Monday, September 26, 2011

“If the Costume Fits”

Published in "Mai Word with Padre J. S. Bhagwan," in Mai Life – August, 2010

I recently attended the 21st birthday celebrations of one Albert “don’t call me Robert” Ben Harry. As young Al was born in 1989 he decided to have an “Eighties” (1980’s... not 80 year-olds only) theme to his coming of age celebratory experience. I believe that for a brief, and rather scary, moment Al’s friends thought that this was a “what I wore during the eighties” theme party meaning nappies, diapers, plastic pants and baby clothes.

However the alternative, “inspired by the eighties” theme was also daunting. Especially as the official invite came in about a week and a half before the party. How do I grow a luxurious 1987-style Rambo-ka moustache in fifteen days when I stopped buying mushroom tea in case someone reported me importing suspicious chemicals? Most of us who were walking talking living dolls of the 80’s probably couldn’t fit the school uniforms, rugby jerseys or the bananaramic/madonnafication outfits we thought were so “rad” and “excellent”.

As I reflected on what the 80s meant to me and who my 80s icons were, I made some (what I felt were) poignant observations. For example, in the 80s LL Cool J was a rap artist – not just an actor; U2 had more hair and Kelly LeBrock had more curves than her future husband Steven Segal. In the 80s the term Brat Pack referred not to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr. But Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez (Charlie Sheen’s brother) and Robert Downey Jnr. In the 80s, stuble, t-shirt under the suit and loafers or shoes with no socks was the smooth Miami Vice look not the 90’s grunge look or 2000’s lazy slob look. In the 80’s Diana was a princess not an ex-princess. In the 80s, the Transformers were just a bunch of fancy robot toys that became a cartoon series and movie. In the 80s, Sly Stallone had only made two Rambo movies. In the 1980s a word sounding like, “ho,” usually meant a farming implement.

My son, the boy wonder was inspired by his cousin to have his own thematic event for his upcoming 6th birthday. However due to his eccentric tastes and thoughts, he has been inspired to set the theme of his party as The Body. That’s right you may only attend this shindig if you come dressed as a part of the Human Body. What is even stranger is that he has already decided on his costume. Daddy and mummy have two and a half months to conceptualise, design and create a urethra costume! For those of you not medically minded the urethra is the tube in mammals that carries urine from the bladder out of the body and in the male also carries semen during ejaculation! I have about 70 days to convince him that he is too young to be walking around dressed as the inside of a giant penis. Boy genius huh? More like evil genius, mad genius, genius who may scare the other children at his party.

It’s not his fault really. I was, at a young age, used as a human mannequin by my two sisters whenever it was a fancy-dress parade or costume competition or party. Unfortunately this meant a lot of feminine or gender-ambiguous costumes. Instead of a chef I went as a cook. Instead of Michael Jackson it was a ballerina. As a “beautiful child” (the words of the olden people) this would mean that I was seen as a girl dressed as a ballerina rather than an awarding performance of a boy forced to be a ballerina (“Boys Don’t Cry” got nothing on me!). My father would always try to put his ingenious costuming to good use to defend my masculinity and my coolness by turning me into a market vendor, Chinese farmer, skeleton, a Lautoka City Council rubbish tin and even Moses himself, complete with a moppy beard.

Over the years the costume twitch (or itch) remained with me stronger than the force. I made my own “Robinson Crusoe” clothes to wonder around my deserted backyard in; to my mother’s confusion (she did not know whether to be in horror for the destruction of sheets and pillowcase or joyful at her sons tailoring skills) I created the first made in Fiji ninja costume. I was able to turn a simple blue and red tracksuit into a Spiderman costume.

Then I went to New Zealand for boarding school and returned to the world of sister-dress-up. Fortunately this time I my sisters retained the masculinity (a Bowiesque one) in my outfits. However they were drenched in smooth. Slicked back hair, cravats, the Miami-Vice look - great for any male of 17 and above; boring for an eleven and half year old.

When I later returned to New Zealand, this time to train as an actor at the prestigious “Performing Arts School” in Ponsonby, Auckland (where everyone I trained with immediately went onto act on Shortland Street) my dramatic classmate and I would don our suits, overcoats and earpieces and walk around malls, the airport and act (pretend!) the roles of CIA/FBI-types, speaking into our hands or watches and smiling at the ladies while maintaining our distances from the kids for fear of looking less like heroes and more like paedophiles. Or we would find the nearest funeral and go and practice our mourning scenes.

