Monday, October 19, 2020

Archcorepiscopa Dr. Kaniyamparambil achen: A spiritual father who overcame disabilities

 


Today is the 5th death anniversary of Archcorepiscopa Dr. Curien Kaniyamparambil achen, fondly known as Kaniyamparambil achen. The Simhasana Church in Thiruvalla, where I now serve, has a long and deep relationship with achen as he touched the lives of several generations of families here. He was a scholar without parallel in the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and respected among people from all denominations and religions. He was known for his scholarship, humility and hospitality. But I would like to touch upon a topic seldom discussed with regard to achen. He was a priest who overcame disabilities, the lack of hearing being primary among them.

Looking back, I feel that we never discuss the struggles and hardships of our ancestors and straight away harp on their achievements as if no struggles were involved or that they were so talented that they did not have to try too much. But achen had to overcome his hearing disability which then expanded to tremor (uncontrollable shaking of hands) and later on to finding it difficult to walk. Our communities want us to believe that priests and ministerial candidates are perfect and should be perfect. Medical check ups before bishop elections are only one example of this. But the most perfect of ministries are done by imperfect men and women and achen is a prime example of that.

I have heard other priests and people making fun of achen’s hearing disability and calling him a mute (pottan in Malayalam, which also has a derogatory meaning of being an idiot). All because he could not hear properly and one had to strain their voice while speaking to him! But instead of being bogged down and faltering under the weight of ill timed and unjustified jokes, he wrote and spoke like a man guided by the Holy Spirit. Many of us learnt to speak for long by listening to him. Achen made his disability into his ability. While we were being influenced by the sounds and temptations of the world, he sat for hours to read and write.

His major achievement of translating the Peshitta Syriac bible into Malayalam was done with these disabilities. He found the strength to overcome his tremor when he wrote and it came back when he had to do something else. He offered hundreds of prayers and services by reading lips and the actions of those around him. For me he has shown that one does not have to be ashamed of their disability but can rather embrace it and make it their biggest ability and asset.

I am reminded of St. John 9:3 where Jesus answers his disciples and says that “neither the man nor his parents have sinned, he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” The St. George Simhasana Church in Thiruvalla is indebted to achen for showing us that we can overcome our disabilities and to know that our disabilities have opened our eyes to see our abilities. There are so many children and youngsters who think that they are not good enough and wont make the cut or mark in an examination or test and that they are not perfect enough as their family and society would want them to be. May God and achen be a source of inspiration so that we never feel bogged down and dejected. We thank God for his life and contributions and pray that several people will get the courage and strength to do their education through achen’s blessed intercession. Dear achen, pray for us, your beloved children.


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Observations on the JSOC and OSC tensions prevailing in Kerala


Some observations on the escalation of tensions between the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Syrian Church. (I will be biased in my opinion but would prefer to position my bias/preferential option to those who are oppressed and afflicted at the moment. Whenever there is a change and if the oppressed becomes the oppressor, this opinion will also change accordingly.)  

 

1. The court has not ruled out reconciliatory talks and confidence building measures between the churches. The door to talks and settlements is not closed.

2. This is a jolt to the ecumenical relationships between churches. The OSC has bishops and priests in high ranking positions of ecumenical bodies. How then can the church not compromise for the larger good, as ecumenical acceptance is itself also a compromise?

3. A forced unity can never be Christian. It is a very imperialistic move from the OSC which does not bode well for churches in India.

4. The court has not suggested alienation of people/church members from their beliefs or spirituality. Such forced alienation, eviction and use of force is anti-democratic and un-Christian.

5. Jesus’ teaching that the first will be last and the last will be first should never be laughed off as an unrealistic and utopian dream (which is what an unbridled expansion will mean). If we do so we risk preaching a defeated Christ and a defeated cross, which goes against the theology and belief of all churches.

6. By being generous and compassionate the OSC will only gain a larger acceptance in society, among other churches and among their own church members.

7. The thought of the annihilation of a church, a people or a particular tradition is very dangerous and can lead to irreparable damage among all Christians.

8. The court cases also came about because of a deep-seated enmity among two churches. The aim was not just winning but showing the opposition to one another.

9. Tomorrow whoever else does something like this will also have to face the criticism of other churches and civil society. The opposition is not to the OSC as a church but to the thought of acquiring and amassing wealth and property which does not completely belong to someone.

10. Evil has to be opposed but it need not come at the expense of not having a relationship with one another. The wide ranging criticism of a church should change to the criticism of wrong policies.

11. People from both churches can join to oppose injustice in society and even in churches. There is already a natural association which is in relationship with common concerns and issues. This will be a healthy development.

12. How long can we accuse one another and try to do away with each other? Even as we worship the same God, it is necessary that we allow the continuing of several denominations as it helps us to witness to Christ Jesus in a better way.

