August 15, 2008
I was invited to speak at the Inaugural Council of the Church World Mission’s East Asian Region (EAR) Youth Leaders’ Assembly 2008 this week, on Tuesday 12th August 2008. I spoke for an hour on “The Role of Christian Youth in Nation Building”, thereafter shared a panel with Ps. Sivin Kit (Pastor of Bangsar Lutheran Church) and YB Hannah Yeoh (State Assemblywoman for Subang Jaya constituency) on the topic of “A Christian Response to the Rapidly Changing Youth Culture, Secularism and the Role of Media.”
It was a great experience sharing the floor with friends who share the same vision for the country’s future. I’ll type out my reflections for the session in a separate article, but here is the paper that I presented during my session itself. One key point I highlighted was the need to have role models in their respective countries. In Malaysia, I think the youth have an increasing number of people to look up to as role models, which is something I thought lacking even as late as 2 years ago!
Now we have the likes of young people involved in public life like Hannah Yeoh, Tony Pua, Nik Nazmi, Khairy, Nat Tan, Michelle Gunaselan, Nurul Izzah, Teo Nie Ching, Firdaus Fuuad, Wan Saiful, Abidin Muhriz and so on. (Note that I’m emphasising the fact that they’re young, I don’t necessarily agree with all of the above’s political principles haha.)
The Role of Christian Youth in Nation Building
Inaugural Council for World Mission East Asia Region Youth Leaders’ Assembly
11th August 2008
The notion of nation-building presupposes that the nation itself is in need of building; or rebuilding, in some cases. The term nation-building in its original sense referred to newly-independent nations in Africa to reshape colonial territories that had been carved out by colonial powers without regard to ethnic or other boundaries. This would later include the creation of paraphernalia such as flags, national anthems, national days, national languages and so on. At the heart of this lay the deep-rooted need to search for a national identity.
For many Asian countries bar a few, this was certainly the case. Countries like Malaysia and Singapore (then Malaya), Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and so on, have had to grapple with their respective national identities in a post-colonial world. A nation’s identity is usually framed along certain themes. In Malaysia, it has been “unity in diversity”, in dealing with the reality of a multiethnic and multi-religious society.
Each nation will have its individual identity based on specific cultural and historical heritage, language, norms and social frameworks. However, can it also be said that our faiths should inform national identity, and hence be instrumental in shaping the nation-building process? What role does Christianity play in the shaping of a nation? The question to ask ourselves within our respective countries is – in attempting to collectively build a nation, exactly what kind of nation do we want to build? What should the nation look like, cultural differences aside?
Building what kind of Nation?
If we believe that Christian principles are holistic, then they should also inform our ideas about public life. Faith in the public square is very different from imposing strict religious values; rather, it is putting to practice those “kingdom values” espoused by Jesus in His time. This means tuning our senses into a frequency that sees the world as a landscape that God can transform. This transformation is one that is prescribed in the Bible: turning society away from dominance, hypocrisy, pomp, pride, “greed, malice, deceit, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7: 22-23) and towards kingdom values of justice, peace, sacrificial love, compassion and goodness.
In the process of nation-building, we then set out to do precisely that: to build our nations based on very concrete values already articulated for us. This is “His kingdom come on earth”. It is important to hold true a vision we desire for our nations, or nation-building effort comes to naught. The cause fought against corruption is a cause fought for social justice. The cause fought against systemic evil is a cause fought for what we believe in through Christ. Sacrificial love also includes having the grace to speak the truth with love, without prejudice of the other.
December 23, 2007
I’m itching to get some books and I am interested in especially Tariq Ramadan’s “Western Muslims and the Future of Islam“, which has gotten pretty good reviews. It was listed as one of the best 2004 nonfiction books by the Christian Science Monitor. A synopsis of the book reads as follows:
As the number of Muslims living in the West grows, the question of what it means to be a Western Muslims becomes increasingly important to the futures of both Islam and the West. While the media are focused on radical Islam, Ramadan claims, a silent revolution is sweeping Islamic communities in the West, as Muslims actively seek ways to live in harmony with their faith within a Western context.
