Friday, August 31, 2007

Ripples of Change

This is the day. The 50th Anniversary of Malaysia marks the official launching of R.O.H, an effort recently inaugurated for the purpose of writing local theologies for the Malaysian context.

Roh is a Malay word which means “spirit” and yet phonetically sounds like ruach, the Hebrew word for God’s Creative Spirit hovering over the world, and through the Incarnation is now in us, amongst us and through the Resurrection is all in all.

We live in a world that is being dominated by neo-liberal globalisation which has at the same time imperialised the rest of the world, including erasing national boundaries and local traditional cultures. Now, a timely moment has arisen (kairos) when the Kin-dom movement summons the emergence of a countercultural movement of believers in religion. This calls for Christian believers, especially intellectuals (in the sense of critical thinkers with professional and academic qualifications) to band together and think more concertedly within our Malaysian context so that we may imagine more globally while we act more locally. This comes in the light of the Asian understanding of knowledge and the local cultural wisdom of our people in Asia-Malaysia, not to mention the untold sufferings inflicted on the marginal communities in our midst (the many poor of the various religions and cultures).

To begin the ripple effect of a countercultural movement, a sizable group of Christian activists-strategists needs to come together on a platform that enables theological reflection (emergent contextual theologies). This is to encourage a critical interface between faith (religion) and society, fostering a rich interaction between theology and the social sciences with the clear goal of analysing pertinent issues affecting our nation/society. And thereafter, these thinkers need to articulate a theological response so that critical thinking Christians are guided (as a church emerging) in their lives. Such a theological response would have a societal impact on public policies, mindsets, worldviews and values of fellow Malaysians in their workplaces and neighbourhood.

Such critical analyses and theological responses must be “translatable” into effective and concrete efforts that command the attention of diverse stakeholders in our nation. “Stakeholders” here refers to the government with its multiple ministries and other agencies in civil society; so that together we move our nation forward in a manner that is Kin-dom-centred. This is aimed towards the greater good of all in Malaysia, especially the marginal communities.[1]

Such interdisciplinary, intercultural and inter-religious efforts can be seen as our cooperation with God in transforming our nation into the “playground” where Malaysia becomes a more harmonious society wherein all in Malaysia begin to live more and more as equal disciples and equal persons before God.

Ultimately, R.O.H’s hallmark is its sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit and its capacity to be the dynamism, the sap, the force within that sustains an emergent Malaysia. Out of R.O.H, there emerges too a host of theologies borne of a Gospel Faith that speaks together with the social sciences so that the Church emerging is seen and heard to be speaking into the joys and sorrows of fellow Malaysians and the wider society.

a. Level-One Response (The Core Team)
The team devoted to this effort we call R.O.H comprises six people. Our primary goal in the configuration of this team is to reflect an adequate representation of both genders, both the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, and both the social-scientific and theological disciplines in interaction with each other. We have come to participate in this effort propelled by various collective motivations and reasons:
  • Learning from people working with real socio-political issues to feed into theology;
  • Finding like-minded people to write together and form theologies together (writing theology can be a lonely journey);
  • Tying in faith and life together;
  • Translating words into action on the ground, ensuring people at the grassroots level are defended;
  • Western-driven theology that has caused us to think about the need for an Asian-driven theology, a local contextual theology;
  • Disillusionment with Western-centric theology;
  • Growth into self-identity;
  • Creating a tradition for the future generations.

The R.O.H Team consists of the following personnel:
Tricia Yeoh Su-Wern
BBusComm Econometrics and Marketing (Monash, Malaysia);
MSc in Research Methods in Psychology (Warwick, UK).

Tricia is currently Senior Research Analyst at the Centre for Public Policy Studies, at which she engages in national socio-economic issues through research, analysis and fostering policy dialogue. This covers a wide range of issues, dealing for example, with inter-faith dialogue and economic policies. Her work involves interacting closely with the country's socio-political environment. She hopes to work constructively toward a matured and united Malaysia, and envisions faith and vocation as one, as we seek common goals and platforms in the long-term nation-building process.

