Wednesday, May 30, 2007

News from Malaysia

1) Lina Joy, arguably Malaysia's most well known Christian convert. Born a Muslim, the local courts just had her request to drop 'Muslim' from her identity card rejected. This seems to be rather unacceptable in the eyes of the West, where the freedom to practice one's life and faith is sacrosanct. Not in Malaysia. Not if you are born a Muslim. The laws are so strict that one cannot even practice their chosen religion freely, despite the willingness to be excommunicated from their communities. (For example, non-Muslims are not allowed to share non-Islamic religions with Muslims.) If one is born a non-Muslim in Malaysia, there are apparently choices to choose whatever religion one wishes. However, if one is born a Muslim, these rights are not applicable. Why the discrepancy? It all boils down to the definition of Muslim/Malay identity. For Muslim Malays, religion and ethnicity are tied so close together that it is anathema to think about separating them. Here lies one of the biggest defining reality of society in Malaysia. If one is a Chinese, there is a 65-75% chance that one is Buddhist/Taoist. If one is an Indian, there is a 55-70% chance of being Hindu. If one is an Eurasian, or caucasian parents, one is most likely a Christian. There is also one more rising influence: Secularism. By birth, one may have their religion chained to their ethnicity. However, in practice, many more people have chosen the religion of materialism and secularism. Sadly, this is one way in which the different races 'unite' or share a common destiny.

It is important here to remember that Malaysia has gone through many years of racial and ethinic tensions which have frequently led to violence. This episode is not merely an individual freedom issue of Lina Joy. It is a potent mix of racial and religious tensions which can be easily ignited by radical religious fundamentalists. Ultimately, for the ruling powers, it is all about retaining control up the ranks. The best thing that Christians can do is to pray. Pray for peace. Pray for proper sense. Pray for the right moment to speak against injustice for all persons, not only Christians. Let consistency be so genuine, that Christians are not people who simply stand for rights of Christians, but of people in society. Speak against the social ills of the country. Stand up against powers which threaten the livelihood of the poor and weak. In the meantime, it is important not to let emotions take control. Let prayer be the guiding methodology and lifestyle. For through prayer, God gives wisdom and knowledge. Through prayer, God's hands move in ways hands cannot move. In prayer, the peace which passes all understanding will dwell in the hearts of many.

1) Houston Chronicle
2) The Australian
3) Aliran

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Confidentiality and the Courts

This is a tricky situation. Reuters was ordered (Friday, 25 May 2007)) to reveal its confidential source for a business case, by a Singapore court of law. According to Reuters,
"It is Reuters policy to protect the confidentiality of our sources," Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger said.
According to the Singapore law, it was said that:
Singapore law does not recognise the right of journalists to protect the identity of their sources, which is enshrined in the laws of many countries protecting freedom of expression, as well as recognised by the European Court of Human Rights.
It looks like a double-bind. If Reuters were to stick to its confidentiality clause, the reporter will have to be jailed for refusing to obey the court's directive. If Reuters were to allow the reporter to reveal the sources, it will mean loss of credibility for the news agency. Either way, Reuters is stuck. The only way out, is for the sources themselves to release Reuters from the confidentiality clause agreement. My feelings are mixed. It may work this time in terms of getting the information out. However, there will be a risk that in future, information sources will not be willing at all to talk to anybody, in Singapore! Who will then be willing to share information? Will this incident encourage individuals and corporations to be willing to share pertinent information? What will happen to people, for whatever reasons, needs to remain anonymous and yet the information needs to be disseminated safely? Will it lead to people who are already normally clammed up about sharing information, becomes even more clammed up? What if there is a legitimate reason to remain anonymous, but the court orders the anonymous sources to be disclosed? How can we resolve this ethical dilemma?

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Some say that the church should be more relevant to the culture and surrounding society: Address felt needs, adapt message to audience, be encouraging and non-confrontational.

Others say that the church should instead not be too focused on being relevant, but being faithful to the biblical truth first. That one should not compromise biblical truth, that one should not be worldly minded, and be concerned more with the truth rather than making this truth 'relevant' to the world, according to world understanding.