Western Islam will see the religion coming out of its stereotypical jihadist-terrorist label that has tainted itself for many years. I, for one, am interested in seeing how this new development of Islam will take its course from here on. I’m not sure Islam Hadhari is the best way to frame it, since Islam is Islam and we should start defining it at its most essential core (note: the word “fundamental” has also taken on a negative meaning although it means something perfectly innocent, i.e. back to original doctrine), and not by giving it a new name. (of course new names are marketable but they can just be token)
Another interesting book I’ve been trying to get my hands on is “The Muslim Jesus” by Tarif Khalidi.
In The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature, Tarif Khalidi brings together Islamic primary sources about Jesus from the eighth to the 18th centuries. Included are mystical works, historical texts about prophets and saints and, of course, the foundational words about Jesus in the Qur’an. “As a whole,” Khalidi explains, these writings “form the largest body of texts relating to Jesus in any non-Christian literature.” Khalidi pays particular attention to the literary quality of the texts and the role “the Muslim Jesus” has played in both Muslim piety and Muslim-Christian relations.
Not many people know that Nabi Isa, or Jesus, plays an extremely central role in Islam as well. He is highly revered and considered one of the most powerful prophets whose gifts of miracles and healing were bestowed upon him.
The last book I want to buy this season is “No God but God” by Reza Aslan, which has been highly recommended as well. Written from a historical perspective of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and makes no false romanticism of his journey and struggle – paints a man for who he truly was.
I believe that one of the most essential relationships to cultivate at this stage is that of Muslim-Christian relations. This year, numerous Muslim leaders across the world sent a document called “A Common Word” to all Christian leaders, outlining the core of both religions and how these are actually the same. Drawing from exactly the same sources.
Thus despite their differences, Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments.
You can endorse the document as well, which was later responded to by the Pope himself, as well as other Protestant denominations. Also, in the UK, there is an organisation called “The Christian Muslim Forum” that aims at fostering good relations between the two.
I am mighty excited about these things, and hope to expand on my knowledge of Islam to better understand how the two religions can work together and build bridges for.. yes, you got it (*ahem* in Miss World-type conventions), world peace!
September 18, 2007
Here is what I said on Saturday at the inaugural dialogue and launch of OHMSI (Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute)… on the topic of Was Jesus Political?
I am usually asked to speak on panel discussions for one of two reasons; one, because I am a lady, and two, because I am young. I am here to celebrate these two attributes today, and hope that I may add value through a third element, namely the fact that I have been somewhat exposed to the socio-political fabric of Malaysia while working at the Centre for Public Policy Studies that works on public policy issues, and draw connections between the dots of religion and public life.
As a young person fresh out of Churchianity, the reasons compelling me to work in public policy had little or nothing to do with my faith. This was the sad reality. It is only such interaction with a small but steadily growing group of Christians that has maintained the respect I have for the dignity and honour of the church, which may otherwise have withered away, along with many other activists who have experienced a great disconnect between their Christianity and social action. Further, the support they receive from their fellow Christian family has been insignificant, if at all.
August 5, 2007
I was graciously taught these concepts by a good friend. Themes are very similar between the Bible and the Qur’an.
There are three stations that mankind goes through as one travels through life. These three capture the struggle and innermost desires of a person.
- Nafs al-amarah bi al-su’
This is the stage at which the bestial, carnal nature of man overrides all else. Desires, wants, lust, greed epitomise man at this point, where actions are driven by selfish nature and focus is upon self. This is the “nafs” that animals and human beings share.
2. Nafs lawamah
Based on the assumption that morality is inherent, this is the station at which humans are able to now exercise a level of conscience, and hence a struggle ensues between one’s desires and will. This struggle continues in the continuous desire to strike a balance. This is the stage at which most of us are presently in.
3. Nafs al-mutmainah
This is the final stage which most will not be able to achieve, the desired station where it takes no effort whatsoever to do good in life. Goodness is therefore the chosen natural action, needing no struggle nor the pricking of conscience upon one’s will.
Jesus, in calling the Pharisees to think instead upon the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law, said to them that the most important commandment was to “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and mind and soul”, and the next was to “Love your neighbour as yourself”. These were spoken in opposition to regimented law of archaic nature, performed very much for the sake of it at the time. Inherent within this teaching is the call towards Nafs al-mutmainah. The natural desire to engage in doing good, which is a result of naturally loving one and the other. Different religions have taught these principles in different terminologies.
