Friday, November 28, 2008

Life Without Limbs but not without Hope

Each of us sometimes dream of an ideal life, sometimes an ideal lifestyle. What if one fine day, we lose the very ability to achieve our goal under 'normal circumstances,; let alone eat with our hands, or walk with our legs? What happens when we fall down not once, but over and over again? What do we do? Very often, we talk about what our strengths are and plan our vocation according to our forte. How many of us become motivated because of our lack, and inspires others through our weaknesses? Not many. Check out this video of Nick Vujicic from Australia, who started a ministry of hope (called 'Life Without Limbs',) and whose life easily shames those people constantly deep in self-pity, apathy and selfishness. More importantly, we see how a man's faith moved him to focus on others rather than self.

More videos can be found here and here.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Dying Wish That Never Dies

This is a touching story of a 11-year old boy who died of leukemia last Friday (Nov 21st, 2008). Perhaps as some of us head into Thanksgiving Day, wondering what to be thankful about during depressing times like these, remember that it does not take a big wallet to be thankful. One only needs a big heart. This video can bring a tear to some viewers. Rest assured, it is a tear that is worth shedding.

There is also a CNN edition. More photos and videos can be found here.

So my friends, if an 11 year old Brendan Foster, who struggles with a debilitating illness, can't those of us who are healthy and able do more? Forget about the bailout talks going on to help Wall Street and Main Street. Forget about the worries over job losses and bills to be paid. Such worries only help add oil to the flames of fear. Instead, put on compassion. Wear the clothes of grace and the shoes of peace. Don the hat of sharing and goodwill. As much as we receive, give generously. Do not only do the tangible things. Remember, for many of us, a word of encouragement and forgiveness can help touch hearts more than anything else. One does not necessarily need to be tough in order to survive rough times. Simply being a good neighbour everywhere we go helps take the venom out of bites of fear. Do not depend on bailouts or handouts to feel better. Instead, let sharing and caring be the hallmarks of our faith in God, in hope for the kingdom to eventually touch all creation.


Monday, November 24, 2008

The Opposite of Fear is . . .

Fear is the other four-letter word that begins with the letter 'F.' Compared to the other infamous word, the word 'fear' is more acceptably used in books as it is considered less vulgar. It does not soil the English language terribly. The Greeks has a word for it from where we derive the word: 'phobia.' Claustrophobia refers to a fear of being in a confined space. xenophobia is an irrational fear of strangers. Social-phobia is a general term for people afraid of being criticized in public. Homo-phobia is a term generally used to label people who are scared of being associated with homosexuals. If one is frightened of a particular animal or creature, one simply attach a prefix to phobia. For example, Arachnophobia is a term for fear of spiders. Musophobia is a fear of rodents such as mice or rats. Technophobia is used on people who are afraid of advanced technology while Cyberphobia is a term used for those who are paranoid over the Internet. A full list of different kinds of phobias can be found here. I counted a total of 659 different phobias on the list! Some of the fears border on the ridiculous as well. The fear of thinking is Phronemophobia makes me wonder how that can ever happen? How can anyone not think at all? Others seem to be interesting, like Hamartophobia which is a fear of sinning. This is one fear which may be of interest to the pious saints.

Is it love?
Some people say that the opposite of fear is love. They argue that a spiritual path driven by fear is inferior compared to one that is motivated by love. I agree that love cannot be forced but willingly given. We must not presume that the opposite of fear is love. I know that 1 John 4:18 tells us:
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
This verse does not conclusively tell us that the opposite of fear is love. No! This verse basically says that true love is without any fear. If love is likened to a giant cream cake, fear will be the smudges wiped carelessly on the lovely creation. Making fear the opposite of love gives fear too much credit. In the same way, we can misinterpret the meaning of sin. Sin is not a matter of doing right or wrong. Sin is essentially 'missing the mark.' The opposite of 'missing the mark' is 'hitting the target.' We cannot see sin as the target itself. John Cassian in his Conferences writes perceptibly about the spiritual life by distinguishing the goal (scopos) and the end (telos). The 'scopos' is hitting the target like an archer that hits the bulls-eye. However, the 'telos' is something better. It is the prize of hitting the mark. Using similar logic, the opposite of fear is not love, for love is the ultimate union with God. The opposite of fear is something more like the 'scopos' rather than the 'telos.'

Fear draws in punishment
A phobia-led kind of love is not perfect love. It is driven by external circumstances rather than internal. Phobia-driven love is done out of a lack of options instead of willingly given up DESPITE one's list of options. For instance, if a man forces a woman to marry him, failing which he threatens to reveal her dark secrets, that is not love. That is coercion. In the law courts, some testimonies can be nullified if it is found out that they were given under external duress. The Police or investigation teams are expected to ensure fair treatment of all persons in their custody.

A hint at the understanding of fear is punishment. If one does not do this, there are consequences to bear. This kind of cause-effect relationship bears testimony of a soul marred in sin. Christ came to offer all mankind a way out of such a spiritual quagmire. In spite of Jesus's secure position in heaven, he willingly gave them all up to come down to earth. In spite of Jesus's bountiful possessions in the heavenly realms, he willingly surrendered all for the sake of becoming poor and lived among us. Jesus chose to take upon human flesh, along with all the limitations instead of exercising his deity to the full. Here we encounter the age-old theological problem. Is Jesus fully human or fully divine when he is on earth? Allow me to make a brief detour from the fear topic to touch a little on this theology. It is important.

Q: Did Jesus give up his divinity and exchanged it for humanity?
If we were to say yes, then when Jesus is incarnated as a human being, he is not divine anymore. If we were to say no, we may go to the other position in which Jesus is never human in the first place. The evangelical position is that Jesus is BOTH human and divine, at the same time. What makes Jesus's incarnation on earth so amazing is that he chose to limit his own divine powers WILLINGLY. That is love. He was not driven by fear, but he is fully conscious of the consequences of fear. Hence, he is most qualified to tell:

- the disciples: "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." (Matthew 14:27)

Subsequently, Jesus rebukes the disciples of their little faith due to their folly of falling into fear. The disciples did not truly believe that Jesus is divine, and when Jesus walked on water, they thought that he was a ghost. Peter, who was also walking on water toward Jesus was doing ok, until he starts to look at the looming winds and begins to sink. Jesus reprimands Peter for his lack of faith (Matt 14:31). Fear is essentially due to a lack of faith. The opposite of fear is faith. Pure love is without fear. Loving God is one that is done in faith, which is without fear.

