Monday, June 27, 2005

Better happy than right

SLARTIBARTFAST: I'd much rather be happy than right any day.
ARTHUR DENT: Are you happy then?
SLARTIBARTFAST: No. That's where it all falls down, of course.

Finally, Douglas Adams' bestseller makes it to the big screen. In what Christianity Today calls Dr Who meets Monty Python, h2g2 the movie is funny in parts, and cynical in sum, perfectly mirroring our postmodern times.

I've never really finished reading the book (my copy dates back to '93) and I couldn't quite understand the fuss about it being a 'classic.' But I'll probably make another attempt now that I've caught the movie. Read Crabby Apple Mick Lee's interesting take on the movie here.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Kingdom Service

Last weekend of the term hols. 8 kids – teens 13 to 18 years. 3 adults. We called it a ‘boot camp’ but it was really an extended sleepover focused on discipleship and learning tools for sharing one’s faith. We titled it, God’s Kingdom Strikes Back!

So what does it mean to ‘follow’ Jesus, we asked? No easy answers, but if “to love is to obey” then we all need to work out how our devotion is expressed, and what fruit is evidenced by obedience. We watched Star Wars IV: A New Hope; Michelle taught us a rope trick (Wa-ah, like magic!); everyone learned to write down their testimony (good enough for a 2-minute sharing); everyone had to do some community service picking up trash around a couple of neighbourhoods (people are unashamedly dirty!); Junie made us talk about our bad habits (!); teams took turns to serve and do the dishes. Finally, Sunday morning at Titiwangsa: face-to-face encounters, putting into practice what was learned. Ended with lunch with some adults, with the kids talking informally about their experiences.

Learned a few things:
[1] Call it what you like - 'conversion' or 'accepting the Lord,' but a spiritual awakening is often a journey that defies order
[2] You may know a lot about Jesus because you were born in a Christian home and you may go to church diligently, but unless you’ve met Jesus personally, you do not know him at all
[3] It’s the easiest thing to talk about Switchfoot, Star Wars, PS, and everything else, but your throat goes dry when the subject is about your faith in Jesus
[4] How you use the washroom says a lot about who you are
[5] Many things are possible when the heart is in the right place

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Luke 18:16

NB: Read one teen's review (June 16 post) of the retreat here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Malaysia's population 26.1million

Malaysia's population has gone up by 100,00 to 26.1 million in the 2nd quarter of this year, so says the Statistics Department. 24.3 million were citizens, with 16.06 million bumiputras (13.1 Malay, 2.8 non-Malay), 6.1 million ethnic Chinese, 1.8 million ethnic Indians, and 312,000 other races. Is that a big number in a country measuring about 330,000 sq km?

For comparison, the 5 largest metropolitan areas (2000 figures) in the world are:
28m Tokyo, Japan
20.1m New York City, US
18.1m Mexico City, Mexico
18m Mumbai (Bombay), India
17.7m Sao Paolo, Brazil
For more trivia on population, hit this link.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Legal Guide for Bloggers

Electronic Frontier Foundation is a non-profit group of visionaries and volunteers who work tirelessly to protect digital rights. They have recently released an excellent guide informing bloggers about their rights on issues such as copyright and libel laws. With corporations and governments increasingly scrutinising what's published online, ignorance and naivete are invitations to trouble, and no blogger with half a brain wants any of that (least of all me). Here's what the EFF has to say about free speech online:

"Whether you're a newly minted blogger or a relative old-timer, you've been seeing more and more stories pop up every day about bloggers getting in trouble for what they post.

Like all journalists and publishers, bloggers sometimes publish information that other people don't want published. You might, for example, publish something that someone considers defamatory, republish an AP news story that's under copyright, or write a lengthy piece detailing the alleged crimes of a candidate for public office.

The difference between you and the reporter at your local newspaper is that in many cases, you may not have the benefit of training or resources to help you determine whether what you're doing is legal. And on top of that, sometimes knowing the law doesn't help - in many cases it was written for traditional journalists, and the courts haven't yet decided how it applies to bloggers.

