Friday, October 21, 2016

Profile and engagements

Fr. Jerry Kurian is a priest of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and an alumnus of UTC.  He joined the United Theological College, Bangalore as lecturer in the Department of Communication in May, 2011.

Jerry Kurian taught at the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary (MSOTS) for a period of five years before joining for his research. He has many years of pastoral experience as well. He functions as the Chairperson of the Department of Communication.

His research interests include new media, the internet, public speaking, drama, film analysis, communication and mission, alternative media, alternative journalism, traditional media, social networking, blogs, communication and women's liberation and communication and climate change.

Fr. Jerry is serving as priest in the St. Ignatius Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore. He believes his calling is to teach and pastor towards an inclusive society where everyone will be a part of our spiritual expression and everyone will benefit from the liberative gospel of Jesus Christ. He believes Orthodox Christianity has many things to offer in the diverse ecumenical and religious environment of India. He affirms that proper Communication can lead to a just society.

He worked on the design and implementation of the college web site and is presently maintaining the web site @  He also designed and is maintaining and updating the college blog @ 

Publications and presentations

Asia Communication Sunday worship order for the WACC Asia Communication Sunday booklet June, 2010
Presentation on ‘God’s providence and the youth in the church’ in Yercadu on July 24, 2010.
Meditations for Gurukul Daily Devotion 2011 submitted in October, 2010.
‘Rights of (Vulnerable) Children and the New Media: Challenges for the church in India’. Paper presented in the seminar on ‘Children and their rights: A Theological exploration’, Chennai on November 15-17, 2010.
‘Examining the claims of the Information Revolution: Social Revolution or Knowledge Capitalism’. Published in KCC magazine, November, 2010.
‘The woman and Jesus. A bible study on Luke 7: 36-50’. Presented for the NCCI workshop on ‘Daring to study scriptures publicly and sensually’ on 5-2-2011, Chennai. This was later published by NCCI.
‘The essence of Lent: Learning and struggling to bend our knees, mend our hearts, and lend our hands’. Published in CSI Life magazine, March, 2011.
Co-edited the WACC Asia Communication Sunday booklet June, 2011.
Poem/song on “Vulnerability in the midst of Climate Change”, p.8 in Asia Communication Sunday booklet, Communicating Climate Justice, WACC-AR, June 26, 2011.

Co-edited the Asia Communication Sunday booklet, 2011.
Bible study for the BTESSC-UTC workshop on “Online Training Techniques and Different Possibilities” on August 30, 2011.
“Media Ethics, the main line media and new (social) media: A case for alternative people’s journalism”- paper presented for the UTC alumni meeting in October, 2011.
Meditations for the Gurukul Daily Devotion, 2012, GLTC, Chennai, 2012, “Neighbourly Relations and Christian discipleship”, pp. 289-296.
Article on “Christ the Revolutionary” published in Assisi Magazine, February-March 2012, Vol.58, Issue 2, Assisi Ashram, Bharananganam, Kottayam, Kerala, pp. 20-22.
Presentation on “Bollywood and the Construction of Masculinities” in the WCC-SCMI gender training workshop on March 20, 2012 in UTC, Bangalore.

Article on “Alternative Media and Journalism as a framework for Communicating Peace” published in the Clark Journal Of Theology (Theological Reflections on Peace building), Vol. II. No. 1, January- June, 2012.
Article titled “The Church, Human Sexuality and Challenging the Unchallenged” in the Gurukul Journal of Theological Studies (Human Sexuality: Theological and Biblical Reflections), Vol XXIII, No. 2, June, 2012. This was published in December, 2012.
Presentation on “Forms of spirituality” to 50 ordained pastors from CSI Rayalaseema and Nandyal Dioceses on July 3, 2012 at Vishranthi Nilayam, Bangalore.
Presented a bible study on Genesis 4:3-9 titled “Am I the reason for the divide” (A bible study on the digital divide) for the SCMI Centenary Bible Study workshop on September 6-8, 2012. This was later published by the SCMI and released during its centenary celebrations.
UTC alumni refresher course presentation on “Lord Renew the Church: Begin From Me. Empowered by the Spirit of Renewal: People of God as the True Agents of Change. Internet as a catalyst for building an alternative community for church renewal” in October, 2012.
Class for youth of Mumbai diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church on November 16, 17 and 18, 2012 on “Who and what am I for God”.
Took sessions on “Media and Leadership” and “Cyber ethos and internet de-addiction” for the Fest Zoe 2012 (Ecumenical Youth Leadership Training Camp) with the theme Beyond Globalization, Youth Culture, Mission and Leadership on November 14, 15, 2012. It was conducted by the The CSI Department of Pastoral Concerns and the Department of Ecumenical Relations & Ecological Concerns in the CSI Synod Centre, Royapettah, Chennai.
Presented a paper on “The Internet and Alternative Media for Communicating Peace” for the Faculty Research Seminar in the UTC on November 28, 2012.
Recorded a Jacobite Syrian Orthodox worship liturgy cd in English on November 29, 30, 2012. The CD was released on May 5, 2013.
Did a presentation on “Christian Communication, internet and alternative Communication” and helped in the sessions on “Reporting and Editing” in the workshop on “Communicating Ecological Justice”, held at CSI Synod Guest House, from 3rd to 5th Dec 2012. It was conducted by WACC and the CSI Synod.
Took a session on “Exodus: A journey to Togetherness” for the youth of the Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church on January 26, 2013.
“Lord Renew the Church: Begin From Me. Empowered by the Spirit of Renewal: People of God as the True Agents of Change. Internet as a catalyst for building an alternative community for church renewal” done for the UTC alumni refresher course was published in the latest issue of the Masihi Sevak, UTC.
Initiated the discussion for Dr. Joseph George’s faculty research seminar paper on “Changing patterns of Relationships in the Cyberage: Challenges and Directions for Ministry in India” on February 27, 2013.
Attended the NCCI sub committee meetings on March 6, 7, 2013 in Gurukul, Chennai. Apart from the Commission on Communication, was also nominated to the Centenary Celebrations sub committee to prepare a documentary on the NCCI.

