Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine’s day: Let’s make love, not war

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Valentine’s day puts us again in the love seat with couples professing love to one another, marriage vows being remembered, and cards and gifts being exchanged. In all the sound and clamour there are those who oppose this as not being part of Indian culture and that which is a marketing gimmick for commercial gain. Accept it or not, but you can’t ignore it.

What then can the church say about such a celebration which knows no bounds and has no limits? The story of the priest Valentine is inspiring. He goes against the edict of the emperor and marries off couples who are in love and want to spend the rest of their life together. After his prayer for a blind woman gives her sight he writes to her before he dies and signs off as ‘Your Valentine.’ The mythical nature of the story not with standing does it have a theological and church based insight that one cannot ignore?

What is wrong if we remind people of love in a country where we are taught to express our manliness and serve as heroes to people? Two mainline political parties are trying to make the coming elections as a fight between Iron Man and Spider Man. The first says that “You can take away my suits, you can take away my home, but there's one thing you can never take away from me: I am Iron Man” and the second says “With great power comes great responsibility.” There is a concerted effort to suggest that the problems in this country can only be solved by a man or one man, as both parties would have us believe. And both men in the frontline don’t openly have a woman in their life. They form the antithesis of the message of Valentine. They have both forgone having a partner to fight a great battle for the country.

But is this what the country stands for? Are we war mongers who have to fight macho battles on the war field to safe guard the interests of the nation? Or do we have to bring about a complete turn around in our thought process to understand that without love we are nothing. This is the love which should make us understand that “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Isn’t this the message which can come out loud and clear during celebrations like Valentine’s Day where everyone is reminded that this is not a one way ticket to maximum enjoyment and fun but a ticket to commitment, acceptance, belief and hope? Can’t this be a slogan for the country to think about rather than fundamentalist battle cries asking for the ban of any celebration which remotely talks about love? Shouldn’t this be a point of discussion in a society where violence instead of love is propagated through various forms?

The let’s make love can be misinterpreted as talking about sex which again is seen as taboo in Indian culture. Far from it, we do not need to see sex as the fundamental aspect of a relationship. This skewed notion has also lead to violence inside the house in the effort by the man to show that his sexual prowess is the mark of his relationship with his wife or partner. So making love can be given a much more mundane and grounded meaning of making and spreading love all over. In a society which thrives and lives on conflict and violence this love making could bring about a good healing process.

I understand that elders are concerned about whether couples really love each other and whether this celebration is being stretched too far. There may be instances of this. But by and large this may not be the case. It could be that many couples are trying their best to come to terms with what real love means for them. The simple exchange of a rose and the sending of a card or a gift could also be a way of saying that let love be the basis on which we do things.

The church can make use of such a celebration to ask couples to commit themselves to each other. It can be an opportunity of saying that love is patient and kind and not envious and boastful. Relationships which are being ruled by violence both domestic and other can be questioned and such relationships can be shown the path of love. Love can also be a pastoral tool in the hands of the priest. This is a tool of love which looks at the flock in church and society as those in relationship with the church. It is an understanding that the relationship of the priest with his immediate and extended congregation can only be on the basis of the love of Christ which is sacrificial, patient and kind. Such a relationship will bring about a platform for people to be in relationship with Christ just as they are with each other. Love therefore is not a taboo and a word which should be used in hushed tones. It is rather the foundation of the church and all religious institutions. Let this spirit of love bring us together.

(Picture courtesy

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Nineveh lent: Get up and call God

The end of the three day lent has brought us to the point of asking, “now what?” Three days of lent and even conventions in certain places has brought about a spiritual awakening in many people. But for some it remains the same as any day. Conventions, sermons, retreats and prayers do not necessarily bring about any change.

Why should it? Some may ask. Maybe this was the same way Jonah slept in the ship even as the others were terrified by the mighty storm. We see this in Jonah 1:6 which says "The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.” Even as everyone else was thinking about whether they would have a future, Jonah was sleeping. It could have been because he had so much faith in God that he knew nothing would happen. But it could also have been that he was not bothered about what would happen to others. He was against God’s wish to go to Nineveh and preach salvation to them. So the saving of others was not on his top priority list.

