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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Thai Wai, Family, Spirits and Kissing

July 3, 2012 1 comment

  The Wai Greeting

When we arrived in Thailand we were greeted by people raising both hands, palms touching with the fingers pointing upwards as if in prayer but touching the body somewhere on their head or chest. This called wai – pronounced ‘why’.

The wai is a sign of greeting but also respect in Thai culture. These people are extremely respectful of hierarchical relationships and during our time in Thailand I sensed people we met were trying to place where we fit within a hierarchy so they know how we should be treated.

There are many variations of the wai depending on the difference in status or level. The heights of the palms are the most crucial criteria of respect to be demonstrated to another. The higher the more respect is paid.  Here is a list I found that summarizes the rules for wai:

  • With less important: Thumbs about on breast height.
  • With ones of equal rank: Thumbs about on chin level.
  • With important and older people: Thumbs on level of the upper lip.
  • With very important people: Thumbs on level of the nose tip.
  • With monks (and members of the royal family): Thumbs on level of the eyebrows.

Family


When Bob and I came through security at the Chiang Mai airport, we received a different kind of welcome. My niece Christy and her husband Cahtaw were there to greet us with their children Isaiah and Celina. They were all excited to see Uncle Carson. There was no questioning where we fit in a hierarchy – we were family.

No wai here – just lots of hugs.

Family seems to be the cornerstone that holds Thai society together. It reminds me of Ireland where family relationships are more closely knit than in most western cultures.

However, in Thailand, as with most Asian cultures, there is a strong hierarchy within the family structure with males and older individuals occupying a higher status. The role of the wife is to be passive and to adhere to husband’s family, be subservient to the male, take care of the home, and to have children (preferably sons). The role of the male is to provide for the family however the primary duty is to be a good son; obligations to be a good husband and father come second to duty as a son.

Present and the Past – at the same time

Now it is one thing to live with this in the present, but in Thailand you see many ‘spirit houses’ on display outside homes. I found this interesting because Buddhism dominates Thailand and yet spirit worship (animism) are found side by side. In Thailand devotion to Buddhism most often shows itself in ritual within a temple while Thai devotion to spirits most often shows itself in their own front yards. There can be a statue of Buddha in the doorway and a spirit house outside.

It is not uncommon for Thai’s to worship the spirits of ancestors and therefore live in a constant “past present” time orientation. So this ‘respect’ for family members can transcend even death. I witnessed people give wai towards a spirit house in respect of the ancestor or spirit they thought was occupying the house.

It is for reasons like this that Christian believers in Thailand have questions about whether they should use the wai or respond when waied (if that is a word?). It can symbolize belief in spirits or be viewed as an act of worship – hence the problem. This is perhaps a topic for a separate blog, let me instead get back to familial hierarchy.

I have been pondering this as a follower of Jesus, and as a leader in a multi-ethnic church where we are trying to create community in the heart of the city. Hierarchy does not flow from the mandate and example of Jesus. He emphasizes servant leadership – “first shall be last” modelling.

The doctrine of the Trinity itself – three equal while different persons – challenges hierarchical structures of power. The word hierarchy is not found anywhere in the New Testament. So is it right for Asian Christians, or Irish Christians for that matter to place more importance of family and hierarchy than on what Jesus desires for us?

More pondering required on this.

Wai/Kiss

In other countries where Bob and I have visited we have been greeted with a “holy kiss”. In South America, people are fairly tactile: they hug and kiss (on the cheek) and hold hands all the time. This men-kissing-men takes a lot of getting used to, especially for us reserved Canadians.

In Peru they kissed twice, once on each cheek, and in Argentina it was three times – a formulae I always seemed to get wrong. Do you go for the right cheek, the left cheek? Do you hold back and wait? Do you lunge and embarrassingly kiss mid-air or bump heads? It was safer in Kuwait. There, kissing outside the home can land you in jail for a week, but then again so can driving a jet ski inside a little red buoy – but that is another story. 🙂

While I loved the graceful gesture of the wai in Thailand, it will not be a practice I am encouraging back home.

I think we need to kiss more.

God. Come back again next year.

June 23, 2012 1 comment

Indians love elephants.

Everywhere you look, shops, police office, banks, our hotel – you see statues like this:

It is a representation of Ganesha. Of all the gods collectively in Hinduism – this one is definitely the favorite.

This elephant god is worshipped in a big way for ten days once every year. Ganesha is not really what I would call attractive. He has the head of an elephant on which is perched this tiara. Add to that four podgy hands joined to a sizeable belly with each hand holding a symbolic object.  My graduate degree was in Religious Studies with Dr. Irving Hexham and I am looking forward to getting back to my library to read up on what all those symbols mean.

Apparently Ganesha is god of new beginnings and commonly worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. People are encouraged to worship him early in the morning, offer him some sweets and ask him to remove all obstacles in your way.

“A Hindu would not think of starting anything without first paying homage to the elephant god,” said my host. “Starting a new job, opening a business, before a big trip – anything that is new.”

He continued, “There is a festival each year and for ten days the people have statues made and at the end of the time there is a big processional through the streets and people carry them into the sea.”

When the large processional statue is immersed in the sea it is to symbolize a farewell to the god as he is going off  to his “abode” in Kailash. As he goes he is taking away the misfortunes (sin) of his worshippers.

