Saturday, 30 January 2016

Eight Years Ago... [Part 2]

Continuing school stories from my time as a third grade teacher in a village school...

A happy-sad-funny moment... I got a message from one of the teachers from my school saying that one of my students was missing me, and his parents asked if I could call him up once. I felt so special... Missing me? I'd never wanted any of my teachers in school to call me. On the other hand, poor boy. I didn't think my going away would affect them that much.. So on this happy-sad self-important note, I called him.
Me: Hi Sameer, this is Susanna miss.
Him: Miss! How many marks I get in exam?
Me: You did well. Your parents saw your results, no?
Him: Yes, Miss. Miss, you going to America?
Me: Maybe.. but I'll come and say bye to you before I go.
Him: Yes Miss. I'll put phone now?
Me: Um ok.. listen Sameer, call me if you feel...
Buzz. He 'put phone'.


A few days ago school had almost ended, and we stood up to say a prayer. Normally I'll ask them what they want to thank God for, and then I make a prayer for all of us. That day, Shubham went "Miss, Miss, I can say prayer today?" I was touched. This is not just a routine for them anymore.

His prayer went something like this: "Father, thank you for a lovely day (definitely my influence) And for exam. And for the story. And for homework. A-MEN!"
And the kids all respond: "A-MEN!"


The King and The Queen by Sourabh

Once upon a time there lived a king and the Queen. They want a baby. They both pray so many day. And one day they had a baby. They was so happy that they had a baby. They tell to whole kingdom that they had a baby. In another kingdom there lived a prince. The prince wanted to now about the another kingdom. Then he went in the another kingdom. The baby girl was grown up. Then he saw the princess going to her father the king. Then the princess also saw the prince. They both get the true love. And they both get married.
The End.


My Secret Identity

Today after a lesson, Sandesh Ingle rushed up to me to tell me...

"Miss you are Yellow Power ranger!"
"Yes Miss! You look like Power ranger!"
They had to convice me that Yellow power rangers aren't really yellow, can be female, and wear a nose ring and their hair clipped back.

And after that,
"Miss, you can fly?"

Of course I can, Shubhangi! It's because I am your teacher,and therefore omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient....I can do ANYTHING!


Is it funny or scary that some of my kids at school have running fueds with crows? Sandesh told me a story about a crow he used to throw stones at, who chased him into a toilet... and another one chasing his 5 year old sister and pecking at her head. Village life.


A couple of days ago, I was talking to a second standard student..
Me: So Yogesh, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Yogesh: Officer!
Me: what kind of officer? Police officer?
Yogesh: No Miss
Me: Um.. Army officer?
Yogesh (frustrated): NO miss! Officer!
Me: What...?
Yogesh (explaining to Dumb Teacher): I want to be officer! I sit on chair and I say 'Bring this file!' and 'Bring that file!'
Me: Ohhhhhh, that kind of 'officer'.

How come I didn't get to do that when I was working in an office?


A few days ago my class was talking about Hitler. They had never heard of him, but I explained he was a bad bad man who had killed many people. They looked a little worried, and then Sourabh asked me-
"Hitler is die now?"
When I assured them that yes, Hitler died many years ago, they heaved a collective sigh of relief and dismissed his badness from their minds.

We also talked about Mother Teresa. I told them that she had rescued abandoned baby girls, because some people didn't want their baby daughters...
Sourabh: She no had sons?
Me: No, she wasn't married- she worked for God by helping poor people.
Amit: You cannot have baby without being marriage?
Me: (briefly considering out of wedlock babies, and then thinking TMI) Er, no.
Jay: How babies come, Miss?
Me: (borrowing from my mother's techniques) You'll find out when you're older.
Sneha: Miss, I know! My mother...
Me: (hastily) Never mind, let's get back to the topic!

Oh, the dangers of teaching eight year olds!


 We've been singing 'Come and go with me to my Father's house; and I've tried to explain to the kids that they have a Father in Heaven who loves them very much. The words of the song are:
Come and go with me to my Father’s house!
It’s a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms.
There’s a big, big table with lots and lots of food,
And a big, big field where we can play football.
It’s a big, big house. It’s my Father’s house!

So I told them about heaven...
Me: It's a beautiful place with lots of lovely things, and there's no sadness.. nobody cries, everyone's happy... and there's good food, and nice houses for everyone... but best of all, you get to be with your Father who loves you very, very much... When you go there, He'll say 'Welcome Sandesh, I've been waiting for you' and He'll give you a big hug (giggles from the kids)
Sandesh (big grin, starry eyes): Miss, when can we go there?
Me: When you die... when you grow old..
Jay: No, I'll take a big chaku (knife) and I'll (makes stabbing motions into his stomach) and I'll go there.
Me: NO! No! That doesn't count! Then you WON'T go to heaven! Suicide is bad, do you hear me, bad! No chakus!
(Crazy children)

Other thoughts from eight year old minds on God...
Me: God is everywhere.. He can see you all the time.
Sourabh: Can he see the children in Delhi?
Me: Yes!
Sandesh: But how? He's here? (Swiping the air in front of him) How?
Me: He's God! He can do anything.
Sandesh: But how?
Me: Magic.

