Friday, November 30, 2007

My name is Bond, James Bond

One of my hobby is to collect movie posters printed on postcards. This is not so easy to find as you think. Below is my collection of Sean Connery's James Bond movies poster postcard, produced by Eon Production Ltd, 1998. Printed in England.

Sean Connery acted in six movies.
Which do you think is his best Bond movie?


Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Prosperity Bible


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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Command and Conquer: Tiberium Wars Novel

If you are like me and find my previous post hard to read with its 'chim' philosophy and theology, try this book by Keith R. A. DeCandido (who also write Star Trek novels).

This is a military science fiction novel set during the time of the computer game, Command & Conquer : The Tiberium Wars, so many elements of the game appears in the novel. It was 2047 and the surface of the earth was partially poisoned by Tiberium. The world was at world between the Global Defense Initiatve (GDI), the good guys and the Brotherhood of Nod, a superpower terrorist organisation.

The novel is about the military campaigns of GDI's 22nd Infantry Division against the Nods and later an alien invasion.

Come to think of it, it shows the fallen-ness of the mankind and the world without invoking Derrida, Foucault, Nietzsche, Marx, Moses, Augustine, Freud, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. I believe this novel is another translated version of the Fall.

For my comments on the computer game , Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars read here.

To know the Seven lessons I learnt while playing the game, read here


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Lost in Translation: Versions of the Fall

Books & Culture, November/December 2007

Lost in Translation :Versions of the Fall.
by James K. A. Smith

There was a time in the 1990s when Christian theorists commonly referred to Derrida, Foucault, and their ilk as perceptive observers of the fallenness of the world. Granted, Paris was no Lourdes: one wouldn't look to them for healing. But one could find in these "postmodern" theories—focused on power and violence—a solid diagnosis of the human condition as experienced in a broken, postlapsarian world. Indeed, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault and others were read as if they were good Calvinists with a highly calibrated sensitivity to all the ways humanity is prone to perversion, domination, and sin. In the same vein, Merold Westphal pointed out the way in which the masters of suspicion—Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud—could be read almost as Puritans of a sort, discerning humanity's ubiquitous predilection for idolatries of all kinds.1 So phenomenology and post-structuralism were considered new renditions of a story as old as Augustine (or Moses, depending on one's account of doctrinal development): a tale of original sin.

Such readings are not fantastic feats of eisegesis or merely the inventions of Christian scholars looking to underwrite their interest in Continental theory. In other words, these often aren't just matters of convergence, but influence—sometimes direct, in other cases more oblique. In some instances, there are paper trails that point us to the specifically Christian origins of what emerged as "secular" theory. Take, for example, Heidegger's landmark work Being and Time (1927). Upon its publication, Rudolf Bultmann thought he had discovered gold in Marburg. Undertaking what can only be described as a monumental work of apologetics, Bultmann tried to show that the existential core of the New Testament's teaching could be affirmed as true because it was corroborated by the neutral, philosophical work of Heidegger's Being and Time. O happy coincidence!, thought Bultmann. The New Testament understanding of the human condition could be demonstrated as true through the secular philosophical confirmation of just this vision of the human condition unveiled by Heidegger's hermeneutic phenomenology. But as the later publication of Heidegger's early lectures has shown, this was not merely a happy coincidence: the "secular" vision of the human condition in Being and Time did not constitute independent evidence for the New Testament. In fact, there was no independence at all: Heidegger had first worked out the basic themes of Being and Time by lecturing on Saint Augustine and Paul's Letters to the Thessalonians! What emerged from his hut in the Black Forest was not the independent verification of the New Testament that Bultmann's apologetic project required; rather, Being and Time was a sort of translation or "formalization" of the Pauline vision.

For readers attuned to these conversations, Stephen Mulhall's
Philosophical Myths of the Fall will be neither surprising nor counterintuitive. But we should not therefore underestimate the element of scandal in Mulhall's project, which is to suggest that key canonical figures in modern philosophy—Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein—reinscribe the Christian doctrine of original sin. As Mulhall puts it, "all three in fact engender a conception of the human condition that constantly inclines them to reiterate elements of a distinctively Christian structure of thought." The result is a "secularized conception of the self and its world"—a translation of the particularities of Christian confession into more neutral or more universal categories, and thus unhitched from any specific faith commitments.

Mulhall is absolutely right to see this project of secularizing or formalizing Christian theological resources at work in Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein—just as others have discerned something of the same in Marx, Freud, and Derrida. Indeed, Mulhall's essays offer distinctive contributions to these discussions by patiently and carefully showing the way in which Nietzsche repeats his own myth of a "Fall," or the way in which Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations could be plausibly read as a reperformance of Augustine's Confessions. But these secular translations engender two related problems that deserve consideration. First, just what is getting translated? What's taken to be the Christian story that is then reworked and secularized? And second, what happens to the Christian story in that process? Is there something lost in translation? Or as Mulhall asks, "can one say what the Christian has to say about the human condition as fallen, and yet mean it otherwise?"

On the first score, Mulhall falls into just the trap that Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein do: conflating fallenness with finitude. The so-called Christian doctrine that is put on the table to be "translated" turns out to not be received catholic orthodoxy, but already some bastardization of the Church's confession. In this case, Mulhall persistently takes it that the doctrine of original sin specifies that the desires of humans are sinfully perverted "by virtue of their very condition as human." In a favorite turn of phrase, Mulhall repeatedly emphasizes that humans are "always already" errant, corrupted, and misdirected. To be human, then, is to be "essentially" sinful, "sinful simply by virtue of being human."

But this is decidedly not the orthodox doctrine of original sin. Rather, what Mulhall give us is an all-too-common Gnostic rendition of it (one which, admittedly, evangelical Protestants are sometimes prone to confuse with the real thing). This is to read the Bible as if it began with the third chapter of Genesis. The paradox is that an orthodox understanding of original sin does not posit sin as properly "original"; that is, it does not regard sinfulness as coincident with being human and finite. And when such a misunderstanding of original sin is coupled with some hope of redemption, we find the contorted philosophical acrobatics that Mulhall finds in Heidegger and Wittgenstein: redemption from this condition of fallenness requires redemption from being human.

What is consistently lacking in these secularized or formalized versions of the Fall is the distinct nuance of the Christian vision, viz., the ability to imagine the world otherwise. Without the prior goodness of creation, there is no Fall. Our present condition is "not the way it's supposed to be," as Cornelius Plantinga so aptly put it. So, too, the doctrine of the eschaton, which enables the Christian story to imagine humanity remaining finite and human but inhabiting the world otherwise. This is why Abraham Kuyper suggested that Christian scientists and scholars would always be "abnormalists," not tempted to confuse our currently observable world with the way things ought to be. To confess with the creed that God is the "maker of heaven and earth," and conclude our confession with the hope of "the resurrection of the dead," is to be able to imagine humanity otherwise while still affirming the finitude and embodiment that are constitutive of being creatures.

