Gene-edited Children Are Here!

 

Gene-edited Children are here: Scientists playing God again?

On 26 November 2018, the world was stunned by the news that gene-edited girls were born in China. This was confirmed two days later by He Jiankui during a gene-editing summit in Hong Kong. There has not been any independent verification that the two gene-edited girls have actually been born so far. The reason given for the gene- editing was to disable a gene called CCR5 and thus make the person immune to HIV.

CRISPR, the technology to edit genes, has been around for a number of years. CRISPR is the abbreviation for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It enables scientists to edit genes by allowing them to add, delete and ‘cut-and-paste’ the genetic code. It was a major breakthrough. By almost unanimous consensus of most government and scientific communities, gene-editing of human beings has been out of bounds. Until now. The major concern of gene- editing and gene therapy, in general, is that while we know what a specific gene can do, we do not know what the interactions and effect a particular gene can have on the whole genome, what scientists called the ‘off target effects’. Thus modifying a specific gene can have unforeseen circumstances on the person. The other main issue is that gene-editing may not affect all the cells resulting in mosaicism – a condition in which the person has two sets of cells; the normal cell and the gene-edited cells. No one knows how this will affect a human being. What is even more shocking about He’s claim is that he helped to birth two gene-edited girls. This means that the edited genes of these children may be transmitted to their children.

We have been improving and enhancing human beings since we appear on this earth. Through new knowledge in medicine, science and technology, we have been making humans healthier, live longer, able to recover from some diseases while limiting the effect of other diseases, participating in selective breeding through socioeconomic policies, and replacing missing parts with ever sophisticated appendices. We can even change our physical appearance and sexual bodies through surgery. Until recently, we have not touched the human genome. The mapping of the human genome was completed in April 2003. CRISPR, developed in 2009, was already used to edit human gene as part of an experiment in 2015.

Should scientists be allowed to edit the human genome? What is the Christian perspective on this? It must be recognized that this is not a simple issue. There are many people who may benefit from this technology:

  1. There are people suffering from diseases caused by a mutated gene which is either inherited or by mutation. In principle, these people may be cured by gene-editing, either removing, modifying or replacing with a normal gene.
  2. There are people who are well but are at high risk for future disease. Most inherited cases of breast cancer are associated with mutations in two genes: BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two). At present, women with either or both of these genes are advised to undergo a total removal of both breasts because the risk of breast cancer is too high. There are also identifiable genes for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, baldness, Huntington Chorea and others. Would gene-editing be beneficial for them?
  3. Using gene-editing human T cells to kill cancer cells. T-cells are the soldiers of our immune system. If we can gene-edit these T cells to attack the cancer cells in the body, we can effectively cure people who are suffering from cancer.
  4. There are people who want some sort of enhancement to their genetic makeup for various reasons.

The Christian response to gene-editing is often based on the value of the embryo, and the imago dei or the image of God. Genome editing acknowledges the value of the embryo and respect to the imago dei so these arguments are not arguments against it. The Church has slowly assimilated most medical advances into her traditions and theology. The discovery of penicillin to combat infectious disease, the technological improvements of surgery, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) pregnancies, contraception, organ transplants are all examples of gradual acceptance by the Church in spite of initial resistance. Will the Church accepts gene-editing for people in groups (1), (2) and (3) above? Many Christians seem to think so. In the July 26, 2018 Pew Report, 57 percent of highly religious Americans support gene editing as compared to 72 percent of all Americans. (Pew identifies highly religious Americans as those who attend services at least weekly, pray daily, and say that religion is very important in their lives.)

Jeff Hardin, Professor and Chair of the Department of Integrative Biology and Faculty Director of the Biology Core Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a committed Christian noted,

These considerations lead me to a few suggestions for Christians in their thinking about genome editing. First, in thinking through how we ought to apply technology to the embryo, we should aim to treat the embryo as a patient and an end, a begotten gift, rather than a means, at all stages of development. Secondly, we must balance two realities of our relationship to technology. On the one hand, Christians are called to love, which means we ought to use technology to prevent disease. On the other hand, we should be wary of excessive technological optimism, especially when the use of technology violates important Christian values. Clearly, these considerations are in tension with one another, but we must seek to balance the two truths against one another.

