Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jolt Quote XVIII (Three from Simone Weil)

"The soul's natural inclination to love beauty is the trap God most frequently uses in order to win it and open it to the breath from on high."

"Beauty is a fruit which we look at without trying to seize it."

"Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace. "

(French Philosopher, Simone Weil)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Love Favourite... (a special Valentine song for my darling wife)

I love this song. The lyrics are endearing. Isn't love more profound when communications between a husband and wife transcends words? This song is entitled: "When You Say Nothing At all" sung by Allison Krauss. Her angelic voice sprinkles the words into showers of beauty.

It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word you can light up the dark
Try as I may I could never explain
What I hear when you don't say a thing

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There's a truth in your eyes sayin' you'll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall
You say it best when you say nothing at all

All day long I can hear people talking out loud
But when you hold me near, you drown out the crowd
Old Mr. Webster could never define
What's being said between your heart and mine

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There's a truth in your eyes sayin' you'll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall
You say it best when you say nothing at all

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There's a truth in your eyes sayin' you'll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall
You say it best when you say nothing at all.

ks loves mary

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Some Thoughts & Snippets on "Blue Like Jazz"

Book Title: Blue Like Jazz – Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality
Author: Donald Miller
Published: Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

This book is essentially a memoir, a kind of spiritual journaling that describes the author’s personal struggles. This occurs in an environment hostile to traditional religions, but greatly receptive to forms of spirituality that is perceived as genuine. Beginning with his sudden marvel about jazz music, something which he has never understood, he leads readers to follow along his own personal tussles and how he was able to emerge out of ‘religion’ into authentic spirituality.

His book subtitle speaks volumes about his intent. ‘Nonreligious thoughts’ appeals to an increasingly popular stance of “I am not religious but I am spiritual.” The term 'nonreligious' needs to be understood properly. It is not simply secular. It simply means non-traditional, or non-institutional. The author is not lumping new age or non-Christian religions into the pot, though he does dabbles into various new age religions in the process. Honesty and authenticity form the punctuation marks of the book. Miller represents the pool of people who on the one hand, hates the hypocrisy of traditional religions yet on the other, hesitates from abandoning the links with the church at large. He traces his spiritual pilgrimage by digging deep into his soul, hating the dirt that was excavated, and bemoans the spiritual crater that he finds hollow and shallow. Coming from a broken family, his image of God is shaped by an earthly father who abandoned his children at a tender age. God and religion fail to mix in his inner vessel.

He learned from watching television that there is both good and evil in this world, in contrast to sermons he hear that totally condemns television. He realizes that life is not exactly a physical “good vs evil,” but whether one is worthy to make that call in the first place.

“I rage against American materialism in the name of altruism, but have I even controlled my own heart?” (22)

His Struggles
He grew up in a church where he hears the gospel as if they were like supernatural pills. Life essentially has so many problems that the fastest way to resolve them is through magical solutions. He revolts against ‘Sunday-School Christianity,’ which reduces Christianity to a series of simple Bible stories that is intellectually naïve. In the adult version, he speaks out against the use of Christian conversion as the solution toward all of life’s problems.

His time at Reed College represents a shift in his life perspective. He was intrigued with human-rights groups, which moved his focus from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. Through his interactions with Christians on campus, who shared not only their faith but their lives, Miller found redemption for his Christian faith.

His story about Don Rabbit is interesting and humourous.

“There was once a rabbit named Don Rabbit. Don Rabbit went to Stumptown Coffee every morning. One morning at Stumptown, Don Rabbit saw Sexy Carrot. And Don Rabbit decided to chase Sexy Carrot. But Sexy Carrot was very fast. And Don Rabbit chased Sexy Carrot all over Oregon. And all over America, all the way to New York City. And Don Rabbit chased Sexy Carrot all the way to the Moon. And Don Rabbit was very, very tired. But with one last burst of strength, Don Rabbit lunged at Sexy Carrot. And Don Rabbit caught Sexy Carrot. And the moral of the story is that if you work hard, stay focused, and never give up, you will eventually get what you want in life.

Unfortunately, shortly after this story was told, Don Rabbit choked on the carrot and died. So the second moral of the story is:

Sometimes the things we want most in life are the things that will kill us.”

