Posted by: Heathen | November 6, 2008

The Obligatory Post-Election Posting

This seemed like the logical thing to do in light of a presidential election of epic proportions. I am of course, referring to the recent US election which saw the first black president ever to be elected into office. Naturally, there are reasons to celebrate this. For the first time, a minority is going to be what is the most powerful person in the world.  But let us not fool ourselves here. While there are great reasons to celebrate, there are still work to be done. Simply electing a black person into office does not mean that racism is over. Nor does this mean that white people are “off the hook,” so to speak.

Systemically speaking, the structures that privilege hetero-sexual white middle-class males are still intact. GLBTQ folks are not afforded the same rights as their hetero-sexual brothers and sisters. Women still earn less than men. Nobody seems to want to talk about the lower classes. (Evangelical) Christianity is privileged over other religions. And, persons of color continue to be marginalized in an increasingly xenophobic environment while white privilege continues to operate. Many of the things that I am addressing may not be overt (though some are). Indeed, what makes the system of oppressions work so well is that it is hidden from us. It operates through consensus rather than through force. I am of course, drawing on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony as well as Foucault’s analysis of power, both in which are reinforced through so-called timeless truths.

I am not attempting to short-change or bum out people’s celebrations and self “patting on the back” mentality that seems to be pervading across those who voted for “Change.” But I am also well-aware of America’s propensity to forget about their past. Historical amnesia merely serves the powers-that-be to create new discourse and hagiographies on their beloved leaders. Make no mistake, hagiographies or heroic depictions of our leaders are detrimental to the way we confront the challenges ahead of us. On the flip side, those who do nothing but demonize those less-than-desirable leaders are making the same mistakes of the hagiographers.  We need to construct histories that address the complexities and multiplicities of political leaders as well as in communities. The notion that “America is the best there is in the world” is not helpful. And constructing a history to build a glorious future will always bound to fail. Be hopeful, yes, but we must keep them in tension with our mistakes and failures as a community or nation.

Now that the election is over, I have seen many from the losing side of the camp talking about wanting to relocate to another place, as if the US is going to hell now that a “liberal” and “socialist” is taking over the administration. These statements, to be honest, confound me . When Dubya was re-elected in 2004, it was the liberals who were talking about moving to Canada (or Australia or NZ).  The “if you don’t like it here, you can leave” mentality is at best, dubious and defeatist. There is no reason to leave a place (unless one’s life is threatened) when things are not going our way. If you really love the place where you were born, fight for it. Engage in the structures. Fight the injustice. Fight against the policies that you deem to be unfair or unconstitutional. Whether we like it or not, we cannot always get our way.

I cannot vote in the US as I am not a citizen of the country. I am grateful for what the opportunities afforded to me here. But I am not simply going to sit back and not critique the flaws and failures of this great nation. Failure to do so will only lead us down to blind loyalty and unexamined bigotry.

Remember our histories, and remember it well.

Posted by: Heathen | October 24, 2008

Mr. Kit, the Sub

“Hi, is this Kit?”

“Yes, this is”

“We would like for you to come in tomorrow morning to sub for us. Is this possible?”

“Yes, I can do it.”

“Great! Be here at 8:30am at the front desk. I’ll show you to your classroom.”

“Okay, see you then.”

And so begins my day as a substitute teacher. I recently got hired as a sub for a school ran by DU. It’s a school for gifted children (translation: rich kids). It is indeed interesting to observe my class’ interaction with each other. They talk about going to Hawaii for vacation and how they play Guitar Hero till late in the evening. They’re the most well-behaved kids I’ve ever encountered as well. In fact, they are very self-sufficient. While I wasn’t alone with them in the class today (it was my first day and the school wanted me to pair off with another teacher to familiarize myself with the routines and going-ons on the class), I didn’t really have to do much to tell them to pay attention.

My fellow teachers are mostly education majors, and seemed to fascinated with my excellent command in English. Apparently I sounded like a “native” of the country. I don’t really know if that was a compliment or an expression of surprise that a non-white Asian man with long hair can speak and converse in English just as well as my Anglo and “native” English speaking colleagues.  They also seem fascinated that I study religion and theology. I suppose if every teacher you encounter were education majors, it would be pretty “sexy” or unusual that a substitute teacher such as myself am studying something way different from them. Anyway, they seem nice and I hope to establish a relationship with them as time goes by.

