Friday, May 27, 2016

Left, right, left: The impending crisis of religion in a Left majority polity

The Left is back in power in Kerala. Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan is at the helm of affairs and Comrade Achuthanandan is rumoured to being given an advisor’s role with a cabinet rank. The public may have a lot of opinions on who should be Chief Minister and who not but ultimately it does depend on the decision of the party or coalition who has won the election. We may even have our own theories and opinions about the ministers without actually knowing them but it is within their rights to be given the chance to head a particular ministry.

As a church member what intrigues me though is the way that churches and other religions have conducted themselves during the course of this election and afterwards. On the one hand various churches find the Left alliance anathema and completely against the church values and on the other hand you also have churches or church leaders, priests and laity who have embraced the Left because of a perceived closeness to the Kindom values preached by Jesus. Many have given press conferences, preached against and even openly threatened candidates in their own religious way. Some of those candidates lost while some others won. Interestingly many churches have followed the easy route of immediately claiming the victory of candidates who have won, as theirs, and also claiming to be the spoil sport in the case of certain losses. We do not know how far this is true but what we do know is that there is a tendency to side with the party or alliance that has won.

This is now what is also happening in Kerala. The BJP has campaigned hard and won a lot of votes but only one seat, the Congress is cooling its heals waiting for a come back the next time around and the CPI(M) led Left alliance is basking in glory with a well-deserved victory. Political parties have their ideology and their election agendas. But what about various religions and churches? Are they supposed to change their ideology and belief with every election or is it a given that they will follow one particular ideology and that is based primarily on love?

Is the Left coming back to power bad news for churches in Kerala? It depends on how you look at the Left and what about them you are discussing? It is true that the churches should have no problem to accept liberation of the masses, upliftment of the poor and equality for all even if the Left takes that forward. The interpretation of the Left as a Godless movement has changed over the years with several leaders openly professing their faith in God. But churches or church leaders will have a problem with the Left if churches are pro-rich, anti-poor and against equality. On the other hand blindly supporting the Left need not be what a particular church has to do. Violent and revenge filled politics practiced by certain sections of the Left can’t be accepted and justified by the church as okay and acceptable.

Religion and churches in particular will find themselves immersed in a crisis by supporting whichever party that comes to power for their own needs at any particular time. This is because the people in the church will understand the double standards being played out. It may be true that the Left may have not been able to rule out gender and caste issues within their flock but they have been able to do something about it. It may be true that all Left leaders are not living a simple life style but there are many people who are called with respect as a “Communist comrade” (going on to mean just not a leader but a person respected by all for his/her simple life style ) by people from all walks of life. It may also be true that the Left has not reinvented itself to attract the modern generation but there are educated and inspirational leaders who are doing just that.

When the church is pleased with the victory of the Left, is happy that it has come to power, shouldn’t there be an introspection as to why God may have allowed such a thing to happen? Will the church when supporting the Left work on deep and contentious issues of gender and caste within the church so that a Left leader who has come up from a very difficult background is truly and honestly welcomed into the church? Will the church start preaching simplicity and ordinary living by practicing it at different levels in the church starting from the top? Will the church reinvent itself to prevent being obliterated and becoming completely irrelevant for the younger generation?

The coming of the Left is a nice thing in a state like Kerala. Kerala has seen much change happening through successive Left governments and no one can take that away from them. The church aligning with the Left is not anti-religious or non- Christian anymore. The church, however inspired it is by the word of God and by God’s revelation can go wrong when leaders misread the sign of God because they misunderstand their way as God’s way. Movements like the Left have shown through UPA I that an irritant is necessary to keep bad things at bay. The church can learn a bit from the Left movement about gender and caste consciousness, about simplistic living and about new trends in society. Similarly a close proximity with the church can also make the Left realize that violence won’t lead to solutions and positive results.

It is a welcome change to see the Left and the church together. But unless it is used by both to bring about quick change and benefit for the people, this is going to be an alliance of convenience which is going to give more strength to caste-gender- power and violent politics, which will be such a shame after showing so much promise.

Picture courtesy:
Bolivian President Evo Morales presents Pope Francis with a crucifix carved into a wooden hammer and sickle.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Using prayer as motivational therapy

The Syrian Orthodox Church has prayer seven times a day and this is shortened to three and two times a day due to time constraints and changes in culture. The prayers are in one sense written for a generation which was more agrarian in nature. This does not mean that it is not effective for the present generation but that we have new challenges to overcome through prayer.

In the bible it is clear that many communities used prayer as a way of communicating with God to intervene in their daily struggles and liberate them from bondage and suffering. Prayer was a part of life for many as they managed to wriggle out of difficult situations. God answered prayers and helped people and communities escape very difficult situations. Jesus also showed us the importance of prayer and meditation through his forty day fasting and prayer. Prayer was a withdrawal for him to think, recuperate and prepare for the great ministry he was going to undertake.

What is prayer for us today? Do we get time to pray or do we pray from the prayer book routinely taking from our memory and yet not stopping to understand the real meaning of the prayer we are praying? Has prayer lost out in our busy life? Are we even reluctant to pray when we are in church? A culture change may have changed priorities for us leading to a lack of interest or time to pray.

But doesn’t prayer have huge significance in our life? Motivation is a word used frequently in our culture and in spiritual and corporate settings. It is a power, feeling or energy for us to get things done. We all need to be motivated. Lizzie Velasquez is a woman who is affected with a disease that only a handful of people have. She was humiliated when someone in school posted a video of hers and people called her ugly, fearful and what not. She was confined to her bed, crying and complaining to God as to why she was created like this and why her parents allowed her to live and took care of her to be like this. She weighed only 29 Kg and now the world was laughing at her.

We also face similar situations when people make fun of us, humiliate us and call us good for nothing. It is a very critical period of our life when we would like to end it than continue living. It is a time when we feel that we don’t want to continue in our church, school, college, office and even house. But it is also a time when motivation can do wonders. Lizzie does not give up. Her cry becomes her prayer. She finishes her graduation in Communication and goes on to become a motivational speaker. She starts her own youtube account and uploads her own videos which get many subscribers. She is also invited to talk in the famous TED series lectures. Lizzie turns around her life by being motivated by her own tears and sadness by talking about inner strength instead of outward beauty.

Prayer gives us this inner strength. It is a strength which tells us that it is okay to be the way we are and that God has a purpose for creating us the way we are. Prayer is not just seven times a day when we count and say it is over. Rather prayer is a continuous outpouring and communication of our spirit with God. In James 5:13 prayer means “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” It is not to give up or give in but to stand firm. It is a beautiful cry and release of inner pain so that God feels with us and becomes a part of our lives. Can we communicate with God like this and see our inner beauty and inner beauty of others? 1 John 5:14 says “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to God's will, God hears us.”

Why worry when we are not even responsible for a single strand of hair on our head? Instead as St. Mark 11:24 says “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” Prayer is not to change a situation and make us what others want us to be. Rather prayer is making us confident in ourselves and using that to motivate ourselves and others in any given situation. It is like Lizzie said “I haven’t met the person who put my video online which led to great torment and pain for me. But when I see him I am going to hug him and say “thank you for changing my life”.” This is inner strength that only God can give us. It is to believe in positive outcomes no matter how negative we feel. Pray and motivate yourself to be what God wants you to be, nothing more, nothing less. Amen.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Valedictory worship order

Order of worship

Processional hymn- O God our help in ages past
1. O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.

2. Under the shadow of thy throne,
still may we dwell secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

3. Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting, thou art God,
to endless years the same.

4. A thousand ages, in thy sight,
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night,
before the rising sun.

5. Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all who breathe away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

6. O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come;
be thou our guide while life shall last,
and our eternal home.

Opening prayer
Leader: God of knowledge and compassion, you have taught us that the acceptance of God is the beginning of knowledge. We seek gracious God your guidance to be merciful in our happiness, to be creative in our ministry, to be gracious while accepting our diplomas, to be loving even when leaving. You O God are the reason that we as graduates, students, staff, teachers, parents, family and friends are here. We are thrilled and humbled by the grace you have shown to our graduates. Be with us through the service. May we wish the best and accept goodness from all. Amen.