Come back again next year

Now, what I found interesting is that the festival ends with all the worshippers splashing water and calling out essentially, “Come back again next year.”

So for 51 weeks of the year they are basically godless. (Hmmm that seems convenient.)

When I think about my experience as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and that of those worshipping Ganesha the contrasts are interesting. In my opinion I think the average Hindu must feel a little hopeless. They are dependent on their own works to escape from “samsara” that endless cycle of rebirths, where I as a Christian experience a life of hope and assurance of my salvation. Now. Today.

I also know one God who cares deeply for me. With the vast plurality of gods and goddesses, Hinduism offers a very impersonal ‘Brahman‘ (the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena). Add to this that Hinduism views ALL living things as manifestations of Brahman therefore humans have no individual self and no self-worth.  Christianity worships God who not only created mankind, but also gave us free will.  He cares deeply for us, and places a huge amount of worth on you and I as His creation.

There is simply too much to be added to this discussion, and I need to get back home to the Trinity Knot Library and talk to Dr. Hexham to refresh my knowledge, but let me close with this. Salvation for the Hindu is the release from the wheel of life, the cycle of rebirths, through which they must work to better themselves, and realize our oneness with Brahman which is Nirvana.  It is work and must be carried out by each individual through successive lives. Since “sin” is committed only against oneself, the penalties are accrued only against the self.  The penalty is the repeated cycle of rebirths

Salvation for the Christian is a free gift to us from God.  We only have to accept it.  We cannot earn it.  No amount of work will change it. Jesus bought our salvation by taking all our sin upon Himself on the cross, dying as a sacrifice for us, and then rising from the dead three days later.  It was a one time act. Salvation means spending eternity with our Almighty God and we can start living like that today.

If I was starting something new, I’m not going to be taking the idea to an elephant god that is only present ten days a year.

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus (Matthew 28.20)

Doppelgängers and Recognition

April 20, 2011 Comments off

Doppelgängers

The TV sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” has popularized the use of the word “Doppelgänger” as a term to describe finding a ‘double,’ an erie but awesome look alike. It is a word that causes you to use both lips and tongue to say it aloud and makes you want to smile just saying it. The TV sitcom uses it to describe finding a look alike of their friends such as Vancouver actress Cobie Smulders who plays television reporter Robin Scherbatsky, also a Canadian. Take for example Cobie Smulder (Robin), Kirstie – my son’s girlfriend, and Meghan Fox. Given the right hairstyle and pose – very similar.

Robin

In my travels I frequently come across strangers who look like someone I know. Over the years have used these occurences as a prompt to pray for my friends. Now I have  name for it. I have recently expanded my travel game to include taking a photo of the doppelgänger and then sending it to my friend with the location of where I am at the time and a note to say that I paused to pray for them.

Doppleganger David

Recently I noticed a fellow in the balcony of a church in New York that looked like my friend David – and I paused to pray for him.

In an airport I saw a fellow that reminded me of my friend Eli Hernadez so I also offered up a prayer for him. (Interestingly I received a Blackberry message from him just minutes later.)

This little reminder to pray has increased my intercession for others – and it is fun. Try it.

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Recognition

I knocked on the door then opened it announcing my arrival with “Hello” with the ‘..lo’ drawn out and sounding musical.

“Gampa.Gampa” came squeals of delight accompanied by the sound of feet running towards me. My two ‘walking’ grandsons, Landon (3) and Liam (1) rushed towards me. Landon imitating the moves of a hockey player with his socks sliding on the wood floor and Liam walking carefully – trying not to smile so broadly that his soother would fall out – with his arms upheld . This is the universal sign language for ‘pick me up and hug me Grandpa’.

Simply the sound of my voice was enough recognition for us to embrace in this little love-fest at the door.

Don’t we love being recognized by those who love us?

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Recognized By Your Love

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” —John 13:35

This was the test Jesus said would distinguish his followers. We would be recognized by our love for one another. The Bible gets more specific on the ‘love’ we are to show.  To present or show this ‘love’ succinctly we are instructed  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Howard Lawrence and I had a chance to hang out together in Phoenix and I enjoyed discussing neighborhoods. He is an Arrow leader who directs the Neighbourhood Life emphasis of Forge particularly attending to what God is up to in our neighborhoods.

Who is your neighbor?

The word comes to us from an old english term, nēahgebūr – from nēah [nigh, near] + gebūr [inhabitant]. There is no way of dodging the fact that if you are a follower of Jesus you should be known by your love, and we must be engaged in loving those who live near you.

In our developing of leaders in the Arrow Leadership Program we remind them of this need for recognition by love, and add that our ‘first neighbor’ is actually your family – spouse and children, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews – and of course grandchildren.

Howard and I reflected on how the actions and expectations of ‘the church’ frequently mitigate against our doing just that.  It has left me reflecting on how Arrow might encourage Christian leaders to engage their personal communities and empower those they influence to do the same. A key to this being successful is that those who engage their neighbors are spiritually formed by Christ – mature and transparent enough to handle the love.

What do you think? I’d like reading your thoughts.

Would your neighbors say that you are a doppelgänger for Jesus?