Monday, August 31, 2009

Ad-Hoc Meets Above-Par

My son spent about an hour at Gymboree today, rolling around the coloured cushioned obstacles, going up and down the curvy slides, not to mention jumping inside what I can only describe as a sofa barrel.

And yet before he - and any other kid who couldn't wait - went into the play area, the attendant flashed a pretty slick-looking thermometer's laser beam on his head to confirm he didn't have a fever (what with H1N1 concerns and all).

It's probably just me but the only time I saw a more sophisticated thermometer was at the airport and on TV. Our pediatrician still sticks the thing into our boy's ear.

More importantly, it's not everyday I see organisations responding to an ad-hoc issue (temperature checks before playing) in an above-par manner (using a kewl laser).

To be frank, we weren't expecting Gymboree to do a check and they wouldn't have lost any brownie-points if they didn't. They could easily have got the parents to 'declare' their child was fine or told the attendants to perform 'manual checking' i.e. touch every child's forehead. Some organisations won't even bother. What about the organisation(s) you care about?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Last-Gasp Victories and Perfect(ed) Freedom

The rules of football states that the winning team gets 3 points, whether they thump their opponents 4-0 or score the winning goal four minutes into extra-time. No fan prefers a nail-biting finish and would much rather start the second-half with a three goal lead. Yet no fan will deny that seeing their team snatch victory from the jaws of a draw - a mere seconds before the referee blew the final whistle - is a feeling like no other.

If there are alternative routes towards achieving an intended end, the more torturous one, ironically, can produce a more ecstatic outcome.

I recall many years ago debating with a friend about
why God couldn't create us perfectly free to obey him. This doesn't sound logically impossible, given that at our resurrection we would (eventually, at least) be free of sin and deviant choices and our love and adoration can be all that God intended it to be: completely flawless and faithful. So why couldn't this happen at the start? Why the mess, terror and tragedies of this journey we call creation?

My response then, as it remains now, is that creaturely perfection comes as a reward at the end of the process of deciding - day in day out, moment by moment - to tilt our hearts God's way. Wegrow into volitional, affective and worshipful excellence.

Being is a function of becoming. Purpose needs process (something which
may not be restricted to merely this side of heaven). It's almost as if God demands that we feel the exhiliration of winning by a last-minute goal. To ask why God couldn't make Adam without the capacity to sin is to talk about a different category of reality than even God knows. He's not satisfied with an 'effortless' victory and casual pats on the back.

He's a cheerleader God who wants every game to be an awesome jumping-for-joy celebration of accomplishment and success. Is it risky? You bet. Will it be worth it? Now, who do you think ought to be the judge of

God is Left of Jesus?

Once, a Lutheran pastor went up to an author (who's also an ex-monk who spent many hours in monastic choir and Latin chant) and asked, how could one have a personal relationship with God in prayer when all was set and programmed, all was ritual, formal, and liturgical?? This author later wrote in his memoirs:
"I have never, ever, thought that Latin chant opposes personal prayer. It is simply personal prayer as part of a total community at prayer. It helps you to distinguish, in prayer, between human echo and divine response, between your own will set to sound and the divine will that allegedly transcends it. As a simple analogy: Does singing the national anthem communally enlarge or diminish personal and individual patriotism??"
It's amazing how much you can learn from people who've been deemed outcasts, super-deviants and heretics from your community. I suspect there are Christians who wouldn't touch the works of John Dominic Crossan with a 10-foot pole.

But after reading A Long Way From Tipperary: What A Former Irish Monk Discovered In His Search For The Truth, whilst I'm nowhere near agreeing with his views on the historical Jesus, I can identify with his struggles, his doubts, his pain (I can almost weep with him over the loss of his first wife).

I see a man who needs the love of Jesus Christ, yet also one I can learn from tremendously (even N.T. Wright has celebrated Crossan's genius; see the opening remarks in his chapter on Crossan in Jesus & The Victory of God). If nothing else, Crossan's wit-filled prose brings literary delight which one finds rare in evangelical works. For example:
"If, in fact, you want a parent metaphor for God, I think father is much more appropriate than mother. It is the mother who is publicly knowable, visibly provable, and legally certifiable. You do not need faith to know a mother. You need faith to know a father, because he is known only on the mother's word and sometimes not even then.?" (p.37)
Whilst evangelicals rightly ought to warn the community of the problems in Crossan's writings, we would do well to humble ourselves and learn from our enemies? (wouldn't we want them to learn from us, too?). Try this sharp observation on the Catholic-Protestant schism:
"It is the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during which Catholicism and Protestantism forced each other into opposite extremes (faith or works, Bible or tradition, individual or community, real or symbolic, etc. or etc.)in that separation within Christianity, Catholicism lost any internal but loyal opposition, any sternly self-critical voice from within. In that separation, Protestantism lost anything to protest against save itself and has continued to fracture into every increasing diversity.?" (p.72, emphasis mine)
Perhaps we need (or God has allowed? or predestined?? [grin]) writers like Crossan, the quintessential postmodern Biblical scholar, drawing his inspiration from, among others, the work of Jacques Derrida, to shake us into seeing our own problems, to look closer at our sacred cows.

