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.

Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation

Design thinking

In the current business world, time given to think and explore is a luxury. Most smaller businesses are forced to be in survival mode, fighting to stay alive from day-to-day in a very competitive environment. Google, however, is known for its whiteboard culture, the envy of other companies. as part of its drive for innovation, its people are given time to draw things out with marker pens, and think.

In a way, Google’s example dovetails with what I had just read in the book “Design Thinking for Strategic Innovations” by Idris Mootee, which highlights the need for a new way of thinking in business.

Design thinking is about the ability to see and make meaningful connections of all the different dots in a very complex and fast moving world. This ability to make meaningful connections between different things is a powerful part of innovativeness. Some call this combinatorial creativity.

Interestingly, Idris points out that this is not about a way of thinking for just a few but for the company as a whole. “Hiring design thinkers is not enough; We need to create design thinking companies.”

Hence the challenge lies in the cultural dimension. Culture, however, doesn’t just happen, it has to be built intentionally. It requires time and a clear focus. It requires investment.

Why would an Internet search company invest so much into its culture? For Google, it is all about one thing: innovation. For Google, this investment has paid off. Google employees have delivered innovative ideas for the company including Gmail, AdSense and Google News.  -Amy Celep, Community Wealth Partners

 

Design Thinking Applied in the Field

In the last few years, our team has been working on a model for leadership training and community transformation which incorporates design thinking as the engine for innovation and development. Coupled with this is a Midrashic-type of communication system, which allows for our people to do just that.

Scholars have come to realize that Midrash as a form of interpretative expression is not limited to rabbinic exegesis of Scripture.

In his book The Midrashic Imagination – Jewish Exegesis, Thought and History, Michael Fishbane proposed that one of the most compelling and characteristic features of Jewish creativity is its “midrashic imagination.” The practice of Midrash is a powerful way in which creativity is unlocked but it requires a culture conducive to such activities and resources allocated for it. Midrash is the life-blood of innovation and discovery, especially in the field.

What we need now is just time. Time to test our hypothesis and work out an operational kingdom start-up venture so that we have a prototype to showcase.

In the field of agriculture we can clearly see how the adoption of different paradigms create huge impacts for either good or evil. We are familiar with industrial agriculture that has been highly destructive to the environment and people. In the industrial paradigm, the focus is on scale. In contrast, a paradigm based on design thinking, is focused on ecology. Applying design thinking to agriculture would involve the principles of permaculture to understand the interplay of all parts of creation. The outcome would be an abundance that reflects a symphony of life, not the monotone sound of a one-string broken guitar.

With design thinking, even microbes which the human eye can’t see, are considered and recognized for the role they play. And by taking care of even the microbes, we build up an ecology that is inherently sustainable and where every part makes their contribution. Man is task with the most significant role, that of understanding the design for life and overseeing creation.

Boman has this to say of the Hebrews:

Instead of trying to confine Him to limited human definitions and descriptions they focus their efforts on pursuing Him and the character and qualities that determine His makeup. The understanding of the world around them, including God, is to pursue life and God to the fullest, rather than spending time passively trying to define Him. In the pursuit comes the understanding and comes the relationship between the Divine and humanity.

We all have the opportunity to think and live in the way God intended for Man, but it requires humility to study and learn His thoughts on things. This is where God has given us one of the most precious things on earth to guide us, His Torah, the Prophets and Writings. And along with it, a Midrashic culture embedded with the power of Hebraic thought and logic to solve complex problems.

Idris Mootee’s book on Design Thinking has been a conceptual confirmation that we have the right framework and system for developing holistic and sustainable prototype enterprises that empower communities for good.

Leave me a comment, let me know if you found this information useful. Have you applied design thinking in your business or work? Do you have more information on the creative process, hebraic thinking or Midrash?

Let me know …

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Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 4.25.48 PMDesign Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School
By Idris Mootee, 2013, John Wiley & Sons

“Design thinking thinking powers strategic innovation.
It can be used to begin at the beginning of an idea or used to unlock hidden value in existing products, services, technologies, and assets – thereby reinvigorating a business without necessarily reinventing it. A disciplined process that can result in significant economic value creation, meaningful differentiation, and improved customer experience.

Design thinking is by nature unorthodox. But it also holds the core capabilities behind innovation.

