The Union And The Confederacy – North And South

Good Friday morning!

I thought the hysteria surrounding ‘the statues’ gripping the nation would dissipate. But it seems to be picking up steam, instead.

So, now we’re talking about changing the name of historic Faneuil Hall in Boston. Because back in seventeen hundred and something or other, one mister Peter Faneuil, whoever he was, owned slaves.

This sudden idea of removing all confederacy symbols is liberal hysteria gone amok.

There is a movement in India, thankfully a tepid one for now, to diminish the stature of Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru from the public space. They were ‘too British’, attended Oxford, and were not ‘Indian’ enough. And I guess Gandhi beat his wife once. There’s conversation regarding the removal of Gandhi’s face from the Indian Rupee notes.

Come on. On Gandhi’s tiny shoulders, stands the expansive Republic Of India.

A diminutive man from a rural fishing village on the Western Indian Coast, MKG, stood down an empire, with just the highest moral certitude as his compass, and an utterly devout faith as his guide.

The one who declared, “we have come four hundred years with the British, and when they leave, I want us to be friends”, (and we are), needs to remain where he is. As the Father Of The Nation.

Heck, there’s a statue of him in the town of Sherborn, Massachusetts.

I, for one, (don’t yell at me!) am of the opinion that colonialism was good for India. The Portuguese, The Dutch, The French, and finally The British. The most extensive railway in all of Asia aside, who can forget the Rosario’s Bakery in Kottayam? 😊

My life in America is the purposeful result of the twin documents, The Declaration Of Independence and The US Constitution.

The men who penned them should be revered, not vilified for their shortcomings. Slaveholders or not.

Superior intellect of a man, Thomas Jefferson, who affirmed that God has endowed each of us with the right to pursue our own brand of happiness, should get his own pedestal.

General George Washington, who led his troops against the same mighty Empire where the sun never set, and won a revolution, should get our esteemed affection.

We cannot and must not re-write history to suit the current winds.

The documents these men wrote are living ones. So even as Thomas Jefferson wrote, ‘all men are created equal’, in time (a long time, perhaps), it was amended to mean, ‘all men and women’.

What does it all have to do with our daily grind?

Just a quick reading of a sliver of The Constitution affirms that, in order for a policeman to enter our homestead, he needs to carry a search warrant issued by a judge.

This brilliant concept arose in 1215, the year the Magna Carta was written.

In those ways and days of the English monarchs, All The King’s Men could barge into any home, at any time, and do whatever that pleased them.

Jefferson in his infinite wisdom, wanted to assure that the common man was protected against this sort of blatant tyranny.

It’s a historical fact that TJ almost wrote ‘property’ instead of ‘liberty’ in the famed lyrics, ‘Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Happiness’.

He declared ‘A man Is The King Of His Castle’, that no one can encroach upon.

We once had a neighbor, the most wonderful kind, Peter Olsen. He had a little girl who’d have to take the school bus every day to the Peter Noyes Elementary, from right in front of our house.

One day, before Courtney started school, Beth Olsen walked over to our house, and literally asked for our permission for Courtney to cut clear across our yard to the bus stop, instead of walking on the well-trafficked Pelham Island Road. A courteous gesture, I’ll never forget.

All extra-ordinarily gifted and men and women come with serious flaws in their character, blemishes in direct proportion to their genius.

‘Shakespearean Flaws’ is the nomenclature for it. Shakespeare’s Hamlet was such a character. And The Bard studied, knew and predicted human behavior to a T.

Or as Isaac newton would say, ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. 😉

Maurya Dynasty’s Samrat Ashoka, the grandest emperor of the ancient Indian Subcontinent, who planted shade trees and erected load-easing edifices along weary travelers’ roadways in BC 250, is known to have killed countless numbers of people in war, before he had an ‘Apostle Paul-like’ conversion and found Dharma Margam.

King David committed the most egregious sin against man and God, and Jews celebrate him as the most luminous King Of Judah ever lived.

Biblical Patriarch Abraham kept slaves, and yet he’s called the Father of three major world religions.

And Moses, the first and the original law-giver in human history, killed someone. The claim was self-defense.

All of them fulfilling God’s plan on earth at precise times and places.

We must most certainly keep their place in history, and in the place where their influence was most indelibly felt.

I personally couldn’t care less about General Robert E. Lee, or Stonewall Jackson (whoever he was). Their statues can serve as reminders of what we should never be. May be we can put a tarpaulin over their heads.

