Friday, July 30, 2010

Jolt Quote XXVII (Poem)

Life's Scars

They say the world is round, and yet
I often think it square,
So many little hurts we get
From corners here and there.
But one great truth in life I've found,
While journeying to the West-
The only folks who really wound
Are those we love the best.

The man you thoroughly despise
Can rouse your wrath, 'tis true;
Annoyance in your heart will rise
At things mere strangers do;
But those are only passing ills;
This rule all lives will prove;
The rankling wound which aches and thrills
Is dealt by hands we love.

The choicest garb, the sweetest grace,
Are oft to strangers shown;
The careless mien, the frowning face,
Are given to our own.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best. (italics mine)

Love does not grow on every tree,
Nor true hearts yearly bloom.
Alas for those who only see
This cut across a tomb!
But, soon or late, the fact grows plain
To all through sorrow's test:
The only folks who give us pain
Are those we love the best. (italics mine)

(Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When We Feel Discouraged

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 27 July 2010

MAIN IDEA: A reflection of David's exhortation to his son, Solomon prior to the building of the greatest project in Jewish history: Building the Temple of the LORD. Remember the 7Ps when we are feeling discouraged.
"All this," David said, "I have in writing from the hand of the LORD upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan." David also said to Solomon his son, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished. The divisions of the priests and Levites are ready for all the work on the temple of God, and every willing man skilled in any craft will help you in all the work. The officials and all the people will obey your every command." (1 Chronicles 28:19-21)
The work is immense. The task is colossal. How can one mortal person build a gigantic temple to the Eternal God? I suppose Solomon, the son of King David could have been discouraged when he saw the huge project before him. Who would not? Moreover, in the mind of Solomon, it is a job that God spoke directly to David. Should not his father do the job himself? Why involve the next generation? After all, Solomon could have enjoyed his life in luxury (which he did), marry beautiful women (which he did), display wise knowledge and judgment (which he did), and bask in the riches of kingly benefits (which he did!). Named the wisest man in history, Solomon is not immune to discouragement. His father David is aware that even the wisest person on earth can at times be discouraged.

This passage teaches me the importance of learning to look up when we are down. Let me share 7 tips to consider whenever we feel discouraged. Let me call it the 7 P’s to tackle any discouragement.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book: "Saving Jesus from the Church" (Robin Myers)

Title: Saving Jesus from the Church
Author: Robin Myers
Published: NY: HarperCollins, 2009.

Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following JesusThe title of the book troubles me. It suggests that Jesus, the Savior of the world Himself needs to be saved. It conjures up in my head images of Batman & Robin saving Gotham City from its enemies; or some super-hero battling against evil villains to save helpless victims in the land. I was initially intrigued by such a grandiose statement. As I read on, it appears that the author has an axe to grind against the conservative-right-wing-politically-vocal voice that puts compliance over community. The truth is that, Myers's approach is to provoke readers in such a way that they understand why Myers is calling for a change from institutionalized religion to a relationship-based community of Jesus-followers. Semantics are particularly important so that we can clearly understand which camp Myers is referring to.

What the Book is About
Change. Myers argue that the Good Name of Jesus has been much maligned by Bible-thumping, compliance-based religion. His basic point is this:
Once again, religion at its best should be biblically responsible, intellectually honest, emotionally satisfying, and socially significant.” (22)
His chorus goes like this: Say 'no' to the institutional church, but say 'yes' to Jesus.
By 'biblically responsible,' Myers argues for a shift:
  • From Faith as mere belief TO that of living it;
  • From Using the Cross to condemn 'original sin' TOWARD forgiveness and 'original blessings';
  • From Christianity as Condemnation TO Compassion;
  • From Discipleship as Observance TO Obedience;
  • From Justice as Control TO that of Covenant;
  • From Self-Righteousness in God TO Relationship.
He makes clear his preference for the kind of Christianity he wants. It is that kind of church where:
  • There is no hierarchy, and where people rich/poor, young/old, from all walks of life can sit together and worship Jesus;
  • where sexual orientation, science and communion matters not discriminated against some believers; 
  • where all are level, without distinction from one another;
My Comments
I understand where Myers is coming from. In his eagerness to promote his brand of open Christianity, of liberally questioning the traditional creeds under the guise of scholarship, he may have unwittingly thrown away the baby with the bathwater: Tradition. It is easy for him to disregard tradition like what he did in the book. However, it does grave injustice to the reasons why the traditions are there in the first place. While I think Myers has a point against institutionalized religion, his brand of 'following Jesus' needs a stronger theological base. In other words, if he is genuinely interested in 'saving Jesus from the church,' he should be more precise in his critique of some church people, scholars or theologians who are dead against liberally discrediting the creeds. The latter borders on sacrilegious treatment of the tenets of the faith. One example is his perjorative treatment of the Bishop of Durham, NT Wright, who argues passionately against 'higher criticism,' which tends to put self above the authority of the Bible. Myers could have tried to give argument against argument, instead of simply shrugging it away and blame Wright for being one who 'protest too much.' (152-3)

There are some good points to take from the book. One of my favourite chapters is the part where Myers wax eloquent over the need to put justice and community together.  He also has strong arguments against the prosperity gospel, sharply criticizing Joel Osteen's  teaching as reversing Matthew 6:33. Christians should seek the kingdom first and the things they need will be given to them. Instead, Joel Osteen reverses it, and turns one's humble request for 'our daily bread' into manifold earthly riches and physical health.

Will I recommend this book? I would, but cautiously. For those of us who are already struggling with Church, this book only adds fuel to our disappointment with church. For those of us who understands the limitations of Church structure and leadership problems, it is a good wake-up call to avoid becoming too insistent on religious conformance that we ignore the importance of relationships. For everyone else, read the book as : "Saving Christians from Churchianity." This is a more accurate title.

Rating: 3 stars of 5.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Joni Eareckson Tada

Joni Eareckson Tada
I heard of Joni Eareckson Tada when I was in my 20s. Due to an unfortunate diving accident back in 1967, Joni lost the use of her hands and became a quadriplegic. She did not lose her will to live. Instead of moaning over the loss of her limbs, she determined to use whatever she has: Her energy and determination to make a difference for people handicapped like her. Thus began a ministry called "Joni and Friends," to reach out and empower disabled people that they too can make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.

Joni is an impressive character. Though I have never see her personally, her life, writings and publicity has touched me in many ways. This week, I received an invitation to download one chapter of her audio book, "A Place of Healing, from Christian Audio. You may want to take advantage for this limited time offer, until the end of July 2010 here. Listening to this sharing is uplifting and encouraging. You should do it.

There is another piece of good news. Last month, Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just today, Joni blogged about some good news even as she goes through chemotherapy.

I must say, I salute this strong lady, and pray that her faith will grow from strength to strength, and in the process, encourage many more people to do the same. Do pray for her and follow her developments here.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Worldliness in the Church

TITLE: Worldliness in the Church
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 17 July 2010

MAIN IDEA: Beware the presence of worldliness in the church, especially those that perpetuate the promiscuities of prosperity.

At the end of the 19th Century, Bishop Huntington of Central New York writes this in a religious journal related to the Quakers, 'The Friend.' He warns the professing Church of Christ about the internal threat to the Church: "Worldliness in the Church."

