Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Batman: Requiem for Robin

This is one of the best Batman collection I have read since the new 52 was launched a couple of years ago. Damian Wayne, Batman/Bruce Wayne's son and the last Robin was killed. These issues explore the loss Batman/Bruce Wayne is feeling and how in his typical way, he reacts to the loss. A powerful series about coping and dealing with loss, especially the loss of one's child.

As a paediatrican, I have stand beside many parents who had lost their child. The intensity and depth of their pain was heart-breaking, even to bystanders. The loss of a child is not only the loss of what was and is,but also of what might have been. Every parent will love to see their child grow up. Death has cruelly cut off that possibility. No parent should have to outlive their children and have to bury them.


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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Insight from Batman's Father


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Spiritual Formation Seminar Daya Gospel Centre

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Random Glimpses of my Desktop: Batman DC Comics Icon

Batman DC Comics Icon
1:6 scale
cold cast porcelain
sculpted by Gentle Giant Studios
DC Collectibles
limited: 5200

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Spiritual Formation Institute Retreat 2014


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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Random Glimpses of My Desktop

ED-209 Future of Law Enforcement

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Spiritual Formation Institute Seminar on John


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hey, this just not my phone, this is also my library!

We are very aware that mobile hand phones especially smart phones have become as essential part of life in the last two decades. Nowadays we cannot imagine life before these small portable mobile devices. Pay phone booths, expensive operator assisted calls and land line are slowly becoming a thing of the past. The world has become even more interconnected as never before. With the ever expanding cellular infrastructure development, cellular mobile phones are becoming common in some underdeveloped countries even before the land based telephones. According to the United Nations more than 6 billion of the 7 billion people on earth today has access to a mobile phone!

This is an exciting time for the Church. Most mobile phones not only receive voice phone calls but also books and videos. This means that The Church has a unique opportunity today to make the bible available to almost 85% of the people on earth by means of free downloads of e-bible or audio bible! This is a fantastic opportunity. Not only e-bibles but also books on Christianity, Christian living and theology.

The revolution that resulted from the Guttenberg Press caused not only a revolution in learning and knowledge, but indirectly the Protestant Reformation. The bible became more easily available and was translated into a more readable form in the local languages from Latin or Greek. The limitations to that revolution was printing costs, distribution and point of sales/bookshops. The present e-book revolution bypass the limitations of the printing press (surprisingly this has not really translated to cheaper books). The electronic version is easily distributed and downloaded at the cost of a website and mobile apps.

The e-book revolution has placed the power of publishing and distribution into the hands of the authors and readers. Publishers are gatekeepers of printed books and while it is acknowledged that as corporate companies, they need to make a profit, they however also limit books published to that of a few superstar authors. Authors should make their works free or at a minimal charge on the Internet. This is especially true of sermon transcript, books on Christianity and Christian living. In fact, superstar authors and pastors should be the first to do so. Many do not need these incomes from their books. The call is also to Christian theological publishers. For reasons best known to themselves, most of our theological writings in books and journals are locked up behind walls that demand we pay a high monetary price to have access to these books and articles. Open the doors and allow the knowledge and wisdom to be available to all. Commentaries, theological thesis and writings are valuable resources that should be available to all. Everyone, including the poorest Christian living in the slums should have access to a well-stocked Christian library through his or her phone.

The mobile phones also make easily accessible videos and audio messages. Through Youtube, Godtube and other such services, everyone will be able to access Christian documentaries, attend lectures, participate in conferences, and even attend Church services. The technology for streaming video is always improving as is the technology for uploading and downloading.

The dawn of a new era is here. It is now possible to share the bible and Christian teachings to at least 85% of the whole population, even those who are living at the ends of the earth. This is a tremendous opportunity. It is hoped that the Church will awaken to this opportunity.


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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why Batman does not kill...especially the Joker

Over the decades from their initial encounter in Gotham City, the Joker has transformed from the Clown Prince of Crime to a mass murderer. He killed the second Robin, Jason Todd, paralysed Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), and shot and killed Lt. Sarah Essen, Commissioner Gordon's second wife. As many times, the Batman captured the Joker, as many times the Joker escaped. Being insane, Batman knew the Joker will never be persecuted. Knowing as he did that the Joker will continue to escape and hurt and kill people, why did the Batman not kill the Joker?