But here's the important part: None of this should stop you from blogging. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy, and Internet bullies shouldn't use the law to stifle legitimate free expression. That's why EFF created this guide, compiling a number of FAQs designed to help you understand your rights and, if necessary, defend your freedom."

Visit EFF and read the complete guide online.

There's an amazing amount of information about almost every facet of blogging (check links and related stories). For instance, about blogging safely, EFF recommends that you (1) use a pseudonym and don't give away identifying details, (2) use anonymizing technologies, (3) limit your audience, and (4) don't be googleable. Oops. Looks like I've broken every taboo there is to break....

It was Intel's CEO and co-founder Andy Grove who said, "Only the paranoid survive." Yeah, but that's the sort of advice that puts a damper on living. Is there such a thing as 'balance' in the brave new digital world then?

That others would see and be bold

I blogged about two Americans arrested for distributing Christian literature in Putrajaya a couple of months back. The two, Rick Rupert and Zach Harris, were briefly jailed and deported ten days later after charges were dropped. After his release, Rupert has gone on to talk about his incarceration saying he was honoured to be part of 'something that would give Malaysians more religious freedom.'
“[During my interrogation] I told them as much as I possibly could about the Glory of God expressed in the face of Christ! We told them that we loved them because God loved them,” Rupert said.

“They were the elite of the police force in this nation, and yet, often-times the Holy Spirit completely turned the tables and they were the ones who felt like they were on trial and had to answer our, or His, questions,” Rupert said.

In the first cell Rupert and Harris were put in, the other prisoners had scratched a calendar on the wall and looked forward to each day so they could check another day off; one more day closer to being released.

“I thought about how in the lake of fire there would be no calendar to mark another day off, there would be no end in sight and no hope of ever being released. As I thought about what that would mean [for them], it broke my heart and I wept,” Rupert said.

After Rupert shared with the prisoners, many asked the guards for Bibles. Though none of the Malays got Bibles, a Chinese man did. The Bible was read constantly by four Chinese men until a guard took it away three days later.

Rupert and Harris were separated from each other and Rupert was moved away from the other prisoners to keep him from sharing his faith with them.

The other prisoners yelled to Rupert's cell and asked him to explain how their sins could be forgiven and he yelled the message back to them. The prisoners nearest him would pass the message down the line."
Rupert added: “Our sacrifice communicated, to the authorities and all watching, that obeying Jesus is worth going to jail for. Pray that we would still be bold and that others would see and be bold as well! Read the rest of the story here.

Is God saying something to us?

Related Stories:
Americans Accused of Giving Christian Pamphlets
Jailed American plans to go on living in Malaysia
Strategic World Impact

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Day out at FRIM

Nice day out in the cool of FRIM

The sky was overcast in the morning when we got ready to leave for FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia) for our homeschoolers Junior Public Speaking picnic cum workshop. Thankfully, after a short drizzle the sun came out and everything was great. It smelled cool and fresh and I was glad for the breezes that blew. The FRIM grounds were rather quiet (except for the occasional vehicles) although it was a public holiday, so we almost had the place to ourselves. All in, about 14 homeschoolers (from 8 to 16 years) and assorted family members came together for a fun day out in the cool green forest reserve on the fringe of KL city.

The year-long JPS sessions are modeled after Toastmasters and the kids meet once a month. Facilitator Amy Ratos thought it would be nice to hold it outdoors for a change, and so it was. The JPS workshops are inclusive, involving homeschoolers from different persuasions and faith communities. Our boys are 15 and 13 and they have been homeschooled all their lives. Not only do we have time to be a family outside the pressure-cooker culture foisted on child and parent by conventional schools, it’s been a wonderful trip building friendships with so many like-minded families, doing so many things together. Also, it never fails to amaze me to see what our kids are capable of when they are given the time and opportunity to put something like this together by themselves (of course with a little supervision).

