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Christian Indian

My Christian Writings from all over.

Updated: 2016-05-20T01:22:52.306-07:00


Marred Images


I have always understood life to be fuller of various shades of gray and have looked askance at people who have everything sorted out in life with all the right scriptures as footnotes. And yet every day my boundaries in this area are being challenged and enlarged with every new experience that I have. The other day, after hearing a colleague talk about a person who didn’t know whether he was a man or a woman, I am even more intrigued about the Pandora’s box that life is and how impossible it is to shut the lid on that box after filing the contents in neat files. And no, the story is not that of some homosexual or lesbian confused about their sexuality and so I am not sure that the typical verses will any more apply. So listen to this story. Very much like a man who is hoodwinked into getting into a hospital with a promise of a large some money and wakes up from anaesthesia to find a paltry sum of cash in his hands and a scar from where one of his kidneys had been removed, a man was similarly kidnapped and brought into hospital. Under anaesthesia, he was castrated and then with the help of skilled cosmetic surgeons, “converted” into a woman anatomically. Post surgery, he/she was then given hormone injections so that other physical attributes of a woman eventually developed. At an opportune time, then the individual was sold into a brothel where he/she was abused, raped and brutalized repeatedly over time. This is not a story out of a book, but one that I heard last week from one of my own colleagues, and the person telling the story, a counsellor assigned to work with the person, after she was rescued on an anti trafficking raid in the brothel. The question before the counsellor was this – what was the point of reference for this trafficked person in the counselling sessions to be done – was this person a man or a woman? Anatomically , the advancement of medical science had seen to it that the person was fully a woman in every possible way ; and yet the mental makeup of the person , the person’s emotions, thinking , orientation and inner wiring was all that of a man. The world would only see this person as a woman and relate to her at that level; but in this story of course there is a lot more here that meets the eye. We read in the Bible that God created man and woman in His image and gave them one or the other of this dual identity. But what of someone whose identity has been so complexly damaged, that the person can no longer even say if he is a man any more or a woman. He could say that he was a woman, because that is what the person looks like, but his heart beat is still largely that of a man. He could say that he was a man because that is how he was created in the first place; but only God looks at the heart and sees that struggle – for the rest of us he looks, dresses and appears like in a woman, and in at least some churches I have been to, if he went and sat in the men’s pews, the person would be promptly shown his place. It is not every day that I look forward to getting older, but the one thing that I see and recognize with each passing day, is that life leave us with more questions and puzzles and answers. I never went to a Sunday school and have never been able to do memory verses. So I don’t have a scripture verse for every occasion. But perhaps the one thing that I have learnt is that being a Christian is to embrace all of life’s unanswered mysteries with a curious, open and inclusive heart and mind which is open to God…. because perhaps tomorrow and the day after , each day in fact, I will encounter a new story, a new riddle, a new mystery … and none of these very human, very painful, very sensitive stories about people who were made in God’s image but has now got badly marred can be patched up by citing some passages of scripture from here and there….. I don’t know what it means …[...]

Questions with no Answers


I live a rather peculiar life these days. My wife and daughter who is in her final year of school live in Delhi. I live alone in Mumbai and my elderly mother in Kolkata. All of us have our own concerns and fears and lead peculiarly lonely lives. In another day and age, this might have been considered odd, but times are changing and have always been changing and social norms and mores are changing too.For instance in Abraham’s time, families were extended households. Abraham and Isaac lived under the same roof with their wives, siblings and a large entourage of other family members and servants. Similarly Jacob lived with his wives and sons and that was the pattern in the times of the patriarchs. As Israel settled into a less nomadic existence, family patterns changed and people began to live as household of individual families. Families were still extended, but their sizes were smaller. Probably by New Testament times, perhaps even extended families were shrinking. We see Joseph and Mary alone travelling to Bethlehem for the census ordered by the Caesar, possibly indicating that there was no one else they had to call as family.Today, families are changing shape and complexion again. If Abraham and his kind were nomadic people, today’s generation has become nomadic too. Except that today we no longer travel swathes of deserts on camels and living in tents. Today more likely than not , often one member of a family is travelling , often across continents , riding not a camel but a jet plane and keeping in touch with his family through Skype or e mail. What is one to make of these phenomena and should one accept it or condemn it?Change of course is inevitable and it will happen irrespective of whether we like it or not ; but the only way to aloft and be in some control of change in the domain of family and relationships is to be clear on what the scriptures teach and try and interpret them in sensitive and humane ways.Let me give some examples. The Bible tells us to honour our parents. This seems easy enough when we are children and live with our parents. Besides often it is a case of “obey or else”..... But as a child becomes an adult and his or her parents grow older and often driven by job or other constraints, live separately, how is love and honour to be expressed in such situations?Similarly churches hold seminars all the time titled family seminars. But these seminars usually have a lot to teach spouses about to honour each other and love each other. Or they are parenting seminars. Both are important and have their place. But families are more than spouses and their children. As life expectancy goes up, sooner or later one or the other spouse dies. How does the one left behind cope with life and build healthy, supportive relationships? The Bible has a lot to say about widows, but it is a long time if ever I heard any teaching about the place of widows (or widowers) in the community of faith. Or what about the single man or woman? Are relationships meant for them too? Or what kind? What will the church endorse? The Bible tells us to treat the stranger and the alien with the utmost consideration, yet the stranger nearest to us is often the single man or woman in the next pew, whose hand every one shakes but no one invites home.What about promoting families across ethnic and language divides? When I was a new and young Christian, almost all of my friends were from a particular community. They taught me all about the scriptures, about the Christian life and discipleship, loved me hugely and sincerely. I wouldn’t be anything without their love and care and I can never forget that and hope that I never will. These friends taught me that in Christ all men and women were equal and that Christ had broken down every wall, every barrier. They taught me that it was always wrong to be unequally yoked and marry someone who did not know the lord. I absorbed it all in.Afte[...]

Transparency : Living in the light


Many of us might have been following the news pertaining to the members of the judicial community in India trying for a long time; not to make their financial assets public in spite of an increasing demand to do so. That they eventually agreed was not so much a voluntary act in the usually understood sense of the term; rather it was more of a capitulation to a growing chorus of public opinion. Though a large number of the establishment seemed to side with the judges – the government tied to introduce a bill that would make it unnecessary for the judges to disclose their worth.The wide acclaim with which the Supreme Court’s final decision that the judges would up details about their assets on the Supreme Court website shows one thing very clearly; we love transparency. Whether it is in public life, or insurance forms, or anything else. We like things out in the open. No secrets hid. In broad daylight. We dislike darkness and those things that limit our vision.As Christians, I often wonder as to how transparent are we? How transparent am I? I wonder how we can expect to reach the world - to give our light to the world - without being transparent. Jesus was transparent. He lived a transparent life. He did not gloss over things; He did not shy away from confrontation. He talked about the hard stuff, and He took the challenges presented Him without a second thought.The Apostle Paul was able to say:“Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2Essentially Paul is saying that he has chosen to live a transparent life—to practice a transparent ministry. Transparency is the watch word for anyone in leadership today. Whether he or she is a CEO, a politician or a judge there is a cry from the bottom to the top for transparency. We do our ministry in the world of blogs and Facebook. Long before the high tech transparency was foisted upon us, Paul taught us that the only truly legitimate way to conduct one’s ministry is with transparency in your life. Our lives and ministry should be an open statement of the truth. How else, as he writes in verse 2, could we “commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”? This is the ultimate transparency — that we practice our ministry in the presence of God.A part of the whole struggle with transparency is the struggle that we have in admitting or hiding our own weaknesses and struggles. This is of course a very real battle. I am of course very aware of my brokenness, but I am also aware that there’s nothing in me that commands the admiration of the world. But that does not mean going around with a low self esteem. There’s a difference between a low self esteem which comes from an inferiority complex, some sort of neurosis and a true understanding of who we are, that then allows God to work through us and shows to the world the face of brokenness, of holiness lived in brokenness, transparency enables ,me to say that God has shown me, I cannot do it by myself, but his light in me manifests itself and I give him all the glory.To live a transparent life is to be as completely real as possible. It is to truly be “in the world but not of it”. It is to meet people where they are at, instead of expecting them to somehow find their way to where we are. To connect with others on their terms, in a real way. To be yourself, instead of wearing the masks we put on as often as we seek our place in the world. To not be afraid of others seeing our flaws. For nobody is perfect.To live a transparent life means that not everyone will like us. In fact, some people will hate us outright. We may lose our lives. But transparent lives are passionate lives, full of movement, and they are worth whatever time we are given on this earth.[...]