Who is correct?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jolt Quote IX

"For the truth of the matter is that naked beliefs offer little consolation under the worst experiences of suffering and evil." (How Long O Lord?, DA Carson, p20)

Humility is needed in all our living, in both good and bad times. Doctrines held on tightly during good times, can be utterly painful during times of pain. Carson, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity, draws us into the deep valleys of pain and grief, and tests our scholastic theology with reality, dealing with it sensitively. He warns Christians against hiding in false security that leads to destructive ends. Ignorance and Arrogance are two of the most deceitful ways Christians face when dealing with pain and suffering.

Fact of the matter is we do not draw comfort from right thinking or right beliefs. If comfort is drawn from 'right thinking', what about the mentally challenged? If comfort comes from 'right beliefs', how do we make sense of bad things happening to good people? Good thinking and good believing has its place. However, most critically, we draw comfort from a right relationship, one that bathes in the showers of God's grace. Like a welcome sprinkle gulp spring water on a hot dry day, or fresh rain for a parched dying land, God's love comes to us in moments we least expected. We can ask: How Long, O Lord?, and it is that waiting, that anticipating and that hoping that keeps our weary and suffering souls looking towards heaven and prays: "Come Lord Jesus. Come soon".

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed." (Rom 8:18-19)

A sermon on 'not to worry'

Isn't it ironic that Christians who profess faith, are also the very people who struggle with worry and anxiety? I am constantly on a lookout for ways to relieve my self-anxiety. One of these ways is to enjoy good sermons that preaches against worry. I like this particular one.

My own reflection on anxiety is found here which I blogged on May 1st this year.


Friday, May 18, 2007

What I am Reading

I am reading Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev. His usage of words and attention to details are most profound. Observations are made in short simple sentences and nouns are repeated in a fascinating spiral manner. He makes words come alive. "I grew up encrusted with lead and spectrumed with crayons." epitomizes his artistry with words and natural colours. Potok writes as if he is drawing a literary art.

As for repetition, just read his description of his own drawing and you will know what I mean.
The drawing felt incomplete. It bothered me to have it incomplete. I closed my eyes and looked at the drawing inside myself, went over its contours inside myself, and it was incomplete. (p34)
Chapter 1 ended pretty abruptly: "I had stopped drawing." One phase has closed. It opens another. be continued....

Bringing in the Church vs Bringing in the Kingdom

The biggest tragedy in churches today is that they are too busy "bringing in the church" rather than "bringing in the kingdom of Christ". (R Paul Stevens)

Stevens, a strong proponent of 'Everyday Spirituality' is right on target. We should never dichotomize Christian work apart from other forms of work. One of the most perplexing things Christians do, is to distinguish one's work in terms of Full-time vs Part-time. The phrase, "I am going into Full-Time work for Christ", seems to be a very strange proposition. You mean, there is such a thing as a part-time Christian? The vocabulary we use in our Christian conversations leaves behind much to be desired. We are too influenced by the world that we fail to take charge of our own usage of Christian truths. The terms Full-time and Part-time are not only misleading but a harmful one as far as faith is concerned. Theologically, we learn from Colossians 3:23 that
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (NIV)
If we are serious about practicing this verse as honestly as possible, we will know that there is no such thing as a part-time Christian. Likewise, theologically, there is no such thing as a part-time Christian ministry. All of us who profess to be disciples of Christ are already in Full-time ministry. A big difference is whether we are paid or not. Paid ministers are like Old Testament Levites who get their pay from a central fund from the rest of the tribal community. This is essential so that the Levites can focus on the temple and sacramental works for the community, while the rest of the tribes busy themselves with other forms of work. Note that there is no distinction whether there are part-time or full-time. It was simply accepted that that is the role in society they play. The expectation that pastors or Christian workers ought to be doing more, simply because they are paid, is a pagan belief, that is rather harmful. Should one behave differently when paid vs one that is not paid? You mean there is a monetary equivalant of God's gift? With expectations like this, will it not coerce one to behave in manners that is not himself/herself? This is one of the biggest problems of ministry work, where Nouwen describes workers as being Wounded Healers. Expectations must come with grace. Grace motivates. Grace forgives. Grace brings in the kingdom to us, and releases the kingdom within us. Grace is action in love. Like Bonhoeffer's warning against "Cheap Faith", we must be wary of churches that is looking for a "Cheap Deal". Unfortunately, there are churches that say one thing but behaves otherwise.

