Monday, October 13, 2008

Forum Ministry?

So it's been a while since my sabbatical from CBC, which turned out to not be a sabbatical coz' I didn't leave anyway. I don't visit Acts' evening service anymore, even though I want to coz' there are just too many things on my plate and too many other things I want to do but have no time to do. And work has been super busy lately, compounded with the occasional period of demoralization I go through everytime I do something I'm not supposed to do, or not do something I'm supposed to do, and my boss tells me off for anything I do wrong while completely ignoring anything I do right. I've gotten along perfectly fine with my bosses in my previous jobs, so I can only surmise that my current boss and I operate and think in too different manners, yet anytime I try to ask him what exactly he wants from me, he brushes me off coz' he's too busy. So for the sake of my career and sanity, I need to learn how to become psychic. Wonderful, I'm sure that skill would look fantastic on my CV. *Sigh* I've also come to realize that very few companies actually run as well as Accenture did, so my dream of getting a future job where I do environmental or conservation work but the company runs as well as Accenture will probably never materialize. *Double sigh*

Among other things I've been thinking a lot about is what sort of ministry to go into. I'm already doing stuff in church like teaching kids in Sunday School, and recently I decided to rejoin the worship team on choir (was on guitar before this until I got downsized coz' of being outstation so often I couldn't make practices... I'd still have the same problem in choir, but hopefully it'll work out. I think I sing better than I play guitar anyway. :P). But I wanted to do something else where I can meet new people outside of church, people who don't know God and whom I will have the chance to tell them about Him. Yet I don't want to commit to a ministry where I have to regularly go out somewhere to do something for people, like visiting an old folks home or something... just coz' I'm afraid work will take up too much time and I can't be committed. Plus, I already go out a lot as it, for work and church and God knows what else, so much that my parents don't see me around the house often enough. So I need to chock up on my good-filial-daughter points by spending more time at home... though it's not like I spend a great deal of time talking to my folks at home anyway. We all just end up doing our own thing and not talking much... just that when I'm at home, my folks don't complain that I go out too much. -_- Must be something that all parents are programmed to do...

Anyway, I thought, since I spend half my life online at home anyway, I came up with the 'brilliant' idea of going to online forums. There are plenty of people who have questions about Christianity and God who post their questions at such forums, so I thought it would be good to get in there and try to give some good answers, and maybe make some new friends along the way. Plus, making the effort to try and answer other people's weird and wonderful questions about Christianity forces me to do my own research to get good answers, and in the process, I learn new stuff. So now I'm using my previously-dead-coz'-I-can't-be-bothered-with-it Friendster account to check out forums there. And the rest of my post below is my reply to one of the forum posts from this atheist guy who had quite a few questions and I answered each of them to the best of my knowhow. I'm probably opening a can of worms here, coz' whatever answers I give will have flaws and will lead to more questions... to which I may not have a good answer for. But it's ok, then I'll just have to find the answer and learn more new stuff. :P

So here's the fella's post (in bold) and my answers:

Q: what is the act of god?
A: I don't totally get your question here. God has done many acts, so there's no ONE specific 'THE' act that He has done. I'm guessing what you actually mean is, what can be considered as an act of God. Most people would probably say anything extraordinary (miracles, for example) or extreme natural events are acts of God... but Christians believe that God works is less supernatural ways all the time... by working through people or allowing certain events to happen. So I would say that God is acting all the time.

Q: who created god?
who create the creator of god?
A: This is pretty funny, coz' it's implying that if God was made by a creator, then that creator must have been created by another creator, and thus THAT creator must have been created too... and so on and so forth. So where the heck did all these creators come from?
The Bible says that God is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. This means that God has always existed even before time began (as someone already mentioned, God created time itself). And since He's always been there, He has no creator. God is the creator of everything else.

Q: how can u say that u have faith?
A: If it were possible to prove beyond any doubt that God exists, everyone would be forced to believe. Unfortunately, we only have evidence that God exists, and different people interpret the evidence differently. Since we cannot completely prove that God exists, that where we must have faith.

Q: how do u know if i have a soul? is soul's even true?

