Saturday, October 31, 2009

On This Day (Oct 31st)

Today is October 31st. It is a day many kids look forward to. Parents stock up candies and goodies to provide treats to little children knocking at their doors. The treat for parents and adults is to see the creative dressing some of the little ones wear. Some communities set off fireworks like what people in the UK do on Guy Fawkes Day. It is a celebration of sorts where people hand out all kinds of sweet stuff. It is a candy-paradise time for those of us with a hopeless sweet tooth. Incidentally, amid all the fun, do you know that October 31st is also significant for something else besides Halloween?

On this day in 1517, the German scholar Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of Wittenburg, Germany. Sometimes October 31st is also known as "Reformation Day." This is a significant event for those of us who familiar with the Protestant movement, which represented a breakaway from the then dominant Roman Catholic Church in West Europe. Other political events also figure though less prominently. In 1984 this day, the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. More recently in 2003, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammed stepped down from the highest political post of the land of Malaysia.

Yet people tend to remember Halloween more than anything else. People celebrate simply because of fun.  Well, while I am not against fun, it will be quite a pity that in the midst of enjoying ourselves in the festivities, we forget the history. What I find particularly helpful from a Christian perspective is that October 31st is actually a preparation for All Saints Day which is held on Nov 1st. Hence. Oct 31st is also known as "All Hallowed Eve's" day. It is a day to remember some of the saints of old, especially the ones martyred for the faith. Somehow, this tradition has been mysteriously mixed up with witches, pumpkins, witchcraft and all kinds of ghastly makeup. Well, people just want to have fun. Unfortunately with the fun, they fail to remind one another enough of the sacred tradition behind All Saints Day (Nov 1st) and Reformation Day.(Oct 31st).Maybe, these events in history is not as fun as sucking a lollipop, or crunching on chocolates. Incidentally, there is a friend of mine that may not be as famous as Martin Luther, but I am sure sometimes she feels Halloween is given an unfair coverage (and attention by friends) over her birthday.  Cheer up Rosie. Happy Birthday!

Let us not forget tradition. Didn't our teachers and dentists tell us that too much candy is no good for our teeth? Well, will excessive fun be any good for the soul?


Friday, October 23, 2009

Free Book Giveaway (Can God Be Trusted?)

As a service to readers on my blog, I am hosting a book giveaway for the new title below. This is made possible courtesy of Hachette Publishing. Please note the following:
  • Up to 5 copies of the book will be given away;
  • The book will be mailed free of charge. (no kidding);
  • The draw will be held on 31 Oct 2009;
  • This offer is only valid for residents in the USA and Canada only
  • Please provide me with your *mailing address (Name, Street Address and Zip Code) to verify eligibility. (No P.O. Boxes please)
  • To Enter the draw, send me an email at with your mailing address by 31 Oct 2009, 9pm Pacific time.
  • If selected, I will email you a confirmation.
 * Your address will only be used for the book giveaway purpose.

Title: Can God Be Trusted? (Finding Faith in Troubled Times)
Author: Thomas D Williams
Published: NY: Hachette Book Group, 2009.

You can read an excerpt of the book here. My review of the book is here.


Review: NT Wright's "Simply Christian"

NT Wright is a prolific writer. I remember going through his voluminous texts, "The New Testament and the People of God" and "The Resurrection of the Son of God" for my theology classes. These two books total more than 1250 pages. Even my Regent professors are amazed at how quickly Wright churns out books for the academic world. My feeling is that he reads and writes at 10x the speed of my reading.

This book is written not for academia but for popular reading. At 240 pages long, it seems awfully short compared to the huge academic volumes I used to read. Responding to the increasing anti-religious rhetoric from the atheist advocates, and lay Christians seeking a renewed faith, this book gently reaches out to the non-Christian seeker and the ordinary Christian reader with 4 broad themes; 1) longing for justice; 2) quest for spirituality; 3) hunger for relationships; 4) desire for beauty. His aim is to "describe what Christianity is all about" (ix) in a manner that is simple and straightforward.

In Part 1 (Echoes of a Voice), Wright cleverly describes 'Simply Christian' as ascending movements of faith. He starts with the basic human desire to put things right (Justice). Then he exposes the common desire for a deeper meaning in life through spirituality. Third, he makes a case that without relationships, human experience remains incomplete. Finally, he ties all of them together by stressing that the ultimate human experience lies in appreciating beauty.

In Part 2 (Staring at the Sun), Wright talks about God, the position of Israel, the kingdom of God, Jesus's life, death and resurrection; the Holy Spirit, and life in the Spirit and of course the Trinity. Theologically, this is the heaviest portion of the whole book. Yet, Wright masterfully processes the difficult doctrines and distills them clearly without overwhelming the reader. 'Staring at the Sun' is a brilliant way to describe how one ought to study theology. We can try our best to look at the sun, but we will instantly realize that there is only so much that our eyes can take, without being blinded by the scorching rays. I think Wright is creative in two ways. First, in calling his re-telling of the Christian doctrines being a 'glimpse'. Secondly, in showing us metaphorically that theology itself can only be 'glimpsed' at, by any one person. Reminds me again that understanding theology has to be done with a humble heart, and with an open mind to learn from others in the community of faith.

In Part 3 (Reflecting the Image), Wright deals with the response of the ordinary Christian in worship, prayer, the Word, Faith, Church and the New Creation. All of these aspects of the Christian life ought to reflect the original intent of why we are created: to glorify God through Jesus Christ.

His afterword drives home the point that being Christian is not simply in the knowing but also in the doing.
"It would be wrong, though, to give the impression that taking things further after reading this book would consist simply of reading more books. The church, for all its faults, is at its heart the community of those who are trying to follow Jesus, and in whose company those who are starting to explore these things for themselves may find help, encouragement, and wisdom. As we might say to someone starting to enjoy music: don't just listen to it, find an instrument and an orchestra and join in."  (240)
My Comments
This book is a lighter read that CS Lewis's Mere Christianity. This is probably because Lewis writes for the audience in the 1950s while Wright's audience is post-2000. While CS Lewis writes his book personally defending the Christian faith and giving reasons for belief, Wright's work looks more like an invitation to a person confused and disillusioned by the world, to actively consider the Christian worldview as a viable alternative. Wright is careful to recognize the negative climate surrounding 'church' and brilliantly ties the Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church as one entity to be serving God in Christ. An important contribution is the way Wright captures the cultural need for order amid the chaos through the 4-movement framework. Beginning where most readers are living in, and charting out a melodious progression, Wright articulates the notes and chords of Christianity harmonically, concluding with an invitation to all to join the orchestra, conducted by the Triune God. This book is small in pages, but big in substance. Sounds beautiful.

My Rating: 4 stars out of 5.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Letting Go

This little inspirational is helpful as we reflect on life. Indeed, we stress ourselves up with 'No Time,' 'All work,' 'too busy' and all those modern efforts to try to make ourselves so important that we refuse to simply 'let go.' The video clip here brings to life some of the words of the poem. The best way to read these statements is not to analyze each statement or word and judge them. It is simply taking a step back and think of the irony of life. Fact is, the more we try to control destinies, the more we will realize that we are limited beings.