Deva Ninna Amitha Premavanu
Enithu Naanu Mareyali
Dhinavu Dhinavu Ninna Karuneyanu
Yaava Theradhi Haadali

Hagalu Irulu Ninna Preethi
Jagadhalemma Kaapudhu
Gathiyu Emage Ninna Paadha
Endhoo Aasare Eevudhu

Bendha Manake Neenu Koduve
Endhoo Aarada Preethiya
Nondha Baalige Neenu Tharuve
Thandhe Ninna Shaanthiya

Prayer of thanksgiving (Together)
It is a joy to be able. It is mercy to sacrifice and yet survive. It is grace to finish and delight in the Lord. Loving God, we were chosen by you to do the difficult, spare our time, use our resources and continue in our efforts however difficult it got. In now bowing our heads before you, merciful God, we are celebrating the completion of what you have made us do. We thank you together for the courage you gave us to study and to support, to live and to let live, to be passionate and allow others to do so. As graduates, teachers, parents, pastors, friends and well-wishers we thank you God, Son and Holy Spirit for this moment. Amen.

Confession (In unison)
Forgive us God for not experiencing even when knowing, for not helping even while being helped, for not committing even while we were set apart, for not initiating even when we were initiated, for not understanding even while expecting others to do so, for not following Christ even when that was our mandate, for not serving even when that was our motto and for not becoming of God even while being created in the image and likeness of God. May we accept our problems, sort out our issues and become what you intend us to be, merciful God. Amen.

Assurance of God’s mercy

Leader: May we feel happiness in gloom, peace in uncertainty, grace in failure, mercy in negative situations, hope in absolute dejection, light in darkness and God’s presence in every single instance. May God be with us, assure us of God’s unflinching love and continue to make God’s face shine upon us. Amen.

Congregational hymn (Offertory)- Christ is all to me

Refrain: Christ is all to me, Jesus Christ is all to me
In this world of strife and sorrow, Christ is all to me

1. Brother He, me brother calls; Bridegroom he, the Church His bride;
Parent, Kinsman, Master, Savior; And to each his Friend and Guide.

2. Watching me with shepherd-care; Lovingly my wants attends,
My companion all the way till Evening falls and journey ends.

3. Peace when storms around me blow, Joy in sorrow, calm in strife,
Health in sickness, wealth in want, the Noon day sun, the Light of life.

4. Teacher of the truth of God, Prophet of God’s heavenly reign,
Sent of God that we may find in Serving Him eternal gain.

5. He the prize and He the goal And by Him the race begun,
He the runner of the team who Will complete the race I run.

Scripture- St. Luke 19:28-48

Commitment song- O Jesus, I have promised

1. O Jesus, I have promised
to serve thee to the end;
be thou forever near me,
my Master and my friend.
I shall not fear the battle
if thou art by my side,
nor wander from the pathway
if thou wilt be my guide.

2. O let me feel thee near me!
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
the tempting sounds I hear;
my foes are ever near me,
around me and within;
but Jesus, draw thou nearer,
and shield my soul from sin.

3. O let me hear thee speaking
in accents clear and still,
above the storms of passion,
the murmurs of self-will.
O speak to reassure me,
to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen,
thou guardian of my soul.

4. O Jesus, thou hast promised
to all who follow thee
that where thou art in glory
there shall thy servant be.
And Jesus, I have promised
to serve thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow,
my Master and my Friend.

Commitment prayer of the graduating students
What have we done to deserve your loving kindness dear God?
What have we done to deserve the comfort of our families?
What have we done to deserve the opportunity to study in this institution?
We have committed ourselves to the glory of God and for the accomplishment of God’s work in God’s land. God has respected our commitment and helped us in our training and learning to be better ministers for God. Today we stand here humbled as ever because God has worked a miracle in our life. We have received the gift of reasoning, understanding, writing and expressing. This we submit for God’s glory. We thank you for being part of our journey in UTC. We promise to be understanding, caring compassionate and truthful pastors, teachers and workers for God. Amen.

Prayer of commissioning
Leader: You have been privileged to go through the portals of this institution, gaining in knowledge and maturity, understanding issues and sharing experiences leading to mutual learning and growth. You had a family to support you, teachers to mentor you, pastors to pray for you and well-wishers to provide for you. We pray to God that today as you are being sent out to the world that you will have neither purse nor tunic but the presence of God which will go before you. Amen.

People: We are so happy that God has given this day so that you as graduating students will go out and provide care for the needy, spiritual nourishment for all, prayers for the people of the world and healing for the sick. We understand that we as family, church members and friends have to let you go to serve God and God’s people. We have been blessed by witnessing your growth and God’s mercy in your life. We now pray for your health, sustenance, providence and future. God be with you. Amen.

Graduating students: We are aware that many of our sisters and brothers don’t have the opportunity for basic education and yet we have received much more than that. We pray to God that this will inspire us to educate, learn, work and grow with everyone around us. The word of God should not be hidden under a basket and we promise to try our best to shine and be a light to others. Even as we are graduating from this institution, we pray that we will help others study, understand and benefit from the bible, traditions and culture. We will stand for equal rights, preferential option for the poor and oppressed, food for the hungry and justice for the weak and heavy laden. Amen.

Intercessory prayers
Leader- God of hope and infinite grace, we pray for all those who are graduating from the UTC. Give them strength, peace and calmness to face any situation with ease and poise. Fill all of us with the power and love of the Holy Spirit that we go wherever we are sent and do what needs to be done without complaining or stopping in our steps. May others be inspired and join in the wonderful sanity of ministry and God’s work.
All- Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Leader- God of love and forgiveness, help us to accept each other as we are. You have given a special gift to each one who is graduating today. Some are writers, some speakers, others are listeners, some others keepers, many are understanding and some go the extra distance, some give time and others are patient. We thank you God for the gifts you have given each one and pray that these may be used in many ways so that ordinary people may benefit from each gift in a different way.
All- Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Leader- God of stillness and greatness, we pray for all those who are assembled here. May the time spent here be of great use and provide a wonderful memory for each one. May friendships bloom and ties be restored. Help all of us to smile, greet, embrace and thank. We pray for the UTC community, the president, chief guest, members of the executive, council and friends and well-wishers of the UTC community. May this graduation be a letting go of graduates who carry the bible with them and preach ceaselessly, truthfully, fearlessly and gracefully. May the UTC community feel happy and thank God for the UTC graduates. We also pray for many who are suffering in the world due to natural calamities, incorrect policies, war, famine, drought and poverty. Help us and others to provide care and share our resources with others so that suffering ceases.
All- Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Lord’s prayer (All together)
Our God in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, power and glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Closing hymn- Great is thy faithfulness
1. Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
2. Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
3. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Closing prayer and benediction
Leader- Go into the world knowing that we will work together, suffer to enrich God’s love and be happy by seeing God’s presence in daily miracles in our life. We are not alone. If God is with us, who can be against us? But if God is absent from our lives, our faith is in vain. Be assured and be strengthened by our prayers for you and God’s mercy and grace in your lives. You are called to go and proclaim like Moses to let God’s people go and worship in freedom, peace and happiness. God be with you. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen.

Recession hymn- Go down Moses

1. When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go,
oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go.

Refrain: Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
tell old Pharaoh: let my people go.

2. The Lord told Moses what to do, let my people go,
To lead the Hebrew children through, let my people go.

3. As Israel stood by the waterside, let my people go.
At God’s command it did divide, let my people go.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Nation of Refugees: A look at the refugees crisis

The Nation of Refugees is a play produced by the Communication department of the United Theological College, Bengaluru. Full length plays have been a tradition in the life of the 106 year old UTC and the plays have been a part and parcel of the theatre scene in Bengaluru. This play features an off stage team of Firoz and Malavika, trained at the National School of Drama, Delhi and an on stage cast of a social worker Rebecca, a priest, Fr. Jerry and seminary students Irene, Prazwal, Raj Kumar, Gandhi, Samuel, Ivan, Ashley, Hanson, Ben and Vinod. The cast is international and draws from several states in India as well. The director Jain Syriac Babu has acted in a mainline movie Shikar and a recent movie Jalam (Water) on the displacement of people and homelessness.