"In prosperous times like ours, and in affluent communities, Antichrist goes himself to church, patronizes preaching, buys a pew, gets himself elected to the vestry, and takes a hand in shaping the policy of the establishment, and by blandishment or bluster, in pitching the keys of the pulpit. All that you may hear said of the mischief of this secular corruption in disordering Christ's family, vitiating doctrine, emasculating the manhood of the ministry, and lowering the standard of personal righteousness, rather understates than exaggerates the fact. It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the Gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity."

(Bishop Frederic D. Huntington, in THE FRIEND – A religious and Literary Journal, Vol LXII, Philadelphia: WM H Pile’s Sons, 1889, p326)
What a paradox. The more prosperous we are, the greater the tendency toward worldliness. It certainly casts a fresh light to what it means when Jesus tells us to choose between God or Money.  In Matthew 6:24, the word, Mammon, translated as Money, is also understood as 'that which we show our allegiance to.'  We have to choose either to worship God or to worship idols. There is no other way. Huntington hits it hard, and it appears that the battles that he fought in his era, are not so much different than 2010 now. The greatest threat to the Church is the insidious invasion of the pursuit of prosperity instead of the pursuit of Christ.

The 'Prosperity Gospel' has been going on for quite a while. The Wealth and Health teachings have gripped the attention of many faithfuls, who virtually soak in everything the Faith-Word healers and preachers offer on their stage. Under the guise of religion, they have legitimized their pursuit of wealth. Under the convenient permission of God wanting them to be rich, they have justified their own hoarding in the name of using wealth to help others. Under the constant barrage of teachings against the law, they have conveniently excused themselves from having to obey the disciplines of old, in favour of an unlimited providence from a cuddly 'daddy' God. They have replaced the dangers of sin with the wagers of pleasure. The biggest concern I have is the direct equation of blessings with all things 'material.' When this happens, is this not a forming of a golden calf of Materialism? Is this not a new face of Mammon? I ask, how can this ever be a legitimate pursuit of Christ? Do we really need so much 'blessings' in order to bless others? The way to bless others is not on the basis of replicating our own appetites inside them. It is to let them grow their love toward God and neighbour in their own special way.

 [Picture Credit:]

A) Worldliness in the Church
I am not saying that everyone in the prosperity gospel churches are infatuated with materialism. In fact, I will grant that there are genuine people within the flock, who yearns to know and to love Jesus more. Many of them are pious, and are generous with what they have. Some are even prepared to live sacrificially, that the Name of Christ can be broadcast farther. What bothers me is the teaching. If I were to blame, I blame the preachers for giving hopes centered on materialism. I blame these stage performers for trying to paint God like a heavenly treasury, or a heavenly Bank that writes checks that can be readily cashed on earth.  Sometimes, the world that we live in influence our attitudes toward worldly possessions and worldly pursuits.

The Chicago pastor AW Tozer writes,
"In a similar sense, there are those who are more influenced by the world than by the New Testament, and they are not ready for the Holy Spirit. Of these people, we have to say that they are influenced far more by Hollywood than they are by Jerusalem. Their spirit and mode of life are more like Hollywood than it is like Jerusalem. If you were to suddenly set them down in the New Jerusalem, they would not feel at home because their mode, the texture of their mind, has been created for them by twentieth century entertainment and not by the things of God!" (AW Tozer)
Using the formula of entertainment, riches, and health, how can any church NOT draw people in? How can such an organization not grow? How can anyone resist the temptation of getting rich materially while accumulating spiritual knowledge?

B) An Old Argument?
My question is: Is this dated, old warning from Bishop Huntington relevant for us today? For those of us who immediately asks WHY, may I suggest we ask with the same breath, "Why not?"

One of the problems of modern Christianity, especially in developed countries is that we seek ways in which to justify what we have. The rich tries to justify their pursuit of more riches. The poor tries to justify for additional wealth. Prosperity Gospel does not care whether one is rich or poor. For example, in the rich West, "Prosperity Gospel' quickly becomes a convenient way for people to get more in order to become happier. In the poorer parts of the world, like Africa, the poor are deceived into giving away whatever little they have to the coffers of the prosperity preachers, and in the process, starving their needy families for the needed funds to buy food and clothing. In some ways, the fanatical follower of the Prosperity Gospel is like the gambler addicted to gambling.

It is easy for us to go to lengths and defend our current lifestyles. It is easy to blame it on our busy schedules and that we have lots of other things better to do. It is also quite common to say that we cannot control our society. After all, we need to make a living right? Wrong!

C) The Seduction of Positive Power
In the book "Losing Moses on the Freeway," Chris Hedges sees similarities between motivational gurus like Anthony Robbins and the prosperity gospel preachers. He writes about Anthony Robbins:
"His message is a secular version of the television evangelist's gospel of greed and personal empowerment. Once you pay your tithe to these groups, God will shower you with blessings. God will do your bidding. God will make you rich. The testimonials used by these multimillionaire television evangelists differ little from those used by Robbins. Robbins offer secular rather than divine tools to reach the same end. Each peddles a dangerous form of self-worship. They tap into the greed that runs like an electric current through America. They promise quick, easy shortcuts to get what we want, to become the idol we worship." (Chris Hedges, Losing Moses on the Freeway, NY: Free Press, 2005, p161) 
We become the idols we worship. In fact, when followers vigorously, and vehemently defend their prosperity preachers with their lives, they have sought to protect the idols both outside and inside. Both feed on each other. Such adherents need their preachers to feed them more of the prosperity gospel. Without them, they suffocate. That is why they defend tooth and nail to ensure that their prosperity idols remain intact, so that their inner idols remain steadfast in their hearts.

D) Wisdom from Proverbs
The wisdom from Proverbs show us the way to navigate through the valley of the shadow of worldliness. It says:
Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." (Proverbs 30:7-8)
How we need to pray this prayer each day. We need God to show us that all we need is our daily bread. We pray the Lord's prayer to grant us our daily providence, and to lead us not to temptation but to deliver us from evil. We need to declare that God is our Heavenly Father, and in Him alone we trust and declare our sufficiency. God has freed us not only from the law, but also from the deceitful desires after Mammon; and the Money that the idol of prosperity promises.

Beware of the insidious tendencies of the prosperity gospel that leads us to idolatry. They will even use the Name of Christ to legitimize our pursuits. They will accuse those who are against prosperity preaching, to people who prefer poverty and sickness. This is absurd. Such accusations border on mischief more than anything else. Believers in Christ, when they are led by the Spirit will seek to shine a light in a world of darkness. May I encourage believers, even those in the prosperity gospel camp, to seek Christ and Christ alone. That whether in riches or in poverty, it is only Christ they seek. As we do this more and more, we learn to banish worldliness from the church. For the Church, neither prosperity nor poverty should be sought. They must seek Christ alone, and they do so on the sufficiency of the daily bread God faithfully delivers each day.

In Christ, we do not need to come to God: "Can I have more money please?" Instead we come and we say: "Have mercy on me, O God!" Beware too, that worldliness can infect not only churches that teaches the prosperity gospel. It can influence *ANY* church.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Book - "Secrets of a Very Good Marriage"

AUTHOR: Sherry Suib Cohen
PUBLISHED: NY: Carol Southern Books, 1993.

Secrets of a Very Good Marriage: Lessons from the SeaA good marriage is hard work. Encouraging good marriages is good work. This alone is one reason why we ought to regularly learn about ways to nourish our own marriages. This book is a pleasant contribution to the field of marriage. It is not a scientific or marital counseling type of book. Instead, it is a person's own journey on what it takes to keep a marriage warm and cuddly.  Although the title seems to suggest a list of secrets that can lead to marital bliss, it is more about the author’s desire to cherish her third marriage. It is in essence a litany of her continuous longing to make it work, far better than all of her previous relationships.