===================== Words of the Poem =================
To let go does not mean to stop caring,
   it means I can't do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off,
   it's the realization I can't control another.
To let go is not to enable,
   but allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness, which means
   the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another,
   it's to make the most of myself.
To let go is not to care for,
   but to care about.
To let go is not to fix,
   but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge,
   but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes,
   but to allow others to affect their destinies.
To let go is not to be protective,
   it's to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to deny,
   but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold or argue,
   but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires,
   but to take each day as it comes and cherish myself in it.
To let go is not to criticize or regulate anybody,
   but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past,
   but to grow and live for the future.

To let go is to fear less and love more
To let go and to let God, is to find peace !
Remember: The time to love is short

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Beauty Myth

I saw this video about 3 years ago. A friend highlighted this in Facebook which made me recall what I felt the first time I saw it. It is actually an ad (entitled Evolution) promoted by Unilever, makers of Dove soap products. While there is a commercial interest in it, I think the video is rather well done and achieves a social awareness as well as its Unilever's commercial interests. This is a unique manner in which Unilever tries a present a win-win scenario. They promote the initiative toward authentic beauty while at the same time, gain commercial mindshare for their products. You can click the link here or watch the embedded video below.

Some Brief Thoughts
1) Beware of First Impressions
We all need to be mindful about our tendency to judge people based on first impressions. From a public audition by Susan Boyle in Britain's Got Talent, to a simple private job interview, first impressions can weigh heavily in the minds of decision makers. The adage, "Do not judge a book by its cover" applies both ways. Whether the person in front of us looks down & haggard or whether they are dressed up, we need to withhold judgment and to first see them as ordinary people. Sometimes, fear of being rejected makes us go beyond ourselves to present our artificiality rather than authenticity.

2) Beware of Inner Impressions
What is our personal value system? Do we put external beauty to the point that we would rather present a false front to look good? Is this ethically right? The person in front of us can do so much to present their most beautiful selves. It is our personal value system that determines what to do with them. Like the video, the skillful patching up comes to a point that it deceives. Ethically, I think any company that touches up the original person to the point of forgery has cross the line of deception. When the public buys the product concerned, they do so on the basis of remembering what they see. It might have been a sales advantage for the company concerned, but represents a sharp devaluation from the world's currency of truth and honesty.

3) Technology
The versatility of this new tool can be both a tool for excellence as well as a too for manipulation. There has been lots of news coverage on how famous persons have been impersonated, or even scandalized as image processing are used to incriminate or embarrass them publicly. Even mail scams and hoaxes flood the Internet waves daily and in growing numbers. The technology savvy and discerning reader will not be easily deceived. The same cannot be said about the rest.

4) Sharing this with Impressionable Young
I cannot agree more with my friend Rosie who urged that all teens and young people to watch this video. I like to extend this invitation to all. We can all play our part to educate people about the need to be discerning and not believe everything we see.

5) Inner Beauty
What can we do to promote inner beauty? The clue is actually in the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13. One project that we can do is to replace every word 'love' with our own names. Then read 1 Corinthians 13, reading our own name instead of the word 'love.' Will we feel that it is honest? Will we feel hypocritical? Let that be an exercise to remind us that any attempt on inner beauty requires a first step of humility: "We admit we cannot do it alone."

For those of us interested about the beauty industry, a book I would recommend to all to read is "The Beauty Myth" by Naomi Wolf.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Plastic Jesus

A church friend shared this and I thought it is rather telling of some struggles Christian believers face. It is a terrible thing to be caught between plasticity and authenticity. It is a professional work done by Igniter Media, aimed at assisting sermon preparations. I thought this video is rather well done, and relays the conflicted feelings among people who grew up in a Christian home, but do not feel very 'Christian' as they grow up.

Personally, I feel there is a big potential in the multimedia market in the years to come. The rising popularity of social networking sites(Facebook, mySpace, Twitter..) and Youtube gives us a glimpse of the futuristic world our children will be growing up in. Even companies like Yahoo! are embracing the media market as part of their effort to rebrand and remake themselves.

As you watch the video, see how the words you hear differ from the words on screen.


A New 'Conservative' Bible?

This is another alarming development (link here) on how far some groups will go to modify the sacred text to something more 'conservative.' For those who are interested, there is another site that is setup against Conservapedia called, Liberapedia.

As part of their movement to protect themselves against liberal ideas regarding the Holy Scriptures, the group, Conservative Bible Project intends to sanitize some of the difficult parts of scripture, either by re-phrasing the meaning or to remove them completely to make it more palatable to the 'conservative' mind. Using 10 translation 'guidelines,' they seek to produce a new English Bible translation in the spirit of the King James Version. I find it hard to take sides but I think they (Conservapedia and Liberapedia) feed off each other. Remove one, and we see the other disappear as well. As far as the Conservative Bible is concerned, I feel the project is flawed.

There are several problems I have with this approach.
1) Do we Need a New One?
There are already many English translations. Rather than a totally new one that updates the language used, they decided to do more. Using a lens they called 'conservative' guidelines, it seems more like an antithesis of modern versions. In other words, their main attraction is not the 'conservatism' per se, but the anti-liberal identity.

2) The word 'Conservative' is confusing
There has been too many different usage of 'conservative.' In the US, this has been overly politicized to the point that people allows the label to do their interpretation for them. When a person says he is a conservative, do they mean the religious right? Do they mean the politics of the Republican party? Do they mean the fundamentalist stance of groups such as the KJV-adherents? Are they talking about groups led by figures such as, Jerry Falwell or organizations started by people like James Dobson? Maybe, it is best to do away with this word altogether, until we can define it clearer for the masses. For that matter, the word 'liberal' too can be a confusing term.

3) Labels Distract
The moment a label is put on the Bible, the interpretation has already been done. There is a need to ensure that the Bible's literal words do not get diluted in any way, but communicated as clearly as possible.

4) Breadth of Translators
I am suspicious of any translation that weighs itself on simply one or two denominational bias. Without the input of diverse denominational and non-denominational persuasions, the translation will be poorer, theologically as well as historically. Incidentally, the key person behind this project is Andrew Schlafly, an attourney and a teacher. I do not know where he gets his theology from.

5) Omission
This will be my sharpest critique. How can one omit Bible verses that is based on one's level of acceptance? Sanctification yes, but not sanitization just because it sounds bad. If it is based on scholarship or archaelogical fact finding, maybe we can see some logic. However, omitting parts of Scripture as if they are so sure they are 'inauthentic' is a big decision. Is it a step of faith or folly? This leads me to the next point. Are they guilty of being too 'liberal' themselves?

6) Too Liberal Themselves?
Ironically, while the project attempts to battle 'liberal bias' with this initiative, it casts the light back on themselves whether they are actually being too liberal with their re-interpretation of Scripture. After all, going to the opposite extreme is a common tendency practiced by the human species. The Examiner comments that even the Bible is too 'liberal' for the Conservapedia folks.

7) Re-phrasing Biblical Words
Any re-phrasing will always result in a change of meaning. Translators walk on a tightrope of contextual meaning. Are they more concerned with the meaning THEN or meaning NOW? 

In all fairness, not everything they do is wrong. I am not trying to say that every verse they translate is blown out of proportion. We need to be careful not to swipe them too unfairly. What I am saying is that, if they brand themselves as the defacto standard of conservatism, they would have done the Christian public a disservice, as I doubt they speak for the majority of people who call themselves conservative. 

