The Sting of Shame

I had, for some reason, been thinking a lot over the last few days about some friends of mine from Africa. They kept coming to mind again and again and I sent some Whatsapp messages asking how they were. Then the news channel on my phone began to spring headlines about African students being beaten up in Noida, a city on the outskirts of Delhi, forming part of the National Capital Region, and today, news of indiscriminate violent outbreaks against Africans in Noida, and the warning bells began to go off in my head.

I quickly messaged friends and students, and read up a little on what had happened. Apparently, the violence was a public reaction to the drug-overdose death of an Indian youth in which apparently, some people from a particular African country were booked. The situation apparently escalated due to ignorance and prejudice. This is the second outbreak of violence in a year against Africans, the last being completely unprovoked.

Messages started to come back. Some had fled into Delhi and were safe, others were still in Noida, unable to venture out as some major connecting roads were blockaded and were under vigilance, making it unsafe for Africans to leave without being spotted and thrashed. Attacks happened in malls. Students young enough to be my children are afraid, some are in hospital, and everyone is shaken. Urgent messages from the Home Minister are receiving platitudes from the State Chief Minister, recently elected, although well known for vitriolic, communal hate speeches.

Tears

The face that captures how I feel!

I’ve been burning with anger and distressed with pain and shame. Anger at the ignorance, discrimination and prejudice, pain at the violence, and shame that we brown-skinned people have a long reputation of colour bias, casteism and discrimination of many forms, not the least being gender. I’ve had a long connect with Africa through music and friends, and I love the people. It pains me immensely to see them face harassment and bad behaviour in a country that many of them look to as a place of opportunity and hope.

I’ve started to pray again for Africans in Delhi and the NCR region, and have asked my church to pray as well. If you are in a habit of praying for people, I would encourage you to remember these precious people before God who loves us all. Many Africans that I know are Christian, but the shock and trauma of dealing with this, forgiving offenders, resisting hatred and cynicism and feeling unsafe is going to be a long and difficult journey. I sincerely hope they will find friends who will help who are Indian, and for sure, I need to step up to the plate.

However, as I was reflecting on these events, it came to me that when fanatics and criminals are at the helm, it’s often a wake-up call for everyone concerned. No one is exempt, because thorns planted will reap thorns, and we are all going to be living in the briars. We shouldn’t be surprised at the stabs and scratches. It’s up to every one of us to consider what we are planting and leaving for others, what we are giving to our children. What we are intentionally doing to make a difference to others around us.

The words of Jesus ring again in my head, ‘You are the earth’s salt. But if the salt should become tasteless, what can make it salt again? It is completely useless and can only be thrown out of doors and stamped under foot. You are the world’s light—it is impossible to hide a town built on the top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lamp-stand and it gives light for everybody in the house. Let your light shine like that in the sight of men. Let them see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven.‘ Matthew 5:13-16

We may not be able to change worldviews and systems, but we can make responses, no matter how small and feeble they may seem. They’ve got to start where we’re at, no matter where that may be.

The song below is one of my favourite Bruce Cockburn classics, and I put it up because it helps us feel how others feel, because it reminds us of how we feel. I hope you will be touched by both the song and the post, and that God will be able to use you to make a difference in the life of someone else who is in need nearby.

Radiance

The season of lying fallow has been strange.

On one end, an intentional pulling back from writing, made easy by, on the other, the evaporation of the little drops of free time by a new intense season at work. In all of this the gentle whisper continuing, ‘Listen to me.’

The work season has been difficult with trying to balance winding up with my Grade 8 kids in Bridges Academy, the school for Afghan refugee kids that my institution has been involved in networking and founding, getting back to regular language classes in LIFE Education Language School where I work, and training new teachers that we’ve taken on board. The result has been a sense of saturation, of being hemmed in I haven’t felt for a long time, and a reluctance to go to class, that to me is always the first sign of a coming burn-out down the line.

Night Desk

Feeling hemmed in is like tunnel vision!

This coming right at the time when Lydia my wife, was offered a full-fledged class teacher’s post, an answer to prayer and a long dream for her of mine for many years, has made the season a strange one of joy, expectation and exhaustion, sort of like, as I commented on a blog post, ‘freeze-frying’. Not a wonderful thing emotionally.

