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Monday, February 28, 2005

Drawing meaning from reverend fun

Came across these really quite funny and also in some way thought-provoking simple cartoons, and just thought I'd share them with you--along with a few random thoughts.

"Good thing I found you Gideon... it seems that someone has been hiding all your bibles in hotel rooms."

The motion to place free bibles in hotel/motel rooms, as well as in other places such as hospitals and prisons in the United States was mooted and passed in a Gideons convention in Louisville, Kentucky in 1908. It has been almost a hundred years since then, and more than a hundred since three traveling salesmen founded The Gideons International in 1899, and this Bible-distributing misssionary arm of the Christian church has indeed sown millions of seeds in many lands. The impact of the Gideons' work is hard, even impossible, to measure definitively, but one thing is sure: God's word is able to illumine and convict the searching heart, and we are commanded as Christians to "sow the word" (Mark 4:14) that those who will hear, and heed, shall be saved. I'm reminded of a middle-aged Chinese lady who being interviewed in a documentary "The Cross: Jesus in China" said concerning her first encounter with the Bible in the form of an old and worn copy of The Gospel of Matthew: "Who wrote this book? How can it possibly speak to my heart in this way?" (a rough translation from the Chinese)

The first Bible I owned was in fact a Gideons Bible given to every student in the mission school in Singapore I attended as a teenager.

"During an early misunderstanding, Joseph was given a goat of many colours."

Thank God we do not have such gross misunderstandings in the Bible we now possess. The Bible is the one ancient text that has most numerically numerous manuscript support (compare some 24,000 manuscript evidences /scrap/scrolls we now have of the New Testament with the approximately 5,000 that the second most attested text--that of Homer's--has). Not only is this the case, these manuscripts show an extraordinarily high level of agreement, with only less than 5% of it qualifying as discrepancies. Even then, these so-called discrepancies mostly fall into categories of identifiable scribal errors (e.g. jumping from one sentence to another with a similar word) and of discrepancies that do not substantially affect meaning. It has been a few years since I last read Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands A Verdict, and I only wish I remembered more of it than I do. It remains in my view one of the best books on the topic of the reliability of the Bible, and an instructive treatise on the methods by which we can judge the reliability of any text.


"Yes, we like the Israelitzes, we let them go... no! ... we hates them, we make them make brickzeses." :) A Gollumish (oblique) commentary on the way a long-standing and persistent disobedience to God can harden and utterly corrupt the heart/mind?
Saturday, February 26, 2005

A refreshing relook at 'theologizing' the Asian Tsunami and tragedies in general

I say "refreshing" here mainly because there does not seem to be many sound Christian/Biblical perspectives on the tsunami (and large-scale tragedies in general) in the media, compared to the slew of views and articles that are either completely secular (which is okay, even possibly good) or worst of all, of wrong-headed, sloppy theology. Here are the views of two Scottish ministers, one in the form of a sermon you can listen to, and another an article that's surely worth a read.

The heavy Scottish accent of Rev. David Murray* is also refreshing to me, sort of like listening to Peregrin Took (a.k.a. Pippin) preaching. His sermon may be entitled "Tsunami: teaching from tragedies", and his concern is mainly to put forward the argument that we can see a sovereign God in the tsunami (Some things to think about: "Why tragedies? Why? Must we say that God does not exist, and that such tragedies are merely the workings of a blind and indifferent nature?") and that one must not presume that the victims were greater sinners than we (Luke 13:5). "Extraordinary disasters are not necessarily the results of extraordinary sins... These extraordinary tragedies should lead us to extraordinary repentance."

Some snippets:

Either He's God of the good and the bad, or He's not God at all. ... God is in these events. His judgements are not as easy to figure out as you might think. ... The Christian says there is a God, that there is a meaning, a purpose, a plan. What is it we as yet do not know all the details of...

If God were to judge every sin in this world, then people would see no need for a final judgement. But if God were to punish no sin in this world, people would say there is no divine providence. ... and so, God allows, permits, God arranges temporal, periodic judgements in order to teach people that there is a God that judges in the earth but that his judgements are to us unfathomable and unsearchable. They did not perish, He says, because they were extraordinary sinners. If God dealt with everyone like that, as the psalmist said, who could stand? ... the whole world would become a vast cemetary and there wouldn't be one left standing to comment upon.

Read David Robertson's 17 January 2005 article on the Asian Tsunami, which contains some very sensible, interesting and thoughtful arguments and more specifically Scottish examples (such as the "extraordinary giving" in light of the less than 0.25% of the money the average woman in Edinburgh spends on clothes, half of which she does not actually wear-). The article begins:

There have been millions of words written about the Asian Tsunami. Little wonder. The scale of the disaster is overwhelming - over 150,000 dead, millions homeless and some of the most beautiful and poorest areas of the world lying devastated. Just this week for example I was reading a report from Tear Fund stating that in Sri Lanka there are 25,000 plus dead, over one million displaced and 250,000 homeless. Here in Scotland we have witnessed the awful tragedy of the Uist family who were swept away to sea as they tried to escape the storm that blew over much of Scotland on Tuesday night. The Asian Tsunami was that magnified many times.

I do not wish to lessen or cheapen this catastrophe, nor do I have a particular desire to add to the volumes already being written. However there is one aspect of the whole affair which I would like to comment on. Despite the fact that we are supposed to be a secular society it remains the case that at times of great disaster the press do turn to religious leaders for their comments and perspectives. And generally our religious leaders had nothing to say. Sorry, they had plenty to say but most of it was pretty bland truisms repeating what every one knew anyway. The standard ‘religious’ response was along the lines of – it’s a terrible disaster, we feel for the people involved, we must do all we can to help and it raises lots of questions. (To be fair I should point out that Bishop Holloway who usually manages to put across his almost atheistic views, wrote an excellent and generally fair article in the Scotsman). In this respect I was disappointed to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury stating that it caused him to question his faith and to read the Scotman’s headline “Queens Prayers as clergy admit faith rocked by death toll” (Scotsman 3rd January). Some of the clergy were all too quick to praise humanity and question God.
Read on...

* Rev. Murray is currently pastor of the Stornoway Free Church of Scotland, and Robertson is of the Free Church of Scotland. My reference to them here does not necessarily represent a complete endorsement of the all the views expressed by them or by the organisation of which they are a part.
Thursday, February 24, 2005

Surgery on a baby's grape-sized heart

Here's another miraculous baby story I thought would be a nice addition to my two earlier posts. Perhaps it's because I'm a mother-to-be that such stories capture my attention a little more. But I think that I noticed them for much the same reasons that anyone else would notice them: they're simply amazing. For me, they also illustrate (not demonstrate--see comments on the significance of the seemingly miraculous) that life and death are in the hands of a sovereign, omnipotent and all-loving God.

"Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil.
...his days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee,
and his limits Thou has set so that he cannot pass." ~ Job 14:1, 5

"I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Thy works, And my soul knows it very well." ~ Psalm 139:14

17 Feb 2005 (CNN) -- The pediatric surgeon who performed open-heart surgery on a one-week-old baby with a heart the size of a grape said Thursday it was "a wonderful feeling" to be able to save his life.

Surgeons at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital believe that Jerrick De Leon, born more than 13 weeks early, is the smallest baby ever to survive an open-heart procedure called an arterial switch.

The hospital said Jerrick is expected to have a normal life, barring any medical complications from his premature birth. It said he will be placed on antibiotics as a precaution.

At the time of his operation, on February 6, Jerrick weighed just over 1.5 pounds (700 grams), said his surgeon, Dr. V. Mohan Reddy. Reddy, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery and a professor at Stanford's medical school, specializes in performing surgery on extremely small infants.

Reddy said he knew he could repair the type of heart defect the baby had, but "the complicating fact was the baby was too small and very, very premature."

Still, Reddy said he was "very confident I would be able to take care of this baby."

Jerrick was airlifted to the hospital from southern California on February 4. His mother, Maria Lourdes De Leon, a pediatric physician herself, said Jerrick's doctors had given him no chance of survival.

"It was very difficult. I was surrendering to whatever comes," she told reporters at a news conference with Reddy.
The hospital has been doing similar surgeries for 12 years, and its surgeons have performed more than 150 in children weighing under about 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms).

Amazing as Jerrick's case, he is not the smallest baby Dr. Reddy has succesfully operated on. In 2001, Serena Brown, one of a set of triplets born prematurely on Dec. 27 (at only 25 weeks of gestation) was diagnosed almost immediately after birth with a rare congenital heart abnormality called total anomalous pulmonary venous return, in which the veins connecting her lungs to her heart were attached to the wrong side of the heart. This meant that oxygen-rich blood from her lungs was not circulating efficiently to the rest of her body. The condition was not related to her prematurity.

The only thing keeping her alive was a naturally occurring hole between the two halves of the heart, which normally seals itself soon after birth. To correct the condition, Reddy re-attached the veins to the correct side of the heart and sealed the hole.

"The operation gives her a chance," Reddy said shortly after the surgery. "Otherwise there is a 100 percent risk of death. Her prognosis now should be like any other 25-week premature baby. There are a lot of hoops she's going to have to jump through, and lung problems can be an issue." (Information extracted from mednews.stanford.edu)

Like Serena today, Jerrick's prognosis is good, with a normal life expectancy. Dr. Reddy says, "The baby will probably do well, go home and lead a happy life with his parents." May it be so.

* Thanks to Just Jane for the teddy bear divider

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

College and Career at the Darvin's

Below are some photos of the dinner and fellowship the College and Career group of Jarvis Street Baptist Church had on 19 February 2005 at Karissa's lovely home. The company was great, and was accompanied by a menu to beat: from the appetizers of tortilla chips with onion dip and pumpernickel with spinach dip (we're told this is a common Canadian appetizer) to the main meal consisting of baked salmon, Filipino minced beef spring rolls, fried noodles and more--right down to the dessert selection of fruit salad, three-flavoured sorbet, chocolate ice-cream, and strawberry mousse cake. Many thanks to Karissa and her mum for their labour of love. Karissa's mum was a tireless hostess for the whole evening, and really made us feel like we were being feted (or fatted*, as the case might be:)... and as meals are always to be had with thanksgiving, this wonderful dinner and time of fellowship wouldn't be complete without a time of praising God through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, sharing of His goodness, and prayer--for it is He who has given us all things good. May it be that in whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, that we may do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

*For those of you wondering if "fatted" is a proper English word, it is. We were a little surprised ourselves.

Click on photos below to see enlarged versions.
Monday, February 21, 2005

Singapore food safari on the Toronto Star

Friends in church passed us an article cut from the local press just this past Sunday--"guess which country it's about", they say. It makes a good read--the amusement factor is high, so I thought to reproduce it here. See whether you can spot all of the 'funny' bits, factual errors and colloquialisms (I'll post my answers later). Just one (the very first)--no, Arab St. is not where "most of Singapore's Muslim citizens call home" (caption to first picture).

* * * * *

The Toronto Star (Sat Feb 19)

A full plate
Visitors to Singapore kept busy on city's appetizing nightly food safari. Tour an easy way to digest great neighbourhoods, writes Marc Atchison

SINGAPORE--The scent was fresh on the trail as we headed out on our safari.

Strange noises could be heard in the night.

Eyes stalked us in the darkness.

There were times I wondered if some in our small group had the stomach for this adventure. But we all swallowed hard and continued our trek--along Singapore's world famous "night food safari."

This is one tourist tour that's easy to digest--one that introduces visitors to this island nation's incredibly appetizing variety of food and spicy neighbourhoods where its Chinese, Indian and Malay (Malaysian) peoples live.

"Come and try my food," barked one vendor as we started our hunt for food on Smith St., (a.k.a. locally as Food St.) in the city's vibrant Chinatown.

Smith St., and several other main streets in downtown Singapore are closed each night between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. so the food hawkers can set up their makeshift stalls and sell their tasty, unique dishes that reflect the blend of cultures living in this most beautiful of Asian cities.

Garry Koh, our fearless guide, directed our attention to the last of 18 food stalls set up on Smith St.

"They have the best fried carrot cake on the street," said Koh. 'We’ll start with that."

Hmmm. Start the meal with dessert. Must be a Singapore tradition, I thought

The fried carrot cake arrived looking more like an omelette. Koh addressed my confusion.

"The word carrot in Chinese actually means radish," Koh told me. "This is a radish omelette. It's very good.”

Actually, it was delicious!

Okay, what's for dessert?

"We'll have some rojak," said Koh, who disappeared into the street bedecked with coloured lights and awash in a sea of diners. He returned a few minutes later carrying a large bowl with a dark gooey substance in it.

"Rojak is a combination of fruit (pineapple), vegetables (cucumbers) and fried fritters that are blended together in a peanut sauce and then served with sprinkled peanuts," Koh explained.

The rojak didn't look very appetizing but proving once again that looks can be deceiving, the dish turned out to be spicy hot and very tasty.

"Many visitors to Singapore at first resist street food like this because it is unusual said Koh, who told of a food writer who was hesitant to sample the food on Smith St., and asked Koh to try dishes and then describe the taste so she could write a story.

As we ate, an old man appeared at our table and asked if he could have our empty can of Tiger beer.

"Let him have it--he makes sculptures with them," said Koh.

