Location: Irvine, California, United States

E-mail Me

My Blog Profile

Technorati search

    WWW the outer...

My Amazon Wish List

    Search Now:


Help fuel my writing dream...


My Bloglines Subs & Stuff

    Listed by category are subscriptions to blogs I monitor and read. Check them out!

    Note: Sites listed by this blog does not imply endorsement of anything except when they promote this site.

Other Cool Sites I Visit

Recommended for your Library

    Ethics: The Heart of Leadership

    Edited by Joanne Ciulla. An important collection of essays by philosophers, leadership and management thinkers considering the role of ethics in leadership

    Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

    By Robert K. Greenleaf, Larry C. Spears, Stephen R. Covey. Servant and leader--can these two roles be fused in one real person in all levels of status and calling?

    Warranted Christian Belief

    By Alvin Plantinga. Third in a trilogy of works on the issue of warrant - the basis of the rationality of Christian beliefs written by arguably the most important philosopher of religion alive today

    Renovation of the Heart

    By Dallas Willard. A philosopher and quintessential Christian teacher relates and reflects on what it means to put on the character of Christ.

    Foreign Bodies

    By Hwee Hwee Tan. An impressive first novel by young new author from Singapore acclaimed as an up and coming Pulitzer Prize winner

    Mammon Inc.

    By Hwee-Hwee Tan. Second novel by this very important young new author from Singapore applauded the world over, including The Times in London and the New York Times

    Three Philosophies of Life

    By Peter Kreeft. Three life philosophies presented through the works of three of Scriptures most beautiful poetry books, Job, Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon

    Horrendous Evil and the Goodness of God

    By Marilyn McCord-Adams. A seminal response to the age-old problem of evil which attempts to take seriously the theological ramifications of the character of God


    By Malcolm Gladwell. Blink is about the first two seconds of looking--the decisive glance that knows in an instant.

    Smart Mobs

    By Howard Rheingold. A social commentary about how "sophisticated mobile Internet access is allowing people who don't know each other to act in concert".


    By Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. An engaging treatise about the fundamentals of interconnectedness and complexity that underlies neurology, epidemiology, Internet traffic, and many other fields.

    The Peaceable Kingdom

    By Stanley Hauerwas. A clear explication of a Christian ethic based upon the meaning of the gospel, highlighting virtues and character, and narrative as a mode of ethical reflection.

    The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel & Kingdom, Gospel & Wisdom, Gospel & Revelation

    By Graeme Goldsworthy. A collection of masterful works expositing on the centrality of the Scriptures: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Grace and Law: St. Paul, Kant, and the Hebrew Prophets

    By Heinz Cassirer. A Kantian scholar looks at the Old Testament Law, and Paul's understanding of it, concluding that Kant's delimma is answered by the gospel of grace.

The Un-Right Christians

Progressive Christian Blogger Network

Church Directory of Evangelical Blogs

Monday, January 31, 2005

King of the Blogs

Yes! I finally got selected to enter the King of the Blogs tournament. This is a tournament between three blogs at any one time to see which is going to get the coveted title at the end of the week. The judging is based on the blog's design, content, the creativity of the blogger in answer to a challenge question, and also the ability of the blog to draw support from its readers (that means YOU). Please read on to find out how YOU can HELP me!

I have been trying to get into this tournament in a while, and then last night, I received an e-mail stating that I have been selected as an entrant, but the problem was, it says the competition was to run from December 13, 2004! An exchange of emails resolved the issue, and then I found out that I needed to put the King of the Blogs tournament announcement on the my side bar.

I promptly did it, and it messed up my page layout. Those of you who are regular might remember that I was
tinkling around with my template, and those of you (the 1 or 2 of you??) who have been reading my blog since then might remember that a couple of months ago, complained about some of the things I find unsatisfactory with my blogging experience and contemplating a change, which I still am!

Back to this morning, and my attmept at fixing the template after adding the King of the Blogs announcement to my side bar, as you might guess, I am still very much a novice in this html/css thingamajig, so it took me a while to try to get things to look ok, especially in IE. I run Firefox on my main laptop that I use for most of my blogging, and it always look fine in Firefox, but whenever I checked it with my other computers, using IE, the page always look suspect. In any case, I have successfully "fixed" the page display and it ought to be fine, I think!

But now I need your help! I need you to do a few things: Please

(1) Vote for me (you can do it
(2) Make a trackback to that page, mentioning your support for me!

Leave me a comment here if you do that, and I will enter you on a draw for something nice! I promise! In fact, here is what I would like you to do: Vote, Trackback, Comment, suggest a gift for a draw prize. I don't promise that you will get the prize, but I do promise that you will get lotsa heartfelt thanks and one of you will definitely win a nice prize. I am thinking a gift voucher to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or something.

UPDATE: I just checked out the the other two sites that I have been pitted up against and I am trembling in my knees. I mean, doesn't it sucks that I am competing against Beautiful and Radical? I mean, how can I win when I am neither? But wait. Maybe I can. This isn't a beauty nor a popularity contest! Be that as it may, don't forget to VOTE and TRACKBACK for me. And, most of all don't forget my bribe free gift for the lucky winner! You know you love me want the gift card!
...continue reading...King of the Blogs

Sunday, January 30, 2005

That time again, folks!

The Best of Me Symphony is out once again. Gary has obviously worked very hard to produce yet another compilation of posts submitted by various bloggers, and weave them together into a mosaic of posts, graphics and "commentary" by virual host, George Will. It is a special skill, and Gary should be applauded.

This time around, I submitted one of this site's favorite post, Remove Your Sandals. If you haven't read that post, I recommend it for I believe the posts tells you a little about myself as well. If you do, please leave me a comment here or here and let me know what you think.

There are many other posts are up there at BOMS #61. So, enjoy!

...continue reading...That time again, folks!

Tsunami Orphans Rescued - an update

I am not sure how many who came by this site actually gave specifically to this effort, but if you are interested, here is the link to the update report that I received in an email this morning.

I am touched by this couple's hearts and their desire to make a difference at such a time as this. I have reasons why I cannot personally be there, otherwise, I would go, and I can only help in the small donations that I can make. I thought my next best thing I can do is to make their story as widely known as I can so that others can support their effors as well. If you would like to participate in this effort to rescue the orphans who lost parents and everything else because of the devastating Tsunami, follow the link in this post.
...continue reading...Tsunami Orphans Rescued - an update

Blogging Blues

Blogging is a peculiar activity. It is a medium that is sometimes a cross between a public opinion piece and a personal journal entry. Therefore, sometimes things that are written in a blog contain personal, intimate details of someone's life, or at least, a glimpse to the writer's personal thoughts that might be classified as "too personal." And, yet, perhaps this might be the attraction or popularity of blogs, from a readership point of view. We get to take a peek inside someone's inner life and read juicy bits of intimate details without having to engage them in relationship. Yet, by virtue of the fact that the medium is so accessible, and well, so public, sometimes the things we say in a blog can cause very undesirable results.

We open up ourselves in a most vulnerable way, and if we are not careful, we might say things that infuriate people, or cause them to judge us in a particular way. Or, perhaps we might find ourself being dragged into some kind of tangential discussion or debate that we never intended to do when we first began the conversation. That is the thing, sometimes the things we say were never meant to be part of a conversation - it is more like a soliloquy, monologue, or at least a "talking-to-myself". The trouble is, because it is also a personal journal of sorts, sometimes elements of the "public" and the "intimate" are co-mingled into the same post and the whole tangled mess can be difficult to untangle.

I think that is what happened over at Messy Christian. She voiced something about her own frustrations, or confusions, regarding the current flurry of activities in certain quarters among Christian bloggers to form aggregators, groups and blogrolls. Somehow in her post, she let something private slip out, something that was read as casting a dark shadow on the person she referred in her comment, something that the person referred to thought she ought to have done via email, and what ensued was a fight that I don't think either party wanted to start nor participate. From where I stand "in the outer" as it were, it seems to me that both were being dragged into some kind of invisibile whirlpool and neither of them liked it. Not nice to watch.