I’ve also been plagued by longings for greenery, space and quiet, which make me suck up the sight of anything green and flowering in the city, and I’m thankful for many of these in the midst of the hostile city environment, in spite of scenes like in the photo below that I took from our terrace space in the building.

It was a scene that looked like a normal, beautiful sunset with palm trees, except that they weren’t palm trees, and the camera did something to the sun that quite matches with how I’ve felt, over the last few days – saturated by the city and the crass sound of human overactivity, boastful and ostentatious.

Sunset Skyline

If only those were trees…

Today I just had to take a break from work. The weekend was exhausting, busy with cooking and housework, and the morning did what J.P. Donleavy describes in one of his books in the words, ‘Today came crashing down.’ It was oppressive. I felt sluggish, like a lane of office-hour traffic, and unwell Night Trafficand thankfully was able to take the day off after calling and letting Dan, our managing director, know what was happening. I called friends and asked for prayer, and my pastor took the trouble of spending time on the phone with me, coming alongside and praying through.

Then in the quiet of my room, I was able to take it to God, express the feelings, read Scripture, make the choice to believe what I was reading, and rest in Him.

And in the evening, the return of my lovely wife and daughter. Lydia back from her first day of a new season as a homeroom teacher, tired but excited, and Hannah back from her first day of the new quarter. Stories, noise, hungry stomachs. It felt like it was all coming back to normal, except for the lurking feeling of saturation that tells me that it’s far from over and to be watchful against demotivation and loss of passion. In my experience, any symptom of impending burnout, needs to be dealt with unhurriedly and carefully, expressing the feelings to God openly and honestly, without being harried by distractions, and making choices that keep relationships and time with God intact.

In today’s reading with my family, we read from Jeremiah 6:16, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask about the ancient paths, ‘Which one is the good way?’ Take it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ Again a choice! One based on what was from the beginning, and that is unchanging: and that is the bottomline that God is completely in control, that He has a very good purpose in place that He is working out in us with deep, concerned love, that His presence in our life makes everything we do greatly meaningful and powerful, that His power is made perfect in our weakness and that it is, many times over, worth doing what He is leading us to do.

As Psalm 34:5 says, ‘Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.’

Radiant

It seems, overcoming our circumstances and situations, only gain their context looking to God in the midst of them.

Big and Bright Love

Today is Valentine’s Day.

I’ve never connected with it, probably because of all the hype and commercialization associated with it. However, this time I decided to think about love and the perfect song-poem came back to mind. One that I’ve waited for the right time to share, which has been the story of my life and the big, bright Love that calls this wreck precious. It’s not my poem. It’s by one of my favourite poets, Stevenson Stockman, and this is from the album Gracenotes that he and Samuel Hill made together.

So without much further ado, here’s the track. The song ‘Soaked in a Dearer Wine’ leads directly into the poem ‘Beyond, In The Midst’. I hope this blesses and encourages you if you find yourself to be as broken as I have been, to seek and find this wonderful Jesus, who though being the King of the universe, loved us broken, traitorous, confused and rebellious people enough to die for us and take all of our shame upon Himself, in exchange for life and freedom.

THE BEYOND IN THE MIDST – 
I couldn’t find the lyrics to Soaked in a Dearer Wine, but the words are clear and you can follow along.

Beyond me
Beyond my comprehension
Beyond my understanding
Beyond me definitions
Beyond my highest efforts
Beyond my lowest fall
Beyond my morality
Beyond my most penitent call.

In the midst of me
In the midst of my tears
In the midst of my frailties
In the midst of my fears
In the midst of my cheers
In the midst of my sighs
In the midst of my sinfulness
In the midst of my lies.

Dying for me
Dying for my masks of fake
Dying for the distorted opinions
Dying for the promises I break
Dying for the words carelessly thrown
Dying for murderous thoughts within
Dying for my adulterous looks of lust
Dying for my sin.

