Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Day in the Graveyard

The Indian Christian Cemetery in Pune is "alive” these days, especially the left side of the cemetery that is Catholic. Pune has two big cemeteries on the Solapur Road. The one of the left side is the European Cemetery. That is where the European Christians who lived in Pune during the colonial times are buried. After Independence, Indians who go to some of the mainline churches of European heritage are buried there. As the number of these churches are dwindling, the cemetery is also less frequented. A visit to these churches on Sundays and may make you think that there are more members in the cemetery than in the pews now. The growing younger churches manage the cemetery on the right side of the Solapur highway. That was designated for the Indian Christian population in colonial times and thus got its name as "Indian Christian Cemetery." That is divided as the Catholic and the non-Catholic cemeteries by the unpaved pathway in the middle. If you are Catholic turn left and if you are Protestant turn right!
As you enter workers are waiting for you. "Are you here for cleaning up?” They inquire! They have shovels, and knives. Some boys are ready with paint-buckets and brushes. They will help you clean up the tombs of your dear ones, weed around it and also give it a coat of paint. These workers and those who are visiting the grave of their dear-ones are all over the place. The family members are giving the graves of their dear ones a face-lift well ahead of the All Saints Day that is approaching.
On the left side of the pathway a few steps after the chapel I noticed a little grave. By the size of it I guessed that a very young life is buried there. Judging by the age of the flower plant at the head of the grave, it is not new. It is not built up, no marble, no tombstone--just a heap of mud. It has a metal cross at the head and a few bricks around it. A lady in her late forties has cleaned it up and is giving it a coat of cow-dung. Cow dung is sacred and it is used for polishing the mud-floors in villages. A ten-year-old boy is very keenly watching the skillful movements of his mother’s hand on the smooth cow-dung paste. Another lady, is applying white lime-paste on the bricks around the small grave.
I approached her to find out who is sleeping under that small heap of mud, so passionately attended to. The lady applying the cow-dung was so absorbed in her work and did not bother to answer my question. But the lady with the brush and the lime bucket raised her head to look at me. She said, "It is her sister”, pointing towards the lady with the cow-dung polish. "How did she die?” I wanted to know. She said he doesn’t know the cause of her death. She was also not sure of her exact age at death as well. But only one thing she knows that it was forty years ago that she lost her little sister "Yesther” (Mararthi for Esther). She has kept that grave, protected it all these forty-some years. Now her ten year old son accompanies her to his aunt’s grave. She is celebrating her loss, her brother’s wife who came to her life much later has joined in her grief and in her labor of love! I could sense there a bond that is not broken even after forty years and a bond of love that is being passed on and shared by all those who entered her life.
A few steps away, an man in his later sixties, sitting on a large tomb, is retouching the engravings on the marble tomb stone with white paint. He is completely absorbed in his work.  He raised his head as my camera flashed and smiled at me. I took him for a hired hand. "You do this for a living?” I asked. "No”, he said. "This is my mother and son and that one is my uncle,” pointing to another tomb behind him. He has buried in one grave his mother and 31 years after that his own son who died at 28. That was almost twenty years back. His son was engaged to be married. But just five days before the marriage, he died of massive heart attack. So, he opened the grave of his mother and buried her grandson with her. That is beside the grave of his uncle. "This was brought from Bangalore,” he told me showing the green marble slabs on the graves. His eyes were gleaming with pride. "You can’t get this type of marble in Pune,” he said. He has done something special for his departed dear ones so that their graves will stand out on All Saints Day. He has suffered great loss, mother, uncle and a dear son. His dreams of being a father-in-law and a grand father were dashed. However, he seems to have over come all the sorrows, but the bond of love remains beyond the grave though there may be practically no remains beneath those marble slabs. Twenty years is enough for all that is buried to degrade in to soil. However, love and affection are not biodegradable and memories can never be erased.
I was waiting for the body of my colleague’s husband to arrive! He was a army personnel, served the Lord during his days in the army and after his retirement as a full-time pastor. He pastored a congregation of about 300 people. It was an unusual funeral, some of those who were waiting were growing impatient. The church has decided to have a funeral procession something unheard these days in a city like Pune. Usually there are undertakers who do the job. They bring the body to the cemetery in an ambulance, the family members and friends come in their own cars or public transport. No one takes walks to the cemetery with the body these days.
While were waiting two other funerals were also going on. On the catholic side a body was brought and an altar was quickly put up, candles were lighted. I had nothing else to do and I wanted to find out who is in the coffin. It was a man in his fifties. A small crowd of about fifty people has gathered as they waited for the priest to come. The dead man has a "sindhur” on his forehead and was wearing a red-sports cap! The cap was new, I am sure he did not die in that cap! There was an old lady kissing the dead man and crying in Marathi. But the expression on the face of the dead man was quite sportive. If they held the coffin vertical he would look like a soccer umpire who froze to death! Jolly good guy he probably was in life!
On the other side of the cemetery was another coffin, a very small group of around twenty people are gathered there by the grave. They all came in cars. Nobody is crying, they are waiting for the priest to come! All are well-dressed and spoke English. It was not about the dead man or his family or about the funeral arrangements. Most of them are looking towards the irons gates of the cemetery probably for the priest’s car to come; one or two people are passing occasional glances at the coffin. They seem to be eager to get this over and get back to their life. Death means many things to many people.
Our wait was over. A red car with loud-speaker on its top, a keyboardist and a tabla player inside entered through the rusted iron gates. Three or four men in white shirts and black pants with cloth-bags on their shoulders were walking behind the car leading a procession of about 1000 people. They had microphones in their hands and were singing in Hindi. The huge crowd walking behind them joined in the singing. Whenever the young men stopped singing between two songs the crowd shouted "Yesu Masih ki Jay!” a usual phrase praising Jesus. There was another car behind it inching its way forward through the crowd. They stopped it and pulled the coffin of their dear pastor out and carried it on their shoulders to the grave-side. The young men had stopped singing through the microphone but the crowd continued to sing as they walked towards the grave. The young men had grabbed their keyboard and tabla and ran ahead of everyone to the grave-side. They fixed the loudspeaker on a tripod. Assembled the system and put all things together and began singing before the procession reached the grave. They continued singing in Hindi again through the microphone: "I have a land, I have home in Heaven.” Someone prayed through the loudspeaker in English and it was translated in to Hindi. I noticed that they did not pray for the comfort of the family, the wife who is left behind or the children. But their prayer was that those among gathering who haven’t found the hope in Jesus Christ may find it now! That is the purpose of this public funeral. Then there were few more testimonies; they talked about the their pastors life and faith! The first preacher spoke about eternity and how to follow the deceased pastor to the heavenly bliss. I know there will be another speaker may be one more saying the same thing. They are so excited that they got another chance to explain "the hope that is in us.”
I was exhausted, dehydrated from the long wait in the hot-sun. The pollen from the weeds thriving in the graveyard was irritating my eyes. I had to leave. I walked away leaving the crowd who was turning the funeral of their dear pastor to a evangelistic campaign. I walked past the father adorning the marble grave of his son, passing one more glance at the little grave of Yesther shining with the fresh coat of cow-dung. The English speaking funeral party is still waiting for their pastor to come growing impatient. While the friends of the dead man in red cap and sindhur was proceeding to the grave following the priest.
The poor and the rich meet here. Their poverty and wealth is still reflected in appearance of their graves. Some express their love with cow-dung and lime; some with imported marble. Some are passionate and some detach themselves from the dead. They love life and hate death. But there are still a few bury their dead brimming with the joy of life eternal. They will not visit the grave again, never will they clean it up. Their hope is not in the grave but life beyond the grave!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

