Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Portal workshop held

A day long workshop on the feautures and model of a Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church Portal was held in the St. Ignatius Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore yesterday. Youth members from several Jacobite churches in Bangalore attended the workshop which gave stress to collecting information, editing, compilation and writing styles for the purpose of online publishing. The Bangalore diocesan metropolitan H.G. Pathrose Mor Osthathios gave an introduction to the workshop and elaborated the need for a Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church Portal in this era of technological innovations.

Priests of the diocese and youth members came together in a unique exercise which is set to continue in the future as well. Immediate brain storming, collecting and validation of information, distribution of work and transparent decision making were all possible under one roof. Such an initiative also offers a hitherto untested model of governance in the church.

The unique undertaking is a coming together of tradition and technology and aims at including the aspirations and needs of the old and new members of the church. Such an initiative is a first in the church in terms of planning and executing. The ambitious project has many uniqe features and has already been discussed in the Holy Synod of the church.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Communication in Theological Education

The word communication brings to mind words like commune, communion and community which suggest that it means bringing together or coming together. All forms of communication thus seek to bring people together for whatever purpose. Communication also brings to mind sharing, participating, giving, taking, co-operating and transmitting. Communication thus involves people and what they do. Communication is a basic human need like food, shelter and clothing. It is a right of people. ‘One cannot not communicate’ and ‘one cannot but communicate’ provides the essence of the importance of communication. Even if we are silent, we communicate something. Religious institutions are usually happy with providing food, shelter and clothing to people in need. But this does not give the right to speak and express ones thoughts and very being. A world and church without communication would be just this. A world confined to superficial charity while refusing to give the poor and needy what is their fundamental right. This is the right to communicate.

Some definitions of communication are
1. The English word communication is taken from the Latin noun ‘communis’ and the Latin verb ‘communicare’ that means ‘to make common.’
Making common also means having something in common. Usually only people who have something in common can talk to each other. But this cannot be a hard and fast rule making us think that people who don’t share anything common cannot interact with each other. But on the other hand an element of commonness is definitely essential. All human beings have something in common but one needs to look to find and feel this commonality. Commonality includes religious beliefs, colour, taste, region, education and the like. In a theological setting it is very essential that we look for things that bind us together rather than for things that separate us. In churches also this holds true. A pastor has the responsibility of finding common threads between people rather than dividing people based on superficial disagreements. A communicator would seek to bring people together in a church setting and try to include the aspirations of all.

2. Communication is a human relationship involving two or more persons who come together to share, to dialogue and to commune.
Communication seeks to make relationships. It is not an artificial act but a human act whereby we seek to create togetherness. The first act of communication was God’s creation. God reached out to human beings and got into a relationship with them. This still continues. This is what should happen during church services as well. People should not come to see and hear something and then leave. Rather they should come and be a part of the church and each other. Without relationships, we cease to become human and therefore communication becomes an integral part of our lives.

3. Communication is the process that links discontinuous parts of the living world to one another.
We are a broken world trying to live together in hope. As pastors, care givers and social activists the hope we share is the hope given to us by the resurrected Christ. Communication forms the medium of experiencing and living this hope. How many times have we heard in theological institutions and churches that “it is a problem of communication”? Any breakdown in relationships is immediately attributed to the lack of communication and miscommunication and urgent calls are made for this to be rectified. Communication should not be seen as something using the latest technology but should be seen as the importance of doing simple things. Pastors looking at and greeting people in church, listening to people and holding their hands are all simple yet effective means of communication. This makes us a community who holds hands together, knowing fully well that we are broken and imperfect and yet coming together in the hope offered to us by God. This then should be extended to all people, of all races, castes, class, colour and gender.

4. Communication occurs when an individual assigns significance or meaning to an internal or external stimulus.
There are two types of stimulus. They are internal and external. An internal stimulus gives a signal to our brain that we need something or should do something. An external stimulus will be from someone else who wants something from us. When we are hungry, a signal is passed to the brain and we are informed of the hunger of the stomach. In Indian culture, peculiar movements of the hands and feet suggest various things at various times. This then makes us react in a certain way. Pastors/priests have to read various messages from stimuli from various sources. The need is to make out the correct meaning from what we see and feel. Many people in church will be silent and will not talk about their real feelings. Pastors should read the stimulus from silence and gather the need of people.

