Wednesday, 2 May 2007

"a vowed life is a full life"

It has been a long silence, I acknowledge. Lent season is supposed to be a time of fasting, prayer, reflection and meditation on the word of life. Ironically, this is the time when I have decided to break the silence and reflect aloud (hopefully think afresh too) about the Decalogue.

There is a general negative perception about commands, rules and laws. By themselves, laws and commands somehow conjure the notions of legalism, self-righteousness, power struggle, legalistic meticulousness and for some, they are 'chains and fetters' of freedom and personal preferences. Perhaps a strong feeling against commands and laws is because it suggests 'control' by the powerful of the powerless. Moreover, it is not infrequent that laws become some 'play-thing' in the hands of the experts and even politician. No wonder, we read how writers in avoiding the apparent awkwardness of talking about laws speedily skipped the laws and turn readers' attention to the love and grace found accordingly is the message of the New Testament. Naturally, we prefer grace, love, mercy and freedom to laws or commands to laws and commands. Indeed such perceptions are hard to deny and a lot of times, we experience abuses of laws, not to mention its oppression too.
One of the liturgical readings for Lent calls for the return of the people to God. It is not a call to an abstract returning; not merely psychological or even emotional returning. Deuteronomical narratives say very clearly that the return takes the form of obedience to the commands of God.
If laws are machineries of control, freedom stifflers, joy-killers and oppressive, our legitimate questions would be why would God call His people to return, a return signaled by obedience to God's commands? According to the writer of Deuteronomy,
returning to God's commands is a choice for life and shunning the commands is a choice for death. Indeed God's Commandments are intended to give life and the flourishing thereof, not merely for an individual but a community as a whole! It is living by the Commandments therefore that we experience life and life flourishing. Hence, when the Commandment prohibiting taking God's Name in vain, it is not merely about not using God's name in a playful fashion or frivolously. Seriously it is about invoking God's Name to support one's agenda as if making God his/her accomplice in a mission or project that is not God's, worse when it fails respect and honour our neighbour (See Terrence Fretheim, Exodus. Interpretation. A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991, pp 227-229 and Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press,2004, pp409-412) A classic example would be some of the conquests done in the name of 'expanding God's kingdom'/Christianity. We all know the repercussions of the such conquests. The conquered and generations after them and Christians then and generations after them, alike still experience the adverse effects of the act of 'taking God's name in vain. We live in a long-drawn suspicion and fear plaguing us from being more trusting and well-wishing.
'A vowed life if a full life,' quotes one my professors. Life lived within the 'life-giving' boundaries promotes life.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Mediating Structures

In the course of writing a paper, I chanced upon Peter Berger's thin book on the role of mediating structures in public policy (Washington DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1977). Having excellent public policies is an ideal every government (ought to) strive at. However, excellent public policies need structures for the implementation of the same and Berger identified the dilemmas faced by the existing American structures to do just that. Anti-government sentiments is thick and anti-bigness is not irrational, hence the suspicion on the government structures. Hope is found in the mediating structures within the society. The mediating structures identified were neighbourhood, family, church and voluntary association.
Naturally, I was keenly attracted to what he wrote about the church's role as mediating structure. He pointed out 2 major assumptions made by the general public. Firstly that the public sphere is separated from the religious sphere. Secondly, religious sphere deals purely with the private sphere. Berger says, "Whatever may be one's attitude to organised religion, this blind spot must be reckoned a serious weakness in much thinking about public policy...'
Why so? The church or any religious organisation deals with family matters. Family matters pertains to all of life, cost of living, employment,education, health care, social welfare, security, ownership of possessions, inheritance, amongst some of the major matters of family affairs. In light of these,the church will see the need take interest in matters pertaining to public policies. To relegate herself to only religious or spiritual (understood well, all of life is spiritual- we are told to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, i remember) perhaps spiritual disciplines, means that she is not engaging in life as she ought to be.
I am a novice in thinking about such matters but I think Berger's point deserves our thinking on 'doing-church' or 'running church'. It begins with the church taking interests in what is happening. Beyond knowing that God comforts the ones suffering, being One who gave very detailed laws to His people (Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy), surely He would have us take interests in the public policies and issues- what do you think? Many Malaysian had put in valuable thoughts on this, I have been reaping the fruit of their work but we can do with more. So we look forward to our church preaching, teaching and even Bible Studies connecting our thoughts to questions such as-
What do we think about/or respond to our education policy?
What do we think about/or respond the health care provided by our general hospitals?
What do we think about/respond the recent flood incident in the southern part of our country? (It is heartwarming to know that some individuals had taken great risks to save others regardless of race or religious differences).
What do we think about/respond to usage of the taxpayers monies?

Might we play a mediating role here?

Sunday, 31 December 2006

the old is gone, the new has come!

In a few hours time, 2006 would become history for us; 2007 awaits us.
Let me wish you God's Blessings for the new year - blessed in order to bless others.

As to the past and as to what is to come, I am reminded of a good prayer of the Christian Tradition:

Grant me the serenity to accept
what I cannot change
Courage to change
what I can
Wisdom to know the difference.

