Friday, December 23, 2011

Don’t ask me to take bath at Pfutsero this winter


 
I will climb Glory Peak for you

I will walk from Rukizu to Seed Farm just to meet you

I will carry a basketful of cabbages from Mali Farm to Bazaar just to feed you

From the top of Porba Hotel building I will proclaim my love for you

But please, please don’t ask me to take bath at Pfutsero this winter       

Merry Christmas everyone

Bible Reading for Christmas (Isaiah 11:1-9)

If you want to get a book to read on Christmas and you have been all too familiar with the gospel narratives in the New Testament, you need not go Christmas shopping again (although it is a curiosity how many people visit the book store during Christmas). All you have to do is turn back the pages of your Bible to the book of Isaiah. The book is full of Jesus Christ although it was written 6-8 centuries before the birth of Christ. I have a number of passages that I really, really love but here's the passage from chapter 11 which  is my Bible Reading for this Christmas.

Isaiah 11: 1-9 

The Branch From Jesse

 1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
   from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
   the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
   the Spirit of counsel and of might,
   the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
   He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
   or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
   with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
   with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
   and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
This is what Heaven will look like
 6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
   the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
   and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
   their young will lie down together,
   and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
   and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
   on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
   as the waters cover the sea. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is too much Music and Dance making us stupid?

I have been working on an article for local newspapers which I have tentatively titled as ‘Is too much Music and Dance making us stupid?’ It is a difficult piece to write. There are pieces of thoughts scattered all around and I haven’t been able to put them down coherently just yet. The State Hornbill Festival had just finished and Christmas is round the corner. So, it is a good time to get it out soon.

In this article, I’d like to give a critique of how the present generation is fixated to music and other forms of entertainments which I believe is distracting us from being aware of the more pressing issues in the society. In this information age when what’s happening in a distant land can be known here and now as it unfolds, second by second, and there is a flood of information in the net which is just clicks away; there is also a form of ignorance which is pandemic: We have missed out on the basics of education. So many of our students can’t write or speak basic sentences. They use SMS text formats to cover up. So many students do not have basic grammar knowledge and they commit silly spelling mistakes. While they are aware of the latest twists and turns in the private lives of Hollywood celebrities, they are ignorant of their neighbors living next door. In a recently conducted entrance exam where students from Class 10+2 and above appeared, many of them do not know how to construct sentences with words like Envelop, Principal, Deed, and so on. Only 9 out of 46 students in one room got it right that there are 66 books in the Bible. Some even don’t know how many districts are there in Nagaland, or which town the District Headquarter of Peren is. With computers and the internet, we have lost the art of reading comics, magazines and books. Besides the academic text books I wonder how many of our students read.

We live in an age of quick fixes and instant gratification. We need to be entertained 24x7 lest we die of boredom. Chris Hedges says that celebrity culture is so pervasive that one is made to feel as if one is living in a movie in which one is the main star. Or that life is one big reality show. Celebrities are projected as the ultimate objects of desire and that anyone can achieve that status. We live in this make-believe world and mistake it to be the real.

Nagas have become attracted to neon lights and their lives are becoming plastic. The State has so much bought into celebrity culture and the present government blatantly promotes and sponsors immoral behaviors that come with it. The leaders may wash off their hands saying morality is an individual’s choice. But how many young lives are going down because of the governments’ decisions? The Church also remains a mute spectator and sometimes even wallows in its own sin. The moral cost of such State Sponsored indulgence week as the Hornbill Festival needs to be counted. The festival per se may be a good thing. But there need to be an ‘enough’; some kind of regulation and limit. If there is a moral scale to gauge governments, I’m sure the present one wouldn’t score very high. Chances are it may go down in history as the most immoral ever. And as the German churches during the Nazi rule, the present Naga churches too may go down as the generation which didn’t speak out in the face of evil, but even colluded with it.

Recommendations: (will expound later)
1. Solitude
2. Moderation
3. Habit of reading

Your inputs please

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Would have I done the same?

It is half past midnight and I can’t sleep. I have just come back from an incident where two thieves were caught and beaten by some village youths. I heard my tribe being insulted, falsely blamed and shamed because the two thieves happen to be from my community. They were beaten, tied, and one was stripped half naked. The road side was stained with blood.

The two were caught for stealing vehicle parts. I wasn’t there when the beating took place but I was told that they were beaten for denying to have committed the act. They admitted that they were guilty. But what was to unfold after that affected me so deeply that I couldn’t sleep. So, I switched on the light again and turned on my laptop to write my thoughts.

The thieves are thieves; they are lawbreakers who need to be caught, put on trial, and be punished. We have policemen to catch them and lawyers to put them on trial and pass sentences according to the book. But what about some young hot blooded members of an NGO who take the law into their own hands, thrash criminals, then still talk about giving punishment to the criminals according to the law of the land? Who is more guilty now? It is more dreadful to fall into their hands than the police. You won’t get a fair trial and the trial begins after severe thrashing.

The police arrived late as usual. They were sent back by the youths saying they will resolve it. They went. What need is there for police or lawyers when some hot blooded guys control the society? Then, someone hurled insults at the thieves, then on their community. This guy then put the blame of car robberies on the whole community. He raised his voice to say that by the grace of God, one car thief was caught recently, who also happen to be from the community as the present ones. ‘What is happening to the community?’ He asks.

