A Souvenir is published in Memory of Rt. Rev. Michael John, former bishop of East Kerala Diocese of Church of South India. This contains the text of the sermon I gave during the first year memorial service held at Cathedral Church, Melukavu, Idukki on April 26th 2014. A Video with the audio of this sermon was earlier posted in this blog.
13 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
10 Oct 2014 1 Comment
I have uploaded a video to my Youtube channel. This video is prepared with short videos and pictures from various occasions, to present the audio file of my talk at the International Conference of Marth Mariyam Vahitha Samajam of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. This conference was held St. Thomas Nagar, Chennai from 3rd to 5th October, 2014. My presentation was on 4th from 11.30 am. There were about 2000 delegates from India and abroad. The MGOCSM-OCYM members of Chennai did an excellent dedicated job in being the volunteers at the conference.
08 Oct 2014 2 Comments
I was invited to give the Theme Presentation at the 98th Annual Youth Conference of Central Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, held at Bishop More College for the Hearing Impaired, Thazathumon, Adoor.
Here is the text of my presentation
CSI Central Kerala Youth Conference, Adoor. Oct. 3, 2014.
“Spirituality of the Youth in the Contemporary World”.
Yuhanon Mor Meletius Metropolitan
1. I think “spirituality” has to be defined first as it has been over the years mis interpreted, mis understood and mis represented. We have all kinds of spiritualities that are in viral shape these days.
A Christian can look for a definition for spirituality only on the basis of our information and understanding of the life and work of Christ. Christ’s spirituality had a definite style. I would say, it is the “sense of being anointed to involve and participate in the life of creation with a liberative goal (or to liberate the other)”. This was in direct conflict with the spirituality that existed and practiced during His own religion those days and that had deep roots in the society of His time. That is why He was totally mis-understood by others. A person like Him advocating for a prostitute, staying overnight with a tax collector, mingling with Dalits of his time, touching people with leprosy, criticizing the leaders of the community, not honoring many of the customs and practices of the community etc. were looked at by them with raised eyebrows. Jesus’ spirituality was revealed at the very instance He was at the Synagogue in Galilee as reported in Luke 4:18 ff. He said, He was “anointed to proclaim Good News to the Poor, Freedom to the oppressed, to give Sight to the blind and to proclaim the Jubilee year”.
A couple of things are derived from this: one, there is a definite target, the poor, the oppressed, the blind etc. that is the people in the outskirts of the society. Two, a Statement of the purpose is seen in it. The Greek word euaggalisastai (aorist mid. inf.) expresses this purpose that is “to proclaim Good News”. Spirituality of any one or of any nature has to be with a definite purpose and that purpose has to be directed to a definite target group. In this target group ‘self’ or ‘I’ or ‘aham’ is not included.
This is where many of us go wrong. We think spirituality is a personal thing and is for the self emancipation. Self becomes ‘kenotic’ or emptied (Phili. 2:7) and the other becomes the target (deny oneself and take up the cross of each one – Luke 9:23).The only sign of a self in the picture is that it has a sense of being authorized or was being anointed and its emancipation is in the other being liberated (“My joy in complete” John the Baptist Jn. 3:29). This is the only place where ‘I’ come in to consideration. So spirituality is some thing that is given to the self and that flows out in to the other.
2. Now we have to consider the term “contemporary”. The question is, is there some thing that can be said strictly as ‘contemporary’? There is only one culture that raised this question seriously and it reflected in its language, the Hebrew culture. To them the present either instantly and swiftly gets merged in to the past or waits or hopes to be completed in future. That is why classical Hebrew had no present tense in its grammar system, only imperfect and perfect. For them every moment is an evolving moment and once evolved it moves to the past, but of course not forgotten. We are told that God constantly and regularly creates things new and new things (Isa. 43:19; 48; 65:17; Rev. 21:5). So there is no today, time is always on the movement, in the process of becoming. A dynamic stream is there that leads to the future uninterrupted with God. This is just the opposite of the so called popular philosophy where there is only today, no past no future. So they say ‘derive maximum amount of pleasure now and in this life (Epicurus).