What then do we mean by the fear of God?
This is another big theological question. The fear of God is not 'phobia' but the agony of not being perfect enough for God. Like a mother who bakes a special chocolate cake for her child. She puts in her best efforts and ingredients in order to make that cake as perfect as possible. Any 'fears' is out of not being able to do her best, rather than a phobia of being punished.
  • Selfish fear puts oneself in the center of attention. Fear of God let God be the center.
  • Selfish fear is afraid of being punished. Fear of God yearns to be as perfect as possible.
  • Selfish fear seeks to protect and defend one's possessions or territories. Fear of God renders property and possessions as secondary to the love of God.
  • Selfish fear is worried of the future. Fear of God anticipates a bright coming of the Kingdom.
  • Selfish fear looks back with regret. Fear of God reflects with thanksgiving and gratitude.
  • Selfish fear agonizes over present uncertainties. Fear of God reflects confidence in God's timely presence at any moment.

Fear can be a very potent weapon. Under the hands of the unscrupulous, a matchstick of fear, struck wickedly by a tiny evil stroke, sparks a deadly flame. Driven by the winds of uncertainty and the storms of gloom, the flame consumes weak hearts and inflict deep hurts. It easily spreads wildfires that burns and feeds upon anything and everything. An angry fire cannot be easily soothe. It seeks to consume until everything is destroyed, including itself. It can burn uncontrollably the positive expectations of many. It can snuff out any small glimmers of hopes.

A Five-Letter Word
Deep faith in God begets a first step against fear. It is a formidable defense against depression and anxiety. What then is the opposite of fear? It is faith. Actually, the opposite of fear is faith, which has elements of courage, fearlessness and positive outlook. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith, one easily gets distracted by the unnecessary and loses direction and focus. Interestingly, we read of the many instances in Scripture when Jesus or the angels from heaven appear. Their first words are often: "Do not fear." We read that when Peter asked to walk to Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus invited Peter to do so. Peter was doing very well until his eyes shifted from Jesus to the winds around him. He then started to sink.
Matt. 14:30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Matt. 14:31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Thus the opposite of fear is 'have faith in God.' Faith in God leads us on the path of faith-hope-love, of which the greates of all is love. Thus, the opposite of fear is not another four letter word. It is instead a five-letter word: F.A.I.T.H.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Article on "Misplaced Zeal"

Christian workers can sometimes fall into the extremes of "knowledge without zeal" or "Zeal without knowledge." Both cases are not desirable. The former leads to lack of action, like what James warns about dead faith; the latter can lead one down the path of foolishness. My recent article, written for Cook International Partners tries to address this. There is a study guide as well. Do check it out here.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Fear Marketing

The marketing of fear can be a very profitable enterprise. Knowing the fears of another person/organization gives one an amazing upper-hand. If company A fears losing out on a deal, and competitor B finds out about it, B can easily out-maneuver A by taking advantage of A's fears. Fear marketing is sometimes used to boost sales but is ethically suspect. Forbes magazine published an article that talks about a pharmaceutical company trying to boost its sales of an anti-nerve gas drug. The drug, Atropen is an antidote for any nerve gas effects on the human body. Should the company start to tell the public to be prepared always for terrorist acts like nerve gas attacks? Should one start to stock up boxes of such atropine related medicine 'just in case' the enemy strikes?

I have worked in high technology companies before, and also with top executives of reputable firms. Actually, the reason why these executives are paid much more than the lower level staff is because they are charged with addressing the issue of risk in the marketplace. Hence, fear mongering techniques are one of the most popular ways to get such executives to give salespeople a listening ear.
- "What happens if the corporation's assets are threatened?"
- "What keeps you awake at 3am each night?"
- "What is keeping your biggest customer from embracing your biggest competitor?"
- "What if your organization's most precious information falls into the wrong hands?"

Even in churches, we get fear-filled situations. What if your biggest church financial contributors stop giving? What happens if half your congregation leaves for the church down the next block? What happens if the guest speaker does not turn up this Sunday?

I think fear mongering is a technique that hits below the belt. Just because the competition is doing it does not mean one has to copy the ugly cat! Why not be creative with one's offerings. Talk about what the competition cannot do. Emphasize the positives and the benefits that the customer can gain. Surround the product with excellent service that aims to provide true and honest value for the buck. Customers generally prefer to work with honest vendors and suppliers who have demonstrated integrity in the past. Those who compete on price alone may gain a little in the sprint race but will be humbled big-time in any marathon. Of course, some will argue that the world nowadays is too fast and too short for any long-term thinking or planning. I will reply by saying: "Easy come easy go." Which is better? A bean-sprouts quickie relationship or a solid tree built on a strong foundation of trust and goodwill?

Fear mongering methods are sometimes employed due to a lack of faith in one's offerings. Certainly, many companies will aim to do both. Highlight one's good points and at the same time, downplay the competition. My submission is that one's ability to stand on the basis of its own strengths (even weaknesses), is a mark of true leadership. Companies lead the way because of their overwhelming edge in their products and services. It is one thing to win on one's own merits. It is yet another to gain at another's expense.

I am very fascinated by companies that are first-movers. For example, Sony popularized the Walkman more than 20 years ago. Apple invented the iPod and a whole new industry. Google came up with a search technology that practically blew away the competition. All of them had that something special that is not easily copied. They do not need to engage fear mongering techniques. They simply became likable.

Another company that I find interesting is General Electric. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE talks about the 4E leader, one who
- who has tremendous levels of ENERGY;
- who ENERGIZES people around them;
- who constantly produces an EDGE;
- who produce measurable results as they EXECUTE.

I look at the way these 4Es are arranged, and the first three has to do with a sense of self-understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses. The 4Es are not dependent on what the competition does, though it helps one's ability to EXECUTE when one is more aware of what the next competitor is doing. I feel that if one spends less time worried about others, and spend more time developing one's core strategies and skills, the organization stands a better chance of building a unique culture of innovation and creativity. Otherwise, the organization is simply a carbon copy of the competition. Have faith in one's sense of identity, not in the fear of one's insecurity. Welch is a great proponent of EXECUTION. Part of his execution strategy is to keep high levels of leadership at all hierachies of the organization. This means doing all they can to develop key leaders and talents. In fact, one of the interesting things is when GE went on the offensive even when others are retrenching. In times like this, with news of job losses reported daily in the media, it is quite the acceptable thing for company to simply lay people off. This is an unhealthy environment richly fertilized with fear. Thus the key is not to use retrenchments as a general tool. Re-focus on core competencies. Spend where it is needed especially. Continue to invest in people. Those who retrenches simply because everyone is doing it are poor examples of leadership. Increase spending in selected areas. This is a mark of a leader who truly knows the core capabilities of the company. One of GE's core competencies is leadership development. (I met this project engineer from GE last year who graduated from the famous MIT, and learned that the organization actually allows employees to talk to their superiors SIX levels up. That is a lot of trust and openness.)