Veronica Anne Retnam
BSc in Resource Economics (UPM, Malaysia);
MEd in Educational Psychology (Cardiff, Wales).

Veronica started off with working with out-of-school youth and was then responsible for the formation of Catholic undergraduates in Malaysia. Then for nearly 18 years she was an economics lecturer at UiTM (previously Institut Technologi MARA). Her concerns are about reaching out effectively to poor communities and working with them in empowering partnerships. Her interest is also developmental psychology with a focus on research for policy change. She is currently starting off with training and development for low income communities through her own business enterprise.

Rachel Samuel
BSocSc in Development Studies (USM, Malaysia);
MSocSc in Development Studies (USM, Malaysia);
PhD candidate in Management (USM, Malaysia).

Rachel worked with the Consumers Association of Penang for three years on issues pertaining to the rural sector and health and safety issues. She took up the Bukit Merah people's case against the radioactive company and worked closely with them throughout the period of their legal struggle. She has also worked among drug dependents (women and HIV carriers) and been involved with the AIDS Hotline, the Community Clinic and the One Stop Crisis Centre. Rachel co-authored Women and Drugs, Domestic Violence in Penang, and Shame, Secrecy and Silence: A Study on Rape. She is currently involved with Women In Action in Melaka, Education and Research Association in Kuala Lumpur, the Melaka-Johor Office of Human Development, and the Counselling Ministry of the Melaka-Johor Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jojo M. Fung, SJ
MA in Theology (LST, Manila);
MA in Social Anthropology (London, UK);
STL (Berkeley);
Doctorate in Contextual Theology (CTU, Chicago).

The Reverend Father Jojo Fung is an ordained priest in the Society of Jesus, an order of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the Director of the Campus Ministry, the Orang Asli Ministry, and the Ministry of Eumenism and Interreligious Dialogue in the Diocese of Melaka-Johore. He is also the Coordinator of I.N.T.R.Asia and Co-editor of the Arrupe Papers. Father Jojo is a prolific writer on issues pertaining to the gospel as it relates to local contextual issues.

Sivin Kit
BTh (STM, Malaysia);
MTheo candidate (SEAGST).

The Reverend Sivin Kit is a minister of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore (LCMS) and pastor of Bangsar Lutheran Church. Sivin is primarily concerned about ecclesiastical interactions with local social-political realities and desires to see the emergence of more contextual responses towards these realities. He brings with him a wealth of pastoral and missional perspectives in contribution to this conversation so as to ensure that our constructions are based on realistic observations.

Sherman Y.L. Kuek, OSL
BSc Management (Bradford, UK);
MDiv (Trinity, Singapore);
DTh candidate in Contextual Theology (Trinity, Singapore).

Sherman is an Adjunct Lecturer in Systematic and Contextual Theology at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia. His primary areas of interest are contextual theological methodologies and the recovery of the Great Tradition in the theological thought of the Christian community. It is therefore natural that Sherman also has a concern for ecumenics. He is presently completing his doctoral thesis on a theological critique of modernity in Asia.

The direction of the R.O.H. Team is guided by several individual Patrons who have kindly agreed to endorse our effort and be our guiding wisdom:
HwaYung.jpgRevd Dr Hwa Yung
Bishop, Methodist Church of Malaysia

Among his various other involvements besides being Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia, Bishop Hwa Yung is the Honorary Secretary of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) and the Chairman of the STM Council. On the international scene Bishop Hwa Yung is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS), Oxford; the Vice-Chairman of the Asian Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (ALCWE); a member of the Executive Committee of the World Methodist Council and an Executive Committee Member of the International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS).

BishopPaulTan.jpgRt Revd Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing, SJ
The Titular Roman Catholic Bishop of Melaka-Johor
The Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur

Besides having been the Bishop of the Melaka-Johor Diocese since May 2003, Bishop Paul is the Chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) and the Vice-Chairman of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism & Taoism (MCCBCHST).

