Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Virgin Birth (5 Views)

What's all this gobbledygook on Jesus being "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary"?

1. Traditional View (booo-ring)
God and sex don't mix. And no way the birth of the Christ would have anything to do foreplay, orgasms, nasty thoughts and stuff.

Key element: Avoiding the sinful associations of sex.

2. Traditional View (stiff) 
If Christ was 'conceived by Joseph and Mary, and born of the non-virgin Mary' He'd still have the taint of original sin in His DNA. This jeopardizes Christ's capacity to be the Saviour of all mankind. Christ is fully Man, yes, but He's also the new kind of Man able to save the old kind i.e. a new Adam put on earth to undo the devastation wraught by the offspring of the old one.

Key element: Christocentric 'composition' required for the redemption plan to take effect.

3. Historico-Critical View (bad) 
The early Christians included it into oral tradition and, eventually, the Gospels as further (contrived) validation of the divine status of Christ.

Key element: Historical fictionising, myth-making and tale-spinning for community window-dressing purposes.

4. Historico-Critical View (real bad) 
Mary wanted to hide the truth of Jesus' conception, which was most likely due to her being impregnated by a Roman soldier (with consent or otherwise, it's not important).

Key element: Brushing over harsh realities of Second Temple Judaism life under the heel of Rome.

5. Historico-Critical View (wic-ked)
A wonderful story like the virgin birth makes perfect sense in a narrative about God redeeming and re-creating the world by giving Himself and doing something New Creation-scented. This is the kind of thing a world-transforming and creation-renewing God would do i.e. it simply makes sense as part of a beautiful whole. Furthermore, Matthew and Luke would hardly want to risk the ridicule and suspicions (wouldn't the miracles have created enough problems already?)

Key element: Beauty and 'fit' of virgin birth within overall Gospel narrative.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Web 2.0 Marketing for Educational Institutions - What Should Happen Before

In considering an e-marketing strategy oriented around Web 2.0 technologies for educational institutions, it’s best - in line with the theme of Seth Godin's Meatball Sundaes - to go back to the overall ‘structures’ and ‘culture’ of the organisation and work from there to the gadgets and tools (e.g. blogs, twitter, facebook, the works). The spirit of a visionally transformed corpus must come first, then the flesh of technology will follow.

It would help to use Godin’s principles cum questions for Disney (see p.223-6 at the end of the book) :

1. Direct communication between producers and consumers – after students fill up the forms or make an enquiry or initiate the ‘first contact’ with XYZ College, do they hear from it again in a way which isn’t intrusive and which in fact brings delight? Do these potential and on-going clients receive anticipated, personal and relevant messages (a Godin mantra)? And, of course, do they receive it in the medium they prefer (e.g. some may not like email)

2. Direct communication between consumers and consumers - the New Marketing is consumer-driven i.e. ultimately the students are the Marketing Department because their Word-of-Mouth is more powerful than all the brochures and flyers. What is XYZ doing to encourage student reviews, student influence, student sharing? This goes beyond ‘friend2friend’ promotions and must go deeper to ‘unofficial sharing’ (see no. 3 below)

3. Amplification of the voice of the consumer and independent authorities – how much does XYZ respect the influence and voice of everyone who visits our sites, of our students, our partners, our clients, etc.? Does XYZ ‘host’ any platform or space as a way of allowing and encouraging peer reviews of educational products? Is XYZ seen to ‘amplify’ the voice of the average man on the Web?

4. Stories spread, not facts – what’s the ‘story’ of XYZ's next educational offering? What’s the ‘story’ of its new lecturers, its next events, its latest branch? What will people be spreading after they attend or are exposed to its latest function, PR event, communique, etc.? (Note: here is where YouTube, Facebook and Blogs could be most effective, because every upload is a potential story – colleges need to give people a reason to include it into their RSS feeds)

5. Extremely short attention spans – how is XYZ tackling the fact that students and consumers nowadays have extremely short attention spans? (Tip: send shorter and more frequent messages instead of longer and less frequent ones); this is also where content must always catchy, helpful and worth remembering! Again, people need a reason to ‘come back’

6. Tuning in to ‘spare time’ – why would the average student want to think about XYZ college in his/her spare time? What would make the college attractive/engaging enough for young adults to want to make room in their minds for XYZ marketing/community material after classes?

7. The Long Tail (mass customization/diversity) – what is XYZ doing about the customization of education? Instead of giving ‘fixed’ educational offerings to students, can they be allowed to choose what and how they wish to study? Can XYZ raise the level of student-selection and student-design of programs?

8. Google and Search Engine – apart from manipulating search engines such that XYZ ‘shows up’ more often, can the college offer great experiences which many students will talk, blog and/or leave updates about thus leading to more serach-result pages with XYZ at the top? What can the college do to encourage more people to hyper-link to the college’s website or blogs? (Tip: provide online education!)

9. Triumph of the Big Ideas – what redefinition or reinvention or re-conceptualisation is XYZ pioneering? Is XYZ known as an innovator, constantly coming up with new products to get people talking?

10. Shifts in Scarcity and Abundance – what is so rare that people intuitively value (e.g. clean open and creative space)? What’s so abundant that people hardly bother anymore (e.g. classes!)? How does XYZ College stack up in the abundance/scarcity ratio and is it focusing on improving this ratio?

Godin’s point is that unless the above are dealt with effectively, unless the ‘spirit’ of the organisation has changed, simply adding more gadgets or Web 2.0 tools may be nothing more than a façade (which people can very easily ignore anyway). So it’s best to get the substance and culture right – the technology will take care of itself.

The substance is key; the gadgets merely the key-chain.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Traditional & Emerging Worship Styles : Walking the Fine Line

The worship wars and segregated worship dilemmas have plagued the church for at least two decades now. Being the card-carrying pluralist that I am (grin), I wouldn't insist on any particular answer or solution. What I would make compulsory, though, is clarity of thinking about what's good and bad in whatever we do.

So at the cost of super-simplification, I've divided Christian worship services into two forms - Traditional and Emerging - and what follows is a listing of what's good and bad about each.

The obvious reminder is that the non-traditional folks need NOT 'condemn' the liturgical guys, nor vice-versa. The hope and plea, though, is that whatever 'structure' we decide on, we do it well, for God's glory, and walk the fine line between the Devil of lifeless fossilization and the Big Bad Sea of spineless selling out to culture.

1. Traditional Worship (done poorly):
  • everything in the tradition remains - everything the way it's always been done (regardless of Biblical priority or emphasis)
  • denomination is king
  • multi-media and younger age-groups largely ignored in favour of fixed liturgical structures
  • missional outward/other-ish focus de-prioritized - it's all about the members themselves
  • fossilization

2. Traditional Worship (done well):
  • everything helpful in the tradition remains to encourage spirituality, growth and discipline; there exists a recognition that structures were forged in specific historical contexts and that some facets of said structures may no longer be supremely relevant (e.g. the robes?)
  • denomination is important but tradition can 'give way to new movements of the Spirit' (a phrase I borrowed from a certain Pastor Peter Harritz)
  • mild experimentation allowed to add creative/contemporary flavour to worship
  • members educated on the process and discipline of 'ancient practices'
  • stability and strong sense of the sacred

3. Emerging Worship (done well) :
  • focuses on what Jesus told us to do(!), e.g. baptism, eucharist (obviously I can't hide my Lutheran bias here...*smile*
  • emphasizes what's helpful to the world and what's beneficial for the kingdom/ministry i.e. a missional focus a'la "the church exists chiefly for its NON-members"
  • creativity and learning encouraged
  • the Word made fresh (and delivered in an infinite variety of forms)
  • rich multi-media experience to reduce 'dis-connect' between Sanctuary and Life i.e. encourages a blending of the sacred with the secular (or a sacralisation of the everyday things of life)

4. Emerging Worship (done poorly):
  • do whatever we feel like doing - emotions and culture reign supreme
  • disregards tradition entirely, baby dumped out wiht the soap-water
  • poor theology, poor foundations - tossed around by cultural winds

Monday, November 30, 2009

"We're about to go out for lunch..."