Let us look at it this way.

There, if you go to Auschwitz in Poland, you can find certain old buildings. And if you can muster up the fortitude to walk into one of them, you can see with your own eyes, the spot that housed The Crematoriums, the crucible of Hitler’s evil experiment called The Final Solution. And if Adolph Eichman had attended Sunday school, or had attended one of Sam Achen’s bible studies, he’d have known that, just like the Burning Bush from where God spoke to Moses on top of the Sinai, the Jews may burn, but will never be destroyed.

If the Jews have managed to keep these killing machines on display all these years, to remind us of the atrocity against humanity that took place right behind the eyes of the world, there is a lesson there.

I don’t think many Jews make the pilgrimage there. But then again, they just might want to.

There’s no sane way to defend Mr. Trump’s words or deeds. But for the purpose of this piece, let’s take him out of the equation.

Some Princeton University students recently appealed to authorities there, to take down Woodrow Wilson’s name from their International Studies School. I wonder what poor Woodrow was guilty of!

Next it’ll be taking down Fletcher out of the School Of Diplomacy at Tufts. I hope Fletcher didn’t own slaves. Who was Fletcher anyway?

The point I’m arriving at is: There may not be an end point.

Coming back to the point however: history is a teaching tool, as well as an inspirational one. We can keep it alive without re-living it.

Are you still with me? 😂 if you are, please say a ‘prayer for us, as we take wings’ to Atlanta tonight. (and let me know if you do).

wish you a sunny summer weekend…

mercy

 

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Protestant Reformation

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a movement that was led by a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther, and one that profoundly altered the infrastructure of a Christian Europe.

On October 31, 1517, the day before All Saints’ Day, a solemn day on the church calendar, Luther posted what has historically arrived to be known in theological circles as the 95 Theses, on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

In reality, they were ‘grievances’ he had with the Roman Church, of which he was a huge part.

Luther’s grievance Number One, if it can be called that, was against the price of ‘indulgences’ the church levied on mostly poor peasants, who supposedly committed what the Church considered as sins, in their teachings and in the indoctrinated understanding of the peasants themselves, heavy drinking a chief one among them.

I guess one had to ‘pay’ to the church to have their ‘sins absolved’.

So the math works that, if the flock sin more, the church’s coffers get richer.

This penance offering was used almost entirely to construct The Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, arguably the most breath-taking structure in all the world.

I have stood on the cobble-stoned steps of the majestic Saint Peter’s Square that houses the basilica, with the arms of the gigantic Roman columns all around me as if in an embrace.

To say, I got all goose-bumped would be an understatement.

And The Sistine Chapel. La Capella Sistina.

What is there to say about it? How can one describe it?

the Reformation in Western Europe had followed the Italian Renaissance and coexisted in close historical epoch, one enriching the other.

The famous fresco painting on the chapel’s ceiling, ‘The Creation of Adam’: where God as a dynamic figure on the right, lifting Adam up from his slumber, Adam as the lithe figure on the left, their forefingers reaching for each other’s but not touching, creating that space between them where infinite possibilities exist.

Frankly, It’s disingenuous to soak this all in to a hilt, and then disapprove of the method by which it got there.

It’s equally hard for me to fathom this was the effort of a mere Man. I have no doubt whatsoever it was Divinely inspired. God was there holding the Man’s (a devout one) hand.

So, In a strange sort of admission, I’m glad Pope Leo commissioned it. (Apparently Michelangelo didn’t come cheap. 😁)

However, I wonder what Peter would say to seeing all this. Jesus might say to His most trusted disciple: Hey, Pathrose! This is not what I had in mind. 😉

So in a more real sense, I’m glad the indulgences were done away with.

———–

The theology of the protestant reformers departed from the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of, at a minimum, three great principles.

  • The sole authority of the Scripture.
  • Justification by faith alone.
  • Priesthood of the believer.

There were other major and significant points as well. It’s too lengthy to elaborate on them in this space. (Each one is a separate blog.)

Christian Community may not be cognizant of these Doctrinal differences, as much as what has really ‘set us up apart’ for five centuries, which are the seminal changes that occurred after and as a result.

