DATELINE: GOING TO CHURCH WITH MANY FRIENDS FROM MUMBAI here in KUWAIT during THE SEIGE IN INDIA , Friday November 28, 2008
By Kevin Stoda
In Kuwait , many Christians go to church on Friday because:
(a) many have to work six days a week and Friday is the only official day off for non-Kuwaitis, and
(b) getting time off to drive in traffic jams to church on Sunday evenings wears them down.
My own particular small Kuwaiti church fellowship is made up of approximately 10 percent Americans, 50 percent Indians, and 40 percent Filipinos.
As fate would have it, on this past Wednesday night as the deaths murders and mayhem began in and around the Taj Mahal hotel and environs, I was watching a cricket match of the Indian national team versus Britain at the homes of my many Indian church friends from Mumbai.
However, that particular Wednesday evening, the media from India was blacking-out news of the horrible events in Mumbai until well after the British team was trounced.
It was only after I arrived at work the next morning that I learned of the horrible things that were occurring in India .
Thursday afternoon, I called one of my church friends here in Kuwait , i.e.someone who had grown up and lived in Mumbai most of the past two decades.
His name is Pradeep and he had been trained to work in the hotels in- and around the Taj Mahal Hotel and in a hotel training school situated near there. Pradeep shared that luckily although he, himself, had walked those very streets for years, he had yet to hear any bad news from his internet contacts in Mumbai that day.
RESPONDING TO A CRISIS
By the time my Kuwaiti Church fellows had all gathered for Church on Friday morning, November 28, 2008, the Siege of Mumbai was now nearly two full-days old--and well over a hundred had been killed at 16 different locations in Mumbai.
The particular Indian who did “the welcoming message” in our church service had also lived a great portion of his life in Mumbai—his wife and kids are still there. This Indian’s name is Hemant, and he noted that a friend of his brother’s had been buried the previous evening—after getting killed in the first moments of shooting on Wednesday night.
Hemant shared, “Sometimes we wonder after such horrors, ‘Is God in Control?’”
Hemant then chose to read from the Book of Isaiah.
By the way, Chapter 40 begins with this statement: “Comfort, Comfort my people says your God”.
However, Hemant read the more difficult portion, beginning in verse 12:
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?”
That is, the reader of Isaiah continues to hear the news that nations are but a tiny piece of sand in a bucket.
Naturally, for many people around the globe, this message is hardly comforting on one hand.
On the other hand, the message is not only rational but still spiritually comforting to others who can endure to proceed in verses 14, 15, 17, & 18.
“Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?”
In times of trauma we need to trust in someone or something. However, we also need to move on—and learn. RATIONAL CHOICES?
There are those modernists who think “the baby needs to be tossed out with the bathtub”, and there are also rationalist explanations of terror. For some, some sources are sufficient in terms of explanatory power—in-and-of themselves.
The obvious problem with a purely rationalist view of what the sources of terror are in Mumbai in India—whether political, religious, cultural or economic—is that the issues of politics, economics, society, culture and religion are not “un-wind able”.
For most of us, this approach would be like separating the heart and head (or hands or legs) etc. and only later systematically trying to put an entire body back together.
What’s the point of dissecting the parts if one misses the living whole?
We find in the Indus Civilizations lands which gave birth to two great world religions nearly 3 or more millennia go: Buddhism and Hinduism.
Ideas from Buddhism eventually made their marks on Greek civilization which thus then had its toll on Middle Eastern Western Civilization.
Likewise, less than two millennia ago both Christianity and Islam moved eastward and have left their imprint on India .
(In fact, India has also given birth to both Bangladesh and Pakistan —two large Muslim states—as well as to India and other kingdoms, including Bhutan .
While, on the one hand, the state of Goa remains mostly Catholic to this very day—even as Kerala and Mumbai have continued to have their Christian and Jewish roots to this very day.
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1041834.html IS THEIR HOPE SPIRITUALLY FOR OUR WORLD?
At times, I have wondered if all the spiritualists of the different global and regional faiths could come-time-and-again to dominate their faiths whether it isn’t possible that we spiritualists couldn’t once again make progress on peace in the Asian sub-continent and elsewhere to a degree not witnessed for millennia.
