Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Picture perfect - trip to Rangmaw

On Sunday, I had to speak at a youth retreat in Rangmaw, which is about 3 hours away from Shillong. It was yet another opportunity to witness the wonder of creation, especially as this is probably the best time to travel in Meghalaya. Everything is green, the rivers, streams and waterfalls are full and the weather is perfect. Unfortunately, Murphy's law worked against me (again!!) and the battery of my camera failed after just a few shots. It was rather depressing, especially as I had planned to charge it the night before, but didn't!! Here are a few samples of what I saw - many more have been captured only on my mind's eye.....





Linkorama 31/8/10

SHOULD WE BOYCOTT THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES: I have been planning a post on the CWG for some time now, but have not had sufficient time for the research required. Suffice to say, that just like many of the sensible Indian minds out there, I have been bleeding over the terrible wastage of money and the blatant corruption that have sullied what could have been something really special. The idea of holding a games of this magnitude itself was questionable considering the circumstances of the average Indian and with all that has transpired, it is now clear to all that it was a big mistake. But what can we do about it short of marching on the capital and demanding justice (which as normal educated Indians we will never do!!). The Sunday Times had a suggestion by Chetan Bhagat (aka Rancho!!). His idea is for us, the common people to boycott the games - not attend them, buy no merchandise, not even watch them on TV. Our leaders hide behind the excuse of patriotism, but if we continue to let them get away with this level of daylight robbery, we are like the wife who allows her husband to beat her again and again, suffering in silence for the sake of preserving the family honour. I really hope I can get sometime to read more on all this tamasha, but for the time being, I agree with Mr. Bhagat. And I will not be watching the Commonwealth Games this year (easy to say as we don't have a TV!!)

FLOODS IN PAKISTAN: Another topic that I have really wanted to read more about, but have not found time. We remember the poor people who have been so badly affected - 1600 killed and 1.6 million others left without food, shelter or medicines, according to this article. Let us pray that even as the difficult terrain and the lack of government infrastructure delay aid efforts, God will take care of His people and give them comfort at this terrible time.

ADOPTION OF EVERY CHILD IN COLORADO: Project 1.27 is an organisation whose mission to make sure that every child who is legally free for adoption in the state of Colorado, USA finds parents. As Amy and I think and research more and more on this topic, you may find a few more links like this. Stay tuned...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SONG WITH A DIFFERENCE: This birthday song (that someone sent for Amy's birthday) talks about stuff we usually tend to push under the carpet on birthdays!! You gotta watch this clip - I though of quoting a few lines, but then I would've had to quote the whole thing - it's hilarious!!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Linkorama 30/8/10

INDIAN WOMBS FOR RENT: The medical tourism industry has been in the news for all the wrong reasons thanks to the 'superbug' controversy. This may or may not change things as we know them. However, in the area of surrogate motherhood, it is likely that India will continue to be one of the world leaders, not just because of the low costs ($22,000 versus $100,000 in the west) but also because of lax laws that allow just about anyone to have a baby. 'Same-sex couples, single parents and even busy women who just don't have time to give birth are welcomed by doctors.'

INCONGRUOUS?: Is it possible to have a thing of beauty actually diminish the aesthetic environment of a place. This house certainly attempts to do that! (HT: Pure Church)
Swedish town house

Swedish town house

Swedish town house

DOES DRIVING CAUSE OBESITY: People are significantly more obese in countries where car use is more common. However, as all you epidemiologists out there would be quick to point out, proving causation would be difficult. A new study is adding weight to the observation. It shows that people who used a recently constructed light rail system in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA were 81% less likely to become obese and also reduced their Body Mass Index. (HT. Freakonomics)

BEWARE OF MEDICAL INSURANCE: The recent Outlook magazine had a cover story on medical insurance which was rather revealing. There is a high degree of commission and omission on both the side of the insurer as well as the customer as this article shows. Here is a good article that gives some valuable advice to those planning for medical insurance. It seems too much for me to handle, so I guess I'll just go with faith and prayer!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Linkorama 28/8/10

BARTHOLOMEW IN INDIA: We all know that Thomas the Apostle had come to India and been martyred here. But did you know that he was not the only apostle to reach the fair shores of our country? This post tells the story of the martyrdom of 9 of the 12 apostles. The 2 not mentioned, James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus were also martyred, James in Egypt and Thaddeus in Lebanon. I learnt for the first time that Bartholomew (Nathaniel) had come to India and had spent some time in the Konkan region near Bombay. He left behind a translated copy of the Gospel of Matthew when he left for Armenia where he was martyred. We remember with gratitude the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and pray that we too may be faithful, as they were.