That's what the nurse/receptionist told me when I registered for my check-up at the Kumpulan Medijaya in Damansara Utama. I gave a disgruntled non-smirk and eventually I had my check-up, though one can easily tell from the demeanor, the eyes, the faces (and the lack of colour in them) that they didn't want me to be there.

I left swearing I'd never go there again, not unless I was stretchered in because a hydrant, then a tree, crashed into  me and my car.

We're about to go out to eat - can you come back at 2.00 (the time was 12.15-ish). So let me get this right: You do not wish to serve me because you're hungry? Well, why don't you pop a biscuit whilst you scan me for rabies?

Blurred categories and marginal concepts are great for creativity but c'mon, when it comes to lunch you're EITHER "In" OR "Out". When it comes to your doors, they're EITHER "Open" OR "Closed". If you want them to be closed, then say we're closed. Nobody wins if you want to be closed but are forced to admit you're open.

That's messed up - and it shows in your service.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christian Core Doctrines and Apologetics : A Workshop Outline

(Note: The below outline is almost certainly unsuitable for the group of U-20 participants in January and will be modified accordingly)

Next January's 2-day workshop at the Residential Bible School should be fun. The outline below obviously leans heavier towards apologetics but I hope to slip in additional basic beliefs throughout:
1. Trinity and the Question of God
  • How do we know that God exists?
  • Why choose Christianity instead of another faith?
  • How can we make sense of the Trinity?
2. Jesus: Person, Message, Work and Resurrection
  • Who is Jesus? Did He really exist?
  • What did Jesus mean by the Kingdom of God?
  • Why should we believe what the Gospel writers wrote about Jesus' miracles?
  • What happened on the Cross?
  • What is the significance of the Resurrection? How do we know Jesus truly rose from the dead?
3. Suffering & Evil
  • Why does a God of love allow evil? What is He 'doing' about it?
  • Why doesn't God stop tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons, etc.?
  • Why must God create Hell for non-Christians?
4. The Nature and Process of Revelation
  • How can we be sure the Bible is reliable?
  • Why can't God do 'sky-writing' to make His revelation unambiguously clear?

If You Sell Jesus, People Won't Buy

There is a prevailing temptation among Christians to focus on 'selling' Jesus instead of helping people discover and know Him. In marketing parlance, it's the tendency to be product-oriented instead of being marketing-oriented.

Christians generally have this 'thing', this template, this experience, this absolute truth, that they expect others to appropriate and embrace, failing which we judge (albeit quietly and sometimes not so) that everyone else except us are the ones who need fixing.

And may be the case that people need to find the Lord in their own ways, come to Him with their own hang-ups, their own categories of thinking/doubt, their personally nuanced questions. I recall (with regret) my response a colleague some years back. She told me she found that church services were kinda boring. I was thinking in my heart that if she tried to live the principles taught she wouldn't find it boring i.e. either she didn't understand or she didn't try.

This was my problem (and still is in some sense): I focused entirely on what she hadn't been doing right.

I didn't ask her what her spiritual-emotional needs were. I didn't ask her what she expected from church.
I didn't ask her how she felt church could be improved to present Jesus in a more accessible manner. I didn't ask her what she was in fact 'looking for' in life.

I all out fired my guns, mentally (and triumphantly) categorised her as a hedonistic anti-religious dud and. Of course I didn't say all this to her. I ended up telling her, well why don't you just switch church? She eventually left it - whose 'fault' was that, you think?

Apologetics: 6 Pre-Answer Attitudes to Adopt

In a typical 'Christian apologetics' session at a local church group, the typical mix of questions (based on my experiences) would roughly consist of the following:
  • 60% Apologetics/Philosophy/History (e.g. "If God was good, why [fill in your favourate global problem]?", "How can we be sure that Jesus was raised from the dead?"),
  • 30% Christian Education (e.g. "What is the rationale for infant baptism?")
  • 10% Misc/Uncommon/Weird Questions (e.g."Why is God referred to in the Bible as HE and not SHE?").
Whislt it was tempting to focus on the answers to most of the above, I'm glad I didn't (and besides it was only an hour-long gathering). Instead I tried to target the pre-answer attitudes, especially when doing apologetics (i.e. 'defending' the faith intellectually). Here are some:

1. It's okay to remain silent or say, "I don't know" - especially if you don't know the answer (duh) or the malice/hostility index is too high, or you're too emotional or angry, and you just know it's no longer a debate but a debacle. We don't see Jesus arguing very much during his passion, right?

I still remember Glenn Miller saying that we can raise more questions in 5 minutes than we can answer in 50 years. Read: There is simply NO NEED to feel helpless when barraged with questions you can't respond to. Because if satisfactorily answering EVERYTHING asked was a criteria for legitimate belief, no one could believe anything!

2. It's more important to communicate lovingly than logically - basically an extension of no.1, and this wouldn't be worth saying if not for the fact that there are many apologists and theologians who are EXTREMELY logical but whose logic seem to correlate very well with their arrogance and unkindness.

Apologetics is about ministering to people. It's a good chance to prove not only that Christians have good reasons for their faith, but also to demonstrate that we care MORE about merely giving answers (and sometimes we make the 'point' that scoring argumentative points can be a bad way to live).

We're not mini-professors each one of us; we are mini-replicators of Calvary. And Calvary was one BIG BLOODY answer beyond answers and reason and even words.

3. Think about (or find out) the real question/charge being thrown, not just the presenting one - "Why do Christians have so many denominations?" may be a simple historical inquiry OR a thinly veiled insinuation (i.e. "Why are you Jesus freaks so messed up and always breaking away from each other?"). When we focus on the real issues, as always, time and energy is better spent.

4. Ask what you can learn from the question - it keeps your eyes fixed, if not on ministry to the questioner, then on self-development. Much better than aiming for just another intellectual triumph which usually comes along with the idea that, "Ah, this is just another ignorant anti-Christian attack by a dude who has an attitude problem and who's either stupid, incoherent, heretic or all three!"

5. Read 1st Peter 3:15 and 16 - take to heart the 'gentleness and respect' (15b) parts, the Christlike behaviour part (16a) and the slander-reversal parts (16b). Don't get carried by the 'always be ready to give an answer' thinggy, as if you just GOTTA respond like a pro if you're challenged (grin).

(Finally a more 'technical' one...)

6. With simply outrageous, near-illogical questions, refrain from answering and work on the questioner's logic - e.g. for something like, "If we're made for God's glory, does this mean we are puppets for His amusement?", it's best to ask - gently and respectfully - for the thought patterns and the process leading up to the conclusion. Like, "I'm really curious as to how you went from one point to the other...I'm really interested to understand why you would equate A and B, etc."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ravi Zacharias - God's Prophet of Logic

The last time I heard Ravi Zacharias speak, I was riveted. Who Are You, God?, his sermon delivered at Calvary Church about a dozen years back, made the 45 minutes seem like less than 4.5.

Razi Zacharias is eloquent, verboise and strong. His mission is absolute/exclusive truth, absolute morality, absolute meaning. Zacharias' no.1 target is moral relativism, religious pluralism i.e. the idea that morality is entirely a private matter, that it's "up to us" to choose our beliefs. His main instrument is logic, the system of thought seeminlgy hard-wired into our thought-lives.

His chief tactic of demonstrating this is to throw the issue back to the questioner. For example:

1. "How can you say that your religion is the absolute, exclusive truth? Isn't this disrespectful of other religions?" (Response: All statements are necessarily exclusive. When you insist that "All religions are the same", are you not excluding those who DISAGREE with you?")

2. "How can you say that logic is an Either/Or affair? What about those worldviews in which logic is Both/And?" (Response: For these worldviews with a Both/And way of thinking, is it EITHER Both/And OR nothing else?)

3. "How can you believe in absolute truth? Aren't all truths relative?" (Response: Is that statement, "All truths are relative" also itself relative?)

