Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Friendly Neighbours

The Agora Singapore
From left: Darren, Anwar, Benjamin, Mejlina, Joshua, Zhen Hao

By providence, this adds interesting details to a visit to Singapore, otherwise most memorable for the pinch felt with the currency exchange.

More photos here

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Year Reflections.

I wonder if we can ever get used to the hustle and bustle of welcoming Christmas and later, New Year; and at the same time; switch on our contemplative moods to reflect and examine the year that we had. If Life were a stage, perhaps it must be that the production be a low-cost one, where actors have to switch roles between being on-stage to act and off-stage to monitor the props and settings.

As the New Year approaches, one wonders if there should be a build-up of anticipation for a fresh start or the calm expectations of the continuation of existing processes. I would say there must be both. While I must expect duties, work and relationships with people to resume in the same order as before, I also must reserve room for unexpected surprises in areas of my life that I may have taken for granted previously in the same aspects of duties, work and relationships with other people. This may constitute a new attitude in spiritual discipleship, a new knowledge of interest and gift for a particular ministry or even a new environment to work and serve in.

However, one can’t help but to notice the tension between being able to be surprised by the expectations of being surprised. How then do we be continuously excited about God’s surprises for us? C. S. Lewis once wrote that one must not expect the same excitement for when he first waded in a pool than when he was able to finally swim in the open sea. The wife must not anticipate first-date-nervousness after being married to her husband for fifty years. Yet, all these do not account for being less passionate for the same object of affection one used to shower so much adoration unto.

In every manner, what C.S. Lewis wrote was true and rational. However, I panic at the thought of not being ‘rightfully’ excited about the resolutions for the New Year. If nothing surprises me anymore in areas of my service, discipleship and livelihood as student, woman and servant; I am in the dangers of turning into an Ebenezer Scrooge of Christmas- jaded, miserable and indifferent.

Yet, by providence churned from my God, the Master of Surprises; I am caught in a surprise by how little I still know about Him and of Him. A reading of John Piper’s sermon here woke me up from my philosophical dream. I now realized that I have indeed substituted so much time and effort into making Christianity a mere fantastical philosophy rather than grasping the Word for its Divine Power and Revelation through devotional prayers and meditations. Whence once I would write down verses for memorizing purposes, I now find myself devoting time instead to read the Bible through the eyes of philosophers. Not only have I lost the inclination to meditate on Bible verses, but my quiet time and Bible-reading have been spent only on groggy mornings and if-I-have-time-evenings. My prayers are humanistic and selfish because without that devotional time to set aside for meditation purposes, I lost the meaning to search for His Will in my prayers.

I thank God that such timely reminders came in the event that I thought I was doing such a marvelous job in meditating His Word; and advices on meditation and quiet time should only be passed on to others. If the thoughts of philosophers have impressed me much for the past year, I now pray for my willingness to be inspired by the Word of God again.

I may not have an exciting new ministry to consider nor even flashy opportunities to flex my reading muscles for this coming new year, but I have found that ‘old music box hidden in the attic’ that I fell in love with years ago- the old knowledge for the love of His Word; made new in times of forgetfulness.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psa 1:1-3)

I have every reason to be thankful this New Year. May it be a time of reflecting and rejoicing to you too.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Christmas to know of.

Christmas- a time when Santa Claus could squeeze his 50-inch waistline down relatively stick-like chimneys to the homes of good boys and girls, families gather for a scrumptious dinner of roasted stuffed turkey in a home warmed by the fire (there’s roasted chestnuts, too!) pine trees, decorated with lights of blue, red and green; and presents of all shapes and sizes underneath- a symbol of miniature happiness and thanksgiving, as seen from a frosted window; while on the outside, a big blanket of snow covers each square inch of land. This is the idea of Christmas that we all know of, never mind if we live in a tropical country- with the sun basking at our faces 365 days a year.

With technology and creativity, the atmosphere of a winter wonderland can now be easily recreated by shopping malls and theme parks. Yet, without that minus 2 degree of chilliness, that chimney for Santa Claus to go through, that snowman to build on Christmas morning and that sizzling sounds of firewood burning at the fireplace; are we Malaysians, perhaps; celebrating less a Christmas?

If Christmas were to be characterized by season and by how our houses were made (and not made), clearly, we are celebrating less a Christmas. I am reminded of a song, “I am dreaming of a white Christmas”, which spoke of a wish for all Christmases be white. Alas, that dream never really came true for us Malaysians. What a pity, really because we have almost everything we need to recreate that Christmassy atmosphere, right down to live pine trees. We celebrate, we drink up and we party the night away. After all, “tis the season to be jolly”. We join in the rush-hour Christmas shopping and enjoy the sale and buy that little black dress we spot while we shop for gifts for friends and families. We even buy a gift or two and drop them in that box for orphans, so yearning for some Christmas cheer and warmth this year. There is something magical about giving during this season, and nothing quite like giving presents in beautifully wrapped boxes and ribbons. It is the ultimate commercialization and secularization of a festival- just like anywhere else in the world, yet; if we make people around us happy, if we ourselves are happy; what harm does it bring?

