elephant ride and religion

We rode an elephant.  All four of us climbed off the raised platform and onto the elephant’s back.  Holding tightly onto our seat, perched on the back of the massive elephant we took a ride around the gardens of Tapir Sultan’s palace. Pictures were taken.  It was definitely a tourist day.

One of our new friends organized the day for us.  He arranged a driver and van for us to use for the entire day.  Then he gave us our itinerary and for over 14 hours we toured India, driving through vast country side and visiting various tourists’ spots. Our guide-driver told stories, pointed out interesting sites and answered questions all day long.  It was an incredible day.

The country side is lush green and I was surprised to see that rice patties grow right next to plots of sugar cane fields. Coconut trees are ubiquitous. As we drove from Bangalore to Mysore we passed through villages and various settlements.  There are people everywhere and I am constantly in awe at how these millions of people eek out a living.  

The disparity between the rich and poor is more visible in this country; perhaps because the poor are so poor. The irony of touring an ornate and luxurious palace after having to pass through the lines of beggars and street vendors was not lost on me. The palace was beautiful and decorative – resplendent with a history of wealth and power.  Surrounding the palace were seven temples. This was the main impression I had from all our touring yesterday.  It was the reality of how religion seeps into every sphere of Indian life and culture.

Throughout our travels I have heard (a number of times) the following stats; 90% of the Indian population is Hindu; 5% is Muslim; 5% is Christian. Our guide gave us these same stats. Religion and spiritual fervor is everywhere.  We visited religious sites and temples, and at every point there were numerous devote worshipers. 

I’ve always been struck by the reality that humans are created to worship.  Throughout my life and over all my travels I’ve always noticed this fact.  In the ‘western world’ I see the religion of materialism and the worship of money and influence.  University is where knowledge and science is the god. In our own Canadian culture I would say entertainment (specifically sport) is the religion of choice.  Humanity is drawn to something to create significance that takes the focus and drive of worship and ambition.

Here in India worship is more obvious – flowers at the foot of statues, paint in the parting of their hair or on foreheads, lit alter candles and incense, calls to prayer, beating drums, specific garb and outfits that show their religious affiliation, consultation of the Zodiac signs for guidance, Muslim mosques and Hindu temples.

The main destination of our tour-day was the tour of Tapir Sultan’s palace. We had to take off our shoes and with headset’s firmly placed over our ears we shuffled through the palace being toured by the audio guide. A large portion of the tour through the palace was concentrated on the religious history and the stories of the Hindu gods.  The bulk of the ornate decor, either through sculpture or the paintings was thematic of the Hindu religion.

As I studied in the array of colors and decoration the audio voice pointed out the signs of the Zodiac that were painted on sheets of metal that spanned the entire palace ceiling. Once again it showed man’s need for significance and guidance from a source outside of themselves. Immediately God brought to my mind the verse from Ps. 37 that says: “I know the details of your life”.  This need for worship, significance and guidance is a fingerprint of God.  It is his mark on our human souls.  We search for Him.  We long to be noticed by Him.

Whether it be to appease a god or ask for favor the Indian culture is accustomed to looking beyond humanity for help.  Even the elephant holds religious significance.

The elephant ride was exciting and riding that massive amount of strength and power was an adrenaline rush.  Beside that elephant even the most strong and powerful man seems pathetic. Perhaps it is in moments, like riding an elephant, that we do get a true sense of how the world is ordered and the call for signficance and guidance beyond the material world is undeniable.

Image all that… while bouncing atop an elephant!

Advertisements

View from here

It’s early morning, and I’m waiting for the small hot water tank to warm up so I can shower before dressing for the day.  We have bathed on average 2 – 4 times a day and the ritual consists of pouring water over ourselves through various sequencing of pitchers and buckets.  Although the weather has been quite moderate for this time of year it is more humid and hotter than we are used to.  We are also interacting with people all day; from first thing in the morning to late at night our schedule this past week has been very full. As Will says: “All day I feel like a sticky human lollipop.”

This weekend we are staying on the third floor of an apartment complex that feels like it is in the heart of Bangalore.  I’m looking out our two-foot balcony onto a sprawling view of the homes around us.  All the roofs are flat and some used as terraces and some have their laundry strung out to dry. Water tanks are perched on most roof tops with protruding mazes of pipes and electrical wires. Staircases are everywhere and at all angles, reminding me of the “snakes and ladders” board game I played as a child.

