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 na├»ve 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.