Thursday, October 27, 2005

The wrap

I'm actually relatively free tonight, but I can't seem to function at 100% past 10pm anymore. Otherwise, there would have been a post on John 1 tonight, but instead I thought I'll just bring you a long overdue wrap:

• 2 articles in Boundless about a month ago were really good for me - Craving Crisis expresses the same sentiment as the Clinton quote below, and reminds me at the same time that procrastination is not a good thing. And good ol' Prof Theophilus really brought out the differences between the penalty of guilt and the penalty of consequences.

• Similarly, in light of the free-for-all wrestling arena that is the internet, I thought Eternal Perspectives rightly indicted some of our attitudes and perceptions in two posts here and here.

• This year's incoming student president of Ivy League Dartmouth College happens to be a Christian, and he gave a really courageous speech in his opening address, which, however, seemed to have caused some controversy. You can read the speech in full as well in that link. (It's short.) Personally, I'm applauding him - it's well-pitched and passionate.

• I really should read Ps. Tod Bolsinger more - as it stands, I only surf to his site on occasion. He's got a nice little piece on the limitations of blogging.

Doug Groothuis rails against multi-tasking. Check out the comments too.

Scot McKnight was doing a series on 'what is the gospel?' which I haven't had the time to really read through but I think his epilogue to the series is right on the mark. In it he makes some observations on how we inadvertently distort the gospel, and I agree, we need to see the whole scope of God's story, from Creation to Consummation.

• Closer to home (well, not for me though), SK has 2 posts which stand out to me, Making of the Vision-Carrier (which probably strikes home a theme that God seems to want to make clear to me) and the 2 categories of weeping Christians.

[Recommended for broadband users only]:
Curry and Rice Girl - So what happens when Indian parents decide to engage in a little bit of matchmaking? Wildly entertaining. A parody of Gwen Stefani's Holloback Girl.

Internet Down - It was a normal day, until the internet went down... (do you see hints of yourself?)...


Sunday, October 23, 2005

On busyness and productivity; being and doing

“The major work is that which God is doing to and in the (young) leader, not through him or her. Most emerging leaders don’t recognize this. They evaluate productivity, activities, fruitfulness, etc. But God is quietly, often in unusual ways, trying to get the leader to see that one ministers out of what one is. God is concerned with what we are. We want to learn a thousand things to do. But He will teach us one thing, perhaps in a thousand ways: ‘I am forming Christ in you.’ ”

- The Making of a Leader, J. Robert Clinton, Professor of Leadership, Fuller Theological Seminary

Thursday, October 20, 2005

For the Malaysian PM's late wife

After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs--
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The feet, mechanical, go round-
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought--
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone--

This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go.

Emily Dickinson, #341

The nation of Malaysia extends its condolences.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Loving: Bible studies, CU, Vanhoozer

[edited so that I can poke fun at scientists. :-> ]

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting lately. Life has never been busier, as I wake up every morning to find that there's already a 1001 things calling for my attention!

Nevertheless, God has been good, as I remember that I am a vessel of his grace. I've been leading quite a few Bible studies these past 2 weeks, and it's been very refreshing and humbling to be able to dwelve into the text and stay there for a while, as well as to teach it to others. There's this phrase that popped into my head unexpectedly last week that I've been using to keep my focus on the ultimate goal of Bible study foremost in my mind:
"As we ask questions of the text we allow the text to ask questions of us."

A simple statement, but definitely one that is tough to consistently apply. I've been finding out how I often forget to also have to apply the passage in question to myself before teaching others. My CU is going through John 1-5 this term, and it's simply fantastic. I hope to be able to publish my notes and thoughts on John each week, but I'm behind at the moment. Hopefully I'll have the time to write them up.

I find that I genuinely love leading Bible studies though, as those who have sat in my group can testify - I've overrun the time limit each and every time. I have to learn to be more concise. It's just such a privilege (and a scary one, let's not forget that) to be able to help others see the passage for themselves and go "Wow, I never saw that before".

[the next 2 paragraphs have been added to the original posting]
Funny thing though, is that I've got lots of scientists in both my church and CU bible study groups. So (in my mind, anyway) I had a little competitive match of scientists vs. artists. Let's see now, in church BS, I have a guy doing his PhD in seismology, another doing public health, another with a background in Physics, and if another one of my members had showed up, I would have had a medical doctor as well! And the passage in question? Genesis 1. Just imagine the possibilities.

