with them in a tiny way, having visited a cave in South Korea a few months ago, which helped me envision the cold, damp, dark, rocky, and dreary environment they were in.

But like many others, what eventually captivated me were the stories of selflessness and sacrifice from the many individuals who had stepped forward to help out in this rescue endeavor—on their own accord and at their own expense. From the soldiers, engineers, paramedics, divers, cooks, and even volunteers who helped to wash the uniforms of the rescue workers, it was apparent that the boys’ plight had not only gripped the world, it had galvanized the international community into action.

Even in the cave, the acts of selflessness continued. The assistant coach had reportedly given his share of the meager food supply to the boys during their 10-day ordeal and was therefore one of the weakest when they were found by the British divers. It was also revealed that a doctor and three Thai Navy Seals had stayed with the group the whole time since they were found more than a week ago.

But perhaps the greatest act of sacrifice that made the strongest impact was the news that former Thai Navy Seal diver, Saman Gunan, had died in his attempt to rescue the 12 boys and their coach.

Despite knowing how dangerous and risky the operation was, that did not deter him from willingly putting his life on the line for the boys. Days before his death, he had even recorded a heartbreaking video clip that had showed him standing near the steps of an airplane, and vowing to “bring the kids home”. His mindset then probably reflected what a Belgian cave diver had said in another news report, “If you’re a Navy Seal, yes, you’ll sacrifice yourself.” A BBC report later summed up Gunan’s death poignantly, “He died so that they might live.”

And that eventually proved to be the case, with all 13 of them finally rescued successfully in a grueling effort that spanned three days and involved 13 international divers and 5 Thai Navy Seals. Not only had Gunan’s death underscored the perils of the operation, it ultimately contributed in a large way to ensuring that the necessary safety precautions were taken so that no more lives would be lost.

It’s sacrifices like these that move us to tears because it shows us two things: the value of life and the best of humanity—shown in the form of love and sacrifice. As the Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I couldn’t help but notice many parallels between the Thai cave rescue and God’s rescue plan for humanity. Just like the 12 boys and their assistant coach who were trapped in the cave, unable to save themselves from their predicament, we too were stuck in our sins, completely helpless and incapable to save ourselves. In both cases, the only outcome that awaited us was death.

Help had to come from the outside. Theirs came in the form of expert divers who were prepared to risk their lives and dive into the waterlogged caves where there was near-zero visibility in order to save the lives of the 13. Similarly, Jesus Christ had to enter into our fallen world to live among us and eventually die for us on the cross. Though He knew it would cost Him everything, it did not stop Him from doing so, because that was the only way that we could live.

So as we applaud and recognize those heroes who sacrificially gave of their time, effort, resources and even lives, may it remind us once again of the greatest act of sacrifice done for humanity: Jesus giving His life for us not merely while we were strangers, but while we were enemies.

Let’s also not stop at thanksgiving and awe. As CNN writer Jay Parini put it, “And everyone is beholden to Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who lost his life a few days ago while making his way out of the Tham Luang complex of caves.” Just like the boys, who would be forever beholden to Gunan and whose lives would change forever because of this incident, our lives must change because of what Christ has done for us.

Jesus died for us all, so that we could live—not for ourselves, but for Him who died and was raised for us (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Turning a Blind Eye to an Inconsiderate Person

Though we were standing right in front of him, the man remained seated and did not budge.

I cast a glance in my friend’s direction. “Excuse me, we’re sitting inside,” my friend said to him politely, pointing to the two seats next to his by the window of the airplane.

Still not making any eye contact, the man merely straightened his back and pushed back against his seat.

I felt a flash of annoyance.  “Are you kidding me? How inconsiderate and lazy can a person get?” I thought, but was too cowardly to voice my views.

My friend shrugged helplessly. Reluctantly, I tried my best to squeeze through the tiny space between the back of the seat in front of the man and his legs. My friend followed suit.

As we took our seats, my friend whispered to me, “If you can hold your bladder for the rest of the flight, that’ll save us the trouble.” I nodded grimly, as I thought about the seven hour-long journey ahead of us.