So we participate with the ever evolving creation of God, particularly those that are sidelined as His children to make it better and redeemed. We in and through our participation try to give Good News to the blind, liberation to the oppressed, freedom to the enslaved and proclaim the year of the Lord. Our participation with the other is in fact our participation with God (listen to the reply of the king in Jesus’ parable Matt. 25:40). In this process each moment is important and if not confronted may go to the past in a distorted way which will have its not so good implication on the becoming future.
3. This is where the question of “Youth” comes in to picture. To me ‘youth’ is a mental state and in most case, it has nothing to do with the years one spends in this planet. A young mind accepts the dynamic nature of time. This sense of being on the move coincides with the ‘contemporary’ and responds and participates in the growth or evolving process.
4. How ever there are tendencies which are part of the growing process that tries to limit this participation and its consequent becoming better. This is what is called ‘evil’ or ‘Satan’ by common folks. So a constant ‘analytical and dialogical’ approach is called for toward each moment. Jesus who was born as a Jew who followed all the basic elements in His religion, however, did not accept the distortions that happened in it during the course of time. At the same time he faced challenges that came against the fundamentals. There are concrete examples to this in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 5 (21 ff.) where He says, “You have heard ….. But I tell you ….” repeatedly. He also talks about the reason for the distortion in Matt. 19:8. ‘It was because of the hardness of people’s heart’. There were during His time people who wanted to live in the past and were proud of it. So they said, ‘we have Abraham as our father’ (Lu. 3:8 to which Jesus replied as ‘God could have made children out of stones’; John 8:39 to which He said ‘then you would have followed the deeds of Abraham’) and ‘Moses gave us bread from heaven’ (John 6:31,32 to which Jesus said, ‘you are mistaken, it was God who gave it to you’) and ‘Jacob gave us this water fountain’ (John 4:12) etc. Jesus said, ‘God is not a God of the dead, rather of the living even while He is the God of Abraham’ (Matt. 22:32 – Ex. 3:15 ff. 6:3 ff. etc.)
His methodology of analysis of the matter was on two foundations: one, what was God’s original purpose and two what is required under the circumstance or how to translate that purpose in the ever moving time frame. God’s purpose was to keep people not alone, but together and productive, having a hope for future. Only togetherness can be productive and productive only can be with hope. Therefore the distortions have to be corrected. Jesus did not go to the past just to be a traditionalist, but to be a futurist which was originally in the purpose of God. New trends and challenges may appear in the course of the movement of time. Some of them may appear to be right and helpful, but has to be closely analyzed.
An effective and fruitful analysis can happen only when one enters in to dialogue with the other and to see what is its goal. The goal will speak of the nature of the trend (the tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:17 ff.). These days education and career are two important areas where something new has been happening on a daily basis recently. Many a time we were carried away by propaganda from quarters that wanted made a false fortune for them. To have a healthy and productive approach to these tow we had to see the original purpose of these two and then enter in to serious dialogue with them to see what kind of a world it is trying to create, see whether it helps liberation process or not and that itself of the left out people? There will always be a target. No matter how different the situation or arena may be, there will be blind, poor and oppressed. Identifying the target within a give context is important
In 2008 started what is called, ‘Global Economic Crisis’. This had a target of people being made greedy by corporate and they were taken for a ride and the whole world was affected though many thought this will bring in the Kingdom of God. Both those who made use of the situation to plunder people and also those who suffered under the trend were targets for our intervention. Those greedy thought they can make a fortune out of that due to their lack of understanding of the matter and those who fell prey to that had to learn to live with what they had. So an analytical approach had to be introduced to both groups who were targets for two different reasons. We had to tell the whole world about the importance o analytical and dialogical attitude. Analytical methodology is not a negative or blind attitude rather it helps see things in the right perspective and act on it wisely. The greatest challenge before us today, to be is, the poverty in understanding about consumerism. Advertisements get us to buy things that are not quite needed in our lives and we become victims of this new trend of post modern economic liberalization.
Thus, I would say that, ‘a healthy spirituality is that spirituality with a sense of being commissioned by God for analysis and dialogue with every moment in history directed toward a purpose and that purpose shall always be liberation of the other’. I would call this a ‘responsible spirituality’ and to me, this shall be the spirituality of anyone who thinks of self as a youth or young person.