In doing so, she attempts to put together a very creative way of looking at marriage from a fisherman’s wife point of view. She adds in lots of funny stories and gently ease out some learning points for readers to consider. The book is divided into four parts. Each part, using the boating metaphor, Cohen sees each marriage having firstly a ‘launching’ aspect, where couples enter into a new relationship together. The next phase is the ‘tides’ where the marriage will progress quite rapidly toward flowing and ebbing like waves. It describes how relationships move through ups and downs, ins and outs as each partner discovers more of the other each day. The third phase is ‘crosscurrents’ which is likened to the tougher challenges of any marriage. The final phase is that of discovery of a ‘sea of great plenty.’

She supplies 31 lessons of a ‘very good marriage.’ Each lesson is launched with a short chapter. For your convenience, I have summarized the 31 lessons below. Some you can understand at first read. Others, well, you'll have to buy the book to know more. The secrets are summarized as follows:

  1. Reach back into the memory of your first date together and recapture the way you felt. Do it often.
  2. Love has only one sure route: unconditional support, even if you’re scared, even if you have to bluff it.
  3. When you’re upset, let the other know – even if you seem crazy.
  4. Tend the superstructure of the marriage. Don’t let it accumulate dry rot, never aim for its humming heart, cherish its dignity.
  5. Spend time together: hearing about catching the shark isn’t the same as feeling shark’s breath.
  6. Create love rituals. Make sure number one is: Always pull socks on the other’s cold feet.
  7. We become what we name each other. Call me Rascal and watch how cute and rascally I get. Call me Stubborn and watch.
  8. See the beauty in what he loves, even if it looks, for a minute, like ground-up fish bait.
  9. Speak your love out loud. Saying it often – saying it enough – makes it invincible.
  10. Be an island. Sting if the world moves in too close.
  11. Hold your horses, bide your time, cool your heels: eventually, the bait looks interesting to the fish.
  12. Give some, get some: we take and give back through all our days.
  13. The tides are constant, and you better be, too: its monogamy, honey, or I’m out of here.
  14. Dependency is not a dirty word. Risking reliance on another can be the way to self-growth.
  15. True intimacy requires a dollop of mystery and a tad of Victorian modesty.
  16. Lying, even a little, puts you in treacherous water; getting your bearings in marriage requires honesty in the small things.
  17. Adventures together whet the marital appetites.
  18. Never take the other for granted or push him too far.
  19. Home is safe harbour for all the family – even if they kick up a storm there.
  20. Try not to try to change him.
  21. Can you divert him from a heavy heart? Better learn how.
  22. Let the lines out: unravel the knots that choke relationships
  23. A good laugh tames a tempest. If you’re not funny, get funny.
  24. Only when you let yourself be completely vulnerable will the earth move.
  25. An occasional change of scenery makes the show comes alive!
  26. When the other’s in trouble, do something.
  27. When you marry your best friend, the talk never grows old, the sex never grows cold.
  28. “Go play, “ our mothers told us. Who would have thought that playing was the ultimate sex technique?
  29. The confidence of a mate is: “The Gift of the Magi.”
  30. Just when you think you know everything there is to know about him, there’s another layer revealed. If you dig.
  31. Choose passion over romance: Wild, deep passion rocks the waves. Romance is a pretty sunset.

My Comments
Readers might struggle to piece together the lessons of this book and link it back with the author’s life. A twice divorced author, readers may be questioning why they should listen to someone with two previous broken marriages. I suggest that it is for this reason, we ought to be open to Cohen’s sharing. After all, the school of hard knocks remains one of the best places to learn from. That said, this book is an easy read and at times, you should take the lessons with a pinch of salt. Like I said before, it is still to me a litany of the author's desire to make her third marriage work.  If readers can find just one of the lessons meaningful, it is already worth the price of the book.

Rating: 3 stars of 5.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quality Outputs Require Quality Inputs

MAIN IDEA: Self-care is essential for effective ministry

Lifeway Research recently made a study on the tendency of pastors to work extremely long hours. Out of 1000 pastors surveyed, nearly 39% of them spend less than 4 hours a week on personal devotions, that is UNRELATED to their teaching ministries. The article's title essentially summarizes the results of the survey: "Pastor's long work hours can come at the expense of people, ministry."

The "How Protestant Pastors Spend Their Time" study also reveals that:

  • Pastors work an average of 50 hours a week;
  • Bi-vocational pastors work about 30 hours weekly;
  • Most time (up to 14 hours) were spent on sermon preparations;
  • Counseling and visitation about 6 hours;
  • Hospital visits about 11 hours;
  • 10 hours a week at electronic correspondence;
The most worrying trend is the lack of personal devotions where prayer and personal time with God at an alarmingly low 1 to 6 hours per week!

Ed Stetzer, an author with Lifeway has this to say about the above: "The need for better self-care."

I concur, and add that, the quality of our output each week, must be matched by a similar input. For quality ministry, quality input is required. For long term health, quality relationship with God is critical. Another factor is to know ourselves and our work patterns. Working long hours does not mean we work harder. Working less hours does not mean we are not working hard enough. The key is being able to know ourselves in the LORD.
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Col 3:23-24)


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Why Men Hate Church"

Why Men Hate Going to ChurchThis CBN article is an excerpt from David Murrow's book, "Why Men Hate Going to Church." In it, Murrow argues the following:

"The ideology of masculinity has replaced Christianity as the true religion of men. We live in a society with a female religion and a male religion: Christianity, of various sorts, for women and non-masculine men; and masculinity . . . for men." (David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going To Church, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005, p3)

'Masculinity' as the reason for men hating church? That is a novel idea. In other words, men's religion is masculinity. Considering the fact that even though most churches and Christian organizations have more male leadership at the upper levels, they are generally swamped with women volunteers. Murrow then argues that if Church is so much a 'woman' thing, then why should the male genders bother? Note the rest of his arguments why men hate going to church.

  • Men who go to church are not 'manly' enough, compared to the Old Testament 'macho' image of Moses (remember Charlton Heston's depiction of Moses in the 10 Commandments?), King David and Goliath. In contrast to these brash individuals of old, a typical church male is typically 'nice.'
  • Most men simply attend services. Their wives and the women of the Church gets involved in all kinds of Bible studies, sewing/cooking programs, and chat time, not so for men.
  • Most sermons fail to touch on any 'gender gap,' where the modern church simply does not appeal enough to the male gender. That said, it creates problems like women unable to find a man within the church that they can marry;
  • 'Rough' men simply do not fit in.
  • Church fails to 'mesmerize' but 'repels' men.
  • Nobody in the Church really cares about men. 
  • Men's religion is 'masculinity,' not church.
  • Men don't volunteer because they know eventually a women will step forward; (p197)
"When men need spiritual sustenance, they go to the wilderness, the workplace, the garage, or the corner bar. They watch their heroes in the stadium or on the racetrack. They plunge into a novel or sneak off to a movie. Church is one of the last places men look for God." (p7-8)
Thankfully, Murrow does not end with this gloomy note. He created a website for men to generate a relevant environment for the male species to worship. Asking for a more 'balanced approach,' Murrow concludes:

"teaching, practices, and opportunities that allow for both masculine and feminine expression in the Church," is necessary. He gives a illuminating summary of the gender gap with a revealing diagram, that women tends toward 'security oriented,' while men is more 'challenge oriented.' It might be a little exaggerated, but it can help us be more sensitive to the gender gap when designing any programs.