Not a Job but a Fit
It is common to find Churches that put up advertisements asking for spiritual superpeople. They want people with the best experience, the most relational, the most teachable, one who preaches well, one who is prepared to serve the most, and paid the least and so on. It is sad that on the one hand, they acknowledge that people are imperfect, yet by their very asking, they expect people to be perfect, or close to perfection, otherwise they will be branding the prospective applicant as 'underqualified.' There is a story of a person, who was rejected for a pastoral position because he is deemed to be 'underqualified'. I am appalled that such a statement is ever made. Theologically, we are all underqualified. That is why we need to live by grace. If one person is underqualified, the entire body is underqualified, as the weakest part of the body represents the archilles heel of the body. The kingdom of God accepts every member, even the smallest. The kingdom of the earthy church accepts only the most 'qualified' member to take on the role of the pastor of the church. This earthy (Earthly means church on earth; earthy means church behaving in worldly manner) church reflects the problem not with the person concerned but with the whole church concerned. What is that church trying to communicate? I suggest that part of the problem is that greater emphasis on bringing in the church rather than bringing in the kingdom. Church leaders can sometimes take their responsibililites too far, to see it as THEIR decisions that make-or-break, forgetting that the church belongs to the Lord.

Getting a good pastor is important, no doubt about it. What is more important is the recognition that the pastor is but another member of the body of Christ. No more and no less. People who are searching for pastors should not be looking for a job but a fit. The best pastors may not fit the church's culture. Likewise, the best church structure may not be suitable for all kinds of experienced pastors. In fact the best fit is never in terms of skill-sets or qualifications. The best fit is in terms of where the security of the seeking pastor and the seeking church lies in. A pastor who finds security in a job is not a good fit. Likewise, a church who finds security in a spiritual superpastor is in for further church problems. The best fit happens when the Holy Spirit moves the church committee and applicant to see beyond the resume/job description, but in terms of the vision/mission of the church, and how best to help the whole church be a faithful expression of that vision/mission, at the right time, at the right mood and at the right spirit.

The basic qualification is in verb forms and not nouns. It is not the label but the spiritual qualities of hospitality, the expression of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Whenever a church places more focus on the noun-forms rather than verb-expressions, they risk traveling along the wrong path. One can have the best seminary qualifications but fail miserably as a church worker. One can have very minimal training and yet ministers well in church. What then is the difference? The Holy Spirit's unction. The committee must pray. The church must pray. The applicants must pray. They must seek God from the beginning to the end, that the next applicant is not merely another object to put into the departing pastor's 'big shoes'. Neither is he to be a spiritual supermen to solve the many problems of the church. The whole church community must pray to listen to what God is speaking to them first before going on a search spree.

"But the church is in trouble. We need a good pastor to beef it up." some may argue. Well, if God is for the Church, who can be against it? If our focus is on these superspiritual men to lead and 'save' the church, where then is grace? Where is the humble Christ in the church? Perhaps churches looking for pastors should NOT even put out a job description publicly. All priority must be constantly focused on living well, interacting well and most importantly, being faithful and prayerful. I have heard stories of faith, where individuals simply spent their time praying and seeking and asking God for the right description and the right moment for the next worker in Christ. "Prayed into being" is what the church need. Otherwise, the church is practically more interested in "bringing in the church" rather than "bringing in the kingdom". For the kingdom of God is of righteousness, peace and joy in the Spirit. (Rom 14:17b)


Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Gospel According to Google

I conducted a technology seminar on Tuesday night for my Church here. The attendance and attention to the session was indeed an experience of grace for me. The church was very warm and people came in droves, and there was hardly room to add additional chairs. After a short time of getting together with tea/coffee, Randy and Steve led us in singing a few songs of praise and worship. I gave a few word of thanks to the hosts, to my supervisor and the many who turned up to want to learn. Then I started with Colossians 1, to direct people's attention to the word of truth, hoping to let people know that we ought to be concerned with truth that spreads throughout the world, and to be wary of contagious untruths.

