March 24, 2007

Citizen’s Eyes

Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 2:43 am by egalitaria

One of the ways in which to encourage our local council representatives to actually get moving is to provide them with visual aid! Titled “Citizen’s Eyes” by OHMSI (Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute), this initiative seeks to be…

your report card of your local state assemblyman, Member of Parliament and the local authorities, which will be read by the Federal Government, including our beloved prime minister.

It is to basically encourage the citizens of this country to send photographs in that show and highlight any complaints that we have of public facilities in our neighbourhoods. It’s simple enough, just upload the pics on the website here.

Let’s walk one step closer to responsible citizenship. (And pray hard with our fingers crossed that our local MBs and Wakil Rakyats will respond accordingly!)

ps: if only we had such an initiative to show up corruption just as visually clear as this. not possible, as corruption is by its very nature subtle, creeping and invisible to the public eye.

March 17, 2007

Islam and islam

Posted in Reflections, Religion at 3:30 am by egalitaria

Brian McLaren, in his book, carefully pointed out his personal interpretation of the difference between “Evangelism” and evangelism. (note the small and big capital letters) Likewise, I’d like to draw this parallel to a whole load of other words and tags which have been grossly misunderstood – to the extent that the new misunderstood version of the word gives shape and identity to the word itself.

Words like Christianity (synonymous today with proselytisation), secularism (synonymous in Malaysia today with worldly profanity), and Islam (synonymous with terrorism and radical extremist conservatism).

Can we create new terminologies to represent any or all of these in their truest, original form? Why is this necessary, you ask?

Because when we are engaging in discourse and discussion, it is always necessary to first define the terms we argue about. In a debate, this is what proponents and opponents do at the beginning. It is because disagreements abound on the very terms we use.

A Muslim just means someone who is subject to the will of God. Who can doubt that, based on this definition, this includes everyone? (except hardcore atheists of course – I haven’t forgotten about you and you and you) So Islam is, in its original contextual meaning, being subject to the will of God, and searching for the best path in that direction.

What it has become is a different animal altogether. So when asked whether I support an Islamic state, I have to give varied answers depending on my conversationalist’s understanding of Islam.

Just like how I shudder to be identified as a “Christian” if it means giving the impression of me forcing people to convert through fear, or the horrific things Christians have done in the world today like run hate-campaigns against gays, use religion to support Republican foreign policy in Iraq – and prefer to be identified as ‘christian’ in nature – following the footsteps of peace loving Jesus… I think all of us need to rethink labels and generalisations we have given to perfectly innocent terms like Islam.

Legal Tsunami

Posted in Malaysia, Religion at 2:55 am by egalitaria

Tides come and go, ebb and flow.

Issues in Malaysia come in circles, round and round the mulberry bush.

We’ve had our Shamalas, Moorthys, Lina Joys and now Subshini. The Court of Appeal is ruling for the first time that a non-Muslim will have to appear before the Syariah Court, which handles Islamic family matters in Malaysia.

Amongst the three judges, Judge Gopal Sri Ram was the only one who gave a dissenting view on the matter.

Also held in this landmark ruling is that a Muslim could apply to the Islamic court to convert his underaged children without permission from the non-Muslim spouse.

Although the Constitution (which is the supreme law of the land) allows for the formation of Syariah Courts, its jurisdiction lies only over persons who profess the religion of Islam. The complication arises only when there is conversion of a spouse, which in the past would not have posed a problem. Custody of children and division of property when settling a divorce between a Muslim and non-Muslim would have been conducted quite easily under the civil courts.

In the current Subshini case, the husband is applying to bring divorce proceedings to the Syariah Court. Also contested is custody of their two children: their 3-year old son who was converted into Islam by the husband Mr. Muhammad Shafi Saravanan Abdullah; and 1-year old daughter. (By law the religion of a child is determined by both parents)

I say waves come and go, but in tidal waves a.k.a. tsunamis, each rising tide is higher than its preceding one.

Will this rising tide set precedence for more disconcerting news?

March 10, 2007

Conversations: A Revolution of Hope

Posted in Religion, Theology at 3:09 pm by egalitaria

Thoughts have been clamouring to get out. Having been involved with the recent weekend event, and meeting Brian McLaren face to face with the privilege of personal interviews (not interrogation!), it’s only natural that I feel the need to articulate in writing my ideas of religion and Christianity. Note that these are only my interpretations and understanding of these new concepts, and may need (a lot more) retuning and refining!  

Brian McLaren, as many would know, has been one of the foremost writers and speakers representing the Emergent Network in the
United States. Over the last weekend some of us have had the opportunity to be in conversation with him and many other leading

Malaysian Church leaders, people like Father Jojo (Jesuit priest), Rev. Wong Fong Yang, Tan Soo Inn, Sherman Kuek and so on. We had a great weekend talking about the Gospel, Church, Discipleship and the World. What a refreshing time to rethink all our conventions of “Christianity”! So many of the things discussed resonated deep within my heart and were manifestations of things I have always thought of but was never quite willing to explicitly say.  

The question I asked him when we first met on Friday night (amongst many many other questions) at dinner was,  

“What started you on this journey”.  

And he replied, “It started when Bush get elected into office.”  

I personally found that so hilarious and pertinent that I used that story when facilitating the final session on engaging the World.  

