Saturday, May 30, 2009

MBA Oath - A Pledge to be 'Ethical'

This is an interesting development. A group of Harvard MBA students have taken the pledge to be ethical. Check it out here. There were no such initiative I know when I received my MBA before the turn of the century. Well, better late than never. If you are an MBA, you may want to consider taking the oath here.

=============== THE MBA OATH (from =========

As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can create alone. Therefore I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term. I recognize my decisions can have far-reaching consequences that affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and in the future. As I reconcile the interests of different constituencies, I will face choices that are not easy for me and others.

Therefore I promise:

  • I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.
  • I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate.
  • I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.
  • I will understand and uphold, both in letter and in spirit, the laws and contracts governing my own conduct and that of my enterprise.
  • I will take responsibility for my actions, and I will represent the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.
  • I will develop both myself and other managers under my supervision so that the profession continues to grow and contribute to the well-being of society.
  • I will strive to create sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity worldwide.
  • I will be accountable to my peers and they will be accountable to me for living by this oath.

This oath I make freely, and upon my honor.

Creative and a noteworthy development.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rise of a new Google Wave?

(Image Credit: GoogleBlog)

Rise of a New Wave?

First there was the plain telephone call, the conventional note taking on paper, and then the writing of letters, envelope, stamps, saliva and all. Then comes computers which allow people to post information on bulletin boards. Using applications that run listservs, people can retrieve information by sending specific commands. Text-based information can be obtained when one has the right address and system. With the internet and graphical interface, communications improve with multimedia capabilities. Emails have to co-exist with increasingly cool social networking media like Facebook and Twitter. Embedding features within features fast become a norm. You can find chat applications from within many web-based programs. One can also attach videos, MP3s, photos alongside plain vanilla text or rich text documents, from inside any modern web interfaces. Just when we think we have enough of such integration, look at the next wave. What happens when you try to combine traditional email, regular chatrooms, multimedia rich interface, embedded social networking tools, and real-time communications into one platform?
Google thinks that they have found the answer in WAVE. (Thanks to Matt Jones for pointing this out in his Facebook notes)

What is Google Wave?
It is a clever play of words. When people ask what is the ‘next wave’ in technology, Google will get the mindshare again with its new soon-to-be-launched web platform. What is Wave?

Technically, it is mainly a web-based application. The idea is that it taps all possible Internet communications currently available and presents them within one platform. If finely integrated, it presents a very convenient way for users to do real time communications. Rather than opening multiple programs or logging into different communications accounts, it is a compelling advantage to have all in one application 'shell'.

However, I still have some reservations. In terms of monopoly, I feel that they (Google) is trying to do for the web-based communications, what Microsoft tried to do previously for the PC. Remember how Microsoft ‘embeds’ many other things into their Windows hegemony like including Internet Explorer (killing Netscape), various Norton-utilities-like programs (ruining PCTools and Symantec), integrating MS Office tightly with Windows (messing up other Office offerings) and others? Google is aiming to monopolize the Internet communications platform just like the way they are dominating the search engine industry. I understand that Google has been trying to break into the runaway success of Facebook and Twitter, and WAVE is one specific response to Facebook.

What are the implications of Wave? I am not sure yet, but I will be keen to hear from those of you who are technology savvy. I have signed up for the early preview here. Until then, it will be beneficial to think through the implications in terms of our way of work when such an initiative takes off.

Read more about Google Wave from the Google blog here, or here and here.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Musings about Facebook and Twitter

A friend of mine pointed me to a free ebook by Chris Forbes entitled, "Facebook for Pastors." (Free download available from this link) Produced by an organization called Hearts and Hands International, they even have a Facebook page for pastors. When I checked today, there are more than 6000 members in this group. In the book, the author argues that there are 6 compelling benefits for pastors to be on the Facebook platform. They are:
  1. It allows 'one to be accessible to others;'
  2. Consistent with 'Kingdom-focus;'
  3. Demonstrates we are 'human;'
  4. Gives others a chance to look at one's 'heart and passions;'
  5. 'Encourages learning, sharing and discussion;'
  6. Provides 'another door into your local church;'

Some Positives
  • The book is easy to read, with lots of practical advice;
  • It highlights lots of potential that people tend to miss;
  • It demonstrates a willingness to engage the world;
  • It's free of course.
Overall, the ebook is encouraging Christian pastors to be engaged using new medium such as Twitter and Facebook. It is essentially a promotional stint, that lists the strong advantages of being on Facebook. The main point of the book is that pastors need to be CONNECTED, be updated to the potential of using technology in modern ministry.