One guy asked the thieves for the truth, ‘aren’t you also Christians?’ One of them nodded. He asks them to confess and reveal all the past robberies that they have committed. They answered that this was the second time.

The Police came again, but by then, it was decided that someone close to the thieves take the risk and let them go home for the night. The case will be discussed some other day. Some guys from the NGO told the thieves to be thankful that their hands and legs are not broken. One of them couldn’t stand on his feet and had to be propped as he limped to the vehicle.

If the thieves were from some other community, or if I happen to be from the community of the NGO, would have I reacted differently? Would have I done the same? In my own place, have my people been treating outsiders similarly? Perhaps, Yes. My heart sinks to think of this, that I may be less sensitive if such things were suffered by some other community. More subtle but the same; I have been guilty many times of stereotyping others, generalizing to some community by looking at some individual. It is also sobering to think, ‘Will my impression of the other community members who thrashed two of my fellow members be the same again? Will I be able to love them as much as myself?’ My answer is: If not for the cross of Christ, I can’t. But because of the power of the cross, God will help me to forgive and love. That is the only power I have.

And Oh, to think how we abuse the name of God! Not knowing our hands are stained, we point fingers at others with God on our lips. I feel that God is closer to those two thieves whose guilt is before their very eyes than those people who thrash people and demand for the truth. It was as though the story of the woman caught in adultery, found in the gospels of the Bible was played out. Thieves are thieves, and there was no way to defend their act. But how innocent are those who claim to be clean and hurl punches and insults?

Monday, November 28, 2011

A visit to Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

Migratory birds from Australia, Siberia, Sri Lanka, Canada, etc

I visited Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary last Saturday after attending one training at CMC Vellore. If you want to know about the bird sanctuary, search in Google and you’ll get more information than the ‘Vedanthangalites’. There are photos in Google Image and videos in Youtube too. But nothing can compare to the experience of actually visiting the place. 

Info. Click to enlarge and read
So, why I write here is not to give information about the place. As I tried to write this piece yesterday, I kept going to Wikipedia to see what the distance from Chennai is, when it was declared a sanctuary, and so on. But I thought again. If people need such information, they can use Google. So, while I may make use of such background information which may enhance the experience, I will write my story. That’s the beauty of writing. Whatever you write, you need not worry if someone has already written a book on it. No one will write it like you do. 

The bird droppings mixed with the lake water is believed to act as fertilizer
Three days before my visit, I didn’t know that a place called Vedanthangal exists. During the training at CMC, one guy recommended me to visit it since the training was finishing on Friday and my flight was on Sunday. So, I left Vellore on Friday evening and stayed at a hotel in Pallavaram. Early the next morning, I caught a bus for Chingelput, where I had breakfast. The bus ride was easy. It was an AC bus with less than 5 passengers. But I had a tough time looking for the bus to Vedanthangal. The sign boards were all in Tamil and it was such a filthy place.
Kancheepuram district. 75 km from Chennai
Surely we Indians have a lot to improve in hygiene and sanitation. The crowded bus I boarded was smelly I wondered what it would be like in summer with all the humidity. I wished I had taken a taxi from Chennai although that could have cost me dearly. The idea that I had about Vedanthangal as I looked from the map was that it was a fast and happening town with lots of tourists, good shops and hotels. I planned to have lunch there and try to take a taxi for my return journey. But as we took the diversion from the main road, the road was heading deeper into the jungle with no sight of human habitation. And to my surprise, there are just a couple of small shops and no hotels. 'No lunch today' I told myself. There was hardly any vehicle; forget taxi, 'how do I go back?' Have I been misled. Did the guy who recommended Vedanthangal actually visited it himself or he simply heard about it?

   Since 18th Century..declared a Bird Sanctuary in 1972
 I asked where the bird Sanctuary is; by then doubting if there is even a sanctuary. There was a counter to book tickets. 'Hmmm. So at least there is something to see'. As I entered the gate, there were sign boards of birds but still no sight of any real bird. 'Will I ever see one?' I don’t have a binocular and I don’t have trained eyes to spot and name any bird. 'Have I wasted my time coming here?' There was no human being in sight and I felt like a fool. Then I spotted one white one. After a few seconds ahead, some more. Then, my God, lo and behold, there were so many birds and my heart jumped!! Oh my goodness, there were so many of them. 'I have not been fooled. I’m blessed'.

I rushed up the watch tower and there it was, Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, spread out for me. For me. I was clicking and clicking. That was when I realized that a 5 optical zoom camera isn’t good enough even if it boasts of having 16 megapixels in a low budget camera. I decided, 'No pictures for a moment. Let it sink in'. 'Internalize the beauty that is there before you', I told myself. It was a spiritual experience.

Ornithologists' Paradise. Area of about 30 hectares
There were a few people at the watch tower. One was a professional photographer. I asked to see the pictures he took and used his binocular. I could zoom in to one bird at a time. I wished I could identify the species. That could have meant so much more.