Messy's post actually reminded me of my own post some time ago, at about the time I was pondering whether or not to join the League of Reformed Bloggers. My own consternation has to do more about me than about the League though. I was torn because of my own background - I started my church life by attending, and becoming really involved in a predominantly Calvinist, Fundamentalist church. After years of being a staunch Calvinist, I found that I have changed much over the years. I was uneasy about the requirments for membership in that League, while at the same time, I would like to belong to it for the fellowship. However, I did not know if I qualified, for while I don't think I hold the label, "Reformed" as a card-bearing member of the group, I do hold to some Reformed concepts. While I would not call myself Arminian either, I also find some Arminian ideas convincing. Yet I also feel uncomfortable with much of either side's theology.

Someone mentioned that Christians seem to be the most contentious people around, and in my own experience, Calvinists and Reformed people are especially guilty of this unfortunate trait. I wonder why that is the case (in fact I have posted some of my thoughts on this matter before). Is it because we have this impassioned, fervid desire to be right all of the time? Perhaps, the very nature of our faith, and the claims that our faith have about the truth, fan this almost irrational need to be on the side of truth in all areas. I don't know. I get tired about this sometimes. Or, maybe it is just that Christians like being part of factions and groups. Perhaps that is why there are so many denominations and groups, which started all the way back with the first century Christians, when they divided themselves into groups under Apollos and Paul, and contended with one another.

In any case, back to the issue about Blogs, Blog alliances and aggregators, one can view it either as an inclusive mechanism or as an exclusive one. JollyBlogger's intution about this is more for inclusivity. I know I felt somewhat left out in the cold when I did not make the cut, so to speak, when I attempted to join the LORB. I actually felt depressed over it, but then again, I was already clinically depressed, so it was, as I said more about me, than anything else! However, in the end, I did not let that botther me, not much anyway.

I know in my search for a blog-identity or blog-belongingness, I stumbled upon and eventually (finally!) joined up with the
unRight Christians, but at first, I must say, I was wary of any political labelling going on there. I was satisfied there were none, but see Parableman Jeremy Pierce's entry about the connotation of the name. Actually I like the play on words for after all, who is Right (as in "Not completely wrong") except the Lord Himself?). More recently, I found the Progressive Christian Bloggers Network and decided to join, but I must say, not without the usual questions and hesitations, for I am uncomfortable with labels. I wonder if this was fundamentally Messy Christian's problem to start with. I don't know. (See what I mean, if this was a more inflamatory pondering, Messy Christian could take offense at me for wondering out loud, er, "wondering out write", and insist that I ought to have emailed her instead!) Perhaps that is the problem with such labels. For instance, Blogs4God was found to be ineffective for some because it was too inclusive and they wanted a more defined label so that they can identify only those who held onto certain tenets or beliefs, such as "Evangelical" or "Reformed." By the way, very recently another group started up, called "So Cal Neighbors" and by virtue of the fact that it is defined geographically it ought to be less contentious (until someone from Santa Barbara or thereabouts questions the sinister attempt to disenfranchise them).

You know, at the end of the day, one of my own personal reasons for finding blog alliances to join, is the motivation of unashamed self-promotion - a means to drive traffic to my blog! Why? I don't know. On the one hand, one of the reasons that I started this blog is for my own therapy - as a way to journal about my own life journey and process some of my own thoughts. Yet, obviously it is not the only reason. Another reason, of course is to join the wider blogger community and engage people in conversation. That is the reason why I read other people's blogs and comment on them. Yet another reason is to find readers for my own blog so that I can engage them in conversation. Which is why I let out a silent whoop of joy each time the Comments feed is bold in my Bloglines account indicating that "Yes!" another one of my fans (haha) have interacted with me! Yet, if people ask why I blog, I would say, "It is for me." Yeah. Right.

...continue reading...Blogging Blues

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Another Look at the Commandments

This post continues my meditations on the ten commandments. It seems to me that both scholars and Christians alike place too much emphasis on the legalistic aspects of the Law and fail to see the priority of grace in the Old Testament.

Central to understanding the Law is the relationship factor that God underscored in the giving of the Commandments (Exodus 20:1-2). This relationship is based upon Who God is ("I am the Lord your God") and what He has done for Israel ("...who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery") to make this relationship possible.

Earlier, I wondered if it would be worthwhile to read the first and second commandments as belonging to the "Loving God" part of the Greatest Commandments ("Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength," Mark 12:30) that Jesus introduced. I also tried to argue that commandments three and four probably belonged to "Loving yourself" part of the Greatest Commandments ("The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself."), while commandments #5 through #10 belong to the "Love your neighbor" part. My point is that relationship with God and others is predicated upon one's having an authentic relationship with oneself.

The third and fourth commandments, although on the surface, explicate further aspects of the "loving God" component, really were given for the "love yourself" part of the formula, for commandment number three is more about how we live our lives than the words we use, misuse or not use, and commandment number four is more about how we work and rest than on which day of the week we keep "holy".

In reflecting further, I would like to introduce another way of looking at the Commandments. This might make you happier if you do not agree with my "Love God, Love self and Love neighbor" formulation of the Commandments because the way I am going to suggest we view the Commandments is more in line with the "received view" of Christian orthordoxy.

When asked by the Pharisees which commandment is greatest, Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength and all your soul" (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-34).

Earlier, I referred to the explanation Dallas Willard gave in Renovation of the Heart that loving God with all our heart has to do with the will and loving him with all our mind involves our rational and emotional capacities. Loving Him with all our strength has to do with our actions, and behavior, and loving Him with all our soul has to do with the social and relational aspects of our life.

In fact, this model can be applied to the first four commandments. To love God with all our heart involves a commitment of the will to agree with God that He is indeed the Lord God Almighty who has done the great redemptive work to make it possible for us now to belong to Him. This is the foundation stone of our relationship with Him. God calls us into a relationship by commanding us to make a decision of the will to follow Him, making Him our God, and abandoning all other gods for Him. It is an expression of the heart - the will - as we say to God, "I will" and surrender ourselves to His Lordship. That is in essence the message of the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me".

The second commandment is the practical expression of what has gone on in our heart or will. It is the application of our volitional decision to our rational and emotional life. Once we have committed ourselves to follow God, we are then commanded to not replace Him with anything that usurps His place and priority in our lives. This is to love God with all our minds.

In my reflection on the third commandment, I suggested that it is a commandment that has more to do with how we live our lives rather than on whether or not we certain words leave our mouths. Although the Scriptures are very clear about the fact that words reflect our inner life, the Commandment has a wider scope than just the words. To live our lives in accordance to our calling (cf. Ephesians 4 & 5) is to live in such a way that God's name is honored. That is the impact of the emphasis on loving God with all our soul, which encompasses the social or relational aspects of our life.

Loving God with all our strength involves the actions and behaviorial aspects of our being. The fourth commandment, in emphasizing the importance for rest can be co-related to this aspect of the loving God command. In my meditation of the fourth commandment, I said that the implications of the commandment is more about the the need for rest and rejuvenation than about keeping one or the other day of the week different (holy) than the rest. It is about the philosophy of work, rest, activity and vocation which is the domain of loving God in all our strength.

However we view the Commandments in relation to the Greatest Commandments, the important point to note is that Law is given within the context of the priority of relationship. The Law was given to the people of God, not so that they can be keep the law religiously to achieve judiciary rightness with Him, but so that they are able to live in newhess life in right relationship with God, with self and with others.

In upcoming posts, I will explore each of the fifth through tenth commandments, to see how each of the commandments square with both Jesus' emphasis on Loving God and others, and the obvious underpinning foundational context of relationship.
...continue reading...Another Look at the Commandments

Thursday, January 27, 2005

This ain't cool

This is just not funny. Not at all. No. Not even slightly. How could anyone do this?

I am simply appalled and sick to the stomach.

...continue reading...This ain't cool

Who am I?

"Daddy, who am I?" My youngest daughter asked, tentatively, puzzled and confused.

"I mean, am I Australian, or Malaysian, or... Ch-Chinese?"

