Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Theologically Reflective Christian Professionals

Journal Article Review

Barns, Ian (2002), Becoming Theologically Reflective Practitioners in Professional Life, Journal of Christian Education, Vol.45, No. 2, September : 7-20

Dr. Ian Barns, Lecturer in Science and technology Policy, Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia made a refreshing appeal for the need to help Christian professionals to be theologically reflective. This is a need that is long felt by many Christian professionals who are considered laypersons by the church professionals or clergy and by the seminary academicians.

In asking the question why Christian professionals are not theologically formed, Barns was very astute in his observations. It is true that professionals lead busy lives and have heavy workload and it is the training of the profession itself that narrow them down to looking for basic professional knowledge and skills to carry out their responsibilities. This is also carried forth when they face general issues facing their professions. They tend to see in specifics rather than generalities. Theology is seeing the big picture from God’s viewpoint. Another obvious point is that most churches do not offer theological training and those professionals who wanted more have go to the theological colleges. In the past, these have to leave their professions to be allowed to undergo theological training. Recently, there is awareness by theological colleges that there is a large body of professionals out there who are hungry for theological training. There are now evening classes and seminars for professionals.

Barns is interested in the pedagogy of Christian professionals who can do theological reflection in their professions. The desired outcome will be that of a Christian professional who will be personally able to do theological reflection and also be in fellowship with other theologically reflective Christians in the same professions. Barns have suggested 8 key elements to enhance theological reflection. These are:
1. Reflecting on ‘practice stories’p.11
2. Reflecting on the “structural challenges of the profession” p.11
3. Reflecting on the “ethical framework of professional practice” p.12
4. “Articulating the gospel as a framework for public truth” p.13
5. “Living a Eucharistic way of life” p.14
6. “Recovering the vocation of the kingdom of God” p.15
7. “Christian casuity in professional practice” p.16
8. “Fostering Christian solidarities” p.17
These are powerful elements if one is to be able to be theologically reflective. Practice stories are a wonderful tool for teaching, encouraging and motivation. These practice stories should be linked to the Christian Story, the meta-narrative of the redemptive work of God. Only then may it make sense. How does one reflect on practice stories, structural challenges of the profession and its ethical framework? As he has mentioned earlier, professionals are more problem solvers than reflectors. That means there will need to be teaching on how to reflect in his program. Reflection also needs time and solitude. Again in a busy professional lifestyle, how is one to find this time for reflection? It will be interesting to see how Barns resolve these problems in his ‘in situ’ theological reflection professionals approach.

For the 8 key elements to be effective and for a Christian professional to be able to reflect theologically, he or she must have at least a basic theological foundation in order to do so. This is assume a certain level of knowledge of the Bible, systematic theology, cultural imperatives, issues of the profession, hermeneutics, critical thinking and learning, and the ability to integrate all this information through the filter of a Christian worldview. The reflecting professional needs a theological foundation before he or she can reflect. This then becomes a classic chicken and egg situation. Do the professional reflect first, and then become theological informed later or be theological first and then reflect later? Would short courses be able to provide the foundations? What would the other “holistic process for Christian professional development” be?

Would Christian communities be able to help? While professionals may be master in moving between worlds, church professionals often have difficulties moving out of their world. This also applies to programs organised by theological colleges. Such programs are often taught by theologians who may have little or no idea what challenges the professionals face outside the lecture halls.

Can Christian professional bodies help? Often Christian professional bodies or societies are non-reflective. They either look towards the theologians in the seminaries to give them the answers or to other similar bodies to give answers. Again, as a result of their training, they prefer to do rather than to reflect. They are Marthas rather than Marys. That is why historically they have not been very effective in giving a Christian voice in their profession. They have always been reactive rather than proactive.

The paper was written in 2002. It will be interesting to follow Barns’ progress in producing theological reflective lawyers ‘in situ’

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Bread of Life

You offer them the bread of life.
Thousands follow you across the Sea of Galilee,
Some for more of bread that is free,
Some to see the miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish,
Some are just following the crowd,
Some quietly meditate and wonder who you are.

You offered them the bread of life.
Who are you to offer this bread, some said, are you not a carpenter’s son,
Some questioned, are you Moses who delivered manna from heaven,
Some cried, are they cannibals that you offer them your flesh,
Some plotted because God knew them not,
Some quietly meditate and wonder who you are.

You offered them the bread of life.
This bread will forever satisfy all their hunger and all their thirst,
Some of your disciples wondered what you mean,
Some of your disciples waited for your signal for an invading army.
Some of your disciples rejected your claims and walked away,
Some quietly meditate and wonder who you are.

