RELIGIOUSNESS OR RIGHTEOUSNESS – WHAT DO WE NEED TO LOOK FOR?

The world is not only crowded with religious Gurus. Moreover, it is crowded with the Good Samaritans and one of those Good Samaritan IS IN MY LIFE.

In my childhood, my family went through a too hard phase of life. If I can sketch that phase with an exemplary picture, the picture would be “the house of cards crashing down at once”. It was such a phase that unmasked many of our trusted friends & relatives, the intention of their heart, the intensity of their love, their secret scheme in relationship but among all of them one person and their family stood as a Good Samaritan for us. Neither biologically nor religiously they are our relatives, we just have friendship relation. As I revisit that phase of my family, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in reference to the parable of the Bible “The Good Samaritan” is too appealing to me –

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was:

‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’

But… the Good Samaritan reversed the question:

‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’

Surely, the goodness of the Good Samaritan made it evident for God to teach us “GO & DO LIKEWISE.” In God’s understanding the act of the Good Samaritan is counted as “righteousness” whereas the attitude of the thoughts of the Priest and the Levite in the story maybe counted as Religious but not righteous

The root meaning of the word “RIGHTEOUSNESS” is the character trait or quality of being just or right in the eyes of God and human beings. Raising above the meaning, in spiritual context God has called us (men & women) for “RIGHTEOUSNESS” and with this very intention God has created men & women in His image (the spiritual image of Wisdom, Knowledge, & Understanding) to be righteous. As God’s expectation from us is, we would be found blameless, holy, and free from all kinds of accusations in His sight.

Righteousness is not merely obedience in performing religious duties, abiding by the religious traditions & rituals, chanting prayers, and sacred words. Moreover, it is experiencing the love of God by loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul since God loved us in such a manner that He sacrificed His begotten son for us. Secondly, exhibiting God’s love by loving every human being as we love ourselves. All other laws, rituals, and religiosity is below this standard of living.

The intent of righteousness is the restoration of the relationship. Righteousness is exclusive in it’s demands but inclusive in its outputs. For the Good Samaritan for my family amidst of his struggles, his righteous act demanded him to go many extra-miles just to help us but the result of his righteousness included two generations though they belong to two different religions – Hinduism & Christianity. The Bible stamps out such teaching saying,  

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,

and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

Well, considering the present global scenario of religious insecurity and religious hatred the profound question is “If God has created us for righteousness and it is only the righteous lifestyle that God excepts from us, then why people are so much into a religious war and religious violence citing the protection of their religions?

NOW globally more than 61 nations are experiencing a high incidence of hostilities motivated by religious hatred, mob violence & lynching related to religion, terrorism, and harassment of women for violating religious codes. More than 84% of the world population who identify themselves with a religious group have been affected by religious hatred. Apart from the non-reported incidents, in February 2020 alone, 36 people in Delhi city are killed due to religious violence and on the report, approximately 280 religious violence is reported every year in India.

Instead of gambling the blame game on each other, the weighty reason is we are primarily evil from instead rather than the evil we see outside. In simple, we hate people of other religions not because our religious group hates them or our counterparts have victimized our faith rather it is because the hatred residing in our hearts initiates the hate and gives enough space to the evil thoughts to play the horror of religious violence. Describing the condition of the human heart, the Bible says,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Out of the abundance inside of the heart the mouth speaks.

Following it in the Bible the LORD God says,

I do not delight in sacrifice, or I do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices I look for is a broken and contrite heart.

And what do I, your LORD God require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly before ME.

For that, I the Creator, the LORD God of this universe, sacrificed my begotten Son “Jesus” on the cross as the remnant for your sins and to give you eternal life as you believe in my Son “Jesus”, you appear before me as “Righteous”.

 

AMIDST THE PANDEMIC

Imagine if someone checks your Google search history. What will they find on the TOP searching? Well, researchers did that and reported: it’s THE PANDEMIC. Google search trends for July 2020 showed COVID-19 PANDEMIC is the 15th most searched topic and COVID-19 VACCINE as the 2nd most searched topic in India. Does it mean “pandemic” is a new word to our dictionary, of course not! Then why are people searching for it daily, now?

