Sunday, December 31, 2006

Have a Great 2007!

To all my faithful blog readers,

I preached a year end sermon on the Parable of the Sower. Anchoring on the need to let the word of God grow in our lives, I list a couple of potential distractions that may choke the growth of the word. It is based on Thomas Oden's perceptive insights on the three basic human problems: Guilt, Anxiety and Boredom.

That when we look back through the year, we should not be bogged down with guilt, like asking all sorts of IF ONLY _______ questions, about things we should/should not have done, and feeling regretful about doing/not doing it. Neither should we be fearful of the coming year, even though some have said 2007 may be more uncertain than any other years. Looking forward may result in anxiety of asking WHAT IF_______ questions. With regards to the present conditions of our lives, some may start to be skeptical and become bored with life. They may also start to ask SO WHAT____ kind of questions, which can affect the growth of the word. A skeptical heart does not nourish faith.

Instead, we can give thanks for the past year, to recognize that God understands us, and will forgive us our weaknesses, as we forgive those who sin against us. God is also pressing ahead of us, to prepare the path for us. So let us not be bogged down by IF ONLY, or WHAT IF possibilities. Look back the year and give thanks. Look forward the next year and put on hope. As for boredom, we need to persevere in faithfulness, which is the best cure for boredom. Serve people rather than only surfing the internet. People who are regularly serving others, rarely complain about boredom. It is those who are too preoccupied with self, that always complain bored.

"Behold, the sower went out to sow." May the soil of our lives be ever ready to let the word of God grow in our hearts and lives.

Have a great and wonderful year ahead.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mother Nature as Newsmaker of the Year

A popular Vancouver free tabloid has hailed Mother Nature as newsmaker of the year. That sums up the unsuspected weather that residents in Vancouver have gone through this year. We've had long days of sunshine, long days of rain, strong winds/storms and followed by the snow.

The long days of hot weather is untypical of Vancouver weather this Summer. The heavy downpour in November/December led to a "boil water" advisory for more than 2 million residents due to the water turbidity problem. The snow led to havoc in the roads and inconvenience. The storms hit Vancouver extremely hard, resulting in power outages for a quarter million customers. I have not remembered any scary and stormy night ever, since arriving in Vancouver in 2004. The winds hit 158kmph and caused extensive damage to one of the most valuable icons of Vancouver, Stanley Park, where more than 3000 trees were destroyed, and nearly half the park is still closed to the public as of today.

This year is indeed exceptional. Nobody really knows why but in some ways it is a demonstration of how fragile our world is. It might also be God's reminder to secularized Vancouver that all our lives are to no avail if it is not based on firm foundations. The physical demonstration can terrify so many people. Imagine what will happen when the ultimate spiritual and universal judgment comes on all creation, one day. That day will come. We must be prepared.

Matt. 7:27 “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cinderella Man

There are few films that can bring a tear to the eye. "Cinderella Man" is one such tear-jerker. It is a story of James J. Braddock (played by Russell Crowe), a true story of a former heavyweight champion in the 1930s, who fights for a living to feed his family, and maintains integrity in everything he does. Life was hard and he was seen as an inspirational icon to many people at that time who were living in the midst of the Great Depression. As his family depended on his boxing earnings, he continues to fight even though his hand was badly injured. His high-flying lifestyle came to an abrupt halt after his boxing license was revoked due to him competing even though he is physically unfit. Losing that in the midst of the Great Depression is certainly a bad thing. Soon the family had no money to even pay for food and the utility bills. He humbled himself and applied for financial relief. He had to queue up for a daily opportunity to work at the docks for a minimal salary, and works despite his injury.

Tear-Jerker #1
When his wife (played by Renee Zellweger) cried before him to beg him not to fight, yet at the same time worrying about the daily financial needs.

Tear-Jerker #2
When he humbled himself and entered the rich man's club and begged for money to pay back four months of unpaid utility bills so as to bring back light and heating at home.

Tear-Jerker #3
When his wife realised that Braddock at his climactic comeback fight, was fighting not only for his family but for the hope of the entire nation, personifying the importance and reality of a second-chance.