I am admittedly within the Nafs lawamah category at this point.
July 30, 2007
This is the transcript of what I shared yesterday, on social justice in Malaysia.
I hope its contents are taken positively, not meant as a harsh criticism but a gentle provocation.
Much like what we do when prodding Malaysia along on its way. 🙂
July 29, 2007
Spending time today thinking and reframing my theological understanding of social justice has been extremely good for me. It’s been kind of scattered the whole time, but because I needed to prepare for my presentation tomorrow, it forced me to sit down and conceptualise things out properly.
I hope it goes well! Will write excerpts of the paper I wrote here.
The framework goes something like this: Worldview, Beyond Packaged Salvation, Jesus’ Life and not just His death, Kingdom principles, Qur’anic views, Rights and Freedoms, the Malaysian context, Engaging Church with Current issues, and then moving into Action!
March 10, 2007
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 “
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.
February 3, 2007
Hello, world. It’s been a deep slumber and she is reawakening. Things have been bubbling and hopefully bursting forth with some good results soon.
First off is a book project by a bunch of enthusiasts initiated by the Agora people, on a book written for young Malaysian Christians.
I’ve been asked to pen the chapter on social justice. Here’s what I have as a very rough outline – feel free to add and comment as you see fit.
1. Churchianity: The ‘Church’ as we see it today
A brief outline on the way church is being run today, largely introspective and insular, emphasising particularly the evangelical model of running Christianity. Save the soul and leave the body to rot sort of Christianity that focuses upon ensuring each damned soul needs to merely acquire a passport into heaven. There will be an emphasis on how the modern church has defined Salvation, as opposed to a more holistic salvation (the Eastern orthodox church defines salvation as becoming the person who God intends us to be, which captures the whole person sort of salvation – body, soul and spirit).
2. Life of Christ, not just His death!
Because the church places emphasis on salvation of the soul alone, it is Jesus’ death that has been the focus. Redemption from sin, eternal life in heaven, a place by God’s throne that He prepares for us way in advance – we are all too familiar with these anecdotes from Sunday school to sunday morning sermons. While these are important and crucial concepts in understanding the Christian faith, few people realise that it is through Jesus’ life itself that attracted the crowds to Him. If truth is indeed in the form of a person, and Jesus is this person, then what was it about His life that we as the church should learn from and emulate? I’ll talk about the relationality of Jesus in His ministry to the people… maybe bring in some concept of the Trinity and how that itself forms a good model in interpreting relationships.
3. Kingdom Principles
I’ll have a lot to say in this part of the chapter. I’ll start off by saying that the whole point of Jesus coming was to restore relationships between those that had been frissured at the Fall, meaning to reconcile man-and-man, man-and-God, man-and-nature. What is relevant in this chapter is man-and-man. Basically, redeeming broken and lost relationships between one and the other. In the perfecting of humankind in the “here and now”, this leads to practicing of “kingdom principles” in the here and now! What sort of principles did Jesus live by? Principles of justice, speaking up for the poor and marginalised in society, the downtrodden, the voiceless, honesty, integrity, humility. And I’ll say this was historical in nature too – the kingdom principles of God did not just start with Jesus – it has transcended the ages, all the way back in the Old Testament especially in the minor prophets of Amos and so on, which clearly expounds on God’s principles in valueing the marginalised in society. God used a lot more examples to judge people because they oppressed the weak, then He did on anything else in some of these books. Will give some quotes and examples here.
4. Doing Justice for Malaysia
And then of course there will be the examples that should be practiced in Malaysia. There’s a lot to say here as well. Will give examples one by one on the areas which we should be lending our ears, hands and heart to.
October 17, 2006
God vs. the world: A subject I’ve not broached in a while, but need to brush off the dust from my Zacharias, Stott and Lewis to review Richard Dawkins’ new book called “The God Delusion”.
I’ve not read it myself, as it’s difficult as it is to locate his books in KL. Perhaps Malaysia has yet again arbitrarily imposed their views that we should not read any such material that allows people to question the existence of God or Allah. (This rings true of the 18 books that were recently banned from the country, including Karen Armstrong‘s celebrated book “The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam”). I myself believe 200% in God, but also believe that people should be given the liberty to choose for themselves, based on information and opinions. (A good friend will jump up to say “is belief a choice??”, a separate debate we will not go into yet).