In the midst you reach out
In the midst you offer grace
In the midst you throw your arms around me
In the midst you kiss my dirty face
In the midst you touch my soul
In the midst you cast your smile
In the midst you love this vagabond
In the midst you call me your child.

out-of-ashes

Out of Ashes – This painting I had done some years back, embodies the story of God’s love in my life.

Lying Fallow

My family has moved into a new season of spending time together and praying. It’s been changing the way we relate to each other and to people as well, and it’s been, well, quite wonderful really.

However, the result has been reprioritizing what we do when we come back from work, and making and protecting the time we spend together. We’ve also been trying to regain our flagging energy levels by sleeping earlier. This has meant that the blog has had to shift lower in priority, and long gaps are developing in writing posts.

However, this has also meant I have more time to visit other blogs as reading takes less time than writing and constructing a post. The result of this season of more reading and visiting other blogs, has resulted in more interaction and input, and that’s quite wonderful too. What an amazing community is out there, and what a richness of interaction and sharing!

fallow-ground-2

Time to breathe.

Just yesterday, while walking home with my daughter after picking her up after her sleepover at her friend’s, I asked her how she had spent her time there, and she quipped, ‘Oh, we managed to waste time quite effectively.’ and that little comment stuck in my mind. Since we came back from our winter break, I’ve been able to do little writing, but it’s been quite an amazing learning season, and the lack of writing, though sometimes feeling like a waste of time, may really be the most effective thing in this season of my family’s life. Like land lying fallow, it gives me the time to breathe in and receive what God is teaching, showing and preparing in this season. I’m beginning to feel that this may be the time to ‘waste’ effectively, so that when its season comes around again to bear crop, it may be ready to do so and be doubly fruitful.

fallow-ground-4

There’s a time for everything, and a season for all things under the sun.

I have many posts on the anvil, but I haven’t felt the release to write and upload them. I think it’s just as well. The blog shouldn’t drive me. It’s my tool to communicate what is on my heart to write about, and without the attendant reflection and ‘listening’ that goes with each post to what God is teaching in each time, it would very soon turn into my own effort to build my own kingdom. This is why I’ve never sought to make the blog more ‘known’ or ‘successful’, and each person it impacts is a source of constant wonder and thanks for me.

I don’t think I would like to lose that sense of wonder and thankfulness.

I really appreciate every one of you who reads, follows or even visits my blog, and I sincerely hope that what I write will continue to bring life, hope, encouragement and fellowship to anyone who reads. I trust that God, who is the best teacher I have ever had, will bring precious insights and valuable lessons out of this season of ‘lying fallow’.

Either You Run the Day…or the Day Runs You

2016 has turned into 2017. My 48 years are turning into 49. Numbers seem so important to us, but honestly, everything feels the same.

Change creeps up on us slowly, subtly, in little steps and shifts, and we’re often unaware of it until we seem to awake to things being different, and in retrospect we realise how much has changed. Good change seems to require just a simple, consistent, persistent Being. At. It.

plant-in-glass

The old branch once was as small as the new shoot. Now it’s over three feet long, and still surprises me.

After a wonderful, restful break up in the mountains, coming back to the city was a little hard to handle, and it took a few days to deal with the feelings. However, we soon got back into routine, school started, our watchman’s wife came back from the village where she had gone to get her mind off the death of her baby, faculty meetings started, and life soon came back to what we had been used to.

dreary-delhi-sky

Delhi sky today – dull and dreary.

Dad has been doing well in his 91 year old health, and we’re grateful to God for so much grace in his life. From eating nothing about half a year ago, he now prowls around at midnight, rustling around the dining room and kitchen, looking for things to eat! And this after a full dinner! His eye seems to have settled and he’s pretty much back in his usual routine, dozing a lot, reading some (he can’t do much of it due to it straining his eye) and arguing with my mom! My mother in law is here with us for some weeks too, and it’s a great blessing having her as she’s good friends with my mom and the two give each other company a lot.

The new term in school has been very different. After the struggle to settle the constant disruption issues in my Grade 8 class, the new year and new term started on the interesting note of a much closer relationship with the students, better learning and more laughter in the class. Now just a few weeks remain till March 25, when I will have finished 6 months with the school, handed the class over, and moved back to my own institute to refocus on our language classes there.