What guides Mulhall's reading, then—and here he's just being faithful to his subjects—is a doctrine of the Fall without Creation (the book tellingly opens with Genesis 3 as an epigraph). What happens to Christian doctrine when it is formalized or secularized in this way? After all, the translation projects of a Heidegger or a Wittgenstein are undertaken precisely in order to distill a universal, supposedly neutral account of "the human condition"—to tell us that this is "just the way it is." Their goal is to "unchain" the myth of the Fall from the specificities of Christian faith—and a persistent line in Mulhall's book is to call into question the extent (and even the possibility) of their success in this regard, considering the ways in which these formalizations or secularizations of Christian doctrine fail to completely detach themselves from the specificity of Christian faith. Thus Mulhall, in somewhat Rahnerian fashion, seems to hint that Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein are closet Christians of a sort, precisely because their philosophical myths of the fall can't completely unhook themselves from their theological origin.

But there is also a second trajectory of concern that Mulhall doesn't seem to consider: that is the way in which these secularization projects yield not "translations" but something different altogether—that despite similar tropes, a very different story is being told. And here I think Christian theorists need to be especially discerning: because the rhythms and rhymes of Heidegger and Derrida can sound like secular renditions of the Christian story, we can be lulled into something like Bultmann's euphoria, thinking that Continental philosophy has "got religion" and now bolsters our Christian claims about the human condition. But it's precisely when Heidegger or Derrida or Badiou take up Christian themes that we should be most wary, carefully considering just what's getting said in and through these re-deployed theological terms. Mulhall's survey should help us to appreciate the way in which contemporary philosophy is wont to draw on the spiritual capital of the Christian story but deny the power thereof. When that happens, what matters most is lost in translation.


1. Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism (Eerdmans, 1993). This kind of project is helpfully extended in Bruce Ellis Benson, Graven Ideologies: Nietzsche, Derrida & Marion on Modern Idolatry (InterVarsity Press, 2002), which provides something of a supplement to Westphal. I offered a specific account of Heidegger's reworking of the doctrine of the Fall and a myth of fallenness in Derrida in The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic (InterVarsity, 2000), ch. 3-4. And John Milbank considers the way in which Christian concepts are taken up and reworked in modern social theory in Theology and Social Theory (Blackwell, 1990). One could argue that the recent work of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek on Saint Paul translates not the Fall, but redemption, into a formal philosophical notion.

James K.A. Smith teaches philosophy at Calvin College. His most recent book is Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (BakerAcademic).

read more here

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Developing Critical Thinkers

Brookfield, Stephen D. (1987) Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers

Professor Brookfield from the Department of higher and Adult Education, Teachers College, Columbia University made a strong case for the teaching and use of critical thinking in adults outside the classroom. Apparently the teaching and use of critical thinking has not translated well to the workplace, politics, media and social lives of adults.
Critical thinking is defined by Brookfield as “reflecting on the assumptions underlying our and others’ ideas and actions, and contemplating alternative ways of thinking and living” (p.x). This he assumes is the way we “become adults.”

There are nine theses which Brookfield put forward in this book.

(1) Critical thinking is a positive activity that is total engagement with daily living.
(2) Critical thinking is an ongoing process, not an outcome.
(3) Critical thinking is closely linked to the context in which the process occurs.
(4) Critical thinking is triggered by life events, both positive and negative.
(5) Critical thinking involves the cognitive and the affective (emotive).
(6) Critical thinking is based on identifying and challenging assumptions.
(7) Critical thinking also challenges the importance of context.
(8) Critical thinking involves imagining and exploring alternatives.
(9) Critical thinking leads to reflective scepticism.

Other concepts closely related or similar to critical thinking are emancipatory thinking (Habermas), dialectical thinking (Riegel and Basseches), reflective learning (Boyd and Fales) and framing (Schon).

The key to critical thinking is our assumptions. To examine our assumptions, we must be aware of how much influence our culture, upbringing and social mores has on us. It is essential that we understand our assumptions in context. I agree with Brookfield that it is not something any of us are capable to doing by ourselves. Brookfield identified the trigger for critical thinking as positive or negative life events such as death, cancers, divorce, etc which forces us to re-evaluate our life situations. This is where critical thinking comes in. It challenges our assumptions and our context and then explores alternatives for us to live our lives. To Brookfield, a person who is a seasoned critical thinker is a reflective skeptic who takes nothing on face value.

There is a real need for many of us to develop critical thinking and examines issues that plague our countries and our churches.


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Monday, November 26, 2007

Do Chinese Students Need An American Jesus?

As the Internet Monk a.k.a Michael Spencer continues in his journey to deconstruct American Evangelicalism, I came across this very insightful post by him on 15 November 2006, almost one year ago. The post is titled ‘Do Chinese Students Need An American Jesus?’

American Christian.
You didn’t like that did you? I don’t like it either. “American Christian” sounds idolatrous. It makes me want to hit the delete key and retype something like “a Christian, who happens to be an American.”

But I’m an American Christian. Whether I like it or not. I live in an American culture that has delivered Christ to me in the swaddling clothes of American religion, American culture, American values, the American imagination, American education, American language, American assumptions and an American view of reality.

To declare myself independent from this is to be purposely ignorant and naively arrogant. Every time I read the New Testament, I am an American reading and interpreting that New Testament. When I go to church, I am an American. When I apply my understanding of the gospel, I do it as an American.

I’m not a blank slate. I don’t supernaturally shed my cultural and intellectual skin when I think “Christianly.” I am not free from all that came before me, all that surrounds me or all that is within me.

This has nothing to do with the truth and veracity of the gospel. It has everything to do with honestly recognizing that we are thoroughly, deeply and continually swimming in the water of Americanism. It has to do with what I and other American Christians present to the world as the life that follows and obeys Christ.

Read his complete post here

I believe this post throws an important light on contextualization of the gospel.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

For Whom the Bell Tolls

My patient died. Ten days ago, he was an energetic 10 years old boy, playing football and looking forward to the long year end holidays. He was bitten by an Aedes mosquito carrying the dengue virus. He has had dengue fever before and the ‘second infection’ theory holds that subsequent infections will be bad.

He was admitted four days ago, complaining of fever and abdominal pain. The dengue virus caused his blood vessels to be more permeable and he lost fluid rapidly. He went into shock as his blood pressure crashed. We poured in plasma, plasma expanders and fresh blood to replace the volume loss and infused powerful medications to bring up his blood pressure. The fluid that leaked from his blood vessels filled up his lungs and abdominal cavity.