Batman has said many times that he refused to kill because in killing, he is no better than the criminals that he is sworn to fight. But, the Joker? Come on, man.

I have been trying to understand Batman's reluctance to kill and I come across this system of ethics named utilitarianism. This system will say, Batman kill the Joker because this will prevent all the murders he will commit in the future. While it is bad to kill, yet killing one life will be the saviour of many other lives.

Philosopher Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson put forth the issue in form of a moral dilemma:
Imagine that a trolley is going down a track. Further down the track are five people who do not hear the trolley and will not be able to get out of the way. Unfortunately, there aren't enough time to stop the trolley before it hits and kills them. The only way to avoid killing these five people is to switch the trolley to another track. But, unfortunately, there is one person standing on that track, also too close for the trolley to stop before killing him. Now imagine an innocent bystander standing by the track switch who must make a choice; do nothing, which leads to the death of five people on the current track, or act to divert the trolley to the other track, which leads to the death of the single person.
The Batman is in the place of the bystander. He is holding the Joker's hands at the top of an unfinished office in the movie The Dark Knight. All he has to do is to let go and let the Joker fall to his death. Imagine the trolley scenario except the current track is onto the one person and switching the track will kill the five.
Do you think the Batman should kill the Joker?

Philosopher Thomson now suggest another scenario

There is a surgeon with five patients. Each of his patients is dying from failure of a different organ and could be saved by a transplant. Since there are no organs available by normal channels, the surgeon considers drugging one of his (healthy) colleague and removing his organs to use for transplants. 
By killing one, many will be saved. This is utilitarianism. This is similar to the trolley story. The death of one will save the five. Or is it? Do you agree? Is the choice of allowing the trolley kill one person the same as killing another person for his organs?

Do you think Batman should kill the Joker?

It would have been so easy for the Batman to kill the Joker. Batman is an expert exponent of many types of martial arts.

The philosophical system of utilitarianism will have not problem with Batman killing the Joker to prevent Joker from committing further crimes. As we have seen from our earlier posts about the trolley and the surgeon, it is not as straight forward as it seems.

In the Hush storyline, Hush asked the Batman, "How many lives do you think you've cost, how many families have you ruined, by allowing the Joker to live?...And why? Because of your duty? Your sense of justice?"
In utilitarianism, the end justifies the means. A popular proponent of utilitarianism is Peter Singer, professor of Philosophy in Princeton University and in the University of Melbourne.

However, there is another system of philosophy named deontology (nothing to do with dentists) in which the act is more important. When you decide "do not kill", it means do not kill under any circumstances, irrespective of whatever good that killing may produce. Deontology is based on a sense of duty and the most well known proponent is Immanuel Kant. Of course, Immanuel Kant have never met the Joker.

"Is Batty a secret deontologist?" muses the Joker.
"I want my lawyer! Oh, that's right, I killed him too" (from The Dark Knight)

In our consideration of why Batman did not kill the Joker when he have had so many opportunities to do so, it is obvious that he is not a follower of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism takes into consideration that the death of the Joker will save many people in DC comic universe.

While it may appear that Batman is a deontologist; that the act of killing is against his sense of duty to be not like the criminals he fights, however, his other actions do not support the conjecture. Batman as a masked vigilante is dangerously skirting the edge of the law and have been known to break the law when it suits his purpose. His Kantian ethics will not allow him to do this if he is a deontologist.

There is another system of ethics which come down to us from Aristotle, the great philosopher himself. Named virtue ethics, Aristotle postulated that the ethical behaviour of a person is not from his choice (utilitarianism), or his actions/duty (deontologism). It arises from who this person is. He calls these virtues or what we nowadays call character; compassion, justice, courage, and tolerance. One of the great virtue philosophers alive today is Alistair MacIntyre. There has been much talk of character/virtues in leadership especially political and religious leadership. Unfortunately these talks are of character/virtue flaws than of good strong character with integrity.

Does Batman has such good virtues that he is incapable of killing the Joker, no matter how much he wants to?

Our investigation into the existential question should Batman kill the Joker? has evolved to why the Batman did not kill the Joker.

