Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Understanding the Darkness Within

Imagine yourself at the bottom of a very deep well. You are so far underground that you can hardly see the pinpoint of light that is the opening of the well. Both your feet are stuck in knee-high mud that impedes and slow your movements. The air around you is humid, hot and pungent. You find it difficult to breathe. The darkness that surrounds you presses heavily onto your body that you feel you are being suffocated. You feel tired and drained. You do not know how long you have been stuck at the bottom of this well and you just do not care. You wish you were dead. There is no hope, no future and no colors. Just never-ending darkness. Those of you who have experienced depression will understand what I have just described. It would be a struggle to get out of bed every morning and you dread the coming day.

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Questions and Answers

Questions and Answers

1. Is Herod the Great from Esau’s lineage?

Yes, Herod the Great was an Edomite. The Edom were descendents of Esau. That was one of the reasons why he was not accepted by the Jews and why he tried so hard (rebuilding the Temple) so gain their favour.

2. The mention of burning coals.. on it in John 21:9-so did Jesus actually barbecue fish?

John described that the fish were laid (Greek -epikeimai ) on burning coals. Jesus was cooking the fish- grilling or barbecuing?

3. Those who left for Egypt to Joseph were 75 (Acts 7:14) but in OT 70 was mentioned.

Stephen in making his defense to the Sanhedrin mentioned 75 which included Jacob and his whole family (Acts 7:14). Gen 46:26 and Exodus 1: 5 mentioned the number 70.

The Septuagint LXX:
Greek and English

by Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton
published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., London, 1851

And Jacob rose up from the well of the oath; and the sons of Israel took up their father, and the baggage, and their wives on the waggons, which Joseph sent to take them.
And they took up their goods, and all their property, which they had gotten in the land of Chanaan; they came into the land of Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him.
The sons, and the sons of his sons with him; his daughters, and the daughters of his daughters; and he brought all his seed into Egypt.
And these are the names of the sons of Israel that went into Egypt with their father Jacob -- Jacob and his sons. The first-born of Jacob, Ruben.
And the sons of Ruben; Enoch, and Phallus, Asron, and Charmi.
and the sons of Symeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Aod, and Achin, and Saar, and Saul, the son of a Chananitish woman.
And the sons of Levi; Gerson, Cath, and Merari.
And the sons of Judas; Er, and Aunan, and Selom, and Phares, and Zara: and Er and Aunan died in the land of Chanaan.
And the sons of Phares were Esron, and Jemuel. And the sons of Issachar; Thola, and Phua, and Asum, and Sambran.
And the sons of Zabulun, Sered, and Allon, and Achoel.
These are the sons of Lea, which she bore to Jacob in Mesopotamia of Syria, and Dina his daughter; all the souls, sons and daughters, thirty-three.
And the sons of Gad; Saphon, and Angis, and Sannis, and Thasoban, and Aedis, and Aroedis, and Areelis.
And the sons of Aser; Jemna, Jessua, and Jeul, and Baria, and Sara their sister. And the sons of Baria; Chobor, and Melchiil.
These are the sons of Zelpha, which Laban gave to his daughter Lea, who bore these to Jacob, sixteen souls.
And the sons of Rachel, the wife of Jacob; Joseph, and Benjamin.
And there were sons born to Joseph in the land of Egypt, whom Aseneth, the daughter of Petephres, priest of Heliopolis, bore to him, even Manasses and Ephraim. And there were sons born to Manasses, which the Syrian concubine bore to him, even Machir. And Machir begot Galaad. And the sons of Ephraim, the brother of Manasses; Sutalaam, and Taam. And the sons of Sutalaam; Edom.
And the sons of Benjamin; Bala, and Bochor, and Asbel. And the sons of Bala were Gera, and Noeman, and Anchis, and Ros, and Mamphim. And Gera begot Arad.
These are the sons of Rachel, which she bore to Jacob; all the souls eighteen.
And the sons of Dan; Asom.
And the sons of Nephthalim; Asiel, and Goni, and Issaar, and Sollem.
These are the sons of Balla, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel, who bore these to Jacob; all the souls, seven.
And all the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, who came out of his loins, besides the wives of the sons of Jacob, even all the souls were sixty-six.
And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in the land of Egypt, were nine souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob who came with Joseph into Egypt, were seventy-five souls.

