Monday, July 24, 2006

The Dance

Come dance with me,
he invited,
extending his hand,
but I do not know how to.
Don’t worry, he said,
just follow me.

What dance will it be,
I wondered.
He smiled
as he grasped my hand,
his grasp was gentle,
but I feel
deep scars on his palms.

The music was already playing,
as we reached the dance floor,
the music of eternity,
of love given and lost,
of longing and emptiness,
of pain and forgiveness.

We began to dance;
initially awkwardly
with my two left feet,
stepping and stumbling
over each other.

Again he smiles as
he gently took the lead,
just let go,
give yourself to the music,
he said.

Soon, the awkwardness was gone,
as I learnt to let go
and follow his lead,
letting the rhythm
of the music fill my being.

Round and round the dance floor
we move as one.
one in mind,
one in spirit,
one in soul,
one with the Lord of the dance.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Follow Me

"Follow me"

"Okay, Lord....where am I going?

"With Me."


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The House with the Golden Windows

There is a story told about a young boy who lived with his parents in a cottage on a hillside overlooking a valley. Every evening, he would sit on his front porch and looked over to another house that is situated on another hillside at the other end of the valley. His favorite moment was when the sun was sinking in the west; the other house would burst into a dazzling golden light. How happy these people must be who live in a house with golden windows, he thought. He would fantasies about living in such a house. How happy he will be. He looked around his own house and wished that his house had golden windows too.

One day, this boy packed his favorite toy and a loaf of bread and set off to the house of his dreams. The journey took longer than he thought. It was sunset when he climbed the other hill slope. He was disappointed when he reached the other house. It was a cottage like his own home, smaller and more rundown. The windows were ordinary and were not golden at all! He was so disappointed. The kindly folks in the cottage offered him a bed for the night as it was too late for the journey back. He shared supper with the simple folks and went to bed early. The young boy was eager to start his journey early the next day and leave this disappointing house behind.

Early the next morning, he let himself out just when the sun was rising to get an early start. He looked across the valley toward his own house. As the ray of the rising sun struck his home, it burst forth in a dazzling golden light!

We have often heard the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side”. How often have we packed our bags, like the boy in our story, and seek greener pasture? And how often have we been disappointed when we reach the other ‘pasture’ only to find what we left behind is better. What is this part of our personality that is never satisfied with what we have and always wants more? We always feel is if only we have a little more money, we will be happy. “If only” becomes our fantasy. If only we are more well-known, more powerful, more beautiful, then we shall be happy. If only our house have golden windows.

The Church Fathers have a name for this attribute: “covetousness” or greed. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defined “covetousness” as (1) marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another's possessions, and (2) having a craving for possession. This is one of the seven deadly sins. The other deadly sins are lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

Covetousness or greed can be an all consuming obsession. To become richer, more famous or more powerful demands a great investment of our time and efforts. To achieve that sales target we are willing to work hard. To meet that deadline, we are willing to give more of our time and effort. This obsession is a demanding mistress. It takes away all our time, effort and perspective so that we do not have time for anything else. Unfortunately our society rewards this obsession. Our society calls this obsession “success”. Success is defined in our society in terms of what you have, not in terms of who you are. The Church Fathers recognize this as a deadly sin because being consumed with covetousness or greed will leave behind broken marriages, dysfunctional families, traumatized children and lost souls. Jesus asked the question, “What does it profits a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Covetousness or greed will divert our attention from things that are important to a delusion of things that will not satisfy. If only my house have golden windows.

Covetousness or greed not only becomes a magnificent obsession but it may also replace God in our lives! It is so easy to change our allegiance from God the Father to the “Money” god. The temple of worship of the god “Money” are the world’s stock exchanges and financial institutions (including banks). If you find you spend more time with the stock exchange or banks (unless you work there) than in church, check who your God is. It is often a subtle change, a short step from wanting more money to worshipping money. Money is fame. Everyone knows who you are if you have money. You will never lack for company if you have money. Money is power. Money gives you more possessions. Money is success. Satan tempted Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms on earth and their wealth. All Jesus had to do is to worship Satan. What Satan was doing is to appeal to the weakness for covetousness and greed that is in our hearts. Jesus did not succumb but not so for many of us.