Keep fear marketing far away. Have faith in God who has made us unique. Believe in our uniqueness and may creativity be there to chart out new growth opportunities, even during this economic downturn.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Piling Up" (our hopes, not unemployment figures)

This is a pictorial grimly summarized (Credit: The Straits Times Singapore, Nov 20th 2008 page A3) the latest unemployment figures worldwide. Leading the way are the financial and technology sectors which are cutting jobs more than 5x-7x the rate of the third largest. We are talking of a huge number of job losses. Aong with it are tumbling of hopes.

Hope even in bleak moments
Are there any reasons for hope during such bleak times? As a news reader, it is difficult to develop any inspiration or positive outlook of the future by reading bad news. As a news reporter, bad news attracts more attention than good news. After-all, readership numbers are important. Hence the saying, 'no news is good news' still rings true. As a Christian reader, should we succumb easily to such depressing headlines? No. We do not need to fret. We have been taught by Jesus:
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:32-34)
Just before this exhortation to bless others, Jesus reminded the disciples not to worry. As much as the sparrows and the lilies are cared for, without them having to worry, how much more will our heavenly Father care for us? This is what I understand as "From Empty --> Full"; upon transformation of our focus from things to the kingdom of God, we move from "Full to Emptying of ourselves."
A) FROM Possessing Nothing TO Having Everything (Luke 12:22-29)
B) It is not about things. It is about God's kingdom. Seek kingdom first, these secondary things will be ADDED unto us as we glimpse and receive the kingdom (Luke 12:30-31)
C) Having received the kingdom, we felt blessed to bless others (Luke 12:32-34)
The key verse in the Luke 12 passage is this:
"For Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34)

Hope Comes in 'Little' Ways
I am intrigued by a small detail in verse 32. Jesus used the word "μικρὸν" which is Greek for 'little.' It is pronounced as mikron ('mik' as in 'Mic'key and 'ron' as in 'Ron'ny), reminding us of 'micro', or 'micron' size. This is the often the smallest standard unit of measuring tiny stuff. I remember when I was working in a semiconductor cleanroom environment, we measure tiny particles in terms of microns. Such measurement is critical as the particles are not allowed to go near sensitive electonics that require a 'clean' environment. What is invisible to the naked eye can cause visible damage to micr-electronic components. There are 25400 microns in one inch. Other examples are:
- Human Hair (30-300 microns)
- Pollen (10-1000 microns)
- Saw dust (30-600 microns)
- Mold spores (10-30 microns)
- Carbon Monoxide particle (2.5 micron)
- Liquid droplets (0.5-5 microns)
- Smoke (0.01 - 4 microns)

Even our breath emit particles large enough (sub microns) to damage electonics, hence all workers need to wear protective face masks to avoid releasing harmful particles that will affect semiconductor yields. Jesus knows the state of a worried being. We feel 'micron' sized when faced with huge challenges. Like a small lamb hiding itself in fear when facing a large lion, we too have a tendency to feel small and discouraged when confronting large and seemingly impossible situations.

Interestingly, Jesus encourages the hearers at that time with a brilliant use of contrast. The tiniest of all, can receive the greatest. If anyone of us feels extremely small and discouraged, we are prime candidates for God to inspire and encourage. When Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will also be, he is strongly pointing to an important truth. We may feel small but our hearts need not be small. A small wallet in the hands of a generous heart will reap huge dividends. A small set of arms hugged with a big gentle heart creates far more warmth. A small voice spoken with a loving heart reaches beyond the ears into the bottom of the heart. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. May that treasure of our lives, be the kingdom of God. Possessions, security of jobs and general well-being are important. Material stuff are essential for our daily needs. God knows all our needs. In fact, he knows our greater need is not these things. Our deepest need is God. For when we experience God, not only these earthly things will be ADDED unto us, we become ever more willing to give them away to bless others.

Yes. Unemployment figures may be piling up but that is no reason to be dumbing down our hopes. In fact, hard times are great opportunities for us to be God's beacon of hope for the world. We can look up to God, look out for others, and above all love ALL for God. That is a sign of a transformed life for Christ. Let not unemployment numbers shut us down. Let not the doom-and-gloom economists depress us with their 'intelligent' analysis of the world economy into helplessness. Pile up our hearts with hope. Then we can look up to God, look out for others and let God's love manifest mightily through us. We do not need to have a big bank account or a big physical body or possessions to do big things. All we need is a big heart of hope.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Faith Evidenced by Good Works

Last Sunday, in our regular Sunday adult class, we were talking about ups and downs of our faith works. The sermon that day was about “Faith that works.” We were discussing James 2:14-26 on the sermon entitled: "Faith That Works." Some in the class were concerned about Christians who ‘over-intellectualize’ their faith. Others desire to go more in depth, saying there is a great need for it in the church. It was a tough but profitable time of sharing and engaging one another. Like iron sharpens iron, all of us came away feeling refreshed and challenged. In my summary, I described the spiritual life as likened to a sine/cosine wave, or sinusoidal wave of ups and downs. The goal is to exercise a faith that is consistent (represented by the blue lines “Faith evidenced by good works.”) Human motion is never a straight line. Even when we walk, our left leg tends to swing us to the right, and our right to the left. By alternating the use of our legs with a central focus, we are able to move in a direction we want. There is a word that describes the Christian life very well. It is the word ‘meandering.’ Being human, we have a tendency to meander through twists and turns. The primary description of what being human is all about is sin. Due to sin, the human nature has a propensity to sin and move AWAY from God and the things of God. Only in the Spirit can one be led back to the center of God’s will. In the diagram, human nature tends to meander along a set path. It is difficult to ever walk in a straight line. When human tendency leads one to over or under-intellectualize our faith, we need to let God direct us back to the center to exercise a faith that is evidenced by good works. Walking and talking becomes one and the same act.

In talking about human nature and the spiritual life, David Gushee, an Ethics Professor lists 4 things we need to be aware about when planning toward a spiritual destination.
1. A clear sense of where we are going;
2. Directions on how to get there;
3. Knowledge of hazards and challenges one may face;
4. Whether our equipment is suitable to the task at hand.

