Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Do You Know?

It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else, and still unknown to himself.
Francis Bacon


Friday, November 23, 2007

Link: Bedtime Story

Simple yet profound are these words:
When we philosophise our concepts of the Christian faith and try to work it out within the church and seminary walls, it’s called “theology”. When we work these out beyond the church and seminary walls, it’s called “charity”. When both are so integrated that they are expressed as a way of life, it’s called spirituality.
It has been a very, very long time since I came across a blog entry as touching and powerful as this.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Think of Her

"Who would have thought that the person who was considered the most faithful woman in the world struggled like that with her faith?" Rev. James Martin, editor at the Jesuit magazine America comments.

The world was stunned when Mother Teresa's secret letters to her confessors and superiors were recently revealed, showing that she spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God in her life. Her "dark night of the soul" started almost immediately after she embarked on her God-given ministry among "the poorest of the poor" on the streets of Calcutta and lasted until she left the world. This is one of her confessions addressed to Jesus which clearly reflected her agony:
Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love - and now become as the most hated one - the one - You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved. I call, I cling, I want - and there is no One to answer - no One on Whom I can cling - no, No One. - Alone... Where is my Faith - even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness - My God - how painful is this unknown pain - I have no Faith - I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart - & make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them - because of the blasphemy - If there be God - please forgive me - When i try to raise my thoughts to Heaven - there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. - I am told God loves me - and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?
The amazing story of her faithfulness in spite of God's absence serves as a powerful antithesis to the modern Christian, who focuses on personal feelings to determine God's presence and love. Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, compiler and editor of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light makes his point:
The tendency in our spiritual life but also in our more general attitude toward love is that our feelings are all that is going on...And so to us the totality of love is what we feel. But to really love someone requires commitment, fidelity and vulnerability. Mother Teresa wasn't 'feeling' Christ's love, and she could have shut down. But she was up at 4:30 every morning for Jesus, and still writing to him, 'Your happiness is all I want.' That's a powerful example even if you are not talking in exclusively religious terms.
More importantly, Mother Teresa's story gives great courage and comfort to those who experience the absence and silence of God. When we begin to doubt the existence of God, when we begin to think of throwing the towel; think of Mother Teresa, think of her agony, think of her faithfulness.

Quotes taken from Biema, David V. "Her Agony" in TIME. September 3, 2007.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Do Roman Catholics Worship Mary?

Friend: I cannot accept Roman Catholicism, it is so different from Christianity la.
Daniel: Err... I think what you mean by 'Christianity' is Protestantism cos' Roman Catholicism is one stream of Christianity.
Friend: Ya mer?
Daniel: Ya la. So, what is it about Roman Catholicism that you cannot accept?
Friend: Iyoh, they worship Mary lor...How could they treat Mary as God? I cannot accept that la. You can mer?
Daniel: *Explanation mode*
I have many (and I mean many) ill-informed Protestant friends, even pastors, who are repulsive towards Roman Catholicism because they think that the Roman Catholics worship Mary. What is rather frustrating is that some of them would not accept the explanation and insist irrationally on their view.

Those who are not sure whether Roman Catholics worship Mary, you might want to read here and here.

Perhaps we should really get our facts right before we start acting foolishly in criticising other Christian traditions and religions.


Look at them!

Look at the soldiers! When they receive directives from their commander, they follow the directives without questioning or negotiating. They know that a wrong directive can cost them their lives, yet they follow it anyway, trusting that their commander is in a more qualified position to lead them. They follow the directives wholeheartedly and carefully, knowing that if anyone of them fails to follow, the rest of the team will be endangered and the battle might be lost. Each soldier has made a personal decision to trust and obey the commander, thus enabling the team to work as a unit under the leadership of the commander.

Look at the footballers! When they receive instructions from their manager, they follow the instructions without questioning or negotiating. They know that a wrong instruction can affect their performance and hence, their footballing prospect, yet they follow it anyway, trusting that their manager is in a more qualified position to lead them. They follow the instructions wholeheartedly and carefully, knowing that if anyone of them fails to follow, the rest of the team will be affected and the match might be lost. Each player has made a personal decision to trust and obey the manager, thus enabling the team to work as a unit under the leadership of the manager.

