Monday, January 18, 2010

A call to anger

This article was written for CBCC Youth Talent contest, Jan 2010, and magazine of Chakhesang Students Union, Patkai Christian College, Silver Jubilee celebration, February 2010

In a society where everyone is a Christian nobody knows what it means to be a Christian. Jacques Ellul
I am glad to have a friend who left the prospect of a six figure job for a cause which our society will not easily understand. He chose a path of foolishness out of a deeper conviction. He didn’t chase after unpopularity, but it came to him as he violated the norms of our society’s aspirations. He turned his back on a lucrative career when he realized that the road he was taking was only leading him to sell off his brain to the highest bidder in the market. Ask IIM/IIT Christian students; how many of them have plans to use their knowledge to serve people in obedience to God? So many of them have dreams of earning lakhs per month, owning oversized cars and mansions, and marrying beauty queens or guys with inexhaustible source of income. Some may argue that there’s nothing wrong with that as they earned it with the sweat from their own brows. It’s just a job for the money and they don’t mind if they have auctioned their brains to the Multi National Corporation who will pay them the most; to do works which will meet corporate greed and suck lives out of poor nations. Clinical research is today, one of the best earning career options. But what do they mostly do? They do research on drugs for fertility, impotence, obesity or lifestyle diseases to serve the West which have little use for the poorer countries where major health problems are infectious diseases and malnutrition. These clinical trials are done on children and women of the developing world with serious health risks, thus, serving as guinea pigs for other human beings of a ‘higher order’. Recently, India has overtaken China as the number one destination for drug trials.
I seriously doubt if our IAS aspirants have a different aspiration. We pray for their success so that they will one day help our people. ‘Help’ and ‘our’ can be quite problematic if we question, what type of ‘help’ and who are ‘our’ people? An example is the development of a minister’s village and its people at the expense of God and some people know what. That only becomes a problem when ‘help’ does not reach us and we are not ‘his’ people. So, we pray for a successful candidate to come out from among us to ‘help’ ‘our’ people. It’s disturbing the way we celebrate success. We seem to be OK with the above job descriptions so long as these people give tithes, donate to church projects, and quite a bonus if they don’t mess around in their private lives. In our preaching, we are careful not to hurt their sentiments.
It reminds me of the rich young man who came to Jesus. This encounter must be a significant one as it found its way to the first three (synoptic) gospels except John’s, which we know has a very different take on who Jesus was and is. The rich young man seems to be saying to Jesus today, ‘I have been regular in church, I sincerely pay my tithe, I have not broken any church discipline; overall, I have been a good guy’. Jesus would still look at him with love and say, ‘go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor...then come and follow me’. Now, we may rationalize Jesus’ command to sell off his property to actually mean, love of money. Although Jesus meant ‘love’ of money and not money per se (and he mentioned elsewhere that it is a root of all evil); I don’t think he actually told the young man, ‘you can have your money, simply have a change of heart and follow me’. There’s no going around the clear command of Jesus to sell off his material belongings, give to the poor and follow him. I don’t know if our churches encourage and pray for our youths to become like the rich young man that Jesus had pity on. Vinoth Ramachandra of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) - international counterpart of the Union of Evangelical Students of India (UESI), popularly known as EU where many of us are involved- said that our so-called Christian values may be nothing but simply ‘middle class Asian values’.
We do not have caste system, but we have class hierarchies, and our society is increasingly becoming unequal. It doesn’t require a Marxist to realize that the common people are being systematically exploited by a few in privileged positions. Living at Pfutsero, I have firsthand accounts of vegetable cultivators being exploited by vegetable businesswomen. There’s a joke that ‘job cards’ of the MGNREGA has become ‘job cars’ which have made the roads in Churachandpur streets unsafe for kids because of speeding. Our award winning Communitisation initiative of the government, which was meant to empower the local people, has turned into developing a new class of local village level elites. Who benefits from the reservation seats of the backward tribes but privileged Eastern Naga or Chakhesang kids settled in Kohima or Dimapur? Like all creation, these policies of empowering the weak are good, yet stained with Sin. What is the rationale for our ‘Dhum’ ‘Dham’ Jubilee and wedding celebrations? One important meaning of Jubilee celebration in the Bible was to forgive debt while ours end in debt to pay for years. Pompous wedding galas put pressure on poorer members to measure up to society’s honourable standards and spend money disproportionate to their economic conditions. Christmas is a target for bakeries, designer clothes, telecom companies, etc. as peak season for business. This commercialization of Christmas and the festive celebrations are hailed as desirable; consumerist behaviour being encouraged as a sign of prosperity and goodwill to fellowmen (to oneself actually). Good Friday and Easter are embarrassingly low key affairs. We don’t seem to be as happy that Jesus rose again as that he was born!