And one day Crossan was at a book-signing event, someone came up to him and said, "My pastor told me not to come here tonight because you are even to the left of Marcus Borg.? Crossan replied,
"Give your pastor my best regards and tell him that is the good news. The bad news is that both Borg and me are to the right of Jesus. And worse still, if he will recall Psalm 110, Jesus is to the right of God. This means that God is Left of Jesus."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Our Daily Blog

Assume your pay cheque and sanity depend on you uploading one blog-post a day. Assume you're given the task of averting cosmic disaster befalling you and the universe by writing a (reasonably intelligent sounding) blog piece every 24 hours. What would happen?

Quite a bit.

You'd have to observe and make mental notes of virtually each and every moment of the day - every conversation, every gesture, every poster, every sound, every face. You'd have to keep your writing short, to the point, relevant and helpful.

You'll also have to apply everything you've ever learnt to every occasion you encounter in the on-going process of generating more and newer ideas. Your note-taking and idea-storage methods would be on overdrive. You may even read more because how else would you sustain your learning rate? (And you know you don't want to be writing gibberish)

Also, you'd have to re-prioritize the way you use the Web, thereby cutting out (often) hours of wasted time online. If this isn't good enough news, you'll also learn about focusing and channeling your attention/energy outwards, on something creative which engages other people, as opposed to brooding on what you don't have or failed to accomplish.

So Near Yet So Far

A major tenet of marketing is that it's easier to sell to existing customers than to new ones. Strangely enough this is also easier said than practised.

How many universities give their graduates a substantial incentive to continue to a higher level How many electronics shops make it way more enticing to buy another gadget on top of the one you just paid for? How many car-sellers keep in touch with their buyers? How many churches focus on ensuring that the first-timer is far more likely to come again the next Sunday?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Moments Disguised as Years

Children are a strange breed. On one hand, they're the stuff of theories, posters, warm fuzzy feelings and they're the almost the very reason why many find it worth getting up in the morning. Children - unlike religion, food, the rich, the poor, the coloured, the old, you name it - are never the target of criticism.

I mean, no child can ever be put down for being (and behaving like) a child. Ever heard of child-ism? Even the evil of infanticide (and, IMO, abortion) can hardly be said to be as, well, personal as hating another for skin-colour.

Maybe it's the "faith like a child" every pre-7 year old exhibits. Maybe it's their vulnerability and innocence. Of late, I've noticed another trait that children have perfected (only to evidently lose as the years go by): The capacity to feel intense joy on a regular basis.

The way kids behave you could be forgiven for thinking they win the national lottery (or have fallen in love?) a few times a week. Their all-out authentic shouts of elation make you wonder about the last time you got that totally unexpected break at work. Children's laughter (almost alien to your average office worker) make you long for the freedom, trust and fearless eagerness for living you know you lost somewhere between high-school and that last pay cheque.

It's like children are in, yup, heaven. And touching heaven takes nothing less than true faith, the kind of hoping (without seeing) and knowing (without knowing) that grown-ups can only write, dream and preach about.

It's not easy raising my children (and staying financially afloat whilst doing so, smile) but their presence and the honour to care for them and drink of their passion and joy, are next to priceless. I'll treasure it because I know in the half-blink of an eye it'll be over, and whilst new kinds of joy await, this joy - of sleep-sacrificing and uncertainty-filled parenting - will last but a short time, a fleeting period...moments disguised as years.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rock Logic vs. Water Logic

A rock occupies unchanging space. A rock is absolute, stands firmly and defies opposing forces. Put a rock into a pail with lots of small holes smaller than it, and it can’t come out any other way than the way it went in i.e. through the opening. The only way a rock is coming out of the bottom of a holey pail is by crashing through it.