The Smith St. dishes, including beer, amounted to about $10.

It was time--to move oil--to Boon Tat St., which sits near Singapore's famed financial district. Here, businessmen loosen their ties and negotiate the price of the sizzling satays that are served up in the shadow of some of the tallest buildings in Asia.
Once again, Koh had a favourite location among the dozen or so stalls--the one run by an Indonesian man named Halin.

"This place is known for its secret dipping sauce," said Koh as he asked Halin to bring us 10 beef and 10 chicken satays."

As advertised, the satays and especially the dipping sauce, were terrific--the highlight of the safari. Try as we might, though, we could not get Halin, who serves up "over 3,000 satays a night," to reveal the recipe for his secret sauce.

"The recipe was handed down from my great grandfather to my father and now tame," said the man with the dark complexion and weathered features.

"The recipe must stay in the family," said the tired-looking man who bemoaned the fact his son had elected to go into the investment business. "He (the son) does not help we any longer and now my business may close soon."

Other hawkers approached our table offering us a variety of dishes, but Halin waved them away--all except one. He insisted the man, selling the fried stingray leave a sample for us to try. The fish, while tasty, offered too many needlesharp bones for my liking,

Boon Tat St. is especially busy on Saturday nights and Halin said, he works until the wee hours of the morning because "Saturday is when Singaporeans like to come out and play"

There are more than 3,600 restaurants in tiny Singapore because, as Koh explained: "the national pastime here is eating,"

We paid Hadin what we owed him--total cost of the satays and stingray amounted to about $15--bid him a hearty goodbye and headed for the east side of Singapore and a restaurant famous for its Chinese noodles.

Along the way, Koh pointed out Duxton Ave. and told us there were 72 pubs located on the narrow street--holdovers from the city's colonial days under British rule.

The east side of Singapore is the working class section of the city where working girls patrol dimly lit streets and locals congregate with tourists in small outdoor restaurants noted for their noodles.

The eatery located at No. 9 Gaylang Loring (loring means street) is the most noted of all, according to our guide.

For just a few dollars, a heaping plate of beef noodles was delivered to our table. Once again, the food was prepared perfectly and the one plate served three people for a cost of under $8.

"Now we'll go to Sims Ave., for dessert because it is famous for its tropical fruit creations," said Koh.

We told Garry to cancel dessert because by that time we had had our fill of Singapore's fabulous food safari.

*Singapore Airlines (www.sinagporeair.ca) offers a daffy non-stop flight from Newark to Singapore. The 181/2-hour flight has become very popular and shaves about six hours off other stopover flights to the island nation. For more information on Singapore, go to www.visitsingapore.com Tour East Holidays offers package tours to Singapore that include air, hotel meals, tours and much more for prices starting at 1$11769. For information, go to www.toureast.com or call 416-929-8017.

Marc Atchison is the Star's Travel Editor.

The Pains and Joys of Thrifting

Note: Amy our bear is not part of today's purchases.

Staying in North America has made me a thrift shopper. Names like Out of the Closet (Bay Area, Calif.), Goodwill, Salvation Army, Value Village (Canada) and those of smaller stores like Wee Cycled and Previously Loved (Toronto) will always stir up in me some interest, curiosity and the anticipation of picking up a great item at an almost indecently low price. There's currently no such culture of thrifting in my home country Singapore, though the Salvation Army stores have been around for many years. Internet thrifting on e-bay and craigslist have found their way there, but are still very much in their infancy, and have yet to build up a substantial base of buyers and sellers to make it an exciting and worthwhile investment of time and hope. I remember vaguely a few second-hand (or as we also call it back home, "karang guni"--meaning "knick knacks") stores which had but a transient existence.

I love thrift stores for more than just their low prices (even though I think my husband should be properly thankful that I do like them). The dresses I like can hardly be found anywhere else with such quality (e.g. good home-made or vintage designer) and in such great variety. Don't let me give you the idea, though, that I am an incorrigible, inveterate shopper. I visit these stores but several times a year, and today was one of them: with 50% off prices that typically range from $1.99 to $7.99 at Value Village (about 20 minutes walk from our place) just for today, this was an opportunity not to be missed. This was the real sale one waits for, not like the Sears type which advertises a "this weekend only" sale just about every other weekend.

As expected, we walked past several satisfied-looking shoppers carrying their big and bulging Value Village plastic bags on our way there. When we arrived at about 11.15am, the whole store was thronging with people pushing carts filled at least to half capacity, waiting in long lines at the checkout counter, and browsing though aisles of clothes, toys, books, homeware, furniture and more with the meticulousness and singlemindedness of archaelogists digging for treasure. We joined in. I knew what I was looking for: large dresses to accommodate my growing baby and small dresses for our little one on the way. Before long, I had gathered a heap of possibilities to be further selected by the process of elimination. Not long after, my husband came up to me showing off his find of six lovely Made-in-England stoneware dessert plates which fit perfectly into a round tin with quaint prints on it--just the thing we could have used only two to three days ago when we invited some friends over for meals. Still rather pleased with his find, and it being obvious that I was far from finished with my treasure-hunting, Loy left me again to browse in other departments.

The next time he appeared, I had even more clothes hanging from my left arm, and this time his face betrayed some of the pains of a husband being made to stay too long in a crowded store. Undaunted, and giving him a sympathetic smile, I unloaded some of shortlisted clothes onto him. I had also hoped that that would make him feel a little more useful. Maybe that would give him the impression that there really wasn't much time wasted; he was performing an important and obviously much-valued service. The optimistic fantasies that a female mind in a store is sometimes capable of...

Another half an hour must have passed before I finally sat him down and made my final decisions as to what I would buy. Loy was visibly relieved when that decision-making process was over and the heap reduced by half. Next on my list was baby clothes, and off we went to the children's department. There, Loy seemed happier, or less grumpy, and patiently helped me pick out several of the cutest, sweetest-looking dresses, rompers, blouses and sleepers. We even found a Winnie-the-Pooh cot lining for only $4.99 (and that's before the 50% discount). After quickly making sure that I had not missed out any excellent buy, I was quite ready to ease Loy of the burden he was carrying and make our way to the cashier. Due to the long lines, though, it would be another half an hour before we would be able to leave the store.