This tide-turning movement that happened in the 1500-year-old Church’s history ushered in (among others):

-The end of priestly celibacy (Luther got married),

-Translating the Bible into local vernacular, so that lay people could read, study, and interpret, the Word of God all on their own (Luther translated much into German),

-Incorporating sermons and hymns during worship service (‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, a personal all-time favorite hymn, was written by Martin Luther himself.)

-and priests playing a significant role in parishioners’ daily lives, pastoring of sorts. Parish life became part of one’s spiritual life.

A single man single-handedly stood down the Pope, and Christendom was ruptured along its fault lines.

While the centrality of the Papal authority has enabled the Roman Church to remain as one, the schisms in the Protestant movement have led to innumerable denominations within it, each with different doctrines and core practices. Staying true to its name: as people who protest.

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Exactly 318 years after this major crack in Europe’s Christianity, a similar kind of Reformation found its way across the continent to the Malabar Coast of Southern India, to the Malankara Syrian Church of Malabar and Travancore.

This is known as ‘Navee-karanam’ in Malayalam (meaning Renewal), and The Malankara MarThoma Syrian Church of Malabar was formed in 1835, and has never looked back.

And I’d say The MarThoma Church grabbed this crusade by its horns, and kind of ‘ran with it’. The structure, and The Practices.

One would expect nothing less from the ‘Syrian Chrsitians’ of Travancore, right?

-The Singing, the Memory Verses.

-Localized Prayer Groups within a parish (Prarthana Muri), Vicar’s church-mandated house visits (Bhavana Sandarshanam) to parishioners’ homes.

-The ‘Suvishesha Sevika Sankham’, the women’s arm that was solely created to empower women, in a way no one else dared in 1919 Travancore;

An event that was preceded by the founding of the Nicholson Syrian Girls High School in 1910, modeled after schools in Britain for the same great cause of educating girls in a Christian setting.

-The ‘Sannadha Suvishesha Sankham’, dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel.

-The Maramon Convention, a Western-origin ‘revivalist’ gathering, the largest of its kind in Asia.

And so much more.

I can claim without equivocation, that no denomination pays the kind of singular attention to learning the Bible the way The MarThoma Church does, not even Mainline American Protestant churches. Seriously, the best part.

At the core of it, MarThoma Church‘s foundation is and has always been The Gospel of Jesus Christ: the Four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It used to bear that if something’s not in one of the four Gospels, we did not practice it. This may have transformed over the course of the last century, as complacency and the need to conform with outside strictures have crept in, but the core remains pretty much the same.

For better or for worse, here we are, one half of a millennium later.

Regardless of how it all turned out, we all owe much to the forerunners who brought about the positive changes; even the Roman Catholics must be pleased: after all who needs those who press for changes all the time?

And in honour of Martin Luther and one Abraham Malpan (called The Luther of the East),

Happy Reformation Day to all…

Mercy

 

“It Is Finished”: John 19:30

On my own, I chose Saying Number Six.

Here’s what I arrived at.

It is a compilation of thoughts I have absorbed over the years, but a couple of lessons from Sathi Achen and KC Achen figure prominently in this particular piece.

Once again, It was an amazing experience for me as it was last year.

Gave a little. Received back a lot.

This aside, a single blog page wouldn’t be enough to cover my gratitude to these men of God and Cloth, (many more than the ones that are mentioned here), who have given me so incalculably much along my journey and formation:

Intellectual men (sorry, for now it’s only men), with advanced educations in Biochemistry, Biology, Psychology, (boy, do they ever need that! even more than scripture perhaps), and Mathematics and Literature and Accounting, Business and Information Technology, from corners far away from the dusty hills of Judea: men who sacrificed so much relinquishing lucrative careers and more, to tell the 2000-year-old story of a Judean man’s Sacrifice.

That faith alone is the proof.

please read.

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The sixth of Jesus’ sayings on the cross was: ‘It Is Finished’. That He could talk at all at that point seems miraculous.

In order for something to be ‘finished’, it has to ‘start’ first.

So when Jesus uttered, ‘it is finished’, what was it that got started?

It is, what got started with the Creation, the Paradise, the Man, the Woman. Sin. And Punishment.

and what was finished: Redemption. Of the same man and woman. From sin and punishment.

The term ‘Original Sin’ can be assigned many interpretations.

At its base, it’s forbidden sex.

At its core however, it is man willfully turning away from God. Man had everything, he walked with God daily, heck, he even had a partner he gave up his ribs for.

And yet, he risked everything and chose an alternate path.

God, in His disappointment and sadness, (as God always is: sad and disappointed when His creation turns away from Him) ‘punished’ humankind to hard labour, painful childbearing, and with the experience of death.

Some may reject the term ‘punishment’. I understand it as, one having to face the consequences of one’s actions.

But, that is not the end. It is the beginning.

Right after issuing ‘The Curse’, in His next breath, God gave us an ‘out’. He said to the crooked creature: ‘Her Offspring shall crush your head’.

The child the woman bears in pain will save the world. Great gain is achieved only through pain.

The Great Transformation from Eve to Mary is now complete.                                                                                                                                                                                                              

One disobedient and the other, in complete submission.

One that caused The Fall. The other that gave us the Redeemer by answering God’s Call.

From illicit relations, to Immaculate Conception.

In Genesis 3:15, God curses the serpent, “man shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

One of my dad’s sermons that still rings in my ears as though it happened yesterday, he exclaimed, ‘the serpent can only tug at our heels. But the offspring of the woman, ‘sthreeyude sandathi’, would crush the serpent’s head’.

Note that a male is not mentioned here. The child of a maiden.

So it was the death of sinfulness. Jesus’ victory over evil.

We get to choose love over hate. Eternal life over certain death.

We’re offered a second chance. The option of a New Life.

It’s significant to take note in context, the hour at which Jesus was executed.

According to the Gospel of Mark, just at the precise time a lamb was being slaughtered, in the Jerusalem Temple on the ninth hour of Passover for the atonement of sins of the Jews, is when the crucifixion took place.

Not just any old lamb, but a chosen male, baby lamb, a lamb without blemish. In Malayalam, it is called, ‘oonam-illatha kunjadu’.

The young, and sinless one gave it up for us.

The Law was rewritten.

A new Adam and a new Jerusalem were born.

Salvation came from the Jews, but it is no longer something exclusively available to just a few. It is for mankind.

All of us now belong to the Chosen Tribe. The Chosen One from the Chosen People chose us.

Built into Jewish synagogues of old, is a section called the Holy Of Holies. Only the high priest, typically a Levite, of the priestly tribe, is allowed to enter this inner sanctum.

In the other world’s great religion, its oldest really, the Hindu temples also have a similar place in their Ampalam or Mandir, called the Sree Kovil (House of God), where God resides. Only Poojaris of Brahmin descent, again of the priestly class, have access to this space.

So that is what transpired on The Cross.

When the curtain tore in the temple, that separation between man and God was overcome. now you and I can enter the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, the Sree Kovil, through that tear.

Found only in the Gospel of John, the Greek word for the saying it is finished translates into ‘tetelestai’, an accounting term that means paid in full.

Not coincidentally, ‘Kalah’ is the Hebrew word uttered by the rabbi as he sacrifices the baby lamb in the temple. ‘Kalah’ means, ‘it is finished’.

What started in Genesis 3:15 was finished in John 19:30.

The companionship that was lost in Eden is now restored. We have full communion with God. All we have to do is choose it. it’s free for the taking.

It is what is called Grace.

That final offering of atonement by the shed blood of the Lamb is what was finished.

Romans: Chapter 8

Today is my dad’s 101st birthday. February 13, 2017.

In Vedic thinking, odd numbers are more desirable than even ones. I wrote a tribute for his 100th birthday, but the 101st calls for it in equal measure.

Some time in approximately 1958 and 1959, my father, in his ever-activist, ever-innovative mode, embarked on a mission.

He challenged the youth members of the Chepad MarThoma Church (I don’t recall if there were any age constraints as such) to memorize Paul’s Letter To The Romans: Chapter 8. (Paul as in The Apostle and the Letter is the one he wrote to the early church in Rome.) The whole chapter. ‘Roma Lekhanam, Ettam Adhyayam’, as he called it.

In return, anybody who masters this inscrutable piece of scripture would receive from him personally, the gift of a Bible that he would purchase with his own funds, from the CLS  Book Depot in Thiruvalla.

A Bible in those days cost five rupees.

If there is anything, you have to read this narrative in the context of ‘5 rupees of 1959’. Trust me when I say, it was ‘a lot of’ money. It was roughly one twentieth of my dad’s monthly salary. And this is from someone who was reluctant to buy my sister and me any fancy clothes for fear it’d spoil us from being studious. whatever.

So the contest commenced.

To the unanticipated discovery of both my parents, a staggering number of the church youth paraded to him one by one, over the course of days, weeks, or months, and walked away with this coveted Holy Book. To the point it exhausted his funds.

We have to realize that many, if not all, of them were attempting at this unique contest for the sole purpose of owning a Bible. Such was the fervor then.

At that point, instead of casually pulling out of the initiative altogether and leaving the kids feeling let down, he added a condition, that the passage had to be recited without a single mistake. He had not been strict about it prior. even that didn’t stop the eager learners. They kept coming.

Then out of mild desperation, Papaji stipulated a deadline by which the task had to be completed.

Meanwhile, I came home from the Nicholson (Boarding) School, finishing what was then called First Form (equivalent to today’s sixth standard), for what I anticipated would be my lazy days of summer, unaware of the ongoing undertaking. Amma mentioned it first with a great deal of admiration for the venture, and Papaji subsequently extended this most unwelcome challenge to me.

I had already owned a Bible, (a gift from the said parents), a leather-bound one with my full name, Mercy Mariam Oommen, engraved on the front. The School had mandated that we arrive with our own Bibles. This Bible is still proudly displayed on our coffee table.

So ownership of a new Bible would not be an incentive for me to memorize Romans 8.

For one, Papaji just simply wanted me to learn Romans 8.

Secondarily, he wanted to make certain that I could do what any of those youngsters were putting their hearts and souls into. I was barely ten.

extremely reluctant at first, even resistant, I eventually set about the task as if it’d be a piece of cake. After all, rote memorization was my forte, right?

Wrong. And wrong. It was anything but sweet.

A reader, I was. A reader of Paul’s long letters to a bunch of newly minted Christians in faraway Middle Eastern churches, I was not. Tedious in language and cryptic in meaning, this was also without any intrigue as in fairy tales. ‘Boring’ would be another word.

In English, we have countless Bible versions: The KJV, The Revised Standard, The Good News, The New International, The Children’s (wish we had those), to name some. In Malayalam, there was and is, still the One Version. Boy, was it ever a pain?! Torturous, actually.

Summer days were coming to a rapid close. The rains were beckoning from the moisture-swollen Western Ghats. Along with it, Second Form at Nicholson. and I went to papaji to recite. And suffered through the recitation with one or two errors. And was pretty proud of the feat. and even more so, was very sure nobody had done it better.

I mean, how could they possibly?

To my utter dismay, I saw my dad for the first time in my life that I can remember, being a tad disappointed in me as I had never seen him before. I made one or two mistakes. (It may have been more than just two, but hey, who’s counting?) What is the big deal, right? I don’t recall where and which ones. All I remember is my sadness in making him be not proud. I distinctly remember that part.

It came down to this. He considered me the recipient of some privileged schooling, (and I was), in a way most church kids were not. And he simply expected more. And this exercise meant so much to him.

Let me come to the point.

I don’t remember any longer a single verse from Romans 8.

Except this: the words that have stuck all these years: ‘maranathino jeevano, doothan-marko, vazhchakalko adhikarangalko, ippol-ullathino varuvan-ullathino, uyarathino azhathino, karthavaya kristhu-yeshu…’

“for I am certain that nothing can separate us from His love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below-there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Verses 38-39

Thus, I may go astray, I may neglect to attend church regularly, I may forget to pray twice or even once daily, I may occasionally question the Eucharist for how it has evolved over the years, and for the current form in which it is practiced (for my take, I believe what Jesus intended for us was, to sit in a semi-circle, share a meal and treat each other as family, but what do I know?), I may go visit Matha Amrithanandamayi (I have – more than once), I may go to the Sri Lakshmi Temple (been there), I may visit the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple (done that), I have trod the red tiles inside the Jama Masjid, heck, I may even go to Kashi some day and set my foot in the Ganga – something I really want to do in fact,

But nothing, none of it, will separate me from the love of Jesus Christ.

I do not know if scholars will concur on the essential meaning of these lines, nor do I presume to know what Paul Apostle had in mind. It doesn’t matter. (I’ll happily entertain any alt-theories).

And this is my wish. I hope dearly that all those youth leaguers who took heart of these much-quoted verses all those years ago, (and there were so many of them), now in the golden or diamond years of their lives, will also be reminded of the same.

And that they’ll remember my dad with fondness.

Happy Monday the Thirteenth…

mercy