My group wins the award for best scientific analogies, no doubt. When someone began talking about the second law of Thermodynamics and light particles, I knew it was time for the literature student to strike back. So in explaining Genesis 1:2, I went: "It might be helpful to think of God as a Potter here, beginning to shape a yet unformed piece of granite..."; I probably would have gone on about artists painting canvas or whatever if I hadn't caught myself. :-p Seriously though, my group were very good, and their insights, while more scientific in nature, were really helpful. In my CU, the newcomers are physicists and computer scientists so I don't have much backup there either. :) So, again, faced with this onslaught of scienc-y people, I had to prove my mantle. I retreated to my marker and blank paper, and framed the passage in question as a play to help people see the flow of dialogue more clearly. Ha, power to the artists! (So much for Christian charity and unity...)

I'm also growing to love my CU more and more, and I'm truly thankful to God that he's added to our numbers this term, even if we still are small, and they're a great bunch of people. I'm convinced that the best way to draw people is simply, to love one another. (John 13:35) My continued prayer to God is to "give us life in community / [and] wake us from our sleep" / ...Send down Your Word; we are eager to hear it / Ready our hearts to carry Your love" (Carry Your Love, Caedmon's Call).

I've also managed to obtain a second-hand copy of Is there a meaning in this text? by Kevin Vanhoozer - so I'm really happy! Vanhoozer's book is probably the seminal work of the last decade on biblical hermeneutics or interpretation, although it's not an easy read. I've been quite challenged recently on questions of authority and inerrancy of Scripture , as well as postmodern theories of interpretation, so I'm glad to have finally gotten hold of this book. Won't have much time to just sit there and digest it though, so I'll probably read it in little bite-sized pieces.

Okay, need to get back to the Bard and his iambic pentameters.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

And on top of everything else...

Exam form 1Exam form 2

Examination entry forms arrive. Of which 100% of my degree counts on.
BK switches to denial mode.

"Human beings cannot bear too much reality". - T.S. Eliot

Mini-update: Weirdly enough, I've discovered that my post below has been cited twice at this forum. Heh. What do you know. Trust me though, I don't think my academic essays are going to be cited anytime soon.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Catholic Church no longer Bible-believing?

I really didn't do justice to the week I had with my previous post.

A friend sent me an email recently, raising the alarm over this article, which claimed that the Catholic Church no longer swore by the Bible. After reading through it, however, I'm convinced that while there is some cause for concern, the article is really more media spin than any actual serious deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy on the part of the Catholics. After some thought, I've decided to make public my initial reply to my friend, with some refinements.

I would first of all, though, affirm that I bear no malice or animosity to Ms. Ruth Gledhill, the writer of the said article, and who I'm sure certainly couldn't have been helped by her overzealous editors who slapped a rather sensationalist title on her piece. I just want to show that her article does not anywhere near conclusively prove her conclusion.

One main problem throughout her article, I think, is a problem of definition. She often uses terms in ways that might differ from the bishops' meaning, and also, evangelical Christians, without being sufficiently aware of the nuances involved. The way she uses the word "literal(ly)", I think, is extremely important, because I think what she often means by that is actually "literalistic(ally)". So I'll like to define those two terms upfront.

A literalistic view of the Bible is generally a wooden way of interpreting the Bible. A literalistic reading doesn't take into account literary devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, parallelism and so on, as well as not sufficiently recognising that the many genres of the Bible (letter, poetry, narrative, prophecy etc.) affect the way we read. It is an anti-intellectual view of reading the Bible, and those who read the Bible in such a way end up advocating views that are never actually supported by the Bible, such as a complete ban on alcohol whatever the circumstances.

A literal view, on the other hand, recognises the Bible as fundamentally true, historic, and as the word of God, which makes it unlike any other book we have, but also recognises that the Bible is, among other things, literature, and we need to read it like we do any other book, with the help of the Spirit. You wouldn't read a love poem the same way you read your Science buku rujukan/reference book, would you?

Now let's get into the article itself. Original sentences from the article are in red, any comments will be in black.

THE hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

The writer immediately lays out the conclusion of her article, and our job as readers is to find out whether the rest of her article backs up this conclusion, which I contend, it doesn't.

[The Catholic bishops:] “We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture. And later on in the article ...“We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”

Now I would be really interested to know in what context those statements were made. The way Gledhill writes it of course makes evangelicals reach for the alarm bell (and liberals rejoice). But in truth, those statements could be perfectly sound. Scripture does not depict everything in a scientific manner, because its main interest is theological (ie. matters of soteriology, Christology etc. or in layman's language, about salvation history, the person of Christ etc.). so it isn't "scientifically accurate" in the sense that its interest does not lie in how the world works from a scientific viewpoint, although by no means does that mean that it is scientifically unsound. (see The Agora's notes on whether a conflict between science and religion exist.)

Nor does it record every single moment of history precisely, but only that which God is interested in bringing to our attention. So for eg., I think King Jeroboam (or one of the Israelite kings, I can't remember which) is mentioned quite extensively in quite a few historical records outside the Bible for his exploits, but in the Bible, he is only mentioned as "doing evil in the sight of the Lord". The Bible is only interested in that aspect of Jeroboam. Again, it's hard to tell because we don't have the actual documents to see the what context these assertions were made, but I would add that we should choose to withhold judgment at this stage, simply because we haven't seen the document itself yet. The spin found in the rest of the article is an additional reason for us not to jump to conclusions too quickly.

The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

A little more media spin here, with the statement "the document is timely". This implicitly passes a value judgment. If this was an opinion piece, then that would be fine. However, it isn't. Now, I actually largely agree with the postmodern critique that pure neutrality is a myth, and that all human beings bring their presuppositions with them to the table. Nevertheless, the right thing to do is to acknowledge those presuppositions when we recognise them, so it would have been probably better to write "To some/To those on the left/To those who have been pushing for a progressive agenda in the Church/something along those lines, the document is timely".

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”. At most, they say, they may contain “historical traces”.

The first paragraph, I'm sure, is factual. But the spin on it comes from the impression created by the earlier paragraphs, that in doing so, these Christians are going against "scientific accuracy". Now those who hold to a literalistic view might do so, but certainly not those who hold to a literal view. (For a good example, see this letter to the Guardian from Nigel NcQuoid, director of schools at Emmanuel Schools Foundation.)

Also, it should be noted that not all Intelligent Design advocates are Christians. ID is not just a 'pet project' of a few Christians, it is a wider movement than that. Some advocate ID on purely scientific grounds as they believe the scientific evidence points towards an intelligent Designer. Heck, Antony Flew, who until a few months ago was the Western world's most influential atheist, has now changed tack at the age of 81 and accepted ID as plausible! Here the article presents it as if only gullible, naive Christians believe in intelligent design.

I am concerned though, about the second paragraph above. I agree that Genesis is literary, but it is also historical. Again, it's tough to judge without the proper context. If the Bishops mean it in the sense that it's not necessary to be literal 6-day creationists, then that's ok. But if they don't, then yes, we have a bone to pick with them.

The document shows how far the Catholic Church has come since the 17th century, when Galileo was condemned as a heretic for flouting a near-universal belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible by advocating the Copernican view of the solar system.

There is more media spin at work here. The first sentence implicitly applauds this move by linking it with progress, and all of its connotations. The bigger beef I have with this sentence though, is the citing of what is known as 'the Galileo myth'. It has become commonplace and very popular to show that the Catholic Church of the time was backward and anti-science in general by quoting this example. Nevertheless, historians have shown that in fact, the church was an enormous contributor to the science of astronomy at that time, and that Galileo's ideas were actually popular with some of the infuential churchmen of the time. Where the church erred was in giving in to pressure from fellow academicians who were very uneasy with Galileo's unorthodox ideas and who might even have been a little jealous. So the caricature of science vs. religion often sketched by the use of this example is unfounded. The church should, by all means, lead the way when it comes to admitting their mistakes, but this isn't one of them. The article is determined to infer a science vs. religion conflict when it doesn't actually exist.

In the document, the bishops acknowledge their debt to biblical scholars. They say the Bible must be approached in the knowledge that it is “God’s word expressed in human language” and that proper acknowledgement should be given both to the word of God and its human dimensions.