Change, Apathy and Us


About ten years ago, the relief and development agency that I worked for sponsored a young man from leading evangelical congregation on a tour around the world along with a few others chosen from all over the globe. The intention was that as they went around and saw the relief and development activities being done in the name of Jesus Christ in many difficult places in the world and how lives of people and communities were being transformed as a result, they would develop a perspective. That when they returned back to their lands and to their church, they would speak for what we today call “integral mission” , that the gospel is all about transforming lives in all dimensions : body, mind and soul.One Sunday morning, pinned on the church notice board was a picture postcard written by this young, man from some picturesque location in Europe. He narrated briefly all that he had seen and experience d in his travels, and ended by saying that for all that the trip was really a waste because they weren’t doing any evangelism on the trip and so the whole trip was a big waste . I remember cringing inwardly seeing that letter; but shouldn’t have – evangelicals were like that only.Around the same time, we tried to influence a VBS class in the city to include at least one session on a Christian’s responsibility in society; in looking at events around us through heaven’s eyes as Jesus would and then respond to them according to the teaching and ethos of scripture. The stony look that the organizers and teachers gave was unforgettable. Similarly, when I tried to talk about my experiences with the Catholic Church (mostly positive), my doctrine conscious evangelical friends reached for their Bibles and sneered at me disdainfully, if not snobbishly. It is difficult to exactly pin point when things began to change and evangelicals began to be accommodating and how this happened. But today, if you walk into that church, you are unlikely to recognize the church from what it was back then and what it has become now.The general thinking of a section of the evangelical community is that because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18v 36), so too our concerns ought not to be of this world. In our terms, it means that we should be having a perspective of eternity and all our efforts and interests ought to be directed towards that one end – that we witness to and testify among as many university students as possible so that through all our stratagems and programs should be directed to that end so that “by all possible means we might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). The harvest is plentiful; the laborers are few and more so, life is short, and so let us not get distracted by the other demands that may be made on our time and energy. So far so good.But the counter argument that I would make is that such a view is an incomplete and even a distorted view of the gospel. After all it said of Jesus that He “went about doing good."- (-Acts, 10:38) and it can be nobody’s case that doing well is confined to preaching the good news alone.Some graphic illustrations of the coming kingdom of God are to be found in passages like Zechariah 8 v (4-5)Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.'Isaiah 65 v 18-23 paints an even more detailed and more graphic picture of the Kingdom dealing with health, housing, agriculture, justice and equity. These and other passages describe the kind of world that will bring joy and delight to the Lord – a world He would rejoice over (Isaiah 65 v 19). If we know the heart beat God and know what exactly gives Him pleasure and delight , then can we in all honesty pray the Lord’s prayer about His will being done on earth “as it is in heaven” without lifting a finger to make this happen ? It sounds inconceivable.It is n[...]

Times have changed


About ten years ago, the relief and development agency that I worked for sponsored a young man from leading evangelical congregation on a tour around the world along with a few others chosen from all over the globe. The intention was that as they went around and saw the relief and development activities being done in the name of Jesus Christ in many difficult places in the world and how lives of people and communities were being transformed as a result, they would develop a perspective. That when they returned back to their lands and to their church, they would speak for what we today call “integral mission” , that the gospel is all about transforming lives in all dimensions : body, mind and soul.One Sunday morning, pinned on the church notice board was a picture postcard written by this young, man from some picturesque location in Europe. He narrated briefly all that he had seen and experience d in his travels, and ended by saying that for all that the trip was really a waste because they weren’t doing any evangelism on the trip and no souls were being won. I remember cringing inwardly seeing that letter; but shouldn’t have – evangelicals were like that only.Around the same time, we tried to influence a VBS class in the city to include at least one session on a Christian’s responsibility in society; in looking at events around us through heaven’s eyes as Jesus would and then respond to them according to the teaching and ethos of scripture. The stony look that the organizers and teachers gave was unforgettable. Similarly, when I tried to talk about my experiences with the Catholic Church (mostly positive), my doctrine conscious evangelical friends reached for their Bibles and sneered at me disdainfully, if not snobbishly.It is difficult to exactly pin point when things began to change and evangelicals began to be accommodating and how this happened. Possibly when the first instances of persecution began happening in the late Nineties. This was still the United Front government but the BJP and its allies were on the ascendant. And of course the fundamentalist forces neither knew nor understood doctrinal niceties and they destroyed, killed and burnt churches of all denominations and persuasions. Perhaps it was the sudden dawning that if fundamentalist forces had to be appropriately countered , it was no longer possible to be confined to one’s denominational or theological positions that made evangelicals open up to embrace Catholics and “liberals” and other “social gospelers”. This embracing did not mean that each party abandoned their stated positions but certainly ushered in a wave of acceptance, tolerance and diversity that exists among God’s people.It is similarly difficult to say when Evangelicals began to be accommodative of social concern ministries; not just tolerate them but actually embrace them and acknowledge that these are a valid expression of the Christian gospel. But when umbrella organizations of the evangelical constituency like EFI, began opening their doors to such an expression of ministry, a milestone had surely been crossed.Of course, EFICOR had been birthed by EFI way back in 1967, but for a long time that remained the only entity that dabbled in developmental and justice issues and became an autonomous entity in little over a decade. But today, it would seem that we have traveled a long way. Today when we have programs like Viva which works with issues of children at risk operate under the umbrella of EFI, the leading evangelical magazine does a whole issue with homosexuality as the theme and the decadal Congress on Church in Mission has tracks like human trafficking, Christians in political engagement and Religious freedom, it seems that finally the evangelical community has finally made it to the new millennium.[...]

Grace and Stigma


One of the hallmarks of a developing and progressive society is the degree to which it is inclusive – inclusive of minorities, marginalized and other vulnerable sections of society who may normally not expect to find a place under the sun. Such a place of equality is what the Indian constitution guarantees in Article 14(equality) and Article 15(no discrimination)So what is one to make of the recent Supreme Court ruling that those leprosy patients cannot contest a civic election or hold municipal office in Orissa state? The case was brought to court by two men who were elected to a civic body in Orissa in 2003, but were later disqualified as they had leprosy. The Orissa Municipal Act of 1950 bars people suffering from tuberculosis or leprosy from holding such posts."The legislature in its wisdom has thought it fit to retain such provisions in the statute in order to eliminate the danger of the disease being transmitted to other people from the person affected," Supreme Court judges CK Thakker and DK Jain said in their ruling.In the colonial era, the central government passed the Lepers Act of 1898, which provided legal provision for forcible confinement of leprosy sufferers in India. A hundred and more years have passed by; politically India is an independent state, has become a signatory to the UN resolution which says discrimination against leprosy patients must be ended. Medically, leprosy is detected early and thanks to a multi drug regime, cured early too. And yet a few years short of the second decade of the 21st century, piles of archaic legislation keep those who happened to have contracted leprosy at some point on the margins of society.I always think of that fear and stigma when I read the stories about leprosy in the Gospels. Leprosy was of course greatly feared in the ancient near east. No one had contact with a leper(as they were referred to till recently). They were, instantly, removed from every social sphere. They couldn’t worship in the synagogue, they couldn’t live with other people, they couldn’t participate in the economic system of the time; who would take money from a leper?We are familiar with the story of Naaman. Successful military man and leader, struck down by disfiguring disease –But Naaman’s disease is likely to get him ousted from his post, in a society even more fixated on appearance than ours. If Naaman can’t get his skin cleaned up, not only will he have to leave office, he’ll be banished from polite and religiously observant society. Naaman’s route to healing reads almost like a spy novel. A word dropped by the slave girl who works for his wife – and why would this little girl who was captured in an enemy raid want to help him? But her tiny shred of hope has him rushing off to his king to get a letter of passage to the enemy. When the letter comes to the king of Israel, he despairs, for he knows he can’t fulfil this request. But Elisha gets wind of the visitor and says, “Come see me and I’ll see what I can do.” Naaman goes, but he’s too proud to enter Elisha’s house. Elisha sends a message out – “go wash in the Jordan, and you’ll get what you’re after.” It must have sounded amazingly dismissive, because Naaman leaves in a huff. But his own servants offer him encouragement, and he finally goes off to the river, and gets his youthful appearance back. Maybe this is where the fountain of youth idea came from…Slave girl, servants, enemies, kings, and prophets – an impressive set of links that bring Naaman to his knees.Jesus’ healing of the leper is more direct. The leper appears and asks to be healed. And Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the leper and says, “I do want to; be clean.” Jesus chooses to foul himself – touching a leper makes him unfit for polite society. Being gut-wrenched may also carry the sense that Jesus touched the man in spite of his own revulsion – or, more likely, the revulsion [...]

