Friday, 31 March 2017

Stuck to the 'law' of Jesus

Reflection for the readings of April l, 2017

Opinions are always divided. Convictions too are varied. Some people who heard Jesus were convinced about him being a prophet, or the Messiah. The Pharisees were convinced otherwise. While the conviction of the people was based on what they had experienced of Jesus themselves, the Pharisees' conviction arose from their knowledge of the law. They preferred to keep the law than to let it be questioned by a personal experience.

Today, as disciples of the Lord, we too can be like the Pharisees. We too can be so caught up with following what Jesus said rather than seek for a genuine personal experience of Him and thereby live the 'law' to its fullest.

Spring colours

A couple of photos of natural beauty along the way to St Ann's Hill, Chertsey.

As I clicked these photos was careful and a bit frightened too.  Last week a man and his two little daughters (aged 8 and 10) were pulled up by a cop and reprimanded for plucking daffodils from the roadside.  They merely wanted to gift them to their respective mothers on the occasion of 'Mothers day'.  Not only were they 'warned' that what they plucked was confiscated!  Worst of all the photo of two utterly terrified children in the back of the car was published in the newspaper!! Did not want to suffer any such fate!

St Ann's Hill, Chertsey

I took a walk upto St Ann's Hill today.  Certainly a good place to go on a sunny day like today.  A steady climb of 45 minutes.  Was surprised that one could see the Heathrow airport from up there.  I actually calculated and noticed that a flight takes off every 4 mins.  Then the Thorpe water park is also visible from the point I spent some time at.

 This particular torch was erected in 1928 and has been occasionally lit on special occasions. I think only about 5 other times, since then.  And what is it serving as when not being used officially for some ceremonial purpose? As a korfball basket by children!! All sorts of bottles and scrap is targetted into it!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Driving test

I took my driving practical test this morning... and failed!  Well, no excuses.  I got four minors for the same fault: not checking my blindspot before starting off after the stop.  If only I had remembered to check that blindspot one more time than the two times I actually did, I'd have got through... but... if only! I also need to be conscious of the lane discipline while on the roundabout.

Honestly was very very nervous till I started the driving.  Once in the seat, I was totally relaxed.  Surprisingly.  Perhaps it is just old habit.  I remember volunteering to drive all the late night dropping and picking up from the railway station or airport while at the Provincial house. I always found it relaxing to be out after a hard day's work in the office.

Also the examiner was relaxed and did not show any signs of anxiety or grumpiness.  His accent was slightly difficult to follow and within a couple of minutes of his interaction with me, I could politely ask him to repeat himself, because I could not follow his accent.  He gladly obliged, without any fuss or any signs of displeasure.

Anyway, the next available slot is a month and half away! Hope to get through then.  

Growth


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Prayers answered

I might have posted this before, but still everytime I remember this, I cannot help viewing this clip (from the movie Evan Almighty) about prayer and God answering our prayers...

Monday, 27 March 2017

Change


Punishment

The last day of lecture, on Thursday, witnessed a very one-sided debate on punishment and justice.  In the class we were just four of us students and the lecturer.  Everyone, except me, was for retributive justice by which they were discussing ways and means of prolonging the intensity of punishment in cases of gruesome criminal acts.  At the same time they were also trying to steer clear of not getting embroiled in human right issues.  So there was the discussion on prolonging life of criminals so that they serve longer prison terms (rather than be quickly bumped off) by means of technology.

I did my best in supporting restorative methods, by which I stated that the aim of punishment is not just to 'balance' the harm done!  Doing so would be the same as the crime already committed, but now legally sanctioned!  Therefore I suggested that there must be something that even the worst of criminals are good at.  Get them to do that for the good of the society.  This way, they get a chance (or are even forced to) make reparation for the harm done and the society too benefits.  However the harm done cannot be undone.  But the objection the class raised to this was that I was treating the person as a means to an end - ethically not justified!

After a long winding discussion which basically centred on how to intensify pain and suffering to balance the harm done, the professor stated that we need to first ask basic questions before we come to some decisions.  She said, which I firmly reiterated, that the question of what punishment is for needs to be clarified.  Unless such basic questions are clearly answered, our final decisions will always be lacking, even if they seem right.  

Addiction and spirituality

While preparing a paper on 'Addiction and desires', I was suggested this particular book by one priest.  I read quite a few academic and psychological articles and then read this book, written by a psychologist but with a heavy spiritual bent. Reading this book was a real 'confusion'!  It turned all what I read earlier, on its head. I redid my paper. However, (unfortunately) could not include the spiritual element and that was a real struggle.  The concept is basically based on spirituality.  The name of the book is Addiction and Grace by Gerald May.
The basic premise of the book is that each of us has an inborn desire for God.  Irrespective of whether we are conscious or not, name it so or otherwise, seek it through religion or other ways, this yearning is inescapable.  May calls addiction, the "most powerful psychic enemy of humanity's desire for God" (p. 3).

