Category Archives: Inter Religious Dialogue

Contextual Theology – Encounter with God, Right Here and Right Now!

Amidst a crunched, crazy schedule, I thought I should take some time to write this post on Contextual Theology. This is a vast area of theology which was covered in approximately 4 hrs. at the Theologate under the Module – Emerging Trends in Theology. Today I sat for the examination of this module and I thought of sharing some of the preparations I made with regard to a certain aspect of this branch of Theology.

Okay, so you’ve read the title. If you surf across the web, you’ll find tons of theological definitions on what Contextual Theology is. For me  hard meat boiled, Contextual Theology is an Encounter with God, happening Right Here and Right Now. And no, I’m not talking about Prayer (for once 🙂 ). Instead of mystically rising to heaven and trying to understand God, you bring Him where you are, to the current context you are in. And Contextual Theology is by no means Inculturation.

In order to Contextualize Theology, our lecturer presented us with Stephen Bevans’ Models for Contextual Theology. At the last minute when I was preparing for the paper I went through my notes on the different models. Geezzz that left me with a headache and nothing else at all. I couldn’t wrap my head around all these models. I didn’t have the book, so it was like searching for something in the dark. So as usual, I sought my friend who helps me out with crisis like this. Mr. Google, of course!

Following is a summary (almost a summary 😉 ) of the six models, with information gathered from the web. For a detailed explanation, I have included some references below only because I hate spoon feeding every little thing…

I love analogies. And if you find your head twisted with these models, turn to the analogies presented by Bevans, it’ll definitely make your life lot easier.

1. Translation Model

Analogy Bringing seeds to plant in a native ground.Translation Model

You take the seeds you have go to another country or city to plant them. In this model, you reveal the core message of the Gospel in a completely new setting. That is, you proclaim the Gospel to those who have never heard of it nor knows that it exists, a completely new cultural, linguistic or historical context.

When you’re taking the Gospel message to a foreign community who speak a foreign language, obviously you have to face the problem of Linguistic Translation. You can solve this problem with two approaches,

  1. Accuracy / Consistency – Translate the original message to the new language, where each word of the original is an absolute match to the new language word that is parallel to the original word.
  2. Comprehensibility and Relevance – Strain out the gist of the original message and give it to the people in your words.

Then again, you can’t mess around with God’s Word. Though Bevans prefers the second option, he says that you cannot compromise with the first option when it comes to the Gospel. True that! What if someone interpreted it wrong?

2. Anthropology Model

AnalogyWatering the seeds already in the ground so that they will sprout. Anthropology Model

You’re land that is in another country already has some seeds sowed in it, so you only have to water them so that they can grow. In this model, there is a vague understanding about the Gospel in the context. So it’s not completely new! In this the primary focus is on the our common friend, the Human Being. This model upholds and reveres culture and the members of that particular culture.

3. Praxis Model

AnalogyConstantly weeding the garden and learning to be a better Gardener. Praxis Model

Okay so the seeds are sown, plants have come up, now you have to tend the garden and make it a better place. In this model, it assumes that Christianity has a stand or say in a particular context, so it’s not completely new or alien to the culture. Since Christianity is already established, you judge your cultural values in the light of the Gospel tradition. This model focuses on Action.It presents a cycle.

Action - Reflection - Action

4. Counter – Cultural Model

Analogy Weeding and Fertilizing the soil so the seeds can be planted. Counter-Cultural Model

At the first look of the analogy, I personally thought “Errr isn’t that the same as the earlier model??!” Well yes and no! The term Counter – Cultural means being different from and above culture. Yes, you engage with the culture but your fidelity lies to the Gospel. It calls for a radical change in the culture. It is similar to the Praxis Model but this model takes a prophetic stance. This model’s focus is on the Gospel. It emphasizes the difference between the Gospel and Culture.

5. Synthetic Model

Synthetic Model AnalogyCross-Pollination

This is my favourite part of gardening. A hybrid of two plants. This model presents a process of Dialogue. It is a dialogue with a pool of people having different viewpoints. This model is closest to the Gospel, where in the Gospel also we see how different views are brought together through dialogue and forms a true synthesis.

6. Transcendental Model

AnalogyI cultivate my own garden in the hope that another will be inspired to cultivate their own garden.

