Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Balm of Healing: Forgiveness

This decade is awful. Images of terrorism raise fears. Economic turmoils raise uncertainties. Yet, I cannot hepl but feel even more, that the path to peace is not from this world. It is from above, and we need to let the peace of God that passes all understanding, to sink deep into our hearts. This begins with forgiveness.

This year saw the passing of a music legend, Michael Jackson. As my last post for the year, it is fitting to close the year with a reminder that the key to healing is forgiveness. May this song be a lasting legacy of Michael Jackson, and for all mankind. Peace.

Forgive One Another
The path to long-lasting peace is not military might, not political fights, not academic heights, not ethical right, nor security that is tight. All these things only peels away the superficial levels of people, resulting either in short-term truce or temporary peace. Worse, it raises fear. Why not rethink our approach?

It is only forgiveness that can bring true healing to all. It is only forgiveness that touches the heart. Only when we forgive one another like little children will there be lasting peace. Like a spiritual master once said,
"The moment when you understand, compassion is born in your heart. And now it is possible for you to forgive. . . not before that." (Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist Zen master)

For the Christian, there is a small but significant difference. Compassion comes with embracing Christ who first forgave us. Fighting back and retaliating may be easy, but it often ends in difficult and complex consequences. Forgiving is hard initially, even painful, but results in a long-lasting freedom that eases healing in human relationships. True peace comes from the Lord. It starts with forgiveness.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"How to Share Christ to a Secular Audience?"

This is classic exhortation on stage. If our worship can be filled with lifting Christ up like this, it will be phenomenal. Interesting to note that the audience here is largely non-religious, or secular. The speaker, Steve Harvey is a comedian! Though I believe there are Christian believers in the audience, the whole context is not religious in any way. Thanks Cheryl for the link.



My Top 10 Favourite Posts of 2009

I have written a lot this year, more than previous years. As I reflect, let me list 10 of my personal favourites for the year. It comprises book reviews, reflections on culture and media, community, economics, evangelism, authenticity and thing about life. Hope you can agree. They are listed in descending order, according to the date published.

  1.  Secret to True Identity (Dec 16th, 2009)

  2.  Book Review - "Cash Values" (Nov 28th, 2009)

  3.  'Preparing for the Worst' article (Oct 9th, 2009)

  4.  Reconciliable Differences (Sep 25th, 2009)

  5.  Why Prayer Meetings Are Unpopular (Aug 20th, 2009)

  6.  Musings on Outreach and Evangelism (Jul 7th, 2009)

  7.  Call for Cool Heads Warm Hearts (May 4th, 2009)

  8.  Joining Up the Dots (Mar 10th, 2009)

  9.  A Full Life (Feb 12th, 2009)

  10.  Where is God Amid Economic Trouble? (Jan 24th, 2009)

Of these 10, which do you like best?


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

FW: "I can only hope we find God again before it is too late"

I received this mail today. It happens to be widely circulated especially during the year end Christmas holidays. As usual, I check the source to verify its authenticity. It appears that Ben Stein did indeed say some of it on CBSNews Sunday. I had suspected that any viral emails that is proliferating on the Internet have a high probability of being modified out of its original state. I was spot on! It appears that this message, is only partially true of Ben Stein. The way it is put together, and the cobbling of various other juicy details is by an unknown author.

Here are some of the results of my research.

  • Ben Stein's writings here
  • Part of the original is here, and here. Its original title is "Christmas," published on  8 Dec 2005;
  • There have been so many enquiries about the authenticity of the Christmas article that the webmaster has placed a special notice here.

So here's my re-posting. The ones in blue is correctly attributed to Ben Stein, as seen here. The rest in red are put together by somebody else. As far as I am concerned, if we were to forward any emails, we must at least do our homework. Otherwise, we will simply become a pawn of somebody else transmitting falsehood disguised as truth.


The Viral Email Entitled: "I can only hope we find God again before it is too late!!"

I can only hope we find God again before it is too late!!
The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.
My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.  And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees..  I don’t feel threatened.  I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are:  Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me.  I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.  In fact, I kind of like it  It shows that we are all brothers and sisters
celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in  Malibu  .  If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.  I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period.  I have no idea where the concept came from that  America  is an explicitly atheist country.  I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him?  I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too.  But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the  America  we knew went to..

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different:  This is not intended to be a joke;  it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.  She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out.  How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’

In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc.  I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.  Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school.  The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock’s son committed suicide).  We said an expert should know what he’s talking about.  And we said OK.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves. Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out.  I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell  Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.  Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.  Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.  Pass it on if you think it has merit.  If not then just discard it… no one will know you did.  But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards,  Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Monday, December 28, 2009

Google Dominance: Boon or Bane?

I tend to be suspicious of big monopolies. While it may be convenient to shop under one roof, there is always a price to pay. Adam Raff, a New York Times contributor writes about the dangers of allowing any one company to dominate our search results. Along the similar arguments of the famous John Dalberg-Acton phrase that 'absolute power corrupts,' let me add that dominance corrupts and absolute dominance corrupts absolutely.
Raff points out the following:
  • Google dominates 71% of both search AND advertising;
  • Google has actually penalized certain websites from legitimate searches;
  • Money talks;
  • The perception that Google is innovative is not exactly true as many of the latest Google apps are not developed in-house, but purchased from outside. 
Some will argue that Google is itself so innovative that we needn’t worry. But the company isn’t as innovative as it is regularly given credit for. Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Groups, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Android and many other Google products are all based on technology that Google has acquired rather than invented.

Even AdWords and AdSense, the phenomenally efficient economic engines behind Google’s meteoric success, are essentially borrowed inventions: Google acquired AdSense by purchasing Applied Semantics in 2003; and AdWords, though developed by Google, is used under license from its inventors, Overture.
Let me make a few comments.
1) Dominance Corrupts: It is the last point that is particularly disturbing. While it is true that Google has dished out lots of freebies, the thought that the richer companies can receive priority listing is by itself alarming. If power and dominance corrupts the Monopolizing corporation, it also attracts many others to dance the same dance, to sing the same song. In other words, if dominance corrupts the primary player, it draws in many secondary groups toward a greater disparity between the have's and the have-not's.

2) Dominance: Privilege or Right? A dominant search provider like Google may claim that it has the right to put its own products as priority. However, when one's search engine has penetrated mainstream society, Google has to relinquish this 'right.' For instance, consider Microsoft Internet Explorer in the year 1998. In trying to corner the browser market, Microsoft was sued for embedded Internet Explorer within its ubiquitous Windows operating system, effectively shutting out the competition.Where do we draw the line between privilege and right? Do we need a lawsuit to settle the distinction? I hope Google will play fair. Otherwise, they will, like Microsoft be hit with an anti-competitive suit.

3) Some qualifications: The writer, Adam Raff is a co-founder of Foundem, a firm supposedly victimized by Google. It is one thing to be writing as a third-party observer. Raff is not a third party. In fact, according to the article itself, Raff seems to have an axe to grind with Google.

4) Competition: In order for any industry to remain innovative, low cost and vibrant, competition is key. Thus, we must be suspicious of any organization that seeks to upend the competition with utter dominance. Personally, I like to use Google because of its search accuracy. Yet, I use them with caution as well, knowing that too much dependence on one company is definitely putting all my eggs in one basket. Thus, I switch search engines periodically, using Microsoft Bing, Yahoo Search or Ask engines.

Finally, I believe Google will need to look at spinning off its cash cow at some point. Let the public choose between a for-profit search, say Google-Pro (like for selling and buying products) and a neutral search, say Google-Standard (like students doing research). I am aware that there are some cases where the line between profit and not-for-profit is blurred. For such cases, let them appear in both search engines.

Let me also add that I do not have a problem with Google trying to make money openly. However, to covertly prioritize websites and discriminate against smaller players is definitely anti-competitive, even unethical.


Friday, December 25, 2009

A New Vision of Christmas

If you cannot see the embedded image below, click here.