[Diagram Credit: David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church, Nashville: Thomas-Nelson, 2005, p19]

Generalizing can be unhelpful. This image should only give us a glimpse, not a final statement about the state of the gender differences. God can use anyone at anytime, even animals like Balaam's donkey.

My Comments
I remember reading somewhere that the modern Church pew services are more suitable for the female gender than men. For example, sitting still and not move around during a sermon is not something easily done by men who demands action and motion. Modern church services tend to be overly solemn and is less appealing to men.

While Murrow makes several good observations about the modern church, his conclusion should not discourage us unduly. The solution is not to abandon current structures, but to create new avenues within existing structures to cater to such a male audience.  "Church for Men" is one resource that can help. Above all, I believe the reason is spiritual. Spiritual lethargy can hit anyone, and is not gender related. Murrow's observations tend to be restricted to men within a more active age group. For children and the elderly, his observations are less valid. In leadership conferences, it is also common to see more men involved.

I find Murrow's description of the chicken-and-egg scenario very fascinating. Of the 'Chicken,' he points out that men prefers larger churches simply because they appreciate the quality that comes with largeness. By knowing that everything will be professionally done, they are more prone to invite their male friends and not be embarrassed by any mediocre offerings. Of the 'Egg,' Murrow observes that a Church grows large only with the presence of many men. This leads to the chicken-and-egg problem. Which comes first?

I reflect upon this, and while there is some social gender engineering that can be done, ultimately, we need to wait upon the LORD to move the hearts of men. Having male-oriented programs are no replacement for the pure preaching of the Word of God. Having male-dominated church boards are no guarantees that they can attract more men. They are never to take over the unction of the Holy Spirit ministry. Even in the New Testament, we see lots of women folks willing to serve the Church, and even become martyrs for the Church. As far as leadership is concerned, men will do the job when the time is right. As women become more sensitive to the needs of men, and men more conscious of the leading of the Spirit, we should not venture ourselves to become discouraged by any gender gap. While some unhealthy stereotyping has been employed by the author, we should not discard the baby out with the bathwater. Like any book, take what is helpful, but set aside the unhelpful. For this book, I think the helpful tips outweigh the unhelpful ones.

Do what we can in our design. Ultimately, every life is crucial, both men as well as women.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Book: "When the Heart Waits" (Sue Monk Kidd)

When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions (Plus)Title: When the Heart Waits (spiritual direction for life's sacred questions)
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Published: NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.

This is a book to help us cultivate the posture of waiting. Throughout the book, the author uses the cocoon/butterfly metaphor to help readers understand the importance of waiting. In a society that tends to want quick results, fluttering butterflies are overwhelmingly preferred, and boring static coccoons are shunned. Her book covers four phases which parallels the stages of growth of a butterfly.

Phase 1 - Waiting and Transformation
Phase 2 - Passage to Separation
Phase 3 - Passage of Transformation
Phase 4 - Passage of Emergence

Essentially, this book is Kidd's way of getting in touch with our inner lives, to understand the 'deep and beautiful work of soulmaking' (ix).

Filled with personal stories as well as insightful lessons from children's tales like Rapunzel, Little Red Hen, and Chicken Little.  Her essence of waiting can be understood from her description about the three stages of waiting.
"Egypt, wilderness, and promised land are comparable to interior states of being: larva, cocoon, and butterfly. In both journeys - inward and outward - there's first a movement of separation, then a holding environment where transformation happens, and finally an emergence into a new existence." (78)
Another profound insight I find helpful is about how waiting and prayer are linked. She describes the observations of Eugene Peterson as follows:
"The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it." (Eugene Peterson, 129)

This is followed by a powerful learning point. Kidd writes:

"This is the motivation behind waiting prayer. We place ourselves in postures of the heart, in the stillness that enables us to become aware of what God is doing so that we can gradually say yes to it with our whole being." (129)

My Comments
Readers ought to take note of the 'When' in the title of the book. In contrast to the tendency to use 'why' like philosophy, or to use 'how' for practicality, the author truly embraces the essence of waiting through timing. Waiting is about timing and Kidd is spot on. Written from a personal perspective, Kidd combines a keen observation of the natural world, with a heightened awareness of the supernatural. The result is a powerful book that provides readers with help about spiritual direction, personal guidance and useful tips on how to cultivate a heart that waits. While Kidd may not have the philosophical brilliance like Simone Weil, or the classical insights of the Medieval writers like Julian of Norwich, her book fits in the genre of contemporary spirituality that the modern world so deeply needs. In this sense, Kidd's writings are a lot easier to read and comprehend, compared to the spiritual masters of the Medieval world. Having said that, Kidd incorporates a couple of references to these ancient masters of spirituality like Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Siena, and the desert fathers.

My favourite part of the book is "Quickaholic Spirituality." The biblical waiting portion is really good. She writes:
"If you want to be impressed, note how often God's people seem to be waiting. Noah waits for the flood waters to recede; Daniel waits through the night in a den of lions; Sarah waits in her barrenness for a child; Jacob waits for Rebecca's hand. The Israelites wait in Egypt, then wait forty more years in the desert. Later they wait seventy years in Babylonian captivity. Jonah waits in a fish's belly; Mary waits; Simeon waits to see the Messiah; the apostles wait for Pentecost; Paul waits in prison." (28-29)

If I have a critique of the book, it will be her almost uncritical way of taking in material from all sources. For instance, we see her soaking in Carl Jung's "Stages of Life" like a sponge. She does not explain the pros and cons, or the limits of applying Jung's theory. Anyway, I do not feel this is a major problem. The book has more positives that makes this book a worthy purchase. All in all, this book is a great resource to help us learn to wait and develop patience. The study guide at the end of the book is an excellent way for small groups to discuss the book's contents.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"How to Talk to the Broken Hearted"

I find this article extremely helpful. Written by a mother who lost her 2 twin babies, she writes with piercing insight into the predicaments faced by well-intentioned people. On the one hand, she reminds helpers about certain things NOT to do. On the other hand, she supplies a list of useful tips what TO do. The article is so good that I reproduce it below for the benefit of my readers. I made additional highlights to make the article more readable. Note that all credit belongs to the writer, Heather Isaak and PowerToChange. If you prefer to read the original, the direct link is here.

How to Talk to the Broken Hearted

Written by Heather Isaak

After losing our twins girls at 20 weeks gestation, my world completely fell apart. As I gingerly attempted to reintegrate my new, raw reality with the life I used to know, I often found it jarring.  Relationships that used to just work felt awkward.  Sometimes words that meant to comfort felt like sandpaper to my soul, and surprisingly, people I barely used to know became life-long friends.

My loss had made me an outsider to many.  While friends and family wanted to support us, they didn’t know how.  How do you help someone whose world has fallen apart?  What do you say when your friend has just said goodbye to her first two babies?  How do you come alongside someone as they try to make their way back?

I knows it’s awkward being around someone who’s grieving.  It was awkward for me too.  This is what I wish I could have told my friends when the pain was raw and new.  The pain is familiar now, which makes it easier to breathe.  I wish that no one else would ever know what pain like that feels like, but sadly I know that someone somewhere is probably feeling it right now.  If you know someone who is grieving, I hope this can help you as you try to help them.