He developed difficulty in breathing so we have to artificially ventilate him with a machine. His platelet count dropped and he started bleeding profusely. We attempted to stop the bleeding by infusing him with platelet concentrate and anti-bleeding medication. We use the latest drugs, the latest technology, the latest treatment protocol, and we prayed. In 36 hours the blood pressure stabilised and fluids loss were less.

We thought we have won, have made a difference. Unfortunately the time of prolonged hypotension has damaged his brain, heart, liver and kidney due to inadequate perfusion. One by one his organs failed. My patient died.
With all our knowledge, medications, technology and prayers we could not save him.

No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or
of thine own were:

any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

These famous words by John Donne were not originally written as a poem - the passage is taken from the 1623 Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and is prose. The words of the original passage are here


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You Really Don't Look 57 Charlie Brown

Charles M. Schulz started a cartoon strip about a couple of kids 57 years ago. The main characters are a boy named Charlie Brown, his dog, Snoopy and his friends Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty and Sally. This book was published in 2000 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peanuts. That year also marked the year, its creator died at 77 years.

I have always enjoyed Peanuts. Charlie Brown represents for me the gentleness, trustworthiness, kindness and compassionate that everyone of us should be. Unfortunately, his trusting nature is often abuse by his friend Lucy and her football!

This book is special because it was written by Schulz towards the end of his life, as he was dying from cancer of the colon. The book is in the format of a short page of comments by Schulz followed by a few of his cartoon strips elaborating what he wrote. Schulz is a Christian and Peanuts shares the gospel message in many ways.

One of the most touching comment he made was,

I have underlined words and sentences in one of the Bibles that has always been my study Bible, but when I look at those words and sentences now, I can’t remember why they were underlined…My Revised Standard version of the Bible is filled with markings, for I have gone through it word for word with study groups at least four times, and of course, I have used it on various occasions to begin speeches. I know that the underlined passages served some purpose, but here and there are verses that have no special meaning for me. It is almost as if a friend had secretly opened the book and made some markings just to tease me. What was the spirit trying to say to me then that I no longer need to hear? Or, what was I listening for then that I no longer care about?

What a testimony of a life lived with the Bible. A life that involves learning from the spirit, and after the lesson is learnt, moves on. Will I be able to say the same for my life?


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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Star Trek: The Next Generation Revisited Again

After three days and nights of struggle to save the life of a child suffering from dengue shock syndrome and dengue haemorrhagic disease has left me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausted. So I decided to treat myself today to a Star Trek: The Next Generation binge. Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on television twenty years ago. This year, the copyright owners of Star Trek, CBS Studios (it used to be Paramount Studios who owned Star Trek) decided to release a few more novels. I have hoped the change in ownership will bring back new Star Trek television and movies but it has yet to be seen. So I sat down and read three Star Trek: The Next Generation novels in one seating. Though they are written by different authors, they were released a few months ago (2007) in the order in which I read them so there were continuity in the stories. Also it deals with my two favourite antagonists in the Star Trek universe; the Borg and Q.

[The rest of this post contains spoilers so read at your own risk if you want to read these books]

Resistance and Before Dishonor deals with the Borg. However, these Borg were in the alpha quadrant, the survivors of the Borg queen ill fated mission to follow Voyager to earth. They were disconnected from the main Borg Collective in the delta quadrant. However their programming still worked. They proceeded to build a Borg Cube and produce a Borg queen. Borg was programmed to evolve and in the alpha quadrant, they did evolve. J.M.Dillard’s Resistance introduce us to a fascinating idea that the Borg evolved with the sole purpose of destroying humanity. These Borg are not interested in assimilation but in annihilation! Captain Picard has to become Locutus again to destroy the Borg queen and the alpha quadrant’s Borg Collective.

Peter David continued the story started in Resistance. Star Fleet Command assumed that the Borg is dead. Admiral Janeway was not so sure she went herself to see the Borg Cube. However she was assimilated as she arrived on the Cube. I have always enjoyed Peter David’s stories but this one impressed me the most. While Picard has destroyed the drones, no one realise that the Cube itself is also Borg and thus ‘alive.’ After the death of the drones and the queen the Cube evolved. This time, they do not assimilate but absorbs what they need. And the assimilated Janeway became their new queen. It took the combined effort of Captain Picard, Ambassador Spock and Seven of Nine and the use of the doomsday machine (from a Star Trek original episode) to destroy this new Borg. It also resulted in Janeway’s death. I have really enjoyed this new idea of an evolving Borg.

The story of Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Q & A occurs between the above two story and is more of a narrative of why Q has been so interested in humans and Picard. In a way, it answers many of the questions about Q and draws together the many Q featured stories in the 7 years run of Star Trek: The Next Generation television stories.

Being the hard core Star Trek fan that I am, I have collected almost all the Star Trek novels, comics and magazines published in English for the last forty years. More than just collecting them, I have also read and enjoyed them. I have spent many enjoyable hours in the Star Trek universe.

Like today, I am thankful to God for this time of rest for my soul.

soli deo gloria

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Friday, November 23, 2007

The 47th Samurai

Stephen Hunter (2007) The 47th Samurai, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Imagine the bloody battle at Iwo Jima in which a tough US Marine fought with a Japanese officer. The American survived and was highly decorated. He also took the Samurai sword of the Japanese officer. Fast forward 50 years. The son of the Japanese officer turned up in the States to look up the son of the US Marine named Bob Lee Swagger who was also an ex-US Marine, looking for the sword. Out of a sense of honor, Bob Lee Swagger found the sword and brought it to Japan. The sword turned out to be a legendary sword in Japanese history. With such a promising start, Stephen Hunter has delivered an exciting novel about Japanese culture, Samurai, Japanese sword, the Yakuza and of course, the CIA in Japan. The plot is fast moving. Hunter interspersed the novel with juicy tidbits about Japanese culture. It is like watching a movie and suspending belief. Like in many Hong Kong Kung Fu movies, Bob Lee Swagger learnt Japanese sword fighting in one week and was able to kill the Yakuza topmost assassin who was also their master swordsman.

The story of the 47 Ronin is one of the most celebrated in the history of the samurai. Ronin is a samurai without a master. This story is about Asano Takumi no kami Naganori (1667-1701). Lord Asano was chosen by the Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, to be one of a number of daimyo tasked with entertaining envoys from the Imperial family. Unfortunately Asano did not get along with the ranking master of protocol, Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka (1641-1702). This interpersonal conflict came to a head in April, 1701 when Asano threw his sword at Kira. Kira was not wounded seriously. However, this was a serious matter and the Shogan ordered Asano to commit hara-kiri and all his lands in Akô in Harima confiscated.

