Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Words of Confucius

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
Chinese philosopher and reformer


True Unity is Visible

Tourists who have visited Malaysia are often impressed by the constant harmony and peace that is maintained in a society that comprises of many races. Yet any Malaysian will tell you in a cynical tone that beneath the superficial layers of peace and unity lies a spirit of enmity and suspicion between people of different races. People of the same race would form their own communities and segregate themselves from people of other races that form their own communities as well. Thus, perhaps it could be say that people of different races in Malaysia are merely co-existing in the same geographical location.

Unfortunately, churches in Malaysia are not contributing to the solution, but to the problem itself. Chinese, Indians and East Malaysian Christians normally group among their own races to form their own faith community.

Even though sharing the same culture and language makes it easier for the members within a faith community to relate to and live among one another, even though having a monolingual service (rather than a bilingual or multi-lingual service) avoid time wasting; yet such a scenario further perpetuates the problem of segregation that is already prevalent in the society. If the Church is not willing to take the bold step of breaking the boundaries of race, language and culture and bring people of such differences together into one faith community; then the Church is not truly (and is not willing to work towards) reflecting the Kingdom of God which transcends all boundaries.

Gladly, the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia has taken up the challenge to become the antithesis of racial segregation in the society. Masses in many (if not all) Catholic churches in Malaysia which are previously conducted monolingually are now conducted multi-lingually.

Read this excerpt which is taken from here under the heading "Apostolic Delegate Impressed with Multi-Lingual Mass":

Archbishop Pakiam said that the Church in Malaysia represents all the four major language groups, thus the Mass should be celebrated in all the languages as it is a reflection of reality. Through the multi-lingual Masses, the Catholic Church has shown that it is possible for the different races to come together. Even though most of the parishioners do not understand all the language, they always sit patiently and respectfully listening to the Word of God and participating in the prayers where they can and appreciating the songs in the different languages.
He is right. It is possible and it is a must for believers of different races to come together as one Church, one Community, for true unity of the Body of Christ must be seen visibly, and not merely spiritual and invisible (which is the kind of unity that many Protestants are satisfied with).


Monday, June 25, 2007

Friendship of the Kingdom

The story continues...

Recently, Saw Woo was diagnosed with a serious health problem and had to return to his homeland to receive immediate medical attention. Before he left, Clement and David brought Saw Woo out for a farewell dinner.

As always, joy and laughter were shared over the dinner table. Yet, there were moments during the conversation when Saw Woo was looking down on the floor. Obviously, he was trying his best to withstand the gushing waters that were pressing hard against the dam of his eyes. Finally, he looked up to Clement and David and revealed to them that he was very touched by their unconditional love and concern for him and his Burmese friends, and he said he will never forget them even after he returns to Myanmar.

Before they left the dinner table, Clement and David insisted that Saw Woo must write to them even after he goes back to his homeland so that they can continue to keep in touch with one another. They even promised Saw Woo that they will travel to Myanmar to visit him in the near future...

This is a true story of a beautiful forged friendship, friendship that transcends all barriers of difference (e.g. social status, race, nationality and language etc.), friendship that truly belongs to the Kingdom of God.

In the eyes of Clement and David, Saw Woo is not an object of their care and concern (as is common in ministries), but is an equal subject that they truly respect and love, simply because he is their...friend.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

About AMCU IV (5)

After days of enriching conversations, sharing of life stories and exchange of idea and thoughts regarding crucial issues in Asia between friends from different Christian traditions, the end result was a joint declaration issued by the three participating bodies.


11 to 14 JUNE 2007

Joint Statement

The Fourth seminar of the Asian Movement for Christian Unity (AMCU IV) was held on 11 to 14 June 2007 at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 24 participants, representing the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), and the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia (EFA), took part. Earlier AMCU seminars (Hong Kong, 1995; Bali, 1997; Chiang Mai, 2001) were jointly sponsored and organized by CCA and FABC. The participation by representatives of EFA in AMCU IV was the result of discussions carried out at the Asian chapter of the Global Christian Forum in Bangkok on 21-23 September 2006.

The theme of AMCU IV was “Our Common Witness in Contemporary Asia” and focused on the importance of Christians of all Churches and Christian communities to be united in responding to the social, political, and religious realities of Asia today. The participants shared their personal faith journeys and then examined the possibilities of joint Christian witness of faith in the context of the social challenges of injustice and discrimination and in the milieu of Asia’s religious and cultural plurality.