Look at the Christians! When they receive guidance from their shepherd, they never follow the guidance without questioning or negotiating. They know that a wrong guidance can affect them...in some way, thus they are selective in the guidance that is offered by the shepherd, trusting that they themselves are in a more qualified position to guide themselves. They follow the guidance halfheartedly and carelessly, even though they know that if anyone of them fails to follow, the rest of the Body of Christ will suffer and the battle might be lost. Each Christian has made a personal decision to trust and obey himself/herself, thus disabling the Body of Christ to work as a unit under the leadership of the shepherd.

Trust. Submission. Obedience. Unity. What do Christians know?


Monday, November 19, 2007

Prisoner of Reputation

Our reputation means everything to us, for others' perceptions of us often form our self-identity and determine the health of our self-esteem. Yet, beware! The greater we attribute importance to Reputation, the more vulnerable we are to her attacks.

As we climb higher in any hierarchal structure and as our reputation grows, we become fiercer in guarding our reputation. We realise that we have less guts to do what is right unless our reputation is not at stake. Thus, we often choose Reputation over Righteousness, Justice and Compassion.

In Christian churches, organisations and institutions, such scenarios are common. When the reputation of the leader or the organisation is at stake, the wellbeing of others suddenly become immaterial as decisions are made and actions are taken to safeguard the reputation of the leader/organisation even if such decisions/actions are unjust and immoral.

Reputation. One will forever be her captive as long as one chooses her at the expense of Righteousness, Justice and Compassion. One can only truly be freed from her clutches and be free to do what is right when one cares not of one's own reputation, like Christ.

One anxious to defend his reputation pays no regard to anything else.
Mei Yao-ch'en
Song dynasty scholar


Monday, November 12, 2007

Why So Defensive?

I was so amused and confused by the reactive and sometimes illogical responses given by our Information Minister in an interview conducted by Al Jazeera (in regards to 10 Nov). Watch it for yourself.


Why I Love Cartoons

Click on image to see in full size

Source: ASBO Jesus


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Whispers of the Little Flower (3)

I used to compare these innocent souls to soft wax, ready to receive any impression--evil, alas! as well as good, and I understood the words of Our Lord: "It were better to be thrown into the sea than to scandalise one of these little ones."

How many souls might attain to great sanctity if only they were directed aright from the first! I know God has not need of anyone to help Him in His work of sanctification, but as He allows a clever gardener to cultivate rare and delicate plants, giving him the skill to accomplish it, while reserving to Himself the right of making them grow, so does He wish to be helped in the cultivation of souls. What would happen if an ignorant gardener did not graft his trees in the right way? if he did not understand the nature of each, and wished, for instance, to make roses grow on peach trees?

Married couples have different reasons in wanting to have their own children. Some find indescribable joy in having children that come from their own flesh, not to mention the sense of satisfaction seeing them evolving from small babies into mature adults. Others see children as a long term investment, hoping that their children will take care of them when they grow old. As for me, I must confess that there is a sense of fear in me when I think of having my own children. This is because I see that parenting is such an enormous and sacred responsibility that needs to be handled with care, and I am not quite confident whether I will be up for the task when the occasion arises.

Parenting is very delicate as every action that you take, every word that you speak and every decision that you make has a great influence upon your children, especially in the formative stage of their lives. I see many adolescents struggling with identity crisis, emotional and mental instability etc. and I realise that more than often, the negligence of the parents in providing adequate care and attention plays a pivotal role in the creation of such problems.

Sadly, many parents do not take their parenting responsibilities seriously, and hence, 'produce' children who struggle badly in life. Worse still, not only do the parents not want to be responsible of the problem, they are not willing to be responsible of the solution as well. Many will conveniently complain to the pastor about their children's rebellious behaviour, and expect the pastor to perform miracles and undo damages that they themselves have incurred upon the children all these years.

