Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Aap, mein or tu

The Aam Aadmi party or the “you” which is what aap means in Hindi has brought about a complex future in Delhi and even other parts of the country. The BJP as the single largest party in Delhi does not have the majority in the house and the AAP as a close second does not have the numbers as well. The BJP has surprised many by saying that it is willing to be in the opposition. This is very unlikely of a national party be it the BJP or Congress and the history of post election periods in many states of the country are witness to this.

The stand of AAP is perhaps justified. They will either run a government on their own or sit in the opposition. Another election may also lead to AAP coming to power by themselves as they will be taken seriously by the people of Delhi a second time round. So what they are doing actually makes sense from their point of view.

The Congress is at a historic new. After 15 years in power, they are no where. They could offer unconditional support to the AAP and say that come what may they will support from outside. The question is whether the Congress could ever offer such support and whether AAP will accept support from the party they fought against.

An outside Congress support for the coming to power of AAP makes sense because that will lead to a stable government and the negation of another election which would lead to waste of money of the exchequer. This has been a model followed in other countries where different political party’s come together to take the country forward and do away with insecurity and uncertainty.

The BJP may not come forward because they may see a better chance in another election together with the Lok Sabha election, which may give it a clear majority. The waiting game being played could be for the AAP to come to power with Congress support and then for the BJP to reiterate that the AAP is an off shoot of the Congress. The Congress has not much to play with. A meagre 5 seats and the loss of their Chief Minister Sheila Dixit does not leave the Congress with much. The AAP has carved a separate section for themselves. This is a political party which is marketing itself as non-corrupt and willing to fight corruption and take up the local problems of the people. Going along with the BJP or Congress may lead to a campaign against AAP by vested interests saying that they are the same as the BJP and Congress.

The performance of AAP has lead to a peculiar vacuum in Delhi and the ripples are being felt in other parts of the country. Their unique way of campaigning whereby they could reach out to rural and urban voters and how they used various forms of the media to reach out to people has opened up the political sphere. The stability being sought may not come about easily. Maybe we need uncertainty and a peculiar vacuum which will lead the people to think what they really want and what is important for them. Till then the BJP and AAP may continue to say “Pehle Aap” (first you or after you).

"First they laugh at you/Then they challenge you/Then they watch you succeed/Then they wish they were you."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Maaro, magar pyar se maaro (John 7:53- 8:11)

John 7:53- 8:11- ...while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.[a] 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.”[b] And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”]][c]

The passage John 7:53- 8:11 talks of a woman who is wrongfully confined and held by a group of people, who want Jesus to answer what punishment she should get for the indictment they have given her.

We see Jesus being questioned by the scribes and Pharisees. The bait they use here is a woman who they say has been caught in adultery. The people present along with the scribes and Pharisees therefore want Jesus to say that the woman has committed a mistake and should be stoned in accordance with the law of Moses. But does this happen or does Jesus do something not expected? The said passage fascinated me because it was included in the gospel of John very late. So much that biblical researchers would even say that it is not Johanine in style. This itself makes it interesting to look at because it could have been a resistance or protest passage within the entire scheme of events. Almost like being pushed through in the heaviness of the gospel. This therefore gives an indication that it may also contain something equally explosive which could have been of concern to the church. When we look at the passage we notice several things.

There are several gaps in the story which actually may be intentional. Where is the man caught in adultery along with the woman, why did the crowd wait for Jesus to come, was their concern adultery or trapping Jesus? Three major characterisations exist in the story. From the perspective of the men, the woman and Jesus are the enemies. More Jesus and less the woman. They are therefore to be done away with. The woman is slapped with an allegation of adultery. This is made as an excuse to engage Jesus. This is for defeating him and getting him out of the equation. So there is a reason for them to do what they did. A reason from their perspective. They used a law and twisted it in their favour to do away with the threat of Jesus. The situation could even have turned out into an early end of Jesus’ public ministry. The atmosphere is volatile and could have had a very ugly end. But what happens is completely different from what they had planned.

The second perspective is that of the woman who is accused of adultery. This is a woman who is wrongfully held against her will. She is a woman who is maybe caught in the crossfire. But it also shows as to how the men treat her as an object to lure Jesus. She is helpless in the entire incident and awaits her judgement at the hand of the moralists. Her wait may have been agonisingly slow and makes one wonder whether that was worse than the accusation made against her. She is embarrassed and humiliated in the company of many males who are preaching morality to her. So much that she has lost all energy to complain and say anything at all. Her silence is not an admission of her guilt but an admission of how she has been subjected to violence, pain and humiliation. This silence speaks more than the words used by the others. Her silence is also the judgement of a society who continued to ravage her life instead of showing empathy to her and supporting her.

The third perspective is that of Jesus. He is faced with several predicaments. Should he affirm the lawless law and even the misinterpreted law, should he judge the woman or fight for her, should he support or condemn the men, should he wish away the uncomfortable situation along with the people present, or should he say what is right and save the situation without bringing about bloodshed? The tension in the passage is so strong that one cannot predict which way it will go. Blood shed seems imminent.
As mentioned before, the bible passage attains new meaning as a subversive text because it was never a part of the text and still confuses those who read it. This is because the text is packaged brilliantly that the meaning lies hidden somewhere inside.

Maaro, magar pyar se maaro, is the conceptual framework in which I would like to see this passage. People are quick to unassumingly use the thought in the passage “first one to throw a stone” and “anyone without sin” so much that it is seen as practically impossible to follow. The killer instinct of the passage has been made toothless by the fact that it has been allowed to stand still without reflection.

My conceptual framework was picked up in Mumbai from a story that a pastor shared. It is a different setting involving different characters but which nevertheless speaks to us and inspires us. The setting is a suburban railway station in Mumbai where a long queue is broken by a heavily built and tall man. The short person behind him complains and asks him to stand at his right place in the queue. Both of them get into a fight and the winner is clear because of the might at the hand of the first man. He raises his hand and says “Maroonga thuje”, meaning I will beat you/hit you. The short man is unsure as to what to say but nevertheless maintains his ground. The crowd anticipates a good fight and instead of saying anything, watches intensely for the first move from the giant. Just as the huge man raises his hand to swipe away the small man like a fly, comes a voice far off but crystal clear. It says “Maaro, bhaiya maaro….magar pyaar se maaro” meaning “beat him/hit him man, beat/hit him with love.” The crowd is unsure as to which direction to look to and pay attention. They don’t want to miss a thing. A few seconds of silence follows and then the big man, small person and the crowd burst out laughing. A fatal situation turns to a situation where everyone says, take it easy. The big man shakes the other person’s hand, says sorry and joins the queue at his rightful place. The crowd in true Mumbai Bollywood style claps.

How can we see the passage of the woman, the adulterous woman as she is called and what Jesus does? It is a common scene or setting in our lives when the power of intervention could work wonders. I would pick a few points from the passage for our reflection today.

