Category Archives: commitment

Race, Caste and Class

A story is told of a prince who wants to marry a real princess, but is having difficulty because there are many pretenders who are in fact not princesses at all. One stormy night a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince’s castle, claiming to be a princess. So the prince’s mother offers her a bed covered by 20 mattresses and 20 feather-beds, with a single pea at the very bottom. In the morning, the guest tells her hosts that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed that has bruised her badly. The prince and his family rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through so much bedding! So the two get married.

Here is a children’s fairy tale with the subtle message that no one is worthy of the prince’s hand except those with the “blue blood” of princesses! Unfortunately it reflects a tragic reality that exists even today. An article about Princess Kate talks about the class divide that still plagues Britain: “She may be beautiful, graceful and fabulously rich, but Middleton is still a ‘commoner’.”

Coming even closer to home, I hail from a country where the caste system is ingrained in our culture. India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of surviving social stratification. At the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly teachers and intellectuals and are believed to have come from god Brahma’s head. Then came the Kshatriyas, or the warriors and rulers, supposedly from his arms. The third slot went to the Vaishyas, or the traders, who were created from his thighs. At the bottom of the heap were the Sudras, who came from Brahma’s feet and did all the menial jobs. Outside of this Hindu caste system are the Dalits or the untouchables. Christians in India are also often associated with castes that depend on the region and the language spoken.

Yet another way we humans distinguish ourselves from each other are by our race and ethnicity. This is sometimes referred to by the color of people’s skin – red, yellow, brown, black and white. The extreme abuse of this was found in Nazi Germany during the second world war. Nazi foreign policy was guided by the racist belief that an enlarged, racially superior German population should establish permanent rule in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and this led to the horrors of the holocaust.

In addition to caste and race, there is also an underlying thinking about class and pedigree. We just looked at the story of “The Princess and the Pea”. However, even in everyday life,. We talk about the “poor”, the “middle-class” and the “rich”. We also talk about “blue-collar” workers and “white-collar workers”, as well as about the “educated” and the “uneducated”. An extreme abuse of this was found in slavery, that used to be practiced until relatively recently. Today the exploitation of human beings still exists in a twisted, evil form now known as “sex slavery”, where typically younger children and girls are forced into prostitution. Even leaving aside these extreme forms of exploitation, considerations about class and pedigree have seeped right into our own homes! For example, often the dignity of labor that is taken for granted in America does not exist in third world countries such as India. Most homes employ maids who are not allowed to eat at the table of the home in which they serve, but sit on the floor with a different plates and glasses that only they should use, and are often treated as working machines rather than people. All of us (the exploited and the exploiters) have been conditioned to believe that they do not have a right  to be treated the same way as we are, in society.

The Christian gospel does not give room to us, for using these kinds of differences for social stratification. There are two premises that our fundamental to our Christian faith.

  1. Every single human being is in the same plight – at odds with our Creator, and on the path of His wrath against our sin. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:11-12).
  2. God does not accept a person by any considerations based on race, caste or class. He opens his arms to welcome all of us – all who put their trust in Jesus, who died on the cross on our behalf, and bore the punishment for our sins: God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). One of the apostle Peter’s early discoveries as a Christian caused him to say: I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality (Acts 10:34, KJV).

Thus the playing field is flat. No one has any intrinsic advantage or disadvantage over anyone else. In fact, often the things that we consider to be advantages may actually work against us the other way! But I digress – more on that in a later post. Flushing this out in detail in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul concludes: He Himself is our peace, who has made us one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall  … that He might create in Himself one new man …, so making peace, and might reconcile us all to God in one body through the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16). And Paul triumphantly states: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). This truth should so grip our hearts and minds, that it should spill into all our interactions with others: Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-4,8-9)

This radical way of thinking has caused fundamental changes in society that have reverberated across the annals of history. The US Constitution states: …We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. And after this there has been a civil war and a civil rights movement to uphold this now “self-evident” equality in the dignity and value of all human beings. Unfortunately, even truths such as this are not sufficient to erase centuries-old habits and biasses.

More unfortunate however, is the sad fact that although we Christians should be leading the way, we still have not fully embraced these profound truths in our personal lives and families. For example, these differences are deeply ingrained in the Indian Christian Community, and are evident in the choice of spouses we make for our children. One of the ripple effects of this is that most families do not even consider the option of adoption except when they have a need, such as in cases of infertility. Stay tuned for other posts, where I unpack the underlying reasons why I make these statements. May God grant us grace to transform our thinking from the inside, so that behavior becomes consistent with the faith that we profess!

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Oceans Apart My Bride!

What is on the mind of a young man who has just graduated from college and started working full-time? Definitely anything but marriage! Yet, here I am engaged to be married to a bride who is 10,000 miles away! God has a strange sense of humor!

The summer after my graduation, my family and I were planning a three-week vacation to India. Before leaving, my parents had joked with me about finding me a girl in India, and I had firmly said “NO”. The idea was unthinkable because I had lived most of my life in the US, and hardly had a connection to India. This trip was to be a fun vacation exploring Bangalore the home town of my parents, and visiting friends.

Near the end of an enjoyable stay in India, a family friend invited me to share my life story in her church small group. This was just two days before our family was returning back to the US. After I spoke, another young lady named Shirley also shared about her experiences during a summer internship she had returned from in Germany. She was excited about how God had been leading her, and mentioned that she had been accepted into the PhD program there. This did not seem particularly extraordinary because many people go abroad from India to study. However, soon after that, her mother also shared their family’s story, talking about their struggle after her husband had suffered a stroke 13 years prior, which had left him semi-paralyzed. This made me look at Shirley’s story in a whole new light. She was different to most young people I had met thus far. I was amazed at this family’s faith and trust in the Lord Jesus despite their extremely tough circumstances. I believe it was their sufferings that refined their faithI have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10). Incidentally, my parents were impressed too and nudged me, saying that this was the kind of girl they would like me to find as my future wife!

We ran into each other during dinner and we had a short conversation, along with a few other young people there. Shirley intrigued me that evening. I really wanted to get to know her more. She was not on social media at that time, so I gave her my number just before the evening ended. Though our family needed to leave India the following Sunday, we stayed in touch by texting. After I returned to the US,  I started communicating more purposefully with my parents’ permission and blessing. Fast-forward to a month later – after innumerable conversations, a lot of prayer, and our parents’ guidance, I asked Shirley to marry me. By now I had come to know that she was beautiful inside and out, refined through the furnace of suffering and sorrow by God. This may seem unusual to many. But as the Bible says, I had an intimate relationship with God as my Father, when I put my trust in Jesus.  So you are … a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:7). I had really prayed and asked God to lead me, and was confident that I could trust my Heavenly Father, to give only what was best for me. The Bible promises: And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it”, when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (Isaiah 30:21). So when I proposed to Shirley, I trusted that God would lead me through her response on whether He wanted me to marry her or not. To my delight, Shirley accepted! We went back to India on a very short trip where I formally got her Dad’s permission and proposed to her on one knee with all our family around us! We had a wonderful formal engagement on October 31, 2015 with many family and friends as our witnesses, celebrating the commitment we were making to each other before God.

It’s been a whole year of patiently waiting and living continents apart. Thanks to Skype and WhatsApp, our love has continued to blossom and grow. I long for the day when my beloved bride will arrive here in the US for our wedding, and our future life together.

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