Verses 25 to 31 of Isaiah 40 continue speaking to Israel at the time of Buddha and the rise of Buddhism concerning the Godhead or ultimate:
“’To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God’?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
KUWAITI VIEW ON “TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE”
A week ago, a beloved Kuwaiti columnist, Shamael Al-Sharikh, began to write about the similarities among spiritualism in Islam, Judaism and other faiths.
Shamael Al-Sharikh discussed the similarities by referring to the book by Mitch Albom, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE.
Unlike in the horrible sieges in Mumbai this past week, which have found many simultaneous deaths, Albom looks at a single death of a single person to indicate how we all need to approach death and life. (Albom tells of the journey to death with Morrie Schwartz who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.)
Shamael Al-Sharikh’s article was entitled, “Tuesdays with Morrie: A Simple Spiritual Guide to Death”. In the writing about the Jewish sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, Al-Sharikh writes that for her one realization was “One such realization is that 'Love is the only rational act,' and it means that with love, one sends out positivity and it bounces from others back to her. It is rational to love others, because they will love you back. It is the only way to ensure that we will be remembered after we're gone, because the ones who loved us will think of us and keep our memory alive. Love, therefore, is the only rational act.”
As a guide to death and life, Morrie’s life and journey towards death taught readers, like Muslim Al-Sharikh, “If you're trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down at you anyhow. And if you're trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere. Only an open heart will allow you to float equally between everyone.”
I share Al-Sharikh’s musings because I feel too many in the West or from non-Islamic background fail to understand the utilitarianism (and at the same time spirituality) of Islam and other faiths.
Al-Sharikh writes, “As for living, another realization which, admittedly, is rooted in Islamic spirituality, is to 'Know you're going to die and... be prepared for it at any time... Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.' Once we know that we have only a few days left, we learn to really appreciate the essentials in life, and we soon realize that the individual essentials we need are not all that complicated. The day-to-day drudge stops being about acquiring wealth, seeking fame, or being a member of haute society.”
Such a focus is the starting point, I believe, for fixing our ailing world. If we cannot see that “how we live” eventually either affects how others live &/or die (as well as how we die), we cannot expect to progress as species on this earth.
This means that awareness and education of our children and of others (even of our enemy’s kids) is the appropriate response to crimes and terror.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was shot to death 40 years ago this year) had stated for all of us to remember—even in our times of sorrow:
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”
A COMMUNION FROM ANOTHER MUMBAI SPEAKER
The communion message at church on this Friday November 26, 2008 in Kuwait was also given by a man who has sisters-in-law still living in Mumbai.
The speaker began by noting that Galatians 3:13-14 actually talks about hostages.
The speaker, named Mohan, noted, “Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself.”
Mohan explained that being redeemed was like having a third party pay a ransom or a price for us. In Greek, this meeting of a hostage takers price was one of the root meanings of the word to be “redeemed”.
As at this very moment in history Mumbai residents were still being held-hostage in Mumbai the interpretation was poignant.
Mumbai residents and concerned peoples around the globe were awaiting Indian commandos to free the hostages—probably violently--whereas, Jesus purportedly intervened as a third party in our lives by his non-violent non-resistance on a Friday centuries ago.
According to Thoreau in the 19th Century, “Noncooperation of Evil is as important as cooperation with the Good is a good.”
However, “love can be revolutionary” as Martin Luther King, Jr. later said MURMURRINGS ABOUT MUJAHIDAN!?
Mujahidin of some sort, i.e. like those who had led invasions against the Soviet Rule in Afghanistan during the 1980s from Pakistan, were being blamed by many in India immediately for the attacks and murders in Mumbai this past week—even though specific large Hindu temples appeared not to have been targets at all this week.
As I heard the charges against Pakistan and Islamic groups, I thought immediately about the facts (a) that such rumors might be true and recalled (b) that back in April 1995 many Americans—including its media—had blamed Islamic radicals for the Oklahoma City bombing.
I also recognized how peoples of minority faith have often been blamed for all kinds of horrible events in recent centuries in India —and elsewhere. I mean: Jews in Europe, Christians in Asia, and Muslims in the USA .
On the one hand, I also recall my first visit to Mumbai and India back in 2000.
I, too, like many other tourists to Mumbai, had stayed within walking distance of where much of the shooting and violence has taken place in India this week.
As there is a wonderful English bookstore in the enormous Taj Mahal Hotel, situated across from the iconic Gate of India, I visited the location at least 4 times in my journeys in and around India that summer.