Don’t get carried away with the name of the model. In this I become a role model to another. It’s pretty much the same approach I follow with my posts. You share your own religious experiences based on the cultural, historical and religious settings that you come from. In this model, one has to be cautious on how to identify authentic theologies of individuals. In order to be authentic theology, it should be inline with the teaching of the Church.

Transcendental Model

So there you go, the six models of Bevans’ almost in a nutshell 🙂

A meek Brown Man From Goa – Cry, Bathe and Smile

Cry

Cry

Few months before the release of the book, there was a buzz around regarding the investigation of a non-Catholic, about Blessed Joseph Vaz. For me personally, it sounded like another trumpet blowing, “We’re trying to make Bl. Joseph Vaz a Saint!“. That’s a phrase I’ve heard since the beginning of the last year. For some weird reason, unlike other Sri Lankan Catholics, who were bragging about his work, I was simply not interested. Everyone is a Saint, so if he has done something good, he’ll be rewarded in Heaven, why run behind a “Saint” prefix for his name? To add to my disinterested spirit, last year we had a module at the Theologate regarding Bl. Joseph Vaz and his contribution to the Faith and country. Nope, neither did that get my spirits high about the guy.

I got this book last week and first thing I usually do when I get a book is to read the Cover. The back of the book mentioned about the author Kusum Waidyaratne and his research areas, Para Human Archaeology, Ethnoarchaeology, Rheology, Architectonic, DNA. Those words sounded music to my ears, because I fancy all the high tech science and geeky stuff (NOT fiction, but Realizing fiction with Reality).

Bathe

BatheRead the first page, turned to the next… kept on doing it for minutes, hours and before I even knew I had read the first 10 chapters of the book and wanted to keep on going. It was addictive, the more I read, the more I wanted to dig in and dig deeper. I also did some research on my own with regard to the scientific areas touched in the book to see if, what I was reading was reality or the author was trying to fool me into something.

I don’t want to spoil the fun, but I’ll give a sneak peak into the book. It’s primarily about Bl. Joseph Vaz. And if you don’t know who that is, let me help you out. Ask a priest, catechism teacher or the final resort Mr. Google. If you’re a Sri Lankan and you don’t know him, high time you relearned history. And if you’re Sri Lankan plus a Catholic and don’t know about him, then shame on you!

As you go on reading, it will unravel the reality of this great personality, Bl. Joseph Vaz and his immense contribution to a foreign soil. Done only with one intention in his mind, that is to do his Father’s will. Every word of the book is a prayer, a step towards a strengthening journey of Faith. You can take my word on this, because though I’m a Theology student, I’m not a hard core prayer person. The word “Prayer” gives me jitters. But today, I’ve come to realize that Prayers are a constant chitter chatter with God. Speaking to Him, Crying with Him, Laughing with Him and even fighting and insulting Him and asking for forgiveness. Giving the truth of your Heart, that is the only Mantra.

The best example of such an intimate relationship is the one that Bl. Joseph Vaz had with God the Father. This book made me realize that we all are Bl. Joseph Vazs inside. The difference is, some have discovered themselves and people like you and I keep orbiting our day to day painstaking lives, looking for help outside. Our help is right here, within our grip, but we don’t see it. We ignore it and go venturing into other modes to find solutions. And if we do know it’s there and reach it, there’s always that thorn of doubt pricking constantly.

The story of the book flows on two rivers and they meet at a confluence. One stream carries the tales of BJV (Bl. Joseph Vaz) and the other speaks about a married gentleman named Wishwa, who is a father of two and is struggling with his own life’s journey. The two stories run parallel. Whatever happened to BJV few centuries ago, happens to Wishwa today. Similarly you can also see a comparison of human effort vs God’s guidance.

Few Examples from the Book:

  • Persecution by the Dutch soldiers // Imprisonment or Wishwa being attacked by some goons.
  • BJV praises God during crisis // Wishwa cursing the divine

The book also uses the Word Of God, Sacred Scripture quotations to form the foundation of Faith. It comes handy as a literary technique to give light to the readers, a glimpse of hope towards a better fulfillment of the story.

…if you believe you will see the glory of God

~John 11, 40

The initial chapters, speak of the Journey of BJV and only in Chapter 20 you get to know about the beginning years of BJV. The essence of these chapters is, the author portrays a heart of a mother. A 3D view is given with 3 mothers playing the roles. BJV’s mother, Wishwa’s mother and the crest, Mother Mary – The Mother of everyone.