Paper presented on “An Ecumenical View on Churches View of the Eucharist. A Critical Discussion” for theologians across India in the Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC), Bangalore on May 15, 2013.
Presentation on “Church: The Sacramental Sign of Hope. The church and internet: Hope in the New Age” for the CSI Central Kerala Youth Pre Assembly in May, 2013.
Presentation on “Media values in India” to a study group from Edinburgh University in June, 2013.
Retreat for teachers of the CSI Institute of Technology, Nagercoil on July 8, 2013.
Presentation on “Women and Migration” for a CSI Synod programme in Vishranthi Nilayam, Bangalore in July, 2013.
Article on “The Internet and Alternate Media as Christian Communication” published in the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) review in July, 2013.
Skit direction and presentation for the National Council of Churches in India- World Council of Churches pre assembly seminar in Bangalore in August, 2013.
Presentation on “Blogs and writing” and “The Spirituality of writing” in the Writers’ workshop for pastors conducted by the United Basel Mission and UTC in Mumbai YMCA on September 16, 2013.
Scripted, directed and edited a documentary on the United Theological College, Bangalore in October, 2013. This was screened in the World Council of Churches Assemby in Busan, South Korea.
Part of the NCCI centenary documentary team working on a documentary for the NCCI.
Presentation on “Living with God in the Contemporary World” for the Tangkhul Christian Fellowship, Bangalore on November 1, 2013.
“Media, Culture and Religion: Alternative Media as a New Religious Expression in India.” Paper presented to the St. Olaf College, U.S. students in the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore on November 5, 2013.
“Christian perspective on media and youth advocacy for social change.” Paper presented to college students from all over India at the Student Christian Movement India Centre in Bangalore on November 15, 2013.
Paper on “Orkut, Facebook, Tumblr: What next?” presented for the National Ecumenical Youth Pre-assembly of the NCCI in Goa via video conference on Nov 18, 2013.
Chapter on “Media Ethics” in December, 2013 for Sunday school students of the Kottayam diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in their book for senior Sunday school students.
Presentation on “Atrocities against Women” in ECC, Bangalore on Feb, 2014.
Article on the Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas titled “Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas: The Equinox on which the Church rode three decades” published in the Malankara World Journal in March, 2014.

Paper presented on “Ecclesiology in the Cyber Age” in the NCCI seminar held in Bangalore on June 26, 2014.
Paper presented on “Informed Prodigy or Juvenile Criminal” in the National workshop on Crimes by Juveniles in India on July 30, 2014.
“Theatre as a pedagogical framework for theological education”. Faculty seminar presented on October 29, 2014.
"Media, Culture and Religion". Presentation in ECC for the St. Olaf Seminary students on November 6, 2014.
Main speaker for the District Youth Conference of the Marthoma Church in Bangalore on May 14-17, 2015.
Paper presented on “Media and Spirituality: A journey of the church into the lives of people”  on June 27, 2015 in the Marthoma Seminary, Kottayam, Kerala.
Paper presented on “Religion in the Market Place: The Changing environment of Women in the Church” in the National Seminar on Role of Women in the Christian Church: An ecumenical perspective, conducted by BTESSC and the MSOT seminary in the MSOTS, Ernakulam, Kerala on July 14, 2015.
Presentation made to St. Olaf students on "Media and Spirituality" on October 26, 2015 at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore.

Main speaker for the Marthoma Church Regional Youth Conference, Delhi on November 10-13, 2015.

Produced and acted in the College play "The Nation of refugees" on December 3, 2015 in UTC.

Paper titled “Religion in the market place: The changing environment of women in the church” published in the Bangalore Theological Forum, Bangalore, Vol. XLVII, No.2, December, 2015.
Produced and acted in the play “The Nation of the Refugees” in an entire new location and format on March 4 and 5, 2016. 
Paper titled “Theatre as a pedagogical expression for theological education” published in the Hekamtho Theological Journal Vol 1, No. 2, MSOT Seminary, Ernakulam, Kerala in March, 2016.
Presented a paper on “The Theatrical expression of the Eucharist” in the National seminar for Theological Students in ECC, Whitefield, Bangalore on May 18, 2016.
Presented a paper on "Role of Media in Environmental Justice" in the National seminar on "Environmental Justice: Issues and Challenges." on July 6, 2016.
Took two sessions for the youth on the theme "Get up: Don't be afraid (Matthew 17:7)" at the International Youth Conference of the Assyrian Church of the East on July 22, 2016.
Presented a paper on "Maoists and Social Media" in the National seminar on "The Red Corridor and Maoism: Issues and Challenges" on August 19, 2016.

Took a session on "Women in the Church" for the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Bangalore diocese women's fellowship one day meeting on August 27, 2016.

Gave two talks on the theme "New Creation in Christ" for the first youth conference of the CSI Malabar diocese on September 12, 13, 2016 and took a session on Internet de-addiction on September 12, 2016.

Preached in the Naga Christian Fellowship Bangalore for their Power House service on September 25, 2016.

Presented a paper on "Transforming discipleship in a changing nation: Social media as a tool for ministering to the youth in church" for the UTC alumni refresher meeting on October 19, 2016.
Has been writing quite regularly in a personal blog on social, religious and cultural affairs @

Doing research, writing and editing for the college blog 

Webmaster, researcher and updater of the new UTC college website

Pastoral duties
Priest in the St. Ignatius Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore. Responsibility includes leading worship, preaching and taking classes for the youth on Sunday. Has also been taking sessions on “Communication in the family” for the pre-marriage counselling courses held by the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church diocese in Bangalore”.

