Leaving the church

This 清明 my sister, who is in her enthusiastic church-going years, requested to not hold joss sticks.

She did it quietly and politely, and no one objected to it. I remembered myself in her. Years ago, still a church-go-er, i went through the motions anyway, if not with an uncomfortably intense dose of guilt from having to pay respects the ‘superstitious way’. At that point i thought of myself as not pious enough, not strong enough to ‘resist’ and stand up to my faith.

Past my egocentric years, and with increasing disillusion with certain church practices (/certain church’s practices?), i now think differently.

Back then, in church, i was given a checklist of things we should not be doing. Under the section of “superstitious and cult activities”, incense burning, joss sticks holding, etc, were all ‘strongly discouraged’. As if they determined your faith, your beliefs, and your love for God.

Now, with age, i see these as completely disparate variables. I find certain rules laid out as misguided and over-indulgent of Christianity. The only reason, ironically, why i still identify as a Christian is that i cannot bring myself to not believe in God. A God that is very similar to the one conceived by the Christian faith, and many of the fundamental principles it is based on.

But so many of the interpretations, the practices, the rules, and the structure of the church i just cannot.

Once, a cradle Christian told me she envied my relatively agnostic family. She said it made my road to faith more difficult, giving me the opportunity to strengthen my faith through wanting to be a Christian despite objections to it. (LOL?)

The thing is, i never faced much ‘objection’ from my family. The only complaint they made was that it took away half my Sunday which could be spent lazing around with them eating chee cheong fun and watching Doraemon. And even if they were to ‘object’, i doubt it would have truly difficult for me. Because rebellion is part of being a teenager. Rebellion is, in some sense, the easiest obstacle i could face.

With age i’m beginning to understand a more complex conflict between religions and theisms, and one of the most striking insights i’ve made is that there is no ‘good’ Christian side and the antagonistic non-religious side we so often presume (or maybe just in my Convent school environment).

Back to the joss stick issue.

The God i believe does not see the arbitrary, even aesthetic – but fully harmless – act of holding joss sticks as problematic. It is a form of respect; of consideration for my grandma – to give her a symbolic peace of mind knowing that her husband has received some ‘love’ from his grandchildren.

The God of my personal faith would have applauded it as an act of filial piety. The God i know doesn’t give a shit about holding two sticks for a couple of minutes for a greater cause. If you are a Christian thinking: since you are not following what the church wants us to do, why do you even see yourself as a Christian, then ok – i am not a Christian.

I would rather stand by the God i believe in, who propounds most fundamentally love for others, doing good out of this love, and not doing harm to others – and not be considered a ‘real’ Christian, than adopt practices i don’t believe in just to reduce cognitive dissonance of being a stranded believer of God without shelter from a ‘legitimate’ religious institution.

And this is where my divergent views from the church (of course not all churches la, just the ones i’ve observed/gone to) come into play.

In my early years i loved church, because it taught so beautifully about love and good. Later on these teachings became less of a feature, instead there was a huge emphasis on things that were trivial and irrelevant to my faith: not holding joss sticks, speaking in tongues, being slain, adhering to a bunch of rules that didn’t make me feel any more closer to God.

I didn’t like that my belief in God was being obscured by more peripheral church activities and principles that seemed far removed from faith. Everything was very church-centered, not God-centered (despite it being propagated as so).

So after a few church-hopping attempts, i finally resigned to the fact that my faith in its mature (or at least most current) state cannot be reconciled with an instituted church. The furthest i can go are ad-hoc Catholic masses, which i do still love – stemming from both my IJ girl background and how (imo) it is more rooted to the fundamentals of God/love/faith.

I won’t give a solidified position of my religious beliefs now. I think beliefs evolve and grow, and should be allowed to – even if it is in the direction of non-belief (as many believers fear).

I don’t want my faith to be borne of confirmation bias.

I want to continuously question my faith and all my beliefs – not just religious ones. If i still believe (as i now do, after years of doubts), then good. If i don’t, at least i know i’m not deceiving myself.

Neither do i want my faith to be a socialized, which i feel the church provides. Of course, the church has its plusses: it offers a group that supports and sustains your faith. I do like to share about my faith, but there comes a point of saturation where, instead, my beliefs are shaped by what i think others want it to be. I try to avoid that.

Right now i’m not sure what i really am. I’d say a Christian, but only conforming in the most basic sense. Or maybe i’m non-religious, just someone who is theistic, and believes in a God that may be any one (or none) of the ones conceptualized by any existing religions.

