Friday, March 30, 2012

The UK Terrorism Act turns 6

I just found out that today is the sixth anniversary of the UK Terrorism Act becoming law (30 March 2006). 

The Terrorism Act 2006 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that received Royal Assent on 30 March 2006, after being introduced on 12 October 2005. The Act creates new offences related to terrorism, and amends existing ones. The Act was drafted in the aftermath of the 7 July 2005 London bombings, and some of its terms have proven to be highly controversial. The government considers the Act a necessary response to an unparalleled terrorist threat; it has encountered opposition from those who feel that it is an undue imposition on civil liberties, and could increase the terrorism risk: "What more fertile recruitment ground for extremism could there be than innocent young men released without charge after 90 days internment?." The Act has drawn considerable media attention, not least because one of the key votes resulted in the first defeat of the government of Tony Blair on the floor of the House of Commons, and the worst such defeat for any government since 1978.

I'm not sure how this matches up with the new amendments to the Fiji Public Order Act but if you are analytically inclined or vertical or horizontally analytic, please look at this and make your comparisons. 

Tonga holds funeral for King George

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Enshrining Religious Tolerance in Fiji (unedited version)


This story was edited and published for some reason under the title "A World of Dialogue" in the Fiji Times "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan" on Wednesday 28th March 2012 it is presented here in its full form.

As our country’s attention shifts to the upcoming constitutional process (albeit with a brief distraction of the Hong Kong 7’s), most of the commentary and responses to the announcement of this process have focussed on the political and electoral aspects of the future constitution. Of course that is because everyone is looking (even sceptically) towards the 2014 elections.

Important points regarding the future role of the military, social and economic rights, the method of the proposed consultations and pre-election education process for young people are already being raised for consideration in the planned constitutional process. The way human rights are enshrined in the new constitution is also a very important issue.

In this column two weeks ago, I shared an extract from former US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech on the Four Freedoms. The second of the Four was the “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.” This freedom was incorporated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 18: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

This freedom was guaranteed in the 1997 Constitution’s Bill of Rights (Chapter 4 Section 35(Religion and Belief).

Perhaps the time is right for us as a people to think deeply about the importance of religious tolerance in our country and how we can ensure that this issue that has been and maintains the potential for massive divisions in Fiji can be properly addressed in the process to develop a new constitution.

There have been many examples at the grass-roots level as well on a national level of positive influence by religious groups and institutions – social justice programmes, awareness campaigns, civic education – the promotion of high morals and compassionate behaviour and the like.

These good deeds, however, have been overshadowed by negative actions over the last three decades – political interference, religious intolerance, systematic attempts to impose one religion on others.

Intolerance and conflict is not limited to differences of religion (inter-religious) but also to issues such as doctrine, rituals, power and finance, within religions (intra-religious).

Sadly, this is most obvious among the wide Christian community – the largest religious grouping in the country. Differences of doctrine, methods of evangelism, proselytism of members of other Christian denominations (sheep-stealing), clashes in personality, power struggles and perceived or real political agendas have led to a fragmentation of the “Body of Christ” in Fiji. Evidence for this can be seen in the formation of organisations like the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji, the lapse of the Fiji Council of Churches and the emergence of break-away churches.

Recently, a friend of mine involved in disaster management in the aftermath of the flooding we experienced, lamented the inactivity of the Fiji Council of Churches, which had been a transparent and efficient partner with DISMAC during times of natural disasters, particularly in terms of coordinating churches for information and distribution of relief aid.

Add to this intra-religious turmoil, a lack of appreciation or tolerance of other religions and you have fertile soil for prejudice and religious bigotry – insults (such as calling someone an “idol-worshipper”) or even worse the desecration of religious of worship, and religious violence.

The fact that religion, for the most part in Fiji, is also connected to ethnicity and culture can lead to religious tension affecting ethnic relations, and vice-versa. The majority of the i-Taukei are Christians, while most Indo-Fijians, as Hindu or Muslim, belong to other world religions. Of course such tensions make things very difficult for the minority of Indo-Fijians that are Christians and those i-Taukei that belong to other religious communities or small new religious movements. The same can be said for the other ethnic groups in Fiji. One only has to look to the island of Rotuma where small wars took place between Catholics and Methodists in the 19th century; as well as the murder of Rev. Thomas Baker, because of perceptions about Christianity and political domination of Bau.

Living in Asia, where Christianity is just one of many world religions (in fact a minority and sometimes oppressed religion) has reinforced my view that tolerance and understanding in a pluralistic country such as Fiji is crucial to the “peace and prosperity” for which this nation searches.

The strange thing is that many of us have relatives and friends who either belong to a different denomination or religious community.

I may be an anomaly as a Methodist minister, with a Roman Catholic wife, Anglican children (including a Goddaughter and Godson) and relatives who are not only Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, but also Sanatani, Arya Samaj, Sai devotees, members of the Fiji Muslim League, Baha’i and agnostic. However, pluralism within the family or extended family is becoming an accepted norm, no matter how hard conservatives fight against it.

Why then is religious tolerance accepted within the family or the community, but not outside it?

For a number of years, a small group of people dedicated religious tolerance and understanding have met on a monthly basis to share what the scriptures of their faith have to say on a particular topic or issue – from the subject of integrity to the issue of HIV and AIDS. The group, Interfaith Search Fiji, is not about syncretism or the mixing of religions, but about creating understanding and appreciation through dialogue.

Unfortunately this small but successful model has not yet been accepted or endorsed by the main religious groups and has on occasion been criticised by fringe groups.

This however does not have to be the end of the story.

Is it not possible that religious tolerance is not only covered by the Bill of Rights, but also be enshrined in our new constitution, through a mechanism through which dialogue within and between religions take place? A mechanism such as a National Council for Religious Tolerance and Cooperation or a Fiji Assembly of Interreligious Tolerance and Harmony (FAITH) could not just provide a safe space for dialogue but also provide the platform for cooperation on social, health and other issues as well as assist in the mobilisation of communities in times of natural disaster.