iDeath and eLife: What Steve Jobs Discovered and Missed

Steve Jobs, as Rick Warren rightly tweeted was " the Thomas Edison" of his generation. Steve Jobs changed the way we look at the world just as Edison. Steve Wozniak, Jobs’ friend and colleague from the very beginning of his career remarked in his "tearful” interview with Associated Press that, "We lost something that we will never get back!" Steve Jobs was so unique! Everyone shared that sense of loss but will still remember Steve Jobs for the way he changed the world.


Like thousands of others, Apple computers made my life different. The first work I ever did on a computer was on an old IBM PC way back in 1986-1988 during my student days in Bangalore. It had no hard disk, it used two 5" floppy disk drives. One of the floppy disks had the OS and the word processing program. The other was for saving the documents to. The computer had no memory of any sort, we had to enter the time and date at start up. We did not know what we were going to get. I mean, the screen and the printout did not match exactly. If you forgot to close the code for bold font (which was invisible on the screen) then the entire document from that point will be in bold!


However, two years later, I was introduced to an Apple Macintosh Classic computer with a black and white screen. It had a mouse, what I saw on the screen was I what I got in the printout (WYSWYG). It could type Hebrew and Greek, the two languages that I had to use besides English. It was a great leap for me! Then a few months later, I had my own Apple-- A Macintosh LC with color monitor! Nineteen years now, I still keep it; it is still functional though I don't use it! I  had to part my ways with Apple. I could not travel with Apple any further as my iBook crashed a few years back. I changed my loyalties to Linux run on PCs. Apples turned out to be expensive. Moreover it was difficult to keep pace with the speed at which they updated the hardware and the software-- every six months something new rolled out of Steve Jobs mind to the market. However, I still am an Apple fan and hold no hatred for iPhones or iPads!


The world of technology and business hail him for his inventions; iPhone, iPad, iCloud and all that preceded these. However, I think his greatest achievement was not an invention but a discovery that he made. I would like to call it iDeath!


He disclosed that discovery when he went public after being diagnosed for pancreatic cancer in 2005. That is his discovery of the significance of death for him. He said, "Remembering that I' ll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important." 


However, even before that, from the very beginning of his career he had death in view. Steve Wozniak who knew him from the very beginning of his life as a computer genius and business man made another revelation about Jobs in his interview with the Associated Press. He said that Jobs told him around the time he left Apple in 1985 that he had a feeling he would die before the age of 40. Because of that, "a lot of his life was focused on trying to get things done quickly," Wozniak said.


This discovery of the significance of death for a human being defined Jobs’ life-style and his impatience for achievements. Former colleagues remember him being rude and impatient. He fired people if their answer did not satisfy him. He had no time to waste, he was on a rush. The secret seems to be that he always saw death before him, he had the end in view; he had to achieve all that he could before he reached that point.


I would like to use the metaphor of a ship on collision course to understand Steve Jobs view of life and death. He seems to have imagined that his ship will not survive the collision and will sink deep down never to raise again. Seeing the immanent death (though he lived longer than he thought he will) he was on a hurry. He was bent on achieving as much as he can before the collision happens. That is what made him brash and impatient. That sense of urgency is the secret of his achievements as well.


However, that is not the only perspective on life and death that is possible. Saint Paul saw death every day in his life. He lived a very dangerous life which he described as "we die every day" (1 Cor 15:31). Death was an every day possibility for him. He had survived shipwrecks, snake bites, robbery attempts, had fought with animals in the arena. He knew that he may drop dead any time! Though death was a daily reality for him, his view on death was very different from that of Steve Jobs.