Tear-Jerker #4
Braddock paying back every cent to the relief agency, when he had earned some money from one of his fights along his comeback. When asked why he returned the relief money, he replied:
"I believe we live in a great country. A country that is great enough to help a man financially when he is in trouble. But lately I have had some good fortune and I'm back in the black. And I just thought I should return it."

Tear-Jerker #5
When Braddock's wife entered a church to pray, and said to the priest that she came to pray for her husband. Then in a very touching manner, the priest said to her, "So did they", and pointed her to a church sanctuary full of people praying for her husband. That is the power of hope, that draws people together.

This movie is a wonderful inspiration of courage, family love and integrity. A great man must be one who is not only bold and courageous but humble and with integrity. Personally, I feel this movie is a reminder of the importance of inspiration, especially in the midst of depression. Our human nature naturally draws us towards a state of loneliness and we need to be able to adequately address that and not to allow our feelings of loneliness to degenerate to depression. Braddock's willingness to be humble despite the ridiculous taunting by his ultimate opponent, Max Baer, is something we can all learn from. When Braddock's wife Mae, splashed a glass of champagne on Max Baer after Baer's nasty taunting on Braddock's family, Max said "Now he's got his wife doing his fighting for him.", in an apparent jab at Braddock. Braddock calmly replied: "Yeah, Ain't she something?" reveals a man who is humble and controlled, not wanting to be easily antagonized. We need to learn to grow such a heart. True strength is not fighting back with fists. It is fighting back with a heart.

The climax of the show is Braddock's amazing comeback. It is one thing to be fighting only for family. It becomes another, when one fights symbolically for the hope of the whole nation.


On Busyness

I came across this acronym on the word BUSY (Being Under Satan's Yoke) at this web site.

It sounds a little shocking, that becoming busy can be a symptom of being trapped by the evil one. That reminds me of my previous busy lifestyle, where if one is busy, people will accept that it is 'good'. I remember a brief opening chat with an ex-collegue.

Ex-colleague: Hi, how are you?
Me: Oh. Very busy.
Ex-colleage: Good. Very good. Busy is good.
Busy is good? I guess, seen from the perspective of not idling away our precious time, it is good. From the perspective of the company who hired me, a minute put into productive work means a minute well spent. In that manner, it is good. Yet there is a certain sense that being busy is not good. Below are some examples:

- So busy till one has no time to build relationships, to keep in touch with friends
- So busy that one do not bother thinking through why things has to be done that way
- So busy that one prefers to cast away creative process (which needs time), in favour of some cheaply drawn up old idea plagiarised from someone else;
- So busy that every person becomes a means to an end;
- So busy that one has no time for family and kids.

"Being Under Satan's Yoke" acronymn may sound ominously dark, but when we understand that anything can be taken as Satan's deception, our unhealthy state of busyness can be a dangerous thing. One way busyness is a problem is when it is driven by a sense of boredom. Boredom is a human problem, that sprang out in part to the restlessness character in man. Augustine is well aware of that and wrote in his classic Confessions saying that:
"Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being: You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You." (Augustine I.1)

As we come to the end of another year, let us look back at the past with thanksgiving, and check our motives for our busyness and boredom. Both busyness and boredom are symptoms of a deeper human problem, our hearts are restless because they have not rested in God.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Grown-Up Christmas List


This song is nice and brings some heartfelt hope for humanity. My favourite this Christmas. For Christmas, it is a nice reflection on what it means to be human. The original singer is Amy Grant, who released the song sometime in 1992. These days, there are many others with their own versions, but I think the best male rendition of the song is Michael Buble.

For me, my grownup Christmas list will be:

"That all of us, will be able to know and discover who we are, without needing to pretend to be somebody else. Only then, we can help others to discover their uniqueness, so that there will be more people who are not afraid to show their true selves to one another, in a spirit of loving God and loving one's neighbours."

Sometimes, instead of buying Christmas gifts for people who do not need them, it is nice to ponder and decide to donate the money instead to help those who DO.

The key to relationships (and world peace) is written in Jesus's words:

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Have a Blessed Christmas.