Compare this with the NIV
“All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives—numbered sixty-six persons. With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.” (Gen 46:26).

My personal interpretation is that someone had edited the number of Joseph’s children to 2: Manasseh and Ephraim who are the significant ones and not to confuse people with the record that Joseph has nine children in the copy of Genesis (that someone could not count 66+2 is not 70). The septuagint was more ancient and carries more weight. It listed 75 males which Stephen quoted correctly.

4. Herod mentioned in Matt. 14:3- is he the same as Antipas (Philip’s brother).

Yes, he is Antipas also known as Herod the tetrarch (Lk. 3:19, etc.). Herod the Great died in 4 BC and in his will he bequeathed his kingdom to three of his sons—Judaea and Samaria to Archelaus (Mt. 2:22), Galilee and Peraea to Antipas, and his NE territories to Philip (Lk. 3:1).

In the Gospels Antipas is conspicuous chiefly for his part in the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist (Mk. 6:14-28) and for his brief encounter with Jesus when the latter was sent to him by Pilate for judgment (Lk. 23:7ff.). Jesus is recorded as having once described him as ‘that fox’ (Lk. 13:31f.). He was the ablest of Herod’s sons, and like his father was a great builder; the city of Tiberias on the Lake of Galilee was built by him (AD 22) and named in honour of the Emperor Tiberius.

He married the daughter of the Nabataean king Aretas IV, but divorced her in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Herod Philip. According to the Synoptic Evangelists, John the Baptist incurred the wrath of Antipas for denouncing his second marriage as unlawful; Josephus says that Antipas was afraid that John’s great public following might develop into a revolt. Aretas naturally resented the insult offered to his daughter, and seized the opportunity a few years later to wage war against Antipas (AD 36). The forces of Antipas were heavily defeated, and Josephus says that many people regarded the defeat as divine retribution for Antipas’ killing of John the Baptist. In AD 39 Antipas was denounced to the Emperor Gaius by his nephew Agrippa as a plotter; he was deposed from his tetrarchy and ended his days in exile.


Four Principles of Good Writing

Zinsser, William. 2006. On writing well: The classic guide to writing non-fiction. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

This classic on writing by William Zinsser has been revised and expanded in its 7th edition. This is also the 30th anniversary of the publication of the book. Hundreds of writers have benefited by his teaching.

Even after 7 revisions, Zinsser still stresses the 4 basic principles of writing:
(1) clarity
(2) simplicity
(3) brevity
(4) humanity

Zinsser reminds writers that their primary purpose to write "something that people will want to read."

The master has spoken

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Debunking Mulitculturalism

Dear Sir/Madam
The Star Newspaper

I refer to the article, “Debunking multiculturalism” that appeared in The Star (Aug 22, 2006).

Historically, the term "multiculturalism" came into wide public use during the early 1980s in the context of public school curriculum reform. Specifically, the argument was made that the content of classes in history, literature, social studies, and other areas reflected what came to be called a "Eurocentric" bias. Hence there was a reformed movement in education to move away from a “Eurocentric” bias to one where all cultures and traditions were respected. It was a praiseworthy movement in that the uniqueness and diversity of different cultures of different ethnic groups were recognised and valued. Another term used was “melting pot” of cultures. However, this was discarded subsequently because it implies that in a “melting pot” other cultures are assimilated by the dominant culture.

First, it is curious that the author has associated the historical background of multiculturalism with Christianity. Eurocenticity is not Christianity. In fact, in European history there have been numerous movements to separate the state from religion. The France revolution, the Russian revolution and the collapse of communism were not related to Christianity.

