Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cry Of A Tiny Babe

Canadian singer/songwriter/activist Bruce Cockburn (pronounced ko-burn)doesn't hog the limelight as much as Bono (Time Person of the year!) but IMHO, his songs rank up there with Dylan, with whom he has often been compared.

Here's a song he wrote that sums up the sentiments and wonder of Christmas for me. Taken from his 1991 album, Nothing But A Burning Light, it's entitled Cry of A Tiny Babe:

Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph get upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says "God did this and you're part of his scheme"
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says "forgive me I thought you'd been with some other man"
She says "what if I had been - but I wasn't anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today"

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
'Cause the governing body of the Holy land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there's a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you have ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It's a Christmas gift [that] you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eyes

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

A few links:
Still Wondering Where the Lions Are - interview with Mike Rimmer of Cross Rhythm
The Cockburn Project - documenting Cockburn news and resources online
Bruce Cockburn Online - official multimedia site

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Setback for ID

The ID movement suffers a setback in Pennsylvania. The contentious issue had all the makings of the Scopes trial of 1925 but this time round, it's Intelligent Design challenging evolution as the creation metanarrative of our age.

Judge John E. Jones ruled that the Dover school board violated the U.S. Constitution when they ordered that biology classes include teaching the position that life may have been created by an unidentified intelligent cause.

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect," wrote Jones.

"However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions."

Note the judges's ruling:
ID is a "pretext," "untestable," "grounded in religion," "misrepresent...scientific propositions."
Richard Lewontin's words come to mind, that materialism must remain absolute, "for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Peace at any price?

Isn’t the recently concluded Perdana Peace Forum something? Brainchild of former Malaysian PM Dr M, it is probably the largest gathering of likeminded peaceniks in the country, if not the region. The participants gathered are well-known in their own right, and as Dr M has said, because they are not “yes, men” and hence are no strangers to controversy. I have to admit, though I try very hard to stay objective and keep irony firmly in cheek (I mean, in check) I am finding it hard going.

As noble as its intentions may be, I am embarrassed by the goings-on as reported in the media and by accredited bloggers, and am somewhat pained by the churlish broadsides hurled at certain governments and individuals. I have yet to read any analyses by the lucky bloggers and I hope their good fortune did not come with provisos that restrict discourse. But I won’t go into that.

Dr M says, "Peace means No War." Yet peace, to my mind, is not merely the absence of war or avoidance of war. Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence notwithstanding, that would be a clumsy definition and naïve to boot. The late dictator Ceauscecu of Romania, Hitler, Stalin, Osama and the Talibans, and even Saddam, among others, exercised such totalitarian control their iron grip kept the peace while suppressing their people. So while war is reprehensible, it would be tragic to dismiss it completely as a bad thing. In an imperfect world, the causes of war are admittedly complex. The grounds for going to war or not are just as fraught with complexity, and good people are found on both sides of the fence. I also think the standards by which an individual makes peace are quite different when applied to the state - which complicate matters a fair bit.

Having said that ,the concept of peace that makes sense to me is ‘shalom.’ It is a Hebrew word that has shades of meanings including, ”wholeness, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” It is relational in its core (vertical and horizontal) and is as much a process as it is an end. Perry Yoder says peace finds its expression materially, relationally, and morally (Shalom:The Biblical Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace) and who can disagree with that?

Such a concept carries spiritual connotation as much as political implications. While social realities may make this a utopian dream, it nevertheless provides a framework for the pursuit of peace. Also the framework presupposes a moral basis for peace, of which justice and truth are important components (Something even the most left-leaning participants subscribe to, I hope, or everything else is simply so much hot air).

Again, definitions are famously contentious. Yet I find it amusing that while Dr M was happy to have his Zimbabwe President and pal Mugabe share the rostrum, others were disturbed if not offended by his presence. Hmm. Not extending an invitation to Mugabe because of his politics of violent social restructuring is perhaps more desirable than a military intervention. Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon who was recently feted in Malaysia under the banner of his Universal Peace Federation (!) was named by a participant as a good example of a bad example whose religious views are incongruous with tolerance and peace. Weird, huh?

So it appears, in the main, many of the participants are operating from some moral highground, but whose unspoken agenda have been betrayed by their selective rhetoric. It also begs the question if making peace is the same as keeping the peace.

There are different positions on the issue of war and John Stott lists three: total pacifism, just war, and relative or nuclear pacifism, all of which are cogently explored in his book New Issues Facing Christians Today. The idea of a just war is appealing but here too is a double-edged sword. The Christian Reformed Church Committee to Study War and Peace has a paper out which reads in part:
Just governing for the common public good is essential to peace. Peace is not simply an absence of war; it is the condition of a justly governed society in which people can fulfill their many callings before God free of the daily or hourly fear of violence and chaos.

A just government may consider going to war only as a last resort to restrain aggression and restore peaceful order. Such warfare can be justified only in limited circumstances and may be pursued only in carefully restrained ways that will, among other things, aim to protect non-combatants. These and many other criteria are part of the moral reasoning of just war. Just-war criteria hold governments accountable. This kind of reasoning has also led to cooperative efforts among states to develop international organizations and international laws to prevent and resolve conflicts, to restrain violence, and to maintain peace.

That would score with Dr Martin Luther King’s own view that "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” That's a costly pursuit and Dr King would know. How about Bonhoeffer whose anti-Hitler stance cost his own life? I understand the chasm between theory and practice, and I know I’m not clarifying issues with my rant. But until I revisit the topic (hopefully soon), shalom.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fawlty America

I came across this hilarious piece on that I just had to post here. Allegedly written by comedian John Cleese it's so funny you'll laugh yourself silly:

To the citizens of the United States of America: In light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. Her Sovereign Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories (excepting Kansas, which she does not fancy).

Your new prime minister, Tony Blair, will appoint a governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed. To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

  1. You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminum," and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour', 'favour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix "ize" will be replaced by the suffix "ise." You will learn that the suffix 'burgh' is pronounced 'burra'; you may elect to respell Pittsburgh as 'Pittsberg' if you find you simply can't cope with correct pronunciation. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels (look up "vocabulary"). Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.
  2. There is no such thing as "US English." We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of "-ize."
  3. You will relearn your original national anthem, "God Save The Queen", but only after fully carrying out Task #1 (see above).
  4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday. November 2nd will be a new national holiday, but to be celebrated only in England. It will be called "Come-Uppance Day."
  5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.
  6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
  7. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and this is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric immediately and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
  8. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling "gasoline") -roughly $8/US gallon. Get used to it.
  9. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called "crisps." Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with mayonnaise but with vinegar.
  10. Waiters and waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.
  11. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as "beer," and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as "Lager." American brands will be referred to as "Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine," so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
  12. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie MacDowell attempt English dialogue in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.
  13. You will cease playing American "football." There is only one kind of proper football; you call it "soccer." Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American "football", but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies). Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the "World Series" for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable.
  14. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.
  15. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due backdated to 1776.
    Thank you for your co-operation.

    John Cleese

    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Absolutely last Narnia...

