Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Mothers

Mum just needs to get a whiff of something and she latches onto it like a shark sensing a drop of blood!  But unlike the shark, she only wants her child to be happy and safe.  
Couldn't resist taking a pic of this drawing I found along the walls of the sports hall of a primary school sometime ago.  

The Egyptian persecution and gender persecution

History is strewn with numerous instances of persecution.  And among those groups of people persecuted most, the ones that top the list would be the Jews.  In the book of Exodus we hear Pharoah punishing the Jews in anticipation that they 'might' join the enemy!  Besides forced rigourous labour, he commands all male babies be drowned in the river. 

One can view this as a gender disparity.  Why only males? Why not all babies?  Perhaps Pharoah was not aware that in Jewish tradition, the child receives its heritage from the religion of the mother.  So one born of a Jewish woman, no matter which religion or group the father belonged to, the child would be a Jew.  Going by that lineage, Pharoah killed the wrong gender! 

But perhaps, Pharoah was not after destroying the whole race - something what Hitler tried to do.  He was perhaps only culling numbers - especially of those whom he feared a threat from: male, capable of joining wars and fights.  Females posed no apparent threat to him. 

If only modern generation, which is quick to blame the female gender for most of its faults, picks up at least the last lesson from him - even though sadistic or inhumane it may seem! 

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Vehicles

We're waiting for a new fleet of cars from the hiring company.  Not that the existing ones are old. They are just four years old and in perfect condition.  So perfect that there's hardly any scratch on some of them - they've all been professionally touched up!  But compared to the vehicles we use back in India and the condition they often end up in, these are brand new!

I remember the old sumo of BIRDY house.  Then the one I used - and loved most - while at Ramanthapur.  We would get practically anything and everything in it.  Flour bags for the bakery. Provisions for the kitchen.  Bakery products to the Sunday sale.  Cement bags for the maintenance. Rolls of cloth for the ITI tailoring section.  All of these besides using it as a transport vehicle for confreres and boys!  We could take off the seats, the overhead carriage, the spare wheel (if and when it did have one),... and the tyres, wow, there were so many patches on them that the one patching them up said that the oldest tyre which he used as a stool to sit on in his repair shop, was far better than the ones we had our vehicle running on!  In spite of all these, the vehicle was great!  I loved it more than the new ones we had!

Was reminded of those 'good old vehicles' when I watched this clip from one of the God's must be crazy editions...

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Cut flowers

Sitting for meditation the other day and having noticed the withering flowers at the altar, it occured to me that we bring to the altar only 'cut' versions of ourselves - pieces of time, occasions of the day, some events of the past, few bits and pieces of our inner selves.  Just like the cut flowers.  And just like cut flowers fade and wither away, faster than the ones not cut and left on the plants, so too do all these 'bits and pieces' of ourselves are like a big jigsaw puzzle before the altar, with quite a few pieces missing.

I've always preferred to place living and flowers (and plants) alive in front of the altar. That way, we do both - honour God and honour creation.  Rather than cut flowers and then place them in water on the altar, I prefer the uncut flowers or plants adding beauty with their full life - not life cut short or only when in full blossom. 

Perhaps those cut flowers are an analogy of what we actually do with ourselves too - and are happy with it.  We only bring the 'best' so to say, to God.  Not everything!  

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Impact of John the Baptist

Yesterday reflecting on John the Baptist and his role in the life of Jesus, it occured to me that by way of impact, there was hardly any great 'preparation' that JB did for Jesus.  So when Jesus began his ministry there was still opposition, criticism and ultimately his public trial and death.   If John had done a 'better' work surely Jesus should have had a bit more of support and ease in carrying out his mission.  So in terms of 'preparation' there was not much that John the Baptist did.  In comparison to his work, the apostles did a 'better job'. 

Well, that's an easy presumption.  The fact is that John did what he could to the best of his ability.  Jesus knew exactly what he was upto and how he was to carry out his mission.  The apostles so to say did not have to be 'creative' in their mission.  They just had to replicate what Jesus said and did.  However, in the case of John the Baptist, he did not have a clue of what exactly lay in the future. And he did not have a precedent to follow.  He had to literally and metaphorically 'make the way'. 

Besides this, in comparison to Jesus, no one on earth has ever had a greater impact - at least not so lasting and powerful.  But each one who came before and after him put in their best efforts.  Impact or no impact, they did not wait for it.  They just did what they were convinced was the right and best thing to do.  They were not showmen or artists who were keen to merely gather attention.  They had a message to convey, a task to carry out and that's all they did.  

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Wipers on headlights

Next generation technology and ideas...
Or creative ideas that will fizzle out as ridiculous?
Came across this car with wipers on its headlights, during my walk on my first day of retreat at Farnborough. 

Friday, 21 June 2019

Kids and philosophy

This video is really funny and insightful at the same time... children speaking of philosophical questions (creation, God, death, meaning of life).  The answers of the children show how they perceive things, how they pick up thoughts from the grown-ups, and how they put it all together.  Lovely, especially their thoughts about creation!
Directed by Karina Garcia Casanova
Illustrations by James Braithwaite
Animation by Darren Pasemko
Produced by John Christou and Karina Garcia Casanova
Year: 2009

Philosophizing as...

The other day while listening to a paper on Schelling, and his efforts at recognizing and addressing the alienation of humankind from nature, it was interesting to hear a particular nuanced approach that lies at the heart of the issue.  Schelling says that in order to restore the lost connection, one has to become a philosopher of nature.  And how does one become one? 

Among the other ways and descriptions of what and who a nature philosopher is, the author was stating that it is not so much about a person doing 'philosophy of nature' rather it is philosophizing as nature.  In the former instance, of doing 'philosophy of nature' or 'philosophizing about nature', the person is still maintaining a separation between nature and oneself.  There is already a disunity, right at the outset of one's effort at rectifying the brokenness.  The latter perspective, of 'philosophizing as nature' is whereby one realizes oneself as part of nature, not separate or disunited from.  Humankind is part of nature.  In so far as this is true, it is nature philosophizing nature!

This perfectly sums up what Taylor is trying to say about language.  We have no vantage point outside of it, so as to speak about it.  If we do so, we are already alienating ourselves from our own reality.  Language is to be understood from the inside, not from the outside - unless one is merely doing philosophy of language. 

Strength in/of weakness

This is getting more and more intriguing.  Another quote this morning from the Scriptures to make the point I've been trying to get my head around this week.  This time from the scripture reading during morning prayer. A quote from 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10. 
I am most happy then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ's power over me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ's sake. 
And then the bombshell... 
For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
Again the same story: for a Christian this passage, especially the last line wouldn't really be odd or strange.  For one who has spent months, and years listening, reading and meditating on this passage, there is no contradiction there. Rather a very consoling reassurance.  

But for someone reading it as 'just another regular text', without the background of Christian life and living, the logical conclusion would be, it has to be either weakness or strength.  Both of them cannot be said to be true at the same time.  It is either-or. They are not compatible in the same breath (same line/same thought).  

Cultures and traditions which have a rich history of viewing the inter-relatedness of everything stand at a real advantage here when it comes to language and meaning.  When everything is connected to everything else, there is nothing that is explicitly or exclusively true or false.  One is more prone to see the underlying network rather than the contradiction and incompatibilities. For instance, the Buddhist notion of Pratityasamutpada

The midnight moon

Burning the midnight oil... but still managed to notice the midnight moon, two nights ago, right above my head through the sunroof. 


Somehow felt the urge to click a photo... after months am using the phone camera.  But it was too dark. Tried a couple of things to lighten up the scene but then had to ask myself, "Is this what I should be doing with a paper presenting in a couple of hours?" Nonetheless took a few minutes to enjoy the night sky! 

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Poverty or generosity?

Another interesting passage: this time from the letter to the second letter to the Corinthians (8: 1 & 9).
Here, brothers, is the news of the grace of God which was given in the churches of Macedonia; and of how, throughout great trials by suffering, their constant cheerfulness and their intense poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.  
Note the seemingly contrasting facts about the same group of people: 'intense poverty' and 'overflowed in a wealth of generosity'.  It could be argued that the first is about material possessions and the second about a virtue.  Yet, how can one be generous with what one does not have.  Well, that brings to question the historical meaning assigned to 'poverty'.  Even if not the dictionary meaning, the one assigned to 'poverty' as is appears here; as inserted by the author; as understood by the reader. 