Second, multiculturalism is not an ideology; it is a way of life. This way of life involves respect and tolerance towards other cultures and traditions. It creates a space for our diversity and hence enriches our communal experiences. In Malaysia, multiculturalism has enriched our lives and we have been richly blessed by this. I find it hard to find examples in which this multiculturalism “strives to debunk Islam as a socio-political order.”

Finally, multiculturalism in Malaysia develops naturally in its almost 50 years history since independence. It was not imposed by any outside agent. Multiculturalism evolves in Malaysia as the various ethnic groups seek to live and prosper together. The Malaysia identity is the multiculturalism we are currently enjoying. It is not a “melting pot” identity.

Dr Alex Tang
Johor Bahru

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Spirituality of the Caffeine Driven Life

We live in a fast track world where everything is zooming by us at great speed. Like a hamster on a treadmill, we need to be constantly running to remain in the same place. Just when we are coming to terms with a hand phone that has a camera, comes a new hand phone that take pictures and MMS them, surf the internet, receive television, update us on the latest football scores and still allow us to make a phone call. To survive in this world, many of us felt that we do not have enough energy to make it through the day. Hence the sale of stimulants such as “red bull” is skyrocketing. The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant. Coffee may the commonest ingested legal stimulant in the world. Surprisingly, many scientific studies discover that coffee is actually beneficial to health in most people. Coffee is addictive as those who did not have their daily cuppa can tell you. Is it possible then, in our caffeine-driven life to maintain a Christian spirituality?

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Let's Talk about God-sized Projects

Text: Gen 6:11-14, 18-20; Exo 3:10-14; Matt 1:21-23; Luke 4:18-21

About 20 years ago, I was a member of the Rotary Club of Johor Bahru. Every year, the club will organise an Installation night dinner. That is to for the outgoing office bearers to step down and to install the incoming board. In Rotary, the term of office is one year. The Sultan of Johor is the patron so he was invited and he always came for all the Installation dinners. I remember one dinner in particular. The Club was reporting on what they have done that year which is in building a bus shelter for Fong You (Two) school. Suddenly during the report, Tuanku indicated he wanted to stay something. This was unprecedented because he usually attends but do not make a speech. Tuanku said, “You are a Rotary Club. Do not be so proud that you have built a bus stop shelter. That’s ‘chicken feed’. Do some bigger projects. Don’t do anymore ‘chicken feed projects’.” I remembered it created a commotion among the members. After that, our projects were bigger and more ambitious- a dialysis centre, a hospice and medical projects overseas. We did not do any ‘chicken feed’ projects anymore.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

You are My Child

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You are my child,
I give you a great palace to live in, nice tiled floors and sheltered courtyards,
yet you love to play in the mud and prefer a house built of sand.
I give you great gifts and talents to enrich the world,
yet you would rather use them to entertain yourself and impress your friends.
I give you a great Counsellor to guide you in a path straight and true,
yet you prefer the counsel of idolaters and mediocrity.
Yet you are my child.

You are my child,
I say to you, “I am your Father”, all that I have is yours,
yet you cling to your few copper coins with clenched fists.
I say to you, “Be like your Brother”, with whom you have lived with all these years,
yet you chose to be your own self-centred being.
I say to you, “Drink deep the waters of life”, for I have provided rain-bearing clouds for your arid soul,
yet you prefer to dig your own wells and find your own water.
Yet you are my child.

You are self-centred, stubborn, weak willed and proud,
yet you are capable of great acts of love, worship, thanksgiving and sacrifice.
You tried too hard, worked too hard, loved too hard and prayed too hard,
yet all that you need, you already have.
Yes, you are my child.

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A Christian Perspective on Biotechnology

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The biotechnology revolution has already begun. With the completion of the mapping of the human genome in 2000, we are poised for many life-changing biotechnological discoveries and innovations. However despite its many promises, biotechnology has also generated many controversies.