If he saw his life as a ship, he would have seen death as a thick fog through which his ship has to pass through and not as an ice-berg that it would crash on to.While Steve Jobs could not see the other side of death, Saint Paul could see through the fog the other side of life beyond the grave.


The other side of the grave (the fog) as the Bible presents it is beautiful and radically different from one the one that we have now. The Bible describes it as a life where the perishable is turned into imperishable, and the mortal turned in to immortal. It is a life without limit: no limit on its time and no cap on its quality. That limitless length and quality is what qualifies it to be described as "Eternal Life" or eLife borrowing Steve Job’s language! (One of his flops was the eMac!).


This eLife is not a life of passivity; spent waiting for the other life. It has the same urgency that Steve Jobs maintained but for two different reasons. The first reason is that the passing through the fog is to a place from where there is no return. Whatever to be achieved in this world has to be achieved before the ship enters the fog. The second reason is that we can only predict the possibility of the fog but can’t predict how far we are from it. One day our ships will meet the fog, but none knows when. That demands that every moment has to be redeemed. There is urgency that fuels our life to achieve.


Steve Jobs has been a great achiever. His achievement was prompted by the certainty of an immanent death from which he cannot escape. That great discovery of death made him rush and gained a place with the greatest minds of our times. But he could have had the same urgency and achievements that follow from that sense of urgency with another view of life and death as well. He could have held a view which would have given him hope not only in this world but also in the world to come. It seems that he missed that perspective. His greatest achievement is the discovery of iDeath on which he could not put any controls. He missed eLife-- eternal life that Jesus offers to all who put their trust in him. If Steve Jobs had read that Book which talks about it, he would have discovered eLife.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The "AGAPE" Love

The Bible teaches us that love is a fruit of the Spirit and it has supremacy over the gifts of the Spirit. In fact Saint Paul argues that the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit is useless if devoid of love. Being devoid of love is a state of existence which can be very well described as "being nothing” (1 Cor 13:2) and such lives "gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:3).
The love mentioned in this passage is a entirely different type of love, very different from what we usually mean by it. The Greek word AGAPE is consistently used throughout the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 13, the greatest poem on love.
It was a common word for love which found a new meaning in the New Testament because of the experience of love that the writers had. Their experience was different from those who lived before their era, before Christ came in to this world to put up a magnifcient show of this special love. The translators of the Old Testament into Greek who lived about 200 years before Christ had many Greek words to choose from to translate the word, "love.” So, they chose as they thought fitting for the context of each occurance in the Hebrew bible. The word AGAPE is used for love only 20 times in the entire Old Testament in Greek though the word love comes more 500 than times! However, the New Testament writers use the word AGAPE 116 times (75 times by Paul alone) though the New Testament is only one third the size of the Old Testament! The resaon for this use is their experience of God’s love through his Son, Jesus Christ which the Hellenistic Jews missed.
This love is not a convenient love or a congenial love but a love for the most unlovable. Most of the time we love whom it is convenient to love. Inconvenience hinders such love. Haven’t you seen people break up when one of the lovers change universities or move away from the other. The distance and new circumstances becomes inconveniet for love and love ends there. AGAPE love is is not congenial. Congenial love is the love for the things that we like or for those of the same kind. Crows peck away the alien birds who enter their tree because they cannot love birds of other kind. Their love is congenial. Human beings also have the same mentality. It is easy to love people of our family, our country, of our skin colour and the like. Though, we may not hate people who are different from others, loving them demands effort.
However, the love that God displayed through his son is qualitatively quiet different from this. It is the love for the most unlovable, when they were most unlovable. In Romans 5:8 we see the nature of this love: "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” First of all Christ loved for the sinners whom God really doesn’t like at all. The Bible says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). However, God is willing to love us though we donot deserve his love. The New Testament writers reserved this word for that sort of love. Secondly, God loved us with his AGAPE love when we did not deserve us. God’s love for the sinners was not after their conversion to God’s children. He loves them even before that, when they "were still sinners.” Thank God that he did not say, "if you stop sinning I will try to love you.”
John, who is known as the Apostle of Love says that God was so liberal in loving us, his love was unlimited. He uses the word "lavish” to express the manner of God’s love! "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1 NIV). The most unworthy of all are the ones who are loved by this type of love.
Moreover, this love is transformative. It transforms the persons who are loved so that they look at the world and all around them with AGAPE love. This transformative power is expressed in 1 John. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14 ESV). "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV).
The reason for the AGAPE love is not in the object of love, but proceeds from the character of the lover. God is able to love us with the AGAPE love because he is love. We cannot love others with AGAPE love unless we are transformed by this love. That love transforms our world-views, the quality of service, and all that we do and think. That is why this love has the supremacy over all the magnificent gifts of the Spirit and display of spiritual power.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Centurion and the Galilean: A study in authority

When a Galilean carpenter commands "Go" nobody moves; they may look at him curiously wondering if he is all right. When he beckons to someone to come they may, but not always! Nobody is under his command and he has no authority over anyone.
However, a Roman centurion is different. He has 100 soldiers under his command. When he walks in, they all stand in attention and salute him. When he commands one of them to go and fetch something he does. When he shouts 'march' they march on in an array. All of them are under his command. His words work. They can change things; they make things move!
The Roman centurion whom we find in Luke 7 was in desperate need, a need which was beyond the resources he had at hand. One of his servants was sick and no words of him will heal him. The sickness or whatever that caused that sickness was not under his authority. They won't heed his commands. He was helpless.
However, he was humble. Humility is the pre-requisite for faith. He knew higher authorities exist. He knew from his experience that authorities higher than him had higher commanding power. An officer in-charge of a legion had much higher power than a centurion.
Centurion's knowledge and experience shaped his faith. He did not want Jesus to come to his house. The reason for not taking Jesus to his house is not that it was not big enough for Jesus. The reason was simple; Jesus doesn't need to be there. His word is enough! 'But say the word, and my servant will be healed' (Luke 7:7). The article (the) on "word" is important. He meant "the word" for sickness to leave! He knew there is a word to make the army march, there is a word to make the army to retreat, so there must be a word for sickness to leave and healing to come in. The one who has authority over sickness can command using 'the word that heals.' In Jesus he recognized that authority and the power of Jesus' command.
Centurions' faith was commended because his faith came from his experience and his recognition of Jesus' authority. In Jesus he saw more than a Galilean tramp, a man of authority. In Jesus he saw a man who has authority over all sickness. That's what is called faith!

