Friday, 28 June 2013

Atheism or non-theism

Today's class on Philosophy of God was the most heated thus far! It is only the first week of classes that I've finished! Today's topic: Atheism, or as I preferred to call it, non-theism.

My basic question was, who and what gives theists the right and the certitude that the way they perceive God is the right way?  That their 'God' or what I'd call 'the idea of God' is the right view about God?  That isn't it  real contradiction to say that God is incapable of being perceived in any other way than the theistic way, while holding that God is not limited and all that 'mighty' stuff attributed to God?

Some of the Brothers understood the question and hence asked for clarifications, raised their objections... most just did not want to accept the idea that God can be perceived in any other way than a theistic way, least of all in an 'atheistic' way!  Oh boy, it was fun!  

Hole te cat

Try figuring out this: hole te cat.

Any idea what that means... and by the way that is English!

Well, the other day I asked one of the first year students, whom I often found distracted in class, to show me his class notes of methodology (my subject).  That day in class I had spoken to them about things they need to keep in mind while preparing and giving an exam (both in the written form as well as the oral  form).

I found the above said "language" in his notes under the 'Exams' title. I asked him what it meant. He looked at it for a while and then blabbered something. He again looked at his own writing and then said that it means how to hold the pen (the next line consisted of only one word, 'pen'). So according to him it (his own notes) read 'instructions to hold a pen during an exam'.

And just for all to know what actually I meant and he heard but mis-spelt is 'HALL TICKET'.

One need not think hard to imagine what would be the fate of philosophy and all that stuff, if the fate of hall ticket is such! 

Financial woes or family woes? or both?

With all the money I have for the Seminary, I still spend days calculating every pie and planning for the time ahead.  There are some of our domestic helpers who have more debt than I have in my bank account.  All that they have is debts!  They survive from debt to debt. They borrow from one to return to another and then from yet another, to return to the second one.  The surprising part of it all is the callous attitude of the grown up children. A particular staff member has four children, all beyond their school age. The husband committed suicide 6 years ago.  She has her mother living with her. The eldest daughter was married off last February.  That the eldest daughter, a teacher by training and profession, had her own demands adding to the list of dowry requirements from the groom's side, was shocking enough for me to realise that something is really amiss her.  The second daughter is 'idle' at home.  Every time I ask what is she doing, all the lady replies is that she is sitting at home!  The third son is a sample! He was studying in a college (mind, all the studies expenses of the children were borne by the Seminary) and of late decided to quit and work. He worked for two months and one fine evening when the mother reached home found a TV set in her hut!  The son spent his salary on buying a TV! Not a pie to her mother to refund the loans or some urgent requirements of the house.  The only other child is still in a boarding and seems doing his studies well.  

I've told this lady time and again to speak to her children and as I said, give a rap or two... (some of the answers and questions she has reported to me of her own children are so stinging and crude, they would put to shame a sworn enemy!). Or atleast tell them to meet me, so that I can drive some sense into them.  Now looks like the mother has absolutely no say in what they do. All that these three children living with her (even her eldest daughter is now back in her house) do is eat, borrow from the shop without even a word of it to the mother and then live as if they were born to the queen of England! 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Dumb ways to die

Here's a nice video titled 'Dumb ways to die', released by the American metro as a safety ad for prevention of railway accidents. Cute!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Media bias

A week ago, I saw an international news headline inform about the floods in France.  How many people died? Two.  That made news... international news!  And I thought may be Uttarakhand may still be coming.  It is yet to appear on the international list!! Death of two Frenchmen made international news, while thousands have perished in the Uttarkasi floods, and still no mention of it!  Strange but true. 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Liberating God from the docks

As part of my Theodicy class, I was differentiating for them that the idea of God from God himself. One of the students stated that a blind man could be wayward all his life and then at a certain point undergo a change of heart and after a period of fervent prayer be blessed with eyesight.  His point was to challenge my earlier statement that most often it is not God who changes (no guarantees of anything here), but our idea of God that undergoes transformation.  So he wanted to know if God changed his own plan for that blind person, because of his 'conversion'.

