Friend Who Taught Me To “Win”.

 

When I was studying in Nowrosjee Wadia College doing B.A. in Psychology I was more faithful in attending the Chai ki tapri (tea shop) nearby, debating endlessly about everything under the sun along with six friends of which I was the only one who was from Pune. One of my friends Sudip was a big fan of Rap music and he was so zealous that he made everyone of us love it. It became an obsession with us. But we could make no head nor tail of what the rappers rapped. We who hardly bothered to take notes about our syllabus, started taking printouts of this particular rap Hit em’ Up by Tupac and this was more like our clan anthem. This song ran for 3 pages but mind you no one dared not to memorize it. We were the homies from the hood. When college was about to end we played the song Changes by 2pac. Those were the days. We look back and laugh. GERMAN Bakery was our hang out. It feels sad as some maniac chose to bomb it on 13 february 2010. We used to sit at GB as we called it, for hours. We used to buy one special tea and six of us used to drink from it. And we spoke about army, politics, women, religion, education. We used to call it Group discussion which was certainly never a discussion but a commotion. Our egos were so inflated that we never gave in to any argument, so much so that the decibel levels reached so high that for the first time from GB any group was thrown out with a notice never to come there again.

 

I am not intending to write a memoir of my college days. Who the hell am I? As I mentioned before all these friends were from different parts of India. So was Biren. He was from Sikkim. One of my friend said he looked like Jacky Chan. The smile, the body language et al. his dressing was very trendy and at times carried the guitar along. His trademark wear was a bandana, a tight fit t-shirt and a track pant. Strangely he had an American accent and the reason he said was that the school he studied had many Americans. We said “rubbish.” He had a ‘killer’ sense of humor. I have heard him say the same joke ten times and every subsequent time my laughter was more earth shattering than the previous. For general knowledge I have been famous for my uncivilized laughter that I am proud of. I take it as a personal evangelism to tell people that one should laugh without inhibitions. Biren very innocently used to say “You Indians are very good at cricket.” We used to get very offended and ask “Who the hell are you?” As I reminded you at times Biren carried his guitar. But he was a very reluctant singer. But once he starts he is in a trance and so are we. I so clearly remember how spellbound we were when he sang November Rain from the band Guns n’ Roses. He was passion personified. Other than singing karate was his passion. Every day he practiced for three hours. One day I stumbled upon the heap of certificates he had. And there I was shocked to see “National Kickboxing Champion 2000”. I was like ‘What?’. He very modestly said, “I have been winning it for past two years”. I had won some intra college debating competition where 3 of us competed and the whole world knew that I had won this very ‘prestigious’ debate. At that time Manish, our friend and Biren’s flatmate said “These days he is practicing for 8 hours to defend his title. The tournament is to be held in August”. The period that I am talking about is July 2001 and the world had not changed yet. 9/11 was yet to happen. Biren became more and more of a rare sight even if he lived 10 minutes from my house. He was practicing. Then came the month of August. It was time for Biren to leave to defend his title. We had seen him very purposefully practice day in and day out. On the day before he was about to embark upon his journey we wished him luck, and in our rap style we banged our chest and said ‘Yo Homie, go conquer the world.’ (Man, we were juveniles). The entire tournament would take 10 days. We were planning as to take a treat from him when he comes back. We loved food for free. I guess we were more excited than him.

 

But two days after he left, he was back. We were shocked. We speculated that he had an early exit in the tourney. But that was unfathomable. We did not dare to ask him. Then one of us asked “Dude, what happened.” He said “I did not fight.” We all had a blank face. He explained. “Every year the tournament registration fee is Rs. 1500. But this year in Mumbai, they made it Rs 5000.” So I jumped the gun. “You dint have money?” he said “No, not like that. There was a boy who came all the way from Sikkim to participate. He had only Rs 2000. He knew nobody. Even I was seeing him for the first time. But we spoke. I know Sikkim. People go for such tournaments with a lot of expectations. The whole village expects a lot. I gave him the money and told him to win. So here I am.” I was the first to tell him what a loser he was. But was he? A national champion who had the detachment to forsake what was at stake for a complete stranger. This story will always remain with me. It’s a decade back it happened. But even today I have nowhere reached that point. It has become my personal yardstick in my journey to be a human.

 

P.S. Biren today is a commando with the Indian Army. He was the most focused of the six of us. A true inspiration.

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Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church
Guwahati

Who Defines Us?

Text: Luke 6: 27- 31

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 Message

Before we go into the message let me share a story narrated by a gentleman David J. Pollay that will set the tone for the message.