Primer on Christ & Culture
Let me use the terminology of Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture's 5 categories on the various possible relationships between the Church and modern culture, it will resemble "Christ OF Culture." For those of us unfamiliar with Niebuhr's classic book, the 5 categories comprising essentially 2 extreme positions and 3 moderate ones. (Fellow readers who are familiar with the book can skip this section)
  1. Extreme #1 - Christ AGAINST Culture
    This position argues that the Church is constantly in conflict with prevailing culture, which is considered worldly. There is no room for co-existence. This is a no-compromise position.
  2. Extreme #2 - Christ OF Culture
    This position can be called a liberal position, where Christians identify so closely with the world, that there is no tension between the Church and the modern culture. The problem is that people finds it hard to distinguish the church from the world. This is the accommodating position.
  3. Moderate #1 - Christ ABOVE Culture
    Since all is under God, there is no need for conflict, and neither is there a need for the church to militate against the world.
  4. Moderate #2 - Christ in PARADOX with Culture
    This view is the most 'dualistic' position of all. It pits the reality of grace (Christ) with the reality of sin contrasting them as a paradox of reality. The main conflict is not between Christian people vs all others, but God vs all human race.
  5. Moderate #3 - Christ TRANSFORMING Culture
    This view is also called the conversionists view, an optimistic perspective of the Church being able to transform the world. This is Richard Niebuhr's personal belief.
I feel that Facebook for Pastors lean too much toward Extreme #2, which is the accommodating part. Contrary to views that things like technological medium is neutral, I feel that they are not. Principalities and powers can never be neutral. Placed under the hands of a sinful person, the dangers can be amplified.

Some Negatives
In all fairness, while one can speak about the advantages of using Facebook for ministry, a wise discerning pastor will need to look into the potential pitfalls of such involvement. This is where I will contribute some of my personal critical observations.
  1. We can be 'accessible to others' in ways beyond Facebook. However, what about the limits of accessibility? Many pastors are already very busy people. While it is good to be easily contactable online, OFFLINE communications should not be compromised. If more online work leads to less face to face meetings, is it necessarily a good thing? I think not.
  2. Consistent with kingdom focus? We cannot be too sure about this. What do you mean by kingdom-focus? Is opening a Facebook account a step toward 'kingdom-focused?' This is very unconvincing for me. A Christian does not need Facebook accounts just to be kingdom focused. Like tools like a sword, it cuts both ways. I've known people who are practically addicted to Facebook. In fact, people have been sacked or ostracized for posting 'inappropriate' information on the platform. Who decides what is truth in this environment? Is it another medium for people to simply state their own views and boast about their right to their own opinion? Too heady stuff sometimes.
  3. Humanness? Again, there are more than one way to prove that we are human. Not a strong reason.
  4. Sharing 'heart and passions?' Again it can cut the other way as well. It is important for pastors to have time out for themselves, rather than to showcase themselves to unknown strangers on the Internet. What if people misunderstand one's heart and passions? Will that lead the pastor down the rabbit's hole of clarification-reclarification all the time?
  5. Encourages learning, sharing and discussion? A moderator is still needed. Otherwise, it can be reduced to a we-agree-to-disagree standoff. Fruitful communications and discussions are best done on a trusting environment. Facebook is more of a mixture of both, and can be confusing to the uninitiated. Training and discernment is needed. Not for the faint-hearted.
  6. Another door into local church? Perhaps, this is the strongest reason mentioned so far. I tend to agree most with this point.
Firstly, like most mediums, we need to recognize that the medium can also be the message. This medium of social-networking is still relatively new, and we need more level-headed thinkers to fish out the implications on a longer term basis, and not blindly accepting all its benefits without considering the consequences. Secondly, I feel that we already have lots of technology. It is not the increased use of technology but the rising level of wise discernment that is critical to the thinking Christian. Anything can be used for good as well as evil. Thirdly, the starting point for entry into Facebook is never on the basis of the benefits. It is too shallow a reason. One needs to examine and understand one's purpose and intent of participating in Facebook. Otherwise, the danger of becoming distracted from one's calling or even worse, getting addicted is real. Fourthly, while more technology is good, more wisdom in the use of technology is even better. Sometimes, the best use of technology is simply to know when NOT to use it.

