Life : Favorites

favorite artistes/bands

U2: great music, meaningful lyrics and a social cause to go along… Who can beat that?
Chicago: love their 80s love songs feel…
Alejandro Sanz: great Spanish love songs.

favorite movies

Dead Poets Society is definitely my number one. All the themes close to my heart are present in the movie. It’s about a teacher who inspires students to live an idealistic, non-conformist and passionate lifestyle – even if it means going against the dictates of traditional authorities like schools and parents. It’s got a whole lot of classic literature and even quotes from one of my favorite writers:

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately,
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,
To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die
Discover that I had not lived. (Henry David Thoreau)

One author wrote of the movie:

Behind Keating’s high praise of poetry is Henry David Thoreau’s general revaluation of society’s established priorities: We do not live in order to work, according to the philosophy of Walden, we work in order to live. And we succeed in living extraordinary lives only by staying clear of the ordinary preoccupations with careers and making money – by focusing seriously on those things that make a human existence passionate and radiant.

Amen! Indeed, life is not about conforming to society’s expectations of us (studying in order to get a good job, making a lot of money…etc) but really about living it to the fullest, sucking out all the marrow of life. That’s the way I wanna live my life…

Living a passionate life by myself won’t satisfy me. Inside, I still dream of a loving and romantic relationship. And I think one of the most important aspects of a relationship (beyond the sexual and physical attraction) is simply communication/sharing. Relationships are destroyed due to a lack of communication. I like my relationship to be filled with lots of conversation. I can’t live without conversation that challenges, inspires, provokes… Before Sunrise & Before Sunset are special movies because of the romance, chemistry and communication. Many dislike these movies because there’s too much conversation; I love it because of that. Though both never made it really big, many movie critics have nothing but praise for both the original and the sequel made 9 years apart. Both are easily my favorite romantic movies. One of my favorite quotes:

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone… sharing something.” (Celine, Before Sunrise)

Living a passionate life and a romantic life with your partner is still ultimately meaningless without interacting with the problems of the world. That’s because I think an ultimately meaningful life is not one spent for oneself, but others. True meaning comes in serving and loving others. Pay It Forward has thus been an inspiration to me – to live that idealistic and radical life of giving, loving and doing good.

favorite books

Without doubt, the Holy Bible has to come in first place for me. Enough said yah? =)

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman is a scathing critique of how television and other media of images basically makes us dumber. It is one of the best social commentaries of our age! Has helped me understand why most people nowadays don’t like reading, can only be bothered with the superficial and are easily enamored by the meaningless capitalistic and consumeristic culture. More thoughts from me about this book can be found here.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is one book (based on a true story) in which I can really identify with the protagonist (Chris McCandless) and his idealism. Here’s idealism lived out – although rather tragically. But then again, those who truly live out the very best of ideals seldom live an ordinary pain-free life. It takes guts to live out one’s ideals, as I’ve always believed, and that is why I have great admiration for Chris. I would say that to understand Chris, his ideals and his story is to understand a large part of who I am, what I believe in and how I aspire to live my life. More of my thoughts on this book here.

Very similar to the above book, though fictional, is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I’ve got no great love for Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. However, it’s the theme of non-conformism that so attracts me to this great book. It’s about how the protagonist Howard Roark struggles and suffers greatly for his unwillingness to compromise his values and principles. No doubt, Rand’s writings are ungodly, anti-Christian and extremely man-centered. That is not what I support in The Fountainhead. My love for The Fountainhead, Into the Wild and Dead Poets Society and their implicit promotion of non-conformism to the values of society is, I would argue, more of a godly and right thing to do simply because a lot of society is ungodly. To not compromise one’s values in the face of societal and cultural pressure takes courage. It’s tough being counter-cultural as it involves much suffering. But in my understanding of Christianity, Christians are called to be counter-cultural. And Jesus is the ultimate counter-cultural icon that has ever lived.

There are many things I like of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Her writing style is remarkable – and not just for such a young girl. I wish I could write like her! And while it’s meant to be a serious book on a serious topic, her wonderful sense of humor is maintained throughout the book. Her childlike optimism and idealism are things I treasure too. And also her keen insight to human nature – of which I write more about here.

Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. It’s a wonderful and true story of romance and passion – and how to keep such romance and passion alive in a relationship. Yet it also has much (if not more) to say on the spiritual journey of a Christian. Here’s a book that will probe the depths of one’s emotions. More of my thoughts on this book can be found here.