This book is a modest attempt to clarify some of these issues which include the following:

  • When does human life begin?
  • Should abortion be allowed?
  • Should Christian couples suffering from infertility consider in-vitrio fertilisation (IVF) or 'test tube babies'?
  • How should stem cell research and therapeutic cloning be regulated?
  • Should reproductive cloning be banned?
  • Should scientists be allowed to make changes or 'improve' the human blueprint?

Publisher: Kairos Research Centre

Published June 2006

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Letter to a President

The President (2005-06)
Malaysia Paediatric Association

Dear Sir,

I read with interest your articles “Boutique Vaccine” (Berita MPA April 2006) and “Pneumococcal Awareness and More about Vaccine (Berita MPA July 2006). Let me at the start state that I have no doubt about your integrity and have the utmost respect to you as one of the foremost paediatricians in the country. Also I am aware of the dangers of pneumococcal infections and its subsequent sequelae on our young patients. However, I wish to comment on a few trends that are happening in this country.

First, there appear to be a change in the marketing strategy in certain pharmaceutical companies recently. The pharmaceutical companies used to approach doctors to inform them of any new products and let them act as the gatekeepers to inform and educate their patients. Lately, it seems that companies have taken on themselves to marketing their products directly to the public by taking full or half page advertisements in the local newspapers, and distributing information pamphlets directly to the public.

Take, for example the vaccine in question. The wording of the advertisement is such that it implied that parents are not responsible if they do not get their children vaccinated. It also implied that pneumoccocal infection is so deadly that all infected children will be brain damaged. Of course, the heart wrenching photographs and testimony of the affected parents added weight to their statements. You mentioned, “We know this is a powerful message and looking at the possible outcome, there is no easier way to convey the message.” Is that true? Does instilling fear and panic in our patients’ parents constitute good education? It may not be MPA’s policy to create fear but the advertisement and the pamphlets given out to patients has already created a climate of fear. When parents came to see us, they are already in a state of panic and wanted the vaccine out of fear or in extreme guilt because they cannot afford to pay for the vaccine. How many parents do you really expect to consult the source references given? Or to understand them if they did?

Second, the fact that MPA logo appears on the advertisements implied that MPA endorses the product. It does not matter whether it is placed next to the company’s logo or not. And to say that the brand name was not mentioned is moot as there is only one company producing and marketing the vaccine in Malaysia at this moment and that said company is sponsoring all of the talks.

Third, we are talking about multiple vaccinations cost ranging from at least RM 1,200.00 to RM 300 which is a significant portion of some people’s salary. The average price of a single dose is more than RM 250.00 This multiplied by the number of children and we can end up with a large sum of money. This may give the impression that MPA is interested in catering to the rich only. I am a bit doubtful about the argument that if we increase the usage, the company will decrease the price. Why not the reverse? Why did MPA not insists that the company decrease the price then its members will use more of the vaccine?

Fourth, I find it fascinating that the MPA suddenly wanted to create public awareness about pneumococcal infections after the end of 2005 (which is when the vaccine was launched). What happens before that? Why were there no public awareness talks about pneumococcal infections before the launch of the vaccine? Was it not a big problem before? And was the incidence of pneumococcal infections as bad as it was painted to be when you wrote in your article that Malaysia did not have accurate disease burden data? The MPA’s Vaccine 2006 Update may not have any companies present. However the public awareness “Fight PnD” campaign is definitely a marketing event with Sheila Majid and Adriana Teoh. Where does MPA draws the line in public education and helping companies in their marketing?

Finally, on the same page of your article is a new Ministry of Health Immunisation Schedule with effect from August, 2006 using a new 6-in-1 vaccine. Please confirm that this is the new schedule because I have not heard from the Ministry of Health or from any other sources regarding a change in immunisation schedule. This schedule was delivered to all the doctors by the sales representatives of another pharmaceutical company which also happens to be the one marketing a 6-in-1 vaccine since March and also is the company with the only such vaccine on sale in Malaysia. If the Ministry of Health has not changed its schedule, why did Berita MPA print the schedule? If there is a change, why did Berita MPA not inform its members? Looks like the pharmaceutical company is doing the work of MOH and MPA for them in informing the medical fraternity.