While Loy was still very patiently waiting in line, I took the opportunity to as politely as possible elbow my way through the crowds to the one other department that might be worth looking at--books, specifically, cookbooks. The effort was not wasted. I found three volumes worthy of our slowly growing collection: The Teddy Bear Cookbook (London, 1986), The Microwave Cookbook (General Electric Co., 1998) for our newly acquired microwave, and the most unique of them all, Two in the Kitchen (Washington, 1974). When I returned with these finds, Loy seemed pleased too for he's also got the cook in him, with a similar penchant for interesting cookbooks. We now amused ourselves as best we could, first by estimating the total damages of this liberal shopping trip, and then with observing the people around us--a motley crowd, to say the least, ranging from young Chinese couples with their babies to elderly women with their neatly folded clothes in their carts, to whites, blacks, Latinos, and Indians either alone, or, more often than not, with friends and family. We also caught sight--with just a little annoyance--of a young boy stomping on a pile of hangers with his parents looking nonchalently on. Maybe they were just grateful that they were already near the front of the line. We noted a newborn baby sleeping soundly in a cart right behind us and struck up a little conversation with his dad.

Our turn at the cashier's finally arrived, and I was expecting a figure in the neighbourhood of $75. Loy--less adept at such estimations, and perhaps as a measure of his goodwill (I'm teasing, but not being sarcastic; he really was most obliging and sweet-natured) this whole time--said he hoped that it would be less than the $200 that he had withdrawn from the ATM earlier that morning. The total amount? A mere $37.59, 15% tax included. Now, that is something of a vindication for the wife responsible for making her husband suffer the pains of a longer than usual* shopping trip when he could have been happily blogging away in the comforts of home. And wait till I present him with the crispy honey drumsticks from the recipe found in one of the cookbooks...

*We reached home at about 1:15pm after stopping by a grocery store owned by Koreans.
Friday, February 18, 2005

Are Women Human?

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) writes with a feistiness, wit and good commonsense that makes her essay of the above title a little gem of a contribution to discussions of feminism at a time when some of its most strident representatives appear like angry ideologues whom most women can't even identify or empathise with.

Interestingly, it was her desire to disassociate herself from the somewhat aggressive feminism of her day (which she views as completely different from feminism "in the old-fashioned sense of the word" which she could accept and even espouse) that earned her the invitation to "explain" herself before a Women's Society. I, for one, am glad that things so transpired between her and the Secretary of the society such that we have this short essay today, which is the address given to that Women's Society in 1938.

Sayers' main thesis is that men and women are first of all, and fundamentally, human beings. By virtue of that, they are much more alike than different, and any meaningful, constructive proposal for improving society must begin from that recognition and respect of a shared humanity--not from the platform of gender. Are there issues specific to women? Of course there are, but the best way to approach them may not be the aggressive feminism of today (and of her day's) that reinforces the stereotyping of what women are or should be. This kind of thinking ironically stifles individual women as they are told and believed to like or dislike certain things simply because they are women. No wonder so many women, myself included, are at times upset with some of today's feminists who presume to speak and fight for us.

There is much bandied about silly questions about "what women want" and "what a woman's view" of a matter is. Again, there is no denying that there are sometimes situations and issues where these are perhaps more relevant. To think largely or primarily in these gendered terms, however, is seriously misguided. We cannot know what women as a group want; we can only ask individual women what they want, as individuals that they are. Do women as a group want the right to study Aristotle at college, and will they benefit from it? "The answer is NOT that all women would be better for knowing Aristotle... but simply: 'What women as a class want is irrelevant. I want to know about Aristotle... and I submit that there is nothing in my shape or bodily functions which prevent my knowing about him." Way to go, Dorothy! There are Marys and there are Marthas: let her who would listen and learn from the Teacher sit at His feet and do so. It was Martha who at that time chose the worse option in busying herself with so-called women's work. "[T]he Lord answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42)

And as to what a woman's view of the matter is, it all depends on what the matter is to see if the question is silly or not. One would have thought this commonsense. In some areas where women generally as a class differ from men--such as in their ability to bear children--it might be sometimes useful to ask for the woman's opinion. For in such areas she (generally) has special knowledge and experience. And in a time and society where women spend most of their day managing the home and taking care of the children, it might also make sense to ask for the woman's view on home management, for here, again, she has special knowledge borne out of her experiences. To ask, on the other hand, what the woman's view on detective fiction is deserves the answer that Sayers suggests be given: "Go away and don't be silly. You might as well ask what is the female angle on an equilateral triangle." Maybe, just maybe, you will find in your research that while there may not be a standard, homogenous woman's viewpoint on literature, for example, that there are nonetheless a set of responses that are consistently distinct in some ways from those given by their male counterparts. I don't think that's very likely though, and especially when we consider more 'objective' fields like that of economics or medical science.

"What," men have asked distractedly from the beginning of time, "what on earth do women want?" I do not know that women, as women, want anything in particular, but as human beings they want, my good men, exactly what you want yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet. What form the occupation, the pleasures and the emotion may take, depends entirely upon the individual. You know that this is so with yourselves--why will you not believe that it is so with us?"
There are too many differences in temperaments, talents, interests, proclivities, and other such things that distinguish the human race and most of these cut across categories of age, race, nationality, and gender. While there are fundamental commonalities between myself and any of my female schoolmates than any of us have with my husband, I wouldn't be surprised if my husband and I shared more fundamental interests and opinions on a variety of issues than those I share with any one of my female friends.

I shall conclude this post with the words Sayers closed her essay, for she is undoubtedly far superior in felicity of expression. (May I add that her literary gift and brilliance of mind surely played a fair part in her enduring friendship with C. S. Lewis, and which gained her also his respect and admiration as a fellow human being and colleague)

It used to be said that women had no esprit de corps; we have proved that we have--do not let us run into the opposite error of insisting that there is an aggressively feminist "point of view" about everything. To oppose one class perpetually against another--young against old, manual labour against brain-worker, rich against poor, woman against man--is to split the foundations of the State; and if the cleavage runs too deep, there remains no remedy but force and dictatorship. If you wish to preserve a free democracy, you must base
it--not on classes and categories, for this will land you in the totalitarian State, where no one may act or think except as a member of a category. You must base it upon the individual Tom, Dick and Harry, and the individual Jack and Jill--in fact, upon you and me.
Thursday, February 17, 2005

Aliens and Sojourners... happy after good food and fellowship

This is a photo we took today right before the Schaefers, a missionary family to India (and prior to that, Singapore, where we got to know them) left our place. They were visiting with Pastor Schaefer's sister who lives in Canada and took time to join us in our Toronto home for lunch before driving back to the States where they were visiting family and friends. There are actually 6 daughters--three are away at Bob Jones University--and they are all dear friends of ours who helped make our wedding in June 2003 an especially memorable one.

We had a good time sharing updates over a local (Singapore) lunch of Hainanese chicken rice rounded off with an American favourite, cheesecake.

Why "aliens and sojourners"? None of us are intending to settle in Canada; we're all just passing through, whether visiting with family or pursuing our studies. Legally speaking, my husband and I are indeed alien residents here in Toronto. Most importantly, we are as Christians all sojourners and pilgrims here on earth, recognising that this is not our permanent home. Perhaps this pilgrim status is all the more obvious in the job and lives of missionaries who in a very tangible sense often do not own residential property. Nonetheless, all believers are exhorted to live in a way so that others may clearly see that they are seeking a better country.