Phone: +91-9483966951
E mail: 



Friday, October 14, 2016

Prayer for couples

God allow us to be in relationship with our partner and explore every single day and moment that you have envisaged for us. You give us so many opportunities to know and accept one another but work, projects, and deadlines come in between. We hide behind these excuses Lord when actually priority, ego and lack of understanding are what distance us. Help us to see how our life and the reason we are is because of your love to us. May we understand, sacrifice for, make time and accept our partner and take care of their needs and wants. Loving God, may we understand that you have created us out of love so that we may love different people and things in various ways. Help us to see our partner as our soul mate. Teach us to forget outward beauty and instead see vividly the beauty inside and use touch and observation to draw closer to each other and through that realize you and your presence in us dear Lord. In your existence as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you gave time, love and importance to one another so much that we feel you as one even though we refer to you as three. Love is knowing, seeing, feeling and doing like no one else. Help us to love each other just as you love us dear God. Amen.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Prayer when everything goes downhill

Most merciful God, not a day goes by without remembering you. We do not do it with fear but because you appeal to each and every one of our senses. Without you a moment is not worthwhile. You have seen and supervised our successes and yet we are also faced with many failures. Perhaps we don’t thank you enough for times of happiness and complain whenever we are sad. Help us to know your eagerness to be a part of our life. Most understanding God we ask for the maturity and spiritual strength to stand firm even when things around us fall apart, we pray for needed distractions to forget our pain even for a short time, we seek your comforting hand when the whole world fails to understand our good intentions. God our creator, you understood the eagerness to know of Adam and Eve and let them go, Jesus Christ, you explained your parables again to your disciples instead of leaving them to fend for themselves, Holy Spirit, you made people understand the message of the apostles even though it was not spoken in a language they knew. It is but normal to receive pain from people we know and speak to. Help us to understand this and commit our lives to you. May we feel peace even when the world around us falls apart, may we hear your pleasant voice even when people around us shout at and humiliate us, may we look forward in hope, understanding that every fall is an opportunity to stand up and walk. Help us dear Lord in our various situations of hopelessness. We glorify and praise you Lord Jesus, and your Father and your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Prayer for motivation in work, family life and church

Compassionate God, we come to your presence for realizing our true selves and being motivated to be the best in our field, to be a good father/mother, brother/sister, son/daughter, husband/wife/partner, friend, family and church member. We remember that we have been created in your image and likeness God. You are in us as we are in you. Help us Lord to be the best not in comparison with others but realizing the full potential of God’s presence in us. Every time we turn away from a challenge we are also turning away from an opportunity dear Father. All the arguments and differences we have with others mean we have not absorbed your teaching dear Jesus Christ our Lord. All the negative thoughts inside us negate your presence inside us Holy Spirit. It is not easy to step back and yet we find ourselves stepping back from various challenges in life. It is difficult to step forward and yet if you hold our hands and guide us, we will take several steps forward. May we not get stuck in the past but be enthused by the present and look forward to the future. We may not fulfill the parameters set by others and satisfy everyone around us. But help us to be happy and content with what you have given us gracious God. May every day be a step for you Lord and not a fight against someone else. May every step be a joy and not a burden to carry. May every joy provide hope to move on and express the beauty of our relationship with you dear God. Help us to be something to every single person in our life, not everything to everyone. May a small thing we do be a spark of God and God’s love in the life of those we love and care for. We pray along with our dear departed ones to you Father, Son and Holy Spirit, love without beginning and end. Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gandhi Jayanthi: An opportunity to see God expressed in the midst of hunger

Bible passage: St. Mark 2:23-28

The disciples of Jesus are seen plucking heads of grain and the Pharisees complain to Jesus asking whether it is possible to do this on a Sabbath? In Jesus’ reply he reminds them of the story of David and his followers who eat the food meant for priests during the time of priest Abiathar, even though the food was meant only for priests. In a significant statement Jesus says “The Sabbath was made for human kind and not human kind for the Sabbath.”

What must have been the problem of the Pharisees who pointed out a rule to Jesus? The problem was simple. The disciples of Jesus were breaking the rule of their religion. The difference between religion and spirituality is something for us to ponder upon at this juncture. We can use this to identify the difference between religion and spirituality. Religion can be said to be the belief in someone else's experience while spirituality is having one’s own experience, religion shows you the truth while spirituality lets you discover it and religion makes you dependent while spirituality makes you independent. Even today we go by rules and not by spiritual conduct. What is it that God wants for God’s creation? Isn’t it the fact that we must love each other just as God taught us, and doesn’t love involve sharing food and feeding one another?

October 2 is commemorated as Gandhi Jayanthi because it is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. The father of the nation has remarked “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” There is a truth in this that can be linked to the above passage. The Sabbath or a Sunday service can be seen as a day to fast and not do anything else for the rich because they can afford to do it. But for the poor fasting is extension of their poverty. The disciples were poor materially but rich spiritually. The Pharisees were rich materially and poor spiritually. Jesus is leading us to the spirituality of the poor where being poor will make us rich. Fasting can be effective only when it hurts us. Otherwise it is only a life style choice done out of abundance. Sunday’s in church should not just be a set of rules of what we cannot do but should lead us into thinking what we can do.

Today we again get an opportunity to clean up our act. It is not only to clean our surroundings but to clean our mind of prejudices and wrong notions. The communion in the church is not thinking how to prevent people from coming to receive the Holy body and blood of Christ, by talking of rules and barriers but to ask people to come because the poor can become rich in the act of sharing food. Through communion we are getting the idea of going out to the world and reaching out to the poor and sharing our resources with one another.

Food is God’s love made edible. We must worship God by loving one another and sharing what we have with one another for the sake of God’s kingdom. Jesus tells us in John 13:34-35 “Love one another as I have loved you.” The Sabbath or a Sunday is not a rule but an opportunity. Eating food is a right and not a luxury. Staying away from communion will also make us stay away from sharing and feeding. Our children will also not understand why it is important to be hungry so that others may also eat.

A father who was aged was once shifted to a smaller table in the house by his son because the father had lost the capacity to eat properly according to the rules in the house, often dropping food on the table and the floor. The old father was given food on a separate table in a separate wooden bowl. The son then one day sees his child making a bowl and when asked the child answers that he is making a wooden bowl. The father asks him why and he replies that he is getting one ready for the father to use when he gets old, just like the grandfather. The person realizes his mistake and shifts his father back to the main dining table during meals. In the process of being clean and “swach” we must not lose track of the basic lesson in our spirituality of sharing what we have with one another.

