Friday, January 30, 2009

Be cautious of wives who never fight back

Husband: "When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger?"

Wife: "I clean the toilet..."

Husband: "How does that help?"

Wife: "I use your toothbrush."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What religion on the public square looks like

An interesting piece by Dominic Foo:

Here are some photos taken from The Times at the funeral of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksi II. Most interesting are commentaries on the photos of the Russian political leaders, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin paying their last respects with the sign of the cross, which speaks of the state's acknowledgment of the church's role in the nation.
However, most contemporary Christians caught up with the social action craze who argue vehemently for the increased role of the Church in the public sphere dare not push it to its logical conclusion: That for religion to have a role in the public sphere entails that political leaders acknowledge the normativity of the Church and the values of religion.
The fact is that for religion to have a role at all on the public square first requires that the public square acknowledge their subjection to religion. Without this precondition, the church's advocacy of social issue on the public square becomes, in the words of Shakespeare's Macbeth, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".
The church's attempt to base their social advocacy on the premise that it is a calling of governments to account to "justice" rings hallow in an age of value pluralism, for truly the thought behind every politician's head to such calls is, in the words of Alasdair Macintyre, "Whose Justice? Whose Rationality?"
In desperation to save their cause, social advocates sometimes invoke the idea of a common, universal "human nature" which entails that everyone has certain rights and requires certain just dealings, a "human nature" which everyone, atheist or theist, would agree we have. But apart from the biologist's investigations into human physiology, the concept of a universal "human nature" shared by everyone has also died with the enlightenment's death, as Macintyre has brilliantly demonstrated in "After Virtue". For as Sarte argues, once you have killed God, especially in the public square, you destroy human nature as well, for existence precedes essence, we will now decide what it means to be human.
The idea that history operates in a linear evolutionary fashion has been contradicted in recent times. Once, Francis Fukuyama could confidently argue in "The End of History and the Last Man" written in 1992 that history will eventually vindicate liberal democracy and capitalism and the end of ideological wars. But reading his book today would only inspire cynical sneers and sniggers and some have even start talking about the end of the end of history. As the Greeks has always suspected, history moves in circles and with the apparent death of capitalism with the financial crisis, the rise of successful authoritarian undemocratic regimes like China and Russia (especially my own country :P), the fall of democratic USA and the failure of decolonization in Myanmar and India and Pakistan, the rise of Islamic consciousness, we could not help but wonder what just happened.
That history does not tends towards universality has been clearly demonstrated in our day and believers in the evolutionary path ideology would be sorely disappointed because history is no one's friend.
Perhaps its time to acknowledge that the universe is concrete, not abstract, reality is particular; not universal, values are local, not international. It is time to do away with fictional social contracts, artificial constructs of universal human nature and return to the concrete communal identity.
And Russia is taking the lead into emerging out of the mire of universalism into particularlism. State endorsement and personal subjection of Russian political leaders to the Russian Orthodox Church is the first step towards a true Church in the public square. It maybe mostly nominal and for appearances, but these appearances are important, for it is the establishment of a concrete identity of the Russian nation, rooted in its Christian past, and its Biblical narratives. Only when there exists a concrete communal identity, can then the Church with good foundations start calling the state to account based firmly on a concrete real communal identity.
Otherwise, the alternative is that of calling for a construction of civil rights and values based on the spectral foundations of "universal human rights", and the whole superstructure will not hold, because it is based on just an abstract illusion.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gamblings and other problems of life

(Hoarding Emptiness, by Jason Fuller)

Like any other family, there are problems faced by my family. I've discover more when I'm back for CNY this time.

For a start, my dad picked up a new hobby: Gambling. Not that he didn't gamble prior to retirement, just that, now with all the spare time, he is into some pretty serious gambling habit. He boarded a gambling cruise twice a week together with his second sister the week before Chinese New Year. Mom said that the amount of money are in the thousands. A significant sum to our middle-income family.

Both of them quarrelled over this a few times already. And mom says she is fine to separate with dad because she can move into the Buddhist temple to volunteer full time there. I think I inherit the religious habit from mom though we have different religion.

All my dad's six siblings are gamblers. All of them are into mahjong and 4D. His eldest brother is not married. He used to take me to the cinema very often when I was younger. And he sneered at my dad when he saw him crying during the cremation of grandpa's body. Reason is that he hates grandpa because grandpa neglected the family, wasted all 5 goldsmith shops to gambling. Hence my paternal family was in destitute.

My dad's second brother's wife passed away a few years ago and left him with two grown up sons. The first son is not married. I just got to know that the second son's marriage didn't work out. The marriage lasts only about 4 years. He has a 3 year-old son who is now under his ex-wife custody. During the reunion dinner, he remarked that it is good to find a woman who would bear him children yet without marriage. He thinks that marriage is troublesome if it ended in a divorce. They are Christians. Inherited the faith from their maternal family, like Timothy (2 Tim 1.5).

My dad's third brother was into stock-market. During the late 1990s' financial crisis, his wife had to pawn her jewelries for the debts. Both of them are school teachers. Their children are the smartest in the family. The eldest daughter is studying medicine in India while the second daughter is pursuing a law degree in KL.

My dad is the fourth. His eldest son, that's me, trying to pursue something in Singapore. The second son is a technician whose work is already affected by current economy crisis.

My dad's younger brother is into soccer-gambling, mahjong and other kinds of gambling-games. He was a bookie. And he ended up with bad debts. Hence his family was poor since last time. Now their eldest daughter is already working, and their son is in university. So the family is better off a bit now.

The sixth is divorced and currently in a new relationship. His ex-wife used to complain a lot on his gambling habit. His daughter since very young has been staying with her aunt, my dad's eldest sister. And she dislikes her dad and his girlfriend. She is a rebellious 16 year-old teenager who, I just found out, borrowed money from loan-shark to compensate for something she broke in a departmental store.

Before she passed away two years ago, my late grandma said that her greatest regret in life is to see all her children became gamblers. If you are a parent, perhaps you could sympathize with her.

I remember that people come to my grandparents' house to play mahjong. And whichever sons or daughters who were there will join in the game. And perhaps because of that all my uncle and aunts addicted to gambling.

As for myself, I am not into gambling. I have witnessed its horrors in my own family and through my encounters while working in the cruise. Families and individuals' lives are destroyed. In fact not only that, I have experienced the horror myself. When I was still in college, I gambled over soccer matches and incurred a debt of few thousand dollars.

And of course this is just the stories from my paternal family. There are similar and worst stories from my maternal family. Thus sometimes I think it is naive for people to trivialize gambling habits and the social effects of casinos. Hence when I was asked to play the role of a gambler in an upcoming evangelistic drama that unveils the negative effects of gambling, I accepted the role without thinking twice.

Emergent Movement threatens the church of Christ?

"If churches embracing the principle of Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) fail to understand and address the concerns voiced in the Emerging Church conversation, we may lose an entire generation of professing believers.

"If the Emerging Church eventually defines Christ's church, then the church as Christ defined it will be no more."

"While we should applaud and apply much of its content, we must also confront that it is moved along by an old philosophical wind which ever threatens to wrest Christ's church from the foundation of her faith – the written Word of God."
These are Rutledge Etheridge's (adjunct professor of systematic theology at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) remarks on the Emergent movement. Concerned yet careless words. Poor rhetorics.

The Roman Catholics do not embrace Sola Scriptura and they are still around conducting themselves as Christ's followers, worshiping and fighting for social justice even if it means to make a stand in a country ruled by corrupted tyrants.

A few centuries ago the Reformed church in Geneva, under the leadership of John Calvin, succeeded in defining the church and ended up burning dissenting people. Yet now the Reformed churches have been (assumingly) Christ re-defined and still existing.

The Reformed church in the 16th century also inherited and moved along a "philosophical wind" (hermeneutics then) which had people being executed for their different beliefs. And the church's execution are supposedly justified by the "foundation of her faith - the written Word of God".

Hence I dont see Etheridge making any case for dismissing the Emergent movement.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why love the church?

Kenny’s post titled Reasons Why I Love The Small Church prompted me to explore why should I, or any Christians, love the church at all? (The ‘church’ here refers to any congregation of Christians that affirms the Nicene Creed.)

Following Alister McGrath, I’ve come to think that the reason why we should love the church is none other than the fact that it is an actual social reality of Christianity.

Christianity is a religion centralizes on the person of Christ. Hence this centralization makes it distinct from other religion (just ignore the weird “way of life” description of Christianity). And the church as an artifact that preserves the tradition of Christ, which has since been written down as scripture. It is said that Christ has bestowed his glory to the church (John 17.22).

On the other hand, the church is no less than the fellowship among believers. It is also a worshiping community. And the danger is to rest the definition of the church as just these and nothing more.

The idea that Christianity is the working definition embodied by the community of believers is robust enough to engage in our ideological-infested world. The church serves as a social structure in the public to speak to it. No doubt the reasons to love the church are many but the fact that it is the social identity of Christians, Christianity, and Christ should not be forgotten.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Theistic Evolution & Intelligent Design: How can a non-scientist Christian choose?

Forget about non-Christian evolutionists and 6-Day Creationists for a while. Let's narrow our focus to the Christians from both camps: What are Theistic Evolutionists (TE) and Intelligent Design theorists (ID) saying about the scientific enterprise and Christian faith?

Being untrained in science, I'm like many other believers who find ourselves caught in between TE and ID. When it comes to this issue, we just lack the information to situate ourselves. As if we are stuck in the middle, destined to be ignorant. In a Malay idiom, "Bila gajah lawan gajah, kancil mati di tengah-tengah." (When two elephants fight with each other, the mouse-deer perished in the midst).

Yet we are not allowed to find comfort or contentment in ignorance. The fact that the sciences, biological science in particular, have permeated into almost every level of the society, we should not be alarmed to hear its discourse even in the church, among fellow believers. On the other hand, there are non-believers who expect Christians to be rather deluded over reality, and hence they need to be engaged head-on.

But when we try to engage on the matter, it seems that we are torn, just like the tiny mouse-deer that found itself between the two furious fighting elephants. We often frustratingly don't know which side should we align ourselves with.

TE embraces natural evolution and the belief in a creator God. ID is advocating an "effort to empirically detect whether the "apparent design" in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations."

First, the language used in both camps are loaded and confusing. For example, there is a connotation that a phrase like 'natural selection acting on random variations' contradicts the mysterious ways of God working in the creation.

To the TE, such phrase does not negate or exclude God's involvement within creation. While the ID take it to mean 'undirected process', as defined above.

But this is not just language game. The ID thinks that the space allocated for God in TE perspective is redundant. To the ID, the claim to ignorance over God's mysterious occupying method in the biological world, which run by natural selection and random variation, is just putting God in the gap. It's like making the invisible God more invisible.

But of course we know that it is futile to make an already invisible God more invisible. This charge against the TE is invalid as ID's own explication of God's involvement is limited: the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural.

Hence we should not confuse ID with Creationism and think both as the same. Similarly Ronald L. Numbers, who is critical of ID, "agrees the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID movement" but also recognize that it is "the easiest way to discredit intelligent design."

On the other hand, the TE sees ID as undercutting the very purpose of science,
"Although the boundaries of science are open to change, allowing supernatural explanations to count as science undercuts the very purpose of science, which is to explain the workings of nature without recourse to religious language. Attributing complexity to the interruption of natural law by a divine designer is, as some critics have claimed, a science stopper. Besides, ID has not yet opened up a new research program." (Italics added)
Hence the challenge for ID remains to produce a distinctive research program. Unless this happens, it is vague to see how ID able to contribute to scientific advancement or education. The working paradigm of evolution is pushing the scientific community to more discovery (for eg. the Tiktaalik, Simon Conway Morris' evolutionary convergence), while the ID seems to find contentment in status quo.

Given the lacking of ID contribution to the scientific enterprise on one hand, and the continuous successful scientific advancement provided by evolution paradigm, I take side with the TE. At least for this moment.

My resources for TE are taken from the International Society for Science and Religion, while ID are from the Discovery Institute (their Intelligent Design website, their list of hundreds of scientists who dissent from evolution perspective).

Another useful, brief, and readable source is the downloadable publication by the National Academies: Science, Evolution, and Creationism.

Christ, Economics, and Free Market

In the 4th conversation organized by Templeton Foundation, the question 'Does the free market corrode moral character?' was discussed. 13 political scientist, economists, and policy makers were involved.

Here are some reflective remarks came out from the conversation:
"Most of us are consumers who try to get the best possible deals in the market. Most of us are also moral beings who try to do the right things in our communities and societies. Unfortunately, our market desires often conflict with our moral commitments...For example, when the products we want can be made most cheaply overseas, the best deals we can get in the marketplace may come at the expense of our own neighbors' jobs and wages...How do we cope with this conflict? Usually by ignoring it."
(Robert B. Reich)

" markets are not simply the absence of government. Markets depend on systems of law to decide what can be traded as a commodity and what cannot. Slavery is forbidden in modern market economies; so are blackmail and child pornography. Free markets always involve some moral constraints of this sort, which are policed by governments. More generally, free markets rely on property rights, which are also enforced - and often created - by government."
(John Gray)

"The free market's celebration of hedonism and autonomy has had its predicted effect on those with less cultural capital - the poor and, more recently, the working class. In low-income communities, the assault on norms of self-restraint and fidelity in personal relations has undermined both the extended and the nuclear family. In many such communities, divorce and out-of-wedlock births are becoming the norm."
(Kay S. Hymowitz)

"Like other aspects of a free and just society, free markets depend on individual morality - on taming our selfish passions and impulses and choosing the goals given to us by Nature and Nature's God."
(Rick Santorum)

"...Paul Samuelson aptly summed up the issue: "the problem with perfect competition is what George Bernard Shaw once said of Christianity: 'the only trouble with it is that it's never been tried.' "... Now that the financial crisis is upon us, however, the burden is largely falling not on the irresponsible few who created it but on the many who, against the counsel of traditional thrift and prudence, were lured into it - namely, the investors in overrated mortgage-backed bonds and borrowers whose homes are being foreclosed at record levels. "Fettered" capitalism has indeed corroded our moral character, by both privatizing the rewards of the market and (in the form of federal bailouts) socializing its risks. Both are betrayals of the free market and its genuine virtues."
(John C. Bogle)
Indeed the question is a big one. And as the virtue for being big, the question is usually ambivalent. Yet from the exchanges, we can mark a few converging points:
  • Free market is not politically free. That means government will always be in control of market regulations.

  • Commodity cannot be assumed as morally neutral. Types of goods and services are subject to value interpretation. For eg. prostitution, abortion clinic, branded garments, cocaine, gambling etc.

  • The integrity of market agents, including consumers and producers, must not be taken for granted. For eg. we cannot assumed that humans are generally greedy or altruistic. Humans are complicated.

  • The complex dynamics between market agents and the government is the platform to reach social and economic equilibrium.
Though these characteristics are contingent, yet we recognize that God is working within contingencies. How to answer questions poised by the economy has to depend on one's view on the 4 points raised above.

What is the role of government, be it secular or religious, in God's world? Where should the government derived its value from?

Are we in the right commodity competition? How do we ascribe value to products or services?

What is our human story? We recognize ourselves as fallen, finite, and dying creatures, which are unconditionally being loved by God, living in a world with limited resources and space. What does this mean to us?

How should the distribution of authority between individual citizens and government be managed? How much liberty should the relation between both serves as a negotiation platform for future direction for a nation? And what did Jesus mean by, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me"?

I've sketched the framework for further theological engagement. I'll leave it to you to find out.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What is that within me?


I feel like being in a prison. Prison of sentiments and passions.

Physically I had enough rest. Didn't go out since I arrived home yesterday morning. Didn't feel like going out. Although I didn't want to admit this but my homeland has become a scary place. The same affection one has towards a foreign land.

Is this the feeling of exiled? Have I been away for too long? Periodically, I have been away for 6 years. That's more than a decade.

Does that time enough to change one's affection towards one's homeland?

Unfamiliarity is what I feel.

The restlessness is not entirely incomprehendible. The house is still the same. My room is still the same. The car, the porch, the backyard are all the same. What has changed?

It is as if I'm still stuck in time. 6 years ago. Everyone around already 6 years ahead of me. I have missed out the history that I could have shared with them. Parents, siblings, friends. All have spent the past 6 years without me being around. No matter who do I talk to, I am talking to someone who does not have me among their daily life in the past 6 years. That leaves out a big vacuum.

No wonder this restlessness.

When I miss home, am I missing the life, the place, and the people, as an trans-temporal objects of affection? Or am I missing the the life, the place, and the people which are 6 years ago, which are temporally-subjected, and sadly, which are not retrievable?