The book also touches areas which provide clear cut evidence that Catholicism existed in our land before the arrival of the European invaders. It also shows that the era where Buddhism was in a declining phase, it was not because of the Catholics.

The book portrays the miracles of BJV, his intercessions, crucial journeys, prayerful life and most importantly, how loud his silence was and is.

I found three interesting themes run across the story.

  • Cry

Starting with a sob it progresses towards a loud cry. It is revealing one’s true self, confession, helplessness.

  • Bathe

With the act of taking a bath, where the characters felt refreshed, cleansed. In Christianity, this is a sign of purification or sanctification.

  • Smile

A sign of hospitality, love, care.

The book also reveals details about BJV’s tomb and what is disappointing is that, intense details about him are not found in Kandy. One would get to know the real reason behind this. But if there were records, I’m sure it would speak volumes about BJV.

Smile

smileIf the Bible is a book that contains mystery, comedy, romance, thriller, action, tragedy, history, science, etc; Then ගෝවෙන් අමුත්තෙක් ඇවිත් – A meek Brown Man From Goa will similarly fit into most of the literary genres. Unlike fiction it wouldn’t provide you with a temporary mental satisfaction. These pages would help you face your biggest fear, LIFE! It is a live manifestation of Divine Providence. For sure it will show you at least a ray of Hope.

Instead of learning about saints who are foreign to our land, it is important that we as Sri Lankan Christians, give credit to the valuable service and sacrifices of BJV. If it was not for him I would’ve not been able to address my God in my mother tongue. If it was not for him I would’ve not been a Catholic, the Church would’ve died decades ago. As Sri Lankan Christians it is our duty to recognize this great servant of God and cherish his work.

I tried this interpersonal formula that I learned from my new friend BJV. It was yesterday, when Asia was hit with an 8.9 magnitude earthquake. The moment I got the news, only thing that ran across my mind was, “What would Blessed Joseph Vaz do?” Without delay, I went to my room and started “Praying“. I think this was after many months or years, that I prayed so intensely. I called Mother Mary and BJV to come for our mediation. Within few hours, the news said that the earthquake was horizontal, hence it was less likely that a Tsunami will occur. I believe that this happened because of the intercession of Mother Mary and BJV. I’m sure millions of us prayed for a miracle and we got it.

Reserved for Clergy!

Few personal experiences that I had during my traveling, prompted me to write this post. The title of this post is a common slogan found approximately in all the buses in Sri Lanka. Two seats are reserved for the clergy of all religious denominations, considering it to be a right of the Clergy. Okay, now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about the transport systems in a blog that should be talking about theology. True enough, but what disturbed me was not the fact that people were not willing to give the seat for the Non-Buddhist clergy, but the failure of our own Christian people to understand the difference/similarity of the Catholic Clergy and Religious.

To give a clearer picture, let me explain what I witnessed. Some of my colleagues, who are Religious traveled in the bus after classes. During the evening hours, the buses are crowded, so getting a seat is almost like finding for water in the desert. But you would think that it’s a piece of cake for the Religious right? Well sadly, NO! I was quite disappointed of the attitude of the people towards the Nuns after my first experience of this scenario. The bus conductor either had to ask someone to offer a seat or if the conductor was a Christian, he prefers not to speak up and instead does a better favour by not taking the ticket money from the Religious.

Before proceeding further, for those who are not aware of the different meanings of the terms Clergy and Religious, the simplest definition I can provide is, the former refers to the Priests and the latter refers to the Nuns, Brothers, Monks, etc; In the Sri Lankan context, it is easier for a Priest to get a seat compared to a Nun. But why so? And no, the answer is not because the society is still patriarchal. When it comes to Buddhism, there’s no differentiation! Patriarchal or Matriarchal, female Buddhist monks are considered to have the same rights as the male Buddhist monks. I personally think, this is the problem of our perception. For years, we have been considering the priests to be of a higher pedestal compared to the nuns. Hence our first priority is always towards the clergy. But what is the difference between the two? Why is one considered to be of a higher rank than the other?

I used to be one among the many who thought that, clergy ought to receive a higher priority than religious, till I followed the module Consecrated Life and Theology of the Laity. In reality, there’s no difference between the vocations of the clergy and religious. Both are called by the same, One God and they lead a Consecrated Life. And if there were to be any differentiation, then I think the Nuns would beat the Priests to it. This is because only Nuns get an opportunity to be “Sponsa Christi – Bride of Christ. They get a chance to sign their consent, at the altar. Both Clergy and Religious fall into the category of Consecrated Life. Together, they bring out different colours and flavours of the Church and offer their services accordingly. The different forms and charisms of this way of life is well explained in Pope John Paul II‘s Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata (The Consecrated Life).