I replied him with another question, "Would that guarantee, that if another blind man just like the one in your example, gain his eyesight after a period of loose living, conversion and prayer?" His answer: No.  Then what is the difference? Why this partiality on God's part?

Another wanted to clarify and say that it is because of his change of heart and life of prayer that he was blessed with the eyesight.  I asked him, if he truly believed that God did the 'miracle' only after his change of heart?  Would not have God granted him his eyesight even otherwise, without that change of heart?  Did his God become so stingy and calculative so as to not be generous and selfless, irrespective of human response or even lack of it? 

Need or fear?

Why is it that we always impress others by our strength and not as a whole being replete with our positive as well as the not-so-positive aspects?  Why do we only project our strengths while we are also composed of potholes and craters? Why not show our complete self so that the other sees who we truly are and not be cheated into believing the visible part of us as the whole and true self?

Once could say that that influence of media and its role in deciding factor of what is cool, trendy, in vogue, sexy ... and their subsequent elevation to success indicators, is much to blame. However, there is more to it than media and its presentation. Are we frightened of ourselves?  Of our true and complete self?  Or is it merely a social / primal need?  Or is it both? 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Battling God and His foot soldiers!

I began my classes on Philosophy of God this morning with the third course students. In the first hour itself, I got a taste of what I am ready for and am dying to encounter - a stiff resistance to anything even slightly different from already known and 'convinced' facts about God... leave alone question some of those aspects. My students know well my teaching method and hence they already 'know' that I will tickle them, but when I really do, then they squirm and gnash and blush and what not.  But I also know that they will not shy away from challenging me on those issues.  I only wish that they take it outside the class notes, into their heart and living.  That philosophizing God not remain a purely academic endeavour but one transforming experience. It has truly benefited me much and I hope it will do them too a great deal of good... that they (either willingly or be forced to) shake their foundation or well formed ideas of God, faith and spirituality.  

The shark within

Fr Maliekal, in one of his inaugural goodnight talks, spoke to us of the need to be brisk and alive in everything that we do.  He shared with us an analogy he read from the book of R. Gopalkrishnan (The Case of the Bonsai Manager: Lessons from Nature on Growing).

Japanese love sushi and at one point of time, realised that the fish tasted different.  It was then felt that the duration it takes to reach the table from the time it is caught in the sea was the cause. So the fishermen tried to keep it fresh and alive in water tanks. That did not solve the taste issue. Some tried fresh water instead of sea water.  That didn't help either.  Then someone tried a novel method.  They introduced a shark into the water tank transporting the live sushi to the mainland.  The sushi had to be alert and constantly on the move since it did wish to become shark food. This method solved the taste issue.  The taste of an active sushi was noticed by discerning customers in mainland immediately.

Good lesson to begin the academic year with: Be alive and active (not because the shark is behind you but within you!)

She loved much!

Last Sunday's Gospel provided me with another proof of how Jesus appreciated women and courage in general. The gospel, from Luke chapter 7: 36 and running into chapter 8, speaks of the woman who anoints Jesus' feet while he is at supper in the Pharisee's house.  A few things that struck me about the whole scene.

A woman dared to enter the place filled with men (perhaps she was the only woman at that 'party'). Now that's something not very common in Jewish tradition.  Yet none seem to be really willing to get her out of that place.  Each one was waiting for someone else to do that job of evicting her.  Or perhaps, as Fr Maliekal, put it, all knew well that she was a prostitute and therefore wanted Jesus to tell her to get out, in order to uphold his 'sanctity'.

