Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why did Jesus’ cry out ‘Why God have you forsaken me’?; A portrait of Mrs Luther

I shall write about two things that interested me in the sermon given by my Pastor at church today.

1. My Pastor mentioned in his sermon that when Jesus was crucified upon the cross, he experienced the abandonment that is due to his being separated from God that made him cry out “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46).

Why did Jesus say these words when he was on the cross at Calvary? One answer that is given is that God is too pure to look upon evil. Therefore, it is possible that when Jesus bore the sins of humanity in His body on the cross that the Father, spiritually, turned away.  At that time, the Son may have cried out. Those who give such an make reference to the prophet Habakuk’s complaint in Habakkuk 1:13  which goes “Your[God] eyes are too pure to look on evil.”

Another answer is that the feeling of abandonment was due to Jesus’ experiencing the effect of sin which he took onto himself at the cross. A commentary from NIV Disciples Study Bible on the Matthew passage states “Part of the suffering occurred as Jesus felt forsaken by the Father. This feeling let Jesus identify totally with our feelings. This shows how deeply sin penetrated the heart of the Godhead, for the sinless Jesus suffered all the consequences of our sin. Jesus’ sense of desertion did not rise because God was in any way displeased with Jesus.”

I have read viewpoints from Christian theologians who come up with the doctrine known as the noetic effect of sin. According to this doctrine, sin negatively affects the human mind and intellect, making it difficult for the person to become a believer of the faith. The Christian apologist William Lane Craig who espoused this view wrote in an article how he felt most separated from God when he was living most sinfully.

Some website sources that I have visited explained the utterance as Jesus as simply his fulfilling the prophecy by quoting Psalms 22.

My favoured interpretation would be that God did not abandon Jesus. I don’t think God would be hampered from being able to look at a person because of sin. If it were the case, he would not have been able to interact with many of the Israelites in the past when they committed sins. I would also prefer to attribute Jesus’ feeling of abandonment as being due to his humanity instead. I don’t think that the view that feelings of abandonment by God as necessarily being due to sin conciles easily with the observation of what many believers may feel at certain point in their lives or when they are undergoing hardship. I don’t believe that all believers who feel a sense of abandonment by God are necessarily leading sinful lives. Moreover, even before Jesus was crucified on the cross, he experienced human emotions such as fear and doubt when praying at the Garden of Gethsemane when he said “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 29:39-45).

Whilst the utterance by Jesus fulfills the prophecy in Pslams, I don’t think it is necessary for symbol fulfillment of prophecy to be devoid of meaning within the circumstances in which it is fulfilled. For example, Jesus riding on the donkey into Jerusalem fulfills the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, but in itself, its significance was to show Jesus as a Messiah of peace rather than of war. The riding of the donkey in Jewish custom is symbolic of a king of peace, rather than a king of war as if he should have been riding on a horse. The prophecy fulfillment of Jesus uttering the statement at the cross is in the same way connected to its context, from the emotion of angst he felt when undergoing extreme pain at the cross.

2. The pastor introduced a figure in Lutheran history that he says models the quality of Christian love – Katharina von Bora, who was Martin Luther’s wife. She administered and managed the vast holdings of the monastery, bred and sold cattles, ran a brewery in order to provide for her family and the steady stream of students who boarded with them and visitors seeking audience with Luther. Katharina operated a hospital on site, ministering to the sick alongside other nurses.

This is the first time I have heard the pastor speaking about Katharina von Bora, and I can’t remember any church sermon speaker talking about figures of church history as models. I do see in Wikipedia that Katharina is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of some Lutheran Churches in the United States on December 20, which is odd. In my own church though, we do not celebrate Calendar of Saints. And I didn’t know that Christian sects apart from the Catholics celebrated a Calendar of Saints. After all, Martin Luther opposed the Catholics for believing in the merits of saints in addition to Jesus Christ for the salvation of humanity. But I suppose protestant denominations may come up with their own Calendar of Saints without holding onto it the same significance that the Catholics have with theirs.

