Thursday, December 23, 2004

Love's sweetest mark

Caught up with Alvin and Huey Fern who are back from Vancouver for Christmas and the new year. Had a great lunch at Sri Melaka and naturally, among other things, our conversation turned to food. Malaysians abroad miss local food most, so everyone agrees. Alvin’s currently into patristic writings and counts his visits to monasteries to be among his most memorable this year. I hope we’ll have time to talk some more before they head back to Canada.

Christmas is almost upon us as I write. As a kind of resolution early this year I told myself not to use the word ‘busy’, ever, so while there’s been a lot to do, God has been faithful (my occasional bad mood notwithstanding) . There’s a pleasant kind of stimulation, a sort of buzz, sweet and tingly. I love Christmas and I don’t mind at all the many things that tend to converge during the season. The family meets tomorrow evening and there’ll be much to rejoice and thank God for when we all come together – brothers, sisters, our children, Mom and Dad – all twenty-one of us.

Here’s a poem by Robert Southwell (1561 ~ 1595) that I first came across in the Lion Book of Christian Poetry. Bought the book in 1985, and Southwell's poem is easily one of my favourites (this compilation did not feature the full poem though but I’ve got the complete version below).

Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas!

Let folly praise that fancy loves, I praise and love that Child,
Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand no deed defiled.
I praise Him most, I love Him best, all praise and love are His;
While Him I love, in Him I live, and cannot live amiss.
Love's sweetest mark, laud's highest theme, man's most desired light,
To love Him life, to leave Him death, to live in Him delight.
He mine by gift, I His by debt, thus each to other due.
First friend He was, best friend He is, all times will try Him true.

Though young yet wise, though small yet strong; though man yet God He is;
As wise He knows, as strong He can, as God He loves to bless.
His knowledge rules, His strength defends, His love doth cherish all;
His birth our joy, His life our light, His death our end of thrall.
Alas! He weeps, He sighs, He pants, yet do His angels sing;
Out of His tears, His sighs and throbs, doth bud a joyful spring.
Almighty Babe, whose tender arms can force all foes to fly,
Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Merry Xmas 2

Now it seems the 'informal ban' is nothing but a big misunderstanding:
Following talk of an "informal ban" on Christian symbols and hymns at the open house, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim today said no such restrictions were placed on the organisers.

"There is no ban issued officially or unofficially. I am personally overseeing the whole event," said Rais who will be at the full rehearsal on Dec 23.

"There is nothing wrong in singing songs such as Silent Night and Merry Christmas. These are joyous songs sang for the festival," he said in an interview.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Merry Xmas

It’s the silly season, and it kicked off with this bit of news from down under:
The lord mayor of Australia's largest city was under fire Friday over a decision to limit spending on Christmas celebrations, a move some critics see as an attempt to avoid offending non-Christian immigrant communities.

Christians have decried the trend to play down the importance of the season as anything other than a time of consumerism and overindulgence, with all references to the Christian message removed.
Then this news item about a kindergarten in Oregon caught my eye:
Kindergartners at a public school in Oregon were invited to bring cards to a Christmas party, but a teacher barred one student from distributing his holiday greeting because it mentioned Jesus Christ, prompting a lawsuit filed yesterday.

The Gresham-Barlow district near Portland said Justin Cortez could not distribute the Christmas card because it would violate district policies prohibiting school officials from promoting one religion over another and advocating a particular religious position.

The Virginia-based American Center for Law and Justice filed the case on behalf of 6-year-old Justin and his mother Julie Cortez.
I don't think it's any surprise considering this has been going on for some years. Still, all these hint at more things to come, so it was interesting to know that at least in Arizona the Alliance Defense Fund has a pamphlet that explains a Christian's first amendment rights in the US. It's pretty tragic if you need something like this to tell folks it's okay to say Merry Christmas regardless of legal threats from the ACLU.

But what happens when the marginalisation of Christmas rears its ugly head in KL as reported in this recent news item?
The government has imposed an unofficial ban on all Christian religious symbols and hymns that specifically mention Jesus Christ at a national-level Christmas do slated for Dec 25 in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, said several church leaders.

Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God while Islam teaches believers that he is a prophet.

Kuala Lumpur-based Catholic Research Centre director Rev Father OC Lim has lodged a formal complaint with the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the government’s liaison partner in organising the open house event that is expected to draw a crowd of between 30,000 and 40,000.

In a strongly-worded letter to CFM dated Nov 24, he stated his objections to the organisers’ “explicit and deliberate exclusion and prohibition” to include any Christmas carols bearing the name of Jesus Christ.

“To exclude (such) carols and to use (Christmas) for political gain is outrageous, scandalous and sacrilegious,” he said when met today.

Lim was more upset that church leaders had “condoned and sanctioned” the organisers’ decision despite the Holy Scripture proclaiming Jesus’s name as being “above all other names”.
I’m supposed to be mature enough to understand why it's inevitable without getting hot and bothered, but I am hot and bothered.

It’s one thing to rationalize it away as the PC thing to do in the interest of religious sensitivities, but where do you draw the line? The reality is, Malaysia has ordinances and laws that are used to prosecute those who insult Islam or hurt the sensitivities of Muslims.

In view of this, shouldn't Christians agree to keep their views out of the marketplace and the public square - to the extent of compromise even in public religious gatherings sanctioned by the authorities? 1 Peter 2:17 calls on believers to, "Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king." The question is, how do you make sense of of this injunction and give it public expression without selling out your faith?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Foot-in-the-Mouth Quote #1

The government will not investigate a US report which said a man with the same name as Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was involved in an oil scam with the former Iraqi regime. In the words of Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar:

“There is no truth in the allegation, so why should we investigate?”


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

DVD blues

This bit of news is supposed to make me feel good:
Toshiba claimed yesterday to have developed the first DVD that is capable of playing both conventional and high-definition content, in the latest move in the race for the next generation of optical discs. (Read more)
Almost 8 years after I bought my first DVD player, the industry is ready to move on. Okay, they have a transitional machine for folks like me whose movie library is going to be history before you can say "betamax."

In some sense it's weird, having lived through the VHS, LD, VCD (this one doesn't really count) and DVD revolutions. All in one lifetime. Of course, there's more to come.

I mean where music is concerned, I went through vinyl EPs and LPs, cassettes (and cartridges), CDs, skipped MIDIs, and now we're into MP3, and whatever digital soup tech industry barons are serving up. Last night I was in Jusco looking at CD trays and wondering if I ought to get a couple of them. Ethan chipped in saying, "Erm Dad, we're into iPods and downloads now."

Yeah, right.

That's how prophetic Negroponte's Being Digital is - we're moving away from atoms and molecules into a world of bits and bytes. You can read selected bits of his book online here.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Petition against terror

Now this is a positive development in an otherwise bloody civilisational clash. Arab News carried a news item in its Oct 30 edition headlined, Stop Terror Sheikhs, Muslim Academics Demand.
Over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from 23 countries have signed a petition to the United Nations calling for an international treaty to ban the use of religion for incitement to violence.

It also calls on the Security Council to set up a tribunal to try “the theologians of terror.” The petition is addressed to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and to all members of the Security Council and its current chairman.

“There are individuals in the Muslim world who pose as clerics and issue death sentences against those they disagree with,” says Shakir Al-Nablusi, a Jordanian academic and one of the signatories. “These individuals give Islam a bad name and foster hatred among civilizations.”
Read the Arab News article here.
Read the complete petition in English in Middle East Transparent website

Apparently you can add your name too.

Bush = Osama?

LT Jeyachandran of RZIM (Singapore) visits for two evening talks at our church mid-December. In the last two years, we have had to abort a couple of previous engagements due to this and that, so I’m looking forward to his visit this time now that it’s on. He’s scheduled to speak on the relevance of Jesus in a pluralistic society, and Evil & Suffering. Two tough subjects.

Regarding pluralism, the issue we are dealing with is not that pluralism as a value is wrong - only when it is offered as an ideology that’s to be desired, and therefore by necessity levels every thought and truth-claim as if they possess no distinctives. Alister McGrath in his paper (Jesus:The Only Way?) is right when he wrote that it’s a “small step from essentially political judgment concerning toleration to the theological declarations that all religions are the same.” (The Truth About Jesus edited by Donald Armstrong)

That of course is what’s happening today, and that is why exclusive claims to truth are usually shouted down as unacceptable and divisive. Them are fighting words. Tolerance is usually what’s pulled out of the bag to defend pluralism. But are all ideas equal? Should all religions be treated on the same footing?

Aisehman quotes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who takes offense at the Left Behind series ugly send-off of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, etc into everlasting fire:
“If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hate-mongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.”
I am no fan of La Haye and Jenkins but you can see what the fuss is all about. Aisehman’s response to a comment I made asked:
“And just as George Bush is acting out of conviction borne and underpinned by his faith, so is Osama bin Laden. Care to show me any fundamental difference between these two fundamentalists?”

