Thursday, May 22, 2008

My updates for Spring 2008

This semester (Spr'08) has not been easy for me, as there were much more writing of academic papers. Other than knowing how to write better papers, there are few important decisions I made, and some important lessons that I learned in this semester.

1) I have switched from my Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program to Master of Divinity (MDiv) program.This means that I will be seeking ordination track under Presbyterian Church (USA). On top of the original MTS curriculum, I will be taking classes in Greek and Hebrew languages, Pastoral Care & Counseling, Worship, Preaching, Social Science perspective on church, and Field Education. Which means, it will be two more years before I graduate. There are many reasons why I decided to switch program.

One of them is because of an urgent need for the laity to be exposed to essential theological issue. Theology must speak to the laity as well as to the theological students. I hope that I could train the laity in theology one day. I also realize that theology has a life of its own. In undertaking this subject, I enter into dialogues rooted in history, philosophy, and the Bible. Theological studies have challenged me time and again to conform to new insights, or have given me new sets of lenses to look at humanity, and the world at large.

The other reason is more pragmatic. I am currently supporting myself financially in this theological education. However, there are more financial supports from my school for MDiv students. And if I could be confirmed as an ordination candidate by the local Presbyterian church (which is next March), they will also provide some subsidies for my tuition fee.

2) Ever since Feb'08, my wife has been working as temp staff in a financial company, and later in my university. The working culture here is different from what she was exposed to back in S'pore, and it is a different form of cultural exposure for her. We thank God for this experience, and for supplying our material needs.

3) From my study on Augustine's Confessions, I understand how he reconciled Neo-Platonic thoughts in his Christian framework. For Augustine, the Absolute Good is also the personal God (watch out for this same identification in C.S. Lewis' writings). There was a shift in the mediaveal period, especially the re-discovery of Aristotle, as represented in Thomas Aquinas. The Enlightenment climax with Immanuel Kant, who shattered the congenial marriage of theology and philosophy. Schleiermacher, the father of modern theology, responded by shifting the emphasis to "religious experience."

I thank God for the wonderful experience of being able to trace the development of theology from philosophical perspective. This solved my question: "What exactly happened to theology from Augustine to the eve of Reformation, and immediately after Reformation to now?" I had been deeply troubled by this qus as the theologians I was exposed to in S'pore were only Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley.

This background also helps me to appreciate my Sociology of Religion class better.

4) I have also learned more about my own identity here. I am very appreciative of Singapore's education system as it prepared me well to use English as the medium for communication. I have been editing papers for a number of Koreans and a Japanese. Though I am not perfect in my English, I think I am able to express myself adequately to be understood well in writing, in discussion, and in normal conversation. This is a cause of envy among the other international students from Asia, but I salute them for their perseverance.

I also have the opportunity to work together in a team with Koreans and Japanese. I realized that S'pore working culture is closer to Japan's than to Korea's.

I had always assumed that my 1st language should be my native language (which is the assumption of most Americans). I was mistaken. To be more precise, my 1st language is English, but my native language is Mandarin. As I have been educated in English, English is my 1st language; but my mother tongue, Mandarin is the language I have been using since birth. I am not a Chinese, but a Singaporean Chinese. The way I think and speak are rooted in the culture that I grew up in, and it is different from the native Chinese (either from China or Taiwan). Now, the word "Singaporean" holds much more meaning for me.

5) As I got to know more Africans (particularly from Congo, Zimbabwe, Niagara) in my school, I discovered that the modern history of Africans (the same as for many other countries) was shaped by the Western powers. The boundaries of many African countries have been drawn on the table of Western countries after the 1st and 2nd World Wars. Many tragedies or ethic conflicts in Africa today are the result of misplacement of tribes by the Western nations. There are so many sad stories about how their current politics are being manipulated by foreign powers. The Africans need more prayer support. At the same time, I believe the Africans are the most effective agents to talk about reconciliation and peace in the world, as they have to go through much turmoil in order to achieve peace and stability.

6) Lastly, I have been actively involved in Bible study for graduate international students, under the Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF is part of Inter-Varsity ministry). Most of the participants are from China or Taiwan. My bilingual ability has been an asset to the group as I could translate some of the unfamiliar terms to Chinese.

I will continue to play an active role in this Bible study with a very dedicated full-time staff worker (by the name of Tim Leary) from Inter-Varsity. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to serve together with him. I pray that eventually, some of our friends will accept Christ, even though they may face intense pressure back home. I pray for God to guide us to understand what it means to be a Christian in a Communist country or Chinese culture, and to have the courage to live out our callings.

May21, 2008

Below is a picture of 1Cor 13:13, taken at my school.

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