Hard Drive - Bill Gates and the making of the Microsoft Empire 2

For my write-up on my readings on James Wallace & Jim Erickson Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire, I shall write about the following interesting parts that I got from my reading.

At page 33.“ Gates was finishing up the ninth grade when C-Cubed went under. When it did, he made the first of what would be many smart, profitable deals while at Lakeside. In the process, he showed that when it came to business, he didn’t allow anything, even friendship, to stand in the way. Without discussing the matter with Allen and Weiland, their partners in the Lakeside Programmers Group, Gates and Evans negotiated to buy the valuable DEC computer tapes from C-Cubed at a cut-rate price. They hid the tapes in the Lakeside teletype machine. When an angry Allen found out, he took the tapes. Gates and Evans threatened legal action, despite the fact that they were barely teenagers”

It seems like Gates took a hard-hearted approach towards his friendships even when he was managing Microsoft later on with Paul Allen. Paul Allen, in his biography, Idea Man, claimed how Bill Gates pushed a hard bargain of 64%-36% in profit sharing from the company with him. Further in Allen’s biography, he wrote that when he contracted Stage 1-A Hodgkin’s lymphoma later on, on "One evening in late December 1982, I heard Bill and Steve speaking heatedly in Bill's office and paused outside to listen in. It was easy to get the gist of the conversation. They were bemoaning my recent lack of production and discussing how they might dilute my Microsoft equity by issuing options to themselves and other shareholders. It was clear that they'd been thinking about this for some time."

This account of how one business partner conspires to reduce his other business partner’s ownership by diluting his share was something I saw from the movie the Social Network as well. That movie accounted how Mark Zukerberg, the founder of facebook, used a similar trick to play out his co-founder, Eduardo Saverin.

I am aghast at how these businessmen treat their friends. They do not seem to value friendship at all, which is rather sad in my opinion. I don’t think they ever see anyone in their lives as being true friends, and have no qualms about turning on their friends for an opportunity. The law should protect vulnerable minority shareholders from being victims of such unscrupulous corporate practices. From my study of company law, there are oppression remedies that minority shareholders can bring against such unfair practices. The court would usually order the oppressor to buy up the shares on the oppressed minority shareholder at market price, and sometimes where the injustice is not irremediable, order a ‘just and equitable’ winding up of the company.  

I wonder if there would be anything further in my reading of the Hard Drive that would remedy the damage to Bill Gates’ character that I have written about thus far. What I have been reading so far from the book is how brilliantly talented and intelligent a man Bill Gates was in his youth. He showed a knack for doing business even at a young age. At page 46 - “Gates went to Washington, D.C, as a page in the U.S. House of Representatives. His parents had gotten him the job through Brock Adams, who was now a congressional representative. Gates quickly showed his talent for making business deals. He bought 5,000 McGovern-Eagleton buttons for a nickel each - $250 worth. When George McGovern dropped Thomas Eagleton from the presidential ticket, Gates sold the scarce buttons as collector’s items for $25 each, making several thousand dollars in profit.”

I do read of such penchant for entrepreneurship in one’s youth in an account of Warren Buffett as well. He was remarking how profitable it was for him to sell coca-cola drinks which he bought at 5 cents each for 25 cents each. I wonder what a typical law student at NUS thinks about entrepreneurship, and engaging in trade to make a profit. Personally, I am intimidated in doing sales or entrepreneurship, and I don’t have much experience doing such stuff. I also lack knowledge and ideas on how to make a profit from entrepreneurship. My Dad tells me that I don’t have the disposition to be a good businessman. Perhaps I should stick to being a lawyer.