The Classroom and the Kingdom


One of my friends whose whereabouts are usually not traceable, because he is involved in hectic travel has grounded himself for the next month or so. he has stationed himself at home ; well not exactly at home, but like a tame pet, he goes off to the office in the morning and is safely back to home base by evening. after hearing that piece of news, I haven been given similar instructions on the home front and my wife herself has taken leave a month’s leave and has parked herself at home. In both our families, a child is going through that iconic rite of passage – the board exam….. An event talked about in awe and hushed whispers. I do not know the number of students who sit for the Board examinations in India every year, with practically each state having its own board of secondary education apart from the grand daddy of them all, the Central Board of Secondary Education. But whatever be the number, the ides of March bring with them the news of the examination season and the country it would seem defers to the phenomenon. elections if due, are scheduled and rescheduled to ensure that the examination schedule is not trifled with ; the election commission , typically a law unto itself , defers to the board examinations – elections will never be scheduled in a way that they interfere with the examination time table. But stress for exam going students and increasingly their families is becoming a major issue in the last decade and it is a matter of concern that young people are being exposed to stress at such an early stage of their lives when their coping mechanism is so weak. Eexamination stress pushes students to various kinds of perversions, not only affecting concentration and memory but also forcing them to adopt abnormal behavior. Stressed out children are increasingly consuming tobacco, drinking tea, coffee and taking commonly-available amphetamine drugs such as cough syrups to keep up while preparing for exams. And then there are those who simply can’t cope and end their lives. According to government reports, over 5000 students committed suicide in 2006. The unofficial figures are even higher. It seems stress is pushing our students to the brink; many of them just in class six. Boys are more vulnerable to committing suicide than girls, because adolescent girls seek support from family and friends to deal with emotional stress during examination. But as boys are less expressive, they tend to suppress their feelings of inadequacy and fear of poor performance. This often drives them to suicide to end their frustration What's pushing today's Indian students - a bright generation with a global reputation for their high intelligence quotient - to the brink? Parental and peer pressure, rising ambitions and fierce competition are brewing a deadly cocktail for these young minds. Moreover, a nation racing towards affluence, an economy on a remarkable upward growth trajectory and skyrocketing salaries are putting unprecedented pressure on youth to succeed. Often Christian families are not too different when it comes to choosing careers and vocations for their children although it should be obvious that the biblical perspective is that the purpose of education is to advance God’s purposes and plans for this world. Christians ought to pursue education so that through that means they may best serve the interests of the Kingdom of God and work for justice and equity in a society that reflects the character of God in his justice, compassion, grace and mercy. If we think of education only as a means for the young to develop their skills, or to achieve their potential, or to be equipped to succeed in life, then we have seen only one side of the coin. Rather, education must do all of that and also serve the entire society. It must serve not just its students but all of society, it must be as concerned about responsibility to the world. Ephesians 2:1[...]

Kaala Bandaar - The Evil Within Us



A news bulletin on the television channel IBN 7 describing the havoc created by the “ kala bandaar” greets Abhishek Bachchan, a Generation Y, NRI, accompanying his ailing grand mother, who wants to come back to India in her old age. This is of course Delhi 6, the recently released movie, which has become better known for the catchy Masakali song.

Although the theme of the kala bandaar is a thread running through the film, it is brought to some kind of a closure only near the end. Abhisekh Bachchan dons the garb of a monkey in the climax, is caught and is lynched. He is practically killed but recovers. As the narrator in the film within, he makes a philosopher like speech, saying that there is a kala bandaar, a black monkey, lurking inside each one of us; ready to engulf us and our lives, at the slightest opportunity. Although in the movie, it felt that the Director had chosen through this statement, to conveniently kill off a concept that had outlived its utility as the movie closed, the speech is not entirely hyperbole.

There is indeed an element of evil that prowl in our hearts. I have just been reading a book titled Stones by the River. Set in Germany, the book traces the transformation of German society in the inter war years from the perspective of Trudi Montag, a dwarf girl who watches with pain and horror as ordinary citizens whom she has known all her life, change colors before her eyes, and become sympathizers, and later informers for the Nazi party. Not that they all subscribed to the Nazi ideology; but what drove them was the greed of laying hands on Jewish property and wealth, every time they betrayed one to the authorities.

A mob is a good example of an occasion when ordinary people suspend their values and sense of discernment and succumb to the increasingly strong nudges of the evil within themselves. Inherently good people become momentarily totally evil. In the movie itself, there is such an instance that is captured. Shortly after Abhishek brings his grand mother home to Delhi, she suddenly falls sick. The whole community in the muhulla comes together to make arrangements for her to be taken to hospital and Abhisekh is overwhelmed; yet the same group would split on communal lines and turn murderous a while later.

Of course, in our darkest times, we all think of dominating others, subduing others to our will and a ‘sadistic streak’, though latent, is there within all of us. As we are reminded through the turmoils of our own lives every day, there is a battle going on inside of us, We may want to think of these primeval forces of good and evil as two sides in a fight: the one that has been fed will defeat the one that has been starved.

The question that we may want to ask ourselves every day is this - by our thoughts, by our actions and by our habits, one or the other dogs – of good or of evil - are being fed and fattened. Are our actions fattening the kala bandaar within us? Or are we starving it to death and enabling the image of God within us to become more clearly visible?

Maula, Maula.... and Worshipping the True God


Delhi 6 ( the movie that is, not the PIN CODE!), my wife remarked about the Sufi song “Maula, Maula”( Although she didn’t get the full meaning of the Urdu lyrics, she remarked at the intensity of what was essentially a Sufi worship song, and remarked at the intensity of the lyrics, melody and the rendering of the singer expressing a very deep yearning to get closer to God, which is in its essence what Sufism is all about. On the way back home, we passed the neighborhood temple, where a gaggle of toothless women were clanging cymbals in what could only be described as a listless enactment of a ritual.Since then I have been about the object called “Christian worship”. I have been meeting people lately who introduce themselves as “worship leaders” or who “lead worship”. Subsequently observing them in their work place, I find what they actually do is strum a guitar and lead in the singing of a few songs.Worship of course is a private act as well as a public one, I suppose for public events, some kind of coordination is needed, but the self adulating title of “worship leader”, perhaps deflects more glory on to the person than to the function, which is to lead the people of god in adoration. John Piper says this in his book, Desiring God, "Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God, the radiance of his worth." Let me say that again. "Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of his worth." As our heart is captured by who God is, what he has created, how he works, that his purposes are always good. What he sacrificed for me and you and how he pursues us in love even at this moment, it moves me. It makes me grateful, happy, joyful, and glad and I want to reflect that back to him in worship. My heart spontaneously overflows in joy.Joy is what was oozing through every clap and beat of the Sufi Quawali, thought the tenor was nasal and rustic. Perhaps the voice was not trained enough bit the heart was well in tune and was able to draw the attention of even a casual movie goers to thought of God for a time. Of course on special occasions like Christmas and Easter, even our churches parade out our best choirs and chorales and the rendering of them is often truly angelic, but can we worship “in spirit and in truth” and in day to day life and our routine Sunday services ?The purpose of worship after all is to provide an atmosphere in which people bring their everyday, busy, confusing, frustrating lives and leave the cares and concerns at the altar trusting God through faith to speak to them in the midst of their lives. Music is a means to do that but not the only means to do this. May be the Psalms provide a good context as well as a framework for worship. In the Psalms we often read about the psalmists' enemies, but they are almost always spoken of in very unspecific terms. We're not told who they are, or what they are trying to achieve, but only that they have set themselves up against the man of God, and therefore against God himself. The world we live in often provides our equivalent of the psalmist's enemies. Our world has set itself up against God, and therefore against us. The world is not neutral, it is opposed to us, so it is no wonder we experience its hostility from time to time as God allows. Things happen to us over which we have no control. What is it that is overwhelming you at the moment? Are you riding the wave, or is it all crashing around you that true worship is startlingly honest. It's easy to overlook, but the Psalms, with all their questions and accusations, are worship! To pour out your soul in all honesty before God, is worship, and the psalmist shows us how to worship God, in this Psalm just as much in the "praise him on the trumpet" types of Psalm. In fact the psalmist has discovered what we've [...]