And business continues to be worryingly low in our language school, now with a down-sized team, but little rise in the number of students.

Reflecting on how 2017 feels much like 2016 by virtue of Life just carrying on seamlessly, I’ve been endeavouring to keep my gaze on the vision I have for each of my situations and people I’m involved with, knowing that there is no real substitute to keeping at it. Being faithful. Plodding on with measured tread. Being constant. Consistent.

old-faithful

Old Faithful!

Being reliable.

It strikes me that it’s not possible to be reliable without vision. That one needs to keep reflecting on one’s goals; on where one is heading. On embracing new situations as help-mates that will shape our growth to fit the ‘Us-Shaped’ futures that God has kept for us. Futures that are built on God’s vision for us becoming what we’re meant to be; really born to be, regardless of what we may appear now.

I often read articles by Sid Savara (a man who started intriguing me about a  year ago in the context of having vision and goals), and right now, having just received a mail in my inbox, I checked out the article, and I quote here from that with his permission –

So the context really matters. It’s very important to remember what it is that you’re trying to do, what matters – and stay focused on that.

It’s not that there is always a right thing to do – but there is very often a right thing that needs to be focused on for that specific task.

Take a step back, look at the bigger picture and ask yourself: what are my main goals for what I’m doing in this situation? Why am I taking these actions?

You know I absolutely don’t believe in coincidences. Sid’s lines paraphrase what I’m trying to say, but say it with a practicality that is simple and beautiful.

And often in God’s plans, the values and bottom-lines are very different from what the rest of the world thinks. Jesus tells people ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33. The context is the very necessary things that we do need in this life. However, the way we go about appropriating them and what forms the bottom-line in our life seems to be of more critical importance than those necessary things. I was reminded of this some weeks ago on reading a post called Deep Water by a blogger whom I respect very much on a blog called Beauty Beyond BonesThe incident she mentions in her post, of Jesus’ disciples fishing all night and catching nothing, was the subject of my reflections in connection to the down-season we’re facing financially in our language school, and I was impressed by the fact that the disciples, although they were tired and dis-spirited, made the critical decision to regather their strength, and go back and do the same thing all over again, with one vital difference – follow the instructions given to them by Jesus. The instructions baffled good fishing strategy, and seemed almost facetious, but the astounding catch that followed brought such an extraordinary awe upon them, that it resulted in them making the life-changing, and ultimately history-changing, decision to follow Jesus, and in a similar incident later, in reinstatement and encouragement when they had fallen away after the crucifixion. It caused them to rule and overcome their circumstances, rather than be at their mercy.

img_1263

Right in front where I can’t miss it!

you-run-the-day

This picture and quote by Jim Rohn has kept me on track many times in 2016.

The January page of my 2016 calendar was an important one; one that I’m trying to practice with God’s help. Although the calendar is useless, the picture now hangs up on the wall in front of my desk reminding me every time I look at it of having vision and following God’s instructions. It helps me realign myself to what God is saying every time I drift off. It helps me to seek that place where vision, God’s nudging and instruction and consistent, persistent faithfulness all mesh. It keeps me from being at the mercy of my circumstances and running the treadmill of today’s rat-race.

It helps me to move from 2016 to 2017, from being 48 to being 49, without unrealistic expectations, but with plenty of hope; without regret, but with valuable lessons; without the condemnation of failed opportunities, but with eagerness for more opportunities that a loving God will send me, as He teaches me to live.

More Reflections on Light

When I made the post Limned in Light before this, I remembered one of my favourite songs ‘Look How Far’ by a singer/songwriter that I love – Bruce Cockburn. I had wanted to embed the song to listen to while looking at the photos in the post, but I forgot! So I decided to include it in this one, while the theme was still on light, continuing on from the last post.

The reason I love this song so much is because I discovered it at a time of great personal pain, and the lyrics both encouraged and comforted me, especially the line ‘Look how far the light came to paint you this way’, which was, at that time, exactly what God was doing – reaching way, way down into depths of despair and darkness, crossing light years of history, lies, opinions and trauma to save, restore and rebuild my family and our lives. I have never seen such a love as this that takes what is rejected and treats it with honour; when God chooses the weak and foolish things of this world to shame what is strong and wise.

