Sunday, February 20, 2011

Toil along the Imphal River Valley

Work is not a curse but toil is. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to work and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Work basically is therefore, not a curse but a blessing of God. Toil is a curse which is a result of men’s disobedience. The ground was cursed, thorns and thistles came up and since then, humans had to earn their livelihood by the sweat of their brows. Toil is a distortion of the blessing of Work. In Jesus Christ, the curse has been broken and we are called to do good works through his name. Many people think that in Heaven, we will work no more and instead, we will be playing praise and worship music all day long for eternity. When people think this way, I think they have in mind, what we call ‘toil’. Toil saps all our energy and sense of meaning. Vishal Mangalwadi defined toil as ‘mindless, repetitive labor that requires no choice’. However, God intends work to be a very fulfilling and meaningful activity.

Mangalwadi poignantly asks, ‘Why are women in my country forced to carry water, cow dung, and bricks on their heads, when women in the west are not?’ When I think of toil, an experience comes to mind; similar to Mangalwadi’s example of comparing Indian and Western women.

I was on a journey to Imphal when I saw this happened. As we were passing through the Imphal River Valley near Kangpokpi in a Bus, I looked out of the window and I saw some trucks loading stones gathered on the river bank. The village folks gather the stones in heaps and the trucks come to take them away. Now, there was a woman who was working with no one nearby. I saw her raise a hammer over her head as she tried to break a big stone lying in between her legs. As the hammer hit the stone, it jerked back and her whole body shook with it. The stone remained a single piece. She tried again a second time and a third as we drove away.

I never saw her again nor seriously thought about her anymore until on another trip while passing by the same spot. I remembered. This time, there was no one there except the river and the stones. The memory of my previous experience flashed through my mind like a slide show. The only difference was that all the slides showed the same photo: a picture of a woman with a hammer raised above her head aiming at a big stone between her legs.

I asked myself, ‘Why was she there in the river bank breaking and collecting stones? Is it a profitable job?’ I seriously doubt. ‘Should a woman do such kind of work?’ It is a task which is not proportional to her physical strength. ‘Was she there by choice?’ I don't think so, provided she had other job options.

What should she be doing if she had the choice? I wonder if she has a good voice. Given the opportunity, she might make a great music composer. Who knows? Given good education and opportunity, she might become one of the few renowned scholars from the North East India. She might be an MLA in the Manipur Legislative Assembly, carrying the hopes and aspirations of the hill people, particularly the women folk. If only she had the choice and opportunity, she might be someone but certainly not in a work which requires her to put hammer into stones which will not easily yield to her strength.

Thy Kingdom come on earth….

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Article under construction

When we go out of the church, we brush our teeth and live our socio-economic and political lives. But while we are inside the church, these things are not talked about. Suddenly we put on our religious clothes and become different persons altogether, even though for a short while. The sermons can go on and on preaching about abstract things in the spiritual realm that has little resemblance with the realities of everyday living. The religious sphere becomes a private space in a corner and worship gets reduced to sentimental feelings just a little deeper than the guts. The church is becoming like a dinosaur which is getting extinct because it cannot cope with the times.
Therefore, the call of the NBCC in the annual conference this year for the church to be more responsible in the society is a most welcome wake-up call. The NBCC asked the church to take up the cause of HIV/AIDS, Climate change, alcoholism, etc. However, instead of taking on a select few issues, the NBCC needs to come up with a theological framework which forms as a theoretical basis for the church’s social engagement. The NBCC’s call is not new and the churches have been engaged with issues like alcoholism and HIV from before. Not only that the issues selected leave out lots of more important issues, the churches’ social engagement has always been truncated and half-hearted. It is often confined to a mass social work, a seminar on HIV, etc in which some interested individuals participate. Some enthusiastic church workers even look at the churches’ social engagement negatively fearing the church will be diverted from its job of saving souls. This is because of our lack of understanding of the width, the breadth, and the depth of the gospel.
The fear of some individuals that the gospel might fall into some sort of a ‘social gospel’ is not unfounded. When the gospel becomes undifferentiated from societal values and virtues, when the gospel is made more palatable to modern minds, smoothening its rough edges, letting the church flow with the times; we get a situation which is as dangerous as the comparison to a dinosaur.
What I am calling for here is not to write a new gospel….not to use the Bible to give legitimacy/approval for things we believe. It is not to read the Bible through the lens of our times but to read our times through the lens of the Bible……not to interpret the Bible to suit our times but to discover what the Bible has always said……