I’d like, of course, to find a place that teaches me what i want to know relevant to my beliefs, without too strongly exerting an influence that may either oppress or warp the route of my faith. But as of now i’ve been mostly disappointed.

 

 

清明

Each year i visit and am a little different.

One year i sulked the whole time, because it was too early for the heat and crowd; another i was distracted – we were going for our family favorite prawn mee after; once i came a teenage christian, and couldn’t reconcile the joss sticks in my hands with the church’s checklist if forbiddens.

Each year you remain exactly the same. We wipe the dust off your smile, as wide as it was the last time we’ve seen you. I try to picture you older: deepened the lines along your eyes and diluted the bold grin with stress of an imagined middle age. I think of my fantasy cousins.

Everyone else aged with some guilt: your mother; your brother and sisters. They remember, as kids, racing each other from the playground back home. You tripped and fell but they ran on in a heady cloud of sand, dusk and morbid glee. Later they would each get a rap on the knuckles for leaving you behind.

Soon, i will be your age when you left us, and then – in an uncomfortable warp of natural time – older. In my life you were a guest star. You arriving late at my 2nd birthday party, that familiar helmet tucked under your arm, you holding my toy dog hostage until i traded cream cake for it, you spinning me overhead against shrieks of protests, the air expanding in my heart and lungs and head to a giddying burst.

Was that how it was for you in those last seconds? In the newspapers, before my mother hastily stashed them away from the family, you were a grainy monochrome – more stationary than I’ve ever seen you – meters away from your upturned bike. Those days I tried to capture the exact moment you were swung off the torque of your spinning motorbike. How sudden it was, what and who you were thinking of.

The grieving I was kept away from, and reconstructed only from quiet recounts from my mother. At your funeral us children played outside, strategically preoccupied with yellow toy steel cars. I remember being too young to understand the finality of death, but the macabre excitement and curiosity of something usually forbidden bloomed in me a childish fascination. My own grief came much later, and gradually, from noting your absence where you should have been.

In those days a sombre hush fell over our us; a clenching, clammy inability to see life unfolding in its usual way. It took years and change for us to ease ourselves back to almost normal.

Now every year we come back to your perpetually youthful grin, ourselves a mix of guilt and relief. It is possible, I now realize, to get over a loved one’s death. Whether we want to is a different matter altogether.

3 years MacDonalds free.

There was a time when i was, like everyone else, a Macs beast.

We’ve all hit the sinful milestones: the double cheeseburgers before dinner (i did that way too much), three consecutive days of macs, three consecutive meals of macs, your first megamac (and the digestive nightmare that followed), your first up-size everything, that time you sat on fluorescent plastic yellow seats for 6 hours straight nursing mcwings and garlic chili studying for finals. Friends, i’ve been there too.

That’s why it surprised me exactly how easy it was to quit MacDonalds.

I still remember how it happened. It was the end of J1, and my senior Subhas linked me to one of those documentaries with voiceovers hinting at cataclysm and uncomfortable amounts of shots panning caged chickens. One of the many expounding the horrors of fast-food chains, mass production, and animal cruelty.

To be frank, i wasn’t that affected by the documentary and can’t even remember its title. The only reason i watched it to the end was because i loved documentaries. Anyway. After watching Subhas was telling me how he wants to swear off Macs. And i casually agreed, just for the heck of.

And oh my god it was that easy.

Okay in the first few months, i just made the conscious effort not to have it when the thought arises. But i still did occasionally, for convenience, for politeness when i’m out with friends. After 6 months, without even being aware of it, i was almost completely off Macs.

The thing is, never once had i craved Macs. NEVER. Not once in the past three years. The reason why i didn’t take the Macs fast seriously initially was because i expected the blast of withdrawal symptoms from all that additives everyone’s always on about. Nada. I could walk past a Macs and breathe in all that heady fumes and feel nothing.

That was when i realized that the only thing Macs does for me is convenience. It’s just where you go when you can’t think of anything to have and are too lazy to travel any further than 2 blocks. Also, cheap. But i could get my fixes at hawker centers for that. Adieu, Macs. Seems like i don’t need you at all.

My affair with Macs was officially over when, 6 months into my casual abstinence, i had a meal there and FELT QUEASY THE ENTIRE DAY. Followed by runs, but i’ll spare you the intricacies of my bowel apocalypse. This happened again, the next time i had Macs. After that, never touched Macs again.

