Saturday, October 11, 2008

Toso Chalo

Published in The Fiji Times
"Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan"
3rd September, 2008 page 7

As you read this article, I am most probably wandering around in the desert heat of the Sinai Peninsula at the early stages of a spiritual exodus of my own. I am actually on my way to the United Kingdom, but that is a story for another day.

During the many farewells that I have been accorded by the various communities within the Methodist Church in the last few days, many a conversation has turned towards the fact that there will be at least IRB Rugby Sevens World Series tournaments that my being in the UK will afford me the opportunity to attend. When this realization occurs, speculation even suggests that I should try to go to Dubai for the Rugby Sevens World Cup. Being a Talatala, the suggestion is often made that I should offer myself as a chaplain to the Fiji Team when they are playing nearby.

Of course this is not to say that my sole purpose of traveling to the UK is to be “on standby” for the Fiji Team or the Pacific Islanders for that matter, to offer spiritual services in order for a team pass to the tournament or test match. However, it has raised in my mind the issue of spiritual guidance for our sporting ambassadors, such as the National Sevens team.

On of my colleagues at the Davuilevu Theological College, Rev. Waisea Kania, has had first hand experience of providing spiritual preparation for our Sevens team, a with a very positive outcome. He was the spiritual mentor, one could say, of the Fiji’s successful campaign at the San Diego leg of the IRB 7s Circuit in 2007, visiting the US at the time, when he was drafted into the squad, so to speak, by coach, Dr. Waisale Serevi.

That the majority of Fiji Islanders, Methodist or not, consider themselves spiritual people is perhaps a generalization, but for many sports people, their “psyching up,” or mental preparation is often quite spiritual. Now I am not a sports psychologist, but given our National Fifteens attitude during last year’s World Cup campaign, I am convinced that having a minister (Rev. Rinakama) on the coaching staff (he seems to combine the physical and spiritual into an effective form of ministry) was beneficial to the team as a whole.

With the National Sevens manager yet to be decided (or announced), the FRU board may wish to consider the spiritual mentoring needed by the team as part of the abilities which any manager brings to the table. Dr. Serevi certainly seems to do so. Perhaps I should stress here that itIt would certainly help with discipline, both on and off the field and be an important part of the non-physical preparation a winning side needs to do. Of course, this being said, the FRU may have to seek clearance from the Fiji Human Rights Commission to ensure it is not encroaching on the religious rights of minorities who may not believe in the same God as the team, coach and manager, but have the right to pray to Him for the success of the team or their own success with a Scratch and Win lotto ticket. The team management might also have to check with the FHRC to make sure that it is not offensive to say a team prayer together, broadcast on television for thousands of nominal Christians and non-Christians to see, or for the captain, coach, manager or even fan to thank God publicly after a game. Even for those for whom rugby is a religion.

I know I may have taken the chairperson of the Fiji Human Rights Commission’s recent statements on the work of the Methodist Church’s evangelism department, to an exaggerated level, but it seems that many “official” statements recently are, in the words of my almost four-year old son, “rather silly.”

Christianity is a missionary religion. The last words of Christ to his disciples before His ascension was for His follower to proclaim the good news in their neighbourhoods and to the ends of the earth, My understanding of Islam is that it is also a missionary religion, seeking propagation. Perhaps Dr. Serevi could explain to Dr. Shameem that his public profession of faith is his exercising of his freedom of expression.

It is almost a case of the “Rooster Chicken” or the egg – which comes first: Freedom of Religion, or Freedom of Expression. And what about the freedom that the minorities Dr. Shameem is so worried about, can exercise – the freedom not to listen or say, ‘thanks but no thanks’. Maybe the rewriters of the “Most or Some People’s Charter,” will have to have look at the prayer that almost every parliamentarian has either prayed or bowed their head out of respect at the opening of every session of Parliament, whether that is impinging on the religious freedom of the nation. Or maybe the point has been missed altogether by those who like to wave the red flag when religion, perhaps Christianity, or Methodism in particular is mentioned. After all the sharing of one’s faith with someone of a different faith, will at the very least allow for some education on another religion and possibly lead to interfaith discourse and a mutual understanding, which is essential for a pluralistic society in which we live.

I was on the receiving end of a taxi-driving citizen’s exercising of his right to express his view on the “current clean up campaign and charter exercise” as espoused by his fearless leader. The honest devotion to the “cause” (at least this cause has a full-colour brouchure as opposed to hastily written operational orders written in 1987 or word of mouth and whimsical fancies of 2000) was of course befitting a member of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, off duty, out of uniform and driving a taxi but “a thousand percent” behind his commander. Candid debate ensued when I asked the “rooster or the egg” version of which comes first, the Charter or Democracy. However, while I admired this soldier/taxi driver’s loyalty, passion and commitment to the course of action, I could not help but wonder whether the propagation of the People’s Charter was impinging on my freedom as a member of a religious minority (okay so there are more Indian Christians than Scientologists in Fiji – but compared to Muslims and Hindus we are a small group; even small if just count Indian Methodists) which holds to an older and internationally recognised charter. Will my religious charter count towards progress and peace my country? Or will I have to say yes to pseudo political rhetoric in order to have my say count?

One thing my charter-evangelising soldier/ taxi driver agreed on: that our country is still very young (38years only) and compared to many of the places where our soldiers serve as peace-keepers, our country is still better off. We are dealing with our problems with relative peace and civility. We can still sit with those we oppose around a tanoa. Above all, we still have hope.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace.

Rev. James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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