Nothing controversial here. All Christians agree with this (I hope!).

They say the Church must offer the gospel in ways “appropriate to changing times, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries”.

This isn't actually an observation directly related to the article, but I hope that Christians recognise that although there is absolutely nothing wrong with the statement made here, we have to guard against a tendency to be so concerned with "relevance" that we become "irrelevant" in the end. God is unchanging, and we can trust Him to be eternally relevant.

The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”

Now here is cause for concern. So on what criteria did the bishops decide what is true and what isn't? And if God is the God of the entire life, then surely a fundamental mistake has been made in having a two-tiered approach to life, "secular" and "sacred", as if both must be separated from the other.

They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.

“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”

Problem here is one of definition. In the early 20th century, when the Fundamentalist/Modernist debate was in full swing, we could justifiably use evangelicalism and fundamentalism interchangeably, since they would have more or less meant the same thing. But now it's not so simple. I myself would not describe myself as fundamentalist, although in a sense, all evangelicals are because we hold to the "fundamentals". But fundamentalism can also mean in a narrower sense, those who hold to a more literalistic view of the Bible. These sometimes might manifest itself in rather anti-intellectual, extra-biblical forms such as KJV-Onlyism (a belief that only the King James Bible is the "real" Bible). Jerry Falwell might, I think, be accurately described as a fundamentalist. However, the media in general, and not just this article, tend to lump fundamentalists and evangelicals together as one, broadbrushing them. Thus you often see someone like Pat Robertson and not say, Charles Colson dominating the news. Therefore, seen in this light, the bishops' forceful critique is right on the mark.

Of the notorious anti-Jewish curse in Matthew 27:25, “His blood be on us and on our children”, a passage used to justify centuries of anti-Semitism, the bishops say these and other words must never be used again as a pretext to treat Jewish people with contempt. Describing this passage as an example of dramatic exaggeration, the bishops say they have had “tragic consequences” in encouraging hatred and persecution. “The attitudes and language of first-century quarrels between Jews and Jewish Christians should never again be emulated in relations between Jews and Christians.”

Agreed. I'm puzzled by the article's use of the phrase "dramatic exaggeration". If the bishops simply meant that Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was emphasizing the reaction of the crowd as part of his eyewitness account of the scene (ie. as any good journalist/writer knows: you can't report every single thing that happen, so you choose the most noteworthy moments to record, and Matthew decides that the reaction of the crowd is worth highlighting, for various reasons.), then the writer or editor has again subtly spun this paragraph so that it seems as if the bishops are condemning the words of the Bible itself rather than a particular interpretation of the passage.

As examples of passages not to be taken literally, the bishops cite the early chapters of Genesis, comparing them with early creation legends from other cultures, especially from the ancient East. The bishops say it is clear that the primary purpose of these chapters was to provide religious teaching and that they could not be described as historical writing.

Now this is a very cleverly spun paragraph. Therefore, we need to go through this carefully. Firstly, she says that the bishops give "examples of passages not to be taken literally". As we established above, what the bishops could really be saying is not to take the passages "literalistically". One doesn't have to slavishly hold to a literal six-day account, as some Christians insist on. (Sometimes some of these Christians question your Christianity if you don't agree with them on this!) It is just one of a few possible interpretations.

My own opinion is that Genesis 1-3 uses quite literary, symbolic language, so it is possible that the earth might not have been formed in six literal days (although of course God could possibly have done so!). Hear what I am NOT saying. I am NOT saying that Genesis 1-3 is not true. NOR am I saying that Genesis 1-3 is not historic. I'm just saying that Christians have divergent views on this issue, with some being old-earth creationists and others young-earth creationists. I think the main point of Genesis 1 here is simply to show that God is ultimately the Creator, and that all source of life springs from him. The scientific details are a matter of conscience for the Christian to explore for himself and to decide. So, actually, if the bishops mean what I just described, then they're right: the primary point of these chapters "was to provide religious teaching", or to put it better, to prove a theological point.

Secondly, the article says that the bishops "[compare Genesis] with early creation legends from other cultures, especially from the ancient East." What she doesn't say is HOW they compare them. The way it's written, there is an inference that the bishops find that Genesis is similar to many of the creation legends of the time, thus leading the bishops to the conclusion that their primary purpose is to provide religious teaching. The truth is, the bishops could easily have found Genesis NOT similar to the creation legends of the time and reached the same conclusion.

