Sunday, November 1, 2009

Definition of "Progress"

While reading the article below, I can't help but to think aloud the defintion of progress, as often mentioned everything, especially by the government in the newspaper report. Some food for thought...

Living with stigma of leprosy
By Cheong Suk-Wai, Senior Writer
The Straits Times

LOCATED on the eponymous isle that flanks Penang Bridge, the Jerejak Rainforest and Spa is an idyllic retreat hugged by thick Malaysian jungle.

The visitor is greeted by glossy darkwood floors, intricate wood carvings adorn its walls and the linen is spotless white-and-blue. But for those old enough to remember, from 1871 till World War II, this was a fearsome no-go area that served to isolate leprosy patients .

It was, in fact, colonial Malaya's first such colony, to be followed much later in 1930 by the Sungai Buloh leprosarium set up in Selangor.

In Singapore, from where the British governed the rest of Malaya, there were holding areas for leprosy sufferers only in Kandang Kerbau Hospital and then McNair Road. Eventually, such patients were sent to Pulau Jerejak for good.

What a world away Jerejak's Balinese body scrubs, steam baths and jacuzzis seem from the frightful 4,000-year-old disease whose name comes from the Greek word lepis for scale.
Since 1873, leprosy has also come to be known as Hansen's Disease, after Norwegian scientist G.H. Armauer Hansen, who first discovered that it was caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae.

Up till the early 20th century, leprosy was thought to be incurable, but a cocktail of drugs proved to be effective in stamping out this badly disfiguring and nerve- deadening disease that often results in the loss of sight and limbs.

Unfortunately, it was often confused with syphilis and thus erroneously thought to be highly contagious when, actually, scientists have since found that 95 per cent of people are immune to leprosy.

All this makes the disease's tortuous and sometimes callous course in Malaya all the more tragic.
It was only in 1949, after three British nuns from the Catholic order of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood settled down here and agreed to nurse leprosy and tuberculosis (TB) patients, that the British authorities were willing to set up a leprosarium proper, the Trafalgar Home in Woodbridge.

Such things are all but forgotten these days, but local historian Loh Kah Seng has just launched his book, Making And Unmaking The Asylum: Leprosy And Modernity In Singapore And Malaysia.

The book tracks how the British authorities were bent on compulsory segregation of all sufferers, which in effect rendered anyone stricken by leprosy effectively a walking corpse.

It was from late 2004 that Dr Loh had been researching the history of leprosy in Malaya for the International Leprosy Association's Global Project. His core finding is that, in banning leprosy sufferers from mingling with the rest of society as a means of minimising the risk of contagion, Singapore's early governments prioritised the control of society for economic progress and modernisation above the needs of individuals.

Dr Loh, who has also studied the effects of the Great Depression in 1930s Malaya, points out that even so, the British were selective in how they regarded leprosy sufferers in their colonies. For example, he argues, because Singapore was important to them economically, they made it illegal not to confine institutionally anyone with leprosy. In India, under its 1898 Lepers Act, by contrast, only paupers had to be segregated.

While the colonial government pursued compulsory segregation on the grounds that leprosy was highly infectious, Dr Loh points out that they backslid badly when they were short on funds. In 1937, when the Great Depression squeezed budgets and housing people became a great cost, the British government in Malaya admitted that leprosy was only 'very slightly infectious' and that compulsory segregation was 'unnecessary and costly'.

His book abounds with examples of the British taking a sledgehammer to flies in dealing with the hundreds of leprosy sufferers, especially considering that TB was vastly more contagious but patients were allowed to roam freely.

Dr Loh records former leprosy sufferer Kuang Wee Kee as saying that, of the most-feared diseases in mid-20th century Singapore, 'leprosy, TB and mental illness were the three brothers. Mental illness was...the little brother. Second brother was TB. Leprosy was the big brother. These were the three big clans'.

Once segregated, however, the leprosy sufferers were well fed and encouraged to be active in the open air as much as possible. They even grew vegetables and tended livestock, albeit within the confines of their delineated compounds.

Many gave up the struggle against the hopelessness to which society had consigned them. Many thus became incorrigible gamblers, instigating fights and killing themselves.

Yet many other leprosy sufferers 'unmade the asylum', as Dr Loh puts it, by founding musical troupes, writing and performing plays, and publishing inmates' stories in magazines for sale.

Unfortunately, the push of progress continues to belittle their efforts to live with self-respect. In September 2005, residents of the Singapore Leprosy Relief Association had to move from their leafy premises with generous spaces to a flatted factory-like building. There, even for married couples, privacy is no priority. Finding their own digs is often a pipe dream given the stigma that still sticks to the disease.Noting how contagious diseases are rearing their ugly heads these days, Dr Loh muses: 'We have a social duty to be mindful of how ordinary people are treated, and mistreated, in the campaign against disease and infection.'

