Friday, June 29, 2007

Good Well Behaved Boy


Don't laugh. I actually had a mother who called me up because her son is behaving himself.

.

Good Well Behaved Boy


Don't laugh. I actually had a mother who called me up because her son is behaving himself.

.

Influencer of Spiritual Formation in Malaysia (2)

Chinese Culture and Religions
for those Malaysian Christians of Chinese Origin

Chinese culture and Chinese religions are powerful societal spiritual formation influencers on the Malaysian Chinese Christian psyche. The Chinese psyche and history is strongly influenced by Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) and subsequent Confucian scholars. The Way of Confucius is based on two thesis; “that goodness can be taught and learned, and that society can only be in harmony and peace under the guidance of wisdom” (Yao 2000, 26). Out of these two theses are developed four precepts of the Way (dao), ritual/propriety (li), humaness (ren), and virtue (de). The Way (dao) of Confucius leads to the formation of the ideal or virtuous man (junzi), who is in harmony with Heaven and Earth. Becoming a junzi is achievable by learning, and the cultivation of virtue and self-control. This includes the Confucian ideal of family (jia), cult (jiao), and learning (xue)[1]. (Yao 2000, 26-30)

Confucianism was later incorporated into Taoism. When Buddhism was first introduced into China, there was a conflict with Confucianism. Gradually however it was incorporated into a syncretistic folk religion consisting of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and animism. Many Malaysian Chinese Christians come from families that still worship this Chinese folk religion. This involves going to temples on festival days, ancestor worship and having family altars.

However Confucianism remains the key to understanding the Chinese identity. Chang Lit Sen, a Chinese apologist, theologian, scholar in Asian philosophy and Distinguished Lecturer in Mission Emeritus in Gordon-Cornell Theological Seminary, writes, “Confucius has been respected by Chinese people not only as a great sage but also as an idol in their hearts, they strive to imitate him as Christians imitate Christ.” (1999, 40) To be a Chinese means to embrace the latest incarnation of Confucianism. Confucianism is an inseparable part of the Chinese identity. Whalen Tai, a faculty member at the Department of Religious Studies, University of California at Davis, California makes an interesting observation between Chinese identity and Christianity.

He observes,

There is one underlying cultural link. Chinese Christians might denounce Buddhism and Taoism as pagan and superstitious but not Confucianism. Even in the most Christian of Chinese families – the notable sign of which is the greater egalitarianism between church-going spouses and generally greater freedom for the offsprings – the behavioural patterns are still very much Confucian. There is still a greater sense of filial piety, a greater stress on book learning, familial loyalty, hard work, etc. than in a typical Western counterpart which
would cultivate greater individuality still, with more physical vigour, personal independence, romantic openness, venturesome traits, etc.
(Lai 2000,132).

The Chinese psyche is strongly influenced by Confucianism. It is estimated that 90% of Chinese students in Malaysia attends the Chinese School system. This is a separate school system form the National Type Schools run by the government. This school system uses Mandarin as its medium of instruction. Its philosophy of education is strongly influenced by Confucianism. The pedagogy is indoctrination of Confucian values.

Yao Xin Zhong, Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter observes, “Many Chinese converts made use of Confucian philosophy and ethics to reformulate Christian ideas.” (Yao 2000, 242). This is true of both Chinese and English speaking Presbyterian Christians, though more marked in Chinese speaking Christians. Confucianism teaches a personal moral code of ethic behaviour that finds the Protestant doctrine of unconditional personal salvation offensive (Chu 2001, 209).

However, there is a great emphasis on building right relationships. The five key relationships in Confucianism are ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, elder brother-younger brother, and friend-friend. Chu Sin Jan, associate Professor of History, Chinese university of Taipei, notes,
…their (Chinese Christians) Confucian way of reflecting on Christian theology shows their concern that Christians, in the pursuit of ren, be in relationship to establish their character and other people’s character as well as to live in harmony with each other and with God. Confucian values, not to mention Confucian logic and language greatly color their Christian faith. Their Confucian heritage makes them more concerned about personal and social ethics than anything else
(2001, 210)

Therefore Chinese Christian relates more to spiritual formation which involves relationships and community better than to personal salvation. Historian Roxbough notes that, “In Malaysia this is a church which for much of its history has rejected the idea of being Presbyterian in favour of wishing to be Chinese” (Roxbough 1992, 101). The Malaysia Chinese lives in a continuum between two cultures: Chinese and Malaysian. One end is Chineseness and the other end is Malaysian multiculturalism. Where one is on the continuum decides one’s behaviour. Samuel Ling, President of China Horizon and researcher into cultural trends that affect Chinese Churches observes that “the Chinese model is rooted in the traditional Chinese family and clan, which sees adults as the focus, and children as appendages. (Ling and Cheuk 1999,69).

This will have an effect on how Chinese in churches plan for children’s ministries[2]. In traditional Chinese culture, leaders and teachers are to be respected. Hence a pastor’s decision is final and accepted without arguments (Ling and Cheuk 1999)148. Again this will create problems in many churches especially amongst the English educated who sees the pastor as an equal and call him or her by their first name.[3]

Bibliography

Chu, S. J. (2001). Confucianism and Christianity. A Dictionary of Asia Christianity. S. W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Confucius (1999). The Analects. Hunan, China, Hunan People's Publishing House.
Lai, W. (2000). Cultural Confucianism, Cultural Christianity: One Dilemma of the Modernized Chinese. Confucianism in Chinese Culture. H. T. Cheu. Kuala Lumpur, Pelanduk Publications (M) Sdn Bhd: 113-140.
Ling, S. and C. Cheuk (1999). The "Chinese " Way of Doing Things. Vancouver, China Horizon and Horizon Ministries, Canada.
Yao, X. Z. (2000). An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

Endnotes

[1] This is a very simplified version of a very complex philosophy and ideology. See Confucius (1999). The Analects. Hunan, China, Hunan People's Publishing House. It has often being argued by Confucian scholars that there is no one Confucianism but many; as Confucianism have evolved into different incarnation throughout its thousands of years of Chinese history. See Yao.
[2] Children and Youth ministries are not given much attention in Malaysian Presbyterian churches until recently. What caused a change in focus is the realisation that most youths when they leave their home churches to go to the bigger cities to study do not join Presbyterian churches but churches of other denominations. The solution by the ESP is to form youth orientated churches in the bigger cities. Another area of concern is the role model of fathers in the Chinese culture. Fathers in Chinese culture are often distant, disciplinarians, and business minded. Bishop Ting of China writes, “In fact, the proper Chinese way to refer to one’s own father in polite conversation is the “severe one in my family”…” One wonders how this will affect the perception of the Heavenly Father in the minds of children from these families who became Christian.
[3] These are but two examples of Chinese thinking affecting churches with both Chinese and English educated members. Other examples quoted are evangelism directed to children and not families (p. 142-143), respect for pastors and leaders (p.147-149), and sharing testimonies in public (p.143). Non-Christian families are often unhappy if their children become Christians, respect for leaders and pastors mean not speaking so because to do so is to ‘shame’ them, and for Chinese sharing their ‘achievements’ or giving testimonies in public is taboo (“showing of”, “pride”, “disrespectful”). Ling, S. and C. Cheuk (1999). The "Chinese " Way of Doing Things. Vancouver, China Horizon and Horizon Ministries, Canada.

Influencer of Spiritual Formation in Malaysia (2)

Chinese Culture and Religions
for those Malaysian Christians of Chinese Origin

Chinese culture and Chinese religions are powerful societal spiritual formation influencers on the Malaysian Chinese Christian psyche. The Chinese psyche and history is strongly influenced by Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) and subsequent Confucian scholars. The Way of Confucius is based on two thesis; “that goodness can be taught and learned, and that society can only be in harmony and peace under the guidance of wisdom” (Yao 2000, 26). Out of these two theses are developed four precepts of the Way (dao), ritual/propriety (li), humaness (ren), and virtue (de). The Way (dao) of Confucius leads to the formation of the ideal or virtuous man (junzi), who is in harmony with Heaven and Earth. Becoming a junzi is achievable by learning, and the cultivation of virtue and self-control. This includes the Confucian ideal of family (jia), cult (jiao), and learning (xue)[1]. (Yao 2000, 26-30)

Confucianism was later incorporated into Taoism. When Buddhism was first introduced into China, there was a conflict with Confucianism. Gradually however it was incorporated into a syncretistic folk religion consisting of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and animism. Many Malaysian Chinese Christians come from families that still worship this Chinese folk religion. This involves going to temples on festival days, ancestor worship and having family altars.