In our consideration of a Christian perspective of genome editing, we may be asking the wrong question. Instead of asking the biology of or the technology of, we should be asking the spirituality of. What does the Bible teach about the advocacy for the poor, the sick, the defenseless, and the disadvantaged? And what does the Bible teach about love. Perhaps then, we are ready to discuss the Christian perspective of gene-editing.

Safespace complete interview on Biotechnology: Are We Playing God?

Biotechnology is both a blessing and a curse to modern man. But, how do we, as Christians, tackle this ethical dilemma? Are we playing God when we use Biotechnologies to manipulate life? In this episode, Alexa Ho sits with Dr Alex Tang to talk about the breakthroughs of biotechnology and how should the church navigate its many ethical challenges that ensue. Listen in to our episode “Biotechnology: Are we playing God?”

Link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PL65SzbncP3

Marketplace Spirituality

 

Interview on Christian spirituality in the Marketplace with Grace Emilia

Grace: Could you share your daily life routine and busyness as an MD?

Alex: Life as an MD is busy. I practice in a private hospital which is part of a public listed healthcare chain. The hospital has 400 beds and is a tertiary private referral hospital for the southern part of Peninsula Malaysia. I am a paediatrician or child specialist. My working day starts at 7am when I do a ward round; reviewing all my patients in the ward. Then I start my clinic at 8am. If busy, I will work through lunch. My clinic ends at 5pm. Then I will do l another ward round, reviewing the treatment of the patients in the ward. If I am not on call, my workday will end about 7pm. If I am on call, I will have to deal with sick children coming through the Emergency Department and those in the wards until 7am the next day. Then I will continue and start my day. I have clinic six days a week and are on call frequently, also on weekends (Saturday and Sunday)

Grace: How do you integrate Christian spirituality and your work as an MD?

Alex: My first calling is to God and to grow into Christ-likeness. My second calling is to be an MD. I see no dichotomy between the two. I am called to grow to become like the Son through my services to help and treating sick children. I pray a lot in my daily work because I believe healing comes from the Lord. I believe that God will use his human agents, like me, to effect this healing. I am a witness for the Lord to my patients, their parents and family, and to the rest of the world. My workplace becomes my mission field. My witness is that those who come into contact with me see Christ.

Grace: What’s your definition and understanding of Christian spirituality (in connection with question no. 2)?

Alex: Christian spirituality is living out a life glorifying the Father through the work of the Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It means that everything I do is Christian spirituality. Everything I do is sacred, not secular, because of Christ in me.

Grace: Why Christian in the marketplace should also learn theology like what you did?

Alex: Theology helps us to know more about God. Our God is a self-revealing God who wants us to know him and love him. It is not enough just to know about him. We must develop a personal relationship with him through the application of theology and Christian living.

Grace: How many books have you written on Christian spirituality, especially in its integration with life in the marketplace?

Alex: All my books deal with Christian spirituality in the marketplace. Only I do not approach it directly but indirectly. Emily Dickerson in a poem wrote, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant…”. What she meant was that sometimes it is easier for people to receive the truth indirectly. My books deal with the integration of Christian living as a medical doctor: Random Musing from a Doctor’s Chair; A Good Day to Die and Live and Let Live deals with euthanasia and biomedical technology from a Christian perspective; Tales from the Monastery, Spiritual Formation on the Run, and Into the Depths of Living Water is all about developing an integrated spiritual life in wherever you find yourself to be-be it marketplace, homemaking, or ministry work.

 

Safespace Interview on Biotechnology: Are We Playing God? Part 3

What should be the core guiding principle to Christians seeking to faithful God’s stewards of his creation and knowledge he has given us, and that includes science? Tune into part three of our conversation with Dr Alex Tang on “Biotechnology: Are we playing God?” to find out.

