Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Moltmann on purgatory

The real basis for the doctrine of purgatory is neither scripture nor tradition, but the 'church's practice of prayer and penance'. Since the beginning--so argument runs--there have been in the church prayers for the dead, good works, almsgiving, personal penitential practices, and the acquisition of indulgences, vicariously applicable to the dead, which free them from punishments for sin. The Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Certain Questions of Eschatology (17 May 1979) puts it event more clearly: 'The church rejects all ways of thinking and speaking through which its prayers, the burial rites and the cult of the dead would lose their meaning and become incomprehensible: for all this is in substance a locus theologicus.' But that means in plai term that theology is there in order to justify the existing practice of the church. Once this method is followed, there is no possible way of examining particular ecclesiastical and devotional practices for their conformity to scripture and gospel.

Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, 99.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A glimpse... whatever

Narlin will go home to the Philippines for three weeks. She will attend the Philippine Women Missionary Union (PWMU) Triennial Meeting. I was hoping all of us could go but the airfare for five persons costs too much. This means I will stay alone with the children for three weeks. I cannot imagine life with out her. She does many things for the children and me. I will have a tough time filling her shoes.

For this reason, I am writing brochures promoting our ministries to the churches here back home. Hoping that what we are doing here can stir up enough attention for women to get involved in missions. I will also try to create a video presentation. Our prayer is that we can mobilize churches to support missions. My hands are full within the weeks.

We also have to spend time finishing up checking our children’s homes schooling tests. Narlin will bring these answered exam sheets to the School of Tomorrow. She will pick up the books we ordered online at the main school in Paranaque. The total cost for the workbooks is huge. Nonetheless, I am confident that God will provide.

I do not have the time to write (dissertation) anything this week. Writing is a bit tricky on me. If I decided to work on my dissertation, I can do it continuously if I there are no interruptions and distractions. Nonetheless, I really have not stop reading. I take a book with me wherever I go and my clipboard and take notes when I find something that I think would be useful for my research. I can read while when I paused to wait on the children when I am taking them home. I can read while driving and while sleeping (haha!) Ideas are forming in the back of my head, hoping that when I sit down to write my ideas will just flow out from my brain to my hands.

I am also trying to make the laptop usable again. I start saving money for the hard drive. Perhaps a few months from now I can buy it. I asked around how much it will cost us to replace the cracked LCD. If the shop will do it, it costs a lot and it is not practical to have it repaired. However, when I look at ebay at the prices of the LCD for Toshiba A75 Satellite, it is cheaper (though still expensive for me). It costs U$150. I have to work on having a credit card or paypal account so I can do purchase online. I can do the repair myself and perhaps I can again use the laptop for another five years.

When Megan learned about what happened to my laptop she generously gave us hers so that she and Narlin can continuously communicate about the ministry of Grace Home when she is gon. The only glitch is that the LCD is not working as well. However, when I look closely I can see blunt images on the screen. Therefore, I know that either the inverter or the back light has gone bad. Nevertheless we can use the laptop fine with an external CRT. I think it would be great if I can make the LCD works. I checked over at ebay and found out that the inverter cost U$18. It is affordable enough. However, I do not know if they are shipping to Thailand.

Within two months, we will be moving to another house. We love our present house. It is the most comfortable house that we ever had as a family. We live in an unfinished house almost all our lives together. Our present house is God's provision for us when we come here in Thailand. Most houses for rent here are bare, not a furniture. This house comes with beds, bedsheets, pillows, closet, everything that a nomad family would need is here.
So it is with a heavy heart we are leaving this house. We need to move on to another house. This house will be used for children home and hostel. The need for this kind of ministry here is just too immense for us to ignore. Pray for us.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rambo in Burma

The most talked about Hollywood movie here right now is Rambo 4. Our Burmese friends love it so much. And they were amazed to know that Stallone speaks Burmese. Our co-worker wants us to watch the movie so badly that he rented a CD copy for us. When I slid the CD into the player and watched, I began to wonder how they were able to manage watching the movie much more finish it.

The opening scene is a clipping from an unknown journalist and I assumed that because it is a clipping, the picture would naturally be blurred and the sound incomprehensible. I thought the movie would become better as it went on. But to my disappointment, it got worst. The rented CD was filmed inside a movie house with a handy cam. I refused to watch it further because it was giving me a terrible migraine.

If my understanding is right, the movie is ban in Burma. But we are living in the border with thousands of Burmese migrant workers. The movie actually made them happy and jokingly told us that Rambo is the only solution to the relentless political problem in Burma.

In spite of Hollywood distortions there are grains of truth we can learn from the movie. For example, the continuous war and genocide of the Burmese junta against the Karen tribes is true. So are the missionaries who are risking their lives to help the internally displaced people.And of course, the tyrannies of the military agains the tribal people who oppose the government.

At Irrawaddy, the Burmese online news magazine, James Rose, an Australia-based media and policy advisor currently assisting various Burmese pro-democracy groups in Asia and the US, write in the opinion section about it.

The high levels of excitement over an aging Hollywood star, hacking and mumbling his way through Burma, may be odd to some, but it attests to the power of American cultural hegemony. This is a reality that even diehard anti-American hotheads must accept.

So, given the news spreading globally over the lavish red carpet openings and the musings of Rambo’s hulking front man, Burmese activists are given an opportunity to focus that spotlight so blurrily cast by Rambo.

Doing so is no easy task. The reasons are both generic and specific to Burma’s current media profile.

First, the generic problems.

Rambo is, of course, a product of the Hollywood entertainment machine. That word “entertainment” should not be forgotten. Most of those in the West who may turn out to view Rambo’s blood-spattered Burmese Days will be entering a sort of “switch-off-and-escape” mindset that makes movie-going such a popular phenomenon the world over.

Few would approach the Rambo experience as an opportunity to really learn much about Burma. Sly Stallone is not noted for his documentaries. Whatever is learnt will be of little real value, other than perhaps making people similarly seek the kind of cartoonish vengeance characteristic of the Rambo franchise.

As such, for the all the arguments that Rambo in Burma shows it how it is and depicts the savage reality of life under a heinous regime, such messages will be largely lost to the largely switched-off viewers and wasted on the smattering of earnest movie-goers eager to “feel” Burma’s tragedy.

Another angle on the generic shortfalls of a pro-Rambo media strategy is that this movie, like any other out of Hollywood, is about making money. More the point, it’s about making a small minority of rich people richer.

The extent to which this dynamic aids the cause of a free Burma is questionable. As soon as a cause is identified as “commercial” as appears to be the case with Burma, it tends to lose its shape and those who may have previously been able to influence the strategic culture will be marginalized as new profit-oriented methodologies are introduced.

Now to the specific problems related to Burma media strategies and Rambo.
The nature of the Burma demonstrations, to date via the world’s media, has been one of peaceful protest. The cry of metta (“loving kindness”) sent out into the Burmese air by the marching monks has become the banner under which the world has tended to view the current situation in Burma.

As such, introducing a snarling, blood-soaked, murderous Rambo into the media landscape and you have a classical case of what is known, in media terms, as a “mixed message”. The combination of two such diametrically opposed approaches to dealing with Burma’s dire circumstances tangles the whole Burma issue and removes some of the pillars of the bridge of clear communication to the world.

“Is Burma about peaceful change or is it about civil war?” once media consumers begin asking such questions, the answer is already more or less unimportant. By now, many tracking Burma via the world’s media coverage have already expressed their confusion and have begun the fatal process of moving on.

Media consumers in advanced economies like their causes simple and clear-cut. Few are inclined to take the time to assess and analyze a given situation. They want clean lines of entry. Confusion is the death-knell for any campaign seeking to gain public attention and support.

The latest Rambo movie does indeed offer opportunities for Burma activists. But, it must be along the lines of providing clarity to Rambo’s murky and simplistic critique of contemporary Burma and must make clear where Rambo sits in the overall anti-military movement. Wherever that position may be, it should not be on top or all-encompassing. For media purposes, the Burma democracy movement must ensure that it is a case of Burma using Rambo, rather than Rambo using Burma.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Bible: not a textbook in theology

Jason pointed out a fascinating essay by Knud Jørgensen, the director of the Areopagos Foundation in Norway/Denmark and assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Theology. He is also a member of the Lausanne Theology Working Group. You can read the entire post here. For the meantime here is the interesting excerpts:

The New Testament narratives are the prime examples of this. The Bible was not intended to be a textbook in theology, but to be a casebook about mission—God’s mission and our mission. The Bible includes narratives about the God who acts to our salvation and therefore equips his people to be sent to the world. Theology is therefore meant to be “an accompanying manifestation of the Christian mission and not a luxury of the world-dominating Church.”

The Gospels are clearly written to witness about Jesus Christ to diverse target groups in the Greco-Roman world, and all the epistles have grown out of the pastoral needs of the new congregations in a mission situation. There was hardly time and space for the theological research of today. Rather, the scriptures of the New Testament came into being “in the context of an emergency situation, of a church which, because of its missionary encounter with the world, was forced to theologize.”

The biblical texts do not suit the unengaged theology of the enlightenment. For the same reason, the missiology of the Global South resonates most closely with the biblical texts. A major problem, however, is that it is most often the Western, unengaged theology that has been exported to the rest of the world as part of the missionary period from the end of the eighteenth century.

