Monday, April 30, 2007

Battlestar Galactica-The Return

Battlestar Galactica was the name of a popular television series aired in 1978. The story revolved around the survivors of the Twelves Colonies of Kobol which was destroyed by the Cylons, a robotic race of artificial beings. The only surviving battle worthy spaceship was Battlestar Galactica under Commander Adama.
These group of survivors in a variety of spaceships set off to find the forgotten thirteen colony called earth.
This was fascinating series and I have enjoyed it during my teenage years. It created a cult following spawning a series of books, films, and even another series where they were orbiting earth.

The 2004 revamp of the series was a runaway hit and set the standard for television space opera. There were some changes in the characters. Starbuck is now a girl! However, using the same premises, the story was retold with better tension, action, and great CG. Even the Cylon looks better. The series is now into its fourth season.

This book is about an incident before the 2004 series begins- a presequel. Adama is the second in command of the aging Battlestar Galactica. The Human Cylon wars were over for more than seven years and nobody has seen any sign of the Cylon.
Galactica discovered a research station where humans and cylons (called companions) live in harmony. Apparently research station Omega was forgotten during the Human-Cylon war.
Here Galactica come against a Cylon dreadnought and discover a secret. The secret of the Cylons are [warning: spoiler] they use human parts to drive their spaceship. Duh.


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Robert Weber (1933-2007)

Dr. Robert "Bob" Webber is recognized by pastors, denominational leaders, scholars and lay people as one of the foremost authorities on worship renewal. He regularly conducts workshops for almost every major denomination in North America through the Institute in Worship Studies, which he founded in 1995. Over 30,000 people have attended his workshops. He has authored over 40 books on worship and the Church, including The Complete Library of Christian Worship and Renew Your Worship! and a complete audio and video series based on his Renew Your Worship workshops. He is also a regular contributor to numerous magazines, journals and newspapers.

Prior to his appointment as the William R. and Geraldyne B. Myers Chair of Ministry at Northern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Webber taught at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois) for 32 years as Professor of Theology. Dr. Webber brought leadership to the Master of Arts in Worship and Spirituality and the Doctor of Ministry specialization in worship. Both degrees appeal to church staff responsible for worship and pastors who want to develop expertise in the area of worship.

Robert passed away from pancreatic cancer on 26 April 2007. I feel a deep sense of loss as I have hoped to be able to meet up with him to discuss his ideas about the Ancient-Future Faith. It would have been a good fellowship.

I have enjoyed his book The Younger Evangelicals (2002) where he hightlights the challenges facing evangelicalism today, and also in what I thought an unusual move, identitifed by names some evangelicals that he hope will help change the landscape of evangelicalism. My special interests is in his series of the Ancient Future Church series. I like his provocative statement that in order for the church to move forward, it first must look backwards. What he meant is that we must not neglect the rich heritage of the ancient church.He planned a series of books on Ancient Future Church and published Ancient Future Faith (1999), Ancient Future Evangelism (2003), Ancient Future Time (2004). By then he was very sick and managed to finish The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. (2006). We have lost a scholar and a friend.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Boys' Brigade Enrolment Service 2007

Boys’ Brigade Enrolment Day Service 2007
Topic: You are Special
Text: Psalm 139: 13-16

Sunday Sermon
29 April 2007
Holy Light Church


One of the four pillars in BB of the building of Christian character is self-respect. We have self-respect because we are special. We are special because God has specially created us in the past, God knows who we are now, and God knows whom we will be. And God has a good plan for our lives.

PS 139:13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

PS 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

PS 139:15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

PS 139:16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

William Alexander Smith was born in Thurso, Scotland in 1854. He moved to Glasgow in his teens and became involved in church activities. William was also a lieutenant in the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers in 1883 while he was teaching in the North Woodside Mission Sunday School. While working with the children in church, he discovered the need for wholesome activities for children outside school hours. William Smith shared his ideas with his two friends, which later invited boys from North Woodside Mission Sabbath School and formed the first company of The Boys' Brigade, 1st Glasgow Company on 4th of October 1883. It is the world's first uniform organization, even before the Scouts.

William was the first Brigade Secretary in 1887 where he worked towards spreading the Brigade across the world. In 1909, King Edward VII knighted William Smith for his contribution towards youth development. Five years later, Sir William Alexander Smith passed away. Throughout his lifetime, Sir William A. Smith poured out everything he has into BB and he is best remembered as the man who spells Boy with a capital 'B'.

The original object of the Boys' Brigade is the advancement of Christ's Kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect and all that tend towards a true Christian manliness. Christian “manliness” was developed by the use of a semi-military discipline and order, gymnastics, summer camps and religious classes.

SURE & STEDFAST (taken from Hebrews 6:19). The original Old English (King James Version) spelling of "Stedfast" has been retained.

The emblem is original an anchor. Like the motto it stems from the verse "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (Hebrews 6:19)

The Advancement of Christ's Kingdom among members and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect and all that tends towards a true Christian Character.

Imagine a table. A table has four legs. Each of these legs needs to be of equal length or the table may not be stable. So it is like for a Christian character. It has four pillars: obedience, reverence, discipline and self-respect. The BB will teach you how to build these pillars.

Today we shall teach you about developing one good habits of the Boys’ Brigade- Self-respect.

We have self-respect because we are special. We are special because

(1) God specially created us in our past
Psalm 139:13, 15
PS 139:13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
PS 139:15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

Do you know how special you are? God knows all about you before you are born. In fact, God created you. God made you specially. God made only one of you. We are not custom made like a car, a Proton Gen2 (a made in Malaysian car) in a factory. The case is assembled from identical parts. Each car that leaves the factory is the same. We are not like that. God make each of us different. Some are tall, some short. Some of black, some yellow, some brown and others, white. We have blue eye, brown eyes, green eyes, or black eyes. Some are very smart, good with their brains while others are good with their hands. Each of us is special. Each of us is unique. There is not another one like us in the whole world. There is not another one like you in the whole world and there will never be another.

(2) God is interested is who we are at present.
Psalm 130:14-15
PS 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Who are you? You are you. There no other you. God says you are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” What does this mean? Fearfully does not mean that you are very scary but that those who see you are astonished. “What, that’s special.” Wonderful is because it is so great. You are special because God has made you special. You may not feel very special now. You may not like the pimples on your face. You are not happy that you are so short, so skinny, or too far. Well, at this moment that’s who you are at this moment. You are a work in progress. You are like a caterpillar. You know that hairy, yukky thing. I am sure the caterpillar feels the same. I am a hairy, yukky thing. One day however, it will form a cocoon around itself. And then a beautiful butterfly will emerge.

(3) God knows who we will be in the future.
Palm 139:16
PS 139:16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God who forms you in the past, see you now, also sees you in the future. To God, the past, present and future are like an open book. God can see you in the future and he knows what you will be in the future. That is because you are special. Everything God make is good.

Lessons for us
We are special. We have self-respect because we are special. Just because we
*do not come from a rich family,
*do not have a loving family,
*family where our parents are always quarreling,
*a father who is in debt to the loan sharks,
*a father who left the family,
*we are always at the bottom of the class,
*our teachers do not like us,
*we have to work after school to help the family,
*we are always being bullied,
do not mean that we are not special. It does not matter what other people thinks of us. It matters what God thinks of us. God thinks you are special. The officers of the BB think you are special. That is why they care about you. That is why they sacrifice their time t look after you. And that is all that matters.

