Monday, 29 September 2014

Tugboats (September 2014)

Here's the second issue of TUGBOATS: A Bicentenary Issue (September 2014). The theme is an interesting one: Salesians 2115.

Some hard talk here.  And from the response coming in, it has reached far and wide and hopefully triggered reflection and consequent action too!
[The previous issue can be downloaded here]

Salesian Mission and the Lay Dimension

A concerned confrere asked me this simple but very relevant question: How do we envision the future of Salesian mission in India when the lay dimension (involving Brothers, lay people as cooperators, volunteers, past pupils...) is abysmally minimal?  Can it and will it truly be bright and holistic?

The immediate thing that comes to my mind is this. India is basically a land of cults and rituals. Therefore the person performing these takes a privileged place in society. Catholicism too, unconsciously or by way of inculturation, has imbibed this particular preferential viewpoint of some 'over' the others. I would not hesitate to say that there is also a very conscious and deliberate attempt to keep laity off the loop, leave alone engage them as partners. And in my frank opinion, this outlook will take some time to broaden up or open up.

My only fear is that we are not even ready to learn from the experience of the West wherein the lay participation has picked up after (or perhaps in revolt of) the domination of the clergy and the religious in the medieval era. Perhaps a few hard knocks will waken us up to the reality that needs to be witnessed and REALISED.  Hope we better learn to live this essential dimension of our Salesian mission sooner than a regretfully later date.  

Sunday, 28 September 2014

In God, first!

Fr Prathap said something beautiful while speaking about the vocation of being a missionary.  He stated that a missionary is one who trusts God more than oneself.  It caught my attention because, it is not as if to say that God is the only one I trust and discount myself to nought!  Neither is it total independence and self-reliance. But while I make use of the God-given talents and resources, my primary trust is in God.  

Thursday, 25 September 2014

... sought the Lord!

This morning's Gospel ends with this phrase: "... and Herod sought Him."

The Gospels are replete with this 'seeking':

  • Martha sought Jesus after the death of her brother Lazarus.
  • Nicodemus sought the Lord to clarify his doubts.
  • Mother Mary herself sought Jesus when there were rumours that he had gone off his head.
  • Judas came seeking the Lord in the garden of Gethsemane.
  • Zaccheus sought the Lord to quench his curiosity.
  • The centurion asked for the Lord to heal his dying ward.
  • Herod, the tetrarch, sought Jesus to find out who he truly was.
  • The earlier Herod, searched for baby Jesus to put him to an eternal rest. 
  • Mary Magdalene sought the Lord to heal her. 
  • Some of his apostles came in search because others told them to. 

Just two points:

  1. Did anyone seek Jesus for Himself, for who He was? ... not for some purpose of their own, but just pure, plain, the person of Jesus?
  2. All these people seeking the Lord were not to be possible if in the first place, Jesus did not come seeking for us! 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Antique shop and Instant wisdom

The antique shop owner was doing a roaring trade, when the shop next door was taken over by another antique shopkeeper, who erected a large sign, which read 'Best Antique Deals in Town'. Trade was hit bad, when to his horror, the very next week, another antique dealer set up shop on the other side of him, and erected an even larger sign, which read, 'Finest Quality Antiques at the Best Prices in Town'.

The antique shopkeeper thought his business was destroyed, until he had a bright idea. Next day he erected an even bigger sign, right above his own shop doorway. It read, 'Main Entrance'.

Dealer in antiques but certainly fresh and sharp in wisdom!

Survival/Business tactic?

The other day I had to go to town to purchase a new modem.  On the way I could not but notice the rush in some of the clothing stores, in view of the coming feast of Dassera.  What made it all the more noticeable was the display of new cars and banners notifying the ongoing 'lucky draw'.  Shops were promising not just another saree or a piece of clothing but a brand new car for the winner of the draw. I was told that the eligibility criterion for participating in the lucky draw is that the present purchase ought to be of goods worth more than Rs 15,000 to 20,000.

I could not but help compare it with the 'Year of Faith', 'Bicentenary celebrations' and the upcoming 'Year of Consecrated Life'.  And I was wondering if the Church and the Congregation learnt such survival / business / progressive / revival (whatever one may prefer to call them) tactics from the managerial skills or the businessmen picked it up from the Catholic institutions?  

Salesians 2115

For the forthcoming issue of Tugboats (the bicentenary initiative of Cl. Manu, Karunapuram), we chose the theme 'Salesians 2115'.  Though it was a very crazy idea it was worthy and interesting, none the less. Here's my take on the state of Salesians, another 100 years from now.
There would be more communities but less institutions; greater networking and communion and less 'Salesian domineering'; more talk about humanity and little of 'Salesianity' or religiousity; more living witnesses than inspirational documents, and we will be more Christ-like than merely Church-like.  
What I desisting from adding - though I did hint at it - is that if not for this radical option, the Congregation is either going to be defunct or will be headed for a split!  

Absurdities

The other day while invigilating during the first written exam of the Brothers I realized the absurdity of my presence in the exam hall.  Seminarians are the ones who are to be the most sincere and trusted of all in the society... at least theoretically. And yet the need of an invigilator in the exam hall.  (So much for the standard of our future Church leaders and our formation paradigm!!)