Fifthly, no one should drive until he has taken his highway code and passed his driving tests. In the case of Facebook, the ease of getting connected can be potentially beneficial as well as damaging. For people who lacked the training and the discernment needed, it can be downright unhelpful. How do you know how much information to put in or take out?

Sixth, be aware of the limits. I find Rick Osbourne's article about the Ten commandments for Christians on Facebook and Twitter rather helpful and serves as a good reminder for all especially for beginners and people who are pro-social-networking.

Finally, let me close with a note about the relationship between the Church and culture. Let me borrow an insight from Lesslie Newbigin.
"It is often said that the failure of Western churches is of the first kind; irrelevance, failure to make contact. I want to suggest, on the contrary, that it is a failure of the second kind, that the Christian churches of the West have been so co-opted into our culture that we have lost the power to challenge it." (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble)
This sums up my position. While getting into Facebook can be helpful, we need to learn to see it as a secondary (even tertiary) level of importance. The chief responsibility of a Christian is to respond to God's prompting in the heart. In order for the heart to resonate with the Spirit, the heart needs first to be quiet and attentive to God. Like Augustine, one cannot find rest except in God alone. Only when we are restful in God, can we bring the world to approach this rest. I doubt social-networking can help us do that.

Asking pastors to get into Facebook cannot be driven from a WORK-FOR-GOD mentality (which puts self on the driving seat). Instead, it has to be led from a WORK-WITH-GOD (letting God lead).


Art as Worship

My wife and I have always enjoyed Michael Card's music. Recently, he has also broadened his artistic appeal to writing books while studying and teaching theology. In his book, "Scribbling in the Sand," Card points out that creativity is essentially a response to the presence of God. Every artist's true inspiration to great works of art, is never self-fulfilling or self-focused. Far from it. The true artist is always inspired by Someone Divine.
God is an artist and he is beautiful. He has woven his image into the fabric of our lives, which explains our drive to create things which are beyond us and which we don't always understand. Perhaps more importan, he has issued a call to us that carries with it the possibility of obedience or disobedience; the call to respond to his beauty with creative worship. Our response cannot be centered in self, like the builders of Babel. We cannot afford to misuse our gifts. The Bible has shown us how costly that can be. God calls us to create a space in time for ourselves and others to meet with God, to gaze upon his beauty and to worship him. (Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, IVP, 2002, p44)
What a calling. We are called to worship. Our call to live a worthy life in Christ is itself an act of worship. Our works of art are to be done worshipfully, that it may lead others to worship in awe and wonder. The deepest desire of any Christian artist is that all who come to admire the art, will not see the piece as an end in itself, but to see the Person behind the creation, the Source of ALL inspiration. Wow! May we live our lives artfully and thankfully when all of us becomes a worship unto God and God alone.