Sin and Shame


The latest issue of the Jesuit run Indian magazine, “The New Leader” carries a lead article on hat it calls the growing phenomena of “Drinking as a subculture of Priests”. The article begins with the candid admission that alcoholism thrives in shadows, secrets and silence. And then goes on to say that alcoholism thrives because alcoholics take refuge in shadow land because they are confused scared and above all ashamed.I like the candidness of the article and the willingness to admit that there is a problem and that there is a need to address it and that those affected by alcoholism need to be helped to cope with it and not pushed into the shadows.The word that most deserves to be coupled with sin is salvation; but the words that typically accompany them are shame, stigma and the world of shadows. at this point, I am not commenting on whether alcoholism is a disease or a sin, but simply commenting on the attitudes of shame and stigma in people who display behaviors that is considered unconventional in a given culture or society.The church is the community of redeemed sinners, but is often unfortunately the first to put its own fallen comrades into the shadows, and often very publicly. The secular world, which has never seen nor often experienced grace, is often found to be more tolerant; though this tolerance may be more passive tolerance than active assurance and acceptance. How important is grace Vis a Vis the judgment that we often use to push people into the shadows because they have a “problem”? Just how important is grace and acceptance in the church community? Well, the the apostle Paul, in practically all of his greetings, starts off by wishing them grace and peace. God gives us grace, but God also want us to have grace in our lives.And He also wants us to give grace. As we have received grace in whatever facet, He wants us to give it. How have you experienced it? If you've been through a death-like situation, you're likely to be very encouraging to people who are in a death-like situation. If you've been sick in a particular way, you're probably able to comfort people who are sick in that same way.It is important to use the grace of God in our lives. And having the grace of God does not mean we still don't fight ourselves, because the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, that he had to fight himself and keep himself in check lest after he had preached to others he himself be found a cast-away. The grace of God leads us to exert ourselves in a godly way. It leads us to ask for forgiveness. It leads us to receive forgiveness. It leads you to comfort, console, and give hope, to others.The New Leader article zeroes in on the particular burden of the priests: they are representatives of the church and the church hierarchy; he often faces extra ostracism if he reveals his situation and suffers in isolation if he doesn’t. It is a bit of a Herculean task I admit; the church is a body of people is called upon to reflect the image of God all right and so what happens when you notice an aberration? What do you do? The New Testament on the odd occasion does recommend the ex communication and disfellowshipping of the odd person; but the end goal is still the same – that the person would be eventually restored into communion and community. Restoration is thus the eventual goal; and there are various methods to pursue this. But the gift of grace has a far larger role in the scheme of God’s things than we are ready to offer it – stigmatization and isolation is a lot simpler to do.[...]

A Theology of Silence


Buddhism, once the domain of Ambedkar and his acolytes is now attracting more glamorous followers including in its ranks people like Priyanka Gandhi. The latest issue of Outlook talks about the Buddhist revival that is happening. middle class and page 3 crowd, typically associated more with partying are joining up for one of the many forms of Buddhism available today.One of them is Vipassana which has its centre at Igatpuri near Mumbai and which I recently visited. the introduction to Vipasssana in the Igatpuri begins with a ten day introductory course which is quite austere. austerity of course was to be expected but what fascinates me most is the importance accorded to silence in the whole course: ten days of near total silence cut off from television, news papers and conversation of any kind. Such an atmosphere, it is said leads to a state of mental purification and “detox” when one is cut off from all polluting influences. Surely silence has a lot of therapeutic effects, but in the Christian tradition, more specifically in the Protestant, Evangelical tradition, we don’t have much time and space for silence. Silence is for the monks and the nuns and of course we don’t have them either. And that is a pity. It is difficult to fathom a reason but perhaps a reason could be the protestant, evangelical emphasis on the Word of God and the underlying assumption that the Word of god is meant to be heard; rather than meditated up on or even read. Hence the plethora of preachers and speakers and the importance given to them. The medium does not matter; it could be television or in crusades or revival meetings or churches. In this tradition, the very moment we think of planning an event or a program, in the very next breath, we ask, “but who will be the speaker?” a program without a speaker is sort of thinkable in our circles. Of course the concept of silence is thoroughly biblical. Jesus spent long moment in silent contemplation. All four Gospels tell us that Jesus prayed. He prayed alone on mountains and in the wilderness. In the first centuries after Jesus’ life, most Desert monk/writers were familiar with silence--their own silence, and the silence of God. After the Reformation in the 16th century, Protestant denominations drew parishioners’ attention almost entirely to the Bible, to sermons and vocal prayer, and to the singing of hymns. From then on we lost the tradition. Almost all post-Reformation denominations (except, e.g., the Quakers) focused (and still do focus) on the Word--reading the Bible, listening to sermons and trying to convert others by convincing them that our particular verbal formulations of scripture, of doctrine and of God’s identity are true in themselves. For most Protestant denominations, the words of Scripture, doctrine and creeds are themselves identified as holy. These Christian brothers and sisters do not seem to be interested in contemplative silence or in the possibility that the Triune God can show up between, beneath and beyond our words and stories--even beyond our sacred words and stories. Those of us who value contemplative silence should remember that Jesus did not teach wordless, contemplative prayer explicitly. Yes, Jesus did pray alone, often going into the desert for solitude, and we can infer from his life and teaching that he learned about himself, his mission and God in silence. But contemplatives should not ignore the fact that Jesus ‘s spirituality was thoroughly relational. Jesus discerned God’s personal presence as he studied Hebrew scripture, and he preached. The Gospel writers tell us that God’s presence was conveyed powerfully through Jesus’s words. Jesus’s ministry tells us that very often the Good News is spoken, one to another, and the effect on [...]

Children at Risk


Fuller Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies in 2006 chose “Children and the Mission of God” as its theme for its annual missiological lectures. The lectures were launched by Bryant Myers, newly appointed professor of International Development, and a well known Christian development ideologue. He began the lectures with an overview presentation, “Children in our Midst: Our Mandate”. Among the thoughts brought out by Bryant Myers, was the insight that “The well-being of children is an indicator of the well-being of society,” According to him “If the children are doing all right, the rest of us probably are, too.”One thrust of Myer’s speech was that even though many of the world’s children today are doing well, there are many who are not. An alarming 210 million children globally are involved in labor outside the home, half of them in full-time work—taking them out of school and placing many in hazardous conditions. Of these, 1.8 million are involved in the worst forms of child labor: prostitution and pornography. Myers noted the distressing fact that those who exploit children in this way often take advantage of disastrous situations; after the tsunami, he said, “the child exploiters arrived in Banda Aceh (Indonesia) as soon as relief workers did.” Many more disturbing statistics were offered in the speech: 5.7 million children are engaged in forced or bonded labor; 300,000 are child soldiers; 10 million are refugees, many without their families; tens of millions live on the streets; and vast numbers are unregistered, with no recognition by their governments. Myers also noted the very different kind of problem of “deceived children” in the U.S., where $12 billion is spent every year on advertising directed to children 12 and under. In the affluent world as well as the developing world, children are at risk – albeit in different forms.“Children are in trouble everywhere in the world—some in awful ways, but also in more sophisticated, psychological ways,” Myers said. We must “act like Christ and be the Church” by caring for and protecting children through tangible provisions of care, by actively advocating for them, and by empowering them. “These children need to hear the gospel,” Myers urged. “They need to learn the liberating news that Jesus weeps for them…and that he provides forgiveness.” We must all think more intentionally about children and how our daily decisions will affect them. The speech concluded with a moving note citing a quote from John Whitehead: “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” It is very apparent that in our world and for that matter in most of history, children have by tradition been cherished, if at all, as citizens of tomorrow, the so called “future generation”. With this positioning as “assets of the future”, children deal with marginalization on account of their gender, caste, race, ethnicity and class, just as grown-ups do; they suffer being inconsequential merely for the reason that they are “children”. That childhood itself is valued and requires to be treasured, sheltered and provided for, is a relatively modern insight. Similarly, until very recently, issues related to children have tended to be marginal in almost every area of Christian living. From the many rules of the New Testament calling for compliance of children ‘in all things’ (Col.3:20) to all the culture and behavioral norms of the present day, a top down approach which often prevents listening to children and characterizes the child-parent association as one of blind obed[...]