It’s the rock or whatever stands against it. Not both. Such is rock logic. It collides, confronts and maintains a fortress-like stance in the face of adverse or opposing views. Integration of positions is difficult, if not impossible.

But think about water. It flows and moves forward. It goes around entrenched positions. It bends itself and blends itself into its environment in order to find even the slightest opening forward. In some cases, it becomes almost a part of the entity it encounters without necessarily losing its distinctive identity.

Pour water in to a pail with even the smallest of holes and within minutes the water will come out. It’s found a way, where there seemed to be no way!

This is water logic. A disposition which does all it can to move forward, to find solutions, to integrate and ‘blend in’ as a means of progressing further or even producing a better alternative.

For centuries (and even nowadays), theology appeared to be a discipline perfecting the art of rock logic. The defenders of orthodoxy treated barricaded the core doctrines like a fortress, threatening heresy and expulsion on would-be innovators who went too far.

What might water logic look like in theology?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Heart Work

If someone peers closely enough into my career, they'll notice an awkward 6-month gap from Jan to June 2002. This was when I was working three days a week at Connectif Commerce - and the remaining two? I was at Malaysian Care's Prison, Drugs & AIDS Division.

This was six months of:
  • walking around the back-alleys of Kuala Lumpur buildings and one or two abandoned buildings, handing out food (usually bread) and flyers to drug addicts (we even 'threw' bread down into hole in response to a voice which came out from there)

  • going to drug rehab centers to hold fellowship-meetings with inmates (the best part was the huge buckets of KFC and/or curry chicken rice we'd also host)

  • scooping rice and vegetables for the soup-kitchens (except I don't think they called it that) which were usually held in one of those streets next to the Klang Bus Stand, then listening to the participants talk about their (usually broken) lives; I can recall at least two stories - one by an addict also stricken with polio and now confined to a wheel-chair, he told me was a musician and composed songs; another by a guy whose wife left him because he couldn't keep away from drugs.

  • eaves-dropping on Bible studies held for rehabilitating drug addicts at M.Care's many rehab houses (along Old Klang Road)

As with every volunteer, I had my fair share of, well, fear the first time I walked into rehab center; the first time my mentor, Steve, drove our van barely 4 feet next to some dudes sniffing glue from a spoon; the first time I stood next to a HIV-positive lady (with open sores) next to the soya-bean drink vendor; the first time I walked into a rundown old house taken over by displaced addicts.

This was more than seven years ago.

And today I met Steve again (at the Community Services Fair@Dream Center - it's on till tomorrow). Chatting with him again for a few minutes brought back those six months in a flash and reminded me again of the words he spoke to me on the way to the streets one of those mornings: It's not just hard work, it's heart work.

Colleges may wish to consider sending their students for 'internships' at institutions like Malaysian Care, CREST, CES, HISTeam etc. No it may not exactly be 'related' to the course, but (not unlike Seth Godin's post on 'free work') students will:
  • learn how to serve and give of themselves (minus the selfish financial calculations)
  • lead projects (trust me, if you prove yourself willing and able to champion an event or proposal, you'll get to do it)
  • learn patience of the highest kind (because the pay-off is not more money but a trusting heart)
  • apply their course skills in the most diverse/awkward of settings (e.g. in prison)
  • gain valuable experience of the kind not quite available selling one's services for a pittance in the corporate world
Best of all, heart work is internalised and (hopefully) brought forth into the world, both before and after the handshakes and photographs at the graduation ceremony.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Didn't Judas Simply POINT At Jesus?

Because if writers like Kester Brewin and Peter Rollins are half-right, our famous traitor meant to re-join the disciples. He needed a device to betray Jesus without letting the disciples know that he was the traitor.

But I'm running ahead of myself.

Imagine a group of Pakatan folks idling away at Starbucks, seething at the growing injustices in the country, feeling wave after wave of hopeless and despair because nothing remotely like Sept 16 happened. Anwar speaks less nowadays. The I.S.A. remains 'under review'. The Selangor Exco is being unjustly targeted by MACC and the country is going to the pits ad infinitum.

Suddenly one of them has an idea : The only way out is via revolution. The violent, people-driven and justice-restoring kicking down of a rotten door!

If this is true, then what the people need is a SPARK to set everything off. A spark in the form of, say, Anwar being kidnapped by Barisan Nasional goons?

Then again, why wait?! Why not 'manufacture' this precise scenario which would trigger off massive (and I mean massive!) protests, both locally and internationally, leading to BN's downfall.

Break the camel's back once and for all.