The Nation of Refugees is an in house production of UTC born out an urge to let people in Bengaluru know about the refugee crisis brought about by internal war and displacement in Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan and a host of nations battling civil war, dictators and genocide. In 2015 alone 1 million refugees have migrated to different countries in the European Union seeking asylum with 184,665 asylum claims being approved in 2014. The migrants have taken the very difficult route of sea and land and in 2015 3,770 migrants are supposed to have died trying to cross the Mediterranean alone. The picture of young Aylan Kurdi, a child of Syrian migrants who tried to make the journey by boat, washed ashore cannot be forgotten quickly. The denial of humanity to people forced to migrate from their own land is appalling.

The play brings about an interesting and yet serious prospect of highlighting the refugee crisis by looking at two extremes of the crisis. On the one hand there is a blood hungry and cruelly funny dictator, who is scared of everyone and yet feigns that he is always in control and on the other hand you have the journey of a woman divided into several shades coming forth as a response by people to the crisis. The people are forced by the evil ruler to build a wall and the people rally around the women characters to give an effective response to tyranny and inhuman policies. The evil ruler meets his match in the women who come up through their own struggles and are yet unwilling to give up their right to humanity. Their own trysts with destiny in their resistance to a patriarchal culture, skewed traditions and unjust laws lead them into responding to their families, culture and a threatening regime. The ending is a surprise unlike usual plays and looks to give some hope to a world divided by race, gender and religion.

The 50 minute production is a chance for people to re look their lives during the Lenten and fasting season which is half way through and get a slice of reality and be aware of the suffering of people worldwide. It also sees how children and women suffer most during war and strife and how women can lead a fight back through a self-realization that they have the power and the strength within them for that. In the lead up to International Women’s Day this is a perfect opportunity to look at how a combined humanity with both women and men can lead to a peaceful and harmonious earth and living.

The play was staged in UTC, Bengaluru, behind the Cantonment railway station on Miller’s Road on December 3, 2015 and will be staged again on March 4 and 5, 2016 at 7 P.M. at the UTC, near the library . Tickets are available at the venue.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Will you be my Valentine? The sermon

February 14 is a very special day for young people in India and all over the world. There is also a spring in the step of young men and women in the UTC campus when you ask about Valentine’s day. Many will tell you that there is no such thing and all this is hype by greeting card companies and other people interested in pushing their products through on this one day. The flower vendor will tell you that he is getting flowers from Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan and that is why it is expensive today. Luckily Milli, our ever ready chapel steward has used his influence to buy red flowers. Sam Anbrasu, our gizmo head knows that he can project a red rose at no cost and Bright, our bhajan secretary knows that he can replace the rose with his smile.

The men and women on campus who talk about Valentine’s day are like a mad man in a mental hospital who confesses to the ward boy that he was the one who told all the patients that someone is offering free biriyani at the entrance of the hospital. The ward boy then asks the man as to why he who cooked up the story is also running to the entrance. He replies “What if someone is really offering biriyani at the entrance?” This is the same feeling on campus. Everyone knows it is not important or we should say that it is not important but in every mind and heart there is a voice saying “What if a red rose comes from some where?”

There is an element of curiosity here. What kind of a sermon can come out of Valentine’s day? The truth is that Valentine’s day does indeed provide the opportunity for reflection from the gospel. I turn my attention to one of the fringe fundamentalist group’s in India and what they have said about Valentine’s day. According to them this is a day when lust, immorality, perverted love and obscenity make an appearance and it is a conversion of Indian culture into Western culture. It makes you think that people here should be thankful if all the mentioned only makes an appearance once a year!! That should make the fundamentalists happy. They also go on to say that St. Valentine was an old priest who fell in love with a young girl. Both these points seem quite preposterous to say the least. But more on that later.

What seems equally interesting is that the some elements of the church and secular society also join hands in saying that this is a celebration which is morally degrading, against Indian culture and against the gospel. In the secular realm this is a celebration with not much thought given into it apart from being a celebration for young couples to come together and even profess their love for one another. The word I love you comes in the form of heart shaped balloons, cards and small toys. A man saw a woman sitting alone on Valentine’s Day. He thought she needed his company and went up to her and told her that she need not worry and that he will do anything for her as long as her wish is three words long. He expected her to tell him to say “I love you.” She looked expectantly at the man, the man closed his eyes to hear the special words and then she said “Clean my house.” Hope this is a clue to all the married men on what kind of gift to give their wife.

When religious elements say that such celebrations should be shunned and done away with completely, what does the gospel and church tradition tell us and why is it important for the church today in India to use the opportunity of this day to think about ministry in the church? Rev. Dr. Vincent has already explained a bit about the World Association for Christian Communication. As part of the Christian principles of Communication brought about by the WACC one principle is that Communication preserves culture. It is important to note that culture is one of the backbones of society. It helps society to identify its roots and look at certain facts. The erosion of culture is not as is suggested by fringe fundamentalist elements in society. The truth rather is that facts have been conveniently forgotten and have been replaced by half-truths and lies. There was early research that suggested that ok and Coca Cola were the most recognized words in the world. Coca Cola must have done quite some advertisement to reach there and what they did was a change in culture. We believe advertisements just like we believe stories. It is a culture pressure. I have already told a story in a couple of classes last week. I would like to relive the story here. It is about Mr. Sharma. Someone tells him that his daughter has run away with someone. In Indian culture that is humiliating and Sharma can’t stand it and he jumps out of the 18th storey of his office. By the 14th floor he realizes that he is not married. By the 12th floor he realizes that he never had a daughter. By the 8th floor he realizes that his name is not Sharma but Varma. Varma it turns out jumped for something which was not even true.

I would like to look at two traditions or story’s today evening which shed some light on Valentine’s day. They are both connected with the church. The first is about the tradition of St. Valentine. Valentine was a Roman Priest at a time when there was an emperor called Claudius who persecuted the church at that particular time. He also had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died.
The idea of encouraging them to marry within the Christian church was what Valentine did. And he secretly married them because of the edict." Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing marriage ceremonies against the command of Emperor Claudius. There are legends surrounding Valentine's actions while in prison. "One of the men who was to judge him in line with the Roman law at the time was a man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind. He was supposed to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became Christian as a result."
In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation all because of his stand for Christian marriage. The story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to Asterius' daughter. He inspired today's romantic missives by signing it, "from your Valentine.” This was then not a romantic card exchanged by a couple but a more spiritual relationship between two people, one who had known God and another who came to God and through that increased the faith of Valentine. It is a mutual relationship of love which has been brought about by faith. In Matthew 22:37-40 love comes out as the foundation of Christian faith. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This is what happens between the priest and the young lady. This is also why he signs off “Your Valentine.” Bringing love into the realm of morality is wrong and that is what is happening when fringe groups attack the celebration as a Western celebration. It may be true that youngsters are under peer pressure to do something on Valentine’s Day. But instead of bringing out the real meaning of Valentine’s day and what it means, attacking it will serve no purpose.
Valentine’s day should be seen as one opportunity among many to make a difference in the life of someone. It is not a celebration but a living out of one’s faith as is lived out on all other days. Identifying this becomes one of the important aspects of how religion can play a positive role in society and be a voice which identifies what humans can be to each other rather than what they can’t.

The second story or tradition is also from the early church. The early church contrary to what many people in the church think was not a conservative church. It was rather a believing and living church which reached out to people and that was also partly why the church survived. It is fascinating to revisit Tertullian who said that the Romans said of the early Christian community “See how they love one another.” This for me is so inspiringly strong that it draws a parallel with Valentine’s day but more than that it tells us as to how our life should be. “See how they love one another.” Today this has changed into the Christian community being one of the most nagging communities. I asked a church member what he was going to do today. He said he has to take his wife out otherwise she will keep nagging with him. A man once asked a Swami. Sir do you have a formula or a mantra by which my wife will stop nagging? If I come early she nags, if I come late she nags, whatever I do or don’t do, she nags. What can I do? The Swami told him that there is no mantra to help him. But he can start enjoying the nagging. How can I do that? He asks him as to how it was when he first drank wine. It was of course bitter. But now it is not. A few years later the man meets the Swami and the Swami asks him how his wife is. The man replies “She is now a wonderful nagger.” The man said that he started enjoying the nagging. But on the other hand the wife was not nagging but only talking sense to the husband which he now realizes after accepting her.

Justin Martyr talked of the church and said “We bring everything to a common fund for the needy, we pray for our enemies and live together with other races and country folk because of Christ.” Clement said that “A person who has come to know God impoverishes himself/herself for another and someone elses pain becomes our pain and hardship. That is why we tell couples they are mad and blind.