However Confucianism remains the key to understanding the Chinese identity. Chang Lit Sen, a Chinese apologist, theologian, scholar in Asian philosophy and Distinguished Lecturer in Mission Emeritus in Gordon-Cornell Theological Seminary, writes, “Confucius has been respected by Chinese people not only as a great sage but also as an idol in their hearts, they strive to imitate him as Christians imitate Christ.” (1999, 40) To be a Chinese means to embrace the latest incarnation of Confucianism. Confucianism is an inseparable part of the Chinese identity. Whalen Tai, a faculty member at the Department of Religious Studies, University of California at Davis, California makes an interesting observation between Chinese identity and Christianity.

He observes,

There is one underlying cultural link. Chinese Christians might denounce Buddhism and Taoism as pagan and superstitious but not Confucianism. Even in the most Christian of Chinese families – the notable sign of which is the greater egalitarianism between church-going spouses and generally greater freedom for the offsprings – the behavioural patterns are still very much Confucian. There is still a greater sense of filial piety, a greater stress on book learning, familial loyalty, hard work, etc. than in a typical Western counterpart which
would cultivate greater individuality still, with more physical vigour, personal independence, romantic openness, venturesome traits, etc.
(Lai 2000,132).

The Chinese psyche is strongly influenced by Confucianism. It is estimated that 90% of Chinese students in Malaysia attends the Chinese School system. This is a separate school system form the National Type Schools run by the government. This school system uses Mandarin as its medium of instruction. Its philosophy of education is strongly influenced by Confucianism. The pedagogy is indoctrination of Confucian values.

Yao Xin Zhong, Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter observes, “Many Chinese converts made use of Confucian philosophy and ethics to reformulate Christian ideas.” (Yao 2000, 242). This is true of both Chinese and English speaking Presbyterian Christians, though more marked in Chinese speaking Christians. Confucianism teaches a personal moral code of ethic behaviour that finds the Protestant doctrine of unconditional personal salvation offensive (Chu 2001, 209).

However, there is a great emphasis on building right relationships. The five key relationships in Confucianism are ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, elder brother-younger brother, and friend-friend. Chu Sin Jan, associate Professor of History, Chinese university of Taipei, notes,
…their (Chinese Christians) Confucian way of reflecting on Christian theology shows their concern that Christians, in the pursuit of ren, be in relationship to establish their character and other people’s character as well as to live in harmony with each other and with God. Confucian values, not to mention Confucian logic and language greatly color their Christian faith. Their Confucian heritage makes them more concerned about personal and social ethics than anything else
(2001, 210)

Therefore Chinese Christian relates more to spiritual formation which involves relationships and community better than to personal salvation. Historian Roxbough notes that, “In Malaysia this is a church which for much of its history has rejected the idea of being Presbyterian in favour of wishing to be Chinese” (Roxbough 1992, 101). The Malaysia Chinese lives in a continuum between two cultures: Chinese and Malaysian. One end is Chineseness and the other end is Malaysian multiculturalism. Where one is on the continuum decides one’s behaviour. Samuel Ling, President of China Horizon and researcher into cultural trends that affect Chinese Churches observes that “the Chinese model is rooted in the traditional Chinese family and clan, which sees adults as the focus, and children as appendages. (Ling and Cheuk 1999,69).

This will have an effect on how Chinese in churches plan for children’s ministries[2]. In traditional Chinese culture, leaders and teachers are to be respected. Hence a pastor’s decision is final and accepted without arguments (Ling and Cheuk 1999)148. Again this will create problems in many churches especially amongst the English educated who sees the pastor as an equal and call him or her by their first name.[3]

Bibliography

Chu, S. J. (2001). Confucianism and Christianity. A Dictionary of Asia Christianity. S. W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Confucius (1999). The Analects. Hunan, China, Hunan People's Publishing House.
Lai, W. (2000). Cultural Confucianism, Cultural Christianity: One Dilemma of the Modernized Chinese. Confucianism in Chinese Culture. H. T. Cheu. Kuala Lumpur, Pelanduk Publications (M) Sdn Bhd: 113-140.
Ling, S. and C. Cheuk (1999). The "Chinese " Way of Doing Things. Vancouver, China Horizon and Horizon Ministries, Canada.
Yao, X. Z. (2000). An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

Endnotes

[1] This is a very simplified version of a very complex philosophy and ideology. See Confucius (1999). The Analects. Hunan, China, Hunan People's Publishing House. It has often being argued by Confucian scholars that there is no one Confucianism but many; as Confucianism have evolved into different incarnation throughout its thousands of years of Chinese history. See Yao.
[2] Children and Youth ministries are not given much attention in Malaysian Presbyterian churches until recently. What caused a change in focus is the realisation that most youths when they leave their home churches to go to the bigger cities to study do not join Presbyterian churches but churches of other denominations. The solution by the ESP is to form youth orientated churches in the bigger cities. Another area of concern is the role model of fathers in the Chinese culture. Fathers in Chinese culture are often distant, disciplinarians, and business minded. Bishop Ting of China writes, “In fact, the proper Chinese way to refer to one’s own father in polite conversation is the “severe one in my family”…” One wonders how this will affect the perception of the Heavenly Father in the minds of children from these families who became Christian.
[3] These are but two examples of Chinese thinking affecting churches with both Chinese and English educated members. Other examples quoted are evangelism directed to children and not families (p. 142-143), respect for pastors and leaders (p.147-149), and sharing testimonies in public (p.143). Non-Christian families are often unhappy if their children become Christians, respect for leaders and pastors mean not speaking so because to do so is to ‘shame’ them, and for Chinese sharing their ‘achievements’ or giving testimonies in public is taboo (“showing of”, “pride”, “disrespectful”). Ling, S. and C. Cheuk (1999). The "Chinese " Way of Doing Things. Vancouver, China Horizon and Horizon Ministries, Canada.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's Deeds that will Test Religion

NST Online » Columns
2007/06/29

ZAINAH ANWAR: It’s deeds that will test religion
zainah Anwar

LIKE so many others, I had thought that Karen Armstrong’s public lecture in mid-June would focus on the unsettling relationship between religion and politics in the 21st century.

The religious historian and former nun did give an account on how religion has been implicated in the catastrophes of the 20th and 21st centuries and how the growth of militant piety in all the major religions as a response to the challenge of modernity has led to a distortion of faith. But for me, it was her focus on how to find common ground among all religions and what constitutes good and bad religion that made the biggest impact. As someone constantly battling suffocating patriarchy justified in the name of religion, I was moved by the strength and utter simplicity of her spiritual message.She feels many people have turned away from religion because it is made so complicated in its emphasis on doctrine rather than practice. We are so obsessed with being right in our doctrine instead of being just in our practice, she says. Thus, her emphasis is on practical compassion as a way to be religious, to attain enlightenment.

She believes the most important virtue in religion is compassion — this does not mean feeling sorry for the others; it means feeling with them, displacing our own ego at the centre of our lives and putting others there. It means to look into our inner self, find out what distresses us and refuse to inflict this upon others.And it’s not good enough if we confine our compassion only to our own group. We must extend it to others as well. She strongly believes in the golden rule of not doing unto others what you don’t want done to yourself. Since preoccupation with compassion is common to all religions, she believes this can establish one common ground that enables us to live together and respect each other.We didn’t need Armstrong to come to Malaysia to tell us this, of course. But the standing room-only audience of all religions and races was a telling sign that we wanted to hear a voice of reason, wisdom and compassion that could help us make sense of a world that has become so polarised and unjust, and how we can make religion a source of solutions, rather than a source of problems. As I listened to her, I wondered how many of us in the audience would really be thinking through what she was saying and applying it in our lives. It did not take long for reality to hit home. The second person to ask a question began by giving his salam only to the Muslim brothers in the room and a good morning to others.

I cringed as I felt the murmur in the hall. A Christian friend behind me muttered that she was being excluded in this man’s greeting of peace, and a Muslim woman next to her remarked that even Muslim sisters were excluded. I felt compelled at the end of the talk to approach the older man to try to understand why he started his comment about the need to be considerate of others by excluding and "othering" so many in the hall.