He argues that the ‘starting point’ is highly critical, and it stems from the knowledge of one’s human nature. This starting point rests on our acknowledgment that human nature is essentially a quest for wholeness. It cannot be done by ourselves. To be truly human is to be able to embrace God’s way, not our way; God’s will and not our will.

Gushee concludes:
It is impossible ultimately to embrace the Christian account of humanity without embracing the Christian account of God. When we do, we find that true wholeness in life’s journey happens when God’s hopes become our hopes and God’s dreams become our dreams.” (David P Gushee, Only Human, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005, p200)
When we put more faith in our own abilities or skills, we risk moving to either extremes of over or under-doing anything, even the things of God. We talk more when we should walk. We run faster than our heads could think. Either way, we have to constantly pause from what we are doing in order to re-set our bearings. Running headlong quickly does not give us any head start if it is in the wrong direction. Procrastinating on the good that we ought to do when we are able to do so, wastes precious time and resources. Only when we are constantly mindful of Christ and discerning the movement of the Spirit in our hearts can we evidence our faith through good works.

Let our spiritual walk not become a series of haphazard actions that lead us nowhere. Neither should we allow our spiritual talk toward ‘analysis till paralysis,’ constantly talking theology that is devoid of action.

Four Examples of Faith Evidenced By Good Works
a) William Wilberforce (1759-1833), was a keen intellect well trained in Christian theology. He spent many years in school, entering Cambridge at the tender age of 17. It took a personal revival that makes these years of learning into constant moments of yearning to do God’s work. Wilberforce became a leading figure in charitable work, in providing leadership in the marketplace and most certainly the eventual abolishment of the slave trade in Great Britain and ultimately influencing similar actions around the world.

b) Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) grew up with a silver spoon. She was not content to simply listen to ‘boring’ Christian talk. She burns with a desire for a more active life, a life that is exemplified by walking the talk. In 1850, against the wishes of her family, she voluntarily entered nursing school so that she can exercise her faith in the area of health care. Her efforts to reform medical care was long and arduous. She is a religious thinker whose faith requires her to work out her faith enthusiastically and passionately. She believes her calling was to help improve the world through proper health and medical care. She has been largely credited for founding the modern nursing profession we have come to take for granted.

c) Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was also a keen scholar of Christian theology. His stature was well known that he was even offered tenure at an American University, safe and far away from the horrible wars in his home continent. However, his faith does not allow him to relax and sit comfortably in the corridors of academia. He felt a calling to return to his home country, Germany to resist the Nazi regime. He spoke against the Nazi theology at the risk of arrest and torture. He was martyred in 1945, but his work and writings have lived on to inspire many generations.

d) Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968) is a famous civil rights activist in America who fought bravely for establishing equal rights for all races, especially the blacks. A brilliant intellectual, he was well trained in theology. He read widely and soon his heart felt moved to action. He saw society being eroded by bad principles and wrong ideals. If no one does anything, the black people will continue to live unjustly under the tyranny of an evil system.

All these four figures have one important similarity. Their faith is evidenced in action, rooted with a conviction that God’s word is living. We dare not presume we can have the political successes of Wilberforce. Some of us dared not dream of replicating a Nightingale. Even fewer are those who are willing to give up their lives like Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. God knows us. After all, he created us. Lest we get discouraged by not being able to emulate any of these great people, let me end with the words of the first astronaut to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11:

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Likewise, as we take our faith seriously and let our actions walk our talk, no matter how small or insignificant our steps may be, any step done for Christ, is a step forward in expanding the kingdom of God. One small step in faith, one giant leap for the kingdom of God.

Walking our faith is never too tiny. After all, a mustard seed is never too small.


Spiritual Bear

I told my wife that this is my current favourite wallpaper. She asked me why. I said this Polar bear is very spiritual. She was puzzled. I replied lovingly:

"Can't you see it praying?"


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Obama-Leadership Lincoln-style

The November 4th Election has come and gone. America has a new President, the 44th man in the oval office. Previously, I have commented why Obama won. Today, I was awed by this news article on Obama's decision to choose cabinet members, even dissenting ones. The writer, Calvin Woodward did an impressive comparison of similarities between Obama and Lincoln, which is summarized in the list form below.
  • Lincoln (and Obama) did not merely want a cabinet of 'yes-men.'
  • Lincoln is a great orator (so is Obama)
  • In Lincoln's day, the losing party nominee William Henry Seward was made Secretary of State, despite Seward being a bitter rival during the race (Obama is considering making Hilary Clinton one)
  • Lincoln reasons that a nation needs the best people, even if they are found in rival camps. (Obama is seriously planning a cabinet of best people regardless of party affiliation)

Two things impress me about Obama's attitude to dissent, the second being most profound. First is his promise: "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree." This is appealing as a new generation wants to be heard more than anything. That is why Obama was able to win convincingly. He knows that is the only way ahead to unite a nation. What better way than to include opposing views inside the influential circle so that like iron sharpens iron, any policies made will have addressed a sizable amount of perspectives that resonates with a larger part of society. Secondly, the ability to include non-homogenous people even in the closest circle highlights a very secure inner being. Jesus does not shirk away from people who opposes him. He tackles the Pharisees' and Sadducees' religious views even teaching and rebuking them without fear. He eyeballs the weak political judges like Pontius Pilate at that time. He engages the military, the Roman centurion guards without giving in to their taunting.

Finally, Lincoln won the civil war. What kind of war will Obama win? In this inter-connected, information-flushed, interactive, inter-networked world, I think there are many small wars to be fought in more sophisticated ways. If information can flow so easily across the world, what better way than to cultivate a rich pool of ideas INSIDE the cabinet without relying too much on OUTSIDE feedback. Having a first scan of ideas from various perspectives gives one an exceptional strategic advantage. In E-Leader, Robert Hargrove shows us that the new generation of leadership in the e-world must incorporate an element of embracing (not rejecting) the 'creative qualities and attitudes' of the Internet culture. Not surprisingly, the majority of the young voters supported Obama, who is seen as most sympathetic to embracing such a culture. With Obama being such a keen student of Lincoln, if we want to see how the leadership style of Obama will be like, study Lincoln. An example of Lincoln's leadership traits are helpfully summarized by Dr Philip Ernest Schoenberg.
  1. Share A Vision
  2. Be a Great Communicator
  3. Be a Lifelong Learner
  4. Demand Excellence for Yourself
  5. Learn From Failure
  6. Be a Role Model
  7. Believe in Yourself When No One Else Does by Having the Courage of Your Convictions
  8. If I am Not For Myself, Who Will be?
  9. Be a Decision maker
  10. Be a Team Leader
  11. Doing the Little Things Lead to the Big Things
  12. Show Compassion
Most importantly, Obama is leading the way to show us that history has much to teach us in the area of leadership. Unfortunately, the current popularity of Obama I fear is becoming more hype. CBS's 60 Minutes had its highest ratings ever. Perhaps this is because Obama is a popular person. Maybe people are expecting economic solutions from him, in a time where the whole economy is crumbling. He is seen more as a saviour. I hope that Obama will continue to lead not by doing big things but to do small things with a big heart. Indeed, when the financial world looks for a giant bailout, the auto industry looking for a similar action for them and many troubled industries doing the same, a leader will need to be wise not to throw good money after bad, not to be distracted by short-term problems and ignore long-term solutions. I hope Obama will make good decisions, no matter how tough it may be. At the same time, I pray that the people will also reciprocate to 'listen to Obama' especially when we disagree with him. the ability to tolerate dissent and work toward a common goal is increasingly more crucial in a multi-cultural world. Lincoln addressed Congress in 1862 with the reminder to adopt an attitude of servitude before trying to engage the issues of the present.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” Lincoln's Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