Addiction then is what distracts us from this desire for God or seek comfortable ways of escaping from His haunting (but not enslaving) love.
Psychologically, addiction uses up desire. It is like a psychic malignancy, sucking our life energy into specific obsessions and compulsions, leaving less and less energy available for other people and other pursuits (p. 13).
Here's what I liked most...
Detachment is the word used in spiritual traditions to describe freedom of desire. Not freedom from desire, but freedom of desire.... detachment has come to be associated with coldness, austerity, and lack of passion. This is simply not true (p. 14).

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Summer time and timing

The British summer timing came into effect last night. So at one this morning it suddenly became 2 am.  We now have gained an hour of daytime.  The concept is interesting.  However, I doubt if it really helps most people practically.  Of course, it wouldn't be a practice if it were not helpful.

After the invention of the electric bulb there is hardly day or night that makes a big difference for anyone. 

Navigating

I used my mobile phone's google maps and navigation for the first time today to find my way to a neighbouring parish. I first was lost because I could see the church but not the entrance to it, to get in and park my car.  So I was going in circles.  The navigation was not a big help because it would tell me to turn right, but there wasn't a right there at all!  So I ended up going reaching a place where I could start the hunt again.  This time round the navigation took me straight to the Church.  Coming back was spot on.

If it were anywhere in India, all that one would need to do is stop by the road side and ask any passerby. Most would show you the way - even they did not know it themselves!  But here one can't just do that - neither stop nor ask any passerby!  So this technology is indeed helpful.

Generation iKids

Here are extracts from an article which was featured in the complimentary magazine of The Times (25.03.2017).  Written by Ben Machell, it is titled 'Addicted! Generation iKids'
The world to a baby is pretty unpredictable, but these devices are so well crafted and intuitive that they deliver something to a baby that is reasonably predictable. It makes them feel like they have command over an environment that they generally don't have much control over... (emphasis added) (p. 22)
Adam Alter, a psychologist:
The problem with modern technology, he says, is not that it changes so quickly, but rather that it changes just slowly enough for us to not really notice the effect it's having (p. 23).  
Technology today has widened the possibility of 'probability'. Earlier, one had to be at home, in front of a TV set to watch a cartoon. Not anymore.  Moreover there were barriers built into the TV viewing. The cartoon programmes were interspersed with news, "stopping rules".
Only, these stopping rules are being deliberately, systematically destroyed by Zuckerberg and friends. Everything is now designed to be endless... a sort of auto-binge option that prevents you from having to make the decision to watch another (p. 23). 
Alter adds
The biggest issue with interaction is that you get feedback. And feedback is the engine of addiction.... if you have a device that gives them instant feedback all the time, that means they don't have to try very hard to get feedback from the world (p. 23).  
Perhaps the most serious danger:
...phones and tablets allow children to pass the time in a kind of mental holding pattern: not bored, but not engaged with the world around them either (p. 23).  
The article rightly places the onus of the responsibility on the parents.  If parents are all the time facing the phone, they're not going to be far behind.  One of the serious suggestions of the psychologists: avoid using phones and digital devices when with children.  The main reason: they deserve your time and full attention.  Do not keep yourselves or them distracted with phones and tablets!

The article also lists the opposing view, namely that research shows not much of a damage is done to the child's learning skill or mental functioning.  However, I personally see the sacrifice of the actual world for a virtual world, a huge threat to human civilization. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Aspiration and ambition

Have been working on a paper trying to prove that addictions are more than just strong desires.  As part of the reading came across this particular difference.  (will cite the source when I remember!)
Aspiration is when we hope for a better tomorrow and use all our time, talent and resources to achieve it. It is about making life better. Most scientific discoveries that have benefited humankind are all results of aspiration. Ambition, on the other hand, is when we hope not only to be better than ourselves, but to be better than all others.
I came across this text in Harini Calamu's blog POV. Read the interesting text here.  In her blog post, the author cites the reasons for BJP coming to power.  She rightly proves what most know: The weakness of Congress and other parties is BJP's greatest strength! 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ideal may not be real

Ideal state of affairs in a company:
when the boss of the company is the democratically elected president of the trade union!

The one who gets elected is the one who workers feel will understand and stand up for their collective interests.  If that person also happens to be the boss, then there is truly a great amount of trust and working relationship among all the members at the site.

However, in this case, one may not need a trade union at all!  