We have established that Batman does not subscribe to utilitarianism and Kantianism (odeontologism). That left us to consider virtue moral theory. While unilitaianism focus on the consequences of the action, odeontologism on the duty of actor, virtue theory is about who the actor is, i.e. the character or virtues of the actor.

Batman/Bruce Wayne has very strong influential persons in his life. His father, Dr Thomas Wayne is a compassionate surgeon, industrialist and philantrophist. He believed in the goodness of people. Note that he organises the rich elite to help the poor during the depression in Gotham City and built the monorail system for the people. His death was partially due to the fact that he brought his family to the opera by monorail instead of by private car (see Batman Begins).

The butler Alfred was another influence and served as a surrogate father figure after the death of Thomas Wayne. Alfred exhibits strong elements of loyalty and integrity, looking after the family estates when Bruce was wandering around in search of himself. Though he disapprove of Bruce's nocturnal activities, he restrict himself to sarcastic remarks while availing himself to rescue the Batman and offer medical treatment when necessary. It takes a strong character not to impose his will on others and to remind in the shadow of another.

Dr. Thompson is another who helped Bruce after the death of his parents. She provide the nurturing mother figure to balance Alfred's Yang with her Yin. A competent doctor, she chooses to devote her life to helping the poor and the helpless in slum alley.

Thomas Wayne, Alfred and Thompson did not act out of a sense of duty but because of who they are. It is their characters that dictate their actions, not the other way around. Bruce Wayne must have pick up this moral theory from them. In the storyline, Bruce Wayne:Fugitive, Bruce Wayne has an identity crisis. Is he the Batman and Bruce the man behind the mask or Bruce Wayne and the Batman is the person behind the persona? As expected, the crisis was resolved when Bruce realise that the Batman was a means to an end (limiting the activities of the criminal elements by putting a fear in the criminal mind). This question resurfaced numerous times, for example in the story arch of No Man's Land and Knightfall (and Knightend).

Batman does not kill the Joker because it is not in his nature or character to kill. Like Gandhi who resort to non-violence to resist an unjustice government, the Batman resort to non-lethal violence to resist a corrupt justice system and the criminal minds. It is in their strength of character that we must respect him.

previous posted at


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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Movie Review X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) is the seventh installation of the movie series on the X-Men. The theme of this movie is loosely based on the 1981 Uncanny X-Men storyline "Days of Future Past" by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Personally I prefer the comic storyline as it is more nuanced but this movie is worth watching on its own. Unlike the X-Men movie trilogy which ended with X-Men: The Last Stand, there is more character development and story telling in this movie. Though the action sequences are excellent, it is not as confusing as the Last Stand. This movie is a direct sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class as it made references to both movies. I will suggest that you watch these two movies before watching this. This will make it more enjoyable.

[spoilers alert]
In the future, the war with the sentinels (these are giant robots, not the multiple eyed octopus thingy in the Matrix trilogy) has destroyed much of the cities. Mutants and human mutant sympathizers are being held in detention camps. A small group of mutants make their last stand against the sentinels in the apocalyptic scenario similar to the Terminator series. Why must artificial intelligence and humanoid robots be anti-humans, I wonder? Have no one heard of Asimov’s three laws of robotics anymore? The last remnant of mutants which include Professor X (Charles Xavier), Magneto (Erik Lehnsherr), Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde), Storm (Ororo Munroe) and Wolverine (James Logan) devised a plan to send the Wolverine into the past, specifically to 1973. They decided the pivotal moment in time when the war against normal or non-mutant humans began was when Mystique murdered Dr. Bolivar Trask (the designer of the sentinels) and was herself captured in 1973. The research on her DNA from her blood was used to upgrade the new class of sentinels.

Most superhero movies and comics has allegorical implications. These superheroes are our new mythology. X-Men: Days of Future Past, like the Avengers movie series and the Spiderman series have lessons for us today.