Asano’s samurai were disbanded and became ronin. However they plotted together and on the snowy night of 14 December 1702, 47 of them marched to Kira’s mansion. Kira was beheaded by the same sword that Asano used to kill himself. It is this sword that is the centre of Hunter’s novel.

They then carried Kira’s head to Sengakuji, where Asano was buried. Then they turned themselves in. The ronins were ordered to commit suicide. They were all buried in Sengakuji.

The Legend of the 47 Samurai is very popular in Japan and many plays, novels, mangas and movies were based on it. The Sengakuji is still a popular spot in Tokyo and a place who many feel were the finest examples of samurai loyalty to emerge from the Edo Period.

A good thriller with fast moving action packed scenes of Japanese sword fighting (first time I read about Japanese sword fighting action in English). I give it a four stars.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Leonidas the Spartan King

My King Leonidas action figure from Reel Toys

read my comments on 300 comic and the movie

Spartan helmet on display in a museum in Athens

Spartan shield captured by the Athenians on display in the Agora Museum in Athens



Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Great Arab Conquests

Map of the Early Muslim Conquests (The Cambridge History of Islam)

In The Great Arab Conquests, Hugh Kennedy describes and convincingly analyzes the astonishing story of how the Arabs took over the Middle East. Beginning around 630, Arab forces burst initially into Syria and Mesopotamia, and then into Egypt and Persia. By 651, the Arabs had conquered the Persian Empire, which then stretched deep into the "stans" of Central Asia, and they were already pushing into Roman North Africa. Carthage fell in 698, Spain followed after 711. In 751, Arab forces defeated the Chinese in the struggle for Turkestan.

Why were they so successful? Muslims knew, of course, that God was guiding their victories, and many Eastern Christians agreed.

For the large majority of the Syrian and Egyptian Christians who belonged to sects condemned by the Byzantine Empire, the Nestorians and Monophysites, the Arabs were evidently God's scourge in the chastising of the vicious Orthodox regime. Kennedy offers other, more secular, explanations, above all the mutual devastation through which the Byzantine and Persian Empires had so weakened each other over the previous two centuries. And far from being crude barbarians crashing ignorantly into this alien world of civilization, the Arabs had ancient contacts with both Persia and Byzantium. These linkages are suggested by the extensive network of Christian bishoprics and shrines that stretched from southern Iraq deep into the Yemen. (Incidentally, Kennedy's maps are excellent.) The Arab leaders were skilled and worldly-wise, quite sophisticated in the ways of the civilized empires, and they made excellent use of diplomacy as needed. By the end of the book, we are much less inclined to see the Arab conquests as a near-miracle, but rather as something close to a foregone conclusion, and that shift of perception is vastly to the author's credit.

Kennedy summarizes his argument thus: "In the final analysis, the success of the Muslim conquest was a result of the unstable and impoverished nature of the whole post-Roman world into which they came, the hardiness and self-reliance of the Bedouin warriors, and the inspiration and open quality of the new religion of Islam."

Significantly, his very plausible list of factors ends rather than begins with the motivating power of Islam. His book gives no support to those who see the story of Islam as an incessant tale of bloodshed and massacre in the guise of holy warfare, and he is very fair in quoting contemporary observers who saw both the good and bad sides of the new regime. Christian critics easily distinguished between those Arab rulers, like the Caliph Yazid II, who were monstrous tyrants, and the others who were decent and just. The Arabs varied enormously in their treatment of Christians, Jews, and other conquered peoples, and it is hard to generalize over the whole region.

As Kennedy notes, however many people may have disliked the new regime, few moved to active resistance: "The fragmented nature of the response of the conquered was an important reason for the success of the Muslims, both in the initial conquest and in the consolidation of their rule."

read complete article

more on the Four Caliphs here

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Ah Lek Sweeps the Floor

Ah Lek has heard of the holiness and wisdom of Abba Ah Beng. He wanted to be a disciple of this holy man. One day, he packed his meagre possessions and set out for the Sow Lin Monastery. Presenting himself at the door, he requested admittance because he wanted to be a disciple of Abba Ah Beng. “Wait here”, he was told by a curt doorman, “Abba Ah Beng is meditating with his Bible and must not be disturbed.” So Ah Lek waited at the front door for 3 days and 3 nights. It must be a test, he thought, as Ah Lek is a fan of Hong Kong kungfu movies. Three days later, the door opened and the doorman peered out. “You still here?” said the surprised doorman, “Oops, I forgot to tell Abba Ah Beng about you.”

Ah Lek was brought before the holy man. Abba Ah Beng was the disciple of Abba Isaac of the Great Desert Fathers of Northern Egypt. As northern Egypt is closer to Jerusalem, these desert fathers regard their tradition as holier than those who follow the tradition of Abba Tau in the southern desert. Hence the expression, ‘holier than Tau.’ “So you want to be a disciple, do you?” Abba Ah Beng spoke, staring with piercing eyes at Ah Lek because he has misplaced his spectacles again. “Our Lord Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet so you shall start your service by sweeping the monastery floor.” It was a large monastery.

Disciple junior grade Ah Lek swept the dinning hall floors, the corridors, the main sanctuary, the altar areas, the pews, the choir stands, the prayer rooms, the many cells in which his fellows monks lived, the cloisters, the gardens, the library, the conference room, the reception rooms and Abba Ah Beng’s living quarters. He swept in winter, spring, summer and autumn. Year after year, Ah Lek faithfully swept the floor of the Sow Lin Monastery. One day, he dropped dead from exhaustion. He found himself in heaven with Jesus.

“Welcome my good and faithful servant,” Jesus greets him with a smile, “You have been faithful in serving me in small things and now you will be rewarded with greater things.” Then Jesus gave Ah Lek a bigger broom for him to sweep New Jerusalem.

What is the moral of this story?


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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beowulf Retold

Beowulf is the oldest epic poem in the English language. Dated around 700 AD, it is the source from which most of the Western mythology and ‘heroes’ stories originate. The epic starts in Denmark. King Hrothgar’s palace (mead hall) named Heorot was under nightly attacks by a monster called Grendel for 12 years. Grendel attacked them every night and carried off his warriors as food. Beowulf, a prince of the Geats of southern Sweden arrived with a small band of warriors to aid King Hrothgar. That night Beowulf engaged Grendel in fierce hand to hand combat. Grendel could not match the strength of Beowulf, was mortally injured and escaped by tearing off his arm. The next day was a day of rejoicing. However that night, Heorot was attacked by Grendel’s mother. The next morning, Beowulf tracked her to her cave and killed her, bringing back to King Hrothgar, Grendel’s head.

