Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Christians vs. Hindus

The excellent reporter Somini Sengupta files this story today from New Delhi:
The remote, destitute state of Orissa, marred for years by Hindu-versus-Christian violence, erupted in a retaliatory killing on Monday after the murder of a Hindu leader led a mob to burn small Christian churches, prayer halls and an orphanage that had housed 21 children.

The police said a woman’s body, charred beyond recognition, was found inside the church orphanage. The church’s pastor, whom the police did not identify and who was injured in the fire, told the authorities that the body was that of a nun working there. No children were injured.

The attack on the orphanage on Monday, in an isolated district called Bargarh, came after the killing Saturday of a Hindu leader who had been associated with the World Hindu Council, and who was leading a drive to wean local villagers from Christianity. Radical Hindu groups like the council are vehemently opposed to conversions to Christianity, which in India tend to focus on traditionally downtrodden lower-caste and indigenous groups, and have lately taken to conducting mass ceremonies to convert them back to Hinduism.

The Hindu leader who was killed, Laxmanananda Saraswati, was among five people slain by unidentified armed men who stormed a Hindu school in the nearby district of Kandhamal. The police blamed Maoist insurgents who prevail in the area. Mr. Saraswati’s followers, however, blamed Christians...

The Press Trust of India reported that Hindu activists, defying an official curfew in the area, paraded through the streets, attacking Christian churches and homes.

Fights broke out in Orissa last Christmas Eve, when one person was killed and churches and temples were damaged. In 1999, a Hindu mob burned an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two children while they slept inside their car. A Hindu has been sentenced to life imprisonment in their deaths. Eleven others who had been convicted were freed by an appeals court in 2005 because of insufficient evidence. Mr. Staines ran a hospital and clinics for leprosy patients.

I remember well the killing of Graham Staines, how the leprosy patients wept for him, and how his wife wanted to continue his work. Ms. Sengupta has not forgotten him. May the Lord continue to show forth his love for "the traditionally downtrodden lower-caste groups" (the Dalits, formerly known as the Untouchables) in India and everywhere, so that our faith might be known in the world for what it really is, not for ugly divisions and imperialist rhetoric.

Deepak Chopra knows?

Virginia Heffernan, a media reviewer for The New York Times, recently did a quick run-through of some of the newest self-help books. One of them is The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore, by Deepak Chopra. She describes the phenomenally best-selling Chopra as "a medical doctor and proponent of mind-body treatments [who] preaches with the authority of a healer, mystic and celebrity on virtually everything including love, sleep, weight, money, reincarnation, heaven, peace, yoga, desire, physics, addiction and success...."

She continues, "I don't really get The Third Jesus. Even its title is a head-scratcher. With the first Jesus still pretty hazy to most people, the idea of a third one--an arbitrary idea of goodness that might be wrested from Christianity--is not even an interesting mystery."

She quotes from Chopra: "One Jesus is historical, and we know next to nothing about him. Another Jesus is the one appropriated by Christianity. He was created by the Church to fulfil its agenda. The third Jesus, the one this book is about, is as yet so unknown that even the most devout Christians don't suspect that he exists."

And then she says, archly: "Let me guess: Chopra knows."

That's a good zinger, isn't it?

We need to be working overtime to combat this very widely disseminated idea (see The Da Vinci Code) that the Church made up its Lord to suit its "agenda." Is crucifixion an "agenda"? We need to say it every hour on the hour: there would be no Church if our crucified Lord had not been raised from the dead. Are we saying that? I don't think so, or Jesus Christ would not be "pretty hazy to most people."

Why is Deepak Chopra appearing at the National Cathedral in November?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Blind boy, living Lord

A powerful testimony was given on NPR this Saturday morning, one that only a blind African-American could get by with on that wonderful but relentlessly anti-theological radio station (by "anti-theological" I mean to include Krista Tippitt's program on religion, an exercise in anti-theology if ever there was one).

One of the "Blind Boys of Alabama" gospel group was asked by a rather smug interviewer how he felt about the fact that his audiences now were much more secular than they were when the group started 70 years ago. The "blind boy" (now in his 70s) said, so beautifully, that he just wanted to "put out seeds." He said that he was just putting seeds out there, and sometimes, he said, God touched people through the music of the group. He wanted to let people know "that Christ is alive, and that they can have hope in Him." What could be more "gospel" than that?

The "Christ is alive" message is largely missing from much of the Christian preaching and teaching we hear today in the mainline churches. Will Willimon writes:

"I simply do not understand how the current search for the 'historical Jesus,' at least as it is represented by the Jesus Seminar and its aftermath, is much of an advance...All attempts to reconstruct a 'life of Jesus,' or 'the essential Jesus,' or the 'real Jesus' tend to begin with an assumption...that Jesus is dead." (from Conversations with Karl Barth About Preaching, Abingdon Press, 2006, p. 45)