5. Communication is a process by which senders and receivers of messages interact in given social contexts.
We are all part of one or the other context. The social context decides how we should behave and what all conventions we should follow. This differs in each context. A pastor has to first of all understand her/his context before speaking. Only this will bring about effective interaction. The early history of modern communication hinged on the propaganda wars played out by various nations during the first and second world wars. This propaganda concentrated on transportation of messages. But mere transportation without knowledge of the social context will not ensure the intended goal. Communication as a process is much closer to understanding communication as relationships.

6. Communication is the transmission of information, ideas, emotions, skills, etc by the use of symbols, words, pictures, figures, graphs, etc.
Communication makes use of several things at the same time. It is not just words, but a plethora of other things which make the message clear to the audience. Even in churches it is not enough that we use just words to preach a sermon. A sermon should make use of all means and methods to introduce and explore the message which is being preached. Still and moving images, music, pictures, figures and graphs should all be made use of to make people understand what is being said. Take for instance the feeding of the five thousand in the bible. The message can be explained much better if we use an LCD projector to show a picture of thousands of people sitting together for food, playing appropriate music in the background through the same laptop used for projecting the picture, showing official figures of poverty in India and using graphs to show a break down of food production and distribution in India over the past decade. This will give a link between the biblical story and present day reality. There has to be a visual impact along with other things. This visual impact is present in the liturgy in churches and happens especially during the breaking of bread. This same impact should then be carried forward into the sermon and other parts of the service as well.
(to be continued...)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How a Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Christian can make a difference for the environment

The United Nations based World Environment Day (WED) was held on Wednesday, June 5th in several parts of the world including India. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is instrumental in the conduct of the WED has as this year’s theme “Green Economy: Does it include you?” The Indian media was filled with interviews with environmentalists and some had a list of human made ecological disasters in India. On the whole it was a day when we were all encouraged to do something for our mother earth and for the generations to come.

Solutions for the crisis that we are facing include decreasing our consumption of various commodities which make use of water, natural resources and fuel to be delivered to us. Local produce will not only ensure food security but will also ensure that less resources will be used and less communities will be robbed of what is theirs to use. Other local solutions include using modes of transportation which do not run on petrol and diesel, using less electricity and water, managing waste and recycling.

As churches are also encouraged to set apart a day for the environment and remind people of the importance of integrating the gospel learning's in our lives, it is important to reflect on what each church can contribute to this. The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in India is seen as traditional, old, ritualistic, repeating, and rigid by other members of society. Yet all these very nomenclatures may eventually show us something which will help us to see the environment as part of our lives and therefore as “our environment.”

For the purpose of looking into one’s own church for offering contributions for WED, one can look at four points. One, reducing our carbon foot print, two, reducing the usage of water and electricity, three, using natural energy and four, recycling and renewing. All these four things have corresponding contributions from our ancestors in the church.

Festivals in the JSOC are a part and parcel of the church. Festivals are conducted in the name of several saints and St. Mary. One of the significant parts of a festival is the long walk undertaken by the faithful to the said church. This is a walk which is done with meagre resources and the only fuel burnt is "one’s own." One such walking pilgrimage that I have witnessed and been part of several times is the Manjinikara festival in Kerala. People walk for several kilometres together to reach the destination. This walk of faith uses as less as possible. People are in fact told that one should survive on the least possible means. The essence of this walk of faith is to consume as less as possible. If more people were to take part in these festivals and make this as a part of their very lives, we would be able to reduce our carbon foot print significantly.

People earlier also believed in communitarian live styles. Everything was done together. House prayers were conducted by all in the family sitting together in one room and in the process switching everything else off. The communitarian lifestyle thus ensured single energy use in comparison to multiple energy uses. People were very conscious of the energy used and always wanted to consume and use less.

Natural sources of power were used abundantly. The sun as a source of power is indeed one of the strongest sources. People slept early and woke up early and in essence made use of solar power as much as possible. They used natural light for many things. Everything was put to use. The sun was used to dry coconuts and every perceivable thing which could be used as a food source. All the food was shared between humans and animals (cattle, dogs) and the rest was returned to the soil to provide manure for new life and supporting existing life. Instead of air conditioners for cooling down rooms, trees were planted and they did the job of two or three air conditioners at a time.

Finally houses in the old days were recycling centres and women were at the heart of recycling. Everything was re-used. Newspapers, bread packets, rubber bands, bottles, ropes, and wires were all reused for other purposes. Even old t-shirts were reused as table wiping cloth. Everything had a coming back effect. It was as if the ball had a strong thread attached to it. Whatever was thrown came back and was used again.

In John 6:1-13 Jesus feeds the five thousand plus crowd with five loaves and two fish. Everything here was also highly environment friendly. Jesus shared the little food that was there with everyone. The community sharing of food made sure that very little energy was consumed to make it. What remained was shared again. Jesus’ model suggests a “sharing without ceasing” and has something in common with the church understanding of "liturgy after liturgy". Sharing simply cannot end. The Holy Qurbana or communion in the JSOC is also like this. The bread is single bread which is shared among all. The bread for the next communion is made from the part of the dough from the previous communion. This is the yeast which works on the bread. Here the concept of sharing without ceasing continues. The church thus contains the secret to renewing, recycling and reforming.

Therefore a church member can say that I belong to a green economy. But the challenge is to bring the past into the present. Instead of saying I belonged to the green economy or my fore mothers and fathers belonged to a green economy, can we translate this tradition of being green into our own lives? This WED let us take small steps to continue our tradition of sharing without ceasing.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

We the people have to step it up

The people of Kerala are voting today in Neyattinkara. What should have been a referendum of the Congress led United Democratic Front (UDF) has also turned out to be a referendum of the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI(M)) led Left Democratic Front (LDF) . The Revolutionary Marxist Party (RMP) leader T.P. Chandrasekharan was hacked to death in the most brutal fashion last month. The UDF has got into fast mode and is investigating the case with great vigour.

It is also note worthy that the UDF has its own set of woes. The government has been alleged with building up a communal front and instigating the majority Hindus by giving an additional ministerial berth to the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). Along with this the slow pace of development also due to coalition compulsions and the rising prices of essential commodities and the latest humongous rise in petrol prices has also made the ruling front very unpopular with the people.

This election is thus an election which has so many issues that one does not know which one to concentrate on. Should it be the shifting of sides of Mr. Selvaraj, the present UDF candidate, the rising prices, the culture of murders and quotations given to sniff out precious lives, the regrouping of majority groups who find themselves at the receiving end of certain minorities, the loss of lives of two local fishermen to an Italian ship, the ever increasing problem of waste disposal or other local issues of Neyattingara? Too many issues have resulted in no particular focus on what should be the issue which should be discussed.

The CPI (M) has not been favoured by one of its own members who vigorously spoke about how murders are common among them in Kerala. But should issues be issues and dealt with only during election time or should they be dealt with in the same manner at all times? Take a look at all the above mentioned issues. Selvaraj tries to neutralise the CPI (M) allegation of being a traitor by positioning himself as the suffering one, the UDF has been trying its best to tell the Central government to stall the increase in prices till after the election, the murder of the RMP leader has been already called a political murder before the investigation is over, the M.M. Mani speech has led to the reopening of atleast three murder cases, the loss of lives of the fishermen keeps going both ways suggesting many forces being at play and the waste disposal also suddenly picks up pace during election time. Simply speaking, most of these cases should be handled in a just way whichever party rules and should not just be election issues.

The church also wonders whom to support and what to say. Are we politically correct, aren’t we Congress supporters even though we know they may be in the wrong, can we support the CPI (M) because they are helpful and should therefore keep quiet even if there is a culture of killing? This suggests that the church does not want to be on the wrong end of political parties. But politicians are meant to serve just as Christian leaders are meant to. It is understood and there need not be support given for this purpose. The main objective of any government is to stand for justice. If we expect various political parties to do something apart from the truth, it means we want something which is not acceptable lawfully.

The culture of murders and doing away with human life is not a new thing. If we accuse the CPI(M) today, we have to be aware that the Congress has done it yesterday and every political party worth its weight has been in the business of doing away with opponents to build their own empires. The church and people from various backgrounds have given their silent acceptance to this because they have been bothered about their own agendas. It is indeed time to step up for what we are worth. What does it benefit me in the kingdom of heaven to be a silent acceptor of violence, corruption, falsehood and injustice? The message on the one who dies and departs is “Innu jnan, nale nee”, meaning “today its me and tomorrow you.” Time to step up people. It is time to step up against murders in the state, price rise, communalisation, lack of development and rising corruption. It does not matter which party does it. Wrong is wrong. This is the only path a Christian can follow in this country and it could be the uniqueness that being a Christian could offer to India.