Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So Christ is born. Now what?


Published in "Off the Wall," Fiji Times, Wednesday 28th December, 2011

It is three days after Christmas. Most of the parties are over. Most of the leftovers have been eaten. The presents have been unwrapped and appreciated in various degrees. Now what?
In between the short three days from the Boxing Day public holiday to the next long weekend in which we celebrate the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012, is it possible for us to have a meaningful reflection on the end of one year and ponder the future that lies ahead?
There about seven weeks between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of that other great season of the Christian faith, Lent.
This is a period of preparation for the commemoration of Jesus death and resurrection.
So what happens between these seasons? What happens after Lent, Easter and Pentecost before the next Advent season? In other words what happens in the ordinary time?
I express myself using Christian terms and metaphors, not because more than half our population is Christian, but because it is the context from which I begin my reflection.
However it leads to a point I wish to make about what directions our lives take in between the significant days of all our communities of faith and our societies.
What happens between Eid and the next Ramadan for example? Or after Diwali and before Holi?
I understand that my brothers and sisters of other faiths have many other significant days in between, but I am speaking of those major moments where the whole country pays attention, participates or reflects?
While the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle, its most holy day, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, often falls near to our national day, October 10.
I wonder what sort of atonement could take place in our country on Fiji Day? After all, true reconciliation comes with restorative justice.
Our faith leaders, our holy book encourage us to be good good Christians, good Hindus, good Muslims, good Sikhs, good Buddhists, good Bahai'i, good Mormons, good Jehovah's Witnesses basically good human beings.
The golden rule "Do unto others (or don't do unto others) as you would have done (or not done) to you," can be found in almost every scripture in the world.
Yet still we continue in a vicious cycle which is the exact opposite: "it was done to me so I am going to make sure I do it to some else!"
Just as no law can restrain goodness or the freedom to express our kindness and compassion; there is no way to legislate, or enforce against ignorance, structural violence and injustice, greed, or cowardice.
However, as human beings, each one of us, while capable of doing the worst things imaginable to other humans and the rest of creation, also possess an unending supply of virtue.
That is why despite the many atrocities committed against fellow human beings, we still are able to maintain our faith, not only in the Divine, but also in each other.
That is why words such as "wisdom," "justice," "tolerance," "generosity," and "courage" continue to touch our hearts as well as our minds; continue to be part of the legacy of our many cultures and traditions, passed from generation to generation; and continue to be the foundation on which we erect our bure, not just for ourselves or our family, our vuvale or mataqali, but also for the vulagi, the other, the stranger, the neighbour.
According to historians, a little over three thousand years ago, a group of indentured labourers of mixed ethnic and social groups were liberated from slavery in Egypt.
Following an exodus into Canaan, they met and formed an alliance based on liberation and freedom with the tribes living in the area.
This new society valued freedom; opposed all forms of dominance; observed a basic form of democracy and equality (including at that time, equality among men and women); and held to a tradition of safeguarding the interests of the whole community (righteousness), ensuring everyone received and accepted justice and maintained the peace and prosperity of the community.
The origins of the ancient Israelites find many parallels to origin of our nation indentured labourers, tribes and an exodus of the girmitiya, and in a way, of the i-Taukei, as well as other settlers.
A new society that vowed to "honour and defend the cause of freedom ever."
Just as the Israelites broke their vows, we too, have somewhere along the way reneged on our vows made less than half a century ago.
Or we have not cherished these values and failed to pass it on to the next generation.
The question is always, "so now what"?
So Jesus is born, now what? So Ramadan is over, now what? So Diwali is over, now what? So New Year is over, now what?
Can we extend our "goodwill" beyond the 30-day warranty that seems to only cover the Christmas season?
Can we shine the light of truth, justice and compassion beyond our important or holy days?
Can 2012 be a year in which, despite the odds, the obstacles, the difficulties we face, we rise to face the challenges, we extend our hand to help our brother or sister stand to face his or her challenges, and we extend our hand to accept their help when we slip and fall in the midst of our struggles.
I believe the answer is yes. I know you do too.
I pray that we all will have a peaceful and positive 2012.
"Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity"
* Rev JS Bhagwan is a student of the International Graduate School of Theology at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea.

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