I have been thinking about all that has gone wrong with the practice of my religion where too many of us are obsessed with what we believe is doctrine, rather than practise what reflects the justice of God. On Wednesday, a Chinese Muslim friend came for advice on how she could make sure that her property, her Employees’ Provident Fund and insurance benefits would go to her Buddhist parents and siblings should she die. She is a convert and is divorced. She has no children, and under Muslim inheritance laws, non-Muslims cannot inherit from a Muslim. But she wants all her hard-earned assets to go to her parents and siblings, and not to Baitulmal. Just the other night, a friend emailed from California, saying her grandmother had died, leaving a house to her mother and her two aunts. They are in the midst of selling the house, but Baitulmal is demanding its share because the three daughters are entitled to only two-thirds of the property. In the absence of residual male heirs, one-third should go to Baitulmal under our Shafie school of law. But under the Hanafi and Hanbali schools, daughters can inherit all. Needless to say, the three sisters, all in their sixties and seventies, are very upset about this. For me, it is public deeds that will test the place of Islam in the 21st century. We all know what theory says — that Islam is a just and peaceful religion. That more than any other religion, it recognises pluralism, differences and disputation. It was revolutionary in granting women rights unheard of in the 7th century, the right to inherit, own and dispose of property, the right to enter a contract and the right to be treated as an equal. In fact, according to Armstrong, the Crusaders were shocked at how well women were treated in Muslim land, and the scholar monks in Europe criticised Islam for being too egalitarian and giving too much respect to ordinary people, especially women. Where and how it went wrong remain the subject of books and articles, even as I write this. But as I told a group of young women at the Feminista Fiesta two weekends ago, we can begin to make it right by doing little things to make a difference, to make someone’s life better, to show compassion not just to those who share our faith but to others as well. Yesterday, even though it was my day off, I visited two Indian restaurants in Bangsar which were raided by a team of enforcement officers from the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), Federal Territory Islamic Department (Jawi) and Kuala Lumpur City Hall over their halal certification. I went because my niece’s young Chinese friend who was eating in one of the restaurants was so distressed by the show of power and intimidation by the religious officials (10 inside the restaurant and more milling outside) that she says she cannot bring herself to speak up for this country any more when it is unfavourably compared to others. I wanted to join my niece in assuring her that the action of those little Napoleons does not represent the belief or have the support of most other Muslims. Armstrong says any belief that makes you compassionate, kind and respectful of others is a good religion.
If your beliefs make you intolerant, unkind and belligerent, this is bad religion, no matter how orthodox it is.

Aha … could this be why her celebrated books on Prophet Muhammad, the Battle for God and the History of God are banned in Malaysia?

Thank God that although one arm of the government, the Internal Security Ministry on the recommendation of Jakim, banned the books, another arm of the government, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Institute for Diplomatic and Foreign Relations saw the wisdom in inviting the author to give a keynote address on "Bridging the gap between Islam and the West" and a public lecture on religion in the 21st century. These days, we should be grateful for little mercies that confusion brings.

Wrong to display religious pictures?

KUALA LUMPUR: Is it an offence to place pictures of verses from the Quran and Hindu deities in restaurants? This is the poser following the confiscation of such pictures from two restaurants in Lorong Maarof, Bangsar, here. A spokesman for Restaurant Aiswaria, A. Mohd Dhasthagi, said officers from the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the Domestic Trade and Industry Ministry inspected the premises on Tuesday.A notice was issued, saying that the restaurant did not have halal certification from Jakim and also did not have Muslim workers. The owner was asked to rectify the situation. The team took away a picture of Mecca and another with verses from the Quran.Aiswaria owner Jehabar Ali Hussain Kader said yesterday: "I have not broken any laws. It’s ridiculous that I was cited for these offences. I never knew that it is an offence to display religious pictures in my premises. Being a Muslim, I purchase food items from a halal vendor." He said he had Muslim workers.Restaurant Seetharam, a few doors away, was also cited for similar offences. The raiding team confiscated three pictures of Hindu deities placed behind the cashier’s counter.The employees said they were baffled by the removal of the pictures.

The issue was highlighted yesterday by opposition leader Lim Kit Siang. He had earlier visited the outlets with two other MPs, Chong Eng and Fong Po Kuan.Lim said this was not the first time such raids were conducted and he feared it could set back inter-racial harmony.

Jakim director-general Datuk Mustafa Abdul Rahman said he was not aware of the incident. "If it is true, I will ask for a report from the officers involved. This is a sensitive issue and I can’t comment until I know the whole story." Perlis Mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said the display of religious pictures had nothing to do with the food served.

He said Muslims could consume food in restaurants as long as the ingredients were halal and the preparation followed Islamic principles."Islam allows the display of religious pictures and paraphernalia in a private area as long as it doesn’t disturb the peace. This incident must be investigated carefully as we don’t know what the real issue is."

.

It's Deeds that will Test Religion

NST Online » Columns
2007/06/29

ZAINAH ANWAR: It’s deeds that will test religion
zainah Anwar

LIKE so many others, I had thought that Karen Armstrong’s public lecture in mid-June would focus on the unsettling relationship between religion and politics in the 21st century.

The religious historian and former nun did give an account on how religion has been implicated in the catastrophes of the 20th and 21st centuries and how the growth of militant piety in all the major religions as a response to the challenge of modernity has led to a distortion of faith. But for me, it was her focus on how to find common ground among all religions and what constitutes good and bad religion that made the biggest impact. As someone constantly battling suffocating patriarchy justified in the name of religion, I was moved by the strength and utter simplicity of her spiritual message.She feels many people have turned away from religion because it is made so complicated in its emphasis on doctrine rather than practice. We are so obsessed with being right in our doctrine instead of being just in our practice, she says. Thus, her emphasis is on practical compassion as a way to be religious, to attain enlightenment.

She believes the most important virtue in religion is compassion — this does not mean feeling sorry for the others; it means feeling with them, displacing our own ego at the centre of our lives and putting others there. It means to look into our inner self, find out what distresses us and refuse to inflict this upon others.And it’s not good enough if we confine our compassion only to our own group. We must extend it to others as well. She strongly believes in the golden rule of not doing unto others what you don’t want done to yourself. Since preoccupation with compassion is common to all religions, she believes this can establish one common ground that enables us to live together and respect each other.We didn’t need Armstrong to come to Malaysia to tell us this, of course. But the standing room-only audience of all religions and races was a telling sign that we wanted to hear a voice of reason, wisdom and compassion that could help us make sense of a world that has become so polarised and unjust, and how we can make religion a source of solutions, rather than a source of problems. As I listened to her, I wondered how many of us in the audience would really be thinking through what she was saying and applying it in our lives. It did not take long for reality to hit home. The second person to ask a question began by giving his salam only to the Muslim brothers in the room and a good morning to others.

I cringed as I felt the murmur in the hall. A Christian friend behind me muttered that she was being excluded in this man’s greeting of peace, and a Muslim woman next to her remarked that even Muslim sisters were excluded. I felt compelled at the end of the talk to approach the older man to try to understand why he started his comment about the need to be considerate of others by excluding and "othering" so many in the hall.

I have been thinking about all that has gone wrong with the practice of my religion where too many of us are obsessed with what we believe is doctrine, rather than practise what reflects the justice of God. On Wednesday, a Chinese Muslim friend came for advice on how she could make sure that her property, her Employees’ Provident Fund and insurance benefits would go to her Buddhist parents and siblings should she die. She is a convert and is divorced. She has no children, and under Muslim inheritance laws, non-Muslims cannot inherit from a Muslim. But she wants all her hard-earned assets to go to her parents and siblings, and not to Baitulmal. Just the other night, a friend emailed from California, saying her grandmother had died, leaving a house to her mother and her two aunts. They are in the midst of selling the house, but Baitulmal is demanding its share because the three daughters are entitled to only two-thirds of the property. In the absence of residual male heirs, one-third should go to Baitulmal under our Shafie school of law. But under the Hanafi and Hanbali schools, daughters can inherit all. Needless to say, the three sisters, all in their sixties and seventies, are very upset about this. For me, it is public deeds that will test the place of Islam in the 21st century. We all know what theory says — that Islam is a just and peaceful religion. That more than any other religion, it recognises pluralism, differences and disputation. It was revolutionary in granting women rights unheard of in the 7th century, the right to inherit, own and dispose of property, the right to enter a contract and the right to be treated as an equal. In fact, according to Armstrong, the Crusaders were shocked at how well women were treated in Muslim land, and the scholar monks in Europe criticised Islam for being too egalitarian and giving too much respect to ordinary people, especially women. Where and how it went wrong remain the subject of books and articles, even as I write this. But as I told a group of young women at the Feminista Fiesta two weekends ago, we can begin to make it right by doing little things to make a difference, to make someone’s life better, to show compassion not just to those who share our faith but to others as well. Yesterday, even though it was my day off, I visited two Indian restaurants in Bangsar which were raided by a team of enforcement officers from the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), Federal Territory Islamic Department (Jawi) and Kuala Lumpur City Hall over their halal certification. I went because my niece’s young Chinese friend who was eating in one of the restaurants was so distressed by the show of power and intimidation by the religious officials (10 inside the restaurant and more milling outside) that she says she cannot bring herself to speak up for this country any more when it is unfavourably compared to others. I wanted to join my niece in assuring her that the action of those little Napoleons does not represent the belief or have the support of most other Muslims. Armstrong says any belief that makes you compassionate, kind and respectful of others is a good religion.
If your beliefs make you intolerant, unkind and belligerent, this is bad religion, no matter how orthodox it is.

