Saturday, February 17, 2007


Of those who say nothing, few are silent. ~Thomas Neiel

It’s Chinese New Year, and some of our clients want us to wrap things up, what with a long leave looming ahead (we’re closed for a whole week!). So some of us have been putting in a lot of extra hours to make sure there’ll be no loose ends until we come back 26 February.

Just yesterday we made a second presentation to a prospective client, a fifty-year old establishment in the heart of Segambut’s industrial park. It’s a typical family-run Chinese distribution company, one of many in Malaysia, that has become the backbone of the economy. I was told that we would be presenting to owners who understood English, but speak little of the western tongue. Could we also speak in Cantonese, Hokkien or Mandarin, they asked. Er, ok. We had Mandarin speakers in the team, so all’s well.

I suppose we didn’t quite know what to expect, but there he was, the Boss. He was dressed in a plain collared t-shirt (unbuttoned), shorts, and slippers. He shook our hands and asked us to start. It was a cordial meeting, very casual, very down-to-earth. But the Boss sat though the whole meeting without uttering a word. No, actually he did speak – in Mandarin. Pointed, with economy of words. Very few words! He smiled, with restraint, which put our team at ease.

One of our team commented that the Boss, by keeping his cards close to his chest and in saying no more than a few words, was ‘smart.’ Very smart man, my colleague said again, and we agreed with bemusement. So did the man buy our proposal? “Good thing, none of us came in jacket and tie,” someone quipped. Even a fool is considered wise when he holds his tongue, I replied, referring to that familiar verse in Proverbs, as well as to that inscrutable Chinese manner of holding one’s tongue. Anyway, as someone said, silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute.

I have been reading Yiyun Li’s 'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.' (Thanks, Arthur, for the recommendation) It’s the author’s first book of short stories and the winner of Guardian First Book Award 2006. What a commendable first book it is! In one poignant story, a gay son who now resides in the US meets up with his devout Christian mother. She comments that her once quiet son has become garrulous, opinionated. It’s America, he tells her: “It’s not easy to shut up in America. They value you not by what’s inside you, but by what’s pouring out of your mouth.”

Silence makes a lot of us uneasy. Think of a conversation that ends up a monologue. You turn interrogator or teller of tales to a reticent listener, and the conversation withers in discomfort. Think of church, where silence has been practically programmed out of our worship experience. We seem to fear silence. “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him," says Habakkuk. Or as Qohelet advises, God is in heaven and we are on earth, “…so let your words be few.”

There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silent for sure. God, help me to know the difference.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Church as gym

"You need to have the expertise and
the guidance of someone else.
You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way
about Christianity and about what the church is:
The church is the gym of the soul."

Sylvester Stallone

It’s hard to imagine such a quote coming from an actor previously not known for profound thoughts. But here is something that I would endorse heartily. (Hat tip: Ron Reed)

The church is indeed the gym of the soul. (Yeah, people get battered there all the time!) Relationships are testy stuff but they are also the stuff of life, critical to wholeness and holiness, even. In a church where believers claim to share a personal relationship with Jesus, (and where it’s easier to give intellectual assent to church as ‘Christ’ Body’ than to truly live as one), where else to build spiritual muscles then in a local church? After all the Church was God’s idea, birthed in eternity, covered by the blood of the Lamb, and heir to every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1).

Interestingly, gym as metaphor for church does not suggest passivity spent waiting in a departure lounge while quietly imbibing spiritual energy . If that’s your point of view, then Brian McLaren thinks you ought to sniff out Jesus’ secret message about real life in the Kingdom (interview with Brian about his latest book here): There is interaction, an ‘interactive relationship’ - to quote Dallas Willard’s language for eternal life – with God the King, and the King’s subjects. (Then again, aren’t relationships supposed to be interactive anyway?) Dare I say that Stallone sounds like Willard who wrote that, “Churches that took seriously the kingdom of God would look a lot like training centers—training centers for life, a life interactive with God”?

The thing is, of course, to be a church that’s also a place of refuge - where believers find safety and acceptance, guidance and nurture, to grow into God’s new society. We are edified as well as edify. The form is secondary (although no less important, to my mind). All this demands as much humility as it does grace. Surely if we cannot live as one, we have nothing to offer our divided world. As a film reviewer said in another context, we begin with honourable intentions, but end up with a prayer for mercy. Notwithstanding what critics say about hypocrisy within and blemishes galore, why should anyone give up on the Church when God hasn’t?