As it was only a half day’s work for me, I clocked out at 12:30pm, during their recess time. I didn’t really say goodbye to my students as they were busy playing outside. I wish I have the energy of a 10 year old. Watching them jump and run around like there’s no tomorrow is telling of how old I am now. It seemed so long ago since I had that kind of energy running around my school ground with my friends.

I said goodbye to my teaching partner, expressing my gratitute for her willingness to have me “shadow” her day. I signed off and said goodbye to my boss who hired me. She asked me if things were okay, and I said it was fine. She seemed quite pleased with me as well as she told me that the school with call me up when they are in need of a substitute teacher. I said thank you to the front desk reception, as I exited the door and headed home. I was offered a slice of pizza from the class’ lunch menu too, but I didn’t really take up on their offer. I had pesto pasta instead from home.

The next time I get called up to sub, I will be all by myself. This should be fun. I’m still nervous about the whole thing and am still attempting to learn my surroundings. But overall, this has been a good experience for me. I hope to have more chances to sub in the near future.

Posted by: Heathen | October 14, 2008

Lost!

Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop
Doesn’t mean I would cross

Just because I’m hurting
Doesn’t mean I’m hurt
Doesn’t mean I didn’t get
What I deserved
No better and no worse

I just got lost
Every river that I tried to cross
Every door I ever tried was locked
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

You might be a big fish
In a little pond
Doesn’t mean you’ve won
‘Cause along may come
A bigger one

And you’ll be lost
Every river that you tried to cross
Every gun you ever held went off
Oh and I’m just waiting until the firing stopped
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

– Chris Martin, et al

Posted by: Heathen | October 10, 2008

Teaching Comparative Religion in a College Setting

Last week, I got called up for an interview at a local community college to teach a course in Comparative Religion.  In anticipation  and preparation of my already completed interview, I scribbled down some notes about the way I would structure such a course.  One can say that this was my aspiration/vision/pedagogical method/teaching goals as a potential instructor in Comparative Religion. I trust that the reader will forgive me for my sometimes grammatical and structural flaws as this was written during a “flow of consciousness” moment:

Comparative Religion Instructor Aspirations

In a postmodern and increasingly globalized world, it is extremely important to engage in the study comparative religion. The old saying that “religion is irrelevant” or outdated has proven to be wrong. On the contrary, religion and belief in God(s) are stronger than ever. We see people talk about religion all the time, for good or ill. Thus, at the risk of cocooning oneself or being ignorant to the other, teaching a course on comparative religions is vital in order to make sense of what people believe and how cultures and identities are shaped by such traditions. I’m not pretending that this would be an exhaustive study on the world’s religions, but it will provide the student to be more sensitive to a religious tradition that is not of his/her own. Ultimately, studying another religion can give us a clearer perspective of ourselves and how we should relate to others.

As one that is heavily influenced by postcolonial theory, it is naïve to think that we can objectively compare religions. Indeed, we must ask what and why we are comparing the religions with. What are the power relations that are involved in the process? Are we seeking a “universal” commonality within the religions studied? I hope that with this course, I am able to instill to students that we have to be careful in naming and making blanket statements about other religions, while at the same time holding in tension the “generalizations” that must come in to play in an intro course. I am also well aware of the potential for commodifying and highjacking other people’s religious traditions without knowing the cultural/social/historical backgrounds that are associated with them. Such New Age and hyper-individualistic take on religions are to be avoided. Again, my interest in postcolonial theory will serve to highlight this.

Rather than considering religion solely within the purview of theology, which is largely a Christian project, I want students to study religions as there are – and trying hard not to equate, say the Amida Buddha as Jesus, or that all concepts of an afterlife is akin to the Christian faith, OR that all religions needed to have a historical/chronological account in order to be more “truthful.”  This approach encourages openness to new, different, and alternative formations of religious belief and practice. Of course, the question that follows from this is, what is the distribution between content and comparison? After all, you cannot do the comparison without the content. These are the tensions that I would like to hold up.  In short, I want the class to study religions for what they are, and not evaluating them through Judeo-Christian eyes.

