Monthly Archives: March 2011

The 90s: Gangstas and Douchebags

In our first year of college, my roommate and I were walking on campus and a row of four Malayalee guys walked past us. In a straight row and with an air of cockiness and self-diagnosed badass-ery so thick that even my white roommate — who hadn’t been previously informed about the douchebaggery some of these guys could emit — dryly commented: Here come the cool guys.

I don’t think a lot of us young people kept it real in the 90s or early 2000’s. We were steeped in trying to straddle at minimum two worlds. With our identities bouncing left and right. We didn’t know who to be.

Our parents did their best to create one life for us at home and church. But there was a totally different life waiting for us at school, work and everywhere else.

Our parents knew only their way. They didn’t have the context of youth life in America, and no one can blame them. So as much as they coddled us, we experienced our share of fending for ourselves and learning things the hard way.

I think trying to adapt and be cool outside of the home culture, that’s what bred the too-cool-for-school facades. Everyone did it at one time or another, just some did it way more than others. And it made the rest of us chant slogans like “Can I just get away from Indian people?”

It was hard to be unconditionally accepted in the home culture, and equally as hard everywhere else.

The More Spiritual You Are, the Less You Need to Think.

“Part of the problem in contemporary Christianity, I believe, is that talk about freedom of the Spirit, about the grace which sweeps us off our feet and heals and transforms our lives, has been taken over surreptitiously by a kind of low-grade romanticism, colluding with an anti-intellectual streak in our culture, generating the assumption that the more spiritual you are, the less you need to think.”

-N.T. Wright

Read more in Glenn Packiam’s Why Thinking is a Vital Part of Christian Growth.

For the past few years, I’ve found myself less interested in the praise and worship songs portion of church and pining for a deeper understanding of scriptures and their greater context.

What are the questions I need to ask that I haven’t been asking?

What spiritual myths have I been accepting just because I’ve heard them enough times? I recently heard that the Bible doesn’t state a requirement to be baptized before taking Holy Communion. Something I need to study for myself.

I had a friend who enjoyed the Presbyterian church because it was cerebral and not overly dependent on emotion.

Glenn Packiam says we should let Truth define Experience instead of letting Experience define Truth.

What can our churches do to be places that offer that type of truth? To be a place where it’s OK to think?

What can we do to be members that encourage truth-discovering?

What happened in your life that led you to find truth? Did it happen in a church or elsewhere?

Why a Non-Believer at Your Church Would Throw Up a Little

Atheist Gina Welch faked a conversion, got baptized, went on a mission trip and attended Thomas Road Baptist Church for two years, taking detailed notes that she published in a book.

I’ve always struggled with the preaching-to-the-choir, inward-looking nature of the church.

I’m a believer, and though I attend churches and see good things come out of them, I also see how institutionalizing faith can lead to degenerating faith and advancing false teachings.

And institutionalizing faith also leads to clones, what I often call “stupid sheep,” who listen and accept their environment without thoughtfully questioning it.

This makes churches unwelcome places for people who don’t already believe. Plenty of times I’ve cringed in church at intolerant language, hoping that no non-believers were around to witness it.

Welch points out inconsistencies she saw in the church she attended and notes certain token phrases that don’t necessarily make sense to everyone.

“Evangelical language was a language of its own, where the rhetoric often didn’t mean what the words seemed to signify in English. Words were encoded symbols used to describe feelings evangelicals  understood. Sometimes I was able to understand these feelings and crack the code on a turn of the phrase. But not so with the personal relationship with God. With this I scraped and scraped for a more direct meaning, but each layer I revealed was just another picture of a picture.” (236)

When you’ve been in the same culture or environment for years, of course everything makes sense to you. But does that rule still make sense when you leave that context?

Non-spiritual example: I’ve met people who think women can’t understand computer science or make 3-pointers in basketball. In their world, they have observed this consistently. In my world, I’ve observed the opposite. Just because you’ve consistently observed something in one context doesn’t make it universally true.