Still, I struggle to see merits in this project. I think they are sincere in what they do, but I could not agree with the way they justify their translation choices. Somehow, the project reminds me of the way some people defend the KJV Bible to the point that they slam all other versions. For me, we need to adopt a humble heart as we read God's Word. Translators should not be exempted as well. In fact, for those of us without knowledge of the original languages, the next best thing is to take several translations and let each version illuminate us on the fuller picture. If anyone insist on only ONE translation, itt is like riding on a helicopter and looking down at the top of the Egyptian pyramid and conclude that the pyramid is rectangular in shape.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

"How Not To Read Your Bible"

I wonder how many of us are guilty of some of these antics. Check out this video link here.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Parenting Teens Today

6 Longings of Adolescents Today

How do we parent our teens in a mySpace, Facebook, Twitter age? This is one question that befuddles many young parents, me included. I grow up in a world without computers. Back then, there were no such thing as Windows, and computers seem to me like a very expensive business machine, reserved only for giant corporations and adults. Microsoft? Never heard of it. Apple, yeah, maybe an Apple IIe that some geek in school talks about. A personal computer? Nah. One has to be really really rich in order to possess such a machine.

Fast forward 25 years. Never will I have imagined that the computer once reserved for data centers and high security corporate vaults will now be so freely and widely available. One does not have to spend up to $5000 on a computer. One can buy a brand new computer for almost a fraction of the price. I remember being wowed by a friend working on a small Toshiba Libretto mini-computer. He had spent more than a thousand bucks on that tiny portable. Nowadays, Netbook computers dominate the market among the price conscious and the mobile executive.

Chap and Dee Clark work among young people. They are parents themselves. They use their skills in research and experience to give us a gem, a guidebook on how to understand our teens in a new electronic MFT (Myspace-Facebook-Twitter) age. These are essentially social networking tools that have dominated the mind-waves of teens the world over. The Clarks' premise is simple.
How do we need to do to show our children, our teens that we care?
The first step is understanding. Thus they provided a helpful chart below that demonstrates the need to see what teens say, from THEIR point of view. It is important not simply to be 'word'-sensitive, but MEANING-sensitive. This is a challenge for all parents. Teens may be growing in terms of their self-expression and understanding. However, they do not have the wisdom and maturity that most parents have. I say 'most' because I do know that some parents are not as well educated or well informed as their teenage children.

What They (teens) Say
What Parents Hear
What They Mean
"You don't know me."
I don't matter to her.
I long to belong.
"You never listen to me."
He doesn't want to listen to me.
I long to be taken seriously.
"I can do it!"
She doesn't need me.
I long to matter.
"I'm fine, okay?"
He wants to be left alone.
I long for a safe place.
"It's my life!"
She doesn't care what I think.
I long to be uniquely me.
"Nobody cares about me."
He doesn't care about anybody but himself (me included)
I long to be wanted.
(From:Chap Clark & Dee Clark, Disconnected, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007, p167)

Looking at the six longings of teens above, I cannot help but be amused even at how I have misunderstood what my teens are communicating. For instance, when I get the phrase: "You never listen to me," I am often tempted to be offended by the accusation that I do not care, when the fact is that the teen is looking to be taken seriously instead of being 'talked-down-at' by a 'Father knows best' posture. As I think back, I am embarrassed at how naïve I am, in spite of the years of learning and working in the world. Parenting is a challenge. It is never easy, as what most people say. Yet, how often have we attempted to understand our children from THEIR point of view. It becomes more difficult when we see them transition from a dependent phase to a more independent stage.

I know some parents are nervous about letting go. They become insecure and worried over the safety of their kids. By allowing fear to dictate their actions, teens often get frustrated. In Disconnected, the Clarks helpfully gave us a new model for godly parenting. They suggest that we wrap our loved ones around a core relationship, God and us. There is no substitute for an up-close-and-personal relationship with God. If we claim that God is first, everything else has to revolve around this delicate and crucial relationship. Only when the parent truly appreciates the love of Christ in them, then and only then can they fruitfully manifest that love outward to others, children and all.

Parenting Teens in an Increasingly Individualistic World

Chap and Dee Clark mentioned another critical component: to invite others in to our parenting journey. It is quite a different world now. I feel that even in Christian families, we have forgotten the community aspect of parenting. Hilary Clinton, when she was first lady wrote her first book on this theme, that it takes a village to raise a child. In that book, she argues that it takes the WHOLE of society to educate our children. That means the educational needs of a child is not simply the government to provide educational curriculum. Neither is it only the parents' responsibility to discipline their child. The society at large has to do their part in educating. This also requires parents to be open to correction as well. Take for example, a child in a public shopping mall, screaming vulgarity and abusing his or her younger sibling. Will passers-by simply mind their own business by walking away? Should strangers who happen to listen in to the ridiculous abuses step in to tell the young kid that bullying tactics are unacceptable in society?

Unfortunately, more people prefer to mind their business. After all, if people can stand aside while a crimes can be committed in broad daylight, would they not leave feuding kids alone? The other aspect is the community aspect which is highly important. As parents, let us not be so up-tight about our kids to the point that we fail to distinguish right from wrong. There is no point trying to defend our kids merely because they are our kids. Call a spade a spade. In a community environment, when others discipline our kids, do not be so quick to defend our kids and attack the good intentions of other person. If we realize that we are not angels ourselves, let us adopt humility, and to say "Thank You," whenever outsiders correct our parenting methods.

Final Comments
I think the essence of a parent-teen relationship is understanding. Both has to play their part, though the parent ought to be ready to initiate. There is no time for pride. There is always time for humility. Perhaps, when we do that, our humility can rub off our teens and in the process add another good model for an increasingly moral-depraved society.


Friday, October 16, 2009

The Business of Theological Education

I believe in education. I believe also in theological education. In fact, I believe in it so much that I have given up a lucrative career to pursue a theological degree. There is no better proof of my desire than where I choose to invest in. That is why, whenever I read about closure of Bible schools, downsizing of theological institutions and the demise of any institution offering theological education, I become sad.

Victims of the Economic Crisis
In the US and Canada, there has been several theological institutions that were forced to shut due to the lack of finance. Even the venerable Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary has to shrink its bookstore, reduce commitments and let some staff go at the peak of the crisis. The crisis is global. It extends also to the British University, the University of Sheffield, which is famed for its Biblical Studies department. Founded by the late F F Bruce, the administration had wanted to close down the venerable department for good, due to financial viability, low student enrollment and especially after a mass departure of senior lecturers from the faculty. Fortunately, the closure has been averted, at least for now. For colleges that has been struggling with the balance sheet, the recent economic meltdown has dealt a fatal blow to its existence.

Any form of educational endeavor requires some sensible management skills as well. It is one thing to produce the best biblical scholarship to offer the world. It is yet another to find the money to support this cause. I am familiar with several theological institutions, in Asia, in Europe as well as in North America. There is a common denominator. More than 80% of the money needed to run the Bible colleges are funded by a meagre 20% or less. For some, the ratio is 90-10. For Salt Lake Bible College in Utah, it takes just one big donor to withdraw his financial commitment to shutter the whole place. For many others, it is due to dwindling student enrollment.