It is quite rightly said, isn’t it? Celebrations are meant to be happy occasions and thus far, we seem to be serving its purpose well- but are we, really? Or, are we missing the point about being happy and joyous about Christmas and its winter wonderland? After all, that is not the Malaysian kind of Christmas, though it may seem to be the idea of Christmas that is indoctrinated in us. Christmas without snow would sound so foreign to us. However, it does sound peculiar how we could embrace a season we are so unaccustomed to, as the idea of Christmas. Looking retrospectively, our reason for celebrating Christmas is that fantasy we can never have. Rather odd reason, isn't it?

Yet, there is this story about Christmas which is beyond fantasy-sounding, but not a fantasy; which we desperately need to hear once more. A story about a baby boy, born to this earth in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago by Mary, His virgin mother in a stable of all places- no decorative Christmas trees, no 5-star welcoming party and above all, no snow. This is no any baby boy, for an angel of the Lord said to the shepherds of Him, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you; you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in the manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men!”- Luke 2:11-14.

And this is the story of Christmas, the reason to celebrate Christmas; not just as a day to eat, drink or be merry, though it now is; not just a day to exchange gifts to loved ones; though it now is, not just a day to hunt for that authentic Christmas feeling beneath that fake Christmas tree and fake snow; though it now is; but a day to celebrate hope for man, once bleak and dying; now alive with hope of salvation.

The birth of Jesus Christ- God who walked on the earths of Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago has come to save Man from bondage to sins and Death. This is the Christmas we know that we are not celebrating less of, just because we do not have snow. This is the Christmas we want to know of, whether we live in the blazing deserts of Sahara or the icy-cold mountain peaks of Himalaya. Now, isn’t that worth celebrating?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dangerously subtle.

“Islamization is overlooked, precisely because dominant Muslim authorities rely on a process of graduation and assimilation of isolated minority group. Fundamental liberties remained enshrined in the Federal Constitution but these liberties are subverted by coercive policies for various government departments that favour Islam over other religions. Rights of the minority communities are slowly but surely eroded over time. Federal Constitution may uphold freedom of religion but this freedom is constantly undermined by restrictive policies implemented by state controlled institutions.” -Dr. Ng Kam Weng, plenary speaker for the topic, Being Influencing Christians in a Predominantly Islamic Country at the FES National Conference ’05.

Few would have been able to notice the government’s subtle strategies in turning Malaysia into an Islamic nation, thus; allowing various religious agendas to seep into policies concerning education and the rights of the minority groups without notice. On the surface, this may seem like any ordinary religious struggle in a pluralistic and multi-ethnic society; yet, this is as much as a religious struggle as well as a political one, as much as majority is strength is concerned.

If the government continues to have its own way, ethnocides of the Orang Asli and the Sabah and Sarawak bumiputras through the conversion of religion among them will be the government’s most powerful weapon to gear its way towards nation-wide Islamization. The Federal Constitution defines one who speaks in the Malay language, practices Malay culture and a Muslim as“Malay”. One can easily observe that through time and assimilation of culture, many bumiputras or sons of the soil and the Orang Asli community speak a common language, which is the Malay language. What constitutes as “Malay culture” is vaguely described, leaving wide spaces for debates and various inclusions. That would leave one’s religious identity as the most significant predetermining factor to whether one is“Malay” or not. This is precisely where the danger begins.

Where majority is strength, the government would have more concrete reasons to impose Islamic laws to non- Muslims as well, threatening the harmony of a pluralistic society as of Malaysia’s- the best model one can get from living in a multi-ethnic society where one’s religious status is more often than not, defined by his racial identity.

While one has to commend the efforts of various Muslim organizations for their foresight and diligence in long-term Islamisation, in which clearly Malaysian Evangelical Christians are slacking behind, the same amount of credit cannot be given to them for their unruly ways of Islamising, that are tantamount to coercion and undue influence. The Federal Constitution clearly forbids the act of conversion through coercion, especially towards the bumiputras and the Orang Asli community; yet; clearly, the sovereignty of the Constitution has been repeatedly undermined. Malaysian Evangelical Christians find themselves having to play on unfair grounds and the first compromise that the Church makes in this aspect, would be their indifference and willingness towards it.

“Give us a quiet corner and do not bother us in our cozy corner, and we will not make any sounds”.

The similar situations surface in interfaith dialogues, especially between the Muslims and the Christians. With the recent move to promote the frequency interfaith dialogues, one can be sure that the intellectual battle between the Muslims and the Christians would be even hotter- which begs the question- Should Christians still engage in such debates given unfair grounds? Most of the interfaith dialogues are organized by Muslim organizations and not only would they have the luxury to choose their finest apologist, they would also have the same luxury to invite a clueless Christians speaker to be ‘sacrificed’ onstage. Time and time again, the Christians were flabbergasted by how unequipped their representative was and the Muslims were all-smiles. Interfaith dialogues, rather than an avenue to create awareness and understanding of one another’s religion; has become a showdown to ridicule Christianity as ‘unreasonable’ and ‘illogical’. We have our portion of blame to take, if we continue to be lackadaisal and ignorant of our own doctrines and belief; or if we are unwise enough to be willing to compromise the integrity of an interfaith dialogue by being willing to participate in an interfaith dialogue on unfair grounds.

“Give us a quiet corner and do not bother us in our cozy corner, and we will not make any sounds”.

Such precarious compromises we must not make. Such indifference we cannot afford to have. Once Malaysian evangelical Christians adopt an in-closet attitude in practicing our faith, we find that eventually, even that closet we are so comfortable in, would be taken away. Don’t blame the government for that, we ask for it- that would be too rude a wake-up call, and too late as well.