Mr. President, I hope you do not take this letter personally. As I said, I have the utmost respect for you. I am however wary about the marketing strategies of multinational pharmaceutical companies. Next, we shall be hearing about a vaccine that can cure cervical cancer (cure cancer or prevent a viral infection? These are two different claims). I feel it is the responsibility of medical organizations like MPA to stand out and not be manipulated by pharmaceutical companies to endorse their products. I am all for disease and health awareness and I acknowledge that MPA is doing a good job about this. We have a duty to our patients and their parents to educate them, to be their advocate against the high cost of medications and vaccines and to provide equitable healthcare services to both the rich and poor.

Thank you,

Yours sincerely,

Dr Alex Tang
Consultant Paediatrician
Johor Specialist Hospital

Monday, August 14, 2006

Let's Talk about Commitment

Text: Numbers 13:26-32; 14:5-9; 14:20-24; Joshua 14:6-13; 15:13-19

Commitment to God is commitment to a Person. A person who is totally committed to God have a perspective of events from God’s viewpoint, is secure in his/her confidence in God’s promise, has a different spirit in following God and God alone, has a grounded faith in God’s providence and is very generous with God’s gifts given to them.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Spirituality of Learning

The Violence of Our Knowledge: Toward a Spirituality of Higher Education

Parker J. Palmer
The Michael Keenan Memorial Lecture, Berea College, Kentucky
The Seventh Lecture 1993

Palmer as usual never fails to amaze me with the depth of his wisdom and understanding about the spirituality of education. In this lecture, he correctly pointed his finger on the three weak points of contemporary epistemology: objectivism, analytic and experimentalism. As he put it, “everyway of knowing becomes a way of living”. For him, true higher learning involves a “healthy dance of between the objective and the subjective, between the analytic and the integrative, between the experimental and what (he) will call the subjective.”

The spirituality of learning or a “transformed understanding of knowing” comes from 4 components:

(1) learning is personal
“In contrast to modern objectivism, the wisdom traditions say truth is personal, not propositional. The modem academy is very hung up on the notion that truth is to be found in our propositions about things. But the spiritual traditions drive our understanding of knowing to a deeper level where it is said, "Truth is personal and, yes, we need propositions to share our person hood with each other, but unless it is incarnate, unless it is embodied, unless we are attempting to 'walk the talk' or 'talk the walk', it cannot be truth."”

(2) learning is communal
“It means that our movement toward truth is a corporate movement in which we must wrestle with each other, we must have conflict with each other, we must reach consensus with each other - and then we must break that consensus because some new observation has been made or some more powerful interpretation has been offered. Truth emerges between us and among us and through us as we wrestle together with the great and small questions of life.”

(3) learning is reciprocal
“There is something powerful about the spiritual understanding that we are not only seeking truth, but truth is seeking us…At the heart of all great knowing is a sense that the "object" of knowledge isn't an object at all. It has some kind of personal quality to it that speaks to the knower, that reaches for the knower; great knowing is always involved in that mutuality, that reciprocal dance between the knower and the knowing.”

(4) learning is transformational
“I will be changed by truth, and there is no way to evade that. It will be a daily struggle with what I know, to live my life more fully and more deeply. Knowing, teaching and learning will transform me if my knowing, teaching and learning are guided by the images and norms that I have just been trying to articulate.”


Friday, August 11, 2006

A Shark Story

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Stargate SG-1 Marathon

Just spent two months watching 9 seasons of Stargate SG-1 on DVDs. This involves watching 194 episodes, not including the 1994 movie, Stargate, which started it all. If each episode is about 60 minutes, this is equivalent to 194 hours of my life spent watching a television serial, Stargate SG-1. I like watching television serials on DVD because you get to watch continuously and not have to wait a week to find out what happens next. This is the result of advance in technology and my assimilating the “instant noodles” mentality (I want it and I want it now!). What this marathon translates to is that I fell behind in my reading, lack of sleep, working around in the daytime like a zombie, dreaming I was with a SG team and suffering withdrawals when I ran out of episodes to watch.

