Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Corduroy & Finch, Transparent Lives and Blogging

Sat next to someone playing with the new PSP in the MRT. Sweeet.

butt view
I must have a strong stomach. After watching a certain Sony Playstation commercial, we sailed up to Corduroy & Finch, that new yuppie and tai-tai cafe-deli near Sixth Avenue, still able to partake of dinner and find it very yums! Thick mushroom soup, hearty hungarian goulash, tender tenderloin sitting on top of sliced roast potatoes, wholesome pasta, homey cakes with creamy vanilla bean ice-cream, hot chocolate topped with marshmellows...

Transparent Kitchens
But the Sony Playstation commercial lent a newfound appreciation for the current kitchen-as-showcase, chef-as-performer, fishtank approach to restaurant interior design. At least you can see (more or less) what the chef is doing to your food! Corduroy & Finch goes one-up with a walk-in glass chiller with stacks of caviar tins, wooden boxes of farm cheese and plump red tomatoes and almost flawless purple aubergines heaped enticingly in wicker baskets on industrial shelves.

Transparent Lives
The glass-encased kitchen reminded me of that old challenge often bandied about amongst Christians (especially in leaders' pep talk sessions): How do we live as God's people? Do we live transparent lives?

What's this about "transparent lives"? I've always wondered. If you do a search on Bible Gateway, there's no such phrase in the Bible. It implies living as if in a house made of glass, not hiding any aspect of one's life. Some instinct shouts out at us that that's a very foolish thing to do: why should anyone announce their weaknesses and failures and deep dark secrets and embarrassing past to the world at large? Why should everyone know what happens in our lives? What about privacy?

Nakedness and Shame
Privacy...We all know an oldie who has waved a despairing finger at the present trend of ceiling-to-floor windows, muttering,"Young people nowadays have no shame.".

The interesting thing is that shame didn't come into the world until the Fall. Adam and Eve were walking around happily without any clothes on until the end of Genesis 2. They were naked before each other and naked before God and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). Their physical nakedness symbolised their relational nakedness: they were completely comfortable with each other and with God and had nothing to hide from anyone. Their lives were transparent and they weren't afraid.

When Adam and Eve decided to rebel against God their rightful king, however, things spiralled downwards very quickly. Their relationship with God was fatally ruptured. Their relationship with each other was hostile and antagonistic: Adam blamed God for putting Eve in the Garden with him and he blamed Eve for making him rebel against God. Adam and Eve were no longer comfortable with each other. Their decision to rule and be the kings in their own individual lives, loving themselves over God and over the other person cast a shadow on their conscience: they could no longer relate transparently. With makeshift clothes of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7), they tried to cover up their physical nakedness in an effort to be less relationally naked. Transparency became a terrifying thing.

And God's presence was no longer comforting. Mere creatures, Adam and Eve had tried to take the place of the Creator. A coup d'état (especially one bound to fail) really does not do wonders for your relationship with the ruler you tried to seize power from. Adam and Eve didn't want to face him. They were afraid and hid among the trees of the Garden (Genesis 3:8). The past happy easy-going transparency in their intimate relationship had vanished into thin air.

Something good seemed irretrievably lost.

God affirms that these relationships are well and truly broken by clothing Adam and Eve in garments of skin (Genesis 3:21). It's one of those poignant symbolic statements of the end of a relationship: like your fiancée returning you her engagement ring, or your father cutting out your pictures from the family album.

Repentant Nakedness
As Christians, when we repented from living lives our own way and acknowledged God as our king, we no longer tried to hide from God. We crawled out of the darkness and into the light and saw ourselves in reality for the first time. In the light of the gospel, painfully and all too clearly, we realised how utterly disgusting and slimy and smelly and ugly we were; how embarrassingly ungrateful and rude and unjust and selfish; how deserving of God's wrath and condemnation and judgement.

Of course we couldn't ever hide from God who is all-seeing and all-knowing. But in taking the first step of repentance, we saw ourselves as God saw us. We saw how horrible our nakedness was and were ashamed. We didn't try to hide our ugly nakedness with the fine clothes and jewels of this world nor our stench with heavy perfume. Instead, we acknowledged our position and trusted God to deliver us from the horror of our selves through his Son.

Naked and Comfy: Transparent Lives
So the "transparent" lives we are to live now as redeemed people are not self-centred reality TV lives, nor webcam lives, nor tell-all tabloid lives, nor wash-dirty-linen-in-public Jerry Springer lives, nor look-how-cool-and-hip-I-am blog lives. These all point again to ourselves, more specifically, to the love of ourselves, which is the foundation of sin.