The participants agreed that Christian commitment must lead the Christian Churches in Asia to take a prophetic stand against any form of discrimination, such as that of caste, class, race, and gender, as being incompatible with the teaching of the Gospel. God’s message to humankind, as enunciated by the prophets and expressed in God’s word in Jesus Christ, affirms the equal human dignity of all people and condemns as sinful those human attitudes and deeds that oppress and discriminate among persons.

The common witness that Christians are called to make against patterns of oppression includes self-examination and self-criticism to become more aware of the ways in which sinful structures have also become engrained in the life of Christian communities in Asia. To be credible, Christians must oppose injustice and exploitation, not only when the victims are themselves Christian, but also in those instances where those who suffer discrimination are the followers of other religions or of no religion, and in cases where the perpetrators of injustice are fellow Christians. Christian witness, based on the Gospel imperative of loving service to others, must focus on the needs of the most vulnerable such as victims of natural calamities, oppressive regimes, and all forms of degradation of human life and should confront problems like global warming and other environmental concerns.

Faced with the multiplicity of religions in contemporary Asia, the participants of AMCU IV sought to define some elements of common Christian witness. Faith in Jesus Christ must be proclaimed in full respect for the beliefs and practices of others. Witness to Christian faith should never be carried out by putting down or denigrating the faith of others. Genuine Christian witness understands faith in Christ to be liberation from patterns of human sinfulness and which arises from a free and joyful response to God’s grace.

In the light of the various challenges facing the churches, the participants call upon the component bodies (CCA, FABC, and EFA) to address together the following concerns. One challenge is that of forming Christian youth in a commitment to build Christian unity. A second challenge is that of making our parish communities and pastors to be focal points for deeper involvement in the search for full visible Christian unity.

The three bodies can concretely promote Christian unity by getting to know one another better through mutual discussions and invitations to assemblies and plenary sessions, by engaging in joint projects such as the Asia Conference of Theological Students (ACTS) and the Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS), and by undertaking joint actions such as summer camps for Christian unity for young people. Mutual cooperation and activities at national and local levels are also to be strongly encouraged.

The participants expect to hold the next seminar for the Asian Movement for Christian Unity (AMCU V) in the middle of 2009.

Christian Conference of Asia
Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences
Evangelical Fellowship of Asia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
14 June 2007


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

About AMCU IV (4)


About the Roman Catholic archbishops and Jesuit priests (that attended the event):

During meetings, you do not see them sending text messages or picking up phone calls. You see them giving all their attention to the meeting as if nothing else matters.

During mealtimes, you do not see them rushing off to attend to the next agenda in their tasklist. You see them sitting down with you and spending time to converse with you.

During private conversations, you are not worried that you are robbing their precious time, for they are attentive and responsive to you.

They are busy but they never show it.

Their presence radiates rays of calmness and serenity.

They are the graceful perichoretic dancers, they are the three-mile-an-hour ministers.

About Protestant ministers (not all, but an observation of many ministers today, including me):

During meetings, you see them sending text messages or picking up phone calls. You see them giving minimum attention to the meeting as if everything else matters.

During mealtimes, you see them rushing off to attend to the next agenda in their tasklist. You do not see them sitting down with you and spending time to converse with you.

During private conversations, you are worried that you are robbing their precious time, for they are inattentive and unresponsive to you.

They are busy and they always show it.

Their presence radiates rays of disturbance and restlessness.

They are ungraceful perichoretic dancers, they are the seventeen-mile-an-hour ministers.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

About AMCU IV (3)


A generous spirit. This is what it takes for the participants to be at the event. They must leave aside the longstanding theological differences of their various traditions and come together as the Body of Christ to tackle tough issues that arise from the social realities in Asia.

A generous spirit. A scarce virtue among Christians today, at least within the Protestant circles. In Malaysia, we Protestants would rather not associate ourselves with Christians of other traditions, namely Roman Catholics. If we were to meet a Roman Catholic, we would tend to treat them more as an object for potential conversion than a mutual subject. Yet, I realize that many of us are guilty of hurling false accusations at them (of embracing erroneous beliefs) as a result of our inadequate and superficial understanding of their tradition.

A generous spirit. This is what it takes for us to be appreciative of other traditions. Learn about Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, for there is so much in these two traditions (which have a longer Christian history than us) that can enrich and refine our understanding of Christianity. Rather than insisting that our own tradition is the authentic faith, perhaps we should begin to adopt a posture of humility and generosity to learn about other traditions. As we learn about other traditions, we will realize that there is a great need for us to learn from other traditions to enrich our own poverty.