4. "Who says life must be coherent? Can't people live incoherent lives?" (Response: Do you want my answer to you to be coherent or incoherent? This last one was a (relatively) new one I picked up from the Mp3.

It is not surprising that Ravi Zacharias is the model (almost) every young Christian thinker aspires towards. There are few occasions more scintillating in intellectual dialogue than to be able to demolish another's argument using the person's own explicitly stated premises or theses. Trust me I've had my share of such fun a long time ago (of course, problems arise if we get life from such occasions, as if every apologetics question is a chance yet again to use such intellectual judo).

Like Aristotle, who once said to someone who challenged the laws of logic, "I can prove you're wrong. Just say something.", Ravi Zacharias' intellectual ministry is securing this foundation of truth and using it as a platform to bring out the message of Jesus. In this endeavor, Zacharias is second to none.

He has made the "toughest questions" also the easiest to respond to, at least on a logical basis.

Perhaps Zacharias could consider moving on to the "other", less logically-oriented questions and issues. For whilst he has established there is no other answer to given set of questions, one sometimes wonders if apologetics all about the law of non-contradiction?

Must one establish absolute truth/meaning/morality before, or as a precondition to, one's sharing of the story of Jesus? The lectures sound great in a public forum but I get a feeling there's demonstrably less enthusiastic response if used in private. Do we really expect people to say, "Oh, yeah, I didn't realise I was being illogical?" to you?

And if a person remains reluctant to submit to the law of logic, can the law of Christ work via another less absolute route?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Real Music From Heaven : My Mum-in-Law's DUMC Experience

Last Monday my mum-in-law shared an incredible experience she had at DUMC.

It was a choral session after the Chinese worship service on Sunday. The instructor was teaching my mum-in-law (together with about 50 other people) how to sing 'spiritual songs', which took the form of chanting "Hallelujah-Hallelujah-Hallelujah" over and over again in a melodious manner. Not quite a mantra but not exactly a hymn either.

(Nothing particularly bizarre about this practice, IMO, as one could see it meditatively focusing on God, with the quasi-chant as a kind of psychological 'cursor'; it helps to channel the mind.)

Then something strange happened. According to my mum-in-law, they were singing, humming and crooning until at one point they stopped - but the sound of singing continued!

It was sense-surround, everywhere. My mum-in-law said it was the most beautiful singing (sans words) she had ever heard. Everyone else in the room heard it.

After a few minutes, the instructor explained that it was the singing of angels (see Rev 5:9-11, 14:2-3). Two words: Awe-Some!

No, I'm sure it wasn't a hoax (I know there'd be more than a few DUMC-ers who would've exposed it by now). This wasn't a pre-recorded CD somewhere (but even if it was, I reckon my mum-in-law wouldn't mind purchasing the track!).

No, this wouldn't count as a hallucination because - as Christian apologists are fond of pointing out apropos the Resurrection - mass hallucinations are non-existent unless all of them have been given a certain drug (in which case it'd be mass-drugging).

No, it isn't a (gimme a break) "natural phenomenon of sound" which results from a group of senior (non-professional singers!) singing a single word.

So what was it? Was it really angels?

Frankly, until I hear it myself, I can't be sure if angels were actually singing in the 'vicinity' of my mum-in-law. But I can be sure that the sound brought joy to my mum-in-law; I can be sure there was no strong/direct contradiction with Scripture (I mean, it's not as if the angelic choir began telling the group to buy Genting shares...); I can be sure that the hearts of the people in the session were in the right place (or rather, I have no reason to suspect otherwise).

So as far as I'm concerned, I have little reason to doubt that it was an angelic cum kingdom effect the group experienced. A touch of God in a special way. A group of people were blessed deeply by a Biblical-oriented spiritual experience of some kind. And if we can't live with that, what can we live with, right? (smile)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Salesman

The salesman was passionate, knew his product better than I knew the back of my thumb, was well-groomed and had a good voice. But I swear I wanted to dash from the room after about half an hour (but, out of the boundless courtesy of my Asian heart, decided to stay for the full 75 or so).

If he was working for my organisation, I'd have to remind him to NOT:
  • dispense with the small talk inappropriately - now if the client wants to move on, fine and super-good, but if the client is doing the small-talking, it's plain yippee-doo-daa RUDE to jump straight into the sales pitch
  • talk for 96% of the time - ever come across the illusion that more words equates to greater control of the situation? the operative word: il-lu-sion
  • keep repeating himself - of course, unless you're an expert comedian or scholar how can you talk non-stop for more than an hour on one particular subject WITHOUT repeating yourself? and, most importantly, how can you expect folks to enjoy a monologue which could've been 50% shorter without loss of content?
  • frequently employ emotive/subjective non-content fillers - e.g. "It is my passion to say this...", "All I want to do is give this away...", "I can't believe why some companies say No..." and other en-crap-sulating phrases
  • start the slideshow really late - a full 45 minutes into the meeting, in fact; worse, the slideshow repeated much of what he said, wasn't all that great and he was reading from the slides (whilst continuing at least three of the bullet-points above)
  • ignore asking even one question about the client and his institution's needs/wants/methods - this is worse than a date where the other person talks about only two people and you're not one of them

The item in question was a good (if incomplete) offering. I would've said Yes in a third of the time taken. I would've learnt more if the pitch from the reading the materials and viewing the slides myself.

Instead I was treated to a guy who cared too much about himself and his stuff - which is to say a depressingly ordinary dude.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

5Ps' of the Lord's Prayer

What follows is an attempt at 'structuring' the Lord's Prayer. I'm assuming since Jesus taught us to pray thus, it would reflect what God Himself 'looks for' in a prayer (content-wise, at least). I'll also assume the prayer should reflect a sense of priority, completeness and cogency. So here goes:

1. Praise - all due reverence and honour; without privileging any particular 'form' of worship / adoration / practice, it's pertinent that hallowing God's name is a supreme priority
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.

2. Praxis - nothing here about believers 'going to heaven', rather it's about us 'bringing heaven down'
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven

3. Provision (both physical as well as spiritual) - it's worth reflecting on the possibility that forgiveness is a form of inter-dependent spiritual nourishment(!)...
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.

4. Protection - temptation and evil (all personally- and relationally-destructive forms of anti-life) seem to encompass all we need to be wary of
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

5. Purpose - that which makes sense of and completes all the fore-going i.e. we pray all of this because ultimately it - everything - 'goes back' to He Who is the Source and Lord of it all
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. for ever and ever.

Game Show vs. Reality Show

The program I'm teaching now has an assessment structure where Multiple-Choice Questions portion is allocated 30% and a Group Report 20%. Another 50% goes to a final exam which, alas, also includes an MCQ segment.

I confess this gets to me. I mean, MCQs' are more often than not a memory game. Not only is pointless memorisation of definitions encouraged, answering via elimination and guessing will always be a temptation. It's like we're preparing our students to be game-show experts when in the real world, the skills required to succeed usually approximate those in reality-show scenarios.

  • GAME show: general knowledge/trivia, guessing, luck, fastest to the timer, individual memory, abstract and 'useless' information, closed book, IQ, etc.
  • REALITY show: people skills, organisation/managerial skills, planning / forward-looking, negotiation / persuasion, relationship-building, conflict management, "open book", EQ, etc.

It may not be a bad idea to introduce Apprentice-style projects to high-school kids as a main form of assessment (instead of merely something the Entrepreneur Club organises once in a while). Likewise, as I suggested to a group of Form 3 kids, it might be better to reduce the number of subjects taken for SPM and spend the time/effort doing, say, free-of-charge internship at a local bank or corporation.

A good education isn't about the number of As' one scores at the end of school. It's the portfolio of skills one has mastered for use at the start of the next phase of education - life itself.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bertolt Brecht's "Interrogation of the Good"

This poem was quoted in Zizek's Violence; being 'good' has never been more complicated, not least in a world where capitalism may be the very cause of the global problems (e.g. famine, bombings, poverty, etc.) its most celebrated players pledge to resolve.

