Saturday, April 24, 2010

Meritocracy at Its Worst

Wikipedia defines meritocracy as "a system of a government or other organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities assigned to individuals based upon demonstrated talent and ability (merit)" Or simply put, the leader is someone who is one notch higher than whom he leads. Then the million dollar question is what would be the quality of leadership when those who select the leader are many notches below average human abilities.

The Bible has an excellent example in this regard. It is a scenario that prophet Isaiah describes if the enemy attacks the country of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. If that happens, the leaders of the nation will be killed. Commanders of the army, the king and his ministers and the cream of the society will be deported. This is what actually happened. Prophet Jeremiah who was much junior to Isaiah and started his career after Isaiah died, lived to witness what Isaiah had prophesied:

"The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three doorkeepers. Of those still in the city, he took the officer in charge of the fighting men, and seven royal advisers. He also took the secretary who was chief officer in charge of conscripting the people of the land and sixty of his men who were found in the city.
Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah.
There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed. So Judah went into captivity, away from her land. This is the number of the people Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile: in the seventh year, 3,023 Jews;
in Nebuchadnezzar's eighteenth year, 832 people from Jerusalem;
in his twenty-third year, 745 Jews taken into exile by Nebuzaradan the commander of the imperial guard. There were 4,600 people in all." (Jeremiah 52:24-30).

Isaiah could foresee such a situation where the nation lost its talented people and think-tanks on one fine morning. It is like the entire cabinet and the legislators of the nation, artists and thinkers all die in one day! In such a situation people were desperately looking for leadership and found someone by applying the principles of meritocracy. This is the scene that prophet Isaiah describes.

"A man will seize one of his brothers at his father's home, and say, "You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!" But in that day he will cry out, "I have no remedy. I have no food or clothing in my house; do not make me the leader of the people." (Isaiah 3:6-7).

In a dynasty, the crown prince has to wait for years for the death of the reigning monarch to ascend to the throne. In a democracy, one has to win the support of the people and majority in the house of elected representatives to be the leader of a nation. In some cases the government has to be overthrown through a coup in order for someone to come to power. Here the people catch the man just because he is the only person who has an overcoat (others may only have under clothing) to become their leader. That is the only merit he has in this reign of meritocracy. While people vie for leadership positions, this man would run away from it. Let us clap for him. Unlike many of our leaders, he knows his limits!

There is a saying that people get a leader they deserve. We don't have to explore the skies for the answer to the question why there is such a paucity of good leadership in Christian institutions and churches. The answer is just around us. It is the reign of mediocrity, and who are relatively less mediocre has elevated to leadership positions. Thus the reign of mediocrity goes on.

Are you frustrated with the quality of leadership that you are under? The answer to the problem is to create a pool of people quite unlike the leaders that we have now. May be in future when we look for someone to lead we may find someone who is not only well-dressed but may have much more to offer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Penchant for Truth

When Jesus said, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32) he was talking about himself who is the way, the truth and the life. However, it was based on a larger principle that God expects us to be seekers of truth. God expects us to be truthful as well. As the debate with his opponents progressed Jesus made a frontal attack on the devil and all those who model devil in their behaviour: "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! (John 8:44). What characterizes those who follow Jesus and those who follow Devil? Those who follow Jesus have a penchant for truth while the opposite camp has a penchant for lies.

This is an observation I made recently while studying how conflicts, differences of opinions and crises are dealt with in Christian communities. It seems that there is a quest for "peace" at the expense of truth and I strongly feel that this is not what Jesus would do.

Let us consider a hypothetical case. Two Christian believers have a problem involving money. Mr A claims that Mr B owes him some money which B denies. Revd C (could be their pastor or friend) gets involved as a mediator to resolve this problem. C is kind and a lover of peace. He would like to resolve this difference between the two Christian brothers as quickly as possible with as less damage as possible. So he offers A the sum of money he claims B owes him. C is willing to part with that amount for the sake of peace. This sort of problem solving gets a great round of applause from all of us. Looks great! Peace and sacrifice, love for brothers all that are involved here. However, I strongly feel in the light of the Word of God that that is not the right way to resolve this problem. What is lacking in this approach is the penchant for truth which is the hallmark of Christian believers.