This is one of my favourite songs from the songwriter-singer, Michael Card. Meaningful, Melodious and Mesmerizing.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Aldersgate Sunday (May 24th)

For Methodists all over the world, this Sunday is Aldersgate Sunday. Celebrated every May 24th, it is a time to remember the conversion experience of the founder of the Methodist movement. John Wesley, on the eve of May 24th, 1738. This is also famously known as the ‘Aldersgate Experience’ where Wesley wrote the words:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Describing this as a turning point in his spiritual life, Wesley became a converted man. He has been brought up under a solid Christian environment; his father being a Puritan pastor, while his mother Susanna is a dedicated Christian woman. Trained in theology, he even embarked on mission trips across the sea to another land. Yet, he remains unfulfilled in many ways. His encounter with the Moravian believers stirred within him a wanting for a similar deep spiritual experience with God. Whilst on a ship traversing deep stormy waters, he was amazed at the calmness of the Moravians. Upon his return to England, he continued to grapple with these memories, his frustrations about the Christian life and his dissatisfaction with his lack of inner experience. Despite these, he continued in his regular sessions of listening and reading Scripture. On that Aldersgate Sunday, May 24th 1738, he received his inner experience which not only changed his life, which not only created a new spiritual movement, it spawned a new social movement which arguably, saved England from impending social disaster.

Below is a selection of one of his contributions to the Christian people all over the world. It is a great way to do spiritual reading.
From the preface of John Wesley’s abridgement of Thomas Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, 1735
(Frank Whaling, ed., John and Charles Wesley: selected prayers, hymns, journal notes, sermons, letters and treatises, NY: Paulist Press, 1981, pp88-89.)

First: Assign some stated time every day for this employment; and observe it, so far as you possibly can, inviolably. But if necessary business, which you could not foresee or defer, should sometimes rob you of your hour of retirement, take the next to it; or, if you cannot have that, at least the nearest you can.

Secondly: Prepare yourself for reading, by purity of intention, singly aiming at the good of your soul, and by fervent prayer to God, that he would enable you to see his will, and give you a firm resolution to perform it. An excellent form of prayer for this very purpose you have in the second or third book of this treatise.

Thirdly: Be sure to read, not cursorily or hastily, but leisurely, seriously, and with great attention; with proper pauses and intervals, and that you may allow time for the enlightening of the divine grace. To this end, recollect, every now and then, what you have read, and consider how to reduce it to practice. Further, let your reading be continued and regular, not rambling and desultory. To taste of many things, without fixing upon any, shows a vitiated palate, and feeds the disease which makes it pleasing. Whatsoever book you begin, read, therefore, through in order; Not but that it will be of great service to read those passages over and over that more nearly concern yourself, and more closely affect your inclinations or practice; especially if you press them home to your soul, by adding a particular examination of yourself upon each head.

Fourthly: Labor to work yourself up into a temper correspondent with what you read; for that reading is useless which only enlightens the understanding, without warming the affections. And therefore intersperse, here and there, earnest aspirations to God, for his heat as well as his light. Select also any remarkable sayings or advices, and treasure them up in your memory; and these you may either draw forth in time of need, as arrows from a quiver, against temptation (more especially against the solicitations to that sin which most easily besets you) or make use of as incitements to any virtue, to humility, patience, or the love of God.

Conclude all with a short prayer to God, that he, without whom "neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that water-eth," would so bless the good seed sown in your heart, that it may bring forth fruit unto life eternal.

Let me try to summarize the above with the acronym SPEND.

S - Set aside a specific time everyday. The key is consistency.
P - Prepare your heart. There is no point to be physically present but your mind is elsewhere.
E - Engage with the passage. Don't let go of it but learn to enjoy the parts you understand, but also keep a sense of wonder on those areas that mystify you.
N - Note particular passages by either writing them down or memorizing them.
D - Dedicate your reading back to God, asking him to bless and keep you with peace.

May this help you in your own personal spiritual reading. This year, May 24th 2009 falls on a Sunday, which makes Aldersgate week particularly special. Enjoy it, and may Christians all over the world give thanks to God for such a man of God, and pray that God will raise up more servants like him.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Consolidating the Moderates

He has done it again. In his speech to students at Notre Dame, Obama appears to walk the thin line between the right and left. (Check out the report here.) It was a speech that touches on several sensitive matters. One of them is abortion and the moral high grounds that fuel the various perspectives surrounding it. Most important, it is a glimpse of the style of America’s newest leader.

