Wednesday, February 10, 2010

C'est la vie! That's Life !

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I was pleasantly surprised when I found hundreds of hits on my blog! When I checked my sitemeter, I saw that readers were googling for Ho Yeow Sun! Then I found my blog listed in the sitemeter!

"The Oriental Express: January 2009
I believe that a divorce takes place, often not because either party had been a bad spouse. ... It was my lawyer friend, Yeow Choo, who encouraged me to start ... - 221k - Cached"

I had written over 1,300 articles now and even though I had not written about Ho Yeow Sun, my blog came under the column because of the words, "divorce" and "Yeow".
I was not even referring to Yeow Sun, but to Yeow Choo, a lawyer who is also a very good friend of mine!

Strangely, I was not even interested to read or know more about Sun. I had heard her voice on the cd once and would say that I was not impressed. (Remember, one man's music is another man's noise). I am more fastidious with singers though it is much easier for me to appreciate and admire artistes who play the piano, violin and other instruments.

However, I was attracted to the blog article posted by Sun's husband, Kong Hee. It is entitled "Wholesome Shallowness", and I print out the article below.

"In 2007, my wife Sun released a music video of the hit single, “China Wine,” the result of a creative collaboration with reggae wunderkind, Wyclef Jean. That video garnered a lot of attention on YouTube with more than two million hits over two dozen fan sites. It received rave reviews from industry insiders as well as youths who love dance pop the world over. Not surprisingly, the video also raised quite a few eyebrows within the religious fraternity who felt it was inappropriate for a Christian to be featured in a dance video.

Although Sun is married to me, she herself was never formally ordained as a minister. She never felt gifted with a pulpit ministry. But ever since Sun was a child, she had participated in many singing contests and won quite a few of them. As a preacher’s wife, Sun functioned faithfully from behind-the-scenes as my helpmate, becoming an effective counselor and a singer in the church.

At the turn of the millennium, as I began formulating my doctrine on the Cultural Mandate, challenging my generation to come out of isolation and engage the marketplace, I urged Sun to help me embody that message. In 2002, she launched her new career in Taiwan as a pop singer. Since then, she has done very well with more than four million units sold, five multi-platinum records, and over 30 number one songs in five different countries. Today, she is known in the Far East as a bona fide singer, entertainer and humanitarian.

From her royalties, Sun has built eight schools, two orphanages, two medical centers, one rehabilitation clinic, and two housing projects. Through her connections, she has helped with the establishing and fund-raising of four other orphanages, two hospitals, two community services, and one charity foundation. For all these humanitarian achievements, Sun was awarded the Top Outstanding Young Person of the World in 2003, and became China’s Charity Ambassador of Children since 2004. In 2007, she sang the theme song for the Special Olympics at Shanghai. Last year, she sang the 2008 Olympic Anthem during the pre-game launch at Beijing. The unchurched throughout Asia loves Sun and views her as an exemplary model to the youths of society.

Yet, in spite of all her secular and creative achievements, many conservative pastors find it hard to accept Sun in any role outside of church ministry. But the reality is that she is no longer a church staff or a gospel singer. She doesn’t work for any religious organization.

As a professional artist, Sun has to take on many dramatic stage personas. This is what entertainers do. In the “China Wine” video, she happens to be acting in one such role. Fiction must be separated from fact. I think the struggle many pastors have is the difficulty to separate her association with me (as a pastor’ wife) and her career as a singer. I agree that if she is a “pastor” or “preacher,” perhaps the video would have been inappropriate. But Sun is not a pastor. She is an entertainer. All her music videos were not produced by the church but by her secular music label, the company that she is working for.

“China Wine” is a music video about a girl who has to take up an extra job at a nightclub to make ends meet for her family. Some pastors immediately took offense at the club scene and sexy dancers around her. As for her costumes, she wore gym clothes which was not inappropriate for the set she had to act in. At the end of the music video, she caught her boyfriend cheating on her in the night club and confronted him in Mandarin. If you understand what she said, her words were neither crude nor profane at all. She basically shouted at the guy, “Hey, what are you doing with this mistress?” Unfortunately, the video translator subtitled that as “Hey, what are you doing with this b****?” That final b-word caused a further uproar among pastors, who were quick to condemn her for uttering profanities. A few of them wrote me angry emails calling Sun a “whore,” “hooker,” and other nastier, derogatory terms. Some said she was promoting free sex and immorality. But any intelligent, objective viewer would know that the whole drama is not about sex; if anything, it portrays the reality of a fallen secular world.