To this dangerous paradox, Brecht seeks to give (paradoxical) voice. It's good (of course) that we read him thoughtfully:
Step forward: we hear
That you are a good man.
You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.
You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?
You are honest, you say your opinion.
Which opinion?
You are brave.
Against whom?
You are wise.
For whom?
You do not consider your personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend.
Are you also a good friend of the good people?
Hear us then: we know.
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration
of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

10 Most Over-Rated Things in the World

#10 Corporate Protocol - minimal value if done, maximal damage if left undone

#9 Bared Flesh as a Sex Appeal Source - it's not what you expose, it's what you have; in sex as in much else, less is more.

#8 Tourist Attractions - holiday brochures are written by biz-people, remember that...

#7 Meetings - 'nuff said.

#6 School Examinations - we really don't need whole generations of GAME-SHOW experts; we need more REALITY-TV players; different skill-sets entirely. (Note: I'm not endorsing reality shows but the superiority of the skills required to win them over against the speed-recall 'expertise' demanded to beat the other guy with the buzzer)

#5 Democracy - "will of the people"? only in politics...

#4 Biblical Exegesis - you've got the author's intentions, the reader's contentions, the world-behind, the world-in-front, the editing process, form problems, textual genres, etc. and when all that is done (which it never is) and ASSUMING two experts can agree (which they almost never do), one still has to ask, "So? What now?"

#3 The Internet - bubbles, time-wasters, trash, spam, overload. The only thing harder than finding a needle in a haystack is to find consistent purpose and enrichment on the WorldWideWeb.

#2 Answers - too many, too poor, too proud...

#1 Tomorrow - and I don't mean the weatherman's report...I mean all the Present(s) and friendships we've sacrificed because we couldn't stop obsessing about the next 24 hours, and the next, and the next...Tomorrow the concept is the human miracle and its curse.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Thou Shalt Not Be Online During Worship"?

Face-booking and Twitter-ing during a worship service? Now that's (surprisingly) a first for me. Text-ing on a mobile during the sermon? Sure. Accessing an i-Bible during the Bible-reading? Why not.

But updating one's online status during the offering and before Communion? Hmm. With a growing percentage of worshippers owning PDAs' and i-Phones and, most importantly, bringing these to church, ignoring the issue would be unwise. Still, loads of reactions in the pipeline.

You can slam it for being disrespectful to God and the church, for invading the sacred with the cyber-secular (and very profane), for not being 'all there' for God, for not being able to give even those 2 hours to the kingdom without being distracted by the world (and its wide-web), for selling our your weekly fellowship with God to the altar of social media cum technology, for being unwilling to shed your worldly baggage to touch the divine, for not, in a word, wanting to worship truly.

Or, you can take an opposite extreme (or, in today's cool-scented parlance, polarity) and say that's what innovation for the kingdom is all about, that's the sacred growing on the secular, that's redeeming FB with the presence of worship (we don't, after all, know what the person is 'doing' on facebook whilst the sermon is on-going), that's 'infecting' technology with the spirit of worship, that's connecting the kingdom with the online community, that's ushering the online community into the Temple of God.

Neither is rock-solid. Who's to say that worshiping in "spirit and truth" (formerly the main criterion of Christian worship now rendered more complex than ever) is forsaken simply because the worshippr is updating his Profile? Conversely, if we can accept face-booking, why not bring in the burgers, the office, the TV and 'worship' at the same time?

Who's to say that unless we follow a precise liturgy we are not worshiping? Since when were all Christians bound by some theology of worship constructed in a specific place (usually continental Europe) at a certain time in the past (usually between the 14th and 16th century)? On the other hand, how would we distinguish a mere social gathering with a gathering of the people of God to worship, since traditional theological categories aren't binding anymore?

How far can technology work itself into the faith before "constructive infusion" becomes "alien invasion"? When does "being connected" become an anti-thesis to connecting with Being?

What will it be? "Thou shalt NOT Twitter during worship"? Or, "Twitter-ers Please Include the Latest Church Announcements"? (Go here for at least one point of view)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Think CV or You're Not Thinking

The title-quote came from Tom Peters.

It's not your Job Title anymore. It's not the Department you head. It's not (even) the Number of Years of experience which matter entirely. And it sure isn't that long list of Academic (and quasi-academic) Qualifications you proudly list at the end.

Job Title, Department, etc - these won't cause your CV to 'grow' very much. What would?

It's your projects. What systems have you implemented/integrated? What awesome government institutions have you helped establish? What new branch or outlet did you spearhead the creation of? What cool (and, hopefully, 'famous') clients have you work with on what cutting-edge process-engineering gig? What fresh methods and tools have you worked with?

Rule of thumb: Ensure you can add at least twenty substantial lines to your CV every year. (It's a challenge for me too, but where's the fun in Easy, right?)

War & Tragedy in Sand

The most breath-taking 8 minutes I've had all week...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The First Is the Only

Denzel Washington - in a movie I can't recall - told his terrorist investigation team that after a building blows up, the first 24 hours of investigation are the only 24 hours.

I'm exaggerating, but I think it works with students, too. The first lesson is, strangely enough, the 'only' lesson with them. Mess up your first hour with them (i.e. bore them, anger them, confuse them) and you've had it. They'll always remember.

On the other hand, do a great first job, and you've stamped solid expectancy upon your listeners. This doesn't of course guarantee success the second round but it's easier to go into Round 2 with a good Round 1 then to rescue the game in Round 2 after a horrendous Round 1.

TV producers know this. Hence, the high-quality pilot episode. Ditto, the pilot lesson.

(Now I remember the movie. It's called The Siege where DW starred opposite Bruce Willis. Now if only I put my memory cells to more useful endeavours...)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bagan Pinang: The Politics of Political Defeat

It may exist in the ether somewhere. I hope it does, though I'm not holding my breath.

You know, that letter cum article published quicktime after the Pakatan defeat at the hands of Barisan in Bagan Pinang? The one where we read of top Pakatan leaders (maybe even the PAS candidate Omar himself) and/or pro-Pakatan writers:
  • congratulating Isa and BN on the victory and pledging to work with him for the welfare of Bagan Pinang's community (maybe even mentioning specific projects which could benefit from experts in the Pakatan camp)

  • focusing more on what Pakatan failed to do (and the resources and steps they can take in the future, this one comes close but lacks depth; this one is certainly better) than on how unfair Barisan's victory was (and/or how it's 'really' a defeat in disguise)

  • providing firm reasons why Pakatan remains the right choice instead of why Barisan is the wrong one (I'm sure what Pakatan stands for is as important as what it stands against, but let's face it the former isn't exactly what's always being shouted from the mountain tops, eh?); Lim Kit Siang's call to go back to the drawing board is surely a move in the right direction, although I doubt he needed the parting shot about UMNO's inability to stop corruption (which sounds like an euphemism for, "I hate to lose" given that it doesn't add value to anything and certainly won't change anybody's minds)

  • NOT making sweeping statements like "BN endorses corruption because Isa was corrupt" which not only sound fallacious (like "Pakatan endorses party disloyalty because Anwar enticed 31 Barisan folks to switch camp") but also smacks of pot-and-kettle mentality (like Chelsea complaining that Manchester United players are exaggerating the impact of fouls committed on them - yeah, and the Blues are what? 100% honest-to-referee-and-God saints?? )

The Pakatan-oriented reactions to Bagan Pinang have to be such that it doesn't illustrate yet again the nature of the game we know as Malaysian politics. The game has its unique rules of engagement : Heads you're corrupt, Tails I'm correct.

You can bet your Malaysia Kini subscription that had the situation been REVERSED (e.g. had Pakatan fielded a popular candidate with a controversial history because all other means were exhausted), you would certainly hear Lim Kit Siang, Anwar et al talking about how politics is complex and flexibility is needed to make progress, how we're a "maturing civil society" and we can't always think in black-and-white, how (a'la Najib) we need to put aside dark histories and focus on the future, how we mustn't succumb to political insinuations about the character of candidates who "have the people's trust" and - you get the point.