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Einstein's Dreams

A random find, a serendipitous gem, pulled out of a tightly packed shelf in a Pay Less Bookstore. Yes, I frequent that store once too often, like a junkie returning again and again for his fix. But this is an amazing book and I lose myself in the mesmerizing imageries drawn out of Einstein’s thoughts on space and time.

I am talking about Alan Lightman’s 1993 book – his first – called, Einstein’s Dreams. Lightman teaches physics and writing at M.I.T, which probably explains his precise prose and deft touch. His words have the feel of a stone skipping on water. It is a beautiful book, and Salman Rushdie is right to compare it to Italo Calvino’s whimsical Invisible Cities. Nevertheless I think Lightman’s book is the more fascinating, giving voice to humanity’s fears, vanity, and hopes grappling with worlds gone out of whack.

What is it like to live in a word where cause and effect are erratic? In the dreams of Einstein:
Most people have learned how to live in the moment. The argument goes that if the past has uncertain effect on the present, there is no need to dwell on the past. And if the present has little effect on the future, present actions need not be weighed for their consequences. Rather, each act is an island in time, to be judged on its own. Families comfort a dying uncle not because of a likely inheritance, but because he is loved at that moment. Employees are hired not because of their resumes, but because of their good sense in interviews. Clerks trampled by their bosses fight back at each insult, with no fear for their future. It is a world of impulse. It is a world of sincerity.
Imagine possible worlds constructed out of different kinds of time! Although Einstein is referred to, the man is a mere visitor in the book, traipsing through the weird but wonderful vistas that are a homage to his ideas. Very clever and evocative. Some passages are suggestive of the illustrations of Chris Van Allsburg (I think of the 'Wreck of the Zephyr') or the pointillism of Seurat (eg 'Sunday Afternoon'). Then you turn the page and you’re smack in the middle of a swirling current captured in bullet-time slo-mo photography (like Neo’s climactic fight with Agent Smith in the Matrix), or dodging buildings that are being rearranged at uncommon speed (like Alex Proyas' Dark City). Intriguing. Here’s another excerpt:
Imagine a world in which there is no time. Only images.

A child at the seashore, spellbound by her first glimpse of the ocean. A woman standing on a balcony at dawn, her hair down, her loose sleeping silks, her bare feet, her lips. The curved arch of the arcade near the Zahringer Fountain on Kramgrasse, sandstone and iron. A man sitting in the quiet of his study, holding the photograph of a woman, a pained look on his face. An osprey framed in the sky, its wings outstretched, the sun rays piercing between feathers. A young boy sitting in an empty auditorium, his heart racing as if he were on stage. Footprints in snow on a winter island. A boat on the water at night, its lights dim in the distance, like a small red star in the black sky.
Lightman's book has a way of making you think about the consequences of time. You go away a little more contemplative, a lot more appreciative of the time you have been given.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Music by U2
Lyrics by Bono with The Edge

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing
Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn
Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don't make a fist
Take this mouth
So quick to criticise
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

n: a name for the Old Testament God as transliterated from the Hebrew YHVH [syn: Yahweh, YHWH, Yahwe, Yahveh, YHVH,Yahve, Wahvey, Jahvey, Jahweh, Jehovah, JHVH]

A matter of survival

At the outbreak of World War 2, Hitler invaded Poland and subsequently stripped the Jewish community of their rights and dignity. 400,000 Jews were resettled in a 3.5 sq mile walled ghetto in Warsaw, (previously home to 160,000 people), numbers that would later swell to over half a million. Within 2 years that number shrunk to 60,000 as starvation, illness, and executions took their toll.

As Hitler's plans to gas the remaining Jews took effect, some survivors finally found the courage to fight deportations. 28 days later, the rag-tag resistance was put down. 7000 were executed for their role in the Warsaw uprising.

Some historians asked if death was almost certain, why didn’t more Polish Jews resist and fight back in the ghetto. As it has been pointed out, didn't Jews outnumber guards many times over on some work details prior to the uprising? Sadly, the suppression of many by the few continues in our day.

I think of the time our own children were threatened by an unruly boy at the poolside when they brought their friend in for a swim. Out of fear they lied and left to save their own skin. Should they have stood up for their friend and defend their right? Is this what Jesus means when he says to give up your cloak as well, when somone demands your tunic? By walking away did they not encourage the bully to continue his aggressive ways?

The late Mike Yaconelli wrote about the time three tough-looking policemen stopped a group of adults and highschoolers on a mission trip to Mexico. The heavily-armed policemen would have confiscated their borrowed truck which was loaded with supplies if not for a quick thinking Chilean teen on the team.

The teenager waved an official-looking document in the policemen's faces arguing that their truck was legally contracted for transport in Mexico. If they didn't want trouble they would have to let the entourage go. Fortunately the policemen relented. When Yaconelli asked the young man how he pulled it off since the document clearly had no such clause, he coolly replied, "Yes, but they couldn't read English."

What do these stories tell us? That sometimes pat answers and homilies don't always get us out of a tight spot. So I have been thinking: do our children need a course in ‘survival’? Do we need to pick up streetsmarts?

A good friend of mine told me that he encourages his sons never to take ‘no’ for an answer. Say the kids have been told to finish reading three chapters before they can watch TV; Dad wants them to present their case if they didn’t agree with the rule and argue for a compromise, like wrapping it up after one chapter instead. He said it's to teach them negotiation skills.

Stand up to bullies. Lie to save your skin. Fight for your right. Negotiate and compromise. Don't get pushed around. Survive. How do you measure up to the Golden Rule, of loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself in these violent times? How do these ideas square with a Saviour who gave his life like a lamb led to the slaughter?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Really, really remarkable...

Bono videotaped the following testimonial for a celebration in 2002 to honour Eugene Peterson's work on The Message:
"Hi Mr. Peterson, Eugene. My name is Bono. I'm a singer with the group U2. I wanted to sort of video message you my thanks, and our thanks in the band, for this remarkable work you've done translating the Scriptures. Really, really a remarkable work."

"As a songwriter, it was very clear to me that you were a poet as well as a scholar. You brought the musicality to God's Word that I'm sure was there, was always there in intention.

"There have been some great translations, some very literary translations, but no translations that I've read that speaks to me in my own language. So I want to thank you for that."

"And it's been ten years, that's a long time, so take a rest now, won't you? Bye."
(Read more...)

Monday, November 22, 2004

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

The stores in PJ say U2’s latest album How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb would only be available Wednesday. I don’t know what is it about Bono, The Edge, and co that’s gotten a hold on me. Maybe ever since Joshua Tree which was really the first U2 album I heard. Of course, reading about the band’s purported Christian roots back in IVP’s now defunct campus magazine HIS didn’t hurt their image as the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band, although that title was a little slow in sticking - then.

The November issue of UNCUT had Bono on the cover titled, Dancing With The Devil and a track-by-track preview of U2’s long awaited album. Written by Steven Dalton whose previously bad reviews of U2’s Zoo TV tour in 1993 earned him Bono’s ire, the writer has evidently repented judging by his obvious veneration. But what caught my eye was Dalton’s opening paragraphs which referenced how far U2 has come through the years:
“When it began, they were painfully sincere Christian rockers saving mankind from sinful temptation. Now they are wealth-flaunting, model-shagging, leather-clad space lizards drunk on their own narcissism and hypocrisy.

Bono tries to change the channel but it makes no difference. On every station across a million TV screens, he finds only his own demonically grinning face. Satan’s very own spin doctor, cackling insanely as the flames rise up to consume him…”
"Painfully sincere Christian rockers?" Hmm.

1993 was also the year Bono introduced his audience and listeners to MacPhisto, his horned onstage alter ego. But Bono is not just your regular rock poseur. The thinking man’s rocker, the band with a conscience - respect Bono and U2 have earned after they leveraged their fame in newfound celebrity activism. Bono’s DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, for Africa) has made headlines and put him on the cover of TIME (“Can Bono Save The World?”). Not to mention Christianity Today.

Like some kind of Faustian exchange, U2’s transformation was just a tad too hard to swallow to those who thought they had the band all figured out. Are they Christian? Hey, what’s with the excess? Have they sold out? Does it matter? There’s Bono, whom we were told, who lugs a dog-eared copy of Eugene Peterson’s The Message everywhere he goes. Is this what fame does to you?

In a Rolling Stone interview in the early 90s regarding his stage persona Bono said, "People thought we were just mocking rock ‘n roll stardom and all that, but I was just owning up to it. I was owning up to the side of yourself that is a megalomaniac."

Then you read Anthony DeCurtis’ interview with Bono and the singer declares, "The most powerful idea that's entered the world in the last few thousand years—the idea of grace—is the reason I would like to be a Christian." (More on the interview here).