One visitor asked me to stay till evening because that is when much more will come home to sleep. Another asked me to come in December because that is the best time to visit. But I didn’t miss much I believe as the season to visit is said to be from November to March.

Most importantly, I got what I went there for: 
I saw and felt Beauty
Remarkable: the villagers' concern for the birds


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Write, write, and write if you want to be a writer

OK. I have been keeping aside writing for a while. Good or bad, I now plan to keep this blog running. I say I love writing and think about it constantly; even read about it. But to become a writer, there’s no way to become one but to write.

What has been keeping me from writing? First and not the most important, is work. Due to the Scrub Typhus outbreak in Nagaland, I have been very busy: travelling, reading about it, compiling data and analyzing it, and so on. Right now also I’m busy attending a training course in Vellore. But that is not to say that I don’t get time to write.

Another reason and a more important one is laziness mixed with restlessness. To write requires a calm mind and a lazy mind strangely is seldom calm.

Also why I put off writing is because I always try to write masterpieces, not that I have ever written one. I want my writings to be very good which many times keep me from starting. I think this shouldn’t be. 

To keep a writing project on hold in the middle can be quite de-motivating as well. I have two writing projects which aren’t going anywhere. Sometimes it may be unavoidable, but as far as possible, finish up, then go start a new one.

Ah, and another reason that I am reluctant to admit but have to is, Internet. Particularly, facebook. Once the laptop is on, I can’t control my hands from connecting the internet. There are hundreds of precious reading materials that I have stored in my laptop over the years, but the internet keeps me from reading those. So, not just writing, my reading has been severely affected by the internet. The internet has also cut my book reading time tremendously. And why am I in facebook that long when there isn’t anything to do there anymore? Even as I am writing this, I have logged in to facebook. So, here I go…..I have logged out of facebook. I hope that is a good starter.

You see. I had nothing in my mind to write about as I started (I was only surfing the internet and checking facebook as usual) and in just a few minutes, now I have an article which is worth posting in my blog. Just a little discipline can do wonders. Oh that I have it more often. Please let this be a fresh start. You too, whoever is reading this…

God bless

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mon Trip


 We filled our tanks, 23rd October, 6:30 AM











And made this shopkeeper happy by doing his jatara for the day





We traveled miles through tea gardens of Assam




While we waited for our friends in the RRT gypsy car who got lost, we visited these maidams, the tombs of the great Ahom kings and queens



This lovely couple also came and took some pictures of each other


 This beautiful tree at Sonari, Assam is a landmark for one Muslim Hotel where they cook delicious Beef meat. We considered packing some meat in the vaccine carrier which has ice packs, but dropped the idea as the carrier contains precious blood samples





Beautiful waterfalls, just before Mon.




The ADC guest house where we camped





 Loud and clear, showing in which part of the world we are




 Preliminary discussions and preparations the night before the investigation




 Dr. Kevi tried the safety precaution wears





A Morung at Wakching, destination village




This was Civil Hospital before the 2nd World War. It was a nostalgic moment for our team member Dr. Kevi Sekhose as his grandpa worked here in thooose days





 The Wakching Primary Health Centre of today, sadly not so much improvement since the one before WW II




The drinking water source. One of the suspected source of infection for the disease outbreak under investigation.



ENPO has been demanding separate statehood for the four Districts of Mon, Tuensang, Longleng, and Kiphire



 This Dr. SMS claims to have permanent treatment for Sex, Dental, etc.



      The glory of Wakching




 Back to Mon town. The town has a considerable no. of thatched houses along with many fine concrete buildings



On our way back, friends bought Rs. 3000 worth of this..................................



 In Nagaland, whichever part we go, there is deforestation. This is a serious concern





Not often...when the one behind the camera gets to come in front of it

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bonsai

The huge Juniper tree in front of my house at Kikruma village is legendary. My grandparents used its shade as home. It also served as home for ghosts where they raised their young ones. Now, I want to make dwarf plants (Bonsai) out of it. (Strictly speaking, Dwarf plant is not a synonym of Bonsai)

I have been reading about Bonsai for some years. My interest in Bonsai began when I went to a plant exhibition in Imphal around 2003-2004.  It is time I put into practice what I have read.

Juniper trees are said to be ideal plants for growing Bonsai, but it’s hard to find Juniper saplings. So, I have to manage with cuttings. I took around 20 cuttings each from the two juniper varieties that were available at home. Out of about 40 cuttings, only 2, one from each variety survived and developed roots. That’s a success, actually. These are the two.
 
 My mom already had these other 2 saplings (below); again from cuttings.  So, here we are, set to begin. Keep a close look at the pictures and see the transformation as more pictures of the same plants will be uploaded in the future.


This (below) is all the way from the top of 2nd Saramati Mountain in Myanmar border. It’s a variety of Rhododendron which is different from the ones we get at home. The villagers (Thanamir village) told me that flowers are not just red or white. It’s multicolored. Time will tell if that is true. Actually there were two saplings, but my uncle stole one (taken without permission). To grow Bonsai out of these may be tricky. 