OFFICE ON WHEELS: The new age of communication on the move is here. The Brabus iBusiness from Mercedes is now a reality after many artists' depictions have simulated something like this in the past. 'Each car comes packed to the gills with outstanding multimedia capabilities, including two iPads in the rear seats with matching Bluetooth keyboards for each. The iPads are capable of controlling every aspect of the S600′s COMAND system, including the radio, navigation system and telephone, in addition to BRABUS’ own custom multimedia functions. Don’t think you’ll be limited to offline or 3G use, either, because the car boasts its own wireless internet via UMTS and HSDPA connections. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a Mac mini in the back seat that uses a drop-down 15.2-inch TFT display, Magic Mouse and USB 2.0 ports accessible to both passengers for real computing power. Finally, because you wouldn’t want to use iTunes on the Mac mini or the iPod apps on your two iPads, there’s a 64GB iPod touch in the center console that also controls the whole shebang using a custom BRABUS iOS application.' There are more pictures here. (HT: Pure Church)

THE ULTIMATE TRAFFIC JAM: Being in Shillong, we have got used to the reality of regular traffic jams. As most of the roads barely fit 2 cars, any breakdown, accident and most often a wrongly parked car can cause a huge hold up. But here is the story of a traffic jam in China that lasted 9 DAYS!! I'm never going to complain again!! (HT: Freakonomics)

SAND ANIMATOR: Amy showed me this movie of a sand animator (have you heard of that before) that is doing the rounds on the internet. Kseniya Simonova started drawing in sand once her business collapsed during the recession and came to fame by winning the 'Ukraine's got Talent' show. The story in the sand is of World War II where 5-8 million Ukrainians lost their lives. A detailed explanation with translation of the songs and words is here. In brief, the story is of a woman whose husband goes off to war. She stays behind taking care of her baby and is happy when she receives his letters from the front. Then she receives a letter saying he is dead or missing in action and grows old as a widow. Her face transforms into a war memorial shaped like an obelisk as Ukraine begins to rebuild. The final scene is of a woman looking out of a window with her child and a soldier outside. There are different opinions as to the ending. Is it a flashback reminding her of her husband and all those who died at war. Or is it a glance into the future where she sees her son who reminds her of her husband and who may suffer the same fate as our race has not learnt yet how to live together in harmony. The words she writes at the end that translate as 'You are always near to us' do not really clarify. Watch it and decide.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Nohkalikai Falls, Cherrapunji - world's fourth highest falls?

I had planned to spend this week describing some of the beauty of Cherrapunji, but there were so many other things that came up and now it's Friday!! So let me begin by describing the best known of Sohra's many, many waterfalls. Nohkalikai Falls hold pride of place among Meghalaya's beauty spots not only for its magnificence, but also for the story associated with it. The story is rather gruesome and I will desist from going into all the gory details (though Amy loves to gross out all our guests with them!!). The complete saga (for those of strong stomach!!) is here. It is said that a widow called Ka Likai who lived in a village upstream from the falls had a daughter whom she loved very much. (I guess every woman loves her daughter very much, but I had to put that in to preserve the good traditions of all fairy tales....) One day Ka Likai remarried, but her new husband was jealous of her love for her daughter. One day, when she had gone to work, he killed the daughter. When Ka Likai returned, she was filled with grief and running to the falls threw herself down to her death. 'Noh' in Khasi means jump and the falls were called Nohkalikai in remembrance of her.