Please don't say that...
My heart has been shattered, my world forever changed.  The me you knew is gone, and I am still discovering the new and very different me.  I know I am not easy to be around right now, and I find it hard to express what I need and how I feel.
  • Please don’t tell me how “So-and-so” coped with grief.
  • Don’t tell me you understand, or suggest how my grief journey should be.  My pain is unique, and my journey will be also.  It may not look anything like what yours would look like.
  • Please do not judge.
  • Don’t compare my loss to the loss of your grandmother, your pet dog, or even your favourite teacher.  It is different … each loss is.  Comparing only makes me feel alienated from you.

Do not tell me "All things work for the good . . . "

or “Everything has a purpose …” or “God let this happen for a reason…” Although all these things may be true, I am not in a place where hearing them is helpful right now.  When life falls apart, well-intentioned people use these words to try to right the world again.  My world is completely upside-down.  Words cannot put it back the way it used to be.  I have not turned my back on God; church just is a tough place to be right now. When sitting at church I feel very alone with my pain.

Please don’t try to make me feel better by “looking on the bright side”. I would give anything to be exhausted from sleepless night or chasing after a screaming toddler. Having no responsibilities and a “pre-baby” body are not all they are cracked up to be. 

These Things Help
Talking about my lost children is always a good thing.  Don’t feel that you are “reminding me of pain” – I never forget.  Talking about them validates their existence; it brings back all the positive memories.  When you talk about them, it gives me the freedom to talk back and I need that.
I need to laugh – sometimes at the same time as needing to cry. Please let me do both.

  • I am excited for you when you are happy. Even when that might involve an aspect that is sensitive to me – like a new pregnancy.  There are days when I won’t be able to articulate this well, but it is always true.  I will always be excited for you, although sometimes my excitement might be overshadowed by my pain.  Please don’t hold back your excitement because of me; it doesn’t make me feel better.
  • I need you right now. I don’t always say it, and find it tough to reach out, but more than ever I need to know I am loved and prayed for. Please don’t stop calling me, even when I don’t call you back.  Sometimes dialling the numbers is just too much for me, but I always appreciate the thought.  Do tangible things for me  … do not just offer to help.  Normally an offer would be enough, but right now getting up in the morning, taking care of basic tasks, and somehow making it through each day take every bit of energy that I have.  Even if I desperately need help, asking might be more than I can bear.
  • My grief will not disappear, I will not “get better”. It will change, it will morph, but it will not go away. Sometimes the grief is a raging monster, obvious to all, making it difficult to do even the simplest things like breathe. At other times grief silently sits in the corner, biding his time. Others can’t see him, but I still know he is there – leaving a quiet dull ache in my soul. As time goes on, there are more quiet days than not, but grief is always there, even when you can’t see it.

I have been forever changed by grief. The “me” that used to exist is now changed.  There are a few more rough edges; I am not as tidy as a package.  But I am still me … and I need you to accept this new version.  I did not choose this path that I am on; I would not have ever chosen it.  The only choice I have left is what to do with it – and I am in the process of figuring that out.  I am on a journey and need you to support me on my path.

May God use you to help a hurting friend, family or anyone you may come across as grieving. Remember that in times like these, it is extremely important to practice: "Quick to listen, Slow to speak."


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

eBooks: Quicker to Download, Slower to Read

Written by: Conrade Yap

With the launch of the iPad, and many gutsy eReaders like Kindle, Kobo, Sony Reader, Barnes and Noble's Nook, or the iPad and the coming slew of iPad compatibles from the Android and Windows platforms, our reading patterns are set to change. The question is, will paper stay king or will digital triumph over conventional books?

A recent study by the Nielsen Norman consultancy group reveals that it is slower to read books on digital medium compared to conventional paper. This is made more stark considering that the study uses Ernest Hemingway's works as a comparative study, one that supposedly used 'simple language' and 'pleasant and engaging to read.'

For me, I do not need a survey to tell me my best choice for reading. Even without the consultancy findings, I am already sold on paper-back reading.

Firstly, I am a book lover, but prefers paper rather than the electronic pad. I like to scribble and write notes on my book, the way I want it, highlight it with the colour I choose.

Secondly, I like my notes and markings to remain there on paper, without the worry of my book getting erased due to some electronic malfunction.

Thirdly, I enjoy the simplicity of reading my book without worry of battery outage. If I were to be reading a book on Kindle or on the computer, I often worry about power plugs just in case my device powers down due to batteries getting weak.

Fourthly, I feel more secure, knowing that there is a much lower probability that people wants to steal my book at the cafe. Thieves know that resale values for digital devices are much higher than my measly book!

Fifthly, I enjoy holding and touching the book, its covers and its unique perforated edges. The smell of a newly minted book adds an additional experience that technology fails to do. Computers and technology can represent quite decently three out of 5 human senses, like making sounds (ear), drawing visuals (eye), adopting touchscreen technology (simulate touch), but fails to adequately emulate taste (tongue) and smell (nose). The smell of a nice new book is simply invigorating (at least for me!).

Sixthly, I like to feel the size of a book in terms of its weight and general feel. An anthology or an encyclopedia ought to be heavy. While it may be easier to search for terms on a computer media, or to carry around, I find the presence of a thick book quite authoritative and fulfilling. It makes me feel like I have done my research. Somehow, the feeling is different. Making notations on a book versus an electronic bookmark on a Kindle or iPad.

Seventhly, I like to stack my books on a bookshelves and peruse them at my leisure. Though they occupy space, and makes me cough out money for more furniture, I just enjoy the presence of books and casually lay them down side by side for reading and plain enjoyment. I simply cannot replicate this feeling on the Kindle. Maybe I can have an iPad or a Kindle side by side in order to enjoy having 2 books compared side by side. However, to do so for 50 books will be way too unaffordable. Imagine after setting the right book on the second device and my first device powers off due to its energy saving function!

Finally, there is cost. Even though books are available at under US$10 per digital download on Amazon, it still needs an expensive eReader. Prices may be coming down for the consoles, but with each download, the overall cost of losing all my books with a single theft is too damaging emotionally.

So, should book readers stick to conventional paper form? Definitely yes. Should they be open to digital books? I do not see why not? Should we abandon paper in favour of digital? Definitely not!

My sense is that the older generation among us will tend to prefer paper than digital. The younger ones may prefer the electronic versions. I think the future will be more a mixture of the two.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Depending on God - An APCAT Tip

How do Christians depend on God in whatever they do? The popular speaker, John Piper suggests a short acronym to help us remember how to depend on God. I shall use this acronym to describe how we can cultivate a dependence on God each day. The acronym is Piper's but the applications and descriptions are mine.

1) Acknowledge that we are powerless to change ourselves
The Calvinist will be pleased to declare this. Under the "Total Depravity" point of Calvinism, they acknowledge that human beings are powerless to turn to God. On the other hand, while it is true that people are powerless spiritually, God still gives men the free will to choose who to turn to. While the Arminian and the Calvinist will disagree on the specifics of the depravity of men, it is fair to say that man's spiritual efforts, no matter how noble are imperfect. They are not able to depend on their own strengths. One reason for our powerlessness is simple. We do not know the future.
"God has wisely kept us in the dark concerning future events and reserved for himself the knowledge of them, that he may train us up in a dependence upon himself and a continued readiness for every event." (Matthew Henry, Presbyterian Minister, 1662-1714)

2) Plead or Petition with God to change our hearts
Changing the heart is one of the most challenging things in life. People have said that the longest journey in life is between the head to the heart. Only God can change our hearts. Emotions are something beyond our control. I cannot declare in our heart to be happy, and then we can be happy. Likewise, we cannot say we want to be sad, and expect our heart to be immediately moody.