In second part of the epic, Beowulf returned home to King Hygelac. After the death of the king and his son, Beowulf succeeded to the throne and ruled for 50 years. The country was attacked by a fire-breathing dragon. An aged Beowulf fought the dragon, finally killing it with the loss of his own life. The epic ends with his funereal rites and lament. Unlike most early epics, Beowulf is an altruistic hero. Most scholars agree that the epic was gradually infused with Christian symbolism as the monks duplicated the manuscript. Some scholars regard the epic as a Christian allegory; as a battle between good and evil. It is significant that Beowulf’s three battles are not against man but against a monster, an evil demon, and a destroyer of civilization. His sacrificial death is the fulfillment of a hero’s life.

In the movie, Beowulf (2007), screenwriter Avery and Gaiman went beyond the epic to show us a very different portrait of Beowulf. Their Beowulf was not the altruistic hero of the epic but a flawed human being. He was a fighter with an appetite for glory, land, gold, women and be immortalized in songs by their bards. He enjoyed the stories being told about him and was not above embellishing some details to make himself look better. In the movie, after killing Grendel and in turn attacked by Grendel’s mother, Beowulf tracked her to her cave. There instead of killing her, he was seduced by her promise of a kingdom, land, gold, women and invincibility in return for impregnating her. This sin will come back to plague him. The movie continued with Grendel’s mother fulfilling her part of the bargain. Beowulf became king.

The kingship, glory, land, gold, women and invincibility became wearisome as King Beowulf soon discovered. He was constantly in battle with those who wanted to kill him and thus become legend themselves. Then the country was attacked by a dragon which turned out to be his son (by Grendel’s mother). Beowulf succeeded in killing the dragon by sacrificing his life. It was interesting how Avery and Gaiman turned the epic story about good versus evil to an examination of personal sin and its consequences.

Beowulf was led down the path of self destruction by his pride. Thus he was unable to resist the temptations of kingship, lands, gold, women, invincibility and celebrity. By his Faustian pact with Grendel’s mother, he laid the seed for his own self destruction. He sold his soul for worldly success. A small sin grew into a big one. Beowulf redeemed himself in his final act of self sacrifice to save those he loved.

This movie version of Beowulf reminds me of another action hero in the Bible- Samson (Judges 13-16). Samson was proud, and arrogant about his great strength. Thus he was unable to resist the temptations of beautiful Philistine women and wealth. He sinned by marrying them thus breaking the Mosaic Law. The consequences of his sin was that he was blinded and chained like an animal. His redemption came when he sacrificed himself by pulling down Dagon’s temple, killing himself and many Philistines. In spite of his flawed nature, Samson is considered a Judge and a leader of the Israelites. Beowulf and Samson revealed a flawed humanity, prone to pride and sin. Before we are too quick to judge them, we must remind ourselves that we too shared the same flawed humanity.

The lesson is how not to sin and suffer its consequences; to avoid the temptation to sin. 1 Peter 5:8 and James 1:14-15 warns us about the danger of temptations to sin. Our vulnerable to temptations arise from our false self (also called old nature and old man). Our false nature tells us that we can only be happy if we have power, lands, gold, sex, fame or invincibility. When temptations appear, it whispers in our ears that it is okay to commit a small sin so that we can get what we want. “It is only a small sin,” it croons, “probably no one will notice.” It quotes Scriptures to show us that all our sins have been forgiven, so just do it! Our false self neglect to tell us what our true self already knew. We are forgiven for our sins but we still have to bear its consequences. Sometimes the consequences of our sins may affect many generations. King David, the apple of God’s eye had to watch his newborn child (conceived in adultery) die, and suffer the treachery of his son Absalom. When we sin, it is often not only we who suffer but those whom we love. So when temptations to sin appear, run away as fast as you can; in the opposite direction! G.K. Chesterston remarks, “It is always simple to fall; there is an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands.”

Reflection Questions
1. What are some temptations to sin that are facing you at this moment? Is that in a relationship that should not be developed further? Some aspect of your work? Your ambition? Your priorities?
2. How will you go about resisting temptations to sin?
3. Are you accountable to anybody? Accountability groups of two or three persons are very helpful to help us resist temptations to sin.

We acknowledge that we are flawed beings. We thank you that you have redeemed us and given us a true self (new nature). Yet we know our false self (old nature) is still working on us. We know the temptations of the world are very strong. There are also those who will trip us to watch us fall. Father, we ask for the help of your Holy Spirit to strengthen us to resist temptations to sin. We also ask that you will send us brothers and sisters to whom we can be accountable to. Help us, we pray.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Experiments on Human/Animal Hybrid Stem Cells

Hybrid Test Drive
Advances in stem-cell technology cheer and alarm ethics watchers.
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra posted 11/16/2007 08:42AM

While scientists in the U.S. hailed sperm cells as a possible alternative to embryonic stem cells, regulators in Great Britain became the first to approve inter-species experimentation.

The U.K.'s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which reports to the Department of Health, ruled in September that there was no "fundamental reason" not to use animals as egg donors for the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos. Currently, researchers depend on human embryos from fertilization clinics.

Hybrid embryos are created by scraping an animal's DNA out of its egg and inserting a nucleus from a human cell. Researchers don't know yet if hybrid embryos will display the developmental flexibility that human embryos do. "But the odds are high," said William B. Neaves, president and CEO of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. "It's worth trying."

The U.K. has not legalized the implantation of hybrid embryos, which are 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal, into wombs. Still, development of a human-animal chimera should worry everyone who values human life, said Nigel Cameron, president of the Institute on Biotechnology & the Human Future.

"This is a wake-up call that really does catch people's moral imagination," he said. "The whole notion of manufacturing human or semi-human life for experimentation and destruction goes to the core of human dignity."

I wonder what this does to our theological understanding of imago dei or image of God. While obviously our physical bodies do not truly reflect God's for he is spirit. Yet, we are said to be created in his image. Does this give us the right to mess with our human DNA? What if a chimera (human and animal DNA) is brought to term? Is it/he/she a human being or an animal?
This are disturbing thoughts as we struggle to balance the benefit of stem cell research against the sanctity of human life.



Beowulf, Grendel and Grendel's Mother

Beowulf is a heroic poem. It opens in Denmark, where King Hrothgar's splendid mead hall, Heorot, has been ravaged for 12 years by nightly visits from an evil monster, Grendel, who carries off Hrothgar's warriors and devours them. Unexpectedly, young Beowulf, a prince of the Geats of southern Sweden, arrives with a small band of retainers and offers to cleanse Heorot of its monster. The King is astonished at the little-known hero's daring but welcomes him, and after an evening of feasting, much courtesy, and some discourtesy, the King retires, leaving Beowulf in charge. During the night Grendel comes from the moors, tears open the heavy doors, and devours one of the sleeping Geats. He then grapples with Beowulf, whose powerful grip he cannot escape. He wrenches himself free, tearing off his arm, and leaves, mortally wounded.