Some Links:
Virtual Malaysia has a short write-up on FRIM and some nice photos here.
Malaysian Nature Society which manages FRIM on behalf of the state government has a Nature Education Center (NEC) at FRIM. Read about it here.
Read my follow-up piece on SecondChance.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Storm in a Teapot

A hodge-podge group of people led by a self-styled ‘god’ called Ayah Pin has emerged as the latest thorn in conservative Muslim Malaysia's side. Ayah Pin and his mainly Malay followers (Malays are constitutionally and incontrovertibly Muslims in Malaysia) belong to a deviationist sect called “Sky Kingdom,” founded by this simple 65-year old kampung man.

To the uninitiated, Ayah Pin, 65, once known as Ariffin Mohammed, seems like just another aging Malay villager. To his followers in the eastern Malaysian state of Terengganu, however, Ayah Pin is a reincarnation of everyone from Shiva to Buddha to Jesus Christ to, yes, the Prophet Mohammed.

On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon Ayah Pin's colorful Sky Kingdom compound near the town of Jerteh saw acolytes and visitors gathered around God, in person, at the coffee shop.

God is smoking Salem menthol cigarettes and his rheumy eyes suggest a lack of sleep, perhaps due to the late-night sessions of religious fervor and consultations held at his compound.

"When I was 10 years old, I found myself to be dead for 40 days and up in the sky. Since then, it's a long story and the details don't matter, but I've been dead 17 times and each time have come back to save the lives of all people, of any religion," says Ayah Pin.

His simple philosophy is that all religions are one, and should live in peace with each other.

"All things belong to Ayah, I am the Big Father. All Muslims belong to Ayah, all Hindus belong to Ayah, all Christians belong to Ayah ..."he says in a trailing voice. In most countries, Ayah Pin would be dismissed as the local crackpot and left at that.

Not so in Malaysia.

Here it is a daring thing to follow the Sky Kingdom. Four of Ayah Pin's followers have been labeled apostates by the government's religious authorities and forced to do time in jail for trying to leave Islam.
[Read full account on Weekend Standard here.]

The Sky Kingdom commune has been getting a lot of press lately since Ayah Pin and his sect ignored official orders to demolish giant structures including a teapot, an umbrella, and a concrete boat, among other objects, on their property. It is almost unimaginable for Muslims to turn apostates in the country, much less to thumb their noses at Islamic fundamentalism, but there you go.

The structures were built over 10 years ago at a cost of more than RM1mil. Ayah Pin told this to The Star during an interview at the commune yesterday. He was sitting in a wooden coffeeshop with about 30 followers of all races.

Rosli Abdul Samad, the liaison officer of the commune, said the structures combined the architectural elements of major religions such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. "It is aimed at promoting universal unity. The teapot signifies the purity of water and its medicinal values. It is associated with all major religions, including the water oozing from Lord Shiva’s forehead.

"The umbrella is a place for people to take shelter beneath God and it can also be associated with the nine planets in Hinduism. "The boat symbolises the love of parents." [More]

Malaysiakini speculates on a tantalising connection between the sect and the nation's ruling elite with this recent story.

Whenever Ayah Pin and his aides are in Kuala Lumpur, a visit to the Umno headquarters in Menara Dato Onn is inevitably on the itinerary. "It is just to discuss some business," quipped an aide when asked last year about these regular visits. We prefer to update them on our activities personally so that they’re aware of the situation on the ground."

Another described the visits as an opportunity to obtain Umno’s assurance that villagers will not be unduly harassed or barred from carrying on with their activities, so long as they do not go overboard. "We maintain a good relationship with Umno and we’re all supporters of the BN. As long as they know what we do and where we go, there is no problem with the authorities. We are not a threat to anyone," he repeatedly explained.

Last year, a group of Umno leaders even joined the group on a visit to an Orang Asli village in Endau-Rompin along the Pahang-Johor border. They stayed a few days to enjoy a cultural performance and to go deer-hunting, which is Ayah Pin’s hobby.

Related Stories:

In Malaysia, Islamic Civilisation is promoted
The big Pink Teapot