13. Clergy and laity of both churches who should be contributing effectively to the Christian world are blinded by the faith to the denomination than true faith in God. This leads to the stunting of growth of very promising minds.

14. It is still not too late. We can stop throwing stones at one another and sit at a table and start talking. By hurling accusations at one another, we are rubbing salt on the wounds instead of working on the healing process.

15. Forceful occupation done by countries and powerful institutions has never worked anywhere. The enmity lasts for generations, leading to greater mistrust, hatred and unending conflict.

May God show a way for peace to prevail and for people to be given the churches that their ancestors or they themselves have built. Hope all of us can come together in prayer and wait for a great healing from God.



(Picture credit www.newsreaderboard.com)

Friday, March 27, 2020

The difference between faith and superstition in a time like this


It is important to sift through and differentiate between the grain and the husk at this critical time. More than ever we are faced with false prophets and prophecies which seek to benefit a particular speaker and is not the word of God. It is easy to get confused and misled and life can become very gloomy in the process. Without realising it, we tend to misunderstand many superstitions as faith. One has to talk of one's faith and there is no need to be ashamed by it. But there is no need to defend superstition, because it is not about faith but a corruption that has come in at some point of time. Below is a list of differences between faith and superstition.

1. Faith tells us that God’s mysterious intervention makes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This body and blood will offer eternal life. It cannot be totally understood. Yet it should not blind us but should show us light. Superstition makes us think that when we can’t offer or be part of Holy Communion on a particular day, it is inauspicious, unlucky and will be a curse for us. Services have been cancelled in several parts of the world. There are many who believe that this is not good and one should worship in the church at any cost, because otherwise it would not bode well for the community. 

2. Faith makes us visit the sick, pray for them and give them strength and hope. We see doctors as instruments of God. What is around us and for us is seen as good and not as a challenge to God. God is above everything and everyone is placed by God. We do not see a doctor as God but as a person used by God to reveal God's mercy. Superstition forces us to stay away from the doctor’s advice or even from the doctor himself/herself saying that God will heal us and there is no need for doctors or their prescriptions. Here doctors are placed on the same measuring balance with God and this is not fair to the doctors. We must respect them but do not need to worship them and whenever we do that, it becomes a superstition. But ignoring them and not going to them does not make us more religious. 

3. Faith makes us kneel and pray wherever we are. We are the same everywhere and don’t have different characters in different places. We all see the church building as a place which is special, holy and filled with memories. But we don't have two characters or behaviour, one inside the church and another outside it.  
Superstition gives us a special character when we are in a church and a totally different and negative character when we are outside it. This makes us different people at church and at home. The unavailability of a church is an unavailability of a chance to be good. But associating goodness with a place is a superstition. 

4. Faith does not make us test God and we will be like Christ who tells the devil that we should never test/ tempt the Lord our God. God is always there for us. God's love for us is unconditional. Faith makes us believe this one hundred percent. So there is no question of wanting God to do something to prove God's love for us. Superstition makes us test God to see if God truly cares about us. We want to be convinced time and again that God is with us. So much, that we don’t mind ‘forcing’ God to perform miracles. 

5. Faith is not trying to prove God’s prominence over anything but rather saying that God is everything for us. It does not mean that we refuse or disobey worldly authorities. Jesus’ advise is to give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. When a government says something for our good, people of faith don't feel challenged, because their faith is not wavering. Superstition questions worldly authority to the extend that it is made fun of, openly challenged, sneered at and disobeyed. Disobeying rules which are supposed to be good for people, is seen as a prerogative and something done to show off our pride of being religious.
 
6. Faith encourages hope and a better future no matter what the present condition. Even in the worst of times, those with faith will never give up and will continue turning every obstacle into an opportunity. People of faith are a blessing to society, because we see a glow on their faces, which radiates onto us as well. Superstition concentrates on “I told you so” prophesies which tries to tell people that we saw it coming and foresaw this much earlier. Instead of hope, fear is spread and is used as a way to get followers and supporters. These followers then spread the messages of hate and fear which will further divide communities instead of uniting them.
.  
7. Faith walks on water without talking about it. We meet people but don’t necessarily mention what struggles we went through to reach there. Every action and word is faith for such people but faith is never marketed. Faith is a matter of fact thing. Superstition creates miracles because it thrives on them. Miracles have to be talked about, blown out of proportion and packaged well when one is superstitious. So it is not whether one can walk on water but to make others believe that we can walk on water.
 
8. Faith is not overly ritualistic. It does not matter how many times you have knelt, prostrated and prayed but with what sincerity and truthfulness one has prayed. Fasting then should be a joyful exercise where no one gets to know that we are fasting. We are all ritualistic, but rituals cannot replace faith and belief. Superstition is overly ritualistic. Number of times and when and where matters rather than sincerity and truthfulness. Prayers can be rushed and mumbled as long as it is ‘completed’. The ritual then gets more importance than the act of faith.
 