Monday, November 10, 2008

Learning With - A Teaching Paradigm

This is a video clip that highlights the gap between old educational structures trying to reach a new generation of students. See the video first, then read my comments below.


Teaching is my passion. In my heart, education matters have progressed from homework toil to examination fears; from tussling for excellent grades to jostling for good jobs; from concern for my children’s learning to yearning for meaningful living. It has been said that the longest journey in the world is from the head to the heart. Increasingly, after more than 40 years, I find myself shuttling constantly between the mind and the heart, between theory and practice; and between what the world deems ‘realistic and achievable’ to what I deeply desire in terms of hopes and dreams. Having struggled so hard in my early educational years, there is a sense of nostalgia, that I have practiced tonnes of past-year papers and scored distinctions in my grades. I remember the different teachers who tries to pass information down to me so that I can ‘learn.’ In those days, the Internet did not exist. There were no Facebook users but paper notebooks. No mouse or keyboards but pen and paper. Email communications were unheard of. I wrote love-letters, lots of them, complete with envelopes and stamps. Little encouragement cards were frequently exchanged, many of them becoming bookmarks for my large collection of books. Alas, these things are rare nowadays.

Education has come a long way, but the structures that took many years to put up, will need a longer time to take down. It is not the same as clicking the ADD/REMOVE icon, and removing the program from the operating system. This is because the bulk of the administration lives and survives on such an infrastructure, no matter how archaic it may be. I came across this video clip a couple of months ago. When it was first made, it attracted more than a million hits on Youtube. Interest continues to grow as even the creator was surprised how many educators identified with his message. That is why, watching the video developed by Professor Michael Wesch gives me some sadness amid the many valid concerns he highlight. Yet, I feel there are more reasons for hope than despair.

How valid are the statements made in the video?
Somewhat. I do not question the legitimacy of the words that describe what they do. A quick glance reveals that these are simply estimates of what the students are attending to, in this contemporary age. It does not necessarily reflect their way of learning, even though it may be a large part of their daily lives. Most of the tools like iPods, Facebook, Emails are part of the social networking excitement that is all the rave that is dominating Internet headlines. They are very much a recent phenomenon, and it is difficult to conclude that they will continue to dominate even in the future. It could be a fad in passing, especially when some other things later becomes more exciting. We will also need to ask, why are these students spending so much time on such electronic media? It has to be driven by a need. This echoes a large need to connect and to be linked to a wider community, from a secure distance. The statistical numbers may reflect that of a particular poll, but they do not necessarily mean that the student concerned WILL fall into that category. In summary, while the statements are helpful insights into the changing lifestyles and choices young people are making, they do not necessarily mean they are the BEST choice for them in this age. Educators however can learn to appreciate where the students are coming from, and incorporate part of this new environment into their teaching curriculum and styles. Abandoning old proven structures overnight and replacing them with new unproven techniques/technologies would be like throwing away our reliable compass in favour of a first generation unproven navigational device. Simply put, keep the best of the old and the most appropriate from the new.

Why Are Students Feeling That Way?
  • Students are losing the ability to pay attention; For instance, society is being educated by commercials rather than good reading material. We can sing the latest cola jingle or McDonald's quip, but struggle to recall a quote from a serious book.
  • Many students are getting increasingly frustrated that they have not been well understood by the institutions and general teaching population;
  • Teachers have not kept pace with changes, fast enough. Most of them do not know how.
  • Technology has captured the imagination of many. However, we cannot put blind faith in what technology can do

My Comments on the clip:
1) Firstly, do not despair. Things are not as bad as they seem, although the clip is filmed from a cynical angle of gaping holes in the current educational system. This is because the best hope for the future requires an honest appreciation of the past. Teachers have part of that past and can be a bridge to the present. Otherwise, without a proper knowledge of our history, we risk repeating the mistakes of the past needlessly. This is what I call the retrospective need. In other words, only by understanding where we have been, can we truly answer the question: “Where do you want to go today?” Published in 1995, Bill Gates book, ‘The Road Ahead’ is more about Bill Gates’ history rather than any prediction about the future. According to the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, foresight is largely an understanding of hindsight. Hence, for those of us who are beneficiaries of an archaic system, that some will even call a ‘dinosaur’ era, do not despair. Our understanding of the present changes is more profound, given our familiarity with the past. We have much to teach the young. Memorizing mathematical timetables is still a practice that produces rich dividends. For example, recalling from memory the answer of 11 times 11 is faster than getting the answer from the computer/calculator. Being able to link delicate information of logic, deduction and discernment is something that no supercomputer can ever accomplish. Machines excel in the sciences but are found wanting when dealing with the arts. We are not mechanical devices but human beings. Technology can help accelerate information flow but can never replace actual learning.

2) Secondly, education is not simply about information. That is the trouble with my old way of learning, that I can ace exams simply by cramming information into my head, and then spilling it out cold when the questions appear in a 3 hour long test. I have heard umpteen times that what students learn in their classroom have no practical purposes in the real world. In many ways that is still true in many areas. I have no practical idea how the math logarithm tables are converted into actual reality. Neither do I know how meaningful is memorizing the chemical numbers of sodium or potassium and how to use it to solve problems in the physical world. Perhaps, engineering calculations like stress analysis of beams and structural tolerances are critical in building design. Or medical know-how of what medications are appropriate for certain ailments. However, the wisdom and the ability to know WHEN and WHAT combination to use on the projects is not easily transmitted. Wisdom is not taught but caught. Attitude is not obtained in the classroom but attained with humble and honest discipline. Moreover, there are many things the schools cannot teach. It has to be learned at a personal price in the institutions of life and hard knocks.

