Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know"

Title: What Every 21st-Century Parent Needs to Know
Author: Debra Haffner
Published: NY: Newmarket Press, 2007.

Debra Haffner certainly has a load full of credentials. A widely sought after parenting educator, she holds educational degrees in both Public Health as well as divinity qualifications. A parent herself, she attempts to update parenting skills for the 21st Century with an inviting title. Her subtitle speaks of her approach toward modern parenting as "facing today's challenges with wisdom and heart." This is certainly a holistic approach, that is different from conventional approaches of techniques and methodologies.

What Every 21st-Century Parent Needs to Know: Facing Today's Challenges with Wisdom and HeartShe begins the book with a question: "Is Parenting Harder Today?" Most of her respondents reply yes. Her answer is 'not necessarily.' Haffner counters the popular opinion by saying that it has always been difficult. The main thing is that parents need to adapt and recognize the changing environment before knowing how to engage them meaningfully.

I) Debunking Myths & Applying Affirmative Parenting
What is helpful is the way Haffner debunks popular myths. She asserts that the media provide statistics that often scare parents about parenting. Even bookstores contain many books that point to problematic youth problems like bad behavior, out of control teens, obesity, bad attitudes, etc. Instead, she calls for the presence of responsible adults to walk with teens. People like a teacher, a minister, a coach, an uncle or aunt. She then moves to her main idea that effective parenting is essentially affirmative in nature.
  • Extravagantly love our children regardless of their age;
  • Actively be involved in their lives, first allowing them to be children first;
  • Learn to share family values;
  • Learn to set limitations on technology and guidelines for behaviors;
  • Help children make independent decisions;
  • Learn to enjoy and have fun parenting.
II) Four Types of Parenting Styles
A) Permissive
B) Authoritarian
C) Affirming
D) Uninvolved

Permissive parents take unnecessary risks and may promote unhealthy liberties among children. Authoritarian parenting may result in positive outcomes initially but cannot be sustained once the rod is lifted. Uninvolved parenting is as good as no parenting. Haffner then goes on to point out the distinctiveness of affirming parenting. She offers 6 tips for affirming parenting:
  1. Love your children unconditionally.
  2. Stay actively involved in your children's and teenagers' lives.
  3. Set limits jointly.
  4. Set consequences and follow through
  5. Communicate your family values
  6. Understand the world your child is growing up in.
Using these 6 principles as her guide, Haffner then tackles the need to raise physically and emotionally healthy kids. She demystifies the popular notion of 'overscheduled and overstressed' kids. She addresses the technological challenges as well as the need for a spiritual component.

Haffner helpfully supplies some tips for parents to develop ethical qualities in children.
  1. Listen to your children.
  2. Learn from your children
  3. Establish family rituals
  4. Celebrate traditions in community
  5. Consider the role of a faith community
  6. Participate in social action.
My Comments
Personally, I find the greatest value Haffner gives is chapter 10 about "Raising the Mensch: The importance of Ethics and Spirituality in Your Child's World." A Mensch is someone we admire, and attempt to emulate. He is one of noble character. Haffner makes a strong case for faith and spirituality to be inculcated early in children. I agree. Far too often, parenting deals with techniques and know-how that parents already are experts in. Society expects parents to simply replicate what they know and turn kids after themselves. Sometimes, these come at a cost, where children under pressure to conform to parental expectations, fail to develop and understand their own beliefs and values. The core of Haffner's thesis lies in the quote from Wilfred Cantwell Smith's book "Faith and Belief."
Faith, then, is a quality of human living. At its best, it has taken the form of serenity and courage and loyalty and service; a quiet confidence and joy which enable one to feel at home in the universe, and to find meaning in the world and in one's own life, a meaning that is profound and ultimate, and is stable no matter what may happen to oneself at the level of immediate event. Men and women of this kind of faith face catastrophe and confusion, affluence and sorrow, unperturbed; face opportunity with conviction and drive; and face others with cheerful charity.(170)
For anyone reading this book, be aware of the Unitarian slant of the beliefs. Haffner's theology rejects the Trinity God that mainstream evangelicalism adheres to. She offers readers the chance to consider the Unitarian beliefs to invite questions about God. In doing so, the source of strength apparently stems from a desire to do good works, rather than from the Person of Christ and the Holy Spirit. This unwittingly underplays the nature of sin, and this is perhaps one of the biggest theological problems I have.