Am I silently crying? What are the tears like? I wonder reluctantly while deeply appreciating the people around who try to fill this vacuum. Rehabilitation.

"Life begins on the other side of despair." (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Language & Logic of Prosperity Gospel

Joseph Prince in his book, Destined to Reign, remark that there is no such thing as Prosperity Gospel. The only true and one gospel is the one that teaches prosperity. Joseph Prince is of course not the only one who misunderstand the meaning of Jesus' gospel.

Eddie Fearon posted a brief analysis of the language and logic of prosperity gospel.
"...there is a fundamental failure in prosperity teaching to understand the truly ‘eschatological’ nature of GOD’s mission. We still await the full presence of GOD and his reign on earth including the full transformation of our bodies and hearts and minds and lives... Prosperity teaching seems to operate with an “over-realized eschatology”, when the fullness of the personal aspects of salvation, along with the social and cosmic still await realization in the future."
Right on.

The Church as One

"Too many Christian denominations and churches around. This is confusing. I think all churches should be united. Well I'll start a church that'll do just that."
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormon, had the same thought. He was troubled by the various denominations of his day, so he aspire to establish a true church. And he did. But whether is it true or not is another matter. But the fact that the organization that he started doesn't help to unite the already existing fragmentation. It only worsen it.

Yet efforts to achieve ecumenism are pressing on even though it seems impossible at this moment. Different churches are fine to stick together to fight for some common causes but it is another matter to talk about uniting them as one worshiping and social community.

The social reality of the church as the one body of Christ is serious enough for Jesus to pray for. "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17.22-23, Italic added). Hence I have no reason to think otherwise except to continually asking for the same thing.

Some friends know that when I am asked which church am I from, I would say, "I'm from the grand heritage of John Knox." Yet if you ask whether am I open to embrace other denomination, I would say "Yes". I dare not think otherwise.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Christ & Theatrics

Drama is a realization. Not so much in the sense of discovering something but of making real. Or in other way of saying, bringing realism back into reality. Each actor is a gateway through which the audience is brought into that realism.

Acting is the process of uncovering the already existing real. It is the ontology that determines the acting, not the other way around.

The stage is not a mere platform. It is a reality machine where fixed eyes are re-aligned, got re-fixed. A place where the real is uncovered before the observing audience.

When I played the character of a negligent son, the characteristic and mannerism of how the person relates to his parents already existing. My role is to realize this characteristic, uncovering its nature on the stage.

Hence when I improvise the character that I’m playing, I need to explore the already existing traits and reflexes that are recognizable within the context of the audience. If the character is evil, then the notion of evil embodied by the character has to be familiar by the intended audience. Thus at all time during rehearsals and practices, I have to constantly ask myself, “How can I best portray this emotion and gesture?

And this is not far from the question Jesus once asked, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?” (Mark 4.30)

World Forum on Theology and Liberation

This is the 3rd ecumenical theological forum on ecological issues. There are 45 invited theologians from around the globe to take part, with an expectation of 400 participants. The themes cover:
  • To contribute to an ecological spirituality.

  • To get a deeper understanding of present socioeconomic problems in the light of the resources of theology and vice-versa.

  • To foster a theological reflection from the perspective of liberation.

  • To favor the dialogue between differences by relating diversities in a network.
I like the sub-theme of the forum: Water, Earth, Theology: for another possible World

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sze Zeng on...

We don't wear cosmetics. Painting our faces or waxing our hair is bearing the image that we want to portray to the public. In other words, it is stripping away our banality. Yet cosmetics are not merely public portrayal but, reciprocally, publicly validated.

Thus, making-up is an act of validation. An attempt to validate ourselves in the public. And this implies that we, in the first place, are invalids.

This is ironic. In order to validate ourselves, we invalidated ourselves. To wear cosmetics is to strip bear.

What is 'Worship'?

David Burke has posted a list of description of 'Worship'. In addition, I've come out with a few:

  • Worship is the public praxis of informing the world of what the world really is, and should be.

  • Worship is a self-transcending action that locates the worshiper within the line of tradition of Christians from past generations to future ones. Constituting him/her within the apostolic/universal church, the body of Christ.

  • Worship is a socio-political symbol act out to the society and government, indicating the existent of a higher polity in the world.

  • Worship is a warrant for the transmission of God's redemptive story from generation to generation.

  • Worship is a reminder of humans' essence as fallen creature on one hand; as redeemed saints on the other.

  • Finally, worship is something Christians do when they have nothing better to do... heee

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lightning reviews on two recently read books

The Living Word of God: Rethinking Theology of the Bible
Witherington did a good job in clearing many of the confusing passages in the New Testament. The downside is his unclear, uncritical, and sometimes misfiring attempts in tackling the issue of postmodernism, epistemology, and other philosophical subjects.

3 exclamation marks !!!

The Order of Things: Exploration in Scientific Theology
A continuation of McGrath's Scientific Theology. This is the bridge between his 3 volumes Scientific Theology and the on-going and upcoming 'Scientific Dogmatics'. The book discusses contemporary anti-theological position of Dawkins, the legitimacy and recovery of natural theology, the parallel between evolution of culture and development of doctrines.

The last 3 essays are especially illuminating. They serve McGrath's working papers for his dogmatic project. McGrath's discussion over the 'actuality of the church' as the starting point for theologizing through the process of assimilation and accommodation is significant as it undercut the popular taking of the Trinity as theological starting point on one hand and the Sola Scriptura on the other. I enjoy this book as much as his previous Science of God.

5 exclamation marks !!!!!