Because you are special you need to build up your self-respect. Your self respect we who you think you are. Here are some of the things you need to do,
*take part in all BB activities,
*respect and learn from your officers,
*build your character (remember what the four pillars of character building: obedience, reverence, discipline, self-esteem),
*get to know who God is,
*say no to drugs,
*say no to smoking,
*say no to gambling,
*say no premarital sex,
*say no to mixing with gangs,
*study hard,
*take care of your body,
because God and all of us are interested in whom you will become.


The Boys’ Brigade is a special organization because everyone in it is special. Everyone in it is a BB boy or a BB girl. The church is also a special organization. Everyone in it is a saint. To become a saint, you must get to know Jesus Christ. That is your mission. You are special because God has made you special. Jesus Christ is special because he is God. It is your mission as a BB to get to know Jesus Christ. He is your commander in chief. You know your have your officers, your Captain, your General. Well, Jesus Christ is your commander in chief or your chief commander. All you officers, captains, and generals report to him. You are so special that your command in chief died for you. That’s how special you are. It is your mission as BB to get to know him.

Soli deo gloria

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Buddhists Look at Christianity

I find these two books very interesting. One is by the Dalai Lama and the other by Thich Nhat Hanh. These are not new books but were written many years ago.
Rereading these books, I cannot helped but be conscious of how gracious these two Buddhist leaders are in writing about Christianity, or more specifically about the teachings of Jesus Christ.
They gave praise where praise are due. In areas of disagreement, they agree to disagree, without condemnation, without a sense of superiority, and without being condescending.
I do wish Christian writers about Buddhism show them the same courtesy.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Christian Movies or Movie Christians?

The recent runaway success on Christian or 'faith' based movies like The Passion of the Christ and Facing the Giants has Hollywood turning their focus on 'Christian' movies.

Recently Christian movies makers and producers debated this at a Biola Media Conference. Jeffrey Overstreet reports on this in Christians as a 'Niche' Market.

Some of the suggestions are

The idea of marketing "faith-based" entertainment specifically to Christians has inspired a wave of new "niche market" ideas, many of which were discussed by conference guests. Some even spoke about the possibility of a new movie theater chain: separate cinemas for Christians, built within churches.

Wow. Talk about an idea brought too far. But apparently these are serious suggestions. There are still many unanswered questions.

Will "faith-based" film departments produce lights that shine in the darkness, or will they ultimately hide them under a bushel—being seen only by a Christian audience?

Will Christian movies establish a reputation for truth, courage, and uncompromising artistic standards? Or will they produce shoddy sermons, airbrush the reality of the Christian experience, and perhaps only pander to what audiences want to see?

Will faith-oriented films have a significant, lasting influence in Hollywood? Or will they be disposable, forgotten within ten years?

And what about success? What will Christian filmmakers do if they succeed the way Facing the Giants did, turning a $100,000 project into a $10 million box office surprise? Is financial success a sign of God's blessing, a sign of merely appealing to a niche market's wants, or a reflection of an audience that doesn't demand artistic excellence?

Many of these questions will only be answered through the successes, failures, and testimonies of those who blaze new trails for Christian media.

The Biola conference's theme this year was, "Gold Rush: Mining for Opportunity in the New Hollywood." Screenwriter Craig Detweiler, the conference host, summed it all up when he welcomed attendees with this question:

"Have we hit the mother lode, or will we fall for fool's gold?"

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A Lesson about Statistics

This is a story from Anthony de Mello's Taking Flight: A Book of Meditations (New York:Image, 1988.

I like it because it teaches me an important lesson about believing statistics others tell us.

Nasruddin was arrested and taken to court on the charge that he was stuffing horsemeat into the chicken cutlets he served at his restaurant.

Before passing sentence, the judge wanted to know what in what proportion he was mixing the horsemeat with chicken flesh. Nasruddin said, on oath, "It was fifty-fifty, Your Honor."

After the trial, a friend asked what exactly was "fifty-fifty" meant. Said Nasruddin, "One horse to one chicken."


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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Seven Lessons I Learnt Playing Command and Conquer 3

Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

Command and Conquer is a real time strategy (RTS) computer game where you choose to play the good guys (Strategic Defense Initiative) or the bad guys (Brotherhood of Nod). The bad guys want to take over the world while the good guys want to preserve freedom. The year is 2047, seventeen years after the last wars as played in Command and Conquer: Tiberium Sun. Tiberium, a toxic but powerful substance is destroying the earth’s ecosystem, replacing carbon based substance with itself. However, it is also a powerful source of energy. This game is developed by Electronic Arts and powered by SAGE gaming engine.

Each player starts with a basic construction module and a limited amount of money. He or she must build a refinery to mine tiberium to convert that to money. With money, the player can build barracks to train soldiers, war factory to build vehicles, tech centre to conduct research to upgrade weapons and buildings, and watchtowers to defend the base. One can play online against real ‘human’ opponents or with the artificial intelligent (AI) that come with the program. I had to go over to Singapore to get an original program (it is almost impossible to get original game programs where I live). I was playing the good guys (of course) and it took me 5 days and nights (with time out for work, eating, sleeping, reading) to finish the campaign. I was against the AI set at medium difficulty and without using cheat codes (honest!).

What are some of the lessons I have learn from playing this computer game?

(1) Keep your energy source close to your base. Build your refinery near to tiberium rich fields so that the harvesters do not have to go far. I wonder what in your life give you energy? I get my energy from pleasing God, being with my family, and from my passion: teaching and preaching the Word of God. I find that if I stray from my source of energy, my resources get depleted very fast and the enemy can easily defeat me. That is why I have to constantly remind myself to keep close to my source of energy. The refinery is converting tiberium to energy. Praying, studying the Word, centering, silence, practicing the spiritual disciplines, and keep building up the relationship with God and with members of my family are energy giving.

(2) Try to upgrade your assets as fast as possible. In the game, it is possible to upgrade your assets until you have space based weapons like ion cannon and shockwave artillery. I find that I too need to upgrade myself constantly. The world is changing very fast. This game with its movies clips of live actors is an example of the improvement computers games have made in the span of a few years. Anybody remember computer ping-pong? It even has an AI that learns from my moves. After placing my refinery at a certain spot a few times, the next time I did that I find the enemies hiding in the tiberium field in ambush! Upgrade means I have not only have to learn what is going on outside in the world; new technology, globalisation, and religious pluralism, but also what is going on inside of me. Am I becoming more Christ-like? Am I listening to the Holy Spirit? Am I developing the spiritual gifts that God has given me? Am I improving my mind by embarking on an intentional course of study, thinking critically about issues and reflecting on their application in my life? All these are important questions to ask if we are to be continuing upgrading to become who we are meant to be.

(3) Mix your attack force with vehicles and soldiers of different abilities. Soldiers come with machine guns, rocket launchers and special armours. Vehicles include troop carrier armed with machine guns, light tanks, heavy armour tanks, and walking artillery platforms called Juggernaut. An attack force that consists of heavy armour tanks will be easily defeated, even though they are powerful weapons. A mixed force of all types of vehicles and soldiers are harder to defeat. Reminds me of the armour of God in Ephesians 6:10-18. There are many components of the armour. Individually they are weak but used together, it is powerful; defensive and offensive. The problem is that we have always being taught that the armour of God is for individuals. Paul however uses the plural in the Greek. The armour of God is for the whole church. The church put on the armour. However it does assume that the church is united, something which Paul was teaching in the earlier chapters. If the church is not united, the armour of God is useless and we have already lost the war.