It is more or less like posting a watchman at the cemetery. Those outside would not like to get in and those inside cannot get out! Yet one is posted at the gate!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Understanding Radicality in the right context

Often there is a temptation in many, especially me, to view 'radicality' with regard to our vocation and living out of it, as something totally different from the present 'diluted' way of living or perhaps a very fundamental option, as in the beginning (may be like the founder or like Christ Himself).  However, one dimension that I'm beginning to now reflect upon is the following:
Radicalism is basically a response, a befitting and appropriate response to God's invitation.  It is not merely a set of activities or attitudes.  Only and only when it is the former will it truly and completely be 'radical', primary, and most importantly, for a particular purpose.  When it is only the latter, then it can get diluted or corrupted sooner or later because it does not have a source other than me!

However, yet to truly comprehend the 'how' of it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Why invite young people?

Something that was troubling me during the goodnight talk tonight. It was a sharing by Br Lawrence Mondol, the youth director and vocation promoter of the Kolkota Province (INC).  That very combination of the two roles is perhaps the ideal, by way of our charism and methodology.  He shared about his plans and ideas for vocation promotion.

What kept ringing in my ears is this: Are we keen to have young people join us to keep our institutions going? Or is it that we wish to keep alive the charism of Don Bosco?  Frankly speaking neither of the two is an appropriate motivation.  The former is certainly an idiotic one!  The latter, though appears noble is a very dangerous trap.

I believe we invite young people to become Salesians because I (personally, and as a representative of the Salesian congregation) feel thrilled about my choice of being an SDB.  I invite young people so that they may discover the joy, purpose and meaning of their lives, as I keep uncovering bit by bit, being an SDB.  I encourage young people to become Salesians so that they may add life and vigour to the dream of Don Bosco and not merely repeat or desperately keep alive that dream.  

Religion as a play

How best can one describe Religion?
Well to me, as of today, the best analogy I can speak of is a PLAY, a drama.  Religion is perhaps like a play in which what matters most is not the stage, nor the actors, not the props, neither the audience nor the number of viewers but the one who ultimately calls the shots.

The fact that God is part of this whole drama - and not necessarily the one calling the shots! - makes this whole enterprise a real adventure.  If at times God is directing, then it is a 'spiritual' scene and if a human being is animating, then it is 'human'.  Sometimes human being dances and at times God is made to dance. As with regard to Christianity, God himself takes on a role by himself!

However, the beauty of it all is that it is all a living drama.  It has every sentiment, every dimension, everything one can think of, human or divine, spiritual or mundane.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Future leaders of the Church!

Today I finished correcting the class test answer papers of the first years of Ancient Western Philosophy.  I realised that very many of them (totally 40) have basically understood nothing ... literally, nothing of what I have been teaching for the past whole semester.

I therefore wonder, if after such detailed and painstaking effort they do not understand no basic and simple facts of philosophy (at least common sense matters??), how much and what exactly do they understand about the Bible and faith?  Will their grasp and presentation of their faith, doctrines, experience be anything sensible to anyone?

If expression was a hurdle I'd understand, but what if basic understanding itself is so faulty that there is not even one sentence which makes sense? The question is something and the answer is something else altogether!  At times it is a repeat of Hanuman carrying the whole mountain back to Rama when he is unable to identify the specific herbal plant: the whole chapter is there (including the birthplace and works of the philosoher) when all that is asked is one simple idea or a critique of one particular idea of the philosopher.  At times there is only the question repeated... over and over again, with the only difference that the word order is changed (don't ask me if there is any sense in those sentences!).  Sometimes there is only blank space!

Textual or Academic studies is difficult, I know and am willing to accept. But basic learning? Common sense or simple ordinary thought?  Add to that, the 'decision' or will to become leaders of the Church!! 

Learning-Fun

Two very enriching prospective sites I'd surely like to try for my teaching purpose or narrative uses:

  • My Story Book: A tool for creating story books for kids with pictures
  • Socratic Smackdown: A tool for enhancing argumentative and debate skills... done very systematically. 

The best aspect of both these possibilities: they are fun and literally games, with a definitive educative purpose!  Great way to learn through fun!

Thanks to Free Technology For Teachers for leading me here!

Cross vs the One on the Cross

Yesterday was the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Most people in their search for meaning and purpose get stuck to the dead wood of the Cross and fail to reach or approach the living One capable of making sense to everything.

The cross was only the means, neither the purpose or the end of Christ's coming into the world.  This feast is a reminder or a challenge to each of us to be able to distinguish between means and purpose... not mix up the whole for the part  or the part for the whole.

Later last evening Prathap shared a very significant fact with us: that Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent made by Moses during the Israelites journey through the desert and which was the cause of survival of so many who were bitten by the poisonous snakes.  Reason:  They forgot Yahweh and his temple and word and thought the bronze serpent was the real power!!