Aha … could this be why her celebrated books on Prophet Muhammad, the Battle for God and the History of God are banned in Malaysia?

Thank God that although one arm of the government, the Internal Security Ministry on the recommendation of Jakim, banned the books, another arm of the government, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Institute for Diplomatic and Foreign Relations saw the wisdom in inviting the author to give a keynote address on "Bridging the gap between Islam and the West" and a public lecture on religion in the 21st century. These days, we should be grateful for little mercies that confusion brings.

Wrong to display religious pictures?

KUALA LUMPUR: Is it an offence to place pictures of verses from the Quran and Hindu deities in restaurants? This is the poser following the confiscation of such pictures from two restaurants in Lorong Maarof, Bangsar, here. A spokesman for Restaurant Aiswaria, A. Mohd Dhasthagi, said officers from the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the Domestic Trade and Industry Ministry inspected the premises on Tuesday.A notice was issued, saying that the restaurant did not have halal certification from Jakim and also did not have Muslim workers. The owner was asked to rectify the situation. The team took away a picture of Mecca and another with verses from the Quran.Aiswaria owner Jehabar Ali Hussain Kader said yesterday: "I have not broken any laws. It’s ridiculous that I was cited for these offences. I never knew that it is an offence to display religious pictures in my premises. Being a Muslim, I purchase food items from a halal vendor." He said he had Muslim workers.Restaurant Seetharam, a few doors away, was also cited for similar offences. The raiding team confiscated three pictures of Hindu deities placed behind the cashier’s counter.The employees said they were baffled by the removal of the pictures.

The issue was highlighted yesterday by opposition leader Lim Kit Siang. He had earlier visited the outlets with two other MPs, Chong Eng and Fong Po Kuan.Lim said this was not the first time such raids were conducted and he feared it could set back inter-racial harmony.

Jakim director-general Datuk Mustafa Abdul Rahman said he was not aware of the incident. "If it is true, I will ask for a report from the officers involved. This is a sensitive issue and I can’t comment until I know the whole story." Perlis Mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin said the display of religious pictures had nothing to do with the food served.

He said Muslims could consume food in restaurants as long as the ingredients were halal and the preparation followed Islamic principles."Islam allows the display of religious pictures and paraphernalia in a private area as long as it doesn’t disturb the peace. This incident must be investigated carefully as we don’t know what the real issue is."

.

Influencers on Spiritual Formation in Malaysia (1)

Influencers of Christian spiritual formation in Malaysia (1)

Malaysian Presbyterian Influence on Spiritual Formation
Note: This is written from a Malaysian Presbyterian point of view and does not represent the official position of the Presbyterian churches of Malaysia.

Denominations is an important context in which to understand spiritual formation in Malaysia. Presbyterianism first came to Malaya when the Dutch captured the trading town of Malacca in 1641. The second wave came with the British colonisation of the Straits Settlement of Singapore, Malacca and Penang. These were Scottish and English Presbyterians who were traders, soldiers and missionaries from mission organisations. One such organisation was the London Missionary Society (Helms), now known as the Council for World Mission (CWM). The third wave came in 1950s, when China closed its door to foreign missionaries and they relocated to Malaya and Singapore. An English Speaking Presbytery (ESP) was formed in 1990. The first two waves are mainly English speaking while the third wave was mainly Chinese speaking. Together with this third wave came missionaries from the Inland China Mission, now called Overseas Chinese Mission (Bloomfield) which “served as the bridge between the two streams[1].”(Roxborogh 2001, 673). The New Zealand Presbyterians have worked closely with the China Inland Mission (Roxborogh 2001, 672). Therefore Presbyterianism in Malaysia was influenced by the Dutch, Scottish, English and New Zealanders but not the Americans Presbyterians.

The influence of Carl McIntyre and John Song caused a church split and the Bible Presbyterian Church was formed. (Roxborough 2001, 672). In Malaysia, Presbyterianism is divided into the Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian mission was strongly involved in education, itinerant evangelism and medical care. (Roxborough 2001, 672). However, its involvement with education is not so extensive as compared to the Methodists, Anglicans, and the Roman Catholic Church. The significance of this Christian involvement in education by building Christian schools is that “in 1950, they educated nearly half the students in the English medium schools in West Malaysia and produced nearly two-thirds of all secondary education in any medium” (Sunquist 2001, 189). The influence of Christian schools decreased after Malaysia became independent in 1957 and the newly appointed government ‘nationalised’ all Christian schools. The Presbyterian Church is still involved in higher education, especially theological education, for example, in Trinity Theological College (TTC) in Singapore[2]. What this strategy produced are churches in Malaysia that values Western education and are English speaking.

Initially the English speaking congregations was to cater for the expatriates. Then as the number of English speaking converts increased, the church demography began to change. St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Kuala Lumpur still has a large expatriate membership. Holy Light Church (English) is the largest English speaking Presbyterian Church in Malaysia. Its history dates back 125 years to J.A.B. Cook. Cook was called by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1882 to Singapore to lead the Chinese Presbyterian Church after the death of its founder, Benjamin Keasberry (Sng 1993, 104-107). After reforming the church in Singapore, Cook planted a few Chinese speaking churches in Malaya. In Johor Bahru, he was able to get grants of land from the Sultan of Johore through Keasberry’s son-in-law, James Meldrum (Hunt 2001, 215). It is on one such plot of land that Cook started the Holy Light Church (Chinese). In a series of events which will be repeated all over the country, the Chinese speaking congregation started an English speaking service which grew and in time developed into an English speaking church. In this case, Holy Light Church (English) was started and today both the churches occupy the same premises[3].

The tensions between the English speaking and Chinese speaking Presbyterian churches are an influencer in the Malaysian Presbyterian ethos. This sibling rivalry disrupts the harmony in church relationships and provides a bad model of inter-community relationships. The more hierarchical Chinese speaking churches regard their younger English speaking brethrens as disrespectful. Basically it is a conflict of worldviews. Church historian John Roxborogh explains, “The English speaking have already made a break from their home culture and at the same time are in contact with a wider range of Christian thought and activity. Chinese speaking congregations feel that there will be a place for them in Malaysia of the future and believe that English will lose some of its importance.” (Hunt, Lee et al. 1992, 76). One effect of this is that the English speaking congregations are wider in their outlook and look towards the West for ideas, while the Chinese speaking congregations are more inclusive and looks toward Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

Though the Synod is the main governing body, Presbyterian churches are by its nature independent, led by ruling and teaching elders. A lot of responsibility was placed on the ruling elder to interpret the Presbyterian/ Reformed ethos. In recent years, many of the pastors do not subscribe fully to Calvinism. Some are also Arminian in their thinking. Most of them are evangelical in their thinking. There is also a charismatic influence in some churches. Obvious this will have some influence the spiritual development of its members.

Another inherited problem is the role of youth and women in church ministries. In some, but not all Malaysian Presbyterian churches, women are not allowed to preach from the pulpit. This problem with the role of women in ministry and leadership were not unique to Malaysian Presbyterians. The Presbyterian Church of the United States (PCUSA) first ordained women elders only in 1920 after years of debates. (Smylie 1996, 113). Four ladies were appointed to the Board of Managers of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in 1957 (Cummings, 1964). Since then there are some hopeful signs in some churches in Malaysia where some women are being appointed deaconess and elders. Youth are not appointed to be deacon or elder and are often not represented in the upper leadership echelons. In the Presbyterian ethos, youth is not a priority. Again, there are hopeful signs that a few new Presbyterian churches are formed for youths. Concerning the response to the Charismatic revival, Roxborogh comments, “The Charismatic movement influenced many English speaking congregations in the 1970s, but despite pleas for a more pastoral approach the Chinese speaking majority introduced constitutional changes in 1984 requiring that all baptisms be by sprinkling and discouraging speaking in tongues.” (Roxborogh 1992, 99). This reflects the conservatism of the Chinese speaking congregations and their relationship with the English speaking congregations.