First, our actions have consequences that echo through time. Like the butterfly effect in chaos theory, one simple action may cause a ripple that may cause the destruction of a civilization. Driven by hate because of the murder of her fellow mutant, Mystique hunted down to murder Trask because Trask was the one who killed her friends in his scientific experiments. Trask on the other hand, fears for the survival of the human race. Fearing mutants will kill off non-mutants, as humans themselves had killed off the Neanderthals, Trask seeks to find a weapon which will destroy the mutants. His chosen weapon was the sentinels with mutant adaptive powers. Our everyday actions has consequences. A mechanic who was sloppy in installing a brake pad may cause a bus crash that may kill someone who may one day invent the source of limitless non-polluting energy power. A doctor who was sloppy in his work, taking short cuts and doing the minimal work may cause the death of a patient. Time travel may have a way of messing with or creating new consequences. An unforgettable scene in the movie has Hank (Beast) in 1973 watching Captain Kirk (Star Trek) explaining time travel on television. The scene is from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode ‘The Naked Now’.

Second, there is redemption when we are involved in a cause that is greater than ourselves. Both Charles Xavier and Erik (Magneto) believe in saving mutants. Charles believe that it is possible for human and mutants to coexist. Magneto, on the other hand, believe that only way mutants to survive is when humans are destroyed or subjugated. Charles, an idealist, believes in moral ethical rules to achieve their ends. Magneto believes that the end justifies the means. Logan finds a wimpy drug addicted Charles when he arrived in 1973. Charles was pining for his lady love (Mystique) which he lost to Magneto. He became addicted to a drug which allow him to walk (and sleep) but suppressed his mental powers. In other words, Professor Xavier was hitting rock bottom. In a stereotypical storytelling in the movie, his redemption came when he met his future self who revealed to him what his life purpose is. In a heroic messiah like moment, he discarded his drug habit and regained his mental powers to save the day. We often need a cause that is greater than ourselves if we are to live meaningful lives. People who live only for themselves often end up narcissistic and self-centered.

Finally, power is might but may not always be right. To demonstrate his power over magnetism, Magneto lifted and dropped a stadium over the White House and commandeered the sentinels. Magneto wanted to show humans how powerful he is and by doing that cow them into submission. While it is a powerful demonstration, Erik (Magneto) should have remembered his history lessons. History has shown that might as power may not always produce the desired effect. Instead of being cowed, the less powerful always find a way to strike back. The wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan should remind us that the most powerful armies do not always win. In many ways, our world is being divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The division may be along the line of skin color, economic status or religions. Instead of trying to annihilate one another, there may be place for peaceful coexistence as envisioned by Charles Xavier.

There is much to recommend for this movie. However there is an incredible amount of violence so parents are forewarned. The sentinels torn Colossus into two in a fight sequence. As he was in his metal state, there was no gore. The Wolverine was kebabed with many metal rods and thrown into the Potomac River by Magneto. The Wolverine starred in so many X-Men movies that we have no doubt that he will survive, as I have the sense that this movie was made as a pre-sequel to many more movies to come. Wait in your seat until the movie credits end and you will see what I mean.


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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Conversations with my granddaughter about technology

Hello little one. I can see that you are having a good time with your iPad. Frankly I am amazed at how your little fingers interact so effortless with the touch screen and how instinctively you seem to know your way around an apps and to change to another apps when you are done with one. Grampa will have taken hours to do what you did within minutes and even then Grampa would need to consult an operating manual (if there is one available).  Things are changing so fast that Grampa has difficulty keeping pace. Grampa is sure you will not be able to imagine a world without mobile smartphones and Facetime where not only can you talk to Grampa but also to see Grampa and show your latest achievement or demonstrate some new acrobat skills you have developed.

This has not always been so, little one. In Grampa’s younger days, there were no computers and mobile smartphones. Grampa had to use a typewriter to write. What is a typewriter, you will ask. To show you, Grampa will have to take you to a museum! You can still see the large house phone at Grampa’s house but in time this will be replaced by the mobile phones.

You grew up with rapidly changing technology so to you are comfortable with it. To many big people technology is a big threat. They will tell you that technology like the iPad will damage your brain and impair your thinking skills. They will further espouse that mobile smartphones will retard your communication skills and sense of community. Do not fear, little one. Grampa do not believe this. As long as you master technology and not the other way around, you will be okay. I am sure that when the printing press was invented, there were a hue and cry about how the printed pages will distort the thinking of those who read these words, the death of writing and the demise of memory. Yet, the printing press has been with us for more that five hundred years and after billion of books, our reshaped society cannot live without the printed word. People still write with pen and paper. They can still use their memory to remember things. Within reasonable limits they seem to be able to think.