Another line of argument (the usual interpretation): they were poor, yet generous with the little they had.  So, there is no rivalry, both the phrases are compatible.  Yet, this compatibility is not the initial focus; it is only the intended derived focus!  This 'compatibility' would not have been that hitting and efficient, if not for the purposely contradicted phrases 'intense poverty' and 'wealth of generosity'. 

For a normal reader, the first point would be, which of these two is true? Both can't be, at the same time!  But for a Christian, I wonder how many ever thought of the two as incompatible?  Compare the meaning accorded to the words 'poor' and 'generosity' here with the intended meaning in the instance of the poor widow's contribution. Is one right in according the latter narration or the present text in discussion a 'great Christian writing'? Or is one right about saying that these are examples of illogical thinking and confused ideas? If criteria for judging are different then one ought to be ready to grant two different verdicts - even contradictory ones.  Then there is no common ground for further discussion.  If on the other hand, we seek for common ground, one might ask, then what's Christian about this? 

And with v. 9:
... he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty! 
note the words rich used twice, don't mean the same, even though occurring in the same sentence.  And what if they did??  The same with 'poor' and 'poverty'.  

She put in two pence

In the gospel there is the instance where the poor old widow puts in two pence and Jesus cites her as the one who gave the most.

It now strikes me that there is a very strange affinity with what I'm researching: human meanings (those felt by us) and life meanings (those labelled).  In the instance of the old widow, she put in the least, in comparison with the others.  But she was most generous, again in comparison to others.  Or it could also be said that she contributed the most, again in simple logical mathematical ratio comparison.  Two different standards: in comparison to others and in comparison to mathematical ratio. Two contradictory results.

If speaking in terms of quantity and quality, then quantity wise she contributed practically nothing.  But qualitatively she contributed everything.  But again, quantity is in terms of cash; quality is in terms of generosity.

Two different standards of measurement and the resulting two conclusions can either be treated as contradictory or complementary.  Viewed from either side, the result of the other perspective is contradictory (even if we don't call it 'false'). But if viewed holistically. both the views are valid and compatible with one another - none truer than the other.

Only when we introduce criteria external to the woman and her action, be it either Jesus or the rich men and their subsequent critique of her and her action, do comparative words like 'little', 'much'... and all the other vocabulary flow in.  She put in two pence! 

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Little things...

It is said that during the lifetime of St Francis de Sales, there was this particular young seminarian who came to meet him and speak about his desire to serve the poor and change the world and go to great lengths to preach the Gospels.  St Francis listened to him attentively and when asked for his advice as to how to go about doing all of that grand stuff, he replied, "When you leave shut the door silently." 

Sanctity in little things.  Ordinary things in an extraordinary manner! 

Hit and miss - or not?

Today was a very new experience.  Not really new but different.  As part of the work-in-progress sharing that we had I presented what I thought was the method of seeking and applying verification criteria for language and meaning, especially that of Taylor.  For this I used the notion of  'semantic holism' as conceived by Willard Quine. 

I was quite happy with what I had come up with. For this presentation, unlike my previous presentations, I had the whole text typed out verbatim.  And it turned out that I was the only one among the four of us presenting and sharing, who had the whole text typed and 'ready'. Anyway, what bowled me out completely was the first and only question my supervisor asked: So, what are the criteria for 'human meanings'?  I just didn't know!  And all along I thought I had hit jackpot by way of knowing the answer!!

However, after a few minutes (during the break!) it struck me that what I had actually and accidently stumbled upon was not the criteria for verification, but the certainty that an epistemological verification is possible and also a method to carry it out.  I still did not have any defined criteria, but I now knew for sure and could prove that criteria could be provided or sought! 

Talk about throwing a stone at a particularly enticing mango, picking one up from the ground, only to look up and see that the one you aimed for and actually wanted is still up there, but thrilled that you now have one in hand and walking back home with the confidence that I can throw stones and aim for mangoes!  That's quite a feeling - after long! 

Friday, 14 June 2019

Scattered bits

Can certainly understand and vibe with Wittgenstein as he wrote these words in the preface of his Philosophical Investigations:
After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed.  The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks; my thoughts soon grew feeble if I tried to force them along a single track against their natural inclination.  - And this was, of course, connected with the very nature of the investigation.  For it compels us to travel criss-cross in every direction over a wide field of thought.  
What to do when what you want to say is best said in scattered bits rather than a lengthy harmonious logical single thought?  Wittgenstein is widely read now, but was thrashed then... and even if he were to present his thought(s) in the scattered manner he wrote PI, he would not have got anywhere close to the book it today actually is!  

When the ordinary becomes the extraordinary

There are times when you have so much of leisure and comfort that one longs for some active work.  At such moments it is exactly the opposite of what longs for when one is so immersed in work that one cannot afford to take a break - and thereby longs for a 'short' breathing space!

Or else there are times when one is fed with such lavish food that getting something that is not really 'tasty' tastes new and thereby different and good!  So too, since Easter we have had this solemnity on, that it was finally good to have the 'green' back.  Even with the Eastertide concluding on Sunday, all through the week there was some commemoration or the other and only today we had the ordinary 'green' for Mass. 

Talk of the ordinary becoming the extraordinary!! 

Thursday, 13 June 2019

No wrong prayers

At times there is some 'discussion' (talk in the air) after we have our morning practices of piety.  Invariably it is after those days when there is some 'optional memoria' or 'memoria' or a salesian saint being commemorated that day.  And some in the community just don't like the 'five-finger-morning prayer' where the hymn is from one section, the psalms from another place, the reading and the intercessions from another place and the concluding blessing from another section.  There is sometimes this statement that we should have said the Mass for this particular saint and not that commemoration.  Or else that the saint of the day was totally forgotten and we said the 'ordinary mass'. 

Whatever be the case, there is never any serious dispute about this!  Why? Because as Fr Sean puts it, "There are no wrong prayers!" 

Trust

The whole phenomenon of trust and hope is a very illogical one.  Nothing exemplifies this more than the following verse from Hebrews (10:23):
Let us keep firm in the hope we profess, because the one who made the promise is faithful. 
We persevere in hope not because we trust in our capabilities or strength but because we trust God to be faithful - even if we are not! 

Contrast this with one Anthony DeMello's quotes:
A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on it's wings. 
Perhaps the only difference here is that trust is not in a material object but a living person.  Only that logic makes sense - some sense.  But still this aspect of trust can never be fully explained away.  Nonetheless we trust.  We hope! 

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Widening and levelling piety

Within a span of a week there are two 'new' additions to the ordo - feasts that are being added.  Two days ago it was Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Church and tomorrow there is Jesus Christ the eternal high priest.  Wonder how relevant or meaningful are these additions in the present times. 

Honestly I know not and have not made any effort to find out the real rationale behind the institution of these two special days, but just out of a general feeling...

The first one, Mother Mary as the mother of the Church... well for us Catholics there never has been a doubt about that.  Most Christians and even non-Christians who have heard of Mother Mary have no problem in seeking her maternal protection and venerating her as 'mother'.  So then why exclusively title her as 'mother of the church'.   If any broaden the attitude to speak of her as mother of all!  Why so to speak monopolize her as to belonging and of the Church.  Why not be generous in stating that she is the mother of all.  That way those who want to approach her feel comfortable and not feel as though they are 'appropriating' someone else's family member. 

The second one, of Jesus the eternal high priest, appears very pessimistic.  In this age, especially in the West, where there is a real decline in the number of those joining priesthood and religious life, attributing the eternal priesthood to Jesus is like a consolation prize for those who do opt.  Moreover, why at all 'high priest'?  Sounds really hierarchical... exactly the opposite of the whole reality of incarnation and Jesus' own mission while on earth. 