    LWW the Movie: It’s not the epic I hoped for, but I do think it’s an excellent effort and a worthwhile watch (my two-cents worth here). Criticisms over nuances and significant plot points abound, and you can read what my favourite reviewers say (Peter Chattaway, Jeffrey Overstreet, Steven Greydanus, Brian Godawa).

    C.S. Lewis denies that the Chronicles of Narnia present an allegorical world; it is an alternative world, a 'supposal' or imaginative construct that is built on the question, “Supposing there was another world, how would the equivalent of our fall and moral dilemma play out under the eye of an all-present, transcendent deity?”

    Some quick observations drawn out from the reading of LWW (and the rest of the Narnia series):

    • Narnia is not a closed material universe but a created world open to magic and supernatural intervention, ruled by the Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea.
    • The Narnian universe is not dualistic and the fight between Aslan and the Witch is not between equals.
    • Right and wrong are real choices that have moral consequences defined by a powerful ‘Deep Magic’ that has been irrevocably etched into the psyche of all living things since the dawn of time.
    • Redemption and atonement are possible within the boundaries of justice and grace as characterized by an overarching Deep Magic, but they come at a price.
    • Values and virtues of the ‘old west’ underpin creature conduct and are highly prized.
    • Rebellion against the Emperor’s order has universal impact overturning harmony between creature and nature, emasculating joy, that only Aslan the Emperor’s son can restore or heal.
    • Adventure, leisure, conversation, beauty, art, and learning – have meaning in Narnia and they flourish only under the kindly rule of Aslan.
    • Back in our world, Aslan has another name and we can learn to know him by that name.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Et tu, Brute?

    Went to the theatre the other night and caught The Actors Studio's (TAS) production of JULIUS CAESAR. Like many people, my recollection of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is in the classroom - now so many years removed - when Malaysian schools still saw value in acquainting their students with English literature.

    But I digress. Joe Hasham, the director/artistic director of the play literally wrung the challenging piece into a minimalist fare more suited to attention deficit theatre goers of the day. No mean achievement when you think about it. The new adaptation worked quite well, its political intrigue now shaped by 13 characters (the original had about 40), with new lines and off-stage voice-overs to fill in the gap - to run its bloody course within 90 minutes. The soundscape by two a.m. was unusual but effective - all voices and echo reverberating with pain and conflict, while accentuating the inner turmoil of the main players. Creepy too. What with the crackling lightning, thunder and dry-ice. Held at the newly opened Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC), the sensation of being in an unfamiliar place heightened anticipation and dislodged preconceived images.

    However I thought Kennie Dowle's Julius Caesar was too brusque and a tad too loud. I imagine a more regal and subtle interpretation would have made Brutus's (Ari Ratos) treachery more ambiguous, less obvious, even honourable. That would have given Marc Anthony's (played by an exellent Gavin Yap) final "lend me your ears" speech more persuasive power, as he skillfully overturned audience's empathy towards Brutus and his co-conspirators in magisterial style.

    Related link:
    Christina Orow's review posted on

    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    No direction home?

    I’ve previously blogged about Bob Dylan’s autobiography (27 Aug) and I’ll have you know that my order of this sixties icon’s acclaimed documentary No Direction Home finally arrived. Michael Scorsese’s 4-hour PBS film (on DVD in two parts) traces Dylan’s most creative years (1961 – 1966) through interviews, rare film footage, photographs, press conferences and performances, and it is a triumph that’s well worth the wait. Bookended by Dylan’s 1966 live performance of Like A Rolling Stone with the Band (then called the Hawks) in the UK where he was jeered (“Judas!”) for turning electric, the documentary provides the closest glimpse yet of a cultural phenom who at 65 years old is enjoying some kind of a revival.

    Among the more memorable bits would be his press interviews where an unknown reporter asked him to “suck your spectacles” for a photo, the late Allen Ginsburg’s emotional recollection that radicalism’s torch had at last found a deserving new symbol in Dylan, the dishevelled singer’s performance of Only a Pawn in Their Game at Martin Luther King’s historic civil rights rally at Washington DC (where King delivered his “I have a dream” speech), and Joan Baez’s confession of her heartbreak when Dylan’s sudden aloofness signalled a very public conclusion to their relationship.

    Two weeks ago, Michelle loaned me Scott Marshall’s Restless Pilgrim:The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan. Well-researched and perceptively written, Scott Marshall is a true blue dylanophile whose detailed look at Dylan’s preoccupation with Christian and Jewish themes in his songs and public statements suggest that the singer’s preoccupation with Jesus was no passing fancy. Dylan’s faith may have found its richest expressions during his ‘born-again’ phase (Slow Train Coming 1979, Saved 1980, Shot of Love 1981) but it continues unabated according to the author.

    In a 1980 interview, Dylan said:

    Years ago they used ..., said I was a prophet. I used to say, "No, I'm not a prophet," they say, "Yes, you are, you're a prophet." I said, "No, it's not me." They used to say, "You sure are a prophet." They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say Jesus Christ is the answer. They say, 'Bob Dylan's no prophet.' They just can't handle it."
    The book ends in 2002 and the author notes that Dylan has never failed to include more overtly Christian compositions in his public performances. Personally I am intrigued that he still performs lesser appreciated works such as In the Garden and I am the Man, Thomas (by Ralph Stanley and Larry Sparks) . During his European Tour in spring 2002 Dylan, Solid Rock was in the first set list:

    Well, I'm hangin' on to a solid rock
    Made before the foundation of the world
    And I won't let go, and I can't let go, won't let go
    And I can't let go, won't let go, and I can't let go no more.

    For me He was chastised, for me He was hated,
    For me he was rejected by a world that He created.
    Nations are angry, cursed are some,
    People are expecting a false peace to come.

    Well, I'm hangin' on to a solid rock
    Made before the foundation of the world
    And I won't let go, and I can't let go, won't let go
    And I can't let go, won't let go, and I can't let go no more.

    Why should a man such as Dylan continue to do this if it did not mean something personally, asks Marshall? Is it a case of evangelicals trying to appropriate a cultural icon as their own? Sure, Dylan’s no saint and you can read a bald, no-holds-barred assessment of the man here. But are the songs a tantalizing hint of a deeper conviction or an existential struggle? Should we even speculate? You tell me.

    Related links:
    Bob Dylan's BBC Season
    Rutherford Institute Interview with Scott Marshall
    Charlie's McCollum's review of No Direction Home

    Friday, December 02, 2005

    Read the lines first

    A letter C.S Lewis wrote to BBC producer Lance Sieveking has just been revealed online. In it, Lewis said that he opposed a film version of Aslan and ironically, expressed disdain at Disney. Lewis wrote Sieveking to say he approved of the radio serial but a 'pantomine' Aslan who is at the center of all the Narnia tales would be "blasphemy."

    "Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare," Lewis wrote. "At least, with photography. Cartoons (if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!) wld. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wld. be to me blasphemy."
    Then again, I know christians who do not take kindly to talking animals anyway, while Lewis is nothing short of being called the devil's best-known scribe.

