Monday, September 05, 2016

Regulating Stem Cells Treatment

Stem cells treatment are offered for many conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, joint problems, retinal and optic nerves disease, Down's syndrome and multiple sclerosis. So far, conventional medicine uses stem cell for treatment in haematological conditions only. There are not many evidence-based studies on the efficacies of stem cells in other conditions. Yet, many clinics and practitioners offer stem cells therapies.

The FDA will hold hearings on stem cell treatment next year. Let us hope some useful guidelines will come out of this.

read more

http://www.wsj.com/articles/stem-cell-treatments-become-more-available-and-face-more-scrutiny-1472496352

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The debate on chimera research continues

Should NIH Fund Chimera (Human-Animal) research?

The debates continue as NIH seeks to lift its one-year moratorium on funding Chimera research.

While there are many benefits especially on drug testing on chimeras, there are many ethical issues.

The Hastings Center listed some

We contend that the NIH’s position on the necessity of human-nonhuman chimera research is unlikely to withstand scrutiny because it sidesteps several crucial issues. First, there might be viable alternatives to the creation of chimeras for the advancement of scientific and medical knowledge. Second, there are epistemic problems with the knowledge produced via chimera-based research, especially if the research addresses behavior and psychology, because it is unclear how relevant this research would be to humans. Third, there are likely better ways to address some of the problems under consideration (e.g., organ shortages) by nonmedical means (e.g., legal reform, education, political strategizing). Finally, we question whether the NIH has sufficiently considered the possibility that some types of scientific investigationshouldn’t be done at all because of the severity of the harms to the research subjects (e.g., arguably, Harry Harlow’s deprivation experiments).

read more
http://www.thehastingscenter.org/challenges-nih-policy-human-animal-chimera-research/

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Seven Essential Qualities of Godly Fathers


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Saturday, April 02, 2016

Conversation with my Grandson on Smiling




Little one,
you have such a beautiful smile! When you smile, it is as if the sun suddenly come out from behind a dark cloud and flood the room with bright light. Your smile is so genuine and reflects much innocence and joy. Grampa thinks that when you smile, you reveal your soul which is so filled with light! Even the photo of your smile lightens Grampa’s heart. There is a photo of you smiling in your walker at the head of the stairs in Grampa’s house. Whenever Grampa sees that photo, Grampa’s heart will echo with your joy.
Grampa believes that the human face is created to smile. Your Jie Jie loves to draw smiley faces and her notebooks are filled with these faces. Grampa likes to smile too. A smile is contagious. Grampa notices that when you smile, even to complete strangers, often they will smile back. There are other old persons who do not like to smile. They walk around with a constipated look. Even when people smile at them, they do not smile back. Grampa feels pity for them. It does not take much effort to smile. It takes more effort not to smile. Yet there are people who prefer not to smile. Maybe these people have a lot of pain and suffering in their lives. They may be feeling very sad inside. Little one, here you have something to teach these big people. Not matter how bad they feel inside, if they smile like you, maybe they will allow some sunshine in. Maybe the light will drive away the darkness.
Smiling is a choice. It is often an expression of who we are inside. We are a smiling ohana. Your Jie Jie loves to smile and her smile is as angelic as yours. So does your Ah Yee and your grandparents. Little one, I hope that you will continue to smile as you grow up. Some little people who smile a lot when they are small forget to smile when they grow older. That is so sad. Grampa hopes you keep smiling and has all the reasons to smile all the years of your life.
Dear Lord,
Thank you for this little one’s smile. Please look after him and give him reasons to smile. Teach him to have a grateful heart. Endow him a joyful soul. Give him a fruitful life. Let him have friends to smile with. Let him wake up every morning and go to bed every night with a smile on his face and in his heart.
Amen
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lenten Meditation 2016




I feel like I am a jigsaw puzzle – partially assembled but with many pieces missing. There are pieces of me all over the place. Some pieces are lodged in my wife, children and grandchildren, friends, workplace, church, hobbies, and my social tribes. Other pieces are hidden deep inside my inner being. Some pieces are hidden so deep that I am unaware of them. All my life, I have felt a sense of incompleteness, fragmentation and longing. This longing is a siren call for completeness; for the jigsaw to be assembled; for every piece to be in its rightful place. Then I believe I can really know who I am from the picture on the jigsaw. I recognize this feeling as a hunger for shalom; for wholeness and completeness.
Shalom is a beautiful word in Hebrew. Often translated to English as peace, shalom in the Hebrew context has a far deeper meaning. It denotes wholeness, completeness, fulfilment and contentment. Shalom gives the sense of living in the Garden of Eden with God before the Fall. It implies reconciliation of broken relationships. Shalom gives the picture of a soul fully expressed to its full God-given potential, at peace with itself, with God, with other people and with creation. It affirms everything is in its rightful place.
The New Testament describes Jesus as shalom in two ways. Firstly, Jesus is shalom. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace [shalom] (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus is Completeness as God. Secondly, Jesus becomes shalom for us. Paul explains, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace [shalom] with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. . . . But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:1–2, 8–10). By his death on the cross, Jesus becomes shalom or the means of reconciliation with God for us. This shalom with God for us is a one-off event. It is a total and complete reconciliation. The broken relationship is fully healed. This happened more than two thousand years ago.
Yet we hunger for shalom. We hunger not because God’s work is not complete but because our healing has not completed. We are in the process of putting the pieces together as we grow towards spiritual maturity. This takes time. We hunger for what we will become when we are fully matured spiritually which is shalom. Hence our continuing hunger. Lent is the season when our hunger intensifies. This is because during Lent, we are reminded anew of the shalom work of Jesus; God incarnate born to die for us. We need this reminder. We need to be reminded that we must discipline our bodies, mortify our unhealthy desires and renew our easily distracted purpose of spiritual growth as we work towards shalom. We look forward to when we no longer hunger, when we finally are one with Christ, who is himself, shalom.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Preventing Empty Souls

