Monday, September 28, 2009

Right End Wrong Means?

This video is currently quite popular with many, especially proponents of God and those who want to prove God exists. I am a follower of Christ. I believe in God. However, I do feel that sometimes, our over-enthusiasm to 'prove' God can unwittingly prod us toward behaviour that is questionable or even unethical.

This video is said to be backed by the Government of Macedonia to inform the masses that religion ought to be considered part of the classroom. After all, why should atheists be the ones who have the only say about public education? Considering that Macedonia is part of that great European continent where Christendom was prominent in the early 3rd Century till the 16th-17th Century, it should not be strange that religion be included in any curriculum.

My personal opinion is that this video lies within the domain of 'questionable ethics.' Can we use a false story, adopt a false name in order to propagate truth? If for example, the video openly states that it is a fictional story and uses a fictional character.  Then people will know that the story is as good as the director's cut. Instead, we see a supposedly dramatization of a real character called Albert Einstein, dated (1879-1955). There are a couple of other reasons why I am not certain of the authenticity of this video.

Firstly, there is no proof that Einstein actually said that, or had that conversation with the Professor. The popular email that has been circulated depicts a smart student with an atheist professor. Secondly, this email has been classified as a hoax by Snopes,Urban-Legends, and others. There was even a claim that Einstein himself does not believe in a personal God. In fact, the first few seconds of this video remind me of another widely circulated email of the same theme. I remember the first time I read it, I was absolutely awed. Only later, I discovered that it was a hoax. (For more on learning how to detect email hoaxes, click here.) Thirdly, even though the arguments in the video may sound convincing, in a real court of law, it can be dismissed on the basis of a technicality, which is attributing false names to a story. For that matter, the proponents of the video may even be charged for misrepresentation. I will be more at ease if the video is more upfront about it, by not naming Einstein at all, or perhaps state that it is a 'fictional' work. Maybe that is how commercials work in the first place. Have we not seen commercials where a family appears happy when they are sitting smiling in a brand new family van? The viewer will typically know that this is a marketing gimmick. If the "Does God Exist" commercial becomes a marketing gimmick for God-proponents, I think it not only discredits the arguments per se, it taints the righteousness of God's people. Finally, I have not been successful in finding out the source of the video, about the "New Moment New Ideas Company," the Government of Macedonia websites, about the Creative director, Dusan Drakalski; and the Art director, Nikola Vojnov. They are still mysteriously quiet making me wonder if the names were liberally used as much as the way "Albert Einstein's" name were used in the video? If you know of any authenticity in these names, do let me know and clear my doubts.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for supporting efforts to share the good news of God's presence in the world. I am just not keen on using wrong means to justify ends, no matter how right they are. If there is a tendency for anything to mislead people from truth, it is ethically wrong. As much as we accuse the Da Vinci Code of misusing facts, likewise we should not use the "Does God Exist" video as a way to vindicate truth.  Indeed, the Internet is full of information and lots of misinformation. How do we tell the difference? One way is to check the sources and do some personal research on it. Another way is simpler, though a little more radical and counter-cultural: Unplug your computer. Sigh. Easier said then done.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Reconcilable Differences (5Cs)

‘Separation.’ ‘Divorce.’ ‘Breakups.’ ‘Splits.’ ‘Agree to Disagree.’ These words are often the result of failed attempts to come together in unity. The term ‘irreconcilable differences’ has been used widely when filing divorce papers. The statistics are grim. Even Christians contribute to the increase in divorce numbers. For the Church, since the infamous 16th Century divorce of Western Christendom into Protestant and Roman Catholic groups, the recent 400 years have also been littered with splits and schisms. The remarkable thing is that despite multiple common creeds, many differences are still classified irreconcilable. How do we prevent or minimize irreconcilable differences? I believe that one method is maintaining healthy and constructive discussions, while we are still in a healthy state. Medication used preventatively reaps better dividends than one used curatively. In other words, a healthy body responds better to medication. When a body is too sick, sometimes even amputation may not help. This is the same for healthy discussions. Having discussions that edify will unite. Having discussions that degenerate into name-calling or stone-throwing will divide. How do we ensure debates of all kinds be done in a civil and conciliatory manner? As we know, knowledge is good on the one hand, but it can also puff up. Care needed to be exercised when we debate views in the name of knowledge. Above all, let our speech, our words and actions be that of grace through reconciliatory attitudes.

Reconciliation is not stopping any one person from voicing his views. It is learning to voice one’s opinions honestly, and to paraphrase the other respectfully without humiliating either. Reconciliation is not cheap. It costs deeply. Reconciliation is not shaking the dissenting hand grudgingly. It is learning to embrace the brother/sister graciously, warts and all. Reconciliation is accepting one another on the basis of Christ’s love, not humanistic contracts or agreements. It is a process, not simply the end product. It cannot be forced though it can be reinforced. After traveling the rugged countryside of controversies, reconciliation is like a regular oil change, to lubricate the engines with love so that all passengers can travel further and more purposefully in their faith journeys. Without the lubricant of love, each cranking of the debate engine dangerously wears out the prime mover of the vehicle. A debate that ends without reconciliation is like the car heading toward self-inflicted implosion. On the other hand, debates that end with reconcilable differences not only prevent the Body from self-destruction, it is constructive enough for the car to run many more miles to spread the gospel of peace. It is with this intent, that I write this article, entitled ‘Reconcilable Differences’ covering the 5 Cs of debates. Aim at the 5Cs of debates. Civility in arguments. Charity in disagreements. Aim to cascade arguments up or down, and not castrate fellow believers. Context is important. Community is the fruit of the Spirit. We need debates, but more importantly, we need the skills and the humility for reconciliation of differences at all times.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book - Mudhouse Sabbath

Title: Mudhouse Sabbath
Author: Lauren Winner
Published: MA: Paraclete Press, 2003

Lauren Winner is one of my favourite professors at Regent-College. Even though she teaches only one class that Summer in 2007, it was a memorable one. Not because I got a good grade for my paper, but more for the insightful and frank manner she communicates the art of writing.

This delightful little book comprises a series of 11 short essays on the rituals surrounding the traditional Jewish rituals. Winner, a Jew who embraced Christianity, yet misses her Jewish rituals. Even though the title of the book is not entirely about Sabbath, the use of the word 'Sabbath' is in effect a recognition that it is still the Sabbath that is still most central in Judaism, or at least in her Jewish upbringing. This book is a result of her efforts to connect her Jewish background with her understanding of Christianity. It is about her personal journey of integrating Sabbath with Christianity. In her own words, she writes:
"This is a book about those things I miss. It is about Sabbaths and weddings and burials and prayers, rituals Jews and Christians both observe, but also rituals we observe quite differently. It is about paths to the God of Israel that both Jews and Christians travel.  It is, to be blunt, about spiritual practices that Jews do better. It is, to be blunter, about Christian practices that would be enriched, that would be thicker and more vibrant, if we took a few lessons from Judaism. It is ultimately about places where Christians have some things to learn." (Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath, viii-ix)
Hopefully, more Christians will learn to incorporate meaningful practices into the faith so much so that it is not the practices that make one Christians, but remind them what it MEANS to 'live as Christians.'

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Story of Acceptance

This is a perceptive commercial. It is also an interpretation of the nature of human beings, that they are needy social beings. Everyone regardless of language, race, religion or whatever human uniqueness all has a common need: To be accepted. It reminds me of the Genesis verse:
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." (Gen 2:18)

Indeed, God our creator knows us and how we need to function. Our tendency toward companionship is not simply having a spouse. It is in making meaningful connections. We all need it. You can watch the clip below or click the link here.

Thanks to Rosie for highlighting this clip.

Will you be willing to be watchful and pay attention to a needy soul? Perhaps, one reason why people are restless or starts to irritate others is simply because he/she is crying out for one thing: To be accepted.


Note: For those who didn't get it, all the things that Mr W did is a personification of what the wind does, blowing skirts off, messing one's hair, blowing off flower pots etc. Only when we learn to see the wind as less of a nuisance, but to be harnessed for better purpose, we see the light. Wind is not simply to be seen as an irritation but a gift. Let those who has eyes see.

"Christianity on Trial" (Book)

TITLE: Christianity on Trial
Authors: Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett
Published: San Franciscon: Encounter Books, 2002 (244pp).

Our modern culture in the West seems to be increasingly anti-religious, especially anti-Christian judging from the anti-religious rhetoric thrown around like verbal graffiti. As much as accusers can come up with all kinds of rhetoric and anti-religious bigotry, if they close their minds to seeing the other point of view, they become the very bigots they try to accuse in the first place. The authors listed 8 major objections commonly thrown at Christianity. These 8 deals with complaints with regards to the negative roles the Church has played in:
- Development of the modern Western culture
- Introducing and Enforcing slavery;
- Attacking and Limiting Science;
- Slaughtering innocents
- Third Reich, Nazism
- Charity
- Environment
- American Democracy.

With each point, the authors helpfully state the initial stumbling block, and then proceeds to dismantle them by showing the other side of the picture, that apart from the accusations of bad things the Church has done, the Church too has been credited with lots of virtuous deeds. Unfortunately, these good deeds are either not remembered or largely unknown to the majority of the public at large. Without the knowledge of facts, it is easy to go with the flow. After all, social acceptance can be won through criticizing the Church or Christianity at large. Modern culture seems to issue extra brownie points for every tomato thrown at the face of the church.

It is indeed unfortunate that some people tend to readily criticize or condemn the church while conveniently ignoring its good works. The authors of this book do society a good service by providing more of the other side of the story. I hope more people, especially the anti-religious will come to learn of the good side of the story, that much of Western civilization and progress have been due to the merits of Christian people in the past. For example, while people can easily criticize 300 years of horrible wars, they forget that for the first 1000 years, Christianity has been the victim. They remember the small things but fail to acknowledge the contributions of big things. How many of us know that hospitals and universities were first started by the Church? What about the abolition of slavery was spearheaded by a staunch Christian believer, William Wilberforce? For every mention of the Church mistreatment of Galileo, what about the technological advancement made by the monasteries during the middle ages? Farming technology, iron making in France and England, establishment of medical facilities by Emperor Constantine who became a Christian, the memory of a monk trying to fly a plane even before the Wright brothers were born. The authors conclude with a powerful demonstration of Christian virtue in action through the Polish revolution in 1983. At that time, the harsh dictatorship of Yugoslavia's General Jaruzelski were oppressing the people of Poland, sending them deeper into economic ruins. There were bloody rebellions at least thrice against the Communist leaders in 1956, 1970 and 1976. However, in 1979, the pope visited Poland and preached a gospel of peace. From then on, the struggle for freedom and peace became a determined but peaceful one. Led by Lech Walesa who describes his Christian faith as his 'peace and strength,' the evil regime fell to peaceful demonstrations. Didn't faith matters play a positive part in Poland then?

Let me suggest that in order to get our perspectives right, our starting point is to be able to see both sides of any picture. The biggest service the authors have done is to supply the public another perspective to counter the increasingly negative and anti-Christian perceptions. Let us all be fair in all our interpretations. See both sides of any story. For those who like to bash Christainity, may I urge adopting a fair and rational view. Do away with bashing Christianity for the sake of bashing. This book can provide helpful ways to be thankful rather than vengeful.

Rating - 4 stars out of 5.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review (One Less Thing to Worry About)

Title: One Less Thing to Worry About (uncommmon wisdom for coping with common anxieties)
Author: Jerilyn Ross with Robin Cantor-Cooke
Published: NY: Ballantine Books, 2009 (269pp).

A) Overview
This is a book written by a woman aimed at a mostly women audience. [put it this way, female readers out there generally outnumber male readers.] Based on a premise that women generally worry more than men on a scale of 2:1, the author points out that the 'one less thing' to worry about is essentially learning to see anxiety as a friend rather than a foe. In other words, healthy worries are actually good. Packed with stories from her experience with various people, the author(s) outlines the 'Ross Prescription,' an 8-point set of techniques to free oneself from the tyranny of worry. Ross is currently a Director of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Washington DC. {you may seem surprised why I read this supposedly women's book. Two reasons. Firstly, in Christian ministry, we need to minister to both genders. Secondly, anxiety is a universal problem.}

Research also shows a significant link anxiety is connected with the following:
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma
  • Accelerated breast cancer recurrence
  • Alcohol & Drug abuse
  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Eating disorders
  • Obesity

B) Main Points
In Part One, anxiety is given a new identity. The problem behind anxiety is not simply an emotional one. It is also biological. Ross's definition is an anxiety disorder is:

An umbrella term for a group of conditions that involve chronic, excessive, inexplicable anxiety that interferes with the way a person conducts his or her daily life. (39)

Ross writes that living with anxiety is like living with our family, and we need to learn to accept them rather than eradicating them completely. Instead, learn to 'embrace' them (21). It is also important to distinguish panic disorders from normal anxieties, so that we know how to treat them accordingly. In other words, anxiety has 2 sides, one that needs medical treatment and the other a normal occurrence of human living. The key is to know the difference. One way is to recognize our personal relationships with anxiety.

In Part Two, the author deals with four different kinds of relationships.
  1. Reflective-Impulsive Relationship
    Reflective (without conscious thought);
    Impulsive (acting without foresight);

    PROBLEM: people with such a relationship generally tend to do-it-first without much thinking. Instead, they need something to steady the way behind their decision making.
    "The defining characteristic of this anxiety is not the efficacy of the
    responses it catalyzes but its unplanned, fix-it-quick quality." (84)
    TREATMENT: regular meal times, regular sleeping times, exercise and establish limits to emails, phone calls etc.

  2. Pervasive-Adaptive Relationship
    Pervasive: diffused or spread through every aspect of
    Adaptive: adjusting oneself to particular conditions or ways
    "At the heart of the pervasive-adaptive relationship is the sense that anxiety is an inherent part of the self, that you just wouldn't be you if you didn't have a slightly apprehensive always-on-you-guard approach to life." (116)
    PROBLEM: is that if such anxieties are constantly hounded until it has no place else to go, it will surface somewhere.

    TREATMENT: "The key to making the pervasive-adaptive relationship work for you is to be conscious of why you are doing what you are doing." (133)

  3. Primitive-Preventive Relationship
    Primitive: of behavior, thought or emotion originating in unconscious needs or desires and unaffected by objective reasoning.
    Preventive: designed to keep something undesirable such as illness, harm or accidents from occurring.

    Such a relationship is like a IF and THEN one.
    "If I do this thing in just this way, then that thing that makes me anxious won't happen." (135-6)
    PROBLEM: In using this kind of relationship, while one may try to solve personal situations, it unwittingly creates anxieties in others. An example is the mythical or traditional do's and don'ts. Like if one sees a black cat crossing one's path, and then the whole day the person worries oneself to ineffectiveness.

    TREATMENT: Recognize some of these thoughts are irrational and not to be followed. Sometimes, imagined terror is worse than the terror itself.

  4. Imperative-Fugitive Relationship
    Imperative: an unavoidable fact compelling or insistently calling for action
    Fugitive: running away or intending flight

    PROBLEM: sometimes there are things which grows out of our inner fears and insecurity. One of them is the 'primal life and death anxiety,' which can make us blow life out of proportion.

