Saturday, 23 November 2013

7QT: On Writing, Lullabies, Being 28 and More

1. On Writing

Have you come across Zen Pencils? This guys takes inspirational quotes and makes them into comic strips. They're really well done even though I don't agree with the philosophy of all the quotes. Just because something sounds wise, doesn't mean it is. Anyway, I found one that I loved:

Advice For Beginners (click to see the whole thing)

I remember writing stories (The Adventures of Alicia, Cecelia and Shantel, my three favourite (mis-spelled) names at the age of 10)).  I would read them a few weeks or months later and be EXCRUCIATINGLY EMBARRASSED at how bad they were (and often destroy them). The same thing happened when I re-read my first blog that I started about six years ago. Ugh. Such bad writing. I often read other people's writing, and I think "Yes! This! This is good writing!" It's easy to identify good writing, but not as easy to create it. But of course you have to get through plenty of bad writing before you can produce even a little good writing.

I'm still at the in-between phase where the stuff I create is often (not always) kind of a disappointment to me. But I have learned something... Write anyway. My mom used to say, "You want to be good at sketching? Sketch!" Seems obvious, huh? But as a struggling perfectionist, I want to do it right the first time or not do it at all. The recipe for failure. Anyway, one good thing about this blog is that I actually do write every now and again, instead of just telling people I love writing, and I hope to write a book someday.

2. On Oral Traditions

Jen talked about songs that have passed down for generations in her family, as bedtime lullabies. My family has a lot of songs which we sing at family gatherings, only as a 'not very Indian' Indian, the songs that have passed down seem to have come from sources other than India. They have passed down several generations, but I have a feeling they must have come through the different foreign priests and nuns, missionaries and friends that my family met through the British, Portuguese and other colonial powers in India, as well as American music and movies that were popular here in certain circles generations ago.

It's pretty funny when I break into a super-familiar lullaby in front of American friends, and they say, "How do YOU know THAT?"

Here are some of the songs I remember from my childhood:

Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba (My Bambino Go to Sleep)- Created in 1947, and popularized by Perry Como, an American singer.

Shortnin' Bread- Known as a traditional Negro plantation song, it was originally written by American poet, James Whitcomb Riley in 1900.

Morningtown Ride- a lullaby, written and performed by Malvina Reynolds in 1957

3. On Unexpected Glimpses of Beauty

As Carlos Whittaker, a musician, was filming God of Second Chances in Atlanta, a homeless man named Danny randomly walked up and knelt down... and joined in the song, with some awesome impromptu vocals. This is one of the times when I think the word 'awesome' is actually appropriate. (Found this in Steve Gershom/Joseph Prever's 7QT... one of the advantages of posting so late is that you can steal quick takes from other people :-))

4. On being 28 (which I'm not yet)

From: Each Year of Your Twenties Ranked from Worst to Best
Whew — 28 is the best year of your twenties. Not because of the spectacular partying (see: 22) or because you’ll magically have everything figured out (see: never), but because 28 is the year when you’re finally able to accept that no one actually “feels” like a grown-up and it’s OK that you don’t either. And it’s also OK that you never want another Jägermeister shot and that crowded shows make you want to crawl under a blanket forever. Just enjoy that blanket, 28-year-old you.
Not like I really need buzzfeed to tell me anything about my life, and not like most of the article was relevant for non-Americans who don't really party or drink, but still, reading this made me happy. I WILL enjoy that blanket, thank you very much.

5. On Fiction Becoming Fact

Does it strike anyone else as cool that the moving photos of Harry Potter fame are not just a cool piece of imagination? They're real! Technology IS pretty crazy! (I know, I know, of all the crazy technology I choose to be excited about, I choose gifs. Whatever, I'm easy.)

This is still my favourite gif:

6. On Not Letting Possessions Possess You (or Me)

I used to think I didn't care much about 'stuff'. The choices I've made in my life mean that I HAVE to live simply, and I'm mostly happy about that. One of my favourite quotes by a holy friend was, "Never own anything you can't give away" and I tried to live by that. But greed creeps up on you. You think you're immune, and suddenly you're obsessing about EVERYTHING-  that cute pink dress on limeroad, bookshelves, Balderdash, and then you're scheming and planning and wondering how to make them yours.. Christmas? Birthday? Praying for a friend to get married so she can choose the SAME dress for her bridesmaids? I need to remember to step back, and say, "No. I don't need that. No matter how much I think it will, that bookshelf will NOT complete my life."