(4) Protect your base. An important lesson as the enemies always attack the base. We need to protect our families, ourselves, our leaders, and each other. This calls for showing caring and concern, hospitality, accountability, prayer support, and emotional support. Our church or small groups are our bases. That is where the enemy will concentrate their attacks.

(5) If you are defeated, try again. Failures are common if we are human. Even Jesus has failures in his ministry. Falling down is something we cannot avoid. Lying down and refusing to get up is not an option. In the game, I have had to save often, try different tactics, and persist until victory is achieved. In one mission, I have to set up a base while under constant attack from three different directions! It took me 4 hours of repeating until I finally manage to build my base. We need persistence if any worthwhile project is to be achieved. If we have a dream, we need to continually work for it. Defeat just means we try another way.

(6) Do not use the tiberium bomb. In the final mission, which is the most difficult, the player is offered an easy way to win. A tiberium bomb is given. All he or she has to do is to drop it on the enemy base and the war is won. The only side effect is that it will ignite all the tiberium. This will cause a chain reaction which will end in the destruction of the world. Be careful of the easy way out. Be careful of the easy way to get rich, become famous, or respectable by compromising your principles. It will always backfire and destroy your world, and also others who love you. Winning is not everything.

(7) The game play is unpredictable. There are five different AI programs in the game. Each AI has a different personality; balance, rusher, turtle, guerrilla, and steam roller. You never know which AI you will come up against. And in the middle of the game when victory over the enemy is almost within your grasp, earth was invaded by an alien force! Life is unpredictable. We never know what will happen tomorrow. What we have is the present. Let us live in the present rather than the future. Let us appreciate and love our spouses and children
while it is still now. May we be content with what we have. Let us appreciate what God has given us and embrace them as gifts to be enjoyed, rather than a right to be exploited.

I have enjoyed the game. It was fun, even during the frustration when my computer rebooted itself before I can save. This is something I indulge in once in a while when there is a good game available. And I have learnt some valuable lessons. Nuff said.

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Discovering God in Ancient China

There have been a number of books on God's fingerprints in ancient China which came out in recent years. The new book by Thong Chan Kei with Charlene Fu is published this year, 2007.

It is an interesting book but most of what Thong writes about have been published by others before.

Some examples are:

* The Chinese language i.e. certain Chinese words show correlation with certain events that happened in the book of Genesis.

*The old name for China was Shen Zhou which can be translated as God's country.

*The ritual sacrifice and prayers at the Temple of Heaven have similarity with the blood covenant in the Old Testament.

*The Chinese emperors were called "sons of heaven"and were regarded as mediators between Shang Ti and the Chinese Han people.

A meticulous written book but needed more research to support the many assumptions.


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The Batman: The Complete Third Season

This cartoon series The Batman comes after Batman: The Animated Series which ran for 4 seasons. There is a revamp of the drawings. While Batman: The Animated Series shows a square jaw Batman, this cartoon series shows a younger Batman/Bruce Wayne. Actually this Bruce Wayne has oriental features and looks like a young Bruce Lee! Must be the influence of Asian, mostly Koreans graphic animators.

This series shows a younger Batman, and the storyline takes off where the movie, Batman Begins ends. However this Batman has cooler gadgets. The villains like the Joker, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Clayface and the rest looks different and are more aggressive. Imagine Penguin fighting and you know what I mean.

This is the third season. Batgirl/Babara Gordon joins an unwilling Batman (who is unwilling to take on a sidekick) to fight Joker, Penguin, Scarface, Gearhead, and an assortment of other criminals to keep Gotham City safe. There are 13 episodes and some episodes are quite funny. I like the one in which Joker stole Bane's device and uses it on himself! A Bane like muscular Joker is fun to watch. And they also introduced a new batmobile and batplane. Cool.

This is the DC Comic Kids Collection. Just right for me.


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All That Matters

Cliff Richard: The 40th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1998. One of the songs sung by Cliff Richard was All That Matters. The lyrics truck a chord in me.

All That Matters

The love in you and the love in me, is all that matters
All the rest is vanity
That time will shatter
The only treasure in the life we live, is the measure of the love we give

All that matters in the end will be
The love in you and the love in me, that's all that matters

Every heart must change it's shape
To fit the space a lifetime makes
Some regrets and some mistakes
We touch happiness but we can't hold her

Feelings come and then disappear
I know the laughter, I've cried those tears
I should know better after all these years
But I'm no wiser, I'm just older

It's all a question of priority
We've got so much that we just don't need
But if it ain't got love then it's luxury
We can learn to live without it

lyrics by Paul Field

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Love Affair with

Happiness is coming home and discovering a box full of books from sitting on my study table. My love affair with started many years ago when they first started as an online bookstore. These were wonderful days of passion because they only sell books and nothing else. I would spent hours browsing her stocks, looking at the covers and aching to read the contents between them. Then come the selecting, the buying, and then the waiting. After months, the books will arrive in pristine condition, clean and well protected in bubble wrappers in their distinctive boxes. appreciated me then. Not the logarithm automatic type of appreciation that appears when I log in nowadays. Those days, they send me Christmas cards and coffee mugs with the logos. Ah, the honeymoon period was wonderful.

Then became successful and famous for making it as an online bookstore. began selling other stuff aside from their books. Initially one or two DVD will slip into the catalogue. Then whole new departments started appearing. The book department began to shrink. It has become an online shopping mall rather than a bookstore. Oh, how it hurts when left her first love, books.

No longer do I get the lingering attention I longed for. The interface become more user friendly but not lover friendly. It takes longer for books to arrive nowadays. Books arrive dirty and tattered, wrapped in plastic over a cardboard.

Like a jaded lover, I have been discarded for a bigger market and reduced to a line of code. Ah, the online bookstore. How have I loved thee and I love thee still.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Spiritual Heart Attack

I cannot resist not posting another story from Anthony Mello's The Song of the Bird

Uncle Tom had a weak heart and the doctor had warned him to be very careful. So when the family learned that he had inherited a billion dollars from a deceased relative they feared to break the news to him lest the news give him a heart attack.

So they sought the services of the local pastor, who assured then that he would find a way. "Tell me, Tom," said Father Murphy, "if God, in his mercy, were to send you a billion dollars, what would you do with it?"

"I'd give half to the Church, Father."

When he heard that, Father Murphy had a heart attack!

When the industrialist had a heart attack from pushing his industrial empire it was easy to show him his greed and selfishness. When the priest had a heart attack from pushing the Kingdom of God it was impossible to show him that it was greed and selfishness in another, more respectable disguise. Is it the Kingdom you are pushing or yourself? The Kingdom needs no pushing. Your anxiety betrays you, does it not?


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Council of Churches of Malaysia is 60 years old

Last night attended the celebration dinner of the 60th anniversary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia(CCM) at Pulai Springs Resort in Johor Bahru. This was held in conjunction with the 12th Triennial General Assembly of CCM which was held from 23-26 April 2007.

It was an interesting event because it was unusual to see so many bishops, archbishops, priests, pastors, and lay leaders from different denominations and traditions together in one room. This is ecumenism at its best.

Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) is an ecumenical fellowship of Churches and Christian Organisations in Malaysia. It is one of the three constituent members of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM).