ChanSimon.jpgRevd Dr Simon Chan
Ernest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology,
Trinity Theological College Singapore

Dr Simon Chan is a renowned Asian theologian. He is the author of Liturgical Theology; Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life; Man and Sin; and Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition. He is also an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God in Singapore.

b. Level-Two Response (Friends)
The effort also seeks to be a platform for the coming together of other like-minded Christians in Malaysia to share in the dream together. It will simultaneously create a voice for other scattered Christians who in their individual capacities have begun to, or desire to, make a change in Malaysian society. This is akin to causing minute but significant ripples.

Therefore, the next layer of involvement in this R.O.H effort consists of others who may be equally interested in this initiative and committed to its cause. We seek to draw upon their experiences and resources, and will endeavour to receive their contributions seriously, through personal conversations, writings, and organised gatherings. Where appropriate, their concerns will find their way into our constructive efforts.

a. Our Commitment to the Neighbourology Principle
The neighbourology principle expresses the deepest motivation for our contextual engagements with the local contexts. It is important to begin with how we see people in our nation firstly as neighbours, and what this involves. Authentic love for the neighbour involves a “kin-dom” mentality (based on an idea of “kinship”, which is very consistent with the Asian paradigm of societal life).

Two crucial features of the neighbourology principle are:
  • that we must ensure our ultimate goal is for the long term. Critiques although necessary will be driven purely for the sake of achieving desirable results for the nation in the long run. Loving the country necessitates honest criticism at times. And we critique the country because we believe she is worth critiquing.
  • the objective of building bridges. This involves healing wounds between different races, religions and any other factors that have since divided the Malaysian society.

b. Our Linguistic Commitment to the Target Audience
While we intend for our audience to be largely urban and educated in nature, this necessitates an inclusivity of experiences from the bottom up, including the marginalised and grassroot communities. Formal English will be used but care will be given to ensure it is not necessarily academic or technical to ensure laymen comprehension.

Because the Malaysian church has a long way to be exposed to such local contextual theologies, we will be targeting the church primarily and only at a later stage speak to society at large. In other words, our primary concern relates to what it means to be “the church in the world”.

In regard to our use of language for the communication of our theological constructions, we will make it a point to employ the language of social scientists and other relevant disciplines in the midst of our theological articulations. This is to ensure that our articulations are not found dislocated from a proactive interaction with the language of other disciplines. Yet, our articulations should also reflect the language of the intended audience as afore described. Whilst social-scientific and theological jargon may be an inevitable, the employment of such jargon has to be unpacked and written in a manner understood by our readers.

c. Our Commitment to Holistic Reflections
We are not in favour of our articulations constituting knee-jerk reactions towards unexpected occurrences in the life of the nation. Much of the Christian community’s statements and positions on socio-political issues in Malaysia is reactionary in nature. These statements and positions are issued only upon an urgent need to do so, and are seldom undertaken with sufficient theological reflection given to the purpose. It is hoped that we will provide holistic reflections upon local Malaysian issues, as opposed to the mere knee-jerk reactions in response to perceived external threats.

d. Our Commitment to Basic Governing Principles
There are generally five key principles that the group considers essential in governing our local theological constructions:
  • Socio-Political Context. This will include crucial issues which will be identified in our subsequent meetings to develop a proper contextual framework for our theological reflections. It is important that this framework must include a concern for marginal communities.

  • Social-Scientific Disciplines. Our theologies will be dislocated from reality if we do not seriously engage the findings and analyses of the social-scientific disciplines in our society. The role of the social-scientific thinkers in our team is therefore crucial.

  • Local Cultural Wisdom. The cultural paradigmatic realities of the society in which our theology is entrenched must be accounted for in our theological constructions. This is also known as the principle of inculturation, wherein local epistemologies are taken seriously.

  • Christian Tradition. The approach we are taking herein is an ecumenical one. Our joint concern is for the wellbeing of our neighbours, our nation, and not the disagreement on our respective distinctives. In fact, in deep appreciation of how our distinctive traditions may contribute positively to this conversation, we take the guiding voice of the Great Tradition as a non-negotiable in our constructions.