"Happy Holidays" vs "Merry Christmas"

Nowadays in the West, many people are wishing one another "Happy Holidays" during the Christmas season. Atheists are proud about it. Many Christians frown on it. Others simply do not mind any. Here is a provocative post entitled "Happy Holidays will do nicely" from one of my Regent professors, published in Canada's National Post. It argues that "Happy Holidays" should be preferred especially when most of Canada is secular and multicultural. It implicitly assumes that people will be more offended if religious words like 'Christmas' is used.

The positive aspect of the article is that it reflects rather plainly the current cultural sentiment about de-Christianizing the Christmas event. Many people no longer attend churches. Even Christians are shunning Sunday services in droves, especially when they no longer feel 'ministered' to or its message 'relevant' to their needs. The traditional church is shrinking rapidly. Being Canadian is increasingly similar to being 'secular' and multicultural. Yet, I choose to differ politely from my Professor's view with two comments. The first lies with the importance of history and tradition. The second has to do with sense and sensibility to all.

Firstly, it does not mean one has to be Christian in order to use the word 'Christmas.' In any multicultural society, being sensitive to one another's faith belief is important. This does not mean silencing one's heritage. Yet, I do not believe that simply wishing "Merry Christmas" makes the occasion more 'religious' especially in a land where the forefathers are Christians. Moreover, I scratch my head to find out how offensive is the word 'Christmas?' It is a historical event. Tradition is an important source of identity. Lose it, and we spin further away downward the ever confusing spiral called: "Identity Crisis." On this very same argument, I know of some people who do not like the word 'Santa Claus.' In other words, this argument works both ways. Non-believers insisting on removal of words like 'Christmas' should also be sensitive to people who want to remove 'Santa Claus.'

Secondly, the word 'holiday' has a religious word called 'holy' in it. If one insists on removing religious words like 'Christ' from Christmas, why should they spare the 'holy' from 'holidays?' Why not simply blurt our "Happy ___days!" Soon, people's names will be next. Don't name your sons 'Peter' because it is from the Bible. Similarly, avoid 'Mary' in naming any of the toys you buy. Sigh. This kind of removing religious words for the sake of being non-religious will make our society a silly one. For those who insist on 'Happy Holidays' let me say to them, are you 'religious' about it in your insistence? Any atheist who insist on removing 'Christ' from Christmas should not insist that Christians do the same. If this silly game of removing words is allowed to rule our basic sense and sensibility, soon we will be living in a graceless (even wordless) society where every single word has to be censored from society as long as they 'offend.'
  • "Holiday Carols" instead of Christmas carols;
  • Even Christmas carols will have the words 'Jesus,' 'Christ,' 'God; removed;
  • All road names with religious words removed;
  • .......

My view is, live and let live. Be open to both usages according to how people want to use it. Those who forgets tradition forgets a whole lot more than brain memory. A multicultural society must be open to all preferences, both non-Christians AND Christians. Unless of course, there are no more Christian believers at all in Canada. May that day never happen. Professor Stackhouse's post is like an intellectual pudding. If you like it, you'll want another piece. If not, perhaps just one slice is enough.

It is not everyday that we wish one another Merry Christmas, but every non-work day can be a holiday. In conclusion, if an alien from outer space were to come to us on Christmas Day, and we wish it "Happy Holidays," what are we going to do when it asks: "Which one?" Let me say that at the end of it all, we still have to use the word 'Christmas.'

Have a Blessed Christmas!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Top 5 Technological Time-Wasters

Five Biggest Time-Wasters in a Technological Era
Technology is helpful, even needful. Yet, frequently it can be a regrettable case of minutes-wise-hours-foolish.... Technology saves time wonderfully. Too much technology wastes time absolutely.
Time and tide waits for no man. Time past is never to be recovered. A stitch in time saves nine. There are lots of proverbs surrounding time. We look at our watches daily, to keep track of our schedules and appointments. We browse our calendars and our digital devices to make sure we are ahead of time. Many commercials highlight 'saving' time so that we can spend it on more 'worthwhile' activities. I saw a bank commercial the other day, that simply by banking with them, we can shave off precious minutes in our banking so that we can channel them to our other activities. Like 'penny wise pound foolish,' the technological equivalent is 'minutes-wise-hours-foolish.' Our human tendency is to squander seconds saved, into meaningless hours doing other stuff. This is not helped with the bulging technology options available to the unsuspecting user.

In our modern technological age, it is easy to waste our precious time by random and aimless electronic surfing. It can be randomly searching out cable channels with our TV remote control. It can be aimless surfing of various Internet websites. It can be compulsive checking of email, to see if people has responded to our queries. It can be continuously 'liking' and 'commenting' on visual notifications on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. It can also be addictive playing of electronic games, increasingly made free of charge to any connected Internet user.

Source of Time-Wasting: The Restlessness DNA
The crux of the matter is, many of us tend to be fidgety and easily distracted. We inherit a restless DNA similar to the one possessed by the first murderer in world history: Cain. It is this restlessness that makes us easily distracted, deceived, and even dangerous. Think attention seeking. Think fame lusting. Think sex predators online. It is known that lonely people can become potential online prowlers scavenging for innocent young victims. It is restlessness that tempts one to try new things that are unorthodox, like illegal drugs. It is restlessness that entices one to leave their islands of holy contentment toward uncharted territories of unholy temptations. It is restlessness that deceives us into always assuming that when nothing is happening, something is wrong.

I remember during my training as a power engineer, my professor told us a story about a young professional engineer left to man the control room one day. It was one of the most forgettable days ever for that young rookie. On a typical day, assumed to be serene and normally quiet, the control lights in the room start flashing for attention. The sounds of the alarm is not just audible. Mixed with panic and uncertainty, it turns deafening. Without the presence of an experienced engineer, the young man feels lost and does the only thing in his mind: Call his supervisor. After several rings, the sleepy voice on the other side sounds like a guardian angel. The supervisor said: “You should do nothing.” True enough, after a few minutes, the systems automatically corrected itself and there was peace on earth and goodwill overflowing from the four-chambered heart of that young man, with sighs of relief bubbling out of his nostrils and ears.

Unfortunately, too many people have fallen prey to their restless inside, to participate in all kinds of activities outside, even meaningless ones. This brings me to the 5 main time-wasters of the technological era. It is because of our constant restlessness inside us, that we are easy pickings for these 5 time wasters. It is hoped that by sharing these, I can encourage more people to be aware that sometimes, 'doing nothing' is a good thing.

Here's the list of my top 5 time-wasters.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ten Riskiest Domain Names according to McAfee

McAfee, the antivirus company has just released the latest riskiest domains ranking. What it does is to compile and tabulate the spam reporting this year.

Here's the list.

  1. Cameroon (.cm)
  2. Commercial (.com)
  3. China (.cn)
  4. Samoa (.ws)
  5. Information (.info)
  6. Philippines (.ph)
  7. Network (.net)
  8. Soviet Union (.su)
  9. Russia (.ru)
  10. Singapore (.sg)

  1. Government (.gov)
  2. Japan (.jp)
  3. Education (.edu)
  4. Ireland (.ie)
  5. Croatia (hr)
  6. Catalan (.cat)
  7. Luxembourg (.lu)
  8. Vanuatu (.vu)
  9. South Africa (.za)
  10. Switzerland (.ch)

My comments
I find lists like these rather superfluous. Is there new information that we do not already know? My question is whether this is a fear-mongering effort by an anti-virus company, or is it merely McAfee's attempt to boost advertising publicity about their products. As far as the user is concerned, when he/she gets spammed, it doesn't matter which domain is the culprit. Not even (.safe) can help. The moral of the story is this: With the Internet so wide and open, take your necessary precautions as you surf.

Secondly, wouldn't publishing such a list likened to throwing down the gauntlet to hackers to spam domains to make next year's list?

Finally, the domain '.edu' is among the ten least riskiest. I am suspicious. Suspicious indeed.