Other than that, the book offers good tips for affirmative parenting. I still believe that we should not abandon the other parenting styles altogether. Perhaps, in wisdom, we need to learn when to apply which kind of parenting skills. This calls for humility and acknowledgment that we are imperfect parents. Parenting is an ongoing journey to be learned and to be lived.

So what does every 21st-Century parent needs to know? I suppose it is the age-old truth: Wisdom and Discernment.

Book Rating: 3 stars of 5.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Two of my Favourite "Rachel Liang" songs

These 2 songs by Taiwanese rising songstress are my current favourites. She has all the makings of a rising star.

Personally, I like the first one best. It describes the three promises a lover gives. Yet, the most precious are neither of these. It is the gift of one's presence. Consider that. What I find most amazing is that the lyrics display an exchange of hopes between the two lovers. Isn't that what communications are all about? Suspend judgment and simply enjoy.

The second song is nearly the opposite of the first. It reflects a painful relationship that needs to be resolved through crying. It is part of learning to grow up.

1) Three Hopes (Rachel Liang) [ ]

2) Cry and It Will be Fine (Rachel Liang) []


Friday, June 18, 2010

Growing Together

Growing Together
“And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done!” (Acts 21:14)

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is community. For the Christian community, desiring to meet in the Name of Christ is one of the clearest signs of the Holy Spirit at work. In a community, we gather ourselves under the lordship of Jesus. We demonstrate our faith in God through good works. We encourage one another toward one Hope in Christ. We remember one another with love, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving with one another. It is one thing to enjoy one another’s company during good and happy times. It is another to struggle together when the tides and times are not in our favour. What can a group or a Christian community do when they face difficult moments, especially in their relationships. Let me suggest 5 insights to learn from the early Church community. I have used the word OASIS as an acronym to guide these thoughts.

The Background
Paul has been called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, to be an ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ (Rom 11:13). So strong is this calling that Paul is prepared to risk everything in order to fulfill it. Agabus who was at Caesarea, a city on the coast of Palestine, that is south of Mount Carmel. Dramatically, Agabus knows about how Paul will be tortured if he continues his perilous mission trip. Using ropes to tie himself, Agabus demonstrates how Paul will be arrested and caught by the Jews in Jerusalem. Upon hearing this, the whole community try to prevent Paul from making his fateful trip by trying to dissuade Paul from proceeding. For Paul, obedience is more important than personal safety. He affirms: “The will of the Lord be done!”

A) OPENNESS: Being Open
Paul and this community know each other well. So well, that they are open to sharing their deepest thoughts and nervousness. They know that dangers await Paul if he proceeds. They tell Paul openly. In reply, Paul honestly shares his calling and his determination with the group. This is a remarkable display of open communication and brotherly love. Both care for each other, even though they do not necessarily agree on the trip. The rest of them practically ‘begs’ Paul not to go (Acts 21:12).

Learning: There is a time to openly share our thoughts and concern.

B) ACCEPTANCE: Being Accepting of One Another
When the community heard Paul’s determination, they paused and accepted his decision.

Learning: Remember that there is a time for everything. When we cannot get complete agreement, the next step is acceptance. A Christian community is not based on full agreement but full acceptance.

C) SUPPORT: Being Supportive
The community ‘fell silent’ when they realize they cannot persuade Paul from doing otherwise. They decide to support him instead of continuing to argue with him.

Learning: It is one thing to be accepting one another. It is another to support others even when we fail to see the other person’s point of view. Love is not making the other person to comply with our wishes. It is learning to support him or her after the decision has been made.

D) IN: Being United IN Christ
Whatever we do, we do it IN the Name of Christ. The community is a praying community. They pray for each other (Acts 21:15). They interact among themselves with prayer.

Learning: There is always time to pray and to support one another regardless of whether they agree with us. It is always time to be united in the Name and Purpose of Christ.

E) SOLIDARITY: Being Focused on God’s Will
The remarkable thing about the community of God is that personal opinions must yield to the opinion of God, commonly known as God’s will. Sometimes, we find it difficult to get along when we fail to get agreement. This is not what a Christian community is all about. We know we are a ‘Christian’ community when our final decision is always: “The will of the Lord be done.”

Learning: We may not understand God’s will exactly now. Yet, “God’s will” trumps any of our individual ideas and plans. After all has been said, arguments made both for and against, it is time to come together in unity. For it is not our personal decisions that unite but the recognition we are all under God.