Bill Gates seems to buck the stereotype of being the cloistered nerd who has no life apart from handling the computers. At page 47 - “Girls had been admitted to Lakeside at the start of Gates’ junior year, when Lakeside merged with St. Nicholas, an all-girls school. Gates signed up for a drama class during his senior year that included some of the first female students to attend Lakeside. As a result, Gates landed leading roles in two school plays, The Night the Bed Fell, by James Thurber, and Black Comedy, by English playwright Peter Shaffer. The Thurber play required that Gates memorize a three-page monologue. Gates, with a nearly photographic memory, merely glanced at the pages for a few seconds and had the material memorized.”

I would have liked to identify Bill Gates as the sort of the social misfit who made his mark despite his social handicap. I do like a good underdog story that I can identify with and find inspiration from. But it is interesting that he seems to manage well on the social status ladder in his school from this account that I am reading. Nevertheless the authors write later on at page 63 : “Despite his association with the outgoing Ballmer, Gates was very much a loner with only a small group of friends. His shyness often came across as aloofness.” I suppose I can make the best understanding of my reading from this account by inferring that Bill Gates managed to lead a fulfilling social life despite being an introvert.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Prayer : Conversing with God by Rosalind Rinker

I would like to highlight some points that I took away from reading Prayer : Conversing with God by Rosalind Rinker.

1. Rosalind Rinker commented on how she noticed people in a prayer meeting she attended prayed in a certain manner. People said their prayers in a certain fervent tone of voice, and used a certain language. She also noticed that when the pastor’s wife prayed, people said “Amen” and “Yes Lord.” When she said the right thing they seemed to be encouraged and agreed with her and said so. It bothered her for a while, but soon she found herself praying in the same manner and wanting to say things that would make people say “Amen” to her prayers too. She wondered if God wants us to talk to him in that unnatural tone of voice. She also wondered how can we be our real selves with Him if we pray like that?

I do know of Christians who have that fervent tone when they pray as well. I believe that they are being sincere in their prayers, but it strike me as unnatural too. It is not the same tone or language that they would use when talking with their friends around them. But I believe that they are being sincere when they pray, as much as I am when I pray to God in my rather ineloquent manner. But I would agree with Rosalind Rinker that it is an issue if presentation of prayer impedes being genuine in one’s prayers with God.

Regarding other people saying ‘Amen’ during prayers, I actually like people to say ‘Amen’ when I am praying as I feel that they are listening to what I am praying, and affirming the things that I am praying for. I don’t mind being affirmed during my prayers, or affirming others when they pray as well.

2. Rosalind Rinker writes about her ideas of how group prayers should be like. She calls it conversational prayer. Instead of just praying around in a circle, to remember consciously that the Lord Jesus is right there in the circle, and to speak directly to Him, simply, honestly, just as we talk to anyone in whom we have real confidence. Say ‘I’ when we mean I, and ‘we’ if we mean the whole group. Another thing is to pray by subjects. If someone starts to pray for Joe Blow, two or three of the reset of the members should feel perfectly free to pray for him, too. Then wait a moment before introducing a new name.

She was concerned about how the traditional format where each member say his or her complete prayer before moving on the next member may quench the spirit because members who may have a thing to add may forget about what they wanted to say when it is their turn to pray.

I think it is a prayer format that I can certainly give a try with my prayer groups. I do like the sense of informality in the prayer format, and the interaction amongst the members during the prayer. But I am curious about whether it would be disorganized when people interject the prayer before someone else have finished. Moreover, would quieter members find it difficult to say something especially when the more vocal ones interject in the prayer? Rosalind Rinker did address that concern when she say that the prayer group should not be large as members may become quiet as they feel that others will pray and they need not say anything.

3. Rosalind Rinker made a suggestion about how one should pray for things that commensurate with the person’s faith that God would grant him or her the request in the prayer, and how this is a gradual process of building up of faith. “Pray for only what you believe God can do, for a certain person in a definite situation during a given time period.”

One problems that I find regarding the notion that one must have faith in order for God to answer prayers is that it seems so artificial. Why can’t God grant me what I want without me having to develop an expectation that my prayers will be answered? And there are many times when I feel that I have faith but my prayers are not answered.