Lastly is Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. This book has given me much to ponder as regards to how our duty to, and relationship with, God relates to the social structures, morality and conventions in the world – especially as all this relates to Christianity and social progressivism. Once again, I’ve written about this elsewhere.

favorite christian thinkers

My favorite Christian thinkers would of course depend on the topic area in question as different thinkers have different expertise. From 1996 onwards (for a few years) when I was interested in Reformed theology, Michael Horton‘s writings greatly influenced me – especially in introducing me to the Lutheran theology of the cross and law/gospel distinction. Tom Smail, though relatively unknown outside the UK, is my favorite Reformed-Charismatic theologian. His writings are extremely refreshing and challenging. His reflections and thoughts on Charismatism (especially one of his pet topics of the Cross in relation to the Spirit) are the most insightful I’ve come across. I just wish he were more influential in the Christian world as he has so much to teach all of us. Another Reformed-Charismatic is RT Kendall. I like his non-legalistic brand of Calvinism and his openness to mixing around a lot with charismatic folks. On the issue of grace, Robert Farrar Capon stands out with his style of writing, wit and his radical teachings on grace. Clark Pinnock is an ex-Reformed theologian, charismatic and very simply a maverick in theological circles. As one who identifies with the Emergent conversation, Brian McLaren is God-sent. He’s a grandfatherly-figure here. Eventhough many people have criticized this aspect of his thinking, I greatly appreciate his openness to learning from different theological traditions and beliefs, the fact that he seldom takes a firm stand on any doctrine but is still exploring (we can all do with much more of that and less of being dogmatic about our favorite beliefs) and his winsome graciousness he extends to his critics. Cheers Brian, you’re a model in Christian graciousness! That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says though! Randy Alcorn and his Eternal Perspective Ministries has a lot of great stuff to say on how a Christian ought to live with an eternal perspective in mind. If we all called more about storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven, and not on earth, then we’ll not care about suffering/persecution, won’t be so materialistic and will go all out to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth – not caring much about temporal things like our studies and career and such. Indeed, we’re called to live with an eternal perspective and only when we understand what that truly means will we be able to more easily rid ourselves of the hold that money, possessions, fear of doing missions and fear of persecution have upon us. Finally, I’m going to include Søren Kierkegaard here. Of all thinkers listed here, I’m probably the least familiar with Kierkegaard, who is a volumous writer. And yet, all that I know of his writings, I’ve found challenging – his leap of faith, existentialism and ethics.

favorite quote generators

This is easy. The two most outstanding and wittiest quote generators are Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain. No one can beat them for insight into humanity and society and sheer humor.

favorite countries

Three Cs: Canada, Cuba and Colombia. Yes, I do love Singapore and consider myself first and foremost a Singaporean. I was born here and have spent most of my life here. I’m familiar with the culture and lifestyle here and in a way I’m very comfortable here – though, really, too comfortable for my own good. Simply put, being too comfortable in any place is not good for anyone. That’s my philosophy: “Get out of your comfort zone, live on the edge or life’s really not worth living.” And also, I think any Christian who lives too comfortably here and now just doesn’t understand what it means to focus on the eternal, rather than the temporal. Life for the Christian should be about storing up treasures for the future future (when Jesus comes again), not for the present or the near future. It ought to be about living for God and others, not for oneself and one’s family. And when we’re serving God radically, there’s no way we would be living comfortably! Persecution is promised and as the values of God’s radical kingdom confront those of this world, things usually get nasty. When we stand for the poor, oppressed and marginalized, we go against the powers. There’s no way we could live comfortably then – if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do and standing up for people we’re supposed to stand up for.

Don’t get me wrong. Singapore is a country that will always have a special place in my heart. And yet Singapore is one of the most pragmatic countries in the world – in the sense of adopting pragmatic policies. I use the word “pragmatic” in a negative way. We don’t have a moral backbone. And that’s what I hate about us. Our leaders are pragmatic because in a way our people are pragmatic. Or maybe it’s more true to say that our leaders are complicit in creating a culture that has nurtured pragmatic people. We’ve lost our zeal for life. We only care about money and making more. We’ve lost values. We don’t know what to live for really except money, the economy, our families and our future. There is no higher purpose. Of course, people will say that Singapore has done marvellously well in getting us from third world status to first, that we’ve done well in our religious and racial harmony…etc. No doubt, that’s true in a way, yet at what cost? In many ways, I’m proud of our leadership; in those same ways, disgusted. So perhaps ultimately, I’m ambivalent towards Singapore. Though I’m starting to hate this country more and more and the values (or lack of) that are dominant here. Sure, one can argue that values (or lack of) are present everywhere. True. Though in every other country, you see a glimmer of hope. You see dissent. You see people who stand up for the truth and morality. In Singapore, the condescending leadership likes it that the people are mostly all so stupid and doormats.

Canada, I love a lot. I hate their climate but love their open, multi-cultural and liberal society, as I’ve already written much here. I haven’t actually been to Cuba before. But I hope to one day. Cuba is not the most perfect country in the world and has a lot of flaws, but it’s a living Socialist experiment. I have mixed feelings towards Socialism and Communism, but am more positive than most towards such ideologies. Lastly, Colombia is a place I’ve been to and love. I love all the Spanish-speaking countries mostly. But Colombia will always be special somehow.

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1 Comment

  1. ‘We don’t know what to live for really except money, the economy, our families and our future. There is no higher purpose. Of course, people will say that Singapore has done marvellously well in getting us from third world status to first, that we’ve done well in our religious and racial harmony…etc. No doubt, that’s true in a way, yet at what cost? In many ways, I’m proud of our leadership; in those same ways, disgusted.’

    Such a bold statement, proud of our leaders, Yes I am, disgusted, Yes I certainly am too. GST is increasing, and I find myself speaking up for the govt (the rationales they have), yet I can’t help but join in my colleagues to complain about the govt’s lack of understanding of the commoners’ struggle with increased costs….

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