 

















 Finally, Here’s a natural Bonsai that my brother Aveo brought from the village. I say ‘Natural’ because it wasn’t pruned artificially to be a Bonsai, but simply a stunted plant found in the backyard.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Squalor we live: In search of a ‘Theology of Sanitation’

Published in Eastern Mirror as 'We are a dirty people...'
Nagas look different, eat different, and behave different from mainland Indians, but if there is a similarity between the two, it is that we are both dirty peoples. A sense of cleanliness does not come with university education. This conclusion I arrived at as I see the PhD scholars’ eating behavior in my hostel mess hall. This was an interesting observation as I was doing my studies in Public Health and had the honor of eating with Masters, Mphil and PhD students from various disciplines at JNU, New Delhi. Some of them would ‘plough’ through their plate like a paddy field while some would eat with both feet ‘perched’ like birds on the benches. No amount of teaching could make them throw used paper cups into the dustbins just 6 feet away.
Also a sense of cleanliness does not come with increase in wealth. Many poor families do not have the ‘luxury’ of running taps in their homes while the rich can have surplus to water their backyard gardens. So it is expected that the rich are cleaner, and of course they are. But I also see people throwing banana peels and paper cups out of their SUV car windows into well paved roads, or having parked their car, I see them emptying their bladders on street corners.

The most defining observation of our sense of cleanliness is the fact that India has more cell phones than toilets.

Back in Nagaland, I won’t tell which colony, but there is a latrine in Kohima where if you empty your bowel, your waste fly a good 10 feet in open space before hitting the ground, again in open space. Looking at the fresh ones on top, I guess the family had Dal curry last night. Oh my God!! And this is not the worst. The worst is the thought that flies which have sat on those yellow slimy things might have also sat on my food. Oh my goodness!!

Personal hygiene can be taught but how do we teach cleanliness habits in public places involving public goods? An example in point can be this: I can keep my house neat and tidy, but if I dispose my dustbins by the road side, it can create a public health hazard. How do we prevent our ‘vegetarians-who-spit-blood’ from defacing our government offices? As I said before, this civic sense does not correspond with increase in education or wealth. To deter people from relieving themselves in public places, pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses are pasted in strategic places in Delhi. Should we use the picture of Jesus Christ? No Naga would chew paan and spit on a photo of Jesus.

I believe a brief explanation from history is in place. Every society goes through transitions which take decades, even hundreds of years. Let’s take locomotion as an example. Transition from invention of the wheel to steam engines to air travel has taken thousands of years. Another example is the transition from ‘tom toms’ to postal service to email which also took many years. Not just things but in other areas, say religion, from the church fathers to the papacy ‘rule’ to the Reformation to the charismatic waves to mega church movement, Christianity has come a long way. But here’s the catch, and this is not an original observation but of Prof. Dipankar Gupta: India’s experience of such transitional experiences is short- circuited. Babus who have just come out of ‘Stone Age’ meet with latest mobile phones and they just don’t have the mental set up and manner for proper use of such technology. Using examples from Cricket, Politics etc, Gupta goes on to say that India’s modernity is mistaken, though we own the newest cars, wear designer clothes and live in posh surroundings, we carry along a mental set up which is very backward.

From Gupta, now it’s my turn to see this in the public health context. Even before the discovery of cholera germs, London already had a water supply system. Fine, they didn’t know that dirty water is the source of cholera and required the genius John Snow to study and find out. Even Snow did not know as we know now that there is such a thing as bacteria; forget about antibiotics which came only in the middle of the last century. Now, about 160 years after John Snow, Kohima does not have a proper water supply or a sewage system though we have access to the latest antibiotics, even vaccines for Cholera: Lopsided progress similar to the case of mobile phones vs. toilets.

One major reason for India’s squalor is Caste. To each Caste, specific works are assigned and for the upper Castes, to do manual work is to defile themselves. You will find that those who do scavenging work all belong to some particular jatis. I remember a friend who told me his experience of sharing a latrine with a high Caste Hindu who lives in the same flat. The Hindu guy would dirty the latrine but never clean it up. My friend approached him with the issue and he replied that it is below his dignity to clean toilets. Wise that my friend is, he told him to either hire someone, or tidy up, or vacate the flat.

We Christians ought to know better. Well, did the Bible mention anything about sanitation? Let’s find out. Unlike Caste Hindus, Christians believe that each and every person reflect the image of God and has equal and unalienable worth and dignity (Gen. 1:26, Ps. 139). Work is not a curse (though meaningless repetitive toil is) as it was assigned to Adam in Genesis 2: 15 before the fall in Chapter 3, and in Christ, we are all created to do good works (Eph. 2:10). There is even the imperative that those who do not work shall not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). No task is too high or too low but God blesses all good works. I do not know Greek but commentaries say that in the book of Acts, those who wait at the tables, and so to relieve the apostles to do evangelism works, are also called ‘ministers’. To cook clean food, serve at the tables and do the dishes was also ‘ministry’. So, in whatever we do, we are to work wholeheartedly as serving the Lord and not men (Col. 3:23). This also has a lot to say about civic sense. When no human being is watching, we ought to do the right thing as we do it unto the Lord. When no human being is watching, we ought to not do what is not right before the sight of God. Dumping garbage by the road side in the cover of darkness would not please the Lord, whose vision is not blurred by any amount of darkness. Even when there is no one to praise us, if we keep sweet covers in our pockets until we find a dustbin, God is pleased. To stress the importance of what he is saying, Jesus goes to the extent of saying, ‘do not let your left hand know what your hand is doing’ (Mat 6:3). This is funny if we think of our own hands with one head. So much for a generation which desires instant celebrity status.

