Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Anti-intellectual churches

I have come across so many times, in casual conversations and from the church pulpit, comments which take the use of the mind negatively. I am thinking of church people here. It is as if the use of the mind is solely to question God. Maybe it is viewed as lack of faith when one raises questions and discuss things. Should we simply believe in the heart and not think in the brain too much? Does the use of mind dishonor God? Is reasoning anti-faith?

When we use our minds, we honor God. God gave us brains not to confuse our hearts, but to use it for his glory. 'Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them' (Psalms. 111:2). 

We can never sort God out with our minds. But if we use our minds to explore, we will only appreciate and marvel at the works of his hands and the greatness of who our God is. 'How great are your works, LORD, how profound your thoughts!' (Psalms. 92: 5). God is not threatened by our search for knowledge and understanding. Research and Creativity pleases him. Humans can go wrong. We can be filled with pride. But he created us to be creative, as we bear his image on earth. He did not create the universe and took off, God continues to create. We honor him when we use our minds and exercise our creativity. We are called to grow in our wisdom and understanding (2 Peter 3:18). Human progress is pleasing to God as we look forward to the Garden City of the New Jerusalem (not back to the Garden of Eden). It is a CITY we look forward to. And what does a city have? All the fruits of human progress.

Christian belief is based on a written word, the Bible. Therefore, reading becomes a very important spiritual exercise. And it is very much a mental exercise as we try to understand what the Bible says. Therefore, training to use our minds well is important if we want to understand the Bible and be faithful to its teachings. 

How do we relate the teachings of the Bible to our lives and our world, if we have little idea of what the Bible says or what is going on in the world? 

The Bible warns against Sloth (A disinclination to work or exert yourself) and Arrogance. The so-called 'spiritual' people who accuses people of lack of faith can be dishonoring God instead, by burying their God-given minds in the sand. The Bible warns of such people, 'You...slothful servant!.. you ought to have invested...' (Matthew 25: 26,27).

Dictionary meaning of 'Intellectual': Of or associated with or requiring the use of the mind

Friday, April 18, 2014

I won’t bother to remember your birthday

Azhoni had his birthday some time back. Samuel will be having his in the coming month. I think they don’t remember mine and I don’t expect a phone call or an sms, forget about a Birthday present. 
 
How did I know their birthdays? Azhoni came over to stay a night with me and he told me. He didn’t say it to let me know, ‘oh, my birthday passed recently and you didn’t even wish me’. It was for a very different reason. And I didn’t bother to ask him the date so that I can remember the next time. He told me of Samuel’s next month because his UPSC interview is said to be falling on his birthday. When the date arrives, I am going to ask about the interview, but I am not going to say nice things because of his birthday. 


We have discussed this before and we seem to share a similar view about birthdays. We just don’t bother about each other’s birthday. This doesn’t mean that we hate birthday parties. It seems Azhoni had a party arranged for him. And Samuel was there. But the point here is that we don’t look at birthdays as important days. Maybe for us, every day is as important. Maybe we think that we are born when we wake up from unconsciousness every morning. The friendship that we have doesn’t depend on being nice to each other, although we do say nice things and care for each other. 


We do not keep account of how much money we have spent on each other. That is nothing unique in a friendship. But I think the money that Samuel has received is quite substantial. He hardly gives them back. Haha. But I have gained more from him. This is not about investment and returns but if I have to convert into money what I learned from him, think of how much you have to spend by going to Cambridge for a degree. I don’t even have a passport by the way. So, we don’t bother about financial transactions either. When someone is in need, we try to dig in and see how we may help each other. 


If I face a crisis, I know they’ll be there. Physically it becomes a challenge when one is in a village near London, one is in Delhi, and one is in Kohima. But if I go to visit them and I am tired, I know they will willingly sleep on the floor for me. When Azhoni came home, I drove to his village to meet him. He came to stay the night with me this week. In any crisis, Samuel will be the first I will call. And so on. This is special because even with friends who are in the same town, it is becoming quite difficult to meet each other. 


This is not about the mushy feelings of friendship that we have. It is not about ‘birds of the same feather flock together’. We are very different people; our temperaments and personalities are very different. Our friendship, I think they will agree, is living out the covenant community that Jesus instituted for his believers. The sharing of lives among believers written in the book of Acts comes to mind.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Evil

I’m not that angry anymore. But I was very angry. Angry at what I think is evil.