Gordon MacDonald, writing in Leadership Journal Winter 2016 in an article entitled The Day I Hit a Wall coined the word 'empty souls' as when busy Christians run on empty because of their busyness. I like what he writes about preventing this:
Over time I have comprised a bulleted list of the insights that resulted from that December day so many years ago. I include them not because I have mastered them, but because they represent the direction in which I like to walk each day.

• My allocation of time and energy must begin by inserting Sabbath pauses into my calendar before work begins … not after work ends. Because ministry work never ends. 
• I have come to appreciate the importance of searching events and personal encounters for the embedded messages of wisdom and discernment that God offers. 
• I have tried to be sensitive to the various ways God makes his presence felt: in creation's beauty and art, in suffering, in study, in various forms of private and corporate worship, in the wonderful stories of Jesus. 
• I have gathered a small cadre of personal friends who know my heart (and I, theirs) and who are not reluctant to either encourage me or rebuke me when necessary. 
• I have pursued the discipline of intercessory prayer for my family and friends, for the church in the world, for global leaders, for those who suffer. 
• I have treasured the insights that come from the biographies of great men and women of God who have lived through the centuries 
• I have come to love the Bible, to draw from its pages the thoughts and purposes of God. 
• I have understood the importance of readily repenting when I am wrong and quickly forgiving when others have hurt me. 
• I have made it a priority to move toward those who are weak and vulnerable with words of hope … as Jesus did. 
• I have sought to discipline my lifestyle: to keep free of clutter, to downsize, to keep simple, to accept the obscurity that comes with the aging life. 
• I have heard the call of God in my older years to be a spiritual father to any younger people who want to welcome me into their experience. 
• I have determined to daily return to the cross and reaffirm my conversion and call to follow Jesus.

  We need to avoid 'empty soul' syndrome and Gordon gives very good advice.  


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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Banana Syndrome: Losing Our Cultural Heritage

Banana
English-educated Chinese Christians in Malaysia and Singapore faces a unique quandary. Their mindset, worldview and culture are influenced by the Anglo-American influences that come with an English education system. Yet, these Christians are ethnic Chinese brought up with their Chinese cultural heritage whether they are aware of them or not. No wonder they are often called bananas – yellow on the outside but white in the inside. That is one of the reasons why mainland Chinese when China was forced open to the West were very resistant to Christianity. They see Christianity as a Western imperialist tool. They recognize that embracing the Western culture will threaten their Chinese identity. Early Chinese Christian converts were regarded as no longer Chinese.
Present day English-educated Chinese Christians still struggle with the issue of whether they are Chinese Christians or Christian Chinese. This is especially acute in families that no longer speak Chinese or any of its dialects. In many such families their lifestyles are closer to Anglo-Americans rather than to their Chinese-educated brethren. Yet intrinsic to their identity is their Chinese heritage. The pull to their roots become stronger as these English-educated Chinese becomes older. This highlights an important point. As Christians were are not only called by God to be his people (special calling), to be his agent in redemption (general calling) but also to embrace our cultural heritage (cultural calling). Our cultural heritage shows the diversity of God’s people. Revelation 7 shows a heavenly scene where there is a mighty multitude of God’s people from every nation, people, tribe and language.
As Christians, we are to incarnate our ethnicity and its culture. This is especially true in our Chinese English-speaking congregations in Malaysia and Singapore. I am sure this will be same with Chinese Christians elsewhere. There is much we can learn from our Chinese Chinese-speaking congregations in the way they have contextualized the gospel and Christian living within the Chinese heritage. In Chinese culture, the Chinese Lunar New Year is the most important event in the year. The reunion dinner where the whole family comes together is the social event of the year. Family members travel thousands of miles to attend.
I have observed over the years, for many English-speaking Chinese Christians, the Lunar New Year celebrations are becoming less and less important. Similar to the Harvest and other Chinese festivals. It is just another public holiday. More and more are taking the opportunity during this period to travel overseas for extended holidays. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to celebrate Chinese New Year. However this may be symptomatic of the loosening of our cultural identity. There is no running away from our cultural heritage and identity. We run away at our loss. Recently many churches in Malaysia and Singapore are engaged in emotionally mature spirituality. I believe it is time for us to embrace our cultural spirituality too.
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Sunday, February 07, 2016

God is Cloud



Today is Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28–36 (The Message)

28–31  About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.
32–33           Meanwhile, Peter and those with him were slumped over in sleep. When they came to, rubbing their eyes, they saw Jesus in his glory and the two men standing with him. When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking.
34–35           While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.”
36                When the sound of the voice died away, they saw Jesus there alone. They were speechless. And they continued speechless, said not one thing to anyone during those days of what they had seen.