There is another way of solving this crisis. Revd C seeks to establish if B really owes A any money or if A is making a false claim. If it is a false claim then rebuke A in a Christian spirit. However, if A is right and if B is not willing or unable to pay the amount of money that he owes A, then C as a lover of peace and willing to sacrifice can offer that money to A. In this scenario there is peace, sacrifice, love as well as truth.

Many times crises in Christian communities are solved without any concern for truth. We hush up, demand silence from those who are crying out for justice and to be heard just because we do not have the penchant for truth. We think establishing truth could be painful and may cause problems. So we don't venture in to it but circumvent the truth. This only helps to breed lies as we provide cover for them. Exposing lies in the process of seeking truth could be inconvenient and sometimes painful. But we need to take that pain and inconvenience for the sake of truth. It is this lack of penchant for truth that has made our churches and organizations to make "lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place" (Isaiah 28:15).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Sin of Silence

There is an Indian saying: Silence is the glory of the wise! It means the wise person keeps quite and by implication it means the fool keeps talking (certainly all nonsense!). But silence at times could be malicious, dangerous and even a grave sin. So let us say that like tumors, silence could also be of two types: the benign ones and the malign ones.

In his vision of God Isaiah confessed: "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty" (Isa 6:5).

The word "ruined" could be a mistranslation. It is equally possible to translate it as "been silent" though many modern translations still follow the KJV in this regard. The translation "silent" fits the context too. The sin of the people of Isaiah has to do with speech (unclean lips) and the cleansing that God does has to do with speech. Moreover, the commissioning that Isaiah receives is to speak! All this happens in the context of the "holy" speech of the Seraphim. So it is right in concluding that the sin Isaiah confesses is the sin of being silent!

The timing of this very clearly dated vision is also important. It is in the year that king Uzziah died. Though the phrase "in the year" does not necessarily mean after the death of the king, it is highly probable. There is only one another instance where Isaiah dates a prophecy by the death of a king (Isaiah 14:28). So this date is important for our understanding of the nature of Isaiah's sin.

The title of the book says that Isaiah was active in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). The reign of Uzziah and that of Jotham overlaps since the former could not continue as king for health reasons and had to hand over the kingdom to Jotham who was the co-regent. We see Isaiah confronting the other two kings: Ahaz and Hezekiah. However, there is no mention of Uzziah or Jotham other than in the title (which is from the editor of the book) and in this passage (Isaiah 6) where the prophecy is dated.

The reign of Uzziah-Jotham was one of prosperity for Israel but was one of spiritual decline. It was not a reign that pleased God. However, the prophet of God was silent during this period of spiritual decline (2 Kings 15:34). He did not critique Uzziah's apostasy nor of the nation during this period. He just watched the nation slide down to apostasy, injustice and violence. So that later on Isaiah lamented on its capital city: "See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her-- but now murderers!" (Isaiah 1:21).

Isaiah woke up from his slumber during the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah who succeeded Uzziah. He challenged the kings and their religious and political decisions. Demanded that they return to God in full trust. However, he was silent during the days of Uzziah and Jotham.

That is the sin he confesses: being silent when he was supposed to speak up! That was a grave sin. His silence deprived the nation a voice that could have stopped them in their track to spiritual and social rot. His voice could have helped them to make an early U-turn, if he had the courage to speak out. Our malign silence could be equally or more damaging at times. Have we spoken out where we had to or kept strategic silence in order to protect our reputation, good standing with people. Did we hold our peace where our voice was crucial just to have more brownie points from those ungodly people and ungodly systems?

Isaiah realized his sin, he confessed and God was willing to accept his confession and commission him for a greater task. God hasn't changed and his Seraphim are waiting with burning coals in their hands. They are waiting for the words of confession from us so that the coal can touch our lips and release it to speak on behalf God.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When the Idols fall

A proper perception of human beings will enhance our appreciation of God and lead us to praise him more meaningfully. In a Psalm of Praise of God (Psalm 8) the Psalmist exclaimed "what is man that you are mindful of him?" Which meant man is not anything that God should mind especially compared to the celestial bodies that God has created. However, he goes on to say that in spite of this, God still gave man a place of honor and glory since his position is just below the angels. Human beings are incomparable to God.