Concluding Thoughts
These are 5 marks of a growing community in Christ. They are open to each other. They accept one another’s strengths and weaknesses. They support each other’s decisions. Whatever they do, they do in Christ. Even when there is no complete agreement, all are united in their togetherness and solidarity in Christ.

May these thoughts guide you.


Book Review: "Tea With Hezbollah"

Title: Tea With Hezbollah
Authors: Ted Dekker & Carl Medearis
Published: New York, NY: Doubleday Religion, 2010, (258 pages).

The premise of the book is simple. Based on Jesus greatest commandments to his disciples, the authors, who are of the Christian faith attempt to test this teaching on non-Christians, in particular the Arab neighbours in the Middle East and Israel. Covering the three major monotheistic faiths; Islam, Judaism and Christianity and some of all their variants, the authors undertake a dangerous journey in war-torn Beirut, Jerusalem, Jordan, Egypt and several other undisclosed locations to find out. The results of the short interviews reveal striking differences in terms of the perceptions of Jesus' greatest commandment.

For Christians, it seem to be a given, and a taken-for-granted statement that the rest of the world should naturally understand. The courageous journeys into dangerous 'enemy' territory can be said to be foolish to some, bravery to others. While the Western world of Christianity generally assumes that Jesus' teaching is THE biggest thing, and that the rest of the world should respect, it will come as a shock that it is simply a peripheral teaching to others. While the West talks of love before all things, leaders from groups labeled by America as 'terrorists' talks about justice + love going hand in hand. In a nutshell, love is meaningless without the element of justice. It is like a man walking with 2 legs, each of equal importance. Western perceptions of Jesus' greatest teaching seem to be a limping image of walking on the one single leg of love. This one difference is the major reason why the West and the Middle East religions do not always see eye to eye.

I read this book on my flight back from Boston. It is an entertaining read, as it incorporates both real interviews with Islamic rebels as well as a fictional story of Nicole interspersed throughout the book in 7 separate chapters. While Nicole's story is fiction, it reveals a realistic portrayal of how war and ideologies can break up and separate families.

My Comments
This book is a good resource to balance the overly Westernized perception of people living in the Middle East. It tells us how much MIS-understanding Western people, even well-intentioned Christian people has of the Muslims, even the terrorists. The theme running throughout the book is that the rebels put on a posture of 'defense' more than invading others. They claim that Islam stands for peace and they wish no war or bad outcomes on others. Misunderstandings exist on both sides. Errors have been made on both sides. Wrong propaganda has been launched from both sides. In some ways, everyone of us are guilty of unfair perceptions.

I think a mediator may be necessary to bridge the ideology divide. In the presence of a third party, feuding parties may be more willing to put down their animosity or prejudices in order to explain in a fair manner to the neutral party. If trying to understand each other is the solution to peace between the Islamic world and the West, it would have been done much earlier. Talking about it is one thing. The practical details are another. That is why countries such as China or India can play a big role in bridging the gap.

This book tries to correct negative perceptions arising from the Western thinking on the Islamic society. It aims to show that these groups do not seem to be reading on the same page. This is an entertaining and warm book. For we are all humans.


Friday, June 04, 2010

A Book to Fill Our Spiritual Cavities

TITLE: The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World
Author: Richard Stearns
Published: Nashville: TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2009.

What Leonard Ravenhill has done for revival in the Church, Richard Stearns does for stirring up missions through compassion in the Church. Beginning with a personal testimony about his calling from for-profit corporate life to non-profit service in World Vision, Stearns writes with conviction and heart-felt compassion for the afflicted in poorer places like Africa. Without any theological training, Stearns plunges into the world of serving Christ through missions, and subsequently sharing his experience and exhortation to the Church in America. His refrain is familiar:
  • The 'hole' in my gospel may be similar to yours;
  • Are we demonstrating God's love or are we simply 'talking' about it?
  • Why are we here on earth for?
  • What are we doing with the talents God has given us?
  • "Don't fail to do something just because you can't do everything." (152)
  • God can use you....
  • "What will you do?" 
Through pleas and rebukes to the Church, Stearns shoots off the hip to make comfortable Christians feel 'uncomfortable.' It is hard not to be moved by what he writes and shares.  Many of the things he says are tough, but they carry substantial weight as far as the gospel of Jesus Christ is concerned.