All this talk or typing of costumes reminds me of two of my other dramatic buddies who were invited to a party where everyone had to come as an emotion. The only costumes they could find (or had) were from a photo-shoot or television commercial which involved custard and fruit. The hostess opens her door to find one guy with a bowl of custard placed strategically over his crotch and the other with a pear in the same place. “What emotions are you two supposed to be?” asked the suspicious hostess. The response was not quite what she expected:

“I’m deeply dis custard and he’s deep in dis pear.”


A sunbaked, self-confessed Jesus-freak, Padre James Bhagwan spends his time between doing laps in the pool, lecturing at Davuilevu Theological College, preaching at Dudley Methodist Church, playing with his children and driving his wife around the bend.

Introducing the Institute for Counter Terrorism

ICT from GuySadot on Vimeo.

Songs in the Key of "J"

(From MAI WORD with Padre James Bhagwan, in Mai Life - May, 2011)

During Holy Week last month (that is the week between Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and His resurrection after washing his disciples feet, eating a last supper, being arrested, tortured, interrogated, dragged from one show trial to another, flogged, mocked, tortured again and brutally executed by crucifixion) I was late for a church service and stuck for transport so I hailed a taxi.

As the driver, a rather jovial person (the type who you half expect to burst into song as he drives) was alert and steady at the wheel, which was a good thing as at a particular intersection he suddenly hit the brakes to avoid bumping a figure that strode purposefully onto the road.

At first I couldn’t make out the person who had either laid claim to the road or had special super mutant vision that enabled them to see pedestrian crossings on a different part of the light spectrum, or vibration, or frequency or dimension. This is because my face was busy getting intimate with the windscreen. Point to note, had I not been wearing a seatbelt (for a car not as a fashion accessory) instead of trying to “fix” the windscreen, I would have gone all the way into and out of the windscreen.

However as disengaged my face from I was able to make out the figure of the teen tropical hip-hopper (hoodie, hotpants and flipflops) noticing the white cord running from the mobile phone/discotheque to the earphones embedded and thumping in ... her ear. She kept strollin/grooving/boppin’ along her merry way. She hadn’t even noticed the scream of tyres on asphalt. I joked to the jolly taxi-driver who was shouting out a mixture colourful advice on pedestrian etiquette and one liners, that perhaps she was so busy listening to her theme song that she didn’t know that he was giving his dialogue.

As we raced (within the speed limit of course) to the church and as the driver began his own sing-a-long to the radio (trust me a chubby, hairy, sweaty man singing ‘Touch me touch me touch me, hold me hold me hold me...’ with gusto is not a pretty sight), I looked out the window and as my own theme song for that day or taxi-ride: a medley of a re-worded theme song from Shaft (who’s the talatala that can battle yo demons...can you dig it?),the rap remix of the hymn Trust and Obey and Bob Marley’s One Love; I wondered how many people have their own theme songs running through their earphones or even just through their mind.

Trucktimus Prime, my pickup truck (yes we name everything in my family, the dog is Perseus Thomas Bhagwan) does not yet have a radio installed. As a result my children sing their favourite songs as we travel to school and work every morning. My savant son (all 6 ½ years of him) is currently torn between a lifelong (make that life so far) commitment to UB40 and a rapidly growing appreciation of the guitar skills of Carlos Santana and the percussive talents of his band. His younger sister was part (the Class 1 part) of the school choir for their pre-Easter Service. Music genres, as a result, are varied in the morning ride (sometimes punctuated with “Morningside for Life”) musical.

We would begin with “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” followed by “Who you fighting for?” (usually a prelude to the morning episode of who you fighting with?). Reconciliation begins with “I will never forget you, my people” (which could also represent grudge harbouring) and continues with “Reasons why I love you 1, 2, 3 etc”. In the meantime wife/mother mulls over the options: “Happy to be stuck with you,” “This Kiss,” or “Kiss and say goodbye,” and “Someone come and take my kids away for a couple of days and the aliens can have my husband back,” ( well if it’s not a song , then it should be!!).