Miller was trapped. Caught in the whirlwind of romanticizing his new found Christianity, he found himself choking under the guise of doing things not because they are the right thing to do, but doing things on the basis of whether he liked or not liked doing it. He is horrified to realize his over-reliance on self-addiction to do the right things, even the things of God.

Calling himself once a fundamentalist, he obeyed the routines of spiritual disciplines, faithfully doing all the religious things expected of him. He learned about grace, that “a beggars’s kingdom is better than a proud man’s delusion.’ Love rather than strict religious duties should motivate obedience. (86)

He then deals with doubts by experimenting with other religions, eventually realizing that it was due to boredom that led him to read other religions. He sees himself as “I had the image of a spiritual person, but I was bowing down to the golden cows of religiosity and philosophy.” (94)

His next spiritual change occurred as he learned to surrender to God’s grace rather than seeking God’s grace via good works. He has progressed from intellectual skepticism to a deeper, emotional and authentic Christianity. In meeting Jesus, he learns to move out of his selfish personal chamber of food-shelter-happiness toward cultivating passions for “justice, grace and truth” and to share Jesus with others. Miller makes a distinction between “Christianity” and “Christian Spirituality” saying that only the latter excites him to share his faith. For him, “Christian Spirituality” is more relevant to the modern world, as the institutional church is increasingly out of touch with the ‘real’ world. Interestingly, it is with this perspective that he started to enjoy going to church, writing a whole chapter on “How I go (to church) without getting angry.” He is able to go to church meaningfully as he recognize what he dislike:
• He dislike people selling him ‘Jesus’, treating Jesus as a product
• He dislike the Church participating in politics, making the support of a political figure as synonymous with church identity
• He dislike churches trumpeting the need to go to just war situation.

Four things he liked drove him on.
1. Imago Dei is spiritual
2. It support the arts
3. Community
4. Authenticity

He learns how to go to church without getting angry. His formula for going to the right church is as follows (138)

  • Pray that God will show you a church filled with people who share your interests and values
  • Go to the church God shows you
  • Don’t hold grudges against any other churches. God loves those churches almost as much as He loves yours.

Marriage is like losing all your freedoms and gaining a friend. He describes his paths of contemplating getting into a relationship, his crush on a Canadian girl, marriage, community living and thoughts about money. He has interesting thoughts about technology, quoting Ravi Zacharius who said that technology is man’s new substitute for contemplating wonder about the divine.

He ends the book with a large section on love and Jesus. He is skeptical about modern day Christianity, and continues to differentiate between religious and the spiritual. He covers two chapters on love, a rough reflection on his dealings with love for others and love for self. This is the crux of his book. The need for loving others as well as self. He ends the book with love for Jesus.

Some Snippets

“The problem with Christian community was that we had ethics, we had rules and laws and principles to judge each other against. There was love in Christian community, but it was conditional love. Sure, we called it unconditional, but it wasn’t. There were bad people in the world and good people in the world. We were raised to believe this. If people were bad, we treated them as though they were either evil or charity: If they were bad and rich, they were evil. If they were bad and poor, they were charity. Christianity was always right; we were always looking down on everybody else. And I hated this. I hated it with a passion.” (215)

“Science has shown that the way people think about cancer affects their ability to deal with the disease, thus affecting their overall health.” (218)

“When I am talking to somebody there are always two conversations going on. The first is on the surface; it is about politics or music or whatever it is our mouths are saying. The other is beneath the surface, on the level of the heart, and my heart is either communicating that I like the person I am talking to or I don’t. God wants both conversations to be true. That is, we are supposed to speak truth in love. If both conversations are not true, God is not involved in the exchange, we are on our own, and on our own, we will lead people astray. The Bible says that if you talk to somebody with your mouth, and your heart does not love them, that you are like a person standing there smashing two cymbals together. You are only annoying everybody around you. I think that is very beautiful and true.” (221)

Do I like this book? In order to read this book fairly, I think we need to catalog the book properly as a memoir of his life. His experiences cannot be divorced from his growing up years of frustration at home, his exposure to churches that push simply solutions down the throat of unquestioning church members. His book is also partly a rebellion against the established church. More importantly, he is activating his "consciousness" and cries out for more authenticity for self, neighbour and God. Fortunately, he was able to anchor himself on Scriptures.

