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.