In essence, why not "betray" Anwar in order to make his (and the people's) dream come true? Why not wear a pro-BN t-shirt, kidnap Anwar, mess him up a bit and shout anti-Pakatan slogans? And whilst we're at it, why not 'leak' messages implicating someone (anyone!) from the Cabinet? When the government has fallen, why, just rejoin Pakatan. No one ever needs to know it was us.

Here's the thing: Could this be more or less what Judas was up to? Could he have wanted to give that irreversible nudge to the revolution he believed Jesus needed to save Israel? Could he, in fact, be the most committed and pro-active of all the disciples towards the victory of God? Could he be the one who most truly understood that Jesus' mission was one of peace and sacrifice and thus decided to correct his Master's thinking?

Was Judas simply being downright honest in his denial that he was the one to betray Jesus? (See Matt 26:25) His mission wasn't betrayal but fulfilment.

Doesn't this make better sense of Judas' sudden remorse when Jesus was condemned? Isn't Judas' reaction better understood as that of a man shocked by the (totally unexpected) consequences of his actions? Why would a traitor greedy for money who got exactly what he wanted feel sudden guilt? If betraying Jesus was his plan all along, why throw away the money and hang himself? (see Matt 27:3-5)

Isn't it more coherent to see that Judas believed he was doing the right thing by creating a scenario whereby Jesus would be captured thus triggering the revolution that everyone wanted? (You can almost bet 'one of Jesus' companions' was blood-thirsty in his de-earing of High Priest's servant, but guess what Jesus did? see Luke 22:50-52).

The Judas kiss, therefore, wasn't quite an act of evil cloaked in tenderness; it was really a camouflage mechanism so Judas could identify Jesus and deflect suspicion from himself.

Finally, Jesus' words (see Matt 26:52-56) at his arrest also appear cryptically meant for people like Judas who saw no other way to usher in the victory of God apart from violent means:
  • "Put your sword back in its place, for those who draw the sword will die by the sword." (This simply isn't the way)
  • "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Trust me, if this was the way I can and would've walked it)
  • "Am I leading a rebellion...?" (Have I looked like the kind of guy who would march with swords and spears against the High Priest or Rome?)

Penny for your thoughts - are the above phrases relevant for Malaysian politics, you think?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Would You Bring Your Children to the KL Street Rallies?

I don't think so. Why not? Because you realise there's a very strong likelihood that things could get ugly (even in a place as peaceful, sensible and mob-effect-free as Kuala Lumpur). You also realise that should the police's water-cannons and chemical bombs injure your child, it is you who are primarily responsible, not the police.

Being a reasonable person, you do not move your vulnerable loved-ones into a danger-zone, regardless of the blame-games being played by all parties involved. You wouldn't even move your precious vehicles into that area.

But here's the catch: For some folks in the KL area, they do not have the luxury of choosing to stay away. For them, their children and their property, they can only pray that the stones, batons and cannons hit other targets. For them, they face the risk of danger, danger which wouldn't exist if not for two factors:
  1. The trigger-happy crowd-hating police
  2. The demonstrators and those who organised it

You need BOTH these items to take place for third-parties to be put in harm's way.

Last weekend, some children were ridiculously hand-cuffed and shoved into a police van. In my view, they were lucky: They could've been seriously injured or could've died (would anyone dare dispute this?)

If any children (or even adults) had died, whose fault would it be? Whilst the police would take heavy flak, can anyone deny that the organisers of the demonstration (plus anyone who actively called for the people to march) have to take some direct responsibility as well? Can the Opposition really wash their hands of any death or injury, especially now when the Malaysian PM has already allowed the use of stadiums to voice their protest?

Things get even worse if the injured/dead belonged to families who did NOT wish to participate but were simply 'around', either because they live or work there. Imagine I'm a father whose daughter was hit by some chemical-laced juices or a stray rock, or who has to replace some smashed building windows. Do you think I would care ONE JOT about the following responses?
  • "The police started the violence"
  • "There should've been adequate crowd control"
  • "We cannot let the government take away our freedom of speech and restrict the use of public spaces"
  • "We are marching against injustice and oppression"

I'm not sure many victims would care. My children and property have been compromised/damaged because the battle against injustice must get BBC/CNN air-time and its combatants are committed to lofty ideals of universal rights (at the expense of local safety).

The 'street vs stadium' debate isn't just about venue. It's about how we fight against evil (personal, systemic or otherwise) and the casualties we're willing to accept - or couldn't care less about.

The above remains fiction. Let's hope we have the sense to make it stay that way.