Rodney Stark in his book “The Rise of Christianity” says that the early church did something peculiar. They took care of the poor and the sick, they honoured women and gave them dignity and the church was a multi ethnic local church movement. He further says that Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. Christianity revitalized life in the Greco- Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. This was why the Romans exclaimed “Look/see how they love one another.” St. Matthew 25:35-36 says “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” This is the essence of Valentine’s day. It should not be seen as a limited relationship between two people but is a community relationship between many, all coming in to help one another. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Worship order for Will you be my Valentine worship

Opening prayer
We arrive from many different experiences and backgrounds. Some of us have trouble speaking; others are so young that they’re still learning to talk. Some of us speak English as a second language, and others of us can speak several foreign languages. All of us share this in common
(congregation:) We speak the language of love.
In the moments before worship begins, and again when we return to the service of life, we greet one another with kind words; we chat about the days behind us and days to come, and
we speak the language of love.
We lift our voices in song — not to sing perfectly or in tune, but to hear and feel our voices form a life-giving sound; and
we speak the language of love.
As we form a web of compassionate listening when individuals among us, embodying vulnerability, name the fears that grip their hearts, the joys that buoy their spirits.
we speak the language of love.
At times, our voices clash. We disagree. Tension enters our voices as we make room for different beliefs, different opinions, different perspectives. Through it all, it's our intention that...
we speak the language of love.
In this congregation, we welcome a multiplicity of truths, and invite them to be named out loud. We prophesy, summoning the age when justice and peace will be evident all around us, and
we speak the language of love.
Let us worship together, making room for one another as whole beings, tender hearts, hungry spirits, and curious minds. With our actions and with our words, let us
...speak the language of love.


Let’s dwell in the love of the gospel (In unison)
Merciful God, we know that your mercy comes out of a heart which loves all of us. Pour your spirit of love upon us God that we listen to the gospel with love and great understanding. May we stand close and listen carefully and accept whole heartedly the gospel which loves us and speaks to us. Amen.

Bible reading
St. Matthew 22: 37-40
St. Matthew 25: 35-40

Confession (All together)
We have not held on to opportunities to love, care and share. Instead we build hate thinking it will be a good investment for our family. Little did we notice the sand sliding away from our feet and the tension building in our house. Love can change everything, it can do wonders. Knowing this we come to your loving presence gracious God ready and willing to love and to be loved. Amen.

Love can make us forgive seventy times seven. Love can go beyond rules and traditions and make us whole. God never punishes. God just seems far away because we push God away. Now love will bring us near and will wipe away everything which keeps us from God and God’s loving presence. Amen.

Special song



Exchange of love: Will you be my Valentine?

We pray God for gender sensitivity and acceptance of one another. May our faith and practice gently nudge others into exploring the beauty of love. Let people all around us exclaim “Look how they love one another.” We pray for a community of love which is sensitized to treat one another in love and equality. Lord, in your love towards us. Hear our prayer.

We pray, God of love, that even as flowers are exchanged and vows are made, we don’t forget the story of Valentine, who risked his life and brought couples together in matrimony. He stood for love against war, hatred and violence. Help us, God, to rid ourselves of unfounded patriarchal norms and stand for love because it is a cross against weapons, barricades, guardians of morality and cultural misconceptions. Lord, in your love towards us. Hear our prayer.

Tender and loving God, we pray that wrong cultural norms are healed by the freedom of love. May village khaps and male dominated community groups show true love to women and include women in the decision making and thereby stop one sided decisions against couples who take the bold step of inter-caste and inter-religious marriages. We pray that groups who offer safe spaces to such couples may also flourish and people all over India support mixed weddings. Lord, in your love towards us. Hear our prayer.

God of compassion, we pray for true love where people love each other wholeheartedly and where love is not limited to a couple or a family but goes much beyond that. May the love of God lead us to share our food with the hungry, welcome strangers, cloth the naked and take care of, pray for and visit the sick and destitute. We pray for Ajungla Jamir and her family on the untimely passing away of her sister. We pray for those who have experienced bereavement and those who are recovering from medical emergencies. Lord, in your love towards us. Hear our prayer.

We pray God for the World Association for Christian Communication and its functionaries and members. May they be strengthened in their work towards women empowerment and the Global Media Monitoring project. We pray for the UTC community, so that we inspire, support, love and care for one another. Lord, in your love towards us. Hear our prayer.

Affirmation of faith (In unison)
We believe in God,
who is love, whose love is manifest
in all Creation, in our lives, and in all people.

We follow Christ, who embodied God's love through Mother Mary.
In his life and ministry, his death and resurrection,
and his granting to us of his Spirit,
he filled us with that love as well.

We live by the Spirit, the presence of God's love in us.
In that love we participate in the Church, Body of Christ,
in loving God by loving our neighbors
through our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service.

Love is our faith, and it is a gift from God.
We thank God, and ask God's blessings,
that we may love in the name of Christ
and the power of the Spirit, to God's glory. Amen.

Love’s prayer (All together)
Our love who dwells in the heavens and on the earth, You are love.
May heaven be a greater present reality here on earth,
And may we choose to join you in making that happen.
Provide us today with the things that you think we need,
And may we not take for granted that which you have already provided for us.
Forgive us for when we don’t live as you intend,
And may we be ready to forgive others when they don’t live as we intend.
Guide us in your wisdom away from the things that would distort us,
And restore the parts in us that are already distorted.
You are goodness, love and truth,
May you remain in us forever. Amen.

Closing hymn- Go my children with my blessing

Closing prayer and benediction
How nice it is to let go and love. How good it is to love without boundaries and fear. How fulfilling it is to keep the love flowing, waiting not for a moment expecting something in return. We have committed ourselves to one another, promising to care for, share and respect all we come across. There are no break ups, only take ups, there are no tears shed, only emotions fed, there are no hard feelings of separation, only good memories egging on to reconciliation. May God who is love fill you with never ceasing love now and always. Amen.

Opening prayer-

Friday, February 12, 2016

Better parenting as a way to lent

Taking a session for the youth during a conference does not just give an opportunity for interacting and learning from youngsters but is also a time of talking to parents. The discussions range from advice on what to tell the youth (their kid/s included), tips on parenting, tensions they face and just how difficult it is these days to be a parent. One villain which pops out a lot as a reason for children not listening is the media.

Television, internet and mobile phones seem to be top on any parents list of instruments which are misleading children today. The discussion then usually veers towards how to control the television and computer and what safeguards or complete ban of mobile phones should be followed. Any priest who preaches a lent which should avoid television, internet and mobile phones is appreciated and hailed by parents as a savior and the conversation at home will be “Did you listen to the pastor’s sermon?” The son or daughter will usually grunt “hmm” and leave it at that.

The parents will go back to church and catch hold of the pastor and ask “what is wrong with my son/daughter?” This being lent, the question is valid to the point that we can always question the existence of whatever including us, them, and it. But is it a valid question to ask during lent? Do we actually think there is something wrong with our children and it needs to be fixed?

This leads us into understanding lent in its essence. The Lenten prayers make us pray “When the body abstains from food the spirit should abstain from evil, for the spirit and body should observe lent together. Fasting from food is fruitless if we do not abstain from evil thoughts.” It is easy to put the blame on someone or something. Technology is a very convenient punching bag for everyone and thus come the questions on television, computer, internet and mobile phones. But what is the inherent evil? Is it us or is it technology?

Lent gives us time to sit back and think. Have we been good parents, a good father and a good mother? Or have we not taken the effort to understand our child/children? Being a parent is after all a life time effort and there is no successful parent as success can never be measured easily. What can be done is an effort to understand our children, the language they speak and the culture they live in. Listening to what they have to say and knowing that spending time with them is much more than buying them something to bury our guilt is an important learning for us during lent.

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Love is primarily the foundation of a happy household and love of God has to be a family effort initiated by the parent in all spheres of life. This is substantiated by a right living and a sincerity in the household as is mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:5 “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” Unless parents become sincere in their faith and practice how can one imagine children to be so? If the talk in the house is about the shortcoming of another person, won’t the child also grow up with the same framework to blame and talk ill of someone even when that is not what is expected?