I am happy to sing along with everyone, just so long as every now and then I get to change some of the word of their songs, hence “Who you fighting with?” “What can wash away the grog stains from Daddy’s sulu?” at which my wife will interject, “nothing but the washing powder and the hands of Daddy!” The fact that my first love in music is jazz, most of my songs are instrumentals, which make for interesting eavesdropping on the morning ride to school:

What can wash away my sin...(back up – what can wash away Dad’s kani), nothing but the blood of Jesus (back up – only the moisturiser)... You do the lootin’, they do the shootin’ you give the longbar, we eat the long bar.... bukatika bukatika bukatika bukatika tow ka tow tow bukatika bukatika ( a little baseline thrown in) reasons why you love me one – I light your day I’m your number one son... bukatika bukatika bukatika bukatika tow ka tow tow bukatika bukatika... who’s the talatala that can battle yo demons (and the kids shout:) Daddy! Can you dig it?”

Rev. J.S. Bhagwan spends his time splashing in the pool; preaching, teaching and do-gooding in the Dudley Suva Methodist Circuit and driving his wife around the bend. He is the proud owner of a collapsible three-legged stool.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

You don't need to be a superhero to fight Racial Discrimination

Even Superheroes get stumped.. not be evil intergalactic creatures... but a racisim...


Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

TODAY marks the 30th anniversary of the United Nations International Day of Peace.

United States president Barack Obama, the most recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly to mark this special day.

Many heads of state will also be addressing the General Assembly on this day; and it is expected that Laura Chinchilla Miranda, the president of Costa Rica, will speak about International Day of Peace.

Costa Rica not only officially recognises this occasion, but was also the country to introduce the original resolution creating this day in 1981.

The first four words of the UN charter are: "To maintain international peace."

There will be a minute of silence at noon in all time zones worldwide, as requested by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and sponsored by Pathways To Peace on behalf of the Culture of Peace Initiative.

The initiative is a network of thousands of groups working year round to produce and promote practical peace-building activities.

Many groups are actively promoting this 'Minute of Silence' and tens of millions of people will be doing this in the hope to envelope the world with a 'Wave of Peace'.

For those who don't know, Pathways To Peace initiated this program over 20 years ago and even called it The Peace Wave back then.

In fact, the idea for the Secretary General's annual request for the minute of silence at noon in all time zones actually stemmed from this program.

Of course, global technology wasn't what it is today.

In more ways than one, this is an idea whose time has come. Peace begins within ù but extends to wherever we take it.

The Culture of Peace Initiative focuses on three guiding principles and actions:

(1) Peace within ù the minute of silence at noon in each time zone;

(2) Peace without ù an act of service for peace that benefits the larger community;

(3) Peace year round ù a commitment to a daily peace practice by joining with others to build a worldwide culture of peace.

Today, according to the Associated Press, a meeting of the nuclear envoys from North and South Korea could provide crucial momentum towards restarting disarmament talks, just months after the two countries were threatening to bomb each other into rubble.

AP reports other recent positive signs between the Koreas include a delegation of Buddhists who visited North Korea earlier this month, and South Korean government's approval of a trip this week by Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist leaders to the North.

A prominent South Korean maestro said last week after a trip to North Korea that he has agreed with North Korean officials on regular joint symphony performances in Seoul and Pyongyang ù though South Korean officials have yet to review the details.

The late Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr said: "Without justice, there can be no peace. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it."

In 2002, the late Pope John Paul II titled his Peace Day message, "No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness."

Today is an opportunity for each of us to remember that "world peace" is not some wishy-washy ideal, but something that begins with being at peace with ourselves.

As I write in Seoul, I remember that just a year ago, a tree was planted for peace in the grounds of the Davuilevu Theological College.

The planting of that little vesi seedling, in the soil, symbolised the need for positive peace to be deeply rooted in the hearts of people called to a ministry of peace and reconciliation.

What can you plant today?

If you plant honesty, you will reap trust;

If you plant goodness, you will reap friends;

If you plant humility, you will reap greatness;

If you plant perseverance, you will reap contentment;

If you plant consideration, you will reap perspective;

If you plant hard work, you will reap success;

If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation;

If you plant peace, you will reap justice.

So, be careful what you plant now; it will determine what you will reap later.

As it is also the World Council of Churches International Day of Prayer for Peace, I invite you to reflect on a prayer that has been around for a long time, used and quoted by leaders and ordinary people called to be extraordinary in the struggle for peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen. (Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi)

Be Still, Stand in Love, Pay Attention.

* Reverend James Bhagwan is a student of the International Graduate School of Theology at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Postcard from Seoul

Published in the Fiji Times - Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan- Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anneyong-haseyo from Seoul, South Korea!

