Saturday, December 30, 2006

Karl Barth on the wonder of Christmas

Yes, I know Christmas is over but I found this quote from Karl Barth. Anyway, in my country Christmas is really not over until the the 6th of January--when the wise men visited Jesus.

The wonder of Christmas is described in the article of the Apostles' Creed: "Qui conceptus est de spiritu sancto, natus ex Maria virgine"; "who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary." Or, according to the formula of the Nicene Creed which is recited every Sunday, and on many other days, in the Roman Catholic mass and at least on Christmas and on other high festivals in the German Evangelical Church: "Et incarnatus est de spiritu sancto ex Maria virgine et homo factus est"; "and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man." What does this mean?

It certainly means God's presence in our world, His presence as man among men and therefore God's revelation to men. It means man's reconciliation with God. That this happened and still happens, is the substance of the Christmas message. God is the "He" of whom the Creed speaks. In Him is present not only light but the Light, the eternal Light, not only help, but the perfect,
ultimate Helper Himself, not only power, but the Lord of all powers, not only love but the Lover in whom all love is founded, who excels all love and who is so infinitely lovable because He is wholly Love, even if no one responds.

This God is conceived where we all are conceived. He is born of Mary. She who conceived and bore Him, plays our part in the wonder of Christmas, for it concerns us. God has come to us. "Disguised in our flesh and blood, is the eternal good."

In the name of the Messianic King whom Israel expected, the Church has rediscovered the name of "the eternal good' in which she believes and which she confesses. The name is "Immanuel," God with us. ( Is. VII.14).

Even described in such general terms Christmas can only be understood as a wonder. That there is this Love of which Paul can say that it never ends, is not a known fact nor some general truth symbolically represented in the Christmas message but also recognisable elsewhere. Can it really be true: God in our world, God in our world? The facts cry out against it, for they speak of God's remoteness from the world and the world's remoteness from God. It needs a confession of faith to recognise reconciliation as truth, a confession whose strength and weakness lies in the fact that it appeals only to revelation and that it can be made and received only by faith. The Creed of the Christian Church is this confession. It appeals only to revelation, it is made only by faith, it demands and expects nothing but faith when it calls the Love which
never fails, an event, saying: "Et incarnatus est."
Karl Barth, Christmas

I'm back!

I didn't touch my computer for almost a week. First, I really want to give blogging a break. Second, I got sick (again!). It's the second time within three months that I was down with a nasty virus. My only consolation is that it seems that I'm the only one affected, the rest of the family are fine. It is so cold for us here, for a family like us who spent all our life in a tropical country, we find the extended drop of temperature too much for our body. Our house is not equipped with any heating system, the water is icy cold, so we have to heat the water to bathe. We have to move from places of ministry on a motorcycle and the speeding wind is just too much.

I started losing my voice during the Christmas eve morning worship while leading the worship. In the evening, I lose it altogether. On Christmas day, my family spent the holidays visiting friends while I stayed in bed with a terrible headache and a bad cough. My children teased me because my cough sounds so funny for them. It is almost a week and I haven't totally recovered my voice. But I'm a lot better now and getting ready for Sunday.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to you all!

It is 24 minutes after 12 midnight here. We just finished our Noche Buena and preparing to go to bed. We have been very busy with many Christmas programs for and with many ministries that we have been involved in. Tomorrow we will be enjoying a good break, sleep as long as we want and visit our new friends whom we have been neglecting for some time. I'll be off from posting for days. We'll be spending our time visiting our non-Christian friends to share with them the real meaning of Christmas. This day is Christ's birthday and we should glorify Him more than anything else.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas in Thailand

We may protest against the commercialization of Christmas, however, what is ironic is it is through this that Christmas has become a “universal” celebration. Even a non-Christian country like Thailand celebrates Christmas. A young Thai blogger tells of his experiences about Christmas.
This time of year every department store and shopping mall will be celebrating Christmas all day by playing Christmas songs and having people dress up as Santa Claus. Also when you go out, if you look around you will see Christmas trees and other decorations everywhere you go. You can see Christmas trees alongside the road or even outside the toilet!

Some foreigners might think that Thailand is a Christian country when they see all the Christmas decorations, but really we are not. Ninety-five percent of Thai people are Buddhist and Buddhism is our country’s religion. But in Thailand, there is a small percent of people who are Christian and Muslim. Even though most of us are Buddhist we celebrate Christmas day because Thai people like to have fun and we are open and friendly towards other religions.
Commercialization of Christmas is not all that bad. Here is a good perspective about the many goods that come out of consumerism on Christmas season. Even our country benefits a lot with this. Remittances from Overseas workers flood our country during the holiday season and this commercialization is responsible for it.

Here in Mae Sai, it is very cold. It is the first time in my whole life that I wear ski mask and gloves. The children sleep with us in the room hoping that our collective body heat might warm the room a little bit. We spend a lot of time outdoor, this explains why I haven’t update this blog for a while. We are busy explaining to the people that Christmas is all about Christ.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Buddhist Christmas?

In some parts of the world, Christians are enraged by the secular world and other religions' attempt to put away Christ from Christmas. I was castigated by my Christian friends for greeting them Merry Xmas and told me I was in cohort with people trying to get rid of Christ in celebration of this coming holiday. Even my effort to explain that it is not an English word X but a Greek word "chi" didn't help either instead I was considered to be pretentious.

But anyway here in our community, our Buddhist neighbors are just too happy to celebrate it or at least join us in our celebration. They do not have ideas why we Christians celebrate this day but we are taking this as an opportunity to tell them the reason why we celebrate Christmas--this is the story of Christ's birth when God became man to be with us.

I find this article and this is quite good to think about. Christians in their effort to "keep" Christ in Christmas have the opposite effects on non-Christians.

Other non-Christian religions can get a bit uptight about Christmas, but Buddhism is fairly laid back. A few years ago the city of Birmingham renamed Christmas to 'Winterval' as a result of protests by non-Christian faith communities, but as far as I'm aware it wasn't the Buddhists who were complaining. Since then, similar examples of political correctness have become commonplace. Fortunately, there don't seem to be many cases of Buddhists using the 'sensitive person's veto'.

Of course, there are aspects of Christmas which a Buddhist might have reservations about - rampant consumerism and so on, but these are the same excesses that are often denounced by Christians who complain that in recent years the spiritual aspects of Christmas have been replaced by a credit card orgy.

But in general Buddhists are quite happy with Christmas and have no hangups about hanging up Christmas decorations and enlightening Christmas trees.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Theological experiment in Asia

Missionaries often complain of seemingly open hostility of the dominant religion to Christianity. But as I observe, Christians, missionaries in particular are often more hostile to other religions. We are taught to "curse" and rebuke their temples, activities and festivals. We pray that God would destroy these elements and consider them as the work of the enemies. Here are some of my thoughts: Isn't it that we are more hostile to them than them to us? Can we tell our Jesus' stories to them when they are telling us theirs we are secretly condemning them? Can we share to them the Bible when the truth is we consider their holy writ as harmful to our physical and spiritual life? I found this essay from C.S. Song very helpful entitled Christian Theology: Towards an Asian Reconstruction this calls us to really look at our theological attitudes toward religions.

What this age of ours has taught us is that we must, and we can, practice our own faith and reflect about it in the spirit of charity and respect towards people of other faiths, knowing that each and every religion, including our own, carries records that make us both proud and shameful. We are aware, much more deeply now that never before, that for the survival of our Mother earth mercilessly plundered by us human beings, for the peace of the world torn with division and bigotry, for love and justice to prevail in human community, and for worship of God to bring shalom to ourselves and to the community around us, we must learn to be repentant, each one of us acknowledging we have fallen short of God's glory, But repentance alone is not enough. We must translate our repentance into action. We must inspire each other, correct each other, and together bear the responsibility of striving towards the world of hope and future.

One thing is certain: the world cannot afford a fanatical faith that treats people of other faiths as enemies to be won over to one's fold or to be eradicated from the face of the earth. There should be no room either for a sectarian theology, be it Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Christian, a theology that takes its own experience and tradition for nothing less than the very oracles of God. This does not mean that we must go for a "universal" theology. Theology of whatever brand has to be particular in orientation and specific in context. But if we believe in the God of creation, is it not possible from time to time for people of different faiths to meet that God at the cross-sections of our journeys of faith and theology?The Christian theology that engages us in Asia must have must have room, yes, plenty of room, for people of different walks of life and of diverse religious traditions and cultural backgrounds. Its stage is the world of Asia - the world blessed with immense human and natural resources and tormented by endless natural disasters and human tragedies. To make sense of this world with all its good and evil, hopes and despairs, joys and anguishes, as an Asian Christian is the main theological task of the Christian church in Asia.

Let us face it, The dream of "christendom" has, the demise of Western colonial domination of the Third World, vanished. The Christian church alone cannot deal with the mounting problems that threaten to tear apart the moral fabric of human community. As Christians we have to learn to work together with people of other faiths to be a spiritual force that creates a mew vision for humanity. This is a theological experiment with both promises and challenges. Asia with its diverse cultures and religions offers a most experiment with both promises and experiment. I hope our theological experiment in Asia in the coming century will be a modest contribution to the human search for the meaning of life and eternity in the world of transition and temporality.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Church's responsibility for proclamation

"...the Church cannot have two Lords. In America, for instance, is the Church free to preach the Lord, or must it also preach the 'American way of life?' There can be only one standard for the Church. Better silence than to preach strange gods! A 'Baal' Church is a greater offence to God than no Church at all. The church that has no prophetic function is no Church."
Karl Barth's Table Talk, pp. 24-25

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Many faces of oppression

The oppression of human beings by other human beings has many different faces. It can take the form of political oppression, economic exploitation, social exclusion, cultural estrangement and sexist humiliation. It takes other forms too. But it is ways a crime against life. For human life is life in community and communication. Life means 'loving your neighbour as yourself', not 'subdue him and make him submissive'. To oppress other people means to cut oneself off from God too, for if a man does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen' (1 John 4.20)

Oppression always has two sides. On the one side stands the master, on the other side lies the slave. On the one side is the arrogant self-elevation of the exploiter, on the other side is the suffering of his victim. Oppression destroys humanity on both sides. The oppressors acts inhumanely, the victim dehumanized. The evil the perpetrator commits robs him of his humanity, the suffering he inflicts dehumanizes the victim. Where suffering is experienced in the pain of humiliation on the one hand, evil spreads on the other.

Jurgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology, p185

Whenever my mind starts to wander reading Moltmann, he would say something that would glue back my eyes on the pages. It is because he would say something that so real and concrete. As if he is describing something familiar, something that happens around me.And here Moltmann vividly contrasts the difference on the quality of life of the rich and the poor, oppressors and the oppressed and both of them need liberation.One from suffering and the other from the evil they commit.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blog notes

Over at my favorite blog again Faith and Theology. Ben just concluded his Theology for Beginners series. This is an excellent series that will guide you on your way in and help you get out in a maze we call "theology."

And if you are like me, who live in a place where theological books are virtually non-existent and want to know some good books. I highly recommend the book reviews of Richard and Ben.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christianity without Christ

I agree with Dr. Jim's posts about De-Christianization of Christianity. He mentions some of the obvious signs that Christ has been removed from Christianity. This is true not only in the context of the 21st century America, this is also true to the mega churches in Manila. Christians worship in theaters, malls in fact some mall owners try to stopped some churches to hold their services at the malls. I guess it is because there are too just too many of them there and they have to stopped the trend. As a consequence, the mall-going Christians end up to have the same moral and ethical standards as the non-believers mall-goers.

Indeed, when social actions are used to win people to the church, you can't expect people to have authentic faith. Social actions are not bad in themselves. But when churches do social actions to promote itself and exalt their charismatic leaders, it makes you wonder about their sincerity. When churches becoming more and more like big companies located in commercial area and their leaders are identified as successful corporate leaders, one can't help but think, is this the kind of Church that our Lord Jesus Christ envisioned it to be? (It breaks my heart to see the material excesses of the megachurches while thousand of churches in the provinces are literally living in poverty.)

I'm currently reading Moltmann's Experiences in Theology right now and just read this appropriate quote:

But then true Christianity, which calls the world what it is in the light of the crucified Jesus, will become a resistance movement and will not, at least outwardly, fall into line and will inwardly remain independent. A Christianity which is completely 'in line' with the state of world and the rule of the 'other lords' is a Christianity without remembrance of 'Christ crucified', and is therefore a Christianity without Christ.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Blog note

My favorite blog Faith and Theology has been nominated for “2006 Weblog Awards.” Check out for yourself and find out how good Ben is and his theology blog. If you think he's cool... cast your vote!