Denominational distinctive, while not so important as it once was, is a major influencer in societal corporate spiritual formation. There is not much emphasis on Calvinism and one can be a member of a church for more than 10 years without knowing about Presbyterianism and the Reformed tradition[4]. There is a chapter on Presbyterianism in the baptism class and after that was never mentioned again[5]. The issues of the role of youth, women and of the Holy Spirit need to be addressed because these issues are important in corporate spiritual formation.

Bibliography

Bloomfield, F. (1983). The Book of Chinese Beliefs. London, Arrow Books.
College, T. T. (2006). At the Crossroads: The History of Trinity Theological College 1948-2005. Singapore, C.O.S. Printers Pte Ltd.
English-Work-Committee (1977). Christ Our Life: A Communicant's Manual. Kuala Lumpur, Geraja Presbyterian Malaysia and The Presbyterian Church of Singapore.
Helms, H. M., Ed. (1982). Fenelon: The Royal Way of the Cross. Brewster, MA, Paraclete Press.
Hunt, R. (2001). Cook, J.A.B. A Dictionary of Asia Christianity. S. W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans publishing Company: 215.
Hunt, R., K. H. Lee, et al., Eds. (1992). Christianity in Malaysia: A Denominational History. Kuala Lumpur, Pelanduk Publishers (M) Sdn Bhd.
Roxborogh, J. (2001). Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. A Dictionary of Asian Christianity. S. W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. EerdmansPublishing Company: 672-675.
Smylie, J. H. (1996). A Brief History of the Presbyterians. Louisville, KN, Geneva Press.
Sng, B. E. K. (1993). In His Good Time. Singapore, Graduates' Christian Fellowship.
Sunquist, S. W. (2001). Colleges and Universities. A Dictionary of Asian Christianity. S. W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 185-191.
Tan, R., Ed. (2002). Holy Light Church (English): 50 Years of Grace (1952-2002). Johor Bahru, Holy Light Church (English).
Trinity-Theological-College (1999). Our Heritage Our Future. Singapore, Armour Publishing Pte Ltd.

Endnotes

[1] The two streams refer to the English speaking and the Chinese speaking Christians. These two streams still exist today. They exist in the same church or in separate churches.
[2] Trinity Theological College started on 4th October 1948 started as a joint venture between “The English Presbyterian, The Church of English and the Methodist Church.” Trinity-Theological-College (1999). Our Heritage Our Future. Singapore, Armour Publishing Pte Ltd. p.30. The idea for an ecumenical theological college were mooted during discussions among Rev. Hobart B. Amstutz (Methodist), Rev.Gidson (Presbyterian), and Canon Adams (Anglican) when the three were interned at Changi Camp during the Japanese Occupation. College, T. T. (2006). At the Crossroads: The History of Trinity Theological College 1948-2005. Singapore, C.O.S. Printers Pte Ltd.p.39
[3] It is argued that the initial English speaking service started in Holy Light Church (Chinese) was for the Meldrum family and not truly a church service. This English service was stopped after James Meldrum died. It was revived in 1952 by Rev. Hood and it was claimed that this was the real start of Holy Light Church (English). See Tan, R., Ed. (2002). Holy Light Church (English): 50 Years of Grace (1952-2002). Johor Bahru, Holy Light Church (English). p. 15
[4] Personal communications with members of a few English Speaking Presbyterian churches.
[5] The instruction manual for Baptism classes is English-Work-Committee (1977). Christ Our Life: A Communicant's Manual. Kuala Lumpur, Geraja Presbyterian Malaysia and The Presbyterian Church of Singapore. A personal survey with the pastors and elders of the English Speaking Presbytery revealed that most churches are not using this manual, and are not teaching about Calvinism and the Reformed tradition.

Influencers on Spiritual Formation in Malaysia (1)

Influencers of Christian spiritual formation in Malaysia (1)

Malaysian Presbyterian Influence on Spiritual Formation
Note: This is written from a Malaysian Presbyterian point of view and does not represent the official position of the Presbyterian churches of Malaysia.

Denominations is an important context in which to understand spiritual formation in Malaysia. Presbyterianism first came to Malaya when the Dutch captured the trading town of Malacca in 1641. The second wave came with the British colonisation of the Straits Settlement of Singapore, Malacca and Penang. These were Scottish and English Presbyterians who were traders, soldiers and missionaries from mission organisations. One such organisation was the London Missionary Society (Helms), now known as the Council for World Mission (CWM). The third wave came in 1950s, when China closed its door to foreign missionaries and they relocated to Malaya and Singapore. An English Speaking Presbytery (ESP) was formed in 1990. The first two waves are mainly English speaking while the third wave was mainly Chinese speaking. Together with this third wave came missionaries from the Inland China Mission, now called Overseas Chinese Mission (Bloomfield) which “served as the bridge between the two streams[1].”(Roxborogh 2001, 673). The New Zealand Presbyterians have worked closely with the China Inland Mission (Roxborogh 2001, 672). Therefore Presbyterianism in Malaysia was influenced by the Dutch, Scottish, English and New Zealanders but not the Americans Presbyterians.

The influence of Carl McIntyre and John Song caused a church split and the Bible Presbyterian Church was formed. (Roxborough 2001, 672). In Malaysia, Presbyterianism is divided into the Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian mission was strongly involved in education, itinerant evangelism and medical care. (Roxborough 2001, 672). However, its involvement with education is not so extensive as compared to the Methodists, Anglicans, and the Roman Catholic Church. The significance of this Christian involvement in education by building Christian schools is that “in 1950, they educated nearly half the students in the English medium schools in West Malaysia and produced nearly two-thirds of all secondary education in any medium” (Sunquist 2001, 189). The influence of Christian schools decreased after Malaysia became independent in 1957 and the newly appointed government ‘nationalised’ all Christian schools. The Presbyterian Church is still involved in higher education, especially theological education, for example, in Trinity Theological College (TTC) in Singapore[2]. What this strategy produced are churches in Malaysia that values Western education and are English speaking.

Initially the English speaking congregations was to cater for the expatriates. Then as the number of English speaking converts increased, the church demography began to change. St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Kuala Lumpur still has a large expatriate membership. Holy Light Church (English) is the largest English speaking Presbyterian Church in Malaysia. Its history dates back 125 years to J.A.B. Cook. Cook was called by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1882 to Singapore to lead the Chinese Presbyterian Church after the death of its founder, Benjamin Keasberry (Sng 1993, 104-107). After reforming the church in Singapore, Cook planted a few Chinese speaking churches in Malaya. In Johor Bahru, he was able to get grants of land from the Sultan of Johore through Keasberry’s son-in-law, James Meldrum (Hunt 2001, 215). It is on one such plot of land that Cook started the Holy Light Church (Chinese). In a series of events which will be repeated all over the country, the Chinese speaking congregation started an English speaking service which grew and in time developed into an English speaking church. In this case, Holy Light Church (English) was started and today both the churches occupy the same premises[3].

The tensions between the English speaking and Chinese speaking Presbyterian churches are an influencer in the Malaysian Presbyterian ethos. This sibling rivalry disrupts the harmony in church relationships and provides a bad model of inter-community relationships. The more hierarchical Chinese speaking churches regard their younger English speaking brethrens as disrespectful. Basically it is a conflict of worldviews. Church historian John Roxborogh explains, “The English speaking have already made a break from their home culture and at the same time are in contact with a wider range of Christian thought and activity. Chinese speaking congregations feel that there will be a place for them in Malaysia of the future and believe that English will lose some of its importance.” (Hunt, Lee et al. 1992, 76). One effect of this is that the English speaking congregations are wider in their outlook and look towards the West for ideas, while the Chinese speaking congregations are more inclusive and looks toward Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

Though the Synod is the main governing body, Presbyterian churches are by its nature independent, led by ruling and teaching elders. A lot of responsibility was placed on the ruling elder to interpret the Presbyterian/ Reformed ethos. In recent years, many of the pastors do not subscribe fully to Calvinism. Some are also Arminian in their thinking. Most of them are evangelical in their thinking. There is also a charismatic influence in some churches. Obvious this will have some influence the spiritual development of its members.