More morbid...
Aditya: Can the robbers kill God?
Me: No.. how can they? They can't see Him.
Aditya: Miss , the robbers die, and they take guns with them, and go to heaven and kill God?
Me: No! They can't do that!
We haven't yet gone into our physical bodies remaining on earth when we die.


Even though 'India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters', there are many things I see in India which seem to me 'curiouser and curiouser'.

Here's one-
One time in my class, two little boys banged their heads together. Immediately one of them turns to spit... Luckily I spotted the signs and shrieked 'SANDESH I, what are you doing??? NO spitting! Especially not in class!'
The whole class had to get together and explain to their idiot teacher that he HAD to spit. Why? Beause he had hit his head. If he did NOT spit, a large lump would develop on his head.
Nonsense, I said.
So for the next 5 minutes Sandesh I collected spit in his mouth and waited for me to get distracted, while I went 'Swallow it! Swallow it!'
I won in the end.


The other day during the morning break, I was overcome with sleepiness (probably something to do with a book I couldn't put down and no self-control the previous night). So I put my head on my desk, closed my eyes and ignored my 13 monsters completely. They didn't really know how to react at first. Shubham settled them for me. While a few went 'Miss, miss', and I ignored them, in a shrill hyper voice, Shubham stuttered 'E-EVERYONE KEEP QUIET! M-MISS HAS A HEADACHE!'
Thank you, Shubham. 


What does it tell you about my children that all their jokes begin with the line 'There was a Marathi teacher and a English teacher'?


One thing about my class is that you can get serious hearing damage from the constant barrage of 'Mees!' 'Mees mees!' 'Mees mees!' 'Mees!'
It drives Jewells (our American volunteer) crazy.
So one time when it got too much, she got into the face of one little annoyer, Shubham..
Jewells: Mees mees mees mees mees mees mees mees!!!
Shubham (with his fingers on his temples and a pained look): Sorry, miss.


Me: The Gram Panchayat records births and marriages.. You know what marriage is? Shaadi..
The kids: (Giggles) Yes miss, we know..
Me: When you grow up, you'll get married...
The kids: (In horror) NO, miss!
Me: Why not? Your mummy and daddy are married, no?
The kids: Yes miss... but I not marriage!
Me: C'mon, don't you want to have little babies?
The kids (hiding their faces and giggling and shuddering): NO, mees!
Me: But they're so cute! My sister got married and has a cute baby!
The kids: You have a baby, mees?
Me: No my sister does. I'm not married.
The kids: Why, mees?
Me: Because I can't find a nice boy.
The kids (more horror and hiding of faces): MEEES!!!


Everything I teach in my class has to be tested... by the kids.
Me: How are human beings different from animals? We can use our thumbs to do many things.. like write. Animals can't!
Kids: I can! Look, look!
All the kids start writing without using their thumbs...
Me: Well, it's not neat! And you can't.. um.. tie your laces without a thumb.
The kids: I can! I can!
Three kids on the floor trying to tie their laces without their thumbs.
The kids: See miss, see miss! I can do it!
Me: You're not! Sandesh, you ARE using your thumb! Aargh! There, you did it again!
I think they believed me in the end.
Then gravity...
Me: If it weren't for gravity, we'd all be floating around... If I throw this duster up, where does it go?
The kids: Down!
I throw the duster up.
It falls down.
And then they all start throwing stuff up in the air.
Me: If I jump up, I have to come down!
Sandesh I: No miss, I don't come down! See! See!
He holds his feet off the ground by hoisting himself up by the arms on two desks.
Me: Ugg! 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Eight Years Ago... [Part 1]

... I left my cushy air-conditioned office job to teach a third standard class in a village school. It was an hour journey to school every day, and I spent about six hours every day with 13 mischievous little eight year olds. Today I got to visit the school and see my eight year olds transformed into sixteen year olds. Crazy! They still remembered the stuff we did- the games, the art, the stories. It was a transformational year for me, and it looks like it was for them too.

What joy to see that they've become confident, happy, intelligent almost adults, talking about becoming doctors and engineers and businessmen, smiles splitting their faces as they saw me. What God can do with nine months!

I had another blog back then, but I thought I would share a few stories from that time of my life.

Learning to Love:

While I was teaching, I had one very restless little boy in my class. And I mean RESTLESS. From the beginning of the year till the end he squirmed, and jumped and twisted himself all over his bench, and under his bench and everywhere else... all the time! There was never a moment that he sat quietly and focussed. He also never met my eye. Some were easy to love. With some, it was harder. I was constantly correcting him, and I never seemed to speak to him except to correct him. He was also very smart, and always had answers, but I never seemed to appreciate him for that, because I just labelled him in my mind 'annoying'.

A few weeks ago, we had been extremely hot weather and the kids were constantly drinking water. Only this boy, let's call him Gaurav, never seemed to remember to bring his.