I'm reminded of a hymn of consecration composed by a contemporary writer Mac Lynch entitled "Make Me A Stranger". The first stanza goes:
Make me a stranger on earth, dear Saviour,
Make me a stranger more like Thee.
Help me keep my focus on heavenly treasure,
And not on earthly, may it be.
Lord, lead me onward, as a pilgrim,
Bound for heaven, never to roam.
Make me a stranger on earth, dear Saviour,
Till I reach my heavenly home.
"All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles
on the earth.
... But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God;
for He has prepared a city for them."
~ Hebrews 11:13, 16

More photos: click on photo to see enlarged version (warning: some are blurry and may tire your eyes if you look too long!)

Welcoming the Rooster in Singapore Chinatown

Click on the photos to see enlarged versions

These are photos taken by my dad during his recent trip to Chinatown to experience and capture on camera some of the festive colours and tastes of the Chinese New Year in Singapore. He sent me a total of more than a hundred photos but that's too much to blog, so I selected a few of my favourites that seem to tell a story of their own, or are fairly representative of what New Year at home's like (I'm thinking specifically of the "bak kwa" shop and the queue that's forming...). The presence of "Wuerstelstand" at a Chinese festival fair tells well of what a multicultural society we are, and importantly, how Chinese New Year has very much become to us Singaporeans--regardless of race--a holiday like the others that is eagerly looked forward to and sumptiously enjoyed. See also the wax duck that's one of my grandma and mum's favourite foods, as well as the grumpy-looking seller of tangerines? Well, it is hot and humid in Singapore almost all throughout the year, and I'd guess that his was not the only tangerines stall around that day. And yes, that's my mum standing on the bridge linking shopping centres and overlooking the main thoroughfare in Chinatown, which is the road that you see in a few of the photos--by night and by day.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Testimony from Meulaboh: fact or fiction?

"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." ~ Daniel 5:16-18 (Emphases mine)

Since the tsunami struck various South Asian countries on Boxing Day 2004, stories of miraculous deliverance and recovery have been circulated by religious groups. The questions would be: are they true? and for the ones that are, what significance could we properly derive from them? The following is one such account (or testimony) from Meulaboh taken from an email letter forwarded to me by a friend.
We know that 80% of the town of Meulaboh in Aceh was destroyed by the tsunami waves and 80% of the people also died. This is one of the towns that was hit the hardest.

But there is a fantastic testimony from Meulaboh. In that town are about 400 Christians.

They wanted to celebrate Christmas on December 25th but were not allowed to do so by the Muslims of Meulaboh. They were told if they wanted to celebrate Christmas they needed to go outside the city of Meulaboh on a high hill and they can celebrate Christmas there.

Because the Christians desired to celebrate Christmas the 400 believers left the city on December 25th and after they celebrated Christmas they stayed overnight on the hill. ...The 400 believers were on the mountain and were all saved from destruction.

Now the Muslims of Meulaboh are saying that the God of the Christians punished us for forbidding the Christians from celebrating Christmas in the city. Others are questioning why so many Muslims died while not even one of the Christians died there.

Had the Christians insisted on their rights to celebrate Christmas in the city, they would have all died. But because they humbled themselves and followed the advice of the Muslims they all were spared destruction and can now testify of God's marvelous protection.

This is a testimony of the grace of God and the fact that as believers we have no rights in the world. Our right is to come before God and commit our lives to Him. Our right is kneeling down before the Lord almighty and commit our ways to Him. He is our Father and is very capable to care for His children. Praise the Name of the Lord.

Bill Hekman
Pastor, Calvary Life Fellowship in Indonesia

Eager to check out the credibility of this testimony, which certainly would be encouraging to the faith of Christians (see comments on this later in this post), I thought that it might be a good idea to snopes it, to begin with. The verdict: False. Now does that mean that all the so-called facts of this testimony have all been fabricated?

Firstly, the researcher Barbara Mikkelson attempts to clarify that one-third to one-half of the pre-tsunami population of 60,000 (that is, not the alleged 80%) lost their lives. Secondly, such a newsworthy story would certainly not have gone unreported or unrepeated in all the deluge of relief work done there--if it were indeed true. One might reasonably expect that some in the 400 would be ecstatic or thankful enough about their Christmas miracle to share it with Christian aid workers who would be more than happy to "trumpet" this news. But apparently, none of this happened. Thirdly, attempts to explain this absence of reporting by attributing it to the bias of a secular media also seem weak as even the Catholic News Service failed to mention the miraculous survival of the city's Christians in their report on conditions in Meulaboh. Fourthly, though there is indeed a pastor by the name of Bill Hekkman of the fellowship mentioned, Mikkelson's attempt to directly contact the putative writer of this testimony have apparently proven futile. She adds, though, that this is not surprising given the present conditions in Indonesia.

All taken, unless we have reliable sources other than that of Bill Hekkman's, Mikkelson seems to have a fairly good case. The most that one may responsibly say is that this testimony might not be true. Now, I do not claim to have the slightest idea why someone might want to smear the name of a pastor serving in Indonesia with such fabrications, or, if he knows about it and knows it to be false, why he is not sending out a desperate corrective or apology.

My concern is with Mikkelson's suggestion that Christians are, perhaps, most prone to search for and create such comforting tales, casuistic fairy tales which are then "often immediately accepted as truth because they provide a reason for the sudden great loss of life that is easy to comprehend... Most comforting of all, they demonstrate that the faithful will always be protected from harm by a loving and just God. ...It is far more comforting to believe in an avenging God who strikes down wrongdoers even as He protects the righteous than it is to make one's peace with the concept of disaster not picking its victims." Thus, in this formulation, Christians (or the religious in general) come up looking like naive, gullible weaklings, to say the least. Let me add that if she is correct in this depiction of Christians, then they are more than just gullible weaklings--the creators of these 'facts' they know to be false show nothing of the integrity and rectitude required of Christians as commanded in the Bible.

There are two issues at hand: 1) the facts (mainly, that about 400 Christians forbidden to celebrate Christmas in the city did so on the hill, and so escaped the tsunami) and 2) the interpretation of these facts (mainly, that the faithfulness, and humble submission of the Christians to the Muslim authorities made God pleased to deliver them from the tsunami; the larger principle being, that God preserves His own). The preceding paragraphs have sought to address the first issue. Let us conclude for now that it does not seem like a well-documented or very reliable piece of reporting, even if it might be true. Let us focus on the second issue, which is the more important one with much broader significance.