A: Most people would define a soul as the 'essense' of a person that makes up their personality and consciousness. By this definition, we would of course have to agree that everyone must have a soul, since everyone has different personalities and a conscience. It is the thing that makes us different from other living things like plants and some animals. Plants and animals are alive, but they don't have souls coz' they don't have personalities and don't worry about doing what is right or wrong. They just grow or do what they do to survive (though some very smart animals like dogs and cats do have their own personalities, and so whether they have souls or not, I am not totally sure).
I think the main issue with having a soul is, if we DON'T have souls, then religion is a waste of time coz' once we die, we just die and that's the end of the story. We don't have to worry about what we're supposed to believe or what good we need to do to make sure our soul goes to heaven and not to the other fiery place. But
IF it is true that people have souls, then whatever we believe and do while we are alive probably DOES make a difference. We have to wonder what happens to the our after our physical body dies.
Again, it's hard to prove the existence of souls coz' we can't examine it under a microscope, but consider this: If we do all we can or whatever we think is right in order to get to heaven after we die, but it turns we actually have no souls and when we die nothing happens after that, then we don't really lose anything, except maybe the time we spent doing the practices of our different religions. BUT if we DO have souls, and we do nothing about it, after you die, your soul will live on forever... which is much longer than the years you have alive on earth. Wouldn't you think making the effort to ensure your soul goes to the right place would be a somewhat worthwhile investment?

Q: when did the believing of god started?

A: Well, if you believe that we evolved from cavemen, then it's pretty hard to pinpoint exactly when man started believing in God. But Christians believe that man was created by God, and the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) has a relationship with God. So I would say it started from the very creation of man. Now if you want to argue that creation is a load of bull, and evolution is true, then that's another long discussion altogether.

Q:why is god a man and not a woman?
A: God isn't a man or a woman... God is merely referred to as a masculine being, ie. we call God a 'He' instead of a 'She'. To Christians, I think this is because we also refer to God as our we consider Him as something like our earthly fathers who take care of us.

Q: for me.. being atheist.. whats the point of discriminating me?
im not discriminating god believers..why do you discriminate us? and whats the point?

A: Well, in perspective, Christians and people of other faiths are also discriminated against in different parts of the world, so it's not just the atheists. But anyhow, I have nothing against you, so I would not discriminate against you. Unfortunately I cannot control the actions of other people, and sadly some people of certain religions (even Christians) sometimes think they are better than anyone else who does not share their beliefs. I won't say anything about those of other faiths or why they act like that, but for Christians, I think this is not the right way to act. Being a Christian does not make me any better than anyone else, and certainly does not make me perfect. I'm just as screwed up as the next person, except that I know that God loves me and He accepts me through my screwed-up-ness.

Q: wheres the freedom of expression? wheres the freedom of speech?
A: You're free to say anything you want to me. :)

Q: for my opinion..there is no god. god was created by man so man can have power to other human beings.
A: In my opinion, God does exist and God loves us, and people who use God and religion to have power over other people deserve a good smacking around.

Q: there is no point if u go to church at sunday. why not just go to a community and serve the people?

A: It's difficult to understand school subjects if we don't bother to attend if we don't fully understand difficult subjects like Science, how can we go out and become Scientists? Similarly, Christians go to church because we believe it is important to be with fellow Christians so we can help each other grow in our faith and learn from the Bible. Without church, it would be quite difficult for us to understand or grow on our own. And it is from there that we are supposed to go out and serve the community and bring the love of God to others.
Unfortunately, it is true that most Christians don't really take the time to go out and do community work, but we serve the church and serve people in other ways.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Lessons from iBridge

I went for iBridge camp during my lovely long Raya break (one of the perks of working for a Malay-dominated company). For the uninformed, iBridge is a Christian camp for young working adults to get together, chill, and do their Christian stuff... and it is also infamously known as the 'meat market' ie. the place for young working adults who also happen to be single, available and probably desperate to go 'find someone'. The camp lasted 4 days, and was at this place in Malacca called El Sanctuary, which is a like a bunch of wooden chalets in a edge of a jungle, and the place is run by a very nice Christian family consisting of an half-English, half-Chinese dad, a Chinese mum and a whole bunch of dang good looking kids. The rooms were nice and the everyone just LOVED the food there... unlike food at most camps which is pretty much the same ol' boring crap every day, we were practically pampered with different types of Western and Chinese food every day, including fish and chips, lamb chops and these awesome homemade mashed potatoes that I was quite tempted to 'tau pau' all of it to take home. Goodness, I think the accommodation and food itself was worth the price of the camp, let alone all the other activities thrown in. Though unfortunately, I didn't meet any potential suitors at the camp, so maybe I should get my money back. Hmmm.....

