From Recognition to Reimagination
‘Going out to see and coming back to be’ – this was the informal theme of NUS Varsity Christian Fellowship’s (VCF) Annual Teach-In Camp (AnnTIC) which was held from 26–31 December 2018. AnnTIC is a time when NUS VCFers come together to delve deep into God’s Word through Inductive Bible Study (IBS) sessions, workshops, and theme talks. Below, two students share their main takeaway from AnnTIC.
Richer Faith For, Not in Spite of, Cultures
In our globalised world today, the degree of multicultural diversity we enjoy is immense. In school, we are taught by professors of different nationalities, interact with friends of different ethnicities, learn different foreign languages, and eat the food of many different traditions. We go through multicultural experiences on a scale and at a frequency like never before. In light of all these different cultural influences, how then has our view of God and the church been shaped? What exactly is the role of culture, or cultural exchange, within the Christian faith?
During the theme talks of AnnTiC 2018, our speaker Dr Samuel Law from Singapore Bible College introduced the concept of critical contextualisation: a conscious, ongoing process by which cultural customs are biblically examined and tested. This may lead to acceptance, rejection, or creation of a new and contextualised Christian practice. It recognises that culture, whether ethnic, geographical, or temporal – is not static and neither is the church. It also calls for a collective application among members of the Christian community, and thereby seeks an intentional and transformative response.
Paul, himself a “third culture kid” who was both a diaspora Jew and a Roman citizen, was unafraid to demonstrate cross-cultural engagement in his use of examples and overall rhetoric. His messages pointedly addressed cultural practices that, though do not resemble what we are used to today, would have been well understood by his intended audience. Applying critical contextualisation to his writing helps us better understand that it was context-oriented, community-directed, and gospel-shaped.
One challenge of the church today, therefore, is to learn and share the gospel without the taint of cultural prejudice or ethnocentrism. When entering the mission field abroad or speaking to someone of a different culture, do we define reality through our own cultural perspectives and expect it to be right for everyone? In our eagerness to share the good news, do we forget what it means to actively appreciate and protect cultural differences, instead believing the lie of cultural superiority? Are we complicit in cultural erasure just because another person’s or community’s experience of God does not resemble ours? How can we be sure whether we have adopted an ethnocentric perspective or if these norms unambiguously contradict God’s Word?
Critical contextualisation, therefore, presents one manner through which we may prevent a self-congratulatory mindset. Just as Christ made Himself relevant to all cultures, the Word remains constant and understood by all. The constancy of the Word (both living and written) is hence exemplified not just in spite of its changing mediums of communication but because of them.
We are now brought to a point of reimagination: when we recognise patterns of thinking we need to reconsider, reorientating our actions to become better Christians is nothing less than imperative. It is not always comfortable to reflect on the prejudices that have permeated our minds’ substructures. Yet, to be a Christian is not to relegate your consciousness to cruise control – it is to guard against this complacency, with discipline and humility, as guided by the Holy Spirit. With every cross-cultural interaction, may we seek to put on love, and then tell the world how beautifully diverse and equally worthy He has made all of us.
Written by Charlotte Lim
NUS, Arts Year 4
My Last AnnTIC on a Poetic Note
I went to the camp with mixed feelings about my final AnnTIC. However, I found myself learning a lot from both my IBS session and one of the workshops conducted.
I signed up for Poetry, with the mentality of having a more “chilled” and relaxed time for IBS. I had heard from seniors that Poetry gives participants space and time to freely express ourselves through art and writing our own version of “Psalm 151”. Before signing up for Poetry, I had the impression that the theme of Psalms was slightly repetitive, thus creating the false impression that Psalms might be boring. To my surprise, I became more appreciative of the Psalms. Prarthi, the workshop trainer, expressed Psalms through both music and nature. I couldn’t help but immerse myself in the Psalmist’s emotions while writing the psalms, the expression of sentiments, feelings, praise, struggles in his intimacy with God. Some psalms really reflected my own inner heart’s cry towards God.
Participants get to express ourselves, after reading Psalms 8, 88, and 98, through painting. We were also expected to complete an assignment – a poem (titled Psalm 151) with everything we learnt in the four IBS sessions. I wrote mine in Chinese, which was translated into English as well, with the help of my friend, Xiang Da.
(P.S. For a better experience, it is recommended to ask someone else to recite the poem.)
Father, You are like the blazing sun in the sky,
Just like the radiant yolk in my mooncake.
Your love permeates through the sky,
Just like how Har Cheong Gai penetrates through my belly.
Your enemies shall fall by Your hand,
Just like how Mala soup tingles the tip of my tongue.
I shall boast of your sword and your righteousness,
Just like the watermelon goes, “Hahaha!”
Father, grant me eyes to witness the brokenness of this world,
Just like the sudden realisation of Bak Kut Teh up my nostrils.
Grant me ears to hear the cry of this world,
Just like how Durian calls me from the depth of food haven.
Grant me a heart to feel the aches from the darkness of this world,
Just like how Ice Kachang shivers down my throat.
Grant me feet to bring your warmth to this world,
Just like how the legacy of Xiao Long Bao is everlasting forever.
The theme of this poem uses imagery to relate to something we are all familiar with, food. I wrote this as a form of response to God, after the FES National Conference in September, to break free from the human heart’s apathy. May God grant us the courage to respond with His love that we may truly see Light upon this world.
Another thing that impressed me during camp was the consumerism workshop. This workshop happened after the panel on church issues and I was particularly challenged by the questions posed at the workshop. Consumerism is defined as the promotion of consumers’ interests, leading to the question of whether we as church-goers are self-seeking.
One of the main takeaways was how, as much as we judge our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in our church for being consumers, we often do not realise that we ourselves are also consumers in some form or another.
Consumerism is never about rebuking others, but it’s about how we come to realise there might be a possibility they do not receive a certain aspect or idea of what it really means to be part of the family, part of the church.
Written by Paul Tan
NUS, Engineering Year 4