After a little delay and a ten-hour flight, I landed at Seoul's Incheon International Airport to find the weather just as warm as Nadi. However, I have been warned by my hosts that this will all change in a few weeks as we head into autumn and then winter. And to think that I have just left the "Fiji Winter" of a "chillary" 20 degrees celsius and in a few months will experience temperatures below freezing.

I am in Korea to attend the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of Theology's Masters in Theology programme. With me in the the programme are ministers/pastors and lay men and women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma) the Philippines and Cuba, who for the next two years will be part of my "family in Christ" in Korea.

The other part of my Korean "family in Christ" are the Pastors, Elders and members of the Gaepo Methodist Church, my sponsors and hosts during my time in Korea. I spend Mondays to Fridays studying and residing at the University and during the weekends, I reside in a flat in the Gaepo Church building.

The Gaepo Methodist Church was established about 26 years ago with only 7 members. 

Today its members number in the hundreds and the church holds 4 main services Sunday services, special services and programmes for children and youth as well as daily dawn prayer meetings and services on Wednesday and Friday nights.

The senior pastor of the Gaepo Church is Rev. Sung-ok Ahn, a humble, spirit-led and charismatic ordained minister of the Methodist Church. He is assisted by a number of assistant pastors (talatalas not vakatawas in our i-Taukei context). As in Methodist tradition, the leadership of the church is shared between the clergy and the lay elders.

The church is active in evangelism and weekly new members are introduced and welcomed during the main 11am service.

As an aside, Rev. Ahn is a lover of wildlife, birds in particular. On the top floor of the church, directly opposite my flat and the dining hall for members communal lunches, is an aviary (glass birdhouse) with beautifully coloured birds. Rev. Ahn spends time every day with the birds, although he is quick to point out that we in Fiji have the most beautiful bird in his book, the Kadavu Parrot.

Gaepo Church is also very active in mission work. Currently the church has 40 missions in 28 countries, including Myanmar, China, Nepal and Fiji (Vision College, and Naibale Methodist Church in Vision Circuit - Indian Division).

I arrived on the weekend of Father's Day (for the western world / one week before Father's Sunday in the Methodist Church in Fiji), which meant that I had to spend this father's day away from my family. Strangely enough, I didn't miss it. The reason was that in South Korea, as in most Asian countries, instead of Mother's Day or a Father's Day there is a Parents' Day which falls on May the 8th, while Children's Day is on May 5th.

Instead of Sunday lunch with my family in Suva, I have Sunday lunch with my new family - the entire congregation of Gaepo Church.

In the evening, I join Assistant Pastors, Rev. Zhi and Rev. Nam and the churches audio-visual team for dinner as I sha
re my experiences in media with them.

What I did experience this past weekend was Chuseok, the Harvest or Autumn festival.
While the tradition relates to a day for honouring one's ancestors, for Christians in Korea, this weekend is a family Thanksgiving weekend, particularly for the elders or seniors in the family. Monday and Tuesday are holidays to allow people to travel to their home towns to be with their extended family.
On Monday, I joined Rev. Ahn and his family for a 45-minute drive out of Seoul to a Senior Citizens' Village where Rev. Ahn's father, a former principal, Christian book publisher and Pastor now resides. Grandfather has spent a number of years doing mission work in China, and has a good command of Chinese, which coupled with some English and my beginner's Korean and basic Fiji Chinese phrases, made for interesting conversation over lunch.

Apart from the obvious academic programme at the Methodist Theological University, there is a marked emphasis on spirituality, with many quiet places for prayer and regular early morning, lunchtime and evening services.
On Friday morning I had the opportunity to lead the IGST students in devotion. Services in the University are mainly in Korean but there is a translation service for international students until we learn enough Korean to understand and there are a number of English-language services.
In the midst of it all, my thoughts often return home to family and friends and my beloved nation. Of course there is always a way to watch rugby during the World Cup... Go Fiji Go.
There is much to learn here, not just academically, but there are lessons to be learned of a mission-oriented church, that does not get sidetracked from its core work of proclaiming the Gospel and living a life based on the ethics of the Kingdom of God. In a country still separated from its own people by a demilitarised zone with an unpredictable brother in North Korea just beyond the 38th Parallel, there is also much we can learn about peacemaking, reconciliation and hope.
Annyeonghi gaseyo and may your week be filled with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.
nRev. James Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister for the Dudley Methodist Circuit - Indian Division, Methodist church in Fiji and Rotuma. The views expressed are his own.