The next day is one of rejoicing in Heorot. But at night as the warriors sleep, Grendel's mother comes to avenge her son, killing one of Hrothgar's men. In the morning Beowulf seeks her out in her cave at the bottom of a mere and kills her. He cuts the head from Grendel's corpse and returns to Heorot. The Danes rejoice once more. Hrothgar makes a farewell speech about the character of the true hero, as Beowulf, enriched with honours and princely gifts, returns home to King Hygelac of the Geats.

The second part passes rapidly over King Hygelac's subsequent death in a battle (of historical record), the death of his son, and Beowulf's succession to the kingship and his peaceful rule of 50 years. But now a fire-breathing dragon ravages his land and the doughty but aging Beowulf engages it. The fight is long and terrible and a painful contrast to the battles of his youth. Painful, too, is the desertion of his retainers except for his young kinsman Wiglaf. Beowulf kills the dragon but is mortally wounded. The poem ends with his funeral rites and a lament.

Beowulf belongs metrically, stylistically, and thematically to the inherited Germanic heroic tradition...Yet the poem is so infused with a Christian spirit that it lacks the grim fatality of many of the Eddic lays or the Icelandic sagas. Beowulf himself seems more altruistic than other Germanic heroes or the heroes of the Iliad. It is significant that his three battles are not against men, which would entail the retaliation of the blood feud, but against evil monsters, enemies of the whole community and of civilization itself. Many critics have seen the poem as a Christian allegory, with Beowulf the champion of goodness and light against the forces of evil and darkness. His sacrificial death is not seen as tragic but as the fitting end of a good (some would say “too good”) hero's life.

(Beowulf.Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD ).

Beowulf the movie is a fast moving adrenalin pumping action movie. It was specifically formatted to look like a computer game. The actors were modified digitally to look like CG characters in a computer game with their two dimensional features and movement. What the movie 300 has done for comics, Beowulf did it for computer games. This is another example of life following art. The storyline follows the Beowulf epic but condense the two parts into one. Beowulf inherits Hrothgar’s kingdom instead of Hygelac’s.

The emphasis of this movie is on the human side of Beowulf instead of his legendary heroic persona. Beowuf was portrayed as a young man eager for fame, fortune and a name in history. He and his soldiers will travel the world in search of adventure. That led them to Denmark to kill the monster, Grendel. Beowulf was easily seduced by Grendel’s mother who promised him a kingdom, lands, gold, women and a legendary name. Many years later, an older and more mellowed Beowulf regretted he sold his soul so easily. He was battle weary from having to fight younger heroes who seek to kill him and made a name for themselves. He was also disgusted with himself over the legend that grew around him about him killing Grendel and his mother (he lied). The older Beowulf revealed his true heroic nature when he sacrificed himself to defend his people from the attack of a dragon.

Beowulf’s humanity is our humanity. We too are prone to be tempted by worldly success; fame, fortune, wealth, sex and that our name is remembered for posterity. Beowulf reminds me of another action hero in the Bible- Samson. Samson too was tempted and subcome to his temptations. He too strayed from his true calling. His redemption, like Beowulf, came when he sacrificed himself to kill his enemies.

There is much violence in this movie that I am surprised by the ‘U’ rating. The violence may be too intense for some children. However I have truly enjoyed the show and gives it a four star rating.

‘nuff said.


It is now rated PG-13 in Malaysia


Sunday, November 18, 2007

AGST Dean Needs to See a Doctor

Dr Allan Harkness, Dean of Asia Graduate School of Theology (AGST) met with me in my clinic on Friday so that we can go to lunch together (why do you think he needs to see a doctor, eh?).

Many seminaries in Asia are small and most offers certificate, diploma, Bachelors (BD) and lower Masters (M.Div; MCS) courses. Many are however unable to offer the higher academic degrees such as M.Th and PhD. This has changed recently when some seminaries have began to offer M.Th and D.Min. (not PhD). For students to do their MTh and PhD, Asian students are forced to go overseas. While I know there are some seminaries who advise their students to go overseas for their M.Th and PhD for exposure, there are certain disadvantages.

These students are forced to move overseas for 3-5 years with their family and growing children. However, many after completing their PhDs do not want to come back to Malaysia and Singapore. There are many reasons for this. Of those who do come back, many after a period of teaching in a local seminary or in ministry will decide to go back to the West.

This is one of the many other reasons the Asia Theological Association has decided to set up AGST for various countries so that those who aspire for higher degrees can do it without leaving home and thus remain in community with their society and continue to serve in Asia after they finish. Asia, as we all know, is in great need of theologians who are thinking critically in the Asian context. For example there is AGST (India), AGST (Philippines) and AGST (Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand).

AGST (Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand) offers M.Th and PhD in Education ( already the second cohort) and Theology (intake next year). The course work is done in modules so that the students can do it part time if they want to. More information here on courses on education and theology. I am told that an infamous Malaysian theologian (whom we all know) who is not attached to any seminary will be teaching a module.

This is an additional option for those who want to continue onto M.Th and PhD. without having to resign from their present jobs.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Golden Compass; Another Harry Potter?

Mark Moring, editor for Christianity Today Movies comments,

It all started with this missive making the cyber-rounds, spelling errors and all:

"There will be a new Children's movie coming out December 7th called 'The Golden Compass.' It is written by Phillip Pullman, a proud athiest who belongs to secular humanist societies. He hates C.S. Lewis's Chronical's of Narnia and has written a trilogy to show the other side. The movie has been dumbed down to fool kids and thie parents in the hope that they will buy his trilogy where in the end the children kill God and everyone can do as they please. Nicole Kidman stars in the movie so it will most likely be advertised a lot."

Some are already calling for boycotts of the movie, while others are taking a wait-and-see approach. Just for the record, we're more in the latter camp than the former. We'd likely never call for an organized boycott of any film; we'd simply advise readers to be informed, and to make a decision for yourselves and, where applicable, for your family. Our mission statement is to help readers make discerning choices for themselves—not to advise one way or another about watching a particular movie. That's your call.

We haven't seen The Golden Compass, and won't for a few weeks. But, for now, we can at least say this: Yes, Pullman is an atheist. Yes, his trilogy features the death of God. And yes, he hates the Chronicles of Narnia "with a deep and bitter passion," he has said, "with their view of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are falling away." He's called Narnia "one of the most ugly and poisonous things" he's ever read.

We can also say this: Pullman's books are award-winning and well-written, and those who have read them—yes, even Christians—say he spins quite an entertaining, and page-turning, fantasy yarn. One can certainly recognize the quality of Pullman's work without agreeing with his worldview.

Alwyn blog about it here. The Catholic League CEO Bill Donahue speaks out against Pullman's books, noting that they "sell the virtues of atheism"—an accusation that Pullman denies.