Essentially the Emergent story is based on the need to present an alternative Christianity that most of the world has been exposed to these recent decades. The typical “Christianity” that has been presented has been a largely Western, Evangelical, Proselytising Christianity that focuses on saving the world through little booklets and tracts, short of forcing anyone to conform to a church culture and accepting in entirety the historical creeds, in long words and theological jargon that twists the mind and tongue. Made worse is the Christianity professed and marketed in
America, the Christianity of television evangelism, “charismatic” repetitions of phrases shouted with the purpose of indoctrination versus a real inward reflection.

Finally of course, the Republican faith has done no better in reflecting the Church, by justifying foreign policy of war and imposition of regulation and (a certain interpretation of) democracy in the Middle East. Without a deeper analysis and reflection, much of the world can be and has been convinced that this is the only true version of Christianity. One that supports the victimization of others, supposedly based on biblical principles.  

So does the Bible really support such action? If not, what does the Bible say? If “Christian” really means “follower of Christ”, should we not look at the things that he did and said in exemplifying a godly humanity?  

The premise is that Jesus did NOT primarily come to this earth to die. He mentions “

Kingdom of
God” most times in his speeches. His vision was for the kingdom of God to be acted out, principles of life which would transform systemic evil that existed in this lifetime to goodness and holiness – emphasizing humility, sacrificial love, compassion, justice, and so on, to counter a world that was encroached upon by Roman dominance, deceit, lying, pomp, and pride.  

I find that most Christians can agree with the execution/practical implications but not the theoretical premise behind it. For example, the need for Christians to engage with the world is not a new concept. In fact, the Catholic Church has done a great deal of work in social justice, acting on behalf of the poor and sickly. Think Mother Teresa. There needs no argument to convince that the Bible has stated a case clearly for principles of justice, equality, speaking up for the oppressed and so on. 

But maybe more important and revolutionary is that all of this stems from the understanding that Jesus actually came to the earth to present a Kingdom of God in the here and now primarily. If so, then it gives a whole new meaning to the constant mantra we’ve often heard and believed, “If you believe in Jesus, you will be saved”. One that begs the definitions of each component of that statement – belief, Jesus, salvation.  

Belief – belief and trust and faith in a person who has given you life principles that you can live by and experience abundance, just as how I believe in my mother. Salvation – salvation from the horrid injustices, poverty of spirit, depression, bitterness, hatred, institutional evil in this world but turning to a life that is marked by light, love, compassion.  

The implications of this are far-reaching. It makes one rethink many things, a paradigm shift of how we should be living today.  

1. Jesus’ DeathDid Jesus have to die? Perhaps it was a historical necessity rather than anything else. Anyone who proclaims a Kingdom alternative to the Roman Empire at the time would have been executed and killed. Anyone who proclaimed a Kingdom alternative to the sort of bigoted Pharisaic regulation-oriented “religion” would have been condemned to die. In that sense, yes Jesus died because he proclaimed something so revolutionary that most people would not have accepted. But yet he had to say those things.  

2. GraceThe concept of grace is huge, in Christianity. The fact that we can never do enough good deeds to “get us to heaven” is justified by God’s tremendous grace swooping down upon us to “get us there”! But, as pointed out, perhaps we are not asking ourselves the right question. Maybe the question is not all about “getting to heaven” but “living heaven out on earth today”. We acknowledge incapability and inadequacy at being perfect, but God’s love is so great so we do the best we can. Grace still applies very much in this framework. But it is not so much a “grace that will get me to heaven and the finishing line”, but a “grace that allows me to admit my weaknesses and help others along and practice humility in living a godly life”.  

3. EvangelismI have always hated the way we have “done evangelism”, through evangelistic rallies and convincing people to say the “sinner’s prayer” and believe that Jesus is the son of God, that he died and rose again, and accepting him into your heart as Lord and saviour, this 1-2-3 step ABC that everyone has been convinced is necessary for the Christian faith. I beg to differ. Evangelism should now mean the telling people to look at Jesus because here is a man who taught such wonderful life changing principles, and being hands and feet to people through real and solid helping “save” lives of poverty, rejection and discrimination.  

4. Jesus’ resurrectionI haven’t quite got my head around this one yet.  

5. Eternal lifeHaven’t figured this one out yet either.  

6. Relating to people of other faithsAnyone who looks to Jesus as a teacher, prophet, great man, can be a follower of Jesus, can they not? Or must the person go through the strict process of believing Jesus is the son of God and so on and so forth? And where does one cross the line? Perhaps it is a spectrum of possibilities, a continuum that one goes through and experiences daily. And because one cannot clearly define a particular point of “engaging in an active relationship with Jesus”, then perhaps we are all one and the same – people struggling to follow Jesus and all that he represents.  

This inspires me to an even greater degree to do the work of Jesus here on earth. What this means is different to each person. Perhaps a lawyer feels that he needs to engage in human rights in order to stand up for the oppressed and underprivileged (of course this does not apply to the huge law firms of the world), the social activist to look at issues faced by the discriminated against, the businessman to ensure he uses his money wisely to responsibly care for the environment and sustainable development, the politician to represent the views of the people whose neighbourhoods must be well taken care of. It is indeed kingdomic principles that we need to wake up to. The right questions must be asked, in order for the right answers to be made clear to us.

For now, we see yet through a glass darkly.