7. On Begging for Christmas Cards

Hey, anyone else loves receiving REAL Christmas cards? I have a plan to decorate one wall of my new apartment with Christmas cards, but I have to receive some for that. (Second hands ones are not as exciting.) This is my plan: if you promise to mail me a card, I will mail you one back... yes, this applies to non-Indians too (provided there aren't too many, which is unlikely). Leave your email id in the comments if you want to join, and we can exchange postal addresses.

Here's a picture of the last time I made Christmas cards (2009):

More Quick Takes at Conversion Diary... oh I forgot to post HOW excited I am that Jennifer's book is finally done! That is one book I'm SURE I'm going to want a bunch of copies of... to give away.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Christians! Blend In or Stand Out?

I’m here to address one of the questions that Christians who take their faith seriously have all thought at one time or another: Are Christians called to stand out, be different, be counter-cultural, be radical? Or are they called to blend in, be one with the world, stand with the ‘others’, be more identifiable as loving humans than outspoken Christians? Most Christians have strong opinions on this, one way or another.

Camp 1: Stand-Outers 

These guys have read Romans 12:2, and are convinced that they need to be counter-cultural. Like someone I knew once said, “If Christians watch all the same movies and listen to the same music as the rest of the world, they’re not really living as Christians.” The basic premise is that if Jesus has changed you, your values and priorities have shifted, and your choices of how you spend your time, how you dress, and what you talk about (among MANY other things) will reflect that. Such Christians see the harmful patterns of behaviour that have become acceptable to much of the secular world, and they want to take a stand against it. They WANT to stand out, and are willing to be mocked for being ‘different’ (which they often are). There are so many possible pitfalls to an unadulterated stand-outer attitude.

The big danger of Stand-Outers is spiritual pride. Much like the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like that sinful tax-collector, it’s easy to categorize oneself and others according to the outward choices and behaviour, without realizing that no one can judge the heart of another human being. Sometimes Stand-Outers don’t seem happy unless there is something to rebel against. In some ways, it probably gives them a feeling of security- which an us vs. them mentality often provides.

 But the worst danger is that Christianity has stopped being relatable to the rest of the world. If you ONLY watch movies that are explicitly Christian, or only listen to ‘Christian’ music, if you automatically assume that everything in the world is evil if it doesn't have a Christian label, if you only talk about ‘ministry’ and your scriptural reflection of that day, only hang out with friends at Christian events, then you've cut yourself off from the world that everyone else is living in. How can you love people that you can’t have a conversation with? How can you build relationships, when you have NOTHING in common?

There is much that is good and beautiful in the world, and Christians don’t need to be scared of that. If it’s really good and really beautiful, it has originated from God, whether or not it has been labelled ‘Christian’. There is also much that is ‘morally neutral’- it isn't good, or bad. Like multiple ear piercings. Or watching White Collar. Or dancing. (Yes, I know, that depends on the kind of dancing.) Or sports. Or eating ice-cream. Or flash mobs.

Camp 2: Blenders-In

Now these guys' favourite bible verse is ‘Jesus ate with sinners!’ Okay, just kidding, that’s not really a bible verse... but it’s in the bible- Jesus really did eat with sinners. Also, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ Blenders-in don’t want people to think that they are judging them.

Quite likely, if you say “I’m not a fan of Twilight”, it sounds like you've just condemned all Twilight-readers to hell. So they read all the books, watch all the movies, laugh at all the jokes, download all the pirated music, and if they are making any ‘different’ choices, try to make them as secretly as possible so as not to offend anyone. These guys won’t mention their personal prayer time in public, and will avoid all controversial topics like the plague. (I don’t mean that the plague is a controversial topic... okay whatever, you get it.) You’ll rarely if ever see them post a religious FB status. They will also be supportive of their friends’ decisions no matter whether they agree with them or not.

SO many downfalls in unadulterated ‘blending-in’. Witness the spread of Nazism. There must have been plenty of people who were a little worried at the beginning, but didn't want to rock the boat, and then it was too late. Sometimes the world needs a few prophets, to say things that people don’t necessarily want to hear.