I said, "Why, honey?"

"Well, the other day at school, the teacher asked all the Chinese kids in the class to go forward for a meeting. I didn't go forward because I thought I was Australian, and you and Mom were Malaysian, but not Chinese."

I wasn't sure why the Chinese students were called out for a meeting. Perhaps the school wanted to survey the Chinese students to see if any were interested in attending special Chinese language classes, but the real problem was my daughter's confusion.

I spent some time explaining to her that she is ethnically Chinese, that her parents were born in Malaysia, and grew up with Malaysian nationality. However I assured my daughter that indeed her parents are Chinese ethnically and that all her grandparents were also Chinese, as are their parents and grand-parents. So we are true-blue Chinese (I was going to say true yellow, but that might not be appropriate, even if it is coming from me). As for my daughter, I explained to her, because she and her siblings were all born in Australia, she was definitely true-blue Australian as well as 100% Chinese!

This uneasiness about our heritage seems to run in the family. A few years ago, when my oldest daughter was just eight years old, she had a similar conversation with me. She was sitting next to me as I was reading. She had this contemplative look on her young face.

"Daddy, I have a question."

I put my book down. "Yes, honey, what is it?"

"Grandma and Grandpa... they are real Chinese people right?"

"Yes, dear, they are."

She nodded slowly, still visibly thinking hard, she pointed to her chest, "And, me.... I am a real Australian, right?"

"Oh, yes, you sure are!"

She nodded again.... "Now, I don't know about you and Mom."

"Why is that?"

"Well, sometimes, you are Australian, and sometimes you are Chinese."

I couldn't help but break out in a huge smile on my face. "Yes!" I chuckled, "you are right! Mom and Dad are confused people!"

...continue reading...Who am I?

The Weekly Christian BlogFest!

Christian Carnival #54 is Up! This time, it is hosted by Niel Uchitel at Digitus, Finger & Co. There are quite a few excellent posts submitted.

For each post, Niel has put in a paragraph of his own commentary. He has done well.

A couple of the pieces I read that I'd like to highlight are: Making out with Jesus (I agree, cool title!) by Joe Missionary, who wondered if the expressions of romantic love portrayed by a proliferation of worship songs truly express the relationship between the Lord and His church. Personally, I think this is just one more expression of the current culture's obsession with self-love and self-centered religion.

Another piece that I though is worth mentioning is Dory's post at Wittenberg Gate, Broken Leaders and Second Chances. In this post, Dory responded to a challenge to her earlier post regarding the unsuitability of Newt Gingrich to be the next Republican Presidential candidate because of his moral failure. I posted a comment wondering if applying Biblical qualifications for leadership to governmental leaders is a category mistake.

My own post to this Carnival is Fundamentalism and Fanaticism in Any Religion is Dangerous which was also featured by La Shawn Barber as part of her Ten Christian Bloggers weekly profiles and round-up.
...continue reading...The Weekly Christian BlogFest!

I've Got Some (new) Traffic! Wooohoooo!

Whatever the (Big) Ten Christians Blogs are doing, they are doing something right (at least from my myopic perspective)! La Shawn Barber linked one of my posts today, and I am beginning to get some traffic from there. Those of you who are regular (all 10 of you! hehe, honestly, I don't know how many of you are regular readers) over here might remember my giddy brouhaha about my Large Mammal status (it made me check my gut in the mirror a couple of times, at least) on the TTLB Ecosystem.

Though many sites are linking to me by virtue of the fact that I am on the
Blogdom of God and the Church Directory, it may be a fact that not many people are even aware of my blog's existence. So, today, when I checked my stats, it was gratifying to see not one, not two, but several referrals from Ms Barber. Thanks, sister! Not only am I getting traffic, I am also getting people who are willing to engage me in conversation. This is so cool. By the way, if you have come by here because of a link from another site, please post a comment and say, "Hi!" I'd love to hear from you.

I must say, I am not really sure how many of my readers are regular readers. I know I just recently gained a "regular" in
Cindy Swanson, whose posts, when I first stumbled upon her site, resonated with me as she shared about her grief experience. Recently she left a comment over here to say that she has just discovered how to use Bloglines, she will be a more regular reader now! And, so have I (discovered Bloglines)! Recently I decided to go through my links of various Blog "accessories" and discovered how to use, for instance, Bloglines and finally found out how to activate my BlogStreet account as well! I have now added my Bloglines subs to the left. There are a few sites I read that I am not able to subscribe to, but that's ok for now. So I am now enjoying my Blogline account and found that I need not hop from blog to blog to read, but can just scroll through the updated blogs on my Blogline account and find posts of interest! Also, I find it easy to add to my subscription with just a right click with my Firefox extension! That's so cool!

Another thing I have done is also finally got Richard Hall of
Connexions to add me to the Un-Right Christians Blogroll and Aggregator. I applied sometime ago after searching for a niche group to belong to and feeling a little more acutely the "in-the-outer-ness"- something about my identity crisis and the need to belong, you know, but initially, there were problems with my XML Feed apparently. Richard did some feed magic and presto, now I am part of a group of more or less like-minded sojourner-bloggers!

And I think that is the cool thing about the blogosphere. It allows you to enter into this whole new world of people all having different views and opinions and yet we can still share camaderie and fellowship with one another. We can shoot the breeze together in the imaginary bar. You just have to BYO beer, nuts or whatever else you do when you chinwag away with your pals. The beauty is you can do it with a laptop, in your pajamas, and watching Alias all at the same time!

...continue reading...I've Got Some (new) Traffic! Wooohoooo!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ethical Leaders and Ethical Leadership

In his forward to Joanne Ciulla's Ethics, the Heart of Leadership : Second Edition, James MacGregor Burns categorizes three types of leadership values each of which have implications for styles and stragegies for leadership itself.

These values are
ethical virtues--"old-fashioned character tests" such as sobriety, chastity, abstention, kindness, altruism and other "Ten Commandments" rules of personal conduct; ethical values such as honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, reciprocity, accountability; and moral values such as order (or security), liberty, equality, justice, community (meaning brotherhood and sisterhood, replacing the traditional term fraternity.
These values, Burns says, are exemplified in the different leadership types or models:
Status quo leaders, presiding over relatively stable communities are dependent on ethical virtues, rules of personal behavior, such as kindness and altruism, that makes for harmonious relationships. Ethical values are crucially important to transactional leaders ... Moral values lie at the heart of transforming leadership, which seeks fundamental changes in society ...
Commenting on Burns' points, Ciulla outlines three broad questions regarding ethics and leadership:
(1) The ethics of the means: What do leaders use to motivate followers to obtain their goals? What is the moral relastionship between leaders and followers?

(2) The ethics of the person: What are leaders' personal ethics? Are they motivated by self-interest or altruism?

(3) The ethics of the ends: What is the ethical values of a leaders' accomplishments? Did his/her actions serve the greatest good? What is the greatest good? Who is and isn't part of the greatest good?
She goes on to wonder if leaders need to be ethical in all three areas in order to be considered ethical leaders. For instance, how should we evaluate a leader who might be ethical as a person, but uses unethical means to achieve ethical ends, or if the same leader uses ethical means but ends up with a less than desirable result? How about a leader who accomplishes great success, but is unethical in his own personal life? What does it take to be considered an ethical or good leader? Is it too much to ask for a leader to pass all three tests before he or she can be considered a good, effective, moral and ethical leaders?

What do you think?

...continue reading...Ethical Leaders and Ethical Leadership

Why'd they do that?

While driving to work this morning, I had 95.9 The Fish on the radio. Billy and Lauren, the hosts of the morning program were doing a segment called "Ultimate Family" and asked callers to call in to talk about their own "ultimate family."

A man called up and talked about his wife. He said he really appreciated her because she loved him so much. They have been married for eight years and she shows her love to him everyday of his life, he said.

"You see, I am in a wheelchair. She has to take me into and out of the wheelchair each day. Take the wheelchair into and out of the car and take me to and from work. She is really special."

