Monday, June 21, 2010

Census and spirituality

Be it Census, Electoral roll, or date of birth certificate; Christians are called to be truthful. Many appeals have been made to give the right figures for the census, some pointing out that it wouldn’t affect the development funds. But Christians are supposed to be committed to the truth even when others aren’t. Even when the other tribe/community/family/individual benefits more than us by stating what is not true, it is the call of Christians to be committed to the truth. A wrong, just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right. Census exercise is therefore in a sense, a test of our faith. Do we cry, ‘Lord’, ‘Lord’ on Sunday mornings but do not obey him, or will we try to please him in all that we do? What will it show as a Christian witness to the rest of the country and the world that a State which has over 90% of population as Christians has the most inflated census in the country?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Observe, Read, Think, Live

Observe: ‘Look at the birds of the air’, ‘look at the lilies of the field’; the Bible exhorts. It pays to be observant, and it is exciting too. Just a scoop of earth on careful observation shows that there is a world in that small mass. Watching a plant grow is medicinal as we marvel at how a simple seed falling and dying germinates and grows into a giant tree. The observant photographer captures frames that we might have simply ignored and convert them into sights of great delight. A researcher carefully observes phenomena and makes connections where we saw none.
Read: There are books that I have literally kissed after having read them. There are so few things that can be more enriching to the mind and soul than a good book. It is not enough to intellectually survive by feeding on newspapers and text books in the syllabus. Students need to read other good books. Book selection is very important. Some books are to be read simply to be critiqued, some to be digested and meditated upon. Peer reviews and Publisher names are considerations that will come with experience.
Think: when the Bible says, ‘look at (or consider) the birds of the air’, the Bible scholars tell us that it doesn’t only mean, ‘turn your eyes towards the birds of the air’, but also, ‘think deeply about it and learn from it’. The image of a thinking person many people have is a university professor or some eccentric intellectual tadpole (a big head and nothing much else). Twenty20 cricket, micro-blogging like twitter, facebook status update, sms; all of these may be indicators that we either have no time or too short attention spans. We want our lessons in bullets than in long descriptive passages. We have books like, Quick Sermon Notes for Busy Pastors, and hear of ‘googled’ assignment papers. There is no time to sit quietly and think deeply. Fifty people over the age of 95 were asked what they would do differently if they were given another chance to live all over again. One of the most common answers is, ‘I would have reflected more’. Think about what is meaningful and what is not, what is lasting and what is not; think things in the light of eternity. “Whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things”. Phi 4:8
Live: ‘How long have you lived?’ Tony Campolo would ask his students. He would object if students tell their age. Their biological age is how long they have breathed and their hearts have pumped blood. He then would go on to narrate his story. When he was a small kid in school, he visited the Empire State Building. Like any other young kid, he was playing around until he suddenly stopped when it dawned on him that he was at the top and the whole city lies below him. He sucked into the city below all around him and he felt so alive. Even if he’d live a million years, he says that moment would be one that he will always remember. That moment was when he truly lived. He then would turn to the students and asked, “Now, how long have you lived?” Many of us live in regrets of the past and anxieties of tomorrow that we are not really alive to/in the present. But the same passage about the lilies and the birds in Matthew 5 tells us not to worry. Our heavenly Father provides for these creatures which neither sow nor spin and we are of much greater worth than they. ‘I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full’. John 10:10

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sharing at youth service, 29th May, 2010