Another inherited problem is the role of youth and women in church ministries. In some, but not all Malaysian Presbyterian churches, women are not allowed to preach from the pulpit. This problem with the role of women in ministry and leadership were not unique to Malaysian Presbyterians. The Presbyterian Church of the United States (PCUSA) first ordained women elders only in 1920 after years of debates. (Smylie 1996, 113). Four ladies were appointed to the Board of Managers of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in 1957 (Cummings, 1964). Since then there are some hopeful signs in some churches in Malaysia where some women are being appointed deaconess and elders. Youth are not appointed to be deacon or elder and are often not represented in the upper leadership echelons. In the Presbyterian ethos, youth is not a priority. Again, there are hopeful signs that a few new Presbyterian churches are formed for youths. Concerning the response to the Charismatic revival, Roxborogh comments, “The Charismatic movement influenced many English speaking congregations in the 1970s, but despite pleas for a more pastoral approach the Chinese speaking majority introduced constitutional changes in 1984 requiring that all baptisms be by sprinkling and discouraging speaking in tongues.” (Roxborogh 1992, 99). This reflects the conservatism of the Chinese speaking congregations and their relationship with the English speaking congregations.

Denominational distinctive, while not so important as it once was, is a major influencer in societal corporate spiritual formation. There is not much emphasis on Calvinism and one can be a member of a church for more than 10 years without knowing about Presbyterianism and the Reformed tradition[4]. There is a chapter on Presbyterianism in the baptism class and after that was never mentioned again[5]. The issues of the role of youth, women and of the Holy Spirit need to be addressed because these issues are important in corporate spiritual formation.

Bibliography

Bloomfield, F. (1983). The Book of Chinese Beliefs. London, Arrow Books.
College, T. T. (2006). At the Crossroads: The History of Trinity Theological College 1948-2005. Singapore, C.O.S. Printers Pte Ltd.
English-Work-Committee (1977). Christ Our Life: A Communicant's Manual. Kuala Lumpur, Geraja Presbyterian Malaysia and The Presbyterian Church of Singapore.
Helms, H. M., Ed. (1982). Fenelon: The Royal Way of the Cross. Brewster, MA, Paraclete Press.
Hunt, R. (2001). Cook, J.A.B. A Dictionary of Asia Christianity. S. W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans publishing Company: 215.
Hunt, R., K. H. Lee, et al., Eds. (1992). Christianity in Malaysia: A Denominational History. Kuala Lumpur, Pelanduk Publishers (M) Sdn Bhd.
Roxborogh, J. (2001). Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. A Dictionary of Asian Christianity. S. W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. EerdmansPublishing Company: 672-675.
Smylie, J. H. (1996). A Brief History of the Presbyterians. Louisville, KN, Geneva Press.
Sng, B. E. K. (1993). In His Good Time. Singapore, Graduates' Christian Fellowship.
Sunquist, S. W. (2001). Colleges and Universities. A Dictionary of Asian Christianity. S. W. Sunquist. Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: 185-191.
Tan, R., Ed. (2002). Holy Light Church (English): 50 Years of Grace (1952-2002). Johor Bahru, Holy Light Church (English).
Trinity-Theological-College (1999). Our Heritage Our Future. Singapore, Armour Publishing Pte Ltd.

Endnotes

[1] The two streams refer to the English speaking and the Chinese speaking Christians. These two streams still exist today. They exist in the same church or in separate churches.
[2] Trinity Theological College started on 4th October 1948 started as a joint venture between “The English Presbyterian, The Church of English and the Methodist Church.” Trinity-Theological-College (1999). Our Heritage Our Future. Singapore, Armour Publishing Pte Ltd. p.30. The idea for an ecumenical theological college were mooted during discussions among Rev. Hobart B. Amstutz (Methodist), Rev.Gidson (Presbyterian), and Canon Adams (Anglican) when the three were interned at Changi Camp during the Japanese Occupation. College, T. T. (2006). At the Crossroads: The History of Trinity Theological College 1948-2005. Singapore, C.O.S. Printers Pte Ltd.p.39
[3] It is argued that the initial English speaking service started in Holy Light Church (Chinese) was for the Meldrum family and not truly a church service. This English service was stopped after James Meldrum died. It was revived in 1952 by Rev. Hood and it was claimed that this was the real start of Holy Light Church (English). See Tan, R., Ed. (2002). Holy Light Church (English): 50 Years of Grace (1952-2002). Johor Bahru, Holy Light Church (English). p. 15
[4] Personal communications with members of a few English Speaking Presbyterian churches.
[5] The instruction manual for Baptism classes is English-Work-Committee (1977). Christ Our Life: A Communicant's Manual. Kuala Lumpur, Geraja Presbyterian Malaysia and The Presbyterian Church of Singapore. A personal survey with the pastors and elders of the English Speaking Presbytery revealed that most churches are not using this manual, and are not teaching about Calvinism and the Reformed tradition.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Jazzy Blue Book

(2003) Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publisher.

This is a book for light reading. Donald Miller is an excellent story teller and in this book, he deals with the tenets of the Christian faith in a light hearted autobiographical format. There are many stories and anecdoctals to illustrate his points.

There are even two cartoon stories in the book.

Don Rabbit
Don Astronaut
Miller has a wacky sense of humour so it is also a fun read.


Donald Miller grew up in Houston, Texas. Leaving home at the age of twenty-one, he traveled across the country until he ran out of money in Portland, Oregon, where he lives today.

House Publishers released his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, in 2000. Two years later, after having audited classes at Portland's Reed College, Don wrote Blue Like Jazz, which would slowly become a New York Times Bestseller.

In 2004 Don released Searching for God Knows What a book about how the Gospel of Jesus explains the human personality. In 2005 he released Through Painted Deserts the story of he and a friends road trip across the country. Don's most recent project is a book about growing up without a father called To Own a Dragon.
Don is the founder of The Belmont Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation which partners with local churches to create mentoring programs for young men growing up without fathers.

A Jazzy Blue Book

(2003) Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publisher.

This is a book for light reading. Donald Miller is an excellent story teller and in this book, he deals with the tenets of the Christian faith in a light hearted autobiographical format. There are many stories and anecdoctals to illustrate his points.

There are even two cartoon stories in the book.

Don Rabbit
Don Astronaut
Miller has a wacky sense of humour so it is also a fun read.


Donald Miller grew up in Houston, Texas. Leaving home at the age of twenty-one, he traveled across the country until he ran out of money in Portland, Oregon, where he lives today.

House Publishers released his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, in 2000. Two years later, after having audited classes at Portland's Reed College, Don wrote Blue Like Jazz, which would slowly become a New York Times Bestseller.

In 2004 Don released Searching for God Knows What a book about how the Gospel of Jesus explains the human personality. In 2005 he released Through Painted Deserts the story of he and a friends road trip across the country. Don's most recent project is a book about growing up without a father called To Own a Dragon.
Don is the founder of The Belmont Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation which partners with local churches to create mentoring programs for young men growing up without fathers.

The Poverty Stricken Church

Poverty stricken as the church is today in many things,
she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer.
We have many organizers, but few agonizers;
many players and payers, but few prayers;
many singers but few lingerers;
lots of pastors but few wrestlers;
many fears, few tears;
much fashion, but little passion;
many interferers, but few intercessors;
many writers, but few fighters.
Failing here, we fail everywhere


Leonard Ravenhill
20th century preacher on revival

The Poverty Stricken Church

Poverty stricken as the church is today in many things,
she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer.
We have many organizers, but few agonizers;
many players and payers, but few prayers;
many singers but few lingerers;
lots of pastors but few wrestlers;
many fears, few tears;
much fashion, but little passion;
many interferers, but few intercessors;
many writers, but few fighters.
Failing here, we fail everywhere


Leonard Ravenhill
20th century preacher on revival

Does Quality Theological Education Produces Character?

In his blog, the homilia of a budding NT scholar, our very own, not just budding, but also blooming NT scholar with a sense of humour (you don’t see many of these around) posted another “sick project”. The discussion is about the quality control of Malaysian building projects and also of the quality control of theological education.

Kar Yong poses two interesting questions; “But I wonder is there a close corelation (sic) between quality theological education and character building? The better the quality of theological education, will this translate to better spiritual formation and character building?”

That set me thinking. I guess the key word is “quality” because we know that not all theology education offered by all theological institutions, seminaries, and departments of theology are the same. I will also take the liberty not to define “theological education” too finely as it can refers to higher Masters (Master of Theology) and PhDs but use it to refer to general theological education. So, does getting a “quality theological education” means “better spiritual formation and better character formation”?

I have been following the theological education curriculum designs in seminaries for some time. I find that theological institutions, seminaries and universities departments are often torn between two objectives: spiritual formation and academic excellence. An emphasis on spiritual formation will develop their students’ character while the emphasis on academic excellence will build up the institution as a world recognised centre of learning. While not mutually exclusive, it is not possible to have both. We must also recognise that they have 2-4 years for each student to do what is needful.