For those of us with hardened hearts, we need God to soften us. Those of us with timid hearts need God to give us courage. Those with unclear hearts need clarity from God. Those with arrogance need to be humbled. Plead and ask God to give us a heart of gold, ever desiring to pursue after God's holiness.
"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God." (Corrie Ten Boom, Holocaust survivor, 1892-1983)

3) Claim from God His Promises, Implications
After acknowledging and asking God for help, it is time to claim God's promises. We cannot sit around passively all the time and expect something to be done. God has placed lots of promises. I remember learning that if we spend time seeking to obey and to practice ALL the known truths in the Bible, we will hardly have enough time to question and to get trapped in controversies and mysterious matters NOT revealed in the Bible.
"Prayer, like faith, obtains promises, enlarges their operation, and adds to the measure of their results." (EM Bounds, 1835-1913)

4) Act On It
It is one thing to listen to the Word of God. It is yet another to put them into practice. Sometimes, we tend to become too passive in our declaration of depending on God. While theologically, we are correct to say that we are dependent on God, we cannot shift all the responsibility to God for what we are responsible for. For example, we are dependent on God to provide us food. Suppose the apple is on the tree. Are we to simply sit on our comfortable chairs, and then expect the apple to fly into our mouths? No. Someone needs to pick the apple, prepare it and then partake it.

Likewise, God has given us a promise to provide for us. We need to do the practicing. We need to take what God has given us, our gifts, our talents, our possessions and make something beautiful out of them.
"In God, we live every commonplace as well as the most exalted moment of our being. To trust in Him when no need is pressing, when things seem going right of themselves, may be harder than when things seem going wrong."

George MacDonald (Scottish poet and minister, 1824-1905)

5) Thanksgiving
It is fitting that this acronym ends with a thanksgiving. After all, if all things come from God, we need to direct our gratitude to the Giver of gifts. In fact, giving thanks is one of the most beautiful qualities of a Christian. This is not restricted to mealtime grace periods, or the Sunday prayer rituals. All of life is to be shrouded in thankfulness. This is the 5th mark of a life dependent on God.
"Those who are readiest to trust God without other evidence than His Word always receive the greatest number of visible evidences of His love."

(Charles C. G. Trumbull, 1825-1900)

This short acronym, APCAT, can be very helpful to remind ourselves that we cannot do God's work on our own strengths. We need to plead for God to change our hearts. We need to claim the promises of God. We act on what God has revealed and finally be thankful. Christians need to remind themselves of their utter dependence on God, and not their own powers. The quicker we realize this truth, the less frustration we will feel when the things in life do not meet our expectations. For when we depend on God like APCAT, we trust our unknown future to a known God.

Have a APCAT day, each day and every day.
"Trust the past to God's mercy, the present to God's love and the future to God's providence."
(St Augustine, Philosopher & Theologian, 354-430)


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Book: "The Comfortable Pew" (Pierre Berton)

TITLE: The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity and the Religious Establishment in the New Age
AUTHOR: Pierre Berton
PUBLISHED: Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Lit, 1965.

This book was a bestseller when it was released back in 1965. Commissioned by the Canadian Anglican Church's Religious Education Department, it was an attempt to take a hard critical but honest look at the state of the Church. Pierre Berton was invited to write the book, but not without controversy.  Those who are for the publication, want to think out of the box to make adjustments to their understanding of church. Those who oppose tend to accuse Berton of seeking to destroy the church.

I pick up this book thinking that it is a book about re-vitalizing the church congregation, by getting pew-warmers and comfortable Christians to live dynamic Christian lives. It turns out that the book is a sharp critique on the current state of the Church, at least in the mid-60s. It makes me think about how different the church of today is, compared to that of 1965. I can say that his book gives good reminders of what the church should NOT do. Having said that, there are positive things happening in the church today, and one need not be overly pessimistic like Berton.

In a nutshell, the author accuses the church of forgetting its main identity and what it first stands for. Broadly speaking, there are two main issues with church. Firstly, the church has become institutionalized in the sense that it is more concerned about conformity and keeping the status quo. Secondly, the church is in danger of being fossilized because of its inability to stay relevant to the people and the society at large. Both of these contributes to the crisis of the church.

Written in 3 parts, the first part talks about how the Church has abdicated its leadership by not standing up for social justice, for rightful ethical business practices and for a more relevant engagement with society. The second part, Berton accuses the church of becoming more an establishment to be preserved rather than a calling toward counter-cultural behavior. In the third part, Berton laments that the church has failed to communicate adequately, and missed the opportunity to stay relevant. He attacks the tendency of the church to assume absolute rightness. He says that the archaic use of liturgical terms are incomprehensible to most people. He blames the poor pulpit qualities, and that sermons tend to be irrelevant and boring. He also complains that the church is not open enough to using modern tools to communicate the message. Finally, he seeks to see a church that is able to confidently practice faith without insisting on members to believe absolutely its dogmas prior to membership.

Thankfully, Berton ends the book with an optimistic prescription that revolution is possible. However, one needs to count the cost.

But there seem to be two ways in which a truly Christian reformation could come about. It could come about through some terrifying persecution of the Christian Church – a persecution that would rid the Church of those of little faith, of the status-seekers and respectability-hunters, of the deadwood who enjoy the club atmosphere, of the ecclesiastical hangers-on and the comfort-searchers. Once the Church becomes the most uncomfortable institution in the community, only those who really matter will stick with it. At this point, one would expect the Church to come back to those basic principles of love, faith, and hope that have made martyrs out of men.” (142-3)

My Comments
I think many of Berton's observations are still applicable today. I tend to agree in general terms but disagree on the specifics. For instance, I agree that the church needs to stay relevant, but disagree that the church should 'appear on front-page headlines' as part of its counter-cultural manifesto. I agree that the church is in danger of being institutionalized, but disagree that there is no need to preserve church structure. Reading the nature of Berton's frustrations with the church, it is helpful for the reader to note Berton's background to him leaving the church totally. He has placed misguided sense of faith in the church when he was younger. He left the church disillusioned and swings to the other extreme too fast and too quickly. While Berton has many good criticisms that deserve to be considered, he is overly negative about the church. There are good things happening in the church today. While not all are actively doing social action, the church is still a place for people to gather and needs are still being met and ministered to. Perhaps, there is a time for everything. The church is undergoing a transition. Like Berton's desire for love in the Church, perhaps, we can learn to apply both the carrot and the stick approach. That is what the Word of God can do: Helping Christians to correct one another in the truth and in love.

If you are concerned about church, especially the Western influenced ones, you should read this book.


Friday, July 02, 2010

Good Book - "Teens Who Hurt" (Hardy & Laszloffy)

Title: Teens Who Hurt: Clinical Interventions to Break the Cycle of Adolescent Violence
Authors: Kenneth V Hardy & Tracey A Laszloffy
Published: NY: Guilford Press, 2005.