The message "that they may all be one ... that the world may believe" (Jesus' prayer for this followers, from John 17:21)

The task of churches together :

To provide witness to the unity which Christ desires for his people.
To share witness together and build wholesome human communities where faith, hope and love are nurtured.
To offer prophetic witness for justice, peace and the integrity of God's whole creation.
To witness together with other Christian bodies, nationally and internationally, to advance the servant mission of Christ.

Action of churches together :

Heads of Churches Consultations
Ecumenical Pastors' Schools
Women's Conventions
Spiritual formation using ecumenical resources
Partnership in Mission
Relief aid to the suffering
Nurturing creative theological reflection in Malaysian and Asian context
Engaging in Faith and Order issues
Hosting national and international Consultations, Workshops and Conferences on contemporary issues
Holistic evangelism
from their website

The CCM is 10 years older than our country, Malaysia! The emphasis last night seems to be on fund raising for a new CCM headquarter building. Unfortunately not much was mentioned about the 60 years history of CCM. It will have been an interesting history that started at preindependent Malaya. I hope some Christian historian will take up the challenge to record the 60 years history. Will be a shame if it is lost and forgotten.

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Stories and Spiritual Formation

I love good stories. Good stories stimulate the emotions, challenge the intellect, and satisfy our hunger for the adventure and exploration. Stories teach us spiritual and moral lessons. Many of us have mental models which we adhere to. These act as filters or worldviews. Hence we only see what we want to see. Or in other words we only see what our minds through our mental models allow us to see. Anything that does not fit our mental models, we do not see.

That is why stories are an important means of communication. It cuts through our mental models into our subconscious. Jesus uses parables which are a form of stories. Stories are also used to teach in other religious traditions.

Anthony Mello was a Jesuit and well known spiritual director and retreat director. He died in 1987. Mello used many stories collected from different religious traditions to teach spiritual truths. He had published many books of collections of these stories, often adding his insight after the stories which I have found very valuable. The Song of the Bird is one of my personal favourite. Another must read is Sadbana:A Way to God.
Here is one story from The Song of the Bird

Wheat from Egyptian Tombs

A handful of wheat,

five thousand years old,
was found in the tomb
of one of the kings
of ancient Egypt.
Someone planted the grains
and, to the amazement of all,
the grains came to life

When a person is enlightened his or her words become like seeds, full of life and energy. And they can remain in seed form for centuries until they are sown in a receptive fertile heart.

I used to think the words of scripture were dead and dry. I know now that they are full of energy and life. But it was my heart that was stony and dead, so how could anything grow there?

A very good reflective question. Compare that to Jesus' parable of the sower, seeds and different soil. (Matt. 13:3-9)


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Monday, April 23, 2007

Lessons on Doing Doctorate Studies

Thanks to Sivin who points me to Michael Jensen who gave some interesting comments on The Blogging Parson: Twelve Steps For Doctoral Students on his blog, The Blogging Parson

Lessons I have learnt about doctoral study on the way:

1. Few books, but good. Learn to be a good re-reader rather than try to read absolutely everything. Who cares if you can read 1000s of mediocre books and articles? Find the best. Read them carefully.

2. It may not look it, but thinking is hard work. Thinking takes time to be good. So you will need rest, and holidays, and fun, and diversions. And these will actually help the work progress! Even TV is good.

3. Footnotes should be fun. Slathering everything in footnotes is a bad habit that helps nothing. References are sometimes necessary, but if a footnote is merely a sign of indecision - 'I couldn't work out whether to put it in or not, so I put in a footnote' - cut it out or add it in.

4. Don't wait for inspiration, start writing from day one! Getting words down on paper is really important, because you actaully do much of your thinking while you are writing. This business of leaving writing till the third year is weird to me.

5. Read outside you topic. Attend seminars and lectures. It is amazing how much benefit I have gained from this. It is amazing how unforeseen connections will spring up from completely unrelated contexts. Also, if you are aspiring to be a teacher in a certain area, use the free time to fill in the holes in your knowledge.

6. Find readers for your work/read others' work. Your supervisor will read your work twice a term, perhaps. You will need more than that! The price you might have to pay, is that you will have to read someone else's work: but the pay-off there is that it is comforting to see how they are struggling too!

7. Overcome the evangelical tendency to polemicise. We tend to see life as a series of battles between the forces of good and the forces of evil. But good scholarship is not about polemics first and foremost. Simple either/ors are a bad habit, because the truth is rarely that simple. Your work will gain in sophistication and ultimately in its polemical usefulness if you can avoid a 'goodies' /'badies' mentality.

8. Find surpring friends. Look for surprising agreements or harmonies with your work in other writers/thinkers. Show how someone completely different to you comes to the same conclusion. This is a very powerful strategy for apologetics, too.

9. Find the toughest opponent. Fall under their sway, if only for a week or two: be convinced by their case for a time. Then your reply will carry authority. Your work is only as strong as the opponents you defeat! My tendency when I started was to find any nutter to have a debate with, because debating nutters is always easier than debating reasonable people whose assumptions on the whole I share but who come to different conclusions...

10. Don't talk about you work when you don't feel up to it. One of the shattering experiences for a graduate student is when a family member or friend asks you, 'so, what are actually doing then'? and NOTHING COHERENT comes out of your mouth. This happens to me ALL THE TIME. And you walk away feeling very discouraged about it. Have a prepared speech perhaps! However: I have found writing and talking about my project in other contexts extremely helpful - I find blogging like this. It is a way of accessing other areas of your brain because it is writing/talking in a different mode, somehow.

11. Trust your methodological instincts; go with what you know. You got this far because you have some idea of what theological work is about. You have read quite a bit already. So, use what you already have to your advantage! I often feel intimdated by those theologians who know more philosophy than me (that's most of 'em): I forget that my training was far more in the area of biblical studies and biblical theology. I need to lean more on this, and see it as an advantage, while at the same time not neglecting to deepen my philosophical understanding.

12. Keep doing ministry. Keep serving the people of God, because the tendency of the doctoral student is to wallow in the solitary self-indulgence of it all. Keep preaching/teaching/ministering. After all, what are we doing it all for? If you aren't already doing some ministry in the church, my question is: what are doing entering into graduate theological study? Are you sure you are called to this?

Addenda: I was going to say something about prayer, but I feel foolish and not a little shame hectoring anyone about prayer. I was also going to say as matter of importance: learn to write well. There is an AWFUL lot of bad and unclear and dull writing out there. Write well.
(emphasis is mine)

I like his emphasis on reading a few good books. However I must add that one must read a few good books critically. Unfortunately this does not exclude reading the other 1000 books.

His comment on footnotes is interesting. I have been told that if it is good enough to be in the footnote, it should be in the text.

My greatest joy is to find friends or conversation partners. It never ceases to amaze me that some great world authority figure will take time to answer an email from a humble PhD student. We also need to find a 'devil's advocate', a friend who will mercilessly critique your writing.

Writing is hard work. However as Michael has pointed out, writing is essential because it helps us to think and focus so as to put our ideas onto paper (or word processing software). Then we need to revise, rearrange, rethink, rewrite, revise, and rewrite.

Michael's advice on keep doing ministry is controversial. There are some who advocate taking the 3 years off totally while there are others who advise to remain in ministry. Personally I feel that doing a doctorate is a timeout from ministry, a sabbathical. It should be time devoted solely to research, thinking and writing. Then, by the grace of God we should return to ministry a better person for it.

photo credit
drawing credit


Friday, April 20, 2007

The Internet Monk on Raising Children

Michael Spencer a.k.a. the internet monk is always worth reading.