From the corner of my eye, I saw the man fidgeting in his seat, shaking his left hand every so often, and lifting his watch to his left ear. A flight attendant walked over and kneeled next to his seat, asking if everything was okay. Perhaps he was hard of hearing, I thought.

A couple of hours into the flight, I knew I had no choice but to visit the lavatory. I nudged my friend, who turned to the man to tell him that I needed to get out. Once again, the man straightened his back and remained seated.

Sighing silently, I lifted my left leg and tried to squeeze through the small space between the man’s legs and the front of his seat. I repeated the same when I returned to my seat, my frustration rising.

Mealtime was next. Another flight attendant walked over and kneeled by the man’s aisle seat to ask him what he wanted to eat. After helping him to open up his tray table, she placed a tray of food on it. Still kneeling, the flight attendant then gently placed her hand over his right wrist and lifted his hand. “This is hot, this is cold, this is where your drink is. . .” she said kindly, as she guided it over the different covered food items on his tray.

That’s when realization hit me: The man was visually impaired. Everything that happened earlier started to make sense and a wave of shame came over me. Self-reprimanding thoughts filled my mind: “I should have known better”, “Why didn’t I give him the benefit of doubt?”, “Why am I always so quick to jump to conclusions about others?”

As I watched my friend offer to help the man with anything he needed, I saw a smile emerge on his face. He looked relieved and thanked my friend. Shortly after that, he asked if my friend could help him open the lid of a disposable water cup, which my friend did willingly.

Clearly, I was the inconsiderate person that day, not the man.

But that was not all that God wanted to teach me. As I went about sharing this encounter with others, God laid it on my heart that “feeling bad” about my response that day wasn’t anything to shout about—anyone in my shoes would have felt bad. I felt bad because I had misjudged the man and the situation at hand. I felt bad because my “little inconvenience” paled in comparison to what the man had to go through; he was clearly in a position of need and deserved help. I felt bad because my response made me look bad.

The truth was, had the man been an able-bodied person, I would have found all kinds of reasons to justify my anger and response. If the man didn’t deserve my help, I would have railed against his behavior and made him out to be a lazy and inconsiderate person whenever I had the opportunity to retell the incident.

My response was contingent on who the other party was and my assessment of his “need”. Underneath it all, I was still selfish and proud.

But the Bible never places conditions on how we should go about treating one another. In fact, we are called to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). In all that we do, we should consider others first.

And we do so because we are called to imitate Jesus—our ultimate role model. In perfect humility, Jesus put aside his rights and status as God, and made himself nothing by coming to earth in the form of a human to serve us and ultimately die for us on the cross. (Philippians 2:5.8).

Jesus exemplified perfectly what it means to put the needs of others above our own. It was never about whether we “deserved” help. Had that been the case, none of us would have been saved. Jesus did not simply die for the “righteous” or “good”. It was while we were still sinners—unworthy of love and sympathy—that Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

So regardless of who the other party is, we ought to view them as more important and put his or her needs first—whether it’s that friend who always has something snarky or sarcastic to say, or that nosy aunty who can’t seem to stop giving you advice, or that inconsiderate stranger who shoves you aside so that he can get up the bus first. Showing love and helping another is independent of who the other party is.

By doing so, we give the people around us—both inside and outside of the church—a glimpse of the unconditional and sacrificial love of Christ, which will hopefully draw them a step closer to finding out who Jesus is and coming to believe in Him as their personal Lord and Savior.

Above and beyond my encounter with the man on the plane, I had to change the way I viewed and treated everyone around me. God certainly made it clear to me that it had to start at home in the most practical way—helping out in the household chores. And this means to take the initiative to help wash the dishes, hang the clothes, or fold the clothes without being told to, and without expecting a pat on the back.

And to be sure, it doesn’t stop there and it wouldn’t always be easy. But remembering Jesus, the ultimate example of selflessness, leaves me no room to find any excuses.