What is unfortunate is that he may have overplayed his "authenticity" card, without a equivalent treatment on human sin and human propensity to behave badly. If man is perfect, being authentic is natural. If man is fallen, being authentic does not necessarily being truthful. Who defines authenticity? Subjective feelings or behaviour? Or should there be some objectivity in it, to draw some boundaries so that one do not go to the extreme of seeing authenticity only in terms of feelings and emotions. I guess, his book appeals to a new generation who wants to be noticed, and who desires to question assumptions instead of merely accepting them. I am not against questioning and probing further for meaningful answers. We must always learn to know when to ask and when to refrain and live a life of acceptance. Just like asking a child not to play with knives or matches, for fear that they may harm themselves if they are not well taught.

We should not abandon tradition simply because we do not like it. They are there for a reason. They are there for giving us a good sense of identity. This book may be very interesting to read, but I will caution readers on accepting everything that was said as gospel truth. It is but one person's story.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A New kind of Chinese New Year?

Come February 7th, 2008 (Thursday), millions of people of Chinese ethnic origin, or who have some relationship with Chinese heritage will be celebrating the Lunar New Year (农历新年), welcoming the year of the Rat. It is also a tradition to welcome the Spring Festival. In many countries in Asia with a sizable Chinese population, there will be various events like the lion dance, fireworks and fire-crackers that colours the whole streets red, which is an auspicious colour. Even businesses that is open 7 days a week, will make this one exception to shut down during this festive period. Generous bonuses are sometimes given out.

At home, the New Year's Eve marks one of the most important traditional dinners, where family members are expected to come together for a sumptuous meal, preferably a steamboat. It is probably the most important dinner of the year. Many members of the family will make special effort to come for this meal, regardless of the distances.

Living in the West, Chinese New Year celebrations have largely been limited to places like Chinatown or shopping malls that have a large Chinese presence. Some have lamented that celebrating Chinese New Year overseas in the West is not the same as back home. If that was 10 years ago, I would have readily agreed. As many Chinese people become more exposed to the West, and the effects of busyness and easy travel packages, I think Chinese New Year is fast losing its meaning among the young and people who prefer convenience over all other things. Even in Asia, this tradition is fast losing its meaning.

Firstly, I have noticed a steady rise of people signing up for travel packages during this relatively longer holiday season. Some forgo the New Year's eve dinner, and the traditional visitations.

Secondly, as businesses become more competitive, many even stayed open throughout the festive season to cash in on the opportunities to increase sales. People used to say that during Chinese New Year, the only restaurants open are the Malay, Indian stalls and McDonalds! Not anymore. Some businesses give up tradition for their occupation. They surrender family togetherness for professional work. The justification is that, if the family does not make enough money, how can they then feed the family?

Thirdly, the wok is perceived as more work than worth. People find it more convenient to simply eat out and let the restaurants take care of the food preparation, the layout, the cleaning and the washing. All the family members needed to do is to show up and pay the bill after eating. Easy. Opportunities to build family closeness have been lost, save for that small 1-2 hour time at the dinner table. The justification is that it is much more convenient to avoid the work and the spend "quality time" at the dinner table. I wonder if these people have ever treated family time beyond the dinner table? Isn't it true that as one peels onions, another cut potatoes they communicate along the way, about their past year? Isn't it possible that as they prepare the rice, chop the garlic and wash the vegetables, they start to relax and commence casual chatting? Isn't it a time for them to learn from one another new recipes, even learning how to cook? Isn't it wonderful that as all family members chip in to help lay the tablecloth, arrange the chairs, cutlery and bring out the dishes, there is a certain sense of pride in doing that, serving one another in the family? Also, when it is time to clean up, the children gets to see how the adults help one another in clearing the dishes and in the process, they learn something about serving one another? During the dinner, those who have prepared the dinner can share about how the crab was cooked, or the vegetables were selected. They can talk about their rush in the market. They can share humourous experience or irritating moments during the days leading up to the New Year's dinner. They can appreciate that the food in front of them, came with a personal cost and dedication. That of love for the family. Is it not a pity when these moments are now becoming rare, even despised? People who gives up work for the sake of convenience are not only forsaking the 'troublesome' chores. They may have unwittingly lost precious moments to bond with each other.