Monday, 20 March 2017

Best thing that ever happened to me


"Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me"

I've had my share of life's ups and downs
But fate's been kind, the downs have been few
I guess you could say that I've been lucky
Well, I guess you could say that it's all because of you

If anyone should ever write my life story 
For whatever reason there might be 
Ooo, you'll be there between each line of pain and glory 
'Cause you're the best thing that ever happened to me 
Ah, you're the best thing that ever happened to me 

Oh, there have been times when times were hard
But always somehow I made it, I made it through
'Cause for every moment that I've spent hurting
There was a moment that I spent, ah, just loving you

If anyone should ever write my life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you'll be there between each line of pain and glory
'Cause you're the best thing that ever happened to me
Oh, you're the best thing that ever happened to me
I know, you're the best thing, oh, that ever happened to me

Doctor shopping

Came across this particular phrase 'doctor shopping' while glancing through literature on 'addiction'.  It is described as one of the possible symptoms of patients who are treated for addiction.  However, it can also be observed among those who have ailments too.

The basic notion is when people go meet different doctors merely because the one whom they met last did not meet their 'required standards' or they did not find the person to their taste!  It is a bit odd because, when in need of help, one approaches a doctor.  To judge the doctor on the basis of his or her compliance with my 'tastes' and thereby keep changing doctors is only a sign of another ailment, besides the one, someone already has!

Duck or Grouse

Hung on a pub's low entrance at Swindon is this particular board, 'Duck or Grouse?'
For a first timer it may sound as a menu card but for one who is used to the board will know, that it is an indicator of the low door beam and hence you either duck or hold a grouse!

Reminds me another amusing board that I saw first hand during my first visit to London, that too outside a pub.

Everlasting dysentery

The responsorial psalm of the day, feast of St Joseph, had this particular response:
His dynasty shall last for ever. 
During the sermon, Fr John remembered one of his old parishioners who had a gift of mixing up words and on one such occasion ended up asking the congregation to reply,
His dysentery shall last for ever.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Peeking out

Here are a couple of photos of spring peeking out of the dry autumn... from across the open ground across the road from our Salesian house.

Thinking as pigeons

Received this interesting message on whatsapp today...
In an ancient temple, a number of pigeons lived happily on the roof. When the renovation of the temple began for the feast, the pigeons relocated themselves to a Church nearby.  The existing pigeons in the church accommodated the new comers very well.

Christmas was nearing and the church needed a face lift.  All the pigeons then had to look for another place. They found one in the mosque at the other end of the town.  The pigeons in the mosque had no complaints and welcomed the others happily.  A while later, the mosque was being rebuilt and the pigeons now moved back to the temple.

One day the pigeons saw some communal clashes in the market and a baby pigeon asked the mother pigeon, "Who are these creatures?" "They are human beings," replied the mother. "And why are they fighting?"asked the little one.  The mother replied, "These human beings going to the temple are called 'hindus' and those going to the church, called 'christians' and the people going to the mosque are called 'muslims'.

The baby pigeon was surprised. "Why is it so? When we were in the temple we were called pigeons, and so were we when we moved to the church and then the mosque.  Similarly they should be called 'human beings' wherever they go." The mother replied, " You and me and all our pigeon friends have experienced God and that's why we live here in this elevated place, peacefully. These human beings are yet to experience God.  Hence they keep fighting and killing one another."

Healthy hearts

I came across this particular news item in the BBC today.  The scientists herein claim that they have found the healthiest hearts in the whole world. They belong to a Bolivian tribe named Tismane (pronounced chee-man-yee).  It describes their diet and physical routine and attributes their healthy hearts mainly to these: healthy diet and plenty of physical activity.  Read the full article here.



However, the article does, in passing, mention of their positive outlook and social life, as one of the influences in recording a healthy heart.  What struck me most of the photos embedded, was that these people were poor and typically tribal.  Being close to nature and following principles in line with the environment is a great value.  The integral life that they naturally live is not a remedy but reason for their well-being. Contentment and living close to nature are truly two great elements of a noble life.  Most of us in the urban life, eat and then exercise to burn the calories of what is eaten!  Our focus is mostly on diet and exercise.  Their focus is on life.  

Friday, 17 March 2017

Spring colours

Spring has already set in and the colours are changing, literally.  There is a sort of greenery budding forth as trees are getting ready to spring new leaves.  Then there are the flowers blooming. Mostly yellow, the daffodils.  There is also some strange bush like plant used as fences in some places.  It was always barren and appeared dry, at least since the time I noticed it.  But now it is all yellow and amidst the green bushes or against the green lawn, it looks great.
Then there are also this pink flowers adoring the whole tree - the cherry trees!  They look magnificent.