Our lents are also taking on this colour and shape. We are turning out to be people who think just for ourselves and about ourselves. Our sense of justice is limited to us as individuals, and our family, community and church members as groups. It does not stretch much beyond this. It could be the reason why the Christian community has so many prayers, lents and conventions and yet is not doing enough to make a difference in fighting injustice in the country and the world.

This talks volumes about our sense of true morality and justice as some tool we use to hit out at others instead of helping others. The call of the sailors in the ship is interesting. The calamity does not differentiate between them and so each person is asked to call upon their own God. Jonah is unaware of this exercise and he has to be awakened from his slumber. Coming to think about it many of us may be suffering from the same sleepiness that Jonah had. This is almost a self imposed, forced sleep, a closing of the eyes to show that we do not know what is happening.

Sleep is good for the body and essential for a healthy mind and body. But over sleeping is not. It could lead to various complications. One of the reasons for over sleeping could be depression. If Jonah was sleeping while others weren’t could it suggest that he was under severe depression because of all that had transpired? There is an opportunity to pray for the good of everyone and that is over ridden by his sleep.

Many of us are undergoing the same experience of over sleeping. Even though there are many for who sleep deprivation is the problem, sleeping too much as if the problems will go away with that is also not an answer. Lying down is also something we do when we are sad and just don’t want to do anything else. With this there may also be instances of faking sleep. There is a call for all of us to pray for the good of everyone in society instead of faking sleep.

We need to be aware of those who are suffering in various ways in India and the world. We can’t be ignorant of such things and say we did not know. In today’s information rich culture where information is at the finger tip we should show the same eagerness to learn about others as we show to learn about our own culture and tradition. People need our prayers and our support. Saying we did not know, we were unaware and we are not interested in the welfare of others who God points us to is not what is expected of us after a time of lent and preparation.

The world and India are now undergoing challenges of several kinds. They include civil war in several countries, loss of pay for several, increase in the number of the poor, hungry and homeless, genocide, racism, casteism, gender disparity and oppression, discrimination against minorities, global warming, ecology related issues and developmental projects which are against the people of the land.

The Nineveh lent should help us to identify these gross humanitarian violations and pray for the people who are affected by them. Faking sleep and saying we did not know cannot make us oblivious to what is happening. Just as Jonah was awakened and asked to pray, we will also be awakened out of our slumber and asked to pray. Hope this lent will provide this very strength to know, understand and pray for the less fortunate and the least and the last.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nineveh lent: Let the anger go!

Lent is a perfect time for us to realise that there is immense anger inside us. Many a time anger is left to fend for itself, while we pray against enemies and wish for their downfall. Maybe a part of the anger is making us do what we do in the form of praying against enemies even though the gospel does not have the concept of enemies as everyone some day or the other will be open to the salvation presented by Christ Jesus.

Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh because he can’t deal with the anger he has against the people of Nineveh. And yet part of the same anger makes him go in another direction hoping that something bad will happen to the people of Nineveh. It is misplaced anger and unjustified anger. When God God’s self does not anger against the people of Nineveh, Jonah feels otherwise.

The three days and nights Jonah gets to spend in the stomach of the big fish is a time to deal with his anger. It was a time when he was alone and could think about what he should do. It was also a time when he truly called out to God. The time in the stomach of the fish keeps him thus because of the vulnerability he is in. This again changes when he is out of the fish and is angry that the people of Nineveh change and follow God. His anger is further expressed on the shade in the form of a bush which withers away. He tells God that he is angry enough to die. He is sad that the people of Nineveh don’t get to die too.

The book of Jonah reminds us that God is not a vengeful God. God does not want to kill to prove a point. Rather God wants to save at all times. He reasons with Jonah that if Jonah is concerned about the bush he did not toil for, should not God be concerned for the people of Nineveh. It is a reminder for all of us that the Nineveh lent is a time to deal with our anger and let it go rather than keep it burning inside us.

Yesterday I got an e mail from someone I do not want to name. The person wrote the following with the following pictures.St. Mark 13:1-2 was first quoted in which it says “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Then the e mail went on to say “Kindly see the below pictures of Syriac (Jacobite) Churches destroyed in Syria. Isn't this also a curse from the Lord for creating schism in the Holy Orthodox Church in India by creating a rival Catholicate?” The pictures are supposed to be of churches destroyed in Syria.