This story and the story of Jesus and his disciples along with the quotation of Mahatma Gandhi speaks volumes to us. Being clean is important and making our surroundings clean is also important but making people see God through the sharing of food is even more important. Jesus’ disciples see and experience God in their act of plucking heads of grain. The Pharisees on the other hand quote rules (cleanness) and in the process lose sight of God. Even as we try to grow spiritually may we never lose track of God expressed in the midst of poverty and hunger. Amen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Prayer for health

Gracious God, we are your handiwork and your creation. Not a moment goes by without your care and grace in our lives. We pray for good health and quality of living. May every day we spend on earth be done for your glory and in happiness and truth. Touch us and assure us of your presence and your healing. We pray O God, for our near and dear ones who are in pain and sickness. Look at them with compassion and make them whole. May your gaze and your voice make them happy and on to the way of recovery and contentment. May we together get many opportunities to pray to you and be satisfied in your care and mercy. We pray for us and everyone we know, that pain and suffering may be replaced by love and happiness. You Lord Jesus have suffered for us on the cross that we may live life in its fullness and in spirit. Bless us O Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Prayer for work

Work is prayer. Finding work, doing work, creating work and sustaining work is working for God for the kingdom of God. May God offer you strength to overcome any difficulty regarding your work, may the Holy Spirit bless your efforts to gain or offer work and may Christ Jesus give you ideas and inspiration to stay ahead of your demanding schedules and deadlines. Dream big and visualize what God intends to do with you. No work is beyond us when God is with us because God makes the impossible possible. May all glory and honor be to God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Prayer to send someone

Praying that God holds you in his hands, guides you with creative thoughts and protects you with the presence of the Holy Spirit. May the intercession of St. Mary give you peace and hope and may the intercession and blessing of St. Ignatius Elias III give you strength and good health. May the prayers of all the saints bring good cheer to you. We pray and glorify you Christ O son, Father God and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Teacher's day.....more than a brick in the wall

Teacher- Why don’t you do anything like I tell you to?
Student- But sir, I thought of acting out my presentation.
Teacher- Acting. Do you think you have come to an acting school? Do you think what we do here is a joke?
Student- No sir. Don’t get me wrong. I have come here to become a pastor. I want to be the best pastor there is.
Teacher- Ha ha. Do you think you can do that? Look at your grades! You have to be cut out to become a pastor. It is not an easy job.
Student- But my grades are okay. They are not great. But I feel I don’t get the grades I deserve.
Teacher- That is true. I think the low grades you have are much higher than they should have been.
Student- Don’t make fun of me sir. I try my best. My point is that you can grade me in a different way.
Teacher- Different way? And what way is that? Not grade you at all? Or giving you the freedom to put your own grades?
Student- No. But I also have something to contribute. I have something to say. Why don’t you listen to that?
Teacher- All that you can say is rubbish. And then do a bit of acting. Rubbish. This is a theological college. We make pastors not actors. If you want to act, you can go to an acting institute.
Student- I heard that you used to act well sir. You were a talented person.
Teacher- Who told you that?
Student- I have my sources. Why are you trying to hide it?
Teacher- Why? Because I was always told to hide it. I loved acting, expressing myself and learning about others while doing it. It was the most liberative thing to do.
Student- Why did you stop then?
Teacher- I had to move on. Acting didn’t get me grades. It only got me reprimands in the end. Acting is just extracurricular. What is outside the curriculum is outside. People will come and appreciate you while your fellow students use that time to study their notes and write exams. While we internalize our dialogues and let our heart speak, they will mug up their notes and write treatises during the exam.
Student- Can’t you change all this? Isn’t there someone who understands?
Teacher- Many may understand. There is an actor inside everyone you know. But no one will come out with it and support it and give grades for it.
Student- Can’t you use it in your classes then?
Teacher- I can I guess. But then I will have to handle the drama that follows.
Student- I feel relieved having talked to you. I never knew teachers would understand students like me.
Teacher- We are all actors. Small and big, but all actors.
Student- Can you allow me to act out what I feel in your class? Just like an exam by showing you what I have learnt and how I feel?
Teacher- I guess you can. But I still can’t give you grades for it!
Student- I don’t want the grades. I just want to act. I want to express myself. I want to show what I have learnt. I want to break all the walls that have prevented me from speaking to those around me.
Teacher- Well, let us act between ourselves. You can be the teacher and I the student.
(The student gets into the character.)
Student- Don’t make noise. Sit down I say.
Teacher- Yes sir. Can I say something?
Student- You can say whatever in your room. Not here. This is my space.
Teacher- But sir. I thought you were someone who would share your space with me.
(Both look into each other’s eyes.)
Student- I will share the space and my role with you. Speak, act, express yourself. That is why you are here.
Teacher- Thank you teacher.
Student- You are welcome. Now act out what you learnt today.
Teacher- (Grabs the student by his hand.) I learnt that there is no difference between us. We are all humans. You have something to say just as I have something to say. Let’s….
Student- Let’s break down these walls. Let’s break them down.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Video of the sermon "Walls of Love"

The youtube link of the sermon "Walls of love" @

The highlights of the sermon include "In the Eastern church she is perceived as the woman of faith who reported the resurrection of Christ to the disciples. In the Western church interestingly in a later development, Mary Magdalene is seen as the sinner who repented and then became a saint.", "We feel very uncomfortable to talk about the bible and especially topics in the bible which we perceive as contentious and controversial. By positioning Mathilukal (Wall/s) in this worship we are trying to look at popular culture and the theological insights it offers. Luke as a writer has written with passion along with a list of writers to help him but if we refuse to see the Jesus they try to portray then we have to look elsewhere to ease us into the passage in Luke."

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Adapted script of Mathilukal (Walls) for performance

(The entire play is played out on two sides of a wall in prison with a woman on one side and a man on another.)

Play begins...