+Amrutha Pulikottil +Johns Abraham +John Alex +Baju Joy  +Barry L Ross +Denny Babu +bibi george +Tess Chai +Connie Karsten +Chris Wright +Daman Chawla +christy mathew +DeCruz Pulikottil +David Neidert +Devender Verma +Edison Thella +Philip P. Eapen +Ebin Abraham +EBEN TOM PHILIP +Georgy Fredy +Frank Ho +Rev. Fr. Sajeev Sugu Jacob +Faustina Moktan +George Ohia +sohan tiwade +Rev. Dr. Harold D. Hunter +Steve Hardy +Hanson Samuel +Hasita Issac +Shirley Ho +Hannah Muhar +Anne Cathers +Coordinator UAE +Meren Imchen +Joshy John +John Thomas +Jean-Daniel Pluess +Kee Nelson +Anoop Krishnan +Desmond T H Lim +Starla Luke +Margaret Lamb +Sebastian moktan +Shalu T. Mathew +Sam Mathew +Sam Mathew +Johney Joseph +Nilav Kolay +Jos Vargh +Jonathan Ng +George Ohia +Rojin Pynummood +oommen george +Stephen Olsen +Lim Siew Pik +Renjen Philip +Reji Philip +jimmy cherian +Godly John +Robin Jacob +simmy saji +Simjan. Jacob +Jerin Thomas +Tim Wiford +Cynthia Sprunger +alan varghese +Rachel Varkey +John Walters +Willy Abraham +Michelle Fernandes +Terry Yeow +Caleb Yeshwanth +C P Thomas +Gigi Zachariah +Zeroob Baby +Prakash Philip Zacharia +Fadhilah Zulkifly +zakkariya parammal

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Exonerating Jonah

We have been very unkind to Jonah. No character of the Bible has suffered so badly at the hands of Bible interpreters and preachers like this man often pictured in a long robe and a long beard. Sometimes pcitured in the belly of a huge fish! Christians and Jews of all ages are equally guilty of this. They pick up a negative image of this poor prophet from early childhood as the Sunday School teachers use their flannel graphs and tell the children not to be so disobient as this disobedient prophet! And when these children mature to adulthood they become Sunday School teachers and preachers to continue the millennial old negative propaganda against this prophet of Israel.

Jonah was not that bad! He ran away from the presence of the Lord, I agree! Probably, he did not have read Psalm 139 especially verses 7 -10 of that psalm: "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Psalms 139:7-10 ESV).

Not only him, even long after him, the people of Israel thought that the presence of God was limited to certain places. This is what the Samaritan woman quizzed Jesus: "The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:19-20). So, he thought he can get rid of this nagging God if he left the country and sailed for a far away place, beyond the reach of the Hebrew God!

Now, running away from his country to avoid the presence of God, that is a serious charge! But tell me which prophet of Israel was not fed up with this God who always demanded too much from them. Moses, complained to God many times when he was under stress, Elijah wanted to die unable to carry on, Jeremiah wept, protested, argued with God, Isaiah was despondent, the list can go on! We all are tempted to do it. It is just human.

Sleeping at the bottom of the ship while a storm was raging and every sailor was praying to his god is quite an achievement! Who can sleep peacefully amidst such a turbulance? Remember what you did when when you are 40,000 ft above the Atlantic and the pilot turned the seat-belt light on with a warning that the plane is facing turbulent weather? You made a sign of the cross and closed your eyes but were not able to sleep until the plane got back to a smooth path? Jonah was not sleeping, I think, was pondering "O God, you are here too! You got me?"

The story portrays an ordinary human being. It tells us what any prophet would do if God asks him to do something that he has never done before. Not just prophets all devout persons have limits to their patience and endurance. Jonah had reached his. That explains his behaviour.

But what I like in the story of Jonah is that he did something that many godly people normally won’t do. First of all, he knew what is wrong! He was a good troubleshooter! He told his fellow sailors that it is the hand of his God who created heaven, earth and sea! Many of us are equally good trouble shooters as well. But the difference is that Jonah not only found out what is wrong but he admitted that he is responsible for it! That many of us don't do. We normally score very low as troubleshooters, but very high as trouble-makers. Even when we succeed in locating the reason for the problem we tend to park it at somebody else's door! Taking up responsibility for the mess we created is often not in our nature. Now, I want Jonah to be exonerated at least on this ground! Long live Jonah!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rights, Duties and Duties without Rights

We are very conscious of our rights. Students go strike for their rights so do factory workers, government staff and even in a family individuals insist on their rights, though they may not go for a sit-in.

Conflicts are bred when people insist on their rights. Two ships collided head on in the Black Sea killing hundreds of people in 1986. The reason for this tragedy was simple! Both captains insisted on their right of way and were not willing to yield! By the time they realized that they were on a collision path it was too late!

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister once reminded his people that there are no rights without duties! People who insist on their rights often ignore that they have duties to perform. Those who ignore that obligation have no claim on rights.