The first reaction I had to seeing this was that of deep pain and anger. Pain of seeing the pictures of how sisters and brothers in Syria have suffered during the still continuing civil war, and anger that people in the church in India (whichever denomination) could even think that this is a punishment from God. The anger inside me was similar to the anger Jonah felt. It was an anger which made me sick to write and say anything. I had to deal with it and let it go. My post is one way of doing this.

I am not getting into who sent this and what kind of theological understanding about God they have. What concerns me is that anger makes us do insane things to the point of using disasters, wars and violence to say that God does all of this. The book of Jonah portrays a God who is slow to anger and who is full of patience and wants to save his people at any cost. This despite the fact that they were even worshipping other Gods. God's concern is that every single living organism should live because God created it. Jonah's anger wants annihilation while God tries to tell Jonah to deal with his anger and let it go.

The three day and night solitude in the belly of the fish is his first opportunity to deal with his anger. This tones him down a bit. But it continues despite this. After prophesying to the people of Nineveh he then again tries hard to deal with his anger. So much that if not the people of Nineveh, he wants God to take 'his' life. But time and again God tells him using the bush as an example that God cannot imagine doing something like that.

The Nineveh lent is a time for all of us to deal with our anger. This could be anger because of our spouse, child/children, colleagues, bosses, leaders, and even caused by church feuds and quarrels. As long as it is inside, it will come out in some form or the other. In some cases it will come out in installments. What is inside has to be dealt with and we have to use various ways to do this. Lent becomes an opportunity for all to deal with our anger through prayer and meditation. It is an experience whereby we isolate ourselves and think whether what we are doing is correct or not. The lent in Nineveh was for a common cause and everyone participated in it. It was not to take away life but to save life.

Church fathers have their own take on this. "A wandering mind is made stable by reading, vigil and prayer. Flaming lust is extinguished by hunger, labor and solitude. Stirrings of anger are calmed by psalmody, magnanimity and mercifulness. All this has its effect when used at its proper time and in due measure. Everything untimely or without proper measure is short-lived; and short-lived things and more harmful than useful." Abba Evagrius the Monk(Texts on Active Life no. 6). Further St. John Chrysostom says "For nothing is more grievous than wrath and fierce anger. This renders men both puffed up and servile, by the former making them ridiculous, by the other hateful; and bringing in opposite vices, pride and flattery, at the same time. But if we will cut off the greediness of this passion, we shall be both lowly with exactness, and exalted with safety. For in our bodies too all distempers arise from excess; and when the elements thereof leave their proper limits, and go on beyond moderation, then all these countless diseases are generated, and grievous kinds of death. Somewhat of the same kind one may see take place with respect to the soul likewise." St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew.)

Fr. George Morelli points out the "beast of anger" and quotes seven cognitive distortions relating to anger.

1. "Selective Abstraction is focusing on one event to the exclusion of others. A mother , for example, pays attention to the "D" on her son's report card while ignoring the "A's" and "B's." This "D" now becomes the focus of anger.
2. Arbitrary Inference is drawing a conclusion unwarranted by the facts in an ambiguous situation. For example, a parishioner says "Hello" to the Parish Priest in the Church Hall, the Priest doesn't reply, the person concludes the Priest doesn't like him or her and has a right to be angry.
3. Personalization, an event occurs that an individual concludes is directed to them personally. A patron in a busy restaurant perceives the waiter is purposely not waiting on his or her table. The patron never entertains the waiter may be under stress attempting to serve other patron's needs. The patron, concludes, they have a 'right' to be angry.
4. Polarization is the tendency to see things in all or nothing terms. 'Cynthia, Jack's wife misses making dinner one evening, because he 'categorizes' events into polarities he views her as a "bad" wife. All the categories between the absolute categories of good and bad are missed. He has the right to be angry at a "bad" wife.
5. Generalization is the tendency to see things in always or never categories. 'Jack' comes home late from work. His wife 'Jill' feels her husband will always be inconsiderate and never change. Not only is she angry at his lateness, but his future lateness as well.
6. Demanding Expectations, the belief that there are laws or rules that must or have to be obeyed. A mother believes her son should not talk back because she is his "mother." She has the "right" to be angry. (Note God gave us free will, He 'asks' us to obey His commandments. Like Christ, parents can 'prefer and constructively work' toward obedience from their children, but they have no guarantees their children will respect them.) Of spiritual help here is to reflect on the life of Our Lord. He was bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, crucified and died for our salvation. He Himself told us: No servant is greater than his master (Mat. 10:24) ---why would we expect to be treated any differently than Our Lord. It is a blessing if we are treated and honored, but we have no guarantee) A program of rewards for appropriate behavior and punishment, without anger, for inappropriate behavior would be constructive.
7. Catastrophizing, the perception that something is more that 100% bad, terrible or awful In the example above, the mother feels that it is terrible, the end of the world, her son answered back, which of course triggers increasing anger."