23 Sep 2014 2 Comments
I had a lovely evening walking along the Cardiff Barry Marine Lake shore with Mr. Jacob George, Jinesh Pampady and Basil on Sept. 13, 2014. Jinesh was the photographer.
A video is uploaded to my Youtube channel
15 Sep 2014 Leave a comment
Mr. Jacob P. George a long time friend of mine from Wales, UK took me to visit St. Fagans in Wales for a visit to the old museum of culture. A video of my tour is uploaded to my Youtube channel.
15 Sep 2014 5 Comments
This is a paper I presented at the “Dalit Solidarity International” Annual meeting held at Portcullis Hall of British Parliament on September 9, 2014. A video of the event is uploaded to my Youtube channel. My long time friends Rev. Fr. Joy George and Mrs. Elizabeth Joy joined me at the Portcullis house and earlier at the Methodist Center for preliminary discussion.
Dalit Solidarity: A Question of My Christian Faith
Bishop Yuhanon Mor Meletius (Malankara Orthodox Church, Thrissur Diocese)
While I was on my way by air to Delhi to catch a flight to Birmingham a news item in The Hidustan Times daily news paper of August 22nd 2014, someone left on the seat pocket, caught my attention. It reported, “A Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court on Thursday acquitted all 46 accused in the Kambalpalli Dalit massacre case where seven Dalits were burnt alive by a mob on March 11, 2000”. The reason for the acquittal was that the incident happened 14 years back and all the eye witnesses were hostile; also because the police officers who filed the case and some of the eye witnesses were not cross examined properly. The incident occurred some 75 km from Bangalore in Kolar district which resulted in mass exodus of Dalits from the area, among majority have not yet returned. How silly a reason for the court to dismiss the case given the fact that many of the cases charged by police in others matters go on for decades and still very much live in judicial courts. This clearly tells us about the situation in India with regard to the plight of Dalits.
John C.B. Webster, Editor of the Dalit International News Letter, defines Dalit as “the people belonging to those castes at the very bottom of India’s caste hierarchy”. Jyotirao Phule coined the term “Dalit” as a more descriptive and sympathetic term for the untouchables. It means, “The crushed people.” Gandhi called them “Harijans” to boost their morale. Independent India created a schedule with several special rights and benefits for them. This measure certainly made the life of Dalits a lot better as testified by Michael, S.M. (Untouchable: Dalits in Modern India, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999). But it even today Dalits are outside the boundaries of the society without of equal status with others, especially in the villages of india where more than 70 percent of Dalits live and where still feudalism and landlord rule exist.
Caste System in India has its origin from the period of the arrival of the Aryans with their classification of the society known as ‘Chathurvarna”. The Dalits are outside the ‘Chathurvarna’ and are generally classified as the outcasts, slaves and untouchables who enjoyed no rights in the society, but to live like animals under mercy of the so called higher caste people.
Dalits of Indian sub-continent has always been under subordination, deprivation and slavery. Attempt to be liberated was not been successful for several reasons. One of the ways to face this challenge was to get in to political power structures as India has a democratic system and numbers matter. But it did not help so much for at least two reasons. One, political parties are several who claim the support of Dalits and hence a united stand has not been easy. Again, those leaders from among Dalits who came to power used their background only to come to power after which they forgot all about it. Another way of attempting to come up socially and economically was to change their religion. Budhism provided a space for them for some time. But it did not last long. Christianity was also considered as an option. Here again two issues made it difficult. One, Christians who got converted earlier and were socially uplifted did not quite accept those came later. Two, the Hindu political and aggressive movements strongly objected conversion as they were afraid of losing the number.
Dalits suffer routine violations of their right to life and security of person through state-sponsored or sanctioned acts of violence, including torture. Dalits suffer caste-motivated killings, rapes and other abuses on a daily basis. Between 2001-2002 there were 58,000 registered aggression and abuses against Dalits and Tribals. 2005 government report stated that there is a crime committed against a Dalit person every 20 minutes in India.
Foundation of My Faith
To me, a Christian, the question of Dalit solidarity is a question of faith.