1. Kill the bill or kill the attitude?
The women’s reservation bill was one of the promises made by the United Progressive Alliance II in its election manifesto. Despite the passing of other bills this has stayed in the back burner. The upcoming national elections in 2014 would have been a time to bring this into effect but the parliament cannot get it passed because of some men who group themselves into a mob whenever this is discussed. Killing the bill or Kill Bill, following the famous Hollywood movie seems to be the attitude of male politicians. Interestingly the movie portrays a woman killing a man. Several reasons are given for the negation of the bill and they involve reasons which are never really out in the open. It resembles the attitude of the crowd to the woman. They alleged that she had done something and therefore should be stoned or killed. A similar reasoning is used to say that the reservation bill should be killed. But Jesus in the passage turns around the argument. He writes on the ground and it looks like he is writing a new bill to be passed. The bill involves telling the mob that if anything/anyone should be stoned or killed it is their attitude and not the woman. If anything is sin, it is what they are doing. It is time that we also took stock of our lives and saw ourselves and located ourselves in the said passage. Who are we in the passage? The crowd, the woman or Jesus? Who should we be? Are we sinning?

2. The silence of the lambs.
Silence has been much written about and always is used to suggest that those who are silent are the reason for the state of affairs in our country. They include women, ordinary people and the poor. Their silence is seen as the problem instead of the solution. The woman in the text is also silent. Does that mean that she had nothing to say, was guilty as charged, accepted the sentencing of the crowd or does it mean that her silence was speaking against what she was charged for. This is the silence that Jesus notices. It is a silence of communities who are oppressed into silence. It is a silence which is even more powerful than speech. The woman is fighting her battle with silence. Even as the others shout, she remains silent. Maybe it was a silent defiance against the men who teamed up against her. It is noteworthy that the silence and not the accusation moves Jesus. It is the silence of the lambs. He moves over to the role of the shepherd who takes the side of one sheep while leaving the 99 on the other side. Even as the other sheep complain, the one is silently exploring new ground and territory. The shepherd goes in search of this one.

3. Writing and shedding one’s blood to prevent bloodshed.
Jesus is under a clear predicament. The crowd was ready to stone him using the woman as bait. They were waiting for him and finally got him. The answer to their question on the law and what should be done to the woman is interestingly given by writing on the ground. He basically puts his life on the line and is prepared to shed his blood to prevent bloodshed and to prevent injustice to the woman. At no point does this seem as something benefitting him. As theologians this gives a clear indication that we have to write and rewrite for the benefit of oppressed individuals and communities. Seeing oneself as the oppressed and writing for oneself may not come under such protest writing. Unfortunately we sometimes write for ourselves. We should be able to transcend this and write for the benefit of others and for the rightful justice of others. It is also interesting to note that Jesus prevents violence through his act of writing instead of doing vice versa. We can notice in the society that we live in that a lot of hate literature is passed on. The communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh was fuelled by such hate literature and images being circulated over the internet and through mobile phones. Such messages divided communities and brought about conflict which became very difficult to handle. Fanning the fire and adding fuel to the fire is easier than stopping the fire. Jesus is asked to fan the fire and sign the death sentence of the woman. He puts his life at risk to do the opposite.

4. Maaro, magar pyar se maaro.
This motto sums it up. But one should not mistake what this means. It is not being a smiling assassin, or smiling while stabbing someone in the back. What it means rather, is that we should love one another first and if we still have hatred, then go on and do what you want. The first step and the first part has to be the love for the other. This is new territory, new culture, new understanding, new laws and new ways. Yet we enter into the newness with love in our minds. Jesus does not tell the group of men to not throw stones and not punish. He only says, let the one without sin throw the first stone. He does not discourage them, but tells them to do it if they have no wrong inside. In another way, he is saying, do it with love. But they are not able to because love does not involve violence and condemnation.

In our own communities this becomes a good example to follow. This is at the same time an outlet and an understanding of one’s limitations and the road that lies ahead. Jesus does not stop the scribes and Pharisees from making the accusation. Rather he allows them to make it so that the negative thoughts inside them come out. After this has happened he knows that they have it out of their minds. This is when he talks to them about sin, and then suggests that the filth is out. Now you can concentrate on something positive. This becomes an important element in our churches as well. People need an outlet to express themselves. This is important because without this expression the hatred will remain. The expression of this hatred will give an opportunity to people to be at peace with themselves and go their way. Jesus sends both parties their way. One goes with the understanding that hatred is not there anymore and they cannot sustain the relentless campaign against the woman and Jesus. The other party in the form of the woman also is send her way, with hope that Jesus does not condemn her. This is because Jesus does not have hatred for her.

Friends, in our haste in moving forward we have all become a mob, waiting to pounce on the next person who appears. Let us meditate on and allow the bible passage to speak to us, so that we realise it is time to express, time for getting an outlet but also time to let go. Amen.

(Preached this sermon in UTC Tagore Hall for Sunday evening worship on October 13, 2013.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Rest in Peace Akhrieno Savi

Death always brings upon us a gloom which is so difficult to do away with. A sadness that remains despite the busy life and work which challenges our emotions. Death to a close family member, friend and colleague is even more difficult to comprehend because we feel the closeness of death. Such is the feeling of having lost Akhrieno Savi that it will take a few days to comprehend what actually happened. But the outpouring of grief at this moment makes it clear that Akhrieno had so many friends and everyone valued her friendship.

Akhrieno always came across as a nice person who went out of the way to make you feel good. It was a pleasing sight to see her in UTC as she was always smiling. It was an honour to study as her junior in UTC and interact with her and share various aspects of South Indian culture with her. I guess she was a calming presence in an academic setting where everyone else shouted their lungs out to be heard.

Akhrieno as a writer shouted out her feelings and made us think of the frailty of life. I realised this more so after she left UTC and after a gap of a few years when she read what I wrote and in turn send me what she wrote. I was honoured by her comments, suggestions and sharing of work. I think it is a part of her that not many knew about. As I still come to terms with her demise I reproduce here a few poems written by Akhrieno. She will continue to live through her writings and I am sure there are many more with others. I humbly submit them for all, to honour Akhrieno and tell the world that she was a good academician, writer and human being. Rest in peace my friend.

The smell of Nescafe coffee And the taste of sweet farm biscuits;
The fresh folded morning papers Lying neatly on the table;
The sun rays through the window Casting light in the kitchen;
Raindrops still nestling on the leaves
Reminiscences of tear drops on a baby’s face; the dusty old roofs all washed and sparkled by the heavy downpour last night;
Tiny busy bees at work, Occasionally flirting with the flowers;
A fly hovering round me the sweet smell of biscuit must’ve enticed her;
The ticking of the clock on my desk reminding me, that time waits for no one;
the fading roses on my vase Cautions me that nothing lasts forever;
Smoke slowly, gently curling up from my neighbor’s chimney top; the strong curry smell from my mother’s pot spreading aromas of delight;
The milk man making his morning rounds, dozens of jars (bottles) on his shoulder; a little girl in uniform with a dismal look, as her mother drags her to school;
Shopkeepers pulling up their shutters, another day, another opportunity, another beginning; It amazes me how these everyday happenings, Still bring a smile to my face And teach me life’s lessons daily.