9. Faith does not crumble when a church place or land is lost or becomes unavailable. It is in the heart and soul of a person. It cannot be taken away. Jesus said that one cannot destroy another's soul. Only the body can be destroyed. Faith is inside a person and cannot be snatched away no matter what. Superstition melts easily. When a physical space which is seen as important or a person who is seen as a powerful leader is lost, the superstitious crumble to pieces. It is like they have lost their way.

10. Faith does not automatically get handed over. Not everyone can get it because it is also an individual commitment to God. Just because a parent has faith, a child cannot automatically get it. One has to work hard for one's faith and it cannot be handed on a platter. Superstition passes on to the next generation very easily. It does not matter whether it is understood or not or whether it serves a good purpose. Continuity is wrongly associated with superstition and the acceptance and embracing of superstitions.

In a time like this, we need faith and have to sift through properly to find the grains we seek. Our faith is like the grain while superstition is the husk which has to be blown away and thrown in the fire.


Picture from www.mainthingradio.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Some thoughts and questions on online churches

The discussion on online churches never gets anywhere because the physical existence of churches have always been taken for granted. But now we are faced with a situation where we are not sure how services can be conducted. Many restrictions are being brought in all around the world and this could continue for several weeks and even months. The thoughts and questions below can be used as a starting point for discussion and for the serious consideration of online churches.

1. Preachers/priests in church can preach from a church, room or studio and put it online or live stream it but they can’t offer (give) communion online? So the word of God can be given online but the body of God can’t?
2. People go near the T.V. and raise their hands praising God, touch the screen for healing and repeat prayers which have actually been recorded several days ago but online confession is not possible?
3. The congregation can sit and watch Holy Communion service via television or laptop, they can do other things during the recorded or live streamed service but nothing can be offered to them at home because it would be a disrespect to the church and the elements?
4. The internet and social media are used a lot for the benefit of the clergy but are they used for the benefit of the laity?
5. Modernity and technology has entered the altar in the form of electricity, machines, technology and gadgets. A dilution of the original has already taken place and homes have moved closer to the altar. But is that very technology used to take the altar to homes?

During a lockdown and during social distancing it will be beneficial for us to think in depth about this. How can the transforming body and blood of Christ be offered without physical contact? (During an emergency/emergencies) Or is physical contact needed for being the one body of Christ? (When touch and contact is not possible due to certain circumstances?)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

We need an ecumenical response to Covid-19



If anything, the Covid-19 crisis has pointed to us a change in the usual patterns that we are used to. Restricted and cancelled religious services, lock downs, social distancing, empty streets, isolation and quarantines have brought us to a strange feeling. There is a heightened anxiety among people and rightly so. We find a breakdown of the usual, of traditions as old as we can remember and beyond, and of not being able to go to church as usual. Everyone has taken the work from home option seriously and churches aren’t far away.

Political parties are trying their best to stand together but can’t help criticizing each other as well. Perhaps this is to maintain a political relevance. One has to say something different whether there is a need or whether it is right or wrong. Otherwise there is a fear that one political dispensation may run off with the laurels. It is another thing that we are no where close to even saying whether we can successfully deal with the crisis. Even if one political party is ideologically opposed to another, they still believe that the crisis will be averted by the other. So even though their arguments challenge the various governments, they also show an underlying trust in them. The point is that a virus and a crisis cannot be averted by a few people but only by many coming together. It would be nice to see the political parties in India coming together and standing closely for the period of this crisis.

The same applies to Christian denominations. The example of politicians is important because there seems to be a high level of politicisation of churches and denominations. There is a politics in everything. Unfortunately, one wonders whether that is being expressed in the spiritual response to Covid-19! Live streaming of services, letters from bishops, priests leading prayers, are all from within denominations to their ‘own’ people. Even as a pandemic, challenges the entire world population, services and ministry are being offered based on caste, race, region and denomination. Repentance and the kingdom of God are still not being talked of with force and rather church buildings, clergy attire, liturgical uniqueness, language and denominational faith, and not faith in Christ Jesus is taking prominence.

Priests can’t hold a service properly because people can’t congregate. They have no control of anything and yet they try to live stream denominational worships and nothing beyond that. Covid-19 has hit at the root of worship and yet denominations can’t come together to chart out an ecumenical expression and response. We would instead like to leave that to ecumenical bodies and continue our spirited denominational services!

 A pandemic cannot be handled alone. A single country cannot control it because we are connected to other countries in several ways. It is not about us and them but about all of us. A country cannot depend on a single political party and government to fight this virus. The limitations are visible for everyone to see. Similarly, one denomination cannot pray and hope for the wiping out of the virus. We must pray together, and our worship places, crosses, priests, pastors, lay leaders and people must be available to one another. It is a time to work ecumenically and preach the Christ that we all know and have experienced, in various ways, to all who want peace and strength. The virus is leading us through unknown routes. Our spiritual response should also chart different routes, and yet have an affirmation as one people of God.