Justifying One's Existence


It happened to me before when I was working for an IT firm. After a particularly bad quarter, my superior will somehow indicate to me with a wink: "Justify your existence." This essentially means the following.
"Conrade. You know the company is not meeting its targets for the past two quarters. Can you show me the reasons to keep you? Can you help me justify your continued employment in this company?"
The statement flows softly, but bellows loudly through my ears. It pierces my heart to think that even the boss that I trust can be so cold and business-like. Maybe he is just doing his job. Maybe he needs to protect his position as well. Maybe I am simply not up to his expectation. Maybe he sees it as a way to spur my performance.

Justify your existence in the company.

This past year, I have also witnessed layoffs and retrenchments happening in non-profit organizations. A pastor friend of mine was laid off recently. The setback is not just the job, but a tremendous loss of self-esteem. Ministers of God's churches are still human. They need to feed their family. They need to exercise their training and gifts. They need to be faithful to the calling they have received. A retrenchment is like a slap on that original sense of calling. When one can no longer justify one's existence in any organization, it is time to say goodbye.

The Calm Before the Storm
In profit-based corporations, successive poor financial performances only mean one thing: Retrenchment is coming. Amid the hive of activity lies an arduous mood of gloom. One starts to wonder how long one can continue to justify his or her own existence in the firm.

In non-profit companies, like churches and charitable organizations, a hint of worse times to come appears through 'innocent' questions. For instance, one of the dreaded questions to ever ask any minister is this:
"How much time do you spend in preparing a sermon?"
When the funds are low, the board members, or the person holding the purse strings will tend to ask questions like these. It can make a preacher felt threatened, or left scrambling for numbers to 'justify his own existence.' When a church wants to cut costs, or manage spending, this question can be deadly to the joy of serving in the ministry of preaching. In an insightful article "Why Pay the Preacher?" by Dan Hotchkiss, the writer brings us to appreciate the inner rumblings of the preacher upon hearing about connecting hours to sermon preparation time. I loved the humor in it.
"Last week's sermon about aging took me sixty years."
We can laugh at it, but not all treasurers of finance board members will find it funny. They are dead serious that we justify the amount of money the church pays its pastors and preachers. In good times, where church members are regularly contributing, preachers need not 'justify their existence.' In lean times, where the money is tight, this is when faith gets tested, financially.

My Idea on Preaching
For me, I think preaching is a calling that cannot be easily quantified into hours and minutes. There are weeks in which it takes just a couple of hours to put together a moving sermon. There are also times in which even 3 full continuous days of preparation draw a blank. Preparing a sermon is not a task but an attitude. It is an attitude that stems from a living relationship with Jesus. It is an aptitude that grows from a loving relationship with people. It is one's inner gratitude to God and neighbour that enables one to preach faithfully and truthfully in God, to the people of God.

Preaching is very much my passion. I wrote an article this week about it on SabbathWalk. In it, I maintain that preaching is not an act but an attitude. Likewise, because it is an attitude, while we can try to quantify them, remember that the Spirit of God cannot be quantified into chronological time. On the question, "How many hours do you put to prepare a sermon?" let's put out 2 hands. The first hand is to put down the numbers to give board members an idea. Be honest about the challenges and the topic. Certain topics require greater number of hours. Others less. The second hand is to be constantly aware of the Spirit's leading. Finally, put these two hands together in the shape of a praying hand. Preaching must begin, not with books or sermon materials first. Preaching being an attitude needs to begin with God, who shapes this attitude.

As we pray more, as we preach more, as we trust God more, we will strangely find that 'justifying one's existence' no longer becomes as fearful as it sounds. Trusting God is a strange discipline. Often, we feel like we need to take the first leap of faith, thinking that if we don't initiate, nothing will happen. Yet, have we ever wondered that God has already made that first move. We simply needed to keep in step with the Spirit. So our 'leap' of faith cannot measure up to the LIFE of faith, Christ has fully given to us more than 2000 years ago. God, in Jesus has already justified our existence for all eternity. Why are we still afraid? Perhaps each time we approach the threshold of fear, it simply means we have spent too much time worrying and not enough time praying.


A Comment on the New Disney Movie

I love this post by Wesley Lowe, a film producer specializing in inculcating more Asian content in a media industry dominated by white-only. This post is brilliant especially this quote:
affirmative action is much better than what we have now – “unaffirmative inaction.”

In the current hit, the The Princess and the Frog, Disney decides to cast a 'black' as the heroine. From the many cartoon movies so far, this is unprecedented. This is especially when the original author of the fable is writing to a largely white readership base. Again, I have a small critique. Asians HAS been represented in cartoons. Think Mu Lan.

I know that cartoons such as MuLan already has a Chinese face to the lead figure. Yet, I concede that the context is that the story is written by a Chinese author, and the name itself is very Chinese.

Finally, my response to Lowe's post is not simply agreeing for a more ethnically diverse representation in Hollywood. I am also hoping that the day will come, whether white, black, Hispanic, Asian or whatever ethnicity, people will see each and everyone equal.

You can read Lowe's excellent comment here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: "Journey of the Magi" (Paul William Roberts)

TITLE: Journey of the Magi - in search of the Birth of Jesus
AUTHOR: Paul William Roberts
PUBLISHER: Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2005. (399 pages)

Mention Paul William Roberts (PWR), and not many people will know him. Mention Madonna studying Kabbalah under him, and perhaps more people will sit up and pay attention. PWR literally attempts to trace the journey of the Magi to search for the birthplace of Jesus.  Some call it a travel book. Others see it as radical scholarship to shed more light on the gospel narrative. From the author's standpoint, there are 3 journeys. The first is physical, where he describes his expedition from Iran through to Palestine. The second is mental, where he researches academic material to learn more about the ancient and modern geography. The third journey is something more 'spiritual' for lack of a better word. PWR calls it the 'heart of the heart,' and the 'source of the self.' (xii)

Why Read This Book?
Christmas is here again. In carols, and in Scripture reading, we often come across the Three Magi, or the Three Wise Men. Not much is known about them. This book is essentially a journey to trace the history of the Magis. If you are curious about all things Magi, this book is illuminating. (For Christians, note the following. It is also part of PWR's personal journey in practicing his own Kabbalah faith.) If you are keen to learn more about the Magi, and their history, you will appreciate the sharp observations and the wide scholarship that are conveniently collected in one volume by the author.

My Comments
While PWR does a credible job observing the differences within the gospels of Matthew and Luke, his interpretation is weak and skeptical. He concludes that the nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke conflict with each other, and proceeds with his own version of hermeneutic of suspicion. In trying to make sense of the 'conflicting data,' PWR mixes different personalities from different time periods in order to create a more 'meaningful' story, a 'history that meets his own needs' (x). So we hear Santa Claus, Marco Polo, ancient Zoroastrians in the first century, the Roman Church from the Middle Ages, on the basis that history needs to be modified for the benefit of his personal understanding. Quite a bold move.

He points out accurately that Matthew mentions Magi, while Luke talks about shepherds and question this contradiction. Without much explanation why, he chooses to go with Matthew's version, centering his search on one premise: "Everything relates to one subject:" the Magi (15). My question: Is this already too self-limiting? Will this constrain scholarship per se?

It is sometimes not easy to critique this book, as it is a book mixed with imagination and facts, of scientific data as well as his creatively worded narrative of his own journey and interpretation.

In his journey, he encounters people of different faiths. In his search for the birthplace of Jesus, he works on a lateral level, seeking to discover a horizontal connection between the ancient Persians and the Jews. (54) This downplays any supernatural work from above.  Being a Kabbalah teacher himself, I am not surprised that he wears this lens of interpretation. Why choose to study the Magi and not the shepherds? This is because the Magi has a lot more 'mystical' element, as Kabbalah itself centers on mysticism. Hence, scholarship and research becomes subject to this lens of mysticism. PWR admits to discarding some material of history to fit his ends. Thus with such an attitude, only the mysterious stuff has a higher chance of catching his eye. I find this type of scholarship less credible. PWR begins well and makes good observations, but ultimately stutters in his interpretation and overwhelmingly Kabbalah-centric focus. His sense of feeling successful is determined by him getting more 'connected' to the Magi in the gospels (367).