    TREATMENT: Don't become a helpless victim. Do something about it.
PART THREE outlines the Ross prescription to do something about all of the above. It is essentially a 3+8 technique. The three stages are:
  • Assess the anxiety;
  • Observe the situation and circumstances;
  • Accepting it in terms of doing something about it.
  1. Expect, allow, and accept that worry, anxiety and stress are part of life.
  2. When you feel yourself getting anxious or starting to worry, stop, breathe and think.
  3. Focus on what you can do, rather than on what you cannot do
  4. Label your anxieties from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Note the thoughts, and behaviors you have at this level and what happens to the level when you change your thoughts and behaviors.
  5. Ask yourself: "What am I really anxious about?"
  6. Ask yourself: "What can I do to lower my anxiety level?" - and do it.
  7. Stay rooted in the here and now. Focus on the information you have rather than on the 'what if?' that often accompany anxiety.
  8. Expect, allow, and accept that worry, anxiety, and stress will return, because they are part of life.
C) What I Like
There are some very perceptive pointers about human behaviour. Since Ross's presciption is an 8-step technique, I shall list 8 things I like about them. Firstly, even though the author recognize women tends to be more easily anxious then men, the truth is women also cope better. One of them is via the 'tend-and-befriend' response, which generally puts women better able to handle stress and worries better than men. Women shares their problems while men keep problems mostly to themselves. In other words, men fight-or-flee while women tend-and-befriend.
The theory is that women's responses to stress have evolved not only to overcome or flee it but also to maximize the chances of their own survival and that of their children. To this end, Dr Taylor's team concluded that women typically tend their young and befriend other adults, often women, to mitigate and manage stress and reduce the risk of harm. (59)
In a nutshell, Ross's book reminds us the importance of relationships.

Secondly, there are many studies of gender differences, human phases of life, their various clinical disorders and anxiety research. The author encourages us to have a 'healthy skepticism' whenever we hear findings of any research or lab discoveries (75).

Thirdly, we need to be open that some of our anxieties do require professional help.

Fourthly, easy to read and follow. For an anxious person, the last thing the person needs is a hard to understand manual.

Fifthly, the stories are real life and adds authenticity to the concepts introduced.

Sixth, the way the 4 different relationships are highlighted brings my understanding that anxieties while we should not be enslaved to it, does not mean I should not seek to understand it more.

Seventh, the Ross Prescription's last step is a reminder that anxieties will most likely occur again. The most realistic thing we ought to have in dealing with anxiety is not eradication but education and reduction. In other words, learn from our past, and be better equipped to deal with future occurrences.

Eighth, the book blends scientific research and human experiences in a warm manner, making the book real in many ways.

D) What is Lacking
There is nothing written pertaining to spiritual forces of darkness. This limits the scope of the book drastically as it sees anxieties more with humanistic views. What about healing, especially inner healing? External techniques can only do so much. Sometimes, in order for one to be rational, one cannot simply depend on self-help mechanisms. Apart from taking with the doctor, how about religious groups or community support?

E) Personal Comments
It would seem that the main content provider of the book is Jerilyn Ross, while the second author helps put them together. It seems that the book is also too 'clinical' for comfort. It presupposes that anxiety is something that does not simply 'happen to us.' By saying that anxiety is a 'normal thing,' is Ross downplaying the seriousness of sin? I know that Ross meant well in saying that anxiety is a part of life. However, in the light of Paul's teaching, should we learn to see anxiety from the dimension of focusing on God rather than on our anxiety per se?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which
transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Though this is not a book on spirituality, I feel that the roots of anxiety has a more spiritual origin. The Christian worldview recognizes the presence of spiritual forces of evil, lusts of the human flesh and the terrible state of society due to sinful nature of people. Stress indeed can be managed, but the extent to which it is managed is ultimately not about techniques or self-help methodologies. It lies with knowing how we are created, and our purposes in life.

Personal Rating: 3 out of 5 bookworms.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Desperate Times

I miss local South-East Asian delicacies. Some of my favourite dishes include crabs and noodles, especially Bak-Chor-Mee (Minced pork noodles). Last Monday was heavenly.

Crabs We Caught (5 large Dungeness and 2 Rock Crabs ;2 not shown)

Steamed Crabs

Chilli Crab

Bak Chor Mee

Burp! Feels so good. Now not so desperate.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Warm Gesture from Pixar

There are good gestures done by businesses that deserves mention. I hope to use this blog to highlight good works done happening around the world. This is the story of Pixar and 10-year old cancer patient. (link)

Pixar Animation company, upon learning of a cancer-stricken girl from Huntington California was too weak to watch the newly released Pixar-Disney movie "UP" at the theatres, they (Pixar) took action. Since the DVD version of the movie was yet to be released, and there is no way to stretcher the girl to a public theatre on June 9th 2009, a private viewing was arranged. A Pixar employee was flown in with a copy of the DVD for a private screening, fulfilling the dying wish of 10-year old Colby Curtin. Incidentally, Colby died 7 hours after hearing her mum describe the movie to her during the screening. I think such warm gestures deserve to be recognized. Bravo Pixar!

Further Ponderings
Why should anyone wait till the last minute to fulfill a dying wish? Why should we wait for a terrible illness to happen before performing a good deed? I suppose if we learn to live each day and each moment as if it is our last, to do good works, this world will be a much better place for everyone to live in.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Awe Factor of God

Our God is awesome. Believers will hardly want to dispute this statement. However, are there times when you feel absolutely drained, and your zest for life just happen to fall through the cracks of some of our disappointments in life? Perhaps we need physical rest to rejuvenate our bodies. We may even require inspirational stories to recharge our emotional batteries. As far as faith is concerned, I believe we need to be reminded that the Word of God remain our most solid food.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Ps 19:1)
To help us meditate and appreciate this profound verse, see the following video that supplements Francis Chan's bestselling book, "Crazy Love." I'll do a book review later but first, let us watch it here or click the start button below. The video certainly blows any despair away to replace them with awe. God is indeed AWESOME!

Give thanks to the LORD!


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Making Amends

OK. Today started off pretty well. The day is beautiful. The sun's predicted. No rain's expected. I hugged my wife. Tonight, we will be hosting some dear friends for dinner. Liverpool won 4-0. Isn't life great? I surf the net to read about something even better: a man making amends for his past guilt. Before I deal with it, let me say something about news.

Good News, Bad News?
The word 'gospel' literally means 'good news.' The gospel of repentance; the gospel of grace; the gospel of faith, hope and love. How do we define what is good and what is not? For the winners of reality TV shows, winning is good, losing is bad. For the champions of a coveted ball game, victory is exhilirating, and energizing. That can be said for nearly all kinds of competition. Who does not like to win? What kind of people will play to lose? Having said that, our society has a ferocious appetite for winners and their winnings. It devours good news in terms of happy events, winning the lottery, and seeing one's favorite sports team lift the coveted cup. In the same way, it swallows bad news that happens to other people.

Good news means different things to different people. The media has sometimes been blamed for being the carrier of sensational news: Dramatic, Controversial, and anything that sells. Bad news sells, which explains the saying: "No news is good news." Once in a while, after sailing over oceans of headlines chronicling disasters, wars, scandals, hyped-up events, even toilet habits of the rich and famous, we sight an island that inspires. Any sea-sick sailor upon sighting land will cry aloud 'land-ho!' This story certainly made my day. Here's how a piece of news perks me up today.....