Jommer Medina points out three important points that parents need to understand about their children. Educating children is their right and not a special favour, children are thinking individuals and children are not accessories.

It is important during the lent season of articulation and meditation to accept that we are not doing a favour to children by educating them. Rather it is our responsibility. It is not that children don’t have to be thankful for that but parents can’t treat their children with an attitude of less respect and the line that “I am doing everything for you” while spending very little time with them. Children unlike what we think can take decisions on their own. They know at a very young age itself when they are hungry and what colour clothes they would like to wear. Later they also know which subject they would like to choose, what career they would like and when they would like to get married. It could be that parents think that their children will always be a child even when they grow up. Being parents does not mean we get the right to flaunt around our children before others and use them to increase our status in society and appear smart before others. This will put pressure on them as they have to fulfill our expectations. Contrary to this children will have their own dreams and that may not involve following our footsteps but could be something totally different. A doctor’s child need not grow up to be a doctor as an army person’s child need not get into the army.

Calling a spade a spade is also important as giving false promises and misrepresenting facts are not a healthy way of keeping relationships. Women fighting gender violence have argued that parents need to have the same rules for their son and daughter as this will bring about a better culture. Having separate timings and making the son feel that he can get away with insulting and abusing a girl whereas the daughter is always supposed to stay within the limits of culture is having a double face for everything and this will lead to children rebelling against the system in the house.

The understanding of lent is not to change others. It is always to change us. Trying to be an understanding parent is a very good Lenten decision to take. In our usual thinking pattern we will put all the blame on technology, children, our partner, children's peers and everything but us. During lent we can take the hard decision to identify that our children are the way they are because they want to and because of the influence we have on them. If we use the Lenten prerogative to listen and identify we can easily get it that as parents a lot of changes have to be brought into our life style. We can make a world of difference to our life and through that to the next generation by practicing what we preach instead of burdening our children with expectations even we won’t be able to fulfill.

The elephant who thought that the young elephant would prove itself only if it could fly never thought that the elephant itself could not fly. This is the beauty of lent. We can work on each element of our character and become a person who understands others better than asking them to understand us. It is to say that we can use the time during lent to be a better parent and if we are still in the mold of a traditional parent then maybe we can stop being one!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Quiet day third session worship order

Opening prayer
Open the doors of mercy to us O God, as we come broken and dejected into your presence. Our rejected selves are always looking for mercy from you. We come naked to be clothed by your mercy, we come dressed to be stripped into being merciful. We are all sinners and yet there is the great possibility of being mercy givers. Help us God to rid ourselves of all that prevents us to love and become God bearers not by being holy but by being merciful. Amen.

Thanksgiving (Together)
Let us give thanks to God for having being created as we are, with all the gifts and creativity we have received. We thank you merciful God for our parents and siblings, our family members, partner, friends, colleagues, co-participants and all those who have put in small pieces of our puzzle so that we can live a smooth life. Every second dear God is a gift. We are thankful to you God for giving us this moment. Amen.

Confession (In unison)
We confess our shortcomings of looking back and looking beyond O God our creator and in the process forgetting the moment. We have rejected what we can do in the moment and have instead got stuck in the past and are fearful of our future. Forgive our sins of silence, ignorance, hurting others, being insensitive, defensive and using our temporary positions to hurt others. Amen.

Forgiving and receiving forgiveness is the most exciting and soothing experience one can have. God forgives us and in it God is pleased and happy. By being absolved of our sins we become free to move on and work for the benefit of God’s creation, more effective and more involved than before. May God forgive us all. Amen.

We pray gracious God for all those who are confused about their self. What is confusion for us is only the path chosen by them. May people choose the land they want to stay in, the occupation they want to do, the preferences they have, the food they want to eat and the life style they want to have. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray merciful God that all forms of violence are shunned in society and that people may never take recourse in violence as a solution to a perceived problem. May mob violence, genocide, hate crimes, state violence, war and struggles involving loss to innocent lives come to an end. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray loving God for preparation and patience to start the lent in the hope that we will experience the life and passion of Christ and be led to the experience of resurrection. May lent mean not just diet restrictions but whole hearted change of heart to accept each other as they are and as they want to be. May lent be a time to change ourselves and not others. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for the retreat leader, for those who are attending the Quiet day retreat and those who haven’t been able to make it due to various reasons. May the soothing and comforting presence of the Holy Spirit be with us and guide us to being in fellowship with one another and may we be strengthened to do God’s work in whichever way we can. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for our personal needs………….Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Affirmation of faith (All together)
We affirm that the creator God created us to live in peace and harmony and to be in dialogue with all. Differences are normal and dialogue is the only way to understand and accept what others are experiencing. Our mandate is to be in constant dialogue and we affirm that the absence of this creates tension and trouble and stands far from what God hopes for.
We affirm that the crucified Lord sought to speak even when remaining silent. Christ’s death on the cross was a reaching out to all who spoke the language of violence and hatred. By preaching Christ we have to also reach out to all within and outside. Our quest for dialogue should be inspired by the cross.
We affirm that the Holy Spirit moves people towards understanding and coming together. In the midst of diversity we understand that the Holy Spirit will move us to stand firm in our commitment to offer hope to the hopeless. Our faith in God transcends all tangible and intangible barriers of discontent from within.
We affirm that there cannot be hope without social justice and that the poor and marginalized have to experience hope first. Hope cannot be for a few but should be for all to feel and experience amidst the diverse contexts of injustice in our world. Hope for a few is no hope at all. Women and men together have to experience hope in its entirety.
We affirm that the communicator God inspires us to be prophetic voices of hope in society. Through strong voices we should accept our call to bring hope and change in our living contexts. The hope of resurrection was visually seen and understood by women who lived in unshakeable hope. They then passed it on to the men who had almost lost it. Amen.

Closing hymn

Lord’s prayer
Our God, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Closing prayer
Violence and taking life is never a solution to anything. Let us pray that we never use violence of any form, through words, actions and inactions. May the love of Christ who overturned the violence of society and religion be with us. Be assured that those who leave violence will never die but always be alive just as Christ showed us. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever more. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Quiet Day second session worship order

Opening prayer
Gracious God, we come into your presence thankful for the rest, restoration, renewal and revival you have offered to us. As we start a new day give us the mind and the patience to prepare ourselves to retreat and offer ourselves for realizing where we stand and where we need to go in relation with our life and our relationship with God. Open our hearts merciful God to new thoughts and creative expressions which will help our spiritual forming and nurture. Amen.

Bible reading

Confession (All together)
Understanding God who knows every step we take and yet gives us the freedom to be ourselves in every way and manner, help us to realize the Godly and ungodly acts around us. We accept our inability and our inconsistency in understanding what God and belief are. We have based our faith on a powerful God forgetting that Jesus underwent the struggle of being human even while he was divine. Forgiving God we tag along with Christ on the cross in disbelief knowing that it will lead us to true belief. Amen.

The cross is the symbol of violence and the symbol of peace. It is the chance of retribution and that of reconciliation. The right of one is the wrong of another. God always offers a way where there seems to be none anywhere. May God who felt powerless and confused on the cross in God’s effort to understand human suffering forgive our efforts directed towards capturing power, holding on to it at any cost and causing hurt to others in the process. Amen.