I believe in a God who is an incarnate God. John’s Gospel 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and lived in our midst”. I see two implications to this statement, one what happened during the time before Jesus and two during Jesus time. God did not incarnate in a vacuum. He has a long history of working in nature and in history all along. When human violated the identity of a defenseless fruit of a tree, He intervened and took disciplinary and defensive measures as I see in the 3rd chapter of the book of Genesis. God could not approve injustice being done to even a fruit and the tree that gave it. God did not like land being monopolized. He wanted every one to have access to it. When the Philistines did not allow the exodus people who had no land to take some of it, He turned against them.
He ‘came down’ to liberate the people in Egypt (Exodus 3:8) who were oppressed with hard labor and ill treatment by the rulers. The very identity and self of those slaves were questioned by the oppressors. Retelling of this story of God’s intervention and liberation became a liturgical creed for the liberated and it shows how much it meant to them (Deut. 6:21 ff.; 26: 6 ff.). The Lord even travelled with them and helped them face each and every situation, protecting them and judging them (Exodus 13:21, 22; 14: 19, 24). After they arrived at the destination too the help of God continued to establish themselves as a people. Judges 2:18 says, “When the Lord raised up leaders for them, the Lord was with each leader and delivered the people from their enemies while the leader remained alive. The Lord felt sorry for them when they cried out in agony because of what their oppressors did to them”.
He also worked through prophets. Hebrew prophets are known for their concern for justice and righteousness. Amos, an 8th Century BCE prophet, said “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever rolling stream” (5:24). He called those who oppressed the poor ‘cows of Bashan’ (Amos 4:1). The prophet became much emotional when he had to talk about the poor, oppressed and neglected (Amos 2:7; 5:11; 8:6 etc.). Other prophets were also concerned of the issue (Hab. 3:14). Zechariah asks the people not to oppress “the widow, the orphan, the foreigner or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being (7:10). God calls the poor as “my poor” and asks, “Why do you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor” (Isaiah 3:15). God takes the responsibility of caring for and protecting the poor and the needy. Isaiah 14:30 says, “The poor will graze in my pastures; the needy will rest securely” (also see Isaiah 25:4). Here in these statements I see the mind of God before the historic even of incarnation. The incarnation event was, though a unique work of God was a continuation of what God has been trying to do in history. (Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 Pet. 1: 20). This event gave new dimension to the continuing work of God in history. Hence the period has to be seen with added importance.
The work of God Incarnate, according to the Gospel of Luke, begins with a proclamation that He was anointed for the up-liftment of the oppressed, the poor and the marginalized (Luke 4:18). The announcement that came at His birth was certainly a matter of good news to those who were in darkness ( Mtt. 4:16). His association with the people on the fringes of the society was a clear message that God was truly with them. Fisher folks, women, children, neglected, the Samaritans who were called dogs by the Jews, all experienced the uplifting experience of Jesus. Jesus said in public, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). He called his disciples from among the most neglected ones and his followers were the common folks and women. They found a liberator in Him. He was their hope. One among them exclaimed, “Where shall we go, you have words of eternal life” (John 6:68). He came to serve and give life to those who were without identity and recognition (Matthew 20:28).
God who called out Moses, who had run away from being with the people, though initially a bit concerned of the plight of his own people, but could not do things in the right manner and who could not stand before the powerful oppressor after what he did, to go back and be in solidarity with the oppressed people, to stand before the persecutor once again to place the demand of God before him, to work for their rights and for their liberation by being a leader of the people. Me who believes in this kind of a God have the de-facto responsibility to accept the same call where ever oppression and marginalization exists and to declare solidarity with the oppressed. It is a question of my faith. The commission I received to ‘go’ tells me to go to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19) where people are left at the end of the society.
So I believe that the Incarnate God was with the people in the side walks of the society and hence the Incarnate God is a God of the Dalits. He has a special interest in the Dalits as He is a liberating God and Dalits are a people who need liberation. Since I am asked to go and carry His work I need to proclaim solidarity with those who need liberation and hence with Dalits.
A Question of Theology
Theology to me is verbal and concrete articulation of my faith in God. Since my faith is in an Incarnate God who Incarnate among the Dalits, I need to articulate my faith in that line. M.M. Thomas says that theology has to be living theology and, “Living theology is the manner in which a church confesses its faith and establishes its historical existence in dialogue with its own environment.” We have a concrete situation in India that calls for a theological formulation of the issue regarding the Dalits.