There’s a kind of face-off with the claims that Jesus makes and the way Christianity is expressed. It’s a tension we all live with. For some, the dichotomy is reason enough to throw in the towel and walk away in disgust. There's a lot of things wrong with the church, with the way christians live, etc. Sure, there's a lot of hypocrisy, yet I don't know if that says more about human nature than the veracity of the Christian faith. The thing is, whatever its incarnation, truth is never easy to handle, because it invariably makes demands. If God exists, the greatest challenge is dealing with His claim on us. On me.

It's not my business to ask if Bono’s a Christian. I think what draws me to Bono and U2 are the questions they raise. Of course, and the music they make. Great music, like art is born out of deep tension, a yearning for something more that defies our materialist perception of reality, a need that requires expression, nay, satisfaction. Hence the rage - for truth, justice, love, beauty. Perhaps it's like what C.S. Lewis wrote:"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Technology, sex, and feng shui

We had a preliminary presentation today at the offices of a new broadband service provider. It’s phase one and logos in a variety of shapes and hues are spread out on the table. As we were going through one particular design, a woman (designation unknown) remarked that it looked too male-oriented. I chuckled that we must be doing something right then, as statistically, males make up a higher percentage of early adopters of technology. “That’s so sexist,” she replied.

Well, maybe so. But creativity is more market driven than we want to admit. So that comment really came across to me as odd. Anyway, it was interesting to hear our client’s reaction and response to our own arty-farty design rationale. I mean, you work on a design and then you rationalise its look, colour, references, etc, with a nod to scalability and application. Then comes the feedback. And your client reads into the designs stuff you did not realize, interpretations you did not anticipate.

Logos or wordmarks are strange things. Corporate IDs and brands that last – like McDonald’s golden arches and Nike’s swoosh - are so well known by their sheer simplicity - not to mention ubiquity - you know they could not have been decided by committee (for those uninformed of their now mythic origins). Now most clients say they want something striking and original (obviously); on the other hand, they tend to take their cues from other players in the industry, not wanting to stray too far from what is perceived as acceptable.

We were also told that it had to transcend borders as it had to be as meaningful in KL as well as in other cities in Asia (where their business would be conducted). Oh yes, this time round we were reminded that the colour red had to be featured somewhere. It’s a feng shui thing, you see. We had to make sure to avoid geomantic taboos like sharp edges that may cut yourself, holes that suggest money leaking away, typo with a downward slant, etc.

Ah well. Just another day at the office.

Note: Internet Use by Gender
"The Internet has been dominated by males since its inception. Although use of the Internet by females has increased dramatically in the last few years, women and girls worldwide still use the Internet less and in different ways than males......Historically, females have been less likely to embrace new technology than males." More

"While women represent nearly 50% of the labor force in Asia, and own more than one-third of small and medium businesses in the region, in 2000 they accounted for only 22% of Internet users on average....[The] male-female ratio ranges from 94:6 in Middle East to 78:22 in Asia, 75:25 in Western Europe, 62:38 in Latin America, and finally 50:50 in USA" More

"The gender gap in Internet use was as high as 20.2 percentage points in Italy (men, 41.7 percent; women, 21.5 percent) to as low as 1.6 percentage points in Taiwan (where 25.1 percent of men are Internet users, compared to 23.5 percent of women), according to survey data. In the United States, 73.1 percent of men use the Internet compared to 69 percent of women -- about half the average gap of countries in the UCLA study." More

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Weekend walk

Back at work and my calves are hurting some. During the long weekend we took the opportunity to really s-t-re-t-c-h, and these old muscles are protesting. More so because of two visits to Taman Titiwangsa (3km around the park, including a 17-station par course workout) in 5 days, and our little excursion to a pimple of a hill at Section Four yesterday morning. It’s an old haunt from two years ago and I thought it would make a nice change.

The whole family (and friend,15-year old Mark) walked up a little wooded incline that leads to a water-holding reservoir in Wangsa Maju, not far from where we live. Noticed that graffiti’s been whitewashed off its walls, and they’ve got barbed wire around the perimeter fencing now. Well, they should since it pipes water to thousands of homes in the neighbourhood.

It’s a bit steep in parts (almost 45 degrees) - enough to knock the wind out of you if you don’t do this regularly. A short walk really - 700 big steps one way - but after two trips up and down, we decided to call it a day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Bad medicine

Apologies. I wrongly reported in yesterday’s post that a local tabloid frontpaged Arafat’s death by poisoning when in fact it was referring to his burial. Well, I have made the necessary correction to my error (I know - tragically reinforcing popular notions that bloggers do not check their sources - sorry again). But I did hear the news over radio about this wild allegation (attributed to a PLO source) although it also reported French denials.

David Frum insinuates on National Review Online what the cause of Arafat’s death could be and the link is here. Independent Media Review analysis reproduces a WAFA (official Palestine news agency) statement calling for disclosure and you can read it here.

Meanwhile, ABC News Online has a story about conspiracy rumours following Arafat’s death:
Rumours have been rife that he had been suffering from anything from cancer of the stomach to a rare blood disorder.

Hamas militants say he was poisoned by Israel, a theory which Palestinians officials say doctors have ruled out.

The head of the Palestinian mission in Paris, Leila Shahid, says poisoning is a possibility, although there was no evidence.

"It's quite possible that they (Israelis) poisoned him, I cannot say that medically we have proof of that," she said.
Since the French are not legally bound to disclose cause of death, one can only expect these rumours to take on mythic proportion.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Breathing space

The last few days have been quiet and I was glad for the breather. Last Thursday was Deepavali, a public holiday. Went to Lake Titiwangsa and practically had the park all to ourselves, me and the boys. Lunched with Lingam, the retired Telekom man who lives alone, estranged from his own family. Said he was thankful to the gods for life and health, although he did reiterate that life was but an illusion!

Late in the afternoon, we suffered some kind of power failure and the whole block was turned into a steaming sauna. Took that as a sign and went to see The Manchurian Candidate. This update of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 Cold War thriller was serviceable and I did think it was a worthy remake. I enjoyed it although I know Angela Lansbury (‘Mother’ in the original) has poured scorn on it.

I was preaching Sunday. I’m starting on a new series called Turning Points which will look at defining moments in the life of key individuals in the Bible. I took my text from 1 Samuel 16 for the first message. Dad wanted to drive himself to the Chinese service in the afternoon but I didn’t think it would be okay although he’s up and about, not with all the drugs he’s pumped up on. He does look weak and fragile, but I do wonder if I shouldn’t deny him the chance to do things for himself, like driving around.

Today is another public holiday - Hari Raya Puasa, the end of Ramadan for Muslims, and the start of the new Muslim calendar year. We went to Titiwangsa again; the boys and their friend Mark came along (his first visit to the park, would you believe?) Yap was there too, and he visited after breakfast. The man’s been trying to interest me in real estate in Alberta! Arafat’s funeral and all it entailed brought all sorts of emotions to the fore (Malaysia is a staunch defender of the Palestinian cause). A radio station alleged that Arafat was poisoned which is nothing short of sensationalistic and imbecilic. Another national paper carried a giant headline in reverse calling Arafat a martyr ("Martyr's Funeral") - why, I will never understand.

But it’s great having two days off because of Raya. Mum cooked laksa and we all happily dropped by for lunch. A few cousins were there and invariably, conversation moved on to Uncle and I caught sight of Mum dabbing her eyes with a tissue paper.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A visit with Uncle and Auntie

We call my mom’s brother Uncle and his wife Auntie - that’s with upper case U and A - like titles of royalty. Which is just fine when you know how regularly both husband and wife golf and sip tea with Sultans and political elites. They are wealthy and well-travelled, counting an artic cruise to see the aurora borealis as one of the highlights of a very full life. Their three children - my cousins - all doctors, have married and settled in the UK, making England pretty much their second home.

When we visited last weekend, I was not prepared for what I saw. It was almost one in the afternoon when Auntie greeted us at the door with a wan smile. Her gamine look once compared with Audrey Hepburn was lined and tired, although that stately poise was still there. It was her voice, almost a whisper, and her slow, measured gait that told us she hadn’t been well.

I glanced over her shoulder and saw Uncle at the table. He was hunched over an empty plate, peeling a banana with a paring knife. I placed my hand on his shoulder and bent down to catch his eyes. As I spoke he lit up momentarily, but just as quickly switched off and turned his attention back to the banana. He was blank again as the rest of us called out to him. Mum put both arms over her brother’s shoulders to say hello. Auntie told us that Uncle wouldn’t be able to hear nor recognize any one of us. Early stages of senile dementia, my brother had warned us.

“So how are you keeping, Auntie?” I asked trying to sound chirpy. She looked at me, her pause like a shroud, at once impassive yet revealing.

“Like that,” she said with a hint of a shrug.“I’m not what I used to be.”

“But you still look okay, Auntie. Do you get a lot of visitors?”

“Had a stroke, a mild stroke. Saturday Irwin’s coming back for a short visit.”

“Must be over 20 years since I last saw him. Will you all be traveling back to England then?”

“With Uncle like that? Besides it's too cold for him. When he sits, he doesn’t want to be moved. He can’t hear. The last time, we couldn’t get him to come out of the plane.”

