Bye Canberra (for now)

We went up to Canberra on Sat morning. It was to be our last trip for a while. We got into Canberra late in the afternoon, and immediately started packing stuff into the X-trail.

By around 5pm, we quickly left for our B&B, and then went to a wonderful restaurant – Mork’s. We then came back to the lodgings, and the next day we slept in, lazed around a bit before returning to complete the process of emptying out Kiddo’s room in Burton and Garran hall. We then whiled away the arvo – and I watched a wonderful documentary on I.M Pei and his creation of the museum of Islamic art in Doha. After church, we went home and after chatting to our fellow lodgers for a while, I had a few glasses of red while reading. Before I knew it, I had nearly finished the whole bottle, which now made this article very interesting…

We left on Monday morning, drove through very heavy rain for most of the way, and got into Melbourne before 5pm. Kiddo and Tress did a wonderful job of unpacking everything. I helped, but my main tasks were to cook dinner (vege soup) and take the little black jedi out for his walk.

Back in the gym this morning, the 9km now feels really good. It shook off all that tightness from the long drive… the next 3+ weeks should be great. And… no more drives to Canberra till 2015!



It was freezing cold this morning. I could tell as soon as I got out of bed and went out from the bedroom into the hallway. When I checked and realised it was 1deg, I felt even colder. Doing the usual things to get ready became more laboured but when I finally made my way out of the house, I had a big coat and a beany on. I also had a bottle of lukewarm water in my hand.

I opened the front door and it was freezing cold outside. My coat is all zipped and buttoned up right to my chin and the beany was pulled way down. I left the backpack and coffee in the car, and started squirting the water bottle on the windscreens, windows and side mirrors.

The car dash said it was 2deg. The water helped a little but there was still frosts and even a splinter sleet on the windscreen and it took a while for the fogged views to clear up.

In the gym, I got on the treadmill and as soon as I had my earphones on, the news confirmed what I already felt – it is the coldest morning in years.

The 6 miles took its time and warmed me up considerably. So when I got into the office a bit later than usual, my boss was already at his desk. I was tired from the run but warmed up to start work…

Next phase soon

I’ve felt less energetic and a bit tired the past couple of days. Maybe it’s the mounting work, maybe it’s the thought of another unsettling few weeks ahead.

This weekend we head up to Canberra – for the last time in the next year and a half. The next time we’d head up there would probably be sometime early 2015.

We’d likely be filling the X-trail to its brim, with kiddo’s stuff. Thankfully, she has managed to dispose her little mini-bar fridge and she’d be getting rid of a few more bulky items in the next few days.

When we get back to Melbourne, we’d spend about 3+ weeks with her before we all head off to that little red dot close to our previous home. She’ll be there for the next year and a half while Tress and I continue to live our lives here in Melbourne.

I have never taken to Singapore, for one reason or another.

As a kid, I remember following my parents and an uncle and his family to Singapore for a holiday. We were crammed into a Morris Minor and somewhere on the way there, the roads were flooded and we all had to get out and had people push the car through the flood for us.

A few years later, when we were a bit grown, we made a similar trip. I remember staying in a hotel known as the Apollo Hotel. My brother loved the long bath novelty so much, he soaked himself in it for hours and caught a fever.

After that it was all business trips. As a young solicitor in my first firm, I went there as a property lawyer to help with real estate transactions – acting for a property developer who was selling high end condos to Singaporeans. That was the first time I heard KL businessmen calling Singaporean investors “birds”. Singaporeans were known to say “cheap, cheap” when they are in Malaysia looking for investment properties.

Several trips had me down to see the Peregrine Securities office – they were the investors in the investment bank I was working in. The MD was an ex-marine who chewed endlessly on gums whenever he was in KL, because you couldn’t find any of that stuff in Singapore.

In the final days of my tenure in that bank, I made a trip down and on the way back, I had my passport impounded for political reasons. That was soon after Anwar Ibrahim was sacked and his businessmen friends and their businesses were targeted. It was a miserable time for me.