Christian Choices : How Different Are They ?


Forty-eight students from an elite Christian school in Delhi who recently failed in one or more exams in the Class XI finals were recently asked to leave the school and seek admission else where in the middle of the academic year. The decision created enough fear and panic among the parents for the news to make it to the pages of at least one prominent news paper. Such a piece of news and comments in the press provides an opportunity to introspect on the long journey that Christian institutions have made in India to arrive at this juncture. The early history of the Christian institutions in India is tied up with the so called civilizing mission of both the East India Company and subsequently, the church. Eventually as the colonial regime stabilized and thinking evolved, this mission got subsumed into the church turning into the quasi official social sector arm of the state developing services – primarily education and health care to areas where the State did not or would not go. To aid this process, church related institutions were often given land on perpetual leases at nominal rates – a privilege which makes church a large owner of property even today cutting across denominations. Although a large emphasis of Christian institutions today purports to be the poor, this was not always the case. The typical Church run institution catered to the elite of the day, an image that has persisted to this day. “Civilizing” the ruling classes was always a primary agenda of the state and the church apparatus was not the only the instrument available to pursue this goal. The Mayo Colleges and the Lawrence Schools were set up with a similar purpose. Contrary to popular perception although exposure to Christian values and truths was a part of the church curriculum, proselytizing was not a major piece on the agenda. This was partly the result of experience – a short period in the early nineteenth century when missionaries were indeed active produced a kind of native Christian that were so alienated from their own community that most were too worthless to be even used as pawns- some from the aristocracy turned to drink and debauchery and others had to be accommodated in artificial townships called “mission compounds” But Church run institutions were and are known for promoting excellence. Part of the “civilizing mission” was about taking “barbarians” and turning them into “gentlemen” and “ladies”. Although the italicized terms have now become archaic and now evoke nothing but revulsion and images of arrogant imperialists, there was a certain beauty in picking up some thing raw and then molding them into products of merit. It also blended well with the teaching of the church and Jesus Christ who chose people to be his disciples such people “not many of whom were wise according to worldly standards”, “God chose what is weak in the world” and “God chose what is low and despised in the world” Look at Jesus’ 12 disciples—mostly poor and despised people: fishermen and tax-collectors. An interesting thing is that God usually calls the poor, lowly, and despised to do His great work. Look at Jesus’ 12 disciples—mostly poor and despised people: fishermen and tax-collectors. The only one who had a very high education and prestigious occupation was the Apostle Paul. But Paul himself noted that it is not the high and mighty that are called. The world thinks that we need to go after the gifted people, the talented people, the wealthy people, and the important people. If we plan to really accomplish great things, then we need the powerful people, the educated people, and the respected and influential people. This is the way we think, and it is very logical in terms of how[...]

Christian Institutions : Slowly Losing their Way


Forty-eight students from Delhi’s St Columba’s School at Ashok Place — who recently failed in one or more exams in the Class XI finals — have been asked to seek admission elsewhere. Such a piece of provides an opportunity to introspect on the long journey that Christian institutions have made in India to arrive at this juncture. The early history of the Christian institutions in India is tied up with the so called civilizing mission of both the East India Company and subsequently, the church. Eventually as the colonial regime stabilized and thinking evolved, this mission got subsumed into the church turning into the quasi official social sector arm of the state developing services – primarily education and health care to areas where the State did not or would not go. To aid this process, church related institutions were often given land on perpetual leases at nominal rates – a privilege which makes church a large owner of property even today cutting across denominations. Although a large emphasis of Christian institutions today purports to be the poor, this was not always the case. The typical Church run institution catered to the elite of the day, an image that has persisted to this day. “Civilizing” the ruling classes was always a primary agenda of the state and the church apparatus was not the only the instrument available to pursue this goal. The Mayo Colleges and the Lawrence Schools were set up with a similar purpose. Contrary to popular perception although exposure to Christian values and truths was a part of the church curriculum, proselytizing was not a major piece on the agenda. This was partly the result of experience – a short period in the early nineteenth century when missionaries were indeed active produced a kind of native Christian that were so alienated from their own community that most were too worthless to be even used as pawns- some from the aristocracy turned to drink and debauchery and others had to be accommodated in artificial townships called “mission compounds” But Church run institutions were and are known for promoting excellence. Part of the “civilizing mission” was about taking “barbarians” and turning them into “gentlemen” and “ladies”. Although the italicized terms have now become archaic and now evoke nothing but revulsion and images of arrogant imperialists, there was a certain beauty in picking up some thing raw and then molding them into products of merit. It also blended well with the teaching of the church and Jesus Christ who chose people to be his disciples such people “not many of whom were wise according to worldly standards”, “God chose what is weak in the world” and “God chose what is low and despised in the world” By doing what it has done, by turning out on to the streets, those who have failed , the very same people whom the world calls low and despised , St. Columbus School has turned the teaching of Jesus on it head. By choosing students who are already bright and intelligent to remain on the school roles and turning out the rest to the mercy of those mediocre schools which might accept them, it has gone the way of any other commercially run school which does not purport to run on the basis of any noble values. After all, again to quote Jesus Christ and the Bible , “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I guess that the bright students whom St. Columbus are capable of doing pretty well on th[...]

The Church in India and Health Care: Staying Relevant


The church and the Christian community in India have always been justly conscious and proud of its involvement in two sectors historically- education and health care. This involvement has been an interesting one and from a time where the church run health care meant charity and charitable institutions, today many church run institutions are involved in a variety of initiatives –including an adoption of the rights based approach which really represents a paradigm shift. In India, and other developing nations, the presence in the field of health care of the Church and NGOs needs to be evaluated and new strategies for better effectiveness need to be adapted especially as we live in times where even the legitimate concern of the church are looked up by many in our nation with unease and suspicion. If the Christian institutions and churches have earned recognition for their contributions to society in past days, it was because they were relevant to their times and the health care needs of those days. If we want to retain that appreciation or regain that stature, we need to rediscover and reclaim that position by doing three things and all at the same time: Be Advocates for the poor and the marginalized as the scriptures instruct us to do, be the best and most effective in all that we do and be the Champions of innovation and change constantly in all our institutions. It is no longer possible or right to breathe and live on the basis of past glory, no matter how noble the foundations might have been. The Church which historically provided health care through its institutions is today saying that health care is a basic right that the state should provide and to which the citizens have a right. While institutions have not been abandoned or closed down and still provide a significant service, this approach of demanding from Caesar what he should rightfully provide because of the taxes he collects is a bold initiative for a minority community and its institutions to taken and should be applauded. Such initiatives should in fact expand in their scope. Now what does all this mean? The flagship program in health of the government since 2005 has been the National Rural Health Mission. The purpose of this mission among other things is to strengthen the primary health centers (PHCs) and sub-centers and create a network of rural hospitals. The direction that NRHM has taken has led to the increased privatization of health care services in the country. Now while it is a separate discussion as to whether privatization of health care is good or bad, can the church with its numerous institutions, clinics and committed manpower step in to provide low cost and ethical health care. If that could be done, it would not only mean that the church’s own resources are freed up for other things, but also a huge contribution to society in general where the general complaint across states is that the government run facilities are sloth or corrupt, if not both. However despite the growing reality of public private partnerships, participation of Christian institutions is in this is still a largely untapped opportunity. Apart from this, can the church with other like minded and committed organizations act as a watchdog to ensure that the resources allocated for the running for the program are actually being used effectively and usefully. The church with its numerous dioceses parishes and mission stations has a country wide presence which is an unparalled advantage. Indian systems of medicine is again one of those areas where attention would be helpful. The Indian Systems of Medicine & H[...]