Teens Who Hurt: Clinical Interventions to Break the Cycle of Adolescent ViolenceThis book deserves to be read. Both parents and teens will benefit from reading it. In a nutshell, this book is directed at people facing teen violence. Though it deals with the physical problems of violence, it helps readers to recognize that under each physical blow from a teen, lies a fragile emotional being.

1) Diagnosing the Problem
The four problems identified are that teens hurt because of 4 reasons:
  • They feel devalued;
  • They feel disrupted from the community they love.
  • They feel dehumanized;
  • They feel rage arising from one or more of the three problems above.
Violence among teens are generally due to an emotional neglect that starts inside the home. When teens lose this critical form of security, the results can be tragic. The problems are exacerbated when adults feel helpless about what to do. This is where I feel Hardy and Laszloffy`s book can play a major role to guide adults.

2) Distilling the Solutions
Using a clinical strategy called the VCR approach, the authors attempt to deal with the 4 symptoms above. 
  • V = Validate, Validate and Validate the teens' sense of self-worth;
  • C = Challenge; this has to do with positively encouraging youths to move beyond themselves. It leads them to solve challenges themselves, rather than to be talked down into discouragement. This has to be carefully done. If not careful, adults can unwittingly enter into a cycle of 'challenging, confronting, criticizing and correcting
  • R = Request. Teens are no longer little children. A little respect and courtesy goes a long way.
What is particularly helpful for the reader are the 'adolescent axioms.'
  • "Expect Madness, Badness, and No Easy Rides." (126)
  • "Invoke the PTA Rule" (129). This refers to the role of parents, therapists and adults to maintain a form of emotional strength that stems from one's sense of secureness and positive psychological empathy. In order to help teens, one first has to be secure and confident on one's own self-worth. Otherwise, one risks being accused on trying to 'control' others. Teens are especially sensitive about this.
  • "Be Suspicious of Memory" (139); do not glorify the past so much that teens are unable to live up to past expectations. It is simply unfair to expect them to live in our past, when teens have so much going for them in the future. Remember that teens have a future that is much different from those of us adults.
  • Making a distinction between style and substance. In other words, if adults can maintain a focus on 'content' and what needs to be done, HOW it is done will depend on circumstances and what works for the teen. (144)
  • "Recognize How Adolescents are Similar Yet Different" (145): some things are quite the same, yet others are different. The key is to recognize the difference and adapt continuously as they grow.
3) Designing the VCR Strategy
I find this a simple and easy to implement method. In 'Validating,' we want to make sure we understand, not necessarily agree with the teen concerned. We ask questions regarding their emotions and whatever outbursts. We encourage them positively, correcting them gently, and learn to make sense of the rights and wrongs of their feelings. After all, teens are not always right, but they have the right to express themselves.

Secondly, the Challenge step comes after validating. This will provide the path forward to challenge the teen to move and live beyond themselves. After all, teens have remarkable energies at their age. Why let it go to waste by suppressing their creativity?

Once the V and C steps are done, work on the Request portion. It is where the teenagers are prompted to go beyond complaining or lamenting. Wise adult guidance is even more important here. 

My Comments
The book offers lots of practical wisdom. After listing the 4 problems teen face, the authors provide a way toward redemption through re-validating, re-connecting, re-humanizing, and redeeming one`s self-worth. This is deeply necessary for healing to take place. 

The 5 adolescent axioms let us moderate our expectations of teens as well as any unhealthy idealism inside the mind of the adult. The axioms, used together with the VCR strategy can provide a constructive path for both adults and teens as they interact. Perhaps, what teens most need at their tumultuous age is a listening ear. I like the way the authors state the problem, and then offer positive steps to break the vicious cycle. Good book and should be read by all concerned for youth development. 

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book - "How Soccer Explains the World"

Title: How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization
Author: Franklin Foer
Publisher: San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004, (288 pages).

This is surprise find! Especially with the 2010 World Cup Soccer going on in South Africa right now, it could not have been a better time for me to read this book. Written by a football fan, Foer navigates the world through the eyes of soccer, and asserts that the culture of soccer transcends many places and people groups. He uses soccer to explain the gangster behavior, the pornography of sects, Jewish, Hooliganism, survival of the upper echelons of society, black carpathians, new oligarchs, Islam and ends with what I believe is the author's main interest: "American culture wars."

Foer aims to look at globalization from the eye of the sport he loves, soccer. Soccer has more to do with a way of life rather than a type of sport. Through soccer, we learn to understand more of the cultures around the world, that gives the global sport a new identity of cultural analyst. The book is broadly divided into three parts. The first part talks about the failure of globalization to unite the world. The second part deals with economics from the perspective of soccer influencing understanding of cultures behind the economics. The third part is a way of defending 'old-fashioned nationalism' versus the 'return of tribalism.'

Contrary to what the Left predicted, that globalization will destroy local cultures, soccer has helped strengthened loyalties. Instead of capitalism providing positive results, it has entrenched corruption.

  • GANGSTERISM: "Deprived of traditional work and knocked off patriachal pedestals, these men desperately wanted to reassert their masculinity. Soccer violence gave them a rare opportunity to actually exert control." (in Serbia, 13-14)
  • RELIGIOSITY & TRADITION: "It's easy to link support for a soccer club with religiosity. But in an important way, Rangers has actually replaced the Church of Scotland. It allows men like Findlay to join the tradition and institutions of their forefathers, to allay fears about abandoning history without having to embrace their forefathers' eschatology." (in Scotland, 56)
  • JEWISH QUESTION: "Jewish teams cloak themselves in Jewish, not Hungarian or Austrian or German, nationalism, literally wearing their zionism on their sleeves and shirts. . . An entire movement of Jews believed that soccer, and sport more generally, would liberate them from the violence and tyranny of anti-Semitism." (in Europe, 68-9)
  • SENTIMENTAL HOOLIGAN: as a reaction ". . against globalization. . , the McDonald's-smashing French farmer Jose Bove, and countless others: multinational capitalism strips local institutions of their localness, it homogenizes, destroys traditions, and deprives indigenous proletariats and peasants of the things they love most." (in England, 96)
  • TOP HATS SURVIVAL: How soccer legends like Pele help revive falling political careers among the power mongers; "Despite the persistence of corruption, Brazil's mania for soccer has hardly abated; its natural soccer resources don't seem close to exhausted. It's too essentially a part of the national character." (in Brazil, 140)
  • BLACK CARPATHIANS: "To many Ukrainians, their country still felt like a colony of Russia. . This despair played out in soccer too. Ukrainians imagined that they were once a great soccer natin. Now they needed to import Nigerians to become great again." (in Ukraine, 157)
  • NEW OLIGARCHS: "There was also a populist brilliance to his use of soccer as a metaphor for society. It gave him a vocabulary that resonated with the lower middle class, the group that he wanted to cultivate as a political base." (in Italy, 185-6)
  • BOURGEOIS NATIONALISM: Instead of soccer violence, "Barca redeems the game from these criticisms, by showing that fans can love a club and a country with passion and without turning into a thug or terrorist. . . . Put it more strongly, Barca doesn't just redeem the game from is critics; it redeems the concept of nationalism." (in Spain, 197-8)
  • ISLAM's HOPE: "Iranians crave international soccer because the game links them to the advanced, capitalist, un-Islamic West. . . . The burgeoning youth population of Iran looked West and toward soccer for inspiration." (in Iran, 230, 232)
  • AMERICAN CULTURE WARS: "Soccer's appeal lay in its opposition to the other popular sports. Soccer is the province of the working class." (USA, 237-8)
My Comments
In trying to show globalization from the eyes of soccer, I feel that the author may have become overly skewed about the role of soccer in interpreting the impact of globalization in the world. No doubt, soccer is a major influence in many parts of the world. Having said that, soccer only explains some, at least according to the selected interviews of various personalities in the countries represented. That provides a somewhat slant perspective. While Foer makes some good observations of certain impact, I feel that the content of the book fails to adequately answer the title of the book. At best, I tend to say the effects are peripheral, meaning that Foer's thesis fail to address core questions like the extent of influence, real statistics of soccer, and other variables.