Not only did i not feel like Macs, ever, it also didn’t make life anymore inconvenient for me. I concluded that we only associate Macs with convenience. We are primed to have Macs pop up in our heads, in all its obnoxious red and yellow, whenever we think “eat what. cheap. close. fast.” There are so, so many alternatives available.

I don’t think this has made things difficult for my friends either. Most of them don’t even remember i’m off Macs. Sure, i’ve stolen a couple of fries when i’m hungry. AND OKAY FINE i had that McChicken because stupid Justin wanted his Prosperity Burger (i did it for love). But all in all, i call it a successful and pretty much permanent Mac-stinence.

*

OKAY THE IRONIC BIT IS. Maybe i wrote the entirety above because I’M ABOUT TO BREAK FAST AGAIN. After 3 years. My first voluntary entrance into MacDonalds. And that is because:

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MACDONALDS HOW DID YOU DO IT.

How did you finally track me down as a disbeliever, and launch an attractive marketing campaign just to get me back to the dark side?

My first voluntary, non-convenience, non-circumstantial MacDonalds. All because i cannot resist masochism in the form of spiciness. Seriously. But this is gonna happen k, even if i have the runs for days straight.

LOBANG PLEASE.

This holiday i promise to make money.

Although i can’t bear to give up a few months of respite from work in general. Thinking of getting a job that’s more hands-on than anything. And by hands-on i really mean hands on food. Thinking of yogurt-swirling or ice-cream scooping but they don’t pay much. Will probably look for a cafe job. Some skills required but nothing high level. Also nothing that involves data entry or digital work anymore plskthnx. Menial labor much sought after. Hopefully can jump on some ad hoc event jobs too.

Any recommendations please let me knowwww.

Buh-bye.

March: Giving thanks

Woke up this morning feeling really good about life. I mean, really. Maybe because it’s Friday. Maybe because in 10 hours i’d be headed home with my best friend to my favorite people. Maybe because there honestly isn’t anything about life i can complain about now. Being such a regular Pollyanna now even i’m scaring myself, pls.

I may be injured but i’m recovering (!!!) and soon i’d be out frolicking around. Also all my limbs are intact and i’m in good health, no debilitating disease or chronic illnesses.

I may have deadlines to meet and grades to achieve but hey! I’m loving the process of learning so much. Which brings me to how i’ve been increasingly certain of majoring in Psych. Yeah Psychology was always a choice for me because i’ve always been nosey about how humans tick. But what with the multiplicity of choices in University i was somewhat torn – kept feeling like there was something else i could do (and do better).

But after i got over the shock of Psych’s science-y, technical, textbook factual aspects (and weirdly even come to appreciate it), i’ve decided that yes this is really what i want to do. Every day i’m fascinated by what i learn, i challenge what i read, i feel stimulated. THIS is what i pictured University to be, and i’m grateful so grateful for a good education. (Although i have yet to discover what i’d do with my life lol.)

I’m living in a beautiful place. Need to stop taking this for granted. UTown is beautiful, conducive for learning – but the huge expanses make it incredibly good for R & R too. It may not be exactly the rolling green hills of Yale, but it’s new and fresh and clean and green. One of the nicest places in Singapore and i’m living here, studying here. Need to be more aware of how lucky i am.

Yesterday a photo of my sis and grandma popped up on my Instagram feed and i missed my Po so terribly. Get to see her once this day is over, and this is another thing i’m utterly thankful for. May not be studying overseas being independent and glamorous – and at times i wonder if this is a regret, but no. My priorities are different from others and there isn’t must point in comparing.

Honestly, i wouldn’t be happy overseas knowing that i’m depriving myself of years i can spend with my grandma while i can. This sound depressing and my Po is in excellent health tyvm, but she’s afterall 80. A year, a month, a weekend, an hour out – i’ll hoard any amount of time i can have with her. Note to self: call her later when she’s awake.

Also friends who make it a point to catch up with you, know about your life, and offer you all the help you need when you do. Want to remind myself that this is a blessing. The random Facebook messages telling me they miss me, squeezing in quality time whenever we can just for a short chat. Gotta be proactive as well in including my friends’ lives and needs into my own life.

Oh and also, aiming to gain 3kg by end of this semester or at least sometime this holiday. Then another 2kg once I achieve that. Want to reach a weight where I CAN DONATE BLOOD. Never got to a point where i could because of my iron levels, and finally when that’s sorted there’s a weight limit ok oh good spring this on me now then. But yeah, i’m healthy young and able and very eager to give. 5kg let’s go, next blood drive i’ll be there FEEDING THE BLOOD LUST.