At times I feel a bit awkward to stand and admire these beautiful colours, because I'm the only one standing and watching these things. All the others around me are well on their way, seemingly oblivious of the changes.  I suppose they have seen it from their birth. For me, it is the first time.  

Chertsey monks

This evening I visited the Chertsey Abbey, or rather the ruins of it.  I had been around the place sometimes, but never really to the actual site. Of course, there is nothing more than a pile of stones left.  But still the stones tell the tale of monastery which began in the 7th century!  The initial monastery built of timber was vandalized by Viking raiders in 871.  The surviving stones maybe of the fourteenth century construction.  In the beginning it is believed to have had more than 50,000 acres of land attached to it! But it is said that it was about 1346 that the monastery was at its best.  Plenty of work, involvement and renewed spirit. More about the historical facts, here.

I spent sometime there, prayed a while. Sat a while trying to imagine what it would have been to be monk living in the Abbey, in those days. After some wild guesses, I said to myself, it all could have been very different.  However, one thing I was sure of, most of them would have been happy!


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Kids 'Our Father'

Here are a couple of kiddy versions of the 'Our Father':
Our Father, who does art in Heaven, Harold is His name...
... and forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put thrash in our baskets.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Depth

From my little experience of dealing with people of UK, I suspect there is an element of fear and anxiety underlying any attempt to touch upon deep personal matters. Not that elsewhere people go about shouting their inner feelings and emotions in the street.  But in comparison, there seems to be a sort of block, a sort of veil which everyone is comfortable with.

The few who do dare speak of their inner turmoils and share their feelings are often considered and treated as traditionalists or religious - someone to be kept away from!  Most consider it fashionable and modern to be 'trendy', to be superfluous.  Thus the avoidance of shared silence, deep intimate relationships, that extra effort to retain relationships, conversations involving feelings (rather than merely intellectual stuff or swearing), sharing of personal space and emotions... A note on silence: it is not that people appreciate silence. They do - that too fiercely. It is more as a tool to close up oneself, shutting out others, rather than shared silence.

I'm not judging, neither the people nor the situation, but merely trying to understand.  Certainly, it is not the case that every person or situation is in this state - but a sort of general ambiance.  Surely there must be several reasons for such an ambiance to be created.  Wonder what could be the predominant ones that led to this state of affairs.  Or I may be reading the signs differently.  Possible.

Flame 2017

Yesterday I participated in the Flame 2017, a one-day prayer and worship organised by the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation of England and Wales.  It was held at the Wembley arena.  This is the first time I attended such a programme.  Fr Marco had invited me and I agreed thinking that it was some sort of a prayer service - in silence and in small group or something like that.

However, it was anything but what I initially imagined it to be. But on the whole I liked the concept and the attempt to get young people together in prayer and fellowship.  The best I liked about it was that it was not all about God and piety and some pious rituals.  It was centred around the support of the Catholic Church for the migrants and refugees.

While there was plenty of music and singing (rock and rap - that too quite loud!), drama, interviews, a couple of talks, there was also the concluding adoration service.  It was not more than half an hour, during which there was a moment of silence.  That silence was quite 'loud'!  Nearly 9000 young people in utter silence, praying was truly amazing.  However, I also realised that the silence was a bit 'stifling' in as much as youngsters would not have carried on for any longer than the duration it was!  There was naturally a more spontaneous and joyful participation in the singing and music than in the silence.  On the whole, it was good.

A gathering like this back in India would have solely focussed on the ritual and prayer.  There'd be plenty of talks - long ones at that.  It would certainly have been more pietistic.  I suppose that such a mode of prayer would not really appeal to youth of this generation in the West - at least not the majority.  Therefore little doses of everything is ideal - something better than nothing.  

Immigration and YaR

The current discussion mode and mood about immigration has great similarities with our Salesian work with street children.

From my little experience and association with the work for and with the young at risk, I don't think I'll be wrong to say that initially the work was not at all recognised as a Salesian work.  Slowly it gained momentum and then it picked up fast.  More Salesians joined in seeing the need at hand.  It reached a sort of climax where it was hailed as truly ennobling.  It is also at this time that what we did for the children was offer them shelter and education.  The focus was on the institutional set up (though of course, when it began it was anything but institutional!).  The children were catered to.  There were attempts made to rehabilitate the children back with their own families but I'm not sure if that was the primary task. Then came the age of experimentation with trying to 'create' family like atmosphere within the institution.  So there were couples entrusted with a certain number of children but all living in the campus.  That really did not work.  Then came the era of introspection which brought the realization that institutional help is to be the last resort.  The first task is to make sure the child has a safe childhood in its own family.  We are yet to truly understand and get into this mode because we are now still stuck with our institutions!

