The Pun Intended in Big Bang Theory

•July 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I discovered the sitcom, Big Bang Theory, while I was looking for decent in-flight entertainment to keep my mind off the long-haul flight I was on. After one episode I was hooked. Back home I told my husband about it and we were ecstatic to find it available on our program-limited cable network.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we love laughing to the show so much is that the characters in their geeky/nerdy ways remind me of us – especially when they talk of their love for comic superheroes and their free-flowing references to Star Trek (both husband and I are Trekkies).

However, after watching the cliff-hanging season finale recently, I was a little disenchanted. This pertains specifically to their portrayal of normative human sexuality. Before you assume that I’m referring to the loose sleeping around of the characters, I want to assure you that I’m not so unrealistic as to expect characters of a television show to be chaste.

Instead I’m alluding to how one of the characters, Sheldon, is depicted. Though the character is deemed weird in many ways, his disinterest to fulfill his sexual desires is sketched as especially unnatural and almost inhuman. Inhuman because, the show seems to imply, it is normal that humans have their sexual desires fulfilled in any way available to them. Look at all the other characters – they are all normal i.e. they accept their sexuality, they sleep around (with each other in some instances) with no restraint.

In other words, having a fulfilled sexual life regardless of your marital status is acceptable behavior and testifies to your identity as a normal human being but one who is otherwise is weird and abnormal. This leaves Christians who have chosen to wait to fulfill our sexual desires only within the context of marriage aberrant, peculiar and old-fashioned.

While I am not at all saying that the portrayal of Sheldon represents the Christian view of sexuality (he, too, is an aberration of a different kind!), but within the culture at large, there is a tendency to define our identity in terms of our sexual desires and how sexually desirable we are. (The church is not exempted from this, unfortunately).

Hence, to deny one of sexual desires is to deny oneself of one’s basic identity. But this view contradicts what the bible teaches us about human nature and identity. If fulfilled sexual desires is the essence of who we are, then what about people who are physically challenged and can never have sex? What about those who are called to be single and celibate, like Paul? Are they less sexual than those of us who are married? What about those who are single as they have chosen to do the right thing by waiting for a godly partner? Certainly fulfilled sexual desires are NOT the essence of who we are as our sexuality is defined much more broader than merely genital sexuality.

Genital sexuality is only one part of our sexuality. We are all social sexual beings as well. This part of our sexuality is expressed in our yearning to connect with other people of both genders – friendships, community; a union of persons; as opposed to the union of bodies.

Today, what we hear in the media, advertising and movies is that sex is merely about two people sleeping together; about union of two bodies culminating in a wonderful orgasm! Under this view, we are reducing our sexuality to merely genital sexuality. Sex becomes merely something we do rather than something that we are – which is really a quality of our soul. But our being sexy or sexual has little to do with the way we look or feel about ourselves physically; or whether we are doing it or not.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft quips, “Sex is between the ears before it’s between the legs as we have sexual souls.” God has made us all beautiful and sexual and our sexuality is not defined merely by how one looks. Our sexual identity resides in how we reflect the image of the trinitarian God – man and woman reflect it as individuals and they reflect it as complements to one another. This image of the Trinitarian God that we mirror is one of love, mutual submission, intimacy, cooperation, creativity, beauty and much more.

One of no reputation

•June 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

On my morning commute today, I had Rich Mullin’s posthumous album, The Jesus Record, for company. I found the songs on this album, which are all about Jesus, both powerfully poignant and hopeful. The song, Man of No Reputation, resounded loudly with what I’ve been mulling over the past few weeks.

In essence the song speaks of Jesus who was a prophet with no reputation but yet touched and healed so many. Narratives in the New Testament tell us that during his ministry, he was almost always infamous more than famous and shunned more than welcomed or loved.

The idea that the Son of God had little or no reputation in community runs counter to this day and age where gifted Christian preachers and ministers are accorded celebrity-type esteem. This kind of psycho-fancy and hero-worship can be dangerous for both the object and subject of lionization.

Given enough time and veneration, the one who is lionized may be tempted to believe that he or she is indeed great and invincible (and only vaguely remembers that it is really the giver of the gift alone who is great and invincible). And when he or she starts living as if this grandiose view of self is true, we know where this road ultimately leads to…destruction and downfall of the soul.

Unfortunately, in my many encounters with reputable ministers, I have observed a sizable gap between their gift in ministry and their character. I have known of ministers who live a questionable private life but portray a righteous public persona, thanks to their gift of persuasion. This breaks my heart and hurts my soul and I ask, “How is this possible? And how long, O Lord, before You bring them back on track?”

Here I recall St Francis of Assisi’s famous statement that our lives are truly the first testimony to the Good News Of Christ (“Preach the Gospel, when necessary, use words.“)

For the subject, in our extreme reverence or admiration for a gifted “speaker” we may be tempted to place him or her on a pedestal that only God alone is worthy of. Here we run the risk of, well, idol-worshipping. I need not elaborate further on what this does to our soul…

Over and over again history informs us that these “idols” are merely human and they could and do fall. So many have been hurt and disillusioned in the past when the life of these hero-ministers was found to have fallen short of their talk. And I’m not just alluding to that which are explicitly immoral like extra-marital relationships or financial embezzlement. I’m also referring to that which are more subtle like pride, self-sufficiency, conceit and narcissism.

It is my prayer, therefore, that I be a woman of no reputation; that all who have heard me speak from the pulpit, would recall my message but forget who the messenger was. After all, the true author and source of all compelling truths is always the Holy Spirit. To God be the glory!

The Fight

•June 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment
My head is battling with my heart
Which will takeover:
overwhelming fears of the uncertain 
or His command to Joshua 

My brows are lined,
shoulders are tensed
My head is pounding,
as I try again 

Must I haggle with my heart
What price disbelief
My faith is running low  
as my palms are sweating cold

I am still wrestling with my thoughts 
How much longer?
Will my stakes rise? 
Why won’t I look into His eyes?

I tire as I fight my nature
To worry and to bear
My body is melting away
O Lord, hear my cry of dare

Dethroning – Corruption, NOT Islam!

•May 12, 2011 • 1 Comment

Recently certain parties in Malaysia have alleged that the minority Christians there convened to make a pact to work towards a Christian Prime Minister – see here. However the so-called pact-meeting was really a conference on how Christians can participate in battling the problem of corruption that is so prevalent in Malaysia. Though I was not at that specific meeting, I was one of the presenters at the central chapter of the the conference in Kuala Lumpur. Hence, I can attest that there was no discussion of attempts to “Christianize” Malaysia (good lord, why would anyone want that???!!!). In fact, there were two Muslim gentleman who were present at my talk as they waited to share about their NGO. Below is the excerpt of my talk which may provide a perspective of the focus of the meetings:

What is corruption essentially?

As we try to define corruption, we cannot help but run into what we Christians know about the condition of humanity – sin. But we need to view the sinfulness of man not just from a personal perspective (personal sin) but as social sin (societal level) as the fall of man had universal consequences. As Christians, our insight into the sinfulness of man leads us to conclude that ultimately corruption is a moral evil resulting from sin. The effects of sin do not end within the interior of each person. There is little doubt that our individual choices for sin affect the social environment in which we exist as well.

It is imperative, therefore, that Christians in recognizing corruption as a moral sin ought to be deeply offended by its existence as it violates the character of God – his justice and his righteousness. He is a God of justification and of justice – this is evident in his dealings with ALL people groups in the Old Testament.

How ought Christians respond to social sins such as corruption?  

Beware of sin of omission: There is a common oversight when we approach the task of the Great Commission where we often think that it is merely about evangelism and getting people to convert to Christianity. Philosopher Dallas Willard calls this the church’s Great Omission where Christians have responded by making “Christians” not “disciples.”

The genius of God’s plan of redemption is that it is not merely about saving “souls” but about transforming lives and all of life. It is about us, his followers, participating in his work of redemption of the rest of his creation – morality, culture, work, economics, arts, etc. The Gospel has supernatural power to change lives, and those changed lives can bring good to the world in which they find themselves.

A good we can bring to our local society is a commitment to highlight the injustices perpetrated by, and embodied in corruption. We are conscientious about refraining from sinning by not committing any moral evil. However, we risk committing the sin of omission when we fail to do something we can and ought to – especially against the prevalence of evil or its uprising. We risk committing the sin of omission when we allow the prevalent systemic corruption to prevail and do nothing about it.

Engagement in the public square is the call of EVERY Christian: Once we acknowledge our sin and the effects of sin within society, it follows that we should act to right the wrongs that have been committed. The persisting effects of sin need to be addressed.

We need to be realistic about trying to realize earthly Utopia: Given the depth and persistence of corruption in some spheres, it may be unrealistic to expect Christians to generate or sustain a mass rejection or repudiation of corruption. As we live in the Now and the Not Yet – it would be unrealistic to seek Utopian solutions to the problem of corruption.

Even though Christ calls each of us to struggle towards perfection, the reality of man’s sin means there is no possibility of building an earthly utopia. In fact we should affirm that there is no paradise on earth. We are here only as pilgrims as we wait for the new heaven and new earth. Perfect freedom, complete justice and total peace do not exist in this life because of the reality of original sin.

However, instead of all resignation or a sense of doom, Christians should insist that relative joy, relative success and relative justice (relative in comparison to eternal life) CAN exist in this life. As such, though we live in an imperfect world fraught with fallen systems, we have to and must learn to work for redemption within these limitations.

We need to acknowledge the nuanced nature of corruption:  Often when we are confronted by a case of potential corruption, we find ourselves in a moral dilemma as it is almost always difficult to decide on the thing to do where we must choose one of two things; but either would be wrong to do. When we have a ethical dilemma, sometimes you choose the greater good, hence having to do the lesser evil.

First steps to making a difference

There are no easy solutions to the problem of corruption. Many of the incentives to engage in corrupt action are difficult to overcome. I will not attempt to prescribe specific solutions, particularly in view of the fact that the precise form of corruption varies from industry to industry and case to case. Instead we will look at what are the baby steps we can take as individuals and a small collective.

1. Be informed – about a broad range of issues in the socio, political and economical sphere – keep abreast of a wide-range issues and reflect on our Christian response (1 Pet 3:15)

  • ACTON Insitute (www.acton.org)
  • A Theory of Corruption: The Theology and Economics of Sin (Osvaldo Schenone & Samuel Gregg; Acton Institute, 2003)
  • Bribery and Corruption: Biblical Reflections and Case Studies for the Marketplace in Asia (Hwa Yung; Graceworks Pte. Ltd., 2010)
  • Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Glen H. Stassen & David P. Gushee; IVP, 2003)
  • Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Nancy R. Pearcey; Crossway Books, 2003)

2. Be involved

  • Full participation in NGO’s (NECF) and civil society – be a volunteer, join as a member. We are to be salt and light at where we are – local community, etc.
  • Engage in dialogue with social and political activists who may have differing opinions from us – understand their position so that we can better formulate our Christian response • Start a blog to record real incidences – both successes and failures
  • Form work/accountability groups to garner moral support and prayers. Meet regularly to brainstorm solutions to real cases
  • Most importantly, offer prayers with discernment – for rulers to be righteous

3. Practice makes perfect

Aristotle the great philosopher taught that moral virtue is habit long continued. In other words, we cultivate our virtuous self through external disciplines where our intentional doing (of the morally right) becomes a habit – a part of who we are. Our inner spirit is shaped and formed by the structures and disciplines within which we live. Although there are limits to what we can accomplish working from the outside in, it is the first step towards moral transformation.

This training in virtue requires that we struggle with the moral situations which we find ourselves in so that, hopefully, such a struggle will help us develop a character sufficient to avoid, or understand differently, such situations in the future. It takes some moral development to be able to solve *ethical dilemmas. And we may not always get it right or end up doing the right thing! We must begin to see how the commands of God do not so much tell us what we ought to do, rather, they direct us to the only kind of life that can ultimately allow us to flourish as human beings: a life lived with, rather than against, the grain of the universe God has created. The purpose of God’s commands is to perfect us and complete us – making us whole again (Romans 12:1-2).

Wine, Women and Mercedes Benz.

•May 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I was recently invited to speak at an interfaith forum attended by almost 700 university students in Malaysia on the topic of Life After Death. More than half of the students were male, Muslim and from Middle Eastern or North African countries. As it was an interfaith event, the other major religions were also represented: Islam, Hinduism (Popular) and Buddhism (Mahayana).

Each of us got 20 minutes for our presentation based on the topic. As this was not my first time at such an event (I had spoken twice in this university a few years ago), I was prepared for the grueling 90 minutes of Q&A which followed the presentations. During this time questions from the floor could be directed to any of the panelists. Just as other past events, most of the questions were directed at the Christian (me) or the Muslim (in this case, a young man who’s still in braces but on the way to a promising career as a Muslim apologist).

Many things were brought up that evening but a few left an especially strong impression on me and I will summarize them here:

1) Quoting the Quran in Arabic, the Muslim panelist explained that all Muslims will be judged after death according to their deeds. This judgement will determine their entry into paradise. For those who got away with adultery during their earthly life, they will be punished severely as Allah takes the sin of “zina” (extramarital sex) seriously.

2) In explaining what is in store for the Muslim after death, presuming that he makes it to paradise, the speaker stated that he can have anything his heart desires – including wine, women and no matter how many Mercedes Benz one wants. In short, you can have ANYTHING you want. But if one dies a martyr, he will immediately gain entry into paradise (bypassing judgement) and find 72 virgins waiting for him in paradise.

These two points begged the following question from a student:

How is it that sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse/s on earth is such a serious sin but in paradise sex with 72 virgins is permissible?

To this question, the Muslim answered (and I paraphrase – sparing you the long Arabic quotations and technical terms he cited):

In this present life, A Muslim is not permitted to drink alcohol but the Quran states that paradise would be flowing with wine. The reason for this is that the alcohol that we now have intoxicates. However, in paradise, the wine that flows abundantly would not intoxicate. Hence, it is permissible for the Muslim to drink as much as he wants.

Similarly, sexual relations in our present life would result in the conception of a children. If a man is permitted to have sex with women he is not married to and the relations result in children, chances are the women will be left to care for the children. As such, to avoid children born out of wedlock and being abandoned by their biological fathers, men are only permitted to have sexual relations with their wife/wives.

However, in paradise, the ability to reproduce will not longer exist and hence the problem of women and children abandonment would not arise. As such men are allowed to have sex with as many women as they want! (Notice that up to this point, the morality or immorality of extramarital sex was not even mentioned.)

3) A student wanted me to clarify what is in store for a Christian in heaven. And here’s what I told her essentially:

a) Communion with the lover of our soul and reunion with loved ones who have gone before us

b) Worship: we will spend our days in worship as we deepen our relationship with God

c) Rest: from suffering, evil, struggles with sin – all tears will be wiped away.

As I reflect on these and many other points that were highlighted that evening, I cannot help but be amazed at how starkly different these two worldviews are with regards to our hope beyond death and it is clear which is radically more appealing to me.

Easter – not just about dyed eggs and bunnies

•April 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Today is Good Friday. Hence in contemplation of its significance, I thought it’d be appropriate for me to post the following (which was an article I wrote for Campus Crusade Singapore recently). Have a meaningful weekend of remembrance everyone!Just like how Santa had managed to somehow usurp Jesus’ role in Christmas, Easter is quickly becoming an affair to merely celebrate painted eggs and bunnies. As we make our way to church on Easter Sunday to celebrate the occasion of the risen Christ, it would be prudent for us to appreciate the significance of this historical event.

Yes – historical. We can sometimes fail to remember that many of the religious festivals we celebrate are really a commemoration of true historical events that actually occurred. Similarly Easter is the observance of a spectacular and unparallel incident that took place approximately 2000 years ago. And this is not merely because the bible informs us so. Rather, there are many evidences that point to the certainty that the resurrection did in fact take place – though we would not have the time or space to explore them all here. (By the way, this is really what is unique about the Christian faith – that our beliefs are not baseless but that there are good reasons for us to believe in what we do.)

Almost all serious scholars, whether conservative or liberal, agree on the three things that were recorded in the Gospel accounts:

(i) the claims about Jesus’ resurrection were immediate and not a legend that developed over time;

(ii) Jesus’ tomb was indeed found empty by the women who first arrived, and

(iii) significant number of witnesses claimed to have seen him risen from the dead.

Obviously something miraculous had taken place and the Christian explanation for them is that Jesus had risen from the dead as he had predicted and appeared to his followers.

Nonetheless, many skeptics throughout history have attempted to come up with naturalistic theories to explain away the resurrection. Though many of these theories have been discounted to be implausible, some of them are still hanging around in the viral cyberspace.

For example, some have suggested that Jesus did not really die on the cross but was instead “swooned” i.e. he merely fainted and appeared dead. However a check with medical studies would show that it is quite impossible to fake death by crucifixion. The way crucifixion kills a person by asphyxiation and the common additional blow by Roman officials to ensure the criminal is really dead would deem any pretense improbable. Besides even if we grant that Jesus was able to pull off such a hoax, he must have been in a terribly bad shape when his followers saw him – bloody, pale and weak; let alone try to convince them that he is the risen Lord! As such, the belief that Jesus was swooned and did not die and, hence did not rise from the dead is not tenable.

Some also allege that the accounts of the resurrection were stories that were made up by the disciples to “help fulfill” Jesus’ prediction. Just like other world religions, the resurrection was just a religious legend that developed over time. Again, any literary and historical scholars will tell you that three generations will have to pass before a myth like that could develop as there would be eye witnesses that would discount any embellishment or hoax. And the consensus of all scholars today with regards to the dating of the Gospels is that they were all written within the first centuries and their style is not mythological.

Besides, why would the disciples start this myth – what would they get out of such a lie? It would be good to recall that most of them were persecuted and executed for believing in Jesus! None of them benefitted from making up such a story. Additionally, if the followers wanted to make up a story to cover up a non-risen Lord, it would be poor sense to claim that women were the first witnesses to the empty tomb. As women in 1B.C. were not considered credible witness in the court of law, it would defeat the purpose and even embarrassing to announce that the first ones to have witnessed the risen Christ were Mary Magdalene and the party of women who went to the tomb to embalm the body of Jesus.

For reasons such as these and many others, we have good grounds to believe the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In days leading to his crucifixion, Jesus revealed to his disciples his identity as the Son of God and his purpose on earth – to serve and to offer his life as a ransom for many.

C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity writes:

Jesus…told people that their sins were forgiven. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin…I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” 

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said that sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

What about you? Who do you say he is?

Thank you, dear Fathers.

•April 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’m presently busy preparing to speak on the significant milestones of the Christian church. In reviewing my notes and revisiting books on church history and specifically on the canon of the New Testament and the creeds, I am again inspired by the struggles and tenacity of the early church in both preserving orthodoxy and venturing into uncharted waters. Thanks to these church fathers, most, if not all, of the paths that the modern church now tread have been paved for us. Nothing is indeed new under the sun – no heresy, no church corruption, no challenge  – to our ancient and historical faith.