Coconut and palm trees squeeze up between the mazes of homes and building and their green branches provide a nice contrast to the concrete that seems to cover every square foot of land. Looking across the roof tops, I can’t see the narrow side-streets that I know are strewn with garbage, rock piles and pot holes. A block away is an imposing Mosque with the green and white painted facade and a large set of loud speakers that calls its worshipers to prayer.

Early this morning, the sun shines through the smog that settles over the city and I can see people starting their day.  On the roof top right across the street a group of very young girls arrive with their heads covered by shawls and I see them settle into a classroom setting with all the chairs even spaced and facing the front.  Yesterday that same rooftop hosted a group of boys.

Looking out the various windows in our apartment, all I can see is buildings and structures.  The streets are lined with what looks like single wide garages. Each morning they roll up their garage doors and are transformed into shops of every type of merchandise and service.

But mostly, Bangalore seems full of people.  Everywhere. Service is incredible as our team leader jokes: “There are a million people just hanging around waiting to do something.”

Out my window I see a woman return to her home with a loaf of bread, and a parcel of food wrapped in newspaper.  It’s breakfast time.  Ours should arrive any moment.  It will be the same meal that we ordered yesterday: two “western omelet’s” which are more spicy than anything I’ve tasted in the west, a batch of toast with bread and jam and one traditional Indian breakfast meal. And of course, an insulated carafe of Indian style coffee.   Sounds like a good start to the day and a great view to be enjoyed….eh?

it’s a go

I think we’ve witnessed a miracle through a divine intervention.  The Indian Supreme Court has postponed the announcement of their ruling until Tuesday, Sept 28th.

Earlier in the week, an appeal for a postponement of the announcement had been denied.  Subsequently, the police had informed our hosts that this weekend’s Family Life conference had to be cancelled. Then, not even a day later, there was a surprise announcement that the ruling was being deferred to Tuesday and the conference was back on schedule. 

So today and tomorrow we will be part of a group of speakers that will be presenting to about 75 couples on various topics of marriage and parenting. It will present the new Intercultural FamilyLife manual called “A Weekend to Cherish”.

This past week we were at retreat center where we participated in an intensive 3 ½ day training session for family workers.  They were a committed group.  Session started at 7:00 a.m. and didn’t end before 9 or 10 p.m.  With only meals and tea breaks these couples worked tirelessly through the material that various educators presented. The sessions dealt with theology, counseling, administration and vision planning and public speaking.

Will and I taught three 1 ½ hour sessions on preparation and presentation of the FamilyLife manual and the pragmatics of speaking as a couple. Then, the couples had to prepare a 10 minute talk from the FL manual and present it for critique and evaluation.  I was humbled by the dedication of the couples and I was astounded by their speaking ability.  Speaking as a couple is a new concept in India and these men and women are breaking ground in their commitment to bring the message of Jesus Christ to their country of India.

This weekend Will and I will ‘practice what we preach’ as the participants will be joined by Bangalore couples attending this weekend’s conference.  Please pray for us as we are speaking into an Indian culture and context.  Also pray for the attendees as many of them are from various religions and many will be hearing the message of God’s offer of abundant life for the first time.

experiencing world politics

I’m feeling a touch of déjà vu.

Flashback to 2001 when our family took a four month sabbatical trip to Africa.  We had been planning the trip for 18 months, and everything was in place to go when we watched in horror as the planes crashed into the twin towers.  Ten days later we flew into New York enroute to Nigeria.

While in Nigeria we learned what is was like to watch CNN from a very different perspective.  In Canada world events always seem removed from our daily context.  We watch with interest and with some form of empathy but there is still a level of disconnect.  Being in Nigeria we felt first-hand the effects of the terrorist attacks and the tension between religious and political extremes.  It was more than just a ‘news flash’ when CNN announced that the US had started bombing Afghanistan. We were so obviously white in a Muslim dominated culture and we were drawn into the political implications purely because of the color of our skin. It was an eerie feeling to be so impacted by world politics; not just listening to the news but being in it.

That was nine years ago.  Today I experienced a similar feeling, albeit in lesser intensity.

