Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Cher You Christian Ah, No wonder your Engrish so good
Her response took me completely by surprise. Her actual words were “’Cher, you Christian ah, no wonder your Engrish so good, I Buddhist, that’s why my Engrish no good.”
Being the typical Singaporean teacher, I fumbled around to explain to her that not all Christians are English-speaking and that there are English-speaking Buddhists as well. Furthermore, proficiency in language is a different thing from professing a particular religion.
Nevertheless, consciously or not, her remarks have crystalised for me in one pungent sentence, the question of what does it mean to be Christian and Singaporean, something which I have been pondering for some time.
In the letter to Diognetus, an ancient Christian author explained to his fellow non-Christian citizens of the Roman empire that while “Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs… there is something extraordinary about their lives. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives….
“Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult.”
While one may dispute the accuracy of such a picture of the early Christians, the fact that the author boldly writes this to be is nevertheless a bracing challenge for the Singaporean Christian.
What may well be a modern day letter to Diognetus in the Singaporean context? In many cases, it may go something like this “Christians are indistinguishable from other Singaporeans… like others they marry and have not too many children. Nevertheless there is something extraordinary about their lives. Most of them speak English and many of their children are in the university. They live in riches and possess an abundance of the 5 Cs.
“They love all people and want them to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and saviour. They are condemned because people do not understand why this Jesus will send them to hell if they don’t accept Him. Sometimes, a curse is their answer to such abuse and brandishing their high educational qualifications is a response to insult.”
To be sure, I admit that I am probably too harsh. I personally know of many selfless co-religionists of mine whose faith and works of charity put me to shame. Nevertheless, I think my student’s pungent remark should still haunt us.
Is this the view of a typical non-Christian Singaporean? Are non-Christian Singaporeans attracted, if at all, to Christianity because they see it as an entrance into an upwardly mobile, socially elite crowd? Did Jesus give this Christian a new BMW? Well, I’ll take Jesus (with the COE too if you please!)
The challenge placed before me today is essentially a Eucharistic one. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Do you want to honour Christ’s body? Then do not scorn Him in His nakedness, nor honour Him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting Him outside where He is cold and naked. The rich man is not the one who is in possession of much, but the one who gives much.”
If Singaporean Christians were to take up the challenge of St. John Chrysostom, perhaps the letter to Diognetus can be rewritten. Perhaps our non-Christian countrymen might say the following of us:
“Christians are indistinguishable from other Singaporeans because they comprise members from all races, ethnic groups and social status. Yet, there is something extraordinary about their lives. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them to the pursuit of the 5Cs. They share their meals, with their domestic helpers.
“Obedient to the law, they yet live on a level that transcends the law, ensuring justice for the most vulnerable. They are condemned because they are considered naïve. They live a spirit of poverty, using money for the common good. They suffer dishonour, because Christ and not GDP is their king.”
And maybe, future Christian teachers might hear their students saying the following to them “Cher, you Christian ah, no wonder you going the extra mile for me, can I be one too?”