History of the Religions of the Word (in a flash)

Here is a fascinating overview of the history of the religions of the world, in flash format. Check it out here. It is designed with a chronological order. It seems to be a rough guide, but interpretations of the spread of the different religions should be seen as perception rather than actual, as different religious groups do co-exist in any one place.

Thank again to Julio for the tip.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sunday School Curriculum

"The church exists ultimately for the sake of the glory of the Triune God." (Stanley Grenz, Created for Community, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 217)

Sunday School curriculum is an important tool in Church education, especially for children. Many teachers rely on them for a systematic Church teaching programme. One such curriculum is Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God. Wagner and Halliday observed two groups who use it. Of the first, he said that many who have used Experiencing God came out with a greater understanding of what it means to experience God. On the other hand, there was another group that went through the complete curriculum and did not find it satisfactory. Wagner and Halliday commented:

"The first group focused on God and asked him to produce the desired results through the curriculum, while the second group focused on the curriculum and expected it to produce the desired results." (E Glenn Wagner & Steve Halliday. The Church You've Always Wanted Zondervan, 2002, 167)

Simply put, for one group, the focus is on God, and the other the focus is on self. One expects from God, while the other expects 'magic' from the curriculum. While one is open to experiencing God in God's way and timing, the other expects some self-fulfilment in their own time and place. Whenever there are mismatched expectations, there will be frustration. On what basis do we choose Sunday School curriculum? I believe that the gospel of Mark has a lot to teach us.

"And he was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in his teaching," (Mark 4:2)

Jesus taught in parables. Parables are stories, narrative messages that many people can relate to. He spoke to large crowds, meaning different mix of people of various age. I believe that any Sunday School curriculum must incorporate the art of story telling as well. Better still, every story ought to be a personal story of struggle or victory. A living story is better than an dead text. A personal event is better than an impersonal event. Sunday School teachers should not be too quick to blame the curriculum. The best curriculum that operates under a bad philosophy will fare worse than a mediocre curriculum under a good philosophy. God is over all curriculums and cannot be 'boxed in'. Maybe, curriculum ought NOT to be placed as a 'barrier' between teachers and students. How about putting the curriculum next to the teacher/student, allowing constant interaction, and using the curriculum as a guide? We need to choose a curriculum as one of the means to reflect or urge our push and longing for God.

Just as the church exists for the glory of God, we ought to use (or NOT to use) the curriculum for the glory of God. That is why a prayerful heart and a discerning mind will be the best senses for the Sunday School class each time they met. Such an attitude will transcend curriculum by many miles, to the point that curriculum or not, we still desire to seek and love God.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Aftermath of Major Storm in Vancouver

Last night's storm hit Vancouver hard. At winds above 100km per hour, trees and power lines were felled. Many suffered power outages, and many traffic lights were either not working or were mangled up. When I stopped at a red light today, there was a metal arrow sign hanging treacherously above my car, dangling only on a single metal strap which can break anytime.

Just yesterday afternoon, my kids were excitedly telling us that a major storm will be hitting Vancouver in the late evening. Some schools announced that they will be closed on Friday.

With the winds howling, I woke up at 3AM as the winds not only rattled the windows in our apartment, but blew lots of stuff outside along the roads. I was even wondering when tree branches will start flying in the air and damage cars and windows. I checked my kids and they were sound asleep. I was thinking about the homeless and the people out in the streets, and hoped that they will be able to find some shelter. My heart also goes out to those mending power lines and repairing the basic utilities for affected residents.

I learn that storms can be a terrifying event. As I drove along King Edward Road, I saw many tree casualties. On the radio, Lions Gate Bridge was closed. So was Stanley Park. When they say it is a serious storm, it is a serious storm. While many suffered loss of power, we were relatively more fortunate. We only lost our Internet connection.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bye Bye Christmas Tree Part II

So the protests are fast and furious.

The Canadian Muslim Congress has branded the Toronto judge's decision as "stupidity", and urged the return of the Christmas tree. They say correctly that "political correctness" instead of the Christmas tree should be banned. Ontario residents are peeved. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty describes the ban as unfortunate. News radio AM1130 shows a 93-94% of listeners (as of 3PM today) disagreeing with the judge's decision to ban the Christmas tree.

Back in 2002, there was a similar incident when people wanting not to offend non-Christians decided to call the Christmas Tree a "Holiday Tree" instead, leading to the mayor, a Jewish to order that the Christmas Tree should forever be named a "Christmas Tree."

Then-mayor Mel Lastman, who is Jewish, ordered staff to call it a Christmas tree. He then introduced a bylaw that prohibits the tree from being given any other name. (link)

It takes a Jew to protect the name of a Christmas tree. There is a better way to embrace multiculturalism. Instead of "negative actions", described by banning and disallowing the different expressions of culture, multicultural acceptance is is best exemplified by a "positive affirmation" by celebrating and recognizing that there are different periods during the year that is special to the individual groups. Like Veterans Day, Independence Day, Chinese New Year, different festivals of different religious groups, and of course Christmas. Those who understand the message and meaning of Christmas, will fully welcome the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of giving and sharing, of family ties and loving, of joy, peace and goodwill to all people. However, those who ban any symbols of Christmas, will miss out on the meaning and love of Christmas. What a pity if that were to happen.

Bye Bye Christmas Tree?

What's happening to Canadian society?

A Toronto judge has ordered the removal of a Christmas tree from the lobby of a provincial courthouse because it is a "Christian symbol" that it "alienates people of other creeds and traditions." This decision is not a unique one. One was also removed in a Seattle airport when a local rabbi "asked to have an 8-foot menorah displayed" next to the Christmas tree (see picture).

Has secularisation and the desire to please people of other religions gone to the other extreme? In the first place, a Christmas tree is no closer to the Christian faith, than an Easter bunny to a rock on the moon. Secondly, even if it is true that a Christmas tree is a Christian symbol, it is only put up during the Christmas season. Who would put up a Christmas tree in the middle of a temple of another religion, or during the hot summer months where Christmas is not celebrated? Thirdly, by deciding not to offend the religions of the other faiths, have the court considered the act as offensive to the Christian people, when the judge base the decisions on "Christian symbols"? I find it absurd even to think that it is ok to offend Christians while it is not ok to offend non-Christians. Double standards.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Movie: Akeelah and the Bee (great movie)

"Akeelah and the Bee" is an exceptionally heartwarming film. My kids were all thoroughly enthralled by it. It is about an 11 year old girl who has an exceptional talent for remembering and spelling all kinds of words. Her talent was discovered early in school and soon, the film depicts her journey towards to finals in the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition. While there is rivalry and competitiveness in the film, what is most powerful in the film is the humanness that is inside all of us. While we all wanted to win, we badly want to love as well.

The quotation below marked the beginning of Akeelah's journey towards getting into the championshops of the Spelling Bee.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
" (**)

The conclusion of the movie is touching and shows us a lot about competition and its potential to bring out the worse in people. People say competition is good in terms of getting the best quality work done. However, it can often become bad when competitors backstab one another in order to stay ahead. The movie very carefully teaches us, that competitiveness can bring out the best in people, if one learns to see that winning or losing is not everything. Love and appreciating one another for who they are matters more.

While some people tend to treat "Being the Best" as the one and only person, Akeelah and her archrival Dylan became not only great sparring partners but cheered each other on to do their best, without hoping to win on the basis of the opponent's weakness but on their own strengths. We need such an attitude in this world of cutthroat competitive environment in almost everything. Competition becomes bad, when people seek to win at all costs, even at the expense of another person. If competition can bring out not only the technical best of each person, but the best humanity, where competitors cheer one another on to do their respective best, winning on the basis of merit rather than opponent's mistakes, it will make winning so much more meaningful. Moreover, friendships can be forged even at a competitive level.

Go watch the movie and be inspired.


** Marianne Williamson, Return to Love (Peter McLaughlin: Harper Collins, 1992), 191-192.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


One of Simone Weil's insight drives home an important point in education.

School children and students who love God should never say: 'For my part I like mathematics' ; 'I like French'; 'I like Greek.' They should learn to like all these subjects, because all of them develop that faculty of attention which, directed towards God, is the very substance of prayer.

Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD) is a problem that is affecting a lot of modern school going children. Interestingly, a recent research shows that ADHD is NOT caused by frequent TV watching, caffeine, high sugar, or poor school results. In fact, what is true is that nobody really knows what causes it. Some say genetics, others say environment and so on. I am no psychologist, but I do observe that all people do get into some form of minor depression after 1.5 to 2 hours of watching TV or playing computer games. That TV and modern electronic devices are changing a person's capacity to pay attention must not be ignored. No evidence to prove a direct link does not mean there is no link.

Elia, J., Ambrosini, P.J., & Rapoport, J.L.(1999). Treatment of Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. The New England Journal of Medicine. 340,(10), 780-788.

Based on the empirical findings, it would seem that the genetic component is more probable at this stage of research. While the scientific and medical community continues to research in the areas of attention deficit, we must not forget that faith is not to be overlooked. If we ask our Father for bread, would He give us a stone? Likewise, if we ask for faith, God will give.

Prayer is a time in which we are able to pay attention to God. Lay hold of attentiveness, for I sense that many of us has a spiritual form of ADHD, with so many different types of distractions.How many times have we in our state of anxiety, panicked over missed deadlines or despair over work undone and in the process, tried to tie up our loose ends on human strength? How often have we allowed our frantic selves to look at all channels other than God? Chances are, we tried to do God's work in our own strength that leads to burn out. Pray often, for in prayer, we not only draw on the greatest power but we also develop that spiritual attentiveness, so essential to discernment and spiritual wisdom from above.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

25 Reading Strategies from Dr Bob

My faithful readers,

This is a very helpful "How to Read" blog. I wish I had this earlier. I enjoy especially Strategy #22, the part about reading a boring book.

Thanks to Julio's blog.

p/s: This is my first post using Google Beta. Cool features.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Regent Paper Writing Template (cool download)

I have prepared a template adapted from the "Guide to Paper Format for All Courses" I received in Fall 2006. It has been formatted accordingly based on Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.. Use it as my service to you Regent Students.

Here is the link.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Death be not Proud" - John Donne

I chose the film "Wit" as part of my theological interaction paper. Directed by Mike Nichols, the main character Dr Vivian Bearing was powerfully portrayed by Emma Thompson. When I borrowed the tape, the librarian reminded me to have a box of Kleenex tissues on hand as the film is a weeper.

Dr Bearing was a Professor in the arts, a top authority in 17th Century poetry, espcially John Donne. Hard, demanding and uncompromising, she gained herself a famous reputation. Right from the beginning of the film, she was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic Ovarian cancer, and the rest of the film was about her struggles and observations of how she was treated as the medical professionals began her chemotherapy treatment.

One of the oft quoted poems was the one below by John Donne. She learnt it from her former professor, she recited and taught it in class, and eventually in her dying moments continued to recite it by heart. The verse numbers are included for ease of reference. At her death, the film played back her recitation of the poem, defying death's hold on her, that once she dies, death indeed shall be no more.
1 Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
2 Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
3 For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
4 Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
5 From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
6 Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
7 And soonest our best men with thee do go,
8 Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
9 Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
10 And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
11 And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
12 And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
13 One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
14 And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

The film is a scathing rebuke on the medical research community, and people who put research above human compassion, treating Dr Bearing like a mere research subject. The film ended wonderfully, with Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Rabbit. Strange that at the dying moments, Dr Bearing did not want to be read John Donne's famous poem, but a simple children's story. The director puts a brilliant contrast with Medical research vs Literary Arts, Research-Focus vs Human Compassion, and high-style poems vs children's story.

My heart was moved.


Friday, December 01, 2006

"Familiarity Breeds Contempt" - origins?

This is going to be a nightmarish weekend for me. have to rush out 2 major papers plus 1 smaller one. I cannot recall where I read it. The following is something which is brewing in my mind. It tells the origin of the saying: "Familarity breeds contempt" which I thought has a nice logical flow. Here is what I can piece together the ideas gleaned.

"Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity.
Unfamiliarity breeds ignorance.
Ignorance breeds Avoidance
Avoidance breeds Contempt."

That's how we get Familiarity breeds Contempt!

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