Grampa knows that the way you receive and process information will be different from Grampa’s. Grampa’s mental processing tends to be linear following the cause and effect progression. Yours will be new processes of thinking that will take  years of research for educationalists and neuroscientist to understand. However this will be the way your generation thinks. There is nothing wrong with that. What you will think of, experience and create, Grampa, with all his imagination, will never ever conceive of. When you invented a warp capable spaceship, don’t forget to beam Grampa up!

Use technology but do not let technology be your master. Use technology but do not be so dependent on technology that you cannot function without it. Grampa can see that you have no problem with that at this moment. You do your magic with your iPad but Grampa observes that you still go back to your coloring pencils and sticker books. Grampa is happy with that because Grampa is more competent in using color pencils than painting with the iPad!

Dear Lord, help this little one to develop her mental processes so that she will be able to use technology as a tool in her thinking process. Teach and guide her to perceive and receive your truth as you reveal yourself to her. Amen


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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) is another offering from the big screen Marvel universe. It continues the on screen adventures of Captain America/Steve Rogers from the previous movie, Captain America: the First Avenger (2011). Drawing from the rich resources of the Captain America line of comic story arcs, The Winter Soldier is an attempt to connect the aging fans of the Captain America comic era and to introduce new fans to Captain America. This movie is an action packed non-stop punching, kicking and blowing up stuff that is the staple of movie making nowadays. And we get to see it in 3D too!

Warning: spoilers.
The synopsis of the movie may be found here

Readers of Captain America comics will know who the Winter Soldier is. It is James Buchanan Barnes who was given the nickname “Bucky” at Camp LeHigh. Bucky was already a 21 year old highly trained assassin when he was assigned to be Captain America’s sidekick. Bucky was presumed dead when he fell off an experimental drone bomb plane created by Baron Zemo. Captain America fell off the same plane into the Atlantic where he was frozen until discovered in the twentieth century. Unknown to everyone, Buck was revived by the Russians, had amnesia and was brainwashed to become an assassin known as The Winter Soldier.

The movie which is entertaining in its own right does raise some interesting issues to consider.
Firstly, from the perspective of Captain America/Steve Rogers, the world is no longer black and white. Before he was flash-frozen, Rogers can distinguish the good guys from the bad. The good guys are Americans who are fighting to build a free world. The bad guys are the Nazi who planned to enslave the whole world. The world that Steve woke up to is no longer black or white. It is all gray! The seemingly good guys like Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D has secrets, hired pirates to seize his own ship and then send in a tactical team to kill the pirates. Steve struggles with the new morality where no one is trustworthy. In a way, this reminds me of Tolkien’s Christian idealism in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Ring trilogy as opposed to George Martin’s Christian realism in his Game of Thrones series. Rogers represent idealism in his belief system. Christian realism seems to be all about politics and where the end justifies the means. Morality becomes a convenience not a duty and rule.

Secondly, institutions seem to be easily subverted from within. S.H.I.E.L.D  which originally stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division in the comics which was later changed to Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. In the Marvel movies, in a nod to the United States, it becomes Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. The original S.H.I.E.L.D  according to the comic continuity was started by Nick Fury and Sergeant Rock of the Howling Commandos to fight HYDRA, a criminal organization founded by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. In this movie, HYDRA has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D  up to its highest level. In some way, this reminds of the institutional church. The church has in many ways being infiltrated up to its highest level by materialism, secularism, and religiosity. As in the movie, sometimes it is difficult to differentiate the institution from the infiltrators.

Finally, there is the issue of the lack of identity. In the movie the Winter Soldier was mind wiped repeatedly and frozen after each mission. Bucky fought against his best friend, Steve Rogers. He had no idea of their past relationship. There may be an inkling of past memory surfacing when he saved Steve from drowning. Many of us seem to suffer from this loss of personal identity though we have not been mind wiped by electricity. Our postmodern lifestyle has no respect for the past.  We seem to drift from moment to moment not knowing who we really are. Many of us are shaped by the events of the day and act as if we are programmed to perform certain actions. We are victims of circumstances rather than being masters of it.
Movies are the present day myths. The cinematic Marvel universe is creating a detailed mythology of heroes/heroines and villains and new perspectives of morality. I wonder whether we are influencing this new mythology or it is influencing us.


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Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom. 