We talked awhile before I decided to take a closer look at the house, the scene of fun and gaiety and happy reunions when Grandma was alive. Some Christmas cards have arrived early, looking forlorn among yellowed family photos. There in the hall stood the Steinway Grand Piano. Auntie said it’s out of tune and that no one played on it anymore.

I went to the front door and found it scraggy and worn, its veneer stripped. Outside, the lawn was trim but weeds were creeping up along brickwork and fences. The porch wall had buckled and a huge crack ran up one side. At the other end of the big house, brackets that held a gutter to the wall had come undone, separated by another large crack. A garden pond in the back patio was dry, its neglect betrayed by patches of mold and broken sockets where spotlights used to be.

I felt depressed in this familiar yet unfamiliar place. Time is ruthless, age its punishment. Before we left, we prayed for Uncle and Auntie. We asked that the Lord would watch over them in the autumn of their lives, that His presence would fill the spaces the fleeting years had left in their wake.

Friday, November 05, 2004

It's a jingle out there!

What’s happening?

Yesterday I had to take the LRT because my car’s being serviced for a long drive up north this weekend. I’m reading and minding my own business when my concentration was jarred by the synthesised trill of an unfamiliar melody, followed by an announcement: "Next station Kampung Baru. Nokia. Connecting People" Eh, what? Minutes later while I’m figuring out what’s with this new aural assault, here comes the alert now played like a rock guitar riff. "Next station Ampang. Nokia. Connecting People." 11 stations later it’s more like "Nokia. Annoying people."

What’s wrong with the old three-note? Is this clever, or is this clever?

Forsaken, yet obeys

You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little over-riding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs - to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot "tempt" to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
The Screwtape Letters

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Losing the feeling

"I cannot feel God.It has been a long time since I felt him."

"How do you know it's God you feel?"

"I feel warm all over. It's overpowering and you can't really explain it. You know it's God. Usually I'd feel like crying."

" So what happened? Why don't you feel him anymore?"


And do it goes. We are relational creatures after all, yearning to be embraced by something other than intellectual assent. We want it to be as real as the rush of blood, warm and tingling, like a lover's kiss. Why shouldn't God come with the smell of wild flowers, sweet and earthy? Why doesn't he sweep over our senses like a sudden blast of icy cold air on the face? Why shouldn't we feel God more? Why does he who professes to love us always hide from view?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Emerging contentions

Looks like Christianity Today has caught up with the emergent church movement. At the recently concluded Billy Graham Center's 2004 Evangelism Roundtable Presentations Brian McLaren submitted a paper outlining a ‘broadened’ approach to evangelism, calling for a timely evaluation of method and emphasis in our postmodern times. In particular, the apologetic of good works, though costly, is potentially a more fruitful approach than the appeal to absolute objective truth. On that score, McLaren shares the same sentiment as Francis of Assisi who said, "Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words."

Pointing to the problems of making truth claims to a culture cynical of adjectives like objective or absolute the church will only find its good intentions rejected. “…arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people: They're wonderful modern arguments that backfire with people from the emerging culture," said McLaren.

The alternative as every emergent reader would know, is not to ditch our allegiance to Christ or Scripture, but build authentic communities that draw people the way Jesus himself drew the masses, especially the marginalised, to himself. I think we can all agree with that. There is no question about the need to live authentically as a vibrant community expressing kingdom values in all its demands. But the niggling question is, is that all, and if not, in what way do we have to think about being 'relevant'?

I think John 6 is instructive. John reported that when Jesus’ teachings became ‘hard’ many disciples began to leave. Jesus himself persisted and up the ante: "Does this offend you,?” he asked. That his uncompromising stance showed up the intentions of the human heart is telling: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (v62)

Duane Lifkin who responded to McLaren’s paper admitted that an epistemology that relies too much on enlightenment construct would undermine our witness. But this is where Lifkin put his foot down. Argument by reason should not be dismissed as a child of the modern age (and typecast as somehow mistaken), because the New Testament is full of it eg, Paul’s letters which make strident objective truth claims with no apology. I know, the present conversation smells like law vs grace all over again, although in different dress, perhaps.

This is the bone of contention, I think, and evangelicals will need to talk through it in the days ahead. Charles Colson himself expressed discomfort at suggestions to mute (well, not exactly) our claim to propositional truth in the present context. Consider the transitions: From learned to learning; knowledge to mystery; certainty to I don’t know. All this is fine where they genuinely express the limits of reasoning, and where they help us bridge the postmodern gulf. Yet, is this where the proverbial camel gets its foot into the tent?

The cover story by Andy Crouch is as informative as it is nuanced. He quotes Mark Talbot who questioned the hoo-hah over categories of modern and postmodern, and its impact on objective truth claims. Talbot says, "The great irony is that by giving us these sharp categories of 'modern' and 'postmodern' ways of thinking, McLaren is doing the very sort of categorization he describes, and implicitly condemns, as modern."

Crouch ended his piece with a reference to Luther, whose dissatisfaction with the decadent church of his day led to the Reformation. The analogy is interesting, but to at least one noted scholar, it is misplaced. Don Carson’s lectures on the emergent movement made the comment that there is a world of difference in the two movements: Luther in kicking off the reformation sought to align the drifting church and her worldly pursuits with Scripture; the emergent movement seeks to align the church to the culture of our day and renew its relevance in a postmodern context.

The conversation continues and I’m all ears.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Abraham's children

"Life has its lessons to teach us and there are certain lessons that I can't get in six weeks or six months."
Mike Yaconelli
As Paul tells us in Romans 4, Abraham’s faith journey is not just an example to emulate, but a paradigm for grace. For comparison, there's Hebrews 11 where Abraham’s place among Scripture’s heroes in the pantheon of faith is underlined in v13, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”

My class of young adults were discussing how that translated into real life experience, and I had each person chart their own pilgrimage (as far as they could remember) from age zero to the present. Nothing scientific; just a process to kick off discussions. It was interesting to see the jagged inclines of individual journeys, sometimes with steep climbs and sharp falls, and mostly squiggly uneventful periods. It was funny-sad and instructive to hear each person caption his/her highs and lows.
“That’s when my Mom died.”

“ I don’t remember much, but photos of my childhood showed a very happy child.”

“I didn’t enjoy secondary school at all.”

“That’s when I became a Christian and it was a good time.”

“Relationship problems – struggled a lot.”

“This is where I came out of a low point – I’ve seen things – I know better now.”
When asked what challenges stood in the way of a life of faith, everyone talked about obedience - doing what God wants. Someone said the books she's read about Godly living disheartened as she was quite certain she was nowhere close to the sort of standards expected. “What happens if we die when we’re at a low point?” she asked. I looked around the table and I saw people who seemed sure of their faith, but were uncertain if God was sure of them.

Romans 4 tells us that it was God who counted Abraham righteous, and not something old Abraham did to score points. As Abraham's children, we'll need to learn that grace is seeing salvation from God’s point of view. We get the descriptive and prescriptive passages in the Bible all mixed up, and we walk around like men and women with millstones around the neck. Mike Yaconelli’s chart reference (Messy Spirituality) was helpful to illustrate the lesson that it’s okay to admit to flaws and struggles because we’re in great company with the OT heroes of faith. I have come to understand that our checkered track record - diversions, falls, and detours - are legitimate struggles in Christ, and if 70% is what we can give that’s got to be as good as the widow’s two mites.

Faith is being sure of things we cannot see, so says the author of Hebrews. I guess that would have to include confidence in God’s unseen work in our often-messy lives, that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)

Sunday, October 24, 2004

State of the union

My cousin scandalised her family when she decided to live with her boyfriend back in the early 70s. It was the Age of Aquarius; the tremors of the hippy 60s and its anti-establishment culture were shaking up Asia. I had just started secondary school and I can still remember my aunt going on and on about her daughter. She wept and ranted to anyone who cared to listen. I also remember thinking to myself, yeah, but what’s the big deal? So what if they want to live together before they get married? What’s in a piece of paper?

As they say, that’s all water under the bridge.

So, how do you explain the increase in cohabitation today? Is there a difference between living together and being officially married?