That said, it is still a fresh way of thinking that will perhaps be improved with more examples from other countries mentined. What about Asia?

Rating: 2.5 stars of 5.


On Christian Ministry

Recently, Christianity has entered the limelight for all the wrong reasons. What is most damaging is the increased violence that Christians to do one another. I write this article in the hope that it will remind myself and perhaps others, what Christian Ministry actually means. It will be a reflection of the early Church manner of working together to meet needs, followed by a reflection of what true ministry requires of us.

"In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:1-4)

In my June 23rd article on my weekly blog, Sabbath Walk, I lament the current church situation that contributes to some of the disappointments when people do church. Written in a somewhat somber mood, I ended with an unfortunate weaker outlook toward hope. Too weak I am afraid. Following this, I decide to look at Scripture to learn from the early Church. In a way, since we are all made in the same shell, created by the One God, fell into the same sin through that one Adam, and are saved through faith in the one Person of Jesus Christ. Similarities outweigh any differences. This article is written to reflect a more positive mood that is necessary for those of us serving in various forms of Christian ministry.

A) Daunting Dismay and Complaints
The disciples during the time of the early Church are doing a lot of work. They are living under persecution. The first apostles continue Jesus' same message and manner of engagement with the stubborn Jewish establishment. There is a lot at stake. For the Jews and the Pharisees, it was the threat of losing their political and religious stranglehold to a bunch of rag-tag believers of the Way. For the apostles, they have to choose between their own safety or the preaching of the good news of salvation to all. It is the salvation of not only the Jews but all who is willing to follow Jesus. With the brave proclamation of faith by Peter and the Disciples, they have garnered a good following.

However, problems soon occur over very basic things. As the number of conversions grow, the needs also grow. Peter and his team feel overwhelmed. Everyone, Greek Jews and Hebrew Jews are getting disgruntled over the uneven distribution of food. It seems like Peter and the rest are not paying enough attention to the Grecian Jews.

Learning Point: Even as the disciples decide to press on in the preaching of the gospel, they find themselves bogged down by physical needs which are by no means trivial. Christian Ministry is not only talking about the Bible or about Jesus, one needs to be aware of real pressing needs. Those of us who are concerned about being too involved in physical distribution of logistics, administration and seemingly mundane needs, remember that such problems are not new. 

B) Discussion of Needs
The power of being in a community is that one does not depend on self. There is a group of people who understands the context and is able to share the burden together. So the leaders of the group gather the disciples together to discuss the needs. This is the power of community coming together. Luke leaves out details of what was discussed during the meeting. There is no mention of various perspectives. All he reveals is a frank statement of what is wrong (Acts 6:2). They agree that the present operation is not workable. They also agree that they need to re-channel their resources according to their gifts.

Learning Point: We can do things faster if we do it alone or with one or two others. We will go FURTHER if we do it as a team. Peter demonstrates leadership by openly stating the problem itself. Sometimes even in Church ministry, people try to skirt the issues itself, choosing to play along niceness. This may mean temporary solution, but it could make the problem even more difficult in the future. We need to make a distinction between doing the 'nice' thing versus doing the 'right' thing. Christian Ministry has a lot more to do with the latter.

C) Delegation of Roles
Upon agreeing that the problem needs to be resolved, the disciples agree that the way forward is to choose people who are gifted to minister in the various needs. Recognizing their own calling to preach the Word of God, they open up the way for others to serve. I am sure that the people are more than willing to serve. Sometimes the problem becomes more complicated when leaders face the temptation of more 'glamorous' deeds within the Church. It could be an administrative duty that requires the minister to meet top political leaders. It could also be a temptation toward fame and fortune like being publicized by the press. If those are outside of the calling of the servant of God, it should be avoided.

Learning Point: Leaders are not supposed to be doing all the work. They are also not supposed to choose only plum roles in Christian ministry. They are expected to lead by example to serve according to their gifting, regardless of how popular or not. Doing something that is not one's calling will be like a fish trying to swim outside water.

4) Dare to Put Into Action
Courage is necessary in Christian Ministry. Planning is but one step. Meeting is only another. Implementing it, and putting it into action requires nothing short but courage. In those days, the disciples demonstrate leadership by putting themselves on the line to do the most dangerous work: Preaching the gospel in the light of extreme opposition and persecution. It is like entering the firing zone knowingly.

Learning Point: Leaders put themselves at risk by braving the dangers before them. It is not right to push one's subordinates toward the greatest dangers, especially when leaders themselves are not willing to. Imagine an army commander who have never fought a war, asking his soldiers to go to the battlefront, without himself the desire to lead them. It not only damages the morale among the soldiers, it paints the commander as a hypocrite.

5) Final Comments
Doing Christian Ministry is not a matter of doing the work per se. It has more to do with leadership than anything else. The proof of a Christian Minister lies in the willingness to go the distance, just like Christ.
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
I believe this is the crux of what Christian Ministry actually means. It is not the wearing of collar that reflects one's ordination to ministry. Neither is it the serving of the sacraments, or the participation in the rituals of marriage, funerals or initiation rites to every significant event. It is definitely not the enticement of fame through preaching or teaching or the writing of many books. The gist of a Christian Minister is not in the acts of service but in the courage to die, and to face threats of death and punishment in the pursuit of imitating Christ. Sometimes, I feel that Christians have become so paranoid about being right about their own views, that not only are they unwilling to die for their brethren, they become crusaders to tear others down instead of building others up. In thinking about this, I find Henri Nouwen's classic book, Creative Ministry to be spot on.

"For me these words summarize the meaning of all Christian ministry. If teaching, preaching, individual pastoral care, organizing, and celebrating are acts of service that go beyond the level of professional expertise, it is precisely because in these acts ministers are asked to lay down their own lives for their friends. There are many people who, through long training, have reached a high level of competence in terms of the understanding of human behaviour, but there are few who are willing to lay down their lives for others and make their weakness a source of creativity. For many individuals, professional training means power. But ministers, who take off their clothes to wash the feet of their friends, are powerless, and their training and formation are meant to enable them to face their own weakness without fear and make it available to others. It is exactly this creative weakness that gives the ministry its momentum."
(Henri Nouwen, Creative Ministry, Doubleday, 2003, p115-116)
Many of us who claim to have sacrificed a lot in order to be doing Christian Ministry, the true test is not the giving up of one's time or possessions. It is the willingness to lay down our lives for the ones we love. May we learn to do the same, to make a difference between wanting to be a minister (servant at the feet) versus wanting to be a hypocritical monster (slayer of all, including fellow believers).

I still have a lot to learn of what it means to be a minister for Christ. I pray that God will humble me to show me that there is nothing glorious in being called by my title. All I desire is to be able to hear direct from God:

"Well done, good and faithful servant."


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