I find that often, people has mistaken naivety for faith. They think that as long as they operate on the basis of the right cause, they do not have to worry about the cost. 'The funds will come.' so they say. The question: "What if it doesn't?" In fact, asking this very question can make people accuse me of having no faith.

Faith-Based Ministries have a hard time distinguishing between living by faith and stewarding one's resources. There is a time in which I was impressed by people like George Mueller, who basically prayed and testified God's providence over all of the needs of his orphanages. Without stating publicly his dire needs, his ministry is filled with boundless testimonies of how money simply arrived at his doorsteps. When people read it, it is like a miracle happening through prayer alone. With each answered prayer, the man of faith grew in leaps and bounds to encourage other believers struggling to make ends meet. Is it possible that not everyone is called to do what George Mueller is doing? Is there then another way to exercise faith-based ministry? I believe there is. The difference is in terms of context. Mueller did what he knew best. In our modern era, we need to live in step with what God has given us. In an Internet age, where information is freely and quickly available to anyone with a network connection, ease of getting free information online threatens the traditional model of offering theological education offline. Online Bible classes are sprouting out all over the Internet like wild mushrooms. How then can traditional theological colleges survive the onslaught of free information available as long as anyone has free time? How can anyone live by faith when the whole world is living-by-free-stuff?

The Tri-Partite Solution
I believe that there is a need for 3 entities in any theological endeavor: the Belief, the Business and the Bridge.

This defines the identity, the vision, the mission and the calling of the theological institution. Without the cause, there is no reason to start a college. The artist, the academic and aspiring theologian will all connect with this common conviction. It is the very basis of being. It is this basic statement of faith that gives the college a unique identity, to draw people of diverse backgrounds toward one common cause. Take a look at these statement of faith:
MISSION (Regent-College)

"Pursuing attentiveness to what God is doing in the world, we are committed to a global perspective in our teaching and learning."


"Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is an educational institution serving the Lord and His Church. Its mission is to prepare men and women for ministry at home and abroad."

MISSION (Cambridge, UK)

"The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence."
Just a brief comparison of the mission statements will indicate to us where the specific emphases each institution represents. Regent-College is more concerned with worldview formation. Gordon-Conwell emphasizes ministry work. Cambridge desires to offer the highest level of excellence in all branches of education to society. Having a specific mission statement helps the stranger to understand what the institution stands for and its unique placement in society. In order to spearhead the institution forward, there need to be committed teachers, faithful givers, sufficient administrative structure as well as students. All of them has to be committed to this common cause. Otherwise, why should people fly all the way there from all over the world? Why not simply plump for the nearest neighborhood school for one's theological exposure?

While it is an honorable goal to pursue causes, there is also a need to exercise wise stewardship and responsibility. For example, it does not make sense to maintain an organization of 100 people to serve a student population of 100. Likewise, it is hard to justify flying in an expensive professor and then offer his classes away cheaply, even for free. There is always a minimum price-tag, even for non-profits. Some places pass down the costs directly to students. I know of many students who struggle from semester to semester to pay off their school fees. Some have to resort to dropping Summer classes so as to earn some money to pay for the tuition during the normal Fall and Winter terms. Scholarships and bursaries are sometimes available, but are usually insufficient to pay for all of the students' monthly expenses.

The economic downturn of the business may have hit many institution's faithful givers. What is worrying is not this group of people. It is the fact that the younger generation comprises only a small fraction of the previous generation's appetite for giving. From statistical studies on giving, the majority of big givers are among the Baby Boomer generation (people born after WWII.) After them comes the Gen X and Gen Y, who practically lived through believing that this is a culture of entitlement rather than faithful giving. In a ChristianityToday article entitled, "Scrooge Lives!" not only are the numbers of givers decreasing, they are also giving less. In the article, there is a perceptive comment that:
"In addition, America's biggest givers—as a percentage of their income—are its lowest income earners." (CT, Dec 2008)
Does this mean that there are less poorer people entering the church? Or does it mean that more wealthy people are overwhelming the church with their stinginess? We need to continue to educate people on the business of giving. In our Internet age, where people even need to be coaxed into receiving freebies, the task of communicating the need to be generous is even more important. The rich and the not so rich cannot presume each other's level of giving. They are accountable first to God.

There is one thing that I learned in my early years in business. The way to make money is not only in cutting cost. It is increasing revenue. While theological institutions can wisely steward what they already have or are promised, they need to do more than simply manage funding. They too have to educate people on the business of giving. In fact, giving in itself is an act of worship to God. They have to play their part in showing the Christian public that giving is not simply a handout. It is an attitude, and reflects how much one loves God. Giving away money is solid proof that money is not an idol. This presents another opportunity for ALL theological institutes to be mindful of. Solicit funds not just for self, but for the whole people of God. This educating of 'giving-as-an-attitude' ought to be part of the business of the theological college.

I was commenting on a friend's blog a few days ago, about the need to balance both art and business. Both feeds off each other. Without the art, business has nothing to spend its money on. Without basic business sense, art will run out of resources to operate. There is a third component, one that is able to bridge the understanding of the two. I call this the bridge. With the presence of a bridge, the artist can periodically cross over to see the businessperson's point of view. Likewise, the businessperson can regularly make a trip to the artistic world and see the significance of his investment. This bridge can be in the form of seminars, conferences or any opportunity to meet. It is also highly recommended that such bridges be built from within the artist population as well as the business population. Have training for both entities. Have regular interaction among them to ensure that each is aware of their unique contributions to the overall thrust of the institution.

In summary, we need the three components to be working together for the survival and flourishing of any theological educational endeavor. We need a BELIEF that unites all toward a common cause in the name of Christ. We need a BUSINESS model of understanding that does not only concern themselves with wise stewardship or constantly nipping at the heels of a handful of regular big donors. We need to grow a teaching arm of giving-as-an-attitude or giving as a profound kind of spirituality that transcends all generations. The BELIEF may kick-start a theological enterprise, but it takes a viable BUSINESS model to sustain itself into the future. In order to keep all working together in commitment and passion, we need BRIDGEs to inform one another of the different outlook pertaining to this common cause.

Of course, what I am writing here is nothing really new. Except that we all needed reminders in one way or another. Theological education is not simply studying theology. There is a business involved. There is also the need to bridge with the Church and Christians in the world. Without this bridge, when the money runs out, the artist and the theologian's work ceases. Without this bridge, when the creativity and talent expires, the businessperson finds one less avenue for investing and for giving to. Without this bridge, instead of studying the history of Christianity and the various theological disciplines through the ages, our modern 'theological education' as we now know may very well find themselves extinct.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review: "Can God Be Trusted?" (Thomas D Williams)

Title: Can God Be Trusted? - finding faith in troubled times
Author: Thomas D Williams
Published: NY: Hachette, 2009. (advance reader copy. Book will be published 13 Oct 2009)

The timing of this book reflects an ongoing general climate of distrusting religion with lots of questions surrounding the existence of God and also the evidence of goodness. This book is written to address not simply doubts but those who are discouraged by events happening around the world, to the point that they question the very God they had earlier believed.