First, a lot depends on the teaching staff and the institution’s philosophy. If the institution aims to be a centre of academic excellence, on par with other centres of academic excellence in producing publications and leading the trend in the latest theological constructs, then it will secure for its teaching staff, men and women with PhDs and a leaning towards research and writing. Normally these brilliant men and women speaks a different language from us ordinary mortals, and often it is difficult for them to come down to our level (I am not being judgmental here. Their training has made them so). Their interests will be more in their narrow fields of study than in the mentoring of students which takes up time and effort.

Second, if the institution thinks of itself as a university rather than as Christian community of faith, then the design of the curriculum will be heavy on theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, New and Old Testament studies rather than on spirituality or spiritual formation. These may be the reason why in most theological institutions, theology and Biblical studies take up more teaching time than relational skills or counselling.

Finally, most theological institutions grade their effectiveness by measurable outcomes like exam scores. It is rather difficult to measure spiritual growth. It is much easier to grade a paper in theology or biblical studies. All theological institutions seek accreditation with some national and international bodies. Unfortunately accreditation depends on measurable data such as how many PhDs on staff and how were the average student scores than on the character of the teaching staff and students.

I must acknowledge than many theological institutions are now aware of their weaknesses and are attempting to incorporate spiritual formation into their academic curriculum. Unfortunately, this is often more like tinkering with the curriculum. What is needed is a radical restructuring of theological education to make spiritual formation and character formation premier in the theological institutions. Back to Kar Yong’s questions. For the reasons given above, I feel that there is a negative correlation between spiritual formation and character building, and quality theological education at this present moment.

Photo credit

Does Quality Theological Education Produces Character?

In his blog, the homilia of a budding NT scholar, our very own, not just budding, but also blooming NT scholar with a sense of humour (you don’t see many of these around) posted another “sick project”. The discussion is about the quality control of Malaysian building projects and also of the quality control of theological education.

Kar Yong poses two interesting questions; “But I wonder is there a close corelation (sic) between quality theological education and character building? The better the quality of theological education, will this translate to better spiritual formation and character building?”

That set me thinking. I guess the key word is “quality” because we know that not all theology education offered by all theological institutions, seminaries, and departments of theology are the same. I will also take the liberty not to define “theological education” too finely as it can refers to higher Masters (Master of Theology) and PhDs but use it to refer to general theological education. So, does getting a “quality theological education” means “better spiritual formation and better character formation”?

I have been following the theological education curriculum designs in seminaries for some time. I find that theological institutions, seminaries and universities departments are often torn between two objectives: spiritual formation and academic excellence. An emphasis on spiritual formation will develop their students’ character while the emphasis on academic excellence will build up the institution as a world recognised centre of learning. While not mutually exclusive, it is not possible to have both. We must also recognise that they have 2-4 years for each student to do what is needful.

First, a lot depends on the teaching staff and the institution’s philosophy. If the institution aims to be a centre of academic excellence, on par with other centres of academic excellence in producing publications and leading the trend in the latest theological constructs, then it will secure for its teaching staff, men and women with PhDs and a leaning towards research and writing. Normally these brilliant men and women speaks a different language from us ordinary mortals, and often it is difficult for them to come down to our level (I am not being judgmental here. Their training has made them so). Their interests will be more in their narrow fields of study than in the mentoring of students which takes up time and effort.

Second, if the institution thinks of itself as a university rather than as Christian community of faith, then the design of the curriculum will be heavy on theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, New and Old Testament studies rather than on spirituality or spiritual formation. These may be the reason why in most theological institutions, theology and Biblical studies take up more teaching time than relational skills or counselling.

Finally, most theological institutions grade their effectiveness by measurable outcomes like exam scores. It is rather difficult to measure spiritual growth. It is much easier to grade a paper in theology or biblical studies. All theological institutions seek accreditation with some national and international bodies. Unfortunately accreditation depends on measurable data such as how many PhDs on staff and how were the average student scores than on the character of the teaching staff and students.

I must acknowledge than many theological institutions are now aware of their weaknesses and are attempting to incorporate spiritual formation into their academic curriculum. Unfortunately, this is often more like tinkering with the curriculum. What is needed is a radical restructuring of theological education to make spiritual formation and character formation premier in the theological institutions. Back to Kar Yong’s questions. For the reasons given above, I feel that there is a negative correlation between spiritual formation and character building, and quality theological education at this present moment.

Photo credit

Monday, June 25, 2007

How Heavy is Your Burden?


Is Your Burden Heavy?

There is an old story about three men and their sacks . Each man had two sacks, one tied in front of his neck and the other tied on his back. When the first man was asked what was in his sacks, he said, "In the sack on my back are all the good things friends and family have done. That way they're hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me. Every now and then I stop, open the front sack, take the things out, examine them, and think about them." Because he stopped so much to concentrate on all the bad stuff, he really didn't make much progress in life.

The second man was asked about his sacks. He replied, "In the front sack are all the good things I've done. I like to see them, so quite often I take them out to show them off to people. The sack in the back? I keep all my mistakes in there and carry them all the time. Sure they're heavy. They slow me down, but you know, for some reason I can't put them down."

When the third man was asked about his sacks, he answered, "The sack in front is great. There I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I've experienced, all the great things other people have done for me. The weight isn't a problem. The sack is like sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward.

"The sack on my back is empty. There's nothing in it. I cut a big hole in its bottom. In there I put all the bad things that I can think about myself or hear about others. They go in one end and out the other, so I'm not carrying around any extra weight at all."

What we carry around affects our spiritual life. The writer of Hebrews uses the metaphor of a runner to illustrate the spiritual life. Living the spiritual life is like running a race. We cannot imagine a marathon runner running with a sack on his or her back. That will hinder their running. A runner will do everything they can to reduce the excess weight. The writer of Hebrews advises us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” in order to run the race (Heb.12:1).

Unfortunately, many of us are like the first man. We keep before our eyes all the bad and horrible things that has happened to us; our poor relationships with other people, our bad experiences and unfulfilled expectations in church, and the horrible events that scarred our lives. What is out of sight is out of mind. We do not remember the good that others have done for us. Our focus is on the bad things which crowd our thoughts causing anger and bitterness. It is hard to run forward when there is so much negative emotional burden. The heaviness of these burdens causes some of us to drop out of the race, like those marathon runners falling by the roadside. Once down, we are contented to stay down and refused to get up. Others leave the church not realising that they are bringing their sacks with them. Still others struggle for spiritual growth yet not bearing fruits and making progress because their souls are being poisoned by bitterness and unforgiveness.

The second man keeps his achievements and things that make him feel good in front of him. He revels in his accomplishments, his wealth, his fame, and in his sacrificial service for the church. He always reminds others of his contribution to the church, and the favours he has done for others. He turns a blind eye to his mistakes, his imperfections, his idolatry, and his pride. All these he throws into the sack behind him so that he does not see them. Unfortunately what the eye does not see remains in the subconscious. The prick of conscience is a constant thorn in his side and the sacks remain heavy. Such people need great effort to run. Some can hardly walk. Every step is a struggle because of the weight of the load of the sacks they carry.

The third man fills his front sack with positive thoughts, gratitude and appreciation for people around him, and the blessings he has received. For all the gossips, slanders, and bad experiences, he forgives and forgets. He throws then into the sack at his back which has a big hole in the bottom. Thus the back sack is empty, and he is freed from bitterness, hatred, and anger. He only feels the goodness of this life and of the blessings of God. All these make his sack to act as a sail. The Holy Spirit who is like a wind blows the sail and helps him forward as he runs the race.

Running the spiritual race is so much easier if we get rid of bitterness, unforgiveness, and anger. That is what Jesus is giving us when He offers us His yoke. Many of us are running like the first man or the second man. Our sacks are heavy with our burdens and they wear us out. Jesus offers, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30). Being yoked with Jesus is like the third man. He is like Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner in the movie Chariots of Fire who said, “God make me fast. And when I run fast, I feel His pleasure.” For Eric Liddell, however, the Olympics were not the ultimate race. The son of Scottish missionaries to China, he saw his whole life as a race: a race for the kingdom of heaven. That is why, two years after taking the Olympic gold, he sailed to China, to become a missionary himself.

Reflection Questions

(1)What are you carrying in your sacks?
(2)Are you allowing negatives events in your life drag you down?
(3)Look at your life now. Are you like the first man, the second man, or the third man?
(4)How do you become like the third man?