The theme of the transfiguration is a powerful theme affirming that Jesus is the Christ who is the Glory of God transcending Moses who represent God’s Laws and Elijah, God’s Prophets. Jesus is the Son of God and deserves to be followed. While most attention is focused on Jesus, Moses and Elijah, and sometimes unfairly on Peter, John and James, it is sometimes missed that another person is also on the mountain. He is there in the form of a cloud.

Clouds are stuff when you look up at the sky or look down when you are on an airplane. They come in different colours and shapes. Clouds also cover the top of high mountains such as the Himalayas and the Andes. It is not actually known on which mountain, the transfiguration took place. Some suggest Mount Horeb (because Moses was there) or Mount Herman near Syria. What was fascinating that God took the form of one of his creation- a cloud. Not a mist or fog. Why a cloud? I will suggest some things that may happen inside a cloud,

  1.  There is a sense of disorientation. This is especially true in thick clouds where we cannot see anything and feel anything. We are so dependent on our senses that without them we become lost. This disorientation can be frightening. It can also be liberating. Without the input of our senses, we can be open to the voice of God. Often, the input from our senses is so distracting that we cannot hear the soft whisper of God’s voice. This is especially so in our loud, noisy and neon culture where there are overstimulation and supersensory saturation all the time.
  2. There is a sense of Mystery. In a cloud, our self-constructed sense of reality often crumple. Together with it goes the God which we often constructed in our own image. Most of us put God in a box because it is easier to understand him. And we love to have the certainty that we have had God all figured out. God is much more that our finite minds can comprehend. That is why God is still Mystery. A walk in the cloud will remind us of that important perspective.
  3. There is a sense of unknowing. Closely allied with Mystery is ‘unknowing’. The Cloud of Unknowing is a 14th-century book on Christian mysticism. Also using the metaphor of a cloud the unknown author explains that it is impossible for us to really know God, let alone understand him. The only way know God is to abandon all our preconceived ideas about God, to let go and enter into a state of ‘unknowing’. Hence are we then ready to understand the nature of God. Even then we can only know what God has chosen to reveal to us.   
  4. There is a sense of presence. Cloud is composed of water vapour. We get wet in a cloud. If God is a cloud, we will similarly feel his presence. God’s presence permeates all of creation. Enclosing the disciples in a cloud reminds them of his presence.


The Transfiguration event happened following questions about Jesus’ death. It highlights Jesus’ path of suffering and death on the cross. In Luke 9:31, Moses and Elijah appeared to speak to Jesus about his departure. The word departure may also be translated as exodus, linking back to the Israelite’s history. Luke document this to affirm that the Christ is to die and resurrect. This is so important that even God came down in a cloud, something that has not happened since the exodus event! As a cloud, God reveals much of himself. May we draw wisdom from this reflection.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ten Years of Blogging

I have been blogging for ten years! The unsettling events of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 had so distracted me that that I almost let such an important anniversary slipped my mind! I started this blog on 21 January 2006. I posted my 1000th post on 20 July 2008, 2001st post on 1 Jan 2010, and 3000th post on 11 Feb 2015. One of the features I like about blog is that I can easily retrieve previous posts, unlike Facebook or twitters. Blogging is part of my digital Great Commission activities.

My very first post Why I begin blogging in 2006 states the reasons why I started the blog.
• With the numerous viewpoints available, I want to add a distinctive Christian one
• I support the open access of knowledge that the Internet offers
• Use Web 2.0 as a platform to sharing our learning experiences
• Be part of an online community

In time, my blogging activities expanded and so did my number of blogs. Aside from this blog, I also administer the following blogs, reflecting my diverse interests.
Random Writing from a Doctor’s Chair
Random Sermon from a Doctor’s Chair
Random Spirituality from a Doctor’s Chair
Random Photos from a Doctor’s Chair

My postings in the blogs have lessen in the last few years because of my increased involvement in Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Google Plus and Youtube. This does not mean that I think that the importance of blogs has decreased. In fact, I believe that blogging has settled into the distinctive niche it was meant to be. Where Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and Google Plus deal with the daily, social online interactions, blogs offers a place for longer, more reflective and reasoned articles to be posted.

I will continue to blog 


  •  Spiritual disciplineBlogging is a spiritual discipline as I try to write at least 1,000 words daily. Not all of what I have written will be posted. Some will be published elsewhere. I find writing helps me to think and understand myself. It also helps me to experience God and engage with his creation.