    Back to Aslan. If you had seen Narnia’s previous screen incarnation in the 1988 BBC TV adaptation you can imagine Lewis turning in his grave. The relatively unknown cast tried hard, but the big letdown was Aslan who came across as a stuffy oversized kitten. I thought the dramatisation was quite engaging though, and was for a time promoting it among homeschoolers, and even screened a VHS copy (purchased from Video EZY) in church. Whatever merits the BBC effort possessed was severely compromised by its budget and less than passable effects. Hmm. The Lion is everything. Get Aslan wrong, and the whole thing goes south.

    And, USA Today quotes a couple of professors who agree that the larger themes behind Narnia ought not be the primary attraction.

    "Let story be story. Don't go explaining it," says Peter Schakel. "Don't ask kids, 'Does this remind you of something? Do you find something deeper here?' Let them discover it." Professor of English Bruce Edward says, "With Lewis, the story is the thing. You ought to read the lines first. Then you can read between them."

    Well, we have started passing our books around and have also asked kids (and adults) to check the book out at the church library if they don't know what the fuss is all about. Beyond that, I hope it would stir up enough interest in Lewis's more cerebral stuff.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2005

    Narnia's moonshine

    Of course I am looking forward to the Narnia Chronicles' big screen debut, and like everyone who appreciates C.S. Lewis's writings we hope the early word out that the movie is 'faithful' to the book is exactly as claimed (okay, okay, there's the polar bears controversy, but I can live with that bit of artistic license I think). PBS' Religion & Ethics website has a good discussion on the book and its author that you simply have to read. Tim Mattingly comments on the core symbolism of Christ's death and resurrection in the book and says, "... you would have to be pretty blind not to see what the symbols mean and to hear what the words mean."

    All this is true of course and you can imagine a feeding frenzy as churches consciously buy into the marketing machine to make sure this message is not lost on moviegoers. (I loathe the fact that The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe tracts were advertised to churches for bulk purchase). I understand the impulse although I am not crazy about 'marketing' (I work in an advertising agency, ha!) the movie on that platform because it does a serious disservice to the story which was not written as an evangelistic tract anyway. Isn't it telling that the movie cleverly adopted two marketing approaches - one for churches, and another for, erm, pagans?

    There is something wrong when the arts - and movies in particular - are only endorsed on the basis of how evangelistic its message is. This certainly cannot be what we mean when we talk about redeeming culture and the arts. What about getting people to read the book as literature in the first place? Alright, so JRR Tolkien was dismissive of Narnia and thought poorly of Lewis's effort, but as a story, it is a tale well told, magical, enchanting, and most of all, enduring. We need to hear what Lewis says about his own mythic excursus and writing for children:
    Some people think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child psychology and decided what age-group I'd write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out "allegories" to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn't write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn't even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.
    Significantly, the author's Christianity undergirded his art and served his tale almost incidentally, and not the other way around. Same with Tolkien's LOTR. To read literature written by authors of christian persuasion solely for the allegories they may contain is to miss the woods for the trees.

    Friday, November 25, 2005


    Blogger's "Flag" controversy rages:

    For a long time, Blogger has been quietly taking away both of the above "privileges" from some blogs. In other words, when such a delisted or "de-indexed" blog publishes new posts, they don't enter the queue of newly published posts, and so they have no chance of receiving traffic through either of the two above avenues.

    Now the procedure has become an officially announced part of Blogger's policy. On August 17, Blogger introduced a new feature called "flag as objectionable." (link) This meant that if a blog reader came across a blog that he/she disliked, for any reason whatsoever, he/she could communicate his/her displeasure to the Blogger staff by clicking on the new "flag" button on the “navbar” at the top of the offending blog. Then, if there are enough objections, Blogger staff block that particular site, that is, make it impossible for that blog to receive traffic through the above two avenues. Removing them from these lists means that far fewer people, if any, will ever see these blogs.

    (More: Hidden Censorship on Google's Blogger is now Official Policy)
    This is news to me. What's going on, really?
    Blogger Help has this to say about its 'flag' feature:
    The "Flag?" button is a means by which readers of Blog*Spot can help inform us about potentially questionable content, so we can prevent others from encountering such material by setting particular blogs as "unlisted." This means the blog won't be promoted on but will still be available on the web...

    Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    Tuition blues

    Back when I was in school, tuition was what you took for remedial purposes – you were weak in a particular subject, and you needed extra coaching. Even then, the numbers who were tutored outside school were small, not to mention the number of teachers who taught after school hours to earn a little more money. I remember a math teacher (he was from UK) who gave me extra lessons in math for free, which is practically unheard of nowadays. Well, as they say, times have changed.

    One mother told us her 16-year old son needed tuition because he wouldn’t study otherwise. Another parent said the schoolteachers weren’t teaching and tuition made up for what her son did not learn. Still another said tuition kept her child out of mischief.

    It’s a terrible indictment on the education system that more and more Malaysian children are taking personal tuition in multiple subjects, whatever the reasons. It’s not uncommon to hear of children who actually spend afternoons and evenings studying almost ALL school subjects in a tuition centre.

    Take a look at the table below and tell me that something’s not wrong with this picture:
    • More than 90% of urban children go for some sort of tuition
    • Private tuition centres can rake in between RM20,000 and RM50,000 a month
    • Tuition fees increase annually and parents forced to send because children are weak in class
    • Parents fork out anything between RM200 and RM2,000 fees for each child per month
    • Schoolteachers unable to focus on weak individuals because of large classes
    • An estimated 50% of teachers reportedly give tuition to earn extra
    • Malaysian education system’s emphasis on paper chase blamed
    Read more here:
    • Something is definitely wrong when students have to resort to so much of tuition to help them with their school lessons. If schools were doing their job, there would be no need for the kind of tuition that goes on in money-making tuition centres. Why aren’t students in school learning and what’s hindering schools from doing their job?
    • It is unconscionable that 50% of teachers give tuition. It merely fuels suspicion that some teachers deliberately serve a half meal in school only to dish out more to those who are enrolled in their private tuition classes. Should school teachers be allowed to give tuition anyway?
    • Something needs to be done about the wages teachers are earning. We shouldn’t be surprised about the quality of teaching when the profession draws people with less than noble aspirations and skills. With the salaries they're offered, surely you don't expect the best people to become teachers, do you?
    • The emphasis on examination scores has eclipsed the true nature of education, leading to a skewed understanding of learning and its value to making a whole person. No wonder the papers are replete with stories of secondary school students who have poor social skills, or are unable to learn when placed in colleges and universities abroad where rote-learning take a backseat to exercising one’s critical faculties.
    • The hours spent in tuition simply drains all interest in real learning and leaves a child with no time for other pursuits. Imagine, a child spends nearly 6 hours in school and after a hasty lunch is packed off to a tuition centre where he goes through the very subjects his teachers in school were supposed to have taught him. Is there anything more wearisome for a school kid?
    • Too many children have given up music or art because school, exams, homework, and tuition rob them of their leisure time. No wonder so many graduate from textbooks to newspapers and nothing else once they leave school. We fork out money to put our children through hours of tuition and then bemoan their lack of creativity, social consciousness, or interest in spiritual matters.
    • Think of the stress on families. How much time does a child get to spend with Dad and Mom (and his siblings) if all the time he has is taken up by tuition everyday? It can’t be good when such an inordinate amount of time is spent "socializing" with peers in school and at tuition while so little time is spent doing things together at home as a family.