The concept of a physical church building has already been challenged by the Covid-19 virus. So much that many church leaders are openly telling people to congregate at home and even pray individually. But somehow the attachment to the physical church and denomination continues just like political parties who want every bit of work that they do to translate as votes later. Similarly, the live streaming of denominational services also looks like calling for a certain denominational faithfulness and not a Christ centered approach.

This certainly has to change to the point that the churches everywhere must have a more universal approach to what they are doing. This must make them available to people beyond their geographical area and denomination. We can have our arguments and assertions later, to well beyond the wiping out of the virus completely. For now, we don’t even know how soon we can afford to have a normal and peaceful church service, like we used to. I hope priests and pastors from all churches and denominations will accept this call to minister to a wider public and people, beyond denomination and even religion. Perhaps we can also come together as priests and pastors of various denominations and pray to God, for a blessed intervention. Such unity from below may indeed bring about a great and worthy response from God. Ordinary people are looking for hope and peace and not just at the colour of our cassock and the style of our prayer.




(Picture from www.pcecumenism.ca)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Go Corona go


Perhaps it is a denominational problem that to remain relevant and the leader of the pack, one always must be right. Even when we know it, we won’t admit that we are wrong. We are always right and correct!

The covid-19 (Corona) virus is turning our world upside down because we are being made to swallow our words. Sample a few things below.

a. Being an introvert was always seen as abnormal. So much that society tried to fix such people. They were forced into becoming outgoing, smart, mingling and possessors of a great personality. What is happening now is a reversal of this. We are forcing one another to stay home, become socially inactive and introverts!

b. Men had to be outside and women inside. The after-dusk curfew for women has been practiced religiously in many households in India. Women simply had to get in before it is dark. But now a virus has managed to push both men and women inside the house. Curfew is now gender neutral, or at least trying to be that, so that it is an effective exercise.

c. People who washed their hands several times were seen as special and as having an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Others tried to counsel and get help for them. Today, everyone is told to wash their hands several times. Are yesterday’s people with disorders today’s trend setters and law abiders?

d. Our personalities were figured out by experts by the way we shook hands. Those with weaker handshakes were marked as unsure, laid back and soft and those with stronger handshakes were looked at as driven, aggressive and ambitious. Now we are asked not to shake hands at all. So, where has ambition, drive and success gone?

e. Priests and pastors kept telling their congregations that they had to come to church or the worship center. Fidelity, faithfulness, and sincerity to the church was measured with the strength of attendance. The priest/pastor would ask, “Haven’t seen you in church lately?!” That has now changed to “pray in your home, your body is God’s temple, save another by saving yourself and not more than ten should attend church”. A lifetime’s tutoring and attracting to church is now seriously being challenged.

f. One had to go behind an elected representative to fix the waste problem, the drainage issue and to talk about community health and well being. We usually got back a promise list of what would be done in the coming years. Now there is an emphasis and concentration from their part on cleanliness, healthy living, clean surroundings and proper lifestyle.

g. Anyone and everyone would call for a meeting, even if it was against all human norms, against safeguarding of the rights of people and a call for communal disharmony. All that is now solved with a stern warning that no meetings or get together's are allowed.

Jesus’ advice that the Sabbath is for humans and humans are not for the Sabbath is being acted out right in front of our eyes. All norms, especially the anyway shaky ones, are being put in the deep freezer. Bureaucrats are showing great courage and strength to take a decision and implement it to the fullest.

A virus has changed our lives. But when one starts thinking about it, and with full respect to those who have lost their lives, the virus has shown us “why not?” We need to listen to the directives and advice of all government agencies at this moment. But it is also time to realize that a great levelling is in the process. The have nots are coming into the picture and re-entering their lost spaces. There is no clear right and wrong, victor and loser, strong and weak. There are only humans, you and me. Praying that we can all stand together and overcome our caste, gender and class biases and do whatever it takes to break the chain of the virus. Anything, for the good and survival of humankind.  

Friday, August 30, 2019

Profile of FJK


Fr. Jerry Kurian is a priest of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and an alumnus of the New Indian School, Kuwait, the Marthoma Residential School, Thiruvalla, S.B. College, Changanachery, UTC, Bangalore and GLTC, Chennai.  He is now the Vicar of the St. George Simhasana Church, Thiruvalla.

Jerry Kurian taught at the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary (MSOTS) for a period of five years before joining for his research and then taught in the United Theological College, Bangalore for six years. He now teaches at the Believers Eastern Seminary in Thiruvalla.  He has many years of pastoral experience as well. He is a theological educator, public speaker, blogger, theatre enthusiast, preacher and leadership and life skills trainer.