Regarding personal hygiene, the most oft quoted Bible passage is 1 Cor. 6: 19, 20 which says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body”. Tradition has it that the Church emphasized the importance of cleanliness and it was John Wesley who popularized the famous slogan, ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’. Amusingly, Christians were said to drink beer because of the hazards of dirty water. Of course, like the crusades, Christians have a stained history in matters of health and hygiene. Many saints and monks were said to celebrate filth as a sign of holiness and some of them didn’t wash their hands and feet for decades. They are also accused of impeding the progress of sanitary science. Along with the Greeks and others, Christians attributed all illnesses to Sin and the wrath of God. During the plague epidemic in the mid fifteenth century called the Black Death when more than half of the total population in England was wiped off and hundreds of millions died in the neighboring countries, about 900 Christian monks were reported to have died in a building complex because of insanitary living conditions. However, it is also true that progress in learning and scientific technology emerged out of Christian monasteries. This debate is beyond the scope of this article but Vishal Magalwadi argued in his book ‘Truth and transformation’ why it was the Christian monks who developed technology and not the Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims who had the advantage of history.

What about public waste and sewage treatment plants, water supply, office and residence design regulations etc? The Bible does not speak explicitly about rape, cloning, space travel, evolution, etc but there are biblical principles which are relevant to guide in all issues of our human existence. And so is the Bible for the above question. We have a God instituted government (Rom. 13:1) to whom we are to pay taxes, revenue, respect, and honor (v. 7). Jesus asked his followers to pay what is due to Caesar. The government however, also is constituted of people who are under the authority of God and are subject to blessing or judgment. Since religion became privatized to personal piety, the gospel has lost its public appeal but the message of Jesus was anything but apolitical, and it alarmed the Jewish and the Roman authorities. The government is put in place with resources, power and responsibility to work for those it governs. There are basic public health needs which cannot be provided by the individuals. Provision of clean and regular water supply is more basic and important than uninterrupted 3G internet signals though we know we need the latter as well. The government is also armed with the authority to make laws to control air and noise pollutions or food adulteration and the legitimate power to penalize defaulters. However, the tendency of people is to stretch or break the law till just before the point where they get caught. When lawmakers become lawbreakers, the government loses the moral right to penalize wrongdoers and situations like this are not unfamiliar to us anymore. Therefore when the Bible says that our battle is against rulers and authorities (Eph. 6:12), it’s not talking about forces beyond the clouds but corrupt systems and evil forces of darkness in our societies that we need to expose.

What about love for God and love for our neighbor, the two greatest commandments? We have discussed that the love of God enables us to do good even when no one is around, to respect all work as God ordained and to take care of our bodies as it is his dwelling place. Love for our neighbor enables us to look for the good of our fellow human beings and even the non-human environment. In our case here, love for our neighbor (Lev. 19:18, Mt. 22:39) should inspire us to construct our houses and toilets which does not harm our neighbor. Our love for our neighbor should drive us to work for the lesser privileged people, even in our own state. In the area where I worked before, pigs still roam freely in the villages. Though there are clean streams flowing down the mountains overhead, there is no proper water supply because the pipes are too small or leaky. Sanitary latrines are rare to find. Majority of the children have bloated abdomen, not because of overeating, but because of worm infestation and malnutrition. I hardly saw any case of Measles during my studies or practice, but there, it was a very regular encounter; and diarrheal deaths were not uncommon: diseases which thrive in insanitary conditions.

Our neighbors may not only be other people living close by (in space), neighbors can also be our future generations (neighbors in time) and we are responsible to hand over to them clean conditions to live in. Some Christians think that we have the right to drain the earth of its resources and pollute it as we will be flying away one day and this planet will be burnt to ashes. That would be the defeat of God; who delighted in his creation, sent his only Son to redeem it, yes even the non-human creation (Rom. 8:18-25), and made the promise of a new Jerusalem coming down to earth( Rev. 21). The hope of creation is not a return to the primeval Eden garden nor an escape into a disembodied realm, but a new heaven and a new earth, the garden city of New Jerusalem. In this city, there will be no more tears, no more evil, and of course, no more filth or diseases. As Christians, we are to be signposts of this hope to come.

Well, there we have a draft of what we might call a ‘Theology of Sanitation’ which might be expanded to a diploma course which Bible colleges can offer through distance education. Not quite. But this is a serious matter and we need to pool in resources to devise ways to tidy up our society.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.


My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.