You offered them the bread of life.

[a meditation on John 6:35-59]

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Notes on The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown in his best selling novel made certain assumptions about the belief and authority of Christianity. It is our intention to disagree with Mr. Brown and to inform his readers that the various allegations he has published in his book is wrong.

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Condemnation and Forgiveness

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
a woman stole quietly to draw water from the well in a small city in Samaria,
safe from the gossips and disdainful looks of other women in the city of Sychar.
A woman of Samaria who was just trying to survive, to have a roof over her head,
being driven from home after home erodes one’s pride slowly but surely.

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
an afternoon like any other afternoon, a man asked a woman of Samaria for a drink,
a Jew, whom she thought was teasing her, a lone woman at the well.
She looked at him and he offered her living water, water that will form a spring in those who drinks and they will never thirst again.
The woman considered the hours of backbreaking labour carrying water and this man who offered water so easily: another nutcase,
humouring him, she compared him to Jacob and asked for his living water.

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
the Jew looked at her and tells of her own secret social dilemma. A soft breeze stirred the hot dust.
This man is either a nutcase or a prophet; the woman thought and changed the topic,
where do we worship God, Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim, she asked the Jew.
One day, he said, we shall worship anywhere as long as we worship in spirit and in truth.
The woman blinked and again changed the topic,
we are waiting for a Messiah who will tell us of these things.

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
the Jew said to the woman of Samaria, “I am” the Messiah you are waiting for. A gentle breeze cooled the hot dust.
His followers came back and she ran away in fear. No harsh words were said, no condemnation.
She blinked as she ran, could it be true that he is the Messiah, this stranger who knew of my secret life. She ran to the people in the city to tell them of this strange Jewish man.

It was a hot dusty afternoon,
the world was never the same again.

We are all sinners. To sin means to turn away from God; from his words and teachings. We sin by commission and omission. Being human, we are naturally attracted to riches, honour and pride. By itself, these things are not sinful. They became sin when they displace God from being the centre of our lives. We sin by not doing what we know we need to do. All of us sin. Paul described it so well in Romans 7 when he wrote about the two natures in us. It’s like having two wolves living inside us, fighting for dominance. Sinning is normal. As Martin Luther said, we are redeemed sinners, yet sinners still. What is important is the way we deal with our sins and how we relate to God concerning our sins. Many of us think of God as a vengeful father, hiding in the shadows and jumping out to catch us when we sin. Gotcha, there he goes. Hah! I caught her doing that. To such a ‘God’, we would become evasive when we pray to him. Like the Samaritan woman, we would change the topic of discussion when it begins to touch on our inner lives.

Yes, there is a need for being aware of our capacity to sin, to confess our sins and ask for grace not to do it again. We must be aware that our God is a gracious God, willing to forgive us. Jesus said he came not to condemn but to save (Jn 3:17). He also said he came for the sick. Jesus is the doctor, we are the patients and our sickness is sin (Mk 2:17). Jesus does not condemn us when we fail. This is a refreshing lesson for me to learn. A problem with some of us is that we feel that we have a sin so big that Jesus cannot forgive. What is actually happening is that it is we who cannot forgive, not Jesus. It is we who condemn ourselves, not God. But by doing so we find ourselves distancing ourselves from God and also from his people, the community of faith. Ultimately we end up becoming angry at God and at other people. Hence instead of realising our own condemnation of ourselves, we feel others are condemning us. To react to this, we begin to find faults with others. There is nothing so comforting than to ‘prove’ other people are greater ‘sinners’ than we are!

We need a realistic awareness of our sinfulness and to appreciate the generosity of God in his forgiveness of our sins. Once our particular sins are forgiven, we should move on. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Have no one condemned you?... neither will I, go now and sin no more” (Jn 8:3-11). In our spiritual journey, we are not expected to drag along our baggage filled with our forgiven sins. These should be left behind as we continue our walk with the Lord. It is always good to travel light.
Soli Deo Gloria

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Left Behind

Text: 2 Kings 2:7-15; Acts1: 8-11

When Elijah left Elisha and when Jesus left us, they leave behind the continuation of their mission and the means of empowerment to fulfil that mission.