‘Oh, there is no such thing as absolute truth or absolute evil. It is a social construct. Everything is relative according to the context’. Such a view collapses when faced with the real face of evil, says Os Guinness. For example, when one meets with cases such as the horror of Auschwitz and cries ‘God damn it’; he/she means it. Evil is that repulsive. And the view of good or bad as a relative concept, or a social construct, crumbles. 

My parents told me that as they work in the village and set up projects, they face lots of difficulties. There are land boundary disputes, and people trying to grab what we have. There were instances when we have to buy the same plot of land twice. I’m not sure if my parents have claimed other people’s land. It is possible that either party can be confused at times about the boundary stones if the plot is in the think jungles. But I am sure that my parents won’t have claimed what they know is not theirs. I am sure of that. It is not necessarily because dad was a Pastor or Mom is a deaconess but in all areas of life, I know them to be truthful persons.


But there were these instances when people would destroy what we have, not for their gain but simply to destroy what we have set up. It is not out of any selfish ambition. It is worse. The only intention is to not let others have it. Plantations well inside our boundary have been uprooted. Why? Because they can’t stand us having those trees!

And last Saturday, we witnessed two things which made me quite angry. This tree (photo) was planted by my father thinking that it is in the boundary line. There are several trees along its line. The boundary is clear. This tree is along a certain bend where there is a possibility of confusing the boundary line. My dad could have been wrong, although he had planted it as per his knowledge. Instead of approaching my dad and saying that we might have planted in his land, he chopped this off. This is a precious tree and we have tended it for about 4 years. He has no project in this side of the village land. If it should fall in his plot, we ought to willingly give him the beautiful tree. He simply chopped it (A couple of years back, my dad bought a piece of land from someone. And we have planted trees similar to this. Someone else claimed that it was his and that it was wrongly sold to us. While the legal dispute was ongoing, the second person uprooted all the plants that we have planted. Let me not go into the details but it ended with us having to buy the plot twice. And none was punished for the uprooted plants).


And this was another instance we saw the other day (photo). A couple of years back, there was a person who was stealing wood from our land and he was stopped. Now, there is another person who had cut the big trees that we have been preserving, in the same plot. It was not a case of mistake by ignorance. The boundary line is too far away. And we later learned that this person was by told by a herdsman that the plot was ours because we have left our marks all over the place. But he did it anyway, and when he was told again later through a different source, he came saying sorry, and that he had mistaken the plot because someone told him that it is his. We ought to seek justice and see that evildoers are punished. But we also know that justice often slips through our fingers in this side of the eschaton.

We identify sin easily when it comes to sexual immorality, murder, or addiction to alcohol. But what do you say to this kind of attitude which cannot stand the success of other people? What about willful destruction of other people’s property, not only for selfish gain, but to harm and destroy other people? Isn’t this evil?

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Chief Guest

Notown received the Government’s nod to construct a badminton stadium. The people of this sleepy town rejoiced as, finally, they were going to see some development activity. 
 
The construction work was given to the PS of the Parliamentary Secretary who was representing the assembly constituency of this area.


Through coughs and puffs, a badminton stadium finally took shape and filled the landscape of Notown. It became the most prominent structure in the town when viewed from Google Earth.


The day for inauguration came and the choice for Chief Guest naturally fell on the standing legislator from the constituency, the Parliamentary Secretary.


The stage was set and everything was in place to receive the Chief Guest. The EAC was there and all the government department heads were in station. Town Adhoc Council and all the NGOs were represented; many of them having put on traditional waist coats. The town Pastor had taken his seat to pronounce the opening prayer.


The Chief Guest arrived with his police escort and convoy of core party workers of the area. And with his arrival, the program started right away. After the usual items and niceties of profusely thanking the Chief Guest for bringing development to the town, a song by the LP school children and stuff; the turn of the Chief Guest to deliver his speech came.


The Chief Guest spoke on the importance of keeping one’s body fit and suggested that through sports, even peace can be brokered between warring communities. It went well until all hell broke loose when he offered an ostentatious but rather innocent donation. It was a hot day and he had sensed the discomfort of people who had gathered in this indoor stadium. And he might have thought that his offer would bring relief to the sports persons who will be running and puffing in here. So, here was what he offered. He raised his chest and said, ‘I will donate ceiling fans for this stadium’. If only the honorable chief guest had known a thing or two about the game of badminton. But it was too late. The words had been spoken. And as I said, all hell broke loose. The GB who was dozing off was woken up by the riot of laughter all around him.

Work in progress

I am not a finished product
I am a work in progress
But I hope you will stick with me
And we will grow together

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why be honest?