I am not sure about this prayer philosophy about praying only for what you believe God can grant. I would prefer to pray for anything I want to pray for without having to constrain myself to first having to believe whether God would answer my prayers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hard Drive - Bill Gates and the making of the Microsoft Empire 1

I began reading on Hard Drive – Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire by James Wallace & Jim Erickson. In the first chapter of the book, the authors wrote about accounts in the early years of Bill Gates. Bill Gates is presented as being really smart, outshadowing his peers of similar age. One account of this was of Bill Gates at 11 years old when he enrolled in a confirmation class taught by a man named Turner. One Sunday morning, Turner threw down his yearly challenge to the class – he would buy dinner at the Space Needle Restaurant for anyone who memorized the Sermon on the Mount.

The authors write that Gates recited the passage nonstop from the beginning, never missing a line. Turner was astounded. No, one in all his years in the ministry, had been able to make it through the entire passage without stumbling over at least a few words or lines.

I haven’t tried memorizing the sermon on the mount myself, but looking at the passage online, I can say it is pretty difficult to memorize the stuff. I know of fellow Christians who have a knack for referencing the exact part of the Bible where they quote their scripture, and I am rather impressed with this. Personally, I don’t memorize the parts of the bible where the verse comes from, because I think I can just use a search function when I want to find where the verse or story came from.

The authors wrote that even as a child Gates had an obsessive personality and a compulsive need to be the best. One of the first major assignments in his fourth grade class was to write a four or five page report on a particular part of the human body. Gates wrote more than 30 pages.

He also joined Troop 16 of the Boys Scouts where his father had been an Eagle Scout as a youth. One year during a Boy Scout jamboree – where Scouts from around the state gather to show off knot tying and fire building skills – Gates and a friend rounded up computer equipment and set up a hands-on demonstration of what a computer could do. At that time, few of the boys had even heard of a computer, much less used one.

It seems like Bill Gates did function very well socially during his time in the Boys Scouts and achieved quite a lot during his stint. I joined the Pelandok Scouts Unit during my high school days at St Joseph’s Institution because I was keen on the idea of learning atavistic survival skills like camping. And I did enjoy participating in the fund-raising event known as Scouts Job Week where scouts go around visiting households to do jobs like household chores in order to raise funds. But I didn’t get along very well socially with my peers, and there were seniors who led who made the scouting experience bad with their penchant for scolding and punishing the scouts group by making us do push-ups or ‘change parades’ where the scouts have to change from their scouts attire into their PT attire and back again. I felt that they lost sight of what the meaning of scouts should be, with their overemphasis on discipline that it derailed the scouting experience.

Bill Gates’ parents decided to enroll him in a private school called Lakeside as he was far ahead of his peers in public school. He got the opportunity to learn more about the computer when the mothers of the students in the school decided to pull together funds to buy a computer, which was then an expensive gadget that was used only in high-end government institutions like NASA. It is at Lakeside where Bill Gates met his future Microsoft partner, Paul Allen. The two were quite the computer junkies, and would skip gym classes to tool around with the computer, find bugs, and write software programs.

I think that it was a confluence of both opportunity and talent for Bill Gates which made him what he is today. He had the opportunity to be amongst the privilege to work with a computer in those days, and he had the passion for computers. I am thinking of an example in Singapore who similarly spot such opportunities and minted their fortunes in the tech industry. What comes to mind is the founder of the Creative enterprise, Sim Wong Hoo, who invented and marketed his sound card hardware internationally and took advantage of the booming hardware market during the computer revolution.

I do see the likes of these tech whizzes during my junior college days. They had all the burgeoning ideas on how to craft the next piece of technological marvel. But they have yet to make their marks in the world. Personally, I am not very much a technology geek, and wasn’t too fond of programming during my high school days. But I would like to know what opportunities lie out from which I can make an honest profit.

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