All these storms in a tea cup set me thinking of a bigger question: Are Christians living a sanitized life? Why have “Christian” productions been so ineffective in their reach to the unchurched, to the extent that even believers are not interested in their products?

In his book, Eyes Wide Open: Looking For God in Popular Culture, author William D. Romanowski talks about a 1993 survey, which reported that over 80 percent of all churchgoing Christians regularly go to the movies. When they were asked what they thought about Christian films, TV productions and Christian Contemporary Music, this was what they said:

1. Christian popular arts are inferior imitations as compared to mainstream culture. To many, Christian music is substandard guitar pop and happy-clappy lyrics about Jesus. This is not surprising as many Christian artists feel that their main job is to preach the gospel and proclaim the faith. As such, artistic quality or creativity is not so important. But what they forget is that when people go to a movie or buy an album, their first desire is to be entertained. If they want to be preached to, they would have gone to church.

2. Christian popular arts are unrealistic, sanitized versions of the real world. Some reviewers even use the phrase “wholesome shallowness” to describe them. Christian entertainment has come to mean movies and music appropriate for “family-only” audiences. That basically means kids-oriented programs or old-time TV reruns for senior citizens. Are Christians that naive and immature, living in a perpetual time warp of a bygone era, that we can’t handle the realities of the 21st century?
As early as 1916, Hollywood had already discovered that 60 percent of theater owners wanted pictures that portray the real world—even if they contained themes on violence, sex and greed. This is because moviegoers want films that honestly and artistically address the issues of life.

3. Christian popular arts are limited in content and purpose. If you listen to most CCM, you would think that all Christians do is worship and evangelize 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But people in general, Christians and non-Christians alike, don’t want to be preached to 24/7. They want a pop culture that is fun, entertaining, artistic and innovative. They are also concerned with the issues of life—and they enjoy it when those themes are addressed with artistic flair.
Everybody knows the trials and temptations of daily living. We are not immune to problems and tensions. We are all concerned about love and relationship, life and health, career and finances, the global economy and politics, war and peace, and our future. We are all trying to understand why things happen the way they do and how we can live our lives properly. Pop culture helps us to navigate through all that.
People get inspired and moved by U2, the biggest band in the world today. Their music captures a sense of religious longing and the struggle of living in a world torn by war, injustice and poverty. They enjoy movies like The Matrix, which speaks of an invisible world behind our natural world. They are moved by Schindler’s List (rated R) which touches on courage, sacrifice, and overcoming racism. CHC member, Jack Neo, is arguably the best movie director in Southeast Asia. His films, I Not Stupid I and I Not Stupid II, were box office hits because they realistically deal with the pressures of the rat-race in Asian societies.

Listeners and viewers cry buckets over these powerful songs and films. They may be secular, but people get touched by such productions more so than most Christian ones. If Christian pop culture is artistically inferior, unrealistically sanitized, and limited in content and purpose, is there any surprise that surveys regularly show that even churchgoers are not excited about them? No wonder Christian artists have such a difficult time selling their products beyond small book tables in churches.

The beautiful truth is that God is not against pop culture. There is a section of the Old Testament known as “The Writings,” covering books like Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Lamentations. Honestly, aren’t they the popular songs, dramas and musicals of biblical times?

Psalms are songs of frustration, regret and anger, yet sung with love to a sometimes hidden God. Aren’t they like most tracks on the Billboard Chart?
Job deals with the sufferings of life, and the desire to find meaning through them. Isn’t it like the Hollywood hit movie, Forest Gump, or the long-running Korean serial drama, Jewel In The Place?

Proverbs deal with the danger of shortcuts, the snares of temptation, and the rewards of honesty. Aren’t they just like the cartoon series, The Simpsons?
The Song of Solomon is about the obsession with love and the sensual. Just turn on any pop radio and we have our modern-day Song of Solomon being broadcasted 24/7.
Ecclesiastes deal with the weariness of daily living in an imperfect world. Isn’t that portrayed in movies like Signs and The Pianist?

Lamentations deal with grief. When one listens to most of Eric Clapton’s songs, aren’t they all about the dealing with grief?