Link:
https://youtu.be/cV1IbLvrJ4M…

Safespace Interview on Biotechnology: Are We Playing God? Part 2

Changing the genetic blueprint of bacteria for human benefit. Allowed to select the sex of a future child. When we allow this progress to overwrite what formerly only God knows and could do, are we in danger of going down the slippery slope?Tune into part two of our conversation with Dr Alex Tang on “Biotechnology: Are we playing God?” to find out.

Link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtTRNBiPRes

Reformation Day 2018

standing at the door at Castle Church, Wittenburg where Martin Luther was supposed to have nailed his 95 theses

 

This day celebrates the beginning of the Reformation on 31 October, 1517. It was the day that Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This is especially significant day for me as I went on a study tour of Reformation Germany earlier this year. As I reflected on what I learnt about the reformation and its implication, I realize that I often need a knock on the head to remind the five solas that is foundational to the Reformation.

 

Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)

Sola fide (by faith alone)

Sola gratia (by grace alone)

Solus Christus (Christ alone)

Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

 

Sometimes when we are busy in ministry and church work, we often become dissociated from the solas. We began to depend on our own knowledge, skills set, strength, and abilities to achieve and often forget that the work of the Kingdom depends not on human effort but by God alone as the solas remind us. We need to slow down and find ourselves in God in silence. Philippians 2:13 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) notes “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose”.

We live in a culture that knows little or nothing of a life that listens and waits, a life that attends and adores. What makes things even more difficult, we live in a church that knows even less of this life that makes friend with silence, a life that leaves time and space for the Holy Spirit to breathe into our hourglass lives and form a mature Christ life. The consequences are alarming as our great Christ heritage becomes more superficial by the decade, shallow and trivialized, noisy and gitzy with god-talk

Eugene Peterson

As Kingfisher Catches Fire, p.77

So instead of clinging to our spiritual lives and ministries, and trying to develop or build it out by sheer human effort, let us submit and commit ourselves to Him who has given us everything and all things from Him alone.

 

31 October 2018

Aku Dan Lego

guest post by Arif Subagyo

 

Lego…….
Tidak berarti ketika hanya sepotong
Tidak bermakna ketika sendiri

Menjadi indah saat tersusun
Membangun bentuk bersama yang lain

Bukan hanya satu atau dua bentuk
Bahkan tak terbilang beragam

Hidupku…
Bak sebentuk lego
Tak berguna tanpa Sang Pembentuk

Hidupku…
Bak sewarna Lego
Tak seindah tanpa Sang Perancang

Hidupku…
Bak sepenggal Lego

Tak bisa dinikmati tanpa Sang Seniman

Hidupku…

Indah ditangan Tuhan Sang Khalik

Bandung, 26 Juni 2018

Safespace Interview on Biotechnology: Are We Playing God?

 

Reproductive technologies, stem cell therapies, cloning… these are just some of the technological advances that have often raised ethical concerns. Are these the current trending issues of the bioethics and what are we to make of them? Tune into part one of our conversation with Dr Alex Tang on “Biotechnology: Are we playing God?”

Link:
https://youtu.be/vyN-mKfSdlA…

The Journey to Emmaus or Spiritual Direction on the Walk

Emmaus

Two men were walking towards the town of Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were discussing animatedly about the events of Jesus’ claims, his death, and reports of his resurrection when a third man joined them. This man explained the significance of the events through  the Scriptures. During the evening meal at Emmaus, the two men recognized the third man as Jesus! (Luke 24:13-33). They were enlightened both by the dialogue and Jesus’ explanation of the  Scriptures until they feel their hearts burning within them. The Truth  turned their despair to joy when they beheld the risen Christ.