His posting on How Religious Parents Royally Screw Up Their Children is especially worth reading.

Michael raises 8 points;

(1) By trying to raise sinless childrem.

(2) By telling children they are specially called by God- from birth to ministry.

(3) By using religion as punishment.

(4) Saying 'God told us to' as your reason for parental decisions.

(5) By having a constant fear of what is normal.

(6) By lying and consistently making ignorant statements.

(7) By obsessing on Satan and demons.

(8) By ignoring culture and isolating your children from it.

Now read the whole article.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nothing is What It Seems

The Illusionist (2006) is one of few rare movies I have watched recently that had me intrigued, guessing and trying to figure out the outcome of the story until the end.

It is a period movie set in the early 20th century in Vienna. The props and sets were beautiful. It is a romance, with a twist in the plot (I love those) and had me wondering what is real and what is not.

Eisenheim (Edward Norton), the Illusionist was the son of a cabinetmaker who fell in love with a Duchness Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel) when they were children. They were separated because of their different stations in life. Eisenheim left to explore the world and to learn the art of illusion. 15 years later Eisenheim came to Vienna and started a magician show. There he met Sophia who is about to marry evil Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). The prince was plotting to overthrow his father, the Emperor and takes the throne. Love was rekindled and Eisenheim need to get rid of the Crown Prince if he and Sophia were to have a normal life. Eisenheim subsequently came to a faceoff with chief police inspector (Paul Giamatti) who was the prince's henchman.

The way Eisenheim's plan work is full of illusion, deception, manipulation and magic, making the prince's police inspector work against him. The line is blurred between illusion and magic... reality and fantasy...power and helplessness. The movie-line is a complex plot for two lovers to escape their social destinies.

Burger, the producer conducted extensive research into magic, as well as the setting of the story: fin-de-siècle Vienna. "I read everything I could about the Hapsburgs, about the Secessionist movement, and about the magic from that time-both the illusions themselves and the social world of the magicians. Most of the tricks that ended up in the film are based on real illusions done at the time, and the characters I invented are also based on real people. I wanted it all to be as believable and honest as possible, all the more so since the story examines the idea of how we perceive truth and illusion...and blurs the boundary between those two concepts. If you're going to exaggerate certain elements, to have it be dreamlike or surreal or uncanny, you have to make sure that the rest of it has a rock solid foundation in the period." read more.

Good movie to watch with children but be prepared to have to explain to them how the many illusions work. On the other hand, with the many special effects in movies nowadays, don't bother.


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The Christianity in Star Wars

John McDowell published The Gospel According to Star Wars, Faith, Hope and the Force in March 2007. This promises to be an interesting read.

John writes,

Instead, it is important to hear Lucas’ efforts to tell the story of the good life and signs of its fragility, disruptability and corruptibility for what they are (although here one needs to be careful lest the communicative act of Star Wars’ production be limited to a single voice, that of the auteur).

What is revealing about Lucas’ own efforts is that he has claimed that Christianity was not up to the job, being distorted by an ultimate self-seeking – a being godly for the sake of self-gain. In this process of listening, critical listening I might add, the way in which this set of movies is both culturally produced (a product of its time and place) and culturally productive (generative of cultural imaginations) is revealing.

It is expressive of: the ways in which the sources for the enrichment and fulfilment of spiritual desires have shifted in post-Christian societies, the style of pluralist ethos (Lucas’ Force is largely a Western liberal creation), the manner of the reduction of all artefacts to entertainment value by many in Western cultures (the fact, for instance, that Star Wars has become associated purely with ‘popcorn entertainment’), popularly located forms of resistance to dominant cultural values (Lucas’ resistance to neo-conservative politics), the ways in which various modes of Christian thinking receive popular cultural texts, and so on.

But something that is frequently missed in the rush to associate Lucas’ mythological borrowings with various Eastern philosophies is the sets of values that remain broadly Christian in a cinematic text composed on Western soil. read more

I find it fascinating to note that John have linked the philosophy of Star Wars with Christianity, and commented "Lucas'Force is largely a Western liberal creation." I have not heard what George Lucas had said about his "Force", so I am speaking from an Asian perspective. The force to me, is the tao, which is everywhere and nowhere. The whole movie series is a continuous cycle of human sufferings due to their attachments, betrayal and redemption.

Yes, it could be Christian. But it could also be Buddhist, Taoism or even Zen. Is it a commentary of socio-political-economic situations or about an intergenerational human pilgrimage? Are we reading too much into it? Would John have a different perspective if he is writing from an Asian country where religious pluralism, multiculturalism, and political dominance by society that is post colonialism but with no Christian cultural legacy.

Are we talking about contextual theology here? It will be interesting to continue the conversation.

More thots....
John has shared his perspective of the Star Wars saga from his point of view. I have shared my perspective. Who is correct? Is it an either/or situation? Is it possible for both of us are correct. What would George Lucas do?

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Q&A on Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina

1. How different is the centering prayer from New Age meditation and how can we be sure that it is not a "slippery slope" to New Age meditation?

This is a valid and very important question. Many people are wary of centering prayer because of its superficial similarities with New Age meditation.

Yes, there are some similarity between centering prayer and New Age meditation. Both require
*sitting still and be quiet
*both begins by relaxation exercises like a breathing exercise
*both involving quieting and stilling our busy minds
*both try to still our restless mind by focusing on a word

These are spiritual tools that we use. New Age also have sacred books which they study like we study the Bible. They also pray like us but unlike us, pray to others. They also seek to extend mercy to the poor and needy, like us. Thus, just because the spiritual tools are the same, it does not mean that we cannot use them.

But here the similarities ends. The important thing we must be aware of is the context. We are Christians and centering prayer is our desire to be quiet, to center ourselves so that we can be aware of God's presence within us. God is transcendent and immanent. It is His immanence we seek here. It is to seek to be with God in a 'quiet or sacred' place. Such a place can be within us. It is here that we rest, be in His presence and be aware that we are His beloved. The word that we use to help us focus our mind is not a magic word. Its only function is to help us focus and still our wandering mind. That is why centering prayer is a prayer. We seek communion with God.

New Age meditation however is done in a different context. Its purpose is to empty the mind so that in the emptiness they can be one with the universe or attain another astral plane of existence. The word they use is a sacred word, one with power. Hence they often keep to the same word and it is a secret word. It is totally different from centering prayer where instead of emptying our minds, we seek to fill it with the presence of God.

Can centering prayer be a 'slippery slope' that leads us into New Age meditation? As I have mentioned the context is different. We seek to fill not to empty. And we have to believe that the Holy Spirit will protect our minds in its time of rest. So, personally, I do not think it represents a 'slippery slope' that is dangerous to those who practice it.

2. The students have been taught in their biblical interpretation classes that "context is king." (when interpreting a passage). How does this fit in with what is advocated in Lectio Divina, the concept of imagining we are one of the characters, just allowing one word to "jump out" at you, etc ?

In hermeneutic classes the students have been rightly taught about the essential tools for the right exegesis of the text. That is reading for information while lectio divina is reading for formation. Lectio divina is reading with the heart and being open to the Holy Spirit. We must realise that we are not pure intellect but also emotional beings. Hence our spiritual life must have a balance between the intellect and the emotions.