Perhaps due to the negligence of parents in educating their children, I come to realise more and more the importance of children ministry. I must admit that in the past I struggle to see the significance of this ministry because I often wondered whether these young brains could really absorb and digest the lessons that were being taught. Yet, I come to realise that children are actually very receptive and easily influenced at their age, and therefore it is crucial for them to be exposed to and soaked in godly teachings at as young an age as possible. Thus, I am very appreciative of the hard work and efforts of the teachers in children ministry.

Having said that, I need to emphasise that parents should take on the primary role of formation in the lives of the children. They should not expect the children ministry or the pastor to replace them as the primary formators, for others should only take on a complementary role. Perhaps we can learn from the Orthodox Christians who view their house as a 'family church'. Parents must see themselves as the primary formators of their children, and the house should be seen as a church where the focal point is always and only Christ, thus providing an environment for children to begin living a Christ-centered life from an early age.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Whispers of the Little Flower (2)

I realised that in order to become a Saint one must suffer much, always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself. I also understood that there are many degrees of holiness, that each soul is free to respond to the calls of Our Lord, to do much or little for His Love--in a word, to choose amongst the sacrifices He asks. And then also, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: "My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest."
How God so wishes that all may choose to seek the most perfect path towards theosis. Yet, God so loves us that he is willing to give us the freedom to "choose amongst the sacrifices he asks." Unfortunately, we depraved humans tend to capitalise on such privilege and choose to go against God's wishes by shunning this most perfect path because of the sacrifices involved.

We choose the other path, the path of contentment.

We are contented that our salvation is secured by a sinner's prayer without the desire to pursue a fruitful life.

We are contented of living the life of a baby Christian for life, forever feeding on spiritual milk.

We are contented of embracing the teachings of Christ only on Sundays (and maybe Saturdays), blatantly embracing the teachings of the world for the rest of the weeks.

We are contented of serving God and others only at our convenience, ignoring the needs of others when self-sacrifice is involved.

We are contented of buying luxurious houses, cars and state-of-the art gadgets etc., but hesitant to offer any help to the billions in the world who are suffering in hunger and poverty.

God, have mercy upon us. Help us to always seek the most perfect path, that we may follow Christ in the best way we know how, no matter how much it costs.

Let your kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Whispers of the Little Flower (1)

Did you really think that Cur Deus Homo was going to be my holiday reading assignment? Well, I believe Anselm can still afford to give me a little bit of his patience for now. Right now, I am in the midst of chewing (not literally) the autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux titled Story of a Soul. I came across this name when I was going through the name list of the saints who were proclaimed as Doctors of the (Roman Catholic) church. St Therese of Lisieux caught my immediate attention because she was the latest addition to the list and she only lived for twenty four years. I was so eager to know how on earth could a young lady who only spent twenty four years on earth be placed together with the giants of the Church, such as St Augustine, St Basil the Great and St Thomas Aquinas. That was what brought me to the reading of her autobiography, and I am deeply inspired and encouraged by what I have read so far. I hope that through a reflective reading of her autobiography, my spirituality can be deepened and enriched. May God help me.

Yet, how could I ever forget my readers? As a reward for your faithful visit to my blog, I will be posting up some of her sayings (once in a while) from her book which have made a deep impact upon me, with the additional bonus of some reflections from yours truly. I pray that you may also be greatly blessed by her words. These are her words:

He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord's living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection.

Unfortunately for many of us, the building blocks of our self-perception come not from God’s view of us, but from anyone and everyone else’s perception of us. As a result, we are constantly trying to present an impressive but hypocritical front to others, hoping that we will succeed in convincing others of how good we are, and hence, convince ourselves of how good we are. Therefore, we make sure that our positive efforts and contributions will not go unnoticed by others, lest we feel that our efforts are meaningless. Our hearts scream for significance and recognition from others. Without them, we feel useless. Thus, a follower, a subordinate or a person working behind the scenes is much more trying to be than a leader, a superior or a person in the limelight. The latter’s efforts are often seen by many, thus he is always at the receiving end of compliments; whereas the former’s efforts, which play a pivotal role in complementing the latter, often go unnoticed.