Of course, more important is what I actually learned from the whole thing. I can't say I came back feeling all gung ho for God, which is usually the case when people go for camps like these. Which I actually think is a good thing for me... I didn't really want to go there just to get all fired up and floating on spiritual cloud 9 or whatever... I've been for quite a few camps in my younger days where I come back like that and the high lasts all of 2 weeks, after which it's back to the normal humdrum of life and I am still my normal not-very-spiritual self. I'm quite done with going through that cycle, so I went without much expectations and just hoping to learn something useful. And I did learn a couple of things, though not exactly what I expected and not in the way I expected.

What I Learned #1: It's OK to Screw Up
One of the things I found quite interesting was the guest speakers who work in different fields, including a lawyer, an ex-performer who now runs his own live show business, and a guy named Roshen who used to work for big corporate companies like GE and NBC before going into full-time ministry. It was the Roshen's story that really encouraged me coz' he told us that when he first was working for GE, he went through quite a bit of trouble at work. He was even fired for leaving an important document lying around... though a few days later, the boss called him and told him to come back to work coz' he just wanted to teach him that important documents must be kept away properly. And his story was good for me coz' it showed me that it's ok to fail at work, which unfortunately has been happening to me quite a bit.

Since I joined my current company, I've gotten into trouble with my boss for doing things that I didn't think were wrong, but it turns out they were very wrong to the company. In Accenture, things were run COMPLETELY different. Everything was really open there, I could talk to anyone in HR or other departments easily by just making a call or sending an email, and I could call my project manager or even the company CEO by his first name and they would be totally ok with it. And Accenture is no small fart company, it's a renowned global company. I found out rather uncomfortably that in my company now, I can't simply contact other departments on my own coz' I risk saying or doing something that will give my unit a bad name. I even got into trouble for referring to my boss as my 'manager' instead of my 'unit head', which is his proper title. Fortunately I haven't made the mistake of calling any of the tops shots by their first name instead of 'Tuan Whatever' or 'Dato So-and-So'... I'm sure if I did, I would be hung upside down by my ankles or something. Heck, if my boss ever read this post of mine, I'd probably get sacked for giving the company a bad image... which would only prove my point even more. Basically coz' I totally don't get the culture here, which is full of procedures and formalities. Which is not necessarily a bad thing... some people may be ok or even like working in this type of system. Just that I'm not one of them. I've been in a company that does things much differently (and better, in my hunble opinion) but the seniors in this company have probably been in the system too long to know any better, while the rest of my team are all fresh grads who don't know any better either. One thing I find particularly grating is that when I first joined, there was no orientation on basic stuff like what's the company structure, how to make claims, and basically to let newbies know how things work around here. We're just expected to be 'independant' and ask the more senior people how things are supposed to be done. Now being independant is one thing... but not making sure your new staff are aligned to the way the company runs, especially when they have worked in other companies and have different ideas of how things usually work, well, this just causes problems for everyone. Like when I don't ask questions, or I ask and get wrong information and then make a mistake, I kena 'kantoi' for it.

Case in point: Initially there was a couple of times I was sent by my boss to outstation to attend a meeting or see what's happening in a project, and when I came back, the boss, being very busy, didn't ask to me to report to him on what happened. And I asked a colleague if I was supposed to prepare a report for him, and she said only if he asks for it. So I didn't make any report since he didn't ask for it. Some time later, boss reprimands me for not reporting to him. Fine. After getting over the annoyance that he seems to expects me to be psychic, I decided to prepare reports on anything I was sent out to do. One week, I was outstation and busy til Friday, my team was going to have a meeting on Monday, and we received an email stating that we need to be ready to present whatever updates we have to the team during that meeting. So that Saturday (not a working day for my office) I took the time to write a report, and emailed it to my boss to look through so he knows the update on my part before the meeting. You would think bosses would like their staff doing this kind of stuff. Instead during the meeting on Monday morning, he tells me off for not letting another superior review my report first (which I didn't know I had to do in the first place coz' I wasn't informed), AND he points out everything that is wrong about the format of my report, AND (this is the 'best' part) he says we are not supposed to be sending work emails on Saturday, since it's a non-working day. Right. But the other team members who sometimes have to work on Saturdays and probably send work emails to the boss somehow or another don't get into trouble. Only yours truly gets the dubious honour.