    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    Sex Change

    Interesting link I got from Nov 16 post on The Agora:

    Without any fixed position on what is given in human nature, any manipulation of it can be defended as legitimate. A practice that appears to give people what they want—and what some of them are prepared to clamor for—turns out to be difficult to combat with ordinary professional experience and wisdom. Even controlled trials or careful follow-up studies to ensure that the practice itself is not damaging are often resisted and the results rejected.

    I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. Their parents usually lived with guilt over their decisions—second-guessing themselves and somewhat ashamed of the fabrication, both surgical and social, they had imposed on their sons. As for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their “true” sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it. More.

    Paul McHugh is University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University.

    Ellen Makkai writing in WorldNetDaily discusses sex-change surgery and looks at continuing disorientation some transsexuals feel post-operation. The attempt to feel the "same on the inside as on the outside" doesn't always end on a happy note. In fact a long-term follow-up report on adult transsexuals treated at Johns Hopkins revealed that none of the post-operatives showed measurable improvement in their lives.

    And here's a tragic story of David Reimer who was "a boy, then a girl and then a boy again." Born a boy, David was raised a girl after a botched circumcision at 8 months. After discovering his true identity at 11, he grew up and struggled to live as a man, which ended tragically last year in May 2004. He was 38 years. David's traumatic life story was first told by John Colapinto in a Rolling Stone article, and subsequently in the book, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl before his suicide.

    Natalie James' story about this medical tragedy and David's recollection of life as a girl is found here.

    Friday, November 18, 2005

    Sony gets flamed

    Sony’s surreptitious scheme to copy-protect their CDs drew the wrath of bloggers around the world who took the moral highground and flamed the corporation.
    “It seems crystal clear that but for the citizen journalists, Sony never would have done anything about this," says Fred von Lohmann, senior intellectual property attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a cyber liberties advocacy group that has been vocal in its condemnation of Sony and may eventually file a a lawsuit against Sony, in addition to three that have already been filed. "It's plain to me that it was Sony's intent to brush the story under the rug and forget about it."

    Alan Scott, chief marketing office at business information service Factiva, said, "I think that we're in an entirely new world from a marketing perspective. The rules of the game have changed dramatically. The old way of doing things by ignoring issues, or with giving the canned PR spin response within the blogosphere, it just doesn't work."
    Another feather in the cap for bloggers. Bloggers are indeed 'citizen journalists' and they have a vital role in contributing towards a more equitable world. It seems integrity, fairplay, justice, and honesty are still applicable in the new world then. Or does morality apply only to money-grubbing corporations, and does it only matter when we become victims?

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    Million-ringgit poser

    Jessie Chung and Joshua Beh look like any happy couple - except that Jessie was born Jeffrey 30 years ago and underwent sex-change operations to become a woman three years earlier. The million-ringgit wedding in Kuching, Sarawak, was attended by some 800 relatives and friends, and presided by 3 pastors from Bountiful Harvest, Shepherd’s Centre and Assembly of Love. According to the Star, the unusual high-profile wedding is the first of its kind in the country.

    The event has turned the spotlight on churches as they scramble to give an answer to contentious gender and same-sex relationship issues more commonly reported in the western world. It's a difficult issue and we'll have to tread carefully while the debate rages, made more sticky in the court of public opinion. NECF's Rev Wong Kim Kong has been reported in today's papers as saying that same sex marriages even where one party has had a sex-change operation, cannot be condoned: “It’s clearly stated in the Bible. There is no such thing as creation of half-half. Therefore, biologically and genetically, there is only male and female.”

    It's not been said but I suspect in the back of everyone's minds is the tussle between acceptance of a supposedly aberrant but all too human condition, and an individual's right to happiness - a legitimacy untrammeled by cost or convention. There are implications either way which may not necessarily fit into neat or politically-correct boxes.

    I think C.S Lewis got it right when he wrote that, "A right to happiness doesn't, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want a picnic." I happen to hold to the same view as Rev Wong's - and I do agree with Lewis - but one who handles the Word and deals with human lives, must do so with tears as much as with firmness of conviction. As the story unfolds in the weeks ahead such grace is going to be needed.

    Meanwhile, Chung's brother, who coordinated the wedding, said the couple was prepared to live abroad if they are not allowed to remain husband and wife.

    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    The 'C' word

    The inimitable Philip Yancey's got a thought-provoking essay out in Christianity Today. He is puzzled that the 'E' word spells terror and questions how Christians ended up in a parallel universe.
    I went away from that discussion with my head spinning, just as sometimes happens at the university reading group. How can people who inhabit the same society have such different perceptions? More ominously, what have we evangelicals done to make Good News—the very meaning of the word evangelical—sound like such a threat?
    I don’t think the ‘E’ word causes so much brouhaha here in Malaysia but it’s probably because ‘evangelical’ is such a formal word, hardly used in conversation. Journalists on the other hand, tend to equate evangelicals with fundamentalists and George W. Bush and not particularly in a good way. But mention ‘christian’ (or church) and you might get a reaction.

    On that score I agree with Yancey that yes, people do have strange notions about who we are, what we believe, and how we live out our faith – even in a plural society like Malaysia. Aliens, that’s what we are. I once told a colleague who was having trouble with a co-worker that I would do my best to help patch things up but that there was a limit to what I could do. I also assured her that I would pray, at which point she burst out laughing - right there in the restaurant, her lunch barely contained in her mouth. Well, at least I wasn’t anathema, but you get my drift.

    What do people think of Christians or Christianity? Here’re some of the things that have been told to my face:

    They've after our money and they're always collecting money
    I find that a terrible indictment. The shameless way that money is solicited (often in exchange for spiritual rewards or as a sign of spirituality) for building funds or something or other makes me nervous. During a local bible school graduation dinner I attended, it's founder was introduced to the 1000-odd guests as "the best offering taker" before he launched into a collection spiel. In another place at an 'evangelistic concert,' during which a painful plea for money was made, a teenager told us in a blasé tone of voice, “What do you expect, it’s the church.” Which wasn't exactly comforting. A friend was very blunt: “You all very rich. So many big churches. What you all do with the money, construct bigger churches and buildings?”

    They’re do-gooders and oh so holy
    People aren’t so much offended that we do good, but are cynical that we even believe it’s the right thing to do, or that by our deed think we're better than them. The inference really is that someone who doesn’t do the same or “act holy” is somehow tainted, and people do not in general like to be shown up for being ‘normal’ in an unchurched way. For instance, I would never give out a bribe if a cop asks and some people think that’s so dumb and inconvenient. Surely there’s some kind of ulterior motive? Usually if you keep it up - being 'nice' and all - you're seen as a wimp, a doormat, and absolutely naive about the way things work in the real world.