I retain vivid memories of my younger days (during the 1970s) in my maternal grandmother's village in Malaysia. We lived in a simple house. Some draw water from the well (there is no tap). Some prepared the fire with firewood (there is no oven or gas stove). Some prepare the vegetables, meat and spices with busy activities, with fun and laughter. The men will help to arrange the tables and chairs. The young children play, but their older siblings will be given duties to do. Everyone plays a part. Life was simple without the latest equipment or technology. There were no cell phones to interrupt our conversations. Internet and the computers were unheard of. Nowadays, kids spend most of their time with their portable Gameboys or Nintendos. Some surf the net and come to the dinner table only when everything else is ready. We are breeding a new generation who thinks that time with technological devices are more important, than face to face with another human person.

Coming back to the idea of convenience. I think not everyone is ready to let go the pursuit of convenience. It may be cheap on the pocket and on time, but it is a price to pay in terms of another year lost. If the Chinese New Year traditional dinner is so important, we should not simply sub-contract them to others. There is a difference in climbing a mountain, compared to simply reaching the peak on a electrical tram. For the former, one uses the muscles and determination to reach the top. The the latter, one depends on technology to do all the work. The beauty and serenity of the mountain is reduced to its peak. (Those of us who believe that 'the process, not only the product' is equally important will understand.)

I have only mentioned three points, the travel, the businesses and the dinner table. There are lots of other traditional practices which I have not mentioned. Suffice to say that we are increasingly infected by a rising shift toward individualism (eg travel), opportunistic and to some extent greed (eg business), and to a large extent a culture of convenience/pragmatism. Put all of these three together, we will have concocted a crude cocktail that can erode tradition. When that happens, a part of the Chinese identity would have been lost.

Learn to cherish moments of togetherness not simply by eating together. Embrace those situations where "work" can become less burdensome when shared. Do cleanups together as a family. Let each member play a part. Not simply you-cook-I-eat but we all prepare, we all enjoy and celebrate our family heritage together. This is what makes Chinese New Year special. It will be a shame to lose that tradition.

All said, wherever you are, think and pray before we act. Do not blindly follow what other people are doing. Traveling abroad during this time may be a good time for family vacation, but it does little/even nothing to strengthen bonds with paternal and maternal family relations. For businesses, take care of your employees. Giving them days off to celebrate with their families can boost morale greatly. A simple dinner prepared with an earnest heart with one's own hands together with others, beat any posh dinner prepared by the best chefs. There could be moments where travel, or keeping businesses open, or going out for dinner can be more appropriate. However, we should limit it to an exception rather than the norm. If it becomes more frequent, we can say goodbye to tradition. Hold on to our tradition. It is not simply our heritage, it is part of our identity.

Have a Happy and meaningful year of the Rat.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Lovers of Discord"

Sometimes when we look at the Church and its continuing series of disputes and problems, we tend to ask ourselves: "Why can't good Christian people simply get along?" Some people prefer to swim on the shallow baby pool of "niceness," avoiding instead of engaging, saying nice words and things without wanting to be open. Some are too busy to want to be involved, thinking they have better things to do. Others think that they should stay out of anything that is controversial, to keep the peace. Those who choose to confront, and once they become badly bruised, they either leave or force their rivals to leave. If one does not engage the deep waters of consciousness based on conscience, how can a soldier of Christ compete in the Olympics of upholding the truth? After all, isn't the conscience, properly discerned, like God's direct message to our hearts?

Although Keith Clement's book, "Lovers of Discord", published in 1988 (he released a 2nd edition in 2002), details a study of the 20th Century theological controversies in England, it has significant implications not only for the North American churches, but for the Western educated. His main argument is that the roots of continuous religious conflicts within the church lies in "modern Western consciousness." His interest in theology was a result of a controversy per se. While the disputes usually have negative connotations, it can also be "educative" and "evangelistic." He identifies three distinct 20th Century patterns of theological controversies.

1) Disputes over historicity and authorship of Scriptures
2) Major Doctrinal questioning (cf 19th Century selected doctrines only)
3) Modern contexts have intensified previous controversies.