The heaviest flow is towards the end of the rainy season (obviously!!) which is around August - about the best time to visit Meghalaya. During this season, there are a number of companion waterfalls making their dramatic leaps off the escarpment The falls nearly dry up by the early spring as there is hardly any rainfall during the winter. However, even when nearly dry, the rock formations and the beautiful bluish-green pool below make sure it remains a place of enthralling beauty. There are steps that take you nearly to the bottom and the adventurous can take the footpath that leads from the bottom of the stairs right down to the pool. Personally, being a man of foresight, I have never ventured down the stairs even, as my mind always goes straight to the thought of the climb back up and suppresses any residual adventurous spirit. I am quite happy to revel in the magnificence of the scene from afar. (However, I have it from reliable sources, that it is worth the effort.) This is usually the second-last stop on our Sohra tour - giving us some time to take in the scene in its entirety. Spending even a short time gazing at this beauty cannot fail to make the heart sing 'How great Thou art....'


Near the viewing point is an interesting sign which claims that this is the fourth highest waterfall in the world.

At first I was really excited to add this to the list of reasons to visit Meghalaya, but subsequent research has brought me to the conclusion that this is probably not completely true. I searched high and low for some technicality which would make this plausible (like longest uninterrupted drop), but in vain. It is however, the highest waterfall in Meghalaya and the fourth highest in India, so maybe the mistake is just a typo! Anyway, as it is unlikely that I will ever see the Angel Falls (the world's highest waterfall), I am quite content to enjoy the Nohkalikai Falls and thank God for all His wonderful works that bless our lives time and time again.

Linkorama 27/8/10

TRANSPLANT TRAGEDY: This article tells the terrible story of the death of Ryan Arnold following the donation of part of his to his brother Chad, who had irreversible liver failure. Having been senior registrar on the transplant team at Vellore for a few months, assisting on 2 cadaver transplants and 1 live donor transplant, I have gone through the whole gamut of emotions that accompany this procedure - the severe tension that precedes it, the sleepless nights that follow it and the extremes of emotion at success or failure. This is a blog post by a cousin of the brothers and this is Chad's blog which he started following the tragedy. Let us remember his Ryan's wife, Shannon and their 3 children in prayer.

I FOUND FREEDOM IN PRISON: The inspiring story of Christian Hosoi, arguably the world's greatest skateboarder, whose hedonistic and destructive life style took an about turn when he came to God in prison. Now a pastor, he tells how he came from prison to freedom when he went into prison from 'freedom'. (HT: Burk)


ANOTHER TECHNOLOGY FALLOUT: This Washington Post article tells how children often spend long hours in the night with their cellphones, iPods and video games depriving them as well as their parents of sleep! (HT:Challies)

THE ROGER FEDERER TRICK SHOT: Here is the Gillette ad that has been in the news for a few months. (HT:Z)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Remembering Mother

Mother Teresa in India
The country and the world celebrates today the birth centenary of one of the great women of our times. Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, a little Albanian teacher redefined the meaning of love and service for half a century as she ministered to the destitute as Mother Teresa. Her life was a living description of a true child of God and we, those who witnessed from afar have been blessed for her presence in our times.

She left home and came to India at the age of 19 and never saw her mother and sister again. She taught in the Loreto convent in Calcutta and I feel a tinge of envy for the many students whose privilege it was to have been taught by her. Her years of teaching were not fully cloistered and the extreme poverty of Calcutta, worsened by the Bengal famine of 1943 and the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1946, made a deep impression on her. On 10th September 1946, she heard the call of God to leave the convent and help the poor by living among them. And in 1948, she left the convent, replaced her nun's habit for the white sari with the blue border which we have all become so familiar with and ventured into the slums. The rest of her life was spent with the poor - tending to their illnesses, bandaging their wounds, sharing their pain. The world looked on and appreciated her - she was doing what we could not. She was showing that it was possible to love the unloveable. She was taking the Lord at His word and treating every person rich or poor, healthy or diseased, prosperous or destitute as she would her Saviour.