For example, this conclusion is so Magi-centric:
"The Magi, as I see them - thanks to Marco Polo - came to pay homage not to Christ but to the whole world; to celebrate the still, sad music of humanity, as well as its extraordinary ability to climb ceaselessly toward higher and higher goals, using the strength acquired through countless falls." (382)

PWR practices a form of panentheism, where the highest goal is the completion of the journey from 'self' to 'Self.' In simpler terms, it is a belief that the ultimate 'god' is within oneself.

Overall, I find that while PWR's research and scholarship is impressive, and his active mind asks good questions, his conclusions remain somewhat weak. It is like using Google to grab a massive amount of statistics on a certain topic and try to interpret them. Such a task is in itself complicated, and does not give one a good chance at accurate conclusions.

If you want to read the book, read it for its many fascinating observations about the 'contradictions.' If you enjoy reading about his first journey from Iran to Palestine, this book is fun reading. If you like scholarship, you will like his second journey. However, when it comes to conclusions, especially his description of his 3rd kind of journey, be aware of the deeply Kabbalah-centric hermeneutic.


Secret to True Identity

The Secret of our True Identity

Years ago, my father gave me a cryptic message by showing me the headlines of a newspaper article he was reading. It was a talk given by a respected elderly statesman. I can still remember vividly the phrase: "To be or not to be. That is the question."

I didn't know what my father was talking about. He didn't really explain his thoughts. I possess no special cognitive ability to read minds. Neither did my father transfer any telepathic skills to me. The words look exactly as they were: words. Only years later do I recognize the existential implication of that question. Still, I am left guessing what my father is trying to say to me at that time. Perhaps, he is not interested in saying anything more. He just wants me to think, to ponder, and to meander from time to time the deeper meanings behind the philosophical saying. I know now that it comes from a famous play in Shakespeare's Hamlet. One can interpret it to mean desiring to live or to die; to do or not do; or to verbalize one's predicament before making important decisions. Whatever it is, it is a famous phrase that pushes us toward a Yes/No ultimatum.

Educators will be downtrodden if life is simply reduced to a yes-no process of selection, as it leads to a premature end to any lively discussion. Computer programmers will be lifted up in ecstasy, to learn that life can be programmed simply with a series of IF-THEN-ELSE subroutines. Philosophers generally prefer not to answer such a question but meander all over the different dimensions of the phrase. Existentialists will argue for the affirmative. Utopians will prefer to anticipate a brighter tomorrow. My reflection continues to reveal insights into my father's phrase. "To be or not to be. That is the question." Here lies my thesis.
MY THESIS: "We cannot adequately answer this question without first recognizing our sense of identity. We cannot appreciate our sense of identity without recognizing our adoption in Christ. "
In other words, the secret to our identity is not titles, not subtitles, but to know our entitlements as children of God. Let me frame this discussion with the words, titles, subtitles, and entitlement.

What does it take to be a millionaire? This popular question was posed to my cohort during my graduation year. Lecturers ask it. Students wish it. Some hope but most thinks it is out of their humble reach. For a young graduate, like a bird in hand is better than two in the bush, getting a job beats dreaming about a million dollars hands down. Yet, the desire to be successful sings strong in the hearts of many aspiring graduates entering the workforce. For an ambitious person, it takes less than a year before one starts to wonder about status in the organization. Usually, the title reflects a certain prestige. As one climbs the career ladder, usually a bigger title comes with a higher salary, or better privileges.

I remember a time when I was an engineer in an electronics firm. Life was good and fun. I enjoy the projects and the challenge of meeting deadlines. I find programming fun. I find interacting with fellow engineers enjoyable and of course. I see getting paid to do what I enjoy doing as a big blessing. As each year passes by, as new and younger engineers join the fray, I start to wonder what I need to do in order to be ahead of the pack. What about being promoted? What about getting a position that allows me to supervise other engineers? Thoughts of a promotion start to occupy me constantly. I can practically visualize all the extra benefits that come with a senior engineer title. I had thought that it made me feel important, that when I meet vendors and business partners, I can flash them my name card that says: "SENIOR ENGINEER." Boy, that kind of feeling is exhilarating. Yet, there is something that is different. My past relationships with my fellow engineers seem to change with my promotion. They no longer complain about management in front of me, as I am considered part of the management team. Their sharing appears muffled, compared to our carefree days as peers. It takes a lot of time, and open assurance to help them be more relaxed with my presence. The situation eventually improved, but never the same as before. Titles come with privileges, but also limitations. It opens a new door, but closes old ones. Adjusting to this new phase can be tough. When we are not ready, do not ask for a title. When we are ready, don't depend on a title to behave accordingly. If we equate our sense of importance with titles, we deceive ourselves and slowly lose our sense of identity.

Living in a fast paced culture can be a challenge when trying to cultivate relationships. Even among family members, I remember relatives asking my mum what kind of job and what position I am currently holding. It seems like family pride is connected with position and status titles of the offspring. My grandmother used to boast to my distant relatives that there is a doctor and a lawyer in the household. While it is true, it hides the fact that there are many unique family situations behind the flashy titles. This pattern is repeated even in social circles. My colleagues and friends readily exchange name cards at parties and annual get-togethers. From Senior Analyst to Principal Consultant, from Entrepreneur to a CEO of a highly visible MNC, from Senior Engineer Level 1 to Chief Engineer Level 5. Yet, the title of the person is not enough. People's sense of respect rises in proportion to the name of the organization. It is one thing to be a manager of ABC company. It is more 'credible' to be a Managing Director of a Fortune 500 conglomerate. During my time, any consulting job with a management consulting firm, especially the Big 8 (at that time) is an automatic entry into many comfortable invitations to corporate presentations, meals and vendor attention.

Likewise, the moment one leaves the company, or gets retrenched, one's sense of importance falls. The end result can be downright discouraging. For a person who have felt important because of a title, he will soon realize that it works the other way too. When "TITLE = IMPORTANCE," "NO TITLE = "NO IMPORTANCE."

This leads me to observe that, if we let our sense of importance be determined by a 'title,' our sense of identity becomes an oblivious 'subtitle.' People has sometimes described their individual phase changes as 'identity crisis.' When that happens, they are not exactly sure who they are, and why are they living on this earth. I cannot help but suspect, that one chop leads to three losses in order of seriousness: loss of income, loss of pride, loss of identity. Some people never truly recover after a setback like this. I know of one person who received his pink slip in the morning, returned home a few hours later and subsequently ended his life. Our sense of identity must go beyond titles, subtitles or no-titles. It is linked to Someone bigger than ourselves.

I have said at other times that our modern era comprises a growing young generation of people expecting handouts and demanding a piece of their entitlement. Despite expert advice that asks people not to expect automatic promotions, people still behave as if it is their right for a promotion, for a salary increase and for a better recognition in the corporate ladder. This is not the kind of 'entitlement' I am talking about.

I believe in Jesus, and his promise for all. I believe that Jesus died for our sins, and He will come again to usher in the full and perfect kingdom at the right time. It is coming. The 'entitlement' I am talking about is the assurance of salvation in Jesus. This is the treasure for us to cherish. This is the promise for us to keep. This is the hope for us to long for. Underlying this sense of 'entitlement' is grace. Grace unlimited. A grace that is freely given and awaits us to freely receive. It is in the light of this grace, that we recognize that our sense of identity has been redeemed by God. No longer are we slaves to worldly depictions of importance=titles. Being a child of God automatically means we are entitled to the goodness of God in all its glory. Nothing will be held back. Everything is for us to receive. Here lies the crucial link toward an authentic identity. In Christ.

A Sense of Identity Redeemed
Before I get accused of promoting a brand of prosperity-driven gospel, let me state that I believe God's riches are infinite. It is so infinite that his riches is not mere unidirectional. I know for some people, they think that God can *only* prosper them in terms of bigger and more impressive statistics. No! The first beattitude clearly says: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God." This means that the blessings of God cannot be restricted to one-direction only, ie more and more. God must be allowed to choose to bless people with more as well as with LESS. I remember a friend telling me about her employer wanting to reward her for her wonderful work one year. Instead of asking for more money, she asks for less. Puzzled, the boss asks why. She then goes on to say that she wants to work less, to get less pay so that she can spend more time with her family. What a wonderful way to communicate life principles in the office!