He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

This is one of my favorite poems... studied it for exams in Pre-University days. Then after several years, I revisited it and thoroughly enjoyed discussing it with a friend next door in medical college. That was about 5 years ago. A few days back, I was stopped by in my life's journey to enjoy it again. I still have miles to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cruel and Extremely Funny

The football ground in one Sema village is so bad that the two goal keepers can't see each other :-).....Yesterday in the office, we were privileged to have our hands on a photocopy of an official correspondence on the matter; written by one IAS officer in the office of the Principal Secretary of the Concerned Department. 
It reads:
'The existing playground at Naghutomi (old) Atoizu Sub-division, Zunheboto district has the story of the goal keepers not seeing each other and needs to (be) rectified. In fact a new playground has to be made. Hence it is requested that allocation of fund be made for....'

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tea drinkers more likely to go to heaven (Edited)

 Thought of publishing in the local newspapers but I didn't

 There was a study conducted by the Faith Research Institute, Notown which showed that tea drinkers are more likely to go to heaven. Tea drinkers have a higher percentage of having ‘Born Again’ experience than the control group which does not drink tea. It is probably because religious people have a higher tendency to meet over a cup of tea and talk, where the gospel is preached and more people experience being ‘Born Again’.

The above study is a hypothetical study done with questionable methodology from a non-existent research institute in a non-existent place called Notown. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a research done on such a topic showing similar findings. 

One must be careful in interpreting the research findings that we see in newspapers and journals almost every day. There is already a study which found that sitting is injurious to health. In health, strictly speaking, every human activity is injurious to health. Because of ageing, even Time can be said to be injurious to health. Jogging, although proven to be beneficial, can also be injurious to health. There are bacteria and viruses lurking in the grasses which may pounce on morning joggers and infect them.

In the above hypothetical study, one may have to ask the sample size. Say, 80% of tea drinkers reported having experienced ‘Born Again’ compared to 43% among those who don’t drink tea. But if the sample size is too small, the responses of a few will significantly affect the result. In our local newspaper polls here in Nagaland, I would like to know the number of total responses and not simply how much percent said Yes or No. For any research finding to be valuable, the study population should be large enough and should be made known.

One also may question the underlying parameter of using ‘Born Again’ experience as a ticket to heaven. Hidden agendas while framing the research objectives and preconceived ideas while preparing the questionnaire can be masked in research language. You already want a particular result and you do research to prove it. The interpretation of research findings is also tilted towards that end. If we have a medicine to sell, let’s invent a disease and do some research to prove the benefits of the medicine. 

One may draw inferences out of some finding which the research is not intending to study. What if the above research is interpreted as, ‘Drinking tea causes people to go to heaven’. Then, people start to drink tea in order to go to heaven. Causality and Association are not the same. Association of two factors doesn’t mean one is causing the other. There was instance when research in Homosexuality was presented in the media, something like, ‘we have finally found the gay gene which causes homosexual behavior,’ while it was only association of factors. 

For the sake of the next question, let's say that drinking tea causes people to go to heaven. Now, the question is, 'What is the use of the research?' Will the result educate people to change behavior (start to drink tea) and shape public policies (investment in tea production) or increase human knowledge (of the properties of Tea or the concept of Heaven?) If not, what is the utility of a research linking tea drinking to going to heaven? Some researches seem to be done just for the sake of availability of research grant. Our newspapers ought to be more selective in choosing medical research findings to publish.

Fellow doctors need to be wary of many so-called research findings that pharmaceutical companies provide in the OPDs. There are reportedly so many bogus drugs and questionable claims of drug properties. They may refer to research studies published in some ‘International Journal’ but that doesn’t make them authentic. This is when Peer Review and reputation are very important. The Lancet, for example, is a reputed journal and will not publish just any study without fulfilling certain scientific criteria.

Is using mobile phone injurious to health? The answer is still not clear. Some researchers say it is harmful while others say it is not or the risk is minimal. To Telecom companies, I guess that is literally a billion dollar question. If a telecom company does a study and says it is not harmful while a study by an NGO found it to be harmful, I wouldn't be surprised. Such things do happen. Some of the health programs and disease control initiatives are politically charged territories where vested interests clash with genuine concerns for reduction of human suffering. Research is extremely important to decide which side the course of Health programs will take. What we get to read in the newspapers are bits and pieces of these underlying wars and agendas mixed up with valuable health tips and news.

In the guise of medical treatment, research institutes can make guinea pigs of us. India has overtaken China as the number one destination for drug trials. Even before proper animal trials, there are reports of studies done where new drugs are tried on human beings without explaining the purpose and the risks involved. This does not mean that we should be closed to researches altogether. In the past, I was told that we refused to give blood samples for fear that it may be used against us. So, when we read the National Family Health Survey, we find that some health statistics are missing for Nagaland. If the researchers had sinister intentions, there are thousands of us staying outside the State who are visiting hospitals and giving blood for various tests. Nevertheless, we need to be careful that we are not taken for a ride. For a few incentives, we should not sell ourselves as laboratory materials.

You see a TV commercial of a toothpaste which promises extra and long lasting shine, and the evidence is certified by a dentist in white apron. A sunscreen lotion prepared by using some German technology gives extra UV protection. 51% of the people who used a health tonic (for Rs. 499 only) felt younger in 7 days. And we buy such stories without a second thought. We see a product with a 70% discount and buy it not knowing that the original price was hiked. We see a good offer but forget to notice the asterisk indicating ‘Conditions Apply’. Advertisements backed up by cooked-up researches such as the Notown study are on the rise. Think again. Nagas can be gullible and be easily taken for a ride. For instance, many people from other parts of the country have disappeared with our money after false promises.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Walking in the air


"Walking In The Air"

[Intro:]
Walking in the air, floating the sky...
Floating in the air...