When I returned to private practice in 2001, I was then doing a piece of work involving ABN Amro bank in Singapore. They were financiers for Maxis, a huge telco who was about to be floated. Complicated security swapping arrangements had to be put in place and a director was such a taskmaster that for closing, I had gone into the office at my usual time of 8am, worked till about 9.30pm that night, then was asked to board a flight to Singapore that night at 11pm. We got there close to midnight, left our stuff in the hotel and went straight to the lawyers’ office for the closing work. Fullerton Hotel was reputed to be a terrific hotel but I never saw more than a quick glance of the bed and bathroom. My colleague and I were stuck in that lawyers’ office from 1am till just after 7pm . We had been working something like 38 hours non stop, and had about 2 months of 6-day, 14 hour days preceding it. The firm cashed in big time but we were wasted. In those 2 months, we’d work all day, finish a draft, send it to ABN Amro around 8pm, and were asked to hang around to wait for their comments. We’d get those comments at 9+ and respond to  them for as long as they could wait for us. That whole deal sort of sealed my dislike for Singapore – it was work, work, work – all to get ahead.

My final gig before coming to Oz was with another investment bank who also had deals with Singapore banks and that too, saw me making frequent trips to Singapore, all of which were totally forgettable affairs, because it was office-taxi-airport-plane-airport-taxi-office-taxi-airport-plane-taxi-home type of trips.

Relatively recent trips have comprised of a cousin’s wedding and a stopover…the wedding was good and fun and was just about the best memories but that too was relatively quick.

I guess that is why I have never taken to Singapore – everything was so quick. In and out, bang bang bang… move move move. What is life if full of care – no time to stand and stare…

Maybe this time, I’d take time with things. Maybe bring a book that requires lingering. Tan Twan Eng’s Gift of Rain, maybe (assuming I’d finished Garden of Evening Mist by then).


I have been trying to step up my cardio work a little bit in recent weeks, and so I’m inching up my attempt to regain some cardio fitness. For a while now, I’ve limited my cardio work to the cross trainer, which felt less intensive than a run on the threadmill. I started out by just doing the one or two runs of not more than 4-5km each time, and mixing it up with cross trainer, steps or even bicycle work. After a while I pushed both the distance and speed button up a little each week.

 It has been about 3-4 weeks now and I’m starting to get back to the 8-10km, 3-4 times a week type of range. A good week was 32km but that was 4 days of an hour each. Slow as…

 Yet, I feel better already, and more alert. Calluses and sore legs notwithstanding. This morning it was a 9.3km in about an hour – definitely heading towards the 10-11km an hour mark. That was the benchmark of yesteryears, when I had more hair and less waistline. In fact that was more than 10 years ago now. To reclaim grounds lost so long ago, seems daunting but it is just good to have a feel, have a shot almost, at a landing on those grounds again. I could almost hear the little girl cheering me on – “run Forrest…”


Refreshing … grateful

A pair of old couple friends came over for lunch on Sat. TT and Maudrene are pastors and missionaries whom we’ve known for a number of years, from when we were in Malaysia. TT was involved in a series of meetings between Tham Fuan and Jason and the way it all went pear shaped while TT was away in Malaysia and Russia caused a lot of grief and so when TT came back, he started to meet with several people.

We had lunch in our home. Tress and I went and bought some takeaway from Madam Kwong’s, and prepared bits of supplementary dished. We talked and cleared up a few things.

That night Tress and I went to the Hii’s home and were treated to a wonderful home cooked “meehoon kueh”. Jason and Mel were there as well.

We returned to St Alfred’s on Sunday morning. There was a men’s weekend away so about 50-60 people were missing. There was still a sizeable congregation but other than we’ve been there for just over a month now, those extra empty seats made us sit closer to the centre and a bit more to the front. That turned out to be a good thing because we were treated to another fabulous piece of preaching.

Matthew 12:46-50 was given a focus that was so sharp and refreshing. The usual takeaway of us becoming brothers, sisters and mothers of Jesus by doing His Will, was given a deeper level of treatment – how Jesus is to affect our worldview as opposed to where Jesus fits into our worldview. That was a bigger ask and it’s the sort of preaching which has been sorely missing – not just in LifeGate but unfortunately, in many churches in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne (especially Asian churches).

I’m very grateful for this find. Thanks, Kiddo…

Social Media – Bad for Reflection?