Textual criticism can led us only so far. Sometimes we can be so involved cognitively that we cannot hear what God is saying to us. Hence a session of lectio divina is very helpful for us as we are focusing on what God is doing in our lives. I agree that there is always the fear that this free flowing meaning from the text may lead us astray.

This is where our intellect and theological knowledge comes in. If what we receive or perceive is against the teaching of the Bible, common sense, and the counsel of our discerning brothers and sisters, then it cannot be from God. Hence lectio divina must be done in a community of faith setting where there is check and balance. Lectio divina is where the Scriptures speak into our lives.


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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pioneer Missionary Engages Culture

In an age of extraordinary people, Matteo Ricci was one of the most remarkable. Even today, if you ask a Chinese person to name a famous European from the past, they will as likely as not name Ricci. He was a 16th-century Italian Jesuit scholar who arrived in Macao—a Portuguese possession on the border of China—in 1582. He hoped to work as a missionary in China.

The mission was run by another Jesuit, Ricci's former teacher Alessandro Valignano, who believed that Christian mission shouldn't be about striding up to the "natives," telling them their religion was wrong, and instructing them in a new one.
He believed that missionaries should be sensitive to local culture and treat the local people with respect, on the basis that they, too, had valuable things to say.

So, when Ricci finally gained permission to enter China in 1583 (the Chinese authorities generally didn't allow Europeans to enter at this time), he went dressed as a Buddhist monk, speaking Chinese and presenting himself as a humble seeker after wisdom. He wasn't very successful at first (the people of the area he arrived in, near Canton, didn't speak the Chinese dialect he had learned in Macao, and they didn't much like Buddhist monks, either), but he persevered and won the trust of the people.

In particular, Ricci made many contacts at the imperial court, where people were greatly impressed by his humble approach and his interest in Chinese learning. In the court, Ricci dressed and presented himself as a Confucian scholar. The emperor himself liked the gifts that Ricci brought him (especially a clock and a harpsichord), and Ricci sought to find new ways to express the Christian faith that made sense to the Chinese. He not only translated various Christian texts into Chinese, but in 1603 also wrote a famous book (in Chinese) called The True Doctrine of the Lord of Heaven, which presented Christianity in the form of a philosophical discussion in the Neo-Confucian tradition. The book was very well received.

Ricci was the first great Jesuit missionary to China. Many more followed him and became closely involved in all kinds of scientific and cultural pursuits.

Unfortunately later missionaries who followed were not so sensitive to culture.


Is Computer Games Bad for Your Kids?

That is a question many parents ask.
Is computer or video games bad for our kids?
Is it bad for their learning?
Will it make them violent and anti social?

Answering the last question first, children becoming violent after spending too much time playing violent computer/video games is a recognised phenomenon. However, there are other contributing factors such as absent or abusive fathers, dysfunctional families, personality disorders, socio-economic factors, and gangsterism. So, there is not a clear yes or no answer.

Is it good for them? Depends. It is now recognised that children who played computer/video games makes better surgeons because of better hand-eye coordination. I know of some trainee surgeons are beginning to play computer/video games to improve their hand-eye coordination. My comment to them is , good try, but you're too old, too late.

Don Norman gave an interesting talk on The Future of Education: Lessons Learned from Video Games and Museum Exhibits at a

he makes an interesting observation.

Children, we are told, have short attention spans, caused, of course, by the prevalence of games and TV and commercials in our society.


Watch people at video games. You can't tear them away. More importantly, they truly are exercising their minds. They problem-solve. They take notes, read books of hints and strategy. They save the game state, try out a new course of action, and if it doesn't work, return to the saved game state. And they form social communities, sharing hints, tips, and methods. Many of you will understand, for you do it too.

Times have changed. Game play has become more complex. It can be a good learning experience. Professional organisations are using stimulation games to train their employees. Game theory are used in fields as diverse as economics and the stockmarket. However as parents, we still need to vet through the games we allow our children to play. This means we have to know about computer/video games. Command and Conquer 3, anyone?

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

My idea of a good computer game is a real time strategy game like Command & Conquer. I have enjoyed playing all the games in the series with their expansion packs. The storyline is captivating and I find the graphics improving with each new game. However the AI remains not too smart which I am happy with. Otherwise I will lose too often. Thank God, for being able to save the gameplay. The last few games is about the war between the Brotherhood of Nod and the Global Defense Initiative.

Just released is Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars which is a real-time strategy game developed by Electronic Arts Los Angeles for the Windows and Xbox 360 platforms, and is a sequel to the 1999 RTS title Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun and its expansion pack Firestorm by Westwood Studios. Canonically it takes place at the advent of and during the "Third Tiberium War", after the Brotherhood of Nod launches an unexpected and worldwide offensive against the Global Defense Initiative, abruptly ending a period of seventeen years of silence and crippling GDI forces everywhere. With the odds tipped in Nod's favor this time, GDI field commanders rally their troops and begin to combat the Brotherhood's second re-emergence, trying to restore lost hope. The game also features the introduction of a new third faction (Scrin) to the Tiberian series of the Command & Conquer games, and is the second C&C title in which players are able to upgrade their forces.

It sounds promising. Now I have to find time to play the game. I find these games addictive. Once started, I find it hard to stop. In the past, I would play until 5.30am and crept to bed before the wife wake up! So much for self discipline.

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Book Village launched in Malacca

A new book village was launched in Malacca at the Botanical Gardens In Air Keroh as reported by Star Online. It is hoped that this one will be better than the one in Langkawi which closed last year.

The idea of a book village is very appealing to a bibliophile like me. The idea of wandering around from bookstores to bookstores is my idea of paradise. Reading and seeing pictures of book villages in other part of the world, especially in Hay-on-Wye was very enticing. Another example is the Hobart Book Village.

Many years ago, I went to the Langkawi Book Village or Buku Kampung Langkawi with high expectations. Buku Kampung Langkawi was billed as the first book village in South East Asia! It was launched with much fanfare in 1987. Finding the book village and getting there was not easy, as it was situated somewhere in the middle of Langkawi.

The village itself was made up of many small stand-alone buildings. It was hot walking in the sun from one building to another. There was no shade. About half the stalls were empty. Only one or two is air conditioned. That itself was not the disappointment. The disappointment were the books. There were no selections. What was on sale were revision guides for SPM and STPM, school textbooks, a few popular novels and magazines. The local newsagent in any town will have more stock. So that's the Malaysian book village I encountered. In the end, I only bought a mug with the words, "Langkawi Book Village" printed on the side as a souvenir! So much for the vision of going home with boxes of books.

I hope the Malacca one will do better. A question I do want to ask is whether a book village will promote a reading public? Or does a reading public promotes a book village? Have we put the cart before the horse again?


The Theology of Watchman Nee

Many of us are familiar with Watchman Nee’s books especially his, The Normal Christian Life, Sit, Walk , Stand and The Spiritual Man. What many of us are not aware is that there have been controversies about his theology and also about his understanding of church. In the last years of his life, Watchman Nee has been at odds with many other Chinese Christian leaders of his time.