Narayani- When will I see the outside world? All I can do is sit here and pluck the grass in this jail hoping that one day I will be out of here.
(Sound of whistling.)
Narayani- Who is it?
Basheer- It’s me.
N- Did you whistle?
B- Yes.
N- What is your name?
B- Basheer. What is your name?
N- (Looks around) Narayani.
B- Nice name. How old are you?
N- 22
B- Nice age.
N- (Looks around) Who did you kill and come here?
B- I didn’t kill anyone. I’m here because I am a freedom fighter. The government found something wrong in what I wrote.
N- Oh. So, you are a writer?
B- Yes.
N- People say that you can’t trust writers.
B- Who said so? I am not like that. You can trust me. Tell me. How long have you been here?
N- One year.
B- I also have been here for a year. So we came about the same time to this jail. Who did you kill Narayani?
N- I didn’t kill anyone. But I slashed someone with a knife.
B- Narayani. Tell me your story.
N- Why? You want to write a novel or what?
B- No. I want to save it in my heart.
N- Then I will tell you.
B- Tell.
N- My father and mother have four children. Three sons and one daughter. My brothers got married and left. I stayed as a burden with my parents. One day they made me marry a drunkard. Are you listening?
B- Tell me.
N- One day my husband drank too much and went somewhere. What could I do? I should also live, isn’t it? I still wonder what kind of a man he is to go just like that.
B- What a man indeed. If it was me, I would have hugged you and stayed in the house.
N- Don’t lie.
B- No, it’s true. Then say. What happened afterwards?
N- What else? I started going for work. My boss had an eye on me. One day he came and caught my hand. I took a knife and slashed his hand.
B- If I would have seen him, I would have killed him.
N- Don’t strangle him from here. (Laughs) Nothing will happen to him. (Pause) Will you give me a rose plant?
B- How did you know that there is a rose plant here?
N- Oh. It is a jail no. Everyone knows everything. There are no secrets here. (Pause) Will you give me a rose plant? Will you? Won’t you give me a rose plant?
B- Narayani, I will give you all the plants in this world.
N- Aiyo. I want only one.
B- Narayani, stay right here. I will bring. (Pause) Narayani, Narayani. (She hides) Narayani.
N- What?
B- Where were you when I called? (She runs to the wall)
N- I was behind this wall.
B- And?
N- I was hiding here.
B- You naughty girl.
N- Did you bring the rose plant? Did you. ……….Oyi……..writer.
B- Yes.
N- Why are you silent?
B- Why did you call so lovingly?
N- If I would have called lovingly.
B- Yes, if you would have?
N- If I would have called lovingly, God would have come in front of me.
B- (Laughs). God won’t come in front of anyone. God is near us. God is love, light……Catch this rose.
N- Wait. Put it high.
B- Okay. Catch it. Catch. (Throws) (Catches)
B- Did you get it?
N- Yes. (Holds it close to her.) Why were you quiet?
B- I was thinking about you and holding you.
N- Where on the wall? (Laughs)
B- No
N- Then
B- I held every rose and petal and thought of you.
N- God, I feel like crying.
B- Narayani.
N- I am going to keep each rose in a special place.
B- Where. In your hair? Those roses are special. It has my love. Be careful with them.
N- I will.
B- Remove the knot and dig a hole.
N- Let me search for a pot. (Searches and finds) Pot is ready.
B- Put the roses in the name of God in it. Put some water. Say good morning to it every morning. And ask when it will give you a flower.
N- When will you give me a flower? Won’t people think I am mad? I have to go now. When I come again I will put a stick on the other side of the wall. You should come. Don’t forget.
(Both go off stage and come back.)
(Narayani throws sticks and gets angry. She then sits on the floor. After a pause Basheer speaks.)
B- Narayani. Narayani.
N- What do you want?
B- Are you angry?
N- What else? My hand is paining after throwing so many sticks.
B- I will massage them.
N- Then massage. (Saying this she stands close to the wall) I am close to the wall.
B- I am stroking the wall. Narayani, what did you do with the rose?
N- Why do you want to know?
B- Did you throw it away?
N- If I did?
B- That was my heart. (Music)
B- Then Narayani. How many women are there?
N- Only me.
B- Tell the truth. How many are there?
N- Quite a bit. All are old women.
B- How many?
N- 87.
B- How many young and how many old women?
N- 86 old women and 1 young woman.
B- (Laughs)
N- Then. (Laughs) Aiye. How do you look?
B- I am brown skinned, have a long nose and am slightly balded. I have big eyes.
N- (Laughs) Even I have big eyes. What about your chest?
B- I have a broad chest.
N- Even I have a broad chest.
B- Can you smell me?
N- No. The darned wall.
B- Shall I put something on your side?
N- Yes.
B- Catch (Throws a packet) Did you get it?
N- Yes. I got it. Chips. Shall I give to everyone here?
B- Yes. Give to everyone in our name.
N- Will you love me?
B- Yes. Why do you doubt?
N- There are many women here. Beautiful women. I am not so beautiful.
B- I am also not handsome.
N- Have you loved anyone?
B- Yes. So many.
N- Hmm. Womaniser.
B- It’s not like that. I didn’t say that they loved me. It was one sided.
N- Oh. I got scared for a moment.
B- But why should you get scared?
N- That you don’t need to know.
N- Listen. Is Narayani one among the countless women?
B- Narayani, you represent all women. I love you like my life.
N- You are lying. Can’t trust writers. You will tell everyone you see the same thing.
B- No. I only have my Narayani.
N- I don’t have anyone. Don’t promise me things. I want to see you.
B- I also want to see you.
N- I haven’t seen you and yet I feel I know you more than anyone I have seen.
B- All this while I wanted to escape from here. But now I don’t want to go anywhere. There is a jail outside these walls. I don’t want to go anywhere.
N- You are just saying this to please me. If freed, anyone will go from here.
B- Tell me now, how do we meet?
N- There is one way. I will try to come to the jail dispensary.
B- I will run to you when I see you.
N- How will you recognize me? Aah. There is a black mark on my left hand. (Jumps to show)
B- I will have a red rose with me.
N- Will you miss me?
B- I will remember you when I see the walls of this world.
N- Can I cry?
B- Not now. Cry later. When are you coming to the dispensary?
N- Tomorrow 10 in the morning. I have something urgent to tell you.
B- What is it?
N- I will tell you tomorrow.

N- (Runs around and throws sticks. Holds the wall and throws sticks.) Basheer. Writer. My love.
Voice- Yesterday they released a prisoner. A writer. They released him.
N- You are lying. Go away. Come Basheer.
Voice- They have released him.
N- (Cries. Holds the wall.) My God. You made me alone again. No. He will come. He said he will come to the dispensary. My black mark. (Throws sticks.) Come. (Wipes tears.) Didn’t you ask about the red rose. Whether I threw it? It is inside me, in my soul. Can you hear me?

Play ends...