The seeds of religious tolerance have been planted through the recognition of significant holy days such as Christmas, Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday, Lent, Holi, Easter (both Good Friday and Easter “Resurrection” Sunday), Ramadan, Eid, Diwali, etc by convention as well as by legislation.

As we begin the process of growing a new constitution (even if the seed is the People’s Charter), each one of us is called to nurture this plant until it is a tree from which we all can eat.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Carry Your Candle" (Go light your world)

Matt 5:16 - In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Psalm 18:28 - For you will light my candle: Jehovah my God will enlighten my darkness.

Prov 20:27 - The Spirit of Man is the Candle of the Lord

From Playboy to Padre

The headline is jumbled, the story has some inaccuracies... and some very strange grammar and sentences, but it just goes to show how many people who thought they knew me went into show when they learned of my entering the ministry.....

Friday, March 23, 2012

Reconciling Love: Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Tree of Freedom: Unknown independent filmmaker turned theological student wins 2003 Commonwealth Vision Award with clip shot on handycams...

I saw you ... you saw my plate of food... UDHR Article 16...

Remakes abound

MAI WORD with JS Bhagwan

When I was a small(ish) boy living in the Sugar City of Lautoka, I used to ride my bicycle to town to get the visual entertainment for my family. Back then there was no “digital” anything which meant we lived in the world of tape – audio tapes and more importantly video tapes. There was BETAMAX, but there was also the more popular (well, in Fiji) VHS. Three hours long – just enough for a Hindi movie (and coming attractions during the intermission); or one and a half movies (with the second half on another tape with another movie after that); or three hours of “TV Series” (and commercials and promos).
I personally thought the “TV series” tapes were the best. They were probably also the most profitable. I mean think about it – some person in Australia (obviously Fiji Islanders living in New Zealand could not come with the idea, or were too well behaved, or mistakenly thought the people of Fiji were not ready for Billy T James … think a Laughing Maori …but I digress) just puts in a tape into the VCR (Video Cassette Recorder for you of the DVD generation) and presses record when the action, thriller, comedy, drama, cartoon or music programme was on and stopped it when it was over. When the tape was full with programmes of the same genre, he or she would just post it to their relatives in Fiji who would (in their back room, garage, office, living room, bedroom…wherever) make copies and sell to video stores. That is until the stores made their own offshore suppliers who could fill three hours of the same programme. That way we always knew who shot JR from “Dallas” and who Joan Collins was going to seduce next on “Dynasty”.
The really sophisticated programme supplier eventually developed the knack for pausing the recording during the commercials (which explains why some commercials today still look like the ones we watched in the 1980s). Of course because we had no television in Fiji… well because we had no life in Fiji we never thought of copyright issues then. Not at all – because we fast-forwarded the copyright notice at the beginning of our movies.
I heard recently that there is a new version of the tropical cop programme “Hawai’i Five-O”.  I remember watching re-runs of the original series and the catch phrase “Book’em Dano.” This follows the revival and re-working of a number of television series and movies from the 1970’s 1980s and 1990s.
I am not discussing television series that continue for ten or fifteen series merely because they got lost along the way and went past the point of a climatic ending and now just crawl around looking to at least go out with a whimper. I mean the hit series that have been revived because the kids that grew up watching them are now big-time movie and television producers, or because the producers and rights owners are broke.
Past movie remakes include two versions of the Hulk, three of Spiderman, one of Superman and in the last few years there’s even been a remake of a remake in the Batman quadrilogy and Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (that’s not even counting the cartoons). Speed Racer, Star Trek and others have either been resurrected or ascended from small to large screen.
The Bionic Woman returned but without the six million-dollar man was so lonely she shut down, or producers pawned her spare parts to fund yet another series of Lost.  Surprisingly Beverly Hills 90210 has returned (probably due to popular demand by the people of Beverly Hills who “love this documentary”).  Then there was “Bewitched”, “Scooby Doo”, “V’ the show not the drink (didn’t get it then, don’t get it now), “Rambo” 1,999 (or whatever) and “Highlander” (there can only be one, wait –two, okay-three… now there can only be one – tv series and then there can only be one movie about the TV series, okay maybe two or three and then there will only be one to combine everything because good ol’ Christopher Lambert is just too old to be a dashing young immortal).
Some of my favourites returned like “Knight Rider” (television series and much better than “Team Knight Rider” or another series of Baywatch with David Hasselhoff running on the beach in Speedos!) even if only for one series, Doctor Who (who? He’s a Timelord that recycles…er..reincarnates…er… regenerates), the Karate Kid (wax on wax off to the baby-fresh-prince), “Miami Vice” (but Don Johnson still rocks as Sonny Crockit), “The A-Team” (a plan/movie that did come together) and Tron (the electronic “dude” also known as Jeff Bridges still rocks).
There have been others and the future looks good with “Captain America”, the “Muppets”, “He-Man”, “Robocop” and “Weird Science” (isa Kelly LeBrock-Segal-Bhagwan) are destined for remakes in the far too distant future.
However, some real possibilities have come to mind for possible rebirth, or regurgitation:
1.       “Seinfeld” – the only show about nothing in which they actually ended up producing a show about nothing!
2.       Forget “Conan”, bring back “Red Sonja”!
3.       “1984”… except we might have to change the date.
4.       “Ocean’s 11”…oops that’s been done…
5.       Abhisheik Bachchan actually playing his father…
6.       “Ocean’s 12”…oops that’s been done…
7.       “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” using my old car
8.       “Ocean’s 13”…oops that’s been done…
9.       And bring back my favourite sports series: the rugby sevens – you know the programme…  the one where we actually win in the finals…
As an interesting aside, lately I returned to the Sugar City for a family gathering of the In-Law kind. As I watched my wife’s potential replacements (according, so I am told, to i-Kiribati tradition) provide entertainment, I noticed something familiar about the “traditional” skirts that they wore. The swaying of hips melted into the background as my focus concentrated on the dark swirling strips. Then it hit me. The “grass” on the grass skirts was actually made from old videotape!
As I congratulated the family on the recycling of the tape, I couldn’t help wondering what tv series were on those tapes.

