Broaching the subject of homosexuality in India

On our first night in Mangalore, our hosts at Karnataka Theological College arranged a meet-and-greet between our group of 13 and their seminarian students and some faculty.

Our hosts prepared samosas and chai for mingling outdoors cocktail party style. We then moved to sit in a large circle in their auditorium and shared our names. We were each given a single beautiful rose as a welcome. Then the floor opened up for questions.

After a few exchanges, I decided to ask the pressing question on my mind. In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that a portion of Indian Penal Code 377 was unconstitutional, specifically the part that deemed homosexual acts as illegal. That was a huge victory for LGBT people in India. However, this past December 2013, the Indian Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and re-criminalized homosexuality.

I told the group of seminarians that I worked at a LGBT community center and have witnessed the devastating and harmful impact of church rhetoric against the dignity and self-esteem of LGBT people. I asked them whether their churches and this college took a stand on this recent issue.

Silence ensued. I looked into their eyes to see their reactions. Did I cross the line? Did I offend our host community by asking this question? Or perhaps did a cultural and language divide make my question incomprehensible?

After a few moments, a couple professors shared that they have addressed this issue in class but that, for the most part, it was a taboo topic in a very socially conservative culture. However, none of the students responded. I feared that I might have caused unnecessary discomfort on our first opportunity to meet each other. I wondered if any of them had ever met an openly gay man before. I worried whether the other students would speak to me in our time remaining here.

Afterwards, a professor related to me that leaders of the various main faith groups in India came out in support of re-criminalising homosexuality. Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders all publicly condemned homosexuality, making their positions clear to the Supreme Court.

When I heard that, I felt that the question I posed was not only appropriate, but necessary. Here were seminarians that would soon be leaving school to lead their churches and communities. If anything, my question might open the space for greater dialogue in this school or someone’s local community about this traditionally taboo topic. Hopefully, it would lead to the de-stigmatizing of LGBT people and eventually create the political will to dismantle IPC 377.

The next morning, in chapel, I saw one student I had met the night before and approached him to say hi. He immediately smiled, and said, “Come here. Sit next to me!”

My heart softened. I realized that despite the different positions we might hold on this issue, here in this place we were welcomed with open arms. I also realized that even though we must be aware of being in unfamiliar surroundings, I should not let that stop me from being authentic. Sometimes it’s a fine dance, but nevertheless it’s important to show up fully as I am.

- Joselito, student

Mangalore: Karnataka Seminary

I continue to see Christ through the incredible ways we are welcomed here. 4am airport rides, endless cups of tea, graciousness towards our questions, a single welcome rose for each of us. I feel at home here at Karnataka Theological College, humbled by the hospitality of our hosts, my notion of hospitality forever changed.  I pray I can embody this same radical welcome to others in my own life and ministry.

- 01/21  Ashley, participant

Our hostel at Karnataka Seminary 2
Our hostel at Karnataka Seminary

Our hostel at Karnataka Seminary 4

 

Our hostel at Karnataka Seminary 1Our hostel at Karnataka Seminary 3

 

Meeting seminarians at Karnataka Seminary

Meeting seminarians at Karnataka Seminary 1  Meeting seminarians at Karnataka Seminary 2  Meeting seminarians at Karnataka Seminary 3

From Church to University to Temple

 

statue Swami Vivekananda [1863-1902]
statue of Swami Vivekananda [1863-1902]
After worshipping with the parishioners at St James Church in our Kolkata neighborhood this morning, we traveled to Vivekenanda University in nearby Dakshineswar to meet with renowned Swami Atmapriyananda, Vice-Chancellor of this famous university, who spoke to us about Hinduism and the ultimate unity of all religions.

As stated on the university’s website, the school “is intended to actualize Swami Vivekananda’s [1863-1902] fundamental educational ideas of imparting life-building, man-making and character building education by combining the best elements of the East and the West. The aim of the institute is to provide opportunities for education and research in the disciplines of arts, sciences and spiritual studies.”

Swami Atmapriyananda 1
Swami Atmapriyananda

Our class with Swami Atmapriyananda was fascinating for many reasons. A superb teacher who utilizes parables to teach, he discussed Hindu theology by emphasizing that our true human nature consists of existence, knowledge, and joy. The challenge of life is to uncover these internal aspects of who we are and to understand that happiness comes from within us and not from external sources. All great prophets, teachers, and gurus, therefore, point the way for others to realize that such happiness comes only from within us.

The swami spoke with humility, humor, and a deep understanding of our shared humanity. Possessing a deep knowledge of Christian beliefs, he was eager to field our questions as we were served a delightful fuel for conversation: cashews, biscuits, and, of course, chai tea.

LE-photo 5 LE-photo 4

Following our 3-hour class and discussion with Swami Atmapriyananda, we traveled through the dusty and packed streets of Dakshineswar to Kali Temple, devoted to the goddess Kali. There we joined thousands of other pilgrims who formed lines to enter the temple sanctuary and catch a glimpse of the goddess’ statue.  Most people brought with them flowers and incense that temple assistants touched to the statue and then returned to the worshippers.

From church to university to temple: another full day on our Indian pilgrimage.

Bernie
Sunday, 19 January 2014

Inspiring words from Mother Teresa

Anyway

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
- Mother Teresa

Submitted by Mariah

History of Kolkata

As part of their academic engagement with the history of Christianity in India, students research and provide presentations to the entire cohort on topics of interest and relevance.

Anindya Kar, 3rd year M.Div student, presented on The History of Kolkata. Here is a reference used as part of her presentation:
_________________________________________________

From the book “Grand Delusions: A Short Biography of Kolkata” by Indrajit Hazra

“The world, unfortunately, is real.”

- From A New Refutation of Time by Jorge Luis Borges

When the Germans got their hands on the Soviet T-34 tank as a war trophy during World War II, they examined, reverse-engineered and improved it and came up with the Panzer.  Had the Germans got hold of Kolkata instead, and opened it up, even their finest engineers would have been stumped to put it back again, let alone improve on it.

For this city is opened up and splayed in its natural form.  The only way to make any sense of it is to make sense of its parts. Kolkata contains many Kolkatas to choose from and not all of them fit clik-clok-clik into each other. Some of these versions chew on cliches, while some others bear such bitter tastes that cliches come as welcome palate-cleansers.

But to deny the undisputed rule of filth and astounding tardiness in Kolkata is to be in denial about what’s unpleasant but real. Of late, Kolkata has caught up with Rajiv Gandhi’s 1985 observation of it being a ‘dying city’, the indefinite article meant to soften the blow. But the literal-minded Kolkatans are bound to take joy in the fact that the city has not closed upon itself or gone down Samson-like, taking its people with it. These little pleasures are not to be scoffed at.

Kolkata is like no other city that exists. And that’s not the whole-hearted compliment or recommendation that it may sound like to compliment-collectors. To make a piecemeal comparison of it with other cities is as heartless as it is pointless. There have been occasions when I’ve walked the streets of Mumbai and, with a strange kind of sadness, I’ve reckoned parts of that city to resemble parts of Kolkata – if Kolkata could take care of itself, if Kolkata had the money. If Kolkata was rich.

Despite its colonial architectures, Kolkata everywhere, in all its wetness and ooze, seems like a city built, or in the process of being built, on the remains of another city that someone left behind. Much of the ugliness stems from disrepair. There is a dilapidated two-storeyed red brick house in Tiretta Bazar near Central Avenue in the city’s old Chinatown. Since 1924, Nanking, Kolkata’s first Chinese restaurant, was run on the ground floor of this Edwardian Building. On the first floor was the Toong On Church. The building is now derelict and its doors have been locked since the late 1970s because of a property dispute. With its windows shattered and its rag-and-cobwebs interiors throwing back little light, it is surrounded on all sides by a living rubbish dump. The building cannot be saved, because to save it, one would have to clear the area around it. And to do that one would have to clear the neighborhood. And for that purpose, one would have to clear that part of the city. And the concentric circles cascading beyond.

And yet, this moth-eaten and slapdash city exists, as a gigantic papier-mâché cobbled out of concrete, bones, rubbish heaps, tar, wood, plywood, steel, cloth, bricks, flesh, rice, silk, stones, smoke, piss, grass, glass, water, vegetables, blood, metal, shit, plastic and bamboo that slowly but surely encroached and settled on a pretend-metropolis raised by foreigners three hundred years ago.  The Kolkata that bears the two hallmarks of a true city – the presence of utilitarian comforts and beautiful buildings – is overwhelmingly a hand-me-down, most of which exists in a state of disrepair, or perversely haughty neglect.

 

 

Morning sounds

This is the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque about 10 blocks away from our hostel here in south Kolkata.

Hauntingly beautiful, this sung – and unaccompanied – call to prayer is known as the “Adhan.”  Sung by the muezzin five times a day, it calls all Muslims to prayer.  These prayers are incumbent upon all Muslims.

Today, Sunday, we will begin our day with our usual Morning Prayer which is led by a different PSR student each day.  After breakfast we will join the nearby parish community of Saint James, a member congregation of the Church of North India.

In this City of Joy, we join with other peoples of faith in praise and worship. We are blessed to be here!group after church

Bernie
19 January 2014
Second Sunday after Epiphany

 

 

Speaking with the St. James’ parishoners after services

Speaking with parishioners at St James Congregation after Sunday morning service 1  Speaking with parishioners at St James Congregation after Sunday morning service 3 Speaking with parishioners at St James Congregation after Sunday morning service 4   Speaking with parishioners at St James Congregation after Sunday morning service 2

 

More sights around Kolkata

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Our Home in Kolkata
Our Home in Kolkata

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photo MC2  Victoria Memorial Park at sunset

Being in community together: Eli'jah & Jennifer
Being in community together: Eli’jah & Jennifer
All of us in front of Victoria's Memorial
All of us in front of Victoria’s Memorial
In the grounds of Victoria Memorial
In the grounds of Victoria Memorial
Anindya
Anindya
St Paul's Cathedral
Anindya, Joselito, Sheila, Jennifer, & Michael at St Paul’s Cathedral
Near St Paul's Cathedral
Jennifer near St Paul’s Cathedral
Mariah lighting candles outside St Paul

 

photo MC1   photo LE1

 It continues to be an honor to be so warmly welcomed into the lives of these extraordinary people.  Love to all on Holy Hill from Kolkata. Blessings, Michael.