More than mere additional special days of commemoration, we do need to widen our inclusive attitude and make our existing pieties more deep and social.  

Sunday, 9 June 2019

They heard...

The reading from the Acts of the apostles of this morning, as is always on the feast of the Pentecost, is that of the disciples 'hearing' the others in their own language.  It does not say, that they understood in their own respective language.  It says they heard them speak in their own language.

Other than the primary intended meaning of this being a miracle, the work of the Holy Spirit, how does one explain this?  Why is it that I feel there is something here for me, for my research?

  • that there is a 'gap', a wide chasm between 'hearing' and understanding?  Or not?
  • that hearing the message being spoken in their own native language did make a huge impact on their attitude and reception of the Gospel, goes without saying.  Primarily because it now 'appealed' to them at a personal level.  The message remained the same, only the channel of communication changed. Not exactly.  Because the channel, medium, language is also the message (McLuhan).
  • what of those preaching? Were they aware of themselves speaking in a foreign language? And yet communicate perfectly well, without they themselves really knowing what they were speaking?  That's really doubtful.  The only (human) possibility is that they were totally oblivious of this process.  They could have only been speaking in their native Jewish Hebrew.  It was the listeners who heard it differently from the speakers.  


Friday, 7 June 2019

Those without grandmothers...

Most academic philosophers never had grandmothers!  Nor did they ever have any good relationship with their own mothers!  Of this I'm sure!  If they did have grandmothers and lived with them even if for a little while in their grown up years, they'd never have become what most of them are: jargon monsters! 

It is said that comprehension of an idea, however complex it may be, is tested when you can explain it to your grandma and she'll understand.  Don Bosco had his mother.  And the first time he wrote a verbose sermon, she almost tore it up!  Then there is the Salesian tradition of goodnight thoughts.  Again, Mamma Margaret offering the boys some good piece of advice before they hit bed for the night.  I really prefer that. 

I'm not against grand and complex ideas and thoughts.  I certainly deem them very essential for growth and progress.  However, that's what we do within ourselves or at the most with like minded people.  We don't experiment those thoughts in their epistemological and metaphysical laden jargon with everyone.  And if we can't or don't want to, break it down so that all benefit from the richness of the thought, without the burden of academic jargon, then there is something wrong with us!  

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Diplomacy in witnessing?

Paul in today's reading plays a very shrewd game when called before the sanhedrin.  He was well aware of the rift between the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  He just played it up so that they would fight and argue among themselves and he would be safe.  But he does so with great diplomacy.  He does not lie. Neither does he tell the truth.  He merely uses words cleverly.  I wonder if such diplomacy can be counted as evangelisation or witnessing.  Perhaps the last line of the reading offers us some insight. 
Courage!  You have borne witness to me in Jerusalem.  Now you must bear witness to me in Rome.  
And Rome surely did not have the Jewish lot of Sadducees and Pharisees!  That's God being diplomatic!

Deification and Idolization

In the Acts of the apostles, after the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles go around preaching the risen Christ.  In Liconium, they find themselves in a very weird situation.  Having performed a couple of miracles and verified the authenticity of their preaching, they are being praised and exalted by the people.  The people then decide to offer sacrifice to the new 'gods' amidst them!  Peter rebukes them sternly.  Deification of mortals. 

Come to modern times where at times the gods are happily 'idolized'.  "You stay there and we'll do everything that needs to be done.  Just don't move!" That's the silent prayer of most priests and religious elders. Idolization of gods.  

Once humans were exalted to be worshipped as gods.  Today God is 'refrigerated'/ fossilized.   

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Miners vs farmers

Just some wild imagination running amok, with all the tension of the PhD research!

Miners are not people who scratch the surface. They do deep.  Real deep.  But it is mostly in the same place.  Depth is the real matter.  Width as per need. 

The miner works mostly in the dark.  The brightest light one has for the work at hand is the helmet light - just like my table lamp.  The farmer relies on the sun!  His work does not rely on a torchlight! 

Contrast that with the farmer.  He or she is not going to go deep.  The farmer is happy with the surface and makes the most of what lies along the length and breadth of his field.  He is not too concerned if there is gold hidden deep in his field.  His treasure is what his crop produces. 

The miners culls out minerals and stones.  Those are valuable to the miner.  For the farmer his living crops are the real treasure.  Not really worth in property compared to the minerals and diamonds that are excavated from the womb of the earth, but essential for life and living. 

The former is a PhD scholar; the latter a learner!  And at any given day or time, I'd prefer to be the latter!  

Life as a witness media

What really impressed the Jews during the time of Jesus and the immediate post-resurrection period was the witness of the early Christians.  The teachings and doctrines were pretty much present in their own scriptures but what was lacking was a 'living model'.  Someone or some who would make that doctrine into actual living.  Jesus initiated it and the early Christians, especially the apostles and disciples, continued it.  Just imagine if the apostles and others merely went about preaching the Gospel but not really living it - mere transmission of the text!  Christianity would have ended up even before it spread! 

An interesting statement to this effect is the following text from St Paul's letter to the Thessalonians (2:8):
Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children we felt so devoted and protective towards you, and had come to love you so much, that we were eager to hand over to you not only the Good News but our whole lives as well
What really carried home the message of the Gospel was not their oratorian skills or communication media, but their lives filled with the very message of what they were preaching.  Their life was the message and the message was also the medium. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Tough policy - tough action

Know not how actual is the implementation of this news story in Tanzania. But even if half of this is true and effective then, hats off to the person(s) making the news. 

There is a plastic ban in Tanzania.  Anyone found with a plastic bag will be fined $ 87 or face upto seven days in jail.  Those caught manufacturing or importing plastic bags will be fined $ 430,000. (Really??) But what I liked about this ban and the subsequent penalty for going against it is the first hand example by the President John Magufuli.  He has been at the forefront of this ban and was recently shown buying fish using a wicker basket rather than a plastic bag!  It may all be for the cameras.  Nonetheless, am surprised and happy that there is such a ban in place and people at least making a serious effort to reduce production and use of plastic bags. More than 30 African countries have banned single use plastic.  That's something amazing.  Wonder how many European countries have such a ban in place?  

Roots and ashes

Never came across a better analogy than this one to explain and understand tradition...
Thanks to Pope Francis...

Speaking to a group of journalists he spoke of tradition and the need to look at it as roots that nourish life rather than ashes to be carefully preserved!

An extract from the news report on National Catholic Reporter:
Pope Francis has criticized traditionalist Catholics who seek to "safeguard the ashes" of the past, saying the global church's centuries of tradition are not akin to a container for preserved objects but instead like roots to be drawn on for future growth. 
In a press conference aboard the papal flight back to Rome after his three-day visit to Romania, he singled out Catholic "fundamentalists," who he said have a nostalgia for "returning to the ashes." 
Tradition is the guarantee of the future and not the container of the ashes. Tradition is like roots [of a tree], which give us nutrition to grow.  You will not become like the roots. You will flower, grow, give fruit. And the seeds become roots for other people. The tradition of the church is always in movement. The tradition does not safeguard the ashes.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Fr Casarotti

Today is the birthday of Fr Mauro Casarotti, one of the great Salesians I have had the fortune of meeting and interacting - though not very closely - especially during my early years of formation.  I met him for the first time while in Nashik while studying philosophy.  He was actually based in Mumbai but would occasionally come to Nashik and hear our confessions.  I don't really remember much of the confessions I went to him for but remember very clearly his joyful presence along with us along the corridors of Divyadaan.  He was already very elderly then but he was a typical grandfather to all of us. 
As if that personal experience was not enough, I also heard about a very intense and tragic incident that happened during his term as provincial of Mumbai many years ago.  Hearing it first hand from the one who was at the centre of it all and how he truly felt Fr Casarotti's support, not as a provincial, but as a very loving and understanding father, made a great impression on me. 

I got to know him more closely when I was back in Mumbai Province for my communication studies in 2005 - just two years before he passed away.  I was in Matunga, the school community and he was in the Provincial house.  He was still working in the propaganda office of the Shrine and I did meet him once at his desk in the Shrine office.  But it was mostly as my confessor that I remember him during my year at Matunga.  I met him regularly in the provincial house in his room or in the parlour.  Still the same lively smile and welcoming spirit.  Age had only managed to bend his spine, slightly.  Nothing more!  For me he was like Fr John Lens.  The same spirit of generosity, openness, a kind of understanding that made me feel completely at home.  Even if there was any hesitation or doubt about whether I should ask him or speak to him about something, the moment I would meet him, all those hurdles would just vanish.  That was his simple presence.  The same for Fr Lens.  And I didn't have to explain things in detail or at length, they just understood me perfectly. 

Consider myself truly blessed for having met and lived in the time of such stalwarts of the Spirit and Salesian life!  

Religion as personal or private?

Another note on the differences between religion as personal and religion as private.  Again, a very subjective distinction. 

In viewing religion as purely private affair, one tends to feel as one 'in charge'.  Just as in the case of property owned by an individual, 'private property', one feels that one has authority over it, so in the case of treating religion as private, one feels that one is in authority.  Unfortunately not every aspect of religion can be so 'subjugated'.  There are aspects of religion wherein one cannot be considered to be in the driving seat.  Being open to that possibility, in a sense being passive, is part of the nature of religion. 

Furthermore, any experience of the supernatural cannot be actually 'contained'.   If genuine, it naturally flows into every aspect of one's life.  Any attempt to contain it, restrict it merely to oneself, is one of the offshoots of viewing religion as private.  In the same vein, viewing religion as private tends to exclusivity (my religion and me; or my God and me) whereas when viewed as personal, there is greater openness towards inclusivity (my religion, me and all of us within a larger reality; or my God and me in the world).  

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Religion: Private or personal?

Is practice of religion, something private or personal?  I've not really studied the dictionary and the etymological meaning of the two words but feel that there can be a distinction drawn for clarity.  Most often, the developed world tends to keep religion to the private.  That's something not to be paraded about in the open.  Unfortunately I feel this should be the attitude of theistic countries!  Countries and places where the unholy mix of religion and politics breeds nothing but vice! 

I would rather look at religion as something personal.  This way, principles and convictions one lives by are something totally of the individual and not something enforced by him or her or enforced upon one - in the name of religion.  These are matters which guide and direct one in ones life.  Keeping religion private would mean something hidden and secretive.  That festers fermentation and is bound to explode sooner or later.  Treating religion as personal does not mean that it is hidden or totally out of bounds for anyone - it remains open to challenges, by the individual himself/herself, by the society, by anyone.  The concerned individual need not respond to all the challenges thrown at him or her.  But that the individual is open enough to review those challenges.  That openness is obliterated if religion is treated as purely private. 

The acid test for this is to ask if one's experience of God (one of the integral aspects of religion) is personal or private.  In both the cases, it is a one-to-one relationship.  However if the former, it shades and affects everything else the individual does.  If the latter, the affects of that experience will be buried deep within the individual and nothing of that experience will ever flow into (or from) the rest of one's living - a clear watertight inner experience!  

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Vertically challenged

In the age where every form of appearance and difficulty is sometimes exaggerated, not so often by those whom it really is about, but by those around, I came across this amusing dialogue...

Lady to her dietician: What I am worried about is my height and not my weight.
Doctor: How come?
Lady: According to my weight, my height should be 7.8 feet!


Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Urgency

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Dominic Savio and today in the first reading of the Mass it was Stephen, the young man, who challenged the elders and priests of the times accusing them of murdering Jesus.  Both youngsters in the prime of their life.

In both of them one gets to see a sort of urgency.  A strange kind of recklessness.  No compromises. Nothing short of what is decided.  In Stephen's case, he does not resort to any diplomacy or sugar-talk in dealing with the elders of his time.  His words are direct and brave.  He is not waiting for the Romans to intervene and bring to justice those who falsely accused Jesus and put him to death.  He boldly attacks them, face to face. 

Some may call it imprudence.  Others may call it the power of the Spirit.  Whatever it be, it is a typical youth response: passionate, fearless and uncompromising. 

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Advertising vs election campaigning

Advertising of products and services is actually to 'seduce' the customer in a race against competitors who are out to outdo oneself, by way of quality and quantity. 

Election campaigning, although a form of advertising, is different.  It differs in as much as the race is not to outdo the other in quality or quantity of service.  It is basically to offer possibilities of the least corrupt of all available possibilities.  It is about downgrading the other, rather than an endorsement of evident progress.  One gets to promise the moon and advertise fake achievements. 

Advertising leads consumers to choose the most useful from the best options.  Election campaigning is all about bluffing the electorate into choosing the least corrupt of the worst options!  

Election campaign

India just witnessed a massive wave of election campaigning in view of the ongoing national elections.  In parts of UK local council elections were held yesterday.  The whole notion of campaigning before elections is a global phenomena.  Nothing new or strange about it.  Really??

I find this concept of campaigning, especially the amount of time, energy, personnel, resources, and finances spent on it, ridiculously irritating.  If only they were spent on actual progress and fulfillment of the party agendas, none would require any campaigning!  That's my simple reasoning.  That minor parties or those who haven't yet had the opportunity to show their expertise need campaigning is something I perfectly agree with and whole-heartedly support.  But others, especially those already in the limelight, the opposition and mainly the ruling party or candidates, really need not do anything other than their best during their tenure.  People who actually see the good they do, will naturally vote for them based on their past performance.  The very fact that they spend sleepless nights canvassing and advertising and doling out speeches and promises, during the election campaigning, is an obvious proof that they haven't really done their best during their time in power.  If they honestly do their best when they actually have the possibility and power to do so, all that they need to say or point to, prior to elections,(if at all) is already evident achievements! Not bloated figures or promises.  And certainly not the drawbacks or failings of others (one does that when one does not have anything good to say about oneself!).  If only politicians would work as hard and as dedicatedly as during their campaigning spree, while in office or tenure, progress and growth would automatically appeal to the voter. 

Unfortunately I think the general population is still too naive and fickle.  Politicians aware of this weakness, make the most of it, for a couple of months and then rest for years to come!  

Friday, 3 May 2019

Exam invigilation

Am truly thrilled to have applied for and got the opportunity to invigilate during the ongoing university exams.  The very feeling of being amidst young people, especially in one of their most tense and anxious moments of student life, and being there as a friend, a helper and someone who can ease all that cramping, even if it is just a little... that's great. 

Apart from the adventure this morning, it has been a thrilling experience of being exactly that helper.  It has also been a great source of amusement.  Watching them come in the hall or room, all tensed and some not even breathing and then leave the hall with a sense of achievement and relief;  seeing them break into a smile when offered with a kind suggestion or a timely help or even a simple smile;  observing the variety of ways in which they hold the pen while writing (quite a few write holding the pen straight and their wrist bent 90!);  the fear of having forgotten their ID card or their exam candidate number or messing up the adhesive slip, right in the beginning of the exam, being alleviated by a simple gentle assurance "No worry, we'll help you with that!" and the relief that floods their face;  the 'wonder' at a couple of youngsters who walked in the exam hall and coolly ask for a pen straight away, for they had forgotten to bring one!  or at that youngster who called out for me today to ask, "What's the date?"  Then there are the multiple ways in which they sit: some as stiff as an arrow, others literally with their head on the writing desk, some at a weird angle or twist of their body, some with their feet stretched to the maximum or folded or one flung over the other or under their bottom. 

The amusement only adding to the thrill of putting them at ease and making them feel comfortable...! 

Romanian mosquito

Heard a story about a Romanian mosquito today...

Invigilating an exam hall of 241 students this morning was quite an adventure!  Ultimately had to report and pull up one youngster who had notes on him all along.  Initially I made sure that he was being watched.  But he continued peeking at the notes tucked in his jacket sleeve.  Then under the pretext of the hall already being warm, got him to hand me his jacket.  He did and I was pretty sure with that move I had taken away his means of cheating.  By this time, he knew that I knew!  Within 15 minutes I again noticed him fiddling with his shoe.  Very soon I saw him with (another?) note.  Going against all instructions and regulations I went upto him and gently whispered to him, "Either you stop it or hand it to me!"  From his indication, I gathered he would not resort to it again.  By this time I had already informed the supervisor of the hall that I was suspicious of him. 

No sooner I moved away from him, he was at it again!  This time round I informed the supervisor that he certainly had notes on him and that he knew that I was aware, and that he was carrying on referring to them, in spite of my gentle verbal warning.  I was told to keep a close eye on him.  Towards the end of the two hour exam I was asked to inform him to stay back after the exam.  I left an official note on his desk to stay hack after the exam.  An official from the student administration was there by the end. She asked me what happened and I was given a form to fill up.  The student was then interviewed and she found the notes exactly where I told her he had it: in his left shoe. 

After the whole episode, it took almost an hour for me to get over it.  I was feeling bad for having done it.  Not that I regretted doing it - but just that the lad seemed so desperate to copy.  I know not what action would be taken against him.  None in the exam invigilation team or the student administration were sure.  "It was not our job," they said, "to worry about the end of the process."  They were very impressed by my work in that large hall, especially this particular case - but I told them, it was no merit!  In fact, I said I was sorry for having to do it. None-the-less I did it - and would do it again, if necessary.  My reasoning was simple: Going against regulations, I warned him twice (the latter being direct and verbal).  In spite of that if he was brazen about the act, he should also be ready for the consequences.  He needed help and I did help him - first by trying to prevent him, then by directly telling him and finally by making him accountable. 

And yes, the story he tried to tell me when I led him to the toilet, halfway through the exam... "If you saw me scratching my wrist, that was because I was recently on a trip to Romania and there a mosquito bit me.  That's what was itching me!"  Well, I hope he did not tell the Admin officer that the same Romanian mosquito wrote and put that slip of paper in his sleeve or shoe too!  

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

In the right direction?

Returning from the conference at Oxford I was wondering if I'm wrong or my thought invalid because my line of research is not in any way being reflected or considered in any of the discussions being carried out in the circles of philosophy of language.  Those who heard out my research interests understood what I was upto, a couple of them showed some excitement, but most had no response really.  So the three days there was a bit of a soul-searching or I should say, 'research-searching', as to whether I'm doing anything worthwhile at all?  Or is it that everyone is thinking in one line and I'm moving in another direction altogether? 

However, while on my way back home, on the train, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps that very 'absence' of my research is actually a very good thing.  That means nobody, at least those whom I've met so far, is thinking in line of what I'm thinking.  Well, isn't that a very positive thing for a PhD research topic! 

Some consolation... now got to start writing!  

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Digesting warm up

Games and sports were always part of the school tradition.  Especially in a Salesian school. All the more in a formation house.  However, not so long ago, games were considered a luxury by most rural folk in India.  Only those who were wealthy would indulge in such pastime activities.  

I distinctly remember a pioneer of the seminary at Kondadaba narrating the surprise and the bewilderment of the local population when the first seminarians (under the guidance of the Salesians) would spend every evening an hour, playing.  So to warm up they'd run around the seminary, do a bit of stretching in front and then start the game, mostly football or volleyball.  Initially the villagers would stop on their way back home from their fields and watch this whole 'amusing' phenomenon.  Being a totally rural setting, and literally slogging all day long in the fields, the notion of organised games, that too daily, was something too much for them to take in.  Slowly they understood the game part of it, but they never really understood the logic of the warm up sessions.  One of the early seminarians once told me, that he once overheard a conversation of farmers working in the field as the Brothers were doing the warm up.  One of the farmers asked the other, what these youngsters were up to and one replied, "తిన్నది ఆరగడానికి !" (They're running around to digest what they've eaten!)

Was reminded of this comment about warm up when we were doing our stretching exercises before and after the walks to Walsingham.  

Pavement flowers

Last year I carefully gathered the seeds of violas and pansies and planted them this year.  Not one has sprouted, yet.  On the other hand, I'm coming across these same plants peeking out in all odd places: in the centre of the lawn, under the garden gate, even one right in front of the main door growing between the tiny space between two paving slabs! 

Formation and knowledge

Reading this particular article on Aeon about walking and applying the philosophy of Gilbert Ryle to it, I was wondering if this can be applied to the whole process of formation and that particular phase of intellectual formation too.

Just a handful of us formators back in the province believe that a student discerning his vocation to priestly or religious life ought to have a rather meaningful and sensible intellectual capacity.  Lacking in which he or she will make things and life miserable for others and themselves - the exact opposite of what ministry seeks to do in service of the people! Most formators feel that intellectual capacity should not be a major factor to be considered when deciding whether a person continues being a religious or priest or not. 

Ryle seems to suggest that if self-teaching is activated, that would suffice for improving a skill. 
We can think about Ryle’s view as a middle way between the just-do-it view and intellectualism. Intellectualism claims that skilled action requires thought, and gives a picture of thought as deliberate, conscious internal activity. The just-do-it view observes that it is not plausible that skill requires this kind of conscious thinking, and concludes that thought is the enemy of skill. Ryle agrees with the just-do-it view that conscious thought is not a requirement of skill, but offers an alternative view of thinking as engaged problem solving, claiming that this kind of thought is a requirement of skilled action.
If I'm reading it right, Ryle would say that just because is a person is kind and considerate, does exempt him or her from engaging in a very intellectual exercise of thinking. Nonetheless, to actually continue being kind and considerate and develop it as a skill rather than blindly repeat certain kind actions and utterances, a particular kind of thought is essential. 

One need not be an expert in oceanography to be a priest or religious but if one is not competent to reflect on ones own ministry and willing to make sufficient effort to learn from it, even if already 'good' at it, then one certainly is not worthy of becoming a priest or religious. Openness and humility to learn, require a certain kind of thinking to actualize and bear fruit.  

Taylor and walking

Just when I thought I need to get back to my reading and writing on my research, what should I come across? A quote of Charles Taylor on the phenomenology of walking!! Just couldn't believe my eyes when I read it!  Nothing great about the quote itself, just that it connects two things uppermost in my mind, right now: walking and Taylor! Came across it in an article on Aeon, and it is about walking!
As I navigate my way along the path up the hill, my mind totally absorbed anticipating the difficult conversation I’m going to have at my destination, I treat the different features of the terrain as obstacles, supports, openings, invitations to tread more warily or run freely, and so on. Even when I’m not thinking of them, these things have those relevances for me; I know my way about among them.
Taylor surely has touched upon practically everything under the Sun!

Why walk?

One of the questions I have been asking myself regarding the walk I'd done over the last week is whether it was worthwhile to physically feel so much as to jeopardize my participation in the Paschal liturgy meaningfully? 

When at times your legs are so aching that you cannot think of anything else, prayer and divine contemplation is not something that comes easily.  You are not interested in it at all.  All you want to do is get into a comfortable posture and relax.  Prayer and worship go out of the window.

On the other side, I noticed this peculiar phenomenon, not only about myself but about practically everyone in the group.  No matter how much we were tired individually, when there was a need for something to be seen to or done, there were always people ready and willing.  Not grudgingly but with a contagious enthusiasm. 

As for prayer and connecting with the Divine, I realised that feeling of being in pain was a great leveller.  None of us participating in the liturgy or even sitting quietly in the Church or on the pavement were any better or different from one another, and most importantly from the one whom we were trying to think about.  My tiredness and aches in themselves linked me with Jesus.  I was not thinking about Jesus or praying to Him, I was feeling like Him! Even for one attempting to widen the scope of meaning and language (as part of my PhD), to include feelings and desires, this 'realization' did not come easy.  

Monday, 22 April 2019

The fun side of the pilgrimage

One of the amusing and very weird experiences all along the journey of the Students' cross was getting used to the language of the event.  Being a very old tradition with its own rules, set practices and even terminology, it was interesting to hear and be part of it.