Friday, March 21, 2014

To have succeeded

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

source: Wiki



Monday, March 17, 2014

Sabbath Keeping and the Spiritual Life (part one)

Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath? This is a controversial topic that has divided Christian through the ages. There are a few references to the Sabbath in the Bible. Most of the verses commanding us to keep the Sabbath is found in the Old Testament.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:8-10a)

 Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor in order that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves. (Exodus 23:12)

For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 31:15)

 Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. (Deuteronomy 5:12)
You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:2)

The context of these verses is that it was given to the Israelites to set them apart from the nations surrounding them, and to grow them into the people of God that God intended. It was the custom of the Jews to come together on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, cease work, and worship God. Of the 10 commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17, only nine of them were reinstituted in the New Testament. (Six in Matthew 19:18, murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, honor parents, and worshiping God; Romans 13:9, coveting. Worshiping God properly covers the first three commandments). The one that was not reaffirmed was the one about the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus said that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8).

With regards to the Sabbath in the New Testament, there seems to be a difference in emphasis. No longer is it a particular day of rest to be observed religiously but instead the concept of Sabbath-rest come into being.

 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)

Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16)

When it comes to the Sabbath, we have always fixate on a particular day, usually a Saturday. However we never quite agree on when does that Saturday begins. Does Sabbath begins on Friday sunset or Saturday midnight? Other may think that for Christians, it is a Sunday. By Sunday, they usually means the Sunday morning service after which they are free to do yard work, read the papers or go shopping with the family. What seems is common to different camps is that during the Sabbath, we should not do any work. Work here refers to what we do the rest of the week in our workplace.

I believe we get this concept of resting from our work from the Genesis account in chapter 1 and 2. “By the seventh day God has finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Gen. 2:2 NIV). I am very curious about God being ‘tired’ after creating for six days. Why would God get tired? He is after all God and should be tireless. A word study of the Hebrew word for ‘rested’ is yiš·bōṯ' which means ‘ceased’. This seems to imply that God did not stop on the seventh day because he is tired but that he stopped because he has finished what he set out to do. Genesis chapter two seems to bear out the idea that God did not stop to rest on the seventh day but instead he has completed/ceased his creation and wants to enjoy his creation on the seventh day. God wants to celebrate with his creatures (which includes human beings) and his created order. God delights, enjoys and meets with his completed perfect creation in the Garden of Eden. This shalom place, as distinct from the chaotic state before creation, is a holy place; a place to enjoy and delight with God in the completion of his creation. Unfortunately this perfect holy place of rest became threatened by the Fall and the concept of Sabbath became imprisoned by religiosity.

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrows; it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  (Heb 4:1-13)

The day God chose for the Sabbath is ‘Today’ (Heb. 4:7). The passage from Hebrews 4:1-13 is aptly entitled “A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God” (NIV). This sabbath rest (sabbatismós) which remains for God’s people will be “the perfect sabbath of heavenly blessing toward which the pilgrim community is moving and which will mean cessation from its own labors”. [1] The author of Hebrews implies that entering the Sabbath rest is not by doing or by observing a special day but by faith and obedience to the revealed word of God. This rest from work is not just rest from our workplace but also from our struggles with our sinful natures. The tense of the Greek implies that this rest is not only an eschatological rest but one in which we can experience in the present time. Hence, today, not only are we to rest from our labors but also to celebrate, enjoy, and delight with God in his creation of which we are a part of.

[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G. & Bromiley, G.W., 1985. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p.992.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Jesus Prayer

cover of Mathewes-Green, Frederica. The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God. Brewster, MA: Parachetes Press, 2009.

One of the prayers which I find most helpful in helping me to pray unceasingly is the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer was developed by the desert fathers and mothers in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine during the early years of Christianity (3rd Century AD) more than 1,500 years ago. The name Jesus Prayer was first mentioned by St. John Climacus (525-606 AD), abbot of the monastery at Mt. Sinai in The Ladder of Divine Ascent[1]. In the 18th century it was collected into a book by two Russian monks. This book is the Philokalia[2]. Another book from Russia that mentioned the Jesus Prayer was The Way of the Pilgrim which was also published in the 19th century. This prayer is still a favorite prayer of the Orthodox Catholic Church or commonly known as the Eastern Orthodox Church[3]. The apostolic church was a single church until 1024 when it was split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church by an event appropriately named the East-West Schism. The Protestant movement, of which the Presbyterians are one of the inheritors, came out of the Roman Catholic Church. In many ways, the practices of the Orthodox Catholic Church reflect the practices of the early church.