The word “PANDEMIC” comes from a combination of two ancient Greek word “PAN” (all) + “DEMOS” (people or population) = all the people. The grisly impact of COVID-19 Pandemic has almost crippled in a bit or on barrel every stratum of human society. 

Now in India, 18.9 million salaried employees have gone jobless in between March 2020 – July 2020 and possibly post COVID-19 another 2.4 million white-collared professionals will lose their job; 94% of white collared top professionals are suffering from mental health issues; Indian economy is going in loss of US$4.5 billion (Rs. 32k Crore) every day; NASSCOM reported, 70% of Indian start-ups will run out of money in less than a couple of months; 81% of Urban poor has lost their jobs; based on some of the major English newspaper reports more than 140 people in Urban India has committed suicide while in locked down; more than 7500 Corona positive deaths are recorded in Mumbai city alone. These stats may never end… Apart from these stats, individually I have been into extensive research on COVID-19 impact on Urban India life since the beginning of April 2020; almost more than 35 webinar talks I have given on navigating life in and post the COVID-19 pandemic; recently along with some of my church brothers, we initiated to reach out to some of the most needy families affected by lockdown and that of our small visits to those families broke our hearts and taught us in volumes. All that those moist eyes and honest smiley faces without words were telling us, “you know, we were praying for this and God has sent you people like that Good Samaritan”. 

Navigating life in lockdown and the fear caused by this pandemic sometimes corners me with the question – “HOW LONG DO WE HAVE TO FIGHT LIKE THIS TO LIVE? IS THERE ANY HOPE?”

Flipping through the pages of history, we see since the 1st century BC human race has been experiencing pandemics. Predominantly, this fact tells us about the “CONSTANCY of the Pandemics” and hints to us the possibility of its future occurrence. Over the ages pandemics always encumbered us to live with uncertainty and also reminds us about the fragility of human life. Such a situation time and again exhausts us with the same question “how long we have to fight like this for survival?” “Is there anything good, positive, constant, and strong enough to anchor my hope for life?”

Wrestling with these questions, alongside the constancy of pandemics, I find that time, people, physical strength, money, wisdom – all things are fleeting like the passing of wind. But amidst the constancy of pandemics the only ONE that is good, positive, constant, and is strong enough where I anchor my hope for life is “GOD”. 

Amidst the pandemics, the logical consistency of God’s existence over the ages, competence and appropriateness of God’s sovereign power over the ages, and the experiential relevance of the people who trusted God in the past pandemics strongly convinces me amidst COVID-19 pandemic to put my hope in God for survival and good life.

That’s what God said in the Bible,

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty LORD. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with long life and give them my salvation.” 

MIRROR – WHO DOESN’T NEED IT?

As a kid, I wasn’t dependent on the mirror but the more I am growing the more I am disposed to using a mirror. Then Mumma used to fashion me the way she wanted me to look like and then I never sought approval from the mirror. But as I grew up, I had the freedom to fashion myself the way I wanted to, and each time I went to the mirror for the first approval of my choice. Undoubtedly, as we grow up, we seek the approval of a mirror in our day-to-day lives because the mirror exactly represents us. Coining it perfectly Charlie Chaplin said,

“The mirror is my best friend, because when I cry it never laughs.”

As a grown-up man today, the closer I get to the mirror the more intently I can spot the imperfections on my face. I treated the pimple marks, sunburn patches, black spots, acne scars on my face but again it was the mirror who witnessed my ugly scarred face and also now the healed and better-looking face.

“If the mirror would be a human being, no could ever dare to lie to a mirror”.

Interweaving the mirror metaphor to life, life always demands the mirror. We need the object mirror for the glorious physical appearance of our physical entity. A few minutes’ workouts at the instructions of this mere object’ prepares us with perfect physical appearance. Its instruction helps us to treat facial imperfections. Switching to the second entity of human life – The Spiritual. The mere mortal, finite human life is filled to varieties of flaws within. Physique that carries weakness and diseases within, the mind is always filled with negativity, every work gives some negative impact and above all, we live within a flaw filled environment. Undoubtedly, OUR SOUL also demands a mirror! But the advice or teachings of another mere human being also carries their own flaws and obeying them might multiply my existing flaws. Well, the question remains – WHERE CAN I FIND A MIRROR FOR MY SOUL?

