Thursday, June 25, 2015

This church construction business

For Morung Express Editorial

Jeremiah 7: 4. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!"

To the Jews, the Jerusalem temple was no ordinary building. When the first temple which Solomon built was dedicated, ‘fire came down from heaven and consumed the burned offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chron. 7:1). 

But the Jews began to treat the temple building as a talisman, having magical powers which guaranteed their security. So, Jeremiah stood at the gate of the temple saying not to put their trust on the temple but to reform their ways and actions and deal with each other justly, so that they may live in the land. But the people wouldn’t listen.

The unimaginable happened in 587 BC when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and took the Jews captive. Not only did the temple crumble, their identity, hope, and false religion were crushed. They sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept when they remembered Zion (Zion, Jerusalem, and Temple were often used interchangeably). 

Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in 515 BC, but it was nothing compared to its former glory (Haggai 2:3). The splendor of the glory of God was missing. The longing of the Jews was that one day YHWH will come again and dwell among them. "The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple", (Mal. 3:1).

When Jesus came, he fulfilled the words of the prophets but by turning the expectation upside down. He told the Samaritan woman by the well, that the time has come when people don’t have to worship anymore in Jerusalem (John 4:21), because the One greater than the temple is here (Mat. 12:6). Paul brought the message home when he said in 1 Cor. 3: 16, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” Paul declares that believers are the body of Christ. God’s dwelling is not any sacred building or mountain. It is interesting to note that the early Christians worshipped in the Jerusalem temple until it is destroyed again in 70 AD.

So, when any sense of mythical power is removed from the Jerusalem temple, and the temple of God from now on is in the heart of the believer, what are Naga Christians trying to achieve by competing in building the fanciest church buildings? Are we trying to beat King Solomon? Who are we trying to please? 

In Nagaland, we are going bonkers over church building business. It is irrational, irritating and hilarious. No form of justification can be found in the Bible, unless of course, we turn a blind eye to the condition of our congregation and are looking at some prosperity gospel preacher in some western country or envying the new fancy church building of that ‘rival’ tribal church nearby. One church even had the audacity to issue a resolution whereby salaries of all the government employees of that community will be deducted directly through the departments’ DDOs! The resolution was said to have been shot down due to too much resistance. But pressure tactics are always there demanding a month’s pay, one day wage, pledge cards, etc. after having made a sky-high budget for a fancy building which will be locked up for most days of the week.

‘It is the Lord’s house, it is God’s work, it is for God’s glory’, some may say, echoing the words of the Jews in the days of prophet Jeremiah. But when a budget is made, say, for a politician to donate 1,00,000 for the church building, where do you think the money is going to come from? From his pocket? You bet! And if you demand a month’s wage (1 out of only 12 months a year) from a grade IV government employee for church building, isn’t that cruel? When the completion of a church building becomes more important than the moral concern about where that money is going to come from, we have got our spirituality wrong. But when we get our heart and attitude right, there are ample solutions to the concern for finding a place of worship.

‘If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe” – safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord (Jeremiah 7:5-11).

Friday, June 19, 2015

The pressure to stay in fashion

Morung Express Editorial
There is relentless pressure for both the young and the not-so-young of our generation to stay in touch with the latest: breaking news, phone app, designer wear, car model, etc. The slightly older folks struggle to stay relevant by practicing the sms lingo, opening a facebook account, trying their hands at online gaming, or going for that funny colored dress. It doesn’t come out well at times. Some dads embarrass their kids by posting family pictures which can also pose security threat to the family; kids get irritated trying to teach their moms how to use WhatsApp. Some try to put on that stylish American accent and the mother tongue influence pops out unaware leading to red-faced moments. 

Everyone wants to break the news online, be it about an earthquake or a spelling mistake on a roadside billboard. But when kids think that they are on top and in touch with the latest, times change, and after a quick while, they go out of fashion. I have always lagged behind my peers in dressing sense, but what I observed is that the fashionistas of my time are now being overrun by the newer human beings who came after us. It is no use trying to keep up with it because age drags you in the opposite direction. 

Or, if you are a city dweller and have gone to a village without satellite TV, internet, or newspaper; you realize that in a few days, the world has moved on without your knowledge. You have missed many headline news and in conversations, people ask you, ‘where have you been? Aren’t you aware of it? Everybody’s talking about it’. So, in order to enjoy conversations, it requires you to stay in touch with the news. One WhatsApp picture message says that earlier, people dialed telephones to call, and then they pressed their mobiles to call; now they touch their smart phones to call. Softwares like antivirus in your laptop require constant updating and upgrading that if you refuse to obey their command, newer virus will invade and destroy all your hard labor. So, you have to either keep pace with it, or become out-dated and become a museum specimen. 

Preachers also need to update their sermons and their style of sermon delivery so that it will suit the taste of the modern congregation. The fear of being out of touch with the present is high. So, the modern preachers go by the latest statistical data and chic forms of presentations. There is nothing wrong in being fashionable. But the relentless pursuit of relevance can become a form of idolatry as Os Guinness said (he calls it the Idol of Relevance). The Gospel has this funny thing about it that when it is conformed to what the world is saying in order to stay relevant, it becomes irrelevant. But when taken in its historical form and let it speak for itself, nothing is more relevant than the Gospel for our time or any time.  