Profiling John Dayal : Every Community Needs an Activist


In the aftermath of the recent violence against Christians in Orissa, I realized once again that while human rights are universal and important, every community needs a John Dayal, for while human rights as a whole needs champions, minority rights needs many more champions. John Dayal wears many hats. He is the Chairman of the All India Catholic Union, he is also a Catholic member of India’s National Integration Council (a stone age body resurrected by the UPA), he is also the secretary general of the All India Christian Council.

John Dayal has been instrumental in bringing to national and world attention the violent Hindutva fundamentalist agenda against minorities within India. His pioneering work in documentation, networking and public mobilization has been largely responsible for the majority community in India coming to the assistance of the minorities in countering the challenge of its opponents.

This is especially true because a great deal of the violence, harassment and victimization is directed towards tribals, Dalits and other marginalized sections of the community whose voice unless it is amplified and reported in time, will never reach the desks and tables of those in authority who can make a difference. At a time when temperatures typically run high, keeping a cool head and making a factual and dispassionate analysis and assessment requires a commitment and a calling that not many have.

John Dayal, a professional journalist and documentary film maker specializing in politics and diplomacy, has been active in Human rights and civil liberties since 1971 when he published his research papers on drug addiction among the youth in the national capital of Delhi, followed by a series of investigations into child prostitution, sexual exploitation of young boys, and police torture of under-trial prisoners in Delhi and neighboring states

John has been instrumental in documenting the recent communal violence in Orissa’s Kandhamal district as part of a three member fact finding group and released a White Paper on the prevailing situation after their visit. The committee condemned all forms of fundamentalism, whether Hindu or Christian and demanded a judicial probe by a sitting judge of the High court or the Supreme Court.

Don't Look Back - Profiling David Bussau


Most donors from the West like to hold on to their turf. They make grants and preach a lot about sustainability and self reliance but most often their programming support does not reflect that. So they will carry on funding their clients for a stipulated number of years and then move on, whether the client is prepared or not. If the recipient is smart enough, they would have adequately prepared themselves for this day but more often than not, that preparation isn’t in place and so when one donor moves out or even before, the search begins for another donor to replace the departing patron. David Bussau, who has been described by the Far Eastern Economic Review as a cross between the 18th century preacher and reformer John Wesley and the father of capitalist economics, Adam Smith is one who is conspicuously different. David grew up in a New Zealand orphanage till the age of sixteen and then left without a penny to set up a hamburger stand. In business, David, a born entrepreneur had the Midas touch in every thing he attempted to do and over the next nineteen years, he spent his life making lots of money. After an interesting transformational experience twenty years later at the age of 35 and with numerous successful businesses to his credit, he “retired”. he had reached what he refers to as the “economics of enough”. He quit his businesses, sold off his interests and over a period of five years put his money in the Maranatha Trust which today exists to support social entrepreneurs and organizations. Apart from the work of the Trust, for the last sixteen years and more, David has been along with his partners in the Opportunity Network, one of the world’s most successful bankers to the poor. What makes David Bussau different from other providers of micro credit like say the Nobel Prize winning Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank who may have a bigger loan portfolio? David is an incubator of institutions. Opportunity has been setting up and nurturing institutions around the world for decades so that the developing world has successful micro credit institutions of their own. With that objective in mind, the philosophy of Opportunity is to set up micro credit institutions and then help them with an initial grant and start up funds with a reasonable rate of interest that need eventually to be repaid. David likes to describe the Opportunity programs as “a charity that doesn’t give any thing away.”. Experience has shown that with adequate training and hand holding, each Opportunity partner eventually learns how to manage its loan funds in order for it to pay its own way. With this philosophy of planting partners and hatching them into independent, professionally run institutions, Opportunity has launched nearly fifty partners in Asia including India, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe and creates a job every 35 seconds in 27 countries around the world. A Manchester University study has shown that for each job created, on average six people are permanently taken out of poverty and 13 people in the community benefit, so over thirteen million people were potentially helped by OI in 2006 alone. After being awarded 2003 Ernst & Young Australian Entrepreneur of the Year, David Bussau made history as the first ever social entrepreneur to be inducted into the World Entrepreneur of the Year Academy in Monte Carlo.” The life of David Bussau, chronicled in his biography appropriately titled Don’t Look Back is the story of an abandoned orphan boy who never moped over his situation bu[...]

Does Prayer Heal ?


The other day, I was at a function organized by the Christian Medical Association of India an umbrella of close to 300 plus non profit Christian Hospitals, many of them close to a century old and some older. They were observing World AIDS Day and the topic of discussion was the unique contribution that a community of faith can bring to the table. By now, every one sort of knows that HIV & AIDS is not a medical issue alone – there are myriad dimensions to it – social, economic, gender being some. The issue of the discrimination that those who are HIV positive flashes across our media radar all the time, be it children thrown out of schools, widows thrown out of their marital homes, or HIV positive men losing their jobs. So the question was can religious institutions, in this case, specifically the church contribute anything? Hospitals provide treatment, activist groups lobby for access and availability of treatment and reduction of stigma, donors like Bill Gates and others can give money, so what can a faith community provide? Many people said many things, like sponsoring families which have people who living with the virus, or financial aid to those who have lost jobs, providing training to women who have lost their husbands so that they can find a niche in the job market. The final conclusion though was that a community of faith’s niche was – well faith. Defining health in integral terms meant that physical, social, economic, emotional and spiritual concerns needed to be addressed to address healing concerns fully, and who better to address spiritual dimensions of health than religious institutions? I returned home thinking and asking a question that I have asked myself many time before. Does faith make any meaningful difference to the quantum of healing really or is it a warm, fuzzy feeling that makes you feel good when there is nothing to feel good about? I have been to many funerals and heard many eulogies where it was said that the faith of this and that person made a lot of difference to the way they handled their diseases and I am sure that is all true. But still that does not make any wiser than before. So I came back and did some reading on the subject of faith, prayer and healing. TIME magazine which has published numerous essays exploring the relationship between faith, prayer and healing says that even a couple of decades ago, the scientific community would not have dared to propose a double-blind, controlled study of something as intangible as prayer because the scientific temper is all about trying to ridding yourself of remnants of mysticism and obscurantism which is what many people think faith and prayer is – a lot of mumbo jumbo. But what I found in TIME is interesting. “According to Dr. Harold Koenig, a co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University, from 2000 to 2002 more than 1,000 scholarly articles on the relationship between religion and mental health were published in academic journals--as opposed to just 100 from 1980 to 1982. Such studies indicate that religion buffers its adherents from worry. Religious people are less depressed, less anxious and less suicidal than nonreligious people. And they are better able to cope with such crises as illness, divorce and bereavement. Even if you compare two people who have symptoms of depression, says Michael McCullough, an associate professor of psychology and religious studies at the University of Miami, "the more religious person will be a little less sad.” The BBC cites another study[...]

A Question of Identity


I met Sein Myint in a refugee camp, the only home he has ever known. He doesn’t remember much of his childhood except that he was born in a remote village in Burma. When he was still a small child, the soldiers came to his village and burnt the place down. They needed the land as the village stood in the way of a gas pipeline that was going all the way to India. When the soldiers had finished, they had lost all their belongings. With just the clothes on their back, the family fled into neighboring Thailand since when he has been living a tenuous existence as in the eyes of the world, without any papers or documents, he does not legally exist. His Burmese birth certificate was burnt by the soldiers and though Thailand allowed him and many others like him to live in enclosed refugee camps, they did not issue him any papers or identity card. Sein Myint’s loss of identity and lack of papers is more than symbolic. When he entered Thailand, he was a small boy and was enrolled in a minimalist school in the refugee camp that provided education until the 10th grade. With little access to books and other tuition, Sein Myint nevertheless passed his examinations. But he does not have a pass certificate as the certificate requires a name and place of birth to be entered and the refugees do not have papers to prove that their names are what they say they are and where they born. They can not prove that they are Burmese citizens and they obviously are not Thai subjects. Without a high school certificate, there are no hopes of any further education if he could at all get out of the camps legally which he cant. Which means that after all this education, he can do stray menial jobs or clerical work at the camps. Jesus had a clear understanding of his identity. When his mother reproached him saying, "Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." He replied, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" He did not dispute the authority or responsibility of his earthly parents, but he clearly saw and stated his identity based on his unique relationship to his heavenly Father. He would continue to be a part of his earthly family, and he would identify himself fully with the people of God, but first and foremost he knew God to be his Father, and God's house to be his home. His earthly life and growth flowed out of this identity. We also must come to a secure sense of identity as a child of God in order to grow up like Jesus. The Lord Jesus came to make this possible for you and for me. If we put our trust in Christ who died to take away our sins and rose again, he gives us the right to become children of God. This is where the journey to grow up in God's way begins. Knowing ourselves as God's child allows me to grow up like Jesus and become God's man. A child of God is not merely a person who is forgiven and gets to go to heaven. A Christian, in his or her deepest identity is a saint, a child born of God, a child of light, a citizen of heaven. Being a Christian is not getting something; it is a matter of being someone. Being born into God's family, like being born into a human family is becoming someone who was not there before. Christians, hear what God says about our identity. The question of identity is always an important one but perhaps no where more so than in the case of people who are stateless – those who are in desperate need of papers of some kind to prove who they are, what there name is and where they belong to – the[...]