His research interests include new media, the internet, public speaking, drama, film analysis, communication and mission, alternative media, alternative journalism, traditional media, social networking, blogs, communication and women's liberation and communication and climate change.

Fr. Jerry believes his calling is to teach and pastor towards an inclusive society where everyone will be a part of our spiritual expression and everyone will benefit from the liberative gospel of Jesus Christ. He believes Orthodox Christianity has many things to offer in the diverse ecumenical and religious environment of India. He affirms that proper Communication can lead to a just society.

He worked on the design and implementation of the UTC college web site @ http://utc.edu.in/  He also designed the UTC college blog @ http://www.utcbangalore.blogspot.in/ 


Publications, presentations and other work


Asia Communication Sunday worship order for the WACC Asia Communication Sunday booklet June, 2010
Presentation on ‘God’s providence and the youth in the church’ in Yercadu on July 24, 2010.
Meditations for Gurukul Daily Devotion 2011 submitted in October, 2010.
‘Rights of (Vulnerable) Children and the New Media: Challenges for the church in India’. Paper presented in the seminar on ‘Children and their rights: A Theological exploration’, Chennai on November 15-17, 2010.
‘Examining the claims of the Information Revolution: Social Revolution or Knowledge Capitalism’. Published in KCC magazine, November, 2010.
‘The woman and Jesus. A bible study on Luke 7: 36-50’. Presented for the NCCI workshop on ‘Daring to study scriptures publicly and sensually’ on 5-2-2011, Chennai. This was later published by NCCI.
‘The essence of Lent: Learning and struggling to bend our knees, mend our hearts, and lend our hands’. Published in CSI Life magazine, March, 2011.
 
Co-edited the WACC Asia Communication Sunday booklet June, 2011.
Poem/song on “Vulnerability in the midst of Climate Change”, p.8 in Asia Communication Sunday booklet, Communicating Climate Justice, WACC-AR, June 26, 2011.

Co-edited the Asia Communication Sunday booklet, 2011.
Bible study for the BTESSC-UTC workshop on “Online Training Techniques and Different Possibilities” on August 30, 2011.
“Media Ethics, the main line media and new (social) media: A case for alternative people’s journalism”- paper presented for the UTC alumni meeting in October, 2011.
Meditations for the Gurukul Daily Devotion, 2012, GLTC, Chennai, 2012, “Neighbourly Relations and Christian discipleship”, pp. 289-296.
Article on “Christ the Revolutionary” published in Assisi Magazine, February-March 2012, Vol.58, Issue 2, Assisi Ashram, Bharananganam, Kottayam, Kerala, pp. 20-22.
Presentation on “Bollywood and the Construction of Masculinities” in the WCC-SCMI gender training workshop on March 20, 2012 in UTC, Bangalore.

Article on “Alternative Media and Journalism as a framework for Communicating Peace” published in the Clark Journal Of Theology (Theological Reflections on Peace building), Vol. II. No. 1, January- June, 2012.
Article titled “The Church, Human Sexuality and Challenging the Unchallenged” in the Gurukul Journal of Theological Studies (Human Sexuality: Theological and Biblical Reflections), Vol XXIII, No. 2, June, 2012. This was published in December, 2012.
Presentation on “Forms of spirituality” to 50 ordained pastors from CSI Rayalaseema and Nandyal Dioceses on July 3, 2012 at Vishranthi Nilayam, Bangalore.
Presented a bible study on Genesis 4:3-9 titled “Am I the reason for the divide” (A bible study on the digital divide) for the SCMI Centenary Bible Study workshop on September 6-8, 2012. This was later published by the SCMI and released during its centenary celebrations.
UTC alumni refresher course presentation on “Lord Renew the Church: Begin From Me. Empowered by the Spirit of Renewal: People of God as the True Agents of Change. Internet as a catalyst for building an alternative community for church renewal” in October, 2012.
Class for youth of Mumbai diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church on November 16, 17 and 18, 2012 on “Who and what am I for God”.
Took sessions on “Media and Leadership” and “Cyber ethos and internet de-addiction” for the Fest Zoe 2012 (Ecumenical Youth Leadership Training Camp) with the theme Beyond Globalization, Youth Culture, Mission and Leadership on November 14, 15, 2012. It was conducted by the The CSI Department of Pastoral Concerns and the Department of Ecumenical Relations & Ecological Concerns in the CSI Synod Centre, Royapettah, Chennai.
Presented a paper on “The Internet and Alternative Media for Communicating Peace” for the Faculty Research Seminar in the UTC on November 28, 2012.
Recorded a Jacobite Syrian Orthodox worship liturgy cd in English on November 29, 30, 2012. The CD was released on May 5, 2013.
Did a presentation on “Christian Communication, internet and alternative Communication” and helped in the sessions on “Reporting and Editing” in the workshop on “Communicating Ecological Justice”, held at CSI Synod Guest House, from 3rd to 5th Dec 2012. It was conducted by WACC and the CSI Synod.
Took a session on “Exodus: A journey to Togetherness” for the youth of the Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church on January 26, 2013.
“Lord Renew the Church: Begin From Me. Empowered by the Spirit of Renewal: People of God as the True Agents of Change. Internet as a catalyst for building an alternative community for church renewal” done for the UTC alumni refresher course was published in the latest issue of the Masihi Sevak, UTC.
Initiated the discussion for Dr. Joseph George’s faculty research seminar paper on “Changing patterns of Relationships in the Cyberage: Challenges and Directions for Ministry in India” on February 27, 2013.
Attended the NCCI sub committee meetings on March 6, 7, 2013 in Gurukul, Chennai. Apart from the Commission on Communication, was also nominated to the Centenary Celebrations sub committee to prepare a documentary on the NCCI.