  • Teaching. The Internet has grown tremendously in the last two decades. It has become the largest depository of knowledge mankind has ever created. It is also the largest collection of hubris. I will continue to present a Christian viewpoint from as far as I understand it. I do not pretend to know it all but I see the need for Christian counterpoint especially from an Asian perspective.

  • Recommending. I will continue to recommend good books, blog postings and websites. I find open sharing is very useful as others may also come across articles or post I am not aware of.

  • Interaction. I value interactions on my blogs and other social media. I value open minds and fellow seekers. However, I will not waste my time with biased, opinionated, rude bigots. We learn more in our interactions. 

  • Community. My readers and friends are my online tribe and community. I value every one of them. Their comments and likes are much appreciated. I love the friendships we have formed online and in some cases in the physical world. It is always a pleasure to meet someone in the flesh whom we have met online. I am slowly going down the list and praying for each of my Facebook friends.



Dear friends, thank you for reading this far and being part of my life. God bless you all. 

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dengue Vaccine: To Vaccinate or not to Vaccinate, that is the question.



Dengvaxia (Sanofi Pasteur) is a live attenuated tetravalent chimeric vaccine made using recombinant DNA technology by adding the four serotypes of dengue virus into a yellow fever vaccine strain. There are ongoing phase III trials in Latin America and Asia involving over 31,000 children between the ages of 2 and 14 years. In the first reports from the trials, vaccine efficacy was 56.5% in the Asian study and 64.7% in the Latin American study in patients who received at least one injection of the vaccine. Efficacy varied by serotype. These are the preliminary only as the trails are still ongoing.
In both trials, vaccine reduced by about 80% the number of severe dengue cases. A closer look at the data shows that in Latin American and Asia at the 3rd year of follow-up showed that the efficacy of the vaccine was 65.6% in preventing hospitalization in children older than 9 years of age on the third year of followup. The response was greater in children who has been infected by dengue fever before (81.9%). The vaccine was approved in Mexico, Philippines, and Brazil in December 2015. Dengvaxia consists of three injections at 0, 6 and 12 months.

Other dengue vaccines may take a few more years to be available. Notable are DENVax (Inviragen/Takeda), TetraVax-DV (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), TDENV PIV (GlaxoSmithKline) and V180 (Merck). DENVax looks promising as it combines dengue serotype 1,3 and 4 unto virus type 2 making it a purely dengue vaccine. It is being developed at Mahidol University in Bangkok. Currently all these are only in the phase 1 and 2 stages of development and it may be many years before it can be used.

There is a current dengue epidemic in many Asian countries with the number of cases and death increasing every month. Measures to control the vector, the Aedes mosquito, whether by reducing its breeding grounds, destroying the larvae, and killing of adults by fogging has not been proven effective in stamping the epidemic. Due to the ineffective measures, there is a loud public outcry and pressure on the respective governments to fast track the approval of Dengvaxia as what has happened in India where in January 2016, barely a month after the vaccine was approved for use in Mexico, Philippines and Brazil, the Indian government decided to waive a planned large scale trial and approve the use of the vaccine in the subcontinent. This means that India will not have any data on phase 3 and 4 clinical data conducted on her own people. The approval was based on phase 3 clinical data done in other countries. There always a risk when a new vaccine is introduced without adequate local data in a local population.

The WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization is currently reviewing the evidence for Dengvarix and key considerations include vaccine safety, vaccine efficacy, disease burden, programmatic suitability, and cost-effectiveness. It is expected that it will submit its findings in April 2016. There is one major paper that describe the various trials done for Dengvaxia. It was published in New England Journal of Medicine on 24 September 2015. It collects data from various trials during a 25 month period (two years +one month). For a vaccine study, there is insufficient numbers and time for its true efficacy to be determined. There is also not much data to show whether people who received the vaccine may develop a more severe form of dengue when further infected. This could be the fastest record for a clinical paper to be published and the vaccine approved for use in Mexico, Brazil and Philippines. Other countries, for example Thailand (in which the 4 of the extension trials has been done) have not approved the use of the vaccine.

There is a dilemma here. On one hand, there is a full brown epidemic in progress. But this epidemic has been ongoing for many years so it may be call an endemic. On the other hand, there is a vaccine that is available though its true effectiveness is not really known. Furthermore, the safety profile, long term side effects and other side effects of this vaccine is also not known. There is not enough data available. Should we pressurize the Ministry of Health to approve this vaccine and allow its widespread use? The event of the Influenza H1N1 pandemic comes to mind. Because of the public outcry and panic, most governments stockpiled millions of dollars’ worth of Tamiflu, an antiviral agent. Tamiflu is not effective against H1N1. This is a known fact at the beginning of the pandemic. Yet that did not prevent governments from wasting their scarce resources from stocking up the antiviral agent.

In view of this dilemma, I will suggest two things. First, the Ministry of Health in cooperation with Sanofi to conduct a few large scale clinical trials of the efficacy and effectiveness of Dengvarix on Malaysians in Malaysia. This should give us the clinical data we need to make informed decisions about the vaccine. Second, we (the Malaysian public and healthcare professionals) should be patient and wait for the WHO recommendations that should be out in April this year. A point of note is that Brazil’s approval of the vaccine in December last year is conditional also to the WHO recommendation, which means it is not freely available in Brazil yet.