We're walking in the air
We're floating in the moonlit sky
The people far below are sleeping as we fly

We're holding very tight
I'm riding in the midnight blue
I'm finding I can fly so high above with you

Far across the world
The villages go by like dreams
The rivers and the hills
The forest and the streams

Children gaze open mouthed
Taken by surprise
Nobody down below believes their eyes

We're surfing in the air
We're swimming in the frozen sky
We're drifting over icy
mountains floating by

Suddenly swooping low on an ocean deep
Arousing of a mighty monster from its sleep

We're walking in the air
We're dancing in the midnight sky
And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Katie Melua - If The Lights Go Out
















In 'Nine Million Bicycles', Katie Melua sang that we are twelve billion light years from the edge. And she added, "that's a guess, no one can ever say it's true". A scientist responded saying that we actually know the distance from the edge. It's not a guess. He said it is 13.7 billion light years and not as Katie Melua sang. Of course, it's a song and 13.7 doesn't really fit into it. The song's an expression of love; about how deep and wide is her love for her lover. Katie Melua accepted the correction and a new version can be heard here She has a sense of humor and took it well.

In this song, 'If the Lights Go Out', there is a lot of apocalyptic overtone. In Nine Million Bicycles, it was the scientists, now here, what will the Theologians say?:-)))

"If The Lights Go Out"

They say the world must end somehow,
They say the end's not far from now;
I think they're wrong,
Don't worry your life away,
Start living for today,
Don't think about tomorrow.

And if the lights go out on all of us,
In just a year or two.
And if the sky falls down like pouring rain,
Then I'll be here with you.
I'll go down with you.

Well I'm gonna try for all I'm worth,
To stay with you till the end of the earth.
Don't let me down,
Don't let your feelings win.
Don't give out, and don't give in,
Don't think about tomorrow.

Cause if the lights go out on all of us,
In just a year or two.
And if the sky falls down like pouring rain,
Then I'll be here with you.
I'll go down with you.

And if the lights go out on all of us,
In just a year or two.
And if the sky falls down like pouring rain,
Then I'll be here with you.
I'll go down with you.

I'll go down with you
In the original version, and in the above lyrics, it is 'Don't think about tomorrow'. But in the video, she's singing, 'Think about tomorrow'. Interesting.

(It seems to me that she maintains a low profile and keeps a level head...Unlike most of our celebrities.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Are the Naga churches heading the Dinosaur way?


 When we go out of church, we brush our teeth and live our economic, social and political lives. But while we are in it, these things are hardly talked about. How do we explain the churches’ silence on these matters? Is it because the Bible is silent on these things or have we become more spiritual than the Bible? Is God interested only in what we do on Sunday mornings? Does He care about what we do from Monday to Saturday?
 
The sermons in our churches have become too abstract and airy that there are no connections with realities of our modern day living. Old folks tend to think that young people do not think deeply and are only after excitement and instant gratification. But I think many people are put off by our churches not for want of excitement but for lack of substance. That may be one factor why our churches are becoming increasingly unpopular among young people. 

We talk about a faith that is too personal and privatized that it doesn’t have much meaning in the society and the world. The gospel we preach is too inward looking and self centered that we can’t see beyond ourselves, our own families, or our own tribal groups. We practice a form of spirituality divorced from ethics that a holy deacon can pick the Government’s pocket on weekdays without any sense of guilt. Our churches’ engagement in the society gets reduced to talking about alcohol and sexual immorality while the elephant in the room, like Corruption, is missed. Certain biblical topics are not preached lest we hurt the sentiment of some VIPs and major donors of our church projects. What proportion of the church’s income is clean money? Our concept of Mission is reduced to sending out missionaries in our stead. They are sent with prayers and basic pay while we spend crores in church building projects. We do not have Castes but Class hierarchies in the church are an eyesore, where the rich are honored and the poor are disregarded. Our churches thus show us that all human beings are not equal. Our churches idolize wealth, success, talent, and fame; and bow down to them. We felicitate toppers on stage while those who failed their exams have to go into hiding. To have cracked the UPSC exam is to have attained nirvana. That is when all our problems will be washed away. Celebrity culture has invaded our churches and Sunday morning worship becomes an exhibition and a farce where dresses, cars, even families are showcased. Some people do not simply ‘come to church’, they ‘make an appearance’ and walking the aisle is like walking the ramp. Some Praise and Worship team can make worshippers feel as if they are in Hillsong Australia, but these worship leaders are not known to be good listeners of sermons. Having done their things, they are either giggling to each other in the back bench or are out of the church after Special Song. I know quite a few of our overseas theological students who come back home and preach about things they learned from other peoples’ cultures, but one wonders if they have seriously read their subject matters.