The same 'evolutionary' process is what I see in the whole debate about immigration.  Unfortunately it is still in one of the first levels of growth: 'what to do with the immigrants?'  Rather than address the root of immigration and thereby address it, the discussion is mostly about offering (or not offering) the immigrants the right to entry, stay and work.  

Friday, 10 March 2017

Creative vs getting over with

While at Karunapuram or Kondabada, I rarely gave the students questions or themes to write assignments or papers about.  Mostly it is they who would approach me with topics they wanted to write about.

However, here I find my classmates (at least some of them) rather diffident to come up with a question or theme to write about.  Most often the professors set out a few questions from which we are to choose. Those who wish to write on topics other than those listed, need to get it approved by the professor before hand.

The reason for this 'difficulty' is because we are unable to (as of now) have a comprehensive view of the topic or issue under discussion.  Within that to pin-point one minor topic and come up with a question is therefore challenging.  My former students would come with topics because they have the papers of the past years!! The very notion of copying someone else's work just doesn't arise for my present classmates! They have tasted the thrill of thinking for oneself and thereby enjoy 'creating' stuff, rather than 'getting over' with the academic challenge. The ambiance further assists this 'creative' enterprise.

I suppose this is one of the major differences between the education system between the West and in India. Here education is geared towards helping one reflect for oneself.  In India, education is more about 'getting through'.  

Chertsey

During my walk today I noticed a signboard indicating the Chertsey town limits.  Have passed that way quite a few times, but never really took note of this board. Perhaps it was the daffodils under the board that drew my attention to it.
Every basic piece of information about Chertsey is here, including a note about the Salesian school and the Salesian Parish (St Anne's).  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Viewing oneself...

One thing to say, that "I'm nobody" and another to say, "I'm nobody with you!" Perhaps the same logic can be perceived in the AA twelve step programme, wherein participants are recommended to have recourse to a higher power (God or any other power).  They are not really asked to admit that they are powerless, but rather asked to admit that they are powerless without the help of God or the higher power.

I think this is the distinction between true pastors/healers and false or dramatic ones.  The former help each one see the point of being helpless not just by oneself, but help one see that without realizing God's assistance one is not using our full potential.  The latter tend to exploit the 'vulnerability' of persons by showing them that they are weak and then inducing the conviction that without them (the facilitator) they will not have access to God!

So a true convert is not one who goes to church regularly, but one who goes to connect with God, not the priest!  Just like healing is complete when the patient can stand on his/her own without reliance on the doctor, so too is true conversion possible when the faithful can relate to God without the priest.  Then why the priest?  Merely to facilitate that connection.  If the priest or anyone else thinks that without him God is inaccessible to His people, then not only has the priest a wrong conception of God but it is this wrong concept of God that he will pass on to others! That's double trouble.

Phone booth

With the rapid growth in communication technology, gone are the days of the public phone booth. So was surprised to see one during my walk today.  Only when I reached closer did I notice that it is totally abandoned. But the phone and everything else was still intact.  The presence of cobwebs and the word 'dead' scribbled on the door, give way to the fact that it is no more in use.

To recall yesteryears, these phone booths were much in demand and significant landmarks.  The most striking thing about the advanced mobile phones in comparison to years when there wasn't any such facility, is when I go to pick up someone at the railway station.  Earlier, all the information we would have is a postcard or an inland letter stating the date, train name and the time of its arrival.  Equipped with just that piece of information, we would still locate the guests and escort them home without any difficulty.  Now even with the latest of technology, our concern for the guest has not grown proportionately.
Then, found another thing, just beside the phone booth which is nearing extinction: the postbox!

Daffodils

With the daytime becoming longer, clearly the onset of summer, it is the season of daffodils in these parts.  Very many places the daffodils are already blooming and they look great.  There is the normal variety which grows about 1 foot tall and then there is also the dwarf variety which is little taller than the lawn grass.  But the flowers look great.
Look forward to seeing the colourful flowers of England this summer.  

Children and puddles

As grown ups, while walking on the road, especially during the rainy season, we are careful to avoid the puddles that are formed by the rain.  We are cautious not to soil our footwear and clothes.  But children have altogether a different reasoning! Now what that reason is I'm not sure. But children invariably find puddles.  Not only do they wade through them, but they have to make a splash!  It just cannot be otherwise.  The joy of having 'achieved' this feat is great. And if prevented by the elders (almost in the nick of time), the look of dissatisfaction on their faces will melt any monster.

There is evidently a hidden magnetic attraction between a child's eyes/mind and the puddles... something that eventually disappears by the time we grow.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Mind your own business

In Europe, people normally tend not to interfere with other people's affairs.  So on a train, one hardly notices the other person sitting beside - leave alone enter into a conversation or exchange pleasantries. In fact, even attempting to do the latter is considered impolite and rude! The rule of manners is summed up in 'mind your own business'.  The first time I heard this phrase during a lecture on manners, I felt a bit odd.  A bit offended, actually.  But I've now come to realize that the English really mean it. It really means a lot to them!

Back in India, if I were not to introduce myself to my new neighbours or greet them politely, I would be considered a prude or a sinister person with some secrets agenda.  If I were to do the same here, I would be intruding their private sphere!  So much so, even to reverse (even halfway) into someone's drive for some urgent reasons would be considered very bad manners, even lead to trespassing!

Perhaps this is also one of the reasons the library is so silent and everyone is lost in their own work.  Looking at the brighter side, I don't think this scenario will ever be possible in an Indian library!  (At least it never was during all my years of 'regimental' rule at Karunapuram or Kondadaba!)

Fruit or vegetable?

Yesterday we had an interesting lecture about the validity of 'truth-statements'.  The discussion was about which norm to follow.  Since we were speaking of pragmatists the notion of supra-material or metaphysical was out.  But even in normal affairs there was this dilemma of science or social?  The example that Huw Price quotes in his book Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism (ch. 2) is that of tomato.  Now scientifically it is a fruit, but in ordinary usage it is used as a vegetable.  So the question, how do we treat it?  Go by science or by social usage?
What if someone sent me a gift: a basket of fruits ... tomatoes? Would I be wrong in feeling odd? Or is the person who sent me in the wrong?  What if I ask someone to get me some fruit to eat, and he gets me aubergines (English term for 'brinjal')? Would he be wrong? Would I be wrong in thinking he's gone nuts?

Or should we treat both, the scientific and the social understanding to be right? That'd mean that a tomato is both a fruit and a vegetable?  

Give up to gain

We human beings have an uncanny ability to live by paradoxes.

  • We love things and use people; while we need to love people and use things. 
  • We act big with the small and small with the big; while we need to be balanced or at least big with the big and small with the small. 
  • We focus on having more than being more; while we need to have less to be more. 

And in Lent, we are called to give up to gain.  

Monday, 6 March 2017

On friendship

There is this lovely scene in the movie '3 idiots' wherein the two friends race to the college noticeboard to check the exam results. Knowing their academic capabilities, they start to check the list from the bottom.  They find their names right at the bottom of the list.  They are naturally sad. They do not find the third friend's name on the list.
Narration:
We were sad. Not because we got the last marks, but because our friend had failed.
Searching for their third friend's marks, they are then shocked to see that he has topped the class!
Narration:
That day we learnt a lesson in human behaviour. If a friend fails, it hurts. But if your friend comes first, then it hurts more!

Intricate designs

Looking at the trees outside the library and my room, especially in this season, all stripped of leaves, just the bare branches, I admire the intricate design the branches form.  There is certainly no orderly fashion in which the branches grow.  All convoluted, twisted, in different directions, uneven...
(representation purpose only)
However, even in its grotesque shape and size, the branches and the tree as a whole look great.  No method or order or symmetry.  Or perhaps not one that I can observe.  ... perhaps it has its own 'method in madness'.

Signs

I've seen this signboard in use several times, in several places.
It is placed by those engaged in cleaning a place to warn others of the hazards of a wet floor, or wires running across or work in progress.  One way of looking at it is health safety.  That one does not hurt oneself in such a situation - by accident. The other way of looking at it is exhorting patience.  The one at work asks for time to do his or her work and that you do not intrude upon or cause him or her to do double work of cleaning.

Depends how one wants to read the signs! 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lenten joy

Every year when we come round to this time of the year when we have to plan for the community Lenten penance, and discussion is most often around giving up food, I invariably remember my second year at Kondadaba as Dean and administrator.  That was the year when we did not receive the annual subsidy from Rome.  We were in a tight fix.  We were scraping on the savings of the previous years.  Not that we were desperate, but we really had to tighten our belts.

Now for a group of 70 young men, who were used to having good food and quite a bit of luxury to suddenly feel the pinch of it was not easy.  However, during one house assembly I presented them the financial difficulty we were going through and asked the Brothers to bear up.  Honestly I did expect some repercussions.  However, I was surprised at the way the Brothers rose up to the occasion.  Not only did they not complain or grudge but came forward with suggestions and actually carried out most of them, even without telling me, as to how to cut expenses.  What really touched me was the joy with which they bore up with the inconveniences.  It was not tolerated. They were happy to be part of a community.

So towards the end of the year, when we had the community meeting to decide on the Lenten penance, there was again suggestions of what to give up and abstain and all.  After some time I got up and sincerely acknowledged the sacrifices made by the community all through the year, that too joyfully.  And hence, I said, you need not do more than what we have already been doing.  Let's just continue with greater joy!  There was a huge round of applause.