Tress was watching an old episode of Master Chef on the ipad last night. One of the contestants (an older lady) was very affected by the noisy environment and could not be her usual self. The contestants were a really noisy bunch and I said to her I too, would have hated such an environment.

Silence is a forgotten virtue sometimes, especially in today’s social media flooded environment. See this article

And yet, the “noise” generated by all these channels arent all bad. Like many technological developments, these are tools which by themselves are neither good nor bad. They take on the characteristics and purpose of the user. So, while I thought the article thoughtful and insightful, I have to say that often, some of these channels actually allow better reflection. It all depends on the character and objectives of the user. Some reflect better by reading and writing. While channels such as facebook and tweets have limited breath and depth of expression, they can be wonderful links to sources of material that allow better reflection. Certainly, this blog has allowed me to reflect much better than simply being out in the bush somewhere.


There but the Grace of God…

This article on the Patheos site, is a wonderful balancing  fine tuning for me as I work my way through Robert Gagnon’s book.


An Evangelical Christian Looks at Homosexuality

By Peter Wehner

I recently had a series of exchanges with a Christian acquaintance on the matter of homosexuality. He argues that it’s clear God wishes us to vehemently oppose homosexuality and same sex marriage; that there is a sophistication and internal coherence when it comes to ancient Israel’s legal jurisprudence (including laws in the Hebrew Bible against homosexual conduct); that we need to take those strictures more seriously than we do today; and that sexual purity is a concern to God and should therefore order our personal life and how we encourage society to order its affairs.

My interlocutor’s belief seems to be that if more Christians were more spiritually-minded, they would recognize the threat posed by the legitimization of homosexual conduct and speak out more boldly and forcefully against it.

This engagement afforded me the opportunity to further clarify my own attitudes, as an evangelical Christian, on homosexuality – attitudes that are certainly open to refinement and amendment.

As a starting point, I’d associate myself with the views of Timothy J. Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Dr. Keller, who recently spoke at this Faith Angle Forum, observed that in the Bible homosexual behavior is spoken in every instance in negative ways. It privileges heterosexuality. Now one may disagree with the wisdom of that stance – one may believe it is misguided, or benighted, or no longer relevant — but there’s no real debate about the plain meaning of the text.

At the same time Keller points out that homosexuality is referred to only seven times in the Bible. He believes, too, that we’d be better off, and more in line with the mind of God, if we narrated what the Bible says about sexuality in general. Dr. Keller says the Bible teaches that male and female both have their own unique glories and that we do best when recognizing them. And in all of this, he argues, Christians should be peacemakers, the people who are most willing to say “let’s talk” and to be civil and gracious.

In dilating further on this matter, it’s perhaps worth observing that many of us who are of the Christian faith pick and choose issues we focus on, often issues that confirm our pre-existing views while ignoring or downplaying those that don’t.

For example, it seems to me to be clear, and clearly relevant, that (a) Jesus was more concerned about how a society treats the poor than how it treats homosexuality (which He never mentions in His recorded ministry) and (b) the Scriptures mention concern for the poor and justice for the poor hundreds of times, while mentioning homosexuality only a handful of times.

Now the frequency a topic is mentioned doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about its importance. For example, Jesus doesn’t speak against genocide, even though we can say with confidence that He would be horrified by it. On the other hand it would be unwise, I think, to act as if the number of references to a topic isn’t an important indication of what was most on the mind and heart of the Lord. And while homosexuality may not have been a particularly live moral question in much of the first century world, it was enough of an issue that the Apostle Paul refers to it in several of his letters.

Many Christians also employ something of a double standard. We’re told in Malachi, for example, that the Lord “hates” divorce. Jesus spoke in negative terms about divorce because it fractures the marital ideal. And divorce itself has done far more damage to children and society than homosexuality ever has. Yet many Christians approach divorce and homosexuality in very different ways. The fierce opposition to one is missing when it comes to the other. People of faith have accommodated themselves to divorce, for reasons that are understandable and in some cases appropriately sympathetic. There’s a realization that we all make mistakes in judgment and experience areas of brokenness in our lives — and we still require grace. But this bifurcated approach toward divorce and homosexuality may also have to do with our habit of speaking with less sympathy on issues that are largely outside of our experience. Many of us have known more divorced people than gay people.

