Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day is a big deal everywhere I go. It is not always celebrated on the same day, as many cultures traditionally celebrate according to the lunar calendar or at the beginning of a different season. In America we grown accustomed to the ball dropping at Times Square, fireworks, a toast, and Dick Clark. This revelry is matched throughout Southeast Asia. Every ethnic group takes pride in their grandiose celebrations of their New Year’s day. The Chinese decorate everything in red and gold and spend several days visiting friends and family, giving the kids red envelopes with crisp new bills in it and eating the culinary delights that only the Chinese imagination could have created. In the Philippines the firecrackers get so big they rattle the house (and, all too often, take off an appendage) and if one has a gun they point up and shoot. The noise level is unbelievable. The celebrations of New Year’s (Tet) in Vietnam must be similar, as it was the occasion for the Tet Offensive to occur unnoticed for too long during the Vietnam war.

In the American celebration of New Year’s, the most spiritual it gets is making New Year’s resolutions. But mostly it is a big party. I was talking to friend of ours in Indonesia who comes from a tribe that is predominately Christian. For his tribe, celebration of New Year’s is far more important than Christmas. Church worship services are an absolute must. When we told him that we don’t gather with our church on New Year’s day (unless it happens to fall on a Sunday), he was appalled. He asked about it a couple more times to make sure he understood correctly. Another year has passed in which much has happened, how can we not worship the author and sustainer of our lives?

When we think about cultural events such as New Year’s Day, we have a proclivity to do a surface comparison of the celebration. To us, it is just a big celebration and little more. Thus when we view other cultures we only look as far as the big celebration activities. But these celebrations often have a much deeper and meaningful side to it that goes unnoticed. Why do so many cultures bring out the most obnoxiously loud firecrackers for this occasion? Why do the Thais splash water on each other? The underlying answers take us deep into the worldviews of each culture. Of course, we don’t expect that because there is little spiritual significance to the ball dropping in New York or Dick Clark. It illustrates just how secularized we are in America, no matter our creed.

As followers of Jesus and children of the most high God, it would behoove us to resacralize these moments. I’m not suggesting that we create a ritual for the sake of having a ritual. Neither am I suggesting that we work up another service at church so we feel better about ourselves. It does seem appropriate, however, to have a moment where we reflect on the gracious activity of the Almighty during the passed year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Learning and Eating

There is a relatively new website ( that raises the consciousness of world hunger while helping improve our abysmal vocabulary. For every vocabulary word you guess correctly, you donate ten grains of rice. I know...that is a small amount of, tell others about it. And the cool thing is the vocabulary quiz adjusts the level of difficulty as you go along. Thus, it is a challenge for us all.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sadhu Sundar Singh: Follower of Jesus

Every once in a while, someone emerges from the vastness of our global-historical mosaic that stands out as one who really followed Jesus. One such person was Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1933?). Here are a few thoughts about the devout follower of Jesus inspired from reading his biography by Phyllis Thompson. Raised in both Sikh and Hindu spiritual practices, Sundar Singh was very hostile towards Christianity to the point of destroying a Bible. While still a teenager, on the verge of suicide, Sundar called on a sign from God. He describes the experience:

I remained till about half past four praying and waiting and expecting to see Krishna or Buddha, or some other Avatar of the Hindu religion; they appeared not, but a light was shining in the room. I opened the door to see where it came from, but all was dark outside. I returned inside, and the light increased in intensity and took the form of a globe of light above the ground, and in this light there appeared, not the form I expected, but the living Christ whom I had counted as dead. To all eternity I shall never forget his glorious and loving face, nor the few words which he spoke. ‘Why do you persecute me? See, I have died on the cross for you and for the whole world.’ These words were burned into my heart as by lightning, and I fell on the ground before him. My heart was filled with inexpressible joy and peace, and my whole life was entirely changed. (Sundar Singh, as quoted in Thompson, Sadhu Sundar Singh, 18)

The changes in his life were immediate and the repercussions were also immediate. Sundar was disowned by his family and community. After eventually finishing his schooling, Sundar took on the life of a Sadhu (holy man) traveling barefoot from village to village teaching about the way of Jesus. He chose not to ask for money or support, but relied on the grace of God through local villagers as he went along.

He knew, true son of India that he was, that in the saffron robe of the sadhu doors would be open to him that would otherwise be closed. He would not be qualified to preach in the churches but, clad in the robe of one who was known to have taken the path of renunciation, he could reach the villagers, the common people, even the high-caste women secluded in their zenanas. (Thompson, Sadhu Sundar Singh, 42)

He possessed a passion to proclaim Jesus to those who had never heard about him. This passion took him to the heart of Hindu India, to what is now Pakistan among Muslims, to the Buddhists of Tibet. Hunger was his constant companion and the travails of the Himalayas were ever-present. He was scorned, persecuted and even left for dead. While some of these events certainly scared Sundar deeply, he always clung to the deep joy of Jesus in his life.

Sundar was thoroughly Indian in thinking and culture. When he devoted himself to Jesus, he became immersed in the Scriptures. He avoided the westernization that characterized many Indian Christians. The institutions of Christianity did not know what to do with Sundar, yet there was a recognition that this man understood what it meant to follow Jesus in his own cultural context.

He was not perfect, nor did he pretend to be. But how is that there are a few people that really seem to capture what devotion to Jesus looks like? What is it about the rest of us that is holding us back? What are we holding on to?