(May be Tony Siew, my lecturer, is complaining silently, "Sze Zeng, you should be reading Greek!!")

Two Busy Weeks

Facing the second busy week now. Activities and work has taken up my blogging time. Had many night meetings with friends and finished all 4 assignments over the weekend.

Last week:
Monday evening was used for revision.

Tuesday evening was used for discussing this year's plan for GCF's movie session group at Lee Yuen's place.

Wednesday had a meeting with ATRIA group over a new media initiative.

Friday was dinner and drinking session with friends.

Saturday morning till afternoon was for Greek homework. Evening to night was for friends.

This week:
Sunday's lunch was meeting church's youth leaders. Afternoon was for Greek assignment. Evening for art exhibition at the Art House.

Monday's evening was the euthanasia forum.

Yesterday's evening was for meeting with some newly found friends, exploring the area of arts.

Later today at night, will be sending gf away for cny. Then have to pack up for my own getaway.

Didn't had time to sit, read, and write. And I'm going back to Bukit Mertajam for CNY this week.

Hope you all having great time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Caffeine & Matthew 27.52-53

"The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." (Matthew 27.52-53)

People with a higher caffeine intake, from sources such as coffee, tea and caffeinated energy drinks, are more likely to report hallucinatory experiences such as hearing voices and seeing things that are not there, according to the Durham University study.

‘High caffeine users’ – those who consumed more than the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day - were three times more likely to have heard a person’s voice when there was no one there compared with ‘low caffeine users’ who consumed less than the equivalent of one cup of instant coffee a day.

4 Perspectives on Matthew 27.52-53 in face of this recent caffeine studies:

1) The author or source of that particular passage had too much coffee in the morning.

2) Jerusalem had a coca-cola competition on the previous night. The one who drinks most coke will received a free empty tomb as burial site for hes/her family. Oh.. that comes along with free ossuaries too.

3) There was a purification ritual of drinking 7 cups of coffee among 2nd temple Jews which we still haven't found the historical evidents for it yet. But the fact that number 7 being a perfect or complete number among them serves as a strong clue.

4) Ignore the caffeine research. The passage describes exactly what happened. Risen dead people went into Jerusalem and remain alive till now.

So, what's your perspective?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Make room for the 'Others'

Soon, gay people started showing up at [a pastor's] church...sometimes in pairs... The congregation got nervous. They said, "Pastor, the homosexuals are coming! They're coming down the aisles by twos! What are we going to do?"

[The pastor] said, "Well I guess they can take a seat next to the idolaters and the gossips and the fornicators and the whoremongers. Make room."

(Joe Dallas, How Should We Respond? An exhortation to the Church on loving the homosexual, p.9. Emphasis added)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Elemental questions in apologetics

Can we prove the existence of God? As anyone acquainted with contemporary philosophy of religion knows, the apparent simplicity and straightforwardness of this question is deceptive. Many subsidiary questions must be asked before any informative answer is forthcoming. Chief among these questions are: (1) What do you mean by "prove"? (2) What do you mean by "God"? and (3) Prove to whom?
(James F. Sennett, Review of Denys Turner's Faith, Reason, and the Existence of God)

The book that jump-start me to read theology, philosophy, biblical studies, and koine Greek (!) is C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. The most famous apologetic book to the post-babyboomers, gen-X, and probably gen-Y too. I've come across many testimonies by prominent people whose lives are influenced by this small book.

To highlight the point further, you have to know a bit about me to appreciate the impact this book has on me.

Prior to Mere Christianity, I read only comics and comics only. No memory of reading any book besides school's textbooks during SPM (O level).

I reached home in the noon, at about 2pm, during form 5 (Sec 5). I spent the noon drawing comic characters or painting.

No revision, nothing.

And now, I read whenever I get the chance to do so. I read in MRT, buses, on the road. I read when I wake up in the weekends. I read before I sleep.

All had its beginning in Mere Christianity.

Anyway, this is not about me or Mere Christianity. It's about proving the existence of God.

James Sennett sublimed the complexity of this exercise. Before one starts to release all the arguments for the existence of God (like the cosmological, teleological, ontological, ethical etc arguments), one has to clarify the 3 questions Sennett highlighted. Whether you are an apologist in the heritage of Cornelius Van Til (Presuppositionalism), Thomas Aquinas (Classical Apologetics), Alvin Plantinga (Reformed Epistemology), or others, you have to first lay out the definition of 'prove' and 'God'. And this is the elementary task which apologetic cannot ignore or taken for granted.

Looking back, I had an obsession towards apologetics. This can be seen in my 2005 naive draft of something that I comically called "Supreme Systematic Apologetic" (I'm laughing at myself when reading it again). Then there is this rather brief introduction to apologetic which was a presentation to my fellow friends at Agora Singapore.

Now, the more I'm aware of our frail and limited condition in the face of the vast and rich data of reality, the more careful I need to be. Hence Sennett's caution has to be well appreciated, or at least by me. And my obsession has changed its object. Not really obsess to defend a faith but more on getting to learn more about it.

New Profile Photo

Pearlie has commented that my previous profile picture gives her goosebumps. So I've changed to a less colorful one. It's almost like black and white.



Have you experience an instant sense of regret when you awoke? It normally goes with a silent sigh.

"Why am I awake?"

And then theology (or Anthony Robbins') starts flowing in, telling you that it's a new day to be who you are meant to be. And if you allow it a while of consistancy, naturally the theology will just slip in even before you manage to rhetorize.

The moment your legs touch the floor, a second sigh came. Your body is telling your brain to pump some watts from other body parts to your legs, especially the muscles surround the ankles. Your eyes are probably still shut.

It's easier for a space shuttle to take off.