What do we have here? We have, on the one hand, a church which is becoming more irrelevant than ever: A church which is so out of this world that there is no earthly good, preaching a message which is so detached from the realities of our day-to-day existence. What good is our church for our society today? Does it have any clear message for our 21st century world? Or will it suffer the fate of the Dinosaur which couldn’t adapt to the changing conditions and became extinct? Unless our Naga churches reform, our present state will get us nowhere. 

On the other hand, we have the modern world inside our churches dictating what we should do, what we should believe, and what we should say. In order to flow with the times, the gospel is watered down, softened and made palatable to the secular human mind. The values celebrated by the society (e.g. market values) become the teachings of the church. When the church stands true to the teachings of the Bible and also engages itself with the society, there will be oppositions and that is when the church will be heard. No society exists where the teachings of the Bible can be applied without any friction or resistance. When evil thrives without resistance, the church must be sleeping. Our churches have not made enemy with evil.

How should the church keep itself in order and also be a vibrant force in the society? First, I would recommend the concepts of ‘Double Refusal’ and ‘Double Listening’ that John Stott talked about in his book ‘The Contemporary Christian’. Simply put, Double Refusal is a call to Christians to refuse the temptations to withdraw from or conform to the world. ‘This is our Father’s world’ that he dearly loved and cared for. We should not try to withdraw from it. However, we are also not to ‘conform to the patterns of this world’. Double Listening is listening both to the Word and the world, and working out how the Word can then be applied to the world. 
‘We listen to the Word with humble reverence, anxious to understand it, and resolved to believe and obey what we come to understand. We listen to the world with critical alertness, anxious to understand it too, and resolved not necessarily to believe and obey it, but to sympathize with it and to seek grace to discover how the gospel relates to it’.
Secondly, How far should our churches involve in the society’s affairs? Let’s take the example of politics. Should the church involve in party politics? Some may say Yes while many may say No. The answer I guess is not Yes or No, but both No and Yes. The church should not field candidates for election or actively campaign for a political party, but the church certainly has a role to play in voting truth to power, and preaching to those in power about the Kingdom of God and a higher authority that is there over every human government. Likewise, for any other issue, be it Corruption, Unemployment, Health Care, Education, Conflicts, etc. the church can use its pulpit to preach, teach, correct, comfort, and heal. The churches should refrain from prescribing simplistic solutions (e.g. simply have faith) to complex issues. Here’s when the task of listening attentively both to the Word and the world is crucial.

Thirdly, let me suggest some sermon topics that our churches can take up. Some of them perhaps need toning down; but the idea should be to get the attention of hearers by even getting under the skin of some people and stimulating them to think. Having done so, the task will be to try to give a balanced view of things and persuade, urge and plead with the hearers from the Word of God.

1.      Holiness without Ethics? A deacon picks the government’s pocket
2.      Toilet Theology: A Christian perspective on Sanitation
3.      Shoot with Camera, not Gun: What the Bible says about Wildlife Conservation
4.      How much should a Christian consume? Keeping the earth
5.      Facebook and biblical concept of social network/community
6.      A review of the lyrics of the top 10 songs in Billboard Chart for the current week from a Christian perspective
7.      ‘A Pastor attends World No Tobacco Day program’ and other signs of hope in our society
8.      Doing God’s will or fulfilling parents’ desire? Factors that determine a student’s career choice
9.      WWJD: What would Jesus say to a government employee who is often absent in office because of church work?
10.  A Public-Private Partnership: Personal faith and public responsibility
11.  From Rights to Responsibility: When to stop fighting for what you deserve and start taking responsibility

Fourthly, I need to make a personal clarification here. I do not speak as an outsider pointing fingers at our churches. I speak as an insider belonging to a mainline church. I live with this dilemma of disapproving many of my church’s practices while still belonging to it and drawing my life’s breath from it. In fact this is the most difficult article I have written: to speak out against something I believe and hope in.

Lastly, let me sign out with some words of hope. In spite of all the negativity, there are signs of hope as we look around. In this year’s World No Tobacco Day program that was held at the Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, I was surprised to find a pastor attending the program, listening attentively to the statistics and the challenges posed by Tobacco consumption. I thought, ‘perhaps there is still hope in the world’. That is the way to go. Again on World Population Day, a Reverend delivered a brilliant church’s perspective on the issue of population. In the NBCC’s annual conference this year, the member churches were urged to be more responsible in the society. This is a welcome move. (I hope that it will not be a piecemeal effort and that the NBCC can come up with a broad theoretical framework on why churches should be engaged in the society. The churches need to be convinced that social engagement is not an optional extra for some Christians who are interested in those sorts of things, but it is embedded in the gospel itself and is for every Christian.)  Even in the civil society, we can feel the frustration of the public, especially young people, about illegal taxation, lack of civic sense, backdoor appointments, crime against women, the government’s incompetence, and so on. I want to believe that a large scale reform in our society is upon us. Our churches should not be found missing in action.

(I have painted a picture of our churches with a broad brush, and there are instances where I caricatured them. Not all of them are exactly as I depicted. But as I consulted friends from various communities, it seems to resonate with people from the other North Eastern States as well. Reactions will be welcomed at saotunni@yahoo.co.in and openly discussed at www.thatchhouse.blogspot.com ).