In working towards Christian unity, perhaps leaving aside our theological differences is only the first step. As we begin to learn to appreciate other traditions and recognize the contributions that these traditions are offering to the enrichment of the Body of Christ, we would not merely recognize and accept their existence, but we would even be willing to bring these theological differences into our conversations with an appreciative and teachable spirit. This, I believe, is a step closer to Christian unity.

Traditions should not merely live in a state of co-existence. When we begin to look beyond our own tradition and embrace the beauty and richness of other traditions, perhaps then we can truly come together as one Body.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

About AMCU IV (2)


It was an embarrassing contrast. The Roman Catholic (RC) contingent was well represented by archbishops, bishops and Jesuit priests from different parts of Asia. On the contrary, in spite of the fact that the event was being held in Malaysia, no Protestant ecclesiastical leader of the national level from Malaysia was present.

Observing from the strong make-up of the RC contingent, it is clear that Christian unity is one of their primary concerns. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Protestants. The absence of the Protestant leaders from this event seems to send out a clear message that we Protestants are not that keen to participate in efforts of Christian unity.

But, how can we be keen when we have so many concerns of our own local churches to attend to?

We are busy throughout the year indulging in the number game, doing our very best to ensure that our churches enjoy numerical growth annually, as it is our primary (sometimes, sole) yardstick to gauge the success of our churches. Never mind if there are not enough disciplers or shepherds to cater to the needs of the existing members and new converts, as long as new converts are brought in on a regular basis, we assure ourselves that we will be able to find solutions to the problems.

We are busy organizing gospel rallies, talks, concerts and many other kind of evangelistic programs throughout the year to lure attract people of other faiths non-Christians to our churches, so that ultimately we can convert them to Christianity. Most importantly, we want these new converts to be part of our local churches. Never mind if many are offended by our cheating imperialistic tactful methods of evangelism, as long as there are even a few who are saved, the angels in heaven will be dancing with us in joy.

We are busy keeping track of the attendance records of our church members to ensure that they are attending cell group meetings, prayer meetings and Sunday services regularly. That is why in many churches, cell group leaders are handed a checklist to record the attendance of the cell group members for various meetings. Never mind how the members feel about this kind of treatment, as this is an efficient and convenient way to monitor their spiritual health.

We are already so busy attending to the needs of our church members and the salvation of the whole world, certainly we are not to be blamed for not engaging in dialogues or joint efforts towards Christian unity, right? Surely the time and effort being used to attempt to unite the Body of Christ that is already so fragmented can be better used in saving non-Christians, right?


Britain's Got Talent: Tony Laf

Awww...It's a pity he did not make it for the finals! Watch and listen to the heart-wrenching story behind this talented young man.

In his first audition, he totally amazed the crowd with his self-written song "I'm Good". The song is simple, nice, truthful and soulful. Truthful songs are truly hard to come by these days because singers tend to sing songs that are more marketable and trendy rather than singing from their hearts.

He presented "Tears in Heaven" in the semi-finals. Again, you could just feel him singing from his heart. I like him. No packaging, no wannabe-ing, no mask-wearing. Just being who he is.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

About AMCU IV (1)

11 to 14 June 2007
Kuala Lumpur
Theme: "Our Common Witness in Contemporary Asia"

Priceless experience!

I felt utterly privileged to be part of this three-day event at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre in Kuala Lumpur and truly, it was an eye-opener for me in every aspect! Like this guy who happened to be at this event, I will be posting up several blog entries containing the background information of this movement, official statements from this event and my own observations and reflections.

(Editor's note: The following information is blatantly taken from Sherman's blog)

The beginning of the Asian Movement for Christian Unity (AMCU) can be traced to 1993 when the two Christian bodies in Asia – the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) – decided to set up the Asian Ecumenical Committee (AEC) to carry out joint programs, foster ecumenical relations at the national and local levels, and conscientize Christians of all churches to the importance of making visible the unity in Christ that already exists. Both bodies approved the setting up of such a committee at their respective assemblies in 1995 (FABC Plenary Assembly in Manila and CCA General Assembly in Colombo). The AEC therefore became a structure for implementing proposals to share information, cooperate on social issues and provide ecumenical formation.

In 1994, AMCU was conceived by the two bodies with the goal of promoting Christian unity by bringing together leaders, theologians, and ecumenical officers of the churches to study problems connected with Christian unity and to find ways to promote unity, at local, national and continental levels among Christ’s disciples in Asia.