It also needs to be said that much of what biblical law once considered forbidden (like idolatry or breaking the Sabbath) was never meant to serve as a legislative template for American society. The reason has to do with God’s unique (and non-transferable) relationship with ancient Israel. From a Christian perspective, the covenant with Israel was not intended as the model for human government. While it’s true that the law contained a partial definition of the character of the lawgiver (in this case God), its very severity had the express purpose of bringing about the discovery of sin, which in Christian theology was dealt with on the cross.

And even if you believe, as I do, that the New Testament church is more analogous to how God dealt with ancient Israel than any current nation-state, many of the laws (ceremonial and civil) that applied to ancient Israel don’t apply to the New Testament church. Why? In brief, and in part, because ever since the crucifixion of Jesus, the way Christians are supposed to face certain behavior in our selves and others has changed (for example, we are told in the New Testament to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, to pray for those who despise us and to expect persecution). Christians are also to see themselves as pilgrims and sojourners, as citizens of an everlasting Kingdom that (as Augustine put it) we did not build and cannot destroy.

This does not mean Christians should be indifferent to pursuing justice on this earth. What it does mean is that determining precisely how that is done is an enormously complicated matter. For the purposes of this discussion, the task for Christians is to understand which enduring principles inform Biblical laws and injunctions while avoiding a mechanical application of them. Cherry-picking is a bad way to engage in Biblical exegesis. And I think it’s reasonable to say that even for orthodox Christians, how the Scriptural injunctions against homosexual behavior should manifest themselves in modern American law and society are not self-evident.

For example, you might believe homosexual conduct is not what God intended but (like idolatry) that view should not be written in law. Or it may be that you believe the law should favor heterosexual marriage and not go beyond that. But that raises another question: What about putting laws on the books that punish sodomy (something that was not judged to be unconstitutional prior to the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case)? And if one believed anti-sodomy laws were appropriate, should it be viewed as a capital offense (as it was in Leviticus), as a lesser felony, or as a misdemeanor?

Some orthodox Christians I know oppose anti-sodomy laws in principle on the grounds that it’s not the duty of the state to regulate private sexual behavior but it is the duty to regulate marriage because it is the institution established by God for the fulfillment of the procreative mandate. Others would say that at one time it was the duty of the state to regulate private sexual behavior and it should be again, since private sexual behavior has profound public consequences. I raise these questions and different interpretations simply to underscore how fraught with difficulty this matter can be. A “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” mindset is clearly insufficient.

Here I need to insert a few clarifications, the first of which is to acknowledge that in the New Testament the Apostle Paul speaks in critical ways about homosexuality but doesn’t draw any legal or legislative implications from it. The second clarification is to stress that one can make a serious case that society should privilege heterosexual marriage without reference to verses in Leviticus and Romans — a case based on sexual complementarity, teleology and the public good. The third clarification is that some efforts, including government efforts, to pressure Christians to abandon biblical teaching on human sexuality is deeply unwise and threatens religious liberties. What I’m focusing on here, however, is responding to those who invoke the authority of Scripture in shaping their views, including their public policy views, on homosexuality and gay marriage.

Which brings me to my final point. Precisely where one lands on the matter of the appropriate societal stance toward homosexuality and same sex marriage isn’t dependent on Biblical literacy. Faithful Christians can hold different views on when and how to apply a Biblical view on a range of sexual matters, as well as the spirit that animates their position.

What I think this comes down to, as so many things in life come down to, is discretion, prudence, and wisdom. Some of us are drawn to certain issues and rhetoric that we believe honor the righteousness of God; others of us are drawn to certain issues and rhetoric that we believe honor the grace of God. Would Jesus, if He were here today, be speaking out against gays and their political agenda based on what might be called a theological anthropology? Or would He be more inclined to warn critics of homosexuality against stridency, judgmentalism and blindness to many other matters (like acquisitiveness) that we so easily ignore? Or would He be challenging everyone, in different ways, based on their particular challenges and needs and the state of their hearts?