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Random Musing - Awareness

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Musings on teachability

"The illiterate of the year 2000 will not be the individual who cannot read and write, but the one who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." - Alvin Toffler

"The most successful corporation of the 1990s will be something called a learning organisation."- Fortune Magazine

Friday, October 16, 2009

Essence of Christian Growth - Lesson from Willow Creek Community Church

I have just stumbled upon this article while reading my daily read from Ravi's Zacharias Ministry. The article is food for thought, especially on how some church leaders do church nowadays.

Having been experienced my part of being required to fill up statistics of members' attendance weekly for Sunday services and cell group meeting as a leader, and having required to attend endless leadership meetings after meetings on Sunday, I realise the futility of such activites, if it is not translated into something that is more relational-based, spiritually rejuvenating, sustainable and life-giving.

All the records of attendance only serves to interpret participation and nothing else. Yet, the church leaders were so insistent of doing this weekly with legalistic emphasis on its meaning to church health. Their basis of argument? Simply that a healthy church will result in numerical growth, not just quality growth. After 10 years of my experience in my previous church, I beg to differ. Both are very important and are very related to church health. However at different stages and seasons of a church's life, its growth takes place differently. There may be some seasons of the church being cleansed and pruned for its mistakes and therefore it may be inevitable that some members will leave. It doesn't mean that it isn't healthy.

Sometimes, it does matter a lot to the church, to God and to the leaders themselves, if they bother to stop whatever they are doing, and reflect upon themselves whether what they are doing are still relevant to the needs of the people in the current culture and context.

Willow Creek Repents?

Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."
by ChristianityToday, 18 October 2007

Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels' office hangs a poster that says: "What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?" Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry - church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage - has impacted every evangelical church in the country.

So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, "We made a mistake"?

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings "earth shaking," "ground breaking," and "mind blowing."

If you'd like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels' reactions, recorded at last summer's Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.

In the Hawkins' video he says, "Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ." This has been Willow's philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, "I know it might sound crazy but that's how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation."

Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, you can understand their shock when the research revealed that "Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone's becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more."

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research "the wake-up call" of his adult life.

Hybels confesses:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ?self feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In other words, spiritual growth doesn't happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Does this mark the end of Willow's thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Importance of History to Our Faith and Life

Below is a great article that I have read today, reminding all Christians on the need to remember and make sense of the past, and its relationship to the present. We are all people with a past - we are who we are, due to the events and experience that took place in the past. Strangely, this importance was never talked about in the previous church I was in. As a result, we miss certain deep truths of life and our understanding of our faith in God when we failed to comtemplate make sense of the past happenings, be it in church ministry, work or our personal lives. To those who only have time to serve God but never anytime to reflect, this article is directed towards you.

People With a Past
by Jill Carattini, managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia

I confess that I have never been a student especially enticed by the subject of history. Whether studying the history of the Peloponnesian War or the history of Jell-O, I associate the work with tedious memorization and an endless anthology of static dates and detail. But this stance toward history, coupled with our cultural obsession with the present moment, is a powerful force to be reckoned with and an outlook I have come to recognize as dangerous. It is a thought perhaps to take captive, lest it produce in me a sense of forgetfulness about who I am and from where I have come.

Richard Weaver is one among many who have warned about the dangers of presentism, the cultural fixation with the current moment and snobbery toward the past. More than fifty years ago, Weaver warned of the discombobulating effects of living with an appetite for the present alone:

"Recurring to Plato's observation that a philosopher must have a good memory, let us inquire whether the continuous dissemination, of news by the media under discussion does not produce the provincial in time. The constant stream of sensation, eulogized as lively propagation of what the public wants to hear, discourages the pulling-together of events from past time into a whole for contemplation."(1)

Weaver contends that carelessness about history is in fact a type of amnesia, producing a mindset that is both aimless and confused. For how can we understand the current cultural moment without at least some understanding of the moments that have preceded it? History is not a static bundle of dates and details anymore than our own lives are static bundles of the same. But instead, history is the vital form in which we both take account of our past and fathom the present before us.

This point was driven home for me in a church history class full of future pastors. We were studying the fourth century, which was privy to a great influx of believers who left their communities behind and fled to the desert in search of solitude. To a group of people called and passionate about the church as a community, the great lengths some of these pilgrims went to live solitary lives was hard to understand. Words like "abandonment" and "responsibility" readily crept into our conversations.

But imperative to understanding this flight of believers (and arguably to understanding a part of our own story) is recognizing that this history did not come to pass in a vacuum. Up until the fourth century, the church had been under fierce persecution. Torture and martyrdom were prevalent; believers were recurrently in danger and often met in secrecy. When Christianity was suddenly made legal in 313, the church found itself in the midst of an entirely different set of challenges. People were now coming to Christianity in droves, and for the first time in the life of the church, nominal belief and careless faith was a reality. In this historical context, pursuit of the desert life was an expression of faith in response to faithless times. For the dynamically committed Christian, the desert was viewed as a way to not only secure and live out one's convictions, but to preserve the faith itself.