Most people say cohabitation should logically help make better marriages. Yet, it appears research across the First World prove otherwise.
“Many cohabitating couples break up before they marry. One researcher found this happened to 40 percent of the couples he studied. Although cohabitating couples are not married, the ending of the relationship is often as emotionally devastating as a divorce. Studies show cohabitating couples have greater marital conflict and poorer communication than couples who married before cohabitating. Couples who engaged in sex before marriage were more likely to commit adultery in their marriage than those who waited until marriage to engage in sex."
(Joe S. McIlhaney Jr., M.D.)
Professor of Sociology Dr David Popenoe who is a leading expert on marriage calls cohabitation “the enemy of marriage” and offers research to back up his claims. In a response to a Salon article, Popenoe refuted what he called the writer’s bias towards a particular ideology, by stating baldly, “No scholar that I know of, or anyone else for that matter, has been able to contest this with any counter evidence, (that premarital cohabitation results in negative social outcomes).” [More]

Why the negative effects? Popenoe’s executive summary of his landmark research titled, SHOULD WE LIVE TOGETHER? What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation before Marriage has this to say:
The reasons for cohabitation's negative effect are not fully understood. One may be that while marriages are held together largely by a strong ethic of commitment, cohabiting relationships by their very nature tend to undercut this ethic. Although cohabiting relationships are like marriages in many ways-shared dwelling, economic union (at least in part), sexual intimacy, often even children-they typically differ in the levels of commitment and autonomy involved. According to recent studies cohabitants tend not to be as committed as married couples in their dedication to the continuation of the relationship and reluctance to terminate it, and they are more oriented toward their own personal autonomy. It is reasonable to speculate, based on these studies, that once this low-commitment, high-autonomy pattern of relating is learned, it becomes hard to unlearn.

The results of several studies suggest that cohabitation may change partners' attitudes toward the institution of marriage, contributing to either making marriage less likely, or if marriage takes place, less successful. A 1997 longitudinal study conducted by demographers at Pennsylvania State University concluded, for example, "cohabitation increased young people's acceptance of divorce, but other independent living experiences did not." And "the more months of exposure to cohabitation that young people experienced, the less enthusiastic they were toward marriage and childbearing."
Another university researcher Professor in Sociology Linda Waite writes that cohabitation’s negative effects come about precisely because “it carries no formal constraints or responsibilities.” According to her, the Cohabitation Deal comes with a lot more cost than The Mariage Bargain.

In spite of the less than happy outcomes, unmarried couples are increasingly choosing to live together. Susan Sarandon once said in an interview that she’s shunned marriage because she’d rather a person remain in a relationship because he really wanted it - and not because of a marriage certificate.

That sounds terribly righteous, except that people aren’t one dimensional. As much as we want our hearts to be true, our feelings honest, boundaries are what we also need to keep our bond safe, like a lot of things in life. Sure, a piece of paper doesn’t guarantee a marriage stays intact. Ideally marriage authenticates a relationship and puts a seal to the couple’s commitment away from the dictates of shifting emotions. That piece of paper attests to the couple’s agreement in the eyes of the state, and their family and friends.

Of course there's another point of view to the debate and you can find an alternative response on this site . Whatever the causation or correlation, statistical and empirical, your answer to the question, "Who has ownership over my life?" ultimately determines the choices you make. For the Christian, the answer to that question is God. Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.” This is why both heart and reason must find another reference point. For me, that reference point is the authority of God’s word.

For database on family and society issues, The Heritage Foundation has a catalogue of interesting findings.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Superman, RIP

"I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I live my life. I don't mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery."
Christopher Reeve 1952-2004

Friday, October 15, 2004

Family at risk

It was a good two days of plenary sessions and workshops at the recently concluded Asia Pacific Family Dialogue. The formal dinner on Monday to launch proceedings looked promising but ended up a letdown. Besides the usual speeches (Dato’ Sharizat came out tops against a UN executive, and Qatar’s permanent rep to the UN) and performances (one involving children and another, a ghastly nondescript ‘tribal’ dance item), diners fed on shrimp salad and then frozen peach ice-cream before the main course was served at 10.30pm. Even then, our table didn’t get anything and not wanting to wait, we left to have char koay teow somewhere nearer home.

Aside from that, I’m just glad to be a part of the event as appointed rapporteur (nice term for note taker) at 3 sessions and a round-table discussion. I’m also glad to have been reminded once again how vitally important the family is and how urgent it is to nurture fathers, mothers and their children - individually and relationally. Here are a few findings I took home with me:
+Children missing out on secure attachments (with their parents) develop into problematic youths and have been found to be more vulnerable to emotional distress

+Father care is important to child development and the continuing health of the entire family. Anti-social behaviour in children is more prevalent in fatherless households

+Core values picked up by children in the early years have been found to remain throughout adulthood, eg, religious values, political convictions, relational attitudes

+Because of the plasticity of our brain, negative behaviour in children arising from wrong parenting styles is reversible once remedial steps are taken

+Fathers who wash dishes at home have been found to live longer, statistically (haha)

+The Baptist denomination has the highest divorce rates among Christian denominations in the US

+There is statistical correlation between cohabitation and divorce, and incidences of depression (more in women), instability, and violence in these relationships

+Children from single-parent families or divorced families have been found to suffer inordinately more emotional and behavioural problems, which subsequently affect their academic performances as well
Obviously I am quoting generally off my head, but the wealth of statistical data and research on family health and child development have confirmed what we already suspect: the family is in decline. The increasing rate of divorces, illegitimacy, single-parent families, fatherless or absentee fathers in households, etc, paints a devastating portrait of modern civilization and the future of nation states.

One may point to feminism, secularism, even education, but some social scientists and researchers are already saying the underlying factor behind much of the problems is the pursuit of self-fulfillment and egalitarianism instead of fulfillment of duty. I know that sounds like a simplistic response to a very complex situation, but the world is not friendly to the family these days, and that puts a lot of stress on the health of our children. I think it's all the more reason why homeschooling makes good sense, and I am glad to be among those who have chosen the road less traveled.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Losing faith

Had dinner with a Turkmenistan couple the other night. Turkmenistan, if you do not know, is a largely Muslim state that found its independence with the demise of the USSR. But it is also very much a secular country which is now only asserting its cultural heritage and Islamic identity. We had a very good time and the couple was great company. The husband was more gregarious of the two (also more proficient in English) and I learned how he had left his Islamic faith.

So how did that happen? Our Turkmen friend was on a plane en route to London when the World Trade Towers were brought down by Islamist terrorists. Thrown into an emotional turmoil following the horrific event, he questioned how a religion that was supposedly from God could bring death and destruction. His conclusion? God exists but all organised religions are man-made and only result in divisions and conflicts. “I am a freethinker. Why don’t you come and join us?” he announced in a booming voice, a twinkle in his eye, and with arms outstretched.

We talked about Turkmenistan, politics of race, watermelons (they have HUGE ones – put your hands out and make a circle - back home) culture and language (everyone speaks Russian, but, like Malaysia, schools are now introducing the Turkmen language as their medium of instruction) and of course, religion. But I sensed that it wasn’t the appropriate time, having just met them at a friend’s dinner. Some of the usual comments about truth, faith, that religions were all false, spiced up the meal. Admittedly, I’m not so quick on the uptake and only in retrospect am I able to think through what I should have said. Ah well.

I have read and heard about Muslims losing their faith in the aftermath of 9-11. That night I actually met someone who was candid about losing his, and without irony celebrated the loss of what he never possessed in the first place.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


R. Paul Stevens of Regent College in summing up a Spirituality in the Marketplace Seminar once said, "There is no tension in a corpse." Indeed. While he is referring to what takes place in the marketplace, that little truism about tension applies just as well to the rest of life. And since we inhabit a world of the living, would someone care to do a little calculation and say how such tension might multiply exponentially in our daily interactions with the rest of the human race?

St Paul who was himself no stranger to inner tension (and external pressure) talks about finding relief through Jesus in Romans 7. There is debate if Paul was describing pre- or post-conversion, but I take comfort in Romans 8 where he affirmed that there is now no condemnation for a believer who is set free from the law of sin and death. Meaning, in spite of prevailing ‘tension’ (can I use that word?) my security is certain. It’s the testimony of the Spirit in the word of God that brings me this assurance - not my emotion or intelligence (although I’m sure they too have their part to play): "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." Rom 8:16

The process of sanctification sometimes takes us through terrain where light and shadows dance. Once I mentioned to a friend who asked about my new year’s resolution to work hard at disciplining my time. She laughed as she replied, "You say the same thing every year." Okay, okay, so I do. As someone wrote, “A lifetime of habits takes a lifetime to change,” which is so good to hear.

Putting away the stuff that eats into my soul and thus stands in the way of my relationship with Jesus, is intrinsic to the journey. As long as it’s in the same direction towards spiritual formation and maturity (Eugene Peterson’s “long obedience in the same direction”), I'll be looking out for the occasional dip in the road; maybe I'll miss a turn here and there, now and then.

At some point I’ll have to shut my ears to the voices of condemnation that would rob me of my confidence that God is doing something in my life, that He isn’t quite finished with me yet. That’s what trust is all about. That’s why the Bible talks about endurance and perseverance, overcoming and finishing the race, etc. Just as faith is not necessarily the absence of doubt (Os Guinness), tension is not the absence of trust. I am not yet a corpse; I shall not be robbed of my a child of God, an heir, and co-heir with Christ. There’s glory at the end of the journey. There is no quick-fix. For now there’ll be tension, even suffering.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Of specks and planks

I am surveying the church landscape littered as it were with tragic castaways - decent human beings who are Christian, sensitive, thoughtful, and hurt. The perpetrator is usually seen to be today’s modernist Church and her stick-in-the-mud members. Born in the social upheaval of 16th century Germany, she is apparently as archaic as she is parochial. This time the Church is unwittingly embroiled in another cultural upheaval called postmodernism, and she doesn’t even know it. So I’m thinking aloud to myself, how did we get here? Why does it matter? And where is Luther when you need him?

