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 and openly discussed at ).