3) Thirdly, I am concerned about the declining rate of attention span. Even adults are not spared. For instance, people are stimulated more by visual images rather than the plain text. That is one reason why movies/DVDs are far more popular than the traditional books/print media. I spoke with a librarian in the downtown public library and was told that the DVDs are practically ‘flying off the shelves.’ He couldn’t say the same for books. The decreasing popularity of the printed word however does have a silver lining. Book lovers like me can easily find the books that I want. I presented a paper at a focus group at Regent-College last year, entitled: “Windows of Mass Distraction.” In it, I lamented the rise of a generation of ‘attention-deficit’ individuals, community, congregation and society at large. Advertisements tempt us to buy things we do not need. The idea of ‘multi-tasking’ can falsely make us think that we are achieving more when we are doing less of each. I dare say that in many cases, multi-tasking is a form of being a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none. Take Microsoft Windows technology, for example. We can open multiple windows and do different tasks at the same time. However, the more windows we execute, there is a payload cost to bear. Certain processes in other windows will have to suffer in performance. Everything comes with a cost.

Humanly speaking, we are not meant to be multi-tasking people, even though our ability to do many things at the same time can be trained. Try to draw a circle with your left hand and a square on your right hand at the same time. With practice, you might probably have some success. At some point, you may notice that the ability to do two different tasks at the same time will require some mental detachment skills. Will that remove some humanness in us? Perhaps.

4) Fourthly, many societies have turned education simply into a job-seeking enterprise. A higher degree from a famous institution seems to be twin formulas in the resume of successful employment. This is increasingly unhelpful for the young person’s education. While it is important to train oneself up for the workforce, it is even more important to become responsible members of society, not mere workers to add to optimistic GDP statistics. Yet, education remains a profitable enterprise. Many are willing to fork out big bucks to buy degrees to enhance their employability. This current recession will come as a rude shock to many who maintains such a mindset. I remember reading one angrily written graffiti at a Vancouver café that reads: “I have a good degree, an MBA and a PhD and I am now a mere newspaper delivery man!

We may or may not end up in this same situation. However, to put all our eggs of hope into a single basket of educational qualifications is hazardous. Very risky. Education is not simply about finding jobs. It is a full-life journey of discovery, of engaging our potential and helping others do the same.

5) Fifthly, it is the attitude, not the aptitude that determines one’s learning altitude. Stuff like discipline, tolerance and the ability to faithfully complete a course of study is part and parcel of education. One cannot learn discipline simply by opening windows according to one’s whims and fancies, or check emails incessantly like drug addicts who are helplessly dependent on their quick-fix injections. One cannot learn tolerance with other people simply by locking oneself in a room alone, even though he/she may have an Internet connection to the world. One cannot understand what faithfulness means if one readily jumps to the next latest-and-greatest fad. There are many things in life that requires time and concerted effort. For example, learning to master languages will require resources beyond the classroom. One needs to use it regularly in writing and speaking. The best way to learn languages continues to be via immersion in conducive surroundings. The Internet may work wonders, but language remains very much a human-led endeavour, not a machine-dictated maneuver.

6) Finally, educators need to remember that learning contexts is constantly evolving. Good teaching means being able to identify the context (environment), and know what kind of students they have (people) plus the wisdom to bring them together. If there is one positive take-away from the video, it will be that we need to move away from a 'Me-Teacher-You-Student' mindset, and to recognize that all of us are learning people. Students must continue to learn FROM their teachers who have considerable knowledge and experience. Teachers need to learn WITH their students in terms of appreciating their study environment and their home contexts. A learning community is much more profitable for all if in the process, one develops good friendships and camaraderie. In other words, the quality of education is largely measured not by the quantity of information we stock up in our heads, but by the quality of the relationships developed over the years. Internet social networking is a useful start to any relationship. However, its usefulness in terms of relationship building is limited.

As I think back about my years at Regent-College, I remember many papers I wrote, and the excellent classes I attended. None of them ever come close to the quiet, private conversations I have with the professors and fellow students, especially those that teaches me how to grow to become the person God has made me to be. What we learn about is important but it is from WHOM we learn, and the PEOPLE we learn with that underline the quality of the education of any one person. This is not necessarily restricted to the academic pursuit of a professional degree. In our workplaces, such an adage holds true for the workplace as well. One ex-colleague of mine had advised me: “It is not what you know, but WHO you know that is more important in the workplace.” On a pragmatic basis, this is very true. However, I have a better version for the Christian worker.

It is not what helpful things you know in your head, or the inspirational stuff in your heart; but it is HOW you use them to help people around you that cultivates meaning at home, at work and everywhere you go.” Life is made more meaningful when we do not focus on earning money but building networks of friendships. Let me end with a poem, written by Mary Oliver, quoted in the book of a well known education activist, Parker Palmer: “A Hidden Wholeness.” This poem had been quoted in full in one of my previous posts. The last statement is especially poignant.
When Death Comes (excerpt)
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~
Be mindful that as Christians, we remember that whatever we do, we work at it heartily as for the Lord, not for men. This applies the same in the educational arena. We teach, we learn, we help one another as to the Lord.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men," (Colossians 3:23)


1) Michael Wesch website (Mediated Cultures)
2) Britannica blog
3) “Vision of Students Today” (youtube)

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Good Reminder....

Control the technology, lest technology control you. For more information, go to this website.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Change Has Come

It is one of the nation's most anticipated elections. It has given the ordinary man in the street reason for hope. It has roused the hearts of people, both black and white, Hispanic and Asian, men and women, rich and the poor. It has captivated global attention, throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and the rest of the world. November 4th, 2008 is a day where change has come to America, and very probably the world. In a nutshell, Obama's victory speech says it all:
As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those — to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
This is one US Election that garners not only the attention of so many Americans, but world-wide interest. The Press continues to harp on the skin colour of Obama. People continue to see him as a beacon of hope in this world that does not seem to get better each day. Any references to his deep religious faith in God is merely given a passing mention. The smoke of hype and elevated ecstasy can unwittingly cloud the real-time struggle for hope amid the despair that is falling upon Wall Street and Main Street. Some observe that Obama inherits a world that is more problematic than any US President has ever faced. Others have doubts about his ability to lead, due to his youthfulness. I think there are many reasons for hope rather than gloom.

