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Category Archives: Spiritual Reflection

Meditation on Psalm 1

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Psalm 1

1 Blessed are those
who do not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but who delight in the law of the LORD
and meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will be destroyed.

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Do you know someone who has the strength and resilience of an oak tree? Do you know anyone who is known for integrity? Think about that person. What is it that you respect and admire about that person?

Do you also want to be known as a person of good character? Do you want to be prosperous? According to the Psalmist a person of this kind of integrity becomes this way my delighting in God’s word, feasting on the scripture throughout the day.

Picture yourself as a tree planted by the living waters of God’s Spirit.

Now, read the Psalm for the second time and look for a phrase that God is speaking directly to you today. And throughout this day chew on these words. Write them on your hand or in a notebook, or even as a comment on this blog. Return to them in your prayers this evening just before you go to bed.

What is God speaking to you in this passage? Have you been sitting in the company of mockers? Do you find it difficult to delight in the law of the Lord? Ask God to open your heart to enjoying the scriptures.

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Fitting In

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I think I tried on my entire wardrobe this morning. Nothing seems to go together, I’m trying to look American. There are hundreds of kinds of Americans, but what I’m going for is the twenty-something attractive city girl variety. Now I’m sitting in a coffee shop—no wait it’s a tea-shop—watching the stylish women walk by on the sidewalk. I finally saw a girl that I would like to be dressed like. She had tight red pants on, black boots over top—the heeled calf-covering scrunchy type, a big yellow purse, and long curled red-colored hair. I think her top was black. I’m going shopping tomorrow, thank God. Oh there she is again she has a multi colored scarf and a black jacket on too, but it was the sunglasses that toped off the outfit. What I can’t figure out, is how much or in which ways that I want to fit in here…or anywhere. Internally I have this foreigner thing going and that is why I’m keeping this blog. But here in the U.S., unlike in India I can disguise myself as a local. And, really I am pretty normal. I’m a single twenty-eight year old girl, over-educated, underpaid, who likes to watch movies, dark chocolate, red-wine and to lament about injustice in the world. Hopefully I do stuff about it too, but let’s be honest sometimes there is more dialogue in my circles than anything else—but I put in a few hours at a food pantry here and there. I’m normal. Then the inconvenience of having a boyfriend but not sharing a bed with him comes up, and someone is shocked. “We’re old fashioned like that,” he says. But it’s too late, our abnormal-ness is out in the open. But we pour another glass of wine and step in when the call for a dependable friend is made and the oddity is put to the side. We walk the line of cultural relevancy and our own counter-culture.

I met some people last week who moved to Amsterdam in the past year in order to start a new faith community. Well, Amsterdam is a very secular city. In Amsterdam, one girl suggested to believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, might be akin to believing in the tooth fairy. So mostly what my friends have been doing is just making friends there in the city, and throwing parties—being normal, having fun. And, their parties aren’t lame, people like hanging out with these guys. The cool thing is that I think Jesus was like that…people invited him over all the time. As soon as they knew he was coming to town they would throw a party. And like this guy was saying last week, it was the religious people that Jesus would give a hard time—not the other people. I’m sure people were drinking and smoking, and using foul language around him. Yet in the bible we never see Jesus telling anyone to go away because they were contaminated. In fact, we know that Jesus was even at a party that included a prostitute. And, Jesus didn’t end up in some heated discussion about the evils of prostitution, but instead this woman washed Jesus feet with her tears. It wasn’t like he took advantage of her; instead they had an intimate yet innocent human interaction.

Versatility, to be able to relate to all kinds of people, is a good thing. The challenge is continuing to know who you are, throughout your many transformations. For me, I look to St. Paul who said he was “in Christ.” That’s what I want to be, “in Christ.” I’m “in Christ” loving the little kids who came with their parents to get groceries and the food pantry, I’m “in Christ” talking with a surgeon who makes more money a year that I will ever see in my life, and I’m going to be “in Christ” as I make cappuccinos at Starbucks. Most of the time, my “in Christ” relational status might not affect how I am perceived, but there will be moments when people will be surprised at the things I do or say, and that’s a good thing.

Who’s going to wash the dishes?

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Who washes the dishes? I remember when I was in college and my roommate and I would have our guy friends over for dinner. These were the nights when we would go all out and actually buy meat. But, there was one rule: if we buy the food and cook, you do the dishes. In my new apartment in Chicago, we do things the real American way: everyone does their own dishes (for the most part). It’s fair. But in India, it’s not how things are done. The wife, mother, or servants do the dishes. If you are in a cafeteria setting, maybe you do your own dishes, but the boss or person of authority will rarely be allowed to wash his dish.

My friend, Yuvraj is the kind of guy by Indian standards who could go his whole life without washing a plate. That would be very normal. He’s a U.K. educated upper-middle class twenty-nine year-old from a good family. But, Yuvraj is a follower of Jesus. And sometimes when people follow Jesus they find themselves in very different roles than would be seen as normal.

He has recently moved out of his comfortable family house and into a very simple cement house in the slum. Him and his wife now sleep on the floor; carry water in from a hose outside to wash dishes, and share a bathroom with at least twelve people. Why? It’s not easy, and it’s not that they have some weird preoccupation with suffering… They are real; they want nothing to do with hypocrisy.  They believe that the Creator of the universe cares about the suffering people of the world, and sent his son Jesus out of love for them. The God of the universe cares about the woman who lives across the gully from them in a three-sided shack with her children. God sees this sweet lady who never asks for anything and whose children get bitten by rats while they are sleeping. So Yuvraj and Mary see her through God’s eyes, and they insisted that she accept a bed from them—so her and her children have a chance to sleep through the night without rat bites. They imagine that if Jesus were living in their neighborhood, he might do something like make friends with her.

But back to dishes—plates. So Yuvraj started this training program in which he goes into a small town or village area and teaches a group of people problem solving skills, has them get into groups and try to think of solutions to real community problems they are facing. And, when he hears the best problem—solution he has a grant that will help them start working to implement these solutions. And, each day of the seminar starts with a time of spiritual reflection. So one day my friend Yuvraj taught devotion about Jesus washing the disciples feet. Most of the participants were Christians and all of the participants were rural Indian farmers. Then they started the training for the day and at lunchtime had a cafeteria-style-wash-your-own-plate-routine. On this day Yuvraj finished his lunch first and after washing his own plate turned to the next man and said, “Would you allow me to wash you plate?” The man blinked, and stepped back, with his month open. You have to understand that Yuvraj is so well spoken in English that sometimes people think he is a foreigner. The third man elbowed him and reminded him of the teaching of Jesus washing his disciples feet. Yuvraj laughed and said, yes, but I’m not going to say like Jesus that you have no part with me, if you don’t let me wash your plate. I am only requesting that you allow me the honor of washing your plate. As the men continued to come up to the sink, some allowed him to wash their plate and others didn’t.

Later Yuvraj brought this up to me, because we were talking about foot washing—which is something I love to do in a worship service, but Yuvraj was saying that foot washing has been ritualized beyond meaning in some contexts. On Good Friday, the priest will wash the communicants feet and it is like receiving a blessing—but the ordinary yet disruptive act of Jesus washing his followers feet has been lost. In Jesus’ cultural context, you would come in the house from a day of walking around on dusty streets and either a servant would wash your feet or you would wash your own feet. It was just a normal thing, like sanitizing your hands after moving around in a crowded place, buying lunch, pouring a glass of water, or washing the dishes in your neighbor’s house.

Prayer for Calm

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My Lord and my God, I do not know what will happen to me today, but what I do know is that nothing will happen to me today that you and I together can not handle. This thought is enough to bring me to face the day in peace. I adore you in your wisdom and love: I commend myself into your hands with complete trust. Amen (Taken from a Jesuit prayer guide)

Each morning for the last few months I have started my day with this prayer for calm. Last week this prayer was followed by an email explaining how one of my students had been attacked by an evil spirit the night, and began beating his wife. On Sunday  a visit to the worst slum I have ever seen, followed this prayer. Our very poor friends insisted on serving us Coca-Cola. Yesterday, I prayed for calm and met one student who was so angry with another student she refused to lead the singing. Then another student had a miscarriage. Another student gave away his shoes, though he only owns two pairs now, so that a traveling Sikh God-seeker didn’t have to walk barefoot. I saw my students offer comfort to families with members in the hospitals, praying for all who asked. I saw Christian students say “Eid Mubarak,” and serve a special lunch to Muslim construction workers. That’s how my work here in India is. Everyday I am confronted with the destructiveness of poverty, and yet the joy of being in a community of hope. And each day I have an option, will I try to handle the difficult things myself, or will I trust my life into God’s hands?

Sometimes I get worried about where I am going to live and how I will earn money, but then I remember that my Father in heaven knows everything I need. I can trust him. No matter where we live or what we do; we can put our trust in God. Seek First his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:34). I encourage you to start each day with a time of silence, and perhaps a prayer for calm.

Spiritual Causality: Superstition or Spiritual in the Ordinary?

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In the Western world we think that everything is physical. You get a headache, you take medicine, you feel sad for too long and you take medicine. Here in India, you get a headache in church, and the assumption is that this is spiritual. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t had enough water and it is hot in the building. You act lazy and cross for a week, and it is also a demonic attack, though in America we call it P.M.S. It is very easy to look down on the common views in the East as superstitious.

I have a very good friend named Peter who started dating a girl last year named Pooja. Peter and Pooja go to Delhi University. He is a Christian and she is a Hindu. But they got along well, and she was cute. They would travel by metro and even hold hands as they walked through the station. Peter was swept off his feet. He would talk to her for hours in the evenings and go early to college to meet her. At first he was trying to share his faith with her, and she was interested. At least she was interested since she was interested in him. She agreed to visit church, but only if he would visit the temple. He was not willing to visit the temple. I asked him if he could just go and observe the temple, and he said he would not feel right about it.

Then during a festival time when Pooja and her family were doing special daily worship rituals, Peter mentioned to me that he didn’t feel well and he accredited it to Pooja’s idol worship. Peter was so distracted during midterm exams that he did not do as well as usual. Peter called me on my birthday and I talked to Pooja too, I thought they were getting serious enough that I might get to meet her despite the fact that I was sworn to secrecy regarding her. After a few months, I asked about Pooja, and Peter said they actually weren’t compatible. It wasn’t just the religion thing. Then a few days later Peter called me over to his house, he had been crying. “I told my mom about Pooja,” Peter told me. I was surprised. Why would he tell his mother about Pooja if he was going to break-up with her anyway? His mother made him call his Aunt who is a prophetess. She asked him a lot of personal questions. Then she told him he had to end it the next day. Peter told me that something about going out with Pooja had put him in a spiritual paralysis, and he knew he needed to break-up with her but he didn’t have the strength. Now, he had a reason. His aunt and his mother were demanding that he end the relationship. The next morning his mother drove him to his aunt’s house where she prayed over him for a few hours. That night he called Pooja on the phone and broke up with her. He felt awful about how hurt she felt. But a week later I asked Peter how he was doing, and if he thought he did the right thing. He was still mourning his lose, but he showed me some marks on the bottom of his feet. “They were warts that were getting bigger, and when I broke up with her, they started to heal,” he explained to me.

So, is my college educated friend backwards and superstitious? Or is my American worldview blocking me, from seeing the spiritual in the ordinary? What if the stress of being in a relationship is how Peter was distracted from studying and the warts formed, but this was an outward expression of spiritual warfare? In the West, we are concerned with the question of how something happens, where in the East the concern is over why something happens. Here in India, as in many places in the world there is a consciousness of the impact of the spiritual world on the physical world, a consciousness that westerners could learn from. Not that we should be overly preoccupied with demons, angels, or cures but that we should understand that this spirit world is part of a biblical worldview.  It is also a part of  much of the historical and present cultural understandings of the world.  We should also admit that we are sometimes the blind ones. What if there is not only a “Higher Power,” but many “powers” at work in the world? And, if the God of the Bible is your God, then all of these powers at war affect world events and interpersonal dynamics.  However, in the end all the powers ultimately will summit to God. If you are a praying person, I encourage you to pray and ask God to open your eyes to see what is going on beyond the physical things around you, and see what happens.

Can Uneducated People Change the World for Good?

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class roomA friend of mine named Francis works as an advocate for the people of a slum in Delhi and he has married into a poor Muslim family. Yesterday he brought two of his young brothers-in-law to join our program: Shamim and Mohammad. These teenage boys have been working most of their lives. Just last week Shamim ironed jeans in a factory and Mohammad worked as a demolition laborer. They have never been to school or learned to read or write. They kept their eyes downcast as I tried to welcome them and explain to them the housing arrangements. I asked Francis if they wanted to be here, he insisted that they did. Francis looked at them and told them that they are good, don’t let anyone tell you that you are bad. In other words, do not let anyone look down on you. Then Francis turned to me and said, “you know Jesus used a small group of uneducated people to change the world once before. It was a miracle; we are just hoping He will do it again. We need a miracle. Let’s see.”

Already this morning they were clapping and laughing with the rest of the group. After we sang and danced a little, I said that our God loves us so much that it makes God happy when we enjoy worship. One of the other students told me that he never knew happiness before he met Jesus and joined this knew family.

According to the United Nations Development Programme Report of 2007/2008, India had a literacy rate of 64.1%. The United States has a 99% literacy rate and Burkina Faso has the lowest literacy rate in the world at 23.6%.

We want to help Shamim and Mohommad learn to read and write—but even more than that we want the love of God to transform them and to use them to change their world for good.

Poverty Profanes the Gospel

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He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the needy from the ash heap;
He seats them with the princes,
With the princes of His people.

-Psalm 113:7-8

Last week my grandparents, whom I am staying with, had a houseguest from Uganda. His name is Hamlet. He is a priest in the Church of Uganda, a former parliamentarian, current chaplain for the Parliament of Uganda, an entrepreneur, and more than everything else an activist. Being a person with a vision for the economic and spiritual development of his people, he had so many words of wisdom for me since I have a heart for the economic and spiritual development of the people I work with in India.

He was surprised to discover that I do not have a car in India. He asked me if it was because I was afraid to drive there. I said, “yes, that’s a big part of it, but we also want to live a simple life as the people we work with for the most part do not have cars.” He said that while there is value in “living like the people,” there is also an importance to modeling social upliftment. He said that, glorifying poverty was one of the mistakes of the missionaries that went to countries in Africa. They pointed towards heaven and encouraged the locals to be content instead of working hard and trying to make their situation better in this life.

In another conversation, Hamlet lamented that so much of Europe regrets having ever sent missionaries to Africa. But, “they don’t realize that the gospel corrects itself. They don’t realize the value of the gospel,” Hamlet said to me. He went on to explain that after a generation of people grow up with the gospel, if the gospel is internalized the people start to realize the inconsistencies they were fed along with the gospel and they reject the mistakes. It is like John Wimber used to say; they “chew up the meat, and spit out the bones.” (Yes, yes, I realize that saying only makes sense in cultures where people do not chew up the bones).

In this case, one of the mistakes to be rejected in Africa is the glorification of poverty. While Jesus did come to earth, and live among us as a lowly human—he did not just stay that way and encourage us to stay that way. Instead, Jesus transformed himself through the resurrection—and encourages us to follow. So, perhaps we are not just called to live among the poor and handle our finances like the poor but we are called to model how to live a better life where we do not have to live in fear of how we will feed our children or pay our rent because we run sustainable businesses and we budget our money wisely.

I have seen the “poverty mentality” eat away at beautiful, intelligent, and gifted people. They run from crisis to crisis, never looking ahead and therefore they are unable to live to their potential. I want to be a part of helping people out of that destructive cycle. Because good news is not good news unless it is good news to the poor, and as Hamlet said to me, “poverty profanes the gospel.”