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?

How Old is Your Church?

Had an interesting discussion with a dear friend last week about how pastors (and Church Council leaders) need to take a parental attitude towards the chuch congregation. Spiritual leaders can't (and shouldn't) avoid thinking like dads and mums when it comes to the welfare, nurturing and growth of their flock.

A point I raised was this: What's the age of the 'kid' in question? The parental metaphor and/concern is granted, but the more complex issue is whether or not the church is :
  1. an infant who needs almost 24/7 care and spoon-feeding (think new rural or indigenous churches)

  2. a teenager or young adult who's got lots to learn whilst seeking an identity and struggling with school/work/puberty/etc. (think new urban churches not predisposed to any particular theological framework)

  3. adults who've already established themselves (think churches whose members have been with them for decades and with firm time-tested practices in place)
The best-case scenario is a young church with a vibrant missional spirit of out-reach and growth and learning. In such situations, a good dad would go about equipping his kids even more, encouraging them, etc. Also good is a grown-up church which is still growing strong spiritually.

The worst-case scenario is an old church who still behaves like a child, refusing to grow, to adapt, to impact the world in a more effective way than presently. If this is the case, then a responsible dad wouldn't spare the rod and big shake-up would be due.

So, again, how old is your church? And - if you're one of the leaders - how are your parenting skills?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rules of Engagement

It's taken me a while to finally say it, but I know now that politics and advocacy isn't my thing; anything but the mildest and lowest-profile forms of social activism is unlikely to appeal to me. Because something about the 'posture' and 'rules' required in socio-political activism feels somewhat incongruous with what I understand to be the Way of Jesus Christ.

If you're playing football, it makes
absolutely no sense to ask why you have to protect the goal, control the midfield, beat the offside trap, seek protection from the referee, score more goals than the opposing team and so on. To even question tenets like this suggest you're either playing a different game or you're playing for charity.

Likewise in the political domain. Here the virtually non-negotiable rules of engagement I've noticed are as follows:

  • never give credit to the other side even if they're doing a good deed - find a reason to be suspicious (and if that fails, raise more questions)

  • condemn virtually every dubious statement/action made - show your anger fast (and don't forget to turn the volume up); shoot first, solve the original issue later (if at all)

  • never raise questions about the leaders and methods use by the side you favour (or, at least, never raise these publicly)

  • never apologise - but demand apologies for every possible hint of an insult made

  • never speak in a reconciliatory way or tell your side to be more forgiving (this almost sounds like an alien language - which is why the Martin Luther King, Jr.s' and Gandhis' are so rare among political leaders)
Try it. Take some of the above and do the opposite. Seriously.

Do it a few times. You can bet your voting form you'll be singled out for 'fixing' some time soon (regardless of which 'side' you're on).

I don't deny that
some of the above is necessary in a (very real) world of political abuse, suppressed freedoms and neglected injustices. I decry, though, the idea that we have NO CHOICE but to accept this as the primary way of bringing about change.

Maybe one day a leader will come along and offer something so radical and true I'll know for sure that's the way to go. I
thought Jesus Christ offered a new way of 'doing politics'. Whilst Jesus certainly wouldn't condone the abusive use of the Internal Security Act, I'm not sure He'd be pleased with the above 'non-negotiables' either which seem to contradict not only the "Love your enemy" command but also the one to "Love your neighbour as yourself".

Alas not enough Christians think so. Most question whether Jesus' talk of radical love and reconciliation applies to political scenarios, though almost all are sure that to be 'prophetic' does not include forgiving one's enemies and praying for them.

I confess I still don't understand. Again...I thought Jesus Christ offers another way of political activism. Maybe I'm wrong. But for now I'll keep on listening. Hoping. Waiting.

One and Another

One targets the enemy and seeks to shame him; another reaches out to him and prays for him.

One condemns those who promote hatred; another hates condemnation as a modus operandi. One rejects physical violence; another eschews all forms of violence (especially the dangerous verbal kind, Matt 5:22).

One makes demands for freedom; another rejects demand-making. One shouts for justice; another pleads for mercy.

One is accusatory; another is reconciliatory. One is quick to judge the powers that be; another is quick to employ the power of forgiveness.

One is defined by protest; another protests the lack of a more positive definition. One aims to be loud; another realises volume is an illusion.

One is a raised fist; another an extended heart. One is of this world; another other.