  • The Gospel. This principle is not necessarily separate from the fourth, but accentuates a point of importance. Our theology must come to terms with the heart of the gospel, which essentially speaks of the ultimate and full establishment of God’s reign in the world.

e. Our Commitment to Various Levels of Socio-political Involvement
There are three possible levels of socio-political involvement by the Christian community: i) writing, ii) helping immediate needs (e.g., helping the poor and alleviating immediate suffering), and iii) effecting structural change. Historically, Christians in the Protestant Malaysian Church have been active within the first layer but little else has been done in either of the other two. It is noted that the situation is not very far different for the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia.

The objectives and strategies of R.O.H. will be in attempting to achieve all layers of socio-political involvement. This however is an incremental and dynamic cultivation and change, as the process is subject to growth and alterations in time.

f. Our Commitment to the Dissemination of Our Ideas
We are committed to the dissemination of our social scientific analyses together with the accompanying theological constructions in various forms of publications. This may involve web publications, books and monographs, journal articles, and sporadic articles in newsletter.

In time to come, there is also a great possibility that we may organise events involving relatively small clusters of young thinkers who share in our concerns and who would be keen to participate in conversations pertaining to these concerns.

The R.O.H. Team
31 August 2007
Malaysia’s 50th Anniversary

[1] These marginal communities include the poor, the Orang Asli, women, persons with disabilities, plantation and factory workers, migrants and refugees, and children at risk, among others.

Log onto the R.O.H Malaysia Blog. Click here.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Homogeneity vs. Diversity

In spite of being the smallest communal unit of society, it is inevitable for quarrels and arguments to occur within a family. Worse still, more and more families are experiencing relational breakdown among immediate members today. Thus, it seems to have become almost mission impossible for people of different age, culture and worldview to live harmoniously together in a shared space, sharing a common life.

Because of the difficulty in tolerating diversity, people tend to gather together based on certain common features that they share, most commonly their age. Youths tend to spend more time with their friends than with their parents. Elderly people would rather spend time together with their elderly friends than with their children or grandchildren. As a result, there is little time spend among family members, and home becomes merely a physical shell where family members rest their heads at night.

Unfortunately, the Church is not at all helpful in this matter. Rather than addressing the issue, the Church is guilty of perpetuating the problem by establishing age-based group, such as youth fellowship, men fellowship and elderly people fellowship etc., hoping that such a move will cater the needs of people of different age groups.

Yet, when we establish age-based groups, we assume that people can best mix with others who are of their age, for surely they would have common concerns and topics of interest. However, it might be possible that elderly folks tend to spend time with other elderly people because people of the younger generation are unwilling to spare any time for them. Other than that, perhaps young people tend to spend more time with their friends because their parents are too busy with work and have no time to listen to their children's struggle?

On the contrary, if we do not group people based on homogeneity, but diversity, say a group of different families, it can better reflect the kingdom of God, for his kingdom is a kingdom that embraces and celebrates diversity. Furthermore, such a group will inevitably challenge the members of the group in their capacity to love, for it is more difficult to love people of a diverse group than a homogeneous group. Through diversity, God can increase our depth and capacity to love.

Lastly, perhaps Christians need to start looking at their family as the place where God's discipleship takes place. Rather than running away from the challenge, let us run towards diversity and embrace our differences in love.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Am I?

Click to view my Personality Profile page



Life in Seminary (4)


Classroom learning is the typical methodology that is being adopted in education today. Students are confined within four walls to receive knowledge from the lecturer's speech. As the knowledge transmitted is mostly theoretical and abstractive, students often struggle to apply them in real life situations.

Even in churches today, discipleship is being 'done' through classroom learning, where Christians are required to go through different stages of discipleship classes. It is naively assumed that they will reach Christian maturity once they complete all these classes. However, the reality shows otherwise as even after they have 'graduated' from the classes, these 'mature Christians' struggle to apply the tons of doctrines that they learned in real life, eventually forcing them to discard the knowledge altogether.

How about the methodologies of apprenticeship such as this and this? As much as apprenticeship is unheard of in the Protestant Church, this was how our Lord discipled his 12 disciples. He did not confined them within the four boring walls of a classroom and spit speak knowledge and facts into the minds of the disciples. He invited them to share in a common life together with him, and the disciples learned the most not from his articulated teachings, but from the observation of his lifestyle, which was his teaching-in-action. The disciples learned how to live the way of Christ simply by watching how Christ lived among them.