However, the Bible extends the correlation between rights and duties further than an issue of priority; that is the question of right first or duty first. In 1 Corinthians 9 Saint Paul illustrates through his own life that sometimes we will have to surrender our rights for the sake of our duties.

He had every right to travel with his wife on his missionary tours. We are not sure if he was married and a widower or he was never married. Whichever way it goes, he travelled without the company of a wife. However, that was not the practice Christian circles those days. Other Apostles took their wives on their trips (1 Corinthians 9:5). As a minister of the gospel there was nothing wrong in being rewarded for his service (1 Corinthians 9:6). That was the practice of the apostles and that was also supported by the scriptures (1 Corinthians 9:13-14). However, Paul did not insist on this right also. Rather he chose to work and earn his support so that he can preach free without burdening the people to whom ministered (Acts 18:2-3). He had many such rights but he did not insist on any of them.

At least two times he states that he did not insist on his rights (1 Corinthians 9:12, 15). Why did he not insist on his rights? His reason for forfeiting his rights is that it may hinder his duty of preaching the gospel. So for the sake of his duty he would rather give up his rights.

Sometimes, preachers may become such heavy weights that smaller people may not be able to come closer to them. In such scenarios the gospel suffers. Many times inisting on our rights we lose friends, opportunities for conversation and even opportunities for service. When forfeiting our rights for the sake of gospel we don’t lose anything but make great profits by winning souls for Christ.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bin Laden: Avenge, Revenge, Justice!

Osama Bin Laden was shot dead and buried in the Arabian Sea by the US Navy Seals. President Obama announcing the death of United States' most wanted enemy said that "Justice is done!". There were celebrations all over the United States celebrating the death of the most hated terrorist who allegedly is responsible for the death of many Americans. The excitement was so hight in some places that they did not care who really died. When the news was announced, some students who were celebrating in an American university shouted cheefully that "Obama is shot dead," not realizing the subtle difference in the two names!
There are lot of questions to be answered. First of all, what is "justice" and how justice is done?
Justice is righting wrong. Justice means that somebody has caused someone some sort of distress and that situation has to be corrected. There are many ways of righting the wrong. Restraining the person who did the wrong thing and making sure that person will not do it again is one thing. But that is the second step. Removing the disadvantage that the victim suffers is the first step. Then comes the second step of making sure that it will not happen.
When someone robs a person, the person is caught, he has to return what he has robbed. The wrong is corrected. Then the robber is restrained or corrected so that it will not happen again. However, this really doesn't apply to murders. The murderer has taken from the victim and his dear ones something he cannot return, that is life. However, the disadvantage that the victim suffers can be corrected. The ways the Old Testament deals with this is instructive. If the murder was intentional then the murderer has to pay by his life. He will be killed. If the murder was unintentional then the murderer can take refuge in one of the asylums called "cites of refuge" and spend the rest of his life there or will be caught and executed.
In both cases, justice is done by removing the disadvantages that the victim suffers. In ancient agrarian societies number mattered. The families with larger number of people were better off than smaller families. That is, the sheer number of workforce was crucial for their life, prosperity and security. When a family or clan is killed the murderer and his group gains an advantage over them. This can be corrected only by the death of a member from the family or clan of the murderer; and nobody is responsible for this other than the murderer, so his life has to be taken. By keeping the murderer in one of the cities of refuge he is restrained by participating in the life of his community. Thus "An eye for an eye" approach was a primitive form of ensuring peace and prosperity.
This clarifies the words "revenge" and "avenge". There is a huge difference between "revenge" and "avenge". Revenging is to return the evil for evil. It has no other motivation or purpose. However, "avenge" is correcting a situation and bringing justice by returning the same or similar act. Revenge is retaliation but avenging is to bring justice. The Old Testament "An eye for an eye" thinking was a avenging than revenge.
This same principle doesn't apply to modern situations. By killing the man who is responsible for the death of thousands of Shias (Saddam Hussein), or American civilians in WTC attack (Osama bin Laden) the disadvantage that the victims or their families suffer is not corrected. All that they get is the feeling that he will not be able to do it again to anyone else beside satisfying their thirst for revenge. However, there are number of other ways of making sure that he will not doing it again than killing him and revenge is not Christian at all.
Killing a person terminates not only life but opportunities for that person to be a better person in life. In Christ there is a standing invitation to all humanity to change, to shed hatred. To deny any person that opportunity is a denial of God. To conclude that a person is beyond correction is arrogance. The modern world has denied Saddam Hussein, Velupillai Prabhakaran, Bin Laden and many others that opportunity. What we have done is gross injustice to our Christian conscience!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter: Your Search Ends Here!

Easter settled a big question. Was Jesus a failure or not? At his arrest and crucifixion his opponents and also his disciples thought that he has failed, he is another failed Messiah of Judaism who led a popular movement duly suppressed by the Roman military power. However, when they found that the tomb was empty on the third day they knew that he was not a failure but a victor. He rose from the dead. "O death where is your victory, O death where is your sting?" Death had grip on him only for a few hours and he for ever overcame death.

However, it took some time for his disciples to come to terms with this reality. Mary and other women did not remember that he had claimed that he will rise again. They went on a wrong search at the wrong place. They were not supposed to search for him in the tomb he was buried. Because he was not going to be there on the third day. They longed to see his dead body again, but that is the wrong thing they were looking for. Many continue similar searches for truth making pilgrimages to places to find truth there but truth is not a place and cannot be found in any place. Jesus is truth and he is not be confined to any pilgrim places.

However, meeting the risen Jesus altogether changed her search and the mindset of the disciples who verified that the tomb was indeed empty. They found the linen wrapping in the grave, but did not bother to keep a few pieces of this to be venerated later. For them they have met the risen saviour and having him back to "walk with them and talk with them" is far greater than keeping some rags to venerate. When I have the reality of Jesus Christ why should they settle for something less.