In all my years of handling money/administration, that was the happiest year - not just for me but for the whole community!
Most of those in that academic year...

Lenten penance

What did you give up for Lent?  That's the question most people have in mind now.  I've asked myself too the same.  When in a context where more than half of the week I give up lunch (not because I want to but because I'm away at college) there's no point in giving up more of food!  So that really brings me to ask what is it that I then give up so that I 'feel' it?

So for this Lent, I'm giving up 'discouragement'.  May look odd but in this present moment, I think that's what I'm 'enjoying'!  So why not give up that!  The academic front has been challenging. And not used to being challenged intellectually, I find myself struggling.  Over the past couple of months, I realise I've been wallowing in this pit of 'lethargic discouragement'. Time for some sacrifice!

Of names and places

This evening I went out for a walk... after many days.  Took a new route, up the St Anne's Hill.  However, halfway up the hill, it started to rain and so had to return. Was pleasantly surprised to see a street dedicated to me! Yeah, my name!
At college there is this confusion of my name still raging!  Here in the English culture everyone calls everyone, even those elder to one, by their first name.  Only official and formal reference to someone would involve only their surname with the salutation 'Mr' prefixed.  Most of those who know me in college call me by my first name.  However, some who have been in e-mail correspondence with me have asked why do I sign my surname.  That's because that's how I've been called for the past 20 years!  

I still remember filling out the name sheet on one of our first days at The Retreat, Yercaud - not even a month after my first profession in 1996.  There was our full name printed out and we were asked to fill in our birthday and preferred name to be called.  By then I had known most in the community. There were two more in the senior group with the same name as mine. So to avoid confusion I wrote my surname, as the preferred name to be used.  Since then it has been how I've always been called.  

But here's the icing on the cake: None of the other two were called by their first name - all three of us were called by our surnames!!

Saturday, 4 March 2017

DBNJ Ramanthapur

Here's the community where I was last year this time.  This photo too is exactly a year old.  (L to R): Cl. Ashok, Cl. Justin, Fr Gnanam, Fr Sudhakar, Fr Ramesh, myself, Cl. John and Fr T.D. John.

Brings back nostalgic memories of my time at DBNJ, Ramanthapur, especially the boys.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Diogenes of Sinope

Diogenes of Sinope, known for his school of thought as Cynicism, was once approached by Alexander the great.  The latter admired him and asked if he could do anything for him.  Being asked by the king, Diogenes could have asked for anything and Alexander would certainly have granted it to him.  All that Diogenes said was, "Yes, stand aside.  You're blocking my sunlight!"

It is to this famous Cynic, attributed the quote
He has the most who is most content with the least.  
Though Diogenes himself may have uttered in cynicism or is cited by several people as 'demotivational', this quote is quite true and meaningful.  It is a rather good summary of evangelical poverty (understood in its minimalistic sense). 

On size and Unity

Two lovely thoughts (African proverbs), sent across by a good friend...



Thursday, 2 March 2017

Running lights

My car lights come on the moment I unlock the door.  To further put on the headlights, I need to turn on the switch. But the day-time running lights are on the moment I unlock the car and remain so till I lock the car - irrespective of it being day or night.  At first I found it odd to see cars driving around during the day, that too in bright daylight, with their lights on.  I was told that most modern cars come with this running lights because in England the weather could change at any time. Furthermore if there is a sort of shaded area that one is passing through then they help.  The main and perhaps only intent is to help vehicles coming in the opposite direction to notice you, especially when it is dark or shady, even during the day.

That certainly isn't an option in vehicles one has in India, at least not now - and may perhaps not have in the future either. With the sun shining so bright and hard, we may need more anti-glares than reflecting lights!

Dichotomy

Duality (considering two aspects of the same reality) is one thing. But dichotomy is a step further.  Not only are there two aspects but that these two are in contrast to one another. They are opposites! Surprisingly, without one the other does not exist.

I wonder how did we get into this sort of thinking?

Not only in the philosophical thought of Plato (beginning of western philosophy itself), but even in religious (Christian) thought one gets to see this.  Plato spoke of the World of Forms and this world.  Two distinct realities, standing in opposition to each other in their characteristics.  Then there was the body and the soul - one bad and the other good.

In the Bible, in the book of Genesis itself, there is this serpent and then God sanctions the 'enmity between you and the serpent, between your offspring and the offspring of the serpent'.

Today we are at a stage where we cannot but think otherwise.  Can we even stand out of this frame of mind and think?  To think of goodness, without the notion of evil? To think of light, without the concept of darkness?  