To conclude, when a fellow professional, who knew of my caution about using Dengvarix asked, “What will you tell your patient who is sick with dengue that you did not offered to give the vaccine?” My reply is that, “What will you tell your patient whom you had given the vaccine and come down with more severe form of dengue?”


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Thursday, December 31, 2015

God Knows




God Knows

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

by Minnie Louise Haskins

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christian Concerns about Emerging Technologies



I presented a paper at this International Conference on Christian Responses to Global Health Issues.

Abstract  

Medical Utopias: Christian Ethical Reflections about Emerging Medical Technologies

Medical utopias are often about good health, absence of suffering, and even delaying of the aging process. The last two decades have seen a tremendous increase in emerging medical technologies to achieve these utopias. The completion of the sequencing of the human genome sets the stage for the next step of genetic and molecular advances. The increase in computing power, storage capacity, connectivity, and the Internet has opened avenues of new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. The perfecting of sustaining cell growth in vitro and cell nucleus transfer has opened the way to cloning, stem cell harvesting, and a new field of regenerative medicine. However, these emerging technologies bring with them a large number of bioethical concerns that need to be addressed. These concerns involving tissue engineering, bioelectronics, new genetics, cloning, gene therapy, germ-line genome modifications are only the tip of the iceberg.

 In this paper I will reflect on three areas of concern. Firstly, the emergence of the digital patient will be considered. This digital patient will be deeply formed and informed by health information technology (IT), the social media, and issues involving privacy, confidentiality and data security. Secondly, the direct to customers (DTC) genetic screening tests will be discussed. The ethical issue of buccal swabs taken at home and be tested for genetic diseases and future prediction of other illnesses which is marketed directly to the consumers will be examined. Finally, the development of new pharmaco-therapeutics will be explored. There have been changes in the way new drugs are tested and these changes do raise some ethical concerns. The examination of these ethical issues will be done within a biblical and theological framework.

The full text of my paper is on Academia.edu and on my website Kairos Spiritual Formation. I hope to work on it and prepare it for publication in a journal.

Will welcome any comments or feedback.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent 2015 reflection




Waiting for the Light: Mastery Inactivity
Advent 2015 reflection

In clinical medicine, there is a very powerful treatment called mastery inactivity. An experienced clinician knows that there are times in the management of a patient with a serious medical condition that the best treatment is not to do anything but allow time for nature to take its course. This is the hardest treatment to prescribe because it involves the physician not doing anything. The default mode is to do something. Order some form of treatment. Perform some form of surgery. Our hearts are restless and we associate activity with progress. Not to act is a sign that we are negligent or indifferent.

This is also what happens when we are hit with some catastrophes in our lives. In such situation, we are full of an urgency to act. An urgency to do something to get us out of the situation. Anything at all, even though the action may not be beneficial or at times may cause harm. An alternative option is to sit idly by and ride out the storm. Judy Brown creates a scenario in which we are caught in a stormy sea and where inaction may be more beneficial than reactive action.

Trough
There is a trough in waves,
A low spot
Where horizon disappears
And only sky
And water
Are our company.

And there we lose our way
Unless
We rest, knowing the wave will bring us
To its crest again.

There we may drown
If we let fear
Hold us within its grip and shake us
Side to side,
And leave us flailing, torn, disoriented.

But if we rest there
In the trough,
Are silent,
Being with
The low part of the wave,
Keeping
Our energy and
Noticing the shape of things,
The flow,
Then time alone
Will bring us to another
Place
Where we can see
Horizon, see the land again,
Regain our sense
Of where
We are,
And where we need to swim.

The Sea Accepts All Rivers, Judy Brown

This is what I called mastery inactivity. It takes knowledge and wisdom to discern when to act and when not to act. It requires mastery over our emotions as the default mode is to do something. It also requires faith. The sailor in the storm has faith based on her knowledge of the waves. We need to have faith that our catastrophes will blow over, that we need to remain calm in the eye of the storm. And we need to have faith in Him who is able to calm the storm and walk on water.

There are an ebb and flow in the rhythm of our lives; a time to act and a time to cease from action; a time to do and a time to rest; and a time to stress and a time to distress.  That is the only way to ride a storm. This is what Advent is all about. It is a time of inaction, rest and reflection. It is a flashback to more than two thousand years ago when the whole of creation kept still and held its collective breath, and waited for the Light. We live in a broken world, at the bottom of the cesspool, in the trough of pain and suffering. Let us wait together. Wait for a glimpse of the sky. Wait for the Light and then lean into it.

Soli Deo Gloria


12 November 2015

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trough: The Sea accepts All Rivers




There is a trough in waves,
A low spot
Where horizon disappears
And only sky
And water
Are our company.

And there we lose our way
Unless
We rest, knowing the wave will bring us
To its crest again.