What is so captivating about Stargate SG-1? Well, come to think of it, there is nothing original about it at all. All episodes have elements plagiarised from other science fiction movies, television series and books. However, in spite of the poor acting, the corny dialogue and really really poor props, there is chemistry between the four members of the SG-1 team. This is evident in the many different scenarios they found themselves in. There are also a few seconds of really cool special effects. All this is exciting and addictive to a Star Trekie who is in withdrawal. They cancelled Star Trek Enterprise after 4 seasons! I think of Stargate SG-1 as a stop gap substitute until J.J. Abrams comes out with the next Star Trek movie.

Stargate SG-1 is Star Trek without a spaceship or a space station. These ‘stargates’ are transportation devices left by a super duper advance civilisation called the Ancients. These are portals that link wormholes so that one can do instantaneous travel between planets millions of light years apart. Eat your heart out, Scotty. Apparently, the Ancients left our galaxy millions of years ago (sounds like Babylon 5) but left behind the stargates and some advanced technology hidden in various planets around the galaxy. Why do people always leave their trash behind?

An alien race call the Gao’uld, which looked like worms and needs a host to survive (like the trills in Star Trek), has taken over the galaxy. The Gao’uld took over the hosts and posed as ancient Gods especially the Egyptian Gods like Ra, the Sun God. They enslaved humans and transported them to other planets by the stargates in the galaxy to serve them as slaves. After millions of years, all the transplanted human populations developed their own their civilisations, often unaware of the stargates. This will explain why everyone speaks English.

The Gao’uld are organised into system lords (warlords) and have control over the galaxy. The series is about Star Gate Command sending SG teams to various planets. On their travels, they came into conflict with the system lords and helped to overthrow them. In this they are helped by little aliens with big eyes (Roswell, X-files and Area 51) called the Asgaard and the Tokgra (renegade Gao’uld). To make things interesting, they were also have to battle replicants; artificial life form in the shape of spiders that assimilate everything in their path (the Borgs are handsomer!).

The SG-1 team consists of Colonel Jack O’Neil (team leader), Captain Samantha Carter (astrophysicist), Dr. Daniel Jackson (archaeologist) and Teal’c, an alien Jaffa who had rebelled against Ra. Jackson was killed in season 6 but came back in season 7 (like superman, Ra’al Ghul, Jean Grey and Hal Jordan, nobody remains dead). General Jack O’Neil left the show at season 9.

Here are 5 lessons I learnt from watching Stargate SG-1:

1. You need smart people on your team.
Samantha is real smart and solves all technical problems. Daniel can read and decipher any alien language in 15 minutes. He also knows all about ancient archaeological traps. Daniel is a regular Indiana Jones in Outer Space.

2. The team leader does not have to be smart, just lucky.
Colonel and later general O’Neil is a regular macho, strong and silent Special Forces soldier. He leads the team into trouble as often as he gets out of them. Amazingly the team always obey his orders without questions.

3. You may get shot but your injuries are never fatal and never leave a scar in the next episode.
In spite of all the rough and tumble, Samantha always looks immaculate except for a dirt smear on her cheeks.

4. Even if you defeat a baddie, there is always a more evil bigger baddie around the corner.
First you have Ra, then his father, then all the system lords and then Anubis (Angel).

5. To advance technologically you trade or steal alien technology.
You can always reverse engineer them. So as the series develops, earth gets a fighter plane that goes into space and finally a spaceship with hyperdrive (Battlestar Galactica) developed by reverse engineering alien technology. Move aside, Japan and Taiwan.

My present quandary after 194 hours of acquired wisdom: “What shall I watch next?”