There are several ways to manage your anger. Lent can be used as one such way to know that we can never wish bad about someone. Rather it becomes a time when we deal with our issues and work for the benefit of others. In the process I watch the pictures again and know that my sisters and brothers in Syria are walking the talk and living in the true path of Christ while I do not experience even a small part of the struggle they are going through. This lent, I try to be with them. If as the e mail suggests, God has cursed and punished them, I urge the God mentioned in the e mail to curse and punish me too.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

God, Jonah and Nineveh: Listening as a way of finding our voice

The three day Nineveh lent looks at the command of God to Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. His refusal and subsequent start of a ship journey to Tarshish shows that he did not do one significant thing which we need to do in our lives. Jonah did not ‘listen’ to God.

Listening is a skill which is acquired over a life time. The churches we go to help us acquire this skill over a period of time. But we don’t rely on this acquired skill in our personal lives. Listening to the guidance of God is a skill that exists inside us and yet has to be developed so that it can work completely. This is not just listening for a voice to come and tell us specifically what to do but to listen to God during worship, figuring out a hint in the numerous sermons we hear, understanding the needs of people and acting accordingly and knowing when someone is in need of our time, help and prayer.

Jonah refused to hear. He was simultaneously talked to by God, by the people of Nineveh indirectly and by his own voice telling him what to do. God gives him a clear message. We can identify three types of voices. The first is one’s own voice which is subject to be influenced by other voices. This is a thought inside as to what we should do or be doing. The second voice is a voice from God. This is something we hear as part of God speaking to us. This may be faint or loud, involve and not involve words, and could be misunderstood as other voices. The third voice is the voice we hear from others. They could be cries of help, sounds of joy, a gasp of frustration and shouts of anger. Growing spiritually means listening and understanding these voices. For this we need to keep away from everything else and listen carefully to these voices.

The Nineveh lent in the Jacobite church or any other church is a time to listen to these voices. We have to keep away from everything else so that these voices become audible and clear. A three day lent brings about an atmosphere to listen to what God wants for us and listen to the cries of others and our own body as well. Todd Henry offers ten questions we can ask ourselves to reclaim our voice. They include what angers you, what makes you cry, what have you mastered, what gives you hope, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up, if you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do, what would blow your mind, what platform do you own, what change would you like to see in the world and if you had one day left, how would you spend it?

Most of us are working and we try to play our own political games in our office spaces and institutions. These are games that we think will make our future better and give us the financial security which we and our families are yearning for. All the while the three types of voices continue to sound somewhere inside our mind and head. But we don’t take time to listen to these voices. The three day lent offers a perfect excuse and opportunity to listen to these voices. These are voices which will change our world and the world of others. They are also voices which will tell us that if we can hear something unique then we don’t need to play any politics anymore and the uniqueness will carry us through.

Jonah’s diversion to Tarshish is a purposeful attempt to negate God’s voice, his own voice and the voices of the people of Nineveh. This negation leads to his own journey thinking that it would give him the satisfaction he yearned for. But he is proved wrong eventually. Let us use this time of lent as a time to listen to and find our voice. This is the voice that has always been there but which we have time and again managed to brush away.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Thrikkunnathu seminary: Why the government can and should change its approach

Public anger spilling on to the streets is usual when the situation is heated and two groups are involved. Quelling this with police force using batons, water canons, rubber bullets and real bullets will only lead to a temporary calm which will be broken at any time. The churches involved in the Thrikkunnathu seminary conflict are definitely expected to be striving for peace and are also responsible for keeping church members and supporters at bay. This responsibility is one that belongs to all leaders of both churches and there is no doubt about that.