Easter Sunday come with the message: Your search ends here, if you begin a walk with the risen Lord.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Finishing Well

People start in style however the end may not be always as glorious as the beginning. In a sprinter event, every runner brims with confidence at the starting point and it is difficult to say which one will win. Some give up after a few feet, some trail far behind and the eyes of those in the gallery are no more upon them. Some may faint in the tracks. Some give up when they hear the crowd cheering the winner. However, there are a few whether the winner is decided, though the finishing line is still far away, still run in style and finish. They don't care if they are the last. They were committed to the race.

Finishing the race and finishing it well is what is important when that race is Christian life. The Bible reminds us that Christian life is a race.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-12 ESV).

In Christian life the prize is not just for those who finish ahead of others but to all those who finish; it is not a race where only the first three are honored. It is a race where all those who complete the race are honored because it is not a test of speed but of perseverance.

Moreover, Christian life, is not an race with its end in itself. It is a qualifying race, a race that prepares us and qualifies us to another level of existence where there is no race at all. There times stands still, it is called eternity.

It is true that Christian is called to a life of eternity. But eternity should not be imagined not only in terms of time but in terms of its quality of life. New Testament construes eternal life very much in line with the Greek concept where it is the life of the ages or the life of the gods. It is possible to have a taste of it while on earth. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV).

Jesus was not talking about eternal life in terms of its quantity but the quality. We are invited to live that quality of life now on earth but we will experience it for ever amd in its fullness when life on earth comes to an end. For that to happen, the life on earth, which is considered as a race through alien land has to come touch the finishing line. Finishing it well and in style is thus very important.

Finishing well first of all means to run the full course of the race and qualify for entry to the eternity waiting for us. Bible also gives examples of people who gave up in the middle of the race. Paul has a few examples of those who gave up in the middle:

“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:18-20 ESV).

Finishing well is more than dying and having a Christian funeral. It is dying with the hope and assurance that we are going somewhere better. We may call it dying with Christian hope. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus had that assurance before he breathed his last. He was so fortunate to have the saviour of the world by his “side” at the time of his death! No one will be so lucky. However, we can still die with the saviour by our side and be carried to the presence of God if we have faith and hope enough. Dying with a smile on the face is so great!

I have been by the dead bodies of modern day saints who died of various causes. One thing that I have noticed is the peace and tranquility that is frozen on their face. Sometimes a smile of great satisfaction still lingers on the frozen pale lips. They died peacefully and with lots of hope. That does not mean that their death was painless. Some died of massive heart attack, and some had painful cancer for years but at the point of death they had faith and hope that helped them “finish well.”

Some years back I head this story of a terminally ill godly patient counting down his days on earth. He had a bed by the window in the hospice room that he shared with others. Many of those who shared the same room with him were not believing Christians. He was so weak but he will turn his head towards the open window and describe the beautiful sights that he could see. He would look through the window and describe what he saw: of meadows, placid lakes, rivers, singing birds and flowers. When he died many of his roommates wanted to move to his bed by the window with a view that opens to beautiful landscape. One of them was lucky enough to the get that coveted bed. He was disappointed the first morning itself. He looked through the window eagerly as the dawn broke but there was absolutely no view there, a high concrete wall just two feet from the window even banned breeze from entering that room. The patient who died was not seeing what is outside the window, he was in fact seeing through the roof, the sight of heaven above; because he knew he was going there and was filled with faith and hope.

My mother has been my inspiration always though I had her only for the first eight years of my life. In fact six years, because bed-ridden for two years before she died at the prime age of 41. Most of my memories of mother is when she was sick and have to do with her death and funeral. She knew she was dying and those who loved her did not want her to die. But she had accepted the fact that she is going home and did all that she could do to make the life of those who she is leaving behind happy. She asked her husband to marry again, she called her children to her bedside and distributed her belongings according to their age. Prayed for them and entrusted them to God's hands. One day with her widely open at staring at the ceiling she told her family that she see roses of different colors, angels in while glowing apparels and the like. She requested those around her bed-side to sing songs of hope and requested her favorite ones.

Her friends and prayer partners were not willing to give up. One day they gathered around her bed in fasting and prayer, trying to twist God's hand. They were sincere people. When the prayer which lasted for hours was over, she told them quite calmly: “I have seen the shores of the Beulah land, I have to go, can’t turn back now, don't hold me back! Let me go!” Within a few days she went flew away to Beulah land is enjoying the presence of her Savior and Lord. She finished well!

Some of us may be allowed lot of time to prepare for the Beulah land. But when sick, is important to know whether we are moving towards healing and being pulled out of the pit, or moving towards the shores of eternity. That requires some discernment which only God can give. However, a Christian has to be ready for the home-call.

However, there is a false gospel that is so widespread that deprives Christians the privileged of “finishing well.” They teach never to give up and they fight to the last minute even when it is clear there is no point fighting. I have come across sick people who hoped that they will be healed. They could not think of sickness as a chariot God has sent to take them home. They were taught that all sickness could be fought and won. I came across a dear brother whose father died on a prayer mountain praying for his healing till the last minute. He could not take time to prepare himself for the shores eternity. He was taught that all sickness can be healed by prayer.

