'SOLIDARITY, YES, BUT NOT IN MY BACKYARD!'
Christian faith demands the acceptance of brotherhood and sisterhood; In Christ, we have this amazing family relationship and bonding. Every individual in the early Church held faith nervously in his/her own hand, but could find its fullness only in the fellowship of other believers. All Christian sacraments are expressions of this solidarity. Christian faith demands unity and it is oriented towards fellowship. The Church is not a closed community; it is expected to be an inclusive community because Jesus was a friend of little people, poor, sick, downtrodden and marginalised. The Church is not a static community either; it is a pilgrim Church with wandering people. Diasporic experience is at the heart of the Church. The Church is on a pilgrimage through space and time. Her real story is what she writes into the history of the development of humanity. Her success is the success of the whole humanity.
The child is born into a family; the individual is born out of the community, and thereafter into the greater family of all humanity. The biggest mystery is the fact that we are sons and daughters of one Father. Parents are the first catechists; it is from them we learn about the brotherhood of man. In Christian homes, long before they go to Sunday school, the parents are already teaching them by word and example. The mother’s role can never be adequately acknowledged, it is in her lap we learn to love, to trust and build everlasting relationships. It is she who teaches the child to make the sign of the cross and his/her first prayer. As we grow up, we hear so much about personal salvation and our part in it and often forget that is through grace that we receive this salvation. However, our faith is not entirely the result of our meditation and prayer, there are always many others out there who continuously pray for us and mediate on our behalf.
When I used to reach home in the middle of the night from the university for long Summer holidays, I used to hear my mother pray and used to wait for my mother to finish her prayers before knocking at the door; I used to hear her cries on my behalf. Now I know that my faith is cemented with her tears and it is a gift from God. Our faith is sustained from the witness of other people; Christian faith is genuine only when it is shaped within the community. It consists of a whole network of friendly relationships towards Christ through faith communities and the world beyond it. This relationship should help us to accommodate religious pluralism, ethnic diversity and cultural differences, and variations in rites and practices.
Solidarity is necessary in building a community, ‘no man is an island’, and relationship is the key to our existence. We are often interested in creating solidarity from a distance, solidarity at arms length. This can be illustrated through the story of two friends who lived in a village in Switzerland, Emil and Gustav. Emil always had problems and disputes with his neighbours and many a time, Gustav had to intervene to bring peace between Emil and others in the village. One weekend Gustav accidentally met Emil at the village green and asked him were he’d been. “Oh,” he said energetically, “you should have been there! We had a big demonstration in the park!” “A demonstration?” “What was it about?”- Gustav asked. “We were protesting about Child labour in China”, Emil replied. “Goodness gracious!” Gustav exclaimed, “Are you interested in something that far away?” “Yes indeed” Emil answered, “We are pledged to solidarity with them, complete solidarity! Everyone is our brother.” “Everyone is your brother! That is very nice,” said Gustav. “O Emil, then tonight you can go over to you immediate neighbour’s house and call him brother.” At that Emil snapped, suddenly became very angry. “What? That lout? That good for nothing idiot? Let me tell you what he did to my fence yesterday…..But never you mind, I’ll get even with him all right…. You wait! I don’t want you to interfere this time.” Gustav saw the funny side of this and did not forget to remind Emil of what he said of everyone being his brother. This is the ‘not in my backyard (NIMBY)’ attitude and this is a typical example of arm’s length solidarity.
Mother Teresa was not afraid of touching people and picking them up from the slums of Calcutta. Jesus was not afraid of touching and rescuing the rejects of the society. People in England loved Princes Diana, and Prime Minister Blair called her ‘people’s princes’ because she did not mind hugging and touching patients with AIDS and other disabilities. People must set up networks across national boundaries and denominational differences to create solidarity in providing hope and comfort for the suffering and oppressed peoples of the world. They also must have firm grass root, local fellowship, for creating understanding and co-operation between neighbours.
The New Delhi assembly of WCC stated: “The real letter written to the world today does not consists of words. We Christian people, wherever we are, are a letter from Christ to the world.” Relationships are important; we do not grow in our own spirituality apart from others. An old adage tells us that a ‘solitary Christian is no Christian.’ How can we speak or write to others about God if we are broken in our relationships? What one puts into a relationship is more important than that what one expects to get out of it. St. Paul in Romans 12 speaks about the style of personal relationship within the Christian community. Paul’s emphasis has been that the gospel of grace should inform and mould our relationship with others. God’s gracious relationship with us is both a paradigm and a resource for our relationship with one another.