The title of the seminar is catchy. It is intentional as it gives a new flavour to the more formal title Technology and the Christian. My purpose is to help Christians be more aware of the technologies around and not remain as passive consumers but thinking disciples of Christ, to be conscious that human beings are tool-using creatures, and there is nothing to be afraid about being 'technologically-challenged'. Focusing on three aspects of technology, I zoomed in on a) Attention; b) Language; and c) Stories. The rest of the seminar contained my personal stories about technology in terms of these three categories. Many of the listeners were sharing about their struggles and the challenges they face about technology. I tried to show them that throughout the different generations, technology has always been in use, and as we try to build a church together, we ought to learn the language used by different groups and different generations. This is critical because a church without the participation of any one generational group is like a book with some pages torn out. When I led everyone towards a journey through the generations, there was lots of nodding of recognition of the different symbols and language of the different generations represented.

I felt that I have only touched the tip of the iceberg, as there are apparently a lot of interest in this particular area. It was a good evening of fellowship and learning, for the people who came, including myself.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Rights and Responsibilities

"What is the point of standing up for your rights in a world where few stand up for their responsibilities? Your rights will do you little good unless others are responsible." (Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy, p10)

How very true. Put it another way, if more people were to take responsibilities of their own lives, will we have a constant rush of people crying out in defence of their personal rights? Rights can be championed so much that responsibilities become pushed to the background. Isn't it true that when fewer people live responsible lives, more people felt compelled to form picket lines to stand for their rights. "Stand up!" they say, "and fight for your rights." More often then not, such attempts are met with a helpless shrug and at best a sympathetic clap or a honk. Such actions are like trying to fill an empty swimming pool with a toy water-pistol. Whatever liquid squirted on the dry floor gets evaporated quickly by the rays of nonchalence, that says: "That's not my problem." Apathy some may say. Agony, others may feel. Apostasy! That is the main problem. When one loses their spiritual compass, everything goes, including their faith in basic life and lifestyle. When one forsakes their spiritual goal of their lives, everything else goes into a spin without a moral direction.

Another problem is that the current religious teachings are not rubbing the right spot of discontent. People still get fears of having to sell their brains to a religious enterprise. I have heard lots of people say to me: "I'm not a religious man, I am a spiritual man." This is like telling me, I am still searching for spiritual truth, but definitely not choosing the religious route.

PROBLEM: An individualistic Cocoon
The current push for rights rather than call for responsibilities stem also from the individualistic mindset. People simply fear stepping into another person's private space, (even to get them to do the responsible thing.) Probably, they are not comfortable in others imposing values on them, that is why they do not want to impose values of others.

In order to start addressing this problem of rights over responsibilities, there is no easy solution. Perhaps there is no human solution as it is an embedded problem all along: Sin. What has sin got to do with rights and responsibilities? In the infamous seven deadly sins, seven sins were listed. Traits of all of them are present in this rights-responsibilities imbalance. For now, I can think of at least one of them: Sloth.


Monday, May 07, 2007

Jolt Quote VIII (On Happiness)

I met Dr James Houston today. Ever gentle and charming, he exuberates that natural welcome that is rather special. Though he is a busy man, he is still very much a person who lives very intentionally, and relationally. I recall one of his books where he wrote on happiness.

