Thursday, August 30, 2012

Christian charity to strangers: To help or not?

Yesterday about noon time, a man knocked on our office door. I opened the door and ask how may I attend to him. He did not know anyone of us for he was a stranger. 

He said that he wanted us to pray for him as he will be going for cataract operation this coming Monday (3 September). So our church manager directed us to use one of the rooms to pray for him. 

While in the room, as we were settling in, I asked him to tell me more about his condition and how may I pray. He said that he is a Christian and repeated about his cataract surgery, and showed me a set of paperwork as proof of what he said. I looked through those papers and everything seemed to be in place. There were doctors' official signature and hospital's stamp.

Then he went on to say that he has resigned from his job as a security guard due to his cataract, and he still short of $30 to pay some official fees that amounted to $150. Then he talked about his family is now in difficulty because he is not working anymore.

I told him that our church is very strict with financial aid, and will only go through official channel to help people. Therefore if we take up his case, we will make official reference to proper agency and ensure aid is delivered. So we will not hand out cash, especially to people we are not familiar with. He stared at me for a short while before saying that he just wanted someone to pray for him. And so we prayed.

After that, I asked him to tell me more about his church. He said that he has stopped attending his church due to personal issues. Then I asked him which church was he from. He replied, "Jesus Life Church."

"Jesus Life Church?" I reiterated to make sure I heard him right.

"No," he answered, "It is 'Jesus Lives Church'... It's a Methodist Church at Bukit Batok." I stared at him, waiting to hear more.

"It's true, I'm not lying. It's a Tamil (language) church at Bukit Batok. If you take bus 502, it's at the first stop around the corner."

I said, "Lourdsamy (his name), I'm not saying that you are lying, but I want to learn more about you."

We talked further for a short while before we shook hands and he left.

So the first thing that I did was to find out about 'Jesus Lives Methodist Church' at Bukit Batok area. I went to the website of the Methodist Church in Singapore to look for their list of churches. I couldn't find any church with that name. So I thought to myself, may be it is not a church but a preaching-point or community-ministry belonging to the Methodist. Or, may be it is a new one, and the list is not updated.

So I sent a message through the Methodist website asking if there is such church or ministry at Bukit Batok. Here is their reply:

I have a friend, David Ho, who serves at that preaching point. As far I know, it is not a Tamil ministry. Nonetheless, I sought for further confirmation asking if it is a Tamil ministry. They replied that it is not a Tamil ministry.

Lourdsamy was lying...

Those who work in churches as pastor or lay worker are familiar with such encounter. Lourdsamy was not the first one. We have strangers coming to us asking for various help. So far, the genuine ones are usually people whom we know, those who are part of the church.

There are people who hop around churches telling all sort of stories to manipulate Christians' sympathy. These folks know that Christians are called to attend to those, including strangers, who are in difficulty (Matthew 25:34-40). And if Christians or churches refrain from helping them, we are called hypocrites. If we help without reserve, I am not sure if that is really 'help' as it encourages these folks to continue going around lying to solicit money. 

It is almost a daily affair for churches to deal with matter of this nature. Have you come across such situation before? How did you deal with it?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Revisiting apologetic

I was a big fan of apologetic until the interest shifted to theological engagement with social and political issues. When I first joined the pastorate (in my third month already!), I did not anticipate there should be a need for apologetic in the church. Partly because I was convinced that there is no need for it in the church. The congregation is more interested in finding out how to make spiritual sense out of their daily life---This is what I thought.

Then I was told that there are some groups in the congregation working through Paul E. Little's book Know What You Believe/Know Why You Believe (Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, 2009). It is actually a set of two books printed as one. The groups were working through the latter one. 

I was scheduled to do a wrap-up session for the groups, which was two days ago. That was officially my first talk to a seated audience. So I spent last week working through my manuscript. 

Initially I thought the preparation would be easy since I was fanatic over the subject just some years ago. Was very well-versed with the works by C. S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, Norman Geisler, and etc. There was a time when I wished to be a full-time apologist, à la William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias. Yet when I started typing, it turned out that it was much more difficult. 

