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.