A Solitary moment...
A solitary moment with you O God, Is like a steaming cup of tea after a hard day’s work Refreshing, revitalizing, awakening the weary soul, Giving me new hope, new strength, to move pass bad times.
A solitary moment with you O God, Is like a balm that heals the pains and hurts; As the balm slowly soothes the aching body and senses So also is your presence a gentle balm, to my sore spirit.
A solitary moment with you O God, Is like stealing a minute on my most chaotic day For a short slumber to rest my weary bones on a soft silken bed; So also is your presence, where I find rest for my worn out soul.

The Hands...
His hands are worn out and wrinkled But hands that never rest; The hands that toil from dawn to dusk So there’ll be food on the table; The hands that chop the firewood To keep our nights warm and the fire place burning; The hands that built the family house So we can have a roof over our head; Hands that stroked my hair and dried my tears On my first day to school; The hands that held me up when I fell And carried me when my feet couldn’t go any longer; Hands that are now weak and frail, clumsy and shaky But are still the most beautiful hands… The hands of my dear father.

And finally a poem that offers hope to all of us even as she is no more with us....

A dying man’s song…
When I am gone… When my heart stops beating And my face appears pale and blue; When my eyes refuse to open And look back at you… When my body lies stiff and cold And I can’t touch you any longer… Always remember…I am near, very near. Look around you I will come as the morning breeze And gently touch your cheeks I will come as the gentle rain And wash your grief away When you need a friend I will be among the trees, whispering to you I will be among the birds Singing for you, when you’re feeling lost And when I’m gone, don’t forget me Even as I fade away for others Carry me forever in your heart And keep me alive in your memory.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Ecumenical view on Churches view of Eucharist: A critical discussion .

This paper is an attempt at looking at the Eucharist, its meaning and relevance for the church today. How relevant is the Eucharist when seen from the view of various churches? Is the Eucharist which is supposed to unite Christians also the divisive element among churches and people? What then is the future of the Eucharist in the context of the changing needs of the church in India? How should churches change in their view of the Eucharist and what changes should be made in the Eucharist so that both churches and the Eucharist complement each other?

“The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament and a sacrifice. In the Holy Eucharist, under the appearances of bread and wine, the Lord Christ is contained, offered, and received.”1 Furthermore “The Sacrament of Communion is a Holy Sacrament by which the believer eats the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, presented by the Bread and Wine. This Sacrament has the greatest importance among the Seven Church Sacraments. It is sometimes called the ‘Mystery of Mysteries’ or the ‘Crown of Sacraments’; for all the Sacraments are crowned by the Eucharist.”2

How the Eucharist is interpreted
Eucharist is the Lord’s table or the coming together of people around the Lord’s table commemorating the event of the sharing of bread and wine by Jesus Christ with his disciples. The event is also given importance because it is about the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The commemoration present in the verse “Do this in remembrance of me” suggests that we have to come together and partake of the elements (the body and blood) to be one in Christ. In the early church there was an understanding that “Thus the bread and wine in the celebration actually united the participant to Christ and to all true Christians. In this way, the eucharist not only symbolized but actually effected the unity of Christians in Christ. Participation in the eucharist, therefore, was the appropriate ritual of adherence to the unity of the church. Those who refused to accept the behavioral obligations which accompanied eucharistic fellowship were outside the church and would be excluded from the kingdom of heaven.”3

Eucharist also suggests a faith proclamation or expression whereby the church declares what it believes and how it believes. The dogma or teaching of the church is expressed clearly and the eucharist forms a clear form of this expression. In this sense the eucharist is a clarity of where one stands (which side of the fence) and what one is prepared to do. The eucharist has become limiting because it is now institutionalized in and therefore only available within gated communities or denominations. What was earlier available in open, free spaces (as in the feeding of the four thousand and five thousand) is now available in limited spaces which are not fit for such eucharist events. Philip Sheldrake explains this phenomenon and says “The trouble is that some versions of a theology of spirituality of the Eucharist concentrate on building up the community of the Church in and for itself. In this case the Eucharist ends up as the celebration of the spiritual equivalent of the well secured “gated communities”…”4 He further says “To live eucharistically beyond the church doors commits us to cross the boundaries of fear and prejudice in an embrace of strangers in the public square in whom we are challenged to recognize the Real Presence of God.”5 In a positive way Eucharist is also a celebration or coming together whereby the people who belong to a particular group or community commune together to celebrate the oneness they possess and the one they believe in. This is a celebration of their history, tradition, story, and growth.

Eucharist is a food for the way whereby church members are given strength to do good and profess their mission statement to the world. The eucharist becomes a great opportunity whereby the people are called forth to do this good by being part of a community of faith. “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. He who eats this Bread will live forever”6 As food develops the body and keeps it healthy, so too the spiritual food, which is the Holy Body and Blood of Christ, strengthens the soul so that it may grow continually in grace. “It provides remedy to the soul, body and spirit, as we say in the Offertory Mystery: “That they (Holy Body and Precious Blood) may become to us all for participation and healing and salvation for our souls, bodies and our spirits”.7

Eucharist is a memory. Memory can be selective but it is still memory. It is a memory of what has happened. This memory is kept alive so that no one forgets what happened and how we are linked to that. It is a memory that Jesus Christ lived, died and resurrected for us. This has been initiated into our collective memory and the eucharist keeps this memory fresh and alive by making us repeat what we have learnt as children. It is also a memory of the sacrifice through protest of Christ and the similar protests that are present in our own society. The Eucharist becomes a time when we then link the past, present and future through this memory.8

The eucharist is also associated with food and with the great commission of sharing food. Limited means are not the problem but the mind to share what we have makes the eucharist a beautiful act which teaches us that poverty and hunger are human made and not natural. It also teaches us that Christians are called to do away with poverty and hunger and not accentuate it and increase it. Those of us who think that poverty and hunger are not the concern of the church have got the commitment and call of the church totally wrong. One has to therefore know that the act of the eucharist strengthens us to do good and this meal for the way keeps us in the path of goodness. It gives us the promise of eternal life : It provides growth in the Spirit and spiritual perfection and life in Jesus Christ, for He said: “For My Flesh is food indeed and My Blood is drink indeed .... As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me”.9 Jesus was quite explicit with this attitude to share. “When people do come together for a meal, it’s not just to nourish their bodies but to enjoy each other’s company, to build up their relationships, to share what’s been happening in their lives. Food gives life, so the sharing of food is the sharing of life. Jesus invites us to share in his divine life when we accept the sacred food he provides for us. Jesus ate meals with people of all levels of society though he showed a preference for eating with the lowest classes. Not only was this most unusual it was breaking one of the strict taboos of Jewish culture.”10 Monika Hellwig says that “The simple, central action of the Eucharist is the sharing of food- not only eating but sharing.”11

Church and churches in India
The church is a gathering of people who belong to a subscribed faith proclamation. The gathering will be a part of what the group stands for and is a visible union of people. The church also suggests that there is but one church and therefore divisions are not part of this. It also means that there is an attempt to make the church as part of a visible union and all people are brought under this union with or without their permission. The usage of church also suggests that there is a union of different people and communities who are in different places and under different cultures. The usage then could be misleading and will cause a misunderstanding as to what the church actually means. It could also be that several denominations will use it very loosely but actually only mean the existence of their own denominational church.