The modern world subtly puts the cross vs the One hanging on the Cross and we ought to prefer the One on the cross and not the cross alone!!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Lovely song


Here's a very lovely ad based on the song from Barfi...
The child's expressions are very meaningful...
and here's the song from the movie itself

Starting afresh...

A good friend of mine once told me that the whole edifice of most structures is held high by just a few. The rest in the organisation are merely decorations! So however, pathetic the edifice or the structure may be, it is these few who slog it out to keep it alive or improve it. And when it comes to revamping the structure, one possibility is to jettison the 'parasites' or the decorations. But that only be like a simple white-wash. Instead, kill the few who uphold the structure in all honesty and good will... and then naturally the whole edifice will crumble. Then, out of those ruins or the flattened structure will emerge new, vibrant and authentic life. Even God did that (remember, Noah and the flood?).

I did not much believe in this re-creation then, but now tend to! 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Under Water


Here's an interesting line from the movie Gangster Squad... very interesting:


The whole town's under water and you're grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit. 

Wandering 'Salesian' Hen

We have about three dozen poultry (chicken, mostly) and a couple of ducks, besides half a dozen pigs and an equal number of dogs – thankfully, we have only one cat! Of all these, there is one hen that regularly frequents our lawn, inside the house. The rest of its brood never bothers to venture in. This particular fowl is the only one which dares. The best part of it is when someone chases it out. It makes such a crackling noise as though someone is plucking off its feathers. It amuses me as to why it should leave the whole 11 acre rich farm and wander into this small lawn... makes me wonder if it is some reincarnated Salesian Brother!! Makes sense also because as and when the youngsters here are Salesians, they wish to get out as much and as often as possible.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

All girls!

Yesterday was the birthday of Mother Mary and also Girl-child day.  Prayed that Mother Mary may continue being my guide and strength...
and here's a funny one for the feminine world! God bless you dear girls...
When a small girl said her bedtime prayers, she would bless every family member, every friend, and every animal, current and past.  One night after the family had finished the night prayer, she added, "And all girls." This closing became part of her nightly routine. Eventually the mother asked the girl, "Why do you always add the part about all girls?" "Because everybody always finish their prayers by saying 'All men'!" 

Fart of your body...?

Before every meal we have a short reading from the Bible followed by a short reflection on the same, in the context of food and gratitude.  I was distracted by the following text... or rather the pronunciation of the reader!
It is much better for you to lose a FART (part) of your body than to have your whole body thrown in hell! 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Teachers' Day

Tomorrow, India commemorates Teachers' day... a day dedicated to felicitate the teachers in our schools and colleges, in fond memory of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.  In schools this is really a day of celebration for children as they express their sentiments for their respective teachers, and being children they are sincere in their feedback!  However, as we grow older, this respect and admiration for the teachers turns into disrespect and despise.

Being teachers, as those involved in one of most noble profession of imparting knowledge and leading young minds in their search for wisdom, is enough reason to demand one's respect.  Irrespective of their educational qualification or lack of it, whether competent or not, respecting teachers is the duty of a student - not an optional privilege!  Indian tradition lays before us a beautiful example when it equates a Guru to God himself - the other two being mother and the guest.
... and the best gift or form of respect a student can offer to one's teacher is to grow in wisdom and build one's life on values.  This begins when a student is open and willing to learn, however little or much the teacher has to offer.  

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Noah and his choices...

This afternoon I watched the movie Noah.  I was very much captivated by what I watched.  When I began to watch I expected some religious pious drama of God commanding and man obeying.  However, what surprised me was the take of the director and the whole story.  It depicts Noah and the choices he makes... not what God makes and tells him to do. The movie walks with Noah as he makes decisions, and struggles to live with the consequences of those choices he makes.  It shows a man living up to God... not merely God calling a man to do something and God making it all happen.

Another aspects of the movie I truly admire is the way, God is depicted. He is NOT shown at all!! All that Noah has is dreams, visions and signs. There is no 'God' appearing to him and 'telling' him in clear cut terms what he ought to do.  The only 'strange' phenomenon one gets to see is the Watchers, the unearthly beings which - again - choose to help Noah.

The latter part of the movie too is very meaningful.  It shows the pain and the desperate measures Noah is challenged to take up to fulfill his mission - he is to end his own progeny and let God begin afresh!  All along, God is 'silent'.

Today people prefer to believe that believing in God will automatically and 'magically' erase all problems and difficulties in life... that those who believe and trust in God are not supposed to have any difficulties in life.  In such a context, I truly am happy that the movie does not make life easy for Noah, just because God chooses him.  It shows truly and honestly how difficult life is for those who choose God!  The tagline of the movie should therefore have been, 'Noah chooses God!' 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Youth Fest 2014

We had the Youth Day yesterday.  Personally for me it was to get the 'youth within' - the Brothers themselves - to see reality a bit more than wider than mere doling out of games, food and maybe, a bit of information!
Rather than merely provide the youth with some heavy input sessions and make them passive receivers of information or swing to the other extreme of only having some dance and song programme, this Youth Fest was planned to involve the youth themselves in identifying and trying out varied options for issues they face in their day-to-day life. Looking at the day from that perspective, it certainly was a worthy effort and a move in the right direction.
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