These are only a few examples. Anyone of us can quickly count in one’s finger the major evils that replete our society today, and I’m not here to enumerate them. But what troubles me more in all of these is the question, ‘Why can’t we hear the voice of the Christians?’ A press release condemning an act of rape seems to suffice as a Christian response to the evil.
We say we are Christians. But we resort to ‘Born-again’, ‘Bible Believing’, or ‘Spirit-filled’ in order to identify ‘genuine’ Christians as if there can be Christians apart from those characteristics who we so-call ‘nominal’ Christians. We should do away with this categorization so that what is left is either we are Christians or we are not. Maybe we have become confused being a Christian with being a good Naga. Maybe we should stop thinking in terms ‘Nagaland is a Christian state’ or ‘Nagaland for Christ’ (thus, reducing Christianity to a civil religion where everyone born there is presumed to be a Christian) so that Christians can stand out as Christians which we will find is not the same as being a good Naga. This is not to fall into the other extreme of living in a spiritual bubble; being ignorant of our history, cultureless individuals, people without identity, swayed by the wind of the times; which our elders rightly accuse us of. There has been a lot of research work visiting our history. We are thankful to the American missionaries for bringing us the Good News. But research shows that conversion to Christianity demanded the Nagas to give up a lot of their indigenous practices. The missionaries didn’t know that they brought along their own cultural and historical baggage. We still have to grapple with the difference between becoming a Christian and becoming westernized.
The early church in the book of Acts has wonderful lessons for us in this. The early church, not out of a mission strategy, but because of persecution spread out in the Mediterranean region. Wherever they went, they preached the Good News. This threw up challenging issues as they try to make sense of the gospel to non-Jewish people with different history and culture. The proclamation, “Jesus is ‘Lord (kyrios)’” could have been misunderstood for ‘a cult god’, ‘Caesar’, or simply ‘Sir’. For these gentile converts be attached to the history of Israel and call Abraham ‘father’ and become people of the covenant without having to become a Jew or be circumcised, but simply by faith in Jesus Christ was unimaginable for the people of the Torah. The engagement of the gospel with the Hellenistic culture did not result in the dilution of the gospel, but the conversion of the Greek speaking world. Those people who have been turning the world upside down have come to our town, some Ephesians shouted out. Being Christians throw up exciting and challenging engagements with our culture. It will transform our society as it did with the early church. We have Christianized our society but not in the way the Bible commands. The church instead of being the community and the voice of God accommodates, legitimizes and perpetrates the society’s ways. Maybe from scratch, we should begin to learn to be Christians all over again.
Anger is not a virtue. But the God of the Bible is often found to be angry; angry, most often, at his beloved Israel. In fact, the God of the Bible also has a typical ‘wrath’. It is a terrible thing to fall under the wrath of God, the Bible says. He hates Injustice, Oppression, Corruption, Bribery, Murder, Rape, Extortion, Hypocrisy, etc. May God fill us with anger, so that we will rise up to the things that break the heart of God and be known as Christians.
This call for anger is not without hope. Without hope, there would be no will, no energy to fight. Meditation on the present condition of the world has led people to mental depression. Even Christians resort to escapist theologies like fascination for doomsday predictions and seek after a kind of spiritual enjoyment detached from reality. But not so in Christ, who not only loved the world, but becoming incarnate and put on human flesh, died in it, and so to redeem it through his resurrection. We fight not as a people hopelessly taking on an indomitable force and without a smile on our face. In Christ, pain is not without hope and joy is found in obedience. The Bible is a story about God’s good creation, gone bad/fallen, which is redeemed, the perfection of which we eagerly wait to see. This is the story we live in, living in the in-between. As we pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’, we proclaim the redemption of God in Christ as it extends from individuals to societies, nations and the entire cosmos.
Suggested readings:
• ‘Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony’ by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Duke Divinity School, Abingdon Press.
• ‘Conversion and Cultures’, by Vinoth Ramachandra, TRACI, Delhi, 27 March, 2003. More details in his books, ‘Faiths in Conflict’ and ‘The Message of Mission’.
• Unofficial website of Bishop of Durham and New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright
• ‘Idols of our time’ by Bob Goudzwaard, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.