Monday, February 28, 2011

Desmond Tutu - a man who made tough decisions (part 2)

Rather than make the post go on forever, I thought I would cut it up into 3 sections. And I hope to concentrate on the major decisions he made in his life rather than all the details of his inspiring story. Of course, it's not always easy to stick to a brief like that! Part 1 of the story is here. Here goes with Part 2.

We left Tutu and his family comfortably settled in London while he studied for his degree in theology. He earned his bachelor of Divinity degree in 1965, but before he did so he received an offer to continue his studies at a post-graduate level in the UK. This interested him and he wrote to the King's College administration explaining why he though he would benefit by staying. He believed that the more qualified he was when he returned, the more ridiculous would seem the apartheid policy to earnest and intelligent people. The administration agreed and so, his scholarships were extended for a year to allow him to complete his masters degree.

This was a good time for the family as they enjoyed the relative comfort that life in London had to offer them. Moreover, for Tutu it was one of the important experiences of life as it helped him to dispel some of the bitterness he felt towards the white people for their role in apartheid. Being able to argue with  whites on the same intellectual level, being treated as a respected member of the group he was part of and being accepted as the parish-priest of a white community in the suburbs of London allowed him to jettison any feelings of inferiority he may have felt and grow in personal stature as well as academic distinction. And the warmth and fellowship he received from his white parishioners touched him and convinced him that the same harmony and mutual enrichment were possible even back home in South Africa.

Moving back to South Africa at the height of apartheid was not easy and the Tutus found it hard to adjust to the third-class treatment they received in their homeland. But after a short time at home, they relocated to a seminary for black students in Alice, which was the ideal place to readjust to the life in South Africa after his stay in Britain. There were only 2 black staff on the faculty but a relatively open environment existed in the seminary and the different races moved freely among each other with little reference to the discrimination that existed outside its walls. Tutu enjoyed this interaction as well as the opportunity to shape the thinking of young black minds. All around him 'black consciousness' and 'black pride' were sweeping the nation but Tutu adopted the policy of nonracialism not allowing himself to be drawn into the emotionalism that his black students and associates were embracing. At the same time, he was not afraid to speak his mind on apartheid, which he believed was immoral. He was once asked to preach in the  University chapel where he compared South Africa to Czechoslovakia, where too, the citizens were struggling under government repression. He was never asked to preach there again. In another instance he was told that a non-violent protest his students were involved in had turned ugly and the police were going to arrest them. He rushed to the spot and told the police they would have to arrest him too, thus forcing the police to back down. These incidents while playing a very minor part in the grander scheme of African emancipation did however sensitise Tutu to the role he could play in the struggle of his people.

After three years, Tutu had excelled so much at the seminary that his name was being discussed for the post of vice-principal and it was widely believed he would become the principal one day. His acceptance in the local community was universal and his role in the larger struggle against apartheid was beginning to grow. It was at this point that Tutu made another decision that seemed to be in the opposite direction to the path he had been taking so far. He accepted a position as lecturer in a University in the neighbouring country of Lesotho and transferred his family there, while sending his two older children to a private school in Swaziland. It is possible that the reasons for this move were mainly the increased salary, as well as escape for his family from the stifling confines of apartheid. And so for the next two years, he taught in Lesotho, away from the ever-growing struggle of his people back home. But during this time, he immersed himself in academia, making his own original contributions in the field of 'black theology' which catered to the victims of racial oppression, reassuring them that they were children of God, just like the whites and helping them to regain their pride and dignity which many years of discrimination had eroded.