It’s always a relief to hear the speaker say in the beginning, “I’m not going to speak for long”. I proclaim that good news to you as I begin to speak. But in this short sharing, I want you to pay careful attention because in simple sentences, there are deeper messages embedded that I’ll be trying to get across to you. For the sake of brevity, the points are almost given in bullets and elaboration is needed. Therefore this hand out is prepared for further reflection and fleshing out of the points. It’s good to be with you. I’m thankful to be back for good after more than a decade of stay outside. I’m thankful to God for he has been with me throughout my journey of life-from Patkai, to Imphal, to Delhi, and now here back in our hometown. As we look at Nagaland today, or our town Pfutsero; we see that there are many believing Christians, but so few practising Christians. God is often on our lips, but we struggle to find any Christ-like character. We pray, ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not obey what he says. At the public level, let’s take an example of the Naga issue. We want peace and justice. We all love peace and we want it so badly in our society. But we have been looking for the wrong kind of peace. We want ‘our’ peace regardless of whether it is ‘theirs’ as well. Peace-loving is easy but peace-making is difficult. Jesus says, ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ and not ‘blessed are the peace-lovers’. The justice that we demand is not different from what the Bible describes as ‘an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’. We want perfect retribution (without realizing we have dust in our own eyes) and there is no place for forgiveness. If we ask for a ‘just’ punishment of the wrongdoer and we get what we rightfully deserve, there will be no place for forgiveness, as Yale Professor Miroslav Volf argues. In fact there will be no need for forgiveness- nothing left to forgive- as the price is being paid perfectly. But that is not what the Bible teaches of justice and forgiveness. Even before our enemy falls on her knees and beg us, even before she realises her wrongdoing, we are asked to forgive. Truth and justice that we seek; if without love and forgiveness, is to disobey the Bible teaching. The recent Mao gate incident raises serious doubts of us Nagas being known as a Christian majority people. It is difficult to disentangle the propaganda being spread from what actually happened at Mao gate and from reasons behind it or the core issues. The situation is messy and this is not the place to discuss details. Some things which appalled me are; the amount of bitterness and hatred that we have inside us, as I see the comments flooding the internet after the incident; the hypocrisy of call for prayer and cry for Meitei blood both in the same sentence; church elders spearheading the vandalism of Manipur Bhavan at Delhi, and easily buying any news story that suits our purpose. In more peaceful times, we talk about loving our neighbour. But in a time of crisis like this, the second greatest commandment of the Bible flew out of the window. At a more personal/private level, ‘money’, ‘sex’, and ‘power’ have become things of our deepest desire (The three words NT scholar N.T Wright often uses). People loosely say, ‘it’s difficult to stay spiritual with an empty pocket’. But our society has neither seen such amount of money nor such level of spiritual deprivation as our times. Sexual purity before marriage has become something to be joked at. Sex scandals similar to stories in ‘Crime and Detective’ magazine have started to surface. Connections with people in power have become a requisite to move files in the government offices. We pray one of our own will rise to power and lift us up. I’m not a pessimist, as Tony Campolo describes, “some joyless people who would complain even if they were in heaven”. There are many cynics in intellectual circles who are experts in critically analyzing the world’s situation, and we need them. But what hope for the world do they offer? And what is the true Christian alternative? I invite you to an alternative lifestyle, which ought to happen to every Christian at the time of conversion, what sociologist Peter Berger calls as ‘alteration of personality’, even (what Richard B Hays calls) ‘the conversion of the imagination’. I want you to commit your life over to Jesus Christ in full time service, whatever form that ‘service’ may take. When we say ‘full time’, we think of people who have gone to Bible College. That is not true. John Stott points out that the book of Acts recorded that serving food is also called ‘ministry’ as is preaching the gospel. There are neither part-time Christians nor part-time workers. All of us are called to full time service. The antidote to our society’s ills is to give ourselves in service to others in obedience to Christ. There, we will find the greatest joy and the most fulfilling sensation. In a time when there is no ‘enough’ to our wants, Jesus calls us to give ourselves away and enjoy the thrill of trusting in him who feeds the sparrows of the air and decorates the lilies of the field. As I am a doctor, you may say that it’s easy for me to speak this way because I have social prestige and economic potential to back me up. But I tell you from experience that it’s like a cold war zone within the medical fraternity and with lots of discontented, anxious and depressed people. It’s the same for any other department; people climb the social ladder in search of happiness and lo! It isn’t up there as well. The cost of following Christ may be heavy but the reward is greater, yes, even when we are on this earth. Following Christ may cost dearly to family and loved ones. Parents have good plans for their children and it may be pleasing to God. But when God’s purpose contradicts our parents’ wishes, who do we obey? Jesus says to the one who wishes to bury his father first, “follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead”. Matthew 10: 37 says, "The one who loves his father or mother more than me isn't worthy of me, and the one who loves a son or daughter more than me isn't worthy of me”. In many families, family concerns take first priority and God is pushed further down the list. God talk becomes a flavour that we add to the plans that we have already chalked out for self and family. Service to God becomes an activity to be engaged in spare time. Serving others can be the most liberating experience that any Christian can have. There can be no better medicine for one’s sadness/worries than to bring joy to someone in need. This joy is available to those who say, I will stop dancing around the golden calves of money, sex, and power, and dance to a different drumbeat (the heartbeat of Christ). I will stop participating in the rat race of one-upmanship (trying to be one step ahead of the other) and instead, serve my fellow human beings. I will run a different race for the price Christ set before me. Young people often ask, “what is God’s calling for my life?” More simply, “which career should I take...what type of job...what should I do with my life?” We have to remember that before we are called to do something or go somewhere, we are called to Someone. It is Jesus Christ who calls us and we respond to that call and follow him. Whatever we do follows from obedience to that call (Os Guinness’ definition of Calling). Before we are called to do, we are called to be. We are called to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. After having known the Caller through maintaining right relationship with him; we should be able to find what he has called us to do. Many people look for signs if what they plan to do is really God’s will. However, hearing a voice from heaven or seeing a vision is not the general way God reveals his plans to his children. When we continually feed on his Word and we grow to become more and more like him, and we discover the gifts/talents and interests/desires planted in our hearts, we will be able to say, “Yes, this is it; this is what God has called me to do”.....................................Dr. Sao Tunyi (I mentioned the names of authors I quoted specifically for your future reference as I found them to be helpful and reliable. If you find books written by them in the bookstores, grab them!!)