Why are we honest? Is it because of lack of chance to steal or the shame at being exposed? Who desires to be honest for the sake of virtue?

I have been let down several times. Those who I think have some sense of virtue would soon be blown open. And my faith in the goodness of humans would be shaken.

There is no sense of self restrain in someone infected with greed. And it manifests in spectacular fashion when faced with the opportunity to grab. Until then, rhetoric of honesty and integrity may fill the lips. It would have been better if acts of corruption were done without such sweet talk. A sinner who is aware of his sin and is quiet may be nearer to heaven’s gates. 

Is it the way things are and I must resign to its design? The system is corrupted to the core and it is beyond an individual’s decision. It is individuals who are corrupt but there is also a systemic brokenness that sucks innocents into it. 

It is a constant struggle of resistance. There is bound to be trembling of the knees and tumbles for those who resist the system. But if one resigns and gives up the fight; that is the day the spirit dies. The fighting soul is not a dead soul. When you stop to be angry; that is the day Evil has enslaved you.

The struggle for things to be set right does not come from nowhere. We do not hope for nothing. Who has inserted this hope into our hearts? 

Our discontent with the brokenness, and the longing to make things right are not feelings that come from this world. This world wants us to win at all costs; this feeling wants us to win but the means is as important as the end.  This feeling is inconvenient, impractical, and unintelligent in the eyes of this world; but it will persist. It won’t die. Nurture it and it will overcome the world.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Glory to God

It has been a while since I enjoyed a powerful spiritual experience. 
 
True spirituality as the Bible says is to look after orphans and widows. This is not to reduce the gospel to some kind of ‘social gospel’ as some would think. Social service done as obedience to Christ can be accompanied with strong feelings. But that feeling is not the essential evidence of spirituality. 


There has been too much talk about spirituality as a kind of emotional enjoyment or feelings. And I have reacted to this kind of pietism, because those who would not react in a certain way are often perceived as spiritually dry. I would urge for more of ‘embodied spirituality’ in our context.


With this background, this blog post is about an experience that I had as I took a walk yesterday evening. 


I walked for about 3 kms, from High School junction to New Secretariat and back (in Kohima town, if there is anyone who needs that additional information of my location). At the Secretariat junction, I rested on a stone pillar and enjoyed a cool breeze. I needed it as I have longed to cool my head from hectic office work. I pass through the area everyday on the way to work but only during this walk could I enjoy the minute details of the beauty of this area. 


After having rested for a while, I started to walk back home. And this song began to play on my headphone:


Your Love oh Lord is like the oceans

Deeper than endless seas



Your Faithfulness is like the mountains

And Your Word never fails



Glory to God let every heart sing

Glory to God in the Highest



I looked up and there was Pulie Badze mountain peak. That was when I had this out-of-the-body-experience, if you like. I don’t know if it will qualify as a spiritual experience. My body went up to the mountain peak. I have planned to go up there some weeks back but have not been there yet. But I was there yesterday in my mind. And as the song played on, I lifted my hands to the heavens as a huge choir joined me in singing:



Glory to God let every heart sing

Glory to God in the Highest



The whole mountain was filled with the sound of drums and electric guitars. It was a euphoric experience. I had not planned it. And I didn’t put the song in my phone for anything like this. It was a ‘wow’ experience; an on-top-of-the-mountain experience. I have had that kind of experience years back. And I’m glad it is intact.



As I walked nearer home, there was another worship song. That is unusual because I don’t listen to them much. I used to, but that was back then. And the words are one of the best that I have come across. Though the emotional experience was less this time, I think the words are powerful:




It's the song of the redeemed

Rising from the African plain

It's the song of the forgiven

Drowning out the Amazon rain

The song of Asian believers

Filled with God's holy fire

It's every tribe, every tongue, every nation

A love song born of a grateful choir



It's all God's children singing

Glory, glory, hallelujah

He reigns, He reigns

It's all God's children singing

Glory, glory, hallelujah

He reigns, He reigns



Let it rise about the four winds

Caught up in the heavenly sound

Let praises echo from the towers of cathedrals

To the faithful gathered underground

Of all the songs sung from the dawn of creation

Some were meant to persist

Of all the bells rung from a thousand steeples

None rings truer than this



And all the powers of darkness

Tremble at what they've just heard

'Cause all the powers of darkness

Can't drown out a single word



When all God's children sing out

Glory, glory, hallelujah

He reigns, He reigns

All God's people singing

Glory, glory, hallelujah

He reigns, He reigns