John Alvord, a convicted hit-and-run drunk driver regretted that his actions have caused his victim much harm and pain. He could have just paid the fine, complete his 22 months imprisonment sentence, and leave his victim to fend for himself and others to cover the medical tab. Instead, he did something remarkable. Alvord admitted that he is 100% at fault (confession). He went beyond the second mile, to check himself into the same rehabilitation as his victim to console, to comfort and to care (compassion). He pushed his own insurance company to settle the USD1.2 million medical expenses (compensation). He became a force against drunk driving (campaign for). Above all, he became a friend of Larkin, instead of a permanent foe. I am particularly fascinated because of two reasons. Firstly, all of these actions reflect dramatically the actions of a Good Samaritan in a parable of Jesus. Secondly, these remedial steps are done by a person who have wronged others, sort of like sinners trying to undo his past with good works.

A) A Neighborly Heart
Jesus's parable of the Good Samaritan is a direct answer to the lawyer who asks: "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus describes in dramatic fashion about the image of a neighbor.
  1. A neighbor willingly approaches the needy (not walk away);
  2. A neighbor takes notice and do something about it (not ignore it because of inconvenience);
  3. A neighbor lets his external senses connect with his inner being, translating all that into active steps to help (not restricting it to head knowledge);
  4. A neighbor takes care of the man's physical needs;
  5. A neighbor offers his own resources to bring the man to the nearest resting place;
  6. A neighbor, without a thought about his own, prioritize the needs of others above himself, paying in advance the needed medical expenses to help the man.
  7. In times when he could not personally help, the neighbor pays others to help the needy;
  8. A neighbor follows up on his level of care;
  9. All in all, there is no mention of the neighbor desiring a compensation, minimal payback or anything of that sort. A neighbor essentially gives, and gives and gives without expecting anything in return.
Compared with Alvord, there are some differences;
  • Alvord hurt Larkin, (the Samaritan had nothing to do with the injured man);
  • Alvord made amends mixed with remorse and goodwill; (Samaritan exhibits a neighborly attitude, not out of any guilt);
  • Alvord was previously a respected vice-president of a bank, (the Samaritan is considered lowly in Jewish society).
  • Alvord was caught, convicted and incarcerated before his good deeds, (the Samaritan had no similar past relating to the injured man).
Nevertheless, Alvord's actions deserve our admiration and inspiration. They remind us that a gallon of forgiveness lasts many miles. They show us that love covers a multitude of sins.

B) Making Amends by Works
Alvord's actions can sometimes be misconstrued that he does good works merely to repay a past misdeed. Theologically, the gospel of grace is nowhere like that. Regardless of our past deeds and misdeeds, nothing we do can ever be sufficient to cover our price of sin. We cannot enter the kingdom of heaven on the strength of our virtuous deeds. Some of us may claim to be able to banish the seven deadly sins of our lives. Others can adopt daily the seven holy virtues instead. Unfortunately, these are insufficient to pay for the ticket to heaven. According to the Scriptures, only Christ is sufficient. Alvord may have done a good deed, but we know that he did something wrong in the first place. In the Bible, there is only one man who has never sinned, yet offered all of himself to save mankind. Alvord may have shown us acts that reflect the person of Christ. He might have demonstrated some images of neighborly love. There is no one righteous but one. Let those who have sinned, sin no more. Let those who have not sinned beware of potholes of temptations. Above all, every single person needs to confess their weaknesses, their sins and ask for forgiveness. Let that desire for forgiveness be reflected powerfully through our actions, our virtues and our relationships. Let there be love. Let there be neighborly love.

Final Comments
I cannot help but feel strange inside me, how such a news story can evoke amazement. If our society is a caring one, should not incidents like the Alvord-Larkin case be the norm? Should not the law be one that not only punishes but also restores? I think our society of me-ism has placed too much premium on self at the expense of others. Alan Paton's novel, entitled "Too Late the Phalarope" tells of a man who committed adultery, a terrible sin in his culture. Everybody rejected him, labeling him a social outcast. It takes a neighbor to say this:
"An offender can be punished (like the courts did to Alvord), but to punish and not to restore, that is the greatest of all offenses (society at large). . . if a man takes unto himself God's right to punish (the judiciary), then he must also take upon himself God's promise to restore." (Alan Paton)
I think our justice systems need to beef up the rehabilitation and redemptive path of restoring fallen people. One reason why our law enforcement agencies keep a list of past lawbreakers and extensive criminal records is because the percentage of repeat offenders are astronomically high. Is this a reflection of the culpable acts done by thugs and all kinds of criminals? Or is this a worrying trend that our justice systems are grossly lopsided toward punishment instead of restoration? I think it is important to remember the following from parental counseling.

- "Praise publicly, Rebuke privately."
- "For every one negative feedback, surround it with ten positives."

Perhaps, our lack of redemptive strength is because we fail to forgive enough. George MacDonald gives a profound observation when he compares a forgiver with a murderer, saying that one who forgives not, is worse.
It may be infinitely worse to refuse to forgive than to murder, because the latter may be an impulse of a moment of heat, whereas the former is a cold and deliberate choice of the heart. (George MacDonald)
We can all do our part by first being a good neighbor. That is the best way to make amends for our past, commend the positives of those present around us, and to recommend others over self. Have a great week.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Tipping

In North America, whenever we eat at restaurants, tipping is a common practice. Depending on what kind of services, which state or province, the amount typically ranges between 10-15%. Some restaurants automatically add a 15-18% gratuity for groups larger than 6 persons. In the services industry, tipping forms quite an important part of a worker's monthly take home pay. When the tipping amount is greater than the average amount, things work out fine for all. However, what if the tips fall below the standard practice, or in some cases, no tipping at all due to an accidentally spillage of orange juice on the sleeves of a customer? I have heard horror stories about how the lack of tipping can even impoverish an already lowly paid server. One waitress I know told me that whenever she receives less than the minimum amount of tip for the day, she has to fork out her own money to tip the chefs and kitchen staff. From the perspective of the kitchen staff, why should all the tips only benefit front-end servers, while the back-end cooks bear the bulk of the food preparation?

Sometimes, I feel that people simply have a wrong understanding of what tipping is all about. New arrivals into North America often have to grapple with why there is a need to tip in the first place. They thought that the tip ought to reflect the quality of service. They feel that it is not their responsibility to cover any shortfall in the wages of the restaurant employees. Blame it on the provincial government for failing to legislate a minimal wage that is consistent with inflation. Blame it on the rising cost of living. Blame it on the owners of restaurants who try to cut costs indiscriminately. While some of these blames are understandable, I believe that there is a need to educate people about tipping. This social etiquette is not only important from the standpoint of sustaining the services industry, it is an important social grace.

Christians can lead the way to be generous tippers. It is truly a way to demonstrate that it is better to give than to receive. It is also a way to be thankful to God for his mercy on us. As much as we have received mercy, show grace to others. Let me suggest the following TIP paradigm.



Being thankful is one of the hallmarks of a Christian believer. Margaret Visser, in her latest book: "The Gift of Thanks," says that a heart of thankfulness 'can be a key to understanding many of the basic assumptions, preferences, and needs of Western culture' (1). This is a bold statement, and I will venture to say that it should not be limited to Western culture, but to all of human nature. Didn't the Apostle Paul remind the Church to give thanks in everything?