I can only look at some extracts from the book available online here. Some of which read:
There are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals or rules for living. One is by direct instruction, for example through the Ten Commandments, which are the subject of such bitter contention in the culture wars of America’s boondocks. The other is by example: God, or some other biblical character, might serve as – to use the contemporary jargon – a role model. Both scriptural routes, if followed through religiously (the adverb is used in its metaphoric sense but with an eye to its origin), encourage a system of morals which any civilized modern person, whether religious or not, would find – I can put it no more gently – obnoxious.
From what I’ve read, his arguments are basically similar to many of previous evolutionists, who have made the same points. The same words come across your mind, secularist, evolutionist, scientist, rationalist, facts not fiction, logic and reason, microbiology, atheist, and the list goes on. I hope, perhaps, that this new book sheds some new light in relation to current day issues, explaining for modern human behavioural patterns based on a belief in God. This sounds much like Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith”, but better written and more clearly thought through. I’ve blogged about my thoughts on evolution and creationism previously here. Will hunt down the book and do some digesting. Should do more of this than spend time pondering the sorry state of politics in the country – may not be worth my time after all.
October 3, 2006
by Ralph McTell
Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news
So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind
Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She’s no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.
In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea last an hour
Then he wanders home alone
And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman’s mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn’t care
About a month ago I had the opportunity of tagging along downtown to the streets of KL. A pastor set up a street ministry approximately 8 years ago that now runs every Saturday for the homeless and poor. Having personal conversations with these people reminded me that indeed, these are the most marginalised of society. They live literally from hand to mouth, live in bus stations and on lonely sidewalks. Most are unfortunately drug addicts, and have little chance at getting long-term employment. It is difficult to gain the trust of society once you throw it away at will. I thought about many things.
First, that once they are released from prison, or are convicted of drug abuse/pushing, or leave from a half-way house, they need a second round of socialisation. Sociologist wrote about the resocialisation process of a prisoner, and this is another sort of entrapment. They are caught in a cycle that they cannot get out of. Yet, the best way of showing love to a fellow “neighbour” on earth is to give an opportunity, time and time again. Such cycles take such great willpower to break, and most give up, choosing instead temporary pleasure over long-term pain (I did my thesis on such a theory, but it would bore you to death).
Second, that the gazillions of dollars spent by the government has done little to turn people away from drugs. Sure, you have the regular anti-dadah and anti-smoking campaigns running each year, but how effective are these, really? Does anyone actually do a post-mortem to check whether these campaigns and advertising money work? Do they make statistical comparisons between the periods before and after campaigns have been carried out? Plus, might I add that the government uses such Horribly Old-School advertising methods to get their message across. It Does Not Work I Tell You. The target group does not give a d*** about the fact that their bodies will rot to death.
The government needs to study the motivations of druggies, not scare them away with the effect and consequence of drugs. Negative reinforcement does not work in this case, as this segment of society is already so dejected and suicidal. You think they’re going to listen to your regular radio jingles and look at taxi banner advertisements?
My final thought was a theological one. Talking to a drug addict recently released from jail (who promptly went to get hooked on drugs all over again) was interesting. He was a Catholic from childhood, believes in Jesus, has parents who constantly pray for him that he’ll quit drugs, and is absolutely sincere about wanting to stop – except he admits that his willpower is too weak… He says “One day, one day…” It pained me to see this soul so desperate but so weak. This is the epitome of what the divide between soul and flesh is. Paul says in the Bible that “what I do not want to do I do, but that which I should do I do not”, or something to that effect. This brought upon the question of whether this person’s soul was saved or not. Is one whose heart is for Christ but whose body fails him terribly – able to call himself a child of God? I hope to death for his sake.
If it is really the poor and marginalised in our world we want to honestly take care of, let’s for a minute or two forget about paper and computer work. Let’s for a moment be out there where it really counts, standing a foot away from heroin-inflicted men, showing that truly this is what reaching out is all about. Government policies may fail and falter but the human touch can do this much. Kudos to the Streetfeeding Team!