God riches can be given to us whether we are rich or poor, slave or free, sick or well, or any earthly condition we are in. As the significance of the kingdom of God breaks through into us and through us, we will realize that job titles, subtitles and all kinds of earthly titles will grow strangely dim, in the light of God's glory and grace.

Looking unto Jesus, we can be free from the bondage of our importance with our titles. Looking unto Jesus, we can be liberated from the chains of earthly reputation in favour of heavenly revelation. Looking unto Jesus, we let titles and subtitles disappear into oblivion, as we let the Person of Jesus appear more and more in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. We cannot appreciate our sense of identity without recognizing our adoption in Christ. In other words, the secret to our identity is not titles, not subtitles, but to know our entitlements as children of God.

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob,And He who formed you, O Israel,"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isa 43:1, NAS)


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Musings on "Cardus - Whither Democracy 2.0?"

This blog post is partly to test out the new comment-share button the contributor, Rosie Perera has put in her Comment website.   I had thought it will paste the entire article on this blog. Alas! It only places the subject heading and the link is embedded within. You can read the full article by clicking the link below.

My Comments
Using the popular technological term Web 2.0, the author argues that the concept of democracy in government is, like technology, tends to be more neutral. Its pros and cons depend on how we use it.  Using various studies and bibliography to back up her observations, she poses interesting parallels between technology and government, as well as how technology is shaping the voting patterns of tomorrow. Some uses like 'armchair activism' are largely 'ineffective.'

I like the way the author puts it, saying "The Internet is a megaphone for extremism." I agree. In fact, for people who has said that the Internet has made more information freely available, I will also say that it has facilitated another kind of 'extremism.' One of my biggest concerns is that the Internet is one that not only makes information more readily available, it allows one an easier and quicker way to look for views that AGREE with one's perspective. In other words, a bigot can easily search for support on the Internet and band together many groups of people who think the same way. Is that 'Democracy' or is it more a rallying cry. That said, political activists can readily harness the power of the Internet to fill up their supporter ranks. The danger is that one may no longer care for truth per se, but accumulates anything or anyone who is willing to sing the same song or to toe the same line. 

Toward the end, the author poses 4 excellent pointers on how to participate profitably in Democracy 2.0, lest it withers by the wayside. Be well-informed, be aware of the sources, be thoughtful prior to sending, and be 'reflective and prayerful.' Those are truly important factors that needs to be adhered to. I agree with them, but would like to add one more, which I call the 'enabler' of these four pointers. (sorry Rosie, I'm trying to steal your thunder). Before I go to that, let me offer just one critique even though I have a few more (only one, a tiny one, as I treasure my friendship with the author).

Here goes.... The four pointers are not exactly for 'Christians' only. Perhaps the fourth one is more relevant, but even then, I believe the article is for everyone who goes online. After all, we are not talking about a democracy within a theocratic society. We are trying to practice a democracy within an increasingly 'secular' setting. That said, if the author could modify this, it could mean a wider readership base.

'Enabler' of the Four Excellent Pointers
From my experience, there is one cavaet before we can make these happen. We must learn to bide our time. In an Internet age, we get quite testy when people do not respond quickly to our emails, thinking that we are ignored intentionally. That calls for humility to give the other persons the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they are busy. Maybe they are caught up with something else more important. Maybe my mail gets slipped into the spam box accidentally. Maybe the recipient is very sick and so on.

The converse is equally true. As much as we expect quick response from people, we must take care not to be too hasty with a trigger-happy keyboard response, letting our fingers work faster than our heads and hearts. This has caused some people who responded sooner, only to regret their mails later.  I remember that GMAIL has recently provided an email facility to UNSEND one's email.

My point is, timing is key whenever we work in a technological age. We need to be patient, and to approach matters with a loving heart. The virtues of patience and love are like seeds that grow on good soil They require the element of time. The author's last pointer comes closest to my 'enabler.' We need time to be prayerful and reflective. Not too fast, not too slow but just right. Otherwise, 'Anything 2.0' will wither in a matter of time.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Free ebook: "What Matters Now"

An Example of Collaborative Blogging

Here is a free ebook generously contributed by a host of well known writers, authors, bloggers and publishers. Called "What Matters Now," it is a collection of short writings (about 200 words) per page by various people, and compiled into an 82-page ebook format. It is an idea credited to Seth Godin, who manages to gather the collection of articles. I call this one solid example of 'collaborative blogging.' Hopefully, we can kick start a Regent-alum version of it soon.

You can download the ebook here.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Collaborative Blogging (For Regent alums)

These days, I have been thinking about the Cs of life. Community, Cooperation, Common, Collaboration. The word 'community' is a really big part of the Regent ethos. Regent people will be familiar with this, especially when President Rod Wilson calls it as the C word. Each year, the Regent faculty will talk about community. In fact the award winning course in Regent-College is the "Christian Thought and Culture" led by Professor Iain Provan and faculty members across the entire college. It still ranks as one of my favourite classes to attend.

Building Community - Regent style
We have 'community groups' that meet at least once every week. Mind you, to meet together once is already a challenge for those of us who live far away from the expensive city of Vancouver. Soup days on Tuesdays are also geared to support this community ethos. The Well Cafe, which incidentally is celebrating its 12th Anniversary today and tomorrow has helped facilitate a nice community environment both at its Dunbar branch as well as its Regent-College stall. I learned that for today and tomorrow, drip coffee is free, and lattes/cappucinos are priced at a loonie. If you are around Dunbar in Vancouver, go for it!

Building Community - Collaborative Blogging
This brings me to my main point. What happens after graduation? I have heard many fellow graduates feeling out-of-place when they return to their respective countries, churches or colonies. Oh no, I just used another 3 C words. A common (another C) lament is that Regent alums find it difficult to network with people who share the Regent ethos. The Regent experience cannot be easily created outside Regent. I was thinking, what about collaborative blogging? What if Regent alums can band together to blog regularly on common concerns surrounding the culture? Stuff like how technology is affecting family, relationships etc. Stuff like how we tackle the mental divide between lay & clergy; Sacred & Secular; Work & Ministry; Independence/Interdependent. The word 'Interdependent' has been much on my mind these days.

After writing my latest Sabbathwalk reflection this week, I cannot help thinking that the key to running the long marathon is through an 'interdependent' format. Like what they used to say in leadership circles,
"If you want to run a short distance, do it alone. If you want to run a marathon, do it TOGETHER."

Here is my humble suggestion. To all Regent alums, let's start what I call 'collaborative blogging.'
  • To create a platform for extending the 'Regent ethos' for alums;
  • To contribute insightful articles that is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-perspectival, multi-nationality.
  • It will be different from social networking tools like Facebook, because it does not merely report news updates, but gives a critical analysis of happenings around. (For example, Rosie Perera's 'FaithandTechnology blog' is an example of engagement)
  • This collaborative blogging platform can also be a launchpad for Regent alums who blog. A bloglist can be established.  
  • Each week, a blogger can give his/her perspective not only as a Regent alum, but also as one who understands the Regent ethos.
  • The purpose of 'collaborative' blogging is not to enforce any one particular view, but to appreciate the multiple perspectives from different countries, different ethnicities and different denominational persuasions.
  • It will be something more than what Facebook/Twitter/mySpace can offer. It will be something more substantial, adhere to a common template, and invites reflections about cultural issues and worldwide matters. The views remain the responsibility of the contributors. Collaborative blogging allows a platform for Regent alums to contribute.
  • It can even be a forum for Regent alums to pose questions of queries and any of the collaborative blogging members can answer or give their opinions.
  • Book reviews can also be requested.

Let me give another example. Let's take the homosexuality debate (hot potato!). Can we create a platform to give a Regent view that is in line with our ethos? Where do Asians and Americans differ in their interpretations? This debate has split nearly every single Christian entity worldwide. I'm not asking for all to agree. My main purpose is to create a platform for a fair perspective to UNDERSTAND all. Another example would be what do we think of Rick Warren's delayed declaration of the homosexuality law in Uganda?

