Monday, June 23, 2008

A new meaning for sorrow...

Only two short weeks before I am on the plane! To say that I am excited is an understatement. I ache to once again walk among the world's outcasts, the poorest of the poor. To sit at the feet of a revolutionary who is unafraid to take on one of the world's most deeply ingrained systems of oppression...

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotion. I helped teach the Intro to Poverty seminar, watched my friend Chris get married, wrapped up my year-long internship and spent almost five days in the suburbs of Baltimore interviewing for a position at Lifepoint Church. Add that to moving out of my apartment, packing for India and um... starting to grow a beard? ...I think you get how crazy everything is.

And somehow in the midst of it all (not exactly sure how I've pulled this off) I've been able to devour a couple of awesome books. One that is especially fascinating is Debrahmanising History by Braj Ranjan Mani. In it, Mani seeks to re-write Indian history from a non-upper caste perspective. It's mind-blowing.

One of the most intriguing chapters is focused on the socio-political implications of Buddhism. To my surprise, Buddhism actually speaks very strongly against social injustice, and was apparently opposed to the caste system from its inception! I guess I always thought it was only a religion for warrior monks who fight each other high in the mountains using the legendary "anxious lotus" style or something...

To give an example, I found this beautiful poem by Daya Pawar, who is writing about the Buddha not as a mystical god-like being, but as a compassionate hero. I hope that some day this can be said of me...

I see you
walking, talking,
breathing softly, healingly,
on the sorrow of the poor, the weak,
going from hut to hut
in the life-destroying darkness,
torch in hand,
giving the sorrow
that drains the blood
like a contagious disease
a new meaning.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Caste today, yesterday...

Well, I guess it's official. I'm leaving for India on July 8! Bought my tickets, bought my insurance... It's just a matter of waiting now.

I've been doing tons of reading about everything from ancient Indian history to Brahmanism to 15th century Indian poetry. Seriously, there is a pile of books on my coffee table.

As I've been reading about the Caste system and "untouchability," as it's called, I've been struck with the similarities between modern Indian society and the world of the New Testament writers. It's fascinating. There is a class of people that is not physically touched at all (Dalits/Lepers), there are deeply rooted stereotypes about entire sections of society (Shudras/Samaritans), and there is an educated elite that believes holy scripture gives them privilege (Brahmans/Pharisees).

Add that to the fact that many people where I'll be going have never even heard of Jesus and his teachings, and you can see why I'm so very curious. Imagine how the Sermon on the Mount would be received by the lower castes... "Blessed are the poor in spirit," "Blessed are the hungry," "Blessed are the meek..."

That was pretty revolutionary stuff back in its day. Maybe it should be still.

If you are interested in seeing a little bit of what I'm talking about, check out this short video. It's a segment from a longer documentary called "India: Untouched."