Consolidating the Moderates
- While the pro-life camp continues to campaign for Pro-life, the opposing Pro-Choice section appear to be pleased about the current limelight shed on a President who appears more sympathetic to abortion rights activists. His conciliatory approach can be evident from his words:
"The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem-cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved." (Obama, Speech at University of Notre Dame, 17 May 2009)
What is significant in his words are not the words but the objective behind the words: Setting out a common platform for meaningful discussions. The purpose of ‘so-do-they’ is to unite contentious parties by showing all that everyone is fighting for some common good to happen in the country. I think, more then ever, Obama is trying to re-awake the largely-silent moderates, who rank among the majority in society. Psychologically, moderates do appear to be quieter than radicals from either left or right. If they were to protest anything, it will be relatively muted due to their restrained nature and approach. It is this modest energy from the middle group that makes them less news-worthy or popular with the press and media. After-all, who will want to listen to a ‘boring’ perspective. Tabloids sell more when there is a major disturbance or headline breaking news.

Unfortunately, such an approach while trying to consolidate the moderates, it can also further alienate extremists from either right or left. One powerful vocal can easily communicate louder voices of dissent compared to hundreds of largely quiet moderates. It is a double whammy: of numbers as well as intensity.

I applaud Obama’s style as it is a fresh voice that seeks to earnestly invite all parties of interest to the same table. He dares to engage rather than dismiss. Without compromising his personal beliefs, he extends a welcome to the traditional factions so that they can stand on the common podium of peace and need to work together. He wants to consolidate them into the fold of the moderates. As a new and young President, Obama has fresh ideas and people will more likely give him the benefit of the doubt.

My Comment
In summary, Obama’s speech at Notre Dame is a glimpse for the public on how the new President is going to approach controversies. The focus seems to be more on STYLE rather than content, more observable talk than walk and more cool headed discussions rather than heated tantrums. He may need to make unpopular decisions. However, his faith (religious-left) is symbolized by his words: “We worship an awesome God in the blue states.” To the right-conservatives, Obama tries to communicate that they (the left) are Christians too. In doing so, he is trying to assure the liberal-left, that they are no less Christian than the conservatives. Personally, I am glad that Obama chooses to optimize fresh-starts early on in his presidency, especially potentially divisive social-religious issues. He is not one to shy away from tough issues. As the President, he can't. It is precisely this practice of conciliation that clears the deck for a fresh new shuffling of cards. Obama has invited the players to the table, asking them to come willingly. As he deals out the cards, and the players open them, the next step is to play. As the game proceeds, it may be essential to note that the objective is not necessarily to win the game. Neither is it the prize of winning the hand. Perhaps, the key benefit is to learn to know one another better. At the same time, every player will need to know, that bluffing may only lead one up to a certain point. Nothing can change the kind of cards we receive. Who are we to judge another person on the basis of what cards he/she has. We need to learn to withhold judgment (better still, don’t judge) as much as possible. It is not only a biblical imperative. It is also an act of love for neighbour. In doing so, perhaps the goal of a card game is not necessarily to win or to lose, but to enjoy the game among friends. People who are imperfect but face a common enemy as described below:
"In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

It is this last challenge that I'd like to talk about today. For the major threats we face in the 21st century - whether it's global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease - do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.
History has shown how much unity can be forged with intense focus on common goals. I believe that is Obama's chief strategy. It is his way of uniting people by showing them that there are larger and more significant battles to be fought, not our own pet ideologies or supposedly defending our own definition of 'God's purpose.' Rather, it is in working together we learn to enjoy and wonder that God is LARGER than the sum of all fears, and hopes. Obama is helping us appreciate this.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: "The Faith of Barack Obama"

Title: The Faith of Barack Obama
Author: Stephen Mansfield
Published: Thomas Nelson, 2008

This is an extremely insightful book about the faith of Barack Obama. Briefly, there are three reasons why you should read this book. Firstly, the reader will gain a better appreciation of Barack Obama both as a person as well as a decision-making political leader. Secondly, reviewing his religious vision can be rewarding as it helps us to learn to appreciate our own spiritual journeys. The third and final reason is the most significant. As Obama is one of the most influential world leader, we will learn to better appreciate the reasons behind the man's decision making and not simply consume the whole news reporting by the mass media.

