Stephen Lim sees himself as a Strait Settlement kid. He was born in Malacca to second generation Chinese parents, and then moved back to their hometown in Penang before migrating to Singapore where he spent more than half his life there. Presently, he is a Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Hong Kong Sheng Kong Hui Ming Hua Theological College and an Adjunct Lecturer in Theology with the School of Theology, Charles Sturt University (Australia). He primarily locates himself as a decolonial reader exploring what it means to read the Bible in Asia through experimenting with different ideas of contextualism. He is the author of Contextual Biblical Hermeneutics as Multicentric Dialogue: Towards a Singaporean Reading of Daniel (Leiden: Brill, 2019). One of his greatest desires is to read the Bible from spaces that are regarded as unfamiliar and uncanny by the modern/colonial world system in the hope of bringing the centre into the margins.
LIM Chin Ming Stephen, “Celebrating Uselessness in an Age of Toxic Productivity: Reading Between Jesus’s Parable of the Barren Fig Tree and Zhuangzi’s Story of the Useless Tree”
The key phenomenon that I engage with in this paper is the culture of productivity found in many Asian societies such as the recent ‘lying flat movement’ in China, the booming numbers of cram schools in India, the phenomenon of karoshi in Japan (which translates ‘death by overwork’), and not to mention, in my country of origin, Singapore where the term ‘toxic productivity’ is gaining attention particularly during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic. The central interest is to explore how reading the Bible could intervene in this age of increasingly toxic productivity which is emblematic of the emerging alliance of authoritarian state narratives of progress and prosperity with global capitalism. Taking Singapore as the case study of such a narrative of economic growth, I outline how Confucianism, the Protestant Work ethic, and the discourse of economic pragmatism embedded in its national ideology have come together in the ways that the Bible is taught in the churches.
The intervention I seek is through exploring the tree as a symbol of productivity. Here, I engage in a dialogue between two trees – Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree in Luke 13:6-9 and Zhuangzi’s story of the useless tree. The approach is twofold. On the one hand, I raise the question – What constitutes ‘usefulness’ and who decides? On the other hand, what can we learn from being useless so as to help us resist the logic of productivity that is deeply embedded in many discourses of Empire today?