I remember leading a hot discussion in church before. There were some vigorous views and debate about a certain subject. One participant said some pretty negative words to me about my view. If I had insisted on a robust rebuttal, I might have stoked up some pretty big flames. Instead, I said 'Thank you.' It must have been the Spirit of God at work, for after a simple 2-word reply, the temperature of the discussion was lowered a couple of notches and we were able to end the discussion cordially and with everyone having learned at least an additional perspective. Being thankful is an important attribute. I would agree with Margaret Visser that it is a universal attribute. In this sense, in trying to shape the future, a spirit of thanksgiving will go a long way in an age of rising globalization. As people groups continue to migrate from place to place, as workers travel internationally for business and pleasure, as people interact on the Internet, learning how to say 'Thank you' in different languages can go a long way in building bridges among cultures and societies worldwide. The Japanese say, "Arigato gozaimasu." The Spanish say: "Muchas gracias." The Taiwanese say: "Xie xie." The Vietnamese say: "Cám ơn." South Africans say: "Baie dankie." The Koreans say: "Kamsahamnida." The French say: "Merci." Israelites say: "Toda raba." I believe that a thankful heart goes a long way in producing a gracious society. As we tip, be thankful in all things. After all, we too have our imperfect moments, and there are no perfect restaurants, cooks or servers. Let our gratefulness determine our level of tipping instead of the quality of service.


This may seem to be strange. How can tipping be called a form of investment at all? We do not get stock options, or shares and definitely no monetary dividends. Even though it may not reap immediate monetary returns, I feel that our small tipping can contribute positively in loving our neighbor as well as being a good neighbor ourselves. All of us are recipients of the giving of others, one way or another. Just think of the hospitals where we were born, or the schools that we go to. Consider the organizations that we work in, and the little public services we use from time to time. I live near a convenient train station, where a trip downtown costs less than $3 arriving in less than 30 minutes. Such a service would not have been possible if there were no investments at all by anyone. In this sense, I am dismayed whenever some commuters abuse the trust system by not paying for their rides. Our present society feeds on investments made in the past. It is only our bounden duty to provide for others in the future, as much as our predecessors have endowed upon us during their times. When we tip well, or generously, we are investing in the industry. We are saying to them that not only do we appreciate what they are doing, not only do we want to help their wages, we are investing in the future of the trade. Which of us want to see more shabby restaurants, more disgruntled servers, or poor quality cooking? I have heard the saying: "If you pay peanuts, you make monkeys out of people." Similarly, if we tip miserly, we do the service industry a disservice, by sending them a message that we do not believe in their future.

Now, let me get something straight. I am not saying that we condone poor service. Tipping has nothing to do with expectations of good service. If I can put it this way, by seeing tipping as an investment, tipping has nothing to do with excellent or lousy service standards. We may choose not to tip EXTRA, for poor service, but we ought to tip regardless. Distinguish between basic tipping and additional tipping. Basic is something given regardless of the quality of service. We should not reduce this basic level, though we can choose to withhold anything more, due to any unsatisfactory service. People are imperfect. They may have their down times. Let's maintain a gracious attitude so that we can help the service industry in our very small way.


What do we do when we encounter poor service? I must say, do not use tipping as a weapon to tell the server 'You deserve it.' For all we know, the waitress may have had a bad day. However, her house rental is fixed. Her bills are not decreasing in any significant way. Learn to be patient and encourage him or her in her work. Who knows? We may even save one from self-depression. Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas-Nelson publishing recommends 4 strategies for dealing with poor customer service. My earlier two points have covered some of them. Nevertheless, they are worth reiterating.

  1. Be more understanding;
  2. Express gratitude;
  3. Demonstrate patience;
  4. Extend grace.

The part about demonstrating patience is actually something very biblical. Remember what Jesus said: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31)?

We would not want to be on the receiving end of an impatient customer. It gives us stress. It can make us angry. It kills our zest for life. If every person learns to be more patient each day, instead of a vicious cycle of impatience begetting intolerance, we can start a movement of not complaining, of being thankful and develop a virtue of patient living. I remember reading a road sign near a hospital that says: "Be patient. Not a patient." I would want to suggest that it applies beyond hospital grounds.

So, my fellow readers. Tip well. Give appropriately, even generously if you can. Be thankful, invest in the future and demonstrate the virtue of patience. Let me conclude with Margaret Visser's excellent quip from St John of the Cross.

"At the end of the day," writes Saint John of the Cross, "you will be examined in love." And the fruits of our loving, our giving, and our gratitude will provide the evidence: "Only what you have given, be it only in the gratitude of acceptance, is salvaged from the nothing which some day will have been your life." (Margaret Visser, The Gift of Thanks, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2008, p392-3)

Some Helpful Tipping sites include:
1) (
2) Tips on Tipping for Canadians
3) List of Different Tipping Guidelines for Various Services
4) How Much to Tip? (Vancouver)

"Top 100 Church Blogs" (Sep 4, 2009)

Here is a compiled list of Top 100 Church blogs by ChurchRevelance. The list is primarily based on web-statistics extracted from popular page rank organizations. Looking at the selection, I cannot help but feel that some of these blogs are not exactly the institutional-church-type that one may be led to think. Some are private bloggers (Michael Hyatt, Tim Challies) while others are doing it as part of their organizational reach (like desiringgod). Perhaps it ought to be called "Christian" or even "Top 100 Blogs from a Christian Perspective." From a theological point of view, I agree with Shaffer. From a popular view, maybe a more inclusive title will help.

Anyway, thanks to Kent Shaffer, we have a pretty good list of websites that we can journey with. Many of these sites are new to me, so I do appreciate such a listing.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Book Review - "Five Temptations of a CEO" (Patrick Lencioni)

Title: The Five Temptations of a CEO
Author: Patrick Lencioni
Published: San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998 (pp134).

The thing that impresses me about this book is the way a simple fable brings together the challenges of leadership in a complex culture. While the title tends to restrict readership to CEO, I feel that the book deserves a larger leadership audience, for leaders past and present, as well as aspiring leaders. In a nutshell, for one to be a better leader or manager, one will need to be aware of the five CEO temptations and to actively avoid them. In summary, the five temptations are:
  1. Choosing Status over Results;
  2. Choosing Popularity over Accountability;
  3. Choosing Certainty over Clarity;
  4. Choosing Harmony over Conflict;
  5. Choosing Invulnerability over Trust.
The book begins with a declaration that many leaders fail to identify the core reasons for failure.
"They'll tell you their jobs are riddled with complexities and subtleties that make success impossible to predict. If their organizations fail, they may point to a tired list of causes like strategic errors, marketing inadequacies, competitive threats, and technology failures. But these are only symptoms of their troubles." (xiii)
Lencioni argues that any project or organizational failure can be traced back to the a leader who succumbs to one or more of the five temptations. When it was published in 1998, the Five Temptations became an 'underground best-seller.' With a story plot, this simple model was made even more comprehensible, making it a delightful book to read. Those short on time will appreciate not only the clarity but the brevity as well. Using the fictional character Andrew O'Brien, a new CEO of Trinity Systems, each temptation was discussed. In the book, the biggest and the most difficult one is the first: 'Choosing status over results." This is very true in the lives of many people. In our culture, we tend to hype status and treat superstars as gods. When such an honour gets into the head of any leader, pride makes a grand entrance while humility gets evicted at the closest exit. One avoids the ego trap by focusing on the need to achieve results. In the second temptation, the leader must aim for long-term respect of their subordinates, instead of longing for short-term affections by their reports. The third point is that the leader must be clear in the goals to be attained, not simply waiting for the perfect moment or resources. It is better to be decisive with what one has than to keep waiting for something that one does not possess. Fourthly, any discord or disagreement is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, having dissenting views is a mark of an honest and open atmosphere. By airing differences openly, and not being afraid of speaking out, stronger relationships can be forged. Fifth, let others challenge the leader in the spirit of learning and openness.

The summary portion of the book brings the concepts together. This is helpful as it reminds us that any story needs to have its essential points restated.