It is the inward faith that dictates outward actions. Thus, in order to appreciate the person and to understand his leadership style both past, present and future, one will need to comprehend his ‘religious vision that informs his life.’ (xxiii)

In a sense, the book is like a religious biography of Barack Obama. The author paints Obama as a man trying to walk the middle ground between the left and the right. Not only does the political climate requires it, the post-modern culture demands it. ‘Balance’ is the keyword and a given in the modern secular American culture. Stansfield shows us a man who grew up as one forced to walk between two worlds. The first part of the book describes Obama's frantic search for self-identity. Racially he is ‘too black’ among his white friends and ‘too white’ among his black friends. Religiously, when he was young, he was exposed to atheism, Islam, humanism and various Christian beliefs. His grandmother, Madelyn Payne , herself a rebel to strict religion, was born to conservative Methodist parents. His grandpa, Stanley Dunham welcomed Unitarianism. His father Barack Obama Sr had Islamic influences, and his stepfather lived in a Muslim populated country of Indonesia. Geographically, he has lived in Hawaii, Indonesia and North America. Thus, his search for self-identity starts with trying to make sense of a background that is mixed with superstitious folk religions, skeptical religious reactions and secular political expectations. On top of that, he struggles with racial identity (black or white?), religious affinity (Muslim, Christian, liberal?) and political nationality.

In “My House, Too,” Obama embraces a personal faith that is intimately shaped by Rev Jeremiah Wright, the black pastor of Trinity Church. It is through this relationship with Trinity Church and Dr Wright that helps Obama register some pride in being black. Instead of focusing on the radical theologies of the Trinity pastor, Stansfield constructively highlights the significance of Wright’s ministry that restores pride and purpose in the faith of Barack Obama. Thus, Obama finds his faith in the Trinity version of ‘activist,’ ‘politically liberal,’ and responsible social action (61). Trinity Church’s highly educated ministry leaders helps to address Obama’s intellectual curiosity. Its well connected parish enables him to rub shoulders with leaders in various echelons of high society, yet keeping in touch with the ordinary man in the street through fellowship meals that is full of ‘hugs and meals and stories to be shared’ (63). In fact, his decision to leave Trinity is a remarkable display of how he tries to walk the balance between two opposing forces. On the one hand, he refuses to disown his pastor, by saying: ‘you don’t abandon family’ (65). Yet due to political sensitivities, he wisely withdrew his membership from the controversial church. Stansfield does the public a good service in highlighting the importance of Trinity’s positive influence over Obama, to counter the various negative images that some quarters of the press have paraded about over its radical preaching, and the lack of patriotism. Indeed, it is only right to remember that Obama did not ascend to the Presidency on his own strength. His ability to stand on his own agenda stems from a recovery of his self-identity that first started at Trinity Church and nurtured via a close relationship with his spiritual father, Jeremiah Wright.

The Integration of Faith & Practice
Contrary to what some people may believe, Obama is not a fence-sitter. He has convictions that is close to his heart. In his foray into politics, he has to address both concerns of the religious left, the conservative right and others. Yet there is a sense that he is able to stand on his own without having to sway to either side of the religious left or right. (Some may contend that he is more 'leftist' than right wing.) He tiptoes gently among pro-choice and pro-life groups. Religiously, he treads carefully among the liberals and the conservatives. Eventually, he embraces a faith that is liberal (99). In order to deeper appreciate the positioning of Obama, one of the most helpful parts of the book is the ‘Four Faces of Faith.’ Here, Stansfield uses four famous personalities to draw the political-religious landscape. In John McCain, we see a form of leadership that is based on old-fashioned conservative faith that determines ‘right behavior,’ where ‘character and duty’ and ‘virtues’ are ‘informed by faith’ (104). In Hillary Clinton, we see a face of America that tries to update traditional Methodist faith to the modern environment. In George W Bush, we see the champion of ‘Religious Right,’ the ‘evangelicals, the awakened Moral Majority’ that tries to explicitly practice Christian principles both nationally and to some extent internationally. Stansfield contrasts these three faces with Obama by saying that Obama differs from all of them by being black, liberal, under fifty and ‘Christian in a non-traditional sense’(127). Most significantly, while the three faces mirrors various forms of conservatism and glorifies past successes, Obama epitomizes the future.