There we may drown
If we let fear
Hold us within its grip and shake us
Side to side,
And leave us flailing, torn, disoriented.

But if we rest there
In the trough,
Are silent,
Being with
The low part of the wave,
Keeping
Our energy and
Noticing the shape of things,
The flow,
Then time alone
Will bring us to another
Place
Where we can see
Horizon, see the land again,
Regain our sense
Of where
We are,
And where we need to swim.


The Sea Accepts All Rivers, Judy Brown

more quotations may be found here on Kairos Spiritual Formation Quotes 


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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Elijah, the imperfect broken superhero (part 2)




Elijah, the imperfect broken superhero (part 2)

While Elijah reveals much of his humanity that we recognized that he is just like us, his life also reveals how God takes care of his servants. There is this interesting passage in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah went to Mount Horeb. This is a familiar passage to us.

1 Kings 19:9–14 (NKJV)
And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

Our emphasis on reading this passage is often how God speaks to us. God speaks to us not in the wind, earthquake, fire or but in a still small voice. Yes, this is true. God can but does not usually uses the forces of nature to talk to use. He talks to us as one person to another.

What does God says? He asked Elijah what he is doing there (v.9). It is not as if God does not know, but God wants Elijah to articulate why he is there. And Elijah answered by pouring out his anguish.
“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (v.10).

Note that Elijah starts with “I” rather than your humble servant and this “I” is defined by what he did for the Lord. Then he said ‘the children of Israel’ as if he is not part of them. It is a distancing of himself and the people of God – your people broke the covenant, your altars and killed your prophets. Then it reverts back to “I” as being special and in danger. These are the words of a man who is having a meltdown in his ministry. Nowadays we call it burned-out.

God’s answer is revealing about him, not in the noisy and turmoil wind, earthquake or fire, but in a soft whisper. What did God whisper? Surely words of encouragement and healing.

God then asked Elijah the same question as in v.9, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v.12). Elijah answered with the exact words as in his earlier reply to God (v.10, 14)! What does this mean? It seems that between the first and second question with the divine encounter in between, Elijah was not aware of something miraculous have happened. He did not receive the proffered healing.

Instead of smiting him and throwing him aside as a failed prophet, God directed him to put into place his succession process. Elisha is to take over his ministry. God even sent a whirlwind to bring Elijah to him (2 Kings 2:11). This is a compassionate God who understands our frail human nature that breaks under strain. Instead of condemnation, he brings us to a place of rest in heaven. Psalm 23 is a wonderful metaphor of our final rest. God, who is the Lord of the Sabbath understands the rhythm of work and rest. Elijah was given rest so that he will be ready for his role in the Transfiguration.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Elijah, the imperfect broken superhero (part 1)


Elijah, the imperfect broken superhero (part 1)

Of all the many prophets in the Old Testament, Elijah is the most likable. He is the one most like us. There are major feats of great power in his ministry – drought and power encounter on Mt. Carmel. There are also human failings – fear, depression, suicidal and self-centredness. Other prophets seem to be made of stronger stuff. Jeremiah is able to endure deprivations, humiliation, and sorrows. Isaiah deals with kings and their political lackeys. Ezekiel was high with his fantastic visions.  Like the superheroes of our modern mythology (courtesy of Marvel and DC Comics), Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel is like Batman, Superman, and Dr. Strange respectively. Elijah like is the Peter Parker Spiderman- full of self-doubts and brought down by numerous domestic and social problems. In spite of his problems, Peter Parker still put on his superhero costume to battle super villains. Elijah dons his prophet mantle to face a corrupted political social regime and spiritual warfare. Imperfect people to the best of their ability to perfect a broken world.

Yet of all the prophets, only Elijah did not die. He was taken up to heaven by a whirlwind which is archetypical of Christ being taking upon to heaven on his ascension. And according to Jewish tradition, Elijah is their most beloved prophet and is expected to come back to earth again as a harbinger for the Christ’s coming. Why is Elijah so beloved? It is Elijah is so like us. We are also imperfect people. We are complicated. We are capable of great feats of human kindness, but we are also responsible for some of the most despicable feats that one human can do another. We are both light and darkness. Our hearts may be full of love and compassion yet there is darkness inside of us; darkness, if left unchecked, will consume us. We long for perfection and building a utopia but often end up building a hell either in our mind or out of our environment. In other words, we are imperfect.


Yet God seems to like imperfect people. Jesus love to dine with sinners and tax collectors to the consternation of pious law-abiding citizens and members of the religious establishment. He takes delight in bursting the bubble of self-righteous perfect people. Jesus realizes that imperfect people are the sick. And only the sick needs a doctor. So Jesus spent a lot of time in his three years ministry breaking down people, which think they are perfect to their basic state of imperfection. Awareness of our imperfections is the first step towards spiritual growth – a process of becoming perfect in Christ.