The DJ's suggested they call her on-air. She came on and they put him on the phone and he spoke her heart to her. "Baby, thank you for loving me... I thank God for you... I believe He is going to bless us with the best year ever..."

As he spoke, I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and choking up. I couldn't help it anymore. I had to turn off the radio. When I regained some composure I had to call my wife and express my gratefulness and thanks for her.

For even though I am not physically in a wheelchair, over the time we have been married, there have been many times I was in a spiritual and emotional wheelchair and without the love and encouragement of my wife, I wouldn't be here today.

So, I would like to dedicate this post to my dear wife.

I love you so much, honey, for being there for me. For being more than my helper. For being the blessing that you are from God to me. Thank you. I love you.

...continue reading...Why'd they do that?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Returning to the Commandments

There is this thing about blogging which is different from normal forms of writing. When you are writing a book, or an article, most of the time you know the end from the beginning. You create an outline and even might have a conclusion pretty much summarized before you attempt to write.

But I have found blogging to have this tendency to take me in all sorts of directions. I began a series on the ten commandments a while back, and got side-tracked by other stuff. Since I only have limited time to blog, I found that my interests were being pulled in different directions and it is almost strange for me to now go back to the series. So, to get back to the series, I would like to do a re-cap on where I have been so far.

The purpose of my series on the ten commandments is to reflect on the nuances of the commandments and also to see it as a whole. I have for a long time a suspicion, that most Chrsitians, or at least I, have a misconception of what the Law in general, and the ten commandments, in particular, stood for. Coming from a background where "rightly dividing the word of truth" was taken to be an important virtue, I was taught that there was a priority of grace over law. Scriptures such as John 1: 16-17, Galatians 3 and others that juxtapose faith and grace against law and works can color a Christian's thinking about the place of law in the Old Testament.

For a long time I have this sneaky suspicion that what my church taught me, and what the books I read, could have misinterpreted the issue. I believe that the Old Testament Law is not that opposed to Grace and Faith of the New Testament. Coupled with my usual inclination to question assumptions and not accept the "received version" of most teachings, I like to question what it is that we hold onto as orthordox beliefs and attempt to see if the Scriptures could be approached in fresh ways to understand what it teaches.

So turning our attention back to the commandments, first of all, its important to note that the giving of the commandments was prefaced by a declaration from God which establishes the context for the commandments. The context is this: God is a proactive, loving God who sought to love Israel and rescue them out of their slavery. They were under slavery before, against their will and now God releases them into a loving relationship with Him. Having delivered the children of Israel from their misery, God invites them to enter into a fellowship with Him. This is an important underlining principle that we must get in order to understand Old Testament Law.

In The Heart of the Commandments, I used as launching pad, the story of the rich young ruler to highlight that God desires a relationship, and not merely an obdurate observance of legal code.

The first two commandments "No Other Gods" and "No Graven Images" might have been one command, or at least two sides of the same coin. Whether it is one or two commands, it is the basis of the first and greatest commandments "Love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength and all your soul."

The third and the fourth commandments might be considered to belong to the "God" part of the greatest of the two commands, but upon examination, it might be better understood that these two commandments are belong to the second of the two greatest commandments.

If the two greatest commandments are first, to love God, and second, "to love your neighbor as yourself", the third and fourth commandments are best understood as belonging to the "love ... yourself" part.

Why is it important to distinguish them as belonging to the second of the two greatest commandments? I made this point in my meditations of the third and fourth commandment, but was not very clear, prompting questions from, for example, Jeremy Pierce, as to why it is necessarily to distinguish it as belonging to the first part or the second part of the two greatest commandment.

The clue is given to us in Jesus words, "Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man." In other words, there is no priority in the day of the week or in the Sabbath per se. The commandment to keep the Sabbath was given to man in order to rest and be refreshed. It is a "loving yourself" part of the man's relationship with God.

Keeping the Sabbath doesn't improve one's relationship with God by itself. But, the Sabbath (rest) was given to man to have time-out, to be refreshed, and to maintain balance in order to be able to relate to God and to each other.

Similarly the third commandment is more about living authentically as a God follower, than about using or not using God's name in normal or flippant conversation. There is nothing magical about the words, although words, as Jesus pointed out, reflect what is inside of us. The commandment's focus is more on the lifestyle of someone who is in vital relationship with God and living authentically than to the use or misuse of certain words.

Understanding the commandments in the way I have outlined, I believe, offers a more balanced view of the commandments. It is not important that there are ten commandments. As I pointed out, the words "ten commandments" are not found anywhere in the Bible. It is more important to note that these commandments are not just legal artefacts, or even foundational legal principles, but to understand the commandments as the key to a dynamic relationship with God, based on his mercy and grace.

Further, it is also important to understand the commandments to express the importance of a holistic, balanced view of God's priority is for us - which is to have relationship: with him, with ourselves and with each other. Spiritual formation is not about keeping the commandments, but about having a vital relationship with God, with ourselves and with each other. Against this background, we are now ready to look at the rest of the "ten commanments," which, barring any other side trips that I might be tempted to take, I hope to post in the near future.

In the meantime, let me hear your views, and questions. Do you understand the difference I am trying to draw? Do you think such a way of understanding the ten commandments give you a better grasp of who God is, and what His priority is for you?
...continue reading...Returning to the Commandments

An inspirational story

Found this story over at teddY-risatioN. It is such an inspirational story that I thought I'd share it. I read it, and was overwhelmed with emotions. We need more such people.

To be inspired, click here to read it at the Straits Times (newspaper) site (if you do not wish to register, use the following: username:theBloke; password: intheouter).
...continue reading...An inspirational story

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Best of Me Symphony with George Bernard Shaw

The compendium of this week's Best of Me Symphony (#60) is "co-conducted" by George Bernard Shaw at The Owner's Manual. My entry for this week's symphony is What do we value most?. I explore the issues raised by Thomas Nagel's "Jusitce and Nature" about differentiating inequalities that are socially constructed against those that arise from nature. I ask if our sense of justice would be any different if the founding fathers were to place their emphasis on differnt principles.
...continue reading...Best of Me Symphony with George Bernard Shaw

Blogspace Maintenance

Sometimes, bloggers just have to do this. I am re-modelling this here space this afternoon. Good thing about that is I don't need to go to the bank manager and get the noose around my neck re-fitted, nor do I need to view drawings, plans and whatnots. All I need is that imaginary blogspace in my head and then attempt to get on top of this html thingamajig to re-create the look-and-feel as those damn yuppie techie geeky guys say. Let's see how far I go. In the meantime, please tip toe around and try not to notice that I have left things out and strewn all over the place. And, leave me some comments to sort of give me the encouragement to go on. You know you love me.

UPDATE: Blog re-modelling completed, more or less. You like?
...continue reading...Blogspace Maintenance

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Fundamentalism and Fanaticism in Any Religion is Dangerous

I succumbed to the temptation of reading One Hand Clapping from JollyBlogger's recommendation after having told myself that I will not waste my time on that site. I lost respect for him when he failed to engage his commenters after making what I thought were arrogant, irresponsible and unfounded remarks about the moral superiority of the West. This time Sensing argues that Islam is conducting a sinister crusade against the West, Christians and Jews and I can't help but respond.

After quoting from some Islamic cleric, he cited twelve reasons why Islam opposes democracy, and since President Bush declares in his inaugual speech that his new term's agenda is that of promoting freedom and erradicating tyrany around the world, this puts Islam and America on a raging collision course.

Jollyblogger believes his arguments to be convincing but I would like to add a few words of caution. Let us have a look at the twelve points:

  • Leaders in Islamic societies are to be chosen based on their religious credentials alone. But elections "eliminate these prerequisites."

  • The role of leaders in Islamic societies is to implement the laws of Allah, not laws made by human beings, which is what Jews and Christians do.

  • Legitimacy comes not from elections but from the laws of Allah. To think otherwise is idolatry, "the idolatry of democracy."

  • In democracy everyone is equal, however the laws of Allah do not.

  • Rules for enfranchisement in a democracy include no assessment of piety, but are instead arbitrary.