"Miss, I want to drink water"
"So drink."
"I don't have. Preeti is not giving."
"Preeti, please share your water. Why haven't you brought water, Gaurav?"
"I forgot."
"Please remember tomorrow."
Tomorrow came.
"Miss I not have water."
"Again? Don't be so careless, Gaurav!"

Finally I decided to ask a few questions, and I found he didn't have a bottle. One of the girls gave him her extra one. The matter seemed settled.

The next day again.
"Gaurav, where is your bottle?"
"I forgot, Miss."
"Again? This is really getting too much!"

Finally I managed to come out of my insensitive little shell to question him more closely.

It turns out he does not have water available at home! The municipal supply has stopped for some reason. The only water they got was three bottles his father got from his office everyday.

Aargh. I felt like hitting myself. How could I blame a seven year old for not bringing water in the sweltering heat? How could I possibly think he would leave it out of choice? That he liked having to ask for water from his class mates everyday?

That evening we had a Stations of the Cross at home, and at one point we were asked to pray for the needs of the world. I started sobbing and I couldn't stop. My callousness. His thirst. The entire thirsty village. And villages. All over India. Us city people who just don't care. Jesus who said 'I thirst.'

Needless to say I learnt a big lesson. A lesson about love. I learnt that Jesus' command to love wasn't 'Love those who you enjoy loving." or "Love those who respond." or even "Love those who don't get on your nerves." Love those who are especially hard to love, because they are the ones who may not have had that much of love in their lives.

I tried my best to make it up to Gaurav, and talked to him kindly even when he didn't meet my eye. Too little too late maybe. But something to take with me into the future.

Eight Year Old Humour

The latest kid fad was adding some juice flavour to their water bottles. Once Shubham showed me his RED coloured water in his bottle.
Me: Aaarggh! What's that? Is that... blood? Oh no, where's Sourabh? What did you do with Sourabh?
The other kids got into the act.
Kids: Where's Sourabh? Where's Sourabh?
They rushed around, found Sourabh and dragged him to me.
Kids: Miss, HERE'S Sourabh!
I heaved a sigh of relief and put my hands on a confused Sourabh's shoulders.
Me: My, am I glad to see you, Sourabh! Phew. What a relief.
The kids didn't want it to end so fast.
Shubhangi (with mock urgency): Miss, WHERE'S Prajakta??!!
I rose to the occasion.
Me: Oh no! Where IS Prajakta? (looking suspiciously at Shubham) Did you kill Prajakta?* 
Shubham (with a delighted grin): No, Miss!
Shubhangi (dragging Prajakta along): Miss, HERE'S Prajakta...
And so it went on.

*Now that I think about it, it was probably inappropriate to joke about killing. 

Then Comes Marriage... Then Comes Babies

We've been averaging a fairy tale a day, and sometimes even two.. one things that seems to be in common in most of them is that they end with a marriage, and a 'happily ever after'.

1001 Arabian Nights is a little different because the King is married to the heroine before the end. I ended the story..
Me: And what do you think happened? He decided not to killed her and they lived happily ever after.
Tushar: And they got married!
Sandesh: They are already married!
Tushar: Then they have baby!

My ending was obviously incomplete.

Romantic Boys

The boys in my class are usually kinda embarrassed and scornful of any kind of descriptions of romance in my stories.. so I usually keep them short and matter of fact.. "So the Prince fell in love with the Princess." Things seem to be changing though...

Today I told the the 1001 Arabian Nights story..
Me: Scheherazade was very beautiful.. the King liked the way she looked. She had dark kajal around her eyes.. and she wore beautiful veils.. and um..
Jay (butting in eagerly): And her hair??
(While the other guys give him strange disbelieving looks)
Me (smothering my smile): Yes her hair was very long and beautiful too.

Validation... Again

Some days ago I walked up the stairs after eating my lunch, and was greeted by a six year old who grabbed my hand and escorted me to my class- "Library!" he announced. My class is the only one with plenty of storybooks available, and a nice welcoming mat in the middle. There were several other first graders who greeted me, and pushed storybooks in my face so I would read to them. My third standards read their own books, and looked up to say "They like you, Miss", knowingly.

A little later as I read stories, the headmistress walked in and approvingly told me I was a good teacher and she was happy to see me getting back to work so fast. She hadn't even left, when the six year olds yelled "She LIKES you!".

I had NO idea.


... from 'My Visit to the Zoo'

The best thing was the leopard.
The worst thing was that Miss Susanna called me a monkey.

(He left out the part where I told them I was going to sell all thirteen monkeys to the zoo and buy myself some nice clothes with the money)

On Beds and Nonsense and Curses

A week ago before our visit to the zoo..

