Friday, June 29, 2012

Kong Hee's arrest

Its been 18 months since I last posted anything, so if anybody is still checking this blog regularly because you are interested in what I have to say, my advice is, you shouldn't be. Its far easier to contact me by email (or in person, if you know me) than to check this blog. 

In anycase, since the arrest of City harvest church founder Kong Hee few days ago, there have been quite a lot of thoughts running through my mind regarding how the church ought to respond. Below are some areas that we should consider:

1. Condemn the act. We should call a spade, a spade. Personally, I am rather disappointed at the NCCS's rather diluted response - "Members of the Christian community are united in disapproving any misuse of public or institutional funds, including money raised by or given to churches". The word "disapprove" is a weak term - akin to parent saying that he/she disapproves of her kid coming home late. A more direct statement would be to say something like "The NCCS views (such and such action) - if proven true - as a grave contradiction to the teachings of Christ". In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter condemned Simon the Sorcerer for his attempts to "buy" his way to success in ministry with the rebuke "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money"  (Acts 8:20). Indeed if we consider CHC and Kong Hee as one of ourselves, we cannot afford to mince her words when it comes to rebuking for "judgment begins at the House of the Lord" (1 Peter 4:17)

2. This brings me to my second point, which is, whether Kong Hee should be considered as part of the Church body. In my view, such actions - if proven true - have disqualified him and his gang from ministry. More bluntly speaking, he's a "conman" and is using God as a pretext to further his own personal interests. One might ask, can God use unscrupulous folks to lead people to himself? Scripture's answer is a resounding "yes". In the OT, God used a donkey to proclaim his judgment; likewise in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul recognizes the various reasons and motives that underline ministry work and emphatically states, "The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." (Philippians 1:18). This is not to condone the action and motivation but to recognize a bigger power at work here - salvation is by God's grace, and not a product of human wisdom. Furthermore, even in the midst of falsehood, the power of truth can still shineforth.

3. The church needs to recognize the Hand of God in this. Ironically, Kong Hee's twitter post "Thy will be done" is possibly the most honest thing he might have said. I sincerely pray that God's will be accomplished in Kong Hee's life, even if that means a long sentence.

4. Sun Ho's music ministry. There's lots of controversy in this area and there are questions as to whether the Cross Over project represents a legitimate expression of the Christian cultural mandate. This requires a long answer, of which I will not go into. However, one question I should pose is, "Without City Harvest support, would Sun Ho still have succeeded?" Coming from a mass communication background, I am in total agreement that the church needs to engaged secular culture, but from what Sun Ho has produced (esp her later works), its hard to see how this is happening. If she has succeeded in her music career before CHC support, at least we can say that she is competent, however this is not the case, and I strongly doubt she is remotely at the same level as some of our local singers (Kit Chan, Sun yan Zi) not to mention musicians like David Tao (whose songs, while not avowedly Christian, nonetheless provide us with powerful cultural lens to understand our times)...

There's more to add, but i'll leave it here for now...let's see how the situation pans out over the next few weeks...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The End of Machiavellian Politics?

PRINCES who have achieved great things have been those…who have known how to trick men with their cunning, and who, in the end, have overcome those abiding by honest principles”. The following words, written by Niccolo Machiavelli in his landmark work The Prince, are generally are taken to be the defacto standards governing a realist paradigm of international politics. The familiar saying “in politics, there are no permanent friends or foes; only permanent interests” rings true daily in the corridors of power. Deception is widely acknowledged by international diplomats and political statesmen to be part and parcel of the political game.

The revelation of US diplomatic cables then, ought not to surprise members of the political community. As a friend of mine studying at the London School of Economics quipped, “Any self-respecting academic or diplomat/defense official should know that they are the basic, core stuff of international politics. Those gossip mills and write ups - most of them marked Confidential or below Secret – are standard [fare]”. If indeed, the information that is being released are well-known secrets among those who are involved in international diplomacy, why then the political furor?