Paper presented on “An Ecumenical View on Churches View of the Eucharist. A Critical Discussion” for theologians across India in the Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC), Bangalore on May 15, 2013.
Presentation on “Church: The Sacramental Sign of Hope. The church and internet: Hope in the New Age” for the CSI Central Kerala Youth Pre Assembly in May, 2013.
Presentation on “Media values in India” to a study group from Edinburgh University in June, 2013.
Retreat for teachers of the CSI Institute of Technology, Nagercoil on July 8, 2013.
Presentation on “Women and Migration” for a CSI Synod programme in Vishranthi Nilayam, Bangalore in July, 2013.
Article on “The Internet and Alternate Media as Christian Communication” published in the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) review in July, 2013.
Skit direction and presentation for the National Council of Churches in India- World Council of Churches pre assembly seminar in Bangalore in August, 2013.
Presentation on “Blogs and writing” and “The Spirituality of writing” in the Writers’ workshop for pastors conducted by the United Basel Mission and UTC in Mumbai YMCA on September 16, 2013.
Scripted, directed and edited a documentary on the United Theological College, Bangalore in October, 2013. This was screened in the World Council of Churches Assemby in Busan, South Korea.
Part of the NCCI centenary documentary team working on a documentary for the NCCI.
Presentation on “Living with God in the Contemporary World” for the Tangkhul Christian Fellowship, Bangalore on November 1, 2013.
“Media, Culture and Religion: Alternative Media as a New Religious Expression in India.” Paper presented to the St. Olaf College, U.S. students in the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore on November 5, 2013.
“Christian perspective on media and youth advocacy for social change.” Paper presented to college students from all over India at the Student Christian Movement India Centre in Bangalore on November 15, 2013.
Paper on “Orkut, Facebook, Tumblr: What next?” presented for the National Ecumenical Youth Pre-assembly of the NCCI in Goa via video conference on Nov 18, 2013.
Chapter on “Media Ethics” in December, 2013 for Sunday school students of the Kottayam diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in their book for senior Sunday school students.
Presentation on “Atrocities against Women” in ECC, Bangalore on Feb, 2014.
Article on the Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas titled “Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas: The Equinox on which the Church rode three decades” published in the Malankara World Journal in March, 2014.

Paper presented on “Ecclesiology in the Cyber Age” in the NCCI seminar held in Bangalore on June 26, 2014.
Paper presented on “Informed Prodigy or Juvenile Criminal” in the National workshop on Crimes by Juveniles in India on July 30, 2014.
“Theatre as a pedagogical framework for theological education”. Faculty seminar presented on October 29, 2014.
"Media, Culture and Religion". Presentation in ECC for the St. Olaf Seminary students on November 6, 2014.
Main speaker for the District Youth Conference of the Marthoma Church in Bangalore on May 14-17, 2015.
Paper presented on “Media and Spirituality: A journey of the church into the lives of people”  on June 27, 2015 in the Marthoma Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala.
Paper presented on “Religion in the Market Place: The Changing environment of Women in the Church” in the National Seminar on Role of Women in the Christian Church: An ecumenical perspective, conducted by BTESSC and the MSOT seminary in the MSOTS, Ernakulam, Kerala on July 14, 2015.
Presentation made to St. Olaf students on "Media and Spirituality" on October 26, 2015 at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore.

Main speaker for the Marthoma Church Regional Youth Conference, Delhi on November 10-13, 2015.

Produced and acted in the College play "The Nation of refugees" on December 3, 2015 in UTC.