Church feuds spill over into the public domain and this is when political parties and the government especially have an important role to play. This is not something which can be wished away or will be fixed by itself. The government of the day has the responsibility of taking care of the needs of every citizen of the region or country. Questions posed in the form of letters, speeches, marches and entries cannot be quelled by police brutality. Waving of batons and sticks and using authority is the sign of government sponsored anarchy having set in instead of making use of democracy. Anarchy is what the people are usually accused of when they stand for their rights. But using the protective police force as a destructive and obstructive force is also anarchy as it leads to the denial of rights of people which is not based on a public debate or a democratic process. Such brutal force only shows the helplessness of a government in dealing with the situation.

Anarchy is usually played out by ordinary people. It is a reaction to forceful tactics employed by the government against its own people. Giving this a political twist with hired goons and plain clothes policemen waiting to pounce on a sensitive situation is government sponsored anarchy. This is against the true spirit of democracy and this should be contested.

Moxie Marlinspike and Windy Hart in their “An anarchist critique of democracy” talk of how false democracy can bring about alienation, decontextualization, opinions, majorities and imminent critques. According to them alienation happens when “Society thus ends up divided into the alienated, whose capacity to create their lives as they see fit has been taken from them, and those in control of these processes, who benefit from this separation by accumulating and controlling alienated energy in order to reproduce the current society, and their own role as its rulers. Most of us fall into the former category, while people like landlords, bosses, and politicians compose the latter.” The Jacobite church being alienated by the government brings about a foul democracy in this sense. Decontextualization leads to rules and laws being framed and used without taking into consideration the context. Opinions of the people rather than agendas of political rulers are better any day and this is forgotten conveniently. Marlinspike and Hart further explain majorities by saying that “The concept of the “majority” is particularly troubling. By always accepting the will of the majority, democracy allows for majorities to have an absolute tyranny over everyone else. This means that in the winner-take-all context of democracy, minorities have no influence over decisions that are made.” A minority church then has no say in its own matters and justice becomes a difficult proposition. Finally demagoguery, lobbying, and corruption are also fall outs of a misplaced democracy. “Demagoguery refers to a political strategy of obtaining a desired outcome or power by using rhetoric and propaganda to appeal to the prejudiced and reactionary impulses of the population.” This happens a lot with misplaced news and analysis against the church. Lobbying means that “Special interest groups send extremely well-paid people after elected representatives to persuade, threaten, barter or bribe them into delivering legislation, government funding, or other favours for their group.” The church has always found several hidden factors influencing the government for certain decisions. All of this is associated to corruption as well.

The church feuds in Kerala are not new. Both the Jacobite church and the Indian Orthodox Church have to realise that whenever the police use force against prelates, the clergy and the people, they are crushing the democratic spirit which this country and the church believes in. We have to condemn violence and aggression against any church or community as the biblical notion is that “Today it’s me and tomorrow it could be you!” The government by not taking an initiative to bring about justice and peace has turned into a mob, which it accuses the church groups of being, whenever it is pleasing and comfortable to them. The ruling dispensation in the form of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala has its grounding and foundation in ahimsa (non-violence) and the non-violent struggle of Mahatma Gandhi. Yet the same dispensation tries to quell non-violent protest and thereby quells and destroys the very democratic foundation of not just the church and society but also of the very own political parties that are a part of the alliance.

How many times have political leaders been lathi (baton) charged, hit with water canons and forcefully evicted from contested places and spaces? How many times have politicians been evicted from the revered assembly, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha when they shouted in the house and threw chairs? How many police men waved batons at members of the assembly and parliament when they made different kinds of noises in the place meant for meaningful and civilized debate? The security and justice expected by the people from a democratic dispensation is then only made available to a select political and business class. This is complete breakdown of democracy, challenging the very notion of freedom that this country has been built on and encouraging anarchists to take control of the situation.

All churches try to stay away from politics because they trust politicians to do their job. But what happens when this is not done? What is the alternative for churches and all religious groups when the government supports its version of anarchy in favour of democratic consultation and decision making? What if the people were to say that the security of the politicians is not the concern of the public and therefore the millions of rupees being spent on VVIP security should be stopped? What if the public were to duplicate the anarchy let lose by the government and the police?