We are all more connected than we know. Whether its’s business or any other systems-level organizational challenge, design thinking helps us appreciate and make sense of the complex connections between people, places, objects, events, and ideas. This is the most powerful driver of innovation. It’s what guides long-range strategic planning. It’s what shapes business decisions that have to be based on future opportunities rather than past events. It’s what sparks the imagination. And it’s what reveals true value. (p.14)

Hiring design thinkers is not enough; We need to create design thinking companies.
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Foreword (Excerpts)

Our world is increasingly complex and difficult to interpret. Multiple forces – technological, regulatory, competitive, and so on – act on a given context to shape the rules of what is possible and probable. Uncovering the most valuable opportunities is increasingly challenging for innovators, especially those using a traditional tool kit. New product development processes typically churn out incremental, me-too solutions when more substantial innovation is needed to capture competitive advantage.

Design thinking helps to anchor innovation on the fundamental drivers of user behaviour, their interactions with the surrounding ecosystem, their interactions with one another.

To embed design principles into an organisation to give it insight into valuable opportunities previously hidden from traditional ways of working.

It provides the framework that encourages a culture of learning and way of working that will enable collaboration, insight, and learning, the allocation of resources to the best opportunities, and ultimately the formation of a more consistent stream of value creation.

This mode of thinking and doing encourages a company culture:

  • Flexibility over conformity
  • Exploration of questions over answers
  • Critical thinking over key assumptions
  • Enablement of teams over organisation structures
  • A focus on doing over studying

This is a different set of capability that is at the core of a company’s growth engine and innovativeness.

Design must allow different factors to coexist in a complementary and symbiotic way.

  • Desirability (product form, user experience, design)
  • Feasibility
  • Economic viability (cost control, efficiency, profit)

Technology exponentially interconnects people, places, and objects in increasingly new ways. Understanding the nature of these interactions both at the physical and emotional level will be required to unlock the value of these complex relationships.

~Erik Roth, Partner at McKinsey, Leads McKinsey’s Global Innovation Practice

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Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams defined a mission statement as “a long, awkward sentence that demonstrates management’s inability to think properly.”

We need a new way, one that’s smart, human, cultural, social, and agile and that puts innovation at the core of every move it makes. That way could be design thinking.

Despite pouring millions of dollars into enterprise resource planning systems, however, we can only project three to six months into the future at best with any reasonable accuracy. Why? Because most business leaders are averse to chaos, are overly linear, and are disconnected from global ripples not directly related to the world of business.

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…

Burma Through the Eyes of Poets

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Eaindra reading her work at the Arts House, Singapore | Aug 13, 2013

When I think of Burma, I think of an almost mysterious country that seems to have been lost in time, punctuated occasionally by news of a military junta and its struggle with the iconic Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Yet there is another side to Burma that we do not realise, one that is invisible to us – the soul of its people, their stories, their words, where the literary culture is a precious part of their life.

Poetry has a powerful way of transcending lines.

Burma/Myanmar has been isolated from the rest of the world for over 50 years and is only now beginning to emerge from decades of strict military censorship. Poetry has always been the most popular form of literature in Burma, going back to the 9th century, and it has consistently been the most censored. Successive military regimes have managed to keep one of the most poetry-rich traditions something of a secret from the world, that is, until recently.

This event will reflect on just how inventive Burmese poetry has had to be over successive generations in order to thrive and what some of the challenges writers in Burma face today.

In a new era of post-censorship, the three key contemporary Burmese poets — all published in Bones Will Crow: 15 Burmese Poets (Arc Publications, 2012) — Zeyar Lynn, Moe Way and Eaindra, will be joined by James Byrne, poet and co-editor of Bones Will Crow — to launch the first anthology of modern Burmese poetry published outside of Burma — and to discuss issues relating to Burmese poetry, past and present, examining how areas such as political censorship and international translation have affected the country’s literary aesthetic over the years. – World Voices presents Burmese Poets, The Arts House, Singapore, August 13, 2013

The genesis of project started in 2006 when James Bryne realised that there was no access to what was being published in Burma, which has operated under a strict regime of military censorship. In that climate, poets had to be highly inventive to avoid censorship. For example, writers couldn’t use words like rose or mother as it alluded to Aung. In 2012, censorship was abolished.

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Zeyar Lynn
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Burmese poet and publisher, Moe Way

The event gave us a quick introduction to the world of Burmese poetry.  From the classical poetry tradition to the various writing movements that emerged under different sets of conditions in Burma.