People outside the church doors


Recently I had the occasion to attend a Christian wedding involving a convert family, some one who had come to know the Lord from another faith. Like most people, they chose to have the celebration in a church. In a way perhaps that was unfortunate. The church was less than half full as the convert family perhaps did not have too many people who would have felt comfortable in a church setting or perhaps had not even given their consent. As for the church, it was as bland as a bald man's pate and perhaps even on a routine Sunday, the church looked more alive, there being hardly available to decorate. One of the parties in the wedding was from a Christian home but his parents lived far away and for some reason, they too could not come. A priest with a vacant look intoned the vows and another gentleman got up and gave a canned sermon. At the time of the signing of the registers, there was a scramble to see who all were there in the congregation from whom witnesses could be found. The bridesmaid, the best man and all the accessories were provided by one party to the best of their ability. At the end of the ceremony refreshments were served out of the back of an ancient van. I was reminded of own wedding. Knowing that I had no one to handle all the elaborate paraphernalia of a “Christian wedding”, I proposed dispensing with a church wedding and having a court ceremony under the Special Marriage Act of 1956. Later we could have a pastor stand us up in the Sunday service and pray for us. The Special Marriage Act incidentally is far more progressive and gender sensitive than the archaic Christian Marriage Act under which practically all church marriages happen. Over the years , I have also seen that marriages conducted with pomp in the church can fail, as can secular marriages and again both kinds of marriages can succeed and b a blessing. God is not any more or less present in a church than in a court room. In the case of own marriage, I lost the battle to keep life simple, inexpensive and uncluttered. But fortunately I had a huge number of friends who turned up out of the woodwork and came forward to offer every kind of and help and I will always be grateful to them for what they did and ensure that the wedding ceremony was not bereft of a soul. Since then , I have usually kept my counsel on this matter , but after attending the wedding that I did , I realized afresh as to how traumatizing and complicated it is for converts with little or no support to put on and go through the trappings of a lifeless ceremony because that is the only model on offer. Looking at the number of ministries that exist solely to save 'lost souls' and even otherwise, I would presume that the man outside the church walls is our primary customer. And yet, like the people whom the Jews sought to convert by crossing the seas and having converted him or her made life infinitely more difficult by their petty laws, we too have not made much progress. A big chunk of our “spiritual” activities is about witnessing to others and how to go about it, but our customer service is glitzy as long as the target is a prospective customer – jazzy camps, snazzy tracts and all that but once on the inside – the customer service turns sour-- dry doctrines and preaching, pious platitudes and advice but no organized effort really to lend a helping hand, except of course the few good men ----- and women that God in His grace brings. There are many areas in which we can move to make life easier for those to whom we witnessed and who because the Holy[...]

The Church as Peacemaker


It is Christmas time, a time for which some of us wait the year round – an occasion to hum those hauntingly memorable carols, buy new clothes and presents and get ready in many other ways to rejoice in the birth of our Savior Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace. In his first coming, he came to leave his peace with all those who acknowledged Him as their Lord and Savior through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The seeds of a Kingdom to come were sown – A kingdom that will come to completion at His second coming.The means that he left behind to spread His gospel on earth and to offer a sample of the kingdom to come in the end days is the church. The church on earth is an ambassador of the prince of peace in thought, word and deed and in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, we are asked individually and corporately to be channels and instruments of his peace- not just peace in our hearts and souls in the sense of having received personal salvation but also peace in our nation, society and world. The picture of the kingdom as a time when God will one day wipe away every tear from every eye and swords will be melted into ploughshares means just that – a time when weapons will be out of date in an environment of amity and harmony.Examining the church’s past history in acting as an instrument of peace is informative because it might provide us with a road map for peace initiatives in the future. The need for the church to be involved in such initiatives is no lesser today than it was in the past. In taking part of the peace initiatives, the involvement of the church in the North East deserves some recognition and study.The north east of India has a chequered political history. For instance, the Nags had declared their independence from British rule on the 14th of August 1947, a day before the birth of independent India. In fact in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi had told a delegation of Naga leaders, that Nagas have every right to be independent.” But after Gandhiji was assassinated, his promises die ended with him as the new Indian government decline to accept Naga hope for independence. Naga protests and resistance to the incorporation of their land into the Indian union began to steadily grow.Then in 1955 the Indian army occupied the Naga areas and martial law was declared. Violence quickly escalated. In the 1960s and 1970s, Baptist Church leaders initiated efforts to halt the violence. Eventually the Shillong Accord was signed in 1975 as a result of these efforts, Although the peace agreement was flawed as Key Naga resistance leaders were left out of the process, the accord agreed to incorporation into the Indian union and although not every one was satisfied and happy with the happy with the arrangement and the Naga underground split after the agreement, it did bring down the level of violence and allow some manner of governance and development to occur in the state.In many instances, the church though powerful was still a distant second in commanding loyalties compared to tribal and ethnic allegiance. Christianity after all is only 125 years old in Nagaland but tribal and linguistic identities go back centuries. It is commendable that in spite of its many limitations, the church tried to be a moderating influence in a spiral of terrorism which might have otherwise completely spun out of control.The story has been more successful in Mizoram. In 1958, a proliferation of rats attacked the rice crop, bringing famine to the Mizo hills. That became the catalyst for an uprising against t[...]

Christians –Chasing Elitism or Excellence ?


Recently St. Stephen’s college in Delhi held a debate to argue whether the institution is a centre of excellence or a centre of elitism. The two opposing sides were represented by a faculty member, a student and distinguished alumni. After all the arguments were finished, the college debating society decided that the institution was indeed elitist, presumably on the strength of the arguments presented.Since then I have been confused - I know that elitism and excellence are not the same but are they similar? is excellence is usually to be found in places where the elite gather and are only the elite capable of excellence and the rest of us are mediocre fluff that can stay or go away without society being unduly bothered. And then, is being elitist a proud of badge of honor. I remember the former president of the Delhi Gymkhana Club in a recent conversation with the Indian Express proudly defended his club being elitist and a watering hole for a highly selected group of people.But for a moment, leave alone the Gymkhana Club though I suspect that women might have a bone to pick- for in its exclusive class of the elect, it excludes the married woman from applying from membership. Its web site clearly specifies that only single women and widows are eligible to apply which means that any widow choosing to apply needs to presumably keep her husband’s death certificate handy to attach with the application form.Coming back to St. Stephen’s College and other such oasis of excellence, I think I am a stakeholder in whether this institution and others like this ought to be majoring on elitism or excellence and if excellence is only the domain of the rich and the powerful which basically constitute the elite. The reason I am a stakeholder is that colleges and institutions like these are substantially subsidized by the tax payer, a large number of whom are not going to darken the doors of any college – elite or mundane. But considering that St. Stephen’s College is a Christian institution, there is another question to ask. And that is the biblical stand on excellence and elitism. What do the scriptures have to say about excellence? The Book of Philippians Chapter 4 says this:“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”The Bible tells us, exhorts us to pursue excellence. To be fit for the 21st Century we need to pay attention to the quality of what we do. The Church of Jesus Christ is not the place for the left-overs. It's not the place to do the minimum required or what we can get by with. It is surely not the place for mediocrity. From the ancient days of Israel comes our lesson – The Old Testament taught the people of God to bring their best. From the modern lessons of business comes the word: pay attention to quality. If we want to make disciples of Jesus and reach generations that have come to expect quality in return for their commitment of time and energy, then we need to listenPaul calls us to focus on “any excellence” and “anything worthy of praise” (4:8). We cannot afford for the church, or theological education, or any of our lives to be an example of mediocrity masquerading as faithfulness. There is too much mediocrity, too much “playing church” and “feigning academic rigor” and “being nice” among Christians, rather than holding oursel[...]