  • Any Muslim participating in an election or democracy becomes an infidel. Anyone establishing a constitution based on "garbage from infidel ideologies becomes even more of an infidel."

  • Democracy is a trick used by Jews and Christians to deceive the people.

  • There are really two problems here. First, the President seems to understand that God is on the side of America and Western democracy. His determination to advance freedom abroad and eradicate tyranny around the globe, he believes is given to him by divine mandate and legitimized by popular support. He believes that this is the most prudent course to take in order to secure for America it's coveted liberty and long-term national security. Second, there is a confusion in the rhetoric that Islam is fundamentally opposed to modernity's quest for freedom. Such rhetoric only fans an unfortunate flame that, if Christians buy into it, will subvert the true mission of the church.

    While I do not doubt that Islam has within its religion, and its scriptures, references that are suspiciously alarming to the West, the same can be said for fundamentalist Christian religion and Christian texts, read out of its context, to those outside the faith. It is tempting for us we read some Islamic leaders rallying their followers to vigorously contend with those who oppose their holy faith and assume that every Muslim in the world and every Islamic country buys into this propaganda. Let us also not forget that fundamentalist Islaimic fanatics who read into the rhetoric of both the President and those who support the idea that Islam is the fundamental evil that is opposed to democracy and the historic Judeo-Chrisitan faiths, might also be alarmed by what they assume is our malevolent intent towards their religion. It is just amazing that after having endured the idiocy of bigotry and facisms in recent history of the world, cross-cultural misunderstanding is as rampant as it is today.

    Try this exercise. In each of the above point arguing why Islam is so opposed to America and its fundamental principles, try replacing "Allah" with God and references to Islam to fundamentalist Christian religion, and you find that nearly every one of the points above might be made by a fundamentalist Christian in highlighting the fact that modernity is at cross-purposes with the religion of the Bible. I believe an Islamic alarmist could very well search through the texts and speeches of fundamentalist Christians and paint the same picture that Donald is painting about Islam.

    As Christians, I believe we need to hold our patriotism and our modernity at a healthy arm's length. We need to understand and embrace the gospel message and the ministry of reconciliation to which God has called us. If we do not separate the fanatical Islamic minority from the general Muslim population, and if we do not separate our Westernism and nationalism from our Christian calling, we will all fall headlong into an inevitable apocalyptic end that both sides seem to be heralding. Prophetic fulfillments aside, aren't Christians supposed to be occupied with more urgent tasks?

    ...continue reading...Fundamentalism and Fanaticism in Any Religion is Dangerous

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    Christian Carnival #53

    Christian Carnival #53 hosted by Sidesspot is up, with a large offering (over 50!) of good reads from around various Christian bloggers. My submission this week is Showing Mercy to the Poor in which I applied some ideas from my pastor's sermon on the second chapter of James to what it means to offer mercy, and its relevance in the certain controversies arising from the events of recent weeks surrounding the tragedies in Asia. There are many other good posts. I recommend you grab yourself a cuppa and jump over there to enjoy the good reads from someo f the best Christian bloggers around blogosphere.
    ...continue reading...Christian Carnival #53

    Thursday, January 20, 2005

    Blog Clicker Adds New Features

    BlogClicker has just added a couple of cool features. I am actually still at work when I received this email (it's 11:15 pm dang it(!!), and I'm still here at the office working on a presentation for tomorrow, so why am I here??)

    Anyhoo, I took a little bit of a breather and added one of the new features from BlogClicker - the FaithBlogClicker BlogRing. So, if you are interested in things regarding the faith journey, come join me in this blogring. Just click on the aboveJoin button on the right to add yourself to the blogring so that you can find other like-minded bloggers like yourself, and you can also add targeted traffic to your blog. It's all about "niche-ing" no?

    Okayyyy.... back to work (urgh!)

    ...continue reading...Blog Clicker Adds New Features

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    Concerning moral leadership

    Recently there has been an almost incessant call for President Bush to demonstrate moral leadership in relation to the festivities of the inauguration. According to some quarters, President Bush's apparent extravagance in the pomp and festivities of the inauguration has been suggested to be a sorry demonstration of the lack of moral leadership in a time of grave need, tragedy and suffering both within this country and globally. More urgent matters evidently require the President to set an example of frugality, generosity and courage.

    Is moral leadership required as an essential quality of a leader? Are leaders required to exhibit moral leadership in order to qualify as leaders? In other words, if a leader were to fail to demonstrate moral leadership when the opportunity to do so present itself, has that leader relinquished his or her position as leader? What is moral leadership?

    Some suggest the need for modeling of moral character and qualities, especially in circumstances that warrant such a demonstration. For example, in the recent debate of the purportedly frivolous pomp and fanfare of the festivities of the inauguration, critics point to the extravagant price tag of the affair in light of the President's call for Americans not only to tighten their belt but also to give generously to the needs around the world, especially in light of the tragedies surrounding the recent earthquake and tsunamis in Asia.

    Some have suggested that the obstinacy and apparent arrogance of the President and his office to not only go ahead with the celebrations but to not acknowledge the need to scale down nor to funnel some of the funds to benefit the victims of the tragedies are indication of the lack of moral leadership from Bush. This is especially so, when two former presidents are leading an effort for the rest of America to give and give generously, yet it appears that the President is sparing no expense to throw parties and celebrate unabashedly the inauguration of his second term. Others question his arrogance for claiming a mandate when it isn't clear that there is one.

    If such are examples of moral deficiency in Bush's character, does that make him a poorer leader, and perhaps even make him disqualified as a leader in character, although he maintains the position of one?

    If a leader is someone who by position, title or function is placed in front of a group of people, does he or she also have the responsibility to demonstrate morally that he or she deserves to be followed by virtue of having the character of one who is morally excellent? In other words, is moral leadership more about the actions and character of the leader than about his words and statements? If a group of people by choice or by function has accorded this person the right and power to lead that group, is the leader required to be an example--a model--for the group in more ways than one?
    ...continue reading...Concerning moral leadership

    Ghostly Encounters

    Messy Christian is thinking about ghosts, here and here. Many of us who grow up in Eastern cultures are familiar with ghost stories and supernatural experiences and encounters. Haunted buildings, dreams and memories linger on in some of our psyches. In Eastern societies ghosts are commonplace in a co-existence with the living, sometimes in harmony, and sometimes in uneasy discomposure.

    For those of us who cross-cultures, or in the words of my wife's grandfather, who used to say that we are like sailors who have either of our feet on a different boat (one on the Western boat, and the other on the Eastern boat, as it were), we live in uneasy awareness of the ghosts of our past invading into the naturalistic, empirical Western mindset of our present. Sometimes, some of us successfully exorcize our past, dismissing such predilections to superstition and uninformed beliefs while at other times we find these ghostly hauntings invade the peace and harmony of our Western, modern lifestyle.

    Among those of us who become Christians, the journey can either be comfortably compartmentalized as a past from which we have been saved. Just as the Scriptures declare, the old has passed away, and all has become new, so the ghosts of our past along with our idol-worshipping and other sinful religious practices have been banished, and we have been saved from the enslavement of not only religious bondage but also all that has once spooked us, to newness in Christ.

    Yet, every now and then, a memory, an experience, or a story return to haunt us. Surely those were not just imaginations? Or superstition? Ah, our Christian spiritual advisors/teachers/pastors tell us, "But, this is just the deception of the Evil One. In fact, these experiences that people have of ghosts are the masquerading of the Devil, to deceive us. There are no ghosts, you see, there are but demons, who deceive us into believing that ghosts, or the departed spirits still roam the earth."

    So, that is often the accepted Christian doctrine that departed spirits do not really come back to haunt the living. According to Eastern sentiments ghosts are spirits of those who have died but who have somehow "unfinished business" and therefore continue to roam the earth. Not all ghosts are necessarily malevolent and not all ghostly encounters are necessarily sinister. But, as far as the official Christian doctrine is concerned, all "ghosts" are evil, spiritually detrimental, even demonic.