Therefore, to prevent theological students graduating from seminaries knowing how to do church but do not know how to live, there is an urgent need for the lecturers to live among them and live the way of Christ for them to emulate. Likewise, to prevent Christians completing the discipleship courses in church with lives untransformed, there is an urgent need for Christian educators to be among them and be Christ to them.

Yes, it is a near impossible task to change the current methodology in seminaries and churches to the way Jesus discipled his disciples. To be honest, Jesus' way is idealistic but unrealistic, especially in this pragmatic world that we are living in, for who is so foolish to be willing to splash so much time, energy and money etc. to adopt such a kind of discipleship?

However, be reminded: to follow Christ is to defy the norm of the day, to follow Christ is to be radically crazy.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.
G. K. Chesterton


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Video of Plea

A recent video of plea by the family members of the Korean hostages to the people of Afghanistan. Very very heart-wrenching.


Life in Seminary (3)


Correct me if I am wrong. There is a 'flexible' requirement in my seminary (for the lecturers) that requires lecturers to be involved in the pastoral ministry of an (any) ecclesiastical institution. I do not know the intention underlying such a requirement, but I can only guess that it is for the lecturers to continue to nurture a pastoral heart and gain pastoral experience which will aid them in their vocation as seminary lecturers. If this is the case, then I will say that such a requirement is unnecessary.

Why? Simply because within the seminary itself exists 100 over students who are in need of pastoral concern while they are here. Each of them having his or her own struggles, waiting to be guided, pastored and cared. If the seminary wants the lecturers to cultivate a pastoral heart, there are endless opportunities here!

Yet, the question remains: Are the lecturers willing to sacrifice their time, energy and money etc., investing them in the lives of the students amidst their busy schedules? Perhaps the next question that needs to be ask is, "If being a lecturer to the seminary students is my primary vocation, who are suppose to take primary priority in my life?" Isn't it the students? Thus, as much as lecturers are busy with endless assignments, perhaps such reality cannot justify their lack of provision of pastoral concern to the students. And may I qualify that the kind of pastoral concern that I refer to is not the "meet-me-once-a-week/month/semester/year-in-my-office" kind of concern, but the kind of concern that is expressed through the lecturers' unhurried presence among the students outside classroom hours, inconveniently yet willingly wasting time with them.

[Click picture for enlarged view]


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Life in Seminary (2)


What happens when a student graduates from a seminary intellectually stimulated and equipped but spiritually unnourished? What happens when a student leaves the seminary with a theological degree, but at the same time brings along with him low self-esteem and emotional baggage as a result of the hurts that were inflicted upon him while he was in the seminary?

Many students that I know graduate from the seminary in such bad state. This, I suspect is the result of seminary's overemphasis on intellectual formation and underemphasis on spiritual formation. Looking at my own seminary, it is fair to say that there is no lacking of programs and activities catered for the nourishment of our spirit. We are required to attend chapel services every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On every Wednesday, we gather in smaller groups (called pastoral group) headed each by a lecturer to have our small fellowship. Now and then, we are also required to attend special occasions such as Day of prayer and fasting etc.

However, are we so naive to believe that the tons of sermons (sometimes ill-prepared by the lecturers probably due to their busy schedule), the countless worship services and prayer meetings will be adequate for our spiritual formation? Certainly, these programs have beneficial effects on our spiritual health, but they are still impersonal programs or platforms that should take on a secondary role in our spiritual formation.

If that is so, what or who takes on a primary role in our spiritual formation? There can be none other than our lecturers! When Jesus spent his last 3 years on earth with his disciples, he did not plan out a hectic schedule of 'spiritual' programs for his disciples and then disappeared and watched from a distance. On the contrary, Jesus walked alongside them, journeyed together with them and shared in their struggles and joy. While journeying together with them, Jesus was forming their lives.