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Holes in Our Souls


 We need holes in our lives. Our lives are often likened to fire that brings light in the darkness. Too often our fire flicks and dies out long before we do. We are called to be living sacrifices but what we end out as burnt offerings instead. What is wrong in our spiritual life that we cannot be beacon lights that drive back the darkness until dawn? This poem about Fire gives us some insight.

FIRE ~ Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.

A fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.


If the logs are packed too tightly, without space for air, the log fire often dies. It is the same with our spiritual life. We need space in our lives if we want our spiritual fire to have fuel. Hectic too tightly packed lives preclude this. Our bodies follow certain biological rhythms that require periods of activities and periods of rest. We challenge and disrupt these rhythms to our own perils. In the Genesis records, God worked for six days and rested on the seventh thus setting the rhythm for our lives. There working time and there is non-working time. Note that whenever we consider the Sabbath, we start with working time then non-working time. In the Jewish custom, Sabbath starts on a Friday night where there is dinner, sleep and then Saturday, which is non-working. It starts with rest for our bodies, then rest for our souls. In our work-oriented culture, we seem to have reversed that. We think of work first, then rest. And often our ‘rest’ is more work rather than non-work.

Is it any wonder then that we have no space in our lives? Like a fire in which the logs are packed too tightly, we burn out before our time. Our lives need to have holes, spaces for non-work. Our souls need to be holey in order to be wholly.


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Entering the Kingdom of God





When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, he was not prophesying about some easy, danger-free perfection that will someday appear. He was talking about a state of being, a way living at ease among the joys and sorrows of our world. It is possible, he said, to be as simple and beautiful as the birds of the sky or the lilies of the field, who are always within the eternal Now. This state of being is not something alien or mystical. We don't need to earn it. It is already ours. Most of us lose it as we grow up and become self-conscious, but it doesn't hard in order to find it. The rich especially have a hard time reentering this state of being; they are so possessed by their possessions, so entrenched in their social power, that it is almost impossible for them to let go. Not that it is easy for any of us. But if we need reminding, we can always sit at the feet of our young children. They, because they haven't yet developed a firm sense of past and future, accept the infinite abundance of the present with all their hearts, in complete trust. Entering the kingdom of God means feeling—as if we were floating in the womb of the universe—that we are being taken care of, always, at every moment.


Gospel According to Jesus by Stephen Mitchell



more quotations may be found here on Kairos Spiritual Formation Quotes 


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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Empty Mind



An Empty sort of mind is valuable for finding pearls and tails and things because it can see what's in front of it. An Overstuffed mind is unable to. While the Clear mind listens to a bird singing, the Stuffed-Full-of-Knowledge-and-Cleverness mind wonders what kind of bird is singing. The more Stuffed Up it is, the less it can hear through its own ears and see through its own eyes. Knowledge and Cleverness tend to concern themselves with the wrong sorts of things, and a mind confused by Knowledge, Cleverness, and Abstract Ideas tends to go chasing off after things that don't matter, or that don't even exist, instead of seeing, appreciating and making use of what is in front of it…

Let’s consider Emptiness in general for a moment. What is it about a Taoist landscape painting that seems so refreshing to so many different kinds of people? The Emptiness, the space that's not filled in. What is it about fresh snow, clean air, pure water? Or good music? As Claude Debussy expressed it, "Music is the space between the notes." ...

Like silence after noise, or cool, clear water on a hot, stuffy day. Emptiness cleans out the messy mind and charges up the batteries of spiritual energy. Many people are afraid of Emptiness, however, because it reminds them of Loneliness. Everything has to be filled in, it seems—appointment books, hillsides, vacant lots—but when all the spaces are filled in, the Loneliness really begins.


The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoffbegins.

more quotations may be found here on Kairos Spiritual Formation Quotes page


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Thursday, November 05, 2015

Movie Review on Mr. Holmes



Mr Holmes (2015)

In my opinion, Sherlock Holmes (a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) is the greatest detective in the world, second only to Batman (another fictional character). Using pure logic, Sherlock Holmes has solved numerous mind boggling mysteries in various medium of books, movies and fanzines. This movie poses the ultimate problem for Sherlock Holmes. Based on Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, the victim of the crime is Sherlock Holmes himself. The crime is senility or Alzheimer’s Disease. How will Holmes solve a crime that robs him of his logic and his memories and will ultimately his selfhood. This is an existential question that this movie attempts to answer. Who are we as a person when we begin to lose our mental faculties and our memories? Do we still remain ‘us’ or become something or someone else?

Ian McKellan gives a superb performance as an aging 93 years old Sherlock Holmes. The year is 1947. Holmes is living in retirement in a picturesque English country cottage, looked after by a war-widow, Mrs Munro and her son, Roger. Holmes has taken up bee keeping as a hobby. He is fragile, subjects to falls, and is plagued by his inability to remember significant parts of his past. Using his remarkable deductive skills which seems to be intact, Holmes try to remember the details of two cases from the past. One involved the suicide of a young wife and the other, the reason why a young man would abandon his family and disappear. This happens in an atmosphere of growing antagonist between his housekeeper and him as he becomes more and more dependent on her but resenting it, and his growing friendship with Roger, the housekeeper’s precocious son. He uses a technique of recovering memories by writing a fictional story involving himself and allows Roger read it. The story unfolds with numerous flashback showing a younger, smartly dressed Holmes, as the older Holmes recover the pieces of the puzzle that were missing from his memories.