Child 1: Miss, can I bring my ball to the picnic?
Child 2: Miss, can I bring money to the picnic?
Me: Ok. Anyone wants to bring their TV?
Child 3: Yes Miss, me!
Me: Anyone wants to bring their mother?
Child 3: Yes Miss, me!
Me: Anyone wants to bring a bed?
Anand: Yes Miss! I have so big bed at home.
(That's when I remembered it isn't common for the children to have their own beds, in fact it's a luxury.)
Child: I have a bed at home!
Another child: Yes Miss even I have!
Sandeep: Miss I had bed but it went in bad fire.
Me: Bad fire, huh?
Sandeep: (loud and excited as usual) Yes Miss.. my mother took candle, and then ...
Jalal: NO Miss, he not have bed!
Sandeep: You don't know!I had bed but it went in bad fire! Yes Miss!
Jalal: NO Miss, he not have bed! I saw his house.
Sandeep: (turns to Jalal, annoyed) You have bed and then it will go in fire and then other children will tell you not had bed!  


..In my class a few days ago.

Little boy: ..Only God, Miss, Gourav and I know that.
Me: Know what?
Little boy: Where Madagascar is.

(They think the globe is a game.. one asks me to read the name of a place they point out, and the other finds the place)

Not So Scary

As I sat at the front of the school bus on our way to our school picnic, I shot warning looks at the third standards in the back seats every time they jumped out of their seats. I was observed with interest by two little six year olds in front of me.
Six year old: Miss, why do you make your eyes big like that?
Me: It scares my children. Then they listen to me.
Another six year old: Miss, do it again!
First six year old: I like you, Miss.

What would YOU do if you were God?

Yesterday during History revision, the topic sudddenly turned to God..
One hyper boy: Miss, God holds all the black black thing in his hand?
Me: Uh, what black black thing?
Him: All the stars and planets and all that..
Me: Oh, the universe. Yes, He can. He made it!

A pause while they think of 'He's Got the whole World in His Hands'...

Young minds pondering the hugeness and awesomeness of their Creator...

And then...

A 7 year old thinker: And when no one is looking, He takes it and kicks it like a ball.

But Looks Can Be Deceptive

"Idiot!" I muttered as I realized I had not prepared properly for my craft class.
"What, Miss?" asked Trupti.
"Not you, Trupti, me. I'm an idiot."
"No, Miss" she said reassuringly "You not look like idiot."

Is It Because I Was in School Just Seven Years Ago?

Sometimes keeping the stern teacher face can be tough. We started circle time today and all the kids went crazy.
Me: Rules of circle time- if someone's talking, keep your eyes on them.
Everybody starts sticking their faces into each others'. Plus shrieks of laughter.
Me: Too much noise!
I shut my eyes waiting for everyone to notice and calm down, but two little monsters refuse to take a hint.
Sandesh: (Loud chatter)
Other kids: Shhh... Miss is waiting.
Sandesh: Miss, what is the time?
Aditya: Time for the bell!
Sandesh: Time for P.T.
Aditya: Ding ding ding ding!
Sandesh: Now I will close my eyes like Miss! When Miss open, I will open!
My eyes opened, and I had to try really hard not to start giggling, as I stared at Sandesh's closed eyes, and waited for him to figure out that his time had come.

They seemed to think my closed eyes meant I was not in the room, or maybe asleep, or in a trance. But I regained my composure, and Aditya and Sandesh spent the next 10 minutes in the corner.


Speaking of sleep though, one time I was really tired in class. And tired of the 'Miss, miss, miss'. It was the break time, and the kids were finishing off some work. I put my head on my table and drifted (Yes, I know, very unprofessional teacher conduct) I heard footsteps approach my table. Pause for a moment. How to deal with a sleeping teacher? You can't really shout 'Wake up!' I didn't move. The footsteps retreated.

Another set of footsteps. This one was not to be deflected so easily. My cute naughty little Jay starts fanning his book back and forth till my hair starts flying. I surrender.

Er.. What?

Sandesh, pausing with his hand on the door : You want to see my body, Miss?
(Er, no thanks, Sandesh)

(It turns out he meant strength, as in pulling our stuck classroom door with his superior strength)


Sameer, who had lost his pencil for the umpteenth time..
Me (sternly): Where's your pencil, Sameer?
Sameer (gravely): Heaven.
Me: What?
Sameer: Yes, Miss. Pencil die and go in heaven. (pointing upwards)

(Tearing sound as teacher pulls her hair out.)

 All in a Day's Work

People say the trouble with life is that it’s so damn daily…. Not for me!

On Thursday I decided to treat myself to some quiet time during the lunch break. I excused myself from eating with the other teachers, which was possible because I had sandwiches instead of the messier chapatti-bhaji. I chased all my kids out of the classroom, put on my reading glasses and settled down with Scott Hahn’s Lord Have Mercy. Unfortunately my monkeys were in the mood for mischief. First the door slammed and I saw two cheeky faces peeping at me from the window.

“We lock you, Mees!” they announced gleefully. I settled in more comfortably and continued reading. If they had locked me in, that meant I was in and they were out, which was a good thing in my book. But they couldn’t stand for this indifference (boys never can) so they kept closing and opening the doors while their more innocent classmates tried to continue their routines- coming in, dumping lunch bags and drinking water. In the midst of the confusion, they locked me in with Tushar, my sweet silent Tushar, who can enjoy a joke in spite of his simplicity.