Perhaps that's the most dilemmical moment of the day. Even after you stood up, the dilemma remains. And there are signs that show it. You start scratching a part of your body even though it is not itchy. The scratch is a desperation that expresses the oppression sustained by the dilemma. It's a reminder that you need. A reminder to remind you that you are already awake.

If there is a mirror in the room, you will turn to it, curiously finding out how is the person in the mirror looked like at that moment. With whim, the mirror says, "You're rotting."

What happened to the Imago Dei, the Image of God?

"It's a given," you excused.

"The Imago Dei is not locatted on humans' face. The imagery of an "image of God" is in its semantic function. It simply means we are the reflection of our creator."

Your senses start coming back.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

N.T. Wright's thoughts on John Piper's notion of Justification

Trevin Wax: What would you say are the key differences between you and Piper on justification?

N.T. Wright: Well, I set justification within the larger Pauline context, where it always comes, of God’s purposes to fulfill his covenant promise to Abraham and so to rescue the whole creation, humankind of course centrally included, from sin and death. Piper holds that Abrahamic context at arm’s length.

The interview is at Kingdom People blog.

Confusion: Atheist or Theist?

On one side, popular atheist author Christopher Hitchens remarked that all Christians are atheist because they don't believe in Zeus.

On the other side, there is this Dutch pastor Klaas Hendrikse who thinks that as long as you have a relationship with another human being, and you believe in the relationship, then you can say that you are a theist.

So next time you want to find out whether someone is an atheist or theist, you should ask him, "Which God do you believe, or which one you don't believe?" The positive and negative aspect of the question will narrow down the spiral of category.

Sze Zeng on...

Every worker in a restaurant deserve their pay. And compensating someone for his organ is as nuisance as thinking that you have paid the bill by tipping the waiter.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Christ & Art Group

(Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), 1954)

"A work of art enables the self to move beyond and outside itself toward another object, and this process has a significant impact on the self's development toward a reconciled relationship with the is the space between Self and Other...the rich "between" in which art, religion, and philosophy dwell."
(Daniel A. Siedell, God in the Gallery, p.27-28)

The space "between" is also known as the 'metaxu'. When we strike our paintbrush on a canvas, or when we hit a musical instrument with a melody, or when we gesture a certain character in a play, or when we project a particular tone in a song, we are entering into the metaxu. A realm that we simultaneously create and uncover, attempting to unveil the external world.

Christians' artistic task is found within this act of creating and uncovering.

I'm exploring to set up an art group for Christians to come together and learn from one another, and probably collaborate to develop some cultural artifacts (music, fine art, design, movie /animation, photograph, etc) as a way of proclaiming Christ in the public sphere.

Drop me an email should you be interested:

Sze Zeng on...

If the platypus points to God's sense of humor, then the panda points to his adorableness. And Einstein merely makes all these more obvious.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Would Jesus Celebrate CNY?

Have you thought of that? How would Jesus celebrate Chinese New Year?

The first thing he might do is casting out demons from lion and dragon dancers.

He would clean his house on Chinese New Year eve because sweeping the floor during CNY might sweep away grace and blessings from the house.

Probably Jesus will be busy turning water into wine for numerous house visitations.

A lot of fruitless mandarin trees will be condemned when Jesus and the twelve find no mandarin oranges on them.

His disciples will be jolly happy because it's the time they get to "cast lots" all night long, instead of only over important matters like choosing a replacement for Judas.

He will play firecrackers and encourage his disciples to do the same because that's what children do during CNY.

He might start the Sermon of the Mount with "Kong Hey Fatt Choy", before proceed with something like, "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the prosperity and longevity of the kingdom..."

Jesus will not be eating any roasted pig or "bak kwa" though his disciples might.

Oh ya, Jesus will not give Ang Pao (red packets)!

Anything else u can think of?

P/S: Guess how would St. Paul celebrate CNY? (Hint: 1 Cor 9.20-22)

Sze Zeng on...

Many are ignorant as to why we blush on nudity. And many have no qualm over it. Such apathy is far demeaning than petty nakedness.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sze Zeng on...

Reading a well-argued book is not equivalent to watching 10 well made movies. It is watching the same movie 10 times.

Christians' Artwork Exhibition

Different Folks With Different Strokes

15th - 18th Jan 2009

The Arts House, 1, Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429

Friday, January 09, 2009

I just know that I have to get it

It was some sort of love-at-first-sight encounter when I saw it just now. Even without turning to its content page or the backpage to read its description, I already know it will go home with me that moment.

"Christian" Marketing?

Saw the below advertisement. Check out the nonsensical marketing pitch, "Contains Real Stone From The Holy Land". My response is, "So what?"

Imagine me putting up an advertisement with something similar but different tagline, "Contains Real Stone From Orchard Road" or "Contain Real Stone From Bukit Mertajam".

Stones are stones no matter where you get them. They wont turn into ruby even it they are from the Holy Land. Christians are not Muslims. We don't have Kaaba, and we don't have to pretend to have.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Jesus re-cognizes himself as prophet in the like of Ezekiel

Famous author Neale Donald Walsch recently got into trouble for unintentional plagiarizing. He posted one of his real life encounters as his Christmas sharing last month on his blog. The problem is that the encounter is not his. It belongs to Candy Chand.

Neale has written an apology on his blog for that, "As a published author myself, I would never use another author's words as my own. Yet I have apparently done just that -- although with no deliberate intent to do so."

Read it all at the New York Times.

But what is remarkable, and the point of this post, is how a person able to cognize a non-experienced experience as one's own experience. The process from cognition to recognition (or "re-cognition").

Here is how Neale puts it, "I have told the story verbally so many times over the years that I had it memorized...and then, somewhere along the way, internalized it as my own experience."