The first AMCU seminar was held in 1996 in Hong Kong on the theme, “Making Visible Our Unity in Christ.” This was aimed at studying the theology of ecumenism, sharing vision of Christian unity, and building on what unites while overcoming what divides – all from their respective perspectives. That consultation led to a common search for practical ways to work for Christian unity in Asia and to planning a wide range of programs aimed at fostering Christian unity.

As part of their reflections on ecumenism, they have identified some obstacles to Christian unity in Asia, i.e. a long history of mutual indifference, prejudice, hostility, inadequate understanding of ecumenism, failure of the ecumenical movement to reach the grassroots, lack of structures to carry out initiatives, and unresolved doctrinal, moral and disciplinary issues.

The second AMCU seminar was held in Bali, Indonesia in 1998 with focus on “Ecumenical Teams and Ecumenical Formation.” It was aimed at preparing ecumenical teams who would give ecumenical formation course at local and national levels.

The third AMCU seminar was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2001 on the theme, “Giving Shape to a New Ecumenical Vision.” The theme echoed the desire of both bodies to enter into a process of prayer and discussion to explore the possibilities of new ecumenical structures and associations for promoting Christian unity.

The fourth AMCU seminar has just been concluded on 14 June 2007. The long gap between the third seminar and the fourth seminar is mainly due to the holding of the General and Plenary Assemblies of CCA and FABC, respectively, in 2005. Nevertheless, through these years, both CCA and FABC bodies have nurtured their relationship of cooperation by jointly holding some programs or through reciprocal invitations to their own programs.

Even as the two bodies, CCA and FABC, continue to work on their visible unity in Christ that they affirm, they have also been concerned about other Christian bodies with whom they do not have formal relations as yet. CCA and FABC have on their own made attempts to reach out to Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Asia.

The Global Christian Forum (GCF) that was held in Hong Kong in May 2004 was one avenue in which representatives of member churches from CCA and FABC as well as Evangelical and Pentecostal churches met together. In that gathering, the three regional bodies (CCA, FABC and the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia or EFA) were given the responsibility of doing a follow-up in the region. Thus, the GCF in Asia was held in September 2006 in Bangkok, Thailand on the theme, “Affirming Our One Savior in Common Witness,” bringing together representatives from the three bodies.

One of the results of the GCF in Asia was for AMCU IV to be opened to EFA. Hence, this was an interesting development that the fourth seminar of the Asian Movement for Christian Unity had included Evangelical and Pentecostal churches under the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia.

The theme “Our Common Witness in Contemporary Asia” echoed the theme of the GCF in Asia (“Affirming Our One Savior in Common Witness”) while being conscious of our grounding in our regional context in Asia where we are called to witness to our one Saviour. Our context presents to us challenging realities in socio-economic, religious-spiritual and political-cultural dimensions. All these call for our response as Christians in Asia.

AMCU IV was well-represented. The meeting consisted of some 25 people. Representing the FABC were bishops, archbishops and Jesuit priests. Representing the CCA were their fulltime officials, an Oriental Orthodox monk and an Oriental Orthodox celibate priest, as well as academic theologians (this lucky guy managed to find his way in as well). Representing the EFA were just two of their officials, but it was a good start indeed.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Man with No Esophagus

Jonas Scott was a factory worker who was left near death after being exposed to industrial cleaning fluid that literally ate away his insides. His esophagus and stomach were so severely damaged that they had to be removed. In order that he may be able to eat solid food again, 14 specialists from all over U.S. attempted an operation on him and successfully connected his remaining 7 feet of small intestine directly to the base of his throat. He can now eat solid food, but he has to push every bite of his food down his small intestine with his fingers!

Are you not thankful that you can eat in a normal manner? I certainly am!


Rich at Your Own Risk!

Sherman and Ben are busy engaging in a rescue mission - sewing a fallen button on Ben's jacket...

Exasperated after several failed attempts to thread a needle, Sherman moans, "Wah, I am really getting old!" Several more failed attempts and he started "preaching", "Now I know what Jesus meant when he says, 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.'" After a while, he continues in a cheeky tone, "It means that there is no hope for the rich!"

I did not ask Sherman whether he was just joking or was serious about what he said. Nevertheless, Jesus did make the comparison to highlight the extreme difficulty for the rich to enter his kingdom. Furthermore, the account of the rich young man who rejected Jesus' invitation into his kingdom because of the man's love for wealth should serve as a clear warning to the rich and the rich wannabes.