When Tushar realized he was locked in, I couldn’t repress my 10 year old inner child, so I got him to retaliate in the best possible way.

“Lock the door, Tushar, quick!” He rushed to obey my command in the manner of a knight to his lady’s rescue.

“Now close the window” which he did, to the grinning faces’ dismay.

“Now choose a book and read it.” Which he did quite willingly, with a big grin on his face, as he realized he was teachers’ accomplice. We both peacefully read our books as boys banged on doors and windows, and finally one of the male teachers came to see why the third students had lost their minds and their cool.

All in a day’s work for me! :-)

If you enjoyed these stories, I can post more! 

Update: Part 2 here

Monday, 25 January 2016

When Your Facebook Feed Explodes with Weddings

You know it's happening. I'm pretty sure every day of December that you looked at Facebook, you were hit by an explosion of gorgeous wedding pictures of classmates, cousins, friends of friends, YOUNGER SIBLINGS of friends, and everybody in between. There are two possible reasons for this occurence:

1. It's a Leap Year this year, and they tell me that's 'unlucky'. So everyone wanted to get married in 2015.

2. I am almost 30. In my world, that's it. That is the last possible age. 24 is too early, 31 is too late. So if you didn't manage to find a spouse yourself, your parents have probably been looking and hounding you until the magic age of 30 forced you to say yes.

Now there are a variety of ways single people deal with this:


2. You could just vicariously enjoy everybody else's photos and cute wedding videos, even if you weren't invited for the actual wedding. Likefest! 'Sue sees people wedding pics and doesn't feel bad or get mad because she wasn't invited. Sue realizes weddings are expensive and we're not that close anyway. Sue is reasonable. Be like Sue.'

3. You could start questioning your own life and self-worth and get sucked into a vortex of EVERYBODY ELSE HAS THEIR LIVES FIGURED OUT EXCEPT ME WHY DOES MY LIFE SUCK SO MUCH?!!?

4. You could be superior and look down on all those marriage-obsessed sheeple who are trying to find meaning in their lives by getting married and creating smaller versions of themselves probably because they haven't yet figured out there's more to life than marriage, babies and the domestic life.

5. You could fight the feeling of desperation rising up within, and think about settling for that guy who is still hung up on you because he's your best option. Or call your parents and finally agree to meet some possible guys that they have been trying to get you to meet for the past 5 years.

6. You could jump into something else which seems to give your life meaning and validity or at least probably makes you seem less like losers to all the people whom you assume think of you as losers. Take a trip abroad, go on a holiday somewhere, go to a nice restaurant.. anything!

I can't recommend most of these options. Here are my tips for dealing with Facebook Wedding Season.

1. Just BE HAPPY for these people. Just because I'm not married yet, doesn't mean I don't want people to find love, get married, and start families. The human race doesn't have to end because I'm single! Think about all those sweet babies they're going to bring into the world. When someone has a good, stable, happy marriage, that benefits us all! A happier, more stable world! Thank God we were not the generation who couldn't get married.

2. Pray that their marriages last and are truly happy! We know that it's becoming harder, and we pray pray pray that India doesn't go the way of the West where most children have been affected by divorce or unhealthy marriages.

3. Don't forget that you never know the whole story. Behind a seemingly happy Facebook wedding photo could be a number of different factors, including parental pressure, financial struggles, health issues, arranged-but-not-yet-love, years of heartbreak, loneliness or previous broken relationships, family problems, struggles with sin. Don't envy other people's lives because you never know the hidden struggles.

4. Close your Facebook and go do something else. It's kinda unhealthy to be constantly gazing at other people's lives. Not just their lives, but their PORTRAYAL of their lives. Finally you need to live your own life. Spend time with friends. Colour a picture. Visit a neighbour. Find ways to love. Learn a new skill. Talk to your parents. Pursue a dream.

5. Remember that before or after marriage YOU are still YOU. If you struggled with discipline before you got married, you'll struggle with discipline after you get married. If you think you're not good enough before marriage, you'll think you're not good enough after marriage. If you act like a jerk to people before marriage, you'll act like a jerk to people after marriage. Marriage doesn't stop you from having to deal with YOU 24/7. Marriage means someone else will have to live with your issues too. So maybe work on that.

6. Re-examine your life priorities and goals but not under the influence of what everyone else is doing, or of what anyone else expects you to do. Here's another tip: the only life goal really worth pursuing is one that will outlast your life- LOVE.

Wrestling with Christian Unity

The Church celebrates International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this week. We had a pastor from the Church of North India give the homily, or rather 'break open the word' (which by the way isn't  supposed to happen- only the priest or deacon are allowed to give homilies during the Mass, according to Redemptionis Sacramentum- his reflection should have been after the Mass. But anyway.)

We also had a gathering with my prayer community to which we invited people from an Assemblies of God church, the pastor spoke there too, their music ministry played praise and worship music, and a YWAM team lead us in intercession for Christian unity.

