Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Four reflections....

Writing down the thoughts reflected in the past few days:

1) While I was picking up the ashes of my deceased aunt, the question of who is now my second aunt came to mind. Previously, when I used the term 'second aunt', it was a reference to a material correlatable person that I can see and talk to. And what lied before me while I was kneeling down at the crematory parlor was a group of crushed bones. So when I utter the term 'second aunt' now, does it refer to that group of crushed bones? Or a person who is now a piece of a familial memory?

Or, has it always been the case that whenever I use the term 'second aunt', I am referring not to a material correlatable person but an everlasting being whose reference is not fixated on a body or our memory but an objective existent that derived its objectiveness before an eternal reality (that is God)?

2) Yesterday while chit-chatting at Starbucks, Steven and Eugene raised the question 'what is power?' Steven mentioned, along the lines of N. T. Wright in one of his speech about one of England's Deputy Prime Minister, that there is still a sense of lack in power to effective make any changes when a person reaches a high political position. He said that circumstances have so much bearing on one's position that one does not really have much freedom to exercise his/her power, assuming that power really exists in the first place.

What is power? I think that is not the right question. What should be asked instead is what power for what? Almost everyone has power to do something. The most obvious one is economic power. With money, I have the power to bring about happenstance in mine and others' lives, like affording a cup of Starbucks coffee for everyone. So what kind of political power for what political purposes? That will limit the scope of our questioning over the ontology of power and help us to see the powers around in order that we can manipulate them effectively.

3) How should one lives one's life? I realized that I am a bummer at this point of my life. Most of the activities that I am involved in do not generate any economic gains (assuming life's purpose is to be economically productive despite all the talk about loving God and neighbor). And I realized that I do not have much passion to strive for what is known as a 'stable' livinghood by our society (having a stable job, house, car, money for parents, etc).

And I realized also that I have became slothful not because I am lazy but because of what I have been taught through my parents' philosophy, especially my mother's. Since young, I have been told the brute fact of life that one day everyone will die. And in death, everyone is equal, no matter how great the person is while alive. Kind of nihilistic. Yesterday, I told my mom about my reflection (1) above. She replied that life is like that. That's why there is no need to strive too hard in life.

Hence it became inherent to me that the only one reason for me to do anything is utilitarianism. Procure pleasure and avoid pain. Anything beyond that requires a lot of motivation; for example, if I want to earn more money, I will need to be really convinced that there is good reason to earn more.

4) Soteriology and missiology. Before my second aunt died, her younger sister (my third aunt who is a Roman Catholic) tried to convert her into Roman Catholicism. The younger sister brought a priest to speak and pray for her while she was very sick. They asked her if she wanted to convert. My second aunt felt very stressed by their approach and confided to her husband. That's what my mom told me before she asked me, "Is this a common practice among Christians to convert people on their deathbed? Isn't this very opportunistic?"

I didn't give my mom an answer because I understand her perspective as well as my third aunt's concern. The former is a staunch Buddhist who feels awkward over such evangelistic approach, while the latter is a staunch Christian who cares for the eternal well-being of her dying sister. Both are valid in their perspective.

This episode showed me how theology affects a person's action. In this case, how soteriology affects missiology. If a person really believes that those who are not converted in this life will end up not in heaven, then he/she would rather be seen as awkward or even condemned as long as he/she manages to convince people to convert. When condemned, he/she would probably adopt the 'martyr syndrome' and interpret the condemnation as a persecution for God's glory. I am not judging here, but just pointing out what I have observed.

Hence it is worth asking, how sure are we that people will end up not in heaven if they do not convert to Christianity in this life? The Bible says so? Really? Others say that unless this is so, we cannot make sense of the Church's mission (the "great commission"). This brings into question themes such as the criteria to be the 'people of God'. Does one's identity as the people of God merely confessional, that is based on the utterance of a few words? How does one's salvation relate to one's identity? And what role does the Church play in relation to these two questions? I think that as long as these questions have not been grappled with, we are not in the position to conclude who will end up in where. Neither are we able to discern the Church's mission.


Steven Sim said...

I think that was the point of our discussion, that "real" power is really elusive and illusionary. What we are left with is a kind of hyperreality of power-in-organization, ie. the command chain found in a "made-up" organization. You have the power to "command" your subordinates in such organization, but ultimately such organization does not really exist, and it fall shorts of reality. In fact, at 5pm sharp, for example, one exit the hyperreality and move into reality where power is elusive and illusionary.

Perhaps power can only be defined but not possess. It can be described but not pin-pointed. And recently with wikileaks, i found power and the phenemonology of secrets closely linked, although i have yet to work it out myself. It would be interesting to explore further....

p/s: We have prepared a place for the term "second aunt" to have a reference, within the context of our own family. Therefore, death do not necessarily destroy the meaning of the term, any more than keeping a piece of "king" in a chess box destroy the agreed usage of the piece.

Steven Sim

Sze Zeng said...

You seem to allow Wittgenstein to speak on the issue of 'second aunt' but not on the power issue.

Why not Wittgenstein all the way? :D

Power is real in as much as the power-in-organization is.

reasonable said...

eat, drink, enjoy sex & be merry, for tomorrow we all die


Michelle said...

Happy Chinese New Year to you ! Sorry to hear of the passing of your aunt...i have the same burden as well...of the salvation of my parents...sigh ! God please help !

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Michelle,

Happy Chinese New Year to you too!