Disquieting Similarities

I’ve been having some incredible adventures here in India and I’ve also had some introspective times, reading and reflecting. The shear diversity and difference of experiences here keep me thinking and contrasting life in the United States with life in India. Some of those comparisons have been trite, some leave me baffled, some make me laugh and others simply break my heart.

I often find myself a little lost in the understood hierarchies and patriarchies of the land. And if I am completely honest, I find myself a little mad at times too. Oh the hearts and hurts that people (mostly women but some men too) have shared.

God heal the brokenness in all of us. Grant us redemption and resurrection that we may use what others intended for evil to your good purposes.

It seems that in every unfavorable reality of any given society there are authors, though often few, who are willing to tell their stories. Authors who are willing to lay their souls and even bodies bare to reveal, with dignity and integrity, that which has little of either.

I recently read a book called Joothan: A Dalit’s Life by Omprakash Valmiki.

I recommend it. It is not an uplifting book, it is not an easy book but it is one brave author’s account of his life as a Dalit man. The Dalit people, as they are sometimes called, were previously called untouchables, people considered lower than any other caste and to a certain extent lower than human. It is a recent story, (published in 2003 but recalling a childhood of the 50’s and 60’s and an adulthood beyond) and all the while I was reading it I was reminded of an American book written about the 50’s in America, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin…

Have you read that one? Another one I recommend and again not because it is easy or uplifting. Horrible historical and current realities repeatedly have echoes in other contexts, cultures and times. The faces and the presentation might be different but the spirit of hate and division holds a disquieting similarity.

Forgive us God for we are not always the people you would have us be.

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Knowing in Mysore

“My what?” “Mysore, Mysore, you have to go to Mysore.” “OooooOk.”

My Lonely Planet South India guidebook does point out the Mysore Palace as one of the top 10 South India highlights … So why not? Mysore it is.

There are a number of architectural draws in Mysore; the Mysore Palace by day or night,

the Sri Chamundeswari Temple on top of Chamundi Hill,St Philomen’a Cathedral or even the Art Gallery. I saw them all, they were beautiful but I was drawn to the people around them much more… The grandness of architecture, though I appreciate its beauty and even brilliance, always begs me to ask; so I understand the history of the people who lived here or worked here, what about the people who built it? What are their stories? What would they say to this monument, this church, this temple? Did it define their lives, enhance it? Or did it alter it or consume it?

Those stories are often difficult to find, they are lost in the vagueness of someone else’s history, somewhere beyond what we might wonder and what we’ll never know.  The people visiting these places along with me and those currently making a living in their shadow seem less of a mystery. I might wonder about them but I also know with some confidence that…

…this father-son team make some awesome street food.

…this couple is in love.

…these school kids are just as lost as any school kids on a field trip, this trip just happens to be to the temple.

…everyone gets bored at work. (Hindu Priest standing outside the Temple)

…if you stand some were long enough with a camera pointed at you, someone will ask if they can have their picture “snapped” with you…

My Surreal Reality

Did you ever have an experience where you woke up every single day and said “this must be a dream?” Then you are starting to appreciate how these past 2 months have felt for me. I so often feel overwhelmed by the surreal reality that is my life right now. Who would have imagined what time spent away could do and where it might place me…

I traveled from Bangalore to Tirupati to see the community of and talk to the congregation of St Luke’s Lutheran Church of the SALC (South Andhra Lutheran Church). The SALC has had connections with the ELCA and her predecessor bodies.

Everywhere I go I am translated by someone, as my fast American accent is a bit confusing to the British English with an Indian accent that is spoken here. Sometimes I really wish I knew the language but then it seems we are able to make ourselves understood even without words. A gentle touch on the back, a strong arm stopping you from danger, one word and a finger pointing you in the right direction, eyes of fear and question and smiles of friendship…

When I spoke at St Luke’s I was honored to be translated by The Rev. M. Vijaya Victor, the first woman to be ordained in the SALC. I think she did well, but there were a couple times she gave me the look which said, “You want me to say what???” (I am sure this is not surprising to hear…) Just like I reminded the congregation of St Luke’s, Jesus goes before us, just like he said he would. (Mark 16:7) Thank you Jesus for the multitude of ways you work through us and the people we meet!

Bangalore – UTC

Its gorgeous here. It feels slightly like being in a fairy tale. Gurukul was surrounded by the city and by noise, UTC (United Theological College) is more like buildings amidst the gardens…

But lest you think this is a sleepy place, don’t go so fast. I think it is going to be quite interesting to be here. The first professor I met face-to-face was Dr Evangeline Rajkumar, one of the most articulate feminist theologians I have met anywhere. I will be sitting in her lectures while I am here. How interesting to be in a country defined by patriarchy and raise yourself up to be a voice that questions every tradition and every understanding that keeps patriarchy as the standard. She was even featured in a national magazine here this month, One. Check her out.

Yeh hai India meri Jaan…

It’s a Hindi phrase. I don’t know the source, but a new friend of mind uses it often. “This is India my love.” And it is…

No matter what you think of India, its incredible beauty and the things that break your heart, no matter what scares you or even horrifies you … this is India. No way around it, what you see is what you get, or is it?

There is a rhythm to India that can’t be fought. Take traffic for example. I am sure that those of you who have never been here or to another country like it would at times stand in dazed confusion if not paralysis when watching the traffic or attempting to cross the street, I know I have. But you can’t do that, you can’t fight the rhythm. There is too much force behind it. And the rhythm is something like when you move, you move and when you sit, you sit. A commanding quick- paced, “Come, come, come.” is what I hear from my new friends here as we walk and board buses to discover areas of the city I have not seen and realities of life I have not personally encountered.

And yes I stood there paralyzed from a distance as these two guys worked and the traffic just worked its way around them.

Come, come, come …This is India …