Spiritual direction is this Emmaus walk where two (or more) disciples through dialogue, Scriptures, and discernment are led deeper into God’s revelation of Himself by a third person. This third person is the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent in his place when He ascended. The true spiritual director is the Holy Spirit. In our present context, a human spiritual director is one of the disciples on this road who helps the other disciple to hear correctly what the real spiritual director, the Holy Spirit, is saying to him or her. The human spiritual director’s role is not to counsel or offer advice but only to help the other disciple or directee  to hear what the Holy Spirit is speaking into his or her life. Unlike counselling which focuses on the resolution of a specific problem or pastoral care, or of a specific situation or life event, spiritual direction focuses  on helping the directee to hear what God is saying to him or her. Spiritual direction is hence useful for those who have major life decisions to make, or those  who want to deepen their spiritual relationship with God. It involves prayers, dialogue, silence and stillness, listening, and discernment.

Spiritual direction is an intrinsic part of the Christian tradition. Throughout the ages, it may be known by different names such as ‘one anothering’, spiritual guide, spiritual father or mother, and mentoring. Jesus as recorded in the Gospel is the spiritual director par excellence. He helped his disciples to grow closer in their relationship with God. The role of the spiritual director  became more established in the early church in Acts; Ananias and Paul after his Damascus experience, Barnabas and John Mark, Paul’s decision to turn to Macedonia in his missionary journey, and Paul’s pastoral letters to the churches. When the church became institutionalized in the 3rd Century, the Desert Fathers and Mothers moved out to the deserts of Syria and Egypt in order to be closer to God in these barren wastelands. Though initially they were solitary hermits, the Desert Fathers and Mothers were soon sought out by those who seek a closer relationship with God and they became spiritual directors to these seekers. A community soon grew up around these spiritual directors. These became the site for the great monasteries.

When the Latin and Greek speaking churches split in or around 1054, each tradition continued with spiritual direction enshrined within it. The Greek Orthodox tradition offered spiritual direction as a part of community life, whereas the Latin Roman Church restricted spiritual direction to its clergy and the elites of its Orders. When the Protestant churches split from the Roman Church during the Reformation, about 500 years ago, the Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin incorporated spiritual direction into their new churches. The practice of spiritual direction remains strong in the Orthodox and Roman Churches while in the Protestant churches, it declined with the rise of evangelicalism. It has been experiencing a revival since the middle of the Twentieth Century when evangelicals began to realize that talking to God is more important than talking about God.

The heart of spiritual direction is our relationship with God. Our relationship with God involves our spiritual formation and transformation into being Christlikeness. There are three dimensions in our relationship with God. The walk to Emmaus and dinner revealed how Jesus formed and deepened the personal relationships of the disciples with God (person-in-formation). This is the first dimension. The narrative did not end there. They rushed back to the other disciples- in their community- where Jesus appeared amongst them (Luke 24:33-45). This is relationship at a communal level (persons-in-community formation), the second dimension. The third dimension of the relationship with God has to do with the mission of God which is to redeem the world and save the lost souls – the missio dei (persons-in-mission formation). Relationship with God involves being involved with his mission because the disciples are the witnesses (Luke 24:46-49). Helping a person in spiritual direction means helping the person through the Holy Spirit to develop these three dimensions of our relationship with God. God has always been working to deepen our relationship with him. Unfortunately, we are often not aware of this. The role of the spiritual director is to help the directee to be aware of God’s presence in his or her  life and what God wants to do to deepen that relationship.

The role of spiritual direction in soul care or the nurture of the spiritual life in Christians mainly involves two major categories. One is in significant life event decision-making and the other in seeking to deepen our spiritual life. In life, we are often faced with making important life changing choices. These choices are not the choice between good and bad. The decision here is obvious. It is often between good or better in the light of God’s call on our lives. These are difficult decisions to make. The human spiritual director comes in to help the person making the choice to discover his or her underlying motivations through prayers and dialogue and also to help spiritually discern the leading of the real spiritual director, the Holy Spirit, on the matter. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises is a major influence on spiritual direction decision making. It was originally written for Jesuit novices to discern their calling to join the Order and its monastic vows. It is a manual for a 30 days retreat where the retreatants are led to make their decision by a series of structured exercises involving prayers, self-examination of self and emotions, with the help and discernment of a spiritual director. The modified Spiritual Exercises is still in use by spiritual directors and its principles still remain valuable  today.