Churches on the other hand suggest and explicitly state that there are not one but several churches. This could also mean that every church has truth present but will also have things which may not be accepted by other churches. This means that there are several representations of one truth. Just like we try to get an inter-religious understanding of life, we then try to get an inter-denomination, ecumenical view of life. It is also argued whether the churches come under the church.12

Churches in India are divided into the mainline, traditional, ritualistic, free, protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Pentecostal, free and various other groupings.13 Some accept others unconditionally, conditionally and in and for certain things. In many cases a total coming together and working with each other happens in the time of some sort of persecution from other religions or from the government in the form of any legislation or special measure being followed. Each church then has its own set of beliefs, traditions, liturgy and Eucharistic model. Each church has its own understanding of the nature of the bread and wine during the eucharist and its transformation and the extent of the transformation. Every church also then has the case of acceptance in which some condition is put forth to be a part of the eucharist undertaking whereby the body and blood of Christ is given and shared on the completion of a particular clause. The belief in the nature of the bread and wine and its transformation into the body and blood of Christ itself forms a basis of division instead of unity between churches. This division is played out very strongly in the case of different churches where this becomes a very emotive and strong case of how people understand the very concept of unity.

Churches are also divided on the lines of caste and colour whereby this becomes a basis for exclusive churches which then do not accept people who they feel do not fulfill certain conditions for membership and communion during eucharist. The concept of church brings everyone under one umbrella but the challenge is that it is a concept which is hollow and not true. Unless everyone is brought under the one umbrella, it cannot be one church. The other way of looking at it would be to say that everyone is different in their own way and the struggle is to bring about unity in this diversity. Church, ecclesia and communion becomes a way of understanding the possibilities offered by the church/churches but it also brings out challenges which ask for a critical view of the church as well. This is the case in India as well where there are so many different churches. Each church is unique in its own way and people of one church do not necessarily have much idea of people of other churches and their eucharist service. This short coming many a time prevents any actual ground unity.

Challenges facing the church and possibilities for the future
Can the eucharist lead to unity rather than being a divisive element? Should we thus broaden the very horizon of the eucharist as an official act in the church or should it be seen as much more expansive and elaborate? Has the eucharist from being an act to instil the habit of sharing in people become an act which is a part of institutionalized religion? This is now further and farther from sharing and does not truly and fully make people understand the concept of sharing as part of Christian witness.

As part of the commission of Jesus to his disciples to do this in remembrance of him, the passage in the bible is referred to as the last supper. One critical part of this was the feet washing which Jesus performed. In it he tells Peter that unless Peter allows him to do this, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. This then suggests that feet washing becomes the epitome of humbling oneself and therefore without this humbling and humility one cannot hope to be a part of the true Eucharist experience. Even when we do feet washing it is limited to men and to certain men only. The true spirit of the feet washing goes much beyond this and is suggestive of washing the feet of a representation of people belonging to all genders, communities, regions, and caste.

Eucharist today also has some problems with the concept of purity and untouchability. Purity and untouchability form the basis of caste and race divisions. Anyone who comes to the Lord’s table should be given the body and blood. It is not our decision and prerogative as to who should be given and who should not. We are not supposed to decide the fashion of distribution too. The problem of purity existed in the early church as well. “When Christian rituals of baptism and eucharist were performed outside and in opposition to the unity of the church, however, they not only failed to sanctify but polluted their participants in the same way as the idolatrous ceremonies of Roman polytheism.”14

Different denominations are comfortable within their own comfortable spaces and do not want to risk any sort of problem by thinking outside the box. This forms a problem as it only brings about name sake ecumenism without really taking any risks as far as property, churches and wealth is concerned. The challenge of full unity and the fear of failure prevents small attempts at church unity. “Sykes suggests that Christianity is an 'essentially contested concept' and that what Christian unity amounts to is 'contained diversity'. He characterises Christian identity in dynamic terms: 'Christian identity is … not a state but a process; a process, moreover, which entails the restlessness of a dialectic, impelled by criticism. ' For Sykes, it is imperative that the community in which this process is worked out is a community held in unity by common worship.”15 On the other hand “for Chretian Duquoc, the churches are 'provisional societies', whose provisionality consists in 'the condition of innovation, of continual creation, of presence in changing situations'. He finds that it is 'in the positive acceptance of plurality that the churches, by their capacity for communion, bear witness to the ultimate.”16

Eucharist does bring about the possibility of commonness and unity among churches when common causes are taken seriously. “One of the major concerns of the early Church was for the Eucharist to be a sign of unity, especially when persecution threatened to divide the assembly. Eating from the same loaf, drinking from the same cup, gathered around the same table – these were symbols of a united people. This sense of belonging is still very important today.”17 Communities have to work together for this. “The liturgy is an act of the community. This is even indicated in the etymology of the term "liturgy" - leitourgia - service of the people. It is not a clerical solo performance but a concert of the whole Christian community, in which certain of its members play a special part, in accordance with their different charisms and mandates.”18

Eucharist also shows Jesus breaking himself and showing his brokenness for the sake of people. Unless we break bread we are not the true followers of Jesus. Breaking bread and ourselves is possible when we stand for the right causes. This can be done through liberative ecumenism. Such ecumenism looks at various challenges like caste, gender and ecological violence that face us today. We then come together in a unified expression against such violence.19

One can look at the future from the perspective of what can be done. Stanley Harakas suggests “that the main aim of ecumenism should be to bring about unity and not anything else. It does not involve human knowledge, ground realities but the unity which exists in God.”20 He suggests a moving beyond a dogmatic rigid model for ecumenism through the Eucharist. Gideon Goose on the other hand suggests using emancipatory theory for disassembling structures of dominance, dependence and inequality.21 Erin Michelle Brigham uses the communicative action theory of Jurgen Habermas to suggest how change can be brought about. “Habermas suggests that communicative rationality avoids the pitfalls of relativism and positivism, providing a helpful framework for addressing our post-metaphysical age. On one hand, the framework of communicative rationality acknowledges that truth is historically located and open to critique. On the other hand, it affirms the rational character of knowledge, opening the possibility for reaching a shared truth through inter-subjective understanding.”22 The concept of a people’s Eucharist may also suggest a future course of action. This may come about by a movement from below which has the blessings of the church hierarchy as well.23



3. J. Patout Burns Jr., Cyprian the Bishop, Routledge: London, 2002, p. 172.

4. Philip F. Sheldrake, Explorations in Spirituality. History, Theology and Social Practice, Paulist Press: New Jersey, 2010, p. 176.