And then, within 2 years came another move - this time back to the United Kingdom. Tutu was asked to become an associate director of the London-based Theological Education Fund, a branch of the World Council of Churches. Coming so close to his latest move and knowing it would take him far away from the anti-apartheid struggle that was growing back home, this may have been another difficult decision for Tutu. But he knew this important assignment would give him international stature and he believed he could use his position to funnel some of the funds back to his homeland for theological education there. Moreover, he knew the move would be good for his family and for his children's education. And so for the second time in the decade, the Tutu family relocated to London. It was, just like before, a good time for the family. The children enjoyed the British schools and the whole family found freedom and acceptance among the British people. Tutu's job involved a lot of travel and with his focus on Africa, he often found himself in places of crisis and suffering. Uganda under Idi-Amin, Ethiopia under Haile Salassie, Nigeria after the Civil War, Rhodesia under the white supremacist regime - all these places where he saw suffering and dislocation served to broaden his understanding of the continent and its problems. And while his feelings of insecurity were being replaced by pride in his black identity, there were still moments of doubt as is evidence by an anecdote he once shared. Boarding a plane in Nigeria, he was proud to see two black pilots at the controls. But then fear kicked in - would the plane be safe without a white person in charge? He realised he had never flown without a white man a the controls. Of course, the plane landed safely, but it is an indication of the effectiveness of the apartheid indoctrination that even at this stage, this accomplished black leader could wrestle with such doubts.

After 3 years, Tutu had not only gained an international perspective, but he had proved to be an excellent fund-raiser as well as a good leader. Many people in the organisation were suggesting that he would become the next director. But yet again, he was faced with and made a tough decision. The position of bishop of Johannesburg fell vacant and Tutu was one of those considered for the job. A senior white prelate, the dean of Johannesburg, was finally appointed, who then asked Tutu to take his place as the dean. This was a major turning point in Tutu's life. He knew that if he went back to this important position in South Africa, he would be forced into the forefront of the debate on apartheid. He knew that there were great opportunities awaiting him on a worldwide forum if he stayed and completed his contract at TEF. He knew how difficult it would be to uproot his family from the secure life of London, which they had come to love. He knew that his wife was not at all happy to relocate from peace and tranquility of London to the strife and upheaval in Johannesburg., a situation that was simmering, waiting to explode at the smallest spark. It was probably one of his toughest decisions he had to make to date. But in 1975, the Tutu family left the land they had come to love for the land of their birth - and in doing so, made the first step of a journey that was to alter the course of South African history.

To be continued........

(Most of the information is from the book Desmond Tutu, A biography by Steven Gish as well as articles cited there.)

Linkorama 28/2/11

What a humdinger it was yesterday! At the World Cup I mean! Unfortunately, given my usual luck with these things I was travelling. Sigh. Fortunately, my dear mother gave me a running commentary of the last 3 overs via cell phone! Considering we could have lost it, I guess a tie is fair enough. I just hope it's not the end of Dhoni's streak....... Well, so much for cricket - on to the links.

THE DOWNSIDE OF PLAYING AND WATCHING SPORTS: This post looks at the data available on the toll sports takes on kids who play them as well as those of us who watch. Fortunately there isn't much to go on! The results may be scary!!

THE ANSWER TO THE AGE-OLD QUESTION: How do you make a child enjoy vegetables? Well, according to this study, bribe them! (HT: Fknomics)

WHY CHILDREN BECOME BULLIES: Another study suggests that if children feel they are not getting enough time and attention from parents then those feelings have to go somewhere and it appears in interaction with their peers. They found, surprisingly, that it was not when the mother worked that the children were affected but it was when fathers worked full time or overtime and children perceived that they did not spend enough time with their fathers, that bullying behavior increased. Scary stuff.........

SPARE A THOUGHT FOR CALVIN'S DAD: I want a copy of that book of his!!

AND ON A MUCH SWEETER NOTE: Here are some sweet stories from Nanma - thanks Deepa for sharing them - she is loved all over the internet.

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES INDEED: This video posted by my friend Benji Ross will bring a smile to you face for sure.

Disclaimer Post!

Over the last few days of reading 3 biographies, a lot of Henri Nouwen and the Beatitudes, it occurred to me (among many other things) that I need to make a disclaimer on the blog. So here it is. I realise that I have been writing about a number of issues that have two opposite points of view as well as many shades of grey in between. My opinions on these matters are my own, given my limited experience of life. They generally stem from my understanding of myself and my relationship with God. Being very much a fledgling relationship, with many miles to go, there may be some areas where I am wrong. There may be some areas where I am on a tangent. There may be some things I say which sound ridiculous or crazy. And sometimes I may have sounded like I know it all - which is hardly the case! So, if anyone disagrees with my point of view, please do let me know - it may help me to better understand the situation and possibly change my view. This life is after all a short one. And I hope to live it to the fullest, God giving the grace. And to do that, I feel I need to wrestle with these issues and make my stand. As otherwise, life may pass by in a meaningless daze - I may taste the crust of the pie but miss the substance of it which lies within. And before I close, a special thanks to all of you who interact with me on the blog - you guys make my day!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Aaron Fotheringham - hero for our times

I recently came across the story of Aaron Fotheringham and knew I had to share it. Stories of courage and overcoming the odds are few and far between in this world where many of us chose to let life pass us by just because it's so difficult to grab it by the horns. Aaron's story is one of those few stories.

Aaron was born with Spina Bifida, a congenital disease of the spinal cord which prevents him from moving his legs. The third of six children (all adopted), he grew up doing most things which his peers were doing..... on crutches. But riding a BMX like his older brother and doing tricks in the park appeared to be beyond him. Until one day, he rolled his wheelchair onto the ramp and started doing them himself. The first time he fell, but by the time he finished for the day, he was hooked. And he has never looked back. He was provided a special wheelchair (with shock absorbers on all 4 wheels to cushion his landing) and he began practicing his stunts for 30-35 hours a week - first into a foam pit and once they were perfected onto the ramp. He entered into age-group BMX competitions and began winning, becoming in the process the world's first ever extreme wheelchair athlete. His term for it is extreme sitting!

His life changed when he became the first person in the world to perform the wheelchair backflip and posted it on Youtube. After the video went viral, he began to receive invitations to tour, performing and speaking and also to help other children with special needs. He has now expanded his stunt repertoire to include the double back-flip and a 180-degree 'aerial' and is working on combining the backflip and the aerial into the 'flair'.

People like Aaron are one-in-a-million. But their example is a clarion call to all of us who live life with not even an iota of the difficulties they go through. Will we chose to overcome our circumstances? Or will we remain their victim - struggling through life instead of soaring.

This is a link to his website and here are the videos that made him famous.

Linkorama 26/2/11

Today is a great day! I get to see my sweet wife again after a whole week today! I missed her soooooo much............ (Now that should be good for a few brownie points!!) Actually, I did really miss her - there are 3 posts in the pipeline that are waiting for her approval! I got by so far by calling her and asking her to check right after I posted it. But that doesn't work when she's travelling - more's the pity!! Well, I guess they'll just have to wait till Monday. But on to the links.

YOU HAVE GOT TO TRY THIS: Go to the bottom of your facebook page, click on the blue letters that say English (US or UK depending on your intellect!) and change your language to English (Pirate). Don't worry, this is not a hoax - it's just really cool!! Thanks Pradeep for the tip.

THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE FOR AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN BABY: This billboard has been creating a lot of controversy in New York. But it does bring out a disturbing fact. Read about it here. (HT:Z)

BABY OR FETUS: This article responds to criticism for an article on fetal surgery entitled  'Surgery can help babies with Spina Bifida'. A responder believes the correct terminology should have been 'Fetuses with Spina Bifida'. I quote from the response - A person is a person, no matter how small........

PROVOKING CHILDREN TO ANGER: I don't have children yet, but I can understand how some of the things mentioned are exactly what I would do if I did have children. Read the post here. For the lazy ones (or the busy ones) some of the ways mentioned are
- By constantly criticizing them and not encouraging them. When they feel they can never please us enough.