Many people have found spiritual direction useful in deepening their spiritual life especially in a life of prayers. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila are two interesting examples. They took turns to give spiritual direction to each other as they progressed in deepening their spiritual lives. Most Christians lead very superficial spiritual lives. God has invited us to jump into his depths and to experience a deeper life in Christ. Soul care work is not easy. We will meet the ‘dragons’ of our shadow self as we peel away the layers of our false self to find our true self. It may be disturbing and scary. This is where spiritual directors are very helpful. They journey together with us and teach us how to slay these dragons! The spiritual quests and dwellings which make up the movements of our spiritual lives are also movements of the Holy Spirit. Jonathan Edwards and John Woolman are two examples of spiritual directors whose writings offered profound insights into the deepening of our spiritual lives.

Spiritual direction is an important part of soul care together with spiritual friendship, mentoring, disciplining, coaching, counselling and pastoral care. The present day Church needs a deeper spirituality in Christ. There has been increasing interest in spiritual direction in the Protestants and evangelical churches. With the rapidly interconnected world, spiritual directors and directors do not need to be in the same room or even the same continent! This is a positive development if spiritual direction is to be available to a Twenty-First Century Church who is hungry for spiritual depth.

Eugene Peterson, Spiritual Director Extraordinaire

EugenePeterson01

Image: Taylor Martyn / Fuller Seminary

Eugene Peterson, former pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland and Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology in Regent College, Vancouver, Canada passed away at home on 22 October 2018. He was 85 years old. In the Spiritual Formation Movement, I regard Dallas Willard as the head, Richard Foster as the hands, and Eugene Peterson as the heart. Dallas Willard who died in 2013 provided the ideas that formed the infrastructure of the movement. His ideas were often abstract and his concepts difficult to grasp. Richard Foster consolidates   the movement by recovering the spiritual disciplines and the formative programs of Renovaré, an organization that he started. However, it is from Eugene Peterson that I discovered the heart of the movement.

I only met Eugene Peterson once many years ago at a Spiritual Formation Forum in Los Angeles. It was late in the day and he was tired yet he was willing to spend half an hour talking to this unknown Asian guy over a cup of coffee. I do not remember what we talked about but I do remember I was impressed by his authenticity and spiritual presence. I remembered leaving the encounter spiritually uplifted and convinced that I should continue to be involved with the movement. This was before the publication of the Message, his paraphrase of the Bible, which made him internationally famous . I have been reading and studying his writings before this chance encounter and continued to do so. I regard Eugene Peterson as my spiritual director even though he may not know it. His books, writings, lectures, and sermons provide spiritual guidance at the most appropriate times in my life. Like all spiritual guides, he draws me closer to God with his wise counsel.

The centrality of the Word lies at the heart of all his writings and teaching. Being a linguist himself, Eugene Peterson was familiar with ancient Greek and Hebrew. He emphasized the need to know the Bible and to apply it in all areas of our lives. I find Eat this Book and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction representative of Eugene Peterson’s thinking in this area. Megachurches, modern theologies and the prosperity gospel did not impress him. A  thought which he shared  that have stayed with me was that he would not pastor a church that has more members than he can know personally. I believed he gave the number as 300 members. And he held true to that conviction, faithfully pastoring a small church in Bel Air for over 23 years. I am totally convinced of his concept of  a pastor as being a part of a community. Reading his personal memoirs The Pastor, community and place were featured prominently as his areas of emphasis. Christian spirituality was a deep interest of his and his books Run with the Horses and Subversive Spirituality taught me the importance of our spirituality in Christ in the ordinary events in our daily life.

Though he is no longer with us, his legacy lives on. A gentle man with deep roots in the Word and in God. An earthly man with deep roots in his communities. A thoughtful reflective man whose body of work continues to inspire and guide others to engage in subversive spirituality in a materialistic world.

EugenePeterson02