The Indian government has declared this Friday and Saturday a national holiday. Children will not be going to school and although they may be happy about this, the implementation for the holiday is not for celebration. It is for the children’s protection.  On Friday the Supreme Court will be handing down a ruling in a case that has been before the courts for 15 years. The implications of their ruling and the subsequent reactions from the different groups involved have the country of India on edge.  The ruling has both political and religious context as the judgment is in response to a Muslim and Hindu clash.

Our hosts have been giving us a history lesson. In the 16th century the Moguls came down from the north and conquered India.  A large Hindu temple was destroyed and replaced by a Muslim mosque. Then in 1992 the Hindu’s tried to reclaim the site and they destroyed the mosque with the plans of rebuilding a Hindu temple.  There was a clash between the Muslim and Hindu groups.  The government moved and put a cap on the entire project.  It’s been before the courts ever since.

The Supreme Court will give its ruling on Friday. Riots are expected whichever way the ruling is decided. This concern is wide spread, as a young woman told me: “If there is violent reaction from the Muslims we are all at risk as you cannot tell if one is Hindu or Christian just by looking at them.”

Besides the obvious concern for their community’s and country’s well fare, our hosts are also asking for prayer because the timing of this ruling will also affect this weekend’s marriage and family conference. The city of Bangalore has put out a ban on any meetings of more than 5 people that they might be enforcing this weekend.  That would cancel the conference.  Our hosts are discouraged as they have been planning this weekend event for the past year. They have a full registration and are very hopeful for the impact that this conference will have on the participants. Even if large meetings are banned in this city, many of the Hindu couples have called expressing concern for their safety and wondering if they should attend the conference even if it is allowed to run.

Once again I feel that we are not merely watching international politics but actually being part of the tension that most of the world lives in.

jetlag

I know I’m stubborn but this is ridiculous. It is very early in the morning and I am wide awake… again.

I just heard the Muslim call to prayer so that means it is a half hour before sunrise and I’ve been awake for about an hour. My system is stubbornly resisting the change in schedule. I’m not particularly tired during the day but I wake up in the early hours of the morning.  Jetlag has definitely had its heyday with our family and we all felt its impact especially on the second day after our arrival.

Jetlag is a term to describe the adjustment a traveler makes to time-changes and their new environmental surroundings. India is 12 1/2 hours ahead of Canada so as you can imagine our schedules are completely out of whack. When our biological rhythm thinks it should be settling in for a night’s sleep our physical environment is telling us the day is only beginning.  Not only do you feel physically tired from rearranged sleep patterns, there is a psychological imbalance that occurs and it messes with your cognitive processing.

On Tuesday, after our first full day attending the training conference I was having a hard time putting thoughts together.  I didn’t feel particularly tired; I was just couldn’t think. Will reacted differently as he felt total body exhaustion and could have slept standing up.

I watched both Caslyn and Dawson go through classic signs of jetlag. Their schedule allowed them more time to sleep so although they weren’t necessarily sleep deprived; they felt out of sync psychologically.  Their emotional and reasoning functions were affected.  They both battled strong reactions to their new environment and as Dawson so succinctly described it; “I know that I should be excited to be here… I’m in India and this is an incredible experience… but I find irrational feelings of just wanting to go home”.

Our team leaders confirmed what we were all experiencing.  As Phil said: “Lorry and I don’t make any decisions or do any type of life evaluation during jetlag”.  Perception and reasoning skill are compromised.

There is a remedy for jetlag.  Like many of life’s problems, everything looks different the morning after a good night’s sleep.

Now… if only my stubborn system would allow me to have a good night’s sleep I might be able to recover some of my marbles.  I seem to have (temporarily) lost them.  It’s jetlag.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

first lesson learned in India

Caslyn and Dawson looked at each other through wide eyes and as they breathed a sigh of relief they exclaimed: “We survived”.

I opened the back of the van to let them out and I could see the adrenaline still coursing through their veins.  I had also been a bit unnerved as our host had careened us through narrow streets filled with peoples, dogs, bikes, motorbikes, trucks and auto rickshaws.  Driving in India is unlike anything I have every experienced in Canada or the US.  As our driver informed us, the lanes and road lines are merely street decorations. You drive where ever you fit, and other cars fit where ever they drive!

Out of courtesy so that the other drivers know where you are, you use the car horn. You honk when you come up beside them, you honk when you pass them and you honk when you want to be let in. The massive trucks carrying everything from milk to loads of straw have a bumper sticker that reads “Please sound horn”.  All vehicles eagerly and loudly oblige this request. Quite honestly, the car horns are so continuous I can’t help but wonder if the drivers actually hear each other.

Throughout most of our trip we were within two feet of another vehicle, and at times there were only inches to spare.  My sense of depth perception has never been great and as far as my eyes were telling my brain – there was just not enough space for our vehicle to get through. I closed my eyes on a number of occasions; I just didn’t need the stress.

It is mayhem of noise and traffic congestion and it all happens at a frantic pace. Yet there was no accident on this trip…thankfully.  Not even a fender bender which was very good – especially for Caslyn and Dawson

You see, I was sitting in the middle of the van.  More accurately, I was sitting in the middle of the seat which was in the middle of the van.  Dawson and Caslyn had been relegated to the back of the vehicle.  They were perched on two little seats that faced each other and their side shoulder was resting against the back window just above the van bumper.  Literally, all that was between them and the ensuing traffic was a couple of thin sheets of metal.  They experienced the ride of their life.

When we arrived back at our accommodations, safe and sound, I opened the hatchback for Caslyn and Dawson.  As they tumbled out of the ‘dickie’ (yup, that is what they call the seating in the trunk space) I could see their nervous energy. It was a mixture of terror with the exhilarating thrill of adventure.

First lesson learned in India – take the middle seat.

Birthday gift

Of all the months wherein this conference could have been arranged; of all the weeks of the year that we could fly to India to be a part of this conference; of all the days that we needed to set aside for travel; of all the 365 days available to book a flight to India – the day of departure was my birthday. And for me, it was a gift from my heavenly Father.

One of the most common issues I see women deal with is the belief that God knows them intimately.  Out of the billions of souls on this planet how is it that he knows me? How can the creator of the earth, the sustainer of the universe be concerned with my plight?  Am I even a blip on his radar?

I can’t explain it and I can’t even understand it, but I know with absolute certainty that God does know each of his children and he is keenly aware of each situation and circumstance.  The scriptures are full of assurances that back this up.  He knows our name.  He knows the details of our lives.  His thoughts about us are more numerous than the sands of the shore.  Jesus even made reference to the fact that he knows the number of hairs on our head.

That fact about hair? What totally insignificant and useless information.  And it is constantly changing. I don’t know about you, but I lose a ton of hair each day.  One of my husband’s pet peeves is when I forget to clean up the masses of hair tangles that I leave in the shower. I can’t believe how much hair I loose.  A good friend of mine was bald last year this time because of her chemotherapy treatments.  She told me that she couldn’t believe how much hair is actually attached to our scalp.

So what does his hair-count have to say about his knowledge of us? His knowledge of us is updated and accurate.  He knows what we are like each minute of each day.  And his love for us knows no bounds.

When we understand this truth we begin to live our lives the way that God intended our lives to be lived.  We live on a foundation of his grace, filled with confidence that is built on his love that surrounds and encloses us. And then… we start looking for his presence and his ‘messages’ to us through out each day. We learn to recognize when he reaches out to us. We learn to see that he is with us, enduring and celebrating life at each junction and in every moment.  His promises are true for each breath and each heartbeat. He is whispering “I will never leave you; I created you and I understand you.  I witness you each moment of your life.”

God put me together and just like every other human being –  I am a unique person.  Okay… I just heard my friend (with her head full of thick re-grown hair) say: “You unique? That’s an understatement.” Point taken.

God has created me with an adventurous spirit and a longing to experience his world.  A couple of years ago I had a long talk with God about this.  It was more of a rant that ended with hot tears followed by his peace.  Ever had one of those? I was bringing before him my desire for travel and adventure.  The conversation went like this: “You have created such a beautiful world and I have such a longing to see more of it.  I want to see different landscapes, taste food from countries that are foreign to me and meet people from the diversity of cultures represented in this world. I want to experience YOUR world.” Then I humbly asked him; “Lord, please do one of two things; either take these desires away, or else create ways so that I can see your world.”

On September 18th I celebrated a birthday.  As the perfect gift-giver God aligned the schedules so that I flew out to India with the assurance that he knows me; hair on my head, hearts desires and all!