For instance, the whole exercise of carrying the cross.  All in a very orderly fashion, the way we actually carry it, pass it on, without breaking step, rejoin the column, the traffic marshals steering the column, especially on busy junctions or road crossings, the short commands ('Collapse the cross', 'tight column', 'splay across the verge', 'Three on the cross') and actions (raised hand on traffic junctions, tapping the heads by the cross bearers during silence...) along the route.  Then there was this unique set of words, entrenched in the Students Cross tradition, that I just couldn't get over with:

  • Cross dressing!  During a pilgrimage?  Really?  The first time I heard that this was to happen once we reach the final stop (Walsingham), I thought it was a joke. But everyone was serious about it.  Only later did I come to know that the word actually meant, 'decorating the cross'!  
  • GOD.  I first came across this word on a list that I was passing on to someone.  The title of that page was 'Information about Walsingham to GOD'.  I thought there must have been some typing error.  And then on our first day, I heard people speak about God possibly visiting us along the journey.  I thought they were spiritually motivating us walkers.  On our second day, before we dispersed to bed, the leader called out saying that there were 'jobs' God wanted us to do.  Well, by then I had learnt that God referred to General Organising Director.  The use of the abbreviation is a tradition and by now a very clear and commonly used word among the old-timers.  But for new comers like me, every time we heard a sentence like "God is doing the first reading from the book of Genesis" our minds would take a couple of seconds to ask the ears, if we heard it right.  Imagine the laugh I had when I saw on the programme sheet, 'Nominations for GOD' and my amusement on Saturday while watching the 'election of GOD'!  

Being my first outdoor overnight activity for the first time in this country I noticed the way people come prepared for it.  Replete with an inflatable mattress, sleeping bag, inflatable pillows, electrical blowers to inflate these inflatables, earplugs (to block out snoring companions!), creams (one for the face, one for the sun, another for cold, one for the lips...gosh, the list is too long and hilarious!), hats, caps, jackets, jumpers, shoes (walking shoes, water-proof shoes, pub/casual shoes, Mass shoes...), first-aid kit (each one had one!) ... all of this besides the normal travel necessities. 

What now?

During the students cross walk, especially towards the end, there was always this question on everyone's lips, "Would you be coming next year too?"  I honestly did not have an answer to that.  Neither did I want to have one immediately.  I basically want to let the experience sink in and then see it from a distance and then arrive at a decision about it being worthwhile the effort or not. 

One of the reasons I am not very keen about joining for such physically gruelling tasks of piety is that these are more like sprints in athletics.  Short bursts of activity which are considered sports, while the normal walking and running around in daily life are not considered sports!  I hold spirituality to be an everyday affair, not only the scattered spurts of excitement and then back to normalcy (non-holy days!). 

On the other hand, I never really signed up for this as an religious act or Lenten penance!  The fact that I got to be with young people (even it is it only those who are already 'faith-filled'), in their chosen moment, is something refreshing for me as a Salesian. That I could share with young people my life experience and faith journey and in turn be part of theirs is indeed a great privilege. 

In evaluating the event itself, I certainly wish to see how much it has impacted me prior and later as well.  A decision based on the event itself is not a balanced decision.  

With the young

Perhaps the best thing of my experience of the Students' Cross, that immediately comes to my mind, is the time interacting with the youngsters for practically a whole week, especially during the journey.  By the end of the day, with my feet aching so much, I barely could pray.  Beyond my feet, my mind, could not think or feel any divine inspiration!  But observing the youngsters in the group and listening to them, often their deepest personal experiences and aspirations was a good reminder of being a Salesian. 

The fact that they knew each other or at least had common friends because of whom getting to know those whom they had never met before, was pretty fast, as fast as snapping one's fingers.  That really bonded the group almost instantly.  Most of the youngsters were very very pious and highly determined about undertaking this gruelling walk in its entirety.  Most were also first time walkers.  I could clearly see that they had their 'need' for undertaking this walk pretty clear and pressing - even if not all shared that with me. 

'Unfortunately' they were all from very devout families and had a thorough Christian upbringing.  In that sense devotion was not something they had 'acquired' by themselves - they were brought up in it.  Nonetheless, their effort at understanding it and living by it was something very very amazing for me.  They were very convinced of why they were doing it.  I knew for sure that some of them were really struggling to walk towards the end of the day - just as I was - but it was as if the option of sitting it out for a while or giving it up was never there.  There were times that I really wished to take a break, though never felt that tired to give it up entirely.  But none of them seemed to even entertain that thought! It was as if they were just walking!  Moreover not one of them was moaning about their pains and aches.  Contrary to complaining they actually were cheerful - and chirpy - all day and night long!

One of the things that saddened me a bit was that there were no youngsters in the whole lot of pilgrims (300 or so) who was there to really 'explore' one's faith and devotion. Given that our group was the only other group which had new comers - that too a sizeable number - I gather that it was almost like fishing in a water tank!  That does not discount in any way the courage and depth of each of those youngsters who undertook the pilgrimage.  But it does raise the question of why don't other youngsters, especially native youngsters for whom faith is something not offered in families or at home, undertake this journey? Perhaps those who did try it are already hooked on to it and are now returners.  Perhaps they have found other more meaningful ways of living out their faith and devotion.  Or perhaps faith itself is not something that makes sense to them.  

The meaninglessness of the cross

As part of the Student Cross walk we carried a 35 kg cross ahead of us all along the journey.  We took turns carrying it in 3s. 

Trying to gather in the 'harvest' of this pilgrimage that I undertook, I was wondering what role did the cross play in this whole episode.  Primarily it was I guess a re-enactment of the way of the cross Jesus was made to walk.  Then there is the witness value - people watching us know what exactly are we doing and who we are.  And then the whole idea of sharing in the suffering and pain of Jesus himself. 

However, what nags me about the whole cross was what we did after we reached our destination!  We literally abandoned it.  We propped it up against the wall and then on Saturday some of our group members decorated it with flowers - that's because it was part of the tradition.  So I'm asking myself, why did we carry the cross?  If it was witness value, we could very well do better than that.  Merely carrying the cross in that sense would be no better than a fashion show cake walk.  Just to show others.  But what use did others have of this 'show'? 
Linda, Melbin, Neetu, Lessly, George, David
Andrea, Saju and Sijo
with the decorated cross
Perhaps this inability to find the sense in the act of carrying the cross stems from a deeper question I've been asking myself:  What 'use' or help has this act of mine undertaking this physically tiring journey, has been to others?  Self-inflicted torture with apparently no benefit for anyone else... how meaningful and useful is that?  Is this truly a Christian expression of love and sacrifice?

Well I may be too close to the event itself, to really see the whole picture, but for now I'm letting the experience of the past week just sink in.  

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Extra scrubbing

Returning from a very different experience of the Student Cross walk, having walked 65 miles for three days without a shower, I truly feel like the parents of Dennis... (Most of us in the group were like Dennis, all along the way... completely oblivious of our own stench!)  However, the weather was great and although tiring, the experience was just great!

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Reading sentence

Came across the following article this morning:  A judge 'sentencing' a bunch of kids with a 'reading list' rather than a normal custodial sentence.
The sentence I gave was harsher than what they would normally have received. Normally it would just be probation which would mean checking in with a probation officer once a month and maybe a few hours of community service and writing a letter to say sorry. Here they had to write 12 assignments and a 3,500-word essay on racial hatred and symbols in the context of what they'd done… It was a lot of work. (Alejandra Rueda, the judge, who drew up the list of 35 books). 
Children learn fast.  And depending on what they are taught, they become that!  Teach them to share and care, to value life and respect everyone, they become exactly that.  And teaching does not mean a classroom mode of lecture.  It is about helping them learn and form convictions for life.

And here's a list of the 12 (of the 35) books the teenagers were told to read and write about, one per month:

  1. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
  3. The Tortilla Curtain - T C Boyle
  4. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  6. 12 Years a Slave - Solomon Northup
  7. The Crucible - Arthur Miller
  8. Cry the Beloved Country - Alan Paton
  9. My Name is Asher Lev - Chaim Potok
  10. Exodus - Leon Uris
  11. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  12. Night - Elie Wiesel


Feel a bit guilty and ashamed to state that I've read only 2 of these!  

Before the cock crows....