This God who was revealed in the Old Testament and later in Jesus who was with the Dalits of His time presents us with liberative paradigms for the doing of theology. The liberation – Exodus paradigm which had tremendous implications for liberation theologies in Latin America presents a model for me to do theology. Dr. A.P. Nirmal particularly depended on the Deuteronomic account of the affliction, toil and the oppression of the people of Israelites as parallel to the struggle of Dalits to become “God’s people” from a “no people”. (Arvind p. Nirmal, “Towards A Christian Dalit Theology,” in A Reader in Dalit Theology, Madras: 1991)
Deavasahayam asserts that in Jesus a free God who is free to hear the cry of the oppressed and marginalized in the noise made by the upper class people. The upper class has no control over the power of this God who is for the Dalit cause (Outside the Camp: Bible Studies in Dalit Perspective, Madras). Jesudas M. Athyal says, “God is clearly a Dalit God. The God, who reveals Godself, both through the prophets and through Jesus Christ, is a God of the Dalits. This God, who is revealed in the Old Testament and Jesus, who sided with the Dalits of the world, is the liberative paradigm for the doing of theology” (In Paper presented on ‘Dalit Theology and A Theology of the Oppressed’ at the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, Chennai, November 13-15, 2004)
I would not label a theology that takes up concerns of the Dalit as ‘Dalit theology’, rather I would say, theology essentially and fundamentally has to be Dalit as it has to have liberation in its full content. There can not be any theology of the oppressor or of the high caste. I believe in a God who takes preferable option of the poor, marginalized and oppressed as testified by the Gospels. For bishop Azariah, ‘like Christ the Liberator, theology will have to be a Theology of Liberation and a Theology of Hope. It has to start from below, from among the situation and not from above as it used to be in the past’ (A Pastor’s Search of Dalit Theology).
Only on the basis of a theological understanding of the issue, I can address the problem. My solidarity with Dalits has to be theologically sound. So what is called for is to create a sound and genuine Christian theology the content of which shall be the question of suffering of the Dalits and their groaning for liberation. This solidarity calls me to engage in dialogue with the existing situation that oppresses the oppressed. To start with, I need to deal with the question of discrimination within the Church. Until the Church addresses this issue it can not be a sent out community to proclaim the Gospel. Until now Indian Christian theology, unflrtunately, has been theology of the upper class or Brahmanic in content. “It is imperative to adopt the Dalit perspective and reject the elite perspective in order to do theology in India”, Says P. Arockiadoss (Gurkul Summer Institute 1996).
Again this theology would not classify the Dalits as Christian Dalits, Hindu Dalits or Muslim Dalit. Dalit is Dalit in all communities. Jesus who is the Word of liberation is not the Word of liberation to Christians alone. This helps us to break down one of the first fences that divide human race. Segregation of any sort will be against the purpose of God with humans. “Dalit Solidarit is an end and means much desired but difficult to achieve; yet many Dalit Christian leaders have come to the conclusion that their Christian hopes for their own people cannot be realized in isolation from the realization of the hopes of all the Dalit people” (Dr. A. P. Nirmal).
I very well know that Church’s solidarity with the Dalits is not an easy thing to achieve given the Indian deep rooted socio- religious context. But if I do not attempt to face the challenge presented by the Incarnate God and try to translate my faith in such a way that it becomes truly good news to the oppressed, I will not be able to call myself a Christian in the first place and even a human being. So solidarity with Dalits and participation in their struggle for liberation is a question of my own Christian faith.
06 Sep 2014 2 Comments
I visited Westminster Abbey in London on Sept. 5, 2014 on an invitation from Rev. Vernon White, Canon of the Abbey. Rev. Fr. Joy George and his wife Mrs. Elizabeth Joy accompanied me. We spent more than an hour with him. He explained the kind of work the Abbey is doing in promoting peace and brotherhood among various communities around the world. I talked about the greatest challenge Indian Church is facing today. We took up a tour of the Abbey later. This was my third visit to the Abbey.