In my view, the problem is not so much the content of information that is being divulged as it is the criteria that we use in forging meaningful relationships with others – individually or internationally. In the Machiavellian world-view, the state – represented by their political leaders – is seen as the prime mover of international diplomacy and to which all other authorities that are within the geographically boundaries of the state are subservient to. The role of a diplomat then is to promote the interests of the state – at all costs – even at the expense of his own personal, inner convictions.

The idea then that one’s private opinions ought not to matter in international diplomacy is flawed for several reasons, two of which I will briefly touch on.

Firstly, ideas have consequences; to assume that political life operates only within the paradigm of economic/material interests is to severely understate the importance of ideational motivations. From jihadists to Julian Assange, financial and material renumeration seemed to matter less than their intention to propagate the superiority of their worldview and ideas. Privatized ideas have public consequences.

Secondly, as human beings, what motivate us ultimately are not the abstract ideals of nationalism or capitalism, but those that we are personally – and privately – in touch and involved with. While the advent of email and official correspondence have made the political process a technologically mediated one, no-self respecting diplomat would dare put his/her career at risk by not engaging in some form of coffee conversations or dinner diplomacy. The fact that such meetings require the presence of the diplomat suggest much more than the public face of the state is involved; the private face of the diplomat is also placed under diplomatic scrutiny – oftentimes more so than the state.

As the events of Wikileaks evinced, the cleavage between public statements and private sentiments suggest that Machiavellian politics – ostensibly state-centric – will become untenable in the long run as the number of non-state actors increase. While this is not to suggest the demise of the nation-state, it does challenge the idea that a country’s foreign policy is unequivocal – and is shared by all members of her diplomatic community. It is common knowledge among the diplomatic corp that “official statements” are often less officious – and perhaps even less veracious – than they are said to be.

Indeed if there is one key lesson Wikileaks have taught us, it is that both public and private statements matter and the greater the consistency of practice, the less the embarrassment. Perhaps it is time to rethink the Machiavellian paradigm.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mobile Off

As some of you might know, i lost my mobile phone several months ago and decided that it would be interesting to live life without a mobile connection. Obviously i got quite a bit of flak from some of my close friends and even relatives for not being contactable (of course then again, none of us are ever that indispensable - life generally goes on pretty well, and things happen whether you are contactable or not). As i've decided to retrieve my mobile line again, here are some reflection points that have crystallized over the past few months:

1. The Tyranny of Convenience: No doubt about it; mobile phones have made life extremely convenient for many of us. There were several occasions in which I was forced to use a payphone (yes, they still do exist at MRT stations) to contact my friends. Just a few days ago, i had to borrow a mobile phone from an unknown stranger (female) who looked at me as if i was from Mars on a social experiment when i requested to borrow her phone. But having said so, I do appreciate the heightened requirement of being compelled to plan when meeting with people - this includes being punctual, being true to one's words about the meeting venue. All these may sound quite trivial in nature, but in the long run, these are the things that build up trust among friends. The price of convenience is often the loss of trust.

2. Seeing, hearing and knowing. Over the last few months, i had many good conversations with close friends and colleagues and its thoroughly amazing how these conversations become much more richer when technology is out of the way. All too often we see big groups of friends eating around a table and half (if not more) of them would be busily texting away! Without a phone as a mental distraction, i found myself being able to be much more observant and sensitive to human emotions and behavioral nuances. Its amazing how much more in tune with people one becomes when one learns to tune out of technology.

3. Last but not least, the use of pen and paper (to replace my mobile phone) has allowed me to better articulate my thoughts. i guess when we are busily SMSing, we don't usually learn to express ourselves clearly. Clarity of thought is now being replaced by fuzzy ambiguities. The power of the spoken word is now replaced by the effect of the SMS-text - which tends to obfuscate more than it clarifies.

I could go on...but that will be for more private conversations. In light of the above, there are few things that I hope to continue to do:

1. Switching off my mobile phone before I go to sleep (unless exigencies necessitate otherwise).

2. Not using SMS to arrange meetings. Its either calling the person to arrange or to pre-arrange in person. Sometimes we need to learn how to communicate, not just connect.

3. No using mobile phone when I am meeting with other people (SMS is an absolute nono) personally. The other person(s) deserves my undivided attention and I hope that he/she will also reciprocate. In a large anonymous environment, perhaps i might allow myself to do so - esp if the meeting is boring and I desperately need to keep awake!

4. Phone numbers to be stored in my diary instead of phone book. over the past few months, I've learnt to memorize the phone numbers of others - esp close friends. As such, i will resist keying other's phone numbers in my mobile phones. Again its the principle of convenience: the less convenient, the more valuable.

5. Limiting my SMSes to short ones. Seriously, if there is something so important to say, then one ought to say in person, or at least take the effort to make a phone call. I am hoping to keep my SMS responses to a minimum; ideally to these five words: yes, no, thanks, ok and noted. We shall see.

Some concluding words from two of my favourite writers:

"But when technique enters into every area of life, including the human, it ceases to be external to man and becomes his very substance. It is no longer face to face with man, but is integrated with him, and it progressively absorbs him" (Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, p. 6 1964)

"New technologies alter the structure of our interests, the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the arena of community: the arena in which thoughts develop" (Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, p. 20, 1992)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Top Five Worldview Shaping Books

Its been an extremely long time since I last blogged, been really busy with various things and guess blogging hasn't really been on the list of my priorities in a while. Was thinking about the books I've read that have shaped my worldview till this day; among those, the following five ranks as the most influential (not in any particular order):

1. The Technological Society (Jacques Ellul). I was introduced to Ellul's writings by a university professor some five years ago and this book was my first acquaintance with the French sociologist-theologian. Since then, Ellul's meditations on technology have influenced me tremendously, forcing me to re-examine the relationship and impact technology has on human beings. Indeed, Ellul's prophetic power concerning the role of technology in modern life rings true to this day, and I suspect many of us are still naively optimistic, even misguided, in our understanding of technology. This book and Ellul's subsequent book, The Technological Bluff, are two of the most important books in providing a critical appraisal of technology, especially in understanding the relationship between technology and human nature.

2. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Daniel Bell). This landmark study by Harvard professor Daniel Bell on a capitalist society needs little introduction. Hailed as an "intellectual tour de force that redefines how we think about the relationship among economics, culture and social change", the book provides a magisterial and probing analysis into the heart of the capitalist enterprise and forces the reader to wrestle with some deep dilemmas that result from it.

3. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (Hans Rookmaaker). This is the first book I've read which introduced me into the world of cultural aesthetics, in turn shaping the cultural paradigm I have of the world. Written in an highly accessible and succinct manner, Rookmaaker analysis looks at modern art in a broad historical, social and philosophical context, laying bare the present despair and nihilism of our contemporary times. An absolute gem!

4. Night (Elie Wiesel). If there is one book that had caused me tremble in shock and horror, it would be this book. From the very first lines in which the author questions the very existence and goodness of God to the terrifying conclusion in which Wiesel could scarcely recognize himself, Night takes the reader through a phantasmagoric journey of suffering, pain and tragedy and acts as a poignant reminder of one of the darkest moments in human history, that of the Holocaust. This is a book that will hopefully live on in the memory of Western literature for as long as time itself.

5. Amusing OUrselves to Death (Neil Postman). During my undergraduate days as a communications major, part of our coursework required us to engage critically with media sources and to be familiar with the blind spots and limitations posed by the media. In this case, Postman's treatment of Television provides the reader with a laser-precision analysis of the fallacies and falsities of life as portrayed by television. In today's media-saturated world, Postman's warnings must be heeded if we are to wrest and redeem our young generation from the broken cisterns of make-believe reality.
Test Blog

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Challenge or Caricature: Recognizing Our Faith and Who We Are

Now that the dust has settled on the Rony Tan controversy, here are some of my thoughts on it:

As Christians, we need to recognize the difference between challenge and caricature. I have not watched the video yet, but I was told by friends that it caricatured the Buddhist faith in a extremely poor and demeaning light. To use a Biblical parallel, the Apostle Paul, in his sermon at the Areopagus, did not trivialize the beliefs of the Athenians, but rather he made used of their texts to challenge the Athenians' beliefs and in proclaiming the truth of the Christian message.

Pastor Rony's recanting of his mistake in public is interesting, considering the kind of absolutist spirit and rhetoric in which charismatic pastors are wont to articulate their faith in. I am not sure how the members of Lighthouse Evangelism will react; though i suspect that most of them will forgive Pastor Rony for it. To what extent they will continue to trust Pastor ROny's teachings in the future though, is open to question. One can only hope members do not start leaving in droves.

As members of the Body of Christ, let us pray that God will grant us his mercy, forgiveness and wisdom as we seek to live rightly in His world.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Why I Don't Watch TV

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

(Quoted from Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death)

I think Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mahler Symphony No 2: The Resurrection (Final Movement)

Among all of Mahler's works, the 2nd symphony ranks as one of the most popular and successful work (apart from the Eight Symphony) and shows forth Mahler's view concerning the beauty of life after death. The entire piece is about 80 mins long - with the final movement lasting some 30 minutes long. The final 13 minutes or so that the choir sings is the culmination of a stunning work which explores the various themes of death, despair, and finally the resurrection.

The entry of the choir with the words "Aufer Steh'n" is a tremendous moment - breaking the silence through the soft, yet sublime words conveying the call to "rise again" and reminding us all of the temporal character of death - which will be eventually conquered by the power of the resurrection. In the first portion, the choir is required to sing in pianissimo, as Mahler weaves a beautiful narrative concerning human destiny - that the seeds of death sown will eventually bloom and give rise to a harvest of life.

Juxtaposed between the first and third parts of the finale is a message of hope - sung by the soloists - thus personalizing our understanding and appreciation of the words. Indeed, the words tell us that our travails on this earth is not without vain, that what we have fought for will not be forgotten...that somewhere beyond our worldly existence lies the promise of eternity...

"O believe, my heart, o believe: it is not lost to you! (It) is yours, yours, yes yours, what you yearned for! Yours, what you loved for, what you fought for! (trans)

Following this, the choir responses with the call to "cease trembling" (Hor' auf zu beben) before energizing the piece with its first fortissimo call to "prepare" to wage battle against death. As the music becomes more agitated, the soloists go on ring the words of freedom ("Mit Flug-eln, die ich mir er rungen, wer de ich ent schwe-ben) in which the romantic hero, putting on wings, emerges victorious from his battle against death. The choir repeats these words in a four-part fugue culminating in a magnificent cry of "Sterben werd' ich, un zu leben (I shall die, to live!) where the entire orchestra congregates upon - signifying the death of death. But this is not the end. As the final phrase goes:

"Aufersteh'n, ja aufersteh'n wirst du, Mein Herz, in einem Nu! Was du geschlagen Zu Gott wird es dich tragen" (Arise, yes, arise again, my heart, in an instant! What you have fought for Shall lead you to God!)

The above words, which marks the climax of this piece, is where the act of resurrection is completed and where the human race receives its final liberation from death. With maximum force (mit hochster kraft) - as Mahler puts it - the message of hope and redemption is sounded, carrying the work to its highest and stunning - and emotional - conclusion. Three times the choir sings "Zu Gott" (each time, higher and higher) before concluding in a perfect E flat major cadence.

I shall post a personal reflection on this piece in a couple of days.

Mahler Symphony No 2: The Resurrection (A Subjective Interpretation)

Its been a long time since my last post, have been really busy and naturally blogging would have to take a back seat.

Together with the Singapore Symphony Chorus, Bible College Chorale and several other HOS singers, we'll be performing Mahler's 2nd Symphony from 18-19 Sep under the inspirational baton of the world-renowned conductor John Nelson, founder of Soli Deo Gloria Music.

Some thoughts after today's final dress rehearsal with the SSO. But before we start, couple of disclaimers:

I shall not be discussing about the entire piece - since to do so will be way beyond my reach and scope (a google search should surface a considerable amount of good indepth analysis). In anycase, i'm not a professional musician, so it wouldnt be fair for me to comment on areas that I am not trained in.