It could not have been easy. Here is what she wrote in her diary during those initial days when she had no money and sometimes had to resort to begging for her food. 'Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then the comfort of Loreto came to tempt me. 'You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,' the Tempter kept on saying ... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.'

There are very few who have trusted and loved their God so much that at moment of discouragement, loneliness and hunger, she did not despair and turn back. It is their lives that inspire us. Many who have passed unsung and unheralded. And few like Mother, whose story is told and retold. Whose example lights up the narrow way for those of us who are stumbling along behind. And Mother's story will always serve as a reminder of God's blessing to those who remain faithful. The story of an order that begun with one woman's sacrifical love in the slums of Calcutta and now involves approximately 450 brothers and 5,000 nuns worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 133 countries. The story of the Missionaries of Charity whose vow on joining the order is to give 'wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor'.

My favourite story of Mother is one where a journalist asked her about the long hours that she was known to spend in prayer. "What do you say to God," he asked. She replied, "I listen." Slightly taken aback, but (rather like the rich young ruler in Mathew) wanting to go on with the discussion/argument, he then asked, "And what does He say?" "He listens," was her reply..... I leave you with a few of her words that reveal a glimpse of her heart.
  • Do ordinary things with extraordinary love
  • Holiness is not the luxury of a few, it is a simple duty, for you and for me.
  • Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.
  • Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.
  • Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.
  • I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.
  • I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.
  • I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.
  • I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
  • I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?
  • If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
  • If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
  • In this life we can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.
  • Intense love does not measure, it just gives.
  • It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
  • Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
  • The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it.
  • We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
Rest in peace, Mother, until we meet in Heaven. We thank you for your life and example. Our generation may not see your ilk again.

Linkorama 26/8/10

The Facebook fast was not as easy as I though it would be!! But I survived!! Missed my blog time though - Hope some of you did too!! Here is today's smörgåsbord!

CHURCH SUES OIL COMPANY FOR COMPENSATION: This news report tells of a church in the U.S. that was affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill - the deep sea oil rig explosion that has led to the largest marine oil spill in history. The pastor claims that since the fishing community he ministers to was deeply affected financially by the spill, the monthly collections have drastically dropped. He claims that after last years recession, the church will not be able to survive this 'double whammy'. So he has sued BP, the British oil company responsible for the disaster claiming compensation for the lost tithes!! Well, fancy that!! (HT: TC)

WORSHIP APARTHEID: In this post, a pastor tells the story of the decision his church made to unite their Sunday services. They had previously had one service with contemporary worship music and the other with a more traditional style to cater to the different groups of members. But there was a realisation that this was actually a form of segregation and there could be no difference of opinion based on the worship that the gospel could not bridge. And so, the 2 services were merged with incorporation of both styles of worship into the service. Interesting concept - wonder what it will do to the membership!!

LORD SHOW ME SOME LIGHTNING: Every Christian's dream come true - instant answer to prayer. Watch this!! (HT:Z)

HOW SERIOUSLY DO WE TAKE OUR FAITH: A few pictures that question the sincerity with which we approach our God. For enjoyment as well as reflection... (HT: JNNPR)







Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Linkorama 24/8/10

FREEDOM FIRM: Today I learnt the shocking news that an estimated 300,000 minor girls in our country are in sexual slavery. Freedom firm is an organisation that is attempting to end this scourge by rescuing the girls, restoring them to normal life to prevent them from returning to the brothel and seeking justice for their captors so that they are prevented from repeating their crimes. It is a moving story described briefly in this short film. (HT: Eichers)

Freedom Firm from Freedom Firm on Vimeo.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE MINISTRIES: Pro-life author Randy Alcorn tells the inspiring story of how he left his his job as a pastor and founded EPM. Being unwilling to take a shortcut and compromise caused personal difficulties at the time but was the right thing to do from an eternal perspective. (HT: Challies)

U.S. EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH FUNDING BLOCKED FOR NOW: On the same pro-life note, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction blocking government funding for embryonic stem cell research. There is rejoicing or criticism depending on which side of the debate people are on. Just to make it clear - embryonic stem cell research is still legal and continues - funded privately or by state governments in the US. In India, embryonic stem cell research does not face the government or ethical (read Christian) opposition that it faces in the west and Forbes predicts that the way this is being 'aggressively' researched, India could become the world leaders in stem cell research. I strongly support adult stem cell research, but believe embryonic stem cell research is a crime. Sorry to be so harsh, but lets face facts - however well it is justified, ending (or gravely endangering) one life in the hope of saving another does not seem to be morally justifiable to me. Of course, the next phase of research has already come in with the 'creation' of human embryos cloned from single adult cells in 2008. I will say no more for now.

BRITAINS OLDEST WORKER: At the other end of the circle of life, Buster Martin, who claims to be 103 years old, retired at 97 but went back to work as he felt 'bored' and continues working two jobs till date. Among his many claims to fame is his famous London Marathon run for charity at the age of 101. And I start huffing and puffing halfway through my 5 minute walk to the hospital! In this video, he tells us how he did it. Obviously, his regimen is not for me!! (HT: Buzzard)




CHURCH OR CALL CENTRE: This post explains why it is better to work at a call centre than to be a pastor. A bit of humour to get you through tomorrows technology fast!!

My role in Indian corruption

Today the long tentacles of corruption entered my comfort zone. We had gone down to Guwahati to meet the regional passport officer. We had been told when we applied for the renewal of Amy's passport that as we had all the documents, there would be no problem. But, unfortunately, it was not so. As Amy was born in Bahrain and her last passport was issued in Dubai, the passport officer in Guwahati decided that he needed to see this person for himself before he could sanction the passport. Amy says it was to make sure she was not a terrorist!!

Our 'agent', who has now become a good friend, very kindly came down to Guwahati with us. She is a retired government official, who helps people with passport application as she has a friend in the passport office. While we were waiting for Amy to come out of her meeting with the officer, she suddenly dropped a bombshell during routine conversation - that she was giving some money to the person she knew in the office to smooth things along.

So here I was on the horns of a dilemma - every instinct in me wanted to walk out then and there, but I knew that doing so would embarrass this very kind lady and the close friend who had introduced us. I also had to accept that in my subconscious mind, I had certainly considered the possibility that part of the fee that I had paid for the passport would be going somewhere I did not want to know about. I had just not wanted to know - if I had been truly righteous I would have made things plain right at the start. And of course, there was the fact that walking out now would probably jinx any chance we had of getting the passport through this office. And here was this sweet lady who was feeling bad for upsetting me and explaining that it was nothing much, just a gift, the 'normal' system of things and other platitudes.

And then it struck me - any of us who have got some official work done through an agent - passport, licence, visa, PAN card, registration - have all possibly become part of the corruption racket of our country, albeit unknowingly. Of course, I do concede that there surely must be agents who desist from greasing palms, but I have a feeling they must be few and far between, as their job will be almost impossible.

For this is the system. Were it not for the 'friend' inside, we may have had to stand in interminable queues for many hours over many days only to find at the end that our application had been rejected. There have been times before that I have been confronted with such situations. Mainly when travelling unreserved as I did a lot in the 'good old days' before my post-graduation. Then it was easy to cock a snoot at the ticket collector who wanted money to give me a berth and walk off to the unreserved compartment. And most times, the TT would think I did not have the money (I must have been a scruffy traveler!!) and offer to reduce the price!!

Another memory is of my first application for a PAN card. It happened during my time in Jharkhand when the government decreed that all of us needed to have one. An agent came to the hospital and told us there were 2 streams of application - normal, which cost `100 and fast-track which was `500 (not too sure about the figures, but you get the picture). So all of us paid for the fast-track stream and felt good about ourselves. But being in Jharkhand for nearly 2 years had made me a trifle paranoid about such things and just before he left the hospital, I ran after him and asked him what exactly the fast-track meant. Then he laughed and told me that it basically meant that the extra money went to the officials to make sure the card was issued. So I told him to put me on the normal track. He too was surprised and told me that if I did that, he could not guarantee if and when the card would come. I said I would take my chances. He was right. The card never came. Later, when I was back in Vellore, I applied again through the auspices of CMC and got my card. And somewhere in the Income Tax offices of Ranchi, my application gathers dust. Or (as I hope) it was thrown in the basket a long time ago - if another card suddenly arrives, I may be in trouble!!

Today, I could not be so upright. Respect for our kind friend prevented it. As well as, I guess, some dampening of the idealism of youth. When Amy came out, we quietly came home (after a sumptuous lunch, courtesy of our friend). I can hear the idealists among you sharpen your swords. I have betrayed all that I stood for, you say. That is possible. I may have erred. And my excuse of not knowing about it before does not really hold water. I just did not want to know. I wanted the easy way out with no strain on the conscience. I know there is no easy answer to this question. If I use an agent again should I ask right in the beginning what my money will be used for. Should I spend 2 or 3 days (probably many more) to drive down to Guwahati and stand in a queue the whole day. It is a question all of us need to have answered in our own minds - where do we draw our line. For as long as there are people willing to pay, corruption will never caese.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Linkorama 23/8/10

WHEN IS ABORTION JUSTIFIED? Here is a good article on why aborting children diagnosed prenatally to have genetic diseases is not Biblical. I quote, 'We do not get to decide if this is what we want. God gives life and we are to accept it as the treasure it is, whether that life is normal or marked by disability.' Having had these discussions over the dinner table in hostel, I always found (to my huge surprise) that I was usually the only one who believed that abortion is not justified in any situation except when the mothers life is at stake (which happens so rarely as to be negligible). Even some of my Christian friends did not agree with me and in fact, considered me cruel and insensitive. I guess things are clear to me as this issue was always a part of my life and discussions at home as my father's first book was on the topic - Let Me Live.

SHADOWING DR. JESUS: An insight-filled meditation on doing rounds with our Saviour by Andi and Sheba Eicher on the EMFI blog. A thought which struck me (describing the actions of Peter's mother-in-law after she was healed), 'But the healing process is not just an absence of a pathogen or the elimination of a root etiology. Healing means wholeness - and what does the person do after the illness? In the case of Simon's mother, she was able to joyfully serve - immediately! How wonderful to see a person bursting with health - health not just enjoyed by the now-well-person, but channelled into serving others. Our work of healing is to help the dear people we serve... themselves in turn serve others! And what better person to serve - than the Master Himself?'

GLORIFYING GOD IN OUR MOVIE-WATCHING: Thoughts from Pastor John Piper on whether enjoying arts, movies and culture can be God-honouring. The conclusion - 'I just think we need to test our hearts big time. Big time. Why are we able to enjoy hell bound, God ignoring, Christ dishonoring, false world views because we can give it a little twist at the end that it taught us this or that about the world? So, I think the main thing I'm saying there is, test your heart as to whether entertainment is defaulting to the world, or to something more wholesome. We live in an age where we tend to default to the world for entertainment.'

MODERN COUNSELLING: Enjoy this spoof of our present-day monetary and time-based counselling practices and read this article for a Christian comment on it.

Facebook Fast

The pastors of a church in America have encouraged their congregation to take
a day off from technology on the 25th of this month- a Facebook fast as it were.(HT: IM) They suggest that we all take a day's break from the technological wonders that are so deeply interwoven with our lives - cell phones, laptops, iPads - and refrain from texting, emailing, tweeting or even chatting on Facebook. And we spend the extra time that we suddenly have on our hands 'intentionally getting face-to-face with our relationships'. Some of the practical suggestions they have are
  • Write a handwritten letter or card and mail it.
  • Meet up with a friend for a face-to-face conversation over coffee.
  • Make a visit to someone in the hospital.
  • Try an act of kindness like visiting a neighbor you’ve never met to get acquainted, take a meal to a shut-in or take some homemade cookies to your local fire or police station. Be creative and have fun with it.
  • Plan a family dinner night without the TV on and all other electronic communication devices off.
The movement (as do so many good and bad things these days) is spreading rapidly through the millions of communication networks that run our world today. It is a refreshing idea to remind us all that the impersonal world of Facebook, Youtube and blogs can sometimes make us insensitive to the people around us. It is so much easier to write this stuff on a blog post than to actually talk about it with someone - that itself is an indication of the rot that is setting in. The rapid progress of technology in the last 2 decades combined with the amazing outlets for creativity and communication have totally changed the way we look at things. Living online is becoming more and more of a reality than just the possibility it was some years ago. The idol of communication as Tim Challies puts it, has subtly taken pride of place in our consciousness. And not only has the internet made us more impersonal with our family and friends (the offline kind!!), but it has also given us one more distraction from our primary purpose on earth - to serve and worship our God. To put things in perspective here are some interesting facts from Facebook statistics

THERE ARE MORE THAN 500 MILLION ACTIVE USERS OF FACEBOOK. That makes them fifth largest country in the world in terms of population after China, India, the US and Indonesia. That also makes them fourth in terms of numbers after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism (though of course you could belong to Facebook and a religion as well). It is interesting to note that people who do not profess to any religious affiliation (ie atheists, agnostics, secularists, etc.) have recently overtaken the number of Hindus and their number is fast growing. Though there are more 'Christians' than Facebook users, I have a sinking feeling that if we count only the 'daily (or even alternate day) Bible readers', the number may be embarrassingly small - hope I'm wrong.

50% OF USERS COME ONLINE DAILY AND THE AVERAGE USER SPENDS 55 MINUTES A DAY ON THE SITE. 35 million users update their profiles every day and some do it more than once. Data from 1997 showed that regular Bible readers spent an average of 52 minutes A WEEK (!!) with the Scriptures. And often some of us do not update our status with Him for weeks and months on end.

AN AVERAGE USER HAS 130 FRIENDS AND CONNECTS TO 80 COMMUNITY PAGES GROUPS OR EVENTS. What an opportunity to spread the message of God's love, though I suspect that more often than not, what is discussed has little to do with the important things of life. And offline, most of us have little or no interaction with Bible study groups, church or mission groups or even social service or activism groups though there may be hundreds in our area.

DUMBING DOWN...? A study in the US showed that Facebook users spent less time studying and got lower grades than non-Facebook users though the correlation was not taken to suggest causation....

I could go on and on with the many studies and resources that this global phenomenon has inspired - both for and against it. I have a Facebook account which I opened to try and find an old friend from school about 4 years ago. I did not succeed and fortunately did not get hooked - in fact, the account has been opened after that about once a year!! So now Amy handles all our Facebook traffic through her page. For me, the fast on the 25th will be from my many google searches and the blogs that I read. Some people suggest that once a year may not be enough - this article suggests a technology fast on 2 or even 3 days a week!! But it is a sobering thought - in the world of Internet 2.0 and Windows7, are we regularly upgrading our relationship with our family and our Lord Jesus. To put it simply - do I spend more time on the internet/phone/computer than with my family.... And what proportion of my time do I spend with my Lord.....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cherrapunji

In obedience to Amy's advice, I thought I would return to describe some of Meghalaya's jewels. So this week, I thought I would write about one of the world's most beautiful places - Cherrapunji. Famous for being the world's wettest place, till Mawsynram (also in Meghalaya) took over that honour, Cherrapunji combines wonderful and (for the large part) untouched natural beauty with rich history and fascinating folk-lore. There are too many stories to be told in one post, and being a lover of history, that is where I will begin.

The name for Cherrapunji in the Khasi language is Sohra. Perched on a plateau overlooking the plains of Bangladesh (which can be seen from many spots on the way), at an altitude of 1300 metres, Sohra became the port of entry for the British in their conquest of the Khasi-Jaintia-Garo hills, which separated their new acquisitions in the plains of Assam (following the Anglo-Burmese War) and Bengal which they had acquired from the Mughals. The political agent of the British, David Scott, forged a path up the mountains to reach Sohra in the early 1830s to request permission of the Syiem (ruler) at that time, U Tirot Sing to allow the British to build a road connecting Assam with Bengal through the Khasi hills. The mule track that he marked was abandoned for a long time, but is now a popular trekking route - the David Scott Trail. Once the British had begun the construction of the road, it was only a matter of time before they took over control of the government as well and they established their headquarters in Sohra in 1839. However, due to the heavy rainfall as well as occasional earthquakes, the headquarters was shifted to Shillong in 1866. Shillong then became the capital of the province of Assam and remained that way even after Independence until 1972 when the state of Meghalaya was created.

But enough of history before I get too carried away! The trip to Cherrapunji is just like any drive in Meghalaya - spectacular! Breathtaking beauty around every turn. And there is variety too - rock formations, streams, waterfalls, riverbeds and the best of all - lazy village scenes. If you get out of Shillong early enough in the morning during spring and early summer, you will have the added beauty of the clouds which descend down to cloak the peaks and sometimes, even kiss the road. We have made more than 15 trips, thanks to the many friends who brightened our lives by their visits last year and every time we went, it was like a new experience. There was always something that we had not noticed before, something that had changed since the last time, something refreshing to remember till our next trip. Rather like the Word of God - something new each time you read it and blessings - in season and out of season. Here are a few pictures from our last trip.

(Update: More on Sohra at Cherrapunji diary - 1, 2 and more to come)




View of Bangladesh from Sohra

Friday, August 20, 2010

Linkorama 20/8/10

THE VIRTUE OF WASTING TIME: Yesterday, we did not have a major surgery for the first time in many weeks. So I got to come home early and spend the afternoon relaxing!! I really enjoyed the time off although things got busy again in the evening. And just when I was beginning to feel guilty about the 'wasted' time, I read a blog post on 'The virtue of wasting time' (!!) A quote 'Indeed, we have surely lost the virtue that is laziness. As Kierkegaard once said, 'Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good' -- a truly amazing theological insight. Some may think that that maybe going a bit far, but compared to the idea that the essence of humanity is busy-ness, it is much to be preferred.' Of course, this would be a luxury in our line of work, but it was good to enjoy an afternoon off after a long time!!

BIBLE STUDY PLAN: I have been reading through the epistles and have fallen far behind my planned schedule (what's new!!) So yesterday one of the things I did during my time off was to catch up and read through Ephesians. I was struck by the clear and succinct presentation of an ideal Christian life. It sounds so exciting and doable when Paul writes it - wonder what happens to me every day when I try to live it.... Daily Bible study is an area where after so many years, I still struggle to find a routine. When I read some of the Bible study plans of the saints of God, I wonder how that sort of intensive study of the Bible is even possible, within the time-frame that is available to us. One of the most extensive study plans is the Professor Grant Horner's Bible reading system in which you read 10 chapters a day (that's right - 10 chapters!! And I struggle with 1 a day!!) There are 10 different lists from which a chapter each is read every day. As the daily readings in each list are of different lengths, you will never read the same passages together again during the year. The passages interact with each other and bring new insights every time. And supposedly, once you get used to the passages, daily reading only takes about 40 mintues. And here's the best part. In the year you read through all the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice, Paul’s letters 4-5 times each, the Old Testament wisdom literature six times, all the Psalms at least twice, all the Proverbs as well as Acts a dozen times, and all the way through the Old Testament History and Prophetic books about 1 and a half times! It can be downloaded here. Wish I could download the Bible directly into my head, so I could access it at will without all this effort..... (HT: Challies)

STEAK ON A PAPER PLATE: Came across this post on similar lines to some of the things I said on the Shillong Praise Festival. I quote, 'Christians need to sense the weight of God’s glory, the truths of God’s Word, the reality of coming judgment, and the gloriousness of God’s grace. Trying to package the bigness of this God into most casual worship services is like trying to eat steak on a paper plate. You can do it for awhile, but at some point, people will start saying, - I want a dish.' Read the article for more. (HT: Z)

MORE STUFF ON HEALTHY FOOD: As a follow up to the chart on soft drinks. Enjoy!