His arguments are compelling. The contexts are increasingly dominated by "consciousness." Religion is becoming more private than public. Religious institutions are quickly becoming irrelevant to society at large. Compared to the 19th Century, people are more prepared to question assumptions, even dogmas. This rising sense of "consciousness" is energizing people to become 'lovers of discord.' Hence, he predicts that in the future, we are going to see more controversies than ever, as this "western consciousness" spreads.
This continuing development has seasoned theological controversies. On the one hand, those who have felt led to question traditional forms of belief have often argued the necessity as lying in the unintelligibility of the old formulae and imagery to people of the modern age. The truth has to be expressed in a new way, the tradition has to be reinterpreted. On the other hand, the defenders of the old formulae have argued that it is the very distinctiveness - even their seeming archaism - which is their strength, that nothing will be gained and everything will be lost by any accommodation to contemporary fashions of thought. The former group want a faith with secular currency. The latter group want a faith which will impress the secular ethos precisely by its apparent strangeness. Both, in different ways, are responding to the phenomenon of secularisation. Their conflicting concerns, not always clearly articulated, are quickly fed into the programmes of theological dispute, lending heat, if not always light, to the debates." (Keith Clements, Lovers of Discord, 17-18)
One reason for controversies is when top Church leaders attempt to publicly restate Christian belief. Negative reactions will fuel the debate and create a controversy. For instance, Bishop John Robinson's work "Honest to God," in the sixties, in attempting to bridge the transcendence with the human perception of reality, questions (with honesty to himself) the theology of God, leading to him being lambasted by many, as a proponent for atheism. I think he is more likely a deist. While the ecclesiastical order was struggling to contain the damage, some in the public say that finally, someone is helping to express for them the cries for relevance. While Robinson was forced to resign, his example led to a wider acceptance of liberal theology, where doctrines can be safely questioned. Many theologians find this a fascinating opportunity to engage in continuous debates. I like his quote, which reminds us not to be part of rumour spreading.
"Heresy and hearsay are close cousins." (194)

According to the book of common prayer, "God is the author of peace and lover of concord." Is the sinful man, who is far from God, a regular participant in war and a lover of discord? Between the two, how then do we place the faithful Christian, or a Christian who tries to be faithful? Reading "Lovers of Discord" can be depressing. If Clements's observations are true, we should brace ourselves for more controversies, rather than less. Polemical documents will surpass pastoral letters, biblical criticism will outshine spiritual devotion. Both will happen in sheer quantity and quality. If that is the case, what then shall we do? Maturity. We need to be mature enough to accept that with rising education, challenging long-held assumptions is going to be a way of life. We need to be humble enough to recognize the diversity of opinions. We need to be wise and discerning on observing the boundaries of tradition that keeps us from swimming into shark infested waters of dangerous theology or risky theologizing. The visible landmarks of the past will be increasingly challenged and possibly eroded. What we need now, is not merely keeping them visible for the 21st Century, but we might need to erect new ones that are biblically sound, something that keeps the wandering consciousness in check. We should not pander to the shallow contemporary cries for relevance. Recognize this rise of modern "consciousness" openly. Creatively engage this new form credibly. Defend tradition passionately. Debate against bad theology actively. Impossible? No. That is what theological institutions must do. That is what theology students must do, apart from simply getting a degree. That is what the church must do. We cannot allow consciousness to continue to pull us apart by our noses. Good theology and good theologizing helps "conscientious"-ness keep "conscious"-ness in check. A Christian must never grow tired of being vigilant for the truth. That is why good theological institutions must never grow tired of equipping the whole people of God, and shaping their honesty to God not simply in the form of consciousness. Clements's thesis of rising controversies due to rising consciousness should not simply be seen as an end in itself. We are not to remain helpless. Reading a book like this without hope is dreary. We can modify the recipe to contain the essential ingredients of Reason, Scripture, Tradition and Experience. All of them must be held with equal respect. A good theological institution must always keep these four in view. Under the creative and mighty hand of God, the four ingredients can be combined, that not only produces a delicious concoction of truth and experience, but continuing to release a fragrance of something final: Love.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Multifunctional Choices - Dysfunctional Choosing