So you can probably tell I'm kind of saturated in Christian unity thoughts. I feel like weeks like these raise so many questions in this INTJs mind. (As I'm sure they do in my counterparts in non-Catholic churches.)

Like, yes, unity and everyone getting along is all well and good, but how does it work?

Isn't there a reason our churches aren't one in the first place?

How can we be united without minimizing our differences or acting like they are unimportant? I keep hearing people say things like 'We worship one God so none of the other things really matter'. We believe they matter. These are not just differences in style or tradition or the way we do things. There's more.

Catholics feel like non-Catholic Christians are missing out on or have rejected the substance and truth and graces and unity present in the Catholic Church, especially in the sacraments instituted by Jesus, and in the love and special role of His Mother and the saints. Protestants think Catholics have added on to the doctrine of salvation, over focussing on works, and betraying the true God by praying to human beings. Catholics feel betrayed when their relatives leave the Catholic Church for an evangelical church. Protestants urge people to look for a bible-believing church (as opposed to the Catholic church which many feel is unbiblical).

These don't sound like easy differences to reconcile.

And yet.

We can't just dismiss it as impossible, and focus on something else. Jesus wants it! The disunity of the Church is a scandal! I realize this more fully when I try to explain to a non-Christian who wants to know more about Jesus in India how bad it is. "Why are there so many churches? They teach all different things. Which one should I go to?" I cannot in good conscience say it doesn't matter and they're all the same. But neither should I in charity dismiss or put down members of other churches.

I don't have perfect answers to all my questions. But I just watched a beautiful video that attempts to answer many of them. Audrey Assad and Matt Maher, the biggest Catholic musicians and songwriters attend and speak at OneThing2015, a huge young adult conference organized by IHOP (International House of Prayer) at the first ever Catholic Ecumenical track (which in itself is a huge breakthrough in ecumenical relationships.)

This is a QnA panel addressing some of those questions, as well as questions about the role of praise and worship, very interesting. I especially liked the choice of the Emmaus walk instead of the Prodigal Son as the way we think about ecumenism. And acknowledging the pain of our broken body, not acting like it doesn't exist.

Start at the 09:53 mark if you want to skip introductions, and at the 34:27 mark if you want to go straight to ecumenical questions.

It's actually really beautiful. God wants this!

This one is also interesting- Audrey Assad and Matt Maher sharing about their own stories and talking about growing in worship.

And this is Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism that Matt and Audrey referred to.

Related:7QT:Catholic-Protestant Interactions and Thoughts  

Monday, 11 January 2016

When I Get Tired of Being Catholic

Sometimes (especially when I am sleep-deprived and am feeling swamped by negativity), I get so tired of the Catholic Church. Okay, that's not totally true. I get tired of the local branch of the Catholic Church- my parish, and everything involved with it.

What's bothering me?

Is it walking in at Midnight Mass to hear someone on the loudspeakers saying something to the effect that, "We are trying to reach the next level of religion, where we realize all religions are the same,"?(What? What? That's Pope John Paul II turning in his grave)

Or yet another poor homily that either is gimmicky and low in any kind of solid truth or relevance to anyone's lives, or just priests talking AT people rather than TO them, or basically some kind of self-help better-yourself speech which again has nothing to do with either God's truths or people's lives, let alone connecting the two, or one that assumes the worst about people, or ones that are theologically unsound, or the plague of India- just lacking in any kind of clarity (wait, what was that homily about? No idea!)?

Or is the horrible Mass music that is lacking in any kind of reverence, depth or beauty? Why yes, I have written about that before. Going to Mass is often more a challenge of patience and gritted teeth, than a beautiful encounter with the Divine. If you sing 'Put a little more of Jesus in your life' one more time, I will scream! Or offer it up, if I'm being less of a brat.

Or is it the painful experience with priests who are impatient, ill-mannered, negative, bossy or closed? With the attitude that people need to jump through hoops to get any help from the parish, need to bow and scrape and prove themselves worthy to be treated with basic courtesy? With the abuse of authority, the complete opposite of the biblical model of servant leadership? Or people involved with the parish who gossip, criticize, dismiss or seem haughty and reserved and suspicious? Who treat the poor and ignorant very differently from the way they treat the educated and well-connected?

Pope Francis is not impressed

Or is it the many programmes, speeches, meetings, rallies full of flowery nothing-sayings, formality and self-congratulatory back-patting, lots of rhetoric and once again a lack of clarity, of truth, and of relevance? Or the obstacles to doing anything differently? Or the hostility and suspicion towards lay associations that are not specifically parish-based even though they are forming and discipling lay Catholics in a way that is not happening at the parish level?

Or is it the focus being on more and more activities and programmes instead of discipleship? On appearances instead of substance? Is it the desperate need I see in people's lives for real truth and real love, and the feeling that the local parish is doing little to meet those needs?