Let us assume that the facts are correct. What then? Most of us are aware that the same set of facts can yield more than one interpretation. Can we judge between the validity of these differing interpretations, and say that one has more warrant than the other? On one level, we can of course do so. (I shall speak from a Christian perspective, and use Christians as examples, for then I can speak from better knowledge) For instance, compare an interpretation that views these facts as proof that God exists and that "the faithful will always be protected from harm by a loving and just God," and another that views these facts as being consistent with Bible teaching that God does sometimes preserve His own in certain ways in accordance with His sovereign will and pleasure. I would say the second one sounds more plausible, more reasonable. "Proof" is just one of those words that do not sit well with our questioning minds and the plain facts as we see them with human eyes. There are also, needless to say, too many counter-examples of similar form to "prove" the contrary position--that God does not exist (e.g. Christians have also died in this tsunami and countless other horrendous tragedies that have occurred throughout history). The first interpretation is thus not good, not too helpful. Now the question is: when someone testifies to God's goodness in the believer's life (such as in this Meulaboh case), is he or she putting forward the first (as charged by Mikkelson), or the second, interpretation?

The putative writer of the Meulaboh testimony attributes the supposed survival of the Christians to their humble submission to the advice of the Muslims. "Had the Christians insisted on their rights to celebrate Christmas in the city, they would have all died." Insofar as "Bill Hekkman" is addressing Christians, those who share his worldview, he is fully warranted to testify that God has in this instance, shown His mercy to those who have been faithful. The Bible does teach that God rewards the faithful and punishes the wicked. This formulation, however, is not to be understood in simplistic fashion--for instance, that no harm will befall the faithful; that only bad things happen to non-believers; that all bad things that happen to non-believers are punishments from God; that the "faithful" are always good, and morally superior to non-believers... (the list of misconceptions goes on, and this is not the place for a more comprehensive theological discussion--nor am I well qualified to present such one) The biblical teaching has to be understood in the context of all the Bible verses that address this issue.

"Bill Hekkman" is also justified in testifying that God "is our Father and is very capable to care for His children." It is true that our omnipotent God is more than capable to care for His own. God is not bound, however, like an automaton or well-functioning vending machine, to always deliver His children. Accounts of matyrdom, and the suffering and death of believers abound in the Bible and in church history, along with accounts of God's preservation of His own. The verses from Daniel quoted at the beginning of this post illustrate well the biblical position on this matter. God is sovereign, and His ways are not always easily understood by human minds; what He does promise that "all things work together for the good of those who love Him, and who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) He allowed Stephen, one of the first deacons of the early church in the Book of Acts, to be stoned to death--to the glory of God, as a witness to many (Acts 7).

So we see that God does keep His own (they are kept in a much more profound way--the eternal salvation of their souls) , and does all for their good and for His eternal purposes. Can we attribute the deaths of non-believers to God punishing their wickedness? Put another way, are Christians saved because they are of themselves good or better, than their non-believing counterparts who perish? No. The Bible is absolutely clear on that score. Not even the saintliest amongst us humans could ever dream of meriting God's favour and heaven. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9). We cannot say that those who perished in the tsunami disaster are especially wicked. Christ questioned his disciples about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices, asking them: "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? ...I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-3) God in His mercy shouts out a warning--sometimes in the most attention-grabbing form, of disasters--to sinners whom He loves and who would not heed otherwise. The message to all of us? "Repent! Prepare to meet your Maker!"

We cannot be so certain, as "Hekkman" is, that the Christians would definitely have perished if they had not humbled themselves. Logic, experience, and what we know of the Bible, make us hesitate to make that conclusion. What we do know is that, if God has in this instance delivered the Christians, it is only by His grace and for His purposes. No boasting is in order here, except to boast in an all-loving and omnipotent God who has done all things in accordance to His will. If He has saved His believers from the tsunami, they would do well to be thankful and circumspect to seek to carry out His purposes for which they have been spared.

In closing, whether or not the facts of the Meulaboh testimony are accurate, God's people are called to be honest, thankful, and to testify of His goodness to them, in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Philippians 4:11-12). When seen through the eyes of faith, even the ordinary and mundane such as having enough food and clothing are received with thanksgiving as God's blessings. There is, however, not much that can be done to convince those who do not share our worldview, that these are evidences of divine goodness. I don't think, anyway, that we are called to do that, even as we are more than justified--on our beliefs--to praise the Lord who made and saved us.
Monday, February 14, 2005

Guess the hoax

I first heard the (untrue) story from a Christian friend who studied in the US. The short version: "it's all going to burn anyway" (referring to the apocalypse). Anyway, it seems that this anecdote about James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first secretary of the interior, has been circulating for a while:
James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious.
But this was what he actually said in February 1981 to the House Interior Committee:
That is the delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have, to be steward for the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations. I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.
(From the Weekly Standard, Feb 14)
Saturday, February 12, 2005

We have no 'right to happiness': the case of marital infidelity and divorcing for 'love'

"We have no 'right to happiness'" is the title of the last thing that C. S. Lewis wrote for publication and it appeared shortly after his death in The Saturday Evening Post of 21-28 December 1963.

Lewis focuses on sexual happiness in this essay, and in the following extract, describes the psychology accompanying erotic passions. Most of us, I believe, know people--perhaps ourselves--who have voiced similar sentiments while in the throes of love, and who have by them at times even gained much sympathy. (See also The Four Loves) There is no denial of the power of such passions, or any simple outright condemnation of it either. The great objection of Lewis' essay is to the use of such sentiments in attempts to justify or condone what's ordinarily called irresponsible behaviour.

For those of us who are more easily governed by the sway of our emotions, this may serve as a bracing corrective.

In light of the two facts that he wrote this within 2-3 years of his beloved wife's death that ended a happy marriage lasting only slightly more than 3 years, and that of him having never really been romantically involved in all the years leading up to middle-age,* I find his description of the nature of a strong erotic passion especially poignant, and even a little surprising, short as it may be in this particular piece. On the other hand, it is also possible to read a more detached tone in this excerpt, though it is not my preferred interpretation.

*Before Lewis met and fell in love with Helen Joy Davidman, he considered himself a confirmed old bachelor and might have even betrayed a little coyness about the prospect of him sharing a room with a woman. I think it struck him in the beginning as something rather 'naughty.' So set he was in his bachelor ways and mindset! I also think that he never quite recovered fully from the grief of losing Joy and was most ready to join her and His Lord in the heavenly countries shortly after her departure from this world.
When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, 'Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex as we treat all our other impulses.' I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilised people. All the others, we admit, have to be bridled. ... Even sleep has to be resisted if you're a sentry. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is 'four bare legs in a bed.'

It is like having a morality in which stealing fruit is considered wrong--unless you steal nectarines.