I know not if this whole act of anointing Jesus' feet and then wiping them with her hair was something she invented or something of a common practice. I would rather presume that this was a certain practice, perhaps among the brothels of the time.  Whenever a client approached a prostitute, this would be one of the standard procedures of welcoming a customer.  So here was a woman doing what she was normally doing in her brothel, perhaps with a slight modification of using her hair, instead of a towel.  But the difference is certainly there to see - for sure, Jesus notices it.  She does it out of love... genuine, deep and sincere love for Jesus.  It is not a formality, nor a random gesture.  She expresses her love for Jesus in a way she knows best.  Jesus mightily rewards her... "she has loved much!"

Isn't that a compliment worth striving for? 

Where's the answer?

During my last MA exam, after one hour of the commencement of the exam, the supervisor came and told the invigilators, to let the students 'free' - everyone in the Indian nation would know what that means!  He also instructed them to close all the doors and windows of the verandah side... just in case some squad or some higher authority walks in. I feared that it would be real chaos. Luckily everyone was silently at their work - only there was an initial scramble for books and slips. After a couple of minutes everyone was writing the answers ... from the books or pieces of paper they had carried in.  I thanked my stars that none was talking or dictating answers!  The best was yet to come. Half an hour after this, one lady beside me, writing some different subject, turned to the one behind her and pointing to a particular page in a book, desperately asked, "Is this the answer to the question or is there some other answer?" Not only did she not study, but she did not even know from where to copy the right answer!  

To be with Him...

At last!! I finished my MA exams yesterday and am now breathing a bit free.  Have lot to say, since I haven't been posting for quite some time now. Anyway, let me begin with what's still fresh and uppermost in my mind.

On the day of the inauguration of the academic year (June 12, 2013) Fr K. M. Sebastian said something very beautiful during the Mass as well as the inaugural address. He almost exhausted what I wanted to share with the Brothers the same evening, when I met them as the Dean of studies.

During the homily for the Mass, Fr KM reminded us all that our formation time is basically a period of being with Him. Taking off from the passage of Mark 3: 14, he stated that Jesus called his apostles to be with him and then sent forth. We often interchange the order: sent forth and then be with Him!  Or sometimes we conveniently leave out the part of being with Him.  More than before, there is a tendency now to launch out and therefore all our focus is on preparing ourselves by way of acquisition of skills and talents needed to attract crowds and people.  While as formees in initial stages of formation, we are called upon to savour His presence.  Once we encounter Him personally, the rest will automatically follow.


The danger with the reversal of the procedure is that we would end up doing many thing, perhaps even good things, but without a real reason or relevance.  He explained using an incident from his experience here at Kondadaba itself, years ago, when he was the Rector here. One fine day, he observed a few Brothers playing cricket inside the circle of buildings.  One of them was all geared up and padded up as the wicket keeper standing behind the stumps but too afraid to catch the ball. So he'd conveniently leave the ball, only to collect the ball after it was stopped by the wall behind where they were practicing. For all appearances he was a wicket keeper, only that he never did what he actually was supposed to do.

Therefore Fr KM's challenge: May the formation period be a time of growing through and not merely 'going through'. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Love is beautiful

I found this self-made video about a mother and her son... and the choice she made and the ones she continues to make ... so bold, brave and beautiful.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

To walk is an art...

In what is turning out to be a real simple lifestyle lived rather than theological dogmas doled out, the new Pope Francis, is truly endearing himself to me, more and more! As I read his sermons, talks, informal conversations and spontaneous discussions with different group of peoples, I am truly inspired.  I guess, his lifestyle speaks much much more than anything. His words only compliment and add to that! And I, for sure, am listening ... and learning! Here's what I read today...
We need to be magnanimous, with bid hearts and without fear. Always bet on great ideals. But also magnanimity in small things and daily things... Magnanimity means walking with Jesus, attentive to that which Jesus tells us. 
(part of his spontaneous discussion with school children. Earlier, he put aside his prepared speech, saying "A little boring!")