We may not understand the motives of those who chose to live their lives in caves of prayer and solitude, but I believe it is quite possible that God continues to set apart remnants who stand in the midst of time "like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which do not depend upon people or wait for any mortal" (Micah 5:7). Refusing to be historians, we miss truths such as these. We are people with a past that locates us in the very story we live today.

For the Christian, history is all the more a sense of hallowed ground, for it is ground where God has walked and faith is kept. We believe that history resides in the able hands of the one who made us to live within time. We believe that who we are today has everything to do with events we have not seen ourselves. And we live as a people called both to remember and to be ready, for we look to the author of the entire story, who was and is and is to come.

(1) Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 111.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Random Musing - War that We Constantly Fight Against

2 Cor 10:3-7

"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he."

We are constantly at war and fighting, not just at the spiritual front, but at the ideological front for God's truth to be revealed. Strangely, the battlefield doesn't just lie in the marketplace, where we pit our weapons against the ideology of the world, but the battlefield extends deeply into our own homeground - The Church.

In the passage Paul was putting up his defence of his ministry towards the Corinthians, in an effort of repealing off the "bullets" and "arrows" of the untruth spreaded by other immatured and incorrect Christians. Thus it would not be strange if almost 2000 years later, such phenomenon still exists in the church.

According to Paul, he described the kind of war that Christians would have to fight. Compare the weapons that Christians use VS weapons the world uses. Christians use biblical truth from the bible, which Paul described as having "divine power" to demolish "strongholds". The soundness and the wisdom of the bible, vindicated by historical outcomes have such power to tear down and vanish strongholds of unbalanced, unsound, unbiblical, untrue, legalistic and illogical worldview and convictions that had been so entrenched to be considered "strongholds".

As Christians, Paul mentioned that we would need to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself against the knowledge of God..."

What arguments have we heard recently from other Christians or church leaders that seemingly right but we felt strangely uncomfortable towards, or that we observe things been seemingly bad when such arguments are being lived out by others?

Have we considered clearly the full counsel of God's Word, instead of just consulting our shepherds? What do the other Christians from other churches say about the arguments? From the way Paul said, it was as if the pretension comes very stealthily, and often very hard to be "detected", since it is "clothed" with "camouflaged truth".

Have we spotted any arguments and every pretension later? Are we doing anything to demolish these arguments?

Paul also mentioned that"...and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ..." Not just 90% of the thoughts or ideals but 100%. Any unbalanced and erroraneous ideology and practice would have to be made known and submit under the authority of Christ.

What would be the impact to the lives of people we cherish in church if such arguments and every pretension are not addressed promptly? I like this quote from Martin Lurther King - "Our lives will end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be unaware of the constant battle of beliefs and ideology within our minds, but learn to discern those which are right and uphold these beliefs and ideology against erosion by others.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Service to God

I was reading Philip Yancey's book entitled "The Jesus I Never Knew" just now, on the chapter pertaining to the profile of Jesus when I saw these descriptions of Jesus.

"Jesus did not mechanically follow a list of "Things I Gotta Do Today"...He attended wedding feasts that lasted for dys. He let himself get distracted by any "nobody" he came across, whether a hamorrhaging woman who shyly touched his robe or a blind beggar who made a nuisance of himself. Two of his most impressive miracles took place because he arrived too late to heal the sick person...

Jesus was "the man for others"...He lept himself free - free for the other person. He would almost accept anybody's invitation to dinner and as a result no public figure had more a diverse list of friends, ranging from rich people, Roman centurions, and Pharisees to tax collectors, prostitutes, and leprosy victims..."

What struck me was the example of Jesus in living His Father's will in such a manner (He lived his life normally, going about doing his daily chores and duties while ministering to other people through his daily activities) - a stark contrast as to the example of Paul, whose famous words is to be Acts 20:24

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."

I had come across some individuals within church in the past who kept on glorifying this ideal. They would often quote the example of Paul in fulfilling the Great Commission and would use this verse to urge all their followers to follow the example of Paul. The result of such kind of ministry is that the church simply have no time for people who can't match up nor measure up. Another result is that the church don't have time to reflect upon past mistakes, nor change for the better. "Move on with God and serve God" they said and "Leave the past behind."

There is nothing absolutely wrong with the life of Paul. The issue arises when his ideal and the example is overly emphasized by some individuals as compared to other biblical heroes whose faith, character, belief and deeds ought to be embraced as well. After reading this descriptions from Philip Yancey, I can't help but to say this - I would rather follow the example of Jesus than Paul, to the dismay of those individuals whom I had encountered in the past.

To those who are still in such a system whereby serving God equals to giving all your time to church and its activities, and you do not simply have time for other peope, a food for thought- How to reconcile the life of Jesus (seemingly free and available for people) as compared to the life of Paul (rushed, kept on doing things for God)?

What is God's will when comes to serving Him? What constitutes our service to God?