Wednesday
Mar062013

Mimesis

Mimesis is what happens when one person watches the desiring of another. The pleasure is in seeing the other person being deprived of the thing that gave him pleasure. Desire, undetected and unchecked, would turn into envy, to rivalry, and eventually self- destructive conflict.

This is graphically and comically presented in the movie, Gods Must be Crazy. What a difference that carelessly cast out empty coke bottle from a passing aeroplane made to a harmonious, integrated community living in peace for generations in the Kalahari Desert! They lived happily believing that gods have provided for all their needs. They gladly accepted everything the gods provided because gods only provided good things. Suddenly, a strange thing fell from the sky- a thing they had never seen before. But because it fell from the sky, they took it for granted that it was a gift from the gods. Suddenly this strange thing became the object of everyone’s desire. Though they had lived happily for generations without the coke bottle, now that one person took a great deal of pleasure in beating a large yam to pulp another person wanted it for curing snake skin and a third person for fetching water. Rapidly, everyone began to desire this new thing and they all wanted it at the same time. But no one seemed to know why he wanted it or what would happen if he didn’t have it. The only reason they wanted it, it seems, was because someone else was using it and getting a great deal of pleasure out of it. They began to experience feelings they did not seem to possess before the coke bottle came down from the sky. The desire of one person evoked the desire of another. Soon the social cohesion of this tiny, well-knit community exploded and disintegrated into a contagion- a frenzy of irrational selfish behaviour. They kept feeding each other’s desire by desiring it more than the other and started fighting for it.

A community that had never known violence or hatred rapidly became hostile towards each other and dangerous because they all wanted to use the coke bottle and wanted it at the same time. They mimicked each other’s aggression in so far un-known passion of angry retaliation- attack and counter attack. Women and children got hurt in the process. A complete contrast to what life was like for them before the bottle fell down from the sky. If they would continue like that they would soon destroy themselves.

The leader of this little group watched in despair. He had never seen this strange behaviour before. In helplessness he watched his beloved, peace-loving brothers and sisters fighting against each other. He recognized that his community was rapidly heading for self-destruction because of the new object that fell from the sky. It had induced passions and feelings that did not exist among his people. These new passions of greed, anger and hatred were in conflict with the old passions of sharing, caring, giving and forgiving. They imitated each other without a thought for the other. He could not understand why gods would give them such an evil object. “This evil thing must go,” he resolved. And it was his responsibility to get rid of it. At first he threw it, as high as he could, back to the gods who sent it down. But the gods seemed uninterested and sent it back. The bottle landed on his daughter and injured her. This peculiar action made him question the very character of the gods who would give his community an “evil thing” they themselves did not want. A little later, with the permission of his tiny community, he embarked on a mission to find the end of the earth so that he may throw it away. What kinds of troubles he got into in his attempt to rid his community of the “evil thing!”

 

You and I want the same thing. I want it because you want it. I must have it just at that very moment that you want it. Not for the pleasure of having the very object that you have but for the “satisfaction” of depriving you of it. Sometimes, that is the only reason why I want it. This leads to tension, rivalry, conflict and breakdown of relationships. Girard calls this “Acquisitive Mimesis and Mimetic Rivalry.” The entire community begins to fight against each other- plundering, maiming and killing. Violence of “all against all”. It is the self- destructive violence or as another author has described it, “the collective nightmare of mutual murder”.[i] No community can survive long periods of time based on mutual distrust and animosity.

 (An excerpt from "Meeting God in Gandhi Road."


[i] Philip Engle, The Scapegoat Theology and the Problem of Violence (Greensburg, PA: Laurel Highlands Media, 2005), 19.

Tuesday
Feb122013

A Question of Identity

 

Once, for many days, Basha was missing from his favourite spot on the footpath. I was worried for him. My enquiries with some of the other inhabitants of that part of God’s world did not yield a great deal of helpful information. They did not know where he was but assured me that he was not dead. Some of them did not hold him in the same esteemed position as I did. One man said that Basha was an unprofessional beggar. Apparently he was rather erratic in his behaviour. Having known Basha for a while now, I knew he would have a legitimate explanation for his behaviour, if he were still alive.