The Bible verses say,

God’s inspired word – THE BIBLE is the mirror for our soul.

Oh, taste, and see how good is this mirror!

The more we get closer to the LORD, God the more visible the sins of our heart and as we follow God’s command and treat our heart, we find salvation for our souls. The imprint of such a state is a humble human and a matured disciplined mind. But the far we run away from the mirror of our soul (The Bible) the fuzzier is our heart seems to us. The Bible says,

Anyone who listens to the words of the Bible but does not do what it says

Is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself,

Goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

IS HATRED THE WAY TO DEAL WITH THE NEW NORMAL?

Today, HATE has become a new normal in our societies! The Christchurch mosque shootings are still fresh in my thoughts. Close to 50 people lost their lives in the peaceful land. There were kids, foreigners who had no connection with that hate crime what so ever in those 50 people. New Zealanders picked up all the pieces left over by that brutal crime with extreme pain and suffering. The whole world paid tributes., There are many such instances happening all over the world. Many are affected directly, some lost their loved ones. Peace and tranquillity are at stake. 

Recently came across an article regarding increase of hate crimes during the Corona pandemic. The analysis was that there could be stereotyped conclusions that people belonging to certain countries or regions or race don’t follow hygiene practices. This is the time when humans should have more compassion towards each other than hatred, yet, we are slowly drifting towards hate. Hate is not new to us. We have come across several instances even inside a family about how hatred can destroy lives. Close to 5K hate crimes are reported every year across the world. 

There are religious hate crimes, racist hate crimes, homophobic hate crimes, crimes against the LGBTQ community, sectarian hate crimes we hear about on an everyday basis. Makes me wonder if we have set some strict boundaries for normal? Anything that does not fall into this category bothers us to an extent that it won’t matter if a life is lost? Nine out of ten hate crimes have violence, often the offender is armed. Hate speech is also considered as one of the factors for a hate crime. Maybe, it develops from thoughts to language used. 

Does hate crime have more impact than the regular crime? Most probably the answer to this would be a yes. 

  • Victims are left with fear even after they survive the attack.
  • There is always a threat of attacks in the future. 
  • On a larger scale, this could affect a group of individuals. 
  • Hate crimes also give a strong message that the victim is not accepted by society.

Hate crimes not only cause physical pain, but they also leave a mark on the mental wellbeing of the victims. It is a negative emotion to handle when the situation is not very favourable. People might even feel threatened to leave the city or country they live in to save themselves. 

Well, in the hate stories why can’t a perpetrator sensitize the pain of the victim? How come the monstrous look of brutality does not haunt the perpetrator?

Unknown to me but someone has rightly said,

“Insecurity is an ugly thing, it makes you hate people you don’t even know.”

HATERS ALWAYS PLAY THE VICTIM CARD. Haters always feel insecure about reasoning, sacredness, righteousness, love, and truth since they have concealed themselves of deceptions. A deceived mind believes lies and as a result of it, they consider anything that is good and reasonable as their opponent, and the only way to secure yourself is taking a notorious way out. To deal with haters (victims of deception), the Bible teaches,

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling but on the contrary,

bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

An untamed horse is of no use but a well-tamed horse crowns you with glory so is with human passion. Passion for money, sex, luxury, and power is natural for both the rich and rags but it is always the unbridled passion disrupts our character. THE UNTAMED PASSION OF HATERS convinces our mind to strategies for prey and the evil of hate in our heart-mind bridles us for a hateful crime. Every 15 minutes, a girl is raped in India, and every second crime is organized and loots are legalized around the globe today. Hating something/someone is obvious to the human mind and the passion of hate serves as bait and for which the Bible advises us –

“Nail your passion and sinful desires to the cross and crucify them there

before it entices you to shameless acts, later receiving the due penalty for it.”  