So next time, if you travel by bus and happen to see a Nun who is standing, make sure that they get their right of sitting where they should sit. Because they will not fight for their rights due to their vows and humility, but as Laity, it is our duty to stand up for them and show the world that Priests and Nuns are equal. They differ only by their ministerial functions.

Eucharist : Communion or Discrimination??

Eucharist has been a controversial topic, specially in a multicultural and multi-religious continent like Asia. I wanted to bring out this topic because of a question raised by my non-catholic cousin and something that I learned from the theologate. This post is basically an anthropological view of the Eucharist.

The word “Eucharist” is derived from Greek, Eucharistia which means Thanksgiving. According to the explanation of the Church it is,

Following are some of the biblical quotations where Jesus refers to His Body and Blood and invites everyone to participate in the mystery of Eucharist to attain eternal salvation.

  • Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mtt 26, 26 – 28)
  • I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”” (Jn 6, 51)

The FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference) gives a vision of a Renewed Church (FABC Papers No. 106) of 8 movements within the context of Asia, where we can help people encounter Christ. Like I said Asia is coloured with many religions and cultures. Therefore, Is preaching the Gospel and living a good Christian Life (being a self example) alone are enough for Evangelization?? In the Eucharist, we become one with Christ when we receive Him into our inner being. Christ invited everyone to partake of this great banquet. Did He specify that ONLY Catholics/ Christians are allowed??

I go to the Hindu and Buddhist temples in my country. In the Hindu temple they offer the devotees Prasad a food offering made to a god and then shared among the people, to both Hindus and non-Hindus. I’m not saying that the Eucharist is similar to the Prasad!

EucharistThe Eucharist IS the very Body of Christ, it IS Christ Himself! My cousin who’s a Hindu but is more inclined towards Christianity participates in the Sunday Mass. One day, out of the blue he asked me, “Why can’t I receive Communion?” So I told him that he doesn’t know the full mystery behind the Eucharist, it is the Body of Christ and you have to be baptized  and also should be in a worthy state to receive Christ. And I’m sure that it sounded like some kind of a Criminal offense for him. But realistically speaking, we preach of a Universal Salvation and when it comes to the Eucharist where we symbolize Fellowship, we limit it to the privileged baptized!

I’m not going against the Church’s view of the Sacramentality and preserving the sacredness of the Eucharist from profanity. But there are people of simple faith like my cousin who understand the meaning of the Eucharist and would like to experience the same oneness with Christ that we experience. At the end of the day we’re all human beings, no matter how much we know that God is with us all the time, we prefer to Touch Him, See Him and Taste Him. Imagine what would happen if the Church decided suddenly to stop giving Communion?? Or God rejected you for being dark or differently abled or even highly judgmental about everything??

On a personal anthropological level, I think we can Evangelize better if we understood the real concept of the Eucharist that Christ explained to us. This is something that has to be considered instead of arguing whether we should receive communion directly on hand or tongue. It would be more meaningful if we call everyone for a fellowship, a real communion without discriminating others with the sentence announced during the mass “Non-Christians are not allowed to receive Communion!” And I hope that they will dawn someday 🙂 Till then, Eucharist is only for the Baptized Christians!….

Teilhard de Chardin Colloquium 2011 in Sri Lanka

(For those who find the title of this post absolutely bizarre, please refer the following to know, who/ what is Teilhard de Chardin 😉 )

Last Saturday, 10th December 2011 on the Human Rights Day, the Teilhard de Chardin Colloquium 2011 was held at the Subodhi Institute in Sri Lanka. The event was organized by Rev. Fr. Mervyn Fernando and there were also some distinguished guests present at the event. The colloquium commenced with the message of the  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Spiteri and the key note address was delivered by Judge C. G. Weeramantry delivered his speech on “The Legal and Religio – Ethical Order as the Indispensable Foundation of Human Development, Global and Local“. Responses for the keynote were given by Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala (from the global persepctive) and Fr. Mervyn ( Local Perspective). The second session was interesting because it dealt with the question “Have the Religions Failed?“. Four speakers representing the four main religions of the country were invited to express their thoughts, but simultaneously many from the audience were also invited to share their views.