“. I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for Grand Central Station.  We were driving in the right lane when, all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by mere inches! The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and started yelling bad words at us.  My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy.  And I mean, he was actually friendly! So, I asked him, “Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and could’ve sent us to the hospital!” And this is when my taxi driver told me about what I now call, “The Law of Garbage Trucks.” “Many people are like Garbage Trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it, and if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.  When someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Instead, just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. You’ll be happier because you did.” Wow.  That really got me thinking about how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me? AND, how often do I then take their garbage and spread it onto other people: at work, at home, on the streets?  It was that day I resolved, “I’m not going to do it anymore.” Since then, I have started to see Garbage Trucks everywhere.  Just as the kid in the Sixth Sense movie said, “I see dead people,” I can now say, “I see Garbage Trucks.” 🙂 I see the load they’re carrying … I see them coming to drop it off.  And like my Taxi Driver, I don’t make it a personal thing; I just smile, wave, wish them well, and I move on.”

Now this story is a very inspiring one and is in sync with the Bible passage set before us. But before we go any further let us imagine that we are sitting in Church and announcement is going on. One of your friends is sitting just behind you and kicks you for fun. What would be your first reaction and the first word on your tongue? I know my answer and I do not want to reveal too much here. What Jesus is saying in the passage has been a huge stumbling block for many believers. Having faith is abstract but practicing the above said is very very difficult. So how is this ever going to be possible? For that we need to look at Jesus himself. Jesus loved his enemies and blessed those who cursed him. He prayed for his oppressors on the Cross. Reading the Bible one thing stands out when you study the life of Jesus. Jesus was deeply aware of who he was. “I Know who I am. I testify for myself.” (John 8: 18) If I ask myself ‘Who am I?’ on a plain surface it is easy to answer but I seriously do not know the answer yet. Therefore people and circumstances define me. If somebody is rude to me I just react and get back being ruder. But the other person has defined me and my behavior. If the circumstance is favorable I am in a good mood but if it is hostile I change accordingly. So the power to define my behavior and attitude does not rest with me but other people and circumstances define me.

Jesus was deeply aware of His identity and his mission in life. Therefore what people told about him did not define his behavior. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Luke 7: 24). If I had such an accusation against me I would have tried my best to prove otherwise and get my reputation on track. “Loving your enemies” is a choice that we have as people of faith to set ourselves free from hatred of people that defines us. I have a choice to love. But it is a tougher choice. Growing with God is a practice that we will perfect. With all our blemishes and shines, by the grace of God we will be comfortable in our own skin. Experience of the deep love of God and the knowledge of being “His Beloved” will enable us to say along with Soren Kierkegaard  “ Now with God’s help, I shall become myself.” I still remember that when I did my first session of counseling in Navjeevan way back in 2005, the children started to run at the very sight of me. They did not like this dude who thought he knew what their problem was. These children just avoided me and hardly tried to talk. This was deeply upsetting. I felt very angry and thought “I have come all the way to understand their problem and they are not even ready to talk to me?” One day when I was all upset Moni Achen, the then  director of Navjeevan understood my predicament and told me “You cannot compel anyone to love you. You as a counselor, remind them of their past that they would love to forget. Therefore they do not like you. You have to give them that freedom. All you can do is, you can choose to love them.” That made complete sense.

These days I am reading the book “ The Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela. His life is a complete inspiration. As a man of faith who truly believed in Biblical justice he sacrificed his life for the people of South Africa. The Apartheid Government of South Africa made all the possible inhuman laws to deprive the Africans of the basic human dignity. In pursuit of the freedom of his people to live like humans, Mandela was imprisoned in Robben Island for 27 long years of his life. The best part of his youth was snuffed out by the Afrikaaner government. In his release in 1990 he strove for a multi-racial platform and was elected the President of South Africa in 1994. There were many in the African National Congress who wanted to eliminate the opponents who oppressed them on the basis of color. There was a worldwide fear of a Civil strife. But once he came to power he formed a Government of National Unity. He set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where the white oppressors confessed of their wrongs in court and the black oppressed hugged them and reconciled. This move of “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” was hugely a success because of the life and message of Mandela. After losing the best part of his life he had every right to be bitter with his opponents. He was in a position to settle scores and take revenge. But his example of reconciliation and forgiveness became the foundation for a South Africa that was just being born. Nelson Mandela stands out as a shining example of practicing Jesus commands where hatred did not define his actions. He defined the situation with love and forgiveness. These days where he is struggling with life and death, I sincerely pray that Nelson Mandela’s life inspires us to make a choice between liberating power of love and the imprisoning trap of hatred. I pray like him we choose the former. Amen

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

 

 