I was by the side of a 51 year old widow who was diagnosed with some rare disease for which no cure is still found. Doctors have told her and the family that she will eventually die of this sickness but they cannot tell how soon it would be. Medical science has no hope for her. I knew it was incurable but also believed that there was nothing impossible for God. However, I felt the need to prepare her for eternity. One day I gathered enough courage after praying many hours for her to ask her a simple question. “If it is the Lord's will to call you home, are you ready? I will continue to pray for your healing.” She replied that she is not ready to die and believed that God will heal her. She called people with gifts of healing and prophecy to pray over her. One after another continued to assure her that she will be healed. In spite of all the prayers, she died within a few months, still fighting a battle she was not supposed to fight at all. Her sickness was a chariot that was waiting for her, but she could not see it and those spiritual specialists deceived her.

The problem with the prosperity theology or the “name it and claim it” teaching and the triumphalist preaching is that it deprives people a closer walk with God towards eternity through their struggles. They are not teaching growth but survival. They teach people to do well in this life as if there is no life beyond. They don't prepare people to “finish well.

I knew of a young man who owned a brilliant mind that was corrupted by the prosperity teaching. He devoured the “name-it-claim-it” literature uncritically. He was convinced and preached that children of God will not die before they reach 70, never die in an accident, will not fall sick, etc. He used to drive at high speed since he believed that he will not die in accident. However, at a very prime youth he died in a car accident leaving behind his young wife and two children proving all that he claimed and preached were wrong. Sadly, the proof was his death.

Historically, Christian church believed that people have to be prepared to go! The Last Unction or its equivalents in various traditions were saying bye to the dear ones and encouraging those who are dying to look forward to a life beyond the grave. That great tradition is wiped out and replaced by a mind-set of rebellious refusal to go! It is that rebellion manifested in the form of healing ministries without discernment that should go if we want to see more people “finishing well.”

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Waterproof Bible

The Duckback (a trademark) raincoats were a craze in my school days. As its name makes it clear, the coats made of waterproof material rolls the water just like water doesn't make a duck's back wet. I had water proof watches, the manufacturers claimed you can wear underwater (scuba diving, snorkeling); but I did not go that deep but tried it while swimming. However, during my recent visit to Christian bookstore in the city, I came across a rare exhibit: The Waterproof Bible!

What is the Waterproof Bible for? For scuba-divers, swimmers, surfers, white water-rafters? Do they have enough time to read the bible while their mind is on their activities? Are they down there to read the Bible or to watch the corals and fish? The manufacturers doesn't have any suggestions regarding its possible uses. However, they suggest a catch-all use: it is safe to take it outdoor without the fear of being spoiled by water. I understand that, on a rainy Sunday morning, when you run from the car park to the church building you can even hold it over your head to protect you from rain. When you get to the church foyers just wipe it on your trousers. You can read it holding a cup of coffee in the other hand without the fear of the coffee spilling over it. The pages are printed on synthetic waterproof material, the manufacturer says on the cover.

Great idea! A bible for outdoors! Wait a second, is not what the Bible meant for?

The Bible has been a indoor book for centuries. The Jews venerated the Torah and followed the rabbinic traditions. They had it rolled up around gold-plated handles and kept inside jackets. It was taken out from the room where it was kept with great reverance and handed over to the reader very carefully on the Sabbath in the Synagogues. After the reading it was returned to its place again ceremonially with reverence. It was kept away from contact with anything that may make it unclean. Some Jewish sects took it once in a year on the festival of the Revelation of Torah. They took it out to the street in a procession, but still carefully covered and guarded.

That is what the Christian church did with the Bible as well. It was kept in door, away from the people for its message was intended. Until William Tyndale, Martin Luther and other reformers, the ordinary people never had a chance to see what the Bible look like. It belonged to the monasteries and church altars. It was in languages that common people did not understand.

However, the situation changed almost five hundred years ago. Tyndale put in the commoners tongue and he had to pay for it with his life. Martin Luther and many others did the same and the work goes on. The Bible is available now in all the major languages of the world.

Bible is for common use, Saint Paul had told Timothy long back. It should be read by everyone who can read and afford to have a copy or read to those who can't read or have access to it. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Tim 4:13 ESV).

What was public reading of the reading in the early centuries like?

It has to be taken out to street corners and coffee shops. I remember preaching in a street corners when I was hardly thirteen! That was part of the training elders of my Bible-loving church insisted that boys (growing up to serve the Lord) should have. They went preaching in the streets almost every Sunday. Then when I grew up I had a Soul Winners Bible, which helps one to lead a friend from Bible verses to another which talks about human depravity to salvation through Christ. Finally, comes the point when you lead the friend to Christ and you prayed the sinners prayer together. So we had to take the Bible to coffee shops, hostel rooms and any place where two people can sit together.

Carrying a copy of the Bible was a mark of an identity for the members of the Christian community that I grew up in. We clutched our Bible proudly as we walked to the Bus stop to catch the bus to church or Sunday School in view of the people in our neighborhood. It was a proud statement that I am a Bible-believing Christian. It meant a lot in a world where Christians who did not take Bible seriously abounded.

The Bible has gone through changes in is physical appearance in the process it has become more fit for the out-door. From the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written to the leather scrolls was a big change. Then, from the rolled leather to bound papyrus sheets was another huge change. From there on to paper and then to the printed books and now on synthetic waterproof material. Somewhere in between it came on computer media: floppies, CD's and Online. Instead of public reading to communities gathered around in candle lights now we have dramatized audio-Bibles. It is not sheets of paper bound together but an app on our our mobiles and digital devices. It is now more portable, user-friendly (one doesn't have to know the order of the books to locate a passage), and the audio one makes us multi-tasking (listen to it while you drive or having a foam bath in the bathtub!).

It was expensive to buy a copy of the Torah scroll in the ancient days. Only the rich could afford it. Only rich monasteries could have a copy of the Bible. Having a copy of the printed Bible still an expensive affair for many Christian communities. However, some of us are so fortunate, We can have one in our bath, one in our car, one in our lap-top and another on our cell phone. We don't have to carry one to church also, it will be on the screen, scrolling to the exact verses the preacher refers to.