Now what’s the connection with these topics to Chardin?? Actually, even I was trying to connect the dots during the session. I assumed that it was all gonna be a great chant on Chardin. But… Oh là là, the session turned out to be a gold mine for me 😀 Since tis the season for Thesis’ at the Theologate, I’m doing mine on Active Non – Violence. Some of the valuable pearls which fell off from the Judge’s pockets were,

  • Knowledge

Where he explained the Muslim initiative of, “Ink of the Scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr” to seek knowledge.

  • Justice

No odor of corruption should enter Justice. From the king to the farmer, all are equal! Judge is there to extract the dart of inequity from the wound of the wounded. He also spoke of the “Absurdity of the International Law“. Where everyone joined hands in rejecting the idea of the Dumdum Bullets but at present the powerful countries are given the permission to experiment on Nuclear Power. The statement made by the judge was quite thought provoking, because the decision of the IL was for me, jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. (oooh something rhymes… “dum dum”)

  • Decision Making

This was quite interesting, because he took the example of the Native Americans who made decisions taking into consideration the next 7 generations. But today, be it the next 7 generations, do our leaders or even we go beyond the frame of I, Me and Myself when we make decisions??

Dr. Jayantha who took over next, mentioned the name of the industry that has the highest expenditure. (No points for guessing that!!) Hands down, the award goes to the Military Industry. The 3 main conflicts the world is facing are,

  • Nationalism

The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the Earth“. ~ Chardin

  • Consumerism

The “Equitable Distribution of Income along with growth“. A world where there are no slums and malls standing together. Either all slums or all malls.

  • Terrorism

Another interesting area of venture for me. Dr. Jayantha explained that mere erasing of terrorism from a country or world is not victory over terrorism. One should analyze the root cause which led to terrorism and make sure it’s being solved. It’s like giving pain killers without finding what is causing the pain and treating it. Looking back at the past, back home in Sri Lanka, yes we won the war against the LTTE, but have we analyzed and addressed the issues they raised?

Next the stage was taken over by a hot topic, RELIGIONS! Sri Lanka is a multi religious country which has 4 main religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Being such a holy country, has Sri Lanka escaped violence? Are the people walking around freely without any fear? Have we escaped terrorism? NO! Most definitely, despite having the giants of religions, Sri Lanka has failed in Peace and won in violence. So the question was, why have religions failed?

For Sri Lankans,our religion is a vital part of our identity. It is almost like another qualification. But most of us have limited the tag of being a Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu to our identity and not assimilated it to our thoughts, words and actions. Either we are extremists in our religions or we are moderates. So the problem is the vast gap between “Precepts and Practices” as Fr. Mervyn mentioned. We limit ourselves to the Sunday worships and don’t want to go  beyond the ceremonies and rituals of our religion to the actual practicing of religion or rather act what you preach.

Dr. Asanga Tillekeratne (Professor of University of Colombo) gave the Buddhist approach to this question.

Do a Self Criticism

  • IDENTIFY your mistakes.
  • ADMIT your mistakes.

Instead of holding on to the traditional views, religions have to reinterpret their doctrines to suit the current context. People have to be taught to THINK, REFLECT!

Taking upon the Muslim viewpoint, Dr. M. Saleem along with his son Mr. Amjad Saleem explained that Islam is a religion that speaks of Peace and Safety as the name implies. With regard to Terrorism, Islam considers that killing a life is equal to killing the entire humanity. What is being preached has to be put into practice.

A non-Hindu, Professor De Silva (Moratuwa University) quoted the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and said,

  1. Do your duty, don’t expect anything
  2. Tell the Truth and tell it with Love

The world needs an awakening. The more we are silent, the more we are responsible of putting the world in trouble.

Taking upon the Christian Role, Fr. Mervyn mentioned 3 steps,

  1. Experience
  2. Constructive Critical Analysis
  3. Mediation

Like in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus says, “Go and do likewise“, Religion means Action. Doing and experiencing is what matters. The love in doing should be experienced.

So at the end of the day, what is the picture that I got from connecting the dots?? Before this day, I’ve only heard of Chardin, but was never pushed to read or know about him. But on that day, even without speaking about Chardin all the speakers spoke of Chardin. Like Chardin says “Science, philosophy and religion are bound to converge as they draw nearer to the whole“, one should not box themselves. I shouldn’t see Theology, Science, Geography, etc; as different boxes but one round globe; a blend of all colours 🙂