I became a Christian shortly after my 12th birthday and threw myself with the enthusiasm of a zealot into the Baptist church I was born and raised in. There was so much to do, and you were only young once. Back then, we had those monthly ‘Business Meetings’, where everything and everyone was fair game. Which often accounted for embarrassing conflicts, public squabbles between church board and pastor, emotional clashes between adults and hormonally-charged teens (some kids dug up a monkey climb because they thought it unfair to lose their hockey pitch to it), and other little cold wars whose fires were never put out to this day.

"If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

There were good things too, of course, for which I and many of my peers will be eternally grateful. We grew through an early grounding in the Word, discovery and acknowledgement of our gifts, and found wonderful opportunities to serve and learn. Ours was a camaraderie born of shared ideals. All played a part in shaping a worldview that was firmly rooted in the sovereignty of God. Even now, many of us remain actively engaged in our churches in ministry and outreach, some in fulltime service.

I think I know something about scars, wounds, and rejections, coming as I did from that Baptist church in a small town. As they say, Christians shoot their own. In fact negative vibes were so overwhelming, youth fellowships and Sunday School were completely decimated for a couple of years. Now as a lay leader in another church in another city, I have no illusions about people being hurt. Here too, we have the walking wounded - decent people who are sensitive, thoughtful...and hurt. As glib as it may sound, that’s life.

Yet I believe God is sovereign: Jesus is alive, his word is true, and the Holy Spirit has come to make a home within God’s own. Contradictions between word and deed are inevitable among exiles from the Garden, but in spite of these failures, and because we live “in view of the heavens opened” (Dallas Willard), the Christian life must offer something qualitatively different. The question is, how?

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”

Meanwhile, comfortably ensconced in the upper rungs of Maslow’s hierarchical premise, the lines separating what we need and what we want get desperately blur. Propositions like love and obedience are up for grabs, like chaff in the wind. So we’re caught up with issues of individual space, personal rights, and vague notions about grace and tolerance. Fingers quickly point to sources of discomfort and antagonism. Hey, I’m talking about my legitimate need here! We are but victims of the self-righteous who value programmes more than people, conformity above creativity, structures over souls. Why can’t they understand? Achievement oriented churches suck.

So many people step on our toes, too many in authority fail us. Hypocrites crowd the institutional Church and if you can believe it, there’s not a shred of genuine Christian love in there. All you happy smiley people be damned.

There is a point to all this soul-searching for sure, until I hear a still, small voice: Do you honestly desire reformation or vindication? Is it about finding new ways of doing church, or shouldn’t we talk about going back to basics, of being God’s authentic people? The day of accounting will come soon enough, every speck of sawdust and misshapen plank in every eye weighed and measured; don’t suppose any help will be needed to pick them out . So I think I should be careful with finger pointing, for the measure of true righteousness lies not in my actions, but in my reactions as well.

If we love Jesus, we should not hesitate to die to self, to obey him - doggedly -in the midst of rejections, hypocrisies, prejudices, and bitterness. Work for reformation, certainly; pray for transformation, surely; and forgive others their trespasses daily, as much as we desire our trespasses to be forgiven.

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”

Frederica Mathewes-Green concluded the story of her spiritual pilgrimage out of feminism with these words:
“…the only path to salvation, to transformation in Christ, is by humility and repentance. Pray for the grace to see your own sins; pray that you may not fall into the trap of judging others. Consider yourself the chief of sinners, not the chief of the sinned against. Stop scrutinizing your experience, looking for examples of offenses; love keeps no account of wrongs.”
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in the upper room. Including Judas’.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Raising the fragmented child

A little boy came home from school and complained to his mother,"I'm not going back tomorrow. I can't read yet. I can't write. And they won't let me talk."

The idea of shipping our children off to a warehouse where they are educated by strangers from a curriculum designed by politicians and academic theorists is so strange and disconnected from the reality of a child that we have to wonder how this could come to be a fact in our society. Why would be want our children treated like this? Only by being convinced that it is for their own good - or if we don't happen to agree, by being subject to fines and imprisonment if we don't comply - would we go along with this. After all, we allow ourselves to be sent off, indeed we transport ourselves to be warehoused at work, so we can imagine such a fate would be acceptable to our children.

The world that we live in has this kind of fragmentation to it. We are fragmented: our workplaces, our schools, our society. Yet, we must find a way to raise a whole child, one who can meet the future fully, without fear, with an intelligence that can understand and move in new and challenging situations.
Steven Harrison

Monday, September 27, 2004

Carson in KL

I had an enjoyable two nights listening to Prof Don Carson. No, not merely enjoyable - it was a stirring two nights joining the full house crowd at Tropicana taking in a very able exposition of 3 key chapters in Revelation. Missed the third lecture though, because I had to be in Kota Kinabalu. It didn’t seem so long ago that he was here in KL for his lectures on Ezekiel - that was 3 years ago right after Sept 11.

The lectures on Revelation 12 and 13 (missed 14) were excellent. Taking a somewhat circuitous route, he explained what apocalyptic literature was about as he drew lessons for God’s Church today. There were the usual head-scratching references (Dragon! Beast with horns and heads! Woman with wings! War! Blood! 1,260 days! Anti-Christ! 666!) but he deftly sidestepped popular end-times hype (ala LaHaye et al), perhaps not to dignify suspect eschatology with his comments. Yep, not one word, not even an aside.

I’ve always been bugged by the wholesale acceptance of such a misreading of Revelation by so many in the Church (and I am not just referring to the Left Behind series). It’s not an easy book, what with their fantastical symbols and mixed metaphors, I know. We’re so caught up in the imageries and their purported meaning we tend to overlook the focus of history from God’s viewpoint. Sure, one can’t be dogmatic about interpreting the last book of the Bible, but while eminent New Testament scholars keep their options open - about the meaning of 666, Carson looks straight at his audience and says, “I don’t know” - the pre-trib horde corners public consciousness.

After a long day at the office, just sitting through an hour plus of Bible exposition, even by a classy rhetorician like Carson, taxes butt and brain. Not to mention the absolutely messy traffic situation en route that almost made me want to turn back. Real bad jam. Beside me was a woman, Bible on her lap, who couldn’t keep her eyes open. After Carson closed in prayer, she woke with a start and asked her partner, "End already-ah?"

Monday, September 20, 2004

China's Cross

"In 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, 188 western missionaries, and 20,000 Chinese Christians were killed. In the following fifty years, more western missionaries came to China. They established 13 universities, over 6,000 elementary schools and high schools, and more than 900 hospitals. The number of Chinese Christians grew to 700,000. Fifty more years have passed and today there are approximately 70 million Christians in China, an increase of 100 fold." The Cross - Jesus in China
One of the most moving documentaries I have ever seen lately is, The Cross - Jesus in China, a four hour series on the growth of the church in China produced by China Soul For Christ. The four episodes titled The Spring of Life, Seeds of Blood, The Bitter Cup, and The Canaan Hymns, look at the slow but astonishing spread of the gospel in the face of violent persecution in China. Beginning with a brief history of missionary activities in the last century and ending with an episode on the hymns that have defined the soul of the Chinese church, the documentary is literally the book of Acts come alive.

I have always known that God was at work in communist China, but nothing quite prepared me for the vivid images of crowded churches and joyful congregations in villages and cities across that vast country. The inspiring live testimonies and heart-warming stories of faith and perseverance on screen reaffirmed once again Tertullian’s words that the seed of the church is built on the blood of the martyrs. Watching the documentary moved me deeply, leading me to praise God for his grace and faithfulness. You can’t simply take in a documentary like this without examining the state of your heart as well.

Sadly the release of this documentary has drawn the attention of China’s political masters, resulting in a new crackdown. Christianity Today reported that dozens of unregistered church leaders and personalities interviewed in the documentary (and David Aikman’s book Jesus in Beijing) have been arrested. It appears to signal the renewal of a major campaign against the Chinese church, possibly on the scale of the recent brutal repression of Falun Gong.

Talk about authentic Christianity. It does make me wonder about the things that preoccupy Christians in first-world countries and developing nations such as Malaysia. In China, they're living it at the cost of their lives.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Rodger's travels

Rodger Sellers on a fact-finding mission. 12,864 miles later, his blog details snap-shots and impressions of visits to a number of emergent church communities around the U.S. I found this interesting link on Karen's blog. Coming from a church with a congregation that fluctuates between 50 and 70, there's so much I can connect with and learn from the church communities Rodger describes.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Eavesdropping on a conversation

Finally made a download purchase of Don Carson’s lectures on the Emergent church movement - US$4.50 - to find out what the fuss is about. TallSkinnyKiwi’s take on the subject is mirrored in some ways in Messy Christian’s blog among others, while Sivin Kit is making plans for a get-together. The ongoing discourse is in a wildly creative flux although the shibboleths of the emerging movement do need some getting used to.