Friday, 29 December 2006

when silence is not golden

Troubled by what I have been reading about the intended toll rates raise, I asked myself what else may I possibly do other than pray. I suppose not all of us would not be too affected by the raise - for now, not that we are all terribly rich, perhaps we have not come to the point of experiencing financial crisis. But I think of the majority poor. This is not just one of the 'increases' in their expenses in the year to come, they will have to pay more for the petrol (therefore more for the costs of public transport and other subsistence items) and perhaps more for water too and maybe electricity tarrifs too. Life is only getting tougher than they need to bear. I fear that the circle of the poor may be widening in the days to come at the rate of the happenings.
I decided to give my signature on an online petition against the raise since I would not be able to participate in the peaceful demonstration organised by the NGOs and Opposition Parties on the 31 Dec and 7 Jan. Why have I come to the decision? More than thoughts of the hardship it will cause to a large portion of the people, Elizabeth Wong lets us understand more why we cannot agree to the reason given for the raise and why we need to make our objections known. Check this out:

If I erred I hope I was so for the greater good, justice, integrity and compassion that I hope to see in our government and our society.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me

This is a belated "Blessed and Merrry Christmas" for those who believe Christmas to be on the 25th December. A Blessed and Merry Christmas for those who subscribe to Christmas being over 12 days from the 25th December.

When we celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that the year is winding up and a new year is dawning. The different and various pre-Christmas gatherings and Christmas gatherings remind me of the much needed peace in many different parts of the world, close to my heart - The unrest in the middle-east, the ongoing suffering of the Dafur people, the victims of flood in the southern part of Malaysia,the growing dissatisfaction over the hiking up on toll rates and petrol price, the victims of earthquake in Taiwan and you will add to the list I have begun. At the micro level, I am reminded of those suffering in silence and aloneness over loss of loved ones, failed relationships, betrayal, failed or failing career and enterprise, uncertainty of the future due to the political and economical instability of our country. As a Malaysian, i do view the year to come not to be one which holds out much hope and promises especially for the poor and the marginalised. Yes, i may sound rather negative but let the unfolding of the reality judge.
Be that as it may, i think of the spirit of Christmas and asked, how i may respond to the reality of the dawning year that is faced us.
The word "Peace" was repeated in so many carols/songs and prayers said and heard over Christmas but I like the song most which says, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..."

Peace to you this Christmas and the year to come.

Sunday, 3 December 2006

When our prayers compel us to action

"Prayer is communication and communion with God." So I shared and taught those in my Bible Study Classes and those in close contact with me. I truly believe this to be a very if not the most important thing in life. Life is naught without a relationship with God, from whom all good things come. In the course of our learning the Bible together, I had the opportunity to share what I read about what others say about prayer. One of which is 'pray in a manner as if only God can help you but also work with all that is within you power as if no one else can help you except you'. Now , does that statement bear contradictory messages? So I think of the prayers of the Hebrew people held as slaves in Egypt; God heard their cries; God called Moses and told him that He heard the cries of the people; Moses was to be answer to the people's cries, part of the answer, of course. I thought of fasting and prayer of the people who faced the threat of total culling and I think of Queen Esther- who became part of the answer to the people's prayer and fasting. I think of Daniel daily prayers and I also think of his making his stand not to partake in the what he believed to be God-betraying activities. These are some examples we read and see the 'connection' between prayer, our decision and action. More than not, we read of prayer to God coupled with our initiative and/or action. This is our faith- trusting God and trusting God to give us the resources to do that which is within our power to do what we believe is God-honouring.

How do we feel about what is happening in our country? The diminishing respect for the laws. The alarming increase of crimes including heinous crimes which suggests connection with those in power (the Mongolian model case); the demolishment of the homes of the people (the Kampung Beremban squatters' plight), the 'how to spend RM600M in 6 weeks'(by the PM, Malaysiakini 29 Nov), the judiciary which has lost its independence, and the list goes on. How may we relate our prayers to what is happening right at our doorstep (apart from what is happening in our designated 'mission fields').

May we consider how on the one hand,we may pray with all our heart as if only God will save our country of the mess of the growing lawlesslness and injustice and on the other, do all that is within our power to do what we can to save our country? Malaysian church is faced with an acute challenge to respond. Our silence sometimes can be so loud, loud with her message of indifference or irrelevance or timidity/fear. What do you think? Perhaps for some of us, our prayer which moves us closer to the heart of God must move us to do something about what we see to be wrong. Perhaps as a church, representative of God's presence in our society, our prayer needs to take the form of our acknowledging the wrongs and injustice in our society. Perhaps for some of us who are in places of influence to teach and make known the truths about the wrongs that we see. Perhaps our prayer needs to take the form of taking the side and helping those who have suffered oppression without fear.

True prayers bring us close to the heart of God, One who hears the cries of the oppressed; One who detests injustice and corruption, thereby, compels us to do something with our attitude towards the oppressed and powerless, compels us to action.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Teflon- Self-preservation, communal-destruction?

When I was younger, my older brother and I talked about some the conflicts that we faced in our home. He told me what he knew of Confucius' teaching about one's attitude towards hindrances that stand in one's life journey and that is, one needs to learn from the water in the stream. It flows around the rocks, stones or any obstacle that stand in its way instead of dashing against them. That way, one circumvents the hard-knocks and still could continue moving towards one's direction/goal.
As I grew older, I faced with God-knows the kinds of trials which inevitably leave their marks on me. A friend of mine recently advised me to apply 'teflon'- do not let the marks stick. Both my brother and friend care for me, I believe. They do not want me hurt. I pondered over their caring and sound advice.
But, wait, should I apply the same advice when faced with evils in our society? Should I apply the same advice when faced with corruption that will eventually destroy the society? Should I simply move along like the stream, let the stone/rock be, and move along, live and let live? Should I apply teflon towards the experiences in life?
My fear is, what would such approach to life do to me in the long run? Would I too become like the rock or stone that causes undue hardship in the lives of others and expect them to just flow along like the stream does and I remain as the harmful rocks and stones? Or should I expect them to apply teflon whenever I harm or injure or hurt them? Would I become so?
I need to think carefully lest I become an abuser myself and expect others to accept my abuses and act strong. That would be destructive! Could it be that evil is perpetuated in this way?