I am not saying here that we are not to want to improve our standard of living. We have a duty to provide for our loved ones and family- financially, emotionally and spiritually. There is nothing wrong with working hard and making money. What I am saying is that we must learn contentment. We must learn to say when “enough is enough”. We must exercise caution in that the desire to provide for ourselves and our family do not cross the line into covetousness or greed. We need to reexamine our life and review the reasons why we are working so hard. Is it to provide for ourselves, our family and our children’s education? What happens when you have saved enough? Do you still want to earn more because it is never enough? Or would you consider giving the excess to Kingdom work or to charitable organizations. When is “enough is enough”?

If you do not know when “enough is enough,” you will keep working, making money and chasing that elusive dream of “the grass is greener on the other side”. You will become obsessed with money or even worse, commit idolatry; when your money becomes your God. It is my hope that you will not end up like the young boy who discovered too late that the house with the golden windows is his own house. T.S.Elliot writes in the Four Quartets:

“There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives - unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle.”

Soli Deo Gloria

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Revolution:Finding Faith Outside the Local Church

Book Review

Barna, George, 2005, Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

George Barna, in his latest book, Revolution, challenges us to re-examine our theology of church and ways of doing church in the future. Barna was confident that it is possible to predict trends in the church in the United States. He wrote The Frog in the Kettle (1990) in which he identified possible trends and reforms the churches need to implement in order to maximise the benefits from these trends. Barna claimed in his latest book that “90 percent of the predicted outcomes became reality” (p.viii). With this impressive record, Barna went on to introduce what he believes will be the next major trend and this will involve the very structure and the way we do church itself.

Barna identifies a “new breed” of Christians (about 20 million) whom he named “The Revolutionary Christian”. In the opening chapter he identified David (not the biblical one) as one. He described David, “…is a Revolutionary Christian. His life reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life and purpose of Jesus Christ and that advances the Kingdom of God-despite the fact that David rarely attends church services. He is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not willing to play religious games and aren’t interested in being part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom. They are people who want more of God- much more- in their lives. And they are doing whatever it takes to get it.” (p.7) These revolutionaries have seven major passions (p. 23-25)
Intimate Worship
Faith-based Conversations (evangelistic)
Intentional Spiritual Growth
Resource Investment
Spiritual Friendships

While there is not much to distinguish between the revolutionaries from any committed born-again Christians, the major distinguishing mark is that revolutionaries are willing to leave the local church and seek their spiritual feeding and experiences elsewhere. While there is the commitment to God, there is no loyalty to tradition and the local church. Barna’s research has shown that the local churches have a lot of flaws and churched Christians (about 77 millions) fall short of the standards of these revolutionaries.

What are some of the factors that lead to this trend? Barna has identified seven (p. 42-47).

The Changing of the Guard
As the Baby Boomers and Builders begin to make way Baby Busters (1965-1983) and Mosaics (1984-2002), the demographic changes have major influences on culture and societal expectations.

The Rise of a new View of Life
Postmodernism has become the main influence in mainstream American culture. What it means is that relationship is more important than productivity, pluralism and relativism, influence through dialogue and the ends justify the means. The working process is more important than the end product.

Dismissing the Irrelevant
Unlike the Boomers who are famous for demanding excellence, the next generation; “they quickly abandon anything that is not wholly germane to their personal passions …They have little patience for anything based on tradition, customs, ease, or social responsibility. If they do not immediately sense the relevance of something, they dismiss it out of hand and move on to the next alternative.” Hence loyalty is not a strong point of consideration.

The Impact of Technology

Genuine Relationships
They value relationships and are “people people.” Their focus on personal authenticity rather than performance and they like personal stories and experience rather than principles and commands.

Participation in Reality
They like the hands on approach and enjoy the experiential rather than the cognitive.