The traditional/institutional/evangelical church - postmodern/network/liquid/emerging church divide has been galvanized somewhat by Carson’s criticisms, and folks are digging in. How the church should confront postmodernism is a conversation that to my mind dates back to the late Francis Schaeffer’s writings. Charles Colson (whose apologetics is shaped by Schaeffer) is himself wary of the church courting postmodernism, and his columns in Christianity Today here and here tell you why. Brian Mclaren’s thoughtful response to Colson touched on truth and relativism, all within a whiff of an epistemological dust-up. Aah, sweet semantics. What McLaren is asking for is the same kind of encouragement that Colson gave to Catholic-Protestant dialogue several years ago: Why not do the same for a church and postmodern conversation, Chuck? Colson's reply? Here's the link to McLaren's website.

The point is, whatever the position, people are talking. Where there’s a 'conversation' (used loosely in normal context and as an emergent vocab) there’s bound to be difficulties because of the emotions invested into the arguments both sides of the divide. Innuendo, nuance, tone, even body language, frequently colour our words (spoken and in print) in ways that are unintentional. Okay, sometimes it’s intentional - harsh, sarcastic, malicious, condescending, etc - but I won’t be the first to cast a stone in anyone’s direction. It’s a delicate situation.

[As an aside, our allegiance to the Word made flesh is evinced in the integrity of words. Our feelings may sometimes be dictated by which side of the bed we get out of, but the word that gives life cannot be deconstructed (after Derrida), amorphous, shifting, or nebulous. Any concession and you’re walking too close to the edge, and - I’m getting out of my depth here - here be dragons!]

The trouble is, whose 'definitions' are we talking about? Hence, gatheringgrace’s Sept 11 blog entry:"I get irritated by the way Traditional Church interprets the Gospels."

Don Carson will be in KL giving a series of public lectures (20 - 22 Sept) from Rev 12 -14. They’re being billed as, “Understanding the church from God's point of view” which should offer a counterpoint to popular end-times hype. But judging from the passionate online exchanges on church and worship, traditional and postmodern, some of us will be paying real close attention to Carson’s talks for other kinds of clues, starting this coming Monday evening.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Cheap buys & online summaries

I have been visiting and buying from for awhile now. Some time back I bought Mark Noll's Seasons of Grace from the online bookstore at an unbelievable US$0.99! (Okay, it's an old book, but isn't it a steal?) Mark Noll whose Scandal of the Evangelical Mind caused ripples when it was published in 1994 is still a provocative read. Seasons of Grace on the other hand, is a book of intimate poems with several inspired by and dedicated to friends and family. The online bookstore has a bargain section and if you're lucky, you can get good stuff at basement prices, like Mark Noll's.

And for those who aren't so sure about a book, or who can't afford time and/or money on new books, you might want to check out Christian Book Summaries.This is a neat service that offers FREE online summaries of recent titles. They're not condensed versions (like Reader's Digest) but proper summaries that actually run several pages. Great idea, smart marketing. I wonder however, if there could be a downside - instead of drawing readers to purchase a summarised book, it does just the opposite. Dallas Willard, Philip Yancey, and Gene Edward Veith Jr are among recent summaries.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Bali Hai

What an ominous arrival in Bali.

When we touched down Thursday in Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar, the weather was sunny and welcoming. Yet over 500 nautical miles away in Jakarta a deadly bomb blast outside the Australian Embassy took 8 lives and injured almost 200 people, all locals. It was the sort of thing that we were warned about by friends and family when they heard about our company trip to Bali.
"What, Bali? Not scared-ah?"
"Remember the Bali bombing?"
"Isn’t it the anniversary of September 11?"
On TV, the reality of the massive car bomb greeted us with painful displays of its aftermath - mangled bodies, burnt vehicles, shattered windows (from 7 buildings around the embassy, they said, some up to 10 stories) and wailing people in hospitals. After a nearly 3-hour flight from KL to Bali, I said to myself, oh-oh there goes our holiday.

Still, thousands - mainly Aussies and Japanese - thronged popular destinations like Kuta and Ubud without a hint of anxiety. Bomb or no bomb, the livin' is easy when it’s summer all year round. The beach was all bodies and limbs pallid and tan, and the pasar (market) was alive with colour and laughter. Rupiahs exchanged hands in a dozen garbled tongues. Like all the other tourists, we haggled over kitschy gifts, t-shirts and collectibles while our camera clicked away endlessly. In an art gallery, a man asked if we knew about the blast in Jakarta and I said I saw the news on TV. He wanted to know if we were afraid and told us that Bali wasn’t Jakarta.
"Jangan takut ya, orang Bali aman. Disini aman, ya." ("Don’t be afraid, Balinese are peaceful people. It’s peaceful here.")
Indeed I found the Balinese gentle and gracious, on the whole. They expressed embarrassment and some resentment however at the latest assault on their way of life. Our tour guide Asta agreed it was going to affect tourist arrivals. He mentioned the 2002 blast in Paddy’s Bar in Bali’s tourist hotspot Kuta and blamed 'outsiders.'
"It’s not Bali can a chef burn down his own kitchen?"
The majority of Balinese are Hindus (90%) while Islam has about 5% of adherents and Christians less than 2%. Hindu shrines and statues were everywhere. Passing by Nusa Dua, our guide pointed out to a Hindu temple, a Mosque, a Church, and a Buddhist temple standing side-by-side. He told us that locating these places of worship in such proximity was the state government’s way of promoting religious understanding and tolerance. The cynic may scoff at it as nothing more than symbolic, but Asta said the locals in Bali enjoyed a deep sense of community and culture. "Agama lain tetapi wajah sama," ("Our religion is different but we are the same") he added in Bahasa Indonesia.

On the last night, our family had dinner in Jimbaran by the beach among hundreds of nonchalant visitors. It was delightfully cosmopolitan...and reckless, if you were to take the advice of friends who told us to avoid congregating with westerners.

There was a troupe of buskers singing Elvis and Beatles in tight harmony. A few tables from us, it was the Carpenters and the Righteous Brothers. Stopping at a group of Japanese, they broke into a Japanese song while their audience whooped and clapped. Then they sauntered over to our table as we were picking at our grilled snapper.
"Hello guests, where are you from?"
The leader nodded to his mates, said something I didn’t catch, and they sang an old Mandarin hit. Eh what, not a malay song? I thought, and we laughed.

It was windy, not at all humid, and the surf roared relentlessly. In the Bali night sky millions of stars were out like so many pin pricks of light that refused to be subsumed by the darkness.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Teacher Chose Death

A remarkable story of heroism has come out of the the Beslan school-hostage tragedy:
In an act of unlimited devotion and dedication, to the bitter end, an elderly teacher insisted on remaining with his students. He protected them, bandaged their wounds, and with his death, saved their lives.

Children who escaped from the school told of how they owed their lives to elderly Yanis (Ivan) Kanidis, age 74 – a man of Greek origin who worked as a gym teacher at the school. He was among the hundreds of teachers, students and parents taken hostage last week when Chechen rebels invaded the large school.

On Thursday, in what was an unusual humanitarian move in the midst of the horror, the terrorists agreed to allow a group of women and babies to leave the building. The commander of the terrorist squad, saw Kanidis -- a sickly elderly man -- and offered to allow him to walk free as well.

But Kanidis refused. “I will stay with my students till the end,” the teacher insisted.
Read the rest of the story here, which is a translation from the Hebrew press.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Another day, another tragedy

It is possible to avert your eyes, but it is impossible not to be utterly repulsed by the violence visited upon fellow human beings in our neighbourhood and across the globe. Acheh. Darfur. Najaf. Iraq. Gaza. West Bank. Beslan. Another day, another tragedy.

Neil Postman complained how the fragmented juxtaposition of news and frivolous reports (compressed into 60-second sound bytes set in a ‘pseudo-context’) on TV blunt the thrust of reality. Without exposition, you lose the point, and so risk losing sight of what’s significant. It’s all reduced to entertainment, you see.

That was before the age of the Internet.

Now, we’re not only amusing ourselves to death, we are drowning in data. What’s happening today is a massive overload of information in print, sound, and images...undistilled, unfiltered, and inexhaustible, in all their callous abandon (Don’t some people love this excess!) Every catastrophe, decapitation, mutilation, desolation, disintegration, and anguish, numbered and served in heartrending and blood-spattered minutiae.
42 million with HIV/AIDS
8,000 die of AIDS daily
4 million displaced in Sudan
2,500 die daily in Darfur
10 million street children in Africa
34 Shiite militants killed by joint Iraq-US forces
330 killed in Beslan; more than half are children
16 bus passengers in Beersheba killed in double suicide attacks
14 Palestinians killed in Israeli retaliatory attacks
1,041 coalition soldiers dead (919 Americans) in Iraq as at 4 August
425 inmates die in police custody between June 2002 and July 2003 in Malaysia
5,517 snatch thefts in first 5 months of 2004 in Malaysia
3,228 individual robberies in Malaysia in 2003
8,060 violent crimes reported in Malaysia in 2003
Numbers are anonymous. But put a picture to a report, it hits closer home. Add a name to a face, and it’s personal.