The political

Am reading an interesting text by Carl Schmitt titled, 'The concept of the political' wherein he discusses what it means to be 'political'.  He basically asserts that human being is basically a political being. If one decides to stay alone, then fine...in that case, he is not political.  But then he stands all alone!  On the other hand, the human being is associated with other dimensions of reality and be part of those dimensions too, but in each and every dimension, it is in his decision making that the political comes to the fore.

Even a religious group is political - besides being involved in 'party politics'.
A religious community, a church, can exhort a member to die for his belief and become a martyr, but only for the salvation of his own soul, not for the religious community in its quality as an earthly power; otherwise it assumes a political dimension (Schmitt, 'The concept of the political' 2007, p. 48).
Schmitt's 'political' observations are quite interesting and very insightful.  That he was a staunch member of the Nazi party, does not diminish in any way, some of the concepts and theories he proposes.  I found his ideas on humanity very appealing.  

Rules and norms

Rules are valid only in a society which accepts rules and in which the situation is such that rules are applicable. Where rules don't apply, rules don't have power. When the situation is anything but normal, no rules apply.
To create tranquility, security, and order and thereby establish the normal situation is the prerequisite for legal norms to be valid. Every norm presupposes a normal situation, and no norm can be valid in an entirely abnormal situation (Schmitt 1966, p. 46).
However crazy it may seem, but the inverse of it is also valid.  That rules, standards and strict policies are needed to bring an unruly situation under control and establish normalcy.  To create a peaceful society, one needs rules!

Why swear?

There are several reasons for justifying swearing (not the 'taking oath' swearing!).  Most common and acceptable among them is that it expresses best what one feels.  They rather than tell, manifest very forcefully what one is actually feeling.  That indeed is true.  However an argument can be made to the effect that we could coin a sound which would convey this, perhaps even with the same effect.  Say 'yuck' in contrast to 'shit'.

That and several other reasons put together brings me to fact that most swear words are taboo words.  They find their meaning and connection with things that are not considered 'good' or 'pure'.  So using a swear word is like a double attack.  Defy a broken rule!

I think that the whole notion of swear words and their rationale lie in the human conscious (or sub-conscious) need for polarity or duality. Our very thinking is dualistic.  We need 'bad', to show what is 'good'.  We want the 'impure' to retain the notion of 'purity'.  So however consciously we abhor 'evil' or 'bad' or 'impurity' we still need it to prove its counterpart.

So can a 'civilized' society totally do away with swear words? Never. It may not have the ones that we are used to hearing, but it certainly will have its own version.  If 'shit' isn't, 'yuck' would be!

Manners and morals

Initially I thought that manners are offshoots of morals.  That manners and etiquette are byproducts of morals.  Therefore they serve the same purpose as morals, albeit on a less grievous or serious tone. Both are needed for the smooth running of society.

However, I'm beginning to doubt if that's true.  That manners and morals are related, is true. But does being well-mannered mean one is morally sound too - or the vice-versa.  If one has his morals right, would he or she be well-mannered automatically?  I don't think so. 

One could be well behaved and polite and courteous in society, but in reality be an immoral person. Take for instance, the politician (one can practically include every politician, anywhere in the world). On the other hand, take a tribal or one belonging to the indigenous population. Or even a simple person from a rural setting.  Most often they have their morality or ethical practices very sound.  They are not really corrupted by the malicious mind of civilization and technology.  However, his 'manners' may appear crude or unpolished.  

From another viewpoint, would it be right to call someone who goes about swearing (not at anyone in particular, though) and behaving in an uncouth manner, immoral?  Or would it be right to say that his moral compass is skewed?  Manners are contextual while morals are universal (or are they?).  Manners change as per place, time, persons, occasions.  Morals don't (at least not as fluidly as manners).  

While both manners and morals are rooted in society, culture, tradition, and history, they may not always be on the same side.  

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Wastage of food

Compared to the third world countries, it is in the remaining part of the world that much food gets wasted or lost.  While in the latter, food is lost due to improper ways of preservation or what is called as post-harvest losses.  In the developed part of the world, the story is no different.  However, the addition is that often food and related products go unsold and then get thrashed.  Was surprised to read that nearly one-third of food produced for consumption gets lost or wasted...
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): ‘Roughly one third of the food in the world produced for human consumption every year – approximately 1.3 billion tons – gets lost or wasted.’ Broken down by food category, the FAO estimates that 30 per cent of world production of cereals is lost or wasted, 20 per cent of dairy production, 35 per cent of ‘harvested’ fish and seafood, 20 per cent of the world’s meat, 20 per cent of all oilseeds and pulses, and a staggering 45 per cent of both roots and tubers, and fruits and vegetables too. [Source: Aeon]
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