When a student doubting his faith asked for words of encouragement, he likened the faith to a long walk.
To walk is an art.  To walk is the art of looking at the horizon, thinking about where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue. And many times, the walk is difficult, it is not easy… There is darkness… even days of failure… one falls… But always think this: do not be afraid of failure. Do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking, what is important is not avoiding the fall but not remaining fallen. Get up quickly, continue on, and go. … But it is also terrible to walk alone, terrible and boring. Walking in community with friends, with those who love us, this helps us and helps us get to the end.


God with children

Among the things that I barely managed to glance through (yeah, that's actually all that I manage for what is normally called 'study' in preparation for exam) for my MA exam today, this quote of Rabindranath Tagore caught my attention.  And guess what... the question related to this quote was in the answer paper.  And I didn't even read the option provided for that.  The quotation about religion and God is very beautiful.
From the solemn gloom of the temple children run out to sit in the dust; God watches them play and forgets the priest. 
Truly touching.  Speaks volumes about our mode of worship, attitude towards prayer, spirituality and of course, another set of volumes on God too!
Here's something that I came across while trying to find the source of the quote above... Fireflies by Rabindranath Tagore. 

Teachers-Educators

A nice sms I received from my friend Rabbi, yesterday about the difference between a teacher and an educator... very much what we, as Salesians are called to be.
A teacher answers your questions but an educator questions your answer. A teacher instructs you but an educator constructs you.  A teacher sharpens your mind but an educator, opens your mind.  

St John's Kondadaba 2013-2014

The Brothers arrived on Sunday... all 62 of them. So that makes the total of 66 in the community; 62 students and 4 staff members.  Add to that the 13 OCDs attending the classes from Pendurthi and the college strength for this academic year is 75 (students only).
On the evening of their arrival, we had Mass at 6.30 and a short introductory round of names in the refectory just before our supper. There are 27 resident first years, 15 second years and 20 third year students.  

Hurrah!

I always wanted to do this, but never really did it till this day.  Yes! I did it... I didn't check my e-mails for the past one week!!! The only hick is that I did it without intending it!  It was not that I was away, just that I was too caught up with things to be done and I never really found time to check out the mails!  As simple and plain as that... Whew!

I am still wondering how I can got this far (it is just the beginning of the year!)... juggling renovation work of the dormitories, preparing lists and schedules of and for the Brothers, getting the place ready for their arrival, the various initial programmes upon their arrival and to top it all, my own MA exams. Just couldn't ask for more!

Thank God for the graces and gift of everything that you've blessed me with! Couldn't ask for more!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Exam hall ruckus

Today was the second exam and another kind of experience... about half way through the exam the invigilator started to get serious about the blatant copying being done by some in the hall.  When he tried to pull away the bits of paper, the man protested and pushed his hands away. Unable to do anything, the young invigilator reported the matter to his senior supervisor, who came and tried to calm tempers but certainly was in no mood to call the spade a spade.  But things kept escalating, with one or the other or very many in unison protesting the invigilators attempts to prevent them from copying!  Imagine!  An examination and invigilators are being hassled for doing their duty.  Those claiming their 'birthright' (or bullshit right?) to copy created enough ruckus that neither they wrote anything nor did they permit a few of us sincerely trying to write the exam. Luckily I was well prepared for the exam and did well. Nonetheless I was tempted very strongly to intervene at one or two intervals, but restrained myself because I found myself getting too worked up and forgetting what I was supposed to write.

Another three more exams to write... looking forward to what new experiences await in the exam hall then! 

No slips?!

On my first day of my MA exams, it was a real experience.  I was the only one in the hall of 39 of us who was not busy juggling slips of paper and books, brought in illegally to copy!  Practically everyone, including the ladies and the elderly gentlemen (they were the worst for this), had brought in bits of paper, some handwritten, others micro-xeroxed (this seems to be the profit making business of exam seasons with the photocopiers!), some blatantly opening the resource books themselves! The height of this drama unfolding around me, was when the invigilator approached me about half an hour before closing time and in a soft voice asked me, "Didn't you bring any slips?" I merely smiled and said, I didn't want to.  He was quite surprised.  So much for honesty!