In any other scenario where the loser slams the winner for winning, we'd call it 'sour grapes'. But in a Malaysian bi-election, we call it 'fighting corruption'.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lifespans, Body Counts and the Existence of God

At a discussion this morning about suffering and evil (and the existence of God), I asked the class how they felt about an 84-year old woman who recently died. Did her death (from heart failure) 'challenge' their faith, raise doubts about God's goodness or power or love, or anything like that?

The unanimous answer was: No. She was old, she lived a fruitful blessed life, she died of natural causes and no one at any time felt any 'tension' between her passing and the faithfulness (let alone existence) of an all-powerful God.

I said that's cool. I'm glad no one has problems with an 84-year old lady passing.

Now, what about an 8.4 week old baby who died? Would that event pose a problem to their faith?

Unsurprisingly, everyone nodded (some more urgently than the others). Everyone had a problem with that. Everyone agree this would be a heart-wrenching tragedy which MAY (thankfully, not yet) strike at the heart of their faith and cause them to question God.

Without intending to resolve theodicy once and for all, I then shifted into BARGAIN mode and said, "Well, so 84 years is cool, but 8.4 weeks is not cool, correct? Then let's work down the line. What about someone who died after 80 years? Is that cool? Yes? Alright, how about 75? Or 70? Or 65? Let's in fact push it all the way to 40 - what about a 40 year old person who died of a heart attack? Would you doubt God's power, love or existence if this happened?"

Generally the answer was No, Not Really (read: God's existence remained secure and whilst dying at 40 is far worse than passing at 84, it's still nowhere near dying at 2 months old). Then I pushed it further down: How about dying at 35? 30? 20? 15?

At this stage, I trust the class got the point.

The accusation about God being unjust or un-loving or impotent resulting from the deaths of certain individuals often involves an arbitrary standard or definition of what constitutes an 'appropriate' lifespan, a life 'well-lived' and an 'acceptable' death. Whilst the deaths of children are absolutely tragic and heart-breaking, these events wouldn't supply us with any definite logical ammunition by which to challenge faith in God.

Take another problem: Deaths caused by tsunami waves. The 2004 Indian Ocean tragedy resulted in about 230,000 fatalities. Whilst we fully sympathize with the bereaved families of victims (and whilst apologetics should be the last concern of the Church at such times), we needn't bow to intellectual attacks to deny the existence of God on account of the tragedy.

Because the bargain game comes to play again: 230,000 dead = God doesn't exist, right? Okay, what about 200,000 dead? Or 150,000? Then what? Would it be acceptable to hold that God exists if just 100,000 died?

Whether the answer is yes or no, this exercise highlights the impossibility of drawing an absolute line from "X number of people died" to "God doesn't care or can't do anything or doesn't exist".

Because whilst I may feel 50,000 is an okay level, another person may feel even 20,000 is too high. The question remains: Whose standard (of 'acceptable tragedy') are we following? And who sets these standards? What if people feel that should even ONE person die of a tsunami, that itself is sufficient reason to withhold trust in God? (Note, though, that this would raise further questions: What is that same person died by falling off a cliff, or being hit by a car? Would that be fine? If not, what would be and, critically, why should everyone else agree?)

Natural disasters, infant deaths and deaths in the prime of life - all bad. But still, logically speaking, no unassailable reason to deny there is a God who's given Himself for us and looks after us - on both sides of eternity.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why Should I Stay?

Honestly, why should I stay?

You repeat shibboleth after shibboleth, or banality after banality - stuff which are either irrelevant or cliched to death.

Why should I stay?

You stand behind the podium repeating (nearly word for word) what your (extremely boring, I'm sorry to say) slides already show.

Why should I stay?

You have no stories, no movement, barely any variation in tone, hardly a smile and zero connection. It's almost like you're using so much energy 'getting it right' that you've forgotten about 'getting it across' (effectively).

Why should I stay?

You don't seem to recognise that real value comes from a network of people learning together, as opposed to one person giving a 'lecture'. It's like you're more concerned with what you're saying that what we're learning.

Why should I stay?

You drone on and on, being entirely predictable, mechanical, adding almost no value to the textbook except becoming a walking one.

Why should I stay?

Worse of all, the best part of the workshop - lunch - has next to nothing to do with you or your lecture and thus becomes your great undoing. My blood's moving down from my head to my guts (thanks to all that beef and curry), I can say one thing with absolute honesty: I do NOT want to sit and listen to somebody drone on and on about something I can read on my own time and in a better situation.

So it's critical you put yourself in your audience's shoes the next time you're speaking. It's not about whether their bosses told them to come or if the topic is of great urgency (what topic isn't?) or if you've got loads of acronyms tagged after your last name.

It's about you giving a very convincing answer to that question burning in every one of your participants: "Why, other than the free meals, should I stay for this talk?"

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fresh Questions for Christian Apologetics

Apologetics commonly works a framework consisting almost entirely of just TWO questions:
  • What's wrong with the anti-theist argument?
  • What's right about the theistic argument?
This is a great way of 'defending' the faith, attaining faith-friendly forms of certainty and upholding the truth as one perceives it.

But are there other objectives the apologist could think about when deciding on a response, e.g.:
  • How do I make friends with the anti-theist? What can I say/do to communicate not merely the truth of the Christian world-view but its love and passion for renewed relations?

  • What are the insightful overlaps between the two sides? What common evidence or data-perspectives to they share?

  • How can my opponent helpfully use my arguments and views, and how can I find his to be of practical value? Is there a common goal we could work on in parallel?

  • What is the spectrum of views regarding the subject? What are the consequences of choosing one or a few or neither? And are these consequences critical?

  • Could we work together to produce a new synthesis, a fresh vista and a new take on the problem?
Some may object to say that the above doesn't constitute apologetics but another form of ministry. Frankly, I'm not big on pigeon-holing except if I get to renovate the hole a little.

In this case, I'd insist that the above questions 'fit' the Apologetics label well as they are meant to 'defend' the faith against its own intellectual abrasiveness (leading to ruined friendships) and the imbalanced focus on the negative side of the other POV (leading to non-exploratory and, well, pigeon-holey forms of thinking).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Orange Juice @ Kelana Jaya McD's

Don't ever go to the McD's restaurant near the huge Giant Superstore in Kelana Jaya.

Not unless you've walked 20 miles in the desert and your only hope for food is a McD voucher and your legs happened to give way in that area (but even then try walking to the one in SS2). Not unless Shiva or Buddha or Jesus or Allah came to you in a dream and told you to patronise that place - or else. Not unless you're on the Amazing Race and those dudes in the production team hid a yellow flag in that place.

Not unless you wish to risk an insult.

It's Raya Day 1 and a few of us (with our infants and kids) were having lunch there. Well, kids being kids, it took barely ten minutes for a cup of orange juice to fall down and spill all over the floor. Apologetically, my friend informs the waiter/crew member/food-service executive and guess what she's told: The mop is in the cabinet in the corner.

Did you read that? My friend, when reporting spilled juice, was told to mop the thing up herself. Being a very gracious person she did. She went to the back, opened the cabinet, took the mop out, brought it back to our table and began mopping up.

Here's what really wins that place the Malaysia Boleh Service Award: That particular employee was casually washing his hands and adjusting his shirt whilst my friend was mopping the floor.

Wow, dude! Give yourself a raise, will ya?! You're just what this industry needs!

Am I the only one who thinks this particular burger branch sucks orange juice? Apparently not.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Derrida/Caputo & Lacan/Žižek

(I've been reading, or mor accurately trying to read, Žižek's Puppet & the Dwarf, and what follows are my efforts to synthesize the author's ideas. I find I understand someone best when I compare him with another, hence the binary form below).