Written for a general audience, this book is not an academic treatise. I am reminded of an earlier book first published in 1998, (second edition released in 2009), of the same name, by Dr John Stackhouse of Regent-College. While that book (Stackhouse) deals more with the philosophical side of the problem of evil and suffering in the world, Williams' book tend to cover a more layperson perspective. Instead of dealing with reasons why God can be trusted from a personal point of view, Williams opt for something different by looking more closely at why people distrust God from the people's point of view. In the process, he tries to waylay the barriers to faith through gentle dislodging of the hurdles to trust. If Stackhouse's book engages the reader at an intellectual level, William's book removes practical day-to-day hurdles.

Williams point to 'trust' as a need of the human make-up. In Part 1, his basic claim is that, if trusting God is difficult, not trusting God is worse. In Part 2, trust is seen as a gift, rather than a tiresome exercise of faith. In Part 3, Williams walks the reader through the difficulties of trusting God, covering the temperament aspect, the moral obstacles, and everyday examples of disappointments affecting normal life. Helpfully, he lists 2 kinds of people who tend to distrust God. The first group comprises of people who have been disappointed in the past. The second group are those who are afraid of rejection by God. Part 4 deals with both of these groups' concerns by distinguishing the real and unreal expectations of God. Gently, he suggests to the reader that trust is not something that is expected of us but also 'bestowed' by God. In other words, we can trust God because he first trusted us. The last part, Part 5 goes through some of the ways we can increase our faith and trust in God. Below is a list of what I gather from his prescription:
  • Recognize the futility in trusting other worldly gods;
  • Build trust by adopting a childlike attitude;
  • Pray through both ups and downs;
  • Having an attitude of 'poverty in spirit,' dependence on God;
  • Increasing faith by meditating on the psalms.
My Comments
Williams highlights 5 major competitors to trust in God. They are education, wealth, our social networks, our self-ingenuity, our ideologies. The book is filled with quotes and personal sharing from different people Williams encountered. They make the book very down-to-earth and personally relevant to the layperson. Simple, and devoid of theological jargon, it should provide the general reader an easy and comfortable read. The exhortation to faith is gently applied, leaving room for the reader to step back and reflect upon their own beliefs and doubts. It is not a book that argues on a blow by blow account, but one that appears to walk alongside the person struggling with trust. It should appeal widely to those finding the need to discover fresh faith in a troubled era. If you are looking for a less academic treatment of the topic of faith amid tough times, this is the book.

My main gripe with this book is that it gives a excessive weightage on the 'rightness' of humans over the 'rightness' of God. In other words, it practically assumes that the feelings of the respondents over their disappointments in God are 'correct' in the first place. I make a distinction between recognizing the sinfulness of men and the need to understand/tolerate our differences. Whatever it is, sin is not something to be downplayed. A major factor behind the problems of this world is the presence of sin itself, which is something that Stackhouse's book zeroes in on. Stackhouse poignantly address the causes of sin, while Williams massages the peripheral effects of sin. So as you read this book (or both), remember that they are writing to quite different audiences.

My Rating: 3 stars out of 5.


Reflections on "Caritas in veritate"

"Caritas in veritate" is an encyclical of the Roman Catholic Church, It is the Latin phrase for Charity in Truth. We can also understand this in terms of 'speaking the truth in love.' Published by the Pope on 29 June 2009, it is meant to challenge the world, especially the rich, to remember the purpose of life and their responsibility on this earth. Written for the general Roman Catholic flock as well as to all people of all religions, Pope Benedict XVI seeks to remind all people that everyone is responsible for human development in the world. We have heard a lot about people standing up for truth. However, there is no equivalent mileage on speaking the truth in love. In other words, for every 100 persons claiming to fight for truth, will these same 100 practice the charity act over and above the level of polemics. In this sense, the Caritas in veritate is a needed correction and statement as well.

Why Read the Caritas in Veritate?
Question. Why should anyone bother to read a Roman Catholic Church document? If you are an evangelical, or not a Roman Catholic, let me encourage you as follows: Think: "Global Financial Crisis," "World Poverty," "Environmental Concerns," "Ethical Deterioration" and "Fixing the Economies of the World." As you proceed to read, think about the following:
  • What exactly are our leaders trying to fix?
  • Can we fix the body without the heart?
  • Are we content to see the new world, a reinstatement of the old one?
  • What is our vision of a better world?
  • What can we do to alleviate suffering, human pain and poverty?
What is the Encyclical About?
Essentially, the encyclical is an official letter covering important issues/doctrines that needed to be reinforced for a particular time. It is roughly the equivalent of the Apostle Paul's letter to the various churches during his missionary lifetime. Meant to be read as a general letter to the Church as well as interested people around the world, its timing of the release is often a significant part of the encyclical. Rightful economic and social development cannot be done without the heart of charity.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Early Autumn

I am always amazed at how clever trees are. Before they shed leaves, they prepare by reducing the chlorophyll content in the leaves. The result is a beautiful transition as the whole tree prepares for a rough upcoming seasonal cold. Trees seem to know how to prepare for a cold frosty Winter. Last night, the temperature in Vancouver is between 0-2 degrees Celsius.

If only humans are more conscious of the coming Kingdom of God. They'll start to do more good deeds and be more neighborly. Remember the parable of the shrewd servant? (Luke 16:1-13)

British Columbia will be a great photo shoot in the next few weeks.


Friday, October 09, 2009

"He Is With You" - Mandisa

Not many of us remember who Mandisa is. Unless I tell you that she was the 9th finalist of the hit show American Idol Season 5 back in 2006. She was taunted by Simon Cowell over her weight with a cynical comment about the organizers having to prepare a bigger stage for people like her. Due to her singing ability, she was flooded with offers to sing pop music. However, she felt her calling was to singing songs that reflect the glory of Christ. In one memorable moment of forgiveness, Mandisa's words to Simon resulted in a rare apology from the Briton.
"You hurt me, and I cried and it was painful, it really was. But I want you to know that I've forgiven you and that you don't need someong to apologize in order to forgive somebody. I figured that if Jesus could die so that all my wrongs could be forgiven, I could certainly extend the same grace to you." (source)
In the video below, Mandisa offers a short explanation behind her song before the full music video was played. She identifies with people who are hurting in their marriages, loss of loved ones, loss of jobs. In the midst of the utter helplessness, she reminds all that God is with you. Powerful message. See it and be touched. You can also check it out on Youtube here (without Mandisa's pre-song comments).


"Preparing for the Worst" article

(Photo Credit: Yahoo)
When I read this article by Robert Kiyosaki, of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" fame, I ask myself whether there is anything new to learn from. Is it an article that fuels more fear? Is it something that is helpful? On one side, he appears like a doomsday prophet that warns us that the worst is still to come. On the other side, I question how much of this is mere needless fear-mongering. Fear is so profitable that this factor alone feeds a multi-billion dollar insurance market. Fear is a potent driver of investments into any product or services. In a zero-sum market, whenever someone gains a dollar, another would have lost it. Let's examine the five major arguments Kiyosaki poses.

1) Manipulation of Stock Market
This is nothing new. We all know that greed and selfishness exist. Whenever they exist, there will bound to be manipulation of sorts. Having said that, it will certainly be wise to stay on top of the performance history of any stock.  Wise investors will do their homework. They may not be right all the time, but they can minimize the chances of foolish investments.

2) Government Stimulus
Generally, any society that depends on handouts for survival is doomed. It is the attitude that is important. Without a proper attitude of hard work, thrift and wise stewardship of our resources, we will be doomed sooner or later. In other words, the one who depend on stimulus only, is likened to a person waiting for a fish on a dish, rather than learning how to fish for food. The former is short-term, while the latter is long-term. Recognize that external stimulus is not the one-size-fits-all solution.

3) Aging Society
We all know that this is no longer news. Governments around the world like Japan, Germany, US are trying to tackle an aging population. Some try to encourage the young to have more children. Others use immigration to prop up their population numbers. If we are not careful and play only at the quantitative level, we miss out on a more important qualitative aspect. In other words, recruiting people based on a numerical equation can never outlast a quality hire. Be careful that the solutions we adopt do not become part of the problem.


4) Social Security and Medicare
From what I know and read about, these two have been highly politicized in America. Otherwise, how can we explain the lack of unity and common direction? As long as people continue to lobby for the interest of self over others, any program is doomed. We need sacrificial and other-centered people. [Remember the Pennsylvanian Amish?] We need to take confidence in hope for a better future. We may not sustain our current lifestyle level. However, if we can all band together to live as communities, it might be beneficial. Our current system of individualism not only generates more waste for the environment, it is non-sustainable.

5) Age War Between Young and Old
This is an interesting observation. While it appears a logical conclusion that both young and old want to enjoy the benefits, there is a cultural clash as well. While the old feels that they have earned the right to enjoy their savings, the young feels they are entitled to spend what they have, even at the expense of the future. Who is right and who is wrong? I don't know. It depends on who you ask. Perhaps it is the weakness of the whole capitalist system in the first place. Perhaps, it is a clash of different perspectives from people born at different eras. Perhaps people are not working or talking together as much as they should. Perhaps, it is something that cannot ever be resolved satisfactorily but to keep all parties humble.

My Conclusion
Four main thoughts. First, Kiyosaki's observation has nothing really new. However, they are important REMINDERS to us that we need to prepare for the worst. Unfortunately, Kiyosaki did not write the article with a more positive balance. Not everything is cast in a concrete of depression. As long as our society remains individualistic, where self is enthroned over everything else, Kiyosaki's warnings may help delay, not guarantee or prevent an ultimate collapse. Ronald Reagan once made a witty comment about our society:
"A recession is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression is when you lose yours." (Ronald Reagan).
Second, it is also possible, that this article is written with a salesman-slant. When one fear computer viruses, they seek out anti-virus makers. Anti-virus makers too send out regular messages about crazy threats to computer security. Some are widespread. Others are not. When there are fears of a certain disease at any one place, the paranoid will seek out medical help. For investors who are worried about their investment, they seek out investment gurus. Kiyosaki is one such popular guru. Interestingly, his latest book is entitled: "Conspiracy of the Rich." Remember his first warning about manipulation? In that book, he subtly contrasts the root of all evil using "love of money" vs "ignorance of money."

Third, there is a simple possible solution. When anyone loses his job, rather than going through a recession, society reacts by leaving no stones unturned to make sure he/she finds another job. If every person takes seriously the needs of his/her neighbor, even if the whole world turns upside-down, there will be hope. A better tomorrow is not decorated in terms of possessions or the accumulation of more stuff. A better tomorrow can only be painted by hearts that is filled with care and the willingness to share. Maybe, if we can raise up responsible leaders all over our respective places of influence, we can then raise up a community of people who think of others more than selves. Only then, will despair be turned to hope.

Four. Mr Kiyosaki, thanks for the reminders and the warnings. If your article creates more fear in people, that is no good. If it causes people to start living more responsibly, there is hope. While we can all prepare for the worst, we should not surrender our souls to doom but to hope that when God comes in all his glory one day, the world will be changed into a perfect world that God intended it to be. Better get ready for the coming Kingdom of God, and not be worried about any sudden economic collapse.  The things of the world may fall and stumble, but the Kingdom of God will never fail. Temporal kingdoms of this world, vs Eternal Kingdom of God. Which of this deserves our investment? You tell me.

p/s: Read the original article by Kiyosaki here by clicking "Read More" below

Thursday, October 08, 2009

An Inspirational Moment (courtesy of Jason McElway)

Jason McElway is an autistic boy in high school. Despite this, he never allows it to discourage him from being faithful. Always serving. Always helping. Never surrendering. One day, against all odds and expectations, he did the impossible. He got to play, and what a game that was. You have to watch it to believe it and be inspired. (link) [Thanks Derek for sharing this first..]

Always be ready to give our best shot.


Book Review - "Christianity in Crisis - 21st Century"

Title: Christianity in Crisis (21st Century)
Author: Hank Hanegraaff
Published: Thomas Nelson, 2009 (428pp).

In a nutshell, this book is written to say that the Christian landscape has taken a turn for the worse, by a lot more. Based on an old formula of his best selling 1993 book, Christianity in Crisis, Hanegraaff attempts to update his old book with new data. Without removing the old superstars of deviant theology, he adds in people such as Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes and compare them with spiritualists such as Rhonda Byrne and mythological ramblings occurring all around us.

The author writes both books addressed to 3 audiences;
1)    Those who has been misled by these faith preachers;
2)    Those who are concerned or curious about them;
3)    Those unsure if these preachers are biblical.

Book Structure
Filled with memorable acronyms, there is a distinct three-part format. Firstly, it states his proposition that the modern Christianity landscape is continuing to remain in crisis due to the astronomical deterioration of truth into mythology. Secondly, the author reused his F.L.A.W.S methodology in his sweeping denunciation of the whole faith movement he calls ‘cultic.’ The following captures the reason why these faith and prosperity preachers are erroneous.
F – Faith in Faith
L – Little Gods (*)
A – Atonement Atrocities
W – Wealth & Want
S – Sickness & Suffering

(*) In the 1993 edition, the L refers to “Little gods or little frauds.” It seems like Hannegraaff decides to tone down a little on his rhetoric in the 2009 edition.

Thirdly, Hannegraaff repeats his solution by getting people to return to their ABCs of biblical Christianity, namely

A - Amen
B - Bible
C - Church
D - Defense
E  - Essentials

The Appendix section provides additional information on the various faith and prosperity preachers, on basic tenets of the defense of Christianity and the common universal creeds adopted by the Universal Church.

Why You Should Read This Book
Based on the author’s declared audiences, if you are caught within the ‘cultic’ faith movement mentioned, and are asking questions about the authenticity of the message preached by the Osteens, Meyers, Jakes, Hinn and others, you ought to honestly put their message to the test. If you belong in this group, perhaps you will be the best judge of what is going on.

The Plus-Points of this Book
Acronyms: The author’s manner of putting the message across through FLAWS, the many alliteration phrases as well as clever use of communicative skills. It is easy to understand, and simple to remember.

Citations: One of the strengths of Hannegraaf is his dedication to ensure that he did not accuse the ‘cultic’ preachers without proof. Using printed and sources available publicly, he lists the erroneous claims and explains them with biblical reasoning.

Reminder: The author gives us a helpful collection of material that reminds us that error is still prominently preached. He warns us that we need to remain vigilant to stand up for the truth, even when our views are unpopular. In fact, some of the most revolting errors tend to be popularly held without guilt.

Wealth Tips: This is the part I find most helpful. (240-244)
  • God owns everything; we deserve nothing;
  • Our purpose on earth is not to accumulate wealth;
  • Our attitude toward wealth ought to mirror Paul's state of contentment (Phil 4:12-13);
  • We need to use wealth in ways that honor God;
  • We need to distinguish between future eternal inheritance VS present immediate gratification;
  • To be responsible stewards of what God gives us.
"It's your bank statement in heaven that counts. If your hope is fixed on the one you have down here, you're bankrupt no matter how many digits you count next to your name." (244)
The Minus-Points of this Book
Anger: I sense that this book is written by someone who is angry. This might explain the page after page of sensational and ridiculous quotes made by the 'cultic' preachers.

Lopsided: Even though I do not support these faith preachers that Hannegraaff lambasts, there is still a need to understand the contexts which the faith preachers were quoted. It is easy to take a small piece of evidence and make it the main gist. While I am not questioning the intent of Hannegraaff, I want to remain fair to all, both the author as well as the accused ones.

Hard to Read: I am not referring to the language used. I am simply put off by the pages after pages of non-stop criticism and revelation of the wrong-doings of the people mentioned. At some point, I was even wondering if these people are 100% evil. While it is true that these preachers often tend to be subtle in their deviant teachings, there is still a risk that when we overemphasize certain things, it becomes stale.

Final Comments
I read both books over 2 days; Christianity in Crisis (1993) first, then Christianity in Crisis – 21st Century (2009) second. A notable figure absent from his latest book is Paul Yonggi Cho of Korea. Perhaps, even as Hannegraaff reprimands and adds in updated figures, he is also careful to remove persons who no longer are as deviant as he writes. How's that for fairness?

Even as I compare the two books, I cannot help but feel that the author has not budged from his original convictions. Rather, the Christianity at large has shifted their stance more than Hannegraaff.  For example, Hannegraaf’s 1993 book is a Gold-Medallion Book winner for excellence in Christian literature. The author was catapulted to fame back in the 90s, and welcomed with open arms by many churches. In his 2009 edition, he reveals that he has been ‘censored’ by Christian media, ‘shut’ out by churches, and discouraged by ‘Christian statesmen’ who were ‘shamefully silent’ about the new ‘cultic’ movement. I doubt if the 2009 edition will win Hannegraaff any medals. His latest book did not even have any blurb of support from established professors or prominent evangelical leaders. (Remember that his 1993 edition was positively endorsed by Dr Norman Geisler.) Why is that so? There are two ways to look at this. The first way is that Hannegraaff is wrong for sticking stubbornly to his convictions, that he fails to keep up with changing times of pluralistic acceptance, and be more moderate and fair. The second way is that Hannegraaf is right, that Christianity is indeed in a greater crisis than ever. Both answers are not ideal. If I am forced to choose the lesser of two evils, I will plump for the latter. While I will not recommend the book to most of my theological colleagues and friends. However, there is one exception. For those who are completely in the dark about Osteen, Meyer, Jakes, Hinn, Copeland, Hagin, Hagee and others, pick this book and read it well. You may probably benefit from the shock treatment.

My Award: 1.5 stars out of 5.


Conference: "Renewing the Evangelical Mission"

This conference is truly a big one. I have heard at least 4 of them (Packer, Noll, Volf and Winner) speak at Regent-College before and testify that they have a message, and powerful ones. The conference is held in honor of Dr David Wells, another well-known professor at Gordon-Conwell.

If you are around the Boston area, schedule this in. More details here.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Book Review - "A Life With Purpose" (George Mair)

Title: A Life With Purpose (Rev Rick Warren, the most inspiring pastor of our time)
Author: George Mair
Published: NY: Berkley Books, 2005 (211pp)

Despite the runaway success of the Purpose-Driven Life book, there are still many quarters in the Christian neighborhood that frowns upon anything related to Warren or purpose-driven-ness. The word 'purpose-driven' has become almost synonymous with the Rick Warren name. This book alone has generated more money for its publisher, Zondervan, than any other book by a single author. Amid the success of the book and the hypergrowth of Saddleback Church in California, there have been many negative opinions about the whole movement. The author of this book, George Mair came from that background ready to find fault with Warren and his work. Instead, after hearing Warren for himself, Mair was pleasantly surprised, and wrote this book as a defense for Rick Warren and his church ways.

Rick Warren is more misunderstood than understood. Mair does the Christian world a service by sharing with us the inner story of this soft-spoken and pastor who prefers to keep a low profile lifestyle, in spite of his successes in his Saddleback church and in the book publishing industry. (Warren is currently working on a sequel to the Purpose-Driven Life.) This book is biographical and instructional in terms of understanding the heartbeat of Rick Warren. From growing his own Church at Saddleback to a mega-church of thousands of members, he has adopted a strategy of sharing best practices and training other church leaders so that they too can grow.

I know a lot of people are critical of the Purpose-Driven life, and skeptical about Warren's methods. Yet, I think those are results of hearsay and misunderstandings. For some, there might also be feelings of sour grapes. Putting all these prejudices aside, it is honorable to God, that before we criticize him, let us make an honest attempt to understand him and his methods. Let us not judge him.

If there is any critique about George Mair's work, it might be an overwhelmingly rosy depiction of Warren and his ministry. There are many other valid critiques which were not detailed. Nevertheless,this book is very informative about Rick Warren's ministry. You can read the details below.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Book Review: "The X and Y of Buy" (Elizabeth Pace)

Book: The X and Y of Buy (sell more and market better by knowing how the sexes shop)
Published: Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009

This book works well simply because it deals with the evergreen formula of gender differences. The battle of the sexes has always been a fascinating one not reserved for any age group. Pace, a first-time author, delivers quite a convincing message about the differences between a woman (X) and a male (Y), and what a marketer or a salesperson needs to be aware of. Pace does a great job when it comes to the 'science' of understanding the two genders. Through her research and experience, plus personal encounters with buying behavior, both hers and others, she reconstitutes them into 200 pages of delightful reading. From humor to how to control tears, Pace presents us multiple reminders that the key to selling and marketing to the different sexes lies in putting ourselves into the shoes of the other, both male and female. Helpful tables comparing and contrasting the X and Y perspectives were carefully spread out in the book to aid comprehension.

The strongest part of the book is the research as well as the illuminating examples that magnify the principles and observations she made. Her one key note is worth the price of the book. It's all about them. Pace makes a courageous statement:

"When communicating with the opposite sex, the golden rule does not apply. Instead, treat them as they prefer to be treated." (106)

Bravo! That essentially is the spirit and is worth the price of the book. In fact, I will extrapolate the application to include marriages as well. Hopefully, couples who read this book learn to understand the little idiosyncrasies behind their spouse's buying behavior. This need not be exaggerated, but who knows, it can even save a marriage.

"Men buy; women shop and then purchase 80 percent of everything." (3)

My main reservation with this book lies in the fact that the author is female (X), and claims to be able to speak on behalf of the male (Y) department. For example, in her "GenderCycle Selling" proposal, Pace devotes one-and-a-half times more coverage to the female part, that is (31 pages for X, and 20 for Y). We can always defend Pace on the basis that males and females are different qualitatively, hence there is no need to be paranoid about quantitative measures. Having said that, it might still be worth noticing this small detail. My other reservation has got to do with the question of those whose sexes are not so clearly understood. What about those who grew up in environments dominated by the opposite sex? Will nurture override nature? What about the transexuals, or those with homosexual inclinations? This book about gender differences may help us understand the opposite sex better, in terms of the 'nature' part of it. Let us also read the book with the other eye on the 'nurture' side of it. Put together, we can truly understand not only the "X and Y of Buy" but the "X to Y of Buy and Sell."