The Jesus Prayer in its commonest form is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer has two essential components. The first is the acknowledgement of the supremacy of Jesus Christ as described in the great Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. The second component is the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, in which the Pharisee demonstrates the improper way to pray by exclaiming: "Thank you Lord that I am not like the Publican", whereas the Publican prays correctly in humility, saying "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner" (Luke 18:10-14). The Jesus Prayer is a prayer addressed to God asking for mercy.

The Jesus Prayer is also known as the prayer of the heart. The Song of Solomon's passage from the Old Testament “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Solomon 5:2) declares that for persons in love, their beloved is never far from their hearts. The analogy being that as a lover is always conscious to his or her beloved, people can also achieve a state of “constant prayer” where they are always conscious of God's presence in their lives.

The prayer is repeated slowly and prayerfully. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Repeatedly proclaiming the divinity of Christ and asking for mercy is not vain repetition. It is different from chanting a mantra or a self help technique. It is “continuous” worship in invoking the name of Christ and acknowledging our dependence upon Him. Mercy here is not just for salvation only but also for our spiritual well being. Unlike mantras, the Jesus Prayer may be translated into any language.

Initially you may need to find a quiet place to pray the Jesus Prayer. To pray the Jesus prayer is to repeat “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” as many times as your time period allows. Gradually, as you become more used to it, you find you will be able to pray it while you are doing other things. The Jesus Prayer may be prayed anywhere. There are no special postures associated with it.

1.      Find a quiet place and time to pray
2.      Be comfortable but not too comfortable
3.      Close your eyes and still your mind
4.      Be aware of your breathing. Consciously slow down your breathing; take a deep breath and breathe out slowly counting silently up to five. Repeat unless you are relaxed and calm.
5.      Slowly match your breathing to the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ” (receive-breathe in), “Son of the Living God” (proclaim- breathe out), “have mercy on me” (receive-breathe in), “a sinner” (proclaim- breathe out). St. John Climatus writes, “Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with your every breath.”[4]
6.      Keep repeating  these words of the Jesus prayer.
7.      If your mind starts wandering, use the words of the Jesus Prayer to refocus.
8.      Start with a ten minute prayer session twice a day.
9.      Slowly extend the duration of your prayer sessions
10.   Extend your prayer outside these prayer sessions into the other times of your life – while waiting in a queue, waiting for the traffic light to change, brushing your teeth, etc.

Pray unceasingly, urges St Paul to the Romans (Rom.12:12), the Ephesians (Eph. 6:18), the Colossians (Col. 4:2) and the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:16-18). In this multi-tasking form, you can pray unceasingly while you do other things. People who have been praying the Jesus Prayer for many years will tell you that they are able to work, play, love, and rest while part of their minds are praying the Jesus Prayer. There is also a story told that when a certain devout Orthodox Church lady was coming out of anesthesia after an operation, the surgical nurses heard her praying the Jesus Prayer before she herself became fully conscious!

The spiritual teachers of the Orthodox Church claim that initially you pray the Jesus Prayer but soon the Jesus Prayer prays you. The continuous invoking the Name of God and petitioning for mercy has a power effect on our spiritual formation. It makes us sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and empowers the “renovation of our hearts.” This is the beauty of the Jesus prayer. It is not the endless repetition of the words. It is in the endless repetition that we find ourselves ‘sensitized’ to the presence of God. When we continually receive and proclaim we find our minds and souls becoming more receptive to God who is always with us but unfortunately we are not always aware of Him. The Jesus Prayer is one prayer I pray constantly and I sincerely invite you to pray it too.

Further Reading

[1] John Climacus, John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans., Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982)., 45-54, 153n.
[2] Writing from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, trans., E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1951). Other good books on the Jesus Prayer includes A Monk of the Eastern Church, The Jesus Prayer (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimit's Seminary Press, 1987).; The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues on His Way, trans., R. M. French (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1965).,Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God (Brewster, MA: Parachetes Press, 2009).,Norris J. Chumley, The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011).
[3] Mathewes-Green.
[4] Climacus., 270.