5. Ibid.

6. John 6: 54, 58.


8. Margaret Scott, The Eucharist and Social Justice, Paulist Press: New Jersey, 2009, p. 76.

9. John 6:55,57


11. Monika K. Hellwig, The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World, Sheed and Ward: Lanham, 1992, p. 2.

12. G.R. Evans, The Church and The Churches, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1994, p. 29.

13. M. Thomas Thankaraj, Indian Christian Tradition in Religions of South Asia, An Introduction, Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby (eds), Routledge: New York, 2006, p. 195.

14. J. Patout Burns Jr., Cyprian the Bishop, Routledge: London, 2002, p. 132.

15. Nicholas Sagosvy, Ecumenism, Christian Origins, and the Practice of Communion, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2000, p. 201.

16. Ibid., p. 202.



19. Martin L. Daneel, Liberative Ecumenism at the African Grassroots, in Fullness of Life for All: Challenges for Mission in Early 21st Century, Inus Daneel, Charles Van Engen and Hendrik Vroom (eds), Rodopi: Amsterdam, 2003, pp. 324, 325.

20. Stanley Harakas, What Orthodox Christian Ethics Can Offer Ecumenism, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Volume: 45. Issue: 3, 2010, p. 376.

21. Gideon Goose, Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue Seen through an Emancipatory Theory, Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Volume: 42. Issue: 2, Spring 2007, p.280.

22. Erin Michelle Brigham, Communicative Action as an Approach to Ecumenical Dialogue, The Ecumenical Review. Volume: 60. Issue: 3, July 2008, p. 288.

23. A point in case is how the NCCI meeting in April, 2012 experimented with an unconventional method of the Eucharist which resulted in everyone partaking of it.

(This paper was presented in the Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC), Whitefield, Bangalore to a group of theological students on 15-5-2013)

Picture courtesy

Friday, May 17, 2013

The towel code of cricket in India

The Indian Premier League has lead to a premier allegation against three Rajasthan Royals players that they took money to fix matches. The allegation is of spot fixing whereby certain overs or balls were fixed to bring about a certain result. Gone are the days when an entire match was fixed. These are the days when bets are placed on single balls, multiple balls and overs, number of fours and sixes, instead of the entire match.

There have been allegations and counter allegations that match fixing and spot fixing have been a part of Indian cricket for a long time. Former cricketers have been punished and apart from players from different countries there was always a doubt over players from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka from where the bookies and betters also happened to be. This continues even now as the fresh charges show.

S. Sreesanth, the player with international cricket credentials along with Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan have been charged by the Delhi police of wrong doing. They also showed visual evidence of fixed matches during the press conference yesterday. The visual evidence has also lead to television channels being abuzz with how the betting gangs told the players that they had to show codes or signs that they were going to give certain runs in an over. Among the codes being talked of are a towel, tucking out the t shirt, and taking time while doing the run up to the delivery.

The study of signs and codes is called semiotics and it is a very interesting field of study in communication studies. Not everyone can understand the signs and codes. Proximity is not what matters but sharing of a culture whereby the signs and codes can be understood. Prefixed understanding of a particular code could also lead to understanding a particular sign. “Semiotics sees communication as the generation of meaning in messages- whether by the encoder or the decoder. Meaning is not an absolute, static concept to be found neatly parcelled up in the message. Meaning is an active process: semioticians use verbs like create, generate, or negotiate to refer to the process. Negotiation is perhaps the most useful in that it implies the to-and-fro, the give-and-take between person and message. Meaning is the result of the dynamic interaction between sign, interpretant, and object; it is historically located and may well change with time.”(John Fiske, Introduction to Communication Studies, Routledge: New York, 1990, p.46)

The use of codes in the IPL matches by players and bookies cannot be denied. If they did take money and bet, they might have used codes. The codes were also pre-determined and therefore likely to be understood by both parties. What does not go well with the entire episode for me is that everyone associated with the IPL is saying that they were not aware that this was happening. This, despite allegations already coming up in the previous IPL editions, and the BCCI having a special arrangement in place for this very thing. This refusal to accept that the system is flawed is the problem.

My effort may appear to be defending the three players. It could at least appear that I am trying to defend Sreesanth, since we are from the same state. My intention is neither. One can also ask other people from Kerala whether Sreesanth is actually a popular cricket player there anyway to dispel doubts that I would take this as a personal fight.

My point is the point of sign, code and meaning. The guilt of the players will be investigated and we will be informed. My questions in the mean time include aren’t any others apart from the three involved, didn’t anyone along with the team owners, BCCI officials and other players know about this or even doubt that this was happening, didn’t the audience know about this? If the three players in question and the bookies had a secret code, weren’t there other codes which owners, officials and other players understood? What do you say when an under performing player is picked for a match again? What is the rationale of giving a critical over to a player who has already gone for runs? While the bowler bowls is he in complete control of the number of runs he is going to give away. If the bowlers in question said that they would give not less than 13- 14 runs, what would happen if a batsman did not connect? How is it that this perfection of spot fixing is attained? It suggests that the code is also being understood by others including us. How many times have we felt that matches are getting too close and matches that should have been completed in the 17th over are still on in the final few balls? Could it be that entire matches are being arranged (I would not say fixed) in a particular manner to increase the entertainment quotient?

Subhash Chandra, chairman of Essel group and Zee was the pioneer of 20-20 cricket in India. His ICL was a bit more open and I would say that the league would have openly admitted that matches would be made interesting for spectators. BCCI understood the lucrative business of 20-20 and took over. What now occurs in several editions is one of the richest league competitions in the world. Players are paid huge sums and other perks are included. This is entertainment and we are all being entertained. Can we now say that we did not know that we were being entertained?

The police is well within its limits to crack down on betting. But Delhi was always in the news for violence against women and the lack of safety for women in the last six months. I would have liked to see a crack down on how women are used as mere objects in the IPL. There may even be many cases of violence and misuse of women. None of this has come out and instead betting is made to look like a grave offence that is being committed by the underworld and three cricket players!

We the audience, team owners, players and even the BCCI can say that we understood the codes and knew that something was wrong but did not say anything because we feared someone. That in all probability is true. But then what does it make the accused three? Wrestling has been popularized by the WWE. Wrestlers fight in what appears to be a pre-determined thought out fight. The audience also knows that it is so. Yet, many people watch it and enjoy it and appreciate the athleticism showed by the wrestlers. Cricket also has to play to the crowd, it has to entertain and even titillate to bring in the money. How can we now collectively say that “we didn’t know”? There has been no special code and no code has been broken. The codes were also there in front of us. Everything happened right in front of us. More than the spectators, the others involved are professionals. If anyone was underperforming it would appear so to many. The coaches, ground staff, commentators,and others who know so much about the game are likely to know if something were happening.

I would reject the headline of a “billion Indians cheated”. If anything we have cheated ourselves by ignoring all codes and signs while watching cricket matches.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Release of English Qurbana/Holy Eucharist in English CD

The release of the English Qurbana/Holy Eucharist in English CD of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church was held at the St. Mary's Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Cathedral, Bangalore by H.G. Pathrose Mor Osthathios and at the St. Adai's Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church by H.B. Baselios Thomas I on May 5th, 2013.

The CD release by the Jacobite Syrian Creations, Puthencruz has music by H.G. Mathews Mor Anthimos. The Qurbana/Eucharist in English was offered by Fr. Jerry Kurian Kodiattu with Mr. Abraham Kurian as altar assistant. The St.Ephrem choir which sang for the Qurbana included Manu Varghese, Renny Mathew, Anu Abraham and Meenu Fenil. Mr. Sunil C. George and Mr. S. Kumar played the keyboard, Mr. Sumesh the guitar, and Mr. Francis the violin. The mixing was done by Mr. Subin Paul at Finemix studio.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The dissemination of relevant news for reducing violence against women

If one looks at the print and visual media, one is left depressed with the number of incidents on women related violence and rape. This leaves one to question whether the key role of the media of dissemination of information is not being done properly or whether the message is not being understood by the people. There seems to be a gap in reporting and the change which is intended to happen.

The spate of reported incidents suggests many things. It could be that the news is not reaching everyone. Therefore new rules with regard to safeguarding the rights of women have not been distributed to every nook and corner of the country. It could also be that the news has been disseminated but not understood. This means that the urgency and importance of new legislation has not percolated down to the consciousness of people. It could also mean that the entire essence of new legislation, concern for the rights of women and the changing times have not been reported enough. Along with this it could also mean that the usual arrogance that this is only a law and therefore will only be on paper may also be a reason of it not being taken seriously enough.

Somehow somewhere there is a disconnect and a suspicion of a breaking of the link which attaches the legislature and the people of the country. I am reminded of the way sms’s have been used to instil fear in the minds of people. Entire communities took mischievous sms’s seriously and it even lead to massive movements outside a specific territory fearing some kind of back lash or rioting. A few sms’s created fear and a phobia in the minds of entire communities which even lead to the limiting of sms’s for a day. One must say that mobile phone dissemination of news may be more effective than print or visual media distribution of news.

Mobile phone sms messages are quite effective in reaching out to various kinds and groups of people. Religious messages, jokes, quotes and all sorts of messages are sent to various people. This brings about some kind of good effect on those who are reading it. Mobile phone technology and gadgets have also managed to become very popular with various kinds of people. This should be the opportunity made use of during these times.

The government, NGO’s, religious institutions and mobile service companies can get together to distribute sms’s in various languages about the new rules and legislation about violence against women. A concerted and every day attempt at this would send the message across to a large number of people belonging to various age groups, gender and communities. This need not be a political initiative but an initiative by everyone together. Such an initiative may bring about a wider consciousness on several levels on the rights of women, and on how men should conduct themselves within the parameters of the law. Till then despite what has happened in December and the aftermath of it, cases may still rise further and be reported more, making one wonder whether any change has happened in the country despite repeated discussions and decisions in the parliament, in civil society and various forms of the media.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My preferential option for women’s day

Whenever the question of gender comes up in a lecture one can be sure that male students will categorically say that they will be neutral in their congregations once they are ordained as pastors/priests. This becomes the painful commitment they are willing to take as part of their commitment to pastoral ministry. Theological colleges all over India try their best to engage with gender studies and try to bring about gender conscientization in the colleges among students and community members. This is the responsibility of all departments.

But where are we as we commemorate another women’s day? Is it enough to be neutral or should we have a preferential option for women in church and society? WACC in its numerous deliberations has brought out the importance of having a preferential option for the poor. This has been a direct challenge to the mainline media who follow the traditional inverted pyramid of journalism whereby women, children and labourers are left out of the mainline discourse.

To turn this around one has to play a pro active role in bringing about gender justice by openly supporting women in churches and in society. This has to be a part of theological education as well. Can we make decisions purely on whether a woman qualifies based on general criteria which have been decided for all or should we include more women based on separate criteria which take into consideration the generations of oppression, lack of freedom and violence that they have undergone and continue to do so? The objection to a separate criteria leads to a skewed system whereby lesser women will get through to do theological education and be in service of the church.

Cases of violence against women continue and public spaces owned and controlled by the church and other religious institutions have imposed limitations on women as well. This means that we will be unable to change the situation of violence against women in India. A pro active stand by the church and church run institutions will lead to better gender parity and better justice. Without this International Women’s Day will be a showcase of how we have failed women and not how women are now equal to men. It will be a sober and sad recollection of our collective failure rather than a celebration of the character and strength of women.

Protest becomes a legitimate tool in the hands of women who have nothing else for support. There needs to be a movement to fill church committees and decision making bodies with women just as much as men. This can come about only with support from various sides and men will also have to be a part of this movement, always ready to do what women want. Theological educators/pastors/priests also have to decide on their preferential option to women. The often travelled route of suspecting the character of women, questioning the ability of women, negating the strength of women has to give way for trusting women, supporting women and affirming and celebrating women. This could be the greatest thing that men could do for women this women’s day. There can never be a neutral way of teaching, a neutral ministry or a neutral teacher/pastor/priest. I and you should opt to listen, accept and support women we come across in our houses, colleges, churches, streets and public spaces. The United Nations is also trying its bit this year. The slogan "A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women" should be a wake up call for the church as well.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Manjinikara festival: Hope and hospitality as good news for society

Manjinikara festival is a festival commemorating the death of St. Ignatius Elias III who came to India to propagate and encourage peace in the Malankara church. His arrival and subsequent stay ended with his departure from this world. The place where he breathed his last and where he was eventually buried became a pilgrim centre called Manjinikara which is now visited by lakhs of pilgrims every year. The festival this year culminated yesterday with Holy Qurbana.

The actual arrival of the Holy Father was at an important time in the history of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala. He tried his best to broker peace between the warring factions in Kerala. His genuine wish to bring everyone together was seen as something which could only come from the mind of a genuine church father.

His death was seen as a special event foretold by himself and for which those around him were already ready. His departure also led to a host of sightings and miracles which made the local populace believe that he was special. This then became popular among the people of the church and they came from far and wide during the festival time. The universal Syriac Orthodox Church then declared the Holy father as a saint of the church. The flow of pilgrims has only increased every year despite the hardships that one has to endure during the pilgrimage.

For me the festival time clearly reflects two things. One is the hope of the people who walk and two is the hospitality of the people who live on both sides of the road to Manjinikara. People come from the Northern and Southern parts of Kerala and also from outside Kerala to join in this walk of faith. The walking distance could be anywhere between 30- 150 KM’s, in some cases upto 220 KM's and even more. The people on the way stop to rest, pray and eat food. This is done at churches and at houses which happen to be on the way of the pilgrimage.