Friday, September 4, 2009

3 Readers, 4 Thinkers

Tony Buzan presented three kinds of online readers. According to him, people who read Web articles can be classified into:
  1. The Cautious Reader - who doesn't click on any links and reads the entire article through
  2. The Novice Reader - who clicks on virtually all the links in the article!
  3. The Skilled Reader - who selects which hyperlink to click

I'm sure folks like Edward de Bono would have their classification of thinkers too. Maybe:

  1. The Natural Thinker - employs critical, analytical and practical thinking on a regular basis but only rarely uses creativity
  2. The Entrepreneurial Thinking - employes creative and practical thinking regularly, although the more finance-oriented ones may excel in critical/analytical thinking too
  3. The Intelligent Thinker - employs critical and analytical thinking at extremely high levels, often neglecting creativity and practicality (whilst usually earning a reputation for being very 'intelligent')
  4. The Master Thinker - employs the full range of creative, critical, analytical and practical thinking skill at high levels at all times

Criticism, Creativity, Analysis and Practicality. Four wheels of the mind's car. And yet don't we often tend to use just one or two?

The Philosopher-Administrator Problem

Had lunch with a law lecturer today. The philosopher type, she hated the administration work she was responsible for. She couldn't file very well, missed communique deadlines, got names wrong - the works.

Still, she's given a leading administrative position (in addition to her lecturing hours), one slightly (but clearly) above the average lecturer.

Note: The higher position in an educational institution involved greater administrative responsibilities. From concocting lesson plans to storing them. From creating new presentations to ensuring they're properly compiled. From tutoring students to checking that their numbers and presence at classes tally. From opening up students' minds to handing out their student numbers.

No one denies the importance of the latter group of tasks; a college couldn't run without them (and all credit to the able souls who allow the lecturers to lecture and students to get to classes). The concern, though, is that promising educators and thinkers may be promoted to a higher level at odds with their expertise. Even worse, if this is the career pathway for someone in education, institutions should at least separate the thinkers from the managers, the academics from the organisers.

Some dream up new pathways; others break them. None is inherently better than the other, but confusing the two tends to create more frustration and far lower effectiveness. Don't force your Heidegger enthusiasts to manage the folders and no need to get your logistics expert to learn Wittgenstein.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

RON95 and CO2

I've shared with many students and even lecturers as to how the hike in petrol prices last June led to at least one friend of mine re-examining his budget. Having to pay more for fuel forced him to take a hard look.

Since then the price of fuel has gone down and if you've been spending wisely you would've felt the benefits. (Really makes one think twice about slamming the government over fuel, doesn't it?)

As of yesterday, though, the price of RON97 went up another RM0.25 cents. The country wants to encourage the use of RON95 (I bet you could tell I'm a know-it-all about petrol, right?) which is so-so in terms of comparative quality. I'm hoping RON95 is better for the environment and better aligns Malaysia to global standards but hey you never know about these things.

Frankly, after reading Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat & Crowded, I'd be somewhat happy to see far fewer cars on Kuala Lumpur roads as is the case now. And I'm not sure I'd care what the reason was. Carbon-dioxide emissions is a serious issue so if higher prices reduce the number of cars, yippee-dooda.

Other well-worn ideas:
  • Reward folks for using public transportation
  • Create bicycle-lanes in the cities (although given the smog in the city...)
  • Tax entrance to the cities (especially cars with only one the driver inside)
  • Subsidize alternative energy research
  • Promote PhD programs working on sustainability/environmental/innovation projects (I googled 'bachelor degree sustainability malaysia' and the results weren't exactly uplifting)
  • Make CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) more available (can someone explain why only Petronas gas-stations have CNG pumps?)

Be Yourself? Nah

There are many problems with the clichéd piece of advice you hear every half an hour all across the globe: Be yourself. Whilst spoken with the best of intentions (and certainly communicating a much-needed friendly demeanor on the part of the speaker) this phrase happens to be:
  1. Not specific enough; in principle, it can hardly pinpoint anything (e.g. which part of myself should I be?)

  2. Far from calming or relaxing the intended recipient; it usually distracts

  3. Contradictory to other advice (e.g. "You shouldn't make it a habit to XYZ...")
Personally? I think advice like, "Imagine you're one of those hotshot lawyers in Boston Legal!" would come in handier. At least this creates a specific image which gets specific neural connections firing making a specific inclination/mood/disposition more likely.

In other words,
model someone else in order to improve yourself.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lose the Standard Deviations

Too many conference presenters do it.

They put the minute details of their research in the slides and proceed to walk their listeners through the initial hypothesis, the sample data population, the methods, the assumptions, the regression analysis performed, the margin of errors, the accuracy ratios and, finally, the conclusion.

Whenever I see this I wonder if these same presenters are observing and 'feeling' the state of the audience. Because I am and most of the time, when a presenter shares how he broke the paths he broke as opposed to what new paths he's found, people get sleepy, bored and easily distracted.

Not many want to know about the messiness of reaching a particular conclusion. Almost nobody wants to sit through a case-study on research methods. People who pay to attend a conference want to know:
  • something new to the area in question
  • something they'll find useful and which they can bring back to their institutions
  • something to provoke them to explore further
  • something to make them laugh (or at least smile)
  • something which others found provoking, new, useful or funny
So deviate from the norm: Leave the standard deviation in the handouts and give your audience a non-standard show filled the fresh, the intelligent and the homourous.