My Comments
As I turn the pages, I feel that Stearns' sharing is powerfully authentic. He writes in a lively manner. He lets his frustration with the complacent churches show. He stirs up the reader to do something about it. The sad stories he share are heart-breaking. The fruits of his ministry are encouraging and should challenge Christians to go beyond mere pew-warming. His 'tale of two churches' reflect his deep anguish and frustration over the passive American Church that has so much, versus the active African Church that has so little. The former are wealthy and never seems satisfied with more. The latter are poor but seems contented with whatever little they have.

I appreciate his honest sharing about his journey, as well as his generous stories collected from many different sources into one book.  This helps the reader understand that this 'hole in our gospel,' is quite a common phenomenon. Stearns is not alone in speaking out. Perhaps, with this book, there will be more who will share the vision of Stearns, perhaps World Vision as well. Above all, may our vision of the Kingdom be so exciting, that Church people will long to WANT to share Christ, rather than 'have' to share Christ.

Plug your bookshelf with this book right now. This book calls the Christian disciple to plug more holes than one. Perhaps, it can spark us to start filling our spiritual cavities.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Best Book on e-Integrity

TITLE: VIRTUAL INTEGRITY - faithfully navigating the brave new world
AUTHOR: Daniel J Lohrmann
PUBLISHED: Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008 (223pp).

Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web
This is the best book about online behavior not only for Christians but any Internet surfer. In a world where people are paranoid over privacy and piracy matters, and the dangers of being impersonated by unscrupulous people on the net, virtual integrity seeks to start from where we are: Our values.

What the Book is About
While the author does talk about the external threats posed by dangerous online threats, it concentrates on personal integrity of the surfer. Rather than telling people to avoid the Internet, Lohrmann works to redeem it. He talks about our need to be consistent with our values online as well as offline. He talks about the limits of parental controls, specifically pointing at the limitations of technological controls. Things like filtering, censoring or parents trying to control their children's exposure to the Internet should not be the ONLY way to protect our kids.

At a deeper level, Lohrmann questions the tendency for people to disguise their true identity on the Internet. Rather than others stealing one's identity, Lohrmann argues against us attempting to deceive others by adopting false selves via online deception. One example he poses is about e-Conscience.
"Marketing experts recognize that people are often willing to do things online that they would never do if they were faced with the same situation in real life." (58)

Indeed, in the process of trying to deceive others, he may end up deceiving himself. He then goes on to show how our online behavior can affect our career prospects as well as attract unwanted marketing scams. Thankfully, Lohrmann does not stop here. He goes on to propose a useful "7 Habits of Online Integrity."
  1. Refresh your Values in Cyberspace
  2. Pledge Personal Online Integrity
  3. Seek Trusted Accountability
  4. Apply Helpful Technology
  5. Balance Online and Offline Life
  6. Practice Humble Authenticity
  7. Become a Cyber Ambassador for Good
My Comments
This book is written very clearly and should appeal to a wide range of readers, to parents as well as teens; to technology geeks as well as the layperson. With multiple examples and wise sayings from different experts from various disciplines, he supplies ample applications on how we can all sur with consistent values, practice integrity on the Internet, and to be wise as we use e-communications. One of my favourite quotes comes from his citation of the Czech Republic's first president.
"Havel cautioned the world in a 1990 speech:' We still don't know how to put morality ahead of politics, science, and economics. We are incapable of understanding that the only genuine core of all actions - if they are to be moral - is responsibility.' " (157)
Havel is spot on! I will venture to go further. Instead of submitting ourselves to the culture's constant insistence on personal rights and privileges, the key to surfing with integrity lies with our willingness to accept responsibily for all our actions. Such a responsibility must stem from a living and loving relationship with the Divine God.

This book has so many different applications that the Appendix itself is worth the price of the book. There are practical steps for individuals, families, technology providers, businesses, churches, non-profits, Christian organizations, even schools. After all, as Lohrmann is Chief Information Officer of the State of Michigan, he certainly is more than qualified to write this book.

We have invested so much time in our technology infrastructures, our client machines, and various skills to use online resources. Lohrmann reminds us to invest in the 'software' side of using technology: INTEGRITY.

"No matter what wonderful technological advances we implement in the twenty-first century, we will always face this underlying challenge of the desires of the heart. The 'people issues' will always be paramount, because there will be ways to cheat in every situation. As Christians, our faith and trust in God enables academic integrity." (76)

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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