what i learnt in 2015;

I like year-end round-up posts, so I started working on one right after the peak (i.e. early Dec) but found myself mercilessly deleting and redrafting every time I looked at the Byword (a writing app I highly recommend, by the way) file. I finally gave up trying to think of a good structure, and went with a list. The order has no particular significance. 


1. That church life revolves around the rhythms of life and death. This thought probably came from attending the funerals of three church members – more than the past 8 years combined- and also reading J. Todd Billings’ Rejoicing in Lament (here’s an excerpt). Look at our liturgical calendar: Christmas and Easter, respectively the birth and death of Christ. Look at our weekly bulletin: happy pronouncements of newborns paired with sombre requests to pray for the dying. Look at our sacraments: baptism, signifying the death of the old man and the birth of the new man, and the Lord’s Supper, which we are told to perform as often as we meet, a remembrance of Jesus’ death. Life and death. Life and death.

2. For Christians who view Scripture as the Word of God, secular counselling is insufficient to speak to the human condition. In sheer foolhardiness, I took an online course with the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation that coincided exactly with the tax peak. The impetus for the course was having read David Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes, and if it isn’t too grandiose of me to say so, that exactly describes the end result of the course. It was tiring, but also one of the more important things I have done in my life; my self-reflections and interactions with others since then have gradually been shaped by what I’ve learnt.

3. That it is so easy to love mankind and not man. So many of our youths and adults are glad to discuss Calvinism-vs-Arminianism, cessationism-vs-continuationism, but refuse to participate in activities (outings, camps) that require interaction with other church members. I was reminded of this excellent essay, specifically the Dostoevsky quote.

4. How the news makes us dumb. C. John Sommerville’s longform article is 24 years old. Which means it was published prior to the Internet and social media. Which means it’s actually more relevant now.

5. That community is beautiful, and true, and necessary, not in spite of its flaws, but perhaps because of them. Wendell Berry captures the earthiness of things so well, andJayber Crow’s description of the people of Port William is a passage I come back to again and again when I think about church and community.

6. Why saying ‘our thoughts and prayers are with XX’ after a tragedy is right. Andy Crouch has a wonderful, on-point response to pundits’ criticism of presidential candidates who responded to shootings with ‘thoughts and prayers’ instead of ‘taking actual action’ (which presumably just means making noise about gun control).

7. What art does, or tries to. I am not at all artsy, or lit-y, or poetic. But Michael Chabon’s description of how art is a response to brokenness is so beautiful that I know the fault is mine.

8. That sometimes, the most irrelevant (irreverent) things remind you most of the gospel. I must have listened to Sufjan Stevens’ For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti thousands of times this year. But until now, my heart still catches a beat when, during the bridge, the female voice declaring ‘I’ll do anything for you’ gives way to the male voice singing ‘I did everything for you’. That’s the gospel.

9. That work is a great place for training in humility. Work has been alright – colleagues are friendly, managers are (mostly) patient, and the work itself is interesting. But being in a new environment also reveals a lot of my pride, selfishness, and secret sins. Listening to the Gettys’ Before You I Kneel every Sunday night and reading through a psalm or two every morning have been immensely helpful.

10. That to the non-believing world, it is insulting and stupid to find your identity in Christ. There has been no shortage of tragedies in recent years (or at least, social media makes us more quickly aware of them). And each time, Q/A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism has given me so much comfort (that is its purpose). I knew, vaguely, ‘that I am not my own’ doesn’t gel well with modern sensibilities, but it really struck me when recently, at a funeral of a church member, the non-believing daughter gave a eulogy that really was a scolding to the rest of the church. To her, calling her mother a ‘sister in Christ’, ‘child of God’ or ‘faithful follower’ was diminishing her mother’s identity. But does Lucy cease to be who she is on earth because she is also a Queen in Narnia? No; she becomes more herself. A received identity is in fact the truest kind there is. (To find out what I mean, check out this talk by Timothy Keller on identity.) In the whole year, that was probably the moment I felt most keenly aware of the difference between Christians and non-Christians.

11. History, when narrated by Erik Larsen, is ultra-fascinating. My favourite non-Christian, non-fiction book read in 2015 (by far!) was Larsen’s The Devil in the White City. The juxtaposition of the Great Chicago Fair and a serial murderer is sheer brilliance, and the writing was excellent.

12. Why women shouldn’t vote. I was finally eligible to vote this year, which was very exciting yet underwhelming (mostly because Singapore is so efficient – I left my house and was back, vote cast, in 10 minutes flat). But I had never given thought to why I, as a woman, could vote, and certainly never thought that there were female anti-suffragists. Helen Andrews’ fascinating piece tells us about them, makes me sympathetic to their cause, and draws a tentative parallel to current social issues.

13. That there are two ways not to sin. One is to be like Ulysses, plugging your ears and tying yourself to the mast; one is to be like Jason, finding a more superior song that causes the sirens to lose their appeal. (Elaboration here and here. What do I love? What do I find beautiful?

14. That man can be as blind as their ideology requires them to be. This year, a series of undercover videos showed Planned Parenthood staff picking at fetuses for parts, bargaining with buyers for the best price (by line item or by specimen?), vividly boasting of their crushing process that will leave the valuable heart and lung intact, and joking about buying a Lamborghini from the sales proceeds of the baby parts. And mainstream media was silent. Case study: When the first two videos came out, the NYT said it was a hoax (even though even Cecile Richards, PP CEO, apologised for the tone in the video) and suggested that it was ‘heavily edited’ even though the full-length uncut 3-hour version was uploaded at the same time. It took the NYT twenty days to correct that, and give the excuse that the error happened because the 3-hour video took longer to download (it’s a Youtube video, for goodness’ sake). Is it really so hard to see and understand that babies are not meant to be killed and put in petri dishes for sale? Apparently, yes. Abortion rights (sorry, ‘women’s health’) trumps all. For how long more will we look away? I don’t really know how to use the imprecatory psalms, but each time another video was released I was sorely tempted to.

15. That I have so, so far to go in holiness. If you’re an evangelical, you’ve probably heard of J. I. Packer, or read a book which he helped to foreword/blurb. He truly is one of the theological giants of this century. This year,’Packer on the Christian Life’, by Sam Storms, was published. Justin Taylor, EVP of the publishing company, tweeted Packer’s response upon reading the book:

Sam, I thought, wrote well, though I’m only an old sinner after all.

‘I’m only an old sinner after all.’ It seems to me that the great saints, the most holy of us, were those who grasped that most. I have a long way to go.

There is much more I could say, naturally. But 15 is a nice round number to summarise my 2015 (:

I’ll end off with one of my favourite tweets of the year:-

I am Mephibosheth: heir to a rebellious, fallen house, crippled, unable to save myself, and invited to eat at the table of the king. – @DZRishmawy

Praise God from Whom all mercies flow.

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