God brought us into relationship with himself again so that we can now live as God intended us to live: in a comfortable close relationship with God and comfortable close relationships with each other. So that we can stand before God naked without shame, because our sins have been paid for; and we can be naked before each other, without shame, because we are all a family of saved sinners.

[Note: Before Chris (Chia) and the other leaders have me shot for encouraging streaking and other sure-kenna-indecent-exposure-and-other-dodgy-penal-code offences in ARPC...in the present age, before the coming of Christ, this nakedness can at most be relational nakedness because sin is still rampant.]

This newfound ability to be naked yet comfortable is for our enjoyment and ultimately for the glory of God who worked it all out according to his plan. So our enjoyment of this nakedness does not dwell on ourselves, because there is no intrinsic beauty in our nakedness, but on God because he has given us this good gift.

So the "transparent" lives we are to lead should be:
  • WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get): we should live consistently: not as fakes, phonies, or hypocrites. We should not act godly on Sunday and then live like the devil the rest of the week. We should not be sweet, kind, patient and loving before church members or in our blogs but irritating, angry, demanding, controlling, and selfish before our families or colleagues or in "real life"! As T.S. Eliot said of Charles Williams:"Some people are less than their works, some are more. Charles Williams cannot be placed in either class. To have known the man would have been enough, to know his books is enough. He was the same man in his life and in his writings."
  • Christ-centred: we cannot confess Christ with our lips but live as if we do not know him. Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:13). Trust completely in the reality that God has revealed in the Bible. We either trust him or we don't. If we do, then we think he is sturdy and should lean completely on him. We should make all our decisions based on that reality, not the fatal illusion that the world would have us believe.
  • Christ-like: if we are to live transparent lives, then what would people see? They should see Christ-likeness: self-control, upright, holy, godly lives marked by love, patience, endurance, long-suffering, humility, compassion, obedience, not given to lusts or the desires of the flesh. Christians are the lamps, not the light. In our transparency, the light of Christ should shine into the darkness of the world. Our lives should bring glory to God. So even in doing God's work in evangelism, we are not to use trickery or deviousness. We are to set forth the message plainly without deception and without distorting it (2 Corinthians 4:2).
  • authentic and honest:
  • (1) if we truly see ourselves in the light, we know that we are not completely consistent or Christ-centred or Christ-like. If we live in light of the full brightness of God's truth, our actions, desires, motives and thoughts are exposed for what they really are, and they fall far short of the ideal.
  • (2) Some people tend to put "spiritual mentors" on pedestals. This is especially tempting when this person lives in another country or we don't see them very often. The people we live closely with, we see clearly with warts and all and don't think they are qualified to minister to us or disciple us. In fact, when our sinful natures collide, we might even quarrel and break fellowship with each other.
  • (3) If we are in a position of mentorship, we may be tempted to hide all our sinfulness to avoid discouraging our mentee. But this is false living. It is deceitful and deceptive and ultimately ungodly. We are all sinners saved by grace. We should live as sinners saved by grace: openly admitting our sinful ways and openly striving to live in a godly way depending on God.
  • (4) It is only by confessing our sins to each other and having others hold us accountable and praying for each other that we can encourage each other to maturity in Christ (James 5).
  • Hence in the wake of the recent blogosphere hoohaa about the un-PC content of certain blogs (within the church and without. but this is a general statement, not directed at any specific situation), it doesn't seem a good idea to discourage (but what does "discouragement" mean?) people from blogging their true feelings, emotions and thoughts, saying that this is irresponsible and will discourage others. This puts pressure on outward conformity to forms of godliness without any inward change. This advocates a false community where everyone tries their hardest to appear "sorted" (whatever that means) but struggle alone in their hearts with normal sinful living. Let people bring their struggles and sins into the light so that everyone can help each other with them. The ability to be transparent is supposed to be one of the blessings of a Christian community.
[Have been reminded by SB that just as turning ARPC into a nudist colony is not on in the here and now because we are sinners (albeit saved sinners) living in a sinful world, so we should not always expect transparency in the family of God to be given and appreciated by our brothers and sisters because we are sinners (albeit saved sinners) living in a sinful community.

But even as we struggle to live rightly in the sinful flesh now, we look towards a day when we will have to struggle no more. On that day, we will no longer have to hide from God and from each other in suspicion, terror and insecurity. Then, we will be able to see each other face to face, and enjoy open, honest, transparent, secure, loving, intimate relationships with God and with each other without fear or shame.]

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