We pray powerless God who chose to be powerless and confused for the sake of humanity and showed us true love is when we give up our power and our positions. Help us to give up power in churches and instead to form communities of love, sacrifice, caring and understanding. We pray for churches which are undergoing turmoil based on arguments on basic fundamental human rights and governance. We are very well part of such churches and we seek your guidance our friend God to do good and dispel harm in our communities of faith. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for Lance Naik Hanamanthappa who was rescued six days after being buried alive in the Siachen glacier. We pray for his family who are undergoing mixed feelings and are confused to the core on the happenings. We hope that you help him recover and come back to a life to be lived with his family and friends. We also pray for peace on our borders with Pakistan and China and friendly relations with Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Nepal. May we stop trying to become a super power and rather be a super peer concerned about the good will of our neighbours just as we are about our citizens. Lord in our mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for gender justice in India and the world. It is after all based on the concept of patriarchy which is associated with power and conquest. May this wrong notion of power end and bring about a life based on Christ on the cross where we are shown the vulnerability, the powerlessness, the love and the sacrifice of God. May we as a church come together to speak against gender violence and bring about equal participation in church and society. Power and might can never be a criteria for the church and for living a harmonious life. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for those affected by the Zika virus and various diseases all over the world. We realize that these are the result of our wish to conquer the world and markets. Pharmaceutical companies, media, governments and middle men come together to make sure that people are always dependent on vaccines, medicines and money to escape all forms of viruses. May Christ on the cross be a model for a more sustainable and ecofriendly living which gives space for all forms of creation to exist side by side not based on power but on powerlessness. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are still in abject poverty because of wrong government policies and decisions. It is a sin that people on earth are dying of hunger and there is no justification for this. We pray that governments and dispensations encouraging war to capture power will turn around and encourage peace because we can’t capture one another as everything belongs to God, who by God’s own decision chose to give up everything. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for the UTC community. Help us O God to prepare ourselves to accept each other, live with one another knowing that those who want to be first have to be last and those who want to be served, have to serve. May we this day and in the days to come accept each other whole heartedly and work as sisters and brothers with the model of Christ on the cross as our inspiration. We pray for those who are sick, recovering from ailments, undergoing stress, trying to overcome fears and putting in their best in studies and their life on this campus. May we hold hands and live as one despite coming from different backgrounds and churches. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Affirmation of faith (In unison standing)
We believe in God, the powerless initiator who
created heaven and earth.
We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the compassionate Holy Spirit,
born of the ever sacrificing Virgin Mary,
suffered under the powerful Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the powerless dead.
On the third day he rose again without power;
he ascended into heaven because he lowered himself,
is seated at the right hand of God,
and will come again to assemble the living and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the one powerless church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Closing hymn- On a Hill Far Away (The Old rugged cross)

Lord’s prayer
Our God, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Closing prayer and benediction
How nice it is to put off all burdens and pressures from our shoulders. The pressure of administration, church work, studies, research, teaching, living and praying need not be done alone but can be a collective effort. How good it is to know that even Christ was confused even up till the cross. Go in peace, knowing that we know nothing and yet that is something. We cannot have everything in life but through God we share the gift of something which will be our everything this day and in the days to come. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest and abide with us now and forever more. Amen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Quiet Day first session worship order

Order of worship
Opening prayer
God is in our midst. Shall we forget about our bothersome thoughts and burdens and concentrate on the presence of God, our friend and companion in happiness and in sadness. We thank you Lord for giving us the opportunity to come together for a quiet time of reflection. Instigate and challenge us we pray to realize the truth of the gospel and live in hope and joy. Amen.

Bible reading

How far we have come away from you dear God? How close can we get? We have concentrated on scandals of popular culture and have forgotten the scandal of all time, the scandal of the cross. This is a scandal for a rich and self-consuming culture but a reality and joy for us that rejection by humans is acceptance by God. We come to your presence gracious God offering ourselves in humble state mindful of our short comings and sins. Forgive us and give us the strength to move on. Amen.

A confessing heart is worth an entire life time’s wait, an understanding mind is the work of decades of humility, the grace of God is possible through the realization of a moment that what was done was wrong. May God pardon us all and may we go in peace to prepare ourselves to accept each other and work together. Amen.

We pray that acts of violence and gross injustice are not repeated but that we come to understand each other and live in this world and country as one. None of us own what we inhabit but it all belongs to God the creator. We pray that acts of intolerance as was seen in Bangalore last week are not repeated and pray for the Tanzanian student who was affected by the mob attack on her. May her recovery be speedy through our bold and sure acts of assurance as by our strong prayer for her. Help us to live together as the present and future of the world is in living together and in harmony. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for Rohit Vemula and for his bereaved family, friends and comrades. We hope that his death does not settle down and go for nothing but will rather lead to people stopping caste and racial violence and will work in the interest of the poor and down trodden. May we see Christ in each other and may we understand the scandal of the cross from the perspective of those who suffer and find it difficult to make ends meet. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for the one million refugees and migrants who crossed over to Europe in 2015. We pray for Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Serbia and Ukraine from where they are migrating. May war and violence end and may people be able to go back to their homes and land. We also pray for the countries hosting them and accepting them, to find the ways to fight internal problems of anti-refugee movements and nationalism related threats and help in this massive movement to help each other and offer houses to one another just as Christ would have done. It may be a scandal to others but it is what has to be done. We pray that repressive regimes will accept proposals of peace and joint administration and stop killing innocent people. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for free education, food, shelter, and jobs for the unreached in India. Even as we enjoy food we pray that right to food, right to education and right to a job become fundamental guarantees to all residents of this nation. This may sound scandalous to many but reservation is only a social corrective where the downtrodden will get a chance to feel the same as everyone else. We pray that community specific jobs are done away with and people can choose the job they want and every job will have its own dignity. May tables not be reserved for the rich and the famous but be open equally for all. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

We pray for those assembled here and for the UTC community, its well-wishers, friends and all those who have stepped into the campus and have had some association with this college and campus. Gracious God have mercy on us and allow us to enter the preparation of understanding your sacrifice and passion for us. May we forgive each other and seek forgiveness from one another. We submit our own wishes and needs and put forward our fears and sorrows. Fill each one of us with your mercy loving God. Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Affirmation of faith
We believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
We believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Lord’s prayer
Our God, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Closing prayer and benediction
We have seen a scandal, we were part of a scandal, and we are because of a scandal! May the divine scandal of Christ Jesus be with us and strengthen us to teach, preach and practice the gospel as assurance for many, acceptance of all and liberation of the poor. May God be with us all. Go in peace and go in assurance of God’s presence with us. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever more. Amen.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Five reasons to observe lent

Another Lenten season has started and the same question arises. Why should I observe lent? What can inspire me to undergo the experience of lent? What kinds of lent are available. Here are five reasons for us to observe lent.

1. Having control of our mind. Why would Jesus have fasted for forty days? What did he do after he fasted for forty days? It does appear that Jesus was preparing for his ministry. It is said that human beings use hardly 10% of the capacity of their God given brain. Why aren’t they able to use the rest? It is primarily because they are doing things which they don’t need and in the process are also not being able to concentrate on the work at hand. Humans are also mighty bothered about what others are thinking and what is good and bad in their culture. This prevents us from using God’s greatest gift to human kind and that is our own mind. Lent is a time of taking control of our lives. It is to tell ourselves that there is a lot of good we can do for others and ourselves.
It is not to use our mind to control the minds of others but to use our mind to do good that we never thought was possible of us. It is to say that we usually give up on a struggle or don’t do something because we think that we are not capable of it. We end up not helping people not because we don’t want to but because we think we don’t have it in us. Lent gives us a great opportunity to use God’s grace through our body and make it count for someone else.

2. Forgiving is good for the mind. Forgiving others for any seeming bad they have committed against us is very good for us. Anger prevents us from forgiving and anger leads us to the next kick of getting into a fight with someone and this cycle never ends. This will lead to tensions in life and we will be very unsatisfied. Forgiving is not a prerequisite for lent which turns out to be a condition but it is something we should do out of our own free will so that it will lead to a better society.

Imagine a scenario of road rage which can be avoided with a simple smile and a better choice of words. But somehow it is not possible for us and we end up getting into a fight with someone over a matter which we later realize is not so important after all. Forgiving is never an act of weakness but an act of strength. It is not to say that we are giving up but to say that we have read any given situation better than the other person. It is a mature act of tolerance which will not make us weak but will make us strong because our mind is not obsessed with the anger we have for someone else but has already moved on.

3. Eating to share. Our culture is so obsessed with food that we are left eating all the time. It is as though we live to eat and eating is the only thing on our mind. Living to eat suggests that food is everything and all for us. This brings about a gorging on food and hoarding of food because lack of food will make us very unsettled and unsatisfied. Sharing the resources on mother earth is to truly believe that there is enough for all. Food shows, marts, restaurants, competitions, cookery books and choreographed pictures only make us more conscious and bothered about food and makes us personalize it to the extent of having it always. Lent helps to break this cycle of eating. It is not wrong to eat and Christ himself acknowledges that he and his disciples ate happily. But that was a community fellowship and not a culture of living to eat.