Hate is always by a person for a person, so the personhood is intrinsic in every hate crime. The endpoint of the haters in every hate crime can be better understood by recalibrating The Wolf In Sheep-skin story –

A wolf was walking in the countryside. He found a sheep-skin spread on the ground. He thought, “If I wear this skin and get mixed up in the flock, the shepherd will not suspect me. At night, I will kill a stout-sheep and then take him away with me”. As he had expected, the shepherd took him as a sheep and shut him also in the pen. The wolf was waiting for the night. The shepherd had a feast that night. He sent a servant to fetch a fat sheep. The servant saw the sheep-skin covered wolf by chance. That night, the guests had the wolf for supper.

Responding to hate against hate gives the starting point to another hate crime. But God in His goodness never withholds justice from the unjust victims of hate crimes. There is always sunshine after darkness. Therefore, God in the Bible says,

“The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear! Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scripture say, “I WILL PAY THEM BACK, says the LORD”.”

COLLABORATIVELY WRITTEN BY AASTHA AND AVINASH

‘A DREAM’ – NOT JUST ENOUGH…

Dreams are facile and gorgeous to closed eyes…

In my imaginative world, I dreamt of owning a hilltop penthouse. It was a springtime beautiful full moon evening. The hilly fresh air touching my skin and giving the comfort of nature. Small clouds were passing beneath my balcony pane. All the way, away from unwanted evening guest interruption, I was enjoying hot coffee in my yellow ZooZoos printed coffee mug, at the back in my dark living room the slow music and the two small blue lights from my home theatre were lighting my entire glass-walled living room. There were neither the bizarre sound of vehicle honks at the traffic nor the irritating midnight barking of street dogs only the dazzling yellow and blue bright lights of a busy city life down the hill was giving the feel of a calm and composed mind. A faraway from my hometown, I was enjoying those blissful evening moments with my small family. Lo and behold, Pogo (my Pug) sneezed on my face and tired I screamed out, can somebody get this pug a tissue! Mumma replied, O, hello Mr. Lazy, take Pogo for the evening walk, it’s 5:30 P.M now!

Dreams that we imagine in our conscious mind reflects in our subconscious mind while we sleep. Probably, that’s why it is said, “dreams won’t let you sleep!” Contextualizing to my imaginative world’s dream the undeniable question someone can shoot at me, “Well, WHAT’S NEXT to fulling your dream?” Undoubtedly, since human desires are unlimited and as human, I am profoundly subjected to it. Meanwhile, the Bible verse that projected me my grey-haired days –

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun;

all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

I asked myself, does that mean I should stop dreaming? Well, the omnipresent calm voice of God answered back, “Human mind and Imagination is the primordial friends, they walk hand-in-hand and My given freedom allows human to imagine everything their heart desires. But in their course of life, it is My given wisdom to reason which presents before them the final point of their chase to fulfil the dream.

To the clinical eyes the more you rise to the top, the power of visibility grows lesser and lesser. Analogically, so happens with our soul! The more and more we desire to be on the top the lesser and lesser emptied we find within. And alas, the same dream penthouse of my story may become my place to hang myself to stop dreaming. Though now, I want guests and friends by my side sadly, there may be none of those unwanted guests, probably I have grown up so high that they are unable to connect with me. 

The problem is not in the dreaming,

the problem is how do you fulfill your dream.

Dreams are seen in closed eyes but it is our passion to toil for it gives tangible shape to the dream. Again, a reminder for us is, our untamed passion to bring down the dream to reality is empowered enough to allow our futile thoughts and convinces our fragile hearts to compromise with the ethics & morals. And finally, out there on the hilltop penthouse within the glass-walled rooms we may become filled outside but EMPTIED WITHIN…

The Bible says,

“Commit your works to the LORD,

and your plans will be established.”

ARE WE GOOD STEWARDS OR MERCILESS VANDALIZERS IN THE NAME OF PROGRESS?

As an urbanite by birth, since my childhood, I was more fascinated with superstructures, technologies, and luxury cars. The beauty of these fragile man-made kind of stuffs has always attracted me. But I had never given it a thought as to “how a world filled with the urban sprawl, superstructures, nuclear bombs, supersonic jets, technologies, and the billion piles of human wastage would cost us!” In the recent past, the cost of our luxurious lifestyle has become more evident to me as I witness and compare the beauty of hills, forests, and the hustle, pollution of the cities. A Scottish Economist, Philosopher and the pioneer of Political Economy has rightly proposed,

“Human wants and the ways to satisfy human wants are unlimited”.