"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Eph 1:10,11)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

A group of 38 Muslim scholars and leaders from around the world responded to Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany on September 12 last year. J. Dudley Woodberry commented in ChristianityToday that their open letter provides Christians am opportunity for much needed dialogue. Prefaced with a verse from the Qur'an
“Do not contend with the people of the Book except in the fairest way…” (Qur’an 24:46)
it went on to address the following, among others:

  1. Reliable Qur'anic commentaries place the saying, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256), in Muhammad's second period, when Muslims were in a position of strength (what Muslims call "the occasion of revelation") during Muhammad's earlier period, which parallels biblical prophets.
  1. It was acknowledged that political Islam spread partly via conquest but the greatest part of Islam's expansion came from Muslim missionaries.
  1. Jihad, can take many forms besides war and that legal guidelines concerning warfare similar to the historic Christian Just War theory exist.
  1. Muslims do believe in God's immanence, which they said is clearly communicated in the Qur'anic assertion that God is closer to a person "than his jugular vein."
  1. While there are clearly theological differences between Christians and Muslims, theological questions Christians have debated—such as the relationship between faith and works or divine sovereignty and free will—Muslims have debated, too.
  1. The letter acknowledged religious values common to Muslims and Christians and agreed with the pope's statement that “dialogue between Christians and Muslims is………a vital necessity."
The Muslim scholars added: "[I]t seems to us that a great part of the object of inter-religious dialogue is to strive to listen to and consider the actual voices of those we are dialoguing with", quoting the Qur’an that "If they incline toward peace, then you should incline" (Qur'an 8:61) -although they qualified the verse by saying it did not exclude "legitimate self-defence and maintenance of sovereignty."

Full text available at
The Pope's lecture and subsequent fallout.

Myanmar Christians in the crosshairs

A recent report by Peter Pattison in the Telegraph dated 21 January 07 is alarming. Headlined, BURMA 'ORDERS CHRISTIANS TO BE WIPED OUT' it will be a bleak year for the church in Myanmar if it is true:
The military regime in Burma is intent on wiping out Christianity in the country, according to claims in a secret document believed to have been leaked from a government ministry. Entitled "Programme to destroy the Christian religion in Burma", the incendiary memo contains point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.

The text, which opens with the line "There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practised", calls for anyone caught evangelising to be imprisoned. It advises: "The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilise its weakness." [Read more]
The military junta rules Myanmar with an iron fist, ignoring international calls for democratic reforms and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Charles Colson in his Breakpoint Commentaries calls on Christians to pray, among other things:

And then we need to educate ourselves about what is going on in Burma and educate other Christians, including our pastors, who should speak out from the pulpit, and, finally, our neighbors. Much of what is done in places like Burma is made possible because the world’s attention is diverted. Tyrants count on our being more interested in American Idol than in genocide when they formulate things like the Burmese “Program.” [Read more]

Monday, February 05, 2007

Switched identity

Now here's a conundrum that's going to be interesting to follow. Reuters has the story::

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian Muslim man switched at birth in a hospital mix-up wants to change his name after being reunited with his ethnic-Chinese biological family and become a Buddhist....

Sales executive Zulhaidi Omar, 29, was raised in an ethnic Malay family, and discovered his true origins only after a Chinese woman at a supermarket where he worked noticed his features were similar to those of her father, newspapers said.

"The girl who was always looking at me was actually my elder sister who suspected that I was her brother because of my striking resemblance to our father," the Star newspaper quoted Zulhaidi as telling reporters.

Three visits by the girl and her parents convinced him to take a DNA test that confirmed the ties, he added.

Zulhaidi, who unwittingly spent 20 years just a few miles from his real family, now lives with them in Batu Pahat in southern Johor state. But it took him six months before he began to call his parents "Mum" and "Dad"....

The other changeling, Tian Fa, 29, was brought up by the Teos, married a Chinese woman, and has no intention of seeking out his biological parents, the Star said.

Now Zulhaidi wants to renounce Islam and take a Chinese name.

Whether Muslims can convert to another faith is a tricky legal question in Malaysia, where Islam is the official religion, although freedom of worship is a constitutional right.

Ethnic Malays are deemed to be Muslim from birth, but the country's highest civil court has yet to rule on whether they have the right to convert to another religion.

The Star broke the story Saturday 3rd Feb:

Yesterday, the family highlighted their plight to the media because they wanted to change Zulhaidi’s name to a Chinese name, as well as his religion on his identification card to Buddhism instead of Islam.

As a child, Zulhaidi said, he had always felt out of place because he was teased about his Chinese-like features and never did seem to feel part of the family. When he was 13, Zulhaidi decided to leave his family in search of the truth.

“My Malay father had left us when I was three. My mother remarried, but I could not get along with my stepfather so I left,” he said.

“I took on odd jobs such as waiting at tables and working at a car wash to support myself throughout my secondary school.”

Zulhaidi, now a sales executive, has a diploma in Business Administration.

His natural father Teo Ma Leong, 66, revealed that among his six children at home, his fifth child Tian Fa has dark features.