The churches and its leaders are definitely called to serve and not to be served. But the same stands for the political class. This is something that has to be done together and not in isolation. The language, humiliation and force unleashed by the police is not a good sign for democracy in the state and country. So there is definitely no need for special treatment for leaders. But a head of a church and its bishops are not criminals in the same manner in which our representatives in the assembly and parliament are not looked at as criminals. If you can ask for, demand and forcefully take respect and use government machinery meant for the people, can’t religious leaders expect a bit of decency from you as well? This is not misplaced. It can be seen as the yearning of an ordinary citizen and should not be misconstrued as the demand of a powerful church and its leaders.

(Picture at the top is of priests in Ukraine standing between police and protestors during the huge protests there last month.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Will Nido Taniam’s death wake us up?

The murder of Nido Taniam is a blemish on Indian democracy because it shows that racism still exists despite repeated assurances by politicians to the contrary. What it has done is to confuse the minds of people who are actually taking national integration and the great Indian dream seriously. Nido becomes one more martyr in the big list of martyrs.

Home sweet home is what we all yearn for and we make a home of where we feel we have our loved ones. This will be a place where we feel loved, secure and free to do what we want, the way we want to do it as long as it does not intrude on the freedom of another. This is what India is supposed to be. The tri colour in its various ways assures us that we are all a part of this diverse and great country. That is what makes us look up to it. It is the feeling of being assured and wrapped up by the nostalgic and warm feeling of the flag.

We celebrated the coming into formation of our republic on Republic Day. The feeling of being children of the country we call our mother should be what keeps us assured that we all belong here because we are all connected to the same mother and umbilical cord. So every time we hear the news of a race, gender, caste or class related altercation we doubt whether we are true children of this mother. This is a mother who has children who have different opinions and beliefs. But the mother can’t have favourite children. Any narrative of a favourite child is one written by the child and not the mother.

Nido Taniam reminds us again about the country we live in. It is a country we have humiliated and ruined by what we do. Development can only be truly measured in terms of whether all citizens of this country can travel anywhere in the country, stay, work and be free to do what they want to do. With a national election round the corner, will racism in India be taken seriously? Or will it be shoved into a long list of poll promises and make an appearance in poll speeches across India for a week? It is so bad and yet we refuse to accept that it exists.

Racism in India is on many levels. It shows its ugly head against foreigners (here again colour also makes a difference), North East Indians, North Indians in South India, South Indians in North India and in many more forms. Diepiriye Kuku, a black Amercian says that “India is racist, and happy about it.” She puts her experience into perspective by recollecting that “Discrimination in Delhi surpasses the denial of courtesy. I have been denied visas, apartments, entrance to discos, attentiveness, kindness and the benefit of doubt. Further, the lack of neighbourliness exceeds what locals describe as normal for a capital already known for its coldness. My partner is white and I am black, facts of which the Indian public reminds us daily. Bank associates have denied me tea, while falling over to please my white friend. Mall shop attendants have denied me attentiveness, while mobbing my partner. Who knows what else is more quietly denied?" She further says "“An African has come," a guard announced over the intercom as I showed up. Whites are afforded the luxury of their own names, but this careful attention to my presence was not new. ATM guards stand and salute my white friend, while one guard actually asked me why I had come to the bank machine as if I might have said that I was taking over his shift.”

Pawan Gupta says that India follows double standards when it comes to racism. Few attacks on Indians in Australia where reported in the media and it lead to unprecedented reactions from the government and people here. All this when racism is being openly followed in India!

Madhu Chandra identifies the migration of people from different states of North East India due to a push and pull factor. The push factor includes internal conflicts, lack of enough educational facilities, lack of enough jobs and socio-cultural factors. The pull factors on the other hand are that states like Delhi have better infrastructure, educational facilities, and employment opportunities. According to Chandra social profiling, weak political will and lack of law enforcement are the reasons for racism related attacks.

Mari Marcel Thekaekara says that “Racism, prejudice and xenophobia are rampant in India” and that “differences made people fairly suspicious of those who were not like them. And ‘people like us’ closed ranks and bonded. These closed communities are naturally full of prejudices towards the other, the outsider. Every state considers itself superior” and “as migration takes place, across state borders within India, a kind of xenophobia begins.”