Or is it the thousands of strangers at every Mass, most of whom I don't know, the lack of family atmosphere? Is it how well-dressed everyone is, so well-dressed it seems like it's a club for the rich where vernacular-speaking Indians would never be welcome? Is it the resistance and irritation from average parishioners with our vernacular speaking Bishop, and our push for a vernacular Mass (just ONE Mass, out of the SEVEN English masses we have every weekend)?

You might ask "Well, Sue, why on earth ARE you still Catholic in that case?"

Well, if I was an average Catholic in the pews and the parish was my only exposure to what it meant to be Catholic, I probably would have left a long time ago. But it wasn't.

Personal encounter: When I was a teenager, I had my own personal encounter with Christ. I grew up in the Charismatic renewal, and so was exposed to far more retreats and talks focussing on the basic truth of Christianity- that I was loved by a personal God who desired to be in relationship with me, and through whom my life made sense. I met a Person, not a system of beliefs.

Witness: I met Catholic Christians (and other Christians) who were unlike most people I met at the parish (or anywhere else). They KNEW this personal God, and you could see the difference in their lives. You could see a Light shining through their genuine love and kindness and holiness. They loved the Truth and the Truth made them free to love. They were unapologetic about their faith, and they gave a consistent witness that Someone was changing them and causing them to be Lovers in a world that is lacking in love.

Truth Explained: The witness of these people I met and the personal encounters I had had gave me enough reason to start digging a little deeper. I read 'Rome Sweet Home'. I began to explore the world of online Catholic blogs, articles and forums. I met all sorts there too, from the permanently on the attack Catholic apologists to the obsessed with the Liturgy traditionalists. But I found enough writers* whose reasoned explanations and personal experiences and awe at the beauty of the Church and humble down-to-earth approach convinced me that my experience in my parish did not reflect what it really meant to be Catholic. I began to read the Catechism which is the opposite of boring- just read the section on prayer. (Priests, get your homily material from here!)

The Eucharist: I became aware of what exactly was going on at Mass regardless of the poor music and homilies. I began to look forward to Mass as I realized Whom I was meeting in the Eucharist. I began to listen to the readings, and hear God speak to me. For the first time, I heard the Mass prayers, and realized how chock-full of beauty and wisdom they were. (Look at this beautiful blessing over the couple at a Catholic wedding.) No matter how distracted or grumpy or tired I was when I entered Mass, by the time I received Jesus into my messy heart, something changed.

Facing the Human Condition: Yes, I'm an idealist who feels very frustrated when I see that things are not where they should be. But as I grew and experienced different people and communities and situations, I realized that deep truth- 'Human beings are messed up.' Like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart." What makes me mad in our parishes is human sin, human weakness and human brokenness. But as I grew closer to the Lord I realized that the sin and weakness out there is also the sin and weakness in here. People in the parish are negative and closed and bossy? I often face the temptation to be negative and closed and bossy. In the worst people I knew, I would suddenly see moments of kindness. In the best people I knew, I would see blind spots.

And without excusing the horrible behaviour of some, I was able to have some compassion- who knows the background of each person? People are preaching lame, weak homilies? Maybe they have never themselves been exposed to truth. They misuse authority? They have probably been bossed around their whole lives by people misusing authority. They throw their weight around? Maybe they still struggle with insecurity.

Bottom line: We are desperate, wounded people in need of a Saviour.

 Seeing the Good:  Even with all the brokenness and imperfection and sin out there, there are so many jewels in the midst of the rubbish. I have met people in the parish who humbly and faithfully serve the Lord, people who are gentle and kind, people who are quick to forgive, quick to respond to a smile, quick to offer any kind of help, and go the extra mile. Many of the people who are not where I hope they would be are actually very open and wanting something more- sheep without a shepherd.

There are priests who ARE humble, who have humbly collaborated with lay people, been excited and zealous and encouraging when they see the good that God is doing even if it was not their project. There are priests I know I can call any time to hear my Confession. There are priests and church people who are quick to appreciate, to praise, to see the good, whom I have rarely heard speak a negative word. There ARE disciples- acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with their God... even if they do not receive any acknowledgement or praise for it.

Love People, Trust God: Finally I'm Catholic not because I have any faith in the church structures or even leaders. I'm here because I trust JESUS, and because I believe He called me to the Church, to be strengthened by the (priest-proof) sacraments, to be guided by unchanging truth (Jesus' teaching handed down over the past 2000 years), and to allow the Holy Spirit to work in ME to restore His Church so that one day it may reflect His Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

I dream of a day when I can go to Mass and hear solid, challenging, truth-filled homilies, where our pastors are visibly 'other Christs', in their humility, wisdom and love, treating parishioners as coworkers in the Kingdom, not inferiors, where the hymns radiate beauty and lift our hearts to heaven, where parishioners are DISCIPLES first, whose love for one another is visible,  who welcome the outsider with open arms, whose priority is service to the poor and mission.

We're not there yet.

In the meanwhile, I need to hold on to hope, let go of negativity, and in humility, allow the Spirit to help me to 'be the change I want to see'. I need to absorb and live St. Paul's words- 'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.' I need to allow Jesus to make me a saint. Let us begin.