Kenneth Thomas is well known on his work on conflict management. In his Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument, he offers us 5 conflict-handling models using a 2x2 matrix.

1) Avoiding (one is unassertive and uncooperative)
2) Accomodating (one is unassertive and cooperative)
3) Competing (one is assertive and uncooperative)
4) Compromising(one is part assertive and part cooperative)
5) Collaborating (one is assertive and cooperative)

(Credit: "All Things Conflict Management" web site)

Collaborative blogging aims toward allowing people to be both assertive as well as cooperative. I know that there are many different groups already going on right now. Yet, I cannot help feel that there are many others who are not involved in anyway, and would like to be involved in a platform for alums.

Let me know your thoughts. I am open to suggestions.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Book Review: "The Purpose of Christmas" (Rick Warren)

TITLE: The Purpose of Christmas
AUTHOR:  Rick Warren
PUBLISHED:  NY: Howard Books, 2008.

This book's (The Purpose of Christmas) main selling point is not the message but the author. Written for a general audience, Warren writes in a way that the man in the street can understand. There is not much theological jargon and even Bible translations are carefully chosen, with preference given to modern English use. I sense that Warren tries hard to be clear on the one hand, and also faithful to the biblical text on the other hand.

About the Book
It can be read in one sitting. The purpose of Christmas is about celebration, about salvation and for reconciliation. Warren is aware of the joyous year end party mood, and begins a chapter of 'celebration' partly to dispel any accusations that Christianity is a kill-joy religion. He reverses the public perception by distinguishing between religion and grace, with religion as man's attempt to reach God, while grace is God's attempt to reach man. The second chapter points out the meaning of Christmas in terms of Christ's offer of salvation for all.  His simple 3 points is remarkably effective.
- "Jesus saves you from something;"
- "Jesus saves you for something;"
- "Jesus saves you by something." (44)

He then goes to list out 5 freedoms that arise out of this salvation. Pages 84-85 shows a beautiful picture of a multiracial portrait with the word PEACE. Somehow, I feel that this is Warren's main passion in the entire book. The way for world peace is again 3-fold. Firstly, one needs to have peace WITH God. Then one can be clothed with the peace OF God in order to share peace with all others. I love this progression as it is not only biblical, it is very practical as well.

Warren ends the book with a brief reference to his PEACE plan.
- Promote reconciliation
- Equip servant leaders
- Assist the poor
- Care for the sick
- Educate the next generation.

What I Like
1) Its simplicity and the many memorable acronymns.

FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real;

GRACE = God's Riches At Christ's Expense;

2) The 5 freedoms.
- Freedom from past guilt.
- Freedom from bitterness and resentment
- Freedom from expectations of others
- Freedom from addictive habits
- Freedom from fear of death.

3) Two Major reasons for conflicts
a) our natural self-centeredness;
b) expecting others to meet our expectations, especially those that only God can meet.

4) Multi-audience.
One does not need to be Christian to appreciate the book. Having said that, while the book can be a gentle introduction to the gospel. Christians too can benefit from the reminders through the simple messages.

My Comments
This little book is small in size but big in coverage.  Warren distills the message of Christmas into a delightful little book and makes the "Purpose of Christmas" into a gift that can be passed around from person to person. This book makes some references to his bestselling "Purpose Driven Life" but is no where close to its impact. Meant more as a simple Christmas message than a life-based treatise, we should adjust our expectations accordingly. There is not much to be critical about, since this book is for a general audience. Warren should be applauded for giving us a book for all to experience God's gift of celebration, of salvation and of reconciliation. The world needs it.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

You can read a shorter review on Amazon here.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Ten Traits of Healthy Church & Healthy Disciple

Below is a table laid side-by-side of Stephen Macchia's book "Ten Traits of a Healthy Disciple." (Stephen Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Disciple, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004, p18)

10 Traits of a Healthy Church10 Traits of a Healthy Disciple
1) God's Empowering Presence1) Experiences God's empowering presence
2) God-exalting worship2) Engages in God-exalting worship
3) Spiritual Disciplines3) Practices the spiritual disciplines
4) Learning and Growing in Community4) Learns and grows in community
5) Commitment to Loving and caring relationships5) Commits to loving and caring relationships
6) Servant-Leadership Development6) Exhibits Christ-like behaviour
7) Outward Focus7) Shares the love of Christ generously
8) Wise Administration and Accountability8) Manages life wisely and accountably
9) Networking with the Body of Christ9) Networks with the body of Christ
10) Stewardship and Generosity10) Stewards a life of abundance

My Comments
Charts like these are not supposed to be followed as if they are like the 10 commandments of the Old Testament. They are useful in helping us take a snapshot at our church life or our efforts at discipleship. Let me give 10 pointers as I reflect on these 20 traits.

Firstly, I find it most useful as a spiritual diagnostic tool. It helps us to see what parts of our Christian living is deficient, or reveals any lopsidedness of our spiritual practice. Secondly, having said that, there is also an element of time. People and circumstances change. Yesterday, we may have managed our finances well. Tomorrow, the church may have made a deep deficit. What works yesterday may be taboo tomorrow. Only by relying on the Spirit of God to help us discern the right thing to do can we survive the constant onslaught and deceptions of the world and the evil forces at large.

Thirdly, these lists are not to be an end in itself. While they contain good pointers, we should endeavour to develop a list that is unique to our own church or spiritual condition. It is good to have a balanced life. This is something that management circles have touted. Yet, as far as a Christian is concerned, a 'balanced' view should not become an end in itself. If we ever take 'balance' as a god to be achieved at all costs, when the time is ripe for radical changes, we may become stuck when the 'balance' group refuse to yield to 'radical' promptings by the Spirit. Somehow, I am glad that when Luke records the Pentecost event in Acts, people spread the gospel far and wide in a radical way. I wonder what would have happened if there are people who restrained the Spirit filled believers in the name of 'balance?' 

Fourthly, looking at the list of ten traits side by side, I cannot help wonder if they complement each other. Can a healthy church ever have unhealthy disciples? Can a healthy disciple ever exist in an unhealthy church? It is quite inaccurate to generalize anything. Theologically, the church is the people of God. A healthy church comprises of individuals in an interdependent community seeking to be more like Christ. A healthy disciple thrives in a healthy church setting. Much like the endless chicken and egg cyclical, we cannot easily put one before the other. Perhaps, we need to start where we are and work from there. 

Fifthly, with each trait lies a different set of expectations. It is like everyone using different currencies to exchange stuff. Likewise, expectations need to be easily understood and be quantified.

Sixthly, if we do not do anything about it, chances are, nothing gets done. I like the project management acronym SMART. In order for any organization or any person to get things done, make the object as specific as possible. Ensure it is measurable with reasonable quantifiable numbers. Have a good sense of attaining it, without asking for the moon. Keep the focus on stuff relevant to the present situation. Finally, add a time line to gauge progress. Keeping a simple hold on this will help move the church or person toward positive change.

  • S = Specific;
  • M = Measurable;
  • A = Attainable;
  • R = Relevant;
  • T = Time.
Seventhly, not all of the traits are ranked the same. Each organization and individual will need to pray and to seek God for the way to prioritize their resources toward each end. Over time, some traits will appear more relevant than others.

Eighthly, in order to avoid myopic views, have as many people within the church to contribute opinions and ideas about which traits are most deficient at any one moment.

Ninthly, be ready to add or subtract from the list whatever is applicable or not. Sometimes, there are other traits worth developing that are not on the original list. Sometimes, the item appears a little to general for specific usefulness. Take the first trait for example. How do we deal with person A who feels God is far away, and at the same time, person B who felt God's presence intimately? Having more specifics help.

Finally, do not be discouraged or overconfident. The traits are useful for an initial gage, not a permanent record.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Book Review: "The Making of an Elder Culture" (Theodore Roszak)

Title: "The Making of an Elder Culture"
Author: Theodore Roszak
Published: New Society Publishers, 2009.