Once there were two monks who went in search of a very special door at the end of the earth, which opened to a place where heaven and earth met. They started their pilgrimage in search of this door, they travelled all over the world, encountered difficulties beyond imagination, suffered all privations that such a journey around the world demands. Finally, they found the special door in a very special place and they were hoping to find God inside. With trepidations and trembling hearts they knocked at the door and watched it slowly open. But when they went inside with anticipation they immediately realised they are standing inside their own monastery from where they started their pilgrimage many years ago. Then they began to understand that the place where heaven earth meet is to be found in everyday lives, in the place where God has placed them to be.
Ordinary Christian folks and faith communities need to understand the very simple fact that we are the only Bible that people out there read. Doors are symbols for so many events in our life. Doors can divide and they can open to create relationships. The risen Christ passed through locked doors to see his frightened disciples. This changed everything, their anxiety disappeared. The Lord said to them: “As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). These Apostles were not comfortable functionaries in an affluent Church, they were restless men, who did not spare themselves, but expended their strength in the service of the marginalised, poorest and most abused people in the communities. That is what solidarity is all about.
It is with these understanding that we formed a movement for Christian understanding and solidarity, “FOCUS”, within the Mar Thoma diaspora community in 1998 at the Mar Thoma Sinai Diocesan Centre at Merrick, New York with the blessings of the late Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan and other bishops. This movement provided a forum for our people who were not involved in the institutionalised aspects of the Church. It was not very much concerned with the organisation, but was more concerned with organism of the Christian living. We also very much believed a global church needed such an international movement for networking relationships. I am grateful to everyone who became part of such a dream for the last few years. We came together with our bishops and other leaders three times in the last ten years. We came, we prayed, we talked and we resolved to meet again with more young people from our communities. We are very grateful to Our Metropolitan and other bishops who supported us from the very beginning. In spite of their support, and their kindness, somehow, we could not fit into a neat slot within the institutionalised Church. There were other negative voices and influences, which were designed to destroy the movement. The solidarity that we felt was very much like the experience of Gustav with Emil. Some people were afraid to touch or associate with us and did everything in their power to destroy it. It takes years to build and it does not need anytime time at all to destroy an idea or a movement.
As a result of this ‘lukewarm attitudes’, our resolve for carrying on with this movement in its original from slowly disappeared. However, there is a residual interest for widening the scope of FOCUS to include Christians from other denominations. With this in view, we entered into a partnership with an ecumenically based organisation under the directorship of Rev. Valson Thampu, Theological Research and Communication Institute (TRACI), in Delhi. Under this partnership we tried to support ‘Christian Mind Series’ publication for the benefit of all Indian Christian Diaspora communities. Thus we tried to give shape to the ideas of solidarity and understanding through networking of relationships, studies and theological research, and developing effective modes of communication through our newsletter and other ecumenical publications. I am sorry that this experiment also failed in that particular mode, but now my efforts are limited to writing for ‘Light of Life’ electronic journal.
This newsletter has the potential to record the heart beat of the diaspora communities, but the editors can only do this with your fullest co-operation and support. They need you to feed them with the news from your regions. Please also send them articles for publication. Please keep in mind that it is an ecumenical medium. Please get involved in all aspect of this partnership and tell them how you want to shape this newsletter as a medium for our Christian nurture and solidarity. Let us try to find answers to our spiritual needs in the twenty-first century through our solidarity. Ours is an old story, its beginning is in our creation and God’s promise to create God’s Kingdom here on earth; our responsibility is to tell this story to subsequent generations with utter faithfulness.
We are inheritors and custodians of this amazing story with several parts, but it is seamless in its completeness and continuity. It begins with God’s design of the universe, Abraham’s faith in God’s promise, election, Israel’s struggles, exiles, liberation in Jesus the Christ. This story continues with the stories of the early Christian community and their dismantling of barriers between race, class and gender, in the power of the spirit. These stories then lead to the perception that to say God is love. Love means relationship. It is now our turn to build on this divine narratives an make these our own. The doctrine of Trinity indicates that relationship- the relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is ultimate. We need to get absorbed in the beauty and the promise of the Triune God who rises up the lowly and humbles the proud. God is rescuing us from a human tragedy, not so that we can just look forward for a comfortable heaven away from all miseries, but so that we can be part of his plan to heal this fractured world. Sri Aurobindo wrote: “nothing can be saved until everyone is saved.” Solidarity is and essential component of telling and living this story through our consecrated other-centred lifestyles.
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LIGHT OF LIFE
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