Lord,


help me to be like the third man in the story. Help me to keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I've experienced, all the great things other people have done for me in the sack in front of me. Let the sack behind me have a big hole where I shall lose all the bad things that I can think about myself or hear about others. Let me share the yoke with your Son so that I will find rest for my soul.



Amen


.

How Heavy is Your Burden?


Is Your Burden Heavy?

There is an old story about three men and their sacks . Each man had two sacks, one tied in front of his neck and the other tied on his back. When the first man was asked what was in his sacks, he said, "In the sack on my back are all the good things friends and family have done. That way they're hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me. Every now and then I stop, open the front sack, take the things out, examine them, and think about them." Because he stopped so much to concentrate on all the bad stuff, he really didn't make much progress in life.

The second man was asked about his sacks. He replied, "In the front sack are all the good things I've done. I like to see them, so quite often I take them out to show them off to people. The sack in the back? I keep all my mistakes in there and carry them all the time. Sure they're heavy. They slow me down, but you know, for some reason I can't put them down."

When the third man was asked about his sacks, he answered, "The sack in front is great. There I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I've experienced, all the great things other people have done for me. The weight isn't a problem. The sack is like sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward.

"The sack on my back is empty. There's nothing in it. I cut a big hole in its bottom. In there I put all the bad things that I can think about myself or hear about others. They go in one end and out the other, so I'm not carrying around any extra weight at all."

What we carry around affects our spiritual life. The writer of Hebrews uses the metaphor of a runner to illustrate the spiritual life. Living the spiritual life is like running a race. We cannot imagine a marathon runner running with a sack on his or her back. That will hinder their running. A runner will do everything they can to reduce the excess weight. The writer of Hebrews advises us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” in order to run the race (Heb.12:1).

Unfortunately, many of us are like the first man. We keep before our eyes all the bad and horrible things that has happened to us; our poor relationships with other people, our bad experiences and unfulfilled expectations in church, and the horrible events that scarred our lives. What is out of sight is out of mind. We do not remember the good that others have done for us. Our focus is on the bad things which crowd our thoughts causing anger and bitterness. It is hard to run forward when there is so much negative emotional burden. The heaviness of these burdens causes some of us to drop out of the race, like those marathon runners falling by the roadside. Once down, we are contented to stay down and refused to get up. Others leave the church not realising that they are bringing their sacks with them. Still others struggle for spiritual growth yet not bearing fruits and making progress because their souls are being poisoned by bitterness and unforgiveness.

The second man keeps his achievements and things that make him feel good in front of him. He revels in his accomplishments, his wealth, his fame, and in his sacrificial service for the church. He always reminds others of his contribution to the church, and the favours he has done for others. He turns a blind eye to his mistakes, his imperfections, his idolatry, and his pride. All these he throws into the sack behind him so that he does not see them. Unfortunately what the eye does not see remains in the subconscious. The prick of conscience is a constant thorn in his side and the sacks remain heavy. Such people need great effort to run. Some can hardly walk. Every step is a struggle because of the weight of the load of the sacks they carry.

The third man fills his front sack with positive thoughts, gratitude and appreciation for people around him, and the blessings he has received. For all the gossips, slanders, and bad experiences, he forgives and forgets. He throws then into the sack at his back which has a big hole in the bottom. Thus the back sack is empty, and he is freed from bitterness, hatred, and anger. He only feels the goodness of this life and of the blessings of God. All these make his sack to act as a sail. The Holy Spirit who is like a wind blows the sail and helps him forward as he runs the race.

Running the spiritual race is so much easier if we get rid of bitterness, unforgiveness, and anger. That is what Jesus is giving us when He offers us His yoke. Many of us are running like the first man or the second man. Our sacks are heavy with our burdens and they wear us out. Jesus offers, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30). Being yoked with Jesus is like the third man. He is like Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner in the movie Chariots of Fire who said, “God make me fast. And when I run fast, I feel His pleasure.” For Eric Liddell, however, the Olympics were not the ultimate race. The son of Scottish missionaries to China, he saw his whole life as a race: a race for the kingdom of heaven. That is why, two years after taking the Olympic gold, he sailed to China, to become a missionary himself.

Reflection Questions

(1)What are you carrying in your sacks?
(2)Are you allowing negatives events in your life drag you down?
(3)Look at your life now. Are you like the first man, the second man, or the third man?
(4)How do you become like the third man?

Lord,


help me to be like the third man in the story. Help me to keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I've experienced, all the great things other people have done for me in the sack in front of me. Let the sack behind me have a big hole where I shall lose all the bad things that I can think about myself or hear about others. Let me share the yoke with your Son so that I will find rest for my soul.



Amen


.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Influences on Spiritual Formation in Malaysia Churches


What do you think are some of the factors that influence spiritual formation of Chinese Christians in Malaysian and Singapore churches churches? Here are some of my ideas.

  • Denominational history

  • Chinese culture

  • Post-colonial legacy

  • Religious pluralism in a multicultural society

  • Islam as the dominant religion in society
  • Media-interconnectivitiy

  • Effects of globalisation

Can you think of any other factors that can influence spiritual formation in Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese Christians? Please let me know.

I am conducting a research on this area and will great appreciate your input.

.



Influences on Spiritual Formation in Malaysia Churches


What do you think are some of the factors that influence spiritual formation of Chinese Christians in Malaysian and Singapore churches churches? Here are some of my ideas.

  • Denominational history

  • Chinese culture

  • Post-colonial legacy

  • Religious pluralism in a multicultural society

  • Islam as the dominant religion in society
  • Media-interconnectivitiy

  • Effects of globalisation

Can you think of any other factors that can influence spiritual formation in Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese Christians? Please let me know.

I am conducting a research on this area and will great appreciate your input.

.



Identity 'Crisis' about Sanctification

Christianity Today, July, 2007

Identity 'Crisis'
Nazarenes rethink entire sanctification.

Brad A. Greenberg posted 6/22/2007 08:49AM


The Church of the Nazarene is in a "theological crisis," general superintendent Jerry Porter announced five years ago at a global theology conference in Guatemala City. As the 1.5-million member denomination approaches its 100th anniversary next year, leaders are rethinking their central holiness doctrine of entire sanctification.

Some Nazarene theologians dispute Porter's interpretation and say the denomination is rearticulating, not reforming, its beliefs. But other scholars insisted to ct that the crisis persists.
"A lot of the folks who have been around the church awhile thought of themselves as being characterized by things they don't do: You don't smoke, you don't drink, you don't go to dances, and in some parts of the denomination, you don't wear makeup or go to clubs or some parts of society," said Thomas Jay Oord, professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, and co-author of Relational Holiness. "That kind of Christianity loses steam really quickly. It's not something you can give your whole life to."

Nazarenes belong to an evangelical church that formed in 1908 when various groups in the holiness movement came together under the leadership of Phineas Bresee, a former Methodist minister. This new denomination, which stemmed largely from Methodism, emphasized entire sanctification as an "act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect." But it hasn't always, if ever, been clear what such a sanctified life should look like.

"[T]he question in the last decades of the 20th century was whether or not the Church of the Nazarene had a coherent and cogent doctrine of holiness at all," Mark Quanstrom, professor of theology and philosophy at Olivet Nazarene University, wrote in A Century of Holiness.
Oord has been working to redefine holiness and to persuade the church to drop the word entire in its Article of Faith on sanctification. He said the Wesleyan tradition has more to do with social justice than social conservatism. In particular, Oord focuses on Jesus' "love command" in Luke 10:27: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself."
While theologians, including those involved with the Wesleyan Holiness Study Project, continue trying to rearticulate entire sanctification, the Church of the Nazarene's six superintendents have already taken action. In February, they released this revised mission statement: "To make Christ-like disciples in the nations."

Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere:

The Church of the Nazarene's articles of faith include a short explanation of the doctrine of entire sanctification.

The general superintendents emphasize that holiness is Christlikeness in the Church of the Nazarene's section on their new mission statement.

Thomas Jay Oord delivered "Fifteen Changes in the Church of the Nazarene's Article on Entire Sanctification" at a 2006 "Revisioning Holiness" conference.

Documents and sound files from the February conference on "Revisioning Holiness: Looking Back and Pressing Forward" are available from the Wesley Center Online.

Rob Staples describes the problem of Nazarene identity and says that "It is time for the Church of the Nazarene to finally admit … that in the issue of equating Pentecost solely with entire sanctification, along with a few other issues as well, the American holiness movement got it wrong" in "Things Shakeable and Things Unshakeable In Holiness Theology."

Holiness Today published an op-ed about the teaching of entire sanctification in Nazarene churches.

read more