Derrida and Lacan. Two Frenchmen, two Jacques, with two major interpreters cum 'successors': John Caputo and Slavoj Žižek (who's also a big fan of Hegelian dialectics). Two pairs, both masters of deconstruction and dialectical psycho-analysis, respectively.

Deconstruction: Destabilising meaning completely due to the infinite play of traces and the flux of power structures in community. Dialectical Psycho-Analysis: Stripping bare meaning to expose the paradoxical motives, intentions and desires behind every text, worldview and community ("the unreconciled is real; the real is unreconciled", Caputo's own description of Zizek's views, see his review of one of the latter's latest books).

One says that meaning cannot escape the constraints of the text; another says that the true meaning of any text is that which distorts its meaning.

One exposes the oppression in perspectives; another shows how the Oppressor needs the oppressed (without knowing the need). One shows how concepts have their genesis in antagonism; another exposes how antagonism is at the very core of all concepts. One seeks to destabilise the status quo; another demonstrates the inherent instability in all systems residing in that which the system believes is its most stable element.

One demonstrates how Good and Evil are social constructions; another concludes that Good and Evil are equal because Good needs Evil. One is always seeking the elusive in-deconstructible 'Justice' (beyond the horizons of textual meaning) but despairs that should we reach this it would only prove that we haven't; another declares that Justice is the unconscious striving for its Opposite, that we can only obtain perfect Justice through the worst injustices (and when we've reached it we would've only arrived at the beginning).

One aims to deconstruct knowledge; another focuses on the knowledge that other people know what we are up to.

One's hard to grasp; the other's, frankly, impossible.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Justification by Faith: A Case-Study in Theological Innovation

Last week I spoke at the pulpit about innovation, about how 'rock logic' (critical thinking, truth, certainty, etc.) was cool but not nearly enough and how we need to adopt more relational, contextual and creative forms of thinking.

One issue I didn't get to emphasize was that of justification by faith which I believe illustrates the route of innovation taken by our forefathers in the faith, no less than the likes of giants such as the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther.

I believe, in line with the New Perspective of Paul and Law, that Paul constructed his theology of justification by faith as a way of fusing together the two warring worlds of Jew and Gentile. He had to think of some way to merge these two communities under the umbrella of God's people. The end result was NOT, contrary to popular Evangelical thought, a 'Law-free' new covenant stripped of its Jewish character (Acts 15 simply doesn't bear this out) but a covenant people composed of both Jew and Gentile, yet elevating neither.

This is to say that Jew and Gentiles were equal and one in Christ, hence the famous sayings in Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11. Justification by faith, therefore, was first and foremost an ecumenical and ecclesiological issue and only secondarily a soteriological one. Paul's theology of 'salvation through faith' was not primarily concerned with challenging a supposed Jewish understanding of 'salvation through works' (not least because it's become very difficult to hold that the Jews during Paul's time believed in 'earning' their salvation!) but was about finding a way to connect the two communities.

This was relational and synthesis-thinking par excellence as it had to be constructed and imagined against the 'rock logic' of centuries of entrenched Jewish thinking, not to mention Gentile suspicions of the Jews.

There is simply no flawless absolute logical line from the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth to the 'new Israel' consisting of Jews and Gentiles (in fact, it could be said that Jesus and Paul were working with different questions altogether!).

Fast forward about one and a half millenia. Martin Luther innovates again with justification by faith. This time the doctrine served to burst the old wineskins of Roman Catholic thought which, fossilized by the burden of the Church's greed and politics, had been burdening and oppressing the people. Luther's doctrine was a new wine of hope, of liberation, of release from the institutional dictates of who can be forgiven, how guilt is dealt with (and, most importantly, how much all this will cost).

Luther, just like Paul and Jesus before him, had to battle against the current of 'conservative' theology and thinking. Like Paul (and certainly Jesus), Luther was condemned as a madman, a heretic, a destroyer of the faith itself when he - like his predecessors - was really trying to reform it for a new future, giving the people of God a new vision, a new hope, a fresh way to God.

Justification by faith, often used a stalwart doctrine of absolute truth for salvation which excludes all other ways, is really an on-going drama in the nurturing of relational and contextual truth for a new kind of salvation which includes rather than excludes. (A new kind of salvation? Yes, just ask Paul's peers and the Luther's theological detractors).

Innovators. Let's not merely celebrate their outputs, but their spirit of creativity as well. Let's not be content to enshrine their thinking in stone and liturgy (and seminary brochures) but may we imitate the way they thought. Most importantly, let's not be afraid to rethink our theology so the glory of God may be seen and embraced anew (that's kinda corny but this piece feels rather 'stiffer' than normal so, yeah, let's rock the worlds - Christian and otherwise - with new thinking).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Value-Adding Lectures

Lecturers contribute a bare minimum if all they do is repeat what's in the text or the slides. The situation is worse if you have a group of students (as I believe I do) who are independent learners and can absorb all the basic references without much help.

What, then, ought lecturers do to add value? Here are some ideas, by no means exhaustive:

  • Give a fresh slant to what's in the textbooks - either give a new perspective or just challenge everything the writer says

  • Lecture on a related sub-topic (one not in the generic handouts)

  • Facilitate a discussion or a case-study (thus taking the class away from recall-mode to application-mode)

  • Get the students to present

  • Show a video

  • Facilitate a project which takes them out of the classroom (kinda like a case-study on steroids)

  • What else?

Adding value nowadays usually involves creating new value. Whatever this is, it's probably not repeating what's already available.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Extra Classes

What if all students were required to take a course they were neither good at nor passionate about and, critically, has next to nothing to do with their program specialisation?

Computer Science students who scored low on Art should be given a canvas, paints and the license to insult Monet. Hotel Management students who've never read a word of poetry their whole lives should read both Williams (Shakespeare and Blake). Mass Comm folks who have only been at one end of the bakery chain (the consumption one) should drop their cameras and pens and get their hands dirty with the dough. Medical would-be grads should be thrown in some gala and forced to be a one-day journalist.

And don't get me started on theologians and philosophers. Seriously, all of them should be enrolled in ad-hoc courses on Architecture, Impressionistic Art, Computer Design and what-nots.

Why? Because it's a tragedy if all our brains are focusing on is what we're trained and desire to do. I can understand if full-time professionals can't find the time to apply their minds to something completely alien (parenting notwithstanding), which is why full-time students shouldn't be given the luxury not to.

By working on something out of our worlds, we'll be treated to de facto occasions of 'thinking/experiencing out of the box'. Our heads will be (gloriously!) messed-up and, with some luck, hopefully our ideas will be, too.

Mix it up. Juice it down. Shake it all about and turn it all around. Serious creativity comes when we go out of our minds.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

When is Theological Innovation NOT Acceptable?

(Knowing me, this will probably be a real short list, *grin*).

So let's dive in. When shouldn't we be creative when it comes to thinking about God, the Bible, Church, etc.?
  1. When it's about sin and evil - sadly there were times when the Church endorsed evil like slavery, racism, sexism and genocide. May we never revert to these eras. Yet, I reckon our problem is that we often stop at the labelling of sin and don't think hard enough about what to do next (apart from condemnation)
  2. When it's about historical events - I'm fine being creative with a question like, "What did Jesus believe about Himself?" but I'm not sure I've got patience for a statement like, "Jesus didn't exist." I also feel it'd be somewhat unhealthy for the Church to be overly creative with the facts and reality of Jesus' resurrection, though the work of historiography (and especially the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus) must go on, IMO

Toldcha I wouldn't have many bullet-points (smile). But what would you add? What would you consider a non-negotiable of the faith?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Combating Not-Even-There-Ness

It's strange how I get more work done at the office than at home. Peace and quiet can be more of a deterrent to efficiency than phonecalls and emails.

Countless times - at home, in hotels, in airport lounges - I proudly believed would be perfect to get some writing and reading completed but, sigh, like a tyre fast losing air my resolve is gone in a matter of minutes. Either I channel surf or Web surf or dose away or read but a few pages before dying to get out of the place, or something stops me from being the productivity demon I know I can be - if only I put my mind to it.