A Multifunctional Landscape
Several years ago, before the popularity of multi-function machines, we were content with simply having a single function device. The computer is a basic data processor. The ink-jet printer is solely used for spitting ink on paper. The telephone is a tool for talking with another person. Times have changed, and the tools thereof. Modern computers resemble a physical ‘David’ with ‘Goliath-like’ talents. Not only do computers process data, they communicate with other machines. They run multiple programs and they are very mobile. Even the traditional humble printer has been increasingly assimilated into a gargantuan multi-function machine, which can also fax, scan, read memory devices, run telephony work and even threatens the future of their photocopier-only cousins. Cellular phones have gone beyond their traditional use to include gaming, appointment calendars, MP3 players, digital photo albums and a growing list of digital functions. The justification to buy multi-capable devices is simple. Not only do I pay less for a machine that occupies less space, I have a machine that does everything I have ever wanted. More-for-less, why not? This short essay questions this assumption. Are we really getting more for less, or is it more virtual than real?

Scattering the Mindscape
Many of us encounter moments where we simply do not know what to do with what we have. One sign of affluence is in terms of the huge array of choices before us. We have so many selections that knowing how to choose becomes a fine art in itself. We rely on specialists to give us an opinion about how to purchase stuff, often assuming that they know better than us about what we need or use. A good guide will be one who asks us questions rather than shoving some information down our vulnerability. Often, we find our own answers, if only we are willing to spend some time and effort to know we we need. It is a fallacy that you need a technologist before you can buy technological solutions. Often, the best decision-making is not based on what the technology can do for you, but we understand about what we need. If we find a salesman not explaining in lay language about the technological solution, we must not succumb to any avalanche of jargon but to simply walk away and talk with someone else who bothers to speak something more human. It is a shame that some have fallen prey to technological razzle-dazzle that they eventually buy something they do not need. (For example, buying a multifunctional machine that is supposedly value for money, when all one needs is a normal printer.)

In this technological world, as we try to make machines behave more like people, people end up behaving more like machines. They speak computer terms, and think that computers help to evoke their sense of identity. Sherry Turkle, a Professor from MIT, is one of the earliest researchers who is interested in not simply what we can do with computers, but what computers are doing to us.
“Ours has been called a culture of narcissism. The label is apt but can be misleading. It reads colloquially as selfishness and self-absorption. But these images do not capture the anxiety behind our search for mirrors. We are insecure in our understanding of ourselves, and this insecurity breeds a new preoccupation with the question of who we are. We search for ways to see ourselves. The computer is a new mirror, the first psychological machine. Beyond its nature as an analytical engine lies its second nature as an evocative object.” (Sherry Turkle, The Second Self)

Turkle has a point. We have a strong temptation to reduce ourselves to machines speaking machine language. We do not simply lose our sense of identity. We replace it with an inferior one, thinking that a technological solution is the best for us. With scattered minds, we aggravate a fallen self with bad choices that spin our identity crisis out of our orbit of authenticity. We are what we choose. Our choices reflect a lot of who we are. We are fallen people living in a fallen world. Sophisticated individuals may admit they are fallen, but they can try to live as if they are not, thinking that they are an exception. They may even behave as if the world owes them a living, putting expectations on others that they do not normally expect of themselves. On the human nature, Donald Bloesch claims that:
“Man in the technological society has been reduced to the level of a machine. But a machine cannot sin means a rupture in a personal relationship with God. The machine runs mechanistically, but man is a free being endowed with infinite possibilities. The tragedy is that he has misused his freedom and has thereby fallen into slavery to his own lust for power. Yet even in his slavery he remains free, though no longer to do the good but now to satisfy his selfish desires.” (Donald Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology Vol 1, Harper Row, 1978, 89)
Scattered Minds, Scattered Choices – THE MFM
A multifunctional landscape, combined with a dysfunctional mindscape is a potent mix for identity confusion. I shall give an example of how choosing multifunctional machines (MFM) reflects this human condition.