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Dynamics of Spiritual Formation



Life of Jesus





Monday, February 24, 2014

The Spiritual Disciplines: Exercise Unto Godliness

How we behave, think and live our daily lives depends more on own inner self than on external circumstances. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was very aware of this. In The Republic which may be considered the first text on spiritual formation, Plato emphasized that the training and shaping of personal character is the basis of great leadership and the building of great nations. Character is formed and transformed by the building of good habits.

We are aware that to excel at any skill sets require hours and hours of practice. While intrinsic gifting and talents are necessary, it is the single minded pursuit of excellence through repeated practice that distinguish successful persons from others. Musicians such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, basketball players such as Michael Jordan, footballer such as Pele, and programmers such as Bill Gates achieved their excellence through constant practice. Malcom Gladwell estimated that 10,000 hours of practice is minimum to develop successful skills that makes a difference[i]. Practice develops habits that affects body coordination, muscle memories, and worldview (which is a way of knowing and thinking about reality). This changes is circular in that the changes affects practice which then affects habits. A person’s character is formed by that person’s worldview (Rom.12:2).

Godliness is a Trinitarian worldview. This worldview helps us to perceive a reality that is in communion with the Trinity.  Paul encourages Timothy to develop such a worldview.

7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

Likening godliness-also known as holiness - to physical training, Paul seems to imply there is also spiritual training. This is in connect to what Paul means to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” and “spiritual worship” in specific spiritual training of our human bodies (Rom.12:1). This spiritual training is what we call the spiritual disciplines or “disciplines for the spiritual life”. The spiritual disciplines are helpful habits that will help us to develop holiness. We must be aware that the habits of spiritual disciplines will only conform us to certain behavioral patterns. These behavioral patterns do not change our characters. Only the Holy Spirit can transform our characters to that of the character of Christ. John Wesley regards the spiritual disciplines as means of grace that enables the Holy Spirit to work on our lives. Richard Foster notes that “[a] Spiritual Discipline is an intentionally directed action by which we do what we can do in order to receive from God the ability (or power) to do what we cannot do by direct effort”[ii]. The spiritual disciplines must be understood only as a means to holiness, not an end by itself. Further, we must note that the spiritual disciplines is not works-righteousness. Practicing the spiritual disciplines does not earn us righteousness with God. That righteousness comes from the work of Jesus on the cross. The spiritual disciplines leads us to form habits of holiness. It is exercises unto godliness. This in turn allows the Holy Spirit to transform our character to that of the character of Christ.

Discipleship or following Christ involves practicing the spiritual disciplines. In the preface to The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard wrote,

My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing—by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father. What activities did Jesus practice? Such things as solitude and silence, prayer, simple and sacrificial living, intense study and meditation upon God's Word and God's ways, and service to others. Some of these will certainly be even more necessary to us than they were to him, because of our greater or different need. But in a balanced life of such activities, we will be constantly enlivened by "The Kingdom Not of This World"—The Kingdom of Truth as seen in John 18:36-37[iii].

If we study the life of Jesus carefully, we will discover that he practises many spiritual disciplines. And our record is only from snatches of his childhood and his three and a half years of ministry. What about the thirty odd hidden years? To have the character as revealed in the Gospels will mean that Jesus has spent years and years developing it. It is significant that the author of Hebrews notes that Jesus while on earth has to “learned obedience from what he suffered”(Hebrews 5:8). It should therefore not surprising to discover that the early church equates discipleship and spiritual growth with practising the spiritual disciplines.

The spiritual disciplines in this list should be considered. Please note that it is not a comprehensive list.
1.      Celebration
2.      Chastity
3.      Confession
4.      Fasting
5.      Fellowship
6.      Guidance
7.      Meditation
8.      Prayer
9.      Sacrifice
10.   Secrecy
11.   Service
12.   Simplicity/frugality
13.   Silence and Solitude
14.   Study
15.   Submission
16.   Worship
17.   Journaling
18.   Writing

[i] Malcom Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)., 35-68
[ii] Richard Foster and Kathyrn A.  Helmers, Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation (New York: HarperOne, 2008)., 16
[iii] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1988)., ix-x)


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