I also want to bring up the issue of doctrine/abstract religions and lived religions. One can always teach a religion class based solely on its doctrines and teachings. The meat of the religion, in my opinion, is the lived aspect of it. Indeed, there is a fundamental difference between these two categories, and I intend to highlight such demarcations. This is not to say that all religions are flawed, but merely pointing out that religions are often dynamic and organic; with its teachings and doctrines interacting with its followers.

Assignments – No MCQs. I don’t believe in a student regurgitating information and mindless memorization of facts. Written assignments thus, are a must. Plus, I do not mind take home written exams.

One of the assignments would encapsulate the student’s ability to grasp the material and apply them with a creative “twist” by writing a “creative historical fiction” essay. These can range from writing “diaries,” news reports,  fictional stories, etc. with regards to a world religion. For example, the student can write a dialogical account of a forum between Ehud Barak, Osama Bin Laden and Jerry Falwell about Islam and/or Christianity regarding the question of revelation and truth. Subsequently, one can also imagine oneself as a high caste Brahmin in India writing a letter to his son’s “conversion” to Buddhism. Or, a Polish Jew in living in the US grappling with God’s  relation to the people of Israel upon hearing news of the concentration camps in Europe in the 40s. I also want to use the media and have them evaluate not only movies, but how religion is viewed by the public. There may also be group projects where a group “designs” a religion undergoing certain “criterias.” Subsequently, I am not opposed to location reports to temples/synagogues/churches, but I’m not too sold on that idea.

I think it is important also to approach the class in a dialogical manner. I’d rather prefer to engage in discussion with the students instead of a straight up lecture class. Each student bring about them a unique perspective from their social location. It is my hope that a “web style” class discussion and environment would begin to foster, through the interactions with students. Of course, sometimes this doesn’t work. So a backup plan is always vital.

Some tentative texts that I would like to assign for the course:

“Religion and Empire,” by Richard Horsley

“Night,” by Elie Wiesel

“Global Religions: An Introduction,” by Mark Juergensmeyer

“Introducing Liberation Theology,” by Leonardo and Clodovis Boff

“Darsan,” by Diana Eck

And of course, something on Chinese Religions/Buddhism – maybe an amalgamation of these two particularly in Chinese cultures where religions are appropriated quite easily.


I can’t seem to find a job since my school decided that all International Joint PhD students (namely, me) cannot work at Iliff despite me being a student at BOTH Iliff School of Theology and University of Denver. Such stupid interpretation of immigration law does nothing to help me and the incoming international students in securing a job. It doesn’t help the situation either when the school is so strapped for cash that they’re not doing enough to help finance their PhD students all the way through their degrees. No money and no opportunities to teach. And it’s not that I’m not trying. I have tried to the best of my abilities to look for a job in school, but to no avail.

I suppose one can say that this is all “part of the Lord’s plan.” Or that God will not give us anything that we cannot bear. Or… my personal favorite, that is, “God will provide a way out in due time.” But to be honest, I’m getting sick of all this “explaining your sorrows/problems away” bullshit. This is the damn trump card that we always play whenever there is pain and suffering. I’m not exactly the one that believes that our lives are set once we “give our hearts to the Lord.” On the contrary, I do believe that being a Christian does not necessitate a good life, or a life that would be pain free. And yes, in times of despair, God is truly with us. I believe wholeheartedly that God is weeping with us whenever God’s children is experiencing grief, pain and sorrow.

Yes, that’s great and I am all for a God that takes into consideration our cries of pain and suffering. It is indeed a comforting notion. But for once, I would really love it if God would stop crying and get God’s ass off and do something for my situation. For those perished in wars, famine, disease and disasters. I don’t want a God that just cries with me. I want a God that actually brings evil doers to justice, and I don’t mean evil doers in the sense of terrorists or blatantly violent/murderous people, though they do deserve their justice. I am talking about those who are exploiting others for their own benefits. Those who oppress their neighbors as if there were delinquent or degenerate. Those who think that non-Protestant Christians are somehow “wrong” and advocate for their destruction or assimilation, etc.

