Nastase doesn’t understand the nasty

Quite sad that Nastase said what he did. Kind of admired him as a tennis player. Great maverick. But what he said about Serena Williams is horrible. It was a comment based on race (clue is in the word chocolate) and creating a further crudity by mixing it with “milk”.

And for Nadia Comaneci to say that “people make mistakes” and that it doesn’t matter to Romanians underlines how blind and deaf, racist language can be.

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Our urge to protect the story

I’m not that into tennis. Not since Steffi Graf and Boris Becker anyway. But Maria Sharapova’s performance enhancer event fits into a pattern of many other such events.

The pattern is this. A famous person gets caught for doing something they shouldn’t. Famous person either denies it OR accepts the finding but says it’s a simple mistake or misinterpretation. From Sepp Blatter to Lance Armstrong and to now Sharapova there’s this strange air of innocence that is put forward. It is strange because I think the accused actually believe in their innocence. I’m not sure what the psychological terms are but we find it very difficult to actually come to terms with our ‘mistake.’

But there is yet more to this pattern. When the Sharapova event happened we had Navratilova saying it ‘seems like an honest mistake.’ Serena Williams, the greatest tennis player every in many ways said ‘she showed a lot of courage’. (That’s quite a nice thing to say but was it courage or just damage limitation?) So what this bit of the pattern shows is that when the powerful are found out their friends will inevitably publicly defend them.

A while back I posted how Lance Armstrong was defended by his friends all the way till the end. Further back I posted on Roman Polanski and how people like Whoopi Goldberg defended him. Now we can have our opinion and we are surely justified in holding on to friendships. But I think what is interesting is that the supportive celebrities feel the need to publicly state their allegiance.

It is that strange spirit of conforming allegiance that gathers everyone together in a shared myth of persecution. The church is no stranger to this. We have protected a lot of our abusers and downright nasty folk. Protecting the story seems to be a primal urge. One that needs to be broken.

‘You have heard it said… but I say to you…’, a sage once said. We need to break our stories.

A bit of Jesus

Yesterday, during the church service I spied my four year old, K2 standing at the communion table. She was looking intently at what our vicar was doing and I tried making eyes at her to move away from that. He was preparing the elements and performing the liturgy and as any parent I was worried that she would be ‘disturbing’ the process.

Turns out she had gone up and asked our vic whether she could help. And he said yes. And there she was getting her hands sanitised, walking along with our vicar while he gave the body of Christ to the people. She then helped him wash the cup and the plate.

I was incredibly moved. Obviously as a dad anything your cute little one does can be moving (sometimes even into a rage). I was moved by a few things.

First K2’s impulse to help and her confidence to go up.

Second the environment of our church which allowed her to have that confidence.

Third, our Vic who was very happy to have her there.

At a particularly cynical time for me it was a strangely ordinary beautfiul thing: a bit of Jesus, not just from the bread and wine but from the actions of a four year old girl and 60+ year old man.

Incarnation 3

The Incarnation asks questions of our privileging of the mind  and its activities, over the body. The young discipline of embodied cognition does a lot of research in how we seem to use our bodies in much deeper ways than we’ve been led to believe. The problems that AI and robotics face is from this over privileging of the mind over the body. Moravec’s paradox indicates that reasoning and thinking need far less computational resources than simple motor tasks of the body. Therefore there is something about the human body which is more than just simple mechanics. It could be argued that is how contemporary society over a variety of cultures views our body. A mechanical motor home for a disembodied ‘I’. The Incarnation seems to indicate otherwise.

Questions around ethnomusicology in worship

There’s an upcoming course on ethnomusicology at my old college. It provokes quite mixed feelings. And it has done so for a while.

Broadly I agree with the aims that are behind ethnomusicology in evangelical worship. The premises are relatively simple.

  1. People should be able to worship in their own language, music and culture.
  2. There are those who hold that for some reason western hymnody is somehow the standard for global Christian worship.
  3. There is a valid fear that the colonial notions around western cultural superiority are being propogated and assumed by vast number of churches.

To help the first point and  to mitigate the others there are some whole hearted and genuine efforts to make art forms that represent various cultural heritages and peoples.

I would like to say that this overall a good thing. But I feel that there are some problems that aren’t being addressed within this ‘movement.’ Or maybe they are and I’m just too obtuse to hear it . 🙂

1. It seems to be driven by the West.

A lot of the conversations about indigenisation in worship seem to be coming out of the West. Possibly this is because of a certain ‘feel’ for the post colonial conversations that have been going on since the 60s. It could also be the increased multi-cultural composition of many western cities that has forced the conversation.

The truth is that for many Christians they’ve grown up with a set of cultural norms that are with their church wherever it is in the world. Now a bunch of Westerners seem to be coming around and saying, ‘don’t sing our songs.’

Aradhna is a great band that makes great music. They sing Christian bhajans and travel the world leading worship. They are great people. But why is there no Indian band singing Christian bhajans and travelling the world?

2. The West don’t seem to be doing it.

This is a puzzle. There are so many beautiful folk songs in Western Europe that don’t seem to be sung in churches even through they are already Christian songs. This is my experience in the English churches. I hear the occasional folk instrument but I rarely hear many songs from the indigenous traditions of England.

3. There is a danger of essentialism

Growing up as an English speaking Indian is complex. This isn’t just an issue for Christians but for many generations of urban Indians. It is a question that the band Thermal and a Quarter (whom I was privileged to be part of) have struggled and grappled with. They are true blooded, lovers of India but the music they play is English and the genre is loosely Western rock. We all grew up with this feeling, that we were somehow not Indian enough. But the truth is we were Indian and this is who we were. And this if their consistent message, that their music and their manner doesn’t make them any less Indian.

When I reached London to study, there was an oft repeated question, ‘do you play the sitar?’ I managed to touch an old broken one, once. The truth is, I don’t really like Indian classical music. I have tried. Listened to hours of the stuff. It just doesn’t get me. But I somehow felt that it should.

This is a classic essentialist problem. Because I was Indian I had to like and possibly do music that was perceived to be Indian.

4. People can’t be defined by their community

Amartya Sen places this argument brilliantly in his must read book, ‘Identity and Violence‘. He posits that most human beings can’t be defined by their religious or communal identity. He goes on to say that it is actually dangerous to do so, citing his own experiences in pre-partition India and numerous other examples.

Identity is a fluid thing. More so today than a few centuries ago, but that is the reality. It is possible to find deep meaning in one form of experience and never have it again from that same form. As we grow and change within the changing world, our identity flexes and moves; it never remains static. So to tie identity to a so called culture, language or music is just that. Tying down. My fear is that ethnomusicology in worship is trying to find a ‘sweet spot’ that doesn’t exist.

These are my queries. Of course they are biased upon my own experiences and likes and dislikes. But I think they are valid. I think there needs to be a much deeper theological inquiry into what exactly is happening in the drive towards indigenity. The incarnation proves that the indigenous and the local is the manner in which Christ presents himself, but how do we achieve true indigenity in being the bearers of the good news of Christ?

Prochoice vs Prolife? I think I’m both

‘Dad, I’m pregnant,’ is one statement, that whatever the context, I’ll be very mixed about. If she’s in a loving mutual relationship, I’ll be elated, at the same realising that my daughter is going to be yet another step away as her family becomes a more self-contained unit.

The other extreme would be a violent rape. Where I’d be desperately trying to hold my broken child, angry and filled with self-loathing for not protecting my own.

But what if she says, ‘I don’t know whether to keep it.’ ?

This hypothetical situation is important. Because it is a possibility. Hopefully beyond remote yet a possibility. The recent death of a woman in Ireland and Mehdi Hasan’s article brought to the fore my need to possibly try and get to the bottom of where my beliefs are considering the rather complex question of abortion.

There are two camps here on the issue known by very loaded terms. Pro-life often associated with right-wingers who believe that the foetus must be protected at all costs and Pro-life often associated with left-wingers who believe it is the mother’s right to decide at all costs. Of course there are large cross overs and gradations for this. Any blog post on such a topic will be simplistic!

Both the names of the camps are misnomers. I think at the centre quite literally the question is : what is the nature and being of this biological event that’s happening within a woman? Some pro-lifers say that from the instance of conception that this is human life and therefore sacred. Some pro-choicers say that until this biological entity can survive on its own it is not a person of its own but part of the woman’s body and therefore under the full sway of the woman’s decisions.

Guess what? I have sympathy for both sides. I don’t think that just because an entity can’t survive or speak for itself means that it can be dealt with any way. At same time women so often have pregnancy forced on them through rape and coercion. Then in some cases a lifetime of resentment against what becomes a human being.

The question that I’d like to look at is what a person is. The thoughts of Zizioulas have been quite influential in how I at least think about what persons are. The essential rational I reckon for what a person is, is defined by her network of relationships that she has. Zizioulas defines these relationships primarily with the Trinitarian God to which I agree but I think it’s more than that. I think the network of human relationships is also key to what makes a person.

So my relationships with my family, friends, work colleagues all make me who I am. I don’t think there is any ‘real me’ or ‘real you’ stored in some metaphysical hard disk out there. As a Christian I believe that the relationship with God is a key part of realising my personhood.

So what of this biological thing in the womb? I remember my lecturer Max Turner saying that Jesus at his point of conception was loved by the Father and the Spirit and so it opens up a set questions around the issue of abortion. This is quite interesting. If at the point of conception this biological thing is loved does it become a person and therefore wrong to curtail its existence? Reflecting further upon this, the one thing that we didn’t discuss is Mary’s part in the conception of Jesus

It’s interesting that Mary doesn’t just find herself pregnant one day. An angel comes and gives her a long spiel. (Sorry Gabriel). But she’s sensible. She wants to know how, since she’s a virgin. She’s practical. The angel then explains. Mary then says let it be as God says. There is a strong sense that Mary needs to agree. Joseph isn’t told of this plan. He only hears of it afterwards. So I think in some sense Mary chooses to have Jesus. She knows it’s going to be hard. Yet she chooses it.

Then she concieves. I believe that it’s Mary’s choice that allows Jesus to be an incarnated person. The cell that is Christ is fully dependant upon Mary’s body, and fully loved by the Father and Spirit, but Mary too loves him. And I think it’s the mother’s choice that makes Christ a person in the incarnated sense.

So the question comes up if Jesus wasn’t loved by Mary does that make him a non person. I think it’s a bit nuanced. The initial cell which is the basis of the human is responding purely biological initially. But as it grows it starts realising that there is an environment out there. I think all this constitutes a person. So obviously when a foetus is older it’s no longer an unthinking, unfeeling bit of biology but on the path to becoming an individual.

So from this rather simplistic and shortened view I regard myself to have some pro-choice leanings. I’m definitely pro-life too. I believe that the biological thing has the potential to be a full person but I think in the very initial stages of conception there is an ambiguity as to when personhood begins. From Mary’s story I believe it is the mother who initially confers personhood on this bunch of cells and later as the cells grow other factors outside the mother contribute in the conferring of personhood.

So when the mother has been forced to concieve through rape, I think that this hateful encounter does allow her not to love this biological thing in her. And therefore for the initial ambiguous time that is not a person. Now defining this ambiguous time does bring us back to these arguments about 24 weeks and 20 weeks and so on.

There’s another story in the bible that informs me about what I think of abortion. Jesus’ ancestor David went through his most disgusting phase when he had sex with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (2 Sam 11,12). I think it is fair to classify this as coerced sex. A child was born from this but then died. The circumstance of conception meant that this child died. Yes I know it’s after the child is born and from my viewpoint already had some sort of personhood however, the circumstance in which the child started it’s biology was the reason why it couldn’t survive. So I think definitely in the case of rape I think that the hateful nature of the conception allows the mother to not confer personhood.

Later in 2 Sam 12:24 it says that David comforted Bathsheba and made love to her. (NIV) Now the circumstances have changed. From this event Solomon is born who becomes an iconic king.

So to sum up I think that I’m both prochoice and prolife. I believe that from the point of conception that that cell is a person if the mother has been a willing participant in the consumation. Of course there are lots of other issues around this which I haven’t touched but this is the simplistic version anyway.

So what if my daughter comes to me with that question? Well first I would like to hope that I could do everything for that question not to come up. That she could live safely and would have a sex life that’s responsible and mutual and faithful. This requires education, open conversations and of course more maturity for both boys and girls. But accidents do happen and if I still have to deal with this question then I would hope that there is a safe way and supportive way to manage my daughter’s choice. I will offer all my love and support whatever her decision. I would have hopefully spoken to her about it much earlier and she’ll know where I stand. I would hope that there would be good support from hospitals and doctors. I would also hope that there is much more open research into understanding what life means at this pre-natal level so that in the event of a horrible event or a mindless accident we can be supported and helped through a difficult decision.