Procrastination creeps up unexpectedly (how's that for an excuse?).

But why? Why is it so tough to get cracking when the settings is, apparently, 'just right' to work? And then it hit me. It's the same reason why making the classroom too cosy is a reeeeeeeeeal bad idea if you want your students' full concention : Cosyness equals sleepy comfort equals drifting/dreamy minds equals non-attention and not-even-there-ness.

Our minds follow the ambience of our bodies, which shadow the mood of the environment.

So nowadays I'm sure that if I want to get work done on my day off, I probably have to :
  • plant myself at McD's/Starbucks or anywhere where sleep is near-impossible (or improper)
  • 'build' pro-work momentum by reading the business section or deliberately calling up a colleague to talk shop
  • go or a jog so my mind doesn't easily go to snooze mode

It'd help to know what our best (and worst) times/venues for work and thinking are. One thing we don't want to continue is making the same mistakes over again - especially when deadlines are near.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When is Theological Innovation Acceptable?

By "theological innovation" I'd include any form of revisions to what's traditionally practised and/or believed i.e. it could be doctrinal, ecclesial, whatever. Without intending at all to do justice to this (god)-mother of all Christian questions, here's an outline of the conditions under which such innovation might be justified:
  1. When human needs are at stake - e.g. Jesus healing (and picking crops) on the Sabbath (read the Gospels)

  2. When new communities need to be included into the people of God - e.g. Paul and his relaxation of Jewish ethnic laws so Gentiles can be included into the Body of Christ (read Acts, Galatians, Romans, etc.)

  3. When institutional structures have become a burden or source of oppression - Luther proclaming 'justification by faith alone' in direct contrast to the teachings of the Church at the time (join a Lutheran church, *grin*)

  4. When times have changed and a fresh air and/or direction is required for rejuvenation and social realignment purposes - e.g. the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century and the Emerging church network in the late 20th century ( the Web?)
It's not about encouraging conflict with Scripture; it's about championing God's purposes in specific (and often fresh) contexts which may conflict with the church's established way of doing things.

It's not about the ends justifying the means; it's about godly ends putting aside unhelpful means.

If theology is at heart the Church's answer to a set of questions, then theological innovation is what the Church does in the face of new questions. And in the shadow of an out-reaching missional God, shouldn't His people expect unfamiliar terrain?

Needs, new communities, bad structures and new worlds. God only said that His love never changes - for everything else, there's His Spirit, whose origins and paths no one knows.

Finally, look at the Cross - the single most incredibly innovative event in history (in every great sense of the words 'innovative' and 'history', not to mention 'incredible'). The God-Man dying as Man and God so reconciliation/redemption/salvation/glory can take place.

'Innovation'? We haven't even started.


The ads and CVs' and cover-letters all have that word: dynamic. Everyone claims to be that. It's so trite and worn-out you wonder if it continues to make any sense using that word. Especially when you consider how many people fail to cash the cheques their profiles write.

So here's putting some meat on that word 'dynamic':
  • Do you work fast and well? Can you superiors expect a high-quality event/deliverable way before they start to wonder what happened to it?
  • Are you enthusiastic and do you contagiously spread excitement and adrenaline in whatever team you're on?
  • Do you ensure that you never shy away from projects (especially if you're fresh out of school)? Are you always volunteering to do the hard stuff?
  • Do you have many ideas and are you always trying new things or offering new angles to old problems? Do you make it a point to keep sharing your thoughts and proposals?

The answer to the above is almost always yes or no. Even allowing for the natural downtime in mood, there should be no great ambiguity, not in the context of the workplace. Most importantly, 7 (or more) out of 10 of your colleagues should agree.

It's virtually impossible for someone to be constantly 'exploding' on scene and not be noticed - or, eventually, rewarded.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

All At Once

Today a colleague lecturing in law shared with me a great class activity. This would work for subjects like Law (obviously), Literature and Philosophy where a compelling case needs to be presented.

Select about half a dozen students, get them to prepare their case/speech/argument/whatever, group them in a circle, and make them talk simultaneously.

The rest of the students (who could be standing anywhere or even allowed to move from speaker to speaker) would be instructed to listen carefully and select the speaker they find most interesting. The speaker with the highest number of votes 'win'. Then we change speakers and go again.

All the ingredients for charged-up learner-centered learning are here:
  • multi-directional communication (instead of I-talk-you-all-listen-ism)
  • a competitive element with the class as a whole judging the winners (and not the facilitator)
  • initiative and creativity i.e. the students shape the learning (as opposed to the facilitator deciding exactly how and what will happen)
  • real-world simulation where we really do have to match our voices/performances against that of others (compared to totally abstracted superficial scenarios)
That's what it's all about.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


In my Problem-Solving class I like to put up common riddles and conundrums on the slides. I use these to illustrate different kinds of problems and (hopefully) encourage reflection on the students' own problem-solving approach (there are at least two: the Helicopter approach and the Path-Finder approach, but this for another day).

Some of the problems I put up have been floating around the Web for a few years, so it's inevitable that some students would already know the solution. In order to not 'spoil' the experience of those students who have not yet come across the problem, I then usually tell students already in-the-know to keep quiet.

Hold your horses. Let your friends try. Snicker all you want, but let them go through the experience themselves.

But guess what? Of the students who already know the answer, more than half of them simply HAVE to reveal it to their friends barely 7.5 seconds after the (obviously familiar) problem is shown. These students cannot resist letting their friends know that they know the answer.

That's us, isn't it? We'll break explicit rules to prove we know something. Especially if there's a chance someone else will say they know it too. And if they say it first, where's the fun/credit for us?

So here's a small tip if you want to get your listeners to speak up especially in those less-than-optimal learning times: Appeal to their pride of knowedge. Let them show they know. Best of all, make it look like the knowers are in a clearly better position than the non-knowers.

This keeps them snug and, most importantly, eager to know what comes next. I'm sure all presenters could live with that.

Used Book Sale

Please write to me at 'alwynlau' then @ then Possible contact-points:
  1. KDU College PJ
  2. Kelana Jaya / SS2 area
  3. Any stop along the LRT line (but pls buy at least RM50 in that case, 'k?)

Added (3rd November 2009)

  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Volumes 2-12), Frank E. Gaebelein (Editor) - that's 11 books (covering Old and New Test.), each one almost the size of a phonebook. RM50 per book, RM500 for the full set. (No, I don't have Vol I, which is really an Introduction to the O.T.; the Genesis commentary is in Vol 2)

  • The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker (Hardcover) - RM40

  • After Virtue, Alasdair McIntyre - RM30 [SOLD]

  • Divine Discourse : Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks, Nicholas Wolsterstorff - RM30 [SOLD]

  • Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown - RM10

  • Longitudes & Attitudes: The World in the Age of Terrorism, Thomas Friedman, RM20 (the book he wrote before he published The World Is Flat)

  • Ultimate Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy (6 Stories), Douglas Adams - RM40 (c'mon, it's eight hundred pages!)

  • The 47th Samurai, Stephen Hunter (hardcover) - RM10

  • Pale Horse Coming, Stephen Hunter - RM5

  • Havana, Stephen Hunter - RM5

  • Hot Springs, Stephen Hunter, RM5 (now you know what I did all those hours in the LRT to Ampang...)

  • The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan, RM10

  • Nice Work, David Lodge, RM10

  • Thinks, David Lodge, RM10 (Lodge is a philosophy/lit. professor who turned to novel-writing for, I dunno, carthasis?)

  • Lisey's Story, Stephen King, (reads more to me like Lisey's Grandmother's Story, but you might beg to differ...) RM10

  • Lord of the Silver Bow, David Gemmel (I'll throw this in FREE if you buy more than RM30 worth, otherwise it's RM8)

  • The Old Man & the Sea, Ernest Hemingway, RM10 (no no's not about males having phallus-related difficulties...) [SOLD]

Non-Fiction (though one can never be sure...)
  • Paul Between Antioch & Damascus: The Unknown Years, Martin Hengel - RM40 (anymore "classic" and we'd have to excavate this...)