One popular metaphor of life is that of a journey: A journey that we start at birth and end in death. In this journey we meet people of all sorts and learn many things from them. It is possible that we are drawn to some people because we see rare virtues in them. They become our role models and even idols in our lives. We adore them, we follow them because their exhibited virtues and charisma. All idols are multi-dimensional or multi-faceted. There are facets of these idols that may disappoint us. When we discover those facets (for that we need to view the idols from more than one angle) of these idols we become discouraged and frustrated. Idols fall and we are confused not knowing whom to follow or in whom to be excited in!

Let me elaborate on this a bit! People marry each other after long courtships. They may have had courtships which helped them to get to know each other better and tried different persons before proposing to the one whom they really love and would like to spend their life with: as some say to love, grow together and get old together. But then why such marriages fall apart at the same speed to they came together and almost at the same rate? In some countries every fifth marriage ends up in divorce! Our knowledge of each other is partial and there are facets of personalities that we find despicable as life rolls on. This is true of friends, leaders and all sorts of human relationships that we can think of.

We live a world where there are no constants. Even the majestic mountains made of rock change as the rock crumble in the heat of the sun and tiny pieces are carried away in torrents or by winds. Anyone who looks for consistency in human beings will be terribly disappointed.

However, this unfolding knowledge of people on our journey of life certainly has a positive side if we don't let its negativities weigh us down. These inconsistencies point us to God, the one who is always constant. When I discover that the person whom I considered to be the person of highest integrity is the supreme example of dishonesty I am learning to turn my attention to God. When human dishonesty leads us to appreciate the integrity of an unchanging God, that is best antidote for frustration.

Discovery of human weakness which leads us to a comprehension of the greatness of God results in praise and adoration of God. Such redirection of our thinking is greatly rewarding. Otherwise, we will be crushed under the weight of our own idols that are fallen from their pedestals.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Good Friday sans Pretensions

I just don't know why they call it Good Friday. It was a very bad Friday for the mother, siblings, disciples, friends and followers of Jesus. It was the day when Jesus whom they loved so much died at a very tender age at the hands of the Roman army as a criminal. Death brings an end to everything. Their sorrow was much deeper because they had no clue of what is going to happen on the third day. Though he had told them and though they have seen him bringing back dead back to life, they never imagined that he will be back to life. So with no ray of hope, their sorrow was even thicker.

While the people at the foot of the cross on that fateful day were genuinely sad, the people who were observing Good Friday ever since were simply trying to pretend to be sad; because they knew rest of the story already. On Good Friday, some people walk the stations of the Cross enacting the suffering of Christ. They have processions where they enact scenes from what happened to Jesus on that day by taking up the roles of Jesus, Simon the Cyrene, the soldiers or the crowd. Some were fasting on that day. They abstained from food till evening and some would drink bitter juices to identify with the suffering of Jesus. Some devotees allowed themselves to be flogged and even nailed to a cross for a while. Still they were pretending because they knew Easter is just another day away.

However, Good Friday is more than pretensions. Good Friday is a reminder of the place of suffering in Christian faith. On that day 2000 years back Jesus died a terrible death. It is a reminder that my salvation is not cheap but was very costly. It also reminds that there is suffering in Christian life because it begins with the sufferings of Christ. It explains why Christians in many parts of the world face persecution. There is no Christianity without suffering.

We wear a mask of sorrow on that day for the simple reason that we were taught that way. However, for every believer who has experienced the great liberation there is a smile behind that thin veil of sadness. He suffered pain, shame, and ridicule and died. I am not any way sad but rejoice that his death was on my behalf. Why should I be sad when I know that his pain brought me healing and his shame is the reason for my dignity? I am only proud and grateful. Yes, the adjective "Good" is not only grammatically correct but experientially too. It was for my good that bad things happened to him.

Turn dire circumstances for the glory of God

The way we face the dire circumstances in our life could lead to the wider glory of God. The story of Daniel illustrates that point well. ...