Like the Old Testament writings themselves, pop culture is the collective wisdom of our generation. Popular arts explore social injustice, songs of sorrow, and even tributes to women. Like the Book of Esther, they may not even mention the name of God. Like Ecclesiastes, they suggest that in this life, bad things do happen to good people. Or like the Song of Solomon, they may celebrate romance and sex. These songs and movies may not have a salvational purpose, but nonetheless, they offer us the essential comfort and wisdom for living. As such, pop culture represents a powerful means of communicating to us what the real world is like, and how to live in it.
We are all products of our personal theological persuasions and convictions. Pop culture affects the lifestyles of the masses. Venturing into the realm of secular culture is certainly not for the weak or the fainthearted. What Sun is seeking to do is to show us how to be a modern-day Daniel or Joseph to our contemporary Babylon and Egypt. Daniel took on Babylon’s language, education, fashion, name and persona, and yet he didn’t compromise his own value system. According to the New Bible Commentary, Joseph was thoroughly “Egyptianized,” and yet he lived a great life of purpose. Esther, the super celebrity, was also similar. Sun simply wants to emulate these heroes of faith.

Can you remember John the Baptist questioning the authenticity of Jesus’ ministry when he heard about the latter’s working style? Jesus had become widely known as a friend of sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and drunkards. He was even seen going to parties and events that the Pharisees themselves wouldn’t set foot in. John the Baptist was concerned that Jesus was becoming worldly, immoral and compromising—a bad example to the disciples. Our Lord’s reply to him was simply this: “Look at My fruits. Look at how the gospel is preached. ‘And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’” (Matt. 11:6). The Greek word for “offended” is scandalizo, which means “to trip up, stumble, or be enticed to sin.” I would say the same to those religious critics who may be offended by Sun.

The “China Wine” music video was never meant for a church event. Neither was it ever intended to be an evangelism tool or a gospel video. It is simply pop entertainment. People watching the video and regarding it as just that will never get offended or stumbled, which explains the millions of hits and thousands of good reviews on YouTube.

So to the religious and conservatives who have used nasty, derogatory and expletive terms to describe Sun, my parting shot are the words of Jesus Christ from Matthew 21:31, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Pastor Kong Hee had gone to great lengths to share his profound insight. I am the contrast of him. I never like to explain or defend myself when confronted with accusations, half truths or derision. Man's condemnation does not send me to hell; neither do their praises send me to heaven. God is the One who judges me, and I want to bask in the peace, the perfect peace He has given me. Hence I believe that my silence sometimes speaks louder than words.

In fact, in a fallen world of turmoil, chaos, pessimism, manipulation, jealousy and strife, there will always be rumours and ill-will. For example, recently I wrote about the funtastic time we had at the Vietnam Toastmasters' Club and was surprised to receive a reply from a toastmaster, Rebecca, "Someone told me that the club had closed down. Anyway, glad that it is alive and kicking!" The club has more than 35 members and is only less than a year old. They have two chapter meetings a month. It is full of exuberant members who are the creme de la creme of Vietnam - young professionals with successful careers in Singapore. This truth can be easily verified; yet whoever spreads the rumours still wants to take the chance! See what I mean, Pastor Kong Hee? Let us have compassion for the people who hurt themselves by being unnecessarily angry, jealous, indiginant and insecure.

God's blessings and peace are all that I would ever need to lead a happy and simple life. Just as water finds its own level, let us live and let live. Let us not cripple ourselves with anger, jealousy, and strife. Let God always sit on His Throne of Judgement. Let us all learn to be happy and comfortable in our own skin, and let no one or circumstances rob us of our joy and beliefs. Let us always give others the benefit of a doubt. When we are not bothered about others' wholesome shallowness, we have more energy to move on and get the most joy, contentment and fulfillment out of life!

Gan Cao


Anonymous said...

As a Christian you should be a light and salt to the world.

How can you separate your life as a servant of God and your wife's life?

How to reach others if ourselves do not set examples to live by Christ's standards?

Cultural mandate is to influence worldly worldview with Christian worldview not compromise the later with the former.

Anonymous said...

You mean Pastor Kong Hee should be the light of the world.

Yet how many pastors sugar coat things for their own rationale?

Now you understand why when we meet God next time, He will say to many of us, "Go away, I don't know you!"

Amazing Grace! That saved a wretch like us!