  • A Marginal Jew, Part III : Companions & Competitors, John Meier, RM50 (the third installment of Meier's on-going magnum opus on the historical Jesus)
  • The Scripture Principle, Clark Pinnock (the original hardcover!), RM20

  • Consciousness and the Novel, David Lodge (where the novelist goes all in-teh-LEC-tual...), RM20

  • Revisioning Evangelical Theology, Stanley Grenz (if you're beginning to suspect that the theology you learnt 30 years ago might be a little out-dated...)

  • Jesus the Millenarian Prophet, Dale Allison, RM20

  • Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? David Fromkin, RM30 (if you're an enthusiast of World War I and you have not read this, then you're a traitor to the cause, *grin*)

  • The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene, RM20 (one of the best introductions to superstring theory)

  • A Thousand Suns, Dominique Lapierre (author of City of Joy, this one is like Cities and People of Joy...), Rm10

  • I Believe in Preaching, John Stott, RM10 (it's free if you're keen on going into ministry...)

  • Looking into the Future: Evangelical Studies in Eschatology (ed. David Baker), RM30, virtually brand new and almost 380 pages

  • Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament and Systematic Theology, (eds. Joel Green & Max Turner), RM25

  • Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton, RM10 [SOLD]

  • Waterbuffalo Theology, Kosuke Koyama, RM10 (a bit dated, but if you've been listening to sermons filled only with Western and Hebrew metaphors/concepts, this one's for you...) [SOLD]

  • The Post-Modern Pilgrims: First-Century Passion for the 21st Century World, Leonard Sweet, RM20 [SOLD]

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vision Trumps Other Senses

If the preaching was mainly images, it'd already be three times as recall-stimulating than if it were only oral. When you throw in both, it's six times more powerful.

In an age where power-point is used at almost every Church council meeting, it's a wonder why oral presentations remain primary in sermons. There are a few commonly asserted reasons:
  • preaching by speaking alone is the way it's always been done
  • preaching by speaking alone didn't seem to stop the traditional greats like John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, etc.
  • preaching by speaking alone is the key Biblical way (I'm not totally familiar with this argument but I suspect Jesus being the Word of God has something to do with it...)
  • preaching with visuals (and other high-tech-ism) serves to distract and risks making the preacher overly dependent on slides
Well, I'd like to offer three reasons why we need to go closer to that 65% mark:
  • people recall better (since 'vision trumps all other senses'); John Medina has shown that
  • the preacher need lose NONE of the benefits of oral-type presentations (e.g. the stories can stil go on full swing)
  • God bathed His written Word with loads of images, obviously expecting us to 'see' with the mind's eye the full glory of His works, His heart, His plans, etc.; it's unlikely, then, that He'd have a fundamental problem with power-point (smile)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another Way to Improve Your Creativity

Here's one : Practice constructing jokes and humourous lines (and remember the best test for Funny: are you laughing?)

This is best done not as a rejoinder to what someone else has said, but rather like Chris Tucker or Robin Williams on stage, try to start from 'nowhere' and arrive somewhere comedic (like some politicians, but that's another story...).

Naturally, you'll have to do what most 'creative people' do :
  • think out of the box
  • 'search' for the totally unexpected
  • criss-cross mental patterns, switch contexts, juxtapose issues, etc.
  • work with (literally) anything you can find
  • put aside logical, analytical and critical thought (until the punch-line and even then it's implied, not stated)
  • perform trial-and-error on any number of starting-points

(Be careful, though, of folks like Hannibal Lecter, Charles Manson, Nick Leeson and other norm-challenged personalities - learn the method, lose the madness).

Virtually nothing in school or college trains you on producing new ideas, or at least not formally. Standard education provides less instruction for how to be creative as opposed to where (usually, the toilet walls).

Yet the good joke-tellers and seriously creative folk have one thing in common: They tend to look/sound stupid or weird but they always have fresh ideas and, most importantly, they see and recommend a world different from what most people expect.

Far-out and Funny are the new Yin and Yang.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Negotiation Kinder-Style

Negotiation comes naturally to a kid. If you're a parent, I need say no more. For all the non-parents, newsflash: Bargaining with that cuddly loving 'slice of heaven' child is torture because the last thing you'd expect is to have to deal with a pro.

Here are some - inborn? - tactics that my son has been using for the past two or three years (professionals, heads up!):
  1. Appeal to a separate authority - often granddad, grandmum or the other parent (sometimes Nicky ropes in his 3-month old sister as a last resort; obviously he understands the thing about "balance of power" even if he can't quite define it yet)

  2. Say No from the start - forcing you to backtrack, throwing you off balance; notice how it's EASIER to keep saying No as opposed to finding new ways of encouraging a Yes?

  3. Persevere, persevere, persevere - when he wants a Yes, he too knows about switching personalities and approaches, repeating the same request a dozen times in as many seconds, wearing the other party down (with shades of Luke 18:1-8?)

  4. Set the terms and conditions - see no.2, Nicky also doesn't often let me get away with making him submit free-of-charge; he usually demands a 'fee' as part of the deal. Makes you wish there were more chapters on Bartering in child-raising books, eh?

  5. Go CUTE mode - turn up that pout, speak softly and gently to get more people (incl. the separate authorities) to go awwwwwwww... seek pity points and leech on the sheer sentimentality of others!

  6. Go BERSERK mode - they somehow came across the parents' manual and memorised that part about parents getting tensed up when their kids go nuts, not to mention the Conclusion : When parents are tense, consent follows easy.

Keep the list going if you can. I'm making notes to secure that next million-dollar project...

Sabbath & Rakyat

In Mark 2, Jesus talked about the Sabbath being 'made for Man' (and not vice-versa). It's clear that, in some sense, the rakyat were 'bigger' than this God-given/revealed institution, rich as its place was in tradition, history and Scripture.

Not that Man could dictate whatever structure or practice he wanted. Not at all. It's that God's love for the community had a sort of veto over the centuries-old systems.

In today's world, Christians no longer feel the scandal of Jesus doing something as unlawful as D.I.Y. harvesting (see vs.23). The Sabbath per se fails to engage us because we've never felt its hold on us (the way Jesus' contemporaries did, hence their outrage at His actions)

But what about other 'big words'? What, in today's context, can replace the word, Sabbath, in the phrase, "The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath"? How about:
  • theology and doctrine?
  • denomination?
  • liturgy?
  • ecclesial bureaucracy?
  • Christian norms and culture?
How would you know if you've replaced the correct word? One simple test: Try doing something for the sake of meeting needs (vs.25) but which gets in the way of an accepted way of thinking or doing things (vs.26) as reflected in that new word.

See if people get angry. If they do, then you've found your word.

Note: Obviously, the principle here isn't restricted to ecclesiological (i.e. churchy) scenarios. It applies perfectly in corporate and political cases, too.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Power-Hunger, Power-Shyness & Power-Joy

In Malaysia, it's a rare sight to see people volunteering for leadership positions. We need to be asked. We need to say we have to think about it. We need to mention if other people were more suitable. We're generally passive and even when we end up saying yes (and eventually take up the post), there's an inevitable air of not totally wanting to lead simply but doing it "because there's a need" and so on.

It's like we're shy to say we want to lead. That is, of course, unless we're politicians (all of whom can't quite seem to shake off that element of greed and power-hunger).

This has to stop. We needn't make the choice between power-hunger and power-shyness. What about power-joy? Delight in exercising power for the good of people; fulfilment and belief in one's leadership; gladness and all-out excellence in being a good leader?

Students should be taught to seek out leadership positions. Find a problem, issue, department, area, or event one's passionate about and just go for it. March up to "whom it may concern" and say I'm the one to handle this. I'll need a team, some time, resources and most importantly a happy green light.

I'm not shy and I'm not the next Genghis Khan. I only want to do something great for the community and lead it into a new place of sunshine. Wouldn't that be a sight?