Had a busy week

Our hands were full for the whole week. Most of our activities entailed me to work away from my computer and if I actually found the time to sit and type something, I just didn’t have enough energy to do it. My wife, me and some of our friends organized a health awareness seminar for the poor migrant workers from Myanmar. We hope that in our own small ways we are able to help them to live a better and healthier life. We also share with them the gospel, praying that they live their lives abundantly both physical and spiritual. Our day care ministry held our Christmas party there and our children presented special song numbers for the migrants. They enjoyed their time in the seminar and we prayed that somehow our efforts had helped them. Tomorrow is Sunday and I’ll be preaching.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Theology beyond context

Every theology, however conditioned it may be by its context, kairos and culture, says something about God and is important to all who believe in God. Every Christian theology, however conditioned it is by context, kairos and culture, follows and interprets the text of biblical writings. So it is important for everyone who exists within the orbit where the Bible is interpreted, wherever they live, whenever they live, and whoever they may be. For it is the text which determines what for it is in the context. Otherwise the word context would have no meaning. So there is a communio theologorum, a community of theologians, which spans time, space, cultures and classes, which is engaged in dispute, dialogue, and occasionally also interacts in mutual influence and enrichment. This is not abstract perennial theology of which we spoke. It is a concrete theologia viaoturm, a theology of those on the way, who are differing estrangements of this world and this history are searching for the one coming truth will one day illumine everyone.

Jurgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology, pp60-61.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sweet December

We always boast about how we celebrate Christmas in the Philippines. When the air feels cooler and the month ends in “er”, the festive Christmas mood starts creeping into our system. It takes control of our hearts and mind. We look forward in anticipation of the coming holidays visiting friends and families, giving of gifts to godsons and goddaughters, family reunions among others that extends until January 6 which is supposedly the day the “three kings” paid their visit to the infant Jesus.

But I believe Myanmar Christians celebrate Christmas in a more meaningful way. My family and I were surprised to receive an invitation to come to the church last night. We did not know what was the activity but we came anyway. A handful of Burmese Christians were singing Christmas carols and enjoying the fellowship and the quiet enjoyment of informal talks accompanied by laughters in spite of cold breezy wind. In the kitchen, the ladies were cooking something. We really didn't know what was going on and there was nothing special going on and we thought of going home because the night was becoming late and we wanted to get some sleep. But when 12 midnight came, the Pastor stood up and gather us and led us in a solemn moment of worship and prayers.

We learned after the worship, that today Myanmar Christians is celebrating “Sweet December.” Friends and families gather together, eat together and worship and pray together until the morning comes. It's like a Christmas Eve (noche buena in the Philippines) but not quite I guess there are still more to come.

“Sweet December”

Van Biak Thang
Chinland Guardian

(I) Before

In the clear sky blink the stars
And bright is the moon up afar
Quiet is the night in cold zephyr
With only there the dancing crickets

Up the hilltop gather people
Wrapped up in shared blankets
Still their lips shiver as they warble
With the guitar and the cymbal

Those in the house by the fire
Busy as bees making plain teas
And sorting out chaang by each member
Before down wafts the pastor’s sweet voice

Once the Police Bell strikes tinkling
Each and all sings and prays in greeting
Traces of smiles and joys on all faces
Then, comes “Sweet December” wishes

(II) After

The night is quiet and the sky still clear
The moon is bright and the wind still cold
Why no crickets seen in the dancing floor
And the stars stop twinkling, though not old.

Yet there live people on the mountain
But no guitars are meant to entertain
And their lips and limbs shiver in fear
Cos a shared blanket can’t the cold bear

No lights and fire in the quiet house
Busy as a bee is only the preying mouse
And “Where are the chaang?” children whisper
As they snuggle and ease their hunger

Once the Police Bell strikes tinkling
Family in tears and fear sobbing
As each one recalls and prays for those away
Then, the marching sound comes on its way

(Chaang, one of Chin traditional food, is a kind of sticky rice wrapped up in banana leaves)

Durian: the super typhoon

Philippines was visited by two super typhoons within two months and Durian is fourth within three months. This time, the death toll so far is 146 people. The country experiences, more or less 20 typhoons each year. Basing on the number of typhoons the country experienced each year, you would guess that the country is well- prepared to keep its people safe through the predictable ravage of super typhoons. Unfortunately, the government and the people themselves seem to never learn their lessons. The poor people living besides the mountain, river, and mining in their shanties are almost always the casualties. Usually they would be buried over by mudslide or swift by flash floods caused by illegal logging and mining. Since yesterday we had been praying that their lives would be spare this time.

Images are from Reuter's Alertnet