Spiritual example: Some people believe wearing jewelry or make-up means you are pleasing your flesh or being materialistic. While others see it as a neutral activity that has no bearing on spiritual identity.

Doubt, Debate and Decide

It’s when you step outside your box that you begin to doubt, debate and then either reject your previous views, adjust them or fortify them.

Two Ways To Avoid Being a Church Clone Continue reading

Race is a Human Construct

I honestly think some of my cousins in India think I am a complete numskull.

Pluralism/diversity causes misunderstandings. An inability to understand the world, thoughts, worldview of someone from somewhere else. It causes conflict in the states. But I enjoy this diversity. I enjoy growing up with so many people and knowing their heart and their mind. When you know someone, you don’t think about their skin color or worry too much about “where they’re from.” You just appreciate them as a person, as someone like you.

Race is a human construct. Latino is not a race or even a color. Neither is the state of being black. News anchor Soledad O’Brien is culturally black, even though she is not deeply pigmented as such.

“Don’t let them tell you you’re not black,” her mother tells her. “Don’t let them tell you you’re not Hispanic or not Cuban.”

I don’t like checking my “race” on surveys. It waters down, mocks and misrepresents who I am.

I want to tell you who I am. Part of who I am. My roots. Raices.

I admire culture and the sense of community and resourceful engendered by many cultures. This is potentially my ignorance speaking, but I see most countries as very similar. Most countries outside of the United States and Europe. I see a sense of understanding of community. This exists in small towns in the states, too. I enjoy talking to people who grew up on a farm. It whispers parallels with my forebears in India with their chickens and goats and crops all around.

My India is not your India. It’s like the parable of the elephant and the four blind folks. One feels the trunk, the other feels the feet; one feels the tail, the other feels the belly.

Everything is different in Kerala, isn’t it?

 

I stood on a hill in Kozhencherry with my cousin Tijo. As we overlooked the city, I told him, “Do you realize you live in the most beautiful place in the world?”

I never wanted to be anything but what I am. Of Indian descent. Though I did want to be black for sometime. I think you end up wanting to be the people you’re around. I loved dark skin. Keralites were known for their dark skin. Mine wasn’t dark, though I wished it to be. It wasn’t until later I realized that some people are taught to look down on dark skin, which to this day I do not understand. It wasn’t taught in my household.

I remember the first time I learned about skin color.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andreanna/2779781360/

My First Lesson On Skin Color (Or the Day I Learned I’m Black)

Kindergarten is fun. You play games and learn stuff. Our teacher taught us a song in sign language, then told us what it meant.

It was about all the cultures of the world, and how they thrived in their different regions. But these cultures started traveling to different places, leaving their homeland and starting anew elsewhere. The song was about how nice and peaceful the world would be if everyone just stayed in their homeland.

I went to kindergarten at a mostly black school with a white teacher.

One day some kids at recess wondered if it was OK for the black and white kids to play together, since they’d heard something about how those groups weren’t supposed to get along. Continue reading

A tree is falling in the forest.

If your identity is taken away, are you left with nothing?

If a people’s history is not written down, it’s as if it never happened. They are redefined to suit someone else’s whims.

I’ve always described India as a different planet. Every corner might as well be it’s own nation, with the mishmash of customs and dialects. You can’t look at someone of Indian descent and know their story.

India is snow-capped mountains, steamy nights, tropical paradise, scarcely bearable oppression, freedom of the highest kind, democracy, caste, religious oppression, religious amity.

India is diaspora.

Everyone is looking to go somewhere else. Or they have no idea a world exists outside their few kilometres.

The Elusive Thank You

How do you say “thank you” in Malayalam? For years, I didn’t know. Because I never heard the word.

Nanni.

Not that Malayalees are thankless people. Gratitude is just not often demonstrated in words, I suppose.