    Incidentally, Chinese cosmology teaches that there are three levels of existence: the living souls, the deceased souls and nature, and the three levels of existence must be in harmony with each other in order for the cosmos to be in balance. It is the responsibility of the living to take care of the dead and of nature in order to maintain the balance of the cosmos. This cosmology, over the centuries, have been intertwined with religious mythology, doctrine and practices from Taoism,Buddhism and the syncrestic folk religions of East and South East Asian societies.

    Therefore, often these philosophical views are grouped with religious doctrines as false even demonic, and are banished by the earliest Wesern missionaries. So, perhaps, even if there are some truth to some of the underlying philosophies, along with modernism and Westernization, all these are lost to our modern sensibilities.

    Since there are so much about Chrsitian religion and theology that we need to grapple with, there hasn't been much effort directed to thinking and theologizing what it means to be an authentic Eastern Christian living in an authentic Eastern society, because after all, there isn't probably a quintessential Eastern society anymore. So, are there ghosts? Or are ghosts a fiction of our (or their) imagination? Perhaps a couple more important questions are: Would it be worthwhile for Christians to explicate a theology to interact with the Chinese cosmology divorced from its religious connotations? Would it be worth the while to work towards a basis for cross -cultural theologizing that attempts to take Eastern philosophies seriously and address them in order to construct an authentic Christian theology in an Eastern cultural setting?
    ...continue reading...Ghostly Encounters

    Believe me, I am not really that large...

    ...but for some reason I have been bumped up to Large Mammal in the TTLB Ecosystem! I don't know how or what happened, but it probably has something to do with the Church Directory project that Joe Carter started at the evangelical outpost. See the post over at Razorskiss about the effect this endeavor has had on the overall positioning of evangelical blogs on the ecosystem.

    I must say that I am utterly surprised at how much I have jumped in the rankings over the past couple of days. Although I might have about two hundred or so hits daily thanks to the various traffic generators, BlogExplosion, BlogClicker and BlogCrowd, I suspect that there are at most only about 10 or so regular readers on this blog. I think I can only identify 2-3 that I know for sure frequent this blog, and can only assume that a few of the others come by here every now and then). Now, most Large Mammals I know have hundreds and sometimes thousands of regular hits per day, so I don't see how I deserve to be in such esteemed company. Oh, well, it probably won't last, so I'll just enjoy my "status" while it does!
    ...continue reading...Believe me, I am not really that large...

    Tuesday, January 18, 2005

    Driving Skills and Self-Esteem

    One of the major deals for me when I moved from Australia to the United States was driving myself around. First, I had to get used to driving on the other side of the road. Next, I had to learn to find my way around LA, zipping along freeways and around town, and in certain parts to pretend that I know where I was going so that I don't look like the foreigner that I was.

    In a few short months, though, I gained more confidence and no longer hesitated, especially when approaching those ubiquitous four way stops, or when I had to turn at an intersection. During my first couple of months in America, when sitting at the front passenger seat while someone else was driving, I would automatically put my foot down on the imaginary brake pedal when the car turned at an intersection, freaking out and thinking we were driving into a lane with on-coming traffic!

    Even as my confidence grew as I drove myself around, I found that I still lacked confidence when someone else were to be in my car. I would inevitably be a little more nervous and felt a little self-conscious.

    I wonder if you have had such feelings. Especially when you are in a new environment, or when you are a new driver. Did you ever feel self-conscious when someone traveled with you?

    Why is that?

    Thinking about this, I wonder if it is because we have developed this almost insane idea that our driving skills are reflections of our character and our self worth is inextricably tied to how well we maneuver the automobile.

    I wonder if it is the same reason why sometimes we get upset with other drivers on the road. Why we criticize and tell other drivers off when they make mistakes, or slow down, get unsure of where they are going, or heaven forbid, cut us off in the freeway?

    Somehow, when we are behind the wheel, we develop this ultra critical personality and everyone else on the road becomes either a competitor, or a challenge to our self-esteem, and the way we gain self-assurance and confidence is to put every one down.

    Perhaps, it is exacerbated by the bumper-to-bumper traffic that we face right here in this multi-parking lot that occur almost round the clock on the gridlock that we call LA freeways. It doesn't help when the amount of traffic daily is probably more than all the traffic that is on the road in the entire country of Australia right here in this mad country called "SoCal".

    Still I wonder, why our Dr Hyde comes out in all his ugliness when we are behind the wheel? Why do we forgive less, get annoyed more easily and become ultra critical about everyone else when we are all trying to maneuver our individual death machine from one place to another?

    I remember as a younger man, traveling with my family in the car. Everyone was enjoying themselves. My children were a little young then and they were sharing some fun stories and having a laugh. Suddenly, I yelled out, livid at the crazy driver in front of me who I thought did something unbelievably stupid, but now I have forgotten what it was. All I remember now is that I was fuming and the atmosphere in the car changed dramatically. All of a sudden everyone grew quiet. Dad is mad, so let's not laugh, let's not make a noise and let him concentrate.

    I realized there and there that
    Iwas the crazy one. For I had allowed a complete stranger to spoil my family's fun and enjoyment, and I had allowed someone else to control how I feel. Ever since then, I had tried to give grace to drivers around me, and allow them to make mistakes, to be unsure of where they were going, and to be human as they attempt to drive themselves safely to their destination. It has helped me to be a more relaxed driver and not been as tensed when I am driving. And, it has helped the atmosphere in the car for my family tremendously!

    Yet, when I was trying to get used to driving in a completely different environment I couldn't help but felt self-conscious about my driving abilities when someone else was in the car with me. As if how well I maneuvered the vehicle told something about who I really was! How silly is that?

    ...continue reading...Driving Skills and Self-Esteem

    Monday, January 17, 2005

    Save the Tsunami Children Update

    150 Tsunami Orphans Rescued.
    When we left Australia, our mission was to “save the children”. But it is now so much more. It is now about giving hope to people who are stunned, it is our growth as human beings on this planet as we discard all misconceptions of India.
    Read the update here
    ...continue reading...Save the Tsunami Children Update

    Sunday, January 16, 2005

    Best of Me Symphony #59

    It's that time again. The Best of Me Symphony #59 put together ever so colorfully and eloquently by The Owner's Manual. This week, Gary once again demonstrated his prowess by the "guest-conducting" of Fran Lebowitz.

    My entry for this week's repertoire is a piece I wrote after reading a very popular blogger flaunt what she calls evidences of the superiority of Western Culture.

    When I tried to raise doubt on the wisdom, the appropriateness as well as the validity of the claim, I was all but shut out. So I came back to my own corner of blogosphere and penned the post which is profiled at the top of this week's Symphony. It is also one that is quite appropo to the recent kerfuffle over the moral superiority debate.

    Perhaps you are tired of this debate already. Let me assure you mine is not the only post on this Symphony. There are others as well, all well presented by Gary once again. Enjoy!
    ...continue reading...Best of Me Symphony #59

    Cultural Battle Moves to the Kitchen

    My wife loves Iron Chef. This evening, while watching the Iron Chef America Preview Special I learned a valuable object lesson about differences in culture and value systems.

    During the Preview program, a profile of a past competition between American chef Bobby Fley against Japanese Iron Chef, Marimoto, the American team did the unthinkable in the minds of the Japanese Chef community.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the Iron Chef competition, let me briefly explain. The Iron Chef Challenge takes place in Iron Kitchen Stadium, a specially designed kitchen set where chefs comepete while television cameras roll, in front of a live audience.

    Iron Chefs are the top chefs in their particular cuisine. They are: Iron Chef Japanese, Iron Chef French, Iron Chef Italian and Iron Chef Chinese. At the start of each program, a Challenger Chef, along with his team of assistants , are introduced. The Challenger chooses to go against one of the reigning Iron Chefs.

    Once the Challenger team has chosen the Opponent, the Moderator introduces the Ingredient of the day. Then the competing teams have 60 minutes to come up with several creative dishes of their choice, with the condition that each must contain the main Ingredient of the day.