Growing old is a common condition to everyone. Most of us fear growing old. Using the number of years to define old may be relative and cultural bound. Living to the 80s and 90s is relatively new to us Asians and we have yet come to terms with an aging population that live longer than our ancestors. In truth, most of us do not fear aging but what accompanies aging – loss of self-esteem, income and privileges after we retire, our bodies falling apart and we become host to aches and pain, chronic diseases, heart problems and cancers. What is more fearful is the onset of Alzheimer’s  when we first begin to lose our recent memories, then logical thinking, emotional control until we became a chaotic mess of fearful uncontrolled emotions in an aged body. In the Gospel of John, Jesus made a rather cryptic statement to Peter about when Peter was young, he can go wherever he wants. When he became old, people will use his belt to tie his hand and lead him to where he does not want to go. The statement often reminds me of Alzheimer’s.

What happens to us when Alzheimer’s robs us of our memories, our emotional control, our reasoning and finally of our self-awareness. This is where I struggle with my evangelical theology. St. Paul advise us to grow spiritually by not conforming to the world but by renewing our minds. By that I assume using our cognitive abilities to choose a life of discipleship. What happens when we no longer have our minds such as in the late stages of Alzheimer’s? I have seen gracious compassionate pious Christian being transformed to sly nasty Gollum as Alzheimer’s take its toll. I wonder what St.Paul will say to that?

[spoiler alert!] The movie does have a happy ending, if we can call that a happy ending. In recovering his memories, Holmes come to understand is own life more. He even feels regrets for paths not taken. More significantly is that he comes to accept his fate and come to terms with his life situation. Winter is not only coming but is already here. In a symbolic gesture, Holmes writes the names of significant people in his life on stones and places them in a circle around them. He then pays homage to them. In typical Holmesian fashion, Sherlock Holmes, grandmaster detective, defeated his villain Alzheimer’s by escaping into his memories.

My other movie reviews and reflection are here


4 November 2015

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Creation is Continuous






Creation, we are taught, is not an act that happened once upon a time, once and forever. The act of bringing the world into existence is a continuous process. God called the world into being, and that call goes on. There is this present moment because God is present. Every instant is an act of creation. A moment is not a terminal but a flash, a signal of Beginning. Time is perpetual innovation, a synonym for continuous creation. Time is God's gift to the world of space.... We cannot solve the problem of time through the conquest of space, through either pyramids or fame. We can only solve the problem of time through the sanctification of time. To men alone time is elusive; to men with God time is eternity in disguise. Creation is the language of God, Time is His song, and things of space the consonants in the song. To sanctify time is to sing the vowels in unison with Him. This is the task of humans: to conquer space and sanctify time.... Eternity utters a day.



-Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath


more quotations may be found here on Kairos Spiritual Formation Quotes page

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Holiness in Time




The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.


-Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath


more quotations may be found here on Kairos Spiritual Formation Quotes page


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Friday, October 30, 2015

The Attitude Toward Leisure





"February 25,1956... The greatest change between now and seventy years ago is in the attitude toward leisure. Now there is no such thing... In my experience you can have ability without leisure, but ability only, and not creativeness, Real ideas come to me while relaxed, and brooding, meditative, passive. Then the unexpected happens. An illumination, a combination of words, a revelation for which I made no conscious preparation. And seventy years ago one had time for everything, for[open-hearted] reading, for equally [openhearted] discussion, for activities whose only result was to strengthen, refine, and clarify our own selves as works of art, and not as now to be considered only when producing material results."


Sunset and Twilight by Bernard Berenson

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Play Needs No Purpose





Play needs no purpose. That is why play can go on and on as long as players find it meaningful. After all, we do not dance in order to get somewhere. We dance around and around. A piece of music doesn't come to an end when its purpose is accomplished. It has no purpose, strictly speaking. It is the playful unfolding of a meaning that is there in each of its movements, in every theme, every passage: celebration of meaning. Pachelbel's Canon is one of the magnificent superfluities of life. Every time I listen to it, I realize anew that some of the most superfluous things are the most important for us because they give meaning to our human life. We need this kind of experience to correct our worldview. Too easily are we inclined to imagine that God created this world for a purpose. We are so caught up in purpose that we would feel more comfortable if God shared our preoccupation with work. But God plays. The birds in a single tree are sufficient proof that God did not set out with a divine no-nonsense attitude to make a creature that would perfectly achieve the purpose of a bird. The purpose of a bird. What could that purpose be I wonder? There are titmice, juncos, and chickadees; woodpeckers, gold finches, starlings and crows. The only bird never created is the no-nonsense bird. As we open our eyes and hearts to God's creation, we quickly perceive that God is playful, a God of leisure.


Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer by Brother David Steindl-Rast


more quotations may be found here on Kairos Spiritual Formation Quotes page


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