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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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Art, profane and pure
  By Joshua John  
 
A STUFFED donkey lying on its side with an overturned cart greeted us as we entered the India Art Summit held in the Capital last week. The price for that installation? A cool Rs 21 lakh!

It seemed as though what qualified the dead ass as an 'artwork' was its price tag. Any cheaper and it would be frightful to most of the herbal tea drinking vegetarians who were gawking around.

Inside, the place was abuzz with everyone jostling to see and be seen. By the end of the third day, a whopping Rs 40 crore worth of sales had taken place and it was applauded as another victory for the cause of art in India.

Credible creativity should be celebrated and that could mean paying a price for it, but when the art frat finds the extremely bizarre and the absurd as the benchmark for true art, we cannot but question their insight.

Our current trends seem to dictate that for an artwork to be appreciated, it must be fundamentally incomprehensible and the more the illusion of mystery, the more the artist is glorified and his work worshiped. Any suggestions towards the contrary is labeled as 'conservative' and quickly dismissed as sentimental and simple.

When we believe that there is no divine creator who made us and gave us the gift of creativity, then we release ourselves from the responsibility that comes with our power to create and the long-term consequences for our actions.

We are obliged to merely gratify our flesh and thus neglect our soul. We begin to prefer whatever pleases us and reject what challenges or corrects us. Eventually, the artist throws together the profane and the pure onto their canvas or film without even knowing the difference between the two.

Left to our own devices, none of us is capable of completely differentiating the innumerable lies from the truth. Anyone -- artist or otherwise -- when independent from their Maker will begin to create selfishly, keeping paisa and publicity as their prime goal.

In the beginning, God celebrated and called whatever He created as "good". How much of our work can we really call 'good'? We can only bring out what we fill ourselves with and the reason why we get so much garbage in the name of 'art' and 'aesthetics' is because the creators themselves are feeding on lies and licentiousness.

A relationship with our Maker ensures that we do not abuse our abilities by creating trivial trash. He who 'fearfully and wonderfully' made us entrusts us with gifts to enhance our world...some receive the gift to generate wealth, some have the gift of writing, some cook, others sing or paint, some come alive when they lead their nation or serve the poor and needy, and so on.

He not only gives us these abilities, but because He loves us, He also allows us to choose how we use it; either to gratify ourselves or to glorify His name, either to poison people or to preserve what is good.

When our heart chooses to love and please God, only then will we be truly fulfilled and rewarded. Our reward will include being a blessing to others around us. So the next time we look at art or any form of creativity we should keep the following standard as the benchmark for what is good. "...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things."

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The writer is a painter, drummer, biker, documentary film producer and pastor.
 
   
   
Eyes wide open
  By James Chacko  
 
THEN Jesus told him, "I entered this world to render judgment-to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind."

Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, "Are you saying we're blind?"

"If you were blind, you wouldn't be guilty," Jesus replied. "But you remain guilty because you claim you can see. (John 9:39-41)

THE famous author, Helen Keller, was once asked if being blind was the worst thing imaginable. She replied that it wasn't half as bad as having full sight and not seeing anything.

The comment reflects the different sorts of sight we can have. There is the sight of being able to identify objects and read printed material. And there is the sight of discerning what is really going on in life. One is the product of functioning eyesight. The other is the product of wisdom and discernment.

Jesus, having healed a blind man, uses the healing to teach about another sort of sight. In this case, the discernment to see who he really was. The religious leaders had perfect 'sight' in the sense of their mastery of religious information.

However, they were utterly blind when it came to seeing the truth of who Jesus was and what he was saying. Hence they were accountable for their lack of discernment.

Merely having information at our fingertips, merely having expertise doesn't necessarily mean we discern what is really going on.

We help get such discernment by the usual spiritual exercises, including prayer and Bible reading and worship and silent solitude. These may not seem very exciting or seem to generate that much power.

All our spiritual exercises and disciplines can't, for example, make the sun rise each morning. What they can do is to ensure we are not asleep when it happens. No wonder Paul the Apostle prayed daily for his believers in Ephesus, “that the eyes of their understanding be open... that you may know the hope of His calling” (Ephesians 1: 18).

How this is accomplished and realized in our lives is made clear by the verse immediately preceding: "in the knowledge of Him." (Ephesians 1:17).

Our spiritual senses can be sharpened to such a degree that, while we cannot help but be affected by circumstances surrounding us, we can actually become all the better for them. This can come only from spending time with the Lord, for then we can see our circumstances through His eyes: "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened."

There is within us a capacity for vision beyond the natural eyesight. (Matthew 13:13-17; Luke 8:10) We must learn to see things as God sees them -- no longer from a shallow, human plateau but rather from the divine viewpoint. Doing so will touch every aspect of our lives. All that we see around us is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17) What we can see with the natural eye is not reality, but those things that remain unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18).
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James Chacko serves as the Senior Pastor of LifeBridge Worship Centre, Chandigarh and is pursuing a Ph.D. from the Centre for Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala.
 
   
   
The living dead
  By Joshua John  
  LAST week in Delhi, a young man aspiring to be a model ended up murdering his friend when she refused to give him money for his portfolio. The chilling brutality of it all makes one wonder how a mere 20-year old could end up valuing his mission over his trusting friend.

Is it an isolated case of madness or a reflection of the perverted world we now live in? It would be easy to shift blame by listing the possible culprits and move along to something less disturbing and more entertaining.

But the fact remains that this young man is an extreme product of a current trend that deliberately and aggressively trains us to be shortsighted and selfish. Telling us to dismiss the consequences on earth and the ones we face after death!

Having worked as a model coordinator at one point, I have met models who have gone to great lengths in order to secure a photo shoot or a ramp show. Some changed their names or added an alphabet or two for better luck. Others compromised their moral values so that a designer or photographer would favor them.

Many used the hard-earned money of their parents or siblings to get a portfolio made. And whatever they earned was usually spent on maintaining a façade of wealth and well-being. Branded clothes and accessories, party and club hopping; all for the sake of being 'spotted' and given the ultimate 'break' in Bollywood.

The fact is that such a drive for the limelight is not limited to the world of glam and media but across all careers. To be noticed and loved is a longing we are born with.

If you observe little children, they tend to thrive under approval. But an abusive and critical environment produces anger or fear or resentment within them. This need for acceptance manifests in their later years through performance or productivity.

For the young man now in jail, the good life meant being envied and seen as a model but he lacked the wisdom or the patience to get there. But more than that, he lacked a relationship with his Creator.

All people, regardless of background and age, are desperate to be noticed and known as someone special. Yet, unless they first unite with their maker and know Him, they are bound in the trap of comparison. Either inflating themselves or deflating themselves based on who is worse or better off than them.

And if they are not anchored in God and His reassuring love for them, they will easily be tossed about by the latest fashion trends or the status quo. Their security and identity would be limited to their job titles.

Jesus says "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" When we make the pursuit of pleasure, profit or profile the main purpose of our life, instead of a love-relationship with God, we are actually killing our soul. We become the living dead.

The living dead are those who have shelved the fundamental questions on life such as, who made me and for what purpose? Without answering those questions we will tolerate lies, adjust with hypocrisy and nurse a critical spirit.

We will pin our entire hope on our salary packages and retirement plans. And for those whom winning in the eyes of the camera epitomises success, for them lies, deception, theft, bribery or even murder will seem justified.

Yet Jesus reminds us to "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added onto you." God will not deprive us of the good desires He himself has placed within us just as a good parent will not give a stone to their child when he asks for food. But we must seek Him first above all other things.

Because a real relationship with our redeeming Saviour far outweighs anything we can imagine or the world can offer. And only in Him does our life make eternal sense.
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The writer is a painter, drummer, biker, documentary film producer and pastor.
 
   
   
When love is spurned
  By James Chacko  
 

I WAS reminded of Gladys Staines, the widow of Australian missionary Graham Staines, who was burnt alive along with their two sons Philip (9) and Timothy (7) in Orissa on January 22, 1999.

This happened when I read this portion in the Bible: "But as he (Jesus) came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. "How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation." (Luke 19: 41-44)

Shortly after the sentencing of the killers, Gladys issued a statement saying that she had forgiven them and had no bitterness towards them. She later said she would continue to look after the people she and her husband had been taking care of. In 2005, she was awarded the Padma Shri, a civilian award from the Government of India, for her contribution in helping leprosy patients in Orissa.

The Bible talks about a love that is more than sexual, emotional or brotherly. It is a love that surpasses all and that is divine (agape). To choose to love this way is to choose to have your heart broken. True love is not at all a romantic, playing-it-safe phenomenon. It is taking the risk of caring for someone and perhaps having that someone wound you or even refusing that care.

When we love, we want the best for someone, and if that someone willfully chooses what is bad for them, we cannot be unmoved. If that loved one experiences suffering of any sort, we can't help but feel for them. The only way to avoid such pain is to avoid love. The only way we can avoid heartbreak is to so harden our hearts, so that they are impervious to such wounding.

We can be glad God didn't choose to play safe. Such was his heart for us that he chose to break it in order to bring us home to Himself. Jesus shows us this is so in that the Bible says, "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us." Jesus was no unfeeling divine agency who uttered abstract truths and sailed far above the fluctuations of human life. He experienced it fully, including the inevitable heartache that comes from those you love choosing to spurn it. In this case, it was the people of Jerusalem who turned their back on salvation and thus became ripe for destruction.

Thank God for the Gladys who display so well the truth of Christ's love to a world that is so full of hatred and envy. If we are to follow Jesus, we will travel that way of love, because we realize that the alternative is a hard-hearted insularity that is foreign to the heart of God. In other words, we choose a life of love and in so doing choose to have our hearts both warmed and wounded.
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Rev. James Chacko, senior pastor of LifeBridge Worship Centre in Chandigarh, is pursuing Ph.D. in theology from the Centre for Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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