    Adrenalin rush ferociously as the teams race the clock to whip up their best culinary fare to claim the coveted prize. At the end of the 60 minutes the chefs serve their meal to a panel of judges who score the dishes on the basis of taste, presentation and creativity. The team with the highest aggregate score wins.

    During the program I watched this evening, they showed Bobby Fley's team was so juiced up that when they completed their dishes in the allotted time, his team lifted him up onto the counter and Fley stood on the chopping block and lifting up both his arms cheered loudly "lifting the roof." His team and the American stadium audience cheered rambunctiously along with him. The Japanese team stood in stunned, jaw-dropped silence, . You see the chopping block, the chopsticks and the cooking utensils were sacred in the Iron Chef culture. It was inconceivable to them for a professional Chef to stand on the chopping block!

    They showed not only Iron Chef Marimoto and his team, but also another Iron Chef, Iron Chef Sakai, and other Japanese members of the audience, watched on in shocked disbelief while the American cavorted on top of the sacrosanct chopping block.

    Later they interviewed Sakai who explained the cultural values of the Japanese chefs. To them the Americans had committed a terrible faux pas. Iron Chef Sakai smiled, shrugged his shoulders and quipped, "I guess that is done in good intentions. He was excited. It was all good! Maybe next time I will do it!"

    I thought, "Oh wow! What generosity, humility, understanding and demonstration of world citizenship!" Perhaps something for us all to learn!

    ...continue reading...Cultural Battle Moves to the Kitchen

    Showing Mercy to the Poor

    My pastor preached on James 2 today and I believe that this passage throws light on some issues surrounding my recent reflections about comparative culture and morality.
    My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here's a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

    Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

    If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “Do not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

    Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
    What does it mean to talk about the rich and the poor? My pastor suggested that the poor are those who cannot return the favor of your kindness. Although he was speaking mostly about monetary repayment, I would extend it to encompass more than just fiduciary capability. The poor are those who are so impoverished and incapacitated because they do not have the means either materially, emotionally, or even morally(!), such that they are rendered incapable, or perhaps even unwilling to, give back to you.

    The passage teaches that true religion consists of showing compassion, mercy and love to such impoverished people without expecting anything in return (not even gratitude). In so doing, we will then have fulfilled the royal law of love - "Love your neighbor as yourselves."

    If we refrain from doing so we will come under the judgment of this law! In order for us to be truly free, we must practice such mercy giving and love without discrimination. This is perhaps why in some quarters we seem to be trapped into thinking in the way we do. Perhaps, all these busy activity and speech only serve tocamouflage our true state: we are of all cultures, the most non--free and poverty-stricken.

    Perhaps the desire and the reaction of cultural superiority thinking were triggered by all those "stingy" comments and debate that went on just a few short weeks ago. Perhaps when the government upped the ante, and when private giving started to come in, some people felt vindicated. Finally, the culmination came in the form of the false justification that we are, after all, morally superior when compared to the response and actions of other cultures.

    In my recent posts and discussions on the issue of cultural morality and the relative superiority (or lack thereof) of Western culture both here and elsewhere, I do not mean to say that there is just no basis for doing comparative cultural moral analysis.

    The point I objected to in the words of the infamous diplomatic service worker (whose words, might I add were neither diplomatic nor reflections of those of a servant) and the post of the blogger who highlighted this quote, was that the blogger seemed to make a sweeping statement of the moral superiority of the West, based on limited observations. Another of my objections has to do with the way many others have jumped in who not only supported the view that the West is morally superior but also that it is without question, superior in all aspects.

    My objection has to do with the fact that such attitudes might nullify all the acts of mercy and compassion that we have done thus far, and also I was cautioning if these attitudes belie a more systemic inferiority complex of a civilization that otherwise has many commendable and desirable aspects.

    The James passage, I believe, spells out what is true morality, compassion, mercy and justice. It also provides the way out of our imprisonment and impoverishment: show unmitigated and indiscriminate mercy to those who are the most powerless and disenfranchised and do so withholding our tongue (James 1: 19-27) for it is a fire that kills James 3: 3-7).

    ...continue reading...Showing Mercy to the Poor

    Jesus and Logic: John 8:3-11

    This is my first entry to the "Jesus as Logician" project (but see Jeremy Pierce's objection to the title of the project). It is taken from John 8:3-11.

    When the Pharisees brought a woman who was caught in adultery before Jesus, they intended to entrap Him in a moral connundrum. The Law of Moses, they said, required that such a woman be stoned to death. They were hoping to force Jesus to have to either advocate killing the woman or to be accused of breaking the Law by letting the woman go.

    Jesus' response threw them for a loop,

    "He who is without sin cast the first stone."

    Rather than be caught in a
    false dilemma, Jesus demonstrated that there isn't just the choice of carrying out or ignoring what the Law of Moses demanded.

    He demonstrated that the Law of Moses is not simply a legal document that one consults concerning the rightness and wrongness of actions, meting out punishment by the execution of "blind justice".

    Jesus demonstrated that contrary to the Pharisees' understanding (and that of many Christians and students of the Old Testament today) the Mosaic Law is first and foremost based on the grace and mercy of God (as demonstrated, for instance, in the Day of Atonement - see Leviticus 16), and rooted in a vital and dynamic relationship with God (as demonstrated in the Preamble to the giving of the Mosaic Law in Exodus 20:2, Deut. 6:1-4).

    By inviting the first person who is without sin to cast the first stone, Jesus not only underscores the relational priority of the Law, He also exposed the hyprocrisy that belies the Pharisees' accusations. He also showed that the Law was given not for condemnation but for empowerment and freedom (Isaiah 61:1-3).

    They were more interested in condemning the woman who was caught in the act of adultery than they were in offering God's grace and mercy towards a person desperately in need of divine intervention.

    Jesus' next words showed that the logic of the Law is undergirded by the grace and mercy of God.

    "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

    "No, Lord."

    "Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin."

    Law, Jesus shows, is to be understood in the context of relationship. And the basis of this relationship is the proactive love of God who came to first love us and to give us His Son to repair the brokenness and to fill the emptiness in our lives.

    Note: For further meditations in this passage, see my previous post on the implications of those powerful words, "Neither do I condemn you."

    ...continue reading...Jesus and Logic: John 8:3-11

    Friday, January 14, 2005

    Cultural Pollution or Cultural Infiltration?

    Over the past week, I have been reflecting on the issue about Culture, Morality, the role of the Church and the place of the Christian in society. It all started with some controversial conversations started when I responded to a couple of posts at another site and over here. Messy Christian joined in the chorus and that created a whole thread of discussion that became heated at times. I also tried to summarize some of the issues both here and over at Messy's blog.

    Tonight, I was looking at some of my old posts, and realized that I have actually blogged about this before. I have also questioned the whole concept about East and West. As I recently alluded to, albeit partly facetiously, the descriptor "Western culture" probably encompasses more than just the traditionally "Western nations".

    Thanks to modern communications and the media, Western culture and Westernism have encroached to every corner of the globe. It is the dominant culture in the world today. Every corner of the word is influenced (some might say, tainted) to some degree by aspects of Western ethics, politics, philosophy, economics and systems. Everywhere that modernism has impacted, it has come with it, Westernisms, to some degree. Yet, Westernism is expressed differently within different cultures, so that Australian Westernism is different from American Westernism for instance.

    Politically and religiously, there are vast differences between say, the Socialism of the Scandinavian countries or the former Soviet bloc, or the African hinterland or the Middle East with America. Therefore, it is easy to assume that there are a lot of differences between the cultures. Yet, the twenty-first century America is probably closer in culture to twenty-first Century Indonesia than to sixteenth century England for instance.

    In light of the pervasiveness of the cultural influences in our different societies, what I would like to raise are several related questions: What is the role of the Church in modern culture? What is the place of the Christian as a Christian in a modern country? In defending our country as a patriot, how far can we go in supporting the aims, goals and mission of the country without affecting our responsibility as citizens of God's kingdom?

    How are we to represent Christ in the world and how are we to represent our country before the nations? What are our priorities as citizens and what are our priorities as followers of Christ? Do we identify ourselves so fondly with our culture or do we be salt and light in the culture, so that we are truly "in the world" (full-fledge participation) but "not of the world" (non-entanglement with culture).