The solution to the relentless pursuit of relevance is to understand the time that we are living in. What is it which drives our lives? What is the dominant ideology which governs the private and the public lives of our time? For people living in an Agrarian society, or in the time of Industrial Revolution, Renaissance, or Communism, there were certain ways of thinking and living. What are the dominant forces which run our economy? What is the dominant school of thought or value system which controls our society? For a start, a critical look at the role of money, sex, and power will make us understand the main driving forces of our time. There are some wise old folks who continue to stay relevant although they don’t chase after the latest fashion or hunt for breaking news. So, in a way, understanding the time we are living in will prevent us from becoming irrelevant.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The need for peaceful protests

Morung Express Editorial

A friend lamented that in spite of all the things which are so visibly going wrong in our society, we are not able to mobilize a collective voice of protest. Only when an issue turns into a crisis, boils over, and spills into the streets and things get out of hand, there is some face saving action. But once the temperature cools down, the action is half done and forgotten or shelved as an issue pending further investigation. The concerned authorities are ineffective to take any concrete action and the so-called high powered committees constituted to look into the cases are often compromised or their reports not acted upon. The common people have lost trust on the government and non-government authorities to deliver the goods. Ultimatum letters are often served with the warning of resorting to ‘own course of action’ if the demands are not met, but somehow, things drag on as usual.

As a result, the apathy among the people grows and the hope for change turns into a spirit of cynicism. There are far too many cynics in our society. The sad and depressing situation of our society makes it a good place for a good cynicism factory. The job seeker who was once a hard working, honest individual, is turned into a cynic when he is walked over by a lazy cheat who has a family connection with someone in power. The way our society runs can turn a normal person into a fish which flows against the current or a chameleon which changes color to blend with the surrounding. 

When an evil is protested against, there are people who quote Scripture against those protesters, ‘those who are without sin, let them cast the first stone’. And everyone is silenced, for directly or indirectly, the system permeates all of us. We do not need to go anywhere or to anyone to see what is right and wrong. The line dividing the right from the wrong passes through the middle of each of us. As we are harmed by a corrupt system, in some way, we are also benefactors of the system which makes speaking and standing for the truth so difficult.   

But while we all seek to clean the speck from our own eyes, we should care for the collective welfare of our society. There are many issues which affect us as individuals but are above the individual. Rape of a woman involves the rapist and the victim, but rape is a social issue which affects us all. The army capturing and torturing some innocent citizens is a security threat to all of us. Some unscrupulous youth taking law into their own hands and going unpunished is a sign of lawlessness in the society. The lack of moral integrity of our public leaders affects us because of their position, because one leader’s decision affects thousands of lives.  

There is power in peaceful protests and there is power in numbers in a democratic society. Protests can be constructive and they give hope for positive change. Press release condemning a crime is a sign that we don’t condone lawlessness (although many times, we should go far beyond a mere press release). When an injustice is exposed, standing in support of justice and showing solidarity to those people who stand for justice is a powerful sign to the powers that be. Many times, we grumble individually at the evils in our society. But we are yet to find that collective voice of protest.  
Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to, or visit his blog  

Monday, June 8, 2015

Why good healthcare is so hard to achieve

Morung Express Editorial

Forcing the present healthcare system to deliver services is like flogging a starved mule to work

The precarious HIV situation in Nagaland has been in the news. It is a harsh reality that with the resources invested; the situation is still far from satisfactory. But HIV/AIDS situation is not an isolated case. Good healthcare is so difficult to achieve. People visiting healthcare centers across the State know that all is not well. The standard reaction is the pointing of fingers at the government machinery which is responsible for running the services. But things get more complicated when we explore the factors which determine the type of healthcare we receive. 

HIV/AIDS happens in the society. When a patient reports at a clinic, it is only the tip of the iceberg which manages to pop out of the water surface so that it becomes visible. So, tackling a medical condition which is mostly hidden in the society is not an easy thing. Many of the health issues, likewise, lie beyond the health sector. For example, non communicable diseases risks like tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol, all are behavioral risks. These unhealthy behaviors lead to Cancers, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases, etc called as non communicable diseases which are the leading cause of death in the world. And we know that to change behavior is extremely difficult. Health is related to all areas of life and so is the medical department related to a lot of others like Education, Agriculture, Roads, Transport, IT, etc. So, the state of health depends on the performance of other areas as well. This is not an excuse for the poor healthcare delivery but an explanation to understand the interconnectedness of factors determining the wellbeing of a population and the collective responsibility for good health. When a society progresses, level of health improves proportionately.

One specific and primary factor which determines the quality of health care is health financing. Forcing the present healthcare system to deliver services is like flogging a starved mule to work. There is not enough money to provide any decent level of healthcare. India spends only about 1% of GDP in health which is among the least in the world. To make matters worse, the central government under Modi has cut the budget on health. The impact is felt more by poorer States like Nagaland which is dependent on central funding. Another pressing issue for the State is the new pattern of funding for all the central schemes. Funds of all centrally sponsored programs now being routed through the State finance department has resulted in delays in fund releases risking the health of thousands and lakhs of people. Some States have come to the rescue of low central allocation but the Nagaland State budget allocation to healthcare always shows that health is not high in the priority list.
In Nagaland, the challenge of geography is a factor which cannot be ignored. Though small and sparsely populated, the difficult terrain makes it difficult to reach all people with good healthcare. The population and financial norms calculated in Microsoft Excel does not hold any water when one actually moves out of the boardroom and travel. A village located on a hill is connected to another one on the next mountain by a road which leads down to the river in between. So, even if two villages appear to be near, the road leading down and up the next mountain makes it a harrowing experience in terms of physical connectivity.  Placing of health institution and manpower, referral of patients and transportation of supplies, and IT connectivity are affected because of the terrain. The irony is that health care cost escalates for the poor people in the rural areas. 

After the resources and external factors are discussed, the uneasy human factor remains. The cancer in the human self (corruption, greed, selfishness, or however we call it) grows out from inside and invades all the structures and systems that we have built. Neither can we wish it away nor can we build a structure or system which bypasses it.  

Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to, or visit his blog