My Comments
This little book is exceptionally effective in communicating difficult concepts. It has all the elements of a good communication. A story to narrate the relevance. A chapter to summarise the main points. A section to help the reader do a self-assessment. Many conventional non-fiction books start with a 3-phase approach. Firstly, they describe the theory. Secondly, they prescribe a solution. Finally they suggest an application. Lencioni's book reverses the flow, by starting with an application, followed by a prescription and a description of the theory behind the story. I like the creative approach.

I have two reservations about the book. Firstly, the lack of real life examples. Though this may affect the brevity of the book, I think real-life examples will make the individual temptations more realistic. Alas, permission to publish scandals and leadership flaws are not easily obtained. Secondly, the title needs to be changed in order to reach a wider audience. Not everyone of us are called CEOs. The ideas in the book affects anyone who is in a leadership position.

Good book. Highly recommended, but not for the faint-hearted.


Quotes from Simple Advice for CEOS
  1. .. make results the most important measure of personal success, or step down from the job. The future of the company you lead is too important for customers, employees, and stockholders to hold it hostage to your ego. (113)
  2. .. work for the long-term respect of your direct reports, not for their affection. Don't view them as a support group, but as key employees who must deliver on their commitments if the company is to produce predictable results. And remember, your people aren't going to like you anyway if they ultimately fail. (114)
  3. ..make clarity more important than accuracy. Remember that your people will learn more if you take decisive action than if you always wait for more information. And if the decisions you make in the spirit of creating clarity turn out to be wrong when more information becomes available, change plans and explain why. It is your job to risk being wrong. The only real cost to you of being wrong is loss of pride. The cost to your company of not taking the risk of being wrong is paralysis. (115-6)
  4. ..tolerate discord. Encourage your direct reports to air their ideological differences, and with passion. Tumultuous meetings are often signs of progress. Tame ones are often signs of leaving important issues off the table. Guard against personal attacks, but not to the point of stifling important interchanges of ideas. (117)
  5. ..actively encourage your people to challenge your ideas. Trust them with your reputation and your ego. As a CEO, this is the greatest level of trust that you can give. They will return it with respect and honesty, and with a desire to be vulnerable among their peers. (118)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Time for Worship

I loved this song since I learned it more than 20 years ago. Hope this can help you worship as it has for me. Here is my humble Youtube attempt. []

Let's worship the LORD.


Book Review - Fearless (Max Lucado)

"Gem's in the Last Chapter"

Book Review - Fearless
Author: Max Lucado
Reviewer: Conrade Yap
Date: 8 September 2009

Lucado weaves together another tapestry of hope. Using stories and vivid images, he makes the words come alive in our minds as he deals with the topic of fear. As Lucado knits each fear, we are led to confront the many types of worries that can alarm us and render ourselves powerless or helpless. He turns over many stones that hide our innermost trepidations. Things like lack of self-worth, not meeting up to God’s expectations, unable to be a good parent, afraid of physical harm, overly concerned about the future and so on. While the reader may think that the way ahead is to flush fears off our system, Lucado gently leads us to something far better than spiritual machete. After shining a light to reveal the different kinds of fears we face in the world, he exposes our heart’s deepest need: Christ.
This is the fear of the Lord. Most of our fears are poisonous. They steal sleep and pillage peace. But this fear is different. ‘From a biblical perspective, there is nothing neurotic about fearing God. The neurotic thing is not to be afraid, or to be afraid of the wrong thing. That is why God chooses to be known to us, so that we may stop being afraid of the wrong thing. When God is fully revealed to us and we ‘get it,’ then we experience the conversion of our fear. . . ‘Fear of the Lord’ is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God.’” (169)
Truly, chapter 14 is worth the price of the book. Upon reading this portion of the book, I am even more convinced that the way to fight fear is not with guns or therapy, physical or psychological weapons. Remember the Apostle Paul’s reminder that our enemies are ‘spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm?’ Lucado drives home the way to fight fear, not in terms of decreasing our paranoia over created things or thoughts, but to increase our faith in God, who is love.
“The longer we live in him, the greater he becomes in us.” (170)

There are two irritations I have with the book. Firstly, the book presupposes that the fears described in the book exist in our lives. I understand that Lucado writes for a general audience. Yet, is it not possible that for some, such fears are irrelevant? I know that for cancer patients, some of the worries mentioned in the book are of the least concern. At some point, I feel like someone receiving a box of anti-fear gadgets, to fight even the non-existent fears. Secondly, Lucado takes too long to come to this important point. For instance, his PEACEFUL plan to rid fear appears like another self-help book. If readers stop here, the author may even be accused of using God like aspirin to banish fear, like using Christ as a means to our own ends. That is not what this book is about.

In conclusion, we need to read the whole book to discover Lucado's important point. It is not the fleeing or fighting of fear that render us fearless. It is in embracing Christ, that fears will flee from us instead.

A Thomas Nelson Book Reviewer

Conrade Yap

  • The Fearless Times (link)

Monday, September 07, 2009

A More Wholistic Gospel of Grace

I think 'grace' is a beautiful word, in fact one of the most distinctive attributes of Christianity. Unfortunately, this elegant word has sometimes been overused and often maligned. Some see grace as something reserved only for their own benefit and self-gratification. For example, they may see grace as grace only when they see the money. They justify that on the basis that they cannot 'ble$$' others without God first 'ble$$ing' them. If a person claims to have faith, and his bank account not only does not grow but shrinks, does that mean that person has lack of faith? Some even claims that the New Covenant guarantees one for riches on earth. Prosperity gospel preachers openly proclaim a doctrine of "Give-More-So-That-God-Can-Bless-You-More." The teaching is seductive, and appeals to the inner self-desire of people. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of the most pious preachers, there is a high risk of people who will misunderstand the full gospel of grace.

If the gospel of gra¢e is limited only to such channels, the problem of poverty in the world is even more troubling. Does that mean that millions of people in Africa, South & Latin America, large parts of Asia are not blessed? Sometimes, radical 'gra¢e' proponents taunt those who oppose prosperity preaching in terms of 'if-you-do-not-want-prosperity-God-will-not-force-them-on-you.' That is clearly presumptuous as if one is the elf of a Santa Claus God, even bordering on mischief and does not reflect a gracious attitude. I think we need to have a more wholistic understanding of grace. Here is where we can learn from the saints of old.

John Baillie is one of my favourite theologians and prayer gurus. Here is an example of his prayers, which ought to challenge those of us who are stuck with Grace = Ble$$ing paradigm.

John Baillie (1886-1960), Scottish theologian
O thou in whose boundless being are laid up all treasures of wisdom and truth, and holiness, grant that through constant fellowship with thee the true graces of Christian character may more and more take shape within my soul:
The grace of a thankful and uncomplaining heart:
The grace to await thy leisure patiently and to answer thy call promptly:
The grace of courage, whether in suffering or in danger:
The grace to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ:
The grace of boldness in standing for what is right:
The grace of preparedness, lest I enter into temptation:
The grace of bodily discipline:
The grace of strict truthfulness:
The grace to treat others as I would have others treat me:
The grace of charity, that I may refrain from hasty judgment:
The grace of silence, that I may refrain from hasty speech:
The grace of forgiveness towards all who have wronged me:
The grace of tenderness towards all who are weaker than myself:
The grace of steadfastness in continuing to desire that thou wilt do as now I pray.

Hopefully, God will help ALL of us, establish God's grace in all its fulness, and not measure grace with fullne$$ per se.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Song - Hard Times (1st effort)

Here's the song "Hard Times Make You Strong," which I recorded today. Back in Oct 2008, many have seen my post. This is a belated followup for those of you who have requested.

Gee. I sound so amateurish. No voice training. Just plain trying. I missed a few connects. Sang a wrong word. Stumble a little. Well. Sorry. That's a first try. Hopefully, for those of you who are down, may this song lift you up, despite my horrible singing.