I also probably ate at a few of the restaurants where victims of the terrorist violence this past week had been dining. This is because at least one, Café Leopold, has been in the LONELY PLANET Guide for over a decade.
On the other hand, I also recall how churchmen I had met in several parts of India on that and on my other journey to India have reached out to serve the poorer Muslim parts of India.
For example, the benevolent arm of my church, known as HOPE WORLDWIDE, has been involved in projects from Gujarat to Bangalore to Calcutta (and around the planet), reaching out to slum-dwellers and those who have lost their home due to violence or natural catastrophes.
Specifically, in 2000 I had visited with HOPE representatives in Bangalore . On one date in July, I had visited a set of schools that had been hallowed out of the garbage dumps in Bangalore in previous years.
The community living in and around these garbage heaps are Muslims, who come from all over southern India trying to make a better world for their families. The incoming poor Muslims sift the dumps to have property to sell or to build with.
These particular school projects are fully run by local Indians who are reaching out to serve each other and even non-Christians.
AIDS awareness projects in India , as well as to other projects in Afghanistan and Cambodia are well-known and well respected.
These projects are not intended to focus on proselytizing--as was the case 100 years ago in many parts of the globe.
This has been a positive change in how religious communities can and do approach each other often—despite what radicals and crazies on the fringe approach life and living.
Another example of how small numbers of believers of whatever faith can make a difference is my own tiny church in Kuwait , which was able to sponsor Afghanistan projects, i.e. HOPE projects which had earlier simply offered medical aid to women during the Taliban days. That is, when such medical support was almost non-existent.
Likewise, in 2005 my tiny church set up an appointment for the HOPE representative from Afghanistan to sit down for a dinner visit with the Afghanistan Embassy in Kuwait . This helped both Christians and Muslims in Kuwait to lobby for more nationwide support in the subsequent “Zakat” campaign for aiding Afghanis, especially in women’s education and health, as well as in work-training. (“Zakat” is the Muslim’s giving or tithing taken normally around Ramadan each year. It is a pillar of their faith practices.)
Similarly, last month, my humble tiny fellowship in Kuwait donated to a benevolent group in Lebanon .
We sent this money to a multinational Christian fellowship in Beirut consists of Armenian and Lebanese (and other Arab) Christians. However, that church also helps support a food bank and kitchen for Lebanese of all religious backgrounds Beirut . (Since the Muslim New Year and Christmas are dovetailing again this year, December will be a great time for Christians to share with Muslim poor in Lebanon .)
In this day and age—with food prices rising, violence occurring, and economies going bust—it is essential that people, regardless of their faiths, reach out to each other in all kinds of supportive and positive ways. A PASTOR FROM MUMBAI
During the midst of “The Siege of Mumbai” this week, my pastor—also from Mumbai most of his life—chose to begin his weekly church message with 2 Corinthians 4:1-10, which begins:
“Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we're not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God If our Message is obscure to anyone, it's not because we're holding back in any way. No, it's because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won't have to bother believing a Truth they can't see.”
Moreover, 2 Corinthians continues, “If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken.”
At a moment, when Mumbai residents were and are terrorized by great forces, it is a brave message.
Even if a reader is not a Christian, I would recommend that they face the violence in the positive light of this sort of message.
That is, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Confucianist, agnostic peacemaker, or just-plain builder-of-better-worlds, we need to recognize the power within us to change the mess- and horrors of this time in history.
This means, as the Mumbai pastor shared, “We cannot support victimization.”
In conclusion, we need not react by lashing out at others in times of terror and horror, especially non-responsible faithful of other religions.
THE LAW OF THE GARBAGE TRUCK
My Indian pastor continued here in Kuwait . He asked, “Have you heard of the LAW OF THE GARBAGE TRUCK?”
This “law” was first described by David J. Pollay. Through the metaphor of a “garbage truck” has made a living and helped many other peoples enjoy happier lives.
Pollay’s anecdote has been published widely and shared in many pulpit around the globe.
My Mumbai pastor began to share the story, which Pollay first wrote some time ago:
“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, the car skidded, the tires squealed and at the last moment the car stopped just one inch from the other car’s back-end. And what did we see next? The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and he started swearing at us. How do I know? Ask any New Yorker, some words in New York come with a special face.” THE PUNCHLINE
Pollay continues, “And then here’s what blew me away. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was friendly. So, I said, ‘Why did you just do that!? This guy could have killed us!’ And this is when my taxi driver told me what I now call, ‘The Law of the Garbage Truck™’
The taxi driver stated, “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.