Pictures credit- Deepak

Walls of love.....the sermon

Luke 7:36-46
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus[a] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii,[b] and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus[c] said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Walls of love
The passage Luke 7:36-50 which was read to us has certain peculiarities. Usually in the church the probability is that it will be read along with the title of the section which is mentioned as "sinful woman". The woman here is differently seen as perhaps being Mary Magdalene or Mary the sister of Martha, among other women. It has parallels in all gospels but this passage is special in that Jesus does not talk about his death and the preparation for that.

Now what are some of the problems in the passage when we read it today? The first problem is that there is a tendency to come to a conclusion that the woman is a sinner and the sin associated with her is that of being a loose woman, an adulteress or temptress. It may have been something else though, for instance her association with tax collectors which made the writer refer to her as a sinner. But the understanding of sin in relation to the woman is sadly in one direction and this is the popular understanding of the church. The second problem is the association of the woman as Mary Magdalene and the way she has been perceived by the church. There are several interesting theories about the association of Mary Magdalene with Jesus but I am not going into that but rather would like to point out that Mary Magdalene has been slut shamed and trolled by the church.

What is slut shaming and trolling? Slut-shaming is defined by many as a process in which women are attacked for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct,i.e., of admonishing them for behavior or desires that are more sexual than society finds acceptable.It is retrograde, the opposite of feminist. Calling a girl a slut warns her that there's a line: she can be sexual but not too sexual. Online trolling is In Internet slang what happens when a person sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement. There is more an online phenomenon these days were women are subjected to verbal online abuse for having expressed their views in public. Several famous personalities, writers, actors, public figures and women from various walks of life are subjected to this regularly even bringing in the public debate whether there should be a law to safe guard online users who express their thoughts and feelings. The women and child development minister offered help to those who are facing online trolling and her tweet itself was subjected to online trolling!

The Eastern church and the Western church look at Mary Magdalene totally differently. In the Eastern church she is perceived as the woman of faith who reported the resurrection of Christ to the disciples. In the Western church interestingly in a later development, Mary Magdalene is seen as the sinner who repented and then became a saint. This can be traced back to Pope Gregory’s sermon on her and how she is made into the woman out of whom seven demons were driven out. In the Eastern church Mary Magdalene is a saint who showed exemplary faith and closeness to Jesus while in the Western church Mary is a sinner and a woman with loose morals who later on had a conversion in life. When the passage is read in this context we also associate the entire conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee as one on what sin is and who will be forgiven based on the weightage of sin.
On the contrary shouldn’t this passage be seen as a strong rebuke by Jesus of the Pharisee and the message that this slut shaming and trolling should come to an end. Sin cannot and should not be associated with gender! Mathilukal, which means walls is a famous novel by Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, a well known writer from Kerala. He was involved in the freedom movement and jailed several times for his writings even though he did not do anything against the country as such. This story from which an adaptation was performed in today's worship is based on Basheer’s own experiences in jail. We feel very uncomfortable to talk about the bible and especially topics in the bible which we perceive as contentious and controversial. By positioning Mathilukal (Wall/s) in this worship we are trying to look at popular culture and the theological insights it offers. Luke as a writer has written with passion along with a list of writers to help him but if we refuse to see the Jesus they try to portray then we have to look elsewhere to ease us into the passage in Luke. Biblical interpretation has to in this sense look for the underlying messages and real characters to find strands of the message which in all essence will be lying hidden in the text.

The adaptation performed tonight is a conversation between a man, who is the writer Basheer himself and a woman Narayani who are both in jail separated by a wall built to keep women and men apart. The wall though does not prevent them from communicating and entering into a conversation. They talk despite the wall. In the process they share their lives with each other and look ahead for a time they can be together. We can very well get stuck in the ending thinking that Basheer has left, leaving Narayani behind but we must know that Basheer did not have any idea that he was being released and their spiritual relationship is threatened by the wall of perceived freedom when in reality Basheer is released into a place he does not want to go to. Even in their eagerness to meet, Narayani knows that Basheer will always be in her thoughts and mind. In Luke 7 there is an invisible wall built by the Pharisee between Jesus and the woman present there. It is the wall of judgement which the man is adapt at building through his thoughts and words. But this does not prevent the woman and Jesus from relating to each other and being in relationship. Rather the woman cleans Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes it with her hair and anoints his feet with the special perfume. This sensuous act of love goes unnoticed in traditional interpretations but we would be missing the essence of the passage if we continue with only the usual interpretations.

The notion of Jesus and the Jesus movement is challenged by the Pharisee and his judgmental community when he notices what is happening on two sides of the wall they have constructed. The woman was not supposed to be there and yet she is there. She was not supposed to relate and be with Jesus and yet that is what she does. The woman and Jesus remind us of Narayani and Basheer who be with each other despite the wall which is built to keep them apart. The transcending of the wall by the woman and the reciprocation by Jesus annoys the Pharisee as it would annoy anyone of us who either construct or are part of such walls. But Jesus and the woman just be like Narayani and Basheer wall or no wall.

Jesus goes further in the passage and gives the example of those who owe money to a creditor. The creditor forgives both and then Jesus asks, which debtor will be more thankful. The Pharisee says that the one to whom more is forgiven will be more thankful. There is a problem here because this does not make total sense. For someone, forgiveness is not only comparison but is also the act of forgiveness itself. So whether big or small if we have been forgiven it will be great for us. Why then is the writer saying that the one who is forgiven more will love more? One reason could be that the woman is showing love for the forgiveness she has received through John and she is showing the love of what she has already received. Two could be because Jesus is here talking of unconditional love which leads to unconditional forgiveness. The woman loves completely. So much that she cries in being able to be with Jesus, she lets down her hair because she is no more concerned by those who have constructed the wall and who is watching, and she then anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume in unconditional love. What happens here is that the unconditional love of the woman leads not to forgiveness but forgiveness does not matter anymore because she has already gone beyond that. Jesus is not answering the woman but Jesus is answering his host by talking about forgiveness. The woman doesn’t seem to be bothered about forgiveness anymore. She is concerned about and is expressing love. This is what happens to Narayani and Basheer. Narayani does not want a good conduct certificate from Basheer the accomplished writer. Rather she wants to love and be loved. It was not mandatory for the host to wash Jesus’ feet, kiss him and anoint his head but he could have done it. The Pharisee represents the church which is unwilling to repent and love. But there are others sometimes inside and outside the church who are willing to love like the woman and like Narayani. The ordination of welcome through anointment of the head which should have been done by the Pharisee is then turned upside down into the ordination of acceptance through the anointment of the feet by the woman.