I am not seeking for a sophisticated theological answer nor am I looking for words of comfort/encouragement. Most of all, I do not need rational reasonings/lectures behind this question. I’m merely pointing out the situation. Such words ring hollow to me, if not insulting to my intelligence/personhood. Most of all, I will not tolerate condescension.

I am compelled to believe that the Christian God that I serve and worship is a God that can do whatever the hell that pleases God, including less than stellar things. And there is nothing we humans can do about it. We can either suck it up or stick with their God that at times promises justice and salvation for the disenfranchised and oppressed and at times rains death and destruction to those who “disobeys” God.

I will close with Rorschach’s quote from the Graphic Novel Watchmen:

The World will look up and shout, “Save us!” And I’ll look down and whisper, “NO!”

Posted by: Heathen | September 17, 2008

“You Know How I Know You’re Gay?”

“How?”

“You listen to Coldplay.”

I rather enjoy listening to Coldplay, regardless of my sexual orientation. Their latest effort, Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends shows maturity in their music by going beyond their usual “Coldplay sound.” Though still imbued with catchy lyrics and stadium-like manufactured sound, the band is willing to experiment with Eastern instruments, among others. The infectious song Viva La Vida sounds very much like the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby.

I’m not exactly the one who reviews albums or try to decipher the meanings behind songs. But the aforementioned song is a good avenue for endless debates and conversations.  Even with biblical allusions such as “St Peter [calling his] name” and hearing “Jerusalem’s bells ringing,” I am not convinced that it is a straight-shooter religious song. If anything, Viva La Vida deals with empire and the fickleness of human power and the empty promises/goals of revolutions.   Is it any surprise that the album’s cover comes from Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People.

Viva La Vida, while comparable to say Clocks or Speed of Sound, possessed a slightly more political message – and I commend the band for attempting to grapple with the world’s problems. Of course, they are not Rage Against the Machine or System of Down. Nevertheless, this is a good album to listen to.

Fans familiar with the Coldplay sound may be slightly put off by the difference. However, after a few repeated listenings, things should get settled down.

And so, by way of rounding up where we first started: How does one know of one’s sexual orientation by the music they listen to? One may posit that it’s because they listen to Coldplay. Unfortunately, the answer will always be inconclusive.

Now the Indigo Girls or K.D. Lang….. that would be a whole different story.

Posted by: Heathen | August 15, 2008

Moving on Up (Across the Street)

After spending 3 years living in a studio apartment on campus, I’ve moved to a new place. I forgot how tiring it was trying to move. Thankfully it was only across the street. As such, I have upgraded from a small apartment to a full fledged house complete with three other people (with 1 half-time person and 2 kids). This may seem to be a little over-crowded, but the house is large enough to sustain us. Plus, each of us have our own rooms. I am the only one with the room on the main floor. The rest are either sleeping upstairs or the basement. This is an entirely new experience for me because not only am I going to be living with a bunch of people (with kids), I am also attempting to live in intentional community.

“Wait a minute? Community? Intentional? Sounds like some sort of hippie cult!” While not exactly expounding on the hippie culture and its “free love” mentality (among others), it is the house members’ intentions to live as a community; to support one another, to practice hospitality to the stranger and to intentionally pool our resources together. This would mean that there will not be 4 bottles of mustard with names written on them in the fridge. Nor will we have house members retreating to the safe confines of their rooms without interacting with the rest of the group at least twice a week. It would also mean that we are intentional about being with other. Hence, intentional community. Yes, we envision a group of people coming together to become good stewards of resources, the environment, and money. And yes, before I forget to mention, this is a good opportunity for me to save some major moolah.

If I may, I would like to assert that we (or at least I) am emulating the spirit of those kooky Christians from the book of Acts where they lived in community, pooling their resources together. And, just because the author of Luke-Acts did not mention any sort of struggle that came with the Acts community, there will be lots of trial and error in our part in the coming months.