He who laughs last...didn’t get the joke

Published in MAI LIFE MAGAZINE - June 2010
"Mai Word with J.S. Bhagwan

I’m not the pulpit-pounding type of preacher – at least I don’t consider myself a pulpit-pounding, bible-bashing, tongues-talking type of preacher. The congregation in my circuit/parish may differ in opinion. I prefer to drop thunderbolts and lightning out of the blue rather than constantly hail fire and brimstone on my flock.

When I began my theological (fancy word for studying God) training, I found myself specialising in Theology and Ethics and also from, my passion for history, engaging in Church History. This means my preaching and teaching usually is on the way we who are followers of Christ should live. It also means that I know a lot about dead people and things that happened a long time ago – sometimes in a galaxy far, far away. Often to illustrate my point I use events from real life, usually things that have happened in the “holy household” (metaphorically –because we live on Mission Hill; literally – because the house is over a 100 years old and has holes in the floor). As a rule, I try to keep these anecdotes light and funny to break the serious information I have been loading my captive audience with; just before launching a thunder or lightning bolt.

However there are times when the anecdotes “over-thunder” the thunder and lightning. I remember overhearing one member of our church youth, who had missed one of my services, asking another, who had attended, about my sermon:
“Man he was so funny,” was the response. “We were just LOLing (now that’s the first time I’ve written that) the whole sermon.” However when the now excited absent youth member enquired about the content of my sermon, the response was not what I expected, “he told the joke about ‘Adam and Eve and an arm, leg and apple’ and about the minister who preached a full sermon and service to only one person or something. I can’t remember but it was really funny!”

I guess it was consoling to have them laugh at my jokes rather than just laugh at me. Not that it hasn’t happened. I was preaching on servant-hood once I made reference to Jesus’ act of service through the washing of his disciples’ feet. As I urged the congregation to follow the Messiah’s example bending down in humility, the first fruit of my loins leant over and asked his mother if this “was the same as the bending down to wipe his bumbadoo after a big pooh.” The question was innocent enough, except that it was heard by everyone in the church. That certainly woke up those dozing in the back pews.

Sometimes we make the mistake of trying to tell a joke you heard from someone else as your own and failing miserably. Here’s an example: “The was an old man who was walking along and met a young man...oh was a young man and he was walking along and met an old man....oh wait.....” By time you figure it out, the congregation has either turned into an old man or gone walking with the young one. While this mistake is not limited to preachers, the poté (think “ka-splat!”) is larger when you have a captive audience, especially if after all the “no mean..” you stuff up the punch line. I’ve been fortunate not to be in this position but I have witnessed it and would honestly prefer crucifixion to standing in the pulpit when a well planed and often-rehearsed joke falls apart.

Once in preparation for a sermon to a Christian youth group, I tried to use jokes or statements from popular culture using television programmes, songs and movies as my source.  I got some chuckles from adapting “Lo I will be with you till the end of the ages,” into “I’ll be back.” There was stifled laughter from using the lyrics of “Every breath you take...I’ll be watching you,” to explain the omnipresence of God. However I think I went over the top when I tried equating the initials “H.S.” (Holy Spirit) with quotes from a superstar, known as Homer Simpson:
“I'd love to go to church, honey, but I've got a lot of work to do around the bed.”
“If God didn't want us to eat animals, then why'd he make them so tasty?”
“Oh, spiteful one! Tell me who to smote and they shall be smotted.”
“I wish God were alive to see this.”

Of course we who tend to pontificate from the pulpit with much finger-wagging and gnashing of teeth (try it, it keeps away the tsunamus – see April 2010 issue) find the best way of illustrating a point with a smile is self-depreciating humour.  After all no-one likes to laugh at a priest, minister, or pastor more than his congregation – then again it could be just mine.

"A senior minister was getting ready to visit USA. Some of his close associates advised him to be careful when responding to reporters on his arrival in New York. The bishop however was overconfident and paid little heed to the advice. On arrival at JFK airport, during a press conference one reporter asked the bishop if he was planning on visiting any night clubs in New York? The minister, pretending to be ignorant of such ‘worldly’ matters, replied "Are there any night clubs in New York?" To his surprise, the next morning’s papers had the following headlines, 'Padre asks, "Are there any night clubs in New York?"
It wasn’t me.

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.

Tehlling Stohriss

Published in MAI LIFE MAGAZINE April 2011
"Mai Word with J.S. Bhagwan"

When I was little (a very long time ago), my mother used to read me bedtime stories. I must admit that she was very good at reading out loud. However there were those nights, when after a long day and evening of work, her very large bundle of would accost her as she entered her shelter from the world with whatever book or comic he had been attempting to decipher. On those occasions the stories would fizzle and fade as my mother would doze off in mid-story, sometimes in mid-sentence. Words would be replaced by mumbles and grunts. The last time I remember my mother reading to me, it was a comic based on the biblical story of Joseph. She ended a story as she drifted off to sleep with the words, “Jack shot down in Cook Islands. Fullstop. Comma.”
Perhaps it was this last type of “colourful” storytelling that impressed me the most. I began to expand my stories with the same inspiration that my mother had used. I added my dream adventures to my “morning talk” contributions:
“Yesterda-ay, I was walking home. And I was walking and the-en (slight pause for inspiration or effect)… a spaceship landed in front of me!” After a while, the poor teacher had no choice but change “morning talk” to “morning story” as more and more children began to be inspired in their telling of stories.
However, “telling stories”, if not carefully managed, is a skill that can develop into what is known, in some circles, as creatively interpreting the truth, or simply put, “telling lies.”
This skill covers all aspects of stretching, pulling, kneading and massaging of the truth – from, for example, extending the size of fish you caught on your last fishing trip, to claiming that the giant fish you bought from a roadside stall was single-handedly caught by you. Some have put this skill to its fullest possible use by convincing the local bank that a ukulele or electric guitar was all that was needed as security for a half-a-million dollar loan, or that no matter who you were, if you paid the fee – you were going to get work in Kuwait, and that if you gave all your money to them, when the “twins” of i-Taukei legend return, they will bring a container of money, of which you will get a share ( how big the container will have to be is not a concern obviously). Of course there are those, whose skills at lying…er…lie simply in the ability to say, “It wasn’t me,” with a straight face. All of these are a far cry from the mundane, “mad chicken ate my homework” or “my mother’s father’s sister’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s granduncle died” truth-stretching that we usually employ.
Some people even combine the skills or confuse the terms of telling stories and telling lies. Last year when my sister-in-law was studying at the local tertiary institute, she was under strict instructions to come straight home after her evening classes. One evening this instruction was not followed and on arrival and following interrogation by my wife, who on occasion makes the CIA and even Colonel Gaddafi’s best interrogators look bad, was reprimanded after giving as her excuse for late-night hand-holding as “tehlin stohris”. My wife’s immediate response to her excuse was “Telling Lies”.
Of course this is all because, by virtue of being born and raised in the “isles of Fiji”, we are natural tellers of tales. If we were Samoan, I’m sure many of us would be in a position to give Robert Louis Stevenson a run for his money for the title “Tusitala”.
I attended a workshop on communication once where the facilitator, as an exercise on active listening, or perhaps as a way of filling in the time between morning tea and lunch, called the participants to play a game, most politically incorrectly (or unpolitically correct) called, “Chinese Whispers.” As the original sentence of “Viliame went  to see his pregnant sister at his aunty’s house,” turned into “Viliame made his sister’s friend and her aunty pregnant,” and ended up as “Viliame was having an affair with the Police Commissioner’s sister and was caught by his aunty who was the mastermind of the 2000 coup,” one participant remarked, “this is not Chinese whispers, this is Suva whispers!”
A few weeks ago, my wife and I as counsellors of our church youth fellowship were asked to speak to our church’s young people. As I knew the young people were used (also known as “fed up”) of hearing me speak or preach, I asked my wife to lead the session. She chose the topic of “gifts” (the innate skills and qualities we possess – not the presents we give and receive). After she spoke there was a time of discussion and sharing. As we went around the group hearing the skills or activities that the youth thought were their gifts. After hearing for the umpteenth time of the gift of giving advice, we turned to the last person of the group, who stood up and proudly said, “My gift is tehling storis”. To which her sister, my wife, responded, “Telling Lies!” 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

Published in MAI LIFE MAGAZINE December, 2010
"Mai Word with J.S. Bhagwan"

It’s eleven at night. I’m squatting over my laptop, in a frantic effort to finish this month’s column as Ric the Smaller is sending me positive affirmations of “hurry up I need to go to print!” My wife is squatting next to me, over her laptop, in a not so frantic effort to finish a presentation, pausing only to change the DVD, take fluff out of her navel and play with the children’s happy-meal toys. She leans over to have a conversation only to receive a terse response. “Stop bothering me! I’m trying to be funny!”

As someone who believes and propagates the concepts of resurrection, ascension and eternal life, it may sound strange for me to refer to a past life experience. However, considering that recently the wife of a lay-pastor mistook my wife (who often refers to me as looking as if I am older than the mountains) for my daughter, perhaps this short life has been lived in alternate or parallel universes.

So think my sisters who still remember me as the baby koala bear they adopted from the Taronga Zoo in 1974, who grew up to be a blonde TV music show host slash “pardy-harder” and have to be reminded by their colleagues to call me “Reverend James” when introducing me publically. So think the youth of my congregation when I try to rattle them out of their virtual world by regaling them with stories of my youth. So think my children who wonder if their grandfather was indeed “Papa Phantom”, which makes daddy the ghost who farts.

However in a past life as a radio slash television slash almost film producer, I encountered some who not only claim to have had past life experiences, but insist that they have seen me there as well.

On a sojourn in Santa Monica, I had the hard task of living for about six weeks in the Miramar Hotel, which has the honour of having the address 101 Wilshire Boulevard, meaning that (a) it’s just up from the Pacific Ocean and by (a very long) extension not far from Suva; (b) a lot off posh people stay there. I have had cocktails and canapés with film stars, just by showing up at the bar, once bumped into (literally) Sir Anthony “Hannibal the Cannibal” in the hotel shop, and was told to try the spa and sauna by Michael “Batman/Beetlejuice” Keaton.

I apart from the stars, I also encountered the starry-eyed. No, not people with “stars in their eyes” people who seem to be from another planet. It is unavoidable in Hollywood. Movie-executives who after dinner over coffee that they find your aura interesting, then call you to say that they were meditating and remembered that they met you in a past life. Great. So who were we? David and Goliath, Pharoah and Moses, wait... I have it Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (this is America afterall).. no it is Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. The twist being I was supposed to have been Cleopatra!

Then there was the time when I met Napoleon Bonaparte, which was fine only that a couple of weeks later I met another Napoleon Bonaparte. I never get to put them into the same room to see if there would be some cosmic reaction.

Interestingly enough, most of the people with past life experiences that I met, never once owned up to having been anyone else but famous people in a past life. There were one or two honest enough to admit to having been a maid in the middle ages, a cobbler or a lowly high priestess. But put them in the company of the former Alexander the Greats, Florence Nightingales, Crusaders and the like (off course no one wanted to have been a slave or even just a primitive jungle tribal person). I never met Elvis, although I was reliably told by Jim Morrison of the Doors, who runs an “incense and pipe shop on Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade that, “Elvis lives in Vegas.” Sure, why not?

The most confusing were two women and a man who were convinced that they were Princess Diana and Mother Teresa and Gandhi. Strange because the one who was the reincarnation of Princess Diana was born not only before Diana died, but before Diana was even born! Strange because the former Mother Teresa (again born before “she” had died) had vivid memories of growing up among the poor in Calcutta (Teresa was from Albania). Weird because the gentleman kept referring to his past life as Mahatma Indira Gandhi!

As Christmas is approaching and we start to organise the parties, feasts, presents and reminders for our once a year appearance at church to celebrate sweet baby Jesus’ 2010th (or 2016th – for historians) birthday it is important that we focus not on the life we had, or wish we had, or that we could borrow who has the life we wish we had, but the life we have right now. The people we are with right now matter.

Well, that’s what one of the wise men told me and the other shepherds in that stable the night the shining star led them to find the promised king....

A Happy and Holy Christmas to you and yours!

A sunbaked, self-confessed Jesus-freak, Padre James Bhagwan preaches at Dudley Methodist Chuch ,teaches at Davuilevu Theological College and beaches as only a human whale can at the nearest swimming pool when not playing with his children and driving his wife around the bend.

Pirates of the Fijian (or The song of the not-so ancient mariner”)

Published in MAI LIFE MAGAZINE – October, 2010
"Mai Word with J.S. Bhagwan"

As the chaplain of the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society, I have constantly dreamed of sailing on the Uto Ni Yalo on one of its epic voyages. I went to primary school with skipper Jonathan Smith, have ....
However the closest I have come to this epic adventure is to pray for the crew before they depart on an epic journey. There has been an occasion when I have braved the early morning onboard the Uto Ni Yalo without the captain’s special blend of coffee, or braved the high tide of the bilo levu.

I was asked to take devotion for the opening of an outrigger canoe regatta in which the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo were the chief guests. So I was invited to sail with them from the Lami Bay of Islands to the Suva Point the venue of the regatta. I parked my car at the venue and waited for “O Captain, my Captain Smith,” to pick me up and drive me to Lami to board the Uto Ni Yalo. Doing my best to be punctual, I arrived to find myself alone except for some bleary-eyed paddlers struggling to erect a few marquees. My phone rang. It was the skipper.

“Are you there?” he asked. “Yes I am,” I replied, my eyes scanning the land, the sea and the skies, in case he was hiding in the bushes, sailing in from the horizon or skydiving in. No one in sight, I ventured the question, “Where are your?” “I’m just passing Korovou,” was the response.
My mind raced. What was he doing in Tailevu, 50 kilometres north east of Suva, when he should be 15 minutes away in Lami? Fortunately he was only passing Korovou Prison (Suva Gaol / Suva Yacht Club) which was 5minutes away.

The rest of the plan went to schedule. We drove from Suva Point to Lami. We boarded the Uto Ni Yalo and sailed back to Suva Point with the crew and some and relatives. We docked carefully as the skipper raised his concern about the tide going out. Sailmaster Colin Philp gave the opening speech. I preached and prayed for the canoes, the paddlers, the paddles, the sea, the waves, the fish and even the humble kasikasi ( I guess I was in the spirit). The crew of the Uto Ni Yalo performed their now-famous Bole or traditional challenge. Then it was time for breakfast for us as preparations for the start of competition got underway.

Sailmaster Colin, informed me that someone in one of the tents had a tanoa of kava prepared for us so we went in search of this elixir of life and death and various shades of in-between. As it was still early, and I had not yet received the call from The Boss At Home to take her shopping, this seemed like a good idea. However no such vessel of ambrosia could be found. So it was suggested that some of the crew go and bring the Uto ni Yalo’s tanoa and the kava they had onboard for just such emergencies. After a 10-minute wait we realised that the boys had not returned and looking towards the famous sailing canoe we saw the reason. The sailors-turned-MaiTV-stars were taking tours on the boat and posing for pictures with paddlers and the general public.

We had little choice but to fetch the tanoa ourselves and so with a singleness of purpose Colin and I marched to and jumped aboard. Just in time for the skipper to give the order to cast off as the canoe was in danger of being grounded by the outgoing tide. In surprise I watched the distance between us and the land. Were we sailing back to Lami (which would mean a long walk or a bus ride back to Suva)? Were we going fishing? Were we heading to Hawai’i? Fortunately it was only an exercise to move us further out into the bay.

As a result I was forced to spend the next four hours sitting on the deck of the Uto Ni Yalo, drinking kava and listening to the melodies strummed and sung by the crew to the gentle lap of the waves as we watched the canoe regatta and I listened to stories of their adventures on the high seas.

My adventure that day came back to haunt me when we recently visited the Shangri-la’s Fijian Resort. One afternoon I spied the non-motorised (and thus “free”) hobbie-cat and had a flash back to a two-week catamaran sail on the Mediterranean Sea a decade ago and my recent “Uto-ni-Yalo-experience”. I convinced my two children and The Boss to join me for a short sail. It went well. My tacking and steering impressed the love of my life and fruits of my loins. After a whole 15 minutes we returned safely to shore. I suggested that, as the next day was our last full day, we go for another sail immediately after breakfast. They agreed.

All too late did I realise that I should have quit the stage when I was still a star. The next day was a disaster. It was very windy out in the sea so whenever we picked up some speed the choppy waves would frighten the children. The Boss started toying with the idea that she might also be the captain as well, citing i-Kiribati blood and the fact that she was traditionally chewing gum as enough reason to be considered a Micronesian seafarer. That thought was knocked out of her by the boom, which luckily was made out of aluminium so that there was little injury. My wife was not badly injured either.

In the end we hit a dead spot and had to be towed in after almost an hour. The Boss and her brood, now no longer wanting to be daddy’s crew (I felt like the captain of the Titannic) clambered onboard the rescue/tow boat while I held the ropes and steered the hobbie back to shore. As I sat alone while my family eagerly faced the approaching shore, I realised that perhaps naming the hobbie, Dalo ni Tana may not have been a good it idea!

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.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Excuse Me Please!

Published in Mai Life Magazine - Mai Word with J.S. Bhagwan - July, 2010

There are people who confess to not having a creative bone in their body. They’re right – creativity is a muscle not a bone, it is often connected to the funny bone, the spine and the teeth (why not!) although not in any particular order.

The creative failures are found in the media, the art, music, fashion, “archie-tekchair”, gastronomy and countless other fields. Many try to be creative but fail, sometimes dramatically, but more often than not, just like a little plop of pooh in the loo – after much struggle and with little effect.

However there is one area in which we as a human race have hardwired, DNA bonded creativity: Making Up Excuses. In fact we are so good at making up excuses that there are an abundance of websites dedicated to excuses for avoiding work, marriage, paying one’s share of the tab etc. I am of the view that these websites should not be used just to find useable excuses (that’s just making an excuse to not make your own excuse) but to find out what excuses not to use (because they are so well known).

The fruit of my loins (better to use this term than “the weeds of my discontent”) are proof that the apple... or in our context – the coconut... doesn’t fall far from the tree. My nearly 6 year-old son FX and heir to the throne (in the bathroom), has developed the skill of falling asleep whenever anyone begins to ask him to do something. “Francisco-Xavier, can you please...” “Zzzzzzzzzz...” Four and half year-old sister, Princess Antonia currently uses the “My leg is sore,” excuse for anything – developing a five-minute limp.  This excuse has added to her arsenal of excuses which includes the phrase, “There’s no such thing as...” which has been applied to the police, water for bathing, smacks and even butter.

FX’s excuses have even gotten spiritual, such as: “Satan tempted me,” “The Devil put the thought in my mind,” and “It’s somewhere in the Bible Daddy!” These three age-old excuses work in most cases except the last, which definitely does not apply to eating all the chocolate that Aunty Sharon brought back from her latest trip (as in travelling somewhere for peace-building ...not as in munchies from the nearby store).  There was a phase of “I’m dead” as an excuse, but that disappeared once FX realised that dead people could not go to the play-centre, enjoy happy-meals or watch cartoons.

“Sick leave” is perhaps the most widely utilised leave in Fiji, and for this reason, sickness as an excuse for not going to work, school, church, putting out the rubbish, visiting one’s in-laws or generally answering various calls of duty. Bird flu, typhoid, leptospirosis, and even swine flu (which according to one “patient” was passed on when someone referred to him as “You swine!”) have been used to good effect, especially as the symptoms of the “flues” are the same as any other “flu”. However some have been caught out by mistakenly thinking that the Asian Bird Flu (Avian Flu) resulted in the infected person speaking with an Asian accent; that the only cure for swine flu was to eat more pork; or by confusing H1N1 with F1J1, or their car registration, flight number: “Boss, I can’t come to work because I got FJ411 / EX342.” Fiji may also be the only place on the planet where the 24-hour flu lasts anywhere between 36 and 48 hours!

Given that the extended family system still exists in Fiji society, the death of a loved one is another well-utilised excuse. I recall back in my radio days, one co-worker buried approximately 3mothers, 2 fathers, and about half a dozen grandparents of different ethnicities within the space of 2 years! One must be careful in using this excuse to prevent it getting to a point where it seems like you are resurrecting the dead only to kill them off again. Also one needs to be mindful of the fact that in a small country such as Fiji, we tend to be related to half the country and married into the other half: “Dear Sir, I write to request leave to attend the funeral of my mother’s-brother’s- daughters-husband’s- cousin’s sister’s uncle....” 

Then, there are the many, many, many excuses we come up with to do things that we would otherwise not be allowed. “I smoke suki (local “legal” tobacco) because according to my great-grandmother it’s good for my gums.” “I can eat pizza because the Coke-Light cancels out the calories.” “Kava is a natural and cheaper alternative to prescription sedatives.” “I can’t hear myself think so I better go to my friend’s place so that they can help me hear myself,” (complicated enough to get you out the door, but you may have to renegotiate re-entry). “My friend is really depressed and I am going to help (counsel/provide moral support/save) him (by talking meaningfully over a carton or a kilo or two of waka).

In the final analysis though, your best excuse is always 99% truth with 1% exaggeration (stretched or re-envisioned truth); the longer the better.

“Dear editor, I’m sorry this article was late but I had to attend the funeral gathering of my wife’s mother’s sister’s husband’s cousin’s nephew’s mother. On my way back I got caught in a traffic jam, the taxi I was in was involved in a robbery, then an accident, the driver was arrested and coughed on me giving me the LTA virus. As I recovered I heard of a prophecy about the tsunami hitting Fiji so decided to wait and see if I died before writing the article.”

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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Constitutional Considerations

Published in the Fiji Times - "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan," Wednesday 13th March 2012

Picture: Fiji Times
As I heard the news of the impending constitutional consultations to take place in Fiji, I wondered how those Fijians living abroad would be able to participate. As I read and listened to the responses to the announcement, I wondered just how many Fijians in the country will involve themselves in this process.

The new constitution will not be the first in our nation’s history to be promulgated by decree. I recall hearing the emotion in the voice of the Late Tui Cakau and President of Fiji, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau when he announced to the nation the adoption by decree of the 1990 constitution.

I remember the 1995 “Reeves” Constitutional Review Commission’s consultations and following the parliamentary and senate debate and passing and the signing into law in 1997 by the late former President and Tui Nayau, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

In late 2000, the then interim government appointed a commission to review the 1997 constitution. This commission was decommissioned after the Chandrika Prasad case ruling that the 1997 constitution was still valid, but was then reappointed. The response that commission received was vastly different to the Reeves Commission.

My late father, Benjamin (known to many simply as Ben) Bhagwan was one of the few Indo-Fijians who accepted a position on this particular constitution review commission. He received a lot of criticism from political parties, ethnic and religious interest groups and even from some members of his own extended family. But he remained steadfast in his decision to accept this position.

As I was abroad at the time, it was only when we spoke on the phone that he was able to tell me about his decision. He spoke of his love for and loyalty to Fiji and that, like all the community work he had been involved in, this was, he felt, another call from God to serve. I supported him, understanding that he knew the risks and that it could mean being ostracised by the Indo-Fijian community in the highly racially-charge atmosphere in Fiji at that time.

Later, when I came home, he shared more about his work in the commission and his reasons for taking up the role.
My father told me that when he was asked about being called a traitor, outcast and opportunist by some politicians he had replied, "I am exercising my democratic right as a citizen of this country to do justice and to help with reconciliation and democracy in this country." After receiving his appointment he was approached by an Indo-Fijian who said that he, “hoped my father would do something for our race.” My father responded that he did, “intend to do something for his race – the human race.”