I will offer three points for us to take home and think about.
1. I to we – We are obsessed with ourselves. We simply cannot go beyond ourselves like the host of the house. He is not obsessed with Jesus but himself. The primary reason of calling Jesus to his house we learn later is not to honor Jesus but to honor himself. We live in a culture of I’s. I phone, I pad, I pod…... and finally father or mother saying I paid. The host of the house is caught in thinking about himself whereas the woman and Jesus are not thinking about themselves but thinking about each other. The woman did not do what she did to get forgiveness. She was loving and one does not love for forgiveness. Jesus did not love the woman because she wiped his feet and anointed him. He loved because he was reciprocating to the love he received. Narayani and Basheer are on two sides of the wall. They are leading their “I” lives and yet the voice of the other leads them to the understanding of “we” which they cherish from two sides of the wall.

A mom and his son and the relationship their shared helps us understand the limitation of I. The man says I love you to his mother when he was 5 years old and she reciprocates. He says I love you mom again when he is 16 years old. She asks him "How much do you want?" Meaning how much money does the son want. The son again says I love you mom when he is 25 years old. The other asks him "who is she?" meaning which girl friend does her son want to introduce. When he is 40 years old he says I love you mom and she replies "I told you so". Finally when he is 60 years old the son says I love you mom and the mother replies "I won't sign on any paper come what may." I here is all the son himself and what he wants from his mother.

2. Ego to love
There was something preventing the Pharisee from seeing the beauty of what the woman was doing. There was a wall preventing him from seeing and he had built this wall so that others would not see. The three letter word ego prevents us from seeing many things. The story of the rabbit and the turtle is familiar to us and so is the saying "Slow and steady wins the race." But an extended version of the story goes on to say how the turtle wins first, the rabbit the second time, the turtle again the third time and the rabbit and the turtle together the final time. First it is "Slow and steady wins the race", second it is "Steam ahead and set the pace", third it is "Change the rules and claim your space" and finally it is "Come together and change the face."

Jesus conquered his ego and so did the woman. The host had ego as an accompaniment and he was trying to win a race he wasn’t capable of winning. Jesus and the woman team up while the host keeps away. Basheer and Narayani do not know each other and yet work together a relationship which is actually based on nothing and everything at the same time. They do not allow ego to prevent them from expressing their love for one another. Love is a natural expression for them and they do not allow the ego of their lives or the jail environment to spoil that.

Indians have a way of going around the ego. There is a story of Albert Einstein and an Indian man travelling together. Einstein says “Let’s play a game and if I know the answer you pay me 50 rupees and if I don’t know the answer I will pay you 5000 rupees. The Indian agrees. Einsten asks “ What is the distance between the earth and the moon? Indian gives 50 rupees and says "I don't know.". Then the Indian asks “Which animal goes up the hill with three legs and comes back with four? Einstein gives 5000 rupees and says "I don't know.". Indian man goes to sleep. Einstein is angry and says “Give me the answer.” The Indian wakes up and gives him 50 rupees and says "I don't know." We are good in going around our ego rather than engaging our ego.

3. Being sorry to having a choice- The host is sorry for Jesus, the woman and for himself. He is frustrated at the fact that Jesus is not performing as a prophet even though he must have actually invited him to prove that. This is very typical of us as well. We work all our lives to accomplish one thing and then realise that it is not what we want. If the host had invited Jesus to anyway humiliate him shouldn’t he have been happy!? In India there are some ways of saying things which are against each other “Are you a man to beat a woman. Are you a man to be beaten by a woman?!”, “You can piss in public but you cannot kiss in public”, “If one man stands with three women he is a stud whereas if one woman stands with three men she is a slut.”, “Never talk to a stranger before marriage. But we can sleep with a stranger after marriage.”, “We talk against corruption but will bribe a policeman after jumping a red signal.” and “Talking about sex is taboo but having babies and being the second most populous country in the world is not.” We can see a lot of discrepancies here.

Our country is fraught with problems of caste, gender and class. And yet there is also hope in the form of how and what people can make out of their contexts. The woman in the passage along with Jesus is also faced with problems and yet they choose to take the path seldom tread and stop being sorry for others and with themselves. This is what Narayani and Basheer do too. They have nothing to look forward to. They can be sorry about themselves and everything that is happening around them. And yet they choose to be happy, exploring what they can in the limitations they find themselves in. I to we, ego to love and being sorry to having a choice. We will also find ourselves on two sides of the wall. But that is not an invitation to be silent but rather an opportunity to explore, love and go beyond. Amen.

(Sermon preached on Sunday, August 7, 2016 in the Tagore Hall, UTC, Bengaluru.)

Pictures credit- Deepak

Monday, July 18, 2016

Exalt God, not yourselves

Luke 14:7-11
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Behold, there is someone so strong and looking over us always. In our vast web of life this is something we all need to be aware of. God always has us on mind and is always mindful of us. But we would also wonder as to why we need to always glorify God as God is all knowing. Glorification of God is not for God to feel that God has several followers and thereby boost God’s ego. Rather it is helping us and not helping God. When we look up we humble ourselves accepting that we are small and we always need to listen to a voice which is within us and always seeks to talk with us.

Jesus carefully uses his words and says “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” We are always trying to get the best seat. It is either on stage or even when we are not on stage we are eyeing the stage. In all ways it suggests that we are not prepared to serve. Not everyone is called to lead unless he or she wants. Sometimes we are thrust into leadership roles. A leader is someone who will show his or her flock how to serve. Jesus shows this to his disciples. He is an accepted leader because he preaches and practices servitude.

Jesus was not consumed of his own world and in his own thoughts. He was willing to accept someone above him because otherwise he could never serve. In John 4:21-24 we read “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Jesus is making a big claim to the woman when he says that salvation is from the Jews. This perhaps is the human in Jesus speaking, forgetting about reality and being limited to his own intellect. But in a moment Jesus corrects himself and says that there will be a time when people worship in spirit and truth.

