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?