On the other hand, you cross a threshold and you just don’t care or don’t want to care anymore. Until it involves yourself, that is. Our capacity to register or process the horror and pain is so seared, can you blame anyone for their indifference? Say, we just want to get on with life, you know. Working memory runs on selective attention, ticking off on a kind of neurological slate what to prioritise, what to retain and what to discard. If the brain were not selective in what it processes, it would be near impossible to maintain sanity. Or live normally.

How does one put some distance between the carnage and one’s own personal space without giving in to compassion fatigue?

Seeking the community's shalom 2

When we seek our community’s shalom, we find ours. When the city prospers, so shall we. In giving we receive. In loving our neighbours, we fulfil the ‘royal law’ of God (Jas 2:8). As Martin Luther said, "God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbours do."

Can you imagine what would happen if we really lived as we preached?

Monday, September 06, 2004

Seeking the community's shalom

Post-home invasion/armed robbery responses vary depending on the seriousness of the encounter. What happened to us is nothing compared to the school-hostage tragedy in Beslan, North-Ossetia, but if I have to list the thoughts running through our minds, they would include the following:
1.Tell church members to be more careful and look out for suspicious characters

2.Fix grilles, security cameras, change locks

3.Hire a security guard

4.Reschedule meetings away from times when the block where we are located is quiet

5.Write to the press and express concern at rising crime rate

6.Speak to the MP of the constituency and demand action

7.Galvanise residents and businesses in the vicinity to consider joint action and mutual support

8.Move into a safer neighbourhood
Listening to a message from Jeremiah 29 Sunday was timely as it spoke to the trauma some of us suffered last Merdeka weekend. I think it was God telling us to look beyond our fears and personal security to meet larger and similar needs of the community.

Jeremiah’s word from God to the exiles was that the people were going to be in for the long haul. No quick repatriation, whatever the yearning for Jerusalem. Instead of merely waiting to return to their homeland, they were told to seek the welfare of Babylon: build houses, marry, have babies, plant, work – the sort of things you do when you put down roots. "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

The Hebrew word that the NIV translates as ‘peace and security’ is shalom (NASB - welfare). It’s a word with no English language equivalent encompassing peace, security, completeness, tranquility, safety, well-being, welfare, wholeness, etc.

I think all of the above measures bear consideration, but #3 seems a little excessive and #8 doesn’t seem right. Point #2 is a given, but where does caution end and paranoia begin? We are a small congregation after all. Yet, we’ve got to seek the ‘shalom’ of our community. We would be remiss if we cut and run at the first sign of trouble or inconvenience. If the church is to be a ‘city on the hill’ (Philip Ryken), salt and light, it will mean taking the hard decision and staying where the need is.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Radical church

When our church was robbed a week ago, you can imagine what everyone was thinking about: security, grilles, locks, etc. Someone suggested we move since the neighbourhood was getting kinda unsafe. I mean, how would you feel if you were one of the eighteen who had to face three men brandishing foot-long parangs?

A friend who read my blog at xanga had this to say:
"Personally, I would rather have an open church (like those shrines by the roadside) with no valuables to worry about, where people can come in anytime to pray and seek God (and counsel?). One that is filled with all sorts of expensive equipment and decoration may appeal to church members but not a troubled stranger, drug addict, or social misfit who’s looking for an answer from God. But I guess it would be most difficult to change the present church culture into something so radical."
Hmm, churches that are merely meeting places, devoid of ‘things’ and maybe ‘emblems’ too. Well, this one did not stop 3 troubled but armed strangers from walking through our doors anyhow! I'm not sure about churches being like 'shrines' but there’s real merit in having simple premises: less ostentatious, not showy, but functional. Then there’s Roger who wrote this in his blog:
"Churches, themselves, are not cool. House churches are not cool. Traditional churches are not cool. Emerging churches are not cool. Mega-churches are not cool. Seeker churches are not cool. Cell group churches are not cool. Churches with buildings are not cool. Churches without buildings are not cool. We have such a human tendency toward unhealthy self-centeredness that we want to take our human expressions of God's grace and admire the human aspects of them. Churches are not cool.

We are the church. How we express the church, or "do" church, or gather, or build, or worship when we gather, doesn't make it any better. How we be the church, today, ourself, is the only point. How we, as humans, reflect the wonder and grace and beauty of God, and point to Him, and let Him express His glory through our weakness and brokeness, is the point. God's grace seen is the point. God's redemptive work displayed through us is the point. God's Kingdom revealed is the point."

Monday, August 30, 2004

Worship Without Dumbing Down

What else are people saying about worship music?

Our discussion can hardly be complete without a reference to Lutheran scholar Marva Dawn's oft quoted tome, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down. She's concerned about the long-term effect of too much self-centred worship:
Particular behaviours arise out of the same kind of persons we are. If we habitually concentrate on ourselves, we will be more selfish with others. If God is the subject in our worship, our behaviour will reflect God’s actions in us. Paul writes that as we behold the Lord’s glory we are all “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another "(2 Cor. 3:18).
Brian McLaren (pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church and a leader of the emergent movement ) surveys the current trippy-happy worship scene and issues a friendly call to songwriters to embrace deeper biblical themes. What would a Martian think if it would pay our church a visit?
"If you doubt what I’m saying, listen next time you’re singing in worship. It’s about how Jesus forgives me, embraces me, makes me feel his presence, strengthens me, forgives me, holds me close, touches me, revives me, etc., etc. Now this is all fine. But if an extraterrestrial outsider from Mars were to observe us, I think he would say either a) that these people are all mildly dysfunctional and need a lot of hug therapy (which is ironic, because they are among the most affluent in the world, having been blessed in every way more than any group in history), or b) that they don’t give a rip about the rest of the world, that their religion/spirituality makes them as selfish as any non-Christian, but just in spiritual things rather than material ones. (That last sentence may be worth another read.)"
Follow this link for more.

John Mortensen adds his two bits to McLaren's piece with the following advice to write lyrics, melody, etc worthy of our Creator. Very hard work, surely, but absolutely critical.
"Many are noticing that contemporary praise music seems increasingly lifeless and artificial. It may be possible to work toward a more authentic expression of worship but it will come at the cost of much creative effort. The noisy products of masspopcult need to be shushed so that writers from within the community might have a voice. The community itself will need to encourage its writers, bear with them, and (probably) forgive them.

Both music and texts need to be taken far more seriously; lyricists must craft their meaning, imagery, and rhyme until they are worthy expressions of worship. Composers need to match such texts with finely-wrought tunes of unique singable beauty."

Read the rest of his response here.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Better Worship

I don’t want to get ahead of the book I’m reading, but there’s so much that’s provocative. For instance, Don Carson (ed. Worship by the Book) makes reference to a book by David Peterson (Engaging with God), while confessing his admiration and partiality for the author’s thesis. Peterson’s study of New Testament worship led him to ask: if the injunction to worship is a constant for new covenant Christians, why then do we meet together every Sunday for worship? Surely we do not meet on Sunday for that, unless it is something we have not been doing throughout the rest of the week. Peterson believes that the church meets together primarily for mutual edification. Yes, there’s corporate worship, but it is for building one another up (as opposed to just wanting a ‘touch’ from the Lord?) that the church of God meets.

I think there's something there. I’m inclined towards Peterson's point of view considering that Christians are after all part of a living organism, a body, of which Jesus is the head. We worship God everyday as part of the covenant lifestyle, encompassing work, play, study, recreation - all of life, all the time! But mutual edification as Peterson notes, can only take place when we meet with others who belong to Jesus' body.

In an age where "hell is other people" (Sartre) a lot of us find consolation in distance, separation, things, books, and er, blogs. It just takes too much, makes too many demands. Ouch! Yet, the christian must swim against the tide and celebrate relationships. You can develop a relationship online - to a degree - but face to face, warts and all, is where you edify and are edified in return. This side of heaven, what the world wants to see is how it is possible for a bunch of people to stay together in community, to stay reconciled......even if it hurts.

I recall Bonhoeffer's words in Life Together that the christian community is a faith community and a gift of God, and should therefore be subject to His Word, where everyone is loved as Jesus loved, for Jesus' sake. "We are bound together by faith, not by experience," says Bonhoeffer. How the community edifies its own members in the experience and practice of corporate worship is another essay in itself.

Carson takes time to shore up his thoughts, and I hope to post some more of his views here. But here’s something that ought to give you an idea of what you’re in for:

In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the "feeling" of things - whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is "better worship" there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself, Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.