    They’re always in church and have no time for their friends
    This one gets to me. A lot of times recreational activities and outings take place during weekends. Due to commitments in church, that narrows down one’s availability to go on a weekend trip to Fraser’s, white-water rafting, an evening out on the town, or a campout. Meetings, meetings, meetings - and we're not talking about seminars, camps, conferences, missions, etc. You don’t get invited after awhile. On the other hand, we think nothing about inviting our friends to church functions and then wonder why they have no time for things of eternal consequence. Are there too many meetings in church and why should that be so?

    They say those of us outside the church will go to hell
    Well, not in polite company you don’t talk about hell. But get yourself into an involved religious conversation and it’s bound to come up. “So Christians are the only ones going to heaven? What kind of God is this?” David Wells in his book (God in the Wasteland) documents research on seminarians who in the majority share the good news but agree that the ‘bad news’ don’t get mentioned because it would be a turn-off. Wells wonders if this accommodation is a kind of sell-out to the therapeutic culture we inhabit. Paul advised against ‘underhanded’ ways to share the gospel, and surely the apostles didn’t mince their words, did they? But - pardon me - hell, many evangelists don’t even talk about ‘sin’ anymore in public meetings.

    They’re all hypocrites
    This one gets a lot of press. Admittedly we are hypocrites in varying degrees at various times, and I suppose it’s a painful reminder never to go about with a self-righteous air. Think of cars with Jesus stickers breaking speed limits or beating the red lights. Getting past the hypocrisy objection to the person of Jesus is not easy. Earning the right to be heard is often said to be the way forward. Someone said once that we can’t stop people from finding fault or pointing fingers, but we ought to live so they can’t pin anything on us. Then again, does that mean we wait till we are uhm, more ‘holy’ before we earn the right to speak up for our faith?

    They’re like the talibans
    This one came up in a conversation about Iraq and George Bush. The bile at the mention of Bush (spit)! What can I say? The friends who brought this up saw Michael Moore’s infamous movie and were convinced the religious right in the US were no different than the abovementioned Talibans. After all, they’re imposing their jaundiced views on everyone, and see where it’s taken the world?

    Yancey’s closing words that “it is possible for the church to gain a nation and in the process lose the kingdom” is food for thought. Although it’s written in an American context, I can see applications for churches who fight battles (with good intentions, no less) but lose the war. It’s silly to expect non-believers to see things our way. Then again, it doesn’t make sense to adopt an unbeliever’s point of view just so we can get a hearing. Or does it?

    Monday, October 31, 2005

    Balm in Gilead

    This is a rare and beautiful book, literate and elegant, filled with light and grace. It’s a familiar tale of fathers and sons, and of complex relationships that life bequeaths on people who love and think deeply. The name Gilead is surely apt. It describes the town that Reverend John Ames serves, as well as supplies the metaphor for the necessity of redemption that dogs the man who knows God as much as the one who won’t.

    It is 1956, and the ailing 77-year old Reverend decides to write a letter to his six year-old son. Ames is the son of an Iowan preacher, and the grandson of a minister. The book Gilead is that letter, a thoughtful account of a 3rd generation preacher whose love for the Word is equaled only by his passion for life. Ames knows he hasn't long to live, and submits this confessional to a son he loves dearly, regretting that he would not be there to see him grow up. In prose brimming with compassion – sometimes didactic, and often stilted in keeping with the times – there is an uncanny brilliance that I find quite moving:
    “My point here is that the great kindness and providence of the Lord has given most of us someone to honor – the child his parent, the parent his child I have great respect for the uprightness of your character and the goodness of your heart, and your mother could not love you more or take greater pride in you. She has watched every moment of your life, almost, and she loves you as God does, to the marrow of your bones. So there is the honoring of the child. You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone. Your existence is a delight to us. I hope you never have to long for a child as I did, but oh, what a splendid thing it has been that you came finally, and what a blessing to enjoy you now for almost seven years.”
    In the story, Ames writes of a grandfather who was an old radical who preached men into the civil war, and the hungry years brought about by the Reverend’s own gentle father who put more into his ministry than his own family – not for want of love, but due to a spiritual forgetfulness (common among people in the ministry, it seems). In the course of the tale, he has to deal with 43-year old prodigal Jack Boughton, who’s come back to visit his aging and dying father. Jack’s father is himself a preacher and Ames’ best man at his second marriage.

    The unbelieving Jack nips at Ames faith and sensibility by his intelligence and strength of personality. It is in tension and disquiet that faith matures, finding expression in love that “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pe 4:8). For Reverend Ames, the temperance of age smoothens the hard edges of a strained relationship, softens resistance to one who has walked out on the very faith that defines his vocation. Yet it is the recognition of his inner turbulence (although by his own admission, he was the ‘good son’ who never left his father’s house) that reveals his personal need for the grace of God too. Yes, those who tend to the needy must needs be tended to. The courage to embrace the mystery of God’s grace begins with the willingness to see the extravagance that love brings.
    “I am one of those righteous for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained. And that’s all right. There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal.”
    It is this that leads Ames to reconcile himself with the younger Jack and towards the end of the book, to bless him. The summation of life and vocation comes at a single instance right there on the street as Ames places his hand on Jack's head while the benediction from Numbers is recited. Later he imagines what it would have been like if Jack's father had only seen this unlikely sight:
    "It is almost as if I felt his hand on my hand. Well, I can imagine him beyond the world, looking back at me with an amzement of realization - "This is why we have lived this life!" There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient."
    This is a marvellous book, so sensitively written and evocative of a bygone era, it has to be to be savoured in slow measures. One critic said it was a book that "begs to be read aloud" and I do agree it lends itself wonderfully to such an effort (Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times Book Review). The realism is more keenly felt when you know it's a novel that did not begin as 'Christian' literature, yet in its honesty, is true to life, and therefore reflects the presence of God. You can also read Chris Lehmann's review here which has the breadth and scope to match author Marilynne Robinson's vision.

    Gilead is Marilynne Robinson’s second book and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2005.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    Never say never

    These are amazing stories at a time when tragedy seems the rule. In Italy, a brain injured 38-year old man written off by doctors as nearly dead, suddenly awoke saying he heard and understood conversations around him during his silent ordeal.
    Salvatore Crisafulli, a father of four, is describing his case as a "miracle" which proves that lost causes are anything but hopeless and his recovery appeared to strengthen the hand of Italians opposed to end-of-life solutions.

    His brother even called Crisafulli "an Italian Terri Schiavo case" with reference to the brain-damaged Florida woman who died in March after her feeding tube was removed.
    Earlier this year, an Arkansas man Terry Wallis inexplicably came out of a 19-year coma. Terry who was left paralysed and in a coma in 1984, was 19 and newly married with a baby girl, when his truck went over a cliff.