And you might ask how come I knew about all the others in the hall... well, I was not at all prepared for the exam myself.  Of the five questions I was supposed to answer, I knew the answers only for two of them (but that didn't prevent me from attempting the rest!).  Looks like I wrote more sensible stuff here in this post than for a couple of the answers in the answer sheet that day. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Marriage business

Our dhobi who comes regularly on all days of the week except the day agreed and decided upon by both of us, is these days never to be seen. So much so, the other day Fr Maliekal when on his walk, happened to run into him, caught him and got him to the Seminary to meet me and stand explanation as to why he was missing in action for so long. He had only one sheepish reply, "Pelli season Brother!" (Marriage season, Brother!).  I asked him what connection is there between marriage and his profession. I was told that one of the most highly paid person for the marriage function is the washerman.  I'm still to get the full and real details, but he himself told me that he gets anywhere between Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 for one wedding function.  And if you're thinking that he is working or washing clothes, you're wrong! That is his remuneration for attending the wedding!!!!

From all that I've gathered so far about this and other aspects related to marriages in rural India, especially in this part of the state, one thing is sure:  everyone gains, except for one family. No prize for guessing which one, though!  They lose their life savings, their future prospects, financial backing, land, property, ornaments and what's more, their beloved daughter too. And is there anything they gain? Oh yes! Debts (with heavy interests for long duration) and loose talk of the villagers about some minor want in the celebrations (yeah, that one is free, for certain!). 

Monday, 3 June 2013

The camera can do more than zoom in and out

I cannot but get this itch off my fingers until I put it down:
The media's world is all but the lens of the camera!  I have two very glaring examples for this from the recent news coverage of the various English channels.  I know I'm not saying anything new here but all the same I needed to say, at least for myself.
The first one is about the way we perceive life, or let me be more specific, the way the media wants us to perceive life, because it is primarily the way it (those who wield the camera or the ones who handle the camera) perceive life.  Life is more a ball-game (literally) than a matter of life and death or survival in its most crude form. Most news channels have only the spot-fixing and BCCI chief's stance to report, discuss, debate and present exclusives about.  Just before this whole thing was snowballed in our faces, there was one single attack that took place just for a couple of hours in which lives were lost, the Chattisgarh attack by the Naxals.  And guess which event gets priority?  The latter is dead and buried (history that never happened), while the former is all that is happening (history in the making)!

Even in the reporting of the event in Chattisgarh, there is the same shrunk world-view (camera lens).  Days before the attack on the Congress yatra, about eight tribals were gunned down by the CRPF in what has been now reported as a 'raid'.  Nothing of this ever came to light when the incident happened, nor was it the focus of discussion or even mention besides a 4 minute retrospective news by one of the news channels. Now why did the attack on the Congress brigade get all the attention?  Because not 8 but 24 died?  Not at all, but because political bigwigs were the ones targetted, not tribals!

The camera lens can not only zoom in and out on one point, it can also pan and tilt! Moreover it can even be shifted to a different locale anytime because history is in the making, anytime, all the time. 

Willing to pay the price

I watched Yeh Jawaani hai deewani today. Not as sensational as I expected it to be, but quite insightful all the same.  The movie is not surely not for the regular day-to-mouth guys but for those with possibilities of living their dreams comes true, already assured - at least financially!

In life we need to give up something in order to earn or gain something. We need to leave a place to reach another. We simply cannot have everything of everything without giving up something, often that what we love most at one point or the other.  Now what decides the mode of our life is where our focus lies, once this fact is learnt (either the regular way or the hard way).  Where exactly do we focus?  On what's given up or what one is chasing after?

So here's my final take on the characters and their attitudes towards life...