As you might imagine, I was so frustrated, I think I was ready to pop. And especially since I thought this job was the big blessing from God coz' the kind of work is exactly what I wanted to do... I don't really get why I'm having so much trouble here. Yeah, I even scolded God quite a bit about this, asking why is He letting all this crap happen to me and giving my boss and some of the other people on my team a bad impression of me, when I trying to be a good example for Him. Thankfully not everyone on my team thinks I'm useless... and there are a few other newbies like me who have also gotten into trouble for not doing things 'the right way', so the few of us like the little 'black sheep' of the family. Funnily enough, the other 'black sheep' look up to me in a way and would rather ask me how to do things instead asking others in my team. Sometimes I have to tell them to ask the boss coz' I'm worried I will tell them the wrong thing and I'll get into trouble. *Sigh*

ANYWAAAAAY....sorry, I got a bit carried away whining about my sorrows. So hearing Roshen's story about his failures at work just made me feel a lot better. I guess no job is perfect and I will have some issue or another with any place I work in. But I still want to stick it out here and hopefully not mess with the system anymore, coz' I actually do really enjoy the work here... even though I haven't actually had the chance to get involved in the cool conservation projects like hanging around with monkeys, coz' I've been too busy with other things. I've been put in charge of the 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) project and Waste Management, so now I'm becoming an expert on rubbish. Not quite as glamourous, but still, I'm gaining experience in doing environmental management work, which is good stuff for my CV. If I had to pick between boring work but great system, or interesting work and stifling system, I pick the latter, just coz' I know environmental management is what I wanna do now, and I wanna become damn good at it. So hopefully I will eventually get used to how things are 'supposed' to be done around my company so I can stop worrying about getting into trouble and enjoy my work more.

Right, enough diverging. Back to iBridge then.

What I Learned #2: Freedom through Obedience
As I said earlier, this is something I learned in a way I didn't quite expect. The people who ran the camp site we were at also owned quite a number of dogs. At my count, at least 8 of them. One St. Bernard, one Labrador, one Dalmation, three Rottweiler-mixed breeds, one black dog (probably pariah) and one brown dog (can't tell what breed it was).

All the dogs had the freedom to run around the camp site, and they enjoyed accompanying us campers wherever we went, even when we were running around playing games, or having a prayers around a campfire on the final night, the dogs were always following us and would just sit or lie down next to us, while we would enjoy giving them pats on the head or good belly rubs.

All except for the brown dog, which I noticed was chained up all the time and sometimes barked noisily at the rest of us. I found out that this dog was old and was given to the family by someone else. They tried to train it to not poop all over the place and not go into the eating areas, but the dog didn't obey them, so that's why they kept it chained up all the time. The other dogs were all trained well, which is why we didn't see a single piece of dog poop ANYWHERE (frankly, I'm wondering where on earth they went to do their toilet business) and they didn't wander into the eating areas (although the Labrador did wander in once to greet some of the campers, but got a prompt smacking from the owner).

Anyway, point of the story is that the dogs that obeyed the few rules set by their masters were given the freedom to go anywhere and do anything else they wanted, whereas the one dog that didn't obey, unfortunately was not given such freedom. Most people think that freedom through obedience is oxymoronic, but the case with these dogs show otherwise.

In a way, I guess this is how it works with God, who we Christians call our 'master'. Most people may think that being a Christian and having to obey a gazillion and one rules in the Bible is restrictive... but in actual fact, it isn't. When we obey His commands, we are actually free. Free because instead of relying on other things to get our kicks, like partying or alcohol, we are relying on God. Or free because when we obey Him, He opens up avenues and opportunities to us that we probably wouldn't get otherwise. I've heard lots of stories from pastors and missionary who can testify on this - God tells them to do something and even though it sounds crazy or they might lose everything, when they do it, they find they are more blessed in return. Like the pastor who once owned this little coffee shop, and when he was low on money to do ministry, he wanted to sell his shop. But then he felt God was telling him to actually give the shop away to another man in another ministry, for FREE. Sounded totally insane, he was totally freaked, but he obeyed. And soon after, money started pouring in from all sorts of other sources, and he ended up getting even more than the worth of the shop.

Well, these are the kind of stories I hear during Sunday sermons. But of course, applying it to real life isn't always that easy, and I have also seen cases of people obeying God but are still held down by other...issues. Still, it's just something to think about.