'Death' of a Bible Translation - TNIV

It's official. Today's New International Version (aka TNIV) will be discontinued. The leading Christian publisher, Zondervan announced that they will no longer continue the 2002 edition. In its place, Zondervan will start to sell the "NIV Bible 2011." The official announcement is here. They will also discontinue the venerable 1984 NIV translation after the new NIV is released. Citing marketing mistakes and the divisiveness of the translation, Zondervan CEO Moe Girkins says that the new version will have updated language for readers in the new era.

I got my first TNIV at a Regent-College Tradition conference back in 2005. It was distributed free to every conference attendee. Eugene Peterson and Bruce Waltke were the speakers that day, and the chapel was filled to the brim. We had to turn many people away on registration day itself. The quality was not as good, and my TNIV's spine broke at the middle of Psalms. Not a very good quality binding. Well, what do I expect.

My second TNIV was the Books of the Bible type, where Bible reference numbers are all removed to aid reading the Bible in context, rather than to read choice verses. Remember that Paul's letter to the churches are letters. Who will ever read a personal letter halfway?

My third TNIV was a hardcover one, which all new Regent students get to receive. However, the copy I have were missing a couple of pages from John and Acts.

This all but sums up my experience with the TNIV. Not a lot of good memories but still, I learned something, which I shall describe more below. Maybe, with the discontinuation, I might even get a 4th TNIV free from places seeking to offload the discontinued translation? (my email address is at the top left)

My Comments
I suspect that this latest decision to discontinue the TNIV, and work on a new translation to be released by 2011 is more a marketing decision than anything else. Honestly, the TNIV has never been widely accepted by the Christian public. Since its initial publication, there have been much controversies (especially from the conservative Bible Belt states in the USA), over the philosophy behind the translation itself. Limited acceptance to me does not warrant the use of the 'International' label. While the word 'today' does sound contemporary, I feel that it can become dated rather quickly, which also means that the word expires itself into non-relevance over time. For that matter, the same argument can be applied to the word 'New' in NIV itself. That is why I hope the new name will be something more time-neutral. How about English International Version? How about a more humble sounding name like, Bible for the Meek? I don't know. There are already too many Bibles out there. Maybe, that is the point. Don't be too concerned about the multitude of Bible translations. We have a greater problem of people who fail to read their Bibles well, than to be worried about the various technicalities behind each Bible. Strange paradox. The more Bibles we have, the less we read.

Maybe, if multiple revisions are needed, do what Microsoft has done to their Windows product, like EIV 2011? After all, the NIV does have a 1973 and a 1984 revisions. Just look at the copyright pages at the first pages of any NIV Bible.

The other reason behind the low take-up rate of the TNIV is because of the discomfort over adding/subtracting stuff, especially the gender-inclusive language in the Bible. I do not dispute the integrity and honesty of the TNIV translators to remain faithful to the text. However, changing the language from 'brethren' to 'brothers and sisters' seems to me rather awkward. We do not need to be paranoid about females being excluded whenever the Bible uses patriarchal language. Come on. Nowadays, our society readily accept the use of 'Guys' to both men and women. I have even heard woman leaders speaking to their ladies: "Guys, listen up...."

Personally, I felt I have learned some things from the TNIV chapter.

#1 - The Need to be sensitive to a culture crying out for gender inclusiveness.
This is something I support. Whether egalitarian or complementarian, all persons are to be accepted as God created them to be. There is no need to force down this upon anyone's throat if we can all treat one another with love and respect. This is not merely a gender issue but a universal matter that concerns every living being.

#2 - The Books of the Bible Project
This creative project was based on the TNIV. By removing verse numbers and Bible references, individual books of the Bible were arranged in an order that is as chronological as possible. Without the distraction of reference numbers, one reads the Bible as intended for the original hearers. This is one way of learning to read the Bible in its right context, without feeling a need to extract verses out of our personal convenience. I have previously written on this project. You can read this here.

#3 - Wider Acceptance
Far more than marketing, is the support from the ground. If churches and individuals are not agreeable to the philosophy of the translation, there will be no lift off, regardless of the amount of huffing and puffing. Notice the sudden proliferation of Bible versions within the last decade?
  • 2000: New English Translation (NET); updated 2005
  • 2001: English Standard Version (ESV)
  • 2002: THE MESSAGE (MSG)
  • 2004: Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
  • 2004: New Living Translation (NLT)
  • 2005: Today's New International Version (TNIV)
For any version to gain readership, it needs to be trans-denominational. Scholarship alone does not help. Whenever anyone says that his translation is based on the most recent manuscripts and the latest scholarship, ask him: Which one?

Oops. Will we understand the answers? (Septaugint, Textus Receptacus, Vulgate, Coptic, Syriac, . .. . )

Sigh. What we badly need is simplicity. [By the way, there is another English translation, Baker Books's publishing the New Testament called "God's Word" and they can be downloaded for free of charge at (September 2009 only)]


Jolt Quote XXIV

Conservative. Cautious. Conventional. These are the hallmarks of risk-averse people.

Liberal. Daring. Radical. These are the badges of risk-takers.

Risk-averse people needs to loosen up. Risk-takers do well with an appropriate dosage of prudence. The former needs to back away from cautious living in guarded fear, while the latter should back off from precarious ventures. What we will then have is to live in trust. Luci Shaw puts it beautifully.

"Risk must be firmly grounded in trust. And trust, by definition, always includes risk, the risk of the unknown or the dangerous known. Reaching the riverbank and the safety of solid ground felt a bit like reaching heaven after an earthly life of belief in the midst of often perilous and uncertain circumstances."
(Luci Shaw, The Crime of Living Cautiously, IVP, 2005, p13)

"Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either daring adventure, or nothing." (Helen Keller)


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Football Spirituality

Introduction - Wonderful World of Sports
Sports is one of the biggest past-times in the West, probably in large parts of the world. The highest advertising revenue generated is arguably the SuperBowl, where a 60 sec slot can cost a whopping $6 million dollars. Gambling revenues skyrocket when hot teams clash. Typically, sports cable channels charge considerably more money than regular news, documentaries, family and even movie channels. 'Football' in America refers to a ball that looks like a rugby ball. Outside North America, the football title belongs to soccer. The upside of sports is the gathering of friends and family to cheer their favorite teams. The downside is the aftermath of any emotionally charged game. When the stakes are high, it can be difficult to distinguish the hype from reality. Our feelings rise and fall according to what happens in the football pitch.

I remember in the 70s in Singapore, where football is regularly held at the National Stadium. There was the famous Kallang Roar, where more than 65000 fans will do the wave, scream their lungs out and shout their voices sore for the national football team. Emotions run high throughout the game. Enthusiasm manifests itself via long snake-like queues for tickets. High expectations fill the air as people patiently wait for the start of the game. On game day, irritated fans jaunt or hurl abuses at the referee's decisions. Others trumpet their support for their favourite team while many ride the rollercoaster of emotions. After the game, results show in the faces and body language of people streaming out of the stadium. You can easily tell which team won or lost simply by looking at the facial expression of the supporters. You know them by the jerseys they wear or the tattoos they smear on their faces. It is nice to see one's winning team overcome the opponent. It is depressing when one's team is defeated. Gamblers have even more at stake. Not only do they cheer for their teams, the results determine the size of their winnings or the magnitude of their loss. With the coming June 2010 World Cup soccer tournament, we will soon see another round of fanaticism over football. Undisputably the world's most popular sports, for one month, next year, billions will be glued to the high quality soccer matches with special attention on top teams from Europe, South America and Africa. Even more billions will be poured into industries benefiting from the game. The more popular the game, the higher the stakes. The higher the expectations, the higher the probabilities of violence. In certain cases, it is not simply supporting one's favorite team. It has to do with pride and reputation. Some winners-take-all scenario gives very little room for mistakes. People have known to commit suicide when their team lose a match. Hooligans roam the streets when they felt the result was unjust. Rival fans even create their own warzones and the unsuspecting supporter of an opposing team can be clobbered badly if found in the wrong neighborhood.