The amount of taunts and problems North East students go through is horrific. Dr. Renu Naidu in her research on North East tribal girl students in Delhi came across the following observations. "For a student from the Northeast, irrespective of whether she or he is from an urban or tribal background, Delhi is like an alien land," says Naidu. The language is unfamiliar; the cultural and social terrain is unknown. Even getting a letter of introduction to open a bank account is a mammoth task. What is more, their distinctive physical features immediately mark them out as outsiders among the local populace." Being cheated as a matter of course is one direct fallout of this situation. “Even rickshaw-pullers, auto-drivers, vegetable vendors and bus conductors cheat them because they know that they are not aware of the price of things here, and are not in a position to drive hard bargains." She further found that “for girl students, the situation is worse still: in the conservative Delhi milieu, their Westernized style of dressing and easy camaraderie with the opposite sex - owing in large part to their liberal tribal culture - they are seen as 'fast' or 'of easy virtue'. This wrong perception exposes girls from the Northeast to the worst sorts of sexual harassment, both within campuses and without. Diana, a Mizo student at Indraprastha college, said, "Delhi men believe that north-eastern girls are easily available. They look at us with only one thing in mind: sex. If we protest, they warn us to clam up, because we are alone and there is no one we can turn to for protection."” Rented accommodation is also a problem because high deposits are demanded, sometimes repayment of these deposits does not happen, and unprecedented rent hikes are the order of the day.

It is no wonder that women and men from various states of North East India do not feel that they are a part of India. The feeling of being a foreigner wherever they go haunts them. It is important at this juncture that schools, colleges and religious institutions come together in a serious exercise of true national integration. Without this the very concept of a republic is very hollow and unrealistic. To say that we are a lose formation of several states and we are one country are two totally different things.

A few reasons of racism are xenophobia or the fear of people who are different, a need socially, politically, and economically dominate other groups, it serves to "rationalize the hierarchical domination of one racial or ethnic group over other group(s), and maintain psychological, social, and material advantages for the dominant group", it is used by governments to excuse systemic and systematic oppression and human rights abuses, it is due to the ignorance of other cultures, religions, and values and it is because of a fear of sharing power with other groups of people.

Can we reverse this trend? Of course we can and several people in India are already doing it. As I remember the celebration of republic day I salute the real Indians of this country. They are the ones who do not practise racism, who suffer racist taunts from several quarters and who continue living in the midst of violence and humiliation. The rest belong to the category of living out of the concept of the Indian republic without ever practising it. I am sorry if I have ever belonged to the second category Nido Taniam. Rest in peace Nido, even as we make sense of how to carry your spirit forward.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Thrikkunnathu Seminary saga: A different reading

St. Mark 6:1-6.
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

The passage introduces us to Jesus who is questioned by people in his own town. He is questioned with regard to his antecedents and family. Isn’t this the carpenter and isn’t this Mary’s son appear to be not just a question asked in earnest but a question which was likely to cause humiliation. Jesus is quite taken aback and does not manage to do much. He is shaken by the question and manages to say that a prophet is not without honour except in his own town.

The question of whether the Jacobite church was well within its rights to enter the contested Thrikkunnathu seminary church and whether this lead to rising of tempers between the Jacobite church and the Indian Orthodox church is a valid question? But more questions should be asked in the direction of what the place holds for the leadership and believers of the Jacobite church.

January 25th was remembered as the memorial day of St. Athanasius Paulose, who was declared a saint of the Malankara church in 2004 by the Patriarch H.H. Mor Ignatius Zaka I Iwas and the Holy Synod, and remembered in the 5th intercessory prayer during Holy Qurbana from 2009 onwards. His life was inspirational not just for the saintly life he lived but for the organizations he started. The Malankara Sunday School Association, the Mor Gregorios Syrian Students Association and a brotherhood and sisterhood were all his brain child. The Thrikkunnath seminary campus was also build by him and people were encouraged to come and settle there. The foundation stone of this seminary was laid by another scholar of the church Paulose Mor Athanasius Kadavil (popularly known as Kadavil bishop). At one point of time many priests and future bishops did their seminary education in this centre. The list included two greats of the church in the form of the former Catholicose H.B. Baselios Paulose II and Bishop Abraham Mor Cleemis of blessed memory of the Knanaya community. What happened due to the closing of this centre to the Jacobites was the loss of an institution and a place to study the word of God and the traditions of the church. Kadavil bishop’s dream was to make this place a centre of Syriac and English learning! This loss is therefore irreplaceable and should be understood as a loss of the right to study and educate the clergy and people of one’s own church!