As much as the chapel services and prayer meetings may be beneficial to us (sometimes otherwise due to the ill-prepared services and sermons), yet what we need even more is a personal, human encounter with "the other". We need lecturers who are not legalistic policemen who watch us from afar, waiting to pound on us when imperfect human beings like us fail to abide with the rules or policies of the institution. We need lecturers who are not academic policemen who discourages and warns us when we fail to meet the academic requirements. We need lecturers who are not rushing bees that are so busy that we dare not approach them outside classroom hours lest we waste their precious time.

We need lecturers who like Jesus to his disciples, are willing to walk alongside us and journey together with us. We need lecturers who see themselves as our spiritual guides and are seriously serious to be responsible of our spiritual formation. We need lecturers who sincerely care, who genuinely listen and who sacrificially willing to help us in our struggles.

Without such lecturers, all the external rituals (chapel services and prayer meetings etc.) are meaningless. Without such lecturers, the soul of the students are left unnourished. Without such lecturers, intellectual equipping alone is futile as a holistic formation involves both the mind AND the soul.

To be continued...


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Life in Seminary (1)


It is a necessary protocol (especially among mainline churches) for one who intends to embark on a full-time pastoral vocation to first obtain a theological degree. Such a prerequisite assumes that one is only qualified to shepherd a church if one first receives theological education.

Yet, does theological education solely mean intellectual formation, or does it include spiritual formation (and other dimensions of formation) of the students as well? At least from my observation of the seminary I am studying in, it means the former. Perhaps my observation comes primarily from (my perception of) the lecturers' view of their role in the life of the students. Most lecturers view themselves only as lecturers, having only one responsibility: to impart knowledge to the students. They do not see themselves being responsible of the spiritual and physical etc. formation of the students, hence, are rather unconcerned of the daily struggles of the students.

Even as lecturers do impart knowledge to the students, they impart mainly facts, which can be found in books and other literatures. Many do not guide students through a critical thinking process nor provide insightful wisdom from the knowledge being imparted. Hardly do the students receive things beyond books, such as pastoral experience or scriptural wisdom.

Furthermore, students are constantly bombarded by countless assignments, resulting in many being unable to research comprehensively and digest adequately the relevant information. Inevitably, one may complete the assignments in the given time frame without being truly informed. Well, some lecturers might say that they are already giving very few assignments to the students, meeting the bare minimum requirement of the seminary. True. Unfortunately, students need to complete few assignments from each lecturer, and the total workload can be quite scary and unrealistic. Other than that, some perhaps due to poor time management, but there are many who are forced to hand in a cut-and-paste product due to their inability to keep up with the pace set by the lecturers (assignment deadlines).

After 3 or 4 years of theological education, many enter into pastoral ministry with tons of knowledge but are clueless of what to do with them, for no one has taught them how to translate these knowledge into action. Yet, the church assumes that they are theologically educated and expect them to provide direction and vision for the church. What can they do? They throw away all the knowledge that they obtained in the seminary and seek wisdom in Christian popular writings and church models, which are often not theologically sound and heavily influenced by secular wisdom. Such is the reality.

Even if the seminary desires only to be responsible of the intellectual formation of the students (which I disagree), perhaps the lecturers themselves need to constantly reexamine and refine both their teaching methodology and their pool of knowledge, and hopefully be able to impart insightful and reflective thoughts and applications to the students during lectures.

To be continued...


Friday, August 03, 2007

Pitfalls of Evangelism (7)

Special 'Add'ition: HOLISTIC SALVATION

Recognizing herself as the agent of reconciliation between God and the human race, the Church generously channels much of her resources into evangelistic efforts. However, the same cannot be said of the Church's efforts in elevating the people (of the wider society) from their social, political and economical struggles. Even when the Church occasionally engages herself in such physical concerns, these efforts are sporadic and short-termed and the conversion of sinners is often the hidden agenda behind the efforts.

The Church's overemphasis on evangelism is perhaps the result of her perception that salvation is a matter of the soul. Efforts to redeem the physical aspects of the human person is at best a mean to the end: redemption of the soul. Such an understanding has made the Church guilty of being apathetic towards the daily struggles of the common people.