 

A few days later I found my friend back in his usual place. He handed me a clean newspaper. Once I was seated next to him he told me about the little holiday he had with his sister and her family.

“How often do you have these holidays?”

I do not like being a burden on any one, least of all my sister. She has three children to feed. Her husband is a lazy B... So I dont expect her to look after me. I only visit her when I have saved up some money. I always buy presents for her children.

 

You should never be dependent on other people, he emphasised with a sense of pride while stretching out his hand to a passer-by pleading in the most pitiable tone of voice he has perfected over many years.

Basha has no identity crisis. He is well aware of his role in the community. He is providing a service. He may appeal for sympathy but he does not want sympathy from any one. As far as he is concerned he just wants to be remunerated for the service he provides. Even the metal bowl this cunning contortion artist uses to collect money has a philosophical basis. This economic opportunist does not use a plastic bowl because the coins people drop into it don’t make the same sort of tinkling sound as the aluminium bowl.

You see, he said, people like to feel good when they give something. And I want them to feel good.

The tinkling of the coin in the aluminium bowl would give them that felling. Yes, he is not just providing a service- he is a therapist who provides temporary relief from chronic guilt

I never got around to asking Basha if he sees himself on a par with the doctors and nurses who worked inside the hospital.

See, it is easy to dent this aluminium bowl. You cant do that with plastic.

I didn’t get the point.

People feel sorry for me when they look at this crumbled up bowl. Even the bowl he held in his hand represented him!

You are a cunning man!

He smiled in return. Had his face been still intact with a proper nose and clearly defined lips I would have sensed a bit of cockiness in his smile.

Basha is a shrewd man. He is doing what everybody else does. He is doing what priests and prophets do- inducing and compensating guilt. In the process he makes a profit for himself or at least ensures his survival. He stirs up people’s repressed guilt and suppressed fears. He may not help them to face up to it or seek help to overcome it. But, he provides a way for them to compensate or displace them temporarily. In so doing, Basha knows that he will never be without an income. As long as he can generate guilt and fear, he is assured of a steady income. If they are healed, he is out of business! 

Monday
Feb042013

The prophets of Gandhi Road

 

Sometimes we live as if the people of the Gandhi road are an aberration of God’s creation- a mistake in the hands of an incompetent, careless God. May be this was God’s first attempt at doing something, which did not turn out to be as good as he thought or wanted. Now he has gone somewhere else and done a better job of which we know nothing about. If the poor and destitute of our communities are just a mistake of God, then we have no option but despair and fear. We despair at the inability of God to take care of his creation and fear those who remind us of God’s failure. If you are one of those people who can’t see any good coming out of Gandhi Road, I would like to invite you to carefully read the following conversation between God and Basha (recreated), based on an earlier conversation between God and one of the most successful prophets of the Bible.

 

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.

But, I said, Dear Boss, you have no idea what you are talking about! I am just a beggar on Gandhi road. I dont know how to prophesy. All I know is how to con people into giving me a rupee or two.

That is when the Good Lord got mad at me and yelled, Do not say, I am just a beggar. You must speak to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  

Do not be afraid of their three-piece suits and high-healed shoes. Their Kanchipuram sarees and diamond necklaces are external signs of internal poverty. They look tough but they are scared to death inside. To be honest, they are frightened of you. Any way, what is the panic? Cant you see? I am with you right here in the gutter. I will not abandon you.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched the gap on my face which was my mouth and said to me, I have put my words in your mouth.

I hope what comes out is what you put in! I said, trying to sound funny. I think he got the message, but I am not sure about anyone else. (A Gandhi Road adaptation of Jeremiah 1:4-9)

 

People of Gandhi road are not an aberration in God’s perfect creation. Even before Muniamma and Basha were formed in their mother’s womb, God knew them. In spite of all the misery of their lives today, God communicates his message through them. God has appointed them as signposts and sentries.