And I think that Jesus of Nazareth had similar experience. He might been telling his contemporaries about Ezekiel so much so that he saw himself as the 'Son of Man', the nickname that God used to refer to Ezekiel whenever they corresponded (Eze 2.1, 3.1, 3.17 and the numerous others in the book). And Jesus was telling that story long before his ministry took off, probably when he was as young as twelve (Luke 2.46-47).

Hence I think Ezekiel is Jesus' favorite book. And on this I'm differing with people like Ben Witherington, Klyne Snodgrass, A. J. B. Higgins, and N. T. Wright who think that Jesus' self-designation 'Son of Man' is adopted from the vision found in Daniel 7.13.

Add to that, the prophetic task of divine judgment and eternal promise that Jesus set on the temple and Jerusalem is more inline with the divine task YHWH gave to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 11 and 21).

Besides that, there are two passages in Ezekiel that support this understanding:
Ezekiel 20.49 - Then I said, "Ah, Sovereign LORD! They are saying of me, 'Isn't he just telling parables?'
Even though the term 'parable' used by Ezekiel in a negative way (his contemporary doubt his prophetic warnings, and took them as parables instead), it points to the cryptic way how Jesus uses parables in his teachings. Jesus uses parables as a subtle way to proclaim prophetic warnings. He was swapping the categories used by Ezekiel from left to right. Anyway, Ezekiel did uses parables in his ministry (Eze 24.3).
Ezekiel 4.4 - Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. (Emphasis added)
One argument against this case is that Ezekiel's prophetic task is different from Jesus' ministry, especially his suffering and crucifixion. But this passage disputes that. It speaks about Ezekiel's task to lie on his side to symbolize the bearing of Israel's sin upon himself. This is very similar with the New Testament authors' interpretation of Jesus' death on the cross as bearing the sins of others (John 1.29). And all the 'imputation' doctrines are derived from this imagery. Hence the 'prophetic task' that Jesus had in mind was not merely proclaiming but acting out, embodying, or incarnating the divine message.

After conceiving the above, I found out that there are others such as Edwin A. Abbott and Daniel Volter who shared similar findings about a century ago.

Sze Zeng doing drama

Click on the picture to go to the website. Not the entire drama though, just snippets.
I appear in the fourth minute. Oh ya, one more thing, not sure why Firefox couldn't play the video. So, u'll have to use Internet Explorer.

It is demonstratable that the rich is helping the rich?

I find N.T Wright's recent speech fascinating, especially this portion on the third countries' debt:

Now, my Lords, it won’t surprise you that whenever I, and other bishops, have spoken about these things in the last ten years, as we frequently have done, we have been met with a chorus of protest telling us that we don’t understand how the world works, that people who borrow money must learn that they have to pay it back, that the borrowers were wicked or irresponsible or incompetent, and that any debt relief will only be siphoned off to fund yet more extravagance on the part of the few. But the events of the last four months have demonstrated beyond any cavil that this excuse always was threadbare and can never be used again. The sight of governments, including our own, bailing out banks, and the sight of at least one bank being refloated in such a way as to allow large bonuses and payouts to shareholders to proceed unchecked; the sight of the American government bailing out the car manufacturing industries with loans taken from the funds supposedly earmarked for ecologically important design improvements; all this looks to the ordinary person in the street, and to the ordinary bishop on the bench, like the very rich doing for the very rich what they have refused to do for the very poor. (Emphasis added)

Does it need a theologian in the stature of the bishop of Durham to observe such unfairness? Duh~ Of course.

Sze Zeng on...

Lust is a forbidden desire?
Rather, it's desiring the forbidden.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sze Zeng on...

When we feel itchy, we'll scratch for relief.
It's a pity that we can't do the same on conscience.

"New" Year? Haha... Funny

When the calendar shows today's date to be 31st Dec 2008, a lot of us take it to mean that we must commemorate today in an unusual way. Celebrating the closing of another year while inaugurating a brand new one. Wait a minute. A "brand new" one?

First, that betrays the fact that our perception of time is confined by the calendar, particularly the one that was being reformed by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century. Hence the first day of a new year is not like a birthday where there is a new reality existing.

If anything the new year signifies the fact that the earth has orbited the sun one full circle. And that means going back to almost the same place the earth was located 365, or so, days ago. Then that is not something "new". The earth is, in a sense, back to square one, back to the old place.

That leads us to the second point. The "new year" is a social construct for practical reasons to keep the socio-economics going. "New year" means new budget, new vision, new resolution, new whatever for individuals, families, governments, and organizations.

That leads us to this third point. Besides practical reasons, the "newness" of time that we had fashioned ourselves by the calendar is an existential attempt to moderate our mundane existence. The "new year" give us reason to celebrate, give thanks, party, get drunk, get new car, get married, and get whatever to further furnish our banal livelihood.

Fourth, the idea of segmenting time gives us a sense of control. Segmenting time into temporal cubes called "year" allow us to grasp security over the upcoming and the unforeseen, and both. Hence we have all the economics forecast which is segmentize into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarter respectively every "year". And yes, this is an extension of the second point above.

So is there such thing as a "new" year to be celebrated? There is in as much as there is a "new" meal (contra 'food') to be eaten daily. Aren't we keep eating since the time we are born?

Happy "new" year? Do we wish one another happy new meal every time we eat?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sze Zeng on...

"Romantic" has its root among the ancient Romans.
The very same civilization that constantly waged war at her neighbors.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Religious People & Self-Control

After studying 80 years of research on religion, University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough reports recently that religious people have more self-control than those less religious.

Christian Post reports.
Science Blog reports.
The New York Times reports.