None of us can know for sure. We all see through a glass darkly. And we all are drawn to certain Scriptures and models of engagement. James Dobson has an approach that appeals to some; James Davison Hunter has an approach that appeals to others. For a complicated set of reasons, most of us are drawn toward one pole more than the other — and then we attempt to construct Biblical reasons to justify our predilections. It’s very easy for us to proof-text the Bible and end up in a place that is quite some distance from where the Lord would have us.

For my part, I’m reminded of what Philip Yancey wrote in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? He cites the Swiss doctor Paul Tournier, who said that what patients truly seek is grace. Yet in some churches they encounter shame, the threat of punishment, and a sense of judgment. When they look in the church for grace, they often find ungrace. And Yancey tells of how prior to writing his book, he began asking a question of strangers when striking up a conversation. “When I say the words ‘evangelical Christian’ what comes to mind?” Yancey wrote that he mostly heard political descriptions – and not once did he hear a description redolent of grace.

Yancey then adds this:

Grace comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it and I am one of those people. I think back to who I was — resentful, wound tight with anger, a single hardened link in a long chain of ungrace learned from family and church. Now I am trying in my own small way to pipe the tune of grace. I do so because I know, more surely than I know anything, that any pang of healing or forgiveness of goodness I have ever felt comes solely from the grace of God. I yearn for the church to become a nourishing culture of that grace.

Now I realize that one common error within Christianity is to use grace as a way to elide wrongdoing; and that those who are willing to stand up for Biblical morality can easily (and unfairly) be caricatured as ungracious. But my point in citing Yancey is (i) his insights are worth wrestling with in terms of Christians and their role and impact on public matters, particularly on social and cultural issues; and (ii) he’s obviously a faithful Christian who sees things at one angle v. those who sees things at a very different angle.

It’s not an issue of who knows the Bible better; it’s a matter of hermeneutics, of what issues we focus on and the manner in which Christians in the public arena carry themselves.

I received a note the other week from Stephen Hayner. Steve, who is currently president of Columbia Theological Seminary, played a crucial part in my life while I was in college and has been a model to me ever since. He mentioned that he’s going through the Gospel of Luke and was struck again with the grace and embrace of Jesus for those whom the religious elite had every reason (they thought) to kick to the curb. People on the low rung of life, including those with frailties and flaws, flocked to Jesus — not because he preached moral rectitude but because He was willing to love them, to listen to them, and to welcome them.

“I’m sure that many were self-justifying and hardened in their life patterns,” Steve wrote me. But Jesus’ main mission was to convince them of God’s love and invitation. And then he went on to speak about those willing to stand in the middle of the tensions that necessarily attach to faithful living in a broken world.

“I doubt whether God will have much to say about our political convictions in the end,” Steve said to me, “but I’m quite sure that he will have something to say about how we loved the least, the marginalized, the outcasts, the lonely, the abused — even when some think that they have it all. Political convictions that lead toward redemption and reconciliation are most likely headed in the right direction.”

That isn’t a prescription for a particular kind of political involvement. It’s certainly not a roadmap on how to deal with issues like same sex marriage. It is, however, a reflection on how Christians might consider engaging the world. It seems to me there is great wisdom in his words, and great richness in these words: Redemption and reconciliation.


Sorting through

The above link bemoans the amount of rubbish that finds its way into our Inbox everyday. It’s like my snail mail inbox. I said to Tress several times, that it is well and truly timely for me to have the “No Junk Mail” sticker up because the bulging swathes of paper in our mailbox are predominantly junk.

The thing is – Andrew sorted through his Inbox, and then read his 22 emails which were worth sending.

Amidst the danger of being drowned by a daily deluge of worthless emails, a very busy and productive journalist managed to get to the bottom of the pile and read the 22 emails which mattered.

If only people entrusted with the work of God showed similar industry.

Journeying on

Today’s the last public holiday for a while. The next one would not be until November, when the Melbourne Cup comes around.

We didn’t spend the day on some rest and recreational activities. Instead we spent it with friends who needed to process what has been happening at LifeGate church. Someone rang us late in the morning and asked us to go to a persons home for yet more conversations.

We went at 2pm, and didn’t get home till about 7pm.

The journey continues for many.