According to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), in the past century, the average earth’s temperature has increased to 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degree Celsius); 30 million acres (12.4 million hectares) of forest are deforested from Jan 2020 to as of now, only 2.5% of the earth water body is freshwater or drinkable, 1 in every 3 people globally do not have access to the clean drinking water, on September 8, 2019 the annual ozone hole reached its peak extent of 6.3 million square miles (16.4 million sq.km), every day 16 feet high Alaskan glaciers are melting down, last but not the least every year 4.2 million deaths are estimated because of Ambient air pollution, and 91% of the world population is living in extremely polluted airthese are just glimpses, such stats on environmental damage have now become a bottomless pit. Volumes of articles cannot contain it.  

Taking a sneak peek of my life, the counseling of my friend Agam, who is a law professor and environmentalist by passion has become my guiding light since June 2019. While we were on our way to Bhubaneswar from Kolkata, I took a candy and threw the wrapper beside my seat and my friend immediately scolded and asked me to pick the wrapper and keep it in my pocket till I find a garbage tin. Though I fail at times yet every time it is his wise words that still echoe in my heart and help me to be sincere to my environment. Analogically in the Bible God tells us, I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.”

Earth is not born to us we are born to the earth!

We have seen the earth since our birth but that doesn’t mean prior to our birth earth was not existing, the same story implies from generation to generation. God first created heavens and earth, giving a form to the earth. He (God) created the sun, moon, stars, planets and nature and the living creatures. Then He (God) created human from dust gave him and her life and wisdom. Then the first blessing God gave to human appointing him as the STEWARD of HIS creation.

Well, by LOCKDOWN 2.0 I was quite happy of the news of nature and animals tweeting “Spotted Malabar civet… A critically endangered mammal not seen until 1990 resurfaces for the first time in India during the lockdown; 95% aircraft have stopped flying, Thousands of Olive Ridley turtles nesting on the beaches of Odisha; the 200 km away Dhauladhar mountain range of Himachal, visible after 30 years from Jalandhar (Punjab) after the pollution drops to its lowest level, or the recent the journey of 64,000 green turtles (the endangered reptiles) approaching the world’s largest green turtle nestling area at Raine Island on the Great Barrier Reef. I thought nature is REBOOTING but meanwhile the UNCTAD (United Nations Trade and Development) report alarmed me – volumes of unrecyclable waste have risen; severe cuts in agricultural and fishery  export levels have led to the generation of large quantities of organic waste; maintenance and monitoring of natural ecosystems have been temporarily halted; Local waste problems have emerged as many municipalities have suspended their recycling activities over fears of the virus propagation in recycling centres. Food retailers have resumed using plastic bags at checkout points citing health concerns over consumers’ reuse of paper bags. In addition, due to stay-at-home policies, many consumers have increased their consumption of take-away food delivered with single-use packaging.

Sadly, when we humans destroy something created by man, we rightly call it vandalism whereas when we destroy the NATURE which is created by God and is a gift unto us, we call it “PROGRESS!”

Isn’t it?

A LOVE WOUNDED RIN ALONGSIDE THE LOVE COMFORTED RIN

PROMPT: Standing in front of the mirror, she didn’t like what she saw…

Standing in front of the mirror, she didn’t like what she saw, while cleaning her face Rin’s eyes caught her age-old wounds. The red cut mark on her beautiful pink lips reminded her of those 5 years of ill-advised marriage life and the pain of physical abuse. Her beautiful day started falling like a pack of cards, divorced Rin fell back on the bed with teary eyes and questioned “IS THIS MY REWARD FOR LOVING HIM?”

The outside wounds were healed yet the inner wounds were bleeding!

Meanwhile, the voice of God reminded from her morning Bible reading,

“God’s steadfast love endures forever for everyone.” 

Rin bloomed and her teary Sunday evening turned into a blissful rainy evening enjoying the pitter-patter raindrops outside, producing the petrichor. Her heart started humming the old English hymn “HE DIDN’T THROW THE CLAY AWAY” in-recognition of the Agape Love that comforted her.