... Our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege. ... Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause. It is this.

It is part of the nature of a strong erotic passion--as distinct from a transcient fit of appetite--that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresitible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of the beloved will confer, not merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence all seems to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the very thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortuntately these promises are found often to be quite untrue. Every experienced adult knows this to be so as regards all erotic passions (except the one he himself is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretensions of our friends' amours easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last--and sometimes don't. And when they do last, it is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also--I must put it crudely--good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a 'right to (sexual) happiness' which supercedes all the ordinary rules of behaviour, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience but because of what it professes itself to be while we are in the grip of it. Hence, while the bad behaviour is real and works miseries and degradations, the happiness which was the object of the behaviour turns out again and again to be illusory. Everyone [except the offending party, Mr. A] knows that Mr A. in a year or so may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as for deserting the old. He will feel again that all is at stake. He will see himself again as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the woman.
Certainly food for thought.
Thursday, February 10, 2005

"To all life Thou givest--to both great and small": an even tinier baby survives

Reading about the survival of Madeline Mann, born weighing just 9.9 ounces in 1989, made me marvel at the miracle of life and God's sovereignty and prompted my earlier post. This morning I came across a news report of the survival of baby born 1.3 ounces lighter, and who has now overtaken Madeline in being the world's smallest ever to survive. They were both delivered at the same hospital, the Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. To watch a video of the day Rumaisa went home with her parents, click here.

Seen here ready to go home with daddy, Rumaisa was about the size of a mobile phone
when she was born. Today, almost six months' old, she weighs about 5 pounds 8 ounces.

Taken from CBC news:

The babies' 23-year-old mother developed pre-eclampsia, a disorder characterized by high blood pressure, during pregnancy. The condition endangered Rumaisa and her mother, prompting a C-section at 26 weeks. Normal gestation is 40 weeks.
As Axelrod reports, it's no surprise Rumaisa and Hiba are girls; 90 percent of surviving babies born weighing less than 13 ounces are female. [see also this]

"Boys to me are the weaker sex." Murakas said. "Don't laugh, but it's true."

Muraskas also said that the twins could have been helped along in their development by their mother's health problems. "Sometimes, when babies are stressed in utero, that can accelerate maturity," he said.

The twins were placed on ventilators for a few weeks and fed intravenously for a week or two until nurses could give them breast milk through feeding tubes. They were able to start drinking from bottles after about 10 weeks.

Ultrasound tests have shown no bleeding in Rumaisa's brain, a common complication in premature babies that can raise the risk of cerebral palsy. Both girls also underwent laser surgery to correct vision problems common in premature babies.

Shaik and her husband, Mohammed Abdul Rahman, 32, said they are looking forward to bringing their children home. The couple, originally from Hyderabad, India, live in the suburb of Hanover Park.

"We want them to be good human beings, good citizens, and she wants them to be doctors," said Rahman, looking at his wife.

"Doctors. Yes, of course, of course," she said, laughing.

Madeline Mann, the previous record holder as smallest known surviving premature baby, returned to Loyola Hospital earlier this year for a celebration. Now 15, she was described as a lively honor student, though small for her age, at 4-feet-7.

According to the hospital, more than 1,700 newborns weighing less than 2 pounds have been cared for there in the past 20 years.

The quote in the title of this post comes from a favourite hymn of mine entitled
"Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise"
by Walter C. Smith; more specifically, from the third stanza which seems most apposite for stories such as Rumaisa's and Madeline's:

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God,
be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." ~ 1 Timothy 1:17

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Thinking of home... and home treats on Chinese New Year's Day

Food has a wonderfully (spell)binding effect on a people... and that seems especially true for Singaporeans--especially those who are staying abroad. Special occasions in particular make one miss local food all the more. Every Chinese New Year, my parents will cook up a storm in the kitchen, producing big pots of curry chicken, assorted vegetables, and other mouth-watering dishes that we and some relatives would enjoy for at least two days. We would also have large tins of prawn crackers ready on hand to offer to guests, many of whom apparently so used to our usual festive treats that they would come with anticipation of enjoying them. My grandma used to be in charge of frying these crackers but she's retired now, and the happy task has fallen to the younger hands of my mum and our great helper Siti.

The picture above shows off the results of my first attempt at making pineapple tarts. Such "usual" Chinese New Year goodies, found almost everywhere in Singapore during this period, aren't usual at all here, not even in Toronto Chinatown. I guess it's because goodies like pineapple tarts are more Southeast Asian Chinese. I found the recipe for this on The Star Online Kuali, and well, the tarts turned out alright and did satisfy our cravings for a New Year favourite! The recipe calls for 1 egg yolk but I found that 2 worked better for the integrity of the dough. (Important Note: we have an updated recipe for pineapple tarts that overrides the one mentioned above which refused to work for us after the first attempt--Elaine, 11 March 2005)

I also miss bak kwa, kueh bangkit, love letters, and--can you believe it--huat kueh! Wait till I get my hands on some rice flour (not so common here, except in Chinatown or larger Chinese stores), and I'll do some experimenting in the kitchen again. Meanwhile, if anyone of you knows of a good Chinese New Year recipe, please leave a comment. Thanks!

A Happy and Blessed Chinese New Year to you all!
Monday, February 07, 2005

Pork Perfect Pork Loaf, Western or Chinese

Found this nifty little recipe from Pork Perfect Pork by the Canadian Pork Council, pub. 1983. This book filled with advice on pork cuts, storage, and lots of recipes, by the way, was picked up for a mere Can$1.00 at a hardware store near where we live. I tried out their simple pork loaf recipe last Saturday and the whole family (i.e., my husband and I, though strictly speaking, we have three mouths to feed) loved it. Here's the recipe, with some minor improvisations. Highly recommended for those of you who would like to enjoy a simple, microwaved pork loaf that can be prepared beforehand and cooks in 10 minutes, and which is also highly flexible--it will do well in a Western or Chinese meal.

(Presentation suggestion only. It's not even our pork loaf, which didn't stay uneaten long enough for us to think of taking a picture first. Next time perhaps...)

Pork Loaf
(2 ½ - 3 sufficient main servings, accompanied by soup and salad; or or as an accompanying dish to rice and other simple homecooked fare)

400g ground pork
1 cup bread crumbs
1 packet onion soup mix
2-3 stalks finely diced celery
dash of pepper
sprinkling of corn starch
½ cup milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
(no extra salt needed!)
Cheese to taste (optional—omit if you’d like this as an accompanying dish to a nice Chinese home-cooked meal of rice and other dishes: believe me, it tastes a little like steamed pork cooked in a Chinese way! You could even add some diced cooked Chinese mushrooms if you like)

Mix together ground pork, bread crumbs, onion soup mix, celery and pepper. Add milk, eggs, and cheese (optional); combine lightly but thoroughly. Spoon into a 1L (9 x 1 ¼ inch) glass pie plate (or close equivalent). Microwave for 5 minutes and slice loaf into six portions (optional: I do it to better ensure the interior is well cooked), and continue microwaving for another 5 minutes. Cover loaf and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Bon appetit!