I really am suspicious about all this. I have read Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) when it came out some time ago and I remember I was not too impressed by the storyline. It is about an alternate universe where souls of people manifest as animals. I believe the movie will be even more toned down.

What makes me suspicious is when I was first forwarded the email a few months ago.

First, it was written in 'bad' English. I would have expected someone who has read Pullman's books to have better English because Pullman's writing is very much better than Rowling's

Then, there was the matter of it being 'atheistic'. How do you define a movie as being 'atheistic'. Many movies especially those in the sword and sorcery or fantasy genre are considered 'atheistic' if you mean 'not-Christian'. Do we consider any movie that does not mention God ‘atheistic’? As Alwyn has commented, these words push our buttons.

Finally, I suspect it may be a marketing ploy by the movie makers to drum up hype about the Golden Compass. I may be wrong because I have no proof except what is before me. Consider me a conspiracy theory buff. The public response towards the Christians’ reaction to the Harry Potter series and The Da Vinci Code is to watch the movies and read the books. So what better way to drum up ticket sales than to stir up Christian emotions? And we Christians are so easily manipulated.

So will you be boycotting the movie?


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Friday, November 16, 2007

Olivia Newton John: Sam

Olivia Newton-John
(John Farrar/Hank Marvin/Don Black)

I heard that you're on your own now
So am I
I'm living alone now
I was wrong
So were you
What will you do?
Are you glad to be free?
Are you feeling lost just like me?
Longing for company

Oh Sam, Sam, you know where I am
Come around and talk awhile
I need your smile
You need a shoulder
Oh Sam, Sam, you know where I am
And the door is open wide
Come on inside
Longing to see you
Oh Sam, Sam, you know where I am

I find the days hard to face now
Empty rooms
There's much too much space now
And the nights go so slow
I'm sure you know
Wish I knew what to do
It would be so nice seeing you
And it might help you too

Oh Sam, Sam, you know where I am
Come around and talk awhile
I need your smile
You need a shoulder
Oh Sam, Sam, you know where I am
And the door is open wide
Come on inside
Longing to see you
Oh Sam, Sam, you know where I am

Oh Sam, you know where I am
Oh Sam, ooh Sam
You know, you know
You know where I am



Sun Tzu: The Art of War

I picked up this wonderful cloth bound hardcover, Sun Tzu: The Art of War (New Illustrated Edition) at a bookstore in Changi airport in Singapore, two weeks ago. This is a 1963 translation by Samuel B. Griffith, originally published by Oxford University Press. This illustrated edition is published by Duncan Baird Publishers of London in 2005.

This makes it the 5th Sun Tzu: The Art of War that I possess. Each is a different translation with different binding, fonts, formatting and size but I value each one of them. The Art of War is still my favourite book on military tactics. Each new translation brings new insights and I never tire of reading it.

Chapter Eight: The Nine Variables

Sun Tzu said:

It is a doctrine of war not to assume the enemy will not come,
but to rely on one's readiness to meet him,
not to presume that he will not attack,
but rather to make one's self invincible

There are five qualities which are dangerous in the character of a general.

If reckless, he can be killed.

Tu Mu: A general who is stupid and courageous is a calamity. Wu Chi said:'When people discuss a general they always pay attention to his courage. As far as a general is concerned, courage is but one quality. Now a valiant general will be certain to enter an engagement recklessly and if he does so he will not appreciate what is advantageous.'

If cowardly, captured.
Ho Yen-hsi: The Ssu-ma Fa says:'One who esteems life above all will be overcome with hesitancy. Hesitancy in a general is a great calamity.'
If quick tempered you can make a fool of him;
Tu Yu: An impulsive man can be provoked to rage and brought to his death. One easily angered is irascible, obstinate and hasty. He does not consider difficulties.
Wang Hsi: What is essential in the temperament of a general is steadiness.
If he has too delicate a sense of honour you can calumniate him;
Mei Yao-ch'en: One anxious to defend his reputation pays no regard to anything else.
If he is of a compassionate nature you can harass him.
Tu Mu: He who is humanitarian and compassionate and fears only casualties cannot give up temporary advantage for a long-term gain and is unable to let go this in order to seize that.
Now these five traits of character are serious faults in a general and in military operations are calamitious.

The ruin of the army and the death of the general are inevitable results of these shortcomings. They must be deeply pondered.

I have pondered these characteristics of a leader. Surprising as it may seems, these qualities of a leader are much needed in our community, our workplace and even in our churches. Maybe especially in church because at times, it seems the church is as much a battlefield as a military campaign and we all need to read The Art of War together with the Bible!
May God have mercy.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Ultimate Question for Assessment

We like to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of our ministry or work. How do we usually do that? We do surveys and ask questions. I believe the ultimate question we can ask someone about our ministry or work is

Will you recommend this service (ministry or work) to a friend or a colleague?

The answer will reveal how effective or fruitful we have been.


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Five Kinds of Christians

The United States is described in mainstream media as largely Christian (between 70 and 80 percent, depending on the study, identify themselves as "Christian"), and compared to the rest of the world, this is certainly the case. However, not all within this vast group of Christians are alike.

To understand the range and differences among American Christians, Christianity Today International (publisher of Leadership) recently partnered with Zondervan Publishers to commission Knowledge Networks to conduct attitudinal and behavioral research of U.S. Christians. In September 2006, more than 1,000 self-identified Christians 18 years of age and older were surveyed on their religious beliefs and practices. The results reveal a number of significant differences, illustrated by the examples of Hua and Smith. In fact, portraits of five distinct segments emerged from the study. We have named them Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private, and Cultural Christians.

read complete article here

Active Christians 19%
-Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ
-Committed churchgoers
-Bible readers
-Accept leadership positions
-Invest in personal faith development through the church
-Feel obligated to share faith; 79% do so.

Professing Christians 20%
-Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ
-Focus on personal relationship with God and Jesus
-Similar beliefs to Active Christians, different actions
-Less involved in church, both attending and serving
-Less commitment to Bible reading or sharing faith

Liturgical Christians 16%
-Predominantly Catholic and Lutheran
-Regular churchgoers
-High level of spiritual activity, mostly expressed by serving in church and/or community
-Recognize authority of the church

Private Christians 24%
-Largest and youngest segment
-Believe in God and doing good things
-Own a Bible, but don't read it
-Spiritual interest, but not within church context
-Only about a third attend church at all
-Almost none are church leaders

Cultural Christians 21%
-Little outward religious behavior or attitudes
-God aware, but little personal involvement with God
-Do not view Jesus as essential to salvation
-Affirm many ways to God
-Favor universality theology

read summary of survey here
I wonder if we can categorise Christians in Malaysia and Singapore as Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private and Cultural. It will be interesting to do a similar study in Malaysia and Singapore.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Deepening Our Spiritual Walk With God

Two sermons

Deepening Our Spiritual Walk With God: The Eight 'B'ssentials
part one here
part two here


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Wealth and Fame This World Can Give

The wealth and fame this world can give,
The passing thrills that end in grief;
You may have these but what a cost
In your own soul, dear friend, is lost

If all you hear is the applause,
You fail to recognise your flaws;
You need to stop an take a pause
Lest you waste life on the wrong cause.