I. Introduction
Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series consists of four historical novel about Julius Caesar (The Gates of Rome; The Death of Kings; The Field of Swords; and The Gods of Wars). To complement this, I read Adrian Goldsworthy’s In The Name of Rome, a non fiction book about the various Roman generals who built the Roman Empire. Men like Caius Marius, Julius Caesar, Pompey and Titus (who besieged Jerusalem in 70 AD). I find the Roman strategy of building the Roman Empire fascinating. First they conquer an area either by besieging a city or defeating a local enemy ruler or chieftain. Next, they leave behind a garrison to occupy the conquered city as the army marches on. This garrison of well trained Roman soldiers was not only to keep the local population in check but also to offer them protection. The Romans were great engineers. They would improve the conquered city by building infrastructures like aqueducts to bring water from the mountains, sewers and roads. Better roads will bring commerce, trade and Roman culture. Gradually the conquered cities will be assimilated into the Roman Empire. Many of the great cities of Europe were Roman cities, built upon existing cities: London, Paris, Plague and Istanbul. This is due to the work of those who were purposely left behind by the Roman armies and their generals.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

John Denver: Rocky Mountain High

Rocky Mountain High
John Denver
Words by John Denver; Music by John Denver and Mike Taylor

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hangin' by a song
But the string's already broken and he doesn't really care
It keeps changin' fast and it don't last for long

But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky mountain high

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept his memory

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky mountain high

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
I know he'd be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky mountain high

It's Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody's high
Rocky mountain high



Monday, May 08, 2006

Help! The Da Vinci Code Movie is Coming!

Looking at the mobilization of some Christians with regards to the coming movie, one would think there is a forthcoming invasion of Christianity. This is surprising to me considering that the book, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was published in 2003 and 40 millions copies have already been sold! The genie is already out of the bottle.

There are many suggestions in which Christians are encouraged to do to respond to the ‘perceived threat’ of The Da Vinci Code. Some are encouraged to ignore it, others to protest, to call for a ban, to dialogue and one ingenious suggestion by Barbara Nicolosi, Christian scriptwriter and script consultant is to ‘othercott’ it. Instead of boycotting the movie, see another movie instead. The idea is to send a message to Hollywood who will be counting the weekend earnings of the movie. While respecting the views of Ms. Nicolosi, I cannot see how it will really benefit anyone if all Christians should othercott the movie.

My personal approach is to engage falsehood with the truth. Again I do not agree with Ms.Nicolosi that a dialogue with the issues raised by the movie is ‘debating the devil’. Truth needs to be told. St. Paul mentioned that if we do not tell the truth, who will then? Again truth is like a beam of light. Light drives out darkness and deception.

One reason we, Christians, fear the book and the movie is that we ourselves do have not sufficient knowledge about out own faith and church history. That’s why we are so easily swayed by false doctrines that blow our way. I think this is a good opportunity for us to reexamine our faith and our own beliefs. Time for us to review our knowledge about
(1) How did the formation of the canon of the Bible come about?
(2) Was our Bible edited to suit a particular politics or viewpoint?
(3) Is Jesus just a mortal man and Emperor Constantine made him God?
(4) What happened at the Council of Nicea?
(5) Who was Mary Magdalene?
(6) When did Mary Magdelene become our model for a reformed prostitute?
(7) What was the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus?
(8) Who is the Priory of Sion? The Knight Templar? The Opus Dei?
(9) What is Gnosticism?
(10) What are the ‘lost’ gospels?
(11) What information did the Dead Sea Scrolls give us?
(12) What information did the Nag Hammadi Documents give us?
(13) What is ‘goddess’ worship?
(14) Does reading The Da Vinci Code shake our faith?

If we are unable to answer these questions above, then it is time for us to do something about it. I would recommend the following books for a comprehensive and scholarly perspective

(1) Darrell L. Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers the Question Everybody’s Asking (Thomas Nelson: 2004)
(2) Erwin W. Luther, The Da Vinci Deception: Credible Answers to the Questions Millions are asking about Jesus, the Bible and the Da Vinci Code (Tyndale: 2004)
(3) Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Da Vinci (Intervarsity Press: 2004)

Aside from that, attend the numerous Da Vinci Code seminars the various churches and organizations are organizing. I would like to appreciate the Agora forum, a yahoo discussion group especially David Chong for getting Mandarin and Malay translations of various responses to the Da Vinci Code. Let us be sure that we know what we believe.

Then, we should read the book or watch the movie. Not only should we read the book or watch the movie but we also invite our non Christian friends to do it with us. Then in the discussion, we will have the perfect opportunity to reveal the truth as we believed it. The movie is coming! So what let it come and we shall have a jolly good time.

Soli Deo Gloria


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Henri Nouwen on Purpose

We seldom realize fully that we are sent to fulfill God-given tasks. We act as if we were simply dropped down in creation and have to decide to entertain ourselves until we die. But we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.

Henri Nouwen

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Henri Nouwen on Waiting

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God moulds us according to God's love and not according to our fear. Thespiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

Henri Nouwen

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