Geese In The Barnyard

Text: Mark 8: 27 – 33

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Message

In the passage that we are going to meditate we are with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asks them the most important question. “Who do you say I am?” I can picture Peter being the smartest boy in the classroom who always has his hand raised up to give the answer. “You are the Messiah” is his prompt reply.  It is a high point in his life as a Disciple to be the first one to Declare Jesus as the Messiah. But before we wait too long, Jesus tells the disciples that His journey to the Cross is through suffering, rejection, death and finally rejection. This was not appealing to Peter who took Jesus to his side and rebuked him. He could not imagine his Messiah being so vulnerable and weak. He did not imagine suffering, rejection and death the ideal for the Lord he was following. He had much more spectacular expectations from his Messiah. And how did Jesus respond? “Get behind me Satan” “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Peter like most of us was ready to have a Messiah and declare him as one but wanted to follow him in his own terms. Being a disciple to a Messiah who was a Superman was great. He healed, He walked on water, He taught with authority. But a Messiah who was going to suffer, was going to be killed was not to the liking of Peter.

Recently the movie “Man of Steel” the Superman movie was released. I did not watch it yet but there was an article that said that this Superman was designed on a Jesus archetype. It feasts on a savior complex of us where we need a savior who cushions us from all sufferings and the fear of death. It has increased our obsession as people of faith to be more and more obsessed with ourselves. We want a Superman who will fulfill all our needs and keep us safe. But in act of faith we seldom think of sacrificing or suffering for Christ.  So lofty ideals of sacrifice, loving your neighbor, purposeful living, Feeling the presence of God, are more matters that sound good in sermons or books. Let us also remember that even though our faith practices has made us self centred, we still love to hear the great stories of people with faith, who sacrificed and laid their life for the Lord. We become all emotional and content to live this vicarious life. Soren Kierkegaard explains this phenomenon in a beautiful parable. It goes like this.

“A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it.  Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk to fly beyond the barns. One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travellers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can  you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.”

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.

And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”

We are very secure in the World of Malls and Online stores. It all cushions us from all realities of life. We draw great security from the things that we can buy and own. It gives us stability and calmness. This is the reason why retail therapy is catching on. So as long as I grow more and more selfish and self- obsessed, things will keep falling in place. I do not have to worry about anything. My biggest worry is “I now have iPhone 4, when will I Buy the next.” Or “This particular car is my dream, when will it be mine”. We are conditioned to believe that these are very essential to our life and circumstances. We will keep rationalizing with ourselves and at the same time feel very happy to read the verse ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16: 24). As a Church we have a huge cloud of witness that have laid down their life, sacrificed and became heroes of faith. They denied themselves and took up the cross to follow Jesus. Today these heroes make us feel proud. We own them. We feel all emotional that they are part of our tradition. We may also trace our ancestry to them. But we will not fly. For the corn is good and the barnyard is secure. The living presence of Christ that moves people to action, to lay their lives down for God and their neighbor is now lost.

As a child the song that I ridiculed the most was the classic Malayalam song “Ennod Ulla Nin Sarva nanmaggal Kay”. This is song No 67 in our Kristhiya Keerthanam. Whenever there is any material or familial fulfillment like a House is bought or at the time of the Girl about to leave for the wedding this song is ritually sung. It is a song that articulates thanks giving in the best possible manner. One day when I was talking to my friend Rev Abraham Thomas, who is the Youth Chaplain of Bangalore, he told me the story of a man of faith, P.V. Thommi. He was an evangelist who ministered to the villages in Kunamgullam, in Kerala. He was a great witness. Because of his preaching and works, many people came to faith. One day the epidemic of plague broke out in one of the villages. Many well-wishers advised him to leave the village and run for security as the epidemic was fast catching up. But Thommi said that “I have thus far preached about love. Now is the time to practice it. I am going nowhere. I am going to serve my people in this time of crisis.” With his relentless work,  exhaustion caught up with the 38 year old Thommi. He too became the victim of plague. He had a choice of running for security. But he decided to deny himself and carry the cross.  Holding his 5 year old daughter close to him he sang this song which is credited to him “Ennod ulla Nin sarva nanmagal.” He looked into the eyes of death and suffering and sang a song of gratitude and hope. Because for Thommi after the suffering and death, there is the resurrection that Jesus has promised. The song writer of Classics like “Innu pagal Muzhuvan”, “Enth athisheyamme Daivathin Sneham” wrote his ever beautiful song “Ennod ullla Nin sarva nanmagalkay” on his death bed. The faith in Jesus challenges us to embrace suffering and death in our stride so that we can fly in the hope of resurrection.

 

Like Peter we too wish to be secure in faith declarations. That is important. But when we are faced with real choices in life to practice faith, we run for security and comfort. There is too much of noise around us but if there is silence we can hear Jesus rebuking us “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati