Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Where was God when the Earthquake hit Nepal?

Are you scared and sad and upset by the devastation of the earthquake in Nepal? More than 5000 dead, 8 million affected, cities, buildings and homes destroyed. It's more than a news story that you glimpse on the morning news. Or at least it should be.

When things like this happen, and they do, a lot, our human response is to look for reasons, answers, patterns. We ask, "Why?" Well, even when I suffer the tiniest little bit, or things don't go the way I expect or want them to, I ask "Why?"

Inevitably when it comes to death and suffering or anything out of our control, our thoughts also turn to God. And we wrestle with some difficult questions.

"Why did God allow this? Was he not ABLE to stop it? Was he not MERCIFUL enough to prevent such suffering if He could? Or did He not KNOW?"

Some of us give up on the idea of a loving, merciful God. There IS no pattern. Life is just meaningless suffering. Atheism or agnosticism seems the only option.

But some us feel like there HAS to be meaning, that the fact that we are instinctively repelled by evil and suffering means that that was NOT what we were made for, that it is not the original plan, that we WERE made to be happy, and that Evil is the anomaly, not Good.

So then we have to face the question, as Peter Kreeft put it:

If God is so good, why is his world so bad? If an all-good, all-wise, all-loving, all-just, and all-powerful God is running the show, why does he seem to be doing such a miserable job of it? Why do bad things happen to good people? 

These questions are nothing new. But each of us has to ask them, and search for answers.

I don't plan to answer them here, but to leave you some links that might help if you are struggling with these questions.

But I do want to say a couple of things I believe:

1. A LOT of suffering in the world is directly caused by the sin and selfishness of the human race. We can't blame God for war, for unjust societies, for wealth and poverty living side by side, for broken families, for our own carelessness or selfish misuse of nature that has led to polluted water sources, poisonous air, etc. We can squarely take the blame for that ourselves.

2. As Christians, we believe that suffering and death entered the world when our ancestors chose to turn away from God. The natural harmony that existed was broken, as was the harmony of our relationships (from self-gift to use). God wrote the play, as actors with free will, we changed the plot.

3. That doesn't necessarily mean that God sends natural disasters as a judgment or punishment for sin. Someone passed on a forward yesterday that basically said that 'because of persecution against Christians, God's rage was expressed through his creation by natural calamities'. I was shocked to find that many people believe that natural disasters are sent by God as a judgment or punishment. How can we know that? How can we judge that other people's sins deserve or need an earthly punishment, and ours don't? Or that Haiti or the Philippines somehow deserves natural disasters, but a post-Christian Europe doesn't? That God wills that innocent children should suffer because some people from their region sinned?

4. 'God permits' seems very similar to 'God wills' (or causes, or sends), but they are vastly different, and can completely change the meaning of who God is.

5. There are no easy answers. I hate the glib answers that people give when there are complex questions of deep suffering, without entering into the other person's suffering. 'It is better that way.' 'My thoughts are with you.' 'I'll pray for you.' Without really praying, or taking a moment to really taste (or imagine) what they must be going through, or thinking "IS there some physical way I can alleviate their pain?"* Sometimes we just have to accept that we don't know the answers.

I spent some time researching what the Church teaches about suffering, evil and the reasons for their existence, and I'm going to share a few good articles and  a video:

Are natural disasters truly “acts of God”?

Many people suffer when catastrophes strike, including those who are innocent of serious sin or wrong-doing. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, uses the Biblical story of Job to show us that suffering is not always sent as a punishment. He explains how Job was afflicted by “innumerable sufferings” and that Job's friends claimed “he must have done something seriously wrong. For suffering—they say—always strikes a man as punishment for a crime; it is sent by the absolutely just God and finds its reason in the order of justice.” 

“In their eyes,” Blessed John Paul says, “suffering can have a meaning only as a punishment for sin, therefore only on the level of God's justice, who repays good with good and evil with evil.” This is the same claim that people make when they claim that all natural disasters are “an act of God.” Blessed John-Paul says that the story of Job demonstrates that this claim is false. He writes, “While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament. Revelation, which is the word of God himself, with complete frankness presents the problem of the suffering of an innocent man: suffering without guilt.

Suffering may sometimes be sent by God as punishment for sins, but not always. Regarding why God allowed any particular natural disaster, God's intentions are a mystery, and we should refrain from speaking on behalf of God.

Because of the Fall, nature is no longer perfectly ordered. While there is much good in nature, disasters such as floods, hurricanes and tornados also occur. These events do not come from a direct “act of God,” but rather are the result of the workings of an imperfect natural world. This imperfection does not come from God but from evil. It’s natural then—and right—for men and women to be horrified by the consequences of natural disasters—these are testaments not to the character of God but the character of evil. [Read the rest here.]

The Problem of Evil by Peter Kreeft

A child on the tenth story of a burning building cannot see the firefighters with their safety net on the street. They call up, "Jump! We'll catch you. Trust us." The child objects, "But I can't see you." The firefighter replies, "That's all right. I can see you. We are like that child, evil is like the fire, our ignorance is like the smoke, God is like the firefighter, and Christ is like the safety net. If there are situations like this where we must trust even fallible human beings with our lives, where we must trust what we hear, not what we see, then it is reasonable that we must trust the infallible, all-seeing God when we hear from his word but do not see from our reason or experience. We cannot know all God's reasons, but we can know why we cannot know.[Read the rest here.]

God's Answer to Suffering by Peter Kreeft (This is one of the most moving and poignant articles I have ever read- read it!)

In coming into our world he came also into our suffering. He sits beside us in the stalled car in the snowbank. Sometimes he starts the car for us, but even when he doesn't, he is there. That is the only thing that matters. Who cares about cars and success and miracles and long life when you have God sitting beside you?[Read the rest here.]

Fr. Robert Barron on 'Why is There So Much Disorder in the Universe? ' (video)

Natural disasters - from God or because of us?

But as followers of Jesus we cannot rush to blame victims for the evil visited upon them – nor can we blame God, whom Scripture reveals as all loving and all merciful. That doesn’t mean we will come to an easy understanding of why bad things happen to good people – most times we will have to wait with the patience of a Job to learn the answers to those questions – which God will tell us surely; but not necessarily on this side of heaven. [Read the rest here.]

You Were on the Cross- Matt Maher (Youtube song)

*Like St. James said, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?"

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

9QT: 9 Things Christian Singles Are Secretly Afraid Of*

It's complicated enough being a single in today's world, where in India everyone thinks if you're 29 you should be married already, and in the West, people think you're crazy (and repressed) if you don't have (and have never had) a boyfriend at the ripe old age of 29.

There are thousands of blog posts and articles trying to figure out the logistics of this whole romantic relationships in the 21st century thing. But if you throw in being Christian AND being single, where our beliefs about God intersect with our desire for a love life, it gets really complicated in our heads. I wrote about some of my thoughts before. And here we have some of our (not-secret-any-longer) fears:

1. That if we are too 'content to be single', God might take us at our word, and decide to leave us that way. Someone actually said that to me once when I said "I'm pretty happy being single.""Noooo!"she shouted, "Don't say that! God will never send you anyone!" We KNOW that's not how God works, but it's a little superstitious fear. Or maybe we think if there are not enough eligible guys going around, then God will choose the girls who are more needy. And since I'm independent and strong, I CAN survive, so I don't get picked.

2. Conversely, that if we are too desperate, God will decide to keep us single for as long as it takes to realize that we will never find the Perfect Love we crave in any human. That 'it's only when we stop caring too much about finding the right guy, suddenly he'll appear in our life.' See me not caring! (Because I really care!) Aarrgh! Catch 22 situation!

3. That although God loves us and wants us to be happy, He's not REALLY in control. Since He doesn't interfere with free will, He doesn't really have control over whether or not there are enough good men to match every good woman looking for a spouse. (Just like it wasn't His WILL that there should be suffering in this world, or evil for that matter... but it still exists.)

4. That we haven't figured out how much of active involvement He really wants us to have with finding the right spouse. Like a quote I recently read- 'Trust God, but tie up your camel.' Are we supposed to get on to Get out there (wherever 'out there' is)? Move somewhere where there are more options? Ask friends to look out for someone for us? Ask our parents to arrange something? Get onto Tinder? Visit your parish's marriage bureau? (I AM TOTALLY KIDDING!!!) Or just live your life and stop obsessing?

Perhaps answer a matrimonial ad?**

5. That Psalm 37: 4, the Singles' Most Favouritest Bible Verse Ever suffers from false advertising- 'Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart' doesn't necessarily mean we're going to get married, but that He will 'purify the desires of our hearts' so that the only desire we have is to do God's will and even suffer for His sake.

6. That the older we get, the more likely we will 'settle', taking the next guy who asks who somewhat fits our 'list' even if he doesn't make our knees weak, and give us butterflies in our stomach, and that we're more likely to be 'realistic', and think "Well, love isn't just about feelings." And perhaps say yes more out of a fear that no one better will come along, than out of a love and desire for THAT particular human being.

7. That's we're being pathetic and whiny when we're sad about not being married, because in the grand scheme of things, how big is our suffering compared to people who lose the use of their limbs, or people who live with constant physical pain, or people who find the love of their life, and then lose them to cancer, or worse, the love of their life hurt them in the worst possible way.

8. That people with all their many know-it-all opinions are actually right- maybe we are too picky. Maybe we didn't discern well enough. Maybe God was calling us to religious life, but we weren't listening. Maybe we're boring and not marriage material. Maybe it's because we're religious. Maybe we're too... something. We must have done SOMETHING wrong.

9. That God DOESN'T really have a plan, that it's all just a numbers game, and that He promised to be WITH us, not arrange our loves so we get exactly what we want, or that His idea of my future happiness is very different from my idea of my future happiness. I guess basically that we are in some way going to be deprived by Him, that He hasn't got our back.

But you know what? I don't really believe any of these (well, except for no. 5). They are little irrational fears that come.. and go. It's good to be content where you are, without shutting your heart to desires for the future. Sometimes God allows people to go through tough situations, for no discernable reason... not even to teach them a lesson. But I DO believe He can bring great good out of those situations.

I am still slightly confused about 4, but I've gone with the 'live my life and stop obsessing' option. I will NOT settle, because I will not marry out of fear, because I DON'T believe that being old, single and living with cats is the most horrible option in the world. I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging that sometimes I'm sad, my occasional sadness doesn't disappear just because other people suffer more. I don't care about people's opinions of why I'm single, because I know me better than they do. (And I know I'm pretty awesome. And humble.)

And finally and most importantly, I choose to believe that God does have a plan for my happiness (whether or not it includes marriage) and that no matter what the circumstances, He is not a God of deprivation. And I know this because, hey, I'm 29- I thought I would be married years ago, and yet, and yet, here I am... single... and HAPPY! Say, what? If he could do it for the past 29 years, why not for the next 60***? 

*How do you like my attention grabbing blog post title? :-D
**If you need a good laugh, look on google images for 'funny matrimonial ads'. These are real things, people!
***Yes, I plan to live till I'm 89.  

Saturday, 18 April 2015

I Don't Miss School

I hear people fondly talking about school days all the time. "Remember when...""The good old days when we were carefree and life was simple..." "The fond memories of school and ha ha those strict but lovable teachers..."

Sometime I wonder if my school mates went to a different school than I did, because their memories seem very different from mine. I know, I know, people can have different experiences of the same thing.

But I have a theory. I think people didn't realize how bad school was because:

a. They had never experienced anything different, so they thought it was normal
b. Being fond of school was the only socially acceptable feeling to have
c. Most people don't analyze their experiences as much as I do
d. They have a misplaced sense of loyalty which states 'My school, wrong or right', like it's disloyal to point out the flaws in the system

So what was so wrong with school, Sue? (I think people are going to be upset, because a lot of people who went to the same school as I did read this blog) Were you beaten? Did your teachers not show up for classes? Did you not have a beautiful campus? Don't you know that many people are dying to get into a convent school like the one you went to?

From the outside, our school experience was great. We wore ironed matching uniforms, were neat and clean, and respectful, we had a nice (if small) campus, we had an organized, regular timetable, with some amount of extra curricular activities like Sports Days, annual school concerts, choir, competitions, stuff like that.

But on the inside...

1. School was ALL about discipline. We heard that word a zillion times. But by discipline, they meant uniformity, control, being QUIET, the highest level of good behaviour. All noise was bad noise. It was only after I did my teacher's training course that I realized a busy hum of activity is FAR more desirable in a classroom than 'pin drop silence'. And discipline, uniformity and punishment went together. Every day we'd walk to our classrooms in lines (we walked in line everywhere) and get 'checked' by the prefects (British influence)  and punished for wearing the wrong uniform, (PT tunic on PT days, regular beige for other days), wearing the wrong coloured ribbons or hairband, having broken shoes, having fingernails that weren't very short, buttons faded, wearing our socks rolled down or too low. Even bloomers were checked!!! (If you don't know what bloomers are, don't ask.) Why was all that so important? If kids' shoes were broken, maybe their families needed financial help, not punishment.

Almost like this, but not quite

2. Verbal humiliation was normal. Sarcasm, putting people down, mocking, this was not unusual. And it usually came from the teachers. Not the good kids, they rarely faced that. I used to slip by and get away with not being noticed most of the time. But looking back I remember how the 'failures' were treated, the naughtier kids, the ones who wouldn't or couldn't fit into the expectations. We had one teacher who had a sweet, courteous voice when she spoke to the 'good kids', or the ones from a higher social standing, and a rough, abrasive voice the next moment for the poorer, academically behind kids.

3. We were never encouraged to have a voice. I had no idea that it was possible to ask for change, to have the power to demand accountability, to change an unfair system. We were just encouraged to keep our mouths shut and comply. Even in class, we almost never were encouraged to voice our opinions, to participate in discussions, to THINK! We had to listen, memorize and spout out answers in our exam papers. 'Thought provoking questions' that we heard about in teacher's training? I don't remember any.

Thought-provoking questions: "Why do you think...?" "What if...?"

4. School almost killed our creativity. You know what we did for art class? Our art teacher drew a picture on the blackboard, and we copied it onto our art sheets. Yes, that was art. The idea of playing with colours, getting messy with paints was unheard of. Likewise, the idea that there are many different ways you could visualize the same thing. You ask most Indian kids to draw a 'scenery' and you will see some version of this:

(Only missing the blue clouds!!)

This is not ART, it's a MESS!

5. We had no love for learning. Learning, school and education were bad words. I had NO idea for years that learning could be fun! That we had a fascinating beautiful world outside, that history could be alive, that learning a new language was possible, that questions were GOOD, that there was so much to know and learn and understand and that it was not really boring! 12 years in school and I had no idea. Our textbooks disguised the fact, our teachers didn't seem to know this secret either. (There were one or two exceptions.)

6. There was no room for individuality. Now, I do realize this is not totally our teachers' fault. With 60 kids per class, they were probably so overwhelmed that encouraging kids' uniqueness and individuality was not a priority or maybe even a possibility. But kids are different... and that's okay! We should be helping them figure out their strengths, not just forcing them into a box, or pronouncing them failures when they don't fit. Lots of smart kids probably didn't realize they were smart. I was one of them.

 7. We didn't feel loved. Love can cover a multitude of sins. Even with a not great education system if only our teachers had loved us, we would have gotten something out of our school life. (I don't count primary school- I'm pretty sure most of our primary school teachers loved us.) Kids learn how to love by having love modeled for them. Kids need to be loved, respected, made to feel special. I never experienced that. If we didn't experience a sharp tongue lashing from our teachers, we were mostly invisible. I stayed invisible for most of high school. (Except when I unwittingly broke the school rules and got my nose pierced, but that's another story.) My favourite teacher was not one who loved me, but one who was fair and impartial to all the kids. That was the most we could hope for.

8. Fear and a desire to escape was normal. I spent every weekend dreading the approaching Monday. I spent every Hindi and Marathi class squirming to avoid the humiliation if the teacher realized I didn't understand Hindi or Marathi. I escaped from school (which locked its gates once we were in) by reading books. Contraband books mostly because we weren't allowed to bring non-library fiction books to school. I started counting down the days and months until I was out from the time I was in the eight standard.Years later whenever I was going through a hard time or feeling trapped or scared, I would dream I was back at school. Yeah.

The problems I faced in school were not unusual. They are common in many Indian schools. I think what is surprising is that this is considered a 'good' school, or that people think they had a good education. I think we were cheated of a education and 12 years of our lives. I think the only reason my school experience didn't destroy my childhood intelligence and ability to think was because I had an interesting family life, where we lived in a world of books, imagination and creativity. I think almost everything I learned about the world I learned from storybooks. But I know most people may not have had that experience or exposure.

More and more people are realizing the school system in India needs to change. But it is a slow and uphill process, where so far it's only the rich kids who are benefiting from a better education. But I still hope.

(I know, this was a depressing post. But I promise a sequel: The Many Good Things that Came from my Bad Experiences at School.)

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Should Conversions Be Illegal?

All of us in India know that ‘conversions’ are a very controversial and sensitive issue. Maybe because religion is a very integral part of how most Indians identify themselves, a change of religion can cause a lot of emotional reactions. The religion you are born into is almost seen as your identity, quite apart from your personal beliefs.

Our culture seems inextricable from our religion. If an Indian talks about a particular religion, they are referring to their manner of dressing, the food they eat (upper caste Hindus are vegetarian, though some eat chicken, and of course beef is taboo, Jains are strictly vegetarian, Muslims are beef-eaters, but won’t touch pork , Christians are the weirdos who eat everything), the languages they speak, sometimes even their family professions, their cultural celebrations, and also their manner and place of worship.

 Which makes for very picturesque school shows about unity in diversity

India being a secular country, we have been told time and time again that all religions are equal, no one culture is better than another, and that tolerance is the highest virtue. So conversion seems to contradict that- if all religions are equally valid, then changing religions is seen as a statement that one is better than another. Also, if religion = culture, then conversion is seen as a rejection of the culture of your family.

Add to that some shady historical conversions (not all conversions were shady), from entire villages being converted to Christianity by the Portuguese rulers in Goa, to Muslim invaders bringing Islam with the sword, to many from ‘untouchable’ castes converting to Buddhism and Christianity in order to escape an oppressive and unjust system within Hinduism, to some ‘incentives’ allegedly given to poorer people leading to the coining of terms such as ‘rice Christians’, and you have quite the explosive and inflammatory issue. Take a look at any of the comments on online articles on religious differences and difficulties in India, and you can get quite a shock at how much anger and heat people feel.

Dr. Ambedkar and thousands of Dalits converted to Buddhism in 1956

 No doubt a lot of that anger and heat is fuelled by certain political parties with an agenda. It’s a basic psychological ploy. You can’t have an ‘in group’ without an ‘out group’. So certain right wing groups demonize other religions, and converts to other religions are considered traitors of the worst kind.

Given all this back history, people argue, why not just ban conversions? Everybody stay in the religion you’re born into, and avoid causing trouble with all this nonsense. If we want peace in our country, we have to take measures to ensure that no one gets upset. No one religion is better than any other, so it’s a logical and even necessary step the government must take.

Sounds reasonable?

Well, except for one thing. Such a law would be unconstitutional because it completely takes away the individual’s right to adopt, practise and propagate the religion of their choice.

United Nations' universal declaration of human rights

It seems like people either don’t know or ignore that at its heart religion is about personal beliefs. YOU cannot choose what someone is allowed to believe! Not even family loyalty, love for the nation or love for my neighbour can make me believe something against my will.

Yes, my personal beliefs should not be allowed to hurt any other human being. But conversion means I choose what I believe, not that I attack anyone else! The word 'conversion' means 'the process of changing'. Are we not allowed to change? To grow? To transform? To work out our thoughts and feelings about morality and God and life? To make changes based on deep spiritual experiences that we have?

But what about all the other people who will be upset? Shouldn’t that be a reason not to convert?

That sounds a bit like a controlling husband telling his wife she cannot leave the house or talk to anyone except him. If she does go out, he’s going to lose his temper, and perhaps even beat her. So isn’t it better for the peace of the family that she just obeys him?

No! It is not! His display of temper shows that it is HIS problem, not hers! His behaviour is what needs to change, not hers!

I don't think some anti-conversion or anti-religion activists realize that their opinions are as dogmatic as the ones they profess to oppose.

They say “Conversions should be banned because all religions are equal. They all basically teach the same thing. All gods are one. That is the only valid belief.”

I say, “That is YOUR belief, not mine. I do not impose my belief on you, you may not impose yours on me. Although I believe every human being has an equal right to follow any religion, I do NOT believe all religions are pretty much the same, or equally true.”

Others say, “Conversions should be banned because religion is a great evil that has caused wars, enslaved people’s minds and made them into mindless superstitious fools. In fact it would be better if we banned religion.” (Cue John Lennon's Imagine.)

 Once again I say, “That too is YOUR personal opinion. You may certainly try to show me that this is true, but I reserve the right to completely disagree with you, and in fact assert that wars are caused by human beings, not religions, (as communist regimes show) and that most religion if true to itself has helped man to be truly more human.”

When people oppose conversions, they are opposing the basic right of every human being to make decisions for themselves. (Sometimes in a very elitist, arrogant way- assuming a poor person who converts must have been brainwashed, instead of admitting they too are capable of making their own choices.) When people oppose missionaries (of any religion), they are opposing the spread of ideas. Should anyone be stopped from sharing their ideas with others? Were all social reformers wrong?

Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, social reformers in India who fought against the caste system

If you believe that there is truth in your religion, and that such truth will benefit others, you too are free to teach and propagate that truth to anyone willing to listen.

Of course, I’m a Christian, and part of our faith is to ‘Go into all the world and teach them everything Jesus commanded us.’ So maybe I am biased?

To test whether I really believe this, I ask myself, "Am I equally willing for my Christian friends and family to convert to another religion (or even a denomination of Christianity)?" And the answer is "I would be very disappointed and sad if they did, because I would feel that they are moving away from the truth, and I would do my best to talk to them, to help them work through their reasons and doubts. But if they WERE convinced, I accept that that is their right. I would not cut them off from my family, I would not issue death threats, I would not try to make a law to prevent them from making that choice. I would pray for them, I would love them (hopefully) and I would trust that if they are sincerely seeking truth, God will lead them back to Himself."

Basically, you cannot be anti-conversion if you are pro-human freedom. India is a secular country, and we need to fight to protect every citizen's right to make their own choices, (as long as they don't hurt anyone else) even if we don't fully agree with them.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Childhood Memories that Turn out to be Hilarious

Alarming Activities 

When we were kids, our family used to go up to close by hill station every summer for a couple of weeks. We would pack our bags, be up super early, stumble around, and gagging, force the bitter Avomine pill down our throats. All five kids would go down to the car, half asleep… and then we would wait for about 20 minutes while my dad set up our security system. Now to my ten year old self, this was a normal part of leaving the house for a vacation. It was only later that I began to realize that I had never seen anyone else set up such an elaborate security system. All I remembered was my dad winding long strands of wires around the house.

 My family about 24 years ago

As an adult I found out what was actually going on. This was his system: he would wind wire across all the doors and windows of the house. If any of the doors or windows were broken into, the wire would be stretched taut, which would set off a LOUD recording of a police whistle being blown, and a voice screaming ‘CHOR! CHOR!’ (Thief, thief!’)

Now this is what I call a literal LOL moment. (And no, I don’t think my dad had watched Home Alone at that point. Also, no, I don’t think we even had anything worth stealing in our house.)

My Troubled Childhood 

When I was a young teenager, we didn’t have much music. We had a few tapes with songs my dad had recorded from the radio I think, a few CDs that my sister’s boyfriend had given her, and a few other random bits of music that landed up in our house, that we would listen to repetitively. We didn’t have the money to buy music ourselves, nor did we know anything about music. Early musical influences include (shudder) Roxette, Boyzone, Aqua, Jennifer Lopez, the Beatles, Lobo, Mark Knoffler, Dire Straits and other strange bits and pieces.

But it was only a few years ago I realized that one of the songs I loved and used to sing along to was actually about heroin addiction. Yes, I used to sing Alice Cooper's Poison:“You’re poison, ooo oooh ooh, poison running through my veins. I don’t want to break these chains!” Good grief.

 Yes, that Alice Cooper

Figures of Speech are Just That 

I once met an elderly lady who told me she lived just behind my school. She said “I live so close that you could just call my name from the playground, and I’d hear you.”

Oh, poor little Sue. I spent many disappointing lunch breaks standing near the wall at the back of the playground calling “Auntie Aaaa-aanne! Auntie Aaaa-aanne!” with nary a response.

I only later realized that maybe she didn’t really mean that I should actually stand there and call her. Just like ‘a stone throw away’ doesn’t mean you should throw a stone to figure out how close the place is.

Why I Can’t Stand Marriage Jokes

Have you heard the one about the married couple went out to a nice restaurant to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary? While driving home the wife saw a tear coming from her husband’s eye. “Are you happy that we have spent 50 splendid years together?” she said. He said, “No. I was just thinking about our wedding and how your father threatened me with a shotgun that is I didn’t marry you right then he would have me thrown in prison for 50 years. Tomorrow I could have been free!”
Or this one-
In heaven there were two lines. One said "Men who were bossed by their wives," and the other one said,"Men who weren't bossed by their wives". There was a big line for the first one, but then the man who was checking peoples name in the book of life saw one man in the other line. So he told the guys to wait. He asked the man why he was in that line. The man replied,"My wife told me to."

Funny, right?

Ha ha. Not really.

We’ve all heard the marriage jokes, and people can’t stop making them. Especially at weddings toasts and wedding mass homilies, engagements, anniversaries, and any other time love, romance, or marriage is mentioned. One of the odder times my friend R heard them was at the diocesan marriage preparation course during the talk ‘Marriage as a Sacrament’. Yeah.

When I hear jokes like that, I’m not sure how to react. I can’t force a laugh out. Not even a fake smile.

Because, guess what, MARRIAGE JOKES AREN’T FUNNY.

We all know that unhealthy marriages are not unusual. Husbands who are henpecked, passive, whose opinions aren’t considered important. Wives who nag, who try to control everything. Husbands and wives who regularly publicly mock each other’s weaknesses… as a joke. Husbands who turn to drink or other women to escape an unhappy home. Wives who HAVE to have the last word. The stereotypes do have an origin. The reason I can’t stand these jokes isn’t because they aren’t true at all. It’s because they are a sad reality… but not one to celebrate and be entertained by.

I believe that it’s possible to have more healthy and loving relationships. But our speech can either strengthen or weaken those relationships. Spouses know the best and the worst of each other. They can choose how they use that knowledge.

Constantly mocking your spouse or pointing out their weaknesses, or bringing up memories of times they made a fool of themselves (even if your characterization is funny, or has more than a ring of truth) is a way of telling them “That’s how I see you. As a weak, indecisive idiot.” “This is how I see you. As a bossy, insensitive, narrow-minded control freak.” Even if they laugh, the message has gone home. Most people already struggle with the way they see themselves. If the person closest to them sees the worst and labels them with their worst behaviour, it must be true. Worse, the relationship of love and mutual acceptance has weakened.

On the other hand, the sweetest, strongest relationships are the ones where you see spouses grab any opportunity to brag about their spouses, even if it’s at their own expense. “I locked myself out of the car (no big surprise there), and Joe not only came all the way to rescue me, he came up with the most ingenuous plan to do it!”And Joe unsuccessfully tries to hide his pleasure in both his own skills being acknowledged, as well as the praise of his wife. “I’ve never known anyone who could handle kids as sneakily and successfully as my Katie.” And Katie beams.

Maybe mutual praise isn’t as funny as snarky jabs, but sometimes one’s sharp tongue can deal painful and weakening cuts to an already difficult relationship.

I think one of the most beautiful ways spouses can love each other is to protect each other’s dignity from the world. Why yes, Lionel did get the family lost by refusing to read the map, as a result of which they are an hour late for the party, but Susan isn’t going to announce it to the hosts. Maybe Maya’s surprise birthday dinner got burnt, but Anil isn’t going to report that to everyone when he talks about how his birthday went.

One of the reasons I hate the marriage jokes is because they act as if unhealthy marriages are the norm, that it’s unrealistic or na├»ve to expect anything different from your relationships. They tell couples that if their marriages are like that, that’s just the way life is. You can’t change it, so laugh at it. I recently saw this article: 16 Annoying Things All Indian Husbands Do That Drive Their Wives Crazy. And I was like, hell, no.

We want something different. We don’t want to be nagging, controlling wives, and we don’t want passive, lazy husbands. And we want people to know that that is possible. Marriage jokes make me sad, because I believe that we were made for something more. But we can’t have it until we believe it’s possible.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Internet Debates: Religious Rights vs LGBT rights

Are you part of the same Internet world as I am, where there have been many very heated debates about all sorts of things recently.

 Well, that's not exactly anything very new, but it seems to have filled my Facebook news feed and blogs recently.

One of the big ones was the debate in the US over whether a business could choose to refuse service to customers based on their personal beliefs. Some small town pizza place said that in theory it would not cater a gay wedding because of their religious beliefs. And everyone went crazy. The owner said that 'he was immediately flooded by threatening phone calls, and social media postings. He said that  he would never deny service to gay people in his restaurant. However, due to his religious beliefs, he does not believe in gay marriage … and that’s why he wouldn’t service one.'

It sounded like there were two main groups of very loud voices:

1. Christians who were mad that they should be bullied into providing services for events they couldn't morally condone.
2. LGBT folk who were mad that the RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) was legalizing discrimination against them.

I'm not going to go into my opinions exactly, but here are a couple of articles that I thought were very thought-provoking:

Gay Woman Who Donated $20 to Christian-Owned Indiana Pizzeria Reveals Why She Took Bold Stand

“My girlfriend and I are small business owners... if we were asked to set up at an anti-gay marriage rally, I mean, we would have to decline.”

Three Very Small Thoughts About (the Debate Over) Indiana’s RFRA by Eve Tushnet

"Since that Christianity Today piece about attending gay weddings, I’ve thought about what the options are for people who can’t in good conscience attend a wedding. If I had a friend who was getting married in a way I really couldn’t attend, I think I’d ask questions like, “I honestly can’t do this, as a matter of faith, but could I come to your reception?” Or I’d try to come over beforehand and bring a gift. What can you support, in another person’s life? Could you offer to babysit their kids, or ask them to babysit yours? Could you encourage them to lean on you for help in every practical way you can offer? I don’t suggest these things because I think they would “work,” as a matter of PR or even witness, but because I think they would help “conscientious objectors” become, also, servants."

Interview With a Christian by Ross Douthat

"I think they should be able to decline service for various reasons, religious scruples included. A liberal printer shouldn’t be forced to print tracts for a right-wing cause. A Jewish deli shouldn’t be required to cater events for the Nation of Islam."

I can see why both sides are reacting with so much fear- one side is afraid that they are being forced to act against their conscience and that it is only going to get worse (you HAVE to celebrate gay marriages in your churches), and the other that they are once again facing rejection and discrimination and even hatred and that it's only going to get worse ('no gays allowed' signs on Christian and Muslim restaurants).

If only we chose to have this conversation with love and some empathy.

I liked Jason Evert's article: Love is Not Hate. If only more Christians allowed the call to love to govern the way they speak to and about people who struggle with SSA.