Our house (affectionately called “Leslie”) is still a work in progress. It has not been inhibited by humans for a while save for some contractors who used it as an office. They’ve trashed it pretty well when they left the place. While the school’s maintenance did their best to clean up the mess, there’s still some kinks to work out, particularly the yard. We are still waiting for the landscapers to fix the place up so that it would be presentable from the outside, and creating a path for the postman to deliver our mail. Hopefully this will all be resolved by the time fall quarter starts.

One of my housemate is a music therapist, and hence has in possession with her a plethora of musical instruments ranging from djembes to guitars to a baby grand piano. As such, our living room is to be turned into a music room of sorts.  This would mean that there will not be a television in the living room. On the contrary, the TV will be in the basement, out of bounds for kids.

Life is a little crazy these days. We’re still in transition and trying to sort out our stuffs. It is a little overwhelming when four people and their possessions merged to become one. We have 4 of everything, and an infinite amount of silverware. This can be quite a challenge given the limited amount of common space afforded to us. Oh well, it will be fun, and I look forward to the day when we’re all ready to have a house warming party, which incidentally may very well fall on my birthday.

Posted by: Heathen | August 7, 2008

Regarding this Church Back Home

Not the Actual Church Back Home

My folks go to a Pentecostal Church in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. I’ve been there when I was younger, and, if you’re not too familiar with the Pentecostals, things can get “freaky.” It felt that way then, and it continues to do so today, as a grown man. Anyway, my concern is not to trash on the Pentecostals and the whole “slaying of the spirit” and “speaking in tongues” thingy. We unfortunately pigeon hole all Pentecostal churchs (AoGs, Four Square, Apostolic, etc) with such characteristics. Indeed, there are more to these churches than that.

Back to my folks’ church back home. They have a website (For the sake of confidentiality I will not reveal its name or the URL of the website) and they post sermons online for people to listen. Not wanting to be “left out” I was curious to see what the contents were and what sort of things get talked about at the church.

I’ll spare the details on the content of the sermon except that it is mostly proof-text style sermons dealing with the End Times and relationships (among others). Not that any of the topics covered were bad, save for the End Times thing. The Pentecostal church’s obsession on the return of Jesus borders on crazy, in my opinion. As I recall, the speaker of the church declared the return of Christ as “something glorious.” I don’t know about you, but you gotta be a little morbid to call the destruction of millions of so-called non-Christian lives (if one is to subscribe to what Revelation is saying) to be “glorious.” There is nothing glorious about fire and brimstone. Plus, you have to be pretty sick to be “happy” and shedding no tears when your friend/relatives who are not “saved” gets burned in eternal damnation. What does it mean to be without tears in heaven when you know for a fact that some of your friends are burning in hell? Does God “erase” our memories? Are we so “high” on God that we are oblivious to the death and destruction around us? But enough of End Times preaching. I for one do not really take Revelation and to a certain extent, the latter chapters of Daniel as predicting tit for tat the events the will lead to the return of Christ. It seemed rather stupid in my opinion, for the writer of Daniel and Revelation to be writing about events so removed from their contextual situations (that is, the persecution of Christians around the Roman Empire). I’m of course simplifying things here, but I do not have the space nor energy, or scholarly biblical knowledge to engage in a hermeneutical reading of Revelation.

I don’t know if it is just me, but I find that churches that are obsessed with the E? nd Times to be counter-productive. Why do we have to be so obsessed with this subject? If one is supposedly “saved” from the jaws of Hell, you’re going to Heaven already. Why do we care about the details? Why do we have to be “ready” for it? We’re already going to be, depending on your theology, raptured or saved. There is nothing to be ready for it.

Apologists here would say that we have to be ready and know the details so that we good Christians can step up our game in “saving souls.” Okay, but why such things are not needed to save souls. If one is truly fulfilling the Great Commission, then the task of making disciples is a constant thing, not something to be done “last minute.” Notice too I mentioned “making disciples,” not “saving souls” or “making converts.” These things are significantly different from each other, and unfortunately, we often conflate converts with disciples. Anyway, I digress.

