Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who gets to switch off?

Today is Earth Hour 2010 and people in India will switch off electricity during 8:30 P.M. - 9:30 P.M. This urge to switch off and even slow down is apt during lent and therefore is something which can be followed to the letter. Slowing down and switching off may sound awkward but is one of the most interesting of things we can follow as part of our lenten routine.

As we journey with Jesus into his time of passion, we are supposed to do so by leaving behind our possessions, money and power. But does it make sense to tell the poor to leave behind what they don’t have anyway? Jesus had a choice of deciding what he would do as he entered Jerusalem. This was because he had the luxury of choosing between the rich and the poor, the unreachable and the reachable and the extra ordinary and the ordinary. So Jesus chooses. He chooses not to make a grand, triumphant entry on a golden chariot, flying through the sky. He chooses rather a people’s approach, and passes through the crowds, accepting their ordinary branch offerings and smiling at their simplistic yet sincere expressions.

The church on the other hand fixes regulations on the poor members while the rich are left in the distant sky, in their own world. But isn’t it that only those who have, can give, only those who have their switches on, can switch off, only those who otherwise eat a lot can eat less? For the poor, this does not matter as they have always lived in darkness, so much that it is normal for them. They have never affected the environment and switched on. Their normal way of living is similar to Jesus’ entry, the grandeur being projected by its simplicity.

The Copenhagen summit in Dec 2009 brought forward some skewed suggestions. The developed countries were seen asking the developing nations to reduce their emissions and carbon foot print and own up to their responsibility. They were asked to switch off. But what about the hundreds of years of perpetual rape of fossil fuels and resources by developed countries? Who takes responsibility for this? As we switch off today we should be aware of those who have switched off everything in their natural existence. They are the ones to whom we should dedicate our switching off tonight. Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The donkey says no

We are inching closer to celebrating Palm Sunday and any sermon on the day cannot forget the donkey on which Jesus made the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Many preachers prefer to ask the congregation, “Are you willing to be the donkey on which Jesus had to travel?” We are engaged into an emotionally charged environment where we are faced with a choice between donkey and no donkey! If I have to travel whatever class so that I can be with my master, so be it. I will take the donkey!

So as some writers have pointed out I imagine myself as the donkey on which Jesus travelled. I reconstruct the entry. The children, women and men all throwing their clothes and spreading branches on the road. As Jesus enters placed on the donkey the commotion is huge and the people say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” The donkey also feels a sense of the euphoria which has engulfed the scene. Maybe the donkey felt a rise in adrenalin in the midst of all the people and the shouts of joy and praise?

But what would have been the scene the next day when the donkey sans Jesus travels the same route, head held high and expecting the same praise and attention? Obviously people would have forgotten the donkey (It wouldn’t have been noticed anyway). As the donkey made its way one or the other men on the road would have beaten it and made it to go to the side.

I don’t mean any disrespect for the donkey. The donkey is a very hard working animal and teaches us many things. But when we put ourselves in the shoes of the donkey, we need to think of certain things. The symbolism of the donkey is one who serves the Lord and not the Lord himself. We cannot expect to be the Lord just because we served the Lord. It is a folly to leave the Lord and expect people to concentrate on us.

In the past couple of days India has seen the donkey speaking and trying to overshadow Jesus. Mulayam Singh Yadav started it by saying that women who contest Lok Sabha seats and come to parliament will be whistled at. I presume he expected that people in India would take him seriously but do we need to? Statements like that should be given the seriousness they deserve. None at all! The supreme court of India on the other hand gave a land mark judgement on live in relationships in India saying that there was nothing wrong with it. But all those who are carrying God on their shoulders now see themselves as God and take it upon themselves to deny freedom to others. So this judgement has also been questioned by the so called people playing God themselves.

A television series called “Little Britain” has a character called Carol Beer. She is shown working as a receptionist in a hospital and as a travel agent. She is very close to her computer and answers queries of people by tapping the computer and giving them a negative reply and then saying “computer says no.” Things which were taken for granted, things which were sure, things which were looking bright and hopeful are all cut off with three simple words… “Computer says no.”

As we enter into passion week, we place ourselves as the donkey upon which Jesus has to travel. But as soon as Jesus is out of the scene we try to become what we are not and in his absence take it upon ourselves to tell others what they are supposed to do. We tap into our computers and say, “computer says no”, wiping out the last strands of hope of the common people, from our self constructed peaks of safety and indestructibility!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Please, atleast a few crumbs today

For what seemed to be a cake walk, the drama has just started. Reservation for women in parliament in India has been on the agenda for quite some time now. This time it seemed things would go smoothly considering the fact that the numbers were in the affirmative. But what took place in the Rajya Sabha today is nothing short of an insult to the women of India. Members of two regional parties took to the well of the house, tearing up copies of the women’s reservation bill. They are seeking for a reservation within a reservation.

Matthew 15:21-28 showcases the predicament of the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus for her daughter. Jesus’ disciples urge Jesus to do something because they are tired of the woman’s persistence. Jesus on the other hand says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” and “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw to the dogs.” But the woman then says, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.” Jesus is astounded by the woman’s faith and tells her that she will get what she wants.

The plight of the Canaanite woman is similar to that of women in India. So close and yet so far! They have persisted for years to get what is rightfully theirs and yet they have been denied just that time after time. 33% in this sense is just crumbs as they should get a full 50% reservation. There will be advocates of the argument that let the women fight themselves up the ladder and let there be a reservation within a reservation. What this does is just deny even crumbs to women by showing them a great image of some great thing in the perceivable future!

The faith and persistence of the Canaanite woman is beyond comparison and as it teaches us a great lesson for this lent, it also reminds us of something which should be done. And this is the women’s reservation bill! The discussion on the bill has been adjourned to 9:00 A.M. March 9. Let us pray and lent ourselves for the women who have made us who we are and who have sacrificed everything for us and taught us what faith and persistence is all about.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Will I choose right this lent?

Choice is not just a matter of orientation and learning. It is a step which is profoundly and horribly difficult. Yet many think it is a given, a natural. What people don’t think about is that it matters ‘what to choose’ and not just to choose! This is the choice within the choice. We live in a work culture where we are pushed to the edge to make a choice and yet the choices we are given may not be the choices that are to be made.

The first Sunday inside of lent invites us into the world of Jesus in which being clean outside was as important or more important as being clean inside. Luke 5:12-16 gives the story of the leper who bows down before Jesus begging to be made clean. Jesus in turn is put in the predicament of bowing to societal pressure to clean on the outside. In the pressure situation of making a choice, he makes a choice within the choice. Although he could have well made the leper clean with a word, he chooses instead to stretch out his hand and touch the leper and say, “I do choose. Be made clean.” What is the difference, one may ask? Touch, touch.

Even today society has failed to engage with our scripture. In our rush to attain holiness we observe lent and pray, saying the magical words, but forget to observe the choice of making the magical touch. We abstain and think of what we should not, rather than getting involved and asking what we can? Lent could well be the time to reach out and touch rather than recoil into our shell.

We are a culture obsessed with celebrities. We crowd around film stars and even try to touch them. What is it that we hope for in the process? Are we going to be transformed in any way or is it just curiosity of what someone may feel like? Maybe we have made touch a weapon to touch when and where it is unwarranted and have conveniently forgotten our mandate to reach out and touch. Kerala has made touch an art through ayurveda with people flocking to the state for a divine massage. As Keralites fall head over heals to touch celebrities and guests the state is peppered with those who have even forgotten what it feels like to be touched (in the real sense of the word). God, it is so difficult to choose, and to choose right.