Eating to share means to look at whether others have eaten their share before we gorge on our own food. Is it enough to pray for the poor and the hungry or is it important to know that during lent and afterwards we should understand that what we are eating is also meant for someone else? There is enough food for everyone in this world. If that is the case why is more than half the population in India eating less than three times a day while doctors advise those who can afford a separate food regime to eat several times a day to avoid diabetes and other lifestyle diseases? Lent should be this understanding that we can eat less and reach out to those who don’t have anything to eat. This can be on several fronts. Some can donate to a home for the destitute where they are looking for a donation to cook the next meal, others can go to the streets and help many sleeping on the streets with nothing to eat, the church can start a food bank, while others still can identify a few people or at least one person they can employ and through that wipe out the hunger of an entire family.

4. Cleansing our thoughts. Lent is a time when we clean our system by eating slow, eating little and eating correct. It is not about purity and pollution but about cleansing our thoughts by having a light body and in a way to feel more energetic to do more. Slowing down helps us to think about family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and others we see every day. It is to say that we can change the way we think.

This can help us in to engage with evils like gender discrimination, caste violence and class differentiation to name a few. It is to think with a clear mind and think better and realize that we are doing wrong to many people around us. It is to rise above the usual and offer our dining table to eat for the person who helps with chores at home, to give them a salary hike instead of spending it on something in the super market which we don’t even need. It is also to trust communities who we work with and who work for us and treat them like our own instead of having these differences based on colour and gender. Lent can definitely help this way.

5. Preparing for bad times. We are faced with a lot of ecological problems these days. Global warming is on the rise and that is already making a change to the earth and to various countries. Wars and genocide come up quickly and so swiftly that the population of the land is not ready for it. Natural disasters like the one which happened in Tamil Nadu remind us that we need to be ready for any eventuality. This being the case lent becomes a time to prepare for worse times. It is to live and eat on the most minimum and thereby prepare ourselves for any eventuality that could arise at any time. We realized with many natural disasters over the past few years that we have no idea how to survive if something happens and we have to depend a lot on divine intervention and government help.

Lent prepares us for any catch-22 situation and hardens us and strengthens us to face any eventuality. It is to work and think with the most meager of resources available so that we will survive an earth quake, a flood or any other disaster because we have already gone through a very humbling and difficult experience. Children and the aged can also be prepared. This is also where other kinds of Lenten forms help. Carbon fasting, abstaining from social media, mobile phones, television and other forms of the media teach us how to contact someone with very little technology, remember phone numbers and addresses, and walk for kilometers together when there is no other form of transport. Lent helps us with all of this.

Lent has changed over the years and yet there are so many things which remain the same. What has changed is that we can use lent to work on the different changes in our life which have happened over the past few years. Lent is so unique and a game changer and life enhancer for all. Try it. You will come out smarter and happier.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A republic of ideas

The concept of a republic should be seen as the start of a coming together of people in one place, region and a mix of several regions which have been brought together for whatever purpose. India celebrating Republic day should also be seen from the perspective of several people coming together to celebrate the coming together of India as a republic. Several women and men belonging to several regions, caste and class have toiled in many forms and occupations, each and not a few contributing to the growth of this nation.

This Republic day we should look back and look now and applaud all for sacrificing several of the luxuries they could have had, all in the name of keeping the nation going and together. The concept of a republic has two very important characteristics for me. One, it should bring all people in the country together and should not make anyone feel alienated because of their gender, caste, class or occupation. Rather, each one should be respected for being our brother and sister and in the essence of a republic, our family. To call ourselves Indian and wave the Indian flag should be a privilege which should be earned by considering everyone who is living in this country as equal and coming together to offer a space to the under privileged and depressed classes. Disrespecting the flag is not by the way we wave it, where we wave it and raise it or whether we are allowed to hoist it above our house. Rather the privilege of the flag should be a feeling of coming under the comforting presence of an assurance that India and its constitution grants the right to all to have a good life. Anyone who does not follow this spirit is disrespecting the national flag because the flag stands for equality, justice and peace as only that can keep a nation together.

Two, the concept of a republic should not be limited to those who hold a card or an identity proof to prove that they are Indian. Rather it should be extended to all who make India their home. Their attitude and choice hold a higher authority than their identity proof. In this regard the republic we stay in should offer itself as a place for many to come and live and thereby we increase the scope and size of the republic. This is not to entertain political and geographical ambitions which exist way beyond our borders but to open our borders to show that we have grown and progressed as a republic. If we have to increase our security for Republic day and be on the guard always, the celebration which the Republic day has to be becomes a day of perceived threats, violence and a bundle of nerves hoping that all the official functions go well. This then defeats the very purpose of a republic and we become a republic that needs force and military might to remain so instead of using our democratic process and reaching out to many so that others and not we will say that we have become a great nation.

The Republic day also offers us a chance to conduct a social audit whereby we look at what the people of this nation have got and are getting. Are they treated properly, do they know their rights, are they getting justice, can they meet their elected representatives, do people by themselves look out for each other transcending religion, caste and gender or do they come in line to the beats of the drum and the expectations of the anthem?

The writers of the constitution and the erstwhile members of parliament meant us to have a life which would be self-respecting and offer protection to children, women, the poor and the powerless. The constitution is a book of justice whereby preferential rights are given to the have nots. No wonder that there are people who call the constitution holy. Can we come to that understanding on Republic day where we can say no one in this republic will go hungry because it is a sin and against the constitution, no woman or child will be disrespected because it will lead to the state filing a case against the aggressor, and no one will be called outsider or insider because according to our republic all who live here are Indians? The Republic day does involve several speeches and talks on the nation. We should not wait for that but should have our own speech ready for Republic day. This is our speech which says that we will treat anyone on the road or whoever we come across as our own brother and sister, no one will suffer because of lack of facilities, everyone will have access to quality education, and we will fight for the sustenance and continuity of such a republic.

Claim your Republic day, make it your own and tell yourself how you can make a difference in this country by celebrating the Republic day properly and living it every day. This 67th Republic day should not just be to follow traditions but at the same time one need not belittle the good ones as well. Even as various contingents walk past on the Republic day parade it is imperative that we have the same freedom to walk on the streets of this great nation, not being stopped for what we look like or which gender we belong to or what choices we make. Everyone has a right to walk their freedom and in their country this Republic day. Have you exercised yours?

(Picture courtesy

Monday, December 7, 2015

Christmas Carol service worship order

"Christmas: Seeking refuge in a home away from home." Dec 6, 2015, Charles Ranson Hall.
Sunday, December 6, 2015, Charles Ranson Hall
(As the choir sings the prayer song a child, a woman faculty member, a male staff member and the principal light the lamp. This is an Indian way of entering the advent filled with peace, love, hope and joy.)

Opening prayer
God of hope, in this Advent of expectation draw us together in unity that our praise and worship might echo in these walls and also through our lives. In this Advent of expectation draw us together in mission, that the hope within might be the song we sing, and the melody of our lives. In this Advent of expectation draw us together in service, that the path we follow might lead us from a stable to a glimpse of eternity. We pray for those away from home, those who have had to leave home and those who have been forced out of their homes. Help us O Lord to come together as a community of believers with one house where we can all congregate and pray. Amen.

Congregational hymn lead by the college choir

Bible reading

Isaiah 2:2-5
Romans 13: 11-14
Luke 2:1-7

College choir song 1
Advent Reflection: Rev. Dr. John Samuel Raj, Principal, UTC

College choir song 2

Prayers for the Christmas season
L: O Emmanuel, we feel your presence whenever we are willing to risk our belongings, our definite lives and our familiar surroundings. Your birth Christ was unfavourable for the decision makers but favourable for the shepherds. In your birth the wise chose to follow the star than follow the King because it was revealed to them that kingship had moved from the palace to the street. This cold evening may realization come at this time of prayer and singing which will make us sweat and feel warm in the assuring presence of God.
C: This is the time for birth, a birth with Christ.

L: O Lord Jesus, we have all moved out from our homes seeking jobs, security, peace and a better future. Nothing is permanent and no one but you is the owner of what we use. We pray with a deep sense of sadness for Chennai and its people. Many of us have stayed there, lived in houses, walked through its streets, passed through and known and still know people from there. Can there be a celebration for us when our friends and family are struggling to live? We come to your presence God because we need the hope of Christmas, the hope of your birth through which we can rise up from any difficulty and hold hands together and praise you.
C: This is the time for birth, a birth with Christ.