Dana Roberts, a Watchman Nee scholar has written an earlier book, Understanding Watchman Nee. Now, years later and after more studies of Watchman Lee’s writings, Roberts has written another book in which he is more critical of Watchman Nee’s writing and theology. It must be noted that concern for the spiritual well being of believers are foremost in Lee’s writings and sermons

Some of the points of contention in Watchman Nee’s writings and sermons are:

• Scripture can only be understood by means of ‘intrapsychic’ working of the Holy Spirit in the believer and only if taught by the ‘spiritual’ man.
• The church is made up of ‘spiritual’ and ‘carnal’ Christians.
• The Christian is trichotomous: body, soul, and spirit. By a ‘normal’ Christian life, Lee meant that grace has been working on these three components of the person.
• The New Testament church has an inbuilt structure that inhibited the works of ‘carnal’ Christians while encouraging the works of ‘spiritual’ Christians. One of these influencing structures is ‘locality.’ That is why his emphasis was on the Local church.
• Christian leaders who will be from the ‘spiritual’ Christians group must be obeyed without question.
• At Christ’s return, the ‘spiritual’ Christians with reign with Christ in heaven while the ‘carnal’ Christians will reign on earth.

The Living Stream Ministry has made many translated works of Watchman Nee available free online.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Sang Kancil Theology

Reading the posting on Alywn's blog about the response of the Malaysian church to Malaysian problems reminds me of a survey I did some time ago in an amateur attempt to articulate a contextualised Malaysia theology which I called "Sang Kancil Theology". (apologies to Sherman who is doing real academic research on contextualisation). I wrote,

There is no church involvement with the surrounding communities. The church is wary of government and the Islamisation efforts of the government in schools. Members are also wary of materialist influences from an affluence lifestyle. They feel marginalised in the economic and educational opportunities in the country. There is no political involvement. Life is often fragmented between workplace and church."

The reason for this withdrawal from society may be fear of involvement and drawing attention to themselves in a society that is hostile to Christianity. It may also due to the Malaysia Presbyterian tradition. Roxborough wrote, “the focus for many congregations is essentially that of their own life.... denominational expressions of ‘social concerns’ are limited.”

Sang Kancil, the mousedeer is a small defenseless animal in a jungle full of predators. It survives by blending into the background, remaining motionless and hoping that the predators will leave it alone. It makes no attempt to change its surroundings. This is the theology that has evolved over the years as the [this particular] church seeks to true to its calling and be relevant in its socio-political-economic climate. There was no conscious effort to create this (Sang Kancil)theology.

And this also brought to mind, what Datuk Paul Low wrote in A Spiritual Healthcheck of the Church in Malaysia, (published 2007 by NECF Malaysia Research Commission) in the chapter entitled, "Church Governance- A Viewpoint". He is comparing Malaysian churches that are Church-centred and Kingdom-centred in an excellent table.

He comments

It is worth reminding ourselves that Christ will come for His Bride (singular) and not brides (plural). That is, churches must begin to forge a kingdom perspective by eliminating inward-looking and extending services externally, such as serving and collaborating with other churches through the sharing of resources, knowledge and experience. (p.73)

This is an excellent reminder for the Malaysian churches to be kingdom minded and by the grace of God come out of the Sang Kancil theological framework.


Spiritual Disciplines of Silence and Solitude

[note: this post was earlier posted as ''Come apart before you come apart" and "Silence"]

Come Apart Before You Come Apart:
The Healing Spiritual Disciplines of Silence and Solitude.

Silence and solitude are important spiritual disciplines that we must all cultivate. Henri Nouwen observes that many of our ministries follow a certain pattern. We start by starting a ministry which usually leads to frustration. Then we ask certain people whom we think can help us but in the process create certain problems. Then we pray to God to help us solve these problems. Much of our lives are vicious cycles of frustration and problem solving.

Jesus, during his early ministry takes time out for times of silence and solitude. We too need time out for silence and solitude because our bodies are not built for constant stress.

What are some of the benefits of a time of silence and solitude? First, we will develop a discerning spirit. We get to know the Holy Spirit better when we are silent and when we are alone. Then there is no distraction. There is time to think and reflect. This will sharpen our skills of spiritual discernment.

Second, our prayers will become more natural, not hurried and more meaningful. Our prayers become a conversation rather than shopping lists. Our prayers become the second word. The first word is when God speaks to us. The second word is when we speak to God.

Third, silence and solitude makes us more sensitive to people. After a time alone, we drop our social armours, masks and walls. We discover that constant interactions with people can make us callous and insensitive. A time of silence and solitude can help us to become more sensitive to people again.

Finally, silence and solitude helps us to face our death. This may some strange but we all die alone. Silence and solitude helps us to come to terms with ourselves and makes us more aware of our own mortality. I am indebted to Dr. Sherbino for this insight.

It was said of Abba Agathon, a desert father, that for three years he lived with a stone in his mouth, until he had learned to keep silence.

What one discovers in the virtue of silence (hesychia) is patience. It is in silence and stillness that we develop attentiveness and awareness. It is through this attentiveness and awareness that we come to self-knowledge. The desert fathers and mothers are very aware of the importance of silence.

It is through the spiritual discipline of silence that we can hear, be aware of, and be sensitive to what is happening around us, and within us. Silence is not the absence of sounds, of words, and of voices. It is the pause between sounds, between words, and between voices. It makes sense of what is spoken and what is unspoken. Silence is also the thread that holds our words and our actions. It is not an absence that makes silence, but a fullness of a presence.

We use words to justify ourselves, to defend our actions, to extend our influence, and to define our self-identity. Silence deconstructs us. Silence is a dying to self. Silence is a way of surrendering self in the hope of a resurrection.

Abba Alonius, another desert father, said: "If I had not destroyed myself completely, I would not have been able to rebuild and reshape myself again."

Silence never comes easy. We are always impatient to speak. Have you even wondered why do we need to speak? What motivates our speech?

Abba Poemen, yet another one, said: "Someone may seem to be silent, but if in the heart one is condemning others, then one is babbling ceaselessly. And there may be another who talks from morning till evening, and yet in the heart that person is truly silent. That person says nothing that is not profitable."

It is said that the language of God is silence. The language we shall speak in heaven. Is that why we find it so difficult to speak it here on earth? We can practice silence and solitude without going on a retreat. Most of us associate silence and solitude with a retreat. Yes, a retreat will be an ideal place for prolonged silence and solitude and all of us should aim to spend some time every year in a spiritual retreat. However we can also have silence and solitude in our everyday life. Take a long and solitary walk everyday or as often as you can. Take a walk with a friend and agree not to say anything. You can also decide to spend a day of silence in your home or check yourself into a hotel. Lock yourself in the bathroom. There are many other ways to find silence and solitude. It is a matter of whether we want to do it or not.

Reflection Questions:

(1) How important is it to have some silence and solitude in your life?
(2) How will you make time in your schedule for some time of silence and solitude?
(3) What are some of the first words you will like to hear, and second words you will like to offer in your time of silence and solitude?

O Lord, help us to find time in our busy schedule for some silence and solitude. Teach us to speak the language of silence, and help us to be at peace in solitude. Show us that solitude is not loneliness but is being fully in Your presence. In silence and with a grateful heart we pray.”


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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Zulu the movie

This 1964 movie is about the defence of Rourke's Drift, small mission hospital in Natal during the Anglo-Zulu wars on 22-23th Jan 1879. Michael Caine made his cameo appearance as Lt. Bromhead, an aristocrat and Stanley Baker as Lt. Chard, an Officer of Royal Engineers who came from a more humble background. This set the stage for the interchange about class status in the movie. Michael Caine came across well as an English aristocrat.

Jack Hawkins played the role of a missionary who is anti-violent, stuck in the middle of a war. The missionary is a complex man who seems to understand the local culture, yet is a drunken and quoted Scripture all the time. Ulla Jacobsson played the role of the missionary's daughter but I do not know why she is there. Except for the feminine impact, the show would be fine without her. (I am not being sexist here)

The costumes were great. I loved the British red uniforms worn by the foot soldiers of that time. The commitment of the soldiers, their dependence on their NCOs, and their fighting tactics were realistic enough to be believable. I can see the research made in making the appropriate uniforms and also in the battle itself.

Most impressive is the wedding dance of 200 Zulu warriors and 200 Zulu nubile maidens at the beginning of the movie at the King's kraal.

In the nineteen century, the British were competing with the Dutch to bring Zululand into the empire. During the 1870s, the British were looking for a pretext to completely defeat the Zulu In 1878 they got it. The wife of Sihayo, a Zulu chief, fled with her lover into British territory. Sihayo's sons crossed the frontier into Natal and killed her. The British ordered the Zulu to disband their army and predictably the Zulu chief, Cetshwayo, refused. On this pretext the British army marched into Zululand.

On January 22nd 1879, the Zulu, with vastly inferior weapons, killed 1500 British and defeated the army at Isandhlwana. It was a remarkable achievement, and the greatest victory ever won by Africans against Europeans in sub-Saharan Africa.

After the defeat of the British army, the Zulu army attacked a small British field hospital and supply depot at Rorkes(Rourke's) Drift in Natal. The defence of Rorkes Drift was one of the most heroic military defences of all time. Manned by 140 troops of the 24th Regiment, led by Lieutenant John Chard of the Royal Engineers, the camp was attacked by a well-trained and well-equipped Zulu army of 4000 men, heartened by the great Zulu victory over the British forces at Isandhlwana earlier on the same day. The battle began in mid afternoon, when British remnants of the defeat at Isandhlwana struggled into the camp.

Anticipating trouble, Chard set his small force to guard the perimeter fence but, when the Zulu attack began, the Zulus came faster than the British could shoot and the camp was soon overcome. The thatched roof of the hospital was fired by Zulu spears wrapped in burning grass and even some of the sick and the dying were dragged from their beds and pressed into the desperate hand-to-hand fighting.

Eventually, Chard gave the order to withdraw from the perimeter and to take position in a smaller compound, protected by a hastily assembled barricade of boxes and it was from behind this barricade that the garrison fought for their lives throughout the night. After twelve hours of battle, the camp was destroyed, the hospital had burned to the ground, seventeen British lay dead and ten were wounded. However, the Zulus had been repulsed and over 400 of their men killed.

The Battle of Rorkes Drift is one of the greatest examples of bravery and heroism in British military history. Nine men were awarded Distinguished Conduct Medals, and eleven, the most ever given for a single battle, received the highest military honour of all, the Victoria Cross.

The British reinforced their troops, however, and eventually defeated the Zulu at the Battle of Ulundi in 1789. The Zulu king ordered his warriors to stop fighting, since his people were starving.

The British divided Zululand into 13 smaller states. This encouraged disputes between the chiefs and eventually there was civil war. In 1887 the British made Zululand a colony.


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Battle of Thermopylae

(painting by Jacque-Louis David 1814)

Persian Wars: Battle at Thermopylae - 480 B.C.

This was the second Persian attack on Greece. The first ended in defeat at the Battle of Marathon of King Darius by the combined Greek armies in 490 B.C. King Xerxes just ascended the throne and to show his right to rule, seek to avenge his father’s defeat by crushing the Greeks once and for all. He amassed a million soldiers and it was said that the ground trembled when his armies marched and the soldiers drunk the rivers dry.

Xerxes' fleet of Persian ships had sailed along the coastline from northern Greece into the Gulf of Malia on the eastern Aegean Sea towards the mountains at Thermopylae. There was a narrow pass there that controlled the only road between Thessaly and Central Greece. This pass will allow the Persian armies to enter the plain of Thessaly.

The Greek nation states were in a state of panic because many have just recovered from the first Persian war. Athens was sacked and burnt and the acropolis destroyed. The leaders were also in undecided; some wanted to fight while others wanted to sue for peace. King Leonidas of Sparta decided that something has to been done to stop the invading armies while the city-states decide.

He decided that try to stop the invasion at the narrow pass at Thermopylae (lit. "hot gates"). So he force marched his elite bodyguards of 300 Spartans and their Boeotian allies from Thespiae and Thebes to reach the pass of Thermopylae before the Persians. They managed to reach there and for 3 days held back the combined might of the Persian armies. Much detailed were available from historian Herodotus. Unfortunately for Leonidas, after a couple of days, traitor named Ephialtes led the Persians around the pass running behind the Spartan army and the battle was lost. Memorable was this alleged quotation from a Spartan soldier, Dieneces that when he was told that there were so many Persian archers that the sky would grow dark with the flying missiles, he replied laconically: "So much the better -- we shall fight them in the shade." The body of Leonidas may have been crucified or beheaded on Xerxes' orders. It was retrieved about 40 years later.

The heroic Spartans and their allies managed to win 3 extra days for the rest of the Greek city-states. In these three days, many cities were evacuated for example Athen. It was again sacked and burnt. The Parthenon, built to commemorate the victory of the Greeks over King Darius was also burnt.

Source here and here.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

B.C cartoonist Johnny Hart

Johnny Hart, one of my favourite cartoonist went to be with the Lord on 7 April 2007, the day before Easter. He is the creator and artist of the comic strip B.C. which often deals with theological issues in a very interesting way.

USA Today reports

Cartoonist Johnny Hart, whose award-winning B.C. comic strip appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers worldwide, has died. He was 76.

Today's Christian, March/April 1997 had an article by Joe Maxwell entitled "Johnny Hart: Not Caving In" The cartoon characters of "B.C." reflect their imaginative creator, Johnny Hart. Especially his unapologetic faith in God.

For four years now, The Los Angeles Times has refused to run certain "B.C." strips containing witty Christian messages during holiday seasons. In March 1996, when the Times refused to run his Palm Sunday strip, a national uproar ensued, reaching even the Washington, D.C., talk show circuit. The strip had Wiley—a brooding, poet-wannabe in B.C.'s cast of characters—sitting against a tree, tablet in hand, writing a poem entitled "The Suffering Prince":

Picture yourself tied to a tree,
condemned of the sins of eternity.
Then picture a spear,
parting the air,
seeking your heart to cut your despair.
Suddenly—a knight, in armor of white,
stands in the gap betwixt you and its flight,
And shedding his 'armor of God' for you—
bears the lance that runs him through.
His heart has been pierced that yours may beat,
and the blood of his corpse washes your feet.
Picture yourself in raiment white,
cleansed by the blood of the lifeless knight.
Never to mourn,the prince who was downed,
For he is not lost!
It is you who are found.

Spokeswoman Gloria Lopez of the Times says Mr. Hart's strip isn't the only one that has been pulled. Other examples of edited strips she cited include "Doonesbury" and "The Far Side." Says Ms. Lopez: "The bottom line is the editors reserve the right to edit."

Johnny believes such treatment is symptomatic of the battle for America's soul, and he likes the idea that his recent flaps with the Times "have gotten Christians up in arms. That's what they all need."

I shall miss his laconic wit and his cavemen. I hope they publish his collected works soon.

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