I've needed a few prophets in my own life, who've shaken me up, and caused me to re-examine my priorities. Disagreeing with your friends can be done in a gentle and loving way. A friend of a drug-addict isn't being much of a friend if his addiction never comes up in their conversation, or worse, if he knows he can come borrow money to feed his addiction. When the desire to blend in comes from a fear of being rejected, or a fear of confrontation, it is not a positive thing. It was people who were not afraid to be different who were able to be agents of change in the world.

Even worse, if blending in is your highest priority, it is very easy to allow the world to change you, instead of allowing God to use you to change it. If you believe in everything, you most probably don’t believe in anything. Christians, we are called to place our minds and hearts in the hands of the Potter, who will form them and change them according to His ways, which sorry to tell you, often looks like foolishness to the world.

So what’s the solution?

Blend in, or stand out?

Well, here’s another famous line referring to another bible verse (what, three bible verses in one blog post?? You, Christian, you!) We are called to be in the world but not of the world. (referring to John 17:14-15)

We are called to do BOTH. We must live our lives IN the world, not in a little Christian bubble cut off from the world. But also we cannot allow ourselves to be controlled by the world. We are NOT ‘of the world’. The world, with its fashions and philosophies is not our god, or our final destination.

Practically speaking, how does a Christian do both? How do I wear my ‘I’m a fool for Christ, whose fool are you?’ t shirt* and my Mumford and Sons t shirt* at the same time**? Do I go out with friends for a movie, or a go out with other friends for Adoration? Do I post FB statuses about how God answered my prayer, or about how ManU won the match?***

Well, to a certain extent I can do both. But here a few tips to help figure it out:

God knows. I think every Christian has to bring their life before God, and ask HIM. Most of us need a kick in one direction or the other. Most people who know me in real life know that I have definitely been a stand-outer, to the point that I either argued with or avoided anyone who didn't believe what I believed. So God had to remind me that I needed to chill out a bit, open my heart to people, and work on the love part of speaking the truth in love.

On the other hand, plenty of Christians I know could afford to stop being undercover. Some people need to be reminded to love, and some need to be reminded to be more outspoken with the truth. Some need a push to go have a beer with their friends****, and some need to explain to their friends why they're Christian. Some people need to start using Whatsapp, and some people need to sell their fancy phones, buy cheap ones, and give the money to the poor.

Examine your motives. Are you standing out because you feel good about being different from those sinners? Are you keeping quiet about your faith because you’re afraid of being mocked? Are you a people-pleaser, or a compulsive debater? Whatever we do should be done out of love for God, and love for neighbour.

Allow the Holy Spirit to prompt you. (Yes, that’s one of those weird Christian things.) Different situations require different responses. Sometimes you need to say something, and sometimes you need to shut up. Sometimes you need to offer to pray with someone, and sometimes you need to nod sympathetically and change the topic.

So here's your spiritual nudge for the day- go forth, and either blend in, or stand out! Whatever the Top Man says. You're very welcome for the clarity.

*I actually don’t have either, but Christmas is coming, right? 
**Actually I could wear both, because it’s a frigid 9.9˚C! Brr! 
***Both those statuses might be combined. (Also, this is me pretending to know anything about football.)
****Or a coffee, because some of us don’t like beer. Sue me. (Pun intended!)

Friday, 8 November 2013

7QT Friday: Happy Home Things

Did I tell you I recently moved out of my parents' place and into an apartment with my roommate and coworker, R?

Well, here are a few of the things around my home that make me happy...


Now, am I talking about my quirky friend, M, or my awesome camel embroidery wall hanging from Kolkata? Is she the foreground, or is it the background? You guess.


Pink roses on our dining table! I was walking along the street yesterday, when I heard someone call out my name. My friend S was in a rickshaw, but she stopped long enough to hand me a bunch of pink roses! If only I had just asked St. Thérèse for a sign...


Our Lady of Guadalupe appears on a wall in Pune, India! Alert the press!


Beautiful, soft and warm quilt-bedspreads donated by my two thoughtful sisters, L and J. Even more exciting, because the India winter is creeping up on us- there's a chill in the air, and I've already pulled out my sweaters. (Fine, cold in my city is summer in other places, laugh all you want, but a minimum of 17 degrees Celsius gets us all excited.)


Bathroom rug woven by friends in the Philippines. (This is beginning to feel like a home shopping catalogue or something.)

---6--- and ---7--- (and even ---8---)

Go.. Jen's...