Today the question from the passage rings loud in our ears as well. Who are you?, who is this?, who are these people?, aren’t they the dissenters? Questions which cause deep hurt in the minds of the people and the leadership. The Jacobite church is still finding its bearings with regard to seminary education. The MSOT seminary in Mulanthuruthy is trying its best to equip candidates for pastoral ministry in the church. Other candidates are also going to seminaries all over India for studying and training. But the fact remains that a centre for excellence was lost in the schism with the Indian Orthodox church.

The morning entry and worship can be seen as a struggle to say that we are indeed the sons and daughters of the carpenter but we also want the space to enter the church (synagogue) and be a part of the deliberations and learn and teach. Denial of entry is a denial of basic human hood and basic rights of numerous people and the clergy who need education as their right to move up the social ladder. It is also a denial to move up and a denial that we exist, despite being together with other churches as the oldest in the country. St. Athanasius Paulose became Valia (Big) thirumeni (bishop) from “Kochu Paulo” (Small Paul). The yearning of the community is to study and become big in the same manner. The land which the church stands is therefore land which the people of the church wish to touch and be blessed.

St. Athanasius Paulose brought about a social transformation for the community by giving impetus to education of people and the clergy. The church was dealt a double blow on losing him as we lost both a steadfast leader and his vision for better education, which may have also been an inheritance and legacy of his predecessor Paulose Mor Athansius Kadavil. The entry can be seen as a yearning to walk on the ground that these educators walked, to inherit the values that they spoke of and practised and to touch their entombed remains as a means of saying “We will struggle and study and try and come up. Please be with us in our struggle.”

As we continue to pray for peace let us also understand that standing for Jesus and with Jesus entails suffering and hardship. This is not status quo but a march for attaining rights to exist and be accepted. Peace should prevail and it will when the dust has settled. Until then let us not think that we can be veiled from reality and what is happening in the church. Prayer forms a powerful form of protest which says that even though others will not accept us and honour us as living beings, we will continue to believe in Christ Jesus and the way he dealt with the questions “What’s this wisdom that has been given to him” and with the insults of others taking offense with him. The very people who have cut off our lines of education and upbringing are now questioning our antecedents. Let us continue to pray and hope that God may offer peace, a peace which brings about justice even when it passes all understanding. Amen.

(Excerpt from a sermon preached in St. Mary's JSO Cathedral, Bangalore on February 2, 2014.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

It's your fault: A satirical video on the plight of women in India

The culture of rape is being discussed with serious concern in the media and society in India. The Annual Bangalore Inter Theologiate Seminar (BITS) involving all seminaries in Bangalore is discussing the theme "Retrogressive culture of rape: An analysis". I will be using a short video "It's your fault" directed by Ashwin Shetty and starring Kalki Koechlin and Juhi Pandey. The video is a satire on the situation of women in India today. Women are so fed up with the lack of support from men and the antithetical nature of the debate which turns around against them, that the video uses the satirical exclamation "It's your fault". This suggests the conclusion of men of why violence against women happens in India.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau First Information Reports for rape rose by 2.9% in 2012. Even though 95% cases were charge sheeted fewer than 15% cases came to trial in 2012 and only 24.2% rape trials resulted in a conviction in 2012.

The video talks about the wrong notions about women and the violence against women.
1. Men look because they have eyes.
2. Provocative clothing leads to rape.
3. Women are the leading cause of rape.
4. Call the perpetrator bhaiya (brother) and he will let you go!
5. Stop working late.
6. When husbands rape it is not called rape.
7. Food and movies lead to rape.
8. Mobiles lead to rape.

The actual messages that come through from the video are
1. If men can look, so can women. Having eyes doesn’t mean you can look at whomever in whatever way.
2. Provocative clothing cannot lead to rape.
3. Men are the cause of rape.
4. Call the perpetrator a criminal and report him to the police.
5. Working according to your time is a woman's fundamental right.
6. When husbands rape it is called rape. It is marital rape.
7. Mindset and not food leads to rape.
8. Mobiles lead to prevention of rape.

1. The need for equal and safe spaces.
2. Equality has to be reflected in all spheres.
3. Negating the push aspect of the media.
4. Fixing responsibility on all estates of the democracy and the church.

(Presented in the BITS annual meeting at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore on Feb 1, 2014.)