    Channel 4 Dr Martin Brookes gave an interesting review of that miraculous recovery and wrote about the difficulties involved in assessing the effects and outcomes of comatose patients. Dr Brookes’ conclusion?
    Of course, Terry is not out of the woods yet. His awareness of himself and his surroundings are still distorted, and he seems to lack a short-term memory. Perhaps these faculties will never be regained. But if the Terry Wallis story teaches us anything, it is never say never.
    How do these stories compare with current views on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia as they are reported in the news? Francis Schaeffer (together with then US Surgeon-General Dr C. Everett Koop) in his prophetic book Whatever Happened To The Human Race? tells us what’s at stake:
    Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation in every age must be judged by this test: how did it treat people? Each generation, each wave of humanity, evaluates its predecessor on this basis. The final measure of mankind's humanity is how humanely people treat one another.
    R. Albert Mohler Jr. surveys the last 25 years since the publication of WHTTHR? and agrees with the writer that when humanity loses the high view of human life as imago dei the doors are flung wide open for greater 'anti-human' abuses. He quotes Schaeffer: "Any person can be obliterated for what society at one moment thinks of as its own social or economic good." Humanity stands on the brink of the abyss, says Mohler, and quite possibly we are edging nearer everyday.

    Back in 1988, I came across a remarkable letter to the editor in the Economist written by Alison Davis from Blandford Forum, Dorset. I couldn't resist jotting down (yes, I'm an inveterate jotter) her stinging mail in response to articles in the January 23 issue of that magazine


    You seem to assume that abortion on the grounds of handicap is not only acceptable, but desirable.

    How can this be justified logically and ethically, unless one believes that severe handicap is a fate worse than violent and untimely death?

    I am confined to a wheelchair due to spini bifida. I find this eugenic mentality insulting both to my humanity and to my intelligence. Why is it more desirable to dismember a child than to allow it to become like me?
    What is even more remarkable is that a quick search online led me to Alison's story here. This amazing woman (view her pix) now 50, still lives in Dorset where she is National Co-ordinator of No Less Human a group within The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Amazing! Way to go Alison!

    Sunday, October 09, 2005

    da Bible in sms

    Well, whaddaya know? It's the Bible in sms text-speak. "It's a logical step. Our aim at the Bible Society is to get the Bible out there among the people and this is a very effective way of doing it," says the Bible Society in Australia spokesman Michael Chant. Read the BBC news here. For a free download of the SMSBible, point your mouse here.

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    Rediscovering the Bible

    I don’t know if there’s any way to verify it, but it has often been said that the Bible is the most widely read book, number one on the best seller list, etc. Muslims, on the other hand are equally convinced that the Quran on the contrary, reigns supreme. Whichever way you lean, the fact is, the Bible remains one of the most influential books (if not most widely read) in Western Civilization.

    The Bible has left an indelible and undeniable imprint on literature and the arts. Particularly in the English-speaking world, ideas and language have been enriched, so words and phrases like ‘scapegoat,’ ‘two-edged sword,’ ‘prodigal son,’ to name a few, are commonly used although few acknowledge or are aware of their connections. More so with the Bible unceremoniously banished from public life and academia in these postmodern and irreligious times (Schaeffer’s description of “post-Christian” West comes to mind).

    The loss of Bible literacy is a shame not least because I believe it to be the inspired word of God, but because it cancels out an idiom by which we understand the shape and pulse of Western civilization. Back in 1980 Dr Leland Ryken published the seminal “The Literature of the Bible” but that book had a somewhat narrow appeal to those familiar with the Bible as a religious text and were looking to understand its literary types and assorted genres.

    Now, a group of scholars and businessmen (including Christian conservative Os Guinness) hopes to bring the Bible back from exile and make it more accessible to the uninitiated. Called the Bible Literacy Project, the group set out in 2001 to write “a Bible textbook that dispels cultural ignorance while respecting both the law and the sensibilities of Jews and Christians, who consider some or all of the Scriptures sacred.” 4 years later, the group recently announced the fruit of its labour of love, titled, The Bible and Its Influence. Gene Veith has this to say of its achievements:
    The Bible and Its Influence, released on Sept. 22, hits the mark. The curriculum, designed for high school, works its way through the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, introducing each section of Scripture, discussing the text and its themes, and showing where elements of each section manifest themselves in the culture. The textbook does not shy away from religion—which would be like discussing Moby Dick while ignoring whales—but abides by its promise and the legal statutes that religious ideas "neither be encouraged nor discouraged."
    Besides the above textbook, here’s something that might appeal to those more inclined towards simpler reads of the Reader’s Digest sort. British former headteacher the Rev Michael Hinton is doing us all a favour with a new version of the Bible called “The Hundred Minute Bible.”

    It appears it took Rev Hinton two years to scale down the Bible’s 66 books into a 60-page edition containing no more than 20,000 words. 11,000 copies of the 100-Minute Bible are being distributed to churches and schools as I write. (Hey, come to think of it, Reader's Digest does have its own version of the Bible condensed from the RSV with no less than Bruce Metzger as Editor!) The Christian Science Monitor headlined the news as Christianity in a Nutshell. The BBC quoted consultant Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Rev John Pritchard as saying,
    "This is an attempt to say, 'Look, there's a great story here - let's get into it and let's not get put off by the things that are going to be the sub-plot. Let's give you the big plot'."
    I find all this development fascinating and timely. Honest. There are other books apparently, and David L. Jeffrey gives a breathless overview of books on the literature of the Bible in the 80s. I stumbled on this by accident, but this guide for the ‘perplexed’ which appeared in the University of Toronto Quarterly 1990 makes interesting reading (considering how remote my chance of actually owning some of these titles). However I was especially struck by this last sentence on his rambling article:
    Perhaps one of the features which draws postmodern criticism back to the Bible is likely to remain unacknowledged: namely, that the Bible is the last remaining text which continues to resist being subordinated by its criticism.
    Now, isn't that something.

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    Root causes

    Bali’s second bomb blast was almost 3 years to a day from the first tragedy. My family and I have shopped in Kuta and dined at Jimbaran, and I feel pained by the senseless slaughter of innocents. As always, denunciation of terror bombings were politely offered topped up with politically correct calls to investigate ‘root causes.’ Malaysia’s PM Pak Lah joins the chorus:
    "A sense of being marginalized, a sense of alienation is one of the root causes that can bring about the kind of reaction which can also be terrorism,'' Abdullah said. "People want to be recognized, people want to say they want to have a share, they want it and if they cannot get anywhere, they will resort to the kind of action that people say is undesirable."

    "These deprived, alienated people, with no opportunities for effective participation, can become the Trojan horse for others with other kinds of agenda,'' he said. "They will be exposed to other people who will want to champion their cause but really have a different agenda."
    Sure, look for root causes, but what comes next?

    There are marginalized people everywhere, but until recently, no one in his right mind saw suicide bombings as a political solution. What if these root causes were driven by an ideology that sought world dominion? What if these atrocities were framed by a warped sense of race and religion? What ‘different agenda’ might it be that fails articulation? What do politicians mean when they speak of addressing root causes?

    After World War I, the Germans also felt very much like the deprived and alienated our politicians refer to. A failed artist tapped into the nation’s humiliation following the Treaty of Versailles 1919, the Great Depression, among other reasons, and promised a restoration of national pride in a glorious Third Reich. In a few short years, over 50 million would be killed in a global conflict that was the Second World War.