 

Lost in Translation

The fear of "undesirables" causes us to build higher compound walls with meaner guard dogs inside stronger security doors. We allow the hedges around us to grow taller until no one can see us and we cannot see anyone. Public parks and bus shelters get remodelled to discourage loitering. Everyone gives the impression that they are too busy to look around. They rush from one place to another scarcely noticing the surroundings or the people around them. And those who do look around do so only to steal and assault or to find the faults and failures of others. Anonymity and scarcity rather than identity and availability are the mantras of our modern life. In our search for meaning we have avoided the real purpose of living. We have no time to sit with an alcoholic on a park bench because we are rushing to lie down on the psychiatrist’s couch. We ignore the drug addict at the shopping mall because we need to get to the pharmacy, before it closes, to get our prescription drug. We do not stop to say hello to a beggar in the street in case we miss the first stanza of the opening hymn at church.

 

Thursday
Jan312013

The People of Gandhi Road

There are two things that work against the discovery and the practicing of truth as revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus. Gill Bailey describes them as “the credulous forms of piety and the gullible forms of scepticism.” We need extraordinary revelation, wisdom and courage to chart a path between these two treacherous broadways most traversed. Unfortunately, revelation gets contaminated by deception. Reason gets distorted by hubris, and courage is often misdirected for personal gain.

 We should not give into a particular way of thinking just because the alternative is too difficult.

 I write this book because I have been looking for God in the wrong places. I am guilty of being satisfied with a stage managed God. But more recently, I have had the opportunity to “walk with people” who had lost their sense of belonging, purpose in life, and the joy of being alive in spite of their faith in God. I have also had the pleasure of being led by people who have found their identity in the most unlikely places and in the most “unholy” situations. They have taught me that God is not afraid of me. That God is proud of his creation and is still actively present in every corner of the world.

The heroes of faith are, in one sense or other, failed people. But to their credit, they refused to be content with a “feel good” God. And true to his nature, God showed faith in them. That is the fundamental distinction between failed people and people of faith. When we talk about men and women of faith, we are not talking about people who possessed extraordinary supernatural power but ordinary people whom God trusted. I am not saying that they trusted God, but God trusted them. In the following pages I would like to introduce you to some of them. I like to call them “the people of Gandhi Road.”

Wednesday
Jan302013

Forgiveness and Freedom

Justice is Forgiveness

God’s justice is mostly about his forgiveness. 

Redemptive justice focuses on the restoration of individuals and communities to each other. It brings together the offender and the offended – not to face each other in a standoff but to stand together and face the supreme judge of all humans. To hear his verdict both individually and together. But this seldom happens. Jesus wanted to teach them the difference between redemptive justice and retributive justice. 

Retributive justice says, “You are bad. You deserve to be stoned to death.” The other extreme would be to say, “You are not bad because nothing is bad.” A more compassionate approach is to say, “You are bad but that is ok.” But none of these responses would help this woman (the woman caught in the acto of adultery). Neither are they good for the well-being of any community. In Jesus eyes she was both an offender and a victim. As such she was in need of redemption because she was powerless to reform herself. She must be delivered from her inclination to offend. She also needed to be redeemed from her “need” to offend. He is concerned about her- not just the consequences of her actions or life-style but the way she would live from then on, as well. 

Jesus was more than a mere teacher of the law of God. He was the ultimate embodiment and expression of the love of God. We cannot understand justice without love, or love without forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the circuit breaker of mimetic violence. It is the reversal of the retributive repletion of violence. 

Of course no one deserves to be forgiven. The act of forgiveness is a reflection of the character of the forgiver rather than the right of the forgiven. Forgiving is an act of love, kindness and justice bundled into one. The result of forgiveness is peace- not always between the offender and the offended but every time within the person who forgives.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. To forgive is to let go. It is almost like saying, Untie me as I untie others and let them go. The degree to which we let others “go” is the degree to which we experience freedom. The religious mob wanted to embalm this woman in her past. But Jesus had better plans for her and them. As long as they held her captive, they would fail to experience God’s liberating power that sets the captives free.

Forgiveness is a miracle. It is supernatural. It is the work of God. Forgiveness is also a gift of God. It requires a higher reference point than human nobility or magnanimity. It is not possible to truly forgive another unless motivated (constrained) by the love of God. When we fail to forgive, says St. Paul, we “grieve the Holy Spirit of God. So he instructs his readers to put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander and to be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving one another, as God has forgiven you in Christ.

(An excerpt from "Meeting God in Gandhi Road")