Friday, May 27, 2016

Left, right, left: The impending crisis of religion in a Left majority polity

The Left is back in power in Kerala. Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan is at the helm of affairs and Comrade Achuthanandan is rumoured to being given an advisor’s role with a cabinet rank. The public may have a lot of opinions on who should be Chief Minister and who not but ultimately it does depend on the decision of the party or coalition who has won the election. We may even have our own theories and opinions about the ministers without actually knowing them but it is within their rights to be given the chance to head a particular ministry.

As a church member what intrigues me though is the way that churches and other religions have conducted themselves during the course of this election and afterwards. On the one hand various churches find the Left alliance anathema and completely against the church values and on the other hand you also have churches or church leaders, priests and laity who have embraced the Left because of a perceived closeness to the Kindom values preached by Jesus. Many have given press conferences, preached against and even openly threatened candidates in their own religious way. Some of those candidates lost while some others won. Interestingly many churches have followed the easy route of immediately claiming the victory of candidates who have won, as theirs, and also claiming to be the spoil sport in the case of certain losses. We do not know how far this is true but what we do know is that there is a tendency to side with the party or alliance that has won.

This is now what is also happening in Kerala. The BJP has campaigned hard and won a lot of votes but only one seat, the Congress is cooling its heals waiting for a come back the next time around and the CPI(M) led Left alliance is basking in glory with a well-deserved victory. Political parties have their ideology and their election agendas. But what about various religions and churches? Are they supposed to change their ideology and belief with every election or is it a given that they will follow one particular ideology and that is based primarily on love?

Is the Left coming back to power bad news for churches in Kerala? It depends on how you look at the Left and what about them you are discussing? It is true that the churches should have no problem to accept liberation of the masses, upliftment of the poor and equality for all even if the Left takes that forward. The interpretation of the Left as a Godless movement has changed over the years with several leaders openly professing their faith in God. But churches or church leaders will have a problem with the Left if churches are pro-rich, anti-poor and against equality. On the other hand blindly supporting the Left need not be what a particular church has to do. Violent and revenge filled politics practiced by certain sections of the Left can’t be accepted and justified by the church as okay and acceptable.

Religion and churches in particular will find themselves immersed in a crisis by supporting whichever party that comes to power for their own needs at any particular time. This is because the people in the church will understand the double standards being played out. It may be true that the Left may have not been able to rule out gender and caste issues within their flock but they have been able to do something about it. It may be true that all Left leaders are not living a simple life style but there are many people who are called with respect as a “Communist comrade” (going on to mean just not a leader but a person respected by all for his/her simple life style ) by people from all walks of life. It may also be true that the Left has not reinvented itself to attract the modern generation but there are educated and inspirational leaders who are doing just that.

When the church is pleased with the victory of the Left, is happy that it has come to power, shouldn’t there be an introspection as to why God may have allowed such a thing to happen? Will the church when supporting the Left work on deep and contentious issues of gender and caste within the church so that a Left leader who has come up from a very difficult background is truly and honestly welcomed into the church? Will the church start preaching simplicity and ordinary living by practicing it at different levels in the church starting from the top? Will the church reinvent itself to prevent being obliterated and becoming completely irrelevant for the younger generation?

The coming of the Left is a nice thing in a state like Kerala. Kerala has seen much change happening through successive Left governments and no one can take that away from them. The church aligning with the Left is not anti-religious or non- Christian anymore. The church, however inspired it is by the word of God and by God’s revelation can go wrong when leaders misread the sign of God because they misunderstand their way as God’s way. Movements like the Left have shown through UPA I that an irritant is necessary to keep bad things at bay. The church can learn a bit from the Left movement about gender and caste consciousness, about simplistic living and about new trends in society. Similarly a close proximity with the church can also make the Left realize that violence won’t lead to solutions and positive results.

It is a welcome change to see the Left and the church together. But unless it is used by both to bring about quick change and benefit for the people, this is going to be an alliance of convenience which is going to give more strength to caste-gender- power and violent politics, which will be such a shame after showing so much promise.

Picture courtesy:
Bolivian President Evo Morales presents Pope Francis with a crucifix carved into a wooden hammer and sickle.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Using prayer as motivational therapy

The Syrian Orthodox Church has prayer seven times a day and this is shortened to three and two times a day due to time constraints and changes in culture. The prayers are in one sense written for a generation which was more agrarian in nature. This does not mean that it is not effective for the present generation but that we have new challenges to overcome through prayer.

In the bible it is clear that many communities used prayer as a way of communicating with God to intervene in their daily struggles and liberate them from bondage and suffering. Prayer was a part of life for many as they managed to wriggle out of difficult situations. God answered prayers and helped people and communities escape very difficult situations. Jesus also showed us the importance of prayer and meditation through his forty day fasting and prayer. Prayer was a withdrawal for him to think, recuperate and prepare for the great ministry he was going to undertake.

What is prayer for us today? Do we get time to pray or do we pray from the prayer book routinely taking from our memory and yet not stopping to understand the real meaning of the prayer we are praying? Has prayer lost out in our busy life? Are we even reluctant to pray when we are in church? A culture change may have changed priorities for us leading to a lack of interest or time to pray.

But doesn’t prayer have huge significance in our life? Motivation is a word used frequently in our culture and in spiritual and corporate settings. It is a power, feeling or energy for us to get things done. We all need to be motivated. Lizzie Velasquez is a woman who is affected with a disease that only a handful of people have. She was humiliated when someone in school posted a video of hers and people called her ugly, fearful and what not. She was confined to her bed, crying and complaining to God as to why she was created like this and why her parents allowed her to live and took care of her to be like this. She weighed only 29 Kg and now the world was laughing at her.

We also face similar situations when people make fun of us, humiliate us and call us good for nothing. It is a very critical period of our life when we would like to end it than continue living. It is a time when we feel that we don’t want to continue in our church, school, college, office and even house. But it is also a time when motivation can do wonders. Lizzie does not give up. Her cry becomes her prayer. She finishes her graduation in Communication and goes on to become a motivational speaker. She starts her own youtube account and uploads her own videos which get many subscribers. She is also invited to talk in the famous TED series lectures. Lizzie turns around her life by being motivated by her own tears and sadness by talking about inner strength instead of outward beauty.

Prayer gives us this inner strength. It is a strength which tells us that it is okay to be the way we are and that God has a purpose for creating us the way we are. Prayer is not just seven times a day when we count and say it is over. Rather prayer is a continuous outpouring and communication of our spirit with God. In James 5:13 prayer means “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” It is not to give up or give in but to stand firm. It is a beautiful cry and release of inner pain so that God feels with us and becomes a part of our lives. Can we communicate with God like this and see our inner beauty and inner beauty of others? 1 John 5:14 says “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to God's will, God hears us.”

Why worry when we are not even responsible for a single strand of hair on our head? Instead as St. Mark 11:24 says “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” Prayer is not to change a situation and make us what others want us to be. Rather prayer is making us confident in ourselves and using that to motivate ourselves and others in any given situation. It is like Lizzie said “I haven’t met the person who put my video online which led to great torment and pain for me. But when I see him I am going to hug him and say “thank you for changing my life”.” This is inner strength that only God can give us. It is to believe in positive outcomes no matter how negative we feel. Pray and motivate yourself to be what God wants you to be, nothing more, nothing less. Amen.