Salvation is holistic. It is not merely redemption of the soul, but also includes the redemption of the human person from the aforementioned physical struggles in the daily living. Therefore, the Church must actively engaged in the physical struggles of the people, striving constantly to elevate them from all forms of oppression and suffering. Such elevation must be seen as salvation, or more accurately, one of the many dimensions of holistic salvation, and not a mere mean to the redemption of the person's soul.

However, even if we see such elevation as part of salvation, we would certainly desire to lead the person to the redemption of his soul, as this is also another dimension of salvation. However, to elevate the people from their physical struggles in order to lead them to the redemption of their souls is to go against the ethos of Christ, for he never objectifies anyone but treats each as an equal.

The difficult question will then be, "How can we bring a person to Christ and lead him to the redemption of his soul if no hidden agenda can be included in our elevating efforts? The best way perhaps, is for us to embody Christ to them. In their encounter with us while we engage in their struggles, let us be aware that they are experiencing and relating to Christ. As they experience the Message in us and through us, they may then come to inquire about him from the messenger, then and only then, we must be ready to give an answer.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
Jesus Christ


Thursday, August 02, 2007

No Trespassing!

We tend to dichotomize our lives into the private and the public. Regardless of the time we spent in the public, we guard our private lives fiercely, for it is only in our private time and space can we let down our defenses and be our real selves. However, such privatization also includes our private rights and private possessions as well. We demand our right to make our choices, we claim sole ownership to our possessions. We may be part of a religious community, but in reality, we embrace a personal faith and an individualistic lifestyle.

However, Christianity is never a personal faith, but a communal one, simply because we are the images of a trinitarian God. Within the one Godhead, each person of the Trinity lives in constant fellowship with the other two, doing, thinking and speaking nothing apart from the other two. The three persons dance together in such perfect oneness that they are but one God. Therefore, in order to be the images of God, our lives must be lived within the context of a community, a community that strives to dance towards that perfect oneness.

However, nothing comes without a cost, and the cost of this dance is high. In order for a community to journey towards perichoresis, where each life is so intertwined with the rest; everyone within the community can no longer demand a private life but must strive to live in constant fellowship with the rest. One can no longer demand private rights but to let the community decide what is best for the community. One can no longer hang on to private possessions but to relinquish them for the common good of the community. Such was the ideal that the Early Church once pursued but failed. Are we willing to pick up from where they left and dance together towards that ideal one more time? If not the ideal, what else?


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Updates: Korean Hostages in Afghanistan

Read here. Very distressing.


To Hell You Go

Jonathan Edwards is widely known as one of the greatest and most profound of American theologians and revivalists. His famous fire and brimstone sermon, "Sinners in the hand of an angry God" is characteristic of the Protestant understanding of a wrathful God who sends those he condemns to a fiery place called hell, where they will be forever tormented and severed from God and his kingdom. Such a view has caused many Protestants (good intentions they may have) to present the gospel in a blunt and offensive manner to people of other faiths.

Thus, looking into older traditions of Christianity, which have different views of hell, might be helpful towards our understanding and presentation of the gospel. In Roman Catholicism, as stated by Pope John Paul II, hell is not a place but rather "a state of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy." Whereas in Protestantism, it is the fury God who sends sinners into hell to be tormented, Roman Catholicism teaches that it is the sinner who in his own freedom of choice chooses to separate himself from God. Such condition of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God is called "hell."

Eastern Orthodoxy agrees with Roman Catholicism that hell is not a place but rather a condition that we choose to be in, but it goes on to state that hell is not a state of separation from God, for heaven and hell both exist in the presence of God (which is consistent with our belief that God is omnipresent). How then can a person experience hell and another experience heaven in the presence of God? Consider a person who hates God and is only concern of his self-centered desires. For this person to spend eternity in the presence of God is a tormenting and hellish condition/experience. But for another who loves God and is only concern of the desires of God, to spend eternity in the presence of God is a heavenly condition/experience.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understanding of hell are certainly more consistent with the loving nature of God. Perhaps such an understanding of hell (especially Eastern Orthodoxy) will challenge our fire and brimstone methodology of evangelism, and compels us to reexamine our "pulling people out of hell into heaven" mentality.