Yet, this does not mean Obama is one who is helplessly liberal and ungrounded in anything. In fact, Stansfield highlights Obama’s faith as different from Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who tried to go too far to the other end by explicitly separating faith from practice (143). In fact, Obama is one who is firmly integrated. It is from this angle that Stansfield see Obama as a person who can bring healing to the nation. Obama's non-alignment to any of his previous predecessors makes him an ideal candidate to start things afresh. Perhaps, in Obama, there will be national unity to bring about courage to address poverty, attack racism and accelerate ethical levels that is consistent with personal faith and public practice.

My conclusion
America, despite its increasingly secular influences, and the constant determination to keep religion separate from the state, it is still a land where faith matters mean a lot. In fact, the leader seems to be the one who is able to mirror as closely as possible the religious identities of the general public. It is here where I shall conclude this review. The reason for Obama’s popularity is simple. Religiously, racially, and politically, his struggles mirrors many of us and increasingly points to how the new world will look like. Never underestimate the power of faith, and specifically never underestimate the potency of the faith of Barack Obama.

This book is highly recommended for those of us who wants to fresh look at the person behind the Presidential seal and the reasons for his inner strength. Due to his amazing ability to mirror the changing landscape of the new century, we see a leader who not only understands the past and the present, but can potentially usher in hope for many in the future and beyond.

I'll give this book 3.5 stars out of 5.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cedar Springs Christian Retreat (Sumas)

This is one of our favourite Christian Retreat Centers. Beautifully done and makes for a perfect place to bring family and friends to relax and to enjoy the garden of God.

We'll be heading there again this year.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Afghanistan Quarantines its only Pig

(Photo Credit: Reuters)

Reactions to swine flu. I don't know whether to laugh at the news or pity the pig. Someone needs to give a better response to "Better safe than sorry."

1) "Life Goes From Bad to Worse for Kabul's only pig." (Guardian)
2) "Afghanistan's only pig quarantined in flu fear" Reuters
3) "Afghanistan's Only Pig Quarantined" Daily Nation


Monday, May 04, 2009

A Call for Cool-Heads-Warm-Hearts

It has been a tumultuous week for many Christians in Singapore. The AWARE saga, while largely recognized as a body for women and women's affairs has heightened the interests of men, religious groups, non-government organizations as well as the government. Why is this so? Many point to the reason being the invasion of religion (in particular, Christianity) into a body that is meant to be secular. Some argue that it is a morality issue pertaining to different sexual themes taught in schools that originated from the AWARE platform. Others are fearful that if not checked, the AWARE saga may form a precedent for religious bodies to infiltrate other organizations as well. The Press practically had a field day, covering the details of the heated organization's EGM with such fervour that under watchful eyes of many interested readers, any word used, a phrase chosen or even the hinting of a small sentiment, can easily sway mass readers to the views of the reporters or the press organ.

Put it this way. We are all fallible people. Put anyone on the hotseat, and apply continuous pressure and verbal barrage. It then becomes not a question of whether that person will stumble or not. It is a question of WHEN the person will crack. The more experienced can last longer, but the novice can be easily swept away. I am fascinated on the one hand about the whole saga, where individuals and groups were forced to apologize or take sides. Yet, I am rather miffed by the way the emotions and all manner of anger are being fueled. This is further aggravated by the way the issue was covered. What makes this issue such a hot potato in the first place? Why can't the issue be resolved diplomatically behind open doors. I figure out that someone, or some people must have roped in the biggest influence of public opinion: The Press. It is curious to see the way the whole thing was played up, like a reality show on TV. Parties were shown to be bickering at all things. Emotions were stoked and tempers easily flare at the first sign of disagreement.