Finding True Meaning
They find true meaning in sacrifice and surrender.

What this boils down to is that the next generation will leave any local church or organisation that does not meet their needs. They are not what we consider ‘backsliders’, they are more of spiritual seekers. With more resources within reach (easy communications, travel, Internet etc), they will find their own sources of spirituality that will meet their spiritual needs. They will develop their own network and alternative faith communities. Barna’s prediction for future trends is as below.

How Americans Experience and Express Their Faith (p.49)
Primary means of spiritual experience and expression

Local church 70% (2000) 30-35% (2025)
Alternate Faith-based Community 5% (2000) 30-35% (2025)
Family 5% (2000) 5%(2025)
Media, Arts, Culture 20% (2000) 30-35%(2025)

What will the future faith communities be like. Barna offers a glimpse of some possible forms (p.61-67):

Macro model
Congregational form of local church
House churches
Family faith experiences

Micro model (distributed models of faiths)
Independent worship events
Marketplace fellowships
Coaching communities
Narrowcast Internet-based faith group
Parachurch ministries

Barna has done the Church a favour by bringing to our attention, a possible trend or movement of people out of the local church to seek their spiritual formation elsewhere. While I do not believe it will be as large a percentage as he predicted, I believe that it is an important trend.

If committed Christians find difficulties in being part of an established church and find that they are stagnating, in spite of having make efforts to be part of the community, they should be allowed to explore alternative ways of doing Church. Church to me is not a building or even a local congregation. Church to me is a people of God, the Body of Christ. Many of us has realised that many local churches are no more than fossilized institutions, political conventions, spiritual spas or country clubs.

Throughout Church history, the committed Christians are always marginalized. And they have always survived. These revolutionaries may be the 21st Century equivalent of the desert fathers and mothers of the 4th Century. What the local congregations should be doing is not to condemn or drive them off but to connect with them and offer them a place to come back to when their wandering is done. For all we know, the revolutionaries may be God’s way of sparking off a revival as He has done it with the Pentecostal/Charismatic in the last century.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Spiritual Theology and Learning Theory

An Analytical Integration of the Spiritual Theology of the Three Ways (Purgative, Illuminative, Unitive) and Action Science, Reflective Practitioners and Frame Reflection Theories of Learning.

Can modern learning theories help to us to understand, inform and transform spiritual growth? This question can be answered in many ways. There are many who hold to that spiritual growth has nothing to do with ‘secular’ learning theories. Their contention is that the Holy Spirit as our teacher is more than enough for our spiritual development. Others view ‘secular’ learning theories with suspicion. This is the legacy of a dualistic neo-platonic view of spirituality that the Church has inherited. It is the aim of this paper to prove that modern learning theories does help us to understand, inform and transform spiritual growth

Read complete article


Friday, July 07, 2006

Shared Praxis as a form of Learning

Groome, Thomas H., 1980, Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

The Shared Praxis is Groome’s contribution to Christian education pedagogy. In this very comprehensive book, Groome examined the nature, purpose and context of Christian religious education. He defined “Christian religious education is a political activity with pilgrims in time that deliberately and intentionally attends with them to the activity of God in our present, to the Story of the Christian faith community, and to the Vision of God’s Kingdom, the seeds of which are already among us.”(p.25) [italics author’s]. The key to the understanding of Shared Praxis is the understanding of time. Instead of linear time or kronos, Groome suggested that kairos time, especially the present time being most important. In the present time, which he described as “present of things present, the present of things past, and the present of things future” is where true learning take place.

