Saturday, June 17, 2006

Mustard seed Kingdom

Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." Mk 4:30-32

I dusted Dr Peter Toon’s slender book God’s Kingdom for Today off my shelves and read it as preparation for a message on parables of the Kingdom of God. It’s an old book but certainly a gem worthy of more than a second look (the author dedicated it to John Stott). In a section titled The Kingdom of God and Social/Political Action, Dr Toon mentioned God’s requirements for a just society as spelled out in the Torah. This summary was originally reproduced in a 1979 book The Church and Its Social Calling published by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.

1. Everyone’s person and property are to be secure.

2. Everyone is to receive the fruit of his labours.

3. Everyone is to be secure against slander and false accusation.

4. Everyone is to have free access to courts and is to be afforded a fair trial.

5. Everyone is to share in the fruit of the ground.

6. Everyone, down to the humblest menial and the resident alien, is to share in the weekly rest of God’s Sabbath.

7. Every Israelite’s dignity and right is to be honoured and safeguarded.

8. Every Israelite’s inheritance in the promised land is to be secure.

9. No woman is to be taken advantage of within her subordinate status in society.

10. No one, however impoverished or powerless, is to be oppressed or exploited.

11. No one shall be above the law, not even the king.

12. Every person’s God-given place in the social organism is to be honoured.

13. Punishment for wrongdoing shall not be so great that the culprit is dehumanised.

14. Concern for the welfare of other creatures is to be extended to the animal world.

How all these translate into social action is something to reflect upon, but I felt its message was as pertinent today as when it was first issued. Point 9 may rankle a few people, but the Torah does claim to be God’s word to God’s chosen people, for all time. Beyond the culture debate, the whole notion of a God (Yahweh) who enters into covenant relationship with a people to found a new society predicated upon “historical experience and moral decision” (John Bright) appears to have had no precedence in history. That set Israel apart from the rest of the then ancient world.

"What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?" (Deut 4: 7,8)

There is a social and political dimension to the privilege of being a Christian who now belongs to God’s extended Kingdom. Somewhere between the Kingdom that is now here and the one that is yet to come, is a clarion call for Kingdom people to put hands and legs to what is revealed of its King’s heart. Mustard seed faith’s gotta do what mustard seeds are supposed to do.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Factors of Significance

Dr Kamal Jit Singh who writes for The Edge recently introduced his readers to a new catchphrase: Factors of Significance. Say it with me, “Factors of Significance.” I like it. There’s a nice ring to it, and it sounds terribly, uhm, significant. But what does it mean?

It’s the in-thing in constructive thinking tools. Factors of Significance “works on the basis of isolating what are known as ‘aggravating factors’ and then attempting to understand their significance or relevance to the problem.”

Let me see if I’ve got it right:

For instance you have a problem in hand, say, reading. What is it that stops people from reading books in Malaysia? Aggravating factors may be any or all of the following: people have no time, books are too thick, too dense, too boring, uncool, books are too expensive, English language deficiency, lack of education, internet pull too strong, gaming too tempting, movies too attractive, bookshops too far, libraries too few... the list could go on.

Then you look at the number of people who made Dan Brown a millionaire dozens of times over by buying and reading his overwrought Da Vinci Code. Or perhaps you could refer to the Harry Potter series. Some educationists laud J.K. Rowling for making reading pleasurable again for millions of children. Though not writer and critic A.S. Byatt who called her books “....derivative motifs from all sorts of children's literature...written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons...”

But I digress.

What’s it about Da Vinci that sold over 100 million books? Malaysians who hardly ever read their PC manuals were all over themselves telling others how they read the book 2 years ago – long before Tom Hanks inked a deal to star in the movie.

And what about Harry? Suddenly kids were queuing up in droves to be the first to read Harry’s newest misadventure. Weren’t these the same kids educationists and teachers wrote off as pretty much brain-dead, zonked out by too much TV and computer games?

Now if you want to find out what is it that makes people read, you would want to sift through all these aggravating pointers and figure out factors that are genuinely significant. Okay, maybe you want to find out why the above books found millions of readers. Factors of Significance. Hmm. Not all factors are equally aggravating you see, and not all are equally relevant too. So you really have to examine all possible factors that are causing the aggravation, including the least expected ones. Then scrutinise the checklist again to find out the really significant ones.

Bet you can come up with quite a few.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Young Writers Camp 2006

Someone said the Young Writers Camp gets better and better every year. Don’t know about that, but since it came from someone who had been to 3 previous camps, I’ll take it as a compliment. We had about 46 campers (the largest number we’ve ever had) with some 12 or 13 facilitators (that’s a record too). These were the guys who did practically all the legwork. Some more than others, but they did well.

The great thing about this year’s camp was that it involved facilitators who were alumni of phases magazine themselves. Now in their early twenties they’re here coaching kids who were their age when they caught the reading and writing bug. We had a load of fun. The trip around historical Melaka was a smart move. Mythical Melaka. Legends. Rumours. Musty museums. Beca drivers and sidewalk artists. Oooh. Just the thing to test the kids’ creative writing chops.

This is not meant to be a slight, but I thought the bunch of teens we had this year did not include outstanding individuals (or highly strung types) who left their mark on some of our earlier camps. I mean people who read widely, were conversant with writers and ideas, and whose writings expressed a familiarity with word and wit. Sure we had a few who certainly showed promise as writers and poets (too few), but a lot of them were, uhm, so textbook-cast it showed in their pieces. Painful. The writing salon on the last day put lots of kids on edge I think, this being the first time for most of them. Still, they were very sporting - many literally worked thru the night to write their essays. Top marks for the fantastic effort. Oh yes - quite funny the way the facilitators fell into the Simon Cowell-Paula Abdul-Randy Jackson mould at the Salon (unconsciously I must add).

On the other hand it’s just a 3-day camp and the campers more than made up for what they lacked by their energy and enthusiasm. So it’s a hopeful start nevertheless – the fact that they actually paid money for a writing camp is positively heartening. Woohoo! I think they're sort of pumped up sufficiently to appreciate that words are not an end to themselves – they’re flesh and bones waiting for life to be breathed into them.
There’s a new world abornin’ - as they say - and I’m just glad to be a part of it.

(Photo inserts credit: Owen)
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