In the 1930s, a new movement started called Testing the Times. In the 1950s, the New Writing movement emerged , which was very politicized and leftist. In the 1980s, the Modern Poetry movement, free verse, no structure, no rhyme. It was not considered as poetry by the traditional. Then there came new poetic styles like the Post Modern poetry, the Language Poetry movement and the Conceptual Poetry.

What was interesting to me is how the Burmese poets are defining their own genre and poetic movements.  Zeyar Lynn is considered to be the father of contemporary poetry. As poets who had to struggle for the words, words which we so often take for granted, they convey a special sense of mutual respect for each other as poets and writers.

Moe Way, who is both a poet and publisher, was born in 1969 in the Irrawady Delta. Fifteen years ago, Moe Way worked as a laborer in Malaysia. When he returned home, he saw a gap in the publishing world for modern Burmese poetry, so he started his own press. Circulation for poems is limited.  Famous poets can sell 1,000 books and not so famous ones, 500 books. After publishing 10 poetry books, his money ran out. He had to publish other types of books to supplement his income so that he can continue publishing poetry. Today, the younger generation of poets are coming to him. Expenses could be shared 50/50. He said he will never be able to survive on publishing poetry books but he will go on publishing it anyway.

Eaindra is the youngest poet that evening. Born in 1973 in the Irrawady Delta, she had her first work, As It Were For a Poem, published in 2012. She works as a quantity surveyor in Singapore and is very actively involved in the Aesthetic Life Foundation.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening to hear poetry read lovingly in the Burmese tongue and then hear its translation read with its special nuances captured by James Byrne.

Two Views of Charity

Two articles on the view of charity. The Jewish view and understanding of charity and what charity looks like today in an article by Peter Buffett, “The Charity-Industrial Complex” July 26, 2013, New York Times.

 

Tzedekah – Charity in the Jewish Tradition

“We are obligated to be more scrupulous in fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah [charity] than any other positive commandment, because tzedakah is the sign of the righteous person.” Thus wrote Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) in his Mishneh Torah.

In Hebrew tzedakah means both charity and righteousness. There cannot be one without the other. Yet this usage of the term only appears in the Talmud.

What, then, does the Torah say about charity? “If your brother sinks in poverty, then you shall strengthen him.” (Leviticus 25:35) “Do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy brother.” (Deuteronomy 15) “When you reap your harvest, do not pick the [fallen grapes] … or harvest the ends of your field. [These goods] must be left for the poor and the stranger.” (Leviticus 19).”When you lend money to the poor man among you, do not press him for repayment.” (Exodus 2)

Charity expresses a Jew’s duty to their fellow humans. Accordingly, lack of charity is a sin. Sodom was destroyed because of its people’s meanness, said the prophet Ezekiel. And Rabbi Joshua ben Korhah stated: “Anyone who shuts his eyes from the obligation of tzedakah is like one who worships idols.”

Jews may not judge others as inferior just because they are poor. Judaism holds that all earthly possessions belong to God. So a Jew’s worth is measured in mitzvot (commandments) and not in material goods.

The Jewish concept of charity is concerned with the dignity of the recipient. No one should feel beholden to another, or in any way ashamed to receive. In fact, it is sinful for a Jew to refuse charity if they are truly in need.

On seeing a poor man getting money in public, Rabbi Yannai said: “Better not to have given him anything, than to have given and caused humiliation.” In his Eight Degrees of Charity, Maimonides wrote that the seventh degree is when neither the donor nor the recipient knows the identity of the other.

Put these two concepts together, the absolute good of giving and the inviolable dignity of all, and a third conclusion is reached: Even the poor should be allowed the joy of performing tzedakah. The Talmud explains: “When a person gives even a prutah [the smallest coin] he or she is privileged to sense God’s presence.”

Encouraging a sense of charity in others is itself a mitzvah. “They that lead the many to righteousness will be like the stars forever,” says Daniel 12:13. Nor is charity only meant for Jews. The Talmud states that Jews should give to all peoples, because by so doing, they foster peace in the world, tikun olam.

On Yom Kippur Jews say “Prayer, repentance and charity can avert the evil decree.” Giving charity even emulates the Shekhinah, God’s divine presence. As Maimonides wrote “No joy is greater than the joy of gladdening the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows and the strangers.”

The eighth and highest degree of charity, wrote Maimonides, is giving so that the recipient becomes self-sufficient and has no more need for charity.