When in Kerala, Anthony Bourdain’s crew asked how to say “thank you” and started practicing the word. How funny, I thought.

They’ll Never Accept You As An American

Quote from a Sepia Mutiny commenter (who I presume is not Malayalee):

There are low caste succesful entreprenuers and businessmen in India too. In fact it may be argued that the bania or the trader caste is the richest people in India, yet they are considered somewhere in the middle of caste hierarchy. The Irish were looked down upon , but they are WASPy looking so they could move up. I am in middle management in middle of blue collar red-neck america, and some of the workers have made comments that ‘I will never be considered an american’ and have been openly hostile to the idea that they have to report to a brown man. Admittedly the situation is much better on the coasts. I do not have a defeatist attitude. I am a realist and work within the system and make it work for me.

An uncle told me when I was 15 that I needed to make sure I embraced the Malayalee culture. Because “you’ll never be accepted as an American.” I politely told him I was just as Malayalee as his kids, even if I didn’t speak the language or demonstrate outward Malayalee-ness (whatever that means) as well as his kids did.

And I dismissed his comment about never being accepted. Why base my life decisions on this self-defeating sentiment? Our parents had it rough. They clearly weren’t wholeheartedly accepted. But it’s a new era. You can’t connect with anyone if you’ve already convinced yourself they’re against you.

Memories of a Nature Untainted

Kerala is a radically different place today than from my first visit in the early 80’s. Bullock carts and transport trucks ruled the streets. Then motorcycles started butting in. Cars were few and far between. It was no surprise to see the occasional elephant hauling lumber.

We awoke to roosters crowing in the morning and headed outside to brush our teeth on the front porch and spit into the gravelly earth. We relieved ourselves in a hole on the bathroom floor with with the pop-a-squat method. Forget about toilet paper. My mom said Indians thought it was gross how we used toilet paper anyway. A good splash of water gives a deeper clean. But once you go toilet paper, you never go back.

Just outside the house was the cow. I always wished I could hug it and tug at its horns but was never allowed to get too close. They said the cow might gore me. I couldn’t understand why our helper lady could lead it around on a rope, while I couldn’t even give it a little pat.

Chickens owned the yard. My cousins could catch them with no qualms. I was too scared of their beaks, claws and screams.

I loved prancing among the rubber trees when the ground wasn’t too muddy from the rains.

 

Facebook Status of the Month

listening to secular music reminds me of how great God can be. listening to christian music reminds of how gay christianity can be..

My friend posted this status online. So poignant! I’m not a fan of using the word “gay” pejoratively, but he gets his point across.

There’s a website called Jesus Needs New PR. You could start a similar website called Christianity is Gay. (But again, it’s not nice to use “gay” pejoratively.)

I love being out in the real world. Learning how different people think, what logic works for them, how they were raised differently. I love when my worldview is challenged, when I run into a brick wall and have to reshape where I had gone wrong and was shortsighted.

I love that I don’t have all the answers, but I will be a lifelong seeker in my quest to get closer to them.

I love that sometimes the answer is actually more questions and more cloudiness and that in that way I can walk away from narrow-minded, easy, second-hand “truths.”

God exists in the real world. Christianity gets real cheesy when you pretend God doesn’t exist in the real world. We are so quick to divide between right and wrong. If you do X, Y, or Z, you suddenly fit into the bad person group and ostensibly have no connection to God.

But the truth is we all make mistakes, and that’s when redemption becomes truer than ever. You can’t strip away someone’s humanity out of self-righteousness.

I love the world outside of church and outside of the deceptive “order” imposed by culture. In the real world, in complexity, in brokenness, you find God and why He’s so freakin awesome.

That’s why you won’t find me singing hymns and scriptures all day on my blog (as much as I love them). Sometimes I feel like we mask ourselves when we put on our “church” words and voices. I want to be real! For some people, churchiness is real and sincere. But I’m more of a nitty gritty “let’s talk about drugs, sex and poop” real. Hope that’s OK.