"Happiness is not a product, nor even a personal achievement. It is this commodity mentality that underlies the drug culture as well as the consumerism that threatens to destroy our world. The commodity mentality breeds self-interest, turning us against each other in suspicion and selfishness. Instead, happiness is the fruit of a gifted life, of goodness received from others, and love given and shared. Happiness can only come our way when we have a strong life in relationship with others." (James Houston, In Pursuit of Happiness, p8)

Great quote. A gifted life that recognizes the beauty of true self. The gift of friends, who dances with us and invites us not to be afraid to make mistakes as long as we are willing to try, as they encourages each other towards good workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. The presence of love which makes everything that seemed toilsome, all worthwhile. James Houston is a living embodiment of what it means to live a good spiritual life. Like him, I do not see myself as a happy person. I live more days looking unhappy rather than happy. Maybe I am being honest with myself. Maybe I am less interested in pretending. But does that mean I am less Christian? I don't think so. God made me who I am, and if it is in this current disposition, I may look sad, but I am deeply thankful.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spiderman III

Our whole family went down to Richmond Centre today to watch the afternoon matinee: Spiderman III. It has been a long while since our last movie together, and it was good. All of us enjoyed it, and my wife even said this is the best of the Spiderman movies. One of my favourite scenes happens to be the light-hearted French restaurant moment where the French-speaking staff tries to 'help' Peter Parker set up the marriage proposal stage to MJ. Alas, the proposal fell through, but I thought it was funny how the whole effort to make it a romantic evening took quite a humourous twist. The special effects were good and pretty realistic. However, it did not explain scientifically a number of things. What the black gooey stuff was, how it gets transferred to another guy, and the many effects of the transformation of Sandman. The audience simply has to guess. The romance factor was ticklish but the newer girl in the block, Stacy, tends to be a slight distraction, and the character fades away pretty quickly as the plot follows. What a waste. Most memorable of the movie is the short one-liners that drove home the need to make the right choices. For me, that is worth the price of admission.

Memorable quotes from Spiderman III.
"It's the choices we make that makes us who we are, and we always have a choice to do what is right."

"I forgive you." (where all forms of weapons and resistance failed, these three words is more than enough to make Sandman go away)

The movie gets my thumbs-up for good, wholesome family entertainment.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Hurried Child Syndrome

In "The Hurried Child", Dr David Elkind calls us to take note of the dangers of exposing children to a life of 'overwhelming pressures" for it can lead to lower self-esteem. By expecting children to "grow up too fast too soon", they will tend to immitate adult sophistication and hide their natural childlike innocence. Quoting Alvin Toffler, the author digs into the background of the modern stress faced by young children. "The new society required mobility. It needed workers who would follow jobs from place to place. Torn apart by migration to the cities, battered by economic storms, families strip themselves of unwanted relatives, grew smaller, more mobile, more suited to the needs of the workplace."

Elkind observes that the pressures on middle-class children began in early childhood, with people putting extreme respect for child prodigies. Young geniuses like Terence Tao are revered. People do have a knack for promoting 'miniature adults' so much that the kids may miss out on the joys of being a kid! Elkind writes:
"Chief among them is the pressure for early intellectual attainment, deriving from a changed perception of precocity. Several decades ago precocity was looked upon with great suspicion. Early ripe, early rot is seen as evidence of bad parenting." (David Elkind, The Hurried Child,6)
For Elkind, creating 'miniature adults' is a bad idea. Instead it is important to give children space and time to grow, and develop at their natural pace. The problem of the hurried children that leads to stressed children is due to the Four dynamics of hurrying: Parents, Schools, Media, Lapware, brain research and Internet. Parents unwittingly become self-centered when stressed and transfer this to their kids, to keep up with their neighbours' children. Schools through tests and exams are inadequate measurements of a child's progress. Elkind then attacks the media using statistics to show how much programming has been targeted at children (a vulnerable group), and urged reading as an 'antidote' to watching TV. Finally, he talks about the use of the modern technology which hurries children by having adults putting kids on their lap to look at the computer together as 'lapware'. What happens to good old days of playing marbles in a patchy ground, rather than clicking digital images on the LCD computer screen?

These four reasons are pretty compelling.

- Grow up slowly
- Learning to be social
- Learn how children react to stress
- Need to help already-hurried children

Interestingly there are people who reacted to Dr Elkind's thesis of a hurried child. For instance, Lynott & Logue argues that there are three problems with such a thesis. Firstly, the statistics used by Elkind are historically limited. Secondly, it fails to identify who the hurried children are. Thirdly, there is a negative bias in the work and it uses a deterministic model. Based on the three problems, they conclude that the "Hurried Children" is a myth, which is untrue for a 'large majority' of children in America.

While I think it is a somewhat valid technical critique on the methodology, Elkind's work should motivate us to be more actively involved in the education and growth of our children. We should become more mindful about the four dynamics of hurrying, especially for those parents who are too busy not to think. On the other side of the coin, Lynott & Logue helps us not to fall into the other extreme of paranoia over the "Hurried Children" syndrome. Elkind's work ought to be seen as a good wake-up call especially for middle-class working parents who hardly have time to spend with their children. Whatever it is, both viewpoints should highlight the increasing need for parents and children to be in relationship that is open, two-way and frequent. This is not easy but has to be done. Otherwise, how can we obey the instructions like:

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (Proverbs 22:6)
Both sociological viewpoints described above lacks the positive punch of what then shall we teach the child? The biblical way is proven through the centuries. Here in this verse, the verb 'Train' is in a commanding tone, while the verbs pertaining to the child is in the 'imperfect' tense. The imperfect tense means an action that is incomplete. There is a notion of some things that the parents cannot control. It is like the parents can only prepare the children up to a certain point. After that the child will have to walk his own way. That puts the importance not to be too content-driven but to be more process-driven in our educational aspects. This is like not feeding or overfeeding a man but to teach the man how to fish. Life skills is more important than being able to compress millions of bits into a small mind. Such life skills can be best imparted by observing how each child is wired. One of the best ways is through play, and constant communication. That's the imperative for parents not to be a sage by the stage but to be a guide by the side.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Jolt Quote VII

"Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." (GK Chesterton)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

On Prayer

(picture courtesy of Riverside Church)
From time to time, I do experience moments of anxiety. Some people call me a worrier, and I do not dispute that. I worry a lot about the future. It is however in those time of helplessness, and worry that draw me closer to God in prayer. Any prayer if used as a request-answering mechanism is not true prayer. Prayer must always be from God's perspective. Praying in Jesus's name is essentially putting our needs and desires aside, and laying them in front of the heavenly father, and trusting him to decide which to take care or which to temporarily put aside. It is not the answering, but the trusting that binds our hearts with God. I have been thinking of Paul's exhortation to the Philippians.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)"

I am searching for the cure for anxiety. This verse is a gem, but it needs to be injected daily, for anxiety is a chronic spiritual ailment. It affects the body's functions and the emotional complexes for the worse. It affects relationship with God and with others. That is why memorizing this verse and playing it in our heads everyday is a good remedy. Perhaps it could be a life-saver!

PHIL 4:6-7
This verse exhorts us decide which side of the see-saw to stand on. The word 'but' is a turning point for the worse or for the better. It is a decision we have to make. Either we worry about everything, or we do not let our worries consume our whole being. Paul however does not mean we do nothing. He simply says we do not spend our energies to worry and be anxious. Instead, the attitude of the believer is to cast everything before God in prayer and in thanksgiving. That is interesting, as I think about what are the things we worry about. I can think of one pertinent point, that our anxiety stems from worrying about things we do not have. Thanksgiving on the other hand is concerned with gratitude for things we do have. This thread is common. Often we tend to think that the grass is greener on the other side. That is frequently a false notion. Worrying about things we do not have causes us to mindless hallucination about negative future, a future that is bleak and does not reflect the reality of the power of the Cross. On the other hand, thanksgiving is being grateful for the present and past, and gratitude prepares our hearts to please God in advance for the future! What a promise! That is done in prayer. For in prayer, we cannot afford to be dishonest. We cannot hide our deeds or our thoughts. We appear open and naked before God. This reminds me about Mark Twain's oft-quoted words about understanding Scripture.
"Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand. But as for me, I always notice that the passages of Scripture which trouble me most, are those that I do understand" (Mark Twain)

This attitude contains elements of Phil 4:6-7 within it. If we are able to give thanks and pray to God about what we already know or do understand, God will help us take care of those we have yet to come to understand. This is the essence of living a non-anxious life. This is what I need to learn more and more.


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