The popularity of MFMs is predicated on the promise that these modern devices are not only more capable but they are also cheaper than the sum of all the individual purchases. Salespeople will look for whatever means to increase their sales. Buyers will find many ways to make sure they are getting value for their buck. Is the buyer’s primary purpose to get the best value for the buck? Or is the primary purpose to purchase a tool to fulfill one’s need? A lot of people no longer know what they want, so they make a simple choice of buying an all-in-one under the false assumption that ‘someday-perhaps-I-will-need-it.’ They become distracted by the subtle value-for-money proposition, which makes them pay more for additional functions they may not eventually use. One of my ex-colleagues once said: “Free things, people hardly use.” This is a sad result of getting something without really paying for it directly. I think of all those free CDs that Internet Service Providers distribute free of charge with their computer magazines. Many of them eventually go down the trash without even being opened. Buy one get one free, appears attractive, but usually we end up paying more for the first item. Another factor is convenience. An affluent society worships the idol of convenience. All-in-one hybrids. 24x7, fast-food, quick and easy, convenience stores, more-for-less, cheap-n-good, are all branches of the trunk of convenience, drawing nourishment from the roots of a serious identity crisis. Convenience has been enthroned as the new god, and many pay a high premium for it.

There are several arguments against uncritical buying of multifunction equipment. Technically, if a key component fails, the entire machine breaks down. Repairs can become much more expensive than buying a new machine altogether. Environment-wise, frequent upgrades and disposal of old equipment lead to the unfortunate buildup of e-waste, which can potentially damage our environment and health. Quality-wise, for example, the best printout of a multifunction printer cannot compare with a pure printer of the same price. One gives up some print quality for the price of convenience. If we print more than 90% of the time, does it justify paying more for a 6-function machine? If we know we are going to print more than we scan, would not it be wiser to invest in a more reliable printer than a machine that is prone to damage when we switch functions? A friend of mine was looking for a fax machine and was attracted (probably distracted), toward a multifunction machine. My advice was to buy something that is reliable based on the projected usage of the device. Shrewd purchasing requires a keen sense of knowing what we want. Good purchasers must educate themselves properly, otherwise more-for-less will mean more for the seller, and less for the buyer. As machines increase in their functionalities, it can become more complex. Users may eventually spend more time fiddling and trying to get their machine work. Having all the features in one machine may be convenient, but it causes lots of other issues. Nothing is for free. It will cost us something elsewhere.

I have no doubt that the quality of multifunctional equipment will improve. People will increasingly prefer multi-functions to single function ones. In fact, multi-function machines might possibly become the single-use machines of yesterday. My problem with this trend is not about engineering or technological creativity. My key apprehension lies in our constant struggles to play catch-up with the technological pace, losing our focus on what we really need. Put it this way, none of us will never ever stay ahead of technological changes ALL the time. If we use technology as an all-in-one tool to resolve all our human predicaments, we unwittingly let our technologizing exceed our theologizing. We allow knowledge to accumulate faster than our speed of wisdom. We overload our minds when we lose our ability to discern the important from the unimportant.

For Christians, dysfunctional choices makes us vulnerable to make choices that treat technology like an idol. This is perilous. When we let technology make choices for us, the question: “What do we really want?” does not need to be answered anymore. Why should we choose whether we want a printer or a scanner when we can have both at the same price! However, have we thought about what it is doing to our freedom of choice? Not answering a question deprives us of the opportunity to exercise and grow our discernment ability, and ultimately our sense of identity. What we do not use, we will eventually lose touch. What is true of language is also true of discernment. Ticking “All of the above” is symptomatic of avarice clothed with the phrase: “I want everything.”

We must learn how to choose the most appropriate for the corresponding contexts. Making good and appropriate choices in life remain one of the most important core human skills we need to continually develop. Allowing a multi-function mentality to free us from exercising discernment and good judgment is intellectual robbery! In this multifunctional landscape, with rising scattered minds, we can help one another become wiser in our life choices. Not making a choice is detrimental to our self-identity. Making a good choice is preferable. Sometimes, making a bad choice may not be a bad thing, especially if we can learn from it. Not having to decide anything will not only remove the freedom of choice, it does nothing to help us develop a healthy self identity. Specialists can only guide us up to a point. We cannot mindlessly let them do the choosing for us. Beware the Multitasking and the Multifunctional, that seems to promise everything on the surface. Beneath the façade of features, it could cost us something in the short run, perhaps everything in the long run.


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