The prophecy of Jesus that Peter will deny him thrice within a few hours of the night and Peter's initial denial of it is one of the Lenten themes that comes up often, especially in the Holy Week.  We also read that Peter 'wept bitterly' when this prophecy does come true. 

We are all like St Peter.  Or Peter too was a mortal, simple human being just like any of us.  He was not even an educated man or an aristocrat.  He was a common man.  And like most people, when faced with a life-threatening situation, he chose the easiest and safest way out: denial and lies. 

Sometimes I wonder what if Peter had not lied about his identity and affiliation with Jesus that night.  Most probably the mob would surely have vented some of their anger towards him and in an extreme situation Peter would have met the same fate as did Jesus, right then and there along with Jesus on Calvary.  Who then would have become the 'leader'? 

Peter's denial of Jesus that night saved his life.  He goes on to become the anchor of the early Christian community.  Though not with faults and weaknesses, people look up to him and respect his decisions.  Even a learned man like Paul tries to help Peter see his point and abide by his decision, rather than declare rebellion and independence stating, 'I'm not going to follow an ignorant fisherman!'  Imagine if Paul were the first Pope! (My hunch is that it would have been catastrophic for the Church - then and now!) Jesus in His wisdom chose a down-to-earth, common man, with all the virtues - and vices - of an ordinary human being, to be the head of the Church... much like Pope Francis in our times!  

Monday, 15 April 2019

Thank you walk!

Embarking on the pilgrim walk with the students tomorrow, I honestly don't have any aspirations.  Just want to get out of the house and do something useful.  Perhaps somewhere hidden there is also the 'religious' feeling of doing something for Lent!  Most importantly look forward to being with young people and listening to them, more with the heart than the ears alone! 

I know and keep telling myself that it will be physically excruciating, especially given the fact that I've not been on the road, walking enough.  But I hope the sense of walking as a pilgrim group will make up for the deficient physical stamina.  The following week conference in Oxford too, will involve quite a bit of walking from Cowley to the venue and the railway station itself.  So in all, the coming two weeks are dedicated to walking! 

Even though it is the Holy Week and the Easter week (later), I cannot get myself to tell the Lord that it is for Him that I'm walking! I'm not!  So, as I ask myself what intention do I dedicate this walking to, I say: Thank you Lord! Thanks for everything, especially all the wonderful people in my life who continually love, cherish and nourish me!  Bless them all! For them all, I gladly undertake what you have for me in store, in the two weeks ahead.  

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Pilgrim walk

As part of the preparation for the 3-day pilgrim walk during the Holy Week, there is a long list of requirements and instructions issued.  I understand it has been something that has been formulated based of years of walking experience - or rather bad experiences! However, everytime I'm reminded of it by way of mail or through phone (from a couple of friends or confreres) I am a bit amused.  While all of them are concerned that things should not be too difficult or bad for a first-timer like me, I think taking all necessary precautions and carrying along all kinds of things, only takes the spirit out of the Holy Week walk. 

If Jesus were given all these instructions prior to his journey to Calvary, it would have been a different salvation story!  The way of the cross would not have been too tough a walk with a sleeping bag, anti-blister cream and plaster, bottle of hot water, comfortable walking shoes, necessary warm clothes for the journey, cash for evening refreshments, raincoat (in the eventuality of rain), one cap for the rain, another for the sun...!

Anyway look forward to this walk along with students.  

Touch

Last night I drove Fr Sean to St Dunstan's Parish, Woking for the reconciliation service and confessions.  During the service the priest sharing a homily mentioned about the creation narrative and therein spoke of how God used his hands to create human being while the others came about by his mere word. 

It struck me for that difference never occurred to me before.  All the 5 days of creation mentioned in the Bible (Genesis), God is merely commanding and things appearing.  On the sixth day he 'fashions' man (and woman) from the earth with his own hands and then breathes his own breath into them. 

Reminded me of how important the feeling of touch is for us human beings.  It is that feeling of being touched, cradled, kissed and carried close to the bosom that actually nurtures human infants.  Those bereft of these basic forms of human contact tend to miss out a great bit of nourishing.  The baby knows by mere touch its own mother.  The crying infant calms down when its own mother holds it close to her heart - the child recognizing the heartbeat. 

Though the priest did not dwell much on this notion of touch (with him merely mentioning it only once), I find it odd that the whole English culture is averse to touch!  Generally people don't touch and don't like being touched.  I understand the whole area of personal space, respect for the body and the danger of sexual predators.  Nonetheless there is a sort of paranoia which isn't really helpful.  

Young at heart

Today is the first death anniversary of Fr Peter Dooley.  Remembering him yesterday after supper, at table, the confreres were talking of an incident that happened many years ago when he was in the Parish at Highton, near Bootle.  Him and another priest in the Parish were once tied up in the house and robbed.  The next day the newspapers too reported this robbery.  And both were very upset... not because they were robbed but because the news item began thus: "Two elderly people were robbed..." Both of the priest, who were in their 70s felt bad that they were referred to as 'elderly'! 

Friday, 12 April 2019

One amusing clip (Telugu)

Was flipping through some youtube videos and then suddenly came across the following one from an old Telugu movie.  Remembered well Mariadas imitating Brahmanandam during our stay and especially journey back to Hyderabad from Shillong.  This scene was the one we would all begin to laugh at the very mention of 'Peddareddy'!!
I want to talk to Peddareddy, right now! 

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Brexit and black hole

Almost fell over laughing when I picked up The Times this morning.  The photo and the title was simply amazing.  For the past few months, every news channel and paper has been dogged by Brexit news!  The first ever photo of the black hole, too was swallowed into this Brexit drama...
Truly what a title! ... and here's another inescapable black hole... That's one piece of great journalistic talent!

The news article beside it is part of the unfolding Brexit drama or saga!
As an 'outsider' not really affected by this whole ongoing process of Brexit, it is fun to watch.  However, when I think of all those businesses and people whose livelihood depends on trade relations between the European Union and the UK, this stalemate is very agonising.  With politicians squabbling and offering no clear direction to proceed in, all these people living their lives on or across the borders have a hard time deciding what next to do.  That this is the case with one of the best developed countries in the world, makes this scenario all the more pathetic - and comical!  

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Lenten mornings

My meditation moments in the morning are perhaps the only 'Lenten practices' I'm having this season.  Compared to the liturgical and paraliturgical practices that abound our days and timetables back in India, here it is a moment of personalization.  That way, all those practices of piety for Lent I've been used to (and partially faithful to) all over the years have fallen off the radar!  Does that make me less of a Christian? Do I feel less like a Christian? I wouldn't claim that at no time have I felt a sense of guilt of having 'given up' Lent, for Lent!  But the feeling is only that I've given up certain ways of living and practicing Lent.  Does the 'new' way make me a better Christian?  Neither would I claim that! 

But one thing I certainly feel convinced about: personal luxury - be that of material things or of time - certainly does not really help in living a Christian life.  No wonder why Christian teaching is so much related and rooted in poverty.  So I basically keep asking myself what do I need to do, be or say, to love more.  To begin with at least let me not envy or grudge others around me.  I know that's not the ideal, but at least not receding (even if it means remaining stagnant for now), is better than falling back to ways and means of making myself feel good but not actually being and becoming more human!

Even though most of the times it is blabbering and often totally confused and distracted, morning meditation is perhaps the only thing most sensible I have as of now.  

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Listen to God's people

Today is the death anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the courageous Christian who bore witness to what it means to be a follower of Christ, through his life, writings and even his death.  It is said that he was sentenced to death on April 8, 1945 and executed the very next day for being part of the group that tried to plot Hitler's assassination.

For my meditation today... a quote of his:
The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them,” he wrote. “Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word but also lends us God’s ear. . . . We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.
Coming from a man who had the opportunity and actually did leave Germany (for New York) in those troubled times of 1939, only to return within a month, asking oneself what merit would it be if he was not with his countrymen in their darkest hour, this quote makes all the difference between life and death!   

Thursday, 4 April 2019

End of the world

A man rushed around the town announcing solemnly and with great urgency, "It's official!  It is the end of the world!" 

At the town centre, when this announcement was made, those in the Church ran out to the pub next door and those from the pub ran into the Church! 