    Hitler’s perverted dream of Aryan purity led to the systematic extermination of thousands of Gypsies, homosexuals, and 6 million Jews. Jews were first blamed for Germany’s economic hardship, and deliberately vilified as human vermin, carriers of disease, and seeds of corruption. After this, the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau were not only understandable but a logical conclusion to twisted ambition.

    It’s possible that the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ‘understood’ the root causes behind Hitler’s rise to power. You could say Chamberlain was betrayed by his overestimation of human decency (and underestimation of the human heart’s depravity). His naïve pursuit of diplomacy and appeasement merely invited the invasion of
    Poland, and forever earned him a place in history’s hall of shame as the leader who signed a resolution with Hitler and made premature boast of "peace for our time." You do not negotiate with prophets of terror. You do not make concessions to perpetrators of evil.

    All this talk about root causes is not likely to put an end to suicide bombings. In an age as muddled as the one we are in today, I fear history is set to repeat itself.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005


    6 months after Dad's passing, we've yet to clear out his collection of books and papers. Mom says she's got rid of some with my sister's help. But there's just too much. "He packed dozens of boxes into the lorry when we moved down from Alor Star," Mom mutters. "He never threw anything away."

    I don't know what to make of the stuff he's accumulated through the years: half-used and yellowed exercise books, threadbound textbooks - now shapeless - that date back to the early 60s, class magazines belonging to my sister, old letters, stencilled leaflets and flyers from forgotten events, minutes from church committee meetings from the 70s, old LIFE magazines, my old class certificates, a handbook on swine and poultry diseases (Dad was a veterinary assistant), a tattered book on chemistry for highschool, kindergarten readers. The list goes on.

    Dad was a hoarder, possibly bordering on an obsessive-compulsive complex. And I am not just referring to books, papers, and magazines. He put away broken tools, containers, strings, nuts and bolts. Like the handyman he was always using throwaway materials to fix faucets and electrical appliances.

    I tore open some boxes and rummaged through their musty contents as silverfish scuttled away. Pulled out this history book, and brushed the dust off its pockmarked cover. First published in 1955, it says on the inside. I'm not sure if Dad bought it or if it was a gift. As a child of 7 or 8 without a TV at home, it was one of my favourite books and ticket to worlds and epochs I could only imagine. Rome and Carthage. Genghiz Khan. Napoleon and Alexander. Vikings and Valhalla. Dark Ages and Crusades. Inventions and discoveries. "This one you should keep," Mom said as I took the book out to show the boys. Yes, this one I'll take home. Mom knows there's more than a bit of Dad in me.

    Friday, September 02, 2005

    Merdeka musings

    Malaysia is 48 on 31 August.

    48 years after Independence (Merdeka), Malaysians still wrestle with issues of race, language, and religion. 48 years after the British exited, we are nowhere nearer to achieving a sense of nationhood, at least to this blogger. The post-Merdeka generation - like myself - knows no other land but this one, yet so many stutter at the mention of ‘patriotism.’ We still contend over history, unsure over the arguments that have defined our national psyche, wondering if it has not been hijacked to justify politics that divide and rule.

    A friend loaned me this interesting book by Leon Comber (who, as it turns out, is renowned author Han Suyin’s former second husband), detailing the historical milieu that ignited the bloody fissure Malaysians know as May 13. It was a revelation to read that way back in 1927, racial sentiments were sufficiently pronounced for the British colonialists to acknowledge it (in opposition to immigrant non-natives, mainly Chinese and Indians) if they did not want to betray the trust of indigenous Malays.

    Sir Hugh Clifford, High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States wrote regarding the ‘special position’ of the Malays: “No mandate has ever been extended to us by Rajas, Chiefs, or people to vary the system of government which has existed in these territories from time immemorial…The adoption of any kind of government by majority would forthwith entail the complete submersion of the indigenous population, who would find themselves hopelessly outnumbered by the folk of other races; and this would produce a situation which would amount to a betrayal of trust which the Malays of these States from the highest to the lowest, have been taught to repose in his Majesty’s Government.”

    W.G.A Ormsby Gore, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Colonies stated in a 1928 report that, “Our position in every state rests on solemn treaty obligations…[the States] were, are and must remain “Malay” States and the primary object of our share in the administration of these countries must always be the progress of the indigenous Malay inhabitants….To me the maintenance of the position, authority and prestige of the Malay rulers is a cardinal point of policy.”

    The ramifications of the above are obviously immense, hinting at a social contract that continues to this day to subordinate generations of non-Malays born and bred in this land to second-class citizenship. Worse of all, it has become enshrined as a taboo ‘sensitive issue’ - so our politicians tell us repeatedly - which we are not to question. Ever.

    Dr Azly Rahman dares to ask in an article in Malaysiakini if nationhood can be built around unquestioned historical precedents. He quotes Hannah Arendt, that history does not necessarily mean progress. In his blunt but insightful piece, Dr Azly suggests that to make history, we must be allowed to question it.
    In this Malaysia in the year 2005, how must we construct a more accurate definition of a native, an immigrant, a first/second/third generation of this or that?

    Why must we not question history if we are to become new makers of it? Why must we still treat the grandchildren of immigrants as ‘second-class’ citizens? Why must we not accord them with opportunities that resemble equitable/regulative justice? Have not their parents laboured for the prosperity of this nation, a nation that has trumpeted itself the world over as a modern developing state? Have not the children of these serfs and labourers think, act, and feel Malaysian enough to be treated as equals?

    Why must we not declare, as the principles of social redistributive justice requires, that we must design a new social contract that will abolish all interpretations of human beings based on racial origin and use the abundant resources we have for the benefit of all - all the children and grandchildren of tine miners, rubber tappers, and padi planters, fishermen who were cleverly divided, conquered, and exploited by the British imperialists? [More]
    Whatever our misgivings, we're in it together, and we'll have to make things work. There are positive signs that rumblings of discontent from the Malay intelligentsia and academics (like Dr Azly), NGOs, and others, are raising the bar for public discourse. For the first time, technology,alternative media, and online channels such as blogs, are involving Citizens Ahmad, Lim, Muthu, and Joe in the conversation. My hope and prayer is that it will swell into a force for good. Malaysia deserves more.

    Some links:
    Lim Kit Siang for Malaysia
    Brandnewmalaysian: Conversations on Merdeka
    VirtualMalaysia's Tribute to Malaysia's 48th National Day
    For Malaysia, a day for speaking out

    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    A rebel's chronicles

    “I'd come from a long ways off and had started from a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.”

    You may call him Bobby, you may call him Zimmy. To a lot of people he’s the most iconic songwriter and singer of the 20th Century, if not the greatest. He’s been called a visionary, poet, genius, and fellow protest singer/former lover Joan Baez agrees. He claimed that he wrote “Blowing in the Wind” in 10 minutes - when he was 21 - a song that’s become the anthem of the cultural shift of the 60s. Talk about manifest destiny. In 1965 at 24, he wrote what he called his best song - “Like a Rolling Stone” – which 40 years later has been voted by Rolling Stone Magazine as Number 1 among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. That’s Bob Dylan.