He went on to share some of his experiences – especially with those pushing racist agendas by using selected bible verses (proof-texting) to promote their cause. My father would pull out his bible and challenge them to take the verse in the context of the whole scripture. He would ask questions and respond to them in English, i-Taukei or Hindi.

As disappointed as he was with the naive comments and statements made out of hate or fear, my father believed that listening the views of the people was the only way to understand what people in the country were thinking and feeling and was key in understanding why they felt that way. He hoped that there could be away that these fears, prejudice could not just be recorded and used as an excuse to create a new biased constitution but to create something that would address and resolve the visible and invisible conflict that the nation was engulfed in.

Ultimately though, his views and refusal to endorse the final and racially biased report meant that he was excluded from the final team that presented the review to the president.

After he died, as we were packing our things for one of the many moves my family has made in the last decade (8 times in the last 8 years!), I came across some of his notes and records of the submissions made in the review.

As I read through them, I could not help but cry – not just in memory of my father – but as I realised that our nation is made of many communities whose cries of pain for injustices, both real and imagined need to be heard and attended to, not with political rhetoric but with genuine care and healing.

Whether we support the current government or not or are fans of its leadership or not, it is our responsibility as Fiji citizens, as Fijians (whether we agree with the change in citizenship name or not) and as parents or future parents of Fijians, to embrace every opportunity to have a say, no matter how little, how much or even whether or not it is heard and accepted, in the future shape of Fiji.

Every voice needs to speak up now. Every interest group: political, community and religious group needs to ensure that these consultations are completely inclusive – by including themselves within the dialogue, not just commenting from the sidelines.

As we come to these crucial markers in the history of our country, what we say, and, perhaps more importantly, what we do, will either be a brick in a solid house in which we can all live or be a proverbial “brick in the wall.”

What home are we building for our children? Are we helping to build it, or will we merely wait for it to be built, move in and complain about it?

Many of us are caught up simply trying to survive. We keep away from anything to do with governance or politics. That is understandable. We need to feed, clothe, shelter and protect our families.

However, one day, when our children or their children read about this time in our nation’s history; they may ask us: “what did you do?”

How will we answer?

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Easter in the Park?

Letters to the Editor - the Fiji Times 13th March, 2012

We've had Eid in the Park, Diwali in the Park, Christmas in the Park, and this year's also successful Holi in the Park. I commend FBC for their initiative in promoting national unity through the celebration of our holy days.
Perhaps it is not too much for them to think about an Easter in the Park. I don't think it's too much of a stretch. Easter is not just a commemoration of Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross. It is a celebration of His resurrection. It is a celebration of life, light and love. Perhaps an Easter Monday Choir festival or Gospel concert. I'm sure Riyaz's team can pull it off!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Ongoing Quest for inclusive, participatory and gender sensitive processes and outcomes

This Opinion Piece is from femLINKPACIFIC - Media Initiatives for Women -

10 March 2012
“In the course of this century, we will also prove that the best strategy of conflict prevention is to expand the role of women as peacemakers. In the UN itself, we must find ways to appoint more women in peacekeeping and peacemaking positions…not only do women belong on this planet, but that the future of this planet depends on women.”
(Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, June 2000)
March 9, 2012 was Day 2286 since Commodore Bainimarama executed the military coup which deposed the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase led government.
It was the day on which Bainimarama defined the roadmap for the constitution consultation process.

Yes, while schools of thoughts vary about whether Fiji needs another constitution making process, the announcement of March 9 marks another chapter in our political history. 

Day 2286 also happens to be the day after women in local communities and towns, professional women, students, activists and a new generation of feminists commemorated International Women’s Day across Fiji.

As FemLINKPACIFIC linked women from the local to the national and global community through community radio and interactive media initiatives, we also recalled that this is also the 12th anniversary of the UN Security Council Presidential statement on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2000 which expressed that  “peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men”, as well as to the Charter of the United Nations which identifies the maintenance of international peace and security as “the primary responsibility of the Security Council”.
Subsequently on 31st October 2000 the United Nations Security Council, under the Namibian Presidency, unanimously passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. This is a historic resolution with a number of critical implications including for the inclusion of women’s groups and civil society in peace processes.
The political process ahead is indeed a Peacebuilding process and one which will enable us to reclaim and rebuild democracy as well as reaffirm our collective commitment to non violence and peaceful resolutions of conflicts, through what the state has committed to, “a fully participatory consultative process”.

The challenge, of course, is to ensure that, in reality, it entails inclusive, participatory and gender sensitive processes and outcomes.

The commitment to ensure a participatory constitution-making process is indeed commendable especially when considering how under-represented women are within the existing power structures of Fiji. These structures include traditional and government systems, as well as within faith based institutions. This has been one of the very reasons why Fiji’s women’ movement emerged in pre-independence Fiji.

But it is also imperative that women’s human rights based organizations are partners in the upcoming process.

The state, as signatory to the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as a UN member state committed to the Beijing Platform for Action, need to ensure that the development of information and documents comply with international human rights norms and standards, including a provision guaranteeing the equality of men and women the law, including customary law. Taufa Vakatale as a member of the Constitution Commission will be well aware of these prerequisites. Not only was she the Minister of Women in 1995 when Fiji ratified CEDAW, but having held leadership positions within the Fiji and World YWCA is also familiar with how the women’s movement has enabled inclusive political spaces for women.  

One hopes that the planned civic education process will assist the citizens of Fiji understand why and how issues including women’s rights to access land and to equality in family matters must be affirmed and protected in the process ahead.