    We often talk about the Church being counter-cultural. I blogged about this briefly before and I would like to reiterate that most likely when the New Testament Church was accused of "turning the world upset down," the reference weren't to the world at large, but it was really a turning upside-down the established religious world. In other words, if we want to be authentic followers of Christ, we have to think hard how we can turn the established religious world of ours in this era upside-down.
    ...continue reading...Cultural Pollution or Cultural Infiltration?

    Thursday, January 13, 2005

    The West, Culture, Superiority and Supremacy

    In the past couple of days, I was engaged in what I was hoping to be a conversation between several people on whether or not certain aspects of Western culture makes it a morally superior culture or civilization to any other. According to Diplomad, his purportedly first-hand experiences of some representatives of people from one Asian culture, which is predominantly of one religious persuasion, and some representatives of some UN aid workers, coupled with his first hand observations of some American and Australian aid volunteers and workers helped him to reach the following conclusion:

    Western culture, as represented by the United States, is morally superior because the West respond more readily and rally around more compassionately to suffering and those who suffer. He compares what he saw was gross dispassion among that culture compared to the genorisity of his countrymen. Finally he concludes that all these perhaps point to a conclusion that Western society (culture, or civilization) is morally superior.

    Donald of One Hand Clapping picked up from there and suggested that there is no maybe about this. Some commenters responded by suggesting that the US in particular and the West in general had nothing to boast about morally since this is a society where there are injustices and moral decadence, both past and present.

    However, that was when the fun began. Commenters started chorusing that these "leftist" views are not only misplaced, but those who hold these views are jerks or worse. Charges started being thrown around back and forth between those who think the American culture, being arguably, the strongest in the world, and, the most powerful, the most influential, the wealthiest, the freest, the highest educated and the most successful nation in the world, is therefore also the most morally superior as well.

    Granted some commenters are just content to say that the US is the most superior per se, not necessarily just moral superiority. However, since the initial post started with moral superiority, I will stick to this point in this discussion.

    I previously responded to the article with a call for understanding, pointing out some differences between that country and America. Messy Christian also voiced her objections on her blog. In my post, I tried to point out that this guy - the poster at Diplomad - should be more cautious about his generalizations since his own observations are only of a small minority of a very limited group of an entire culture.

    Unfortunately, no one seemed to understand my point at all. In fact, a commenter over at One Hand Clapping, who claimed to have come from Asia, decried his own home culture for its rife corruption, while applauding his adopted new culture.

    While there are many things that troubled me about the whole line of discussion, I wish to blog about what troubled me with Donald Sensing's own comments in the comment thread. This is what he said:
    This thread is the stupidest one I have read in nearly three years of blogging. "Anonymous" (too cowardly to leave his name, of course) leads the way.

    None of you shows the slightest evidence of grasping the fundamental concept: what is civilization in the first place, and what is it for?

    Instead of thinking, you ignorantly, emotively decided that to say W. Civ is superior is the same as claiming that Westerners are superior. If you can't even make that distinction then you are so clueless I don‛t know where to begin enlightening you, if indeed it can even be done.

    OK, I thought. He must have been upset by some commenters, but surely not all, even though he used the words "None of you." I tried to leave another comment, in the hope of engaging him in dialogue. I even sent a trackback to my other post, hoping he will dialog. So did Messy Christian, both in the comment thread and in her own blog as well as over here. However, Donald has gone silent. I am a little troubled.

    He claimed that we had misunderstood him (and persumably the original author at Diplomad). He is saying that we have conflated the claim that Western Civilization is superior to be the same as claiming that Westerners are superior.

    First, this is exactly what I see some of the commenters are doing, one or two of whom even claim that this is a fact. Cool. Perhaps, this is what Donald was pointing out, not that he was himself making that claim. He seems to be saying by his own comments that he is not suggesting that Westerners are morally superior, but that Western Civilization is.


    From my reading of Diplomad, he is referring more to America and Americans (plus its allies, viz-a-viz Aussies) vs. the rest of the world (the Arabs, the UN, ie those pesky scum Europeans/French, the Asians). What Donald is agreeing with does not appear to be the claim that Western Civilization is more superior to other civilizations, but the statement that Westerners, especially, Americans, are morally superior to others in the rest of the world.

    So, if that is the case, I will contend that is a statement, that as Messy Christian had suggested, borders on racism. If not, and if Donald and his crowd were referring to Civilizations instead, then I will echo Tom Reindl's caution about the cyclical nature of civilizations. I am sure the Romans thought theirs were the pinnacle of civilized life. And the Greeks before that. Later the French thought they were invincible. We in this age cannot imagine any other civilization greater than ours, and cannot imagine any other lifestyle more comfortable than our own. I wonder if that would be the case in fifty, hundred or even twenty five years time? Perhaps some other civilization might take over, who knows? I am sure when the British went around the world carving out territories for His Majesty's Pleasure, none of them felt that the glory of the British Empire would be reduced to playing second fiddle to the leader of the renegade pack that threw their priced brew down the big spit.

    Earlier on in the same commnent thread I used an illustration that I had used before in another blog where the author was showing what she calls evidences of the Superiority of Western Culture. I will repeat that illustration here. I tried it the first time at that person's blog, her response dumbfounded me. I tried it again at One Hand Clapping and a commenter misinterpreted me (or maybe I wasn't too clear in the first place).

    This is the analogy. I think when one part of the world's community points its fingers at another and say: "We are morally superior than them" whether the standard is the purportedly measured by human kindness, generosity, sanctity of life or cultural or moral pollution (remember that one??) it is just like the image of the sinking Titanic where one part of the sinking ship was thinking "Oh how lucky (morally superior, rational, enlightened, scientific, what-have-you) we are. Look at us, we are cultured, we can enjoy our music and caviar but look at those poor blighters down there, those poor souls, look at their quarters, how cramped, look at their conditions, how "unhuman"! Tch! Tch!"

    While perhaps those on the lower decks snub their noses at those at the top decks, "Oh, how extravagant! What waste! Look at us, we live simpler, we are more real, etc" All, the time the ship is going down.

    What I am trying to show in both of those two sites earlier was that it was useless saying our civilization is better than theirs because it is the same world we both live in. Another is that as the Bible tells us, let us not boast except in the Lord. I was trying to say, let's not look at the outward appearance, let's look at this world and let's get real.

    In fact, let's get this straight: The West is not Christian. Not even historically. We like to think that. In fact, many like to think that America is birthed on biblical principles, that the founding fathers based their political and lgeal principles on biblical ones. Even if they intentionally did, still this does not make Western Civilization or American society Christian. We may have many in this country who profess belief in God, but this is not a Christian society.

    Whether the claim was made about Westerners or about Western Civilization, the point that I have always emphasized and which I want to make again is this (and I will quote from the thread at OHC:
    "Actually, my point is this: we are all in a bad shape. There simply is no point boasting that the West is superior. Yes, the West has more desirable features than some other civilizations in some ways (politically, economically, etc). But some other civilizations may have features that [the West doesn't] have as well. I think that some civilizations for instance have more holistic views about the environment, the arts, the body, etc. but I will not try to make any arguments for it. I will simply reiterate my point that it is useless, unhelpful, and detrimental in more ways than one to say we are superior. When it comes to moral superiority, I think I can even show that we are not. The West is NOT morally superior. But that is NOT the point.

    Even if we are to argue from a religious conceptualization, Christianity is not about which religion or civilization is more superior, morally or otherwise. I think Christianity shows that all human civilizations everywhere and in every age are morally bankrupt. There may be some features of one civilization that appear to be morally superior than another, but then, there are also features in that same civilization that is morally defective when compared to another. That was what the first Protestant missionaries found when they first arrived in China and confronted the Confucian society. Anyway, I said I will not argue, so I will stop. The most important point I want to emphasize is that from a Christian point of view we are all sinners and in desperate need of God's grace."

    ...continue reading...The West, Culture, Superiority and Supremacy