  • One who really does not value what he or she is striving after or has not deemed it worthy enough to leave behind something of worth, and is still pursuing the new line, is either a wreck or an assured failure.  
  • One who does not know the worth of what he or she is leaving behind, does not also know the worthiness or the uselessness of what he or she is chasing after now.  
  • One who mourns and not cherishes what he or she has to leave behind will always be unhappy, even if he or she would achieve their goal.  
  • Blessed is he or she who cherishes the past and hopes for the future with an open mind and heart... even if he does not succeed, he or she will always be happy and enthusiastic about life.
Last word... happiness means different things to different people. It can also mean different things to the same person at different times. Maturity is nothing but knowing the latter! 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Miracle of sharing

We commemorated the body and blood of Christ today.  The Gospel of the day is wherein Jesus multiplies the fish and loaves of bread for the people to eat.  Most often this 'miracle' is reduced to the material bread and fish that all got to eat free that day for lunch.  Or it is theologically interpreted as the body of Christ himself shared with others.  However, the real miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish could be one of sharing! That people who had were willing to share with those who did not have.  What if, that what I have is in no way going to suffice for the multitude before me?  No problem it will atleast satisfy the hunger of one or two more besides myself.  If all of us were to think in those terms, everyone, yes everyone in the world would have his/her meal everyday.  Jesus teaches us to share, to give the little that we have, the rest is his lookout.  On our behalf he asks us to think beyond ourselves, to be generous, to be willing, to share what we have with others not so fortunate.  

I believe... really?

We say that we believe in very many things, however, it is not necessarily true that we truly believe in all that we say we believe in. This evening as I spent time in personal adoration, being the only one in campus at the world adoration time, I was reflecting on the creed, 'I believe...'.  I realised that all the tenets given there are good and nice to repeat but really do I really really believe in all of them?  Say for example, how much of it is true that I am really convinced of the fact of 'life eternal'?  Do I believe in it as much as I believe that it is my parents who gave birth to me and nurtured me all my life?  If so, why do we live our lives as if this life is the one eternal?

It also dawned on me that perhaps most of the things that we believe in, either in truth or for convenience, are the things we take for granted.  It could be out of experience that nothing so far has happened differently than the 'normal', or that I've never ever given it a thought at all.  I just gulped it down and assumed it to be so.  Say like the earth under my feet as I walk is going to hold me up and not let me sink to the core of the earth.  I never ever doubt that.  But say if I were to walk the same road in the middle of the night with no light at all, will I still walk with the same confidence that I walk during broad daylight?  

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Happy because...

Late this evening as I was strolling on the drive, lost in thought, I sensed some movement at the far end of the drive under the arch.  It was already quite dark and I really could not make out what it was, till I realised that it was our German Shepherd, Ginger, which was chained there by the cooks.  As usual it recognised me from far and was happy about me being there.  It then dawned on me that its happiness was not related to me noticing it or doing something for it.  That it was dark and I did not see it at all, did not in any way dampen its joyful spirit.  I corrected my foolishness, in this line of thought when I realised its happiness was not some show it was putting up for me. Its joy was an expression of its inner state of happiness... irrespective of whether someone noticed it or not, whether it was bright or pitch dark, whether I did something for it or not...

I remembered a quote of Anthony de Mello
The bird sings not because it has an answer, but because it has a song to sing.

Be human


In our Salesian formation process, among the various criteria given to facilitate the follow up of those aspiring and growing in their Salesian vocation, the first to be listed is that of human maturity.  Indeed it is a bit odd to note that given the fact that Priesthood and the Church is related more to prayer and piety, that human formation takes the priority in this module.  I also was reading one of the ordination homilies and came across this beautiful piece of advice by the preacher.  

First of all be human. ...never forget you are priests but don't forget that first you are a human being. 
(read more of it here at The Deacon's Bench).
The reason for this initial focus is quite logical, simple and highly theological at the same time. None can deny that we are human beings prior to anything else. Life, in its form gifted to us, is in the human form.  Theologically, God revealed Himself to us, not in the form of God or even an angel, but as God-Incarnate! 
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