The summary of his findings:

  • Religious rituals such as prayer and meditation affect the parts of the human brain that are most important for self-regulation and self-control;

  • When people view their goals as "sacred," they put more energy and effort into pursuing those goals, and therefore, are probably more effective at attaining them;

  • Religious lifestyles may contribute to self-control by providing people with clear standards for their behavior, by causing people to monitor their own behavior more closely, and by giving people the sense that God is watching their behavior;

  • The fact that religious people tend to be higher in self-control helps explain why religious people are less likely to misuse drugs and alcohol and experience problems with crime and delinquency.

The professor also highlights that the report helps us to understand, "the same social force that motivates acts of charity and generosity can also motivate people to strap bomb belts around their waists and then blow themselves up in crowded city buses".

If that's the case, then the conclusion is not religious people are more self-controllable. They are more deterministic and persistent once indoctrinated.

Great Commission? Really?

Updated 5th Jan 09:
Just found out that Robin Parry has posted a reflection over the interpretation on Matt 28 which I think is relevant here. He wrote,

"...if Jesus was calling restored Israel to go to the nations then the text's relevance for a mission by Gentile Christians to other Gentile Christians is one or two steps away from what Jesus was getting at." (Emphasis added)

2nd Jan 2009 post:
What is 'evangelism' as understood through Matthew 28.18-20?

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

a) Saving souls by asking them to receive Christ as their saviour.
b) Declaring the sovereign of Jesus over all that exists.
c) Both (a) and (b).
d) None of the above.

Another related question:
Did Jesus actually asked his disciples to save souls by asking non-believers to receive him as their saviour? In Matt 28.18-20, Jesus asked them to baptize and teach them. Does that amount to 'saving souls'?

Sze Zeng on...

Food lovers are like Marx's religious devotees.
Both are addicts of opium. The only slight difference is that the latter is probable while the former is definite.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Greek II tomorrow onwards...

Tomorrow is the start of a new semester at TTC. I'll continue to learn New Testament Greek from a fellow blogger, Dr. Antonius Siew. So later when I reach home, I will need to clean away the accumulated dusk (10cm thick!) from the textbook before I watch The Dark Knight for the fifth time.

Alpha and Omega, here we come again.

I feel that after this semester, I'll stop taking ancient languages. I'm thinking of doing some theology or exegesis. Initially I'm thinking of Old Testament Hebrew. But the thought alone is already daunting. Probably not the time yet.

Sze Zeng on...

We sleep to live or live to sleep?
Neither. We sleep to dream.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sze Zeng on...

Hunger is not a sign that we need food.
It's a reminder of our miserable state.

Need to defend the Bible?

Defend the Bible? It needs about as much defense as a lion!
(Charles Spurgeon, as paraphrased in Ben Witherington's The Living Word of God)

Spurgeon doesn't know about poachers and poaching! Of course the Bible need to be defended. If it's a lion, there are few ways of defending it. One of the best is to lock it up in a zoo. The other ways is to kill all the poachers.

But the common and humane one is by regulating strict laws against poaching, recruiting rangers to protect the creature, and assemble international police forces to fight the poacher's syndicate.

Read between these lines with biblical, theological, and educational languages to find out what I really mean. Happy weekend! :)

Friday, January 02, 2009

Sze Zeng on the inspired Scripture...

God breathed on the Scriptures... and he doesn't smoke.

Graceworks' Inaugural Annual Lecture:

Vocational Discernment and the Will of God: A Relational View

Christians at all stages of life wrestle with matters of vocation: "What is God calling me to do with the next chapter of my life?"

What we need is practical guidance for discerning well, in the midst of uncertainty and change in the church and in our social environment. And we need encouragement — for young people as they embark on their adult lives, for those in mid-life as they make sense of their options (and limitations) and for those entering their senior years — as we enter this new chapter in our lives.


ACTS Lifestyle, 18 Cross Street B1-05, Chi
na Square Central, S 048423

5th - 6th February 2009

7:30 - 9:30 pm


S$30 (Early Bird fee if you register before 5 January 2009: S$25)

To register, please email to or click here

About the speaker:
Dr. Gordon T. Smith is the president of reSource Leadership International, an agency that seeks to foster excellence in theological education in the developing world. He assumed this position in 2003 after a period of service as the Vice President and Academic Dean of Regent College, in Vancouver, Canada, where he also had a teaching appointment in Spiritual Theology (and he continues to teach part time at Regent).

Prior to joining the faculty of Regent College, Gordon was the Dean and taught theology at Canadian Theological Seminary (Regina, Canada) and Alliance Biblical Seminary (Manila, Philippines). He has served in pastoral appointments; as the senior pastor of a congregation in Ontario Canada and an international congregation in the Philippines. Along the way he has also had a number of part-time and interim preaching assignments for congregations in transition.

His work as an academic administrator has been complemented by his research, writing and teaching in the areas of systematic and spiritual theology. His particular area of interest is the theology of religious experience and in this connection he has published a number of works:

A Holy Meal: the Lord's Supper in the Life of the Church (Baker, 2005)
The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit (IVPress, 2003).
Beginning Well: Christian Conversion and Authentic Transformation. IVPress, 2001.
Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential. IVPress, 1999.

Gordon completed his Master of Divinity at Canadian Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. at the Loyola School of Theology, the Ateneo de Manila University. He is an active member of a number of professional societies, including the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association and the American Academy of Religion

He is married to Joella, and together they have two grown sons.

I'm yawning big time since this morning office meeting...

A yawn is a silent shout." (G.K. Chesterton)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Sze Zeng on...

Generally humans are insecure. We blink ridiculously too often. And that shows.