This should be our take away from the passage. The seat or the exaltation is not important. What is important is glorifying God because glorification is acceptance of not our intellect but the spirit of the Lord. May we be guided by God, son and the Holy Spirit to understand this core element of spirituality. Amen

Thursday, June 16, 2016

1916- 1986- 2016 Mary Roy and Mary John Akhouri: Overturning 100 years of discrimination

Mary is a very important name in the church and it includes St. Mary, first among saints, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Mary the sister of St. Martha among others. Mary brings to mind several things. It is a name that the church will never be able to wipe out. The name brings not just assurance, hope and obedience but rebellion, sacrifice and victory from oppression. Along with Mary John Akhouri who has managed to wake up the senses of the church and civil society in Kerala, India and the world, is Mary Roy who single handedly fought against an oppressive law and a patriarchal church and society which supported the law.

We are still looking at the merit and faults of denying a decent burial to Mary John Akhouri in the church of her choice and as per her last wish. But there is also another interesting aspect to this time and year. 2016 is an important date because it comes exactly 100 years after the act of 1916 which was discriminatory towards Syrian Christian women in India because it gave only 1/4th the share of ancestral property going to the son, to the daughter or Rs 5,000 whichever was less. In 1984 Mary Roy who also belonged to a Syrian Christian family and was separated from her husband and was going to be evicted from her house in Ooty, filed a case in a court of law, which came out with a favourable verdict in 1986. This was followed by several other cases which culminated in the 2010 verdict of the court granting the right to one part of the property to Mary Roy. 100 years after a discriminatory law and 30 years after a favourable court verdict for Syrian Christian women. This is what 2016 offers and the passing away of Mary John Akhouri and her wish to be buried in her parish brings to focus not just inter religious weddings, church membership and funerals but the key factor of rights of women.

I mentioned in an earlier write up that we have to have a lenient view to several parties involved in the recent issue. But how can we reason within the church that Mary John Akhouri deserved better? For this Mary Roy offers help to us. The Travancore Christian Succession Act of 1916 was clearly discriminatory and it was tweaked to be even more so by the powerful Syrian Christian community. “Under Section 24 of the Act, a widowed mother has only a life interest terminable at death or remarriage, over any immovable property. Under Section 28 female heirs who had already received Streedhanam (dowry) were not to be given any share in the case of intestacy because the daughters have only a right to get streedhanam and it was fixed as ¼ of the share of a son or Rs.5000/- whichever is less, daughters could get shares in the intestate’s property only in the absence of male heirs. Even the unmarried daughters had only a right to get streedhanam which was to be calculated as aforesaid. Thus the Travancore Act contained several discriminatory provisions blatantly violating Article 15(1). The reason for the denial of the share in the family property was that the daughter was going to the matrimonial home and only the sons are contributing to the growth and betterment of the family.”

Venu Menon writes that the Supreme Court verdict brought about by Mary Roy’s court case brought the Syrian Christians under the more liberal Indian Succession Act, 1921. “The judicial order sent shock waves through the community, especially the patriarchal authority that influenced the lives of Christians. The verdict not only gave the female progeny equal rights in the father's property, it did so with retrospective effect. The retrospective clause promised to unleash chaos in the community. Every Christian household faced the prospect of an insurrection from within. All past land transactions became open to question. All titles to property derived from intestate succession now stood invalidated. There could be no precise estimate of the number of women who suffered injustice under the earlier law. The Supreme Court judgement provided an instant remedy.”

The church and the state tried to stall and circumvent the court order and has been successful to a great extend with changes in will and daughters agreeing to sign legal documents mentioning they have received their share. The court order should be read from the perspective of daughters being sent off from their house in the hope that they will never return. It is a once for all settlement. Perhaps this was what happened with Mary John Akhouri. Her being sent off or her going on her own was the part of the societal and church sponsored programme of making sure that the daughter of the house was settled and sent away. Mary John Akhouri’s wish to be buried in her mother parish can and must be seen as her return for her rights which were denied to her earlier. Even if she personally got something from her family her return is the return of a Syrian Christian woman for an equal share of the property of her family which includes a space in church and the cemetery as well. Here I am again sympathetic to the priest in charge as his denial must be seen as the denial of the church to accept someone like Mary Roy and her fight for her rights and the effort to circumvent any court order given otherwise.

The court order giving equal rights over ancestral property to women in the family was always fought by the church and the political class as well because they thought that the ruling patriarchal class would be offended if they did not circumvent the court verdict. It was also a case of holding on to power by the influential class of people in society. The church still has a chance to redeem itself by first of all accepting what Mary Roy, a Syrian Christian herself has done for the emancipation and equal rights of women. She should be honored for this fight and struggle that she has undertaken. Her fight and case should not be seen as anti-church but as a struggle for the church and its constituency of women. What the church has not done for various reasons was taken up and done by a church member and this should be appreciated by the church. The church finds itself at the cross roads looking at itself on what it means by equality, justice and peace. Is it only a slogan or is it something which suggests that all who are in the church are its members and deserve equal treatment from the church? In the Mary John Akhouri analysis it will help church members and others to understand that her burial is not just a burial of a church member who was away and therefore had given up her membership status but that she was a woman of the church who was collectively wronged by a patriarchal society and church together. Her wish to be buried in Kumarakom is her coming back and her journey for the justice which was denied to her because of a discriminatory law of 1916 which still seems to be hanging like a mill stone around the neck of church administrators.

The church and all of us together must understand that we have been hand in glove with all of this. We have not considered the work of women like Mary Roy and Mary John Akhouri because they were women and they tried to change the status quo of gender roles prevalent in the church. One did it through a life long legal battle to get a right to her ancestral property and the other did it through an end of life wish to gain access and right to her ancestral tomb and thus property.
In Numbers 27 the daughters of Zelophehad Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” So Moses brought their case before the LORD, and the LORD said to him, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them. The five daughters of Zelophehad are the women who makes God change God’s rules. They go to Moses and the others and when Moses asks God, God tells Moses to give them the inheritance to their father’s property and name even though that was not the norm.

The year 2016 is a good year to remind ourselves about our commitment to women and that we owe them their inheritance which they will come to claim at a time they choose. Mary John Akhouri chose now and chose her way to do that. Mary Roy has already brought about a change through her struggles. Now it is time for us to go to God like Moses did and ask God what indeed we must do.

Pictures courtesy and