Prosperity gospel, a teaching that advocates the pursuit of material wealth based on the belief that God wants all his people to be financially wealthy, has been well accepted in many affluent countries. It is a gospel that is easily accepted by the listeners as it demands no radical change in the lifestyle of the wealth-craving people. Worse still, it gives them the license to feed on their insatiable greed.

One of my friends is a proponent of the prosperity gospel. I know that he has compassion for the poor and he argues that the prosperity gospel is beneficial to the poor. This is his theory: If more people embrace the prosperity gospel, more people will strive to become rich. When they become rich, they can meet the needs of the poor. If we do not encourage Christians to be rich and all remain poor, who is going to meet the needs of the poor?

His argument sounds reasonable and noble, but when we encourage others to strive to be rich, we are also inviting them to embark on a much riskier path, as Jesus has warned us that it is very difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom. Like the rich young man, once we taste the sweetness of wealth, we may not be willing to let it go for the sake of God's kingdom.

Furthermore, when God grants us more wealth, he is also entrusting greater responsibility upon us. If we do not use the wealth with care, as we often use the wealth to satisfy our wants rather than the needs of others, we may become irresponsible stewards in the eyes of God.

Therefore, before we encourage ourselves and others to pursue wealth for whatever cause, think again. We may be pushing ourselves and others out of God's kingdom.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Table Grace

Sunday afternoon. It was the moment that many had been eagerly anticipating since the start of the service – the benediction. Like a swarm of buzzing bees, the youths rushed to the nearby chicken rice stall to gratify their grumbling stomachs. After managing to find seats around an empty table – the table was not exactly empty as it was filled with used glasses and plates which were left by previous customers – David and Samuel took out their handphones to exchange the latest mp3 files with one another using Bluetooth technology. Sitting opposite them were two veteran private investigators, Sharon and Hazel, who started examining the validity of the latest gossips circulating in school the moment they sat down. Next to Hazel was the young and quiet Brenda, whose presence could be easily overlooked if one was not observant enough. There she was, at her usual self, waiting quietly for the food to be served.

Just as the food arrived on the table, the observant Sharon immediately stretched out her right fist, with her thumb facing forward. Brenda, who knew the tradition well, yet was not brave enough to take the first move, followed the same action. Hazel, David and Samuel then stretched out their thumbs as well, almost doing it at the same time. In the end, the group decided that Samuel was the loser, therefore was forfeited to say grace for the food. “Why me again?!” protested Samuel. “Who asked you to be so slow! Next time faster a bit lah!” Sharon replied with a cheeky smile. Reluctantly, Samuel started praying for the food while the rest picked up their forks and spoons to prepare for the battle…

I do not know who started this game and I do not know how widespread this game has become. But if table grace has been relegated to a form of punishment of a game, it simply means that the “players” are not genuinely interested or sincere to participate in the table grace. Nevertheless, the game itself is not to be blamed, it simply reflects the apathetic attitude of people towards table grace. Even without the game, it is quite common that someone has to be appointed to say grace for the food. How often do we see someone volunteering to pray for the food (If so, it is often done out of frustration due to the lack of response from the rest)?

Other than that, when someone prays a lengthier-than-usual prayer before the meal, the rest naturally become restless and impatient, grumbling in their hearts about the inconsideration and insensitivity of the person. On the contrary, if a person prays an extremely short prayer, in spite of the minority raising their eyebrows over the sincerity of the prayer, most would be more than happy that the prayer is over and eating can begin. Yet, if table grace is such a torturous act that is disliked by many, then why are we still embracing it? Has table grace become a fossilised tradition that has to be conducted simply as a license to eat, regardless of the sincerity of the people involved?

If that is true, then we have lost the beauty of table grace. Table grace is a ritual where the participants of the ritual partake the food with a heart of genuine thanksgiving, remembering and giving thanks to the One who provides the food. Nevertheless, ultimately what matters most is not that one is able to conduct table grace faithfully at each meal. Rather, it is that one may remain constantly in a posture of thanksgiving towards the One who provides not only food, but everything.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Link: Malaysia - Truly Crazier?

Read this article. Malaysia Boleh?


Friday, June 01, 2007

Uncommon Common Sense

"What is the point of keeping a person a Muslim if they no longer believed in the faith and made that publicly known?"

These were the words of Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, minister in the Prime Minister's Department who is also the de facto law minister, as he urged everyone to respect the decision made by the Federal Court in dismissing Lina Joy's appeal and not to speculate that Lina would not stand a chance in the Syariah Court.

Words of common sense but so uncommon in practice.

Read here for the full report. Read here for an interesting article in response to the Federal Court's decision. Read here and here for a compilation of reports from different sources.