So, here it is ‘Look How Far’ by Bruce Cockburn. Enjoy the photos below the song – they’re a mixture of scenes and portraits of tree, leaf, flower, rock, forest and sky, taken from our recent retreat and some from about three years ago.

On this rooftop where we’re sitting
In the rays of the setting sun
Glasses of wine on a crate between us
Catch the light — seem to glow from within

And there’s a laugh
Hanging in the air
And there’s no
Desperation anywhere

So many miles, so many doors
Some need patience, some need force
All fall open in their own due course
To allow us this time

And you’re limned
In light, golden and thin
Looks to me
Like you’re lit up from within

And look how far the light came
Look how far the light came
Look how far the light came
To paint you
This way

And I picture us in this light
Friendship a fine silver web
Stretched across golden smoky haze
And this is simple
And this is grace

And this light
Is a guest from far away
Passing through
The last whisper of day

And look how far the light came
Look how far the light came
Look how far the light came
To paint you
This way

My little family – Lydia on my right and Hannah on my left. They limn my life and are the spangles in our home.

The sky was royal! A blue we hadn’t seen in ages that made us feel what we were missing in the city.

Dad and Daughter

Hannah wanted to take photos so here is a collage of pictures she took on our walk in the forest.

I love the dappling of sun and shade in the forest!

Shadowy, rolling hills just before sunrise.

In the lap of the hills.

forest-9b

Fire-shot.

Pattern of lichen, ancient lava flow, gas vesicles and fossil tree. The lava flow is down in Bangalore in South India, and was, unfortunately, impossible to get a photo of without some garbage.

Blaze of colour – Bougainvillea feast down south in Bangalore.

The bougainvillea above and flower beds below were to be seen to be believed. No colour enhancement has been used in these photos. Add to this a mostly cloudy day… 

The play of light on indoor plants are among my favourite sights.

What a blessing light is, and how blessed it is to have sight. And what a gift it is to have people in our lives who see and bring out beauty in us that perhaps no one else sees.

Limned in Light

Some time back I’d made a post called Salt and Light, and when a few days after that, a friend of ours shared thoughts in church about what it meant being the light of the world, of course, I didn’t believe it was a coincidence. She said that it wasn’t enough to just know what light is, but that it was even more important to know what the nature of light is, and to inculcate those qualities in our lives.

Going through old photos I’ve taken, mulling over stories, truths and perspectives, I thought I would share some of these beautiful moments caught in time by a simple camera. None of these photos would have any beauty without light. The light reflects off, refracts, passes into and sometimes through, and limns in ways that always take my breath away. Most of the photos are from our week-long retreat in the mountains, taken in and around the house of friends who are closer than family, and a few are from about three years ago; some taken in the same place.

Beyond the shadow of doubt, light brings beauty out of, gives glory to, and reveals the best in things, often a beauty and glory they wouldn’t have had without the light.

The same crystal piece caught the light in extraordinary ways.

As a teacher, this is something I try and aspire to (often with many struggles and failings); to see the best in people and to try and bring it out. I’ve known people who are gifted in this, but have lately come to realise that they are all ordinary people like me who have made choices to think and look at things in a certain way, until it has become a habit. This gives a lot of hope to strugglers like me, and I can make room for God to work in my heart knowing that when He is about His work fashioning something, it is always going to take the breath away. He has a way of shining His light in and through us that brings the best out in us, if we would have it.

neon-tetra-3b

neon-tetra-2b

Neon Tetras I had about three years ago – fragile, delicate and amazing.

The play of light on candle and cane.

Glow of night lamp.

Light without and light within.

Fire and smoke.

Light, shadow and polish.

In this post I wanted to catch the play of light indoors; to capture something of the feeling of home and hearth, but the feast of light on leaf, tree, forest and flower, I’ll keep for the next post!

Till then I hope these photos keep dreams of better things alive, and may the light of God limn you in ways beyond your imagining, and may you find your real beauty in Him; beauty that the world can neither give nor take away.

It’s not coincidence that you visited this page.