All this world, friend, you may own
And place yourself on every throne,
Yet you will find no peace within
Till Christ comes in, your soul to win.

What good is it to own the world
And not to know the truth unfurled,
That all true joys are only found
In Jesus Christ on holy ground.

The greatest gift your heart can own
is not something this world can loan;
The greatest gift, from up above
Is Jesus Christ the King of love.

How poor is he who may have all
But not the ears to hear the call.
O Come to Him, He'll take your soul,
Wash and heal you, and make you whole.

Bishop Dr Robert Solomon


Blog Readabilty Level

kar yong's blog readability level is Genius. I always knew that he was smart.

cash advance

Ah, no wonder I can understand it.


Martin Luther's Dark Night of the Soul

Dr. Luther's Tribulation
Feelings of God's absence didn't plague only Mother Teresa.
A Christianity Today editorial posted 10/31/2007 09:00AM

The world seemed shocked this fall when it learned that Mother Teresa experienced several decades of spiritual dryness and a profound sense of being disconnected from God. Doubleday published Come Be My Light, a collection of private letters to her spiritual advisers. In those letters, Mother Teresa compared her anguish to hell. She described her spiritual state, using words like "dryness," "darkness," and "torture." Such language brings to mind the "dark night of the soul" described by John of the Cross in the 16th century.

CT readers should also recall similar periods of feeling spiritually abandoned in the lives of great Protestants: Oswald Chambers and William Cowper, for example, and especially Martin Luther. It was not in Luther's monastic years, when he was struggling for acceptance with God, that he felt the absence of God most deeply. Like Mother Teresa, it was after his special experience of God's grace and after he wrote his watershed 95 theses that his periods of Anfechtung, his word for doubt, turmoil, and despair, came upon him. To discover grace is not to escape spiritual tribulation.

Here is a sample of how Luther wrote about his feelings of abandonment: "God often, as it were, hides himself, and will not hear; yea, will not suffer himself to be found."

Luther described times when trying to preach or speak of Christ, "the word freezes upon my lips." He said, "Had another had the tribulations which I have suffered, he would long since have died." Luther's call to be a professor forced him to find a new approach to the Scriptures and, in turn, Christian experience. According to historical theologian Robert Rosin of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the tools of Renaissance humanism liberated Luther from medieval philosophical categories and helped him move toward a more straightforward reading of the text. Luther discovered that Christians do not approach God through a logical ergo (as the Scholastics had done), but through a nevertheless. Luther learned from Scripture that Christians must look beyond their own experiences, feelings, and thoughts in order to contend for the faith.

The solution is to allow tribulation to drive you to prayer and Scripture and above all, to God's promises. Luther said:

When one is possessed with doubt, that though he call upon the Lord he cannot be heard, and that God has turned his heart from him, and is angry, … he must … arm himself with God's Word, promising to hear him. As to the when and how God will hear him, this is stark naught; place, time, and person are accidental things; the substance and essence is the promise.

Read complete editorial

My review of the book about Mother Teresa's experience here, my comment on her spiritual experiences here and my comments on the Dark Night of the Soul here

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Medical and Dental Missionaries from Singapore

This is a collections of testimonies of Christian doctors and dental officers who became missionaries by using their medical and dental training. Like all such books , the testimonies are heart-warming as we read of God's great work in the mission fields. We also read about their struggles, pains, sufferings, loneliness and sacrifices. What makes this book unique is that they are all Singaporean doctors!

This book was published last month (2007) by Medical Missions Foundation, Singapore. This is a new trust foundation set up to raise money for medical missionary work.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

With Us

Even if you're not a seeker,

still, follow us, keep searching with us.

Even if you don't know how

to play and sing, you'll become like us;

with us you'll start singing and dancing.

Even if you are Qarun, the richest of kings,

when you fall in love,

you'll become a beggar.

Though you are a sultan,
like us you'll become a slave.

One candle of this gathering

is worth a hundred candles; its light is as great.

Either you are alive or dead.

You'll come back to life with us.

Unbind your feet.

Show us your rose garden-

start laughing with your whole body,

like a rose, like us.

Put on the mantle for a moment

and see the ones whose hearts are alive.

Then, throw out your satin dresses

and cover yourself with a cloak, like us.

When a seed falls to the ground,

it germinates, grows, and becomes a tree:

if you understand these symbols,

you'll follow us, and fall to the ground, with us.

God's Shams of Tabriz says

to the heart buds,

"If your eyes are opened, you'll see the things worth seeing."


(translated by Nevit Ergin with Camille Helminski)

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Professionals of Tomorrow Conference

(note: you can tell where I am by my blue shirt)

Recently I was a speaker at a student conference organized by the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) on Professionals of Tomorrow (POT). It involved about 200 university students studying healthcare (HOT- healthcarers of tomorrow), law (LOT-lawyers of tomorrow) and teaching (TOT-teachers of tomorrow).
Bishop Hwa Yung gave the Bible exposition on Nehemiah. Dato Dr David Gunaratnam was also present as speaker and new friend, Prof. Dr Richard Loh. It was a joy to meet up with Mrs. Julie Wong, a sister in Christ from my old UKM Christian Fellowship. She is now a teacher.

I have had an enjoyable time speaking, teaching and sharing with this group of young energetic, idealistic, and committed young adults. They are concerned about their studies and their future.

Some of the questions they asked me are:

(1)How to study well?
(2)Why is there more girl Christians than boy Christians?
(3)How do I know my boy/girl friend is the correct one?
(4)Will I be a good doctor/pharmacist/lawyer/teacher?
(5)What will Malaysia be like in the future?
(6)How do I know I am in God’s will?
(7)How do I serve God when I graduate?
(8)Where did you meet your wife?
(9)How do I continue and finish well as a Christian and not fall away?
(10)How do I deepen my spiritual walk with God?

I have been thinking and processing their questions since I came back. How they have challenged me!

This is one of the best organized and planned student camp/conference I have attended. The credit goes to the Fellowship of Evangelical Student (FES) team. In the words of one of the organizers, “God has surprised us at POTs 2007.” Indeed, He has and I am sure it will bear much fruit in the future.

More photos here and here
Some comments from participants here, here, here and here.

Soli deo gloria

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