This is a sequel to the earlier book, "The Making of a Counter Culture." Aimed at the boomer generation, it gives further guidance on what this generation that is aging can do with their remaining years and the energies they still have. In a nutshell, Roznak says that the ‘elder culture’ people of today can still be counter-culturing. They have not lost their luster.

Targeted at the same audience as his previous bestseller, the Boomer generation is currently the 'Elder' generation. Essentially, Roszak argues that while the physical appearance of the Boomer changes on the outside, the energies and passions within them have not changed.

The baby boomers’ ‘ideas about love, freedom, responsibility, democracy, success and personal worth’ are still ‘relevant’ for today, argues the author. (287)

There are several good points Roszak points out. The chief value of this book is that it gives us an insider perspective of the struggles and unfair treatments meted out on the elder population. It is a book for us to cherish and remember that we too, will get old one day. Why not begin treating all persons, both young and old with courtesy and respect? Let me summarize my reading with the followings section headings under, The Good, the Controversial and the Ugly.

  • the elderly need not take economic bullying lying down. As younger families have lesser children, statistically, the elderly population wields a formidable political vote;
  • The elderly need not fade into oblivion but play a key role in bringing in 'wisdom and nobility' into the society they are in;
  • What is "Industrial Revolution" externally, is actually a quest for for 'Longetivity Revolution."
  • Elders can lead the way to create a 'compassionate sector.'
  • It reminds us to be sensitive to elders who felt treated like children by society at large.
  • He highlights the importance of interdependent, declaring at the onset that 'self-reliance is a lie,' in his passionately written "Declaration of Interdependence."

Some views are controversial. One of the most controversial is his almost fatalistic pronouncement of the merits of aging. He believes that 'aging' is nature's way of solving the overpopulation and overconsumption problem. This goes against a society that practically worships longetivity in the name of safety, and rescueing lives. Think of our health care systems and the money poured in. We will soon realize that our culture is one that seeks to prolong our living.

Another one lies in his preference for 'loyalty' above 'love.' He feels that there are too many negative connotations surrounding love, in a sex-filled world, that blurs out the merits. Loyalty is more important for family.

The author tends to have a negative attitude toward religion, specifically evangelical types. He writes about it in a derogatory manner. Look at how he starts blaming the evangelicals for the problems of a sex-crazed culture.
“Back to Jesus, back to shame and terror, back to hell and damnation. And millions have opted for their way. The hypocrisy that has always surrounded religious authority especially in sexual matters is still there; the evangelicals have had their scandals over the years, but there are parents of the boomer generation who are willing to run that risk to keep their kids under control and alive. Myself, I believe the Puritanism of the evangelicals is more the distant historical cause of our sexual hang-ups than a cure. These are the people who once pilloried sinners for fornication and forced women to wear the scarlet letter. They surrounded sex with guilt and fear, and that made it more tempting and less gratifying for millions.” (210-211)
My Comments
As I read this, I cannot help thinking: “Wake up! This is not the 60s anymore. Don’t fight yesterday’s problems and imagine them to be the same today.” Yet, I cannot but empathize with Roszak's struggle  with the emotions of this elder generation. In many ways, the author is writing on behalf of his own community, how they are looked down by the faster and more agile, economically rich younger ones.

While some of Roszak’s accusations about the evangelicals are valid, I feel that his words over-generalize evangelicals. At the same time, he may have unwittingly alienated himself from evangelicals of his Boomer generation who shares the same aging ethos and environmental concerns.

Overall, the book is a spirited defense of an aging Boomer population who are the primary occupants of the aging category. I find his approach of calling for an elder insurgency a little too combative. It can work against his call for interdependence. Why should the young be expected to yield, when the old does not lead by example? It may unwittingly provoke an eye-for-an-eye retaliation which will put at risk the very call for interdependence.The writer ends the book vaguely with a spiritualist outlook. Underlying this conclusion was that there is something bigger than the present, but he could not exactly pinpoint it. Thus he uses 3 quotes from others to clue us in.

Ruskin's "No wealth but life"; Tolstoy's "Death is finished," and Wilder's "There’s something eternal in every human being." Roszak ends the book with an ethereal question "Where will we find it?" (286)

This last question continues to puzzle many, especially the Elder generation. It is never too early for the rest to start pondering this. May the Elder generation show leadership on how to approach this question.

My Ratings: 3 stars out of 5


A-Z Guide to Advent (E - Elizabeth)

I have been writing a series of short meditations for my church to prepare for the coming Christmas. I have called them the "A-Z Guide to Advent 2009." My first meditation, entitled A=Advent, was released in 30 Nov 2009. The last one, Z will be published on Christmas Day. This is today's meditation on E. If you want to get a daily dose of advent meditations until Christmas, send me an email.

An A-Z Guide to Advent 2009 (04 Dec 2009)

E - Elizabeth

"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." (Lk 1:41)

We do not hear about Elizabeth often in the pulpit. A mother of John the Baptist, she met the mother carrying baby Jesus. Not only did baby John felt the presence, Elizabeth too was filled with the Holy Spirit. Before the Great Pentecost event in Acts, Elizabeth has already witnessed a mini-Pentecost. Elizabeth and Mary felt a close connection. So did the babies in their wombs.

Sometimes I wonder what is the author of Luke trying to do, putting Elizabeth and Mary side by side. Perhaps, there is a parallel for us to learn from. Perhaps, it is giving us mere humans ample notice to recognize that Jesus, even when he is God, chooses to be fully human. Even though he is rich, he chooses to become poor. Even though he is Almighty Powerful, he chooses to come in a humbleness that identifies with the fragile human race. Elizabeth, being blessed so early shows us the bountiful blessings of the time to come. Elizabeth was blessed to praise God as she felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, we too will be richly blessed, as we come under the shadow of the Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

written by: conrade yap


Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Giving

I attended a funeral service today after lunch. It was held in remembrance of a brave little 15 year old girl called Angela, who died of lupus. With music and testimonies, sharing and reflections, hundreds of friends, relatives and church members came together to offer thanksgiving for this brave little joyful and strong girl.

As various people stood up to share, I could hear people quietly weeping all around me. The organizers were brilliant for anticipating the gush of tears. Boxes of tissues were strategically placed for the convenience of all attending. Of all the sharing, the mother's reflections and the reading of Angela's will, unleashed the most tears. I was particularly moved when I hear Angela's will being read out. She willed all her soft toys to her family, and everything else to be sold for the benefit of others, as she did not need them anymore. The will was only discovered after Angela died on Nov 20th, 2009.

As I thought about it, there is much to learn from a 15-year old High school student. Things are frequently not as important as we place them to be. Sometimes, it takes an illness to reveal the true humanity in all of us. In a society where money and possessions seem to be the primary concern of people, this young life is a glowing testimony of love and kindness. Sometimes, simple joys bring about the most satisfying experiences. One thing that impresses me most about the service is how a simple key of 'giving' can unlock the wealth of human goodness. This reminds me of Miroslav Volf's beautiful book, "Free of Charge," which talks about the need for human society to give and to forgive in a 'culture stripped of grace.' It is fitting for this first day of Advent to think about Christ coming down to earth.

If we get out of our homes these next couple of weeks, we will be inundated by the materialism surrounding Christmas, Santa Claus and season of gifts. Volf suggests that we first learn to respond to the great Gift of God in Jesus by exercising 4 obligations:

1) Faith in receiving.
Do not simply think God gives us gifts expecting something in return. The gift is plainly and simply 'free of charge.' Too often, we fail to exercise faith when we receive or give gifts with an expectation to do things for others. I learn long ago that true giving is in giving to others who cannot pay back in return. Faith in receiving is as simple as receiving things without suspecting other people's ulterior motives. True giving does not have a fineprint hidden somewhere. True giving implies a free gift, expecting nothing in return. We can only practice such giving when we have first received love from God. Give people the opportunity to see us as people who have freely received Christ.

2) Oblige to gratitude
Receiving God's gifts correctly means responding with a grateful heart. This is something freely given and received, not demanded. This means that even as we go through the festive period, shopping or joining the throng of busy shoppers, let us be thankful for everything. Again, we need to recognize and appreciate what Christ has done for us, before we can adopt a thankful heart. My readers, receive this Gift of God. Give people of your thankfulness.