The punchline is: “So when someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well and move on. Believe me. You’ll be happier.”
Pollay notes how he began to ponder on this: “So I started thinking, how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me? And how often do I take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home or on the street? It was then that I said, “I don’t want the garbage and I’m not going to spread it anymore.”
Pollay concludes, “I began to see Garbage Trucks. Like in the movie ‘The Sixth Sense,’ where the little boy said, ‘I see Dead People.” Well now ‘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 take it personally; I just smile, wave, wish them well and move on.’”
“The bottom line”, according to Pollay, “is that successful people do not let Garbage Trucks take over their day. What about you? What would happen in your life, starting today, if you let more Garbage Trucks pass you by?” MUMBAI PRADEEP MOVES ON
As though desiring to model his interpretation of the Way of Christ on the Cross, my friend Pradeep left our church on Friday, November 28, 2008 by going to an Indian music concert, where he served as a participant.
Pradeep plays the Indian drums, the tabela, very well.
Hours later, Pradeep took the stage with two other great Indian drummers and played away on Friday evening—even as the last gunmen from the Siege in Mumbai were fighting it out with Indian security forces.
By the way, the festival in Kuwait ’s township of Daiya on Friday night was called the 6th Annual day of Kalabhavan. In the audience that night were Indian Muslims, Indian Hindus, and Indian Christians celebrating with their children music and culture.
Kalabhavan means “House of Culture” in Hindi.
In short, approximately a thousand other Indians (& my friend from church, Pradeep, along with his wife and kids and other friends from church) spent the evening of the second day of Siege in Mumbai, i.e. November 28, singing, dancing, and focusing on becoming better in living out their lives than those terrorists back in Mumbai.
That is, those who are dumping their garbage of hate and anger on others these days. INDIAN WITNESS TO AMERICANS
Back in the U.S.A. , on Thursday the first full-day of the “Siege in Mumbai”, the Democracy Now program in New York City determined to replay a segment of Martin Luther King Jr. being interviewed by the recently deceased Studs Terkel—recorded in the early 1960s just after King had received the Nobel Peace Prize.
I, just like my hero MLK had done 50 years ago, had come to India this decade to seek the footsteps where Gandhi had tread.
In that recorded discussion with Terkel in 1964, King makes it clear that he was deeply influenced by three men—his father, Thoreau, and Gandhi.
King, unlike the Pat Robertson’s model of a Christian in our day, knew what it was like to really try and follow the path of Jesus (and the path of Gandhi). HOW DID KING RESPOND TO TERROR AND VIOLENCE?
Besides looking at the senseless terror and violence, readers today in November 2008 must remember that there have been many a light a-shining from and in India in the past millennia —just as in the centuries of U.S. history, some Americans have actually served as beacons on the hill for others.
We can no longer look at the darkness and carry-out revenge and dump garbage on others!
That is not the way either to live or to die!
MLK noted in the aforementioned Terkel interview that his own father had made it clear to him that the children of segregationists were growing up with garbage and illnesses of the mind.
Therefore, in the midst of his learning as a child (and as a college student of Gandhi and Thoreau), MLK acquired his Dream--A dream whereby haters and victims of children of haters could sit down together—like lambs and lions
This is my dream from Kuwait to Mumbai , India —and to the world in November 2008. Follow and live out the best of your religious and progressive history—not the worst.
We all need a Dream to guide us.
It’s often fairly rough to turn one’s cheek, but it’s always correct to stand up for what is the right path to live one’s life. We need to do both.
There may be violence ahead, but we all need a vision of what earthly and spiritual harmony looks like, or we will never get on a better path or find better ways than exist today.
Gandhi and MLK have showed us where to stand…where to dream!!
Come on India and South Asia help us bury the cultural wars of our forefathers, help us build a world with a conscience and positioned to do better than what this decade’s violence has shown us.
Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, et. al need to envision having our children sit down together and we need to recall how we really need to raise them. NOTES
THE BIBLE GATEWAY, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isaiah%2040&version=31
Law of the Garbage Truck, http://www.northstarwriters.com/djp025.htm
Al-Sharikh, Shamael, “Tuesdays with Morrie: A Simple Spiritual Guide to Death”, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=NjE3Nzc1MTA2
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