The walk starts from the local church and will be done in groups so that people can take care of each other. Groups include children, women and men. This is not an exclusive walk of men or of any category of people. Rather one will see the young and old, women and men and poor and rich walking the distance. Everyone will have their own prayers, wishes and tasks to get done and they will intercede accordingly. The walk involves sacrifice, pain, risks and an effort to keep going. Many people get pain in their legs and body, get swollen feet, feel feverish, exhausted and wasted. Yet they continue walking to the destination with a single minded devotion that come what may, they should reach. Women and children are exposed to not just the sun but to the dangers of being outside and in full public view and yet all fears are set aside knowing that their beloved saint is ever interceding for them. The pilgrims definitely have their own set of problems.

The hospitality on the other hand is offered by those who are staying on both sides of the road en route to the pilgrim centre. These are people belonging to different religions, different churches and different castes. They prepare all sorts of refreshments for the pilgrims and offer everything free of cost. Food, shelter and basic amenities are all offered to absolute strangers. This time I also happened to be home in Thiruvalla while the pilgrims passed. I therefore opened our house to perfect strangers. I did not know even one of them and yet at the end of the day they also felt like family. I had my own reservations just like anyone else would have before opening their entire house to perfect strangers. But the reservations were soon submerged in the stronger emotion of hospitality which should be offered to guests. This is the hospitality I received while I went to different churches, houses, seminaries, places and met total strangers who offered their resources without even battling an eye lid. It is the hospitality I received from my teachers, colleagues, students, friends, family, bishops and a host of other people. This is also the hospitality I enjoyed while walking to Manjinikara myself. It was a cultural miracle where people simply helped each other and asked for prayers from one another. In an age where we suspect the goodness in one another, this is something which simply defies logic. Why would one open their house to a complete and total stranger/s and yet that is what hundreds and thousands of people do. Churches also become the true model of hospitality they are supposed to be, where anyone who comes is offered water, food, rest, medicine and anything they would need to continue their journey.

The entire pilgrimage is laced with miracles. It starts with a miracle and ends with a miracle. The miracles include old people walking for long distances, children tagging along, the weak refusing to stop even when they feel very tired, the love shown by people in several villages and towns, the hospitality of house holds, the reaching at the final destination and the individual changes experienced after reaching and well after the pilgrimage as well. People expect a visible change in their lives and they walk interceding to St. Elias III that these visible changes may be made possible through his intercession. Just as we make sense of Jesus of Nazareth we make sense of Elias of Mardin.

Those who walk are not just from one church but belong to various churches and even religions. The destination which is a hill near Pathanamthitta is serene, quiet, calm and spiritual. It is apt for meditation and healing. But the pilgrim season makes it a different period when so many people commune to the hilly spiritual centre at the same time. The amazement of the pilgrimage is so much that one does not know which one to concentrate on, the faith of the people or the hospitality of the onlookers. Both in their own way constitute the foundation of religion and humanity.

Perhaps this is what society is missing these days. It also makes a strong case for the conduct of such festivals and the pilgrimages accompanying it. It tells people that hardships are a part of life and one should not shy away from it. It reminds us that there is goodness in us and we will express it if given the opportunity. It is just that we are given the wrong opportunities and are in the wrong places. I am thankful to St. Elias for having made the first journey, the church that encouraged others to then make it, the people who came out in large numbers to make it, the larger society which embraced it and the vast number of people who popularized it. I have again faith in people that come what may we still are not the beasts we are made out to be and there is something positive about us despite all the negative reports. The Holy father who chose to travel to Malankara, intercede for us.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Remembering the departed: A unique contribution of the church to India

The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church remembered all departed priests last week and is remembering all the departed members of the church today. In a society that does not even remember those who are around us, what does it benefit one to remember those gone by? In an era where we are known by the progress that we have made is it important to look back?

The gospel passages used for the two week’s are Matthew 24:42-51 and Luke 12:32-48. Both passages talk of the need to be ready as the master can come at any time and those who are not ready will face punishment. Those who are entrusted with keeping and care taking cannot afford to be complacent.

1. A perfect religion and imperfect people
The passages reflect an attitude of perfection whereby the one in charge cannot afford to loosen up. Any such act is not entertained. There is a constant pressure to perform. In a way it is difficult because we commune in church so that we can take the pressure off our shoulders. We usually would like to work in a team as long as we are not the team leader, so that we can avoid the pressure which comes along with being a leader. Such continued pressure will be difficult to handle for anyone. Who then handles this pressure for the community? The act of remembering priests of the church who have departed from our presence is an act of remembering those who have tirelessly borne this pressure on their shoulders without relaxing and letting down their guard. These have been priests who have worked in bad conditions, with little and sometimes no perks and being pressurised to perform time and again.

One could question this and say that not all priests have been so sincere and that this is not a culture that is seen today. The remembering of priests gone by is a time to know that we could relax because some one was watching our back and always taking the pressure off us. Every kneeling and every prayer was an effort spent for us in the hope that God will take care of us. Being perfect is not easy and not something we can attain. It is also not something which one may enjoy being. If someone could take the pressure off us of not having to be perfect, we would indeed be grateful. Priests of the church have given us this luxury.

It does not matter whether they were actually perfect or whether they actually always had us in their minds as they prayed. But whenever I saw an old priest in my childhood, I felt assured and calm that this person was there for me and was praying for me. It did not matter whether they talked sweetly or nicely. What mattered was that they were there whenever we went to church. This constant presence was as soothing as having the presence of God. This is why it is important to remember our priests and bishops who have strived and tirelessly worked for us. Being perfect for someone is difficult. I myself don’t feel I am perfect. This nice feeling that old priests and bishops gave us makes it imperative that we remember them for having sacrificed their humanness for us.

2. We are smart, but smarter things are expected from us
We are a smart phone culture. So much that some of us cannot function without technology. We are quite proud of the fact that we are better off than our ancestors because of the large strides that we have made in life. But being smart is not enough. It is because we are making smart decisions based on smart memories. Our smartness is reflected in a skewed understanding of not remembering our own past and our own parents and grand parents.

Whenever we choose to remember them, we choose to make them up both literally and figuratively so that they may be presentable to others. In our smart world we choose to reconstruct our memory and make it presentable rather than sincere. The church believes that the strength of the church lies in the living and the departed assembling together for worship. This link becomes our strength. It is a link that forms our foundation. It is irrelevant who our ancestors were and whether they did what we are doing now. What matters is that they chose to have us and bring us up.

Even today one of the strengths during leading church services comes from the presence of my father who I believe communes along with me in church. I see him as a person who more than anything had integrity, worked hard and loved others. These are things that I have lost in my smart existence. My memory of my father and grand parents, the memory of family members, church members and friends who have departed from my presence becomes my strength and assurance that I am capable of better things. This memory is one which assures me that I somewhere have it in me to do good and it is just round the corner. In this age this is a blessed assurance that indeed the people of the church will do good.

The young daughter of a man asked him why he stopped at a tea stall and asked for directions to go to a place despite having GPS in their car. He told her that this was the way people used to ask for directions as GPS was not available in earlier days. The daughter refused to accept a world without GPS and thought her father was lying. Today we have a generation which has no idea about the sacrifices that have been made for them. For them their life is a result of a smart world. It is time to make them understand that the dusty photo in some corner of our house is the reason of why we/they are smart.

Perhaps this is one unique contribution of the church to India and to the world. We are but a link and without one link the chain or network breaks. Today people understand this concept in terms of technology and the internet. The church can make use of an existing model to enhance the thoughts about networking, remembering and keeping in touch.

(Excerpts of a sermon preached in St. Mary's JSOC, Bangalore on 3-2-2013)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Nineveh lent: A time to question our goodness

The Jacobite Church is following a three day lent known as the Nineveh lent starting today. Many in the church are confused of even the existence of such a lent because it is not associated with the great lent of the church. But there are churches which have conventions during this time as it is seen as a time to re-orient ourselves towards God. The doubt though remains as to whether such a short lent is effective at all?

The answer to this lies in the fact that this is a special lent because of its association with the book of Jonah. It is a lent undergone in a haphazard manner to fulfil certain norms. The gospel reading for today in juxtaposition with the book of Jonah will lead us to some insights to follow. St. John 1:43-51 talks about Philip’s call from Jesus. In his enthusiasm Philip then recounts this encounter with Nathanael. Nathanael questions whether any good can come out of Nazareth?

The parallel to this is the book of Jonah in which God wants Jonah to go preach to the Ninevites so that they may repent. Jonah here also questions the goodness of the people of Nineveh and refuses to obey God. Both Nathanael and Jonah refuse to believe in the goodness of a place and people. The refusal is like a refusal to believe in the goodness of another. The same applies to workers in the church. By questioning the goodness of others we are treading the wrong path.

The other day I was driving and had to stop for a red signal. The person behind me started honking his horn because he wanted to go left even though there was no free left. His incessant honking made me go through great pain to make way for him. He passed with an angry face. I then got a green signal and took the left towards my destination. What I saw pleased me for a moment. The person who had jumped the signal was hauled up by a traffic policeman and was being asked for his documents. For a moment I could not help but smiling or sneering.

Back home I thought whether I had done the right thing. Was I good or was he good? I had not broken any law or done anything bad. I was good. Still I had done something which needed change. My step of making away may have given temporary relief to the person but led to more pain later. Was I more good than him or should I have stood my ground which would have prevented him pain? My goodness started pricking me. Jesus on the other hand reaches out to Nathanael despite his questioning the goodness of his place. God also reaches out to Jonah despite him questioning the intention of God to save the Ninevites.

Christians are caught between being good and bad that they forget the ugly reality of life. One should know that ultimately we are all good but we still need to change. Many sermons tell us we are bad and therefore need to repent and change. But these passages in the bible tell us we are good and still need to change!
The path to change is taken in two different ways by Nathanael and Jonah. Nathanael is impressed by Jesus’ words that he saw him in a vision. Jonah is forced into conforming. Jonah’s fast is a forced one as he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. The initial thrust from God albeit forced is essential for those who claim to be good and in this case may even actually be good. Goodness comes from unexpected quarters. It comes to Nathanael from Philip and it comes to Jonah from the sailors of the ship. Even though they eventually throw him out they wait till the end to see whether they can save the ship and everyone in it. Goodness is also seen in the people of Nineveh who make a complete turn around and lent and waste themselves so that God may change God’s mind

The final turn around of both Nathanael and Jonah is note worthy. They both accept what God has in store. Actually speaking the three day lent is difficult for people to understand when they keep looking at it from the perspective of being sinners. Far from this when we start looking at the lent from the perspective of Jonah and Nathanael it becomes a lent which tells us we are good and yet we need to change.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached in St. Mary’s JSO Church, Bangalore on Jan 20, 2013)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rape: Passing the Buck

The accused in the Delhi rape case have not got a lawyer to defend them yet. It was reported that when a lawyer came forward, others objected saying that it was not moral to defend the accused because of what they had done. The case will not be taken up unless someone comes forward to represent the accused.

As we discuss the morality of rape, it has struck me so hard that our society has become a mass of people who keep passing the buck. The blame always has to be on someone. On the one hand there are several people who are openly asking for a death penalty, others who are asking for close to inhuman steps to be taken on the accused, and on the other there are political leaders, spiritual gurus and others who have the audacity to question the girl who was raped and killed. They continue the assault by putting forward suggestions that women should dress modestly, not go out after dark and beg for forgiveness if anyone tries to violate their body.

In the entire discourse one cannot notice the absence of self examination, the acceptance of one’s own blame and the crimes committed by one self. Instead everyone is happy to put the blame on and pass the buck on to someone else. This can be seen in all fields and by all institutions.

The police force says that teachers should teach the students well and conscientize them on gender equality and respecting women. The teachers say that children learn their initial lessons from home and are influenced by their parents and therefore they should be a better example. The parents blame religious leaders saying that they are not teaching moral education and religions are themselves very sexist. The media joins the chorus and picks on politicians, the politicians pick on the film industry and all of them have now got together to blame the six accused. But take a look at each of them.

The police force makes simple things like filing a complaint, a woman walking into a police station, and providing protection to women, a very difficult proposition. Teachers and educational institutions are guilty of not encouraging equal conditions for girls and boys, being insensitive to the feelings of girls, keeping girls and boys away from each other and being over protective and indirectly pushing through presuppositions about each other which are not even true in the first place. Parents bring up girls and boys in a different way and still hang on to age old clichés about what they should do and how they should grow up. They also think that time with children can be made up by buying them gadgets and not engaging in any serious talk. Religious leaders and institutions are totally oblivious and blind to how girls and women are totally ignored and are only a part of the system and are no where close to being joint leaders and functionaries. Religious spaces are not open and safe for women as well. The media has over the years ignored several rapes and has not reported several cases were Dalit women were raped. In a country were rapes happen everyday, the media has not reported enough. Advertisements which form a majority of the revenue for media houses portray women in a poor light. Many advertisements show women as mere objects of desire and attraction. This does not give any parity or confidence to them. Politicians in turn pick on the media, the film industry and even Western culture saying that all of these are the culprit. Instead of relooking at laws, making people aware and serving the people well they also look to blame. The film industry is also quick to join the band wagon to blame politicians. But seldom is any introspection done on the kind of movies made. If Indian movies have only moved from renaming the cabre dance as item number, what does this speak of how women are characterized in movies in India? Which Indian movie actress is being marketed as a strong actor rather than a size zero or a curvy bodied voluptuous woman? Why are love scenes and bikini clad women shown when it has nothing to do with the script? Are women portrayed as smart, suave or just plain dumb?

If we want to blame the list is endless. The main thing is that each one of us is responsible in our own way for the plight of women in our country. But we are not willing to accept this. The buck does not stop here, rather the buck is passed on…and on.