Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday in Kolkata

There is something about this place that has captured my heart differently than Delhi. Perhaps it is the pace - less big city. Perhaps it is the people. We've had far more time in close relationship with people here in less formal settings. And we've encountered family and friends of Sathi with which there was an immediate sense of hospitality. I find myself not just missing specific people like Matt, Brook, Emma and Paige, but also just missing a level of intimacy. At the same time, there are new bonds forming with people on the trip. In my conversation on Saturday with Sathi about community, he challenged my desire to sometimes be the introvert...how are we giving ourselves in community if we are not willing to share ourselves. I have to spend time with that. How do we love one another in ways that expand community while maintaining healthy boundaries and balance?

This morning I was met by a student named Manesha who took me to church with him. Students at Bishops College are assigned different churches each year during their 4 years of study. The church we attended was part of CNI (Church of North India), but was a Wesleyan church historically. The various Protestant reform denominations in India have merged to form a single denominational structure, Anglican in nature, while largely preserving some denominational character within each local congregation. Essentially, these churches chose to focus on their common call as the body of Christ rather than there differences. It feels in some way like the opposite of what is happening in the US, at least as it pertains to the United Methodist tensions and broader denominational differences, particularly around social issues like gay marriage. The worship followed a liturgy from CNI's book of worship. The entire service was in English. They used a 1954 printing of the 1933 Methodist Hymnal. A lay speaker preached a sermon on baptism...it was difficult to follow, but illustrated the cultural mixing of christianity, hindu culture and Indian history. The priest told me afterward that he was baptist, which made teaching on baptism complicated in the Wesleyan setting where infant baptism was the norm. After worship, the organist grabbed me, played the US National Anthem for me over the sound system in the sanctuary, and showed me the memorial plaque placed in the sanctuary by American GIs in gratitude for the opportunity to worship in the community during World War II. I enjoyed a cup of tea before heading to St. Paul's Cathedral for lunch with Manesha and the other students from Wesley and our Bishop's College hosts. The two priests serving the cathedral gave us a tour and then shared their "golden goose," a community hall that they lease for special events, significantly supplementing the congregations budget.

Lunch was "Indian Continental," cream of chicken soup, salad, braised chicken, rice, fried fish and custard. An interesting piece of colonial holdover, methinks. Neal and I sat with three male students from the college. When I asked about their favorite area of study, one shared his love for Old Testament. He's writing his thesis on deutero-Isaiah. Earlier in the week, Sathi had suggested that the Hebrew scripture was not particularly authoritative in the Indian-Christian context. Manesha agreed with Sathi's suggestion that the Veda probably carried more weight as the culture's foundational story. This society is so many millennia old - they have their own creation narrative. This has me thinking about our US culture. We are so young and we have in many ways adopted (co-opted?) the Judeo-Christian tradition in mainline Protestant and catholic Christianity. We lack in many ways a foundational narrative that links our society to our interpretation of the gospels. Maybe I am assuming too much by using "we" here, but I think it is largely true. This falls again into the category of things I want to rest with, explore and ponder. And as we enter a more global context, do we need a geographic cultural link? And do Native American Christians root their interpretation of the gospel in a Native American foundational story?

(This is one of those days when my head is swimming in these kinds of questions, and all of this is further complicated by typing this as the evening call to prayer is blaring from several nearby mosques in a dissonant, haunting way. Praise God.)

After lunch we had free time, and Megan, Laura Martin and I paired up with Rev. Fr. James Gomez to walk around Victoria Gardens. Sunday is e day most have off here and the park was teaming with families seeking green space. We had a couple hours of fantastic dialogue and cultural exchange. He asked about culture shock, and I was able to name my awareness of how different things are while at the time, much is the same.

Tonight is another dinner out in the town. Tomorrow is another full day.

God is good.

Namaste.

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