3) Oblige to be available
How can our Giver bestow gifts on us, if we are too busy? If we are always not available, we will miss the soft gently whisper of love. My readers, the act of receiving requires our availability. Perhaps, the ones closest and nearer to us are ready to give us something. A child waiting to hug us? A friend ready to buy us coffee? This Christmas, practice being available. Give people of your time.

4) Oblige to Participate
This means that when we receive gifts, we are not to let the receiving be the end point. It is actually an invitation to participate in the joy of giving. Give others the encouragement by joining with them for common causes.

All of these obligations are evident in the life of little Angela. I do not know her a lot. I have seen, shook her hands and prayed with her before. Yet, I felt there is something Angela's passing has taught me. All of the above.

In faith, she receives the gift of life, and the readiness to die. Freely she received, freely she gave. Her gratitude shows forth in the way she gently love her parents, teachers, friends and many people. Her keen awareness that people mean more than things, shines through in her will. Despite her eight years of illness, she was available to give others strength and encouragement. In fact, her brave fight to the end, gave all of us a reason to cherish our own lives. Finally, her dying brought so many people together to reflect and to love Who she loves: God.

This is the true power of giving. Yet, this giving itself is only the beginning. When we exercise the 4 obligations of Faith-receiving, Gratitude, Availability to people and the willingness to participate in community bonding, we move even further. Much further.

The world tells us: "Christmas is a time for giving," let us remind ourselves that the act of giving entails 4 responses:
  • Receiving the discernment to know when to give and to receive
  • Receiving the wisdom to be thankful in our hearts as we see life;
  • Receiving the humility to be available for loved ones and friends;
  • Receiving the willingness to help one another build the kingdom of God, by community participation.
Before we can give, let us receive. For some of us, we need to be reminded that the Giver has already given. Let's open our hands.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review - "Cash Values" (Craig Gay)

Title: Cash Values - money and the erosion of meaning in today's society
Author: Craig Gay
Published: Regent-College Publishing, 2004.

How do we avoid becoming a society that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing? Well, if we see life as a race to accumulate money and stuff, capitalism is remarkably productive. If we see the problems and negative sides of capitalism, chances are we will rebel furiously against it. Gay convincingly argues that if we approach capitalism with a uncritical mind, chances are we may see an 'erosion of meaning' in modern society.  The key is to see with redemptive eyes.

Gay's book is a welcome effort to correct any modern society that tends to know the price of everything but the value of nothing. It argues cogently that, capitalism for all its power to generate money, is ill-equipped to produce meaning. Without throwing away capitalism totally, Gay helps us look at it redemptively via an 'economy of shrewd stewardship.' He concludes by urging the reader not to be 'overly critical' of capitalism for its ills, nor 'overly concerned' about defending it. His proposal:
"I believe we should use modern capitalism for the sake of our fellow servants, showing them grace, forgiving their debts, unexpectedly lightening their burdens, employing whatever wealth we have - wealth that we know we cannot keep for long - in the service of fellowship and friendship. And we should place our hope in the goodness and above all in the graciousness of God, the God for whom all things are possible." (99)
Overall, this is an intelligent book, well grounded in scholarship and full of wisdom for a world that fanatically believes that money makes the world go round. No. it is the wise use of money that makes the world sound.


Book Controversy: "Deadly Vipers Character Assassins"

Thanks to a blog reader, I came across this controversy over a book published by Zondervan, a giant Christian book publisher. This book is "Deadly Vipers Character Assassins," written by Jud Wilhite & Mike Foster, two white authors.

In a nutshell, too much stereotyping of any ethnic race limits their overall contributions to society, and unwittingly promotes unhealthy perceptions of any one ethnic group.

What the Book is About
Leadership using the metaphor of kung-fu. You can read Eugene Cho's summary here. From what I know, the book covers 7 mortal enemies of leadership character (Creep, Zi Qi Qi Ren, Amped Emotions, Headless Sprinting Chicken, Boom Chicka Wah Wah, Bling Bling and High and Mighty Assassin). All these assassins are secretly working behind the scenes to kill leadership character. Steve Bobbins made an excellent summary on his blog, reproduced below.
  • The Assassin of Character Creep - Character begins to die by a thousand small cuts that weaken you enough for the assassin to deliver the coup de grace...
  • The Assassin of Zi Qi Qi Ren - Zi Qi Qi Ren is a Chinese word that literally means "self-deception while deceiving others"...
  • The Assassin of Amped Emotions - In the moments of everyday life, he waits for you to blow your top, lose your cool, or go postal. Then he strikes...
  • The Assassin of the Headless Sprinting Chicken - If you are too busy and tired, you have little defense against the attacks...
  • The Assassin of Boom Chicka Wah Wah - Stupid decisions are made when thinking is done without the brain...
  • The Bling Bling Assassin - While you chase for "enough" this assassin can cut you down...
  • The High and Mighty Assassin - Over confidence and arrogance can do this assassin's job for him...

    (Credit: Steve Bobbins)
What the controversy is about? Stereotyping of the Asian image.

What happens next? Aftermath
- series of compromises by the authors and publishers;
- Many Asian Americans felt offended;
- Zondervan eventually pulled the book off the shelves;
- Website ( shut down.

Lest I repeat some of the very good points made by many, let me give a brief snapshot of the different views.

On a positive note, there are useful insights about leadership from the book. Michael Buckingham appreciates the book for its creative blending of visual art and concepts. Michael Melilli points out that the book is useful for leaders to take note of lest they fall out of grace. Jenny Clayville, an Asian American fails to see what the fuss is all about, and makes a perceptive note that many who oppose the book have not really read the book in the first place. She gives a helpful summary of the whole controversy. She describes the predicament well: "Now, everyone feels censored."

On the opposing front, some have written open letters to Zondervan (Professor Rah of North Park Theological Seminary), others have written against it on principles, (DJ Chuang, Todd Thomas). Others have published their dismay on their own blogs, websites etc (daveingland, Scott McLellan). I like McLellan's phrase that 'images aren't necessarily neutral' (of the kung fu metaphor).

My Comments
The fact that Zondervan has taken the step to remove the book totally from the shelves goes to show that they recognize the seriousness and validity of the unhappiness. The important thing is to learn from it, not to simply put this aside and forget all about it. Stereotyping of anybody is plain wrong, regardless of who is making it.  Having said this, I must also say that stereotyping happens both ways. Even in Asia, people stereotype white and black people. That too is deplorable. Stereotyping happens everywhere.

Having said this, let me also say that we learn to accept the authors' intent and apology with grace. There was no malicious intention, but a genuine concern to address important leadership flaws in society. Move on, but learn from this episode, that sensitivity flows both ways.

Looking Forward
A side comment. Personally, I have pessimistic views about Asian authors being able to succeed as serious writers in the West. (The authors of the controversial book are not Asian, which makes the stereotyping accusation more serious) Just look at the numbers, and you can see that not many Asian authors ever get on the New York bestseller book lists, let alone starting a writing career at all. If an Asian gets stereotyped as good Chinese cooks, people accept them readily when they set up restaurants and Chinese take away food stalls. If they get stereotyped as kung fu masters, thanks to Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, each time people see a Chinese, they flash off some kung-fu strokes and may even volunteer to join a martial arts course if he was to start one. As more Asians appear on TV as police officers, as doctors, dentists, teachers and various professions, people will start to change their perceptions of Asians. A TV watching generation is more prone to stereotyping based on what they watch and see. For this reason, I feel that the book is flawed, despite the good leadership pointers and the good intentions the authors originally have. By the way, if this book has been written by an ethnic Asian, I doubt it will stir up so much controversy as not many will read it. There is no stereotyped Asian authors anyway. Some has been successful no doubt, but they remain too few.

If things remain this way, I am somewhat pessimistic about any foray into publishing. Yet, I am hopeful that the day will come, when all Christians, regardless of ethnicity and cultural origins will be stereotyped by how much they love one another. Period.


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