    I came upon Dylan late myself, in Art College as the seventies came to a close, through a friend Lai, a walking encyclopaedia on all things Dylan. Lai would mimic his songs, pointing out the threads of his hero's enigmatic lyrics, so rich with imageries and stories woven from politics, history, and the Bible. Mention Dylan, and it's his jagged snarls and folkie nasal inflection people remember. Or mock. Love him or hate him, his was the voice of an entire generation. "It’s a foreign sound," he says in It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). You know he wants his listeners to take him as he is, or just shove it.

    When I picked up his autobiography from a visiting book vendor, a twentysomething in the office asked, “Who’s Dylan?” Indeed the times they are a-changing. Chronicles is a rambling book that’s put together in no particular order, intriguing in what he reveals (would you believe the man loves Moon River, and wants nothing more than to live in a house with a white picket fence and to tend his garden?) and what he’s left out (what, no infamous motorbike accident? nothing on his ‘saved’ period?). His story begins with his meeting with music publisher Lou Levy, and ends on the cusp of the 60s revolution, a strange world described by Dylan as "a thunderhead of a world with jagged lightning edges."

    But Chronicles is only the first volume covering Dylan's formative years and hinting at his most fecund period. So we wait. Regrettably there are no photos - nada. All the same it pulled me into a fascinating era that was at once so long ago although it felt like only yesterday. I remember listening to his music in the car as I was reading the book, you know, to get into the mood of the times.

    Martin Scorcese’s 4-hour documentary on Bob Dylan NO DIRECTION HOME airs on PBS in September 26,27 – a week after the release of the DVD. I don’t have to tell you that’s on my wishlist.

    Related stories:
    I had an interesting time wading through the hugh amount of writings on Bob Dylan online. Bob Dylan's American Journey 1956~1966 is one great read. The site is part of an ongoing interactive music museum project featuring musicians of influence, and this one on Dylan started last year and ends September 5.
    Expecting Rain is a site that lists all things Dylan - appearances, publications, stories - to satiate every Dylanophile craving. Of course you don't want to miss which is the man's official site.
    If it's lyrics you want, stop by Book of Bob. Not shabby at all, with more links.
    LA Times' occasional feature on songwriters and their art takes a look at Bob Dylan in a piece aptly titled, 'Rock's enigmatic poet opens a long-private door.' If you don't think you're up to reading a 300-pg autobiography, this is a more than competent overview on Dylan's craft and a nice entree for when you're ready.

    Wednesday, August 24, 2005

    Listening for God's heartbeat

    HopeEFC Camp at STM: 20 ~ 22 Aug 05

    Well, that's a great camp come and gone! It was a heart-in-the mouth affair for awhile and some of us really thought it might not even happen. First, we (the organisers) were unexpectedly hit with exam blues (trial exams affecting a few college kids) and 'defections', resulting in a smaller turnout than we'd hoped. On Thursday Sivin called to ask for prayer over a possible situation affecting his attendance. (Ends up everything's okay, and we were all cheers!)

    Soon after, a call came to say that Lulu's mother had passed away. Pending funeral arrangements, I would have to conduct the memorial service that evening, and perhaps the funeral if it were to be held on a Saturday . Had to rush home, grab a quick dinner, meet the bereaved family, and deliver the eulogy. Thankfully, the family decided to hold the funeral on the very next day - Friday, with our Pastor presiding - allowing our Campers to leave on Saturday without a hitch. Or at least that's what we thought. Unknown to us, STM in Seremban was on water rationing, resulting in a lot of us not having a proper shower and all that evening. Ah well. We had water aplenty the next day though.

    It was nothing too unbearable really, and I'm happy to report that most of us felt it was a genuinely blessed time. I-Ching from RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministry) took us through 2 workshops on worldviews drawn from James Sire's 7 handy classifications. Heady, and probably a mite too tough for some of us whose daily diet consists of somewhat lighter stuff. On the plus side, someone asked that we continue the study back in KL , and maybe look at pluralism and how to deal with it. Fantastic!

    Sivin Kit's messages on Jonah was great. His workshop based on Mclaren's 13 Strategies (Church on the Other Side) was revealing, and it certainly raised issues. Gotta take a closer look. Outside the sessions, I enjoyed the interaction with Sivin and was glad for the opportunity to exchange notes. Looking forward to more.

    At the start of the camp, I-Ching asked with reference to the camp sessions involving 2 facilitators (herself, and Sivin) from almost 'opposite' poles(!), "What are you doing to your church?" Well, I was trying to push the envelope, getting people to take ownership of the church we all identify as 'ours' to think more deeply about issues that impact our comfort zones, and grapple with the often messy stuff of life. Here's hoping some things will stick, and that the Lord will continue to work.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005


    We were doing a series on church membership and body life, looking at Paul’s injunction to conduct ourselves in a manner that’s worthy to our calling as God’s people. So how is this demonstrated? 1 John 2:15,16 sum it up as not loving “the world love or anything in the world.” That would be the world’s values that deny God’s sovereignty over all of life - “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.”

    The early church fathers understood it well for they knew there had to be a visible difference between a believer and an unbeliever. Here’s what Mathetes (130 AD) had to say:
    For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners [or resident aliens].
    As resident aliens, these believers’ allegiance was elsewhere, their eyes set beyond the dictates of the times, their desires shaped not by the temporal.

    As biblical as that may seem, I appreciate that being 'otherworldly-minded' tends to make killjoys of believers. At least that’s how it appears to a lot of people, not least the youth. At the end of our lesson, a college girl spoke up: “But we young people want to have fun.”

    Are our lives so dour that we're curiously out of step with the abundant life promised by Jesus?

    Tuesday, August 09, 2005

    Bono: grace travels outside karma

    U2 frontman and rock icon Bono talks about his faith in a new book, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas. Christianity Today has an excerpt of his interview with journalist Assayas, which I must say, provides the clearest picture yet of the faith behind the man. Check out Bono's views on the difference between Grace and Karma as "the thing that keeps me on my knees."

    Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

    [Clearly points to the theme in his song Grace from the album, All That You Can't Leave Behind:]
    Grace, she takes the blame
    She covers the shame
    Removes the stain
    It could be her name

    Grace, it's a name for a girl
    It's also a thought that changed the world

    And when she walks on the street
    You can hear the strings
    Grace finds goodness in everything

    Grace, she's got the walk
    Not on a ramp or on chalk
    She's got the time to talk
    She travels outside of karma, karma
    She travels outside of karma

    When she goes to work
    You can hear the strings
    Grace finds beauty in everything

    Grace, she carries a world on her hips
    No champagne flute for her lips
    No twirls or skips between her fingertips
    She carries a pearl in perfect condition
    What once was hurt, what once was friction
    What left a mark no longer stains
    Because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

    Grace finds beauty in everything
    Grace finds goodness in everything
    When asked if the idea of Jesus as Son of God seemed rather farfetched, Bono replies:

    Bono: No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was—the Messiah—or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched …