Why We Need Compassion

This is an incredibly brave speech by Monica Lewinsky. In her vulnerability, there is a quiet strength that comes through. It’s a timely message. We need to put compassion back into our culture, to teach it to our young, to click it back into the internet. Every click is a choice, a choice which will determine who we become in the end. ~ Ivy

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Highlights from the talk:

Public humiliation has become a commodity

The invasion of others is a raw material efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit. A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame an industry. How is the money made? Clicks. The more shame, the more clicks. The more clicks, the more advertising dollars.

Making money off the back of someone else’s suffering

The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it, and the more numb we get. the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off the back of someone else’s suffering. With every click we make a choice.

A virtual public stockade that has no perimeters

Cruelty to others in nothing new, but online, technologically enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible. The echo of embarrassment used to extend only as far as your family, village, school or community, but now it’s the online community too.

Millions of people, often anonymously, can stab you with their words, and that’s a lot of pain, and there are no perimeters around how many people can publicly observe you and put you in a public stockade.

Stop this culture of humiliation

Gossip websites, paparazzi, reality programming, politics, news outlets and sometimes hackers all traffic in shame. It’s led to desensitisation and a permissive environment online which lends itself to trolling, invasion of privacy, and cyberbullying. This shift has created what Professor Nicolaus calls a culture of humiliation.

Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop and it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture.

Let’s take responsibility for what words can do

We need to return to a long-held value of compassion – compassion and empathy. Even empathy from one person can make a difference. The theory of minority influence, proposed by social psychologist Serge Moscovici, says that even in small numbers, when there’s consistency over time, change can happen. In the online world, we can foster minority influence by becoming upstanders. To become an up stander means instead of bystander apathy, we can post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation.

We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression.

The Making of an Idiot Culture

Do you agree?

“We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.” – Carl Bernstein -1992

Let me know…

Making Judgment Matter

 

Picture via True Activist
Picture via True Activist

Does Judgment Matter?

Food is a topic that interests everyone.

Lately the trend has been towards an awareness of what is good and bad in our food choices. Good as that is, however, many of us don’t realize that we are also part of an invisible economic system that is literally killing people in the millions around the world through its agriculture and food production methods. That we do not even question the status quo but accept it as an acceptable and normal part of life should be food for thought.

A Leader’s Most Important Role is Making Good Judgments

Learning to make the right food choices involves making judgments. The ability to make good judgments should not be limited to food but for all things in life.

We are by and large an uneducated lot. Most of us are much like sheep pushed around by what the big corporations decide and instructed by the corporatized media. This is what Carl Bernstein called in article he wrote entitled “The Dumbing Down of America.” Bernstein was one of the two journalists who broke the Watergate scandal and brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Learning to make good judgments should be something we’re conscious of yet it is something seldom discussed. In fact this was the findings of two professors who researched into the phenomenon of leadership judgment. They found that most people had murky notions about it or thought of it simply as an event. They discovered that “good leadership judgment occurs not in a single moment but throughout a process,” and that the quality of the judgments we make have impacts not only on our lives but also others. 

Our ability to make the right calls has an obvious impact on the quality of our own lives; for leaders, the significance and consequences of judgment calls are magnified exponentially, because they influence the lives and livelihoods of others.

A leader’s most important role in any organization is making good judgments,” well-informed, wise decisions that produce the desired outcomes. When a leader shows consistently good judgment, little else matters. When he or she shows poor judgment, nothing else matters. (Making Judgment Calls by Noel M. Tichy and Warren G. Bennis, Harvard Business Review, October 2007)

Judgment Grows Out of a Process

Their researched also showed that most important judgment calls reside in one of three domains: people, strategy, and crisis. Their findings are summarized as follows:

  1. People judgments—getting the right people on your team and developing up-and-comers who themselves demonstrate good judgment—are foundational. The people around you help you make good strategy judgment calls and the best decisions during the occasional but inevitable crisis.
  2. Judgment doesn’t occur in a single moment but grows out of a process. First is preparation, during which leaders sense and frame the issue that will demand a judgment call, and align their team members so that everyone understands why the call is important. Second is the call itself—the moment of decision. And third is execution—making it happen while learning and adjusting along the way. Good leaders take advantage of “redo loops,” which can occur throughout the process. If you recognize judgment as a process, you have a chance to go back and correct the framing before you move on to the call, greatly improving the odds of success.

This research was done in context of large, complex multi-dimensional businesses running for the bottom-line. The biggest takeaway is that judgment grows out of a process. This means time, effort and growth. If businesses can run aground purely because of poor judgment by its business leaders, what about the greater enterprise of life that Christians have been called to undertake? It is any less onerous for us?

Learning to Make His Judgments

For those who desire to seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness, it means learning to make His judgments. The measure of such judgment is not man’s wisdom of success but guided by what is good or evil. The Word of God is the source code. This requires great wisdom and understanding. It also requires time as learning judgment is a process-led activity.

Quite unfortunately, many modern Christians have perhaps subconsciously outsourced the Bible to “specialists” instead of digging into God’s Word themselves. We live from Sunday sermon to Sunday sermon but life is much more complex than what Sunday sermonettes can deal with. And Christians should be encouraged to ask questions about the world around them in deeper ways than as a mere spectator, much like a couch potato watching the news on TV. For example, if we were to learn how to make judgments in the context of  food, what would our considerations be like? Perhaps some of the questions would be:

  • Why is so much food being made in a plant (factory)? What is driving that?
  • Consider the percentage of food grown on a plant to food made in a plant today, what does that percentage look like?
  • Why are foods still being made in a plant in the way it is when it is a proven fact that it is bad?
  • What does that say about corporations that continue to mass produce food in a plant when they know it is bad?
  • And lastly, why are Christians not asking these type of questions?

Jesus said that God’s people are in a condition where we are pretty much like the blind leading the blind. We have been called to be a people of truth. We must learn how to divide between good and evil so that our judgments of things will lead to right decisions. By right meaning bringing no harm to our neighbours and restoring life where there has been destruction.

If we are as blind as the world, like salt that has lost its saltiness, what use are we then to a world grappling for real solutions amidst great challenges?

The God-given light to man’s path in the world is His word. God’s word is likened to salt. His servants are the ones to translate the Word of God into a usable form that can bless the world. God’s Word (the Torah) provides us the blocks required for making good judgments. We have to dig deep in, like miners mining for gold and silver, like those searching for precious stones. The deeper one digs, the more precious the things that are unearthed. His desire is that man shall have life that satisfies – body, soul and spirit.

Do you agree that we do not have enough understanding of what making judgment is all about and and how it impacts our lives?   Do you have  a story to share on this ? I would be very interested to know what you think.

Let me know…

When Theology meets Anthrolopogy

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“Theology has become anthropology since God became man…” Karl Barth.

The questions confronting the world today, in the realm of politics, economics and culture, are in essence questions that boil down to what it means to be human, what we understand by “human life,” and “person.”

Such issues have to be addressed head on, unapologetically. “Revealed truth cannot be abstracted from reconciling truth” (Ray Anderson) otherwise what we proclaim to be our faith are just statements in the wind, not the foundation from which the “fountain of life” springs forth. A living God and a living faith must necessarily bring solutions to a weary world mired in wars, injustice and economic distress as the gap of inequality grows between nations and even within the ‘rich” nations.

If we take the humanity of Christ seriously then we have to take all aspects of man’s humanity seriously, across the whole societal spectrum and dimensions which make up what we call life.

At the end of the day, we must seek an understanding of God and the way written in the Bible whereby Man may find true liberation – a liberation to be truly human.

Thoughts inspired by an old book I read  On Being Human:Essays in Theological Anthropology (Anderson, Ray S. MI: Eerdsmans, 1982)

Enterprise & the Creative Process – Learning from Art

Source: http://www.chinaonlinemuseum.com/painting-wu-guanzhong-plateau.php

NOT TOO LONG THE SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM (SAM) presented An Unbroken Line: The Wu Guanzhong Donation Collection (April 9-August 16, 2009)  which showcased 114 works by one of China’s most respected artist, representing five decades of his creative oeuvre.  I had expected to see traditional Chinese ink landscape paintings from a Master but what struck me instead was a man unafraid of life and totally open to its expression, liberal yet respectful. Thus in the midst of steep Chinese tradition was that splash of colour – amazing – how did he do that? It was here that I saw a man of vision and understanding, Not only was he an artist in the truest sense of the word but also a bold thinker who expressed his deep views of life, art and creativity through essays.

Wu Guan Zhong saw Singapore as a unique place “…positioned between the east and the west with regards to ethics and quality of life; it is close to China, as it is close to the west; the virtues of both sides are concentrated in you.” It was in Singapore that he made a generous donation of 113 works to SAM.  His life was one devoted to the development of culture, arts and education. His is the highest valued donation presented to a public museum in Singapore. During the exhibition as I walked through his pictures and words, his thoughts on “Synthesis of Oil and Ink Practices”, particularly struck me. It said:

“[…] Oil and ink painting are like the two blades of a pair of scissors cutting out a new outfit. The two blades may not necessarily be of the same length, and the ways of using the scissors, exerting different strengths, for example, may also differ from time to time. Hence, when I feel that I have come to a deadlock in oil painting, I will choose to paint in ink. However, I will revert to oil when I feel that my dabbling in ink has come to a deadlock.”

Wu guanzhong 吳冠中 (1919-2010) Yixing, Jiangsu, China

Synthesis in the Creative Process – How We Can Learn to Work Together

Evident in Wu’s work is an innate tension that exist between different elements, for example, the art forms of oil and ink, Chinese and Western traditions, historical and contemporary expressions, notions of the individual and community etc.

However instead of chaos, these diverse elements are synthesized and become part of the creative force which he uses to build a work that becomes uplifting and beautiful. Wu is able to cross over areas and make connections that would have been daunting for most, and he does this in bold strokes which reflects strength of vision and faith. I made a note of the above quote from the exhibition because of the masterful insightfulness in which the creative process and its elements are explained.

In the above quote, Wu has provided a beautiful analogy of how different elements could and should work together to produce new realities. Art is a medium that expresses the spiritual through movement of lines and colours. Different mediums are necessary to express different thing, however, even then, there are limitations to each art form.

Wu’s insight is that new realities can be forged into existence when different elements, though limited in themselves, come together in an interplay of different strengths working to create an effect that each by itself, would have been incapable of achieving.

In the realm of ideas, this also holds true. No two persons think alike in form, style and structure but when they are able to come together, like two blades of a pair of scissors, they have a power to cut through old thinking and realities.

Cutting through Creative Impasse

From my personal experience, I have found that when a certain thought or idea comes to a deadlock, often it takes another person with a different view coming alongside with his “blade of thought” which makes the difference in cutting through a conceptual impasse. Two blades of thoughts in dynamic interplay much like blades of a pair of scissors, have the power to cut out new realities, that a person by himself, may never be able to do.

I’d like to think that Wu’s insight on the creative process explains well why working together is the best way to get to real solutions.  That is why the Kingdom of heaven that the Bible speaks of, and a reality that is to be established on earth, can only be “cut out” through the dynamics found in a body of different parts, yet moving in tandem, like blades of a pair of scissors. Each role, when it comes to a deadlock, finds a breakthrough through the thinking or action of another person. The beauty of this is that the “blades” need not be of the same length nor strength, just the will to work together in harmony for the same objective. Wonderful isn’t it?

To see more of Wu Guan Zhong’s works and that of other Chinese Masters, I’d recommend the website  chinaonlinemuseum

The Abrahamic Heart of Family

In my understanding of the Abrahamic model of family and household, the nations are part of family whom we are to be a blessing to, not peoples apart from ourselves, The Hebraic way of seeing and thinking about society is significantly different from the Hellenic.

The Abrahamic family model is best understood with a Hebraic pattern of thought, which is premised upon a heart of understanding. In the Family model, the prerequisite is a covenant God makes with His chosen servant to whom he appoints His mandate. The essence of that chosen servant is his heart.

In contrast, the Hellenistic view of community is based on the superior “reason” of the “guardians” and as Richard Niebuhr pointed out, the basic fallacy of Hellenistic thinking was to regard the rational faculty as the source of justice. They had the “the illusion that the rulers were the instruments of justice because they possessed a higher measure of mind.” This is in contrast to Solomonic wisdom which begins with the heart. “Wisdom resteth in the heart of him who hath understanding.” (Prov 14:33)

When God appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked what He could give him, Solomon asked for a heart of understanding to discern judgment for the people’s sake. “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad.” (1 Kings 3:9). God was so pleased it is recorded that He gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore (1 Kings 4:29).

The Hellenistic worldview tends to put the world, the self and God into a tidy little box called “reason” and explains everything from that perspective. It is a wisdom that descends not from above but is earthly, sensual and devilish (James 3:15). God’s wisdom is not in the words with which Hellenistic wisdom teaches but which the Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual ( I Cor 2:13).

“The Covenant of God with Israel is an article of faith.” A servant in covenant to His God acknowledges One higher than him and and hence the way of knowing and how he apprehends reality is completely different from one that is based on a Hellenic worldview. The Hebraic is predicated upon faith and not by sight.

Abrahamic vision is possible only because he saw by faith, which allowed God to put into such a man a “largeness of heart,” a heart without borders. Some people have spoken of a liquid church in the days to come, well, it certainly would have to have people with such ‘large hearts,” who can cross any borders, geographical, cultural or racial. The Abrahamic call is therefore one that is expansive and outward, beginning with a servant who leads in “washing the feet” of his ‘outer family,’ so that “all families of the earth’ may be blessed. We catch a glimpse of that servant heart in action from Genesis 19:2-4.

The understanding of the Abrahamic Family is Hebraic in heart and goes against our current understanding and knowledge of economics and politics which has been built from a rationalistic Hellenistic foundation. But can you imagine if this Abrahamic understanding is received by God’s people, the changes to economics and politics will be nothing less than tsunamic!

The reason why we have seen much oppression and injustice in the system of the world is because we have lost the Abrahamic heart of family. The “hearts of the fathers” have grown cold and they have forgotten their children. Because they have lost their “hearts,” the prerequisite for God’s wisdom, they do not have the “wisdom of the just” (Luke 1:17) to cut across cages that have bound the people, so that like prodigal sons, they may return to the Lord their God. The “wisdom of the just” in action is “the economics of philanthropy”which people can see and so open their eyes to the God they have forgotten.

God has brought us to recover a most fundamental truth of family, a truth that will help us to rebuild nations, raise up the former desolations and bring justice, righteousness and healing to them, the forgotten “sons of God” whom He loves and has commissioned us to be witnesses to.

We are coming into a fuller understanding of the call of Elijah and what it means in the light of the family.

“And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the LORD.”(Luke 1:17).

And in Malachi 4:6

“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the children to their fathers…”

It is indeed a hearty matter and that I suppose, in a nutshell, that is the essence of the Hebraic. Reality is first apprehended through a heart of understanding and then followed by a willing mind which finds its path of thought in His statutes, and His judgments and commandments.

“Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:37)

Zhuang Xueben – The Art of Life

Zhuang Xueben (1909-1984)

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Photo: http://www.fotocn.org/zhuangxueben/3127

I remember one afternoon walking around a plaza when I came across an exhibition showing black and white photos that piqued my interest. These were powerful close-up pictures of faces that drew the onlooker to take a second look. That was the first time I came across the Chinese photographer Zhuang Xueben. His pictures had a special quality of sensitivity and thoughtfulness about them. By now I was intrigued and noted down, from the exhibition, information about Zhuang and his photography. I’m sharing them here for those who are interested in photography and a little about Zhuang Xueben.

Zhuang Xueben

Sanctity and dignity – these are the descriptions often to describe the late Zhuang Xueben’s portraiture photographs.