So much for conversion!  

Why philosophy?

By way of specialisation, every course designed at the higher education level is meant for a particular profession.  So if one is studying computer science, one intends to become a computer specialist.  One studying physics, a sort of scientist.  One studying history, goes into library sciences, archiving, writing, perhaps even into teaching.  It is more evident in arts: a music student gets into the music industry; one studying media, gets into that particular stream of work.  Generally!  Though no rule that one should choose a career only based on what one has studied!  

However, I think philosophy is the only subject or course, that is undertaken by students for no particular single profession.  Of those who opt for philosophy, just a handful of them enter into academia.  The rest, what do they do?  Or why do people study philosophy?  No one undertakes a philosophy course to become a philosopher - certainly not most!  

Perhaps the answer to this lies in the fact that philosophy is a discipline rather than a content-based course.  It actually enables one to evaluate, explore and enact what is most relevant, not just about concepts and texts but in life as well.  As such, philosophy assists any and every field of work or profession.  That can actually be the greatest strength - and also the worst quality - one can acquire studying philosophy.  

Priests and religious who have this 'compulsory' study of philosophy, indeed are greatly privileged.  But unfortunately are the worst prepared or ready for it, by way of willingness. And thereby the ones who make the least use of it. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Diversifying syllabus

One of the presenters at the Symposium on Diversifying curriculum in the multi-cultural context of the UK, spoke of their department's attempt to understand that there are nuances in this endeavour.  She pointed out that to

  • democritize - to go beyond the elite
  • diversity - go beyond the white
  • decentralize - go beyond the Western
  • decolonize - involve local experience and have a multi-dimensional approach, or in the least be critical of prevailing popular sources

It was interesting to note that, in the context of teaching history, she stated that doing one does not automatically mean doing all the other too!

As I listened to the various points spoken about, I felt how greatly philosophy, a subject dealing with critical outlook, can help in this endeavour.  That philosophy content itself needs to be filtered through these biases, is a task not less important!

There were also proposals of how we can ask and get the students to suggest authors or ideas they wish to discuss form a small portion (perhaps the concluding part) of the lecture series.  Thus their preferences or likes of their own background or interest could resonate in the curriculum.  Another aspect was a thorough review of the sources, especially primary sources, cited as part of the reading for a particular course undertaken.

Besides the points I gathered from the symposium, I thought the aspect of a conscious and continuous process of self-awareness regarding the biases and perspectives from which I, the educator, carries out the task of teaching (and learning), forms a very fundamental aspect of this diversification.  It could be as simple as being conscious of the vocabulary that I use, the examples I quote, the authors or ideas I refer to... This personal awareness does go a long way in creating a sensitive and inclusive classroom ambiance, especially with regard to the syllabus.  

Involve children in addressing childrens' issues

After many days and many articles and interventions suggested to encounter the growing knife-crime involving teenagers and youngsters in London, I found one article quite sensible and far-sighted in today's The Times (April 3, 2019).

The author Alice Thomson, in her article 'To beat knife crime, listen to the children', advocates involving the children in addressing the issue rather than excluding them altogether, and treating them as mere recipients of a service!
... we can't just blame the police or teachers or the internet giants; what these children really need... is an alternative to gang life that gives them status.
After listing all the possible solutions offered and debated thus far, she adds specific measures involving directly the children rather than teachers, police and the media.  
... the answer is to provide the young with opportunities rather than deterrents and to include them in finding solutions, rather than leaving it to the politicians to squabble.
We need to give them stable structures and purpose, help them at school with entrepreneurial skills that are useful, give them jobs they can do in their teens and be better role models when they don't have family support. 
Most importantly we need to listen to the vulnerable young rather than seeing them all as just an additional out-of-control, dangerous problem to add to our other woes.  
I'm sure Fr TD John and those involved in PAR, me included, will certainly agree with Alice!  

Teaching

George Bernard Shaw among his many quotes is also believed to have stated
The one who can, does; he who cannot teaches.  
On the face of it, this quote appears very damning for the teaching profession.  It basically degrades teaching to incapacity to actually do anything worthwhile.  However, one speaker at today's Teaching and learning symposium pointed out that if one is to really study this quote in its actual context, the meaning changes radically. 

The quote appears in the context of revolution and rebellion.  A few lines after this quote is where he explicitly states that activities are great source of learning.  The actual meaning can therefore mean, that one who has the capacity is directly involved in the work.  But one who cannot, for whatever reason be directly at the forefront of leading a revolution, can as a teacher, prepare others to become leaders!  A teacher, in that sense, is one who shapes and moulds leaders. 

Of course, none will ever dispute the fact that teaching is no business; when committed, teaching is a passionate service and a humble sacrifice, a noble one at that!  

Diversifying curriculum

I attended a teaching and learning symposium at the Uni today.  The theme was diversity and employability.  The first three talks on diversity were good: more questions than answers.  On the positive side a step further for the better.  But the actual fact: not much of a move away from a very colonial or racial mindset. 

I distinctively remember my agitated mood when I finished my interview at the Philosophy department in Madras University in 2016, where I went to explore if I could initiate my PhD there.  The panel of professors were very clear and adamant that I should do/study Indian philosophy alone.  They were so fixated on it that, at the end of the meeting, I was greatly tempted to ask, "Where is the department of Western philosophy?"  It was with a great amount of self-control that I restrained myself. 

I guess it is the same mentality here in the West.  That philosophy stemming from the Greek tradition is the only 'philosophy'.  What about the equally ancient and profound thoughts around the world, especially of the two great Indian and Chinese traditions?  Does that not count as philosophy?  I understand no university can cover all the philosophical traditions of the world, certainly not giving equal importance to all, but to go about as if thoughts of the Greek heritage are the only worthy philosophical topics and authors, is certainly impoverishing oneself. 

One of the philosophy professors who spoke, mentioned of him designing a new course for philosophy undergraduates including prominent Islamic thinkers from the middle-east.  So far so good.  But why did he choose those thinkers and what thought of theirs? That which actually stemmed from Western thought or later fed into the European thinking.  What of the remainder of their thoughts or contribution?  That did not feature at all!  Such cosmetic changes, while at least being credited as an attempt, are still not claims of diversifying curriculum to be inclusive. 

I went to this symposium with a definite purpose of getting some ideas of how to diversify curriculum in our post-novitiates back in India.  I returned home convinced that we, back in India, (at least in our Salesian circles) are way ahead (in ages) by way of inclusion and diversity and sensitivity, with regard to our philosophical curriculum than here in the West.  

Monday, 1 April 2019

Pre-nuptial tradition

Know not what led me this thought but it suddenly occurred to me this afternoon that the Telugu 'ritual' of pellichoopulu wherein a young man intending to get married, visits the girls' house, with his parents and elders.  This procedure is indeed a very social and respectable one - when taken in the right sense.  If it is taken as a sort of window-shopping for a bride, wherein the girl is one 'shown' as an object of 'purchase', then it certainly loses all its merits but otherwise, the procedure is worth understanding. 

The first thing that occurred to me was that marriage is not just between two individuals.  It is also a union of two families.  Hence it makes sense for one to know the other, just as much as the boy and girl need to know each other.  This makes great sense, especially in our Indian context wherein couples who get married often do not leave their parents side and continue living under the same roof.  However the present form of the boys' family visiting the girls' is only a partial process.  The girls' family too needs to visit the boys' house and family - after all, in most cases it is the bride who moves in with the bridegroom into his house.  That alone is enough reason for the girls' family to come and see where and with whom is their daughter going to spend the rest of her life, her new family! 

Secondly, it is a great 'official' moment of socialization.  Even when we have a tradition of welcoming and receiving strangers as our guests, it is good to welcome a rather unknown family into our home, with the intention of extending one's family. 

Finally, even in modern times when boys and girls often 'select' their life partners (rather than the earlier times when parents decide their partners), the tradition only cements this union of families.  This tradition does not lose its value or can never be outdated in its intended purpose.  Only hope that the other half of the girls' family visiting the boys' house too gets an equal share in this procedure!  
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