Wisdom and Age


When my seventy-seven year old mother met with an accident recently and fractured her hip, during one of her "dark nights of the soul", she expressed the view that people like her had already lived out their productive lives and had nothing more to contribute to society. She recalled that in the olden days, people would live a much shorter life span and did not usually have to contend with the specter of degenerative diseases that would render them increasingly frail and dependant on others. She also mentioned that once one got to that point, it was a frightening situation because while some people were lucky to be well taken care of, many others were treated callously as burdens to feed.Since then I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be productive. If my mother in her late seventies worries about being productive, I need to worry too. Often as I buy and read business magazines at airports and railway stations, I note that one of the main features of today's knowledge based economy is that people who are needed are often those who are young and who bring with them the latest technologies and domain knowledge that are needed today. It is of course another matter that today's young people become tomorrow's middle aged and today's emerging platform is tomorrow's obsolesce. I noted though that in the manufacturing industry, experience was valued above youth perhaps because technology does not evolve as rapidly there as else where. The trick is in reinventing ourselves in every age, every decade, so that we remain forever productive.But how to define productivity? Is it all about moving our hands and feet and being seen to be visibly agile and mobile? I think that is how youth defines it - speed is every thing and you ought always to be visible as doing some thing. Being productive is being active; no being productive is being pro active, being there before any one else has got there. Of course these attributes are important- doing the right thing at the right time at the right pace is the sina qua non of being strategic.There is a trait, a quality that we use every day of our lives but it is one that is forever hiding itself in the shadows. It is called wisdom. Wisdom is never a part of the curriculum of any management school or institution but can only be learnt on the job as one goes through life in its many shades. And the longer one lives, the longer one in engaged with the world, the sharper its nuances as it is expressed out and lived out in life's diverse situations.Some times, I feel that we haven't quite learnt to value and evaluate the weight of experience, wisdom and the value addition that it provides. And so our propensity often to sniff at the gifts they bring and the insights they offer as the obsolete thinking of outdated senile minds. Because their understanding and practice is often not expressed in the vocabulary and idiom of the here and now jargon, we often look upon their opinion and insight with a dismissive air. In the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, old age is a blessing. To die “full of years” is the fondest wish of biblical characters. Zechariah 8:4-5 shares a vision of the new kingdom of God in which those of old age sit on the streets of the New Jerusalem. They carry canes, but the youthful children play around them. The elderly are respected members of this new society. Interestingly, in such prophetic passages the benefits of old age are never “explained;” they are “assumed.[...]

A Call to Be Inclusive


A lot of introspection has gone into the achievements of the last six decades of Indian independence. Thinking has begun about the future of India. Former President Abdul Kalaam had challenged the country to first begin envisioning as a country by sharing publicly his 2020 vision. Now we have people beginning to talk of India in the next 60 years. This is a good question to begin thinking about, although it is possible that it is not very easy to envision so far into the future and the vision of 2020 is some thing that we can more easily grasp. In the last two decades or so, the economic landscape of the country has been so transformed that we are getting used to measuring success and progress in plain vanilla economic terms.Economic growth and empowerment is important; but is that enough? I think some how that it is more important and vital that we grow and mature as a nation, as a country and become a more inclusive society in every way, which today we are not. Without that inclusiveness, our economic growth and financial growth will carry us nowhere as the vitals of the nation will keep getting eroded with money generated being used not to bring prosperity but to hire, train and deploy more troops and police, kill and maim more people, fill our prisons more and more and construct new ones and in the process perpetuate a cycle of increasing discontent. We must learn to break that deadly cycle.We need to learn to be an inclusive people at two levels – economic and emotional and Christians need to be leading the way because in the Kingdom to come , all the Nations , Languages and cultures and customs purged of their fallen ness will pay homage to God in all their finery. Yet in India, all we have is a political integration which Nehru, Sardar Patel had some how hastily patched up but without the emotional and the economic buffering and the result is discontent practically every where in the country. We are proud of being the largest democracy in the world in the sense that we have elections every five years or sooner, but a good question to ask is if the common man thought that this was adequate enough or representative enough, then why would insurgency flourish in so many parts of the country? We have the right symbol in the shape of a reasonably fair electoral process, but without giving people a sense of belonging and emotional integration, we don’t quite have the substance of democracy.But political integration alone is not enough. The kingdoms of this world, we are told, will become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ. Think of the way we view strangers in our midst. Are we not defensive about them and do we not work to protect ourselves from them? Our parent’s persistent counsel, never speak to strangers; to the policy of our police forces which urge us to report the presence of strangers. It may be a linguistic coincidence that stranger rhymes with danger, but our natural fear of the foreign and our social conditioning against those we don’t know, both tie them tightly together.We all make judgments of strangers, and assess them according to their similarity to the norm. Do they match our expectations? Challenge our fears? Appear strange or startling or disquieting? What will they do to rock our comfortable world? It is hard to accept outsiders. After all, if they were one of us we would already know them. We’d see them at parties or attend the same concerts. We’d be able to fit [...]

Ladies Coupe by Anita Desai - Christian Reflections on Singleness


Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair A Christian Reflection on the Single StateLadies Coupe is a novel by an Indian author, Anita Nair which looks at the issue of whether a single woman can be happy or is she incomplete without a man. The main character is Akhila, an unmarried woman in her mid-forties. Akhila was the eldest of 4 children and after the death of her father the responsibility of running the family fell on her. All her brothers and sisters get married except her. Her younger sister Padma stays with her because according to Padma a woman cannot be left alone, lest she go astray. Then one day she gets herself a one-way ticket to Kanyakumari. She gets reservation in the ladies compartment. She shares the compartment with five women, Janaki, Sheela, Margaret, Prabha Devi and Marikolanthu. Akhila strikes up a conversation with these women. Each of the women tells Akhila of their lives. After hearing out these five women and their stories of living in a cocoon sheltered by men or rampant exploitation again by men, Akhila decides that she can live alone. She needs no one. No man and no woman either. The book ends with Akhila asking her younger sister to leave because she feels that she does not companionship of any kind to live and thrive.This book made me think of the many people, particularly women in our fellowship who are single, perhaps for many years and what the scriptures have to say on marriage and singleness. Whereas books like Genesis seem to indicate that in a large measure, marriage is largely God’s plan for people, in the New Testament, the single state is also celebrated.Most times, when we talk about families in the church, it's easy to forget that not everybody fits into the same situation that we're in. Because I'm married, and because I have young children, it's natural for me to think about issues that married people with young children face. It's almost possible to believe that everybody is in the same situation that I'm in.Therefore in our churches, there is very little teaching on coping with the single state. In fact, it is quite likely that our congregations have people who are struggling with these issues with since explicit conversations about marriage; singleness and loneliness are generally frowned upon except in very intimate circles. The Bible says that God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) but these families come in many designs and one of them is the fellowship and friendship to be offered by the Lord’s people. In the novel, though Akhila is the eldest sibling, who has run the family after her father’s death, due to societal norms is not in control of her own life, which is remote controlled by her younger sister Padma. That is sad. But what is equally sad is her resolve to eventually cut herself off from all forms of social contact. That would not be what the scriptures would teach. They would teach people to cope with singleness in dependence on God …. But equally importantly, the scriptures would demand that genuine Christian fellowship provide a kind of family even if it is different from the one established through marriage. It is a denial of all Christian concern if there are any lonely Akhilas in our fellowships who not finding any one to reach out to, retreat inwards into isolation and withdrawal. There used to be a time that singleness was identified as a temporary period that young adults faced before they got married. Some[...]