Obama epitomizes a unique unity never seen before in the history of America. Son of a black father and a white mother, he grew up in a multicultural era in the 60s-70s in Hawaii and Indonesia. He is conscious of the struggles of the black people in America, and appreciates the opportunities given him to rise up the ranks of the mostly white aristocracy. He appeals to the young and old, and in his speech is able to galvanize all people to one cause and purpose. If America wants to unite the world, it must first go through a process of healing. The American novelist, Don Williams Jr in 1968 said:
“World unity is the wish of the hopeful, the goal of the idealist and the dream of the romantic. Yet it is folly to the realist and a lie to the innocent.”
Yes. We need to pepper any thoughts of world unity with some reality check. We can however confidently say that as long as we maintain that hope for world unity, we have a chance.

Yet the challenges to establish unity is formidable. One politician who enters American politics with high ideals and left with some despair is Joe Scarborough. In his memoir in “Rome wasn’t burned in a day.” (Harper Collins, 2004) he argues that politicians in Washington are typically more loyal to their party than taxpayers. He adds that these politicians own selfish acts have contributed largely to the bankruptcy of America. His journey into Congress began in 1995, ending in 2001. Let us hope that at the end of Obama's presidency, he will not experience similar sentiments of anguish.

Both candidates have extended grace and gratitude to each other despite a bitterly fought campaign. That alone teaches us what we need to do as people living in a competitive environment. In sports, we sometimes extol winning to the point of cheating and preying on the weaknesses of the opponents rather than playing up our strengths and integrity. Sportsmanship is seriously needed in order to play well and compete well. John McCain has been very gracious in his concession speech, and in the words of Obama, 'extraordinary.' We can learn to do the same to one another, to be gracious with our words and actions. Emotionally speaking, I think it is even more difficult for McCain to give that concession message, than for Obama to deliver his victory speech. One must learn to win gratefully, and when the time comes, lose graciously as well. Kudos to McCain for his exemplary leadership.

Both candidates exhibit a level of care and love for the country they serve. This is consistently portrayed by both candidates and that makes unity and healing possible. Fighting for a single cause, for one people and nation is a symbol of leadership and example. "A nation we both love," is a stirring statement of intent and common goal of both candidates.

Be Witherington III points us to an amazing reminder of what we should all stand for, even if we are not from America. The commentary by his friend James Howell ought to help us restore sanity amid the euphoria.

My Comments On Why Obama Won
Firstly, he had to. Wall Street (rich-upper middle class) has fallen to financial disarray. Main Street (the average middle-lower income people) continues to struggle with bread and butter issues daily. McCain appears too identical (even if he is not) to the Bush era. The 'Republican' name has somewhat become a liability for him, due to the association with right-wing policies, which has not helped improved the lot of the common people. The people needed something new and radically different.Non-Americans have even become more interested in the US Elections than their own. One even campaigned for Obama.

Secondly, the closely watched Primary elections between Hilary Clinton and Obama has sharpened his campaigning skills. The main difference is that elections is no longer limited to the 'white-causian-male' category but is open to black, female and others as well. That is certainly what true democracy is about, an election that is open to all. This has created some excitement among Canadians as well, so much so that some Canadians are even willing to trade their voting rights in exchange for the chance to vote in an American election! Obama clearly has a heart for the people at large. I like the way that he tells the story of Ann Nixon Cooper (106 years old) who queued up to vote. In one story, Obama demonstrates the importance of history, of a person who lived through two world wars, depressions, struggles, victories and many events. By stringing them together, he weaves multiple generations together to hope as one people that they will be a better tomorrow, if every person unites. The backgrounds and histories are shared realities of life.

Thirdly, the US has been prepared for a black president, thanks to Hollywood. From Morgan Freeman's role in "Deep Impact" to Dennis Haysbert's character, David Palmer in the hit TV series "24." In the latter, the President is handsome, solidly decisive and demonstrates a character of integrity that many admire. Together with the Oprah endorsement and many Hollywood supporters (California is largely Democratic), Obama's victory is only a matter of time.

Fourthly, the time is ripe for change. People have seen 8 years of a Republican-style Presidency and politics dominated by the same party in both Senate and House of Representatives, and they do not want a repeat of the same. What is more interesting is the increase in the younger voter turnout. The youths desire to be heard, and be different. Moderation, not radicalism is the key to future expectations in society. McCain is not exactly an alternative for an influential undecided bloc.

Fifthly, the world in general has hoped for an Obama victory. This is largely reflective of the desire for a more inclusive, balanced and fair international relations, which Bush's 'cowboy-style' policies fail to adequately provide. The world has changed. The trouble is that Washington has not kept pace, and it is hope that a youthful Obama will help bring change. Elsewhere, the change America is looking for, reflects the change that many people outside the USA harbours deep in their hearts. There is a coalition called "The World wants Obama." For example, multi-cultural Canada sees Obama as a reflection of their culture. An Australian press survey indicates a preference for Obama, so that the mess created by the past administration can be better addressed . Some Singaporeans see an Obama victory as a possibility of the Singapore political environment to change.

Sixthly, this election is something that is reflective of an emerging world. A new generation is sprouting out, that is brave enough to question the presuppositions of the past, of tradition and of old institutions. People are generally more willing to embrace new changes. Socially conditioned by an atmosphere of openness and greater tolerance, technologically spurred by constant introduction of the latest-and-the-greatest gadgets, coupled with an accelerating thrust toward self-expression and fulfillment of dreams, the stage is set for a new beginning. The start of a brave new world, at least mentally speaking.

Seventh, the Republican factor. Bush, despite being an honest disposition, fails to give America something to cheer about. His security policies have ushered in a climate of fear and brash challenge to those who disagree. The Iraq war and failure to locate any cache of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) mixes unfavourably with the confrontational foreign policies. For some, anything will do, as long as it is NOT Republican.

Finally, one will need to observe not only an Obama victory but the MARGIN of victory, which is unlike the previous elections between Bush and Al Gore where recount is the order of the day. The American people has delivered a clear and unambiguous message on who they want to lead the country. We need to respect that and tell ourselves, change will come. What matters now is to what, where and how?