Monday, 4 January 2016

How (and Why) Not To Fall in Love

On my FB newsfeed (aka my reading list) appeared a New York Times article called 'To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This'. It is about a study basically saying that you can make men and women fall in love by using a set method. In the study, 'a heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes.' And apparently that's enough to fall in love.

It sounded interesting, of course, to this INTJ who likes to analyze everything.

Of course it made sense that certain circumstances can increase the chance of being attracted to someone. As I've heard my mother repeat throughout my life, 'Propinquity!'

But I guess the real question is, what does it mean to be in love? And of what use is this study?

Being in love- intense attraction? No, it's more than just a passing infatuation. You can feel an intense attraction for someone without being in love. Perhaps it is attraction that passes the test of time? Attraction that is not just about the highs that you feel (cue all the 'love' songs that are really about 'the way you make ME feel'), a bonding that makes you want to slay dragons and do whatever it takes to make the other person happy? A bonding that causes you to take responsibility for the other person?

I know, I know, there are heaps of studies and opinions, and articles, and blog posts about what it all means and where it comes from. Nothing super original and insightful here.

Some people reduce being in love to our brain's production of oxytocin, a merely chemical reaction, that will run its course. Some people coughcynicscough think none of that stuff is important in making life choices. Other coughidiotscough think that the feeling of being in love is EVERYTHING and 'follow your heart' (follow your emotions of the moment) is the only true mantra for a happy life.

As for me, I think that God gave us some pretty cool gifts, including the chemical oxytocin... for a good reason. And like all his gifts, they can be misused. FALLING in love helps two naturally selfish human beings to make a choice to STAY in love. Falling in love can possibly just *happen*, but staying in love is always a deliberate choice. Falling in love and staying in love is what helps us become who we were meant to be, persons whose lives reflect the self-gift of God, who created us like Him. And people who fall in love and stay in love create happy, stable families, the only way really to change this broken, hurting world.

So how can we misuse the gift of being in love? Why, separate it from commitment, from prudence, and from wisdom, and use it as a drug, for the fleeting pleasure of the moment, to be discarded once the high wears off, to never allow it to change us, and move us from our self-obsession to self-gift, from staring at ourselves reflected in the eyes of another, to really SEEING and loving the other.

We are so ready to fall in love, that we'll do anything to get that experience:

Creating and chasing intimacy with anyone regardless of whether it is the right time or a person you would consider marrying: Lonely spouses sharing their marital problems with coworkers of the other sex, teenagers opening their hearts in late night texts to any person who shows them some attention, asking those deeply personal and intimate questions to anyone who shows they are semi-interested.

Here is something you need to know- when you bare your heart to someone, intimacy happens. When you make yourself vulnerable to another human being, you are opening yourself to the chance of falling in love with them, and them with you.

  • If you (the guy.. sue me, I'm sexist) are not available to pursue the girl, if you (the girl) are not ready to be pursued, if either of you are not able or ready to be married anytime soon, or there is some insurmountable obstacle, if you are in college and years away from being able to commit, if you are in a committed relationship, if either of you are MARRIED ALREADY- DON'T START WHAT YOU CAN'T FINISH. 
  • Don't share personal, intimate details of your life with someone of the opposite sex.
  • Find people of the same sex to have deep conversations with
  • Don't create or remain in intimacy-producing circumstances, like talking to each other for hours, especially late at night, or at parties or weddings with romantic music in the background.
  • Don't hang out alone too long or too often. 
  • Don't flirt or pay focussed attention to someone you are not serious about. 
  • Keep a little bit of internal distance from someone who you are a little attracted to, if it's not the right time. Don't be needy, or too attached. If you don't fall in love too easily, it's far more likely to stick when you do.
Or as the Good Book says,

Your imprudent and unwise choices to fall in love with the wrong person, or allow them to fall in love with you can have some hard and ugly consequences.

Decisions that are later regretted.

Broken hearts.

Broken trust and empty promises.

Broken families.

  • The most important way to prevent yourself from looking for love in all the wrong places is to look for it in the right place first. When you feel that need for intimacy, to be seen, to be known, turn to the One who can truly fulfil those desires. Choose to fall in love with Him first, and then you won't be so quick to fall in love with the wrong people, and your heart will be far more ready to fall in love with the right one.
First things first.

The other side of the study is that it seems that you can choose to keep the romance alive in a marriage, that it is again not just random whether or not you stay in love with your own spouse, whether or not you have a successful marriage.

You can choose to regularly ask those intimate questions, to create and sustain intimacy, vulnerability and bonding (aka date nights). You can choose to set aside other distractions to look into each other's eyes, and to give each other the focussed, accepting attention that every person craves.

Love can be far more of a verb than a noun, something we create or tap into, than something that happens to us. Although we can't control everything that happens to us, we have far more control over our lives than we realize. God didn't set us up to fail. Happily ever afters (with or without a spouse) are possible.

Related: Guys, Stop Texting Girls! And Other Super Helpful Advice for the 'Good' Guys