This theology has become largely speculative, and often irrelevant to the mission and pastoral concerns of the Church in the Global South and in the West. It represents a blind alley and should not be regarded as the norm of Christian theology. This implies that we, together with the younger churches in the Global South, must protest against this theology; it is inadequate as a model for an engaged theology. It is a blind alley also in light of the Christian understanding and tradition as we find it in scripture, in the early Church and in the Reformation.

Moreover, this is not limited to academic theology. I think this includes the way we read and interpret the Bible. We have the tendency to belittle the way local culture read and interpret the Scripture. Everything that does not conform the way we have been taught, we judged it as inadequate and wrong.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The pain of unity

It continues to pain my heart to see disunity among Christians. When Narlin and I went for a short mission trip three years ago, I attended a Baptist church in Nonthaburi. We met a couple who were worshipping and working in that church. They were also from the same place where we were living back home. We had a nice chat. Without thinking I asked what denomination they belong. I was mildly rebuked by the answer. They said that Christians should be in unity and in the mission field denominational identification is not important. Holding to your denominational distinctive are causing a lot of confusions to the people we are trying to reach. I agreed and was actually glad for the small lecture.

After two years, I learned that unity among missionaries just an illusion. An illusion we are trying to impress to the people from home who are coming for a short visit. The differences among Christians are just too many that unity is impossible. I thought that focusing on commonality (and there are lots of them) would help missionaries to work together. But the few differences are stronger than our commonalities. It seems to me that Christians have new issues to disagree with each day. New issues accumulate and the old issues escalate. In my opinion, however, the main cause of the division springs from differences in interpreting the Bible. As long as particular denomination or group thinks that theirs is the only right interpretation and all the others are wrong, the situation is hopeless.

I don’t mind Christians being divided because of denomination and doctrinal differences for example in a country like USA. It is inevitable and sometimes necessary. But in the mission field, this division is uncalled for. Why could a handful of Christians in a non-Christian country not see each other eye to eye? It is bad enough that missionaries couldn’t get along together but it is worse when local believers learned that some missionaries despise one another. One of them gave me unsolicited advice. “If you couldn’t agree, it is better for you to stop working together. But I don’t think you’ll not have a good testimony if you claim you are missionaries sent by God.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Jesus Christ desires unity among his disciples. It is clearly expressed in his own prayer to the Father just before his passion. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. I hope that there will come a day when I will see God’s answer to this prayer. This is a prayer that is addressed to the Father but Jesus wants his disciple to know and be acted upon.

I was contemplating about this when the following words jumped out of the Moltmann book I was reading—The Church in the Power of the Spirit.
The unity of the church is experienced first of all in the gathered congregation. The congregation is gathered through proclamation and calling. It gathers for the one baptism (Eph. 4.5; 1 Cor. 12.13) and for the common Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 12.13; 10.17). It lives in the spirit of mutual acceptance (Rom. 15.7) and maintains the unity of the Spirit through ‘the bond of peace’ (Eph. 4.3). In the church people of different social, religious and cultural origins become friends who ‘forbear one another in love’ (Eph. 4.3), do not judge one another, but stand up for each other, especially for the weak among them.

The unity of the congregation is a unity in freedom. It must not be confused with unanimity, let alone uniformity in perception, feeling or morals. No one must be regimented, or forced into conformity with conditions prevailing in the church. Everyone must be accepted with his gifts and tasks, his weaknesses and handicaps. This unity is an evangelical unity, not a legal one. The charismatic congregation gives everyone the room he needs to be free in his dealings with other people and to be at their disposal when they need him. Because it is Christ who gathers it and the Spirit of the new creation who gives it life, nothing that serves the kingdom of God and the freedom of man must be suppressed in it. It is a unity in diversity and freedom.

But the congregation’s unity is also freedom and diversity in unity. Where old enmities flare up again in it, where people insist on getting their own way and want to make their perceptions or experiences a law for other people, not only is the fellowship between people threatened, but so (in a deeper sense) is the fellowship with God himself. Through claims to domination and divisions of this kind Christ himself is divided (I. Cor. 1.1 3). Anyone who uses freedom in order to destroy freedom is not acting in accordance with that freedom. Freedom can be destroyed through the mania for uniformity, just as it can be killed by ruthless pluralism. In both these dangers, the important thing for the committed congregation is to return to the foundation of its unity in diversity, and to experience the open fellowship of Christ in his supper. For the committed congregation is his people and it is only in his Spirit that unity and diversity can be so intertwined that they do not destroy one another.

Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 342-43.