Does this mean that we are becoming too casual about the sacred scripture? Yes, it is a possibility. Is Bible now a product too personal. Just for me? It seems so. The reformers liberated the Word of God from the specialists and gave to the commoners so that they can hear the voice of God directly through its pages. That they may grow and share it with other and make others grow in the knowledge of God.

That's what the Bible is for and as long as that purpose is served, I don't care a bible that is not waterproof. However, a waterproof one is welcome.

The Bible stands though the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands. —Lillenas.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Christian Faith as Allegiance

Christian spirituality has to do with a system of beliefs, so we tend to think. We often equate spirituality with beliefs and rituals. However, in the light of the Bible, spirituality is not something that you believe or do but something that you belong to. Let me put in another way, it is not belief but belonging.

What did Peter had to do when he left his father, the net and the boat when Jesus called him to follow him? He did not have to sit for a membership test. If he had, I am sure he would have failed! All that he had to do was to leave what he had (what belonged to him) and follow after Jesus. He was no more a man of the lake, he belonged to Jesus. Ask James, John and even Paul who came to the scene much later. They just changed their allegiance. They had to reorder their relationships and loyalties so that they belonged to Jesus.

"What shall do to be saved?" the terrified jailer of Philippi screamed at Paul and Silas? What did he mean by "being saved"? He might have Paul preaching about Jesus who is the savior of the world. He was an employee of the Roman empire and by law accepted the fact that Caesar is Lord or divine. As a Roman citizen his allegiance was to the Caesar. Paul's answer was not to believe in a system of doctrines, but "believe on the Lord Jesus". It is to accept the Lordship of Jesus which demands that he denounce the Lordship of Caesar over him.

All that the Apostle demanded from their audience was confession of sins and confessing that Jesus is Lord. They did so in absolute obedience that the Lord had given them: to make disciples. The apostolic ministry in the first century was to make followers of Jesus and not believers of Jesus.

However, this change of allegiance, like any allegiance is not devoid of a set of beliefs. They had to believe that God has sent Jesus to this world, they had to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. They had to accept the fact that all humanity are sinful and needed a savior and that savior is Jesus of Nazareth who is God. However, it is the order that matters. Their faith is primarily an allegiance to Jesus and what they had to believe was to make that allegiance and to foster it in the days to come. Belief was at the service of this allegiance and not a substitute to it.

Jesus always thought in terms of relationship; that is why he called those who put their trust in him "my sheep" and his disciples "friends".

 

Have we not reduced Christianity to a set of beliefs and have lost this dimension of our relationship with Jesus. When we imagine Christian spirituality in terms of beliefs only we don't regret about the unholy alliances that we have made with the world and its sinful system.However, Jesus demands our absolute loyalty. 

Friday, January 07, 2011

God's Bodyguards!

“THERE is a small space in which a liberal vision of Pakistan hangs on. It shrank a lot further with the murder on January 4th of a notable progressive politician and critic of religious extremism, Salman Taseer”; The Economist commented on the murder of the governor of Punjab province of Punjab (The Economist Jan 6., 2011). His crime? He spoke against the blaspemy law which is used by extremists to persecute Christians and anyone they don't like. The liberal governor spoke in support of a poor Christian woman who is facing death penalty for alleged blaspemy.

The killer who is the bodyguard of the governor jusifies his action saying, the governors opposition to the blasphemy law amount to blasphemy! The assassin was garlanded by some extremists when he was produced before the court and some extremist groups have warned that those who express condolences at the death of the governor will meet the same fate.

Blasphemy law in Pakistan was introduced by President Zia Ul Haq back in 1980 under pressure from the Islamist groups. More than 600 people were charged with blaspemy law but none of them were hanged so far. More than fifty percent of those who charged are non-Muslims. Though, nobody were hanged on a court order so far, 300 of them were murdered!

What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is, “A contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity” so goes the dictionary definition. Basically it has to do with the divine!

Blasphemy has been part of human history for quite some time. People have asserted their faith by repudiating the faith of others in the process speaking disrespectfully of their gods and sacred places and writings. No religion can claim innocence!

Christianity has a long history of being the victims and villains at the same time. As early as the first century non-Christians were blaspeming Christ. Alexamenos graffiti as it is known was engraved on the Palatine Hill in Rome by those who opposed Christians in the first century. The graffit portrayed a human like figure with the head of a donkey on a cross. There is also a figure of a young man with his hands in a posture of worship. The caption of the graffiti reads “Alexamenos worships his god”. This is a clear example of blasphemy against Christ whom the Christians in Rome worshipped. Resembling Jesus Christ to a donkey-man certainly amounts to blasphemy to Christians of those days. The history repeated many times as people denied Jesus divinity, denied his death and resurrection, made films about his temptations, his marriage and so on! Everyday, especially in the West, they use his name as a swear word!

Now, the villain part. Yes, there are Christians who responded with violence and also framed laws to protect the reputation of Jesus. For example, since 17th century there existed a law in England against blasphemy, particularly applying to the Church of England the state religion. This was used against atheists, Unitarians and the like. However, in 2008, the labour government abolished the law and the former Archbishop of Canterburry, Lord Carey whole-heartedly supported it. Though it took three centuries for the Church of England to realize that Jesus and his Church doesn't need legal protection of their reputation, it did really dawn on them finally.

There are questions for which we have to find answers. If it is the reputation of the divine that is attacked can't the divine take care of it? Does he need the protection of a human blaspemy law? When we tend to protect our gods aren't we stating how weak our gods are to protect themselves?

Burning Bushes

'And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning,...