L: O God of mercy, bind us together through this service that we may hug each other and embrace one another in a true gesture of what the shepherds and wise humans did on visiting the baby in the street. Has Christ been born in each one of us? Isn’t there a manger and a street in us and in our neighbor? Shouldn’t we bow down to one another and in doing so bow before Christ our Lord. Christ is born in every way we can imagine and in everyone we can imagine. Isn’t this the season of saying “Merry Christmas” because we greet and accept each other because of God’s mercy and care?
C: This is the time for birth, a birth with Christ.

JBF song
Sharing the gifts of Christmas

It’s Christmas and no one can go back without a gift. This is a time to exchange our biggest gift of forgiveness and understanding. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth won’t get houses, food and education for the poor and the needy. Shall we submit our gifts to God and wait for God’s unending gifts of mercy and grace to bless us this season? Shall we forgive each other and give peace to one another because Christ is born in our midst? May God take care of our pain and suffering and may we feel the excitement of the birth of our Lord Jesus. Amen.

Naga fellowship song
Kannada fellowship song
Telugu fellowship song

Remember these voices from the manger
Voice 1- While the entire nation is trying to make sense of what tolerance is, there is humanity at its best in Chennai. I can tell this for sure because, I stay in Qatar and my family (wife and 2 kids aged 11 and 7) are in Chennai. With all the floods and problems, I am getting the message from them, "We are safe". In the wake of calamity, Chennai is "One". It has only one religion, "Humanity"; It has only one enemy, "Water"; there is only one aim "Help". And they did it in style. When they were offering help, they didn't ask whether you are "Hindu" or a "Christian" Or a "Muslim". They didn't ask whether you are "Rich" or "Poor". They didn't ask whether you are a "Tamlian", "Malayalee", "Telugu", "Kannadiga" or "North Indian". Only one question they asked; "Do you need any help?"The rich people; my neighbors who never interacted with anybody in the neighborhood in last 4 years; opened the gates of their huge house. The man stood outside and welcomed people to his house. "We will eat whatever we have. We will share whatever we have. You can stay here until the water recedes"; that all he had said.. He accommodated around 35 people in his house. He is a Hindu Brahmin. He provided mat for the Muslims to do Namaz. He allowed Christians to pray in his Pooja room. There were volunteers outside helping people to reach safe places. They used anything and everything as tool; until the army people reached. Once the experts came, they gave the leadership to the more experienced and helped them to help others. My wife told me that, there were group of people going through the streets with neck deep water and asking "Sir / Madam, do you need any help?" in front of every house. They provided whatever help they can and they distributed food and essentials. There were groups providing cellphone batteries for 5 minutes to anybody who want to talk.
I have seen people fight for food when there is a calamity. Even the most modern countries, when there is a calamity, people fight for food. They think only about themselves at that time. But, when the food was distributed in Chennai, it was calm. People stood in queues and they have given food for the people who are not able to stand in queues (elderly, mothers and kids). They brought boats. They made temporary rafts and just went on helping people. On top of all these things, this is what my kids are seeing. This is what they are learning. How to help each other at the time of need. It goes straight into their brain. The images gets implanted there. And then, when there is another calamity, they know what to do.. How to survive.. How to get help and how to help others... This is what I want my kids to learn.. Humanity, without boundaries....
All- Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Voice 2- Ever since she was in kindergarten in the Syrian city of Homs, Ibtihaj has dreamed of becoming an artist. She hoped of one day being able to open her own gallery and showcasing her work to the world.Now 12 years old, Ibtihaj lives in Jordan, one of the more than 3.8 million Syrians who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the ongoing conflict.
Through her latest creations, proudly displayed on her bedroom walls, it’s clear her experiences have had a big impact on her. “This is a son and his mother praying to God asking him to help Syria,” she says. “And this is an eye crying for its country.”Following a visit from a UK artist to Jordan last year, Ibtihaj is set to see her dream of reaching a global audience come true. She along with other refugees, were involved in an innovative project of recycling old UNHCR tents. They were encouraged to express their feelings through their painting, or to write poetry, or whatever artistic medium came to them, whilst being given broad themes of ‘Hope’, ‘Memories’ and ‘The Impact of War On Families’. The results have been so powerful; the tents are now set to be exhibited in a number of locations across the world. “The goal was to turn these symbols of loss and displacement into beautiful pieces of artwork, in order to raise awareness for the plight of refugees,” said Hannah, a student who was living in Jordan last year. “We played with the idea of ‘fragments’, ‘pieces’ and ‘shattered lives’. Lives fall apart when forcefully expelled from their homes and need to be rebuilt again. The most common image expressed by the refugees however, one that kept reoccurring, was ‘home’, highlighting the longing of many refugees for the conflict to end and to return to their lives.
All- Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Voice 3- I am a dalit woman who is forced to do manual scavenging because I am told that is the only thing I can do. I have lost my sense of smell. I don’t know what is beautiful anymore, my own stench because of scavenging, or the smell of jasmine flowers. I am send to spaces which people conveniently want to forget. I have to clean and carry the smell of others on my head so that others may be clean and beautiful. My Christ cannot exist in richness and privilege simply because I don’t know what that is. It is not about right and wrong and black and white. Rather it is about who we are and what we hope for. I would like to live a dignified life which I believe was what Christ Jesus did. He was also born into the stench of life because the other spaces were taken up. He was also branded a carpenter and was shown his place by the chief priests. But I am told that he did not let that prevent him from becoming who he did. He made his stench his strength and the sweat of his body his attraction, so much that we eat his body and drink his blood. We are one with him and in him, aren’t we? Why wouldn’t you then so much as touch me when my smell is the smell of the manger you now approach in prayer.
All- Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Voice 4- They didn’t give me an apartment because I was from a minority community. People ask me whether I am a terrorist, a fundamentalist, a trouble maker and a meat eater. Is there is a difference in our blood? I am O+. What are you? Does religion change our DNA and blood? Do we enquire about Christ’s blood group? Do we know his family name, was his beard long or short? Will Christ be stopped at an airport because of how he looks, his designation and what he speaks? I also like Christ. He is very dear to me because I feel crucified just the way he was. I also walk in the street and get stared at and abused just as Christ was. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge me by how I look.
All- Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Tamil fellowship song
Malayalam fellowship song
Mizo fellowship song
Hindi fellowship song

Affirmation of faith
We believe in God, the creator and giver of life, who brought all creation to birth, who mothers us and fathers us, protecting, nurturing, and cherishing us. We believe in Jesus Christ: God born among us as a fragile baby, embodying both love and the need for love, and calling us to rest in God as trustingly as a tiny child.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, breathed into us at our birth, always drawing us on to be born again, encouraging, exhorting, comforting, nourishing our growth and inspiring our living. We believe in the reconciliation of the world to God, through Christ. Hunted at birth and humiliated at death, Christ entered our fearful darkness so that we might enter his glorious light and share the life of his resurrection.
And we believe that each new child is a glimpse of the face of God, a sign of the life to come, and a call to live in peace and celebrate living together. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on earth. Amen.

College Choir song no 3
Offertory hymn lead by the college choir

Commitment prayer
Gracious God, you are the source of all goodness, generosity and love. We thank you for opening the hearts of many to those who are fleeing for their lives. Help us now to open our arms in welcome, and reach out our hands in support of those who have to flee their lands and homes and to those who can’t live in their homes at present because of the crisis of rain and flooding. That the desperate may find new hope, and lives torn apart be restored. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Your Son, Our Lord, who fled persecution at His birth and at His last triumphed over death. Amen.

Closing hymn led by the college choir
Lord’s prayer

Home is always sweet. But what is home? Isn’t it the place where we are offered hospitality, where we show hospitality, live together in harmony and seek the good of one another? Christ Jesus showed us how to live in a home away from home and yet attract people to him. Go forth feeling that the spirit of Christmas lives in us. Go to the homes of others and offer yourselves as guests who trust the love of others. Open your homes to others so that the advent may truly be here in the now. Let us forget the small manger and the crib in our houses and make our house and mind into a manger, offered in openness and kindness for those without homes to come, stay, pass by and experience the birth of Christ. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ evident from the stable, the love of God experienced by the shepherds and the wise humans and the grace of the Holy Spirit symbolized through the star be with you all now and through this Christmas season of love, peace and harmony. Amen.
Choir song no. 4