Useful Links
(1) Obama's Victory Speech (video - part 1; part 2)
(2) Obama's Nov 4th, 2008 Victory Speech (Full Text)
(3) John McCain's Concession Speech (video)
(4) John McCain's Concession Speech (full text)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tiring to Inspiring

Life is a never-ending flow of challenges. When at work, we are fiercely driven by demands from every corner. Deadline pressures can be overwhelming. Information overload can be distressing. Inability to meet expectations can be discouraging. At home we are fiercely driven by expectations to balance work and family, and still be able to squeeze out some time for ourselves. At social events, we are hard-pressed to put on our best selves, even to the point of masquerading our emotions under the pretext of smiles, a persona of confidence effectively maintained by a respectable set of carefully selected fashion-ware. The human ‘default’ condition is to put on one’s most handsome external, even if it means stuffing one’s messy internal into a neatly packaged box. We are indeed a very tired generation. Assaulted by a buffet of information and inundated by increasing winds of change, anything is left behind is likely to be gobbled up by the bug of worry. Visibly tired, one becomes vulnerable to weather changes, and easily swayed to marketing messages that promotes popping pills as a quick relief. How then can we cope? Some will turn to harmful drugs that work quickly but wound slowly. Gordon MacDonald, in his classic work: “Ordering Your Private World,” observes this phenomenon aptly.
I get the feeling we are a tired generation. Evidence of that fatigue abounds in a multitude of articles about health problems related to overwork and exhaustion. Workaholism is a modern word. No matter how hard we are willing to work in our competitive world, there always seems to be someone willing to put in a few more hours than we are. What is strange about our general fatigue as a people is the fact that we are such a leisure-oriented society. We actually have what is called a leisure industry, and it is among the most profitable in our economy. Whole companies, organizations, and retail chain stores are committed to providing the goods with which people can pursue fun and good times.” (Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, Tennessee: Evangelical Publishing, 1984, p163)
More than twenty years later, we are nowhere better than the 80s, despite having better technologies and more advanced medical knowledge, and sophisticated health curriculum. The huge success of the ‘Chicken Soup’ series highlights the modern cry for comfort and emotional therapy. Thanks to the increasing worship of technology, treating the human condition is fast becoming more of a science rather than an art. Supplementing this first technological sweep are attempts at inspiring a tired generation. Current books like Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture,” and Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret” regularly top the bestseller charts. I have mentioned both works here and here. Both of these books are considered ‘inspirational’, to help one to attain one’s dream and versions of success. (I do not have a problem with Pausch, but I cannot say the same for Byrne.) Whether it is psychotherapy or emotional drugs; chicken-soup stories or inspirational ideas; suppressing one’s mood or delaying any fall toward depression, one thing is clear: An exhausted generation needs not relief but healing. Lance Secretan, in his book “Inspirational Leadership,” tries to bring some sanity and hope into such a need. He correctly identifies inspiration as coming from the Latin word spirare meaning ‘spirit.’ I am not comfortable with his ‘source’ of inspiration, (Secretan is a Shamanism-inclined spiritualist). Moreover, Secretan’s work smacks traces of Gnostic beliefs, that the spiritual is far better than the material things. This is in complete opposition to Christian theology which recognizes that every good and perfect gift comes from God, both spiritual and material. Hence, I will compare and contrast motivation and inspiration according to my understanding. Below is a table I made, highlighting the differences:

Sin Has Never Left Us

The sin that tarnished the first couple in the Garden of Eden has never been truly expelled from the backyard of the 21st century world. Adam and Eve hide their naked conditions using clumsy leaves from the green foliage of the garden. Likewise, we in the 21st century tries to conceal our sinful selves using sophisticated devices available from the natural and synthetic production facilities aided by art, science, fashion and technology. God gave Adam and Eve, garments for clothes, and sent out of the Garden. We in the 21st century, are given Christ, that we may put on our garments of praise, and be sent out to the world to proclaim the Word, the Logos. How then can we in our sinful condition move from a tired state to an inspired shape? Motivational talks can help but will be extremely limited. Spiritual exercises brings some useful help but it alone does not suffice. Only God can do it in Christ. Jesus has said to his disciples that He is the vine and we are the branches and apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Of course. Paul the Apostle says we are already dead in our sins. Only when we are made alive in Christ can we begin the path of recovery, to true fulfillment of the soul. This truth is made the more difficult to take in our sinful world. In our minds we want to believe. In our hearts we hope to embrace. However, our eyes see more struggles that seem to head down the rabbit hole of despair. News events happening around us does little to fortify any optimism of a better tomorrow. Our society is moving from these fronts:
  1. Church: From Christendom to Post-Christendom
  2. Social: From Corporate Togetherness to Isolationist Individual
  3. Workplace: From Industrialism to Post-Industrialism
  4. Economy: From Industrial to Information Economy
  5. Era: From Modernity to Post-Modernity
  6. Lifestyle: From Face-2-Face Rendezvous to Online Social Networking
I believe that despite these changes, the underlying creature behind these seismic movements remain largely the same. I have some disturbing observations of human nature. If we recognize that we are fallible, why do we behave as if others have to be infallible? Our readiness to forgive one another is a clear demonstration of my question. Can we, upon recognizing our limitations be able to show more tolerance and acceptance of one another as we are? Having said that, there is also the other angle. What if we exercise our forgiveness stance, but come across a situation whereby the wrong committed clearly need to be addressed. Like a case of stealing. Or a blatant cheating situation. How do we clearly speak up on these cases? I will suggest that if one is not sure about the manner to approach it, call upon like-minded individuals, wise people who can guide. We need such people. We need mentors to help us navigate the tricky straits of life. The young needs the older folks to learn from history and the past. The old needs the youthful generation to remind them that they are not living back in time but in contemporary culture. The middle aged who lives between the two generations need to develop their moderation to mature and be a future resource for the generations to come.

There is a very interesting prose-poem written by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Oriah is a Shamanist, who is currently on an indefinite sabbatical. She is not an evangelical. I am not even sure if she is a Christian. Her adopted name 'mountain dreamer' means 'the one who likes to push the edge.' Her writings are influenced by a type of spirituality called Shamanism, which aims to be in sync with the spirit world. Oriah, because of her beliefs encourages readers to be inspired by reading and meditating on the 'Invitation.' However, the problem I have lies in the next step. Where do we direct our spiritual concentration? On Self or on the Triune God? On the animal and natural spirits or on the Holy Spirit? Oriah's invitation is open. Far too open for comfort.

For Christians, we take comfort that we commune not with the spirits of the world but we pray in the Spirit of Christ. The following from Oriah's "The Invitation" can be read profitably when we do so with a focus on the mind of Christ. Imagine the invitation is given by a spiritual director. Using this, then direct your prayers to God the Father and ask the Spirit to meet our longings. Move from a tired self to an inspired soul.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of
meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story
you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or
how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where
or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

From: Oriah Mountain Dreamer, "The Invitation" Harper Collins San Francisco, 1999


A Prediction....

This picture somewhat sums up the mood for Canada, their expectation as well as prediction of the next US President.

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