I tried to figure out what would be the best way to address some of the major concerns that Christians find hindering an intelligible articulation of their faith for themselves as well as for their non-Christian inquirers. Yet the talk needed to be as simple and clear as possible without losing the substance. On top of that, I have to innovate it attractively

The last part is the most difficult. Anyone can just simply read out to the audience from some apologetic books from the shelves. But that will not only defeat the purpose of the session, but bring the audience and myself to sleep. And I think we have better things to do than that. 

The crafting of the talk was stressful. I lost sleep. Was worried that the talk will make the audience beg God for deliverance from boredom. 

Writing the talk was also a very personal moment (a week-long one at that) as my conviction over some issues that will be addressed in the talk are rigorously  re-examined. I had to re-asked myself if Christianity makes sense? And, why am I still a Christian? The preparation helped me to come to terms with these questions.

When Sunday came, I was as nervous as a boy talking to his crush for the first time. Nonetheless, I read out the manuscript as animated as needed, in a conversational diction. I thought I can finish it in 30 minutes, but it shot through to about 50 minutes.

And yes, there were some in the audience who stared blankly at the ceiling, some were obsessively checking their nails, and some were sleeping. But that is expected, as I already knew, apologetic is a needless topic! It is irrelevant! Nevertheless, I carried through with the presentation, carefully avoiding presentation flaws that annoy even myself.

After the session ended, I unplugged the laptop and packed up to move to prepare for another class on leadership. While packing, someone approached me to share his experience. He expressed appreciation for the talk. I was surprised! Really. 

So, I asked him why did he appreciate it? He said that he has friends who are very hostile to Christianity. One of them had once militantly exclaimed to him, "Christianity is bullshit!" (I think that is a serious matter. I wonder if that person dare to do the same to Muslims by saying, "Islam is bullshit!"?) And the talk helped to re-cast Christianity against such remark.

Apologetic is irrelevant? That is a conviction that I need to revisit. 

What about you? Do you think apologetic is relevant in your context? Why, why not?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Morality without divinity?

Many non-Christians insist that we can have objective moral right and wrong without God. They think that secular values or humanist manifestos are independent from divinity and revelation. They want to affirm the goodness of life, enjoy the orderness of society, and demand equality and solidarity yet rejecting the source of all these. In a Cantonese idiom, they want the child but not the mother.

Here's one atheist philosopher, Joel Marks, who is honest enough to rebuke such nonsense:
I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander. (Emphasis original)

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Science... What?

Many who do not have PhD in neuroscience think that it is 'science'. But how scientific is neuroscience? Isn't its namesake, neuroscience, obvious that it is 'science'?

Here's what Matthew Lieberman (PhD), Director of the University of California Los Angeles, Social Cognitive Neuroscience laboratory, has to say:
I am a neuroscientist and so 99% of the time I behave like a materialist, acknowledging that the mind is real but fully dependent on the brain. But we don’t actually know this. We really don’t. We assume our sense of will is a causal result of the neurochemical processes in our brain, but this is a leap of faith. (Emphasis added) 
If a science subject such as neuroscience builds on faith, then what's stopping us from calling religion as science?

Besides, subjects such as psychology is still being debated whether is it science:
Psychology isn't science. [...] Because psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous: clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and, finally, predictability and testability.
My friend who has a PhD in pedagogy called psychology "shamanism dressed up in a lab-coat."

If something is considered as science only if it meets these five criteria, then is macro-evolution theory 'science' since it definitely cannot be reproduced nor tested?

Besides, do you know that the world's most prestigious award for scientific achievement, the Nobel prize, actually considers economy as 'science'? The official name for the award in the field of economy is 'Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel'.

And universities around the world teach a subject called 'Political Science'. Politics is science?

So, either we don't actually know what 'science' is, or it is whatever anyone says it is, or not everything with 'science' in its name is in fact science. 

In any case, it is just be a label, which is thought to be prestigious and trustworthy in the present society. Hence marketers and advertisers like to tell us that their products are scientifically tested, proven, etc. 'Science' has become a magic word that commands people's trust.