Finally, this month, the United Nations will be deploying a timely Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) to Fiji, to meet with the state and other stakeholders. The NAM, which will be conducted by the Electoral Assistance Division of the UN Secretariat in New York will consider Fiji’s needs, such as ballot boxes, staffing and logistical preparation, among other considerations in the lead up to the September 2014 election.
It is critical that this process also integrates and assists Fiji as a member state of the United Nations compliance with gender equality and women’s human rights conventions, treaties and resolutions, including UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (Women, Peace and Security).
The 2005 publication “Security the Peace: Guiding the International Community towards Women’s Effective Participation throughout Peace Processes (published by UNIFEM), provides an important guide to how women can be supported to bring their own perspectives on political solutions and why it is imperative to  that women who have laboured to build and maintain peace at the community level bring this knowledge and experience to the
negotiation table:

“Women who appreciate the ways that inequality and injustice hinder human development
can make the negotiation and implementation of peace agreements more constructive. The
prospects for sustainable peace and development are greatly improved by tapping into women’s understanding of the challenges faced by civilian populations and their insights into the most effective ways to address them.”

We need to ensure that the UN assisted process and the report, and its anticipated recommendations also include gender specific references to ensure that women in Fiji not only engage in the process of voting but ways in which women will be given the space and resources to engage freely.

Ultimately the ensuing months and the timeframe announced on March 9 will be a great opportunity for domestication of these international women’s rights instruments.

All efforts must be made to resource and support an enabling environment for women’s participation—including our current civil society structures which can facilitate women’s input and enable strategic support to women.

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Executive Director: FemLINKPACIFIC

Thursday, March 8, 2012

“Woman Know Thy Place” Feminism and Gender Issues based on Luke 10:38-42

Sermon preached at English Worship Service - Methodist Theological University on International Women's Day 2012... also published in the Fiji Times - Saturday 10th March, 2012

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
            “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I live in a household where men are the minority. Even when my father was alive it was always only the two of us and my mother, two sisters and more recently my wife and my daughter. My father was perhaps a converted feminist while I have been nurtured and steeped in feminism since my childhood, witnessing the struggles of the women in my family to claim not only equal opportunities in society but also equal responsibility.
Today is the 103rd International Women’s Day and the  theme I would like us to reflect on this afternoon is, “Woman Know Thy Place”.
Together we will explore the text and what Jesus words to Martha mean for us in a society where a woman’s place is traditionally still in the home.

Martha is a homer owner.
Martha and Mary are not strangers to Jesus, their brother Lazarus is a close friend of Jesus and the Gospel of John tells of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) and of Mary’s anointing His feet (John 12:1-11). In our reading, however, Lazarus is not mentioned and it is Martha to whom the home belongs to. She is the head of the household and it is she who opens her home to Jesus. Women had it pretty bad in 1st century Palestine, with none of the rights we advocate today afforded to them in the patriarchal Jewish society. Yet we have Martha, seemingly a woman of independent means as there is no mention of a husband and her brother, according to John, merely lives there. Martha is the head of this household and it is she who invites Jesus in.
This is in stark contrast to many of our traditions where women while often in charge of the running of the household are still required to submit to their husbands as it head. While this may have originally been due to the role of the husband as the sole breadwinner, today, through economic necessity rather than any paradigm shift in gender-equity both husband and wife and even children of working age all must contribute to the household.
Yet while accepting the equality of responsibility for the family, many women continue to be denied an equal share of leadership in the home. Jesus, by accepting Martha’s invitation, acknowledges her as the head of her household, thus recognising the equal right of women to ownership and leadership in the home and society and provides us the opportunity to do the same. As a man accepting a women as hostess, Jesus also liberates us from the notion that it is the man who is to provide for the woman and that as a man, our masculinity is safe, even if it is our spouse, mother or sister that takes on the role of provider.

Mary sits at the foot of Jesus listening while Martha is distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.
While our text of scripture is very short, I have read children’s books where Martha is described in great detail, cooking up a storm in the kitchen as she, covered in flour and sweat, prepares a feast for Jesus. Her expected assistant in this endeavour is not with her but sitting and listening to Jesus.
In my family all the men must not only know how to cook but must practice this skill on a regular basis. The first reason for this as you can see from my shapely figure is that we enjoy eating the fruits of our labour in a very literal sense. We love to cook and eat and all subscribe to the creed, “If you want it cooked the way you like it, cook it yourself”. However, there is another and perhaps more ethical reason behind this. Everyone in the family not only has both the right and responsibility to work, but also to serve. So it is not uncommon for all the family to be out at meetings or still at work when dinner needs to be prepared. Household chores are divided not along gender but in terms of who is available. Over the winter break – I went home spent a lot of time in the kitchen as I was on holiday – or in front of the barbecue.
Often I have been to prayer meetings and other gatherings, where while men take prominent place in worship or discussion, women are in the kitchen and miss out on the opportunity to participate in worship, and hear, share and join in discussions that affect community. The emphasis is placed more on the role of host and hostess, than participant, audience or congregation. This is another failure by men (perhaps deliberate) to acknowledge Jesus’ advocacy for full participation by women in family, community and religious life. By placing woman in the home, male-dominated society has in effect eliminated her leadership roles from all the spheres of community, delegating her to catering, cleaning and serving positions. Many women have become trapped in this cycle, unconsciously perpetuating it as Martha does when she asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her in the kitchen.

Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her
This story is primarily about the distractions that keep us from God; Jesus also uses this event to speak to us about the role of women not only in society and home but in the church as well. As Christians we are called to place God first. Love of neighbour and service to others is not done for its own sake, but because it is how we express our love for God and serve a creator that made us, male and female, in the image of God.
On International Women’s Day, the Church – that’s us, the body of Christ is called to commit to action towards the elimination of all forms of violence against women and children in church and society. We are to give a voice to the voiceless and be agents of transformation in our societies.
For that to happen our stereotypical views of women and men need to change. Jesus recognised the individual need in each person He met. So we must also look beyond the physical and recognise the same spirit within each of us. We must realise that when it is said that, “a woman’s place is in the house,” it means the business house, parliament house, perhaps even the presidents “Blue house” but most importantly the house of God.
Those of our sisters here today have chosen, like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him. My prayer is that you will be allowed one day to lead your churches and not just be assistant pastors. For on that day we will have come closer to recognising that of all the disciples who were witness to the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, it was the women who stood closest to him and saw him first.