His close-up pictures of members of various ethnic minority groups wield such power that the viewer is moved, if rather inexplicably at first, into pausing to contemplate the striking tranquility and beauty on the faces of these people. Almost invariably, his subjects look notably at ease and display the same serenity and elegance, regardless of their social status within the community.

Zhuang is able not only to close the distance between the subject and the photographer – two strangers, as it were – but also to draw out the personality of the people and to encourage them to communicate with the camera. This ability is testament to his long exposure to, and deep understanding of, the different ethnic groups, their individual traditions, and unique characteristics.

Ultimately, despite the fact that Zhuang’s pictures were said to have been more for the purpose of anthropological record, their artistic value and charm have transcended space and time to strike a chord in the modern viewer.

Zhuang Xueben’s portraits were unique in that the characteristics of the border tribes of that era were distinctly perceptible – by looking at these faces as presented, one senses the social conditions and prevailing attitudes of the 1930s. Perhaps the essence of that distant period may not be easily understood now, but the skill of the master photographer cannot be denied.

If you interested in photographers from China, there’s a link that features an interesting collection of their work http://www.fotocn.org/

Theology of Land

Land as inheritance
Excerpt from Joshua and the Promised Land, copyright © Roy H. May, Jr.

Yahweh commands Joshua to divide the land as an “inheritance” for Israel. Repeatedly in Joshua 13-19, the land given to the tribes is called “inheritance.” This is another clue for the Book of Joshua and the biblical theme of the land. Land is never just dirt. It is inheritance. Land carries social and spiritual meaning that goes beyond agricultural potential. For traditional farmers, land bonds them to family and God. This bonding imposes limitations and obligations regarding its use and distribution.

Inheritance is a theologically rich concept that guided Israel’s relationship to the land. The basic idea is that the land is Yahweh’s land. “The earth is the Lord’s,” the psalmist could sing (Ps. 24:1). “The land is mine,” says Yahweh (Lev. 25:23). Throughout Joshua 13-19, land is first and foremost an inheritance given to Israel by Yahweh. Land is Yahweh’s gift to be passed on from generation to generation.

The idea that God owns the land had not only theological significance but also real sociological meaning– land in ancient Israel was not conceived of as private property. It was a trust or “loan” administered by Israel on behalf of Yahweh. Land was the inheritance of the tribe. The tribe apportioned the land according to families. The plot or “portion” each family received was their participation in the tribal inheritance. Each family enjoyed lasting rights to use the land, but never as a commodity that could be bought and sold for private gain. Their portion was family property. They managed it on behalf of the entire tribe.

But this sociological significance was never separable from theological or spiritual meaning. For the ancient Hebrew, land as inheritance meant Yahweh’s presence and faithful fulfillment of God’s promise. Land was viewed as the historical manifestation of the covenant Yahweh had made with Israel’s ancestors. Land was the sign of salvation. Thus, in Psalms 16:5-6 and 142:5, “portion” is equated with total assurance of God’s presence, as we sing in the old hymn, “Thou my everlasting portion, More than friend or life to me…” (#407, The United Methodist Hymnal). For ancient Israel, that’s what land as inheritance meant.

So it was with ancient Israel. The Israelites couldn’t do with the land as they might choose. Land as inheritance required that it be used only in ways faithful to Yahweh. This meant social justice. Thus, the Old Testament laws relating to social justice are, to a great extent, laws about the land. The Deuteronomic* laws mentioned in the previous chapter say much about land use. The ancient traditions of Sabbath and Jubilee (Ex. 23: 10-11; Lev. 25; Deut. 15:1-18) are especially direct. These date from the origins of Israel.1 They required that crop land lie fallow during certain intervals. This sustained its capacity to grow crops. Family land that had been lost was to be returned to its original owners (Lev. 25). These laws also required that debts be pardoned (Deut. 15: 1-3) and that Hebrew slaves and bonded servants be set free. The law that part of the harvest be left for the poor (Deut. 24:19-22) is another example of social legislation regulating land use. Managing the land and social justice were united in ancient Israel. This unity is based on the idea of land as Yahweh’s inheritance.

Footnotes
1. Art Davidson, Endangered People (San Francisco:Sierra Club Books, 1993),p.38