He suggested that the Shared Praxis approach is the most reasonable way to do Christian religious education.There are five components or movements in shared praxis. They are (1) present action, (2) critical reflection, (3) dialogue, (4) the Christian Story, and (5) the Vision that arises from that Story. It is in the present time that action takes place. Action is a reflection of our self. Hence critical reflection of such action in terms of past Christian tradition, present situation and the future of what is hoped for in the Kingdom. This is to be done within the context of the Christian Story. The hope is the Vision of the educational outcome. Groome summarised with “Christian religious education by shared praxis can be described as a group of Christians sharing in dialogue their critical reflection on present action in light of the Christian Story and its Vision toward the end of lived Christian faith.”(p.184) [italics author’s].It is an innovative approach to Christian religious education and a viable alternative to the more traditional schooling approach.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Superman Returns

The big guy in bright blue and red tights has a fascination for me since I discovered him in the comics when I was a wee lad. Currently I am enjoying Superman-the animated series, volume two and three on DVD. Though, I have not been too impressed with the previous four Superman movies, I was looking forward to this movie when Supes returns to the big screen.
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Peter Singer directed this movie though I have hoped that he would take up the challenge to direct X-Men III before taking on Superman Returns. But that will be crying over spilled milk.

The opening credits were impressive and remind us of the old Superman movies. John Williams’ music did not fail to induce a sense of nostalgia. The crash landing of a spaceship in the Kent’s farm was impressive and it was a pleasant shock to discover that Singer was not rehashing the legend of Superman’s first coming to earth but of a second coming. Interesting overtones of a ‘messiah’ legend.

Some will regard this movie as a love movie- between Superman and Lois Lane. There were nice moments in the movie which brought us back to the relationship of the two in previous Superman movies. However, one would question a love in which Superman will disappear suddenly without saying goodbye when astronomers discovered the remnants oft the planet Krypton. Flying away suddenly and leaving behind earth which he was entrusted to protect by his father, Jor-El smacks of an adolescent identity crisis.

Lex Luthor, the arch-villain was an interesting contrast of brilliance and stupidity. In his quest for revenge on Superman and real estate, he was willing to doom billions of people and drown the United States. It is interesting that he sees himself as the modern Prometheus. Prometheus was punished by the Greek gods for giving mankind fire (technology). In the movie, Luthor did steal Kryptonian technology for mankind (though for his own gain). Like Prometheus, he was caught and punished.

Central is to the theme of the movie is Lois Lane’s article, “Why the world doesn’t need a Superman”. It was written after Superman left abruptly and had won her the coveted Pulitzer award. Rephrased, the question became, “Does the world need a Saviour?” There is a scene in the movie where Superman hovers in space, listening and then responding to cries of help. There is another scene when Superman and Lois were floating in space (Lois apparently do not need oxygen or feel cold) when Superman answered the question. “You wrote that the world doesn't need a saviour, but everyday I hear people crying out for one." This has much resonance about the question about the world needing a saviour. One can cast Superman as the “Christ” figure. There are enough pointers in the movie; Jor-El sent his “only son” to earth. The talk about the father being the son and the son being the father. There is a scene in which Superman hovers in space in a crucifix position: arms outstretched, legs together. The second coming as in the return. The sacrifice and death of Superman. His apparent resurrection. His felt “responsibility” to be a saviour to the people of earth. It is easy to find Superman as the “Christ” figure in this movie.

However, we need to look deeper into the character of this Superman. Is he saviour material? In Superman II, he took Lois to bed (and fathered a son) while leaving the world unprotected. In this movie, he returns from a 5 years absence again leaving the world unprotected. He expects things to be what it was when he left. He tried to rekindle his relationship with Lois who has a son and a lived-in boyfriend. He stalked her like a love-sick puppy. Lex Luthor got out of jail (a 2 lifetime sentence) because Superman was not around to testify at his trial. He may be Superman but he is not perfect man. Only a perfect man can be the true saviour of mankind.

Brandon Routh was too scrawny to be cast as Superman/Clark Kent though at certain angles he does look like a very young Christopher Reeves. Kevin Spacey had fun as Lex Luthor. Kate Bosworth look totally out of character and looks as a Lois Lane. She lacks the toughness of Margot Kidder. Marlon Brando was well, Marlon Brandon. All in all, it was an interesting 155 minutes of movie making of an imperfect man/alien who wants to be saviour of the world. And I received a free movie poster too.