Paper titled “Religion in the market place: The changing environment of women in the church” published in the Bangalore Theological Forum, Bangalore, Vol. XLVII, No.2, December, 2015.
Produced and acted in the play “The Nation of the Refugees” in an entire new location and format on March 4 and 5, 2016. 
Paper titled “Theatre as a pedagogical expression for theological education” published in the Hekamtho Theological Journal Vol 1, No. 2, MSOT Seminary, Ernakulam, Kerala in March, 2016.
Presented a paper on “The Theatrical expression of the Eucharist” in the National seminar for Theological Students in ECC, Whitefield, Bangalore on May 18, 2016.
Presented a paper on "Role of Media in Environmental Justice" in the National seminar on "Environmental Justice: Issues and Challenges." on July 6, 2016.
Took two sessions for the youth on the theme "Get up: Don't be afraid (Matthew 17:7)" at the International Youth Conference of the Assyrian Church of the East on July 22, 2016.
Presented a paper on "Maoists and Social Media" in the National seminar on "The Red Corridor and Maoism: Issues and Challenges" on August 19, 2016.
Took a session on "Women in the Church" for the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Bangalore diocese women's fellowship one day meeting on August 27, 2016.
Gave two talks on the theme "New Creation in Christ" for the first youth conference of the CSI Malabar diocese on September 12, 13, 2016 and took a session on Internet de-addiction on September 12, 2016.
Preached in the Naga Christian Fellowship Bangalore for their Power House service on September 25, 2016.
Presented a paper on "Transforming discipleship in a changing nation: Social media as a tool for ministering to the youth in church" for the UTC alumni refresher meeting on October 19, 2016.
Took a session on the Jacobite church, its faith and theology to a group from the University of Colombia, U.S. in January, 2017 at the St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore.
Presentation on "Women in the Church" in the Jacobite Church Women's Conference held in May, 2017.
Conducting special youth worship in English  once every month from June, 2017 in St. Mary's JSO Cathedral Queen's Road, Bangalore. 

Completed a relic room which has the relic of St. Ignatius Elias III and a building (G+3) of close to 20,000 sq ft which includes a hall, class rooms and two badminton courts in the St. Ignatius JSO Church, K. R. Puram, Bangalore.

Speaker for the Family Conference of the St. George Jacobite Church, Al Ain held in November, 2017

Spoke to the international group from the Union Biblical Seminary on the Jacobite church, its faith and practices, in January, 2018.

VBS director for the Vacation Bible School of the St. Ignatius Jacobite Church, Dubai held in March, 2018.

VBS director for the Vacation Bible School of the St. George Jacobite Church, Al Ain held in April, 2018.

VBS director for the Vacation Bible School of the St. Mary's Soonoro Cathedral, Sharjah held in March, 2019.

Retreat director for the priests of the Colombo Diocese Anglican Church of Sri Lanka held in July, 2019.

Has been  writing daily prayers for an online audience from 2017 onwards.
 
Has been writing quite regularly in a personal blog on social, religious and cultural affairs @ www.jerryachensworld.blogspot.in


Phone: +91-9483966951
E mail: jerryachen@gmail.com 







                                                                         The Nation of Refugees

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Partnering with children to witness the birth of Christ this Christmas




St. Luke 2:12- This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

The Santa Claus is coming to town lyrics is known in bits and pieces to many. It goes like this

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleepin'
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town


The lyrics of this popular song and the baby Jesus wrapped in bands of cloth in St. Luke 2:12 offer a different picture altogether during Christmas. Many a time we sing Christmas songs without thinking much about it and in this particular song poor St. Nicholas (Christmas Father) is made to look as some disciplinarian who checks whether children are good or bad before dropping off gifts for them. It is also a reminder of our own childhood when parents would force feed us with stories of some villain, thief or even crow coming and abducting us if we wouldn’t eat properly! 

It is interesting that adults use Christmas as an opportunity to discipline children when it should be a time when we look at what the young ones offer us for our spiritual revival. Jesus constantly reminds his disciples that they should become like children to enter the kingdom of God and today we are faced with the story of the baby Jesus to make that clear. Whereas in the Santa Claus song the children are told to be prepared and well behaved, in the bible story the shepherds are told about the birth of the Messiah as a child. After the announcement the shepherds are given a clue and a sign and told “You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth…” After the big declaration of the birth of the Messiah the sign given to the shepherds is of the child wrapped in clothes. For a first time reader this is a big shift in the story. A shift from hope to hopelessness. But the shepherds were experts at their job and God tells the angel to inform them about the Messiah born as a child because God expects something more from them.

The shepherds also perhaps had something special about them. Apart from the fact that they did not mingle with the main stream it could also be that the shepherds knew the value of a baby wrapped in bands of cloth. The reason here could be that the sacrificial lamb meant for sacrifice was also what the shepherds tended and they were given much care and even wrapped in clothes at birth. Jesus as a sacrificial lamb is also steeped in symbolism. So the shepherds know the value of a babe wrapped in clothes. It is something that makes no sense for a new reader though.

When we look more deeply this has a lot of meaning. On the one hand it means that we should value children so much and give them a stake in what we do because the Messiah or savior comes to the world as a child. Honoring children is honoring the Messiah and his birth on earth. This is where we are found wanting. Violence, abuse, wars and deceit is practiced in the world because we have grown up to the level of adults who don’t listen to God anymore. The birth of the Messiah has brought in an era of peace but we are not willing to listen to the Messiah because the Messiah is a child now. This Christmas we should start listening to and respecting children because it will lead to a safer and peaceful world. Instead children are most affected in wars and violence around the world. They suffer most in all forms as they are not valued by adults.

This has to change for us to have a better world. Christmas is a sign of the time that we have to become like children and we have to take care of children. Christmas thus has to become a child oriented festival rather than an adult oriented one. A child oriented festival won’t have power, money and authority as the main foundations of the festival celebration but will have innocence, trust and belief as the main foundations. Christmas is a great time to become small like a child so that we gain entry into the presence of the Messiah and also into the kingdom of God.

Our Christmas services are far from child friendly and instead are complex rituals which have no space for children. They are expected to keep quiet and behave so that St. Nicholas will be good to them and so that they will get gifts from their family. More space can only be possible if we transform ourselves into children and witness the birth of Christ as a child. Maturity and experience will lead to us missing the event of the birth of Christ because it cannot be understood by us. This Christmas we can start first by treating our children at home properly. They need to be respected and valued so that we will see the birth of Christ through them. The partnership of the baby wrapped in clothes and the shepherds gave the world the news of the birth of Christ. This should now become the partnership between us and our children whereby we can again experience the birth of Christ in our midst. Amen.




Picture credit- www.yourhomechurch.org

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Gatecrashing Christmas




The Christmas season offers a variety of traditions for different churches like carols, songs, dinners, sending cards, lent, house visits, church services and fellowships. All traditions have a yearly plan for us and we know exactly what to do. So much so that Christ born is a definite event with no surprise and nothing new. People from other religions also join in to celebrate and it is a welcome sign that everyone is looking forward to Christmas every year.

But what if we had the opportunity to gatecrash Christmas this year? But why, one would ask? Let us take a look at two events which are associated with the advent and Christmas. The first one is in St. Luke 1:39-56 when Mary visits Elizabeth when she knows that Elizabeth is expecting a child. It is true that the baby inside Elizabeth leaps with joy but it is not said that Elizabeth was expecting Mary’s visit. Yet the two are so happy with each other’s presence and they express themselves fully in the happiness of the moment.

The second instance is in St. Luke 2:8-20 where we see the shepherds who are told by the angel that the Messiah is born. They have no idea who they are meeting other than what is said to them by the angel. They go and are in the presence of Mary and the baby. They then realise what they have witnessed and glorify God. In this case Mary had no idea who the shepherds were. The shepherds also had no idea who Mary and the baby Jesus were. Yet, they see each other and it goes off well. The gatecrashing moment led to great joy for Elizabeth and Mary and the shepherds and Mary and Jesus. It was not planned by all of them but they went along with it and it led to great and happy things.

Both the stories mentioned lead us to the concept of gatecrashing. Gatecrashing is when we go to a place uninvited. We usually won’t do it as we don’t know what the repercussions will be. And yet anyone who does it will feel so thrilled to do it. It can even sometimes be called unlawful depending on the type of programme. But nevertheless it will give us an emotion of great happiness and thrill, sometimes even better than other programmes that we attend on invitation.

This brings us to some things which we can look at during Christmas. Christmas is not an ‘upon invitation’ event which is open to a select few but it is what is open to anyone and if churches keep it as an “on invitation” event it is likely to be gatecrashed by the needy. This also teaches us that Christmas doesn’t belong only to Christians but to everyone because the salvation of Christ belongs to everyone. So there is no ‘one’ way or ‘the’ way to celebrate Christmas but several ways to celebrate it.  Christmas is open because Christ willed it so. The angel informing Mary and then informing the shepherds show a non-traditional way of messaging through which the angel chooses two sets of people who are insignificant to the traditional forms of celebrations in the society of their time. Christmas can be truly celebrated when we gatecrash, inspired by the Holy Spirit and led by angels into visiting houses where the elderly live, where we go places where forget cakes but even a meal is rare, where we go to where children are staring into the sky wondering why Christmas Father does not visit them when other apartment complexes and houses have loud music and celebration. 

Such gatecrashing also gives us the courage to do things we would otherwise not do. We simply would not pull ourselves up to do it. But gatecrashing Christmas means opening up the invitation for Christmas for everyone we know and being a part of the lives of others without them knowing before hand. This will make this season one heck of a gatecrash Christmas. We can definitely make it turn out as a time for us to gatecrash a house, a family, a church, or an individual just like Mary did to Elizabeth and just like the shepherds did to Mary and baby Jesus. May the bliss and grace of Christmas be upon us all. Amen. 




Picture credit: www.irishtimes.com