So why is this church back home, attended by my folks talk so much, among other things, about the End Times? Is it because of the socio-economic of the church which indicates that it is “safer” to talk about an event that is supposedly to happen in the near future rather than addressing the pressing needs of the community outside the church? How come the church does not talk about the state of the Malaysian government which oppresses its citizens, makes a mockery of the judicial system, and discriminates against the poor? Why not address the unprotected status of the GLBTQ community in Malaysia? Or the racism that is happening around us? Or the abject poverty of many rural Malaysians? Why choose the End Times over issues of justice?

Perhaps I am being too judgmental. Or maybe my PhD education has made me arrogant. Hmmm… on second thoughts, NO, I’m not. While I acknowledge its possibilities, I am genuinely concerned about the well-being of my folks who are constantly bombarded with topics that are simply counter-productive to the Christian life. I do have faith however that they are have reasoning capabilities and can actually think for themselves rather than succumbing into a mindless automaton of the church.

That’s good enough for me………………….for now.

Posted by: Heathen | August 2, 2008

A General Idea of What I Study

Jorge Cham’s PhD Comics is a stroke of genius, lampooning Academia and graduate students. While the comic strips are mainly taken from the sciences, occasionally it would feature the (hilarious but very accurate) life and times of graduate students.

The latest comic strip publication was so “on the spot” that I couldn’t stop laughing at it. While I’m not a “popular culturalist” per se, many of the things mentioned on the comic strip relates to my line of research, namely the dissemination of power and hegemony on today’s society, which is almost and exclusively invisible. Anyway, I give Jorge Cham full credit for this ingenious comic. He has really captured the ethos of the graduate student.

Posted by: Heathen | August 1, 2008

Dr. Lim, the Inter-Disciplinarian?

I’m in the process of applying for a teaching gig at Metro State, a public college located in downtown Denver. I do hope this part time instruction job will bear fruit. I need the money…. and experience if I’m going to be a kick ass professor someday. To be honest, I don’t really see myself as one “kick ass prof.” I will most definitely NOT teach in the graduate level, though you don’t say never in situations like these. But for now, it is safe to assume that my “calling” is not graduate school instruction. While they are more self-motivated than undergrads, I do think grad students (I’m sure myself included) are full of themselves. I don’t think I can do that. Besides, the real change happens during the undergraduate level, not graduate.

All being said, I do feel that my calling is to teach undergraduates in history/religion/theology/theory. As a person of color (henceforth POC), I am sensitive to the way education is being taught to us. Indeed, the dominant curriculum is hopelessly Euro-centric. A typical history course usually starts with the ancient civilization, stopping only with a snippet on the Indic and Chinese civilizations. After that its Greece and Rome. The natural progression then shifts to the Middle Ages (Western Europe that is), followed by the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Age of Empires/Colonialism, WW I, WW II and then the modern world. This is what a typical survey class in history is. Though some curriculums are attempting to go beyond “Western Civ” histories and rename it as World History, the base structure of the course remains the same, with little “sprinklings” of events and things going on outside the Western world. Hence, such courses are more accurately described as “Western Civ Plus” rather than World History.

Back to the application process. The whole process itself is an experience. Writing a cover letter for the application, in my opinion, is the trickiest part of them all. What does one put down? What sort of information is deemed relevant, or helpful to the overall success of you application? Do the people who read it think that its all bullshit… all fluff and no substance? Because I tend to be everywhere in my area of research/interest, it is hard to peg me down. I’m not exactly a full fledged theologian, historian, cultural critic or a religionists. I am competent in the fields, but I am by no means an expert. I often wonder as well, if I DO get the job, how would I act? Will I be the hippie teacher? A straight-laced prof? A cool prof? Will I be a hard-ass?

Ok kids, lets gather round a sing about the Opium Wars.... man!

Ok kids, lets gather round a sing about the Opium Wars.... man!

Regardless of the “everywhere” nature of my academic studies and interests, I am “marketing” myself as an interdisciplinarian who not only deals with history, but religion theology and other stuff as well. So, should Metro State hires me, they not only get a historian, but more than a historian. Of course, as a POC I hope to give them a “special” insight that comes from my experience as someone who studied different courses that dealt more with the non-Western world, or at least bringing in non-Western perspectives to a Western setting. We shall see.

Stay tuned!

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