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originality through imitation (part one) – the quest for originality.

Over the next few days I will post a series of my reflections (and study notes) from one of my morning devotions last week. I shared it with the GII Shepherds on Tuesday night and I was encouraged to hear their “check-out” (it’s something I get them to do at the end of my teaching sessions). In my preparation, I expanded my half-page handwritten reflections into a four-page lesson; hence I’ll take HY’s advice and separate this sharing into a four-part series instead of dumping the entire lesson into one entry, for better consumption and digestion.

On a side note, I remember telling HY and EL that I’m starting to think and write as if everything that I communicate or compose is a sermon. Is this an occupational hazard of a(n aspiring) preacher? I mean, it’s so weaved into my cognition process that I do that even in my devotional and prayer journaling! And the crazy thing is that I actually enjoy thinking, writing and speaking like that because this discipline forces me to streamline my thoughts and increase the efficiency in my choice of words. You may realise this if you’ve been reading my blog for a while.

But I digress. Here’s the first of four parts, which will bring us through to Sunday.

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Originality Through Imitation
Quiet Time Reflections on Genesis 1-2
By Joey Asher Tan

Introduction – The Quest for Originality

This is my umpteenth attempt at re-reading the Bible from the beginning. However, unlike the earlier efforts, I have a new zeal for the Word of God and I’ve determined within myself to find a revelation of Jesus Christ in every sitting.

So, in an all-too-familiar restart, I read the first two chapters of Genesis a little differently; I read Genesis 1 telescopically and Genesis 2 microscopically and I urge you to do likewise. You will then realise that Genesis 2 is actually an in-depth look at the sixth day of God’s cosmic creation.

By God’s impeccable design, Man was created by God to bear His image and to be the master of all life on earth. The making of Man concluded God’s creation process and with that He declared everything to be excellent in every way; Man was the icing on His cake and the cherry on His pie!

It was truly a privilege for Man to be come alive by the breath of God (nothing else in creation has that invocation!) and to be given the free will to make his own decisions. That to me, along with Man’s purpose to be God’s image-bearer, was the grace of God.

Creation then reveals the centrality of Christ in this manner – Jesus came to redeem and restore us (more on redemption and restoration later) to the original requirements of intimate fellowship with God. At this point in time, I asked God two questions: “What has creation got to do with Me? How is creation even relevant to my daily living?”

There is only one point which I will attempt to prove through this sharing.

I humbly opine that the best creation is the original creation. And that is in the image of God. I think this is why we are constantly called to imitate Christ, for Christlikeness is the expressed image of God (or the closest you could get!). We must realise that when we are Christlike, we are actually being original in its truest form. That in effect is saying, the more we are like Jesus, the more original we are! No wonder Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

In a day and age where the clichés of being true to yourself and being original has become an over-emphasised and highly overrated aspiration, the Word of God interrupts us with a counter-culture challenge. Think about it – what’s so good about wanting to be who you’ve always wanted to be? According to what I have read, I see zero benefits; at this point of my life, I’d rather be more like Jesus than to be more like Joey. The older I get, the more I know my(wretched)self the more I conclude that there’s no glory in wanting to be myself.

So we arrive at a point of application. Throughout our lives, there’s always someone we look up to and desire to model after; he or she could be a parent, pastor, peer or even an onscreen personality. Everyone has heroes in their lives. I was instantly challenged to cultivate a solitary desire to mimic Jesus above and beyond any of my mentors. I’m not called to be Jesus, but to be like Jesus. And I think this universal truth applies to all serious believers who desire to showcase God’s glory through their lives.

Do me a favour, will you? Read Genesis 1-2 again and rediscover that, in light of our fallen nature, the best creation is truly the original creation.

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Next post: The Grandeur of the Creation of Man

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how should you apply and appreciate talent?

As I lounged into my seat to observe AS’s piano recital at the Yong Siew Toh Music Conservatory yesterday, I realised that I grew frustrated at my inability to fully appreciate the beauty of the Chopin pieces that she was apparently playing so brilliantly. It was an accomplished performance, no doubt; her fingers moved so much faster than I could move my lips, musically it sounded like a formidably difficult piece to pull off with so many off-beats, odd synchronisations, and flats and sharps that seem to fit in perfectly when they normally would sound out of place. It was only the second time I saw Singapore’s child (now teenage) prodigy in action but there I was, reclined in my comfortably red seat, wishing that my musical knowledge was more inclined so that I could appreciate her performance at the level that it was meant to be appreciated at.

How do you enjoy a performance you can’t appreciate? I’m inclined to believe that talent is best appreciated by the talented, for our enjoyment is vastly limited and restrained to our personal capacities and standards – I could never fully comprehend the difficulty of AS’s piano pieces and the level of her accomplished techniques; my enjoyment was sadly limited to a mere sensory admiration, instead of a technical, emotional and intellectual appreciation. Football, music and even preaching are all art in various forms but our appreciation of even its respective equipment knowledge or showmanship styles has been greatly marginalised due to our ignorance of these art forms. We won’t even be able to comprehend the painstaking efforts and countless hours invested to perfect the art.

I found myself asking two questions:

  1. How should you apply the talent at your disposal?
  2. How should you appreciate the talent on display?

So as I fidgeted in my seat, I naturally recalled the parable of the talents, where it’s not about how much talent you have, but about what you do with it. Each of us would have our assigned lots in life. The whole idea is to utilise the lot in the best way you know how to; for the more you use it, the better you get at it and may possibly even acquire new skills along the way. I think this is applicable to any art form. Think about it – if I decide to practise scales in a bid to up my guitar playing ability, and I get good at it, I will open up the door to new genres of music for me to learn and appreciate. In football, if I put myself through dribbling drills, I will eventually get stronger on my weaker leg, and I will open up the option of eventually shooting or crossing with my weaker foot. Before I could polish my abilities as a lead singer, I had to ensure that my basic singing abilities were above average. Practice doesn’t just make perfect – it paves the path for new skills.

I remember a quote by John Keating from one of my all-time favourite movie, Dead Poets Society:

“… And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…

These are what we stay alive for.”

I think that beauty is multi layered – where one standard of excellence is carefully smuggled beneath another. I juxtapose the foundations of three art forms – the left and right hand of a pianist, the skill and the fitness of a footballer, and the preparation and oration of a preacher. The pursuit of excellence and the discovery of new art forms will exponentially enhance and elevate our appreciation of life.

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