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Great Divorce

The idea of "either or" seems to have fallen into some measure of disfavour among some of us today (perhaps an increasing number). One easily recalls the numerous strong negative reactions to Bush's statement in the aftermath of 9/11 that one is either for the US or against it. In our 'postmodern' world of--excuse the crude description here--relativism, tolerance of differences, and equality of truths, many would like to believe that all roads lead to Heaven (if there is such a place at all). Anyone who would claim otherwise must be a narrow-minded, dogmatic, unprogressive, and intolerant zealot of some partisan, exclusivist ideology. That, in turn, can be all too easily made to seem uncomfortably allied with "fundamentalists" and terrorists.

One of the most open-minded, intellectually-rigorous, passionate, humble, sensitive, and insightful writers I know, however, came to be convinced that reality is otherwise. He went on to become one of the leading Christian apologists (apology in the sense of a reasoned defense) of the 20th century. The author of works such as Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, God in the Dock, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and a space trilogy among scores of other essays and also some poems, C.S. Lewis exhibits time and again his keen insight into the meaning of life, love, ethics and other fundamental human issues, and always with most apposite and memorable words. A comment of Orwell's writings I once read on the blurb of a collection of his essays (and which I now paraphrase horribly-) applies very well to Lewis': they tend to affect you like a splash of water, rousing and refreshing.

I quote from the Preface to The Great Divorce (1945) which I read in summer 04 and re-read in the winter of the same year on a long flight home from Christmas in the Bay Area:
It is still "either or." If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell. I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) was precisely nothing: that the kernel of what he was seeking even in hiss most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in 'the High Countries.' In that sense it will be true for those who have completed the journey (and for no others) to say that good is everything and Heaven is everywhere. But we, at this end of the road [still on earth, some of us with the ultimate choice still before us-] must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision. If we do, we are likely to embrace the false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself."
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." Mark 8:34-35

Thursday, February 03, 2005

All of Us on Loy's Birthday

I thought it would be nice to take a photo of the family on each member's birthday. This is the first one with all of us--Baby Loy and our teddy bear, Amy (wearing one of Baby Loy's blouses for now), and that makes it a rather special. If you read my earlier post featuring an apple crumble recipe, you'll identify the centrepiece on the table straightaway!
Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Monkey makes excellent English Apple Crumble!

Click here for the cutest recipe presentation I've seen. Take the monkey's word for it: I baked an apple crumble pie according to its instructions for my husband's (that is, Huichieh's) birthday, and he loved it! Apple crumble is certainly one of the easiest to prepare, and one of the most comforting, foods I know. Monkey suggests 3 tablespoons of sugar, but I prefer 2.5, or even just 2, if the apples are very sweet and you're planning to eat the crumble with ice cream anyway (as Huichieh likes to do!). To further cut down on the sugar and also fat content, use a good sugar alternative like Splenda and substitute butter with margarine or "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" which supposedly contains even less fat than standard margarine. A sprinkling of cinnamon powder, a small handful of raisins (added to the top of the apples last) and a tablespoon of lemon juice add more flavour, texture and zest to this wonderful pie.

Note on the oven: If your oven is often uncooperatively hot and not too conducive to optimal browning, cover the pie with aluminium foil or with a Pyrex dish cover after about 15-20 minutes when you see that the crust is already a nice golden brown while the apples continue to soften.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Simply because it is Christian to nurse the sick

Read on World Magazine Blog, a post by Bergin dated 22 January 2005:
Many Christians are incensed at recent Muslim threats against those tsunami-relief workers aiming to evangelize devastated people. Groups like World Vision International, however, never intended to proselytize, rendering such stern warnings irrelevant. “Our hope is that our work will open people up to a deeper understanding of who God is,” said World Vision staffer Tim Dearborn. Global Christianity expert Dana Robert believes Dearborn’s method and that of World Vision has proven successful as far back as the Roman Empire: “Because Christians believed in the resurrection of the body and in Jesus as a healer, they went in and nursed the sick. Those who were nursed were more likely to become a Christian. Was that a strategy? No. It was part of what it meant to be a Christian.”
I followed their link and found an interesting article entitled Christians serving in tsunami-ravaged Asia seeing gospel spread by their acts, not by preaching. The main argument is that many, or even most of the Christian groups that have done much humanitarian work, know and follow the theory: "Do good works, and local interest in the motivating faith might follow."
In providing relief as a sign of God's unconditional love, missionaries have at times laid groundwork for thousands of religious conversions, according to Todd Johnson, the director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological School. But he adds a cautionary note, especially for a region marked by passionate adherence to Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism: If relief workers are perceived to have ulterior motives, good relationships can abruptly turn sour.
(Italics mine)

I believe that many Christians do know this piece of simple psychology: that if one serves with an ambiguous agenda, one will be suspect. Believers are called to be as wise as serpents too. That is why Christians must be especially sensitive and know exactly what their specific mission is (see this earlier post), when providing relief in places where another religion--in the case of the recent tsunami disaster, Islam--is dominant and often jealously guarded.

To return to the comment from Dr. Dana Robert (quoted in the article and in Bergin's post reproduced above) which inspired the title of this post, I fail to see and hesitate to endorse her connection between Christians' belief in the resurrection of the body and in Jesus as a healer, and their participation in the relief effort. My agreement with her basic and more general point also does not mean a blanket endorsement of her theology or that of her organisation's (I would need to know more about it to begin with--). All the same, I think that one specific point she makes worth stressing: "Those who were nursed were more likely to become a Christian. Was that a strategy? No. It was part of what it meant to be a Christian: to nurse the sick."

The article ends with some historical examples of how God has been pleased to bless the long-term work of genuinely humanitarian-minded Christians and mission groups in places like Korea and Thailand.

And as I concluded in my comments on World Magazine Blog, there is a proper season for everything even as Christians are enjoined to "preach the word...in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2a). There is a time to do good work silently, and a time to proclaim the gospel boldly. One must be sensitive to the Spirit's leading, to be wise as one is zealous. If one enters a country as a missionary, do the work of a missionary. If one enters as a humanitarian aid worker, do the work of an aid worker--and do that well, for His name's sake. If there comes good opportunity to preach the word (and it is hard to come up with more precise guidelines), "reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2b) May God grant His people the desire to obey Him, and the wisdom to do right and glorify His name.