According to Jewish custom, a person should give at least a tenth of their wealth to the poor. Yet Judaism warns that giving beyond one’s means is counter-productive. After all, if they impoverish themselves, how can they give to others?

In traditional Jewish homes it is still customary for there to be at least one tzedakah box where funds for the needy are put. Jewish tradition encourages us to give tzedakah just prior to lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday night or on any other joyous occasion as a way of remembering and doing something practical for the less fortunate.

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The Charity-Industrial Complex

By PETER BUFFETT

Published: July 26, 2013, New York Time online

I HAD spent much of my life writing music for commercials, film and television and knew little about the world of philanthropy as practiced by the very wealthy until what I call the big bang happened in 2006. That year, my father, Warren Buffett, made good on his commitment to give nearly all of his accumulated wealth back to society. In addition to making several large donations, he added generously to the three foundations that my parents had created years earlier, one for each of their children to run.

Early on in our philanthropic journey, my wife and I became aware of something I started to call Philanthropic Colonialism. I noticed that a donor had the urge to “save the day” in some fashion. People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem. Whether it involved farming methods, education practices, job training or business development, over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms.

Often the results of our decisions had unintended consequences; distributing condoms to stop the spread of AIDS in a brothel area ended up creating a higher price for unprotected sex.

But now I think something even more damaging is going on.

Because of who my father is, I’ve been able to occupy some seats I never expected to sit in. Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.

Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.

As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.

And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?

I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.

Often I hear people say, “if only they had what we have” (clean water, access to health products and free markets, better education, safer living conditions). Yes, these are all important. But no “charitable” (I hate that word) intervention can solve any of these issues. It can only kick the can down the road.

My wife and I know we don’t have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change.

It’s time for a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New code.

What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.

There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).

Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.

It’s an old story; we really need a new one.

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Peter Buffett is a composer and a chairman of the NoVo Foundation.

The Essential Value of Time

Time is usually something we don’t think about consciously.  However embedded in the word “time” is an entire worldview and even value system which we may not be consciously aware of. In the business culture, we often hear people say, “Time is money” and we feel rather apologetic if our time is not translated into activities that make money because then it seems to be a waste of time. But what does God consider to be a waste of time? What does He consider to be a fruitful use of time? To acknowledge the value of time as a thing of value in itself, is to acknowledge the Creator of that time.

The quote below Marvin Wilson gives an excellent view of time biblically (Our Father Abraham, p. 178)

It should be of more than a passing interest to Christians that the first thing in Scripture God sanctifies is not a place or thing but time. “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen.2:3). “Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.” Biblical history is not the story of celebrating space, but the revelation of how a people learned to sanctify moments, events—time. Thus the essence of spirituality is for God’s people to know the dynamic presence and quickening power of the heavenly Lord at work on earth in their daily lives and activities.

As an interesting side point to this issue of time, Marvin shows how the influence of dualistic Greek thought have created the need to “make holy” things related to the physical and material world in the Church. This included things such as water, burial ground, crosses, and other religious objects. We see this influence also in the way we say our grace before meals.

Unlike the common practice of most Western Christians today, in Bible times the Hebrew people did not see the need to bless food, drink, or other material things. In prayer they focused only on blessing God, the Creator and Giver…”The berakhah (blessing) does not transfer holiness to the object itself, but rather entitles us to partake of the world’s pleasure…We give thanks to the Lord and testify thereby that the earth is his and we are but its caretakers.”

The ancient blessing used in Judaism as grace before meals was “Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

The ancient Hebrews would never have thought of blessing what they ate. The idea would have been totally foreign to them … The postbiblical notion that one needed to sanctify, cleanse or purify what God has already created and declared to be good would be strange theology to the biblical writers.

 

Why, Why, Why?

This poem is raw but full of thought, written by a talented young man on his first visit to a farm in Germany, and perhaps inspired by the nobility of the beautiful white Icelandic horses he saw there.

WHY, WHY, WHY?
By Moses Ng, Germany, June 2013,

You could be a horse,
a young stallion full of force,
daily eating your hay,
feeling very gay.

But Nay! Nay! Nay!
You are a human being,
full of love and feeling
but in came the Faust,
and now we are one of the lost.

So Why! Why! Why!
Do we lie and cheat and steal?
Because evil in the world is real.
Countries give their reasons for war
but what are the soldiers really fighting for?

True evil has adorned itself
with a mask of good,
And now the weak and helpless
will become their food.

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