Yet, the words of St Therese are encouraging, especially to the former. Each person plays a different role in the Lord’s living garden, as she describes. The role of the ‘lesser ones’ is equally important and significant as that of the ‘greater ones’. Thus, if I was made to be a violet or daisy, I pray that God will teach me to be content and thankful of the role that I play in his garden. Even if my contribution may go unnoticed or be labeled as insignificant in the eyes of the world, or even among fellow believers; may I be reminded of my significance in God’s eyes, for this is the role that he has created for me.

May I be the flower that God has created me to be and be contented.

Will this be your prayer as well?


Monday, November 05, 2007

Which Theologian Are You?

Which theologian are you?

You scored as Anselm

Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'

John Calvin






Jürgen Moltmann


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Karl Barth


Jonathan Edwards


Martin Luther


Charles Finney


Paul Tillich


Cur Deus Homo? Holiday reading assignment, perhaps?


Which Christian Tradition?

I found this quiz that tries to determine which Christian tradition most accord with your faith beliefs. Try at your own risk.

Here is the result of my test:

1. Eastern Orthodox (100%)
2. Lutheran (86%)
3. Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England (83%)
4. Roman Catholic (71%)
5. Presbyterian/Reformed (62%)
6. Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God (54%)
7. Congregational/United Church of Christ (50%)
8. Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.) (41%)
9. Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene (38%)
10. Church of Christ/Campbellite (35%)
11. Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic) (33%)
12. Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist (28%)
13. Seventh-Day Adventist (24%)

100% Eastern Orthodoxy?!! An overstatement?

What about Presbyterianism? Don't worry, I still have 62% of it in my blood. :)


Sunday, November 04, 2007

How Badly Do You Want It?

Whether it is their remarkable wisdom, courage, humility or simplicity etc., we often gaze upon the great men and women of God with awe and admiration. We feel like midgets when we stand beside these spiritual giants. Once in a while, their biographies / autobiographies become our source of encouragement and inspiration and spur us to strive to emulate their lives...at least for a while.

Yet, more than often, our fixation upon the fruits of their lives causes us to fail to realise or recognise their deliberate choice of imposing certain spiritual disciplines upon themselves which made them who they are. Sometimes, we subconsciously assume that the remarkable characteristics that they had is a given, and we fail to recognise that like all of us (some worse than us), they started from scratch. It was through the constant choice of imposing certain disciplines upon themselves that they could develop deeper spirituality, and hence, enabled God to mould them into extraordinary heroes.

As we listen to or read the life accounts of these people, we must not remain at the level of emotional stimulation. Rather, it is crucial to ask ourselves whether we too, desire a deeper spirituality and will take the deliberate steps towards its fulfillment.

As Protestants, we are reminded again and again and again that prayer and Scripture reading are daily responsibilities for a good Christian. Yet, because of our lack of conviction or desire to do so, we often fail miserably in fulfilling such responsibilities. Yet, perhaps we never really bother to ask ourselves why is there a need to do so and what effect such disciplines could have upon us. Because of the lack of this understanding, it is unsurprising that there is no conviction or desire to impose such spiritual disciplines upon ourselves.

Imposing spiritual disciplines upon ourselves is a deliberate choice that we make, and such a choice must be founded upon a clear understanding of the benefits of the disciplines, followed by a genuine conviction of desiring such benefits. It does not necessarily mean that a person will enjoy the spiritual disciplines with great pleasure without any struggle, but the conviction will motivate the person to be willing to go through the disciplines because of his personal desire to reap the benefits of the disciplines.

As a start for Protestants like us, who are often limited only to the options of Scripture reading and praying as means for deeper spirituality (thus, there is a need to explore various means by learning from other Christian traditions), we should seek to understand the benefits of such disciplines, and ask ourselves honestly whether we desire such benefits (in developing a deeper spirituality). If not, such disciplines are meaningless and are done only to free us from the guilt of omission.

It all boils down to this question (which was posed to me by Sherman), "How badly do you want it (a deeper spirituality)?"

Choice is yours (and mine).