You see, the creation legends of the time often have these characteristics:
1. Describing how a nation's gods came into being.
2. Explain how a particular culture's society functioned, and to give credibility to the people who were important in that culture, by explaining where their power came from.
Those are historical concerns, isn't it? Meanwhile, Genesis:
1. simply assumes God is there from the beginning.
2. does not start with any direct references to the nation of Israel, Jerusalem or the temple.

So actually, the bishops could have:
1. said that the Bible should not be taken literalistically
2. meaning that one musn't take the literal 6-day interpretation as the only legitimate interpretation
3. cited egs. whereby they compared Genesis 1-3 to other creation legends
4. recognising that Genesis uses the same genre/generic conventions as these creation legends (thus eschewing a literalistic interpretation)
5. but, noticed their differences as well.
6. thus saying that actually,
a) whereas other creation legends were preoccupied with the origins of their cultures and gods (historical writing)
b) Christianity simply assumed God was there in the beginning, and that He was the Creator and Ruler of the whole world! (religious or theological teaching)

But of course, reading this article, you wouldn't get that impression, do you? Now, I concede that the bishops might not have meant it in the way I listed above, but consdering the spin on the article so far, I say we approach it with a pinch of skepticism.

Similarly, they refute the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible, in which the writer describes the work of the risen Jesus, the death of the Beast and the wedding feast of Christ the Lamb.

The bishops say: “Such symbolic language must be respected for what it is, and is not to be interpreted literally. We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved and about when the end will come.”

Again, if you take the word literal here to mean literalistically, then the bishops are perfectly justified in what they say. Notice what the article does here.

1. In the first paragraph, the article claims that the bishops refutes the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation.
2. The writer/editor states a fact: Revelation "describes the work of the risen Jesus, the death of the Beast and the wedding feast of Christ the Lamb".
3. Then the quote from the bishops comes immediately after. In the readers' mind, we immediately think that the bishops are saying that the work of the risen Jesus, death of the Beast etc. is symbolic and not true, because we instinctively make the causal link.
4. But look at the wording of the actual quote. "...we should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved and about when the end will come.”
5. Nowhere in the quote do we find that the bishops actually refute the apocalyptic prophecies.
6. All they say, rightly, is that we don't know certain things, such as the timing of the end of the world (even Jesus doesn't know this!), or how many will be saved (that's right, we don't, unless we're Jehovah's Witnesses!)

Revelation is a very difficult book, but I think many, in trying to figure out who the Antichrist is or whatever, miss the main message of the book, i.e. the Lamb wins! We might not know everything, but God gives us everything we need to know. And we know that we're on the winning side.

I noticed that Cardinal Cormac O'Connor gives the foreword, and I admit that I have a hard time believing that he would go this far. Therefore, it seems to me that the article has not conclusively proved that the Catholic Church no longer swears by the authority of the Bible. Rather, it seems to be the slant of the article that gives off that impression.

However, I hope that this hasn't proven merely to be cutting down an article to size merely for the sake of it. I immediately apologise if there is an ungracious tone throughout, as I certainly don't mean to demean the writer of the article, merely to expose the spin placed on the article itself. So I think it fitting to end with this little sentence near the end of the article and leave us to ponder on it:

They say people today are searching for what is worthwhile, what has real value, what can be trusted and what is really true.

P/S Traditionally, the Catholic Church does not have as strong a view of the Bible as Protestants, because they hold that official teaching of the church is on par with Scripture. So even if they would no longer swear by the Bible (which I doubt), and we would be saddened, nevertheless it would not be such a huge deviation to them as to Protestants, who hold the authority of Scripture above all else. (Please, no flame wars on that topic here!)

† Expand post

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Musings on cross-cultural work

dinner 6/10/05
My dinner tonight, a.k.a a narcissistic blogging moment
iWelcome t-shirt
It's nice to have a bit of a breather tonight, not that I can breath much thanks to a cold I caught yesterday. I've have had a really interesting week last week, as I've been involved with welcoming international students into Oxford. The university isn't exactly the best when it comes to helping international students settle in, and the Christian Union, seeing a gap that could be filled, offered to meet that need. I think it's a great idea; I would have appreciated it so much 2 years ago, when I first arrived.

Anyway, it involves us hanging around coach or train stations, looking decidedly shifty as if we're planning to mug somebody...okay, maybe not, the bright yellow t-shirts mean that we can't be missed anyhow! But we hang around looking to help international students with their luggage, bring them to their college, show them where the supermarkets are (a popular question!) and whatnot. Some had alreay emailed beforehand to tell us they'll like us to meet them, while we surprise the others. By far, one of my favourite moments came when a mother, accompanying her daughter and some immense pieces of luggage, looked at us and asked bluntly: "This is a joke, right?" and looke around, half-expecting some Candid Cameraman to pop out somewhere. When it became clear that we were genuinely offering help, she was totally flummoxed. It was especially amusing when she whipped out her video-camera, videoed us helping, and added her own running commentary, ending with the words: "...and they aren't kidding!" Wow, are people so unhelpful nowadays?

Two groups of us took different shifts, and when we were off-duty we were attending cross-cultural seminars, which turned out to be pretty stimulating. The induction session we had with Chris from Friends International, which specialises in outreach to international students was one I found particularly illuminating. He showed us the particular concern God has for the alien in both the Old and New Testaments. Then he gave us that gem of a line: "What I communicate is not what I say but what the other person understands." So, taking the sentence: "Jesus is the Son of God!" and say it to a

Muslim: oops, you've just completely blasphemed, since you just intimated that Allah has had sex.
Buddhist: a statement that has no meaning to him, since an impersonal reality is the aim.
Hindu: cool! Just add him to the pantheon of gods I already worship.
Jew: You've blasphemed again. There is one God and one God only.
New Ager: are we all...

You get the idea.

Perhaps the thing that I got most out of this session though, was actually the next simple statement, that we are all ethnocentric in some way. Ethnocentricity is to regard one's own race as the most important, or see our way of doing things as the only "normal" way. Now, I've always thought that I knew a bit about crossing cultures - since I am from a nation that postively revels in its multiculturalism after all, and as an international student in the UK, I've have had to cross cultures. But I kept this in mind over the whole week I was helping out, and was appalled and humbled at the same time when I caught myself repeatedly holding a cultural prejudice of some sort or another. And here I was thinking that I was pretty objective and empathetic! Once I was helping an American, and as soon as I saw the nose stud and black apparel, I went: "Goth". Which didn't turn out to be the case.

On a related note, I'm going to be co-leading an international students Bible study group this year at church, and one of the books we had to read was From Foreign to Familiar. It's a very short book written by a cross-cultural specialist who used to work with YWAM, and presents an interesting thesis: that broadly speaking, cultures can be divided into two kinds, hot-climate (relationship-oriented), and cold-climate (task-oriented). She admits from the outset that she is working in generalisations here, and that they sometimes overlap. Still, it was a very readable and incisive treatment of the subject, as she discusses over the next few chapters categories of cultural difference, such as direct versus indirect communcation, individualism versus group identity, privacy versus inclusion , different concepts of hospitality, formality and time (I bet Malaysians would love to look at the last topic). I found myself nodding quite often at her anecdotes. Of course, the book ultimately isn't nuanced enough, since it only deals in terms of culture, without also looking at different personalities within each culture, nor does it really take into account the effects of globalisation and the media, but it never claims to be taken as gospel anyway. The book does, I think, what it aims to do, serving as a good introduction on ways to think broadly in cultural categories.

Thus, Chris' advice that ultimately we need to focus on the person is very sound. If each person has dignity and value, made in the image of God, then we must treat him or her as such.

One of my favourite stories that I heard was that of a Middle Eastern lady who came to stay in England for a few months. She was all alone in a foreign land and culture, but the Christian family who hosted her took good care of her, showed kindness and patience to her, and was sensitive of her religion(Islam) even as they weren't afraid to show that they were Christians. At the end of her stay, she said, "My perception of Christians have changed because of you. When I go back to my country, I will remember that as I go about my job." Curious, they asked her what her job was. She replied, "In my country, I have the final say in the granting of missionary visas." She may not have become a Christian, but the cause of Christ was advanced.

Sorry about the rag-tag nature of this post, but I'm tired. Off to bed I go.

† Expand post