Final Comments
Pace gives us a very helpful advice, that when dealing with the opposite sex, to see from their perspective. Having said that, I believe that the golden rule of doing-to-others-what-you-want-to-yourselves should not be ignored either. Both applies.

Moreover, we need to be careful not succumb to stereotyping anybody in any way. While the book helps us understand gender differences more, it does not replace the need for us to treat one another sensibly and respectably. It does not give us a license to manipulate them. What it does is to help us admire how each of us are uniquely created, and with each unique creation, let treat one another with love, respect and honesty.

I award 4 stars out of 5.

A Thomas Nelson Book Reviewer. (link)


Something for the Canucks to Chew on

So, the Canucks have lost 3 games in the row this opening season of the NHL. Perhaps Luongo is still trying to find his game. Perhaps the competition has been lucky. Perhaps, the stars are waiting to be aligned for the Vancouver team. Perhaps, every player has to raise their level of play, from Luongo to Raycroft, from Bieksa to Edler, from Kesler to Johnson, from the Sedins to Burrows. Perhaps, only perhaps, this speech by a 4-year old is what it takes to lift up the spirits of our Vancouver Canucks.


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Dalai Lama on Technology

(Photo Credit: Vancouver Sun)
The Dalai Lama is in Vancouver this week. My children's school even provide tickets for some students to attend one of his talks. Well known as an exiled Tibetan leader, he was given celebrity status as he opens the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit on the 27 Sep 2009. Present was Canada’s Head of State representative, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean and several well known figures such as Mary Robinson, the Irish Prime Minister and Maria Shriver. His speech was widely covered by the media. He speaks the usual staff about the need for peace, the call for a social movement from “Me to We” and various nice stuff about living peacefully with messages that warm and cuddle the heart. However, the press decidedly picked up on an interesting comment from the religious leader. The free newspaper, METRO headlines it as
“Technology may block peace, says Dalai Lama”
Almost instantly, Vancouverites were up in arms over the spiritual leader meddling with one of the sacred cows of modern society. Comments such as:
  • . . . but we can’t leave, look, we’re on twitter” (@morfinictrauma)
  • Technology’s a tool for connecting with others. The more connected you feel with others, the more invested you become in peace.” (starglazer_girl)
  • Technology helps people to communicate and therefore helps peace, not hinder it.” (ngislop)
The blogsphere is also buzzing with comments about this small portion of the spiritual leader's speech. Most of them are defensive about technology. Reading the comments made me laugh at the gulf of understanding of the contexts people are from. When people start to zoom in on the minor details of a major speech, we will know what are the things that bother the general public. What about the injustice and lack of compassion happening around the world? How many people will be up in arms over innocent children being massacred by a cruel dictator, compared with the loss of our TV connection over an NHL hockey game?

Technology and Peace
Sometimes I wonder, if people absolutely has to vote, will peace win hands-down over technology? Despite the rave reviews from people all over Vancouver, I am not a fan of the Dalai Lama, but his comments about the technology being a barrier to peace need to be understood from the context of his speech. He says:
“I think technology may have some benefits for a smart brain, but no capacity to produce compassion.”

I feel that the press has again used this as a way to sensationalize Dalai Lama’s words on technology. He is not against technology. He was basically warning people that there are LIMITS to what technology can bring., specifically producing compassion. In other words, technology may connect people, but by itself cannot PRODUCE compassion. Unfortunately, the tech-generation people appear more worried about losing their technological toys than peace itself. Others remain baffled that the comparison of technology and peace is absurd, just like one cannot compare an apple with a toy squirrel. I think there is a similarity. Technology becomes a barrier to peace when it becomes MORE IMPORTANT than peace per se.

Another Spirituality of Positive Thinking
Apart from the critic of 'technology' usurping the mindshare of people over peace, there is another deficiency. Spiritually, the message that peace has to be from the inside-out needs further probing. While I do not doubt the powerful effects of good teaching, spirituality is not simply something that can be pumped into a person via "Me-to-We" Rah-Rah cheer. The Dalai Lama's teaching is another of those theories of the power of positive thinking to change the world. This contrasts sharply with the Christian teaching that before something good can take root, the heart needs to be touched first. The Dalai Lama's kind of teaching assumes that people are like programmable chips. Once the right program is downloaded into them, they will function correctly. Christians themselves sometimes do practice such a philosophy. I want to argue that we need something more. People may be likened to programmable chips in a sense. However we still need the following:
- Who programs it?
- How do we decide what programs to use?
- When do we use it?
- Is it not true that people are more than programmable chips?

Christian spiritual discernment is much more than such externally driven positive thinking. Christian spirituality recognizes that we all need help. We need the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us in the way that we ought to go. We pray for guidance and we act on the Word of God. Our feelings are kept in check via Experience, Reason, Scripture and Tradition.

This little episode is rather telling about our modern culture.
1) Technology is here to stay. You can talk all you want about peace but don’t touch this sacred cow.
2) Peace is important, but for many, holding on to their Internet connectivity or tech-gadgets is even more important;
3) 'Without technology, how am I going to connect with my friends?' argument is unconvincing.  [I wonder if this is the case, how on earth did our grandfathers and great-grandmothers connect with their peers during their years?]

In summary, the Peace Summit is good and creates a nice feeling for many people. My question will be:  "How far can the message go?" Let me end with the programmable chip analogy. Assuming we manage to download the program of peace into our memory banks for free. Assuming we install it into our computer. Will we ever use it? More crucially, with so many different programs inside our computer, how often we run the PEACE program over all other programs determines whether technology itself is a barrier to peace. Would it not be better if we do not see ourselves as technological machines that can be programed, but to recognize that we are human persons that can love and be loved?


Friday, October 02, 2009

"Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To" (Anthony DeStefano)

Title: Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To
Author: Anthony DeStefano
Published: NY: Doubleday, 2007 (197pp).

Anthony DeStefano rose to fame on the strength of his previous book, A Travel Guide to Heaven published in 2003. In that book, he excites readers to anticipate a heaven that is filled with joy and perfection. Four years later, he released another book that deals with prayer, something that a loving Father is more than willing to answer. Refreshingly, DeStefano deals with 2 struggles Christians generally have.
  1. Why are some prayers answered and others not?
  2. How does one pray according to God's will?
 The author invites the reader to bravely anticipate answers from God.
"God loves to say yes to us. Not only to 'small' prayers, but to big, practical, and profound ones as well. It's just that we don't usually think about these prayers because they are not of the 'consumer' variety. We don't realize that if we simply made certain basic requests of God, they would be granted automatically. In fact, our lives would be a hundred times more exciting and passion filled than they are now, and a hundred times less stressful and anxiety-ridden." (6-7)
DeStefano even guarantees that once the reader gets to the last page of the book, his/her life will be changed. That is indeed compelling. Essentially, DeStefano is daring us to pray. Only when we dare to pray in his will, will we find the divine answers to the most difficult problems we encounter.  He leads us through 10 basic issues that deal with both the wrong way and the right way to pray.

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