- By having double standards – Do as I say, not as I do. Expecting them to do things we don’t do, e.g. ask forgiveness, humble themselves, etc.
- By comparing them to others (Why can’t you act like your sister?)
- By hypocrisy – acting like a Christian at church but not at home
- By embarrassing them (correcting, mocking or expressing disappointment in them in front of others)
- By always lecturing them and never listening to them
- By failing to ask their forgiveness when we sin against them
- By pride – failing to receive humble correction from our spouses or our children when we sin.
- By self-centered reactions to their sin (How could you do this to ME?)
- By ungracious reactions to their sin (What were you thinking? Why in the world would you do that?)
- By forgetting that we were (and are) sinners (I would NEVER have done that when I was your age).
But do read the whole post - there are many more and after all, it's the weekend.

FREE RUNNING: I had posted earlier about free running. This is one of the extreme examples of it. Scary.....

THESE GUYS SHOULD BE IN THE OLYMPICS: Isn't it sad that there are so many unsung heroes in our country who would have made a lot of money and fame with their talent had they been born anywhere else. I hope our sports administrators in the next generation will change things.

The Sign Post - Toilet Humour

I think if I find enough signs, I'll make this a weekly feature to brighten up the week-end. It's interesting that the number of readers of this blog drops over the weekend. That makes me assume that many of you are reading this at work! That works too - this post will hopefully brighten up a Monday morning! On to the signs - and my apologies in advance. Today is all about toilet humour!

Some people try to be innovative when it comes to notices for the toilet

This one came from a science fiction museum...... obviously! (HT:Ivman)
picture of funny sign

And does anyone know the way to the car poo lane!
Toilet Stay in Your Car

Once you get inside the humour takes a more morbid turn. Some signs came very close to being censored in this section! The first one reminds me of a joke about the heights of patriotism!
too funny
Don't Pee on FloorWhat were they thinking?

And in the toilet you do .......... what?!!
funny sign inside the Loo

Finally a sign for a pool, but it makes this post for obvious reasons!

P.S. If anyone's sensibilities were hurt by this post, my sincere apologies. I know I am flirting with the fine line between decency and otherwise.....! But I couldn't help it! Hope you had a laugh at least!!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Desmond Tutu - a man who made tough decisions

Recently, as we have been considering our own future as well as discussing some of these issues on the blog, Amy and I have been pondering greatly about the way we make life decisions. Do we just go with the flow - take it as it comes and keep going. Or do we regularly assess and reassess our motivations and purpose in the place where we are and consider the future based on that reassessment. And as we consider the future do we do so in the light of our understanding of God or are there other considerations. At the same time do we in our foolishness misinterpret our own desire for the spectacular as God's will for our lives. These questions are all to be personally answered I guess, but reading the biography of Archbishop Desmond Tutu has certainly given me new light on the matter.

The story of Desmond Tutu and his life have been well-documented elsewhere, so I will not dwell on it except to go over the basics. He was born in 1931 in a South Africa that was just beginning to legalise the policy of apartheid or 'separateness' that was intended to divide the nation on racial lines and allow the white minority to keep power for ever. His childhood was unusual for a black child in that he was given a good education thanks to his father being a headmaster of a local school. Displaying a brilliant mind, he excelled in his studies and enrolled in a medical college after his graduation from school. However, his poor family could not provide the high fees required and he had to drop out. He then entered a teachers training pogramme following his father's footsteps.

After completing his training in 1954, he began to teach in a black school in his hometown. It was here that he was forced to make one of the first decisions of conscience of his life. The government had passed the Bantu Education Act, which basically stated that non-whites were to be given an inferior standard of education in accordance with their station in life. As there was already legislation in place preventing most of the white-collar jobs from going to non-whites, the government did not see the purpose of spending money on educating them in things they would never use like Mathematics and science. Rather, Bantu (African) education was aimed at directing students into the unskilled labour market. As the minister for Native Affairs, Hendrik Verwoerd said - 
There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live
The government decided that the missionary schools were offering too high a quality of education for the blacks. They gave the schools an ultimatum - follow the new curriculum or risk losing government subsidies. With foreign funds at a minimum, the schools and teachers were forced to make a difficult choice - agree to provide inferior education to the non-white students or face closure. Desmond Tutu as well as a number of well-known educationists decided to give up their source of livelihood rather than accede to a practice which they felt was wrong. Some of the best missionary educational institutions also closed down rather than be part of a system they perceived to be opposite to the principles of love and equality that they stood for. It certainly must have been a tough decision - for Tutu, who had just been married, it would have seemed foolhardy to give up his source of income so soon after the completion of his training. He had set his heart on being a  teacher and now he was giving it up even before he had properly started. Moreover, there must have been voices that told him he could still make a difference, still provide quality education for his people, be the one to break the shackles laid down by the legislation. But he left - and history has proved him right. The Bantu Education Act remained in place till 1979. During which time, each white child was educated at 16 times the amount spent to educate a non-white child.

Faced with yet another career change, Desmond Tutu was drawn to enter the priesthood of the Anglican church. Some of his role models had been white Anglican priests who had gone out of their way to be kind to him in his childhood. One of them, Trevor Huddleston, had visited him in the hospital every weekend when he had been admitted for 20 months with a bad tuberculous infection. Though his parents and many friends were sceptical of this decision, he was sure that God was calling him and he began his second round of training at St. Peter's College in Johannesburg, graduating in 1960 with two distinctions. This was a time when there was growing unrest among the black people as they began to protest the unfairness of the ever-increasing number of rules that they were forced to live with. The Sharpeville massacre when 69 unarmed blacks who were protesting against the Pass Laws (which required all non-whites to carry a pass at all times), were shot down by police, raised tensions and caused the birth of more radical activists. However, while Tutu kept abreast with all that was going on and was friendly with a number of the activists, he did not get involved with the anti-apartheid movement, nor did he lend it support from any platform. He apparently saw his role as a prelate whose role was within the church and totally apolitical.

His next decision was in the lines of his envisioned role. After his ordination in late 1961, he was put in charge of a poor black parish near Johannesburg and he immersed himself in the life of the community, making regular home visits, listening intently to their joys and concerns, sorrowful at their poverty, but moved by their piety. But soon after in 1962, the principal of his college who had noted his brilliance, encouraged him to enroll at Kings College, London for a further degree in theology. Liking the idea, Tutu applied and was accepted. So in the same year that his contemporary Nelson Mandela went to prison, Desmond Tutu arrived in Britain, soon to be joined by his wife and children. There were some people who accused him of deserting the country in its time of need, and others who were suspicious of black South Africans who went abroad for education, either because they did not return, or because the returned with dangerous and radical ideas that were incompatible with society. But these did not bother Tutu and the next three years were spent happily in London, Tutu enjoying the intellectual atmosphere of the college, his children studying in good private schools and the whole family enjoying the relative luxury of their two-bedroom apartment and the life in the UK which was far-removed from the depravity they knew in South Africa.

To be continued.............

Part 2 of this post
Part 3 of this post

Linkorama 25/2/11

There's no gas left in the tank, so straight on to the links today.....

SPOUSAL IRRITATION CHECKLIST: It appears there was marriage counselling even in the 1930s! Here are husband and wife checklists to assess the state of your marriage. It's amazing how much of it is relevant even today! It certainly is a good reminder of a few things we often forget. Though some of them are hilarious - among them red nail polish and crooked hose seams!!

NEW FEELINGS BROUGHT ON BY THE INTERNET: Here is an article from the Boston Globe listing 5 new feelings that the internet has added to the already large number we are born with. I can identify with all except 2 as Twitter is, as yet, beyond my ken. (HT: Challies)
  1. A vague and gnawing pang of anxiety centered around an IM window that has lulled.
  2. A sudden and irrational rage in response to reading an “@-reply” on Twitter.
  3. The state of being installed at a computer for an extended period of time without purpose, characterized by a blurry anxiety undercut with something hard, like desperation.
  4. The car collision of appetite and discomfort one feels when using the Internet to seek out images or information that may be considered inappropriate.
  5. The sense of fatigue and disconnect one experiences after typing out a long riff on some topic only to hit a wall and abandon the entire thing.
DYING LANGUAGES: National Geographic estimates that 'Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them not yet recorded—may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain.'

10 COMMANDMENTS FOR RELUCTANT EVANGELISTS: I thought I should post this mainly because the first commandment was - Shut the lid of your computer!! The other ones are more serious though!!

JOHN PIPER RUNS OUT OF PEOPLE TO DEDICATE BOOKS TO: This light-hearted article looks ahead to when one of the beloved evangelical Christian leaders of our time runs out of people to dedicate books to. 
After writing his most recent book over a lunch hour, Dr. Piper started working on the dedication, only to realize that he couldn’t think of another person to dedicate a book to. He took a short mental break by memorizing the book of Philippians, then came back to the book problem, only to be stumped again.
TRAILER FOR TIM CHALLIES NEW BOOK: I have only recently come across the concept of a book trailer! This one for Tim Challies new book on technology - The Next Story is really good. Those who live in the US can pre-order it at a discount. The rest have to wait!! 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake

Our prayers and thoughts are with the people of Christchurch as they pick up the pieces of their lives after the devastating earthquake. For those of us in Shillong, there is an added feeling of nearness to them as we experience earthquakes at regular intervals. They have been mild ones so far with no damage by God's grace. We remember the survivors and especially those who have lost loved ones. This is a terrible thing - like so many other terrible things in this imperfect world.

This website has some pictures of the terrible aftermath of this calamity. 

Linkorama 24/2/11

Thanks for all your responses to the post about Dr. Aravindan Nair here and on Facebook. They will all be compiled and presented to Dr. Nair at the time of his retirement (in 2 weeks). So that gives those of you who are still considering it enough time! On to today's links.

THE JOY OF READING...... A BOOK: I now realise how much I missed the joy of reading a book. It's been ages since I sat and finished a book from cover to cover in one sitting, sometimes missing sleep and food to do so. And especially since most of my reading shifted to the digital world, I had forgotten the pure joy of curling up in bed with a good book and nothing to disturb you. So 3 and a half books down the line, I am finding it difficult to tear myself away to get onto the computer! That's a new feeling - it's usually the other way around! This article encapsulates some of those feelings. 
It’s been a long time since I was truly lost in a book. I wonder how much of that is due to my fractured attention span (which everyone seems to want to blame), or the fact that I’m not able to immerse myself in the screen of my iPad like I could in the pages of a book.
TIPS TO MINIMISE DISTRACTIONS: I guess we know a lot of the things mentioned here, but its good to be reminded of them every now and again. Especially as they are often easier said than done! Some of the suggested ways to stop being a magnet for interruptions are
Task hours - when no-one can disturb you
The critical 2 - the two most important things to do that day
Protect your priorities
Don't be a fixer - just say 'no' instead of trying to be nice
Communicate limited availability - don't be shy to say you're busy
Avoid the Siren Song of email and the internet
THE HENRY FORD OF HEART SURGERY IN INDIA: This article recounts an interview with Dr. Devi Shetty of Narayana Hrudayalaya. His innovative ideas to reduce the cost of heart surgery in our country and make it accessible to the poor are a reminder that there are many ways to creatively utilise our time, resources and training for the benefit of others.

HUGS INDIA: In the same vein, some of my friends from Chennai have found their own innovative way of being involved in the lives of people from different and more difficult backgrounds. They founded an organisation that aspires for social change by individual action. This is a post on their latest activity - taking some children from the Royapuram Boys Home to the planetarium. Looks like it was great fun. Way to go - Karthik, Renita and team! Yours is an example we can all emulate.

SPEAKING OF INNOVATION: Here's a piece from my favourite cartoon. Trust Calvin to think outside the box!!

INNOVATION IN ACTION: I've done hundreds of bone marrow aspirations during my life. Even thout they were just diagnostic and not for transplantation, the thing I remember most about them was the pain involved - during and especially after the procedure. But I just accepted that as the way it was. Here is someone who didn't - which led him to invent the Marrow Miner - a device for bone marrow aspiration that greatly reduces the pain of the donor.