It is to this effect that we must learn to be discerning in our thinking, our speech behaviour and our external conduct. To this end, I would like to suggest that Christians learn to constantly adopt a stance of cool-heads-warm-hearts. When dealing with controversial issues or matters of great contention, one needs to reason it out rationally, think both logically and theologically. Be innocent as doves but wise as serpents is Jesus's teaching on how we are to live in this world. A cool-headed person is as wise as a serpent, carefully discerning the steps to take and the pitfalls to avoid. A warm-hearted person is as innocent as a dove, loving Christ as much as neighbour, retaining a posture of doing good not only to fellow Christians but to fellow people in society, regardless of race, language or religion. We cannot do it on our own strength, but can only depend on the Holy Spirit to empower, to guide and to humble.

I suppose some of us may struggle with the following question:
"What does it mean for us to integrate our faith and our various work or social responsibilities in the culture we live in?"

I admit that it is a tough question, especially after the AWARE team that is deemed a 'Christian team' have been given an 'embarrassing' no-confidence vote. Some people may even be left questioning whether the team headed by Josie Lau, have done the Christian church a disservice in their brand of faith-integration. Before non-Christians, perhaps some of us may simply shrug our shoulders and behave as if we 'disown' Josie Lau and team from the Church of our Saviour. We may even forget that brothers and sisters ought to stand together through thick and thin. Let me supply three filters to help us see the whole situation.
  1. HONOURABLE INTENTIONS: I applaud them for being honest to themselves and their convictions. I do not doubt that they have honourable intentions, and were somehow led to take over the AWARE organization to correct some of their programs. We can fault the method but we ought to respect whatever noble intent they have. (This does not mean I am taking sides at this time.)
  2. ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS: An ethical problem? Many people, including Christians have expressed doubts over the way the Josie-team have taken over the leadership. It became not a legal question but an ethical concern. While it may be true that one can be faulted on the basis of a technicality, this does NOT give the 'technicality' a blanket offer to forever taint anybody's sense of worth or integrity. Every ethical stance, especially Christian behaviour must be laced with grace. While it might be true that one cannot do the right thing by using the wrong process, similarly, we cannot do the wrong thing, even though we have the right process. In other words, those who do the "wrong-thing-right-way" is as guilty as those who do the "right-thing-wrong-way." The arms of ethical considerations stretches 3 ways; It needs a honorable goal. It requires adherence to proper rules of execution. It needs a heart of virtue. All three elements must be present in any ethical matter.
  3. FAITH-INTEGRATION: Is Christian-Faith-Integration Negatively Impacted? That depends on what we mean by Christian-Faith-Integration. For me, it is not simply demanding conformity by sticking a label "THE BIBLE SAYS." It is an integration that starts with a cool head and warm heart. It begins with Christ. It is sustained in prayer. It is a loving confrontation that reflects a stereo attitude of listening to both sides intelligently, rationally, calmly and compassionately. Chances are, if we listen hard enough, there are more similarities than differences. Pity that the differences become played up, dividing people rather than uniting them. In this sense, whatever that has happened to the AWARE organization represents a LOSE-LOSE scenario. My answer to this third question is: "It depends." Who are we to determine that all halves of the game have been played? Are we the umpire holding the stop watch at the end of the finishing line? No! We are still on a journey of discovery and learning. Sometimes, the best progress one can ever make is by first falling down. Then one learns one additional way of how NOT to do it.
How do we practice Cool-Heads-Warm-Hearts (CHWH)?
Here, I like to close with some wisdom from two persons. Firstly, we can learn to practice CHWH through what John Stott describes as 'dual listening.'
We stand between the Word and the world with consequent obligation to listen to both. We listen to the Word to discover even more of the riches of Christ. We listen to the world in order to discern which of Christ’s riches are needed most and how to present them in their best light.” (The Contemporary Christian)
The second way is to let our fruits speak for themselves. The wisdom of the 12th Century Franciscan monk says it clearly:
Preach the gospel at all times -- if necessary, use words.” (St Francis of Assisi)
If Christians were to bear good fruit, practice dual-listening, speak out against the evils of society. Chances are, both Christians AND non-Christians will likely stand together for the common good. At the same time, always begin with a 50% discount to whatever you read in the papers or TV.


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