I find sports particularly fascinating for at least two reasons. It can bring out the worst in us. It can also draw out the best we have.

Brief Recollection of My Footballing Journey
I fell in love with football at first sight. In school, even stones and pebbles can be cheap footballs. Recess time and after school hours mean one thing: Let's play football! At one time, my team was planning our own jersey designs, name as well as picking out our opponents one by one. Our weekly pocket money will be poured into soccer weeklies, stadium tickets as well as buying the best soccer ball our measly budgets allow. I watch football at home. I watch football from the stands. I watch soccer everytime I had the chance. I pray football when my team needs a last minute winner. I breathe football. I literally eat football, (like having a football designed cake for my birthday). Football is like a religion. Even today, I can feel my heart rise and fall, proportional to the fortunes of the teams I support.

Lately, I have been reflecting upon this crazy obsession. Is there a sinister agenda behind the powerful forces that lurks behind the most intense games? Are we victims of a conspiracy that surrounds profits and commercialism? Is footballing a form of escapism for many, away from the frustrations and disappointments in life? Why are people so easily swayed by media hype and results. In a result-driven world, people cast out the virtues of sportsmanship preferring their team to win at all cost. For the ardent supporter, anything other than a win is unacceptable.  For me, there are some games that I particularly dislike:

Games I dislike

  • where both teams played horribly;
  • boring games where neither teams want to score, or when they play half-heartedly;
  • where I have no interest in the teams played or what the result mean;
  • where my favourite team failed to play their best;
  • unsporting behavior;
  • show-off games;
  • totally lopsided games where superstars run rings around weaker players;
  • Fighting both on and off the pitch;
  • when the deserving team lost.

Such situations can wreak havoc to any person's cool and calm composure. It can unleash the wolf in us. Left unchecked, it can be deadly. An Indian friend of mine once shared with me, that there are 2 situations where it is absolutely critical for electricity to be 100% available for the public. The first is during elections. The second is during major sports games, especially cricket games between India and Pakistan. For the latter, if there is a power failure in the middle of an important game, the result will be horrendous. Villagers will spring out in utter uncontrollable anger. Riots can ravage many parts of the country. Violence is no stranger to the land of Britain. Just last week, fans supporting Millwall and West Ham pit their fists against each other in a Carling Cup tie. (link ) Deaths can also happen without a fight, like when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in the infamous Hillsborough Tragedy in 15 Apr 1989. A Columbian goalkeeper was reported to have been shot to death by a football fanatic when he returned home, after scoring an own goal in the game against the US. Sadly, the most beautiful sport in the world also retains a reputation for incubating an atmosphere of highly charged tempers, leading to brutality and fatality. People do stupid things when emotions rage supreme. A simple game of sports that stem from a desire for healthy competition and sportsmanlike behavior has been marred by scams, scars and scandals. Shame indeed! Join me to reflect together about sports. These are some of the questions I ask myself.

  • Why should I be so worked up over a football game?
  • Why must my worship on Sundays be influenced by the result of a football game?
  • Why should I subject my family to unhealthy tensions;
  • Why must my best/worst behavior be tied to a football?

A Spirituality of Football
May the best team win. May the game be played, lost or won, fair and square. This is a good starting point to begin learning about any spirituality of sports.

"Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules." (2 Tim 2:5)

Rules are there to guide us in our journey of life. We may not like it, but it is necessary to maintain order and give some legitimacy of the game being played. Unless one competes according to the rules, there will be no fair game. I like the recent practice where if one player is injured and falls on the ground, the game is halted simply by having the person possessing the ball kick it out of play. After the injured player is properly attended to, the grateful team kicks the ball back to the opponent. One of my favourite scenes is from a former West Ham player, Paolo Di Canio, who gave up a chance to score when the opposing goalkeeper was down injured (link). Suddenly, the high tensions from both sides that were flowing in opposite lanes, merge into a common stream of plain, simple human kindness and gratitude. Even the opposing players acknowledged the highly sportsmanlike gesture. Such scenes ought to be highlighted more often, even if they are few and far between in this highly commercialized game of football. Let me add a few points to my change of heart surrounding the spirituality of a football supporter. For Christians who are also sports lovers, I feel that we need to tackle the dragon of unruly passion. We need to submit our fervor to be examined under the light of God's grace and mercy.

Games I Enjoy

  • when my team wins when they play well;
  • when my team plays well regardless of the outcome;
  • When there is a comeback performance to reverse the scoreline;
  • when the better team wins in a gracious manner;
  • when both teams play their best and acknowledge the better team on and off the pitch;
  • when fans cheer more and jeer others less.

Enjoy a good game. Cherish a heartwarming match. On the pitch, push for quality play. Encourage sporting behavior. Cheer not only for our own team, but recognize good play by opponents where appropriate. I would rather recognize a good effort by an opposing team, than to jeer them merely because they wear a different jersey. Let's call a spade a spade. When a favorite team plays badly, they deserve to be reprimanded. Time wasting efforts, childish arguments with referees, deceptive diving in order to steal a penalty are all stupid acts that should not be condoned. Supporting our favourite team cannot be the only thing we do. We can participate in the game by being good supporters, not only for the team, but for the good game of sports. Here is my ABC in the spirituality of football.

A - Applaud good plays

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (Philippians 2:3)

Considering others better than ourselves is easily demonstrated by giving credit to whom credit is due. If the opposing goalkeeper makes an excellent save, clap your hands, for both goalkeeper and players involved in the buildup.

B - Boo Dirty Tactics

"The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight." (Proverbs 11:1)

Regardless of who executes the dirty tactics, we should all be ready to disapprove of them in the strongest possible manner. If appropriate, register a protest. Write to the press. Comment on bulletin boards. Unsporting behavior is like dishonest scales, which tries to stay in front of the pack by cheating. Detest such things.

C - Cheer Sporting Acts

Sometimes, we may witness little acts of graciousness on the pitch. Courtesy and respect for one another must be encouraged. I am personally touched whenever players stand together for the common good of the game. Like keeping a moment of silence when a team honors a prized player for his contributions, or to respect a legendary leader, a coach, even a faithful fan.

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Col 4:6)

We are witnesses for Christ both inside and outside the church walls, both during and after the football game. We do not simply forget our faith when we wear our sports hat. We wear the symbol of Christ through good and Christlike behavior. What better way than to affirm good respectable behavior whenever possible. It never hurts to remind one another that being good human people is far better than winning a game. Winning a game may decide this year's championship. Encouraging good behavior brings better dividends in forming better friendship.

Applaud good plays. Boo dirty tactics. Cheer sporting acts. This is my ABC of Football Spirituality. Delight in sportsmanlike attitudes. Enjoy the game. There is no need to fight and quarrel. One game does not make anyone an idiot, or shame anybody's name forever. There is always a next game, or next season, or next year. Don't fall into the devil's trap of fighting innocent people, just for the sake of a game. The game is important, but being human in God's image is far more important. Know the difference.

As fans, let us play our part. As Christians, let the testimony of Christ rule in our hearts, that even in a simple game of football, God's spirit of grace be reflected in sportsmanship. Let the game stay as games. Do not be silly to let games dictate our human relationships. After all, Christ died for all, fans, players, our team as well as our worthy opponents.


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